OPINION SOUP: Are Jews Ashamed of being Jewish?

Monday 25th October

Is Jewish identity in crisis? Does the prevailing world view of Israel make us feel uncomfortable, ashamed even? Does it jar with our self-image as a liberal people?

And has proving those liberal credentials to non-Jews become more important to us than identifying with the Jewish state?

British Jews who publicly oppose Israel often say they are the true upholders of the time-honoured Jewish values of social justice and compassion. Their detractors say that far from turning to their Jewish identity, they are turning against it.

And is Jewishness now always refracted through the prism of Israel, or can we be proud British Jews, irrespective of what’s happening in the most Jewish place on earth?

Join celebrated novelist and broadcaster Howard Jacobson

philosopher at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, Brian Klug

former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research Antony Lerman

award-winning journalist and commentator Melanie Phillips.

This compelling discussion will be chaired by JC editor Stephen Pollard.

After the discussion, Howard Jacobson will be signing copies of his latest novel The Finkler Question which has been shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker prize. Brian Klug will be signing copies of his book Being Jewish and Doing Justice, which comes out in October, and Melanie Phillips will be signing copies of her new book The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power.

8pm, Hampstead Town Hall, 213 Haverstock Hill, London NW3 4QP, £10 in advance, £12 on the door

To book Click here

27 Responses to “OPINION SOUP: Are Jews Ashamed of being Jewish?”

  1. N. Friedman Says:

    “Does the prevailing world view of Israel make us feel uncomfortable, ashamed even? Does it jar with our self-image as a liberal people?”

    What bizarre questions. Maybe, the question is whether the world has strayed from any semblance of holding tolerant, liberal opinions – Jews being the typical victim of such intellectual straying.

  2. Esther Says:

    It seems like someone has taken Howard Jacobson’s fictional idea (in the Finkler Question) and then completely turned it upside down. From the news today:

    “A Christian advocacy group has launched a new campaign encouraging people not to be ashamed of their faith. It is backed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.
    As part of the campaign, Christians are being encouraged to sport a “Not Ashamed” logo on December 1st, which has been dubbed Not Ashamed Day. “

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      I can understand why these questions are being asked. Remember when Jeremy Paxman asked Blair if he and Bush prayed together? Remember Blair’s facial expression and body movements in the succeeding moments, as well as his verbal response? And only the other day, this interesting comment from John le Carré (Democracy Now! 20-9-2010):

      “[I] was invited by The Guardian newspaper to interview him. And after much thought, I declined … [but] I think I would have asked him one question, perhaps, and I’d have asked it repeatedly. I’d have asked him about his faith, because we were told, when journalists asked about Blair’s faith, the reply was, “We don’t do God here”. Well, of course, he does do God, and he reports that his actions have been put before God and confirmed, as if somehow God has signed a chit for him. I think that the question of somebody’s religious faith is absolutely central to what we think of them, if we are members of the electorate. We have to know. …”

      And the spate of books — Dawkins, (Chr) Hitchens, (Sam) Harris, Dennett (and currently the flash Darrel Ray clambering on the bandwagon), not to mention the TV spinoffs.

      With reference to the adjective ‘uncomfortable’, I have many times been made to feel extremely uncomfortable (at best) by the way, the manner, style, tone of voice in which Israel and Jews are discussed — both in public places and in private.

      I don’t find it ‘bizarre’ to raise and think about these questions, and I can understand why some people might prefer to remain discreet about their religious beliefs (of whatever denomination). After all, they’ve been told often enough that such beliefs betoken a ‘primitive’ mentality, that they represent “the pre-scientific, rudimentary metaphysics of our forefathers” — first Letter, http://bit.ly/cGSTA4 — : why wouldn’t someone not come along in light of all that saying ‘Don’t let anyone try to bully you into feeling ashamed of what you believe, especially if that belief in something larger than yourself gives you an inner resource to draw strength from’?

