After many months of speculation, we have now learned the name and identity of the perpetrator of the JCC bomb threats. Michael Kaydar, a Jewish teenage resident of Ashkelon in Southern Israel, has been charged with the crimes. The announcement of the arrest caused immediate panic in American Jewish circles and, not unexpectedly, the American Alt-Right Nazis were thrilled to hear that the suspect is a Jew.
Also not unexpectedly, The Forward, with its intense Ashkenazi Jewish ethnocentrism, published a spate of opinion pieces which expressed great worry about the fact that the Anti-Semite was an Israeli Jew. There was even a “gradation” of Anti-Semites presented by Peter Beinart in the face of all the Trumpworld malfeasance. Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner gave herself the final word on the matter in a discussion that provides absolutely no insight into the matter and only adds to the moral confusion.
To be fair, it has been a really long time since America has experienced such a mass outbreak of Anti-Semitism, and the Liberal Jewish community has been deeply shaken by its re-emergence under Trumpworld domination. We should however note that the ditto-head Trumpjews were quick to say “I told you so” and demand an apology from the Liberals. It is interesting to note that Trump made extraordinary efforts to catch the perpetrator in Israel. It would seem that Trump is not completely unaware of his toxic role in the resurgence of Anti-Semitism in this country.
With all that we still do not know, it is clear that Kaydar’s antisemitic threats exposed the raw emotions on all sides of the American political spectrum over the explosion of racism in the wake of the Trump election and the ongoing White Christian Supremacist advances in many Western democracies under the banner of Populist Nationalism.
But one aspect of the JCC bomb threat story and its connection to an Israeli teen has not been discussed: the intense loathing of the Jewish Diaspora in classical Zionist thought.
Some years ago I wrote a lengthy review of the right-wing Zionist scholar and political pundit Yoram Hazony’s apologetic book The Jewish State entitled “The Nightmare of Diaspora.” The title referred to the important Zionist concept called in Hebrew Shelilat ha-Galut, Negation of the Diaspora. In the article I quoted from noted Israeli academic and educational leader Ben-Zion Dinur, designer of Israel’s 1953 State Education Law, who states the deeply distorted Zionist view of Jewish history succinctly and accurately:
… Jewish history was, in the main, the history of the Jewish people living in its own land. This is so in spite of three facts of cardinal importance: (1) the antiquity of the Jewish Dispersion, the origins of which may be presumed to go back to before the destruction of the Northern Kingdom; (2) the large number of Diaspora Jewish settlements and communities already existing in the time of the Roman and Byzantine empires (three hundred of them are known to us by name); and (3), the fact that, in this same period, the majority of the Jewish nation was living outside the borders of its own land.
Dinur’s view of Jewish History is predicated on land and settlement rather than religious values and knowledge. Jews were only really Jews when they lived in the Land of Israel and not when they lived in the Diaspora.
The Israeli scholar Uri Ram unpacks the assertion in the following way:
In the invention of the Zionist national tradition the Bible played two pivotal and complementary functions. On the one hand, it attached Zionism very convincingly to Jewish history and culture while, on the other, it enabled Zionism to skip almost two millennia of Jewish Exile and reach back in time to the period of the alleged source of the nation. This was accomplished, first, by singling out the Bible, rather than exilic Jewish literature (the Talmud and other commentaries) from the corpus of Jewish traditional literature, and, second, by the pertinent selection of sections, and the biased interpretations of themes, from the Bible itself.
Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi also provided a perceptive conceptual analysis of modern Judaism and its relation to the Jewish past:
The modern effort to reconstruct the Jewish past begins at a time that witnesses a sharp break in the continuity of Jewish living and hence also an ever-growing decay of Jewish group memory. In this sense, if for no other, history becomes what it had never been before – the faith of fallen Jews. For the first time history, not a sacred text, becomes the arbiter of Judaism.
In the penultimate chapter of his classic book Zakhor, Yerushalmi wisely cites Haim Hazaz’s Hebrew short story Ha-Derasha, The Sermon, which provides a precise articulation of Shelilat ha-Galut:
Those Jews who are still within the enchanted circle of tradition, or those who have returned to it, find the work of the historian irrelevant. They seek, not the historicity of the past, but its eternal contemporary nature. Addressed directly by the text, the question of how it evolved must seem to them subsidiary, if not meaningless.
