The Times of Israel just ran a piece by Shaul Magid in which he berates the former counter-culture hippies of the 60s/70s who came to Israel and defend their adopted land without feeling guilty about the “Occupation” of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), of having betryaed their universalistic commitment to equality and justice into a mystical, romantic nationalism. He asks how anyone could justify such a thing?
Being one of those “60s” counter-culture types who has made Aliyah and do not feel that the “Occupation” represents an indelible moral stain on the character of Israel and its Jews, I welcome an opportunity to respond to such a challenge.
It’s the ‘spirituality,’ stupid
Shaul Magid, Times of Israel, July 2.
Some years ago I happened to notice on the “Political Views” of a Facebook “friend” living in Israel the following line: “Right on Israel, left on everything else.” The woman is a long-time ba’alat teshuva and an unreconstructed hippie from the ’60s. Her description stayed with me in part because I too was a baal teshuva and a hippie from the early ’70s who very much identified with her return to Judaism, her romantic ties to Israel, and her spiritual path, which was for the most part non-political. (I also happen to know her well and have great respect for her as a person.)
You can add me to the group. Spent over a year in the Pyrenees mountains in an abandoned farmhouse with no electricity or running water, guiding myself with Buba Rumcake’s Cookbook for a Sacred Life in the early 70s. And the Grateful Dead have always been my favorite group. (Indeed I’d say, my understanding of millennialism comes precisely from having participated in a [demotic] millennial movement, and dealt with the disappointment.)
A few weeks ago I was having a Facebook “chat” with an ex-student of mine who graduated from an American university and moved to Tel Aviv. Michelle (not her real name) is, as far as I know, a non-Orthodox but “spiritual” Jew and a devoted Deadhead. She is also quite “right-wing” on Israel and, I would assume “left on everything else.” She is of another generation from my Facebook “friend,” one of the “post-Garcia” Deadheads, and I felt I had the opportunity to ask her what has been bothering me for years: “How do you square your commitment to the values of the counter-culture with your right-leaning Israeli political views?”
Maybe because right and left are not — especially as they’re now used — useful terms for understanding what’s going on?
And maybe because the “counter-culture” is not a sacred cow whose beliefs and aspirations were so perfect that they can not/may not be subjected to a critique. At Woodstock, some thought they saw the bomber-jet planes turning into butterflies across our nation. It took less than a year for Altamont to come along and bring us back to reality.
As for the Dead, weren’t they the guys who thought it would be neat to have Hell’s Angels be the security guards at Altamont, where one of them stabbed a man high on meth amphetamines to death to the strains of the Rolling Stones’ Under my Thumb (one of the more regressive lyrics of the 60s)?
In other words, how did she understand the counter-culture’s commitment to freedom, justice, civil rights, pacifism, and equality with Israel’s continued occupation that includes systematic discrimination against the Palestinian population?
So we have your definition of “left” as counter-culture commitment to “freedom, justice, civil rights, pacifism, and equality,” and we have your definition of “right” as occupation and discrimination against Palestinians. Just for the record, anyone who takes any of these values – FJC-RPE – as absolutes, and forges forward towards accomplishing them in this world, now, is, in my book, a millennialist, someone who strives for a level of perfection that is genuinely messianic. Anyone interested in an excellent analysis of the 60s as a millennial movement, with all its contradictions, see Arthur Mendel’s chapter in his Vision and Violence.
On the other hand, understanding that there’s a dialectical tension between freedom and rights, between justice and equality, between pacifism and freedom, is part of a process of maturing. To assume that commitments to all these values always takes the same “counter-cultural” form, to consider anyone who doesn’t share that attitude has somehow abandoning moral commitments… that, to my mind, represents not progress but arrested development.
Churchill allegedly commented that “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” To which I’d add, “if your sixty and still haven’t figured out how to get your heart and head to communicate, then you’re lazy.”
Her answer was short, unapologetic, and not at all defensive. “I think the connection to liking the Dead and being right wing,” she wrote, “is spirituality…. just a divine connection to the land, I guess, like Rav Kook.” (I assume she meant Kook the father , but I did not ask.) I liked her answer because it was not justificatory; it did not dwell in “hasbara” rhetoric, and it was not political. In short, she was saying, “Its the spiritualty, stupid.”
