Collectivising atonement

Some Jews attempt to package Israel’s actions in Gaza in with Jewish moral reckoning on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Others are trenchant in opposing this collectivisation of atonement, which looks so like an accusation of collective guilt.

The vanity and cluelessness of boycotting Israel

Just a sample from the Web.

In Ha’aretz, Bradley Burston has Yom Kippur and the new film Ajami, the Israel-Palestine conflict in microcosm jointly directed by Palestinian and Jewish Israelis, on his mind:

“This week we observe the ancient boycott known as Yom Kippur. We ask forgiveness for sins of a hardened heart, of judgmentalism and hatred, of a willful deceit of others and an unknowing deceit of ourselves.

For the sin of demanding that only others search their souls and repent. And for the sin of finding others guilty and passing sentence, without having the courage to allow the accused to face their accusers.

To the BDS people and their spiritual kin in Toronto, let me say just this: When you criticize Israel, for God’s sake – if only for the Palestinians’ sake – tell the truth. The whole truth. Not just your carefully composed cardboard cutout, the cartoon of the Jewish villain and the Arab martyr. And not from a distance.

Come here. Do the work. Take the risks. Put your slogans and your posters and your buttons and signs and t-shirts and open letters to the test. Put your life where your sloganeering is.

You despise Israel, we get that. You dismiss the capacity of Israelis for good faith and humanism. We get that too. But if you talk struggle in Toronto and San Francisco and Irvine, it’s no more than talk, and wasted breath at that. You can boycott away, all you like. In the end, you’re only drumming up more business for Israel.

Alternatively, as a first step, you might go see Ajami. If it’s hard as hell for you to understand, then you’ve made a beginning. See it again.

It’s Yom Kippur. It’s time to get rattled. Just as in the cartoons, when you run off a cliff, it’s only when you look down, that you begin to plummet.

Look down. We’re all falling here. We’re all trying to keep our families and friends, our children and our elders, from the cliff. Until you understand that, you understand nothing.”

The Forward had a recent editorial on the boycott campaign against Israel.

“While the stated goal of the BDS movement is to isolate and discomfit Israel and support human rights for the Palestinians, it is clear that many followers are not trying to change Israel. They’re trying to eliminate it.

The argument that pushing Israel into economic, academic and cultural purgatory will somehow persuade its government to dismantle the security barrier, evacuate the West Bank and embrace its sworn enemy is misguided. And that’s being generous. Whatever the flaws of the Netanyahu administration — and there are many — it is clearly responding to (and, true, at times stoking) real fears and anxieties among the Israeli population.

The boycotters are either grossly ignorant about the Israeli psyche, or don’t care to understand it. The attempt to isolate and delegitimize “is counter productive because of the nature of who we are. It confirms our worst fears,” says the noted South African journalist Benjamin Pogrund, who now lives in Israel and writes extensively about boycotts, having lived through the apartheid era in his native land.”

Read it all.

From last week’s The Forward, a piece on how the boycott is taking hold.

“The BDS movement is highly decentralized, with each group in the coalition allowed to choose its own targets as it sees fit. It has no articulated political vision. such as a one- or two-state solution to the conflict. The principles that guide the movement — as set out in a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions issued in June 2005 by a wide group of Palestinian civil society organizations — demand instead that Israel adhere to international and human rights law. The amorphous structure and broad goals appear to be responsible for many of the group’s appeal. But some who watch this movement closely contend that, in the end, even a “targetted” boycott is ultimately aimed at all of Israel.

The actual monetary impact of the movement is often unclear. But for activists seeking as much to affect Israel’s image in the public’s mind, money is not always the bottom line.”

And in response, an expression of Jewish solidarity: buycott.

Does Ahmadinejad read the Guardian?

Mark Gardner on the CST blog.

Mark Gardner on the AWL and real far Left opposition to antisemitism.

The British far Left comprises many diverse groups, bitterly divided by ideological detail and factionism. There are, however, certain things upon which they all agree. And one of the things upon which they all agree: is that they all oppose antisemitism.
But wait, catch your breath and hold those hoots of derisive laughter for just one second…because there is actually one far Left group that consistently analyses the issue of antisemitism from a real world perspective. That group is Workers Liberty.
Workers Liberty understands antisemitism as a living, breathing, kicking phenomenon in which Jews – including Zionist and Israeli Jews – are real people, with real rights, and real fears. This does not prevent Workers Liberty from expressing solidarity with Palestinians. (And CST does not question its right to do so). Crucially, nor does it prevent Workers Liberty from regarding Zionists and Israelis as real human beings, rather than perverse dehumanised hate targets plucked straight from a Stalinist show trial.
The reaction of Workers Liberty to the growing anti-Israel boycott movement within the Trades Unions Congress displays its usual clarity on the contentious issues of antisemitism and its inbred cousin, anti-Zionism.

