Eva Ilouz just published a devastatingly powerful essay in Haaretz that I suspect is destined to be loudly deplored and hardly read at all, except maybe years from now in schools, when students are studying the history of the ex-Jewish state.
The occupation is a condition of slavery, but not slavery: a striped lion is like a tiger, but isn’t a tiger. The occupation started as a military conflict and, unbeknown to itself, became a generalized condition of domination, dehumanizing Palestinians, and ultimately dehumanizing Israelis themselves. This magnificent people – which distinguished itself historically by its love of God, its love of texts and its love of morality – has become the manager of a vast enterprise of brutal military domination.
Without ever intending to, Israelis have become the Lords and Masters of a people, and the only interesting question about this is not how we got there….but why so many Jews outside and inside of Israel are not more disturbed by this.
The reason for this is that Israel has its own proslavery lobby, which is now in the corridors of power, shapes Israel’s policy and has successfully managed to make the occupation appear to be a containable casualty of war and nation-building. The settlers’ discourse – which only 20 years ago was marginal in Israeli society –has become mainstream, and one can only be struck by its resemblance to the 19th-century American proslavery ideology.
Because I’ve written as much about anti-Semitism as I have, a lot of my critics (especially the ones who haven’t read much more of me than my Jewish name) presume that I’m a Zionist. I’m not and I never have been. The notion of a religious state not only runs against my secularist grain; as a product of 2000 years of diaspora, and the descendent of a socialist grandparent who was imprisoned by the Tsar for learning Esperanto, I am troubled by the very idea of nations. I know that people are evolved to be tribal and exclusionary, but I look to civilization to raise us above our naturally brutish and fearful state.
Herzl was right, I think, in recognizing that Jews would never be accepted as full citizens of the European nations, but he was wrong in embracing Jewish nationhood as a solution (not that I have any idea what a viable solution would have been–there would have been a Hitler and a Final Solution in our future no matter what we did).
But as sixty some years of Israeli independence and expansion have proved, a militarized Jewish nation state is no less chauvinistic, violent, and self-justifying than any other nation state–and its existence, moreover, puts Jewish claims of a transcendental identity and destiny on the same footing as Canada’s, Finland’s, or, God help us, Germany’s. I try to avoid writing about Israel and Judaism, because I find the whole subject so painful. I don’t like feeling like an apostate–we are wired to be tribal, after all; a lot of people I love and otherwise admire are deeply identified with Israel and its aspirations, for better and for worse. But I’m not much of a belonger, and as witnessed by my books, I have a pretty low tolerance for cognitive dissonance.