… It was these myths which effectively licensed Oliver Stone’s remarks. If there is a lesson to be drawn from L’Affaire Stone, it is that he did not – and this is why his apology is really by the by – act alone.
Howard Jacobson writes in the Jewish Chronicle:
Every other Wednesday, except for festivals and High Holy-days, an anti-Zionist group called ASHamed Jews meets in an upstairs room in the Groucho Club in Soho to dissociate itself from Israel, urge the boycotting of Israeli goods, and otherwise demonstrate a humanity in which they consider Jews who are not ASHamed to be deficient. ASHamed Jews came about as a consequence of the famous Jewish media philosopher Sam Finkler’s avowal of his own shame on Desert Island Discs.
“My Jewishness has always been a source of pride and solace to me,” he told Radio Four’s listeners, not quite candidly, “but in the matter of the dispossession of the Palestinians I am, as a Jew, profoundly ashamed.”
“Profoundly self-regarding,” you mean, was his wife’s response. But then she wasn’t Jewish and so couldn’t understand just how ashamed in his Jewishness an ashamed Jew could be.
That I know of, there is no Jewish media philosopher named Sam Finkler nor any anti-Zionist group meeting regularly at the Groucho Club. They exist only in the pages of my new novel, The Finkler Question, and any relation between them and real people or organisations is of course coincidental.
For many Jews and non-Jews in this country, Israel has become a figure of speech
Though the ASHamed Jews are a satiric invention, my novel is not primarily a satire. It is a bleak tale of love and loyalty and the loss of both. It tells of three men, old friends, two of whom have recently lost their wives, and a third who has no wife to lose.
The widowers are Jewish, the third man is not. But he would like to be. He envies his Jewish friends their warmth, their cleverness, the love they have inspired, and even their bereavement.
It is a bitter irony that he protests his admiration for all things Jewish just as many Jews are protesting their desire not to be Jewish at all. As the rats desert the sinking ship, he alone – it might appear – is left to clamber aboard.
The ostensible cause of these defections is, of course, Israel. Not the actual Israel. For the purposes of my narrative, Israel exists only poetically, in the imaginations of those who cannot adequately describe themselves without it.
I happen to think this is largely true outside my novel as well: that Israel performs a function greater than itself, enabling or disabling ideas about belonging and disengagement, fanning the flames of ancient allegiances and animosities. For many Jews and non-Jews in this country Israel has become a figure of speech, the occasion for wild and whirling words, a pretext for bottling up or setting loose emotions which originate somewhere else entirely.
I began writing the The Finkler Question in 2008 but it came to the boil for me in the early months of 2009 at the time of Operation Cast Lead, as a consequence of which, or as a consequence of the reporting of which – for it, too, like everything else to do with Israel outside Israel, was figmentary – England turned into an uncustomarily frightening place for Jews.
I am not speaking only of the physical threats and even damage that some Jews endured, attacks on persons, synagogues, cemeteries, the Jew-hatred expressed by primary school children etc, but of that anti-Zionist rhetoric which, in its inflatedness and fervour – a rhapsodic hyperbole growing more and more detached from any conceivable reality – was so upsetting in itself.
You do not have to be punched in the face to feel you’ve been assaulted: intellectual violence is its own affront.
The mood of those months inevitably found its way into my novel. I wanted to record what it was like being Jewish in this country then, when it seemed reasonable to ask whether loathing of Israel would spill into loathing of Jews – such a thing is not beyond the bounds of possibility – and whether a new Kristallnacht was in the offing.
Since many German Jews doubted they were in serious danger in the 1930s, how wise would it be of us to doubt we were in danger now? Ah yes, we told one another, but England is not Germany. The only trouble with that consolation being that, in the 1930s, German Jews didn’t think Germany was Germany either.
There was, as there remains, a chorus of jeering Jewish voices warning against crying wolf. There is no antisemitism to speak of in this country, they say, but if we continue to go on about it. . . A fatuously contradictory precaution, since if antisemitism can be roused from its slumbers merely by our going on about it, then its sleep cannot be that deep.
Let’s get something out of the way. I don’t think that being critical of Israel makes anyone an antisemite. Only a fool would think it does.
But only a fool would think it follows that criticism of Israel can never be antisemitic, or that anti-Zionism isn’t a haven in which antisemitism is sometimes given leave to flourish.
