This article was first published at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) and republished here with the author’s consent…
Contemporary Jewish Academics and the Masochist Tradition
On May 17th, the German parliament, the Bundestag, adopted a motion that BDS equals antisemitism.1 In response, 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars wrote a letter rejecting this equivalence. They called on the German government not to endorse this motion while protecting and respecting freedom of speech which are under attack.2
This was one of many typical acts of contemporary Jewish masochism for a number of reasons. Free speech in Germany has, in the past, led to the most extreme criminal acts against Jews in history. There are still witnesses alive today who can speak to this. There are also a number of substantial antisemitism-promoting issues in contemporary German society and government policy against which these 240 scholars have not protested in an organized way, if at all.
The genocide-promoting Hezbollah organization is permitted to operate freely in Germany.3 Germany supports many anti-Israel resolutions in the U.N. and associated bodies while no similar resolutions exist against many criminal nations. This is, according to the main definition of antisemitism, the one from the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA), an antisemitic act.4 Nor did the aforementioned Jewish academics protest against the immigration of hundreds of thousands of antisemites among the refugees from Muslim countries who entered Germany since 2015. It should be noted that these imported antisemites do not distinguish in their prejudice and hatred between masochist and non-masochist Jews.
Masochism was and is a substantial strand in Israeli society and the Jewish world. It is a millennia-old tradition. Yet it is almost entirely ignored in Jewish public discourse. One can find masochistic tendencies in the origins of Judaism. During times of adversity, pagan nations often added or replaced their existing gods as they blamed the latter for their misfortunes. Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible) gives an example of this during the Assyrian rule of the land of Israel. When its new inhabitants were attacked by lions, they asked for an Israelite priest to teach them how to worship the Lord while still worshipping their existing gods.5 In contrast, the Israelites, under ongoing admonishment from their prophets, ultimately started to blame only themselves for their misfortunes.
Well before that time, the patriarch Abraham made an extreme effort in a detailed discussion with the Lord to save the evil city of Sodom from destruction. Yet when the Lord ordered him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham was willing to fulfill this divine order without any argument.
One can trace this masochism also in the Talmud where it is stated explicitly: “Rabbi Abahu says be always among the persecuted and not among the persecutors.”6 One also finds it in later Jewish literature and in the current Jewish prayer book, even more so before the High Holidays. In his self-deprecating way Woody Allen says in the movie, Annie Hall: “I am comparatively normal for a guy raised in Brooklyn.”
Yet another Biblical text which can lead to masochism is the one from Isaiah that Israelites will be a “light unto the nations.” It is a major act of masochism when Jews think that therefore the State of Israel has failed if it is anything less than perfect. This type of thinking invites discriminatory criticism, against which these Jewish masochists cannot defend Israel.
In Israel, there are many examples of masochistic phenomena. One is the repeated reference to the “1948 Deir Yassin massacre.” A book by Professor Eliezer Tauber of Bar Ilan University has established that much of what has been promoted as atrocities is a myth or was greatly exaggerated for political reasons.7 Deir Yassin is an extremely marginal event when compared to the huge crimes committed by Western nations in colonies and colonial wars such as by the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch and others. None of these nations refers to its historic crimes nearly as frequently as Deir Yassin is mentioned in Israel.
Among the 240 signatories of the letter by the Jewish and Israeli academics to the German government one finds a number of hard-core anti-Israel inciters. Only a few examples can be given here. One of the best known signatories is Noam Chomsky. He has supported the rights of the French academic, Robert Faurisson, one of Europe’s leading Holocaust deniers. Chomsky created a construct to claim that Hitler could have exterminated 6 million Jews without being an antisemite.8
More recently, he has defended the selfdefined “friend” and “brother” of genocidal terrorists, Jeremy Corbyn.9 Chomsky said in an interview that he would vote for Corbyn, whom he called a decent person.10 He warned of the rise of Judeo-Nazi tendencies in Israel. Chomsky also called Gaza “a concentration camp. “11 Alan Dershowitz has claimed in The Case for Israel that Chomsky held double standards on racism and has blamed Israel solely for the 1948 refugee crisis. Chomsky also supported the arming of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.12 The list of perverse examples about this academic can be extended.
Anyone putting his name under a text signed by Chomsky should have serious hesitations. One cannot expect this from American academic, Judith Butler, who said in 2006, “Understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left is extremely important.”13
Yet perhaps even more extreme is the fact that the signatories of the letter include Holocaust scholars. One of the most problematic is Daniel Blatman, a professor in contemporary Jewry and Holocaust studies at Hebrew University. He is also the chief historian of the permanent exhibition at the Warsaw Ghetto Museum. In addition to the mass murder of Jews by the Germans on Polish territory, Poles murdered far more Jews than they saved. The fact that Blatman signed the abovementioned letter is a further indication that one needs to follow him closely for possible future distortions. When Blatman spoke about his plans for the Warsaw museum, he did not even mention the Polish murderers of Jews during the Holocaust.14
Blatman has also attacked the IHRA in Haaretz, claiming that it is a tool of the Israeli government. He has accused the IHRA of establishing a definition of antisemitism that serves the political interests of the Israeli government.
Blatman has come under heavy criticism by the Honorary Chairman of the IHRA, Israel’s leading Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer. He answered in the same daily that the claim that Israel controls the IHRA is an antisemitic canard. He added that Blatman had been named as chief historian of a new museum which was supported by the Nationalist Polish regime, apparently intended to serve as its Jewish-Israeli fig leaf.
Bauer concluded: “I never imagined that an antisemitic attack and venomous criticism of a positive project that promotes Holocaust remembrance would emerge from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus, and from the person who fills the same position – head of the Institute for Contemporary Jewry – that I held there for decades. But one learns, even at my advanced age.”15
Much more attention should be given to the greatly under-researched millennia old and contemporary Jewish masochism. It is an important threat to the proper functioning of the Jewish world and Israel. One additional result of such masochistic behavior is its negative effect on the international and domestic image of both Jews and Israelis worldwide.
5 II Kings 24-34I
6 T. Bavli, Bava Kama 93a