Fathom 5 Is Online Now

Alan Johnson writes about the new edition of Fathom.

As Fathom goes to press, US Secretary of State John Kerry is working intensively with the Israelis and Palestinians to draw up a framework agreement. We carry three critical reflections on the peace process.  David Landau, the biographer of Ariel Sharon who died in January 2014, reflects on Sharon’s change of mind. Aluf Benn explores the personality and politics of Benjamin Netanyahu.  Isaac Herzog, the new Labour Party leader argued the division of the land is needed to maintain the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.’

The deal struck between Iran and the P5+1 nations in November 2013, is the subject of Ben Cohen’s interview with Olli Heinonen the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director General.

The relationship between some demonising forms of ‘anti-Zionism’ and contemporary antisemitism is the concern of several contributors to Fathom 5.

Dave Rich explains the unwelcome arrival of the Quenelle, Lesley Klaff examines the ugly phenomenon of ‘Holocaust Inversion,’ while David Hirsh reviews those aspects of Jewish left-wing anti-Zionism that have helped foster BDS activism in the West. Martyn Hudson looks back at the life of the Polish historian and socialist Isaac Deutscher, and Michael Allen reviews Gil Troy’s study of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US Ambassador to the United Nations who opposed the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution passed by the General Assembly in 1975.

Two book reviews discuss aspects of the history of Zionism. Colin Shindler praises Shlomo Avineri’s study of Theodor Herzl for ‘casting a new light on the short, troubled and driven life’ of the founder of Zionism. Liam Hoare reviews Yossi Klein-Halevy’s Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation.

Israel’s Arab citizens are the focus of two important essays by Safa Abu-Rabia and Joshua Muravchik. Abu-Rabia maps the emergence of an exciting new Bedouin Arab leadership in Israel’s Negev region, while Muravchik shows that when it comes to evening out the differences between its Jewish and Arab citizens, Israel has done rather better than most countries encompassing sharply diverse nationalities. We also spoke to Sayed Kashua, the creator of the hugely popular Israeli television sitcom Arab Labour and one of the country’s most successful writers.

The remarkable journeys taken by two iconic American Jews are the subject of warm appreciations. Steven Lee Beeberon Lou Reed and Peter Ryley on Emma Goldman.

Yair Raveh reviews two films that take as their subject the murder of a Shin-Bet agent by his informant. Bethlehem is an Israeli film by first time director Yuval Adler, and Omar is an Oscar-nominated Palestinian movie by Hany Abu-Assad. Finally, we spoke to Yariv Ben-Yehuda about the Israeli rock opera Sakhir.

“Echoes of the Past into the Present”: Arguments in support of the ASA Boycott.

This is a guest post by Saul:

Reading through the arguments of those proposing and supporting the ASA’s boycott of Israel, one can only be struck by the correspondence of the structure of argumentation with those of what some today like to call ‘real’ antisemitism as well as racism and Islamophobia in general These correspondences appear in the following way.

First, they begin with a list of the litany of Israel’s crimes. Many of the crimes of which Israel is accused they are indeed culpable. However, in the context of boycott two points come to the fore. The first point turns on the widely debated question of ‘Why Israel’? As many have shown and many more acknowledged, none of the crimes committed by the Israeli state are either unique nor their most terrible expression. As many of those opposing the boycott have argued, this is no excuse not to bring them to light. Yet, many of these same people are uncomfortable with the fact that of all states who commit these and worse crimes, only Israel is singled out for boycott. The response to this concern is that it is being used to ‘deflect attention’ from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and constitutes the diversionary tactic of ‘whataboutery’.

As with so many other areas of the boycott discussions, the battleground of ‘whataboutery’ is neither new nor novel. It has been a component part of debates about Jews for a very, very long time. The lines of this debate have more or less remained the same. On the one hand, there are those that say that there is something ‘innate’ about Jews, Judaism and Jewishness and, more recently Israel, that sets it apart from the rest of the world and, as a consequence, deserves special or, if that word is now too emotive, unique treatment. More often than not, such allegations of uniqueness are presented as the reason or cause that, with the best will in the world, Jews or Israel should be denied the rights of those granted to non-Jews or states that are not ‘Jewish’. On the other hand, there are those that say that the differences that distinguish Jews from other religions and peoples and Israel from other states, are no reason, no excuse, to deny such rights, rights freely available to everyone else.

