Substance & Tactics at JVP (Response to Mira Sucharov)

 

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Mira Sucharov is one of the best writers in North America on the left about the contemporary politics in and about Israel and Palestine. Having moved off from a liberal Zionist (2 State Solution) point of political view, she responded sharply to an initiative pushed by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) called “Deadly Exchange.” The initiative accuses American Jewish institutions for directly aiding and abetting violence against people of color in this country by sponsoring junkets involving U.S. police and their counterparts in Israel. Many, including this blog, were startled to see in an initiative video mapping out the red lines connecting a nefarious white Jewish cabal colluding against black and Palestinians lives, and accused JVP of slipping into anti-Semitism. For her part, Mira penned an op-ed here at Ha’aretz English pointing out that neither JVP nor the leaders of the initiative have provided any information about the content of these police-professional exchanges or any other evidence to make stick incendiary claims that these exchanges have any substantive connection with the ongoing reality of police brutality in the United States. (Note: it is my practice at the blog to refer to those I consider friends by their first name.) As fallout, Mira, who’s politics are probably now more in alignment with JVP than not, has been accused of trading in racism and the racist erasure of Jews of color. The back and forth has been vicious, and encouraged by supporters and leadership of JVP, particularly on social media.

In an exchange on FB, Mira wanted to suss out my views about Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization about which I have been consistently and bitterly critical for some years now.  Mira, who has herself come in for a considerable amount of abuse from JVP, suggests that it is possible to separate [1] matters especially of radical ideological and political principle from [2] the tactics of self-righteous posturing and moral bullying that many of come to identify with the organization.  Ideally, this analytic distinction should be possible. But my own sense is that while these two “things” might indeed be distinct, they tend to congeal in practice. An extreme political stance lends itself almost inevitable to zero-sum political tactics. Conversely, the lack of that zero-sum stance among self-professed radicals suggests that such posturing obscures more pragmatic political wiggle room under the surface of the radical appearance.

Mira asked, “ So I guess I’d ask (in light of my subthread above — or maybe that was in the previous post — about trying to separate policy from tactics) is what do you have against JVP — is it a difference of values/beliefs/opinion on Israel-Palestine? Or is it a dislike of their tactics?”

I wrote back to say that my criticism of JVP has always concerned the following:

[1] Starting with the substance of the world-view, I’m a liberal Zionist, or a progressive Zionist. (I don’t really care about the label). JVP used to be agnostic about Zionism, but JVP has largely turned itself into an anti-Zionist organization. That’s their right to stake out whatever political position, but it puts them at the margin of and in stark oppositional relations within the Jewish political mini-verse. Of note, however, is the special animus that liberal/progressive Zionists have attracted on the anti-Zionist and now intersectional left. It’s one thing to attack rightwing Zionists who make an easy target, whereas liberal/progressive Zionists hold out a vision which to liberals and leftists might in some way recognize as semi-palatable. You see this animating contempt for liberal Zionists on display at places like Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifadah.

[2] JVP has increasingly resorted to the tactics and language of “targeting” these people. This was the language used by organization leadership to characterize “actions” taken to disrupt a LGBT contingent, including a group of queer orthodox Jewish youth marching at an Israel Day parade in New York. It’s reflected in the abuse heaped on A Wider Bridge, a group of American Jewish LGBT creating bridges with the LGBT community in Israel, the support of JVP for expelling the three marchers at the Dyke March parade in Chicago, and the cyberbulling of Mira in the wake of  a critical piece that she wrote about a JVP initiative that come dangerously close to and slip into anti-Semitism. Compare in contrast the Jewish activist IfNotNow, whose actions never fall into these kinds of traps, and who always punch up in their political actions. The tactics out in the world and online at FB and Twitter by JVP are bullying tactics increasingly and consistently directed at liberal Zionists.

