How to be Progressive Without Being Antisemitic and Anti-Israel

by Jill Schaeffer (September 2012)


On Thursday, July 5th, the Presbyterian Church, PC(USA), General Assembly voted 333-331 to adopt an amended minority report against divesting from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard; their products ostensibly used by Israel for nefarious purposes in the West Bank against civilians. Instead, the minority report called for greater investment by private or non-profit investors in the West Bank. This very narrow vote replaced the majority report, recommended to the Assembly by MRTI, ACSWOP and the GAMC of the denomination, calling for divesting the denomination’s stock in these three companies. The heavies weighed in for divestment, but they didn’t carry the day. On July 6th, several maneuvers were deployed to get divestment back on the table. These failed. An attempt to brand Israel as an apartheid state also failed. Boycotting companies benefiting from the settlements on so-called Palestinian territories passed.

How did this happen? How did the Assembly fail to honor its missionaries in the Middle East, who voted overwhelmingly as Advisory delegates? How did the PC(USA) lobby, the Israel-Palestine-Mission-Network (IPMN), fail to convince the Assembly of its virtue, its moral high ground, its soulful appeal to conscience? How did “Friends of Sabeel,” stay friends with Sabeel but not extract fidelity and faithfulness from the rank and file of our denomination? How did this happen? 

Was it a failure of propaganda, where the same words in the same tone of voice, the same righteous indignation is repeated ad nauseum, month after month, year after year with not even a change of adjectives? As in, “Israel is an apartheid state.” Five hundred times in your copybook. Or, “Without the occupation there would be no resistance.” Another 500 times in your copybook. “We are for peace, justice and reconciliation!” Seven hundred times in your copybook. Or, “We can no longer tolerate the suffering of the Palestinian people!” One thousand times in your copybook. 

These and like phrases should work to change hearts and minds, particularly since you can arrange them in any order you choose, however many other sentences of some sort are dispersed among them. Once they pop up in a paragraph, Bingo! You are hooked! Your soul belongs to the words instead of to you, to reality and to God.

Well, it didn’t work because Karl got it wrong. Our friend Karl Marx blew it. But, let’s be fair, it wasn’t only his doing. He had leaned on George Friedrich Hegel, and Hegel got it wrong, sort of, but Marx just got it wronger. 

Lesson 1: If you want to trash Marx, trash Hegel. Then, you’re home free. How does this work?

The lowly syllogism. Hegel wrote a book called, The Science of the Lesser Logic, 400 odd pages of developing the lowly and empty syllogism, a mere notion, to the finale of history, a “syllogism filled with form.” Not only did the journey take 400 pages but also traveled a winding road through a form of reasoning that had lost its validity at the end of the 19th century thanks to the Father of American Pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce. But what has this to do with Pittsburgh and what happened in Pittsburgh?

Simply put: Nobody knew what would happen. The genius of a capitalist type mentality is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. You can predict, graph, run probabilities through computers galore, but when the event you want to take place doesn’t occur it’s because you could never have really known the outcome in the first place. That’s capitalism’s genius, an open system, a shrug, a guess. “Huh” spells Capitalism. “I know,” spells Marxism. Capitalism adapts, welcoming, often reluctantly and sometimes too late, variables from outside its ken. Marxism shuns what it cannot control, denies it, kicks it downstairs or shreds it. The syllogism is a closed system. What it cannot order, it eliminates.

IPMN denied too much to be credible. MRTI denied too much to be credible. ACSWOP, the GAC, Sabeel – left too much out of the picture to be credible. Even if the copybook was full of apt and wonderful pages, filled with marvelous statements of righteous this and compassionate that, there were no blank pages left to welcome a thought from outside. Marxism is inhospitable to strangers. (500 times in your copybook, please). That shunning of variables unfriendly to its argument didn’t determine the narrow outcome, but it did have some influence, a sort of “uh-oh.” Perhaps that was enough. We’ll never know. And we can say that. We don’t know.

The syllogism shapes stuff, it shapes the stuff of history to conform to itself. Nothing can change it. It can be empty of stuff as in the first chapters of Hegel’s Lesser Logic, or filled with form, the stuff’s stuff, at the end of history.* But its form never changes. It is real, as in Hegel’s statement, “The real is rational, and the rational is real.”  Yet, although logic and reason are not quite the same thing, Marxism stands or falls on the validity of the syllogism. And, so far, Marxism has had a poor run in reality but a long-standing run in propaganda. Full of sound bites and visual cues. Communism is great on paper but totalitarian in practice. It has to be because it’s founded on a closed system of “I know.” We in PFMEP worked very hard to even the odds that were way high against us, but during the evening session where that narrow vote took hold, we didn’t expect the outcome; in fact we were stunned. One of us muttered, “I’ve never seen that before.” Another who had prayed and read his Bible during the voting, paying no attention to anything else, kept right on reading and praying after the vote came in. “Huh?” “Wha?” “You gotta be kidding.” I thought my glasses had fogged up.

