Monday, June 2, 2014

Response to Magnes Zionist

"Stop bringing meaningless offerings!    Your incense is detestable to me."
-- Isaiah 1:13 

This is in part a response to the Magnes Zionist blog who has criticized J Street for voting down a BDS resolution:
 Just like their parents and their grandparents generations, the progressive Zionists of J Street U wimped out, preferring tribal loyalty to fighting for justice, preferring it even to their own principles. Or perhaps tribal loyalty is their principle.  Like a long line of liberal Zionists before them, the negotiations took place not between Jews and Arabs  but  between Jews and Jews. They complained that the other side was not interested in dialogue.  What the other side wanted was not dialogue but joint action. That’s the way the oppressed operate.  
 [...]
They learned their lesson well -- criticize the tribe, but only from within the tribe. Call for boycott, but only the token “Zionist BDS”  of the settlements.  Oppose the Occupation, but never, never, even begin to punish Israel for the Occupation.  Call for peace now, but make sure that the playing field for the negotiations is skewed in favor of Israel.

I agree with this. But while I support BDS, I can't pretend to know what the playing field for the conflict should be except to get the West to stop involving itself in the negotiations and the Israeli military. So this essay is not about the settlements or what concessions to expect from which side, but about the propaganda in the conflict. After all, a debate and a negotiation are about human communication. Nobody is above a little slip in this now and then (remember Helen Thomas?).

As I see it, young Jews are still split into two camps, but it's not exactly Zionist, anti-Zionist, or even pro-BDS and anti-BDS. Rather it's those who have made an abstract association of justice, whose test is hypocrisy, and those who believe Israel's main problem is to defend the Zionist ideal, which is done by feeling passionate about a female rabbi and Arab MK's (I'm quoting the most recent debate which aired a few days ago on Canadian TV over whether Israel can be a democracy). This is the context for my impression of J Street:

We should take heart that the centrist heart of Israeli politics is alive and well, and the seemingly inexorable rise of the ultra-right has been halted. There remains a solid majority in Israel for a two-state solution. Netanyahu’s do-nothing policies were rejected by both the right and the left. Given the circumstances, this result is almost the best we could have hoped for and far better than expected.


Now, any student of oppressive government can see this for the cheap partisan propaganda that it is. And I agree with Magnes Zionist on J Street's indecency. But the left is also more tribal than he assumes (for proof of this check a blog called The Daily Howler).

Anyway, there was one thing about this debate at CPAC.ca that really stuck with me. Max Nordau came up. Remember, he's a Zionist who might have been the first to disapprove of a fanatic, religious passion for the project. Yet Mira Sucharov began her talk in the debate with a call for a stronger Jew, a rugged individual who lusts innocently for overalls and a shovel in her hand, the opening metaphor for her entire argument. Did her opponent, Max Blumenthal, call her on this? No. He did the best that he could, tracing the theft of Palestinian land under the deliberate terror of Jabotinsky. As a historian, he seems to have succeeded. But as a deprogrammer, he has failed.

In a strategy of undoing the spiritual conditioning of the Zionist individual (which seems to have been Herzl's goal), we cannot only be experts at the reality on the ground, or of history, but of ourselves as messengers. Blumenthal took most of his time to inform the audience only of what Sucharov would not. He countered Sucharov's idolatry only a few times. Two that come to mind, which seem to have most provoked Sucharov: 1. He passionately defended the so-called blacklisting of student representatives given favors by AIPAC, and 2. asked her point blank how many Arabs are too many, in a passionate defense of the Right of Return, which clearly was successful in provoking her (you could tell in the tone in her begrudging admission of support for what is a pretty racist policy, however much it wears a fig-leaf of culture). Yet he had many more opportunities to counter the Fascist ideal of the Israelis as children of their loving state outside of these easy take-downs. (Maybe that it's easy should reflect poorly on us too!) This countering can be done not so much with history as with psychology and Orwell's look at the empty rhetoric of writers, although I will explain the sobering history too.

