Pulp Non Fiction

[ Wednesday, March 30, 2005 ]


To Sit in the Dark- Gilad Atzmon

A talk at the SOAS Palestinian Society

I am sure that some of you are familiar with the old Jewish joke: What
does it take for a Jewish mother to change a light bulb? Then
impersonating an elder Jewish mother, applying a high pitch east
European accent you spit it out: ”no vorries I vill sit in the dark”.
As it seems, the Jewish mother embodies the essence of modern Jewish
existence. To be a Jew is to sit in the dark, to be a Jew is to be a
victim and to enjoy your symptoms. If we analyse this bizarre tendency
in the light of Freud’s pleasure principle, we might mistakenly deduce
that the Jewish mother find pleasure in inflicting pain on herself.
Some may even diagnose the Jewish mother as a mythical masochistic
figure. In fact, it is the other way around, The Jewish mother doesn’t
enjoy her own suffering at all. The Joke is supposed to reveal a very
different message. The Jewish mother, instead of improving her general
state of being, rather than enjoying reading the ‘Jewish Chronicle’ in
the light, she voluntarily offers to sit in the dark, she gains
satisfaction initiating some remorse feeling amongst the Other, whoever
the Other is. Usually it is her beloved kind (son) but it can as well
be her partner, the neighbour, the social worker, the Swiss banker or
even the United Nations. The Jewish mother vill sit in the dark as long
as someone there is happy to feel guilty for her sitting in the dark.

To be a proper Jewish mother means to daily exploit the entire victim
vocabulary. But it isn’t really the Jewish mother, as it seems, victim
mentality is occupying the hard nucleus of modern Jewish identity. As
we all know many of those who call themselves Jews are far from being
religious. Some are even atheists. Many of our Jewish friends are far
from being Zionist (at least that’s what they say), some are even anti
Zionist, but then once a Jew drops his victim status he becomes an
ordinary boring being. To be a Jew is to believe in the holocaust, to
be a Jew is to believe in a historical narrative constructed around
endless merciless sagas of persecution and harassment. To be a Jew is
to believe that all that suffering is far from being over, in fact a
new holocaust may be re-launched tomorrow morning, why tomorrow, today,
this very minute. To be a Jew is set oneself in a state of self imposed
paranoia. Thus, to be a Jew is to believe in ' us and them' rather than
in just ‘being amongst others’. To be a Jew is to believe that anti
Semitism is an irrational tendency intrinsically symptomatic to gentile
existence. But who are the Gentiles? Ladies and gentleman, the Gentiles
are the human family, thus I would deduce that to be a Jew is to
believe that the human family behave irrationally at least when it
comes to Jews.

But then, what is so appealing in being a ‘victim’, I assume that most
people would be embarrassed when being blamed for victimising
themselves or even suspected to be paranoid. Somehow, this wouldn’t
happen with most Jews. A Jew would be offended when being suggested
that he is victimising himself. Moreover, an accusation as such would
be perceived by him as a clear anti Semitic assault not to say a form
of a ‘holocaust denial’. When it comes to Jewish common
self-perception, victim is not an act, it is rather a state of being.
Within the contemporary Jewish word view, the Jews are the only real
ultimate genuine sufferers. If this is not enough, the fact that they
are ‘the true real and only genuine sufferers’ is now legally imposed.
To suspect this very fact may result in a court case. For instance, in
case you happen to be a new historian and you may doubt some facts to
do with the latest Nazi Judeocide, you probably find yourself behind
bars or just removed from your academic post.

When it comes to the unique case of the Jewish family, the Jewish
mother strategies are found to be very effective. Sitting in the dark
‘pays off’. The Jewish mother maintains her absolute hegemony within
the family cell. Consequently, the guilt ridden Jewish child (no doubt
the real victim) will attend medical or law school just to keep his
mother happy. He will bring home the highest possible marks just to
ease her sitting in dark. By the time he finally realises that he
himself had been the real victim, he his ready to join his father's
business and in any case, he is too old to rebel. By now he himself
becomes a victim and the rest of the world should feel guilty for him.
But then, he is far from being happy, rather than being out there
amongst others, he is now pushed back to the ghetto, tied for the rest
of his life with a clannish knot. Funny enough, this is enough to make
him a neurotic character as well an astonishingly good accountant or

Looking at the Jewish family cell we see a successful operating
machine, the parents volunteer to take-on some insignificant suffering,
in return the guilt ridden young generation bring home excellent
academic results. But then, this very mechanism goes far beyond the
Jewish family cell or even the segregated Jewish community. In fact,
post WW2 Jewish western affairs are based on the very same philosophy.
This may as well be the hidden layer behind the current misleading
contemporary presentation of the complementary Judeo Christian bond:
The Judeo subject insists to be the ultimate victim and the Christian
world is enthusiastically endorsing the opportunity to celebrate guilt.
As bizarre as it may sound, in 1948, while the Israelis ethnically
cleansed the Palestinian population, the ‘guilty’ West was sitting and
praising ‘Jewish heroism’. Very much the same happened following the
miraculous Israeli victory in 1967. For many years, ‘guilt’ became the
core of European parliamentary left blind support of Israel. As
revolting as it may sound, the modern Jewish identity is copying the
role of the Jewish elder mother and the European parliamentary left is
taking the role of the Jewish guilt ridden toddler. Take a look at
British contemporary politics: On the right end we find the Christian
prime minister, Mr Tony Blair, the guilty Gentile, being the leader of
once a socialist institute, he is now publicly supporting a bourgeoisie
racist, nationalist, colonialist state, Michael Howard, on the very
same end, being a secular Jew, wouldn’t bother to share with us some
deep spiritual Jewish insights, instead, he is telling us about his
Jewish grandmother, the Holocaust victim.

Today I am talking about Jewish Identity. In practice, I am talking
about Jewish identification, I leave out Judaism, or any reference to
Jewish cultural heritage. I don’t even talk about the Jewish people.
Instead, I ask what does it mean to be a secular Jew. I try to find out
what Jewish secular people identify with when they call themselves
Jews. I would argue that as far as contemporary Jewish identity is
concerned two major ideological schools are offering a clear answer.
One is Zionism and the other is Jewish lefticsm.

Let’s start with the Zionist school.

Following the 19th century European national awakening some Jews
decided that Jewishness is actually a manifestation of nationalistic
aspiration. Although European nationalism was intrinsically associated
the patriotic subject with the land he dwelled on, Jewish nationalism
was based on a mere fantasy. It associated the Jew with the land he was
supposed to dwell on. The early Zionists' popular slogan at the time
was: ‘land with no people for people with no land’. While many
historians justly ridicule the above statement proving beyond doubt
that the land of Palestine was in fact overwhelmingly occupied with
indigenous Palestinians, the main problem with slogan has to do with
the fact that People with no land can never establish a genuine
nationalistic movement. Zionism was and still is, as groundless as,
let’s say, an Italian claim for ownership of the land of England just
because England was once a part of the Roman empire. Jewish nationalism
was always an ideologically baseless utopian belief. It is an invalid
nationalistic movement simply because the Jews are not a nation. More
over even in their alleged ‘home land’, they are just about to become a
minority. And yet, Zionism was a sign of a change, the Jews decided
willingly to change their doomed fate, to become ‘normal’ people,
people who love their land, people who engage with nature and live in
nature. The Zionist Jew desired to redeem himself from the state of
victimhood. The Zionist Jew desired to take his own fate in his hands.
This reformed perception held till 1967, until then the Zionist Jew
regarded himself as a proud self sufficient colonialist. Till 1967 the
Holocaust had merely an instrumental role, it was something to
capitalise on rather than a major tragic event. If anything, for my
parents' generation, the holocaust was something to be ashamed of. The
image of ‘cattle led to the slaughter’ filled them and even my
generation with contempt towards anything that smelled like Diaspora.
Tom Segev was very articulate in conveying the story of Israelis'
disdain towards the ‘Seventh Million’ (those who managed to survive the
war). Needless to say that the current state of Israel clearly reveals
how unsuccessful Zionism proved to be. The transformation of the Jewish
people into a modern western civilised society failed completely. The
Israelis are far from being attached to the land which they apparently
shred with apartheid walls. Not only that Israelis didn’t manage to
erect a civilised society, it is hard to think of any current modern
state as morally corrupted and racially motivated as the Jewish state.
And yet, Zionism was an attempt to transform the Jew into a dignified
being, A strong, blond athletic productive subject rather than one who
prefers voluntarily to sit in the dark.

The alternative Jewish ideological answer to Zionism is provided by the
Jewish left thinkers. On the surface it sounds poetic and peaceful but
in practice it is at least as devastating as Zionism. The left Jew
would roll his eyes up and state with sheer defeat that “it was Hitler
rather than Moses who made him into a Jew”. Basically, it is the Other,
the Gentile, who makes the Jew into a Jew. As funny as it may sound,
most of those righteous Jews would argue in the same breath that the
Palestinians should enjoy the right of ‘self determination’. I do ask
myself how is it that when it comes to themselves, those left Jews are
far from being generous. Somehow, so it appears, the left Jew is
reluctant to self determine himself. Apparently, for the left Jew, WW2
has never ended, day by day, they are all defeated by Hitler or more
generally speaking by the Gentile world. But isn’t this an absurd
proposition? In fact, there is no Gentile world. Gentile world is in
itself a Jewish invention. Gentile people do not identify themselves as
‘non Jews’, there are far more interesting predicates to embrace.
Hence, we can clearly see that Jewish lefticsm is in itself a form of
‘sitting in the dark’ it is an exercise in victim practice. In short,
like the Jewish mother they are sitting in the dark (probably not too
far from their mothers). They are self appointed victims. Thus, we must
admit then that it is not Hitler who turned them into Jews. They are
Jews because enthusiastically, they endorse the Jewish identity. They
prefer to be victims. It is their own preference not to change the
light bulb.

But then why is it necessary? Surely the Jewish leftist knows that
these days he can express his calling without presenting any ethnic
traces, we are supposed to live in a multi cultural society. Your voice
is supposed to be heard regardless of your ethnic origin, your
religious background, your sexual preferences or any other social
grouping. I would argue that the voluntarily tendency to sit in the
dark is the new Jewish religion. It is a sophisticated ideological
mechanism that makes the Other, the Western Gentile, feel unwelcome or
inferior in any political discourse to do with Palestine. In practice
it locates the humanist Jews in the centre of Palestinian affairs. But
then, in practice it serves Israel with an ideological and moral body
armour. As soon as those humanist Jews become recognised as a genuine
voice for Palestine we learn from them that one state solution is
utterly impractical. Somehow, for them, the Jewish cause is slightly
more important than the Palestinian one. In the end of the day the Jews
really suffered.

The victim strategy is the latest and most sophisticated form of Jewish
supremacist segregation. Not only that I surround myself with walls, I
even make the other feel guilty for me building those walls around
myself (by the way, I don’t know whether you are aware of the bizarre
fact that within the Israeli discourse it is the Palestinians that are
blamed for the Jews building the apartheid wall). You can take from the
Jew his religion, you can take away the chicken soup you can even put
‘sea fruit’ on his plate but once you take away the victim tendency,
the Jew isn’t a Jew anymore. Once you lift the colossal threat of
Hitler then the Jew becomes an ordinary boring being. Let me tell you,
this is not going to happen.

art [6:22 PM]