Nisht ahin un nisht aher* – Saul

This is a guest post by Saul:

Just when I thought the long 20th century was over, up it pops again in the shape of the Daily Mail’s attack on the memory of one of the most humane Marxist thinkers of the 20th century, Ralph Miliband. From one perspective that century can be defined as one enduring ‘Jewish Question’. In the present context, that question can be defined as what to do with the Jews? It was with the demise of the three ‘great’ Empires and the rise of increasingly hostile nation-states in which the nation came to dominate the state, that the Jews came to be recast as a specifically modern ‘problem’. To quote Zygmunt Bauman, as ‘non-national nations’ and despite all references to ‘assimilation’ nationalists never accepted ‘their’ Jewish citizens as ‘true’ nationals, as truly belonging to the new national communities. Their allegiance – their ‘love of country’ – was always already in doubt. Indeed, the more they assimilated, the more they became just like everyone else, the more their loyalty came to be questioned. The resonances of this nationalist way of thinking contained in the attack on Miliband is clear for all to see.

However, it is also clear that just as the nationalist right calls into question Ralph Miliband’s inclusion within the English (or is that British?) nation, so too I should imagine would sections of the current internationalist, ‘anti-imperialist’ left. According to Colin Schindler in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, in a typically intense discussion following the ‘six day war’ in 1967 with the Belgian Jewish Marxist Marcel Liebman and co-author, Miliband not only defended Israel’s right to exist but also its right to self-defence. Needless to say, in today’s climate, Miliband would be recast in the (increasingly loose use of the term) as a ‘Zionist’. As such, he would be open to hostile vilification, elements of which would include the accusation that his ‘Zionism’ meant that his commitment to internationalism was nothing more than mere appearance, cloaking nothing more nor less than the ‘truth’ of his Jewish nationalism and his support for ‘Zionist imperialism’ and the ‘Zionist colonial settler state’. As someone who would not agree with the idea of the ‘original sin’ of Israel, his loyalty to and ‘love’ of the working-class as well as to the oppressed peoples of the world (including, of course, the Palestinians) would be ‘unmasked’ as nothing more than a fraud and a lie.

Just as the nationalist right refuse Ralph Miliband a place in the ranks of ‘the English’ and characterise him as a man ‘who did not love England’, so sections of the contemporary anti-Zionist and ‘anti-imperialist’ left would exclude him from the ranks of the International Labour Movement and correspondingly present him as a man ‘who did not love humanity’. Excluded from England by the nationalist right and excluded from humanity by the internationalist left, Miliband would be nish’d to hin and nish’d to he(a)r, neither here nor there. Taken together, he would, as Hannah Arendt phrased it, be denied a place in the world.

* (Yiddish) [trans: Neither here nor there, in limbo.)

 

7 Responses to “Nisht ahin un nisht aher* – Saul”

  1. the sad red earth (@thesadredearth) Says:

    I.e. he would be, historically – since and before Israel – a Jew.

  2. Carlo Says:

    The flaw in Saul’s thesis is that he sets a statement made by Ralph Miliband following the Six Day War against presumed attitudes of ultra-leftists in a totally different context 46 years later.

    Much has changed since 1967 and, were he alive today, it’s doubtful that the Marxist humanist would defend the current Israeli military occupation of another people and the creeping colonization of its territory.

    In consequence, it’s speculation about hypothetical “hostile vilification” that’s “nisht ahin un nisht aher”.

  3. Saul Says:

    Carlo,
    Thank you for your comment.
    However, I think you are missing the point. Of course Miliband would not ‘defend the current Israeli military occupation of another people and the creeping colonization of its territory’ – or at least I hope note. I think that is obvious.
    The point is that there are many today on the ‘anti-imperialist ‘left who see Israel and only Israel as an illegitimate state per se, regardless of its tilt to the right and its creeping colonization of the Palestinian territories. It is in this context and within this milleu that those who, no matter their Marxist credentials and politics, and no matter how vehimently critical they are of the occupation, but who, nonetheless, are willing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist are treated ‘beyond the pale’ and as standing against a universal concept of ‘humanity’. Indeed, this exclusion is most commonly encountered by some (and not all) BDS campaigners; the idea that if you oppose the BDS you are opposing ‘humanity’ itself.

    Just one example will suffice to illustrate the point I have tried to make;
    ‘Prior to becoming a neocon, Seymour informs us Hitchens discovered he is Jewish. Was he another example of a Jewish leftist choosing ethnicity over humanity?’ (not the use of the word ‘another’; note also the connection Seymour makes between ‘Jewish (leftist)’, ethnicity, Zionism on the one hand, and ‘humanity’, on the other).

    I think that no matter what Ralph Miliband would have said of contemporary Israel, he would have stood steadfast agains this type of nonsense.

  4. Saul Says:

    And I would also add that the same opposition between Jew (both independently and in relation to Zionism and Israel) and humanity is present in the writings of Alain Badiou (see sections of his ‘Ethics’, essays in ‘Polemics’.) Again, it is a politics and a philosophy that I believe would have been anathema to Miliband.

