Friday, October 18, 2019
I don’t know how many times I've heard that if we don’t stand by Israel, the victims of the Nazi Judeocide will have died in vain. I knew something was wrong with that claim, but for the longest time I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now I think I can.
The claim is peculiar right off the bat. How would backing an Israeli regime that systematically and indiscriminately oppresses an entire non-European population in the 21st century possibly honor the victims of the Nazis, who were in power in Germany from 1933 to 1945? It makes no sense.
But that’s not all. To die in vain means that to die in the futile pursuit of a cause that remains unfulfilled even posthumously. This can include suicide as well as death at the hands of murderers. But someone who is killed while simply living dies neither in vain nor (perhaps eventually) triumphantly. A “passive” murder victim just dies, no matter what the killer intended. (No disrespect whatever is intended by the word passive here. I mean the death was not in a cause pursued by the victim.) It's a tragedy, but nothing more -- as though that were not enough.
The victims of the Holocaust did not see themselves as dying for a cause and were not expecting their deaths to accomplish anything on their part. They certainly did not think of themselves as dying for the future establishment of a chauvinist Jewish state in Palestine, although a small number might have been Zionists.
They died merely because their Nazi killers viewed them in a particular way. Indeed, most German Jews were surprised at being regarded as Jews rather than as Germans. In Nazi Germany one did not have to be a believing and practicing Jew to be targeted because the anti-Semites subscribed to the once-a-Jew-forever-a-Jew philosophy; having a Jewish mother was enough. (The philosopher Spinoza, who was excommunicated by the Jewish community of Amsterdam in 1656, would have been branded a Jew, although he rejected religion and changed his first name from the Hebrew Baruch to the Latin Benedictus.)
I note that today’s Jewish nationalists, that is, Zionists, take the same essentialist position. In their eyes (and unfortunately in the eyes of many non-Jews), one can never stop being a Jew. For them, Judaism is not a matter of religion but of blood. (They too regard Spinoza as a Jew.)
This is utter rubbish: there is no Jewish gene, despite the shameful Israeli search. Moreover, Jews do not constitute a single distinct ethnic group: Jews are found among many ethnic, racial, and national groups. There is no universal Jewish language, food, theater, music, etc. -- that is, no worldwide secular Jewish culture. The dominant culture in Israel is not Jewish; it's Israeli. Judaism represents a worldwide religious community with common beliefs and rites. Why isn't that enough? (See Shlomo Sand’s How I Stopped Being a Jew, which eloquently defends a position I wish to associate myself with.)
So here we are: no matter what I and others do, the victims of the Holocaust cannot have died in vain or not died in vain. People who talk in such terms commit a category mistake.
I could leave the matter there, but I can take this a step further. While nothing we can do will determine whether the Jewish victims of the Nazis died or did not die in vain, all of us -- Jew and non-Jew -- can work to guarantee that the Nazis killed in vain. That's what we should want for any homicidal and tyrannical regime. The best thing to be said about a despot is that he lived in vain.
Now the question is: how can we best guarantee that the Nazis killed in vain? Jewish nationalists (including the ill-defined secularists among them) would give the same answer to other Jews as before: embrace Jewish identify, with Israel, the self-described "nation-state of the Jewish People [everywhere]," at the center of that identity.
I say that’s not a good answer. For one thing, as Shlomo Sand writes, to the extent that Jews and non-Jews embrace an ethnic/racial/genetic notion of “the Jewish People,” the Nazis are awarded a major ideological goal -- and that would mean their killing was not entirely in vain. I want no part of it.
For another, a Jewish national identity necessarily comes at the expense of millions of Palestinian Arab Muslims, Christians, and secularists, who are thrown a few crumbs but have no real rights in Israel itself and have even less than that in the apartheid occupied West Bank and the concentration camp -- some Israelis use that term -- known as the Gaza Strip.
