Boycott Israel? Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack

On September 29 the University of Johannesburg’s ruling body met to discuss a proposal from the boycott campaign that it should sever its research links with Ben Gurion University.  It set an ultimatum for BGU and it postponed the decision for six months.  To read Desmond Tutu’s support for this move, click here.

Click here for the response of David Newman, who is Dean of Social Science at BGU. This proposal in South Africa sparked renewed debate on the Engage website.

Neve Gordon, a supporter of the boycott campaign, wrote an article about academic freedom in Israel here.

David Hirsh wrote a critique of a piece by Neve Gordon on academic freedom in Israel.  Read it here. David Hirsh wrote a second piece tracing Neve Gordon’s journey from sharp critic of the boycott campaign to important supporter.  Read it here.

Robert Fine, meanwhile had an engagement with Desmond Tutu published in the South African Mail & Guardian, here.

Last year Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli campaigner for Palestinian rights, published a critique of the Israel-apartheid analogy and a critique of the boycott campaign, which related explicitly to the positions of Desmond Tutu and Neve Gordon.  Read it here.

Ran Greenstein, a supporter of the boycott campaign in South Africa responded to Engage here, in a trenchant critique of the Fine and Hirsh articles.

Robert Fine responded to Greenstein’s response.

Farid Essack also responded to Robert Fine in the South African press.

Ran Greenstein came back to Robert Fine here.

David Hirsh challenges Ran Greenstein’s “as a Jew” and “not in my name” stance here.

Robert Fine responds to Ran Greenstein’s argument about “Jewish and Democratic” here.

More from Ran Greenstein and David Hirsh on antisemitism here.

Robert Fine responds again here.

More from Ran Greenstein and Robert Fine

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

“As a Jew” logic is not appropriate in public debate – David Hirsh responds to Ran Greenstein

I want to make one point in response to Ran Greenstein’s argument for boycotting Israeli academia.

Robert Fine challenged him: “Why single Israel out? You say that Western governments do not single Israel out, at least not negatively, and that Israeli war crimes and violations of human rights have gone unpunished. You are on the whole right, though in the European Union there are signs of an increasingly ‘tough’ official attitude toward Israel. As I see it, the first question is whether Israel is a major human rights abuser in relation to the inhabitants either of its own territory or of surrounding territories. The comparisons you raise are indeed pertinent:  Iran, Iraq (under Saddam), Sudan, Serbia, North Korea, Burma and Zimbabwe.”

Ran Greenstein answered the point: “I agree that if we wished to construct a universal scale of human rights violations, that would indeed be the case. That may be a worthwhile project, but not one I have any interest in. As an Israeli citizen my concern with what ‘my’ government is doing. As a Jew, my concern is with what the state that claims to represent me is doing in my name.”

If this is one of the reasons that Ran thinks it is right to single out Israel for exclusion from the global academic, artistic, sporting, economic community, or for particularly harsh criticism (apartheid, nazism, fascism) then it is not a good reason.

He himself is free to consider Israel, and its crimes, to be particularly important to his own worldview “as a Jew”.  If this discussion is about him, and what is done in Ran’s name, then he is free to single out Israel.

But there is a dangerous slippage when Jewish antizionists, for whom Israel is centrally important in the world, take that attitude out into non-Jewish civil society.

The University of Johannesburg is not a Jewish organisation and so ought to relate to human rights abuses round the world consistently. The fact that Ran Greenstein thinks “as a Jew” is neither here nor there.

The University and College Union in the UK is not a Jewish organisation and so ought to do solidarity around the world in a consistant way. The fact that some leading activists who want to put Israel at the very forefront of its worldview do so “as a Jew” should not alter the policy of the union.

What is required for our institutions is precisely what Ran says he has no interest in: the construction of  “a universal scale of human rights violations”.  The values of solidarity, human rights and the university require a universal and consistent approach.

Antisemitism has always constructed Jews as being central to all that is bad in the world.

Some people, “as a Jew” and “not in my name” put the human rights abuses of Israel at the very forefront of their own political consciousness. I can understand this, even if it does not reflect my own way of thinking.  It seems to me to skew one’s own thinking towards the parochial rather than the cosmopolitan.  I want to be concerned with what is important in the world, not to centre my worldview around myself.

