Jewish and Democratic? Civic or ethnic? Robert Fine

Robert Fine responds to Ran Greenstein:

Dear Ran

Thank you for your considered response to my letter. I want to address one particular and important argument you raise. You pick out this passage from my letter:

‘I hold that a Jewish-democratic state has a right to exist and defend itself, even as it has the responsibility to treat Palestinians in Israel as equal citizens and to allow Palestinians in occupied territories to form their own Palestinian state. It is quite normal for people in modern states to find ways of living with the contradiction between democracy and national identity’

You reply:

‘What is unique in Israel is that national identity is defined solely in ethnic-religious terms and civic nationalism which encompasses all citizens equally does not exist… It is the declared policy of the current Israeli government and its predecessors, backed by courts, to ensure that such national identification never emerges… a Jewish democratic state is a contradiction in terms.’

We agree there is a contradiction. I say the contradiction between democracy and Jewish national identity is ‘normal’. You say it is ‘unique’ because national identity in Israel is framed in ethnic rather than civic terms and because the exclusion of Palestinians has been the foundation of the Jewish state since its inception. We also agree that the distinction between ethnic and civic national identity is an important one. It marks the difference between an idea of a nation based on allegedly common origin, blood, religion, history, culture, etc. and an idea of a nation of equal citizens regardless of origin, ‘blood’, ‘race’, religion or ‘culture’.

And now for our disagreements. I cannot see what by this criterion is unique about Israel. There are plenty of states whose national identity has an ethnic dimension. It seems to me that most states emerging from colonial domination or imperial rule have based themselves on the right of their particular nation to self-determination. In all such cases there are urgent questions concerning the treatment of people inside the territories of these newly emerging states, who are not deemed to belong to the ruling nation in question.  In the Middle East, as I understand it, many states that emerged out of the Ottoman Empire and then European colonial rule have characteristically described themselves as ‘Arab’ or ‘Arab-Muslim’ and have faced the problem of how to treat non-Arab minorities in their territories, such as Jews. The Jewish state in this sense is no exception – it is the rule.

Second, it seems to me important not to overstate the distinction between civic and ethnic national identity. In practice, ‘civic’ nations (including my own) may have their own ‘established’ religions, their own more or less official ways of discriminating against ‘alien’ people, their own differential allocation of rights according to some system of civic stratification (e.g. legitimate and bogus asylum seekers), their own controls over the boundaries, physical and symbolic, between nationals and foreigners, and so forth. We may not like it, but Germanness, Britishness, Frenchness and I imagine South Africanness have not been extinguished by the magic potion of civic national identity.

Equally, those nations labeled ‘ethnic’ may indeed at one extreme exclude, expel or murder those deemed not to belong to the ruling nation, but they may also establish civic guarantees to minorities or grant equal civic, political and social rights for all and not just for their own. Just as the civic nation is not necessarily as civic as it appears, so too the ethnic nation is not necessarily as ethnic as it appears. We are in the terrain of social being as well as ideology.

Third, it seems to me important not to slip from a valid and useful distinction between ethnic and civic national identity into the recreation of a moral division of the world between us and them: ‘we’ who are civic and civilised; ‘they’ who believe in the purity of the nation and act with corresponding barbarity. This is an old opposition but Israel seems now to play a peculiar role in this reconstructed binary. My belief is that the distinction between civic and ethnic forms of national identity is being employed to represent ‘Israel’ as the Other of civilized society, that is, as the incarnation of all the negative properties that civic nations now claim to have overcome. ‘Israel’ serves here not as a real country embroiled in real conflicts, but as a vessel into which civic nations can project all that is bad in their own past and present and thus preserve the good for themselves. In this scenario ‘Israel’ performs a symbolic function as the ethnic-religious state par excellence – one that denies civic, political, social and human rights to those who do not belong (the Palestinians) and has an inbuilt inclination toward exclusion, expulsion or genocide. Not only does this image of ‘Israel’ bear little relation to the real thing, it also justifies any kind of violence by the image-makers. Even the most valid of distinctions can be put to invalid use.

Today it seems to me that your position paradoxically dulls the nerve of outrage. In Israel it declares that Lieberman and Yishai merely say openly what has been practiced since 1948. So according to your account nothing has changed. It’s the same old story.  There can be no drift toward ethnic-religious fundamentalism in Israel because Israel is by definition an ethnic-religious state. There can be no worsening of the treatment of Arab Israelis since they have always been second-class citizens. There can be no danger to the integrity of Israel since it always has been and always will be ethnic-religious. And what is more, it is unique.  Would it be an unfair extrapolation to say that for you Palestine is equally timeless: a just cause whose essentially civic aims are not in the least tarnished by the Hamas Charter or the Hezbollah Manifesto?

You acknowledge I am ‘critical of some Israeli policies and practices’ but you say my criticisms are not enough.  What would be enough for you, it seems, is the dissolution of Israel into a greater Palestinian entity (including all Jews and Palestinians with a right of return for all Palestinian refugees). To my mind, your approach contains the potential violence of imposing an ‘ought’ onto reality.  We have to start from where we are – not from some ideal of where we ought to be.

In the Middle East the ‘Jewish’ state exists. It exists for historical reasons. So too do various ‘Arab’ states. In no case has there been an unblemished history of dealing with people deemed not to belong to the defining nation. In every case there have been political arguments within states between those inclined to ethnic exclusivism and those inclined to civic inclusion. This is a political battle within states, not a distinction between bad nations and good. It is a battle that has often been lost.

