As Peter Hitchens pointed out, all big solutions (two states, one big democratic state…) sound impossible today, and the only glimmer of hope is the renewal of everyday collaboration and contacts between Jews and Palestinians. But, as he added with justified sarcasm, these contacts were much more abundant before the big diplomatic attempts to bring peace, attempts that resulted in even worse tensions and violence. The solution is thus impossible AND necessary.
Why? One cannot but note the anti-Semitic context in many statements of those who praise Israel. No wonder that even extreme Rightists who are as a rule anti-Semitic – like Marine le Pen in France – now totally support Israel! With regard to the topic of terror, it is not only something that occurs exclusively on the Palestinian side: Israel hides its own skeletons in its closet. Seyla Benhabib pointed out that the members of the present government of Israel are
“the legatees of a long line of Judeo-fascism, which none other than Albert Einstein, joined by Hannah Arendt and Sidney Hook, denounced in their Open Letter to the NY Times on December 2, 1948, titled “New Palestine Party: Menachem Begin and Aims of Political Movement Discussed.” They write: Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine…. Today the legatees of this party and movement — Likud was established by Menachem Begin — are in power in Israel and they have brought upon Israel the worst disaster since the Holocaust.”
One should note the weird similarity between the Palestinians to whom the only place they ever knew as their homeland is denied and the Jews themselves. And this homology holds even for the term “terrorism”: in the years of the Jewish struggle against the British military in Palestine, the very term “terrorist” had a positive connotation. Resistance of an oppressed group against the legal power is by definition perceived by those in power as terror… It is against this complex background that one should judge the predominant anti-Leftist reaction to the ongoing Gaza war is best encapsulated by a text in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
“The Israeli sociologist Natan Sznaider sees this day not only as a ceasure in the history of Israel but as ‘part of the global Jewish destiny.’ It is not possible to simply go on after the events of October 7 without – for a moment, at least – reflecting on the meaning and essence of this crime. The unfortunately all too often practiced form of public speech which in one sentence mentions Israeli victims and condemns Hamas, only so that it can immediately after that pass onto denunciating the Israeli reaction and mourn the civil victims in Gaza – as it was done, for example, by the Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek at the book fair in Frankfurt – negates this meaning of October 7.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine is now engaged in a systematic campaign against me. Here is the latest comment on me there: “Slavoj Žižek didn’t go crazy, on the contrary: the appalling thing is that he was crazy for decades.” No, I didn’t pass onto how Israel reacted to the Hamas attack; I passed onto what Israel was doing for decades on the West Bank. I only mentioned the “collective punishment of millions in Gaza” at the very end of my speech; I didn’t just “condemn” Hamas, I gave Israel the full right to destroy it; and I said more against Hamas later in the text. However, what I do reject is the idea that the “meaning and essence” of the Gaza attack is that of an almost metaphysical caesura, an absolute Crime which allows us to ignore its complex historical background. My full solidarity is with the victims of the attack as well as with Jews in whom the attack brought out memories of anti-Semitism and confronted them with fresh anti-Semitic threats, NOT with the actions of the State of Israel and its present government.
But what I find especially disgusting and morally reprehensible are the interventions of German politicians like Uwe Becker who brutally interrupted my speech, accusing me of relativizing the Hamas attack. IN WWII, Slovenia was occupied by Germany and Italy, dismembered, with tens of thousands killed, and the last thing we deserve is a German, member of a nation that perpetrated the Shoah, now giving us lessons about anti-Semitism. The hypocrisy of such acts shocked me: by assuming the power to select and condemn those (including many Jews) whom they view as “anti-Semites” (where the critique of what Israel does in the occupied territories is also denounced as anti-Semitism), they fight anti-Semitism by way of supporting Israel also where Israel is wrong and acts like an oppressive occupier – as if they exculpate themselves for their mega-crime by solidarity with their once-victim which is now committing a smaller crime… To be brutal, their critique of anti-Semitism is a continuation of anti-Semitism by other means. Exaggeration? Deborah Feldman recently wrote an excellent overview of how the Holocaust-guilt complexes of Germans cause them to fetishize Jewishness to the point of obsessive-compulsive embodiment:
“Some of the hostages held by Hamas have German citizenship, so when I asked a politician from Germany’s governing coalition what the government’s position was on those people, I was shocked when his response, in private, was: Das sind doch keine reinen Deutschen, which translates to: well, those aren’t pure Germans. He didn’t choose from a host of perfectly acceptable terms to refer to Germans with dual citizenship, he didn’t even use adjectives such as richtige or echte to refer to them not being full or proper Germans – instead, he used the old Nazi term to differentiate between Aryans and non-Aryans.”