In some cases, the antisemitism to which anti-Zionism gives succour is inadvertent. I’d be surprised if Caryl Churchill, author of that odious piece of propaganda, Seven Jewish Children, turned out to be antisemitic in her person. But language has a mind of its own, and sanctimoniousness is catching.
In its unquestioning affiliations, her poisoned playlet snagged on every cliché in the anti-Zionist commonplace book and came up with a medieval version of the blood-sucking Jew whom she claims -and I believe her – it was never her intention to portray.
If her play was a sin against art and history, her greater, person-to-person crime was not to see, after the event, what she had done.
She was the victim, she asserted, of the usual dishonest strategy of accusing anyone of antisemitism who “dares” (as though it takes heroism) to say a word against Israel.
We know this assertion of victimhood well. It is a despicably dishonest strategy in itself, self-aggrandising, delusional, and not without a trace of the very antisemitism it disowns in that it assumes hysteria and malice on the part of every Jew who voices an anxiety. By claiming to be a persecuted minority, vilified by Jews shouting “Antisemite!”, those to whom anti-Zionism is bread and drink seek to exempt themselves from fair criticism.
Indeed, by the sophistry of their reasoning, there is no fair criticism of what they say because every one who argues against them must, ipso facto, be a Jew with a Zionist axe to grind. Thus do those who cry “Blackmail” become blackmailers themselves. Thus do they erect a wall of inviolability around their every expression of anti-Zionism, and thus do they think themselves exonerated of all possible charges of antisemitism, since those who do the charging, they assert, have antisemitism on the brain.
When it comes to Jewish anti-Zionists, their Jew-hatred is barely disguised, not in what they say about Israel but in the contempt they show for the motives and feelings of fellow-Jews who do not think as they do. There is, of course, nothing new in such schismatics; Jews have been railing against one another and indeed against Judaism from its inception. It was a Jew who invented Christianity.
Monotheism probably explains this enthusiasm for dissent. The Jewish God demands a oneness it can feel like a positive duty to refuse. It might even be to our greater glory that we splinter with such regularity and glee. In our variousness is our strength.
But then let’s call the thing that drives us by its proper name. Hiding behind Israel is a cowardly way for a Jew to express his anti-Jewishness. That half the time he is battling his psychic daddy and not his psychic homeland I don’t doubt, though I accept that, in political discourse, we have to pretend that what we are talking about is what we are taking about.
But here is the beauty of being a novelist —- I can have fun ascribing pathology to whom I like. I know what’s really bothering them. They are my creations, after all.
Howard Jacobson’s ‘The Finkler Question’ has been included on the 2010 Man Booker longlist.
Hirsh on the ASHamed Jews, or ‘new conservatives’, click here (some of the links don’t work any more).
UK Prime Minister David Cameron:
“The situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”
Is David Cameron in favour of the free flow of goods and people from Gaza only into Israel or is he also in favour of a free flow of goods and people from Gaza into the UK?
Is he also in favour of a free flow of goods and people from Afghanistan into the UK or from Iraq into the UK?
The Guardian reports his words complete with Livingstone Formulation:
Hansard, the House of Commons’ official record, shows Cameron said on 28 June: “Everybody knows that we are not going to sort out the problem of the Middle East peace process while there is, effectively, a giant open prison in Gaza.”
His choice of the words “prison camp” instead of “open prison” is likely to be seized upon.
The Guardian does not say who is likely to “seize upon” the difference between “open prison” and “prison camp”. The clear inference though is that Jews or the “Israel lobby” will “seize upon” the difference, saying that “prison camp” has connotations of “concentration camp” which “open prison” does not have. The inference, therefore, is that Jews or the “Israel lobby” will say that Cameron is using an antisemitic Holocaust analogy, but the term “seized upon” implies that this accusation would be made in bad faith.
The article in the Guardian does not report Cameron’s protest against the British forces who have killed civilians in Afghanistan and in Iraq, nor does it report Cameron’s criticism of Erdogan’s Turkish regime’s human rights abuses against Kurdish civilians. But both men seemed to agree over Israel.
For me, Boney M’s ‘By The Rivers Of Babylon’ has special associations with musical bumps and musical statues. For others, it has unpleasant associations with Jews.
From the Associated Press:
“Lead singer Maizie Williams said Palestinian concert organizers told her not to sing “Rivers of Babylon.” The song’s chorus quotes from the Book of Psalms, referring to the exiled Jewish people’s yearning to return to the biblical land of Israel.
