Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Country Right or Wrong...

So perhaps the most famous scientist in the world, Stephen Hawking, has decided to boycott the Presidents Conference in Israel in June. As a result some of the apologists and polemicists of state of Israel faith are going bonkers in cyberspace. Several of Israel's aggressive defenders of the faith, in fact, are, according to reports, apparently playing that already far too oft played ultimate trump card, they are calling Hawking an anti-Semite.

The implied equation of criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitism is a specious equation to say the least. I know anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism is not empirical criticisms of Israeli state actions. Israel is one of the last in a long line of settler societies that came roaring out of Western Europe between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries and was so hazardous to the health of so many, a club that includes the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, to name just a few. All one has to do is reflect on the treatment of indigenous peoples by those settler societies to recognise the similarities between what they did to the American Indians, the Canadian First Nations, the Aborigines, the Maori, and the African tribes to what Israel has done and is doing to the Palestinians.

This specious and Foucauldian equation of criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitism is the semiological equivalent of the equation of criticisms of the US and its imperialism with anti-Americanism and intellectual, empirical criticisms of Mormon ideology with anti-Mormonism, and empirical critiques of Islam with Islamophobia. This is what ideologues and demagogues do in an attempt to inoculate themselves and whatever they are emotionally attached to against empirical criticisms. They demonise criticisms with which they disagree making them tabu to those multitudes who they so easily manipulate via, for example, nationalist emotion laden ideology. And they demonise those messengers who make these criticisms turning them into Mormon bashers, traitors, "anti-Semites", and, if they are Jewish, "self-hating Jews", a fascinating and oh so convenient category that includes Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappé, many of the reporters at Haaretz, any Jew, in other words, and there are millions of them, who has the audacity to challenge the myths of Israeli political, cultural, ideological, geographic, and demographic, exceptionalism that have grown up around the state of Israel, myths which have come to dominate so much of the rhetoric surrounding the Israeli and Palestinian conflict particularly in the West.

Here is how it all works. First, you ask how anyone could "hate" Israel, a demagogic tactic that turns empirical critiques relating to Israel's origins, the dispossession of indigenous Palestinians after the birth of the state of Israel, Israeli expansionism since its birth and particularly since 1967, Israeli treatment of the indigenous population, and Israeli discrimination policies, into emotions putting them on the same level as those of nationalist apologists and polemicists who play in emotions like others play with porn. Then you play on emotional nationalist myths and use doublespeak turning Israel from what it really is, like any modern nation it is complex and contradictory, into a peace loving, anti-expansionist, democracy just like those other mythic Western "democracies" with similar fictions of national innocence throughout the Western world (the US, Canada, Australia, NZ, UK).
Now don't get me wrong, I care about Israel. I have on many occasions in the past defended the state of Israel in a variety of ways. I am glad Israel exists if nothing else as a safety valve in a Christian and Muslim world which has not been particularly hospitable to Jews in the past or the present. But I am also a historian. I am also someone who cares about empirical truth. I am also someone who cares about what the nation I care about is doing in the name of national security. I am also someone who cares about justice.

By the way, recognition of the above doesn't imply binary thinking, namely that the Palestinians are the essence of all that is good in the modern world. That is another one of those demonisation moves, moves which are really strategies to keep the masses from thinking rationally and reasonably about the issue of Israeli colonialism and imperialism and the brutality that always accompanies colonialism and imperialism regardless of who is doing it.

As to Hawking's decision to boycott the President's Conference, I say bravo. I may not agree with his decision but it is pleasant to see an academic take a stand beyond that of the typical academic armchair variety for a change.

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