Academic journal article Arena Journal

Deconstruction, Zionism and the BDS Movement

Academic journal article Arena Journal

Deconstruction, Zionism and the BDS Movement

Article excerpt

The fascists may spread over the land, blasting their way with weight of metal brought from other countries. They may advance aided by traitors and cowards. They may destroy cities and villages and try to hold the people in slavery. But you cannot hold any people in slavery. The Spanish people will rise again, as they have always risen. The dead do not need to rise. They are a part of the earth now and the earth can never be conquered. For the earth endureth forever. It will outlive all systems of tyranny.

- Ernest Hemingway, 'On the American Dead in Spain', 1939.1

In 2013, Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder published Deconstructing Zionism: A Critique of Political Metaphysics.2 Their intervention can be situated within an admirable trajectory of collaborative efforts in Europe to press both hermeneutics and deconstruction into service on behalf of all those today who are disempowered by the machinations of global capitalism - not only the Palestinians. As a contributor to Vattimo and Marder's collection, I have followed with interest the diverse critical responses to this important new volume. David Lloyd wrote a thoughtful review for the Los Angeles Review of Books, which was trolled nearly from the moment it appeared.3 Others, such as Rumy Hasan, Netta Van Vliet, Nigel Parsons, Zahi Zalloua and Shagul Magid, have also written careful responses to and analyses of Deconstructing Zionism, drawing welcomed attention to the book's strengths and its weaknesses, and encouraging further reflection in the days to come.4

In the US and Israeli contexts, however, I cannot say that I have been surprised by some of the more hostile responses to Vattimo and Marder's book, both from those who reflexively defend Zionism and those who dismiss deconstruction as 'pretentious gibberish'. In journalistic paraphrases, but also in more lengthy scholarly reviews of his writings, Derrida himself was subject to hostile and sometimes bizarre distortions of his views. Many of Derrida's critics wrote scathing and insulting analyses of his work, typically without bothering to read him.

Derrida exercised admirable restraint in responding to his critics. He once stated:

I prefer to come before [my critics] disarmed and 'speak to' them that way at the moment they do me the honor of addressing me ... [I] seek to discuss rather than insult (as one so often does today, to avoid asking painful questions), to object rather than belittle or, in cowardly fashion, wound.5

Yet, even for those familiar with Derrida's work, it may not be immediately clear why deconstruction is relevant in the IsraeliPalestinian context. In the first place, Derrida, who is often but erroneously described as the 'founder' of deconstruction, was himself a Zionist.6 To rely upon deconstruction in this setting may therefore suggest that one must press deconstruction's so-called founder into service against himself. For those who are put off by Derrida's Zionism, it might even seem that deconstruction is a proZionist discourse, or at least suspect in the Israeli-Palestinian context. (The obvious parallel here is the conflation of deconstruction with Hitlerian fascism due to Heidegger's endorsement of the Nazi party.) Furthermore, given the fact that Zionism is so vulnerable to critique on the basis of Israel's flagrant violations of human rights and international law, it might also be asked whether deconstructive theorisations are even necessary or productive in this setting. A short answer to these questions might be that deconstruction indeed enables a critique of political Zionism and its long-standing war against the Palestinians; it also provides the kind of interpretive nuances that enable resistance to simplistic perspectives that equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and that ignore manifest textual content in favour of seeking anti-Semitic intentions within pro-Palestinian and pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) discourses.

In 2001, not long after September 11 and prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq, I wrote an essay entitled 'Deconstruction and Zionism: Jacques Derrida's Specters of Marx' for the journal Diacritics, based on my work with Palestinian and Jordanian students at the University of Jordan in Amman from 2001 to 2003. …

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