‘Going native’ and Jewish exceptionalism on the left

Yossi Gurvitz issued a decent rebuttal to Dimi Reider’s call to self-immolation over at 972mag. It’s worth reading the argument in its entirety, and its strengths are self-evident. There is one significant note worth harping on: Gurvitz’s casual racism when it comes to the Palestinians.

I don’t know Gurvitz and haven’t read much of his work. But I’m confident he didn’t intend to employ the language he did in the way that he did. He’s careful about identifying Palestinian victims of Jewish terror by name at several points in the article.

But what I took issue with are the following few lines:

I never even considered the idea of grabbing the nearest Palestinian, burning his property, or beating him up. And most Israelis were just like me. We took the attacks on the chin, gritted our teeth, and kept ourselves from whining. The settlers, on the other hands, have gone native. It used to be Palestinians who brandished bloodied Israeli bodies; now it’s the settlers who do so.

Here, Gurvitz reveals a deeply embedded Jewish-centrism that many of our friends on the left share. The drive to end the occupation and Israeli apartheid stems not from universal human values, but from the drive for the Tikkun Olamization of the Jewish people. Everything else is secondary.

Usually, I don’t care very much about that; I understand that many Israelis and Jewish people are weaned on the idea of Jewish exceptionalism. But in this case, Gurvitz’s language – which by definition belies a worldview – is deeply offensive.

Perhaps Gurvitz really does believe that the settlers have gone native. In this case, they’ve gone savage, like the natives. And his moral imperative is to hold his head up and demand that the Jews not sink into the reactionary sewer inhabited so comfortably by the natives.

The idea here is that the Palestinians behave in a way that is intrinsically “Palestinian” or “native.” The Jewish settlers meanwhile, suffer from aping the apes. They’re acting in a vicious, native way, and that isn’t very becoming of Jews.

At this point it’s probably worth reminding Gurvitz that his Jewish-centrism follows the wearying path of European and Western colonial dehumanization across the developing world. Peoples and governments have navigated and continue to navigate this territory. We can learn from that. There is no Palestinian Caliban and there is no Jewish Kurtz. But there is a history of colonial repression and unexamined racism.

About Ahmed Moor

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American who was born in the Gaza Strip. He is a Soros Fellow, co-editor of After Zionism and co-founder and CEO of liwwa.com. Twitter: @ahmedmoor
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 28 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. kapok says:

    “brandished bloody bodies”

    Points for alliterative elan. But how do you “brandish” a body?

    • Potsherd2 says:

      With really really big muscles!

    • LeaNder says:

      actually, I think he means the manipulative use of the photos. Why should they tell us more than we already know?

      Jerry Haber writes about it, but Jerry doesn’t claim that only the natives used them, or invented the use to win political points:

      At the height of the Second Intifada, I was sent emails containing gruesome pictures of Arab children who were butchered by Israeli bombs, and others containing gruesome pictures of Israeli Jewish children who were blown up by Arab suicide bombers. I made a collection of both pictures, and sent them to both groups of people – with the request to stop using these horrible incidents to win political points.

  2. clenchner says:

    Great points. I think you did catch someone express some undercurrents common in the Israeli/Western/colonialist psyche. And I think, like you, I don’t judge the author too harshly – undoing this kind of programming isn’t an event, but a life long process.

    I will disagree with this: “The drive to end the occupation and Israeli apartheid stems not from universal human values, but from the drive for the Tikkun Olamization of the Jewish people. ”

    I think you mean that for many Israelis and Jews, the drive to end the occupation is for the self-serving motive of securing the state of Israel, a kind of more far sighted effort to preserve what can be saved of the Zionist enterprise. That’s the kind of argument I used to hear all the time from Meretz and Labor, who wanted to appeal to the ‘realist’ voter and not just the ‘yefeh nefesh’ or bleeding heart liberal voter.

