The Closing of the Zionist Mind

Posted on July 30, 2010 by Juan Cole 

It finally happened. The Jerusalem Post has declared archeology itself anti-Semitic.

To tell you the truth, I am frankly worried about some of my colleagues who are committed Zionists having difficulty in dealing with reality in the wake of the severe difficulties facing the Zionist project in historical Palestine.

Caroline Glick’s inaccurate and angry attack on me in the Jerusalem Post reminded me again of why I am anxious about the Closing of the Zionist Mind.

Glick is actually alleging that anyone who practices critical history of the ancient world or the Middle East in general is thereby an anti-Jewish bigot. Glick, from Chicago, was a captain in the Israeli army and a judge advocate-general during the first Intifada or Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which the Israeli army brutally crushed. She seems to be going off the deep end, having made herself notorious with the sick satirical video ‘We Con the World,’ which made fun of the civilian aid workers killed by Israeli commandos on May 31 of this year (and which appears to have had some backing from the Israeli government itself).

I don’t know if Captain Glick ever was not a zealot, but the bitterness and extremeness of her comments are now to the point of irrationality.

It is not just she. I’ve been at conferences where committed Zionists in the audience would afterwards approach me and, with a sort of glazed look in their eyes, give me a little set speech, then abruptly walk away. I initially always think they want to have a discussion. They don’t. They want to engage in some sort of strange ritual speech to exorcise the doubts I raised. They want to tell me off and then escape before I can reply.

One time some Orthodox students approached me at a conference to say that in their reckoning, Israeli settlers on the West Bank had almost never done any harm to anyone and maybe in total had killed 14 persons, for which they were sorry. I was frankly outraged. I mean, what world did these university students live in? Had they never read even one academic book on the effects of the Israeli Occupation on the Palestinians of the Palestinian West Bank? Why invent fairy tale statistics, and what is with the passive aggressive ‘apology?’ There is something wrong with this way of thinking, and it is a kind of group think that reinforces itself in small, tight, communities of discourse.

Last month, I was at a conference where a prominent academic at a prominent university gave a whole series of set speeches on various occasions.. Hamas is a terrorist organization that says it will never negotiate with Israel. Iran is near to being able and willing to nuke Israel. It was like a series of mantras to ward off any real, critical thought. When I told the person he was being essentialist, he was taken aback, then in a passive aggressive way, said he ‘hoped’ that what I was saying was true. It is so weird dealing with people who are supposed to be critical thinkers by trade who, when it comes to Israel, suddenly exhibit all the originality of a mynah bird. And they don’t let you get a word in edgewise once they start. And they constantly imply, with body language and innuendo, that you are misinformed or actively lying.

Other strange features of this discourse are the disregard for any evidence that contradicts the set talking points, unwillingness to seriously reconsider positions in the light of such evidence, the repetition of key phrases in an impenetrable way, the allegation that critics said things they never said, and insistence on demonizing the source of the alternative evidence.

I got exactly the same treatment in the 1970s from Maronite Christians in Lebanon and in the 1990s from pro-Milosevic Serbs, and recognize the condition. It is Failing Nationalism Syndrome (FNS).

Not all national projects succeed. There are by some counts 5000 ethnic groups in the world of a sort that could be the basis for a nation-state, but there are only about 190 countries. Some political projects, such as French Algeria (dominated by colons or colonists as a privileged group) or a Christian-dominated Lebanon, get going but just don’t have staying power. Algeria is now an almost wholly Muslim country, and Christians in Lebanon, while still powerful and numerous, are probably down to less than a third of the total population. But if we went back in time to 1935, we could sit at cafes in Algiers or Beirut and talk with these two about the future of their countries, and the ones in Algiers would have said that Algeria’s fate was to always be a part of France, and the Lebanese Maronites would talk have talked about their majority being strengthened and about the Phoenician identity of their country in the future.

Since the government of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is doing its best to run out the clock on a two-state solution, the only two plausible outcomes in Israel/Palestine in the coming decades are long years of dreary Apartheid or a one-state solution. It is not plausible that the Israelis will be allowed to keep the Palestinians stateless and without, ultimately, any real rights, forever. So Zionists (Israel nationalists) are increasingly suffering from Failing Nationalism Syndrome, and it is causing them to flail about saying the strangest things.

Let me take Glick’s weird screed section by section (she is replying to my : essay in Salon.com

‘ One of the most prominent anti-Zionists today is Prof. Juan Cole from the University of Michigan.

Zionism is just Israel nationalism. Nationalism is of two sorts. It can be a sane patriotism in which people take pride in their identity and pull together to achieve national projects of self-improvement. Or it can be an aggressive, expansionist, grasping and destructive movement that exalts the in-group over out-groups and disadvantages or damages the latter. The second sense of the word ‘nationalism’ was the more common in the 19th and the early 20th century.

So, I am not an anti-Zionist in principle (and it is weird that Glick would accuse me of being one), since Israel nationalism is fine with me as long as it is of the first sort. Any nationalism of the second sort, I roundly denounce, whether adopted by Jews, Arabs, or Melanesians. It is the virulent sort that Closes the Mind.

‘ Part of being a successful anti-Zionist involves claiming that Jews have no right to the land of Israel. So to be a good anti-Zionist, one needs to deny Jewish history.

To this end, in March Cole published a piece of historical fiction in the Salon online magazine.

Titled “Ten reasons why East Jerusalem does not belong to Israel,” Cole mixed half truths with flagrant lies to justify his denial of Jewish history and belittlement of the Jewish rights.

