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Days of rage and marches for freedom: Refusing to hand over Jewish history

The events of the past weeks are a reminder that while civil rights violations in Israel alienate us from the rest of the world, the actions taken against them bring us back into the fold. We are not handing over our history yet.

Following the end of the Cold War, the American academic Francis Fukuyama wrote an article entitled ‘The End of History?’ His proposal hung on the idea that, in defeating communism, liberal democracy had claimed its place as the final incarnation and supreme form of governance and society, from which no further development or progress was possible – or, in his eyes, necessary. While the West’s liberal democracy had clearly not arrived on all shores, Fukuyama’s belief was that, given time, all countries in the world would eventually ‘catch up’ to this state of being. Thus, he asserted, history had reached its conclusion; the West’s apparent victory in the battle of ideas put an end to the ideological conflicts that drive historical development.

Fukuyama has since withdrawn his theory, and in the intervening years it has become evident that his crowning of liberal democracy as the victor was premature. Aside from the contradiction that reality has thrown at his proposal, however, there is a less obvious, but more troubling aspect to the idea that history is on a march with a pre-determined goal. Fukuyama’s theory built on the ideas of a number of nineteenth-century German philosophers whose understanding of history’s progress seemed to suggest an acceptance of violence, upheaval and mass atrocities, provided they formed part of the logical progression to history’s end goal. Indeed, the work of some of these philosophers – Nietzsche in particular – has (erroneously) been accused of inspiring Nazi ideology: in this case, the Jews, and other non-“Aryan” peoples, represented an obstacle to their concept of what a perfectly evolved society should look like. Utopia, that lethal idealism, hangs heavily in these histories.

We call this type of history, that which has an end-point and whose major events are steps on the path to that point, teleological (from the Greek “telos,” meaning ‘end,’ or ‘purpose’). Within broader history there are, naturally, any number of smaller strands weaving their way through. Jewish history is one of these strands, and it is innately teleological. Like Christianity, Islam or any creed that looks forward to the eventual arrival of a messiah, traditional Judaism looks towards a fixed point, a goal, and has deeply engrained ideas about what realities need to be brought about to reach that telos. Along the way, there is the expectation that several biblical prophecies will be met, and that it is our duty to ensure their passing. Chief among these is the “ingathering of the exiles,” and the acquisition of the land believed to be promised to the Jews by God; integral to this cornerstone of the faith is the idea that the territory was intended for Jews alone. Additional messianic staging posts are the unity and restoration of Jerusalem, which is why we often hear Israeli politicians declaring it the ‘undivided capital of Israel,’ and the resumption of services in the Temple (yes, in the place where the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque currently stand).

Considering this understanding of Jewish history rapidly demystifies both much of the Israeli government’s behavior, as well the attitudes of broad swathes of Israeli society. We watch, stupefied and disbelieving, as the government pushes through legislation that will enact an ethnic displacement policy in the Negev; as violence against Africans persists and even extends in the form of threats against their supporters; as liberties are taken away from those who do not fit the state’s ethnic template, and from those who dare to speak up in solidarity with them. The clear violence and destructiveness of the settler movement and its enablers mean that the outside world is incredulous as to how the project can proceed with such speed and resources. Yet these are not aberrations, or freak occurrences – they are the crushing footfall of a march with one purpose and destination: our land, promised to us, and us alone. It is a cast-iron vision which does not tolerate anomalies, and in the end of Jewish history, non-Jews are anomalies. This is not to say that all those striving towards an ethnically homogenous nation-state are entirely motivated by messianic prophecies – far from it. But nationalism has, as in so many other cases, wrought its subversive influence; as Eva Illouz, an Israeli academic, has cogently argued:

[t]his religion, which was so … effective in helping the most abjectly persecuted people in history to retain its dignity and identity, becomes an instrument of institutionalized politics of racial purity when it acts as a state religion, precisely because Judaism was so intensely geared toward the maintenance of the group difference from non-Jews.

Hence the distillation of ancient messianic lore into a furious and volatile intolerance for other ethnicities.

What we have seen in recent weeks, on the part of those threatened with removal in order to make way for this “end of history,” is a refusal to allow this progression to continue unimpeded. The “day of rage” against the Prawer-Begin Plan, a policy designed to relocate and concentrate the Negev’s Bedouin, and the “marches for freedom” undertaken by African asylum seekers, who in acts of civil disobedience simply walked away from their desert prison camp in order to protest outside the Knesset, are unprecedented events. They met audacity with audacity. They reminded us that while the civil rights violations taking place in Israel alienate us from the rest of the world, the actions that can be taken against them bring us back into the fold.

Anti-racism demonstrations and civil rights marches (for that is precisely what the asylum seekers’ marches for freedom were) have a proud and interconnected history, and what has happened in Israel over the last few weeks deserves to take its place in that arc. Yes, the protests ended predictably – in aggression, arrests, and harsh, belligerent rhetoric from the usual suspects in the Israeli government. But there will be other days and other marches. There is an undeniable force moving towards Jewish history’s telos, but it will continue to meet those marching in the opposite direction. We are not handing over our history yet.