Read the whole piece here.

The AWL : To help the Palestinians: solidarity, not boycott!

From the AWL website :

On Thursday 17 September the TUC congress voted for a motion from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) for a boycott of Israeli goods. The vote does not commit unions to any real action, and anyway was neutralised by the TUC General Council putting a statement through the congress which defined a much more limited policy. But the TUC vote will boost the “boycott Israel” mood in the labour movement and the left.
We believe this is a step backwards for the labour movement and for the cause of solidarity with the Palestinians. Rather than boycott, we advocate maximum links by the British labour movement with the many grass-roots groups and movements in Israel that support Palestinian rights or can feasibly be swung to support Palestinian rights, as well as with secular and democratic Palestinian movements.
Many labour movement activists – including many who are not fanatically hostile to everything Israeli – have been swung to supporting a boycott by the desire to “do something” against arrogant, callous Israeli governments uninterested in peace and casual about their slaughter of Palestinians in such actions as Israel’s January 2009 offensive in Gaza.
A quiet choice not to buy Israeli fruit in the supermarket seems to them practical, possibly effective, and anyway a non-violent and dignified form of protest.
That is straightforward. But the counter-arguments are equally straightforward.
The bottom-line argument is that if a boycott gains real momentum, then – whatever the intentions of many of the trade unionists now voting for boycotts – it cannot fail to become a movement to target, shun, and penalise conspicuous Israel-linked people and pro-Israelis in Britain, i.e. Jews.
It cannot fail to boost the occasional pickets now mounted by anti-Israel enthusiasts against Marks and Spencer shops. The “official” reason for these pickets is links between Marks and Spencer bosses and Israel. In fact what singles out Marks and Spencer among High Street chains is that it is the one well known to have been founded by Jewish businessmen.
It cannot fail to revive the mood on university campuses which for many years, from the mid-1980s, led to student unions banning student Jewish societies on the grounds that they would not foreswear all links with Israel.
It cannot fail to encourage a revival of the sort of action which started the boycott bandwagon rolling in Britain – the decision in 2002 by a British academic to sack two Israeli academics from journals which she edited, solely on the grounds that they were Israeli. One of the Israeli academics sacked was Miriam Shlesinger, former chair of the Israeli branch of Amnesty International, a living disproof of the idea that all Israeli Jews are little Benjamin Netanyahus or Ariel Sharons.
Wouldn’t the effective pressure for concessions which a boycott would apply to the Israeli government compensate for such side-effects, and make them secondary? No. The Arab states – all of them most of the time, and most of them all of the time – have been boycotting Israel since 1948, and that hasn’t helped.
Even if a consumer boycott became strong – in practice it will be token, even if it gathers enough force to produce a large anti-Jewish “spillover” – it is much more likely to strengthen chauvinist “fortress” attitudes in Israel than peace sentiments. Israeli Jews are likely to react in a prickly fashion to censorious measures from the Europe in which six million of their parents and grandparents were killed, and from the Britain which tried to block Jewish flight to Palestine while the Holocaust was being prepared and carried through.
Unions can achieve much by positive solidarity. Between its 2008 and 2009 conferences, the rail union RMT was the one union in Britain with a positive policy of solidarity, not boycott. It did more to help the Palestinians than the boycottist unions. It hosted a visit by Israeli army refuser Tamar Katz (the more fervent boycotters would boycott even Tamar), and organised a demonstration to protest at Israeli Railways’ discrimination against Arab workers.
Trade unionists should seek to help Arab and Jewish workers inside Israel organise and unite, to show them solidarity, to develop links with their union movement, the Histadrut, and through those links to encourage support for Palestinian rights. The FBU motion, by contrast, called for a “review” of British unions’ links with the Histadrut.
Boycott campaigners are clear that for them the “review” proposal is useful only as the thin end of a wedge to get links with the Histadrut broken off. As the boycott campaign has rolled on – the university lecturers’ union AUT in 2005, then Unison, TGWU-Unite, PCS, and RMT in more recent years – the campaigners have become bolder about trying to break links between organised British workers and organised Israeli workers.
In some unions, such as Unison, boycott motions have also included a call for a “cultural” boycott. The best answer to this was given by the Palestinian academic Edward Said: “I believe it is our duty as Palestinian and yes, even Arab intellectuals to engage Israeli academic and intellectual audiences by lecturing at Israeli centres, openly, courageously, uncompromisingly. What have years of refusing to deal with Israel done for us? Nothing at all, except to weaken us and weaken our perception of our opponent” (Al-Ahram weekly 378, 21-27 May 1998).
