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When one justice tramples another justice

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This article was first published in Haaretz on 14 March 2012. It has been translated by Dena Shunra.

Yitzchak Laor’s piece in support of the Chair of the train worker’s union, Gila Edri (published in Haaretz on 23 February) could have been important and very accurate, had the writer not taken the path so many others have walked down and chosen a faulty strategy, which promotes one just struggle – at the expense of another just struggle.

Laor is right. Edri is indeed being attacked because she is a woman and a leader, who takes her own and her colleagues’ fate in her own hands, thus undermining the capitalist agenda and violating the pleasure taken by Israelis at the sign of helpless victims; this pleasure, which causes them to avert their eyes and resist the pain of the designated Other, if that Other rises up to struggle for his or her rights without their sacred intermediation.

However, while lauding Edri, Laor mocks women who are no less brave, who act against the gender-based violence of powerful men. He deplores those who dare to rise up against masculine institutionalized violence and calls them self-victimizers, making the object of the jeering crowd’s desire. A woman who complains about rape sometimes becomes the object of voyeurism and a cleanser of the collective conscience, but as far as we are concerned, she will always be a courageous, groundbreaking warrior, a subject in her own right.

Laor uses the struggle of the railway workers to harm the important struggle for gender justice. This struggle is being waged by women who cannot yet come out with their full name, due to the corporate and gender power structures, of which Laor is unfortunately one of the representatives.

He justly examines Edri in light of the actions of Daphni Leef. And indeed, Leef and her friends failed – but it was not necessarily due to their weakness before the capitalist market forces, as Laor claims, but rather because they derived their strength from their loyalty to the ideology of “the Jewish-Democratic state”. Despite some exceptions, at the end of the day the tent struggle of Israel excluded the Palestinian from the political realm, and cooperated with the Jewish-Israeli Apartheid policy.

A similar process can be seen in the way the social left handled itself during the protest. While it tried to make a lovely dream come true, where Jaffa and the Hatikva neighborhood are part of the same struggle, it silenced Y and her friends from Jaffa, who marched with a Palestinian flag, to show us that Jaffa and Jenin are also part of a single struggle. In order to bring out the multitudes out into the streets for the cause of social justice, the leadership of the protest movement duplicated the racism that is built into our culture; in order to protect his argument, Laor duplicated the male-chauvinist discourse that is built into our perception.

One can argue that there are two different structures of the two-phase gambit here: in the first, we silence one struggle to promote another struggle, which seems more urgent; in the second, we promote one struggle to harm and silence another just struggle. But it is only an apparent difference. Both structures are loyal to the prevailing ideology, and serve its ongoing, oppressive and unchallenged reign.
If we look into the concept of “Other” and treat it more dynamically, we can come to realize that Other is part of the concept of Br-Other, a fraternal mutuality which is not merely alien. This may point the way to a more successful vocabulary of struggle.

I’ll give Leef herself as an example. She and her friends did indeed fail to endow a universal value to the concepts of Justice and Home – because of their thundering silence about the destruction of the Palestinian home, both personal and national. But it was the very act of going out into the streets which gave her the emotional fortitude to reveal her most private self and courageously and honestly say: “I was raped in my teens.” In this way, she became an empowering model for many women. This power gave her the strength to stand with Edri – but not yet to stand with Hana Shalabi, a Palestinian woman who has been on a hunger strike since February 16th over her administrative detention and the humiliation she is subjected to, as a Palestinian and as a woman.

The struggle of the railway workers (both men and women), the gender struggle, and the struggle of the Palestinians (both men and women), join together to form a single brave struggle for justice and equality. The task is ours to maintain productive dialog and tension between the particular and the universal struggles, thus avoiding a situation where one struggle enters into an alliance against – or serves as cause for the destruction of – another struggle.

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4 Responses

  1. Eva Smagacz
    March 20, 2012, 6:36 pm

    I find that contradiction fascinating, and was aware of it since meeting some Gypsy (Roma) kids playing on the same street as I was:

    Here we were, in a deep socialist Poland, where every space now used for advertising was sporting a slogan of liberty, equality and fraternity, and they were considered by my family, neighbours and local council as dirty, smarmy and thieving.

    There was no feeling of solidarity with their lot: they were “Others” – foreigners, recently arrived from Romania, to partake in economic progress of Socialist Republic of Poland (echo of “From Times Immemorial”).

    And yet ours was a country acutely attuned to concept of sharing resources – housing, health care, education – according to people’s needs and not according to what their productivity/capital was. Just not for Gypsies; they kept their religion, customs and language and did not intermarry. They were not true Poles. They were outside the society.

    • laplandian
      March 13, 2013, 10:45 am

      Polish “socialism” was just another form of state capitalism. Neoliberal corporate capitalism also sports slogans of liberty, equality and equal opportunity…

      Regarding the Romani people, I would like to add a little bit. They usually practice the same religion as the surrounding population, e.g. Roman Catholicism or Russian Orthodox Christianity in Poland. At the same time, they also practice a unique system of ritual purity laws and ethical principles that seems to come from Hinduism. This system is more fundamental for them than religion, but they call it law (“Romani Zakono”) and they enforce it by community courts. For example, stealing from a poor person is punished by excommunication, which is considered an extremely bitter spiritual equivalent of death penalty, while stealing from a wealthy person is only a religious sin that may lead to hell. Both punishments are taken very seriously, but belong to different categories. Gypsies are often fervent Christians, more religious and superstitious about religious things than average Poles.

      Intermarriage is permissible, if the Gypsy spouse remains loyal to Romanipe (the Gypsy Spirit, which is a complex concept). But it’s often discouraged, because marriages are traditionally arranged by families within a community. Hungary is a notable exception of more liberal Gypsy mores. It is possible, but rare, to become a Romani by adopting their culture. A non-Romani child raised by traditional Gypsies is certainly considered a Gypsy.

      It’s a very interesting and fascinating society.

  2. Shmuel
    March 21, 2012, 4:25 am

    Thanks, Udi (and Dena). I’ve had a lot of trouble convincing liberal (even very liberal) Israeli friends of this crucial flaw in the J14 movement – brought home especially by the movement’s silence at the government decision to uproot 30,000 Naqab/Negev Bedouin (and a similar number in Area C), taken at the very same time that the movement was voicing its demands for affordable housing (for some).

  3. laplandian
    March 13, 2013, 11:48 am

    “The task is ours to maintain productive dialog and tension between the particular and the universal struggles, thus avoiding a situation where one struggle enters into an alliance against – or serves as cause for the destruction of – another struggle.”

    I very much agree here with Udi. Alain Badiou explains this dialectic of external vs. internal in his essay about Udi’s Kashmir movie. A particular struggle can only be meaningful and successful, when it reflects a universal struggle, and the universal struggle loses its meaning, if it disregards local struggles.

    The problem of gender justice is sometimes a very delicate issue though. The dominant Western culture indoctrinates us that traditional Muslim societies – or the Jewish Neturei Karta community, for example – are awkward and deeply sexist. There is no doubt that gender chauvinism happens in such communities, but is it really more common than in the so-called “civilized” West? I know many Hasidic and Muslim women who are very happy with their femininity and use headcover or other symbols of modesty as a proud expression of their being a woman.

    For Jewish women of Neturei Karta, hijab-wearing Muslimas ara, perhaps, the only Other sisters whose way of expressing femininity deeply resonates with their own. Yet, Western liberal society often enough portrays both such types of women as pathetic subhumans…

    Here is an interesting example. A supposedly oppressed “awkward”-looking Orthodox Jewish woman gives an interview for a Hezbollah newspaper:

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of neither Hezbollah nor Zionism. But only an idiot would blame this proudly Jewish woman for cowardly behavior or inability to think universally.

    Anyway, my point is that life and its struggles are complicated…

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