December 25, 2011

Where was I when Hitchens died?

Nope, I don't remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard that Christopher Hitchens died but I did remember him on the telly once, back in the 1990s, saying something like, "I shall never forget where I was standing and what I was doing on the day [Kennedy] nearly killed me." I was worried that, as with so much pre-internet stuff, I wouldn't be able to find the quote, but he obviously liked the point so much he dusted it off for his 2010 memoir, Hitch-22. The New York Post liked it too. And so did I.

I remember seeing him at a London Review of Books discussion with Tariq Ali et al after the former had nailed his flag to the mast of the neo-con "war of terror" and managed to show himself to be quite a nasty racist in response to one member of the audience.

Q[uestioner]. Tariq Ali was the only one I think who mentioned that the United States is the sole global power that we have now and what we are seeing is the dawn of a new imperialism. So why is it that we are so – we, meaning the global community – why are we so content at letting America have its say regardless of what the rest of the world thinks of it. It has committed a whole host of crimes on a vast scale in international law. It is suspending civil rights as far as the al-Qaida prisoners are concerned. It is actually riding roughshod over all norms of international law and why – where is Russia, where is Japan, where are all these countries?
C[hristopher] H[itchens]. ....I will not reject the challenge from the comrade, who I would say was from the Subcontinent. I would ask him this. He wanted to know why a country that – I think I have you right, sir – was indifferent to the norms of international law, was not more opposed by Russia and China, was that how you had it? Where was Russia, you said, where is China, why do they lie down under this lawlessness? I think your question answers itself: I think you had a real nerve asking it actually, or shall I say Chechnya or Cambodia or North Korea or Tibet or Kurdistan? It wouldn’t make any difference to you – would it? – any more than if I asked you how many people are currently flooding to the borders and ports of your country to immigrate to it – or to Russia or to China. Ask yourself that. One of the greatest problems that the United States has at the present moment is that everyone wants to come and live there: they’re wondering now how generous they can be. We should all have such problems; you will never have a problem like that, and nor will your ideology

Another time, I remember him saying that the war on Afghanistan should continue unabated through Ramadan and that "I always crank up my anti-zionism at Yom Kippur", though I don't remember hearing or reading his anti-zionism, cranked up or otherwise. I can't find that one on the net. Nor can find any evidence of his anti-zionism on the net now.

What else do I remember? Yes, I remember thinking he was quite a good egg when he was on the telly with Shere Hite but also I remember wincing when he referred to her as Mademoiselle Hite, as if the Mademoiselle bit might detract from her credibility. This too was pre-net, and he can't have been as proud of that one as he was of the Kennedy remark because I can't find the Hite stuff anywhere.

So, there's a lot on the net now about "Hitch", most of which is flipping ludicrous. I suppose that's quite fitting. He was obviously quite proud of his flipping but he didn't seem to be aware of his ludicrousness. The fact that there were at least three obituaries for Hitchens in the Daily Mail show both the extent to which he had flipped and how ludicrous he had become by the time he died, though, to be fair, one of the tributes was from his brother, Peter.  Many of the obits mention George Galloway's put down of Hitchens as a "a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay". Hitchens had turned up to support some House UnAmerican Activities Committee or other against Galloway.  The Mail didn't mention that Galloway dispatched Hitchens with even greater ease than he did the committee itself and I haven't seen any of the obits mentioning the "grapple in the Apple" debate between Hitchens and Galloway courtesy of Democracy Now. Woops, that's not true. There was one which I can't place right now. It said something about the debate generating more heat than light but I am fairly sure Galloway said that himself at the end of the debate.

