One way to look into marginal politics is to illuminate the problematic tension between demands for equality and the maintenance of clannish supremacist world views. I am referring here to the difficult duality involved in requesting to be seen like everyone else while considering oneself to be superior. At first glance, it seems as if a humanist demand to equalise civil rights would address the issue and resolve any form of tension between the margin and the centre. But marginal politics intends to defeat any humanistic call for equalisation. For the marginal politician, assimilation, emancipation, integration and even liberation are death threats.
Once assimilated, the margin may face a severe ‘identity crisis’. To a certain extent, the marginal subject is asked to renounce his particularity and singularity. Following integration, the heroic ‘pre-revolutionary’ days of the righteous struggle for civil rights are replaced by a nostalgic narrative. In its post-revolutionary phase, what had once been the margin becomes an unnoticeable entity, an ordinary crowd. Thus, we should deduce that, at least at the level of identity, the demand for equality is in itself a self-defeating mechanism. Once equal, one is no different from anyone else. The success of integration may transform any meaningful marginal self-realisation into irrelevant anachronistic content. This is the reason that we find so few marginal politicians who willingly endorse a political call for assimilation. Such a call would mean political suicide, a self-imposed destruction of one’s political power.
By contrast, we can easily conceive of an individually motivated tendency towards assimilation; we can envisage a member of the so-called margin searching for ways to integrate within mainstream society. A glimpse into the social reality of pre-Second World War European Jews provides an interesting insight into the issue. Assimilation has never been presented as a Jewish marginal political call. It was rather individual Jews who welcomed and enjoyed European liberal tendencies. I would add that even the Bund that supported Jewish political assimilation insisted on maintenance of Jewish cultural heritage.
A survey of our surrounding contemporary Western reality would reveal an image of multiplicity. Our society is an amalgam in which many who were once marginal are now fully assimilated and integrated. Moreover, various minorities do not even regard their integration as a process of assimilation but rather as a natural celebration of their civil rights. This natural tendency to merge with one’s surrounding society is seen by the marginal politician as a major threat.
This essay offers a critical perspective on different aspects of marginal political thought. I argue that theories and political thoughts should be differentiated by their strategies of justification rather than by their mere content. Further, I suggest that something is inherently dangerous in any form of marginal politics. My focus here is the marginal politics of Zionist and lesbian separatist thinking. Although this paper criticizes marginal political discourse and thought, by no means does it suggest any criticism of the marginal subject or any minority whatsoever.
‘The margin’ is a term that refers to those who live on the edge of society. It describes those who fall behind, those who cannot express their authentic voice within mainstream discourse. The margin is always oppressed, harassed, humiliated, subject to despicable jokes, and so forth. The margin is marginal as long as its pain is not acknowledged within the main discourse. The margin retains its marginal qualities as long as the injustices committed against it are not addressed within mainstream discourse. Once the particularity of the margin is recognised and accepted by the crowd, the margin becomes an inherent part of the larger community; in other words, it becomes a minority group or even just an ordinary crowd. Hence, it should be accepted that the state of being marginal is, at least to certain extent, defined by the centre.
But then, one should ask, can the margin also be understood within its own terms? Can the margin be defined by its own means? Is being a lesbian enough to turn one into a ‘marginal lesbian’ regardless of the surrounding social circumstances? How can one decide whether one belongs to any given margin? Is being a Jew, a Muslim, a gay or an ethnic Albanian enough to transform one into a ‘marginal identity’? Clearly not. We can think of many Jews, Muslims, gays, lesbians and ethnic Albanians who detach themselves from any ties with marginal identification. They do not see themselves as marginal; nor are they seen as such by their surrounding environment. The margin, therefore, is dynamic and shaped by its relationship with the centre. The margin is that which fails to be the centre. The margin is defined in terms of negation (i.e. what it isn’t) rather than by its positive qualities (i.e. what it is). This is the reason that marginal politics is so concerned with depicting reality in terms of binary oppositions. For the gay ideologist the binary opposition is gay/heterosexual; for the feminist politician it is femininity/masculinity; for the Zionist it is Jew/gentile and Zionist/diaspora Jew. The marginal subject is inclined to define itself via a process of negative dialectic.
