Thursday, June 29, 2006

Grieving for Victims at World Peace Forum - evidence for the claim of a "hate festival" made by Harvey Enchin in the Vancouver Sun?

Monday night, I attended a session of Vancouver's World Peace Forum, with the vaguely threatening title "No Justice! No Peace!" While the incessant use of the imperative (!!) among the "peace!"-loving left deserves a post in its own right, I will turn my anthropological attention here to the speakers on the evening, in order of their appearance: 1) Miryam Rahid, Interim Director of the Middle East Program of the American Friends Service Committee - Chicago, a middle-class Palestinian-American woman who lived for five years on the West Bank, some of it during the first Intifada and who served the Palestinian side during their peace negotiations with the Israelis in 1998-2000. I assume that Rahid was invited as a replacement for the earlier-announced Mustafa Barghouti, a Fatah or PLO politician and doctor whose more famous brother, Marwan, is currently facing terrorism charges in Israel. 2) Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an education professor at Hebrew University whose daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in 1997; according to the official program, she "has turned her grief into a tireless quest for justice: the end of the Israeli occupation which she considers the root cause of her daughter's death". 3) Cindy Corrie, mother of the infamous Rachel who in the words of the program for the evening "was killed by an Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer as she non-violently protested the demolition of a Palestinian home." According to the Israeli government, Rachel was accidentally killed by a bulldozer demolishing homes that were linked to a network of tunnels smuggling arms between Egypth and Gaza.

This event, held at the large downtown Vancouver St-Andrew's-Wesley Churh (the WPF's report claims a crowd of 500; I would say 250) was sponsored by a number of groups: Canada Palestine Association, Canpalnet, the Vancouver chapter of the International Solidarity Movement, Jews for a Just Peace,, Palestine Community Centre, Palestine Solidarity Group, Trade Union Committee for Justice in the Middle East, and the Wall Must Fall Campaign. I will leave it to readers to Google these organizations to discover which ones support Palestinian violence against Israel in the name of "peace" (leave a note in comments if you do!). I will only note that Rachel Corrie's ISM is indeed reported as actively supporting Palestinian terrorist violence.

The Chair for the evening was Sid Shniad, a Jewish trade union breaucrat and leftist anti-war activist, who began by denouncing what he called Israel's unilateral redefining of its borders with Palestine - i.e. building a fence or wall to protect itself from Palestinian attacks - in supposed violation of international law, a point to which our anthropological analysis will return later as the frequent appeals to "international law" clearly invoke a sacrality for people involved with this "peace" forum, a sacredness that we need explore if we are to understand where they are coming from. Shniad said many "social justice" groups such as churches and unions were addressing these issues and his naming CUPE (Ontario) for its resolution to support a boycott and divestment of/from Israel received a modest round of applause from perhaps half the audience.

(I might note at this point that on entering the church, I recognized in attendance my Member of Parliament from Burnaby-Douglas, Mr. Bill Siksay of the New Democratic Party; not being a supporter of the NDP, I sat close to Bill so I could report if he revealed sympathies by excessive anti-Zionist applause; however, his applause remained moderate throughout, though there are no doubt many friends of Israel who would consider any applause for these speakers objectionable, as I will explain below. In any case, Burnaby voters should know that Mr. Siksay wore a WPF delegate badge and they might want to consult the WPF website to get an idea of the kind of event that interests their federal representative and others in his party - Bill is a protege of former MP Svend Robinson whom Cindy Corrie thanked last night for his support in writing the US government to pressure Israel over Rachel Corrie's death.)

Sid Shneid closed his opening remarks by denouncing the "highly inflammatory" words of Vancouver Sun columnist Harvey Enchin whose June 21 article, "Let the hatefest begin", anticipated the WPF conference thus:
Vancouver is hosting a major anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-globalization, anti-capitalist conference starting Friday that will draw apologists for terrorism and champions of failed states [e.g. Cuba, Iran, Syria] from all over the world... There is noting peaceful about the message these deluded propagandists are preaching.
Then, giving specific attention to the panel under discussion here, Enchin wrote:
Israel's enemies, those who deny its right to exist, who seek to de-legitimize it at every opportunity, who infuse their hatred of Israel with antisemitism, are given an open platform at the peace forum.

Israel and Jews will be under attack at the peace forum just as they were at its precursor, the [Durban, South Africa]UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001, which devolved into a hatefest unlike anything seen since the Nazi rallies of the 1930s.

A session called What is the Relationship between Peace and Justice in Israel [aka, No Justice! No Peace!] presents two anti-Israel panelists. There is no responder from the other side; in fact, there are no supporters of Israel involved in the peace forum at all.

The first speaker is Nurit Peled, Israel's most reviled, self-loathing, anti-Israel activist. After a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered her daughter in 1997, Peled blamed her own government and has been a popular attraction on the Israel-bashing speakers' circuit worldwide ever since.

