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.

Voting Labour in Ilford North – Jewish, uncomfortable

My strategic vote belongs to Labour in the constituency of Ilford North, #35 on Labour’s target list. Labour’s Linda Perham polled 1,600 votes behind incumbent Conservative Lee Scott last time. This time there’s a different Labour candidate.

I was struck by a post by Anwar Akhtar at the Samosa, about certain Muslim community leaders issuing edicts that Muslims should vote solely on foreign policy grounds such as Palestine.

I came across this the other day from a US site dedicated to the continuity of Jewish life after the Holocaust, which began:

“So let’s have a look at the personalities that are running for the premiership and make a sober assessment on who best represents Jewish interests. Of course the best candidate should be privy to Jewish support from around the world.”

and ended:

“For Jews in Britain that are concerned with Jewish issues and British influence on Israeli affairs, Cameron is undoubtedly the man to back, with Brown, just more of the same and Clegg a total disaster.

Let us rally behind out brothers across the Atlantic and show our support for their campaigns and efforts in securing a better future for the Jews of Britain and ultimately all the citizens of the UK.”

I’m not falling for these narrow interests. But below is a selection of circumstances that Jews who refuse to vote as Jews on single issues of self-interest or solidarity  are obliged to put aside. I’m getting them down for the record here.

Frankie Boyle is a recent example of people not bothering to distinguish between Jew and Israeli – the antisemitic death threats against Lee Scott are another. I didn’t think much of the Labour candidate’s inappropriate response, which was to warn against Islamophobia in the same (quoted) breath as condemning antisemitism. Politically responsible Lee Scott emphasised the difference between Muslims and murderers by noting that he’d received a lot of support from the Muslim community. Meanwhile Bert Jones, a Labour Councillor correspondent to the Ilford Recorder insists that the Conservatives don’t have any ethnic minority Council candidates. I wonder, does that count Jews, or only darker-skinned Jews?

When it comes to views about Israel and the Palestinians, and views about Jews and Muslims which become tangled with this issue, my constituency isn’t blessed with good parliamentary candidates. We know how badly wrong campaigning about the conflict can go. Hearing and reading my candidates I may be entitled to ask, along with others, “Is it good for the Jews?”

The Conservative candidate is a Friend of Israel. He was very defensive and inadequate in response about a distinctly rhetorical question about ‘apartheid Israel’ (that’s Islamist talk) at the hustings. Any Palestinian in the audience would have felt abandoned. Moreover, he’s on religious right of the party and I object to the ‘traditional family’ values of the Cornerstone group to which he (along with Nadine Dorries – the only woman – and Andrew Rosindell) belongs. Anti-abortion, anti-gay. Awful company.

The Labour candidate is playing with the Stop the War Coalition and supports sanctions against Israel. She has not kept her distance from extremists – her supporter MPAC-UK also likes violent jihad. If elected, she’s pledged to vote with her conscience and not the whip. But presumably it was conscience which led her to the Stop the War (No! Not that one!) Coalition. Conscience counts for little when the judgement is off. I tell myself she’s simply behaving like any other marginal candidate with desperate stereotyping appeals to notional floating voters. This is the candidate I’m voting for.

The Liberal Democrat candidate is a little zany. He thinks that you shouldn’t be called a terrorist if you are fighting for your freedom.

I share a lot of values with the Green candidate, but her party has deep-rooted problems with and ignorance about antisemitism it is unable or unwilling to address. Its policy is to boycott Israel, and it tore the guts out of a motion against antisemitism at its 2008 conference.

The Christian People’s Alliance candidate particularly blames Arabs for the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Those of us who are not Christian would exist on sufferance as long as we conceded that the land of Britain is Christian.  He believes that law and government makes us weak. He was utterly terrible, Enoch Powell without the gravitas.

Under UKIP, my family probably wouldn’t have been permitted to immigrate here. The parts of the family which didn’t leave Europe were killed in the Holocaust.

