Wednesday 19 June 2019

Opposition to BDS and the battle against critique, as such.

Peter Schäfer director of Jewish Museum in Berlin, leaves over BDS and opening the Museum to a wider remit.

Gilad Erdan - Israel Security Minister on BDS

“Courts in Spain and France have ruled anti-Israel boycotts illegal, and convicted BDS activists,” he continued, adding that “there have been more than 50 lawsuits against BDS over the last several years, many of which have been successful.”
Assailing “BDS terrorists”, Erdan congratulated the gathered activists for their “commitment, dedication, and tireless efforts, together with those of my ministry and all of the relevant bodies in the Israeli government”.
The minister urged “national authorities” around the world to “investigate the activities of terror-linked BDS groups”, adding that “financial institutions should take into account the risks involved in doing business with them. No one should do business with terror.”
Deduce: Schäfer is a terrorist. Deduce: disagreement with a dominant ideology as such is terrorism?

Time, and now time again to get to grips with this, as I am indubitably BDS, since even before it was founded, and I am neither self hating nor an anti-semite, as such - as far as I know. But who am I to say?  I am an admirer of Daniel Barenboim, too. The leader of the German Jewish community is reported to have said that the next director must be Jewish. But what does that now mean? That only a person identifying themself ethnically in the sense now required by the Israeli nationality law need apply? That a museum of childhood must have a child director? The first permanent display at the Museum I found to be rather good, a beautiful run through the historical issues of the German Jews addressed, rightly I thought, to the 'average' German teenager. That seemed right. Libeskind's building I rather dislike, it is pompous and showy and repetitiously stages the inadequacy of any viewer to the slightly over expressionist emotional catastrophe that it elaborates. If you don't feel bad in the rather kitschy way it demands, then you are not good enough. The ex-director is, to say the least, an important writer on Jewish and Christian histories in their interdependence.

But a note on what does it mean to say I am BDS: let's try a new exposition of this acronym rather as a form of attention to oneself? It is not just a matter of disagreeing, certainly not one destroying, but a matter of settling with oneself the limits of one's own consent, agreement and refusal to draw advantage from states or funding bodies or big pharma, whatever, when one sees the way in which they cause damage. 

For example I am not happy when friends or colleagues queue to do gigs in China given the long enough history of organ farming from prisoners, the Uighur situation etc. Their argument is usually something of the order 'but I make real contact' etc etc, but that they have to judge and if I disagree I don't judge.

I refuse to heap praise on a state such as France just for its European stance (more like my own than that of Corbyn or Gove, less like my own and that of DIEM) when it systematically maims and injures protesters and Zadistes, but I do go there. I refused a gig in Moscow because I will not go to pink-wash the culturally hipster rich art-loving billionaires. I have not bought Ludwig chocolate products since they were exposed in an art exhibition at the RA years ago, I do support the BP boycott at Tate, and for decades I spat on the step of South Africa House when I walked past it in apartheid years, nor do I go to the USA any more ... I vowed not to go until Guantanamo was closed ... though I have been once to visit a dying friend. 

All these matters are one of general and day to day judgements so in saying I am BDS I mean that I have to think through my relation to many situations, one of which is the situation of Palestine and Israel, and yes, I have never knowingly bought a West Bank product, and I stand with any Israeli who stands for international law, as well as any ... the instances are infinite.


this is a dismal event and a sign of the increased stifling of thought in the face of a geopolitical struggle that is a disaster for Jews who do not feel that they belong to a unique race as defined by Netanyahu. It disempowers us from dealing with anti-semitism, as we can see all to clearly in the way Margaret Hodge uses not signing up for IHRA as a smear. Israel, according to Trump and Netanyahu is indeed the homeland that would make quislings of us all.  I have never agreed with the idea that one might fight for another country's army as a legal right, but anyway I would not fight for 'my own' -- my immediate family, my mum, my sister and I, were Windrush style threatened in the 1970s!

So the IHRA is part of a process that invalidates the thinking of Primo Levi,  criminalises resistance fighter of another epoch like Edgar Morin, or a thinker like Vidal-Naquet, it makes Arendt look like a bad Jew, it elides, if any further elision were possible, the fate of the Sephardi communities in the Mediterranean under nazism (Salonica etc) and after (Schafer's plan to do work on Iranian Jews) ... under a welter of whatever...... It disables the memories of the many pro-Israel nazi exiles and survivors I knew, founding Zionists even, who were shocked at Sabra and Shatila and condemned Begin as already and always a fascist(their word). In Geroge Prochnik's Stranger in a Strange Land (actually the best history of Zionism I have readeven Walter Benjamin must appear as a threat to this current world order! 

