Degrowth is a good aspiration in the abstract, but deeply contradictory as a political project.

It is formulated in the terms (growth) of an economic system (capitalism) which would spiral into crisis if degrowth were implemented as policy, even moderately and gradually.

It is of course true, and crucial, that unbridled economic expansion is incompatible with planetary boundaries. But macroeconomic “growth” is an aggregate indicator of the expansion of individual firms – expansion necessary for them to survive within capitalism. Firms which cease expanding risk being wiped out in competition, sooner or later.

As a result, actually implementing degrowth requires some centralized power overriding the narrow interests of capitalist enterprises.

The private sector can coordinate perfectly well where its interests are concerned – this is what states do. But on the aggregate level, a market economy which ceases expanding – let alone one which begins contracting – enters crisis, threatening business collectively.

So despite the collective, global, long-term interest in a stable-state world economy, making degrowth into policy means clashing directly with the interests of business, both on an individual level (reining in competition) and collectively (contracting the market).

Clashing with the individual and collective interests of business is of course, Good Actually. But it seems to me that like some approaches labeled “post-capitalism”, degrowth hopes to beat the capitalists behind their backs, without open class war. This is a tragic illusion.

While some representatives of business are certainly conscious of the necessity of stabilizing the climate and preserving natural resources, the owning class as a whole will not willingly relinquish power – which is the political meaning of reining in the market.

The climate crisis is class war. We cannot win it by making believe it is not. We cannot overcome the systemic imperatives of capitalism behind the back of the capitalists. We must openly confront this existential threat to human civilization.

One of the most insidious effects of capitalist society is how it gently silences the voices of the people it hurts most. Nobody forbids the poor and downtrodden from speaking, but they systematically lack the means of making their suffering heard. We all know there are many people living in poverty, enjoying little of the freedoms liberalism stands for; but their suffering can seem abstract and virtual, because we rarely get to hear from them, and we're flooded with the views and experiences of the better-off.

Modern politics is often understood as a trade-off between equality and freedom, with liberalism leaning towards freedom. To its supporters, freedom is a more palpable, real experience than the lack of equality, because its worst effects are kept out of view. After the end of the Soviet Union, you often hear about the great effects of increased freedom – which are real, and important. But you hear much less about the life-shattering effects of increased poverty, which are no less real, and potentially more important.

Inequality should concern freedom-lovers deeply. What many forget – and it's hard to hold onto mentally, with a media lanscape and cultural narrative biased against remembering it – is that with increased inequality, freedom is unequally distributed and enjoyed, too. If we are to do justice to the struggle for human liberation, we have to constantly keep in mind those who are excluded from it practically and economically, even if not formally or legally. Otherwise, all talk of freedom is empty, a mockery and an insult.

Skizzenhafte Gedanken am Rande einer Lektüre Adornos “Elemente des Antisemitismus”, These I

Progressive Jüd:innen verstehen sich selbst traditionell als bloßes Exempel des universal Menschlichen; das Othering, das sie im Abendland traditionell erlebten, durchblicken sie als oktroyiert, da es ihr Selbstverständnis und ihre Subjektivität viszeral widersprechen. Aus diesem universalistischen Selbstverständnis haben Generationen progressiver Jüd:innen eine Praxis der Solidarität mit anderen Menschen entwickelt, die ebenso aus der Allgemeinheit ausgeschlossen werden, an denen ebenso Gewalt strukturell verübt wird.

Manche streben dieses Verständnis der Jüd:innen von außen an, doch dafür gehen viele wieder erst vom traditionellen Standpunkt des Othering der Juden aus, um den zu verneinen. Dabei bestätigen sie beständig aber ebendiesen Ausschluss aus der Allgemeinheit, und entwickeln ein wohl kritisches Verständnis der Stellung der Juden in der Welt, das aber eine Verschiedenheit voraussetzt, wenn nur im ganz abstrakten Sinne davon, dass man eine strukturelle Deutung der Othering entwickelt, dass durch Reaktionäre tradiert wird.

People often argue Zionism once aspired to be something better than the violent, parochial State of Israel we see now. Some believe that now still, Zionism means something entirely different than that. I think a (settler-)colonial frame can help us see if this is realistic.

It’s remarkable, and problematic, how vehemently people will defend the real State of Israel not in virtue of what it is but of what it could have been, with no real expectation that it still could become that in the foreseeable future. But was the better Zionism they imagine even realistically possible in the past?

Unlike other national movements, Zionism initially lacked a territory. There was much debate between petitioning for a piece of East Africa and settling in Palestine. The very possibility of this question already makes the colonial frame in which Zionism developed clear.

