Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Strenger Vs Butler Vs Zionism

I've considered Carlo Strenger to be a pro-Israel blogger before, though I feel that may have changed lately. The latest example of this is a recent article in the "Religion" section in which he basically provides advertising for the latest anti-Zionist work by Judith Butler along with very, very mild criticism of her point of view. You may remember her for being basically a professional Israel hater, and this link provides all the information you'll ever need to know about her.

As for Strenger's article, it's incredibly dense, esoteric and long, and most of it doesn't even have to do with the alleged topic. Much of the discussion is academic and inside baseball, to the point where you can't even tell whether he disagrees with Butler or not. Here's an example, just so that you know I am not exaggerating:
""Parting Ways" is Butler's version of a non-Zionist counter-narrative, with her own pantheon of Jewish voices: French-Lithuanian philosopher Emmanuel Levinas; Berlin-born Walter Benjamin, proponent of a non-violent form of historical messianism; German-American political thinker Hannah Arendt; and Italian writer Primo Levi. She harnesses them for the project of a Nietzschean reevaluation of all Jewish values. Diasporic existence is not second-rate, she argues; it is an ethically more developed position than one contingent upon territorial and political sovereignty, because sovereignty almost inevitably impairs one's ability to recognize the needs and rights of the other -- a central concept of Levinas' philosophy."
It's almost a product of the Chomskybot, but is at least somewhat related to real world issues. But anyway, let's cut through all the spam and get to the real critique of Zionism:
"Butler mobilizes Arendt for a powerful critique of the ethnically unitary state: Plurality, Arendt argued, is a fundamental given of human existence. Constructing a nation-state, however, invariably means that the dominant group reserves the option of saying that it does not want to live with certain others: Gypsies, gays, Jews -− or, in Israel's case, Arabs. The rejection of plurality in favor of homogeneity, at worst, leads to the Nazi project of exterminating those you do not want, or to the project of ethnic cleansing that the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic revived for a greater Serbia. Butler expressly rejects making a direct comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany, but concludes that Zionism's core value of Israel as a Jewish state invariably leads to injustice toward minorities, particularly, of course, Palestinians."
That isn't a critique of Zionism, it's a critique of nationalism. Every form of nation state is going to have a dominant group and minority groups, even a country that supposedly values exclusivity like America. So once again we ask ourselves: is Butler consist about her critiques of nationalism, or is it ony a problem when talking about Israel and Jews? Well, she thinks that Hamas and Hezbollah are progressive movements, and they are radically nationalist and Islamist, who would engage injustice toward minorities on an hourly basis if
they could. So it sure seems to me that Butler is either a hypocrite, or just hates Jewish people.

(By the way, the Left didn't much like Hannah Arendt either because she wrote a book criticizing Communism. How ironic.)

But because this is the Huffington Post, Strenger can't or won't criticize her about this. Instead, he returns to the academic realm and lets her strawman her own criticism, at least at first:
"The objection that Jewish history is unique in that the perpetrators of the Holocaust tried to annihilate the Jews, making Israel, the Jewish state in which Jews finally have the capacity to defend themselves, an existential imperative. To counter this argument Butler musters the moral authority of Primo Levi, who survived Auschwitz and made it his life's project to restore humanist values after the hell of the Holocaust. Levi was an outspoken critic of Israel's occupation policy and the first Lebanon war, and opposed invoking the memory of the Holocaust to justify such abuse of power.""
To say that the Jewish state must exist because of the Holocaust is not the basis of Zionism, and never has been. It's just a convenient scapegoat for anti-Zionists to rail about. And big whoop: you can find Holocaust survivors who criticize Israel all the time. You can also find Holocaust survivors that praise Israel, but apparently the moral authority of being one is selective. What else is new? Anyway, this paragraph also suffers from severe logic problems, whether they be Strenger's or Butler's:

1) Being against the Lebanon war does not make one against Zionism. In fact they have nothing to do with each other. This is a Great Anti-Zionist Strawman.
2) No one has used the Holocaust to defend Israel's occupation policy, to my knowledge. If someone would like to provide an example believe me I am all ears.
3) Butler did not counter the "Jewish history is unique" argument at all. Just because you can find a Holocaust survivor who criticizes Israel does not prove that Israel's existence is required to secure the history of the Jews.
4) For Strenger to give her a free pass on that is either lazy or complicit. I'll let you be the judge.

Fortunately, his criticism takes a different path, even if it takes a small eternity to get there. Check it out, but be careful as it is long:
"While accessible, compared to most of Butler's work, "Parting Ways" suffers from one crucial flaw: Butler engages lovingly with the minutiae of the thought of her beloved thinkers, primarily Benjamin, Arendt, Levinas and Levi, but she does not engage with the second topic of her book -− Zionism -− at all. Judging from "Parting Ways," you might think that Zionism was a unitary ideology run by some politburo. At no point would you recognize how complex the history of Zionism is, and how different its various shades can be. You would not guess that there are committed liberal Zionists who argue for a secular constitution for Israel that would give full equality to Arabs and lead to a complete separation of religion and state. Quite remarkably, Butler, whose life's work is about nuances, unquestioningly accepts simplistic premises about Zionism dictated, on the one hand, by Arab rejectionists who define Zionism as racism, and, on the other, by Israel's right-wing ideologues."
There we go! That's what I wanted to see. Of course, you could have just mentioned her love affair with terrorists that I described above. Or Strenger could simply have said: she doesn't know what she is talking about, and she is singling out Jewish people because she just doesn't like them. That wouldn't have required twenty-one paragraphs.

Still it goes to show that just about anything involving "Zionism" and its criticism is welcome on the Huffington Post.

1 comment:

  1. Judith Butler is an obscurantist and a fool.

    She comes out of the post-structuralist theory of nonsense which insists that language has no inherent meaning... which is why her language has no inherent meaning.

    It's not particularly surprising that she is also post-Zionist because in her mind nothing = nothing, so what's the point of anything?

    She's post-structuralist and post-Zionist. My only real question is when is she going to become post-human being and be done with it?

    {What a fraud.}


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