Daniel Greenfield: The Ghetto Jew and Israel
Zionism was never limited to physically living in Israel. Jews have always lived in Israel. Nor is it limited to Jewish self-government. The ghetto was also a form of Jewish self-government in which Jews oppressed other Jews in order to avoid upsetting the powers outside the ghetto.
An Israeli ghetto whose court Jew leaders are always pleading for mercy from the world while beating their own people to appease the masters outside the borders of the ghetto is worthless.
It is worse than worthless. It is a perversion of what Israel was meant to be.
Zionism was the physical resettlement of the land and the spiritual transformation of the people. Neither is fully realizable without the other. A resettlement in which Jews retain the habits of their old condition only creates another ghetto and no meaningful internal transformation from dependence to independence is possible without a physical relocation to an independent nation.
But the Ghetto Jew has proven much more difficult to uproot from the psyche than all the stones and thorns of the land of Israel. The Ghetto Jew has been freed from the ghetto, but it still exists inside his head.
The abused wife eventually loses her identity and comes to see herself from her husband’s perspective. In Stockholm Syndrome, the captive takes on the captor’s point of view.
The Ghetto Jew has internalized anti-Semitism. He has become his own oppressor. What little identity he has is tied up in fighting anti-Semitism in a futile and misdirected effort. The real anti-Semite isn’t living in an ADL newsletter. He has taken up residence inside his own head.
When the Ghetto Jew looks at his own people, he sees a twisted tribe of grotesques. This is reflected in his literature, his plays, his jokes and his television shows. Goebbels couldn’t possibly assemble a more disgusting collection of Jewish caricatures than Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Woody Allen and your average Jewish television executive or comedian.
This is not the Jewish view. It is the view of the thing living inside his head. The thing can’t be fought by mailing a check to the ADL. It can’t be driven out in a Holocaust museum. A far worse thing than the anti-Semitism of the non-Jew is the anti-Semitism of the Jew. It is easier for the anti-Semite to come to love than the Jews than it is for the Ghetto Jew to come to a healthy love of being Jewish.
What the Ghetto Jew thinks of as his identity is really a vacuum filled with historical experiences of oppression. The reaction to these experiences are his identity. He doesn’t have a Jewish identity. What he carries with him inside his head is Hitler’s view of Jews and Stalin’s view of Jews and Obama’s view of Jews. Some of these views terrify him. Others he struggles to appease.
The Ghetto Jew views Jews through a funhouse mirror that magnifies each flaw and offense. He is constantly seeing Jews as he imagines others see them and the sight makes him anxious. He battles the anti-Semite living in his head by rushing to apologize for things he never did and mounting overarching defenses against attacks that most others would shrug off.
Pride to him is this cycle of justification and apology. He rushes from one to the other. He hysterically defends against all sorts of accusations and then, when confronted with a Jew who has committed some crime, he wails, “What will they think” and hysterically denounces them and apologizes to the entire world.
This, “What will they think” defines him.
He has no thoughts of his own on the matter. He does not even wonder what other Jews think.
He is other-directed. He cares little what Jews think of Jews. What interests him is what everyone else thinks of Jews. He will enthusiastically fight for the causes of others, rather than for his own, to avoid any accusations of selfishness. He will generously build hospitals and engage in feats of philanthropy. In doing so he thinks that he is helping Jews, because to him the Jews can only be helped by changing how others see them. His Jews don’t have a separate existence or identity.
For all his sophistication, erudition and education, he is an empty house with no one living inside.
To the Ghetto Jew, Jewish history is an extended trial, not by G-d, by the collective public opinion, which has cast Jews as the worst of the worst, a charge that can only be met by being the best of the best. Since no man and no nation can ever achieve this, it is a doomed project. In the eyes of the Ghetto Jew, the Jews can only be found innocent through their helplessness, and if given power, through a pure dedicated altruism bordering on sainthood. Israel complicates this will to martyrdom.
Israel said that victimhood is not the Jewish ideal. That there can be redemption without the innocence of helplessness. That we cannot truly help anyone until we help ourselves.
Most of all it claimed that Jews were not mere defendants in a trial lasting for thousands of years, that their mission in this world was not to constantly defend themselves against accusations by dedicating themselves to helping others, but that they were a nation and a people with their own history.
Jewish identity did not have to be a mirror of persecution. It was something unique and authentic.
Zionism was an attempt at a clean sweep. It sought to empty out the clutter of thousands of years of exile and replace it with simple sand and earth, with the clean lines of low buildings and water towers. It wanted a fresh start in an old land where the Jews had last been a free people.
It told the Jew that his models were kings and prophets, that he was the inheritor of David and Samson, of the warriors who fought to the last against Babylon and Rome. And an old people found their strength and fought wars against terrible odds. And this time they won.
They were no longer victims. There was no one living in their heads. They were free.
And it almost succeeded.
But the Ghetto Jew has brought things full circle again. He is endlessly obsessed with how the rest of the world sees Israel. He has reduced the reborn Jewish State to another ghetto, forever in peril and unable to escape from it, dependent on the goodwill of its masters outside the ghetto.