But when institutions like unions and universities allow the Jewish antizionsit focus on Israeli human rights abuses to become their own focus too, then this poses a clear danger.  The danger is that unions and universities begin to teach their young people that Israel, and the Jews who live there, are a central evil on the planet.  It is easy to see how this kind of Jewish exceptionalism mirrors older antisemitic forms and how this kind of Jewish exceptionalism is likely to foster antisemitic ways of thinking.

We have seen how the boycott debate brings with it antisemitism into the South African Trade Union movement and also into the University and College Union in the UK.  The situation in UCU is now so serious that there are no Jews left at its biggest decision making body who are willing or able to argue against the boycott because they have been pushed out, bullied or banned.  In South Africa, Cosatu, the trade union federation which has such a proud history and which was an inspiration to us all at one time, is now led in its international solidarity work by Bongani Masuku, a man who has been found guilty of employing antisemitic hate speech on Ran Greenstein’s campus.

“Not in my name” thinking has a tendency to make ourselves the centre of the world and to focus our political consciousness inwards rather than outwards.  The danger is that it is a politics of despair.  This kind of thinking has a tendency to encourage us to give up trying to change the world out there which exists, and to fall back on the rather easier project of declaring that we ourselves are not responsible for the evil that is done out there in the world.

Ran, your own “asa Jew” and “not in my name” consciousness is important to you – fine.  But you should not allow that kind of thinking to define the way big and important civil society organisations think. Because it is dangerous.  This reason for singling out Israel – because you yourself are Jewish – is certainly not tenable.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

Boycott Israel “as a Jew” – Ran Greenstein

On September 29 the University of Johannesburg’s ruling body met to discuss a proposal from the boycott campaign that it should sever its research links with Ben Gurion University.  It set an ultimatum for BGU and it postponed the decision for six months.  To read Desmond Tutu’s support for this move, click here.

Click here for the response of David Newman, who is Dean of Social Science at BGU. This proposal in South Africa sparked renewed debate on the Engage website.

Neve Gordon wrote an article about academic freedom in Israel here.

David Hirsh wrote a critique of a piece by Neve Gordon on academic freedom in Israel.  Read it here. David Hirsh wrote a second piece tracing Neve Gordon’s journey from sharp critic of the boycott campaign to important supporter.  Read it here.

Robert Fine, meanwhile had an engagement with Desmond Tutu published in the South African Mail & Guardian, here.

Last year Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli campaigner for Palestinian rights, published a critique of the Israel-apartheid analogy and a critique of the boycott campaign, which related explicitly to the positions of Desmond Tutu and Neve Gordon.  Read it here.

Ran Greenstein, a supporter of the boycott campaign in South Africa responded to Engage here, in a trenchant critique of the Fine and Hirsh articles.

Robert Fine’s further response.

Here is Ran Greenstein’s latest:

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your response to my criticism of your article. Let me clarify my position: the academic boycott campaign is not a sacred cow, and you can criticise it without necessarily becoming an apologist for the Israeli state. Israeli scholars such as the late Baruch Kimmerling and Neve Gordon argued against academic boycotts without compromising their critical perspective. Unfortunately, most of those who take this position on Engage do become – wittingly or otherwise – such apologists. Your article falls, in my view, into this category. You are indeed critical of some Israeli policies and practices, but you present your views in a way that shields other policies and practices from criticism.

Allow me to elaborate on that point. You argue: “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-democratic state. It is quite normal for people in modern states to find ways of living with the contradiction between democracy and national identity.”

There may be a contradiction between national identity and democracy in all states. What is unique to Israel is that national identity is defined solely in ethnic-religious terms, and civic nationalism which encompasses all citizens equally does not exist. Further, it is the declared policy of the current Israeli government and its predecessors, backed by the courts, to ensure that such national identification never emerges, and to suppress all its manifestations by legal as well as coercive means. In this sense a Jewish democratic state is a contradiction in terms. As the saying goes, it is ‘Jewish’ for Arabs and ‘democratic’ for Jews. The exclusion of Palestinians (as second-class citizens, as occupied subjects, and as stateless refugees) has been the foundation of the Jewish state since its inception. What political thugs like Lieberman and Yishai (respectively foreign and interior ministers) say openly today, has been practiced since 1948 in a more diplomatic but no less oppressive manner by all preceding governments.

