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What Does a Jew Want?

What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters

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  • Book Info
    What Does a Jew Want?
    Book Description:

    In the hopes of promoting justice, peace, and solidarity for and with the Palestinian people, Udi Aloni joins with Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler to confront the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their bold question: Will a new generation of Israelis and Palestinians dare to walk together toward a joint Israel-Palestine? Through a collage of meditation, interview, diary, and essay, Aloni and his interlocutors present a personal, intellectual, and altogether provocative account rich with the insights of philosophy and critical theory. They ultimately foresee the emergence of a binational Israeli-Palestinian state, incorporating the work of Walter Benjamin, Edward Said, and Jewish theology to recast the conflict in secular theological terms.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52737-8
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    Udi Aloni’s collection renews a theological reflection in the midst of ordinary life, popular culture, contemporary scenes of life and death. His film, Local Angel, brings us into visual contact with Walter Benjamin’s concept of the “ruin,” that animated fragment from the past that drives us in ways that we cannot always know. He moves to the center of violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians only to find there remnants of a theological relation to the “Temple Mount” that furtively circumscribes the struggle over land, property, ownership, and claims to time and space. In his film Forgiveness it is the...

    (pp. xv-xviii)

    A short circuit is a condition in which a short electrical path is unintentionally created, causing a power fault—and this is what Udi Aloni does in this book, causing a power fault in the ruling liberal attitude by way of short-circuiting different levels of ideology, art, and thought; rewriting the Oedipus myth and rejecting liberal Zionism. Who but Udi Aloni can combine the tremendous poetic power of creating new myths with the perspicuous mind of a cold theoretician? Who but Udi Aloni can ground his ruthless critique of Zionism into his unconditional fidelity to the Jewish tradition? If anyone...

    (pp. xix-xxii)

    • Slavoj Žižek in Ramallah: Back to the Trauma Zone
      (pp. 3-5)

      The Middle East premiere of Udi Aloni’s film, which took place in Ramallah, was attended by theoretician Slavoj Žižek. Two hours before the event, the second Lebanon war began. In spite of some fear, it was decided that the show must go on. As Israel entered Lebanon, the hall in Ramallah was packed with viewers, intellectuals and Palestinian artists and filmmakers. Among them was also Mahmoud Darwish.

      Inside the air-conditioned transit van bearing a German license plate, the blazing sun is less of a nuisance. A long line of cars is crawling slowly. Soldiers, ID cards, the bureaucratic commotion aboveground,...

    • Alain Badiou in Haifa: Their Entire Particular World
      (pp. 6-7)

      Alain Badiou landed in Tel Aviv amidst the assault on Gaza. I had been waiting for his coming to Palestine/Israel for a while. He came to support my retrospective at the cinematheque and lecture at the Palestinian Al Quds University and at the University of Nablus (An-Najah). But the war reshuffled all the cards. We couldn’t go out in Tel Aviv. The roaming laughter of the city celebrating itself created a shocking dissonance with the sounds of war, broadcast live from Gaza. So we decided to quit the city and travel to the Galilee to visit the Palestinian citizens of...

    • Judith Butler in Sheikh-Jarrah: “This place which is called Israel”
      (pp. 8-10)

      I went to the airport to pick Judith Butler up last Friday. She had some work to do before the start of her lectures at Birzeit University. My friend Ronnie, who gave up a very bright future in the high-tech industry for scurrying between demonstrations against the Occupation, drove us from the Ben Gurion Airport.

      One little smile from Ronnie and the car changed its course—we were on our way to Sheikh-Jarrah’s Friday demonstration.

      After all, who if not Butler believes in performative repetition as an opening for change in the current ideological structure? And who if not Ronnie,...


    • A Manifesto for the Jewish-Palestinian Arabic-Hebrew State
      (pp. 13-18)

      A specter haunts the Middle East, the daunting specter of Palestinian-Jewish binationalism. All the world’s powers have joined hands to conduct a holy war to the bitter end, until that specter is defeated. One can read the entire modern history of the region as the history of a violent lasting conflict instigated to deny and expel that specter.

