Saturday, September 5, 2015


Michael L.

{Cross-posted at the Elder of Ziyon.}

toxicityAnyone who knows the least little bit about the Arab-Israel war, as portrayed in the general media, knows that it is done so in a manner that is toxic to Jews.

The question is, given the number of violent national conflicts all around the world, why must this one be so utterly acrimonious among people who, as they say, do not have a dog in the fight?  All around the world, with the possible exception of parts of the Asian Pacific Rim, people seem to care very deeply about Jewish behavior toward Palestinian-Arabs while not caring at all about the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, including many Palestinian-Arabs residing there.

And do I really need to reference the death toll in recent years in the Congo?  That number is in the millions, but nobody outside of the region cares a whit.

Please understand that I do not hold myself innocent in the question of the miserableness, toxicity, and the just plain stupidity of the conversation around the Arab-Israel conflict.  The question is, why is it that conversation so toxic?

The answer, in part, is postcolonial theory.

The people who are driving the conversation are anti-Jewish / anti-Israel ideologues of the sort that shake their fists for BDS.  They honestly view Israel as a white, western, racist, colonialist, European outpost in the Middle East... or some combination of this highly dubious rhetorical gibberish.  This is due, at least in part, to significant twentieth-century thinkers like Michelle Foucault and Edward Said.

Foucault and Said

Foucault suggested that scholarly narratives were not so much about “truth” but about the maintenance of hegemonic systems of power through constructing necessary epistemologies and ontologies, or ways of thinking and being.  Said, following Foucault, claimed that western “Orientalist” scholarship, and thus western views on the Arab world, were about the maintenance of western power over the "occupied" Middle East.

This particular way of viewing knowledge - as little more than part of the prevailing system of imperial control - dovetails with the postcolonial view that divides the world into Occupiers and the Occupied or white, western oppressors and their victims.  The historical source of this relationship allegedly derives from the old racist, European imperial adventures and, we are told, continues to this day with the United States representing the foremost oppressor on the world stage.  It is this that Barack Obama thinks that it is his job to undue.  Israel is viewed as an instrument of this imperialism, as well as a current example of an "apartheid state" that must be shunned and opposed.

The Jewish State must therefore be struggled against not merely for this or that policy toward the Palestinian-Arabs, but because in its essence, it is viewed as a racist, colonialist enterprise similar to, say, the British in India or the French in Indo-China.  The problem with Britain in India was not this or that royal policy toward the indigenous population but its very presence controlling other people's lives and land.  The problem was imperialism, period, and not merely any particular imperial policy.

Israel, of course, does not actually fit the postcolonial model for the obvious reason that people cannot illegitimately, or illegally, "colonize" their own land.  In order to make it fit anti-Israel ideologues twist Jewish history in order to cram it into the model.  They maliciously misinterpret Israeli behavior in order to suggest that this behavior is not a reaction to real events like, say, Qassam rockets, but is rather an expression of the ugly, essential nature of the Jews in the Middle East, if not Jews more generally.

Israel is either a white, western, outpost of imperialism or it is not.  Postcolonial theory claims that it is and postcolonial theory is the ghost that hovers behind the conversation, that gives the anti-Israel people their intellectual validation. But how can the movement for Jewish self-determination and self-defense be "imperialist" when we know that the vast majority, virtually the entirety, of European Jews who made aliyah did so to escape late 19th century Russian pogroms and, later, that minor bit of nastiness in early-mid twentieth-century Germany?

Thus, on its face, the origins of the Jewish state are not imperialist and in order to make it so an inversion is necessary. The Jews who fled Russian pogroms and, later, the Holocaust, must be viewed as the oppressors.  The Jewish immigrants did not arrive at the behest of any European power. They did not ride with any army of conquest, nor were they the functionaries of any foreign government seeking domination.  They came to the Land of Israel as an oppressed people hoping to build a community for themselves and their children on the land where Jews have lived for well over three thousand years.

