Thursday, January 08, 2009

Israel, the mythic state of Palestine, and gambling

This post is much indebted to an unpublished essay written by a friend a few years ago. Should he pass by, my thanks as usual.

Two things jumped out at me reading the Globe and Mail Wednesday morning. 1) There are at least some Palestinians (loyal to Fatah), facing down some cold and bloody reality, who can speak what seems to be a good degree of truth:
"Hamas works for Iran. They brought us back to the Stone Age," says Mohammed Abu Zakari, 48, who lost one of his legs after a Hamas shooting in the civil conflict. He has left his wife and 12 of his 13 children behind in Gaza. His 13th child, 19-year-old Ahmed, is with him, another Hamas victim whose ankle has been reconstructed.

"I'm happy to see them eradicated," he said, blaming Hamas for the carnage and destruction now taking place in Gaza.

Mahmoud as-Shatat, 23, a former student leader for Fatah, agrees. "Hamas consider us infidels," he said. "They brutalized us, their own people. I have no sympathy for them."

And what of the pictures on TV showing the ordinary people of Gaza being shelled?

"Hamas shoots from between houses," Mr. as-Shatat said. "They hope Israel will fire at them and kill some civilians."

An uneasy quiet then settled over the room.

Mr. Abu Nahel broke the silence: "I want those who shot me to die," he said. "But those are our families being shelled," including the fiancée he left behind in Gaza City."
2) I was wondering whether the Globe picked, for its letters to the editor page, an example of the more pathetic attempts at reasoning that it has received in support of CUPE Ontario (the union, led by terrorist sympathizer Sid Ryan, that represents, among others, teaching assistants and sessional instructors in the province's universities) and its call to ban Israeli academics from teaching in Canada:

January 7, 2009

Toronto -- As a doctoral student, academic worker and a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, I stand in solidarity with the call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions. As Canadian academics, the minimum that we can do to help force Israel to comply with United Nations resolutions on the national self-determination of the Palestinians is to boycott academic and cultural institutions.

The call for a boycott is not about academic freedom, but the freedom of the Palestinians and their right to not be the recipients of collective punishment.


National self-determination? How is it possible for Sid's legions to be so trapped in a fantasy of their own self-righteousness not to see that invoking "national autonomy" in the context of Hamas-controlled Gaza is to make an utter sham of the concept of national self-rule? Islamist and tribal war lords, ruling over you with deadly force in the best of times, and hiding in your basement, firing and drawing fire on innocent victims in the worst, are not compatible with any plausible account of national self-determination. And it is not just because Hamas brutally murder or maim anyone they suspect of opposing their rule (see story above), but because they refuse on principle to act like any kind of responsible national government would. They refuse to negotiate the existence, or anything much else, of a much more powerful neighbor, in the hope that one day they can "negotiate" from strength. And they don't have to come to terms now with the hard reality, for them, of the existence of Israel as a demographic and military force, because they are protected from being wiped out by unlimited warfare by a Utopian ideology - the shrieks that come from the world when Israel does anything that can count as "disproportionate response" - promoted at the UN and by much of the Western left-liberal elite.

Endless people can make their careers championing some non-existent "peace process" only to give the likes of Hamas the ability to pretend as if it is the UN's or someone else's responsibility to "negotiate" their grievances vis a vis Israel, to act like a judge according winner status and hefty remuneration to an obviously aggieved party in a lawwuit. It is a useful stalling opportunity because at heart Hamas has nothing to say to Israel, beyond short-term truces and pragmatic deals, about living together in the long term.

Those who cry about the necessary evil that Israel does - and it is evil - in trying to enforce a rule of deterrence and punishment for those who use civilians as human shields, or even those who allow themselves to be used as shields, to provide victims/"martyrs" to feed the narrative of the anti-Israel forces in the global media and in our universities, are really the ones who are actively promoting the conditions, not for peace, but for an endless toll of just such casualties, all in the name of a "process", so that the likes of Hamas can continue to exist and never have to engage with the realities of living like a responsible state or nation in a world of other nations, dealing with the reality of human conflict and pursuing self-interests in a more or less rational and transparent manner. Hamas, with its Muslim Brotherhood ideology, opposes our Western-led, now global, modernity. It is not interested in playing a part in the kind of international order that is compatible with modernity and the now single global economy.

