What else Iain Banks can do

Iain Banks reading from The Crow Road was the first literary even I ever attended. I was very impressed at the time, but these days Banks is advocating making “Israelis understand how morally isolated they really are” and urging other artists, writers and academics to do all they can to “convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation”.

Cultural boycotts don’t work like that, and it’s hard to know what Banks’ efforts at isolating Israel(is) mean in practice. No more invitations to the Jerusalem Quartet? Hectoring any Israeli in the vicinity? Weird, given that he has omitted to mention anything approaching ethical isolation and moral degradation on the part of Hamas. John Levy reacts:

“The use by Iain Banks and friends of language reminiscent of the National Socialists (Letters, 3 and 4 June) arouses the most atavistic of Jewish fears, not least because their criticism of Israel is so grotesquely overstated. Israel, as a fully functioning – and therefore by definition flawed – democracy, should be subject to serious analysis and rigorous criticism. But it is not a rogue regime installed by putsch (cf Gaza June 2007). It is a multi-faith, multicultural entity, in which eight calendars of religious festivals are protected by law and cultural diversity prevails – as opposed to the Taliban-lite regime now in power in Gaza. Hamas, as your recent reports indicate, is imposing an ever-more rigorous Islamist template on all Gazans. Israeli hospitals are full of patients from the Palestinian Authority receiving advanced medical care. Many academic and research colleagues in Israel are engaged in serious and mutually respectful collaborative projects with Palestinian counterparts.”

Writing in today’s Observer Nick Cohen reminds readers that many alleged progressives have flipped about Israel and cautions about the difference between intentions and their effects:

“The leaders of Ba’athist Syria or theocratic Iran or monarchical Saudi Arabia do not faithfully reproduce the fantasies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion solely because they hate Jews. They need a conspiracy theory to divert the attention of their subject populations from the failures of their rule as badly as the tsars did in the 1900s and the Nazis in the 1930s. Then, as now, the ability to brand political opponents as Zionist fifth columnists and liberal principles as decadent Jewish ruses that divert the faithful from fulfilling their religious or racial destiny are essential aids to the maintenance of their power.

Hamas, around which the disputes about aid to Gaza rage, is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which fused fascist and radical Islamist ideas during the German push into the Middle East during the Second World War. Large chunks of its constitution are lifted from European racism – Jewish money controls the world’s “media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations”; the Jews were behind “the French revolution, the communist revolution and most of the revolutions we hear about” and so on.

As with the European reactionaries of the 20th century, Islamists do not stop with Jew hatred. Advances for radical Islam are always disasters for women, homosexuals, democrats, socialists and free thinkers. Put like this, the behaviour of European liberals seems more reprehensible than ever.”

Nick Cohen goes on to point out that antisemitism cannot fully explain the bias of the Gaza debate, citing the political failure of the Netanyahu’s right wing coalition government. He’s right about that, but there are also some campaigns that make the same noises whoever’s in power in Israel. A left wing government in Israel would interfere with their world view.

Returning to Iain Banks’ boycott, Steven Poole writes:

“Iain Banks himself realizes too that it is a stupid (and actually vicious) idea: his plaintive “what else can we do?” doesn’t even pretend to be a justification; it is merely the Politician’s Logic of “Something must be done; this is something; therefore, we must do it.”

So Banks presses on regardless, proposing to cure the “ethical isolation” of Israel by, um, isolating it even more, without, or so it seems, even beginning to imagine how that might affect the balance of internal politics in Israel itself.”

Norm answers Banks’ rhetorical question “what else can we do?” with:

“What else you can do is not engage in forms of collective punishment that you condemn when it suits you; but rather adopt forms of protest and action that meet the standards you demand of others.”

and a further relevant post about academic boycott.

(And Iain M. Banks? Silent. Probably ashamed.)

24 Responses to “What else Iain Banks can do”

  1. Gil Says:

    Sadly, anyone who had read Banks’s 2002 book ‘Dead Air’, with the events of 9/11 as a backdrop could clearly see where Banks was going. I am going from memory here, but his protagonist was ready to isolate Israel there and then, much to the consternation of his Jewish girlfriend (Judith?). I remember reading it how stunned I was that Banks seemed to be blaming Israel for 9/11, though he must have used the ‘I don’t agree but I do understand’ formula.

  2. Harry Goldstein Says:

    Good article by Nick Cohen, but I think that in dating the rise of middle eastern antisemitism to ‘the German push into the Middle East during the Second World War’, he’s understating the depth of the problem. His interpretation seems to be based on Matthias Kuntzel’s excellent ‘Jihad and Jew-Hatred’.

    However, there were avenues by which antisemitism was transmitted to the Middle East a long way prior to this. The Damascus blood libel case was in 1840, long before the Nazis (and decades before any zionist settlement). The transmission here was from right-wing European Christian (especially French) diplomats to middle eastern Christians.

