A very revealing affair (3): Gad Elmaleh & Lebanese Jewish Politics
Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/07/2009
Let’s cut to the chase (and cut the crap). The Gad Elmaleh affair reveals three things?
- The political function of rhetorical battles. Rhetorical battles are an excellent tool for mobilisation. They grant politicians room for overbidding (with no political cost). It allows people to express and affirm key values (not necessarily held, but at least celebrated). In a polarised setting, it affirms, confirms and “justifies” the separation between the two groups.
Lastly, it has a very satisfying emotional dynamic. In the beginning, it “wakes people up”, in this case, keeps them alert to the danger of Hezbollah (for March XIV) or to the danger of March XIV (for Hezbollah). Through overbidding, the tension builds up: “they are imposing cultural censorship on us” vs “they are pushing for cultural normalisation with Israel“). The more the tension builds up, the more it infiltrates the masses; people start repeating the politicians slogans, strengthening the framework that was set up for them… Frustrations are expressed… freely. Emotions become violent. Taboos fall. Accusations swell… Each and every one participating in this rhetorical battle feels he is winning it. Each person feels he has the better arguments. At this point, no one is listening to the other, and each is intoxicated by his own rhetoric, values, arguments… People and groups let off steam. And they feel relieved.
It’s a rhetorical battle, so nothing on the ground will change, nothing except the deepening of the divide between the two “battling” groups.
- A Lebanese jewish quagmire. Since the establishment of Israel, Lebanese officials seem to have felt uncomfortable with Lebanon’s Jewish community. Unlike Morocco whose king (Hassan II) took a public stand affirming and reaffirming the place Moroccan Jews held in Moroccan society, Lebanese officials have preferred to remain silent on that issue. Sure, the Lebanese security forces offered the community protection in times of war and tensions. The Kataeb party was quite vocal in its defence of Lebanese Jews, and Kamal Joumblatt seems to have offered some Beiruti-Jews shelter in newly formed fiefdom in 1967. But on the governmental level, Jews were pushed out of the public administration and the army, and the 1943 “national pact” offered them no public place. The country was being redefined as Christian-Muslim.
In the 1960s, anti-Israeli rhetoric started soaring. Lebanese politicians engaged in this new rhetorical battle and some really excelled in it (ex: Kamal Joumblatt). Things haven’t changed today. Lebanese politicians are proud to boast that “Lebanon will be the last arab country to sign peace with Israel“. And they keep on reminding the Lebanese that “Israel is our natural enemy“, that “Israel is Lebanon’s antithesis“, and that “Israel is bound on destroying Lebanon because we’re their competitors“. This empty rhetoric isn’t Hezbollah’s (absolute) privilege. It is expressed by Lebanese politicians of all sides. March XIV® politicians regularly engage in “anti-israeli” or “anti-zionist” overbidding (c.f. my former posts 1 2 on the inoperative distinction between “Jews” and “Zionists”). Two days ago, Fares Soueid (a Lebanese politician who hasn’t been able to reclaim his mother’s seat in Parliament since Syria’s withdrawal) declared as secretary general of March XIV that the Gad Elmaleh affair serves the interest of Israel! This kind of overbidding certainly benefits Hezbollah and corners March XIV politicians because it prevents any alternative discourse on Israel, and comes across as insincere to many Lebanese.
- An orphan peace camp. It’s becoming quite clear that there is a growing number of Lebanese that is in favour of peace with Israel. They know that their communal leadership is in favour of peace with Israel (Hariri Senior, Jumblatt, Gemayel, Geagea and Aoun have all expressed this in one way or another at a given time), but they can plainly see that this leadership is engaged in anti-Israeli rhetoric and paying lip service to the importance of resistance to Israel and the Palestinian cause.
This growth of Peaceniks is noticeable from the growing interest Lebanese are having in Israeli issues, the growing consumption of Israeli cultural products (music, films, literature), the Lebanese readership of Haaretz, the growing interest in Judaism and Lebanon’s Jewish community… I personally believe that most of the people who are getting involved in this controversy and supporting Gad Elmaleh’s show in Beiteddine are such peaceniks.
So there is an obvious gap between the leadership (that hides its past and probably present ties with Israeli officials and engages in anti-Israeli rhetoric) and some groups of the population. This gap feeds frustrations. But instead of being rightly expressed toward their hypercritical leadership, they are canalised and diverted toward Hezbollah (that defends values they don’t agree with), accusing it of being the reason behind Lebanon’s antagonism with Israel, and Israeli’s violent policy toward Lebanon. It takes a couple of minutes on the internet to verify the public support Gad Elmaleh offers to Israel. Insisting on his performance in Lebanon in a way reflects an unexpressed desire of normalisation with judaism, and what has become central to it, i.e. Israel.