Ditto the BNP which, neutral by policy to international conflict, is broadly supportive of Israel’s existence because it’s somewhere they can push Jews ‘back’ to.

So what’s best for the Jews? Well, if left alone, what’s best for the Jews is the same as any other group. A good start in life for children in disadvantaged families. Plenty of social housing will undercut support for the BNP in the hard times ahead. A balanced and clean economy. The dignity of good paid work. Reducing the gap between the poor and the middle, and ending the existence of a rich will be good for our emotional well-being and the environment. A universalist and ethical foreign policy. The NHS, particularly preventative health care. An older age which is as free of care as possible. Education for innovation, the best ballast in times of change. Renewable energy. Public transport. Conservation and a diverse ecosystem. Equal opportunities for minorities. The freedom and disappearing borders of the EU. A well-funded and free-thinking higher education sector. Avoiding a Conservative government.

So, better vote Labour in Ilford North. And hope that the Jews are left alone whoever gets in – Jews don’t deserve to feel uncomfortable for being Jewish in Ilford North.

Vote Labour. More from Ed – very respectable on climate change, Nick – a great piece, Bob who knows, Norm who’s wise, and Kellie who’s right.

Update: in fact I’m kind of getting it wrong. It is pretty significant that there’s no candidate in Ilford North who is, by my reckoning, ‘good for the Jews’. ‘Good for the Jews’ is a canary, I think.

A Serious Man

You know how when you were tiny you’d go to the cinema and they’d show a short before the feature? A Serious Man, the new Coen brothers film, has a little short prefixed to it about a shtetl couple and a macabre encounter. After it, the film seems like an non-sequitur. But in the light of the film, you wonder if what occurred in the short was the origin of a curse, or of a consequence, or, then again, nothing of consequence. The film, it turns out, is about existing: significance, purpose, reaction, consequence, insignificance, meaninglessness, and unenlightenment.

Larry Gopnik, a physics lecturer, spends the film reacting to events. The only time he initiates an action, his reward is prematurely punctured by the arrival of a police car. In contrast his son, Danny, is insouciantly assertive. After his bar mitzvah the gnomic rabbi neglects to make any sort of moral intervention, and Danny, uninterrupted, contemplates delaying the repayment of a debt on the off chance that his creditor may be killed by a tornado. But this film is so heavy with religion and we have been so well primed that we wonder if the tornado might do for Danny instead. Perhaps the most masterful masterly thing the Coen brothers achieved in this film was to slip so much death into it without anybody noticing – a bit like life.

I could write a lot about A Serious Man but Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review says everything else, and in fact that review is damn near as perfect as the film.

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.

How is this national news?

Tell of this on a BBC Radio 4 10 a.m. news bulletin was weird. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why reporting it was felt to be of national importance.

The nastiness of the case in question aside (and indeed, the BBC didn’t really go into that) how did it happen that this community gnat fight made national news?

Theories:

  • The news (for racist thickos) is the earth-shattering fact that some Jews wish to challenge the financial sector, while other Jews have a significant vested interest in the financial sector.
  • The news is that Jewish capitalism has so corrupted the Jewish faith that they’ll even get the knives out for their own if they stand in their way
  • The news is simply that Jews fight. The BBC is titillated by internecine squabble in the organised Jewish community. But then again they didn’t really report it. So, alternatively, the BBC simply considers it news that Jews do not share a common purpose.

So, the BBC is reporting something unworthy of report. And in doing this strange thing in such a stilted way, it opens the story up to interpretations which are racist or are based on racist views (if you can tell the difference). You can’t afford to do that these days.

