Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gilad Atzmon - The Right to Self-Determination - A Fake Exercise in Universalism

Originally published on the (excellent) blog PeacePalestine, reprinted with the kind permission of thecutter

In the picture, a visual explanation of Jewish Self-Determination

The right to self-determination is a luxurious approach at conservation of power reserved for the rich, strong and privileged. Since Zionists hold the reigns on international political power through their influence in important positions as well as the military might to maintain their ‘right to self-determination’, any current political debate on the legitimacy of this concept would lead inevitably to a dismissal of what we have come to accept as the Palestinian right of self-determination. Yet, instead of demanding this right, which is currently impractical, we should fight for the Palestinian and Arab right to rebel against the Jewish State and against global Zionist imperialism. Instead of wasting our time on rhetorical fantasies, we better expose Jewish tribal politics and praxis for what it is. To support Palestine is to be courageous enough to say what we think and to admit what we see.

A Citizen of the World, A Cosmopolitan and an Atheist

Last year in a little community church in Aspen, Colorado, at the question time following my talk, a middle-aged person at the back of the room stood up, presenting himself as follows:

“I am a citizen of the world, I am a cosmopolitan and an atheist. I would like to ask you something Mr Atzmon…”

“Hang on,” I stopped him, “please do not be offended by me asking, but are you by any chance a Jew?”

The person froze for a second, he couldn’t stop his face from blushing, everyone in the room turned around. Maybe they were curious enough to want to see what a 21st century self-loving cosmopolitan looks like. I, on my part, felt a bit guilty about it all, I didn’t have any intention to embarrass the man. However, it took him a few good seconds before he could get his act together.

“Yes Gilad, I am a Jew, but how did you know?”

“I obviously didn’t know,” I said, “I was actually guessing. You see, whenever I come across people who call themselves ‘cosmopolitans’, ‘atheists’ and a ‘citizens of the world’, they somehow always happen to be ‘Jews’ of the so-called ‘progressive’ assimilated type. I can only assume that ‘non-Jews’ tend to live in peace with whoever they happen to be. If they are born Catholic and decide to move on at a certain stage, they just dump the church behind. If they do not love their country as much as others do, they probably pack a few things and pick another country to live in. Somehow ‘non-Jews’, and this is far from being a scientific law, do not need to hide behind some vague universal banners and some artificial righteous value system. However, what was your question?”

No question followed. The ‘cosmopolitan, atheist and citizen of the world’, couldn’t remember what his question was. I assume that following the tradition of post-emancipated Jews he was there to celebrate his right to ‘self-determination’ in public. The man was using question time to tell his Aspen neighbours and friends what a great human being he was. Unlike them, local patriotic believers and proud Americans, he was an advanced humanist, a man beyond nationhood, a godless non-patriotic subject. He was the ultimate ‘self determined’ rational product of enlightenment. He was the son of Voltaire and the French revolution.

Self-determination is a modern Jewish political and social epidemic. The disappearance of the Ghetto and its maternal qualities led towards an identity crisis within the largely assimilated Jewish society. Seemingly, all post-emancipated Jewish political, spiritual and social schools of thought, left, right and centre were inherently concerned with issues to do with the ‘right to self-determination’. The Zionists would demand the right to national self-determination in the land of Zion. The Bund would demand national and cultural self-determination within the East European proletarian discourse. Matzpen and the ultra Israeli leftists would demand the right to self-determination for the ‘Israeli Jewish nation’ in the ‘liberated Arab East’, Anti Zionist Jews would insist upon the right to engage in an esoteric Jewish discourse within the Palestinian solidarity movement. But what does that very right to self-determination stand for? Why is it that every modern Jewish political thought is grounded on that right? Why is it that some ‘progressive’ assimilated Jews feel the need to become citizens of the world rather than just ordinary citizens of Britain or France or Russia?