    But ‘Tikkun Olamization’? That is precisely the universal, humanistic trend within Jewish thought. That’s just Jewish language for celebrating the mission of making the entire world a better place. And for that reason, some of the more tribal minded right wing Jews are attacking it, the way that Glenn Beck attacks ‘social justice’, as code for a left wing agenda.

    For my part, I oppose the occupation both on human rights and universal values grounds, AND because I see tremendous benefits for Jews and Israel. It’s a good thing when those two are aligned. It will be much easier to advance democracy in Israel without the occupation in place.

    • Avi says:

      I think you mean that for many Israelis and Jews, the drive to end the occupation is for the self-serving motive of securing the state of Israel, a kind of more far sighted effort to preserve what can be saved of the Zionist enterprise.

      You write that as though you do not subscribe to that view, when in fact, your confessions have proven otherwise.

      link to mondoweiss.net

      For my part, I oppose the occupation both on human rights and universal values grounds, AND because I see tremendous benefits for Jews and Israel.

      You’re being dishonest. Your number one priority is clearly the latter, not the former. You’re like the businessman who sees an opportunity in shoring up votes by supporting the construction of a daycare center, and suddenly all his billboards and signs bear the photos of cheerful toddlers, smiling with a slogan that reads, “Tomorrow’s voters are today’s happy constituents.”

      • clenchner says:

        Building day care centers, making people happy and cheerful, getting elected, turning a profit…. I can’t believe you made all that sound like something bad.
        As anyone who understands intersectionality will comprehend, it’s rare for people to not have mixed motives, identities or competing values and desires. It’s as if you judge a settler to be ‘more honest’ and worthy of praise for not caring about universal values at all, while someone like myself who thinks that my self-interest intersects quite well with universal values is somehow being dishonest.

        That’s a topsy-turvy world.

        In any case, I’m not trying to save the Zionist enterprise, but whatever. I do not subscribe to Zionist ideology.

        • Avi says:

          Building day care centers, making people happy and cheerful, getting elected, turning a profit…. I can’t believe you made all that sound like something bad.

          If you can make Israel sound good by claiming that “Minorities are welcomed” in the state, surely, anyone can make all of the above sound bad to an obtuse self-styled Israeli leftist.

          It’s as if you judge a settler to be ‘more honest’ and worthy of praise for not caring about universal values at all, while someone like myself who thinks that my self-interest intersects quite well with universal values is somehow being dishonest.

          No that’s not it. You jumped on the ‘universal rights’ bandwagon when you realized that you couldn’t peddle the Jewish State argument under that ‘small tenters’ banner you hock. That’s why you keep harping about ‘small tenters’ while embracing lukewarm initiatives for BDS and rejecting anything that might move Israelis from their comfort zone. Certainly your insistence on the need for a two-state solution meshes well with those sentiments.

        • Citizen says:

          If Jewish values are the same as universal values in terms of human rights isn’t it redundant to refer to those values as Jewish? What’s the point? Also, as far as the inspiring obligation “to repair the world” is concerned, I think the physician’s oath fits well: “First, do no harm.”

        • piotr says:

          I think that “small tent” harping are on target.

          One state versus two states controversy is somewhat similar to counting angels in a pinhead. The bottom line is how to move from unacceptable (and unsustainable) status quo to some acceptable and sustainable state, define in term of broad principles. The big slew of hand of 1ss supporters is that they view settlements as irreversible and hence making 2ss impossible. But it is mind boggling to me how settlements are acceptable with 1ss. I would assume that individual and community property rights in the putative one state would have to defined differently than by Israel, and it does not really square with acceptance of settlements (perhaps some creative solutions could be found, but I did not hear of any).

          Settlements are associated with dispossession, aggression and humiliation, which is summarized as Apartheid. They are most unpopular feature of Israel, and thus a correctly chosen political target.

          I would also give some slack to “self–styled Israeli leftists”. While not sharing the fate of dodo, the species suffers from a severe depletion of the genetic pool, habitat fragmentation and unsustainable commercial hunting. Should they suffer also “friendly fire”?

