David Naimon: Today’s part two of my conversation with Naomi Klein doesn’t necessarily depend upon you having heard part one. They are two discreet conversations about the same book that are foregrounding different elements of it. In the first part, we foreground the literary elements of Naomi’s book Doppelganger and look at the phenomenon of doppelgangers and doubles of what she calls the Mirror World and the Shadow Lands. I personally wanted to do a part two with Naomi because although we touch on the many Jewish elements of Doppelganger in our first conversation, perhaps most prominently Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock and how it engages with Jewish memory and identity, and the question of Israel and Palestine, Zionism, and diasporism, these elements were only touched upon and these elements were actually the least talked about aspects of the book in most of our interviews, so today is the Doppelganger Jewish edition. But even though we are returning to foreground the many Jewish elements of Naomi’s book, whether anti-Semitism and the ways accusations of anti-Semitism are weaponized against others, Zionism versus the Jewish Labor Bund’s notion of hereness, or questions of Holocaust memory and what the efforts to exceptionalise the Holocaust have done, or Naomi and my own experiences of current Jewish leftist activism and organizing right now around Palestinian solidarity, even though we are two Jews discussing all of this, I would like to suggest that this very Jewish-centric conversation in a way is not Jewish-centric at all, or rather at the edges of Jewishness at the place of encounter. Indulge me for a minute as I try to explain. There aren’t opportunities for literary podcasters to be honored in the book world. Brad Listi, Maris Kreizman, Rachel Zucker, Ajanaé Dawkins, Brittany Rogers, and myself aren’t up for the National Book Award in literary podcasting, so it was both a particular honor and an utter surprise to be given an award at all but especially so by an entirely different field than what I am in. The International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education gave me an award called the Distinguished Psychoanalytic Educator Award, and in the months leading up to going to their conference to both be interviewed during it and to give an acceptance speech at the banquet, I had to think harder about what it was that I did and why psychoanalysts would think of me at all. This was a particularly strange exercise because placing psychoanalysis between myself and my own work, to look at my own work through its lens was a strange thing because my notion of psychoanalysis is surely a century outdated. I had no idea how it has or hasn’t evolved over that time and I had no idea where this particular group, the IFP, situated themselves and were viewed within the field. I didn’t know until I arrived that in ways they were renegade, pushing the borders of what psychoanalysis could be, looking at even collective forms of analysis for groups of people who’ve been traumatized. Nevertheless, not knowing any of this, my thinking over the months was really clarifying about what is important to me on the show. There are episodes of the show that I think are overtly psychological in nature, even referencing psychoanalysis, the first conversation with Sheila Heti, the conversation with Hélène Cixous, and the first one with Naomi I would particularly think of. But one thing that has stuck with me as relevant to how I view the show is from the Irish poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama’s work around peacemaking between the Irish and the British in Northern Ireland. When he was on the show, he talked about how you cannot start an encounter like this with each side telling their own stories to the other. That the stories we tell of ourselves and our people often are tails of grievance or tales that preserve our sense of our own goodness where, in my mind or in my words, they are not really about looking at anything but sometimes even a looking away, reinforcing either our own pain, our own innocence, or some mixture of both. For his work, he placed the Book of Ruth between these two people as a means of engagement. For one, because it comes from both of their traditions but also because God isn’t in the book in any overt way, a secular person could engage with a story of risk across differences of mutual aid. But also because, I think this is key, most people are not very familiar with this story. They aren’t coming with well-rehearsed, well-worn ideas about it. I realized, in hearing his approach, that I am drawn to writers and to conversations about writing where one’s own narrative is porous, aware, and in engagement with countervailing or even contradictory narratives regardless of the genre one is working in. I think of Roger Reeves’ critique of The 1619 Project, not only questioning the centering of the African-American story within a story of nation-making but his critique of the impulse to center at all, that his fugitive essays are looking for the places of encounter at the margins where different people meet. That reminds me of Jorie Graham who says that humans are the only species that can retreat from being fully present, and that a tree, for instance, is not most present at its core but at its edges. It is most present at the tips of its branches, at the place it is most extended. Many of the conversations I most remember are investigating identity in this interesting way, finding an intensity of presence at one’s own margins, whether Charif Shanahan where, in part, we looked at the many centuries old taboo of speaking into or conducting scholarship around the effect of the Trans-Saharan slave trade on Black Africa and the Muslim, Arab, and Black scholars who are breaking the silence with great care. Or Monica Youn and Viet Thanh Nguyen, and the ways they both celebrate and interrogate Asian-American identity, looking both at anti-Asian violence and Asian anti-Blackness. Or my most recent conversation with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore which looked at her own Jewish family’s complicity in white flight and disinvestment in Baltimore. But not only these, the writers who are questioning the history of a given form too are also questioning the notion often of the individual self and its role in storytelling or poem-making. The recent conversation with Kate Zambreno and Sofia Samatar had a moment I will never forget where I’m asking multiple questions about the dangers of assuming a collective “we” in one’s writing, given the history of the we being one of eraser and exclusion, and Kate saying, “But what about the risks of the ‘I’ of what we exclude by assuming an ‘I’ in relation to others and otherness, both among human culture and between humans, and the non-human world.” Or Cristina Rivera Garza’s attempts to make visible the debts we have to others within our own writing. I say all of this because today’s conversation, if you imagine the Jewish tree, is finding its energy and intensity at the tips of the branches. It is alive and present at the place of encounter, of how to be in relation to difference, what is the effect of centering our stories of grievance or of goodness, and what other ways of telling our stories as people have been overlooked or suppressed. I also want to add before we begin that with the ongoing, still unfolding horrors happening in Gaza, we are seeing an intensification of long-standing efforts to censor Palestinians from telling their own story. Yes, we’re going to talk about Palestine today. In fact, it becomes the main lens through which we look at Jewish identity, and Naomi’s position as an anti-Zionist Jew is also one often censored. But there’s no way around the fact that we are two Jews talking about the questions of Israel-Palestine in relation to Jewish identity and memory, and in relationship to Naomi’s book, so I will include in the email going out to supporters many places to explore these same questions from Palestinians themselves including two recent episodes on this show with the Palestinian Novelist Isabella Hammad and Adania Shibli whose work has been targeted since October 7th, and is part of our conversation today. Lastly, I want to mention one error in my own memory. I make an error that I only discover after the fact because Naomi brings it up a second time because she didn’t remember it herself when I supposedly recall something from Philip Roth’s book Operation Shylock, a book that I read 25 years ago and she read more recently. But in talking about fake Philip Roth’s espousing of reverse Zionism, I mention having never forgotten the detail of his suggestion that the Jews should have been given Prague, not Palestine. But this detail actually comes from another book from his novella The Prague Orgy where he imagines as a child when he’s collecting nickels and dimes for the tzedakah box as a kid, the baby blue box for the Jewish National Fund, that this would go not for nation building in Palestine but toward a future homeland of Jews in Prague. Fortunately, the point I make with this vignette from the wrong book still works and stands in the interview but I wanted you to at least know where this idea came from. Naomi, last time we talked, contributed a reading from Operation Shylock of a letter written by fake Roth to the real Roth which is not to be missed. It joins bonus readings from everyone from Dionne Brand to Christina Sharpe to Natalie Diaz to Isabella Hammad who reads a letter from the Palestinian political prisoner Walid Daqqa. You can find out more about the bonus audio archive and the many other potential benefits of joining the Between the Covers Community at patreon.com/betweenthecovers. Now, for today’s second conversation with Naomi Klein.
David Naimon: Good morning and welcome to Between the Covers. I’m David Naimon, your host. Today’s guest is author and journalist Naomi Klein. Klein’s latest book Doppelganger is in many ways a venture into a new area for Klein, not only a new topic but a new way of writing. Past Between the Covers guest China Miéville says of Doppelganger, “This book is as foreboding as a guide through the maze of mirrors of the modern right should be. But it’s not only that: Naomi Klein has made Doppelganger gripping and scintillating, too. The result is a reckoning with the present moment that’s as insightful as all of Klein’s indispensable work, and as suspenseful as a novel.” Angela Davis adds, “With her always incisive analysis of the systems and structures linked to global capitalism, Klein now fiercely and brilliantly urges that our justice movements be prepared to follow the quest for new meaning into dimensions where we might least expect to find it: in injury and vulnerability.” Finally, another past guest of Between the Covers Kim Stanley Robinson says, “Naomi Klein’s books have been building one on the next to create a very powerful and influential cognitive mapping of our time. This new book takes a personal turn, then opens out into an analysis of our shared global dilemma that is as incisive and fascinating as anything she has ever written—which is saying a lot. As always, my first thought on finishing one of her books is Thank you.” Welcome back to Between the Covers, Naomi Klein.
Naomi Klein: Thank you, David.
DN: Even though our first conversation about Doppelganger probably seems very Jewish if someone hasn’t read the book, you and I decided to do a second conversation to properly foreground the Jewish elements of what you’ve described as your most Jewish book, to spend some time with everything from Marxism to Zionism, Jewish memory and memorialization to anti-Semitism, and the battle over its definition and the different ways it’s been instrumentalized. But given the state of affairs as we talk today on November 28th, that since the October 7th attack by Hamas that killed 1200 Israelis where Hamas took several hundred people hostage from three-year-olds to people in their 80s, the response of Israel, which they stated explicitly, would be one of creating damage, not precision that announced preemptively the war crimes they aimed to commit, the collective punishment of an entire people, turning off water and electricity, the 1.7 million Gazans displaced from their homes, people who were already largely refugees from 1948 themselves with 15,000 people dead, 10,000 of whom are women and children, nearly half of the housing units there have been destroyed or severely damaged, something that took four years to occur in Syria happening only in a matter of weeks in Gaza, because of all this, I wanted to start with Palestine and Israel, both in your book and at large, and work our way toward these other elements. To do so, I wanted to first situate myself and situate the moment in relation to the Jewish left in the hopes that you would do the same. Nearly a quarter century ago now, I saw an ad on the back page of The Alt-Weekly here in Portland that said something like, “Are you a radical Jew? Come to this Gathering under the auspices of what would be called The Radical Jewish Action project,” and I had been an activist on and off since I was young, probably most formatively the Anti-Apartheid protests as a teenager at university but also more recently to this ad, the WTO protests, then joining the Jewish block at the IMF protests in DC, so I was interested in making connections where I lived. But everyone at this gathering had a very different notion of radical, different political notions but also people who thought of radical more the way I would think a surfer might think of radical. Eventually, a small subset of us, including those who put out the call, one of whom Stosh Cotler who would eventually move to New York and direct Bend the Arc, the progressive Jewish organization that focuses on solidarity across race, faith, class, and gender on domestic issues, we reformed a smaller group called Jews for Global Justice that mainly focused as a Jewish anti-occupation and Palestinian solidarity group. The reason why I bring this up is to compare two decades ago to now. Back then, there were no Jewish rallies in Portland on behalf of Palestinian lives. We might have numbered 25 people and some small subset of us would show up at Palestinian rallies as Jews, identified as Jews to show support, and also to begin building relations with the Palestinian community here. Flash forward to today however and thousands of North American Jews are mobilizing in solidarity with Palestinians, have occupied the US capital, hundreds arrested there, occupied Grand Central Station, Statue of Liberty, shut down the Manhattan Bridge, and blockaded innumerable offices of politicians across the country, here in Portland where no Jewish rallies were occurring 20 years ago, the one I attended recently was many hundreds of Jews in a city that is less Jewish than the country on average. But these gatherings of hundreds of Jews are happening in smaller cities all over the US and many thousands of Jews in the larger cities, and it feels to me like the biggest phenomenon of solidarity from the diasporic Jewish left in my lifetime, probably since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. I know you are a longtime board member of Jewish Voice for Peace, someone with a longtime engagement both in activism and writing in this realm, and I was hoping you could both place your own Israel-Palestine activism in a context or origin story for us and also reflect on your sense of the significance of the moment for the project of a Jewish radical, and collective solidarity with others.
