Ben Gidley – who are the English Defence League?

The previous post describes Naomi Chazan’s efforts to bolster a politics of inclusion against the waxing defencism of Israel’s political right and the exclusions it purports to justify.

This substantial piece from Ben Gidley on the Dissent blog Arguing the World, linked from our previous EDL post but deserving a post of its own, brings this endeavour to Britain’s backyard. The piece begins by examining the EDL’s ‘suited’ and ‘booted’ members respectively, proceeds to discuss what feeds the EDL and how it might best be categorised within British politics, and concludes by considering what impact it might have should it become electorally oriented, and how to respond to it in the long-term:

“I genuinely have no suggestions then about the best way to respond to the EDL in the short term, but the nature of the EDL seems to me to have clear implications about how to defeat them in the long term.  In the long term, we need a politics that mounts a robust defense of the best elements of the Western enlightenment tradition against the genuine threat posed by Islamism. If we leave this defense to arch-reactionaries, we’ve failed in advance. One aspect of this is surely to engage with those forces within the communities targeted by the EDL who also care about Western democratic values, which is why campaigns like One Law for All and grassroots organizations like Southall Black Sisters are so important.

Second, we need to foster an ethics of hospitality and solidarity, so that the communities which the EDL seeks to inflame and divide are immunized against their provocations. This means we need to actually make the arguments for the value of immigration, cultural diversity, and religious tolerance. Since 2001 we have generally failed in this. Within Guardian-reading enclaves these values are just taken for granted, while in local and national politics the mainstream Left has been reticent about defending them to the point of silence. The absence of a debate has enabled the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim Right to dominate the discourse while claiming an underdog status in relation to the liberal elite. People who are concerned about the impact of migration in their areas or about the threat Islam might pose are made to feel vaguely ashamed (as with Gillian Duffy, confronted with the prime minister calling her a bigot), but the counter-arguments are simply not articulated. The moment to articulate them is now long overdue.”

An important read.

Naomi Chazan: “Israel’s democracy is Israel’s soul”

This is a guest post by Kubbeh.

Leading Israeli academic, peace activist and president of the New Israel Fund (NIF), Naomi Chazan, was in the UK earlier this month, talking to the Jewish community about her hopes and fears for Israel’s democracy. We’ve all heard the statement that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It may not be perfect (where is?), but it is true. The citizens of Egypt, Jordan, Gaza, Syria, Iran and elsewhere would all benefit from a good dose of democracy – particularly women, Christians, gay men and women, journalists and political dissidents.

Speaking earlier this month to a capacity crowd at Moishe House, a post-denominational Jewish community in west London, Chazan outlined the challenges to Israel’s democracy and what her organisation is doing about it. These reached a peak earlier this year with a well-funded smear campaign against NIF by right-wing pressure group, Im Tirtzu, which attempted to vilify Chazan and NIF as enemies of the state.

“Is there a problem [with Israel’s democracy]? Absolutely yes. Is there a hope? Equally so, she said.

For Chazan, democracy is fundamental to the existence and success of Israel as a Jewish state:

“Israel’s democracy is Israel’s soul. Without Israel’s democracy, there will be no Israel. That is because Israel’s raison d’etre, as embodied in its Declaration of Independence, will no longer exist. The source of Israel’s strength is its democracy.”

Chazan explained how the NIF has been “thrust to the centre” of guarding Israel’s democracy, a role which she sees as crucial to upholding the Zionist dream embodied by the state’s founding fathers: “Jews have the right to self-determination in two senses,” she said. “Collective self-determination, in terms of the right to create a state for the Jews; and individual self-determination, through creating a society which grants individual liberties and social justice to all of its citizens regardless of race, religion or gender.”

She also took a swipe at anti-Zionists and boycotters, many of whom she regularly meets in academic circles, who want to see Israel relegated to the dustbin of history:“I have nothing in common with people who tell me that I have no right to exist. We need to distinguish between the deniers and deligitimisers – and dissenters.”

At a time when Israel is more politically isolated and vilified than ever before and the Islamist extremists of Hamas and Hezbollah continue to stockpile weapons to use against Israeli civilians, the work of peace and civil rights movements like NIF is more vital than ever. Israelis who want to walk the path of moderation have never had it so tough. In Chazan’s words, they are “stuck between those who don’t want to hear it and those who don’t want them to exist.” If, like me, you feel confused and frustrated about how to respond to recent events in the Middle East, then supporting the New Israel Fund is a good place to start.

Vienna is different

This is a guest post by Karl Pfeifer

The city of Vienna made a promotional campaign with the slogan “Wien ist anders”, Vienna is different. And Vienna after the Second World War was different insofar as it did not call back its former Jewish citizens and it also tolerated anti-Semitism in politics and the media for several decades.

After the publication of Carl Schorske’s book “Fin de siècle in Vienna” the city of Vienna discovered that the world wanted to know more about the blooming of culture in Vienna and about those Jews who contributed to it. Since then the city of Vienna has a Jewish Museum and Michael Häupl, the Social democratic mayor of Vienna condemned the anti-Semitic election campaign in 2001 by the FPÖ of Jörg Haider.

Therefore it was a surprise to the Jewish community when the Vienna City Council (Wiener Gemeinderat) voted unanimously on an anti-Israeli resolution initiated by Omar al Rawi, a Social democratic member of city council.

Erwin Javor and Peter Menasse of the Jewish periodical “Nu” sent three letters to Godwin Schuster, the Social democratic President of the Council. They received no answer.

The first letter:

We call upon the Vienna city council in continuation of its foreign policy activities and in line with its unanimous Resolution of May 31, 2010 condemning Israel to consider the following resolution:
“The world has learnt with shock and horror about the massacre of the Uzbek Minority in Kyrgyzstan where at least 124 victims lost their life. The Viennese city council condemns this brutal behaviour against peaceful people.”
Kindly transmit this demand to the members of Vienna city council
With best regards
Erwin Javor, Publisher NU
Peter Menasse, editor NU

Second letter:

Regarding the new foreign policy engagement of the Viennese City Council we propose the following resolution:
“The world has learnt with shock and horror the news of the execution of the Sunnite leader Abdolmalek Rigi in an Iranian jail. The City Council of Vienna condemns this brutal behaviour against dissenters.”
We take note of the fact that our draft resolution sent to you several days ago concerning the massacre of the Uzbek Minority in Kyrgyzstan has apparently not been dealt with.
However we hope that the foreign policy engagement of the City Council of Vienna will not be restricted exclusively to the condemnation of the State of Israel. If so, we would be interested to know the reasons.
Hoping for an answer now.

The third letter:

Today we send a further proposal for a resolution by the City Council of Vienna. Concerning recent foreign policy engagement of this board we propose the following resolution:
“According to the umbrella organization of Kurdish Associations in Austria Kurds are terrorised in Turkey by its Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said that Kurds would ‘drown in their own blood’. The City Council of Vienna expresses its consternation and calls upon the Turkish government to grant the Kurdish population full minority rights.”
We would like remind you that we still have received no answer to our two previous suggestions for foreign policy resolutions. Is only Israel attracting the attention of Vienna City council? How does it come to this peculiar and so far unique distinction by the City council?
Still waiting for your answer
With best regards etc.

Foreign people should consider the slogan “Vienna is different” as a dangerous threat. And you can inform the president of Vienna City Council G. Schuster : godwin.schuster@spw.at that anti-Semitism manifests itself by applying one standard to the State of Israel and another to the behaviour of any other nation.

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