I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the word “Occupation” recently.
Anyone reading this already knows the centrality of that term (in a more specific form of “The Occupation”) in any discussion or debate about the Middle East. But rather than just being a piece of terminology that can be defined and then applied to different situations (such as Israel, Cyprus or Tibet), “The Occupation” carries with it almost mythical, metaphysical connotations.
After all, it is “The Occupation” that justifies everything Israel’s enemies do: from propaganda campaigns like BDS, to military and terrorist attacks, to rejecting offers that would put that occupation to an end. For such foes, “The Occupation” can never be about legal status or rules of conduct that can be applied to other situations since for them “The Occupation” is a unique evil that can only ever be ascribed to Israelis (although just the Jewish ones).
There is precedent for turning faults shared by all humans into a form of mystical villainy possessed solely by Jews. Religious insularity, for example, is an accusation one still hears today directed at my tribe, mostly by those who have assigned themselves the religious duty to convert the entire world to their own faith (by the sword, if necessary).
The effort needed to contort doctrine in order to maintain a centrality of Jewish villainy has plenty of precedent. Think, for example, of the requirement that Christ’s death had to precede his resurrection. One would think such an obviously true statement left plenty of room to see those involved with Christ’s crucifixion as playing an important role in God’s plan. But for generations of Christians, continuing to blame the Jew was simpler than confronting complex theological dilemmas.
This observation comes at a time when large swaths of the Middle East are coming under occupation by foreign states (like a resurgent Iran funding or participating in wars in Yemen and Syria) or by non-state actors like ISIS occupying chunks of Syria and Iraq. But these situations (like previous regional occupation, by Syria of Lebanon for example) are not the same as “The Occupation,” an act of magical wickedness that only Jews can be guilty of performing.
“Occupation” also came to mind as I’ve been reading about “Intersectionality,” a clumsy term being used within radical political circles to insist that countless issues be linked: from the shooting of blacks by US policemen, to discrimination against women in the workforce, to environmental degradation, high college tuition and a low minimum wage.
The reason lists of demands students are presenting to administrators these days go on for page after page after page is that “Intersectionality” requires every issue be connected, usually under vague definitions of “discrimination” or “the fight against injustice.”
Israel’s critics, who have invested heavily in trying to establish adherence to their program (including BDS) as a requirement for any Progressive in good standing, have been leveraging this moment to insist that their agenda take pride of place within communities associated with Progressive causes. For example, divestment now appears on many of those aforementioned lists of student demands. And, if this story regarding Jews in the LGBQ movement is any indication, it seems as though the Israel haters are ready to enforce their priorities through intimidation and violence, if necessary.
That last incident fits interestingly (if depressingly) with a recent vote by the academic association representing Women’s Studies on US campuses. For in both cases, any objective measure would say that Israel (however imperfect) represents True North with regard to treatment of women and sexual minorities, without having to even drag in the fact that those countries arrayed against the Jewish state represent the most sexist and homophobic nations in all of human history.
The fact that political activists who claim to fight on behalf of women and gays are ready to put aside the greatest sources of their victimization in order to join the victimizers in common cause seems bewildering, unless you realize that the political Left is increasingly becoming Occupied Territory where anti-Israel activists get to decide who is in and who is out.
One last thought on the word that headlines this story was actually the first one that came to mind as I considered how both this site and others dedicated to the fight against BDS have been a bit quiet of late. While I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I’m guessing that allies also struggle to figure out how to balance their political activism with other responsibilities, like raising families or engaging with work (i.e., our “occupations”).
In contrast, Israel’s foes never seem to run out of time to commit to their propaganda efforts. This might be because several of those efforts are subsidized by wealthy nation states. Or perhaps they don’t have jobs (or don’t have jobs that demand much of their time or mental energy). Alternatively, it is fanaticism, including the fanaticism needed to destroy everything in their path (including Progressive politics), that provides them the ultimate resource they have committed to endless war.