Binah: A Configuration of Three – Reena Katz

Mother

Terrorist

Settler

Inside my lived body there is a tension spanning what I know, and what I know. This tension birthed the body of Binah, named after the third step in the Kabbalistic tree of life. S/he[1] represents Understanding, and in some translations, the human vulva. Here, in the form of three digital self-portraits, I offer my body as the illegitimate offspring[2] of Zionist tendencies in an integrated circuit of ethnicity, nationalism and violence. Binah masquerades as my most feared alter egos: my adolescent Mother, a boyish Jewish Terrorist and a violent Israeli Settler.

The mainstream Jewish community’s conservative insistence that we comply with Zionism’s outdated body politic suggests ambiguous ethnic allegiances. It disciplines community members to stay away from territory of dissent and solidarity with the abject Other, known as ‘Arab’ in the racism of Zionism, meaning the Palestinian people. Because I freely cross the dangerous territory and side with their Other, my community has demonized me. Binah helps me ask: What is the anatomy of the national Jewish body I have apparently terrorized? How does my own body both transgress and affirm the conventions of this collective body?

Mimicry and Political Anatomy

In my lived experience of Jewish culture, an emergence of dualisms has occurred: legitimated knowledge vs. oral history; linear time vs. circular memory; and persistent exile vs. ultimate belonging. In the spirit of Haraway, I attempt to work with these binary codes as an “imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings.”[3] These dueling duets merge and multiply in Binah to create a body filled with the contradictions of my Jewish identity. Through mimicry and mimesis, s/he embodies the many racialized and gendered layers of power in the Zionist project.

Mimicry and Cultural Logic

Binah takes apart a static Jewish body politic in order to understand its pieces. It is mimicry of colonial geopolitics itself that allowed Ashkenazi[4] Jews to jump from their diasporic identity of underling to that of military bullies in one short generation. By becoming the very bullies to which we were subjects in Europe, Jewish cultural practice took on a whole set of new logics. Is there a crack in that foundation? Most certainly. This crack is represented by the huge numbers of Jews who oppose Zionism worldwide, but remain under-represented in the public body politic. So, what is our body politic then? To explore that, we might need a kind of drag and satire. In Binah, the “national is no longer naturalizable,”[5] and becomes a site of mockery and contemplation.

Mimicry and Photographic Truth

Binah is represented through photography as a visual gesture to the deconstructive performance that Daniel Boyarin proposes in his examination of photographic truth. There is also an evocation of destruction in the frozen images of Mother, Terrorist and Settler. As Helen McDonald evokes from Barthes: “by configuring nature as a sign and arresting the body in motion, photography invokes a premonition of both eroticism and death.”[6] Binah signals a sensual wondering that offers the possibility of decay on a static body politic.

The modernist technology of the camera was used to “capture” Indigenous people by classifying, eroticizing and racializing the non-European global majority. The camera also captures Binah’s body, an elusive act that divulges hir many faces. S/he uses the camera machine to invite the viewer into an anachronistic journey of blood memory and oral history. In this vein, photographs played a huge role in my education of the place called Yisrael in Hebrew, Israel in English[7]. Seeing the bodies of my loved ones surrounded by the guns, uniforms, and Jewish landmarks of Yisrael’s anatomy burned a reluctant brand into my memory. It marked a confusing bridge from shtetl[8] to suburb that my lived culture defined. Binah’s body feels the contradiction of displacement within an insistence of ethnic loyalty.

Anatomies and Abjects

Binah teases out the particular anatomy of power in operation with the Zionist project in my lifetime. This anatomy is productive, using a variety of techniques intended to create loyalty and compliance with the need for a Jewish state. Within diasporic Zionist infrastructures, Jewish bodies are reduced to a “political force at the least cost and maximized as a useful force.”[9] Binah’s triptych of Mother, Terrorist and Settler have discreet roles in this anatomy, rendering invisible the polyvocality of Jewish history into a political taxonomy that insists on a linear, violent genealogy[10].

Mapping A Corporeal Triptych

How does this research configure itself in the genetics of Binah? The three bodies s/he mimics time travel through different sides of the integrated circuit of Zionist violence. With the Mother mimic, I probe a gendered relationship to Yisrael and the assimilation of Hebrew into her mouth and body. From this pair of eyes, Binah sees the bright future of possibility in “a land without people for a people without a land.”[11] In the Irgun11[12] terrorist, Binah embodies the conundrum of the post-Holocaust Jewish male in his attempt to escape a wounded ghetto masculinity; as well as the irony of historical narratives that racialize Arabs as terrorists, without naming the role of terrorism in the founding of the State. Finally, the Settler mimic is an examination of the psychosexual facets of Zionist violence. Binah charts him (the Settler) as a latent queer, desiring the very subject of his hate, and revealing the source of his self-revulsion.