"We are all in the grip of the same unscrupulous criminals who call themselves leaders of the free enlightened world," she told the European Parliament, "and in the name of this freedom and enlightenment rob us of our children.

Clearly suffering from a perverse version of the Stockholm Syndrome, Peled conveniently omits mention of the culture of death that celebrates martyrdom, a glorious fate many Palestinian mothers not only wish for their children but for which they are financially rewarded.
While Enchin is certainly correct that this was a totally unbalanced panel, with no supporter of Israel and no one giving the audience the slightest idea of how one might respond to the anti-Israel resentments well aired Monday night, I do not think - judging from what i've read - that this panel reached the levels of Jew hatred witnessed at Durban. Monday's was altogether a subtle performance of a deep resentment whose object remained somewhat veiled, the source of the implied evil under discussion remaining somewhat mysterious, underdefined. I will interpret this mystery as being, in fact, all about or around the sign of the Jew, and/or the model of nationhood the Jews first brought into this world; but still, the paradoxical fact that love and hate are usually combined in some degree in our attitude to any object or entity that holds the centre of attention must be taken into account.

Was Enchin thus being "highly inflammatory"? (Sneid's accusation, like Enchin's, and those of many angry letter writers to the Vancouver Sun, were all made prior to anyone actually hearing the WPF events under dispute.) Well, quite aside from the likelihood that Enchin's intent was just that - to combust the WPF's credibility - I think he is correct to suggest that this evening was indeed something of a hate fest. But while Israel, in whole or (perhaps more often) in part, was undoubtedly an object of hate, this is not to say that it was an event filled with obvious antisemitism, or a general Judeophobia (though if the critique of Israel entails a portrayal, whether knowingly or naively, of bad Israelis in terms that remind us of what traditional antisemites consider dirty Jews to be - e.g. evil and selfish conspirators whose actions are a threat to some utopian vision of world peace - then perhaps antisemitism it is, even if the critics are wise to the charge and anticipate it by themselves criticizing, on behalf of some good Jews, the putative evil conspirators as antisemitic; this is just what I think happened last night).

Indeed what is so notable is how often the speakers and audience members felt compelled to reject the accusation of antisemitism or self-hating Jew, and to note Jewish friends, as if the accusation of antisemitism has itself become another unfair tool in the hands of that party of Jews who are indeed oppressors (according to the would-be non-antisemites). For example, this bluffing/double bluffing/triple bluffing .... fetishization of the sign of antisemitism led the most curious, unbalanced, speaker, Nurit Peled, to say that Israel was in fact the only truly antisemitic state left in existence today. So, again, when we turn to our anthropological analysis of this event we will need consider the peculiar form of sacrality constituted around this much disputed sign. The simultaneous fetishization of "world peace", "international law" and "antisemitism" is no accident.

Miryam Rashid

Rashid introduced herself as the middle-class American daughter of Palestinian parents who took her to live in the West Bank during the first Intifada so that she could know better her people and their plight. (One wonders if that is all the parents wanted.) She had in many ways the manner of a middle-class American, a university-educated woman, a competent practitioner of the academy's victimary religion; she spoke in a somewhat breathless, rapid, staccato, swinging back and forth between, on the one hand, bold authoritative statments on the nature of life in the West Bank, and on the other, setting up scenes of the horrible and brutal conflict in such a way that passionately asked for and generally received the nodding concurrence and sympathy of the predominantly female audience. "Military Occupation" she said was for her just another intellectual abstraction that people bandy about, when she lived in comfort in America; once settled on the West Bank, its horrible reality was revealed in a life-transforming manner.

We were told of how the Jewish settlers steal the Palestinians' agricultural land, leaving the younger men without work, thus encouraging them to leave and/or to suffer great humiliation at their impotence. While the Jewish settlement of Shiloh on the hill above her new home had all the water and electricity it desired, the Palestinians below received intermittent and limited supplies. Checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the West Bank were a "huge source of humiliation" and a theft of that which is most precious: time. She told of her own guns-aimed-at-her humiliation at a check point which ended with Israeli soldiers laughing at her, and decried the new Israeli wall/fence which she said does more to separate Palestinian from Palestinian than Israelis and Palestinians. Again, the claim is that Israel wants to get a proud people to leave their homes by destroying their economy and lives. Israel's claim that the fence is a last resort in self-defence is ignored. The most appropriate term for "what is happening on the ground" is "ethnic cleansing" she declared.

Rashid invoked Desmond Tutu's affirmation that Palestinians lived in an "apartheid" state. She told of soldiers throwing stones at her and her school mates in a West Bank Quaker-run school. She said the pressure of life on the West Bank, the realization that her male relatives were helpless to protect her, left her with no choice but to turn to God to ask for protection in return for a promise of goodness; thus she wore the veil for one year (given here present work with a Quaker organization, her religious affiliations might have been further clarified, but were not.)