First, any time Sucharov needed to recover from a threat to her idol, she went back and forth between the post-modern religious spells of "ontology" and "narratives" designed to defend against emotional thought, and a cathartic, energetic praise for a state yet to come, with jokes and applause lines. The tradition of post-modernism is itself traceable to Martin Heidegger, a Nazi smuggled into respectable circles by French intellectuals, many of them Jews. Overall, Heidegger believed philosophy itself to be so complex that one should feel accomplished simply for arriving where he started. It's easy to see how this was appropriated by liberals. Everyone has something valid to offer, the truth is bigger than us, everyone is right.

But the best parallel isn't Hitler (as Blumenthal attempted in his book), but Mussolini, who took this exact attitude toward labor unions. Blumenthal, by focusing on the Jewish Fascist Jabotinsky, did not even detect the much more obvious Fascism in the entire Zionist myth and its connection to Mussolini's manifesto:
Fascism wants man to be active and to engage in action with all his energies; it wants him to be manfully aware of the difficulties besetting him and ready to face them. It conceives of life as a struggle in which it behooves a man to win for himself a really worthy place, first of all by fitting himself (physically, morally, intellectually) to become the implement required for winning it. As for the individual, so for the nation, and so for mankind... The Fascist disdains an “easy" life 
which says yes some dirty work had to be done but hey, now we're improved.

Fascism is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon. But when brought within the orbit of the State, Fascism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State

The logic is circular. Fascism is good, so what has brought it into being is by definition good. Norman G Finkelstein (who is hissed at by some in the BDS crowd, particularly Electronic Intifada) traced this psychic strategy very well in his book Image and Reality in regards to selling your soul to what you call rationality in order to attempt something evil, to persuade yourself of a moral cause, and a limit on your evil tendency:

A canonical text of labor Zionism's distinctive ethos is The Seventh Day, an oral history of the June 1967 war based on the 'soldier's talk' of 'a group of young kibbutz members'. An overarching theme of the volume is that the Israeli soldier did not harbor any personal animus toward -- indeed, was tormented by the violence he inflicted on -- the Arabs. The appointed task was a dirty one but, alas had to be done. The book's moral anxiety is due not to the effects of the violence on the victim, however, but the victor: the corruption of the Jewish soul.
Sucharov clearly has absorbed this myth:

Really briefly as I said I do agree that the JNF's Jewish only land leasing policy is discriminatory. And because it discriminates among the state's citizens on the basis of ethnicity and religion. I do think it is antidemocratic. So I do think that those policies have to be changed. And that they are a historical relic. Let's remember where things come from. They're a historical relic when Israel was trying to create itself as a sovereign expression Jewish peoplehood. And it had it it had a purpose perhaps at the time and now it no longer does. [Applause]

This is how Zionism stands today, not in hatred of the left or of Arabs but by the idea that everyone is a little right and nobody is wrong (soccer hoodlums aside, does anyone wake up in the morning with a heart full of hate?). The battle being waged is over who gets to be "secure" from criticism (and bigotry), and the left plays into it just as unproductively as someone arguing with a racist. So instead, we need to challenge the Orwellian confusion between writing and thinking, between the state and the individual, and the cult of self-improvement.


Why isn't this happening? Max Nordau could not because he himself was deluded. Sucharov could not because she buys into the Fascist founding myth.  And Max Blumenthal could not because he is in the business of angels and demons, another delusion. It's not just enough to point out the seedy underbelly of nationalism, or even to disprove Nordau. By giving in to petty games of more-radical-than-thou, we give up a chance at education of history. We dull our criticisms of sharp, accurate context in favor of party line rebukes (would any Democrat attempt to criticize Clinton like Chomsky?), and the company of bigoted rhetoric on both sides, as punching bags or attaboys.  If we wish to stand as moral prophets in acknowledging justice and its test of hypocrisy, away from the temptation of tribal fervor, we hurt ourselves twice acting in a bad example with an incomplete message.

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