Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
Naomi Klein on Israel’s “Doppelganger Politics”
0:00 / 52:09
November 16, 2023

In her new book, Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World, leftist public intellectual Naomi Klein argues that the phenomenon of “doubling”—of the self or a collective, whether adopted or imposed—shapes the politics of our time. Klein’s frequent confusion with the feminist-writer-turned-Covid-conspiracy-theorist Naomi Wolf provides the jumping-off point for a journey through internet culture, vaccine conspiracism, the wellness world, eugenics, and contemporary dynamics around settler colonial denialism, as she explores the way that “doubling” structures what we see and don’t want to see, what we project and what we hide. The book culminates in an extended discussion of Israel/Palestine, which Klein reveals to be a potent site of such “doppelganger politics,” as the scholar Caroline Rooney has put it, in which Israel has created its own “double” of the European nationalism that has oppressed so many Jews, and which allows it to project everything it cannot bear to see about itself onto the Palestinian Other.

In this episode of On the Nose, editor-in-chief Arielle Angel speaks with Klein about her book and its relation to the present crisis: How can the figure of the doppelganger help us understand the long history that is erupting in the present—both the Holocaust and the Nakba—in ways that can move us toward justice and solidarity? And how can the left adequately respond to this moment—on campus, on the page, and in the streets?

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”

To leave a voicemail for our upcoming episode about talking to your families in this moment, please call 347-878-1359.

Books, Films, and Articles Mentioned and Further Reading:

Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein

Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire

They Do Not Exist, 1974 film by Mustafa Abu Ali

Repression of Students for Justice in Palestine at Brandeis and Columbia and in the state of Florida
Light Among the Nations,” Suzanne Schneider, Jewish Currents


Arielle Angel: Before we get to this week’s episode, we wanted to ask for your help. We received this letter recently: “In almost every conversation I have with young Jews on the left, I find that we are all currently struggling with the same question: What do we do with our families? How do we relate to our parents and grandparents or relatives who are supportive of and complicit in pogroms and genocide? These conversations are feeling fruitless. I’m going home this weekend to visit my family and don’t know what I’ll do.” As we approach Thanksgiving, we know this question is weighing on many of you, as it does on many of us. We plan to talk about it, but we need your help. In a collaboration with the podcast Unsettled, we’re collecting your stories of how you’re navigating conversations with your families, friends, and communities in this moment. What has struck you most in these interactions and conversations about politics? What has worked in getting through to your loved ones, and what hasn’t? How are you managing these relationships or coping with your feelings about them? Does this feel similar to political arguments you’ve had in the past, or like an entirely new challenge? To tell us about this, we hope you’ll leave us a voicemail at 347-878-1359. That’s 347-878-1359. We’ll also put the number in the show notes for this episode. Please include your first name and location (or neither, if you wish to remain completely anonymous). We’ll be taking messages on this subject until Tuesday, November 28, and we’ll play and talk through a selection of these messages in a post-Thanksgiving episode of On the Nose. Hang in there, everyone.

Hello, and welcome back to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents podcast. I’m here with Naomi Klein, author of many, many books, including No Logo, Shock Doctrine, This Changes Everything, and, most recently, a book called Doppelganger, which we are going to talk about today. And I’m very excited to have Naomi on the show. Hi, Naomi.

Naomi Klein: Hi, Arielle. Nice to see you.

AA: First of all, I want to tell the readers, if they haven’t read the book, or heard anything about the book, that this would seem, maybe, a strange time to talk to Naomi Klein about this book considering everything that’s going on in the world. But it actually builds towards an analysis of what is happening in Israel/Palestine. I read the book before October 7, and as I was revisiting it for this conversation, I was underlining completely different parts, actually, as I’m in this experience of working through the aftermath of that within Jewish Currents. So, I’m really excited to talk to you about all of this. Maybe just to orient us, the thread running through this book is your frequent confusion with the feminist author-turned-COVID conspiracy theorist, Naomi Wolf, but it’s really kind of a theory of everything, in a certain way; it moves from internet culture, to vaccine denialism, to wellness culture, to eugenics, Israel/Palestine, to illuminate what you call doppelganger politics and how that structures the political impasses we’re facing. So, I wanted to ask you first: What are the characteristics of this kind of doppelganger politics?

NK: Yeah, the book—I feel like I’ve had to say this lots of times, but it’s not about my doppelganger. It is about ways in which we double ourselves and other people double us, both as individuals and collectives. So, a double could be the way you create an online avatar of yourself to represent you to the world, which is a kind of a partitioning of the self, a performing of the self, which often includes an act of projection of the unwanted self onto the double, and a kind of abject double. This is why I think doppelgangers recur so often in the history of literature and film—they’re a helpful tool to understand the self, the parts of the self we want to be, and the parts of the self we cannot bear and that we project onto the other. So, some doubles we create ourselves knowingly, and some doubles are created by others and projected onto us. The term doppelganger politics is actually a quote from Caroline Rooney. She’s a professor of African and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Kent, and she describes Israeli politics as doppelganger politics, which she unpacks in two ways. She looks at the way Zionism created a doppelganger of the forms of European nationalism that had targeted and othered Jews, often creating a rocket fuel for the Zionist argument, the idea that you have to have your own nationalist project to fight back. But then, she also looks at doppelganger politics as the way in which Zionism projects everything that it cannot bear to see about itself onto the Palestinian other.