She told us that in her work on behalf of the Palestinians she faces many accussations of antisemitism and Israel hatred, as people refuse to look at what military occupation really is. She claims that on average two Palestinians are killed every day by the Israelis. She said the goal of her opponents is to make people so afraid of the accuation of "antisemitism" that they will give up the fight. Meanwhile, international aid to the Palestinian Authority is being held back, along with taxes collected by Israel from Palestinians on their behalf, all of which is leading to collapsing medical systems and to employees of the PA going unpaid. She said Prime Minister Olmert's plan to withdraw from the West Bank is actually an annexation plan which aims to steal up to fifty percent of the West Bank. He says he will negotiate, but the outcome is in fact a foregone conclusion.

Rashid's speech ended leaving the audience no idea how Israel came to occupy the West Bank in the first place, no discussion of what are the just fruits of a war one's enemy provokes, or why there is a conflict between Arabs and Jews. It was simply taken for granted that Israel's presence, at least in the West Bank, cannot be justified. The facts that Israel's very existence is threatened by its Arab neighbors - who have been warring with Israel since the state's creation - and by a popular understanding of the Islamic faith that claims Israel as Islamic land are completely ignored, as is the impossibility for religious Muslims of sharing a state with Jews and thus being sometimes ruled by Jews in what Moslems consider Islamic land.

Thus the indubitable harshness of life under "military occupation" was not judged in the context of Israel's existential struggle, which has led many to conclude that Israel actually acts with incredible patience and restraint, but rather in the context of North American comfort. The fact that "the Palestinians" as a proto-national identity have only come into existence in response to the Jewish model of nationhood and the presence of modern Israel, is also ignored. Comparisons to violent conflicts in other parts of the world are not made so as better to judge the level of violence Israel might be justified in using in mediating a conflict of this nature. Instead, the underlying message is that the Palestinians are incontrovertibly victims, just because they are clearly the weaker party in this dispute and not themselves in any way to blame for their fates. Despite the fact that Rashid served as a Palestinian negotiator under Yasser Arafat, she made no reference to Arafat's refusal of former Israeli Prime Minister Barak's peace offer, nor to the Palestinian cult of the suicide bomber.

And indeed there was no visible or audible sign that the audience was not disposed to consider the Palestinians as indubitable victims. Each of the many times Rashid described a putative instance of Israeli violence, a woman behind me gasped in astonished sympathy. One wondered how the audience might possibly conceive the source or cause of this apparently astonishing evil; did many leave the church believing some evil conspiracy is at play in the world? Or were they satisfied with the equally question-begging claim of the next speaker that this evil is all a matter of racism and propaganda?

Nurit Peled

Peled began by noting that we are in the thirty-ninth year of the Israeli ocupation of the West Bank, for which she offers no real explanation, since she makes it very clear that she would not desire in any way to justify the conspiracy of racism and murder supposedly behind this reality. The occupation is simply portrayed as an almost unspeakable evil. Peled dedicated her words to the children being killed and to mothers "living in hell", mothers who supposedly make sandwiches when they see the Israeli bulldozers coming to destroy their homes.

Peled queried the title given to the evening's event. No Peace without Justice sounded argumentative she said. But really, she said she has no idea what "peace" or "justice" mean. She said they are just "cover words" for the worst crimes, along with other cover words like freedom, democracy, God and the good of the nation.

As if her refusal of ordinary language were a refusal of the attempt by powerful men to install an evil world order, she also said President George Bush, Prime Minister Olmert, and Canada's Stephen Harper are leaders who send soldiers to other parts of the world so that they can live in "peace" by feeling they are doing justice. And then, in a bizarre metaphor she several times invoked, as if she were in conversation with another realm, she said that only in the underground world of dead children is there peace, as only in children's culture is there the necessary non-judgmentalism towards the other.

Peled gives the impression of a woman living with a great deal of mental distress, a depression that constantly threatens to crush her, and against which she must fight in order to speak with some coherence. The audience watches her pauses, her struggles to compose herself. Her evident suffering would help draw her much applause and a standing ovation. While I thought her somewhat ill and rather deluded (as I will further explain), I also found her the most interesting speaker because she clearly anticipated the negative reaction of a man like me and didn't care, for she is in intellectual pursuit of something else, something mostly foreign to our intellectual life. She isn't trying to play a man's game and probably wouldn't give a damn about my criticisms here. Rather, she has somehow come to explore the interesting problem that human culture mediates two different kinds of relations to the human other, and the kind in which I engage is of little interest to her (not that she can fully avoid it herself). First of all, there is the relation to the external human other, the relation constituted through language and a language's always implied call to its community to bond in solidarity against external rivals. Second, there is the relationship to an internal other, rooted in female biology, though given significance through culture: the internal other that is the child first met in the womb.

