Palestine Solidarity, BDS and Antisemitism

This is a guest post by Ulrich Stephane Savary a Labour Party Campaigner in South Manchester, writer at Labour Vision and a member of Momentum and the Jewish Labour Movement.

When the second Intifada started in September 2000, I was in my first year at University. Having joined my local student union, I was really pleased to have been selected as delegate for my student union in the local Pro-Palestine Committee.  It was a great opportunity for me to show that I could help in organising a mass protest, with various left-wing organisations, trade unions, Christian, Jewish and Muslim organisations.  It also meant that I had to be ready to broker a deal with groups that don’t always agree with each other.  It is fair to say that I was aware that he French left, like the left in Britain often spend more time fighting each other than they do in working together.

So the first time I went to my Pro-Palestine Committee meeting, I knew what to expect. When I entered the room, full of trade unionists and left-wing activists all talking seriously about the influence of US imperialism in the Middle East, the role of successive French Government in the development of Zionism amongst the French Jewish Community before WW2, the allegedly corrupted leadership of Fatah and the courageous young Palestinians that were fighting the Israeli war machine with rocks, I felt like I was part of a group of people who knows, against those who don’t.  But I soon realised that all them, leaders of various small Trotskyists, Anarchists, and Alt-left organisations were arguing with each other about the role played by the working class in the imminent fall of Capitalism. They were all leaders of small talking shops, tiny so-called working-class parties, with only themselves and their group of followers to believe in them. But they had the passion of those who believe that the revolution will come sooner rather than later.  And when you are 19, you want to believe them, even if I couldn’t see the differences between them.

After ten minutes of this noisy and overexcited “brouhaha”, a group in their 50’s emerged from the back of the room to address the rest of the group. They were all members of the powerful CGT / CFDT, the main trade unions in France, and they were all members of either the French Communist Party as well as the Parti Socialiste.

The Trotskyists hated the CGT / CFDT group. The Anarchists, who hated the Trotskyists, hated them even more. The Alt-left left the room in disgust even before the any discussion had really started.  After all, they were viewed as bureaucrats, paid by the Union to work for their respective political parties. And the fact that both parties were in a coalition Government together didn’t help make them more popular amongst the “Bolsheviks”.

And yet, as soon as the CGT / CFDT group started to talk, the entire room listened to them. And they made a very simple and valid point. The meeting wasn’t about Israel itself, but was about our solidarity with the Palestinian people. Back then, it was important to get it right. One after another, they reminded the audience, that the far-right will try to use the events unfolding in Palestine as an excuse to attack the Jewish Community, any calls to boycott Israel will be used by them, in their war against the Jews in France or elsewhere.  Therefore, this committee wasn’t ready to support such things.  What they wanted instead was a principled socialist position on a conflict.

Today, some may find this outrageous, other would even consider this as the ultimate evidence of a so-called Zionist lobby that controls everything, both the left and the right at the same time. But in 2000 in France, in this room packed with so many different political organisations who loved to argue with each other’s, to me this seemed to be the correct political position.  Solidarity with the Palestinian people didn’t mean that all Israelis were to blame for the second intifada, so why punish those who were innocent. And this principled political position, 17 years later, is still mine.

When it comes to any political or social movement, socialists usually always start their political analysis from facts, then try to link these facts with what is called “class consciousness”, social classes that have different political and economic goals. This helps Socialists to analyse any social movement in relation to the economy and to the level of political consciousness of the actors of these movements. Karl Marx for instance, saw the political economy as the engine of mind. Therefore, consciousness reflects the political economy. A person’s thoughts tend to be shaped by his or her political and economic circumstances. That’s how all progressive social movements broadly speaking start.

Any Socialist I hope, would agree with me on that, and understand that our capitalist societies are divided between classes having different political and economic interests. However, when it comes to Israel, strong and proud socialists, tend to forget everything they know regarding social movements, the economy, Imperialism, and seem to believe that all Israelis, no matter their social conditions, no matter if they are right-wing or not, rich or poor, pro or against their own government are somehow collectively responsible for the action of their own governments.  If we applied this rather strange view on Britain, it would mean that the entire British population would be collectively responsible for the action of their past and present Governments.  No more class struggle, just a monolithic nation that act, think and fight together and must all be blamed.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and its hidden agenda.

