Henry Siegman’s Lies – BobFromBrockley

This is a guest post by BobFromBrockley and is cross-posted at brockley.blogspot.com.

Note: I am writing this as someone who opposed the Israeli blockade of Gaza, who opposes the Settler movement in the Occupied Territories, who opposed the Israeli incursion in to Gaza in November which helped precipitate the recent round of conflict, and who was angered at Israeli conduct during the December/January phase of this conflict. I write this also as someone who subscribes to and greatly appreciates the London Review of Books. I write, then, not in support of Israel, but against the taking of sides against Israel, against simplistic thinking, against the attempt to reduce a complex conflict into the battle of good and evil.

The LRB, a key platform for the liberal establishment that dominates British intellectual chatter, consistently takes a stridently anti-Israeli position. A piece, entitled “Israel’s Lies” by Henry Siegman, which kicks off the 29 January issue, is no exception. Like most of what the LRB publishes, it is a fine piece of writing, but, like most of what LRB publishes on this particular topic, is marred by a particular form of intellectual and moral dishonesty. Henry Seigman has form in this area, and it comes as no surprise that, at a time when much of the British left feels the need to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the LRB would want to publish his lies.

Siegman purports in the piece to take apart a number of Israel’s lies. Among Israel’s purported lies is that Hamastani Gaza has become “a launching-pad for firing missiles at Israel’s population” rather than a step towards Palestinian statehood. Despite the obvious truth of Gaza’s role as a launching-pad for such missiles (1,639 in 2007, 2378 in the first half of 2008, up to 3000 during the recent round of conflict), Siegman purports to refute this notion by claiming this:

“First, for all its failings, Hamas brought Gaza to a level of law and order unknown in recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatah’s rule. Non-observant Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many other Arab regimes.”

If we were to accept what Siegman says here as true, the argument would have the same structure as the following argument: “The notion that Germany under Hitler murdered its Jews is a lie because in fact Hitler made the trains run on time and in any event Stalin killed more people.” Or: “The claim that the My Lai massacre was a war crime is a lie because the American occupation made lots of Vietnamese people rich and anyway Pol Pot did some worse things.” Or “A chicken is not a bird because it’s really a farm animal and anyway a duck is more of a bird than a chicken.”

Quite simply, the extent to which Hamas brought Gaza law and order and religious tolerance is irrelevant to the question of whether it used this orderly and tolerant haven as a launching-pad for rockets. The extent to which the Wahhabi monarchy is a theocratic dictatorship is irrelevant to the question of Hamas’ responsibility for the attempted mass slaughter of Israeli citizens.

But even if we ignore Siegman’s request that we look the other way (at Fatah’s corruption and the Saudi’s religious totalitarianism), we cannot avoid the fact that he is lying about Hamastan. Gaza under Hamas has been lawless: a law and order situation that is summed up in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath its borders, by the persistence of independent terrorism by Islamic Jihad, by the extra-judicial detention, beatings and murder of Fatah activists and other oppositionists, by the naked rule of Hamas-linked warlords on the streets, by the carte blanche given to Hamas client clans such as the Doghmush, by the repression of trade unions including those of journalists and doctors. And, of course, beyond this, Hamas uses densely populated civilian areas as the base for its paramilitary assaults on Southern Israel, thus endangering the lives of the people they are supposedly keep safe.

As for religious tolerance, the period of Hamas rule has not only seen a Holy War against the Zionist entity; it has seen an attempt at the ethnic cleansing of the Christian population. In build-up to the Hamas coup in 2007, 40 purportedly Christian internet cafes and book outlets were bombed in Gaza. Days after the coup, a convent and convent school was bombed. Later in the year, there was the murder of the manager of Gaza’s only Christian bookshop by a Jihadi group (the Righteous Swords of Islam) which Hamas have tolerated. Today, Gaza’s Christians live in fear.

