The Friend/Enemy Distinction

The enemy is the embodiment of your own question.

–Theodor Däubler

I. Oakland

In 1930, five years after giving up hope of an academic career, Walter Benjamin sent a book to Carl Schmitt, a legal theorist who would soon become a leading jurist for the Third Reich. Benjamin had hoped that the book would earn him a professorship at the University of Frankfurt, but instead it marked his permanent break with the academy.

Esteemed Professor Schmitt, Benjamin addressed Schmitt, who was at that time a professor in Berlin, I have derived from your later works…a confirmation of my modes of research in the philosophy of art from yours in the philosophy of the state. The letter ended in homage: If the reading of my book allows this feeling to emerge in an intelligible fashion, then the purpose of my sending it to you will be achieved. With my expression of special admiration, Yours very humbly, Walter Benjamin.

Jeremiah came across this letter in the open stacks of UC Berkeley’s Gardner Library during his last year at the university. He had been pursuing a BA degree with a double major in German and Rhetoric. Just a few weeks after coming across the letter, he left the university, only one class away from the degree. He could not endure any more sessions of the final required class for his major.

Instead of using class time to discuss the novels of Musil’s The Man without Qualities and Döblin’s Alexanderplatz, the professor spent his lectures explaining why the world had failed to recognise his brilliance. So Jeremiah quit, uncertain of his prospects, and unable to say what the future held in store. All he knew was that he could no longer continue as a student. If Walter Benjamin couldn’t make it as an academic, he decided, university life was not for him either. He returned to his library books and found a job as a barista in the café across the street from his apartment in downtown Oakland. He started working the nightshift, 8pm to 2am, Monday to Friday, every night.

Jeremiah spent his weekends reading the works of Edward Said, James Baldwin, Jean Genet, and the subject of his long-standing passion, Walter Benjamin. Each man’s picture was pasted to his refrigerator. He paused to gaze at them every time he brewed coffee. He also spent this time reconnecting with Judaism, a religion he had avoided thinking about ever since his mother’s death three years earlier.

She had been an Orthodox Jew, and a first generation immigrant, born to parents from the Pale of Settlement. They had reached Ellis Island in 1912. Like her mother, she was determined to raise her son in the Orthodox tradition. Every time he called her or visited her in her rent-controlled apartment in the Lower East Side, she would ask when he would find a nice Jewish girl to marry. He had got so fed up with this question that he stopped calling her and ignored her pleas to visit him. On the day that she died, he told himself that his Judaism was forever buried beneath the earth, in her grave. 

Now, freed from both his mother and the pressures of coursework, Jeremiah began reading avidly in the history of Judaism, rediscovering old texts that he had always meant to read but never had: Maimonides, Ibn Ezra, Gershom Scholem, Levinas. As he immersed himself in radical Jewish thought from Marx to Emma Goldman, Judaism came to seem like a different kind of religion, indeed not a religion at all, more like a philosophy of life. He had never imagined Judaism like this in his childhood. He read the writings Bernard Lazare, the anarchist-turned-Zionist following the Dreyfus affair. And then Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and the anarchists in their circle, nearly all of whom were Jewish. Finally, he turned to Jewish messianism, from Sabbatai Zevi to Gershom Scholem. 

At long last he arrived at Walter Benjamin. He lingered there for many weeks, often reading the same sentences twice. He stopped reading when he encountered Benjamin’s correspondence with Scholem, teaching him Hebrew and seeking persuade him to immigrate to Palestine. He chose to stop reading at that point, because he feared what Benjamin might say about Zionism. What if he accepted the legitimacy of Israel as a state, and the expulsion of Palestinians to make that state possible? If that turned out to be the case, it would open up a whole new set of problems, which he did not feel prepared to deal with. Not yet. If he had learned one thing from his time at Berkeley, it was that Israel’s existence was an affront to human rights and a threat to international peace. 

All this time, he avoided reading Carl Schmitt, a figure who loomed everywhere on his horizon: in his reading about Walter Benjamin, about the Third Reich, in the politics of international relations, and in critiques of liberalism. Jeremiah refused to categorise himself politically, but he hated liberalism. Everywhere he turned, Schmitt’s ideas resonated with his intuitions about the violence of politics and its religious dimensions. Yet he was not ready to encounter Schmitt in his original form. He did not feel prepared to deal with the ethical complexities of engaging with a Nazi just yet, even one admired by Benjamin. First, he had to figure out how to defend the existence of Israel, to protect his people from the threat posed by Schmitt. Since Israel claimed to represent all Jews around the world, he had to come to terms with Israeli occupation. Then—and only then—could he face Schmitt’s Nazi legacy.

For the remainder of that year, Jeremiah’s daily conversations with people outside were generally limited to “Hello” “How are you?” and “Goodbye.” There was only one activity that broke this routine of silence with the outside world: sex. During the initial phase of his immersion in reading, he managed to go without it for weeks and then months at a time. But when he passed the six-month mark without sex, masturbation could no longer simulate the real thing. He started to long for the feeling of another’s flesh against his own.