      Now, after one hundred years of conflict, with no solution in sight, the time has come to present binationalism in all its glory.


      We are already a decade into the twenty-first century, and still the only visible change in the Middle...

    • Why We Support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions
      (pp. 19-21)

      I find it appropriate that the Israeli public be notified of the emerging movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel (BDS), which has been growing at a breathtaking pace. Following bewildered reports published by Yedioth Aharonot journalist Sever Plocker, who noticed that BDS has moved from the circles of the radical Western left to the circles of the bourgeois center, I can add that this is now true for Israel-loving Jews as well.

      Obviously, this shift is taking place against the backdrop of Israel’s war on Gaza, waged one year ago, the publication of the Goldstone report, and the...

    • The Star of Redemption with a Split א
      (pp. 22-32)

      Franz Rosenzweig’s book, The Star of Redemption, might be the last heroic attempt to shape Judaism into a theological-philosophical method of thinking, before the logic of worlds was obliterated in Auschwitz, perhaps permanently. Rosenzweig wrote the book as a sequence of letters, sent to his mother from the front, during his service as an officer in the First World War.

      The book, an enigmatic theological text, is composed in the geometric shape of the Star of David, which appears on the cover. The corners of the triangle standing on its base represent the elements of existence, God on the upper...

  8. 2 BODY

    • Samson the Non-European
      (pp. 35-52)

      On the April 29, 1956, a security force from Kibbutz Nahal Oz noticed a group of Arabs from Gaza that had crossed the border and were working the kibbutz’s fields. Roee, the force’s young commander, rode his horse toward them, waving a stick in an effort to chase them away. Unfortunately, the young master was captured by the natives and taken back into the Gaza Strip. The UN returned his body a few days later, his eyes gouged out. At his funeral the following day, Moshe Dayan, then the chief of staff of the Israeli army, delivered a eulogy. He...

    • Pnay El (Face of God): The Place of Radical Encounter
      (pp. 53-60)

      While preparing to release my recent book in Israel, my publisher suggested an editor whom I had never worked with before. I was feeling particularly vulnerable about publishing in Hebrew after twelve years in “exile.” In order to calm me down, he sent me a text that he had recently translated. Surprisingly enough, it was Precarious Life by Judith Butler. Since her work has influenced a lot of my thinking, I was already familiar with the English text, but, in a mysterious way, it was a real pleasure, almost natural, to read it in Hebrew. So, dear Judith, it somehow...

    • Jocasta’s Dream: The Birth of Love from the Slaughter of the Innocent
      (pp. 61-72)

      At the center of this text stands the claim that the murder of the son, or to be more accurate, the murder of the infant, is a founding act of civilization that gives birth to love, war, and religion, the law of the son, the death drive, and the pleasure principle. As a result, we can learn that the law of the son is prior to the law of the father and that actually it is the mother who founds (and is therefore able to control) the narrative. If we wanted to emphasize “the political,” we would call it “Why...


    • The Specters of a Borrowed Village
      (pp. 75-77)

      The epigraph to this chapter from the book of Isaiah is carved on a panel bearing the names of donors to the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Hospital, to which Deputy Minister of Health Yaacov Litzman decided to pay a surprise visit on the January 20. The sanitary conditions observed by the deputy minister (who is the acting minister of health) were appalling, and the place appears to be in a dilapidated state.

      The donors to the hospital have been giving their money to an institute established on the houses of the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, and the inmates now...

    • For Palestine Is Missing from Palestine
      (pp. 78-84)

      There is no way of writing cohesively about Suleiman’s films and remain faithful to them. All one can write are fragments about an attempt to create a chronicle out of fragmented memories, the memories of a family that lives in exile in its own home.

      Suleiman’s failure to transform his life story into a unified and positive narrative, which shapes a definitive identity, is his triumph. As a director of fragments, of movement and image, he considers sound more important than the meaning of the pronounced words. And so, engaging in a cinematic dance, Suleiman creates an aesthetic of the...