Moving on, Siegman takes on Israel’s next “lie”: that Hamas is a terrorist group. “In fact,” he writes, “Hamas is no more a ‘terror organisation’ (Israel’s preferred term) than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a Jewish homeland.” Again, even if we accept Siegman’s counterclaim as true, it has the same structure as the refutation above: a chicken is not a “bird” because a duck is a “bird”. Whether or not Zionists committed terrorist atrocities (whether or not a duck is a “bird”) is irrelevant to the question of whether or not Hamas does (whether or not a chicken is a “bird”). The truth is that Hamas most manifestly does commit terrorist atrocities: it constantly fires rockets intended to kill civilians in southern Israel, because it does not see a distinction between civilian and military targets.

But what of his claim that “the Zionist movement” was a “terror organisation”? It is true that the IZL and LHI committed acts of terrorism from 1937. However, IZL (Irgun, the military wing of the right-wing Revisionist minority current) were marginal within the Zionist movement; LHI (the Stern Gang) was even more so. The overwhelming majority of the global Zionist movement and of the Jewish community in Palestine, the Yishuv, condemned LHI and IZL. The 1937-8 terrorist attacks by IZL on Arab civilians (during the second stage of the small-scale civil war known as the Second Arab Revolt) was condemned throughout the Palestinian Jewish press and by the Yishuv’s leadership. There was a brief period of co-operation between the terrorist right and the Haganah, in Autumn 1945, when they jointly carried out operations against British military infrastructure targets like bridges. But for the most part, to quote the source Siegman uses (Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims), “due to its meager resources and manpower, almost consensual Yishuv opposition to anti-British terrorism, and successive, effective British clampdowns, sometimes assisted by tip-offs from the Haganah and IZL, the LHI’s stance was never really translated into action” until 1946, while IZL’s 1946 return to terrorism under Begin’s leadership (targeting buildings rather than people) led to the “Saison”, when Haganah teams attempted to wipe out IZL. IZL’s 1937-38 outrages against civilians and LHI’s brief, spectacular period of full-blown terrorism in summer 1946 – when the King David Hotel was bombed, with 91 casualties, British, Jewish and Arab – were the aberration rather than the rule before the 1947-48 war.

Benny Morris characterises the war as really two wars: a guerrilla civil war between two armed citizenries up to May 1948 followed by a conventional war between the State of Israel and the combined armies of its Arab neighbour states. It was during the second phase of the civil war – after the Jewish community had suffered sustained damage at the hands of Arab guerrillas who initially outgunned them – that the Haganah committed the acts of ethnic cleansing Siegman mentions. Although I would condemn those acts, they cannot be seen as “terrorist”, but as part of a spiralling guerrilla war. They comparable not to Hamas’ ballistic assaults but to some of the phases of KLA action during the Balkan civil wars or to some of the atrocities of the Republican armies during the Spanish Civil War.

To talk of “the Zionist movement” as terrorist in this period, then, is like talking about “the socialist movement” as terrorist because of the brief existence of the Red Army Faction and the Weather Underground. This kind of sloppy totalising narrative, with “the Zionist movement” presented as a single, homogeneous, undifferentiated and eternally unchanging entity plays into the antisemitic narrative of “the Zionist entity” and mirrors right-wing discourse on the inherently terrorist nature of “the” Arabs or “the” Palestinians. In fact, LHI had far less claim to represent “the Zionist movement” as a whole than Hamas has a claim to represent the Palestinian nationalist movement as a whole.

And what of Hamas? Siegman says “it is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a ‘terror organisation’.” True. It is too easy to describe a chicken “simply” as a “bird”, but it is a bird nonetheless.

The terrorist actions of the IZL and LHI were disastrous for the Zionist cause. The 1937-8 IZL anti-Arab bombs turned neutral Arab opinion in Palestine towards the Mufti and his far right Palestinian nationalist movement, making the possibility of the two people sharing the space less possible. The 1946 LHI anti-British bombs halted Churchill’s move towards a workable two-state solution, leading to the zero sum game that the two sides have been playing since 1947, which neither side can win without wiping out the other. Hamas’ rockets have likewise been a disaster for the Palestinian cause, undermining any steps towards meaningful Palestinian freedom. Henry Siegman and the LRB, in seeking to exonerate Hamas, are complicit in this disaster.

This is a guest post by BobFromBrockley and is cross-posted at brockley.blogspot.com.

Howard Jacobson on the “Israel Must Lose” letter

Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson

This piece by Howard Jacobson is from The Independent.