NK: Sure. I find myself really overwhelmed by that assignment, David. [laughter] First, I just want to observe just listening to your origin story and all of this, to me there’s something really beautiful about how being part of the left over decades, being part of social movements that have had these punctuated reference points, the moments when this quieter daily less scene work pierces the collective consciousness, you mentioned the WTO protests or the IMF protests, I just think it’s nice that you and I that I know of have never met but that we could have been formed by these same events. I love that. I’ve had that experience with other people where I read their awakening stories and I realized, “Oh, we were at the same place. We read the same thing. We were repressed by the same cops.” [laughter] I just love that. I don’t know how to tell the story in a concise way because it’s been so formative to my political and writing life, my entanglements with Judaism, my run-ins with official Jewery, my unjewings, and excommunications. I think in our first conversation, I shared with you that my first published piece of writing was my bat mitzvah speech in my synagogue bulletin which was an unconventional piece of writing for a bat mitzvah speech. It was about racism within the Jewish community, within my Jewish day school, within the culture, even that reconstruction of synagogue. Then when I was in university, I had a really formative experience as an undergrad where I wrote something about the first intifada. We had a special issue of the student newspaper that I wrote for the varsity and I contributed an op-ed that caused a huge firestorm on my campus that was like a microcosm of the kinds of things we’re seeing now. It involved emergency meetings, it involved bringing in donors to pressure the president of the university to denounce me and defund the student newspaper, it involved accusing me of being a self-hating Jew and not a real Jew, and because I was just probably 20 at the time, I also think it toughened me up more than anything else, that the controversies that I faced later in writing about corporations, globalization, and capitalism, nothing was ever as intense as that firestorm when I was 20 at my university. I guess it got me ready for a life of taking on more controversial subjects but it also caused me to back off writing as a Jew I suppose. The Shock Doctrine has a chapter about the Israeli economy as a disaster capitalism story as a way of building a very profitable economy that is in a state of perpetual war, occupation, conflict, incarceration of another people and to turn that into an industry unto itself that Israel was selling post 9/11 to the rest of the world. I would write periodic columns about the interaction of Israeli policy, particularly the post 9/11 so-called war on terror, and the way Israeli politicians, like Ariel Sharon, very deliberately tried to use the state of shock after September 11th to universalize the refusal to recognize Palestinian self-determination rights or statehood to say, “You see what we’re dealing with here?” The message from Sharon was, “What just happened to you in the United States is what we are dealing with,” which of course was not true. It was a completely different context but it was a way to do something that Zionist state politicians have done for a long time which is to refuse to recognize the quest for Palestinian self-determination as an anti-colonial struggle but to make it an issue of irrational Jew hatred. That was really renewed after the 9/11 attack. I did write about that and I guess a turning point came for me in 2008 when there was a huge bombardment of Gaza by Israel, and 1400 Palestinians were killed by Israel. At this point, the BDS call was relatively young, a few years old. I had not openly supported it yet. I had quietly supported it but I had not publicly supported it. I, at that point, wrote a column in The Guardian and The Nation and I think the headline was, “Enough, it’s time for a boycott,” and it was the case for joining BDS and supporting BDS that made me a subject of some controversy because there hadn’t been that many high-profile mainstream media joining and supporting BDS, then I tried to publish The Shock Doctrine in a way in Hebrew and Arabic that respected the BDS call. I worked with the BDS National Committee to do that, then I went to Gaza, then I came home and talked about it, then there was a lot more controversy and that’s when I started I guess getting more involved in Jewish Voice for Peace, so this was around 2008, 2009. At that point, JVP was very small. They had three staff people. I don’t think they were all full-time and now they are such a formidable organization in the US and beyond and organizing these huge demonstrations. That’s a little bit of how I guess I got into it. I haven’t talked about my upbringing but we don’t have that much time. Just a few hours, David. [laughter]
DN: Just a few hours. You can fold it in too. Well, I want to start with this upswelling of Jewish collective solidarity because the way I increasingly frame the show as a whole is one that’s interested not only in how we tell or represent our stories but whether or not our stories are porous to the stories of others or whether they’re a way to buttress or defend a notion of self, individual, or peoplehood over and against the world. It feels like Doppelganger, using different languages, is also working in this realm of porous narratives. Just after the Hamas attack, I was watching one rabbi’s sermon, a progressive rabbi who was talking about the pain and loneliness of always being situated as a people apart, something that happened to Jews over millennia in Europe in terms of what jobs or roles Jews could or couldn’t have to the impossible nature of how a Jew is imagined to be critiqued as much for being insular and unintegrated as for being cosmopolitan and assimilated as much for being a capitalist, as for being a communist, as much for being the face of Whiteness or a trojan horse for the immigration of Brown and Black people in a replacement theory. I think we’re still instrumentalized in various battles by others all the time. But I do think Jews participate in and perpetuate being closed off from others as well. I wanted to look at both sides of this with you. I’m glad you brought up your experience in college with the newspaper. Two decades ago at a Palestinian rally in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, with me standing there with a sign as a Jew, I was interviewed by a local TV station and it made the 5:00 news in Portland. But by the 10:00 news, the Palestinian rally was still on the news, which looking back is remarkable that it was on the news at all, the Palestinian rally. But instead of me being on the news, I’d been replaced by a conservative local rabbi even though that person hadn’t been at the rally. Jews had to be represented one way and Palestinians had to be represented a certain way. Last time we talked, we touched upon the ways accusations of anti-Semitism have been used to torpedo movements. I think it is also important to talk about how accusations of anti-Semitism are used to silence legitimate speech and part of this is related to the battle of how anti-Semitism is defined, and the definitions that conflate critiques of Zionism and Israel with critiques of Jews, and Judaism is a long-standing weapon used to silence the Palestinian narrative. Just in the last two months with two past Between the Covers guests, we’ve seen Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen having his event at the 92nd Street Y canceled at the last minute, not because he was going to speak on Palestine but for signing an open letter in support of Palestine, and Adania Shibli, the Palestinian novelist who was supposed to receive an award at the largest book fair in the world, Frankfurt Book Fair, having her events canceled and them saying they were going to center Israeli voices. The Poetry Foundation which was just about to publish a review of Sam Sax’s new book, a Jewish poet who happens to be anti-Zionist and a reviewer of that book who was also Jewish, and anti-Zionist, the foundation felt it was insensitive or untimely to publish it then. We’ve seen student groups at many campuses advocating for Palestinian rights get outlawed. The only Palestinian representative in Congress was censured by Congress. France, Germany, and the UK have banned pro-Palestinian rallies. All of this is high profile right now because of the Hamas attack and the subsequent decimation of Gaza. But this intimidation and attempted silencing of students, teachers, scholars, speakers, artists is many decades old and long-standing hundreds of incidents a year as your own story demonstrates, all of this done “on behalf of Jews.” But it feels like, in many ways, some sort of dam is broken where despite all these attempts, people are saying, “No more. We will speak.” Is that your impression as well?
