Lions feast on a zebra kill © Jeffrey Sohn | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysThe Psyche

Are We Really Such Beasts?

There is a relentless barrage of narratives about our supposed beastly nature and conduct. Since childhood, we have all watched animals routinely tear off each others’ limbs in countless nature documentaries meant to show us that survival at any cost is the natural order of life. We are fascinated by House of Cards, from which we infer that only suckers play by the book and uphold standards of decency. Many of us stumbled across the political theory of Thomas Hobbes in school; he told us that man is a wolf to other men and that the only way to reign in the beast is to resign to a larger beast — the Leviathan. We also recall that Adam Smith advised us not to rely on the charity of the butcher and the grocer for our meal, but on their self interest. We watched Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street or Costa-Gavras’s Le Capital, and they confirmed that self interest knows no bounds. …

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A boy playing in the water being sprayed from a DC Fire Department firetruck on a hot summer day. © The Q Speaks | Flickr
EssaysRaceRace/isms

Ferguson and Fatherhood: My Turn to Give The Talk

Recently, I took my son to the doctor for his 13-year old checkup. “He’s 5’8”, she told me, “and he hasn’t even begun his growth spurt yet.” I was also a late bloomer. 6’1” now, at his age, I was 5’2”. Looking at the chart, I could see there was an even chance he’d hit 6’4” in the next few years.

I knew it was time for The Talk.

My son doesn’t get out so much. Like most middle-class kids his age, the problem isn’t getting him off the corner, it is getting him off the computer. My son, however, is African-American. …

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UN School in Gaza © United Nations Photo | Flickr
Essays

Proportionality and the Diaspora in Operation Protective Edge

A response to Piki Ish-Shalom

As far as military euphemisms go, Operation Protective Edge is not the worst offender. As any reliable voice will point out, Israel faces significant danger from Hamas and its various factions. The threat posed by missile attacks or deadly incursions courtesy of a significant tunneling network out of Gaza and into Israel are real and they are serious. It is unreasonable to expect Israel to do nothing about them indefinitely. Yet, self-defense does not mean that anything goes. Therein lies the problem. The population density of Gaza is high, and so the risk of harming civilians in any military attack is great. Any military strike, no matter how precise, will almost certainly hit civilians. Assuming, for a moment, that this war has been taken as a last resort, one of the remaining moral questions about this war becomes one of proportionality. …

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Alter ego ©  yumikrum | Flickr
EssaysThe PsycheThe Radical Imagination

Talking about Gaza in Psychoanalysis

Politics is usually absent from explicit discourse in psychoanalysis. I say explicit, because obviously we all live in socio-political contexts that signify and structure our roles in any setting. There is a long history to the retreat of politics and political thought from the psychoanalytic clinic. But suffice it to say that, especially since psychoanalysis became a Central European refugee in the post WWII anti-socialist US, everyone has been careful. The allusion of scientism and the ideology of neutrality have been a good defense.

But days like these complicate the picture. Being a New York based Jewish-Israeli therapist with a sizable cohort of Jewish-Israeli patients, nowadays there is no avoiding discussing current events. …

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Screenshot from the film "Bigger Canvas, Longer Necks" by Jos Diegel © Jos Diegel | YouTube
Arts & DesignEssays

Bigger Canvas, Longer Necks

An artistic intervention enacting a revolutionary desire

From the Public Seminar mission statement: “Confronting fundamental problems of the human condition and pressing problems of the day, using the broad resources of social research, we seek to provoke critical and informed discussion by any means necessary.” This includes provocative art. –Jeff

Either we make history or we stupidly stand in front of it like strangers in front of an alien. GRÖSSERE LEINWÄNDE LÄNGERE HÄLSE, BIGGER CANVAS LONGER NECKS, TOILES PLUS GRANDES, COUS PLUS LONGS will take their parts in the estrangement of mankind. But Realism that reverse the conditions, that decomposes and replaces the social automatics by situations, that will not orientate on them, there is the revolutionary desire, that the order of the world should no longer be violence and control. …

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In Ramallah, Palestine © scottmontreal | Flickr
Essays

Hamas and the Israeli Ruling Coalition Are Not Collaborators

A response to Jeffrey Goldfarb

Jeffrey Goldfarb argues that if we criticize the behavior of one group, we should not turn a blind eye to the behavior of another. He complains that the contributions of Yossi Gurvitz, Omri Boehm, and Nahed Habibibah to this seminar, while effective in their criticisms of the policies and practices of Israel, ignore the terroristic tactics of Hamas. The truth is, he suggests using a phrase of Omri Boehm, that both Israel (or at least its ruling coalition) and Hamas are “collaborators” in terrorism. Insofar as they both seek “military solutions to problems that ultimately must be addressed politically … they share responsibility for the escalating inhumane death and destruction.”

Jeff’s initial point is a good one. There are good moral as well as political reasons for Palestinians and their supporters to look critically at the tactics of their political leaders — not only of Hamas but also of Fatah. But to move from this to …

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An IDF officer places new Israeli flags on the graves of IDF soldiers. © Israeli Defense Forces | Flickr
Essays

Death, Destruction, and the Israeli Turn to the Right

One of the most depressing aspects of the current war in Gaza is the repetition of images in discourse about the conflict. “Defensive Edge,” “Pillar of Defense,” and “Cast Lead” all bleed into each other. Images of death and destruction recur across patriotic monikers that stand as a monument to the limited inventiveness of the national copy writers. Nothing much seems to change. And yet, with every iteration of death and destruction, Israel’s political culture turns more and more to the right.

This is felt most acutely by Israeli Arabs, but is also being increasingly felt by left-wing Jews in Israel. There are, of course, striking differences between the two experiences. …

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The "Honor Bound" sign outside Guantánamo Bay detention facility © Joshua Nistas | US Army
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

On Bitter Satisfaction

The European Court of Human Rights ruling on Polish-CIA collaboration

The verdict was more forceful than expected. On July 24, 2014 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg handed down two unanimous rulings in the cases of Al Nashiri v. Poland and Husayn (Abu Zubydah) v. Poland. The cases concerned the extraordinary rendition by the CIA of two terrorism suspects to a secret detention site in Poland. Both men alleged that in December of 2002, during the early phase of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” they were secretly transferred to Poland, where they were tortured while being held, for nine and six months respectively, in an unacknowledged detention facility. …

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IDF Soldiers Uncover Tunnels in Gaza, July 17, 2014 © IDF | Flickr
Essays

Operation Protective Edge and Just War Theory

I teach Just War Theory (JWT). I defend it strongly as a necessary moral guideline for world politics in classes full of cynical students, Israeli-raised students, many of whom went through the grinding machine of the occupation (themselves grinding Palestinians in check points, night arrests, and the like); students who speak fluently the language of power. But at times I myself see the dark, the political abysses in which JWT becomes almost nothing but a scholastic exercise, like debating how many angels (or for that matter, demons) can dance on the head of a pin.

Think of the recurrent explosions of violence in Gaza/Israel, which in its current phase is called by Israel “Operation Protective Edge.” The recurrence of the violence has a fundamental importance that should not be overlooked in applying JWT to Operation Protective Edge. …

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