“From whatever angle looked at it, the crime was murder. The human race had been forever impovrished by the destruction of the world of European Jews. A catastrophe had taken place that no logic could possibly efface; no amount of reason could attenuate its irrevocable nature. That is why, instead of letting mankind continue on its way without dwelling on individuals, men themselves decided to dwell at length on the wound that Nazism had inflicted on humanity.”
— Alain Finklekraut, Remembering in Vain
“The curse of politics is precisely that it must translate values into the order of facts.”
— Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Humanism and Terror
“Let us be terrible to prevent the people from being terrible!”
Slavoj Zizek has entered into the left-intellectual void created by the post 1989 world.While “1989” was in fact far more of a trickster than the neocons and their remoras were able to comprehend, and while many leftists and “leftists” were driven off a historical cliff when the wall came down, the stubborn facts remained. Years later, to the suprise of no one who was paying attention, Russia didn’t vanish, the Russians didn’t get colective amnesia, capitalism proved itself again to be both decadent and depraved and after 2008, gave an opening to the soft socialism, or liberalism with an attitude, of Bernie Sanders and certain other similar types as well as generating several forms of mass anxiety.
Zizek is like someone’s weird but seemingly cool uncle who never stopped selling weed, never switched from vinyl to CDs, and has a collection of vintage posters from May of ’68. None of which is to say he’s stupid, or even wrong about everything, even if he’s toxically, catastrophically wrong about specific things, and remains a great example of Lennon and McCartney being brilliant generally and specifically because they said things like: Don’t you think the joker laughs at you.
All of which brings us to Zizek’s, In Defense of Lost Causes and his other jazz improv riffs. As to what the book is about, we are reminded in part of Italo Calvino’s review of a book by Roberto Calsso, about which Calvino said: This is a book about two things. First it is about the myth of the ancient city of Karsh, and secondly, it is about everything else. Except in the case of Zizek’s Lost Causes, it is first, a book about culture (which means essentially, everything) and secondly it is about Zizek. In particular Zizek’s fetish for a new version of old style left-fascism exemplified by statements like this:
“In today’s era of hedonist permissivity which serves as the dominant ideology, the time has come for the Left to (re)appropriate discipline and the spirit of sacrifice: there is nothing inherently “fascist” about these values.”
First, there is something decidedly and inherently fascist about the whole statement. Secondly it is pure sophistry in the service of standard issue demagoguery because it does not define its terms, but it claims a terminal authority which, in the manner of fascists, sophists and demagogues, is both iron clad and utterly elastic. “Discipline” “Sacrifice” “Hedonist” and so on, all have specific meanings but here are amputated from their meaning precisely because Zizek, like a proper left-thug, wants to be both a bible-humping fire and brimstone puritan, in the manner of a neo-Jacobin obsessed with “purity” (purity of thought, purity of action, purity of being) but is also smart enough to know that, like any good salesman, the product (his claim to authority which implies a false immoral authority in his opponents) must be both manifest (through denouncing “others” who by definition are both weak – “hedonistic” – and lack “discipline”) but at the same time their crimes must be attached to words whose meanings can be stretched in a taffy-pull of ever changing definitions. In other words, who or what exactly is hedonistic, and undisciplined is of course subjective and, like it or not, as Walter Benjamin correctly said, there is no record of civilization that is not also a record of barbarism. You want the Beatles? Then you take on the entirety of the post war mise en scene that contextualizes them. Or, per Zizek, you denounce their hedonism and send them off to a reeducation camp.
Zizek is of course one of those hyperkinetic intellectuals who can’t be divorced from their style, even if they practice a style that demands that they be dealt with as if their jive was not an issue. It’s like taking on the late and sometimes dearly missed Christopher Hitchens without recourse to the conveyor belt and broken muffler of fags, and the firehose level consumption of booze, and the Cooper Union meets Oxbridge snarl with its plummy double-backs, obscure entendres, references, and all of that backed up by a habit of erupting into verbal fits that suggest Gilbert and Sullivan reimagined by Quentin Tarantino.
The fact is, Hitch was a package deal and anyone who thinks the eccentricities were not deliberate, and not used as both distraction and cudgel, wasn’t paying attention.
And so to Zizek and the sniffing, snorting, herky-jerky, spasms of erudition, rococo displays of what passes for East European charm, mangled by a syntax that appears to have been designed by a chimp employed in an off-the-books lab in Silicon Valley, with mysterious connections to DARPA. By turns culturally limber and scattershot, Zizek is a rollercoaster by DADA; Lacanian, Structuralist, Post-Structuralist, Postmodern, Marxist, Punk, Left-fascist.
And, we hasten to add, we don’t mean any of that as a negative per se (except for that last worrying quality) rather as an issue in the same way that criticizing opera as inherently absurd misses the point. Yes it’s absurd but that’s opera qua opera and disliking it because it’s absurd is akin to disliking politics because it’s sleazy or the ocean because it’s both deep and wet.
Zizek is his bag of tics and the tics are a kind of defective verbal metronome in which ideas bounce from side to side and for everything that makes sense – say a scathing critique of end phase capitalism’s eats its young zeitgeist, or its hall of mirrors, feckless cannibalizing and regurgitation of its own tropes – to a host of other related issues, Zizek brings both a refreshing intellectual maturity to the social debate, and an exhausting sense that either too many drugs are in the mix, or not enough.
Like Hitchens Zizek is a high wire act and it’s easy to be distracted by the height to which he ascends, and the potential for him to drop far and fast, ending in a splash of rhetorical bones turned to jello, as he misses the connection and, like an old cartoon character stepping off a cliff, he has a brief moment where gravity is defied, and blinking through the fourth wall, he realizes the jig is up, and then vanishes.
But if you can fight through the verbal bocage, and emerge into the open fields beyond, you find that like Hitchens, he often has leaned far out over his skis and is headed for a mess. We turn here to his deconstruction of the odious if banal bigotry of Mel Gibson, and the equally odious and banal political sausage making of Abraham Foxman.
Speaking of Gibson’s notorious encounter with the genteel ministrations of the LAPD, Zizek finds reason to blame everyone involved.
“Why waste percious time on such a vulgar incident? For an observer of the ideological trends in the US, these events display a nightmarish dimension: the mutually reinforcing hypocrisy of the two sides, the anti-Semitic Christian fundamentalists and the Zionists, is breathtaking. Politically, the reconciliation between Gibson and Foxman signals an obscene pact between anti-Semitic Christian and aggressive Zionists, whose expression is the growing support of the fundamentalists for the State of Israel (recall Pat Robertson’s claim that Sharon’s heart attack was divine retribution for the evacuation of Gaza). The Jewish people will pay dearly for such pacts with the devil – can one imagine what a boost anti-Semitism will receive from Foxman’s offer? “So if I now say something critical about Jews, I will be forced to submit to psychiatric therapy…
What underlies the final reconciliation is, obviously, an obscene quid pro quo. Foxman’s reaction to Gibson’s outburst was not excessively severe and demanding; on the contrary, it let Gibson all too easily off the hook. It accepted Gibson’s refusal to take full personal responsibility for his words (his anti-Semitic remarks): they were not really his own, it was pathology, some unknown force that took over under the influence of alcohol. However, the answer to Gibson’s question “Where did those vicious words come from?” is ridiculously simple: they are part and parcel of his ideological identity, formed (as far as one can tell) to a large extent by his father. What sustained Gibson’s remarks was not madness but a well-known ideology (anti-Semitism).”