The fantasy of the CUPE crowd - the fantasy that they are working in the cause of peace and, in the long term, some new Utopia, can only survive as long as anyone takes their silly little threats, a pathetic version of the Hamas terrorist rockets, seriously. It should be all too apparent to people that what the potential Israeli academic teaching in Canada threatens, to CUPE union masters, is not any serious moral position. Rather what is threatened is the validity of a certain kind of magical thinking that is common to both CUPE and Hamas thugs. This is the kind of magic that is commonly found among postmodern academics sure in their ideologies that reality is little but a construction of one or another human's will to power.

Consider first, Hamas, who say: I'll shoot rockets at you, Israel, but if you respond and cross the line into my territory, well, you don't know what's going to hit you. This kind of threat is magical because it works, for no obvious reason, as long as the threatened take the threat seriously, not knowing what one side or another is really capable of doing when push comes to shove.

As for CUPE's share in the Global Intifada's magic act, the union chiefs (in what may be for them a typical bargaining tactic) threaten: yo, Israeli academics, openly and publicly fight against your government, support the present (anti) reality of Gaza, i.e. support our fantasy of there being a responsible movement for national government in Palestine, that Israel somehow refuses to recognize, or we'll ban you from teaching here. We must protect the Gazans (and our students), from ever having to leave a certain fantasy bubble and deal honestly, openly, transparently with Israeli reality, its demographic and military presence in the "aboriginal" Palestinian "homeland". Real negotiations are risky - believe us we know - so let's pretend it's Israel that has always historically refused to deal in good faith. It's better to threaten and see what kind of reality we can create without negotiation, without free intellectual inquiry in our universities.

As we will suggest below, this is not just about Israel, but a larger reality about the nature of nation-states that CUPE academic ideologues really wish to keep at bay, lest it destroy their magical fantasies about constructing a world without war.

For both parties, Israel is to be approached, "negotiated", not by any responsible goverment coming to terms with the reality of Israel as the only truly modern economy and military in the middle east, but by threats that hope to work magic: cross our line in the sand and we'll go hysterical!!

So, since I'm short on time, let me try to make the point in hysterical guise (imagine late night in the grad student housing):

"We'll ban Israeli books next, and internet sites, and oppressive Jewish symbols: that'll teach our students and the world about national self-determination. How dare they determine to go war, to kill; no nation has the right to do that, if not in perfect UN-sanctioned, proportionate, tit for tat..."

Dreaming now:

We'll be cheering at our rallies: "UN UN UN, big mama with cool jobs in New York, Geneva, Gaza, and other cool towns: give every child her share of the pie... hell on those who grow powerful and create social differences by actually succeeding in the oppressive global economy."

"Oh look at the victims, what's the latest death count?"

"Imagine, a world without smug Jew-y, Yankee nations: ban ban ban!"

"Israel, you don't know how mad a CUPE girl with the hots for Sid Ryan can get! (Heteronormative guilt aside, err on top...)"

Threats, like those from a union of teaching assistants calling to ban all Israeli academics, that rely on a certain magic to work really appeal to our fantastic imagination. Consider, for example, "Know your limit, play within it": that's that avertising slogan the British Columbia government uses to appear responsible, to assuage its guilt over encouraging our (former?) citizens to become fantasizing gamblers in our now ubiquitous lotteries and casinos. Of course, while appearing to assert responsibility, it is really also a legitimization and call to gamble, within limits, to gamble but without real risk.

A little fantasy of striking the big one may be fine if you're an occasional gambler, spending your entertainment allowance where you like. Time and money spent at the opera is not for everyone. But it's not really the occasional entertainment that the guilty government's slogan targets, for the most part. And, seriously now, what's the good of telling a gambling addict "know your limit, play within it"?

Alternatively, one might tell the addict, you might one day just stop the madness, cold turkey. Or, if you can't do that and things become really unbearable, as one day they will, maybe you have to embrace a lesser evil, break right through your limit, sell everything, lose the kids, wife, and job, and enter a new domain where you might, amidst loss and unimaginable trial, find that you can/must now (facing hard reality fully at last, beginning to distinguish and live a new necessity, getting the upperhand on your fantasies) break free of your addiction and become a new, responsible, person by negotiating a new personality in sync with a hard reality you never dared admit could exist as such, as long as you obeyed the divine law: know your limit, play within it.