    Interestingly, the originators of Arab nationalism (who first defined Arabic speakers as a people) were middle eastern Christian intellectuals. Of course, this redefinition of identity had an obvious utility in helping to overcome the marginalisation of Christians in the region by subsuming their religious identity into a new, all-encompassing ‘Arab’ identity. Now logically, this should have meant that Arabic-speaking Jews were also regarded as part of the Arab nation, but this never really happened thanks to the Christians bringing their Christian Jew-hatred into their new Arab identity (shades of German nationalism in the 19th century).

    Among the earliest campaigners against Zionist settlement were the Jesuits. In fact it was an article of faith among early Zionists that they got on fine with the Muslims, and it was the Christians who were the problem. See Walter Lacqueur’s History of Zionism on this.

    What seems to have happened is that the Christians succeeded in spreading their antisemitism to their Muslim neighbours, and it was therefore subsequently available as a useful component of radical Islamist ideology.

    Of course, any critical historical analysis of identities other than western (and especially Jewish) ones is not fashionable at the moment, so these issues tend not to be discussed very much.

  3. anna Says:

    Helen Thomas yelling -”Jews go back to Poland”.,

  4. anna Says:

    sorry for OT

  5. Absolute Observer Says:

  6. Gil Says:

    It seems that Ron Paul’s supporters are squarely behind Helen Thomas’s bigotry plus the rest of the antisemitic package. Quelle surprise:

    Continuing the writer theme, I am reminded of Roth’s ‘The Plot Against America’ or is it actually ‘Operation Shylock’? Probably a bit of both. Either way, history is repeating itself and life is certainly imitating art.

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    I’d hardly say she is “yelling”.

  8. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Yet more on Helen Thomas, from the Jewish Chronicle, which earlier today (before _this_ story broke) was already reporting the demands for her resignation. Things happen fast in the world of US media, clearly.


  9. Yasser Says:

    Absolut Observer: unlke the 10000 Zionist Jews below, the old woman did not say death to the Jews. But “Death to the Arabs” is OK with you and engage (I never heard you condem this). Arabs like me – unlike Polish and Russian Jews – are of course not semites. Therefore it OK for Zionist Jews and their supporters in Britian to killed us with impunity.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Ok, Yasser, let’s have some proper evidence for your statement that: “Therefore it OK for Zionist Jews and their supporters in Britian to killed us with impunity.”

      And I mean evidence: dates, names, numbers, supporting evidence from the newspapers (and I mean _proper_ newspapers), and/or official UK Government sources.

      If you don’t have any (and I don’t think that you do), an immediate apology for perpretating falsehoods would be most welcome.

      Mind you, I don’t expect one, but I’m an optimist, and am always prepared to be _proved_ (not just told that I am) wrong.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      I don’t know what you are on about when you talk about “killing us with impunity” Yasser, and you must realise that there is no shortage of chanting of “death to Jews” in the Middle East.

      That video indicates that things are very bad indeed, and that hatred is waxing. How do you think that the left-wing Israelis mentioned in 3.50, along with their international supporters, can best change the mentality of these interviewees, who seem to place no hope in anything but defence?

    • SJC Says:

      Yasser, whilst I may agree with some of your sentiments, I don’t think it’s fair of you to imply that British policy supports the Gaza siege or flotilla attack.

      Our Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, has spoken very strongly against the blockade:

      Whilst there are undoubtedly supporters of these policies in the UK (in almost all countries), I truly believe the vast majority of Brits are against the Israeli’s Zionist extremist policies, yet equally against Hamas launching of missiles into Israeli settlements.

  10. Absolute Observer Says:

    I oppose all chanting of “death to the Arabs” unconditionally and without reservation. I don’t care whether it is said by one person, 20 people, a 1000 people or 10000, nor do I care whether it is said by a Jew of whatever nationality, an Israeli, a French person, an Iranian or a Brit. It is racist and at the very least an incitement to hatred. Nothing whatsoever, and I mean, nothing whatsoever, excuses or justifies it.

    I trust I have made myself clear.

  11. Yasser Says:

    Brian: as you requested few dates for killing arabs with impunity: 1982, 2006, 2009. I should mention that this was with the full support of zionist british some of whom are your friends who write here.

    what would this website say if the turkish army killed 10 ashkenazis from israel on a boat outside the territorial waters of turkey while using helicopters? any chance that many here would call it antisemitism? (Yes). But when it comes to non-jewish semites who are killed you, as a zionist, stright away move to defend the killers and do all you can to find excuses for them. i still didn’t read here any human thing said about the non-jeiwsh dead.

    shame on you who support those who dispossed my family and robbed our land with impunity. shame on you that you as a british jew have more rights than i do on MY OWN land and you don’t even have the courge or dignity to say how wrong, criminal and insane it is. you only provide justification for the killers

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      “shame on you” etc

      Are you trying to import the Middle East conflict into Britain, Yasser, and implicate British Jews? That would be very wrong of you, and part of the reason this site exists.