One cannot but note how the critics of the Leftist reaction to the Gaza war systematically simplify the position of those they attack, dismissing clear and unambiguous condemnation of the attack, reading it as a rhetorical device to justify it as a reaction to the Israeli occupation – the position which is definitely not mine. Such a critical stance is not just an effect of superficial reading: it is necessary for the critics to make the point they want to make. Along these lines Eva Illouz, in her text about the reactions of the Left to the Hamas attack, falls into the same trap although she tries to practice a more refined approach: she accuses me of dismissing the horror of attacks with “obfuscating intellectual strategies” – do I really do this? As it was often the case in the last weeks, her basic reproach is that I relativize the Hamas attack by way of contextualizing it, to which she opposes her stance:
“I refuse to contextualize the pain of Palestinians at having lost their land. In order to take full stock of their tragedy, I need to suspend the context. Couldn’t the left have stood with us in our shock and grief just a short while, as many Arabs around the world and in Israel have done?”
I agree with Illouz that ordinary people are “typically sensitive to the concreteness of their experience: in fact, both Palestinians and Israelis will be obstinately insistent that their suffering is unique and not to be compared, that is, reduced to another’s. /…/ Jews are very attentive to the concrete details of the pogrom of Oct. 7th, the smell of the burnt bodies, the indiscriminate killing of children and elderly, the blood on the streets, the floors and the walls. The concreteness of each group’s memory refuses the facile language of parallels.” Palestinians and not only Muslims all around the world are bombarded with images of destruction and death in Gaza, and their rage is condensing and approaching a violent explosion. How could one not be affected by the fact that, in Gaza, children cut with knives their names on their own bodies so their corpses can be identified? At this level, there is no solution, just a juxtaposition of different traumatic experiences, which are often manipulated or outright false. For example, we were bombarded by the photos of the bodies of Jews burnt in the course of the Hamas attack, but now Mark Regev, senior adviser to Netanyahu, has admitted the bodies we had seen were the bodies of Hamas attackers burned by IDF: “We’ve made a mistake. They are actually bodies which were so badly burned. In the end, apparently, they were Hamas terrorists.”
So why is the effect (of the Hamas slaughter, of the bombing of Gaza) so devastatingly traumatic? Much worse horrors happened in the 20th century – suffice it to mention the horrifying experiments on thousands of Chinese prisoners by Shiro Ishii in his infamous Unit 731 in Manchuria during WWII. (Incidentally, Shiro finished his days in peaceful retirement: the US was so interested in the results of his experiments that he was given full immunity for giving the documents of his “research” to the US.) Historical context also explains the traumatic effect of the Hamas attack: the Hamas slaughter of innocent Jewish civilians evokes the memory of Shoah, while the bombing if Gaza is experienced by Palestinians as a second Nakba. The same reference to context explains the reaction to the Allies’ bombing of Hamburg: the attack during the last week of July 1943, code named Operation Gomorrah, created one of the largest firestorms raised by the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Forces in WWII, killing an estimated 37,000 people in Hamburg (and wounding 180,000 more), and destroying 60% of the city’s houses. Survivors were especially bitter because the Allies focused on destroying working class suburbs, not the wealthy-area villas, which they used after the war when they occupied the city. Although this event also fully deserves the decontextualized shock and grief, it caused none because of its context: the Allies were fighting Nazis, the ultimate evil…
The reference to decontextualized shock and grief is thus clearly limited. No wonder that, after evoking it, Illouz moves from the plea to stand with Israel in shock and grief to a cold legal argumentation:
“Collateral damage – a chillingly impersonal expression – is morally and legally different from the decapitation of children by combatants, because of the degree of intentionality and direct responsibility. Denying this distinction would amount to denying the basis of our legal system. Similarly, the category of ‘heinous crime’ refers to those crimes human communities recognize as different from other crimes because of their particularly evil character. Quantitative death count is never enough to establish how morally repulsive an act of killing is because crimes are not equal in their intent, responsibility and heinousness.”