The Pretence of Authenticity

It should be said that though identity search and self-determination are there to convey the pretence of a final march towards an authentic redemption, the direct result of Identity politics and self-determinative affairs is the complete opposite. Those who have to self-determine who they are, are those who are far removed from any authentic realisation to start with. Those who are determined to be seen as ‘cosmopolitans’ and ‘secular humanists’ are those who fail to see that human brotherhood needs neither an introduction nor a declaration. All it really takes is a genuine love for one another. Those who initiate and sign humanist manifestos are those who insist upon being seen as humanists while at the same time spreading some Zionist tribal evil around. Clearly, real genuine cosmopolitans do not have the need to declare their abstract commitment to humanism. Real citizens of the world, similarly, just live in an open world with no boundaries and borders.

I am surrounded, for instance, by jazz musicians of all colours and ethnic origins. People who live on the road, people who sleep every night in a different continent, people who make a living out of their love of beauty. Yet, I have never seen a Jazz artist who calls himself or herself either a citizen of the world or a cosmopolitan or even a beauty merchant. I have never met a Jazz artist who adopts an air of egalitarian importance. I have never met a Jazz musician who celebrates his or her right to self-determination. The reason is simple, authentic beings do not need to self determine who they are, they just let themselves and others be.

The right to self-determination

The right to self-determination is often cited as the acknowledgment that "all peoples have the right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” This very principle is often seen as a moral and legal right. It is also well embedded in the philosophy of the United Nations. The term self-determination was used in the UN Charter and has been defined in various declarations and covenants.

Though we all tend to believe that every human is entitled to celebrate his or her symptoms, the right to self-determination is in fact significantly meaningful only within the Western liberal discourse which accepts such a right and premises it on the notion of enlightened individualism. Moreover, the right to self-determination can be celebrated only by the privileged who can mobilize enough political power or military might to make this right into a practical reality.
However, it must be mentioned that even within the Western liberal discourse, it is only Jews who premise their political power on the ‘right to be like others’. The reason is simple, though liberated Jews insist upon being ‘like others’, it is rather clear that others prefer actually to be ‘like themselves’. This obviously means that the Jewish demand to be like others is futile and doomed to failure.

It must be mentioned also that within oppressed societies, the right to self-determination is often replaced with the right to rebel. For a Palestinian in the occupied territories, the right for self-determination means very little. He doesn’t need to self-determine himself as a Palestinian for the obvious reason that he knows who he is. And just in case he happens to forget, an Israeli soldier in the next roadblock would remind him. For the Palestinian, self-determination is a product of negation. It is actually the daily confrontation with the Zionist denial of the Palestinian right of self-determination. For the Palestinian, it is the right to fight against oppression, against those who starve him and expel him from his land in the name of the Jewish rather-too-concrete demand to be ‘people like other people’.

As much, as the right to self-determination presents itself as a universal liberating political value, in many cases it is utilised as a divisive mechanism that leads towards direct abuse of others. As we happen to learn, modern Jewish demand for the right to self-determination is rather too often celebrated at the expense of others whether these are Palestinians, Arab leaders, Russian proletariats or British and American soldiers who fight the last pocket of Israeli enemies in the Middle East. As much as the right to self-determination is occasionally presented has a ‘universal value’, scrutinising the pragmatic sinister utilization of the very right within the Jewish political discourse reveals that in practical terms, it is there to serve the Jewish tribal interests while denying and even dismissing other people’s elementary rights.

The Bund and Lenin’s Criticism

It would be right to say that the Bund and the Zionists were the first to eloquently insist upon the Jewish right to self-determination. The Bund was the General Jewish Workers' Union of East Europe. Like the Zionist movement, it was formally founded in 1897. It maintained that Jews in Russia deserved the right to cultural and national self-determination within the Soviet future revolution.

Probably, the first to elaborate on the absurdity in Jewish demand for self-determination was Lenin in his famous attack on the Bund at the
Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (1903). “March with us” was Lenin’s reply to the Bund, rejecting their demand for a special autonomous ethnic status amongst the Russian workers. Lenin obviously spotted the tribally divisive agenda within the Bund philosophy. “We reject,” said Lenin, “all obligatory partitions that serve to divide us”. As much as Lenin supported “the right of nations to self-determination”, he was clearly dismissive of such a Jewish right which he correctly identified as divisive and reactionary. Lenin supported the right of oppressed nations to build their national entities, however he resisted any bigoted, narrow nationalist spirit.

