(Not) In My Name (Israel)

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A meme going around Jewish left circles has the speaker declare that the State of Israel and/or the war in Gaza and/or the State of Israel and Zionism are “not in my name.” It’s an interesting phrase, one that goes back, at least, ten years ago to protests in the UK against the Iraq War. It speaks to the relation, in this case an oppositional one, between individuals and groups of individuals who seek to organize into a political counter-movement vis-à-vis a political state. As a friend points out on FB, in this case it’s meant to assert a difference between Judaism and Israel, or Judaism and current Israeli war-making.

The phrase, however, is subject to a very subtle dialectic. When articulated with sufficient moral affect, the dialectics are such that the speaker has already ceded enormous power of the state to speak in his or her name. To make such a claim, the state must have already caught the speaker.  The speaker has drawn close to the state, enveloped intimately and obsessively into its machinations. Otherwise there’s no basis for the opposition, until such a point that the state spits you out. If the state did not already speak “in my name” I wouldn’t have to say it. “Not in my name” is very different than the “render unto Ceasar” in the New Testament.

As a U.S. citizen, I never thought to think that Israel speaks “in my name.” It can’t really, because I have no formal rights or obligations to that state, and I am in no need of its protection. My link to Israel, the country governed by the state, is affective and potential. And perhaps it’s that very potentiality that sets the teeth on edge for so many of my friends on the America Jewish left. As a Jew, I want the state of Israel to speak in my name the language of justice, mercy, and morality, not the language of power and domination. But it’s the latter language that is the one spoken by all states, despite and in tension with the values they claim to carry and seek to embody.

Herzl was right. Before they constitute a religion, they Jews are an umma. There’s no other way to explain the anger, bitterness, and disgust expressed for the State of Israel the further out on the U.S. Jewish left you go. Like it or not, Judaism and Zionism are too deeply imbricated to make for an easy separation. The more you repeat or flag the phrase, the more actively you deny the connection (as opposed to ignoring it), the more active you make the relation and deepen it, the more dragged you are into its controlling and determining discourse.

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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4 Responses to (Not) In My Name (Israel)

  1. Ruth says:

    What’s the option then?

  2. Michael says:

    So if I understand you correctly, the “anger, bitterness, and disgust expressed for the State of Israel the further out on the U.S. Jewish left you go” are explained solely by the fact that the Jews are a nation, and the Jewish left does not want to be a part of it? Thanks, that is a relief.

    As I thought all along, and I am happy to know you agree, its not about whatever the State of Israel is doing, regardless of the morality (or immorality) of its actions. The Jewish left (in Israel, too, by the way) will feel anger, bitterness, and disgust because of their own internal twists and disturbances, not because of the actions of the State of Israel. As any therapist will tell you, recognizing your problems is the first step towards a more healthy and balanced life. The question is – when and if is it going to happen and how much damage will the extreme left, Jewish and non-Jewish, inflict on the State of Israel before it comes to face its own fears and demons.

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