Refusing the dichotomy

What if we’re wrong: litmus tests on Israel and Palestine by Penina Eilberg-Schwartz, which I’m posting in the spirit of paying attention to bridge builders and thoughtful people.

A statement to sign on antisemitism

Shalom Lappin, Brian Bix, Eve Garrard, Matthew Kramer, Hillel Steiner and Stephen De Wijze have a wide-ranging statement on contemporary European antisemitism which they invite you to sign.

It begins by summarising the the recent increase in antisemitism. It then highlights the complacency of those who don’t recognise how antisemitism interferes with the lives of Jews, especially those who participate in organised Jewish life or as Jews in wider public life.

At the heart of the statement is a rebuke to “many who flatteringly present themselves as liberals, human rights advocates, and progressives” who recognise and react sharply to the antisemitic threat of the white nativist far right, but are prepared to accept bigoted positions on Jews coming from the Islamist far right. Turning to politics about the Middle East, the statement gives several cases of exceptional treatment of Israel’s conduct and exceptional treatment of Jews in relation to Israel. It sets out and counters the defences most often made by progressives charged with being soft on antisemitism, before concluding with advice against fragmented discreet appeals to the authorities and a call to people committed to liberal democratic values not to treat antisemitism as a Jewish issue but to include it in a universal fight against racism and bigotry.

I think the statement is a good, needed rallying point, and a benchmark, which is why I signed. To sign yourself, click on the About link at the top and scroll to the green button.

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.

Nisht ahin un nisht aher* – Saul

This is a guest post by Saul:

Just when I thought the long 20th century was over, up it pops again in the shape of the Daily Mail’s attack on the memory of one of the most humane Marxist thinkers of the 20th century, Ralph Miliband. From one perspective that century can be defined as one enduring ‘Jewish Question’. In the present context, that question can be defined as what to do with the Jews? It was with the demise of the three ‘great’ Empires and the rise of increasingly hostile nation-states in which the nation came to dominate the state, that the Jews came to be recast as a specifically modern ‘problem’. To quote Zygmunt Bauman, as ‘non-national nations’ and despite all references to ‘assimilation’ nationalists never accepted ‘their’ Jewish citizens as ‘true’ nationals, as truly belonging to the new national communities. Their allegiance – their ‘love of country’ – was always already in doubt. Indeed, the more they assimilated, the more they became just like everyone else, the more their loyalty came to be questioned. The resonances of this nationalist way of thinking contained in the attack on Miliband is clear for all to see.

However, it is also clear that just as the nationalist right calls into question Ralph Miliband’s inclusion within the English (or is that British?) nation, so too I should imagine would sections of the current internationalist, ‘anti-imperialist’ left. According to Colin Schindler in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, in a typically intense discussion following the ‘six day war’ in 1967 with the Belgian Jewish Marxist Marcel Liebman and co-author, Miliband not only defended Israel’s right to exist but also its right to self-defence. Needless to say, in today’s climate, Miliband would be recast in the (increasingly loose use of the term) as a ‘Zionist’. As such, he would be open to hostile vilification, elements of which would include the accusation that his ‘Zionism’ meant that his commitment to internationalism was nothing more than mere appearance, cloaking nothing more nor less than the ‘truth’ of his Jewish nationalism and his support for ‘Zionist imperialism’ and the ‘Zionist colonial settler state’. As someone who would not agree with the idea of the ‘original sin’ of Israel, his loyalty to and ‘love’ of the working-class as well as to the oppressed peoples of the world (including, of course, the Palestinians) would be ‘unmasked’ as nothing more than a fraud and a lie.

Just as the nationalist right refuse Ralph Miliband a place in the ranks of ‘the English’ and characterise him as a man ‘who did not love England’, so sections of the contemporary anti-Zionist and ‘anti-imperialist’ left would exclude him from the ranks of the International Labour Movement and correspondingly present him as a man ‘who did not love humanity’. Excluded from England by the nationalist right and excluded from humanity by the internationalist left, Miliband would be nish’d to hin and nish’d to he(a)r, neither here nor there. Taken together, he would, as Hannah Arendt phrased it, be denied a place in the world.

* (Yiddish) [trans: Neither here nor there, in limbo.)


On being chosen – Eve Garrard

This is a guest post by Eve Garrard.

