Occupations

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.

6 thoughts on “Occupations”

  1. You overlooked one recent news item on “occupation”. File this under “you can’t make this stuff up if you tried”. Abbas openly supports Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara region: http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-palestinian-authority-supports.html#.VqU8nyorLIX
    I think the mantra here is that “occupation everywhere must be opposed– as long as Jews can be blamed for it”.
    PS Your other reader (besides me) should note that StandWithUs will be holding its second Anti-BDS conference in LA April 9-11. https://www.standwithus.com/ppsc/bdsconf2016.asp

  2. Anti-Israelism is part of the intersectionality of anti-Semitism, supremacism (Arab, Islamic, male) and Palestinian nationalism. Those born in privilege in colonial societies exercise an Oedipal fascination with imperialistic power structures (in a Foucaultian sense of the term), both by lashing out against their parent culture which they perceive as evil (killing one’s parent) and by reenacting the imperial pattern by infanticizing their subjects. The anti-Israel demagogue magnifies grievances beyond recognition because the grander the affront, the more powerful and essential it appears to be.

    Both European and Arab cultures are imperialistic and oppressive of minorities, but have a history of coopting other minorities in order to stay in power. Syria is the perfect illustration of this where the Syrian Alawites struck deals with Christians, Druz, Shias and other minorities. The basic purpose of such intersectionality is the exercise of power.

    That being said, it’s a language game. Intersectionality is a new “plastic word” that objectively means nothing, yet comes with enough baggage to stifle the conversation. As such I believe there are two options – one is to fight the term itself, the other is to use it and force the other side to destroy it for you, or be destroyed in the attempt. (See the book by Uwe Poerksen @ amazon – I’ve given a short review.)

  3. Okay, as I say in a comment to the article above this one, so we know we occupy the moral high ground. So lets exploit that.

    That means not playing them at their own game, but constantly pointing out that the rules relating to “occupied territories” are different in international law than those relating to unoccupied territory. Israel is “unoccupied” – it says so in international law, and if you don’t like it, tough.

    As for the “occupied” bits, Abbas refuses to come to the negotiating table (why should he? he’s only in the 11th (or is the 12th now?) year of a 4 year term, and he knows that if he signs a peace treaty, he’s dead meat – and not by the Israelis). Or, as Perez de Cuehela said over the Falklands conflict, it takes two to tango, and only the Israelis keep turning up to dance.

    And UN Resolution 242 doesn’t say Israel must leave the “occupied territories”, only negotiate over their future. Go read the Resolution.

    Deny the others their linguistic victories. Harry them as they attempt to harry us.

    1. The only thing I’d add is that taking the moral high ground does not mean relinquishing the field to opponents. It simply means that the tactics we choose shouldn’t turn us into liars and manipulators who fight tirelessly to see another people destroyed. Beyond those reasonable limitations (which simply asks us to preserve our humanity), there are all kinds of aggressive things we can do. Countering their lies with our truths, as you highlight, is an important job. The perception that this “puts us on the defensive” simply shows that we don’t use the fact that the truth is on our side as aggressively as we should (by proving, for example, that the BDSholes are a bunch of pathological liars). This kind of aggressive accusation is perfectly valid and does not require us to do any of the rotten things our opponents do. The fact that the only choices many think we have is to apologize or ape our enemies is a testament to lack of imagination when it comes to dishing it out, rather than just taking it.

  4. Oh, and by the way, it’s not “my” tribe, Jon, but “our” tribe – I’m shoulder to shoulder with you on that one!

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