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Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine and the Limitations of Abstract Moralism

You would think that in the context of Israel's current ethnic cleansing offensive in Gaza it would be rather inappropriate to publicly flaunt zionist propaganda.  For though the mainstream discourse surrounding Israel-Palestine is still unabashedly liberal, even the liberal world is reacting with a certain level of shock, no matter what qualifications they make, at the unfolding events in Gaza.  So you would think, with this in mind, hard-line zionists might feel a little shame.  Not so with the woman standing beside me on public transit the other day, proudly reading Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel (that reactionary piece of zionist "history" that, despite being rather fraudulent, is still treated as a viable source by racists seeking scholarly justification for their backwards views), as if another case for Israel wasn't being made, at the very moment, by the military beloved by the author of her book.

Obviously I am being somewhat facetious because I actually would not think that the events currently unfolding in Gaza would cause your average rugged zionist very much shame.  Neo-nazis, after all, do not feel any shame when their racist violence is broadcasted; they are just, in their own despicable way, honestly proud about their racism.  The same goes for committed IDF soldiers who are shamelessly tweeting about ethnic cleansing.  The only difference between these honest racists and the racists represented by the woman on the bus reading The Case for Israel is that the latter, while proud to defend the IDF in Gaza, are usually rather dishonest about the meaning of the event––they feel the need to speak about the IDF as if it is actually defending Israel and not engaged in expansionism, that the colonizers are the victims, and arm themselves ideologically with the kind of semi-academic crap of which Dershowitz's book is a paradigmatic example.

Indeed, just a day after the invasion the most vocal zionist on my union local's list-serve unleashed yet another complaint about a supposed "bias" towards Israel and how no one supporting Palestine could hope to understand the fact that Israel is the democratic victim in a sea of barbarism, etc….  perhaps nobody could understand this because of some intrinsic anti-semitism that everyone who supports Palestine possesses by virtue of supporting Palestine even if their background is jewish.  [As a tangental side-point, it is worth pointing out that the fact that someone like this reactionary can have a voice in my union local demonstrates, again, that unions are not essentially politically radical spaces––you're stuck with the people you work with and even "trade union consciousness", already insufficient to produce a revolutionary movement, is hampered by those fellow workers who are allowed to keep their reactionary politics and participate in union spaces simply because they pay their dues.]  And even though the whole charge of "bias" seems ludicrous in a context where the Obama administration, representing the most powerful nation in the world, is making public statements about standing by Israel, these people will still make it so that they can wallow in a false victimhood.

This explosion is also "biased"

Unfortunately, there is this problem the left sometimes has when it encounters this kind of reactionary ideology––an error that those of us who are academically trained are often the most guilty of making.  That is, the belief that we can somehow reason with these people to "see the truth" about a specific event and the possible ethics connected to this event.  It's like we subconsciously believe, as I was joking with a friend on the subway the other day, that all we need for a revolution is an army of trained philosophers to go out and win over the enemy with logical arguments. The fact, however, is that we usually end up becoming frustrated when the logical force of our arguments are denied… But then we keep arguing with these people, even though we should know by now that they will never accept our arguments no matter how contradictory their own position, and become even more frustrated.  We complain that they cannot "see the truth" and take bastion in the fact that at least we are correct and, if anything, we've convinced some abstract bystander of the rationality and ethical correctness of our position.

Look, many of us have been here before when it comes to zionists and Israel.  I know that I have argued with my share of raging zionists at competing student demonstrations, committed to winning a debate that could never, in such a context, be won.  Afterwords, angry and unsatisfied, I would convince myself that it hadn't been a waste of time because maybe some fence-sitting observer realized the righteousness of my side of the debate and was politically converted.  And though it is important to wage ideological struggle to convince those with a potentially advanced consciousness to move towards our political camp, there comes a point where we end up too focused on the debate itself and the person(s) we are debating.