Deborah Orr recently wrote a piece about the exchange of one Israeli prisoner for 1,000 Palestinian ones, from which exchange she infers that Israelis regard one Israeli life as being worth 1,000 Palestinian lives, and she also infers what she claims to believe is the corollary: a Zionist belief in the importance of the ‘chosen’ over other members of the human race.  Many people have rightly commented on the grotesque illogic of Orr’s calculation about equivalences, and her appalling assumption, in the teeth of the evidence, that it was Israel rather than Hamas that set the numbers so high. However what I want to concentrate on here is another aspect of her piece: her reference to the ‘chosen’.

The ‘chosen’ ones are meant to be Jews, of course, notwithstanding Orr’s fig-leaf reference to Zionists; the phrase long predates the State of Israel.  The ‘Chosen People’: that’s how Jews are supposed to think of themselves. Now it so happens that during my childhood, I never once heard Jews refer to themselves as the Chosen People.  I was aware in some imprecise way that there was a theological view about chosen-ness, but this was primarily a matter of the  burden of observation and practice which orthodox Jews were required to carry by a covenant with God.  It was nothing to do with the lives of Jews being worth more than those of other people, and in any case the view in question didn’t resonate at all with those Jews who weren’t religious, and was never held by them. Indeed, it was never very likely that European Jews, in the shuddering aftermath of the mid-century genocide, would regard themselves as being extraordinarily important or strong or powerful – any use by them of the ‘Chosen People’ trope would have been bitterly and painfully ironic.  But although I can’t of course speak for others, I myself never heard it used by Jews; the only contexts in which I came across this phrase were ones in which it was deployed by those who disliked Jews, who wanted to sneer at or denigrate them. And even in that usage I didn’t come across it too often – in the first two or three decades after the Second World War people who didn’t like Jews were often ashamed to reveal their hostile feelings in public.

Things are different now, and this trope has been resurrected for the same old use: to denigrate Jews and stir up dislike, or worse, against them.  In fact it’s very effective for that purpose: most people (very understandably) dislike anyone who claims to be inherently superior to everyone else; and so to attribute such a claim to Jews is a very economical way of making people dislike and distrust them.  By referring to the Chosen People you can, without saying another word, tell your listener that Jews are an arrogant supercilious bunch who despise the rest of the human race, and that you yourself don’t much like that kind of thing; and indeed your listener (or reader, as the case may be) probably doesn’t much like that kind of thing either, being a decent honest person; and so you and she together can enjoyably agree that there’s something pretty obnoxious about Jews, or they wouldn’t be claiming to be ‘chosen’, would they, or insisting that one Jew is worth 1,000 other people, which of course they must believe, since Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, and there’s no other possible explanation of that ratio, is there, eh?

All that hostile implication from just two well-chosen (so to speak) words, or even in Orr’s case one word alone – she writes with casual familiarity about ‘the chosen’, apparently assuming that her Guardian readers use the term so readily that no misunderstanding can arise from the informal contraction.  This is indeed real economy of effort in the business of producing Jew-hatred.  Orr herself may not, of course, have intended to stir up dislike of Jews; but the language which she chose to use did all the work that was needed for that unlovely task.

What’s worrying about this use of the Chosen People trope is not so much its appearance in a little piece by Deborah Orr: a minor journalist making derogatory insinuations about Jews isn’t anything so very special.  But with Orr as with Mearsheimer it’s the silence of the others, of those in the wider context – the colleagues, the editors, the readers at large – that’s the really chilling thing.

For further excellent discussion of this, see Alan Johnson’s recent piece.

A drunk man looks at the Israeli flag – Stan Crooke

Paul Donnachie and his friend, students at St Andrews University, turned up at Chanan Reitblat’s flat in a university hall of residence in the small hours of 12th March to check up on their friend, Reitblat’s flatmate. Donnachie saw an Israeli flag above Reitblat’s bed and flew into a rage. There followed a court case which saw Donnachie found guilty of racially aggravated breach of the peace (i.e. that he acted a manner which was racially aggravated and which caused, or was intended to cause, a person alarm or distress), sentenced to community service and fined. Through his tears Donnachie protested in all sincerity that he was an anti-racist. St Andrews was unimpressed and expelled him.

From the BBC,

“Sentencing Donnachie, a history student and member of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, sheriff Charlie Macnair said: “This flag was his personal property. I consider that your behaviour did evince malice towards Mr Reitblat because of his presumed membership of Israel.

“I’m satisfied that you said Israel was a terrorist state and the flag was a terrorist symbol and I also hold that you said that Mr Reitblat was a terrorist.””

An account of the incident and its aftermath, with particular focus on the vindictive fury of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the anti-Israel fellowship, by Stan Crooke at the AWL.

