Why does it matter whether “we the undersigned are all of Jewish origin” (Letters, 10 January)? Perhaps it is meant to give a bad argument good authority. The analogy that follows – that what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians in Gaza is reminiscent of what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto – is historically inaccurate and politically thoughtless. Understanding requires that we make distinctions. But this association of images obliterates all distinctions – between, say, accidental “collateral damage”, killing civilians through negligence, intentional murder of civilians by army personnel, or the wilful annihilation of an entire people. Distinctions are as important in politics as in international law.
This kind of radicalism also echoes a tendency to situate Gaza in terms of collective Jewish responsibility. In this case the signatories declare themselves in effect to be good Jews, unlike those bad Zionist Jews who murder children and who must no longer be “appeased”. They assure the world that it is OK to hate the bad Jews, for the bad Jews have failed to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. This moral dualism substitutes for political distinctions. It succumbs to the temptation to reduce politics to a broth of moral outrage (aimed at “Israel”) and innocent compassion (in this case with Hamas, whose only crime is said to be its refusal to become a “pawn in the hands of the occupation regime”).
I am not saying we can never write of our shame at what is done in our name “as Jews”, but we need to be far more thoughtful about how we lay claim to this signature.
Professor Robert Fine
Department of sociology,
University of Warwick
On Greens Engage a response to Gaza from Mira Vogel.