Boycott Israel “as a Jew” – Ran Greenstein

On September 29 the University of Johannesburg’s ruling body met to discuss a proposal from the boycott campaign that it should sever its research links with Ben Gurion University.  It set an ultimatum for BGU and it postponed the decision for six months.  To read Desmond Tutu’s support for this move, click here.

Click here for the response of David Newman, who is Dean of Social Science at BGU. This proposal in South Africa sparked renewed debate on the Engage website.

Neve Gordon wrote an article about academic freedom in Israel here.

David Hirsh wrote a critique of a piece by Neve Gordon on academic freedom in Israel.  Read it here. David Hirsh wrote a second piece tracing Neve Gordon’s journey from sharp critic of the boycott campaign to important supporter.  Read it here.

Robert Fine, meanwhile had an engagement with Desmond Tutu published in the South African Mail & Guardian, here.

Last year Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli campaigner for Palestinian rights, published a critique of the Israel-apartheid analogy and a critique of the boycott campaign, which related explicitly to the positions of Desmond Tutu and Neve Gordon.  Read it here.

Ran Greenstein, a supporter of the boycott campaign in South Africa responded to Engage here, in a trenchant critique of the Fine and Hirsh articles.

Robert Fine’s further response.

Here is Ran Greenstein’s latest:

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your response to my criticism of your article. Let me clarify my position: the academic boycott campaign is not a sacred cow, and you can criticise it without necessarily becoming an apologist for the Israeli state. Israeli scholars such as the late Baruch Kimmerling and Neve Gordon argued against academic boycotts without compromising their critical perspective. Unfortunately, most of those who take this position on Engage do become – wittingly or otherwise – such apologists. Your article falls, in my view, into this category. You are indeed critical of some Israeli policies and practices, but you present your views in a way that shields other policies and practices from criticism.

Allow me to elaborate on that point. You argue: “I hold that a Jewish-democratic state has a right to exist and defend itself, even as it has the responsibility to treat Palestinians in Israel as equal citizens and to allow Palestinians in occupied territories to form their own Palestinian-democratic state. It is quite normal for people in modern states to find ways of living with the contradiction between democracy and national identity.”

There may be a contradiction between national identity and democracy in all states. What is unique to Israel is that national identity is defined solely in ethnic-religious terms, and civic nationalism which encompasses all citizens equally does not exist. Further, it is the declared policy of the current Israeli government and its predecessors, backed by the courts, to ensure that such national identification never emerges, and to suppress all its manifestations by legal as well as coercive means. In this sense a Jewish democratic state is a contradiction in terms. As the saying goes, it is ‘Jewish’ for Arabs and ‘democratic’ for Jews. The exclusion of Palestinians (as second-class citizens, as occupied subjects, and as stateless refugees) has been the foundation of the Jewish state since its inception. What political thugs like Lieberman and Yishai (respectively foreign and interior ministers) say openly today, has been practiced since 1948 in a more diplomatic but no less oppressive manner by all preceding governments.

You argue that the analogy between Israeli and apartheid practices ends with the occupation and the views of the “ultra-nationalist right wing in Israel”. I beg to differ. In a long analysis, which cannot be replicated here, I argue that the analogy must be based on the realization that ‘Israel proper’ (in its pre-1967 boundaries) no longer exists. The occupation has lasted for 43 years (already a year longer than apartheid), and there is no going back from it. Greater Israel (with the occupied territories) and Greater Palestine (with the refugees) are the meaningful units of analysis, when we consider Israeli practices and compare them to apartheid SA (see detailed discussion in AND I would welcome your comments on it.

You argue: “ It seems to me vital to get some perspective on what the state of Israel has done, of which we may strongly disapprove, compared with situations in which ethnic groups are slaughtered, oppositions forces murderously suppressed, students beaten up and removed, trade union leaders defenestrated, women stoned to death, and gay people persecuted.”