But there have been some very entertaining posts on the passing of Hitchens my personal fave is from Flying Rodent of the Between the Hammer and the Anvil blog. See this:
Evasion, retrenchment, misdirection, ad hominem assaults.  These were his weapons in his Great Intellectual Struggle, a cause in which he clearly regarded himself as an intellectual Field Marshall, sending his fellow word-warriors into combat.  
Pick your Iraq-related controversy, and Hitchens had a highly-conditional, deeply duplicitous argument ready for deployment.  When a survey revealed a massive death toll resulting from the war, Hitchens invoked a nebulous "some percentage" of the bodycount who were maybe, probably murderous baddies.  
What percentage?  Hitchens neither knew nor cared.  All that mattered was reducing the damage to the war effort, to allow it to continue unimpeded in all it's righteous violence.
On the torture, rape and murder of prisoners at Abu Ghraib: Bad, but not Guernica and anyway, not as bad as Saddam.  
Cindy Sheehan, a woman with some wacky opinions who also happened to be the mother of a dead US soldier?  Not so much an exploited, grieving woman as a moral blackmailer, said his angry hatchet job.  
When he was embarrassingly suckered by the obvious fraudster Ahmad Chalabi - Other candidates would be worse.  
On Iraq's horrifying civil war, a situation resulting entirely from the decision to invade in the first place - your problem, you fucking deal with it if you want to end the war so much...  Or, in one of his favourite gambits - Al Qaeda ate my homework
Louis Proyect's immediate obituary was more about Alex Cockburn's obituary and more about Cockburn himself than about Hitchens but his subsequent pointer to Reading the maps was welcome, though I don't agree that it was "the best Hitchens obit". It does provide some useful links including Proyect's own obit and Finkestein's Hitchens obituary which appeared about 9 years before Hitchens actually died:
In the early years of the Iraq war Hitchens was regularly excoriated by left-wing commentators, but few of his old opponents have felt the need to renew their fury in the aftermath of his death. The blogger Louis Proyect was one of Hitchens' most ferocious and persistent critics, but his obituary for his old enemy is surprisingly measured. Alex Callinicos, whose Socialist Workers Party was often condemned as an ally of 'Islamofascism' by Hitchens, has also refrained from denunciations............
Hitchens' advertisements for Bush's war were written in haste, and without great regard for either facts or logic. Reviewing The Long Short War, a collection of twenty-two pro-war articles penned in late 2002 and early 2003, Norman Finkelstein noted how often Hitchens contradicted himself, even within the confines of a single article. Finkelstein found Hitchens claiming that the war had nothing to do with oil, then stating on his very next page that 'of course it's about oil'. He saw Hitchens arguing that Saddam's regime was on the brink of 'implosion', then asserting a page later than 'only the force of American arms' could bring regime change in Iraq. 
As it happens, all these years down the line, it is worth revisiting Finkelstein's piece:
an apostate is usually astute enough to understand that, in order to catch the public eye and reap the attendant benefits, merely registering this or that doubt about one's prior convictions, or nuanced disagreements with former comrades (which, after all, is how a reasoned change of heart would normally evolve), won't suffice.  For, incremental change, or fundamental change by accretion, doesn't get the buzz going: there must be a dramatic rupture with one's past.  Conversion and zealotry, just like revelation and apostasy, are flip sides of the same coin, the currency of a political culture having more in common with religion than rational discourse.  A rite of passage for apostates peculiar to U.S. political culture is bashing Noam Chomsky.  It's the political equivalent of a bar mitzvah, a ritual signaling that one has "grown up" - i.e., grown out of one's "childish" past.  It's hard to pick up an article or book by ex-radicals - Gitlin's Letters to a Young Activist, Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism… - that doesn't include a hysterical attack on him.  Behind this venom there's also a transparent psychological factor at play.  Chomsky mirrors their idealistic past as well as sordid present, an obstinate reminder that they once had principles but no longer do, that they sold out but he didn't.  Hating to be reminded, they keep trying to shatter the glass.  He's the demon from the past that, after recantation, no amount of incantation can exorcise.  
And as recently as May this year Hitchens was still attacking his former comrade, Chomsky, conveniently forgetting that his journey to the neo-con right didn't begin quite as immediately after 9/11 as he would have liked people to believe.

December 12, 2011

Zionist racism in Tel Aviv

Rally against Sudanese refugees in Tel Aviv, calling to "restrict their movement" and set up concentration camps.

December 11, 2011

Protest against Veolia in Camden, London, UK

Bin Bag Protest: Veolia out of north London

On Tuesday at 9am we will be gathering at Camden Town Hall in order to protest at the meeting of the NLWA board who will be voting on the Fuel Use contract for North London.  NLWA will also be making decisions about bidders for the main waste processing contract and it is a great opportunity for us to remind them about the campaign through a Bin Bag Protest. 

This will reinforce the vital work that has been done recently by members of No2VAG in terms of vital legal arguments and contacting councillors again to repeat the key messages as well as raising environmental, financial and corporate conduct concerns. 

A number of people have prepared materials, placards [see attached], Veolia Scream bin bag and clothing (white overalls) which will be brought and a member has prepared a Veolia Scream facepaint design so it will be visually impressive.  All you need to do it turn up for an hour on Tuesday morning.  If you are willing to be face-painted please arrive by 8.45am.  Wet wipes and water will be on hand to clean up afterwards!   If you have other materials you wish to bring along these will be welcome.

Bring along yourself, your ideas and enthusiasm!

Decision day nears for waste project worth billions
Published: 9 December, 2011
The latest Islington Tribune published letter includes details of our protest:

Tuesday 13 Dec 9-10am
Camden Town Hall,
Judd St [Opposite St Pancras Station; between King's Cross and Euston],
London WC1H 9JE

Will north London throw £4.7billions down the drain?

The evidence against Veolia:
1) Grave misconduct for aiding and abetting on-going Israeli war crimes
2) Financial crisis - nearly 60% loss of share value in the last 6 months [see latest - below]
3) Racist recruitment practice - advertising jobs for Jews only
4) Guilty of putting 
residents lives in danger in the 2007 explosion of waste [Preston, Lancashire, closing the M6]
5) Technical solutions bad for the environment [while competitors offer harnessing of CHP heat, Veolia offer no real Heat Recovery]
6) Poor recycling [Veolia business concentrates on incineration and is new to the separation of co-mingled waste needed for meaningful recycling]

The NLWA has ignored the evidence against Veolia and it insists:
"none of the matters raised so far have been found to affect Veolia’s ability to perform satisfactorily a contract for NLWA".

Would the NLWA councillors take it more seriously when they vote this Tuesday on whether to shortlist Veolia?

If you are on facebook - you may wish to invite your friends to:

Veolia Financial Crisis:

In the summer Veolia was forced to disclose its financial crisis, including fraud and since has been in free fall. This week Veolia announced to investors [6 December] that it's dumping its new partner, Transdev - they only got hitched a few months ago after courting for 2 years.  This divorce won't be cheap. Bloomberg's take was: "Veolia Exits Mass Transit With $6.7 Billion of Asset Sales to Reduce Debt". Such a change of heart should worry all north Londoners. The waste authority is keen to tie the knot with Veolia for 30 years to the tune of £4.7billions. The NLWA councillors will vote this Tuesday on whether to continue flirting with Veolia.  

Grave Misconduct

The Tribune edited out "grave misconduct": inadvertently altering the substance of the letter - a distortion the NLWA does all the time, except the NLWA should be aware of the difference, given the legal advice available to them:
"to Veolia's grave misconduct in aiding and abetting the Israeli violation of international law and human rights of the Palestinians"
was edited to:
"to the company’s operations in Israel".

