(Not) In My Name (Israel)

not in my namenot in my namenot in my namenot in my namenot in my namenot in my namenot in my namenot in my namenot in my namenot in my namenot in my namenot in my name

A meme going around Jewish left circles has the speaker declare that the State of Israel and/or the war in Gaza and/or the State of Israel and Zionism are “not in my name.” It’s an interesting phrase, one that goes back, at least, ten years ago to protests in the UK against the Iraq War. It speaks to the relation, in this case an oppositional one, between individuals and groups of individuals who seek to organize into a political counter-movement vis-à-vis a political state. As a friend points out on FB, in this case it’s meant to assert a difference between Judaism and Israel, or Judaism and current Israeli war-making.

The phrase, however, is subject to a very subtle dialectic. When articulated with sufficient moral affect, the dialectics are such that the speaker has already ceded enormous power of the state to speak in his or her name. To make such a claim, the state must have already caught the speaker.  The speaker has drawn close to the state, enveloped intimately and obsessively into its machinations. Otherwise there’s no basis for the opposition, until such a point that the state spits you out. If the state did not already speak “in my name” I wouldn’t have to say it. “Not in my name” is very different than the “render unto Ceasar” in the New Testament.

As a U.S. citizen, I never thought to think that Israel speaks “in my name.” It can’t really, because I have no formal rights or obligations to that state, and I am in no need of its protection. My link to Israel, the country governed by the state, is affective and potential. And perhaps it’s that very potentiality that sets the teeth on edge for so many of my friends on the America Jewish left. As a Jew, I want the state of Israel to speak in my name the language of justice, mercy, and morality, not the language of power and domination. But it’s the latter language that is the one spoken by all states, despite and in tension with the values they claim to carry and seek to embody.

Herzl was right. Before they constitute a religion, they Jews are an umma. There’s no other way to explain the anger, bitterness, and disgust expressed for the State of Israel the further out on the U.S. Jewish left you go. Like it or not, Judaism and Zionism are too deeply imbricated to make for an easy separation. The more you repeat or flag the phrase, the more actively you deny the connection (as opposed to ignoring it), the more active you make the relation and deepen it, the more dragged you are into its controlling and determining discourse.

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Asymmetry (Power Aesthetics) (Gaza 2014)

asymmetry

What troubles a lot of people politically and morally about the unrolling events in Gaza and Israel has to do with the basic asymmetry. The social and governmental and military hardware, the physical destruction, and the human misery are completely lopsided. And the photographic evidence bears out this imbalance. I posted earlier about appeals to stats and score-keeping by which people understand or “follow” events. Reflecting our information driven culture, a lot of the analysis critical of Israel politically and morally comes to down to raw quantification driven crazy by stories and pictures of dead children. Against our better philosophical judgement, we have become empiricists.

The information is given as absolute. With no attention paid to the dialectics of power that define relations between the relatively strong and the relatively weak, it’s the gross asymmetry that bothers our moral and political intelligence. Digital creatures, we tend to ascribe significance to numbers that by themselves say nothing more about the parties to the conflict and the acts that shape it beyond a tally of the violence they produce. I think there’s something cognitive at work. Human intelligence abhors asymmetry, has no tolerance for it, and draws negative, critical judgments about asymmetrical power relations held up in contrast as to the balance and harmony that the critical eye seeks out and favors.

 

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Jews & Muslims Refuse to be Enemies (Yakir Englander)

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I’m tired of posting about war, fighting, killing, death, and the hateful polemics and arrogant apologetics about them. In that spirit, I’m sharing a piece by Yakir Englander that appeared in ISLAMiCommentary out of Duke University. Yakir writes about a group he’s involved with, Kids4Peace, about overcoming hatreds in Israel and Palestine between Jews and Muslims, about his sister and mother, and about the people with whom he works and partners. It’s an autobiographical piece. Too sweet perhaps for some, I liked it a lot. You can read it here, and you can follow ISLAMiCommentary here on FB and here on Twitter. Kudos to ISLMAMiCommentary for publishing a word about peace during at such a rough time.

Yakir writes, “In my inner world, Israelis and Palestinians no longer live separated from each other. I now understand that my narrative as an Israeli is deeply linked with the Palestinian narrative, precisely because the founding of the State of Israel, after the tragedy suffered by my Jewish family in the Holocaust, entailed a new tragedy for the Palestinians, who have paid the price in many ways for what was done to my people in the past by others.”

[...]

“Remember your anger and pain from today and support the holy people who dedicate their life to meet with the “enemy, ” and maybe even partner with them. Decide what you want to do in order to end the conflict, for real. Be part of something that goes beyond first aid. I can’t tell you what is the best way. But I know that the deeper conflict will be ended by people who are sensitive to both narratives, who act day and night to challenge themselves and others — by people who take the risk to live without the safety of a narrative of hate.

Ramadan Kareem”

 

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2 Self-Righteous Israeli Men (Gaza 2014)

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I thought this looked funny. As if arguing only with each other, two well-known columnists for Haaretz represent the the center-left and left-left old guard Ashkenazi elite. One man is just as self-righteous, just as macho and aggressive as the other man. “We’re Right,” Ari Shavit declares. Gideon Levi writes, “Great, Dead Children.”

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Everyone Has the Right (Gaza 2014)

Gaza_strip_may_2005

Everyone talks about rights. Who’s right? Who has the right to do what? Without a lot of reasoning for now, here’s how I’m figuring it. Pretty much, each party to the conflict between Hamas and Israel is acting more or less within its right. Rights don’t justify any particular or every single action, but they establish general political and legal parameters, hedged in just a little by morality. It’s harsh. Here’s how it looks, schematically:

(–No one has the right to target civilians indiscriminately.)

(–No one has the right to use civilian structures for military purposes.)

–Israel has the right to control its border with Gaza and to interdict arms shipments.

–Hamas has the right to resist siege and occupation by means of force.

–Israel has the right to attack military assets (almost) wherever they find them.

–Hamas has the right to tunnel into Israel to attack (military) targets.

–Israel has the right to enter into Gaza to attack Hamas soldiers, rockets, and tunnel sites.

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(Note to My Friends) Politics & Power (Gaza 2014)

nietzsche Weber

Apologies to my friends. Even though I should know better, years of reading Nietzsche as a young person and then Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation” in graduate school have made me cynical and bitter about all moral claims in relation to politics and power. I mean this in the most painful way.

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Mashed Up (Marxists, Islamists, Nazis)

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The demos across continental Europe, particularly France and including Germany have pulled together a very strange “multitude” consisting of neo-Nazis, anti-imperialists, secular Baathists, and Islamic fundamentalists. Antisemitism mashed up with anti-Zionism mashed up with a critique of West society mashed up with a critique of capitalism mashed up with God mashed up with power and powerlessness would be the cement that holds this assemblage together. While decrying violence, Judith Butler once said that she could see how Hezbollah is part of “the global left.” Just a little off context, this video clip from Berlin, which you can see here, suggests one way this ideological mixing has ended up looking. For a pushback within the Palestine advocacy community, this bit of anti anti-Semitism by Yasmeen Serhan, whom you can read here, is an important reminder. This piece, which you can read here, by Robert Zaretsky is excellent.

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