April 17, 2009

Pyschoanalysing Doctor Hirsh and then some

There are two letters in today's Jewish Chronicle in response to an article by Dr David Hirsh, the main, in some ways the only, man at the Engage website. Let's take a little chunk of his article first. It's headed Do not confine Jews to the couch and subtitled, Jewish intellectuals who criticise Israel in psychological terms are wrong-headed. So here goes:
Jacqueline Rose, a professor at London University, argues in her book, A Question of Zion, that Israel should be understood psychoanalytically. She says the trauma resulting from the Holocaust is the root cause of the difficulty Israelis seem to have in living peacefully with their neighbours. Recently, she inspired Caryl Churchill to write the play Seven Jewish Children, which portrays Jews bringing up their children in a neurotic, dishonest and dysfunctional way and which many have said is antisemitic. Rose herself briefed the actors at the theatre.

In The Independent last month, Antony Lerman, former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, also used psychology to explain current events, offering his own version of what Israeli psychologist Daniel Bar Tal reports about Israeli Jews. Lerman cheekily extrapolates the results to apply to British Jews. The consciousness of Jews “is characterised by a sense of victimisation, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanisation of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering”. Lerman believes it to be a scientific discovery that “the Jewish public does not want to be confused with the facts.”

Unfortunately the Jewish Chronicle's website doesn't run the letters which is a pity because they should, in principle, appear on the same forum as what it is they are responding to. But anyway, a big "thank you!" to Deborah Maccoby for typing them out for the Just Peace UK list and an even bigger one for not typing the two that supported Hirsh, though I'm sure Hirsh will get round to posting them at Engage.

Deborah describes them as "two letters demolishing David Hirsh's article" and of course I trust her implicitly but here they are so others can check:
Two excellent letters in this week's JC demolishing David Hirsh's article of last week. I've typed them out below. There are also two letters in support of Hirsh, but they're not worth the effort of typing out!

Deborah


LETTER FROM TONY LERMAN AND JACQUELINE ROSE

David Hirsh ("Do not confine Israel to the couch", April 10th) performs the
double feat of misrepresenting our views and showing his ignorance.

Jacqueline Rose neither inspired Caryl Churchill to write the play "Seven Jewish Children" - Churchill has not read her work - nor did she brief the actors. She was invited to talk to them about the history of the conflict.

Antony Lerman did not offer his own view of Professor Bar Tal's research in his
"Independent" article but quoted from the "Haaretz" summary of it; nor does he say or believe that it is a scientific discovery to assert that "the Jewish
public does not want to be concerned with the facts". Nowhere do we imply that
Jews indoctrinate their children to be indifferent to non-Jewish suffering or
that the Holocaust explains the attack on Gaza.

We do not transform political questions into psychological diagnoses. Nor are
we practising theray on anyone. Jacqueline Rose's writing is rather based on
the premise that there is a psychological dimension to all political conflicts
that merits the most serious attention. The idea that there is a disjunction
between psychology and politics (or between psychological and political
explanations of human behaviour) is so ludicrous that no one who thinks this can be taken seriously as a social scientist. Is Professor Bar Tal wrong to be
deeply concerned about the political implications of his research into the
psychology and "collective memory" of Israeli Jews? Perhaps Hirsh thinks that
the International Society of Political Psychology is based on a false premise.

Sadly, Hirsh is so incapable of engaging with our ideas that he invents some
which he then ascribes to us. He then resorts to the odious ploy of implying
that these fictitious views bear resemblance to those of David Irving and
President Ahmadinejad. Surely your readers deserve better than this shoddy
tactic from someone who purports to be an academic.

Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose


and here is Howard Cooper psychoanalysing Dr Hirsh!

LETTER FROM HOWARD COOPER

David Hirsh doesn't agree with bringing psychological insights to bear on
"political questions". So he ends up aligning Professor Jacqueline Rose's
nuanced, psychoanalytically informed critiques of Israeli intransigence, and
Antony Lerman's remarks on the phenomenon of Jewish belligerency and sense of
victimhood, with David Irving's "antisemitic" stereotyping. Perhaps Hirsh's
ugly distortion of their positions demands its own analysis.

He suggests that "we expect our therapist to be on our side", but the problem
for any therapist is: what if the patient is in denial? If the patient cannot
see his or her own aggressiveness, he or see will often experience the
therapist's comments as persecutory.

Further, the patient may twist the therapist's words into a perverse parody of
what has been said: thus Hirsh's egregious allegation that Rose and Lerman
"imply that Jews indoctrinate their children to be indifferent to non-Jewish
suffering".

These distortions occur when patients fear looking honestly at their own
failures and come up with thoughts like "It is not 'the Jews' but the occupation
which is oppressive" - a remark indicating a typical wish to shift
responsibility away from the personal to the impersonal "context".

Of course Hirsh is right that the issues of post-Holocaust Jewish attitudes
involve political questions. But to divorce politics from an examination of the
deep subjectivities that inform any political position is both naive and
intellectually flawed.

(Rabbi) Howard Cooper
I'll leave it with readers. I had started to count the number of what Rose and Lerman claim are misrepresentations by Hirsh, but I lost count.

Enjoy!

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