Palestinians often question the Jewish historical connection to the Holy Land. Organizers said they asked for the song to be skipped, deeming it “inappropriate.””
Yeah that’s right, weird Stalinist Palestinian concert organisers – fingers in ears, sing “La la la” and maybe those Jews will just go away.
An innocent ’70s hit which offends only hateful repressive morons whose rejection of any Jewish connection to the land of Israel eclipses just about everything else – censored. Which is symptomatic of a wider problem in some sections of Palestinian society (including Iman Hamouri of the Popular Art Center, apparently) of rejectionism, not only of Israel but of Jews who want to be close to holy sites in the Middle East.
And it does make you realise that, despite the pressures boycotters pile on artists, there doesn’t seem to be any much corresponding censorship at Israeli gigs. Jonny Rotten claims free rein to make his trouble musically.
I get the impression Boney M aren’t really into these politics but they probably need to be. I hope they perform the song anyway.
A few articles in English.
In Y-net, there’s a piece by Eli Pollack and Mordechai Kedar of Israel Academic Monitor, a site which works to expose Israeli academics it designates ‘radical’. I sympathise with the authors’ outrage at the slants and slogans embraced by some academics, and the eagerness of those academics to sacrifice their colleagues’ international connections. However, their own site is high on names and thin on commentary, presenting events and quotations as if they were de facto evidence of anti-Israel activity. It functions, and backfires, as a kind of blacklist. Moreover, I can’t envisage what their ultimate call for “a committee that would set ethical rules for non-academic activity in order to protect academic freedom against misuse” would look like in my own institution, which actively brands itself radical and recognises many diverse forms of research and research output, including event, social activism or artefact, alongside field work, desk work, paper and book. I think such a committee would be both laughed at and resented, easily roped into some kind of language game. In stable democracies it’s hard enough to laugh and reach cybernetic accommodations; you can only imagine how recent government moves into Israeli academia have been received there in these political times.
Elsewhere, in Haaretz, Tel Aviv University professor of constitutional law, Asher Maoz takes a more sober look at distinctions between freedom of speech and academic freedom:
“A university lecturer calls the naval commandos who raided the Mavi Marmara cold-blooded murderers. Another lecturer refuses to permit a student returning from reserve duty to enter the classroom in uniform. A third tells his students that he does not believe reserve duty in the territories justifies absence from class – but he is prepared to excuse the absence of students who attend a protest at a checkpoint.
Yet another lecturer calls for a boycott of Israel because of the occupation. His colleague calls for an academic boycott of Israeli universities, including the one that employs him. Another lecturer’s students claim he silences them when they disagree with him.
Or the details could be changed: Perhaps one lecturer calls soldiers who evacuate settlers “Nazis.” Another forbids a Muslim student from entering the classroom because she is wearing a veil. A third gives no special consideration to a student called up for reserve duty to evacuate a settlement outpost, but does so for a student who is absent because he went to help thwart an evacuation. And a fourth calls for a boycott on Israel or its universities because the “treasonous” government is prepared to give up parts of the homeland.”
This interesting as-a-Jew piece in Ynet by Sarah Reef (not an Israeli academic) is worth linking to again.
Received by email, this may be of interest to those of our readers who identify as Jewish, Muslim or Christian.
St Ethelburga’s is recruiting a group of Jews, Christians and Muslims to undergo an innovative process of co-operative inquiry exploring the Israel Palestine issue. The group will spend a weekend away together in October, followed by an 8 day study and encounter tour of the Holy Land in November. Followed by futher meetings to reflect on learning.
The programme will adopt the co-operative inquiry approach, which is a reflective action research model in which participants set an agenda and inquire together into a key research question. The question in this programme will be focused on how to create productive dialogue around the highly divisive and polarising issue of the Middle East.
Our intention is to select a very diverse group of individuals, reflecting as wide as possible a range of perspectives, who have a strong connection to the issue as well as an interest dialogue processes. We will fund air fares and hotels for successful applicants.
This is a very special opportunity to undergo an intensive learning experience with a diverse group.
Application forms and background information can be found at http://stethelburgas.org/israel-palestine-inquiry
Applications need to be with us by 30 August and selection and interviews will be in the second week in September.
Please forward this email on to anyone you think would be interested.
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Interfaith Projects Co-ordinator
St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation & Peace