Zizek and the Gaza Flotilla

The Flotilla to Gaza was stopped in its tracks by the omnipresent Israelis and their Jewish friends in Greece and France. A part of a pattern? Probably. But first I want to heed an advice.

“I wish,” wrote G K Chesterton in his “Plea for Hasty Journalism”, “that at the beginning or end of all the articles we read, there were a brief note stating the situation in which the work was written. Thus we should read, `Will Australia adopt Bimetallism?’ then, in small letters, `Top of Omnibus’ [i.e., “top of bus”]; or some such place in which we journalists do most of our learned research and compilation. We should see in some excited morning paper the headlines, `Battle at Ping Cho still in Progress, by an Eyewitness. Latest’. Then in the usual place would be the note, `A.B.C. shop, Strand’. The thing would throw a kind of flush of colour into our articles. Nature would creep into them as she creeps into the colour of flowers and wine.”

An avid follower of GK, I am inclined to fall in with his proposition and admit that this piece on the latest developments in the Middle East was written at dawn — in Chianti country near Siena, amid pomegranate trees in ginger blossom, pink and white roses, the tender green of olive trees meshing with the bright green of vineyards, stony path meandering among the slopes, light mist crowning the mountaintops, tiny streams at the bottom of deep and steep dales, and, at night, firefly dances above the scented chaparral. The figs are still green and hard, and yet they bulge, pregnant with sweetness. The few farms are scattered among rolling hills; here you can still pass a day without seeing a man. The human touches here are light and universally benevolent: you see clipped hedges, tended vines, freshly watered flowers.

Tuscany tugs a familiar chord in my heart, like discovering one’s own name spoken in a foreign tongue. It might be a twin sister to Palestine. My mountain refuge in Siena province might easily have been found somewhere between Ain Karim and Beth Jallah, or anywhere southwest of Jerusalem. The grapes of Bethlehem Cremisan are as just as good as the best Sangiovese. The churches have the same names and the same frescoes adorn their walls: the Visitation church of Ain Karim is a short hike from San Gimignano, where the Romanesque fa?ade memorialises the memory of crusades with the Jerusalem Cross of St John’s Knights — though the church itself is now a wine shop. Just as Tuscany was once riven between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, Palestine has been torn between  Fatah and Hamas.

And yet Siena fared better than has our Holy Land. Though it was repeatedly invaded and subjugated (notably by the Medici, hell-bent on global domination in 1555), it had never suffered the indignity of Cyclopic separation walls. The people of Siena have always been free to sit under their own fig trees and enjoy the fruit of their own vines, something definitely denied to the natives of the Palestinian Highlands.

This might be an appropriate place to honour the most recent attempt to liberate the Holy Land, or at the very least to remind the word of its captivity. I salute my noble friends of the Freedom Flotilla who put out to sea but were stopped by means both fair and foul.

In long-ago 1820 Lord Byron wrote the following stanzas, seemingly with the Freedom Flotilla in mind:

When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbours;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knock’d on the head for his labours,
To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And is always as nobly requited;
Then battle for freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted.

While their efforts have yet to earn them knighthoods, the Fates have been kind to them: they were not killed as were the brave Turks in last year’s attempt; yes, their boats were sabotaged, but they were not dynamited as was the Sol Phryne. Moreover, their ostensible failure was as good as a victory, nay, even better for it remains a powerful expos? of the techniques of our elusive, ruthless and arbitrary enemy.

Among the Freedom Flotilla, for the first time, were Russians; they have slowly overcome the strategic collapse of 1991 and are now re-joining the struggle. The brave Russian journalist Daria Aslamova shared her frustrations with the millions of readers of the dynamic KP (Komsomolskaya Pravda), the largest-circulation newspaper in Russia. She was the only mainstream journalist on board, and she was able to report: “All the Mediterranean ports were closed in face of the Freedom Flotilla. In breach of maritime law, the boats were detained in the Greek ports. Now we see who is the real master of the Mediterranean, who is bossing the world ? it is Israel.” The strong words and stronger emotions invoked by blockades will destroy Israel faster than long, uneventful jaunts to Gaza.

Another powerful illustration of the enemy’s brute strength and its critical shortsightedness was the fly-in. A few hundred Europeans had planned to visit the West Bank, to walk in the footsteps of Abraham and Christ, to see the ancient villages so reminiscent of Tuscany, to meet local people. While an Italian Ministry of Tourism would bless such an initiative, the Israelis instead prevented the majority of these visitors from even boarding their planes, let alone tour Bethlehem and Bir Zeit. And they did it all with the active collaboration of various European states and airlines. Yes, Israel robbed Palestine of one fistful of dollars, but their actions highlighted to all the less-discussed but equally strangling blockade of the West Bank.

