The process of the dehumanization of Zionists — which in this context (and most contexts) is interchangeable with Jew — has been a long one in our current culture. It has existed as an idea within the ranks of the KKK since its early days and continues today in various corners of the political spectrum. It’s what happens when both Jews and Israelis are not viewed as human beings but political abstractions whose very existence is socially unacceptable and deserving of contempt. To counter such thinking, we have to not only be vocal in counter-protests but make sure that Zionism does not become socially taboo in our political and social discourses. To allow this is to be an enabler of the vile acts we witnessed this weekend. More importantly, when we talk about Israelis — as with any human being — our conversations must capture the fullness of their humanity; and to be human is to be at times vulnerable and insecure; imperfect and yet full of aspirations, ambitions, and the idiosyncrasies that make us the impossible, interesting creatures that we all are — worthy of redemption.
The other day I was doing some close reading of Yossi Klein Halevi’s Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist. My job is to create spaces where deep Israel engagement through a greater understanding of Zionism as a philosophy can be cultivated. In my lectures, I aim for my audiences to understand Zionism within the greater context of the human condition, not just as a political movement. So I thought it’d be interesting to draw lessons from a great writer and see what he had to teach me about the human experience through the lens of his own.
Halevi’s autobiography reads like a Hollywood movie script and has insightful things to say about the effects of bigotry and trauma on a community that are often overlooked. In everyday society we understand bigotry as a force that has animated dangerous political movements throughout history and which threaten to do so again. Yet this is an academic description — not an explanation. Bigotry is what happens when one person (or people) begin to see another as inhuman.
This has been a regular theme of anti-Semitism. For example, Halevi writes about how the genocidal impulses of Nazi Germany required that the Nazis see the Jews as soulless as that would be the only justification of a genocide. “It wasn’t enough to destroy the Jews”, he writes. “First they had to be degraded, transformed into living exhibits of the absence of soul.” Halevi went further to say that Jews “were being transformed into freaks — ghettoized and demonized.”
It’s been a month since I’ve studied this book together but I bring it up in light of recent events in Charlotsville where Neo-Nazis draped in Confederate flags attempted once more to depict Jews as soulless.
““The truth is,” Klans member David Duke told a large crowd on Saturday, “the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause.”
Most in polite society condemned these Neo-Nazi demonstrations. But it’s worth pointing out and then pointing out again that anti-Semitism occurs when groups seek to dehumanize Jews — and, yes, by Jews, I do mean Zionists.