Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Orange Star and the Sanctification of Blasphemy

I wrote this essay a few months ago, when the anti-disengagement activists were wearing orange stars in imitation of the stars the Jews of Europe were forced to wear by the Nazis. I think it explains more or less where I stand on this deeply painful subject, and I post it as I watch the disengagement beginning before my eyes. It is, perhaps, a little dated, but I leave it as I wrote it.

“When the colonized kills the colonizer he kills both the oppressor and the oppressed.”
- Jean-Paul Sartre

“[N]o one is disturbed by the criminal act that Ariel Sharon seeks to commit…: the brutal deportation of Jews from their inheritance and their homes - most of whom are already the third generation on the land - men, women, and children, against their will, solely because they are Jews. This will be accompanied by the razing of their homes, the elimination of their lives' undertaking, the destruction of scores of synagogues, ritual baths, kindergartens, libraries, and schools; the disinterment of dozens of bodies from the cemeteries - many of them, the victims of Arab terror. And the trauma of ethnic cleansing will be followed by the ultimate crime: the handing over of all the Judenrein territory to the Arab enemy, territory that is the inheritance of our forefathers, that they were given by G-d, and that no Jew is permitted to give away.”
- Nadia Matar, disengagement opponent, comparing the disengagement authority to the Judenrat

The most dangerous threat to any political movement, whether towards reaction or liberation, is the sanctification of violence. From “Viva la muerte!”, the cry of the Spanish fascists, to the admonition of Bin Laden’s minions that their secret weapon is the mere fact that they love death and we love life; the sanctification of the gun and the bomb is what leads inevitably to the terrors of the concentration camp, the firing squad, and the suicide bomber. It would seem to be a historical truism that the transformation of violence into a holy act constitutes the embrace of death above all other principles. In effect, it is nothing less than the inversion of the will to life represented by the organized political movement of liberation or change into the will to destruction, and thus the harbinger of totalitarianism and the collapse of a political culture into collective insanity.

The recent decision by the radical wing of the settler movement to adopt the orange star of David as their symbol, with their concomitant use of terms such as “Judenrein” to describe the impending evacuation of Gush Katif, thus reawakening yet again the beasts of our recent history; is not merely maddening and offensive, but carries within it the seeds of just such a sanctification, and if Zionism is to be saved from the fate of the twentieth century’s other ideologies, then we must be prepared to look this act squarely in the eye, and not merely to recoil from its insult or its offense to reason.

The donning of the star has been frighteningly misinterpreted even by some of its most ambivalent critics, who view it – they believe with a measure of generosity – as a half-insane and half-frivolous act of people driven mad by religious fanaticism; others – who no doubt believe themselves less generous – have simply dismissed it as the provocation of a gaggle of psychotics ignorant of history and unfeeling towards the sensibilities of their brethren. While all of this may be tangentially true, to understand both the promise and the threat of the orange star, we must first accept that it is not a mad act, that those who don the star do not merely believe in the message it bears but embrace also the inner logic of the act itself; and it is here, in this interior mechanism, in these hinterlands of the ideological mind, that we must begin; it is our challenge and our charge to do so, and to take such minds with the utmost seriousness.

I wish to state before continuing that what I am writing is not applicable to the settlement movement in its entirety, and certainly not to the majority of individual settlers. I must say this if only in deference to friendship, and to my many fellow students who are children of the settlement enterprise and do not deserve to be colluded with the radical few of whom I am about to speak. This point is of the utmost importance, because it is clear that we are contending here with a revolutionary vanguard of sorts, with a radical minority. Nonetheless, this minority must be spoken of with appropriate gravity, since in moments of dislocation and violence; moments such as those we may well soon be facing as the evacuation goes forward; it is this very vanguard, one which cherishes upheaval and believes violence holy, which inevitably seizes the day.

So what are they telling us in all their terrifying earnestness, these star bearers, these priests of the charnel house? Firstly, they are declaring themselves; and second, they are declaring us, and by us I mean the many millions of us who did not don the star, and find ourselves repulsed by the measure of the act itself. Of themselves, the star bearers are speaking of innocence, and not merely that; they are anointing themselves, anointing themselves in the name of our only Holy Innocents, drawing the six million unto themselves, and thus positing a dreadful equation. Because if they are declaring themselves innocent at the first, and innocent not merely in act but in essence, since it is the mere presence of the star on one’s breast that declares this purity; then at the second they are declaring us guilty, and this is a charge that cannot be left unanswered, since among the six million, only the slaughtered wore the star, and only the slaughterer went naked to his bloody business.

It is clear that this charge bears with it the very essence of this vanguard which has appointed itself our prosecutor: its apocalyptic surety. For what is being evoked here, and there can be no mistake about this, is Hitler; and in the post-modern age, Hitler is merely another word for Satan; in fact, he is the only Satan universally acknowledged by our godless world. And in evoking Satan, the orange star also declares us among his ranks, if only by the pure fact that we do not wear it. Thus an image takes shape of the end of days, and of the roles to which we have been assigned: the Holy Innocents adrift in a sea of Hitlers, five billion and more perhaps; and the final battle of Gog and Magog is merged with the image of the eternal tyrant and the eternal slaughterer into a single visage; one which bears not merely the face of the whole world which is against us, but our face as well.