    • The Fish Who Became a Shahid
      (pp. 85-90)

      One cannot write about the Ramallah Biennale in the same way in which one would write about the Venice Biennale, not even in the same way that one would write about the Biennale in Herzliya or any other Israeli city. The word Biennale includes within it a promise of continuity and normality; it suggests something permanent that will repeat itself once every two years. But in Ramallah there is nothing normal—and certainly nothing permanent. Who knows: maybe in two years Hamas will take over the city’s streets or, even worse, the army will crush the fragments of normalcy that...

    • Jenin and Homeopathy
      (pp. 91-97)

      Journey impressions from Café Bialik in Tel Aviv to the opening of Juliano Mer’s Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp, including a dialogue between Tali Fahima, a Mizrahi Israeli Jew,¹ who served as a human shield to Zakaria Zbeidi and was imprisoned in Israel under solitary confinement for allegedly “aiding and abetting an enemy,” and Zakaria himself, who was for a time the number one name on Israel’s “wanted terrorist” list and now runs the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. Also, along the journey, assistance from a Russian Jewish immigrant, a homeopathic physician who advocates the establishment of resistance cells....

    • A Murder Is a Murder Is a Murder: Between Tel Aviv and Bil’in
      (pp. 98-102)

      I went to Bil’in again yesterday to protest the IDF’s late-night arrest of village activists who were involved in the unarmed struggle to get their stolen land back. Hundreds of people ignored the August heat to attend the demonstration and show their solidarity with the villagers, whose struggle is so righteous, so just. Even Dov Khenin, a member of Knesset for the Hadash Party (the only joint Jewish-Arab party in the Knesset) was there. He got hit with tear gas as soon as he arrived, and while he was still trying to figure out what had happened, he called out...


    • Trust Your Dreams: To Dorit Rabinian
      (pp. 105-108)

      A few years ago my good friend Hassan Hourani from Ramallah drowned in the sea of Jaffa. Upon remembering his passion for life and for liberty, may we all be empowered to survive and see days better than these.

      Israeli author Dorit Rabinian’s moving letter to her friend Hassan was published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz at the time. Dorit sent it to me, and, in spite of the love manifested in her letter, I also saw through it just how differently we both experience Hassan’s death on the personal as well as the political level. That is why I...

    • Thus Spoke the Left: An Attack on the Manifesto of the National Left
      (pp. 109-117)

      “The only democracy in the Middle East”¹ mobilized into action to protect the manifesto of the national left, whose selling in Israeli bookstores an ultranationalist group has managed to cancel.

      The manifesto was written by former aide to then Prime Minister Ehud Barak and by a playwright. It is an attempt to draw conclusions from the ongoing electoral failure of the so-called Zionist left and to redefine it in a manner that will render it a viable “patriotic” political force with the ability to lead the nation.

      Having read the document of the national left, I believe that if it...

    • The Betrayal of the Peace Camp: To Achinoam Nini
      (pp. 118-120)

      The Israeli military strike on Gaza (known as operation “Cast Lead”) began on December 27, 2008, and lasted for three weeks, claiming the lives of almost fifteen hundred Palestinians and causing vast damage in the Gaza strip. During this war Achinoam Nini, an Israeli singer, wrote an open letter to the inhabitants of Gaza (published on Ynet on January 6, 2009) in which she claimed the Israeli attack was meant to liberate the Palestinians from the dictatorship of Hamas and is therefore an act of love.

      I chose to answer you, Achinoam Nini, and not the entire raging right, because...

    • From Now on Say I Am a Palestinian Jew: To David Grossman
      (pp. 121-124)

      The following article was written in response to the somewhat enthusiastic welcoming of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “acceptance” of the two-state solution in June 2009 by prominent left-wing figures in Israel. Netanyahu stated that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the Jewish national state with an undivided Jerusalem. He rejected a right of return for Palestinian refugees and also stated that a complete stop to settlement building in the West Bank would not occur. He did not discuss whether or not the settlements should be part of Israel after peace negotiations, simply saying that the “question will be discussed.”


