BICAR Assembly 2024: Palestine as Symptom and Cause

au JUS will host a collective participation in this year's hybrid Assembly 2024: Palestine as Symptom and Cause by the Beirut Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR). To act as a portal and meeting place around a program that we see as crucial and requiring critical attention, we quote BICAR’s announcement:

Israel’s genocidal military campaign against Palestine and Gaza in particular makes business as usual impossible for Critical Theory. There is no neutral ground in this historical conjuncture, whether in academia, culture, or politics. The program of this year’s BICAR assembly is a response to the silence and complicity from scholars and institutions in the fields of Critical Theory and psychoanalysis. This cultural and scholarly complicity and its disavowed reality are symptomatic. The question of Palestine exposes the cracks in the Western capitalist world order and its supporting ideologies, including the constituent hypocrisy of Human Rights Discourse, its exceptions and beneficiaries.

The event that occurred on October 7, 2023, happened at a time when Israel, the US and their allies thought they had moved beyond both the question and the symptom of Palestine, relegating the Palestinian cause to the necropolitical management of contained space under Israeli sovereignty. This attempt at ‘conflict management’ failed and its cultural and humanitarian support collapsed along with it. Having committed an unprecedented massacre against the population of Gaza, Israel has now created a reality of genocide that rules out any return to the status quo ante.

At this point of no return, the history of the Palestinian cause and its struggles must be recalled. The Palestinian cause was central to the Arab left and the Marxist politics of the twentieth century because ‘Palestine’ was not a reified identity but the name for a universalist struggle that was at once anti-colonial and anti-capitalist. ‘Palestine’ was a unifying signifier for the struggle against reactionary politics, against fascists and identitarians; a thorn in the side of the bourgeois Arab nationalists and liberals alike. What is the legacy of this struggle for contemporary Marxism, Critical Theory and psychoanalysis? The Palestine question is the present and historically persistent form that allows us to see the intersections of these fields and what they may offer to emancipatory politics.

BICAR streams during the assembly:
  • Stream 1: The Psychology of Genocide
    hosted by Nadia Bou Ali

What could be a psychoanalysis of genocide? Genocides repeat, they are however singular in their structure:  often accompanied by fascist politics that affirm life by denying the death of ancestors, and the undeadness of the fatherland. Will-power becomes force and the extermination of anything in the way of this form of life becomes the only path forward. Genocide has an implicit telelogy: it is very clear in its aims from the start, the form of extermination only varies. More often than not, genocides are accompanied by witnesses and bystanders who practice complex mechanisms of disavowal and displacements. These ‘innocent bystanders’ , the two-siders, the just-war theorists, the university discourse at work in churining out justifiction, enable the continuation of genocide whose only victims are in turn identified as ‘innocent’ collateral. Those who fight, who resist, have no history in the time of genocide. In the future, when the genocide surfaces into the narratives of history proper, the innocents will be indentified only as  non political actors. The sinister under-side of genocide is that it strips those it seeks to exterminate, and especially those who resist, from their subjectivity: they are not subjects but victims, at best, in retrospect. The psychical labor involved in this procedure is arguably what allows for the repetition of genocide in different places albeit in the same form. How to analyse this structure of perverse disavowal that inflicts bystanders and witnesses? How to undo the ritualistic knot of the killing machine as it blindly re-sacralizes life and offers sacrifices for its undead ancestors? How to work through the ongoing ugly enjoyment, that if not stopped, promises to continue and to repeat elsewhere. A psychoanalysis of genocide seeks to extricate the universality of the struggle of the Palestinian people, in their fight against a machine of death that is a dead machine whose spirit is the undead ancestor.

  • Stream 2: Palestine as Symptom: Critique of the Human Rights Discourse hosted by Sami Khatib and Ghalya Saadawi

Explaining the mismatch of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians and neighboring populations, and Israel’s self-image as a victim-state engaging in so-called self-defense, Robert Meister drew the following conclusion: “In post-Holocaust debates about human rights, the violence that Israel uses to defend itself has become a laboratory for the violence that the ‘world community’ (especially the U.S.) would be obliged to use in protecting an Israel that could not defend itself. The post-Holocaust security of Israel thus stands as the constitutive exception on which twenty-first-century humanitarianism is based.” (2011). Relying on Meister’s critique of the Western human rights discourse, alongside other critiques of the morals underpinning human rights and the capitalist economy more broadly, as well as the both memorial and counter-revolutionary function of these, this stream focuses on Palestine as a symptom. By resisting Israel’s occupation and refusing to be reconciled victims, the enduring struggle of Palestine also resists a world order that has deemed the struggle for justice part of an “evil past” in a world of postponed justice. The Palestinian cause thereby exposes the moral underbelly of  Realpolitik in which beneficiaries can enjoy their gains in an “ethical” way by reaching out to depoliticized victims, whilst persecuting those engaged in freedom struggles as unreconciled victims of a global order.

