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Whither Argumentation?: A Response to Louis Nayman

Every direct reference to the exclusive right of one group, based on its mythic and historical past, is a precursor to a justification of brutal power, a version of “might is right.”

BY Slavoj Žižek

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Louis Nayman’s “Whither Zizek?: On Zionism and Jews,” a critical reply to my “Whither Zionism?” culminates in the following conclusion: 

What Zizek's argument comes down to is that everyone would be better off if Jews would only do the world a solid favor by repudiating that which makes us Jews, denying where we came from, and maybe—if it wouldn’t be too much trouble—disappearing as a nation from the face of the earth.

In short, even if I don’t advocate a new physical holocaust, I at least sympathize with a cultural version of it—a total erasure of the Jewish identity. How did Nayman reach this outrageous conclusion? The gist of his argument is contained in the following passage: “ 'The lesson,' ” writes Zizek, 'is simply that every form of legitimization of a claim to land by some mythic past should be rejected.' Presumably the 'mythic past' he would like Jews to forget is the Old Testament,” and then he goes on to quote a number of the testament's passages. 

This gap in argumentation seems to me beyond belief.

What I maintain is that the mythic past cannot be used as a legitimate excuse to seize a piece of land inhabited for a long time by other people. Of course every ethnic group has the full right to keep alive its founding myths and other narratives. I am saying you cannot come to a land out of which you were thrown almost 2,000 years ago—a land which was in the meantime inhabited by other people (and not those who threw you out, i.e., ancient Romans) who have their own myths and narratives concerning this land—and lay claim to it. This doesn’t mean that Jews have no right to this piece of land while Palestinians have the full right to it. All I am saying is what David ben Gurion (whom I quote in my essay) said:

Everyone can see the weight of the problems in the relations between Arabs and Jews. But no one sees that there is no solution to these problems. There is no solution! Here is an abyss, and nothing can link its two sides. … We as a people want this land to be ours; the Arabs as a people want this land to be theirs.

The only solution is here a patient and tolerant negotiation combined with learning the life of co-existence. Every direct reference to the exclusive right of one group, based on its mythic and historical past, is a precursor to a justification of brutal power, a version of “might is right.”

Further, what I wanted to drive the attention to in my text is the hypocrisy of European states which, after treating Jews much worse than Arabs for thousands of years, tried to restore justice by giving them a piece of land which was not theirs (part of Europe) but their Arab colony. Therein resides the “original sin” of the support for Israel in the West: beneath the noble sympathy for the victims there always lurks an echo of “let the Jews go to Israel so that we can get rid of them.”

Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, is a senior researcher at the the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books, including Living in the End Times, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously and Trouble in Paradise.

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