All very interesting. Notice first, the definition of “Foxman” as being the face of a one trick pony called, “Zionism.” “The Zionists” are defined as being, the alpha and omega of “Foxman” thus eliminating any sense of diversity in the American Jewish community and any diversity in Israel. This is similar to the upper-class verbally polite, professional anti-Semitism of the more refined, if less prolix jibber-jabber of certain British authors, who casually refer to something they define as “world Jewry” as in, there’s a unified command, secret meetings, and a tribal commitment to getting an extra ten percent. That it’s said in a tone of, oh by the way casualness, by people who are among the first to say things like, “the Jews are so creative” and “they’re just so funny” betrays not the tone deaf brick wall of your absent-minded aunt, who doesn’t understand why blackface is offensive, but the calculated deceptions of people who know exactly what they’re doing. They wont say it to your face but as soon as Mr. Goldberg leaves they will say: must be nice to have Saturdays off.
Thus Zizek enters through the front door of righteous leftist dogma, and exits through the back door of totalitarian left wing fascist and bigotry shrouded in the arcana of the dialectic, as if Hegel was to be found shooting pool in Harlem and preaching Germanic mysticism, and Prussian discipline, through a cloud of weed.
Reducing the larger context to only an “obscene quid pro quo” between “the Zionists” and the anti-Semites, is not only a slander to intellectual rigor, it is a regurgitation of the traditional anti-Semitism in which the victims of an unjust systemic bigotry, who are coerced into excruciating moral compromises precisely because they are victims, are portrayed as parasites. That this narrative is spewed by people whose entire reputation is predicated on a robust analysis of how wider trends are reflected in the small tragedies of the culture, and how the small tragedies of the culture reflect the systemic faults of the totalizing fabric, speaks to both a private animus, and an obscene quid pro quo with the object otherwise condemned as the observer’s sworn enemy.
Ironically we take note of how in its construction, this left wing argument, is identical to the conservative and reactionary right wing argument that the reason for violence in ghettos, is the “obscene quid pro quo” between Black gangs and the apathy (or lack of “discipline”) of the wider (“Black”) community.
The choice of words is no idle grammatical or rhetorical issue, nor is it an intellectual issue rectified by the use of a kind of philosophical mulligan. The language used collapses and transforms “Zionism” and “Foxman” and “Jews” into cartoons both bolted to a set of arbitrary facts, while at the same time being elastic enough to allow for any number of stereotypical verbal assaults. As a result “Foxman” who is ten different types of politically porcine gangster (well remembered for issuing a cultural fatwa on the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld, as if he were the chief rabbi and in charge of what’s funny which is itself, funny) is reduced to a standard stereotype of the feckless “Jew” – “Jew” as manipulator, “Jew” as clever in a sinister manner, “Jew” as without scruples, except in the sense of being determined to gain an advantage even if it means making a deal with the devil – in this case the intrinsically anti-Semitic Christian fundamentalists, who in turn are used by leftists to tar “Zionists” with the broad brush that (correctly) highlights Christian fundamentalist support for the knuckle dragging, mouth breathing rhetorical and political carpet bombing of the Trumpists, or fascist wing of the Republicans but incorrectly amputates the politics of the connection from its context.
That this is a not so slim echo of the impossible politics of the 1930s, and what Victor Serge defined as the ‘midnight of the century’ is both ironic and depressing, precisely because it paints the contemporary left as being psychologically identical to the old Bourbon monarchs of Europe about whom it was said, they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
Per the standard template of the anti-Semite, Zizek creates a narrative in which “the Jew” (Or “Zionists” – thus reinforcing another stereotype of monolithic “Jewish” thought and action) is both clever but, obvious to the enlightened observer (Zizek) who can break the code.
This “Jew” is both avatar and lone gunman. He operates as a sinister agent of his own volition but is also the chief (politcal rabbi) for the tribe which has no singular will but operates as a sinister whole. Zizek finds him guilty of being both without volition and falsely assuming the position of tribal voice. A point to which we shall return.
What goes missing of course, in another example of hilarious yet frightening irony, is any sense of context. But, having stripped “Foxman” of context, Zizek then hangs him by bolting his actions to the context of what he defines as the rock and a hard place of contemporary American political perfidy – defined as being either Soviet style politicized “psychiatry” or the psychiatry of a corrupt “politics.”
In this version of reality, “Foxman” while being the “clever Jew” engaged in political machinations, is detached from any other wider context. Thus, for example, what goes missing are: the existence of anti-Semitism both specifically in the day to day traffic of the nation, and generally in the context of the plague of violence, intimidation, and demonization; personal relationships as in, favors owed by one to another, or by entire groups to another’s as in, Gibson Inc is a vast multi-million dollar entity with tendrils that reach around the world and may impact people with whom “Foxman” has relationships, or with people who in turn have relationships that might negatively impact still other concerns of which “Foxman” has either a neutral concern or an active one and does not want to cause harm.
Or, there are people with secret agendas who have reason(s) to apply pressure to “Foxman” to not destroy Gibson, or there are people who need jobs, or people who are counting on Gibson for a contribution to a charity, or there are people running for office, or there’s a wedding, or a campaign, or a media agenda, or a thousand other things that make up the plot of a Chandler novel, or an episode of Entourage or the detritus of life – but as Zizek is to the Ars Poetica as an anatomy textbook is to seduction, none of it enters into the equation and what we are presented with is the not so very new retread of the oh so typical “Jew” engaged in trickery precisely because, that is what “Jews” do.
And note, that our list of other alternative factors is not without trickery and does not exclude the possibility of immoral motivations, but are not a priori sinister, though it may contain scenarios that are – but is instead the vast web of interconnected individuals who, being part of the hall of mirrors that is the contemporary socio-economic thuderdome, are forced to act in ways that require contradiction and moral compromise.
Thus, “Foxman” is not unique, is not an example of something specific to the “Zionists” and is instead an example that is typical of Catholics, WASPS, atheists, communists, socialists, journalists, academics, intellectuals and everyone else – in other words, human all too human.
But of course there’s more. Ironically Zizek’s “Foxman” while designated as a “Jew” and “Zionist” has no past and he is a “Jew” devoid of a Jewish identity except as defined by the non Jew who, what a surprise, finds him guilty of being shifty.
Naturally one is compelled to declare, as if one were crossing a moral border and showing a visa stamp, that one may criticize Foxman, and Israel, and one may criticize Foxman for any number of reasons including being a political animal who, by definition, swims with sharks and because politics is the business of gangsters.
But considering Zizek’s reputation for haute intellectualism, his reputation for indepth analysis of historical trends, at what we might call, a sub atomic level, his amputation of “Foxman” from context leaves us with a Zizek who is something of a knob, or something of a very clever anti-Semite.
Of course, it is possible to be both a pinhead and a bigot but the difference between the average Archie Bunker and say, T.S. Eliot is the difference between a firecracker and an atom bomb.
At this point of course one must be braced for the screams of how it’s outrageous to suggest something sinister, and that, every time someone criticizes “the Jews” they scream “anti-Semitism!” And of course Zizek is quite clear and has on multiple occasions expressed disdain, contempt, and disgust for bigots, regardless of whatever particular form their bigotry takes.
Which of course brings us first to a kind of basic hypocrisy in which, precisely because he expresses contempt for bigots, it is all the more telling that he slips on a pile of rhetorical shit and lands face first in a puddle of his own making.
As to the canard that criticism of “Jews” “Zionism” and “Israel’ produce a Tourette’s Syndrome response of “anti-Semitism!” that fact is, it’s not true, first because anyone who’s spent time with Jews knows that if you talk to two of them you’ll get three opinions, thus making the accusation of uniformity a joke, and secondly because there’s no one more critical of Jews than the Jews themselves, except of course for the people making the trains run on time.
