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From Victimhood to Aggression:
Jewish Identity in the light of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children
By Gilad Atzmon
ccun.org, May 7, 2009
is a very tricky concept. It can very mean many opposing things and at
the same time it can mean nothing. One may start to wonder about one’s
identity only when one feels he is under the threat of losing it. The
case of Jewish identity is a very good example. Judging by the
literature and history textbooks, Jews started to explore the notion of
their identity following the emancipation, assimilation and the collapse
of the rabbinical authority. In short, Jews started to wonder who they
were once their collective self-notion was already melting down.
Seemingly, the notion of ‘Jewish identity’ was there to replace the
tribal, rabbinical and racially orientated notion of the ‘Jew’ with a
tolerant acceptable ‘liberal’ discourse that aims at a universal
In the post-modern era, Identity is regarded as a means
to impose a sort of legitimacy to separateness as a decent civil
political collective consciousness. Generally speaking, identity is a
social concept that allows the figure that may be considered as marginal
to celebrate his unique symptoms while at the same time regarding
himself as a perfectly qualified member of an extended open society.
Identity Politics, accordingly, is a concept that integrates the
different margins into an ideal phantasmic image of multicultural and
As much as identity politics refers to an imaginary celebration of
differences in a world that regards itself as a cosmopolitan global
village, Jewish identity (whether it locates itself politically on the
left, right or centre) is a unique setting that aims to enjoy it all
while giving very little in return. Jewish Identity Politics is there to
maintain legitimately that the Jews must be accepted and respected by
others for what they are: their history, their suffering, their
religious belief, their culture, yet, within this call for others to
recognise their identity claims, they somehow surprisingly fail to
assimilate any notion of tolerance towards others. All forms of Jewish
identity political schools maintain some elementary and fundamental
tribal exclusivist code of engagement. Whether it is the rightwing
Zionist who celebrates Jewish identity at the expense of the Palestinian
people, or the Lefty Jew for Justice who, for some reason, celebrates
his craving for peace in a
‘Jews only club’, it seems as if the entire spectrum of Jewish
political identity is a tribally orientated exclusivist practice. It
seems as if the entire spectrum of Jewish identity politics lacks the
true awareness and acceptance of universal attitudes as an
acknowledgment of being amongst others.
This behavioural pattern can be easily grasped in historical
retrospective. Bearing in mind that the discourse of identity arose as a
reaction to 20th century disastrous nationalist reality, identity was an
outlet that allowed a sense of belonging in a newly formed tolerant
civic reality. However, the course of Jewish identity politics was very
different. Within the concept of Jewish identity, Jewish suffering and
victimhood are set as unique Jewish symptoms. For a Jew to celebrate his
identity means to celebrate Jewish pain, to visit and to revisit the
agony. To be a Jew is to religiously believe in the Holocaust. To be a
Jew is to be chased. To be a Jew is to be able to find an anti-Semite
under every stone and behind every corner. To be a Jew is to chase
senile Nazis into their
graves. Forgiveness doesn’t seem to attract the leading proponent of
Jewish identity politics.
Within such a notion of Jewish identity and bearing in mind the
Zionist expansionist project, it is hardly surprising that Jewish
collective ideology had become a bipolar schizophrenic volley between
Victimhood and Aggression.
Seven Jewish Children, that was written and performed in the
light of the last Israeli military devastating campaign in Gaza, turns
the floodlights on the confusion within Jewish identity.
On the face of it, the short play is an historical journey form
victimhood into aggression. In just nine minutes we are joining an
expedition that departs in the horror of the Shoah:
“Don’t tell her they’ll kill her.. Tell her it’s
important to be quiet..
her to curl up as if she’s in bed..”
and eventually ends up with the Israelis taking the role of the
“Tell her they (the Palestinians) are animals
living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out, ….tell her I look at one of their children covered in
blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her…”
As much as Churchill’s reading of Jewish’s recent history as a
transformation from innocence into ruthless barbarism is not a
revelation, the message is delivered in a rather profound and sensitive
But there is a far deeper layer in Churchill’s play that is hardly
discussed or addressed. Churchill, like other commentators engaged in
issues to do with Jewish identity, is highly observant of the elastic
qualities of Jewish identity, history and reality. Jews can be whatever
they want to be as long as it serves one cause or another. The Jewish
narrative is obviously neither coherent nor consistent.
“Tell her it’s a game”, as if we (the Jews) are on the top
of it all. “Tell her it’s serious”, as if we are actually
going down. “But don’t frighten her”, as if we are somehow
on top of it all again. “Don’t tell her they’ll kill her”, as
if we it all about to end in a matter of seconds.
The Israeli Historian Shlomo Sand elaborated on the phantasmic
qualities within the Jewish historical discourse in his recent book ‘When
And How The Jewish People Was Invented’. Sand manages to demonstrate
beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jewish people never existed as a
'nation-race', they never shared a common origin. Instead they are a
colourful mix of groups that at various stages in history adopted the
Jewish religion. Similarly, at a certain stage in history they had
invented their national identity. As we sadly realise, the phantasmic
qualities at the core of Jewish identity politics do not stop Jews from
celebrating their aspiration at the expense of the Palestinian people.
The reason is simple, as Sand proves in a scholarly way and as Churchill
conveys theatrically, Jewish identity is a very flexible realm.
