Three generations and postmodernism
By Moran Peled | 10/12/2009
Are postmodernist concepts, which are currently intensely present in our lives, no more than an expression of a conceptual position that belongs to a very particular previous generation? Have the conditions ripened for the creation of an updated new modern philosophy? Moran Peled speaks with Yirmiyahu Yovel, Adi Ophir and Gadi Taub about their views on postmodernism and the day after
The present presents us with formidable and fascinating challenges. But as the urgent need to contend with the complexity of our current situation intensifies, the tendency to escape and revert to obsolete and outdated values increases as well. Among the present's challenges are those of postmodernism and post-Zionism, which demand our immediate attention. In a discussion of this phenomenon, we will relate to the views of three philosophers, each of whom represents a different generation of philosophical-social thought. All three quite rightly oppose being labeled as a “modernist,” “postmodernist” or “post-postmodernist.” To the readers I recommend also rejecting these labels, and that instead an effort be made to see what lies behind them. But for now, these labels serve to help us understand the conceptual process that is occurring at this time in the context of the challenge posed by postmodernism.
Our “post-postmodernist,” Gadi Taub, 44, gets up in the morning and spends the day sitting in a Tel Aviv café writing. “When you write, you are alone, and if one is alone, then it is better in motion,” he notes with humor. After positioning himself as the brilliant and eloquent spokesperson of an entire generation in his book A Dispirited Rebellion: Essays on Contemporary Israeli Culture, he now seeks to deepen the conceptual underpinnings of his critique: “In A Dispirited Rebellion, I did not have sufficient tools to explain all the American things that we adopt. Especially in the second part of the book, which in my opinion, is very preliminary. And that's why I decided to do my doctorate in American history.”
A few streets away lives Prof. Adi Ophir, 58, one of the most highly regarded and libeled postmodernism philosophers in Israel. One of the founders of the journal Theory and Criticism, which was first published in 1991, Ophir divides his time between teaching courses at Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan Universities, and the Hartman Institute, where he is a research fellow. In his free time, he edits a series of translations of postmodernist philosophers, such as Foucault and Derrida. As the representative par excellence of postmodernist thought, Ophir is one of the primary targets of Gadi Taub's criticism, but he prefers to be thought of as a “critical philosopher.”
Prof. Yirmiyahu Yovel, 74, a world-renowned expert on philosophers such as Kant, Spinoza and Hegel, doesn't like being simply defined as a “modernist” either, and distinguishes between his approach and that of those that preceded him. An Israel Prize laureate in philosophy for the year 2000 and among the founders of the Spinoza Institute, Yovel recently moved to a lovely home in Herzliya after forty years of teaching and researching philosophy in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Modernism and postmodernism
Concepts such as “modernism” and “postmodernism” deter many people, and rightly so. The frequent use made of these terms has worn them down, trivialized them and caused those who use them to be treated with disdain. Nevertheless, one doesn't need to be a philosopher to see the large extent to which our world is suffused with modernism and postmodernism. Modernism can be understood in its ordinary, mundane sense: Modernism is that which is advanced and distinguishes itself from the past through the innovation it embodies; and it also claims to be the most up to date, current and trendy. Whether we are talking about the latest car, the most well-appointed homes, the most in-vogue clothing on the fashion channel – all “suffer” from the pretension of being the latest, the newest development on the market, that which embodies the promise of greatest happiness. Exactly at that moment, all those looking at all the changes in fashion and all the innovations from the sidelines might say: Wait a minute, that thing that we thought was just right and so new and wonderful just a moment ago is no longer relevant any more! So what is relevant? In the eyes of the postmodernist beholder, the only thing that is relevant is the change in fashion itself.
When engaging in the discipline of philosophy, modernists (represented by philosophers such as Descartes, Kant, Spinoza, Hegel and Nietzsche) base their approach on disappointment or a schism with the past. “In my opinion, what is most characteristic of modernism,” says Prof. Yovel, “is the rupture and rift it creates between it and tradition as a whole, the collective of tradition and its justifying validity, and its being the source and explanation and giver of meaning to the world. It tears a person from his traditional sources of authority. This is especially true of religious tradition, although not exclusively so.”
Because there is no divine basis for philosophy, the modern philosophers try to found their philosophy on other principles (for example, Kant – on human reason, Hegel – on the intellectual progression of history, etc.), with a subtle aspiration to totality, to a comprehensive perception of reality and an attempt to “have the last word” in philosophy.