Films indicting Israeli government misdeeds in the Occupied Territories have been banned in Europe under this “cultural boycott”. For example a French film festival barred Simone Bitton from taking part in a workshop; Bitton, an Israeli citizen but long settled in France, had produced Mur in protest against the Separation Wall (Challenge, January 2007).
The women’s organisation Sindyanna supports Arab workers in Galilee and Palestinian growers and producers from the Occupied Territories. It wants trade unions to help its work by promoting their products. How would boycotting them help?
Boycotters usually point to the boycott of the apartheid regime in South Africa run by the African National Congress (ANC) and its supporters from 1961 as a model.
But apartheid South Africa was a system where a white minority caste lorded it over a legally-suppressed black majority. The boycott was a gesture of solidarity with the majority, who supported it. The big majority in Israel – including the majority of those Israelis who back Palestinian rights – do not want a boycott.
The Arab minority in Israel suffers disadvantages, as minorities do in many capitalist states, but does not face apartheid. The essential problem is that of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and blockading of Gaza, its denial of the Palestinians’ right to have a state of their own.
The analogy with South Africa is false, and slides over into a false blanket condemnation of all Israeli Jews as exploiters.
Moreover, the boycott of South African goods, even if socialists had no special reason to denounce it as a gesture, was not all decisive in bringing down apartheid. The revolt of the black working class in South Africa was decisive there.
The “cultural” bit of the South African boycott was a hindrance. It helped the ANC and its allies in their initial denunciation of the new multi-racial trade unions of the 1980s as “yellow unions” (because, in contrast to the ANC-run “trade union federation” which existed only in exile, they negotiated with the employers and the government) and their attempt to block direct links between British unions and those multi-racial unions (“breaches of the boycott”).
The TUC and most, maybe all, trade unions support a “two states” settlement: the demand that Israel withdraw from the Occupied Territories and allow the Palestinians to exercise their right to form a sovereign, independent state of their own, in contiguous territory, alongside Israel.
Most, though not all, of the activists who have pushed the boycott since about 2002 do not support “two states”. They believe that Israel must be wiped off the map, and the Israeli Jews – as many of them as survive the conquest of their state – must be forced to live as a minority in an Arab-majority state.
They would say (and, often, sincerely believe) that the Jews in that Arab-majority state should have democratic rights. But not the right to have their own nation-state! Never that!
In practice such a Jewish minority could be prevented from exercising self-determination only by depriving them of many other democratic rights. And we can gauge how thought-through the support for Jewish rights of the advocates of “one Palestine, from the river to the sea” is by observing their uncritical support for Hamas. Sometimes the “one Palestine” advocates talk of a “democratic, secular state”, but Hamas rule “from the river to the sea” would certainly not be secular or democratic.
The boycott proposal, by presenting the Israeli Jews as a “bad people”, an illegitimate nation, a community to be shunned in a blanket fashion, functions as the thin end of the wedge for the idea that the Israeli Jews have no right of national self-determination, and that the Jews across the world who feel instinctive (though often critical) solidarity with Israel should be denounced as “Zionists”. The term “Zionist” in this context bears the same emotional charge as “fascist” or “racist”.
The TUC General Council statement overrode the FBU motion’s demand for a consumer boycott of all Israeli goods, substituting a consumer boycott of goods from the Occupied Territories. Mick Shaw from the FBU had said: “It’s not just an issue of a boycott of goods produced in illegal settlements. Firstly, we think that impractical. These goods do not come with a label which says ‘these goods are produced on an illegal settlement’.” True. The more limited boycott is impractical, and in fact has gained currency only as a “first step towards” comprehensive boycott. But neither the TUC leaders’ move to reduce it all to vague but safe impracticality, nor “Zionist”-baiting, is an answer.
What we need, and what would best help the Palestinians, is a difference campaign. One which makes the unions’ two-states policy an active guide to solidarity – on the lines tentatively started by RMT in 2008-9 – rather than an abstract preamble to motions which go on to recommend nothing but vague lobbying of the Government and individual consumer choices. And one which decisively rejects the “Zionist”-baiters.

Jon Pike on the TUC.