There is terror here, and we are mistaken if we take it lightly. Beneath the vanguard’s shallow protestations of strength and its vulgar fetishization of Israel’s military prowess there is a horrendous, existential fear, and it is this fear which bears them forth into the exile of unreason. It is the terror of a second slaughter, of a new extermination; the unthinkable knowledge that somehow, someway, it is all happening again. Once again, Jews are dying, governments are uncaring, the world is indifferent, and their own comrades in death – all of us who cannot see the impending apocalypse – are lost in the comfortable decadence of assimilation and collaboration; and, beyond it all, Bialik’s slaughterer is sharpening his blade, and perhaps, this time, the throne of the Almighty will indeed be ripped from its moorings and hurled to the earth and the world, at last, declared bereft of justice.

And there is another, even deeper catalyst behind the apocalyptic mythos of the orange star, deeper even, perhaps, than fear; it is the desire to raise the tyrant again from the dead, and at last grant him the reckoning he cheated, the desire to expel at last the demons of all those lambs who went silently to the slaughter, and to prove for all the world that the Jew, and not his slaughterer, holds the hands of Fate. We see it in the teenagers in knit kippas toting machine guns on the hilltops; in the Kahanist’s cry of “never again!” which really means “again!”, “rise again monster, that I may slay you as my grandfathers could not!”

Which brings us, finally, to the sanctification of violence; for there can be no mistaking that what is being declared by the orange star is a holy war, a battle to the death between those who don the star, and thus render themselves innocent, and those who do not, and thus join the ranks of the guilty. And the death at the end of this battle, in its apocalyptic essence, is not merely the death of a man or of a movement, but of the world entire. It is here that the vanguard; and not merely our vanguard, but all the vanguards of history; finds its darkness, and its will to destruction. It is where Baruch Goldstein found his M16 and where Yigal Amir found his pistol, and it is here that we must make our stand; because any society or movement which wishes to steer itself clear of the ash heap of history must, at some point, declare that there is no such thing as a holy war, much less holy murder; and in the hands of our vanguardists this sanctification of destruction and the star which declares it can be nothing more or less than the negation of us all; because to call a Jew a Nazi is to destroy him, and thus, through this singular act of holy violence, blasphemy itself becomes sanctified.

We must acknowledge that we who did not wear the star are not innocent in this regard. It was the Left, after all, which coined the reprehensible term “Judeo-Nazi”, and it was the archly secular Ben-Gurion who called first Jabotinsky and then Begin by the name of Hitler. But with the exception of Professor Leibowitz’s odious provocation, which unfortunately excites even our own judge-penitents, as Camus might have called them, with its erotic violence, all these transgressions were directed merely against the singular personage at hand; whereas the orange star indicts all of us who do not wear it, and thus negates us, sanctifies our own murder, names us all the agents of the sons of darkness, in the name of love plots our murder, and thus cedes to Hitler his final victory, by making him over again in our own image, and it is against this blasphemy that we must set ourselves.

We must grant them their points, however, in doing so. There is no doubt that decadence is afoot amongst our elite; that corruption and ossification of ideals threaten our democracy; that the seemingly unstoppable tide of globalization which is engulfing Israel is a threat to Zionism as it is a threat to any non-materialist ideology; that the world does indeed have much to answer for, as it admonishes us in the name of millions of judge-penitents even as human bombs tear our children’s limbs asunder and desecrate our streets. Yes, we must even acknowledge that their (and our) fear and rage are, in some measure, justified a thousandfold, and that history and man are indeed, in their own measure, without justice. That the revolt against the indifference of both history and man is indeed a right inalienable; and that we do not accept the self-negating assertion of our own judge-penitents that, through some trick of divine irony, this right is to be denied only to our own people. And we must acknowledge that there is nobility in their dream, because it is, to a great extent, our dream as well, a dream of love, and strength, and rebirth; and that we differ from them only that we see an unavoidable choice before us between a truncated dream and the abyss, and we must choose the truncation, because only the madman chooses the abyss.

And in this abyss shines the orange star, for what it tells us above all is that there is no hope; that the despair of the gun is our only defense against a world of Nazis. It is this mythology of the sacred martyr and the sacred murderer become one that we must reject; and we reject it in declaring our intentions to its wearers: that we are asking them to move, and not to die; that we are not decadent post-Zionists but merely awake to the fact that their enterprise is rendering Zionism impossible and sending us on a path that can end only in apartheid or the sea. To give up one’s home is, in some measure, to overturn one’s world; and to give up one’s dream even worse perhaps, and we must acknowledge the depth of this debt. Above all, we must make our stand with love; because they are, after all, ours, and we theirs; however much they may offend or despise us, and we them.

In this, we must be clear of the ground on which we stand. It may be that when the Jew kills a Gentile he is killing both oppressor and oppressed, both the Nazi and his victim, but this can never be a sacred act, only a shameful but necessary profanity, as for the Maccabeans who did battle on the Sabbath. I am not advocating pacifism in saying this. I accept that one must sometimes kill to save one’s home from the arsonist’s torch, and I accept that someday I may have to kill to defend the home we have built here; but I will never accept that depressing a trigger redeems my soul, let alone the world, nor that God himself bears forth the bullets that tear flesh and destroy life. That is the domain of the Goldsteins and the Amirs, of Kahanists and Hamasniks and, yes, even Bin Laden himself; and it is territory only for the man who wishes not only to destroy the world but to destroy himself as well. This we must reject, for it is a sword which inevitably turns and slays the man who wields it. The only means of this rejection is a single, unyielding truth: that when a Jew kills a Jew, or calls him by the name of Hitler; whether to destroy my brother or negate him, whether by word or by cloth; that he commits anything other than an unspeakable blasphemy, and invites forth nothing less than another horban, another scorching of the earth, another galut, another exile, another fall of man.