A Letter to A Liberal Friend (Not in His Name –Nitzan Lebovic)

not in my name

Friend and colleague Nitzan Lebovic responded sharply and to the point about my (Not) In My Name blog post from the other day. He sent two long posts to me at the Jewish Philosophy Facebook page, and has agreed to let me re-post them. With his permission, I’m taking the two responses and mashing them up into a single statement. It is as clear an articulation of Not In My Name as I have seen anywhere, coupled the moral call with a political call to liberal Jews in America to speak up about Israel, Palestine, and Gaza. Without further argument on my part, I want Nitzan to have the last word.

Zachary, sorry I missed the rest of this… discussion, it got late over here. Let me just say the following:

1. I don’t believe in separating Israel from American Jewry anymore– not when Adelson has a direct line to Netanyahu and controls now a large section of the public sector in Israel. Furthermore, it seems to me that ignoring this heavy involvement and cooperation (see under Netanyahu’s recurring insults to Democrats of all kinds and direct involvement in your own politics) is a serious spot at your doorstep.

2. Re the “Not in my name”: The question here is pretty simple for me: The state of Israel gets weapon, money, and necessary international backing from the US, because/thanks to the pressure put by AIPAC and its likes. It gets a heavy flow of cash streaming to the settlements. It does so while displacing ethics for tribalism. “Not in my name” expresses a disagreement with this displacement without negating a sense of belongness. The way I see it, it is our moral duty, towards both the state of Israel and other American Jews to explain that that part of the community thinks differently and cannot be placed under a communal sign bec. a certain leader sees himself as its epitome. The other option would be to completely drop your sense of Judaism, and think it in non-identitirian ways. I honestly don’t know how to do it, and doubt it’s possible.

3. In pragmatic terms, I support any sign of disagreement/dissensus (Ranciere) I see. I myself join/ed demos, signed and sent petitions, fight immoral expressions on the web etc. I agree it’s not enough, but it’s the maximum I am allowed to do within the limits of my democracy. I can only say that such minimal expressions of disagreement have turned to be identified as “betrayal” or disloyalty in Israel, which is a good indication for where its democracy stand, I believe. I honestly believe that if American Jews care about Israel, they should care about its democracy first, and not second (or last). Finally, I don’t know if that’s acting “within the name” or outside it, and don’t care. I don’t think we have the privilege to be so dramatic about our pros and cons anymore. When one-ton bombs are dropped on women and children with no regard it implies that something very wrong has occurred. So for me, every critical effort (from the lightest to the heaviest, re JVP) is necessary.

“Not in my name” is used, to the best of my knowledge, to express an identity/empathy with a certain community (in my case, as an Israeli citizen, an immediate one) while opposing its actions. In emotional terms, it seems to me full of pain and not contrarian. Actually, your own position seems to me a little conflicted and ambivalent here– it expresses a certain assumption about the value of critique (as “distance”). I don’t see anything wrong with refusing to accept the “representative” claim when it’s been used for criminal purposes, whether it is the electoral representation of my government, or your/ any Jew around the world who refuses to accept the immediate identification the state is asking from Jews. If not leaving us a space for critique, all we’re left with is the total yes/no positions, don’t we? Isn’t this meme helping to clarify that there are a few Jews who refuse this dialectics of negative–and exclusionary– belongness?

Maybe we simply disagree about where we are now, re Israel/Jm but that’s how I see it. If anything, this is a plea to you, Zak, and to Liberals in the American empire, to care more (not less) and fight for what seems to me like our democratic home. Both in Israel and the US, you cannot leave this to the Neo-Cons.


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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2 Responses to A Letter to A Liberal Friend (Not in His Name –Nitzan Lebovic)

  1. Michael says:

    I suggest all those lamenting the fate of Israeli democracy and the danger it faces (from the right-wing, of course) to re-view carefully the video depicting the “conversation” between Effi Eitam and Zahava Gal-On, available here: http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4551684,00.html

    In response to a comment by Effi, Zehava (“known for her very liberal and pluralist views”) responds by “such opinions should be forbidden to be expressed”. Then, she immediately laments the “de-legitimazion of those who express other opinions”, referring of course to the criticism of her opinions. The irony of the situation escapes her.

    Now there’s a good indication of where democracy in Israel stands and of the moral values of the self-appointed “defendants of democracy and the right to free speech”.

  2. nitzanl says:

    The most important blogger of the Israeli left, Ishton, is writing today about another form of “not in my name,” directed at those who cannot separate between themselves and the government/ war (returning to a scene from Louis CK’s episode in Iraq):

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