The unaltered letter [the full letter sent to the Islington Tribune]:

The international media is analysing this week [again] the crisis surrounding Veolia. From the FT to Reuters they all agree it is serious. But the NLWA responses show it is still in denial. 

The problem is that Islington would have to live with the legacy of the NLWA aversion to facts and UK law. The waste contracts the NLWA appears so keen to grant Veolia are for 30 years! And it isn't small money – in fact it's the biggest UK waste project worth £4.7 billion.

While I'm writing this letter, Islington councillors would be contemplating which company would be dropped out of the three horse bid for billions of pounds waste related contract. The vote is next week.

It seems, the north London councillors at the NLWA are held by the scruff of the neck. It even rejected all 3 deputation applications to explain the Councillors why the legal advice they were given by the NLWA isn't sound.
Hundreds of residents have communicated their concerns, from Veolia's guilt in the 2007 explosions putting in danger residents and closing the M6 & M55, to Veolia's grave misconduct in aiding and abetting the Israeli violation of international law and human rights of the Palestinians. No one will be able to say that the NLWA awarded these contracts in ignorance of the complicity of one of the bidders in complicity with flagrant and ongoing war crimes.

Will the Islington councillors have the courage to stand up for Islington and vote against Veolia?

Islington residents will be protesting when the NLWA come to vote this Tuesday 13th from 9am outside the Camden Town Hall near King's Cross.


North London Waste Authority process the waste from the 7 boroughs:
Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest 

December 10, 2011

The Republican Freak Show on Israel

How to view this video in the UK

Mustafa Tamimi, 28, murdered by Israel during a peaceful protest against the ethnic cleansing of Nabi Saleh

Mustafa Tamimi (L) poses for a photo with his parents (front) and brothers in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, 10.9.2010. (Photo: Activestills)

For more articles about the popular Palestinian resistance in Nabi Saleh, see Electronic Intifadah.

Video shot after Tamimi was hit in the face by a gas canister, shot by an Israeli soldiers at close range.

December 06, 2011

The lobby lobbies Israel

Here's Akiva Eldar in Ha'aretz on how America's Jewish (yes, Jewish) lobby successfully lobbied Israel over a racist advertising campaign by the State of Israel in the USA.

An uproar in the "holy city" of New York. An Israeli Absorption Ministry campaign - using the slogan "Before Hanukkah turns into Christmas, it's time to return to Israel" - has convulsed the offices of Jewish professionals in the city. How dare those Israeli beggars patronize us? Who has ever heard of such chutzpah: delegitimizing Jews in America?
Heads of Jewish federations have sent urgent letters to Israel's prime minister, warning that the campaign is liable to harm relations between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. Really! Ambassador Michael Oren apologized, and Benjamin Netanyahu canned the slogan. Apologies were made, now everyone can prepare for Hanukkah parties. And the main thing? "Jewish leaders" are now free to become involved in a renewed struggle against the "delegitimization of Israel." Or, in other words, they will defend Israel's government, whose forte is promoting the delegitimization of the "other."
Actually it's the State of Israel that delegitimises the "other", not this or that government. Zionism is zionism after all but the Eldar isn't averse to promoting the oxymoron of Israel being "a democratic, Jewish state". Tony Greenstein covers the whole issue of what prompted Israel's racist advertising campaign in the first place.

December 04, 2011

A word about the "A" word

Many people will have already read about the recent Question Time style debate at Birmingham University. I only just found out about the fact that a question about whether or not Israel can be described as an apartheid state was banned from even being asked.  Apparently this was at the request of the World Zionist Congress affiliated Jewish Society.

Anyway, here's Ben White, on the banning of the "A" word from the proceedings:
The whole debate can be watched on YouTube, but one of the talking points of the evening came when, barely half an hour in, an audience member asked the panel if Israel is an apartheid state. The chair’s unexpected reply was that this was not a subject that could be discussed: “I’ve been told I can’t have that as a question”, she stressed (watch here). Inevitably, all the panellists then proceeded to address the issue – Victor Kattan said he’d refer to “A”.
What the audience didn’t know is that in the run up to the event, members of the Jewish Society had pressured the Debating Society to prohibit my book ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ from being available for purchase. Despite the fact that J-Soc was free to make available any of their own literature without restriction, J-Soc students threatened to withdraw their official association with the event, if I brought along copies of my book to sell. Eventually, they backed down when the Debating Society refused to concede the point.
Ben smartly links the debate and the attempted suppression of one side of it to the Birmingham University students' union's adoption of the bogus EUMC working definition of antisemitism:

Further crucial context is the adoption by the Birmingham student union in 2010 of the notoriously politicised and discredited ‘EUMC working definition of antisemitism’. This 2005 document, left to gather dust by the EUMC’s successor body the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), has been ably critiqued by Richard Kuper herehere, and here, and also by Antony Lerman here.
In fact, earlier this year, the Universities and College Union (UCU) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion that criticised the way in which the working definition “is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus”.
Thus after the J-Soc attempts to prevent the sale of my book, the debate organisers were understandably anxious about encouraging a question on apartheid that could see them accused of racism, according to an interpretation of the student union policy.
This was the first time that the Debating Society had held an Israel-Palestine debate since the EUMC motion passed; it was, in effect, a test case. What transpired on Thursday not only showed the extent to which groups will go to stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes, but also how such efforts  can so often spectacularly backfire.
I presume it was the students' union's adoption of the working definition which led to the attempted ban on the "A" word. The problem here is that zionists will claim that the working definition has not been used to stifle debate because the debate was had. Of course this will be a lie as the video attests. I wonder if the WZC's affiliates in Birmingham will use their humiliation as an excuse to ban future debate on Palestine altogether.

