The Emperor Has No Clothes! Resist Zionist Reason!

Mad Studies in Palestine Solidarity


It is November 2023. My friend and I are sitting on my couch in my Berlin home. We are discussing a draft of my friend’s upcoming conference presentation. The presentation is about the case of a teacher in Neukölln hitting a Palestinian student. German media and government framed the incident into a scare about Palestine threatening the peace in German schools. We are finished discussing, in a way, when I advise my friend: “Someone at this conference is going to ask you to condemn Hamas. You should think about how you want to respond.”

As for me, I feel that the wave of condemning Hamas that is slamming through Germany is a moral spectacle of which I want no part. It is a Zionist coup that hides its long-practiced Zionist-Jewish supremacy over Palestinians behind a spectacle of universal moral values. It frames condemning “Hamas” or “October 7” as a function of Reason. Something that every Reason-able person must do but also will do, freely, simply because it is the right thing to do. Thus, it sorts the Reasonable from the Unreasonable. And only the Reasonable have a claim to social, political and intellectual activity.

Zionist Reason and its mad & savage Other

To be clear, the kind of Reason I am concerned with is not an activity or a faculty but a powerful position that accrues its value from that which it is not: Madness and Savagery – that historically evolving formation of curses dressed up as objective facts that cast us, who are wretched by these curses, as Reason’s enemy and thereby as deserving to be:

  • removed from society
  • not to be taken seriously
  • our testimony not to be believed
  • our accusations not to be investigated
  • our violation not an offense

“Hamas terrorist” is a highly potent curse that is spoken in Zionist societies with the air of being an objective descriptor. Germany legally banned Hamas, Germany glorifies Israel’s strife to destroy Hamas. But the curse also operates more intellectually, by a media that refuses to cover Hamas’ political stances. “Terrorists” are not allowed to be heard speaking, after all.

Reason is not opposite to Emotion. In fact, Zionist Reason is also a pattern of emotions: how do reasonable people feel about what, and when, and with which intensity, and in public? “October 7” means feeling bad and sad for Israel, according to Zionist Reason. No other feelings are Reason-able. This bore out in the German state’s ban of Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, which the state justified by pointing to “spontaneous jubilation” held on October 7 [For an account of Samidoun spokesperson Zaid Abdul Nasser see the trailer of Hebh Jamal’s and Tom Wills’ Reason of State, and hopefully the full documentary soon – they still need donations! For a discussion of jubilation, see Steve Salaita’s Practical Appraisal of Palestinian Violence]. In other words, what made Samidoun deserving of being legally banned and disbanded, at least in the public justification, was that it displayed the wrong emotions.

The more distinct we appear from how Zionists imagine “Hamas terrorists” – distinct in terms of gender, race, religion, geography – the more likely our divergence from Zionist Reason may avoid the terrorist curse in the legacy of the Savage and be framed as a variation of Madness: foolish, deranged, our claims absurd and with no basis in reality, our thinking undifferentiated and lacking complexity. For instance, when Greta Thunberg came out in support of Palestinian liberation, political pundits who had previously recognized her as an important climate activist, concurred that she had now disqualified herself and should no longer be taken seriously.

We are belittled and silently ignored or framed as foolish for as long as it serves them, but these belittlements can quickly shift to frame us as violent and dangerous. The curses of Madness and Savagery are different valences to Reason’s Otherness. They sometimes operate differently, they have differentiated institutions built around them, but they are also infused with each other. Monikers such as “terror supporter” or “sympathizer” hover next to reproaches of foolishness; and ideas about being out of touch with normal human functioning shape the imagination of the terrorist.

Germany’s State Reason is a Zionist coup against democracy

Since Angela Merkel did so in 2008 in front of the Knesset, German politicians have framed their commitment to Israel’s national security – their preferred framing for Zionism – as Germany’s State Reason (Staatsräson). By appealing to State Reason, Merkel quite openly announced that her pursuit of Zionist politics is not subject to the democratic principles that are supposed to be guaranteed in the constitutional Grundgesetz (Basic Law). As Droy Dayan’s presentation for the banned Palestine Congress brought home to me, Merkel in fact openly mocked democracy in her 2008 speech when she creates a hypothetical antagonism between “politicians” and “public opinion” (the only remnant of the political agency of the people?). She promises that politicians will stick to the Staatsräson even if public opinion as revealed in opinion polls goes against it. Merkel’s hypothetical scenario of 2008 is the reality right now, with opinion polls (even with leading questions in favor of Israel) come out with only a minority in favor of Germany’s strong support of Israel.