It is clear to me that Palestinians have been to varying degrees more or less excluded from the possession of civil, political and social rights by many states in the Middle East. Their political leaders claim the right to ‘their own’ state and Israel by virtue of the occupation finds itself in a position to grant this right.  It has not done so for a variety of reasons, including or especially fear. This failure has become a terrible weight on Israel’s back and my belief is that the liberation of the Palestinian people will prove to be of great advantage to Israel. The obstacles to this desirable outcome come from many parts. To have any hope of achieving this outcome, our political need is not to heap on “Israel” absolute culpability, as the boycott call tends to do, but to support those in Israel, Palestine and surrounding Arab nations who share this hope and oppose a politics of despair.

If this is not enough for you, then what exactly is enough? In my opinion, it is no answer to the ethnic-religious claim that Jews have a God-given, absolute and exclusive right to their own nation in Israel to say that Jews have no right at all to their own nation or that the Jewish state is uniquely illegitimate. The one is the negation of the other and like all negations can merely end up destructive.

You make a number of other points I should like to return to – especially on the apartheid analogy and on the universality of human rights – but perhaps we can pursue these on another occasion.

Best wishes,

Robert Fine

32 Responses to “Jewish and Democratic? Civic or ethnic? Robert Fine”

  1. Boycott Israel? Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    [...] me of follow-up comments via email. Send me site updates « Jewish and Democratic? Civic or ethnic? Robert Fine Blog at WordPress.com. Theme: Garland by Steven Wittens and Stefan [...]

  2. Harry Goldstein Says:

    The problem for me is that civic nationalism is a self-contradictory concept. Taken seriously (i.e. emptied of any possible ethnic content) it ceases to be nationalism at all, and provides no reason for maintaining the nation’s separate identity or its borders with its neighbours. Now, while this may be attractive to idealistic universalists, it clearly isn’t nationalism in any known sense, and – more importantly – isn’t what any real population actually wants.

    The truth is, there is always an ethnic-cultural component to national identity. It’s just that in the older, western countries, this has become so taken for granted as to be beneath the level of conscious notice. First, most obviously, there’s the dominant language, which minorities have to learn and adapt to. Secondly, there’s the traditionally dominant religion, which – even in mainly secular countries – shapes the culture and the cycle of the year (look at the overwhelming cultural dominance of Christmas in Britain, for example). Plus a whole set of shared historical experiences which are often related to ethnic or religious conflict (in Britain’s case including Bloody Mary, the Spanish Armada and the triumph over popery celebrated by Guy Fawkes Night). And where multiculturalism has attempted to change these things (assuming Winterval etc are not merely figments of the Daily Mail’s imagination) these attempts have led to a reaction and an increased assertiveness of the dominant culture.

    This isn’t a complaint, by the way. As a member of an ethnic-religious minority group, I’m entirely comfortable living in Britain’s dominant Anglo-Saxon/Protestant derived culture – especially as it is intimately related to the advances in civil and political rights which make this a good place to live. I can inhabit that culture at the same time as inhabiting the (minority) Jewish culture that I value.

    It is simply a recognition that ‘civic nationalism’ is an illusion. Nationalism is ethnic by definition – that is, it values a particular language and set of cultural and historical reference points that serve to bind the people to a shared identity. The only difference is that ‘newer’ nations have to define these things more consciously.

    I would go further and say that Greenstein’s argument is an example of an old assimilationist Jewish illusion – that the world is becoming more universalist, and that the Jews (why is it always the Jews?) have to take the lead and ditch their own identity for the greater good. It isn’t, and we shouldn’t.

  3. Ran Greenstein Says:

    Written and submitted to the Engage site on 21/10/2010:

    Dear Robert,

    Let me respond briefly to your thoughtful and useful discussion:

    1. Is Israel merely one of many states that combine ethnic and civic nationalism, and therefore is not unique? My answer is that Israel is indeed unique as an exclusionary state. No other state is founded – historically and at present – on the physical and political exclusion of the majority of its indigenous population. No other state regards its ethnic identity as the sine qua non of its existence with such intensity. No other state is an ethnic ‘demographic state’ in the same way. No other state combines the inclusion of all members of one group (Jews), regardless of their specific origins and concrete links to the territory, with the exclusion of most members of another group (Palestinians), regardless of their specific origins and concrete links to the territory.

    The combination of inclusion of one group of citizens (and their relatives and ethnic kin, however remote in time and place), with the exclusion of another group of citizens (and their relatives and ethnic kin, however close in time and space), is the source of the problem. Some states in Europe or elsewhere give immigration preference to ethnic kin, or use ethnic symbols in their flag or anthem, but none of them pursues such a dual policy of inclusion/exclusion vis-à-vis its own citizens.

    2. Does Israel’s uniqueness mean it is uniquely evil? I prefer not to use theological concepts in political debate. So, Israel is not ‘evil’ (uniquely or otherwise). But, it does violate human rights on a massive scale, and it oppresses its ethnic ‘other’ – the Palestinians. It is nothing new, and the intensity of oppression has changed over time: from high intensity for the first two decades (when most Palestinian citizens lived under military rule), to a more tolerant policy for the subsequent 25 years, interspersed with bouts of repression (1975-76). In the last decade we have witnessed renewed intensity of racist oppression, culminating with the concerted campaign waged by the current government (led by Lieberman and Yishai, with the tacit support of Netanyahu).