November 26, 2011

Commentary on the “Philosophical Thinking” of Gilad Atzmon

This article is not about Atzmon’s antisemitism, which has been discussed elsewhere [1]. However, Atzmon recently deemed David Landy, who writes here at JSF, alien to “philosophical thinking,” and “unable to grasp… metaphysical depth.”[2] As Atzmon knows, we Jews are tribal. No sooner did I read it than an effervescence of “clannish solidarity” percolated through my veins like echoes of far away drums. I therefore set myself the task of discovering the essence of Atzmon’s fabled “philosophical thinking,” and perused his recent offering, The Wandering Who, blunderingly published by Zero Books.[3] Yet this is no traditional book review. Space and time constraints limit me to commenting a single chapter. I chose chapter nine, which mostly levels unproblematic accusations against Israel. As the commentary is longer than the chapter reviewed, I hope that by the end of it the reader understands why a serious review of the full book is not likely. Unless Zero Books decide to publish an annotated edition.

Atzmon in his own words

What Zionists think of themselves is not very interesting; far more intriguing is the duality referred to above, the chasm between who they think they are and what they actually are, between self-image and public image, consciousness and unconsciousness. Unconsciousness, says Lacan, is the ‘discourse of the other’, which is very much the male fear of impotence. Rather than the anxiety induced by the fear of being caught malfunctioning, it is the fear of being known as dysfunctional. The real terror here is the unbearable threat that the fiasco may become public knowledge.

At the time of the 2006 Lebanon war, the Israelis’ ‘discourse of the other’ encompassed CNN, Sky TV, BBC and the West in general. As the war proceeded, it began to appear as though resentment was mounting amongst those who were no longer willing to accept Israeli brutality. Indeed, this gulf between the confident Israeli self-image and the total contempt of the other is exactly where the neurosis of Yehoshua, Oz, Grossman and the majority of Israelis came into play.

Two and half years after its military flop in Lebanon, Israel found itself once again in the midst of a second disastrous war that it had launched.This was Operation Cast Lead (2008), a total war against the people of Gaza and their democratically-elected leadership, Hamas. Along the campaign,Israel attempted to implement the lesson of the 2006 war. I think, probably optimistically, that by then, somebody at the state hasbara bureau must have read Lacan. The Israelis would try to save themselves from fully grasping who they are and what they do by blocking out every possible mirror.Consequently the IDF barred all foreign media from entering Gaza, in order to guarantee a propaganda success. It wasn’t just about barring Goyim from entering the battle zone, but about preventing Israelis and Zionist Jews around the world from seeing themselves through the gaze of the Goyim. It was a crude attempt to divert the discourse so that Jewish unconsciousness was kept intact.
Atzmon follows with analyzing a detail from a Coen Brothers film, alleging that the key character, a Jewish American physics professor by the name of Larry, sheds light on the same issue.
In the dream, Larry is confronted with his guilt through his Goy neighbour. Rather than the fear of being unethical, it is the fear of being caught out as unethical that torments Larry. It is the ‘discourse of the other’ (the gun-toting neighbour) that introduces Larry unconsciously to a sense of guilt. I link this back to the case of Israel: it is not the idea of being unethical that torments Israelis and their supporters, but the idea of being ‘caught out’ as such.
Atzmon concludes:
The Coens’ Jewish tribal cinematic reality is the Jewish unconscious, of which Jews are far from being proud. Like Al-Jazeera and Press TV in Gaza, the Coens reveal Jewish ghetto malaise to an audience of millions. But they also tackle the notion of Jewish unconsciousness by the means of mirroring.

The Argument

Let’s outline the argument. The chapter introduces three pieces in evidence:
  1. the gap between the self-image of Israelis and what was seen on TV during the 2006 Labanon invasion,
  2. the gap between the self-image of Israelis and what was seen on TV during operation Cast Lead,
  3. the gap between the self-image of Larry as a good man, a fictional American Jew, and the truth.
In each case, the gap produces a strong reaction:
  1. the alleged neurosis of Israeli authors (undocumented, we see nowhere evidence or definition of the neurosis),
  2. the barring of foreign journalists from covering operation Cast Lead in Gaza,
  3. Larry being tormented by his neighbor’s contempt.
The evidence reveals a pattern, a gap between self image and public image, which produces a psychological symptom which fits, according to Atzmon, Lacan’s psychoanalytical theory. Applying Lacan’s theory to the evidence therefore helps identify the “Jewish Ghetto Malaise” and the “‘Jewish ghetto’ mindset”, which explains the evidence and therefore Israel’s behavior.

What is wrong with this argument? Pretty much everything, as I will enumerate.

A Chamber Pot Called ‘Lacan’

Lacan does not use the terms ‘unconsciousness’ and ‘consciousness’ Atzmon attributes him. He uses ‘the unconscious’ and ‘the subject.’ Since the unconscious is Freud’s (and Lacan’s) central theoretical concept, mangling it is the equivalent of referring to Einstein’s “theory of relatives,” or the centrality of “classic struggle” in Marxism. It is a sophomoric term paper blooper of the kind that teaching assistants love to share.[4] Atzmon claims he studied philosophy in graduate school. Perhaps he fell prey to one of those internet scams.