The postmodernist observes the changes in fashion in philosophy and other areas from the sidelines (so he would claim, at least) and concludes that after having lost our absolute reference point for values (embodied by Nietzsche's metaphorical utterance on the death of God), no philosophical fashion or approach can ever encompass all of reality – in other words, there is no truth. It is on this perception that the postmodernist bases his approach to history (that all facts are dependent on the subjective perception of the historian) or to human values in general. The same point of departure produces the postmodernist moral position: Because the realization of any particular worldview means ignoring other worldviews, then any hegemony of values (for example, the Western hegemony vis-à-vis the Eastern one, the male vis-à-vis the female, the Zionist vis-à-vis the Palestinian, etc.) necessarily wields violence towards perceptions and cultures that are different from it.
The Dispirited Revolution as a response to postmodernism
During the time that has passed since the publication of his book of essays in 1997, Gadi Taub spent four years at Rutgers University in New Jersey where he completed his master's degree and doctorate, and after his return to Israel, taught current Israeli culture in the Maaleh and Sam Spiegel film schools in Jerusalem. In 2003, he was appointed to the Department of Communication and the School for Public Policy of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem where he is a member of the faculty. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Richard Rorty, a contemporary American philosopher.
Despite the fact that he was born in Jerusalem and lived there until completing his army service, his total identification with the culture of Tel Aviv, where he now lives and about which he wrote for two years for the local newspaper Tel Aviv, led him to view this particular culture (sometimes out of a slightly exaggerated sense of pretentiousness) as a paradigm for young Israeli culture as a whole. The structure of his book The Dispirited Revolution, which takes a clearly critical position towards the entire array of phenomena identified with postmodernism, is based on an almost traditional distinction between the postmodernist state (Part 1) and the postmodernist ideology (Part 2); the same distinction that Prof. Ophir uses in his article, “Postmodernism : A philosophical position” (in Education in a Postmodernist Age, edited by Ilan Gur-Ze'ev, Jerusalem, Magnes Press, 1997). For Adi Ophir, the term “postmodernist” describes the condition of the cultural state, and “postmodernism” – the philosophical position that is expressed.
The postmodernist state of Tel Aviv is described in detail in a chapter of The Dispirited Revolution, and it is this chapter that gave the book its name. The shock of the present and the shock of exaggerated affluence, liberation and freedom that are too abundant to absorb, the arbitrary, random and chance nature of things, the crumbling of the sense of meaning – all these are part of the cultural phenomena that characterize the mass, capitalistic society that Taub describes. Dominant among these phenomena is a feeling that we are losing our point of reference for values as a result of life that is cut off from both past and future, and because of the dilution and flattening of the experience and feeling that no accomplishment or experience can truly advance humanity. The outlet for all this is a kind of quiet desperation (Taub's dispirited revolution), narcissism and a refusal to grow up.
Today, the spokesperson for the young culture of Tel Aviv is in his mid-forties, his hair is graying and he wears hooped earrings in both ear lobes, a reminder of his urban-hedonist tendencies. He formulates his ideas very carefully and does his best to make sure his listener understands exactly what he means. His easy eloquence and practiced intellect often make him sound as if he hones his words at pleasure; and as someone who is aware of this, he notes, that “I think it more with my mind and feel it less with my emotions.” He tends to agree with the feeling one gets when reading the book that his preoccupation with postmodernism is indicative of a strong fascination with it: I can sympathize with the sense that everything is crumbling, which I also share, but I refuse to give in to it. I also feel what Etgar Keret and Gafi Amir write about. But we mustn't stop at that feeling, we need rather to think what we can do to fight it, which is certainly not to join in the self-righteous post-Zionist choir.”
