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The Oppressed Mind

By Dave Fryett

06 December, 2010

The great South African political activist and thinker Steven Biko once said that the greatest tool in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. Biko's brilliance was in that he focused on raising the consciousness of his fellow blacks by changing the way they viewed themselves. Once their minds were purged of the racism they had unwittingly assimilated, he reckoned, their liberation would inevitably follow. His phrase "black is beautiful" became the battle cry of those who toppled the apartheid regime.

In very different circumstances, and in regard to another apartheid regime, I recently confronted a similarly compromised mind. I write about it now because of its relevance to contemporary Geo-politics, and because it is a singularly illustrative case. The subject of this essay holds mutually contradictory views, and embraces each with equal fervor. He has become a tool of those political forces which he denounces.

In the interests of union solidarity, I shall not use my antagonist's real name. Instead, I shall refer to him by the more etymologically-correct "Peter."

Peter describes himself as a dissident. I have never met him, but recently he contributed something to our union newspaper which I liked, so I wrote to him via interoffice mail to ask if I could reproduce it in another venue. I included my e-mail address. He responded via e-mail saying that I could, and he took the opportunity to try to persuade me to join him in an effort to "form a caucus to push a left agenda in the local." He added, "I've seen it before and can draw a diagram if you would like." I had no objection to the not-so-subtle pressure, so I wrote, this time via e-mail, that indeed I was interested. In this response I mentioned that I was an anarchist, and insisted that our caucus would have to be run in a democratic fashion for me to consider participating.

His reply was brief and hostile. To my amazement, it contained a rescission of permission to reproduce his work, and, inexplicably, a libelous charge of anti-Semitism.

As in our correspondence there was no mention of Jews or Zionism or Israel, nothing that could justify his ugly accusation, it was clear that the cause of his attack was the quote which appeared under my name, my "signature" as my e-mail program calls it. I reproduce it here just as it was when I e-mailed Peter and dozens of others:

“Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world...Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi [1] and eat. That is why gentiles were created.” sermon by Rabbi Yosef of Israel.
[Turkish for "lord" or "master."]

As you can see, there is no expression that could be considered defamatory to Jews in the infamous rabbi's racist statement. It is quite the opposite. It is an unapologetic assertion of Jewish supremacy. Peter didn't condescend to explain why he had come to his conclusion about my alleged anti-Semitism, but the perceived affront must be that I had reproduced something in my signature that could be seen as unflattering to Jews, as it atypically portrays them as purveyors of hatred, rather than as its innocent victims. The malignity captured above reveals the rabbi as a racist pig of the same league as those which tormented the Jewish people in the Nazi era. That I am willing to contemplate that some Jews can perpetrate the same crimes as were perpetrated against Jews; that Jews are equal to ( and thus no better than ) the other peoples with whom we share the globe; that they are no less susceptible to reaction or other political vice; that they are equally capable of committing atrocities upon their perceived enemies as any other people; and that they are no less deserving of censure when they do, is, I must infer, what Peter objects to.

If quoting a Jewish racist's hateful screed against Gentiles is anti-Semitism, then by this logic, reproducing the equally horrific writings of Adolf Hitler against the Jews is mere anti-Germanism. Condemnation of his ghastly book, Mein Kampf, and by extrapolation, the entire Nazi movement, would then be nothing more than an expression of sordid prejudice against Germans. Nobody believes this, so why is it that criticism of Zionist polity carries with it the unique liability of being called a bigot?

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is not some eccentric pariah on the fringe of Israeli society.[1] He is the head of the Torah Sages ( biblical scholars ) for the ultra orthodox Shas Party, currently sharing power in the coalition government under the Likud Party's Benjamin Netanyahu. Yosef and his party are zealous theocrats and are at the heart of Israel's political and ecumenical cultures.

Days before the peace process was to begin this past August, an effort for which, publicly at least, he expressed support, Yosef called upon God to initiate the final solution to the Palestinian problem by bringing a plague down upon them.[2] He was subsequently pressured to recant, which he did. This is not as foul as encouraging the government to genocide the Palestinians, but it's much too close for me. Wishing death upon an entire race for the supposed misdeeds of some is utterly reprehensible. As are his unretracted, blood-chilling exhortations to Israeli soldiers to be "merciless" with the Arabs.