Mother

A photograph of my mother, taken at 15 Katamon Street in Jerusalem, 1957[13], provided an experience of jamais vue – seeing myself there in the image, but not recalling where or when I’d been there. After realizing it was my mother, not myself in the photo, I remembered how truly alike we are physically. In Binah, the Mother mimic marks a cultural imperative: my matrilineal relationship to Zionism and my loyalty to the Israeli Nation State. By replacing my mother’s body with my own, I am marking my hesitations, cynicisms and ultimate mockery of that ideal. For many years, my unreasonable disgust of my mother’s physical body pointed to her strange encounters in Yisrael, a place I had no interest in whatsoever. I often contrasted her Katamon Street portrait with one of my grandmother and great aunts in Poland from the 1920s, an image I poured over for hours, memorizing (and romanticizing) every detail. In this regard, language is key. Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, represents a territory my mother wished to depart from, and one to which I have been deeply magnetized. This extends to my reluctances around Zionism, and affinities to Yiddishist socialisms. As Seidman explains:

The historical circumstances that connected Yiddish with women readers in the 16th century have a curious corollary in the late 20th century, when the 2nd wave of Jewish feminism has combined with diaspora ideology (part ethnic nostalgia, part disillusionment with Zionism, part postmodernism) to generate a surge of interest in women and Yiddish.[14]

Terrorist

How hypocritical that Zionists racially brand Palestinians as terrorists. In fact, the early ‘founders’ of the state of Israel were involved in a variety of far-right organizations, many of which supported violence against civilians. The Irgun followed the revisionist call of Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky, a prime example of Herzlian masculine panic. Binah’s Irgun mimic embodies the reclamation of the biblical Jewish man to which these terrorists ascribed. Here, Binah’s Zionist is proudly violent and fearless, willing to sacrifice his personal Jewish body for the greater good of his Jewish body politic. In Binah, his body ascends[15] in spiritual return, shedding the ghetto and entering the sunlight of the Holy Land.

In the narrow Jewish street our poor limbs soon forgot their gay movements; in the dimness of sunless houses our eyes began to blink shyly. Let us take up our oldest traditions; let us once more become deep chested, sturdy, sharp eyed men.[16]

Settler[17]

In Nissim Mossek’s documentary of Iraqi-Jewish activist Ezra Nawi, there is a settler who taunts Ezra shamelessly about his “small dick”. Ezra encounters the settler while protesting the violence of his colony against a neighbouring Palestinian village. As a gay Arab Jew, Ezra’s body is positioned within multiple abjects in the Zionist imaginary. The Palestinian political body, and Falastine itself is the abject of the Jewish State through Herzlian Zionism. Palestinians are seen as disposable at best, and at worst, completely invisible.

The settler’s de-masculinizing and homophobic comments left me with a deep impression of his psychosexual relationship to Zionism’s colonial anatomy of power. In the scenario of ownership, bodies of land are stolen, repositioned and governed. This control and conquer ideology seemed to mirror the settler’s own control of his homoerotic desires, which slipped out only through his consistent fixation on the size of Ezra’s dick. Binah’s Terrorist mimic embodies his bitterness, shame and smallness in all its manifestations. He mirrors my fears in relationship to extremist Zionist ideology. The experience of mimicking his body left me feeling poisoned and ugly. Binah felt his sublimated queer desire, and longed to emerge from beneath the holy garments he donned with hypocritical fervor.

Beginning

The Triptych of Binah exerts a “mimicry that emerges as the representation of a difference that is itself a process of disavowal.”[18] Hir chaotic location within the triad of Mother, Terrorist and Settler gestures to a symbiosis in my understanding of Zionism in terms of its familiarity (body memory) and difference (political objection). By recognizing my location within Zionist history while simultaneously renouncing it, Binah challenges the multiple forms of violence articulated by Zionist cultural logic and exposes their ethnic and gendered fault lines.

Photography: Jo Simalaya

Gender Transformation Consultant: Hershel T. Russell

Endnotes:

1. In order to represent Binah’s multiple genders, I am using pronouns: s/he and hir.

2. Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto” in The CyberCultures Reader. London: Routledge, 2000. Pp. 293.

3. Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto” in The CyberCultures Reader. London: Routledge, 2000. Pp. 292.