He saves his harshest criticism for the philosophers that foster a postmodernist ideology that “not only intensifies the feeling of distress, but also, under a guise of self-righteousness, produces social injustices and sometimes, political catastrophes” (p. 137). He devotes the second part of the book to these philosophers and to criticism of the phenomenon of political correctness in Israel and the world. Today too, he views the postmodernist philosophy as his chief enemy. Like other intellectuals who are identified with social policy, such as Danny Gutwein and Nissim Kalderon, he too believes that postmodernist ideology provides conscious support for a capitalist policy that includes privatization. “It's amazing that at a time when people have a feeling that the world is crumbling, Adi Ophir offers dissolution as the answer,” he says. “If there is something that concerns me, it is the delegitimization of solidarity. Ilan Gur-Ze'ev once said: ‘Every collective is violence.' That sums up the entire trend. Emotionally, it comes to Israelis from the feeling that that Israel has become ultra-nationalist and oppressive. The occupation is behind that and the conclusion that postmodernists have drawn is that if nationalism is what has produced ultra-nationalism, then let's do away with nationalism. In fact, to join Theory and Criticism today is like joining an economic program. In their struggle against solidarity, the postmodernists are leading us to the privatized and destructive economic plans of Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Contending with the boundaries of thought
Prof. Adi Ophir has a responsible and profound answer to the type of criticism that Taub hurls at him. He sits in a Tel Aviv café near his home – a bald man wearing glasses and ordinary, everyday clothes. His almost nondescript appearance is deceptive. Behind it lies a man with a heightened awareness of the role attributed to him as the (almost reluctant) spokesperson of an entire philosophical movement. “Most of those that attack postmodernism in Israel,” he says in reference to Taub and others like him, “are not philosophers. They deal in other areas. Some of the questions that I raise don't interest them. For example, the axiom: ‘A just society must be founded on the sanctity of human rights' – and if you don't accept that, you are opening the door to horrors and injustice. It may very well be that the sanctity of human rights is vital to the existence of a just society. But my claim is that this answer has no absolute basis to stand on. From that respect, we are not speaking on the same level. They are interested in one thing and I am interested in another.”
There is some truth to this claim, and Taub too admits that he is more of a historian than a philosopher. However, Ophir refuses to be satisfied with simply responding to his attackers. “The followers of modernism think that there is an absolute extreme that thought can hold onto, and they believe that it is out there somewhere, but is no longer within our reach. The question is if we can agree on these conditions. You don't have to call people that take this position or think this way postmodernists. There were people that thought this way even before a name had been invented for it. In my view, this type of understanding is an expression of the finite nature of thought. Human thought is finite and that is why the work on thought is infinite and why there cannot be any final basis for anything.” The work of thought on the criticism of reality is, according to Ophir, infinite. Because every interpretation is partial and incomplete, human thought is forced to pursue new interpretations without there being any judgmental or value-based point of reference that can determine what is “right” and what is “wrong,” what is “good” and what is “bad.”
While some of the modernist philosophers (including Prof. Yirmiyahu Yovel) would agree with Ophir's assumption regarding the finite nature of thought, they would not agree with the conclusions he draws as a result. It would appear that the intellectual honesty that Ophir demonstrates is directly connected to the radical conclusions of his theories: “There may be some fictions that are needed to enable a society to exist. The philosopher cannot stop at this insight, because that is the nature of thought that is true to itself: not to stop in the face of the fiction. The question is how, under these conditions, when we understand the black hole that lies at the foundation of all authority, how can we maintain religion, morality, government? The short answer is by fostering the memory of the duty we have to those people against whom the violence is wielded. That is a type of answer that you will not get from a liberal philosopher, because he denies the duty.”
Ever since he founded and edited Theory and Criticism (which he edited up until its 15th issue), a journal for critical theory that serves as a platform for postmodernist philosophers such as Prof. Hanan Hever, Prof. Yehouda Shenhav, Azmi Bashara, Haim Lapid and others, Ophir has been the target of scathing criticism for his philosophical endeavors. But despite the considerable experience he has amassed as a “slandered postmodernist,” he has not become inured to criticism. During our discussion, he still exhibits considerable passion when defending his views. “I think that that is not right. I don't know what you are talking about,” he says in response to Taub's claim. “It is not true that I have come out against all forms of solidarity per se. I refuse to accept tribal solidarity as a basis for a political government. Tribal solidarity cannot serve as the boundary of moral or legal duty. I object to the concept of ‘charity begins at home,' but I am in favor of civic solidarity.”
Philosophy on the boundary of the self-evident
Prof. Yirmiyahu Yovel admits to having some symptoms of the proverbial absent-minded professor after the sugar he poured into his interviewer's coffee turned out to be salt. “My wife and I drink without sugar,” he apologizes.
Almost metaphorically, the three interviews are held in the natural habitat of each of the philosophies. Postmodernism and its most adamant opponent lead our meetings to Tel Aviv cafés, where the beleaguered present (for the postmodernist –the street itself) forces itself on the philosopher and demands immediate satisfaction. I meet Yirmiyahu Yovel in his new home in Herzliya, which stands on the edge of a small, untamed field. Hanging in the living room in which we are sitting are numerous pictures representing various artistic styles, art books lay carelessly on the coffee table next to a vase of flowers.
