Colin Shindler: The non-Jewish Jews who became the scholars of an ideological dreamworld.

Colin Shindler author of recently published “Israel and the European Left”, writes in the Jewish Chronicle :

During Jewish Book Week in February 1958, the great Marxist historian, Isaac Deutscher, gave a talk entitled “The Non-Jewish Jew”. It was later published and became required reading for the student revolutionaries of the 1960s. Deutscher tried to explain why some Jews embraced the revolutionary imperative and relegated their Jewishness to a secondary level.

As an ilui (child prodigy) of the yeshiva of Chrzanow in Poland, Deutscher supplanted God with Lenin and Trotsky at an early age. Although he moved beyond the Jewish community, he never renounced his Jewishness. He believed that non-Jewish Jews symbolised “the highest ideals of mankind” and that Jewish revolutionaries carried “the message of universal human emancipation”. He regarded such figures as optimists. And yet his father, the author of a book in Hebrew on Spinoza, disappeared in the hell of Auschwitz.

Deutscher argued that such Jews existed on the borderlines of various civilisations, religions and cultures. And from there on the margins, they were able to clearly analyse societies and events – and guide humanity into more benevolent channels.

His revolutionary heroes included the Talmudic heretic, Elisha Ben Abuya who was the teacher and friend, according to the midrash, of Rabbi Meir Baal Hanas. While his actual misdemeanours were never revealed, Ben Abuya was at pains to warn his close friend, Rabbi Meir not to transgress the Sabbath when he was unwittingly in danger of doing so. Why did Elisha do this if he was the advocate of heresy? Why did Rabbi Meir maintain his friendship with Elisha when the entire Jewish community had boycotted him? Such questions perplexed Deutscher, who identified with Ben Abuya and regarded him as the model for contemporary revolutionaries such as Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky. Yet this story and its mystery did point to the convoluted issues that faced non-Jewish Jews who had travelled outside the community yet culturally remained within. Such issues of national identity and internationalism affected many Jews on the European Left who were often marooned between identities.

Read the full article here.

 

You can also watch Colin talking about his book

Zizek: “antisemitism alive and kicking in Europe”

Mairav Zonszein:

“On Friday evening, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek gave a lecture in a bookstore in Central Tel Aviv teeming with familiar faces of leftwing activists. It was hosted by Udi Aloni, an Israeli-American artist and BDS activist, who just completed a book entitled What Does a Jew Want, which is edited by Zizek.

Many seem to have come with the expectation to hear Zizek rip into Israel and use his wry wit and charisma in such a bourgeoises Tel Aviv setting to endorse the BDS Movement. Indeed when Udi Aloni introduced Zizek, he identified himself as an activist on behalf of BDS and said he chose the bookstore as a venue in order to not cooperate with any formal Israeli institution.

However, Zizek did not officially endorse or even talk much about BDS – and when he did it was because he was prompted to during Q&A. His two clear statements about BDS were that a) he is not 100% behind it and b)he supports a movement that is initiated jointly by Palestinians and Israeli here in the region.

Rather, Zizek spent almost two hours with the crowd’s undivided attention talking about antisemitism, capitalism and the place of the Jew in the world. He warned that antisemitism is “alive and kicking” in Europe and America and asserted that the State of Israel should worry more about Christian right antisemitism  rather than wasting its energy on self-proclaimed Jewish anti-Zionists. He said that the Christian Zionists in America are inherently antisemitic and that Israel’s willingness to embrace their support is baffling.

After establishing the deep-rooted vitality of antisemitism, he mentioned that he has no patience for those who excuse Arab antisemitism; that even the most oppressed and poor Palestinian should not be tolerated for being antisemitic. He also spoke about his well-known argument regarding Zionist antisemitism, whereby Zionists use antisemitic language towards fellows Jews in accusing them of not being Zionist enough. This was his main critique of Israel – its witch hunt against those Jews it finds not “Zionist enough.”

Read the rest.

