Challenging the Psychology of Zionism: A Review

“It is difficult to overestimate the emotional attachment of American Jews to the State of Israel,” Anna Balzer writes in her forward to ‘Breakthrough: Transforming Fear Into Compassion’. “Zionism, in the words of Baby Boomers like Jewish psychologist and author Mark Braverman, has been the ‘mother’s milk’ to Jews in the United States and around the world. Unconditional support for Israel is not so much an intellectual choice as a deeply rooted component of Jewish identity. Indeed, in many Jewish circles today it has become more important to believe in Israel than to believe in God. Criticism of Israel feels like a personal attack, a challenge not of a state but of who we are.”

Like Richard Forer, she knew where her allegiance lay. “I saw Israel as a victimized country that simply wanted to live in peace but couldn’t because of its aggressive, Jew-hating, Arab neighbours.” This was also true for Forer until his mid-fifties when he was encouraged by a close childhood friend named Sam to take a closer look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He listened, he says, because his friend was Jewish, because he wasn’t judgmental of his viewpoint, and because he gave him the space to question his beliefs without threatening his identity.

In his transformational journey of self-discovery, Richard Forer discovered the main reason behind Zionism’s and Israel’s poisonous relationship with Palestine’s non-Jewish population: “A reasonable need for safety … had been transformed into an irrational fear that could be satisfied only by incapacitating or destroying the objects of that fear.”

Safety, the Zionists believed, would come from creating a homeland where Jews would be forever protected from persecution because, it would be for Jews alone in spite that it told the world in its Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel that it would “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants … irrespective of religion, race or sex” and would “be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations,” Truth lies in behaviour, not in words.

Throughout its history, Israel has persecuted its non-Jewish citizens, treated its non-Jewish neighbors in the Occupied Territories like vermin, and routinely violated every single principle of the UN’s Charter. The question is why. Where does such malignant behaviour come from? As Forer points out it comes from fear and resentment born of centuries of persecution and pogrom that culminated in the cataclysm of Hitler’s resentments and fear of Jews and other “outsiders” (homosexuals, mental patients, the mentally retarded and the Roma People known as ‘Gypsies’).

As I learned in my years of clinical practice as a mental health professional, fear and resentment left to fester turns into abusive behaviour towards others who are perceived as threatening. For the Zionists and their followers after World War II that was everyone who was not Jewish.

When the Zionist forces began their push to establish Israel, their goal was to remove Palestine’s Arab population and replace it with Jewish immigrants from Europe and elsewhere. Every act of resistance was met by a withering fury of violence that has continued unabated in large and small ways for over sixty-two years. It is deep-seated, pathological fear and resentment that drives Israel’s abusive behaviour and the steady stream of denials and lies about it.

“Resentment”, a wise client told me years ago, “is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die.” The cruel irony is that it has led Israel’s leaders to create a State that mirrors in its behaviour the horrors of the pogroms and the holocaust and subject its Palestinian Arab victims to the persecution and murder for over sixty-two years. This is typical abusive system behaviour in which a beaten child becomes a child-beater in its turn.

One of the values of Breakthrough is that it shows how unexamined emotions and beliefs prevent us from seeing and living in reality, and how examining them honestly leads to the kind of awakening that author experienced in 2006 when he began to examine and question his beliefs.

“An unquestioned mind,” Byron Katie says in a quotation at the beginning of the book, “is the world of suffering.” In my experience this is true. “If we look … carefully,” the author asks, “who is the enemy and who is the righteous? The enemy is the righteous mind that sees everything in terms of us against them, that calls forth death upon the other.” It is this more than anything else that lies behind Israel’s mindless violence and massive propaganda campaign that seeks out and attempts to destroy anyone who dares to question Israel’s behaviour and its motives. He is not afraid of revealing how he was deceived by a belief system that consisted of antagonists and protagonists that saw “one part of the world as represent[ing] sanity and the other insanity” and enabled him to support “indiscriminate and massive destruction; in a word, insanity.”

Forer does a masterful job of deconstructing denial with example after example of naked and incontrovertible facts, showing time after time behaviour on the part of Israelis that is unspeakable in its sadism and beastliness. Where people like Alan Dershowitz and Abraham Foxman do not want to see, Forer deconstructs their arguments so they must look away not to see. Denial is a powerful mechanism of defence that when fear becomes malignant and blocks one’s natural ability to look, to see and to feel.

“Hope is something we will never give up,” says Ali, a young Palestinian college student the author interviewed. “My people want the world community to give us more support. They don’t have to be pro-Palestinian; they just need to be pro-human rights. We don’t want to replace or be replaced, and we don’t want to treat the Israelis the way they treat us. We just want peace and equality.”

In his chapter about the “purity” of Israel’s IDF (Chapter 8, “Purity of Arms”) the author includes this revealing comment by Israeli general Yigal Allon: “If we accuse a family – we need to harm them without mercy, women and children included.”  In this statement and others, truth is revealed and one either looks and sees, or looks away and denies. There is no middle ground.

Breakthrough is filled with story after story of horror that born of resentment, fear and denial. It reveals a horrifying, malignant self-righteousness that leads fundamentalist parents to teach their three year olds to throw stones at Palestinian babies and an Army officer to snatch a man’s three and a half year old son from his arms and throw him onto a cactus. Any society that permits and encourages such behaviour ultimately destroys itself in a nightmare of emotional and behavior problems that causes the society to collapse.

Reading Breakthrough is not comfortable, nor should it be, especially for someone like me who is the citizen of a country (the U.S.) that, as Israel’s primary source of financial and materiel aid, has been complicit in its crimes every step of the way. Two things are eminently clear about America’s relationship with Israel: in denying Israel’s behavior we support it, and in our denial we are led around by Israel like a bull with a ring in its nose.

In my opinion, Breakthrough is a major contribution to the creation of genuine peace between Israel and the Arab population in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza because it directly explores the emotional issues that block peace and prevents people from seeing. “Where a man cannot look,” Forer writes, “he cannot feel; and where a man cannot feel, he has not really looked. Without both he will never understand.” Without understanding there will never be peace.

“There are many books that detail Israel’s oppressive treatment of the Palestinians,” the author wrote to me in a recent email. “I think my book’s strength in that regard is the logic I bring to it, how I show that the arguments that Israel’s defenders make are projections [that] should be applied to Israel far more than to the Palestinians. The primary contribution of my book, in my opinion, is the deconstructing of the mind that creates a world of internal oppression and then projects it out into the world onto appropriate scapegoats (Palestinians) who are the objects of their blame. Equally primary is my suggestion that the root problem is a spiritual one, of identity, more so than land or religion as the root cause. If people can begin to intuit their connection to all beings and to life my book will have been effective.”

I agree. Once we are able to intuit our connection to all beings and to life itself, there will be no need to engage in persecution and war. And isn’t that the real end we seek in this so far endless conflict?

Richard Forer, Breakthrough: Transforming Fear Into Compassion, a new perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Insight Press, Albuquerque, NM, November 2010. Paperback.

Review: George Polley is a Japan-based American writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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