In short, even if the IDF has killed till now more than 10.000 Palestinians in Gaza, this is morally and legally different (less bad) from killing 1.200 Jews in the Hamas attack… (Incidentally, Illouz should be more careful here: she mentions decapitated children, a fact that was clearly negated by IDF itself weeks ago, making Joe Biden seem ridiculous when he claimed that he has seen photos of beheaded children). Illouz’s basic reproach is that I present the two sides as mirror-reflections of each other, both co-responsible for the events: she ironically condenses my stance into “it takes two to tango.” My reply is: yes, but the two caught in a tango embrace are not Israel and Palestine, but the two ultimate enemies bent on each other’s annihilation, the present government of Israel and Hamas. They are not the same; they are just in a tango embrace – how?
If for a moment we engage in conspiracy theory, we can imagine a phone call between Hamas and Israeli hardliners: “Hi, do you remember how we discreetly supported you against PLO? Now you owe us a favour: why don’t you attack and slaughter some Jews close to Gaza? They are in any case Arab friends, peaceniks, we don’t need them. We have here two problems: civil protests against us and the slow ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. The world will be shocked at your brutality, and we will be able to play a victim again, get national unity and escalate ethnic cleansing in the West Bank…!” „OK, but we need a counter-favour: in revenge for our slaughter, promise that you will bomb civilians in Gaza, killing thousands, especially children. This will give a boost to anti-Semitism all around the world, which is our true goal!” Such an obscene phone call is of course just imagined, but recall Robert Harris’s The Ghost (filmed by Polanski) in which a ghostwriter for Adam Lang, the U.K. former Prime Minister modeled on Tony Blair, discovers that Lang was planted in the Labor Party and manipulated all along by the CIA. The New York Observer commented that the book’s “shock-horror revelation” was “so shocking it simply can’t be true, though if it were it would certainly explain pretty much everything about the recent history of Great Britain.”
In the same way, the imagined phone call is a disgusting fiction, but it brings out the objective logic of the perverse tango going on: it can’t be true, though, if it were, it would explain everything about the recent war in Gaza. In Lacanian terms, this call is not part of reality, but it is real. Since victims are in principle allowed to strike back, the war gives Israel a chance of an ethnically cleansed Great Israel, maybe including even Gaza. Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians in Gaza is the “right humanitarian solution” for the besieged enclave and for the region, a stance Palestinian officials have correctly liken to support of “ethnic cleansing”.
On November 15, 2023, Israel dropped leaflets into southern Gaza telling Palestinian civilians to leave four towns on the eastern edge of Khan Younis – to move where? An IDF representative said cynically: “They know where to go.” It can only mean: across the border to Egypt… And, to add insult to injury, the corridor of forced evacuation is called “humanitarian corridor”! We now see why Israel is so allergic to the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free”: it is becoming more and more clear, it should really be “From the river to the sea, Israel shall be free (of Palestinians).” The really difficult question to be raised here is: what if persons like Ben Gvir and Smotrich are not just marginal fanatics? What if they just openly state the actual politics of the State of Israel covered up by more “liberal” mainstream?
Reports multiply on “alarming” conditions in the West Bank where Israeli forces are increasingly using military tactics and weapons in law enforcement operations, while settler violence against Palestinian inhabitants, which was already at record levels, had “escalated dramatically”. And Israel’s reaction to this? On Friday, November 10, 2023 we learned that the IDF demolished the homes of the two Hamas terrorists who murdered Batsheva Nigri in a shooting attack near Kiryat Arba, West Bank, in August. OK, and how many homes of the settlers who killed more than 150 Palestinians on the West Bank since October 7 were demolished? Where is the international law here?
