Some comments on the “Israel must lose” letter – David Hirsh

David Hirsh

David Hirsh

[Correction: I apologize for having mistakenly claimed that this letter was also signed by the antisemite Gilad Atzmon. I misread the web page. In fact Atzmon signed the letter below in The Guardian – DH]

This letter, signed by a large number of academics, represents yet another milestone in the escalation of the demonization of Israel in British public life.

It is signed by a number of serious and well respected people such as Etienne Balibar, Conor Gearty, Eric Hobsbawm, Ernesto Laclau, Eyal Weizman, Nira Yuval-Davis, Slavoj Zizek and Paul Gilroy.

It is also signed by the usual list of people who spend their time spreading hatred of Israel and trying to have Israelis “boycotted”, such as Mona baker, Haim Bresheeth, Alex Callinicos, Keith Hammond,Ted Honderich, Ilan Pappe, Hilary Rose, and Richard Seaford.

The letter is incoherent. The final paragraph begins with the following:

We believe Israel should immediately and unconditionally end its assault on Gaza, end the occupation of the West Bank, and abandon all claims to possess or control territory beyond its 1967 borders.

This paragraph clearly favours a two state solution to the conflict and a peace between the two nations. In the previous paragraph the signatories articulate their concern for Israel’s security:

Israel must accept that its security depends on justice and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, and not upon the criminal use of force.

So far so good. All this, the call for an immediate ceasefire, an unconditional withdrawal from the occupied territories, the characterization of its use of force as criminal – all this is within the bounds of serious and legitimate criticism. But it is incompatible with the sharp end of the letter.

The massacres in Gaza are the latest phase of a war that Israel has been waging against the people of Palestine for more than 60 years.

Here the signatories make it clear that they consider the State of Israel itself, not only the occupation, to be illegitimate. They make it clear that they believe that Israel’s use of force to sustain the occupation is part of the same war as the defensive wars with which Israel has managed to guarantee its survival. They, like the Israeli far right, deny any politically significant distinction between the occupied territories and Israel itself (see This is Really Two Wars).

Israel must lose. …we are obliged to take sides … against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank. …We must do what we can to stop Israel from winning its war.

The signatories pledge to do what they can to ensure the military defeat of Israel.

Apparently they want Israel to be defeated militarily in Gaza and in the West Bank, they want Israeli troops to be sent home to Israel and they want that to be the basis for a new peaceful co-existence in the Middle East.

Here the signatories are imagining that the conflict is between an imperialist occupier on the one hand (the oppressors) and a national resistance movement on the other (the oppressed). They want to support the war of the oppressed against the oppressors. They want, modestly, to put their weight behind the movement for Palestinian national liberation without acting as imperialist outsiders, telling them how to fight their struggle.

But they are clever people, mostly, and they know full well that the conflict is more complicated than that.

They know that Palestine is politically divided between Hamas and Fatah.

They know that Hamas is, as well as being a nationalist movement, an antisemitic movement which is constitutionally and practically committed to killing the Jews in the Middle East and instituting an authoritarian Islamic state throughout Israel and Palestine.

They back some of this aspiration, insomuch as only half of them half believe that Israel has a right to exist, and they all know that if Israel did not exist then the Jews of Israel would be in grave danger.

They know that a military defeat for Israel would put the Jews of Israel at great risk. And yet they call for it.

They pretend to believe that a military defeat for Israel at the hands of Hamas or perhaps Hezbollah or perhaps Iran, could lead to a peace agreement which could guarantee Israel’s security. But most of these signatories are too clever and too well-read to believe that.

The letter is phrased in a curiously ‘quantitative’ language:

It is not enough to urge the renewal of dialogue and to acknowledge the concerns and suffering of both sides.

Dialogue, ceasefire, peace, a two state solution are not enough. They want to go further. Beyond dialogue is military victory for Hamas. Beyond ceasefire, beyond peace, beyond a two state solution, is war. Peace is not enough; they want victory. And they understand clearly how to build a movement against peace and for war:

We call on the British government and the British people to take all feasible steps to oblige Israel to comply with these demands, starting with a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Boycott is war against Israel by other means.

And the global campaign for the military defeat of Israel is also a genocidal campaign. And these signatories know it. They know what the military defeat of Israel would mean. And yet they call for it.

David Hirsh
Goldsmiths, University of London
Editor, Engage

NB Bob from Brockley’s response to this letter is well worth reading too.

Gerald Kaufman wins the Simply Jews 2009 prize for nincompoopery

“The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt from Gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians,” he said.

Simply Jews awards its prize here.