The Guardian: “Israel is an arrogant nation”

Colin Shindler and Robert Fine on the nationalism of the editors of both the Jewish Chronicle and the Guardian

Colin Shindler’s letter in today’s Guardian:

“The mark of an arrogant nation that has overreached itself” sounds more like an irritated imperial satrap of a bygone era than a reasoned Guardian editorial about the Mossad (24 March). Why nation and not government? Everybody? Does this include the Israeli peace camp, as well as those Israelis who held doctored British passports? Since many Israeli Arabs consider themselves to be members of the Palestinian nation, does this arrogance really only apply to Israeli Jews? What about those British Jews who define their Jewishness by their ethnicity? Would this attribution of collective responsibility have been applied to any other national group? Exuding patriotic indignation and resorting to spitting imagery about Jews per se aligns the Guardian with reactionaries.

Professor Colin Shindler

Soas, University of London

Robert Fine’s letter in yesterday’s Guardian:

The editor of the Jewish Chronicle writes (Comment, 19 March) of the Palestinians seeking a pretext to block negotiations with the Israelis so that Israel is further delegitimised internationally. What he neglects is that the building of these homes exclusively for Jewish Israelis is aimed at placating and supporting the most fundamentalist elements of Israeli society. There is not only a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but a battle between those who believe in a mixed, tolerant and non-racial society, and the forces of ultra-nationalism in both Israel and Palestine. We have the same battle against ultra-nationalism in Europe. We have the same need to renew our political language to recognise political pluralism across and within camps.

Professor Robert Fine

University of Warwick

23 Responses to “The Guardian: “Israel is an arrogant nation””

  1. Susan Says:

    I wouldn’t say that it is the same battle as in Europe. The Shas party is made up of Jews from Arab countries. It seems tricky to oppose their policies in a way that is not bigoted. I don’t think Robert Fine does

  2. Norman Says:

    Professor Fine says; “is aimed at placating and supporting the most fundamentalist elements of Israeli society”. However the truth is that this has nothing to do ultra-nationalism – which I take to be his meaning. The Ramat Shlomo neighbourhood is populated by Charedi Jews many of whom do not subscribe to the modern State of Israel. There is an urgent need for housing in the area to support the natural growth of families with large numbers of children. This plan is to provide for the perceived need in the future thus the project is based on the needs of community not as a nationalistic symbol. As to his comment that this housing is for “exclusively Jewish Israelis” it is unlikely that Arabs would live in such an area. No one questioned this before Mr Biden at President Obama’s bidding got uppity. Israel has never said that Arabs were not permitted to live or build in west Jerusalem so why are Jews per se to be prohibited from building in east Jerusalem? Unfortunately Professor Fine is unwittingly buying into the Arab line that would see east Jerusalem become judenrein i.e no pluralism. I am sure he did not mean that but that is what he is advocating.

  3. luny Says:

    Really? Prof. Robert Fine knows of a place, anywhere in Europe, where “ultra-nationalists” are setting up ethnically based enclaves where only a country’s citizen of a determined ethnic origin can buy a house?

    I would urge him to denounce these criminals to the legal authorities of said country. Theyd be immediately prosecuted and the project would be shut down.
    If the country refuses to do so, it could in turn be denounced to the European court of human rights, as it clearly goes against human rights treaties signed by all European countries.

  4. Thomas Venner Says:

    Shas is a far-right, ultra-conservative, expansionist and racist party with an ideology which supports the idea of Israel being turned from a secular, culturally Jewish state to a religiously Jewish state, run according to Halakhic rather than secular law. As well as its extreme hostility towards all Arabs, it is also hostile to non-observant and even non-Orthodox Jews. They oppose plurality not only between different cultures and religions in Israel, but within Judaism itself as well. Professor Fine is quite right in referring to them as “ultra-nationalist” and among “the most fundamentalist elements of Israeli society”, and it is perfectly possibly to oppose their policies in a way that is not bigoted in any sense.

    Also, I’m very surprised that the Guardian has actually published these letters. Normally, they would never let them see the light of day.

  5. Nachman Says:

    I am surprised that the moderators allowed the outrageous comments of Thomas Venner to appear on this site. For one thing the spiritual Leader of Shas HaRav Ovadiah Yosef Shlitta has clearly stated that if it comes to saving life or giving up land then we must choose the latter so much for expansionist. This ad hominem attack on Sephardi Jews is dispicable cowardly and racist and should be removed without delay.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      What are you talking about. I never even mentioned Sephardi Jews. Shas does not by any means represent all Sephardim in Israel. Its backing comes predominantly from right-wing elements in Sephardi, Mizrahi and also Druze communities. To attack a political party is not racist. To lump all members of a particular ethnic group together and claim that they all share a particular political viewpoint, as you have done – that’s racist.

