From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject ‘The State of Israel vs the Jews’ — Important New Book Chronicles Israel’s Spiritual Demise
Date January 24, 2022 1:00 AM
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[Sylvain Cypels "The State of Israel vs. The Jews" shows how
bereft of human decency Israelis have become in their treatment of
Palestinians, and how much Jewish moral patrimony has been given up in
creating, supporting, and tolerating a Jewish State]
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Robert Herbst
January 10, 2022
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_ Sylvain Cypel's "The State of Israel vs. The Jews" shows how bereft
of human decency Israelis have become in their treatment of
Palestinians, and how much Jewish moral patrimony has been given up in
creating, supporting, and tolerating a Jewish State _

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked seizes a bottle of “fascism”
perfume and douses herself with it in an ad she ran in 2019 when
running for Knesset, parodying high-end perfume ads. , Screenshot from
video posted by Haaretz.



by Sylvain Cypel

360 pp. Other Press. $27.99

In 2014, in the wake of Operation Protective Edge that devastated Gaza
and killed 2,000 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, the
cognitive dissonance between Jewish moral and religious values and
Israeli anti-Palestinian apartheid – and American Jewish support for
it all — became too much for me to bear, and I started speaking out
against the Jewish oppression of Palestinians – outside the Jewish
tribe. After a few years, I started using a phrase that I thought
adequately summarized my feelings about it:

_The oppression of Palestinians is perpetrated by Jews, in an Israel
of, by and for Jews, but it is not Jewish. _  

In my efforts in the last seven years to educate myself, I’ve been
to Israel, East Jerusalem, and up and down the West Bank.  I’ve
read articles, reports, and books about the oppression – about the
facts on the ground, the depressing and undignified conditions of
Palestinian life under occupation and within the Green Line, about
apartheid, about settler-colonialism, about the Zionist project.  But
it wasn’t until I was recently browsing the New Non-Fiction shelves
of my local library that I happened on the one book
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I would now recommend to any American, and especially other Jews, who
want to know how bereft of human decency Israelis have become in their
treatment of Palestinians, and how much of our Jewish moral and
religious patrimony we have given up in creating, supporting and
tolerating a Jewish State that so systematically, persistently and
brutally deprives Palestinians of their human rights and dignity.


Author Sylvain Cypel is a French Jewish journalist who has lived for
years in New York and Israel and Paris, including as senior editor
for _Le Monde_. His socialist, Zionist, Ukrainian-Polish father fled
to France in 1938 before the Nazis wiped out his entire family and
almost all their Jewish neighbors, and ultimately led the French
Zionist labor movement. Cypel, my contemporary at 74, grew up in that
movement, went to Israel after high school in Paris, was drafted and
served in the IDF paratroop brigade, and returned to France a
committed Zionist, until he returned to Israel to attend University in
1969 – the same year I went to Israel for the first time.  He, too,
was struck by the Jewish nationalistic and colonialist attitudes he
found there, with his fellow students talking about the Palestinians
“exactly the same way” French settlers talked about the Algerian
Arabs before Algeria’s successful war of independence.

As Cypel transformed from Zionist to anti-Zionist, he was punished.
“As I became an increasingly active anti-Zionist, my life in Israel
got harder.  My wife and I were ostracized because of our beliefs,
and we lost jobs.  Paradoxically, I had many Israeli friends, some of
whom vehemently disagreed with me.  At the time, that was still
possible.  It isn’t anymore.” Then in time, “the yawning gap
between the promise and the reality of Zionism” drove him away from
Israel. He saw that it was “evolving into something no idealist
could stomach:  a racist, bullying little superpower.”  After the
May 2018 Gaza fence massacre, he determined to write this book,
focusing on what has become of Israeli society, which he takes apart
mercilessly but truly. 


Some of his observations:

“Total contempt for international law,” the belief that “might
makes right,” seeking salvation in the application of force (“and
if that doesn’t do the job, apply more force”),

A “colonial mentality of domination” making “war crimes
committed against civilian populations part of Israel’s official
strategy in its fight against terrorism.”

Israel’s “congenital nativism” and its astounding “ability to
deny basic rights to an entire people” with impunity – “without
seeming to suffer any political consequences.”

The wholesale abandonment of “a worldview that characterized Judaism
in the modern era, one primarily rooted in a progressive conception of
humanity and society,” with only a small, determined minority
fighting it all.  