NK: There’s definitely been a dam breaking, a huge shift. I think the Legacy Jewish organizations are absolutely flipping out at not just the huge demonstrations organized by JVP, IfNotNow, and in where I live in Canada, Independent Jewish Voices, it’s also just the polling where they’re seeing that they are losing a generation. There’s something particularly painful and even grotesque to me as a Jew, and a big part of the way I relate to Judaism is the idea of being people of the book, people who argue over text, who value education so deeply. That’s a big part of the part of Judaism that I identify with and cling to. To see a lobby that claims to be speaking on behalf of Jews attack literary festivals, authors, universities explicitly, we’re reading these outrageous articles, so in this frenzy of panic to defend what I believe was a wrong turn that our people took in deciding to seek Jewish safety in a fortressed ethnostate. As you know in Doppelganger, I look at the various understandable reasons that led to that being the supposed answer to the “Jewish question” that seemed to be the only answer left standing after the horrors of the Second World War and the turning back of the boats, and Stalinism, the failures of assimilation, and the failures to protect Jews of assimilation. This used to be an area of such robust debate, then it just seemed like the only people with an answer to the terrors of anti-Semitism who were willing to defend that answer robustly were the Zionists. Then within Zionism, there were fights. There were the Hannah Arendt’s and the Martin Buber’s who were not turning to the idea of hyper-nationalism, the fortress state but the idea of a Jewish homeland within a federation of Arab states, they lost, so for a while, it seemed the one answer left standing, then a few marginal voices around the edge. There’s a sea change at work and there are moments where I feel very hopeful about that where I think nothing can stop us now. You can’t fight a generational shift like this and the generational shift has to do with many different forces. Probably the most significant ones are the ways this same generation that received a Holocaust education was also educated by Black Lives Matter, by the racial justice reckonings, by an indigenous resurgence and so are able to connect the dots between what they’ve learned about other genocides, and what they’ve learned about the Holocaust. The only response that the mainstream Jewish lobby has to this is, “More Holocaust education, more Holocaust education,” as if that’s going to fix it when in fact, what we’re seeing in the streets with IfNotNow and JVP is a generation that has a different understanding of the messages of the Holocaust. They are saying, “Not in our name.” They’re saying “Never again” to anyone. It’s not that they don’t know. They know. They were shaped by it but they have a different understanding and it is a less exceptional understanding of the Holocaust. But the reason why I can’t just feel confident that this shift is going to stick, I mean we’re seeing just an incredible criminalization, and David, books are at the center of it. This is the thing. I was thinking about talking to you today and right now, I’m speaking to you from Canada and in Canada, the book market is extremely concentrated even more than in the United States. There’s a single book chain called Chapters/Indigo that controls 40% of the retail book market and 80% in some regions. Chapters/Indigo, the controlling shares are owned by a Canadian power couple named Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz who are very right-wing Zionists, and they’re extremely active in organizing the Jewish lobby. They organized a merger of different Jewish groups a few years ago. The reporting sort of had it begun in their living room as a plan, bringing different people together. They wanted a more pro-Israel Jewish lobby in Canada. They also formed a foundation in 2005 called The HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers and it is an official charity in Canada. This is very, very controversial for Palestine solidarity activists because HESEG is a scholarship fund for soldiers who enroll in the IDF who are not Israeli. They’re Jews who want to join the IDF from different countries, Canada, but other countries and HESEG offers these soldiers full-ride scholarships, cost of living income, career advice, there’s a HESEG house in Israel. It’s like a fraternity but this clearly is recruitment for the IDF. If we think about the way this works in the US, how does the US military recruit, by offering scholarships, by offering all these economic incentives to working-class kids to say, “Okay, this is going to be the bonus for joining the military,” and that is what HESEG does. I have been troubled by this for a long time because I’ve been fortunate enough to sell a lot of books in Canada and that means that I’ve made a lot of money for Chapters/Indigo, and that means that some portion of those profits have gone to HESEG because Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz are the financial backers of HESEG. They spend millions of their own money but that also means that a portion of it is book money, so that means that the whole Canadian literary world is implicated in this without our consent, without our consultation. The reason why this is relevant is that there was a protest on November 10th outside of Indigo’s flagship store in Toronto and people put up mocked-up book covers of Heather’s face that said, “Funding genocide,” then they threw red paint. In the early hours of the morning about a week ago, I think it was 4:30 in the morning, dozens of riot police broke down the doors of 11 activists around Toronto, who they claim did this act of nonviolent, not property destruction, it was wheat paste, posters, and washable paint and they woke people from their sleep at 4:30, 5:30 in the morning. There were apparently a minimum of eight officers in each house, arrested parents in front of their kids, then sent out a press release saying these were hate-motivated crimes. There’s clearly a very dramatic escalation going on. One of the people who was caught up in this was a tenure professor at York University, a former chair of the sociology department. A message is being sent and the ante is being raised about the cost of just nonviolent, I mean that’s not even really civil disobedience, that’s direct action. Whatever you think about the posters, that’s political speech. That is not targeting Heather Reisman as a Jew. That is targeting Heather Reisman as somebody who is linked very tangibly to the IDF, who has a financial link. What it feels like is a cleanup operation. That is happening. There’s a really important museum curator who was fired, Wanda Nanibush, the first indigenous curator at the most important museum in Canada, the AGO. She seems to have been pushed out or mutually agreed upon departure because she was posting on Instagram about the parallels between colonialism and genocide in Canada and in Palestine. These connections that this generation is making because they have read, because they have been part of these reckonings, the forcefulness with which this is being defined as hate speech, with which it is being criminalized, the message that’s being sent feels like it is escalating. It’s almost like we have witnessed these massive war crimes in Gaza and now it’s being accompanied by a cleanup operation, which is making sure no one’s around to tell the tale or no one dares to tell the tale. I want to believe that it will work but I’m worried because I’ve never seen criminalization of what is so clearly not hate speech. It is not hate speech to say that Israel is engaged in settler colonialism. It is not hate speech to say hundreds of scholars of international law and genocide studies have said that Israel may have committed or may be committing genocide in Gaza. That’s just true. But that is what is being defined as hate speech, that is what is being defined as questioning Israel’s right to exist. The 92nd Street Y put in writing that they now have a red line. They have codified it. That was already in place by the way but they didn’t codify it before. I know it was in place because I was on a panel at the 92nd Street Y in around 2009 where I came out for BDS and was never invited back but they didn’t put it in writing, and now it’s in writing where the red line is questioning Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State and that’s the red line where we need to be. It’s exactly where we need to talk. That’s the conversation that needs to happen and that conversation is being redefined as being outside the bounds of acceptable discourse, and in some cases, as hate speech.
DN: It reminds me of two things or makes me think of two things, like when people say, “Why won’t the Palestinians be nonviolent?” for instance, they ignore the fact that there’s been a successful movement to outlaw BDS. Thirty-four states in the United States have made it illegal, this nonviolent movement, as well as the Great March of Return which was nonviolent and where 6000 Palestinians were shot walking up to the border fence. But I also think about this weaponization of anti-Semitism in the name of Jews where, as you mentioned, these activists, having their houses stormed as if what they did was terrorism or anti-Jewish hatred, it feels to me at least that this weaponization of anti-Semitism makes Jews less safe, not more. When I was in this political group decades ago, Stosh Cotler had the group go through various trainings or orientations so that we were on the same page in terms of frameworks or language that we were using or referring to. For instance, we did trainings on trans rights and trans issues but also more general orientation around intersectionality where a non-Jewish group was brought in for an afternoon to lead the training, and one useful thing put forth was that racism was not just prejudice but prejudice plus power. That if an indigenous person is biased against a White person, that is not reverse racism. That essentially, reverse racism didn’t exist, it was prejudice. I found this very useful, yet when I asked them, “But what about anti-Semitism where the more Jews are perceived sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly to have power, but that actually makes them more vulnerable, not less?” It felt like an important distinction around how anti-Semitism has operated forever and one that they couldn’t speak to with their model back then, that group, which was frustrating to me. But when Jewish institutions reach for vertical protection rather than horizontal connection, which I do feel is akin to what Jews had to do over and over again in Europe, expelled from one country but wherever they arrived, having to make a devil’s bargain to gain safe harbor from that new kingdom, this vertical protection feels like it feeds into the all-powerful Jewish stereotype which I think feeds into anti-Jewish sentiment, not the reverse. It feels to me like there’s a certain irony of Israel in this regard. That on one level within Israeli society itself, they’ve escaped being forced from millennia into the middleman position doing the dirty work for Christians where in Israel now, Jews are taxi drivers, janitors, machinists, and farmers, as well as everything else. But if we step back and look at Israel as a country in relation to the rest of the world, it feels like they’re still in exactly the same position where Biden, in 1986 before Hamas existed, said that if Israel didn’t exist, they would need to invent it. Israel seems to serve this crucial middleman role on behalf of the US and Europe and thus, to take the heat for the things that the US and Europe are unconditionally funding. I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this but all of this makes me feel less safe, not more. All this being done in my name, including what you’re describing in this action makes me more fearful, not less fearful.
NK: Yeah. One of the things about the action that I was describing about the Indigo bookstore and the context that I just gave you, this campaign against Indigo actually dates back to 2006, the year after they formed the foundation, it actually was led by Jewish women who used to have a picket every Friday. It’s been going on so long that the women who led those pickets, they’ve all since passed and the tactics are getting more disruptive because what Israel is doing is getting more violent. There is a franticness to the fact that our governments are giving this blank check in international forums and in the form of weapons, and material support, so people are looking for pressure points. That’s what BDS is, it’s a kind of people’s foreign policy because our governments are failing in any way to abide by the values that they espouse and the international agreements that their parties do, and so on. But I also can understand how, if you don’t know all of that and all you see is a bookstore that is owned by Jews, never mind that it’s a massive chain and you see the face of a Jew, you see some red blood, and you see the word genocide, that if you squint, it would bring back all the memories, then that is deliberate, then that becomes a deliberate strategy and by some terrible, terrible coincidence, it turns out that this action was done on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Of course, this becomes the talking point. Even though some of the people who participated in it were Jewish and it had nothing to do with the person’s Jewishness, it triggers all the trauma, it triggers all of that. I think we have to find a way to both understand how something can feel true and provoke those historical memories. But for it still not to be true that she was targeted because she was Jewish, the same thing is true around the discourse about October the 7th being a pogrom, being the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust. That whole framing assumes that people were killed because they were Jews as opposed to killed because they were Israeli and part of a colonial project. I think that it is unacceptable to target civilians in any circumstance and it’s barred under international law, but I don’t think that they were targeted because they were Jews. I think they were targeted because they were Israelis. But by framing it as a pogrom, it’s a deliberate attempt to revive those historical memories, and whether it’s framed or not, it’s going to revive it because the memories are there. But I think what you’re saying about feeling less safe, it’s a very hard thing to talk about because it’s so hard for it not to sound like victim blaming. Whenever I’ve tried to write about it, the way I’ve been attacked is, “You’re blaming the victims.” But I have been trying to wrestle with this issue when I said I’ve been writing about this on and off in columns. I wrote a column about this in the early 2000s about what Sharon was doing after the September 11th attacks, making Jews less safe and that the entire project of entangling Jewish identity with a nation-state, and not just a nation-state, a nation-state that flagrantly violates international law as many nation states do but to deliberately blur the lines between these two which is what Israel is doing all the time and what things like the IHRA definition of anti-semitism does, and what the 92nd Street Y does when it says, “There’s a red line,” “It’s anti-Semitism to question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” that’s the unspoken part, that makes it very difficult for people to disentangle what is Jews acting and what is this belligerent state acting. I do think that makes Jews more vulnerable. I still think it’s anti-Semitic for somebody to take that out on a Jewish institution, a Jewish cemetery, or a random Jew on the street which is happening. People are taking their rage out at Israel on Jews. That’s anti-Semitism. But it’s unavoidable to understand that there is a link between these things. I don’t know how you talk about that without then being accused of blaming the victims. I don’t think it is the victim’s fault for those crimes. I do think anti-Semitism is real with or without the belligerence of the Israeli state and the criminality of the Israeli state.
DN: So do I.
NK: But I also think that they are making us tangibly less safe.
DN: Well, before we move on to other topics, I wanted to articulate some version of what people are not supposed to speak, the story that is perpetually silenced under the premise that originally, Arab opposition to the Jewish state in Palestine was anti-Semitic and that both the main reason Palestinians and Arab nations in the region have opposed its formation and expansion was anti-Jewish sentiment. This story was the story that I grew up with. It’s the story told by Jews and others, and it seems that the root of this question is around what is and isn’t anti-Semitism. I really like a piece by Natasha Gill called the Original “No”: Why the Arabs Rejected Zionism, and Why It Matters. Part of the reason why I like it is that Gill who runs negotiation simulations for mediators, diplomats, and policymakers, she says, “A viable peace process does not require either party to embrace or even recognize the legitimacy of the other’s narrative. It requires that both have an informed and non-reductionist understanding of what this narrative consists of, come to terms with the fact that it cannot be wished away, and recognize that elements of it will make their way to the negotiating table and have to be addressed.” I’m going to say things not from this article verbatim but it’s in the spirit of it that speak against anti-Semitism as the principal organizing force of the opposition to the formation of Israel. First, when the Balfour Declaration occurred, declaring Britain’s favoring of an eventual Jewish homeland in Palestine, Balfour explicitly said that they would deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination when it came to the local population and that they had no intention of consulting them. The British then suppressed the news of the declaration and its subsequent commissions within Palestine itself for several years. When we leap forward to 1947 and the partition plan which was supposed to give Jews 53% of the land and Palestinians 47% at a time when Jews owned 6% of the land and made up approximately a third of the local population, and the Jews would get all the significant seaports and with the majority of the Jews having only arrived in the last 20 to 25 years, what Natasha suggests, which seems self-evident to me, is that any people would oppose this no matter how persecuted the arriving people were, whether they were Jewish or Buddhist, European, Asian, or African. That isn’t to say that there isn’t anti-Semitism in the Arab world. Of course, there’s anti-Semitism there but it doesn’t seem to me like a realistic principal reason for their refusal. Even David Ben-Gurion found their resistance understandable. There is a lot of focus on the portrayal of the Palestinian refusal over time but I think there’s little on the Jewish side that David Ben-Gurion himself was not happy with the partition because in his mind, getting 53% only gave the Jews a 60% majority of Jews over Arabs in the future state. In that half year between 1947, the partition plan, and 6 months later, the declaration of the state by Israel, he terrorized hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes to change that demographic, not in the fog of war but before the war had even started and something that continued obviously in the war itself where they not only expelled hundreds of thousands more but also then—which I don’t think most Jews understand—they took over half of what was supposed to be the Palestinian State according to the 1947 plan, so that in 1948, Israel has 78% of the land instead of 53% of the land. Of course, this is before Israel annexed East Jerusalem and before the settlements. Even when we get to the Oslo Accords, which Palestinians are often blamed for rejecting, even though they were going to get far less than the 22%, they weren’t going to get a state, true sovereignty, or a real country. They were not going to have control over their airspace, waterways, or border control and Rabin said in one of his last speeches before he was assassinated by settlers, that the end goal would be less than a state. I guess to me, this is the first great doubling or doppelganger instance which is embodied in the phrase “From the river to the sea,” the phrase that got Rashida Tlaib censured in Congress in which the West is, without asking Palestinians, characterizing is obviously a call for genocide against Jews. But Likud’s founding charter, the most significant party in Israel in the last half-century, their founding charter says, “The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable and is linked with the right to security and peace; therefore, Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.” In that light, what has happened step by step over the history of Israel is the very thing that Palestinians are being accused of doing in reverse. It feels like the projection you’re talking about in Doppelganger and maybe the origin projection.