    So, in response to your query, Israel can fundamentally be an ethnic exclusionary state, and yet the degree of political oppression at any point in time shifts depending on contingent events and processes. There is no contradiction here. From your work on South Africa you would know that apartheid provided a stable framework of exclusion, and yet there were periods in which it was intensified or relaxed as the case may be. And, these variations led to sharp debates and political splits between the enlightened and narrow-minded factions (known as the verligte and verkrampte camps respectively).

    3. You ask what kind of reform would be enough for me: the dissolution of Israel into a greater Palestinian entity (including all Jews and Palestinians with a right of return for all Palestinian refugees)? My answer is more complex. The crucial step is the transformation of Israel into a state of all its citizens. Not ‘dissolving’ or ‘eliminating’ Israel but sharing it equally as an inclusive non-ethnic democracy. Further steps would be termination of the 1967 occupation, and negotiation between Israel and representatives of the Palestinian refugees over implementation of a solution based on UN resolution 194.

    Final point, do Jews have a right to self-determination as everybody else does? Yes, absolutely. Do they have a right to exercise their self-determination against the wishes and at the expense of people already residing in their designated territory? No, absolutely not, no-one has such right. How to square the circle then? We need to start from the existing situation and move forward: Israel exists and will not go away, but there is no reason why its residents cannot transform it from an exclusionary ethnic state into an inclusive democratic state, in order to meet their concerns. That is my primary goal and once we agree on it we can discuss what political strategies and campaigns can get us there.

    Best wishes

    Ran Greenstein

  4. Toby Esterhase Says:

    This is all such desperate “asa Jew” Jew-centric stuff from Ran Greenstien.

    This ‘analysis’ contains not a single word about Palestinian, Arab or Islamist politics. It simply treats Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as passive objects of Israel.

    It contains not a single word about the context of Israeli policy or the fact that the story of the development of the middle East has more than just one (Jewish) actor.

    This of course should not surprise us since Ran has already provided us with the key to read him.

    He speaks asa Jew and he wants to make sure that Israeli human rights abuses are not in his name.

    The story about Israel’s uniqueness… “no other state…” is so desperate and parochial. It is an Israeli story of Israel. “As a Jew” Greenstein insists that Israel is uniuqe.

    Unique as an exclusionary state? Just parochial rubbish. There are lots of exclusionary states.

    The state is founded on the exclusion of its “indigenous” population. Here it is Ran Greenstein grasping some half-baked narrative of belonging as being the natural property of “indigenous” people. It is a racialisation of the palestinians, now, and a portrayal of them as being “naturally” connected to the land. It is Zionist nonsense – a story of the authentic connection of a people with the land – from the “asa Jew” theorist.

    No other ethnic state…

    No other demographic state…

    me me me me

    It is me, I am the bad one. It is me, as a Jew as a Jew Ran the bad Greenstein. My nation, my people, my family – we are the racists, we are the bad ones – we are worse than everybody else.

    And “Asa Jew” Ran Greenstein looks for salvation around the world… His own academic colleagues at Haifa are shit – not worth trying to persuade any longer, profoundly incapable of being an agent for change. The Jewish academics in Israel are not worth anything any longer. So we look to British academics and South African academics, who are good and wise and militant.

    Ran Greenstein is such a sad sad example of the collapse of the Israeli left – first into “as a Jew” Zionist parochialist rubbish, and then, later, into the racist fantasy that academics in England and South Africa are capable of saving Israel while academics in Israel are no longer to be thought of as agents for change and are to be boycotted, or subjected to some kind of “asa Jew” political test.

    While Palestinians and Arabs don’t even figure in Ran Greenstein’s story. They are just the silent suffering victims in Ran Greenstein’s Asa Jew narrative…

  5. Ex-UCU Says:

    “No other state is founded – historically and at present – on the physical and political exclusion of the majority of its indigenous population.”

    Really? Now let me think?
    How about Australia? Or is Ran writing the real genocide of the Aboriginals out of history?
    How about Canada? Or is Ran writing the real genocide of the first nations out of history?
    How about the USA? Or is Ran writing the real genocide of the first nations out of history?

    How about Scotland as part of the Union and the “ethnic cleansing” of the Highlands? Or is Ran writing out the vast populations shifts of that period out of history?
    How about Ireland with the Protestant Ascendancy and the subjugation and murder of Catholics, that some 300 to 400 years later is finally being resolved?

    And, what counts as “indigenous” population?
    Does that include those Palestinians who moved into what is now “Israel” on the grounds that the newer Jewish presence offered economic opportunities?
    Does it include the absentee Arab landlords who legally sold land to Jews?

    And what of the expulsion of Muslims and Hindus in India and Pakistan (which, of whom, only the nationalists described in terms of indiigenous/outsiders), of Cyprus and Greeks and Turks?

    And what about the forced removal of Jews from Arab states, post 1948 and 1967 (Jews are still not allowed to own property in Jordan).

    Are we really expected to take seriously the prattlings of a parochial Israeli who thinks history begins and ends outside the few square miles of his own countries existence.

  6. Absolute Observer Says:

    “Final point, do Jews have a right to self-determination as everybody else does? Yes, absolutely. Do they have a right to exercise their self-determination against the wishes and at the expense of people already residing in their designated territory?”

    So, the Jews, forced into exile for centuries, denied a national homeland for centuries, denied a place in the world to call their own (whilst many other peoples used the myth of being linked to the land to, a claim their own nation-state and b. deny Jews a place in it) are now to be denied a national homeland for no other reason than they have been denied a national homeland for centuries, forced into exile for centuries, denied a national homeland for centuries, denied a place in the world to call their own.