 I need to clear a space for differential thinking and how one comes to it as a singular individual. Here is a fine example to read, written by two good friends:

 Why am I for BDS, as I was for the boycott of the old S Africa? Let me repeat that I boycott an awful lot of places, I don't go to any county where non-hetero-standard sexualities are forbidden and/or punished. Yes it's a lot and some of them pay old academic hacks like me well to pitch up and do their pink washing.

For example as Jean Stern's brilliant study:

shows the recruiting of pink washing by the ruling establishment of the supposedly queer capital of the Med is one of identity and libertarian politics grimmer passages into social control, exclusion and discrimination. In this context it is worth looking at the collaboration between laicity and right wing Zionism in the work of the pornographer (a truly great one, btw) Michael Lucas.

But let me go back into my own history in a few stages and moments:

My mother's parents came to the UK from Alexandria in 1923 and, typically for a generation of Alexandrians, and despite having many relatives in Palestine, implanted since the expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula between 1492 and 1497, neither Palestine then nor a future Israel was on their agenda. They went on old business routes, and Manchester was obvious.

My grandfather was a failure as a business man, in large part I came to see because his only interests in life were the Synagogue, the Talmud and Mishnah and the Hebrew bible all of which he read over and over, commenting to himself in Arabic, his only full spoken and written language, while worrying his worry beads and consuming Lebanese Arak. He managed to get through over three decades of life and raising three children like that because, I guess, looking at family documents and my own running to and fro between Manchester and Lausanne, he and his family were entirely kept by his younger brother who was a successful business man who quit Cairo for Switzerland in 1956. (His nephews tended to be more pro Israel after leaving Egypt though it came to none of them to live there.) Between him and his brother Arabic (classical) remained their common language.

Now contention : Grandpa did not think that a state of Israel could have a right to exist, or certainly not before the arrival of the Messiah. In a sense, you could say, the actually existing state was a kind of Christian heresy and an acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.  cf the actual support for the extreme right in Israel from fundamentalist Christians in the US, out on the hunt for Armageddon - these are the most anti-semitic of all Christians as they believe only in instrumentalising being-Jewish for their own eschatology.

reflected a great deal on his - Grandpa's - position and eventually I think found a key in the Book Makkot, difficult reading, to the effect that its elaborate punishments for complex forms of crime and misdemeanour could only be applied on the day of the (first) coming of the Messiah when a virtuality that we might anachronistically call a Jewish state would come into being for a flash and only in the moment of redemption. 

So that is what he seemed to have believed and I recall him on three occasions going to Jerusalem to die, which was the norm for his patriline, into the mists of time. It was a nuisance because once established in a conveniently and appropriately modest apartment he would not leave to set foot on the streets of an unauthorised and blasphemous territory, nor could he allow himself to hear Hebrew as a spoken language. (Behind their front door in Didsbury was a pile of Jehovah Witness newspapers  neck high that he would not allow to be thrown, nor their title pronounced -- I snuck them away from time to time when they became a danger). In the end, the very end, he died in Manchester.

So I grew up with a big ? over the idea of Israel as a Jewish State  for all that I recognised the difference between the right to a homeland for the Jewish People agreed by the UN and the blasphemy that so shocked Béhor Levy. I also, as someone who was to come to a critique of Imperialism as such forcibly had to come to grips with the idea that no state or nation could, finally, be just in its foundation. The UK itself was a forced union, gained by a brutal exercise of power. So the concept of a right to exist was an important critical-historical  category, not a terrorist proclamation. Certainly I grew up in a household where Arabic came first, then French and then English, for all that I only got to learn the second and the third, with a good smattering of read Hebrew. 