That’s why when socialists give their support to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, they renounce any kind of socialist analysis of both Israel as a nation and of Zionism as a political and national movement.

What is the main purpose of this movement? They will claim, it is to support the Palestinian People in their struggle against both Zionism and Israel. Let’s take this argument seriously and examine the results of what this campaign has achieved since it started in July 2005.

Did we get an Independent Palestinian state because of the BDS movement? The answer is obviously no.  Are the Palestinians any closer to have their own Independent State from Israel?  The answer is no.  Twelve long years of campaigning have given no satisfactory results.  If the real goal of the BDS mobement ss to help the Palestinian in their struggle against Israel, then that strategy has failed to deliver.  Therefore, we should question the true goal of the BDS Movement. If after 12 long years of failing to deliver their primary goal, the BDS movement continues with its strategy of “bullying” anyone who wishes to do business, study or just live in Israel, it may mean they have a hidden agenda, something that I think should raise some concerns for all socialists. I would imagine that any socialist would understand that holding all Israelis responsiblr for the actions of their government, can only mean that the BDS movement true goal isn’t really to support the Palestinian people.

We should openly question the true motivation of an organisation, if after 12 years, it hasn’t achieved its goal. Yet, when it comes to the BDS movement, a parts  of the British left seem  unable to question the true motivation of this movement. And this is a serious concern.

But that’s not all. So many left-wing activists, in the broad sense of the term, will compare the political situation in Israel, with what happened in South Africa during the Apartheid regime, when the black population were considered as inferior by the white population.  It was a racist regime, where the black majority living in squalid conditions, couldn’t vote or  even sit on the same bus as the white minority.

Is Israel the “South Africa” of the middle East then? If this was the case, no Arab Israelis would have the right to vote. And yet, there are Arab Israelis members of the Knesset such as Masud Ghnam, Dr Jamal Zahalka or Ahmad Tibi. If Israel was really an apartheid state, there would be no Arab Israelis elected. Therefore, if Socialists argue that Israel is an apartheid state to explain why they continue to support the BDS Movement, then they are committing a gross political mistake, as they clearly don’t understand the true nature of Israel, as a modern liberal democracy.

What about those Israeli citizens who refuse to support the action of their Government in the West Bank? What about the thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women who have joined together to march through the desert for peace[5]? Don’t they deserve our support?

To be frank, I personally find the term apartheid inaccurate and inflammatory when applied to the struggle of the Palestinians.  It doesn’t help us to understand the true nature of the relationship between the 3.6 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank under military rule and the Israelis settlers who live under Israelis civilian law.  The Palestinians living in the West Bank are facing what we can characterise as a modern form of colonialism. And yes, Socialists should oppose it. But the left should also recognise that the Israeli society is as divided as any other society and doesn’t constitute a monolithic bloc around the Israeli government.  For us socialists, there is no such thing as national solidarity, but only national class struggle and international solidarity.

If this obsession with condemning Israel, does nothing to advance peace or help the Palestinians, it does however help to enforce the belief that Israelis are all guilty. We should be suspicious of any left-wing organisations obsessed with Israel, to the point that they don’t seem to vigorously campaign on any anything else.  And this obsession raises other questions. Why some sections of the British left continue to use a false definition of the nature of Israel.  Does it fit another political agenda, something that they don’t want to confess? Let’s say it, aren’t they a bit anti-sematic?  Of course, they will vehemently refute the term, and will accuse anyone who raises this as a “Zionist” like it was an insult.

The truth is that many on the left aren’t conscious that their own actions can reinforce anti-Semitism in Britain or elsewhere in the world, however some do embrace it plainly.

The Great International Zionist Conspiracy that will destroy Britain, the Labour Party and the world.

How many times have we seen labour party members, trade unionists or far-left activists claiming that the media is being controlled by Zionist or Israel. This is a recurrent theme of the British left. The BBC and with it, the mainstream media, are all seen to have a hidden agenda against the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn and the world in general. And often, they are all Zionists. What about our Parliament or the “right wing of the Labour Party”? Have a guess. They are all under the Zionist or Israelis lobby influence too. Zionists are seen everywhere, and I am sure that some may even believe that I am part of this conspiracy too.

