Slavoj Žižek in Palestine

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By HUGO ALBUQUERQUE*

Žižek contradicts himself by transforming the oppression of Palestinians into a symmetrizable conflict between “hardliners on both sides”

One of the great polemicists of our time, Slavoj Žižek reverberates in the current crisis in Palestine. In the first decade of the XNUMXst century, it was Žižek who rightly pointed out that the political recomposition of the system took place, let's see, through the return of fascism to public debate through the criminalization of the communist tradition – and Slavoj Žižek rightly identified the construction of false symmetries as loci recurrent of this shift.

In his constant turns, the Slovenian thinker ran for president of his country for Liberal-Democratic Party to later be one of the main exponents of the return of communism to the global debate. Ironically, recent years have been marked by a new inflection by Slavoj Žižek, in which he doubles down on what he himself realizes is a ideal of Europe and Europeanism.

And, in this sense, our reading of Slavoj Žižek’s recent article on the Palestinian issue – “Israel – Theocratic State”, published on the website the earth is round – is structured around comparing Slavoj Žižek from the beginning of the century with the current one. In the version he sent to the Boitempo's blog, the title is “Israel and Hamas: where is the real dividing line?” – a good question. The “dividing line” for Marxists is always the place of antagonism.

Where is the real antagonism?

Rightly so, Slavoj Žižek begins his article by saying that it is necessary to “locate this attack [by Hamas] in its historical context – such contextualization in no way justifies it, it only clarifies why and how it occurred”; From there, Slavoj Žižek makes a long exposition of the oppression of the Palestinians, the fascist character of the current Israeli government and many other details, and then concludes that: “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.”

The contradiction, in the sense of classical logic, may or may not exist in this case, but it all depends on what exactly “Israel's right to defend itself” means and how this relates to “having sympathy for the Palestinians”, locating this statement in the historical context, as Slavoj Žižek himself proposed. But this goes further. From Hegel's point of view, which Slavoj Žižek knows well, saying that something is “contradictory” does not imply a “threat” to anything.

“Contradiction” is, therefore, inherent to things and also to human societies – within themselves and in their relationships with others. Therefore, the most appropriate concept to question is whether there would then be an antagonism, and not a contradiction, between “Israel's right to defense” and “sympathy for the Palestinians”. Following what Slavoj Žižek himself proposed, we have to locate the historical context of the two elements of his conclusion.

Initially, Slavoj Žižek defends “the right” to a State and sympathy with a people, as the Palestinians not only do not have a State, but even the territory that would have remained from the partition of Palestine in the late 1940s is occupied militarily by Israel in colonial form. In other words, all of Palestine, even in terms of the “two states”, is occupied. And not only that: unable to effectively organize its State.

Israel, as a State, has a duty to defend its citizens, not a right. Just as it has a duty to comply with international law, which it does not do according to the United Nations itself – since it militarily occupies and colonizes Palestinian territory. The conception of a State as, in principle, holder of rights is specious, since what is expected is their subjection to the international and internal order.

Affirming Israeli response action as a right – and not as a duty – grants an immense prerogative to Benjamin Netanyahu's government: to establish military action against an entity that is asymmetrical to it – that is, an occupied territory and, specifically, a city that already was under siege even before the tragic events that triggered this conversation.

It is impossible that, in Slavoj Žižek's own terms, he has not fallen into a false symmetry. Since the Israeli “right of defense” appears in a declaration of war without an opponent, a cruel irony, since “the other party” is no longer a State due to the political, economic and military action of the State of Israel itself. In other words, the false symmetry occurs, in this case, between a rich and powerful State against a poor population deprived of the right to have rights.

Even more so, let us remember that Israel did not comply with the Oslo Accords, which were supposed to put an end, from the distant 1990s onwards, to this “conflict” with features of aggression. By the way, the two signatories of that agreement, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, ended up murdered: one the victim of an actual homicide and the other left to die, surrounded in his headquarters.

Dehumanization and terrorism

The equation between Israel and Hamas, by the way, is another asymmetry. Hamas is a political movement, with its armed and partisan wing, not a State. The question is not to exonerate him, but to ask ourselves the following question: how is it possible to demand or expect from the population of Gaza, an open-air prison and a concentration camp, ethical conduct when their lives have long been dehumanized?

Let us remember the statement by the Israeli Defense Minister that his country would be “fighting animals”. Which raises another question: who would have turned the people of Gaza into animals? Assuming this is true, it doesn't hurt to remember that animals have no legal responsibility, how can we blame them? Since Palestinians are unquestionably human, the crime, therefore, is to have reduced them, in practice and in discourse, to animal status.

There is no need to go back to the past, back to the 1940s, when fascist militias routinely used terrorism as a practice of expelling Palestinians from their lands – as reported by Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and other Jewish intellectuals in New York Times. It is enough to observe how the total occupation of Palestinian territory, in recent years, was accompanied by a strange doctrine called Rhizomatic Warfare.

This doctrine, which constitutes a “decentralized and irregular model for confronting Palestinian resistance on its own ground”. Through it, the distinctions between civilians and belligerents, battlefield and civilian areas were diluted, on a molecular scale, to do justice to the Deleuzo-Guattarian philosophy that names and inspires it – and it could not be otherwise, because “on the other side” there is no regular army.

In other words, the previous context of Hamas's action already pointed to an established doctrine, and practiced, in the Israeli armed forces regarding the systemic lack of distinction between the battlefield and civilian areas, belligerents and unarmed innocents, etc. Palestinian civilians were already targets, as were their homes. Hamas' barbaric act of “targeting civilians” was not a break with anything that was not placed, in theory and practice, in that scenario.

All of this is a cruel irony, since the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari were, as we know, notorious activists for the Palestinian cause. Even more ironic is that the inadvertent appropriation of their work is consistent with to Slavoj Žižek's criticism of the two, pointing to them as involuntary precursors of postmodern capitalism – although this, paradoxically, short-circuits Slavoj Žižek's argument about the concrete case.

Not even Israel was the first to apply this logic in the field, nor is it just the country's extreme right that is exclusive in this idea of ​​more radicalism. Well, you see, whoever has defended this is not just the radical right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu. A number of other politicians, from various other parties, have given speeches and have long emulated these practices, which have become Israeli governance.

Naftali Bennett, a brief occupant of the Prime Minister's chair in recent years, is the one who questioned a journalist for ask about Palestinian civilians. Isaac Herzog, the country's head of state and member of the opposition, also declared that “there are no innocent civilians in Gaza”. Perhaps Matt Kaminer’s warning about the 2019 Israeli elections is worth mentioning here: there was “a hundred Netanyahus"

Any minimal “location of historical context” points out that the issue of Israel does not only concern its extreme right. Not before, since state violence against the Palestinians began during the decades of hegemony of the “Zionist left” and, today, the majority opposition bloc agrees with Netanyahu about the infinite guilt of the Palestinians – making even harsher statements than the prime minister himself.

Location of historical context as cartography of class struggle

The memory of Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt's denunciation of the Deir Yassin massacre and the “Rhizomatic War” is, simply and solely, that there is a link between militia terrorist practices in the formation of Israel, which persist in the interior of the country, today a military power with a very well trained regular army. This is not as simple as talking about a cause-effect relationship, but rather locating the historical context.

The theory of the “two demons” in the Palestinian context takes us back to the logic, albeit in a different way, of the complaints that Slavoj Žižek made about the comparison between Stalin and Hitler as a means of naturalizing the Nazi leader – and, not only, how this served to accept fascism back on the gaming table in XNUMXst century Western politics. The symmetrical and comparable antagonism again comes to the fore.

It is very easy, humanists that we are, to reject Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu at the same time, but it is impossible to assume symmetry between the parties, denying that Israel does not have all the means – including military – to do things differently while the Palestinians are under state. of necessity in the form of resistance – against a powerful regular army that resorts to anomic practices and techniques, with the sponsorship of the United States, the only superpower.

The same goes for the repeated assertion of the need for a “two-state solution”, when, in fact, it is already false in two senses: (i) it has already been applied in the partition of Palestine, and its result is the current one; (ii) why even talk about it if a State is already very well formed and protected? In other words, the only possible solution currently is about a State, that is, one that does not exist.

Why were Western intellectuals unable to put the question of Palestine back on the table, while Palestinian resistance was limited to peaceful and political gestures? The issue is not the legitimacy of Hamas' action, but how the great Western intelligentsia delegitimizes or is incapable of listening to peaceful resistance. The fact that we talk about Palestine again after this is a symptom of Western indifference.

Perhaps Slavoj Žižek, conversely, is right that there is no “contradiction” between the so-called “Israel’s right to defense” and “sympathy for the Palestinians”, as the latter is harmless to anything – assured not by a “ right”, in the technical sense of the term, but in a kind of imperial prerogative in relation to which disinterested sympathy makes no difference, nor is it capable of saving anyone.

Many decades ago, a famous Chinese philosopher said that “utopian socialists are always trying to persuade the bourgeoisie to be charitable” and that “the basis is class struggle. The study of philosophy can only come later.” Without the class struggle there is no history, but there is also no philosophy – even though, without awareness or admission of it, there can be a metaphysics that, whether we like it or not, results in the world of the powerful.

There is a dynamic of capitalist accumulation that explains the unusual situation of Palestinians not having their country, which concerns not only Palestine, but the world economy and the importance of the Middle East in this arrangement. The exploitation of labor by an Israeli elite helps us understand internal tensions in the country and against the Palestinians, but also its support by the arrangement of powers commanded by the United States.

The error of analyzing the warlike consequences of the class struggle without… analyzing the class struggle – and its international expression, the conflict between imperialism and the colonized – is to lead into analyzes that nullify the identification of these oppressions, by avoiding material relations that produce and sustain these conflicts. In the end, the only “dividing line” that exists is the enormous wall built by Israel to banish the Palestinians from their land.

Placing Žižek against Žižek is not denouncing any hypocrisy of the Slovenian philosopher, but rather, when comparing his writings with his factual positions, we pay attention to the insufficiency of idealism. This tension helps to build, unintentionally, the metaphysics that serves as the intellectual matrix of the dominant discourse, which, before demonizing “one side”, equates what is unequal. It is necessary to turn Slavoj Žižek's dialectic upside down.

* Hugo Albuquerque is a jurist and editor of Autonomia Literária.


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