Nor did Lacan say that unconsciousness is “the discourse of the other.” He said that “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other.” Capitalization is important, since ‘Other’ and ‘other’ are in fact opposing concepts for Lacan. The other (uncapitalized) is the object of desire and stands in an imaginary relation with the ego. This fundamentally narcissistic relation is that which Lacan identifies in the act of gazing at oneself in the mirror. The narcissistic relation interrupts the other relation, that between the subject and the Other. The Other (capitalized) is the symbolic order, language and the primary law of signification and desire, which constitutes the subject and is inaccessible to it. Atzmon attributes to Lacan almost the precise opposite of Lacan’s concept of the unconscious. ( la lettre volée )[5]

Therefore, the Lacanian telegram, “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other” refers to the unconscious as that which is both at the core of subjectivity and related to as alien and inaccessible to it, being the external and constitutive symbolic order of language. By no stretch of interpretation can it mean ‘what CNN and Press TV say about me that I don’t know’, which is how Atzmon uses the term ‘unconsciousness.’ Whereas the mirror provides Lacan with the paradigmatic model of imaginary, narcissistic identification, Atzmon uses the image in the mirror and on the TV screen as synonyms with the truth.

Put simply, Atzmon’s alleged theoretical apparatus does not exist.

Distinctions without a Difference

Rather than the anxiety induced by the fear of being caught malfunctioning, it is the fear of being known as dysfunctional.
The syntactic form ‘Rather than A, B’ presupposes a meaningful difference between A and B. Putting aside that I don’t know what “anxiety induced by fear” means, let alone how it differs from fear, what is the difference between the two legs of this construction? Although the muddy prose does not help, it could be that Atzmon distinguishes between the fear of failure in the act (performance anxiety) and the fear of stigma (being known). How does this distinction affect his argument?

If ‘it’ in the above quote refers back to “the male fear of impotence,” which is, we are told, “pretty much” the definition of unconsciousness (according to ‘Lacan’, though certainly not according to Lacan), then Atzmon argues that the male fear of impotence is not performance anxiety but rather the fear of stigma. That would be a questionable assertion, both because these two fears are intertwined—one fears failing at least partially because of the projected stigma—and because I suspect most men would rather not be impotent even when there is nobody around to know it.

Alternatively, ‘it’ could be a forward reference to “the real terror here”, which apparently refers to Israel’s symptom. In that case, the expression “rather than” distinguishes between “the male fear of impotence” and Israel’s symptom, thus arguing that Israel’s symptom is different from unconsciousness. This would invalidate the whole argument which is based on the application of that term to Israelis.

Differences without a Distinction

Since there is allegedly a single ghetto mindset, the three facts in evidence for this mindset should reveal the same psychological pattern. They don’t.
  1. The real terror here is the unbearable threat that the fiasco may become public knowledge.
  2. The Israelis would try to save themselves from fully grasping who they are and what they do by blocking out every possible mirror
  3. Rather than the fear of being unethical, it is the fear of being caught out as unethical that torments Larry.
One can either be in denial about one’s crimes or blasé about them. One cannot be both. If one experiences guilt when caught, that is to the extent that the transgressed value has been internalized. If Israelis tried to avoid fully grasping what they have done (as Atzmon claims they did in Gaza), they could have only done so to the extent that they cared about the ethical implications of their deeds, not only about being caught (as Atzmon claims about Larry’s condition). If, on the other hand, they only wanted to avoid the repercussions of being exposed, they would have no reason to hide their behavior from themselves. The second and third patterns are not merely different psychological states, but mutually exclusive ones.

The first pattern is yet again different. Not revealing that one is an alcoholic is not the same as not revealing that one is a child abuser. Covering up a weakness so as to appear strong is not the same as covering up a crime so as to appear innocent.

In theory, different patterns can have an underlying unity, but they don’t have to, and they most likely don’t have one when they are mutually exclusive. Anyway, underlying unity needs to be shown. But there is no evidence that Atzmon is aware that his examples do not add up.

On The Interpretation of Films

Another example of Atzmon’s ‘Lacan’ at work is his cockamamie interpretation of Larry’s dream in the Coen brothers’ film, A Serious Man.
It is the ‘discourse of the other’ (the gun-toting neighbour) that introduces Larry unconsciously to a sense of guilt.
On the contrary. The dream's gun toting neighbor is not the Other. He is just a neighbor, namely, an other who provides a narcissistic reflection to the ego. One of the film’s main themes is the difference between experience (close to the Lacanian Imaginary), the realm of sense and visibility beneath which is glimpsed the Real, the realm of trauma and events, (the tornado, the disease, the car accident), and the Symbolic, the network of signification, religion, community, tradition, which governs the web of stories and interpretations that allows a person to make sense of the event, to survive, overcome, anchor oneself and relate to experience. We see that theme at the very beginning in the “Hassidic tale,” in which the husband (simple experience, sensible reality, the Imaginary) meets a helpful stranger (the Real) and invites him over to dinner, whereas the wife (tradition, knowledge, community, the Symbolic) possesses the communal knowledge that the man is dead, and therefore, deconstructing the image, interprets the event as a curse and the visitor as a dybuk. The same theme is introduced through the difference in quantum mechanics, between the stories “that help make sense of it”, such as the story of Schrödinger’s cat, and “how it really works”, the mystery that the incomprehensible mathematical formulae seek to represent.

