Wallace Shawn on Israel in Gaza


I’m not into spreading anti-anything rhetoric, so please don’t construe this as such. Nontheless, this piece by Jewish playwright and actor Wallace Shawn warrants attention. Although i disagree that Israel’s recent actions are inherently ‘irrational’ (rather, they’re driven mainly by domestic politics and plain old fear), this author makes some fairly incisive points about the ghetto mentality that has been internalized by the zionist discourse:

Recent history shows that the Jews, as a people, have found few friends who are honest and true. During World War II, when Hitler’s anti-Semitism was responsible for the murdering of the millions of Jews, the world and the United States expressed their own anti-Semitism by refusing to house and welcome the tortured race, preferring instead to let it be exterminated if need be. After the war, the world felt it owed the Jews something–but then showed its lack of true regard for the tormented group by “giving” them a piece of land populated and surrounded by another people–an act of European imperialism carried out exactly at the moment when non-European peoples all over the world were finally concluding that European imperialism was completely unacceptable and had to be resisted…

Many right-wing Israelis and American Jews clearly believe that Jews have always had enemies and always will have enemies–and who can be shocked that certain Jews might think that? To these individuals, a Palestinian throwing stones at an Israeli soldier, even if his life has perhaps been destroyed by the Israeli occupation, is simply part of an eternal mob of anti-Semites, a mob made up principally of people to whom the Jews have done no harm at all, as they did no harm to Hitler. The logical consequence of this view of the world is that in the face of such massive and eternal opposition, Jews are morally justified in taking any measures they can think of to protect themselves. They are involved in one long eternal war, and a few hundred Palestinians killed today must be measured against many millions of Jews who were killed in the past. The agony the Israelis might inflict on a Palestinian family today must be seen in the perspective of Jewish families in agony all over the world in the past.

It is irrational [i’d say ‘unhelpfully optimistic’] for the Israeli leaders to imagine that the Palestinians will understand this particular point of view–will understand why Jews might find it appropriate, let us say, to retaliate for the death of one Jew by killing a hundred Palestinians.

I in no way wish to dismiss the post-holocaust discourse of traumatized Jewry. That said, the above argument is pretty spot-on.

I’d put it this way: Israel uses deontological justification for the destruction it inevitably inflicts on Palestinian society. From a zionist mindset, it’s the principle that matters. If they could, Hamas would ‘drive all the Jews into the sea.’ Therefore Israel ‘has to do whatever it takes’ to keep Hamas from getting to that position. Israel, with its western values and functioning ‘democracy’ [read: for Jews], is ‘morally superior’ to ‘backwards’ Hamas, period.

This kind of thinking may work well to assauge the consciences of Israelis and other westerners, but what the world — and the Palestinians in particular, of course — experience are the consequences of the actions produced by the deontological logic.

In a world of globalized media and increasing (perceived) transparency, deontological arguments simply do not resonate as well as vivid portrayals of the consequentialist reality. Israel was founded on deontological premises, in an entirely different era. Times have changed. Perhaps a change in thinking is in order as well.

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Filed under middle east, note to future generations, philosophy and metaphysics

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