Tsvi Bisk -The Upside of Resentment
In the 21st century two fundamental visions regarding the essence of Zionism have congealed. One believes that the purpose of Zionism is to redeem the past; that the Jewish people are obligated by history to create a state in order to redeem the entire Land of Israel. This vision sees the state as a means to the land and the people as a means to the state. The land becomes a Moloch – a pagan god that is idolatrized and worshiped. Jewish history becomes a dictator of Jewish behavior. This vision has been in ascendance since the 6-Day War.
The second vision believes that the purpose of Zionism is to create alternative future options for the Jews by creating one state on the planet in which the Jews are a majority. This vision sees the land as the means to the state and the state as the means to serve the people. It sees the land as an essential prerequisite for the creation of the state and the state as an essential prerequisite for creating alternative future options for the Jewish people. It sees Jewish history as an inspiration for the Jewish people, not its dictator.
Inspiration is also a means, for without pride, honor, and self-esteem it is impossible to mobilize the energy and focus to undertake and realize heroic historical tasks, and the creation of Israel is nothing if not a heroic historical achievement. Thus, the Jewish state being created within a portion of the historical land of Israel (not necessarily throughout the entire land of Israel) rather than elsewhere, was an essential prerequisite and a necessary means to the ultimate end of creating alternative possible future options for the Jewish people. This is the vision I embrace but which has been in decline since the 6-Day War.
The decline of my vision of Zionism and the ascendance of the land-fetishism vision terrifies me and makes me fearful for the future survival of the Jewish people. Why has my vision been on the retreat and the vision I see as self-destructive been on the advance? I believe resentment is the key.
Resentment as a historical force has never been adequately appreciated. How might history have changed if George Washington’s fellow British officers had treated him and his Virginia militiamen with respect during the French and Indian War, instead of dismissing them as just “Americans” (at the time an insult). Would this most English of Englishmen have become a revolutionary and the ‘father’ of the new country?
What if Clemenceau had not forgotten the contempt with which the French were treated by Bismarck after being defeated in the Franco-Prussian war? His bitter resentment led to the vengeful terms of the Versailles Treaty. The German resentment of these vengeful terms was skillfully exploited by Hitler and led directly to WWII.
Consider how Russian resentment at having declined from a global super power to barely a regional power (with an economy smaller than Italy and California) has led to popular infatuation with Putin’s macho bluster and irrational, and in the end self-damaging, behavior in Crimea and Syria. Or how Palestinian resentment has caused them “to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, as Abba Eban once so trenchantly remarked.
2016 saw two additional resentment events impact world history. Brexit and the Trump phenomena are classic examples of how resentment can “trump” facts and reason and totally confound the post Enlightenment rationalist mentality.
It is not enough to condemn what one perceives as irrational behavior. One must get to the roots of irrationality if one is to be rational. It is irrational to expect people to behave rationally when they are desperate and psychologically adrift; when every economic and cultural anchor they are holding onto is being eroded by global economic trends and technological innovation; when the media appears to them as if it is reporting from another planet.
Israeli society is rife with similar historically rooted resentments dictating current political discourse. The political disposition of Israel’s Middle Eastern Jewish citizens has been molded by the resentment at how they were treated by the leftwing Israeli establishment when they immigrated to Israel. They have become the electoral backbone of the Israeli right. This resentment is directed against leftwing Israeli intellectuals who lecture them that Arab and Muslim anti-Jewish attitudes are of no consequence; that if Israel only gave up the occupied territories and established a Palestinian State these attitudes would vanish and Israel would be accepted in the Middle East. Too many of them have heard stories from their parents and grandparents about ill-treatment in their Muslim countries of origin.
There is also the resentment of traditional Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds regarding perceived western indifference to the special affinity Jews have to the Land of Israel. The Palestinians disallowing that the Jews even had a unique historical and cultural attachment to the land generates a disdainful resentment that leaves little room for political maneuver regarding the peace process.
The recent UNESCO decision denying Jewish affinity to the Temple Mount, instigated by the Palestinians, is a typical example of international and Palestinian contempt for Jewish cultural heritage. It provides rich nourishment for the rightwing Israeli position that Israel must never assent to any Palestinian demands; that any recognition of Palestinian rights would be but a tailwind for their ultimate goal of destroying Israel. The UNESCO decision made the settlers’ hearts sing. It was a confirmation of their narrative that “the whole world is against us” and any retreat from the territories is just one step towards Israel’s ultimate destruction – the ultimate goal of the Palestinians and their allies.
The denial of Israel’s very right to exist by large segments of the so-called ‘progressive’ left has stimulated tremendous resentment. Italy’s descent into Fascism did not call into doubt the right of the very existence of the Italian state. The Armenian genocide was an outrage that did not result in questioning the very right of the Turks to have their own Turkish state, even when the Turks continue to deny that it even happened. Even the Nazi era did not call into question the legitimacy of the existence of the German state. Israel’s much more minor transgressions, compared to all of the above, have put its right to its very existence into question.
