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Steven Salaita

Seinfeld, the stone and the Uzi

'Many in America see Israel as safe and familiar' writes Salaita [Facebook]

Date of publication: 12 January, 2018

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Comment: The lack of outrage over Seinfeld's outing to a fantasy Israeli army training camp reveals much about the US state monopoly on violence, writes Steven Salaita.
Those of a certain age will remember when Edward Said tossed a stone into an empty field on the Lebanon-Palestine border. It became an international scandal.

Fellow professors screamed for his job. A million think-pieces bemoaned atavistic Palestinian violence. Every sanctimonious pundit with a word processor mourned the decay of western civilization. Said was a traitor, a terrorist, an unfit teacher.

Compare such outrage to the silence Jerry Seinfeld has enjoyed from the same class of pundit for his recent trip to the Israeli private security firm Caliber 3, where he participated in a simulated Israeli army training camp, complete with gunplay, black ops and counterterrorism.

Plenty of media have reported on the social media outrage that Seinfeld's visit generated, but the great arbiters of opinion, including The New York Times (which wouldn't shut up about Said), have largely ignored the story. And Zionism certainly hasn't come under scrutiny.

I don't want to compare Said's and Seinfeld's behaviour. Doing so would demean Said's virtue and validate Seinfeld's asininity.

Said performed a symbolic act of resistance to a brutal occupying force that had expelled him from his birthplace and ancestral land. Seinfeld visited a military theme park that glorifies the ideologies that uprooted Said's family.  
Seinfeld visited a military theme park that glorifies the ideologies that uprooted Said's family

Moreover, Seinfeld snapped photos while brandishing a machine gun in various states of merriment. He hammed it up with representatives of an organisation whose main purpose is to persecute a subjected population, and one that has perpetrated massive acts of ethnic cleansing.

The reaction of observers, not the behaviour, is noteworthy.  

While the hypocrisy of condemning Said and disregarding (or celebrating) Seinfeld is obvious, the real story is how western journalists and intellectuals confer to themselves a monopoly on violence, deciding which of its variants are acceptable (or desirable) and which are terrorism.  

Race, religion, and ideology inform the decision, as does the provenance of the deed: State actors allied with the United States can get away with lots of murder.

That terrorism inspires tendentious definitions is old news, but it's important to examine the consequences of delineating violence according to colonial logic. 

Seinfeld didn't participate in the Israeli army boot camp as a tourist (surely his understanding of the trip); he arrived, and was subsequently processed, as an emissary of America's deepest fantasies of self-fulfilment. 

Read more: Apartheid, yada, yada: Seinfeld photographed holding machine gun at Israeli 'shoot-a-Palestinian' camp

The automatic weapons, the high-tech equipment, the beige fatigues, the heroic act of protecting innocent colonists from hostile natives - the entire production repackages US settler mythologies in a West Bank garrison. Seinfeld wasn't merely playing soldier; he was celebrating statecraft.

A mechanical thinker would note that Israel is an ally of the United States and therefore an acceptable site of Caliber 3's combat burlesque. But naming this alliance doesn't address the problem of exalting a murderous institution. It evokes unthinking patriotism as a badge of authority. 

Said's stone was far more threatening than Seinfeld's Uzi

In order to understand the trouble with Seinfeld's behaviour, one must understand the actual nature of the Israeli army. The task is difficult because millions of Americans consume propaganda about Israeli military valour through a broad range of media. The Israeli army and Mossad are icons in American popular culture.

Consider also that in much of the United States, Israel isn't necessarily seen as a foreign country. It is safe and familiar, a site of shared values and mutual destiny, and, most critically, a respite from the malice of its incomprehensible neighbours.

Said had no recourse in this kind of environment. He belonged to the wrong ethnic group and challenged discourses of exceptionalism, assuring that his views, no matter how plainly humanistic, would be understood as violent. Said's stone was far more threatening than Seinfeld's Uzi.

The problem extends beyond Said.  

State actors allied with the United States can get away with lots of murder

He achieved the kind of fame that produces constant Zionist nagging, but the indignities he experienced weren't unique. Arabs and Muslims can only participate in rituals that ease western anxiety, such as generic homages to multiculturalism or diversity programmes that deplete ethnic groups of political agency (and where Palestine is generally unpermitted). They're less welcome in postures of resistance.

What we find, then, isn't merely ignorance or hypocrisy. It is another manifestation of a Zionist desire to extirpate Palestine and an archetypal instance of corporate media appraising points of view from State Department algorithms.

In fact, there's only one commonality between the reactions to Said and Seinfeld: Both are calibrated to bar Palestinians from participating in civic and intellectual life.

And that's why in the story of the stone and the Uzi, the stone, powered by the simple mechanics of dispossession, will always meet its target with greater force. 

Steven Salaita is an American scholar, author and public speaker. His latest book is Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom.  

Follow him on Twitter:
 @stevesalaita 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff. 

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