Jon Pike’s letter in the Guardian :

Whatever the rights and wrongs of boycotting Israel, the debate in the trade unions has shown that movement in a dim light. Not one union has balloted its members. Not one union, let alone the TUC, has any moral authority in pursuit of this unwarranted exceptionalism against Israel. It’s worth speculating why the boycott supporters are so unwilling to allow members a direct vote on their proposal, in any single union. As they pursue this boycott, they express disdain for the idea that they should represent the views of their ordinary members.

Jon Pike

Hove, East Sussex

Joint Board of Deputies / JLC response to the TUC General Council statement and the boycott motion.

Responding to today’s discussions on the Middle East at the Annual TUC conference, Jeremy Newmark, Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council and Jon Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, have issued the following statement:

‘We are genuinely saddened that, in passing the FBU motion and adopting elements of the General Council statement, the TUC have damaged their ability to act as an honest broker building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. The TUC has a noble record as a positive and unifying element in British life and in international relations. This new policy will only create discord and divisiveness, masking a pro-boycott agenda behind the smokescreen of opposition to settlements.

The TUC has committed to supporting a two-state solution. They have asked unions to fund joint Histadrut/PGFTU projects. These constructive positions are totally incompatible with the decision to work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an organisation whose own logo wipes Israel off the map.

The Jewish community has many friends in the heart of the Trade Union movement, some of whom fought for a more balanced position. We are grateful to them. However, we made it clear to TUC leaders before their conference that a ‘deal’ which retained the language of boycotts would not address our concerns.

The fact that within moments of this statement was released conference delegates voted for a another extreme hardline pro-boycott motion proposed by the FBU is evidence that our concerns are well placed, and that TUC leaders must act against the harmful influence of the PSC within their unions. We insist that TUC leaders immediately clarify that this motion does not stand as TUC policy.

Israel’s strong, independent trade union movement works closely with the Palestinian trade unions to protect the rights of all workers. It is particularly ironic that implementation of the TUC’s policy will harm the employment of many of those Palestinians.

Our communal leaders will respond robustly to this policy, which risks driving a wedge between British Jews and the Trade Union movement. Our response will be threefold:

* Firstly, we will be asking the TUC leadership to act swiftly and decisively to reassert their opposition to a boycott of Israel, and advise their member unions accordingly. We expect the General Council’s statement to be used as a licence to boycott by anti-Israel activists.

* Secondly, we will actively expose the discriminatory politics of the PSC, in order to frustrate their hijacking of Trade Unions to promote their anti-Israel and anti-peace agenda.

* Thirdly, we will be encouraging members of our own community to fight back, by getting involved in Trade Unions and speaking out.”

TUC should focus on Iran, not Israel.

Benny Weinthal and Eric Lee on CIF :

The TUC was right to discuss international affairs at its annual congress. Unions have been involved in global solidarity actions for more than 150 years. In an increasingly globalised world, unions have to make their voices heard on issues affecting their members and working people abroad.

The problem is that the decision the TUC took to support boycotts, sanctions and divestment targeting Israel was the wrong one. The energetic campaign to target the most democratic and lively trade union federation in the Middle East, the Israeli Histadrut, is a disappointing case of misplaced priorities. Iran, not Israel, should have been the focus of TUC attention this year.

Read the rest here.

Twitter against Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to speak at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday 23rd September. He has said he wants to wipe Israel off the map, he regularly denies the Holocaust and he has brutally put down protests in Iran at his apparent theft of the Presidential election.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop Ahmadinejad speaking at the UN. But Governments don’t have to sit there and listen to him. They can walk out, as the UK Government and many others did when he spoke at Durban II.

So we’re arranging a quick Twitter campaign to call on the UK Government to walk out while Ahmadinejad speaks.

The message the Fair Play Campaign (@fairplaycg) tweeted is

“Ahmadinejad stole an election and denies the Holocaust. @DMiliband and @DowningStreet should walk out when he speaks at the UN. Please RT”

Obviously everyone should write their own message, but messages should include @DMiliband and @DowningStreet, so that they get seen by advisors to Gordon Brown and David Miliband. Also try to include some note in your tweet to encourage others to join the campaign.

If you’re already a twitter user, this will be the easiest campaign you ever joined. So what are you waiting for, write your tweet now!

Hat tip : Fair Play Campaign Group

New fronts

Jogo, a correspondent, points us in the direction of a piece on the Institute for Global Jewish Studies on Holocaust Denial on Facebook, the online social networking site. As at Comment Is Free, ‘freedom to …’ butts up against ‘freedom from …’.

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