Perhaps the most famous instance of this contestation is Karl Marx’s polemic against Bruno Bauer around the question of Jewish emancipation in the 1840’s. As is well known, Bauer argued against Jewish emancipation. He argued that as long as Jews remained Jews they were to barred from being granted the same rights as those among whom they lived. There was, he declaimed, something unique, something special about Jews and Judaism that prevented them from the benefit of emancipation into the emerging nation-states of his time.

Bauer has posed the question of Jewish emancipation in a new form, after giving a critical analysis of the previous formulations and solutions of the question. What, he asks, is the nature of the Jew who is to be emancipated and of the Christian state that is to emancipate him? He replies by a critique of the Jewish religion, he analyzes the religious opposition between Judaism and Christianity, he elucidates the essence of the Christian state……..

Marx’s devastating response to this exclusive and reactionary focus on the alleged nature of Jews and Judaism and only Jews and Judaism is perhaps the most succinct and positive use of what is now excoriated as pure whataboutery,

Man, as the adherent of a particular religion, finds himself in conflict with his citizenship and with other men as members of the community. This conflict reduces itself to the secular division between the political state and civil society. For man as a bourgeois [i.e., as a member of civil society, “bourgeois society” in German], “life in the state” is “only a semblance or a temporary exception to the essential and the rule.” Of course, the bourgeois, like the Jew, remains only sophistically in the sphere of political life, just as the citoyen [‘citizen’ in French, i.e., the participant in political life] only sophistically remains a Jew or a bourgeois. But, this sophistry is not personal. It is the sophistry of the political state itself. The difference between the merchant and the citizen [Staatsbürger], between the day-laborer and the citizen, between the landowner and the citizen, between the merchant and the citizen, between the living individual and the citizen. The contradiction in which the religious man finds himself with the political man is the same contradiction in which the bourgeois finds himself with the citoyen, and the member of civil society with his political lion’s skin.

As with Bauer’s antisemitism, one of the consequences of demanding sole focus on Jews and only Jews, and, correspondingly today, Israel and only Israel, is exclusion, from the state and, today, from the community of states. As in the past, the call for boycott opens up an abyss between, on the one side ‘Israel’ and on the other side, the rest of the world. In contemporary terms, by placing the call for boycott of the need for international solidarity as a means of resisting Israeli criminality, the radical antisemitic vision of the division between Jews and humanity is re-articulated in the divide between Israel/Jewish Israelis and the rest of the world. Like Jews of the past, Israel is now recast as the ‘other’ of ‘humanity’.

The second main structural element of arguments made in support of the ASA boycott and one visible particularly in Claire Potter’s account of her Damascan moment, is the old tale of Jewish privilege. Of all the states in the world who receive US funding and financial assistance, Israel, it is said, is the most ‘privileged’. Israel receives more than any country in US military aid. Israel receives more support in the UN and security council than any other of its allies, etc.. These facts are, of course, true. But they are presented not as a consequence of past and present political considerations (for example, that US funding and support for Israel began, originally from the prior recognition of Israel by the then Soviet Union (the first country to recognise the Sate of Israel in 1948), the divisions of the Cold War, the rise of Arab pan-nationalism, the Iranian Revolution, the rise of Islamicism and anti-Americanism, the obsessive focus of Israel in some of the UN instiutions, and so on). Instead, they are presented as instances of a specifically Israeli privilege (often, but not always, an argument connected to the alleged omnipotence of the ‘Israel’ or ‘Jewish Lobby’). Needless to say, this idea of Jewish privilege by the state is not new in the annals of both the history of antisemitism or of racism in general. For example, it was common currency in the debates surrounding and following Jewish emancipation. It also forms a core component of contemporary Islamophobia; that somehow the British state ‘prvileges’ the concerns of British Muslims.

This notion of Jewish/Israeli privilege connects with the third point; that one cannot say a bad word about Israel without being labelled an ‘antisemite’, See also Clare Short’s letter in support of Rev Stephen Sizer in the Jewish Chronicle, 20th December, 2013.