NK: Yeah. I think it is. I think that that’s the heart of what Caroline Rooney, who I quote in the book, who’s a scholar of Middle Eastern Studies, described as Israel’s doppelganger politics which is projecting onto the other that which you cannot bear to look at about yourself. The constant they want to push us into the sea, which is the story that I heard in my Jewish day school that is such a core Zionist rationale for militarizing every aspect of Palestinian life, I mean Palestinian life being at the other end of an Israeli gun, this occupation has been going on longer than I’ve been alive and I’ve been alive for a while. What we always heard, they want to push us into the sea but I never heard the word Nakba when I was growing up, I mean the statistics that you shared, I don’t think that you can overstate how much we did not know, how much we were not told in just a classic Jewish education. I had that education and I also had a more universalist lefty never again to anyone’s education. But you know what, I did not hear about the Nakba. I heard we were against the occupation but I did not hear the word Nakba until well into university. That word was forbidden, yet what you heard all the time was they want to nakba us. They’re going to do it to us. I think there’s a huge amount of projection but I want to say that while acknowledging that one of the effects of this unending grinding oppression, apartheid, occupation, siege, regular aerial bombardments of Gaza, and now at the very least, an attempted genocide, stated genocidal intent, many Israeli politicians saying that the goal is to push Palestinians into the Sinai or into major Israeli politicians writing in The Wall Street Journal, “Why don’t you take them to the rest of the world?” and framing it as, “Well, don’t you care about refugees?” which is extraordinary coming from the people who are turning them into refugees but yet appropriating this mock-ish version of migrant rights which you don’t get to do if you’re the ones turning people into migrants. You don’t then get to appeal to the heart of the world to take these poor refugees if you’re the ones who turn them into refugees. Just last year when this far-right government formed at the end of 2022, the coalition statement explicitly said that the agreement was for, this is a quote, “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the land of Israel. The government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel, — in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan and Judea and Samaria.” It’s not just Likud’s founding document. It’s this government’s founding coalition document that is saying “From the river to the sea,” then throwing up their hands in horror and shock at a protest chant, at a liberation chant, which for most people chanting is simply a call for equality and equal rights for all people in those lists. The specifics of that are yet to be determined but those who have claimed that, including Rashida Tlaib are absolutely right that that’s the meaning of that chant for most of the people chanting it. Not all. I think there are some people who believe that it should be an Islamic State from The River to The Sea. There is diversity of opinion within Palestinian society just as there is a great deal of diversity of thought within Israeli and Jewish society. In the book, I talk about how there are mere arguments on the Bannonite right to everything that is claimed and talked about on the liberal left, and these parallel narratives don’t intersect, then there also are exact parallels, like both people claim the other people are Nazis fairly commonly. I’m just looking at this list I made to see if there are any other useful ones, I mean one that really struck me was there are no civilians in Gaza, that everybody in Gaza is guilty because they voted for Hamas. Never mind that those elections took place before many people in Gaza were born. But on the other side, you also hear people say that there are no civilians in Israel which is also not true, I would argue.
DN: And so with Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi both saying you can’t say that all Israeli citizens are legitimate targets.
NK: Yeah, of course. I’d say most people say that.
DN: Palestinian electorals are stepping up in that regard as well.
NK: Well, another one is where you start the clock, and a lot of Israeli voices and Zionist voices want all the violence in Gaza to be a response to October 7th as if there was no violence before October 7th. But also I think the idea that all violence is justified because it’s a response to occupation, and apartheid is also problematic. It is perhaps a reaction but that doesn’t mean that the people involved don’t have any agency, whatsoever. People always have agency. I have a little bit more about doppelgangers. It’s not in the book but it’s some notes I made after, relating to this idea of Israel as doppelganger politics, a nation governed by doppelganger politics. Doppelganger stories often end with the annihilation of the other but then the other turns out to be us. That’s when you’re stabbing your doppelganger but you end up stabbing yourself. As a Jewish person, that is what the ongoing and escalating horrors in Palestine show me. In attempts to banish and destroy the body of the other we, we as Jews end up destroying ourselves, if not our bodies, then our spirits, our principles, our love of debate, our elastic identities, our souls if you believe in that kind of thing.
DN: That’s really well said. Thinking again about how Israel isn’t, in some ways, a reiteration of the Jewish position in Europe, not as an escape from it, I wanted to bring in the words of Black intellectuals on this question, particularly James Baldwin in a 1979 article for The Nation called Open Letter to the Born Again where Baldwin says, “The Zionists—as distinguished from the people known as Jews—using, as someone put it, the ‘available political machinery,’ i.e., colonialism, e.g., the British Empire—promised the British that, if the territory were given to them, the British Empire would be safe forever.” But absolutely no one cared about the Jews, and it is worth observing that non-Jewish Zionists are very frequently anti-Semitic. The white Americans responsible for sending black slaves to Liberia (where they are still slaving for the Firestone Rubber Plantation) did not do this to set them free. They despised them, and they wanted to get rid of them. Lincoln’s intention was not to ‘free’ the slaves but to ‘destabilize’ the Confederate Government by giving their slaves reason to ‘defect.’ The Emancipation Proclamation freed, precisely, those slaves who were not under the authority of the President of what could not yet be insured as a union.” Much more recently, Fred Moten says something quite similar to this but what is interesting about it to me is connecting it to the slaves who were sent by Lincoln to live in Liberia as free men but because of the structural situation, they end up literally becoming slavers themselves. That their arrival as an utterly unimaginably repressed people with generations of their own trauma didn’t vaccinate them from stepping into the structural role that they did. The reason I think of this is because thinking of the notion of our shadow selves from your book Doppelganger, that doubles appear because of what we deny in ourselves. I don’t think the majority of people in North America see ourselves in the subject position of Israelis regardless of how our families got here, whether normal immigration or as refugees of wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, that most people in Israel, despite how it’s portrayed, did not move to Israel from the United States due to religious zealotry. Americans are a very small percentage of the total population with nearly a million of the seven million Israelis that are Jewish being from Morocco alone, nearly half of them from North Africa in the Middle East, and the majority of the rest either descendants of Holocaust refugees or Soviet Jews. I saw Viet Thanh Nguyen speak shortly after he was canceled. He was in conversation at the Portland Book Festival with Tommy Orange and he talked about reading Nadine Gordimer, the Jewish-South African Nobel Prize winner, and her notion of how when you arrived, regardless of the circumstances, when you arrived, no matter how low you were in society upon your arrival, your status was above that of Black South Africans and you could rise, and you knew you could in a way that would never be available to them. He likened that to the American experience. Even for his family escaping a war, that you become an alibi for the nation-building project over and against Native and Black lives. It feels like that’s also a similar situation with Israel. But I wondered if Baldwin’s thoughts provoke any thoughts on your end.
NK: Yeah, once again, this is all the stickiest, hardest subjects to talk about, including the anti-Semitism at the heart of the idea of Zionism, that Balfour himself was an anti-Semite, that this was always presented to European powers as a solution to their Jewish problem, i.e Jews, i.e win-win. You get rid of your Jews and we get a state of our own to create a doppelganger of European nationalism and be a sub-imperial power. But the pitch was always an extremely pessimistic one that was the antithesis of what the Labor Bund was fighting for which was hereness to cut, “We stay and we fight to make here better.” The idea that after enslavement, of course, Black people couldn’t stay in the United States. That would create a crisis, so the solution is go “back to Africa.” So many Black people fought for their hereness in the United States, the right to be here and make here better. It was always a reactionary idea of twinning liberation or survival with the idea of “Get out of here.” Many early Zionist writings were embedded with a sort of acceptance of many of the tropes of European anti-Semitism which was like the problem with the Jews was their statelessness, was their wandering this, was their cosmopolitan this, so the quest for respectability was, “We will cease to be the wanderers, cease to be the cosmopolitans, cease to be the people who carry community on our backs and we will just be a normal state like any other.” Then “normal,” being a normal state becomes this twisted idea of equality and the fight against anti-Semitism being, “We get to do what you did and if you don’t let us do what we did, you’re an anti-Semite. So if you cleared your land through a violence, if you ethnically cleansed your indigenous inhabitants, then it’s anti-Semitic to say that we Jews cannot.” I think once you accept the logic, this idea of, “We’re going to answer the Jewish question by creating a double of European nationalism,” then you’re carrying all of this with you. This is where the idea of the new Jew comes in which is a really anti-Semitic construction. It’s throwing the old Jew under the bus. Talk about victim blaming, basically saying that the Jews brought the Holocaust onto themselves by not worrying enough. Even though there were many people who fought back and participated in different kinds of uprisings, there was this hyper-masculinist, Zionist narrative that blamed bookish European Jews for going like lambs to the slaughter to the camps and that Israel was a response to that, not just in the form of a fortress state but also in the form of this figure of the new Jew, the muscular Jew, the non-bookish Jew, the Jew with the gun who was not going to fight in coalition with other oppressed people for a new world, which was the vision of the socialist Labor Bund and many other socialist Jewish formations, but was just going to put a gun to the head of the anti-Semite and force it into submission. A big part of this was this idea of, and this is really formative for Netanyahu personally because it’s what his father believed, this eternal nature of Jew-hatred, this idea that there’s something so primal about the hatred of Jews that is the throughline of history and you’re a fool if you think that there’s any kind of political response to it. The only thing you can do is fortress yourself against it, is force it into submission and that also is a very anti-Semitic concept because it assumes that this force is so powerful, that there’s no point in trying to change it. That’s why whenever there’s a wave of anti-Semitism outside of Israel, the response for many Jewish politicians, and Sharon was famous for this, was not to work with diaspora Jewish organizations to fight anti-Semitism. It was to say, “You see, this is why we need the state of Israel?” which is why it’s so insidious when Biden said, and he said this before October the 7th, shortly before, that without Israel, no Jew would be safe because that’s buying into the narrative that he doesn’t have a responsibility as an American president to keep Jews safe and keep all people safe. He is accepting the outsourcing of Jewish safety to this fortress state. But yeah, there was a lot in those quotes as well about this I think a very flawed assumption that extremely traumatized people will naturally be better people because of their trauma if there isn’t a process for that. I think that trauma can be transmuted and turned into a different kind of power and solidarity. I’ve seen examples of this. I’ve seen the very deliberate use of ceremony and education, work with trauma. It never goes away. These scars are so deep, they don’t go away. But I do believe that we can change but I don’t think that that’s what the Zionist project was trying to do. I think it was trying to channel the trauma and turn it into a gun. Have you watched Exodus recently?