      • David D. Says:


        You seem to read the topic entirely as a question of “belief”, i.e. of conventional religion, which I think is a mistake. The tables have turned. It is the as-a-Jews who have suddenly discovered the “moral inheritance” of Judaism in their war against Israel, not the ordinary, everyday-liberal, largely secular — ethnic — Jews. The hard-left “asa” Jews now march at the head of the “We are all Hezbollah” demonstrations arm-in-arm with Islamists and the Neturei Karta. Their own religions (Bundism, Communism, Trotskyism, etc) failed last century and they have now converted to anti-Zionism. They are very proud to be “ashamed of being Jews”.

        • Brian Robinson Says:

          Thank you David.

          I’m glad you mentioned the “as a Jew” controversy because I’ve never quite understood what is wrong with it in any context that I’ve seen its use criticised.

          I shall give a few examples to illustrate my problem.

          On Sunday 23 July 2006, while the Israel-Hezbollah War was raging in Lebanon (and northern Israel), at the Solidarity Rally for Israel (at JFS in Kenton, London), the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks gave a speech during which he said:

          “Today we stand in solidarity with Israel, and rarely have I felt so proud of Anglo-Jewry as I have done these past few days. Especially of our young people. Last week 1300 of them, from youth groups right across the religious spectrum, went out to Israel. Every one of them, or their families, might have said, ‘No, not now. It’s too dangerous.’ Yet almost none of them did. I want to say to every one of those young people: Kol hakavod. You make us proud.

          “And today I want a message to go forth from us to Israel to say: Israel, you make us proud. …”

          Of course he also said, and I want to emphasise this, “Which of us does not weep when we see the news day after day? Does any of us, God forbid, take satisfaction at the devastation of Lebanon? Is that who we are? Let me be clear and unambiguous. We weep not just for Israel but for the people of Lebanon also. …” But it’s the “Israel, you make us proud” that brought a number of people up short (I shall pick up this thread later).

          (Read the whole speech here http://tinyurl.com/6jdjfv )

          Dr Brian Klug has written, 5 Feb 2007, — http://bit.ly/bGcNgZ — “No one has the authority to speak for the Jewish people. Yet during Israel’s war with Lebanon last summer, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, told an American audience: “I believe that this is a war that is fought by all the Jews”. His belief is not based on evidence: it is an article of faith, a corollary of the doctrine that Israel represents Jewry as a whole – in Britain included”.

          Some Israeli prime ministers and senior politicians have often given many people the impression that they spoke on behalf of all Jews everywhere, not simply for Israeli Jews.

          The Board of Deputies here calls itself “the chief voice of British Jewry”. The BoD indeed organised the Rally in support of Israel cited above, which according to the BBC “featured singing, chanting and Jewish prayers” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5206954.stm

          Please don’t misunderstand me. There’s a perfectly legitimate case for the Chief Rabbi, for the BoD, the Zionist Federation to support Israel, especially during times of heightened threat against it. Such expressions of apparently unconditional support would be shared, endorsed, echoed widely throughout the Jewish community, and by no means only in the UK — indeed probably by a large majority of Jews everywhere. But here’s the point: by no means by all Jews.

          I think it might be misleading to say, as is sometimes said (e.g. by Klug in the piece cited above) that the Jewish community is ‘split’. The word ‘split’ might be taken to imply some sort of even balance in terms of numbers which almost certainly does not exist. But there are alternative views, the community is no more monolithic than other comparable groups, there are completely valid, authentic, ethically principled justifications for dissent.

          Some Jews may indeed, as I think you imply, be disingenuously and opportunistically pretending to a respect for Halakha that they don’t have. But I know from my personal acquaintance that this is by no means true of all. I am not here talking about that other group you mention, the disappointed for whom one god or another has failed and now find their self-esteem rescued, albeit self-deceptively, by a malignant anti-Zionism.

          I also think it is totally fair to criticise any Jews who have unthinkingly or misguidedly marched alongside banners proclaiming “We are all Hezbollah” — I have made those criticisms myself, publicly and privately — and the banners, along with the shouted slogans and the rants of hatred from the stage are the chief reasons why I myself stopped taking part in those so-called pro-Palestinian demonstrations (they are all examples of when, and why, it is perfectly correct to use the term ‘anti-Israeli’ and not ‘pro-Palestinian’: indeed, often ‘anti-Israeli’ would not be accurate enough).