A far more promising way to make sure the Nazis killed in vain is to work overtime for individual freedom and toleration in all spheres, which means minimal -- zero would be better -- political power. That is: embrace radical liberalism, otherwise known as the libertarian philosophy, to combat oppression and bigotry. How many Jews could Hitler have killed had he remained a failed artist and paperhanger in Austria because no state was available? None, I’d guess: the creep probably would have had the crap kicked out of him on his first try. Power is poison, and we must work to eliminate it -- and the myth-based nationalism that it fuels -- in favor of voluntary peaceful social cooperation.
Once we see things that way, we will be equally appalled by all genocides and lesser forms of oppression. (One, of course, is especially horrified by the sheer scale and methodical nature of the Nazi killing machine, but that should be true no matter the victimized group.) No special consideration can be accorded to Jewish tragedies -- no "hierarchies of suffering," to use Haaretz writer Amira Hess's phrase, can be accepted -- without preventing the Nazis from having killed in vain.
With all its splendid ethnic, cultural, and individual variations, the human race is one people with one proper code of justice for all. Invidious divisions undermine justice, liberty, peace, and cooperation by fragmenting and weakening the oppressed before their oppressors.
TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears occasionally on Fridays. Also posted at The Libertarian Instiute.
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Opposing Palestinian self-determination because West Bank Arabs have a higher living standard than other Arabs is like opposing the abolition of slavery because, unlike white factory workers, slaves have job security.
Thursday, October 10, 2019
Wednesday, October 09, 2019
Thursday, October 03, 2019
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
From Rabbi Elmer Berger's A Partisan History of Judaism: The Jewish Case against Zionism (1951):
Judaism evolved from a primitive tribalism to as noble a spiritual and universal vision as man has ever attained. This fact attests, even without detailed proof, to the truth that "unity" and segregation may have had their partisans but that there must also have been undiscourageable partisans of another kind through the long history of Jews and Judaism.
For change and evolution rarely, if ever, are born from uniformity. Uniformity is imposed, as our modern world knows, in order to suffocate rather than encourage growth. That the history of Judaism reveals such growth is proof of disunity, of individualism, of liberalism, and of respect for these things in whatever degree necessary; to have accepted their achievements and grafted them into the organism of Judaism itself.
Both traditions and both viewpoints existed side by side. There has been a constant strugge between them. Sometimes the viewpoint of universalism and assimilation of all but religious identity prevailed. Sometimes the segregaton was initiated by separtist Jews. Sometimes it was enforced by segregation-minded people who were not Jews. Sometimes both groups or a combintion of circumstances created by segregationalists of both kinds established the pattern.
But the important fact remains that always, among both Jews and those of other faiths, there were those who respected the individual integrity of people of Jewish faith and the transcending, universal values of Judaism....
For people other than Jews to resist the apparent prevalence of "Jewish" nationalism and affirm that Judaism is a highly personalized conviction about God, the universe, and mankind is not, therefore, to violate either the feelings of Jews or the traditions of Judaism....
In plain English, to oppose Jewish separatism and segregation in our national life, except in the field of religion, is not the equivalent of anti-Semitism.
I was asked on Facebook, "What is your response to many Jews and Christians who believe the Bible makes it clear that the land belongs to the Jews?" Here's is my (slightly edited) response:
- The Bible isn't a history book, and archaeology has not been kind to it. See Spinoza's and Paine's critiques, and more recent work by Rabbi Elmer Berger and Shlomo Sand.
- If it is, Joshua committed genocide, which can't be grounds for legitimate title.
- If it is, God threw the Jews out. Where's the Messiah?
- Most Jews are the descendants of converts who never set foot there. Judaism, which proselytized widely for nearly a thousand years, from the later centuries BCE to well into the Common Era, is a religious community and does not represent one people in a genetic sense. Jews have many ethnicities, races, cultures, nationalities, languages, foods, etc.
- The Palestinians, as Ben-Gurion and others argued at one time, are the descendants of people who have lived in Palestine continuously from time immemorial. These Palestinians have included Muslims, Christians, and Jews.