So he took to visiting a bar every Sunday night to pick up women. He avoided Saturday nights, when competition was greatest, and he stood the least chance of triumphing over his rivals. Every woman to whom he was attracted to on those nights had paired up with someone by around 9pm. His chances were better on Sundays. Attractive women lingered alone until around 11pm. He developed a routine of reaching the bar by 10:30 and walked in nonchalantly, glancing straight ahead. He would then head directly for the pool table, from which he watched women file into the bar from an angle that hid his face and yet provided a panoramic vista of every body beneath his gaze.

When he found a woman he wanted to take home, he would buy her two drinks and then invite her into his apartment. They would typically have sex within a few minutes of her arrival. At first, the predictability of these encounters was part of their appeal, but within two months, predictable sex became tedious. It always ended the same way: first, excitement, followed by loss, then alienation, then a feeling akin to hatred, even though he could not explain why the woman by his side repulsed him so much. It became increasingly difficult to have an erection, and his penis would grow flaccid in the middle of the sex. If the woman he was with was menstruating, he would give that as an explanation for his failure to get an erection, and explain that Jewish law forbids a man to have sex with a menstruating woman. But that excuse depended on the woman being on her period, which was rare.

Finally, after one particularly trying night, when, after a half hour of effort, he could not manage to penetrate the girl he had brought home, he wondered aloud whether getting an erection might not be easier with a man. 

“Sounds like you need to experiment a bit,” said the girl he had failed to penetrate as she alternated between stroking his hair and massaging his body. They were sitting at opposite ends of the bed, in the aftermath of his failed attempt at sex. She was a perfect simulacrum of stereotypical female beauty, with a narrow figure and long blonde hair. Yet the more he looked at her, the more preoccupied he became by the idea of touching—and being touched by—a naked man’s body. When he finally managed to enter her that night, he imagined being penetrated by a man. He woke up early in the morning to the discovery that he had had a wet dream during the night.

Life proceeded according to this routine for five years. The only major change was that he started going to gay bars and began bringing men instead of women to his apartment. His career stalled, even though he continued to read with avidity. After five years of limbo in between dropping out of university and working as a barista, he decided it was time for a change. Of routine, as well as of location. So, when the new year arrived, he booked a oneway ticket to London, a city he had never visited before, but which he had long revered from a distance. 

II. London

Getting a job in London—again as a barista, this time with five years of experience— was easy. Finding a place to live was another matter. He was determined to reside in the city centre but had not been prepared for the cost of rent. £1000 per month was the cheapest he could find for a room in King’s Cross that didn’t even include a private bathroom. A new word entered his vocabulary: bedsit, used to describe a space so small that it couldn’t fit an entire bed, so the bed had to be hoisted up during the day and transformed into a sofa. He learned that even people living in such primitive and cramped conditions were expected to pay council tax, which raised the cost of living by roughly twenty-percent. 

Financially, London was a struggle. Yet he loved his newly adopted city with a passion. He adored the juxtapositions of old and new: Roman ruins, the medieval Tower of London, early modern operating theatres, Big Ben, and skyscrapers. He loved the banners, launched by London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan, preclaiming: ALL ARE WELCOME HERE in the languages of the world. He rejoiced every night as he walked home from Euston Station to King’s Cross following a long day of brewing coffee and tea at Ozone Coffee Roasters.

Every new day helped him to discover a new side of himself. Jeremiah started to consider what it would be like to live in London for the rest of his life. He began making friends, and every night he roamed London’s streets the more it felt like home. All he was missing was a companion. He didn’t so much long for a specific person, as he did for a warm body to touch and be touched by.

One cold December afternoon, a year following his move to London, Jeremiah sat in a café near Victoria Station. While he waited to meet someone, he recollected his college days, five years earlier. He had read a great deal since then, had seen more of the world, and had grown used to sex with men, but otherwise he remained the same.

Schmitt continued to intimidate him. He reflected on how his reading preferences during his college years— particularly the Frankfurt School, and Jewish mysticism—shaped his readerly habits in the present, even after he had relocated to London to work in an upscale café, where the hourly pay was twice the going rate than at other cafés.

Jeremiah had been recognised as a talented barista for his deep knowledge of coffee beans and for his mastery of the roasting process. He attributed his coffee roasting skills to his extensive reading in the university library, as well as to his immersion in books after he left the university.

During the past month, he had returned to his old preoccupation with the correspondence between Benjamin and Schmitt. Even though they never met, they had a special connection, as Benjamin’s letter attested, and Schmitt’s later writings, published after Benjamin’s death, proved. Jeremiah recollected a line that Schmitt loved to quote, from his German poet friend, Theodor Däubler: Der Feind ist unsere eigene Frage als Gestalt. The enemy is the embodiment of your own question.

Schmitt had served the same Nazi regime that had led Benjamin to end his life. Jeremiah wondered: Were they friends or enemies? Or both? And what did Benjamin’s admiration for Schmitt mean for his obsession with Israel/Palestine, a conflict that was all about enmity and enduring hatreds? Could Schmitt’s friend/enemy distinction help him craft a politics for Jewish engagement with Israel? Or would obsessing over it simply entrench ancient antagonisms and increase his hostility towards his political opponents? 