AA: I was really struck in the first two thirds of the book, thinking about this structure as a way of also thinking about the political polarization that has happened in the United States and the ways in which things that liberal America has ignored-—the kind of Steve Bannon outrage machine—is picked up and sold back to a group of people who consider themselves to be not served by the liberal narrative. Quote: “Once an issue is touched by ‘them,’ it seems to become oddly untouchable by almost everyone else. And what mainstream liberals ignore and neglect, this emerging alliance lavishes with attention. It’s as if when something becomes an issue in the mirror world, it automatically ceases to matter everywhere else.”

NK: Yeah, I’m trying to put my finger on this strange mirror dance that I saw going on. For me in the book, Wolf acts as a kind of white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, like to try to understand and map this new world that she has chosen for herself—that has chosen her—in which she is a real star. You know, I think one of the things that happens in liberal and left circles is once somebody is exiled, or canceled, or whatever you want to call it—that happened to Wolf.. She became a laughingstock, she had a book pulped, it was over for her in the audiences she used to rely on, right? She was a prominent third-wave feminist, she was a Democratic Party advisor, and then things just went off the rails. And so, she faced a choice: Whether to have an entirely different career that didn’t involve writing, or to turn to people who didn’t care as much about facts, really liked conspiracy theories, really liked the idea of having a prominent Democrat feminist on their team that they could use to claim that their project is not the usual, far-right project but something new and different. And that’s the role that these kinds of crossover stars play for people like Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon. And so, she made that choice. And she took the star turn where she was suddenly on Steve Bannon’s show (every day, for a while, she’s practically a cohost at different points). And people in our circles tend to believe she no longer exists because she has been ejected from the circles and the publications and the platforms that we read. The algorithms probably no longer serve us up her outrageous tweets. So, the more I listened to the shows where she became a regular, the more I was really struck by the way they were this direct replica, like a direct mirror, in the sense of, if you get kicked off Twitter, you go on GETTR; if you get kicked off YouTube, you go on Rumble. Bannon is very explicit that he’s building a parallel infrastructure, and he says this to his listeners: So that you will never be canceled again, you will never be othered again, you’ll never be silenced again, I would never do that to you. And so, it’s self-consciously a mirror of “our” world. But there is also this way that we are in a dialectic with them, so that once an issue gets traction there, it becomes untouchable, like the passage that you read.

So, where I felt that quite personally, was around a figure like Bill Gates. I’ve long had a critique of Bill Gates, I’ve written about his outrageous, outsized influence over the education system, international health policy, agricultural policy—I don’t think anybody should have as much power as Bill Gates. I don’t think he’s the devil. But I do think what he represents and what he has done in the real world has been incredibly corrosive to any notion I have of democracy or accountability. And in the early days of COVID, a lot of us were critical of the way he was lobbying on behalf of the pharmaceutical companies to keep patents on vaccines, and arguing that these COVID vaccines shouldn’t be patented at all. But once he became a figure of extreme paranoia and hatred in what I call the “mirror world,” then it became really complicated to even talk about him, or to have a robust critique of the pharmaceutical companies. And the liberal left increasingly just was saying, you know, “wear your mask, roll up your sleeves get vaccinated,” instead of a deeper critique of why the response to COVID had been so privatized and individualized. So that’s what I mean about the mirror dance, and once an issue, or even a person becomes a figure in their world, then we just kind of risk going silent. And then that is such a gift to a figure like Bannon, whose whole political move is looking at the issues that liberals are neglecting and saying “come on over to our side.” This is what he did with free trade in 2016 and got a portion of disaffected longtime democratic-voting union members to vote Trump, because he was promising to renegotiate the trade deals. And now that’s happening with a host of other issues. So that’s kind of a doppelganger effect.

AA: Right. And you talk about this in relationship to surveillance, you talk about it in relationship to big tech generally. I mean, there’s a whole host of issues that seem like they get lumped in that way.

