The American Left, the Jewish Question and the Repetition Compulsion

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 BY GILAD ATZMON

By Gilad Atzmon 

A few days ago, Ynet (the biggest Israeli media outlet) reported that the American progressive movement has come to acknowledge the problematic role of its Jewish elements. The Israeli outlet revealed that in the eyes of emerging progressive circles within the American left, Jews are perceived as “white oppressors” at the core of America’s social injustice. The Ynet report is based on a recent study made by Dafna Kaufman, an analyst at the Israeli Reut institute.

“The contemporary discourse of the American left divides society into (identitarian) squares: you are either with us or against us – and the Jews are left out.” Ynet sums up Kaufman’s argument. “Although the vast majority of American Jews support the Democratic Party, progressive circles no longer really allow Jews to be part of the struggle for social change, as long as they continue to be pro-Zionist and actively express their Jewishness.”  You may have already noticed that the Israeli outlet doesn’t refer solely to ‘Zionists’ as most Palestinian solidarity campaigners do out of fear of the ‘Jews in their movement.’  The Israeli news outlet refers to ‘Jews,’ ‘Jewishness’ and also to ‘Zionists’ as an integral organic spectrum of Jewish life, culture, identity and politics.   

Ynet stresses that the American Left has developed an intolerance towards Jewish politics and Jewish identitarianism. “The report further indicates that the radical progressive faction contributes to the growing exclusion of Jewish community organizations from the American left by denying Jews the right to complain about their discrimination or anti-Semitism.” Ynet quotes Kaufman’s report, “Jews are being identified as strong white oppressors, and so is the State of Israel.”

Ynet asks, ‘can I be white, Jewish, liberal and Democrat?’ Kaufman answers “Of course you can be, but some of your rights are pretty much revoked. You can be an ally in social struggles, but you can’t be at the center of the issue.” I guess that what Kaufman is telling us here is that you can be a ‘Jew’ and a ‘Lefty’ but your role as controlled opposition might have come to an end.

Ynet stresses that “it is important to remember that Jews have made progress in American society through the establishment, and this is a significant part of the influence of Jews on the United States, yet the progressive movement is very anti-establishment. Therefore, the conclusion is clearly that the Jews are the oppressive white. Of course, the real picture is more complex, but this binary division puts the Jews in certain boxes.”

The above Israeli discourse reminds me of an old Israeli joke:

An Israeli arrives at Heathrow. The immigration officer asks “occupation?”

“No” replies the Israeli, “just visiting.”

In the joke, the Israeli sees himself as an occupier, and also accepts being perceived as one, but most significantly, he is totally at ease with his role as an occupier. The British immigration officer is obviously blind to all of that, as he is engaged in routine questioning. He might even miss the joke. In the American reality as depicted by Ynet’s article, the progressives are awakening to the reality that has been openly inflicted on their movement by some powerful and loud lobbies, well-funded think tanks and pressure groups.  

The Jewish fear of anti-Semitism is exactly that moment of awakening, the tormenting thought that the immigration officer actually understands the joke and even allows himself to laugh loudly. This is exactly what the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan meant by  ‘the unconscious is the discourse of the other.’ It is the fear that the other sees you for what you are and even dares to share his/her thoughts about you with everyone else. Accordingly, if Jewish power is the power to silence criticism of Jewish power, then the fear of anti-Semitism is the tormenting thought that this power wanes off: the thought about people starting to call a spade a spade and even worse: leftists sticking to their principles of equality and justice. 

The other day, I asked a progressive member of my family to define history: “we learn about our past mistakes so we don’t repeat them in the future,” he cleverly said.  I corrected him slightly. ‘We learn about our past mistakes so we can understand our future mistakes within context.’  Delving into this complexity from a psychoanalytical perspective brings to light the notion of ‘Repetition Compulsion.’ Repetition Compulsion is often defined as a psychological phenomenon in which a human subject repeats an event or its circumstances over and over again. This entails putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again. The concept of repetition compulsion was first introduced by Freud who pointed at a situation in which “the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, he acts it out, without, of course, knowing that he is repeating it …”

Yet, the Freudian concept fails to accurately describe the emerging dangerous circumstances as described by the Ynet article. As we know, self-identified Jews are fully aware of and actively identify with Jewish past suffering.   But, for one reason or another, some people do not learn from their past mistakes. They keep repeating the same mistakes and expect different outcomes.

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Being in Midterm Election

November 05, 2018  /  Gilad Atzmon

Ahead of the American Midterm Election I reprint a short segment from Being in Time – a Post Political Manifesto. It seems to me as if most political commentators are yet to grasp the post-political transition: the growing divide that extends far beyond politics, ideology, ethnicity and class.

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“America is divided into two camps: the Americans and the Identitarians. The Americans are those who see themselves primarily as American patriots. They are driven by rootedness and heritage. For them, the promise to make ‘America great again’ confirms that utopia is nostalgia and that the progressive and liberal offerings are nothing short of an ongoing disaster. The Identitarians, on the other hand, are those who subscribe to liberal and progressive politics. They see themselves primarily as LGBTQ, Latino, Black, Jewish, feminist and so on. Their bond with the American national or patriotic ethos is secondary and often even non-existent.

But the Identitarian agenda backfired. It was only a question of time before the so-called ‘Whites’, ‘rednecks’ ‘deplorables’ and ‘reactionaries’ grasped that their backs were against the wall and they too, started to act and think as an Identitarian political sector. For these folks, the American flag became their symbolic identifier as well as unifier.

Those of us who have critically examined the evolution of New Left, progressive, liberal and Identitarian politics were unsurprised by Donald Trump’s success. Indeed, the defeat of the Remain camp in the UK Brexit poll had previously exposed a similar fatigue amongst British working people. But what is the nature of this fatigue?

Our urban financial quarters are now saturated with glass skyscrapers metaphorically designed to convey transparency as well as fragility. But when you stand close to these glass towers you realize that the wall in front of you is no window but a mirror. And when you attempt to peep in, all you see is yourself standing outside. Being in Time is an attempt to grasp that sense, that ‘post-political’ condition of being left outside.” (Being in Time – A Post Political Manifesto pg 7)

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Being in Time – A Post Political Manifesto,

Amazon.co.uk , Amazon.com and  here (gilad.co.uk).

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