In contrast to the earlier phase in his life when he posed these questions back in Oakland while was seeking a new life, Jeremiah finally felt up to the challenge posed by Schmitt. Yet he knew he could not handle Schmitt alone. In search of answers, Jeremiah contacted one of London’s leading lawyers: Stefan Grimes QC, who had his offices in Bedford Chambers, LLC. Born in Berlin, Stefan move to the UK to attend Oxford and never returned to Germany. Although he had a PhD from the London School of Economics in legal theory, Stefan had made a career for himself outside academia. He had argued cases at the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. 

Grimes had published books on the Austrian jurist Hans Kelsen, on the role of international law in the creation of the state of Israel, and, most importantly for Jeremiah, on Schmitt’s political theology. Although the Schmitt book was Grimes’ magnum opus, his book on Israel had received wider recognition.

Due to its presentation of the creation of Israel as the first triumph of international law in the post-World War II era, it had been awarded the Israel Prize, and been widely honoured and had been the subject of conferences and book tours. Reviewers in The Times of Israel and The Algeimeiner praised the book as “outstanding,” for its conclusive demonstration that the expansion of settlements across the Green Line were consistent with international law. A special event at the Israeli embassy had been convened in honour of the book’s publication. Yet, in Jeremiah’s opinion, it was in the Schmitt book, and not in his work on Israel, that Grimes’ brilliance shone. Amazingly, he had authored these tomes while maintaining a full-time practice in international law.

Jeremiah was drawn to men like Stefan, whose intellect was closely linked to their politics, and whose works shaped public debate. He was also drawn to the twinkle in Stefan’s eyes that peered at him from every photograph of him posted online, and every YouTube clip that he had diligently watched multiple times. So he decided to risk an email, to explain his interest in his book and in Schmitt, and to ask if they could meet. “I want to use Schmitt,” he explained, “to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict.” He had prepared himself for rejection, or non-response.

Yet the exchange led to a suggestion to meet. And that’s how he ended up in a café across from Victoria Station on Friday afternoon in the midst of London’s rush hour, waiting for the man whose words had caused him to think, and whose eyes made him breathe more rapidly than normal.

While he was immersed in reflecting on what he might say to Stefan, a tall man walked up to him and extended his hand. He was impeccably dressed, in a black suit and a silk red tie that made him look as if he had just emerged from a courtroom. Jeremiah caught the scent of aftershave from his clean-shaven chin.

“You must be Jeremiah,” he said with a bright smile. 

“And you must be Stefan,” Jeremiah said, distracted by the scent of the aftershave. “Thanks so much for agreeing to meet with me. Please sit down.” Jeremiah gestured towards the seat across from him. “I ordered coffee for us both. I hope that’s ok.”

Stefan sat down. They stared at each other for some time. The emails they had exchanged prior to meeting had been full of philosophical musings, propelled by endless questions and the impossibility of answering them all. So many imponderables had been raised as they probed the depths of each other’s intellects. And yet so much remained unknown, including the basics: where they were born and raised, how many siblings they had, what their parents had done for a living, what they liked to eat.

After minutes of staring, it began to feel awkward for them both. Yet it was exciting to see each other finally in the flesh after the countless virtual exchanges.

Finally, Jeremiah broke the silence: “I love your book.”

“My book?” Stefan said in confusion, as if he had temporarily forgotten that he had written books. 

“Your book. I love all your books of course. But I’m talking about the last one, on Schmitt.”

Stefan smiled. “You made that clear over email. I’m glad you liked it. No one else did.”

This was followed by a long pause. “Can I ask you a personal question?” Stefan asked at last. 

Jeremiah nodded eagerly. Any sign of interest in him from Stefan was more than welcome.

“Why are you obsessed with Israel? Are you Jewish?” 

 There was only one answer to that question. He was a Jew who opposed the policies of the state of Israel and its advocates within the Jewish community. He was a Jew who rejected Zionism, and supported Palestinian human rights.

Judaism was the religion into which he was born. Marxism was the religion had chosen for himself, as filtered through the thinking of Adorno, Horkheimer, and other members of the Frankfurt School. Walter Benjamin was the image of the intellectual he wanted to become. Along with being a cultural Marxist, he also supported a cultural boycott of Israel, but he hesitated to share that with Stefan just yet. He decided to answer the second part of the question while ignoring the first.

“I’m a Jewish Marxist,” Walter said with a smile. “What about you?”

 “Me?” Stefan smiled back. “I suppose you could call me an atheist. I’m definitely not a Jew.”

“Ok, but that doesn’t tell me much about your background. How do you identify? What culture do you come from?”

Stefan flashed a mischievous smile. “Is that why you asked to meet me? So you could pinpoint my identity? Categorize me? Erase my individuality? I am not a category.” he paused and, when he got no response, continued, “Why did you ask to meet, if I may ask?” Jeremiah paused. He surveyed the café. Victoria Station was visible in the distance. Workers rushed towards the Tube station full of dreams for the weekend. Finally, he summoned the courage to stare back at his interlocutor.