NK: Yeah. And I think where this is related very directly to a lot of your writing, and understanding what is happening with a global surge of fascist politics.—and Israel is a part of that, and distinct, and yet also needs to be seen within this global surge—is that when I listened to Bannon, and when I listened to Giorgia Meloni in Italy, and figures like Viktor Orban, it helps me to understand that what they’re building is a doppelganger of the left; that it’s a kind of a Frankenstein of issues that we would understand as being issues of the far right—open racism, transphobia, xenophobia. But they’re also building this Frankenstein where they’re taking issues that used to be (or are traditionally) issues of the left-—a critique of the banks, a critique of globalization—and mixing, and matching, and building this kind of monster that they claim is this whole new thing. And that is not a new move, right? You know, the fascist history of this would be the Nazis talking about how they are fighting Jewish capitalism and claiming that this is a new form of capitalism, a corrosive form of capitalism, and they’re trying to get to the halcyon days of healthy capitalism, of non-Jewish capitalism, of cleaner capitalism. So, when you hear these kinds of buzzwords now on the far right around “globalist” capitalism, that is a way in which they are echoing that past but also using some new buzzwords. A Frankenstein for our era. Fascism has always taken elements of the left and fed off of left failures and silences. So that’s why we need to understand the danger of our side going silent on issues because they have appropriated them.

AA: I mean, this resonates a lot this week, in terms of some of the conversations that we’ve had internally at Jewish Currents, because there’s this urgency around communicating the scope and urgency of what is happening in Gaza and, at the same time, worrying about feeding certain kinds of narratives that exist around, for example, the safety of young Jews on campus. There’s a way in which there’s a desire not to feed, on some level, a machine that has already made that the story as opposed to Gaza. At the same time, there’s this argument within the organization that we have to give people a way to think about Jewish safety that is not this other way. It’s similar to some conversations we’ve had about October 7, itself, like how we return to that event, how we look at it—can we model looking at it in a different way, while looking directly at it? Because if we basically say that October 7 itself is the landscape of the right and that it is only being returned to as a site of weaponization, or genocidal intent, then we are creating a silence or a lacuna that can be exploited.

NK: Yeah, I think that’s so well put, and I understand where that impulse is coming from. But in my experience, ceding territory, ceding the power of grief to the right, to the Zionist project, I think it’s really a mistake. I think (and this is going to be the answer to everything, as you know) that we need to hold conflicting ideas in our heads at the same time; that we do understand how grief is being weaponized, how trauma is turned into a weapon, how you can understand the Zionist project without understanding the weaponization of grief and trauma. But that also doesn’t mean that grief and trauma are not real, that they don’t need to be reckoned with. And, I think, if we accept the premise that, because there is a grief and trauma industry that turns grief into weapons, that means that we can’t speak to that grief, we give that project more power. It means that people don’t have any options. It means that that’s the only place where that grief is going to be recognized as real. So, I think it pushes people further into the arms of an incredibly dangerous project, more dangerous than it’s ever been. And we need to build places that recognize the grief and expand it—to de-exceptionalize it, right? I think a lot about Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò’s writing about how trauma isn’t ennobling, but it can be a bridge, and extending those bridges and having other ways of metabolizing grief and trauma that extend those bridges, that build those bridges (whether people are ready to walk over them or not), is a big part of the project.

AA: You have a beautiful way of thinking about the way that denial of settler colonialism works in settler colonial societies. You’ve been reckoning with this in the Canadian context, in light of the truth process that has happened there around the Indigenous genocide in North America (and in Canada specifically). You quote Julian Brave NoiseCat in basically noticing that all of the ways in which right-wing conspiracy theories operate actually describe policies towards Indigenous people. You know, the idea of replacement theory being manifest destiny, and the idea of “plandemic” as actually the smallpox and alcoholism, a fantasy of mass-institutionalized child abuse and QAnon being actually something that happened in boarding and residential schools for Native children. And you use this noticing as a platform to talk about what we’re afraid of, or why we feel we have to deny that these things happen. Are we afraid of what we’ve seen about the capacity for this kind of violence, on the one hand, and then also, quote, “Are we terrified that if the truths of the shadow lands, past, present and future, are ever fully revealed and reckoned with, then it can only result in a dramatic role reversal with the victims becoming the victimizers, wherein essentially, we did it to them, and if we take the boot off their neck, the only response would be to do it to us?”

NK: Yeah. I think that passage takes on even more force for me in this moment, because there’s so much projection going on in the Zionist narrative, where it’s like: We must commit massive ethnic cleansing, or else they will do it to us. And it’s this constant claim that Israelis are the ones who face imminent ethnic cleansing, being pushed into the sea, and that terror is used to literally attempt to liquidate Gaza.

AA: And to push people in the West Bank off of their land. I mean, that has accelerated so dramatically in the last three weeks.