Cole wrote, “Jerusalem not only was not being built by the likely then non-existent ‘Jewish people’ in 1000 BCE, but Jerusalem probably was not even inhabited at that point in history. Jerusalem appears to have been abandoned between 1000 BCE and 900 BCE, the traditional dates for the united kingdom under David and Solomon.”

This assertion is so mendacious that it takes your breath away. As anyone who has actually been in Jerusalem can attest, it is all but impossible to be physically present in the oldest areas of the city and not bump into relics dating from between 1000 and 900 BCE.’

Glick is the one who is out of touch with reality. She cannot bump into a single monument from the period 1000-900 BCE in today’s Jerusalem. The position I hold is what is called the ‘Copenhagen school’ or ‘biblical minimalism,’ and it is a perfectly respectable academic movement. I think all archeologists and historians would hold it if some were not religious believers in the Bible. It is people like Capt. Glick who are politicizing archeology and tampering with science.

There is no evidence for a monotheistic cult in Canaan in the period leading up to 1000 BCE. Monotheistic Judaism appears to have been invented in the Babylonian exile or perhaps a little before, and the fables of a great kingdom of David and Solomon were woven together then. The Assyrians were the gossips of the ancient world and they wrote down everything that happened in their clay tablets, and even talk about minor Arab queens in the Hijaz, and they didn’t know anything about a magnificent kingdom of David and Solomon with palaces. If these figures existed at all, I suspect they just had really, really nice tents, not golden palaces (which by the way have not been found despite what ideologues like Glick assert). Historical Judaism was a reformation of Canaanite religion over a period of time. (Some readers asked me who I thought was carried off to Babylon in the first place, and the answer is simple: Canaanites, perhaps those of a certain religious cult, but very possibly not the sort of monotheist depicted in the Bible).

‘ Cole’s allegation is the academic equivalent of Louis Farakhan’s claim that white people are devils planted on earth by aliens. As an anti-Zionist anti-Semite, it was just a matter of time until Cole traveled into the fetid swamp of denying the historical record to facilitate his false claim that Jews are not a people and therefore are bereft of rights as a nation to our national homeland.

I don’t know where she found a quote by me saying that the Jews are not a people. She doesn’t actually seem good with like, evidence. But peoples anyway are not eternal essences. They are formed over time. All I am saying is that her timeline for the formation is off by several hundred years.

Anyway, if Israel nationalism depends on the Bible’s stories of David and Solomon being historical, then kiss it goodbye. But note that my point in the Salon article was not that Israelis had no right to be in Israel but rather that they have no right to expel all Palestinians from Jerusalem ( Yes, that is what Israelis of Glick’s stripe are doing) . Glick’s shouting is designed to cover up an ongoing set of crimes against someone else, by painting herself the victim of, horror, biblical minimalism of an academic sort.

And note Glick’s segue from calling me an ‘anti-Zionist’ to calling me an ‘anti-Semite’ because I won’t accept the bible at face value as a privileged text without some kind of supporting evidence (and in the face of contrary such evidence). I’ve gotten so I really don’t care about being called a bigot by people who are very obviously bigots.. And I am afraid that pretty much everyone is getting that way, which is a shame. Because the history of anti-Jewish bigotry in the West is cosmically ugly and should not be trivialized.

‘ And why shouldn’t he cover himself in anti- Semitic muck? So far, the stench has brought him great success. The very fact that I felt compelled to write an essay explaining why anti- Semitism is anti-Semitism and why anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism is depressing proof that anti- Semites have been wildly successful in whitewashing their bigotry.’

I’m still looking for evidence of anti-Semitic muck in anything I’ve written, as opposed to just practicing history. And, I’m glad she thinks me a success, but lets face it, I’d have gone much further in conventional life if I hadn’t gotten on the wrong side of strident fanatics such as she. But, I was never interested in a conventional career. I have a sneaking admiration for Hunter S. Thompson that I doubt very many deans share.

‘ What makes contemporary anti-Semitism unique is its purveyors’ great efforts to hide its very existence. Their motivation is clear. Outside the openly genocidal anti-Semitic Muslim world, most anti-Semites are self-described liberals who claim to oppose bigotry. For these people, pretending away their prejudice is the key to their continued claim to enlightenment.

And so the likes of Oliver Stone publish clarifications.

And Cole invents history. And the Europeans blame Jews and Israel and Zionism when Jews inside and outside Israel are assaulted and killed.

And I am sorry I wrote this column.

Because an audience that demands an explanation of why evil is evil is an audience that has already sided with evil.’

If all that ranting makes sense to anyone, they should please explain it in terms that sane people can understand. Some of it is just guilt by association and conspiracy thinking.

Glick let slip at the end what is really going on. She is a cultist, who sees the world as black and white, good and evil. She and her movement are pure good. Those who oppose anything it does, including Apartheid, are evil.

And since the world will increasingly oppose Israeli Apartheid against the Palestinians, we are in for lots more furious rants and character assassination like Glick’s.

The Closing of the Zionist Mind, so evident in Glick’s weird column, is dangerous because a cult-like, black and white mindset is the first prerequisite for a turn to violence and it makes compromise and flexibility impossible. But what the Mideast needs more of is reasoned, humane, complex openness to change, to negotiation, to seeing the Other as human. Glick is foreclosing that process, and in so doing is helping dig the grave of Israel as we know it.

Luckily, most Israelis I know are nice people and Glick is not representative, so maybe I’m wrong to see a trend here as opposed to just a supremely annoying and ignorant individual.

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