[3] JVP is non-transparent. Not really a peace movement, JVP is a Jewish voice for Palestine, i.e. a Jewish movement doing Palestine advocacy.  In good faith, there is no reason why re-branding JVP as such should preclude its members from arguing the claim that [1] Palestinian interests do not contradict Jewish  interests and in fact coincide and are coequal, that no interest can ever be secured at the expense of another, but that [2] given the asymmetrical nature of the relationship, Palestinian rights and interests enjoy a distinct priority and privilege. Alas, the group’s mission statement on its website is more or less vanilla with an ambiguous, even subtle support of a Palestinian right of return to 1948 Israel. But signing on to the PACBI BDS call means that JVP has committed itself to an unambigious call for RoR, which by most projections would transform Israel into Palestine and Jews into a minority ethnic-religious community. That’s a perfectly coherent notion about which one can argue this way or that. But what rights would such a minority Jewish community would enjoy, especially if the roots of that community are envisioned as “essentially” settler-colonial, and now “white supremacist? Would Jews in such a compact have a public-political interest or a liberal-private one, perhaps simply “religious,” or not even that. The Palestinian cause as taken up on the anti-Zionist left is a social justice movement, not a peace if peace means bridging genuine differences between two opposing sides in a conflict whose resolution requires meeting the interests of both parties. About any of these questions, there is no public transparency at JVP.  If all Zionism means to them is settler colonialism and now white supremacy, they should say so. If members are of mixed mind, then the organization is incoherent about a fundamental ideological point.

[4] The attacks against liberal Zionists and perceived enemies from the liberal-left are an index to an affective pressure at JVP that tends towards anger bordering onto and slipping into hatred, not constructive engagement. From  a more mainstream perspective in the Jewish community, JVP is coming increasingly to resemble a sectarian movement, which in the history of religion, tend towards violent rhetoric. This mood sits at and appeals to the temper of rage and self-righteous fury with the established order, and the desire to rip up and restructure it down to the bitter root. On the other hand, one should not fail to observe that JVP is not just tapping into the mood out there on the intersectional left. JVP is now itself an intersectional Jewish movement. JVP has now brought intersectionality as an internal Jewish question/dynamic to the fore, and with it all the anger and rage that goes into that expressive style as queer Jewish radicals and JOC’s go after the white Jewish and liberal mainstream on matters of substance including but not limited to Israel and Palestine. This is relatively new territory and needs to be addressed carefully, no matter where one stands on the issues. On the basis of limited experience, however, I think I can say with some confidence that JVP does not own a monopoly on questions of common concern regarding social justice, economic inequality, peace and justice in Israel and Palestine, Black Lives, LGBT rights, Islamophhobia and Jewish-Muslim outreach. What  JVP brings to these complex phenomena is the politics of purity, moral posturing, and boundary policing that has engulfed large segments of the radical and intersectional left.

[5] Lost on no one is that the politics of identity and the genuine urgency of creating safe and inclusive spaces is double-edged. JVP claims to oppose anti-Semitism, but they don’t really. When they tag anti-Semitism, there is an almost reactive tendency not to give an inch, immediately and in the next breath to blame its spread on Israel while insisting that people allegedly hyping the problem are responsible for either the problem or for the problem going unchecked. JVP is quick to justify expressions and actions on the anti-Zionist fringe and now intersectional left that exclude Jewish people on the basis of narrow litmus tests regarding Israel and Zionism that work to separate “good Jews” from “bad Jews,” the very same thing about which people complain regarding demands placed upon BLM activists or Muslims as a class. There’s a lot of anti-Jewish rage out there on the anti-Zionist and intersectional left. Had JVP had the courage to stand up to it and work to create bridges, they’d have won a lot more respect in the Jewish community. The fact that they don’t speaks volumes. They now actively contribute to making Jews unsafe

In short, I see the impetus behind Mira’s initial query about splitting off the question about substance and tactics. But I think there is a point where form and content, style and substance meet or resonate. I would submit that the bullying tactical mode at JVP is an index reflecting something seriously wrong with the substance of the political platform and vision, which, in relation to Israel and Palestine, is one that would rejects the principles of self-determination and mutual recognition for two peoples. Several friends and colleagues have observed online that JVP is not the movement that it once was when they joined up, a long time ago, already, when the group first formed. Others who have been sympathetic are losing or have lost sympathy over the course of the last several months or so. There was once upon a time when JVP was agnostic about BDS that allowed for a more free form of give and take. JVP changed when it drank the BDS Kool Aid. The tactics have simply followed suit, reflecting an extreme political orientation premised as it is on the eradication of Zionism.