NK: And so, the horror of the founding of the State of Israel has always been so impossible for the Zionist project to look at directly. And this is what Rooney means by doppelganger politics: Everything that can’t be seen about the self must be projected onto the double. And I really do think that the figure of the doppelganger in literature is useful for understanding the way this self can partition, can break apart when there is something that we cannot bear to look at about ourselves. That’s why Freud and Jung were both obsessed with doppelgangers and the shadow self. And so, the inability to look at the reality of the violence of the Nakba is so foundational, that projecting onto the evil twin Palestinian, who is accused of wanting to do what Israel actually did—to ethnically cleanse. All of this gets massively reinvigorated through October 7. Now we’re hearing these stories over, and over, and over again on a loop—that actually, genocide is being perpetuated on Jews right now, as the Israeli military engages in ethnic cleansing, announces its intent to commit genocide. It’s very particular to how trauma is turned into a weapon. And this is why we can’t leave the trauma only to them. We cannot, because it is such a powerful force. So, I really appreciate being able to talk about it, even though I don’t feel like I’m talking about it well.

Part of the reason I’m not talking about it well is nobody has really asked me about this part of the book. It’s a very weird thing where I’ve done dozens and dozens of interviews, but almost nobody has been willing to touch about a third of the book. And it could be because they just don’t read to the end. But it’s interesting, because in the UK, there were several right-wing attacks on the book, which immediately went to what I said about Israel, and settler colonialism, and the Nazi project itself being a continuation of the settler colonial project inside Europe—which has been perennially and deliberately misunderstood, right? So, this is pre-that chapter on Israel—I have a chapter called “The Nazi in the Mirror,” which is the part that has been most attacked in the British press. Wherever the virtuous story of beating the Nazis is most integral to the national understanding (which is true in the UK, which is true in the US—we’re the good guys, we beat Hitler, we beat fascism), there was most resistance to looking at the reality of what the Nazis learned from the British, learned from the Americans, learned from the project of race-making that is absolutely integral to the colonial project. Hitler talked about how the idea of the concentration camps, he got from the British and the South Africans; he talked about the expansion of the Eastern frontier as being akin to the genocide of Native Americans in the US. He was obsessed with the frontier myth

AA: And Lebensraum.

NK: Exactly, that’s the frontier. I mean, there’s so many explicit quotes, and we are in this moment or era where so many key national myths, of the most flattering stories that nations tell about themselves, are falling to pieces. And I think a lot of the kinds of mass derangement that what we’re seeing (including during COVID) come from this inability to look in the mirror of what our nations are. And what Julian was talking about when he was saying: What is this fear? What is this appropriation? What is this claiming that the vaccines are doing to white people what was actually done to indigenous people in the Americas? I think it is a big part of this derangement. I don’t think it’s primarily about COVID. I think some of it is about COVID, but some of it is that we’ve been in these racial justice reckonings for the past several years that are foundationally challenging the stories that our nations tell about themselves. And so, that’s true in the US. It’s true in Canada, it’s true in the UK; it’s true of every country entangled with colonialism, which is every country. And it’s definitely true in Israel and the Zionist diaspora of people who grew up with these mythologies.

AA: I want to go back to something that you said. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last couple of weeks, which is basically about the idea of the Holocaust as colonialism turned inward, as Sarah says. Also, I saw a 1974 revolutionary Palestinian film called They Do Not Exist recently, at a screening the Palestinian Youth Movement put on with Cinemobile. And they also have a list of colonialisms, and they include the genocide—the Holocaust, basically—on that list. So there definitely has always been a radical understanding of the Holocaust as a colonial undertaking. But what does that mean? What does that change? Does that matter? Obviously, that these victims of colonialism would then go on to do colonialism doesn’t negate the fact that that is what it is. So, what does it mean, to bring that into the frame?

NK: One of the things I came to to understand is that the cry of “never again” that we grew up with had this corollary of “never before”; that it has been incredibly important to the telling of the story of our greatest collective trauma that nothing like this had ever happened before. And I think it is important to say that every genocide is different. There are particularities to every holocaust, and there absolutely were particularities to the Nazi Holocaust. This was a Fordist Holocaust. It was quicker and on a much larger scale and more industrialized than had ever been seen before or since. But the Transatlantic trade and enslaved Africans was extremely modern for its time; so modern that it went on to shape many, many aspects of the modern economy and modern capitalism. So, I don’t want to get into what, precisely, makes it different. I just want to focus in on the need for exceptionality in the story of “never again” that I believe is the mainstream Jewish story.

And it matters in the context of this analysis around settler colonialism, because if we look at the way that Hitler was deeply influenced by the frontier myth, was deeply influenced by colonialism, by the British, by the Dutch in different parts of Africa, then we just understand the Nazi project differently. We understand it as the bloodiest chapter—and I say bloodiest just in the sense of how quickly it happened, because it isn’t the largest genocide; the genocide of Indigenous people in the Americas is the largest genocide—but it is lifted out of history and turned into this expression of something primordial, which is just the hatred of the Jews (which is a story that gets told again and again and again), then we can’t learn from history. If it’s outside of history, we can’t learn from history. And, in a way, because we didn’t listen to Du Bois, we didn’t listen to Césaire when they said there is nothing that Hitler did that was not done to the “darker nations” around the world previously. If we don’t learn from that analysis, then we end up with this heroic good guys/bad guys story about the Second World War, where actually, what happens is: By defeating Hitler, it cleanses the sins of the British, of the Americans, and supercharges the myths of innocence and goodness, and makes it harder to look at the continuities. And why does it matter? It matters because this twisted form of reparations is: You get to do it now in Palestine. You know, if we’re not looking at the Nazis as a chapter in a long history of different forms of colonialism (some settler colonialism, some straight up extractive colonialism), then that is what makes it somehow ideologically okay to pass the mantle of whiteness to the Jews and say: Okay, it’s your turn now.