I agree that if we wished to construct a universal scale of human rights violations, that would indeed be the case. That may be a worthwhile project, but not one I have any interest in. As an Israeli citizen my concern with what ‘my’ government is doing. As a Jew, my concern is with what the state that claims to represent me is doing in my name. That it is not the only or the worst offender violating human rights is irrelevant. Israel has done its share in expelling ethnic groups (80% of the indigenous inhabitants of the territories that became Israel in 1947-48), murdering opposition forces (defined as ‘terrorists’), beating up and killing students (in the occupied territories), and so on. That some other governments behave similarly is no consolation at all.

You argue that there are progressive academics and radical dissidents in Israel. Of course there are, and I am proud to have met and worked with some of them. But, the universities as institutions have NEVER voiced the slightest criticism of human rights violations, the occupation, military abuses, bombing civilian targets, and so on. They have never raised their voices against suppression of academic and educational life for Palestinians in the occupied territories. That is why the campaign should target institutions and not individuals. No-one I know in South Africa supports the exclusion of Israeli academics as individuals from presenting papers, participating in discussion, attending conference, publishing articles, and other such individual activities. BGU, Wits and other institutions have hosted Israeli academics of different political persuasions without any calls to boycott them. The campaign aims to sever institutional links rather than prevent relations between scholars. Read the UJ petition and talk to those who signed it if you are sceptical.

How can a campaign distinguish between individual and institutional targets? Here are some thoughts based on the need to convey the notion that things cannot proceed as usual, that there is no normal academic life in an abnormal society: do not attend any conference in Israel that does not explicitly address issues of rights and justice; link up with internal dissident forces and work with them to undermine discriminatory and abusive institutional practices; boycott any academic project that has military links; do not teach in specialized programmes dedicated to members of the security/military apparatuses; campaign against European or British financial support for any academic programme that does not have explicit progressive content (including ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’ research); condition any further cooperation by insisting that the institution subscribe to something along the lines of the ‘Sullivan Code’, which was used under SA apartheid to enforce a minimum code of acceptable practice. I am sure you can come up with more ideas of this nature.

This is an ongoing debate. I am not the only one taking part and would strongly recommend that you read today’s Mail & Guardian for an effective response by Farid Essack to your article. It has not been posted online yet, but I would be happy to forward it when it becomes available

Best wishes

Ran Greenstein
Associate Professor
Sociology Department
University of the Witwatersrand

25 Responses to “Boycott Israel “as a Jew” – Ran Greenstein”

  1. Ex-UCU Says:

    “The intent is clear: to portray any and all criticism of Israeli actions as a symptom of irrational prejudice and thus to silence all and any criticism.”

    Ah, so Fine is a liar,
    he is only pretending to put forward a point of view;
    he is only pretending to be thinking the matter through;
    he is only pretending to care about “free inquiry”.

    His real “intent” is to “silence any and all criticism”.

    Those Jews, eh?; you can never trust them, can you? always saying one thing but “really” meaning another.

    So, yet again, scrape the surface of a boycotter’s arguments and this is what you get.

    And these are the people that Greenstein and others call in aid to settle their scores with Israel.

    No different really than those Brits who think the EDL has something serious to say about contemporary Britain.

    Two sides/same coin.

  2. Abe Says:

    Is Greenstein really serious in arguing that Israel’s hr abuses are akin to that of Iran, China and Sudan?

    He really needs to take a step back from his own parochialism.

  3. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Is this man serious? “Unfortunately, most of those who take this position on Engage do become – wittingly or otherwise – such apologists [for the Israeli state].” (“this position” is arguing against the boycott.) In the next line he says, of Robert Fine, that “Your article falls, in my view, into this category.” As I say in a comment on his original article below, he clearly doesn’t read what we actually write, but only reads what he wishes we’d written (so that his critique could be – but isn’t – accurate).

    Thus, Fine does not say what he (Fine) _actually_ says, but what Greenstein wants him to say. We’ve been here before, often. Many in the BDS camp tell us what we have said (what they want us to have said), when we plainly have said something else.

