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(ILR) Sami Khatib: Singularity, Genocide, and the Question of Palestine

Sami Khatib: Singularity, Genocide, and the Question of Palestine

Sunday, July 28, at 10 am Pacific Time

In After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights, Robert Meister formulated a groundbreaking critique of the post 1990 Human Rights Discourse (HRD) – a discourse that casts the post-Holocaust security of the state of Israel as the ‘constitutive exception on which twenty-first-century humanitarianism is based.’ While HRD consists in declaring a new ‘post-ideological’ age that ‘would repudiate past violence … by endorsing exceptional violence – that of rescue and occupation’ (Meister 2011), the ‘old’ Holocaust functions as the foundational crime of this new age. The project and mission of preventing the return of such exceptional violence would necessitate granting the self-declared survivor and victim-state, the state of Israel, impunity and constitutive exemption from international law. Meister’s multi-layered argument, in consequence, implies that from a Western perspective the victims of the state of Israel necessarily must appear as terrorist, evil and illegitimate as long as they insist on and fight for justice and refuse to become an 'innocent victim' purified of all vengeance and resistance. Hence, the dehumanization of Palestinians is systemic and follows from Israel’s function as the West’s techno-scientific laboratory for exceptional state violence. Within this (post)humanitarian battle zone, Palestinians, civilians and combatants alike, are not only the physical but also the ideological target. Palestinians, voluntarily or not, by resisting Israel, also resist the current world order of HRD, which deems the struggle for justice and the age of revolution (roughly speaking 1789-1989) as ‘past evil’ – a presumably totalitarian cycle of violence and counter-violence that the post 1990 ‘world community’ seeks to leave behind, buried in an ‘evil past’. In the current world order, Palestinians are asked to give up their cause and accept the (post)humanitarian suspension of the ‘Critique of Violence’ (Walter Benjamin).

In this workshop, I aim to unpack the ideological ground that makes such ideologies of state violence thinkable, drawing on a variety of thinkers, including Robert Meister, Walter Benjamin, Alan Badiou, Fredric Jameson, Denise Ferreira da Silva and Ghassan Kanafani.


Robert Meister, After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights, New York: Columbia UP, 2011, intro, ch. 1, 5

Sami Khatib, “Germany and its Palestinian Discontents,” Journal of Visual Culture, Volume 20, Issue 2: The JVC Palestine Portfolio, Sept. 2021, 238-241.




Alain Badiou: Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward, London: Verso, 2001, chapter 5 + appendix

Walter Benjamin, "Critique of Violence," Selected Writings, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Vol. 1, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996, 236–252.

Denise Ferreira da Silva, Unpayable Debt, Sternberg Press, ch. 1

Fredric Jameson, The Aesthetics of Singularity, New Left Review, no. 92 (March/April 2015).

Jean Genet, “The Palestinians”, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Autumn, 1973), pp. 3-34

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