AA: Could I read that section? Because I think it’s really well-put: “Israel settler colonialism differed from its predecessors in another way, where European powers colonized from a position of strength and a claim to God-given superiority. The post-Holocaust Zionist claim to Palestine was based on the reverse, on Jewish victimization and vulnerability. The tacit argument many Zionists were making at the time was that Jews had earned the right to an exception from the decolonial consensus, an exception born of their very recent near-extermination. The Zionist version of justice said to Western powers: If you could establish your empires and your settler colonial nations through ethnic cleansing, massacres, and land theft, then it is discrimination to say that we cannot. If you cleared your land of its Indigenous inhabitants or did so in your colonies, then it is antisemitic to say that we cannot. It was as if the quest for equality were being reframed, not as the right to be free from discrimination, but as the right to discriminate: colonialism framed as reparations for genocide.”

I think that’s so well put, and it starts to move into another question that I think the book brings up and that is also suggested by this idea of the Holocaust as colonialism turned inward, which is also about the fact of fluidity of identity and how that plays into the current conversation. There are ways that situations can shift over time and where different power dynamics could present themselves. And my question is how we build a politic that understands that fluidity, or that can transcend that. I think that’s something that Arendt was doing, looking at Zionism way back when and seeing, even from this moment of weakness, what it could actually be. I think you talk about Zionism as a warning in the book: “Israel is a place that has always been a warning, a warning about the perils of building identity based on retraumatization rather than confronting our collective grief, about the dangers of building a group identity around insiders and outsiders, about what happens when once-vibrant debate gives way to fiercely policed speech.”

NK: The retraumatization phrase is useful to think about, coming back to what you were saying before about these debates, about what to do with grief when there seems to be a monopoly on turning grief into violence. My friend Cecilie Surasky, who’s one of the founders of Jewish Voice for Peace, explained this to me (and I’d never heard the phrase before). She was talking about the way in which the Shoah is metabolized in mainstream Jewish education. And she was talking about things like birthright Israel tours, and the reenactments, and different kinds of Holocaust museums. And I think because the Holocaust is one of the only historical chapters that does get drummed into kids at school, and it’s one of the only genocides that has been seemingly endlessly commemorated with museums, and monuments, and long documentaries that are showed in school, we think: Well, we really do remember this thing, right? And what Cecilie was saying to me is that we actually are not remembering, because what memory does is it puts the pieces of a shattered identity back together—it re-members, right? It integrates, and it can transmute trauma into something else.

But the sort of frozen quality to Holocaust education that so many of us grew up with, where we’re just kind of getting the stats drummed into us like arithmetic tables—and I’m too old to have grown up with really high-tech reenactments that you get at Yad Vashem and so on, but I remember going on a school trip in elementary school and seeing a mountain of shoes and things like that. And it was the opposite of integration. It was designed to keep us in this sort of frozen, terrified state and to have the feelings of terror as alive as possible. And now, in the letters that I get from relatives in Israel, they’re doing that now with October the 7th/ They’re just repeating the rawest details over—Do you know? Do you know this? Do you know that?—And it’s a shield to looking at what their government is doing, what the state is doing, what is happening in Gaza, what is happening in the West Bank. And you see how trauma, when the exercise is one of retraumatization, is absolutely blinding to the other.

In that way, I do see Judeopessimism and this exercise in retraumatization as a warning about the acute dangers of a certain kind of identity politics. I’m not somebody who just throws identity politics under the bus. I believe that our positionalities matter. I believe that they are necessary to build the strongest, most robust coalitional multiracial, multigenerational, multiethnic movements that we need to fight fascism. But I also think that there are lessons to be learned from the way Jewish identity politics did the opposite of that, and it’s actually been used to blow apart a lot of coalitions. I think there’s something that we need to understand around the way antisemitism was used to break apart working class coalitions in the 1800s. You have the first failed Russian revolution where the Labor Bund played such a central part, and how did the Tsarists respond? In two ways: one by offering some minor parliamentary reforms, and by unleashing the hounds of antisemitism and conspiracy theory. There’s a reason why antisemitism has been described perennially as the socialism of fools: Because it is an incredible tool for elites to distract from their crimes and oppressions and to turn people against each other. And I think, to a degree, accusations of antisemitism are similarly used to break apart possible coalitions—and I’m not saying that there’s never any there there, that there’s no antisemitism on the left—but it’s also become a weapon to wage war on the left.