    Greenstein compounds this when he says that “What is unique to Israel is that national identity is defined solely in ethnic-religious terms, and civic nationalism which encompasses all citizens equally does not exist.” He says this with a straight face, as though this is unique to Israel (and, arguably, it’s not even true of Israel). He cannot bring himself to note that this is equally (arguably even more) the case with, e.g., Saudi Arabia, Lybia, Iran, etc. And, as I’ve just implied, it is less than true of Israel. Muslims, Bahais, Christians can all practice their faith in Israel (indeed, Israel houses the world centre of the Bahai faith). And this is more than can be said of at least some of the Islamic (and other religio-ethnic) states.

    True, Arab-Israelis are citizens but, in some respects, not equal citizens. However, in all honesty, one would have to accept that, despite the law, those UK citizens of other than “European” origin are, to a degree, less than equal. Would Greenstein be prepared to accept that this is still, despite the coming of the “rainbow nation”, the case in South Africa? That African-Americans and Native-Americans still lack full equality in the US, despite the advent of the Civil Rights legislation)? If not, why not?

    So, back to the critical question: why single Israel out?

    Answers on two sides of A4, please, and take into account all the counter arguments, as the counter arguers present them, not as you, Greenstein, would wish them to be.

    For all his qualifications, Greenstein persists in acting just like those first year students of mine who used to get all upset and lip-quivery when I pointed that I could only mark what they had actually written, not what they thought they’d written or what they wished they’d written.

  4. David Hirsh Says:

    Ran Greenstein: “I agree that if we wished to construct a universal scale of human rights violations, that would indeed be the case. That may be a worthwhile project, but not one I have any interest in. As an Israeli citizen my concern with what ‘my’ government is doing. As a Jew, my concern is with what the state that claims to represent me is doing in my name.”

    If this is one of the reasons that Ran thinks that it is right to single out Israel for boycott or for particularly harsh criticism (apartheid, nazism, fascism) then it is not a good reason.

    He himself is free to consider Israel, and its crimes, to be particularly important to his own worldview “as a Jew”.

    If this discussion is about him, and what is done in Ran’s name, then he is free to single out Israel.

    But there is a dangerous slippage when Jewish antizionists, for whom Israel is centrally important in the world, take that attitude out into non-Jewish civil society.

    The University of Johannesburg is not a Jewish organisation and so ought to relate to human rights abuses round the world consistently. The fact that Ran Greenstein thinks “as a Jew” is neither here nor there.

    The University and College Union in the UK is not a Jewish organisation and so ought to do solidarity around the world in a consistant way. The fact that some leading activists who want to put Israel at the very forefront of its worldview do so “as a Jew” should not alter the policy of the union.

    Antisemitism has always put Jews at the very centre of all that is bad in the world.

    Some people, “as a Jew” and “not in my name” put the human rights abuses of Israel at the very forefront of their own political consciousness. I can understand this even if it does not reflect my own way of thinking.

    But when institutions like unions and universities allow the Jewish antizionsit focus on Israeli human rights abuses to become their own focus too, then we have a danger.

    The danger is that unions and universities begin to teach their young people that Israel, and the Jews who live there, are a central evil on the planet.

    It is easy to see how this kind of Jewish exceptionalism mirrors older antisemitic forms.

    So Ran, your own “asa Jew” and “not in my name” consciousness is important to you – fine. But you should not allow that kind of thinking to define the way big and important civil society organisations think. Because it is dangerous.

    Sure, you offer other reasons for singling out Israel – ones which in my judgment are not justified.

    But this reason – because you yourself are Jewish – is certainly not tenable.

  5. Ran Greenstein Says:

    David, in my first reply to Robert Fine I made two points that address your concerns.

    First, that Israel is NOT singled out for criticism by states and governments, least of all in the US and UK. On the contrary, it is given preferential treatment and is let off the hook much more readily than other countries violating human rights (Burma, Iran, and so on).

    Second, if we look at civil society, the academic boycott is raised as a tactic – primarily in the UK – with regard to Israel but not other countries. The reason this makes sense is that oppressive regimes are vulnerable in different ways: SA under apartheid was vulnerable to sports boycott much more than to the academic boycott; Argentina under the dictatorship was vulnerable to football boycott, and so on. Each case calls for specific tactics. A campaign that helps disabuse Israelis of the notion that they are entitled to special privileges – such as access to EU research funds – because they are western and European (inhabiting a ‘villa in the jungle’ in Ehud Barak’s phrase) is justified in my view. Targeting academic institutions should be seen in this context, as one of several ways of telling Israeli elites: ‘there is a price to pay for your oppressive behaviour! Change it, and we’ll change our attitude towards you’.