  5. Jacob Arnon Says:

    “However, it is also clear that just as the nationalist right calls into question Ralph Miliband’s inclusion within the English (or is that British?) nation, so too I should imagine would sections of the current internationalist, ‘anti-imperialist’ left. According to Colin Schindler in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, in a typically intense discussion following the ‘six day war’ in 1967 with the Belgian Jewish Marxist Marcel Liebman and co-author, Miliband not only defended Israel’s right to exist but also its right to self-defence. Needless to say, in today’s climate, Miliband would be recast in the (increasingly loose use of the term) as a ‘Zionist’. As such, he would be open to hostile vilification, elements of which would include the accusation that his ‘Zionism’ meant that his commitment to internationalism was nothing more than mere appearance, cloaking nothing more nor less than the ‘truth’ of his Jewish nationalism and his support for ‘Zionist imperialism’ and the ‘Zionist colonial settler state’. As someone who would not agree with the idea of the ‘original sin’ of Israel, his loyalty to and ‘love’ of the working-class as well as to the oppressed peoples of the world (including, of course, the Palestinians) would be ‘unmasked’ as nothing more than a fraud and a lie.”

    Bravo, Saul.

    It’s rare to come across a short paragraph that captures so succinctly the dilemma of the Jewish other in the modern world.

    Let’s be clear about this sorry and heartbreaking modern history: the left’s rejection of a nation State for Jews in a world composed of such states is long standing and antedates the establishment of Israel. Simultaneously the political right rejected a place for Jewish people in its nation State.

    The French slogan “to the individual Jew everything, to the National Jew nothing” captures the view of both right and left. As Saul also shows antisemitism isn’t just a right or a left problem.

    Here is how the French revolutionary Clermont–Tonnerre phrased it in a 1789 speech to the French national assembly:

    “We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals. We must withdraw recognition from their judges; they should only have our judges. We must refuse legal protection to the maintenance of the so-called laws of their Judaic organization; they should not be allowed to form in the state either a political body or an order. They must be citizens individually. But, some will say to me, they do not want to be citizens. Well then! If they do not want to be citizens, they should say so, and then, we should banish them. It is repugnant to have in the state an association of non-citizens, and a nation within the nation. . . . In short, Sirs, the presumed status of every man resident in a country is to be a citizen.”
    http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/284/
    In practice however, as the French Dreyfus affair showed, it was impossible to accord Jews their rights as individuals. This left them in a more precarious position than before the “declaration of human rights, because the a priori denial of a Jewish Nation had become operative dogma in the post-Rench-Revolutionary world.
    In this world Jews where “nisht ahin un nish aher” they were neither a nation nor individuals.

    It is malicious to pretend otherwise.

    Since the French revolution every generation has found reasons to dispossess Jews of their rights as a Nation as well as individuals. As individuals they were always suspect of a “double loyalty” as the attack on Ralph Miliband shows.

    This is how Saul’s words quoted above should be understood: Jews are rejected as both individuals and as a nation. It is fool-hearty to characterize this view as either “right’ or “left” since both sides of the modern political spectrum (born during the French Revolution) rejected them for its own particular reason.

    Carlo’s comment, above, that “much has changed since 1967 and, were he alive today, it’s doubtful that the Marxist humanist would defend the current Israeli military occupation of another people and the creeping colonization of its territory,” is but the latest example of this denial.

    As Mr. Miliband knew (and carlo’s doesn’t or pretends not to) the left’s rejection of Israel was in evidence long before the occupation or even before the founding of the Jewish State.

    Mr. Miliband, (like myself, and probably Saul) would have liked to see, a two State solution to the “Arab- Israeli conflict.” This conflict is only a part of what has come to be known after Clermont–Tonnerre as “the Jewish problem.”

    I don’t pretend to know how the contemporary resurgence of antisemitism (post World War Two), will be solved but I do know that any genuine solution will have to recognize, that it is part of a larger historical problem that transcends the Arab Israeli conflict.

  6. David Olesker Says:

    In 1975 (at almost the end of the third decade of uninterrupted Israel Labor party rule) the newly formed Jewish Socialist Group published this scathing analysis of the rejection by the extreme left of Jewish national rights. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5UdZbuuKnKpNzdkYzVmZDctZTBhMC00ZmIyLWEzMzktNmE3MmJkZGY1ZmUy/edit?usp=sharing

  7. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    There is a danger here of forgetting just what started this controversy. It’s the Daily Mail’s publishing of the 17-year-old Ralph Miliband’s diary jotting in which he drew attention to the rather unsavoury views of the British middle and upper classes. According to the Daily Mail’s ideology, this made him anti-British, even a “hater” of Britain. Firstly, I wonder what, if any, of the teenage jottings of the Mail’s staff would stand up to similar scrutiny.

    More pertinently, I refer, in a comment attached to the article below this one, awaiting moderation as I write this, to a book written by Brian Cheyette (Professor of English Literature at Reading University), “Constructions of ‘the Jew’ in English Literature and Society: Racial Representations 1875-1945″, first published in 1993, in which he notes the unconscious (and not so unconscious) attitudes towards Jews in the period in question. Actually, one doesn’t have to go so far as to read his book (although the Mail journos should): just read Dorothy L. Sayers “Lord Peter Wimsey” novels: the Jewish stereotypes positively drip off the page – “greasy Levantines”; “thick-lipped” characters; “hook-nosed” ditto…She didn’t necessarily mean any harm to come to Jews, she just shared the unconscious (and not so unconscious) prejudices of her time and class.

    It’s clear that the teenage Miliband was very perceptive. Anyway, no “hater” of Britain would have joined the Navy (while still a Belgian citizen), in wartime, to take on fascism in all its guises.

    It’s just a McCarthyite guilt by association smear. They must be getting worried that Labour might do far better than expected in the 2015 election!


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