by Zachary Braiterman
* This post originally appeared on the author’s blog, Jewish Philosophy Place.
A meme going around Jewish left circles has the speaker declare that the State of Israel and/or the war in Gaza and/or the State of Israel and Zionism are “not in my name.” It’s an interesting phrase, one that goes back, at least, ten years ago to protests in the UK against the Iraq War. It speaks to the relation, in this case an oppositional one, between individuals and groups of individuals who seek to organize into a political counter-movement vis-à-vis a political state. As a friend points out on Facebook, in this case it’s meant to assert a difference between Judaism and Israel, or Judaism and current Israeli war-making.
The phrase, however, is subject to a very subtle dialectic. When articulated with sufficient moral affect, the dialectics are such that the speaker has already ceded enormous power of the state to speak in his or her name. To make such a claim, the state must have already caught the speaker. The speaker has drawn close to the state, enveloped intimately and obsessively into its machinations. Otherwise there’s no basis for the opposition, until such a point that the state spits you out. If the state did not already speak “in my name” I wouldn’t have to say it. “Not in my name” is very different than the “render unto Ceasar” in the New Testament.
As a U.S. citizen, I never thought to think that Israel speaks “in my name.” It can’t really, because I have no formal rights or obligations to that state, and I am in no need of its protection. My link to Israel, the country governed by the state, is affective and potential. And perhaps it’s that very potentiality that sets the teeth on edge for so many of my friends on the America Jewish left. As a Jew, I want the state of Israel to speak in my name the language of justice, mercy, and morality, not the language of power and domination. But it’s the latter language that is the one spoken by all states, despite and in tension with the values they claim to carry and seek to embody.
Herzl was right. Before they constitute a religion, they Jews are an umma. There’s no other way to explain the anger, bitterness, and disgust expressed for the State of Israel the further out on the U.S. Jewish left you go. Like it or not, Judaism and Zionism are too deeply imbricated to make for an easy separation. The more you repeat or flag the phrase, the more actively you deny the connection (as opposed to ignoring it), the more active you make the relation and deepen it, the more dragged you are into its controlling and determining discourse.
Zachary (Zak) Braiterman teaches modern Jewish thought and philosophy in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His work explores the interface between Jewish religion, contintental philosophy, aesthetic theory, and visual culture.