Over the previous two months, as Israel has waged a genocidal battle in Gaza, killing greater than 19,000 folks, greater than a 3rd of them youngsters, Western philosophers have come beneath criticism for his or her positions on the matter. These self-proclaimed beacons of morality and ethics have both condoned battle crimes, ethnic cleaning, and forcible evacuations or taken ambivalent positions on them.
For instance, on November 13, German philosophers Jürgen Habermas, Nicole Deitelhoff, Rainer Forst, and Klaus Guenther issued a press release in help of Israel, rejecting the time period genocide in reference to its actions in Gaza and claiming that Hamas’s October 7 assault supposed to “get rid of Jewish life generally”.
Habermas subsequently grew to become the topic of a social media meme that requested “do you condemn Habermas?” mocking the repeated insistence on condemning Hamas that Palestinians interviewed by Western media shops face.
Whereas Habermas’s place is hardly stunning, the writings of one other European thinker, Slavoj Žižek, have been disappointing given his earlier statements on Israel-Palestine. So right here I ask, can we condemn Žižek?
You will need to recognise that the Slovenian thinker has been put in a troublesome place. After giving a speech on the opening of the Frankfurt E book Honest on October 17, he was viciously attacked and even accused of anti-Semitism. He was even heckled on the occasion for stating that “Palestinians are strictly handled as an issue. The state of Israel doesn’t provide them any hope, positively outlining their position within the state they dwell.” Since then, he has spent appreciable effort making an attempt to defend himself towards being falsely recognized as an anti-Semite.
However in making an attempt to navigate the genocidally charged setting of Germany and the remainder of Europe, Žižek has inadvertently betrayed his radical leftist aspirations.
Most of what he stated within the speech first appeared in an article he published with Mission Syndicate on October 13 beneath the title “The Actual Dividing Line in Israel-Palestine”.
Within the piece, he writes “the state of affairs calls for historic context” however then goes on to scale back “the state of affairs” to a confrontation between “fundamentalists on either side”; he talks concerning the Israeli occupation and the “really determined and hopeless situations confronted by Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied territories”, however reaffirms Israel’s “proper to defend itself”.
A lot of what he says within the piece is disconnected from and contradicts his earlier writings about state terrorism, Zionism, peace, “hamatzav”, the two-state answer, and even the critique of the American invasion of Iraq.
Whereas he hyperlinks the battle in Gaza to “the mass of Palestinian Arabs who’ve been residing in a state of limbo for many years”, Žižek fails to carry up the historical past of the continued Nakba and its significance for understanding the extremist Zionist messianic ideology.
He additionally repeats a significant speaking level from the Israeli hasbara repertoire about Hamas’s position in undermining any risk for peace, regardless of beforehand figuring out Israel as the primary actor that’s undermining peace. Simply two years in the past, he wrote in an op-ed revealed by RT that the protraction of the occupation “is in Israel’s curiosity: they need the West Financial institution, however they don’t need to annex it as a result of they don’t need to grant Israeli citizenship to West Financial institution Palestinians.”
He then dished out his pizza analogy to point out how Israel persistently undermines the peace course of: “So the state of affairs drags on and is sometimes interrupted by negotiations which a Palestinian participant completely described. Either side sit at reverse ends of a desk with a pie of pizza within the center, and whereas negotiating over learn how to break up the pie, one aspect continually eats “its” elements.”
These contradictions in Žižek’s current evaluation of Israel-Palestine are compounded by his insufficient analytical framework. In his article and the speech, he insists on decreasing this genocidal battle to a battle between the 2 sides of the identical fundamentalist logic, epitomised by what Hamas chief Ismael Haniyeh and Israeli authorities minister Itamar Ben-Gvir have stated.
Nevertheless, Ben-Gvir’s ideology just isn’t fringe in Israel; it simply doesn’t costume its intentions within the rhetoric of “democracy” and human rights because the Israeli liberals do. It displays the entire material of the settler colonial Jewish apartheid ethnocratic state. Official statements concerning the intent to “nuke” Palestinians, to destroy “the human animals”, and to hold out a second Nakba are mirrored by youngsters’s songs concerning the “annihilation” of Palestinians and bizarre Israelis saying they need “Gaza gone”.
Even Israeli liberal intellectuals like Yuval Harari – whom Žižek quotes in his speech and writings and appears to treat as somebody discerning of the harmful “fundamentalism” of the likes of Ben-Gvir – are overtly endorsing the ethnic cleaning of Gaza beneath the guise of “defending civilians”. In actual fact, that is the one distinction between the Israeli “fundamentalists” – as Žižek calls them – and the Israeli liberals: the latter would simply wrap the identical insurance policies within the language of humanism to make them extra palatable to the world.
Žižek additionally insists that Israel has absolutely the proper to defend itself towards Hamas. In a November 20 op-ed revealed in The Philosophical Salon, he even states that he “gave Israel the complete proper to destroy [Hamas]”. A number of strains down, he writes that he stands in full solidarity with the victims of Hamas’s assault and with the Jewish neighborhood, however doesn’t prolong his help to the actions of the State of Israel and its present administration. It’s not clear how he can endorse Israel’s “proper to self-defence” whereas refusing to help it.
Extra importantly, such a place is totally disconnected from his earlier analyses of Zionist settler colonialism and occupation. Simply again in March 2023, he wrote a piece for Mission Syndicate by which he argued that condemning Russia correctly makes it crucial to “be constant and in addition condemn different examples, not least Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians within the occupied territories”.
As many commentators have identified, in line with worldwide regulation, an occupier can’t declare self-defence towards the folks it occupies. In actual fact, using this phrase in a settler-colonial context is code for ethnic cleaning and land seize.
Žižek’s Hobbesian equivocations on Israel’s “proper to self-defence” can’t be excused as a defensive response.
Much more incomprehensible is his insistence to cling in his writings to some liberal politics of hope on this catastrophic context. In a December 12 op-ed he revealed with the Israeli outlet Haaretz, he sees change coming by way of “the sluggish rise of solidarity between the Palestinian residents of Israel and the Jews opposing the all-destructive battle”.
However this lofty aspirational imaginative and prescient is totally disconnected from the realities on the bottom. Palestinian residents of Israel have been subjected to a brutal McCarthyist campaign of arrest, surveillance, intimidation and exclusion even for calling for the top of the battle. Any assertion or exercise that’s not in favour of this genocidal battle is deemed as hostile and anti-Israel.
Undoubtedly, the worry of being painted with the demonising brush of anti-Semitism may be very actual and can’t be overstated. It’s being weaponised even towards Jewish folks, because the controversy over Masha Gessen’s reception of the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought sadly illustrates. Gessen was attacked for writing in a bit for the New Yorker, that Gaza is “like a Jewish ghetto in an Japanese European nation occupied by Nazi Germany”.
Regardless of his ambivalent place on the Palestinian genocide, Žižek shouldn’t be dismissed as an irrelevant thinker. In spite of everything, the core truths of many philosophies exist past the biographies of their authors.
I feel Žižek is conscious of his failings and might revise his place in future writings. As he could nicely know, it’s by no means too late to awaken.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.