The U.S. gives enormous sums in aid to Israel. It has taken Israel's side in all disputes, and undermined all international efforts, including those originating in the UN, to stop her aggression towards her neighbors. The U.S. has publicly denounced the brutal, decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories, but has done nothing to bring it to an end. To the extent that Israel pursues its oxymoronic goal of being "Jewish and democratic," the U.S. betrays its democratic principle of egalitarian secularism. When we embrace the Zionist race-state and the clerical sophists like Yosef who vindicate it, we confer undeserved legitimacy on the racism which has been the bane of our national existence, and which has been so hard to overcome. When we concede, as inevitably we do when we offer unconditional support to nation committed to racial exclusivity, that the interests of some exceed those of others, we invalidate the hard-won victories of our revolution, civil war, and civil rights movement. As a citizen of the United States, and more importantly as a human being with a sense of justice, I say that if I cannot protest this, if I do not have the political right to object to the policies of my own government by exposing the Fascist ideology of those with whom we ally, then I am not free, and have no rights of any real consequence. Peter and those sharing his mindset will have to forgive me if I protest.

Israel is the perfect argument for equality and anti-authoritarianism in that its creation and maintenance has produced all the ills intrinsic to the nation-state; and in that it has carefully cultivated within its collective xenophobia precisely those racial ideas which makes its long-term survival untenable. The Zionist state is the global laboratory for bad governance. It's existence is threatened by forces of its own creation. It is the perfect case in point for those of us who oppose statist regimes of all types.

Israel is a theocratic state created in a densely populated land amidst a people whom it has dispossessed, and whom it existence it refuses to recognize. The first order of business for the new state was to remove the pre-existing Christian and Muslim communities. Since these Gentiles are not likely to agree to the Zionist plan to remove most of them from their homes and fields and disenfranchise the rest, force, violent force if the dispossessed fight back, will be necessary. In order to justify these crimes, Israel has to demonize their victims and keep their own people in a state of endless terror. Now that the embittered Christians and Muslims from whom Israel has stolen everything have been concentrated in refugee camps just outside the Zionist state's borders, they pose a new threat. Now it is necessary to invade the host countries to rout out "terrorists" and keep Israel secure. Meanwhile, the ever-escalating violence needed to neutralize the growing number of enemies Israel has because of its ever-escalating violence...

Need I go on? Israel denies basic human rights to the Christian and Muslim over whom it has established hegemony. These include such fundamental freedoms as the right to have one's marriage legally recognized, or move about freely as Jews can. Segregation, ethnocracy, theocracy, extreme nationalism, xenophobia, repression, militant expansionism, imperialism, these are the things which I deplore. Have I lost my right to object to them because it is the Jewish state which has succumbed to these vices? If so, then I am being disenfranchised by pro-Semitism, the racist belief that Jews are better or smarter or more noble than other peoples and are thus beyond reproach. It is bad enough that the Zionist canard of conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism has been adopted by the mainstream media, but what does it portend when leftists, by definition and constitution averse to race-based ideologies, lift this weapon from the forges of reaction and use it against each other? How can this be?

Anti-Semitism is the hatred of Jews because they are Jews. Of this malevolence, dear reader, I assure you I am free. If one admires, as I do, Jews like Noam Chomsky, Albert Einstein, Murray Bookchin, Gilad Atzmon, Uri Avnery, Marek Edelman, and Norman Finkelstein; and despise, as I do, Jews like Ovadia Yosef, Alan Dershowitz, Abe Foxman, Paul Wolfowitz, and Alan Greenspan, then one is not an anti-Semite. One must hate all Jews to be an anti-Semite. As I have never come to hate any Jew whom I have known, and do not believe that there is any evil from which they uniquely or disproportionally suffer, then clearly I am not an anti-Semite. In fact, I deplore all forms of sectarianism. Any political philosophy which is invidious, or divisive, or inimical in any way to global peace and justice, is anathema to me, as it is to all anarchists. I made these points to Peter, but to no avail.