  • Stream 3: The Question of Anti-Semitism as Deflection, Anti-Semitism as Conspiracy Theory
    hosted by Ray Brassier

The identification of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism has become the principal weapon used against advocates of Palestinian liberation. This identification has a long history, at once political and theoretical. Among its primary theoretical inspirations is the work of Moishe Postone, which also provides its veneer of academic credibility. Rejecting the explanatory links between fascism, colonialism, and genocide, Postone sidelines the historical specificity of the Holocaust to emphasize its historical singularity as inextricable from that of Nazism. Like Nazism, the Jewish Holocaust is historically unique and incomparable. The historical singularity of the Holocaust is the Jewish state’s raison d’etre; Israel’s existence is the historical ratification of anti-anti-Semitism. According to Postone, anti-Zionism conflates anti-Semitism with racism and the Jewish state with an ethno-nationalist settler colony. In so doing, it mistakes anti-colonial resistance for resistance to capital. Moreover, by pitting concrete resistance against abstract domination and native against settler, anti-Zionism unwittingly repeats the fetishization of the concrete characteristic of modern (i.e. Nazi) anti-Semitism. Postone’s arguments have gained traction among certain segments of the Left, who invoke them not only to discredit advocacy for the Palestinian resistance but also to drive a wedge between anti-colonialism and anti-capitalism more generally. While Postone’s claims rely on a number of equivocations that can be easily dismantled, what is more difficult but equally necessary at this juncture is to identify the combination of historical and political factors that have rendered them persuasive for many on the Left, despite their dubious conceptual cogency.

Due to the imminent threat of escalating Israeli attacks on Lebanon, BICAR will refrain from inviting participants to Lebanon to attend in person. To nevertheless offer a space of in person exchange au JUS invites for a physical gathering at their project space in Brussels during the week of June 18-22, 2024 where the hybrid session will be streamed and discussed together.
On 21st the session will be held at artist-run space Spare Wheel, Wielemans Ceuppens 145.

Around the hybrid sessions we are planning an additional program with invited speakers, film screenings, collective dinners, and the meeting of local activists. If you would like to propose some suitable agenda points please reach out to us knowing that we have no budget.
Full program 

Participants are asked to contribute with a donation of $50 or more to the Ghassan Abu Sittah Children’s Fund. Please register here in advance and let us know if you need accommodation in Brussels.

The events will be in academic english and will provide translations of streamed/online talks where possible. Please let us know if you have any accessibility needs.


Day 1: Tuesday, 18 June, 2024
10am – 7pm Brussels time
au JUS, Jean Volders 24

10:00 am
Coffee - Check - In


Opening remarks

Psychoanalysis of Genocide 1
Abboud Hamayel
Jamil Khader
Nihal El Aasar

Psychoanalysis of Genocide 2
Hannah Zeavin
Sophie Mendehlson
Robert Beshara
Gabriel Tupinambá

Psychoanalysis of Genocide keynote
Françoise Vergès

Day 2: Wednesday, 19 June, 2024
10am – 7pm Brussels time
au JUS, Jean Volders 24

10:00 am
Coffee - Collective Reading

Critique of Human Rights Discourse 1
Jessica Whyte

General Stream
Hazem Jamjoum
Harry Halpin

The Question of Anti-Semitism as Deflection,
Anti-Semitism as Conspiracy Theory

Daniel Tutt
Sai Englert
Barnaby Raine

General Stream
Rebecca Comay

General Stream keynote
Jodi Dean 

Film Streaming

Day 3: Friday, 21 June, 2024
2pm – 9pm Brussels time
Wielemans Ceuppens 145

Critique of Human Rights Discourse 2
Nader Andrawos
Adam HajYahyia

Critique of Human Rights Discourse 3
Dirk Moses
Alberto Toscano
Brenna Bhandar

Resistance Poetry
Bassem Saad
Mohamad Nassereddine

Day 4: Saturday, 22 June, 2024
3pm – 9pm Brussels time
au JUS, Jean Volders 24

Group discussion

"All Eyes on Rafah". The war machine & the image machine
Work presentation Nisaar Ulama 

Critique of Human Rights Discourse keynote
Robert Meister 

Closing remarks

Collective dinner 

Follow BICAR’s website and social media accounts for the full announcement.