Other formulations in which this arguments is presented is the idea of the Shoah as a magic talisman warding off any and all negative comments about Israel. This theme is presented in its most crystalline form by Alex Lubin in this article in The Nation. He writes there that, ‘Israel’s creation in the violent crucible of the European Holocaust allows it always (!) to appear vulnerable, regardless of its oppressive actions’`1. Here, we can but note the sheer nastiness of the claim that Israel and those labeled its ‘supporters’ are guilty of cynically manipulating the most terrible event in the history of Jews and inverting it into nothing more than a ‘strategic advantage’. This belief in Jewish cynicism is again, an updated variant of the accusation leveled against Jews from the time of their emancipation onward that they exploited their past discrimination to wheedle those ‘privileges’ noted above from the State at the expense of all others. Even more relevant in the present context, however, is that this idea replicates almost exactly the antisemite Willhelm Marr’s claim in the late 19th century that ‘one cannot today criticise Jews [i.e. by which he meant his and others antisemitic assertions] without being called an antisemite’.2

The BDS movement constantly respond to accusations that its call to boycott Israel and only Israel taps in to antisemitic ways of thinking by claiming that, first, one must distinguish between ‘real’ antisemitism and ‘criticism of Israel’, and secondly, that they are free from the seductions offered by antisemitism in forwarding their own aims. As the structure of their arguments show (both in form and content) neither claim is sustainable.

1. The reference to the term ‘European Holocaust’ is interesting in the specific context of ASA. Not only does the term ‘European Holocaust’ imply denial of the uniqueness of the ‘Holocaust’ or Shoah – as opposed to the concept if genocide – but chimes in with a rather nasty debate a little while ago when US academics claimed that the studying and recognition of the genocides and brutalities suffered by the First Nations in what was to become the United States were being hindered by the mal fide of scholars of the Holocaust. (See Dan Stone; ‘Histories of the Holocaust, OUP, (2010) p. 210

2. See on this point, Moishe Zimmerman’s ‘Wilhelm Marr: The Patriach of Antisemitism,OUP, (1986)

Fathom Autumn Edition.

fathom

The Autumn edition of Fathom is now out and you can read it here.

The Daily Mail invoked an age-old antisemitic smear about disloyal Jews – John Mann

This is a cross-post from Left Foot Forward.

John Mann is Labour MP for Bassetlaw and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against AntisemitismDaily Mail

‘Antisemitism can seem a subtle, elusive business. Calling it out can feel too much like hard work, often prompting a torrent of abuse as hurtful as the original offence. But it has to be named for what it is – and not only by Jewish writers like me. History could not be clearer on this last point. Antisemitism may start with the Jews – but it rarely ends with the Jews.’

The brilliant Guardian op-ed by Jonathan Freedland ends with the above words.

This week, in attacking Ralph Miliband, the Daily Mail invoked an age-old antisemitic smear about disloyal Jews. Whatever their intention, we need to be outspoken in our intolerance of this kind of offensiveness.

The accusation that Jews have dual loyalties is not new. In 1884 Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew whom like Miliband served his country, was put on trial and convicted for treason. Eventually exonerated, the affair divided France and inspired the political Zionist movement.

Accusations of dual loyalty also feature heavily in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the discredited antisemitic myth which was used extensively by the Nazis.

More recently at home, we had the former ambassador to Libya, Sir Oliver Miles, questioning the propriety of having Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert sit on the Iraq war inquiry panel because of their Jewish heritage and ‘Zionism’. Within our Party, Paul Flynn questioned  Matthew Gould’s ability to represent Britain to Israel because he is Jewish.

Abroad, the accusation of dual loyalty has also taken root, in political parties in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. A document referred to as the Prague Declaration was in recent years working its way through email accounts at the European Parliament. The document used legitimate concerns about communist regimes as a cover for the re-writing of history books to draw equivalence between Soviet Communism and Nazi Fascism.

The perverse outcome of this and the related accusation of Jewish complicity in Soviet rule led, in Lithuania, to three Holocaust survivors being subject to state investigations for alleged ‘war crimes’. This narrative was imported into this country by, among others, Lee John Barnes of the BNP, whom in his blog depicted the Holocaust as a defensive action against ‘Jewish Bolsheviks’.

The impact of the Mail attack has consequences in countries like Lithuania, where Rachel Margolis, a 91 year old partisan war hero, is now vilified by some in high authority for being a Communist. The attacks, on her and Leonardis Donskis, an MEP, are unambiguous: “Jews are Communists and Communists are evil; when we helped the Nazis we were fighting evil Communists; oh, and by the way anyone who speaks Russian cannot be a patriot and look, the [tiny and elderly] Jewish population in Lithuania speaks Russian. Therefore we cannot trust the Jews”.

It is an industrial rewriting of history in Eastern Europe to excuse mass murders carried out on behalf of the Nazis.

The Mail vilification of Ralph Miliband has consequences beyond his family and beyond Britain.

