Friday, August 24, 2007

Atzmon on Jewish Religion

The expatriate Israeli musician and writer Gilad Atzmon published an essay last March that I have only today read. Called "From Esther to AIPAC," it deals with a number of subjects familiar to readers of this blog. Below are a couple of excerpts from the piece but I especially wanted to draw attention to one phrase which I think resonates with the more than 300-year-old remark of Benedict Spinoza on hatred as the glue of Jewish community.

Near the end of his essay, Atzmon observes: "Being exilic to the bone, Zionism had to turn to antagonising the indigenous Palestinians in order to maintain its fetish of Jewish identity." Where Spinoza writes of hatred and I focus on death, throughout the article Atzmon discusses fear as the basis of Jewish identity. I don't see much difference here as hate, death, and fear are but different facets of the pathology at the heart of mainstream Jewish identity.

Here are the excerpts from Atzmon. On "The Holocaust Religion":
Philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the German born Hebrew University professor, was probably the first to suggest that the Holocaust has become the new Jewish religion. 'The Holocaust' is far more than historical narrative, it indeed contains most of the essential religious elements: it has its priests (Simon Wiesenthal, Elie Wiesel, Deborah Lipstadt, etc.) and prophets (Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and those who warn about the Iranian Judeocide to come). It has its commandments and dogmas ('never again', 'six million', etc.). It has its rituals (memorial days, Pilgrimage to Auschwitz etc.). It establishes an esoteric symbolic order (kapo, gas chambers, chimneys, dust, Musselmann, etc.). It has its shrines and temples (Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum and now the UN). If this is not enough, the Holocaust religion is also maintained by a massive economic network and global financial infrastructures (Holocaust industry a la Norman Finkelstein). Most interestingly, the Holocaust religion is coherent enough to define the new 'antichrists' (the Deniers) and it is powerful enough to persecute them (Holocaust denial laws).

Critical scholars who dispute the notion of 'Holocaust religion' suggest that though the new emerging religion retains many characteristics of an organised religion, it doesn't establish an external God figure to point at, to worship or to love. I myself cannot agree less. I insist that the Holocaust religion embodies the essence of the liberal democratic worldview. It is there to offer a new form of worshiping. It made self loving into a dogmatic belief in which the observant follower worships himself. In the new religion it is 'the Jew' whom the Jews worship. It is all about 'me', the subject of endless suffering who makes it into redemption.

However, more than a few Jewish scholars in Israel and abroad happen to accept Leibowitz's observation. Amongst them is Marc Ellis, the prominent Jewish theologian who suggests a revealing insight into the dialectic of the new religion. "Holocaust theology," says Ellis, "yields three themes that exist in dialectical tension: suffering and empowerment, innocence and redemption, specialness and normalization."[4]

Though Holocaust religion didn't replace Judaism, it gave Jewishness a new meaning. It sets a modern Jewish narrative allocating the Jewish subject within a Jewish project. It allocates the Jew a central role within his own self-centred universe. The 'sufferer' and the 'innocent' are marching towards 'redemption' and 'empowerment'. God is obviously out of the game, he is fired, he has failed in his historic mission, he wasn't there to save the Jews. Within the new religion the Jew becomes 'the Jews' new God', it is all about the Jew who redeems himself.

The Jewish follower of the Holocaust religion idealises the condition of his existence. He then sets a framework of a future struggle towards recognition. For the Zionist follower of the new religion, the implications seem to be relatively durable. He is there to 'schlep' the entirety of world Jewry to Zion at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian people. For the Socialist Jew, the project is slightly more complicated. For him redemption means setting a new world order, namely a socialist haven. A world dominated by dogmatic working class politics in which Jews happen to be no more than just one minority amongst many. For the humanist observant, Holocaust religion means that Jews must locate themselves at the forefront of the struggle against racism, oppression and evil in general. Though it sounds promising, it happens to be problematic because of obvious reasons. In our current world order it is Israel and America that happen to be amongst the leading oppressive evils. Expecting Jews to be in the forefront of humanist struggle sets Jews in a fight against their brethren and their supportive single superpower. However, It is rather clear that all three Holocaust churches assign the Jews a major project with some global implications.
On Nazi collaborator Joachim Prinz:
... it is only natural that Rabbi Prinz later became the President of the Jewish American Congress. He became a prominent American leader In spite of his 'collaboration with Hitler'. Simply because of the obvious reason: from a Jewish ideological point of view, he did the right thing.

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