DN: I haven’t.
NK: I feel like everyone’s homework needs to be to watch Exodus to just really understand. [laughter] Exodus is this absolutely formative film in the mythologizing of the Zionist story. It was made in 1961 starring Paul Newman and it’s based on the book Exodus but it was a huge hit. It’s the story of the forming of the State of Israel with lots of holes in it. No Nakba. But the title comes from a boat that went from Cyprus to Palestine filled with Holocaust survivors. It was a kind of act of Guerrilla warfare by the Haganah who orchestrated this escape from the camps in Cyprus. They threatened to blow up the boat if the British didn’t let them go to Haifa. On the boat, one of the characters in the film is somebody who desperately wants to join the Irgun, the terrorist organization that you referenced earlier, their most notorious attacks targeting civilians, very relevant for everything that’s been going on lately was the targeting of the King David Hotel. The plotline for this character is that he came straight from Auschwitz extremely traumatized, wants nothing more than to join the Irgun. Before he can join the Irgun, he has to be interrogated by the Irgun leadership who make him confess everything that he did in Auschwitz. They get him to confess that not only was he a prisoner but that he survived by collaborating including by digging mass graves for his fellow prisoners. This is very shaming to confess and people did whatever they could to survive but this is a very, very shaming moment where he’s having to confess how he survived. There was a great deal of suspicion in Israel about how the Holocaust survivors had survived. This was part of the shaming of the old Jews and the forging of the new Jews. They were used as a political tool but they didn’t really want to hear from them because there was so much suspicion of how they had survived and blaming of them for surviving. He confesses that he dug these graves and then his interrogator says, “Is there anything else? Have you told us everything?” Then he breaks down and he says, “They use me like a woman,” and then he starts to weep. He is confessing that he was raped, that he was systematically raped in the camps. In this moment where he’s breaking down, that is the moment when you can transmute trauma. That is the moment when you can really look at what has happened, there can actually be a breaking open, and there can actually be a changing. But that is the moment when they put his hand on the Bible, they put a gun in his hand, and they say, “You can join the Irgun.” It is a transference of trauma into violence and that is supposed to be some kind of heroic moment. But I think at the heart of this project is patriarchy, is injured masculinity, is an inability to actually look at brokenness, at trauma, and to confuse violence with therapy, to confuse being able to transfer into the position of an oppressor of the guard and now that is supposed to be freedom. I think we know a lot more about trauma now than we did then but from your quotes, there are a lot of people who’ve been trying to figure this out for a long time. The article that I mentioned when I was in university that got me into so much trouble was about this, it was called Victim to Victimizer. It was about masculinity under Zionism.
DN: Thinking that some of the former slaves arrived in Liberia and they actually built southern-style mansions and forced indigenous villagers to work on the plantation, it makes me think of a letter that a group of Jews wrote to The New York Times in 1948 about Menachem Begin’s visit to the United States and this joint letter by Jews including Einstein and Arendt is warning of the Freedom party founded by Begin.
NK: This by the way is, in a time of a great many open letters, my favorite open letter of all time.
DN: Oh, really? That’s great. [laughter]
NK: I love this one. Yeah, so Begin who eventually becomes prime minister decades later. But their warning of the Freedom party which they describe as “a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. Formed out of the former Irgun, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.” This party goes on to be absorbed as part of Likud, which is now the leaders of Israel and the most significant party of the last half-century. The current leadership and the faction within Likud in charge right now are I think the spiritual heirs of this subset of Likud. The current language is fascistic, apocalyptic, and genocidal in nature. I wanted to move toward talking about Jewish memory and memorialization and how it plays into a Jewish identity outside of an “us”. In Doppelganger, you look at all the wild ways Holocaust imagery is used by anti-vaxers, for instance, as if they were being oppressed just like the Jews were and wearing yellow stars to show their oppression where Jewish pain is being taken and implemented for nefarious purposes. But it also feels important to bring up the ways this imagery is being put into play right now. For instance, Biden’s press secretary compared the pro-Palestinian rallies in the United States, many of the most high-profile ones having been organized or co-organized by Jewish organizations, comparing them to the Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, the march where they chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” or that the Israel contingent at the UN wore yellow stars as if they were a nation-less people hunkered down in a ghetto rather than the overwhelming state power that had just been surprised, if horrifically by a vanquished people that’s refusing to be so, and all along wearing the yellow stars while speaking the most extreme genocidal fascistic rhetoric. That sounds like it’s out of Game of Thrones, a battle between the children of light and the children of darkness, a battle against human animals. This very much feels like the Mirror World in Doppelganger where groups co-opt imagery for opposite ends. But it feels like it gets weirder where the groups who say they are concerned about anti-Jewish sentiment and about Jewish safety eagerly make buddies with anti-Semites, the pro-Israel rally in DC invites as one of their planned speakers the Christian Zionist preacher John Hagee as one of their programmed speeches, a man who said, “God sent Hitler,” and that the Antichrist will be a half-Jewish homosexual and who, like most Christian Zionists, support Israel not because of a love of Jews but as part of an end-time prophecy where Jews will ultimately burn in hell. Or Greenblatt for the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, praising Elon Musk in the very moment all the advertisers are fleeing Twitter because of his explicit anti-Semitism this month, praising him for saying that the terms decolonization and “From The River To The Sea” necessarily imply genocide and users would be suspended for using them. Even Netanyahu who has not visited with families of the victims of the kibbutz full of peace activists but is meeting right now as we speak with Elon Musk in Israel. To requote your quoting of Philip Roth in Operation Shylock, “It’s too ridiculous to take seriously and too serious to be ridiculous.” I wanted to use all of this as a preface to talking about the chapter The Nazi in the mirror and about Holocaust memory. You’ve touched upon some of this already today, but could we talk more about, as you mentioned earlier, the way this new generation of diaspora, diasporic Jews, and others are orienting the Holocaust in a non-exceptional and non-abstracted from history way and why that’s important.
NK: It’s striking, back to the letter from Einstein, Arendt, and others, that not long after the Holocaust, it was much more possible to follow the throughlines and to notice the patterns of replication. Whereas now, it’s so forbidden to draw any parallels, although Israelis call Netanyahu fascist all the time, but anybody outside of Israel is not allowed to draw any parallels. The president of Colombia said, “It’s Global 1933,” describing the moment that we’re in, and was lambasted as an anti-Semite, how dare he say that there were any parallels? It’s just extraordinary. To me, there’s such an amazing contradiction between this faith that Holocaust education is going to fix everything. In Canada, we have three provinces that have, in response to the spike in anti-Semitic incidents since October 7th, but also there’s been a spike in Islamophobic violence and anti-Palestinian violence, but several provinces are not responding to the Islamophobic violence or the anti-Palestinian violence, they’ve just mandated more Holocaust education. The assumption seems to be if we do more of this, in the book I say we had the facts of the Nazi genocide drummed into us like arithmetic tables, it’s unclear to me what they think is going to happen because kids are smart, students are smart and they bring their life experience to this education, they bring what they learned about the indigenous genocide to this education, and they bring what their grandparents told them about the British colonization to this experience, and what they have learned about enslavement to this experience. So they do connect the dots. They necessarily connect the dots. There seems to be this idea that we need more Holocaust education but you’re not allowed to draw any connection, that it’s anti-Semitic to draw any connections between the Holocaust and other Holocausts, other genocides. What is potentially hate speech is saying that Israel is capable of doing any of that, that that’s beyond the realm of acceptable discourse. I was really struck by this, I’ve been collecting stories about different people who have been fired, dropped by their agents, or their films. There was a high-profile example recently with Melissa Barrera who was dropped from Scream 7, I believe, because she had been posting in support of Palestinian rights and liberation. The company Spyglass Media, when they dropped her, what they said was, “We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism or the incitement of hate in any form including false references to genocide, ethnic cleansing, Holocaust distortion, or anything that flagrantly crosses the line into hate speech.” What that is saying is that saying that Israel could engage in genocide or ethnic cleansing is hate speech. I think that what’s happening in the fact that you have a massive generational shift, you have not just huge protests but major and historic civil disobedience in the halls of Congress, at Grand Central Station, and at these protests organized by JVP and IfNotNow is another way of understanding history. I think this has been a long time coming and the debates aren’t new but the mainstream nature of them is new. The cracks were starting to show around this very verboten topic around what Hitler had learned from the United States and from Britain. To the extent that there was a Ken Burns documentary series, a six-part documentary series just a couple of years ago which was explicitly about this. It was about what Hitler had learned from Jim Crow, Native reservations, how he’d been influenced by the frontier myths, how Lebensraum was the Eastward expansion that he saw as being directly parallel to the Westward expansion in the Americas. These challenges, the exceptionality story around the Holocaust, and it supports what many Black scholars had been saying at the time. Aimé Césaire was saying that this was colonialism turned inward. Du Bois said in the 1950s in the world in Africa, “There was no Nazi atrocity – concentration camps, wholesale maiming and murder, defilement of women or ghastly blasphemy of childhood – which the Christian civilization of Europe had not long been practicing against colored folk in all parts of the world in the name of and for the defense of a Superior Race born to rule the world.” What was new was now fellow Europeans were being cast as the inferior race. I think there were starting to be some cracks in the narrative of what Hitler did was outside of history, we’d never seen anything, there were no lines connecting it to colonialism, no lines connecting it to enslavement, nothing learned from settler colonialism or European race-making. I think an earlier crack in that narrative was Raoul Peck’s HBO series Exterminate All the Brutes, which I thought was really, really interesting and I wrote about it in Doppelganger, but when I watched it, I was frustrated because it ends before the story ended because it doesn’t talk about Palestine. It builds on Sven Lindqvist’s book Exterminate All the Brutes and makes the argument that what happened in the Holocaust was a long-snaking story that begins with the Inquisition and the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Europe in 1492, the same year that Columbus’ ships leave for the Americas. It loops to Africa with the Scramble for Africa and the trade in human bodies and labor, and commits genocide in the Americas, comes back to Europe. This is what Du Bois was saying, there was nothing that Hitler did that had not been done in some form. Every genocide is different. Every Holocaust is different. Everyone uses the technologies of the day. It’s not to say that there aren’t specific things about every one of these cases but it is to say that there’s a logic. What Peck was trying to do was identify the logic as the flip side of the civilizing project, and many people have made exactly that argument. Walter Benjamin said exactly that, that there was no project of civilization. That was not also a project of barbarism. We’re here to civilize you but when you will not be civilized, we will annihilate you in the name of progress, in the name of civilization. Where I think the split is, and just to continue with Peck, my problem with the film and also Lindqvist book is that it ends with the Holocaust and it doesn’t look at the fact that because the dominant story of what the Nazi project was did not link it with settler colonialism, there was able to be this idea that there could be reparations for the Holocaust in the form of granting the Zionists their own State. It was a literal reparation in the case of the Germans who legitimized their own new state of West Germany by paying reparations, not just to individual Jews who had lost property during the Holocaust but to the state of Israel to build its infrastructure, huge reparations. That kind of misdiagnosis of what that project was allowed for the project to have this new chapter and for it to continue. The horror of this moment, and I think why we’re seeing so much censorship, a frenzy of it and it’s like playing whack-a-mole, like, “How many people are you going to fire? How many events are you going to cancel? How many books are you going to ban?” is that we’re still in it. To me, there is such a deep horror in realizing that the horrors of the Second World War did not end. They didn’t begin with that war and they didn’t end when that war “ended.” Another chapter is being written and it’s just getting more violent. The annihilatory logic is still there. It was there in Israel’s founding and it is there in what has been happening in Gaza. That’s the rift, I think, the generational rift. It comes back to what we were talking about before. To me, there’s an irony in this duel like education is the solution but also we need to wage war on universities because students are making too many connections, they’re talking about colonialism, they’re talking about genocide, they’re talking about settler colonialism, and we can’t have these connections. But of course, that’s what a good education does. It teaches critical thinking. It allows you to recognize patterns. I think there’s a generational shift and it’s over this. Are we going to recognize patterns or are we just going to have a rule? And the rule is you have to be nice to Jews. And by that, we mean, you have to give Israel a blank check. [laughter]
DN: Yeah. No, that’s really well said. I like the idea of it being reframed as colonialism turned inward. Maybe with your saying that Peck didn’t go far enough, to add nuance to that, not to argue against it, but Jews were also being persecuted before The Spanish Inquisition, they were expelled from England for 350 years, 500 communities were wiped out during The Black Death for being accused of being the source of the plague, the Strasbourg and burning of 2000 Jews, there was a whole bunch of that but I do think that maybe we could look at the pre-Spanish Inquisition part kind of the way, I think it was Pádraig Ó Tuama when he was on the show, talked about how Ireland was like the testing grounds for colonization before the colonization. All of the tricks and techniques that Britain used in Ireland that they later used around the world started there. Maybe it started there and with Jews and then later colonization became a place of testing how to bring it back home and do it even more effectively. I don’t even know.