AA: What’s actually more interesting about something that you’re saying to our audience (who’s really familiar with the weaponization of antisemitism) is actually that this isn’t just Jews; this is happening, for example, with Asian Americans and the way that their identity is being weaponized in anti-Black directions, or the way that Hindu Americans are a tool for Islamophobia and becoming more so in American politics. I mean, these identity categories become opportunities for fracture, if they are fixed or misused. And also, it seems like a real platform for stasis or for things to get worse.

NK: It’s this double move, again, of recognizing the specifics—which is incredibly important, because if we don’t recognize the specifics, people won’t see themselves in this story, right? If we’re just doing a cookie cutter, one-to-one anticolonial analysis with the US and Israel, for instance—US as a settler colonial state, Israel as a settler colonial state—then people who are absolutely immersed in a Zionist narrative that says “Israel exists because of Jewish trauma,” if we want to just say none of that matters, because It wasn’t Palestinians who committed the Holocaust, so don’t talk to me about Jewish trauma, people are not going to recognize the story. Because the story that they grew up with was a story of: No one wanted us. The boats were turned away. People didn’t arrive there as colonists, they arrived there as traumatized refugees. And if that is not in the story, people won’t recognize the story.

AA: Well, and I would go a little bit farther than that. If you don’t recognize that story, then the story cannot be rewritten in a shared context.

NK: Yeah. But I also want to say one other thing about the left, because you raised it. I know people who are like: I’m leaving the left. I’ve had it with the left in this moment, and I’ve had it with that. But as a third-generation red diaper baby, as a lifelong leftist who is not leaving the left, I want to say that the left is not great at holding complexity. We like good guy/bad guy narratives a lot, and Israel is a challenge. Zionism is a challenge to leftism because it demands holding these contradictions, because Israelis are oppressors, are colonists, and it is also true that those boats were turned away. In the book, I quote I.F. Stone, who was a journalistic hero of mine, and he was a supporter of Zionism in the 40s, was on one of those boats of refugees coming to Haifa. I don’t know where I would have been ideologically, but I do know that a lot of leftists who I look up to saw the Jews as the oppressed people in that moment, and were confused. I mean, it was tearing apart the left then. And I don’t think Palestinians need to hold this. I totally understand why they’re just like “Fuck you and your trauma,” not that everybody is. You know, I think lots of Palestinians do understand the particularities of this because it is such a mindfuck to be colonized by people who see themselves as the world’s victims.

AA: I think most Jews in the mainstream conversation don’t recognize that there is an awareness of this and that there is a history of Palestinian thought reckoning with what it would mean to create an environment of Jewish safety. I’m not saying that this has been Hamas’s project. But I think definitely, in parts of the PLO and Fatah, and in the way that certain kinds of writing has actually foregrounded what it would mean for Jews to be safe in a free Palestine, speak to a very sophisticated understanding of those dynamics. And I think whatever the future is that we’re going to (and now it feels who knows how long it will take), there will have to be some kind of renarrativization.

NK: Right. Just with relation to the left and why this is challenging. For instance, people who refer to Israel as the Zionist entity, right? From a Palestinian perspective, I can see why that’s a position. I can see the refusal, I understand it. But if you are a non-Palestinian leftist and you’re calling Israel a Zionist entity, I think it’s probably useful to understand what that sounds like, what that feels like to people who have been in this retraumatization loop. It’s a wounding thing, and it feels personal—even if it isn’t personal, it feels personal. And this is where I think the left doesn’t do great with thinking about how things feel. We can be very literalist. We didn’t mean it that way, but when people are in a trauma loop, they’re gonna hear what they hear, and retriggering might not be the most useful thing. So I think for those who aren’t directly in the struggle, it would help if more conversations could hold the ability to acknowledge that Israelis who came to Palestine in the 1940s were survivors of genocide, desperate refugees, many of whom had no other options, AND settler colonialists who participated in the ethnic cleansing of another people—that they were victims of white supremacy in Europe being passed the mantle of whiteness in Palestine. And I think it’s that, both/and—I don’t think we have a lot of spaces to acknowledge that, and we need to create them. And I think you are creating them.

AA: I have a few questions about this, because these questions have been at the heart of the issues that we’ve been confronting for a very long time. First of all, I think it’s very difficult to say: I understand why Palestinians say these things, but the rest of the left doesn’t have to take that tack. Because then there’s a way in which you’re leaving Palestinians alone with the understanding and narrativization of their experience, and basically saying: That’s yours, but we can’t go there. I mean, we know that Palestinian speech and Palestinian narrativization of their own experience has been attacked, suppressed. Now we’re seeing moves to make SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) and groups like that be seen as lending material support to Hamas, and what that could mean in terms of criminalization. So on a certain level, it’s an act of solidarity to be able to adopt some of that, to take the heat off, if only that. This is not my positionality, but I definitely see why it feels like an act of solidarity to pick that up.

