Brave, principled Scarlett Johansson and the boycott bullies

The bottom line is Sodastream is not profiting from the occupation and is not exploiting Palestinian workers. Workers in occupied Palestine do not support the boycott of Sodastream and until they call for and lead a boycott, and UK boycott campaigns in the name of solidarity should be scrutinised carefully. I doubt Scarlett Johansson needs this Sodastream deal. She’s probably taken it because her career success has freed her from having to curry favour. At any rate, she’s done something that perhaps only a few people will grasp, because hardly anybody stands up so directly and magnificently to the bullying tactics of boycott activists.

That’s it really. Read on, or not.

Nobody likes being pushed around. Certainly the Israeli occupation of the West Bank requires people with guns and state power saying where other people will or will not go, and when. The occupation pursues a building project which expropriates land to populate with anybody but Palestinians. Israeli society is hardening towards Palestinians and among Palestinians a militant, nationalistic Islam is growing. These feed each other and peace recedes. On other blogs I have argued that boycotting produce from the occupied West Bank may be the right thing to do, but it depends. More below.

There’s a solidarity movement of boycott activists with which I’m familiar. It takes a little while to grasp that in fact they aren’t for Palestinians but are using them as a pretext. Most boycott activists know and care little for Palestinians, to the extent that they give every impression of depending on Palestinian civil society to remain as weak, riven, corrupt and lacking in governance as it currently is. An astonishing number of them have something against Jews, to whom they attribute great power and malevolence. The anti-Jewish character unites a broad political spectrum in the boycott cause. Many boycotters are also extremely aggressive, attempting to push people around by banding together in intimidating campaigns of character assassination.

Scarlett Johansson was a target of one of these campaigns. She was an Oxfam ambassador who also took on a role as brand ambassador for the soft drinks company Sodastream. Sodastream has a factory in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in occupied Palestine, and so its vendors and faces have come under attack from boycotters.

One of the ways to tell that boycott activists aren’t interested in Palestinian emancipation is that they aren’t working with the Palestinian or Israeli labour movement. These local organisations, which should be leading any solidarity movement, are completely sidelined. This is ludicrous, given that trade unions are the parts of both societies who are furthest to the political left And more bizarre – several big UK trade unions actually formally boycott their Israeli counterparts and all but ignore Palestinian trade unions. The will to boycott Israel comes first – and if you don’t fall in with that, then you’d better be prepared to fight. Boycott activists are usually vicious.

With some brave exceptions from Kristin Davies, Editors, Jethro Tull and Madonna, targets of the boycott campaign capitulate. Perhaps they don’t have the knowledge to understand the principles at stake, or perhaps they don’t have the stomach to go against them. At any rate, they usually cancel on Israel and it’s hard not to. But instead of rolling over, Scarlett Johansson says,

“I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”

and

“SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’aleh Adumim factory every working day.”

And Sodastream’s CEO says they wouldn’t mind moving out of the territories if anybody could demonstrate how it would help Palestinians. “We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda”.

So, when is it right to boycott produce from the West Bank? I’d say it has to be instigated and led by the Palestinian labour movement – the trade unions. I want to look for precedents but I’ve run out of time.

I may buy a Sodastream out of gratitude and admiration for Johansson. This is very odd of me, but it’s strength of feeling talking here. As for Oxfam, I wonder if their board has been hijacked as Amnesty’s was. For now my direct debit to Oxfam stands but it’s not unconditional. I will investigate further remind them that there are other humanitarian charities, and try to monitor them.

People like Scarlett Johansson who don’t let themselves get pushed around get respect – even from their enemies.

Let’s criticise David Ward, but not the way he likes his criticism of Israel

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Commemorating the Holocaust (for younger readers, this is the Nazi attempt to exterminate European Jewry along with others they regarded as impure) Liberal Democrat David Ward, MP for Bradford East, says that those who have been brutalised and dispossessed by the Holocaust should learn a special lesson.

The Holocaust was one of the worst examples in history of man’s inhumanity to man. When faced with examples of atrocious behaviour, we must learn from them. It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated.

Just a few words on why this is facile and insidious. If you think a bunch of troublesome people have themselves been brutalised then the precise thing not to do is wag your finger chiding “You of all people should know better”. There are of course many different lessons one could learn from being brutalised – one might be to arm yourself to the teeth and lash out at the first sign of repeat. And if we’re going to psychologise, then psychologise properly. Why is it that so many people who “treat others badly” come from troubled, traumatised or abusive backgrounds? Should we treat the ones who don’t more leniently? Of course not.

Predictably David Ward is supported by antisemitic campaigners such as Gilad Atzmon, who celebrates the alarm of Jews with “The time is ripe for us to say what we see, think and feel”. I won’t help his search ranking by providing a link but encourage you to find him yourself.  Atzmon is just a man, but because he is so constant in his hatred of Israel and Jews we can view his support as a reliable litmus test for antisemitism. He has even turned the Savile scandal to his cause.

David Ward has earned this hopefully unwelcome support, so let’s criticise him along with his new mate Gilad Atzmon, his Lib Dem supporter Mark Valladeressee Sarah AB on Engage – and all the others along the spectrum of bad reasoning to outright Jew hatred.

And I don’t mean the kind of ‘criticism’ David Ward favours when it comes to Israel. I wouldn’t describe that as criticism at all, but as a prejudiced double-standard demonising partisan campaign.

I mean straightforward criticism of his callous perversion and diminishment of the Holocaust – because if we fail to note and object to such moves, before too long it will be open season on the Jews again.

And let’s think back further than the Holocaust. How about central Europe between the World Wars – a time building to the attempted eradication of European Jewry. There’s a good, little-known book I’ve been reading about the Prague Circle – it’s called In and Out and it’s by Leon Yudkin. He describes the appeal of Nietzschian rhetoric of strength and vigour among threatened Jews of interwar Prague (p57). I was surprised to learn that this style was adopted by a young Martin Buber who later became better known as a supporter of a binationalist Jewish-Arab state. This was a minority position and one he reached in the 1920s, before the Holocaust. Others of his contemporaries took very different but no less cogent lessons from antisemitism.

