When Myths Become a Dangerous Reality

“Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 2,000 years.”

That remarkable statement was made by Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, on public TV a few days ago.

What’s remarkable about it is not only that it’s factually incorrect  – even Bibi can count the number of years separating 2012 from 1948 – but the fact that truth really doesn’t come into it. Whether true or not, it’s an article of faith – and it is faith, rather than reality, that counts here.

The subtext of Bibi’s statement was that, when it comes to Israel, Zionism, the conflict with the Palestinians and so on, Israel makes its own rules. It’s of absolutely no interest to us what others think or whether our rules contradict the laws of science, nature or the international community. Reality is for goyim.

Our rules are correct because we say they’re correct – and we’ve been living according to the Zionist dogma for so long that most of us actually believe it. A statement such as “Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 2,000 years” is part of the everyday catechism around here. It is as logical and self-apparent as “the sun rises in the morning” to very many Israelis (and a good number of diaspora Jews, I suspect.)

The language of occupation is a modern-day equivalent of the flat earth theory, with the state taking the role of the church and those who argue against Israel’s truth labeled as leftists, anti-Semites or self-hating Jews – today’s equivalent of heretics. Excommunication of heretics (in the form of withdrawal of citizenship) is already on the cards and burning at the stake can only be a matter of time

It serves no purpose to point out to the dogmatic that Israel was established in 1948, which is not 2,000 years ago, or that there was no Jewish state for some 95% of the past 2,000 years, so there could not have been a capital. Nor is there any point in arguing that the religious invocation of Jerusalem has always been transcendental, rather than nationalistic. Reality-based discourse has little traction with nationalist-religious dogma.

Beside which, Zionist historiography has spent the past 100-plus years deleting facts from the history books and replacing them with myths, such as the myth of exile in 70 AD or the myth that all Jews are directly descended from Jews who lived in Palestine over 2,000 years ago. Those are myths, not facts; the historical record is very different to the teachings of Zionism. But the myth-makers did their work well, with the result that it is the rare contemporary Israeli who is able to differentiate between fact and fiction.

What we have, then, is a modern state founded on deliberate fabrications of history and an immensely powerful army whose missiles are calibrated according to concocted data. For, as history has shown, these myths are not benign. When Netanyahu speaks of Jerusalem as the 2,000-year capital of Israel, he’s not merely exercising his story-telling competency. He means that Israel has the right to build additional Jewish housing in East Jerusalem and that’s exactly what it’s going to do.

Gaining control of the land and then building on it is what Israeli governments do for a living. It’s what they’ve always done, even when they pretended otherwise. There’s not much else you can do, once you’ve bought into the Hydra-myth of the Chosen People and the Promised Land, is there?

What’s changed is that, while the dogma of the early Zionist historiographers and those who translated their quasi-history into facts on the ground was predominantly secular and cosmopolitan, Israel today is in the grip of a messianic totalitarianism that is heedless of other influences. Bibi’s Israel does not see the need to make nice with Amalek, a category which now includes everyone who doesn’t buy into the settlement dogma in its totality.

All nations have their myths. They’re a useful, if not necessary, tool used by nation-builders to get people who often have little in common to rally around a single flag. It’s worth remembering that modern nationalism is less than 200 years old; most of the seemingly monolithic nations of today are, in fact, relatively recent conglomerations of disparate groups of people. The concepts of homeland and ethnos might go back millennia, but the modern nation-state is a very new phenomenon.

A heroic past, mythical or otherwise, is often part of the glue that holds a nation together and, as such, it’s usually benign. There’s no reason why the Greeks shouldn’t take pride in the glory of ancient Athens or the Italians in the Roman empire. The problems would begin if the Italians, say, were to seriously set about reconstructing the Roman empire, conquering and resettling most of Europe and the Mediterranean countries in the process.

Taking national myths too far can be a very dangerous thing. The most telling example of this was, of course, Nazi Germany, where volkisch folklore about Aryan and Nordic ancestry became the driving force behind a genocidal campaign for lebensraum and racial purity. Himmler, when he wasn’t busy killing Jews, spent much of his time studying ancient runes and sending expeditions to Tibet, Greenland and elsewhere to find his forefathers.

Jews have as much right as anyone else to study their history and create their own myths, however detached from reality. If Jews of Lithuanian or Moroccan ancestry want to believe that an unbroken chain of Jewry connects them to inhabitant of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, so be it. They’d be wrong, of course; the chances are that the Lithuanians are descended from Khazar converts to Judaism and the Moroccans from Berber converts. But if believing makes them happy, why not?

Belief does not equate with right, however, even though the history of the last 2000 years is a long and sad litany of people attempting to prove by force that it does. The problem with Zionist myth-making is less its substance – people are allowed to dream – than its intent. Zionism rewrote history in order to provide the programmatic background for an irredentist movement – the occupation of a piece of land which, by the late 19th century, was entirely divorced from Judaism and Jewry.

That movement succeeded and its historiographical foundation continues to serve today’s holy warriors, who are intent on building on every square inch of occupied territory in order to prevent it from being handed back to its rightful owners. So, it’s worth remembering that when Netanyahu speaks of Jerusalem being the capital of Israel for 2,000 years, it’s not a slip of the tongue or an eccentric personal belief. It is the doctrine of messianic Zionism, and it has no place for compromise or the “peace process.”

John Kerry, be warned.

Just a thought in conclusion. I, like many others, am at a loss when it comes to understanding America’s apparent preference for automatic weapons over live children. Sure, it’s the guns; everybody except half of America knows that. But where does it come from, this love of weapons and the slavish insistence on the second amendment, in the face of such gruesome and regular slaughter?

I haven’t given the subject enough thought, but my instinct tells me that it’s another example of national myths trumping stark reality – in this case the myths of the rugged frontiersman and the armed land-owner. In an increasingly splintered and confusing world, inhabited by foaming-at-the-mouth jihadists and resurgent Orientals, Americans seem to be retreating into the simple certainties of the revolutionary period and the wild west. Periods in which there were good guys and bad guys and the good guy’s rifle invariably came out on top.

It doesn’t inspire much hope for wise and thoughtful world leadership, does it?