Lenin raised three main reasons against the Bund and its demand of cultural self-determination:

First. Raising the slogan of cultural-national autonomy leads to splitting the nations apart, and therefore destroying the unity of the proletariat within them.

Second. Lenin saw that the intermingling of nations and their amalgamation was a progressive step, while turning away from that is a step backwards. He criticized those who "cry out to heaven against assimilation."

Third. Lenin did not regard the ‘non-territorial cultural independence’ advocated by the Bund and the other Jewish parties as advantageous, practical, or practicable.

Lenin’s approach to the Bund is rather significant and should be reflected upon. Using his sharp political common sense, Lenin doubted the ethical and political grounds of the right of Jews to self-determination, as much as the Bund demanded that Jews should be treated as a national identity like all other nationals. Lenin’s answer was strictly simple: “Sorry guys, but you aren’t. You are not a national minority just for the reason that you are not attached to a piece of geography.”

Matzpen and Wolfowitz

“The solution of the national and social problems of this region can come about only through a socialist revolution in this region, which will overthrow all its existing regimes and will replace them by a political union of the region, ruled by the toilers. In this united and liberated Arab East, recognition will be granted to the right of self-determination (including the right to a separate state) of each of the non-Arab nationalities living in the region, including the Israeli-Jewish nation” (Matzpen Principles

Seemingly, Lenin’s criticism has never been properly internalised by Jewish so-called ‘progressive’ ideologists. Abuse of others and dismissal of elementary rights has become inherent to Jewish ‘progressive’ political thinking. Reading the principle document of Matzpen, the legendary ultra leftist Israeli group may leave one perplexed.

Already in 1962 Jewish Matzpenists had a plan to ‘liberate’ the Arab world. According to Matzpen’s principles, all you have to do is “overthrow all (Arab) existing regimes” so “recognition will be granted to the right of self-determination of each of the non-Arab nationalities living in the region, including (of course) the Israeli-Jewish nation.”

It doesn’t take a genius to grasp that at least categorically, Matzpen’s principles are no different from Wolfowitz’s Neocon mantra. Matzpen had a plan to ‘overthrow’ all Arabs regimes in the name of ‘socialism’ so Jews can ‘self-determine’ who they are. Wolfowitz would do exactly the same in the name of ‘democracy’. If you take Matzpen’s Judeo-centric ‘progressive’ text and replace the word ‘Socialist’ with ‘Democratic’ you end up with a devastating Neocon text and it reads as follows:

“The solution of the national and social problems of this region, can come about only through a democratic revolution in this region, which will overthrow all its existing regimes and will replace them by a political union of the region …Recognition will be granted to the right of self-determination of each of the non-Arab nationalities living in the region, including the Israeli-Jewish nation.”

Seemingly, both the ‘legendary’ progressive Matzpen and the reactionary despised Neocons use a similar abstract concept with some pretence of universality to rationally justify the Jewish right to self-determination and the destruction of Arab-grown regional power. Seemingly, both Neocons and Matzpen know what liberation may mean for Arabs. For the Matzpenist, to liberate Arabs is to turn them into Bolsheviks. The Neocon is actually slightly more modest, all he wants is for Arabs to drink Coca Cola in a westernised democratic society. Both Judeo-centric philosophies are doomed to failure because the notion of self-determination is overwhelmingly Euro-centric. Both philosophies are premised on an enlightened notion of rationality. Both philosophies have very little to offer to the oppressed, instead they are there to rationalise and provide the colonialist with some fake ‘universal’ legitimacy.

Clearly, Matzpen has never had any political power, it never had any political significance since it has never been in any proximity to Arab people, not to say Arab masses. Consequently, Matzpen could never affect Arab people’s lives nor could it destroy their regimes. However, Matzpen is seen by Jewish Leftists around the world as a significant chapter in the Israeli left. It is seen as a singular moment of Israeli ethical awakening. Thus, it is actually embarrassing or even devastating to find out that the most enlightening and refined moment of Israeli-left moral awakening produced a political insight that is no different categorically to George Bush’s infamous attempt at Liberating the Iraqi people. It should be clear beyond doubt that Jewish ultra leftists (a la Matzpen) and Zionised Anglo-American interventionism (a la Neocons) are in fact two sides of the same coin or may I allow myself to say two sides of the very same Shekel. They are very close theoretically, ideologically and pragmatically. Both political thoughts are Judeo-centric to the bone yet, they both pretend to premise themselves on universalism and aim towards ‘liberation’ and ‘freedom’. But at the end of the day they aim toward Jewish self-determination at the expense of others.