The fact is that we shouldn't take bastion in the fact that we are correct in some abstract and logical sense because our correctness is determined by the politics to which we ascribe.  The zionist is actually just as correct according to the class content of hir ideological terrain: that is, if Israel is to persist as Israel, if zionists are to persist as zionists, then their arguments, according to their political presuppositions, make complete sense.  Similarly, the truth of a capitalist is to continue being a capitalist and all arguments regarding the supposed immorality of such a position are in a certain sense meaningless; the capitalist's class position produces its own ideological discourse, complete with its own interior truths, that justifies the reason for capitalism's existence.  As Engels writes in Anti-Duhring, and as I've discussed elsewhere:
"[A]s society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality has always been class morality; it has either justified the domination and interests of the ruling class, or ever since the oppressed class became powerful enough, it has represented its indignation against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed."
Thus, there comes a point where ideological struggle must encounter concrete class struggle and where, as Fanon once noted (and to paraphrase), no argument can replace the measured taking up of arms on the part of the oppressed.  If these moral arguments ultimately represent class positions, they cannot be solved outside of actual class struggle.

Instead of dismissing those zionists who uphold the "right" of zionism in the face of the current Gaza offensive as simply "dogmatic" in their ideological commitment, it is better to understand their ideology as an expression of their class position and the consciousness that positionality produces.  For though they may indeed be dogmatists, this is besides the point: they actually have good reason to cling to their dogma because it is a very logical expression of their class interests.

Understanding that class interest generates specific moral and logical justifications is important because, in the case of Palestine and elsewhere, the left needs to ground itself on a revolutionary foundation rather than the vagaries of moral righteousness.  For what does it matter to the left, ultimately, if more Palestinian than Israeli children are dying, if the former side's casualties are far greater?  This might help us demonstrate the current state of oppression, but it would never justify any potential revolutionary war where the oppressed overthrow their oppressors––a situation that would logically require the oppressor to eventually sustain more casualties.  And in such a situation we will be forced to choose what class morality to accept, and this is more important than some general and nebulous ethical apprehension of the moment.

In 2006, Ganapathi, on behalf of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), replied to an "Independent Citizens Initiative", composed of liberal intellectuals, that was investigating the violent clashes in those areas where the CPI(Maoist) was active.  It is worth quoting a large passage of his response that echoes Engels:
"We know that our answers will not satisfy you.  How is it possible when we both have different ideological and political perceptions towards the means to be adopted to bring the oppressed out of their miserable conditions of existence? There is no level playing field in the merciless class war between the cruelly exploited, brutally oppressed majority on the one hand, and the fatty [sic] upper five per cent of our society bulging at the expense of the hundreds of millions of poor on the other.  In a class-divided society there cannot be any absolute truth. The truth of the oppressed is different from the truth of the oppressor. […] In class conflicts, unlike in ordinary sport, it is impossible to have an impartial referee who cries foul whenever there is a violation of the rules by either side. For class war is no game played out between equals based on rules that apply to both sides equally. It is an unequal war between the mighty militarised state that stands in defense of the propertied classes and their 'right' to exploit the majority at will, and the vast majority of the wretched of the earth––hungry, homeless, emaciated, docile, helpless masses––who, in the eyes of the ruling elites, are not much distinct from the slaves of bygone millennia. […] Rules are preset by these very same exploiters… Those who imagine themselves to be impartial referees in class war and try to set the rules equally for both sides will ultimately end up as apologists for the oppressors, in spite of their good intentions and sincere attitude. Anyone who thinks that he/she is being impartial in a class-divided society is only a victim of his/her fanciful imagination." [In People's March, December 2006, pp. 13-14]
And in the situation of Palestine we know that there are no "impartial referees" because the only state that acts as a global referee is far from impartial and has already sided with Israel.  In this context our moral arguments do not matter; they break upon the moral hegemony of the oppressor.  Committed political philosophers have been wont to reply to the charge of "bias" that yes they are "biased" because the truth, by its very definition as truth, is "biased"… It is more accurate, however, to point out that we are either biased for the truth of the oppressors––the truth that thinks the world as it is should continue upon the backs of the wretched of the earth and, through this assertion, generates a specific logic––or the truth of the oppressed that demands the production of another world beyond oppression.  Thus, in this context, we should not see those zionists who cling to their ideology in the face of what it ultimately means as acting in an inappropriate manner; we should simply treat them as class enemies and, in this treatment, hope for a revolutionary movement to reemerge in Palestine and demolish the foundations upon which their ideology is dependent.


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