As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) against Antisemitism, I challenge any hint of any antisemitic imagery being used in my own party. That is why I raised at the highest levels in the party and publically, including at the 2009 London international Conference on Antisemitism, my concerns about the depiction of Michael Howard as Fagin in national Labour Party 2005 election posters. It is not a populist move to criticise your own Party and its election material.

I am pleased to say that when Paul Flynn made the dual loyalty accusation against Matthew Gould, Ed Miliband acted decisively and Flynn subsequently apologised.

So too, when Tory politician Andrew Turner accused Israel of using Nazi tactics in Westminster Hall, David Cameron rightly forced him to apologise; when David Ward was abusive about the Jewish community, he was disciplined by Nick Clegg.

This is in keeping with the London Declaration on Antisemitism that the political leaders have signed which states that: “Parliamentarians should speak out against antisemitism and discrimination directed against any minority, and guard against equivocation, hesitation and justification in the face of expressions of hatred”.

Whether these individuals maintain their innocence or not, the parties were not prepared to allow any perception that the line had been breached. This is what is needed now by Lord Rothermere with the Mail. Their headline stating that Ralph Miliband ‘hated Britain’ was an editorial choice and their failure to apologise is an equal miscalculation.

The motivations of the Mail are uncertain. The antisemitic trope might have been calculated or unintentional. Whatever its provenance, I certainly hope there was no political impetus behind this. It would be easy for Linton Crosby or his Labour and Lib Dem equivalents to set up ad agencies or others to do the parties’ dirty work. We must never tolerate anyone in any party using the racial or religious characteristics of the candidates to win seats.

I will continue to challenge those seeking to do so, regardless of how unpopular that might be. On 29 October, an All-Party Inquiry into Electoral Conduct that I commissioned will publish its findings. We need clear Party agreement on future behaviour.

The Ralph Miliband affair has shamed the Daily Mail, it must not be allowed to further pollute our politics.

Salif Keita and BDS

Having initially reported that Salif Keita, a singer-songwriter from Mali, had been swayed by the arguments of those calling for him to boycott Israel, Ali Abuminah has had to backtrack following the publication of a long and detailed letter from the star and his wife. This explained that he was totally opposed to a boycott, but was cancelling his concert because of threats and intimidation:

The reason for the cancellation is not one which was made by Mr. Keita, but by his agents who were bombarded with hundreds of threats, blackmail attempts, intimidation, social media harrassment and slander stating that Mr Keita was to perform in Israel, “not.for peace, but for apartheid.”

These threats were made by a group named BDS, who also threatened to keep increasing an anti-Salif Keita campaign, which they had already started on social media, and to work diligently at ruining the reputation and career that Mr. Keita has worked 40 years to achieve not only professionally, but for human rights and albinism.

There is a breathtaking illogic in Abunimah’s explanation for Keita’s letter.

Resort to unsupported claims of “threats” and potentially defamatory statements may be a tactic that some artists resort to when they do not wish to violate the Palestinian call to boycott Israel, but do not have the courage to take a political stance.

Keita very clearly did not wish to accept the Palestinian call to boycott Israel and did have the courage to take a political stance.  I may not agree with their decisions, but I would not claim that artists who do claim to have been won over by BDS arguments, and articulate those views as clearly as Keita has done, are doing so because they have been threatened or coerced into that position.

I assume that very many BDS supporters would neither make, nor approve of, threatening messages, and Keita’s letter also emphasises the more mundane concerns for his reputation and career.

But the disclaimer Abunimah links to, on the subject of threats from BDS supporters, is inadequate:

We do not know if they are made up by media hostile to the BDS strategy, or by artists and/or their agents, or if they are inflated reports of remarks made by individuals who do not represent the movement.

Why assume the reports are inflated? There are extremists from all sides of the spectrum – why not simply acknowledge that among those who share your views there may be a few who will issue alarming threats of violence.

Tonge Wrong (Again) – Guest Post by Ben Goldstein

Baroness Jenny Tonge, who infamously declared in 2006 that “the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips”, took part in a recent debate about the two-state solution at the Cambridge Union. In her speech, she argues in favour of a “one-state solution” and, in so doing, makes a series of erroneous claims.

