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Monday reading #15
Fred Moten on solidarity with Jews and Palestinians
Monday Reading is my weekly recommendation of something I’ve found thought-provoking or fascinating. Sometimes it is about something I have read. Sometimes it is about television or food or music or projects I care about supporting. Sometimes I do not send it on Monday. Please share with anyone who might like the vibes!!
One of the best, smartest things I’ve ever read about Judaism and Israel comes from a conversation between Fred Moten and Robin D.G. Kelley, held at the University of Toronto in 2017 & moderated by Afua Cooper and Rinaldo Walcott. (Here’s a transcript.)
Moten, discussing the American Studies Association’s endorsement of an academic boycott of Israel, talks about distinguishing the nation-state of Israel from the Jewish people. I queued the video to start at the beginning of the comments I found most useful, but I’m also putting them here. I hope you find them useful. I certainly have.
FRED MOTEN: For me, there are two reasons to be in solidarity with the people of Palestine. One is because they’re human beings, and they’re being treated with absolute brutality. But the other is the specific resistance to Israel as a nation-state. And for my money, to be perfectly clear about this, I believe that this nation-state of Israel is itself an artifact of anti-Semitism. What if we thought about Israel and Zionism not just as a form of racism that results in the displacement of Palestinians, but as artifacts of the historic displacement of Jews from Europe in the same way that we might think of, let’s say, Sierra Leone or Liberia as artifacts of racist displacement? What if we think about it that way? The reason I’m saying this is just to make sure that you know that there’s a possible argument against the formulation that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic when we know that Donald Trump is a staunch supporter of Israel. If we know that people like Pat Robertson in the United States are staunch supporters of Israel, that ought to hint to us the fact that you can be deeply anti-Semitic and also support the State of Israel. These things go together. They’re not antithetical to one another.
So then it becomes important for us to be able to suggest that resistance to the State of Israel is also resistance to the idea of the legitimacy of the nation-state. When the defense of Israel manifests itself as a defense of its right to exist, it’s a defense not just of Israel’s right to exist, but of the nation state as a political form’s right to exist. And nation-states don’t have rights. What they’re supposed to be are mechanisms to protect the rights of the people who live in them, and that has almost never been the case. And to the extent that they do protect the rights of the people who live with them, it’s at the expense of the people who don’t.
So part of what’s at stake, and one of the reasons why it’s important to pay particular attention to this issue, why we ought to resist the ridiculous formulation that singling out Israel at this moment is anti-Semitic, is because it’s important to recognize that Israel is a state for reasons that are totally bound up with anti-Semitism. Israel is the state that, insofar as it makes the claim about its right to exist, it is also making the claim about the nation-state’s right to exist as such. It’s that same kind of formulation that people often make about Black people or Indigenous people as if they were the essence of the human. So that every time Black people or Indigenous people do something that supposedly we’re not supposed to do, it constitutes a violation to the very idea of the human because somehow as a function of the nobility of our suffering, we constitute the very idea of humanity. And there’s nothing more brutal, nothing more vicious than having been consigned to that position.
Similarly, Israel as a function of anti-Semitism has not been placed in the position of protecting the very idea of the nation-state. So for me, first and foremost, it’s important to have solidarity with the Palestinian people. But second of all, it’s important to actually have some solidarity with the Jewish people insofar as they can and must be separated from the Israeli state, because ultimately, the fate of the Jewish people, if it is tied to the nation state of Israel, will be more brutal than anything that has yet been done or can be imagined. I mean everything that you think I mean when I say that.
If you haven’t had a chance to read my essay about Birthright Israel’s role in all of this, here it is again. Thanks for reading and sharing.
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