NK: Maybe it started with the witches.
DN: I mean, it did, I think too. But there are so many ways the Holocaust is narrativized that are problematic I think. I also think of saying the 6 million instead of the 11 million, if we were to include the Roma, the disabled, queer people, and more. It feels like a real missed opportunity for building bridges with others to not tell the story that way and I also think of how it’s memorialized. If we think that there are something like 15 major Holocaust museums in the United States and innumerable memorials, we have a memorial here in Portland, what if the Jewish Community here said, “That’s enough. We have places to go. We have so many places to go and remember”? And in every place where a memorial exists, often there aren’t memorials to the actual genocides that have happened on the actual land that the memorial to Jews exists. But what happens if every place where a memorial now doesn’t exist to Jewish pain but where Jews do exist, if they reached out to Native nations there to work toward a memorialization of what happened on that land, like imagining the unforeseen connections and alliances that could be made, if that was done? If we think of the way that the Holocaust has been remembered as akin to the way Zionism has insisted on its own narrative regardless of other narratives of the same place, I want to move toward talking about alternate models, which you’ve also nodded towards. I think of Philip Roth’s fake doppelganger in Operation Shylock, which is the main book you look at in Doppelganger and which we look at more in-depth the first time we talked. In our last conversation, you discuss how although fake Roth is the proponent of reverse Zionism or diasporism, it’s complicated because the real Roth himself is a proponent, not of reverse Zionism but of diasporism, of the vibrancy of diaspora Jewry, of decentering Jewish identity from Israel as a state or the notion of Jews living only or mainly among Jews. His double has some of his own qualities so the fake Roth has some of Roth’s real qualities and some that aren’t him. I haven’t read that book in 25 years but if I remember correctly, fake Roth is arguing for the resettlement of European Jews in Europe and that the Mizrahi Jews and Palestinians form a secular state. You say in Doppelganger, speaking of conspiracy theorists, you say that they often get the facts wrong but get the feelings right. Obviously, decolonization doesn’t ask for or demand actual population transfer, and asking people to go back to where they are “from” at this point would be like asking any American to move back to where their grandparents or great-grandparents are from as if we were also from there. But the idea that Prague would be given over to the Jews, if I remember this part of fake Roth’s plan correctly, it’s the thing that has stuck in my mind more than anything, to me, that gets the feelings right I think. Thinking of the millions upon millions of people who live in Jewish homes in Europe now from innumerable Jewish displacements, it should have been Europe making the reparations, not the Palestinians. The notion of giving Prague to the Jews gets the feeling right if not the realities I think. But thinking of Roth and fake Roth’s diasporism, their imagining of a vibrant elastic Jewish life among people of all sorts, I wanted to spend some time with the Jewish Labour Bund more time than we have. The Bund which arose at exactly the same time as the birth of political Zionism, both coming at a time when Jewish life had become—in the course of 2000 years of precarityScramble for Africa—unusually precarious, but they’re, in most ways, polar opposites. I suspect the reason why the Bund appears in Doppelganger is because of their notion of “hereness” which you’ve mentioned. But tell us in your own words more about your interest in them and then their role in Doppelganger the book.
NK: Yeah. I listened to a speech that was making the rounds recently by Gideon Levy, Haaretz columnist extraordinaire where he was explaining what he felt was the heart of the problem. The first thing he listed was the concept of chosenness, basically a Jewish supremacist idea of taking a Biblical concept, applying it to a state, and turning it into a supremacist idea. It’s possible that chosenness is an inherently supremacist idea even just without a state and I grew up in a Reconstructionist synagogue in Montreal that actually changed the words of the Bible from when we were chosen to when we chose ourselves because as a progressive congregation, there was a feeling that that was inherently unequal and even supremacist, I suppose. Actually, I can’t speak for the Reconstructionist theology, I don’t think they would use the term supremacist but I’ll use it.
DN: Well, my synagogue, growing up, had a really, I thought, self-deprecating story. I’ve never encountered in the synagogues I’ve been in any weirdness or even really engagement with chosenness in any way in my own experience of Jewish life. But the one it did in Hebrew school was that God gave the chance to every other people but the Jews first to take on the rules and responsibility of the Torah and everyone said, “No way,” and that we did. It felt weird the way it was framed to me in a sense of we took the burden on rather than we were special.
NK: Right. I think what’s interesting about the Bund in this is that they, as a working-class Jewish formation of workers including self-defense leagues, had a notion of distinctness without specialness, without chosenness, like distinctness outside of a hierarchy. I think that this is where chosenness gets into trouble and certainly, the Jewish supremacist version of chosenness that Gideon Levy was referencing as an explanation for why the world is asked to understand the grief of parents who lost children on October 7th but has no space for grief for Palestinian parents who have lost thousands of children in Gaza and that these things can coexist, they can only coexist within a supremacist framework. You have to believe that your kids are worth more. You have to believe that you love your kids more, or else you’re grieving all kids, you’re grieving all losses, you believe that all life is precious. I think that what was interesting about the Bund in a context of a lot of sectarianism and a flowering of socialism was that they were in coalition but they were not assimilationists. They believed that there needed to be some protections for Jewish culture, Yiddish language. I think because of all of the centuries of persecution, they didn’t buy it. They didn’t buy that you just merge into a working-class mass and Jewishness no longer matters. I think that that’s what set them apart and created some divisions with other socialist Jews who believed that once the working-class utopia arrived, there would be no need for any kind of ethnic identification or religious. I think that the Bund were mainly secular in their Judaism. It was more cultural Judaism. It’s interesting that that’s what you remember about Roth. I remembered that he was making it more absurd than that and it was more that they were going to go back to Poland.
DN: No, that part seems totally absurd. I only remembered that because of reading your book but because you’ve read Operation Shylock so much more recently than me.
NK: Yeah, but you remember Prague.
DN: I just remember this idea like, “Okay, who’s going to pay the price?” This idea, “Okay, well, Europe really needs to give up land,” that to me like yeah, you should be giving up the land, not the colonies.
NK: Yeah, and this is what we were talking about around this anti-Semitic bargain that was made of solving the Jewish problem because this is the part of the history that is uncomfortable is that even the countries that were fighting the Nazis, like Britain, the US, and Canada were not willing to open their borders to Jews, they were worried that would breed too much anti-Semitism because Jews continued to be hated in their countries. We’re talking about settler colonialism before, I don’t think there can be any argument that Israel is a settler colonial state, its founding documents spoke of colonialism, its founding organizations identified as colonial. All of these are thinly veiled Judaizations, terra nullius became a land without people for people without a land, and so on. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t particularities. I don’t think that there is another example. While there are other examples of oppressed people being settler colonists, including prisoners in Australia, including very impoverished and oppressed people in the Americas being handed the mantle of Whiteness or the Nadine Gordimer quote that you reference, as a state project, they weren’t conceived of as reparations for genocide. Even though Zionism as a political project predates the Holocaust, it was pretty marginal. In the era of the Bund, the Bund was much more powerful than the Zionists. The Zionists were more marginal than the Bund was. That was a much more mainstream position of staying here, fighting, making here better, being in coalition with other oppressed people, and Zionism won the argument because most of the people it was fighting with were killed. It wasn’t like they had a fair fight. Anyway, back to the Bund.