“I want you to teach me to read Schmitt,” he said slowly. “I’ve read him before, through the eyes of Walter Benjamin, but I was never able to understand him like you do. Like a lawyer. When I read your book, I start thinking about Schmitt differently. I began to think that, if Schmitt were alive, he could help me understand power. And if I understand power, then I can create peace. I want you to teach me about the friend/enemy distinction as described by Schmitt.”

Stefan looked at him quizzically, “How can such arcane political concepts help you bring about peace?”

Jeremiah smiled, knowing that what he was about to say would sound absurd to a lawyer’s ears. “Understanding power will help me grasp the political logic of the Israeli state. Schmitt will help me resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict.” He suddenly became conscious of his hubris. Eager to moderate the audacity of his words, he added: “I want to bring justice to Palestinians.”

“Only to Palestinians?” Stefan asked. “What about Israelis?”

“Justice for Palestinians means justice for Israelis as well,” Jeremiah said.

They stared at each other without fear. This new intimacy aroused Jeremiah’s desire, and the crossing of boundaries seemed to mark a new frontier. He was no longer afraid to stare at this man who so dazzled him. This was clearly not the conversation that Stefan had been expecting. Yet Jeremiah was not surprised.

Stefan’s politics had long been clear to Jeremiah from his monthly columns in The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator. Jeremiah knew that they diverged on most matters related to Israel, but it was too early in their friendship to enter that terrain. Finally, Stefan asked after a long silence: “What makes you think I can teach you to read Schmitt? Didn’t they teach you that at Berkeley?”

“No,” Jeremiah said flatly. “At Berkeley they taught us to read authors historically and contextually, to measure influence, and to imitate precedents. They taught us how to pose as leftists. They didn’t teach us to think for ourselves or to change the world.”

Stefan laughed. “You think I can teach such things to you?”

“Well, you’ve been making a difference in court for decades,” Jeremiah said. “And with great success.”| 

Another long pause. Amid the hustle and bustle outside, the blue sky was streaked with gold, burnished by the setting sun. It was only 5pm, but the scintillating sky made it feel much later. “Ok, so let’s say I teach you how to read Schmitt. What do I get in return?”

Jeremiah paused as he tried to imagine suitable remuneration. “You get my gratitude,” he finally said. “You also get to play a role in bringing peace to the Middle East.” 

They stared at each other for nearly a minute in silence as the crowd bustled past. Normally, Jeremiah would have felt awkward staring and being stared at by someone he’d only just met, but this was different. He and Stefan had engaged each other’s intellects by email for a week prior to their meeting. Even though Jeremiah had strategically refrained from mentioning Israel, their exchanges had touched on intensely political subjects: migration, Brexit, Corbyn. Every idea seemed to bring them closer together.  Jeremiah had been aware from Grimes’ other writings of their sharp differences when it came to the legitimacy of the Jewish state and its actions in the Occupied Territories.

Grimes, in true Schimittian spirit, sided with the sovereign power. “The sovereign,” he insisted in op-ed after op-ed and most extensively in his book, “is he who decides on the exception.” Grimes believed that the sovereign’s exceptional power—his ability to control the law even to the point of undermining it—is intrinsic to the legitimacy of the modern state. In his capacity as legal consultant to Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Grimes had argued that the UK should withhold recognition of Palestine and direct its aid disproportionately to Israel. Israel, he explained, was the only democracy in the Middle East, and the only government that could guarantee regional peace. 

Yet, brilliant as Grimes was in most things, Israel was an abstraction for him, a testing ground for his legal theory, not a place inhabited by people he loved. Israel was an abstraction for Jeremiah as well. They shared in common a sense of Israel and Palestine as symbols to which their own destinies were intertwined. Jeremiah reflected on how his mortality seem to hinge on the hope that the conflict would be resolved within his lifetime. And what if it was not? What if it dragged on for centuries? What if it brought about the end of the world?

Jeremiah’s daydream was interrupted by Stefan’s hand. “It’s a deal,” he said, lightly grazing his palm. Stefan rose to leave. “How are you getting home?” he asked.

They were both taking the Victoria line, although in opposite directions, so they walked together to the station. 

“When can we see each other again?” Jeremiah asked him at the station.

“How about next week?”

Jeremiah nodded assent.

“Same time, same place,” Stefan suggested. “Don’t forget to bring Schmitt.” He touched him lightly on the shoulder and then hurried to catch the train.

Jeremiah spent the next week preparing for their meeting that Friday. He started with Schmitt’s textbook on constitutional theory, Verfassungslehre, and reread Schmitt’s early works, including Political Theology and The Concept of the Political. He welcomed the opportunity to immerse himself in the political theory of one of twentieth century’s most important jurists. At the same time, he recognised that the pleasure he took in reading Schmitt was inseparable from his excitement at getting to know him through the eyes of Stefan Grimes, one of the UK’s most distinguished lawyers, whose deep green eyes had a way of making him feel flustered.

Jeremiah arrived an hour earlier to their scheduled meeting. He wanted to make sure he had time to pick a good table, away from the crowd, to lay out his Schmitt books in chronological order, to organise his paper and pencils neatly in a row, and to stock up on drinks. He chose a table in the corner and ordered cappuccino for them both, along with two tall glasses of lemonade. Stefan arrived precisely as the clock opposite the entrance chimed five, impeccably groomed as before, in a neatly ironed suit with a crimson silk tie. Jeremiah rose to greet him, and initiated a handclasp that became a hug.

