empathy notwithstanding: doomed, but to what?

Posted: December 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

… after the UN had sanctioned, seemingly miraculously,  the state of Israel with its original two-state solution, Hannah Arendt , with some justification, foresaw that if Jews were to survive its War of Independence, they would realize the achievements of Zionism in Palestine to be illusory and the so-called safe port and security of a precarious nature.  The victorious Israelites would be surrounded by hostile Arab states,  threatened borders, and almost totally obsessed with  self-defence to a level that would subsume and absorb all other facets of life. In other words, partition could not be viable and the less evil of the evils would be some form of federated state which would impede sovereignty and what she termed national suicide. Ironic, since Arendt was not known for her views on the redemption and as a Torah scholar, which could draw similar conclusions based on safety and security of the Jewish people until the big day comes.

Similarly, Arendt asserted  that Zionism and assimilationism arose from a common origin, essentially Liberal Democratic philosophy and the Enlightenment. That is,  assimilationists felt that Jews belonged to the nations that hosted them  and Zionists thought the Jews needed a  nation because since every nation is defined to the detriment of its Jewish minorities. Arendt felt they both arrived at the same fault lines, both conscious  of the Jewish concern of admitting that there are  divergent interests, unbridgeable differences between Jews and mass segments of the populace among  whom they live. For Arendt, divergent interests did  not justify grounds for either assimilation  or  separation of national minorities. However, in effect, there is no solution, as the argument is always going to be circular. Demonized within or without, even part of a federation in Palestine is but a purgatory state , a Dante-esque idiom in a less than divine comedy. In effect, Jews were just a piece on a chess board for Arendt in her discourse on the dismantling on the nation state system itself, ultimately wondering if she was not a closet anarchist with Walter Mitty type fantasies of being the power behind some galactic throne where American jews, as benefactors of Israel could be trained as royal pets, who could be trained to abandon their first natures, their first reflexes…

From the Saban Forum 2012:

(see link at end)…QUESTION: And I wonder, when you look upon those two decades, and you try to explain to yourselves and to us what is it, in the psyche of Israelis – and you have this warm sentiment, and you have this rich dialogue – what is it in our society, in our fears, in our historic traumas, that somehow makes us so suspicious? And can it be dismantled? Have you ever sensed that you are close to it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, look, I think Israelis have good grounds to be suspicious. And I would never be one who tries to rewrite or dismiss history. The Palestinians could have had a state as old as I am if they had made the right decision in 1947. They could have had a state if they had worked with my husband and then-Prime Minister Barak at Camp David. They could have had a state if they’d worked with Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni.

Now, would it have been a perfectly acceptable outcome for every Israeli and every Palestinian? No. No compromise ever is. But there were moments of opportunity. And I will also say this. When Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze I flew to Jerusalem. We’d been working on this. George Mitchell had been taking the lead on it. And when Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze, it wasn’t perfect. It didn’t cover East Jerusalem, but it covered much of the contested area in the West Bank.


—Orthodox Easter and the Jewish high holiday of Passover (Pesach), an unprecedented
224 pogroms were inflicted upon Russia’s Jews. The aggressors were locals, Cossacks,
as well as itinerant Greek merchants whose main competitors for business were the
Jewish merchants. In 1905, the pogroms of Babel’s childhood were even more violent
and heartless than their predecessors. Over 690 independent pogroms intent on
destroying Jewish lives took place during this single year (Israel 30). This rendered the
shtetls uninhabitable, but the laws still prohibited Jews from leaving. After the
bloodshed had subsided, these victims were forced to remain confined within the
boundaries of their own agony. The result was the cultivation of a culture of suffering.—Read More:http://www.uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/bitstream/10012/3918/1/Treewater-thesis-final.pdf

And I stood on a stage with him at 11 o’clock – Israelis always meet late at night, I don’t understand it – (laughter) – but 11 o’clock at night, midnight, and I said it was unprecedented for any Israeli prime minister to have done that. I got so criticized. I got criticized from the right, the left, the center, Israeli, Jewish, Arab, Christian, you name it. Everybody criticized me. But the fact was it was a 10-month settlement freeze. And he was good to his word. And we couldn’t get the Palestinians into the conversation until the tenth month.

So, look, I’m not making excuses for the missed opportunities of the Israelis, or the lack of generosity, the lack of empathy that I think goes hand-in-hand with the suspicion. So, yes, there is more that the Israelis need to do to really demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people in their minds, and they want to figure out, within the bounds of security and a Jewish democratic state, what can be accomplished.

