Guerrilla Reviewing

The Guerrilla News Network web site seems slightly retro, slightly well-off, slightly out-of-kilter cool, like Lily Allen in a Che Guevara T-shirt. The guys may wear berets. They do guerrilla book reviews:
you attack, and when the clumsy reaction force finally gets in place, you’re gone! The review vanishes, as if it had never been, into some misty Sierra Madre of the internet.

In my case the attack was on The Case Against Israel, and the attacker is Ari Paul, who also does music reviews. I read the review, a couple of weeks late, I write a reply, I send it to GNN. But I don’t get the guerrilla reviewers, I get the guerrilla apparatchiks. They only have first names, like code names.

First (not to count a message or two that go unanswered) my email with the reply gets returned undelivered. I write somebody else. He tells me to send it in the body of the email, to the original address, so I do. ( I guess they can’t do WORD attachments up in the mountains.).
The email gets returned undelivered. I send it to the somebody who tells me to re-send it. It doesn’t get returned, but he wants the first sentence out; it offends the dignity of GNN. I say ok. Then I get the following, name removed for guerrilla-security reasons:

***

M-
I just checked that article. We actually never posted it our front door. It was posted by Paul, but we never actually published it. Maybe Ari will post your response on his blog. It won’t make any sense to our readers, who didn’t read his original piece.

Best,
[code name]

***

…which is what I mean by apparatchik. I send some snarky reply, I look for the review and quietly, suddenly, it’s gone, gone from the GNN site. My message goes unanswered. Hit and run, like Ché.

Only this is more like hit and run, by drunk driver. His car hits a pedestrian in the night and he drives off, praying not to be detected.
But Ari Paul’s review leaves traces, and you can hunt it down, in Google’s cache, complete with the logo of the guys who say they never actually published it. Here it is, though I feel like those heartless Bolivians displaying Ché’s pale corpse. It’s followed by my reply.

* * *

Israel: Always Wrong?
“The Case Against Israel”
by MICHAEL NEUMANN (AK Press, 2006).
By Ari Paul
Published: Saturday September 9th, 2006

Israel’s assault on Lebanon has renewed interest in the question of Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign nation. Even in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen writes that Israel is “an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable.” And for MICHAEL NEUMANN, a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Israel’s independence in 1948 was like a giant glass of milk spilling over a World War II era map of the Middle East. More than a half-century and several armed conflicts later, this grown man is still sobbing about it in a new book.

It is more than just a blanket “Palestinians right, Israelis wrong” shtick. Rather, in The Case Against Israel, he attempts to build the moral case that Israel and the Zionist movement were always in the wrong because their presence has always been illegitimate. Some of his passages are interesting. He makes the case that Israeli and Palestinian violence cannot be compared, because Palestinians, he argues, saw a threat of extinction for Zionism’s inception. Neumann stops short of defending all aspects of the Palestinian resistance. “Certainly,” he writes, “it is not beyond criticism.”

But instead of living in the now and looking for ways to end violence, Neumann concentrates on some shaky logic to put all the blame on Israel. He cares more about talking about “who did it” than “what can be done about it.”

Many of the logical leaps he uses are dubious and facts are often taken out of context. For example, he claims that many of the most religious Jews oppose the concept of Israel as a way to undermine Zionism’s necessity to Judaism. Yet, what is not stated is that ultra-religious Jews such as Satmars oppose Zionism because they only believe in Jewish state when a biblical prophecy is fulfilled; they’ll be eager to war with the Arabs when their Messiah comes. For Neumann to ignore this in order to make this fit his rhetoric is disingenuous. For him to not know this would disqualify many of his assertions about Judaism.

But one major flaw in Neumann’s vision of Israeli history is the way he discusses Zionism. While recognizing divisions, he seems to hold all Zionists, including labor Zionists and those interested in bi-nationalism, accountable for the extremist religious types and settler movements. But the case is that Zionism should actually be called Zionisms. Like socialism, there are different brands and sects that have ideologies that are opposed to one another.

And much of Neumann’s case rests on the idea that no group of people has the right to their own state. For his reasons, then, he could have also made the case against Pakistan, as Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s creation resulted in clashes killing millions. Should Israel get an extra kick in the rear from utopian internationalists? “All forms of nationalism differ,” says Noam Chomsky. “Some are incomparably worse than contemporary Zionism. Early Zionism had many very attractive features, though it was always problematic.”