Men being without an internal other to protect can and indeed must more fully engage in external rivalries, violence, and hence also the mediation of their potential violence through language (language has the paradoxical quality of allowing us simultaneously to imagine, represent, and to defer our rivalry with the external other - if, e.g., I shout "Damn the British", I am simultaneously letting off and building up steam; I am recognizing but deferring conflict). Women, however, must give relatively more attention to protecting the internal other; and Peled, having lost one of her children to external othering, has made this her mission, i.e. the protection of all women's children, a cause which wins her women's emotional applause irregardless of her many statements that will be justly seen as irrational by those who see it their duty to help order their particular community in defense against external rivals. Shamelessly, Peled couldn't give a damn about the claims men make in declaring what is necessary to protect their community and their women from others. One wonders if the more a woman's extra-rational regard for the internal other, the more she will be irrational and deluded about the external other and thus, when exchanging language, prone to irrational forms of sacrificial othering (howevermuch she professes to be for peace). For example, Peled denounces mothers who "mind infect" their children to prepare them for war.

If my rather masculine sense of Peled's delusion stems from my sense of her unreal understanding of the threat from the Arab other that Israel faces, she wants to reject outright our "racist" understanding of the other in giving priority to the relationship of mother and child. However, this distinction quickly becomes obscured as Peled cannot but simultaneously engage with both kinds of other. The nature of language and logic demands it. She says that the only "we" that she would be a part of is the "we" that supposedly unites all victims, and especially the child victims in their underground world, more of whom wear kaffiyeh than kippah she declares. But in order to make this righteous declaration, she must demonize the supposed victimizers, especially men with political power. Peled then also denounces mothers who "send their children to kill" or mothers who raise their children in the occupied territories. Peled often speaks of the "mind infection" of children by adults in order to explain how children can grow up, enter the army, and become "monsters in uniform" killing children. While this is putting altogether too much blame on mothers - in violent contexts, young people, especially boys, will join gangs and kill regardless of their mothers' feelings (I am sure many of the child soldiers in Africa, for example, are not coached by their mothers to become soldiers) - what is interesting is Peled's vain attempt (is she crazy or lost in some brilliant creative struggle?) to leave altogether the world in which the other is defined as external, in favor of some mystical relationship forged with the child and the underworld of dead, murdered, children.

The fact that mothers need not "mind infect" their children for them to become soldiers, but need only initiate them into the communal world of language and thus expose them to the kind of othering that is an integral part of the world of language, is a logical point Peled perhaps cannot honestly address without first choosing to become truly mad or sane. Her own complicity in the business of othering - her dependence on a victimary religion and her consequent demonizing of the supposed victimizers - was not something anyone challenged her on. If it crossed anyone's mind to do so, they surely decided against it because this was not a forum in which rational, responsible discussions about our accountability in such matters could be pursued. Most in attendance seemed to be in search of that elusive guarantee that their very being was in accordance with "world peace!"

Anyway, the more vile part of Peled's performance was yet to come. Implying that she has conducted a study of Israeli school textbooks, she argued that there are only racist images of Palestinians or Arabs in Israeli textbooks, which apparently call a whole nation (i.e. Palestinians) a problem to be solved. She then - and this is the vile part - inevitably made the comparison to the Nazis' attitude towards the Jews: a problem to be solved. Of course, if the comparison were apt, there would be no Palestinians today. After all, the Nazi final solution killed on average about a million Jews per year (and many others besides) and the Israelis, according to Rashid, hardly an independent observer, kill about 700 Palestinians a year in what looks to me to be much more a continually-cooled defensive war than a concerted campaign of "ethnic cleansing". But if it were the latter, Israel's opponents, when pulling out the Nazi metaphor, could at least admit that the Israelis are rather incompetent.

But knowing how charged the Nazi metaphor is, Peled, the most intellectually ambitious of the speakers, went on to note how "racist" Israelis can be to immigrant Jews from overseas and towards Orthodox religious Jews. She also noted how during the recent Israeli elections one often heard jokes about Arabs having sex with goats. This leads her to conclude that Israel is a "fascist state" where mothers send their children to be "chips in the blood market". Indeed, she went on to declare Israel the last antisemitic state in the world today. I guess she doesn't monitor the endless torrent of unimaginative antisemitism (old conspiratorial ideas largely imported from Europe) in the state media of her Arab neighbors, not to mention the Hamas Charter. In the question period, she said Jews from Arab countries report having good relations with Arabs. This is so much at odds with the reports of Jewish and Christian dhimmitude that I hear about, and the fact that there has been over the last century a great Jewish exodus from the Arab world, that one begins to think Peled is unusually deluded. Israel, she says, has a psychological need for the Arabs to be "the Nazis", another Egypt against which a Jewish nation can define itself; but she says the Arabs have never done much to deserve the label, which may be true, though it is in good part her own provocative labelling, I imagine.

