Disordered Nations

In both Russia and Israel today, the social pact is fracturing under the weight of history and disagreements about basic principles and national identity. These conditions lend themselves to increasingly absurd and extreme rhetoric, some of which speaks to the people's deepest fears and preoccupations.

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A Palestinian boy inspects the ruins of his house following an airstrike in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, on May 11, 2023. (Photo by Rizek Abdeljawad/Xinhua)

Whenever a country’s social contract unravels, conditions become ripe for rumors and absurdities to circulate. Even when these are outrageous and obviously nonsensical, they can give expression to a people’s deepest fears and prejudices.

Such is the case in Russia today, where Sergei Markov, a former adviser to President Vladimir Putin, has warned that Ukraine is creating “gay super-soldiers” to wage war against his country: “Military theorists and historians know which army in Greece was the strongest, remember? The Spartans. They were united by a homosexual brotherhood. They were all homos. These were the politics of their leadership. I think they are planning the same for Ukraine’s Armed Forces.”

Of course, this mixture of homophobia, fake history, and Marvel comic-inspired ideas of super-soldiers indicates that Markov is not interested in encouraging critical thinking and reasoned analysis. No matter: such idiotic statements apparently resonate with at least some important segments of Russian society.

The same derangement also increasingly applies to Russian historical memories of major national traumas and crimes. At a recent ceremony in Velikiye Luki, in Russia’s Pskov region, a priest known as “Father Anthony” doused holy water on a 26-foot statue of Stalin. Though “the Church suffered” during Stalin’s long reign of terror, he observed, Russians today should be grateful that they have so many “new Russian martyrs and confessors to whom we now pray and are helping us in our Motherland’s resurgence.”

Such perverse reasoning is just a step away from arguing that Jews should be grateful to Hitler for opening the way for the State of Israel. In fact, precisely that has already effectively happened. According to a 2019 investigation by Channel 13 news in Israel, future Israeli army officers at the state-funded Bnei David military prep school are taught, by rabbis, that:

“The Holocaust was not about killing the Jews. Nonsense. And that it was systematic and ideological makes it more moral than random murder. Humanism, secular culture – that is the Holocaust. The real Holocaust is pluralism. The Nazi logic was internally consistent. Hitler said that a certain group in society is the cause of all the evil in the world and therefore it must be exterminated. … For years, God has been screaming that the Diaspora is over but Jews aren’t obeying. That is their disease that the Holocaust must cure. … Hitler was the most righteous. Of course he was right in every word he said. His ideology was correct. … [The Nazis’] only error was who was on which side.”

The lesson does not end there. Students also learn that:

“With the help of God, slavery will return. The non-Jews will want to be our slaves. These people around us have genetic problems. Ask an average Arab what he wants to be. He wants to be under occupation. … They don’t know how to run a country or anything. … Yes, we are racists. We believe in racism. Races have genetic characteristics. So we must consider how to help them.”

To be sure, this extreme rhetoric is openly endorsed by only a tiny, fanatical religious minority. And yet, it hints at the underlying premise behind the current far-right government’s policies in the West Bank. To compare the situation in Israel and its occupied territories to Nazi Germany may appear a ridiculous exaggeration, and if a non-Jew makes this comparison, he is instantly dismissed as anti-Semitic; but if leading Jewish figures do so, they ought to be listened to. When a society has wrapped itself in layers of tendentious self-justification, it takes insiders to pull back the shroud.

Consider the case of Amiram Levin, the former head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Northern Command. Speaking recently to Israel’s public broadcasting station about the situation in the West Bank, he contends that “there hasn’t been a democracy there in 57 years, there is total apartheid. … the IDF, which is forced to exert sovereignty there, is rotting from the inside. It’s standing by, looking at the settler rioters and is beginning to be a partner to war crimes.”

When asked to elaborate, Levin invoked Nazi Germany: “It’s hard for us to say it, but it’s the truth. Walk around Hebron, look at the streets. Streets where Arabs are no longer allowed to go on, only Jews. That’s exactly what happened there, in that dark country.”

That a retired IDF general could come to such a conclusion attests not only to his extraordinary ethical stance, but also to just how bad things have gotten there. But as long as there are Israelis like Levin, there is hope, because it is only with the solidarity and support of people like him that the West Bank Palestinians have a chance.

In both Russia and Israel today, the social pact is fracturing under the weight of colonialism and fundamental disagreements about foundational principles. These conditions lend themselves to increasingly absurd and extreme forms of rationalization. But just because you can come up with a reason for doing something does not mean that you should do it. When societies fragment, resisting wrong reasons often requires more strength than following right reasons.

Source: project-syndicate.org

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek, Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School, is International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London and the author, most recently, of Heaven in Disorder (OR Books, 2021) and Surplus-Enjoyment: A Guide For The Non-Perplexed (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022).

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