What Do We Do When We Talk About Israel and Palestine (Entropy)


It’s been for me nearly a month-long Israel-Palestine discourse-orgy, and I’m run down, asked to care and asking others to care too much about too little a thing. The only payoff that I can identify right now is that I think I’ve learned something about discourse, what I now suspect is the almost physical effect of negative discursive affect. The smaller the object under consideration, the more this seems to be true. Discourse about Israel and Palestine seems to suffer from the law of diminishing return, some fundamental law of pyscho-physical entropy. It’s easy to see this on the internet. Go to the websites and news sites, and then read the talkbacks. With each iteration of the discourse, the information begins to deteriorate, it become more meaningless as it runs down.

In no particular order or grouping, here’s what has been getting people worked up this last past month or so about Israel and Palestine: the American Studies Association, SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson, Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifdadah, Jew-counting and Arab-counting (at the Nation, Mondoweiss, and Electronic Intifadah),Moshe Yaalon, Eric Alterman, Judith Butler, Max Blumenthal, Peter Beinart, anti-Semitism and anti-Semites, Hillel, Open Hillel, AIPAC, BDS, maps of Palestine or Israel on Chilean soccer club jerseys and JNF charity boxes, “Jewish State,” “Palestinian civil society,” Zionism, anti-Zionism, one state or two state solutions. Flooding social media and online talback for a from the right and the left, each individual word on the subject aggregates with all the others. Each iteration of that word makes one smaller and smaller, one’s viewpoint, dumber and dumber.

To invert the old boast about the British Empire, the sun never sets on discourse about Israel and Palestine. Lost is any sense of scale, complexity, proportion, and perspective. A tiny territorial strip is turned by its antagonists into a world moral emblem. No detail goes unnoticed or unpunished. No matter how prosaic or petty on the face of things, every single bit or byte is overloaded with super-symbolic, metaphysical significance. The affect is terrible. The world itself is given to pulse with moral outrage, moral posturing, self-righteousness, anxiety, resentment, reactivity, callousness, defensiveness, verbal jaundice. It’s worse than religion. Petty and small and eating itself alive from the inside, diagnosis and prognosis become the symptom of its own self-devouring.


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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1 Response to What Do We Do When We Talk About Israel and Palestine (Entropy)

  1. Jim says:

    Exactly. You put it very well, Zak.

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