DN: Well, I went down a rabbit hole around the Bund so I’m going to reiterate a little bit of what you said but also add some more things. The thing that was most inspiring about them as an example for me, and was also inspiring for me when I discovered them doing this early work with Jews for Global Justice 20 years ago was that they were socialists/Marxists but were against the Communist Party based on this question of assimilation. What I mean by that is if you read Marx’s work called On The Jewish Question, he says, “Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time. An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible. His religious consciousness would be dissipated like a thin haze in the real, vital air of society. In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” Beyond being over-the-top anti-Semitic, I feel like the Bund does not accept this. I mean, they’re not engaged with Judaism but in a way, this feels to me like a doppelganger to Christianity’s belief that it has fulfilled the purpose of Judaism, that there is no point for a Jew in contemporary society post-Christianity and that the persistence of Jews is a reminder of their rejection of God and their murder of him. But here on the flip side, once the Jew in Marx’s vision joins the universalist workers movement, the need to be Jewish in any way disappears. But I love that the Bund were Marxist and were fighting for an international workers revolution and yet said, “No, Jewish assimilation, even in a socialist vision, is a trap,” which I think is born out later when Bundists who go full-on Soviet later on and assimilate into the movement, they get purged, i.e murdered for their past however disavowed their past was and Jews were disproportionately purged. But way before this, Lenin was very much against the Bund because they wanted to organize as Jews. This is exactly what is compelling about them to me, their defense of difference and yet their insistence on solidarity across difference at the same time. Molly Crabapple, who you cite in the book who’s also working on a book on them, and I was listening to all sorts of podcasts and some of them were with her, she sees similarities with the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. The Bund believed in Jewish self-defense as you said in the promotion of Yiddish culture and of Yiddish as an important language of political discourse and they attended to the day-to-day needs of the Jewish proletariat. And yet unlike Zionists, they were not just devoted to Jews, they didn’t begin from the presumption that everyone hated Jews. They fought in the Spanish Civil War. They created an illegal radio broadcast into Germany so that German workers could hear it. The first people they got out of Nazi Germany were non-Jewish trade unionists and also Spanish and Italian anti-fascists who were in danger. They were instrumental in The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising because they weren’t insular. They, in particular, had connections on the outside. They had solidarity with non-Jewish Poles who could get them weapons. This isn’t really a question, I just wanted to add maybe more texture.
NK: It’s great, and there was the resurgence. Yeah, I love that. I really do believe that, I’ve talked about this with Molly a lot and I can’t wait for her book, we had a meeting when I was writing Doppelganger and I was in Upstate New York trying to finish a few chapters away from my family and Molly came up and we had like 24 hours of just talking non-stop about the Bund and it had a real impact on the book in part because they were all up against conspiracy culture. I was trying to understand the role of anti-Semitism as the oldest and most persistent conspiracy theory and the way it has served elite power over the years. What we were talking about was this historical chapter before the Russian Revolution, which was a high point for the Bund which was an unsuccessful but maybe nearly successful revolution in 1905 in Russia. When the Bund was in coalition as you describe it with all these working-class non-Jewish people, very clear that their interests did not align with members of their same ethnic group who were the class of the owners and bosses. This is one of the biggest changes in Jewish thought post Holocaust is that in the era we’re talking about, the idea that a Jewish worker’s interest would be aligned with a Jewish boss’s interest would have been totally absurd. Of course, that Jewish worker’s interests were more aligned with a non-Jewish worker’s interest than either of them were aligned with bosses. But what these nationalist projects did is create a sameness around race and around ethnicity and religion. But the way the czar responded to the failed revolution after it was put down in 1905 was by offering some minor reforms and then unleashing the hounds of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. Those coalitions were broken apart. People who had fought side by side against the czar were pitted against each other and there was a wave of bloody pogroms. This is I think how we end up in the Judaism that I think we both grew up with where it seemed that the strain of thought that the Bund represented, the hereness strain, the universalist strain, the coalition strain, the solidarity strain had been revealed to be not just naive but catastrophically naive for the reasons that you described that many Bundists died in the camps, others died in the purges, and that seemed to be the last word. But what I see in this generational shift and in the post-Zionist and anti-Zionist organizing groups like JVP and IfNotNow, not everybody identifies as anti-Zionists, is a resurgence of a new kind of bundism. I think when ideas are put down by force as opposed to actually defeated because they fail, when they’re just crushed, they can come back. They’re seeds. I think that JVP, IfNotNow, and Jewish Currents are the seeds of the Bund that are now.
DN: I do too. Yeah, no, I’m glad you mentioned Jewish Currents too. That’s what I appreciated about you including Eleanor Marx in your book, Marx’s daughter. That Marx’s father, as you mentioned in Doppelganger, converted to Christianity because he couldn’t practice law in Prussia as a Jew. But his daughter converts back and declares, “I am a Jewess,” which I love that it’s China Miéville who pushed you to include that. But in poking around more about her, she was particularly struck by the working-class Jews working in the sweatshops of East London and their militant struggle for rights, and in demonstrations said, “We, Jews, need to stick together.” This doesn’t strike me as insular or tribalist but a vision unlike her father’s of solidarity across difference rather than solidarity through its erasure. Twenty years ago, this was important to me and Stosh Cotler and others in the group, but there were just as many people in our group who were Jewish leftists who rolled their eyes at doing this work from a place of positive Jewish identification. It makes me think of two things that I want to mention. One is a friend of mine who Jewish, a leftist, and an academic who I think largely shares the same politics as me, who won Jewish New Year on Facebook when various Jews were saying l’shana tova to each other. He posted a l’shana tova alongside a picture of something horrible Israel was doing. Something that he took down, I suspect he probably thought better of it. Whereas I see, on the Jewish right and an institutional Jewish life, a self-perpetuating stance of endless grievance of continually centering Jewish pain. On the far left, I sometimes saw mainly shame or sometimes only shame, and to do work as Jews where Jewish life is either only pain or only shame was not something I was interested in doing and was not something Stosh was interested in doing, it had to be more than that. The other thing that I thought of was a brief email exchange I had with Howard Zinn where after reading A People’s History of the United States, a book that I loved, I wrote him and I said, “It’s strange to see almost no mention of Jews in the people’s history other than some passing mention of Yiddish trade unions in the 30s,” especially given that nearly half the northern White Freedom Writers who risked their lives in the 60s were Jewish. I wasn’t wanting Jews in any way to be centered, over-represented, or particularly foregrounded but I thought, objectively speaking, there were inflection points in American history where Jews, as part of a people’s movement, were historically relevant and he sort of out-of-hand dismissed it by saying, “Well, I suppose I was on a panel once that was me, Daniel Berrigan, and someone else,” and so that was 33% Jewish, and also that he didn’t mention it because they hadn’t organized as Jews even though he does mention the preponderant say of women in the antinuclear movement who weren’t organizing as women. I bring this up because what feels like the norm on the Jewish left, which I think Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and others represented at one point, I feel like the Jewish left, its relationship to Jewishness, and that norm has shifted. I think in large part thanks to intersectionality and also to the example of Black Organizing in the United States, I’m guessing, from a position that feels to me more evacuated from a subject position in its universalism to one that is also about rebuilding Jewish life. I see that on the left now. Maybe that’s what you’re nodding toward when you say these are examples of the Bund, the Jewish Currents magazine, JVP, and IfNotNow. But it feels hopeful to me or beautiful to me maybe like nothing else has around this question.
NK: It’s hard to put one’s finger on what the shift is because still, a lot of the organizing is anti-Zionist is rejecting the actions of the Israeli government and saying, “Not in our name,” and being in solidarity with Palestinians and building those relationships. That’s always been true, Jews against the occupation, Jews against Israel apartheid,” I mean, there have always been these formations. But it really does feel, even in the 15 years that I’ve been on the board of JVP, I think JVP now is speaking more proudly from a place of Jewish values, Jewish tradition, it’s just Jewish year. [laughter]
DN: Yeah. It feels that way to me too.
NK: It feels really delightful to me because I think as somebody who has experienced unjewing, of ex-communication, you’re not a real Jew, you’re a self-hating Jew, my Twitter now is just “kapo, kapo, kapo,” and I think I took those ex-communications pretty to heart in the sense that even though I feel very lucky that I come from a progressive Jewish nuclear family, I say nuclear because it’s not true of my whole family, I have lost family members over my position on Israel and BDS, but my parents are great on this issue, I have so many friends who’ve lost their parents over it, who’ve lost their whole network and so I feel lucky about that, but still somehow I had trouble to just claim my Jewishness, not just in opposition to what other people were saying was Judaism. It was a stance that was just not in our name but it wasn’t saying, “What is in our name, what do we believe, what is our positive vision of the future? How do we want to be in coalition with other people who carry these doppelgangers created by others projected onto us?” That is the generational shift that I see. It feels like a homecoming. I feel really lucky to have lived to see the day.
DN: Me too. Well, as we move close to an end, I wanted to return to this notion of porous narratives, and maybe a more capacious view of the Jewish people beyond our position within it, and also return to this version of Zionism that you mentioned earlier on that once existed that was against the Jewish State. I’m not speaking of either of the Zionisms that exist today, the Likud party, the Labor Party, or Liberal Zionism. Because the Labor Zionism, which used to be significant and has now been pretty marginalized in Israeli politics, they were settler or Colonial too. Shimon Perez, his slogan as a minister was “Settlements everywhere.” Golda Meir tripled the number of settlements under her rule and we even know now she had a crop duster fly over a Palestinian village to spray it with poison to get them to leave so an Israeli settlement could be built there. But prior to the state existing, there was a Zionism that considered itself as such who were against a Jewish state but were for a Jewish homeland. It included towering fig figures: Martin Buber to Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, the largest women’s Zionist organization, she was against the Jewish State, and Arendt and Einstein were also arguing against statehood and yet for a homeland, all of whom were advocating, in some way or another, for existing there in a state of equality. The Yehudit party that symbolized this didn’t have a lot of support from either side, but as I mentioned was full of notables in the Jewish intelligentsia who were even willing to limit Jewish immigration at a time of Jewish crisis as part of a vision of a future state that was not a Jewish state to show that this wasn’t going to be a state imposed on another but of figuring out together, which doesn’t feel to me that different than Edward Said’s vision of a one-state solution. I think of an interview of Said’s in Haaretz where the interviewer says, “What you are saying is that Israelis should know that, like white South Africans, they have a right to stay as long as they give up their ideology,” and he says, “Yes, an ideology that denies the rights of others,” and the interviewer then says, “So what is needed is a process of de-Zionization?” and Said says, “I don’t like to use words like that. Because that’s obviously a signal that I’m asking the Zionists to commit harakiri. They can be Zionists, and they can assert their Jewish identity and their connection to the land, so long as it doesn’t keep the others out so manifestly.” When he says this, they can be Zionists, he is certainly not thinking that they can remain Jewish ethno-nationalists, which is the way the word is being used today.
NK: Jewish supremist.
DN: Yeah. He’s not saying that. He’s not saying they can remain having rights that are more important. But I think he’s seen something beyond Jewish nationalism in the word, or at least in the origins of the word that for many Jews is also something they feel that I think has to be separated out from the questions of nation-states. A lot of the Jews who don’t consider people like you and me part of the Jewish family, as you’ve mentioned, they do so by arguing that we don’t believe in Jewish peoplehood. But I actually care very much about the Jewish people as a people. I think of what past guest Elaine Castillo said, that sometimes to fight for your family is to fight with your family. I think the more daylight we can create between peoplehood and nation-states, the more decoupled they become, it seems the better to me for the people. I don’t want the trees planted from my bar mitzvah or in a loved one’s memory to be planted over a raised Palestinian village as part of its erasure, or the symbols of my people on bombs and tanks. If people decorated in the symbols of Judaism bomb a house, why wouldn’t the survivors or their families hold up a sign with the Star of David in a trash can at a protest? How do we find daylight between the ongoing problem of real hatred of Jews from this blurring of Jews with the actions of a state in the world? Finding the daylight between, to me, that feels on behalf of a people, not a denial of a people.