Groups of settlers are regularly sending messages to Palestinians that they better leave their dwellings within following 24 hours – and if they don’t do this, they as a rule really come and beat, or even kill, the Palestinian family. Here is one case: two Palestinians were killed after Israeli settlers opened fire on a funeral procession near the West Bank town of Qusra, south of Nablus. “Ambulances were carrying the bodies of four Palestinians who were shot dead a day earlier, reportedly also by Israeli settlers, when settlers arrived at the scene and attempted to halt the funeral procession. One of the ambulance drivers was quoted by Haaretz as saying that ‘the settlers were waiting there. They blocked the gate, started firing on us and other people who had come for the funeral.’” The official reaction? “The IDF said that a number of Palestinian casualties were reported following clashes between settlers and Palestinians in the village where the funeral was about to take place, and that the incident is under investigation.” A lone incident? “There have been repeated incidents over the past year of young settlers violently raiding villages in rampages that have led to a handful of Palestinian deaths, scores injured and significant property damage. The assailants are rarely arrested, let alone prosecuted for their actions.” If this is not a form of terror, then this word has no meaning at all.
So, what about international laws to which both sides pay lip service? Even when Western leaders criticize Israel, their criticism takes the form of “concern” or “restraint”… In a TV interview on October 29, 2023, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Israel has a responsibility to protect the lives of innocent people in Gaza. Washington was asking hard questions of Israel, including on issues surrounding humanitarian aid, distinguishing between terrorists and innocent civilians and on how Israel is thinking through its military operation, Sullivan said: “What we believe is that every hour, every day of this military operation, the IDF, the Israeli government should be taking every possible means available to them to distinguish between Hamas terrorists who are legitimate military targets and civilians who are not.” Sullivan also said Netanyahu has a responsibility to “rein in” extremist Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank: “It is totally unacceptable to have extremist settler violence against innocent people in the West Bank.” But are such calls for restraint enough? Obviously not, since, for decades, Israel ignores them with no serious consequences. So, a further step is needed: what about applying to Israel the sanctions regularly imposed onto other nations accused to committing criminal acts? Far from being an anti-Israeli act, the threat of sanctions would definitely be an act of true friendship which will prevent Israel from taking the path of co-creating a world with globalized anti-Semitism.
And this threat is real. On Sunday, October 29, 2023, a mob in Russia’s mostly Muslim region of Dagestan stormed the airport in Makhachkala in search of Jewish passengers arriving from Israel. In the previous day, local people had besieged a hotel in search of Jewish guests and stormed the airport after reports emerged that a flight from Tel Aviv was arriving in the city. Passengers were forced to take refuge in planes or hide in the airport for fear of being attacked. Does this not announce a new wave of anti-Semitism which will be world-wide, operating not just in Europe and the Middle East? The danger is that a new global narrative will emerge in which the critique of gay and trans rights will be put in the same line as anti-Semitism, both conceived as forms of struggle against Western neocolonialism.
The parallel between Ukraine and Palestine is tell-tale since one of the catastrophic global effects of the ongoing war in the Middle East is that some key distinctions are blurred: the pro-Israeli West (the US especially) now present the defence of Ukraine against the Russian aggression and the defence of Israel against Hamas as moments of the same global war, as if Israel=Ukraine. On the opposite pseudo-Leftist side there are already claims that the attacks (of Russia, of Hamas) are both justified defence measures which exploded against long histories of oppression – in short, Donetsk is the Russian West Bank… A new world order is thus emerging, and the Gaza war is like a knot, a nodal point, which condenses the antagonisms that traverse our world, a place where everything will be decided. “Palestine” is today a strong symbol, an image of concrete universality which brings together opposite meanings: a stand-in for all European colonial sins (Jews colonized Palestine), as well as the place where anti-Semitism is exploding. The tragedy is that the State of Israel which resulted from the European mega-guilt for the Holocaust, as a desperate attempt to provide to Jews with a safe place, is at the same time emerging as a symbol of European oppression and colonization. The original sin is that of Western European countries that tried to make amendments for the Holocaust by giving Jews a piece of land mostly inhabited for centuries by other people.
