Culture Wars
The Pathetic Nature of Normality

by Udi Aloni
published in Time Out Tel Aviv, October 2006

To read this article in Hebrew, click here.

Udi Aloni sets out to defend his controversial movie, Forgiveness, and asserts that the "enlightened" and "liberal" Tel Aviv Left --unmistakably represented by Gadi Taub-- in fact obliterates any hope for a better and more just future.

During recent months, Gadi Taub’s articles have been popping up like poisonous mushrooms after the rain. In “Time Out,” he glorified the normal Jewish Tel Avivite as the materialization of the healthy Israeli; on Ynet, he verbally assaulted the radical left; and in Maariv, he attacked the “ethics” of my latest movie, Forgiveness, in the name of Judaism, which, according to Taub, begins and ends with the five books of the Torah.

Armed with a Ph.D. and infinite ignorance, Taub has embarked on a media journey to save the worn-out Israeli ethos. He calls every crime a moral choice and any spiritual decadence joie de vivre. Like an archaic Zionist from the start of the previous century, he negates, among others, the Diaspora, the Talmud, the Kabbalah, Hassidism, Walter Benjamin, Primo Levi and Kafka, and he attempts to eradicate the spiritual element from Tel Avivite Judaism. This is the same Tel Avivism that I believe capable of finding its salvation in spiritual radicalism -- without waiving the pleasure principle, indubitably a part of its fascinating charm, and without falling into Taub’s version of a sentimental Zionism or the New Age of Braslav, Kabbalah institutes, or other psychic types.

Some maintain that, because Taub is himself unworthy of any response, we are better off dealing with his teachers and masters. However, I wouldn’t be doing justice to my film and its call for dialogue were I not to pick up the gauntlet that Taub threw down -- Taub who, furthermore, represents a sort of bon ton for the popular nationalistic-enlightened left, a position one thousand times more dangerous than the “popular” right, because there, he obliterates any hope for a better, just and revolutionary future, and he even obstructs any portal to salvation. Taub’s articles feature a type of nostalgic calling for an ostrich-like spurious normality. Surely there is nothing more pathetic than to grasp at normality as if for dear life in such an era of insanity. If there was something beautiful in this Zionism, I think that it would actually be the Messianic hope for human salvation, and not the western colonial values that have become the heritage of this exciting movement.

Taub references the story from the Torah of the slave's pierced ears, --which signify the choice to continue slavery eternally-- as an example of human necessity to accept responsibility. And indeed, Taub has, with his own pierced ears, elected himself to an eternal slavery in the service of an obsolete, destructive western ideology that refuses to take any responsibility for its past and present behavior.

Without Post-Colonialism My movie, Forgiveness, involves taking full responsibility, which stems from grace. The film attempts to create an alternative, to rethink and understand why the Jewish tribe constructs a wall around itself, places an atomic bomb in its center, and sits waiting for Judgment Day instead of attempting to be an integral part in the Middle East.

I am trying to comprehend what it is in the mental expanse between the Holocaust and the occupation which has fused the pleasure principle and the death drive for the nationalistic left, who chant Ilan Schoenfeld’s poem, “Tehazekna” (“Be Strengthened”), a poem that calls for genocide and the destruction of Gaza and Lebanon and all of their citizens. And they sing, from their open convertibles, the song of Taub and his friends: “We are western liberal thugs / we love to fuck and do some drugs / but should we have no option other / we’ll surely slaughter our Arab brother.”

Michael Haneke's movie, Hidden (Cache), describes what happens when a perpetrator reencounters a victim, looks directly into his eyes: The former wants to erase the latter’s existence so he will not have to face his shame (and responsibility). This is the manner in which the nationalistic left behaves in its face-to-face encounters with the Palestinians. Taub bandies around names like Lacan, Edward Said and Freud such that we would suspect that he understands their theories. Yet I can love my neighbor as someone completely different as well as someone similar; I can do so with a basic and a simple ethic that all people are created equal in the eyes of The Creator, and I can do so without postcolonial or psychoanalytical discourse. This is similar to the ethical gesture of hospitality in Abraham welcoming his guests. However, if we are already occupied with Edward Said: With what great compassion and sympathy for the Jewish citizens of Israel did he write his book, Freud and the Non-European -- and how powerful a call for peace and brotherhood does this text offer? All that is required is to don sensitive rabbit ears, and, suddenly, you hear voices to which the majority refuses to listen.

This article tries to equip, with sensitive rabbit ears, our pierced brothers, wherever they are; it addresses those who block their eyes and all of their senses and vehemently attack everything that is truly human -- if only for the pleasure of being accepted as one of the group around the campfire. For surely: “…We have buried all the ruins / changed the names of the streets… / and all that we hoped for / was to sing with our fathers / those old nostalgic songs…” as the Biluim band bellows in their beautiful song. The rationalized and enlightened thinking in Israel is, for the most part, unconsciously motivated by ideologies, racism, and theology. Therefore, the Palestinians (and not only them) will never be accepted as equals around the campfire, even though one could say that, dialectically, through their deeds, the Palestinians have realized the words from Jabotinsky’s poem: “…and from decay and dust, in blood and sweat, he has established a proud, generous and ruthless race.”