As soon as the centre is willing to expand its categorical understanding of itself, the margin’s reality fades; the margin becomes merely a minority. This is the point at which marginal politics interferes and the binary opposition is introduced.
The marginal politician is engaged in the maintenance of negation. This negation is usually achieved by elevating hostility towards the margin within the centre. The Zionist is there to provoke anti-Semitism. Similarly, gay marginal politics is dependent on the existence of homophobia and the feminist maintains the image of patriarchal society. It seems as if marginal politics is destined to engage in an ideological exchange with mainstream discourse. It is there to retain negation. And yet, the question remains: can the marginal define itself by its own means? In order to address this question we must grasp the notion of identity.
Identity, Identification and Authenticity
In order to transform ‘marginal self-perception’ into a meaningful notion, the marginal subject must assume that being a ‘marginal subject’ conveys a real and authentic identity. An American Jewish settler living on confiscated Palestinian land must genuinely believe that being on occupied land, being daily engaged in an endless list of war crimes and breaching all possible moral codes, while risking his own life and the lives of members of his family, constitute direct fulfillment of his ‘true self’. The settler must believe that he is the son of Abraham and that this relation to his ancestor grants him special rights where Palestinian land is concerned. The marginal subject must believe that he conveys a genuine self.
Belief in a truly authentic identity is crucial for the realisation of the self as a genuine autonomous agent, but is authenticity possible? A phenomenological thinker may say yes. Husserl argues that we can refer to ‘Evidez’, which is ‘awareness’ of matter itself as disclosed in the most clear, distinct and adequate way for something of its kind. Accordingly, one can experience a pure awareness of oneself. This notion was articulated by Descartes’ cogito: ‘I think therefore I am.’ In phenomenological terms, it is the pure and lucid ‘awareness’ of me thinking which removes any doubt concerning me ‘being in the world’, at least as a thinking entity. Phenomenology attempts to describe how the world is constituted and experienced through conscious acts and what is given to us in immediate experience without being mediated by preconceptions and theoretical notions. According to phenomenology, one’s self-awareness can depict an unmediated authentic form of knowledge.
It didn’t take long for Husserl’s student Martin Heidegger to expose major cracks in his teacher’s philosophical endeavour. Heidegger revealed that ‘being in the world’ might be slightly more complicated than Husserl had suggested. It was the former’s notion of hermeneutics that exposed the shortcomings of Husserl’s phenomenology. Hermeneutics deals with the complex interaction between the interpreting subject and the interpreted object. Within his critical reading of Husserl, Heidegger exposed the embarrassing fact that unmediated awareness is actually hard to conceive. Human beings, it appears, do ‘belong to language’. Language is out there before one comes to the world. Once one enters the realm of language, a separating wall made of symbolic lingual bricks and cultural mortar blocks one’s access to any possible unmediated awareness. Can we think without applying language? Can we experience at all without the mediation of language? Admittedly, we are capable of feeling desire while dreaming or being overwhelmed by beauty but then, as soon as we think it through, we find ourselves entangled in a process of naming. As soon as we name, the awareness ceases to be unmediated. Once within the realm of language, our perception of the world is shaped by meanings that are not ours. It would seem that a comprehensive authentic awareness is impossible.
If this is the case, there is no longer room to talk about identity in terms of a genuine expression of a real self. Unmediated self-awareness is not available to any of us. Even when we touch the sublime or come across an inexpressible unmediated experience, as soon as we aim to share it even simply within ourselves, we are already surrendering to language. Hence, looking into oneself can never reveal an authentic identity.
Alternatively, we may be able think of identity as a set of ideas, narratives or ‘thinking modes’, as a world view or a perception. But then rather than really talking in terms of a genuine ‘self-awareness’ we are intentionally moving to deal with a mental process that is better described as ‘identification’. We identify with ideas, narratives, thinking modes, certain world views, perceptions and so on. We must then accept that when we talk about identity we are really talking about identification. The notion of identity that is so crucial for post-modernist and marginal theoreticians is a myth. When we refer to ‘marginal identity’, what we really mean is ‘marginally identifying’.