      • Norman Says:

        Mr Venner
        load of poopycock. I suggest you read http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/10952/shas-party-s-growing-power-linked-to-schools-for-poor/
        All of its leaders are fervently religious, but most of its voters are not.
        I do not know of any Druze voters for Shas perhaps you can direct me to evidence of this. BTW what is the difference between Sephardi and Mizrachi? The fact of the matter despite your sophistry in claiming I have lumped all members of a particular ethnic group together and claim that they all share a particular political viewpoint is that Shas is a political party run by orthodox Sephardic Jews who you have called racists this is anti-Semitism however you cut it. Withdraw your despicable comment. BTW I am Ashkenazi.

        • Thomas Venner Says:

          It is still not even remotely anti-Semitic to oppose a specific political party. Where am I supposed to have made these remarks about Sephardi Jews? The BNP is a white British political party – does that make me racist against white British people if I oppose their policies? You’re twisting my words to fit your argument by claiming that I have accused Orthodox Sephardi Jews of being racist when I have only accused Shas, a political party which just happens to be run by Orthodox Sephardi Jews, of being extreme-right-wing, racist (and in case you didn’t know, they also have a major problem with Ashkenazi Jews being in positions of political power) and socially ultra-conservative, a view which most of the Israeli left, centre and centre-right also share. Also, your claim that they are not expansionist on account of something their leader said rings very hollow when you consider the fact that Shas are directly responsible for the current settlement developments in East Jerusalem, which can’t really be passed off as anything other than expansionist.

          Once again, if I had said anything about Sephardi Jews themselves, rather than only the leadership of Shas, then that would be anti-Semitic (or at least bigoted against Sephardim). However, I haven’t said anything of the sort. Having a go at a group of people whose policies I find objectionable does not become anti-Semitic simply because those people are Jewish, and I resent your attempt to shut down the argument by throwing about very serious accusations without any grounding.

          And by the way, why do you have two names?

  6. Absolutely Observer Says:

    “There is not only a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but a battle between those who believe in a mixed, tolerant and non-racial society, and the forces of ultra-nationalism in both Israel and Palestine.”

    No wonder the high priests of Manicheanism dislike this letter. After all, far better to point to a disputed policy both within and outside Israel, fetishize it as the essence of the country itself and then rant and rave about good and evil. That’s the way forward!

  7. Absolutely Observer Says:

    Thomas,
    Each letter appeared on different days. As regards Fine’s, it is to be in context of three other letters, one of which “hoping” that Jews will write and disassociate themselves from the editor of the JC. The others were simply shrill.
    AO

  8. Absolutely Observer Says:

    “For one thing the spiritual Leader of Shas HaRav Ovadiah Yosef Shlitta has clearly stated that if it comes to saving life or giving up land then we must choose the latter so much for expansionist”.

    So, I take it that the Shas leader, at this difficult time, will renounce the building of apartments in East Jerusalem until a settlement has been reached.

    “There is an urgent need for housing in the area to support the natural growth of families with large numbers of children.”

    Malthus lives!

    And since when is having large families “natural”. It is choice; and, as with all choices, has consequences. Housing is one such consequence.

    • Norman Says:

      Why should the Shas religious leader renounce building apartments in east Jerusalem this will not lead to peace but further demands from the Arabs as anyone with an ounce of knowledge of how things operate in the Middle East well knows. All Obama has done is made the Arabs even more intransigent than they were before. Why give away the shop when you are supposedly in the middle of good faith negotiations. Have the Arabs given up or even been asked by Obama to give up their so called “Right of Return”?
      And since when is having large families “natural”. It is choice; and, as with all choices, has consequences. Housing is one such consequence.
      I see so what you are in essence saying is that solong as the large families are Arab families and not Jewish families they are allowed to build in east Jerusalem. Of course you are not being racist.

  9. DaveUSA Says:

    This concept that “Nation” could apply to all Jews who qualify as being part of the “Jewish Nation” and having a right to the “Jewish National Home” reminds me of the point about a phrase “Israelis are behaving like Nazis'”.

    “Ah”, I respond, “those Arabs and Muslims in Israel have a lot to answer for!”

    “What!?”, will come the reply. “I don’t mean the Arabs and Muslims of Israel”

    “I see. That just leave the Jews. You are really saying that the Jews are behaving like Nazis”.