Which is not to dismiss the idea that there are people who jump on any criticism as an opportunity to deflect, demean, and silence legitimate complaints. However, that in turn like all other actions, are part of a vast social web of cause and effect. Bigots and political opportunists do not, and can not exist autonomously. Zizek’s “Foxman” is a fiction created by Zizek, and Foxman is a man created by context, including the one in which hyper East European, Lacanian, Marxist, Punk philosophers spastically define them as if they sprang spontaneously from the forehead of an angry old man in a deli, sending back his soup.
Which brings us back to the issue of context. The fact is Zizek elides context, and trips rhetorically into sounding like a very clever bigot. “Foxman” is, like him or not, working as a political figure and is beholden to a constituency and the first iron law of politics is (dirty) compromise. Which generates the second immutable law – hypocrisy. Don’t like it? Then find another job, or as Merleau-Ponty says paraphrasing Max Weber: “Politics is in essence unethical. It contains “a pact with the powers of hell” because it is the struggle for power and power leads to violence…” And: “Montaigne said, “the public good demands that one betrays, lies and massacres. . . .” He described political man caught in the alternative of doing nothing or of being a criminal: “What is the remedy? There is no remedy, if life really was caught between these two extremes he would still have to act; but if he did so without regret, if it did not weigh upon him it is a sign that he is not in good conscience.” Montaigne therefore already understood political man as an unhappy consciousness…”
Which in turn means that an honest, or less dishonest, assessment requires one to demonstrate how Foxman or even how “Foxman” is unique; how other political operators act in ways that are different. Of course it can’t be done anymore than (so far) nothing can go faster than light and as a result, Zizek’s argument falls apart – but also reveals itself as sophistry in the service of an a-historical, intellectual sin.
This in turn brings us to a curious subset in Zizek’s program. He accuses “Foxman” and “the Zionists” (as well as indicting pretty much everyone else) of making a distinction between the “pathology” of anti-Semitism and the ideology of anti-Semitism. For Zizek this formula works as follows: To accuse Gibson of being an anti-Semite is justified because of both his comments and the indoctrination he received from his father, who is an avowed anti-Semite and who belongs to a racist Catholic cult known for such dance hall favorites as, the Holocaust didn’t occur, and the Jews are to blame for everything.
However, to say Gibson fils’ anti-Semitism is the cause of the effect and the effect is a pathology sparked by the consumption of too much alcohol, is immoral and cynical (by “Foxman”) because it absolves Gibson of responsibility. Worse still, it removes anti-Semitism from being a direct result of the wider (immoral) system and as such, it lets capitalism off the hook and we are then in an Alice in Wonderland reverse version of Soviet bureaucratic tyranny where, to be against “Communism” was, by definition, insane.
This of course is bullshit even if its is a very clever bullshit. First, bigotry may very well be a kind of mental illness, but it may also be a condition of a socio-economic system, or both, or neither, or it may move like a pair of electrons entangled, agitated by Einstein’s notion of, spooky action at a distance, going from one state to another. To declare that it must be either x or y is in fact to be a proper Soviet apparatchik, or an insurance salesman working for a big pharm empire, though, how exactly you tell the difference between the two escapes us.
Zizek is here appearing to be reasonable but is in fact being dictatorial. Having removed “Foxman” the “Jews” and the “Zionists” from their context, and thus removed from them the right to choose, he finds them guilty of survival within a system he defines as corrupt. Thus, they are at best feckless and at worst collaborators but mostly, they are guilty of not being good leftists. Gibson, is in turn both “crazy” and perfectly “sane” if ideologically contaminated. Exactly what practical difference there is between the two is left to the imagination though, we assume, in proper left terms, it would mean a distinction without a difference because if you are found “insane” by the state, you will be punished, and if you are found ideological “traif” by the state you will be punished.
This ideology, or if you prefer, this pathology, is fairly wide spread among certain haute leftists and Zizek is keeping good company. Offering a seemingly more nuanced iteration of the toxin, one can turn to Zizek’s comrade, Alain Badiou. Explaining in a neo-Structuralist manner why the word “Jew” has been repurposed as a signifier, to generate an extension of traditional anti-Semitism, Badiou generously proposes how the victims of anti-Semitism should respond to people who’s idea of a good time is setting Jews on fire.
“The basic argumentation, of course, refers to the extermination of European Jews by the Nazis and their accomplices. In the victim ideology that constitutes the campaign artillery of contemporary moralism, this unprecedented extermination is held to be paradigmatic. In and of itself the extermination would underpin the political, legal and moral necessity to hold the word Jew above all usual handling of identity predicates and to give it some kind of nominal sacralization. The progressive imposition of the word Shoah to designate what its most eminent historian, Raul Hilberg, named, with sober precision, “the destruction of the Europe an Jews” can be taken as a verbal stage of this sacralizing of victims. By a remarkable irony, one thereby comes to the point of applying to the name “Jew” a claim that the Christians originally directed against the Jews themselves, which was that “Christ” was a worthier name than all others. Today it is not uncommon to read that “Jew” is indeed a name beyond ordinary names. And it seems to be presumed that, like an inverted original sin, the grace of having been an incomparable victim can be passed down not only to descendants and to the descendants of descendants but to all who come under the predicate in question, be they heads of state or armies engaging in the severe oppression of those whose lands they have confiscated.”
Badiou here is using what can be described as a standard template of the sophisticated, professional anti-Semite. First there is a robust demonstration of refined contempt for bigots, replete with historical analogies and clever literary or philosophical references. It is a sort of, see, nothing up my sleeve style, designed to apply rhetorical armor to an otherwise standard piece of bigotry.
This is followed by a twist, in which the author offers up the canard that precisely by designating “Jews” and “Shoa” and “The Holocaust” as signifiers, or exemplars, or linguistic avatars of specific paradigm designating events, in order to safeguard “Jews” one is, ironically, recreating the traditional segregation of “Jews” and thus fulfilling the traditional goals of the anti-Semites.
This is followed by attaching the argument to “Israel” asserting without having to actually make the case that, this sad ironic historical mistake is directly connected to the current “crimes” of “Israel” and – Gaza! Gaza! Gaza!
Of course, this is sophistry, and a sleek form of demagoguery adorned in the baggy suit of pseudo-Structuralist voodoo. It is a kind of verbal event horizon in which facts are collapsed into a historical black hole and the vast, if not morbidly obese History of anti-Semitism generally, and the specific anti-Semitism of Europe, are reduced to a few paragraphs which then allows the author to jump from one dimension to another as if transiting a Historical worm hole. Thus, anti-Semitism is evil, defining “Jews” as unique victims of a unique crime is, ironically counterproductive, and therefore, ‘Israel/Zionism/Jew” is guilty, Gaza! Gaza! Gaza!
“Another approach to this type of fictive transcendence is historical. It claims to show that the Jewish question’ has defined Europe since the Enlightenment era, such that there would be a criminal continuity between the idea Europe has of itself and the Nazi extermination, which is presented as the ‘final solution’ to the problem. Further, there would be a basic continuity between the extermination and European hostility to the State of Israel, the prime evidence for which would be the constant support – in my view really inconsistent, but let’s leave that aside – the European Community gives to the Palestinians. Europe would be enraged by the fact that the “final solution” was defeated in the last act by the sudden appearance, on the balance-sheet of the war, of a Jewish state. As a result, there should be a legitimate distrust of everything Arab, for in starting out from support for the Palestinians we soon come to an undermining of the State of Israel, then from that undermining we come to anti-Semitism, and from this anti-Semitism to extermination – the logic, in short, has to be good.”