          But I believe we must respect those Jews who could not feel pride in the excesses of the IDF in Lebanon and more recently in Gaza, who are profoundly saddened, distraught really, at so many of the things our Israeli co-religionists are doing — often avowedly “in our name” — to Palestinians, everyone on this discussion forum knows what I’m referring to, there’s no need to enumerate them in detail again (the continued settlement building, the annexation of East Jerusalem, the house demolitions, and so on, you don’t need the whole list, the measures that are not imperative for legitimate security reasons).

          All of which leads me to my main point, which is really a question (and I’m not here being ironic or sarcastic or disingenuous myself, I really am seeking an explanation). If I don’t agree — with reference to the Israel-Palestine conflict — with Sir Jonathan, with the BoD, the ZiFed, Bicom and so on, and I wish to give expression to that disagreement, then what, really, is wrong with my doing so “as a Jew”? I am expressing dissent. Yes, for sure, I could put exactly the same arguments with logically as much (or as little) force without being “an anything”, or I could say “as a humanist” or simply “as a human being”. People would read, say, my letter to the papers, and would either agree or disagree on the merits or otherwise of the case I put.

          But doesn’t it add something useful if I indicate that these are the views of a Jewish person who dissents in a number of particulars from the official view as promulgated by the various establishment voices of Judaism and official Jewish representative organisations?

          The negative view, as I understand it, is that in some way the “as a Jew” phrase is employed to ingratiate the writer with liberal gentiles, or to demonstrate identification with “the comrades”, or still more basely as a sort of would-be appeasement of real or imagined aggressors, especially antisemitic ones, as if to say, “Oh please, not me, please don’t think I’m one of those awful Zionist Jews, no, I think just as you do on this matter”. Well, maybe there often is much truth in those interpretations. But always? Every time?

          Isn’t my non-pejorative interpretation valid at least sometimes? The establishment line seems, to many, much of the time, whether fairly or not, to be uncritically supportive of Israel right or wrong. You can want to see a safe, admirable, honourable, moral Israel, one that could show for example Britain, America and the rest of them a thing or two in terms of respect for human rights, you can want to be a real Jewish friend to Israel whilst feeling that some of her friends are not telling her the things she needs to hear.

          Compare what Johann Hari in today’s Independent quotes Gideon Levy telling him towards the end of their long interview:

          ‘He appeals to anybody who is sincerely concerned about Israel’s safety and security to join him in telling Israelis the truth in plain language. “A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. Today, only those who speak up against Israel’s policies – who denounce the occupation, the blockade, and the war – are the nation’s true friends.” The people who defend Israel’s current course are “betraying the country” by encouraging it on “the path to disaster”.’ http://bit.ly/bL6YDF

  3. Mitnaged Says:

    I am put off by the generalisation in the title. There can be little doubt that some Jews are not proud of their Jewishness – I remember Miriam Margolis on Desert Island Discs, shamelessly plugging IJV and pronouncing that she was “an ashamed Jew.”

  4. NicoleS Says:

    What is the name of the event? I’d like to be sure I’m booking the right one.

  5. Bella Says:

    No doubt some ASA Jews are engaged as Jews in, and have had ties to, some aspect of Jewish communal life. In my mind, they are at least authentic in speaking as Jews on political matters. However, when the likes of Harold Pinter, Alexai Sayle, Stephen Fry etal suddenly pull out their unused Jewish cards to castigate the ‘official’ Jewish community, they are, in my mind, completely inauthentic and actually quite harmful. Put another way: many have suddenly ‘discovered’ their Jewishness in order to bash Israel and should realize that they are merely useful idiots in the on-going delegitimization campaign.

    • David Hirsh Says:

      Authentic and inauthentic Jews?
      What a load of rubbish.

