its the stupidity, stupid

How can you be “Right on Israel, left on everything else?” How can someone who heard Dylan and appreciated the Dead perpetuate the Occupation? In addressing this question, Shaul Magid sets up a story about the universal and the particular that seems not to understand the meaninglessness of the question.

The answer Magid gives us has two components. First “It’s the spirituality, stupid.” There’s a story about a nascent sixties ideology getting mixed up with Rav Kook. In the misbeggoten synthesis, Rav Kook (and the Rav Kook of Tzvi Yehuda) wins.

Many of the counter-cultural American immigrants from this period were inspired by a New Age spirituality that contained its own distinct form of Orientalism. The Jewish version of this outlook was easy prey for an emerging settler spirituality that institutionalized a “divine connection to the land” that had little tolerance for coexistence if it meant sharing said land. While these American counter-culturalsists sympathized with the subaltern in principle, as they became more integrated into this new Zionist romanticism of the settler movement, the divine connection to the land began to take precedence.

This answer is facile because it repeats the question. Magid asked “How do you square your commitment to the values of the counter-culture with your right-leaning Israeli political views?” In other words, the producers of one cultural product you identify with would (in some imaginary dialogue) not get along with the producers of the other cultural products you identify with. Throwing down the gauntlet, Magid asks– which producers do you identify with? This is kind of like Rashi telling us that the ear which heard God’s say “the children of Israel are my slaves” needs to be pierced on the doorpost if it inclines towards another master. For Magid, you need fidelity to the event of listening to Jerry.
The answer is kind of “duh.” In appropriating cultural products, we are always riffing off of them. Nietzsche already knew that all reading is interpretation. Magid  substantively misrecognized the situation. He thought he was dealing with naive, pristine cultural consumers. But they also play a role as producers. That’s why radio free Nachlaot is sui generis, neither Dylan, nor R Kook, nor some Hegelian synthesis. And that’s also why enumerating influences “New Age spirituality” and “romanticism of the Settler movement” turns out to be paraphrasing rather than explaining. You asked how these guys could combine R Kook and Jerry and you answered: takah, they combined R Kook and Jerry.
At this point Emmanuel Levinas appears to save the day. Magid writes that

Levinas [argued] that true universalism can only arise from the particular, while the particular must carry the universal, which implicitly criticizes Kant’s cosmopolitanism as both naïve and misguided. This remains a central concern for political philosophers to this day.

First of all, Levinas does not remain a “central concern” of political philosophers to this day. Secondly, it’s ironic to use Levinas as your cudgel to decry empty settler particularism, the occupation, etc. Let’s have a look at what Levinas had to say about Palestinians. Are the Palestinians the Other? Nope.

My definition of the other is completely different. The other is the neighbour, who is not necessarily kin, but who can be. And in that sense, if you’re for the other, you’re for the neighbour. But if your neighbour attacks another neighbour or treats him unjustly, what can you do? Then alterity takes on another character, in alterity we can find an enemy, or at least then we are faced with the problem of knowing who is right and who is wrong, who is just and who is unjust. There are people who are wrong.

This unhelpful detour through some notions of German idealism mediated through Levinas doesn’t add much explanatory value or heft to the initial question. Perhaps we need to follow Levinas, who said that there “are people who are wrong” on this one. Maybe the real question isn’t why settler romanticism trumps the sixties for some people. Its more like: why does fidelity to the sixties mean so much to Shaul Magid?

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5 Responses to its the stupidity, stupid

  1. Yonatan Ha-Kohain says:

    I could be wrong (and this is not particularly well thought out), but Maggid thinks that the Counter-cultural aspects of the Settler Movement is completely external and superficial and he would like some grappling with the substance of the 1960’s.
    Personally, I only see the rejection of American Suburban Boredom and superficiality in the Settler movement. There does seem to be a lack of concern with those suffering beyond your four cubits.

  2. mordy says:

    I think a bigger problem with the Magid piece is that he assumes there’s a contradiction between the 60-70s counter-culture and support for Israel, but he never explicates exactly what that contradiction is. After all, it’s just a coincidence of history that the modern American left is pro-Palestinian self-determination. There is no coherent political philosophy that unites the two. Couldn’t I ask Magid how he squares freedom from totalitarianism with promoting Islamic self-determination when it results in theological extremism? (Obviously there are a lot of unnecessary binaries here, but I think the point remains that none of these positions are a natural fit for the American counter-culture, and probably the broader point is that Magid conflates the people that hold these positions with the positions they hold.) If you were a proponent of expanded women’s rights, Civil Rights, gay rights, etc in the 60s, why wouldn’t you fight for the liberal democratic government of Israel to administer as broad a territory as possible? They will at least guarantee some of these rights in the territories.

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  4. rlandes says:

    nice comment. i’m preparing a fisking of the same silly piece. can you give the reference on the levinas quote?

  5. Pingback: Deadheads for Israel: What’s Your Problem? | Augean Stables

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