The dream, as Freud notes, is a wish fulfillment fantasy, but the wish is not the manifest content. Larry’s desire, as the whole film reiterates constantly, is for the Other, for answers, for God, for meaning. But the truth of this desire is questioned. Does he really want answers, or does he want the questions to go away? He is asked directly, “do you really want to go back to how things were before?” His predicament in the film is precisely that he does not feel guilty of anything, and that means that he does not know what he wants. It is that predicament which makes the film a meditation on the biblical Book of Job. Larry’s wish therefore appears in the dream as the desire to be punished. By making himself a sinner he becomes the other of the Other, therefore eliciting punishment, which both release him from his predicament (fulfills his wish) and reintegrates him into the Symbolic by giving the misfortunes that befell him meaning. The Symbolic order, and the guilt that is essential to it, is the condition of the continuation of human life, which is why the only appropriate punishment is death. The neighbor who shoots him in the dream does not confront Larry with his real guilt, but is rather the imaginary representation of his own desire to be found guilty, to be guilty so he can continue to live, to be punished by God so that the disruptive question of God's will can go away. This is the paradox of the film, which is the theological paradox of Job, in that, in order to radically fulfill God’s will, one has to sacrifice the desire for order, for meaning, and for a relation with God, and vice versa.

Dream Work: Condensation and Displacement

Atzmon reaches conclusions about “Israelis and Zionist Jews.” However his evidence, to the extent that it is factual, does not have the same scope. The first and second evidence relate to the actions of Israeli authorities, primarily the IDF and the government. The third piece of evidence is a detail from a film, a dream, which relates to a fictional Jewish American character about whose political sympathies nothing is said. How do we get from these specific instances to the mindset that characterizes Zionist Jews and Israelis in general?

Regarding moving from governing authorities to Israelis, Atzmon offers nothing. It must be assumed that there is no such thing as a society, namely, a differentiated whole, divided by class, race, gender, status, etc, rife with both conflict and cooperation, with internal relations of domination, resistance and co-optation.

Otherwise, one could ask for example, are those who were prevented from “fully grasping” what happened in Gaza the same people as those who issued the order to bar journalists from Gaza? If not, what is the relation between them?

Rather than presenting a relation, Atzmon’s drift between the different categories works like a dream. Freud describes the unconscious thought process as the work of two mechanisms of substitution, condensation and displacement, which Lacan translates to metaphor and metonymy. The IDF / Government of Israel / Israel / Grossman / Israelis / Zionists / Jews (and we may continue with terms from elsewhere, Wall Street / Greenspan / the Bund / Marxists, etc. etc. practically ad infinitum) is such a signifying chain, in which every term can be substituted for the others through such mechanisms.

Regarding the move from the fictional Jewish character Larry to Israel, Atzmon is more explicit, although his explanation refers only to crossing the Atlantic and ignores the question of crossing the gulf between fiction and social reality.
…A Serious Man delivers a clear message regarding Israel and Zionism, for Israel is the Jewish state and, despite the Zionist promise to build a civilised nation, it functions as a Jewish ghetto, subject to all the symptoms of abnormality conveyed by the Coens.
What Larry’s case teaches us can be applied to Israel because Larry is Jewish and Israel, Atzmon says, is “the Jewish State” and functions as “a Jewish Ghetto.”

Thus, Atzmon practically declares that what ultimately connects Larry to Israel is a pure signifier, ‘Jewish,’ whose presence justifies substituting one to the other. Presumably, you know one Jewish thing you know them all. However, we need also examine the function of the signifier ‘ghetto’, as it may suggest a more substantial claim, thus giving ‘Jewish’ a positive content.

In what way does Israel function as a ghetto? It does function as such as a simile. There is one aspect of Israel that is like the Jewish ghetto/shtetl of yesteryear. Both are geographically bounded areas in which Jews live among Jews (in Israel, to the extent that Palestinians are segregated). Thus, the simile “Israel is like a ghetto” can be useful if one makes an illuminating argument on the basis of that aspect, but the simile does not exhaust its terms. In other key aspects Israel is not like a ghetto. It is a sovereign state possessing an army and nuclear arms, something the Jewish ghetto usually lacked. It is much larger, much more internally differentiated by class and race, much wealthier in the aggregate, etc. Why is the similar aspect determinant while the differences are not? Ultimately, Israel is like a ghetto in the same way that a gun is like a penis. The simile may illuminate why some men worship guns. But you cannot deduce from knowing that one needs a license to own a gun that owning a penis requires a license as well. What gives Atzmon’s false inference the appearance of solidity is, again, the sliding through the signifier ‘Jewish.’

Furthermore, in what way is the American Jew Larry connected to a “Jewish ghetto”? Larry lives among non Jews, thus lacking even that aspect of the ghetto that applies to Israel. While aspects of Larry’s life as depicted in the film are intensely Jewish, including some that might be illuminated through the metaphor (and not the reality) of the ghetto, there is no reason why either Larry’s ethical lapses or his sex fantasy would be so illuminated, rather than, for example, through male subjectivity, quantum mechanics, suburbia, academic life, theology, etc. Non Jewish men fantasizing about sex with the neighbor are not unheard of, and Larry’s decision to take the bribe is no more Jewish than his student's deciding to offer one is Korean. The connection between Larry’s lapses and the ghetto in which he doesn’t live is a pure semiotic slide through the signifier ‘Jewish’ and its permutations: Larry /Coen Brothers / Jewish / Jewish ghetto / Zionism / Jewish State. Atzmon glides from one term to the other, as if dreaming, or spinning free associations on the therapist’s couch, revealing little about anything other than his own unconscious.

Occam’s Razor and Gyges’s Ring

The Israelis would try to save themselves from fully grasping who they are and what they do by blocking out every possible mirror. Consequently the IDF barred all foreign media from entering Gaza,
Consider these four factoids:

  • The Alawite Syrian regime imposes a virtual media blackout on the popular uprising going on in Syria. [6]
  • The NYPD prevented journalists from covering the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park.[7]
  • The Chinese censor scrubs the internet for any mention of the dissidence.[8]
  • Israel barred all foreign media from entering Gaza.
One could offer four different theories, each positing a new entity, one for each fact: an Alawite mindset explaining Syria, a Han Chinese mindset explaining China, an NYPD mindset explaining the NYPD, and a Jewish mindset explaining Israel.