      • Bella Says:

        You know very well that to speak ASA Jew lends more weight to one’s desire to rubbish Israel than to speak as a ‘neutral’ observer. If you have never identified as a Jew, never engaged in any Jewish practices — holidays for example — never concerned yourself with any other aspect of your Halachic Jewish origins and suddenly started quoting Hillel to me in order to express your vehement distaste for Israel, then, to my mind, you are being inauthentic (insincere, disingenuous.) Example of the type: the ‘great’ Eric Hobsbaum, signer of the IJV petition, chose Shlomo Sand’s book as his 2010 Book of the Year, “… The Invention of the Jewish People is both a welcome and, in the case of Israel, much needed exercise in the dismantling of nationalist historical myth…” Seems to me, if Jewishness is an invention, why is he speaking ASA Jew? You can’t have it both ways.

        • David Hirsh Says:

          Yes, it is a worry when people who 20 years ago would have kept really quiet start on about Jewish ethics, and the true meaning of passover.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      This used to worry me a lot, i.e. is one, as it were, disqualified from discussing Israeli politics, or the Israel-Palestine conflict, if one isn’t a paid-up synagogue member, doesn’t pray, keep kosher, keep Shabbat or even participate in Jewish communal (secular) events, and so on? I remember reading a piece in the JC somewhat long the lines of Bella’s comment (sorry I don’t have a link) — shortly after one of the paid-for adverts in, I think, the Times appeared, in which a number of Jews signed a statement opposing Israeli policies e.g. in the West Bank. (I was one of the signatories.)

      Two different JfJfP signatories pointed out to me at the time that if had the right to live in Israel (Right of Return) then I had the right to comment on Israel, and that the JC et al don’t object if a long-lost prodigal son returns to the fold supporting Israel.

      I’ve just got word of this — http://jewishboattogaza.org/ — it’s being called “Jewish Boat” and has just set sail. I have to say I just love the photo http://bit.ly/aXP4Th

      Not exactly a gang of swivel-eyed Hashshashin. But what will Israel do about them?

      • David Hirsh Says:

        “asa Jew” is the same rubbish as “authentic Jews”

        Just say what you think. It is just absurd conceit to think that what you say has more or less weight because of who you are.

  6. NicoleS Says:

    Sorry, I’ve got it now: Opinion Soup.

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    With all due respect to Brian’s comments and reflections,
    the term “as a Jew” is utterly meaningless.

    Forget for the moment that people with completely opposing points of view can all speak “as a Jew”. Forget also, that some in positions of power (communal or Israeli) claim to speak for all Jews (after all, the Pope claims to speak for all Catholics, but no-one – other than anti-Catholics – believes he really does.)

    Likewise for Jews.
    “As a Jew” at the very least, goes some way to legitimising the notions of “collective responsibility” (and “collective guilt”) in that, it assumes that what one Jew says of another is true unless that other Jew “speaks out”. Guilt by association; precisely that which is used to hassle and harass Muslims in the wake of acts of political terror. And, something that I am sure all of us here opposes.

    So, leaving that aside, it is a meaningless because,
    1. On its own, it is empty as a descriptive term and an analytic term. The concept of “Jew” here assumes an exhaustive description or “essence”; one that leaves no space for any other development of one’s thoughts (on Israel or elsewhere); i.e. that someone was brought up in the UK, the US, the SU, Israel, Syria, Egypt, etc. Or, that one – for a millions of reasons – is a socialist, communist, conservative, liberal, etc..
    I recall a wonderful answer when a Jewish person was asked why he was not a member of IJV; does he not believe in human rights, in a just solution to the I/P conflict, etc.
    He answered that of course he agreed with all that. The problem, he said, was that he did not consider himself anywhere “Jewish enough”!

    2. “As a Jew” “essentialises” Jews, Judaism and Jewishness. It reduces the complexity of “identity” to a single determining cause. As such, it implies, at the very least, that one views matters of Israel and Palestine through the prism of one’s “Jewishness” or “Judaism”. It assumes that one “Jewishness” determines one’s views on Israel and Palestine. Practically, “as a Jew” is believed to carry more legitimacy or authority than if one does not speak “as a Jew” or, indeed, than if a non-Jew is speaking.

    It is an articulation of a species of racism; that somehow Jews (whether coming from Sachs, Rose or Klug). have special insight into Israel that non-Jews lack as opposed to different views, views that anyone else (non-Jews) can have.

