Perspectives

I wasn’t taking notice of much in 1987 when Paul Simon, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and others brought the Graceland Tour to London’s Royal Albert Hall. Joel Berlinger’s new documentary ‘Paul Simon – Under African Skies’ and the revival of Graceland in Hyde Park this month has been an occasion to revisit the cultural boycott of South Africa which intensified towards the end of the apartheid era.

I haven’t seen the film yet but Women Are From Mars, Raymond Soltysek, and Erik Lundegaard have written well about the ethical dilemmas. The joy, release and political impact of the music comes through strongly.

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On the Today Programme (BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 17th July 2012, 08:53, which UK residents can listen to for the coming week) Ekow Eshun and Diran Adebayo discuss the term ‘choc ice’. Ekow Eshun takes the view that the term dates from a time when black people who made it to prominent positions or broadened their interests were often regarded with suspicion by others. He argues that to give ‘choc ice’ any currency – either as insult or as a social category – can only normalise the old narrow views of black people. He appeals for political responsibility.

This reminded me of the debates between those Israel supporters who conspicuously identify as Zionists in response to Israel eliminationists, and those others who feel that Zionism should be thought of as a historical movement whose purpose ended with the establishment of Israel, and that to give ‘Zionism’ any currency can only normalise Israel eliminationism. So, language matters. The difference is that Israel eliminationists have a big stake in getting the term ‘Zionist’ into common parlance whereas I think ‘choc ice’ is (as Diran Adebayo observed before being interrupted and misunderstood by Sarah Montague) a word bandied around by people who feel they’ve been denied their entitlement to ethnic or race loyalty – more like when ‘self-hating Jew’ is used as an insult.

 

It’s not antisemitic if you write “Zionist” instead of “Jewish”, right?

Press TV, the Iranian propaganda channel for which antiracists like George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn have worked, has changed its headline (via Harry’s Place and antisemitism.org) :

Gil Troy and Zionism

Gil Troy argued in the Jerusalem Post that American Jewish communal organisations should embrace ‘Zionism’ more explicitly than they do.

David Hirsh replied with the following letter (the version printed was slightly edited):

Anti-Zionism denies that Israel is a nation state like others, insisting instead that Zionism is a political movement which one is at liberty to support or to oppose.  In this way it seeks to open the question of whether Israel has the right to exist in a way which would be unthinkable in relation to other states.  Gil Troy’s argument (US Jews’ retreat from ‘Zionism’, June 27) that US Jews should position themselves as supporters of Zionism would tend, therefore, to help the anti-Zionists in their relentless efforts to treat the legitimacy of Israel as a question for endless, open debate.  It would be better to embrace the straightforward liberal principle that states which exist have the right not to be conquored.

Jewish identity is complex, plural and diverse and we should defend our rights to continue to be Jewish in our own ways.  Identity does not need to be organised into a single Twentieth Century ‘-ism‘, a worldview, complete with accusations of cowardice against of those who fail to embrace it correctly.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

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