This morning I read, from my multiple traffickers of current events, about the depressingly thoughtful misbehavior of Israel’s government as it squeezes settlements into nooks and crannies that are already filled by nook cranny aspirations of people whose rights are mysteriously overshadowed by their religion and ethnicity. I was reading another article just last night about the recent rise in religiously motivated conscription that quotes a warning from an Israeli general that religion inspired military action is Jihad, regardless of which god is asked to hear soldiers’ prayers. So it was in a state of greater-than-usual disgust with the government of Israel that I went to the office today, where, I had forgotten, they know I’m Jewish.
Being stereotyped is an uncomfortable feeling, no matter the tone of the stereotype. On my first day meeting my colleagues and guides a couple weeks ago, the professor charged with overseeing my project within the Foundation had long-winded and extremely complimentary thoughts to share about Israel; I don’t remember how he found out I was Jewish. Probably he asked my religion and, following my general policy of transparency, I told him. So I listened politely and told some stories about Israeli friends or Israeli food – I think I can say that it’s universally easy to find beautiful aspects of personal interactions with people.
Today, when I arrived at lunch, I was informed that after eating I would go to meet animportantperson and one of my colleagues had extremely complimentary thoughts to share about the Israeli interns who come each year to work on such & such projects with such & such organization led by a fellow whose name is so similar to mine! Okay – religious association must be a lunchtime topic. I can accept that.
After lunch I was led to the office of a man who turned out to be the head of the Foundation, to discuss something about that Jewish language – okay. I can accept that. He chatted pleasantly with me in that manner of people in power, driving the conversation smoothly from question A to B to C, D, E, we’re here to ask F or G, maybe M, would I mind describing Q R S, and winding the conversation up to end neatly where it’s supposed to at Z as I step out the door. So – the question I was there to be asked was simply – would I mind checking a Hebrew translation of a poem to help out a friend of his? I don’t speak Hebrew? No? How? Have I turned my back on my homeland? he asked. No, I explained, my family has lived in the US for a hundred years. I don’t think he caught my subtext : the modern State of Israel has only existed for 61 years. I don’t think he knew.
Hebrew was described to me as “the Jewish language” each time it was brought up today. I am living in a country where the swastika has symbolized fortune and good luck without interruption since the Bronze Age, and where it still adorns doorways, jewelry, and advertisements. One of the most frustrating things about stereotype : while I want to distance myself from the assumptions being made about me, I equally want to correct the misunderstandings about the identity being projected on me. I have a body of knowledge about Judaism simply because of the family and culture I grew up in, although the arteries of opinions pumping through this body have not always been complimentary.
It is called Hebrew. Those are Hasidim. Israel is not my homeland, and that is one of the most important aspects of the Jewish state – it was created only in response to an atrocity of an appalling magnitude.
To all the people who I love who remember those atrocities either viscerally or vicariously, like myself : the State of Israel is doing more to erase those memories than any neo-Nazi anti-Semitic contemporary-fascist cult could hope to do. This state is creating a myth of justice to support its abuse of human rights, and one specifically based on a conservative legitimacy of entrenched power. The only defense against accusations of facism, imperialism, Jihad, is a presentation of all these extremist acts as security, as preservation of status quo, as protection from annihilation. “If we weren’t attacking them,” I’ve been told by many Israelis abroad, “they would destroy us in one second. You think they would worry about human rights?”
A permanence entrenched enough that an army can be driven by it after 61 years is a product of invention; otherwise, flexibility would characterize a society as educated and multi-cultural as Israel’s. By inventing that continuity, the State of Israel is blotting out what happened before – just before – from the general global approximation of history. Significantly, it might be challenging to justify a voracious attack on a select group of people, for example to justify non-recognition of their property rights, were details like the 1938 Decree of Confiscation of Jewish Property remembered by the new confiscators of property.
Incidentally, the Israelis I meet abroad are a vehemently, fiercely, stridently secular group of people. And there is something that can be called on to fortify Israel’s claims to perpetuity in its “defensive” assaults on Gaza and the West Bank. To all the Israelis who I love who have fought to protect your people : the permanence entrenched enough to drive an army, the only status quo that needs no invention, is the religion that none of us want to be defined by.