        • Avi says:

          One state versus two states controversy is somewhat similar to counting angels in a pinhead. The bottom line is how to move from unacceptable (and unsustainable) status quo to some acceptable and sustainable state, define in term of broad principles. The big slew of hand of 1ss supporters is that they view settlements as irreversible and hence making 2ss impossible. But it is mind boggling to me how settlements are acceptable with 1ss. I would assume that individual and community property rights in the putative one state would have to defined differently than by Israel, and it does not really square with acceptance of settlements (perhaps some creative solutions could be found, but I did not hear of any).

          The two state solution is only possible if the Palestinians accept the bantustans in their current form. The Palestine Papers show that given current political trends, Israel will never accept any plan where either the entire occupied West Bank is returned to the Palestinians or Areas A, B, and C are returned.

          The one state solution is one in which Israel — through its own failed policies — will end up forcing on itself. That’s why it’s far more practical.

          Therein lies the difference. In such a case, the P.A. — having lost all legitimacy among Palestinians — will dissolve. Israel will consequently move in to directly control Areas A and B. That will further isolate Israel, politically, as it will find it more difficult to explain away the subjugation of close to 5 million Palestinians.

          By contrast, a sham peace process for an eventual two-state solution has had the capacity to prolong the impasse because it provides Israel with the cloak of ‘doing something’ to improve conditions. Thus, any effort to bring about the two-state solution — again, given current trajectory — will result in continued occupation, also known as the status quo.

          The Israeli strategy for the West Bank is simple, managing a state of permanent occupation is preferable to handing back the territory to an independent Palestinian state.

          In light of this, the two-state solution is only achievable in the delusional minds of outside spectators who know nothing about which they write.

          I would also give some slack to “self–styled Israeli leftists”. While not sharing the fate of dodo, the species suffers from a severe depletion of the genetic pool, habitat fragmentation and unsustainable commercial hunting. Should they suffer also “friendly fire”?

          Live a few decades among Israelis who call themselves “leftists” and then come back and lecture me.

          I’ll give you a hint, the “Israeli left” doesn’t include people like professor Ilan Pappe, for example. By Israeli standards, he’s an extreme fringe, radical leftist.

        • MRW says:

          Excellent, Avi.

        • clenchner says:

          Citizen,
          I wouldn’t say that all Jewish values are universal values. On this site in particular, folks will recognize that many Jews value tribalism and ethnocentrism at the expense of universal values. As in many faith traditions, there is somewhat of a conflict underway between the particular and the universal. I’m comfortable writing that under the banner of Jewish values literally anything could be justified. Ditto for Christian or Muslim values.
          That said, in the United States and Israel, outside of the Orthodox world, most Jews generally accept universal values and dress them up as ‘Jewish’. This is harmless to others and helps sustain the faith tradition. The problem is in dressing up fearful, defensive, tribal values taken to some kind of extreme and asserting that those are the ‘true’ Jewish values.
          Both anti-Semites and Jewish racists assert the latter.

        • piotr says:

          “The Palestine Papers show that given current political trends, Israel will never accept any plan where …”

          One can simplify it to “Given current political trends, Israel will never accept any plan.” However, current political trends are, well, current. Arab initiative was never rejected by international community, and it is a sound basis for pressure on Israel, or really, on governments that have the ability to act and weasel out of taken any position (starting with European countries).

          Peace process indeed has proven to be long on process and short on peace, but it is still a useful framework. BDS remains the best framework to articulate the position that Apartheid is there, and Apartheid is repugnant whether applied to “our people” or to “other peoples”, and numerical proportion do not have moral implications, if 60% imposes discrimination, dispossession and humiliation on 40% it is not much better than 40% imposing it on 60%.

          I think there exists a wide basis for consensus between J-street type of 2ss and Mondowess type 1ss, and insults of the form “peddling Jewish state argument” are not that helpful.