Stefan sat down and asked: “So what have you been up to?”

“Reading Schmitt,” Jeremiah responded, “just like you told me to.”

Jeremiah reached into his backpack and pulled out a purple notebook. Frayed along the edges, the notebook was folded along the middle. It had his name written on it in a hasty script: Jeremiah Cohen. He handed it over to Stefan, who flipped through it casually, pausing over certain pages to scrutinise the script. 

“I see you’ve been busy,” he said after he reached the middle of the notebook. “Did you compile all those notes since we met last week?”

“Yes, I did.” Jeremiah smiled. He felt unaccountably proud of himself, as if he were still in primary school. “Can you read my handwriting?”

“Not really.” Stefan smiled. “But we’ll work on that later. For now, I want you to focus on your note-taking methods. You need to be systematic, not haphazard like this.

Create a column on one side for the pages you quote from, then summarise the quotations. Then explain to which principle of jurisprudence this particular citation from Schmitt corresponds. Draw on the classic commentaries of British common law, for example Blackstone’s.”

They spent the rest of the meeting discussing recent developments within Israel.

Settlement expansion was proceeding apace. The United States had declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Congress was poised to pass a law criminalising the cultural boycott of Israel, and Germany had just done so. At the same time, Netanyahu would not be in power forever.

This last point was the only one on which they both agreed. 

As for the others, Stefan said, “It’s about time the world recognised that Israel is here to stay.” 

“And at what cost?” Jeremiah asked. 

Jeremiah took Stefan’s advice to heart. He arrived to their next meeting, at the same café, on a Friday in the late afternoon as commuters hurried home, with another notebook, also perforated and frayed at the edges. This time the passages were organised into columns and rows streamlined, just like Stefan had requested. He had even taken pains to write more legibly. 

“Is it better this time?” Jeremiah asked after Stefan had flipped through the notebook for several minutes straight. 

“Yes, better,” Stefan said, “but still not good enough.” 

Jeremiah was disappointed. “How can I make my notes good enough for you?” he asked.

Stefan persisted in his customary stare. After taking in Jeremiah’s moist, questioning lips for several seconds, he said: “It’s not me you have to please! It’s Schmitt, the toughest critic I know.”

Jeremiah smiled. He was both frustrated and elated. He realized he might never satisfy Stefan, but felt compelled to try. Was he prepared to continue in this way forever?

They sat in silence for several minutes, waiting for the other person to speak. After a while, Jeremiah realised that it wasn’t only the desire of mastering Schmitt that drew him to Stefan. Stefan himself was the main attraction. He wanted to know more about the man behind the crisp image, outside the courtroom, away from the office, with his pretences removed. What was Stefan like when there was no one he had to impress?

“Can I ask you a personal question?” Jeremiah said slowly, consciously mimicking the tone Stefan used when asking whether he was Jewish.

“Of course you can!” Stefan said. The smile on his face showed that he caught the innuendo.

“Would you ever consider travelling outside the UK?” Jeremiah asked slowly.

“Of course!” Stefan said, bemused. “I practically live outside the UK, at The Hague and in Strasbourg.”

“What about with me?” Jeremiah asked, even slower than before. He was slightly shocked by his own words, and unsure of what he wanted or why he uttered them. 

For once, Stefan seemed caught off guard. “What do you mean?” he asked. 

“To Israel,” Jeremiah said. The words seemed to suggest themselves spontaneously.

“I mean Palestine. I mean both—.”

Stefan looked at him quizzically. “What would we do there?”

“We’ll visit the refugee camps. We’ll see East Jerusalem. We’ll pass through checkpoints. I’ll show you a world you’ve never seen before. I’ll show you things you’ve never even heard of, which the media has kept concealed. And just to make you happy, we’ll visit the settlements.” 

Stefan smiled. “Why would that make you happy?”

“You know you’ve always dream of visiting settlements!” Jeremiah joked.

Stefan raised his eyebrows. “Maybe you know me better than I know myself.” Stefan stared at Jeremiah with his customary intensity. Jeremiah felt as if he were drilling a hole into his forehead with his gaze. “When do you want to go?” he asked at last.

“The first week in June.”

III. Tel Aviv

Stefan and Jeremiah met at Heathrow, at 6am on a Sunday morning in June, to board a direct flight to Tel Aviv, the only international airport in all of Israel and Palestine. Jeremiah packed light, as he always did for international travel, with all his belongings stuffed into the same backpack he had used at Berkeley. Travelling around the world was always more enjoyable for him when unencumbered by material objects. When they were seated together in the very last row of the plane, Jeremiah pulled out a thick book and showed it to Stefan. 

“Now it’s my turn to teaching you something,” he said. “You’ve taught me so much about Schmitt. I want to return the favour by teaching you about Walter Benjamin.”

They passed the entire flight reading from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. The work’s fragmentary structure made it perfect as a text to share together. Jeremiah would read a line, and then Stefan would venture an interpretation, following which Jeremiah would correct him, and share his deeper knowledge of Benjamin’s influences and ideas.