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

Jewish establishment, diversity, and rebellion

Keith Kahn Harris writes about the diversity in Britain’s Jewish community in Prospect, as flagged up by Bob From Brockley. The crux:

“While figures from the Community Security Trust show there has been a rise in attacks on Jews in Britain in recent years, there are deep divisions within the Jewish community about the causes—and indeed the gravity—of this. Critics of Israel within the Jewish community—from organisations like Independent Jewish Voices and Jews for Justice for Palestinians—say that accusations of anti-semitism are used to stifle debate about Israel. In turn, many Jewish leaders accuse such critics of legitimatising anti-semitism and some shriller Jewish voices—Melanie Philips being the best example—argue that the very survival of the Jewish community in the UK is imperilled.

This argument is a fierce and often circular one. But in the midst of it, the reality somehow gets lost: Jews become victims or perpetrators, the focus of debate but not living, breathing, individuals.”

I found this piece curious – I wasn’t sure for whom KKH was writing. The teeming diversity of British Jewish expression has long been evident, I thought. In my circumstances (left, atheist, university worker, East Anglian, and only contingently Jewish out of a sense of duty when confronted with antisemitism) the Jewish establishment has always seemed remote. On the contrary, my sense of Jewish life in Britain is dominated by the strident far left and ‘independents‘ contemplating their own navels, chasing their tails, feeling sorry for themselves, going on (and on, and on) about the various origins of their social embarrassment – the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust, the Chief Rabbi, the Jewish Chronicle – responding to Palestinian oppression as if it were an opportunity for group self-definition and bonding, helping to bring campaigns to boycott Israel into workplaces and social spaces and then failing to stand up for Jews against the attendant antisemitism. They remind me of Kevin.

I should say here that this is a phenomenon across different social groups. Socialist Worker Party members and sympathisers bonded over the series of Student Occupations they organised with Gaza at the centre. However, the article which triggered this post is about Jews, which is why Jews are at the centre of this post.

I wish there were expressions of diversity which did not simultaneously involve contriving identities of plucky ‘truth-to-power’ speakers and self-indulgent orgies of rebellion. The Jewish establishment, such as it is, is open and tolerant – although surely not to the extent that it will put up with infinite amounts of invective from members whose sole identity seems to be built round an attraction to, or fetishisation of, dissent for its own sake.

Here is the experience of an Israeli peace activist at a Jewish Socialist Group event. He must have talked for, oh, 5 minutes – his co-panellists made longer presentations. And then to the floor for questions:

“Then the floodgates where opened. In true Jewish socialist tradition, everyone was entitiled to an equal voice, and indeed several people in the audience pulled note sheets from their pockets and read speeches longer than mine. Most of them seemed to focus on the marginalisation of Jewish radicals. I found that confusing, first as Leila told me later, I thought we were here to talk about Gaza. Second, in my dictionary radical means way-off-centre. If you don’t want to be in the margins, why define yourself as radical?

Anyway, on and on it went. I felt that most of the comments where essentially historical reviews and ethical manifestos, but the chair, Julia Bard, thought there were many fresh ideas for action. Maybe. Sometimes sitting on the stage focuses your hearing on certain things. On the other hand, I might have a different idea on what constitutes action, a more Newtonian view.”

So what the hell is there to celebrate about? KKH writes:

“On the one hand, the Jewish community has never been so dynamic; on the other, many Jews feel under threat and divisions over Israel within the Jewish community can create a deeply poisonous atmosphere. Yet both of these things indicate something positive: that the Jewish community that has finally adapted to British multiculturalism. Whereas once British Jews kept their heads down, their leaders exhorting them to be good citizens first and foremost (“Englishmen of the Mosaic faith”), since the early 1990s there has been less reticence about being publicly, proudly Jewish. This confidence had lead to many things; including great cultural vitality, but also to a greater willingness to openly articulate feelings of persecution. It has also meant an increasing refusal to toe the line by those who dissent from the communal leadership. Surely this is healthy at least.”

Yeah, I think so.