Staatsräson is an ongoing attempted ideological coup that raises Zionism above the Basic Law. It seeks to raise Zionism above the sphere of democratic political process to the sphere of the state as a unified subject. This is where the two meanings of Reason – cause and rationality – converge. The etymology of Staatsräson is explained as that which gives the German state its reason to exist, its cause, so to speak. But it also involves the idea of Reason as in rationality. It postulates the state as a subject of Reason. When one attempts to reconcile this with the democratic claim that the state derives its force from the people, the Reason of the State must also become the Reason of its “people”, who are more appropriately called subjects. Every Reason-able subject of the German State must align with, or at least defer to, Zionist State Reason.

Or else what? That is the question that we have been forced into testing. The contradiction between State Reason and democratic principles is acted out on the Palestine movement every day. The ban of the Palestine Congress, the violent eviction of the protest camp in front of the Bundestag, the crackdown on student protests, the closure of youth centers whose workers are active in the Palestine movement – these are among the recent events that are making more and more of us realize on any given day that the political executive have cut off restraints associated with the rule of law to create the outcomes they desire, by using brute force and ad-hoc bureaucratic orders that they make up as they go, faster than we can try to run to the courts if we even manage to gather the funds and the stamina.

The German intellectual professionals – media, culture, science, education, policy – have an important role in this ongoing coup called Staatsräson. They do the work of presenting Zionism as the Reason-able thing to believe in and to pursue. They thereby discipline all who are invested in belonging to German society. They do this by mobilizing the curses of Unreason, Madness, and Savagery. Under the curse of Unreason, anti-Zionist politics appear not as an alternative political orientation but as an irrational, faulty, illegitimate something that can be dealt with in whatever way is deemed practical.

The Emperor Has No Clothes!

Zionist Reason likes to present as a voice that speaks straight from every good person’s heart. But Zionist Reason is hard work. A lot of effort goes into its production. There is a leaked 44-page internal document of the state broadcaster ARD, which hosts the national news Tagesschau. It provides guidelines on how to report “correctly.” For example, a section right at the beginning is titled “Hamas ‘fighters’ – please avoid” and references a decision by the editors in chief, which is: do not write and speak of Hamas fighters; do write and speak of Hamas terrorists. These and other guidelines are presented as efforts to avoid euphemisms and to practice precision, care and due diligence lest “antisemitism” creep into their words. The overarching ideal is: being correct, doing it right. For instance: “When taking agency texts please consider closely whether the formulations of dpa and the likes are correct. The colleagues also don’t always do it all correctly…”

Against the background of such intensely chiseled correctness in the highest echelons it is somewhat understandable that masses of people who strive to be considered intelligent and educated routinely defer to the notion of a highly complex situation upon which they are incapable of enunciating an independently generated word, when it comes to Israel’s crimes.

Even a member of the federal government has confessed off the record that they are having to pay close attention to the words they use lest they make a mistake, as the respective journalist has told me privately.

No wonder it is taking them much effort to pick their words. No wonder they are laboring hard to pull off their show. It is a show that has the enormous task to beautify and legitimize a settler colonial genocide. It has the task of making the torture prisons and the carpet bombing and the mass graves and the concentration camps seem acceptable. It has the task of making starvation (which is also torture) seem acceptable! There is no way to do this while being open to questioning and thinking. The only way to do this is to have a system of formulas, a set of racist beliefs elevated to the status of truth, even whole structures of pretend-arguments, that are repeated over and over again by a critical mass of participants cross-referencing only themselves, with a critical amount of institutional power backing them and a brazen rejection of everyone else as essentially mad and savage.

What do I mean by pretend-argument? Take as an example the ludicrous 3-D-test for Israel-related antisemitism, which Zionists like to cite as if it were rocket science. For example, the ARD guidelines say: “whenever there is doubt in your own or other’s formulation: quick 3-D-check.” The 3 D’s stand for Delegitimize, Demonize, Double-standard, and if at least one D applies to how Israel is referred to, for example as a settler colony, which demonizes or delegitimizes Israel, the antisemitism test result is positive, and whatever we have to say is dismissed. “Expert consensus” is the name for this bogus method of claiming objective knowledge. It is the same method used by psychiatrists to claim objective validity for their diagnostic categories.

Another example: take the notion of “Israel’s right to exist” IRTE [For a discussion, see Ali Abunimah’s second chapter in The Battle for Justice in Palestine. For a historical account in the context of the Oslo Accords, see Rashid Khalidi’s fifth chapter in The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.]. When Zionists make us out to “deny IRTE”, they treat it as proof that we are antisemites of the worst kind, and everything we say and do is thereby ruled illegitimate. On that basis they then hone their respective political profiles aimed at flattering their constituencies (Greens versus Christian Democrats versus Social Democrats versus AfD …) and debate and decide amongst each what should be done with us. More deportations? More criminal persecutions? Or more pedagogical operations? All of the above? Should Muslim and migrant communities be targeted even more, or is it just fine?