Update – David Icke supports Ward’s original statements. Icke’s strategy is to embolden people who make antisemitic comments to stand by them, and to paint those who apologise as enthralled to an evil entity he refers to as Rothschild Zionists. Icke writes, “Jelly fish-shaking, Israel arse-licking, Rothschild Zionist-owned Liberal Democrats condemn one of their own MPs for simply speaking the truth – and they have done it before”. Again, I’m not helping Icke up the Google ladder (I note that while I’m tiptoeing around the antisemites by not linking to them, Icke doesn’t even mention Ward by name) you can find the piece on his site, 26th January, illustrated by a ridiculous cartoon of an elephant on its knees in somebody’s sitting room, blindfolded with an Israeli flag and sporting a red Star of David on one of its ears. Were I myself susceptible to baseless conspiracy beliefs I’d  probably be wondering whether Icke actually works for Mossad. But I’m not.

Update 2: Mark Gardner’s CST post on Ward.

Palestine solidarity, Israel solidarity

When Israel is in conflict Jews brace themselves for the vitriol spewed by fevered Palestine supporters in the countries where they live. From my safe, uncontained armchair without fear of erratic air strikes, I think that the Israeli government may be justified in targettng the leaders and assets of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza-based warmongers. That depends on whether not doing so would increase or decrease the risk that Hamas &tc accrue enough Iranian and Libyan missiles to properly wage the war they pledge in order to turn the region’s Jews back into second class citizens in somebody else’s state. My understanding is that Hamas &tc are only the tip of the regional mobilisation against Israel. Is there a better way than war, and if there is will it be explained in the popular media?

Another complication – the antisemitic opinions which hide themselves in responses to Israel’s conflicts have already become a miasma which, when inhaled, induces many Jews to strongly identify with Israel. Guardian political cartoonist Steve Bell’s homage to the Nazis is what too often these days passes for criticism of Israel in the sections of the British society I’d like to call my own. Bell is very indignant. His indignation is inappropriate and revealing.

For Israelis and Palestinians setting out alternatives to war I looked to Bitter Lemons and was dismayed to find fatigue got the better of them in August and they threw in the towel. This leaves a gaping hole in Israeli and Palestinian commentary. The site referred me to the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre – Palestinian reporting from the Fatah-dominated part of the Palestinian territories – which told me that in advance of the January Israeli elections Likud is merging with its far right coaltion partner Israel Beteinu. So I’m inclined to believe the tweets that Israel’s interior minister has said something like “The purpose of the operation is to bomb Gaza back to the Middle Ages”. That’s not politics. Israel is not blessed with humane leaders.

At the Institute for Palestine Studies Journal (edited by Columbia University’s Rashid Khalidi) I skim-read Nicholas Pelham on the hundreds of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt which have literally undermined the blockade of Gaza – for example by allowing Hamas, rather than the UN which is prohibited from using smuggled goods, the credit for rebuilding Gaza after Cast Lead. The tunnels have provided Gaza with the majority of its economy, and (news to me) Hamas with the ornament of a beautified riviera. The tunnels also bring weaponry and so will be targeted by Israel in the event of war. Pelham’s piece aside, from what I’ve seen of this journal it errs on the side of advocacy and is selectively uncritical of Palestinian leadership – which should be the business of any self-respecting periodical about Palestinian affairs. I didn’t trust the book reviews.

This Week in Palestine hasn’t yet mustered pieces on the ongoing Hamas-Israel conflict, and when it comes some of it will be the worst kind of anti-Zionism. But it’s another window into Palestinian thinking in English, for example something touching and resonant by Tala Abu Rahmeh on the behaviour of international solidarity activists in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Also a piece by Dina Zbidat considering how to give solidarity from outside the OPTs. I’m looking for something on Palestinians recognising their  post-occupation responsibilities – state-building, governance, the status of minority groups, resisting theocracy – something empowering which looks inwards at Palestinian society – but I’m disappointed this time. I’m not sure these conversations are taking place. Maybe just not on the anglophone web where Palestinians, like Israelis, exhibit for outsiders?

There is so much selectivity – how does omitting Israeli children from consideration help the Middle East Children’s Alliance to address the violation of children’s rights in the Gaza Strip? I remain unconvinced by the people who say that symmetry in reporting and commenting on the conflict is inappropriate because the conflict is so asymmetrical in Israel’s favour. Commentators shouldn’t address themselves only to governments and other commentators. This is not some kind of football match or chess game. Israel and Palestine are collectivities of individuals each with hopes, fears and powerful sense of injustice. Commentators should be making them human to each other. Radicalisation and hardening of individuals is so important to sustaining the conflict. It’s only those with a stake in the conflict who object to fair and compassionate representation.

Won’t any supporter of Palestinians criticise Al Qassam? Personally I would have much more confidently anti-occupation views if Palestinians and their supporters were thinking and writing along these self-empowering lines. Strong self-identification as a victim is said to diminish empathy and conscience (for more on this phenomenon see Steven Pinker’s book the The Better Angels of our Nature). Somewhere between actual and self-victimhood and murderous armed resistance there has to be an imaginative Palestinian and Israeli politics.

I mostly ignored a piece at This Week In Palestine by cultural boycotter Omar Barghouti since it is Israel eliminationist, and that shouldn’t be entertained. It’s bad enough coming from a Palestinian – when international supporters latch onto the prospect of ending the world’s only state for Jews, and only that state, it’s hard to explain as anything other than antisemitism. Instead I went to the Palestine Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture where I read a piece by Hillel Schenker explaining why boycotting Israel would not help Palestinians, ending with a long list of alternatives. BDS which does not distinguish between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel is correctly identified by the majority of Israelis as an attack on Israel’s existence. It marginalises itself.