    My point being that “Israelis” and “Zionists” are often just masks to prevent a claim of antisemitism.

  10. vildechaye Says:

    I’m still trying to figure out “israel” “overreached itself.” How does the Guardian know this? What evidence does it provide to this effect? Or is it just more wishful thinking from yet another graduate of “I wish it therefore it must be so” University.

  11. Bialik Says:

    “Arrogant nation”. Very unpleasant. It’s also been applied to the French and Americans. Perhaps it is applied to any nation the Guardian editor doesn’t like. Pots and kettles come to mind; didn’t the Guardian try and influence the outcome of the USA elections before Bush Junior’s second term?

  12. angus Says:

    Thomas Venner
    I am also interested to know what is the difference between Sephardi and Mizrachi?

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      Sephardi Jews (in the proper sense) are Jews who originate from the Iberian peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal), which also covers most Turkish Jews, seeing as the majority of them are descended from Spanish Jews. Mizrahi Jews originate from the Middle East and North Africa. However, there is a great deal of overlap between the two groups, especially in Israel, partly due to the fact that in religious terms, the Sephardi and Mizrahi liturgies differ very little, if at all – for this reason, both Sephardi and Mizrahi Rabbis in Israel are covered by the jurisdiction of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi. Some Ashkenazi Jews in Israel also refer to all non-Ashkenazi Jews colloquially as “Sephardi”

  13. angus Says:

    I don’t understand
    — why you claim only “some Ashkenazi Jews in Israel” use “Sephardi” to cover both groups you describe
    — why you claim the overlap between these groups is in any way particular to Israel
    — why the only explanation you offer for this overlap is that “in religious terms, Sephardi and Mizrahi liturgies differ very little, if at all”

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      1 – I’m not sure about the first point, maybe some Ashkenazim outside Israel also use “Sephardi” to cover both groups for the sake of convenience, I just haven’t heard it used to cover both by any non-Israeli Ashkenazim. I think it might have something to do with modern idiomatic Hebrew as well.

      2 – The particular overlap between Sephardi and Mizrahi communities in Israel is simply due to the fact that Israel contains the largest communities of both groups overall. There used to be a considerable number of both Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in North Africa, where the two groups blended together considerably for generations, before almost all of them were expelled and moved to Israel. The vast majority of Mizrahi Jews now live in Israel, making up just over half the population, while there are still a few substantial communities of Sephardi Jews living in Europe (a significant proportion of French Jews, for example, are Sephardim) and in America. There aren’t really that many places outside Israel where Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews can be found together.

      3 – Sephardic liturgical traditions (choice and order of prayers etc.) are extremely similar to Mizrahi liturgical traditions, but the two groups are culturally distinct in most other ways. For example, before the revival of Hebrew as a modern language, most Mizrahi Jews spoke predominantly Arabic, Farsi or in some cases specifically Jewish languages such as neo-Aramaic, or the local language of whichever area they lived in, while Sephardi Jews predominantly spoke Judeo-Spanish dialects such as Haketia or Ladino. I won’t go into all the other cultural differences here, it would take up too much space.

      Hope that answers your questions.

  14. angus Says:

    1. My point is that all sorts of people, not just Israeli Ashkenazim, and not just Jews, but including the Jews who are sometimes described as Mizrachi, use the word Sephardic to describe the people sometimes described as Mizrachi.
    2. When someone descends from both the groups (and the two groups blended together not just in Turkey and North Africa, but all over the Middle East, and beyond, eg/ New York) which group do you label that person as belonging to?
    3. You say that the two groups are, present tense, culturally distinct, but then refer to the period before the revival, past tense, of Hebrew as a modern language. This doesn’t make sense. Of course if someone lived, in a time prior to globalization, on a different continent to someone else, then the first person is going to be culturally distinct from the second. But if they came into contact with each other, for instance if someone was expelled from Seville and moved to Aleppo, the culture they brought with them is going to intermingle with the culture they have entered into. Syrian cuisine is testament to that. So is fish and chips. So is the fact that Ladino declined prior to the revival of Hebrew.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      Look, I’m just telling you what I know on the subject. I’m not the font of all knowledge on Jewish ethnic and cultural distinctions. There’s plenty of information out there which you can look up. I’ve tried to answer your questions as best I can, but it seems like you’re looking for an argument, and I don’t really want to get into that at the moment.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        And, if memory serves, Angus has been here before and has form in the manner you describe, Thoma.

        Of course, memory may not serve, and anyway, it may be a different Angus.

  15. angus Says:

    “Your search – site:http://engageonline.wordpress.com/ angus -guardian – did not match any documents.”


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