Politics (Israel, Hamas, and the Enemy-Enemy Distinction)

A lot of us academics who want to theorize “the political” don’t really understand the subject. Why do self defining radical academics turn to that fascist bastard Carl Schmitt? It’s Agamben’s fault, right? My guess is that Schmitt is just another tool in the toolbox used to cudgel “liberals.” Some people don’t mind getting their hands dirty.

About politics, though, Schmitt was wrong. Politics is not, as he thought, defined by the friend-enemy distinction. Take for instance this article in today’s NYT, which suggests instead that politics is based upon the enemy-enemy distinction. In this case, we’re talking about the tacit common interest between Israel and Hamas against Salafi radicals.

“Uniting” would be the wrong word because the enemy of your enemy can still be your enemy. The friend-enemy distinction remains the law of war, which is both connected to and separate from the law of politics, which is based on cooperation, compromise, and the common interest between enemies, or on what that bastard Karl Marx called “haggling” in his essay on “The Jewish Question.” These, of course, are “liberal” principles.

Like “class struggle,” “resistance” and “axes of resistance” is just another cynical slogan with a limited shelf-life. You never really believed any of that hokum, did you? Speaking of fascism, you think the left would have learned that a long time ago with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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5 Responses to Politics (Israel, Hamas, and the Enemy-Enemy Distinction)

  1. Nitzan says:

    I agree in principle, and dislike the Schmittian fashion, which I often debate (http://haemori.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/4questions/ ). However, I do find some parts of it, especially those that Agamben was pointing at, fruitful for an analysis that steps beyond the liberal threshold. Take for example Sharon and Netanyahu’s recurrent usage of ‘Protected Democracy’ in order to justify their actions in Gaza or the West Bank. Or try looking at the friend-enemy distinction in a slightly different angle, i.e., the one that defines the sovereign. If you look at the conflict with the Palestinians from that angle, you might be surprised to see the sov. with very different eyes. Here, Sharon (and Netanyahu following him) are actually defining the left as the enemy, not the Palestinians/Hamas. The Hamas is what allows the sovereign to preserve “the state of emergency in which we live”. It’s role is functional, not essential. The actual conflict is an internal one, as much as it defines Sharon and Netanyahu’s understanding of power and control. Liberals are still trapped, in my eyes, in the old security discourse that still follows the claim concerning an “existential threat,” and hence falls prey to the conservative rhetoric.

    • zjb says:

      Nitzan, You are in these things more knowing than I am. But it seems to me that your analysis of Sharon and Netanyahu versus the Israeli left works very well without Schmitt. It also probably goes a long way in also explaining internal Palestinian politics, especially in Gaza, where the Israeli “enemy” serves the same purpose in shoring up the political authority of Hamas. About “the old security discourse,” I’m not sure. I tend to think that there is always a kernel of truth, even to discourse that gets abused and over-hyped. Again, you know much more about Israel’s security apparatus than I do, but I’m not even sure that “the state of emergency” is even the right to term to describe the everyday violence and outbreaks of high intensity violence that define the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, at least before the 2nd Intifadah. It’s one thing to talk about straining the rule of law during a conflict. And it’s one thing to talk about the Apartheid. But Schmitt’s point is more radical in that it speaks to the sovereign abrogation of law, and that I don’t see. When Prime Minister Lieberman closes down the Knesset and outlaws the opposition, then we can point to Schmitt. Let me know if any of this makes sense. I’ll give you the last word on this.

      • Nitzan says:

        No need for last word! 🙂 I actually like a lively debate and exchange, esp. when it’s with G’dolei HaDor…
        I believe we agree on the principle, i.e., that there’s something fishy in the current Schmittian left. Somehow, this Hafuch-al-Hafuch always ends with an enforced version of conservatism that (presumably) isn’t conservatism any more. Likewise, I am also suspicious of Agamben’s retro-Paulinianism as a solution to the global crisis, whatever the global (or crisis) is. Yet, a close reading of his interpretation of Schmitt does show a slow turn against Schmittianism in the more recent texts, where he finally realizes that taking seriously Benjamin’s dictum regarding the state of exception in which we live (which has become the rule/norm) implies a stark contrary reading of Schmitt’s interpretation. That’s where this reading gives power to a contemporary understanding of the internal-v.-external enemy in my eyes. It’s not about the “real state of emergency” (Lieberman, an old-fashioned fascist) but the mock-version of it if you like (Sharon and Netanyahu). But that’s exactly what makes their policy so much harder to resist to (i.e. arguing in the name of “protected democracy,” and bombing Hamas leaders every time the situation calms down a little, to ensure the crisis lasts). Lieberman knows very well he can’t become a prime-minister unless he’d soften his rhetoric and define it within the borders of a neo-liberal democracy. Netanyahu does that for him, and the two cooperate perfectly together. That must mean something, doesn’t it?

      • zjb says:

        I’m not sure I’m overly invested in digging through the entrails of the Agamben corpus to try to figure out how he’s turned this way or that. The very turn to Schmitt I find so repellent. It’s like trying to figure out the safest way to make use of toxic waste. As for “the state of emergency,” I always thought it was over-hyped to stake a position that always struck me as fundamentally misguided. To paraphrase the rabbis in Pirkei Avot (and Hobbes), better neo-liberal procedural democracy than no government, no democracy at all. About Israel and Hamas, I think I might be more cynical than you. As I see it, each pursues its own interest. I’m pretty sure that it’s no longer a state of emergency that subsists between them, not today at least, which is why I found the article about the cooperation between Hamas and Israel against the Salafis to be so interesting. It’s my guess that the 2008 war settled what each side is willing to accept and how far and only so far each side is willing to go. It’s this cooperation that I find more interesting than the more transparent one between Netanyahu and Lieberman, no?http://jewishphilosophyplace.wordpress.com/wp-admin/edit-comments.php#comments-form

  2. efmooney says:

    I’m in way over my head here, but before and after ’48 you had politics as a tossed salad that included armed rivalries based (as in Gaza today?) on who could be “more militant than thou” and that had Ben-Gurion lining up militarily against Begin unloading arms north of Tel Aviv, for instance (and that earlier saw Begin’s far-right Zionist mentor lining up for help from that ‘Zionist-friend’ Hitler, right?). There’s a love of ‘binarism’ and ‘hierarchy’ in these academic catch-phrases whose shelf-life, as you note, Zak, is pretty brief, as we find series of books titled “After x” and/or “Post-Y” and “Return to Z” and “X without X” and “The death of y” — all creating a circus where the trick is to be more ‘hip’ in juggling lingo than thou. And with amoral tin ears: a title from a Christian seminary press [I kid you not] is “Who Would Jesus Kill?” Why do academics look serious, as if pondering great wisdom, when S Z says “Gandhi is more violent than Hitler” ? And repeat it with a knowing air of secret bonding, like a frat password? I think you’re correct that the attraction of Schmitt is that he is ammo against Liberals, who are far worse than fascists (oops, ARE fascists).

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