The End of the Israeli Occupation of Judaism

Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto

Confusing Terence and the Talmud, my father used to claim for judaism the idea that no human suffering could be foreign to a jew. Israel has killed more than 11,000 children in Gaza and I have seen through my screen, day in and day out, the hell hiding in the faceless number of this atrocity. No particular decency or moral uprightness should be necessary to see the agony of fathers carrying pieces of their children’s bodies to morgues,  mothers carrying dead toddlers in their arms through the streets of Gaza, the child waking up to the abysmal silence left by his family exterminated in Israel’s campaign of righteous wickedness, the grandfather digging for the bodies of his grandchildren. The sheer sight of the most brutal of human sufferings should be enough to elicit the most profound of horrors. Those who are not moved ought to be presumed to have not seen the horror or to find the horror tolerable. 

Dwelling in the darkness of this wilful savagery for which only the word evil can be reserved one can find names, faces and voices like six-year-old Hind Rajab´s begging, as children like mine often do in the dark, to be rescued from the marauding monsters of the night and be held in one’s arms. Her call haunts me and I know it multiplying every hour of every day as the slaughter of Gaza shows no sign of abating neither under the pangs of conscience nor under the pressure of political prudence.

The number need not be disputed. The monstrours cifer is relevant only to understand the magnitude of the brutality of Israel and one child should have been enough to elicit horror. In fact, 10,000 is a magnitude that risks becoming a statistical oddity for the calculation of the damage that professional state violence can inflict on a civilian population.  Hardly can a human voice be heard in the depth of such a number. I, however, who still knows the last gestures of Mohammad al Dourra, can still hear the plea of Hind asking me, as my children with similar tones often do to break the hold of fear with warm embrace of these arms.

Indeed, I cannot avoid the sense that Hind was addressing me directly and I fail to understand in the most fundamental of ways those in the Jewish community who grew up with me and who hearing the plea cannot hear their own name called.  Can Hind´s plea possibly be foreign to them? I do not need to be reminded of her humanity to recognise it anymore than I needed a reminder that the Bibas family, taken hostage by Hamas, are Jewish Israelis to feel terrorized by the white pacifier and the terrified eyes of Ariel Bibas, age 4, as he clings to his mother  who tries with her bare arms to fence off the growing horror around them.

Both her and the other mother, the one in Gaza shaking herself violently to try to rip from her body the pain or the reality of the dead child in her arms belong to the deepest of my very own terrors and it is precisely in their mutual indistinguishability that I fail to understand let alone abide by any atavistic demand of tribal allegiance of the kind that populate the Israeli propagandists airwaves and feeds. Those of us who suffered not because of the religious or national affiliation of Ariel and his little brother Kfir but because of the expression of the soft tenderness of our own children abandoned to the whims of cruelty, see in the thousands of children slaughtered by Israel in Gaza the infernal multiplication of the most evil of inhumanities that the 7th of October left in its wake. No more and no less.

“Thousands of slaughtered children” is hard to write and almost impossible to understand yet it is not something that has given the state or much of its willing public any pause. In a campaign that reaffirms every day by word and act that all means, irrespective of how monstrous, are justified and permissible to attain the dubious military aim of defeating Hamas, Israel makes all of us Jews complicit. As the state of Israel continues to kill on behalf of all Jews, barbarity of such magnitude cannot but become the bitter inheritance of all Jews and it is hard to see how Israel or Judaism can survive this moral cataclysm without clearly and unequivocally denying the state and its machine of destruction not only its explicit but also its tacit endorsement. This is the time at which one has the chance to stand up so that the next generation of just among the nations can be counted among us Jews.

Israeli values are not Jewish Values

Even as many of the gruesome details provided by the state and its propaganda machine have been proven to be misrepresentations when not sheer lies, for many of us diaspora Jews, October the 7th will remain one of the most vivid expressions of a familiar horror. And that is not the horror of the camps and the Nazi machine of death of which the Israeli government and its emissaries so much likes to avail themselves to demonize anyone opposing their program. October 7th is rather the latest iteration of  the pogrom of old. Doubtlessly, a much more modest form of horror, but one that requires both a proximity to the victim and a degree of popular participation that in its cruelty makes the impersonal prolixity of the Nazi brutality less offensive. No evil is allowed to be banal in a pogrom.

In my mind, Beri, Nir Os and Kfar Aza are, indeed, the names of pogroms and repeat the gruesome choreography that in my studies became so familiar. But these pogroms were not at Jews. These were pogroms directed at Israelis and every time that the state of Israel repeats that these were attacks against Jews because they were Jews, it cavalierly overlooks the very existence of the Thai victims, the Muslim victims, the beduins and the druses that were victims and not merely as colateral damage but as targets. Targets not for being Jews but for participating in the life of the state. Those people also need to be remembered those people also must be mourned. All of these people were civilian victims and not Jewish victims. 

In any case, such brutality, as it has become a commonplace to point out, warranted a response. But the response it required was one for which modern Israel was neither prepared nor politically capable. That response should have been the pursuit of justice: investigation, capture, trial, punishment probably discharged by an international court with independent investigators and judges. But for a country that increasingly sees and talks about international law as an enemy of the state, the rule of international law was from the start impracticable. Yet, that would have been the very mechanism capable of guaranteeing that no child be made to pay for the crimes of militants, no public servant or administrator working in a Hamas hospital summarily executed for the decisions made by the commander in a terrorist battalion. But none of this was to be.

Instead, what was to come was the open and unabashed promise of genocidal revenge and destruction–”remember what Amalek did to you” was said in a rapt of messianic fervor by the prime minister– and then it was delivered. The orgy of violence that followed had to be coated for the international community in a thin layer of operative reasons and necessities. So confronted with the magnitude of its crime, Israel continues to tell anyone who will still listen about the difficulties of fighting an enemy like Hamas amid one of the most densely populated places on earth where the organization is embedded in the civilian infrastructure and the civilian population. But all these points were and remain moot.

Israel cannot expect to convince anyone by claiming the right to kill what Hamas uses as human shields anymore than it would be legitimate for Hamas to hit military targets in densely populated Israeli areas.  No human shield is a legitimate target precisely because it is a human shield. Precisely because it has been put in harms way. Precisely because it is not a party to the conflict. No victim of violence is, by virtue of being a victim, a legitimate object of further violence. The Israeli use and abuse of the term “Human shield”–a preferred term of exculpation for the mass destruction of Gaza and its people– should amount to no more than the moral condemnation of Hamas and at best, recognizing civilians in Gaza as human shields ought to have put an irresolvable moral dilemma in front of the most moral army in the world and ultimately forced it to back down. Instead, Israel and its military agreed with Hamas’ understanding not only of the value of the life of Palestinian civilians but also of the value of the life of hostages who also, as it turns out, are human shields. Paraphrasing a possibly apocryphal Gold Meir lines perhaps we should say that there will be peace only the day that Israel cares more about its own human Shields than contempt and disregard for the human Shields of others.

The miserable failure of the excuse is best expressed in the dark fate of those Israeli hostages who, also human shields themselves, Israel has treated with the same disregard that it treats all other so-called human shields. Accepting Hamas logic, the Israeli government with the raucous approval of its supporters assumed the Hamas logic and multiplied its ferocity  by orders of magnitude. Death paid with more death is the price of the primeval raptures of righteous violence that now Israel accepts as national defense policy.

And yet despite the grandstanding and hand-waving Israel has shown that neither the destruction of Hamas nor the liberation of Israeli hostages are actual aims of the murderous brutality unleashed against the population of Gaza. We know this because IIn November Israel learned the precise way to release hostages when a ceasefire allowed the return of more than a 100 hostages to their homes in Israel and abroad.  if Jerusalem’s true interest were the liberation of hostages this would have been achieved by means that have already proven successful. However all evidence points out that Israel has not been serious in its negotiations with Hamas. To this one must add the fact that Israel has spent 5 months raining military munition on the very same households where presumably hostages have been kept. As it turns out, for the bombs all human shields look the same. 

We also know that Israel has no intention of destroying Hamas. On the one hand because it is now on record that Nethanyahu has been instrumental in helping to finance and buttress Hama position to weaken the political standing of the Palestinian Authority as former head of the Shin Bet, Dani Ayalon has recently repeated. But also because as anyone with a modicum of Common Sense can plainly see Israel and its brutality have become the most powerful recruiting tool that Hamas has had in generations. 

The brutality the horror of death in its endless forms the horror of pain and suffering and starvation, the horror of parents carrying the corpse of their children, the horror of children seeing their parents dying right in front of them, the horror of entire families being wiped out all of this hell can only spawn hatred. I have seen this cruelty from afar, from the safe distance of home and I can say with complete certainty that I cannot  and will never forgive Israel for what it has done. I want to Imagine that anybody can understand that all those souls that survive and are condemn to live with the memories of this carnage cannot possibly be expected to forgive Israel. Israel has helped Hamas gain support in places where it had none. 

And this is not only reasonable but it’s also and this stands as the direct condemnation of the political machinations of Israel it’s also entirely predictable.

And it is here that resides what is perhaps the most fundamental difference between the modern judaism of the diaspora and the atavistic tribalism of Netanyahu’s gang that in the immediate aftermath of the attacks deployed all its well-studied repertoire of bronze-age talking points, where intentions are metaphysical and justice is imparted by exerting a price in blood from entire collectives. Not even the Amalekite sheep were to be spared and neither were the sheep in Gaza.

IIn so far as Judaism remains, first and foremost, a diasporic form of life, as it has been for the vast majority of the past 2000 years, Jews will inevitably remain committed, even if selectively at times, to justice as it emerges from the values of democracy, toleration and rights. The reason is likely the intuitive understanding that their very existence as a minority has rested and will continue to rest on the protection afforded by the enshrinement of rights, of democratic guarantees and of toleration. This is an integral element of Jewish identity  Judaism and the Jew have found shelter against the brutal tides of history and flourished in the multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious toleration of those states that have built their political projects on the values of enlightenment.

For this reason, the Jew cannot but be, even if tacitly, committed to the state that forecloses persecution, to the government that protects the freedom to express unpopular opinions and to the state that made itself guardian and protector not only of the weaker but perhaps more importantly of the fewer from the overwhelming and oftentimes brutal force of the many. This commitment has been and remains anathema to the ethnic and religious exclusivity that nationalism privileges, Jewish nationalism included.

Indeed, jewish identity built on the collective memory of brutal suffering is first and foremost a direct and sustained battle against almost all things that the political articulations of national exclusivity have entailed but also as a constant understanding of the duty to protect from an always imminent brutality parading as righteousness. For all the wishes and hopes of the proverbial future in Jerusalem, the present of the Jew remains to this day solidly grounded on an almost metaphysical reliance on the humanity of the other expressed in an hospitality more profound than hospitality itself and an aversion to violence that sees its own historical suffering in every other suffering.

This human solidarity with the declared enemy of the state—“there are no innocent civilians in Gaza” has said the authorized voices of the state—for the state cannot be anything other than an expression of treason and one must grant the point: the horror that the diasporic Jew has rejected and that Jewish nationalism has promised and delivered make the last 2000 years of Jewish identity not merely incompatible but irreconcilable with the demands of allegiance. What the propagandists of the state trying to wash the blood of children just like mine from the Israeli flag fail to understand is that however loud their demands of tribal loyalty might be, the echo of Hinds Rajab´s plea will always be louder, clearer and more pressing and will more profoundly appeal to my sense of Judaism.

Having long lost its moral compass, the Israeli government swiftly moved to squander its political legitimacy with its repeated public expressions of genocidal intention and criminal conduct of the war. And then, demanding that Jews declare allegiance to  righteous tribal cruelty as a more fundamental  Jewish value than mending the world, Tikun Holam, it has also foregone the moral voice of Judaism and rid itself of the sympathy of much of the public opinion around the globe.

This is not only true for a gentile world that can be readily accused of antisemitism for siding with a child summarily executed next to the decomposing bodies of her family but also for this Jew who cannot tell apart the burning mosque from the charred synagogue, the keening mother in the hijab from the keening mother in the Tichel or the political sympathies of the parents of the emaciated child behind the various wired fence throughout history. All of these sufferings summon my horror with equal power and what the Israeli ideological machine must come to terms with is that  if asked to choose between Israel and children just like mine, I will choose in every single case and without hesitation children just like mine. In every single case. 

It is not the heretic Jew that has undone the Israeli occupation of Judaism. If Judaism is becoming rapidly disentangled from Jewish nationalism we owe it almost entirely to the dark achievements of Jewish nationalism in its latest and most brutal iteration to date. One that has renewed power but that has been the hallmark of the idea of a national judaism since its very inception and whose trail of blood is the one that leads to the emaciated bodies and the murdered children of Gaza today.  The Israeli occupation of Judaism is coming to an end. 

The swelling numbers of Jews turning their back on Israel bare this out.  The evidence is voluminous and now goes far beyond the usual cast of intellectuals, journalists and NGOs that Zionist voices and their emissaries like to single out. Yet, it is the numbers that paint the most sobering picture of the shift.  A Brookings poll published last November on American Jewish attitudes towards Israel found that among people under 40 almost 40 percent take Israel to be an apartheid state and take the Israeli treatment of Palestinians to be similar to racism in the US while 33 percent agree that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians. Remarkably twenty percent say that Israel does not have the right to exist.

The writing was already on the wall even before the full scale of the carnage in Gaza came to light and masses of Jewish demonstrators began to take to the streets across the west to denounce Israel atrocities in Gaza. There is a Judaism that Judaism is much older than the state of Israel and it’s much older than the Zionist project. If this Judaism raises from the ashes of Gaza, if it survives the destruction of Gaza it will have to pay homage to the martyrs of Gaza who made it wake up from its dogmatic slumber and reclaim its tradition and inheritance from the claws of Jewish ethno-religious nationalism that more than once almost destroyed it.

When a crowd of Jews gathered in Grand Central Station in New York in mid November to denounce the bombing of Gaza, according to the Gaza Health ministry–numbers we now know Israel considers accurate – the IDF had killed 4650 children. As the murder of children and their families steadily grows into the tens of thousands, one can only assume that so does the number of Jews unwilling to be made complicit in the atrocity committed in their name by a state that now brazenly claims monopoly over their identity and history. We are witnessing a Jewish community–from Germany where I live all the way to Argentina where I grew up– which is waking up to the fact that the only way to stop these crimes is to reclaim its identity so as to deprive Israel of an ideological tool to continue the execution of this latest chapter in the ongoing catastrophe that generations of palestinian children have suffered. It is too late to save those who were massacred in our name but at least it is not too late for us to stand up and  be counted.