There are some Jews who are outright opponents of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. They are hostile to the Zionist enterprise, and they simply need to be opposed not analyzed. It is not worthwhile to engage with them because their hostility is immune to honest debate.
But there are also some Jews whose differences with Israel have more to do with their own psychology than with Israel’s policies. They are worth thinking about.
These Jews either question or oppose Israelis actions for a deeply personal reason, a psychological one. They are moral narcissists. Their overriding desire is to believe they are moral. It is that belief that makes them feel good. Their focus is on their own feeling, not on the consequences of the actions they take that will enhance their feeling of being morally good.
In part, they share what normal narcissists have: A self-preoccupation. But normal narcissists have a lack of empathy. Moral narcissists have a complete empathy, for example, an empathy for Palestinian Arabs that is so expansive that it erodes their Jewish self. It is so expansive that it leads to denying any empathy for Israelis and overlooking, forgiving, or dismissing the hostile history of aggressive wars and cruel terrorism in which the Palestinian Arabs have participated in or organized. Normal narcissists have an unconscious lack of self-esteem. Moral narcissists have a surfeit of self-esteem, so much so that they often are characterized by a moral arrogance. They are convinced they, and those who agree with them, know more than the Israeli government, the Israeli electorate, and Jews and others who disagree with or even question their political conclusions.
Moral narcissists have a desire for and profound need for moral purity in an impure world. They eschew military power because such power hurts others, because they see power itself as inherently evil or the instrument to enable evil to rule. They are therefore unsurprisingly unhappy with Israel’s application of such power. They feel guilty that Jews aren’t victims but victors. They are intensely proud of famous dead Jews for such Jews are simultaneously sources of pride and safely beyond the point of embarrassing them with disagreements. They are so guilty about the supposed crimes Jews and the West committed against Islam, that they are blind to or justify various evil acts committed by the Arab world.
These moral narcissists feel good when they sign a letter or petition, or march, or write an article, or picket in opposition to some Israeli policy. They rarely if ever acknowledge Israel’s amazing successes, its undaunted democratic spirit, its support for women’s rights or gay rights in a geographic area that is characteristically hostile to any rights.
See Israel’s enemies for what they are
These moral narcissists are living in a strange moral universe. In a sense, their problem is philosophical. Their misplaced idealism leads them to have a naïve and simplistic sense of morality. They are moral idealists. They exhibit a distorted form of altruistic behavior. They believe that if they struggle to understand the Palestinian point of view, to support the political efforts of the Palestinians, the Palestinians will in turn embrace them and stop fighting the Israelis. They believe good will and sincerely supportive language can end the conflict. They believe in self-abnegation as the path to peace. They don’t want to see the Middle East for the Hobbesian world it is. In their world there are the morally pure and everyone else is under suspicion. They are moral totalitarians, seeking to impose their morality on everyone else because, they believe, only they are on the side of the angels. For them, Israel compromises their moral purity, and that is unacceptable to them.
Their innocence may serve their personal needs, but because they participate in politics their utopianism and their moral narcissism do real world harm. They are hurting Israel, and they deserve to be called out for it. They either do not genuinely see or do not care about the political and other consequences for Israel of their selfish idealism.
They are not evil. They are wrong. They are not the enemy. They are the misguided. But, sadly, their very desire to be good and do good is dangerous because its foundation is not in the world Israel inhabits but in an imaginary world where words stop bullets and speeches pass for policy.
It is cruel to call these people what they are, but the danger they cause requires it. They are useful idiots, not fully aware that they serve the cause of those who oppose Israel’s existence. Those opponents use these well-meaning, often very kind Jews in a cynical way to undermine the Jewish state.
It is time that these good Jews see Israel’s enemies for what they are. In that way, their morality can become genuine and, while their purity may be tainted by reality, they will have attained a true morality.
Lawrence J. Epstein served as an advisor on the Middle East for two members of the United States Congress.