Here one must first stop and applaud both the brilliance of the bullshit and the sheer chutzpah. First the declaration that we are dealing with a fiction. Badiou is saying that anti-Semitism and its connection in Europe to the near destruction of Jews is not, an event that didn’t occur but is, an event whose meaning has been both obscured and highjacked so that the “Jews” and the anti-Semites are working together. This of course is entering through the front door of being against anti-Semitism and exited through the back door of traditional libels in which the clever, shifty “Jews” are at it again, working with their enemies to screw everyone.
Historically this reaches back to the golden age of anti-Semitism in the 1930s when the anti-capitalism of the fascists merged with the anti-capitalism of the left. Both sides contextualized the socio-economic catastrophes of their time as not only being the fault of capitalism, but that in turn capitalism was the front behind which “Jews” manipulated events to their benefit. The appeal of reactionary, anti-capitalist, anti-Semitic fascists, like Louis F. Celine, with his extravagant use of slang, and Modernist tropes, was in no small measure a result of how he brilliantly squared the circle, defining the trajectory of the era as a terminal rush towards the abyss precisely because, capitalism, was placing its chips on booth red and black and the people running the gambling hall, were “Jews.” For Celine and the fascists, the answer was to crush capitalism and the “Jews.” For the left the answer was to crush capitalism and force the “Jews” (and everyone else) to amputate themselves from their memory, culture and identity because all of those things were decadent and existed only as either reflections of the dominant paradigm, or were parasitical examples of exploitation.
But this is also an echo of an earlier iteration of professional anti-Semitism. Badiou and Zizek are the inheritors of left-wing anti-Dreyfusism. In that amid the collective national nervous breakdown that informed and surrounded the Dreyfus Affair, there was a strict left wing antagonism that demanded of the proletariat, a refusal to take the side of Dreyfus (Excluding, Charles Peguy and affiliated Socialists) because to do so would be to abandon the revolutionary struggle of the workers, against the bourgeoisie who, through Dreyfus, were engaged in a fratricidal conflict. As a result, the systemic anti-Semitism of the establishment, was a non issue for the official left, and if the ultimate, inevitable, success of the revolution meant dead (bourgeois) Jews, executed, or exiled, so be it. As Hegel said: “Reason can’t linger over the wounds inflicted on individuals, for individual destinies are swallowed up in universal destinies.”
This is, in Badiou, followed by the assertion that the anti-anti-Semites are asserting that anti-Semitism is the central and defining fact at the heart of enlightenment Europe. Notice however that Badiou can’t be bothered to stoop to offering any proof – after all, sophists and demagogues are busy and why let the dreary facts get in the way of a good diatribe.
The truth is, that no serious historian positions the Holocaust as the central act of European History, or the central fact of the Enlightenment project but many correctly contextualize it as a monument to the failure of Enlightenment values. By insisting that crimes against humanity had been committed the victors were not inventing a new narrative, or a new addendum to the Enlightenment. They were recalling Montesquieu defining the Rights of Man as: “…the civil code of the Universe, in the sense that every people is a citizen thereof” and they were saying that the world had failed to live up to that ideal.
Many however do position the Holocaust as the central act of the epic otherwise known as, World War II though, that in turn is such a massive topic that entire libraries have been devoted to everything from agrarian reform in fascist Italy, to the cinema of Nazi Germany, to the black market in New Deal America, and espionage in imperial Japan. And at the same time, suggesting that there’s something amiss in focusing on the barbed wire and the cattle cars, as pivotal to the story, is like being angry that someone has focused on the weather while talking about War and Peace or whales while talking about Melville. They might be missing the forest for the trees but its not as if were discussing shrubbery.
But then comes the brilliance. Badiou takes his own argument, turns it inside out, and attaches it to the anti-Semites to “prove” that if it were true, and if it were being used to discredit arguments in favor of the unique status of European traumas generally, and the Holocaust specifically, then logically we would find a systemic hatred of the Arabs which should lead to a systemic rage that the Final Solution failed, followed by an equally intense hatred of Israel.
Except of course this requires one to accept the premise that humans and their politics are strictly binary and not better defined by Faulkner’s formula – the facts and the truth seldom have much to do with each other.
Beyond that of course the issue is that of course there is rage, resentment, anti-Semitism, and the messy cocktail of politics which includes contradictions, ambivalence, paradox, and deals between and with parties who also despise each other. Thus, when Badiou says, the logic has to be good, he is absolutely correct. The irony being it’s his logic that’s bad, and the fact is, the logic of politics has more in common with an Escher drawing than a Euclidian certainty.
Badiou, as with Zizek, is regurgitating a 1930s style anti-Semitism dressed up in 1930s style left-theory that denies “Jews” exist, or should exist, and asserts in its place that there are only the people, who are either workers, peasants, or not – and are instead bourgeoisie, aristocrats, and so on. This strict hierarchy, with its certainties, and moral absolutes, of course is intrinsically tyrannical. What’s more, and is in fact a kind of even greater insult, is the assertion that generosity cannot possibly be entwined with contempt. The irony here being that in denying a systemic hatred of the Arabs or the Jews is a retread of the traditional bigot saying in their defense, that some of their best friends are…Negros.
In structuralist terms if one accepts Badiou’s premise that the word “Jew” as a signifier has become corrupt, and creates a narrative in which its use as a seawall against the tide of anti-Semitism has failed, and in an historical inverse is now an instrument of oppression, then logically one could, or even should say, that “Nazi” or “Crimes against humanity” or “Hitler” have lost their signification. Thus, “Hitler” has nothing to do with Hitler and “Nazi Germany” has nothing to do with fascism or genocide. These then become words without context, attached to nothing, in which a floating world emerges, endlessly elastic, except, in the banal manner of the clock work precision of the Kafkaesque nightmare, when the authorities, exercising their terminal imagination and arbitrary power, decide that the facts, iron clad, plastic, arbitrary and irrefutable, are a question of who speaks last.
This of course cuts to the heart of the left’s anti-Semitism. It always found Zionism both ideologically incorrect but also found the Jews suspect because their nationalism was a threat to the collective project. On the one hand the Zionists were naturally opposed to the fascists – not withstanding the not insubstantial fascist wing of the Zionists exemplified by Vlad Jabotinsky, who in turn had multiple legitimate reasons to distrust the left wing of Zionism exemplified by Ben Gurion – but, they were, by definition, against erasing themselves in order to fit into a wider program. First because the fascists weren’t going to be any kinder to them if they said they were no longer Jews, and secondly because the leftists weren’t necessarily going to be kinder to them if they said they were no longer Jews.
This in turn goes back to the original conception under Marx who, like it or not, hated being a Jew because he saw it as an example of a vast narrative of slavery, capitulation, accommodation to arbitrary power and support for tyranny. To Marx, a “Jew” was just another word for slave. To escape his own Jewish identity was a psychological requirement for not only himself but for slaves everywhere. In a sense there is a corollary to be found between Marx’s anti-Semitism and Dickens.
When Dickens wrote Fagan he meant to portray a type common to the socio-economic gulag of London in the mid 19th century. Sadly for his readers, and certainly for Dickens, his relative lack of talent drove him into using clichés and racist tropes because he was incapable of transcending the talent he possessed. As Orwell said about him: Great gargoyles, poor architecture.
The result was a “Jew” who was monstrous, shifty, conniving, threatening, and ultimately both feckless and complicit. What Dickens missed of course was the set of forces that had created “Fagan” and forced Jews into collaboration with their oppressors.
Marx believed that the elimination of the slave required the elimination of anything that attached to the system of hierarchies and as a result “Zionism” which is by definition about “Jews” and those who are not Jews, was antagonistic to the liberation of humanity.
That it is an argument that has provided a safe harbor for people who otherwise would be wearing jackboots and the fact is the contemporary “left” has a serious defect in the same way that a third arm, that keeps instinctively rising up in a Roman-esque salute is a problem.