One of Schenker’s alternatives is the upgrading of Palestinian status in international bodies. At the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Agenda Item 37 will address the question of Palestinian statehood. It is a bid for UN recognition of statehood. After a long preamble (my emphases):

1. Reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders;

2. Recognizes that, to date, 132 States Members of the United Nations have accorded recognition to the State of Palestine;

3. Decides to accord to Palestine Observer State status in the United Nations system, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the relevant resolutions and practice;

4. Expresses the hope that the Security Council will consider favorably the application submitted on 23 September 2011 by the State of Palestine for admission to full membership in the United Nations;

5. Affirms its determination to contribute to the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the attainment of a peaceful settlement in the Middle East that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and fulfills the vision of two States, an independent, sovereign, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors, on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, with delineation of borders to be determined in final status negotiations

6. Expresses the urgent need for the resumption and acceleration of negotiations within the Middle East peace process, based on the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, including the principle of land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet Roadmap, for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinian and Israeli sides that resolves all outstanding core issues, namely the Palestine refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security, water and prisoners;

7. Urges all States and the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self determination, independence and freedom;

8. Requests the Secretary-General to take the necessary measures to implement the present resolution and to report to the Assembly within three months on progress made in this regard.

This unilateral move is little talked-of. As a supporter of a two-state solution, of course it has my support. I don’t think that Palestinians are about to get a state any other way. It may be the only thing that puts the brakes on the Israeli government’s settlement activity. More in The Forward (from Reuters), and the Jerusalem Post. I agree with Fatah leader Abbas when he points out, “Why is going to the UN a unilateral act when there are more than 500,000 Israelis in the West Bank in violation of the Fourth Convention of Geneva?”

Them and us

On the disgusting murder of most of the Fogel family in Itamar, Melchett Mike writes in the Jewish Chronicle:

“Call me a racist, but no sane Jew, or other human being, could even force himself to stab a baby – or any child for that matter (the expression “cold blood” is entirely superfluous in such circumstances) – to death (never mind while he or she was asleep) however much he believed in his cause. There is, however, a long history of Palestinian acts of premeditated – cf. collaterally-caused (the distinction, morally, is an extremely significant one) – infanticide (even in Itamar).”

and more on “the essential difference between us and them”. Yes, we should call what he writes racist. I think there is more back to front about Melchett Mike than his name – he’s got the wrong ‘them’ – the ‘them’ is the bunch of people who bomb, stone, and knife one another, and who would fight to the death to drive each other out, and who actively seek to escalate the hatred and violence.

The ‘us’ is the people who look past all provocations to keep up a vision of mutual accommodation between the conflicting parties. Not that the extended family of Udi, Ruth, Yoav, Elad, and Hadas should be required to forgive the murderers or those who condone them. It is not for us to demand this forgiveness. But I am bowled over by the spirit of Hussein Rawidi after his son was knifed to death in a racist attack by Israeli Jews (one of many such racist attacks, by other people who feel that there are irreconcilable differences between Jews and Arabs).

I’d say that exterminating Jewish babies and children, who are innocent of any cause for retribution, is a clear statement of intent to genocide. But this intent cannot be laid at the door of an entire people. To hand out sweets on the occasion of a child’s murder is an obscenity and should be noted as such, but it is not a general response, and in any case I think we should be careful about how we relate it to intent to murder.

So I would like to tell Melchett Mike to be very careful, more careful than he has been, not to drive in wedges, lest he bring about a self-fulfilling prophesy. He may have these dark thoughts, he should acknowledge them, and he should keep them to himself out of a sense of responsibility if not respect. Because the logic of his position, no matter how polite, is not so far removed from that of the murderers: segregation and war.

Meanwhile, throw your weight behind OneVoice, the antidote to identity politics.

HT Jess.

Update: while some Palestinians pass out sweets, many others denounce the murders, including Fatah’s military wing the Al Aqsa Martyrs.

Update 2: the consequences? Attacks like these always strengthen nationalism. “Reuven Rivlin, the Knesset speaker, said: “We will live, we will continue to build and to plant, we will continue to grip on to the land of Israel. More construction, more life, more hanging on to the land. This is our answer to the murderers.””

Update 3: that blog post shouldn’t be hosted at the JC, should it. Email editorial@jc.com with your respectful and carefully-explained request to remove it.

Update 4: The activist left must condemn the murder of the Itamar family. Without a doubt.

Chronicles of Zhdanovism

By email a family friend whose interest in Israel is Catholic and theological relayed some anecdotes from a friend, an academic social scientist in Israel. For this person dissent from the consensus view on the conflict has become more and more difficult. With respect to the loyalty clauses in Israel’s citizenship bill, he asked me, “doesn’t the argument against the boycott then crumble away”? I responded that an academy which is not autonomous cannot claim exemption from sanctions against a state. But I’d just read a piece in the Times Higher: ‘Middle East taps a well of research in STEM fields’. Iran’s research production has rocketed by 11%, and Saudi’s also dominates in the region. These are states whose academics have not been free for a long time, but with whom ours work happily on all kinds of fruitful projects to solve the world’s problems. Why punish only Israel, always Israel, and in ways which nobody thinks will achieve their ostensible aim? I think the boycott of Israeli academia is antisemitic. For me, because it is so clearly futile and singular, the boycott is far more about us than it is about Israel.

Irresistibly attracted by extremists of any stripe, Michael Ezra went to hang out with them at Gideon Levy’s talk for Jewish Book Week. Afterwards, he posted a video satirising the kind of defender of Israel who absurdly changes the subject to antisemitism, which given the previous exchange I watched with interest. I don’t know of anybody who does this, and the video provides no example.

Alan A sets out why the video is cruel: people faced with racism respond in absurd ways (and in fact I don’t think the woman in the video Mikey posted was so much a parody as a spun off caricature). On the other hand, if the wind is in the right direction, Harry’s Place is not above teasing people distressed by racism and responding in absurd ways. Here, for example, Lucy Lips lays into somebody whose response to antisemitism takes the form of grooming her own ‘Good Jew’ credentials to appease anti-Israel/antisemitic persecutors. Think Rabbi Bengelsdorf and Evelyn in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Absurd? Yes. Undermining? At least. But no less a response to a racist threat, I think.