So that’s one question, or one side of it. But the other side is: What does it mean to understand, or listen to, or deal with Jewish trauma? And this is a really hard question for us. Because right now you have a situation where you would think, if you turned on CNN, that the worst thing happening in the world right now is that there are Jews who are afraid on campus. And I’ve been in conversations—I have a CNN interview that was pulled—where I really fumbled a question on that, actually, because I was really angry that it was being asked in the in the way that it was—that a conversation about Gaza was being derailed in that direction. I agree with you that these things need to be dealt with, and that they need to be faced, and that they need to be answered, and that if we don’t answer them, we’re going to lose. And at the same time, it is very, very difficult to find the space for that in a way that doesn’t (on some level, at least) lessen the awareness of the power dynamics, because you would have to create a space for the Jewish voice to have a real positionality in this, and if they are just kind of the colonizer, it really doesn’t matter.

NK: This is why it’s important to reckon with the narratives that make us. In the book, I quote Jacqueline Rose, who I think is really insightful on this when she’s talking about her book, The Question of Zion, and she says that what she tried to do is go into the mindset of Zionism without blocking the exit, which I think is helpful in terms of understanding where that claim of “I feel unsafe” comes from. There are Jewish students on the campus where I teach who, I think, feel unsafe when they see a Palestinian flag. The university does not owe them protection from that. But I think it’s important to understand the stories that those students grew up with and are swimming in, to understand why it feels that way. Not to pander to it, not to cater to it, but to help get them out of it, you know? I want to try to reach some of those students. I have friends who went into their undergraduate education as a staunch Zionist and came out with a very, very deep critique of Zionism and have been lifelong fighters against settler colonialism at home and abroad. So, I don’t want to give up on those students. But I don’t think it’s possible to reach them without understanding what built that reaction. I also think we all have to be very clear that in a moment like this, I think a lot of people are going to feel unsafe. And we can do things to make each other safer, but because the feelings are so connected (certainly for Zionist students) to these stories, I think we just have to focus on some ground rules: You have the right not to be harassed; you have the right not to face physical violence; you have the right not to be penalized for your views and your remarks; your professors also have a right to have their views, and they don’t have a right to penalize you for yours. You don’t have a right to feel safe all the time, but you do have a right to these guardrails.

AA: You don’t have the right to feel comfortable all the time. And I think that’s also confused with safe in this conversation.

NK: Yeah, but I think part of it is the left is fighting with one hand tied behind its back because it’s become way too casual about some of these claims to a right to safety on campus and a right to be protected from ideas that we disagree with. I just don’t see how we get out of any of this unless we have very clear and legible values and statements of beliefs that we apply in all circumstances. And that does not mean that we’re erasing power differences and saying that there’s a symmetry of power between occupier and occupied. But we’ve messed up on the left, a lot, by mapping every single situation as being just about who is the stronger party, who is on our side, who is on their side, and throwing out a lot of these core values that have long been associated with the left. This idea of: Well, I get to ban the speakers and the books when I disagree with them, but I’m going to be up in arms when it’s our people who are being silenced. I’ve been a supporter of BDS since 2008. I know that the call for BDS says until such a time as Israel complies with international law. And, as a person who still believes that that is a very, very important tool and is going to be more important in the years to come, I don’t understand how we can be casual about the application of international law when it’s Hamas who’s violating it. I just think this is this moment where even though this is a flawed human rights architecture—okay, yes, it’s liberal, this is not all that we want, but it’s kind of all that we have. And so the way out of the stand with Israel polarity is to say: Stand with international humanitarian law.

AA: It’s very, very difficult when international law has just been aligned with the Western power structure. I mean, I agree with you that it’s the only tool we have. I think of something that actually Suzanne Schneider wrote in a piece of ours. She writes about, essentially, liberal democracy, and she’s like: Say what you want about liberal democracy, but we’re gonna miss it when it’s gone, at least the pieces of it that remain. And I think that that feels similarly to me about international law. I mean, it’s very hard to know what it means for even those basic guardrails to go away with the full knowledge that they certainly have not worked on behalf of the Palestinians. I mean, they’ve just not been applied.

NK: But I think it’s a tell that Israel has gone after the UN on so many different fronts, and the moments that have risked accountability most, like the Goldstone Report, or now they’re trying to get Antonio Gutierrez fired because he said they’re committing war crimes—Why did they turn the UN into this sort of macabre kitsch theater, putting on their yellow stars? I’ve seen them do this with the UN World Conference on racism that happened in Durban. And then there was a conference eight years later in Geneva, where Israel organized this boycott, and you could really tell how afraid they were of having this architecture applied to them, this legal architecture. So, I don’t know. I think it’s a pretty good indication that there’s something there, if they’re as afraid of it as they are. And so many of the most terrifying interviews have been the strange, almost amnesia about the very existence of these laws of war that grew out of the Second World War. To say, “It’s our turn to have a Dresden,” as if these laws weren’t—

AA: —a response to that.