4. Eastern European

5. Bhabha, Homi K. “Of Mimicry and Man” in The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. Pp. 122.

6. McDonald, Helen. “Re-visioning the female nude” in Erotic Ambiguities: The Female Nude in Art. London: Routledge, 2001. Pp. 40.

7. A cartography that intentionally marginalizes and erases that place called Palestine to the British and Falastine to Palestinians. These three places exist in the same geographic space, but their various body politics remain extremely separate, both intentionally (through architectures such as checkpoints and the Separation Wall) and covertly.

8. Yiddish word for small Jewish towns of Eastern Europe, destroyed in WWII.

9. Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism” in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977. Pp. 221

10. Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto” in The CyberCultures Reader. London: Routledge, 2000. Pp. 299.

11. Zionist credo, obviously erasing any Indigenous existence.

12. One of many right-wing Zionist terrorist groups. They claimed responsibility for blowing up the Kind David Hotel in 1946, which housed the Headquarters of the British Forces in Palestine.

13. Interview with my mother – June, 2009.

14. Seidman, Naomi. A Marriage Made in Heaven: the Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Pp. 135.

15. English translation of Aliyah, the Hebrew word for moving or ‘returning’ to Yisroel. Spoken idiomatically in English as “making Aliyah”.

16. Hessing quoted in: Bell, J. Bower. Terror out of Zion: The Violent and Deadly Shock Troops of Israeli Independence, 1929 – 1944. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977. Pp. 210.

17. Term used for Israeli citizens who choose to live in illegal outposts inside Palestinian territory. The Settler movement sees the entire region of “Greater Judea” as belonging to the Jewish people and often patrol the land with rifles. There are many cases of Settler attacks against Palestinians who come to harvest olives from trees belonging to their families for generations.

18. Bhabha, Homi K. “Of Mimicry and Man” in The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. Pp. 125.

References

1. Ahmed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durhan: Duke University Press, 2006.

2. Bell, J. Bower. Terror out of Zion: The Violent and Deadly Shock Troops of Israeli Independence, 1929 – 1944. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977

3. Ben-Arieh, Alex. Irgun/Etzel “Hebrew War of Liberation” Manifesto; Israeli Army ‘Hitelmacher’ Hat. June 15, 2009. http://www.historama.com

4. Bhabha, Homi K. “Of Mimicry and Man” in The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

5. Boyarin, Daniel. “The Colonial Drag: Zionism, Gender and Mimicry” in Unheroic Conduct: the Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. 271 – 312.

6. Citizen Nawi. Dir, Mossek, Nissim. Biblical Productions, 2007.

7. D-Day and Combat May 44 to October. The First Division. June 22, 2009. www.geocities.com/eco16thinf/ORDPAGE_GRENADE.jpg

8. Flaccid-Erect Gallery Page. Erection Photos February17, 2009. June 17, 2009. www.erectionphotos.com/softHardGallery/SoftHardGalleryP01.htm

9. Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism” in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977.

10. Gaetens Moira. “Corporeal representation in/and the body politic” in Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power and Corporeality. London: Routledge, 1996.

11. Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto” in The CyberCultures Reader. London: Routledge, 2000.

12. Katz, Gilda. First person interview, June 20, 2009.

13. McDonald, Helen. “Re-visioning the female nude” in Erotic Ambiguities: The Female Nude in Art. London: Routledge, 2001.

14. Seidman, Naomi. A Marriage Made in Heaven: the Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. 112 – 120.

15. Silcoff, Mireille. “Undiscovered Country: Michal Heiman and the found pictures of Keila Pruzanski” Guilt & Pleasure, 4 (2007): 104 – 115.

16. The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey. Dir. Fusco, Coco & Herein, Paula. Authentic Documentary Productions, 1993.

Reena Katz uses recorded sound, handmade electronics, wood and live performance to create diverse listening spaces. Her work explores gender, ethnicity, migration and anachronism with a constant reference to collectivity and oral archive. Katz focuses on the use and re-use of analog sound technologies, as well as fibers and materials from a variety of wounded landscapes. Guided by a deep love of collaboration, Katz has developed an inventive and strong voice across disciplines. Her collaborations include film and video, poetry, dance and grassroots organizing. She teaches music, listening practice and audio production in a variety of educational settings. Katz’s compositions, installations and performances have been exhibited at galleries, festivals and on radio internationally, including Toronto, Montreal, New York and Berlin. Most recently, her emerging curatorial practice has engaged exhibitions with the Toronto Palestine Film Festival, and A Space Gallery. www.radiodress.ca