Judiciously taking the piss out of pernicious responses to racism is OK in my book. It might even be necessary.

Catching up with the Israeli political right, I read some stuff aggregated by Jewish Ideas Daily, including this open letter to the Arab Street, which I found selective, patronising in tone, not an olive branch, ‘Is Israeli democracy finished?’ by the same author, and this description of pressure on the Israeli left by an unsympathetic Elliot Jaeger. Also encountered the Institute for Zionist Strategies, whose official standing in Israel I am not sure about, but who definitely aspire to one.

Each of those sources led me to Ze’ev Sternell, peace activist and near-fatality of an assassination attempt by the Israeli far right. The first is his analysis is that the Israeli political right cannot get a purchase on Israel’s secular cultural elites because they have no base in Israeli universities.

“In the West, however, the right began regaining its strength and gaining ascendancy in the form of neoconservatism, not especially in the universities but in the world of finance and the media. This has not been true of Israel, where many supporters of economic neoliberalism have fought against the occupation and the settlements and therefore belong to the “political left.” That is why the right’s grip on the secular cultural elite is close to zero; this is the real reason for the recent campaign of intimidation.”

Hence the proto-fascistic clauses in Israel’s Citizenship Bill. He advocates a united front by the Israeli academy against censorship. More the pity that my trade union, the University and College Union, shuns theirs in moral masturbatory boycott and will offer no solidarity.

The second Sternhell piece is on Israel’s right needing perpetual war, a damning indictment of the right’s use of religion as control.

Lastly, the knives are out. Hussein, father of Hossam Rawidi killed by Jewish Israelis in a racist knife attack said: “We believed in living together, Arabs and Jews. We must not remain quiet when racism rears its ugly head.”. He is joining with Israeli Jews to protest the wave of racist violence in Israel. And Udi Fogel, his wife Ruth, their children young children Yoav, Elad, and a baby, Hadas were stabbed to death in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Itamar by, it is believed, Palestinians. The Palestine Authority PM Salam Fayyad condemned the murder unequivocally. Rebecca reports that Hamas approve (sickos handing out celebratory sweets in Gaza again to form pleasant associations with Jewish deaths) and Al Aqsa Martyrs have, perhaps opportunistically, claimed it. Some Israeli media outlets are reporting this in a way I find inciteful against Palestinians. Netanyahu is condemning the Palestinian authority for incitement. Meanwhile Islamic Jihad is shelling Israeli homes from Gaza, and the IDF are striking Gaza in retaliation. It seems as if you can hardly exaggerate how bad things are, and yet my parents, who visited last year, reported being entirely insulated from all this during their trip.

I’m disappointed to find myself sucked into Israel again. Waterloo Sunset has said as much on several occasions: it is wrong to dedicate too much of the attention pie-chart to Israel. It means that things like tuition fees, free schools, Libya, and housing benefit cuts get less than they’re due. But sometimes other people infest your places with their anti-Israel cause until unless you take action, you’ll be answering to a false orthodoxy which tolerates no dissent.

Who started it? / anti-Zionist malice / the doctors of your nightmares

Bob directs his readers to Keith Kahn Harris’ attempts to persuade fighting Jews to cool it, which reminded me of David Newman dismissing Jewish fears of antisemitism. Engage refers us to the story of a surgeon’s abuse at the hands of anti-Zionist boycotters within his profession.

Politically Newman and Kahn Harris are both good blokes in the grand scheme of things – not antisemitic, not abusive, not Israel-eliminationist. You can see, my standards are quite low for this particular ‘debate’ (or vicious fight). So I’ll give them some attention anyway, because I don’t think British debates about Israel are really about the Palestinians – the Palestinians are just a pretext for an entirely inappropriate, futile but nasty attack nobody should take at face value. And I don’t believe concerns about how the Jewish community comports itself should inhibit anybody from lashing out or otherwise manoeuvring in response to racism. The issues I have are that, when examining ‘debates’  between anti-Zionists and their targets, I don’t think it is appropriate, as David Newman does so comfortably, to position yourself somewhere in remote distance and pronounce. Nor as Keith Kahn Harris does, to draw moral equivalences between aggressor and aggressed, as if there has been some kind of misunderstanding which can be assuaged by dedicating oneself to accommodating your adversary.

For example, who maintained a singular campaign to exclude Israel, alone out of all the world’s occupying or repressive states, and then when Jews resisted this hosted debates with references to Zionists which map neatly onto references to Jews in the run-up to the holocaust, used Jew, Zionist and Israeli interchangeably and invited antisemitic campaigners onto their platforms, and then neutered or voted down motions to address antisemitism? The University and College Union. The Green Party. Others. Within The Green Party and UCU anti-Zionists are the only ones seeking special treatment for Israel. Nobody is seeking positive treatment for Israel.

Who, because he doesn’t hate Israel, persecuted this senior surgeon to the point of breaking down and retreating? He didn’t seek special treatment for Israel or Jews – anti-Zionist boycotters did.

The anti-Zionist front groups Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, and an energetic persecuter called Dr Derek Summerfield are culpable, not their targets who as far as I can see are responding with words and arguments, not with counter-exclusions.

It’s a testimony to latent antisemitism that these futile and marginal campaigners can get so much done within their organisations. Racism attaches to so much of the so-called ‘debate’ and campaigning about Israel, and when it is inadvertant it’s even more alarming.

NHS doctor Rita Pal:

“A grown man breaking down in tears just because some doctors have been mean to him. If we did that, we would be taken straight to the GMC loony bin, locked up, fed bagels by our Jewish GMC Chair Count Rubin and forced to repent. Whistleblowers are sinners you see.”

