In a quandry about relating to Israel

The debate about how Jews should relate to Israel continues. I’m sure there are better responses than the one I am about to give below. I’ve only had half an eye on these debates because what I’ve read struck me as either communitarian or else to do with manicuring the self-image of the author. Since this blog is primarily concerned with antisemitic beliefs and acts, which we consider to be everybody’s problem, we (I think I can speak for all of us – let’s see) don’t feel that dwelling on the responsibilities of Jewish communities, or Jews outside communities, is right. How Jews act and think of themselves are community concerns – but these should be for their own sake, not as means of mitigating antisemitism.

However, a recent Ynet piece by Sara Reef (of whom I’ve been unaware up till now – she’s a specialist in intercultural communications with a Middle East focus, based in the US) was neither self-manicuring nor communitarian, but contemplated the problem as one of imposed spokespersonship.

Not that Sara Reef is resigned to this state of affairs, but resignation is unwise, I think. Sara lists the things that she cannot do, or isn’t expected to do, that Israeli citizens can and must, the most pertinent here being vote. It shouldn’t need pointing out that Israeli politicians who claim (and I can only half-remember one example) to act on behalf of citizens of other states, have no mandate to do so. None. Zero. No efforts at dissociation should be required. This kind of talk is a call for, rather than assertion of, Jewish solidarity. When people cite it to scrutinise ordinary Jews for dual loyalty, or the wrong loyalty, we should treat that in much the same way as we treat scrutiny of ordinary Muslims in the aftermath of terror attacks carried out in the name of Islam. That is, as wrong.

It shouldn’t need pointing out that if we begin to go along with expecting Jews outside Israel to follow Israeli politics, then this is liable – or perhaps even likely – to reveal a similar diversity of politics as there is among Israeli citizens.

It shouldn’t need pointing out that to follow Israeli politics at sufficient detail to intervene, as some have recommended, in a politically responsible way would entail a great many Jews outside Israel becoming more knowledgeable about Israeli politics than they are about the politics of their own states. That wouldn’t be good. And because it wouldn’t look good, either, Jews can’t deflect antisemitism this way.

It shouldn’t need pointing out – and this is where the conflicts Israel is embroiled in reach out, uninvited and unwelcome, to touch far-away Jews – that the concepts ‘Jew’, ‘Israeli’ and ‘Zionist’ are already permitted to slide into each other with disturbing frequency, as Sara knows herself from the encounters with her colleagues. We’ve all been there I reckon – for more ominous examples see also this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this, a small sample only. So it’s necessary to patiently explain why Jews of no official standing with respect to Israel cannot be assumed to know about Israel, and where they do, it’s a personal opinion informed by their own politics.

So do Jews have any special responsibilities with regards to Israel? I’d say that is a matter of individual conscience. Personally (and after all this, readers are entitled to wonder) I feel mine are independent of being Jewish: not to make myself, writing here, amenable to people whose Israel-eliminationist or Israel-expansionist politics I oppose; where writing about Israel, not to undermine – actively or by omission – people who are dedicating themselves to convincing Israelis and Palestinians to support civil rights and liberties for all and the circumstances which will end the occupation.

I’m equally interested in campaigning Israelis’ political responsibilities to Jews outside Israel – but that’s another story.

7 Responses to “In a quandry about relating to Israel”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    I just had a conversation with someone I know here in Israel who has just spent the last several years in a European country. On the Israeli spectrum, he’s on the extreme left. In the European country where he settled, he joined a group of radical Jews, and was several times offered a place on one of the boats that has periodically tried to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza. (He didn’t go because he said he feared what the Israeli military might do in response). One of the things that came up in our discussion was the very point of this post.

    He said that he thought the Israeli government, by its actions (against the most recent Gaza flotilla, for example) was fostering anti-semitism in the world. This made me angry, and I said that anti-semites are the ones who foster anti-semitism in the world. He replied that the Israeli government and Jewish organizations in the United States charge anyone who criticizes Israel with being an anti-semite. (I didn’t agree with this point but didn’t argue with him about it). Then he said that if, in response to some action by the Israeli government, someone who disapproved of it said “Fuck the Jews” that this really wasn’t anti-semitic, because what they were really doing was expressing their disapproval of the government. I got angrier at this point and said that as a non-Israeli Jew (I’m visiting here for about five weeks this summer), who can’t vote in Israeli elections, I am not responsible for what the Israeli government does. I should not be blamed for its actions.

    He said that in order for me not to be blamed for its actions, I should make it clear that the government did not act “in my name.” The implication seemed to me to be that if I didn’t do this, I really deserved to be subjected to people saying things like “fuck the Jews” to me whenever the Israeli government did something they didn’t like. In short, he was excusing anti-semitism when it cloaked itself in criticism of Israel.

    I found this conversation both startling and depressing. How can someone not find the statement “fuck the Jews” to be anti-semitic? How can a statement like this be mistaken for criticism of actions of a particular government? To such depths the extreme left has sunk.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      No alternative visions, no messages of hope to counteract the messages of fear, no strategy. Bitter. Happy to see his compatriots hated. What an easy victory he and those like him must be for their political opponents.

    • zkharya Says:

      ‘said “Fuck the Jews” that this really wasn’t anti-semitic, because what they were really doing was expressing their disapproval of the government.’

      This is like some Marxist Jews who said that peasant or proletarian antisemitism was simply an expression of resentment against class injustice (today he would say ‘resistance’).

      For them too, antisemitism was an expression of something deeper, for which Jews were responsible, that, if it did not legitimate it, surely excused it.

      That he could not understand that assuming diaspora Jews are ‘guilty’ until proven innocent is one of the most profound kinds of antisemitism there is. It is the most dangerous and, increasingly, the most common.

      Atzmon is another ex-Israeli who has become a ‘cultured’ European in much the same way: antisemitism is sooo in for Jewish sophisticates these days.

  2. Lynne T Says:

    It has crossed my mind recently, that what may really motivate some of the “activism tourists” who join convoys like Viva Palestina or the Free Gaza flotilla are not necessarily motivated by anti-semetism as much as they wish to validate whatever sense of victimhood they carry or simply be seen as highly moral individuals by identifying with the world’s #1 brand in “righteous oppressed” people, and, after all, they have it on the authority of Durban I and personalities such as Desmond Tutu confirming that Israel practices apartheid.

    Ask any one of them why they are so overwhelmingly concerned about the conditions of Palestinians rather than any other population under occupation, religious and gender apartheid as practiced in other countries in the same region, bona fide genocides or countries with far more egregious human rights records both domestically and across borders and they can’t give a substantive answer. They are similarly incapable of seeing a greater part of the problem being one of the miserable options Palestinians have in respect to political representation: either the ostensibly less corrupt, but extremely brutal theocratic fascists of Hamas or the more secular but corrupt and incompetent Fatah

    • zkharya Says:

      It’s a kind of faith, Lynne, a confession of identification with an absolute victim, the Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian nation, against absolute victimisers, Zionist Jews.

      It is increasingly a new form of Christianity, and for many Muslims, a new kind of Islam. It is a crusade-jihad, to liberate the holy land from its Zionist Jewish usurpers, and to restore it to its rightful Palestinian Muslim and Christian owners:

      ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’

      The Palestinian Muslim and Christian national Christ (to all intents and purposes innocent, a blameless victim) has been colonised-crucified, but will rise again, to confound his Zionist Jewish crucifiers. That is the mystery, of passion and faith, into which many of the Free Gaza-BDS movement enter, whether consciously or not.

  3. Frank Adam Says:

    There is lots of selective memory on this thread! Re-read the press files of 1947 – ’48 and note that for 6 months BEFORE UN 181 Arab politicians were declaring they would fight any partition ie two state project. So much for the sanctity of UN resolutions if the Arabs do not like them! Then re-read the press files for 1949 – 67 and note how the Palestine and other Arabs did not create their state when they could; and how they failed to take up the post war June 67 Israeli offer to return to the Green Line in return for a peace treaty! Did not even say: Thanks; but No thanks!

    Now if some cannot bear being Jewish “Naff off!” as Princess Anne put it succinctly. Meanwhile cut the tender consciences of thinking you can run a war with peace time civil police procedures. The PLO, Hamas and Hizbollah Charters and their Iranian backers have all declared they are out to destroy Israel ie they are at war with her. If Israel had wanted – or not cared about – the killing of civilians in Gaza or anywhere there would have been a lot more dead Arabs as the intensity of the wars in Iraq and elsewhere testify to the power of modern weapons used without restraint.

    The whole Palestiine lobby is the loudest sideshow on the planet and it is all displacement activity to divert eyes from misbehaviour : The Turkish invaslon and partition of Cyprus;
    the Pakistani four wars with India over Kashmir & Bangla D; the Saudi backed secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia;
    Syrian stirred civil wars in Lebanon;
    the Nasser & Syrian attempt on Jordan in Black September;
    Nasser’s 60’s adventures and 60k Egyptian deaths in Yemen
    two civil wars in Algeria – the 1st within the War of Independ
    Turkish and Iraqi massacres of the Kurds;
    Libya’s invasion of Chad ‘s Aouzou strip;
    the Arab Sudanese civil wars killing millions of South Sudanese Christians and animists – & Moslem Darfuris;
    Somalia failed state and reversion to piracy;
    Saudi clerical fascist prohibition on guest workers’ churches..
    Sunni pogroms on Christian shops in Iraq, the PA and Egypt.

    Finally compare how Michael Collins, Nehru and Ben Gurion, Pilsudski, and Masaryk all got their states up and running in months. Palestine has not only won the wooden spoon of 20th century nationalisms; it is the wooden spoon – because it is entirely negative and nihilist in wanting Israel’s end rather than building Palestine.

  4. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Frank, I agree with every word you write. I’m just a bit cobfused about the first sentence of your comment:
    “There is lots of selective memory on this thread!”

    Re-reading the comments here, plus what I know I’ve written elsewhere, I’d say that the regular “engageniks” have anything _but_ selective memories. Now, if you were referring to the likes of robert hawke in the thread above this one (or the one above _that_ one, I’d agree with you wholeheartedly re selective memory.


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