And I think that, unfortunately, there are more and more Israelis and Palestinians who just reject that idea out of hand: Why bother? Why try? We’ll never be able to reach an agreement with the other. But in the last 20 years, I’ve seen Israeli leaders make an honest, good-faith effort and not be reciprocated in the way that was needed.

—Odessa is a horrible town. It’s common knowledge…And yet I
feel there are quite a few good things one can say about this
important town, the most charming city of the Russian Empire.
If you think about it, it is a town where you can live free and
easy. Half the population is made up of Jews, and Jews are a
people who have learned a few simple truths al



the way.
Jews get married so as not to be alone, love so as to live through
the centuries, hoard money so they can buy houses and give their
wives astrakhan jackets, love children because, let’s face it, it’s
good and important to love one’s children. (Babel, “Odessa”
The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel 71)—

Now, I’ve told this story before. It always makes Ehud cringe. But after Yasser Arafat said no at Camp David – and I don’t care how many people try to revise that history, the fact is he said no at Camp David – some months later he calls my husband, when Bill is no longer President, and says, “You know that deal that you offered? I’ll take it now.” (Laughter.) And Bill goes, “Well, that’s terrific. Why don’t you call the White House and tell them that?” And what was the lesson that President Bush learned? Why try? Bill Clinton spent so much time and effort; Ehud Barak put his political life on the line. Why try? Because you’ll never get where you’re trying to go, so work on something else.

So I think that – I really believe this with all my heart. I think that even if you cannot reach a complete agreement that resolves all these incredibly hard issues, it is in Israel’s interest to be trying. It gives Israel a moral high ground that I want Israel to occupy. That’s what I want Israel to occupy, the moral high ground. (Applause.)

—The typical Jew in the literature of this time has red hair, a bald spot in place
where a yarmulke would be, and a large crooked nose. They are depicted as awkward
in appearance and movement, and are always dressed poorly. They are characterized as
exceedingly greedy and cunning. As Chekhov states:
The swing-door squeaked, and on the threshold appeared a shortish young Jew
with a large beaky nose, coarse curly carroty hair and a bald place on top; he
wore a short very shabby jacket with rounded folds and abbreviated sleeves, so,
with his short woven trousers as well, he presented the appearance of a tailless
fledgling. (Chekhov, “The Steppe” 27)—Read More:http://www.uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/bitstream/10012/3918/1/Treewater-thesis-final.pdf

And so from my perspective, all those efforts of the past – I mean, I do believe there would have been a Palestinian state if Yitzhak Rabin had not been murdered. I believe that. Because I think the Israeli people would have trusted him to take the hard decisions that were needed. So for the 20 years that I’ve been watching this very closely, I give credit to a lot of Israeli leaders, trying to figure out how to manage this difficult situation. But I really am saddened when the conclusion is it’s just not worth trying and walk away, build the wall higher, more Iron Dome – all of which is essential, but is not sufficient. Because more and more technology is going to impose greater and greater burdens that over time will be very difficult.

MS. WITTES: Okay. I think we have time for maybe one more question. Is someone volunteering Nahoon? Let’s take Danny Diane. Back here, please.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, one of your most famous quotes regarding the conflict in the Middle East is that the status quo is not sustainable.

—Nikolai Gogol (1809 – 1852) perpetuated the image of the greedy Jew in Taras
Bul’ba (1835). This character, Zhid Yankel, is a tavern keeper who “managed to get all
the surrounding Polish landowners and noblemen under his thumb, sucking them dry of
all their money and firmly establishing his Jewish presence” (Gogol 118). He is so
hungry for gold that even when Taras, a man who has saved his life, comes to ask for a
favour, Yankel sees an opportunity for profit by delivering him to the Polish
authorities…Read More:http://www.uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/bitstream/10012/3918/1/Treewater-thesis-final.pdf

SECRETARY CLINTON: What?

QUESTION: That the status quo is not sustainable.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.

QUESTION: Now what if all the other viable alternatives, the principal alternatives, are worse than the status quo. We are with the status quo for the last at least 10 years, since Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. And putting wishful thinking aside, I think that most observers will agree today that we are going to be with the status quo in the next 10 years. So maybe instead of putting self-fulfilling prophecies that will make the status quo collapse, we should work together – Israel, the United States, and the Palestinians – to make the necessary improvements in the status quo regarding human rights, freedom of movement, et cetera, et cetera, economy, rehabilitation of refugee camps, and strengthen the status quo instead of undermining it.