Yet Israeli’s ability to force Europeans to say uncle does bode ill for the planned show of force in the UN this September. Not only has the US Congress threatened to stop paying its dues, the European states seem to have caught a case of cold feet. Without Europeans, passage of a pro-Palestinian resolution is unlikely ? this as Europe agonizes over even the thought of upsetting Jews.

Never has Jewish stock climbed to such dizzy heights; it has surpassed its historical limits, ascending to loony peaks that bespeak the Dotcom madness of 2000. Perhaps we could create a new index of political capital  that rates the obsequious suck-ups coming from members of the US Congress. How high can it climb? How long can it defeat the law of gravity before the inevitable crash?

The US Senate applauds Netanyahu, just as their Roman predecessors once greeted Caligula’s horse; the most famous contemporary fashion designer and the top film director are publicly fed to the lions for daring to utter disparaging words about Jews; the Greek government cooperates with Tel Aviv to permanently halt the flotilla, even as Senator Mark Kirk calls upon US Special Forces (presumably Navy Seals) to deal with brave Americans marooned on the flotilla ship “Audacity of Hope” like they once dealt with Osama bin Laden.

But the cherry on the cake belongs to Slavoj Zizek. He went “full Monty” during his recent visit to Tel Aviv at the invitation of some sincerely dissident Israelis. They expected words of encouragement, but instead he informed them that fighting anti-Semitism is more important than defending Palestinians.

The Slovenian philosopher spoke kindly of the swindler Bernie Madoff, who was “a scapegoat who was easy to blame, when in fact the real problem is the system that allowed and even pushed Madoff to commit his crimes.” Indeed, it must have been ‘the system’ that pushed poor Mr. Madoff into crime, just as it was ‘the system’ that pushed Jack the Ripper into the business of carving.

From that rocky start it was plain sailing to his philippics against the plague of anti-Semitism supposedly sweeping Europe and the world: “even the most oppressed and poor Palestinian should not be tolerated for being anti-Semitic.” No doubt the professor referred to the anti-Semitism of objecting to Jews seizing Palestinian lands. The real suffering, and the real problem, is European and American anti-Semitism, he declared. Does the professor know something we don’t? Are European and American Jews being tortured in dark dungeons while their houses are confiscated by blue-eyed Aryans? But the best was still to come.

Zizek said that “someone from the Democratic Republic of Congo would sell his mother into slavery in a heartbeat for the chance to move to the West Bank”.

This must be the quote of the year.

High school teachers may well use this wonderful, historical, and geographical quote in this year’s exercises:

If a black from the Democratic Republic of Congo would sell his mother into slavery in a heartbeat for the chance to move to the West Bank, whom and in how many heartbeats would he sell into slavery for the chance to join the French unemployed or Greek workers or American strikers?

Perhaps Zizek, as a laureate of yesterday’s Left, has invented the ultimate defence for the coming waves of IMF austerity programmers; the final answer to silence western workers who may have the audacity to demonstrate against the strictures of international finance. They should declare that they are following the diktat of ‘the system’, and that they are not to blame; indeed, it is they who are the true victims of ‘the system’. And anyway, it’s worse in the Congo.

Here is a better question for this year’s students:

If a black from the Democratic Republic of Congo would sell his mother into slavery in a heartbeat for the chance to move to the West Bank, whom and in how many heartbeats would Slavoj Zizek sell into slavery for the chance to move into the intellectual establishment of the Right?

The answer is obvious. Zizek would sell all of Palestine, and throw in his own immortal soul for free. As for his mother, he would not only sell her, but would actually deliver her. This is one professor who knows that the best strategy for self-promotion is to whine about anti-Semitism.

His crass and racist rhetoric caused not the slightest ripple. His brave and sincere dissident hosts either missed it entirely, accepted it as normal, or looked the other way. Indeed, what would you expect from a black? Maybe he would sell his mother into slavery for a chance to serve his white master. The historical and international aspects of slavery have been excised; it has been reduced to something blacks bring upon themselves, or twisted into a way for blacks to get ahead. But no harm done.

The kindly professor will not be banned from the Cannes festival. His servile rhetoric will be noticed by Bernard Henri Levy and other powerful luminaries. He will get more and more invitations to speak in greater and greater venues.  Even my critique will bring him extra coverage. I cringed as Zizek’s speech approached the great lines from David Mamet (“the Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all”), but he held himself back.

As long as visiting professors know on which side their bread is buttered, we shall be condemned to witnessing repetitions of the Flotilla debacle. As long as we misunderstand the importance of Palestine for the world’s future, we shall be trapped in an endless “Middle East Crisis”.

Israel Shamir can be reached at adam@israelshamir.net

He acknowledges the help of Paul Bennett.


Israel Shamir can be reached on adam@israelshamir