Wandering in the Fog: Israelis and History

(Time is a bit short at the moment, so here’s a blast from the past. I do promise to write an actual post, or translate a recent one, on Saturday. Written and published in Nana News in December 2004.  Translated by Yossi Gurvitz, October 2007).

A pamphlet is going around by email and forums, which warns Israelis of the dangers of celebrating the Sylvester (*). The pamphlet is replete with gross inaccuracies: for instance, it claims Sylvester I was a pope, while a more proper term would be Bishop of Rome; the papacy did not acquire the power we are used to until the 11th century.

Even should we leave aside this error – which a layman, unfamiliar with church history, could make easily – we hit upon a blood-curdling claim: according to the pamphlet, “the first organized pogrom” broke out  simultaneously in Germany, England and France on 31 December 1400.

Leave aside the fact that the propagandist does not know that such a coordination between the three realms (even assuming Germany was a realm at the time, which it was not) was simply impossible, due to communication problems and the lack of a common calendar. Let us even leave aside the fact that the pamphleteer is repeating the blood libel – in reverse; But how could the writer, who purports to be a believing Jew, not know there were no Jews in England and France in 1400?

And how about a friend of mine, who re-tells a well-known story about Rabbi Akiva, and finishes it with “and then Cossacks came and burned down the town” – without seeing the problems in seamlessly incorporating the second century rabbi, a leader of the Bar Kochva rebellion, in the tapestry of Eastern European Jewish life in the 1700s.

Israelis are ignorant of history. This seems to be a designated effect. To begin with, the Israeli education system withdrew Jewish history away from the rest of history: it divided history lessons into “Jewish history” and the history of everything else. And then, they transformed the entirety of Jewish history into Historia Lacrimosa, a history of tears.

The lessons focus on the destruction of the Second Temple – but not on the unique beliefs and cultures which thrived while it stood; on the destruction of the Rhine Jewry during the crusades (what are crusades? What is Christianity? Unimportant; Christians are people who kill Jews); on the expulsion from Spain and the Spanish Inquisition (which, contrary to myth, did not persecute Jews). And between these two events, of course, Europe experienced nothing but endless blood libels.

The reason, as usual, is Zionist theory. The concept of Shlilat Hagola, negation of the Diaspora, ignores the salient fact that most of Jewish history took place in the Diaspora; that even prior to the destruction of the Temple, most of the Jews chose not to live in Palestine. The desire for a “normal” history, one with blood and kings and wars, made Zionist historiography – at least in its school version – leap over 2,000 crucial years.

Add to that rampant and ancient xenophobia, and the concept that things that interest non-Jews ought not to be of interest to Jews, and you get a society lacking any historical anchors. I have heard, with my own ears, an Israeli tour guide explaining, by Titus’ victory arch, that the Flavian emperor was in fact a pope (he misunderstood the meaning of the inscription pontifex maximus; and how he to know that the popes have borrowed this title from the emperors?). I have heard yeshiva boys who believed Plato lived after Maimonides; after all, many of his claims resemble those of Maimonides. Some people are under the impression that the Hasmoneans have triumphed, of all people, over the Romans; and who have no clue whether the Greeks came before, or after, the Romans.

And why should they? After all, does it really matter, in that endless chain of “on every generation they rose against us to destroy us, and did a remarkably good job”, whether the Egyptians came before the Nazis? And is the precise timing of the Byzantines in that chain essential? And so, we have people ignorant of all culture – even Jewish culture; people who are not certain on the time of the First Temple (the one, as everyone knows, destroyed by the Greeks), or the Second; or who were the Hassidim, and what in God’s name did they want.

There is no vaccum, and where there is no history, myth steps in. In our case, the myth of “the entire world is arrayed against us, always, a priori”; a myth which enables a propagandist to turn the blood libel inside out, and blame all of the Christians living in 1400 in a conspiracy against the Jews living among them; the myth which whispers that wherever there are Jews, there are also Cossacks; that the Holocaust is but the pinnacle of some mystic chain, and that another Holocaust is just around the corner. A long chain, unbound by causality, because it needs no causality.

Nietzsche once asked “how does history aid and harms life”; we can see the damage wrought by an absence of history at any time we look at the frightened herd which is the Israeli public.

(*) For unknown reasons, the Gregorian New Year is called the Sylvester in Israel; this probably has to do with German Jews and the traditions they brought with them.