From Victimhood to Aggression: Jewish Identity in the light of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children by Gilad Atzmon
Identity is a very tricky concept. It can very mean many opposing things and at the same time it can mean nothing. One may start to wonder about one’s identity only when one feels he is under the threat of losing it. The case of Jewish identity is a very good example. Judging by the literature and history textbooks, Jews started to explore the notion of their identity following the emancipation, assimilation and the collapse of the rabbinical authority. In short, Jews started to wonder who they were once their collective self-notion was already melting down. Seemingly, the notion of ‘Jewish identity’ was there to replace the tribal, rabbinical and racially orientated notion of the ‘Jew’ with a tolerant acceptable ‘liberal’ discourse that aims at a universal awareness.
In the post-modern era, Identity is regarded as a means to impose a sort of legitimacy to separateness as a decent civil political collective consciousness. Generally speaking, identity is a social concept that allows the figure that may be considered as marginal to celebrate his unique symptoms while at the same time regarding himself as a perfectly qualified member of an extended open society. Identity Politics, accordingly, is a concept that integrates the different margins into an ideal phantasmic image of multicultural and multiethnic society.
As much as identity politics refers to an imaginary celebration of differences in a world that regards itself as a cosmopolitan global village, Jewish identity (whether it locates itself politically on the left, right or centre) is a unique setting that aims to enjoy it all while giving very little in return. Jewish Identity Politics is there to maintain legitimately that the Jews must be accepted and respected by others for what they are: their history, their suffering, their religious belief, their culture, yet, within this call for others to recognise their identity claims, they somehow surprisingly fail to assimilate any notion of tolerance towards others. All forms of Jewish identity political schools maintain some elementary and fundamental tribal exclusivist code of engagement. Whether it is the rightwing Zionist who celebrates Jewish identity at the expense of the Palestinian people, or the Lefty Jew for Justice who, for some reason, celebrates his craving for peace in a ‘Jews only club’, it seems as if the entire spectrum of Jewish political identity is a tribally orientated exclusivist practice. It seems as if the entire spectrum of Jewish identity politics lacks the true awareness and acceptance of universal attitudes as an acknowledgment of being amongst others.
This behavioural pattern can be easily grasped in historical retrospective. Bearing in mind that the discourse of identity arose as a reaction to 20th century disastrous nationalist reality, identity was an outlet that allowed a sense of belonging in a newly formed tolerant civic reality. However, the course of Jewish identity politics was very different. Within the concept of Jewish identity, Jewish suffering and victimhood are set as unique Jewish symptoms. For a Jew to celebrate his identity means to celebrate Jewish pain, to visit and to revisit the agony. To be a Jew is to religiously believe in the Holocaust. To be a Jew is to be chased. To be a Jew is to be able to find an anti-Semite under every stone and behind every corner. To be a Jew is to chase senile Nazis into their graves. Forgiveness doesn’t seem to attract the leading proponent of Jewish identity politics.
Within such a notion of Jewish identity and bearing in mind the Zionist expansionist project, it is hardly surprising that Jewish collective ideology had become a bipolar schizophrenic volley between Victimhood and Aggression.
Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children, http://royalcourttheatre.com that was written and performed in the light of the last Israeli military devastating campaign in Gaza, turns the floodlights on the confusion within Jewish identity.
On the face of it, the short play is an historical journey form victimhood into aggression. In just nine minutes we are joining an expedition that departs in the horror of the Shoah:
“Don’t tell her they’ll kill her..
Tell her it’s important to be quiet..
and eventually ends up with the Israelis taking the role of the Nazis
“Tell her they (the Palestinians) are animals
living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out,
….tell her I look at one of their children covered in
blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her…”
As much as Churchill’s reading of Jewish’s recent history as a transformation from innocence into ruthless barbarism is not a revelation, the message is delivered in a rather profound and sensitive manner.
But there is a far deeper layer in Churchill’s play that is hardly discussed or addressed. Churchill, like other commentators engaged in issues to do with Jewish identity, is highly observant of the elastic qualities of Jewish identity, history and reality. Jews can be whatever they want to be as long as it serves one cause or another. The Jewish narrative is obviously neither coherent nor consistent.
“Tell her it’s a game”, as if we (the Jews) are on the top of it all.
“Tell her it’s serious”, as if we are actually going down.
“But don’t frighten her”, as if we are somehow on top of it all again.
“Don’t tell her they’ll kill her”, as if we it all about to end in a matter of seconds.
The Israeli Historian Shlomo Sand elaborated on the phantasmic qualities within the Jewish historical discourse in his recent book ‘When And How The Jewish People Was Invented’. Sand manages to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jewish people never existed as a 'nation-race', they never shared a common origin. Instead they are a colourful mix of groups that at various stages in history adopted the Jewish religion. Similarly, at a certain stage in history they had invented their national identity. As we sadly realise, the phantasmic qualities at the core of Jewish identity politics do not stop Jews from celebrating their aspiration at the expense of the Palestinian people. The reason is simple, as Sand proves in a scholarly way and as Churchill conveys theatrically, Jewish identity is a very flexible realm.