Thus, being a lesbian is not enough to turn one into a ‘marginal lesbian’. While being a ‘lesbian’ is a state of being, being a ‘marginal lesbian’ is a form of identification. As we can see the marginal subject cannot define itself by its own means. The American Jewish settler who mistakenly believes that he follows his true call is in fact simply identifying with a messianic Zionist identity. He is identifying with an external idea rather than revealing his ‘real self’.
As we come to view identity as a meaningless term, we move towards an understanding of self-perception as a dynamic mechanism. When talking about identity we refer to an axis of identification: at one pole we find the elusive notion of authenticity produced from unmediated self-awareness (something that is almost impossible to achieve), at the other pole we find a state of estrangement that is achieved by identification. Thus, the search for one’s genuine identity should be associated with utter misery: the more one searches for one’s authentic self the more one is engaged in the process of identification that will eventually lead to complete alienation. Here I turn to Lacan’s subversive twist on Descartes’ cogito, in which ‘I think therefore I am’ became ‘You are where you do not think.’ If anything, thinking removes one from oneself. Identification positions one far from any possible authenticity.
Back to ‘Marginal Politics’
It appears, therefore, that identity is a myth and authentic awareness a rare experience. Thus, the marginal subject cannot define itself by its own means. The statement: ‘I look into myself and see a Zionist, a gay, a woman, a nation, a watermelon and so on’ is anything but an expression of authentic awareness. What it really means is: I identify with the Zionist, gay, woman, nation … Again, ‘Zionist’, ‘gay’, ‘woman’ and so forth are lingual expressions that are communally and collectively assigned. They are not within the realm of unmediated privacy. But then even ‘I feel gay’, ‘I am a lesbian’ and ‘I feel Jewish’ are not authentic, unmediated expressions. Such expressions only mean that an external lingual web orchestrates our feelings. Once we think, we are already defeated by the dictatorial power of language.
Marginal communities are generally very sensitive to the power of language and this is probably the reason that a substantial amount of their political energy is concerned with imposing lingual restrictions within the mainstream discourse (usually in the name of political correctness). This is the reason that marginal communities are so creative in their use of marginal languages. The Zionists’ relationship with the resurrected Hebrew language is a good example. Early Zionists realised that full control over language would allow them to impose their world view on subsequent generations of Jews. But Zionists are not alone in this respect. Other marginal groups are known for their creative dialects, spelling and vocabulary. The following list presents different spellings for the word woman/women used by lesbian separatists in the 1970s: wimmin, wimyn, womyn, womin. These alternative spellings were intended to ‘prove’ that, at least symbolically, woman could be ‘complete’ even when the word man/men was taken out of woman/women. ‘We, as womyn, are not a sub-category of men’ (http://www.msu.edu/). The lingual meaning defines the world view.
But then, if language has such a crucial role in marginal politics, the margin can never detach itself from the centre. Even when it establishes its own discourse, this discourse can only be realised in terms of its relationship with mainstream discourse. Moreover, if there is no room for self-grounded marginal identity in terms of self-realization or self-awareness, we are bound to deal with the margin in terms of its pragmatic strategies of exchange with the mainstream discourse.
Since the possibility of assimilation is occasionally presented to the margin by the hegemony, opportunities for integration within the centre are available to the marginal subject. Assimilated Jewish Americans have always been extremely excited about the possibility of becoming American patriots. Many American Jews have found their way into the leading classes via the academic world, banking, real estate, the stock market, the media, politics and so on. But since they have been in key positions within mainstream society, their patriotic tendencies have been challenged by those they had left in the margins. Zionist lobbies in America specialise in tracing rich and influential Jews. They pressurise them to ‘come out of the closet’ and to show greater commitment to the Jewish nationalist venture. Gay marginal politicians behave similarly. Some marginal politicians seek to shame their integrated brothers and sisters. This serves two purposes. First, it conveys a clear message that real assimilation is impossible: once a gay, always a gay; once a Jew always a Jew. This logic was reflected in a recent Hollywood cinematic cartoon. Shrek and Princess Fiona were doomed to find out that ‘Once an ogre always an ogre. One can never escape one’s real identity.’ Second, it pushes the assimilated being towards collaboration with his old clan. You will never escape being who you are so you had better be proud of it. The American Zionist takes this ideology one step further, telling the assimilated Jew: ‘You will never escape being who you are so why not be proud of it and work for us.’ These points help us understand the impact of Jewish political lobbies within the American administration. Moreover, they may give an explanation for the growth of Jewish espionage within America’s strategic centres and businesses.