    Third, you are right: UJ is not a Jewish institution and must adopt a consistent policy. The question of BGU came up because a large number of academics and students felt that they could not support ongoing institutional relations with it, due to Israeli policies and practices that resemble apartheid in SA. You may dispute this analogy, but their reaction stems from a quest for justice, based on their own experiences. Other oppressive regimes must be targeted as well, I agree, but not necessarily in this particular way. Indeed, many signatories – Archbishop Tutu in particular – consistently have campaigned for a change of SA policy regarding Zimbabwe, China, Sudan and so on.

    Having said that, we must realize that we all choose some cases to focus on for various reasons – no-one can address all cases of injustice at the same time with equal attention. Should we ignore the plight of Tibet just because many US activists choose to ‘single out’ China for criticism? Was the anti-apartheid movement wrong because it singled out South Africa and paid no attention to Kurdistan?

    And, in response to Brian Goldfarb, oppression and discrimination are common in many countries. Israel stands out because its exclusion of Palestinians (the indigenous majority of the population before 1948) serves as the founding act of the state, and is continually re-enacted on a daily basis. It is the fundamental policy imperative uniting most Zionist parties, most of the time (with few exceptions on the margins). Open any Hebrew-language newspaper and you’ll be overwhelmed with evidence. I would recommend the daily ‘media roundup’ of +972 magazine ( For detailed discussion see my piece on ‘apartheid of a special type’ (

    • David Hirsh Says:

      Yes, I am aware that you make other arguments too.

      But this argument – that you are a Jew and you are an Israeli – is not persuasive.

      The others aren’t either, but I haven’t responded to them.

  6. “As a Jew” logic is not appropriate in public debate – David Hirsh « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] “As a Jew” logic is not appropriate in public debate – David Hirsh October 19, 2010 — David Hirsh I want to make one point in response to Ran Greenstein’s argument for boycotting Israeli academia. […]

  7. Jonathan Romer Says:

    Greenstein justifies his rage at Israel “as an Israeli citizen” and “as a Jew” without for a moment recognising that as a citizen and as a member of the community of Jews, he has a responsibility to make his criticisms in the context of the 60-year-long war against Jewish self-determination. The context is shut out of his reasoning: When he talks about Israel “expelling … 80% of the indigenous inhabitants” and when he puts quotes around “terrorist”, his reduction of the conflict to a cartoon version reveals Ran the superannuated student rebel, still pulling the levers inside Associate Professor Greenstein’s greying head. Not for him the possibility that “terrorists” can actually be terrorists, even if they (or he) think they’re freedom fighters, nor the complexities of population movement in wartime — let alone the real-world difficulties of how a tiny, beleaguered state is to deal with its enemy’s refugees (and its own) if it is also to preserve itself — “and so on”.

    Israel is not “unique” in that its “national identity is defined solely in ethnic-religious terms, and civic nationalism which encompasses all citizens equally does not exist.” In that regard, it’s not even unique in a ten mile radius — and within that range it is and always has been the least, not the worst offender. Has it escaped his notice that every neighbouring state has evicted all its Jews and is in the process of divesting itself of its Christians too? That the majority are dominated by some subsection of Islam, which then give short shrift to every other subsection? That all of them have kept their Palestinian population penned up in refugee camps for the last six decades without even a pretence of civil rights, and that the only one to offer them citizenship, Jordan, is currently withdrawing it again from a significant number? Has he not noticed the PA law that prescribes the death penalty for the crime of selling land to Jews? Does he think that none of this is relevant to Jewish prospects in an Arab-dominated state?

    It’s so much easier to make friends in South Africa by ignoring all this and simplifying the conflict down to “Israel bad, Palestinians innocent”, and so much easier to be admired by the other undergraduates that way.

  8. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Ran Greenstein says, inter alia, to me that “Israel stands out because its exclusion of Palestinians (the indigenous majority of the population before 1948) serves as the founding act of the state, and is continually re-enacted on a daily basis.”

    Actually, no it doesn’t stand out, as he should know better than me, as a citizen of Israel and, presumably, educated there. By 1948, Jews were a sizeable minority, at least, of the population of mandate Palestine, and a majority of the area designated under the UN Partition Plan for the new Jewish state. It is an entirely different argument to debate whether there _should_ have been a partition plan, but that argument is no longer relevant here.

    Further, it is contestable (and Benny Morris would say beyond questioning) that the Israelis were actually responsible for the creation of the refugee situation. At worst, they were jointly, with the surrounding Arab states, responsible for it. Israel certainly didn’t create the refugee camps nor the definition of refugees of those actually displaced plus their descendants, a definition foreign to the UNHCR. Nor did they create the conditions within those camps. But the Jordanian, Egyptian and Lebanese governments did, and they and the other adjacent Arab nations (plus the more distant oil-rich Arab and other Moslem states) did nothing to relieve and resettle these “refugees”.

    Interesting, isn’t it, how over a similar time period many more European refugees (aka “displaced persons”) were resettled, as were a similar number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. It is not until 1967 that Israel became responsible for the refugees on the West Bank and in Gaza – and were under strict UN instructions to do nothing to close the camps down. Pity they didn’t ignore the UN and create decent modern housing for the refugees, and persuade the West to pump economic aid into the West Bank and Gaza. Ah well, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

    Going beyond that, Greenstein chooses to ignore the startling similarity between his alleged ethnic and religious exclusivity of Israel and of many, if not all, Moslem Arab states. To acknowledge this, and the other points made in response to his essays, would severely undermine the case he thinks he is making. It is no defence to say that Israel is his chosen focus. To ignore the other aspects of the situation, to say nothing of the other, and worse, breachers of human rights, makes a mockery of his academic credentials.

    And I yield to no-one in this field of action against offending and offensive states. I chose, from the time of the Sharpeville massacre, not to buy South African goods, but I did not demand that the rest of the world so the same: that was their decision. I chose not to purchase goods from Francoist Spain, nor to holiday there. I did not demand that no Britons holiday there, because of my views: to holiday there or not was their decision.

    Like the vast majority of those who post here, I acknowledge that there is much wrong with Israeli government policies, with the existence, let alone the expansion, of West bank settlements. But the answer is not to academically isolate Israel. In case he hadn’t noticed, not only do the internal opponents of the current Israeli government not request this, nor do the majority of West Bank inhabitants. So who does he think he is supporting?

    And should UJ go ahead and sever its ties with BGU, the work BGU is doing on water conservation, etc, with its West bank partners won’t suffer, but water conservation in South Africa will.

    Had he thought of that? That really is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

  9. Ran Greenstein Says:

    Brian, it was the policy of the Zionist movement since its inception – and especially siince it became dominated by the labour movement under Ben-Gurion’s leadership – to create an ever expanding zone of exclusion designed for Jews only. Long before 1948 (and NOT under conditions of war), it evicted all tenants living and working on land bought by its institutions, it acted to remove all Arabs employed in Jewish-owned enterprises, and it allowed no Palestinians to live in its urban and rual settlements (like Tel Aviv). That the exclusion was not complete was due to lack of capacity and political control, not to absence of intention.

    What happened in 1948 was a continuation of this trend and, regardless of the circumstances of the Palestinian refugees (whether they fled, were expelled, left temporarily to avoid battles, carried arms or not), they were ALL prevented from returning. This act consoliated Israel as a state with a Jewish majority, and since then the bulk of its military and diplomatic efforts have been dedicated to ensuring that that majority was not threatened. Not for nothing it is referred to as a ‘Jewish demographic – not democratic – state’.

    There are many other oppressive state in the world, and specifically the Middle East, but none of them is based on the eviction of the indigenous majority of the population and its replacement by settlers who enjoy superior legal and political status. Even in South Africa settlers never sought to displace the indigenous population but rather set out to exploit its labour (and that gave blacks a strategic lever used to change the system from within).