She first argues that “successive Israeli governments have never wanted a two-state solution – they want the whole of the land”. It hardly seems possible that a former MP who consistently makes speeches about the Middle East could be so ignorant of Israeli history. How would Tonge describe Rabin’s attempts to create peace based on two states in the 1990s, or Olmert’s in 2007? How would, in fact, she describe the current Israeli government, which contains Tzipi Livni (whose entire election campaign was based on the urgent need for a two-state solution) and Yair Lapid (who said “there’s no other game in town but the two-state solution”)? While the extremes of the hard right and elements of the settler movement might maintain the fiction of a Jewish state from Jordan to the sea, the vast majority of the Israeli political establishment (and, indeed, the Israeli public) favour a two-state solution.

When confronted with the reality of the 2001 Taba negotiations (where both sides agreed in principle on two states based on 1967 borders) by an intervention from an opposing speaker, Tonge replied: “They didn’t succeed”. Unfortunately for her, this is not the point. To substantiate her claim that Israeli governments have “never wanted a two-state solution”, it is insufficient to point out that negotiations up until now have failed. She would further have to demonstrate that each failure was committed by Israel deliberately – a burden that, given, for instance, Barak’s offer of 91 per cent of the West Bank and all of Gaza to Arafat in 2000, she unsurprisingly does not fulfil.

Tonge next uses what she claims is a Ben-Gurion quote: “If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. We have taken their country.” This quote is unrecorded, and is found in a book by Nahum Goldmann. The book was published in 1978; Ben-Gurion died in 1973 and could therefore not dispute the allegation. The alleged quotation certainly does not fit with the vast majority of Ben-Gurion’s other writings, which calls on Israel to treat Arabs as equals; he wrote, for instance, that if ‘the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state…then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge to a Semitic, Jewish-Arab alliance will be built’ (Ba-Ma’Araha Vol. IV, Part 2, pp. 260, 265, quoted in Fabricating Israeli History, Efraim Karsh, p.67).

Even if Tonge’s attribution of that quote to Ben-Gurion holds (which seems unlikely), it is unclear exactly what Tonge seeks to draw from it. On one reading, she may be claiming that the Arab states (à la Iran or Hamas) ought not to make terms with Israel. If so, it is rather puzzling how she envisages cooperation between hardline Israel-hating Arabs and Jews actually happening in her single bi-national state. Alternatively, she may be using the quote to illustrate that “even the Zionists admit that they stole Palestinian land”. Leaving aside the obvious simplicity of the colonial narrative of the creation of Israel (which ignores the existence of a native Jewish population, the Balfour Declaration, the Peel Commission and the UN vote of 1947), it is again unclear how this helps Tonge argue for a one-state solution. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of 1948, the question is whether a one-state solution is feasible now and Tonge gives us literally no reason to suggest that it is.

Thirdly, Tonge says that “non-Jewish residents of Israel are distinctly second-class citizens. There are forty differences in the rights they have compared with the rights Jews have.” The details of these alleged “differences” are never elucidated. While it is clearly true that Arab Israelis face societal discrimination much like minority ethnic groups in other countries around the world, it is simply not true that they have different rights to Jewish Israelis. The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that Israel will offer “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”. That is why Arabic is an official language, and why there are Arab judges on Israel’s supreme court, Arab members of Parliament, Arab civil servants, Arab ambassadors, Arab army officers and Arab winners of The Voice Israel. Tonge’s assertion betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of the position of Israeli Arabs within the state – wholly equal under the eyes of the law, even while facing some structural inequality.

Finally, towards the end of her speech, Tonge describes a one-state utopia, with Jews and Palestinian Arabs ‘living together peacefully’. There are two problems here. The first is that it is wildly fanciful. The idea that groups with two distinct national/religious identities will hold hands and sing Kumbaya, when Hamas’ charter calls for the killing of all Jews and the majority of Israelis view a Jewish majority as fundamental to their security, is wholly untenable. Secondly, the one-state solution removes the right of self-determination from both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. Majorities of both desire a homeland for themselves – a Jewish homeland, with an Arab minority, in Israel and a Palestinian homeland, perhaps with a Jewish minority, in Palestine. In a one-state “utopia”, one of these groups will ultimately have that right frustrated.

Tonge’s words at the Cambridge Union – which, incidentally, voted overwhelmingly against her position – should thus persuade nobody: the one-state solution is no solution at all.

Ben Goldstein is a student at Lincoln College, Oxford, and is currently an intern at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres – screening 30th January

Received by email:

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres

Film Screening & Discussion

Next Wednesday 30th January, at Kings College London, OneVoice will host an event to examine the legacy of President Shimon Peres, and the wider question of leadership in the region.