    Funny how an anti-Jewish and anti-semitic history (one often articualed thought the Jews not being “indigenous”, not being “of the land|, of being the “outsider”) can be used as a weapon against the actually-existing Jewish state (and, it is to be noted, for the equally legitimate right of Palestinian statehood.)

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    And what of those countries that shipped millions of people over as slaves and, following “abolition” denied them all rights and continue to do so through legal technicalities. Why are they not illegitimate states?

    And what of those states that, using the same arguments as Greenstein, deny Palestinians rights since they are not “indigenous” to the country concerned (although exploit their labour).

    Are they, despite such discrimination and abuse of human rights (political and social) “illegitimate nations”?

    As noted by “Saul” in another thread, there is not a wafer-thin space to separate Ran’s “anti-nationalism” from the most extreme nationalists.

  8. David Hirsh Says:

    This is what the “institutional boycott” looks like.

    http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/01/16/the-campaign-to-boycott-israel-is-now-fighting-for-a-concrete-exclusion-of-israeli-scholars/

    This is the effect of attempts to single out Israel as the only state on the planet which shold be boycotted.

    In this debate a number of people have raised the issue of the antisemitism which is imported into the labour movement with the boycott campaign. Examples and evidence have been offered.

    Ran Greenstein has listened with a glass ear and has not responded.

    The only word he has said about antisemitism is that it is raised in bad faith in order to de-legitimise criticism of Israeli human rights abuses.

    In other words those of us who seem to take it seriously are actually liars (or “useful idiots”).

  9. Carl S. Says:

    “The combination of inclusion of one group of citizens (and their relatives and ethnic kin, however remote in time and place), with the exclusion of another group of citizens (and their relatives and ethnic kin, however close in time and space)”

    This makes no sense at all.

    Surely, those excluded are not “citizens”? Is that not the point of Greensteins polemic?

    Jews and Arabs are citizens of Israel (which does not, of course, deny discrimination).

    What I guess he means is that those with no ties to the land (diasporic Jews can be citizens), whereas those who are the children and grandchildren born in what is now Israel and who left, were encouraged and/or pushed out of Israel have no claim to Israeli citizenship.

    Against the “racism” of this situation, as it plays out against Palestinians, Greenstein recommends an alternative, structure of “racist” criteria for citizenship; that of the nationalist fables of “indigenousness” of the relationship of “blood and soil”, or, of that is too strong, at least of a romantic notion of land and citizenship.

    In other words, Greenstein offers one version of racist exclusions (land and belonging) as the answer to another version of racist exclusion (of which being “Jewish” is primary (but not exclusive, non-Jews can become Israeli citizens).

    Greenstein, therefore, has no problem with racist exclusion per se. It is only “Jewish” racism, and the way that it plays itself out in Israel that it places beyond the pale (even though, of course, other countries, such as some Arab states also forbid those who once lived there of returning based on ethnic criteria (see the case of Jordan mentioned above in which the law against a Jew owning property means “return” is impossible).

    So fro Greenstein, as for so many others, somehow “Israel’s” racism as it relates to immigration and citizenship is worse than any other form of racism as it relates to immigration and citizenship and which pervades all national-states.

    Greenstein’s argument is, in form, really no different from those those of the past who argued that whilst “indigenous” capitalism is fine, it is “Jewish capitalism” that “we” don’t like.
    – National racism is fine, it is Jewish national racism “we” don’t like.

    Not the first time Jews have been made the exception to the norm – a norm as nasty as the exception.

  10. Ran Greenstein Says:

    A few brief comments, stemming largely from failure of reading comprehension on the part of some commentators:

    1. Israel is founded on exclusion of indigenous people “historically and AT PRESENT”. Canada, Australia, the USA were founded historically on such exclusion, but not at present. Israel is unique in that respect. No other country’s existence TODAY is premised on ON-GOING ethnic exclusion (expressed in daily legislative and executive efforts to deepen it – open any Hebrew-language newspaper if you are not aware of that). Recognise the full rights of indigenous people in former white colonies, and you’ll get Canada, Australia and the USA pretty much intact. Recognise the full rights of indigenous Palestinians in Israel, and you’ll get a radically different Israel, which no longer is an ethnically exclusive Jewish state.

    2. Recognising full and equal rights to all Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs who live in the territory (or were forcibly excluded from it in living memory), can de defined as ‘racist exclusion’ only in some demented fantasy that bears no relation to what I argue for.

    3. Israel is not ‘worse’ or more ‘evil’ than any other country. But, the form in which is practices ethnic exclusion is indeed different (read carefully, ‘different’, not worse or better), and therefore calls for unique strategies of change. If that amounts to ‘singling out’ Israel, it is because it singles itself out by its exclusionary practices. Academics and others are welcome to take steps against all other oppressive regimes (Burma, Sudan, China, Iran, and so on), but there is no reason why these steps would mimic the campaign in solidarity with Palestinians. Each case calls for a unique approach.

    4. Specifically to David: I have not seen any antisemitism in the solidarity campaign in South Africa, beyond a couple of comments by politicians – in other words, not activists, NGO people or academics – who were severly reprimanded for their words (and one lost her office). So, whatever dangers of antisemitism may exist here (in SA), they are marginal and guarded against by vigilant activists and the courts.

