Letters

Gray is Beautiful: Israel/Palestine, Turkey/Kurdistan

Along with most, if not all, the contributors to Public Seminar on the war in Gaza, I am critical of the actions of Netanyahu’s policies and the actions of the IDF, and I am concerned about where the center of gravity is in Israel. I see fundamental problems with the very notion of a Jewish and democratic state, and recognize the suffering of the Palestinians, understanding and supporting their resistance to the injustice of occupation.

Yet, I am also very uncomfortable with the passion of some anti-Zionists, especially those from the European killing fields. I think that the confusion of violent resistance with political resistance makes effective resistance unlikely, and don’t understand why my comrades on the left are afraid to say this. I am, as I have put it in an earlier post, a pragmatic pacifist, a gray pacifist, convinced that there are not only limits to non violent resistance, but also limits of violent resistance, amply demonstrated by Hamas.

I know that one state and two state solutions to the conflict both have their problems, but also know that there is no ideal solution and that a decent one has to be very gray, where the Israeli Jewish claims for a state of their own in the shadow of the Holocaust and the Palestinian claim for justice and self determination on their own lands will have to be compromised.

I understand the passionate true believing Zionists and anti-Zionists, but appreciating the beauty of the gray, understanding that it is the color of democracy, as a student of Adam Michnik, I worry about the passion, especially when it descends from true belief into hatred.

Thus, while I supported the call for solidarity for the academic freedom of Steven Salaita, I had to register my profound disagreement with him, not with his support of the Palestinian cause, but with what he had to say about those who hold opposing positions, for example:

“I repeat: if you’re defending #Israel right now, then “hopelessly brainwashed” is your best prognosis.”

“Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”

The second quote is particularly problematic. As I put it in my comment on our call for supporting him. He uses “a kind of political rhetoric that stifles rather than opens up public debate, academic and political. It is the language of war, not politics. It does not encourage free political exchange. I don’t think it should be grounds for dismissal from a university, nor should it be grounds for refusal to appoint someone to a university once an offer on sound academic grounds has been made. For this reason I endorsed our publishing this post. But I do find that such speech about many issues on the left and the right is deeply problematic, undermining democratic capacity …”

Yet, I must be clear, a grayer understanding doesn’t only lead to a moderate course. It can inform radical politics as well. This is revealed in the recent posts by Hakan Topal.

I applaud Hakan’s progressive critical reflections on Islamism, moderate, as well as radical, and the sharp contrast he draws between Hamas in Palestine and the Kurdish resistance in Turkey and in Syria. I would suggest that he comes to his position using a gray perspective. He is extremely critical of Israel, but also of Hamas. He sees a crucial difference between Hamas and the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party), which has evolved into a radical democratic party that offers a positive radical democratic program and a positive program of social justice. He sees promise in the positive facts on the ground of the social arrangements of the Rojava Cantons of Northern Iraq. The ends of politics, he seems to appreciate, are constituted in the means.

And I like the complexity of Hakan’s call to action: “The Kurdish nationalist movement shows the world that new progressive models are still possible — of course this directly depends on PKK’s ability to evaluate both local and international criticisms. I believe it is our duty to recognize this possibility and support them, even if we do not agree with all their conclusions.”

Gray is not only beautiful, as I learned from Adam Michnik. It also can be radical.

Also for you:

Jeffrey C. Goldfarb

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