An anti-historical attitude of a very different kind is expressed by those who have experienced modern Jewish existence as something so totally new that it demands the past be either forgotten or demolished. The deep ambivalence of modern Jews to the past is perhaps best discerned in modern Hebrew literature, which, even more than Yiddish or Anglo-Jewish letters, reflects the widest spectrum of modern Jewish sensibility. Here we find, on the one hand, the fiercest antagonism to the Jewish past, not as a personal idiosyncrasy, but a major theme that runs from the Haskalah to the present. One of the purest instances will suffice:
In the explosive short story by the Hebrew writer Haim Hazaz entitled Ha-Derashah (The Sermon), a meeting of a kibbutz is held at which Yudka, who never speaks on such occasions, startles everyone by rising to unburden himself of thoughts he can no longer contain. Haltingly, at first he declares what has been gnawing at him:
“I want to state,” Yudka spoke with an effort in low, tense tones, “that I am opposed to Jewish history.”
And then, when his stammering gives way to an articulate fury: “I would simply forbid teaching our children Jewish history. Why the devil teach them about our ancestors’ shame? I would just say to them: Boys, from the day we were exile from our land we’ve been a people without a history. Class dismissed. Go out and play football.”
Yehoshua believes that only Israelis are “real” Jews. Diaspora Jews are just “partially” Jewish. In comments made in a 2013 Jerusalem lecture Yeshoshua could not be clearer:
A Jew is an “empty definition.” To fill that definition with substance one must live a Jewish life, and the only way to do that fully, he argued, is to be Israeli. “Israelis are the total Jews,” Yehoshua proclaimed. “The empty definition of Judaism fills up simply by being here… Everything around me is Jewish! Just like everything in America is American.” Every ethical question confronted by an Israeli—say, by an IDF soldier at a West Bank checkpoint—is a dilemma as inherently Jewish as a sugya in the Talmud. “Our values are Jewish values, because we live here. It’s not what the rabbis say that defines Jewishness, but what we Israelis do every day—our actions and our values.” With this he reached his now infamous conclusion: “This is the reason I say to American Jews: you are partial and we are total… If you really want to be Jewish, come here. It’s not easy, full of questions, your nice warm Jewish identity in your community will be over. But this is real and not imaginary.”
Israel as a state is seen in the strictest Zionist terms as the “True Judaism” as it negates the lengthy and complex process of Jewish history in its myriad iterations.
This means that to be Jewish is not to be “adulterated” in any way by the Gentile world.
The “Negation of the Diaspora” is connected to what Zionism sees as Jewish weakness; a defect that is rooted in Diaspora adaptation to the non-Jewish world.
Diaspora Judaism from the Babylonian and Hellenistic periods to Medieval Spain and Modern Europe has been seen by Zionism as an adulteration of the “pure” Jewish identity which is militaristic and xenophobic.
Michael Kaydar was raised in an Israel which holds to the dogmas expressed by Yehoshua and his predecessors like Dinur. It is taken for granted that the State of Israel is a superior country that represents “authentic” Judaism.
In contrast to the weak and pusillanimous Diaspora Jews, the Israelis, calling themselves Sabras, after the fruit with a prickly exterior and sweet center, are Macho Jews who fearlessly call the shots.
It is certain that Kaydar saw the images of cowering JCC students and their teachers which were broadcast on news reports all over the world. His Zionist sadism is a product of an internal Israeli Jewish hatred and contempt for those who are viewed as weak and unable to defend themselves.
We can note here the fact that Kaydar, who suffers from a brain tumor, was rejected for his compulsory military service. This rejection appears to be a critical factor in his decision to threaten American Jewish institutions.
And while it has been reported that he also threatened Israeli institutions in more recent months, the preponderance of his crimes remain tied to the American Jewish Diaspora; that place which has been vilified and demonized by Zionists for so many years.
American Jews are loath to raise the issue of Shelilat ha-Galut; an idea which presents the ways in which Zionism has sought to usurp Jewish identity by creating a rift between those Jews who live in Israel and those who do not.
What is in question here is what Judaism really is and who gets to represent it.
Going back to Haim Hazaz and his provocative short story, the Hebrew word used as its title, Derasha, is very much connected to this question. It is ironic that Hazaz uses the word at the very same time that he seeks to erase the very rabbinical tradition which created it.
The Jewish Sages of the early Diaspora period, after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, conducted a massive organizational effort which transformed Judaism from its Priestly Temple-based nationalist caste into a scholarly-academic religion, increasingly marked by universal values and concerns, which promoted the quietist practice of rituals and the intense study of sacred texts.
It marked the beginning of Jewish Humanism as the defining Judaic ethos.