Again, this line of argument left the history of Arab wars against Israel an unexplained mystery. She said, to perhaps the biggest applause of the night, that many Jews think they are being loyal and dutiful in defending Israel; but in fact they are really the enemies of the (peaceful) Jews and Israelis. Clearly, figuring out who are the real Jews and who the real Nazis is very much the concern of these people.

Peled concluded her talk by going into her family history, explaining how the men had turned from being noted soldiers to peace warriors, once they had seen the pointlessness of the military approach. She received a large round of applause for her motto that the death of a child entails the death of the whole world, applause that was perhaps only exceeded by the above-noted statement or the later claim, made in the question period, that we don't teach our children to say no to authority, as we should since authority does not deserve respect.

This last claim received hoots of approval, suggesting to me that the mostly middle-aged audience were hard-core romantics still justifying their youthful rebellions against authority. Of course, simply teaching children to disrespect authority as a general principle is a sure recipe to make them marginal losers in society. Perhaps the peace movement is composed of such marginals trying righteously to justify their having dropped out of an inevitably somewhat violent form of society (inevitable since there is no such thing as a world or society without conflicts and at leat temporary losers).

It seems to me that "World Peace!" is a religious and utopian idea promoted by the therapeutic classes, an idea that can have no stable reference in this world of fallen humans with their constantly mimicing and competing desires. An outright refusal of authority and its means of imposing order, or a refusal of the need at times to take sides, is a refusal of this world and its realities.

Cindy Corrie

Corrie, the last to speak is perhaps the most famous and least interesting of the speakers, so I will say least about her. She declared herself humbled by the testimony of the previous speakers and then talked of other stories of woe she is hearing from Palestinian immigrants to America, the kind of people and stories that were never known to her until her daughter Rachel opened this world to her. Cindy has also met many Jews and come to learn that there is not a monolithic Jewish or Israeli opinion but rather a diversity of Jewish opinion. This, I took to mean, is that she has learned that not all Jews are oppressive.

Her daughter had been born into privilege and could have had a comfortable life, but in taking an interest in local Washington State history, Rachel had come to identify with the strength and heroism of the pioneer Euro-American settlers. Rachel ventured out to explore the local Washington landscape in order, literally, to walk in the settlers' footsteps. Cindy said this with no mention that the American settlers had displaced the aboriginal native-American settlers; Cindy was apparently focussed on making another point, one with which I sympathize: that the pioneers of the American nation can serve as a model of courage, as they did for Rachel.

Then came the familiar, to many, story of Cindy going off to college and getting involved with pro-Palestinian activists, which in turn led her to Palestine and her death by the Israeli-American (built by Caterpillar Corp.) bulldozer. Cindy or Rachel's claim to victim status naturally depends on the Israelis being to blame for the latter's death, a point that is apparently not fully obvious to even this kind of sympathetic audience, since most of the talk was concerned with Cindy's struggle to get the US government to pressure Israel to reveal the "truth" about Rachel's death, a struggle that is failing, supposedly due to the US refusal seriously to challenge its friend Israel. (It appears she has been told just this by a high official in the US State Department, someone perhaps wanting to throw the grieving a mother a bone, or perhaps revealing his real sympathies.)

Cindy made no mention of the Israeli claim that Rachel was actually trying to cover entrances to tunnels used to smuggle arms and terrorists. Cindy only argued that most of the home destruction that the Israelis carry out in the occupied territories is not about punishing terrorists but is rather done in enforcing a building permit system that is designed to keep down the population of the territories. It is "just a land grab" in support of an "apartheid wall".

Cindy spoke of Rachel's Jewish colleagues in the International Solidarity Movement, people trying to "save the soul" of Israel. But since the wall makes a two-state solution impossible, or so Cindy says, this salvation of the Jews depends on all of us building up the international pressure to force Israel to back down and negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians. Again, the long history of PLO Chairman Arafat sabotaging peace negotiations with Israel, the lack of good faith on the Palestinian side, was not mentioned.

Corrie concluded by plugging the new play, "My Name is Rachel Corrie", which was apparently put together under the leadership of the British actor, Alan Rickman, who was moved when Rachel's emails from Gaza were published in the Guardian newspaper. Cindy spoke more than once about Rachel being a writer and asked, isn't it wonderful that we can now go and listen to her words, the words of Rachel the playwright? Cindy comes across as a woman who has found peace in a sentimental form of feminized Christianity. Thanks to Alan Rickman, Rachel is now resurrected, her status as victim put beyond doubt.