So when he ends with the advice:

“What the Jewish community now needs is to internalise the principle of British multiculturalism; to accommodate—indeed, celebrate—the differences that have opened up in this new more self-confident era. Jews and non-Jews alike must recognise the diversity of today’s Anglo-Jewry.”

perhaps what KKH is urging here is not only my first reading – a request to Jewish leadership for a form of resistance to antisemitism which avoids assuming agreement and support of other Jews as an entitlement. Perhaps he is also requesting an acknowledgement from Jewish dissenters that in British society they can have equal standing to – or more prominent standing than – the Jewish community leadership. Think of Independent Jewish Voices’ Steven Rose (leading neuroscientist, formerly on BBC Radio 4′s Moral Maze, Israel boycott leader), Stephen Fry (ubiquitous sleb), Miriam Margolis (recently Desert Island Discked). Whereas most British people would be lucky to have heard of anybody from the Jewish Board of Deputies or the Community Security Trust.

However, unfortunately a tone of skepticism against the Jewish leadership is set in the strap to the piece in Prospect First Drafts:

“Jews in Britain have never been more culturally confident or politically diverse. Why, then, are so many of their leaders scared?”

Read the piece and read the comments, including an understandably defencive one from Mark Gardner, at the Prospect Blog.

But I know a little of KKH’s writing, and sufficient to understand that although the point may not have come across in this particular piece, he is more concerned about the state of the relationships between people with different political views than he is about taking pot-shots at the Jewish leadership.

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

Update: this piece was flagged by David Hirsh on Engage and he is joined by Keith Kahn-Harris in the comments.

Rodney Barker on Hilaire Belloc. Other treasures from Gresham College.

On my walk through the City each night, I sometimes turn on a podcast. The RSA is amazing but recently I’ve also been going to the Gresham College site. Gresham have been organising free public lectures for over 400 years and they are very good. Unlike the RSA they aren’t always free – and there is nobody as luminous and lovable as Matthew Taylor knocking around the place finding new and ingenious angles through which to introduce cultural theory into every session – but they are recorded and moreover you can stream and/or download audio and video. And even speaker’s notes.

Even though I live in London and have the leisure to attend these events, when organisations take the trouble to do this my gratitude, my sense of inclusion and well-being, are volcanic. When I started listening to all these different international experts presenting to lay people so much made sense which hadn’t before – it was like a portal to a different world. This used to be a privilege – now it’s freely available for everybody. These recordings are an incredible social resource.

Anyway, I listened to Rodney Barker (Professor of Government at RSE, Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham) present on Other Britains – One Size Doesn’t Fit All. It was a look at the terrain between individualism and one-size-fits-all state provision or state regulation. In these times of deep disillusionment with an unregulated financial market, upon which so much of our prosperity in Britain has depended, it sometimes seems as if a far-reaching pendulum swing might befall us. So I thought the following vignette of Hilaire Belloc’s category-defying politics was very interesting. I wish I could intelligently say why – perhaps it’s that I dislike extremes and dichotomies in British politics.

I’ll grab a wodge out of Barker’s Gresham notes:

“The earliest twentieth century example of this is a book by the journalist Hilaire Belloc written in 1912, The Servile State .

The Servile State refuses to fit into any obvious ideological box, and is particularly interesting for that reason.

Belloc argued that capitalism was unstable, because it could not fulfil the expectations of equality raised by its liberal values. The social realities of the economy, and the legal realities of the political order, were in conflict, the one making for inequality, the other for equality.

Three possible outcomes: Socialism

Slavery

Property (distributism)

Socialism: well-meaning but ill considered,. Socialism in fact impossible. Ownership by officials, since the people as whole could not own the economy.

And it was to illustrate this point, if my memory serves me correctly, that he brought up the example of Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine books. Originally the head of the railway was The Fat Director. By the time the third book came out in ’48 the railway had been nationalised – but its head remained still grand and top-hatted. The only thing which changed was his name – he became The Fat Controller. So the nationalised system may have been new but the same officials who had run the inadequate old one were still lording it over the workers, with all that this implies. Here’s more from Barker on social democracy and capitalism. His Gresham notes continue:

“But socialists lacked the ruthless courage of their convictions, and would never expropriate

Slavery; cf Spencer, and Hayek

Because socialist would not destroy capitalism, they would end up collaborating with it, regulating and making provision for the work force

Labour under compulsion in return for material benefits in kind.

