Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday, 9 February 2007

The first Jewish anti-Semites

It must be time I jumped on the bandwagon. If truth be told, I’ve already been talking about the statement by Independent Jewish Voices. According to their website,
A new initiative, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) was launched on Monday 5 February 2007, with an advertisement in the Times Newspaper, incorporating the Declaration and List of Signatories. At the same time, launch articles appeared in the Guardian Newspaper…
The initiative has raised quite a ruckus, with criticisms from the right and the left, as well as support from many quarters. There’s a page on their site listing 9 international newspapers and 14 blogs that have covered their statement launch so far.
The statement itself is nothing special. Basically, all it says is that the signatories support human rights, even in Israel and the occupied territories,
Human rights are universal and indivisible and should be upheld without exception. This is as applicable in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as it is elsewhere.
And implicitly, that the UK’s Jewish Board of Deputies, ‘The Voice Of British Jewry’, does not speak for them,
These principles are contradicted when those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews in Britain and other countries consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people.
So what’s the big deal? Why is this initiative more important than the American Jewish organisations that distance themselves from the Zionist apologists of the American Jewish Committee and the like – organisations like Jewish Voice for Peace or Brit Tzedek v’Shalom? Why is it more important than the Australian Jewish Democratic Society? Or indeed, existing UK organisations with similar perspectives, like Jews for Justice for Palestinians?
There was a bit of excitement back in October when George Soros announced that he was going to fund an alternative to AIPAC. But whatever happened to the initiative of which Richard Silverstein wrote,
For someone like me who's been fighting in the trenches for 40 years to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace this could be a revolutionary development. Many groups promoting such an agenda have come and gone since I first started working on this issue. Almost all were grass-roots focused and insurgent in nature. They had barely enough funding to make a ripple in the pond of American politics. Israeli government officials treated such groups as mere gnats which they swatted away impatiently.
It’s really kind of a mystery. Is it just the high profile release and the high profile signatories? Even I recognised some of these prominent British Jews: Dr Uri Davis, Harold Pinter, Leon Rosselson, Mike Leigh, Mike Marqusee, Musa Moris Farhi, Prof Avi Shlaim, Prof Eric Hobsbawm, Prof Jacqueline Rose, Prof Tony Kushner, and many, many more.
I guess it might be as simple as that. Now everybody knows that whatever the Board of Deputies may claim, there’s a whole bunch of famous Jews who were prepared to shell out 30 quid for the privilege of publicly announcing – ‘Those bastards don’t speak for me!’
In case you don’t know who the Board of Deputies are, they’re the mob who organised a rally to support Israel’s bombardments of Lebanon and Gaza last year. Anyway, I’m optimistic that this initiative will succeed in depriving the Board of the hegemonic voice it’s enjoyed since 1738. Maybe now, when they issue a statement, everyone will know that they are only speaking for the hard core Israel right or wrong crowd.
And I’m not the only one. Mark Elf, of Jews sans frontieres, calling the move ‘encouraging’, writes that ‘over 100 high profile Jewish Brits signing up for an alternative voice to the Board of Deputies, which is seen as simply a mouthpiece for Israel’. Lenin writes,
this is an important and timely development. The founding statement from Independent Jewish Voices is far from an attack on Zionism but nor does it commit signatories to Zionism or to any specific solution to the occupation of Palestine. Its spare assertions about the rights of Palestinians and about the fact that the fight against antisemitism is undermined when criticism of Israel is branded antisemitic, if taken seriously and logically, entail a challenge to Jewish nationalism.
On the other hand, Israeli born jazz saxophonist, Gilad Atzmon ‘was rather disappointed with the views expressed by the group’, writing
Once again it was an ‘image’ of moral thinking rather than an authentic ethical commitment. Once again it was a glorifying exposition of Jewish righteousness rather than simply acknowledging the Palestinian cause, i.e., the ‘right of return’. Disappointingly, the declaration wittingly avoids confronting the kernel of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since it is rather established that the Palestinian cause is largely orientated around the mass expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians in 1948 and the failure to resolve the refugee catastrophe, avoiding the issue is nothing less than denying the Palestinians the most elementary human right: the right to live on one’s land. Avoiding the refugee issue is nothing less than dismissing the Palestinians of the most basic human rights.
Which prompted me to respond,
There's more than one way to skin a cat
Gilad has a valid point in criticising the IJV ‘Time to speak out’ statement. It does not explicitly address the right of return.