Regarding the future of Israel and Palestine and the end of Zionism, there is no clear vision, not from the right, left, or center. In power for so many years, the center right in Israel is no closer to its goal of “managing the conflict” with the Palestinian people, while the center left remains hapless and the far left even more so. Or the country is reeling towards some kind of violent, apocalyptic break, a new Nakba, or the country is simply slouching toward a one-state entity with a Palestinian majority. Any such one-state future will have been the work of the Jewish right in Israel, intent on occupying territories, not of the anti-Zionist left, which offers little prescriptive vision moving forward or effective capacity to mobilize politically moving forward.

The truth of the matter is that people who in this country care deeply and consistently about Israel and/or Palestine are very few in number.

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That Empty Church in Rural Maryland

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I’ve been driving by this church for some several years now on my annual drives down to rural Maryland. This time there was time to get out of the car to get a feel for the place. I’ve always been attracted by the sight. There’s a vernacular stateliness to this dead Baptist church on MD440 in the northeast corner of the state not far from US1. The wood construction is beginning to show stress as the brush begins to take over.

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Anti-Semitism & the Left in France: The Jewish Question Is a European Question (Corey Robin)

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The link to the entire post is below, an unequivocal statement from Corey Robin about the left and European anti-Semitism in France:

“Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French leftist leader who I was hoping would beat Macron in the last election, really sullies himself with this comment about French collaboration with the Holocaust. Responding to Macron’s speech in which Macron said France needed to take responsibility for its role in the roundup and extermination of the Jews (for decades, a touchy subject in…

via The Jewish Question has always been, for me, a European question — Corey Robin

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Temple Mount Holocaust Offering

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Pushing another kind of “holocaust offering” just in time for Tisha B’Av, it’s not just about metal detectors. There’s a segment of the Jewish right in Israel wanting to change the status quo at the Temple Mount in response to the recent terror attack. Never mind that it would set the world on fire, even though it is promised that this won’t happen. The idea is that Israel should take advantage of the opportunity represented by the murder of the two Israeli police officers to turn an established and active Islamic holy site into an archaeological theme park under uncontested Israeli sovereignty and open to Jewish prayer. In this article, Yoaz Hendel mocks leftwing and rigtwing governments alike for “doing the same thing, wanting to get home safely” –as if that was not the primary responsibility of a political entity, to secure the peace and  well being of its citizens.

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Deleuze Leibniz Cosmogenesis

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You would have thought it was Spinoza, but Leibniz turn out to be the beating metaphysical heart of the Deleuzian universe and its modelling of cosmogenesis, the creation of worlds (compossible and incompossible) around inflection points, the emission of singularities and series. While Deleuze is well-known among his readers for proposing the “univocity of being” and a radical conception of pure immanence, it is not always realized how that squares with the irreducibly pluralist character of Deleuzian thought. The univocity of being is only possible as a resonance communicated across singular points and bifurcating series brought to the highest possible pitch (that model is expressed in Difference & Repetition). Immanence is not the same as materialism, or even monism. Not a pure materialist, Deleuze plays with ideas, including, here in The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, the idea that there is one univocal matter riddled by multiple “souls” whose perceptions fold, unfold, and  refold that matter into pluriform configurations.

Deleuze is thinking with Leibniz about cosmogenesis, i.e. the genesis of a world composed of individuated percepts, sensations, and thoughts. Opposed as it is to Descartes, the world-fold, viewed as it is from inside a cave, remains, for all that, fundamentally dualist. Cosmogenesis starts in the dark, on a plane of consistency, as if in a baroque room made of black marble, and then fans out into light filled images. The dark room of matter is like a cell, a church, or a room. Light enters into the inside of the monad from the outside but with no view of the outside at all (pp.27ff). There is matter: spongy, perforated with holes through which light pores through and vibrates in its crannies.

