Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Jewish Identity Vs. Humanism
Rich Forer Interviewed By Gilad Atzmon
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, April 4, 2016
I have known Rich Forer for a few years, we have met several times
and shared a platform more than once. Rich is the author of Breakthrough:
Transforming Fear Into Compassion - A New Perspective on the
Israel-Palestine Conflict? Rich’s opposition to Zionism is universal
and humanist in nature.
Recently, an interview with Rich was published by the Jewish
Pro-Palestinian outlet, Mondoweiss. I was impressed with many of
Rich’s statements but thought that some of his ideas should be challenged. I
believe that those who are interested in criticism of ID politics, Jewish
culture and power may find this dialogue enlightening.
Gilad Atzmon: I’d like to congratulate you for your recent
interview with Katie
I have no doubt that your heart is in the right place and I welcome your
criticism of Jewish Identity. But I also have some fundamental doubts about
In the interview with Miranda you present a binary
opposition between the ‘human’ and the ‘Jew.’ You write “If, for
example, I define myself as a Jew first and a human being second I will
possess anywhere between a subtle and a palpable emotional and intellectual
bias that takes for granted that the collective Jewish worldview is superior
to other worldviews. On the other hand, if I define myself as a human being
first my identity as a Jew is less likely to be pathological.”
like to point out to you that the binary opposition you present above is in
itself inherently Jewish. Ordinary people, gentiles, don’t ‘define’
themselves ‘as humans.’ Ordinary people know they are human and see no need
to identify themselves as such. In other words, your presentation of a
distinction between the ‘Jew’ and the ‘human’ suggests to me that you still
think within fundamental Jewish categories. And if you cannot emancipate
yourself from the Jewish identity complex, who can?
Forer: It is nice to dialogue with you. In the interview I made a
point of saying: “These psycho-spiritual roots affect all of us regardless
of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, or ideology.” So, I
disagree that I am presenting “a binary opposition between the ‘human’ and
the ‘Jew [my emphasis].’” What I am presenting is an understanding of how
the universal dilemma of separation, arising out of the process of
identification, affects all humans and how it can lead to immense suffering
in the world.
This binary is not inherently Jewish, it is inherently human. Of course,
it can manifest in unique ways depending on one’s culture, religion or other
categories but there is no qualitative difference from one human to another
in terms of the dilemma. To borrow Hindu and Buddhist terminology, the
separation or differentiation of the world into self and other and the
multitude of permutations that manifest from dualistic thinking is Maya or
In short, my thinking on this subject not only reflects
emancipation from fundamental Jewish categories, it reflects emancipation
from all categories that are based upon a presumption of a limited or
Identification, the act of identifying, begins with the conception of
self and other, which cannot be anything other than binary (I prefer
“duality”) because, to the conceptual mind, everything falls into one of two
categories: self and other; and both of these categories are in flux.
Gilad Atzmon: I am sorry to interject. It seems to me as if
your terminology is vague. You say, “the act of identifying, begins with the
conception of self and other,” surely what you mean is ‘us’ and ‘them.’
Identification encompasses the self’s craving for belonging and doesn’t act
alone. But more important, following Hegel’s Master Slave dialectic (and
Lacan’s Mirror Stage) we tend to believe that the relationships between the
‘self’ and the ‘other’ are not binary in nature but more of dynamic and
dialectic. For Hegel and Lacan our notion of ourselves is shaped by
other’s recognition. This is not a binary relationship, it is actually
symbiotic or do you disagree?
Rich Forer: From my
perspective, self and other is the foundation of dualistic thinking but I
cannot say with complete certainty that my understanding is complete. In
order to know for sure we have to fully intuit our earliest beginnings as
human beings. However, my intuition is that self and other is the being’s
innocent acceptance and modeling of a separate identity via its earliest
relationships, prior to the development of the thinking mind.
The consciousness of us against them arises out of self and other and
requires indoctrination and a thinking mind. I agree that self is shaped to
an extent by the other’s recognition and that there is a symbiotic nature to
this relationship. There has to be because in the most fundamental
sense other is a reflection of self.
