Gilad Atzmon

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Can Jews ever leave their Cult?

By Gilad Atzmon

Baruch Spinoza left the Jews. Heinrich Heine became a Christian. A few others, such as Israel Shamir and myself, a decade ago, simply drifted away.

Recently, Israeli historian Shlomo Sand announced that he too was no longer a Jew. I read his manuscript in Hebrew with great interest but soon realised that while he indeed stopped identifying as a Jew, he still hadn’t removed himself from kosher binaries.

“I don’t write for anti-Semites, I regard them as totally ignorant or people who suffer from an incurable disease,” (How I Ceased To Be A Jew  p’ 21). Lines like these, echoing as they do the language of the ADL, made me feel very uncomfortable and, when it came to the Holocaust, Sand, who is usually so astute and profound, somehow managed to lose it. The Nazis are  “beasts”, and their rise to power metaphorically he described as a “beast awakening from its lair.”  Despite my respect for Sand, I would expect a leading, inspirational  historian and a former-Jew to have movedbeyond such banal  Hasbara-recycled clichés.

This week, in the Jewish progressive magazine Mondoweiss, Avigail Abarbanel, an ex-Israeli and anti- Zionist informed us that she too has now ‘left the cult,’. I agreed with most of Abarbanel’s arguments against Israel and Zionism but I was nonetheless alarmed at the intellectual dishonesty at the core of her argument.

“Rarely can people inside a cult see where they are. If they could, the cult wouldn’t be what it is” Abarbanel points out. “They think that they are members of a special group that has a special destiny, and is always under threat.” Thus does Abarbanel describe the Israelis, yet she fails to mention that this is also an accurate description of the Jewish left in general and the Mondoweiss/JVP cults in particular, to which she herself belongs. As we now know, just as Israel claims for itself a special place amongst the states of the world, so do the anti-Zionist Jews who, when it comes to Anti Israeli politics, operate within Jewish, racially exclusive political cells (JVP, IJAN etc.). So, if Abarbanel thinks that Israelis are at fault for being a ‘special group’ perhaps she should inform us what is the criterion that legitimates JVP and Mondoweiss being a special group within the solidarity movement?  

Abarbanel continues: “cult members are taught from birth that the world outside is dangerous, that they have to huddle together for safety.” This is indeed a good description of Israeli collective psychosis, but it is also a prefect portrayal of Mondoweiss’ operational mode and it  putsMondoweiss’ campaign against Alison Weir andGreta Berlin in perfect context. It also explains why Mondoweiss banned Jeffrey Blankfort and why the Jewish outlet changed its comment policy just to make sure that it can block any attempt to criticise the Jewish state in the light of Jewish culture and my own study of Jewish tribalism. Just like Israel, Mondoweiss is terrified of the ‘dangerous world out there’. As far as Abarbanel’s definition of cult is concerned, Mondoweiss, JVP and Israel are actually identical.

Abarbanel is obsessed with the holocaust and this is hardly surprising. The Holocaust is currently the most popular Jewish religion.  The Israeli prominent philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz observed in the 1970s that Jews believe in many different things but all Jews believe in the Holocaust.  “Have I forgotten the holocaust? No. Of course not,” Abarbanel writes. “Persecution of Jewish people throughout history was very real indeed.” And if you expect Abarbanel, a psychotherapist by profession, to question why is it that Jews have been ‘hated throughout history,’ you’re probably wasting your time. In Abarbanel’s universe, the persecution of the Jews is a metaphysical constant. It is beyond questioning. In her view, Jews are victims and the Goyim are oppressors. “Jews were a hated and despised group among many cultures in Europe, and Jews have always had an uneasy co-existence with non-Jews. Any marginalised or persecuted group has an uneasy relationship with the dominant culture. Once you have been discriminated against it’s hard to trust.”


So again, despite ‘leaving the cult,’ Abarbanel’s take on the holocaust is well within that same Hasbara cult she claims to have left.


Actually, one would expect a psychotherapist to advise the Jews to look in the mirror and actually identify what is it about them that invokes so much animosity in so many different times and in so many different places. This is something Bernard Lazare, an early Zionist did just over a century ago when he identified what it was in the Jews that has made Jewish history into such a disastrous continuum. Sadly, Abarbanel falls far short of this task. Unable or unwilling to examine what is it in the Jew or in Jewishness that invokes animosity, for her, this is one step too far because to look into that question may suggest that Israel is not the problem, it is but a symptom of the problem. 


In Abarbanel’s universe, the Jews are always the victims and all they have to do is to separate their victimhood from their identity. This is strange since if victimhood is embedded in Jewish existence, then surely it must also be inherent in Jewish identity. My guess is that the day Jews manage to distinguish between their victimhood and their identity will be the day they simply stop being Jews.


The meaning of this is simple. Abarbanel may have left a cult, but she didn’t leave the cult. Operating well within the realm of Jewish ID politics, her task is simply to convey the image that not all Jews are bad. Abarbanel advises the Israelis to self reflect – perhaps once in a while she should do the same. Other than that I wish her luck in her cultural divorce project.

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