And this is all in the Introduction! 

In the first chapter, “Imposing Fear, Teaching Contempt,” Cypel
emphasizes three factors which make the occupation particularly
oppressive:  the forcible expulsion of Palestinians from their lands,
the long duration of that expulsion and the occupation which followed,
and its “modalities,” i.e., the slow but steady confiscation of
land; the seizure of resources; and the deliberate policy of making
Palestinians’ daily lives unbearable – “making them feel sick of
life” — in hopes they will eventually leave, subjected to the
brutal whims of the soldiers constituting “the most moral army in
the world (question mark).” 

The abounding examples which follow of IDF killings, woundings and
beatings, home invasions and demolitions, over just a six-month period
in 2018-19, make the point.  So do the examples of pointless delays
and systematic cruelty at checkpoints and elsewhere which impose a
depressed lethargy, anxiety and despair, all designed to exercise
“control over a defenseless civilian population.”  This control
is aided by extremist settlers, who Cypel and his sources say have
built a flourishing Jewish Ku Klux Klan movement, which has gained
growing acceptance by the Israeli public and their political leaders.

In Chapter Two, “Pissing in the Pool from the Diving Board,”
meaning doing bad things with everyone watching, Cypel describes the
changes in Israeli society in 50 years of occupation, going, for
example, from denying the expulsion of the Arabs because of an
awareness that it did not conform to Jewish moral and religious
values, to an ever-increasing acceptance of it as desirable,
legitimate and free of guilt or shame. This same freedom from guilt or
shame, says Cypel, also explains why “Palestinians are shot dead
every week” by soldiers who “are never prosecuted,” even when
there is no dispute about the facts.  That the IDF ranks are
increasingly filled with ultranationalist fanatics is just one factor
cited for the impunity which has coarsened society with anger and an
increasing level of racism and violence that “characterize an entire
society.”  It is a terrible indictment, for which the trial is yet
to be had.

Just as a fish rots and stinks from the head, Cypel describes Justice
Minister Ayelet Shaked appearing in a campaign TV ad next
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a perfume bottle labeled _Fascism_ promoting “revolutionary”
changes, making the Israeli Supreme Court more subservient to the
government; former Culture Minister Miri Regev screaming at, and
about, a Palestinian MK, “Get that garbage out of here”; and
Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman urging that disloyal Arab citizens
be decapitated. Other Israeli leaders get their day in Cypel’s
sunlight, from Benjamin Netanyahu on down.

The book next takes on the triumph of ethnocracy inherent in the
passage of the Nation State Law in 2018 and the desire to annex more
“vital space” for the Jewish people, ensconcing racism, ethnicity,
tribe and blood over citizenship.  Without mentioning the Nazi
analogy, Cypel says that “to Jews, any ideology that prizes the
preeminence of blood should bring back terrible memories.”  The
implication is clear:  Wasn’t the Nazi occupation of Europe an
expression of the same desire for “vital space” for Aryan blood? 

The idea of annexation of Palestinian territory “enjoys much more
popular support than it did two decades ago, and has spread far beyond
the religious-nationalist camp,” Cypel writes, with a 2019 poll
showing that 60% of those with an opinion – and 72% of Israeli Jews
— favor annexation, in whole or in part, with most of those
pro-annexation opining that they would not allow Palestinian
inhabitants of the West Bank any civil rights at all.  How low we
have sunk!  The notions of racial purity and white supremacy inherent
in Israeli society’s recent treatment of black African immigrants is
of a piece with the anti-Palestinianism and Islamophobia fully
described, which brings Cypel to the links with white supremacists and
Trumpers here in the USA and authoritarian leaders elsewhere, prompted
to a great extent by the cybersurveillance, cybersecurity,
cybercontrol and high tech weaponry perfected on Palestinians and sold
around the world by Israelis and used by the Israeli security state
even against dissident Jews there and in the United States.

Cypel writes that the hostility toward dissident thinkers has
increased among Israeli Jews to the point that they are widely
considered enemies of the state, to be denounced, fired from jobs, and
otherwise cancelled. The desire to live in a liberal democratic
society has yielded to the widespread inability to “see Palestinians
or Black Africans as human beings,” not just on the part of
Netanyahu and his supporters, but by 80 percent of Israelis who have
known only a life as occupiers of another people.  Respect for law
has yielded to the law “exercised by the strong.”  The minority
still “horrified by the direction their country has taken” are “
a species on the verge of extinction” — “paralyzed,”
“ostracized,” and “marginalized.”