She is not alone. Radio Free Nachlaot is a counter-cultural internet radio station transmitting “somewhere deep in Nahlaot” that is devoted to American and Israeli counter-cultural music that includes Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and his affiliates. They have a very popular annual “Nine Days of Jerry,” celebrating The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garica, who was born on August 1 and died on August 9, by playing live Dead shows and discussing them in impressive detail for nine full days. (They do a similar “Nine Weeks of Shlomo” between the yahrzeit of “the dancing rabbi” and his birthday.) The station’s programming includes classes in Hasidism and Jewish spirituality, taught mostly by American-born baalei teshuva. Here’s a video preview for the station’s broadcasts on “the second annual International Temple Mount Awareness Day:”
The station’s founders sport long hair and long beards, colorful head scarves, flowing dresses, and tye-dye T-shirts. Many of the announcers and guests reminisce about the good old days of the student protests, peace marches, and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Some even talk about the Civil Rights movement. But when they talk about Israel they are almost exclusively right wing, defending the settlements and Israel’s right to the land, and repeating the rhetoric heard among many settlers. When they’re playing music, they sound like WBAI from 1970 (the famous radical leftist radio station in New York); when they’re talking politics, they sound like Arutz Sheva (the settler news network in Israel). All this is done seamlessly, as if playing Bob Dylan’s 1963 protest song “Masters of War” and defending Greater Israel are somehow congruous.
Wow. Masters of War was Dylan protesting American adventurism abroad and what Eisenhower denounced as the “military-industrial complex,” a wave of anger based on an article he read in England. Do you think that the same applies to Israel? Are all armies run by the military-industrial complex “masters of war”? How many “Masters of War” do you think there are on the Arab side?
Although my integration of counter-cultural values may differ from theirs — and I was once very much a part of their sub-culture in Israel — I only use them here as an example to ask a larger question: How does a progressive ideology devoted to fairness, equality, and justice became an ideology that defends what appears to me to be its opposite?
The key here might be “what appears…” If you come at a problem like the Arab-Israeli conflict with unreconstructed, simplistic notions acquired in the millennial wave of the 60s (and from the hard-left anti-Zionist camp of political radicals to boot), then it may well “appear” to be the opposite.
Universalism, in particular
There are, of course, many answers one could give, describing the difference between the two situations (1970s America and early 21st-century Israel): the existential threat to the Jews, etc.
Love that “etc.” Hard not to feel it’s dismissive. Let me add some cetera. The region in which Israel finds itself is not prosperous post-war America, haven of consumerism, free love, drugs and rock and roll. It is largely given over to pre-modern authoritarian regimes that keep their people ignorant and poor, and barely control sectarian violence that targets civilians of all faiths. Israel’s military fights by standards that would put American armies in Vietnam or even in Iraq to shame. If any military-industrialist “masters of war” played out their interests in the Middle East, it was neither IDF generals nor Israeli politicians, but the Soviets and the Western Block.
If anyone fits the description of despicable war-mongers profiting on the death of their own people in Dylan’s song, it’s the religious and “secular” leaders of the Palestinian people. And for some bizarre reason, even though “Jesus wouldn’t forgive them” their grotesque hatreds and violence, somehow the “progressive left” has managed to do just that.
But this is all far less interesting, and in my view, less honest, than Michelle’s more poignant response: “I think the connection to liking the Dead and being right wing, is spirituality….just a divine connection to the land.” Or my old Facebook friend’s unabashed exceptionalism: “Right on Israel, left on everything else.”
How about this formulation? “Strong on defending Israel; open to real, realistic, honest solutions; not stupid enough to embrace an enemy who plots our demise; progressive wherever, and as effectively, as possible; not rash and arrogant enough to dismiss as right wingers, people who don’t agree with my understanding of what’s right; and who have the good sense to note the problems that face us from the other side.”
In some way, this all harkens back to the conundrum of the universal and the particular, a dichotomy that Jews and others have struggled with since the time of the Hebrew prophets. Even Paul’s oft-cited comment in Galatians 3:28 — “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male of female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” – did not resolve the issue for Christianity; Christians, the ostensibly quintessential universalists, often continued to define themselves hierarchically, sometimes in stark racial or ethnic terms, in relation to all others.
There’s a pattern here for you to consider which applies to both Christians and Muslims. There is (at least in theory) a universalism that genuinely embraces everyone. But there’s also a (far more often practiced) “universalism” that is actually imperialist. In its monotheistic forms it characterizes people who a) insist that they are the “True Israel” and b) that everyone should become them (including those they claim to have displaced).
Both Christians and Muslims, pursuing the monopoly on salvation and feeling contempt/anger at those who refused to “join,” ended up with terrible social hierarchies and endemic holy war as basic features of their societies. Maybe, to paraphrase Pascale, those who would be universalistic angels end up being particularistic beasts, who cannot tolerate a genuine “other.” Alone among the monotheisms, Judaism assumes and accepts the existence of other nations and religions.
In modern thought it was perhaps Hegel’s dialectical philosophy that had the most interesting things to say about how a commitment to the universal can function within the body of the particular. Jews have struggled mightily with this issue, one that became even more pronounced with the advent of Jewish nationalism and the establishment of a Jewish state. In fact, even with Hegel, and his critical student Marx, it is the nation-state that poses the greatest challenge to the universal.
Now you’re talking about an imperialistic version of universalism. Actually it’s only zero-sum nationalism, nationalism that, like “universalistic religions,” can only live off of the death of their neighbors – what Yithak Klein calls “malignant nationalism” — that poses a problem for real (pluralistic) universalism. In other words, imperialism masquerading as nationalism.
The late French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote numerous essays about this, arguing that true universalism can only arise from the particular, while the particular must carry the universal, which implicitly criticizes Kant’s cosmopolitanism as both naïve and misguided. This remains a central concern for political philosophers to this day.
I recommend Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference for an eloquent statement of this as the fundamental Jewish contribution to the world. Positive-sum nationalism (or other kind of particularist identity), rather than the zero-sum variety. Kant’s cosmopolitanism was a form of secularized millennialism that called for a casting off of any particularism: not positive-sum so much as everyone on the same side… which, it turns out, may be impossible.
In many ways, early secular Zionism, much of which was humanistic in orientation and was committed to refracting the universal through the particularity of Jewish peoplehood, attempted to embody this dynamic, which is why Marxism and socialism played such a significant role in early Zionist ideology.
I think that this means that early secular Zionists were trying to realize the universal (millennial) ideals of Marxism and other brands of socialism/communism, in a particular Jewish idiom. But as Barry Rubin shows in his Assimilation and its Discontents, much of the most passionate of the Jewish socialist/communist impulse was self-denying universalism. And, as Nick Cohen points out, Jewish self-determination and Russian Communism were at once “inextricably linked” and yet “separated at birth.” The issue here is zero- vs. positive sum. According to the purists, you’re either-or, universalist or nationalist; according to those engaged in the messy world of human beings, it is precisely the positive-sum interaction of the two that makes life rich and rewarding.
But that was a long time ago.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s allusive and enigmatic writings, many of which did not become popular until the 1960s through the work of his son R. Zvi Yehuda Kook (the elder Kook died in 1936), added a spiritual and — just as significantly — romantic dimension to Zionism, based on mystical doctrine. Many counter-cultural Americans who immigrated to Israel in the 1970s and founded communities such as Moshav Modi’im (where I lived from 1986-1989), and later Radio Free Nachlaot, had never heard of Kook before arriving in Israel. He was almost unknown in the US in those years, except to a small circle of mostly Orthodox Jews who had been exposed to his writings through family or trips to Israel. Kook’s humanistic and universalistic inclinations are deeply embedded in his cryptic writings and, to some degree, were concealed by the more nationalistic, particularistic, and militaristic rendering of his son Zvi Yehuda. Those same writings also contained quite stark exclusivist tendencies. Kook scholars continue to debate which perspective dominates his work.
The very fact that one would try and determine which perspective dominates his work, rather than understand the dialectical dynamic between them indicates a zero-sum mentality.
Many of the American counter-cultural immigrants came to Judaism through New Age religion and disassimilation born in part by identity politics in 1960s America. Figures such as Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, and institutions such as The House of Love and Prayer and the Aquarian Minyan in San Francisco and Berkeley, the Havurah movement in the Northeast, and Habad, were instrumental in making the “shidduch” between the counter-culture and Judaism. Here Hasidism and neo-Hasidism played an important role. In my experience, while still in the US (in the 1970s and early 1980s) many of these newly religious people maintained a commitment to leftist ideas, including peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians. A good example of this tolerant new Jewish romanticism can be seen in the three volumes of “Jewish Catalogues,” published in the early to mid 1970s and modeled after the progressive “Whole Earth Catalogue” of the late 1960s. At that time, American counter-cultural Jews had not met the settlers (whose movement was just getting under way in Israel); nor had they been introduced to the romantic Zionism of Rav Kook that was being forged in various yeshivot and religious kibbutzim.
Nor had they met Palestinians who either played a hard zero-sum game of wipe out your enemy (like, just as a random example, the PLO in 1968), nor the demopath Palestinians who complain about Israeli human rights violations as a weapon of war, when, alas, Arabs were far better treated by Israelis than by any Arab leaders/rulers.
Indeed, as Joshua Harrison at Chakira points out, Levinas had some choice words on distinguishing between the “Other” as neighbor and the “other” as enemy:
My definition of the other is completely different. The other is the neighbour, who is not necessarily kin, but who can be. And in that sense, if you’re for the other, you’re for the neighbour. But if your neighbour attacks another neighbour or treats him unjustly, what can you do? Then alterity takes on another character, in alterity we can find an enemy, or at least then we are faced with the problem of knowing who is right and who is wrong, who is just and who is unjust. There are people who are wrong. (Levinas Reader, p. 294)
This point is a pragmatic Jewish distinction, as opposed to a Christian messianic viewpoint. Christians are commanded to “love their enemies” – something they have often done, even as they hated their Jewish neighbor.
Many of the counter-cultural American immigrants from this period were inspired by a New Age spirituality that contained its own distinct form of Orientalism. The Jewish version of this outlook was easy prey for an emerging settler spirituality that institutionalized a “divine connection to the land” that had little tolerance for coexistence if it meant sharing said land.
With the exception of outliers like Kahane, most of the settlers had were quite successful at living in peace and positive-sum relations with their Arab neighbors. Jewish “particularism” has, built in, a respect for the “stranger in your midst”, a halachic command to treat others fairly. Do you, Shaul, really think that Jewish settlers have no empathy and good will for their neighbors who are not their enemies?
While these American counter-culturalsists sympathized with the subaltern in principle, as they became more integrated into this new Zionist romanticism of the settler movement, the divine connection to the land began to take precedence.
Maybe they discovered that this subaltern was not what their romantic notions of the sixties prepared them for – not a fair-minded, loving person who, upon liberation, would blossom into a fully realized and contributing member of a pluralistic global civil society, but rather, a hard sum zero sum player whose response to Jews playing positive-sum games with him was to answer, as one of the rioters in the 1936-39 pogroms: “No one invited them, and I’d rather be master in poverty than share in wealth.”
Somewhere under the rainbow
The narrative I tell here is, of course, only one way to tell this complicated story. My larger point is that, by and large, this movement was not driven by politics; nor was it a reaction to the conflict on the ground that erupted in 1987 with the first intifada. By that time, a well-established spiritual ideology was in place, and the transvaluation of the counter-culture was largely complete. Events on the ground surely solidified that ideology — but they did not found it. The progressive and tolerant ideology of the counter-culture had already morphed into a nationalistic doctrine of exclusivity. The universal had now become the particular.
This is classic “progressive-universalistic” Jewish thinking: four dimensional Jews whom we berate for their particularism, two dimensional Arabs, who are somehow justified in their hatred of that particularism. The first intifada, whatever its initial causes, rapidly morphed under the tender guidance of a new, genocidal Muslim movement known as Hamas, for whom child-sacrifice was a legitimate path to destroying one’s enemy. The Arab dimension is missing here because, as part of a romantic and deeply unrealistic image of the “Other”, especially the subaltern “Other”, they are ciphers without agency, especially without moral agency: if they’re bad (terrorists), they’re products of how we’ve mistreated them; and they will only be good when we embrace them no matter how they threaten and despise us.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook
In his writings, Levinas stressed that the particular is valid, and useful, only to the extent that it embodies and expresses the universal. As a prisoner of war in German-occupied France during the Second World War, he knew first-hand what can happen when the universal becomes the particular. The American counter-culturalists had the potential to contribute to the shifting state of late twentieth-century Zionism by transporting the values of the counter-culture into contemporary Israel.
I assume that this is said with a straight face. Even in wealthy and peace-blessed America the counter culture crashed on the rocky shore of violence and mistrust. And if it failed there, a fortiori, it had few prospects in this region. What mental fugue would lead someone to suggest that the failed utopian fantasies of the counter-culture would succeed in the Middle East?
Instead, the powerful Kookean romanticism stressing “the divine connection to the land” became the template onto which their progressive sentiments became embedded and ultimately effaced. This resulted in at least two different and, in my view, equally troubling alternatives. The first is my old Facebook friend’s “Right on Israel, left on everything else” alternative, which is in effect an exercise in bifurcation and unapologetic exceptionalism. That is, she maintains the progressive values of her youth except when it comes to Israel. The second is my student Michelle’s comment about spirituality and the link connecting her right-wing political views and her undying love of the Grateful Dead. In that case, the connection between one people and one land becomes the house of the spirit, and anything that interferes with that runs counter to the spiritual quest. Here the universal collapses into a particularist frame and becomes a form of spiritual nationalism fueled by romanticism.
Actually, that’s only true in the context of a remorseless particularism and malignant nationalism among the Muslims. Had Arabs been willing to say, “come and sink in your roots in the land, which we can and will share with you,” there would have been no necessary contradiction between a land-based spirituality and living in peace with neighbors.
Justifying these alternatives brings us to the realm of the political. Enter the pragmatists: politicians, and policy wonks who offer reasons and “empirical” justifications for the continuation of the occupation. But the American counter-culturalists of which I speak are generally not political animals; they are spiritual seekers.
So if you’re a seeker, then a priori, arguments about social realities — like your neighbors are hard zero-sum players — cannot have any meaning? I recommend Yossi Klein Halevi’s memoir of spiritual seeking in the Holy Land (including a visit to a Muslim mystical teacher in Gaza), At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. Being a seeker does not require you to be a fool.
Politics becomes a tool to justify a romantic vision, a vision born on the college campuses of late 60s and early 70s America, a progressive ideology fed by a fight against segregation in the south, an unjust war in Southeast Asia, American imperialism abroad, and the dangerous proliferation of nuclear weapons. This culture produced music that spoke truth to power. But the freedom and equality embedded in that music, and the culture it helped produce, have been transformed into one people’s divine right to one land. This is not new. It happened with German nationalism in the nineteenth century and again before the First World War. Both cases exhibit a political theology founded on a romantic vision of people and land.
Once again, the four dimensional Jew, two dimensional Arab. Okay, so he’s not comparing Israel to the Nazis, just the pre-Nazi Germans. But how about Muslim spirituality these days? Obviously, it would be harder to show ABIs (American-born Israelis) who came here with 60s sensibilities and matured as a result of finding out more about the world, if you were to spend even a fraction of your time on the remorseless, even genocidal hatreds and “our divine and exclusive right” to this land (which we didn’t even care about until the Zionists came along and “took it” from us). From the Hamas Charter:
¶11: Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up…
¶12: Nationalism, from the point of view of the Islamic Resistance Movement, is part of the religious creed. Nothing in nationalism is more significant or deeper than in the case when an enemy should tread Moslem land. Resisting and quelling the enemy become the individual duty of every Moslem, male or female. A woman can go out to fight the enemy without her husband’s permission, and so does the slave: without his master’s permission.
Nothing of the sort is to be found in any other regime. This is an undisputed fact. If other nationalist movements are connected with materialistic, human or regional causes, nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement has all these elements as well as the more important elements that give it soul and life. It is connected to the source of spirit and the granter of life, hoisting in the sky of the homeland the heavenly banner that joins earth and heaven with a strong bond.
That’s pretty choice malignant nationalism of the “one people, one religion, one land” variety. It also feeds an ideology of genocide:
¶7: …the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:
“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).
Of course, all this makes the “right-wing” Jewish former counter-culturalists look like a bunch of hippies. But that doesn’t work for the argument Magid is pushing, so let’s not talk about it.
My two friends comfortably live their contemporary counter-culturalism within the confines of one people’s spiritual and divine right to one land. The moral price has been buried in the ancient stones and terraced hills. But, following Levinas, when the universal disappears under the rainbow prayer shawl of a romantic spirit, what value does any particularity have?
A Christian named Darrell Fasching wrote a short, sweet book called, The Coming the Millennium: Good News for the Whole Human Race in which he argued that the “other” makes morality possible, that the recognition of the “other” is at the heart of a genuinely peaceful and progressive world. Maybe what these “right-wing” ba-alei tshuva are doing is living in a deep and dignified spirituality, feet rooted in the land and reality, souls soaring high above, waiting patiently for their neighbors to grow up and treat them decently.
The line in the Israeli National Anthem, “to be a free people in our land” is the quintessence of progressive pluralism. And yet, it’s just the thing that enrages imperialist Arabs and triumphalist Muslims: Jews should be dhimmi in Muslim land; hence “no negotiations, no recognition, no peace.” Now explain to me what side progressives who believe in national self-determination should be on?
Others, who want perfection now from their fellow Jews, but have no moral expectations of the Muslim and Christian Arabs in this land, who have yet to mature from the jejune messianism of the 60s and want more than anything to maintain their credibility as counter-culture progressives, may find that wait uncomfortable, even annoying. And, as Calvin says to Susie, “nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around.”
I spent a little time in the mountain
Spent a little time on the hill
I heard some say “better run away”
Others say “better stand still”
Now I don’t know but I’ve been told
It’s hard to run with the weight of gold
Other hand I heard it said
It’s just as hard with the weight of lead
Who can deny? Who can deny?
It’s not just a change in style
One step done and another begun
In I wonder how many miles?
I spent a little time on the mountain
Spent a little time on the hill
Things went down we don’t understand
But I think in time we will…
New Speedway Boogie, written by Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead in response to the disaster of Altamont.