Israel – theocratic state

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By SLAVEJ ŽIŽEK*

The Hamas attack must be read in the context of the great conflict that has divided Israel in recent months

Hamas' attack on Israel must be condemned unconditionally, without any “buts” or “ifs”. Just remember the massacre of young civilians who left a rave party with 260 shot dead – this is not “war”, this is a pure and simple massacre that gives a signal that Hamas’ objective, the destruction of Israel as a State , includes the murder of Israeli civilians. What, however, must be done urgently is to locate this attack in its historical context – such contextualization in no way justifies it, it only clarifies why and how it occurred.

The title of a recent dialogue on anti-Semitism and BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] on Der Spiegel he was: "Wer Antisemit ist, bestimmt der Jude und nicht der potenzielle Antisemit” [“Who is anti-Semitic is determined by the Jew and not by the anti-Semitic potential”]. OK, it seems logical, the victim herself decides if she is really a victim. But doesn't the same apply to Palestinians, who should be able to determine who is stealing their land and depriving them of their basic rights?

To get an idea of ​​the desperation of ordinary Palestinians in the West Bank, just remember the vague individual suicide attacks on the streets (mostly) of Jerusalem about a decade ago: an ordinary Palestinian approaches a Jew, pulls out a knife and stabs him (usually), knowing full well that he/she will be killed instantly by others around him/her. There was no message in these “terrorist” acts, no cry of “Free Palestine!”; there was no big organization behind them (not even the Israeli authorities claimed so), no big political project, just pure desperation.

I was, at that time, in Jerusalem and my Jewish friends warned me about this danger, advising me that if I saw it coming, I should shout out loud: “I am not a Jew!” – and I remember clearly that I was deeply ashamed of behaving like this, knowing full well that I was not sure what I would actually do in such a situation… So when we now read in the press headlines like “This is the nightmare for Israel and its people” or “Israel 11/XNUMX: Unimaginable terror strikes the heart of the nation!” – yes, of course, but Palestinians in the West Bank have been living in a nightmare for decades.

Things got worse under the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu – in a TV panel on August 25, 2023, Itamar Ben Gvir, Minister of National Security, said: “My right, my wife's right, my children's right to traveling freely on the roads of Judea and Samaria [West Bank] is more important than that of the Arabs.” Then, turning to speaker Mohammad Magadli, the only Arab on the panel, Ben Gvir said: “Sorry, Mohammad, but this is the reality.”1

In short, anti-Palestinian violence is no longer even formally condemned by the State. Ben-Gvir's fate is the clearest indicator of this change. Before entering politics, Ben-Gvir was known for having in his living room a portrait of the Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred twenty-nine Palestinian Muslim faithful and injured 125 others in Hebron, in what became known as the Massacre of the Cave of the Patriarchs. He entered politics by joining the Kach e Kahane Chai party youth movement, which was designated a terrorist organization and banned by the Israeli government itself.

When he reached the age of conscription into the Israel Defense Forces at the age of 18, Ben-Gvir was barred from serving due to his far-right political background. And such a person, condemned by Israel as a racist and terrorist, is now the minister who should safeguard the rule of law... The State of Israel, which likes to present itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, has now in fact turned into a state theocratic (with the equivalent of Sharia law).

Shlomo Ben-Ami wrote in Hubris Meets Nemesis in Israel: “By excluding any political process in Palestine and boldly asserting, in its government's binding guidelines, that 'the Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel,' Netanyahu's fanatical government has made the outpouring of inevitable blood.”2

Overkill? Here is the first of the “official basic principles of the 37th government of Israel”: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop the settlement of all parts of the Land of Israel – in Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea and Samaria.”3 How can anyone, after the appearance of such a “principle”, blame the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate with Israel? Does this “principle” not exclude any serious negotiations, does it not leave the Palestinians only violent resistance?

If I were more prone to conspiracy theories, I would certainly express doubt about the much-publicized fact that the Israeli secret service actually knew nothing about the attack. I think the surprise of “how could this go unnoticed” is a farce. Wasn't Gaza completely under your control, with numerous informants, all the latest ground and air sensor suites, etc.? It is not permitted to raise the question: who profited most from the Hamas attack? Said in a Stalinist way, the Hamas attack objectively serves the interest of the Israeli radicals who now rule the state (not to mention also the interest of Russia: the war has already diverted attention from the Ukrainian war).

However, even if Benjamin Netanyahu knew that Hamas was preparing something, he could not have predicted the number of Israelis killed, so the Hamas attack could also mean the end of Benjamin Netanyahu, who lost the title “Mr. Security”… Who knows what really happened? The situation is unclear. What was the real role of Iran, Russia and also China? Is the Gaza war the first moment of the Third World War? One thing is certain: this war is a catastrophe with historic consequences.

However, instead of getting lost in conspiracy theories, it would be enough to point out that both sides (Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu's government) are against any peace option and advocate fighting to the death. The Hamas attack must be read in the context of the great conflict that has divided Israel in recent months. Commenting on the measures proposed by Benjamin Netanyahu's government, Yuval Harari brutally said: “This is definitely a coup. Israel is on its way to becoming a dictatorship.”4 Israel was divided between nationalist fundamentalists who sought to abolish the remaining features of legal state power, and members of civil society aware of this threat but still afraid to propose a pact with non-antisemitic Palestinians.