The fold represents a unique contribution to arguments about mind/matter, soul/body dualism in both religion and philosophy. Against a simple monism, what distinguishes Leibnizian-Deleuzian substance-pluralism from Cartesian substance dualism is that Descartes presented two basic substances (mind/body) as both distinct and separable. With Leibniz, Deleuze makes the opposite point. Deleuze rethinks instead of rejecting the split between the one and the other. Body and soul, this and that, all those “things” are distinct and non-separable insofar as they belong to a single fold. The fold constitutes a labile formation, moving between distinct bodies and distinct souls, between outside and inside, between the façade and the closed room, between the free and billowing costume and the physical body. The fold is the tissue or texture, that inflection point connecting two distinct forms at their non-separation (pp.6, 35).

With his eye always on visual phenomena, the fold is recognized by Deleuze to be the Baroque figure par excellence. In the history of art and material culture, the reference is to wild folding and unfolding in the pleats of seventeenth century costume, undulating architectural columns and staircases, the thrust and pitch in the design and painting of that century. With not a scintilla of melancholy, for Deleuze the Baroque is all that energy plus a principle of cosmogenesis, particularly in relation to its opposite motion, the unfold. To unfold is to increase and to grow, whereas to fold is to diminish and withdraw into the recess of a world (pp.8-9). Like “flesh” in Merleau-Ponty perhaps, the Fold is between, moving about everywhere, between inorganic bodies and organisms, between organisms and animal souls, between animal souls and reasonable souls, between bodies and souls in general, always a part of the same fabric (p.13). Souls are “primitive forces,” “immaterial principles of life that are defined only in respect to the inside, to the self, “through analogy with the mind.” They exist everywhere, even in inorganic matter (p.12). Distinct as they are, but non-separable, body and soul “express” the one same thing, namely the world.

On this, Deleuze swerves with and then away from Leibniz. More important to Deleuze than to Leibniz is the idea of incompossibility. For Leibniz compossibility is represented in the harmony pre-established by a theistic God between multiple substances, an infinity of monads forming down to the smallest possible points. Incompossibility, also a theme (a minor one?) taken from Leibniz, is for Deleuze a way to develop his own understanding of the series, in particular, the idea of a bifurcating series. The possible worlds from among which Deleuze will have God choose the best possible world are incompossible with each other. For instance, the idea of Adam the sinner would be incompossible with the idea of another possible world, a world in which Adam did not sin. Rather than converge into a whole, all series eventually diverge one from the other. That is the basic difference between Leibnizian and Deleuzian thinking. The latter establishes a basic equality between incompossible worlds without a principle of selection with which to choose one over the other.

Each singular point in a series sets off a series composed of singular inflection points. Here’s what Deleuze means. We start with a series of inflection points or events. A series might consist of three such singularities: [1] Adam the first man, [2] living in the Garden, [3] a wife born from his rib [sic]. And then a fourth inflection point: [4] Adam is tempted by sin. But consider the inflection point where the series could diverge from the one we know. This would be the start of a new series. A fifth possible inflection point would be divergent, starting a different world in which [5] Adam resists temptation and does not sin, creating from that point on a completely different series. The world in which Adam did not sin would be a different garden, a different world diverging from and incompossible with our own. Deleuze calls this a “calculus or even a divine play at the origin of the world” (no doubt a reference to the image of the throw of the dice game in Difference & Repetition (Fold, pp.60-1; cf. Difference and Repetition???)