Even if I have utter contempt for any so-called socialists that  use such disgusting anti-Semitic propaganda, to explain pretty much everything that is happening in the world, let’s for a moment take their point  seriously.

Believing that Israel, as a nation, can corrupt, control, international organisations and then dominate the entire European or American establishment, is basically believing that Israel is the most powerful nation on earth. If taken this seriously, we should all be asking how this tiny nation, who needs the US support to maintain its regional power, can have such power?

This defies logic.  In the hierarchy of Imperialist nations, Israel is no more than a small player. It is a regional power, like Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are too. They don’t have the capacity to topple successive presidents in Africa, like France has done so many time since the 1960’s, they don’t have military bases in each continent, like USA have and they wouldn’t have been able to start a war with Argentina, and to win it, like United Kingdom did during the  Falklands War in 1982.  So how can any socialist explain that “Zionists”, no sorry Israel have such an influence.

The only logical explanation would be that all Zionists have some sort of magical powers.  They must be super humans too as how  could  anyone explain the Zionists can control the world from Tel-Aviv, New York, Paris, London and Frankfurt since 18th Century or even before, whilst no one can see them gathering together at some point.  The “illiterate socialists” who believe in a gigantic Zionist worldwide conspiracy, must also believe that Zionists have some sort of supernatural powers. There are no other explanations possible.

When it isn’t Israel itself, it is “the master of the puppets”, Rothschild himself that is behind everything.  Of course, Israel and Rothschild must be working together. They are all Jews, no sorry Zionists.

This anti-Semitic Left-Wing Conspiracy has no valid political ground, and yet it is what some “illiterate Socialists” want to believe.

What is their best line of defence? Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism. When it comes to Israel, for them, it means that Zionism isn’t truly Jewish, therefore it isn’t anti-Semitic to believe that Zionist control the world.

Sometimes they even see Israel as some sort of a capitulation to anti-Semitism. If Jews are leaving Europe to live in Israel, it’s because they refuse to fight for their own right to stay and live in Europe. Even if today many Jews see Israel as a safe place, a last resort against Anti-Semitism, this section of the anti-Zionist left will see them not as victims, but as defeatists, or worse.  Let’s not mention to them the Holocaust, to explain why so many Jews consider themselves as Zionists.  Some of them will even claim that Zionist and Nazis were working together against Jews, to create a situation where all Jews had to leave Europe.

Even if their Anti-Zionism wasn’t linked to their Anti-Semitism, it is a fact that the Anti-Zionist Left don’t want to offer any credible alternative to Zionism, as they don’t perceive it as a political, national movement worth of interest.  As Steve Cohen explained, in his fantastic book “That’s Funny You Don’t Look Anti‐Semitic” the left has historically offered nothing more than so-called “assimilation” to fight against anti-Semitism.  Don’t be Jew and then you won’t be victims of anti-Semitism. Even today many on the left have nothing more to offer to the Jewish Community.

“It’s funny you don’t look anti-Semite”

The “Anti-Zionist Left” often uses other tricks to claim that those who oppose them are all wrong. Jewish and Socialist authors have been opposed to Zionism in the past. To be perfectly clear, and especially in the context of Europe before Hitler and the Holocaust, many socialist Jews were against Zionism. Today, some Jews are even deeply involved in the Anti-Zionist BDS Movement and the Anti-Zionist Left. Therefore, the conclusion that the “anti-Zionist” naturally draw is that Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Zionist Left see the world as if it was divided between “good Jews” opposed to the “bad Jews”.  The “good Jews” must be against Israel as a state, and must spend their entire political lives opposing Israel. There is no escape because the Anti-Zionist left love using them as evidence that they aren’t anti-Semitic. All accusations of anti-Semitism are simply an attack organised by Israel, the Zionists or the “bad Jews”.

In his essay On the Jewish Question, one of the clearest example of acceptance of anti-Semitism to the point that the individual himself – here Marx- includes anti-Semitism as part of his thinking is this:

ʺWhat is the secular cult of the Jew? Hagglingʺ.

ʺWhat is his secular god? Moneyʺ.

ʺExchange is the true god of the Jewʺ.

