Undead Signifier

Israel’s Justice Minister chokes the snakes.

By Daniel Riccuito

Where to begin?

How can anyone approach Israel, failed state and US ally, without inviting strife? And, more importantly, should reasonable people care about such reflexive antagonism? The Holy Land’s behavior is so appalling that it's impossible to find precedents, concrete and reliable reference points in history that illuminate without a massive backfire, leaving conscientious critics to defend themselves against the usual slander – “Jew hater!” Well, throwing caution to the wind, I’ll venture impolitic words about Israel’s so-called Minister of Justice.

Ayalet Shaked recently called on law enforcement to "handle" a political science lecturer for denouncing her, as "Neo-Nazi scum." Undeterred by Shaked’s public threats against him, Dr. Ofer Cassif pressed further, comparing the state of Israel’s self-vaunted “democracy” to 1930s Germany. Yes, folks, there’s a broad, deep pathology at work here, since Shaked represents a constituency “tolerant” of her ideas, as do half-a-dozen other Israeli ministers, snaking their way up in the world.

“Snakes.” That would be Shaked’s word for every Palestinian papoose. Her argument is that Israel, which possesses the fourth most powerful military on earth, has every right to slaughter its suckling enemies of the state and the mothers birthing them.  Her racist language is sadly and obscenely familiar, no? Shaked dares us to respond by crying out: “Auschwitz!”... “Buchenwald!”... “The Warsaw Ghetto!”...

A friend of mine once said: “Please stop invoking Hitler as a point of comparison – he’s what Roland Barthes would have called an exhausted signifier.” Good line, that.

And yet, clichéd arguments linking Nazis to Zionists have the lamentable advantage of being true. I watched a viral Facebook video that shows Israeli soldiers using attack dogs against some 16-year-old boy, another Palestinian child in prison for “throwing stones” (the standard charge). As IDF goons hold and taunt their victim, they join dubious company. Barthes and all the good taste on earth can’t stifle public discussion. Or make anecdotes and hard facts about Holocaust(s) past and present disappear. Haaretz recently reported that (brace yourself) 99.74% of all legal cases brought against Palestinians result in convictions.

Oy. Nothing “democratic” about that...

And yet, we hear one dodge after another defending The Hollow Land, with 43 laws on the books that diminish and criminalize historical Palestine’s native population, even within the old borders. Why deny it? Apologias, passive or otherwise, lie in the domain of scoundrels, lunatics and moral imbeciles – folks who have conspired over the long haul to murder one child every three days, with sadistic glee. Israel’s public relations campaign – no mater how relentlessly it milks the colossal suffering of the Jewish people – cannot mask a fetid and ongoing cultural bias, an ethnocentrism which the critics of Zionism call “Jewish Supremacy.” It’s there in common parlance. Gutter talk masquerading as polite conversation.

“What am I, an Arab?”

Suffering does not ennoble. If the Holocaust holds any historical or ethical meaning – after the murder of kids sleeping in U.N. schools – it is this.

Published December 31st, 2015


Daniel Riccuito is an artist who runs The Chiseler, an online publication dedicated to obscurity—forgotten authors, lost languages, and neglected stars. Riccuito has written a book on Great Depression slang, The Depression Alphabet Primer, and contributed to Cineaste. He lives in New York City.