The structure of The Fold is worth a quick scan to get a sense of its undergirding metaphysical order and virtual coherence. Each single part is composed of separate chapters which I am combining together to make for a more quick exposition:

Part I starts with the fold between “matter” and “soul,” an introduction to these two different points at the level of the virtual. We are not yet in the actual world (not to be confused with “the real world”). Drawing on Paul Klee’s theory of composition, the analysis is modeled on the line composed of points. The singular inflection is “the pure Event of the line or of the point, the Virtual, ideality par excellence,” “not yet in the world,” “the World itself, or rather its beginning, as Klee used to say, ‘a site of cosmogenesis,’ ‘a nondimensional point,’ ‘between dimensions’” (p.14). The virtual inflection point moves through virtual transformations, lines folding into spirals, falling skyward and falling in on itself (p.15).

Part II moves from “inflection” to “inclusions.” An inclusion is an enclosure that enfolds different points of view. These are chapters on substance, unity and variation, worlds and the emission of singularities, incompossibilities, rules of convergence and, above all, divergence.  The move from inflection to inclusion is from world to subject but all folded up in to each other. The “world must be placed in the subject in order that the subject can be for the world,” this being the “torsion that constitutes the fold of the world and of the soul. What Deleuze means by this is expression, the incarnation of the virtual, the actualization of soul and the realization in matter (pp.25-6).

Part III speaks, finally, to incarnation, perception, to having a body. At the starting point are obscure and  infinite micro-perceptions from which emerge the clear macro-perceptions of the sentient individual, clear perceptions (e.g. color) out of differential relations. For Deleuze in all this there is something giddy and luminous in the unfolding “the folds of consciousness that pass through every one of my thresholds, the ‘twenty-two folds’ that surround me and separate me from the deep, in order to unveil in a single moment this unfathomable depth of tiny and moving folds that waft me along at excessive speeds in the operation of vertigo…I am forever unfolding between two folds, and if to perceive means to unfold, then I am forever perceiving within the folds (p.93). Perceptions have no starting point in existing objects insofar as there is no world outside its expression. Figures raise up out of the dust without objects. I perceive white that resembles froth. In this inverted Platonism, it is the resemblance that determines the object it resembles (pp.93, 94, 95, 98).

Readers of religion will want to look out for words like “giddiness” and “unveiling.” Because who is the “I” revealed as forever unfolding between folds? In his reading of Leibniz Deleuze is speaking in tongues (just like he does with Spinoza, Hume, Nietzsche, Bergson, and the painter Francis Bacon). One could just as well do the same reading Deleuze. The “I” in this passage could be transposed into any “I,” the I described by Deleuze as “revealed” in a single moment as an infinity of tiny, moving folds, the I unfolding between two folds. It could be a divine “I,” a human “I,” a woman I, a black “I” or a Jewish “I,” an animal “I,” a textual “I,” a Talmudic “I,” a Zoharic “I,” or any one of these singularities through another. Across a single plane of consistency, these philosophical personae and textual figures unfold as divergent series or bifurcating lines along singular nodal points as in Talmud, or on the model of an upper world in relation to a lower world, the folding into and unfolding out of the other, reverberating. Systems of religion would spread out ontologically as constellations of possible worlds, alternative worlds, incompossible worlds, doing and undoing, generating strange and different perceptions out of an obscure gloam riddled with spirits.

Lest any reader be confused, Deleuze will clearly signpost (the term is Gail Hamner’s) those points at which his thought diverges away from Leibniz and from the historical Baroque. In this grand narrative the “classical” world  is toppled under the pressure of divergences, incomposisbility, discord, and dissonance in a world in which “[b]eings are pushed apart”(p.81).  As conceived by Deleuze, the historical Baroque tried to reconstitute classical reason by dividing divergences up into multiple worlds, making from incompossibilities as many possible borders between worlds, resolved by “accords.” We are no longer Baroque. In contrast to the historical Baroque, the neo-Baroque would map worlds in which divergent series “unfurl” in one and the very same world, “incompossibilities on the same stage” where Adam will both sin and not sin. The emancipation of dissonance and unresolved accords is looked for, not combined into simple tonalities of the circle, but in the spiral, quoting Boulez, a “polyphony of polyphonies” (pp.81-2). “To the degree that the world is now made up of divergent series (the chaosmos), or that crapshooting replaces the game of Plenitude, the monad is now unable to contain the entire world as if in a closed circle that can be modified by projection.” More radical than that is opening “on a trajectory or spiral in expansion that moves further and further away from a center.” The last word of the book is that “We are still Leibnizian.” Even without “accords,” “what always matters is folding, unfolding, refolding” (p.137).