The Right to be Like Others -The Zionist Logic

The following is a collection of extracts taken from a
document submitted to the United Nations COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS in 2005.

It was composed by the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations (CBJO) and B'nai B'rith. It helps to grasp how Jewish organisations implement political power around the claim for self-determination.

As a point of historical departure of its statement, the CBJO chooses the ‘end of the Holocaust’ and the creation of the UN. The link is rather clear and intentional. The role of the UN is set as one that will save the Jews from any further genocidal attempts.

“As the world marks the 60th anniversaries of the end of the Holocaust and the creation of the United Nations this year, we in the human rights community have the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the principles contained in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other foundation documents of the international human rights regime. One of the most fundamental of these rights is that of self-determination. This right guarantees other human rights, such as the right to life, liberty and security of person, preservation of honor, equality under the law.”

It can be seen that at this stage the right to self-determination is conveyed in universal terms. But do not let yourself be misled just yet. It won’t take long before the Zio-centric twist will reveal itself.

“The events revealed sixty years ago when Allied forces entered and liberated the Nazi concentration camps could have been prevented if only the Jewish people's right to self-determination had been protected and fostered…. As the history of the Jewish people in the 20th century demonstrates, without a State of their own – the fulfillment of the right to self-determination – the Jewish people were at risk of discrimination, isolation, and ultimately, extermination.”

Slowly but surely, we can now see the shift from the universal ethical approach to a Judeo-centric self-centred argumentation. However, it is crucial to mention that prior to the big war western and American Jews were emancipated and enjoyed rights to self-determination, yet not many Jews thought that such a right should be celebrated in Palestine at the expense of the Palestinian people. Moreover, thinking in retrospective terms makes it rather clear that the ‘Jewish right to self-determination’ has brought Holocaust on the Palestinian people. In other words, the Jewish right to self-determination has very limited positive impact on humanity and human reality. Something the UN Human Rights Commission better take into account.

“As we reflect on this history, we must note the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and its new manifestation – anti-Zionism. In various intellectual circles, on university campuses and in the media, the Jewish people’s basic human right to self-determination is being eroded on a daily basis through misrepresentations and false equations. These anti-Zionists portray the Jewish people’s self-determination as excluding Palestinian self-determination. Some wish to turn back the clock of history by advancing a "one-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a proposal that was rejected by the General Assembly in 1947 precisely because it would have denied the Jewish people their right of self-determination…. Anti-Zionism is a dangerous path, for it hinges on the destruction of the Jewish State. As such it runs counter to the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights….”

Interestingly enough, the gifted people at the CBJO do realise that sooner or later someone is about to question the ethical validity of the ‘Jewish right to self-determination’. In fact this is exactly what I myself plan to do within a page or two. Zionists are clever enough to grasp the possibility that their ‘carte blanche’ to ruin millions of lives in the Middle East in the name of fake universal concept may expire one day.

However, the CBJO are aiming towards an optimistic resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. This is at least what they want us to believe:

“Today, we see remarkable progress in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinian people have elected a government – one that has pledged to reject terrorism as a political weapon in favor of democracy and peace. This path of promoting peaceful co-existence with the Jewish people marks an important turning point from the Palestinian policy of violence. …All resolutions passed by this body under this agenda item should seek to affirm the right to self-determination for the Jewish people alongside that of other peoples…. Only then will the Commission on Human Rights be true to its founding principles. Only then will the CHR be part of the solution, instead of exacerbating the problem. Only then will this body demonstrate that it has retained the lessons that should have been learned 60 years ago, upholding and defending the basic right of the Jewish people to self-determination alongside a democratic Palestinian State.”

As we can see, the CBJO is there to tell the Palestinians who they are and what they should be. i.e., democratic and secular. Wrongly enough, the right-wing CBJO is no different to the legendary ‘progressive’ Matzpen and the implications must be clear from now on. There is no left and right within modern secular Jewish politics but rather self-centric tribal orientation which produces fake images of political diversity for obvious reasons.