    3. In so doing, it serves to make of the political divisions both within Israel and in Israel’s relationship to Palestinians a “personal” matter; a Jewish matter (or, what is worse, of playing into those forces of reaction who frame this political matter into an eschatological conflict between Jews and Muslims).

    In short, the concept “as a Jew” buys into an entire mythology that is built up around Israel and Palestine by both unswerving supporters and its implacable critics (the old-fashioned idea of Israel as a pioneer country whose chuzpah is to be respected or the newer idea of Israel as colonial power driven by some “Jewish” or “Zionist” force that separates Israel from all other of the 200 or so countries of the world.)

    From my point of view, it is only by refusing to play the “as a Jew” game, that one can gain a rational understanding of the current situation in Israel and Palestine for what it is – a nasty political mess that, as with all political messes can be solved in any number of normal political ways.

    One need only recall the arguments around Jewish emancipation in the mid 19th century.
    For the anti-emancipationists (Jewish and non-Jewish) there was something special about Jews and Judaism that meant they should not be emancipated.
    For many emancipationists (Jewish and non-Jewish) there was something special about Jews that meant they “deserved” emancipation.

    For others, such as Marx, it had nothing whatsoever to do with anything special about Jews, but everything to to do with the meaning of emancipation (a meaning that could not but allow all Jews entry into the modern nation-state.)

    To speak “as a Jew” on the question of emancipation is, again to cite Marx, to turn political questions into superstition.

    To speak “as a Jew” on the question of Israel and Palestine is likewise to turn political questions into superstition.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      Thank you Absolute Observer — there’s a lot to think about there and I’ll come back to it. My first response however is to wonder what happens if we alter the phrase, or perhaps open it out a bit.

      Suppose I say (as an alternative to “as a Jew”) something like this: “Because I am a Jew, Israel is very important to me, and it’s important in an extremely personal, intimate, indeed visceral way — it’s a part of my identity in a way that it isn’t part of the identity of, say, some rank and file member of PSC, or Amnesty International, who isn’t Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Arabic …”

      When Israel is attacked by polemicists, vocally and in writing, with a tone and in a manner they don’t use of other states, it upsets me in a way, and to a degree, that I don’t experience if I’m hearing or reading a similarly polemicised attack on some other state (concerns for universal human rights notwithstanding).

      Suppose I avoid the phrase “as a Jew” — let’s try a thought experiment. Two variants: “As a Jew, I want to state clearly that I am opposed to the building of settlement townships by Israel in the West Bank”. I think from what you way, you would not like my saying this, at least not the “as a Jew” part. I assume you’d have no objection to the rest of the statement — you might or might not agree with it, but you’d accept it as a free expression of a view.

      But what if I said, instead: “Because I am a Jew, what Israel does and does not do affects me in a way that it wouldn’t do were I not a Jew. It affects me, and the majority of Jews, because what Israel does impacts on our Jewish identity, and because the Israel-Palestine conflict impinges on my relationships within the wider society in which I live. Because I am a Jew who cares about what Jews, Israeli and otherwise, do in the world, I have a special, personal reason, in addition to basic humanitarian reasons, for expressing criticism (of settlements, etc)”

      As I said, I shall think about all the points you’ve raised. But as of this moment, I still don’t get it! After all, the phrase follows the form of everyday linguistic usage, e.g. “Speaking as a lover of Mozart … speaking as a member of the liberal wing of the Anglican tradition … speaking as a follower of the ijtihad tradition within Islam and as one opposed to militant fundamentalism … speaking as a gay defender of the right of straights to express personal distaste of some homosexual practises … ”

      In other words, “I would not be writing *this* letter, in *this* particular way, in response to *that* (insert adjective here) letter, were I not Jewish. Were I not Jewish, I would still be writing, probably making the same points, but please sit up and take notice, I feel so strongly about this *because* I’m Jewish and I’ve got that extra reason that you, dear gentile, with all your compassion, don’t have”.

      (I’ll close by being facetious. Joyce wrote “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”; Dylan Thomas wrote “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog”. But please don’t think I’m barking.)

      • David Hirsh Says:

        The point is the slippage isn’t it?