Despite European colonialism’s pretension to carry science and reason to the far reaches of the earth, it was intrinsically always deeply out of touch with the reality of the lands it dominated: It did not grasp the reality of indigenous societies.

In principal, early Zionism's designs for the Jewish state were much gentler than what it would become. These ideas have been sidelined more and more throughout Israeli history, while liberal Zionists kept them alive on the margins and especially in the Western diaspora.

But these ideas were all, always, rooted in the colonial delusion that Europeans can go to some place and reshape it for the better. This delusion directly breeds violent oppression. No matter what your vision is, you can’t go somewhere people live and build a new society they aren’t interested in living in. However you go about it, barring genocide, you inevitably trigger resistance, leading to oppression, fostering further resistance, followed by harsher oppression, and so on. This is the core dynamic of settler colonialism.

Structurally, Zionism was always colonial and can’t be saved from this contradiction by good intentions.

In retrospect, it was certainly contradictory that some revolutionary socialists once supported a progressive version of Zionism. Global decolonization has long made such syntheses untenable. Support for “progressive” visions of colonization depended on the same colonial blindness of the rest of the project.

From our present vantage point, I think one can safely accuse all progressive visions of Zionism of idealism and blindness to the inherent violence of colonialism. But this accusation is not reserved for Zionism alone: most Western traditions of the left, aside from those committed to anti-imperialism, are certainly guilty of the same. Progressive Zionism is guilty of this violent distortion presicely by virtue of being of the same provenance.

That said, it would also be idealistic to see the problem now in this mythologized view of Zionism alone. Support for Israeli apartheid is rooted in the web of material interests involved in it. Mythologies like progressive Zionism serve that nexus of interests ideologically, as useful justifications, and it is in that capacity that we must take them apart – but that is at best just one small step towards decolonization.

One original premise of Zionism, which it unfortunately shared with many antisemites, is that the the effective cause of antisemitism is the mere presence of Jewish people as a minority among non-Jewish majorities. Consider the implications for contemporary support for Zionism. Consider what is involved in Western governments professing their commitment to combatting antisemitism BY supporting the State of Israel: For one, they distance themselves from the problem by posing as part of the solution. But as for instance Sai Englert has argued, the state plays a significant role in the (re)production of antisemitism. By presenting Israel as a response to Western antisemitism, Western governments also implicitly support that Zionist/antisemitic idea that the cause of antisemitism is the presence of Jewish people as a minority within a non-Jewish society. The solution: their removal! Of course, actively supporting the removal, relocation, or assisted emigration of Jews is – gladly! – entirely beyond the pale in the post-1945 world. Scarcely a respectable Western dare think it. But the 19th-century Zionist/antisemitic idea of why antisemitism happens persists. In this light, the Western dread at the possibility of losing the Israeli “solution” – that is, not having a place for all the Jews to go away to, even having some of them return – is actually an expression of antisemitism. Jewish support for it is internalized antisemitism. And there's a reason this is a primarily Western phenomenon: Any serious engagement with the place of Jewish minorities in non-Christian societies before the 1930s would put paid to the idea that the presence of a Jewish minority naturally generates murderous antisemitism. The specific ways antisemitism towards Jewish minorities in the Middle East and North Africa became a dangerous force after 1948 makes even clearer how thoroughly historical and political antisemitism is, how it is formed by living forces and interests – not by difference itself.

With increased attention to the systematic regime of racial oppression enacted by the State of Israel against Palestinians, this might be a good time to make a fine distinction: between systemic problems and essential, inherent, or natural ones.

Apartheid being ingrained in Israeli policy since its founding does not make it inherent and unchangeable in all Israeli people, and that's important.

Many of those defending Israeli policy equate calls to dismantle apartheid with calls to destroy the Jewish-Israeli population. Whether or not they mean to, they are naturalizing a structural issue.

Like its opponents, some defenders of Israeli apartheid recognize that its racialization, separation, dispossession, and oppression are inseparable from the State of Israel and also deeply structure Israeli society. But they are wrong to think it must be so.

To see a problem as structural means to expect it will be extremely difficult to solve. But to attribute a structural problem to nature — a people's “essence”, “the way things are”, “the only real option” — is to call it unsolvable, therefore perhaps a non-problem.

Structures of oppression are often naturalized by, or on behalf of, the oppressors. This serves to exculpate them and undermine efforts towards change. But it also implies a very dim view of the oppressors themselves. It means, in this case, not believing Jewish Israelis can be anything but oppressors — that liberating Palestinians means our destruction.

Considering how things have gone so far, it is understandable that many Jewish Israelis understand themselves this way and that many others take this view in order to “protect Jews”. It is also no surprise that some Palestinians reach the conclusion that cruelty is our nature as Israelis and/or Jews. What else has their experience demonstrated?

