The latest outrage, a video recording of an Israeli army medic (!) casually executing a Palestinian man, has been seized upon by people who are sympathetic to Israel. They quickly began to write things like: What have we become? What about our values? This fight is about the battle over the soul of the “Jewish state.” And remarkably: Thanks to the dead Palestinian for forcing us to face what we’ve become.
As usual, the real victims – like the man whose brain is exploded in the video, or the young girl in the other video, or the black guy in the lynch video – get lost in the solipsistic mix. It’s as if the Jewish-Israeli navel has projected itself four feet outwards before flexing back, splitting in two, and glomming onto Jewish-Israeli eyeballs.
Small wonder they can only see one small piece of what they actually are. Of what the whole picture is.
It’s normal for members of a community – imagined or not – to attend to the facts and stories of their daily lives and the lives of people who are like them. The broadening and fragmentation of the media landscape enables and encourages the phenomenon. Sites like this one even help drive the development of new communities.
Yet, one consistent and durable criticism of the Jewish-Israeli left goes to its bewilderingly myopic perspective. It’s not so much an inability to see other people. Rather, it’s the tendency to see others as objects (or rarely, agents), situated within a narrative of self. A preening egoism adorns every “humane” pronouncement about the need to end the occupation. Don’t you see? Apartheid undermines the very essence of our whatever and etc…
Fine, one group of people is painfully self-involved and grandiose. Why is that important?
In other circumstances it wouldn’t matter: like a whole culture dedicated to bathroom selfies. But in the apartheid context it matters a lot. The dehumanization of other people occurs through the extraordinary status we afford ourselves or through the denigration of others. For the Jewish-Israeli left it’s the former, for the right it’s both.
The truth of course, is that there’s nothing exceptional about Jewish-Israelis, or Palestinians for that matter. God didn’t choose anyone, and Palestine/Israel is one more ugly mess in a world that’s seen thousands of them at least. Ethnic conflict is ordinary and the Banality of Evil is as persistent a truism as any other. Even, apartheid, the chosen government of the Jewish-Israeli people, isn’t very exceptional. It’s only very offensive.
The whole claim of religious or secular exceptionalism (so many Nobel prizes, after all) informs apartheid and justifies it. Even a high-minded theory of exceptionalism will always lead to a striking lack of self-awareness and sense of superiority in the best of cases. In Palestine, it’s the source of our daily calamity.
My unsolicited (and likely unheeded) advice to “liberal” Jewish-Israelis is to forget about being exceptional, either as people or as a people. Approach your role in apartheid from the perspective of someone who believes in true equality. When a Palestinian is executed by a racist – a true exceptionalist – in your midst, don’t worry about how it’ll make you look. Don’t ask what the murder means for “Jewish morality.” Instead ask things like, What was the dead guy’s favorite football team? Did he play a musical instrument? What was his favorite memory?