        A Jew might be unusually concerned with what happens in Israel because she is a Jew.

        A Jew might be extra angry with the bad things Israel does because she loved Israel and was taught as a kid (by rather romantically silly Zionist parents) that Israel was a force for good in the world, a light unto nations, a socialist paradise, a moral nation etc etc.

        [If you were never foolish enough to love a state then you will never be foolish enough to hate one either.]

        A Jew might feel ashamed as a Jew because she believes that Israel acts in her name when it does bad things.

        The evils of Israel are front and centre of this Jew’s own political imagination.

        In my view this is all fairly wrong-headed, but the dangerous bit hasn’t happened yet.

        The dangerous bit is when the Jew, for whom the evils of Israel are the most important political issue, goes forth into the British public sphere and tries to persuade the British that the evils of Israel are the most important political issue facing Britain and the world.

        In this way, a rather silly form of self-centred identity politics transforms itself into an antisemitic outlook.

        • Brian Robinson Says:

          David H, “The dangerous bit is when the Jew, for whom the evils of Israel are the most important political issue, goes forth into the British public sphere and tries to persuade the British that the evils of Israel are the most important political issue facing Britain and the world”.

          I agree completely with that. And as you certainly know it’s not only Jews who have been guilty of saying that kind of thing — you’ve often pointed rightly to the hyperboles of e.g. Clare Short to name only one.

          And it’s pernicious if Jews wittingly or otherwise endorse such slanders, so I can see what you mean if the “as-a-Jew” formulation effectively does that.

          I think there’s plenty of evidence that some Jews do that, and regularly. (I resist the temptation to copy the links to the pictures and audiofiles.)

          And if there’s a risk of slippage, then the phrase should not be used.

          I have booked a place at the meeting on 25th and I’m looking forward to it greatly. I just hope it generates more light than heat. Dull it wont be.

        • Thomas Venner Says:

          One thing that you didn’t mention is the matter of people who aren’t religious Jews but who have Jewish ancestry and some association with secular Jewish culture who, seeing rising anti-Semitism around them, become nervous of the possibility that their ethno-cultural background might put them on the wrong end of a mob some day and so decide to pre-emptively defend themselves by saying “yes, I may have Jewish parents or grandparents, I may have some mild cultural association with Judaism, but I’m a good Jew, I’m not like those bad Jews you hate, and I’ll happily join in with your persecution of those Jews to prove that I’m good and loyal and not a bit like those other Jews who you want to kick the shit out of”. There were several small Jewish groups who even tried this with the Nazis in the 1930s in the deluded belief that if they could prove they weren’t like those “bad Jews” that Hitler kept on about, they’d be fine (some people may be surprised to hear that it didn’t work out so well for them). I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this sort of thing accounts for quite a significant proportion of the “as-a-Jew” anti-Zionism going round.

  8. Absolute Observer Says:


    Thanks for your comments. (By the way, I chucked at yhe Dylan Thomas reference – I’d never heard it before.)

    Just one point comes to mind.

    Why, when Israel is discussed – and it is only Israel* do people not simply listen to the words spoken, the point made, and say, yes, that’s interesting or that’s wrong or that’s right?

    The reason is, as many of us, including yourself know, is that the “as a Jew” label becomes more important that the thought articulated. This is as much the case for those who use the phrase “as a Jew” voluntarily as much as for those who have the label attached to them against their will.

    Their “Jewishness” [sic] will either act as legitimising what they say or delegitimising what they say. But the point remains the same – people will see “the Jew” before they hear what is being said. Thus, what is being said becomes “Jewish” words and “Jewish” thoughts and “Jewish” arguments, as opposed merely to words, thoughts and arguments per se.

    To paraphrase Heine(?)…………
    Some may believe what I say because I am a Jew, some will think me a liar because I am a Jew, but all will see me as a Jew.

    Whatever happened to the idea that we judge people by what they say and not what they are?

    *(how many people do you know say, “as a Jew”, I really like to read the paper before and not after breakfast”, or, “gee I hate Coronation Street?” or, “well, as a Jew, I think that the ref’s decision at Anfield yesterday was a disgrace”, or “as a Jew” I like eggs lightly boiled” or “as a Jew” I think Cameron the cuts the coalition are imposing is a disgrace.” But, somehow, when Israel is part of the discussion, the “the Jew” becomes the whole; as if it determines ones views, for or against! A most worrying conclusion.