NK: Yeah, exactly. So, it clearly matters.

AA: I just want to say: Where do we go from here? Where do we go as it relates to fragmentation and fractionalization? You talk specifically about this in the book, maybe I’ll just read that. “In the face of these very tangible threats, fiercely defending the borders of our identities and the borders of our broader ethnic, racial, gender identity groups is serving us all poorly. Indeed, if history is any guide, it will be our undoing, because every story of triumph for the fascist right is also a story of fragmentation, sectarianism, and stubborn refusal to make strategic alliances on the antifascist left.” I’m in this moment of seeing that fragmentation multiply. So, what do we do with that? And also, I don’t have any illusions that we can talk to Jewish institutions, or even in a multigenerational way, I don’t really have illusions that we can talk to that many boomers, to be honest. Not that they don’t exist, but I just think generationally, it’s very difficult. But how do we talk to Zionist youth, kids on campus?

NK: Well, it’s interesting. I’ve been involved with JVP for a long time. I’ve been on their board for 15 years or so. And I’ve been really impressed with their ability to lead with heart in a really tough way. I also think the messaging of groups like JVP, and If Not Now, in this moment, was not like a super legalistic discourse. It’s an all-life-is-precious discourse. And when somebody is saying, “We believe that all life is precious,” that’s actually a hard thing to argue with; it’s good to put your opponents in a corner like that, where they actually have to be like: No, I think some lives are worth more than others. That’s a good tactic, and, I think, probably a good way to create a little bit of space in some of these campus wars.

AA: But these are also Jewish groups, like they are only Jewish groups.

NK: I think they are walking and chewing gum in terms of breaking the perceived monopoly of the big legacy Jewish organizations that are claiming to speak on behalf of all Jews, and demanding silence, and the stand-with-complicity machine. And I think it’s incredibly important to show the reality that those groups do not speak on behalf of all Jews. I think that gives a much-needed political space that we need way more politicians to use. Because a lot of them are just afraid that they’re going to be smeared as antisemites if they don’t toe the line. So, I think that that’s a really important political role. But I don’t believe that we just do this as Jews by any means. And I think JVP and If Not Now are well aware that the task is to rebuild the anti-war movement. I would say rebuild the left—that we need an incredibly strong, robust moral left in this moment, and we need horizons for a future that everybody can see themselves in. So, it’s useful to look at Israel and Jewish trauma in a de-exceptionalized sense.

That’s not just about history. There’s also a present in which Israel is both this very specific place that imagines itself as the only safe place in the world for Jews, which is incredibly dangerous, extra dangerous when Biden echoes it—the idea that you can offload Jewish safety on another state is an incredibly offensive claim, and we should be pushing back on it all the time (and I know lots of people have been). But in addition to all the specificities about what Israel stands for in the Zionist discourse, Israel is also self-consciously a laboratory for the “Western world.” Netanyahu said it a few days ago. He had a message for civilized nations everywhere to continue to back Israel, “because Israel’s fight is your fight. I’m telling you right now that the future of our civilization is at stake.” Now, he is not just talking about Jews, he is talking about Israel as the laboratory for the “War on Terror.” It’s not just Israel that wants security without peace or justice.

I’ve been working on this piece for a while—my working title of it is like “All the Iron Domes will Fail.” And it has to do with what it meant for Israel’s security bubble to fail as massively as it failed on October 7, that that was not only a message about the illusion of Israeli safety and the ability to have this bubble of security and relative luxury, just a few miles away from an open-air prison. It’s not just Israel that wants security without peace or justice. There are iron domes, bubbles of security all over this grossly unequal, fast-warming world. Every rich nation is fortressing their borders with ever more barbaric tools—saws in the buoys in the Rio Grande, barges in the UK bringing people to Rwanda—and many of these countries (Modi’s India) have been buying technology and know-how from the State of Israel, who, since 9/11, has openly been talking about security without peace. Every rich country in the world wants that. And I think the reason why the entire global south is so forcefully in solidarity with Palestine is because the wealthy world is communicating in the language of bombs that leave craters, and refugee camps, and white phosphorus, to say: We will stop at nothing to protect our iron domes, our security bubbles, our borders; we will use unlimited maximum force to the point of genocide. And I think it is absolutely crucial, in terms of building these coalitions and moving forward, that we understand what is happening now as mass communication, not only on behalf of the Israeli state. It is an entire world order that is being defended here. And I think if we can understand that better and map that better, it’ll be clear what the left is that we need to build right now.

AA: Thank you so much, Naomi Klein, for joining us on On the Nose. If you liked this episode, share it. Leave us a message or a review. We will catch you next time. Hang in there everyone.

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