No Cause and Effect (Event Politics in Israel & Palestine)


The new round of conflict now unrolling between Israel and Palestine is a complex phenomenon composed of multiple parts –the recent kidnap-murder of young people, the suppression of Hamas by Israel in the West Bank, racist incitement and anti-Arab attacks, Arab riots in East Jerusalem and across Israel, the escalation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and an even more complex meta-context defined by the failure of the Oslo peace talks, the occupation of the West Bank, warfare, a history of unequal citizenship and terrorism, and the broader conflict that goes back to the establishment of the State and the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis.

But maybe when you look at groups of local events, it turns out that they are not that “complex,” i.e. bound up with each other. While they might seem to be connected tightly together, even organically, my guess is that none of these acts are tied together in an easy to calculate cause and effect nexus. This means that one should treat with a lot of suspicion people on the right or the left who think they can tie all them all together into a coherent whole and situate them seamlessly into the larger contextual field in order to advance what turns out to be a too-easy-to-make political point.

Obviously, some events are closely connected with others, while others are not. But to look at each event closely compels one to ask. Does the murder of Muhammed Abu Khedir have anything to do logically or poltically with the murders Naftali Frankel,  Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar? Do the arrests of Hamas activists in the West Bank have anything to do with the murder of the three Israeli teenagers? Does the now unfolding escalation in Gaza and southern Israel have anything to do with murder of the teenager from East Jerusalem?

The reason events seem interconnected is because politics, political actors, and political action are opportunistic. Political actors seize on one event as a pretext to pursue separate and largely independent courses of action, the connections between which are loose, contingent, and associative. Viewed internally, each event represents its own vicious circle. It might be that it is best to see these each event as separate and disconnected. Political experience is profoundly fragmented, each event constituting its own little monad. To each event there is its own history and its own logic. Only the effects are mingled.

As for confirmation to this theory, I can only point to the whiplash character of events closely bound up with each other in time, One event follows upon the heels of the other. Our attention to one event displaces our attention to the ones just immediately preceding it. The counterclaim would be that all these events constitute one big meta-event, like infinite Substance in the metaphysics of Spinoza. But that kind of claim seems too simple.

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.
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3 Responses to No Cause and Effect (Event Politics in Israel & Palestine)

  1. dmf says:

    my naive hope for postmodernisms (Derrrida, Foucault, etc) was that this kind of awareness “But that kind of claim seems too simple” would begin to become the new norm but alas our cognitive-biases rule the day…
    a perhaps apocryphal quote attributed to Wittgenstein:
    Hegel seems to me to be always wanting to say that things which look different are really the same. Whereas my interest is in showing that things which look the same are really different. I was thinking of using as a motto for my book a quotation from King Lear: ‘I’ll teach you differences”.

  2. Michael says:

    Or are there events off the radar that connect these events we do see? Like the collapse of the PUG and the refusal of Fatah to transfer money to Gaza that will be used to pay the salaries of Hamas “officials” there? Does Hamas use rockets on Israel in its internal struggle for survival? Could it really be not everything is about the “racist Israeli society” and Arabs actually have control of their own lives and actions, and are not just puppets, emotionally and uncontrollably responding to whatever the all-mighty Israel does?

    Does the Orwellian word washing (“Hamas activists” – as if Hamas is a Mid-Eastern variant on Greenpeace) have anything to do with the failure of the extreme left ideas?

    Does the “broader conflict” go back before 1948, or can we safely ignore those parts of history that don’t fit in our quest to continue blaming all ills of society on the Jews and their modern proxy, the State of Israel?

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