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Critical Coment
about my column on the Karpman triangle
My critics' words are in red. My words are in blue.
1. The column
2. Comment from Rabbi Daniel Horwitz
3. Response to Rabbi Horwitz


459. 030618 THE STAR'S HEADLINE: Faiths must give up roles and take up being human

Studying the three major monotheistic faiths using a psychological model called the Karpman drama triangle may be illuminating. Each player in the drama has one of three typical opening positions.
   Christians have at times taken the aggressor role. For example, in 1492, when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile united Spain under Christian rule, Jews and Muslims were forced to convert or be expelled. That same year, the "discovery" of the New World led to the forced conversion, subjugation or extermination of many native peoples.
   Jews often see themselves as victims. Muslims frequently understand their history as that of protector. For example, Muslim countries welcomed Jews when they were expelled from Spain.
   In the Karpman drama, a "game" is played when the players switch positions, as when the victim becomes the aggressor. The game arises from distorted perceptions of reality.
   It is chilling to apply this theory to what has been happening in the Middle East. Jews, recalling the Nazi Holocaust, resolve never again to play the role of victim, and respond to what they see as an Arab threat against their nation by switching to the attack mode while still thinking of themselves as victims.
   Palestinians, most of whom are Muslim and who have historically thought of themselves as welcoming Jews as cousins, now see their land occupied rather than shared, and switch from the rescuer to the victim position and become so confused in this new role that some become aggressive.
   The United States, with many Christians repenting how Christians have oppressed others in the past, wants to help. The danger is that  in playing rescuer, those we seek to help will see us, accurately or not, tilting toward one side, and thus see us as persecutor.
   The game continues until the players give up their roles and see themselves and others as human beings apart from the roles in which they are cast.
   All faiths have great strengths and insights, and all have perverted manifestations. The genius of the monotheistic traditions is in understanding that human community is the realm in which God moves toward justice. But this insight can be perverted into self-righteousness, where each side projects its own evil on the other.

Threat to Israel is real
Special to The Star

On June 17, I called to offer condolences to a friend whose wife was blown up in a bus bombing in Jerusalem. Genia Berman, a mother of five, was murdered because she was a Jew who lives in Israel. She was a victim of a campaign conducted by those offended by a Jewish presence in the Middle East.
   On June 18, I read Rev. Vern Barnet's column offering his psychological explanation of the Middle East conflict. He suggests there are aggressors, protectors and victims. He writes: "Jews, recalling the Nazi Holocaust...respond to what they see as an Arab threat against their nation by switching to the attack mode while thinking of themselves as victims."
   "What they see" -- what Israelis see -- as an Arab threat, is rather well-documented. From pogroms in the 1920s to today's homicidal bombings and genocidal education, the threat to eliminate Israel is very real. This doesn't mean every Arab supports this or that President Bush's "road map" to peace can't be traveled, only that Israel has every reason to take such a threat seriously.
   But Barnet believes that Jews are just "recalling the Holocaust" and "switching to the attack mode," as if no Arabs had ever tried to murder them. This smacks of the tired "cycle of violence" line that treats the murdered and the murderer the same.
   Incredibly, he casts the Palestinians as former rescuers now become victims, and writes: "Some become so confused in this new role that they become aggressors." These terrorists are not evil, just confused; all they have to do is give up playing a role. He does not acknowledge terrorism and incitement to genocide as factors with which Israel must contend.
   Undoubtedly many Palestinians are victims. Everyone understands that innocent Palestinians have died, and that their circumstances are excruciating and often humiliating. But the Palestinians are largely the victims of their own leadership, which has consistently turned away from peace. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a result of this intolerance and rejectionism. The sooner Palestinian leadership changes course, the sooner the entire region will be able to arrive at a lasting peace. But that won't happen through simplistic psychological analysis or by blaming those who respond to such hatred with appropriate means of defense.
   Genia Berman didn't wish to play the role of victim. She is a victim, a victim of evil in action and of those who excuse it. And if you don't understand that, you can't broker useful discussion among Jews and Muslims.
   Rabbi Daniel Horwitz is president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City. He lives in Prairie Village.