Let us review the logic behind this strategy. At the first Zionist Congress, in 1897, Chaim Weizmann announced: ‘There are no English, French, German or American Jews, but only Jews living in England, France, Germany or America.’ According to Weizmann, first you are a Jew and then an American. In other words, Weizmann called for Jews to celebrate their sameness; he aimed to remove or even eliminate differences between them. Being Jewish is an essential characteristic; all other qualities are contingent. Thus it would seem that even the ‘good Jews’, those who protest against Israeli atrocities while shouting ‘not in my name’, fall into Weizmann’s trap. First they are Jews and only then are they humanists. In practice, without understanding it, they adopt Weizmann’s anti-assimilationist strategy. In other words, they prove that the clan is more important than any other category. Weizmann’s strategy is sophisticated and hard to tackle. Even saying ‘I do not agree with Israel although I am a Jew’ is to fall into the clannish trap. Having fallen into the trap, one cannot leave the clan behind; one can never endorse a universal language. As bizarre as it may sound, even when one denounces one’s own clan one is destined to approve the clannish marginal philosophy.
In the early days of Zionism most Jews refused to buy the Weizmann agenda, preferring to see themselves as American, British or French people who happened to be Jewish. This dispute between the individual Jew and the Zionist movement developed into a bitter conflict. During their struggle for recognition, Zionists admitted their contempt for the diaspora Jew. This was essentially the birth of Zionist separatism. Zionists confronted the Jewish people in the name of the call for their liberation.
Before the emancipation the Jew was a stranger among the peoples, but he did not for a moment think of making a stand against his fate. He felt himself as belonging to a race of his own, which had nothing in common with the other people of the country. The emancipated Jew is insecure in his relations with his fellow-beings, timid with strangers, suspicious even toward the secret feeling of his friends.
Max Nordau, address at the first Zionist Congress, Basle, 1897
The term ‘separatism’ refers to the process in which a minority group chooses to break away from a larger group. Separation is called for as soon as the marginal politician senses immanent danger of integration into mainstream society. Separatism refers not only to attempts to create alternative societies, but also to exclusionary practices within marginal communities themselves.
Zionism developed as a reaction to the emancipation of European Jewry, a process that started with the French Revolution and spread rapidly all over Europe during the nineteenth century. By the late nineteenth century a few prominent assimilated Jews (such as Nordau, Herzl and Weizmann) realised that emancipation of the Jewish people might lead towards the disappearance of the Jewish identity. Their argument was simple: ghetto walls had been demolished and yet Jews were failing to integrate into European life.
Additionally, the Europeans were accused of being insincerely sympathetic towards Jews: ‘The nations which emancipated the Jews have mistaken their own feelings. In order to produce its full effect, emancipation should first have been completed in sentiment before it was declared by law.’ The argument is of a very basic character: first you should love me and only then should you marry me. This idea appears reasonable but we have to remember that, unlike a love affair, civil life is based on respect rather than affection. I expect my neighbour to respect me; he may as well love me but I can never demand it.
In order to support their views, Zionists illustrated an image of emerging anti-Semitism. Their illustration was far from accurate. In fact, by the late nineteenth century Jews were already deeply involved in every possible aspect of European civil life. Moreover, the Zionist leaders themselves were highly integrated within their Christian context. But a persistent myth of persecution was needed.
On 15 October 1894 Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the sole Jewish member of the French army’s General Staff, was detained on charges of spying for Germany. Throughout his trial Dreyfus declared his innocence. For many it was clear that Dreyfus was a victim of a despicable racist allegation. Theodor Herzl, a prominent Viennese journalist who traveled to Paris to cover the trial, was moved by the saga and deduced from it that assimilation was doomed to fail. The only solution according to Herzl was ‘[a] promised land, where we can have hooked noses, black or red beards without being despised for it. Where we can live at least as free men on our own soil, and where we can die peacefully in our own fatherland’ (Judenstaat, Theodor Herzl). Apparently the trial had an immense impact on Herzl but, as Lenni Brenner points out, ‘Herzl misunderstood the Dreyfus case. The secrecy of the trail, and Dreyfus’ insistence on his innocence, convinced many that injustice was done’ (Zionism in the Age of the Dictators ).