Raincoat Optimist comments:

“What to some might appear like Zizek withholding sympathy for Palestinians, is in actual fact highlighting the paternalism and snobbery of some pro-Palestinians, who believe those who are lesser off than them should be pitied, left to their own devices, and if they express antisemitic views, well, who can blame them, ‘eh, after all they don’t know any better do they, they’re poor – and as all people know poor people are stupid and don’t deserve to be told they’re wrong to blame the Jews for their plight.”

HT Shiraz Socialist

Howard Jacobson on Alice Walker and her trip to Gaza

This piece by Howard Jacboson is from cnn.

It should not need arguing, this late in the ethical history of mankind, that good people can do great harm. One of the finest and funniest novels ever written — Don Quixote — charts the damage left in the wake of a man who would make the world a better place.

Human beings are seldom more dangerous than when they are sentimentally overcome by the goodness of their own intentions. That Alice Walker believes it is right to join the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza I do not have the slightest doubt. But beyond associating her decision with Gandhi, Martin Luther King and very nearly, when she talks about the preciousness of children, Jesus Christ, she fails to give a single convincing reason for it.

“One child must never be set above another child,” she says. A sentiment that will find an echo in every heart. But how does it justify the flotilla? Gaza is under siege, Israelis will tell you, because weapons are fired from it into Israel, threatening the lives of Israeli children. If the blockade is lifted there is a fear that more lethal and far-reaching weapons will be acquired, and the lives of more Israeli children endangered.

You may want to argue that had Gaza been treated differently it would have responded differently, but if the aim of the flotilla is to ensure that one child will not be set above another it is hard to see how challenging the blockade will achieve it. All an Israeli parent will see is a highly charged emotionalism disguising an action that, by its very partiality, chooses the Palestinian child over the Israeli.

The boat on which Alice Walker will be traveling is called The Audacity of Hope. Forgive me for seeing a measure of self- importance in that reference. It will be carrying, Alice Walker tells us, “Letters expressing solidarity and love.” Not, presumably, for Israeli children. Perhaps it is thought that Israeli children are the recipients of enough love already. So what about solidarity? It is meant to sound innocuous. “That is all.”

Alice Walker makes plain, “its cargo will be carrying.” But what will these letters of solidarity be expressing solidarity with? Solidarity is a political term implying commonality of interest or aspiration. So what interest or aspiration do Alice Walker and her fellow travelers share with the people of Gaza? A desire for freedom? Well we all aspire to that. A longing to live in peace?

If they have such a longing we must be solid with them in that too, though the firing of rockets from Gaza is not, on the face of it, an expression of such a longing. And what about the declared hostility of Hamas to the very existence of Israel? Hamas, we are often told, is the elected government of Gaza, a government that fairly represents the wishes of its people. In which case we must assume that Hamas’s implacable hostility towards Israel fairly represents the implacable hostility felt by the people of Gaza. Are Alice Walker’s letters of love and ‘solidarity’ solid with the people of Gaza in that hostility?

Alice Walker, writer of 'The Colour Purple'

“If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman,” she says. Wrong on a thousand counts. As a writer, Alice Walker must understand the symbolic significance of words. The cargo is a cargo of intention. It is freighted with political sympathy and attitude. It means to blunder into where it isn’t safe, clothed in the make-believe garments of the unworldly, speaking of children and speaking like children, half inviting a violence which can then be presented as a slaughter of the innocents.

Even before the deed, Alice Walker has her language of outraged moral purity prepared — “but if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us…” The Israeli response is thus already an act of unprovoked murder, no matter that the flotilla is by its very essence a provocation. Whatever its cargo, by luring the Israeli military into action which can be represented as brutal, the flotilla is engaged in an entirely political act. To call it by any other name is the grossest hypocrisy.

Alice Walker might be feeling good about herself, but by giving the Palestinians the same old false comfort we’ve been doling out for more than half a century, and by allowing the Israelis to dismiss it as yet another act of misguided and uncomprehending adventurism — further evidence that its fears go unheeded – her political gesture only worsens the situation. The parties to this conflict need to be brought together not divided: but those who speak disingenuously of love will engender only further hatred.