Two characteristics typify Yovel and his philosophical approach: an almost paternal self-confidence and a somewhat smug complacency. Unlike Taub and Ophir, who spend much of their time passionately struggling against the maladies of society, Yovel is no longer a “hungry” philosopher. Perhaps this is explained by his rich cultural and philosophical experience, which includes among other things the fact that he was the military correspondent for Israel Radio during the Yom Kippur War, was among the founders of Group 77 in the Labor Party, as well as the founder of the philosophical journal Iyun, the Spinoza Institute and more. Basking in these many accomplishments, the elder professor does not feel threatened and permits himself to take an ironic perspective on his younger squabbling colleagues.
What is a postmodernist in your view?
“I don't know what postmodernism is. I have never been able to attach real content to it. I am familiar enough with the world of labels to understand how empty it is. I like to discuss the questions themselves and keep my distance from labels. There are things that are represented as postmodernist and which in fact describe my own positions. In my opinion, it is a passing fad. I have seen many passing fads. I have seen many different types of Marxism, logical positivism, closed and dogmatic analytic philosophies. As a fad, postmodernism too will pass. What will not pass as quickly is the modern age. Their points of emphasis are no more than a variation of the modernist, intellectual world. Postmodernism is not a new historic state, it is a partly new ideology as far as its scope and sophistication are concerned. Postmodernism has its source in the despair with Marxism, but not necessarily with modern civilization as a whole, which includes Nietzsche and Kafka too, and not only pure rationalism. Postmodernism emphasizes the multicultural nature of modern existence (a matter that is correct on its own, as long as it does not become an exaggerated mantra), it emphasizes the split nature of human identity, and then demands that our moral and political culture be founded on these things.
“When we are talking about an emphasis on elements that have been shunted to the sidelines, such as human particularity and the split nature of human identity, if they demand to be heard, that is an important and interesting claim. But when it is turned into the be-all and end-all, we fall into a new dogmatism and into a new bubble that cannot endure. This is in fact a new dogmatism. It does not stem from the content of postmodernism, but rather from the fact that it is a collectivist ideology, and that causes me to smile with irony.”
A quick and interesting look at Yovel's philosophical approach (which he calls “critical modernist”) can be found in the afterword to his book Spinoza and other Heretics (“Immanence and finiteness,” pp. 444-467, Sifriyat Hapolalim, Tel Aviv, 1988). Yovel is proud of the book – on the bookshelf in his home, the Hebrew edition is displayed alongside its various translations – especially thanks to his success in formulating complex philosophies such as those of Spinoza, Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche in terms everyone can understand.
He confirms that his philosophical views have not changed since he wrote that book: As a result of the rift between humanity and its past, its traditions and absolute values, philosophy began to be founded on immanence (that which occurs within the world – as opposed to the transcendental, which transcends the world, such as the divine or other absolute truths) as the exclusive source of values and meaning. The next stage, as Yovel notes in the epilogue, was to establish a critical philosophy, that is, a philosophy that does not allow itself to slip into any form of conceptual dogmatism or try to introduce the absolute (the transcendental) through the back door. He criticizes modernists such as Kant, Hegel, Spinoza and even Nietzsche for introducing dogmatism into their philosophy out of a desire to create an all-embracing, total utterance. It is based on this approach that Yovel's criticism towards the postmodernist philosophers becomes clear. Humanity, he says, is immersed in its world. Values, culture and philosophy are a natural part of human life, just as is breathing, and are finite to the same extent. Nevertheless, the fact that thought and values are immanent and finite should not lead to the dogmatic conclusion (postmodernism has its source – according to Yovel – in a form of secular religion) that they do not exist. They exist within a historic, individual, cultural context. “A scientific theory can be valid and enlightening even when it is not linked to a single, exclusive picture of truth. Opening up the world to a multiplicity of interpretations, which are dependent on a culture and can be expected to change and mutate along with it, does not make the world less real or immanent; it only saves the world from the straitjacket of ‘perpetual' forms or never-changing entities and so on, in which they seek to trap it” (Spinoza and other Heretics, pp. 459-460).
Modern and postmodern morality
How does current morality look through modernist, postmodernist and post-postmodernist glasses?