Seven individual Jewish children

“In the latest round of this saga Caryl Churchill has a new self-justifying plea“,  Norm comments.

Jewish objectivity called into question by MEMO

Matthew Gould is Britain’s new ambassador to Israel. Modernity has discovered that he blogs.

In a post about a flimsy think tank called MEMO, he observes how your credibility to comment on Middle East matters is called into question if you are Jewish and not hostile to Israel, and paradoxically how readily Jewishness can be used to give credibility to criticism of or hostility to Israel.

Mearsheimer’s Lists

Mark Gardener at the CST.

It is a curious fact that many of the academics and professors who so eagerly bash Israel and Zionism, do so whilst moonlighting from other issues in which they are actually specialist, but don’t seem quite so animated about.

When a professor uses their own academic field to bash Israel and Zionism, their impact upon the debate can be quite profound. One such professor was John Mearsheimer, co-author with Stephen Walt of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, a book lent gravitas by the authors’ respective positions at Chicago and Harvard universities; and in particular by their leading roles in the grandiloquently titled school of “Structural Realism” (aka Neorealism).

The book was decried by some critics as antisemitic conspiracy theory in academic guise; and hailed by others as a studious, careful and urgent warning about the Zionist fifth column that it warned was driving American foreign policy.

Now, however, as Mearsheimer’s analysis drifts ever further from Capitol Hill, the more he becomes just another over-animated basher of Zionism and Israel: only more so, because now the learned Professor is categorising American Jews into lists; and holding them responsible for bringing Israel to heel.  As if this were not bad enough, his list of good Jews evokes the Holocaust by being called “righteous Jews”. In this context, his list of bad Jews as “new Afrikaners” seems almost benign, rather than being the deligitimising slur that it actually is.

Mearsheimer’s Lists and logic were laid out by him in a lengthy speech, delivered as the Sharabi Memorial Lecture at Washington D.C.’s Palestine Center and transcribed by the Jerusalem Fund.

Like many before him, Mearsheimer appears deeply frustrated and somewhat angered by the failure of Israel and Jews to fit his own predetermined view of the world. This leaves him grasping for answers that are increasingly reliant upon speculation rather than scholarly evidence. It is what is called cognitive dissonance and it is a very common point of refuge for those with fixed theories about how the world works: or at least how it would work if only there weren’t unseen forces, that a select few must bravely drag into the light. It is easy to slide from this into conspiracy theory, where the absence of evidence actually reinforces your belief that hidden powers must indeed be at work.

Of course, Israel and Jews already have something of a reputation for transgressing whatever ideological theories and historical certitude comes their way: regardless of whether it is Christian, Muslim, Marxist, Structural Realist or whatever. This obstinance has given rise to what may well be the most extensive list of conspiracy theories faced by any people. Mearsheimer’s speech reminds us of the “Jews run the media” aspect of antisemitic conspiracy theory, where he says

Israel and its supporters have been able to do a good job of keeping the mainstream media in the United States from telling the truth…But the Internet is a game changer…[it] allows Americans to learn the story that the New York times and the Washington Post have been hiding from them

However, by far the most significant aspect of Mearsheimer’s analysis is the central role he gives “American Jews” and “the Jewish American community” in the future prospects for peace. It may be “hardline Israelis and their American supporters” who comprise “the lobby”, but Mearsheimer’s logic dictates that it is only American Jews (rather than the US Government) who have the strength to slay the Zionist dragon

Hardline Israelis and their American supporters are aware of these problems [of apartheid Israel legitimacy], but they are betting that the lobby will defend Israel no matter what, and that its support will be sufficient to allow apartheid Israel to survive… In fact, one could argue that Israel could not have gotten as far down the apartheid road as it has without the help of organizations like AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League.  But that strategy is not likely to work over the long run.

The problem with depending on the lobby for protection is that most American Jews will not back Israel if it becomes a full-fledged apartheid state…there are good reasons to think that a marked shift in the American Jewish community’s thinking about Israel is in the offing.  This is not to deny that there will be some diehards who defend apartheid Israel; but their ranks will be thin and it will be widely apparent that they are out of step with core American values.

Mearsheimer goes on to explain how the crucially important American Jewish community currently stacks up. This is where he starts with the lists

Let me elaborate. American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories.  The first two are what I call “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners,” which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways.  The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid.  Let us call this group the “great ambivalent middle.”

It is Mearsheimer’s use of the term “righteous Jews” that really infuriates. To many Jewish eyes and ears, including my own, the phrase is an antisemitic provocation, with its spit and sneer comparison to the Holocaust-related term “righteous Gentiles”.