Yet either way, this conclusion is wrong and deplorable. And happily, there are people in both groups which resist it.

In contrast with a mere rejection of the occupation, acknowleding the systematic nature of Israeli apartheid is distressing. It means it will be hard to end. But it also bears hope, because structures inevitably do change.

With the way things have gone so far, it's can be hard to imagine a way forward less ugly than the past. But it is part of what it means to be human to be capable of terrible atrocities and also amazing achievements. And that is one reason we are responsible to do better, to dismantle oppressive structures, to identify the ways we are implicated in dehumanizing others and do everything to undo them.

If you truly believe in the humanity of Jewish Israelis, you must believe in our capacity to change beyond current structures, in our potential to be more than either helpless victims or cruel oppressors. I know we can be. Despite it all.

The official Israeli response to the Amnesty report charging Israeli authorities with the crime of apartheid was, predictably, accusing Amnesty of antisemitism. This accusation was, again predictably, echoed by Zionists worldwide.

It's a serious accusation, but I find it close to impossible to take it at face value. The idea that multiple massive international human rights organizations could be completely fabricating their assessment of Israeli policy out of antisemitic animus is just blatantly conspiracist thinking.

Let us just think this through. Dozens, maybe hundreds of people who dedicate their lives to protecting the oppressed worked for months, even years on each of these reports. Does anyone seriously believe, in today's world, that none of them thought to check and double check the details because of the possibility of bias, misinterpretation or misuse?

How should we imagine this process going through without widespread dissent? Certainly some of the staff at Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, or any other organization might be antisemitic to some degree – but all of them? Or nearly all of them? To such a degree that any dissent would be extinguished? And if that’s the case, why don’t we see dissenting insiders calling it out, whistleblowing?

It’s really hard to even make sense of this narrative. It’s deeply paranoid and divorced from any realistic idea of how human rights organizations operate.

I do get the anxiety among Jewish people that antisemitism could run so deep, so widely. I share it, too! But this conspiracy theory is beyond reason.

But there seems to be little reason to actually take it at face value. The accusations aren't intended to lead to a serious inquiry into the workings of these supposedly corrupt international NGOs. They're intended to lead to a wholesale rejection of their output, to lead to theoretical questions of what is sayable or unsayable — anything, really, except for people seriously reading the reports and grappling with their content and conclusions.

It is important, then, not to fall for this diversion, important to focus on the actual findings and recommendations rather than vague conspiracy theories and broad accusations. But it is also important to note, and reject, this kind of conspiracist thinking, so potent and dangerous in today's world — not least to Jews, in particular.

In service of defending the idea that Jewish Israelis are a liberated indigenous population, versus the obvious fact that we are a settler-colonial society formed largely by immigration, some Zionists go so far as to deny that European Jews were ever “native to Europe”.

To be honest, this genuinely breaks my heart: two thousand years of Jewish history in Europe, the deep roots of Jewish communities across the continent, their many contributions to European society — all discarded in service of a nationalist movement not even two centuries old. Adding insult to injury, of course, “Jews are not native to Europe” was literally a justification used for anti-Jewish violence for generations.

This is not to say that Indigeneity is specifically the right category to be applying here. Nor on the other hand to deny that European Jews had an unbroken spiritual connection to the “Holy Land” and many considered it their lost homeland, in some sense at least.

But historically, European Jews simply did not start emigrating to Palestine because it was their ancestral home. There was a strong religious connection for many, certainly, but it’s ahistorical to frame that as the reason for emigration, and utterly detached from how they saw it. They escaped a continent which insisted, again, that they did not truly belong to it, although their family history here went dozens of generations back — longer than many Christian European communities.

Upon arriving in Palestine, many were shocked at how alien the Levant was to their European upbringing. European Jews spoke European Jewish languages, practiced specifically European versions of Jewish life (or Jewish version of European life), and were an integral part of Europe before the Germans and their collaborators radically ripped most of us out of Europe’s living flesh.

Jews co-created Europe, for better and for worse, and denying our history here in favor of a narrative that casts Israel as the only right place for us is not the brilliant strategy against antisemitism that you might think it is.

I do think however that the question of historical “peoplehood” of the Jewish diaspora — in Europe and beyond — is genuinely complex, more than either the Zionist mythology of eternal nationhood nor its categorical denial by some anti-Zionists allow.

Jewish communities in the diaspora maintained transnational connections for millennia, centered on religious learning. Jewish scripture contains ancient notions of peoplehood which were readily reinterpreted by modern nationalists.