This piece by Howard Jacboson is from cnn.

Lots more from Howard Jacobson here.

 

 

A reply to Neve Gordon by David Hirsh

As part of a series entitled ‘Universities in Crisis’ on the website of the International Sociological Association, Neve Gordon, a supporter of the campaign to exclude Israeli scholars from the international academic community, writes a report on the state of academic freedom in Israel.

Gordon, N, (2010) ‘An assault on israeli academic freedom – and liberal values’ Blog of the International Sociological Association (ISA), http://www.isa-sociology.org/universities-in-crisis/?p=559, downloaded 6 october 2010.

He describes a demonstration in which he took part on his campus at Ben-Gurion University  in May 2010, which protested against the Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship which was heading towards Gaza.  He then describes a counter-protest the next day in which students demonstrated their support for the Israeli forces.  ‘There were … shouts demanding my resignation’,

 

Neve Gordon

 

writes Gordon, and ‘one student even proceeded to create a Facebook group whose sole goal is to have me sacked.’  The Facebook page carried personal denunciations and death threats.

A right wing political group published a ‘report’ accusing sociology departments of being unpatriotic and left wing.  The President of Tel Aviv University asked to see syllabi being taught at Tel Aviv University.  A newspaper article reported that another right wing organisation had tried to persuade donors to Ben-Gurion University to make their giving conditional on an end to ‘anti-Zionist’teaching.  The President of Ben-Gurion University publicly opposed this campaign as a threat to academic freedom but the Education Minister, a member of the right wing Likud party, writes Gordon, simply opposed this campaign on the basis that it was aimed at harming donations.  ‘The problem is’, he concludes, ‘that instead of struggling over basic human rights, we are now struggling over the right to struggle.’

As is clear from the reports from other countries, these kinds of right wing campaigns against academic freedom, against the intellectual left and against disciplines such as sociology are far from unique to Israel.  But antizionism as a political framework is always tempted to treat things which are done by the right in Israel as though they were manifestations of the essential racism and the essential illiberality of the ‘Zionist’ state.

Neve Gordon’s argument is that the phenomena he describes are manifestations of a much broader ‘protofascist’ asault against Higher Education and liberal values in Israel.  He writes that this assault is being mobilized by ‘numerous forces in Israel’ and also by

 

David Hirsh

 

‘neoconservative forces in the United States’.  He writes that this assault is targetted first against the universities because ‘they are home to many vocal critics of Israel’s rights-abusive policies’, voices which are considered ‘traitorous and consequently in need of being stifled’.

He writes that the right wing organisations see universities as ‘merely arms of the government’ and so politically controllable.  He characterizes right wing colleagues as ‘a thought police’ and right wing students as ‘spies’.  The ordinary but nevertheless worrying mobilisation of a right wing and anti-liberal political current is presented in the language and in the framework of Israeli exceptionalim.

This text exemplifies two tendencies which characterise much discussion of the Palestine-Israel conflict, of the campaign to boycott Israel and of contemporary antisemitism.

Firstly it is once removed from a discussion of the issues themselves.  It is ‘struggling for the right to struggle’.  In this text there is no discussion of the substantial issues themselves.  Rather they are mobilized as weapons in the struggle over the boundaries of legitimate discourse.  Issues which are raised but not discussed: Israeli human rights abuses; the assault on the ‘flotilla’; ‘anti-Zionism’, ‘post-Zionism’, ‘Zionism’; Israeli patriotism and unpatriotism; the proposed boycott of Israel and antisemitism; the connections between ‘protofascism’, the Israeli right, the American neocon right and the American Christian right.  The issues are raised and mobilized rhetorically but not analysed.

The right wing groups of which Neve Gordon is correctly, in my view, wary, aim to define the left as being outside of the legitimate boundaries of Israeli discourse.  Neve Gordon, on the other hand, aims to define those right wingers as being outside of the boundaries of liberal and antiracist discourse.  Neither argues why the other is wrong on the substantial issues.  Instead, both are ‘struggling’ to have the discourse of the other recognized as illegitimate.