But we were constrained to understand this complexity amongst Jews by the striking presence among many of our friends of the parent/grand parent as survivor of the holocaust, or as early émigrés to Palestine from Eastern Europe in search of an education - different stories that led more easily to Israel. (Our dad's Lithuanian/South African heritage was historically situated so that no known members of his family had perished in the camps

That said, my Grandmother, who disliked Israel on the whole and lamented Alexandria all her long life, and the old inter-nation of Egypt-Syria-Lebanon which she inhabited (cf Edward Said a generation later) had a close cousin to whom she often spoke and who visited her in Manchester, Emmanuel Yedid-Halévy whose family had arrived in Palestine in the 1700s? and who was an enthusiastic Zionist. He was the judge who charged Eichmann in the early hours of the morning when he was disembarked in Israel. Another weird complicity with different histories we took in our different strides as young people. (see Ilan Halévy's work on this kind of problematic just before Pappe and others, I think) I think that, on my one visit to Israel, he was the most truly kind person I met, to me, that is, and it was a Sephardic thing.

What I want to insist upon up to now is this density and our capacity to deal with it as we grew up, a density occluded by and a coping  outlawed by Netanyahu's strike on Israel as an ethnic state: both preempting the plurality of Israel as a place and the plurality of the Jews as a not-one-people as such.  

Now an altogether other element: (to be continued)

1960 South Africa
1961 Israel
1963 Arendt

Saturday 15 June 2019

Berlin week of ! May: David Wojnarowicz meets Greta Thunberg. The Bauhaus and in the (in)equalities of Intelligent Design. Frank Wagner remembered.

DW + GT and me at KW  ... about three weeks ago I pushed off to Berlin for two nights (lost attachment if ever there was and, anyway, I loathe attachment theory, lets say the signifiers now have signifieds for me and they are all dull and sheenless objects, mon dieu I hate the signified) but that is a way of thinking about the huge Wojnarowicz show at KW, thankfully without any of his ghastly paintings and far too many ants and, in addition, I never got off on Rimbaud masquerades as a radical gesture, fascinating poet, sexually dull - Verlaine a different class, don't you know? W was a great and intimate writer of irreparable anger and made what were once fascinating 16mm films, which here were digitised and blown up to death, to the level of the consumer spectacle he so despised in his work on the piers. But that is the Berlin of our times, full of dreary and conventional signifieds still masquerading as radical. 

(The Frank Wagner exhibition upstairs showed the work of a great curator and maker of an intensely gay episteme  that now looks historically adrift in the ensemble he helped to set in flow, oh sad entropy, an utterly moving photo of him in Gonzales-Torres curtain that made me long to speak with him again!)

Anyway younger colleagues and friends assure me that this is a great transmission of W so let it be. Although the element of Catholic guilt comes over loud and clear, a kind of clingy-seedy other to the self contented and VERY STRAIGHT/NAUGHTY GLOSS OF ANDRES SERRANO.

Two things, mind you. The video of the guy in the standard squalid downtown apartment getting up in his grubby (Hanes?) Yfronts and making up and dressing up to go out on the street in a cocktail dress now looks lamentably tame, sic transit the glory of old transgressions (btw I never believed in transgression, either). 

And in watching in detail how he does it I witnessed in increasing horror the number of plastic twigs he was using, eyeliner and eye lashes etc etc, and I realised that probably much of that, if it is not still floating in the Atlantic, has probably been ingested by the cod and salmon trout that I eat and is now inside me.

So thanks to Greta Thunberg, the Pauline Converter of our time, I could see that, in some respect, over three decades later, it was as if I had given him a blow job. It really is a case of far too much being the same as far too little and far too late..

Bauhaus a fascinating show, thanks to Grant and Marion, do get the massive catalogue. Wendolien van Oldenburgh at her very best (some good drone shots), a short video of Khader Attia awfully good on the colonial thing and the export of artworks as a kind of slavery, Otolith producing the magisterial and vaguely post colonial version of the national Geographic, but with such marvellous singing and ideas about how to make singing visible that i was ravi!! tout à fait! (also good drone shots, they are becoming legion)

Huge research on the Bauhaus in the world, I wrote two pieces, one in catalogue and one online, which took me usefully back to the more or less un-revisitable, but I have no idea how people will find this in its very elliptical and subtle presentation.

the GT question: In all its international forms what is the Carbon Footprint of this show?

All three shows designed for a fit 42 year old probably white male with perfect eyesight - so much for intelligent design. As a short, older male with varifocals I cannot guarantee the accuracy of anything I saw or seemed to have seen.