Anthropological Conclusions

We have noted that various forms of sacrality are at stake in Vancouver's World Peace Forum: the combined and constant invocations of international law, (anti)antisemitism, victimhood, and "world peace". Perhaps these can all be summed up by a question I was posed recently: why the sacrality of the Palsetinians? Why, it is often asked, of all the brutal conflicts in the world does the Israeli-Arab conflict receive so much attention - especially from those who speak of international law, world peace, etc. - when other far more brutal conflicts are largely ignored by the world's media and activists? A million or two can die in a single brutal war in Africa and go largely unreported; but every killing in Palestine is headline news.

Similarly, many today are infatuated with applying the Nazi-Jew metaphor to condemn social inequalities and to make irrefutable claims on victimhood. But they are not so infatuated with the higher death toll that states in the name of Communism rung from the bodies of "their own people." We are keen to denounce or deny antisemitism, or see its analogue everywhere, but it is still socially acceptable in many circles to be anti-bourgeois, even though anti-bourgeois ideologies have killed many tens of millions, recently.

The Communists' death toll is seen as the tragic and unintended corruption of a worthy dream, while the Nazis' toll is condemned for being, from the start, a frank and undisguised project of racist resentment. Similarly, much of the violence around the world today is written-off as an unplanned human tragedy, the fruit of human stupidity, greed, lust, misunderstanding, etc., while it is the Israel-Palestine conflict that draws the attention of those who would like to claim, "here is the true inheritance of the Nazi legacy of a frank project to shape the course of world history around a project of racial or religious hate."

It is not sufficient to explain the sacrality of the Palestinians by saying that Israel, being a western country, preoccupies western interest and westerners' sense of responsibility to hold their own to a high standard of accountability. Israel is not simply a focus of our loving concern that our own act well in this world; it also attracts a great amount of resentment on behalf of putative victims of Nazi-like behaviour. I believe that what is resented in the Jews/Israel is ultimately that of which they are the world's first and most enduring model: nationhood and the refusal of a people entirely to give up their particular and compact sense of nationhood to join some more inclusive faith, a more liberal, global, unity.

Nationhood entails not just a pact in defense of one's own - something every pre-national tribe already had. What distinguishes a nation from a tribe or ethnicity is that a national culture makes a claim on universal truth in a way that is accesible to anyone, whether a member of the group or not, and yet it is a claim on the universal that could only have emerged from a particular purchase in a particular people's historical experience. For example, anyone can read French literature, not just to understand the French, but to understand how the self-understanding of the French historical experience can be a means of grasping universal human truths. But while we don't have to be French to appreciate the insights of French national culture, only those who fully participate in a tribal ritual order can really imagine or "know" the worldview of a highly ritualized society. The world of a primitive tribal society is a world of doors closed to outsiders as the tribe does not attempt to speak to a universal humanity, and so does not yet distinguish its particular experience in terms accessible to a global community of knowledge. Yet all tribes can become nations - and perhaps most who survive today have become nations to some degree - once they find a way to show the world how their particular experience has value in a global cultural exchange.

But in becoming a nation (as the Palestinians are struggling at present to do) all tribes-cum-nations will sooner or later become aware of the tribe/nation that made this transition first: i.e. the Jews who first discovered or invented monotheism in order not just to champion their God as the greatest or truest God (what other tribes in the age of Moses already did) but rather to say, look, this - the revelations into the divine that are recorded in our holy book - is what God has shown us he is. He is what he is, everywhere and for everyone, though he has a special relationship with us, the people who first discovered/were given a way to define God's universality. In becoming the first nation to thus combine their particular historical experience with an open conversation into universal truth, the Jews became a target for those who later entered the game and resented the fact that the Jews were there first and claiming a special relationship with God.

Many later nations would also claim a special relationship with God (e.g. Canadians sing, "God keep our land, glorious and free, O' Canada we stand on guard for thee") but the religion (or secularism) of the later nations could never combine the particular and universal in the same way as Judaism. A Christian, or Muslim (or secular) nation shares its faith with many other nations because monotheism can only be discovered for the first time once and so only one nation can claim a special relationship to this firstness.

It is this memory of firstness, what the Jews have and what others cannot have, that is at the root of antisemitic resentment. In situations where Jews are living in a Gentile and religious nation, the question will be raised, why can't the Jews give up their sense of having a special faith, or being a peculiar people, and just join our faith? Do they think their religion is better than ours?! Alternatively, if the situation is one of Jews having their own nation in a world where other leading nations are becoming secular and multicultural, the question will be raised, why must they remain predominantly Jewish in their nation? can't they follow the more inclusive faith of multiculturalism like the rest of us!? Do they think their kind of compact "racist" nation is better!? Do they think like Nazis or what?!