Such double standards have contributed to the general resentment of the Israeli electorate, making them immune to even justifiable and constructive criticism. The campaign to delegitimize the very existence of the Jewish state has been unprecedented in modern history, and a majority of Israelis have come to view this fanatic anti-Zionism as the postmodern iteration of anti-Semitism. This has unintended and negative consequences. All criticism of Israel is now viewed as anti-Semitism and thus Israel is becoming deprived of the healthy role that criticism plays in a robust democratic society. As a result Israel’s political culture has weakened.
The chronic resentment of large portions of the Jewish population has affected policy making and caused Israel to make political decisions based on indignation, rather than a rational evaluation of what is really best for the Jews in the 21st century. The resentment of Israelis regarding their delegitimization has become the dominant psychological-political characteristic of Israeli society. The consequences have been disastrous, not only for the Zionist project but also for the peace process. If “enlightened public opinion” really desires peace in the Middle East it must radically alter its double standards vis-à-vis Israel.
The upside of all this is once you diagnose the problem you can conceive a cure. The cure for people who fancy themselves as sophisticated, cosmopolitan and enlightened would be to disabuse themselves of their know-it-all preachy tone of voice; to talk with people and not at them; to acknowledge the legitimacy of cultural fears and not automatically brand these fears as racist.
David Ben-Gurion once remarked that the primary task of a national leader was to act as “educator in chief”: to identify the fundamental problems of the time (and not to dwell on the marginal), to define the possible solutions and the strategies to implement those solutions. The fundamental problem of people in the north of England and in Middle America has been that globalization, innovation and technology (while beneficial for most) have been disastrous for them. The well-paying blue collar jobs that formed the economic and cultural backbone of their communities, and way of life have vanished in the course of one lifetime. They have been left adrift.
This should have been acknowledged and appreciated by the “enlightened elites” and not poo-pooed or ignored because they were not a fashionable demographic. There are 5 million respectable paying blue collar jobs going unfilled in America because of a shortage of skilled workers. If Bill Clinton and blue-collar Joe Biden had been sent into these areas and castigated the Republicans for opposing Obama’s retraining program proposals, the economic transition from one set of well-paying jobs to another set would have already be set into motion. Pointing this out might have delivered Pennsylvania and Michigan to Mrs. Clinton. A Bill Clinton/Joe Biden campaign in these areas could have shaved off 5-10% of Trump’s blue collar base and Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin would have come in for Hillary. Resentment cannot be preached away by ad homonym attacks on one’s opponent. It is not false consciousness or racist, it is substantive.
Europeans are not racists because they want to preserve their culture. Zionism is not racist because it strives for one framework on the face of the earth where Jews can express their cultural, social and economic uniqueness. Cultural nationalism is not racist. Mazzini and Masaryk were cultural nationalists and constitutionalist liberals, as were all the major figures of early Zionism. The people of Appalachia and coal country also represent a kind of cultural nationalism. They didn’t appreciate constantly being told that changing demographics means that the country is no longer theirs. They noticed that the Clinton campaign simply ignored them; by implication branding them ignorant yahoos.
Israelis – even those who despise the settlements– are often enraged by the UN’s obsession with Israel; along with the “progressives'” single minded hostility to Israel. They cannot understand that when 500,000 people are being slaughtered in Syria protest boats are being sent to Israel. They cannot understand that at the same time Pakistan murders hundreds of religious minorities (Ahmadis, Hindus, Sufis and Christians) it is Israel that is singled out by BDS. Given this double standard even liberal Israelis have concluded that anti-Zionism is nothing more than the postmodern iteration of anti-Semitism.
Large numbers of Israelis are appalled at the moral erosion of the Zionist project as a consequence of the occupation. Even larger numbers (perhaps even a majority) instinctively recognize that any formal or de-facto annexation of the West Bank would be suicidal for the cultural nationalism of the Jews.
The antidote to resentment is respect! Empathize with the grieving of those entire regions and classes of people in Europe and the United States for whom ‘progress’ has been an economic and cultural dislocation. Understand that identity politics must be universal if it is to be legitimate; not reserved for certain demographics and off limits for others. It cannot be that fashionable identity politics represent progress and unfashionable identity politics represent racism. Call people racists long enough and they will come to embrace it.
Empathize with Israel’s fears and resentments; respect that they are legitimate and you might get somewhere. This of course does not release the Jewish people from the obligation to resist the siren call of resentment and the satisfying feeling of indignation that sustains so much of the self-defeating discourse in Israel and the Diaspora. Resentment is like alcoholism – the first step to curing oneself is to recognize that it is the defining framework of one’s identity. This would be the task of a Ben Gurion type leadership – to educate the people about the self-destructive and corrosive power of resentment. Given the patterns of history in constitutionalist democracies I am hopeful that such a leadership will now arise, not only in Israel but around the world.
Tsvi Bisk is an Israeli/American Futurist and Social Commentator. His most recent book, “The Suicide of the Jews”, is now available on Amazon.com:
Visit his website www.tsvibisk.com