Gilad Atzmon: Contemporary
Jewish identity involves a certain element of binary qualities due to
choseness. As we know, Jewish assimilation and secularization, starting in
the 19th century, led to the evolution of a Jewish concept of biological
exceptionalism that is racist in nature. The supremacy we detect in Jewish
political discourse, both Zionist and so-called anti, points to an
inclination towards a Jew/Goy ‘binarism.’
I agree that the supremacy in Jewish political discourse,
Zionist and non-Zionist, points to an inclination towards ‘binarism.’ I
would also say that the idea that “Choseness” conveys supremacy is, in my
opinion, a perversion of original Jewish teachings. I agree that Jews (and
many Christians who’ve also perverted their teachings) who actively
participate in or passively defend Israel’s inhumane treatment of the
“other” are guilty of a belief in Jewish exceptionalism, whether that belief
is conscious or not. This is the predictable result of, allegedly,
being chosen by God.
However, I never hear anyone ask the question, “If Jews are a chosen
people, what are they chosen for?” The answer I have found in Jewish
teachings is that Jews are chosen to bring blessing to the world, to make
the world a “dwelling place” for the Divine. The Hebrew phrase for this is dirah
betachtonim. The consciousness of us against them has perverted this
teaching and turned it into exceptionalism. I believe making a dwelling
place for the Divine is what all humans, regardless of religion, are chosen
Gilad Atzmon: I agree. I also believe that the Judaic
notion of choseness is less poisonous than the Jewish secular and political
version of the word. And yet, when it comes to Judaism, I still wonder what
kind of people invent a God that chooses them over all other people.
Rich Forer: I agree that the Judaic notion of choseness
is less poisonous than the secular. In support of that conclusion, Gershon
Winkler, a Torah scholar and formerly an orthodox rabbi who now calls
himself “flexidox,” told me that the Torah calls the Jewish people “A”
chosen people, not “The” chosen people.
I’d like to add that growing up
in the U.S., in synagogue I occasionally heard the phrase that Jews were
God’s “chosen people” but there was no teaching or discussion of choseness
and no mention of Jewish exceptionalism. If people developed a belief in
Jewish exceptionalism it was either because of the pride they felt in the
accomplishments of fellow Jews throughout the world or as a reaction to
anti-Semitism, which made them retreat more devoutly into a Jewish identity.
The former is very similar to the pride someone might feel because a beloved
celebrity comes from their home town. I refer to this pride or inflation of
self as consolation for the ego.
Gilad Atzmom: I am
not so sure. I wonder what is it that establishes a delusional
continuum between Moishe from the corner shop and Spinoza or Einstein? Isn’t
this a manifestation of the tribal fantasy of Jewish biologism - the belief
in race or blood connection? This I what I refer to as choseness, and it is
Rich Forer: Yes, “Jewish biologism” is a “tribal
fantasy” and it has an influence in the collective Jewish mind. Earlier, you
said that it evolved in the 19th Century. I suspect its evolution began much
earlier as a survival mechanism and that its fuller expression flowered in
the 19th century. Centuries have passed and survival is no longer an issue,
yet the fantasy persists and has taken what I can only describe as a
virulently self and other destructive turn.
I think we disagree on this
but although I am not aware of choseness as a concept in Islam or
Christianity, both religions see themselves as more blessed or less tainted
than other religions and groups of people.
It is possible that some Muslims and Christians may believe to be ‘more
blessed than other people’, and yet, such a belief is spiritually driven
rather than biologically oriented.
I really appreciate and admire your emancipation in light of your
personal history and affiliation with The Lobby. I wonder, do you think
American Jews, who are considered the most privileged ethnic group in the
USA, would consider relieving themselves of their exceptionalism? The facts
suggest the opposite. Jewish power and identity politics is a snowball, it
grows exponentially. On the one hand you see PM Benjamin Netanyahu
imposing himself on the congress, on the other hand you see the so-called
good Jews, those who support the Palestinians doing very little but
celebrating their affinity to purge culture in our midst. Is it really
normal behavior? Is this a universal tendency? Can you think of any
other ethnic group in America that has followed a similar behavioral path?