Declared Conflict of Interest – Avid Fan of Fiddler on the Roof, Continuously buy cakes from jewish bakeries. Always amazed by the length of jewish noses. Represented in the past by a jewish bagel eating barrister Robert Jay QC.”

Clearly this is a person who loves Jews. And talking – Rita’s words – of how Baum “pissed the world off”, Keith Kahn Harris should approve – he encourages Jews to think of themselves a troublemakers. But Baum got pounded out of that medical role. One commenter, Dr Liz Miller (my word, she says she’s MIND Mental Health Champion) is ROFL at the news of Baum’s breakdown. I guess this will be one of the many exceptions which tend to complicate KKH’s arguments.

The anti-Zionist boycotters are fighting a self-serving proxy war. Those who turn viciously on members of their own organisations (for example, Michael Cushman of UCU, the Green Party’s Green Left, and Derek Summerfield of the British Medical Association) are the only ones who can end this fighting, and they are satisfied for it to continue. So it will.

Keith Kahn Harris seems not to understand this. He doesn’t mention Professors Baum or Yachar by name in his broad and general analyses of the Jewish scene. It is the comportment of the Jewish community in wider society which primarily concerns him. The thrust of what he argues suggests that he’s encouraging angry, fearful, even tearful, people to turn the other cheek and chalk the hurt up to debate. I strongly disagree. It’s right to demand more of the original aggressors than you demand of the targets of the aggression.

I came across a kind of community pride I prefer when Anthony Julius, perhaps in conversation at Jewish Book Week, urged Jews and Israelis to assert and assume their place in the world, despite the slanders against them.

An alternative view which I find pretty convincing – Gideon from Simply Jews commenting on the Engage piece I linked above.  He notes the General Medical Council’s coward’s boycott of Israelis, and Israelis’ self-boycott of British medical collaborations. He is content with this, seeing it as a British, rather than Israeli, disadvantage and only a simple act of reciprocity.

You can shrug about the Greens and UCU, hollowed out as they are becoming, but you can’t give up on the British Medical Association or the General Medical Council. Until then, it is only responsible to fight anti-Zionist boycotters – this involves fighting for your organisation’s democratic structures, which they seek to exploit and erode.

I would prefer to live my life away from organised politics – mainly because I am really bad at political organisation and also because I’m collegial and have no urge either to hold a position of power nor to work with or fight people who want this for themselves. And so much of what on the surface appears to be a political project turns out to be more of a vanity project. But there you go.

Meanwhile the people who do want to work for a Palestinian future are quietly building bridges and turning Israeli and Palestinian attention away from mutual blame and hatred and towards alternative degrees of compromise and accommodation. When somebody erupts in pain or anger, they don’t harangue them about somebody else’s pain or anger.

Update: I was less than forthcoming with links to evidence my generalisations about KKH above. But wrapped round a link to this post, Bob provides a number of further links to Keith Kahn Harris-ishness, so you can judge for yourself.

Planting a tree in Israel and Palestine

It’s my mum’s birthday, and I didn’t know what to get her. I was wandering around on the web without much luck, so I took a break and had a look at some of my favourite blogs. My mum spends most of her time worrying about Israel’s ongoing existence and Jews’ place in Britain. The things my parents have stopped doing and started doing over the past few years because of people who share the views of Levi in this anti-Zionist and post-Zionist discussion on one of Bob’s threads are quite profound, I think. Leaving political parties. Stopping buying newspapers. Starting to blog. Parting with cash.

The mixture of my mum and the discussion mentioned above brought on an idea – I’d have a tree planted for her in Israel. I chose the Jewish National Fund.

I bought, then I thought about it, then I read some of Shaul Ephraim Cohen’s 1993 work ‘The Politics of Planting’ and I realised that Israelis and Palestinians have long used trees, and the killing of each others’ trees, as weapons. Leaflets calling for intifada demanded that Arab citizens kill Israeli trees. When they did, Israelis responded by setting fire to trees close to the Green Line. The Arab Revolt burnt down an entire forest. Israel’s occupation stipulated that Palestinians couldn’t plant anything without permission.

The Jewish National Fund was set up in 1901 to buy land in perpetuity for Jews. Historical persecution and expulsion of Jews indicates this was a reasonable idea. The land is leased, and you don’t have to be Jewish to lease it. Israel’s Arab citizens have equal entitlement to land in their country, but in practice Israeli Land Law has institutionalised discrimination. Israel is currently juggling state land and JNF land, and has swapped land in the north for land in the Negev, populated by 180,000 Bedouin and 365,000 Jews. The JNF is now engaged in reservoir building and tree planting on a large scale. The Bedouin make claims to the land; the Israel Land Administration assert to the contrary with law in their favour. They work on Bedouin quality of life and incentives; ultimately there is coercion, and sometimes containment. Israel is acknowledging some of the towns, but it’s not clear why there is this scale of displacement, particularly during judicial processes (Bedouin mounting legal claims to the land). Most Bedouin’s homes are ‘unrecognised‘ because they have no permits – this population has experienced a stratospheric increase from 1948, and so they build, often without any infrastructure or services.

There is a Negev Coexistence Forum, but its site is down right now [update - here it is: DUKIUM] I don’t see co-existence work – I do see advocacy for Bedouin that is clearly needed – but where is the co-existence? My gold standard for co-existence is The Abraham Fund, an organisation I trust deeply, unlike any of the other sources I have mentioned so far (Shaul Ephraim Cohen excepted). They have not yet translated their manual on Arab Society in Israel for Israeli policy makers into English, so let’s look at the precis: Bedouin are the most deplorably impoverished group in Israel. Bustan, another organisation I trust, has more on poverty and pollution among these invisible citizens of the Negev.

“Israel’s policies toward the Bedouin have been based around demographic concerns and land usage policies. The state has consistently tried to increase Jewish settlement of the Negev at the expense of Bedouin people. For example, Israel continues to hold the provision of basic services such as water, sewage, and electricity, which are their rights as citizens, as a trade off for Bedouin giving up their land rights.”