In this, we are, indeed, all still Leibnizians, even the Jews. But it’s at this point that one might refuse to step one step further, because some folds hurt too much.

About religion, we could look with Deleuze to that crisis in theological reasoning pushed to the brink by the memory and witness of catastrophic suffering leading to the collapse of the Leibnizian universe. Deleuzian thought remains staunchly opposed to any theodicy based on the play of possibility and plenitude, on the resolution of difference into a “universal harmony” (p.67). Instead of this, in a new fold of the neo-Baroque, Deleuze picks up on a more modern theme. The dissonance of the damned would be that “breath of vengeance, or resentment, a hate of God that goes to infinity,” but which for all that,  is “still a form of music, a chord –through diabolical– since the damned draw pleasure from their very pain, and especially make possible the infinite progression of perfect accords in the other souls” (pp.131-2).

This may be all too precious, too much like surrealist art, Artaud, and the Theater of the Cruel. As an expression of a theological concern, the status of this dissonance would depend upon whom one means by the damned whose pain is being staged here. Is one to mean the damned damned by God for whatever heresy, or the damned damned by “man.” Do the latter draw pleasure from pain? Do even the former? Does this have anything to do with why the truly violent and wicked prosper and why the innocent and righteous suffer? That can’t be what Deleuze meant, but the problem goes unaddressed. But to stay with the image as Deleuze has set it up, what would such a new harmony sound like that brings together and then splits apart the chorus of the damned and the hymns of the pious or that fold the one into the other and the other into the one? What makes Deleuze such an interesting voice for religious thought is this final consideration. For Deleuze, “the essence of the Baroque entails neither falling into nor emerging from illusion but rather realizing something in illusion itself, or of tying it to a spiritual presence that endows its spaces with (or without –zjb) a collective unity” (p.125, emphases in the original).

 

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Rabbi Eliezer Sadan (Rav Eli Sadan) – His Hands Remained Steady

I would be almost sympathetic with normative appeals to “political theology” were it not for the fact that the leading activists actually at work on the ground are reactionary. For anyone interested in the intellectual center of gravity in contemporary rightwing Religious Zionism in Israel, here’s Alan Brill on Rabbi Eli Sadan and a review of Sadan’s His Hands Remained Steady (Hebrew).

The Book of Doctrines and Opinions:

There is a trend of Americans rabbis going to Israel for a few weeks and upon return exclaiming: “how come we don’t have a Rav Shagar world here? Think of what our educational institutes would look like.” They imagine that Religious Zionist institutions, rabbis and youth are following Rav Shagar. It is somewhat akin to an Israel visiting Drisha, Mechon Hadar, and the 92nd St Y, then proclaiming that the lectures he heard are what is being preached by the RCA-OU.  In actually, the leading intellectual influence of the Religious Zionist world is Rabbi Eli (Eliezer) Sadan (b. 1948) the architect of the religious military preparatory programs, Bnai David, which in turn became a model for the others. I am offering this blog post as somewhat of corrective. (I will correct any errors as they are pointed out.)

Eli Sadan

In 1988 , Rabbi Eli Sadan together with Rabbi Yigal Levinstein…

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Green Country Churches (Darlington, MD)

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Dating back to the 1850s and 1870s, the construction of these old churches in Darlington, MD, a rural pocket in the northeast of the state, are diminutive in scale. Episcopal, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches and a Quaker Meeting House in Darlington, MD. The old, stone section of the Meeting House goes back to the end of the 1700s. The Christian religion in rural Maryland (like most country churches?) is hemmed in by fields, forest, and graveyards.

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