—Bernard Choseed, a literary historian, remarks on the role of the Jew in Russian
literature. “Even the ‘good’ Jew like Gogol’s Zhid Iankel in Taras Bul’ba and Isai
Fomich Bumshtein in Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead combined the qualities of the
clown and the vulture” (Choseed, ed. Simmons 110). Babel, unlike his predecessors,
moves in the direction of three-dimensional characterization. An historian of Russian
Jewry, Vadim Rossman, quotes psychologist Lev Vygotsky in his analysis of the
Jewish stereotype:
Evidence is abundant of the hostile attitude in many works of Russian literature.
Lev Vygotsky, a well-known Russian psychologist, has argued: “The future
historian of the Jews in Russia will be puzzled by the attitude of Russian
literature to the Jew (zhid). It is both strange and incomprehensible that Russian
literature being so much…Read More:http://www.uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/bitstream/10012/3918/1/Treewater-thesis-final.pdf

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think you’ve got a short-term and long-term challenge. In the short term, I agree, improvements should be made to the status quo. That’s what I said in the very beginning. I think that more investments, more confidence-building measures, the kinds of things you were mentioning, I think Israel should be doing that, and I think it’s very much in Israel’s interest.

I do not believe in today’s world, however, that that creates a sustainable status quo for the long term. Now, you and I may disagree about that, but that is how I see it. I think that if you look at increasing extremism – which is not your father’s extremism, it’s a different variety that is linked into what is happening in the region in a way that it was not before – if you look at demography, you see the population shifts and the problems that that will cause for Israel. And if you look at technology, it’s very difficult to constantly stay ahead of the advances in weaponry. I mean, that’s one of the hallmarks of human history is weapons just keep getting better and more deadly every decade.

So perhaps by investing in improving the status quo in the short term, you can possibly improve the status quo for longer. It certainly is worth trying, and I would urge that be undertaken, for on the merits, I think it can bring Israel some benefits. But I just personally believe that it’s going to be difficult if you think about what could be facing Israel in three to five years – either a failed state or all or part of Syria under control of extremists; instability in Jordan or all or some part of Jordan under control of extremists; continuing political instability in Lebanon with the growing power of Hezbollah; Hamas basically becoming a proxy of Iran; and Sinai becoming a danger to Egypt as well as to Israel. Where does one look to try to get some benefit in that equation?

—There is an old Yiddish saying, “when a gentile is a thief, they hang the thief.
When a Jew is a thief, they hang the Jew.” The tales about Benia Krik and his
entourage are Odessan legend. Unlike the money hungry or farcical Jews of yesterday,
Babel’s gangsters were communicating elements of the many aspects of human nature.
Benia is analogous to the godfather of Moldavanka, and his misdeeds and criminal
activities take on a distorted sense of moral and ethical significance. For example in
“The King” he extorts money, only to return his ill gotten gains, and in “Justice in
Parenthesis” provides for the medical care of Tsudechkis, a man he has beaten for
double-crossing him. —Read More:http://www.uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/bitstream/10012/3918/1/Treewater-thesis-final.pdf

And I think that there is still an opportunity with the West Bank Palestinians to have a different status quo that is very much in Israel’s interest. So that’s a debate that goes on every day in Israel, it’s a debate that goes on here in the United States, but I think it’s a very important one to have. (Applause.)Read More:http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/11/201343.htm

ADDENDUM:

Hannah Arendt:[T]he Zionists, if they continue to ignore the Mediterranean people and watch out only for the big faraway powers, will appear only as their tools, the agents of foreign and hostile interests. Jews who know their own history should be aware that such a state of affairs will inevitably lead to a new wave of Jew-hatred; the antisemitism of tomorrow will assert that Jews not only profiteered from the presence of foreign big powers in that region but had actually plotted it and hence are guilty of the consequences…

[T]he sole new piece of historical philosophy which the Zionists contributed out of their own new experiences [was] “A nation is a group of people… held together by a common enemy” (Herzl)–an absurd doctrine…

To such [political] independence, it was believed, the Jewish nation could arrive under the protecting wings of any great power strong enough to shelter its growth…. the Zionists ended by making the Jewish national emancipation entirely dependent upon the material intersts of another nation….Read More:http://mondoweiss.net/2012/01/arendt-born-in-conflict-israel-will-degenerate-into-sparta-and-american-jews-will-need-to-back-away.html

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