ʺThe chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchantʺ.

ʺThe emancipation of the Jew is, in the last analysis, the emancipation of mankind from Judaismʺ.

As Steve Cohen explained, this is not to make the reactionary claim that Marxism as a philosophy is anti-Semitic, but to show that victims of anti-Semitism can assimilate themselves to an anti-Semitic environment to the point that the victims themselves become anti-Semitic.

Therefore, when the “anti-Zionist left” uses Jewish writers as a line of defence against accusation of anti-Semitism, it only proves that they either don’t understand the true nature of anti-Semitism or that they are themselves anti-Semitic.

They aren’t good or bad Jews, but as soon as the “anti-Zionist left” makes this distinction between “anti-Zionist Jews” and “Zionist Jews”, the latter being the bad ones, they just show the true nature of their opposition to Israel.  It has little to do with the Palestinian people, but has everything to do with their own anti-Semitism.

Of course, I know that many good and decent people members of this section of the British Left truly believe that they aren’t anti-Semitic, however as Democratic Socialists, it our duty to re-evaluate our own political beliefs, especially when it considers an entire nation responsible for the mistakes of their own government, to the collective culpability of all Jews who are not anti-zionist

It is of the utmost importance that the left starts educating itself on antisemitism, as not understanding the true nature of anti-Semitism can lead to grave political mistakes which in return pave the way for discrimination and racism. If we, Socialists are serious about our support for Palestine, Palestinians and their fight for an independent state, as well as our commitment towards peace in the Middle East, we must step up our game, and work with all of those who truly want peace between Israel and Palestine.

[1] Mainly antifascist skinhead movement.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masud_Ghnaim

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamal_Zahalka

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_Tibi

[5] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/09/middleeast/israeli-palestinian-women-peace-march-desert/index.html

Challenging antisemitism on Gaza demonstrations: Reposted from the Workers’ Liberty Website.

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Daniel Randall from Workers’ Liberty has written the following which is re-posted from the Workers’ Liberty website.  You can read the original article here.

On the 26 July London demonstration against Israel’s assault on Gaza, I confronted a man who was carrying a placard which read “Research: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”, with an image of a Star of David, dripping blood, with “666” in the centre.

The Protocols are an anti-Semitic forgery dating from Tsarist Russia, which purport to expose a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. They were used in their time, and have been used since, to whip up racist hatred, often violent, against Jews.

I told the man that racism had no place on the demonstration, that his presence harmed the Palestinian cause, and that the document he was promoting was a racist hoax. In the course of what was probably a not very coherent tirade from me, I mentioned that I was Jewish.

“Well, you’re blinded by your bias because you’re a Jew”, he said. “Only Jews make the arguments you’re making.”

Thereafter the “discussion” became more heated, and several onlookers were drawn in. Several people backed me up, but several defended him.

Their defences ranged from, “he’s opposing Zionists, not Jews”, to “he’s not racist, Zionism is racist!”, to the perhaps more honest “Jews are the problem. If you’re a Jew, you’re racist, you’re what we’re demonstrating against.” One man, topless, but wearing a balaclava, said “fuck off, unless you want your fucking head kicked in.”

I walked away, angry and upset. I returned a short while later to find the placard-holder embracing two young men, before leaving. When me and some comrades challenged them, they told us he wasn’t anti-Semitic, merely anti-Zionist. “Look, it says ‘Zion’”, not ‘Jews’. ‘Zion’ means Zionists”, one helpfully informed us.

Explicit anti-Jewish racism of the kind displayed on the man’s placard has been relatively rare on Palestine solidarity demonstrations in Britain. But the fact that it was present at all, and that it could find even a handful of defenders in a crowd of other demonstrators, is deeply worrying. Pointing to its rarity, and dismissing the problem as restricted solely to fringe elements, would bury one’s head in the sand. As recent events in France and Germany have shown, it is an undeniable fact that there are anti-Semites in the global Palestine solidarity movement, and ones prepared to violently express their anti-Semitism. That must not be allowed to infect the movement in Britain.

