December 10, 2008

Bernard Avishai defends racism ( but only during "revolutionary times")

The TPM Cafe fell in love with Abraham Burg for the occasion of his new book abjuring Zionism. Avraham Burg's abjuration of Zionism has in it too much White Supremacist nostalgia to the "good" pre 1967 Zionism, before Ashkenazis lost control of the political machine (but kept the economy and the professions). Burg reads too much into the war of 1967, and Bernard Avishai takes him to task for that.
Virtually all of the questionable features of the current state--discriminatory land policy privileging Jewish settlement, the fudged line between religion and state, the seduction of American Jews with the cult of Jerusalem, the ward-of-the-state support for ultraOrthodoxy, the constitutional muddle over citizenship and national identity occasioned by the Law of Return, and even the reliance on the holocaust to rally world support--were fully there in the country Burg's mother built, and more crucially, his father insisted on as a member of its governments. The occupation, begun in 1967, gave these features a new and grotesque dimension; and the children born in West Bank settlements embody these grotesqueries in a way the kibbutzniks in the film could not have imagined. But one cannot just chalk them up to "trauma" or a refusal to see that the "holocaust is over."

The point is, these features made a kind of awful sense in 1951, which were revolutionary times. (TPM)

Spin it as you like, this is an endorsement of institutional racism. Moreover, the discriminatory land policy was not a one-off event. It was not a crime committed in the heat of battle. Avishai describes precisely the establishment of structures of racism that would exist for a very long time (this is the manifest intention behind writing racist laws and creating racist institutions). Avishai is saying that in "revolutionary times" it is right for groups to seize the opportunity to create racist structures that would enshrine their privilege. What next, will Avishai care to discuss the times when antisemitism in Europe also made sense? Surely the hyperinflation era in the late Weimar Republic was a revolutionary time. How about slavery? Was that O.K. in the revolutionary times of the U.S. war of independence? Inquiring minds want to know.

Avishai also effectively says that expelling 750,000 Palestinians and giving their land for the exclusive use of Jews "made a kind of awful sense in 1951."

How does he say that? First, the land policies he refers too were there for reason, to legitimize and institutionalize the armed robbery and expulsion that took place in 1947-1950, and to create a new regime of land ownership based on settlements that would make the return of the refugees moot and the expulsion irreversible. To ignore the expulsion but justify its institutionalization is what the Prophet Eliahu calls in Kings 21 "to kill and then claim the inheritance." (Haratzakhta gam yarashta?").

If this weren't enough, Avishai chooses language that directly puts him in the lineage of the transfer idea in Zionist thought. Speaking directly about "transfer" in the 30s (the old euphemism for ethnic cleansing), Ben Gurion explained that "what is inconceivable in normal times is possible in revolutionary times." The war of 1948 provided the necessary "revolutionary times" and Ben Gurion indeed seized the opportunity. I cannot imagine Avishai is unaware of this famous quote (although maybe he is, which is a different kind of problem). It sounds like a clear allusion to me.

Revolutionary times may return. And one shudders to think what more atrocities nice people like Avishai will again be compelled to approve.

BTW, the title is tongue in cheek and may be too gentle. I would say Avishai restricts his support for only the institutionalization of racism to revolutionary times. But from this it follows that he supports racism in all times. That is because once racism is institutionalized and the times return to normal (non-revolutionary), it becomes very difficult to overturn entrenched racist institutions. And that is after all the whole point of using revolutionary times to create these institutions. Using the opportunity of revolutionary times to institutionalize racism can only be defended if you are willing to defend racist institutions and laws.

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