    It is this – the relentless drive to exclude the local population – that makes Israel unique. And it continues to this day, with the use of legal and coercive means (as reflected in the agenda of the current government). It ‘singles out’ itself, so to speak. If you want it to be treated like a ‘normal’ country, help make it so: campaign for it to become a state of all its citizens equally, and reverse the dispossession.

  10. Jewish and Democratic? Civic or ethnic? Robert Fine « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] Jewish and Democratic? Civic or ethnic? Robert Fine October 20, 2010 — David Hirsh Robert Fine responds to Ran Greenstein: […]

  11. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Let me start with this part of Ran Greenstein’s latest comment above: “Even in South Africa settlers never sought to displace the indigenous population but rather set out to exploit its labour (and that gave blacks a strategic lever used to change the system from within).”

    Ran, I am old enough to remember Bantustans, that effort of Afrikaaner apartheid policy that attempted to deport large parts of the African population to supposedly self-governing enclaves, and thus making much of South Africa a “whites only” country. These bantustans would have been (and those established were) economically unsustainable, so many Africans would have to (and did) migrate back into the “real” South Africa, just to survive, but without _any_ civil rights.

    In another time, this might just have worked. And how is this different from the picture you try to paint of Israel?

    You also attempt to rebuild the straw man that is the non-quote of Ben Gurion’s about ridding the land of the Arabs: which, it has been shown numerous times, he never said, and, if anything, he said the opposite. There is no evidence that will stand up to show that this was ever the policy of the Jewish Agency, even if one or two individuals might be on the record as appearing to say this. Both Benny Morris (“1948: The First Arab-Israeli War”) and Dina Porat (I’ll have to search out that source) refute this. So how about some evidence for your first paragraph above?

    Your second paragraph starts as follows: “What happened in 1948 was a continuation of this trend and, regardless of the circumstances of the Palestinian refugees (whether they fled, were expelled, left temporarily to avoid battles, carried arms or not), they were ALL prevented from returning.” This, I’m sorry to say, smacks of naivety on your part. The Jews/Israelis accepted the partition plan – which would, if accepted by all parties, have meant a confirmation of the existing majority of Jews in “their” bit of the Mandate territory. Now we can argue about whether their should have been a partition plan, but that actually belongs elsewhere.

    Who refused to accept this plan? The Jews or the Arabs? Who resisted with armed force the imposition of Partition: the Jews or the Arabs? Given that it was the Arabs in both cases, do you honestly expect the Jews of the Yishuv, having won the war, to be so militarily innocent as to allow back the refugees? They _won_ for heaven’s sake, and, like it or not, to the victor the spoils.

    That may not be nice, and it may upset your view of what you want Israel to be like, but as a citizen of a state that’s been doing this for centuries (the UK), I can quite understand the realpolitik of it. So to say, as you do, that “[t]here are many other oppressive state in the world, and specifically the Middle East, but none of them is based on the eviction of the indigenous majority of the population and its replacement by settlers who enjoy superior legal and political status,” is less than the truth. It’s arguable that a number of the Moslem states of North Africa and the Middle East evicted or killed many of those who refused to convert to Islam. This may have been back in the 8th century CE, but their current attitude towards non-Moslems leaves a lot to be desired from a liberal point of view.

    Actually, it’s easier to cite supposedly liberal-democracies which have done this, and thrived: the United States of America, Canada, Australia, all Latin American and Caribbean states…need I go on? I’d add New Zealand to the list, but there the Maori actually fought the British to a standstill, and thus got a relatively decent deal out of the fighting.

    So, given this, please don’t tell me what I “ought” to be doing, but approach Israel as it really is: a normal liberal-democracy, warts and all, that needs reforming, not abolishing. Just like my own country – and I didn’t vote for this UK government anyway, but that doesn’t mean I want the UK abolished.

  12. Ran Greenstein Says:

    Brian, I have no idea what Ben-Gurion quote you are talking about. What I am referring to is the consistent practice of the Zionist movement and especially its labour wing over decades preceding 1948. Practice that consisted of the systematic removal of all tenants from land bought by its institutions (conquest of land), systematic removal of all Arab workers from Jewish-owned enterprises (conquest of labour), and denial of residence rights to Arabs in Jewish rural and urban settlements. In other words, the gradual build-up of an expanding zone of physical and political exclusion open to Jews alone. There are dozens of books and memoires documenting these policies and practices. Will send a reading list if you wish.