In fact the case created a huge surge of gentile support. Although Dreyfus never managed to clear himself (in a retrial that took place in 1899 Dreyfus was found guilty again), the French government bowed to pressure and reduced his sentence. Following the intense support of French intellectuals and the European left, Zionism lost its grip in France. The French Jews felt truly emancipated. Herzl’s displeasure was evident in the following extract from his diary: ‘[French Jews] seek protection from the socialists and the destroyers of the present civil order truly they are not Jews anymore. To be sure, they are not Frenchmen either. They will probably become the leaders of European anarchism.’ It would appear that Herzl, a marginal politician, sensed better than anyone else the immanent threat of Jewish integration. This example illustrates the essence of separatist ideologies; they aim at putting barriers between people. As we can see, Herzl, the separatist politician, came up against his fellow Jews. Separatism is a strategy of ghetto building and Zionists have followed this strategy since the late nineteenth century. And yet, who are the first to suffer? Of course, those Jews who are weak enough to take Zionist Separatism seriously and those who are doomed to be born into a Zionist reality in Israel.
The case of lesbian separatism is very similar. In the 1970s, when women were closing social gaps and achieving greater equality, a radical militant feminist tendency developed. In her article ‘The Way of All Separatists’ (Blatant Lesbianism, 1978 Sydney Magazine. P.10-13 ), Ludo McFingers writes: ‘They hate men, see women as a sex class, support biological determinism, reject reformism and despise the left.’
The underlying premise of lesbian separatism is that men cannot or will not change. Consequently, women can only guarantee their own freedom by detaching themselves from men. Some separatist women suggest a need for violent confrontation with men to overthrow their power. Not surprisingly some of the most radical lesbian separatists would prefer to live in a world entirely free of men and some have gone so far as to state that ‘Dead men don’t rape’. One is reminded here of the equally devastating Zionist expression ‘A good Arab is a dead Arab.’
The similarities between Zionist and feminist separatists are evident. Moreover, from time to time the two radical ideologies merge into a singular devastating voice. When it was suggested to the American Jewish feminist Andrea Dworkin that the idea of Womenland was insane she answered: ‘didn’t they say that about Israel? And didn’t the world think that Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, was a crank? The Jews got a country because they had been persecuted, said that enough was enough, decided what they wanted and went out and fought for it. Women should do the same. And if you don’t want to live in Womenland, so what? Not all Jews live in Israel, but it is there, a place of potential refuge if persecution comes to call as the Jews fought for Israel so women have the right to execute that’s right, execute rapists and the state should not intervene’ (Guardian, 13 May 2000). Earlier in the same interview, Dworkin, the ‘far left’ activist, admitted that ‘She remains a supporter of Israel’s right to exist, of the Jewish right to have their own state and the Jewish right to fight back against those who tried and still try to kill them; just as she thinks that women have the right to fight back, even kill, the men who have abused them.’ Dworkin may represent the views of a minority but the ideological similarities between the two calls are clear.
A long time ago I found that through the replacement of the word ‘woman’ with ‘Jew’ and the word ‘man’ with ‘gentile’, a lesbian separatist text could be transformed smoothly into a radical Zionist pamphlet and vice versa. Lesbian separatism is a form of ‘ultimate feminism’; it requires a shift from the realisation that ‘every woman can be a lesbian’ to the radical perception that ‘every woman should be a lesbian’ (‘Women, Wimmin, Womyn, Womin, Whippets On Lesbian Separatism‘, Julie McCrossin).
Similarly, a Zionist would argue that ‘every Jew should be a Zionist’ rather than that ‘every Jew can be a Zionist’. Some Zionists would go further to argue that since Israel is ‘the state of the Jewish people’ every Jew should be seen as a Zionist. Accordingly, rejection of Zionism by a Jew should be considered an act of treason, or at least self-hatred. Naturally, most women would not seriously accept their categorisation by radical feminists. I would say that, at least before the Second World War, the majority of Jews were offended by the Zionist call. It appears that the Holocaust and its industrial exploitation by Zionist institutions changed the attitude of world Jewry towards Zionism and Israel. The Holocaust was the biggest Zionist victory, just as a single case of a rape is seen by feminist separatists as proof of the validity of their theories. As we have seen, marginal politics is maintained by hostility against oneself. In order sustain marginal politics one should evoke loathing against oneself. Zionists need burned synagogues and lesbian separatists need rape victims. If there were no burned synagogues the Zionist would burn some himself. If there were no rape victims the lesbian separatist would invent a lie. Within the separatist world view, such behaviour is legitimate because strategy and campaign are more important than any moral code. From a separatist point of view everybody out there is an enemy.