How does he get that dimple in his tie? Obama, I mean. Who else? Obama the beautiful. Obama the sonorous. Obama the Messiah.

I don’t make a habit of admiring people younger than me, unless they are of another time and long dead, in which case their anteriority makes them older. You can love someone younger – for love is part protectiveness – but it is not seemly to admire them. That way dotage lies. The trouble is that after a certain age there isn’t anybody older than yourself left standing. So Obama it is. He’ll be pleased to know he enjoys my esteem.

In fact I know how he gets that dimple in his tie. He ties it by a method known as the four-in-hand, a phrase that might have something to do with the horse-drawn vehicle of that name. Maybe it describes the way coachmen tied their cravats or hitched their reins. Whatever the etymology I am taken with the effect, and spent most of last week following instructions on how to achieve it on YouTube. You start with the wide end (“W”) of your tie on the right, then cross it over the narrow end (“N”), ensuring that “W” is kept about a foot longer than “N”. Then you…

It was only when I’d completely mastered the four-in-hand, holding a mirror to my computer and getting my wife to check me over every step of the way, that I realised I was being taught how to tie a tie in the way I have always tied a tie. Only I can’t get the Obama dimple. The narrowness of the knot, yes. The insolent asymmetry of the knot, yes. But not the dimple in “W” just below the knot.

It still isn’t clear how he manages it, but I suspect the secret lies in hauling the tie tight into the hot V-shaped hollow of your collar, and for that you need exactly the right spread of collar – not English Bufton-tufton cut-away, and not with the points limp and close together in the manner of mafiosi and art dealers. It goes without saying that you also need exactly the right amount of neck. Too little and you concertina the collar (think Cameron), too big and the dimple is lost in pleats of flesh (think Kenneth Clarke).

Here again Obama is perfection. The neck slender, but not wasted. The shirt white. (Only a fool wears a shirt of any other colour and only a scoundrel wears stripes.) The suit black, two buttoned, with long lapels. And thus tailored he will set about solving the problems of the world. Don’t laugh. I attach immense significance to the tailoring of Messiahs. There lingers in the British psyche – particularly the left side of it – a sentimental belief that political conviction must come in an untidy package. Michael Foot overdid it even for a socialist, but there remains an ideological association of dishevelment with truth. You can’t go on a march in a black suit bought from Hartmax in Chicago and a dimple in your tie. You can’t go on a march in a tie full stop. And there, reader, is the rub.

I measure a man’s seriousness by the degree of moral ambivalence he is able to intimate in his appearance. Here is surface, the subtle politician and thinker says, here is my homage to gorgeousness, worldliness and good manners, but don’t suppose I do not have that within that passeth show.

Too much attention to exterior show and the man is trivial; too little and he is a fanatic. The person who cannot smile urbanely even when the world is falling apart is no better than the person who can do nothing else. And those who think they prove their integrity by looking shabby by the standards of their own society, or by adopting the dress of the oppressed (as though the oppressed are a model by virtue of their oppression), only demonstrate the narrowness of their sympathies.

Showing just the right amount of white shirt cuff – inviting them to tea, as it were, in the Oval Office – Obama addressed the world’s political villains – “We will extend a hand, if you are willing to unclench a fist.” The metaphor is good. In the midst of war it reinstates the civilities. I’ll dimple my tie, you dimple yours, and we will talk it over. But it contains the necessary threat within the wit as well, for if they don’t unclench their fists…

Well, we shall see. In the meantime, in the far less sophisticated moral world we call our own country, the intellectually challenged who staff our universities are down on their knees kissing every clenched fist that will consent to their sycophancy. Take as an example plucked at random – trust me, reader, it just fell to hand – the letter written to The Guardian last week, demanding that Israel lose. Not withdraw, not seek a truce, not radically change its thinking – as many of us wish – but lose. Lose to the clenched fist of Hamas.

It was signed by those who exist to sign such things – professors of Media and Communications, lecturers in Visual Cultures and Gender Studies (gender studies and Hamas: get that!), boycotters, sandal-wearers, banner wavers, professionally ashamed Jews. As an exercise in simple-mindedness – what else do universities teach now? – it could hardly be excelled.

