Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday, 5 March 2007

An alternative view

Last month I wrote a piece that was in part about the initiative by a mob of prominent British Jews, Independent Jewish Voices, to launch a statement supporting human rights and rejecting a monolithic approach to Israel on the part of ‘those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole’. I had reservations about the statement, in particular the ‘support for a properly negotiated peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people’, which I took to be code for partition, but defended it from Gilad Atzmon’s criticism. I felt that if I were a prominent British Jew with 35 quid to spare, I could have signed it.

Well, I’ve just been catching up on some email and found a message from the Australian Jewish Democratic Society that Sol Salbe had forwarded, that itself forwarded a message from Independent Australian Jewish Voices, over the signatures of Peter Slezak, James Levy, and Antony Loewenstein. This group, too, has drafted a ‘Statement of Principles: A Call for an Alternative View’, that they aim to publish in the press.

Although the text of the statement parallels the IJV statement at points, it eschews the studied ambiguity of the British version. It starts out the with the claim

We are Jews of diverse opinions on the Middle East who share a deep concern about the current crisis in the region.

Very similar to the wording of the IJV statement,

We are a group of Jews in Britain from diverse backgrounds, occupations and affiliations who have in common a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights.

Unfortuately, the claim to diversity is not as well founded in the Australian statement, because it proceeds to recognize ‘the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians’ [my emphasis]. In other words, the signatories assert that the colonisers somehow have a legitimate right to self determination. And it gets worse.

We condemn violence by all parties, whether state sanctioned or not. We believe that Israel’s right to exist must be recognized and that Palestinians’ right to a homeland must also be acknowledged.

It’s hard to believe that rational people are still trying to equate the violence of the oppressed indigenous people’s liberation struggle with the colonists’ violent oppression, with the benefit of the fourth most powerful military on the planet.

And ‘Israel’s right to exist’ again rears its ugly head, as if the whole idea hadn’t been comprehensively debunked over and over again, even in the Christian Science Monitor! But Jonathan Cook provided an earlier and much more detailed and cogent critique of the demand.

In demanding recognition of its right to exist, Israel is ensuring that the Palestinians agree to Israel's character being set in stone as an exclusivist Jewish state, one that privileges the rights of Jews over all other ethnic, religious and national groups inside the same territory. The question of what such a state entails is largely glossed over both by Israel and the West.

So whoever drafted the statement clearly was not at pains to ensure that a truly broad spectrum of Jews could join them. On the contrary, although they ‘are concerned that the Jewish establishment does not represent the full range of Jewish opinion’, the diversity of signatories’ opinions is restricted to the extraordinarily narrow spectrum of those who support colonialism and ethnocracy. Indeed, they make their true objective explicit,

Uncritical allegiance to Israeli government policy does not necessarily serve Israel’s best interests. [my emphasis]

Those whose differences with the ‘Jewish establishment’ rest on principled objections to Zionism and racism are obviously unwelcome in this exclusive clique.

As the sentiments and wording resemble Antony Loewenstein’s, and the first signature on the website is his, I surmise that he had a hand in drafting it. Now it just so happens that I have written a critique of his book, My Israel question, that was to have been published in Solidarity magazine last month. I’ve kind of been waiting for the publication to come out before posting it on the web. As it only appears in paper, I don’t actually know whether it has hit the streets yet, but it certainly should have and this seems like an opportune moment to post it. In a separate entry.


  1. I'll comment on this, even though it's really about your review - because this is the newer (and shorter) post. I am one of those people who think that Israeli resistance to a binational state - whether it is based on racism, or on fear (justified or not - feelings like that are never entirely rational and can't be overcome by saying "but you are wrong. There's nothing to fear") might force a two-state solution.
    However, your argument - that the same forces make a two state solution (as opposed to a Bantustan "solution") impossible, is fairly convincing, I have to admit. I certainly believe that the current "peace process" is simply a stalling tactic designed to give slo-mo ethnic cleansing more time (it seems to me Antony, or Uri Avnery etc. are very aware of that).

  2. I'm glad to have your comments, wherever you put them. And I'm delighted to found my argument persuasive. I can;t tell you I don;t get that every day. I intend to develop those arguments further in my review of One country, but at the moment, I have Giulad Atzmon and Stanley Fish on my mind!

  3. Stanley Fish. I usually read his pieces and sometimes leave a comment - but this time he's just being pathetic. Of course you get a high correlation between antisemitism and criticism of Israel if... you define anti-Zionism as "new" antisemitism. And isn't one of his colleagues - Sami al Arian - just now being kept in jail even though he has not been convicted of anything? Isn't anti-Arab racism a much bigger problem in the US (and Europe) right now than antisemitism? I was really disappointed - at least normally, Fish has something interesting, if wrongheaded, to say.

  4. Well, Christian, 'De gustibus non est disputandum'. That's what I always say. But seriously, I was relieved when the introduced Times Select and I no longer had to read Thomas Friedman. I think that was before Fish's time. They lifted it for a week last July, and I couldn't resist a piece of his on academic freedom. Here's a link to my reaction:

    Obviously, I don't think very highly of him and this latest doesn't strike me as special, bearing in mind that I've only read two or three of his pieces.

  5. Oh yeah, his piece on "academic freedom". I, too, had some reaction to that. I don't like Fish at all. He has this shtick of always employing the most outrageous example possible and then claiming he did not make any statement on the substance of the question, but rather only on modes of thinking or methods of argument.
    It's just that usually, he is somehow more clever in the sense that it takes some thinking to figure out what exactly he's getting wrong. I guess saying "I was disappointed" gives the wrong impression that I usually find what he writes convincing - I don't. And word on Times Select. I pay for it b/c it includes some access to their archives.

  6. Sorry, Christian, I thought when you wrote, 'this time he's just being pathetic', it implied that there were other times that he wasn't being pathetic.

    As for al-Arian, you're quite right. I guess they're trying to make an example of him, and they sure are. It should be backfiring badly on them, but, well you know the kind of ideological teflon armour those guys wear. Meanwhile, I really sympathise - it must be so frustrating.

    Now, as for the survey, although I don’t have access to anything but the abstract and Fish’s description, I don't think Kaplan and Small were using criticism of Israel, or even antizionism, as their definition of antisemitism. If they were, of course you'd be quite right, but it's hard to imagine anyone publishing such a thing that establishes a correlation between a phenomenon and the same phenomenon? Or do you reckon things have gone that far?

    Anyhow, I’m not really sure how generally interesting these little exchanges are, so if you want to email me, the contact details are on the profile page.