You argue that the analogy between Israeli and apartheid practices ends with the occupation and the views of the “ultra-nationalist right wing in Israel”. I beg to differ. In a long analysis, which cannot be replicated here, I argue that the analogy must be based on the realization that ‘Israel proper’ (in its pre-1967 boundaries) no longer exists. The occupation has lasted for 43 years (already a year longer than apartheid), and there is no going back from it. Greater Israel (with the occupied territories) and Greater Palestine (with the refugees) are the meaningful units of analysis, when we consider Israeli practices and compare them to apartheid SA (see detailed discussion in http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/greenstein220810.html AND http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/greenstein270810.html). I would welcome your comments on it.

You argue: “ It seems to me vital to get some perspective on what the state of Israel has done, of which we may strongly disapprove, compared with situations in which ethnic groups are slaughtered, oppositions forces murderously suppressed, students beaten up and removed, trade union leaders defenestrated, women stoned to death, and gay people persecuted.”

I agree that if we wished to construct a universal scale of human rights violations, that would indeed be the case. That may be a worthwhile project, but not one I have any interest in. As an Israeli citizen my concern with what ‘my’ government is doing. As a Jew, my concern is with what the state that claims to represent me is doing in my name. That it is not the only or the worst offender violating human rights is irrelevant. Israel has done its share in expelling ethnic groups (80% of the indigenous inhabitants of the territories that became Israel in 1947-48), murdering opposition forces (defined as ‘terrorists’), beating up and killing students (in the occupied territories), and so on. That some other governments behave similarly is no consolation at all.

You argue that there are progressive academics and radical dissidents in Israel. Of course there are, and I am proud to have met and worked with some of them. But, the universities as institutions have NEVER voiced the slightest criticism of human rights violations, the occupation, military abuses, bombing civilian targets, and so on. They have never raised their voices against suppression of academic and educational life for Palestinians in the occupied territories. That is why the campaign should target institutions and not individuals. No-one I know in South Africa supports the exclusion of Israeli academics as individuals from presenting papers, participating in discussion, attending conference, publishing articles, and other such individual activities. BGU, Wits and other institutions have hosted Israeli academics of different political persuasions without any calls to boycott them. The campaign aims to sever institutional links rather than prevent relations between scholars. Read the UJ petition and talk to those who signed it if you are sceptical.

How can a campaign distinguish between individual and institutional targets? Here are some thoughts based on the need to convey the notion that things cannot proceed as usual, that there is no normal academic life in an abnormal society: do not attend any conference in Israel that does not explicitly address issues of rights and justice; link up with internal dissident forces and work with them to undermine discriminatory and abusive institutional practices; boycott any academic project that has military links; do not teach in specialized programmes dedicated to members of the security/military apparatuses; campaign against European or British financial support for any academic programme that does not have explicit progressive content (including ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’ research); condition any further cooperation by insisting that the institution subscribe to something along the lines of the ‘Sullivan Code’, which was used under SA apartheid to enforce a minimum code of acceptable practice. I am sure you can come up with more ideas of this nature.

This is an ongoing debate. I am not the only one taking part and would strongly recommend that you read today’s Mail & Guardian for an effective response by Farid Essack to your article. It has not been posted online yet, but I would be happy to forward it when it becomes available

Best wishes

Ran Greenstein
Associate Professor
Sociology Department
University of the Witwatersrand

Jewish objectivity called into question by MEMO

Matthew Gould is Britain’s new ambassador to Israel. Modernity has discovered that he blogs.

In a post about a flimsy think tank called MEMO, he observes how your credibility to comment on Middle East matters is called into question if you are Jewish and not hostile to Israel, and paradoxically how readily Jewishness can be used to give credibility to criticism of or hostility to Israel.