Israel had been waging war against the Palestinians for 60 years it said, omitting to mention the war that Arab armies had been waging against Israel, 60 years ago promising “a war of extermination” – extermination, note, not a two-state solution – culminating in the joyous prospect of “feeding the fish of the Mediterranean with the bones of Jews”. (Imagine starting a history of the Second World War with the bombing of Dresden and you have the picture.) Thus decontextualised, Israel, the letter continued, must now accept that its security depends on “peaceful co-existence with its neighbours”. Gosh, why hasn’t anyone thought of that before. Peaceful co-existence. You hear that, Mr Obama?

There is no monopoly on compassion. Signing a letter doesn’t make you a humanitarian. I too don’t want to see another dead Palestinian child. Not a one. But peace won’t come just because, ignored and impotent in your campuses of moral simplicity, with only the young and the like-minded to address, you wish for it.

Regard Obama. You have to work at truth. What seems isn’t always what is. And what will be waits on more than the velleities of the ill-informed. In the taut and intricate resolution of Obama’s dimpled tie is our most realistic hope for peace.

This piece by Howard Jacobson is from The Independent.

More critique of the “Israel must lose” letter from David Hirsh here.

“No to IDF, No to Hamas”

An AWL activist who took a placard on a Palestine Solidarity demonstration in Sheffield which said “No to IDF, No to Hamas” had it physically taken off her by the Chair of the Sheffield PSC and watched him stamp on it and then destroy it.

Evidently to say “No” to an antisemitic, misogynist, homophobic, anti-democratic, anti-socialist, anti-trade union organization puts you outside of what is legitimate in the Palestine Solidarity movement nowadays – in Sheffield at least.

Who could object to such an even handed slogan?

Who could object to such an even handed slogan?

What's happening to the placard?

What's happening to the placard?

Placard not allowed

Placard not allowed

Supporters of the SWP supported the removal of the placard.

These images and more, as well as the  story, on Indyedia here.

AWL website, here.

Open letter to Gideon Levy from A.B.Yehoshua

Yesterday Gideon Levy had a piece in Ha’aretz titled The IDF has no mercy for the children in Gaza (reproduced in full for the UCU Activists list in the style of the SWP with the subject line “The blood of Gaza’s children is on our hands”). A.B. Yehoshua responds today in an open letter:

“The doleful thought sometimes crosses my mind that it is not the children of Gaza or of Israel that you are pining for, but only for your own private conscience. Because if you are truly concerned about the death of our children and theirs, you would understand the present war – not in order to uproot Hamas from Gaza but to induce its followers to understand, and regrettably in the only way they understand in the meantime, that they must stop the firing unilaterally, stop hoarding missiles for a bitter and hopeless war to destroy Israel, and above all for the sake of their children in the future, so they will not die in another pointless adventure.

After all, now, for the first time in Palestinian history, after the Ottoman, British, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli conquests, part of the Palestinians has gained a first and I hope not a last piece of land on which they are to maintain a full and independent government. And if they start building, developing and pursuing social endeavors, even according to Islamic religious law, they will prove to the whole world, and especially to us, that the moment we terminate the occupation they will be ready to live in peace with their surroundings, free to do as they wish, but also responsible for their deeds.

There is something absurd in the comparison you draw about the number of those killed. When you ask how it can be that they killed three of our children and we cause the killing of a hundred and fifty, the inference one can draw is that if they were to kill a hundred of our children (for example, by the Qassam rockets that struck schools and kindergartens in Israel that happened to be empty), we would be justified in also killing a hundred of their children.

In other words, it is not the killing itself that troubles you but the number. On the face of it, one could answer you cynically by saying that when there will be two hundred million Jews in the Middle East it will be permissible to think in moral terms about comparing the number of victims on each side. But that is, of course, a debased argument. After all, you, Gideon, who live among the people, know very well that we are not bent on killing Palestinian children to avenge the killing of our children. All we are trying to do is get their leaders to stop this senseless and wicked aggression, and it is only because of the tragic and deliberate mingling between Hamas fighters and the civilian population that children, too, are unfortunately being killed. The fact is that since the disengagement, Hamas has fired only at civilians. Even in this war, to my astonishment, I see that they are not aiming at the army concentrations along the border but time and again at civilian communities.”