But the greater problem with Neumann’s book is that it is part of a growing section of the contemporary Palestinian rights movement that embraces reactionary, undemocratic and anti-progressive political rhetoric. Instead of looking for creative ways to ensure peace in the region for the maximum amount of people regardless of their ethnicity, people like Neumann insist that Israel eternally damned by original sin or that the modern and predominant Jewish political response to centuries of genocide and persecution can only be seen as ethnic supremacy.

The result is that all of Israel’s benefits are shunned and the Palestinians are portrayed as persecuted angels. Yes, the policies of the occupation are wrong and should be opposed.

Yes, there is discrimination in Israeli society and progressives should work to resist that. But Israel’s political scene is like a jigsaw puzzle of ideologies from the left to the right. In Israel, many authors have noted, Jewish fundamentalists are often to subject of scorn by the general secular population. Israeli-Arabs hold positions in academia and the government.

By contrast, Islamic politics have been strengthened in Palestine thanks to Hamas’ control of the government. Neumann’s paradigm now puts a society governed by religious fanatics over a government that has at least some semblance of a democratic process. If there is anything that can ever legitimize Israel even when it’s founding did shed the blood of the innocent (like pretty much any other colonial endeavor) is that aspects of liberal democracy can be nurtured in order to defeat authoritarians and theocrats. A real progressive would aim to push Israel in the right direction, regardless of the question of Zionism’ legitimacy.

With Lebanon torn apart by Israel’s bombs, it can be hard for anyone to look at the conflict and think there might be a solution that suits Israelis and Arabs alike. Yet, Neumann’s stubborn and reactionary form of moral absolutism answers little in how to end the madness. Yet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas gave a much more pragmatic and rational insight at a meeting of Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Jordan last June. “We have both suffered,” the New York Times reported him saying, “and we should not increase the suffering of the other.”

http://gnn.tv/articles/2533/Israel_Always_Wrong

* * *

Reply to Ari Paul
By MICHAEL NEUMANN

The ‘Guerilla News Network’ seems quite upset that my book, The Case against Israel, defends the Palestinians even when they’re guerillas. Mr. Ari Paul, who doubtless has no axe to grind, prefers “pragmatic and rational insight”. He says that “for MICHAEL NEUMANN… Israel’s independence in 1948 was like a giant glass of milk spilling over a World War II era map of the Middle East. More than a half-century and several armed conflicts later, this grown man is still sobbing about it… .” (http://atrain.gnn.tv/articles/2533/Israel_Always_Wrong)

But I don’t sob because, as the book says, “In some ways, the more cynical Zionists are right: Israel’s foundations, even if every single allegation of ethnic cleansing is completely accurate, are no worse than those of most other states.” As for “not living in the now”, the book’s 90 pages on “Zionism and the birth of Israel” are followed by 101 pages on “The Current Situation”.

I’m accused of making ‘logical leaps’. After 25 years of teaching logic, I’ve learned that such accusations are invariably caught pants-down when it comes to specifics. Ari Paul, for instance, says I take facts out of context, and am disingenuous. This would certainly make me a bad person, but what has that to do with logic? He chides me for not informing the world “that ultra-religious Jews such as Satmars oppose Zionism because they only believe in Jewish state [sic] when a biblical prophecy is fulfilled; they’ll be eager to war with the Arabs when their Messiah comes.” He says, “For him to not know this would disqualify many of his assertions about Judaism.” Nope, Ari, it would disqualify none of my assertions: I could be ignorant of this alleged fact yet my assertions could be true. They stand or fall on their own merits, not on how much I know. And indeed I didn’t know that, not even after reading Yakov Rabkin’s entire book on the orthodox critique of Zionism. (A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism).

Rabkin tells me that orthodox Jews oppose Zionism because the orthodox tradition rejects all attempts to set up a secular state, and sees salvation in following God’s ways. I’m not sure how the explicitly anti-political goal of following God’s ways, before or after the Messiah, will give the orthodox something to go to war with ‘the Arabs’ about. And I’m not sure at what point in human history anti-Zionist orthodox Jews will be ‘eager for war at all. In the view of the anti-Zionist orthodox Rabbi Moshe Ber Beck, Jews are forbidden “to re-establish their nationhood by military might “. (http://www.jewsnotzionists.org/). Doesn’t sound too warlike to me..