Prof. Adi Ophir: “I detest talking about values and am against the discussion of values. I have never written or talked about any value, but I don't think that I am indifferent to moral questions. In The Order of Evils: Toward an Ontology of Morals (Ophir's book, which discuses postmodernist morality, published by the Van Leer Institute, 2001), I propose a moral theory that is clean of values. The book contains a serious dimension of settling accounts with the concept of ‘values.' What is a ‘value?' Has anyone ever met one? Does anyone know what it's made of? I propose a moral language that sidesteps the obstacle involved in the use of the concept ‘value.' The argument over the issue of morality is not held in Israel in an in-depth enough fashion on the philosophic-academic level, and quickly gets bogged down in the public aspect. In Israel, the debate quickly deteriorates to the level of slogans, and you first of all need to declare if you are for or against something. The fact that I am proposing an approach that offers an alternative to the concept of ‘value' is not given expression anywhere.
“The talk about values is harmful, corruptive talk that creates an imagined multiplicity of nonexistent entities that all kinds of people claim to represent, and this talk conceals the real, urgent moral matters. The urgent matters are not the values that are being harmed, but rather the people that are being harmed. The bad things that happen to people are the things that are not supposed to leave you indifferent. When you cry out in the name of the value of friendship, what is more important to you, the harm to the value or the harm to the actual, concrete human being? Usually, the debate is not held on that level. People cry out at the harm to values and far less at the harm to people.”
Indeed, stinging words on the tyranny of the concept of “value” concealing a harsh, repressed reality behind it. In fact, when using value-based language and arguments, one assumes the independent existence of values and ignores the fact that they are established by means of violence that oppresses anything that is not included within that value. But the real difficulty lies in the implementation of an anti-value moral approach. An interesting phenomenon among the circles of postmodernist philosophers in wake of their refusal to use the language of values (the value discourse) is the creation of a language that Gadi Taub calls “misanthropic,” “antiseptic” and “sterile” In an article he wrote for Theory and Criticism (Vol. 7, Van Leer Institute, Winter 1975), he quotes Tamar Mishmar:
“The question of the relationship between the fields or the ‘politics' and between each other can, then, be read as the central question within the feminist discourse itself. The contact between the feminist discourse on ‘the question of women' and the postcolonial discourse on ‘the question of nationalism' is a particularly acute positioning – because of the tension between the various fields of discourse, the tension within the feminist discourse between the approaches that seek to isolate the ‘feminine' and those that maintain that there is no way to isolate the ‘feminine' because no subject can exist a priori outside the discourse.”
The attempt to refrain from any value-based position (lest a new oppression be created) and to place quotation marks around any inclusive expression is one of the examples that Taub presents for what happens when one tries to implement a postmodernist moral position in reality. Another example can be found in the second half of The Dispirited Revolution in the discussion of political correctness or PC. Out of an exaggerated awareness that language expresses a value position and thereby perpetuates oppression (for example in the use of the expression “black people,” which perpetuates the superiority of the white color), the United States has become obsessed with changing the discourse, while neglecting and ignoring the actual misery and oppression that exist in reality. Thus, for example, there are those that oppose the distribution of hearing aids to deaf children because this would “give expression to the recognition that deaf people are of less value than other human beings.” If to this criticism we add the criticism of postmodernism that it encourages the creation of anti-social capitalism through the dismantling of the various forms of social solidarity, we find ourselves facing a very uncomplimentary description of the implementation of postmodernist morality in reality.
But despite the criticism, we must be honest and state that postmodernist philosophy is the only philosophy today that is trying to create an in-depth vision of the present. Both Taub and Yovel are occupied with their formulation of responses to the claims of their “enemies,” rather than in formulating a new philosophical vision. The advantage of Yovel's modernism is also its disadvantage: It works as a critical tool aimed at any dogmatic philosophical approach, but can do no more than to confirm the existing human reality. Yovel is also aware that he is not the one to contend with the shaping of values for the Israeli society of today. However, on the “young” side of the map, postmodernism has a worthy opponent in Taub. He is thoroughly immersed in the present and is familiar with all the jargon of the “enemy” and its means of deception. One might say that as a critic of society and values, he has had considerable success. Unfortunately, his deep involvement in the present is also his weakness. The generation that Taub represents is seeking a real alternative to the challenge of postmodernism, but in actual fact, the vision of solidarity that it offers is void of any real philosophical content.
What modernism has succeeded at most of all is to emasculate its spokespeople. Its representatives' paralyzing fear of “dogmatism” and “religiosity” negates their ability to serve as worthy opponents of postmodernism, as it gains momentum and strength in our world.