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres

“I’ve never heard leaders speak like this before” – Total Politics
“Chills the blood” – The FT, “Uncompromising” – Huffington Post, “Outstanding” – The National
“Epic in scope, themes and revelations” – Rankin

Together with Kings College War Studies Society, the event will examine the legacy of President Shimon Peres and the wider question of leadership in the region with a Q&A after the screening.

Paul Charney (Chair, Zionist Federation)
Dr Ghada Karmi (Palestinian activist and academic)
John Lyndon (Executive Director, OneVoice Europe)
Richard Symons (Co-Director, The Price of Kings)

Venue: Room K4U.12, Kings Building, Strand Campus, Kings College London
Time: 7:00pm, Wednesday 30th January
Admission : FREE

We do hope you’ll be able to join us at Kings College for this event, and the subsequent screening next month of the second film examining the life and political legacy of Yasser Arafat.

OneVoice is an international mainstream grassroots movement that aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates, empowering them to seize back the agenda for conflict resolution and demand that their leaders achieve a two-state solution.

Colin Shindler: The non-Jewish Jews who became the scholars of an ideological dreamworld.

Colin Shindler author of recently published “Israel and the European Left”, writes in the Jewish Chronicle :

During Jewish Book Week in February 1958, the great Marxist historian, Isaac Deutscher, gave a talk entitled “The Non-Jewish Jew”. It was later published and became required reading for the student revolutionaries of the 1960s. Deutscher tried to explain why some Jews embraced the revolutionary imperative and relegated their Jewishness to a secondary level.

As an ilui (child prodigy) of the yeshiva of Chrzanow in Poland, Deutscher supplanted God with Lenin and Trotsky at an early age. Although he moved beyond the Jewish community, he never renounced his Jewishness. He believed that non-Jewish Jews symbolised “the highest ideals of mankind” and that Jewish revolutionaries carried “the message of universal human emancipation”. He regarded such figures as optimists. And yet his father, the author of a book in Hebrew on Spinoza, disappeared in the hell of Auschwitz.

Deutscher argued that such Jews existed on the borderlines of various civilisations, religions and cultures. And from there on the margins, they were able to clearly analyse societies and events – and guide humanity into more benevolent channels.

His revolutionary heroes included the Talmudic heretic, Elisha Ben Abuya who was the teacher and friend, according to the midrash, of Rabbi Meir Baal Hanas. While his actual misdemeanours were never revealed, Ben Abuya was at pains to warn his close friend, Rabbi Meir not to transgress the Sabbath when he was unwittingly in danger of doing so. Why did Elisha do this if he was the advocate of heresy? Why did Rabbi Meir maintain his friendship with Elisha when the entire Jewish community had boycotted him? Such questions perplexed Deutscher, who identified with Ben Abuya and regarded him as the model for contemporary revolutionaries such as Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky. Yet this story and its mystery did point to the convoluted issues that faced non-Jewish Jews who had travelled outside the community yet culturally remained within. Such issues of national identity and internationalism affected many Jews on the European Left who were often marooned between identities.

Read the full article here.

 

You can also watch Colin talking about his book

What is the Progressive Case for Israel?

This piece was written by David Hirsh for a collection published by Labour Friends of Israel

David Hirsh, lecturer in Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

What is the progressive case for Israel?  Why should a nation state need somebody to make its case?  What is the progressive case for France or for Poland?  Before the French Revolution, the question of France was still open.  Was Marseille to be part of the same Republic as Brittany?  When there was a political movement for the foundation of France, then there was a case for and also a case against France.  When Poland was half engulfed by the Soviet Union and half by the Third Reich, there was a progressive case for Poland.  But today, thankfully, Poland exists.  It doesn’t need a ‘case’.

There are reasons to be ambivalent about nationalism.  Nationalist movements have often stood up against forces which threaten human freedom.  Nationalism offers us a way of visualising ourselves as part of a community in which we look after each other.  But being part of something also means defining others as not being part of it, as being excluded from it.  The left should fight for freedom with the nationalists but we should also remember the dangers of nationalism.  Like John Lennon, we should imagine a world where people no longer feel the need to protect themselves against external threat, but until it exists, it is wise for communities to retain the possibility of self-defence.

Progressives in France or Poland might hope to dissolve their states into the European Union, or into a global community.  In that sense there is still a possible case to be made for Poland or for France.  But nobody thinks that either has to justify their existences to anybody outside.  Not even Germany after the crimes of the Second World War had to justify its existence.