    As for Israel as a ‘normal liberal democracy’, it seems that you live in cloud cuckoo land, not having opened a newspaper for the last few decades. A normal democracy that is founded on the physical exclusion of 80% of its indigenous residents? that kept the remaining Arabs under military rule for 18 years? that has kept 3.5 million Palestinians under brutal military rule for decades? that consistently acts to shrink whatever rights non-Jewish citizens enjoy? If that’s your idea of ‘normal’, I would really hate to see what the abnormal looks like…

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Re your first paragraph, evidence, not assertion, please. I have seen little of the former from you and much of the latter.

      As for insulting my intelligence by telling me that I live in cloud cuckoo land merely compounds the lack of evidence. I would be most interested in some evidence for the 80% figure; I would like evidence that the fault lies with the Jews of the Yishuv, I would like something more than continued assertion. I have offered you sources: what they have to say may not be to your liking, but that demands refutation not insulting dismissal.

      And I notice that you have no response to make to my comment on bantustans, the past history and present treatment of non-Moslems in Moslem ethnic-religious states and you ignore the comments as to just how many genuinely liberal-democratic states got that way through ethnic cleansing, and certain of them still treat these ethnic minorities, where they haven’t been literally eliminated, less than equally.

      Ignoring that which is uncomfortable hardly leads to debate: it may make you feel better, but that’s your problem, not mine.

      A failure to notice that Israel is no better and no worse than scores of other states is hardly grounds for demanding that Israel (and Israel alone among liberal-democracies – and yes, it _does_ fit the criteria to be so defined) should make the supreme sacrifice of ceasing to exist, just to satisfy your conscience.

      • Ran Greenstein Says:

        Brian, there were about 550,000 Palestinians in the territories allocated to Israel by the UN in 1947, and another 250,000 in the areas conquered by Jewish forces and added to Israel in the course of the war. Of these, only 160,000 remained within Israeli boundaries. Do the math!

        • Tough Says:

          Tough. If you threaten to subject, drive out or massacre the other group, you have none to blame but yourselves or your leaders if they drive you out first.

          Worse happened at other civil wars that bore other modern states. Most Palestinian refugees still live within the borders of original Mandate Palestine. Most of the rest live very close to those borders.

  13. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Ran Greenstein:

    Fact: apart from the descendants of the Jews left behind by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Romans, Turkish controlled Palestine (Southern Syria) also permitted the entry of ultra orthodox Jews who wished to live and die in the holy land (their definition).

    Fact: from about 1870, modern Zionists started to enter this area, buying land from the Turks or other locals but with Turkish permission (if you don’t like this, go blame the Turkish empire).

    Fact: this continued to happen, quite legitimately, under the British (League of Nations) Mandate. If you don’t like this, blame the British Mandatory authorities and the British governments of the day. Why not? Everyone else does.

    Fact, for whatever reason or reasons of realpolitik, the UN General Assembly passed a partition resolution in November 1947. If you don’t like this fact, blame the UN General Assembly of 1947. You’d be in good company: whole groups, like most of those in the BDS movement, do; so, I imagine, does Hamas, Hezbollah and their paymaster, Iran. So, if you don’t like this, you’d be in a wide group of dislikers, many of them not nice people, but, hey, devil and long spoons and all that.

    Fact: it wasn’t the Jewish Agency (_the_ power group among the Jews of the Yishuv, I assume you’ll agree) that rejected this partition plan. However reluctantly, they accepted it – and Irgun & the Stern Gang are of no account here. It was the Palestinians and their backers, the Arab states around them (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq) which rejected this minimalist plan. It was the _Arab_ militias which attacked the Jewish settlements and towns from November 1947 to May 1948. And they lost: they lost men, material and ground to the Jews (soon to be Israelis). Then, after the Declaration of Independence on 15 May 1948, 5 Arab armies invaded the former Mandate area. And they were first fought to a standstill and then, with the exception of the Jordanians, driven back. If you don’t like this, blame the Arab states, or history, or something, but don’t blame the Jews: they were preventing themselves from being driven into the sea – the self-proclaimed goal of those militia groups and those Arab states.