    • And Who Shall I Say Is Calling? A Plea to Leonard Cohen
      (pp. 125-129)

      After the Israeli elections giving rise to an extreme right-wing government and following the Gaza war and the international criticism against it, more and more voices were heard pleading for a cultural boycott against Israel. The concert of Leonard Cohen, scheduled for September 25,2009, became a test case to all sides in this debate. Cohen, known for his human rights activities and support for the peace process, did not cancel his concert, but suggested giving one in Ramallah as well. The Palestinian resistance committee decided to turn down the performance in Ramallah. Leonard Cohen performed in Tel Aviv and donated...

    • Come Out of Your Political Closets: To Israeli Filmmakers
      (pp. 130-132)

      After the murder in the LGBT youth club in Tel Aviv (August 1, 2009), Gal Uchovsky and Eitan Fox organized a memorial assembly. They prevented Knesset member Hissam Makhoul of Hadash from speaking in the assembly, claiming “this is no time for politics,” and embraced right-wing political leaders. At the same time, they were outing artists who refused to take part in the assembly.

      The reason that I choose to criticize you so publicly (even though I still hope to maintain our friendship) is because of your aggressive outing of artists—a tactic that should be reserved “for emergency use...

    • This Time It’s Not Funny!
      (pp. 133-136)

      The Toronto film festival 2009 dedicated its City to City project to Tel Aviv. This was a result of fruitful cooperation between the festival and the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs as part of their effort to “brand” Israel as an enlightened and liberal country. A group of artists and intellectuals organized by Naomi Klein published the Toronto Declaration pleading that the festival withdraw from this initiative and that artists protest against the political use of art. After over fifteen hundred artists joined the declaration, among them Ken Loach, John Grayson, Danny Glover, David Byrne, and Jane Fonda. The UJA...

    • Elementary, My Dear Schnabel: Plea to Julian Schnabel
      (pp. 137-140)

      Following the Toronto debate, Julian Schnabel, together with Vanessa Redgrave, published an article criticizing the Toronto Declaration in the New York Times Book Review. They argued that this Israeli government is a legitimate government that is responsible for actions no different than in other democratic states. The way to oppose them, in their view, is through art and cinema, rather than boycotting them.

      I’m replying only to Schnabel because I believe that the letter against the Toronto Declaration is part of the PR for his new film to come, Miral. A film that takes place in Israel-Palestine. Vanessa Redgrave, whom...

    • What Do You Mean When You Say “Left”? An Answer to Professor Nissim Calderon
      (pp. 141-144)

      If one suggests silence for the Israeli left, this silence should be accompanied by clear protest action against wrongdoing committed in our name.

      Reading Nissim Calderon’s article “And the Left Shall Stay Silent at That Time,” I was momentarily filled with hope: Here is a man who has done some soul-searching and, in retrospection, has figured out that something truly awful is happening under our noses. He must be fed up with being a fig leaf for the right wing; maybe he even thinks it is time to let them struggle alone with reality and stop all this nationalist blabbering...


    • An Angel Under Siege: To Hassan Hourani
      (pp. 147-147)

      With every blink God creates countless new angels, and their only purpose is to sing the Lord’s praise, and then vanish. An angel who attempts to escape this bitter fate usually adopts a man and disguises himself as his guardian angel. But his angelic nature will not allow him to withstand the company of the man for long, for his vices are unbearable. From that moment on, the angel’s only wish is to sing the Lord’s praise and vanish. But the man will not permit the angel to return to his future, because suddenly he feels he has a God...

    • Local Angel: To Walter Benjamin
      (pp. 148-149)

      The Moslem cemetery is so quiet.

      The tombstones, planted like bushes among the weeds, face the Mediterranean Sea.

      Only the plastic bag blowing in the wind reminds us of the living.

      Beside it stands the Christian graveyard, well kept and tended.

      A stonemason placed an angel in the Palestinian Christian cemetery in Jaffa.

      The angel looks as though he is about to move away from something he has been guarding.

      This is how one pictures the local angel of history. He faces the East, and his back is turned to the sea. The waves, in constant motion behind him, beckon...

    • Holy Language, Holy Place: To Franz Rosenzweig
      (pp. 150-151)

      On a hill in the heart of Jerusalem sits a mosque where Moslems praise the Lord day after day.