“Tell her her uncles died Don't tell her they were
killed Tell her they were killed Don’t frighten
The Jewish narrative is the art of making a story. It has no
commitment to facts or truth. Accordingly, you make sure that you
“don’t tell her they were killed”, so she can keep up the cosmopolitan
dream. Or maybe, you better “tell her they were killed”, so she can rush
back to the Ghetto and stay with us. Alternatively she may learn the
‘necessary’ lesson and join the IDF so she can spread death amongst the
enemies of Israel. Anyhow, make sure you “don’t frighten her”, as if she
isn’t frightened enough already.
The Jewish identity is a form of tactical detachment. It is a
methodical strategy that creates an imaginary symbolic order with a
clear pragmatic agenda.
"Tell her for miles and miles all round they (the Arabs) have
lands of their own.” Misleading her to think that Palestinians and
Arabs are literally the same thing.
“Tell her again this is our promised land.” As if the Jews
are people, as if their origin is in Zion, as if the biblical promise
has any legal validity, as if they actually believe in the Torah.
Churchill, like Sand, is eloquently exposing the zero integrity at
the core of the Jewish national cause, discourse and narrative. The
Jewish historical plot is not about telling the truth. Instead, it is
all about the making up a ‘truth’ that would fit the current tribal
needs. There is an old joke about Marxist ideologists. It tells that
once the facts do not fit into the Marxist determinist textbook, all you
have to do is to change the facts. Jewish identity discourse is
employing exactly the same strategy. Facts and lies are produced as we
move along. In short, all you have to ‘tell her’ is that sometimes we
need to be innocent victims, other times we plunder, kill, throw WMDs.
It all depends what serves our tribal interests best at a given time.
Victimhood - the Birth of the Collective
Churchill seems to be very observant tracing the disastrous toll
Jewish identity politics achieved in turning the Jewish state into a
cold blooded murderer.
“Tell her I don’t care if the world hates us Tell
her we’re better haters”, as if she has to be told after what
she saw in Gaza. “Tell her we’re chosen people”, as if she
doesn’t realise by now.
And yet, one may wonder, who is that young innocent girl whom Caryl
Churchill referring to. Who is the protagonist at the receiving end of
the text, who is the hidden ‘her’ that is referred to in each line of
this interesting play?
image of an innocent young female victim is one of the pillars of the
Jewish identity and the post-Shoah Jewish victim self image. Anna Frank
is probably the most famous literary character within that very genre.
As much as Frank is an innocent victim, she is also very effective in
inflicting guilt on the Goyim.
As we know, Anna Frank tragically perished at the end of WW2. She
didn’t make it to the newly born ‘Jews only’ state. Yet, within the
context of Jewish identity politics Anna Frank had been adopted as a
Jewish cultural icon by means of collective transference. In practice
she had successfully settled in the heart of every subject who
identifies as a Jew. Those who succumb to the notion of Jewish identity
insist upon regarding themselves as innocent and blamelessness. From a
Jewish identity political perspective, the Jewish nation is a tribe of
very many innocent Anna Franks.
I allow myself to guess that Churchill’s little girl refers
metaphorically to the ‘people of Israel’. The newly born Jewish nation
is indeed a very young concept that is submerged with righteousness and
innocence. The little girl at the receiving end of the play is there to
convey an image of naivety and blamelessness. But it is also that little
girl’s metaphorical innocence that makes Israel’s crimes so
sinister. In the light of the Israeli propaganda that presents the
Jewish state as a vulnerable innocent blameless entity, the devastating
reality of Israeli brutality leads towards the inevitable cognitive
reality of the racist ethnic cleansing ‘Jews only state’ together with
the images of the Israeli war machine pouring tons of white phosphorous
on Gazans does not leave much room for doubt. Israel has nothing to do
with the phantasmic self-image of a ‘little blameless girl’. If
anything, the image of the naďve girl makes things worse for the Israeli
Hasbara project. We are dealing here with a horribly naughty child who
was despised first then ‘she’ turned into a bully and soon after proved
to be ruthless, sadistic and monstrous with no comparison.
"Tell her we're the iron fist now, tell her it's
the fog of war. Tell her
we won't stop killing them till we're safe,
her I laughed when I saw the dead policemen… tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.”
Seemingly we are dealing here with a uniquely and seriously
disturbed immature nation. We are dealing with a self-loving
narcissistic child who is terrorised by ‘her’ own cruelty. It is the
sadistic youngster who is horrified by the demons ‘she’ finds in
herself. The more the Israelis love themselves and their delusional
phantasmic innocence, the more they are frightened that people out there
may be as sadistic as they themselves proved to be. This behavioral mode
is called projection.
“Tell her we love her. Don’t frighten her.”
So ends Churchill’s play.
Seemingly, Jews have a very good reason to be frightened. Their
national state is a racist genocidal entity.
After the Shoah, Jews had an opportunity to transform their fate, to
turn a new page. They could even explore collectively the notion of
forgiveness and mercy. A few Jewish intellectuals insisted that Jews
must locate themselves at the forefront of the battle against racism and
oppression. As it happened, it took just six decades for the Jewish
national state to establish its primacy as the ultimate racist nation
state that employs the ultimate sadistic ruthless oppressive tactics.
”Don’t frighten her,” says Churchill. If to be honest, the young girl
must be frightened for a very good reason. If she ever would be
courageous enough to look in the mirror, she would be gravely
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