Just over a week ago, I read an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. It sparked an idea that very well expresses the ethical idea that I’d like to end the Utopias project. Follow me through the example.
|When Israel was first formed as a state, supporting it|
was a central pillar of the Western left. Needless to say,
quite a lot has changed since then.
A deranged intervention whose long term effect wasn’t a beacon of liberal democracy in the Middle East, but a war that stretches from Libya to Yemen to the Turkish/Syrian border. Bush’s war turned out to be such a great idea, especially in those little details of locking your most dangerous and insane prisoners in the same prison camp where you tortured them beyond sanity. Then left Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the desert with all his very dangerous friends.
How can one friend ask me to be a humanist, and be optimistic about the transformation of humanity into something better, when the world is so clearly the product of idiots?
Goldberg wrote another article this week, the same string of sob story anecdotes which, when each episode links together, ends with the idea that no Jew has a place in Europe, and are all better off in America or better, Israel.
What’s more, he blames both Muslims descended from the former colonies and ethnic continental Europeans. Each group is anti-Semitic in its own way, combining into a cultural stew that leaves the former colonized and former colonizer of Arabia and North Africa finding common political ground in the persecution of Jews.
Michel Houellebecq’s hero of Soumission is real, and he’s the face of Europe’s anti-Semitism, that’s what Goldberg’s world suggests to me. But I’m pretty sure Houellebecq’s protagonist is meant to be an anti-hero, someone we’re supposed to hate. All Houellebecq’s protagonists are miserable assholes. He isn’t depicting Europe’s hero, but the essential European jackass of the modern era.
|This is Israeli life too, ordinary people like us, who|
love to party.
Maybe the lesson is, never elect a jackass, and keep the rest of the jackasses off the streets.
Goldberg plays into one game of anti-Semitism. Painting leftism and social movements to free themselves from some economic or political oppression as haters of Jews will mobilize a liberal to back the military interventions of idiots. Those idiots can be pretty smart.
And the influence of Boycott, Divest, and Sanction plays right into the hands of those militaristic idiots. I’ve been thinking of this ever since my old doctoral university’s undergrad student union passed a non-binding resolution* to support BDS. And I hope my friends who supported this will see this post as, in part, my sincere attempt to explain why I could never support that organization. And why I will always do my best to help the social movements of the left.
* They didn’t have quorum after enough BDS opponents left the room, a last desperate gesture to take an edge off the vote’s legitimacy.
BDS messaging goes beyond simply opposing the policies of the Israeli government in the Palestinian Territories and lobbying or beginning social initiatives for their peaceful resolution. Its framework principle is that Jews do not authentically belong in the territory that is now the state of Israel. Jews, as people.
Consider the feedback seen at, of all ridiculous places, a Waitrose grocery catalogue. Waitrose is the snooty, over-expensive British grocery store chain, which defines its customer base as the entirety of the old money upper classes. It’s basically like Longo’s is here in southern Ontario, only way more self-entitled.
My thanks to Aboud Dandachi for linking this incident, the public furore over Waitrose including a section on the “Taste of Israel,” exploring the everyday traditional foods of the cultures there.
Among the absurdly angry Mary Whitehouse types were dotty old British housewives saying that Israeli people have no national food of their own because they stole it from the Palestinians when they invaded. It’s as if the Sephardic Jewish communities, who have lived continuously in the territory now called Israel for thousands of years, never existed.
|Salvador Allende, former President of|
Chile, who died during a coup that saw
the fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet
take over his country and rule for over
Such racism from people as innocuous as these dumpy British housewives plays straight to the militaristic right. This is the same modern militaristic right that idiotically meddles in the most volatile regions of the world trying to defend amorphous interests that have vaguely to do with the oil industry, but mostly from the sheer inertia of having spent 50 years destabilizing governments and starting wars out of an only partially justified paranoia of totalitarian socialism spreading across the world.**
** I think the problem of the CIA and their White House directors in the 20th century was that they couldn’t always tell a North Korea, East Germany, or Cuba from a Vietnam, Iran, or Chile. They didn’t know which leftist, anti-corporate political change would ally with the Soviet Union. Just like in 2003, they erred on the side of pre-emptive action.
Writers of the openly militaristic right, like another Goldberg named Jonah, have their own conception of the meaning of this talk from the left that the Jews have no authentic home, that they are chameleons and thieves without true culture. People of the left dedicated to human rights and justice swallow BDS propaganda that implies, though you may not see it at first, that there should be no Jews in Israel.
The militaristic right wonders why any Jew can support the political left, since the modern political left is parroting all the classic signifiers of anti-Semitism.
The worst part is that it sullies the cause of Palestinian liberation. I mean liberation from the constraints of Israeli military and police pressure over their lands, yes. But I also mean liberation from the warmongering leadership of Hamas and the corrupt leadership of the former Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The proliferation of BDS rhetoric with its slippery anti-Semitism allows even friends of Israel to paint all critics of Israeli government policy as anti-Semitic. People like me, who genuinely hope for real peace among all the peoples of Israel and Palestine, are tarred with the same brush for criticizing Israeli state policy. The anti-Semitic messages of BDS dominate the global conversation of such criticism.
It prevents the most genuine voice of the left from making itself heard. It’s a voice that would perhaps say that Israel suffered a terrible wound in its creation. I hear it in the stories of Amos Oz.
A group of noble peasants who had suffered under the cultural and economic suppression of the Turks and then British clashed with a wave of refugees from a terrible genocide fleeing the land where they were persecuted to literal mass-extermination.
|Amos Oz, a voice of peace in literature.|
These refugees had European ways of living, European appearance. A people who had been ground into generations of poverty, who had seen so many foreign forces arrive to dominate them, thought the same of these refugees. Both were escaping industrial colonialism, the Palestinians in the British (or Turk, or Persian) occupied territory, and the Jews running from the ovens.
Those disenfranchised people should have built Israel together, but they misunderstood each other. And that failure to communicate has led to horrifyingly violent hate all around. There is a left here, a progressive voice for peace. It’s the desperate voices of the left in Israel’s Labor party, or in the glorious idealism of Meretz.
They see the only true way forward as the most difficult move: one by one, people whose cultures are defined by their mutually reinforcing hatred, must find the strength and courage to overcome that force. It is as simple to say, and feels as impossible to do, as living peacefully with your neighbours.
I call my next big political philosophy project Utopias. Well, this is mine. A society where each of us lives peacefully with, and does what we each can, to help our neighbour.