The Single Narrative
Imposing lingual restrictions within the mainstream discourse serves the marginal cause. Political correctness is, in fact, a political stand that doesn’t allow any political opposition. On the surface it looks like a revolt against the notion of freedom of speech. But the marginal politician aims at establishing a single narrative, a singular vision of reality, with a clear particular historical account.
A single narrative is an interpretation that opposes the possibility of competing interpretations. It is a narrative that includes a refutation of any possible competitive narrative within its body of arguments or set of ideas. The marginal politician aims to dictate the acceptance of a single narrative within both the margin and mainstream society.
Within the margin, such a task can be easily achieved. Since marginal identity is based on collective identifying with an artificially constructed set of ideas, meanings and appearances, all the politician has to do is locate the desirable narrative within the body of the identified set. Being a Zionist simply means that one is identifying with the Zionist single narrative. For instance, it means a total acceptance of the Zionist vision of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as well as an acceptance of the official Zionist account of the Holocaust.
But then, how can the marginal politician impose a single narrative on the entire society or on distinct cultures? How can he impose politically correct idioms? The case of the Holocaust is a classic example. No one in the West is allowed to suspect the official Zionist narrative of the Holocaust and this prohibition is (in some countries) imposed by law. Furthermore, Zionists demand that their enemies, the Arab countries, endorse their Holocaust narrative. While every junior Second World War researcher realises that the official Zionist tale falls short of providing a comprehensive account of the complexity of the events, no one is allowed to suspect the Zionist tale in public. Anyone who exposes the extensive collaboration between the Zionists and the Nazis is labelled a ‘revisionist’; anyone who suspects the figures, the measure, or even the order of events becomes a Holocaust denier. It would appear that Zionists have managed to prevent the West from accessing one of the most devastating chapters of Western history. The West, it seems, has willingly obeyed.
How does the Zionist manage to dictate a single narrative? My view is that, at certain moments, the Zionist narrative has suited Western leading classes and political decision-makers. For instance, the Zionists shaped their narrative to make it to fit nicely into the post-Second World War American world view. Herein lies the essence of political Zionism: it is an attempt to establish symbiotic relationships between Zionism and major colonial forces. This is the story of the bond between Zionism and the different super powers: first the Ottoman Empire, then the British Empire, now the United States.
Zionism is not unique in this respect. It is not a coincidence that feminist groups were the first to ‘declare war’ against the Taliban, many years before President Bush realised where Afghanistan was (assuming that he now knows). And yet very few marginal groups have been as successful as Zionists in dictating their narratives. I have no doubt that the official Zionist account of the Holocaust suited the victorious Anglo-American Allies very well. Within the vast acceptance of the tragedy of the Jewish people, no one really found the time to discuss in detail the Allies’ murderous bombing raids of German cities, clear attacks against innocent German civilians. According to the Zionist narrative the Americans were the liberators (which isn’t really the case: it was mainly Soviets who liberated the East European camps) and the Germans were the killers. Within the commonly adopted Zionist Holocaust narrative there is little reason to talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Why should we? Isn’t Auschwitz terrible enough? The Americans represent the ultimate good; the rest are evil (sometime even the ‘axis of evil’). This very restrictive world view allowed the Americans to turn their attentions to Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Since the Second World War there has not been a single year in which the USA has failed to bomb innocent civilians. Until recently, Americans were seen by many as the ultimate liberators, the champions of democracy and freedom, those who fought Hitler and liberated Europe. But in practice it wasn’t even Hitler that they fought with, it was Stalin. The decision to raid the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 was actually the outcome of Hitler’s defeat in Stalingrad. The Americans and British realised that unless they join the war in Western Europe immediately, they would soon have to face a reality of red soldiers in Calais. The Americans didn’t only endorse the Zionist Holocaust narrative; they owned at least some of the copyrights. Within the heavily dictated Zionist Holocaust narrative, the Allies liberated Europe and saved the Jews. The fact that the main initiative was blocking Stalin has been completely neglected. The Zionists never raised too many questions. They never asked their allies why they did little to help the Jews during the war. They never really asked why they didn’t bomb Auschwitz. Within the acceptance of the Zionist account, many of the most crucial questions have been pushed under the carpet. This obviously suits both the Americans and the Zionists.