One State, Two States or Just a State Of All Its Citizens

Not many Palestinians and Arab intellectuals take part in the One State/Two State debate. The reason is pretty obvious, Palestinians and Arabs do realise very well that issues to do with the future of the region are not to be determined by academic institutes or Palestinian solidarity conferences but rather on the ground. The impact of a single Qassam rocket hitting in the Western Negev is far greater than any form of intellectual conclusive discussion to do with ‘conflict resolution’. As it seems, the demand for ‘one State’, be it secular, democratic or Islamic is theoretical and rhetorical and has no implication whatsoever on the Israelis who still possess the political power and military might to maintain the Jews-only State.

As much as the notion of self-determination has zero significance on Palestinian people, the same is so for the verbal demand for one State. At a time of starvation in Gaza and genocidal plans announced by the Israeli Government, debates regarding the future of the region seem to be a luxurious endeavour explored by the privileged.

If anything, the debate over the one State solution is there to maintain the Israeli and Jewish hegemony within the Palestinian solidarity discourse. The reason is pretty simple, every discussion that aims at political resolution naturally takes into account the ‘Jewish right to self-determination’. This would be the case forever unless we allow ourselves to introduce a radical political and intellectual shift into the discourse. Like Lenin in 1903, we must call into question the true validity of the notion of the right to self-determination. Following Lenin, we should allow ourselves to admit the possibility that the Jewish right to self-determination is actually divisive or may even be a false call. It is there to be celebrated by the rich and colonial and the privileged at the expense of the weak and the oppressed.

We should stand up and ask openly why exactly Jews or anyone else deserves a right to self-determination. Isn’t it true that the right to self-determination always comes at the expense of someone else? We should stand up and ask, what moral right entitles a Brooklyn Jew to self-determine oneself as a Zionist and a future occupier of Palestine? We should openly ask what exactly entitles an Israeli born Jew the right to dwell on Palestinian land at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian? Am I entitled to demand the right to self-determine myself as a NASA Astronaut, or alternatively as a heart surgeon? Would you let me fix your heart based on my false self-inflicted recognition as a heart surgeon?

These questions are far from being easy to answer. Yet, we shouldn’t stop ourselves from raising them. Like Lenin, I tend to dismiss the Jewish legitimacy of the right to self-determination as a false divisive call. Instead, I would suggest an alternative ethical approach, which I borrowed from Ex MK Azmi Bishara ( Bishara), the Palestinian intellectual who had to run for his life from Israel in spite of being a Parliament member. Bishara moved beyond the one State/ two State debate or the Judeo-centric right to self-determination. He coined a brilliant political notion, namely ‘a State of all its Citizens’. Rather than a State of the Jews, Bishara suggested to make it into a State of the people who dwell in it.

Azmi Bishara is a vigorous intellectual and a well-known critic of the Israeli State. In numerous writings and public appearances, he has maintained that the Israeli State's self-definition as ‘Jewish and democratic’ is discriminatory. Bishara calls for an Israel that would be a ‘State of all its citizens.’ Bishara has openly pointed to a direct conflict between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority over the definition of nationality in Israel. He articulates a trend among the Arab-Palestinian minority that poses a demand for socio-economic and political equality not only in formal law, but in civic citizenship and nationality. It would be right to say that Bishara’s approach is a political exercise in the Palestinian right to self-determination. Consequently, however, it didn’t take long before Bishara had to run for his life and search for a shelter out of Israel.

As we have seen, the right to self-determination is a luxurious approach at conservation of power. It is not going to be celebrated by any group but those who are already rich, strong and privileged. Zionists can boast all these qualities, as well as possessing the necessary power and military might to maintain their ‘right to self-determination’. However, given the reality on the ground, instead of demanding some rhetorical rights, we should fight for the Palestinian and Arab right to rebel against the Jewish State and against global Zionist imperialism. Instead of wasting our time on rhetorical fantasies and academic exchange, we better expose Jewish tribal politics and praxis. To support Palestine is to be courageous enough to say what we think and to admit what we see.