But, and this is crucial, the decades long tradition among some leftists of harboring standard templates of anti-Semitism, has ebbed and flowed but it has never gone away and has in the last thirty or forty years expanded and in some cases reached a favored pitch.
This is also due to the return of the Jabo mentality, attached to neoliberalism, and a ruthlessly cynical gangsterism practiced by Likudniks. Ironically you have Jabo thugs like Avigdor Lieberman, a man whose stupidity is only limited by the number of hours in a given day and Benyamin Netanyahu, who while of an elite class, espouses retrograde neo-populist, Jabo style resentment against the “elites” and has positioned himself as the friend to the habitually disenfranchised Sephardim. The more fervent the left becomes in insisting it’s not anti-Semitic, while tripping over both bogus examples of its bigotry, set up as rhetorical boobytraps by the Tories and Fox “news” or The Daily Mail, and the genuine article, and the more it spouts actual standard anti-Semitic slurs, the more the later day Jabos use it to gin up their base. And anyone who thinks Netanyahu isn’t a product of anti-Semitism, is either a fool a professional cynic or both. The true context of the issue is that it is not “Zionism” that creates Likud but anti-Semitism, and if the left wants to discover what gives Netanyahu his power, all they have to do is look in the mirror. Which is not to say Netanyahu wouldn’t be a gangster of another type if forced into it, but precisely that he is the type he is, precisely because the left keeps pitching him fat targets right down the middle of the plate, and he keeps hitting them right out of the park.
But, and again, this is crucial, the left criticism of “Israel” and “Zionism” is consistently devoid of context. Thus, from Michael Brooks via the Majority Report, Jimmy Dore and Kyle Kulinski of The Young Turks, to assorted self described communists like Ash Sakar, appearing on the BBC, to members of the Corbyn supporting Momentum, (not to mention Corbyn himself) to Zizek and Badiou, “Zionism” is a crime, the Palestinians are nothing but victims, somehow both outside of “History” (thus not responsible for anything) and inside it as victims of “History,” and the Arabs bare no responsibility whatsoever for the circular firing squad in which there is more than enough ammunition and hypocrisy to go around.
In this version of reality, “Zionism” is bolted to the facts of European History but, European History is amputated from Zionism and “Jews” are to blame for the plight of the Palestinians except for an off-hand acknowledgement of the “Holocaust” which in turn, ironically given the critique is left based, is both a blanket indictment of everything (capitalism, colonialism, “Zionism” etc.) a minor rhetorical sop to the “Jews” but, then is separated from History so that, “Zionism” just sort of happened because a gang of “Jews” decided to steal someone else’s land and are now holding the world hostage. Gone are both the details of shared History and the dream-state of private memory; gone are the generational traumas, the Faulknerian catastrophes that reach across time and inform and contextualize experience.
And a word here about a word – Nakba, or catastrophe, which is what Palestinian and European and American “leftists” call the creation of Israel. The word is used to both define “Zionism” as a political and Historical crime, and to denote something biblical and thus supernatural, while at the same time is used as fact-based simulacrum of generational trauma and righteous condemnation. But because it has about it the air of a biblical plague, visited upon god’s hapless followers, there is no Historical context; it is just something awful that happened. As such it is designed to stifle both criticism of the Palestinians, their politics, and their supporters and their politics but, make no mistake, it is also designed to stifle, if not strangle, any internal dissent and debate. As a result, any internal dissent by Arabs is to be labeled an apostate and a schismatic sinner. Thus it is the Palestinian Holocaust and it attaches the “Jews” the “Zionists” and “Israel” to a propagandistic alteration of the facts in which again, the Palestinians were minding their own business when the “Jews” swept through their world like a plague of locusts. In this version of reality, Faisal Husseini never took money from Mussolini, never went to Berlin, never helped raise Muslim fascist units who never committed war crimes in Europe, and they never sided with assorted dictators, who never imported ex Nazis to help figure out how they were going to lob missiles full of gas at the Jews in order to finish the job. In this version of reality Francois Genoud was not Hitler’s Swiss banker, did not pay for Klaus Barbie’s defense and never worked to move Nazis to Egypt and Syria so they could take another crack at finishing the job they had started in the 1930s.
As a result one is treated to endless recitations about the expulsion of some 700,000 Palestinians; that it was “ethnic cleansing” and that all subsequent actions by the “Jews” “Zionists” and by “Israel” are illegitimate, immoral and in support of “Apartheid.” And again crucially the issue is not that the Palestinians weren’t abused but that precisely because they were memory as the honor paid to the facts demands that we acknowledge the context of the entire event not just those that suit one political agenda or another.
But for Zizek and his comrades that is not the case. That the Palestinians had leaders actively allied with the Nazis is never mentioned. That they and their Arab “allies’ (best described by the phrase: with friends like these who needs enemies) participated in the admittedly gangsterish negotiations, thus giving legitimacy to the UN Partition of the British Mandate, that they violently expelled Jews from their own countries, that they espoused blatantly racist and genocidal polices, that they were committed to the violent suppression of freedom internally, while cynically courting both international patrons – the in name only leftists of the Soviet Union, and the in name only, liberals of the West – is all erased from the narrative.
That there were Zionists who were bigots, that there were atrocities committed, that there were episodes of wholesale expulsion are all true. But again, for the leftists, like Zizek and Badiou, the problem remains: Great gargoyles, poor architecture.
And here a moment to consider yet another aspect of Zizek’s political Dadaism. Speaking specifically of Israel and the Palestinians, he offers that while it’s true and shameful that in many Arab countries Hitler is considered a hero, and that Arab textbooks cough up the same rancid stereotypes of greedy, shifty Jews, one should take what he calls a ruthlessly cold view of this conflict:
“What this means is that, when approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one should stick to ruthless and cold standards, suspending the urge to try to “understand” the situation: one should unconditionally resist the temptation to “understand” the Arab antisemitism (where we really do encounter it) as a “natural” reaction to the sad plight of the Palestinians, or to “understand” the Israeli measures as a “natural” reaction against the background of the memory of the holocaust.”
“There should be no “understanding” for the fact that, in many, if not most, of the Arab countries, from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, Hitler is still considered a hero, the fact that, in the primary school textbooks, all the traditional antisemitic myths, from the notoriously antisemitic (and forged) book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the claims that Jews use the blood of Christian (or Arab) children for sacrificial purposes, are attributed to them.”
“To claim that this antisemitism articulates in a displaced mode the resistance against capitalism in no way justifies it, and the same goes for the Nazi antisemitism: it also drew its energy from the anti-capitalist resistance. Displacement is not here a secondary operation, but the fundamental gesture of ideological mystification…So we should not interpret or judge singular acts together, we should excise them from their historical texture…What this means is that one should flatly reject the very notion of any logical or political link between the Holocaust and the present Israeli-Palestinian tensions. These are two thoroughly different phenomena: the one part of the European history of rightist resistance to the dynamics of modernization, the other one of the last chapters in the history of colonization…On the other hand, the difficult task for the Palestinians is to accept that their true enemy is not the Jewish people but the Arab regimes themselves which manipulate their plight in order, precisely, to prevent this shift – the political radicalization in their own midst….”
So, on the one hand here you have Zizek saying anti-Semitism is bad and Arab use, or use by Arab states of traditional Nazi-esque stereotypes is immoral, and counterproductive because it weakens the legitimate fight against capitalism but the “Jews” should not be allowed nor should anyone else make a connection between one of the 20th centuries singular events and the existence of Israel. This is clearly, specifically an attempt to redefine Israel and Zionism as illegitimate and outside of the cause and effect of events but subject to the imposition of moral judgement based on the arbitrary use of historical events – as defined by Zizek. An idea that if applied elsewhere would, for example, take the form of telling the Irish that the Troubles have no connection to the Potato Famine, the Chinese (and Japanese) that the Rape of Nanking has no connection to the rise of the Chinese Left, and the Americans that Jamestown has no connection to the foundational mythology of the United States.