The rabbis, those castigated in the most debased and ignorant terms by the anti-Jewish bigot A.B. Yehoshua, produced a canonical collection of texts which became the Hebrew Bible. It was this act that inaugurated the People of the Book as opposed to the People of the Land.
It is not that the rabbis eliminated national identity or the restoration of the Jewish people to their homeland, but shows their pragmatic acceptance of the new reality created by the Roman conquest and their reliance on God for the future Redemption.
The loss of national-territorial autonomy did not kill off Judaism as the Zionists contend.
On the contrary, Judaism was reinvigorated and strengthened by a new openness to the world and to its own literary-religious traditions by the practice of Derasha, or canonical exegesis.
Zionism has sought to literalize ancient Jewish tradition by valorizing an atavistic reading of the Hebrew Bible which was shorn of these rabbinical interpretive accretions.
The process of Derasha has been a means to make the Biblical text relevant to contemporary values and to changes in culture, science, and history. The Hebrew Bible became a dynamic work rather than a static record of what happened in the past.
I have provided a brief overview of the Midrashic process in the following Huffington Post article and in a subsequent article I examined the problem of Monolingualism and the static nature of Western Civilization.
Zionism was an outgrowth of Western nationalism rather than a product of the classical Jewish tradition.
The very mechanisms inherent in the Zionist project were adopted from 19th century European philosophy, particularly the ideas of Hegel.
Jonathan Boyarin has brilliantly discussed the matter in his seminal essay “Hegel’s Zionism?”. Zionism has indeed rejected the classical rabbinical tradition, and put in its place a barely-modified Spartan identity that it has identified with the age of the Israelite commonwealth, as I have written in my article “Sparta and Jerusalem: The Zionist Transformation of Jewish Identity.”
The issue of violence looms large in this discussion.
In Michael Kaydar we have a troubling example of the Israeli Spartan ethos gone haywire. He apparently embraced the military ethos of the Zionist protocol and was comfortable making threats against Diaspora Jewish targets which then cowered in fear at the possible danger to their security.
Kaydar thus fits into the larger Trumpworld pattern that has shown us how the Alt-Right finds a commonality with the Zionists:
In a “debate” conducted last December at Texas A&M University between its Hillel rabbi and Alt-Right Nazi leader Richard Spencer, the Zionist issue took on a very troubling cast:
During a question-and-answer session, Texas A&M Hillel’s Rabbi Matt Rosenberg stood and invited the white nationalist to join him in Torah study. Rosenberg’s invitation, and Spencer’s response, were captured on video by The Eagle, the Texas A&M student paper, and viewed widely on Twitter.
“My tradition teaches a message of radical inclusion and love,” Rosenberg said. “Will you sit town and learn Torah with me, and learn love?”
Spencer declined the invitation, but used it as an opportunity to suggest that the objectives of Zionism and Jewish continuity were close to his own goals for white people.
“Do you really want radical inclusion into the State of Israel?” Spencer said. “And by that I mean radical inclusion. Maybe all of the Middle East could go move in to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Would you really want that?”
Rosenberg, who later admitted he is not a good debater, stood silent.
“You’re not answering,” Spencer said.
“I’m not answering,” Rosenberg said.
Spencer’s positive spin on Zionist Jewish supremacy sought to link his own racist movement to that of Israel.
The rabbi, as we see, was unable to respond to the point.
And, indeed, the figure of Michael Kaydar has served to trouble many American Jews as it puts into serious question the way that Israelis see Jewish identity and the relation of their country to the Diaspora. They are finding it difficult to explain why he would do such heinous things.
A.B. Yehoshua has not called for threats to Diaspora Jewish institutions, but his hurtful words represent a dominant strain of Israeli culture which holds the Diaspora in utter contempt.
It is not really that far a leap from Yehoshua to Kaydar as we might think.
Words and ideas have real life consequences and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 has forced a major transformation in Jewish identity and its relationship to traditional Judaism and its rabbinical heritage as embodied in the Talmud and the Midrashic literary texts.
The Zionist idea has sought to “move” Jewish identity away from the pluralism of the Talmudic tradition and its acceptance of the larger reality of Gentile civilization, and replace it with a militant Monolingualism that is, paradoxically, a reflection of those very Gentile values.
Michael Kaydar has opened a chasm in the relationship between Israelis and the Jewish Diaspora and reignited the most elementary questions about Jewish identity in the supercharged atmosphere of Trumpworld Fascism and its intense racism; a racism which is not limited to White Christians, but is also present in their Israeli Jewish counterparts.