So the JNF, like the ILA, have not been nearly sensitive enough to the position of the Bedouin – either completely ghosting them out or alternatively incentivising and menacing. It must be horrible – like the East End of London after the war ended, when the population was moved out to the suburbs and back into new high rises. Some found the move positive, others never overcame their sense of loss and dislocation. The point is that they were poor; they had no choice. The premises of the Bedouin displacement are not well spelt out (though I only read English).

Co-existence here is a matter of balancing an environmental need for a population, and respect for individuals and groups and the places where they live. The JNF have a big questionmark over them – but why doesn’t the Negev Coexistence Forum acknowledge the need for de-desertification and cultivation along with the real and pressing needs of the Bedouin? Is this negotiating a compromise, or is it just taking a position against the JNF and the state, whatever? And why is it that the idea of land ownership is so uncomplicated to the people opposing each other over it? Might the Bedouin somehow become involved with the de-desertification activity, bringing much-needed work, and an economy based on cultivation and state-of-the-art building and infrastructure for minimising ecological impact (not that people that poor have much ecological impact). Is that too much to hope for? This is where Bustan come in. Bustan are planting trees too.

But I was in no frame of mind to give any of this consideration, and this is the type of reaction that anti-Zionists bring out in many Jews: a protective urge towards a Jewish future there as well as elsewhere, sometimes expressed impulsively. I think anti-Zionists should be mindful of that, as should the said many Jews. If I could turn back time a bit, I’d have chosen an environmental tree planting programme – there doesn’t seem to be a huge choice, maybe this. Or maybe the JNF is as good as it gets. Is there a chance that the JNF could plant without this being at the expense of non-Jewish minorities, for the benefit of all? Surely there’s a way. The thing to do now is write and ask.

Trees keep soil in place and halt the advance of deserts. They are vital for life in that part of the world.

Then I though – right, I’ll also have a tree planted in the occupied Palestinian territories for my mum. Perhaps even two – an olive tree to replace one ripped out by settlers. And a tree which can just be a tree somewhere, something to stop desertification. So I searched.

I pounced on a result for the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature. But on their front page, after a reference to the “Zionist enemy”, is an article whose title refers tot he Holocaust. They have put the word in inverted commas. Turns out they are only interested in anti-Zionist tree-planting. I moved on.

Although I was prepared to go ahead, I tried to find an alternative to Zaytoun because they are participating in the total boycott of Israel (Zaytoun are run from London).

I eventually settled on Muslim Hands.

Update: a BBC Radio 4 Today Programme piece on tree warfare waged by Israeli settlers on nearby Palestinians, and Palestinians on settlers. The police (Israeli, part of Israel’s occupation) have a reputation for failing to arrest, charge and prosecute vandal settlers.

10:10 – the ethical purchase of a microwave is not straightforward

I’m a car- and plane-avoiding, local-holidaying, good energy-buying, recycling, ecos paint-using, FSC-buying vegan, currently sitting in a sleeping bag to write this because I feel bad, in the knowledge that national domestic emissions far outstrip the individual ones I’ve just outlined above, that I haven’t done the recommended draught exclusion (I will!).

Interested readers will have followed my tribulations trying to live up to my 10:10 campaign pledge to cut my emissions by at least 10% by October 2010.

Well, this weekend our faithful old microwave went crunk and a burnt smell invaded the kitchen. We have a small baby, just on solids, and a little girl coming to stay next weekend, and no way of hanging round the house waiting for a weekday delivery, so we wanted to move fast. How were we going to choose a microwave?

Here’s the problem: the ethics-oriented consumer guides (e.g. Ethical Consumer, Good Shopping) don’t care about quality and the quality-oriented consumer guides (e.g. Which) don’t care about ethics.

A further problem – Ethical Consumer’s Ethiscore for microwaves is at least three years out of date, and doesn’t tally at all with the Good Shopping score.

A further problem – the most recent issue of Ethical Consumer mag had a sunny ‘Boycott Israel Special’ news roundup, in which the only dissenting voice was a tiny expression of dismay from David Miliband. In this jolly little special, they promoted the academic, social and material boycott campaign without setting out what they hope to topple with the boycott (end Israel?), nor the ways in which they expect the boycott to effect this (clerical fascists win?), nor the endpoints for the boycott (Israel is cancelled), nor the difference between avoiding helping the settler movement on the one hand and boycotting all of Israel on the other (the difference is enormous), nor any history of the conflict (i.e. that there are two sides). I found Ethical Consumer deeply unethical, and am almost certain that they would have been promoting a boycott of Jews in 1930s Germany, simply because it was going on at the time and consumer boycotts make them happy. So I find this unsettling, as would you if you were trying to buy in such a way that you did the right thing by people, animals and the planet, and the organisation you turned to for serious input revealed some rather squalid practices of its own. To put it another way – I no longer have confidence Ethical Consumer’s judgement. Good Shopping’s write-ups are undated. Incidentally, I haven’t analysed the difference between Ethical Consumer and Good Shopping. Perhaps they split back in the day… rivalry at the top or something.

So, after toying with a Whirlpool model which cost £100 more and didn’t seem to promise any extra quality, we ended up going for a simple £64 Sanyo model. Sanyo’s a good company according to Good Shopping, and a medium scorer according to Ethiscore back in 2006, with a good score on the environmental side of things. Although Which said ‘Don’t Buy’, that was because the Reheat function wasn’t achieving 70% in the required time, or without considerable loss of the food’s volume. We figured that you’d only care about that if you are worried about being poisoned by the water-injected animal flesh you shouldn’t be eating. If we want to find out if something’s hot enough, we tend to put our finger in it.

We got the new microwave from Curry’s because they recycle our old one – less car trips (should we have waited and recycled via council facilities, though?).

All this took a while. I’m not happy. Do I really have to check everything in this life? In the absence of good ethical international law about manufacture, distribution and investment, can somebody sort out a merger between, for example, Which and Good Shopping?