Or one could suggest a single theory that explains why governing authorities or elites seek to control official information despite knowing that the information will spread anyway. To take one example, in Domination and the Arts of Resistance, James C. Scott offers a sophisticated analysis of interactions between dominated and dominating groups, introducing the concept of “the public transcript,” and arguing that the ideological performances of elites that seek to control the public transcript are primarily directed at themselves.[9]

What would Occam do?[10]

A similar appeal to Occam’s razor invalidates every other explanation Atzmon offers in this chapter. Do we need a special Jewish ghetto mindset to explain why the IDF sought to cover up its incompetence during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon? Do we need a special ghetto mindset to explain an illicit sexual fantasy of a fictional character? Do we need one to explain the fact that some ethical rules are sometimes obeyed by some people out of the fear of being caught?

As for the latter, hypothesizing that Atzmon’s graduate studies in philosophy consisted in corresponding with an on-line scammer hawking sham degrees might explain why he is unaware that the question ‘why do people behave justly?’ is somewhat old, as is the argument that they do so out of fear of punishment. In the second book of Plato’s Republic, for example, Glaucon argues:
…that those who practise justice do so involuntarily and because they have not the power to be unjust will best appear if we imagine something of this kind: having given both to the just and the unjust power to do what they will, let us watch and see whither desire will lead them; then we shall discover in the very act the just and unjust man to be proceeding along the same road, following their interest, which all natures deem to be their good, and are only diverted into the path of justice by the force of law. The liberty which we are supposing may be most completely given to them in the form of such a power as is said to have been possessed by Gyges the ancestor of Croesus the Lydian. [11]
The story proceeds with the myth of the ring of Gyges [12], who becomes corrupt after acquiring the power of making himself invisible. Incidentally, Gyges then
… seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom.
Could it be that Glaucon reached his unflattering conclusions after observing the behavior of the many Jews who packed fifth century B.C. Athens? There weren’t any. Were the Athenians themselves so ‘Jewish’? Apart for the inherent offensiveness of the formula, that would be an odd argument given how much hay Atzmon makes from the imaginary opposition he posits between Universalist “Athens” and tribalist “Jerusalem.” (To close a circle with the film, in the following paragraph, accessed through the link above, Plato indeed conjures a Job.)

“Dear Consumer,”

Given that the text falls apart for being breathed upon, one has to ask how it works; what is the pleasure of the text? And, leaving that to another day, why would the author serve his readers the intellectual equivalent of canned dog food? A possible answer could be that he internalized Alan Greenspan’s market ethics. Atzmon cites Greenspan explaining why subprime mortgages were a good thing:
Innovation...has brought about a multitude of new products, such as subprime loans and niche credit programs…With these advances in technology, lenders have taken advantage of credit-scoring models and other techniques for efficiently extending credit to a broader spectrum of consumers.
The same is true of the field of books and articles. If there is a market for intellectual dog food, why ask why? There always will be entrepreneurs eager to satisfy the demand—for a modest return, be it mostly vanity.

Post-Scriptum: a Joke

A man visits a therapist and asks for help. The therapist proposes a Rorschach test. The therapist shows him the first inkblot and asks, what do you see? The man looks at it and replies, I see Jews. The therapist holds up the second image. What do you see? I see Jews. The therapist shows him the third image. What do you see? I see Jews. And so they go through the whole set of inkblots, and the man keep saying for every image—I see Jews. The test finished, the therapist folds the images back into a drawer and says: I think you might have an obsession with Jews. Why? Asks the man, upset. It is you who collects so many pictures of Jews!

NOTES (all links in the text are repeated here)


[5] Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire sur « la lettre volée » in Écrits I, Éditions du Seuil, 1966, pp. 66-67.


[12] Plato’s story is most likely one of the inspirations of Tolkein’s the Lord of the Rings.

November 25, 2011

The Police, the Zionist and the Crawler

by David Landy

Five years ago, the Israeli embassy in Ireland tried to hold a cultural event in Dublin city centre. They bought over the Israeli writer, AB Yehoshua to the Irish Writer’s Centre on Parnell Square. On a balmy June evening, we held a noisy, peaceful protest, reading from Yehoshua’s writings – the one where he looks forward to a ‘purifying war’ on Palestinians in Gaza and advocates collective punishment. We also read – loudly – from the works of two Palestinian poets – Ghassan Zaqtan and Zacharia Mohammad - who Israel had prevented from coming to Ireland when they were booked to read their works in the Irish Writers Centre. We were, as the police said, entitled to protest.

Last night, the Israeli embassy held another cultural event in Dublin City centre, a film festival in Filmbase, in Temple Bar. Naturally, we held a similar protest. It was a larger protest, but equally good-natured – although this time it was in the rain and cold. The only real difference was the attitude of the police. As our press release describes it:
A protest outside the Israeli Embassy sponsored “Israeli Film Days” in Temple Bar turned acrimonious this evening when Gardai broke up a peaceful demonstration by pro-Palestinian activists outside the venue. Citing Section 21 of the Public Order Act, Gardai forcibly removed around sixty activists from the area outside the venue, Filmbase, on Curved Street in Temple Bar, while others were removed from inside the venue.

Prior to the removal, the protestors had gathered to chant slogans and hand out leaflets explaining why they were opposed to the event. Between 5.30 and 6.40pm the activists held a loud, colourful, vibrant and entirely peaceful protest outside. By this time the majority of those attending the event had entered without incident – including the Tanaiste and Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, and Justice Minister Alan Shatter, and it was at this time – after everyone inside had gone downstairs into the cinema area - that Gardai began to forcibly remove the protest from the street. After being forced off Curved Street, the protest found itself split into two crowds, on Temple Lane Street and Eustace Street.”