I responded to Peter's e-mail by expressing my anger over his ridiculous charge, and warning him that if he repeated the vicious lie I would take action against him with our employer. I told him that I had many Jewish friends and informed him of my long-term relationship with a Jewish woman. I fully expected him to reply with an apology, instead he wrote back telling me that my previous e-mail was unwanted and not to write again. Peter's infected brain had calcified on this point to such an extent that he did not anticipate that I might wish to defend myself against his McCarthyist attack. To people like Peter this matter is quite simple: If you criticize a Jew, no matter how vile or disgusting he or she may be, even a Fascist like Yosef, you are an anti-Semite. You have no defense, and are beneath contempt.

It would be easy to dismiss this, chalk it up to the limited scope of one intellect, but the problem is much broader than that. How is it that somebody who sees himself as a dissident with a leftist agenda can be brought to act in violation of his or her own principles, and against his or her interests? Do such people envision a racist, apartheid leftist agenda? A leftist agenda which proscribes denunciation of Jewish supremacists? How can a single mind contain two perspectives which are combustively antithetical without seeing the incongruity? I mentioned to Peter that there is a growing movement to boycott Israel and that the world's labor unions were at the heart of this initiative. In this milieu, my viewpoint was much more common than his. I told him that I know that lots of our co-workers who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and would be as critical of Rabbi Yosef as I was. He remained unpersuaded.

I like to call this phenomenon exceptionalism. It's the cognitive dissonance required to suspend one's opinion or orientation for a single instance, and then resume as before without recognizing that the disruption had occurred. It's quite common. Ask a Peterite if they would support a foreign element establishing a state in the middle of Israel whose intention was to drive the Jews out. He or she would be horrified and quickly protest. Then tell them this is precisely what the Zionists have done to the Palestinians and they will say "oh, well, that's different. The Jews have suffered terribly, and they have nowhere else to go, and they are surrounded by enemies who want to destroy them, and, ah, don't forget the Holocaust..."

Does a man who has had his home invaded have a right to become a cat burglar?

How it is that this feat of mental gymnastics is accomplished is a subject of no small fascination for me. Orwell wrote perspicaciously about it, as did Walter Lippmann. Biko recognized and effectively countered it. I believe the Israeli dissonance is due largely to the fact that our Western media, post-WW2, has portrayed Jews so sympathetically, that the public has been conditioned to see them, even the worst elements among them, only as victims and never as victimizers, even when they clearly are.

This cognitive dissonance is linked to all the others. The American dissonance is another great example. From womb to tomb we Americans are awash in stories and images of America's unprecedented altruism. For many it is impossible to believe that our leaders could act in a criminal manner. If one asks this question: "Hey, our armies invaded a country which was no threat to us and had never done us any harm. We hanged German and Japanese soldiers for this after WW2, don't you think Bush, Cheney, and Tommy Franks should be brought to justice on the same grounds?" One may well be met with this response: "Are you out of your mind? What kind of American are you? You can't compare our guys with those guys. You're crazy!"

I do not know how to liberate the mind of the oppressed, to remove those barriers which inhibit vision. But if the day ever comes when we can release the genie of enlightened self-interest from her bottle...well...who knows what will happen.

Until then, the Peterites must not be allowed to intimidate us with specious invective. We must resist.

I agree with the Israeli anarchist, Uri Gordon, who said that the two-state solution is two too many. Long live the Jewish people, the great majority of whom, certainly the dozens I have had the pleasure to know, are as horrified by Yosef and his regressive ideology as I am. Peace to all the peoples who call Palestine home, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Samaritans alike. May their songs be forever heard in the land of milk and honey.

[1] http://newstopics.jpost.com/topic/Ovadia_Yosef

[2] http://www.worldofjudaica.com/jewish-news/israel/rabbi-yosef-may-palestinians-die/585/35/