Are Jews a people?

I don’t go out of my way to think about my (irreligious, outside a community and without strong social ties) Jewish identity because when I do it gives me a bit of a headache. I have this headache in common with many secular Jews. After an early induction to Judaism against considerable odds (I come from a part of my home town where everybody was from somewhere different but where there were hardly two Jews to rub together) failed to ‘take’, I was content to let my Jewish background slip into exactly that – the background. Before the campaign for a total boycott against Israel began to interfere with my sense of security in Britain, the only thing that would have induced me to try to pin it down would have been finding out that I was pregnant.

The reason I have to think about it now is because the boycott campaign is playing havoc in my trade union and also in Britain’s fourth political party. Now I want to stick up for Jews. The call for boycott, divestment and sanctions is, whether boycotters realise or not, a call for Israel’s end because the criteria it imposes for lifting the boycott are criteria Israel cannot meet while remaining the Jewish state approved by a majority of countries, for good reasons, in the United Nations partition plan of 1947.

The thing is, the connection Jews have with the Jewish state are complicated and the difficulties I have locating myself in Jewishness are related to the anomalies with Jewishness that the boycott theorists are exploiting and relating to the existence of a Jewish state. To tackle boycotters, it is necessary to tackle this question of Jewishness and what it comprehends.

To gain an overview of the anomalies and make a dent in the ignorance, listen to this highly engrossing MP3 of a lecture by Michael Walzer, titled “Are We A People?” (direct link to MP3 – right-click or apple-click if you want to download to your filespace rather than listening in a browser). If you want to see him delivering the lecture, there is also a video on the site of the Institute for Jewish Research, the organisation which hosted it.

I have always been comfortable with the idea of anomalies and after listening to Walzer I still am. I credit the BDS boycotters in the organisations of which I’m a part for making me feel more Jewish already – although I doubt it is in any way they would approve of. Oona King had the same kind of experience after being politically molested by Galloway supporters.

Philip Weiss, who is a critic of Zionism, has an overview and some reservations about the Walzer presentation. Weiss, as is common among Jewish anti-Zionists, is a compassionate person who seems to assume responsibility for Israel’s conduct as a Jew and, as is also so common, fails to acknowledge responsibility for peace on the part of the Palestinians. I would speculate that he, as a Jew, considers Israel to be a stain on his conscience. My response – which I hope does not sound too glib – would be to support political process and the anti-occupation movement, support human rights for all, and also support an Israeli Arab advocacy organisation of the calibre of The Abraham Fund.

Sean Matgamna – left, not anti-Israel

I am not a militant revolutionary socialist. My more youthful beliefs (to be kind, they were chiaroscuro) coincided for some time with those of hardline communists. Unfortunately I was also extremely shy, suspicious, mystified by political processes, didn’t have like-minded friends, and was therefore politically solitary (which is ludicrous in a hardline communist, no? Well, I never said I wasn’t ludicrous) and therefore existed in supine and pretty constant depressive state of dispair. Indeed, as I remember it, I spent a large part of my youth in bed eating bags of crisps and waiting to expire.

I digress. I have time for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. They want what I want, and they have a consistent position on how to get it which is also insightful about the obstacles between the society we currently inhabit and the one they want for us. We broadly share the same destination – equal rights, material and personal security, provision according need, contribution according to ability, and freedom. The difference between what I think and what they think is our assessment of the logistics, practicalities and sustainability of a revolution, and maintaining the state of affairs after the revolution has severed us from the experience of many of our former leaders. This is nothing extraordinary – I’d venture that, for most people, unless they have strong essentialist beliefs about things like race, human nature and who deserves what on which grounds, it is little more than this different assessment of what is most likely to work which separates their politics.

I digress again. From what I can gather, the AWL approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is completely free of double standards. Its founder Sean Matgamna outlines an anti-racist socialist approach to Israel and Palestine. He has been getting hammered by a left which is disorientated on the Middle East, “selective, one-sided, pacifism, deep hostility to Israel and an absolute ‘anti-imperialism’ that leads them to back some of the most regressive political forces on the planet” for daring to suggest that “that Israel has good reason to fear, and react to, an Iranian nuclear bomb”.

“We asked in the last issue of Solidarity for a rational discussion of the still probable Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations, and what attitude socialists should take to that and to Iran having nuclear weapons. What we got was a chorus of spluttering abuse. (And from the hard-pressed poor loons who control the Weekly Worker, the charge that the author of the discussion piece, Sean Matgamna, “excused” — you are meant to read: “justified”, “advocated” — an Israeli nuclear strike at Iran!)

We got the concentrated eruption of anti-Israel hysteria that we’d hoped to avoid by discussing it in advance — extravagant loathing, violent abuse and Stalinist-vintage demands that the writer of the “discussion piece” be silenced. In short, we got a noxious stream of the “absolute anti-Zionism” and vicarious Arab and Islamic chauvinism in which the left is drowning; we got an exhibition-bout of the “anti-Zionist” moral, political and emotional black-jacking that for a long time now has made real discussion of these questions on the “left” difficult to the point of impossibility.

And what we “got” was, of course, only what young Jews in the colleges get, and have been getting for a very long time wherever the kitsch-left is strong enough to dish it out (youngsters who, unlike us, have not become hardened to it).