They fill pages and news programs and talk shows and press conferences, they write guidelines and checklists and feature articles, they rule on definitions, they pass laws and sign weapons export licenses, oftentimes in buildings with Israeli flags in front of them, and they pat themselves on the shoulder for doing the right thing, and they call it free speech and democracy and protecting Jewish life and having learnt from the Holocaust.

It all reminds me of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Two tailors present themselves to the emperor and promise that they will weave the most splendid cloth and make new clothes from it. The clothes will be invisible to anyone who is “not fit for his job or very simple in character”. The emperor is thrilled at the prospect of being able “to tell the wise men from the foolish”. He commissions the clothes to be made. But the tailors only pretend to weave and sow. When the emperor’s trusted minister is sent to inspect the new clothes, he sees nothing. Terrified at the thought that others could believe him to be unfit for his job, he pretends otherwise. He listens carefully as the pretend tailors describe the colors and the patterns of the cloth and he later repeats the description when he reports back to the emperor.

One by one, the members of the court and the emperor do the same, all motivated by the terrifying fear of being found foolish and unfit for their jobs. When the emperor eventually parades himself in his new clothes to his subjects, they too initially cry “Oh how beautiful!”, until a child’s cry rises above the crowd: The Emperor Has No Clothes! The admission spreads among the people and triggers a commotion, while the emperor and his entourage know that the people are right, but they cannot bring themselves to stop the show.

This is what I see happening with Zionism right now.

(Mad) Studies

I wasn’t always an anti-Zionist.

Here is a scene from my growing up Christian in Austria in the early 1990s. It’s about school, and it’s not a scene of being beaten by a teacher, quite the opposite: It is the last day of school before Christmas, and we are opening the last page of our classroom’s Advent calendar. The calendar features Christmas traditions all around the world, each day showcasing a different country. My teacher opens the last and most special page. It’s Israel! “Because it is the holy land!” I blurt out, proudly showing off my knowledge. And my teacher gives me a warm smile and hugs me while saying: “That’s beautiful how you said that!” And I don’t know what it all means, but I feel that my teacher is proud of me, and it is a pleasant feeling.

Jump forward some twelve or so years: I’m a student in an international college in the Netherlands, taking classes in Political Science, International Relations and Contemporary Conflict Resolution. For my final paper I set out to write about the Palestinian right of return, for no particular reason other than that I have come across the issue in the class and, never having heard of it before, it has sparked an interest to learn something about it. I read and I come to the conclusion that denying Palestinians the right to return to their homeland is not okay. I read more and came across the Zionist argument that Palestinians returning to their homeland would jeopardize Israel’s being a Jewish state. And my thought is that that’s not okay either. So here I am with my two mutually exclusive impossibilities. What do I do? Well, I find the perfect solution, which is to drop the topic and write my research paper on another conflict.

The only remarkable aspect of this scene is that I remember it, and I had in fact forgotten it for many years. I am convinced that this “drop the thought” move is ubiquitous, as is the phenomenon of people saying things they don’t really know the meaning of, while resting pleasantly assured that their teachers or bosses or State-Reason-practicing colleagues are happy with them.

I was a very good student. I got top grades. I took graduate seminars while still an undergraduate. I got a prestigious scholarship for studying in the U.S. and off I went to graduate school in California.

There, on Turtle Island, I began to attune to the attraction of abolitionist revolutionary modes of knowing and thinking in the fold of the Black radical tradition. A young queer using university to build new community away from home, I found my entry to Palestine solidarity via queers protesting against Pinkwashing. I found my way to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement with my fellow union activists as academic student workers at the University of California. And I finished my PhD during the 2014 war on Gaza and during the Ferguson uprising.

One year after: I find myself in a closed ward in a Berlin asylum where they give me the treatment that is not unusual for the place: they lock me up, they force psych drugs down my throat, put me in isolation, tie me to the bed and give me one of the most vilifying diagnoses in the psychiatric books.

Another year after: I am out again. I am trying to mimic the motions of people I see alive around me, while convinced by the evidence of my post-psychiatric existence that I am useless, when I am invited to join a Mad Studies group composed of psychiatric survivors. For almost two years, we meet and share discussions, writings, songs and questions. After the group dissolves, I continue to read in Mad Studies, and I continue pursue community with psychiatric survivors. I am fascinated when people articulate madness and distress and extreme states of mind and all the stories that are woven through these notions without revering the authority of psychiatry.