Thus if Israel is to remain Israel the Jewish state, it must answer these resentful questions by making a claim on universal human truth. For example, Israel's defenders may claim that culturally compact nations are superior agents of global order than are postnational multicultual conglomerations - a claim that many today do not want to accept. But what if it is indeed true and that in reality, in contrast to many peoples' hopes and dreams, a truly "inter-national" order is best served by people living in more or less compact nations that do not try to overcome their particular identities in some more "inclusive" entity (because the universal can only be approached from within a particular tradition, and the attempt to discount the particular in favor of some utopian multicultural unity will actually end up being a recipe for a return to tribalism and the loss of a sense of universal truth). I believe there will always be conflict in this world, and that it is best mediated by having a vision of humanity that comes from admitting to the unendlessness of this fact of conflict, and not hoping it away. Among other things, this entails having nations stand up for their own particular self-interest, negotiating with others from whom they may demand a certain level of moral behaviour in the interest of encouraging reciprocity between nations.

But there are those - shocked by the evident military and economic superiority of Israel in comparison with its neighbours - who would deny the possibility of such reciprocity by demonizing the one nation as Nazi-like, beyond the ken of reciprocity. And, doing this, they allow the supposed victims of the Nazi-like state to appear beyond criticism (anything the victims do to defeat Nazis, perhaps even encouraging a supporter to drop a nuclear bomb on Israel, must be justifiable - they're dealing with Nazis after all). Such I believe is evil, what the anti-Israel and victim-baiting religion of "world peace" is doing.

If there are people, like the leadership of much of the Arab and Muslim world, who refuse to recognize the compact nation of Israel... because they claim Israel is on "Muslim land"; or because it is a state in which Jews are rulers and Muslims subjects; or simply becaue it is a compact nation and not part of some greater political unit atttempting to transcend national self-interest; or because Israel is a state that defended itself in wars and, as a precondition for ceasing full-scale hostilities, occupied some of the land of its enemies in order to create a defensive buffer... then there are world leaders who are refusing a certain kind of moral reciprocity with Israel. The refusal to recognize any basis for reciprocity is the act of the pathologically resentful, and the debate thus becomes a question of whether one's resentments are justifiable, or rather irrational and pathological. Similarly, we must also ask, if one's neighbor is refusing any basis for reciprocity - in the name of his Nazi-like victimization - do we have a right to try and force it on him? - say by assassinating his leaders every time he sends a bomb into our country, in an attempt to force on him the most basic logic of tit for tat? Or, do we have a right to build a wall between us so as to protect ourselves from his resentful refusal to recognize our right to exist?

Now I know of course that the Palestinians' supporters say it is Israel who is refusing reciprocity. I believe the historical facts on the whole betray this argument, though it is not the point of this post to lay out the evidence presented by both sides. What I am presently analyzing in my study is all the literature I picked up at the World Peace Forum, literature that makes a great deal of "international law" that Israel, an arrogant nation, has supposedly broken. So much of this literature seems to assume the existence of an "international community" that can somehow transcend and supercede the sovereign authority of particular self-ruling national identities. And yet, I can see no basis in reality for this assumption. Real political sovereignty can only rest with self-interested tribes, nations or empires; and so international law can only exist as long as these political units see it in their interest to agree to uphold such law or to impose it on others by force. For one institution somewhere to declare an "international law" without the means to enforce it on other parties, is meaningless.

But it is just such futility and unreality - in the dreams of those who would transcend a world of conflict by demanding everyone recognize the supremacy of "international law", when common agreement or force is not forthcoming to back it up - that is the source of so much anti-Israel resentment, resentment of the nation that values its firstness among nations and whose hard realities and whose imposition on the Arabs of a hard logic of tit for tat, remind us of the realities of this fallen world. Of course, some are not reminded of reality but only see Israel, and the kind of national firstness it represents, as the greatest obstacle to a world of peace.

Why can't we just break out of the cold and often brutal logic of tit for tat, many will ask? Why can't we just all love one another and get along? Why can't we just humble nations that claim historical firstness, or that, like the USA, arrogantly seek to be first among equals in the re-ordering of the world today? Why can't everyone just be equals under international law, as defined by the UN, an institution which many will defend as a legitimate body because they so desperately want to believe in a one world order, eventhough the UN has an atrocious track record in resolving conflicts and protecting the weak and is largely composed of representatives from countries that are not very free and democratic and who bend less to the claims of any global unity and more to the realities of the need to defend their own self-interest. And self-interest for many means encouraging the worldwide phenomenon of antisemitism, blaming the Jews for problems, bonding one's own people in resentment of the firstness of Israel and America, and making alliances with the Arabs who have the oil and with the many Muslim nations who are politically so much more important than tiny Israel.