More information about the police shutting down our peaceful protest can be found here:

Why did the police take such radically different approaches to such similar Palestinian solidarity actions? The immediate answer isn’t hard to find – we have a new Justice Minister, Alan Shatter. He is an Irish Jew and a staunch Zionist, and has always considered that his remit involves representing Israel in Ireland.

I have seen police clear a street of protesters before, but never with such lack of enthusiasm. They knew that this was an operationally stupid decision which only prolonged and intensified the protest. They were aware that we had actually been on the point of leaving. But orders is orders is orders and clearly our presence had become embarrassing to our Justice Minister in the presence of his Israeli friends. After all, they wouldn’t stand for that type of nonsense in Israel. So the rabble was cleared from the street.

However, Alan Shatter was not the only Irish Minister inside the Israeli festival of propaganda. Shamefully, near-unbelievably, our Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour party (and formerly from the Workers Party) was also present. This was despite the fact that a scant fortnight before, 14 Irish citizens, including two elected representatives had been attacked in international waters by Israeli commandos and dragged to an Israeli prison. After the Filmbase protest, there was a public meeting where these flotilla participants talked of their abuse by the Israelis. They also told of how Irish embassy staff who tried to ensure their release were lied to and treated badly by the Israeli officials. Evidently Eamon Gilmore isn’t concerned about Palestinians, but one would have thought that national pride would have led to him staying away from this Israeli event.

It’s awkward to bring up issues like national pride and national sovereignty without endorsing some kind of bigoted and small-minded nationalism. But the erosion of Irish national sovereignty over the last year is important, whether it is the IMF control of our economy, or the kowtowing to European banks. It is akin to the erosion of Greek sovereignty, which led to them impounding the Freedom Flotilla.

Our government protests that Ireland is not like Greece, but only in that we are good subjects that will abide by whatever rules the German and French governments and banks set us, not like those feckless Greeks. These days in Ireland it feels like the old colonised attitudes never really went away. That our elites were just waiting for the time to doff their caps to new masters. This more-or-less willing handover of vestiges of national sovereignty has had the knock-on effect that the government is less willing to risk offending anyone perceived as powerful. When Israeli officials called Ireland the most anti-Israel place in Europe and blamed our docile little government for this shocking state of affairs,,7340,L-4149059,00.htmlsmall wonder that our Minister for Foreign Affairs crawled to Temple Bar to placate them and to appear at this festival of Israeli hasbara.

So now we have a toadying Minister for Foreign Affairs, a Zionist Minster for Justice.

This augers a sea-change in our government’s attitude to Palestine and Palestinian solidarity. First there is change in the police’s attitude - from easy tolerance to degrees of repression. More importantly, it speaks of a change in our government’s practice of at least voicing concern about the repression of Palestinian (while admittedly doing nothing), to a position indistinguishable from other European governments.

This change is not all bad – it indicates that Palestinian solidarity in this country and internationally is seen as a force to be taken seriously and combated rather than humoured. It shows how our actions, the events like the flotilla and the ongoing international boycott campaign, are starting to disrupt the normal flows of state and economic power.

For the growing governmental drift to Israel is taking place at a time when solidarity with Palestine in this country has never been stronger. It is one more indication of the widening divide between people and politicians in this country.

In the meantime, we can be happy that this protest turned out to be such a success. Our aim was to politicise Israel’s use of culture to whitewash their crimes. For the price of a few small bruises, we succeeded beyond all our expectations. We are confident that there will be a good, determined turnout for our protest this evening and Saturday and Sunday. For this, the police, the Zionist and the Crawler are to be thanked.

November 24, 2011

Netanyahu, the new occidentalist prophet

While Washington is confused by the Arab masses, not knowing how to control them, afraid that backing the dictators too openly would backfire, trying to co-opt the revolutions with various palliatives or overrun them with military action, Netanyahu assumes the role of the prophet of unwavering reaction, the new De Maistre of the Occidental world.
Almost a year after the Arab Spring began, Netanyahu's speech, his sharpest Knesset comment since the wave of uprisings swept out of Tunisia, provided a glimpse into the prime minister's true views concerning the massive popular unrest movement.

The speech showed an expressed lack of trust in Arab nations' ability to maintain a democratic regime; a yearning to go back to the days of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; a fear of the collapse of the Hashemite royal house in Jordan, and an utter lack of willingness to make any concessions to the Palestinians.

"In February, when millions of Egyptians thronged to the streets in Cairo, commentators and quite a few Israeli members of the opposition said that we're facing a new era of liberalism and progress...They said I was trying to scare the public and was on the wrong side of history and don't see where things are heading," he said.

But time has proved him right, Netanyahu said. His forecast that the Arab Spring would turn into an "Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli and anti-democratic wave" turned out to be true, he said.

Netanyahu also slammed Western leaders, and especially U.S. President Barak Obama, who had pushed Mubarak to resign from power. At the time this was happening Netanyahu said in closed talks that the American administration and many European leaders don't understand reality. On Wednesday, he called them "naive."

"I ask today, who here didn't understand reality? Who here didn't understand history?" he called from the Knesset podium. "Israel is facing a period of instability and uncertainty in the region. This is certainly not the time to listen to those who say follow your heart."

Netanyahu used the upheaval in the Arab world to justify his government's inaction vis-a-vis the peace process with the Palestinians. Haaretz, November 24, 2011