To: Rabbi Danny Horwitz

Dear Danny,
    Thanks for your "As I See It" column in the paper this morning. I'm glad my column was of sufficient interest to inspire your extensive and thoughtful comment.
   I'll say Thank you again, but first my problem with what you wrote.

    I think you misconstrue what I said at several points. For example, when you refer to a particular passage for the second time, you imply that I meant that the Jews were JUST recalling the Holocaust, as if I in any way minimized that horror or that there is no cause for alarm about Arab threats. Certainly the annual Holocaust observances are an important part of modern Judaism here. But the column also mentioned the expulsion from Spain, and had I had additional space, the pogroms of Europe and discrimination even in Kansas City ala the Leawood covenant and the KC Country Club membership could have been included. Or your JUST might mean that the past is the only reason Israel has become aggressive. It is obvious there are Palestinians and others who wish the elimination of Israel. Israel has, of course, every right aggressively to defend itself and its citizens. Whether the current Israeli administration accurately assesses the nature of those threats and whether its responses are appropriate and effective would be useful matters to debate. But I was not debating them in my column, which is more concerned with religious dynamics.
    In either case, your adding the JUST to what I said changes what I said.
    I clearly acknowledged that the Jews see an Arab threat. Is is obvious Jews see an Arab threat. I advance the theory that Israel responds to that threat with a determination not to be victimized by it, a determination that can be understood in the context of the horror of the Holocaust. To me it seems as if you have plucked some words of mine, added the qualifier "JUST" to them, and inserted them into a new context.  It seems to me that in this and other ways you have misinterpreted what I wrote, searching for the most unfavorable meaning possible.
    But this is part of the dynamic of anyone traumatized, which is understandable from your article if anyone didn't know it before, and it is natural to respond to what is intended to be even-handed as if it were a new attack.
    From my perspective, your article today suggests, if not illustrates, the very theological dynamic characteristic of all three of the monotheistic faiths of which I wrote, namely the dynamic a part of which is that those who feel victimized may strike out against others without changing their awareness of the new position they play in the Karpman triangle. As I wrote, "The genius of the monotheistic traditions is in understanding that human community is the realm in which God moves toward justice. But this insight can be perverted into self-righteousness, where each side projects its own evil on the other." I see that happening a lot. We must get beyond blame and excuse. Israel blames the Palestinians for the violence. The Palestinians blame Israel. This goes nowhere. My hope was by identifying a theological dynamic, parties might step back and see what is happening from a wider perspective, rather than repeating that dynamic and illustrating it anew.
    This is not a comprehensive response to what I see as the many distortions of what I wrote, but one illustration of my concerns.

    Now some thanks and appreciation.
    Your statement that "many Palestinians are victims" also indicates the generosity of your spirit as you, like others of us limited human beings, seek to recognize our common humanity and the suffering on all sides.  I grieve for the death of your friend's wife.
    I certainly appreciate the attention you have given to my column, and I hope the discussion you have furthered will prove fruitful.
    I also saw Judy Hellman's comment in yesterday's paper. ["Vern Barnet is now psychoanalyzing the Israelis and Palestinians (6/18, FYI, "Faiths must give up roles and take up being human"). Who appointed him Dr Freud? I'd much prefer to see an analysis of the facts by an unbiased observer. Mr Barnet should stick to writing about matters of faith. --Judy Hellman, Leawood.] Judy is a wonderful person, thoughtful, kind, talented, dedicated; and the honest disagreements we have will not blind me to the beauty of her personhood and her tremendous contributions to the community, as I also treasure the privilege of working with you.
    One more thing: I am grateful to you and Judy for being willing to engage in this discussion, which has -- locally at least -- been pretty much under wraps recently. Having the opportunity to discuss different perceptions may be an important prelude to solutions.

    Yours for better understanding,