All modern nationalisms are in one way or another an ideological construction based on some material facts but driven by the political interests of those with enough power to forge different communities into a “nation”. Zionism is in some ways unusual, but still fits this pattern.

Indeed, one of the dynamics leading to the emergence of Zionism, was the very tension between the transnational nature of Jewish community/identity/relations and the emerging European world order based on nation-states with clear borders, a shared language, and common religion. Zionism reacted to this tension by seeking to forge the many different Jewish communities into a modern nation-state which would conform to the dominant European pattern.

Unlike other nationalist movements, it first needed to attain a shared territory, as well as a shared language. But similar to other nationalist movements, it was not starting from scratch. To deny any transnational community of Jewish communities does not only undermine Zionist mythology, it also mystifies the reality of Jewish diaspora life.

The truth is not, like secular liberal republicans envisioned, that Jewish Europeans were merely European individuals of Jewish faith, nor, like antisemitic and Zionist nationalists asserted, that Jewish Europeans belonged to a separate nation altogether. In fact, rather, European Jews were both deeply rooted in societies across the continent, and part of a transnational culture based on a common religion and (partly mythological) history.

I see no need to cede either element to the nationalist world-view.

I think this tension is important to acknowledge because it is part of the deep reason “the Jewish question” has troubled European and White colonial nationalism since the late 18th century; part of why antisemitism continues to be integral to White Nationalism etc.

And like I have emphasized above, recognizing this history continues to be a vital antidote to nationalist mythologies, whether antisemitic or Zionistic. Both still downplay Jewish belonging and contribution to European society; these we must still reaffirm and defend.

Again and again, it always comes down to power.

Yes, there are better policies that could be implemented. Better for whom? Not for the powerful. If the powerful backed them, or if the powerless gained power, they would be realistic. Simply insisting “it could be so” does not, as a rule, make it so.

Our tendency to forget this, to behave as if all is needed is a good proposal and convincing rhetoric, is not coincidental – it has been carefully cultivated over decades. All effective ways of building and challenging real power have been systematically demolished, disparaged, and delegitimated by the powerful.

We are left playing make-believe, under the illusion that power can be swayed, when in reality power (capital) continues to concentrate and reproduce itself, availing itself of proposals useful for its continuance and ruthlessly rooting out any force so much as bothersome to it.

Yes, we are allowed to point these things out. Nothing I am saying here is remotely new or unusual. But look at every attempt to act on these key insights: look at the fate of Communist parties in the USA and Europe, look at the fate of Allende and Lumumba, look at the Black Panther Party. Consider the SYRIZA government in Greece. Heck, consider Occupy Wall Street and its sister movements worldwide. Any attempt to build or challenge real power is handily derailed, derided, or simply massacred away.

We are told the alternative is to play the democratic game and push for change from within its rules. But that is what every example I just named was doing. Or at least most of them. We are told to play the game, and allowed to, because as soon as we show any signs of being able to conceivably win, ever, the powerful switch to playing a different game, one we are never allowed to play, one many of us consider deeply illegitimate because we have internalized the rules we were handed down: the game of power. The game of organized violence.

I do not love violence. I honestly can’t stomach even a little of it. But I no longer buy into the illusion that the present state of things is devoid of violence – and I no longer buy the lie that fundamental change can happen without any. Ironically, any attempt to make that happen is doomed to be crushed – violently.

Originally written in October of 2020

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Jewish institutions are involved in promoting problematic messaging on antisemitism. Events where Israel flags are displayed as a response to an antisemitic incident are an example of how this messaging goes wrong. I think they show how well-meaning non-Jewish people might misread what they’re seeing.

When a Jewish community in the diaspora answers antisemitism with Israel flags etc, the underlying idea is something like “this kind of thing will never stop happening, but we’re no longer helpless – we have a plan B: leaving for Israel.” Someone from outside can think joining in is an act of solidarity, and the diaspora Jewish Zionists who promote this kind of response will both see it as a sign of solidarity and support and encourage it in return.

But think about it. What are you saying when you support the notion antisemitism cannot be solved here, that the solution is for Jews to have a whole other country?

Historically, Zionism only really gained support among Jewish people in the face of unspeakable, horrific persecution. It is a kind of hope born out of despair, and affirming it is an affirmation of hopelessness. Supporting it implies you cannot hope to keep antisemitism in check.

All of this is of course setting aside the fact that Zionism came up within a colonialistic framework, one which allowed a European movement to carve out a state in the middle of the Arab world. It would be a problematic response to antisemitism even without that!

Coming from within the Jewish community, the idea of escaping antisemitism into a Jewish ethnostate is a sad, bad idea. When non-Jewish people promote it, that's a whole lot worse.