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe in a zillion years, the Messiah will come. Maybe then there will be problems. I guess Ari Paul thinks it’s bad to live in the past, but good to live in one of many remotely possible distant futures, the one in which anti-Zionist Jews fight ‘the Arabs’ to establish a Jewish state But why does any of this matter?. I claimed that many religious Jews oppose Zionism and deplore the state of Israel, “so even were religion a valid basis for land claims, it would not provide a valid basis for Zionism.” I first said that religion was not, in fact, a valid basis for land claims. I was speaking of this world, not The World in Which The Messiah Cometh. And what do my cursory remarks on this detail have to do with the central issues separating Israelis and Palestinians? Ari Paul doesn’t know, but he does know how to blow smoke.

Ari Paul moves from indirection to apologetics when he says, “While recognizing divisions, he seems to hold all Zionists, including labor Zionists and those interested in bi-nationalism, accountable for the extremist religious types and settler movements. But the case is that Zionism should actually be called Zionisms. Like socialism, there are different brands and sects that have ideologies that are opposed to one another.” Now we’re being asked to look kindly on the wonderful multiplicity that is Zionism because a few Jewish soft-nationalists in short pants liked to play Socialist Working Man on the backs of the Palestinians. I did not hold the binationalists accountable for the extremist religious types and settler movements. They were too ineffectual to be ‘accountable’ for anything at all. I maintained that they never got beyond visions of gooey brotherhood to explain how any serious conflicts between Zionist Jews and Palestinians were to be settled: “were or weren’t the Zionists going to accept a state in which, perhaps on matters of life and death, it was possible for the citizens to decide against the Jews?” I claimed that, because this and other hard questions were not and could not be answered, the idea was a non-starter from day one. The binationalists’ childish idealism led out its short wilted life under the auspices of the mainstream Zionist movement, bent on establishing racially Jewish sovereignty in Palestine. This is a bit like preaching integration and brotherhood in a daycare run by the KKK.

Ari Paul tells us that “Neumann’s paradigm now puts a society governed by religious fanatics over a government that has at least some semblance of a democratic process. …A real progressive would aim to push Israel in the right direction, regardless of the question of Zionism’ legitimacy.” This is just the sort self-deceiving closet racism so characteristic of ‘progressive’ Zionists. The idea is that Israel, dedicated to ethnic rule, deserves the benefit of a doubt, despite the fact that its ‘semblance of democracy’ has for forty years held the power of life and death over a captive population who have absolutely no say in their fate. This population is now starving, but, ever-sensitive to Israel’s ‘jigsaw puzzle of ideologies from the left to the right’, we apparently should confine ourselves to giving Israel a chummy little ‘push in the right direction’. Why is that more progressive or realistic than supporting the Palestinians and their allies – and perhaps even, once the Palestinians are free, trying to push Hamas in ‘the right direction’? Why is it that the practitioners of ethnic nationalism, a doctrine with so many millions of corpses to its credit, are a better prospect than Islam, whose worst atrocities can’t even begin to match those of Our Side? And why is it progressive to join with Bush and Condoleezza Rice in their faith that Israel does, after all, Share our Values, our democratic ideals? These are the mysteries of bad faith.

Ari Paul says “people like Neumann insist that Israel [is] eternally damned by original sin or that the modern and predominant Jewish political response to centuries of genocide and persecution can only be seen as ethnic supremacy.” But no one says that Israel and Zionism can only ‘be seen as ethnic supremacy’. The point is that whatever else we can see them as, they are indeed committed to ethnic supremacy, and have made it a bloody reality. This reality belongs to the Israel of today. It is not something dredged out of the past. And it’s sleazy evasions like Ari Paul’s which have sold this creepy state to rubes the world over.

MICHAEL NEUMANN is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. Professor Neumann’s views are not to be taken as those of his university. His book What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche has just been republished by Broadview Press. He contributed the essay, “What is Anti-Semitism”, to CounterPunch’s book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. His latest book is The Case Against Israel. He can be reached at: mneumann@trentu.ca.

GNN editor Anthony Lappé responds:

GNN’s editors did not post Paul’s article. GNN is an OPEN publishing system that gives 1000s of members from around the world to post their own content – Neumann was free to respond to Paul himself by simply logging onto our site and either writing a blog, creating an article or posting in the forum.

Anthony Lappé

 

 

Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at a Canadian university.  He is the author of What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche and The Case Against Israel.  He also contributed the essay, “What is Anti-Semitism”, to CounterPunch’s book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.  He can be reached at mneumann@live.com

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