In other news, when we gutted our house I kept a working fireplace so we could eat and keep warm in the event of the power cuts I predict. This year, because of 10:10, I have finally got a draught-excluding chimney balloon. (Why not a bin-bag filled with bubble-wrap, you ask? Too dirty when you take it out and hard to store when you want the drafts in summer.) Pathetically, half of my procrastination was down to a dread of putting my hand up the chimney to take its dimensions. To do – end the drafts in our still-gutted kitchen, including the terribly windy keyhole. Get sausage dogs for the doors (but are they too much of a trip hazard?)

10:10 is living proof of the power of a pledge.

Update: I should mention work too. Last week I prevented the purchase of a laminator by lending ours (which is mostly unused). A setback though – a new colleague prints out emails for me even though I’m one of the addressees, and uses fresh paper as scrap paper, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Well, I offered to do his recycling (it’s on my way). Maybe if he realises somebody is concerned about such things he’ll also be concerned, out of natural supportiveness. It’s easier with my other colleague – I just use his daughter’s future well-being as a stick to beat him with (we have a very married-couplish relationship, so I can get away with it, moreover he is a big-minded kind of bloke who rises above the discomfort of a guilt trip and considers the issues at hand). Also at work I successfully suggested a recycling scheme for a certain type of oil-based product which, though very durable, is thrown away nearly-new on a horrifying scale as if it were disposable, but which is always in demand. It went to the top, they liked it and apparently there will now be boxes for these objects in each department. It remains to be seen how long it will take (I’ve been warned). But it feels very urgent… landfill tax…

Vanessa Redgrave won’t stand for the anti-Israel boycott

It’s been a while, and it’s my third post of the day (work avoidance) but it’s worth restating the above.

Of course Egypt’s culture minister Hosny Farouk, who offered to burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries, was not a fit candidate for UNESCO’s Head of Culture. Of course he wasn’t. And if, when he blamed ‘Zionists’ for his defeat, by ‘Zionist’ Farouk means ‘people who think that Israel should exist’, then he is correct. The vast majority of people are Zionists, and UNESCO is no different.

Even avowed anti-Zionists smell a rat about this boycott. Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave, former Workers Revolutionary Party member of sufficient radical cachet to feature in Redemption, Tariq Ali’s masterpiece satire on Trotskyites (or to be precise, Trotskyite men), is one. She has a long-term concern – backed by hard cash – for the Palestinian people (she funded two films about the PLO; in The Palestinians, she danced with a PLO gun). She is familiar with the practice of using cultural events for political ends. She is violently averse to Zionism. In short, she is no friend of Israel – but at the same time she has long said that she pledged “to fight anti-Semitism and fascism for the rest of my life”. Of course, everybody who hates Israel uses their solicitude for Jews as the pretext, but her letter of opposition to the boycott co-authored for the New York Review of Books lends her pledge some credence. At the heart of the letter:

“In their letter the protesters say that “Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages.” True. Just as much of America is built on obliterated Indian property. Are they implying that Tel Aviv should not exist? At least not in its present form? Which would mean that the State of Israel (the original State of Israel, not including the occupied territories) should not exist. Thousands of Palestinians have died through the years because the Israeli government, military, and part of the population fervently believe that the Arab states and, indeed, much of the world do not want Israel to exist. How then are we halting this never-ending cycle of violence by promoting the very fears that cause it?

The injustice and cruelty inflicted upon the Palestinians over decades are immense. Many great powers, most notably the Soviet Union and Great Britain, have collaborated in this injustice, just as, if only by their silence, they played havoc with the lives of Jews during the Third Reich and the ensuing Holocaust.

Many Israelis are aware of this history. Many citizens of Tel Aviv are particularly cognizant of the situation of the Palestinians and are concerned about their government’s policies and their country’s future. And none more so than the Tel Aviv creative community. This is exemplified by Israeli films that criticize their government’s behavior, and some startling Israeli theater pieces, such as the Cameri Theatre’s Plonter, seen earlier this year in London. The Israeli peace bloc, Gush Shalom, and many Israeli human rights groups and advocates are based in Tel Aviv. Some 10,000 Israeli citizens demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the military attack on Gaza in January this year, a fact not reported by the BBC World News or CNN.

These citizens of Tel Aviv and their organizations and their cultural outlets should be applauded and encouraged. Their presence and their continued activity is reason alone to celebrate their city. Cultural exchanges almost always involve government channels. This occurs in every country. There is no way around it. We do not agree that this involvement is a reason to shun or protest, picket or boycott, or ban people who are expressing thoughts and confronting grief that, ironically, many of the protesters share.

If attitudes are hardened on both sides, if those who are fighting within their own communities for peace are insulted, where then is the hope? The point finally is not to grandstand but to inch toward a two-state solution and a world in which both nations can exist, perhaps not lovingly, but at least in peace.”

This is a letter which pits boycott campaigners against the interests of the progressives and peace makers, and which reminds them about the role of fear in the conflict. Most prominently it is a letter which will not tolerate the singularity and double standards of the boycott campaign. The letter itself is simply common sense. What I take from the fact that somebody with Vanessa Redgrave’s views has written it, is confirmation of something I already know: that even passionate supporters of the Palestinian struggle understand that sometimes to stand against antisemitism you have to stand for Israel – even if you have to hold your nose because you detest Israel’s government. And this attempt to exclude Israel from the world’s cultural life seems to me to be a time like that.

Hence this letter. Redgrave’s co-authors were Julian Schnabel, director of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, whose on-location film about Hind Husseini, a Palestinian woman who rescued children orphaned by Israelis at Deir Yassin during Israel’s war of independence in 1948, titled Miral, will preview soon, and Martin Sherman, best known for his film Bent, about the treatment of homosexuals by the Nazis.

