The United States has for too long been exploited by all the nations of the world, the president of the empire said. Since when have the crimes by which the empire laid up its riches been counted? The slaughter of the natives? The slavery? The plunder of Latin America? Vietnam? Globalization, two of whose most important institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, it controls? The war in Iraq, which enriched the petroleum and war industries? The CEO of Exxon became the U.S. secretary of state after his corporation reaped enormous profits from the destruction of Iraq, immigration from which was banned by the recent executive order. “We came, we destroyed, die already.”
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But the rhetoric succeeded, delivering the voters into the hands of the billionaires. Up until now they worked behind the scenes to set policy, now they are on the stage and the rhetoric of “we are the ones to be pitied” has a starring role.
The post-politics of the 21st century has been characterized by wholesale claims of victimhood. Britain is so miserable, it’s fed up with foreigners and doesn’t want to remain in the European Union. From Marine Le Pen’s throat issue the afflictions of France (which opened its doors to foreigners when it needed cheap labor); the glory of the Republic is losing its white color, hélas.
Such is the map of the Western right, from Italy’s Northern League with its hatred for the country’s south that made it rich, a hatred that was replaced by hatred for refugees; or Austria, half of which is xenophobic; or Alternative for Germany, whose unofficial propaganda (“we’re fed up with being guilty”) is not worse than its official platform: against immigrants; that is, Muslims are taking our country from us. This right is united in its hatred of “elites”; that is, the human-rights mechanism centered in Brussels with which European Union member states must comply. Europe’s left has no good answer to this hostility, since Brussels also means neoliberalism and the central banks; it’s a package deal.
And the world is full of refugees, most of whom are not migrating to the West. What’s more, there is no disaster in Africa or the Middle East that began with the “locals”: The weapons are manufactured in the West, the ecological disasters are the result of Western actions, but the refugees do not have a voice. Western NGOs speak on their behalf, organizations that receive a tiny fraction of the money of the states that destroyed their countries of origin: charity, not compensation.
The nation as the miserable victim that is rescued by the right is not a new narrative. Hitler used it. But the left, whose past has been one of struggles, has no need for this myth. Herein lies the great change. The tragedy of the left is that its old organizations were replaced by NGOs. Their nondemocratic structure is dependent on the status quo and, by representing a silent entity, it contributes to the discourse of compassion.
The problem is that the left cannot create an agenda by means of compassion, the reverse of which is always incitement. In Israel it is dependent only on television news, on media websites, on expectations from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, a left of the unhappy consciousness. It will never be able to compete with the right’s rhetoric of victimization, it will never create for itself an imaginary enemy that it can beat up on in order to shed blood out of the mouths of its passive supporters. The left appeals to the mind, it has no alternative.
Identity/compassion politics, which creates victim consciousness, is a product of a shrinking political society that lacks institutions, branches, public organizations, conventions and elections. All that remains are cliques, on the right and the left, with allies in the media. This atrophied political society needs soldiers, nothing more, who will vote out of their identification with the victim. To put it a different way, the political cliques have no way to recruit the masses except for compassion and hatred, two sides of the coin of emotional “identification.” This is an age of sensationalist manipulation.
The only solace to be found is the Joint List and its main component party, Hadash. Despite the Zionist quotations from Herzl above the stage by one of the Meretz speakers (meant to goad the Arabs slightly), Saturday’s demonstration in Tel Aviv showed just how hopeful is the anachronism of the Joint List and of Hadash: They offer their supporters an expanding democracy, for the purpose of building, each day anew, a Jewish-Arab agenda. Not compassion, but solidarity.