Post values and post-Zionism
The journey that we have taken from modernism to postmodernism is fraught with disappointment. The Israeli present remains worrying and oppressive in its complexity, and the postmodernist challenge (or should we say criticism, or perhaps danger) remains devoid of a worthy philosophical response. What we do have are partial solutions that seemingly plug the holes in the increasingly cracking dam. Postmodernism is not dead; postmodernism is here and now! Surprisingly or not, there is no part of Israeli culture, language, thought or media that is not tainted by the anti-value approach. Except that unlike Adi Ophir's anti-values, the post-values in society and rejection of the use of values does not stem from a philosophical ideology. It is enough to offer examples of the Army Radio culture, the culture of the bars and reality programming and the culture of the New Age as the shapers of an entire generation of people that have a single, uniform apathetical response to the situation (“Don't want to hear about that nonsense, go with the flow, bro!”), as well as examples of the opposite, the culture of the “value reservations” of various groups in the population, including the ideological core group of the settlers, which holds onto Zionist values a la 1948, most of which are no longer relevant to the here and now.
Paradoxically, despite Ophir's post-Zionist views, his words my be what is needed to contend honestly with the phenomenon of post-values. In the chapter on post-Zionism in his book Working on the Present: Essays on Israeli Culture in the Present Time (Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 2001), Adi Ophir describes how the Zionist ideology has failed in all the aims it set for itself and how all the Zionist theories have been turned upside down. That is why, in his view, the Zionist endeavor should be brought to an end. Despite an attempt – an unsuccessful one in my opinion – to connect the approach of the French philosopher Derrida to the state of Zionism (not every moral criticism needs to be based on philosophers), Ophir's criticism is worthy of attention, for example:
- “The chief political demand of Zionism is based on the concept of national liberation and the right of nations to self-determination – but this foundation is systematically undermined, denied and negated by the success of the Zionist endeavor, because its success was attained at the cost of the continuing oppression of another national movement and repeated attempts to destroy it.
“Zionism was a rebellion against European anti-Semitism and later against racism; it was largely based on universal arguments against the persecution of minorities, and many of the Zionists themselves soon became victims of anti-Semitic persecutions and racism – but their struggle created a Jewish society willing to suffer the appearance and consolidation of Jewish racism” (p. 276).
Although he wouldn't want to view himself as such, Adi Ophir may serve as a catalyst for the creation of solidarity, to help contend with the feeling of partial or complete failure of the Zionist movement. What was once Zionism can no longer serve as a solution for the problems of the present. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the greatest enemies of Zionist solidarity could come from among those that openly boast its principles. It is difficult to accept that a seemingly rightist-Zionist government would do its utmost to do away with every remnant of mutual responsibility among the citizens of the state. It is, however, obvious that Zionism is being abused by extremist ideologists and ideologies such as the antiquated settlement ideology that the settlers espouse.
What does it mean today – to be a Zionist? To wave a flag at ceremonies? To be part of a value herd that never reexamines its values? To root for the Declaration of Independence without understanding its complexity and the conflicts that it awakens? To resent the criticism and research that explore the source of the myths and try to understand the way to realize them in the present?
One may feel joy at the fact that truths such as those of Adi Ophir in his 2001 book have not struck root in Israeli society, but we cannot and should not ignore the criticism of the distorted concept of nationalism and of Zionism and Zionist history. The approach according to which Zionism necessarily means denial of parts of history is wrong and misleading. Zionism today needs to contend with the conflicts and complexity of the present, not ignore them. The current elements of social cohesiveness and the policy of the melting pot and integration need “new blood,” which is built up by means of the most intense criticism.
The present despite everything
These final lines, which champion dealing with the here and now with intense and paralyzing moral criticism of Zionism, are being written in the most unlikely of places: in the dining room of a reserves outpost on the edge of a settlement north of Ramallah, a few hours after completing an armed patrol in a Palestinian village, half an hour before the Memorial Day ceremony in honor of the IDF dead (after which we can expect nighttime activity to protect the roads leading to the Jewish communities). We are confronted with the moral complexity of Zionism every day and every hour. No philosophy can contend with a present so fraught with contradictions as the Israeli one. Does that mean that we forget about the vision and close shop? Or perhaps, as Brenner once said – and as is still as relevant as ever – we need to create a kind of Zionism of “despite everything.”