But I think that Israel has its reflective dramatists to thank for this show of solidarity. If anybody asks themselves “Who are we hindering by boycott, who are we helping by not boycotting”, it’s them. The trio of Israeli war films about Lebanon, Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort, Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir, and Samuel Maoz’s and Maoz Shulmik’s Lebanon.  Yael Ronen’s Plonter. Keren Yedaya’s Jaffa. And I don’t think it’s relevant if, say, Haim Tabakman’s Eyes Wide Open, Tali Shalom Ezer’s Surrogate or Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit aren’t examining Israel’s conflicts or Israel’s occupation – by no stretch could these be called escapist films. They are provoking, deft and insightful. Their loss would be our loss. And anyway, why shouldn’t Israelis get to make, watch and show escapist films?

I have colleagues who are calling for the exclusion of Israel – and only Israel – from the worlds academic and cultural life. I hope this makes them think. I hope Ken Loach, the Israel boycotter whom nobody wants to censor any more, may one day come to realise how badly he is mistaken

Remembering the Holocaust

Last year I took Jews for granted in my Holocaust commemoration, which I feel sorry about.

Update – see Kellie’s link list for proper Holocaust commemoration – I think mine below would make any survivor nervous and sad.

This year, the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day is Stand Up To Hatred – of gay people, conservative Muslims, Jews, black people, disabled people, and other groups, no matter who is doing the hating. This is a great theme. HMD’s organiser Stephen Smith writes:

“If I have learned one thing on my journey into the causes and consequences of genocide, it is that genocide happens to specific groups, but has implications for us all. As Europeans we need to ground ourselves in the history of the Holocaust, and reflect on its implications. It is our problem after all. Then as human beings we need to apply the learning points to other genocides, and to the hatred that exists in our own communities. It is easy to look back. It is more difficult to look forward. It is even more difficult to look within.”

I agree, but the comments to that piece are Gaza, Gaza, Gaza. As if it were somehow wrong to commemorate the Holocaust when Israelis killed in Gaza. This diversion from the Holocaust didn’t happen because Israel was trying to hurt Hamas. We know this because the same type of what I take to be a form of Holocaust denial happened to a New Statesman piece on Kristallnacht back in the autumn. If you scroll to the bottom of that one you’ll find a statement that they had to turn comments off, and a link to the reasons.

Israel does something objectionable, and Jews catch it. Is it so hard to understand that Jews and Israelis are sometimes different things, although they sometimes they come in the same package?

So I also have a personal theme which is perhaps rather politically incorrect for Holocaust Educational Trust: Defend The Memory Of The Holocaust From Anti-Zionists. By Anti-Zionists, I mean the monomaniacal kind of anti-Zionist who would get rid of Israel at any cost, who realises that the Holocaust is the major reason for Israel’s establishment, and therefore hopes to roll back the years by neutralising the Holocaust as a justification for Israel’s existence. Tony Greenstein. Moshe Machover. David Duke. Most of Hamas. And so on.

Cnaan Liphchiz in Ha’aretz:

“The operation in Gaza put an end to the European taboo on equating Jews to Nazis. That message was one of the conclusions of the first international panel discussion on anti-Semitism following the Gaza invasion, which was held in Jerusalem Monday on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Speaking at the panel, which was part of the World Zionist Congress conference, Professor Dina Porat said, “the comparison has now become self-understood.”

When Israel acts aggressively, it is usual for a proportion of commentators to talk, as Suzanne Weiss does so disgracefully, of a Jewish-engineered “final solution”.  For many Jews, I think, the “lesson” of the Holocaust, if any, is existential vigilance: are the haters contained, are they getting stronger, will non-Jews understand the signs? Many Israelis are descended from parents and grandparents who decided that the answer to the latter two questions was no. For Israelis, this threat is incarnated as grads and qassams from Gaza backed with threats from the ayatollas.  For others, it blooms at the stimulus of boycott campaigns and the easy conflation of Jew, Zionist and Israeli.

One commenter on Stephen Smith’s piece (Arkasha, 27 Jan 09, 1:59pm):

“However, I notice far too many apologists for Israel get (deliberately?) hung up on things like what seems to incense you. Why don’t you face up to what Israel is doing, instead of complaining about the “nazi” business?”

S/he is wrong – “apologists for Israel” do not have to earn the right to complain about the “nazi” business by protesting Israel. The rest of us should stand against racism, including antisemitism, irrespective of the political belief of the person who benefits from that defence. That’s what anti-discrimination means. We don’t have to sympathise with them or cuddle them – we just have to recognise and defend them against the mental aberration which is hatred on racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation or eugenic lines.

And as a later commenter says (Anglophobia, 27 Jan 09, 2:12pm):

“The only reason people compare the Holocaust with Israel today is because Jews are a common factor. It’s meant to hurt and persuade. The intrinsic similarities are not deep. If the fight between Israel and the Palestinians were between Sunnis and Shias or between Indians and Pakistanis, but otherwise identical, nobody would drag up Buchenwald.”

I’m pretty certain that diminishing the importance of the Holocaust will goad Israelis further from the neck-sticking-out which peace-making requires, and will make Jews feel as if it’s open season again.

Far better to enumerate the reasons for Jews to take confidence that they have left the Holocaust far behind. A cheerful, very-English student of a solid progressive democrat bent told me not so long ago that Israel needed to realise that it had won the struggle for permanency as a state. He sent me the link to an IHT piece from early 2008, which I recommend.

(Don’t tell anybody – the bloke supports a single state, and many Israelis and Palestinians would think him a little crazy. I don’t accept his analysis that the West Bank settlements have irreversibly fused Israel with the Palestinian territories, and that any attempt at schism would kill the patient. It’s just one of those things that anti-Zionsits say but don’t explain.)

The message in the IHT piece – if only it can be supported convincingly – is certainly one which removes reasons for the occupation and also one which gives Jews some reason to think of the Holocaust in the same way that all of us hope to remember the Holocaust – not as something which could quite easily happen to Jews again but as something which happened to somebody else.

On which note, let me remember, wrapped up as I am in my own problems, not to forget all those terrorised, dead, dispossessed and displaced people: