Sunday, October 25, 2009

'Psychoactive' against Israel

From JPost Blogs, 18 Oct 2009, by Petra Marquardt-Bigman:

... how bizarre things can get when you venture out to the fringes where it's fashionable to demonize Israel as a uniquely evil force in today's world.

...when it comes to demonizing Israel, nothing is too absurd to get aired in respectable media outlets or at academic conferences; indeed, there are even prestigious awards to be won.

A good example is former Israeli lawyer and political activist Felicia Langer, who was recently awarded Germany's "Federal Merit Cross, First Class." Langer, who has lived in Germany for some 20 years, has made a name for herself as a fierce critic of Israel who wouldn't even shy away from language that suggests comparisons between the Jewish state and Nazi Germany. Reportedly, she left Israel out of protest and has explained that she made "a politically conscious choice for Germany ... because I understood with what brutality and sophistication Israel was exploiting the Germans' guilt."

Obviously, the kind of positive reinforcement bestowed on Langer is by and large reserved for Jewish "critics" of Israel, because if a non-Jew suggests that Israel should be suspected of genocidal intentions or be compared to Nazi Germany, most people realize that this kind of "criticism" of Israel is tainted by anti-Semitic attitudes. The phenomenon of Jews eager to level those preposterous charges against Israel has led to a debate about the question if this is a manifestation of "Jewish anti-Semitism."

Recently I came across an article that railed against the "tropes of 'Jewish antisemitism'" and dismissed the "concept of the 'self-hating Jew,'" which was described as having been "dignified with a pseudo-psychopathology by those keen to suppress dissent." The writer, Antony Lerman, is a regular contributor to the Guardian's "Comment is Free" blog, and this was not the first time that he expressed his passionate rejection of the concept of Jewish "self-hatred." One of the previous occasions was in Lerman's recent review of a book by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, whom Lerman criticized sharply:

He wants space for dissident voices, yet repeatedly gives credence to the notion of Jewish self-hatred, a bogus concept that serves no other purpose than to demonise Jewish dissent. He calls on Jews not to see all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, but he endorses wholesale the idea of the 'new anti-Semitism' - basically, that Israel is the Jew among the nations - which licenses Jews to do precisely what he says they shouldn't."

Since a note at the end of the review announces that Antony Lerman "is writing a book reflecting on his personal experience of Zionism and Israel," we can expect to hear more from him in defense of even the most outlandish accusations against Israel.

...Moreover, in his most recent article, Lerman hardly helped his case when he praised a conference held last week at Birkbeck, University of London, which explored the subject "Sites of Conflict: Psycho-political Resistance in Israel-Palestine." Lerman explained that this conference "was prompted by the work of a group called Psychoactive - Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights" and he highlighted the contribution of Professor Uri Hadar of Tel Aviv University, an Israeli psychologist, who "sought to explain 'Israeli brutality towards Palestinians and what enables it.'"

According to Lerman, Hadar presented a "troublingly controversial" argument by suggesting "that Israel has never been properly able to mourn the mass murder of six million Jews, thus never properly assimilating it into the Israeli psyche, and that this has led to [a] 'full-blown Palestinian Holocaust being part of an unconscious Israeli itinerary.'" [listen to Uri Hadar's presentation in London - it's a wacky hallucination in which he suggests that the "nasty" majority of Israelis see themselves as the almost sacrificed Isaac and the Palestinians as the "replacement sacrificial lamb (sic)" ...and similarly wierd constructions - SL]

... There is also nothing original to this "psychologizing," since it has become rather fashionable in certain circles to put the Jews on the couch to diagnose the supposed pathologies of their collective psyche - in fact, Antony Lerman is among those who has tried his hand at this endeavor.

There are two superb critiques of this latest fashion from a left-wing political perspective: one is an article by David Hirsh published in April in the Jewish Chronicle, the other is a post by Shalom Lappin published on normblog in May. Lappin describes the "psychologizing discourse" as "a vintage case of pseudo-science in the service of prejudice" and emphasizes that it is used to lend respectability to "attitudes and assumptions that would be inadmissible if expressed in traditional terms."

But it's perhaps also time to let the "psychologizers" have a taste of their own medicine. A recent article written by some of the members of the "psychoactive" group whose work inspired the Birkbeck conference throws some light on their own "psychoactivity." In an article published in September, members of the group describe their emotions during and after Israel's military campaign against Gaza. They note that due to their opposition to the Gaza campaign, they felt "a sense of deep disconnection from the Israeli collective." At the same time, it seems that the efforts of the group members to remain engaged in a mutually supportive dialogue with their colleagues in Gaza, the West Bank and Israeli Arab communities were not all that rewarding:

The fact that we were activists speaking out against the attack did not really count in our favour: we were perceived as part of the attacking entity and hence as an address for expressions of frustration and outrage. […] From time to time the Jewish participants came up with calls for Palestinians to express their disavowal of Hamas or their recognition of the suffering of the Jewish citizens of Sderot or the Gaza area. Such demands were perceived as non-legitimate by most Palestinians [!!!!!] - at a time when Israel was carrying out, in their words, war crimes against their brethren in Gaza. […] our need to feel moral and humane was linked to Palestinians' recognition of our morality and humanity.

Whether consciously or not, we expected to receive recognition and acknowledgement in our activities, and to assert the difference between ourselves and the Jewish majority. We needed to confirm our humanity and morality through its appreciation by the Palestinian participants. When this did not quite happen, we found ourselves, again, coping with a sense of isolation and loneliness.

When the bar for the sought-after "recognition" is set so high, some real effort is required - like talk about a "full-blown Palestinian Holocaust being part of an unconscious Israeli itinerary" during a conference in London. That should do the trick and get the Jewish group members the desperately sought "recognition and acknowledgement," and help them "to assert the difference between ourselves and the Jewish majority" by confirming their "humanity and morality through its appreciation by the Palestinian participants."

Obviously, this is the perfect description of what is usually meant by "self-hatred." But this example also provides a perfect illustration why this concept is problematic: the "psychoactivity" described here has nothing to do with self-hatred; to the contrary, it reveals a sense of superiority that sets a small self-appointed "elite" apart from an inferior majority that is unable and unwilling to live up to the lofty standards this elite holds dear.

But what can you do: in Israel, it just isn't everybody's thing to hold out for a pat on the back and a heart-felt "well done" from people who see no reason to disavow Hamas.
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