Thus, the domination of a marginal single narrative should be understood as an outcome of a symbiotic partnership between the margin and some key elements within the centre. It usually happens when the marginal narrative is made to suit the mainstream narrative. Consequently, the Zionists should realise that the success of their Holocaust narrative might be temporary. Within a political and intellectual shift in the West, the Zionist tale will be abandoned or at least severely modified.
The Sabra, the Settler, the Dyke and the Queer
The Sabra, Tough and Tender the Native born Israeli has been given a sobriquet ‘Sabra’ after the wild cactus which flourishes in the arid soil of Israel, the fruit of this plant is prickly on the outside and soft in the inside. This implies that our sabres are tough, brusque, inaccessible and yet surprisingly gentle and sweet within. The nickname is given affectionately and is borne with pride of our young, who enjoy the reputation that they cannot be ‘savoured’ from outward appearances.
‘But you don’t look Jewish’ is the dubious compliment a young Israeli usually receives when he goes abroad. The Sabra is usually a head taller than his father, often blond and freckled, often blue eyed and snub nosed. He is cocky, robustly built, and likes to walk in open sandals in a free swinging, lazy slouch.
Tough and Tender, an art installation by Gabi Gofbarg, 1992
I would like now to analyse the prospects of marginal stereotypical behaviour in terms of a dialectic of identity. It is apparent that marginal identities are quick to adopt eccentric behavioural codes that make the marginal subject unmistakably distinguishable. On the surface it would make sense: the newly liberated identity celebrates its detachment from the oppressive mainstream society. It would seem as though the marginal subject was revealing its ‘true self’. As discussed above, the notion of manifested true identity cannot be taken seriously. Nonetheless, we can allow ourselves to move one step forwards. If the notion of the real self is left out or vague, then an external means of identification is required. This would explain the fact even the most lefty Zionists, those who regarded themselves as atheists, haven’t given up on the idea of circumcising their sons. All things considered, appearance is more important than ideology. Marginal identities make themselves easily distinguishable in the crowd. This applies to the Sabra, the settler, the orthodox Jew, but also to any other stereotypical marginal identity (the dyke, the queer and so forth).
I will now dig into one of the most notable twentieth-century caricatures of marginal identity, the Sabra. Zionism claims to reveal the true essence of the liberated Jew. The Sabra is the stereotypical icon of that liberated identity.
As we should expect, the Sabra, being a separatist Jew, is defined in terms of negation in relation to the ‘inauthentic’ diaspora Jew. ‘Like a wild cactus’ the Sabra ‘flourishes in arid soil’, while the despised humiliated European Jew declines mentally in reactionary Europe. The Sabra ‘is prickly on the outside and soft in the inside’, while the ‘speculative capitalist’ ‘Diaspora Jew’ appears soft on the outside but is extremely shrewd where business is concerned. The Sabra is ‘tough and tender’; he can kill like a real ‘man’ when he has to but this doesn’t stop him from crying like a ‘woman’ on the ‘Weeping Wall’ as soon as he has completed an invasion of the Old City of Jerusalem. He can ethnically cleanse the entire Palestinian population on Friday and then attend a ‘Peace Now’ demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening. Unlike the ‘softy’ humiliated bent Jew, the Sabra is tough; he is ‘a head taller than his father’. Like a German soldier he is: ‘often blond often blue eyed He is cocky, robustly built.’ But then unlike a German soldier he likes to walk in open (biblical) sandals in a ‘free swinging, lazy slouch ‘. Basically he is kind of a compromise between an SS commander and a biblical Moses. A kind of Nazi in jeans, a puss in boots. As interesting as this caricature is, there is nothing authentic about this outrageous construction. As an Israeli male secular Jew between the 1940s and 1980s one was destined to participate willingly in a process that would rob one of any sense of authenticity.
