The Wandering Who?

Published on Dissident Voice, by Gilad Atzmon, October 24th, 2009.

Tel Aviv University historian, Professor Shlomo Sand, opens his remarkable study of Jewish nationalism quoting Karl W. Deutsch: “A nation is a group of people united by a common mistake regarding its origin and a collective hostility towards its neighbours.”

As simple or even simplistic as it may sound, the quote above eloquently summarises the figment of reality entangled with modern Jewish nationalism and especially within the concept of Jewish identity. It obviously points the finger at the collective mistake Jews tend to make whenever referring to their ‘illusionary collective past’ and ‘collective origin’. Yet, in the same breath, Deutsch’s reading of nationalism throws light upon the hostility that is unfortunately coupled with almost every Jewish group towards its surrounding reality, whether it is human or takes the shape of land …

… Nationalism In General and Jewish Nationalism In Particular:

Louis-Ferdinand Celine mentioned that in the time of the Middle Ages in the moments between major wars, knights would charge a very high price for their readiness to die in the name of their kingdoms; in the 20th century youngsters have rushed to die en mass without demanding a thing in return. In order to understand this mass consciousness shift, we need an eloquent methodical model that would allow us to understand what nationalism is all about.

Like Karl Deutsch, Sand regards nationality as a phantasmic narrative. It is an established fact that anthropological and historical studies of the origins of different so-called ‘people’ and ‘nations’ lead towards the embarrassing crumbling of every ethnicity and ethnic identity. Hence, it is rather interesting to find out that Jews tend to take their own ethnic myth very seriously. The explanation may be simple, as Benjamin Beit Halachmi spotted years ago. Zionism was there to transform the Bible from a spiritual text into a ‘land registry.’ For that matter, the truth of the Bible or any other element of Jewish historical narrative has very little relevance as long as it doesn’t interfere with the Jewish national political cause or practice.

One could also surmise that the lack of clear ethnic origin doesn’t stop people from feeling an ethnic or national belonging. The fact that Jews are far from being what one can label as a People and that the Bible has very little historical truth in it, doesn’t really stop generations of Israelis and Jews from identifying themselves with King David or Terminator Samson. Evidently, the lack of an unambiguous ethnic origin doesn’t stop people from seeing themselves as part of a people. Similarly, it wouldn’t stop the nationalist Jew from feeling that he belongs to some greater abstract collective …

… To stand by the Palestinians is to save the world, but in order to do so we have to be courageous enough to stand up and admit that it is not merely a political battle. It is not just Israel, its army or its leadership, it isn’t even Dershowitz, Foxman, and their silencing leagues. It is actually a war against a cancerous spirit that hijacked the West and, at least momentarily, diverted it from its humanist inclination and Athenian aspirations. To fight a spirit is far more difficult than fighting people, just because one may have to first fight its traces within oneself. If we want to fight Jerusalem, we may have to first confront Jerusalem within. We may have to stand in front of the mirror, look around us. We may have to trace for empathy in ourselves in case there is anything left. (full long text).

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