An alliance of state and capital

Property. Self sufficiency, households, a-industrial, patriarchy

Belloc presented his arguments as a simple impartial description of possibilities, but his own preferences and his own expectations were clear enough

Belloc, too, constructed his arguments in precisely the pick and mix original way that marked off pluralism, and which also meant that even though pluralists might be described with a single title, no two of them were ever likely to agree.

Sometimes seen as a socialist, because he was an anti-capitalist – and he did want to give property to the people.
Sometimes seen as a conservative because he valued property for the specific way of life it could support.
Sometimes seen as a liberal because he valued both property and equality.

But equally disconcerting for all three:

Socialists, because he placed the principal value on individual property, giving it directly to the people

Viz debate with McDonald

Conservatives because, valuing property, he proposed more people should have it, and that there be some kind of public intervention to do this

Liberals, because he questioned the beneficence of an unregulated economy to produce the benefits which liberal choice promised.

Belloc’s case illustrates too how rough and ready any attempt to categorise ideologies is.

Distributism never really went anywhere, and couldn’t anyway be applied to the industrial side of the economy – it would take a idealistic fanatic to imagine that something like the railways could be broken up into lots of and lots of little bits and still work -

But the arguments of Belloc were in part taken up in all kinds of strange and different places, in the economic liberal anti-socialist arguments of F A Hayek at the end of the Second World War, and by guild socialist advocates of workers’ control during the First.

Pluralism, like all ideologies, is neither neat nor self-contained, and this may even be especially true of pluralism.”

Belloc was famous for an economic system called ‘distributism’ in opposition to both capitalism and socialism. I’m curious to read The Servile State. Aha, thank you Microsoft and The Internet Archive. Right, I’m off.

(Wikipedia says that Belloc thought Jews had too much control in the financial system, but that on his own terms he also stood up for Jews. The engrossing Arthur Koestler was a little bit like this – not about money, about mentality. Antisemitism was both more normal and easier to recognise back then and the general opinion of Jews being what it was you could go pretty far without looking like a hater. There was a palingenetic mood at the time – a will to cleanse and remake anew. This was a totalising impulse of which Socialism and Fascism were manifestations – Belloc’s resistance to both is promising. Bonus fact from a different Gresham lecture on mapping emotion - it’s now possible to identify people who say they aren’t racist but actually are:

“new brain scanning technology is allowing us, when we brain scan individuals, to see which parts of the brain light up or are particularly active, so we are able to get more insight into emotion than ever before, and this has some really quite remarkable implications for our society at large. Just to take one example, there is a particular part of the brain called the amygdala. If you are looking at something disgusting or something that you hate or something that really irritates you or makes you very angry, then the amygdala basically lights up in the brain and becomes very active.

Now, they have done some fascinating experiments recently where you take people and you interview them about their views on race, for example. You can use some quite subtle techniques in terms of pencil and paper tests, so that when you ask people about race and their views on the politics of race, most people know the politically correct thing is not to espouse racist views. But with some of the pencil and paper tests, for example using word association and other subconscious techniques, we can often get at the fact that although people verbalise and say they are not racist, a lot of people really secretly are racist and they keep their views to themselves. What is fascinating with the new brain scanning techniques is that if you show these people pictures in the brain scanner of white people or black people or Asian people, no matter what they say about whether they are racist or not racist, with the racists, their amygdala lights up dramatically in the brain scan. This research tells us that we are not far away from a position, and it is quite a unique position in human history, whereby, no matter what you say about how you feel about things, the brain scanners can reveal the truth. I think that is really quite frightening for a lot of us, particularly those of us who are married…!”

Maybe we will have a more enlightened – i.e. less taboo, more practical – attitude to racism (and sexual exclusivity) in the future.