    I have not seen any such problem in Israel/Palestine itself or the USA. Not being familiar with the UK scene, I cannot agree with or dispute your claim. I find the evidence on Engage rather flimsy (you have been repeating the same two incidents of exclusion of Israeli individuals for the last 7-8 years), but let’s take it at face value: what you need to do is guard against it WITHOUT undermining the solidarity campaign itself. Find ways of protesting against ethnic exclusion in Israel, protecting democratic rights, undermining legal and military oppression OUTSIDE of the academic boycott campaign. By all means go for it!

    But, if all you ever do is complain about actual and potential antisemitism in the solidarity campaign, and use it as an excuse to do nothing (or worse, to shield the Israeli state from well-deserved criticism and attack those who do take action, like you did with Neve Gordon), then don’t be surprised by the responses.

  11. Ran Greenstein Says:

    David, I have claim no expertise on (or interest in) internal British academic politics and am happy to leave you guys to sort it out.

    As for South Africa, there was ONE Cosatu official, who made offensive comments in ONE speech a couple of years ago, and was censured for it. Make of it what you will. There were TWO incidents of excluding Israeli academics in the UK as individuals and they took place in 2002-03. You have been making a fuss over that ever since.

    I would not have bothered to intervene in this debate at all, if it continued to be confined to your dispute with the UCU. It is when you attack activists with impeccable progressive and anti-racist credentials like Desmond Tutu and Neve Gordon, precisely at a time when the Israeli state is coordinating a global campaign against them (and others like them), that I was moved to respond.

    If you are for criticism of Israeli human rights abuses, then go ahead and criticise. The academic boycott campaign is merely one aspect – and a marginal one at that – of the global solidarity campaign with those fighting against the occupation and Israeli exclusionary practices. No one will stand in your way in fighting these in any way you see fit. Keep in mind at all times, though, that the goal here is to bring oppression to an end – the Israeli state and its agencies are culprits, not allies in this struggle.

    • Richard Gold Says:

      In other words Ran doesn’t know and he doesn’t care. For Ran whatever Neve Gordon and Bishop Tutu say is correct and nobody can disagree with them or point out any weaknesses in their arguments.

  12. Ex-UCU Says:

    “A few brief comments, stemming largely from failure of reading comprehension on the part of some commentators:”

    There is no need to be so rude, a strategy you have reverted to on previous posts.
    Is this how you deal with criticism, Ran? Simply insult those who disagree with you?

    Be that as it may, you miss the point.
    All of the countries mentioned were founded upon exclusion (please note in the State and Canada, reservations and reserve still exist, special tax rule apply to those so contained, etc.).
    The point is that whilst those countries (indeed, all countries) were born out of violence and exclusion, they have since (with the exceptions noted) achieved full and equal rights for all its citizens without the nature of the state changing; i.e. Canada is still a (formally, Christian state, the USA is still a secular state).
    There is no reasons, therefore, why in Israel, full and equal rights is completely compatible with Israel remaining a Jewish state.
    However, you don’t think so. You think, of all states, only the contradiction between, as Fine frames it, ethnic and civic nationalism is fatal in terms of Israel. Only Israel is to collapse on the weight of that contradiction, whilst every other state in the world can survive in tact with it.

    “Israel is not ‘worse’ or more ‘evil’ than any other country. But, the form in which is practices ethnic exclusion is indeed different (read carefully, ‘different’, not worse or better), and therefore calls for unique strategies of change. If that amounts to ‘singling out’ Israel, it is because it singles itself out by its exclusionary practices. Academics and others are welcome to take steps against all other oppressive regimes (Burma, Sudan, China, Iran, and so on), but there is no reason why these steps would mimic the campaign in solidarity with Palestinians. Each case calls for a unique approach.”

    Here, again, misses the point.
    The obsessive focus on Israel – the calls for exclusions, the calls for boycott, the libels that attach to Israel – is, for Ran a consequence of the nature of Israel; a simple, unmediated, reaction to the crimes of the “Jewish” state.
    He rightly states that academics, etc. are free to campaign against other states. But, the fact is they do not do they. They do not seek special day conferences on the Israel/Palestine conflict, they do not, year in year out bring motions to conference demanding the exclusion of Jewish academics; they do not bully and harass their co-members who disagree with them, they do not call them “useful idiots” and “Zionist apologists”. They do not invite racists over to speak to their unions in any other situation other than Israel.
    So, please stop pretending that there is nothing “special” but only “different” about Israel.
    As you acknowledge yourself, you know nothing about how these matters play out outside your own self-imposed limited experience.

    “But, if all you ever do is complain about actual and potential antisemitism in the solidarity campaign, and use it as an excuse to do nothing (or worse, to shield the Israeli state from well-deserved criticism and attack those who do take action, like you did with Neve Gordon), then don’t be surprised by the responses.”
    So, again, Ran argues that those who raise the question of antisemitism are being dishonest, they are getting in the way of the “real” struggle”, they must shut up about antisemitism or they deserve and create the the hostility that attaches to those who raise the question of antisemitic ways of thinking when it comes to the exclusion of Israeli Jews, and only Israeli Jews.
    And Ran has the audacity to call Engage “useful idiots”.

    Let’s remember where the phrase “useful idiots” came from, shall we. It referred to those Western communists who remained quiet in the face of Stalinist crimes on the ground that it would play into the hands of Western imperialists, that it would undermine the “real” struggle for communism in the Soviet Union. It meant that they remain quiet about show trials, starvation, purges, etc.