While Cypel noted at the outset that he wrote a book focused solely on
Israeli society, two of the most interesting chapters explore what the
author sees as the differing reactions to all of this by the Jewish
Diaspora he knows best – American and French Jews – the two
largest Diasporan communities, the former outnumbering the latter by
10 to 1.  The two communities have many differences, in how they are
organized, religiously and culturally, the strength and number of
their associations and media outlets, and their different experiences
with antisemitism.  But perhaps the most interesting difference is
that while the American Jewish community – the majority Ashkenazim
— began to divide over Israel and Zionism after the Second Intifada
in 2000, French Jews – the majority Sephardim from Algeria, Tunisia
and Morocco and generally more antagonistic to Arabs — have
continued their “unshakable support for Israel’s foreign policy
and took a hands-off attitude toward its domestic affairs.”  To
this day, in France, “criticism of Israel is weak, practically

A fundamental theme running through the book is that a Jewish state
with a whiff of fascism – an Israel exclusively run by and for Jews,
segregating and oppressing its non-Jewish inhabitants – is a clear
and present danger to Jews around the world.  The threat is not just
physical, but spiritual, moral and religious.  It is physical in its
potential to aggravate antisemitism by persecuting Palestinians,
denying their suffering, and helping to foment a deep and persistent
Islamophobia, in democratic and authoritarian societies alike.  It
all feeds hatred of Jews.  Cypel points out that Israeli leaders and
settler ultranationalists have no compunction about maintaining
alliances “with countries where antisemitism is on the rise,”
thinking that such alliances strengthen the State of Israel and
feeling “that diaspora Jews deserve whatever happens to them”
because there is a readily available solution: “come to live in
Israel.”  In Hungary, for example, “Netanyahu told his ambassador
not to get involved when the Jews there were enduring an anti-Semitic

Perhaps more significant, however, is the spiritual, moral and
religious threat the current Israel presents to the Jewish people and
Judaism itself.  Not only is its “outdated, anti-modern
nationalism” incompatible with the evolution of a globalized world
respecting the rights and human dignity of all populations, but by
“latching on to the emerging power of the new ethnic and
authoritarian currents sweeping the planet,” and presenting itself
“as a precursor and an original theoretician of this move toward
separateness, Israel sets the Jews accompanying its destiny on the
path to abandoning that which made Judaism’s culture and glory in
the modern age:  the multifaceted engagement in progress” and “a
rejection of racism in all its forms.”   

In his October 2003 landmark New York Review of Books article
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the late Tony Judt questioned whether the time for a Jewish state had
passed and suggested that it might no longer have a future. Cypel
 honors and invokes Judt in concluding that Israel is bad for the
Jews, an anachronism, and a dysfunctional one, a “belligerently
intolerant faith-driven ethno state,” at odds with “the open and
pluralistic democracies” it originally sought to join. 

It has been almost 20 years since Judt originally suggested that was
where Israel was headed.  The sad truth, Cypel so clearly and
thoroughly documents, is how far Israel and Israeli Jews have
proceeded down that miserable road.

_ROBERT L."BOB" HERBST is a human rights lawyer in New York who lives
in Westchester with his wife Lynne, a psychoanalyst. Their daughter
Allyson is a first year resident in internal medicine at Emory in
Atlanta. He has been a contributing opinion writer at Huff Po since
2013. Bob is a graduate of Princeton University and its Woodrow Wilson
School of Public and International Affairs, and of the Yale Law
School. He served as a federal prosecutor in Chicago and Philadelphia
and as Executive Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, New York,
focusing on prosecution of major economic crime and public corruption.
Since 1983, Bob has been in private practice as a civil rights,
employment, criminal defense and class action trial and appellate
lawyer, primarily representing victims of (1) police, corrections and
other government misconduct; (2) employment and housing discrimination
on grounds of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability and age;
(3) sexual harassment; and (4) retaliation for whistleblowing. From
2011 to 2013, Bob served as Independent Counsel to the Special Court
for Sierra Leone, where he investigated, prosecuted and convicted four
men for contempt and obstruction of justice before that international
criminal tribunal. Since 2014, Bob has served as Coordinator of the
Westchester New York Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. He has been an
active private pilot for more than 35 years._

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