In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, radical Jews were split as to how they should oppose the antisemitism.   Some wanted to dissolve all religious and national characteristics into a universalistic socialism where everybody would treat each other with respect and where the distinction between Jew and non-Jew would eventually be forgotten.  Others wanted Jews to organise themselves into culturally and politically Jewish Bunds which would defend them from antisemitism and which would construct Jewish identity in new, egalitarian and empowering ways.  A third current thought that national self-determination was the key to guaranteeing people’s individual rights, and they wanted Jews from all different places to forge themselves into a sovereign nation.  This last group, the Zionists, made a progressive case for Israel while the other two, the Socialists and the Bundists, made progressive cases against Israel.

In the 1940s the overwhelming majority of the Jewish Socialists, Bundists and Zionists were systematically murdered, alongside Jews who had no opinion, who had other opinions, who only understood themselves to be Jewish through their religious communities and alongside those who thought of themselves only as loyal German, Czech or Dutch citizens.  Jewish culture in Europe was wiped out.  There were a few survivors here and there but most of them felt it unbearable to continue to live amongst those who had killed everybody they knew, and amongst those who had failed to prevent the killing, and amongst those who still had their children and their friends and relatives.

Before, during and after the Holocaust, Jews tried to leave Europe and they went wherever they were allowed.  Lots of Jews were learning the dismal lesson that the Twentieth Century beat into so many around the world: if you have no state of your own, you have no rights.  On April 20th 1945 a British army chaplain helped organise a Shabbat service five days after the liberation of the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp.  A contemporary BBC radio report says that it was the first Jewish religious service held without fear on German soil for a decade.   The report says:

During the service the few hundred people gathered together were sobbing openly with joy at their liberation and with sorrow at the memory of their parents and brothers and sisters who had been taken from them and gassed and burnt.  These people knew they were being recorded.  They wanted the world to hear their voice.  They made a tremendous effort which quite exhausted them. [1]

The exhausting effort they made was to sing Hatikva, the Zionist national anthem, so it could be heard around the world.  This was how they made their progressive case for Israel.  For many survivors, getting out of Europe was not enough.  Having been taught that they couldn’t rely on others to help them, they wanted Jewish national self-determination.  Feeling safe was too much to hope for, but it would make them feel that if they were again threatened as Jews, then they would be able to die defending themselves, collectively, as Jews.

Even now, there was still a case to be made for and against Israel.  Perhaps immigration into Palestine was too dangerous for Jews, perhaps Israel was an impossible and utopian idea.  Perhaps the need for Jewish self defence could be realised within some kind of bi-national arrangement with the Arabs of Palestine.

But as the Holocaust had defeated the Socialists and the Bundists, so these other criticisms were answered, not by argument or reason but by huge, irreversible events in the material world;  in this case by the UN decision to found Israel and by the defence of the new state against the invading armies of neighbouring states which tried to push the Jews out.  The Jews, armed by Stalin via Czechoslovakia, in violation of a British and American arms embargo, were not pushed out.  About 700,000 Palestinian Arabs left, fled or were forced out during the war and were not allowed back by the new state of Israel.  For them this was truly a catastrophe but the Israel/Palestine conflict was never inevitable.  It was the result of successive defeats for progressive forces within both nations.  It is still not inevitable.  Neither could the fact of the conflict possibly de-legitimise a nation.  Nations exist and do not require legitimacy.

Isaac Deutcher, Trotsky’s biographer, who had been a Socialist anti-Zionist before the Holocaust, wrote the following in 1954:

I have, of course, long since abandoned my anti-Zionism, which was based on a confidence in the European labour movement, or, more broadly, in European society and civilization, which that society and civilization have not justified. If, instead of arguing against Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s I had urged European Jews to go to Palestine, I might have helped to save some of the lives that were later extinguished in Hitler’s gas chambers.[2]

Deutscher was not embracing Zionism as an ideology, he was recognising that the debate was over.  Israel now existed in the material world and no longer just in the imagination.  Antisemitism treats ‘the Jews’ as an idea rather than as a collectivity of actual human beings; an idea which can be opposed was transformed into a people which could be eliminated.  To think of Israel as an idea or as a political movement rather than as a nation state makes it possible to think of eliminating it too.

