Israel’s Cult of Victimhood

Barefoot Soldiers on the High Seas

Why are Israelis so indignant at the international outrage that has greeted their country’s lethal attack last week on a flotilla of civilian ships taking aid to Gaza?  

Israelis have not responded in any of the ways we might have expected. There has been little soul-searching about the morality, let alone legality, of soldiers invading ships in international waters and killing civilians. In the main, Israelis have not been interested in asking tough questions of their political and military leaders about why the incident was handled so badly. And only a few commentators appear concerned about the diplomatic fall-out.

Instead, Israelis are engaged in a Kafkaesque conversation in which the military attack on the civilian ships is characterised as a legitimate “act of self-defence”, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it, and the killing of nine aid activists is transformed into an attempted “lynching of our soldiers” by terrorists.

Benny Begin, a government minister whose famous father, Menachem, became an Israeli prime minister after being what today would be called a terrorist as the leader of the notorious Irgun militia, told BBC World TV that the commandos had been viciously assaulted after “arriving almost barefoot”. Ynet, Israel’s most popular news website, meanwhile, reported that the commandos had been “ambushed”.

This strange discourse can only be deciphered if we understand the two apparently contradictory themes that have come to dominate the emotional landscape of Israel. The first is a trenchant belief that Israel exists to realise Jewish power; the second is an equally strong sense that Israel embodies the Jewish people’s collective experience as the eternal victims of history.

Israelis are not entirely unaware of this paradoxical state of mind, sometimes referring to it as the “shooting and crying” syndrome.

It is the reason, for example, that most believe their army is the “most moral in the world”. The “soldier as victim” has been given dramatic form in Gilad Shalit, the “innocent” soldier held by Hamas for the past four years who, when he was captured, was enforcing Israel’s illegal occupation of Gaza.

One commentator in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper summed up the feelings of Israelis brought to the fore by the flotilla episode as the “helplessness of a poor lonely victim, confronting the rage of a lynch mob and frantically realising that these are his last moments”. This “psychosis”, as he called it, is not surprising: it derives from the sanctified place of the Holocaust in the Israeli education system.

The Holocaust’s lesson for most Israelis is not a universal one that might inspire them to oppose racism, or fanatical dictators or the bullying herd mentality that can all too quickly grip nations, or even state-sponsored genocide.

Instead, Israelis have been taught to see in the Holocaust a different message: that the world is plagued by a unique and ineradicable hatred of Jews, and that the only safety for the Jewish people is to be found in the creation of a super-power Jewish state that answers to no one. Put bluntly, Israel’s motto is: only Jewish power can prevent Jewish victimhood.

That is why Israel acquired a nuclear weapon as fast it could, and why it is now marshalling every effort to stop any other state in the region from breaking its nuclear monopoly. It is also why the Israeli programme’s sole whistle-blower, Mordechai Vanunu, is a pariah 24 years after committing his “offence”. Six years on from his release to a form of loose house arrest, his hounding by the authorities — he was jailed again last month for talking to foreigners — has attracted absolutely no interest or sympathy in Israel.

If Mr Vanunu’s continuing abuse highlights Israel’s oppressive desire for Jewish power, Israelis’ self-righteousness about their navy’s attack on the Gaza flotilla reveals the flipside of this pyschosis.

The angry demonstrations sweeping the country against the world’s denunciations; the calls to revoke the citizenship of the Israeli Arab MP on board — or worse, to execute her — for treason; and the local media’s endless recycling of the soldiers’ testimonies of being “bullied” by the activists demonstrate the desperate need of Israelis to justify every injustice or atrocity while clinging to the illusion of victimhood.

The lessons imbibed from this episode — like the lessons Israelis learnt from the Goldstone report last year into the war crimes committed during Israel’s attack on Gaza, or the international criticisms of the massive firepower unleashed on Lebanon before that — are the same: that the world hates us, and that we are alone.

If the confrontation with the activists on the flotilla has proved to Israelis that the unarmed passengers were really terrorists, the world’s refusal to stay quiet has confirmed what Israelis already knew: that, deep down, non-Jews are all really anti-Semites.

Meanwhile, the lesson the rest of us need to draw from the deadly commando raid is that the world can no longer afford to indulge these delusions.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rehmat said on June 9th, 2010 at 2:36pm #

    I believe that when the Israeli professor Yeshyahu Leibowictz defined holocaust as the new Jewish religion – he was trying to be modest – as it practice it has long passed the threshold of ‘religion’ since Israel’s 1967 invasion of its Arab neighbors during which it occupied the entire pre-1947 Palestine. One can insult the Bible or ridicule the Biblical prophets – but one must not be blasphemous about the “Six Million Died” doctrine.

    If one refuses to believe in Jesus’s virgin birth or insult prophets Moses, Jesus or Muhammad (pbuh) or ridicule Christian Bible (NT) or Holy Qur’an – No western law enforcement authority would consider it a hate crime. However, if someone dare to question the Zionist narrative of the Jewish genocide at the hands of Nazis (though allegedly 150,000 German Jews too served in the Nazi Army and Hitler’s administration) – he would surely loose his career, or made to pay a heavy fine or even end up in jail in some western countries. In other words, it has become more sacred than Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The French philosopher Roger Garaudy found it the hard way. A French court had fined him US$40,000 for questioning the Holocaust’s official story in his book ‘The Founding Myths of Israely Politics’. The current victim of this ‘holy cow’ is Iranian Prsident, Dr. Ahmadinejad, who doesn’t deny the Jewish genocide by the Nazis – but questions the ‘holiness’ of the “six million”, and this ‘holy cow’ doctrine applied on Palestinians who had nothing to do what happened to the Jews in 1940s Europe (watch a video at the end of this post).

    Kevin Barrett PhD, an American author, talk-show host and lecturer, who has converted to Islam – posted his latest article, titled Holocaustism vs Islam, believe that since the German court has fined Bishop Richard Williamson to the tune of US$18,000 for questioning the ‘six million Jews killed’ – makes clear that Holocaustism has replaced Christianity as well as Judaism.

    Holocaust is new Jewish religion

  2. bozh said on June 9th, 2010 at 2:58pm #

    Rehmat is massively halftruthing. No scholar or thinker ridicules bible or can insult dead people like moshe, jesus, or mohammed.
    What this guy wants, is to ban thinking and facts he doesn’t like or which don’t jibe with what he had been taught by ulema-muftis-amirs; the greatest criminal minds we ever had or cld ever have.
    These people are the greatest enemy of muslims and not ‘jews’!

    It is strange that DV, which warns us not to talk ab ‘religion’ [read, please, ab criminal minds], allows this guy not only to propagate own and mullahs’ criminal activity, but also brazenly lie ab our activities and thinking!
    Up to now i have held my tongue ab people propagating their ideologies, but this time i have decided that i have to condemn such misteachings. tnx

  3. hayate said on June 9th, 2010 at 9:30pm #

    bozh said on June 9th, 2010 at 2:58pm

    So bozh outs himself.

    (BTW, if you’re confused as to my meaning, ex-israeli Gilad Atzmon has frequently made the same points as Rehmat did above about the Holocaust religion becoming more “holy” than the real religions, such Judaism, even israel, and that criticism of the Holocaust is considered worse than criticism of most religious beliefs. )

  4. hayate said on June 9th, 2010 at 9:31pm #


    “even israel,”

    Should have been “even in israel”.

  5. hayate said on June 9th, 2010 at 9:40pm #

    BTW, questioning the laws against criticism about Holocaust facts does not mean a person is a Holocaust denier. It means they realise those laws are messed up, on every level.

    In the meantime, ask yourself this question: why aren’t there any laws in the usa making it a crime to deny the genocide carried out by the americans against the Native Americans?

  6. Deadbeat said on June 10th, 2010 at 2:18am #

    I would have to agree with hayate. I hope bozh can clarify his comments. Rehmat raises an important point. And there is a move a foot in the U.S. to outlaw so-called “hate speech” which would weaken the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.

    I was in a debate recently against a member of a liberal Zionist front group called the “Anti-Racism Action” (ARA) who named the separatist New Black Panther Party alongside the KKK and Zionist as a racist organization. Clearly he named them as such for their militant stance against both “Jews” (Zionism) and Racism. If such brazen speech is labeled “hate speech” ARA would support the government to further their oppression of people of color while claiming to be “anti-racist”.

    The danger of this use of state power to control ideas and speech is quite chilling.

  7. bozh said on June 10th, 2010 at 7:00am #

    DB, i cannot clarify a generalized request- only specific statements.

    Hayate, i have not talked ab holocaust for along time now. Justifying land theft and calling good people antisemtic because they point this out, i strongly condemn! tnx

  8. bozh said on June 10th, 2010 at 7:08am #

    I just thought that my statement ab muslim ‘elite’ being greatest enemy of own people, may have not been understood.

    What i am saying is, that if muslim wld be better educated, led by timocrats and having a more pantisocratic governance, ‘jews’ or christo-talmudic soyuz wld not have so much power over them.

    In similar vein, the greatest enemy of americans is their ‘elite’ or set of people with criminal thinking. tnx

  9. bozh said on June 10th, 2010 at 7:15am #

    Hayate, good observation anent denial of genocide against indigenes of americas.
    Mind u, the genocide of indigenes is not talked much if at all by 99.99% of americans.
    I often write ab it! tnx

  10. bozh said on June 10th, 2010 at 7:27am #

    DB, hayate,
    In case ur confused:
    I have stated more than once that i know of no one who denies holocaust.
    Holocaust, is just another overgenaralized word- each person having the right to interpret it; and not just a ‘jew’, german, american.

    From what i know, observers question that 6 mn ‘jews’ perished. Such people also point out that ‘jews’ have taken over much of private media, tv, holliwood.
    Doubting the 6mn number of deaths or reducing them to 1, 2, 3, mn is not a denial. tnx

  11. bozh said on June 10th, 2010 at 7:31am #

    Oh, i just remembered to say that, ih u gujz have read my comment ab what rehmat wrote, more slowly, u’d have noticed that i am not saying he’s halftruthing or halflying ab holocaust. tnx

  12. kalidas said on June 10th, 2010 at 8:28am #

    I get it.