    The result was the Green Line Israel of 1948/49 to 1967. All this, and more, can be found in Benny Morris “1948: The First Arab-Israeli War”. It’s most instructive and I’m sure you would find it most interesting, Ran, should you read it.

    Then the Israelis established a state, and, regrettably, a voting system of essentially “pure” proportional representation, with the result that Israelis elect governments that have to be coalitions of unholy partners, doomed to please no-one who voted for any of the constituent parts. But that’s their _democratic_ privilege (and it _is_ a democracy). And, you know what, Arab-Israelis can vote for Arab-Israelis to become MKs. And they do.

    You may not like any of this, but tough, it’s the world as it exists. And I will repeat (and you need to read Morris “1948” on refugees to _really_ understand this point): not only were the Israelis only _partly_ responsible, and arguably not the greater part, for the creation of the refugee situation, they certainly didn’t create the refugee camps in Gaza, on the West Bank or in Lebanon: the Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese governments did that all by themselves. Nor did the Israelis institute the definitional nonsense that counts all descendants of those originally displaced as refugees: the UNRRWA did that all by themselves.

    So stop being patronising and condescending towards me, telling me to do the maths, and start producing some evidence for your assertions. Start, that is, commenting like the academic you are, and not like some ill-educated member of one or other member groups of the BDS movement.

    And you could also stop expecting Israeli governments and people to be so much more holier than any other people.

    More can be found in my latest comment in reply to levi9909 (should the moderator allow it through) above in a previous comments thread. After all, I haven’t even started on how a large number of contemporary liberal-democracies got like that via ethnic cleansing, or how the European refugee problem was solved long before the Palestinian refugees became a direct problem for the Israelis.

  14. Ran Greenstein Says:

    Brian, there is no point repeating to me stale Israel Foreign Ministry talking points – I grew up on this propaganda and moved beyond that (as have many Israeli historians) – I wrote a book back in 1995 called Genealogies of Conflict where I discuss the pre-1948 period. Read it if you are interested. Space – and life – it too short to repeat the analysis point by point here.

    I read the Old Morris when he was a New historian and I have read the New Morris after he became an Old historian (Avigdor Lieberman in academic garb). Neither one of the Morrises denies the massive displacement of Palestinians as a result of expulsion, flight, war, and neither of them denies that once they were out they could never come back in. This was consistent with the policy pursued by the Zionist labour movement since the beginning of the 20th century. And, that’s the source of the problem – Israel was founded as a state based on the exclusion of the majority of the indigenous residents of the country, and the marginalization of the rest who stayed inside. The pattern of inclusion of as much land as possible and, at the same time, exclusion of the people living on it (if they are not Jewish) continues to this day.

    As long as Israel follows this pattern and organizes its structure and actions accordingly, it will be a ‘normal liberal democracy’ only in cloud cuckoo land.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      I’m still waiting for evidence and argument from you, Ran. Until you start producing that, I see no point in further exchanges between. If you want to get the last word in on this thread, be my guest.

      I am, however, disappointed that a Prof of Sociology finds it so hard to keep repeating assertions, and fails to produce evidence, followed by argument. Which is exactly what you have done immediately above. For example, _why_ is Morris wrong? Mere dismissal is inadequate – bu thta appears to be all you produced so far.

    • modernity Says:


      Not being rude, but do you know much about normal liberal democracies, outside of Israel and South Africa?

      I am thinking about their history and its nasty colonial bits of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Britain and Ireland?

      Do you remember how they were created and what happened?

      As an example, you might want to look up Aboriginal adoption as practised by Australia just to refresh your memory.

  15. Robert Fine on the singling out of Israel for boycott « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] contribution, from Robert Fine, is a response to this contribution from Ran Greenstein and also to the comment from Ran Greenstein which appeared in the comments box in answer to […]

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