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"The Jewish enemy within" - Melanie Phillips on Emanuele Ottolenghi's essay on Jewish victimhood

Emanuele Ottolenghi has written an important and profound article, "The left among us likes victimhood," published in Britain's Jewish Chronicle. He has spotted a particularly striking and grotesque aspect of the odious hatred of Israel displayed by an increasing number of Jewish intellectuals on the left. Redefining moral virtue to exclude every characteristic other than being a left-wing personality, they seek to redefine Jewish moral virtue to exclude Jewish nationalism. Claiming to be returning to authentic Jewish values, they therefore purport to speak in the interests of Jews and Judaism by saving Jews from themselves in their reprehensibly un-Jewish embrace of Zionism and Israel.

Thus Jewish nationalism is un-Jewish, apparently, because it promotes war rather than peace (ignoring, of course, the inconvenient truth that Israel is a militarised society only because it is the historic victim of an unremitting war waged against it); and Jews are said to have a duty to be hostile to Jewish nationalism because Jews were the victims of nationalism. This, of course, is so absurd as to be incredible to anyone outside the bizarre thought system of the extreme left; the equation of fascism with national self-determination not only suggests a form of cultural nihilism, since it would make it morally beyond the pale for any people to have its own nation, but is contradicted by the left’s own championing of Palestinian and other supposedly nationalist movements claiming the very same right to self-determination.

More fundamentally, however, these Jewish Israel-haters – most of whom have only a tangential connection with Judaism – reveal by these arguments a profound ignorance of Judaism and Jewish history and ethics (an ignorance underlined by the way they use the salvation language of Christianity to denounce Jewish self-determination). They appear to think that Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, is a kind of colonial neologism that was appended to Judaism in the nineteenth century. But the Jews’ identification of themselves as a nation, and a nation moreover that had its national home in Israel for hundreds of years until the Romans occupied it and threw them out, is absolutely integral to Judaism as a religion. Jewish peoplehood was introduced with Abraham when God chose his descendants to become a mighty nation to carry the divine message; Jewish nationhood was born in the exodus from Egypt; the mourning for the loss of Zion and the longing to return are woven into the Jewish religious calendar and Jewish religious liturgy.

Moreover, the idea that the Jews should not fight to defend their homeland but turn the other cheek is not a Jewish religious concept at all. On the contrary, the Bible makes it clear that the Jews had a duty not only to fight for their homeland, but to destroy their enemies by causing the kind of devastation which the modern state of Israel would never dream of enacting — unlike its Arab enemies, who would and regularly do. The idea that Jews have a duty not to fight for their collective life but instead to surrender and die is profoundly un-Jewish – indeed, it is suicidal by any standard, and no people would be expected to adhere to such a monstrous precept. But for the Jewish Israel-haters, the Jews alone apparently must choose their own destruction as the pre-condition for their moral redemption. As Ottolenghi observes:

Calls abound for Jews to repent, condemn Israel, hear the gospel of anti-Zionism and convert to a new, exciting form of Judaism, based more on Karl Marx and Rosa Luxembourg than Theodor Herzl and David Ben Gurion. So is the rush to heed them. With antisemitism rising across Europe alongside violence in the Middle East, Jews have been under pressure for several years now. Instead of getting sympathy for the harassment they are subjected to, Jews have earned only
scorn for their refusal to denounce Israel first.

That is the sad truth — one that anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals, with their demonising rhetoric against Israel and their patronising attitude towards fellow Jews, have irresponsibly abetted. To shield themselves from shame and abuse, Jews are asked to discard Israel from their own collective identity. This step, and an active denunciation of Israel as the antithesis of progressive
and Jewish values (themselves, in this vision, synonymous with one another), will gain them full acceptance. Scores of Jews, especially among the progressive intellectuals, indeed comply in public acts of mea culpa, thus lending an alibi to antisemites and gentrifying anti-Jewish prejudice in the process.
For these Jewish Israel-haters, Jewish victimhood is the authentic Jewish moral experience. To put it another way, to them the most elevated kind of Jew is a dead Jew. And that is surely the real crime that Israel commits in their eyes – that it was restored specifically to ensure that never again would Jews be powerless victims but instead would fight for the survival of the Jewish people. And that is unforgiveable – because what these Jews of the left really hate is not just Israel but Judaism itself.

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