      Yasser, this is the last time you are going to get through moderation if you irrationally continue to claim that the only reason we don’t leap to condemn the Israeli soldiers is because we are Jewish and the dead were “non-Jewish semites”. It was frantic on the deck and nobody who wasn’t there knows for sure what happened. So it needs investigating.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Actually, Yasser, I asked for evidence, not random dates, to support your claim (assertion) that ““Therefore it OK for Zionist Jews and their supporters in Britian to killed us with impunity.”

        I specifically asked for evidence that people in Britain had killed “us” with impunity.
        Either produce proper evidence or go away – better yet, with an apology for trying to introduce lies into these columns. I suspect that you have no evidence of British killing of Palestinians with or without impunity.

        Remember, it’s _you_ who introduced the topic, therefore it is for _you_ to produce the evidence, not for me to disprove you. If your first sentence in the post below is for real, then I will take your “k i will stop.” aas an admission that you got it wrong, very wrong.

    • zkharya Says:

      ‘what would this website say if the turkish army killed 10 ashkenazis from israel on a boat outside the territorial waters of turkey while using helicopters?’

      It effectively is: it is attempting to faciliate a government-state dedicated to eternal jihad until the extinction of any kind of Israel importing whatsoever it wants to that end.

      Turkey is at war with Israel.

      Meanwhile Turkish Jews have to condemn the ‘massacre’, lest they invite one of their own, and an open Turk in Israel is a lot safer than an open Israeli Jew in Turkey:


  12. Yasser Says:

    mira: why are yo affraid of debate? ok i will stop. j

    ust for mr absolut obserber who answered politely to me. tha’s what those who are supposed to stay in israel (and not go to poland and america as the old lady suggested) are doing to a member of a non-jewish minority in their society and kanesset. the attacks came from the right and the “left” (and many of the mks attacking are indeed from europe and america:

    • Gil Says:

      Yasser, shame on you for attacking Israel where Knesset Members can actively campaign against the country they reside in and abuse their diplomatic passports. Does this exist in Arab countries, Yasser?
      Shame on you for not condemning the cries of ‘death to the Jews’ heard all over the Muslim world. I deplore cries of ‘death to the Arabs’ but as long as people like you bury their heads in the sand about the antisemitism (Judeophobia) in Arab countries, there will never be peace.

  13. Absolute Observer Says:

    Normally I refuse to engage with those who talk about Jews not caring about non-Jewish deaths and that Jews cream antisemitism whenever Israel is involved (indeed, I do not recall one comment on the Flotilla accusing those who have jumped to the worst conclusions about Israeli actions of “antisemitism”.
    Be that as it may,
    It is a common phenomenon that at times of international and intra-national crisis, that an unreflective nationalism raises its ugly head. We see this in Turkey, we see this in the UK, in the USA, and Kuwait (where the Palestinains suffered horribly during the first Iraq war) and elsewhere. It is also the case that sometimes the venom of nationalism spits on minorities within those society’s.
    It is ugly and needs and should be condemned in Israel and elsewhere.
    However, to believe that such outburusts is unqique to Israel, that somehow Israeli nationalism is different from all the other nationalisms of the world is an overt misrepresentation; and does not help in the slightest.

  14. Absolute Observer Says:

    I would hardly argue that MK Zoabi is “actively campaign[ing] against the country they reside”

    First, she is not “residing” in Israel. She is a citizen of Israel and a duly elected MK of Israel. As such, and according to the Parliamentary rules, she is free to say what she wants. People may not like what she says or agree with what she says, but that is not the issue.

    I must admit, living through the war in Ireland, wars in the Falklands and Iraq, I spent many a day dreaming of someone like MK Zoabi having the intergity and bravery to stand up and say what no-one else would say and no-one apparently wanting to hear.

    I think it is sad that the Israeli right and those carried away with nationalist fervour at this time accuse her of what amounts to treason, rather than listening to what she says and discussing what she says.

    And, as we know from the recent treatment of the NIF in the wake of the Goldstone Report, this knee jerk reaction to anything and anyone that doesn’t tow the line of the right is becoming the right’s preferred response. Again, the Israeli right is not unique in this; nor is the challenge to it from people with clearer heads.

    So, all I would say to MK Zoabi is you just keep saying what you want to say. It can’t be easy.

    • Gil Says:

      AO, I wasn’t referring to MK Zoabi. For the record, I abhor the scenes in the Knesset following her speech. I was referring to MK Azmi Bashara – this is not the place to go into what he did. Other Arab MKs make very inflammatory speeches instead of trying to serve as a bridge between the two communities. This is deplorable.

      Israeli Arab MKs are active participants on talk shows and interview programs-as they should be. So there is no shortage of opportunities to debate and engage with them.

  15. Alex Says:

    First, I’d like to join with AO, Mira et al and condemn “Death to…” chants against any group.

    AO: As I understand it, the accusations of treason relate to her involvement in the attempt to break the blockade (which, while IANAL, I think legally constitutes giving assistance to the enemy, but if I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected), rather than anything she happened to say.

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