Israel needs to find the peace with its neighbours, amongst whom hostile and antisemitic movements have significant influence.  It needs to continue to fulfil contradictory requirements, as a democratic state for both its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, but also as a Jewish state, guaranteeing the rights of Jews in particular.  There is nothing unusual about a social institution finding pragmatic and difficult ways to fulfil contradictory requirements.

But what if it turns out that Zionism’s promise to build a ‘normal’ nation state was utopian.  Perhaps the poison of the Holocaust is not yet spent.  Maybe Israel is, as Detuscher thought, a precarious life-raft state , floating in a hostile sea and before a careless world.  Perhaps the pressure on Israel from outside, and the unique circumstances of its foundation are creating too many agonising internal contradictions and fault-lines.  Whereas people used to tell the Jews of Europe to go home to Palestine, now they tell the Jews of Israel to go home to Europe.  Whereas ‘the Jews’ were thought to be central to the workings of capitalism, today Israel is said to be the keystone of imperialism.  If the Palestinians have come to symbolise the victims of ‘the West’ then ‘the Jews’ are again cast in the symbolic imagination as the villains of the world.   Perhaps Israel is precarious and perhaps we have not yet seen the final Act of the tragedy of the Jews.  And if it comes to pass, there will be those watching who will still be capable of saying, with faux sadness, that ‘the Jews’ brought this upon themselves.

This piece was written by David Hirsh for a collection published by Labour Friends of Israel

[1] This recording is easily accessible on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syUSmEbGLs4, downloaded 25 August 2011, Smithsonian Centre for American Folk Life.

[2] Isaac Deutscher (1968) The Non-Jewish Jew and other essays, London: Oxford University Press, pp 111-113

A brave campaign from the Union of Jewish Students

This is a cross post from Jak at Reduard

The Union of Jewish Students have announced a new Israel campaign for the upcoming academic year, one which signals a radical break from past UJS hasbara efforts.

As the JC reports:

Jewish students arriving at universities in the next fortnight will be asked to pledge their support to “two states for two peoples”, hand out Israeli and Palestinian flags, and support “freedom, justice and equality” for all.
There is a belief within UJS that standard advocacy efforts “do not cut it any more” because “students are not stupid”. Students will be encouraged to back the “liberation” of Israelis from Palestinian terror, and Palestinians through the formation of a new state.

To say this has stoked up debate online would be the understatement of the year. A Facebook group is doing the rounds, calling the campaign ‘disgraceful’ and ‘utterly crazy’.

Now, I was on campus for four years at a university widely consider to be a hotbed of extreme anti-Zionism and led a wide variety of Israel campaigns. We did all the standard campaigns that anyone who has been on a UK campus will recognise – we handed out falafel, had speakers from the Israeli Embassy, had film showings, talked about how welcoming Israel was to women/homosexuals/religious minorities etc etc. All were good campaigns, well organised and relatively successful. But what they didn’t do is change the narrative on campus. Hateful  anti-Israel diatribes would still appear in the student rag on a weekly basis, the Palestine society would still shout outside university buildings about the ‘holocaust’ in Gaza, and any ordinary student with any sense whatsoever simply ran a mile in the opposite direction – and understandably so. We are facing a new reality on our campuses – the old arguments about settlements or the security barrier are being replaced by a debate about the mere existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Zionism is a dirty word for many students – associated with oppression rather than liberation. Explaining Israel is no longer enough – what is needed is a dialogue, not just about Israel but about the very ideas behind Israel – Zionism, liberation, and self determination for the Jewish people. UJS is in a sense implementing is a back to basics campaign, focusing on ideas and concepts rather than specific policies.

As for those annoyed that UJS is advocating a Palestinian state, I would say this: it is morally dishonest to advocate self-determination for one group of people and not the other. Jews and Palestinians both need and deserve a homeland. Yes there may be a debate about the future borders or composition of those states, but the idea of self-determination is a universal one. It’s why groups like the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and their ilk will always be hypocritical, bigoted and discriminatory organisations – they vehemently support the self-determination of one nation whilst completely ignoring the rights of others. UJS should be proud of taking such a principled stance on the issue, especially as they must have been aware of the potential backlash it could cause.

The campaign is a brave step for UJS, and it may or may not work. But at least it is attempting something different. The naysayers and critics should step back and honestly ask themselves whether they really think the current strategy is working. Surely all evidence suggests that it is not? Burying heads in the sand and pointing to Golda Meir being a female as an example of Israeli progressiveness frankly no longer cuts it.

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