An anti-Israel Freudian slip in London

July 30, 2002

Some psychoanalysts are angry that Freud's name is being used to criticize Israel. Below is a story from today's Ha'aretz, by their London correspondent Sharon Sadeh (who is a longtime subscriber to this email list).

-- Tom Gross


An anti-Israel Freudian slip in London
By Sharon Sadeh
July 30, 2002

Dr. Lewis Aron, a psychoanalyst and senior researcher at New York University, could not believe his eyes when he surfed to the London Freud Museum website. The site and Freud's own words he says, are being used "to ridicule, denigrate, and maliciously slander Israel."

Aron said, "as a psychoanalyst, I'm always on the Internet for information, and when I saw the website, I was shocked." Aaron, together with colleagues Bob Prince and Dodi Goldman, composed an online petition that, within one week, was signed by 400 people.

One section of the criticized website called Freud Today is a bulletin board for current affairs, and several articles there are dedicated to "Freudian aspects" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Aron say the website "misuses Freud's name to promote a biased and particular political point of view. The material is a massive distortion of both the facts and Freud's own vision.

In particular, Aron points out one article, "The Arab-Israeli Conflict," and takes exception to two phrases that appear in the article: "Israeli child killers" and "dispossessed people throwing stones."

"[The] reference to a 'dispossessed people throwing stones' dramatically trivializes Palestinian terror, and [the] reference to Israel's murdering children and the accompanying highly biased selection of photos similarly blames Israel. It one-sidedly, neglects completely its right to self-defense."

In another article about the Holocaust that appeared on the website, the writers notes, "The Holocaust was different. It happened in the most advanced and cultured society in Europe, it required the participation of millions of people in an organized bureaucratic machine, it was pursued vigorously when it made no economic, political or military sense," and then moves, quite naturally as if the connection were obvious, to a discussion about the phenomenon of refuseniks in the IDF, whom he praises to the skies.

"What better memorial to the Holocaust could there be than the actions of these Israeli soldiers? By refusing to shoot [Palestinians] on command they sound the death knell to the casual excuse for moral bankruptcy which has been used to justify barbarity and bureaucracy in equal measure. The seductive lie: 'I was only following orders.'" Aron said this equated the IDF with Nazis and was outrageous.

But the author of the articles, Ivan Ward, said he was shocked by the furor and utterly rejected the accusation of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. On the contrary, he believes that by highlighting the IDF's refuseniks, he was portraying Israel in a positive light and was showing that Israeli society is much stronger and more morally upright than Germany was under the Nazis.

However the Freud Museum has made several changes on the site in the last few days. Some of the problematic texts have been removed, while other have been updated and reedited. Ward, who is the museum's education director, added his signature to the articles he wrote and pointed out that the views expressed were his alone.

Nonetheless, the connection between a museum perpetuating Freud's legacy and the Middle East conflict seemed odd to say the least. The museum, located in London's prestigious Hampstead suburb, was home to the Freud family after they escaped to the United Kingdom in 1938, following the Nazi annexation of Austria.

The house, in which Freud lived for the last two years of his life, was renovated after the death of his daughter Anna in 1982, and turned into a cultural and research center for conferences and public gatherings. Freud's study, library and rare collection of antiques are meticulously preserved, as is the famous couch on which his patients would lie.

Like Wrad, the museum management could not understand why there was an outcry. Museum director Erica Davies rejected the criticism, saying that posting the articles was legitimate. "The views are not necessarily those of the museum, but [Ward's] attempt to interpret how Freud might have thought about things. One of the main concerns of the museum had been the contemporary relevance of Freud today, and the person responsible is Ivan Ward."

Ward said he did not intend to put forward a one-sided political view. "It is just a question of being able to use things in the real world in order to speak about or show the legacy of Freud. Every piece has a Freud quotation or relates directly to Freud's work."

Ward says that he concentrated on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since several different elements of the conflict connect to Freud. "I write about things in which I can find a Freudian connection. It is not like I've got some ulterior anti-Israeli motive. I did try to write about other conflicts, but I couldn't make the Freudian link. It is as simple as that."

That said, Ward agreed, after rereading his own texts, that he feels some of the sentiments he expresses about Israel which he has never visited were either too strong or no longer relevant. Even if they accurately reflected his political stand-point, which leans clearly to the left, he decided to remove some parts of the articles in question.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.