Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Shock Doctrine in Israel

In the latest issue of The New York Review, David Shulman, in his article “Israel in Peril,” seems to have hit on a turn of phrase to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to government that may well be as accurate as it is disconcerting:
Like many Israelis, he inhabits a world where evil forces are always just about to annihilate the Jews, who must strike back in daring and heroic ways in order to snatch life from the jaws of death. I think that, like many other Israelis, he is in love with such a world and would reinvent it even if there were no serious threat from outside.
This statement triggered two key associative memories.

The first is that it stands as a characterization of just about any religious fundamentalism, regardless of the faith providing the foundation, and thus reflects the extent to which the strong religious convictions of those determined to build settlements in occupied territory factor in Netanyahu holding any sort of political office at all.

More generally, it reflects beyond prevailing opinions in Israel to Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” thesis, formulated to explain the irrationalities of the policies of the Bush Administration, whether they involved foreign affairs (including military adventurism), the economy, and the environment. At the risk to being a bit too reductive, the basic thesis that that shouting loud enough that the sky is falling tends to be an excellent method for establishing and holding political power. I then realized that the arrow of influence actually points the other way. The very concept of government-by-shock-doctrine may have come about by members of the Bush Administrating examining conditions in Israeli and liking so much that they figured they could appropriate the playbook!

From this point of view, we may to well to face the coming Presidential election armed with the combined wisdom of Slavoj Žižek’s book First as Tragedy, Then as Farce and Karl Marx' thought about how history repeats itself (which inspired Žižek’s title). Barack Obama believed that the American people were smart enough to overcome the shock doctrine once they saw it for what it was. However, the way things are shaping up, there is a good chance that the shock doctrine will find its way into the Republican Party platform for the November election. From this point of view, that election may amount to a test of whether or not the electorate can, indeed, be fooled a second time.

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