I am not interested in being an academic any more. In fact, one of the stories I tell about my life is that my going mad was a way of resolving, or escaping, or processing, or breaking under and breaking from the peculiar condition of seeking to engage in a revolutionary intellectual practice while also seeking to make a career in academia. While Mad Studies means different things, the kind of Mad Studies I am interested in practicing is about issues of how to study (with whom? to what point? through which mediating forms? with what economic and other organization?) as much as it is about issues of madness. This essay is my writing Mad Studies in and for the Palestine movement. It is also an invitation to all other readers with a stake in Mad Studies, and those without a prior such stake too, to submit to the attraction of the movement for Palestinian liberation.

(Banned) Studies

April 12, 2024. We are gathering in front of the event center in Berlin Tempelhof where the Palestine Congress is set to take place. Hundreds and hundreds of police have taken over the street. Brimming with energy and desire to congregate, we form a crowd next to the barricades. We wait hours while the police obstruct and delay the congress. The same media that incited against us for months hover next to us and try to get close-ups of our faces.

News has already spread among us that the police have cut down the number they will allow into the building to just a fraction of the 800 who have gotten a ticket to the sold-out congress, even though the event center usually holds weddings with as many people. For fire safety reasons, they say. I wonder if they came up with this pretext because of their deep desire to see us all burn in flames, or if it is simply the bureaucratic tool most suitable to their goals. I think of Israel’s permit bureaucracy for demolishing Palestinian homes.

Someone gets out of a car on the other side of the street and is about to join us with a huge banner reading “Jews against Genocide”. The police take him away. We chant “Shame on you”. The mood heats up. The press keep trying to film our faces. “The police are just arresting a Jew over there. Don’t you want to film it?”, someone shouts at a cameraperson from ARD – or was it ZDF? Of course, they don’t want to. They keep directing their cameras the other way.

News passes that Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah has been detained at the airport as he traveled to speak to us. Our capacity to hold anger and grief is boundless, it seems. Or is it not? We look to the organizers for cues, and they ask us to remain calm. So, calm we remain. Moderately calm. The line-up has turned into a rally. We are full of determination. As the police keep harassing us, some people form a circle and erupt into a mocking chant I have never heard before:

Ich bin nichts!
Ich kann nichts!
Gebt mir eine Uniform!

It means: “I am nothing! I am incapable! Give me a uniform!” The chanters’ faces beaming and their bodies bouncing to the accelerating rhythm of the looping chant, my chest bursts with laughter and love. I have already decided that I am not going to try to get in if not all of us can get in, and Palestinians should be the first to get it, as far as I am concerned. And yet, like the rest of the crowd, I do not leave until the end when one of the organizers comes out to tell us that the congress is about to start, that no one else can get in, and that we better not risk arrest by remaining gathered here any longer.

I am exhausted as I walk to the next bus stop.

  • Criminalization and Repressions against the Palestine Solidarity Movement: Which strategies is the German state following?
  • Effective activism against arms companies: Best practice sharing.
  • Effective activism for Palestine on German streets: Best practice sharing

These are some of the workshops scheduled for the congress. They are asking the urgent questions that we are needing to know better answers to. The state didn’t take the risk of us sharing our answers. The state didn’t take the risk of us being physically together to listen to our intellectual and movement leaders, beyond the first speech by Hebh Jamal. They definitely didn’t take the risk of us getting to know each other. An hour into the delayed start of the congress – I had just made it home and connected to the livestream – the police took over the venue, broke into the electricity cabinet, switched off the electricity and banned the whole event.

The interior minister of Germany praised them for it.

The emperor really has no clothes.

Later we learned that the police had also threatened the event center in advance that hosting the Palestine Congress could mean the end of their business.

Yes, it’s true, the emperor has no clothes at all.

And when we get caught in a Zionist argument that we are delegitimizing Israel, we laugh and counter: Actually, Israel and its Zionist allies are delegitimizing themselves.

As for us… We need not be Honourables and Professionals. There are no right emotions to display and no right words and phrases to stick to. There is no right way to act. We are neither “perfect victims” (the title of Mohammed El-Kurd’s forthcoming book) nor perfect victims’ advocates. We are millions taking our cues from watching each other. We are strangers recognizing each other on the subway using the five minutes our paths converge to talk important talk. We are stickering and spraying the streets to soothe and give courage to those of us who we may never meet. We are comrades learning and fighting together at protest camps. We don’t know yet what we will be.

Until Palestine is free.

Until all of us are free.

I dedicate this essay to the memory of Hiba Abu Nada whose diary from October 7 till October 20, 2023, the day she was murdered by Israel, was published with Passages through Genocide and struck me with the defiant power of its abolitionist imagination.