The picture of the Left that emerges from this episode is a true likeness of the political confusion, brute intolerance of dissent, and rampaging moral imbecility of what passes for a revolutionary left in Britain in the first decade of the twenty-first century!

We have also in the outcry had a pretty good ad hoc approximation to the “internal regimes” and the atmosphere inside and “around” the typical kitsch-left group.

So then, we should conclude that it is simply not possible on the “left” to have a rational discussion about Israel and the Middle East, or of specific problems like the Iranian regime’s probable or possible drive for nuclear weapons? That, even after 60 years, it is not possible to discuss the proposition that Israel has a right to exist — and therefore an inalienable right to defend itself — without the “socialist” friends and “anti-imperialist” champions of Islamic clerical-fascism howling down anyone who disagrees with them? Can we get discussion without scenes as when, at the European Social Forum in October 2004, such people shouted down Subhi al Mashadani, General Secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, because he wasn’t ‘anti-imperialist’ enough for them?

The howl-fest we have had on the AWL website seems to answer unequivocally: “No!”

But that is not the only answer or the final one. Another answer is given by the AWL’s determination to raise such questions as forcefully and as often as necessary: Yes, it is. Yes!”

David Hirsh saw it first.

There is a Green Party leadership contest

Ashley Gunstock is a candidate for the Green Party of England and Wales at the upcoming elections. His entry into the contest means that Caroline Lucas doesn’t run unopposed, and this is a step in a good direction for Green Party democracy. Ashley, you will realise, is the underdog in this contest, which will culminate at Conference next week.

We know Caroline already. Ashley Gunstock’s leadership statement is on his new blog. And he answers questions with Caroline at the e-hustings.

How to win a fight against 20 children

The ones in Barkingside usually shuffle aside when I walk through them in front of KFC windmilling my arms. Come bonfire night time I may need this briefing though.

Although not this one:

“Again, if you have forewarning that you’ll soon be coming to blows with twenty children, absolutely wear a cup. If you do get struck in the groin, under no circumstances should you place your hand on your genitals to massage away the pain – touching your privates while surrounded by minors is illegal in many states, and frowned upon in the rest.”

Mr Moo saw this first. Still in pugnacious mood, I see. Maybe he forgot to take the bins out again.

Interesting debate on the “pro-faith left”

“Pro-faith left” for want of a better term. Irreligious as I am, I’m definitely not anti-faith left – rather, to the best of my knowledge, a political secularist who supports the right to freedom of belief and religious expression. This is something to investigate more because it looks as if it will come under threat somewhere down the line. If it already isn’t.

Max Dunbar writes on a debate between Socialist Worker Party theorist Ian Birchall, who is supportive of the SWPs famed alliance with reactionary political-religious groupings in the name of “anti-imperialism”, and Andrew Coates, who is supportive of militant secularism.

Still to read. I think I learnt about it at Bob From Brockley.

Takes me back to the wonderful time I spent reading Redemption by Tariq Ali.

Update: Max in a comment to this post explains the term ‘pro-faith left’ and directs us to a defence of religion by Seumas Milne (associate editor of The Guardian and troubling apologist for some of the most racist, rejectionist and murderous sections of religious extremism).

Harry’s Place is going nowhere

As in

We will not be intimidated”

(Michael Cushman at the 2008 UCU Conference, in support of a motion of dubious legality under anti-racist law.)

Back from Siberia, read the irrepressible David T.

“Let’s be clear – the issue here is not Delich. Rather, it is the blending of the perspectives of the neo Nazis, the Islamists, and the far Left. Even if we accept Delich made a ‘mistake’, it would be one which simply could not have happened, were is not for the poisonous rhetoric, and vicious racism that has characterised the debate over Israel/Palestine. It would have been impossible without the coalescence, over the past decade, of the coalitions which have constituted both RESPECT and the STWC. What, after all, is the fundamental difference between linking to neo Nazis and carrying a placard bearing the slogan ‘We Are All Hezbollah Now”?”

One more thing, Joe Quinn – the fanatic Jenna Delich linked to on David Duke’s site – reckons Mossad did the Madrid bombings and are behind Al Quaeda. I’m telling you, the conspiracy theories are out to get me.

Has anything changed for Czech Roma since the Ostrava case?

Ray Furlong on tonight’s BBC Radio 4′s The World Tonight (and partly transcribed on the BBC site) asks whether there have been improvements in the circumstances of Czech Roma since the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, on a case first filed eight years ago and widely considered as landmark, that 18 children had suffered racial discrimination. The seven minute piece begins:

“There are about 10 million Roma and Sinti people in Europe. They make up Europe’s largest ethnic minority and for generations they have been excluded from many of the social welfare provisions that are available to everyone else”.

The conclusion is that little has changed, that large numbers of Czech’s teachers – to many to lose without a collapse in the system – believe that Roma children are incapable of learning in a conventional education system, and that Roma parents, alienated, themselves partly the product of a racist education system, must somehow be persuaded to engage on behalf of their children. A Czech education minister made convincing noises while simultaneously sounding slightly daunted.

You can listen to the streamed recording on the World Tonight site. Back in 2005, the Justice Initiative told the story of Ostrava, talking to many of the same people.