All well and good but one might ask, why are the Jews expected to jettison their history but, say, the East Europeans are not? Well, one might say, because the East Europeans aren’t in the middle of a hundred years long conflict that has the feel of a steel cage death match. Except, actually they are and the conflict has been going on with lulls, for about two thousand years. Here come the Mongols, and there go the Turks, and the Poles, and the Saracens and the Russians and the Austrians and the French and the Vatican and of course the Germans. Should NATO expand eastward? Should the Russian expand west? Is Hungary’s right wing surge a threat to the European Union?
After all, what’s in a name and it’s not as if memory has played a significant part in the history of the world. Faulkner? Never heard of him. Proust? You mean the guy with the cookie fetish?
Don’t be silly.
It’s a curiosity of the advanced, professional anti-Semite that they seem committed to twisting themselves into a knot of illogic in the name of claiming to be so much smarter than everyone else.
If only the Arabs would forget about everything else and just translate Gramsci into Arabic and if only the “Jews” would jettison the culture factory and amputate themselves from their identity – Roth? Freud? Seinfeld? Spinoza? The Marx Brothers?
Fagedd about it.
Never heard of them and same goes for your grandparents who vanished in a stiff breeze that drifted over the chimneys. And that’s no small issue and not only because the Holocaust is just a scant few minutes ago in the Faulknerian sense of: the past aint even hardly past, but because we mention Proust to make what should be an obvious if not banal point – remembering is central to human consciousness and setting up ghettos of who can and who can’t remember, and what they should and shouldn’t remember, sounds suspiciously like a five year plan that requires a lot of rotten potatoes, tractors that don’t work, and very long ditches full of corpses. It also sounds like ruthless efficiency experts at a car factory in Detroit – just in case someone got the ridiculous idea that we view defective authoritative theories as being part of a left wing monopoly.
Of course one concedes that capitalism is a plague. It has impressively stacked a mountain of skulls on every continent and the irony of how current Israeli politics is a fusion of Jabo Revisionist Zionism with its appeals to and celebrations of, populist working class ideals, and the cesspit of the stock market, is enough to make any reasonable person choke on their matzo.
But how about Zizek pretends to forget and leaves everyone else alone? How about recognizing that there is something obsessional and odd in the very premise – by which we mean that the very act of asking, and suggesting, and defining “Jews” “Zionism” and “Israel” as being more significant than any other one of the catastrophic and interconnected issues plaguing humanity, suggests an hour on a therapist’s couch, rather than a podcast or book dedicated to a Lacanian analysis of “anti-Semitism.” In fact, what comes to mind is Zizek as a prince of the reverse. In a fable called the Magical Lacanian Mirror, he would be a handsome prince who kisses a sleeping beauty, and turns into a troll who is sent to live under a freeway – because, precisely because the very premise of the argument, the very idea that there is an argument to be made, is itself, anti-Semitic.
That Zizek occupies the huate corner of this political pathology is clear from his rhetoric. That it offers a de facto absolution for everyone else while appearing to condemn them, is both ironic and despicable. In this version of reality, anti-Semitism exists, is roundly condemned but, it is not for the victims – “the Jews” – to decide how to respond because to allow that is to allow for a space to be carved out within the left program that requires recognition of the Jews as distinct and in need of a fortress. Ironically (to again use that word) this is identical to the right wing justification employed by certain literary critics operating under the auspices of the high priests of American liberalism, who say that while T.S. Eliot was an anti-Semite, his anti-Semitism was really more of a rash “confined to one limb” and as he only ever wrote three overtly anti-Semitic poems, (as if there’s a quota) it would be unreasonable to accuse him of being an Anti-Semite – thus, his bigotry is of the small batch, artisanal variety – and is best thought of as, anti-Semitism Lite – twice the Zyclon B, half the calories.
What they all have in common, neo-Jacobin leftists, reactionary fascists, and nationalists, is not just a contempt for Jews but, a contempt for the facts; the stubborn inconvenient facts that like gravity, often annoy but about which, one can do nothing, except lie, or get on with the messy business of existing.
This of course in the case of Zizek, is based in turn on the denial of the facts in a Trumpian gaslighting, that while more reliant on the appearance of sophistication, is in truth just as crude.
Thus, the Palestinians did not ally themselves with the Nazis (or even if they did it shouldn’t be discussed because it interferes with a left triumph over capitalism), the Arabs did not participate in the UN negotiations for partition, did not participate in the vote, thus granting it political and legal legitimacy, and did not start an illegal war, which they either lost or did not win, did not import Nazis, with the express purpose of committing genocide, did not make common cause with assorted imperial gangsterocracies (who it should be noted were perfectly willing to play both sides against the middle), did not make it an official policy that there would be no peace, no negotiations and no recognition of Israel, did not wage a decades long campaign of terrorism while at the same time exterminating any and all internal opposition, did not cynically employ religious fascists as their own bespoke Brownshirts to crush their own authentic Leftists (at the behest of both the bogus inauthentic left of Stalinism and the imperial liberalism of Europe and America), and instead were, simply, pastoral, artisanal craftsman victimized by, the clever, sinister, feckless, “Jews.”
And, if all of that wasn’t enough, what also goes missing is the vast, epic, sinister dream state after the war, in which every one of the major European nations, under the auspices of the American hegemon, not only let war criminals go free but, in an industrial style assembly line manner, incorporated them into their bureaucracies.
Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, was funneled out of Europe, by the US, with the assistance of the Vatican, to Bolivia, where he worked for years to support American corporate fascism, and, make no mistake, that story was not the exception but the rule. Nazis were folded back into the West German state apparatus, recruited to the French Foreign Legion in order to teach the finer points of imperial etiquette to the otherwise unruly Vietnamese, were inserted into CIA stay-behind commandos as part of Operation Gladio, were connected to Baader Meinhof and Red Brigade cells as agent provocateurs, were mined for their expertise in how to make missiles hit their targets, and were in every instance protected by an international system that by its very existence said, Jews are never safe and that while the war may have ended in 1945, it was far from finished.
Thus, while being asked to be reasonable, about the Palestinians, and being asked to be reasonable about accepting someone else’s definitions of “Zionism” and “Jews” and their memory, Jews were also being told to talk to Nazis or look the other way while their “friends” talked to them and their enemies used them.
None of which is to say that any number of Zionists, Isralies or American Jews were not involved in any number of crimes, plots, coups, counter coups, assaults, assassinations, manipulations, lies, distortions half truths and cynical efforts to gain an advantage. Politics is the business of gangsters whether they read right to left or left to right.
But the fact that they are proves the opposite point to Zizek’s precisely because in order for that criticism to be valid it requires either a caricature of the perfidious “Jew” of the world’s imagination, which Zizek and the left condemn rightly as, anti-Semitic, or it demands context which renders Zizek’s criticism specifically and the left generally, as either wrong factually or wrong morally because it is nothing more or less than standard anti-Semitism.
And here, we consider Zizek’s thoughts on the subject as expressed in an article he wrote, in which he both elevates his mendacity while lowering his standards to the left side of the gutter.
Beginning with a standard intellectual head fake that takes as significant a (seeming) cultural trifle – in this case an Austrian cartoon – Zizek uses it as a rhetorical amuse bouche to generate a wider point – that ironically, defense of “Zionism” is now more in line with the final solution ideology of Nazism. To stick the dismount in his opening floor routine, Zizek quotes the oh so reliable, Anders Breivik, which is the intellectual equivalent of invoking Ted Kosinski to highlight the logic of being a luddite.