Although Schmitt had first brought them into contact, Jeremiah felt that it was Benjamin who truly brought them together, and who caused them to think with and through one another, like old friends. As they read of Benjamin’s wanderings through the Paris arcades, they recollected the arcades of other cities they had visited: Brussels, Milan, Istanbul, Bath, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Aleppo. Each arcade was built to the different size and scale, yet they all conjured the religious feeling that pilgrims experience when approaching a shrine.

Guards stood ready to check passports as soon as they stepped off the plane. The guard barely glanced at Stefan’s German passport before handing it back to him. Willkommen in Israel, the guard smiled, practicing his broken German, and waved him on. 

When Jeremiah handed over his passport, the guard flipped slowly through its many pages, scrutinizing each visa and holding every page up to the light. The countries Jeremiah had visited were mundane—Germany, the Netherlands, Italy—yet the guard’s suspicions had been aroused. 

“Why did you come to Israel?” the guard finally asked.

“I want to bring peace to this country,” Jeremiah said.

Stefan stood nearby, watching the exchange silently, and running his fingers through his hair. In place of his normally composed demeanour, anxiety cast a pall over his face. 

“Please step aside,” the guard said when he had finished flipping through the pages of Jeremiah’s passport. Stefan stepped forward to follow to join them but another guard held him back. Jeremiah was then ushered into a dilapidated waiting room, full of refugees from Eritrea and Sudan, awaiting deportation. They were part of a contingent of refugees that had crossed over into Israel from Egypt when the fence was down. They did not know where they were heading or what would become of them. Only the babies seemed unafraid. The air was thick with smoke and the seats shone with sweat.

Jeremiah had read about the increasingly number of deportations of new arrivals to Israel in news reports by the alternative press, in places such as Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada, and 972+. Human Rights Watch had been reporting on such incidents regularly, while the European Union looked the other way, and the US government expressed its support for Israel’s right to self-defence. Reading these reports, Jeremiah had always imagined someone else being the target, but never himself. How could he, a Jew, be banned from entering Israel? What would his mother say? His mother, who had raised him as Jewish, had forced him to attend a Hebrew school every weekend again his will, from whom he had learnt to read the Torah and Sholem Aleichem? 

She had encouraged him to make aliyah ever since he graduated from high school, and every time he called her from Oakland. Back then he had ignored her request. Now he had planned to fulfil his dead mother’s dream, only to learn that he might be forbidden from entering Israel forever. He wondered whether his mother was watching him now, and turning over in her grave. Which would have outraged her more? he wondered, Israel’s refusal to let me enter this country, or my rejection of her faith? 

Finally, an officer approached him and asked, “Did you sign any petitions last year?”

During his university years and afterwards, while everyone around him was protesting and waving placards, Jeremiah kept a low profile on matters political. He preferred to save his performative passions for brewing coffee. Yet, while he was living in Oakland, he had once signed a petition organised by Jewish Voice for Peace to pressure his local co-op to join an international boycott of settlement goods from Israel. After the co-op agreed to stop importing such goods, the petition went viral. It collected hundreds of thousands of signatures within a few days, and initiated a nation-wide campaign directed at all co-ops throughout the United States.

As the first petition to advocate the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (which would soon come to be better known by the acronym BDS) and to be signed by thousands of Americans, it was reported on widely, within the US and beyond. The petition also called out by name the most aggressively anti-BDS groups, and warned Palestine activists that lawsuits might be used to silence them. The Times of Israel ran a story, in English, Arabic, Chinese, and Hebrew, comparing the boycott to the Nazi boycotts of Jewish goods preceding the Holocaust. The Algeimeiner ran an op-ed that warned of BDS as the worst form of antisemitism because it failed to respect the right to self-determination of the world’s only Jewish state. At the time, Jeremiah remembering thinking that this was a clever conflation of a Schmittian conception of sovereignty with the postcolonial consciousness of an emergent nation state.

As one of the first to sign, Jeremiah’s name was near the top of the list. Those who clicked on the petition immediately came across his name as soon as they started scrolling down the list of signatories. Hence, Jeremiah knew that he was publicly on record as supporting the cultural boycott of Israel, even though he had only intended to speak out against importing settlement goods. The year prior, the Knesset had passed a bill making it unlawful for anyone who supported BDS to enter Israel. According to the new law, a supporter of BDS could be lawfully deported on those grounds alone. As a result, he, and all other signatories to that petition could be barred from visiting Palestine, which could only be reached by flying into Tel Aviv. 

The interrogating officers in the holding room did not need to tell Jeremiah why they were deporting him. He figured out what was going on as soon as the officer asked him whether he had signed any petitions. He was shown a screenshot of the petition with his signature near by the top and asked to confirm whether the signature was his. “Can you explain to me why it is illegal to support a boycott of settlement goods when the settlements are themselves illegal under international law?” Jeremiah asked the officer. He recalled to himself that Stefan had already disputed this interpretation of international law, but he assumed the guard would not be apprised of the latest developments in this field. He did not expect an answer, or at least not an intelligible one, but he had to ask nonetheless. For his conscience’s sake. 