Those who have never succeeded in obliterating the Palestinians from our world have decided, instead, to associate them in our consciousness with a horrible multi-headed monster which, according to Bush and his followers, is named “Fascist Islam.” Now we are constantly exposed to diatribes on the ruthless war between cultures, diatribes meant to establish and strengthen a struggle between Islam and the Judo-Christian world. Heaven forbid we should approach our Palestinian brothers as equals.

Instead of these two wonderful nations perishing on the altar of global war, perhaps Israel should approach Palestine pure-heartedly, modestly, and offer it the equality, brotherhood and freedom that refuse to cooperate with the “superior” forces. However, to this purpose, it is necessary to activate a type of dormant Judaism that is based on compassion and justice rather than on arrogance and cruel laws. This should not be the Judaism that “perceives the Palestinians as Amalek,” but the Judaism of Primo Levi, who wrote, “…Each nation has its Jew, and the Palestinian is Israel’s Jew.” It is the Judaism that states, “Be humble with your God,” the Judaism of the portion on the holy sages, affirming, “…and love the stranger, for you were a stranger in Egypt.”

In both Islam and Judaism, every sentence has both a harsh interpretation and a compassionate interpretation, but the learned authors of the nationalistic left always interpret Islam with such severity that Judaism is permitted to enforce strict legal measures; for indeed, they are “primitive” and we are “enlightened.” We are dying to live in peace with them, but they are murderous. Surely, if they were truly like us, we wouldn’t have stolen their land and abused and humiliated them. We would have probably played cricket or something like that together.

We have Plundered Gadi Taub writes: “Whether we have or haven’t a paranoid military discourse, this does not mean that we are not being persecuted. Hello? Does anyone there amongst the radical left remember that there are other people in the world apart from us (and our discourse)?”

I believe that the equation has to be inverted. Just because you are being persecuted doesn’t mean that you aren’t paranoid. Hello? You there, you from the nationalistic left, there’s an entire nation from whom you have stolen land, an entire land upon which you have built settlements, and an entire people who you’ve subjugated and humiliated; you have uprooted their orchards, and you’ve never, ever wanted to see them up close, to look them in the eyes. Yes, you, we, the liberal inhabitants of Tel Aviv, have done this, not a band of hallucinating settlers. You praise Tel Aviv and defend it against attacks from the peripheries, and simultaneously you describe it as if it was the hero of the film The Bubble, home to a naïve type of man, the Tel Avivite Ashkenazi, no blood on his hands –gay or not, it’s irrelevant. But, certainly, it’s we who have plundered their land in the name of Jewish fundamentalism because, despite the fact that we do not believe in God, we are convinced that he has promised us the Holy Land.

And the Palestinians? All they’ve done is demanded their land in accordance with international law, and even if they used wrongful means, their petition is for justice, not mercy. But we, you, were always insulted because they lacked gratitude for such arrogant gestures. However, if you had approached your Palestinian brothers as equals among equals, it could reasonably be assumed that, today, we wouldn’t be wallowing in the Lebanese quagmire but rather drinking Arak in Beirut. Yet of course, you are the “enlightened westerners,” so why should I nag you with the facts?

The truth is simple. But it will take many years to breakdown the piles of prejudices that lack self-awareness. In the meantime, my colleagues and I refuse to stop believing that the love of Israel and the love of Palestine are one and the same. If we act with complete faith in realizing this, neither Iran nor America would be able to overcome us, and Israel and Palestine will be a source of inspiration. And in the Tel Aviv pubs, which I adore as much as you do, Arabic and Hebrew will be heard simultaneously, as they were once heard in Shaike Ophir's Jerusalem.

Oh dear, I can hear you expressing doubts. I am surely the dreamer amongst you. According to your understanding, only a world war is 'real politique'; and only the American dream is wroth dreaming. It's true that, at present you control public awareness, and I have much less influence over the active powers that be Thus I will attempt to shoot down the prejudices and to shake up the pillar of cruel, racist and self-destructive unconsciousness. It is for this reason I made a movie that is a pleasure to watch while, at the same time, difficult to see, and if I have truly succeeded, it is also awesome. This is a movie that causes you to either express infinite love, or, conversely, to despise it with the contempt of the last blogger. But you won’t remain indifferent and, most certainly, you won’t be bored. And this is precisely the way in which the unconscious appears and behaves.

And, in our hallucinatory world outside of the movie, instead of singing those old nostalgic songs with you and our fathers, I personally choose to stand at the corner of the street, next to the square, and, when Arab and Jewish youth sing in one voice with different accents: "Jewish-Arab brotherhood," I will also whisper, a little embarrassed, but with complete faith: “Jewish-Arab brotherhood.”