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Israel’s Divided Left By: Gadi Taub
Ynetnews.com | Thursday, August 17, 2006


As opposed to the first Lebanon War, in which left-wing anti-war demonstrations gathered strength within days, this time around they were limited to a small circle of leftists who view themselves as "radical."

This time around, the extreme wing of the left divorced itself from, rather than led, the overall left, leaving the distinct impression that they long ago began dealing only with guilt and conscience rather than realistic political proposals.

They have become our ongoing psychoanalysis. There might be a demand for this when we have the luxury of sitting back and thinking about our feelings, not when we are forced to get up and think about what to do now.

Israelis paid no attention this time to "stop shooting, start talking," because there was no plan behind the slogan, no debate about now-existential problems.

What kind of Middle East will we have after the Hezbollah War? How do we respond to the threat of missile fire at our civilians, weapons that could contain biological or chemical weapons the next time around? What will this war do to Syria's and Iran's standing in the region? Anyone failing to have constructive proposals for these questions is simply irrelevant.

The New Goliath

The truth is that there is a deep arrogance behind this type of degenerate "left-ism." It's appeal is relevant only when we win. Its criticism is valid only on the assumption that we are the victorious and evil side. But in this case? It seems we are neither.

Even if we made terrible mistakes, we are not the guilty party. Anyone with eyes in their head sees the Iran inspired Islamic brand of fascism, and no elaborate explanations are needed to understand why it is evil.

But even more unusual for this branch of the left is that this time, it is unclear even that we are the stronger side. There is are huge forces gathering against us, bold, ruthless, and well-armed. This radical leftist arrogance, which grew out of the occupation, assumed that we were always Goliath. But here in the New Middle East, there is a new Goliath.

Radical Blindness

Over 40 years of occupation the intellectual basis of the radical intellectual left has been gradually rotting. It has but one reaction to every war; therefore, it has no ability to say anything concrete about justice. It has no criteria by which to distinguish between just war and unjust wars.

It doesn't matter what the war is, "radical" writers will issue yet another version of its permanent Bertolt Brecht poem: Our generals are admiring the beauty of their own uniforms, while they're killing children, etc.

This left created a priggish, beautified discourse that deals only with our self-image. The Haaretz newspaper weekend edition gave us a ringing example of this self indulgence with the thoughts of literary luminaries on the war.

There are arguments for and against this war, but none were there. Instead, they gave us a hearty serving of automatic "left-wing" reactions, ramblings about our internal discourse, about art, about our image.

Shimon Adaf asked, "Have we become the people we wanted to become?" Nir Baram wrote of the depression that gripped him last summer, and added some ramblings about how Ehud Olmert's speeches construct our collective memory.

Ronit Matlon wrote of the gap between the language of "homeland" and that of "home," and about why patriotism is a "muddy pool in which bigmouths stricken with amnesia wade." Sami Michael noted that war is opposite of art.

Yitzhak Laor took the words right out of my mouth when he told us to "think in the other side's terms." Well put. Except there was nothing about the other's side terms in his piece, only an analysis of our own military self-image and discourse.

Degeneration Into Reflexes

This narcissism does not start with journalism, nor with demonstrations. It starts with the fading of the left's ideological home front, and its degeneration into reflexes.

This is the damage the new paradigm called "multi-cultural criticism" has caused. This intellectual vogue seems to speak of the other endlessly. But the truth is, it never really does. Rather, it deals with the question of how the Other appears in our own "hegemonic discourse."

This discourse is considered the single source for opression in the world. This school, for which Edward Said's Orientalism is the template, granted a a blanket exemption from actually studying the Other, since, it claims, that would "objectify" them, by turning them into objects of our knowledge (object of orientalism, military intelligence, pedagogy, criminology, psychiatry, and so on).

Said has nothing to say about the Orient, only about orientalism. He's got nothing to say about Arabs, only about Arabists.

The Other has disappeared completely, and (on the basis of sweeping and rather shaky philosophical claims about the all-encompassing nature of the representation), we are now instructed to deal only with ourselves, our forms of representation, our discourse and our sins. Clifford Geertz once called this "epistemological hypochondria."

But, believe it or not, the Other actually exists apart from our own discourse. This may be a real philosophical shock to these new academics, and I don't want to upset anyone, but it now seems that there among those many others out there, some have built missile bases, or so rumor has it, and apparently these missiles have been outragously, outside the boundaries of our Israel-Occidental discourse.

So perhaps it really is a good idea to listen to the other side. And to remember that others are not just representations, nor are they submerged behind our own representations. Not all of these others are oppressed angels. They are human beings, there's good and bad in them, and some of them want peace while others can act with astonishing barbarity.

In the current situation we're facing we would do well to concern ourselves with the barbarians among them, because they pose a very real and non-discursive danger at the moment. And Because a new world has been created around us, a world where the idea that only the West is oppressive looks a little pale in light of the rising wave of Muslim fascism.

Does anyone on the "radical" discourse-oriented naval-gazer left remember that there are actual other people in the world?

Dr. Gadi Taub teaches at the Hebrew Univesrity in Jerusalem.

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