The situation approached civil war among Israeli Jews themselves, with signs of decay in the legal order. With the Hamas attack, the crisis ended (at least temporarily) and the spirit of national unity prevails: the opposition immediately proposed the formation of an emergency government of national unity, or, as opposition leader Yair Lapid put it: “I I won. I do not concern myself with the question of who is to blame and why we were surprised. We will face our enemy in unity.”5

There are other similar gestures: reservists who previously abstained from military service in opposition to legal reform and the reduction of the doctrine of separation of powers, have now re-enlisted, etc. In a classic political movement, internal division is overcome when both sides are united against an external enemy. How to get out of this damn vicious cycle?

None other than Ehud Olmert presented a slightly different voice: yes, Israel should fight Hamas, but it should also use this situation to offer a hand to Palestinians ready to negotiate, since what lurks in the background of the war is the unresolved Palestinian issue.6 And there are definitely no anti-Semitic Palestinians. On Sunday, September 10, 2023, a group of more than a hundred Palestinian academics and intellectuals signed an open letter to condemn the “morally and politically reprehensible comments” recently made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the Holocaust and its origins. of Ashkenazi Jews: “Rooted in a racial theory widespread in European culture and science at the time, the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people was born out of anti-Semitism, fascism and racism. We strongly reject any attempt to diminish, misrepresent or justify anti-Semitism, Nazi crimes against humanity or historical revisionism in relation to the Holocaust.”7

So what could Europe do here other than simply get angry at not giving enough support to one side or the other in the ongoing war? Not all Israelis are fanatical nationalists, nor are all Palestinians anti-Semites (just as not all Russians are pro-Putin). Perhaps the first thing to do is to clearly recognize the enormous desperation and confusion that can give rise to occasional acts of evil. And the next step is to see the strange similarity between the Palestinians, who are denied the only place they knew as their homeland, and the Jews themselves – this homology even applies to the term “terrorism”: in the years of the Jewish struggle against the military British in Palestine, the term “terrorist” itself had a positive connotation.

In the late 1940s, American newspapers ran an advertisement with the headline “Letter to the Terrorists of Palestine,” containing these phrases: “My Brave Friends. You may not believe what I write, because there is a lot of manure in the air right now. The Palestinians of America are with you.” This text was written by none other than Ben Hecht, the famous Hollywood screenwriter.

Beneath all the controversies about “who is more terrorist”, there lies like a heavy dark cloud the mass of Palestinian Arabs who for decades were kept in limbo. Who are they, what land do they live in? Occupied territory, West Bank, Judea and Samaria… or the State of Palestine which is currently recognized by 139 of the 193 member states of the United Nations. It is a member of the International Olympic Committee, as well as UNESCO, UNCTAD and the International Criminal Court. After a failed attempt in 2011 to secure full United Nations member state status, the United Nations General Assembly voted in 2012 to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state. Israel (which controls its territory) treats them as temporary settlers, as an obstacle to the re-establishment of the “normal” state with the Jews as the only true natives.

Even many atheist Israelis argue that although God does not exist, He gave them the land of Israel for their exclusive use. They are strictly treated as a problem, the State of Israel has never offered them any hope, positively outlining their role in the state in which they live. Most obscene was the idea, which circulated about a decade ago, that every Palestinian in the West Bank would receive half a million dollars if he left the country.

Hamas and Israeli hardliners are therefore two sides of the same coin: the real choice is not between them, but between hardline fundamentalists and those who are open to coexistence on both sides. Here, once again, we must oppose double blackmail: if someone is pro-Palestine, it is eo ipso anti-Semitic, and if someone is against anti-Semitism, they must be eo ipso pro-Israel.

The solution is not a compromise, a “right measure” between the two extremes – it must rather go all the way in both directions, in defending Palestinian rights, as well as in the fight against anti-Semitism. As utopian as this may sound, the two struggles are two moments of the same struggle (especially today, when anti-Semitic Zionists flourish – people who are secretly anti-Semitic but support the expansion of Israel, from Breivik to US religious fundamentalists).

Therefore, yes, I unconditionally support Israel's right to defend itself against such terrorist attacks, but at the same time I unconditionally sympathize with the desperate and increasingly hopeless fate of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Those who think there is a “contradiction” in my stance are those who effectively represent a threat to our dignity and freedom.

*Slavoj Žižek, professor of philosophy at the European Graduate School, he is international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London. Author, among other books, of In defense of lost causes (boitempo). [https://amzn.to/46TCc6V]

Originally published on Boitempo's blog.

Notes


1 'Sorry Mohammad': What's behind Ben Gvir's apartheid honesty? (972mag.com).

2 Hubris Meets Nemesis in Israel by Shlomo Ben-Ami – Project Syndicate (project-syndicate.org).

3 Judicial reform, boosting Jewish identity: The new coalition's policy guidelines | The Times of Israel.

4 Yuval Noah Harari: This Is Definitely a Coup. Israel Is on Its Way to Becoming a Dictatorship – Haaretz.com.

5 Israeli opposition leader Lapid offers to form emergency government (msn.com).

6 https://www.cnnbrasil.com.br/internacional/devemos-combater-hamas-mas-procurar-autoridades-palestinas-interessadas-no-dialogo-diz-ex-primeiro-ministro-de-israel/.

7 Palestinian academics sign open letter condemning Abbas's antisemitic comments | The Times of Israel.


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