Rich Forer: I seriously doubt that American Jews or
any other privileged group would be willing to relieve themselves of
exceptionalism. The ego easily becomes addicted to special privilege or
status and always finds ways to justify that privilege. Over time this
status is taken for granted so that the idea of giving it up is
inconceivable. With regard to American Jews, this addiction, combined with
fear of losing their privilege, especially in light of the Jewish people’s
history of persecution, is, possibly, the greatest obstacle to peace and an
acceptance of the Palestinian people as human and as inherently entitled to
the same rights as anyone else.
Offhand I cannot think of another ethnic group in the U.S. that resembles
this behavioral path, though I suspect others would be pleased to enjoy a
similar status as American Jews, so I do see this tendency as universal. To
clarify a bit, by “universal” I do not mean to suggest that every member of
every group has a desire to acquire special privilege. Many people are
humble and fair-minded. But there are always significant minorities in any
group who do aspire to privilege. In the case of American Jews, the
outrageous and dishonest hasbara that Israel and its lobbies in the U.S.
continually disseminate finds its way into the minds of many people,
depriving them of rational thinking while depriving the Palestinians of any
chance for equal rights.
Gilad Atzmon: To take it
further; I believe that such identity issues are primarily a Jewish secular
symptom that emerged after assimilation.
In the late 19th century, it was
only natural for Germans to become Germans and for the Italian to become
Italians. It was far more complicated for German Jews to decide who they
were. That specific identity crisis is known as the ‘Jewish Question.’
Bolshevism and Zionism were attempts to solve the Jewish Identity crisis.
Similarly ID politics, cultural Marxism and the orchestrated attempt to
split Western society into ID groups are also Jewish progressive projects.
Jewish intelligencia taught the West to think sectarian. We learned to
identify ourselves ‘as a..,’ ‘as a Jew,’ ‘as a Black,’ ‘as a Woman,’ ‘as
Gay,’ etc. Rather than being united in our struggle for a better world, we
ended up living in a society shredded by multiple identity synagogues. I am
not sure that identity/identification is a universal or metaphysical
feature. I think it is a contemporary cultural symptom and it is universally
Jewish . I, for instance, have never identified ‘as a saxophonist.’ I am a
saxophonist; I make a living playing the sax. I am pretty sure that my next
door neighbor knows he is English, he doesn’t have to identify as such. And
this brings us to the next question. Can you differentiate between
identification and belonging?
Rich Forer: Gilad,
I am not familiar enough with the history you cite to give a well-thought
out answer to that part of your question. I think, though, that you and I
use the word “identity” in different ways, which make it appear that we
don’t agree, though we are probably in greater agreement than either one of
us sometimes tends to think.
When I speak about identity I am speaking about a tendency that is latent
within every individual from birth. I think you speak about identity more
within an historical context and perspective.
Actually, I have always thought that we agreed about 90% of the time and
that the 10% is more a result of unique perspectives than actual rejection
of our respective points of view.
I agree with you that you are a saxophonist and do not need to identify
yourself as one. I could say I am a Jew by birth but do not need to identify
myself as one. However, I don’t think that is the case with most people who,
in fact, are attached at a deep, deep level to their conception of self. If
the ego or presumed identity is attached to a need to identify with
something in order to boost its sense of self or to allay its fear of
mortality, it may cling to the label “sax player.” By the same token it may
also cling to, or attach itself to its apparent heritage as a Jew as a way
of “belonging.” That belonging provides a security blanket and the
false sense that we are not alone, that we are part of a greater whole. This
is paradoxical because in one sense we are all alone but in another sense we
are a part of the greater whole. It is just that the greater whole we really
are a part of is not a particular tribe, as distinguished from other tribes;
it is all of humanity and, according to some spiritual realizers, all of
life itself down to the smallest atom.