This is not necessarily as bad as it sounds.  For example it is normal that racism or homphobia or misogyny is recognized as being outside of the legitimate boundaries of sociolgoical discourse.  Sociologists would not try to debate with a colleague who claimed that black people were inferior to white people.  Historians would not try to debate with a colleague who said that the Atlantic slave trade never happened.  We would argue, rather, that the questions were illegitimate.

We do not want to get into an apparently rational discussion with racists over racist questions.  We do not want to treat racists as though they were one side of a legitimate debate.  If there were serious people who began to ask these questions, if the questions became legitimate in the public sphere, in spite of our efforts to prevent that, then we might still have to debate, to mobilise the reasoning and the evidence against racism.

The second tendency which Gordon’s text exemplifies is that towards the conflation of, and the slippage between distinct phenomena.  For example he mentions that Alan Dershowitz argued that Israeli professors who support the campaign for their Israeli colleagues to be excluded from the global academic community should themselves resign from Israeli academic institutions as part of this ‘boycott’.  He also mentions that some students at the protest were calling for his resignation.  And he conflates these calls for resignation, made by people with no power to fire anybody, with a call upon universities to carry out a purge of ‘leftist’ faculty.  In a discussion of academic freedom this distinction may be thought to be important, yet one phenomenon is piled on top of the other in order to give the whole greater rhetorical weight.

Gordon says that people want to sack him because he is critical of Israeli human rights abuses.  Some of his opponents say they want him to resign because he agitates for a boycott of his colleagues in Israel academia.  Sacking is not the same as a call for resignation.  Criticism is not the same as a call for boycott.

Instead of rebutting Dershowitz’s argument about the academic boycott Neve Gordon characterizes it as being outside of the boundaries of what is legitimate in a university.  In return, Dershowitz characterizes Gordon’s pro-boycott stance as being outside of what is legitimate in a university.  Either position may be right or wrong, but Gordon doesn’t make an argument here.  Instead he relies on the conflation of criticism with boycott and on the conflation of a call for resignation with a sacking.  In both cases speech acts are conflated with acts of exclusion by power.  It may be his case that the speech acts feed into a discourse whose logic is then concrete exclusion.  But then again, the case has to be argued and the mechanisms analysed.

There is another more subtle conflation here.  The very name ‘Alan M. Dershowitz’ has become a synecdoche for something bigger than the flesh and blood individual who is its apparent referent.  The name ‘Alan M. Dershowitz’ connotes the fearsome power of the ‘Israel lobby’ (was he not the man who single-handedly prevented Norman Finkelstein from winning tenure?), it connotes all that is threatening about the neocon agenda (has he not written a lawyerly defence of torture?), it connotes all the lies of the ‘Zionists’ (has he not written ‘the case for Israel?’).  The name ‘Dershowitz’ stands symbolically amongst Gordon’s imagined audience, for the whole of ‘Zionism’, which itself is understood as a racist and totalitarian movement of global influence and notoriety.

Neve Gordon’s political project is to have Israel recognized as an apartheid state, to make it into a pariah, to position Israel itself outside of the boundaries of legitimate countries.  The terminology he employs in this piece, ‘protofascist’, ‘thought police’, ‘spies’ is not justified by the evidence he presents.

What he presents is bad enough and it is familiar to academics all over the world.  He shows that there are right wing individuals and groups who wish to position sociology outside of the boundaries of legitimate scholarly inquiry.  He is aware that right wing parties sometimes win elections and form governments.  These are real threats to academic freedom which we should take seriously and which we should oppose.  But Gordon is also clear that for the moment at least, the university sector in Israel is bravely and successfully defending itself, and the institutions are not bending to the pressure.

But for Israel-boycotters, Israel comes first, it is the one state whose academics should be excluded, it is the state moving towards fascism.  And it may or may not be.  But his anecdotes do not make the case.  This is less a debate and more a struggle over what is, and what is not to be legitimately debated.  There is a tendency for reason and evidence to take second place to rhetoric, conflation and keywords which communicate unspoken and emotional connotation.