Of course, you might also ruin yourself trying to break out of an addiction held and sustained within limits. Freedom is a risk, so you might, if you're a Palestinian gambler, or a CUPE/Sid's Angels Associate, want to consider signing on to the UN terrrorist-to-post-national Utopia (slogan: One Umma, One Caliphate!) "national self-determination" insurance policy. CUPE Ontario has a bunch of whizz kids crunching the actuarials for their dissertations... ("government-backed mortgages for the disenfranchised in the new America", oops, wrong table... "life expectancy for those in UN-brokered peace processes where one or another "responsible" government encourages the martyrdom of its people to the righteous cause of anti-nationalism, i mean anti-Zionism [per dollar-year of "foreign aid" payments to warlords]").

Alternatively, you might grow a new respect for normal reality which would include the possibility of a self-ruling nation courageously breaking a stand-off involving its inevitable slow death (waiting for the bombs to grow bigger) and doing now the evil necessary to leave addicted people speechless, but eventually forcing them to rethink their ability to deny a hard reality and thus maybe, just maybe, start a new page in hopes of developing a new narrative.

But, oh, the allure of just another throw of the dice, to play the fantasy state projected by "international actors", the sovereignty that does not have to recognize its neighbor's legitimacy, or mere reality, it's hard cold presence, and yet not fear military defeat, in a glorious refusal to join the modern world where nation-states are responsible to the banal needs of real people in real places and not to an idealized past projected onto the future, like the Palestinian refugees of 1948's right of return by UN-sponsored time machine to quiet and pleasant olive groves.

Know your limit, play within it, or else we'll ban you from teaching here until your admit guilt and sign on to our risk-free doctrine of international self-determination: welcome to the mind of the Ph.D./union thug, fighting for the post-national empire in 2009. And this is what their kids are saying:
As Jewish youth, we are diverse, but we are unified in our solidarity with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza.

Some of us are students. We are outraged by the bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza city, as well as other civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and mosques.

Some of us are Arab-Jews and people of colour. We stand against Israel's racism, which has been enshrined in Israeli law, and privileges its Jewish citizens over its non-Jewish ones. This apartheid state views Palestinians as an expendable people, no more than collateral damage.

Some of us are queer. We reject Israel's branding of itself as the only safe place for queer people in the Middle-East while it targets gay and lesbian Palestinians and renders life unsafe for millions of others.
Oh to be gay in Gaza! I can see it now. But the fantasy continues:
Some of us are Israelis living in Canada. [Some of us want CUPE jobs!] We are calling for a solidarity that stretches beyond borders and nationalities. Israel's violent actions will only serve to further isolate the state and its citizens from the rest of the world. By calling itself a Jewish state and committing war crimes in the name of Jews everywhere, Israel makes the world even less safe for Jews, leading to an increase in animus towards Jewish people around the world.

Even though there have been approximately 100 Palestinian deaths for every Israeli killed by rocket fire, we recognize that Israeli Apartheid also leads to Israeli casualties. The blame for these deaths lies with Israel – if there were no occupation and no apartheid policies, there would be no rocket fire.
The only thing that stands between us and a Utopia where we could be truly gay Jews, is Israel.

But why is it always about Israel? Why are Canadian unionists only now marching the streets in hate rallies? There could be more deaths in any number of supposed border and land conflicts around the world tomorrow, and no Canadian pseudo-teachers in CUPE Ontario will call for a ban on, say, Indian or Pakikstani academics over Kashmir, or on one or another African tribe over the mass killings in and around the Congo. I doubt one could even get heard at CUPE calling for a ban on academics associated with the Mugabe regime, let alone the oppressive governments in places like Cuba or China. Ban on Sudanese teachers? The victims of the Israelis are always more special. The (Palestinian, Jewish, and international) victims of the Palestinians mostly unheard of.