“Tell her her uncles died
Don't tell her they were killed
Tell her they were killed
Don’t frighten her.”
The Jewish narrative is the art of making a story. It has no commitment to facts or truth. Accordingly, you make sure that you “don’t tell her they were killed”, so she can keep up the cosmopolitan dream. Or maybe, you better “tell her they were killed”, so she can rush back to the Ghetto and stay with us. Alternatively she may learn the ‘necessary’ lesson and join the IDF so she can spread death amongst the enemies of Israel. Anyhow, make sure you “don’t frighten her”, as if she isn’t frightened enough already.
The Jewish identity is a form of tactical detachment. It is a methodical strategy that creates an imaginary symbolic order with a clear pragmatic agenda.
"Tell her for miles and miles all round they (the Arabs) have lands of their own.” Misleading her to think that Palestinians and Arabs are literally the same thing.
“Tell her again this is our promised land.” As if the Jews are people, as if their origin is in Zion, as if the biblical promise has any legal validity, as if they actually believe in the Torah.
Churchill, like Sand, is eloquently exposing the zero integrity at the core of the Jewish national cause, discourse and narrative. The Jewish historical plot is not about telling the truth. Instead, it is all about the making up a ‘truth’ that would fit the current tribal needs. There is an old joke about Marxist ideologists. It tells that once the facts do not fit into the Marxist determinist textbook, all you have to do is to change the facts. Jewish identity discourse is employing exactly the same strategy. Facts and lies are produced as we move along. In short, all you have to ‘tell her’ is that sometimes we need to be innocent victims, other times we plunder, kill, throw WMDs. It all depends what serves our tribal interests best at a given time.
Victimhood – the Birth of the Collective
Churchill seems to be very observant tracing the disastrous toll Jewish identity politics achieved in turning the Jewish state into a cold blooded murderer.
“Tell her I don’t care if the world hates us
Tell her we’re better haters”, as if she has to be told after what she saw in Gaza.
“Tell her we’re chosen people”, as if she doesn’t realise by now.
And yet, one may wonder, who is that young innocent girl whom Caryl Churchill referring to. Who is the protagonist at the receiving end of the text, who is the hidden ‘her’ that is referred to in each line of this interesting play?
As we know, Anna Frank tragically perished at the end of WW2. She didn’t make it to the newly born ‘Jews only’ state. Yet, within the context of Jewish identity politics Anna Frank had been adopted as a Jewish cultural icon by means of collective transference. In practice she had successfully settled in the heart of every subject who identifies as a Jew. Those who succumb to the notion of Jewish identity insist upon regarding themselves as innocent and blamelessness. From a Jewish identity political perspective, the Jewish nation is a tribe of very many innocent Anna Franks.
I allow myself to guess that Churchill’s little girl refers metaphorically to the ‘people of Israel’. The newly born Jewish nation is indeed a very young concept that is submerged with righteousness and innocence. The little girl at the receiving end of the play is there to convey an image of naivety and blamelessness. But it is also that little girl’s metaphorical innocence that makes Israel’s crimes so sinister. In the light of the Israeli propaganda that presents the Jewish state as a vulnerable innocent blameless entity, the devastating reality of Israeli brutality leads towards the inevitable cognitive dissonance.
"Tell her we're the iron fist now,
tell her it's the fog of war.
Tell her we won't stop killing them till we're safe,
tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.”
Seemingly we are dealing here with a uniquely and seriously disturbed immature nation. We are dealing with a self-loving narcissistic child who is terrorised by ‘her’ own cruelty. It is the sadistic youngster who is horrified by the demons ‘she’ finds in herself. The more the Israelis love themselves and their delusional phantasmic innocence, the more they are frightened that people out there may be as sadistic as they themselves proved to be. This behavioral mode is called projection.
“Tell her we love her.
Don’t frighten her.”
So ends Churchill’s play. Seemingly, Jews have a very good reason to be frightened. Their national state is a racist genocidal entity.
After the Shoah, Jews had an opportunity to transform their fate, to turn a new page. They could even explore collectively the notion of forgiveness and mercy. A few Jewish intellectuals insisted that Jews must locate themselves at the forefront of the battle against racism and oppression. As it happened, it took just six decades for the Jewish national state to establish its primacy as the ultimate racist nation state that employs the ultimate sadistic ruthless oppressive tactics. ”Don’t frighten her,” says Churchill. If to be honest, the young girl must be frightened for a very good reason. If she ever would be courageous enough to look in the mirror, she would be gravely devastated.