Lauren Wolfe: Ghettos, Victim Mentality, and Hatred
Wolfe thinks it is brave and taboo-breaking to call Gaza a ghetto and accuses Israel of being perpetrators stuck in our own victimhood. That taboo was broken decades ago and she is either ignorant of, or ignores, the fact that victims have three choices.
Oct 7th is a watershed for Israel. Apparently, also for American journalist Lauren Wolfe. It was post-Oct 7th when she finally set fingers to keyboard to put together a new article called “A Jewish Stance of Eternal Victimhood Fails Us All.” It was reading Masha Gessen’s “In the Shadow of the Holocaust” that helped her organize her thoughts. Gessen reminded her that:
… we can’t let the endless complexities, or even the fear of public excoriation and threats, ever stop us from speaking out against hate.
I might have to look hard to find something else to agree with in Wolfe’s article, but I do fully endorse this statement. Nothing should stop us from speaking out against hate.
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Wolfe writes that she has been reflecting on the subject of Jewish victimhood since Oct 7th and for a long time even before that. Gessen’s brave article, she says (which I critique here), provided her with the word she needed to give her reflections shape — “ghetto.” Gessen, she writes,
… discuss[es] the word ‘ghetto’ in a way I find profound. Instead of reserving the word only for Jews, Gessen applies it to Gaza.
With Gessen thus opening up the supposedly forbidden topic of likening Gaza to a Jewish ghetto in Europe, Wolfe felt able to walk through that door.
However, exactly two years ago, Haaretz columnist Michael Brizon wrote an article entitled, “It’s official, Gaza is now a ghetto.” And perhaps Wolfe would be surprised to learn that a Google Scholar search for “Gaza as a ghetto” produces academic articles written decades ago. In fact, a paper published in 1992 says that ghettoization of the Palestinians in the West Bank (i.e., Judea and Samaria) and Gaza can be a step toward statehood – if they know how to use the territory in which they are confined to build the economic, cultural and political foundations of a future state.
Perhaps even more remarkably, Middle East historian Mark LeVine published an article in Al Jazeera in 2009 in which he argued that inaccurately comparing Gaza with the Warsaw Ghetto weakens the Palestinian cause. OOPS.
LeVine wrote that there are some aspects in which the comparison holds up,
Even the tunnels of Gaza have been compared to those used by Jews to smuggle food and other essential goods into the Ghetto from the ‘Aryan side’.
I wonder if LeVine considers weapons and the raw materials from which weapons can be manufactured as ‘essential goods’ because they are certainly not food.
In addition to historically distinct contexts, he wrote, for Gaza to be comparable to the Warsaw Ghetto, used by the Nazis as a holding place for Jews before sending them to slaughter, 300,000 Gazans would have to have died (by 2007) from disease and starvation.
LeVine’s main point, however, is this:
But Gaza in 2009 is not Warsaw in 1943. It is worth remembering that the Jewish uprising did little if anything to stop the Holocaust. … If Gaza is today’s Warsaw, then Palestinians have no hope. There is no solution, no new strategies worth considering besides nihilistic violence that invites a far more deadly response.
And this relates directly to Wolfe’s main point in her article: that Israel is not the victim here. Furthermore, she believes that Israel claims impunity for her crimes in Gaza because of “the Jews’ perpetual victim status.”
We as Jews do not own suffering, I know now [after many years and trips in the Middle East]. We have suffered greatly, but so have others, even at our own hands, especially today.
Jews have been victims of hatred throughout human history and the Palestinians are victims – of circumstance, of their own cruel leaders. Victimized by Israel? I am not going to argue that one way or the other right now because has nothing to do with the point I want to make.
And this is not a competition for who was victimized more.
Wolfe is referring to a victim mentality – Israeli victim mentality, she writes, supposedly gives us a free hand to do unto others the evil that was done unto us. I do believe she cares about Israel and wants Israel to be a good and healthy place. Therefore, she wants us to free ourselves from the victim mentality.
But psychology teaches us that victims have three choices: (1) to remain stuck in learned helplessness, a state in which they feel they can do nothing to change their situations; (2) to become perpetrators and lash out at others; or (3) to become survivors who set out on their own uncharted courses, developing productive and creative lives. If we look at the trajectories of the past 75 years – what choice did Israel make and what choice did the Palestinians make?
When declaring war against Hamas on Oct 8th, Israel said, “We will not let you do this to us again.” We will take care of this threat and then get back to living our lives.
And what did Hamas say? Whatever you do to us, we will bring down another Oct 7th upon you, and another, and another, until we quash you. “Oct 7 was just a rehearsal.”
Let us speak out against hate. Definitely. But let’s make sure we have done the research first.