It’s worth reading in full.

A response to Naomi Klein’s call to boycott Israel – David Lawrence

This is a letter to the Guardian in response to Naomi Klein which they did not publish:

Naomi Klein is deluded if she thinks that a boycott of Israel will be useful: on the contrary it will harm the chances of peace. The white South African Government yielded on apartheid for many reasons, but would not have done so, with or without the boycott, if it had thought that the African National Congress would have used accession to power to kill the white South African community: they had a partner for peace.  Hamas not only initiate killing Israelis, but are killing Palestinians as well. Given that Hamas refuse to negotiate, accept a two state solution and will continue to threaten Israel’s existence by force, a boycott of Israel would push Israel in the opposite direction to what Naomi Klein hopes. A serious boycott will damage economically not only the Jewish population, but also over two million Arab Israelis and West Bank Palestinians. But it will make the Israeli Government more intransigent and will unify the Jewish population against compromise in the face of an implacable enemy.

I am as outraged at the killing of civilians as everyone else and if it were not just indulgent gesture politics of the worst kind, I would be calling for a boycott of Hamas and those supplying it with arms and finance. A much more realistic movement towards a two state solution is One-Voice, groups of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Guardian readers should look at their web site http://www.onevoicemovement.org/ and offer support.

David Lawrence

Azzam “Kaboom” Tamimi – Hamas spokesperson and Guardian columnist

On Greens Engage, a post on Gaza

On Greens Engage a response to Gaza from Mira Vogel.

Hamas steps up executions of ‘collaborators’ and political opponents

raphaportrait2This piece, by Amira Hass, is from Ha’aretz.

Since the aerial attack on Gaza began, Hamas has sought to suppress individuals it believes endanger the group’s fight against Israel and its hold on power in the Strip, as well as public morale. Prime targets include Fatah members, people convicted or suspected of collaborating with Israel, and “common” criminals.
“Hamas rules with an iron fist even now,” said one resident. A political activist who says he supports neither Hamas nor Fatah said that given the difficult conditions created by the ongoing shelling and ground invasion, Hamas is likely to try to prevent collaborators or those suspected to be from working with Israel.

Since the operation began on December 27, Hamas operatives have executed several people it classified as collaborators. Members of the group have confirmed the executions took place, and said the victims had admitted giving information to the Shin Bet security service that resulted in the deaths of Palestinians, or had already been sentenced to death by a Palestinian military court but the sentences were delayed for various reasons.

Independent sources said that among the dead were those not known publicly to have been collaborators, as well as others long suspected of cooperation with Israel, or those arrested and later released.

Estimates of the number of suspects executed range from 40 to 80, but amid the prevailing conditions shelling, fear of walking the streets and media blackouts it is virtually impossible to verify the numbers or identities of the dead.

Executions are carried out secretly. In Rafah, for example, at least some of the victims were killed in a caravan erected in the area formerly occupied by the Rafiah Yam settlement, and the victims’ relatives were invited to take away the bodies.

Even in the current conditions, Hamas is continuing to arrest those it suspects of criminal activity or Fatah membership, many of whom were arrested on the eve of the IDF operation and fled detention when the shelling began. No one knows where the detained are being held.

Independent sources and those linked with Fatah say Hamas’ common methods include confiscating cell-phones, beatings, house arrest and firing at a suspect’s legs.

Fatah members say Hamas is following a policy dictated from its leadership and directed against Fatah as a whole. An official in the Hamas-run Interior Ministry told Haaretz that the steps were taken only against Fatah members who expressed “happiness” at the aerial attack and even “distributed candy” in the streets as it began. An independent source corroborated Hamas’ account.

Fatah officials said last Thursday that notifications were sent to organization members from the public security forces, under the direction of Hamas’s Interior Minister Said Siyam, confining them to house arrest for 48 hours. Other Fatah members were ordered not to leave their homes from 7 P.M. until morning.

Hamas is also targeting common crime, promising the public that prices will not rise due to the closures of crossings into Gaza, nor will looting be allowed from stores that have been shelled.

This piece, by Amira Hass, is from Ha’aretz.

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