As funny as it may sound, the birth of the settler Jew, a radical messianic militant who plans to confiscate the entire ‘land of biblical Israel’, is an attempt to bring the Sabra back home. It is an effort to resolve the impossible schizophrenic Sabra identity. Like the Sabra, the settler walks in open sandals in the winter; like the Sabra he is slightly athletic and robustly built (until the age of twenty-two, when he grows a gigantic belly that stands as a symbol for good Jewish health). But then, unlike the Sabra, he has a skullcap on his head, his Tzizit falls out of his trousers and patches of hair cover his young face. He is far from being handsome. As a matter of fact he is pretty ugly. Needless to say, he fails to resemble a Wehrmacht soldier. He looks very much like a diaspora Jew strapped to an Uzi automatic rifle. He looks like a Jew because he is one and he is proud to be one.
May I mention, within the same breath, the astonishing fact that the biggest crimes against the Palestinian indigenous population were committed by so-called left Sabras, by young IDF officers, soldiers such as Rabin and Sharon (for those who don’t know, Sharon’s political origins are within the Israeli left; for years he himself was an icon of young Israeli male beauty). We may now be able to explain the Israeli left’s hypocritical and merciless conduct. People who are engaged in the process of identification arrive eventually at a complete detachment from any possible authentic understanding. They cannot behave in an empathic manner because they cannot put themselves in the place of the other; they simply lack any sense of ‘self-ness’. If we consider Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ which implies that one should ‘always act in such a way that the maxim of one’s action can be willed as a universal law’, we should agree that it is not applied in the case of the Sabra. He simply lacks a lucid notion of self. If one is totally identified with a remote collective icon, then the ‘maxim of one’s action’ is, in practice, the action of a collectively identified subject. Thus, in the eyes of the Sabra his action is a form of ‘universal law’. In other words, the Sabra has no ethical sense, not to mention realisation of universalism. This revelation might explain the fact that within the Israeli political world, it was Menachem Begin, the diaspora Jew, who initiated the peace process with the Arab world. It may also be the reason that it is Shimon Peres, the other diaspora Jew, who is still engaged in a process he mistakenly regards as a peace process.
The case of radical feminists is similar. The astonishing labelling of the entire male gender as rapists can only be understood in terms of a severely troubled ethical sense. More than often we come across a groundless story of a man who is blamed for sexual harassment. I am not trying to argue that sexual harassment doesn’t exist; I am simply trying to illuminate the conditions that make such ungrounded accusations possible. I am trying to expose the structure of collective victimisation. I would argue that collective victimisation results from a surrender to the process of identification, a surrender which leads to an absence of empathic and moral sense.
Marginal politics that occasionally presents itself as the expression of the oppressed margin is, in fact, engaged in the robbery of the marginal subject’s notion of the self. Marginal politics is in practice specialising in robbing its followers of their most basic human qualities. Zionism, being a radical form of marginal politics, should be seen as an anti-humanistic movement. This may explain the Zionist conduct: past, present and future.
But then, we cannot really blame the marginal subject. The Sabra murderer isn’t really an authentic subject; it isn’t him who kills, it is the ‘identity’, the caricatured identity, he is destined to bring to life. The separatist lesbian who wants men out of the world doesn’t really express her own wish; that separatist isn’t really her, but rather a collective singular identity she adopts, an identity that exists merely in a platonic ideological realm.
We should leave the old binary left/right behind us. What matters is not whether one is in the right camp, how good one is at producing lefty arguments, nor the content of one’s political outlook. What matters is one’s strategy of justification. Marginal politics is wrong whether it appears on the right or on the left. Marginal politics is a call against humanity. It is a call against the multiplicity of the human landscape. It is a rejection of the idea of being amongst others. It is about erecting walls and building ghettos, whether those ghettos are made of bricks and mortar, concrete or simply cultural boundaries.
GILAD ATZMON was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He is the author of the new novel A Guide to the Perplexed . Atzmon is also one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. His recent CD, Exile, was named the year’s best jazz CD by the BBC. He now lives in London and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org