The survival of this large ghetto depends not on fighting those trying to kill Jews, but averting any misbehavior by Jews who might make the other residents of the ghetto look bad. To the Ghetto Jew, the greatest threat to Israel is not in Iran or in Gaza, it’s that somewhere in Israel one lone Jew will do something or say something that will make make all the Jews look bad and lose the world’s sympathy.
“What will they think,” the leaders of the ghetto wail.
And so the Ghetto Police are dispatched, not to fight the terrorists (this is a task they are increasingly forbidden from tackling lest they too lose the sympathy of the world), but to hunt down any Jews who might make Israel look bad.
None of this has anything to do with Israel or Zionism. It is the old twisted ritual of the Ghetto Jew who sees his own people through the eyes of those who hate them.
The Ghetto Jew is the Jew who has not found a Jewish identity. He has let his enemies define him. His efforts go to fight a losing battle because he has allowed the enemy inside his head. He has failed to build a positive Jewish identity. In its place he has a mass of congealed suffering, neurotic anxieties and fears for the future living inside his head.
Over time the Ghetto Jew gives birth to an even more twisted creature, the Jewish Anti-Semite.
The Ghetto Jew has turned his insecurities and lack of independent identity into an external perspective. He sees from the imagined perspective of the “Other” while still suffering as a Jew. He is both the anti-Semite who sneers and the Jew who is sneered at. He suffers a thousand deaths with these neurotic preoccupations over the great undying question of, “What will they think?”
The Jewish Anti-Semite, sometimes wrongly called a self-hating Jew, has completely externalized the Jew. He has become the anti-Semite and driven out the Jew. Now he attacks the external Jew with the relentless compulsiveness of a maniac. Actual Anti-Semites shake their heads at his deranged antics.
The Ghetto Jew wrestles with his projection of an anti-Semite and that projection’s projection of the Jew. The Jewish Anti-Semite cuts to the chase by becoming the anti-Semite and attacking the Jew.
The Jewish Anti-Semite adopts the worst possible assumptions of the anti-Semite. The Ghetto Jew is caught between the Jew and the anti-Semite. The Jewish Anti-Semitic adopts the latter’s perspective wholly. In the redemptive fires of rage, he attempts to destroy his Jewishness by attributing the worst possible behaviors and ideas to Jews. Sometimes he lives a perfectly happy malicious life of BDS and angry letters to the editor. In the more extreme cases, he destroys himself in some spectacular fashion.
This demented state is one path of liberation for the Ghetto Jew. The Ghetto Jew can either liberate himself of the anti-Semite or the Jew.
To liberate himself of the anti-Semite, all the Jew needs to do is become a Jew again. Instead of renting space in his head to Hitler and Obama and a thousand petty critics and tyrants, he needs to find a better class of tenant. He needs to stop seeing himself from the perspective of others, he must stop being other-directed and become self-directed. He must become a Jew.
Judaism and Zionism, in their proper applications, are better tenants than the neurotic anti-Semite whispering in the ear of the Ghetto Jew at night. They concern him with the task of building the spirit and the land, rather than quivering at every taunt and threat.
The Ghetto Jew can either become a Jew or a Jewish anti-Semite. Israel can either be a Jewish State or it can be a ghetto. It cannot and will not be both for long.
The Jew is proud of what he is. He is not defined by those who hate him or by pleasing others. He does not waste his time apologizing and justifying his existence to them and the voices in his head. He does not take on collective responsibility for the crimes or virtues of his people.
The Ghetto Jew instinctively sets up a ghetto. His defining organizations are communal institutions whose top leadership plead on behalf of the community to the rulers of the land. These are not democratic institutions. They dispose of some for the supposed good of the many. This was the way of the Jews of Poland who died at Cossack hands rather than risk the wrath of both Poles and Ukrainians by defending themselves, of the Kahal which rounded up children for the Czars or the Judenraats which collaborated with the Nazis in the hope that some might be spared.
This was not what Israel was meant to be. The guard towers of this land were never meant to face inward. When they do, it is not a free land, but another ghetto.
A free Israel requires free Jews. It is easier to conquer a city, as the Sages said, than to control the self. It is easier to transform land, than to transform the mind. It is easier to free land than to free Jews.
The process of liberation was not complete in 1948 or 1967. It may never be complete. But without it, there is no hope. As the land is renewed, so the people must be renewed. Renewal need not be a struggle. It is not all a matter of lifting rocks. It is more a matter of placing fresh earth over old earth. Of placing a living Jewish identity over the empty ghetto with the Ghetto Jew just outside its gates.
The Ghetto Jew does not have to be an abused woman forever waiting for her husband to come through the door. He does not have to be a saint or a victim. He does not have to live life from the perspective of the ‘other’. He does not have to constantly worry, “What will they think?”
He must become again what he once was, before the lost wars, before slavery, before suffering went so deep into his bones that it became his identity until he could not envision being a Jew without being a victim.
The Ghetto Jew lacks his own identity. His identity is a scarecrow, a thing of scattered bits and pieces, fears and neurosis, a twisted version of a human being as seen from a twisted perspective. His redemption will come when he inhabits his own body as much as he inhabits the land, when he ceases to care what they will think and starts to think for himself, when he stops worrying how others see the Jews and fully comes into his own inheritance as a Jew.
Follow Daniel Greenfield’s daily blog Sultan Knish.