We cannot be certain that this is Mearsheimer’s intention, but he is no fool and we must assume that he expected his audience, and Jews in general, to understand the allusion. Mearsheimer does, however, explain what he means by “righteous Jews”. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t mean American Jews who risk death to their entire household by sheltering Palestinians from Israeli death squads, merely those who

believe that self-determination applies to Palestinians as well as Jews, and that the two-state solution is the best way to achieve that end. Some righteous Jews, however, favor a democratic bi-national state over the two-state solution.

I have the impression that Mearsheimer believes this group of Jews to be significantly smaller than it actually is. Nevertheless, you have to wonder how many of them would classify themselves alongside Norman Finkelstein, whom Mearsheimer includes in his personal avenue of the righteous, also populated by Philip Weiss, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Naomi Klein and Tony Judt amongst others.

You may have guessed by now that the wrong list to be on is that entitled the “new Afrikaners”. This is not because Mearsheimer would place you in a Boer War concentration camp, far less a Nazi one: but rather because you would be epitomising all that is worst about American Zionist defenders of Israeli apartheid.

Mearsheimer specifies that

I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organisations as new Afrikaners.

He then goes on to list four such individuals and their organisations: the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, and the Zionist Organization of America.

As with those whom he listed as “righteous Jews”, the list of “new  Afrikaners” have diverse motivations, methodologies and goals. The fact that Mearsheimer just lumps them all together into two lists – good and bad – exemplifies how far he has now strayed from his area of expertise.

Nevertheless, read (or watch) the remainder of Mearsheimer’s speech and you may well be cheered to discover that the “great ambivalent middle” Jews will rise from their slumber and save the day:

I believe that most of the Jews in the great ambivalent middle will not defend apartheid Israel but will either keep quiet or side with the righteous Jews against the new Afrikaners, who will become increasingly marginalized over time.  And once that happens, the lobby will be unable to provide cover for Israel’s racist policies toward the Palestinians in the way it has in the past.

So, there you have them, Mearsheimer’s Lists and the chilling historical echoes that this kind of Jew-categorisation evokes.

Aside from their content, what does the actual existence of Mearsheimer’s Lists say about his tactics and scholarship? The language employed is a poor simplification, poisonously expressed. Mearsheimer is from the Offensive branch of Structural Realism, but every explanation I have read of Offensive Realism describes it as an intellectually rigorous analysis of how states conduct power politics. Nowhere can I find an explanation that says it is an intellectual pursuit in which academics find un-academic ways to cause offence to the objectified targets of their vitriol.

It almost goes without saying that double standards are also at play here. Could we envisage Mearsheimer’s defenders tolerating such a categorisation of Muslims or of African-Americans?

Of course, Mearsheimer isn’t blaming The Jews per se, only those who are on the wrong list. The problem is, however, the longer it takes for the “great ambivalent middle” to fulfil Mearsheimer’s prediction, the more likely (and more deservedly) they are to end up on the wrong list. Worse still, if there’s one thing that you can predict about Jews, its that they don’t fulfil other people’s predcitions

No s**t Sherlock

A post by Saul.

After years of the Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Independent Jewish Voices ranting on and on about the power of the “Israel Lobby” and how we need a “rational debate” about it and how influential it is in the UK and Britain, a piece containing the following appears in JfJfP’s latest newsletter, criticising Obama for a lack of pressure on Israel:

“While the “Israel lobby” thesis conveniently explains his failure to do so and absolves US policy-makers of responsibility for their ongoing support of Israeli apartheid, violence and annexation, it simply does not stand up under closer scrutiny.”

The newsletter, whilst replete with the normal misrepresentations of Israel as “apartheid” etc, claims that the “Lobby” argument does not stand up to scrutiny! No s**t Sherlock (or should that be Shylock?)!

Since the recent resurrection of this old canard, Engage has been saying exactly this, whilst simultaneously drawing attention to its formulation as a repetition of antisemitic myths.

JJfP and IJV have, from their inception, allowed themselves to be blown like a straw in the wind. Their tendency to uncritically accept any negative narrative that relates to Israel or Jews, whether it connects with antisemitic libels or not, is notorious.

Maybe now they can admit to themselves, and others, that their failure to connect with any meaningful section of their “target audience” (the so-called “Jewish community”) has nothing to do with the alleged omnipotence of the Board of Deputies, the Chief Rabbi or the Board of Deputies, but their own inability to recognise antisemitism when it stares them in the face.