Public meeting – no zionists, no undesirables allowed

Further to a JC article describing how senior figures in the Manchester Jewish community were ordered out of a meeting hosting Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, Manchester PSC Chair Linda Clair has had the following letter published in the Jewish Chronicle :

When are you going to start telling the truth and not a completely distorted version of the facts? I was the chair of the Gideon Levy meeting you report (JC August 27). Michael Samuels and his two companions did not actually enter the meeting to start with. They were outside the room when I asked Mr Samuels his name and where he came from. He replied and said he came from Manchester. I told him and his companions that they would not be allowed in – that Zionists were not wanted in that meeting. Mr Levy, who was already in the meeting room, and was standing behind me, asked me to let them in, which I did, only at his request. This was before he spoke to them. Whatever they said to him certainly did not influence my decision to allow them in, I had legal advice that although it was a public meeting, it was on private property and so we were well within our rights to exclude any undesirables. In case you want to label me antisemitic, I am not, I am an anti-Zionist Jew, and I know the difference between the two, even if you choose not to.

Linda Clair

I won’t comment on the letter because it speaks for itself (I should however point out that Manchester JFJFP’s promotion of the meeting was simply to send an email with details of the meeting and they were not involved in organising the meeting itself).


Howard Jacobson on his new novel: “The Finkler Question”

Howard Jacobson writes in the Jewish Chronicle:

Every other Wednesday, except for festivals and High Holy-days, an anti-Zionist group called ASHamed Jews meets in an upstairs room in the Groucho Club in Soho to dissociate itself from Israel, urge the boycotting of Israeli goods, and otherwise demonstrate a humanity in which they consider Jews who are not ASHamed to be deficient. ASHamed Jews came about as a consequence of the famous Jewish media philosopher Sam Finkler’s avowal of his own shame on Desert Island Discs.

“My Jewishness has always been a source of pride and solace to me,” he told Radio Four’s listeners, not quite candidly, “but in the matter of the dispossession of the Palestinians I am, as a Jew, profoundly ashamed.”

“Profoundly self-regarding,” you mean, was his wife’s response. But then she wasn’t Jewish and so couldn’t understand just how ashamed in his Jewishness an ashamed Jew could be.

That I know of, there is no Jewish media philosopher named Sam Finkler nor any anti-Zionist group meeting regularly at the Groucho Club. They exist only in the pages of my new novel, The Finkler Question, and any relation between them and real people or organisations is of course coincidental.

For many Jews and non-Jews in this country, Israel has become a figure of speech

Though the ASHamed Jews are a satiric invention, my novel is not primarily a satire. It is a bleak tale of love and loyalty and the loss of both. It tells of three men, old friends, two of whom have recently lost their wives, and a third who has no wife to lose.

The widowers are Jewish, the third man is not. But he would like to be. He envies his Jewish friends their warmth, their cleverness, the love they have inspired, and even their bereavement.

It is a bitter irony that he protests his admiration for all things Jewish just as many Jews are protesting their desire not to be Jewish at all. As the rats desert the sinking ship, he alone – it might appear – is left to clamber aboard.

The ostensible cause of these defections is, of course, Israel. Not the actual Israel. For the purposes of my narrative, Israel exists only poetically, in the imaginations of those who cannot adequately describe themselves without it.

I happen to think this is largely true outside my novel as well: that Israel performs a function greater than itself, enabling or disabling ideas about belonging and disengagement, fanning the flames of ancient allegiances and animosities. For many Jews and non-Jews in this country Israel has become a figure of speech, the occasion for wild and whirling words, a pretext for bottling up or setting loose emotions which originate somewhere else entirely.

I began writing the The Finkler Question in 2008 but it came to the boil for me in the early months of 2009 at the time of Operation Cast Lead, as a consequence of which, or as a consequence of the reporting of which – for it, too, like everything else to do with Israel outside Israel, was figmentary – England turned into an uncustomarily frightening place for Jews.

I am not speaking only of the physical threats and even damage that some Jews endured, attacks on persons, synagogues, cemeteries, the Jew-hatred expressed by primary school children etc, but of that anti-Zionist rhetoric which, in its inflatedness and fervour – a rhapsodic hyperbole growing more and more detached from any conceivable reality – was so upsetting in itself.