Neve Gordon’s position tends to mirror that against which he is struggling.  He is against those who would have him silenced but he is for his Israeli colleagues being silenced in the global scholarly community.  He is for his own right to free speech and academic freedom but he refers to his right wing colleagues as ‘thought police’ when they use their free speech to criticize him and their academic freedom to oppose his views.  He opposes the right wing tendency to see Israeli universities as ‘merely arms of the government’ and he shows how the universities are successfully defending their own independence from government.  Yet then how can he argue that Israeli universities should be boycotted because they are complicit with the crimes of the Israeli government?

Neve Gordon says that things are so bad in Israeli universities that he receives death threats and calls for his sacking.  He says that things are so bad that he and his colleagues are using g-mail instead of university email addresses for fear that a hostile university administration might open their emails and take action against them.  Interestingly anti boycott academics in Britain have received death threats too, have been faced with rhetoric which questions their fitness to be recognized as academics too, and many are afraid to use university email addresses too, since there have been examples of pro-boycott academics in authority gaining access to colleagues’ inboxes.  Ironically, it is the global corporation Google which we all appear to trust more than our own university administrations.

There is nothing wrong with arguing that certain kinds of question ought not to be considered to be legitimate questions.  But if arguments concerning the positioning of the boundaries of legitimate discourse are not made with careful clarity, avoiding conflation, avoiding rhetorical tricks and demonization, then there is a possibility that the struggle itself will slip off the terrain of rational discourse.  If one side is tempted to shout ‘antisemite!’ at all who oppose Israel’s actions and the other is ready to shout ‘Zionist!’ at all who raise the issue of antisemitism then the space for political or academic discussion, debate, analysis and research will be closed off.  If argument and evidence are replaced by ad hominem attack, with accusations and counter-accusations of bad faith replacing communicative action, then knowledge becomes, more definitively than ever, power.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

See this further discussion by David Hirsh of Neve Gordon’s shifting position on the campaign to boycott Israel

 

UPDATE : Richard Gold adds:  As well as the link to Neve Gordon’s piece provided by David, here’s Neve Gordon’s complete piece :

An Assault on Israeli Academic Freedom—and Liberal Values[1]

On May 31, I joined some 50 students and faculty members who gathered outside Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to demonstrate against the Israeli military assault on the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid toward Gaza. In response, the next day a few hundred students marched toward the social-sciences building, Israeli flags in hand. Amid the nationalist songs and pro-government chants, there were also shouts demanding my resignation from the university faculty.

One student even proceeded to create a Facebook group whose sole goal is to have me sacked. So far over 2,100 people (many of them nonstudents) have joined. In addition Read the rest of this entry »

Eve Garrard on Israel, human decency and common humanity

Over at Norm’s, Eve Garrard considers Israel, human decency and common humanity.

“Fintan O’Toole thinks that Israel regards itself as ‘exempt from the demands of common humanity‘ (via Z Word Blog). Iain Banks thinks that ‘simple human decency‘ means nothing to Israel (see this normblog post).

Two well-known writers, very anxious to tell the world that Israel lacks humanity. Israel’s not like the rest of us, the rest of the human family. Compared to other nations, it’s inhuman. It doesn’t recognize what everyone else knows about, the simple requirements of being decently human. It ought to recognize these things, it isn’t hard to do so, since they’re so simple; and most other people do, since they’re part of common humanity.

Leave aside the sinister provenance of that claim, and let’s just consider it on its own.”

Read on for why the claims, made uniquely and with great passion about Israel, are indeed sinister.

Misunderstanding what is divisive

Perhaps Antony Lerman supposes he has “creatively exploited and managed” antisemitism “in such a way as to generate vibrant and relevant discussion about issues of the moment”.

Implicating the Community Security Trust (one of the major Jewish organisations which records, investigates and organises against antisemitism) in Jewish community rifts, he opines that calling for research into antisemitism in Scotland is somehow divisive and “grounds for concern seem slight”.

“So while research on antisemitism should always be encouraged, how will it help Jews in Scotland if it throws up the existence of a Holocaust denier on the Mull of Kintyre?”