    For Ran, raising antisemitism plays the same role. Shut up about it, or, if you do mention it, you are lying, you are being “diversionary” so don’t be surprised at the attacks, slanders and libels. We have bigger fish to fry. You cannot make an omelette without break eggs.

    And, of course, Ran’s limited view means he actually really does believe that if you oppose the boycott, if you oppose, indeed, mention, antisemitism, you cannot but be opposed to justice for Palestinians both inside and outside Israel.
    You are wither with us or against us, and no other position exists. And, out of these absolutes, Ran has the gall to believe that peace and justice will be secured in Israel and Palestine.
    Laughable.

  13. Ran Greenstein Says:

    Ex-UCU, Canada, Australia, and other former colonies became full democracies when they shed their White, Christian, European character, and abolished political and civil privileges for members of one ethnic/religious group at the expense of another (even if they kept a few symbolic features in flag and anthem). When Israel does the same, it could become a democracy as well. This the meaning of making Israel a state of all its citizens equally, a non-ethnic inclusive state.

    If you do not wish to be accused of failure of reading comprehension then read this and pay attention: Israel is unique NOT because of tension between ethnic and civic nationalism, but because it is the ONLY place in the world today where the indigenous majority of the population have been excluded in order to clear the way to immigrant settlers – it is not a one-off event that took place in 1948, but a process that continues uninterrupted even as we speak (in Sheik Jarah, Silwan, along the ‘security fence’. among the Bedouins of the Negev/Naqab and so on).

    And, your right to campaign against what you consider manifestations of anti-semitism is indisputable. Just don’t use that as an excuse to prevent Israel from being criticised for its human rights abuses, war crimes (in Gaza, Lebanon and elsewhere), and exclusionary practices on ethnic and religious grounds.

    Same goes for Richard, criticise Tutu and Gordon all you wish, just don’t use that as an excuse to shield Israel from criticism.

    • Richard Gold Says:

      Ran “Same goes for Richard, criticise Tutu and Gordon all you wish, just don’t use that as an excuse to shield Israel from criticism.”

      Can you show me where i do this please ?

      Still as i mentioned last week, at least everyone can see that the boycott isn’t just about the occupation but rather a delegitimisation of any settlement where Israel remains. It’s a campaign for a one state solution.

      And to think that Neve Gordon is looking at the BDS movement to save Israel from itself !

    • Richard Gold Says:

      Ran you say with regard to Masuku : “As for South Africa, there was ONE Cosatu official, who made offensive comments in ONE speech a couple of years ago, and was censured for it. Make of it what you will.”

      Masuku is a leading boycott activist. I take it you disagree with Masuku’s antisemitic outburst. So did the boycott campaign speak out against it or did they defend Mauku ? UCU in the UK organised a speaking tour for Masuku to promote the boycott. Would you agree that UCU were wrong to do so ?

      Cosatu and Palestine Solidarity Committee (what’s your involvement in this committee Ran) actually defended Masuku didn’t they ?

      http://www.cosatu.org.za/show.php?include=docs/pr/2009/pr1207a.html&ID=2707&cat=COSATU%20Today

    • Jonathan Romer Says:

      Tell me if I’m understanding you right, Ran:

      Canada, the US, Australia and every other country where an exogenous population has swept in, suppressed the indigenous one and cemented its power — they’re all OK now because they pursued conquest with enough thoroughness and persistence to achieve their goals. They are secure enough to liberalise their policy to what is now a powerless minority and even the ones that don’t — say, Argentina — well, there’s nothing to be done is there? It is what it is.

      If Israel had been more ruthless early on you’d have shrugged and accepted it. But your solution of choice there is utopia, and for that you’re willing to gamble with everyone’s lives. So long as the ball is still in play the need that overrides all others is to stop Israel consolidating its existence. In that cause the realities of Jewish history and present existence are immaterial and a little modern antisemitism is not worth worrying about. Neither is a little terrorism, nor Palestinian declarations of genocidal intent, nor the instrumentalisation of humanitarian principles as a weapon. It’s not really the principles that matter, it’s the outcome.

  14. Ex-UCU Says:

    “If you do not wish to be accused of failure of reading comprehension then read this and pay attention”

    You really are a patronising get, aren’t you!

    You really think that the US and Canada has shed its
    “White, Christian, European character”.
    Have you been following the “debates” around the Islamic centre in new York?

    If so, you are a bigger fool than I thought.

    I appreciate that you are ignorant of anything outside your own little world; so, I will try to illuminate for you.

    1. No nation-state is born complete.
    In the case of the State, whilst the constitution spoke of equal rights for all, it took at least one hundred years and a civil war to achieve that aim. Indeed, the question of who can and cannot serve in the military is an ongoing issue. At no point has the USA changed its nature.
    So, let us not pretend that every other country lives up to its own constitution, apart from Israel, shall we?
    I assume you know that the Israeli constitution guarantees equal rights for all “regardless of religion, race, etc.”.
    Well, as in the US and Canada (and note the different rules for first nations), that too work; work you have left to others. SO, you are hardly in a position to criticise.

    “Israel is unique NOT because of tension between ethnic and civic nationalism, but because it is the ONLY place in the world today where the indigenous majority of the population have been excluded in order to clear the way to immigrant settlers.”

    What you say is, of course, truer for the West Bank (no Jews remain in Gaza). It is to be opposed.

    The rest is nonsense.