But he is mistaken to assert ‘it is rather established that the Palestinian cause is largely orientated around the mass expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians in 1948 and the failure to resolve the refugee catastrophe’. The sad fact is that much of the support Palestinians receive from supporters around the world concerns itself exclusively with the plight of those Palestinians living under the boot of Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, paying lip service at best to the refugees. The whole approach of partition and a two state ‘solution’ rests crucially on ignoring the interests of the 1948 Arabs living as twelfth class citizens within what is euphemistically known as ‘Israel proper’, and of the refugees who have spent nearly six decades languishing in squalid camps.

It was almost certainly with an eye to the movements and individuals who continue to harbour illusions in the validity of a Jewish ethnocratic state that the IJV statement is silent on these crucial matters. Their objective was apparently to garner signatures from a broad spectrum of prominent Jews on the simple basis that they agree that the Israeli government is violating Palestinian human rights and that the Board of Deputies does not speak for them in its uncritical advocacy for every Israeli atrocity. A truly principled document that rejected the ‘right to exist’ of a Jewish state based on ethnic cleansing and demanded the right of return and a state of all its citizens would not have succeeded in gaining the support of the range of prominent Jews that the IJV statement has. It would therefore have no impact on the credibility of the Board of Deputies. I would like to see more people take an explicit stand against racism and ethnic cleansing at least as much as Gilad would. But the approach that IJV has taken is a valid one.

Gilad is also mistaken to suggest that the IJV statement does not express opposition to ‘racism in general’. It states, ‘There is no justification for any form of racism, including anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism or Islamophobia, in any circumstance.’ As I read it, this formulation actually implies a rejection of ethnocracy and ethnic cleansing, even if the drafters of ‘Time to speak out’ were too cagey to make it explicit.
Anyway, we’ll see what happens. I’m hoping that with initiatives like this and more and more people coming out explicitly against partition of Palestine, as Dr Saree Makdisi did recently; with articulate and knowledgeable people like Ilan Pappe gaining a reception, space will open for a qualitative change in discussion of Zionism.
And while I’m on the topic of Jewish anti-Semitism, Antony Loewenstein had an article in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day that led me to the AJC site, where I found this new pamphlet on ‘”Progressive” Jewish thought and the new anti-Semitism’. It turns out that ‘when it comes to getting noticed by the media and getting “traction” for their views, it is the so-called progressive” Jewish anti-Zionists who receive the lion’s share of the attention.’ Yeah, right!
Anti-Zionism, in fact, is the form that much of today’s anti-Semitism takes, so much so that some now see earlier attempts to rid the world of Jews finding a parallel in present day desires to get rid of the Jewish state.
Over on Muzzlewatch, Andrew Schamess, has discovered the biblical antecedents of today’s Jewish ‘antisemites’.
Take, for example, the prophet Jeremiah. Keep in mind that he preached during a very dangerous time in the history of the original Jewish state. Jerusalem then - as now - stood as an island of civilization in the Mideast, surrounded by a sea of dangerous enemies. The Jews were just a few generations past a Holocaust, the destruction of the Northern Jewish Kingdom by the Assyrians. Now, Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians…
Surely, in such a time, any self-respecting Jewish patriot would have rallied to the support of the state. But not Jeremiah! …Jeremiah piled one criticism on another - it was as if he couldn’t find enough bad things to say about the Jewish state. He even said that the Chaldeans, the attackers of the Jewish state, were carrying out the will of the Almighty - that our enemies were meting out divine justice by attacking us.
While I was visiting the AJC site, I couldn’t help noticing the results of the ‘2006 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion’ they conducted September 25 – October 16, 2006. As with most surveys of this kind, the response categories offered seldom exhaust the possible answers and force respondents to shoehorn their views into inappropriate forms. They seem to take it as read that all respondents accept the existence of a Jewish ethnocracy in Palestine, because they sure don’t ask anything that doesn’t assume it. Although 65% responded that the US should never have invaded Iraq in the first place, 81% agreed with the statement ‘The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel’ and 55% approve ‘of the way the Israeli government has handled the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon’.
But what struck me most of all, although not really surprising, was what looks to me like a clear case of cognitive dissonance. Only 38% support ‘the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons’, but a whopping 57% support ‘Israel taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons’!

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