  9. Absolute Observer Says:


    And right on cue,
    “Richard Kuper, an organiser with the British group Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said one goal was to show that not all Jews supported Israeli policies toward Palestinians.”

  10. Brian Robinson Says:

    Thanks Thomas. Nick Cohen was making a similar point in his famous New Statesman essay of 10 October 2005, ‘Anti-Semitism isn’t a local side effect of a dirty war over a patch of land smaller than Wales. It’s everywhere from Malaysia to Morocco, and it has arrived here’. (‘ … Next day I looked at my e-mails. There were rather a lot of them. The first was a fan letter from Ann Leslie, the Daily Mail’s chief foreign correspondent, who had seen the barbarism of Ba’athism close up. Her cheery note ended with a warning: “You’re not going to believe the anti-Semitism that is about to hit you.” “Don’t be silly, Ann,” I replied. “There’s no racism on the left.” I worked my way through the rest of the e-mails. I couldn’t believe the anti-Semitism that hit me. …’)

    Continuing with Nick: ‘My first reaction was so ignoble I blush when I think of it. I typed out a reply that read, “but there hasn’t been a Jewish member of my family for 100 years”. I sounded like a German begging a Gestapo officer to see the mistake in the paperwork. Mercifully, I hit the “delete” button before sending.’

    AO (if I may), I take those points, but whilst bearing in mind David H’s warning about the trend to ‘slippage’, I still think of those examples as extreme cases — the far end of a spectrum.

    This discussion puts me in mind of Richard Dawkins’s attitude towards ‘moderates’ amongst those religious believers he targets. He sometimes reserves a special kind of contempt (please don’t misunderstand — I’m not suggesting that you yourself hold anyone in contempt, I’m co-opting Dawkins to try to make a case!) — Dawkins has often come down especially hard *not* on those who use religion to oppress, or exploit, or simply for self-aggrandizement, e.g. not the apocalyptic Rapturists and Armageddonites and 12th-imamist-jihadists and the rest.

    Yes, he whacks them (verbally) but it’s the middle-of-the-roaders who get a special biffing, because, he says, they make things easier for the hardliners — it’s the moderates who make the extremists more respectable.

    Your later post above citing the Guardian’s quoting of Richard Kuper added to what was prompting me to make this comment. It has sometimes seemed to me that Richard comes in for a lot of stick he doesn’t deserve.

    I mean, look, you know, he’s a gazillion light years away from the kind of people who are forever telling us that “the Zionists” helped Nazism (none of the Raul Hilberg subtlety in their kind of crude and vulgar propagandisms), from the bloggers screaming that Gaza is the Warsaw Ghetto, from people yelling through megaphones or disrupting string quartet recitals.

    If Kuper wasn’t there, the Israel-delegitimizers would still be there calling for its dissolution.

    Take the statement, ‘Not all Jews support Israeli policies towards Palestinians’. Certainly true (perhaps we might want it rephrased, e.g. ‘support every policy’ etc, but that’s a minor point).

    Does making that statement somehow contribute to antisemitism, does it make it easier for antisemites? If some Jews feel so strongly about it that they board a boat to break a blockade (at some risk to their lives), does that somehow embolden the BNF or EDL? (It hardly threatens the State of Israel, but out topic here isn’t Israel, it’s antisemitism.)

    It’s as if there’s a fear that any Jewish statement opposing the cruelty of some Israeli policies towards Palestinians somehow threatens Jews, encourages anti-Jewish feeling and will lead to all the horrors that history has shown follow from that. At the risk of boring through repetition, let me say again, I am not talking about those Jews, or non-Jews, who say they’re all Hezbollah now, or go about wearing keffiyahs about their necks, or hold up bloodstained ‘Nazionism’ banners and the like.

    But maybe I’m wrong and the Dawkins ‘Principle’ is correct. I still can’t help feeling that to adopt the principle is somehow to play the extremists’ game. It leaves no room for nuance.

