Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Netanyahu, Hegel and the Jewish Spirit

by Gilad Atzmon

“Spirit does not toss itself about in the external play of chance occurrences; on the contrary, it is that which determines history absolutely, and it stands firm against the chance occurrences which it dominates and exploits for its own purpose”. (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770 – 1831)

PM Netanyahu was quoted by the Israeli Ynet last week saying that the “whole of Israel would be surrounded by a fence eventually”. According to another report he said “there will be no choice but to fence Israel in on all directions”. What Netanyahu means by ‘fence’ and ‘all directions’ may be left open for the time being. However, PM Netanyahu has managed to bring to light an Hegelian interpretation of the notion of ‘Jewish spirit’ as a relentless inclination towards segregation and isolation. It is the tendency to keep oneself apart that determines and shapes Jewish collectivism. Whether it is the Zionists and their walls, the Orthodox and their Kosher universe or even Jewish anti Zionists and their racially segregated miniature activist cells, somehow every form of Jewish political engagement is there to set the Jews apart.

“For Hegel” says Francis Fukuyama, “the contradictions that drive history exist first of all in the realm of human consciousness, i.e. on the level of ideas”. It is reasonable to argue that from an Hegelian perspective, all human behaviour and human history is rooted in a prior state of consciousness. For Hegelian thinkers such as Alexandre Kojève, understanding the underlying processes of history requires understanding the realm of consciousness for it is consciousness that will ultimately remake the material world into a mirror image of its own spirit. In short it is the spirit that would eventually shape the material reality as a mirror of itself. Accordingly, the Jewish state, could be realised as a reflection of the Jewish spirit for it is the Jewish spirit that shapes the reality of the Jewish state.

For Hegel history ended in 1806. For him mankind reached its end with the French and American Revolutions. Whether Hegel was correct or completely deluded in his reading of human history and mankind’s evolution is a matter for an ongoing philosophical debate. The Jewish state, however, can be easily interpreted in Hegelian terms as the ‘end of Jewish history’. Zionism presented a dream, it set itself a serious challenge: it promised to transform the Jew into a ‘civilised and authentic human being’. It vowed to make the Jews people like all other people. Zionism was in fact a call of defiance against the hitherto Jewish spirit. Yet, the current state of Israel proves beyond doubt that the spirit has defeated the Zionist proclaimed fantasy. The will to be ‘fenced from every possible direction’ prevailed. The aspiration to be ‘people amongst people’ is a matter for historical enquiry, it has no support on the ground whatsoever. The spirit won over the rational ideological fantasy.

As tragic as it may sound, it would be almost impossible to reflect on Jewish history without Israel. It would be impossible to understand how one people managed to bring so much hate on themselves. Israel is, no doubt, a unique social experiment in Jewish history. It is in the Jewish State where the people of the book have managed to liberate themselves of any inhibitions. It is in the Jewish state where "kosher" bus lines feature “separate seating for men and women”. It is in Israel where Jews live their spirit to the max. It is where Jews celebrate their cultural, material, spiritual and ideological symptoms. But it is also a place where Jews live happily on stolen land while oppressing and starving the indigenous population. As it happens, in the Jewish state Israelis celebrate their national ‘home coming’, and they do it all behind fences and at the expense of the Palestinians.

In Hegelian terms Israel is a product of Jewish spirit. Yet, Israel is NOT a representation of Judaism as Israel is not a Halachic State*. It is not the state of the Jews as the majority of Jews prefer to live amongst the Goyim. However, Israel defines itself as the ‘Jewish state’. It is the place where Jews freely explore the meaning and pride of being Jewish. Hence, the reality of the Israeli state and its categorical ethical failure leads us towards an Hegelian critical confrontation with the notions of Jewish consciousness, ideology (Jewishness) and spirit.

The failure of Zionism to erect a civilised humanist Jew is an accepted fact. It instead managed to raise an extremely brutal version of the ‘Diaspora’ tribal subject it aimed to amend. Needless to say that Israeli war crimes are not an isolated rare event, they are actually institutional and committed by a popular army (IDF) that is following orders given by a democratically elected government. As if this is not enough, the Israeli crimes are supported by the vast majority of the Israelis. The fact that at the time of the Gaza war 94% of the Israeli Jewish population supported the genocidal crime is more than enough to incriminate the entire Israeli society as a collective. But it goes further, the Israeli crime is supported institutionally by world Jewry. It would be intelligible to argue that from an Hegelian perspective Israel is the end of Jewish history as much as the French revolution was the Hegelian end of history of mankind. Israel is the materialisation of the Jewish consciousness.

Netanyahu’s recent admission that Israel will be fenced from every possible direction is far more than mere symbolism. It is there to expose the solid kernel at the heart of the Jewish collective tribal desire. As Hegel suggests, it is “spirit that determines history” or to be precise and concrete, it is the Jewish spirit i.e. the inclination towards isolationism that determines Jewish history and the reality of Israeli barbarism.

Listening to Netanyahu and looking at the reality of Israel makes it obviously clear that rather than the Goyim, it is actually the Jewish spirit that imposed the Ghetto on the Jew. Emancipation of European Jewry provided Jews with an opportunity to leave tribalism behind. Needless to say that many Jews bought into the idea and found their way into the crowd. Many Jews had become voices for humanist causes and thoughts. However, many others decided to maintain a spiritual partition. In order to do so they invented a phantasmic cultural ethos. They may have even invented ‘victimhood’ and ‘anti Semitism’ just to justify their state of self imposed alienation. Observing Israel and any other form of Jewish politics makes it too easy to grasp how and where it all goes wrong.

As things stand there is no easy remedy for the secular Jew for there is no safe haven for Jewish secular collectivism or identity that fits into the notion of humanism or universalism. If Jews insist upon being secular and humanist they may have to drop their ‘J’ prefix and to operate as ordinary people. This is the only alternative to Zionism and it can also be a beginning of a wonderful friendship (with others as well as nature).

* The concept of a Halachic state refers to a theocratic state based upon Jewish Law.