Gilad Atzmon: I
understand why contemporary Jews are prone to ‘as a..’ identities.
Identification (and by that I mean all forms of identification) removes one
from authenticity. Even ‘identifying as a human.’ Rather than
encountering the world authentically, identification imposes a mimicking
mediating template as well as a layer of correctness. Those who
‘identify as’ saxophonists are obviously insecure about their sax playing.
They ask themselves what would Coltrane or Bird do on a given chord
sequence. Similarly, Jews who identify ‘as human’ are insecure about their
‘humanity.’ They must be asking themselves what humanity entails or how
humans are supposed to react in a given scenario. By doing so, they accept
or admit being foreign to the human experience. Secular Jews are often
obsessed with their Jewish identification because Jewishness is vague for
them and yet they cling to it. I think that identity/identification and ID
politics is primarily a Jewish discourse. Accordingly the dominance of ID
politics is a symptom of Jewish power.
Interestingly enough, Zionism and Israel provide an answer to Jewish ID
politics. Israel is telling the Diaspora Jew to stop talking ‘as a Jew,’
come over to Tel Aviv and ‘be one.’ The Scottish nationalists are
selling similar products, when they tell their followers rather than talking
‘as Scots’ let’s ‘be Scots.’ Funny enough, ISIS is selling an
identical product. Rather than talking ‘as a Muslim’, it offers young French
and British Muslims the chance to be Muslims. It is interesting that the
Zionist barbarian interpretation of Jewishness is vastly popular amongst
Diaspora Jews, yet statistics suggest that ISIS’s brutal version of Islam is
only accepted by a fraction of Muslims worldwide.
In short while ID politics robs the human subject of the authentic
experience by means of mimicry, belonging, like the ‘dwelling’ is home.
I guess my final question to you is whether you agree that the rise of
nationalism is an answer to invasive ID politics and multi culturalism?
After all, Brits, Christians, Muslims, saxophonists, humans etc. do not have
to identify at all. Within the nationalist context we are what we are rather
than what we claim to mimic. We accept otherness because we know that to
others we are ‘the other.’
Rich Forer: Your
comment that “identification removes one from authenticity and I mean all
forms of identification. Even ‘identifying as a human.” Rather than
encountering the world authentically, identification imposes a mimicking
mediating template as well as a layer of correctness” is an excellent
understanding of the human dilemma. I see this dilemma as common to all of
humanity and, although there are distinctions according to DNA, nationality,
religion, ethnicity, the dilemma itself does not, in my opinion,
differentiate among those characteristics.
Ordinary people do not “see the need to identify as humans,” but that
doesn’t mean they are free of the dilemma of separation, which operates at
all levels and is so ingrained within the mind that very few ever become
conscious of it, let alone resolve it.
We all have many identities, but core identities are particularly
problematic because we will defend them to the point of death. The irony is
that what we are defending is an illusion. It is not who we really are.
Identities are borne of thought and exist in the mind, yet they influence
our destinies and, collectively, the destiny of mankind. Emancipation
from identity and dualistic thinking confers the compassion and clarity
necessary to recognize our common humanity with all people.
With regard to your question about nationalism, I consider it another
separative ideology. However, if one understands that his nationality is
secondary to his humanity then I have no problem with it.
Gilad Atzmon: Thanks so much for your time and energy. I guess that
we have managed to complete a circle here. You landed back at your original
position assuming that there is kind of an elementary hierarchy of
identifications between humanity and Nationalism. I do not believe that this
is the case. I believe that this form of binarism or even dualism is Jewish
in nature. I prefer to see authentic existence as a dialectic continuum. I
have argued all along that ID politics and Identification is a symptom of
inauthenticity. However, I also think that the fact that we do not agree
makes this discussion a fruitful and entertaining dialogue. I hope to
continue this exchange in the near future.
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