“When today’s Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israeli policies reject leftist critiques of those policies, is their implicit line of argumentation not uncannily close to the caricature from Die Presse? Remember Anders Breivik, the Norwegian anti-immigrant mass murderer: He was anti-Semitic, but pro-Israel, since he saw the State of Israel as the first defense line against Muslim expansion—he even wanted to see the Jerusalem Temple rebuilt.
His view is that Jews are okay as long as there aren’t too many of them—or, as he wrote in his Manifesto: “There is no Jewish problem in Western Europe (with the exception of the U.K. and France) as we only have 1 million in Western Europe, whereas 800,000 out of these 1 million live in France and the U.K. The U.S., on the other hand, with more than 6 million Jews (600% more than Europe) actually has a considerable Jewish problem.”
His figure thus realizes the ultimate paradox of a Zionist anti-Semite—and we find the traces of this bizarre stance more often than one would expect.”
The idea, such as it is, rests on the rickety platform of a mass murdering psychopath being a reasonable spokesman for anything – as if, Breivik couldn’t find a way to rationalize demanding that everyone eat with their hands, or that everyone had to wear hats and that if they didn’t, he would kill them. The counter argument that Breivik is sane, traces its roots back to the need to establish the relative sanity of the Nazis, so as to hold them accountable for their crimes and in fact to then establish that what they had done were in fact crimes, that could be adjudicated. To define them as “insane” was to absolve them of responsibility. A point that Zizek like Badiou twists to suit his left agenda. Within the long shadow of the war, and the camps, European courts, politicians, and society at large (or at least some of them) are always on guard for any attempt to amputate fascism from the responsibility of the fascists. But that is not Zizek’s point. What matters here is that despite the legitimate reason for a European court to find Breivik sane and thus guilty, the fact remains that he is a psychopath and insane, and responsible and, the idea that he is a reasonable witness for finding “Zionism” to be problematic is at best pointy-headed, and at worst, the sort of rhetorical napalm one expects from Jacques Verges – as in, well, Klaus Barbie may have been a monster, but, look at what the French did in Algeria! (and never mind that my legal fees are being paid for by Hitler’s Swiss banker) In other words, not just a kind of obscene whataboutism, but a sinister Mobius Loop of immorality.
But, Zizek is just warming up because he then performs a classic dog whistle sleight of hand. Having thrown Breivik into the mix he jumps to Benyamin Netanyahu, which allows him to create a connection without having to actually make a connection. We simply go from Breivik to Netanyahu, in Paris in the wake of Charlie Hebdo, saying that the Jews of France should emigrate to Israel.
This is followed by:
“The title in the main Polish daily Gazeta wyborsza tells it all: “Israel wants France without Jews.” So do the French anti-Semites, one might add. The constitution of the State of Israel was, from Europe’s standpoint, effectively the realized “final solution” of the Jewish problem (getting rid of the Jews) entertained by the Nazis themselves. Was the creation of the State of Israel not, to turn Clausewitz around, the continuation of the war against Jews by other (political) means? Is this not the “stain of injustice” that pertains to the State of Israel?”
Well this is clever, isn’t it? First, the Polish paper does not define the totality of the issue because in typical Postmodern style, there’s more than one way to construct the narrative. Does Netanyahu want a France empty of Jews or does he want Israel to be a safe if problematic harbor for Jews? Is he allowed to be a politician (however odious) throwing red meat to his constituents, or is he to be held to a different standard?
And mind you, neither of those scenarios precludes finding him to be both a bigot an opportunist. But the fact that the mass murdering, fascist psychopath (and here we mean Breivik and not Netanyahu) also wants Jews out of Europe, no more indicts Zionism than it indicts a ham sandwich. After all Jack the Ripper didn’t like women and neither did Liberace, but one made beautiful if shmaltzy music, and the other was a serial killer.
Secondly, what exactly are we to make of the way in which Zizek collapses European History into a kind of factual and moral black hole, from which neither facts nor decency can emerge? Do we really jump from the Holocaust and the totality of the European History that contextualizes it, to the constitution of Israel and are those two compressed events to be attached to the moral hazard of the “Final Solution” as defined by the Nazis?
If yes than one can easily imagine other such timelines like, for example, Thomas Jefferson liked Sally Hemmings, J. Edgar Hoover hated tight dresses, and Martin Luther King was unhappy with the room service in Memphis motels.
All technically true, all tangentially connected, but just a bit shallow and ultimately not only disingenuous but intellectually toxic.
One may find Netanyahu to be an obscene gangster, and one may be against the vulgarities of the Isralies government, with its mash-up of Kafka and Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks, and one may find the situation in Gaza to be abhorrent (on both sides of the prison fence) but the idea that the events of centuries, with contradictions, paradoxes, catastrophes of intent and by mistake, can be reduced to a paragraph that connects a Scandinavian lunatic to the irrefutable cause and effect of the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel, is either the most blatant stupidity or the stealthy machinations of a standard issue anti-Semite, camouflaged as a worldly European intellectual.
And for proof that it is the later and not the former, we consider how Zizek doubles down on the style of collapsing the vast reaches of History to a handful of talking points, by excavating how he goes from Breivik, to Netanyahu, to the Nazis, to Zionism as the culmination of the Final Solution to sticking the landing and coyly suggesting that –
“Is this not the “stain of injustice” that pertains to the State of Israel?”
This of course must be called out for exactly what it is. This is the Christian accusation of deicide, repackaged as pure left wing charity, designed to offer redemption in one hand and the knife in the other. This is anti-Semitism; the blood libel, the packaging of every standard anti-Semitic trope in a microwaved reheating of stale but decidedly toxic leftovers, in which context vanishes, the vagaries of human action are erased, and having raced through a parade of cartoon villains we are told, that “Israel” and “Zionism” are crimes, stained by injustice – and with “stained” we are right back inside the standard Jew hatred of the traditional European bigot who defines “Jews” as filthy, immoral, vermin, in need of being either exterminated or assimilated which in turn in this context means, exterminated.
Needless to say, Zizek is not done.
Adopting the standard method of a standard sophist and demagogue, he jumps from suggesting that “Israel” is illegitimate to attaching “Zionism” to the Nazis.
“September 26, 1937 is a date anyone interested in the history of anti-Semitism should remember. On that day, Adolf Eichmann and his assistant boarded a train in Berlin in order to visit Palestine. Heydrich himself gave Eichmann permission to accept the invitation of Feivel Polkes, a high member of Hagannah (the Zionist secret organization), to visit Tel Aviv and discuss there the coordination of German and Jewish organizations to facilitate the emigration of Jews to Palestine.
Both Germans and Zionists wanted as many Jews as possible to move to Palestine: Germans preferred them out of Western Europe, and Zionists themselves wanted the Jews in Palestine to outnumber the Arabs as fast as possible. (The visit failed because, due to some violent unrest, the British blocked the access to Palestine; but Eichmann and Polkes did meet days later in Cairo and discussed the coordination of German and Zionist activities.)
Is this strange incident not the supreme case of how the Nazis and the radical Zionists did share a common interest? In both cases, the purpose was a kind of “ethnic cleansing,” i.e., to violently change the ratio of ethnic groups in the population. (Incidentally, one should state clearly and unambiguously that, from the Jewish side, this deal with the Nazis was irreproachable as an act in a desperate situation.)”
Where does one begin to untangle this set of hideous distortions? Zizek is of course correct – the meeting was planed and the topic was how to get the largest number of (Western) Jews out of Europe. Beyond that we are in Der Strummer territory.