“It’s not our job to ask questions,” the guard said. “Our job is to follow orders.”

“So spoke the executioner,” Jeremiah muttered under his breath, softly enough so that the guard could not hear. He did not want to make his departure any more dramatic than it already was. He imagined his mother, turning over in her grave.

“Did you say something to me?” the guard asked.

“No,” Jeremiah said flatly. 

“Good. You’re boarding the next plane out of here. The 12:30 flight to Amsterdam.”

“What about Stefan?” 

The guard flashed Jeremiah a quizzical look. 

“My companion,” Jeremiah explained.

“What about him,” the guard asked.

“Will he be flying with me?”

“That’s up to him. If he does he’ll have to pay.”

“Well, can you ask him?”

The guard stared at him for some time, trying to think of a reason to refuse the request. Eventually he gave up. “Okay,” he said. “Wait a minute.”

The guard returned five minutes later, with Stefan accompanying him. Never had the sight of his face caused him so much relief. He had feared that he would have to fly back alone. Without thinking twice, he embraced his companion.

“I thought I might have to fly back alone,” Jeremiah whispered in Stefan’s ear.

“You think I would stay here without you?”

The guard stared at them menacingly. “No chit-chat until you’re on board the flight.”

Since they could not talk, they held hands while sitting in the detention room waiting for the flight. Jeremiah caught the eye of the refugee babies, who stared back at him intently. He and the baby traded glances until the baby burst into a smile. A minute later, the baby burst into tears. Jeremiah looked away. Children, he thought to himself, thank God I don’t have any.  

They entered the plane immediately when it arrived, with priority boarding status granted to them by the State of Israel, which was eager to see them leave. As they settled in their seats, Stefan took Jeremiah’s hand again in his own. Jeremiah reflected to himself that the last time he had held anyone else’s hand for as long as he had held Stefan’s that day was when his mother picked up him up from nursery school back in Brooklyn. The feeling this time was entirely different. He gripped Stefan’s fingers as the plane took off.

“I was so worried while waiting for you,” Stefan whispered. “I worried they would hurt you. Are you ok?” Jeremiah gipped his hand more tightly as Stefan repeated, “Are you ok?”

While Stefan never spoke about the incident aside from that question, Jeremiah could tell that he had been surprised, even shocked. Even his steadfast support for Israel would not allow him to look the other way when he saw his protégé being threatened and harassed.

IV. Amsterdam

For the duration of the flight, Stefan held Jeremiah’s hand in his. The meaning of that clasp was becoming increasingly evident, and filled him with joy, as well as a desire for greater intimacy. They arrived in Amsterdam early in the morning and spent the rest of the morning in the Van Gogh museum. Towards afternoon they passed along the edges of the red light district. Topless women pressed their breasts to the glass, their genitals covered by Gstrings. They then wandered down Prinsengracht canal. 

During the many hours that they passed wandering through Amsterdam, Stefan conducted himself professionally, as if he had been a professor and Jeremiah was his student. Meanwhile, Jeremiah was curious about where their handclasp would lead. He wondered what it would be like to touch—and taste—Stefan’s lips. Was Stefan embarrassed by public displays of affection? Jeremiah wondered. After all, they had never discussed their sexuality, never openly reflected on being gay, or bisexual, or simply curious about men.

It was all uncharted terrain, and Jeremiah had no idea what Stefan was thinking or feeling. All he knew was that he felt a strange combination of desire, as well a feeling that seemed rooted in something more than desire. Or was I mistaken? Jeremiah wondered to himself. Maybe Stefan intended nothing by holding my hand for so long. Maybe he was just being nice. Jeremiah reached out to hold Stefan’s hand. He was pleased when his fingers yielded to his grasp.

When they reached the end of the canal, Stefan turned to face Jeremiah. He began to stroke Jeremiah’s hair. Stefan then pressed his body gently against Jeremiah as he leaned against the rails overlooking the canal. It was impossible to tell who kissed who first. Standing over Jeremiah, Stefan pressed his tongue deeply into his mouth. It was Jeremiah’s first public kiss with a man, and it felt strange. 

He was surprised by the boldness of Stefan’s kiss, and by the way he wrapped his arms around his entire body while lingering on his lips. Jeremiah had always taken Stefan for someone obsessed by the opinion of the world, who dressed in a way that ensured he would not be conspicuous, and who would never do anything that was likely to attract stares or make him stand out. 

“We’re in Amsterdam,” Stefan said when he began to sense Jeremiah’s reluctance. “Have fun!”

With those words, Jeremiah kissed Stefan hard, first on the lips, then the nose, and then on his neck and arms. 

Strangers passed, some lingering over the spectacle of two men kissing in public. Children giggled. “What are they doing that, mommy?” Jeremiah heard a child ask his mother in English. The child spoke with an American accent. Dutch passers-by by contrast did not seem shocked by the sight. 

Suddenly, worried that they were attracting too much attention, Jeremiah broke off, stepped away from Stefan and looked him in the eyes. “Are you sure this is ok?” he asked, looking around him as if to gesture to the many passers-by.

