Heidegger, Pappe, History, and Concealment

A few days ago, I published a comment on Dr Ilan Pappe’s performance on BBC Hardtalk. In my comment, I argued that Pappe’s struggle to make his point was not because of his opponent’s bulldozer tactics and certainly not because Dr Pappe’s lacked either scholarship or courage but simply because Ilan Pappe, in his desperation to conceal Jewish shame, is completely and utterly unable to utter the J word. In effect, this means that he was unable to give voice to the blatantly obvious fact that Israeli barbarism is, unfortunately, totally consistent with a certain yet common interpretations of Jewish culture, Jewish religious and heritage.

In a short article published today in Dissident Voice, William James Martin, asserted that I accused Pappe of ‘cowardice’. This is not true. In fact, on the contrary, I am well informed about all that Pappe has endured in his home country, and I regard him as a very brave man indeed. Of course, I certainly cannot know precisely what it is that prevents Ilan Pappe from examining the real ideology that led to the expulsion of the Palestinians, though I can think of some possible reasons: Pappe occupies a position in a British university which must alone limit his freedom of expression. And of course, it may also be that Pappe really doesn’t believe that the criminal actions committed by the Jewish state have anything to do with Jewish culture, Jewish heritage, Jewish ideology, or even Judaism.

But here is something that William James Martin probably doesn’t know. Twice in my life I have met Ilan Pappe, (both meetings confirmed that he is indeed one of the nicest people within the solidarity movement) and in one of the meetings I discussed the above matter with him.

Eight years ago, Palestinian film maker Dima Hamdan, who was producing a film on Israeli dissent, gathered Israeli film maker Eyal Sivan, Ilan Pappe, and myself for a videoed discussion. Hamdan began the session by asking the three of us what differentiated us from the Israeli Left. Sivan, was first to answer and said, quite correctly, that “the Israeli Left is willing to critically examine 1967, but we look into 1948, the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing and so on.” Pappe was quick to affirm that this was indeed also his position.

Me, notorious trouble maker that I am, immediately challenged both Sivan and Pappe. I agreed that 1948 demanded scrutiny but why, I asked, stop there? Why not go on and extend our enquiries and try to grasp the power structure that made, for example, the Balfour declaration possible? After all, how can we possibly look at the Balfour declaration without also understanding the power of the Lobby behind it, a lobby already firmly in place in 1917? Furthermore, what was the nature of the Jewish question already much under discussion at that time, how did it emerge and why did emancipation not work out as had been expected? And, by the way, what about the role of culture and heritage? Were not the Jewish ‘homecoming’ then and the Nakba later both driven by the same interpretation of the bible as a call for a genocide?

Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that it was then and there that Pappe stopped the whole thing dead.

“Gilad” he said, “ I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t want to go there. This kind of discussion borders on essentialism.”

So, also there and then I suggested to Pappe that, as far as I was concerned, it is precisely that digging into the essence of things that is the true meaning of intellectual and philosophical discussion. The search for the essence of Being is called metaphysics. The essence of beauty is explored by aesthetics. Similarly, the study of the essence of the organism is called biology. History, the attempt to narrate the past, only becomes meaningful once we transcend ourselves above the document and touch the essence, the idea, the ideological, the spirit, the collective.

This was just too much. Ilan asked for the filming to end and this was pretty much the end of the discussion and also the end of Dima Hamdan’s film on ‘Israeli dissent’.

whoSince then I’ve worked extensively on the philosophy of history and I even dedicated the final part my latest book The Wandering Who to my own reading of both Being and Time. I came to realise that, unlike Pappe and a few other progressives and post-modernists, I am actually a reactionary essentialist – an avid modernist excited by Aletheia -, the Greek word variously translated as ‘disclosure’ and ‘truth’. I am searching for that glorious moment of epiphany, the experience of sudden and striking realization — this is all I care about — that moment when the essence pretends to reveal itself just before it escapes again into the void.

Alas, William James Martin is apparently not familiar with any such philosophical discussions on history and concealment. This is no crime, but neither is it anything to be proud of. So I recommend to William James Martin that he read Jean-François Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the Jews” – probably the best exploration of this theme. Mr Martin, the act of being a philosopher is slightly more complex than just name dropping. After all, is not the philosopher the one who produces thoughts to do with Being and being in the world, and is this not pretty much all, that I do (and am famous for)? That is, when I’m awake and not blowing my sax.

Gilad Atzmon, now living in London, was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He is the author of The Wandering Who and one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. He can be reached at: atz@onetel.net.uk. Read other articles by Gilad, or visit Gilad's website.