    Most, if not all, states were founded on exclusions; on this Israel is no different whatsoever.

    The legacies of genocide and exclusions in other states remain today in situations of structural poverty, alcoholism, etc., despite the formalism of the constitution.

    Work needs to be done in Israel – work you have turned your back on – to ensure that all citizens have equal rights, etc.; that is to meet the ideals of the constitution. Again, this can take place without changing the “character” of Israel as a “Jewish” state, just as, as others have noted, the UK remains, formally, a Christian state but in which all subjects/citizens have – at least formally – equal rights (see, e.g. the Test and Corporation Acts; note also the riots that ensured the defeat of the Jew Bill in the 18th century, on the grounds that England was a “Christian” country. When Jewish emancipation succeeded, England remained and remains a “Christian country”.)

    “And, your right to campaign against what you consider manifestations of anti-semitism is indisputable. Just don’t use that as an excuse to prevent Israel from being criticised for its human rights abuses, war crimes (in Gaza, Lebanon and elsewhere), and exclusionary practices on ethnic and religious grounds.”

    I never do; unless you can show otherwise?

    Unless, of course, you think that “criticism of Israel” includes the argument that Zionists have their claws in a British UK political parties, unless you think that believing “Jewish” bankers spirited out millions of dollars out of the US for Zionist purposes is not antisemitism. Unless you think Tutu’s belief in a Jewish/Israel Lobby and the Zionist power to change policy takes but a phone call is not antisemitic? (See Tutu’s initial call for a boycott of Israel – “Are we willing to speak out for justice when the moral choice that we make for an oppressed community may invite phone calls from the powerful or when possible research funding will be withdrawn from us?.”)

    Only a “useful idiot” would think noting these views and expressing concern at their virulence is nothing more than a dishonest attempt to “shield Israel” from criticism.

    You have chosen to remain blind to antisemitism. Fine, your choice. but please don’t undermine the work of those whose eyes are open. After all, only a “useful idiot” thinks that antisemitism and justice for Palestinians are one and the same thing.

  15. Ran Greenstein Says:

    Ex-UCU: In Canada, USA, UK, Australia, Argentina, Whites, Christians, Anglo-Saxons, Protestants, Catholics do not have privileged political rights. The state does not pursue policies explicitly aimed to advance their demographic presence in any part of the country. They do not have agencies aimed to entrench white/Christian hold of the land, or to strengthen white/Christian control over school education. The state does not act to impose specific religious legislation on the population, does not regard itself as the vanguard of the world-wide White/Christian people, does not spend a fortune encouraging white/Christian immigration INTO the country, and non-white emigration OUT of the country. Need I go on?

    As for the “Israeli constitution”, it’s news to me that there is such a thing.

    But beyond all that, why is it that you find comfort in identifying traces of racism, white supremacy, colonial mentality, elsewhere in the world? What kind of political project is it that seeks out desperately everything that is wrong in other places in order to say proudly ‘we are not alone’?

  16. Jonathan Romer Says:

    “But beyond all that, why is it that you find comfort in identifying traces of racism, white supremacy, colonial mentality, elsewhere in the world? What kind of political project is it that seeks out desperately everything that is wrong in other places in order to say proudly ‘we are not alone’?”

    That’s such a lovely tactic, and I’ve often admired it. Someone like you makes a career of arguing that Israel is uniquely deserving of punishment. Point out that North Korea, Zimbabwe and half the rest of the world are worse by orders of magnitude, and it’s “Why are you so proud to include Israel in that company?” Demonstrate instead that if Israel is fatally tainted then, judged by the same standard, so is the ever-so-civilized other half of the world, and it’s “Why are you so keen to drag everyone else down to your level?”

    I don’t think the point we’ve been making is “We are not alone” so much as “You’re a hypocrite.”

    • Ran Greenstein Says:

      You are alone though, in the department of settlers-exclude- indigenous-people-historically-and-continue-to-do-so-daily-as-a-foundation-of-their-state. Zimbabwe and North Korea, Burma and China all violate human rights and ‘deserve punishment’, but usually do so on other grounds, which call for different analyses and responses. The UK and US commit war crimes in Iraq/Afghanistan and also ‘deserve punishment’ – and so do many others – but I have no desire to perform the job of universal punisher.

      The specificity of Israeli exclusion calls for a specific response. Other exclusions/oppressions/abuses call for their own responses. Where is the hypocrisy here?

  17. Lbnaz Says:

    The Chomsky maneuver: Compose a narrative claiming to tell the “truth” about a sports event, say a football match, in which although two teams are on the field, only one of them, the team from the author’s neck of the woods, is worthy of comment and then only to consistently disparage that team.

    And if someone should have the temerity to ask the author why what the other team on the pitch was doing during the match was given such scant attention in his narrative, say it’s none of my business since the other team isn’t from my neck of the woods.

    Like Chomsky, Greenstein doesn’t do politics or history, they do
    propaganda. Just imagine the selective ad absurdio, one-eyed, blinkered and chalk full of never to be unpacked, reductionist buzzwords (see: “indigenous” as used by Greenstein) type of narrative someone from an allied country would be compelled to produce about the “truth” of WW2 if they were to employ the Chomsky maneuver as religiously as Greenstein apparently does.

  18. Inna Says:

    ” I have no desire to perform the job of universal punisher.”