    By the way, news of this (following) has just reached me:
    From the Jerusalem Post



    UK Labor chief’s mom backs Jewish anti-blockade group

  11. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    65 years after the Holocaust, and English Jewry is discussing whether they are ashamed of being Jewish??

    And they are paying 12 quid for the privelege.

    They really should be ashamed of themselves!

  12. Absolute Observer Says:

    HI Brian,
    I posted the Kuper boat initially as no more than an (unfortunate) coincidence.

    However, it seems to me as nothing so much as an act of pure and utter narcism (indeed, I don’t want to really enter into a discussion of it (others may well want to, because I’d rather the whole ting pass without notice).

    It does nothing whatsoever to galvanise the Jewish “community” to the cause of the Palestinians (more so, when the pictures of him shaking hands with Hamas start to circulate).
    It is not for the Palestinians.
    It is an empty gesture aimed at persuading people that “some” Jews are not “all Jews”.
    It also serves to make the divisions within the Jewish community appear far more polarised than they are, as if one can only be a “good Jew” if one commits public acts of outcry (boycott, boats).

    Finally, it implies that somehow, because “Jews” are doing it, then Israel must be doing something so off the scale that “even” Jews are opposed to it – well, some Jews anyway, leaving the impression that all other Jews are completely behind Israel and are, in effect, inhuman bastards.
    The majority of Israelis will look at it with mild amusement or contempt
    So, it does nothing for Palestinians. It does nothing for Jews in the UK, other than to make their lives more difficult.
    Kuper is, in effect, playing to an audience in the UK who doesn’t care a crap about what Jews do or do not do, but who may quite enjoy the spectacle of a Jew ingratiating himself to a bunch of ant-Zionists and to use his acts to demonise all those other Jews who have problems with the demonising of Israel of which it is a part

    I don’t doubt Kuper, means well, but, unfortunately, he appears as no more than a fool.

    As I say, I do not intend to discuss the matter further.
    Let’s just call it my protest in support of a serious attitude to the conflict in Israel and my support for a Palestinian sovereign state alongside Israel, an attitude that empty gestures seriously lack.

    Kind regards,

  13. Frank Adam Says:

    Does anybody ask the British whether they are ashamed of themselves for the Empire? or the Spaniards for the Inquisition, the Germans for … or the Japanese for the Rape of Nanking and much else, or the US for the ethnic cleansing of the redskins? or the Arabs for conquering from the Ocean to the Gulf and Iran then stamping on people’s religions with dodgy preferential tax policies? Of course not!

    Comparitively Israel is being hounded for relative and real peccadillos as a diversion from the real villanies going on in our lifetimes. For starters: since 1948 the Arab World has killed over two million – apart from the Palestine red herring which as death is death I admit are a tragedy for the families of the 20 000 Palestine Arabs if that, killed on Arab Israel front lines to whom I offer as much condolence as they offer Israel.
    1) Iraq’s war on Iran – 1 million (50/50 Iraqi / Iranian)
    2) Darfur – 400 000 quite apart from the deaths in S. Sudan
    3) Syrian promoted Lebanon 1976ff civil war – 100 000
    4) Algeria “Country of the million martyrs” typical Arab hyperbole there were 4 to 500 000 dead in the War of Independence and half in the internal civil war within the W of I (cp Tito v. Chetniks in Jugo 40’s) . Then 200 000 in the 90’s GIA civil war (Groupes Islamistes Armees)
    5) Yemen where motormouth Nasser’s interference caused 60 000 dead though on one interpretatton that was just the Egyptian casualties.
    6) The Iraq war on Kuwait in 1991
    7) Saudi promotion of Eritrean independence to mither then “Communist” Ethiopia at US nudge nudge wink wink.
    8) Libyan occupation of Chad’s Aouzou Strip
    9) Syrian promotiion of Kudish revolts in Iraq and Turkey
    10) Morocco’s occupation of exSpanish Sahara[wi] and the other “x” 000 Arab refugees at UN taxpayers’ expense.

    Keep a sense of proportion and sto trying to lean over backwards into the Shoah.

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