I don’t know how easy a ride the man and his placard had on the demonstration before myself and others confronted him. Had official stewards of the march seen the placard, and challenged him? Perhaps he’d spent all day under attack from other demonstrators; I hope so. But when I found him, he was perfectly at his ease, and, as it turned out, surrounded by friends. That is a disappointment. If people with such politics want to attend solidarity demonstrations to peddle them, they should find themselves isolated, and face constant harangue. They shouldn’t be entitled to a moment’s peace.

While outward displays of “classical” anti-Semitism are rare, subtler themes are more common. Placards and banners comparing the Israeli state to Nazism, and its occupation of Palestine to the Holocaust, and images melding or replacing the Star of David with swastikas, are, while far from universal, relatively commonplace. The politics of this imagery, too, has an anti-Semitic logic.

Nazism and the Holocaust – an experience of attempted industrialised genocide, just two generations distant – left deep scars on Jewish identity and collective cultural memory and consciousness, wounds that will take a long time to heal. As others have written recently, no other ethno-cultural group has the most traumatic experience in its history exploited in this way. “Zionism = Nazism”, “Star of David = Swastika”, and “The Occupation = The Holocaust” all use collective cultural trauma as a weapon to attack Jews. The fact that those who take such placards on demonstrations intend only to target the Israeli government, and not Jews in general, is no defence or excuse. The barbarism of Israeli state policy does not make the Jewishness of its government fair game, any more than Barack Obama’s imperialism excuses racist attacks on him.

To describe the Palestinian solidarity movement, as such, as “anti-Semitic” would be a calumny. Cynics and right-wingers have attempted to use incidents of anti-Semitism to extrapolate conclusions about the politics of all marchers, or to imply that any support for the Palestinians at all is somehow anti-Semitic. Such cynical extrapolations are not my intention with this article. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of marchers attended because they want to oppose Israel’s current assault on Gaza. The movement includes many Jews (and not just the theocratic reactionaries of Neturei Karta, but secular-progressive Jews too), and many sincere anti-racists. But a situation where anyone thinks it appropriate to carry such a placard, where he can find supporters, and where such people can openly racially abuse Jewish demonstrators who challenge them, is not tolerable and must be addressed.

Right-wingers in the Jewish community will use instances of anti-Semitism to discredit the Palestinian cause, and dissuade Jews from acting to support it. On this, instrumental, level, anti-Semitism harms the Palestinians. But racism should have no place in any solidarity movement, not because it’s bad PR, but because the politics of solidarity should be anathema to any form of racism.

It is now common in the left-wing blogosphere for articles which contain potentially traumatic content to carry “trigger warnings”, alerting those who have experienced particular traumas that something in the article might trigger painful memories of their experience. To attend a demonstration where Nazism and the Holocaust, the worst and most traumatic of Jewish collective experience, is used as a cheap propaganda tool, and openly anti-Semitic placards are carried and defended, while those challenging them are racially abused, must surely be “triggering” for many Jews. But we can’t put trigger warnings on demonstrations, or on life. All we can do is work to win hegemony for a political culture where such things are confronted and stamped out.

Finally, a “historical” note on placards on Palestine solidarity demonstrations. In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, some Workers’ Liberty members in Sheffield (three of us, incidentally, Jewish) took placards on a demonstration against the assault which, amongst other things, said “No to IDF, no to Hamas.” As it happens, I now think, for various reasons, that our slogan was misjudged. But no-one attempted to engage us in debate or discussion about it; we were simply screamed at, called (variously) “scabs” and “Zionists”, and told we must immediately leave the demo (we didn’t). Our placards were ripped out of our hands and torn to pieces.

As I say, I don’t know how many people had challenged the racist placard on the 2014 London demonstration before me; several, I hope. But the political atmosphere on the demo was evidently not such that the man carrying it felt unwelcome – and, indeed, when he was challenged, many people leapt to his defence.

I don’t make the comparison in order to express a wish that what happened to us in 2009 had happened to him in 2014. I wouldn’t particularly advocate physically destroying the man’s placard, or attempting to physically drive him and his supporters off the demonstration. But a movement in which “no to IDF, no to Hamas” is considered beyond the pale even for debate and discussion, and must be violently confronted, but a placard promoting The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion can be carried without challenge, even for a moment, and its carrier find numerous defenders, needs to change its political culture.

“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)

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.

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 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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