Immigration officers arrest asylum seekers on second ‘March for Freedom’ 
Anti-Prawer ‘day of rage’: Chronicle of a violent confrontation foretold

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    1. Kolumn9

      Oy. Another one of you people that think that the State of Israel must accept anyone who illegally crosses the border and lavish privileges upon them?

      Listen, I know you want to make a big stink about the grand struggle you are in. I am sure it makes you feel better to think that you are more than just a confused woman with misguided priorities being paid by foreign governments and organizations. I am also sure that it helps your fundraising to present this as a grand struggle against the evil Jews in Israel.

      But the problem is that you have no legs to stand on. The democratically elected government of the State of Israel has the power to control who enters the borders of the sovereign state of Israel. Not you. Yet, instead of using your citizen rights to lobby the government people like you choose to organize grand PR displays by people who are in the country illegally marching for rights on which they have no claim. You can argue that they are ‘asylum seekers’ and not illegal migrants or infiltrators. Yet you can not argue that they are Israelis or that the government has any moral or ethical obligation to hear their demands. Again, let me repeat that. These are people who were uninvited and who crossed the border in violation of Israeli immigration law. Being in the country illegally they have no right to lobby a government which represents and answers to its citizens.

      At best they have the right to get basic services like food and shelter and to not be expelled to their home countries until it is safe. That the state of Israel provides them with this temporary shelter should make them grateful. The insolence of illegals marching to lobby a government not their own is disgusting. Your continued actions to promote the interests of illegal migrants at the expense and against the wishes of the vast majority of the legal citizens of the state is likewise despicable.

      Take your stupid history arks and send them back to the foreign organizations from which you derive your livelihood.

      Reply to Comment
      • Oh huggable K9! Big hug!

        As Haifawi says, below, the issue is one of High Court mandated individualized hearings. The Court said Israel cannot deport them without such, so the Knesset, in a temper tantrum, said “No one tells us what to do! We are the shield of Israel, not you! We will place them in detention until they leave, and pay them to leave too!” The High Court said, no, that violates Basic Law; close the detention center within 3 months, sorting out criminal acts if you can. The shield of Israel replies “To do what you say would be an insult to the land! We brilliantly circumvent your legal minds by placing infiltrating infiltrators in halfway houses they cannot leave for more than, well, we’re not sure, say 48 hours, surrounded by a desert walk of 6 hours to the nearest town. There is no prison! No one is forced to stay there! They will just be arrested if they leave–but let’s move on. We define what law means! The Knesset is the People, the People the Knesset! Etc.!”

        All this, even though I understand the new border measures (double fence, Egypt side border patrols) have essentially prevented further intrusion, er infiltration, er, pick your word. All the High Court wants you to do is honor the refugee convention through individual hearings, or you could just abrogate the treaty; the Court has ruled that presence in the country constitutes convention appeal for asylum. Instead, you have created a constitutional crisis which I don’t think is going to go so well for you….

        Big Hug! Let’s all be happy! And nice! Love is pure! Purity is all!

        Reply to Comment
    2. Haifawi

      you’re right that Israel has the right to determine who can enter the country. However, Israel is bound by SIGNED obligations to deal with people ALREADY in the country (namely by determining whether they have refugee status).
      But of course ‘distinctions’ and ‘subtlety’ matter not a lick to the right. You have SIMPLICITY and BUZZWORDS on your side.

      Reply to Comment
    3. NoStates

      Very interesting article. Thank you, 972 team, for continuing to publish deep analyses connecting struggles with broader contexts.

      Reply to Comment
    4. whilst it is important to critique the racism behind the treatment of african migrants and bedouins (to mention just two cases), i don’t get the structure of this argument. teleological conceptions of history are shown to be flawed, and then you employ a teleological conception of history to critique the problems of judaism becoming nationalised. Furthermore, your definition of the messianic within a Jewish conception of history is simplistic and one-sided. Whilst messianism is used and abused by right-wing fanatics, the relationship you draw between it (jewish messianism) and political zionism is blindsided. To argue that ‘There is an undeniable force moving towards Jewish history’s telos’ is actually to provide a deeper mystification for racist policies. We have to rip racist policies away from the teleological terms of their instigators in order to truly critique them.

      Reply to Comment
    5. The Trespasser


      Saturday, December 21, 2013 | 10:55:11 PM

      The Eritrean Ambassador was attacked during a speech that he gave at Kibbutz Kinneret, by foreign workers who oppose the regime in his country. A mass brawl erupted and was stopped only when police forces arrived and fired in the air. One resident even referred to a “lynching” that was taking place.


      WTF were all the lefties doing all that time? Why did not anyone had spent a few days to travel to all Eritrean and Sudanese communities, with an interpreter and a PowerPoint presentation, to teach these feral fellows what actually are human rights – besides their alleged right for asylum, of course, that they know too well – and how these rights are implemented in laws of modern countries.

      Reply to Comment
      • I think you are right, sans personal preference descriptions. It should be reported here. The weakest side of 972 is reporting contrary cases.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          But of course it can’t be reported here, simply because it would cause irreversible damage to already futile attemps to distort the reality.

          Reply to Comment