“We’re in Amsterdam,” Stefan said again. “No one will care. Stop worrying about the opinion of the world. If you’re enjoying this, don’t let anyone stop you from enjoying that.”

Jeremiah smiled and their kissing resumed. The longer they kissed, the less concerned Jeremiah was by the American toddler who had found them odd. The longer they kissed, the more the kiss felt like a political act, a deliberate flouting of conventional norms, an experiment in ethics as well as sexual politics.  

Perhaps we will always disagree on Israel, Jeremiah thought to himself. But the disagreement did not prevent him from wanting to kiss his lover. All that mattered at that particular moment was the feeling of Stefan’s lips on his mouth. He began to wonder how his experience with Stefan related to Schmitt’s friend/enemy distinction. Is it possible to love someone, he wondered, who is also an enemy? 

After about ten minutes of kissing and touching each other’s neck, arms, and lips, they finally took a break and strolled down the canal. When they reached the end, they continued kissing. They repeated this pattern for hours, deep into the night.

“Stefan?” Jeremiah said, after a long period of silence and kissing between them.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” His tone evoked the memory of their first meeting, when Stefan had asked Jeremiah whether he was Jewish. By this point, “Can I ask you a personal question?” had come to feel like a secret language that passed between them, carrying its own special meanings, comprehensible only to each other.  

“Of course you can!” Stefan said as he stroked Jeremiah’s cheek and hair.

“Are we friends or are we enemies? We’re too different to be friends, don’t you think? At the same time, I don’t think we’re enemies.”

Stefan smiled a boyish, even devilish, grin. “I think we’re lovers,” he said at last. “Lovers are always different from each other. They need to identify a lack within themselves. Their beloved is the answer to that lack.”

Jeremiah looked at him. “So similar people cannot fall in love?” 

“In love anything is possible,” said Stefan. “But there must always be a need for the other, which is usually a lack. That lack is what draws lovers to each other. That was the teaching of Origin, a father of the Catholic Church.”

Suddenly Jeremiah remembered an anecdote that a Berkeley professor had shared during his final semester. “Stefan, do you know about the story of the Islamic Satan, Iblis? Do you know why he was expelled from paradise?”

“No, tell me why.”

“Because he refused to worship Adam, God’s creation. He loved God too much to allow that love to be diminished by love for someone else. In Islam, Satan was both the perfect lover and the most extreme rebel. He refused to honor the laws God created, but he insisted on loving God. Like the sovereign, Satan was a lover who decides on the exception by rejecting the norm.”

Instead of responding in words, Stefan clasped Jeremiah’s hand. As they walked the streets of Amsterdam, mostly in silence, Jeremiah began to think that the friend/enemy distinction was as related to love as it was to enmity. Schmitt’s proposal was just a variation on the even more basic principle of difference in sameness that underwrites all desire for the other, and which makes the other necessary to our sense of self.

We only desire others when we recognise what we lack, he remembered reading somewhere. Stefan’s reference to Origen was also apt. Love is the effort to supplement our missing half. So then Schmitt understood: we are drawn to our enemies for the same reason that we desire those we love. They embody our questions. They have what we lack. 

Jeremiah then remembered another book he had read in his first year at Berkeley, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. “It was enemies one wanted, not friends,”Mrs. Dalloway thought to herself while preparing a dinner party for her friends.

When he had first come across that statement, the words seemed strange, hollow, and needlessly contradictory. Now they made perfect sense. Virginia Woolf and Carl Schmitt: an unlikely combination. Yet they were not alone. Centuries earlier, Jeremiah also remembered, William Blake had written in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Opposition is true friendship.”

Blake, he thought, must have known about the Islamic story of Satan’s expulsion from paradise, for refusing to worship God’s creation, out of love for God himself. Even more proximately, he remembered that Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet, had dedicated many of his poems to Rita, the pseudonym for an Israeli woman who also happened to be the love of his life.

As these quotes filled his head, Jeremiah paused in midstep. Stefan followed his cue. Here, he was in Amsterdam, holding hands with a man he was coming to love, a man whose very touch exposed him to a new universe, who awakened him to the politics of sexual desire, and who helped him recognise how they could share a political project, even when they disagreed about Israel.

Stefan was as different from him as Schmitt was from Benjamin. Yet the attraction between them was powerful, not in spite, but because of the very things that divided them: the tensions in their political views, the differences in their religions, the divergences in their knowledge and experience. 

“Difference is attraction,” Jeremiah said aloud, as if speaking to himself.

Stefan bent over to kiss him again. Jeremiah broke free from the kiss and stared into Stefan’s eyes. “Stefan,” he said, “you are the embodiment of my question.”

“Don’t talk now,” Stefan said. “Just let me kiss you.” 

Rebecca Ruth Gould’s chapbook is Berlin-Damascus-Bethlehem (Origami Poems Project, 2019). She translates from Persian, Russian, and Georgian, and has translated books such as After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, 2016) and The Death of Bagrat Zakharych and other Stories by Vazha-Pshavela (Paper & Ink, 2019). She was a finalist for the Luminaire Award for Best Poetry and (together with Kayvan Tahmasebian), Lunch Ticket’s Gabo Prize (both in 2017), and is a Pushcart Prize nominee.