You do not have to be punched in the face to feel you’ve been assaulted: intellectual violence is its own affront.

The mood of those months inevitably found its way into my novel. I wanted to record what it was like being Jewish in this country then, when it seemed reasonable to ask whether loathing of Israel would spill into loathing of Jews – such a thing is not beyond the bounds of possibility – and whether a new Kristallnacht was in the offing.

Since many German Jews doubted they were in serious danger in the 1930s, how wise would it be of us to doubt we were in danger now? Ah yes, we told one another, but England is not Germany. The only trouble with that consolation being that, in the 1930s, German Jews didn’t think Germany was Germany either.

There was, as there remains, a chorus of jeering Jewish voices warning against crying wolf. There is no antisemitism to speak of in this country, they say, but if we continue to go on about it. . . A fatuously contradictory precaution, since if antisemitism can be roused from its slumbers merely by our going on about it, then its sleep cannot be that deep.

Let’s get something out of the way. I don’t think that being critical of Israel makes anyone an antisemite. Only a fool would think it does.

But only a fool would think it follows that criticism of Israel can never be antisemitic, or that anti-Zionism isn’t a haven in which antisemitism is sometimes given leave to flourish.

In some cases, the antisemitism to which anti-Zionism gives succour is inadvertent. I’d be surprised if Caryl Churchill, author of that odious piece of propaganda, Seven Jewish Children, turned out to be antisemitic in her person. But language has a mind of its own, and sanctimoniousness is catching.

In its unquestioning affiliations, her poisoned playlet snagged on every cliché in the anti-Zionist commonplace book and came up with a medieval version of the blood-sucking Jew whom she claims -and I believe her – it was never her intention to portray.

If her play was a sin against art and history, her greater, person-to-person crime was not to see, after the event, what she had done.

She was the victim, she asserted, of the usual dishonest strategy of accusing anyone of antisemitism who “dares” (as though it takes heroism) to say a word against Israel.

We know this assertion of victimhood well. It is a despicably dishonest strategy in itself, self-aggrandising, delusional, and not without a trace of the very antisemitism it disowns in that it assumes hysteria and malice on the part of every Jew who voices an anxiety. By claiming to be a persecuted minority, vilified by Jews shouting “Antisemite!”, those to whom anti-Zionism is bread and drink seek to exempt themselves from fair criticism.

Indeed, by the sophistry of their reasoning, there is no fair criticism of what they say because every one who argues against them must, ipso facto, be a Jew with a Zionist axe to grind. Thus do those who cry “Blackmail” become blackmailers themselves. Thus do they erect a wall of inviolability around their every expression of anti-Zionism, and thus do they think themselves exonerated of all possible charges of antisemitism, since those who do the charging, they assert, have antisemitism on the brain.

When it comes to Jewish anti-Zionists, their Jew-hatred is barely disguised, not in what they say about Israel but in the contempt they show for the motives and feelings of fellow-Jews who do not think as they do. There is, of course, nothing new in such schismatics; Jews have been railing against one another and indeed against Judaism from its inception. It was a Jew who invented Christianity.

Monotheism probably explains this enthusiasm for dissent. The Jewish God demands a oneness it can feel like a positive duty to refuse. It might even be to our greater glory that we splinter with such regularity and glee. In our variousness is our strength.

But then let’s call the thing that drives us by its proper name. Hiding behind Israel is a cowardly way for a Jew to express his anti-Jewishness. That half the time he is battling his psychic daddy and not his psychic homeland I don’t doubt, though I accept that, in political discourse, we have to pretend that what we are talking about is what we are taking about.

But here is the beauty of being a novelist —- I can have fun ascribing pathology to whom I like. I know what’s really bothering them. They are my creations, after all.

Howard Jacobson’s ‘The Finkler Question’ has been included on the 2010 Man Booker longlist.

This piece, by Howard Jacobson, is from the Jewish Chronicle.

Hirsh on the ASHamed Jews, or ‘new conservatives’, click here (some of the links don’t work any more).

More on Jewish antisemitism here.

Posts in our “as a Jew” category.

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