The actual history therefore undermines post-colonial theory in regards Israel and renders it useless.

The only way to make it work is to start with the presumptions of the theory and then twist the history to conform to, and thus confirm, the theory.  But scholarship doesn't work that way.  The irony is that post-colonial theory has Marxist roots, but Marx did not consider himself an “idealist,” one who starts with an ideology hovering over the material facts, but just the opposite.  Marx thought of himself as a corrective to the German idealist tradition by starting with the material facts of history and drawing his conclusions from those facts, not the other way around, as the current post-colonialists do.

Furthermore, since Israel and Zionism are considered in their very nature corrupt, anything that Israel does is viewed as evidence of that corruption.  Let’s take the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for example.  Israel was there with an absolutely amazing medical team that saved G-d knows how many lives, yet there are plenty of people who insist that this was nothing but a cheap PR stunt to take attention away from the Gaza strip.

In this way, it doesn't matter what Israel does because it is already condemned in its essence as an evil, racist, imperialist, regime and its behavior, whatever that behavior might be, is conducted not from actual circumstances, but as an expression of its corrupt essence.

And this is ultimately what makes the conversation around the Arab-Israel conflict so vitriolic. The ideology, by necessity, turns the vast majority of world Jewry into the enemy.

So, of course, discussion around the Arab-Israel conflict is toxic.

The prevailing anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, postcolonial ideology rattles the Jewish cage.

So, what would anyone expect?


  1. Edward Said: the great intellect expressing his inner child through obscurantism.

    1. Y'know, they put up a mural in honor of the guy at SFSU.

      And I often think, "Gee, my old alma mater has put up a mural honoring a guy who we literally have on film throwing rocks at Jews."

    2. Yes, I remember the mural. It was the one without the Jewish stars and dollar signs at that place of higher learning.
      I once saw Said on Charlie Rose bullshitting him about nonviolence. When Rose confronted him directly over those pictures of Said throwing stones, his answer was, "Did I mention the [Israeli] torture chambers?" It actually made me giggle a little, and wonder why anyone would take this guy's never ending b.s. seriously. And I'm not saying that Israel never ever used any forms of torture in certain circumstances, this was pretty cloak and dagger, dime store novel stuff. (I hadn't heard the term "torture chambers" used in conversation since the Christmas my parents bought me the James Bond 007 attache case.) But the answer was pure Said, enough to divert attention away from his own suspect behavior, in favor of Israeli "torture chambers" for which, of course, he had no proof.
      Notice that there was proof positive of him throwing stones (photos), whereas he presented none for his assertion of "torture chambers" and the widespread use of torture by Israelis in Lebanon.
      I found the man creepy from a to z.

  2. Yes and no. There are reasons why Jews were denied a national identity for 2000 years. It has little to do with objections to nationalism or Zionism. Those are recent excuses concocted in the last 140 years. I tend to look less at the global atrocities because, to paraphrase Jesus "They will always be with you". Yes the wars in Africa and Asia are monumental in comparison to perhaps 50,000 total killed and wounded in all conflicts related to Israel in the last 80 years. So what? Ireland captured the left's attention in the 1970's and 80's and yet in the last century maybe 2000 people were killed in the so called struggle for Irish independence.

    I think what bears examination is not the headcount but the nature of all nationalist movements that have never been entirely successful or embraced by the west. The Kurds, the Basques, the Armenians, the Karen (Burma) are four examples of that. I'm not a sociologist or an anthropologist but I'm sure there's an answer in there somewhere.

    But in the big scheme, the west has washed itself of its Holocaust Guilt and is now returning to norm. Back to Jew hatred just as it's been for the last 2000 years. The Jews are back in the basket with the other hated minorities and nationalities that the west hates or at best has near zero tolerance for.

    My solution would be for Israel and Jews generally to abandon the west and look eastward to central and east Asia. There are no allies here only pharaoh.