Summing up: The syllogism is a closed system of propositions allowing no existential variants. There is no outside and no way of changing how it works. What it cannot order, it eliminates.

Lesson Two: The law of non-contradiction. George was smarter than Karl. George linked the mind to the world outside the mind in a great and wonderful idealism of the development of history, of the universe itself, with only one restraint: the law of non-contradiction. Friends, there’s no way around it. Contradictions abound because our brains do that sort of thing, take note that something just doesn’t work right. Saying yes and no to the same thing? No way. But George said that Yes and No are both real because they both occur in the mind and vie for dominance. So, Yes and No face off, collide, are sublimated and a new Yes is born, to be countered in contradiction, a collision, a sublimation and a newer Yes is born until that lowly syllogism is “filled with form,” and history is a done deal. Contradictions contradict no more. They are friends. Freud, Einstein, Julian Huxley, were some who worked intentionally or unselfconsciously with Hegel’s interpretation of development complexifying out of the law of non-contradiction. And, God help us, it often makes sense because we do think that way.

Marx and Engels adopted the Yes/No clash and a new Yes, but they made a mistake. While Hegel’s Yes/No has adherents to this day, the Marx/Engels version wrote of “class warfare.” contradictions occurring within individuals or between persons have no consequence in history. Only names for groups engage in the Yes/No, sublimate, new Yes, flow of history. I’m talking about names, not persons. Marx loved anonymity.  No one has a name of his or her own. No one has an agenda of his/her own. No one has a biography of his/her own. For instance, the Communist propaganda leaflet introducing the massacre at Lidice (in the former Czechoslovakia) when a young man killed Heydrich, spoke of the “forces of history” as the true murderer, while the behavior of two young and indiscrete lovers, one of whom assassinated Heydrich, were of no consequence. If we extend the role of anonymity to IPMN and their friends: There are no Israelis, no Palestinians, no Iranians, no Egyptians, etc. There is only the group Israeli, the group Palestinian, the group Jordanian, the group Iranian, the group Jew. So, for instance, here’s a recent event that louses up the demonization of Israel vis a vis the Palestinians: Al Jazeera reported that Palestinian refugees from Syria fleeing to Jordan are being deported by the Jordanians back to Syria. With a paradigm of anonymity, however, who cares? There is only one group of Palestinians of concern, and they live in the West Bank and Gaza. Such folks don’t have names, by the way. But other Palestinians living outside the West Bank and Gaza don’t even exist. Not only is the syllogism violated, but so is the that Yes/No, sublimate, new Yes  smudged by reality.

Commissioners at the GA were not necessarily spiffy in Hegel or Marx. They were tired, grumpy, happy, faithful, hardworking, wanting ever so much to be fair and do the Lord’s work. But how can one be fair, when the map showing the issue’s terrain of concern is left suspiciously blank in too many places? Did that absence, that silence, have any effect on commissioners? We’ll never know. Much of the testimony given by persons against divestment gummed up the work of absence and silence. One of us was hissed and booed after his minute was up. So much for civil discourse  But those of us who testified covered terrain that had not been seen, and heard of incidents and events unknown up to the moment of testimony. We brought in the odd, the untamed, the real. It wasn’t the “other side,” that folks heard, it was the “outside.”

The punch line: So how can we be progressive and avoid antisemitism and anti-Israel postures? Well, first, avoid logic as governor of reality. It’s just a tool of reason, not reason itself. Second, ask the Marxist question, of Marxist propaganda: “Who benefits, who’s asking, who’s the audience?” The third follows from the second: Rescue particularity from typologies of which stereotypes is only one subset. The mathematical philosopher Alfred North Whitehead critiqued the Hegelian, A. E. Bradley who thought of categories of action rather than specifics as in “Wolf eating lamb.” Whitehead retorted, “There is no ‘wolf eating lamb.’ It is this wolf eating that lamb, and the lamb is in agony!” Whatever we come up with, it won’t be left or right or even the middle, but something very old and very new: respect for the infinite worth of each person and creature, respect for reality, respect for God. That’s a start.

  • The notation for the syllogism usually stands for Major premise, Minor premise and Conclusion.  In Hegel’s notation, “I” the ‘individual’ is the minor premise, and it is this ‘Individual’ that is finally “filled with form.”


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