The situation will be even further destabilized by the rise of the new populist Right in the US. If Trump wins, he will take the direction clearly indicated by the election of Mike Johnson as the new Speaker of the House: religious fundamentalism in all its guises, with the end of democracy as we knew it. Although Trump declares himself the partisan of the impoverished (white) working class, the perversity is that “devastating the working class was actually part of the plan: now that the American middle class has gone from over 60% of the US down to a mere 43% , Republicans are trying to harness the outrage people are feeling and then use it to tear our society apart. Out of the chaos, they believe they can rebuild a nation on the foundations of hypermasculinity, racism, religious bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, and threats of violence.” In short, the US are caught in the same battle as Israel itself: the struggle between new populist fundamentalists and the remaining forces of secular democracy.
Predictions about the final outcome of the Gaza war oscillate between two extremes. The majority perceive the war as the beginning of a global catastrophe: hopes for peace are now a thing of the past, the only winner in this war will be war itself. Even Yuval Harari, till now the voice of relative reason, said recently that, if Israel is also attacked by rockets from the North (by Hezbollah), it “could defend itself with all the weapons it has, including nuclear capabilities.” If the Gaza Palestinians were to possess nuclear arms, would they also not have the same right to use those after the total destruction of the Gaza Strip? There is, however, a minority which thinks that the ongoing Gaza war opens a new prospect of peace: the war will make palpable the failure of a purely military solution, so both sides will be compelled to search an uneasy peace in whatever form available. In the present situation, the first step in this direction will have to be made by Israel: ceasing immediately the daily terror against West Bank Palestinians, offering wide humanitarian help to civilians in Gaza, abandoning the exclusive claim to the West Bank…
These two visions of the future are more than two tendencies; they are two “superposed” determinations of our future which, to quote Jean-Pierre Dupuy, if it happens will appear as necessary. It is not that we have two possibilities (catastrophe or recovery) – a formula that is all too easy. What we have are two superposed necessities. It is necessary that the Gaza war ends in a global catastrophe, as our entire history moves towards it, AND it is necessary that a solution arises. In a collapse of these two superposed necessities, only one of them will actualize itself, so that in any case our history will (have) be(en) necessary: “There are no alternative possible futures since the future is necessary. Instead of exclusive disjunction there is a superposition of states. Both the escalation to extremes and the absence of one are part of a fixed future: it is because the former figures in it that deterrence has a chance to work; it is because the latter figures in it that the adversaries are not bound to destroy each other. Only the future, when it comes to pass, will tell.” This is our predicament today: whichever the new order will be, it will be retroactively posited as necessary.
So, when Illouz concludes her text with “[o]ne more time in recent history Jews feel very lonely,” I cannot abstain from adding two points. Yes, alone… with the big Western media and powers totally on their side, dismissing very critical distance as anti-Semitism. Plus, how lonely should then feel the West Bank Palestinians, with no state power protecting them from attacks and with their territory constantly shrinking? So, yes, it is impossible to simply go on after October 7 – for the West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians, as well. How should they do their work of mourning when Israel prohibits the very public use of the word Nakba which names the trauma that haunts them? This brings us to a small ray of hope that is appearing in Israel itself: the slow rise of solidarity between the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Jews who oppose the all-destructive war. The solution is, therefore, not in competing moral judgments but in a genuine political act of creating a new social reality. Maybe, instead of erasing the historical traumas that haunt them, Jews and Palestinians should establish solidarity based on the fact that they were (and are) both victims of Western racism. A utopia? But the only alternative is doom.
 Still, she cannot avoid occasional lapses into vulgarity, like when she characterizes Judith Butler as “intellectual” in quotation marks; although I had many disputes with Butler, whatever she is, she is an intellectual in the full sense of the term. Attacks on Butler are now approaching madness: recently a claim appeared that her early theory of “gender trouble” already aims at “deconstructing” (destroying) the State of Israel.
 Jean-Pierre Dupuy, The War That Must Not Occur, Redwood City: Stanford University Press 2023 (quoted from the manuscript).
 For a balanced view of this context, see Israël-Gaza: Dominique de Villepin met en garde face au “triple piège tendu par le Hamas” (bfmtv.com).
 This is not even to mention the redoubled loneliness of the Jews in Germany who are also critical of Israel.