We often argue that anti-Zionism is but a form of antisemitism. And it most usually is a new form of antisemitism. But we might also consider that Israel is hated not merely or perhaps even primarily because it is Jewish (in all but one respect) but because in order to survive it has to stand up to the drug-dealer's friendly mode for ruling compliant people. It has to question our addictions. When Israel hears a cheery, "get your daily dime bag, know your limit, play within it", it is not quite the same as for those of us who never have the unique local medical problem that gets one close to a deadly overdose. Israel's existence is always balanced on the knife's edge where it has to say to the cheery slogan: well maybe today but maybe also we have to say no longer tomorrow. No more yes to magical incantations that demand reality perform according to wish. Instead of knowing our limit, and playing by your rules, maybe we have to act against an intolerable evil so as to bring into being a new, open-ended scene with all kinds of uncertain possibilities, full of risk and likely some amount of tragic death. We may have to go first, to act on our own initiative, on our account of ethics and human decency, without permission from New York or the scholars of CUPE Ontario. We may have to start something meaningful, of world historical import, that you will be merely left to respond to. Jews going first; second, gentiles calling Sid Ryan, right after than Ban ki-Moon fellow! Sorry, but we have no choice.

Israel (and similarly America) is hated more than any other party to a bloody conflict because it represents, better than anyone else can, the possibilities that flow from firstness in the context of a modern nation-state, from a responsible exercise of national freedom with all the capabilities of a military staffed by educated people with initiative. It represents the antithesis to all the Gnostic energies that went into building the UN, the EU, the casinos of British Columbia, and all the other institutions of the Western left-liberal state since World War II in a vain attempt to deny that potentially deadly human conflict, with an uncertain meaning and future, will always be with us.

People hate Israel to deny, in their own minds, some such hard reality, to forego participation in a humbled humanity that requires not Utopian thought but realistic thinking to mediate the inevitable quantum of evil in this world. And realistic thinking requires realistic agents capable of responsible, transparent, and accountable actions. And to this end, we can imagine no institutions more effective, however less than perfect they are, than those of the modern, democratic, self-ruling nation-state. This is because only such states can truly be representative of ordinary people.

This is why the children of CUPE Ontario propose to demand Canadians hear their cries about who can and cannot teach in "their" universities. Because if we turn a blind ear to their incessant whine about Israeli evil, we condemn their religious and careerist fantasy (working in post-national institutions). (I recently chatted with a professor of Canadian history, teaching in a leading Canadian university, and he told me of his deep hatred for all "myths" of national identity. So, I wondered, what narratives or morals of Canadian history was he possibly teaching: non-belief or fantasy belief, the belief that humanity can be organized by the eternal deconstruction of the victimizing myth, so that nothing ever happens that is not somehow sanctioned from on high as proportionate...?)

Orthodox Islam has a similar problem with any kind of responsible Jewish political life in the lands it claims as its own. Its problem with Israel is not simply a dispute about land or colonization, or any of the other figures of blame we frequently hear about: we know this because even if all presently Jewish-owned land were given to members of the Umma, it will never be imaginable for today's Orthodox Muslims, in organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, that Jews wield any kind of distinctively Jewish power or rights alongside Muslims in an Arab "nation" (an impossibility for which even today's "secular" Palestinians show implicit respect). Islam's problem with Israel, at root, is that it contains Jews who don't want to be dhimmis. Islamic law, and by extension most of Arab culture, cannot conceive of a Muslim nation of Palestine living, in some open-ended history, regularly negotiating power with co-citizen (or neighbor) Jews (in control, say, of Jerusalem). To imagine or live any such thing would be to change the God-given law, and to deny the narrative of Palestinian victimization. For once you admit some non-dhimmi role for Jews, you begin to allow little thoughts regarding the possibility that what they have been doing up to now is at least in some ways a legitimate anticipation of that role.

Until this impossibility in the Arab and Islamic imagination changes, all the pretense at participating in a "peace process", in a one or two state solution, is a sham, a stalling tactic that waits for the day Israel can be wiped off the map, or "negotiated" into dhimmitude.

And this kind of dogmatism can only change when people refuse, responsibly, to know their limit and play within it. Sometimes the evil must be faced, the irresponsible "law" of the UN or some Koranic school must be broken, and new things be allowed to emerge on new scenes with new possibilities. There are times when a certain violence is the lesser evil - and the killing it may involve is indeed evil - and as such something in which we should all seek our part, though maybe it is up to those whose survival is most on the line - those for whom evil is right at hand - to take the lead in smashing pre-ordained limits.


truepeers said...

Unfortunately my computer crashed seriously last night. This post was published on a borrowed machine. So I may not be able to reply to any comments in a timely fashion.

Dag said...

We're meeting at VPL in downtown Vancouver this evening, so there's a chance to come by the atrium outside Blenz from 7-9:00 p.m. for coffee and live discussion with the author and others.

Hope to see you there.