But the obsession with antisemitism today is not simply an obsession with Jewish firstness in the construction of nationhood, but also with the people whose undoubted, unquestionable victimization in the Holocaust provides the model for the completely inequitous "Nazi/Jew" asymmetry, the model of an unacceptable difference that is foundational to postmodern victimary politics. It is the model that allows people today to denounce every asymmetry, however pragmatically fair or understandable it may actually be, and thus advance their own righteous claims as beyond question.

The Jews' status as exemplary victims - something few Jews' embrace- has come to be deeply resented by those who think it is a status used in the self-interest of the Jewish nation. The fact that the Israelis' treatment of the Palestinians is in no way akin to the Nazis' treatment of the Jews does not stop the resentful from resenting, given the power of victim status today. While Iraelis would mostly like the Palestinians to grow up to be a responsible nation that can defend its own interests without engaging in a pathological hatred of its neighbor, countless "peace" activists declare the Palestinians to be like victims of the Nazis, helpless before evil. This provides license, in western eyes, for the irrational, self-destructive violence of the Palestinians, which complements the license for unending violence against an occupier of supposedly Muslim lands that is provided by the Islamic idea of Jihad.

Of course not everyone can justify the cult of suicide bombers that now recruits children into its ranks. The horror of such violence drives a woman like Nurit Peled into rhetorical gymnastics in an attempt both to decry all those who kill children, and to denounce aggressive Israeli actions conducted in the name (and reality) of self-defense. Recognizing that he who claims the other is antisemitic, is in fact saying that the other is irrationally resentful of one's firstness (it's irrational because someone has to make the first move to bring about any new idea or order, or humanity would not progress; progress thus requires asymmetries in human relationships, a denial of a perfect or original equality), Peled turns the tables and says that Israel itself is antisemitic. She thus goes beyond those who merely claim they are not antisemitic in criticizing Israel (even as they portray Israelis as Nazis, i.e. all-powerful Jews - which is just what conspiratorial antisemites have always alleged Jews to be).

To the Utopians of the western left - those who have not yet been held to account and made to take responsibility for their promotion of resentments in the name of the victim - the Israeli-Palestinain conflict is something nasty that just won't go way. What halts the progress of "world peace" is this "shitty little" western nation that has yet to give up its old-fashioned ideas of nationhood and join the new multicultural order. The fact that this new multicultural "order" is actually bringing about a collapse of social purpose and morality around the western world, especially in Europe where traditional nationhood and democracy is eroded and people are increasingly ruled by unaccountable extra-national bureaucracies, is a fact not yet registered with the Utopians. The idea that in their self-righteous appeal to a victimary religion they are actually undermining the realistic and responsible basis for inter-national order is beyond their conception. They are for "peace!" and against brutality, so how can they be wrong? But those who would make absolute victims of the west's others, so as to erode the others' responsibilties to share equally in mediating conflict even when they are the weaker party, are doing evil. And since they are acting primarily from resentment, and not love, I say that Harvey Enchin is basically right: from what I have seen and read, the World Peace Forum is at least a resentment fest, if not a hate fest. Yet hate is a perfectly fair description for many of the peoples' attitudes towards the state of Israel, the only serious democracy in the Middle East where the rule of law is supreme.


Tadhg Ó Muiris said...

"[C]ulturally compact nations are superior agents of global order than are postnational multicultual conglomerations ..." Hmmm. You might consider doing a bit of an anthropological study of yourself.

truepeers said...

tadhg, thanks for the drive-by insult. Do you have an argument, or just a load of unredeemable resentment? If you have the courage to engage in honest and open debate, you are free to do so here.

I checked your profile. So you're someone who has yet to lose his faith in socialism, eh? Well, i guess if reality and all the dead bodies of the past century won't convince you, I probably can't either, though I'd try if you showed the nerve to think in dialogue with no forbidden questions.

Proper anthropological study naturally begins with much inquiry into the relation of self to the transcendent domain of shared representations. I do it all the time. It helps to have friends who also do it. But that means sharing in some kind of bounded "compact" domain of representations. Trying to synthezise a little bit of everything under the sun into one universal mastery of culture, all the while gripping the Gnostic (e.g. Marxist) political key that opens all doors, is bound to leave you humiliated and lost... or right at home at the University of Toronto

truepeers said...

Just for the record, tadhg (ISP: R.R. Donnelley and Sons, Downers Grove, Illinois) found our blog from a technorati search on "Stephen Harper Zionist". I wonder why... From his profile:

"Tadhg Ó Muiris is a part-time harper, part-time student and full-time printer. He is currently studying Yiddish, Middle Welsh and Old Irish literature at the University of Toronto. He has a good command of Irish and Yiddish, and can struggle through an Arabic newspaper article with the help of a dictionary... A lapsed and disgruntled former YCL’er and CP’er who has unaccountably failed to lose his anger at the capitalist system or his faith in socialism"