NK: I think all we can do short of trying to put pressure on that state, which is what BDS is for, and I think we need a major push for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions including from people who have not considered it, felt that, had struggled with the parts of it related to culture and the academy because that feels like censorship. I would really implore people to take a look at the principles of BDS which are not boycotting individual Israeli artists or individual Israeli academics but the institutions that are entangled with the Israeli State and the machinery of dispossession and occupation. There’s a really very good book that’s coming out in January from Verso by an Israeli scholar now living in Canada named Maya Wind which is called Towers of Ivory and Steel, which is about the entanglement of Israeli universities with violence of many, many kinds including one that you just referenced with the development of biological weapons. It’s a shocking book. I just blurbed it and I said it’s going to just detonate these debates around boycott. We need to use the most potent nonviolent tools that we have and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions are those tools. We can’t accept the weaponization of traumatic memories, which are real, like Nazis boycotted Jewish businesses. That memory is in Jewish DNA and that is going to be weaponized and used to say you are like the Nazis. You’re not. At the same time, we have to somehow find a way to recognize that those feelings are real and trauma is complicated. We can’t just scream at people who feel things. We have to find a way to navigate that and hold more complicated spaces that allow for the reality of feelings without conceding the truth of the point, which I think we’ve been horrifically bad at including me by the way, very bad at. I just think it can just argue the point, I think we can do a lot better. Beyond putting pressure on the state using all of those tools including pressuring our own governments who enable it and our accomplices, I think we need zero tolerance for anti-Semitism within our political and cultural spaces, we have to not be afraid to speak up, and differentiate between criticism of Israel and real anti-Semitism. I’m not sure we’ve done a good enough job of that either. And I think we need a horizon that we’re moving towards. This is really, really tricky, coming back to that wonderful Said quote about what a future might look like, this is really fraught terrain and it’s been made fraught deliberately in the sense that how are you supposed to come up with a horizon when the strategy of the Israeli state has been to break apart Palestinian society systematically, to separate Arab Israelis from West Bank Palestinians, from Israeli Palestinians, from Palestinians in Gaza, from Palestinians in the diaspora, that has been a divide and conquer colonial strategy. Who comes up with the horizon? The fact that that is a difficult question to answer is by design. But the fact is there has to be a dreaming, there has to be a vision, there have to be values and principles that animate the movements that we are all in, or else we end up in a situation, as I think a lot of us were after October 7th, where it was unclear what are the principles? What’s the end goal? Is the end goal to push all Jews out of Israel? Is that the decolonial project? Is targeting of civilians acceptable as part of the right to resist? Because those principles were not clear, were not codified, were not agreed upon, people were making it up on Twitter. I don’t want to make it seem simpler than it is but it is very difficult to find the containers in which a dreaming that included Palestinians, Israeli Jews, and diaspora Jews could take place. What is the horizon that we’re moving towards beyond this horrific present? I don’t know what that container is and I know it’s very hard because of all the reasons I’ve just outlined and that’s not even mentioning all of the legacy Jewish organizations that claim to speak on behalf of Jews and where there are no mechanisms for democratic participation. But one thing that I do know is that I wrote a book called No Is Not Enough, and I think it’s more than not enough, it’s dangerous to just have a no and not have a political project, it’s in the sense that it’s dangerous to open a political vacuum and not have a plan for how to fill it because if you don’t, somebody else is going to fill it. I think about the writings of Alaa Abd El-Fattah who is an incredible Egyptian revolutionary who’s now in his 11th year behind bars in Egypt. I wrote the foreword for his book You Have Not Yet Been Defeated which is a collection of prison writings where he reflects about the Tahrir Square youth-led Egyptian revolution that he was such a key figure in. He talks about how they needed a horizon because they actually brought down Mubarak faster than they thought they would and then that opened up a political space and the revolutionary movement wasn’t ready to fill that space. They didn’t have time but the Muslim Brotherhood was ready because they had been preparing, they had a horizon, but it wasn’t a horizon that represented the revolution. I think we’re in a really sticky spot here because it actually is a little bit dangerous to open a political vacuum before you know what you want to fill it with. I think this is some really, really urgent work. I know lots of wonderful organizers who are thinking about this, trying to create those spaces, and trying to have those really difficult conversations. I think we’ll be hearing more in the future of what it might mean, what it might look like, and how we might dream together. What you were saying about Said and this idea of maybe people get to hold on to certain viewpoints that we disagree with as long as the container itself is equality and dignity for all, there was this little passage that I just wanted to share with you about the idea of Israel as kind of a warning which I write about in the book because I think what’s happening now is that the question is being called, which I would put like this: What if instead of disappearing into our partitioned, performed, and projected selves—which is what we do with our doppelgangers—we actually try to live with ourselves and with each other so that the goal becomes not enforcing our absolute will on the other attempting to dominate them to win but to actually live with our doppelgangers, our double walkers, not hold their hands necessarily but accept that they are real and that we’re not going to delete, mute, or disappear them?
DN: I’m sure you know Said and his work in a much deeper way than me and are likely right about what you say about what he might have meant when he said this, but it’s left quite indeterminate and I imagine something entirely different. The entire history of Rabbinical Judaism, the Judaism post destruction of The Second Temple, was created to answer the question: How do we go on being Jews when the axis mundi of Jewish religious life is gone? The answer was to create a portable ritualized space where most of the rituals, ceremonies, and holidays in some way referenced what was once done in the temple. By extension, this ritualized space I think became a way to remember a certain relationship to the land as well. The central prayer to the Jewish liturgy said three times per day, probably dating back to The Second Temple period, has a prayer for the in-gathering of exiles. It’s weird to speak this now when this very narrative, these very things have been used to justify kicking people out of their homes and taking their land step by step over the last hundred years. But nothing about them in and of themselves suggests this. So thinking of what Adania Shibli said on the show with me, that quote, “When the Jewish immigration, the Zionist settlement started, people were not reacting in a hostile way. The problem starts when it turns into a project of colonization rather than living. The minute it becomes problematic is when it becomes about power, about control, about resources, about who’s going to control. I think the state is always a structure that wants to control.” Thinking of that, I imagine that Said was imagining the Jews that are now in Israel themselves having a different relationship to the land than the one they’ve demanded, one of control, dispossession, and exclusion, one of absolute security for them through absolute apocalypse for the other. Even though this is me imagining into the unspoken behind his words, in the spirit of imagining an otherwise, I want to mention the last Passover I was at. One thing Doppelganger doesn’t engage with is doubling in the Bible: Adam and Eve, Eve and Lilith, Abel and Cain, Isaac and Ishmael, Rachel and Leah, and so on and so on. During the Passover ritual, since I was a kid, at the time when you were supposed to remove 10 drops from your wine before you drink one for each of the 10 plagues, you do this to diminish your joy in acknowledgment of the suffering that one’s own liberation has caused on others. I would always bring up the Palestinians which just felt like a natural obvious thing to do. But it would always create either an awkward moment or a mild huff from someone in my family, a mild awkward moment. But it never generated any meaningful discussion. A couple of times as an adult at Passover where there were people I didn’t know, it actually derailed all goodwill and caused a rupture in the ritual. But the last Passover I was at, which was the only one I’ve been at where a rabbi was there, not as a rabbi but he was a rabbi, he was there as a participant because part of the appeal of this holiday is that it’s a holiday not in a formal setting but around a table of family, friends, and peers but it’s the first holiday in my life where someone else brought up the Palestinians rather than me and held them in the space. I very tentatively, not knowing most of the people, suggested that mizraim or the narrow place, the place we experienced as slaves in Egypt, that Israel was mizraim now, that Israel was Egypt for the Palestinians. This was met warmly by the rabbi who was there and we talked about how the heroes of the story could be seen as the Egyptian midwives who risked their own lives rescuing Moses from the water against the pharaoh’s decree, and even more so, the pharaoh’s daughter who likewise raises Moses as her own against her father’s authority that perhaps today, we Jews need to look to these Egyptians as inspirations to work on behalf of Palestinians against our own pharaoh. Somehow we had a Passover like this, this year, and it felt like a miracle. I just wanted to end on that note and also just thank you for returning, Naomi, and for fighting for the dignity and equality of all 14 million people in Palestine, Israel.
NK: Thank you so much, David. This was so amazing. I learned so much from all of your references. That last story is so beautiful. I think this is why we need to reject these border guards policing our speech, tying up our tongues, and making us feel like there are so many words that we can’t say until we just fall silent because that’s the goal of these tactics. We need to untie our tongues so that we actually can tell new stories, new chapters of old stories, and find that creative spirit, that elastic spirit that has been dormant but I don’t believe ever died. I just want to say like I really do believe that we have not seen the worst of what is true McCarthyism, and when I say McCarthyism, I mean that there’s state power behind the censorship. There’s a lot of people feeling silence, there’s a lot of people feeling unsafe. But as Rashid Khalidi said, there’s a huge power differential because there’s state backing for some of the people who are being silenced. That’s what it means when people are woken up with their doors being broken down by police to accuse them of hate speech when they’re engaged in political speech. You have such an amazing audience of people who know how to put truth into language and to speak into silences. We need company. We need everybody. It’s going to get bad and the only thing we have on our side is numbers. But we don’t have the numbers if we fall silent.
DN: Thank you.
NK: Thank you, David.
DN: We’re talking today to Naomi Klein for our part two of our discussion of her latest book, Doppelganger. You’ve been listening to Between the Covers. I’m David Naimon, your host.
Today’s program was recorded at the volunteer-powered, non-commercial, listener-sponsored, full-strength, makeshift home office of me, David Naimon. You can find out more about Naomi Klein at naomiklein.org. For the bonus audio archive, Naomi contributes a reading from Operation Shylock, of a letter written by fake Roth, otherwise known as Moishe Pipik to the real Roth. This joins supplemental readings by so many of our past guests, long-form interviews with translators, craft talks, and more. The bonus audio is only one possible benefit of joining the Between the Covers Community as a listener supporter. Every supporter can join our brainstorm of future guests and every listener-supporter receives the supplementary resources with each conversation. Additionally, there are a variety of other potential gifts and rewards including the Tin House Early Readership Subscription getting 12 books over the course of the year months before they’re available to the general public to a bundle of books selected by me and sent to you. You can find out more at patreon.com/betweenthecovers. Or if you prefer a one-time donation, you can do so via PayPal at tinhouse.com/support. I’d like to thank the Tin House team: Elizabeth Demeo and Alyssa Ogie in the Book Division, Beth Steidle in the Art Department, Becky Kraemer and Jae Nichelle in Publicity, and Lance Cleland, the Director of the summer and winter Tin House Writers Workshops. Finally, I’d like to thank past Between the Covers guest, poet, musician, composer, performer, and much more, Alicia Jo Rabins, for making the intro and outro for the show. You can find out more about her work, her writing, her music, her film at aliciajo.com.