Saturday, November 19, 2011

Self-fulfilling prophecies: The Bible, Zionism and the Palestinians

The Bible contains quite a few prophesies about the Jews returning to Israel.  Some of them related to the Babylonians and the first exile, which ended in the Sixth century BCE, but others came from later.
My favorite is Ezekiel 37 (Yehezkel in Hebrew), whose "Dry Bones" prophesy, in which a valley full of dry bones slide together to make an army of skeletons, sounds like the script for a Hollywood movie:

: 1 The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. 
3 And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” 
4 Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’” 
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. 
9 Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. 
11 Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 

When these words were written, 2600 years ago, I don't suppose any more than a handful of people noticed them, but over the next three millenia the Bible became the most influential book ever created, and such powerful writing was no longer some obscure prophesy, but a statement with the power to move Empires - in this case the British Empire, the largest empire ever created, leading to the 1917 Balfour Declaration. 

Without the biblical prophesies, neither the Jews nor the Christians who facilitated their return, would have considered such a drastic action as a return to a country abandoned more than a thousand years earlier.

There are other examples of self-fulfilling prophesies, though perhaps none quite so impressive. Karl Marx prophesized class-warfare, claiming all human history was simply a tale of class-warfare. He made the point so effectively, that for next century  people motivated by his writings engaged in class-warfare. Although class conflict existed before Marx, the affect of his prophesies was to turn class conflict into one of the dominant forms of social conflict  for the next century (and possibly beyond).

There is another type of self-fulfilling prophesy and that's when you predict that someone will become your enemy, and in the process of pre-empting that eventuality, turn them against you. After the Balfour declaration The Palestinians started claiming that the Jews' objective was to drive them out.  In fact, although most Jews wanted a state with a Jewish majority, even the most radical, Jabotinsky wanted a democratic state and assumed the Arabs would remain.  Jabotinsky had no qualms about using force to achieve Jewish control of Palestine, but he assumed that Jewish migrants could easily outnumber the Arabs.
The Mufti in his efforts to prevent a Jewish majority met with Hitler, who favored expelling the Jews from Europe,  and helped persuade him to exterminate them instead. 
When the UN partitioned Palestine the Mufti insisted on an all or nothing policy ultimately resulting in the departure of a large chunk of Palestine's Arab population, thus fulfilling his own prophecy.  Had the Palestinians embraced the Jews and welcomed them in, it is likely both the Holocaust and the Nakba would have been averted.

The Israeli right, today,  claim to be concerned about the loyalty of Israeli Arabs.  So they are trying to pass legislation defining Israel as a Jewish state, giving preference to former soldiers in state employment tribunals (most Arabs don't serve in the Army) and preventing teaching of the Nakba in state schools. Needless to say Arab disloyalty is a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we cannot make allowances to the needs of our Arab citizens then we should not be surprised if they question their allegiances. Perhaps the right doesn't really care whether or not the Arab-Israelis are loyal, its just popular with the voters to put them on the spot.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Collective responsibility: Gaza, Jesus and Gilad Shalit.

My mother recently met an old friend, they had a little chat, but then the next day she got an e-mail from her former friend saying she couldn't talk to her any more because of what Israel is doing in Gaza.
My mother is 90 and lives in London. She has absolutely no influence over Israeli policy and certainly bears no responsibility for it. You might as well blame her for the death of Jesus.  Yet there is this notion in certain circles that Jews are collectively responsible for the fate of the Palestinians. Fortunately, perhaps, the same people have no such claims about our responsibility for our own fate.  If my mother gets bombed, these same people will consider it entirely her own problem.

The idea of collective Jewish responsibility is not a purely antisemitic thing. A recent article in the New York Times  (A Yearning for Solidarity Tangles Public Life by Ethan Bronnercommented on the sense of mutual responsibility that exists in Israel and suggested it was a potential problem in Israeli politics.
Actually I rather like it, its what made our demonstrations in support of the welfare state both highly successful and completely non-violent: the biggest demonstration, with 350,000 (5% of Israelis) in attendance was held in the most expensive square in Tel Aviv, where all the top designer stores have branches, and not a single storefront was broken.   That could never have happened in England. It is also why the Israeli government released hundreds of dangerous men in return for one minor soldier.  Half the country now regards Gilad Shalit as their son. If Hamas didn't give him post-traumatic stress disorder, then the queues of people trying to get a look at him (after years of total isolation) probably will.

I think all this mutual responsibility is related to the Bible. The Jewish God wasn't into individual responsibility. The Jews were chosen to deliver a message and they had to do it as a collective. In the Biblical narrative, if some do wrong, we all get punished. For example, in Exodus 32 (9), the Israelites built and worshipped a golden calf while Moses was up Mount Sinai "I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.”  Moses then argues with God and gets the punishment reduced, thus launching thousands of Jewish lawyers on the world, all well capable of arguing with God.
That's why Jews aren't required to believe in God: Rabbinical Judaism requires you to follow the commandments; we can be atheists so long as we keep the Sabbath, circumcise boys and fast on Yom Kippur. Otherwise we all get it.  Incidentally the converse also applies: maltreat the Jews and God punishes you collectively.

The Christians developed a different system, one based on individual responsibiity.  Christians, especially protestants, can improvise their prayers and are held to account on a personal basis. But all too many fail to apply an individual-based moral system to Jews.

Recreating ancient kingdoms: Arab Nationalism vs Zionism.

Although Zionism and Arab Nationalism are at loggerheads over Palestine (or perhaps Southern Syria), the two have a certain amount in common...