Well, wouldn’t it be a great relief to discover that antisemitism in Scotland was emanating from a solitary remote Holocaust denier? Those of us who’ve been worrying that there is something more to it could have a hearty laugh at our mistake, pack up, and go joyfully about our business again. It is strange that the former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research has no spirit of inquiry to discover what is behind the incidents.

I’d like to hear from anybody who has the urge to diminish reports of antisemitism, after a week shadowing one of the visibly observant Jews who have approached SCOJEC and The CST. Reading Antony Lerman’s piece, you’d think they somehow didn’t matter. It’s wrong to suppose that community renewal can be achieved through diminishing their experiences and fears. It’s head-burying to attempt to address politicisation of racism by diminishing the effects of that racism on its targets.

The Community Security Trust’s Head of Communications Mark Gardner comments on the post (9 Jun 2010, 3:02PM):

“I stressed that the vast majority of Glasgow’s Jews are not visibly Jewish, and lead a comfy enough existence in largely white middle class neighbourhoods where street thuggery, street crime, gangs, racism and antisemitism were very rare. I noted that many of them would drive to work in their cars and did not have to use public transport.

I then said that antisemitism, like any racism, impacts against the more vulnerable sections of the community – schoolchildren who wear kippot on their heads and use public transport; people who are literally the only Jew in the village, or on the council estate etc.

I noted that these were the people who had felt vulnerable and isolated and had consequently turned to SCOJEC expressing alarm at the atmosphere they perceived during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza last year. I said that I was proud to work with SCOJEC in representing these people’s concerns to Scottish Govt, Police and others, so that they did not feel alone and so that strategies could be developed to prevent things getting any worse.

In any other context, I suspect that Guardian readers would be horrified to read an article such as Tony Lerman’s: an article that basically mocks people’s fears about racism (eg his line about Holocaust deniers on the Mull of Kintyre, which carries far more strength than his emotion free mantra “any incidents are to be deplored”.)

The frightened contacts to SCOJEC and CST from Scottish victims of antisemitism last year were not figments of our imagination. What do you want us to do? Tell these people to stop being such Zionists, to go put a kilt on, eat a black pudding, drink some Irn Bru, buy a house in Whitecraigs, and then everything will be ok?”

Crudités

A selection of news and comment.

Ignoblus on Yoav Shamir’s film Defamation.

Via Bob From Brockley: Contentious Centrist surfaces some under-reported news of a separation wall built by Hesbollah and Syria which isolates a Lebanese border region mostly populated by Christians and Druze, and  home demolitions by Hamas; the revolution will not be Tel Aviv’ed – gingerly linking to Spiked to give you Natalie Rothschild; Martin in the Margins on Chomsky refused; Michael J. Totten’s interview with Paul Berman about his book Flight of the Intellectuals.

Off-topic for this blog (but kind of on-topic because I came to it via a Labour parliamentary candidate who, nonetheless worryingly though she was unsuccessful, apparently believes that problematising Zionism will pay off in British politics) Peter Beinhart considers some long-term trends in Israeli society and trends in the attitudes to Israel of Jews outside Israel, calling for an uncomfortable Zionism as alternative to anti-Zionism, a lethargic non-Zionism, or an exclusive and aggressive kind of Zionism.

The Turin Book Fair was targeted by boycotters again this year, but they were rebuffed, and Israeli author Amos Oz won the readers’ prize. Umberto Eco was again (scroll to the L’Espresso translation, 2008) one of those who spoke against boycott. Here is something good from him back then :

“I understand very well what certain friends of the extreme left (who only need to turn 360 degrees to come dangerously close to the extreme right) are thinking when they demand such a thing: we have to direct people’s attention to the ominous politics of the Israeli government, so we can kick off a scandal that will hit the headlines in all the papers. It is true that politicians and advertising companies work like this (and Berlusconi has mastered the art), but what is happening in Turin right now is a bit like the Blue Telephone trying to draw attention to the abuse of children by having some of them whipped in public.”

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