          About Israeli Left: starting from the center, we have the firstborn child of Ariel Sharon, or Kadima (perhaps they should be called Mensheviks of Likud). Somewhere in the vicinity is “independence” party. Labor makes a big point of not caring about non-economic issues. Haaretz somehow manages to find advertisers, and some columns are “Left”.

          However, there are people like +972 magazine, T’selem, etc., definitely more than ten just people.

        • RoHa says:

          “If Jewish values are the same as universal values in terms of human rights isn’t it redundant to refer to those values as Jewish? What’s the point?”

          I think the point is to show people (such as myself) who think that Jewish values are summed up in “is it good for the Jews?” are wrong. And I hope they, and I, are wrong.

          ‘Also, as far as the inspiring obligation “to repair the world” is concerned, I think the physician’s oath fits well: “First, do no harm.”’

          In my more cynical moments (not that most of them aren’t) I think “Repair the world? Great! When are you going to start?”

          There is no difference between what Jews actually do to repair the world and what Gentiles do. Jewish doctors heal the injured and cure the sick. Do they do it in any other way than Gentiles? Jewish teachers teach in the same way as Gentile teachers.

          If the obligation actually does inspire good works (and I suspect it does) then fine. If not (but how could we show that?) it seems a pointless boast.

        • Avi says:

          One can simplify it to “Given current political trends, Israel will never accept any plan.” However, current political trends are, well, current. Arab initiative was never rejected by international community, and it is a sound basis for pressure on Israel, or really, on governments that have the ability to act and weasel out of taken any position (starting with European countries).

          I could explain to you in detail why you haven’t the lightest clue as to what you’re talking about. But, I haven’t the time to argue with an ignoramus who insists he knows better when he clearly does not. So keep repeating your nonsense and perhaps if you repeat it often it’ll come true.

          I think there exists a wide basis for consensus between J-street type of 2ss and Mondowess type 1ss, and insults of the form “peddling Jewish state argument” are not that helpful.

          It wasn’t an insult. Just make sure that while you’ve got your head in the sand, you come out for air once in a while.

          About Israeli Left: starting from the center, we have the firstborn child of Ariel Sharon, or Kadima (perhaps they should be called Mensheviks of Likud). Somewhere in the vicinity is “independence” party. Labor makes a big point of not caring about non-economic issues. Haaretz somehow manages to find advertisers, and some columns are “Left”.

          That’s irrelevant.

          By the way, who are you, anyway?

  3. Shunra says:

    Ahmed, unlike you I know Yossi well. Moreover I love him like a brother and have had the pleasure of working (and arguing) with him for several years. He is one of the two best thinkers & writers in the Hebrew language blogosphere (and one of the best outside of it).

    I very much recommend his English blog (ygurvitz.net). His Hebrew blog is the main source for cogent, coherent, consistent critique of Israel’s internal and external policies. He is an important commentator and visionary.

    Despite my great love and admiration for Yossi, we have long disagreed about several important issues. Part of what makes him so rare and precious a correspondent, though, is the fact that he is willing and able to admit errors, both when the error is in point of fact and when it is in paradigm. I aspire to such a standard of intellectual honesty.

    Ahmed, I agree with your critique of Yossi’s piece. Jewish-centrism is a very real pitfall for those of us who grew up in a Jewish-centric world. That said, I hope that you & Yossi will engage in dialog that will persuade him of your important point. Having Yossi as an ally would be a great treasure, and would be an important step in expanding the perspectives of readers of Hebrew, and every ally inside Israel means that much less force needs be applied, and that much more energy can be used for peaceful rebuilding and repatriation.

    • MRW says:

      Interesting.

    • Potsherd2 says:

      I read +972 (why isn’t it on the blogroll here?) with interest and frequent appreciation, yet at the bottom line it’s a Zionist group, and this is always going to tangle them up in the inherent contraditions between Zionism and humanity.

      • Shunra says:

        972 is a clear reflection of many pieces of Israel’s left; I am biased, though, in favor of reading Yossi at his own blog (which I referenced above).

        As to the inevitable conflict between Zionism and humanity – that is true, of course. The question is: what is to happen with the Israelis who currently there, between the river and the sea, once Israel dismantles itself and a viable political entity reestablishes there?
        I don’t know if there is a good answer to this question. If there is, it will surely go through the vision and compassion of Yossi and his peers (on the Palestinian as well as the Israeli side.)

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with Gurvitz that the settlers have “gone native”. However, I believe the applicable “native(s)” is(are) the ‘Zealot(s)’ of the 1st century.

    FROM WIKIPEDIA:

    (excerpts) Zealotry was originally a political movement in 1st century Second Temple Judaism which sought to incite the people of Iudaea Province to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from the Holy land by force of arms, most notably during the Great Jewish Revolt (66-70). Zealotry was described by Josephus as one of the “four sects” at this time. The zealots have been described as one of the first examples of the use of terrorism.[1]
    …The Zealots objected to Roman rule and violently sought to eradicate it by generally targeting Romans and Greeks. Zealots [who] engaged in violence against other Jews were called the Sicarii.[9] They raided Jewish habitations and killed Jews they considered apostate and collaborators, while also urging Jews to fight Romans and other Jews for the cause. Josephus paints a very bleak picture of their activities as they instituted what he characterized as a murderous “reign of terror” prior to the Jewish Temple’s destruction.
    According to Josephus, the Zealots followed John of Gischala, who had fought the Romans in Galilee, escaped, came to Jerusalem, and then inspired the locals to a fanatical position that led to the Temple’s destruction
    In the Talmud, the Zealots are also called the Biryonim (בריונים) meaning “boorish”, “wild”, or “ruffians”, and are condemned for their aggression, their unwillingness to compromise to save the survivors of besieged Jerusalem, and their blind militarism. They are further blamed for having contributed to the demise of Jerusalem and the second Jewish Temple, and of ensuring Rome’s retributions and stranglehold on Judea. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin:56b, the Biryonim destroyed decades’ worth of food and firewood in besieged Jerusalem to force the Jews to fight the Romans out of desperation…
    …The Zealots advocated violence against the Romans, their Jewish collaborators, and the Sadducees, by raiding for provisions and other activities to aid their cause…
    …After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in AD 70, 960 Zealots under the lead of Elazar ben Yair took refuge by capturing the Roman fortress of Masada and taking no prisoners. Rome sent the Tenth Legion to retake the stronghold, but it failed for three years…Finally, in the third year of the siege, 73, The Romans completed a massive earthwork siege ramp up one face of the mountain on which Masada sat…When the Romans stormed in to capture the Zealots, they found that the fighters and their families had all committed suicide.
    Today, members of some units of the Israel Defense Forces, climb Masada and declare “Masada Shall Not Fall Again”, in Hebrew, at their graduation from basic training
    One particularly extreme group of Zealots was also known in Latin as sicarii, meaning “violent men” or “dagger men”(sing. sicarius, possibly a morphological reanalysis), because of their policy of killing Jews opposed to their call for war against Rome. Probably many Zealots were sicarii simultaneously, and they may be the biryonim of the Talmud that were feared even by the Jewish sages of the Mishnah…
    …Both groups objected to the way the priestly families were running the Temple.[8]
    The term sicariii also referred to a class of gladiators who fought with a long, curved knife…
    1. A Brief History of Terrorism, Center for Defense Information, 07/02/03 – link to cdi.org
    8. a b H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-674-39731-2, page 275
    9. A Brief History of Terrorism, ibid

    SOURCE – link to cdi.org

  5. thetumta says:

    It has come to this this, analyzing the thinking of the Jewish Taliban and Al Quida(sp). Arguing against their arguments, when they should just be cast in to dust bin of failed history and ignored. “The universal, humanistic trend within Jewish thought” has seemingly died. I was raised on it, so I’ll mourn it’s passing in private. Time to move on.
    Tumta

  6. Pixel says:

    “Here, Gurvitz reveals a deeply embedded Jewish-centrism that many of our friends on the left share.”

    Jewish-centrism …and victimization.

  7. Antidote says:

    “Gurvitz reveals a deeply embedded Jewish-centrism that many of our friends on the left share. The drive to end the occupation and Israeli apartheid stems not from universal human values, but from the drive for the Tikkun Olamization of the Jewish people. Everything else is secondary.”

    Excellent points. In related news, and wrt colonial dehumanization/racism, see this interview with Israeli Minister (Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Relations) on why and how the unprecedented decision was made to release gruesome pictures of the slain Itamar murder and alleged terror victims:

    _______

    Every time the topic of public relations and information in Israel and abroad is raised, I’m always asked – why don’t we publish the photos? I say with a bit of cynicism that I can already answer this question in several languages. I always explained that there was the matter of the family and a desire not to cause further suffering – and also that we are not like them, we are not like the Palestinians.

    Q: So are we like the Palestinians now?

    No, there is a huge difference. They have no problem issuing such photos a few minutes after the incident, without asking the family and without blurring anything out. It is also needless to say that, in some cases, fabricated images are released too.

    Q: Israel always criticizes the Arab press for airing photos of damage from IDF attacks in an endless loop, which leads to incitement and hatred. What is the difference here?

    There is a big difference. I remember photos of a girl being brought into a hospital in Gaza without a stretcher, of course. They held her in their arms so that everyone will see her and air the picture over and over, as a kind of background image. This is something that causes hatred, whose purpose is to incite more than to shock.

    link to haaretz.com

    So there you have it: The Palestinians are brutes, with no respect for the dead or the living, be they Palestinian or Jewish. Uncivilized liars who prostitute their dead, real or fake, only to incite anti-semitism. How can you live in peace with such people, or maintain your civilized values with hostile neighbors such as this?

    It’s a classic case of context manipulation: The Palestinians started this, we’re just reacting and reluctantly defending ourselves, to balance the record. Really? How many decades has the world been bombarded with the Zionist version of the Holocaust, with dreadful pictures of piles of emaciated corpses, the obvious victims of starvation and disease during the collapse of the Reich at Buchenwald, Dachau, Belsen, neither of them ‘death camps’ documenting the ‘systematic murder of Jews by gassing’, and where Jews did at no point constituted the majority of prisoners?

    Recent article in Haaretz:

    Thirty photographs shot by American forces in 1945 at the Buchenwald concentration camp and sub-camp Ohrdruf, showing piles of corpses, some burnt, were recently provided to the German daily Bild, which published them yesterday.

    Alongside the bodies, the photos show liberating American soldiers in uniform. Some of the photos were taken at Ohrdruf, which was part of the Buchenwald camp network and was captured by the Americans on April 4, 1945, making it the first camp liberated by American forces.

    The photos received by Bild had been in private hands for 66 years. Some of them were published by Bild yesterday to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The German daily agreed to provide them to Haaretz as well.

    The Buchenwald concentration camp functioned from 1937 until 1945, during which about a quarter million people passed through the camp on the way to death camps. About 65,000 people, however, perished at Buchenwald itself. The detainees at the camp included Israel’s former chief rabbi and the current chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Israel Meir Lau, as well as writer Elie Wiesel and journalist Jean Amery.

    link to haaretz.com

    You’d think Buchenwald was just a holding tank and transfer station for Jews en route to Auschwitz. Nothing could be further from the truth, given the fact that most Jews at Buchenwald were either there because they were political prisoners (like non-Jewish communists), or, after the mass arrests in 1938 following the annexation of Austria and the Kristallnacht, released upon providing emigration visas. The images taken during the liberation of the camps are not ‘fabricated’ but misappropriated for political purposes, amplifying Jewish victimhood at the expense of other victims, past and present. And the minister complains about the Palestinians posting ‘fabricated’ pictures of their current victims for the purpose of inciting hatred? At least the victims are all Palestinians, and didn’t die more than half a century ago.