To answer his question, that this represents a convergence of common interests the response is an unequivocal no, and that any suggestion that there was a commonality to the Zionists and the Nazis is the most barbaric, shit faced lie right up there with the Jews run the banks. Zizek, the otherwise precise analyst, is technically correct but somehow manages to leave out that the British and the French, and the Stalinists also had points of convergence with the Nazis. As did Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Joe Kennedy Sr. and the Duke and Duchess of York, not to mention Coco Chanel, and the American Bund, the Vatican, Franco, Mussolini, the Arabs and the Palestinians, led by Faisal Husseini who shook Hitler’s hand and said, how can I help?
The idea that both the Zionists and the Nazis were engaged in “ethnic cleansing” as if getting Jews to relative safety is the moral equivalent of Auschwitz, is such a staggering example of moral cancer one is almost reduced to mute displays of disgust. The severity of the situation however requires stating that no one who isn’t either a fool or a kind of (pseudo) intellectual pimp, would suggest that they were the same. The Zionists were not engaged in ethnic cleansing, but were engaged in constructing salvation in the face of a group psychosis and continent wide nervous breakdown, that not only included the gentleman with a refined fondness for discipline and leather, but also included their friends in Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Poland, the Balkans, and in England where Walter Mosley may have been on Churchill’s radar as a threat, but was also on the radar of the Cliveden Set as a crude cudgel with which they hoped to beat, and again beat and then beat again, the left, the Jews and anyone else who stood in their way.
Here Zizek walks directly into the arms of the fascists but does so with his left fist in the air conveniently forgetting (or successfully ignoring) that the Zionists could look around Europe and they could very clearly see that every exit was either locked or was closing fast.
Churchill had as early as the 1920s announced his support for Mussolini, had said in the 1930s that while rough and more like Al Capone than not, Hitler may yet prove to be the man of destiny, and from T.S. Eliot to Woodhouse, to Celine, and Waugh, Europe was producing cheerleaders for mass execution at an alarming rate. And while apologists and moral gymnasts like to claim that, for example, Eliot’s anti-Semitism was not central to his agenda, the fact remains that even if one grants the premise the truth is, Eliot’s anti-Semitism and his fascism were central to the justifications used for exterminating Jews.
The stain then is not attached to Israel but to Zizek who ends this part of his pantomime with an oh by the way:
“(Incidentally, one should state clearly and unambiguously that, from the Jewish side, this deal with the Nazis was irreproachable as an act in a desperate situation.)”
Well yes Mrs. Lincoln but, incidentally, other than that, how was the play?
It is not incidental. It is not an afterthought to be dismissed at the end of an inchoate diatribe and it is not a minor detail of History. It is in fact the detail because it speaks directly to the root cause of the issue. It is the knife in Abraham’s hand. But not only because it is the sin qua non of European anti-Semitism but because Zizek’s very construction, the very use of the paratheatrical, and the word, incidental, and the fact that it’s tucked in at the end of a diarrhetical trail of toxic lies and distortions, all speak directly to how the old anti-Semitism is the same as the contemporary anti-Semitism, and perhaps even more lethal precisely because it is woven into the otherwise legitimate criticism of end phase capitalism.
But it is also imperative to point out that having begun with the slander that the Zionists were making common cause with the Nazis, and then to parenthetically blow up your own premise, is to be head up the ass irresponsible and the intellectual equivalent of a drunk crashing into a brick wall. If the premise is legitimate than the parenthetical is unnecessary. If the concluding parenthetical is legitimate than the premise is false and the entire argument is a pile of shit.
One could go on, as Zizek offers no shortage of examples that demonstrate his being complicit, and deranged. But, in a sense its doesn’t matter. Having murdered the truth with a knife, the fact that he returned to the scene of the crime with an axe doesn’t change the fact that there’s a corpse.
But, who listens? Gaza! Gaza! Gaza!
And so, we end where we began. Heads will roll, the neo-Jacobins will express solidarity and a sense of destiny; they will demand purity from everyone, and a mountain of skulls will be left in a ditch somewhere as a monument to the perfectibility of humanity, and the irrefutable logic of the dialectic.
Somewhere, someone will walk into a synagogue and start shooting.
And someone will say, it’s all the fault of the fucking Jews.
For a look at Zizek & companies stylings see the following:
For a look at how the clever bigots give cover to their less clever friends, including those in what for some may be called, high places, see the following:
Here is an older piece by Zizek that speaks to the logical inconsistencies of a contemporary doctrinaire leftist, operating within the hall of mirrors of their pathology, disguised as an, ideology:
“Khrushchev’s speech in 1956 denouncing Stalin’s crimes was a political act from which, as his biographer William Taubman put it, ‘the Soviet regime never fully recovered, and neither did he.’ Although it was plainly opportunistic, there was just as plainly more to it than that, a kind of reckless excess that cannot be accounted for in terms of political strategy. The speech so undermined the dogma of infallible leadership that the entire nomenklatura sank into temporary paralysis. A dozen or so delegates collapsed during the speech, and had to be carried out and given medical help; one of them, Boleslaw Bierut, the hardline general secretary of the Polish Communist Party, died of a heart attack. The model Stalinist writer Alexander Fadeyev actually shot himself a few days later. The point is not that they were ‘honest Communists’: most of them were brutal manipulators without any illusions about the Soviet regime. What broke down was their ‘objective’ illusion, the figure of the ‘big Other’ as a background against which they could exert their ruthlessness and drive for power. They had displaced their belief onto this Other, which, as it were, believed on their behalf. Now their proxy had disintegrated.”
What’s stunning about this fiction, is the idea of what’s not stated, but hangs over the entire piece as a funereal shroud. While the point is to contextualize the by now, paint by numbers version of the story surrounding Khrushchev’s “secret speech” (a speech so “secret” that nearly everyone who shouldn’t, in theory, have seen a copy, ended up with a copy, and did so, so quickly, that one has to assume that Khrushchev wanted it disseminated – an idea that to our knowledge never enters into the history of the event) denouncing Stalin. What Zizek elides is that the shock was not psychic, was not to be understood in Lacanian terms (“the big Other”) but was simply, directly, a manifestation of terror.
Zizek forgets to mention, or perhaps, succeeds in ignoring, that while Stalin may have been dead, what was very much alive, was the very recent experience of a massive, ruthless, brutalizing state system of terror. The methodology of that system was, of course, to liquidate individuals, and cadres, with allegiances to the previous regime.
Khrushchev himself had in the 1930s, found his name on a list of people to be eliminated not for any ideological reason, and not even because of a personal vendetta or caprice but because, as a matter of bureaucratic efficiency, and the need to meet a quota, he had been selected for a bullet to the back of his head.
What is then to be expected is multiple examples of apparatchiks from the previous, Stalinist regime, having heart attacks from stress, and fear, or, alleviating the need of the state to spend a bullet when they could do it themselves.
What goes missing from Zizek’s version, is a simple blunt reality. Soviet state terror like the state terror bureaucracy everywhere, has a kind of mundane quality – the banal reality of the banality of evil. The issue is not some psychological collapse but simply a purge which, it is crucial to say, was orchestrated by Khrushchev who, being more subtle than his predecessor, didn’t need to repeat the show trials and purges as sadistic opera but instead, gave a speech which, with far greater efficiency and flexibility, produced the same results. This is not a story about the psychological collapse of their illusion but, the reality of the collapse of their power within a corrupt imperial court. This is Stalin as Caligula, not a Lacanian mirror.
This then is a Khrushchev who is still a monster, a slithering tyrant who, while more adept than Stalin, less of a blatant thug, remains a creature of the system.
In other words, despite a relative liberalism, he remains a man defined by: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
A epithet that applies as well to Zizek.
See the full piece here: