Along with most, if not all, the contributors to Public Seminar on the war in Gaza, I am critical of the actions of Netanyahu’s policies and the actions of the IDF, and I am concerned about where the center of gravity is in Israel. I see fundamental problems with the very notion of a Jewish and democratic state, and recognize the suffering of the Palestinians, understanding and supporting their resistance to the injustice of occupation.

Yet, I am also very uncomfortable with the passion of some anti-Zionists, especially those from the European killing fields. I think that the confusion of violent resistance with political resistance makes effective resistance unlikely, and don’t understand why my comrades on the left are afraid to say this. I am, as I have put it in an earlier post, a pragmatic pacifist, a gray pacifist, convinced that there are not only limits to non violent resistance, but also limits of violent resistance, amply demonstrated by Hamas.

I know that one state and two state solutions to the conflict both have their problems, but also know that there is no ideal solution and that a decent one has to be very gray, where the Israeli Jewish claims for a state of their own in the shadow of the Holocaust and the Palestinian claim for justice and self determination on their own lands will have to be compromised.

I understand the passionate true believing Zionists and anti-Zionists, but appreciating the beauty of the gray, understanding that it is the color of democracy, as a student of Adam Michnik, I worry about the passion, especially when it descends from true belief into hatred.

Thus, while I supported the call for solidarity for the academic freedom of Steven Salaita, I had to register my profound disagreement with him, not with his support of the Palestinian cause, but with what he had to say about those who hold opposing positions, for example:

“I repeat: if you’re defending #Israel right now, then “hopelessly brainwashed” is your best prognosis.”

“Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”

The second quote is particularly problematic. As I put it in my comment on our call for supporting him. He uses “a kind of political rhetoric that stifles rather than opens up public debate, academic and political. It is the language of war, not politics. It does not encourage free political exchange. I don’t think it should be grounds for dismissal from a university, nor should it be grounds for refusal to appoint someone to a university once an offer on sound academic grounds has been made. For this reason I endorsed our publishing this post. But I do find that such speech about many issues on the left and the right is deeply problematic, undermining democratic capacity …”

Yet, I must be clear, a grayer understanding doesn’t only lead to a moderate course. It can inform radical politics as well. This is revealed in the recent posts by Hakan Topal.

I applaud Hakan’s progressive critical reflections on Islamism, moderate, as well as radical, and the sharp contrast he draws between Hamas in Palestine and the Kurdish resistance in Turkey and in Syria. I would suggest that he comes to his position using a gray perspective. He is extremely critical of Israel, but also of Hamas. He sees a crucial difference between Hamas and the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party), which has evolved into a radical democratic party that offers a positive radical democratic program and a positive program of social justice. He sees promise in the positive facts on the ground of the social arrangements of the Rojava Cantons of Northern Iraq. The ends of politics, he seems to appreciate, are constituted in the means.

And I like the complexity of Hakan’s call to action: “The Kurdish nationalist movement shows the world that new progressive models are still possible — of course this directly depends on PKK’s ability to evaluate both local and international criticisms. I believe it is our duty to recognize this possibility and support them, even if we do not agree with all their conclusions.”

Gray is not only beautiful, as I learned from Adam Michnik. It also can be radical.

4 thoughts on “Gray is Beautiful: Israel/Palestine, Turkey/Kurdistan

    1. This is exactly the point: that “grayness” actually offers radical promise and is not at all the “wishy-washiness” that those who traffic in uncritical devotion to extremes want us to believe it is. Topal’s recent piece comparing the PKK to Hamas is an excellent illustration of this. There, he questions the paradigm of supporting Hamas as a means to support the Palestinian cause, noting that Hamas’s program offers only more violence, whereas the PKK has abandoned its extremity and grown up into a radical experiment in democratic living that offers an honest alternative to the status quo.

      There is nothing “wishy-washy” about having problems with short-sighted programs that offer only more calamity in the future, and it is precisely the insistence that this reticence is a failure of commitment that turns activism into a parody of its own aims. We should be able to do better than that. Falling in line behind those who traffic in extremes while criticizing those who seek an honest, critical appraisal is the primary emblem of what’s wrong with — and what’s terribly dangerous about — the community of those who desire change, despite having the best of intentions.

  1. this is a very reasonable piece, but why grey? why not another color and why not a rainbow, however kitsch that might be? it seems to me that a rainbow would be more appropriate if we want to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, as i take to be the direction suggested by this piece…

    1. I am an advocate of gray (here in Bagnolet for the weekend, a very gray corner of Paris) because of the reasons you suggest, but more. Gray because I am a student of Michnik’s lecture (I will closely analyze this in the near future). Gray as opposed to black and white. Gray because of the dangers of enthusiasm. Gray between euphoria and despair (this was the alternative title of my book AFTER THE FALL, about the pursuit of democracy in post-communist East Central Europe written in 1990). Gray because the human condition is tragic and to pretend otherwise can be catastrophic.

      But yes, I think about the rainbow and am attracted to it, but I am allergic to kirsch. And speaking of that I am a great fan of Kundera’s UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, a topic that Jeremy Safron’s upcoming piece on Authenticity addresses. This inspires my viewpoint. Working to turn the gray into a rainbow in corners of our existence: perhaps this is what I seek in “the politics of small things, as happens in Arundhati Roy’s GOD OF SMALL THINGS.

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