    So on what grounds do you single out Israe? You have admitted that Israel is by far not the worst abuser of human rights and indeed, your post suggests, that Israel compares rather favorably to my country (the US). Yet you for some reason not only single out Israel for punishment (I would say for bullying) but also seek to hide behind the UK academia when you do so. Because actually you do not seem to wish to be Seen as a punisher at all; you seem to need an institution that you can sort of hide behind so you can legitimize this bullying.

    So I ask again, why are you singling out a little country that compares so well to others–including my own?

    Regards,

    Inna

  19. Inna Says:

    Ran–

    Incidentally, someone I have been corresponding with for a while (who is Orthodox and Israeli) have been chatting via e-mail about government and anarchy. To support his position he sent me the following link which concludes with:

    “We could view this mishna as quite pragmatic and negative, saying only that we need a government so that we do not tear each other apart. Rashi and Rabbenu Yona add a more idealistic element. Rabbenu Yona writes: “A person should pray for the welfare of the entire world and be pained by the travails of others.” Rashi cites sources indicating our caring for the welfare of gentiles. Lurking in this mishna is a powerful message of universal concern. We want the world to flourish and we envision decent government as the only way to achieve that worthy goal.”

    http://blog.webyeshiva.org/pirkei-avot/insights-in-pirkei-avot-avoiding-anarchy-and-the-need-for-government/

    As he is conservative–and hence (though I never asked him I presume) may well have voted for Netanyahu or some member of Netanyahu’s coalition, perhaps this is a more appropriate post with which to “confront” Netanyahu?

    Regards,

    Inna

  20. Lbnaz Says:

    So I ask again, why are you singling out a little country that compares so well to others–including my own?

    Well one stream of the contemporary left and of Chomsky and his adoring fans would likely say: “because the rest of the world, outside what my country does is none of my business”.

    How this type of paleocon, isolationist thinking gained traction in much of the contemporary left deserves a thorough deconstruction.

    Perhaps there always was a stream of left wing thought that championed isolationism and “Am I my brother’s keeper?” rationalizing in international relations.

    Frankly, I find it to be an utter betrayal of what I believed was once mainstream thinking within the left.

  21. Inna Says:

    “Frankly, I find it to be an utter betrayal of what I believed was once mainstream thinking within the left”

    I know what you mean. For a long time I even registered as “Decline to State” because I simply did not want to be associated with those who so pervert the ideals of the Left in the Democratic Party. But two things happened: increasingly the ultra-lefties are moving into the tea party which, as a result, is becoming more of an anti-government (and if it’s pro-anything then perhaps pro-anarchy)movement as a result and I realized that really the only effective way to fight these perversions within the Left is from inside. I can’t stand outside and boo and hope to have any effect; I have to engage.

    It’s often unpleasant and you’re right feels like such a betrayal but I am trying.

    Regards,

    Inna

  22. Lbnaz Says:

    Well I did not renew my membership with the New Democratic Party in Canada and so now am standing outside formal partisan politics, but I will be receiving Israeli citizenship in a couple of weeks where I might again become involved in the political process.

    Good on you Inna for being brave enough to keep standing in the swamp, being yelled at and opposed by the hordes in the anti-imperialism of idiocy brigade (who turned the pond to swamp) and not succumbing to their attempts to purge you.

  23. Robert Fine on the singling out of Israel for boycott « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    [...] from Robert Fine, is a response to this contribution from Ran Greenstein and also to the comment from Ran Greenstein which appeared in the comments box in answer to Robert’s last contribution. Robert [...]

  24. Inna Says:

    “Good on you Inna ..”

    It wasn’t bravery or anything like that. I was more of a sense that I had nowhere else to go. In my state a Decline to State voter may (or may not) be allowed to vote in the Primaries of the two major parties depending on how those major partis feel. (The US Supreme Court ruled that political parties are equivalent to private clubs in this respect.) So if I was unaligned, I had effectively cut myself off from a major part of the process.

    And if I was going to align myself with anyone it was going to be with the Democrats. I guess I still believe in the ideals of the Left: the quaint notions of equality for all, of health care, of giving people a level playing field. The notions that get lost when you single groups out for special treatment (either excessively patronizing them as has happened with the Third World or demonizing them as with Israel).

    So this battle is worth fighting because we need to reclaim our Left. It can’t be that equality for all (which includes Jews and Palestinians and all peoples because we are all just individual people) is a value that exists only in our imagination. We have to make it real again.

    I don’t think we have any other choice.

    Regards,

    Inna

  25. juliantheprostate Says:

    “Israel is founded on the exclusion of indigenous people” says Ran Greenstein. Wrong. It is founded because the indigenous people he talks of refused to recognise the right of Jews to be an ethnic entity within Palestine at all. See ‘Cross Roads to Israel’ [Christopher Sykes 1966] and others. Partition was the result of there being insufficient basis for sharing a bi-national state between two main ethnic communities [the Soviet UN ambassador in 1947 cited by Abba Eban in his autobiography.

    I see no uniqueness in a state being identified with its people, as France is for the French and Portugal for the portuguese etc. The Jews have had this right for 2,000 years ever since their expulsion from their own land by Hadrian. Furthermore, Palestine in 1918 contained such a small percentage of the Arab nation that the Hejazi rulers saw no problem in beginning negotiations with Zionist representratioves as to reconciling British promises made to Jews and Arabs.

    These negotiations were aborted because of the Wahhabi takeover in Arabia with its Islamist extremist agenda, which spread its poison into Palestine and elsewhere and set the communities on a collision course. We live with the consequences of this today.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 132 other followers

%d bloggers like this: