Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Israel and the Holocaust: A double bind

Consider this short letter published in the Letters column of the
May 20, 1996, Canadian edition of TIME magazine, and signed by one Safa Jawad Mekkaoui, from Saida, in Lebanon.

It was written in response to the Qana Massacre, when over 100 Lebanese civilians were blown to smithereens by Israeli artillery as they sheltered in a UN compound. Observers on the ground report they were certain the Israelis deliberately shelled the compound, in spite of knowing women and children were huddled there.


“Israel mercilessly kills women and children and then blames the victims themselves for their ghastly deaths because they refused to yield to Israeli threats and leave their home and their land. A people who never allow the Holocaust to be forgotten now find it 'acceptable' to murder as horrendously as the Nazis murdered them.”

The writer points to a danger for the Jewish psyche engaged in a relentless and obsessive evocation of the Holocaust: There is a contradiction to be satisfactorily resolved.

Bill Clinton was said to be an effective leader because he was able to isolate and compartmentalize diverse aspects of his life. Thus, at 3:00 p.m., he might schedule a tryst with Monica, talk affairs of state with Madame Albright at 4:00 p.m., order a bombing of Iraq at 5:00 p.m., and meet for coffee with Hillary at 6:00 p.m. in order to discuss a problem Chelsea might be having at school (as good parents will), and so on, without any sense of contradiction.

Such a knack for compartmentalization might be possible for some for a while, but not for an entire people, where the insurmountable contradictions will begin to overlap and accumulate.

Now imagine that while engaged with Monica Clinton was suddenly floored by the realization that she and his daughter Chelsea were but a few years apart in age, and that the next time he arranged a tryst with his young mistress -- did I mention Monica was Jewish, from a family of Holocaust survivors? -- he experienced feelings of acute unease, such that whenever he held Monica spontaneous, guilt-inducing thoughts of daughter Chelsea occupied his mind, and that whenever he saw Chelsea, Clinton was likewise reminded of Monica, and left feeling emotionally disarmed by these unwelcome, intrusive thoughts, by a poignant sense of “double exposure.”

It's this sense of “double exposure” that, I think, will bedevil the collective Jewish psyche, with its twin obsessions of Israel and the Holocaust, as we go forward.

Israel, with its martial spirit, is the Orwellian boot stamping on a human face; while the Nazi Holocaust casts Jews growing old in its dark shadow in the role of a tortured face forever being stamped on.

That is the sort of double bind that's at the heart of dissociative mental disorders, of which denial is a common symptom.

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