      The Dome of the Rock has come to symbolize Jerusalem, but we never take pleasure in its splendor. We experience the Al-Aqsa Mosque as the absence of the Temple. We bury our dead on the Mount of Olives facing the dome, hoping for resurrection, hoping to find the dome no more. Though there are those among us who consider themselves secular and are taken with the magnificence of the mosque, they look upon the sweet elusive beauty of the East with...

    • Forgiveness: To Jacques Derrida
      (pp. 152-152)

      Some people asked me:

      What right do I have to ask Arafat to forgive us?

      Who appointed me to ask forgiveness, and who is he to grant it?

      And I thought about the Jews unable to forgive the Nazis.

      It was always clear to me that the Nazis were pure evil, and the Jews, the ultimate victims. Sheep to the slaughter.

      I was seeking forgiveness from another place.

      Here the occupier is not pure evil, it’s possible to understand him, and his motives. And the victims surely are not sheep led to slaughter.

      Still, it seems to me that asking...

    • An Angel I Borrowed: To Mahmoud Darwish
      (pp. 153-153)

      So here, in Israel, I began to hear

      a voice that arose from me when alone, a voice of myself from myself to myself, not allowing me to sleep.

      Who am I at night in a Tel Aviv hotel?

      I become a female Jewish singer of Arab origins, graceful and beautiful, singing in Arabic and Hebrew.

      Unable to fall asleep, I send her, in my image, in her image, to dream about an angel I borrowed from Walter Benjamin.

      An angel I borrowed . . ....

    • Stabat Mater: To My Father
      (pp. 154-156)

      The mother endures her pain. Maria endures her pain as she regards Jesus on the cross. I look at the mother looking at her crucified son, crucifying himself, and feel that this scene epitomizes the tragedy of Jerusalem. On one side you have the mother who endures the pain instead of rising in revolt and saying: Enough! And perhaps this is the reason why I cherish the bond between my mother and Hanan Ashrawi, as two mothers who refuse to accept the human sacrifice that Jerusalem has demanded all these years. On the other side, you have the image of...


    • “The Jew Is Within You, But You, You Are in the Jew”
      (pp. 159-172)

      Ismail Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams tells the story of the Tabir Sarrail, the “palace of dreams” in the capital of an unnamed, vast nineteenth-century Balkan empire (modeled on Turkey). In this gigantic building thousands assiduously sift, sort, classify, and interpret the dreams of citizens systematically and continuously assembled from all parts of the empire. Their intense work of bureaucratic interpretation is Kafkaesque: intense yet a meaningless fake. The ultimate goal of their activity is identify the Master-Dream that will provide clues to the destiny of the empire and its sultan. This is why, although supposed to be a place...

    • What Does a Jew Want? On the Film Local Angel
      (pp. 173-178)

      The reason Local Angel fascinated me is that I see it as a process of the self-questioning of Jewish identity. It’s totally mistaken to perceive the film as on a simple political scale where on one end we have extreme fundamentalist Zionists who just want to get rid of the Arabs, then Jews who are a little more liberal, then at the other end pro-Palestinian Jews who are for a united secular state, and the final point is, where do you stand? This is because what is going on with Jewish identity today is not such a self-evident question. I...

    • “I will tremble the underground”: On the Film Forgiveness
      (pp. 179-183)

      A short circuit is a condition in which a short electrical path is unintentionally created, causing a power fault—this is what Udi Aloni does in both his book (Forgiveness, or Rolling in the Underworld’s Tunnels) and his film Forgiveness, causing a power fault of the ruling liberal attitude by way of short-circuiting between different levels of ideology, art, and thought. Aloni achieves a tremendous poetic power by creating new myths with the perspicuous mind of a cold theoretician, grounding a ruthless critique of Zionism in his unconditional fidelity to the Jewish tradition.

      In the present world, what we call...

    • Angel for a New Place: On the Film Local Angel
      (pp. 184-187)

      Local Angel is not only a very beautiful and interesting movie, but also a very important one. Naturally we can say it’s beautiful and interesting because of its subtle construction composed of very beautiful images of New York, the Palestinian territories, and of men and women from several countries, however, there is a more fundamental reason, which is that the movie occurs at the intersection between a very subjective determination and a very objective situation. The story is certainly not only about the Palestinian situation, but also about the figures of the mother and the exile who is dealing with...

    • The Four Dimensions of Art: On the Film Forgiveness
      (pp. 188-193)

      This film presents, as does every film, visible two-dimensional images and audible successions—voices, music, and sounds. These are the evident materials of the film’s composition.

      Now, I would like to examine a slightly different idea: an idea that proposes this film as a four-dimensional universe. As an object, insofar as you see it and hear it, the film has three dimensions—two in the visible and one in the auditory. But insofar as the film constructs an artistic idea, insofar as it is capable of transforming its spectator, or its voyeur, of modifying our thought, yours or mine, the...

    • Existence on the Boundary: On the Film Kashmir: Journey to Freedom
      (pp. 194-203)

      It’s not simple for me to speak here today because there is a problem of the relationship between philosophy and war, destruction, terror. And you know philosophy is certainly something that is in relation to the real, and death and destruction are part of the real. But the goal of philosophy is always to go beyond war, beyond destruction, and, when it is possible, beyond death. And this is why I can speak of the film of my friend Udi Aloni: This film has something of a philosophical dimension, because it’s not only a film concerning people, a situation, culture,...

    • There are some muffins there if you want. . . .: A Conversation on Queerness, Precariousness, Binationalism, and BDS
      (pp. 204-228)

      Judith Butler: There are some muffins there if you want them . . .

      Udi Aloni: I want to start with the last film you were in, Examined Life, directed by Astra Taylor. A number of preeminent philosophers were there, each one explaining his own philosophy. You, instead of discussing your philosophy like the others, chose to speak with Sunny, the sister of the filmmaker. Why did you choose dialogue?

      Judith Butler: Well, Sunny was my student, and I had come to know her fairly well. She moves in a wheelchair. She has had a series of disabilities from birth....


    • Oh, Weakness; or, Shylock with a Split S
      (pp. 231-241)

      One morning, when the storm started shaking the treetops and the dogs howled in terror because of the thunder and flashes of lightning, fifty children of different ages went out to school in the city of Lydda in Israel. During the day most of them worked diligently, hoping the storm would abate so they could go back safely to the home where they were born and raised. At the sound of the bell announcing the end of the day, they were off and running back home. The tempest intensified, and with it the will to find oneself in the warmth...

    • Jenin in Wonderland In Memory of Juliano Mer Khamis.
      (pp. 242-244)

      If I had any doubts left about joining the Freedom Theatre established by Juliano Mer Khamis with his friend Zakaria Zubeidi, the theatrical performance of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Juliano, made me understand that it was one of the best decisions of my life.

      Having been part of the play’s creative team, it would be inappropriate for me to write professionally about it, but I must say that I am truly proud to take part in such an exciting, subversive, vivacious, and dynamic project, orchestrated by Mer Khamis. The acting is superb, and the play includes texts that are...


    • Pledge to Our Language: Letter to Franz Rosenzweig
      (pp. 247-248)

      This country is a volcano! It harbors the language! One speaks here of many matters that may make us fail. More than of anything else we are concerned today about the Arab. But much more sinister than the Arab problem is another threat, a threat that the Zionist enterprise unavoidably has had to face: the “actualization” of Hebrew.

      Must not the conundrum of a holy language break open again now, when the language is to be handed down to our children? Granted, one does not know how it will all turn out. Many believe that the language has been secularized,...

    • We Lacked a Present
      (pp. 249-251)
    • An Opening for an Interview
      (pp. 252-252)

      How does a man become Avot Yeshurun? The answer is—from the breakings. I broke my mother and my father, I broke their home for them. I broke their good nights. I broke their holidays their shabbat days. I broke their self-worth. I broke their chance to speak. I broke their language. I despised their Yiddish, and their holy tongue I took for everyday use. I made them despise their life. I left the partnership. And when the deadend moment descended upon them, I left them inside the dead end. So I’m here. In the land. I began to hear...

    • Who Is a Terrorist?
      (pp. 253-254)
    • A Man Goes To Subhi Hadidi
      (pp. 255-258)