Tricycle Theatre and the UKJFF – no quiet for quiet

Even from this one article I can think of several possible angles to take on the decision by the board of Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre not to host the UK Jewish Film Festival unless the organisers refused funding from the Israeli Embassy cultural department and accepted instead an equivalent amount from the theatre itself.

 The first is that the Tricycle acted very late. It had come under pressure last year, from a group which openly seeks an end to Israel’s existence, and you get the impression it craved a quiet life. Although the films of the UKJFF are famously open minded about Israel’s conflicts, Israel’s boycotters, seemingly always short of creative ideas or recreational outlets, have taken to wrecking anything that could conceivably be linked to Israel. So I’m guessing the Tricycle decided to jettison Israeli Embassy funding, create a bit of distance, buy itself some quiet. It doesn’t seem to have much zeal for boycotting Israel, but it did so anyway. If this speculation is right, then that is a milestone in the boycott campaign.

The second is that if the Tricycle were set on excluding Jews, I don’t think it would have offered to shell out from its own pocket. Linda Grant says “I’m happy to press war crimes charges against politicians and generals, but not punish ballerinas and actors because you can’t get at the powerful”. The Tricycle is not punishing Israeli film makers with exclusion – it is attempting to substitute for an Israeli Embassy funder. So I can’t see that there’s any antisemitic intent here. As for antisemitic effects, that’s another matter (update: Nick Cohen on the racist nature of discriminatory double standards). But it doesn’t have to be antisemitic to be plain wrong.

The third is that refusing Israeli funding is indeed a measure towards ‘neutrality’. But, reading the statement, the neutrality they seem to be referring to is between opposing British partisans, not between Israel and Hamas. Because if the Tricycle were to accept Israeli funds, there would be a tornado of rage from British anti-Israel activists which would bring a response in kind from the supporters of Israel, and there would be an almightly fight all over the festival, driving away the tender punters and draining the energies of the director and board.

Another is that the Tricycle cannot be neutral in the actual conflict by refusing to take Israeli Embassy money when Hamas has no intention of giving it money. The Israeli Embassy is not even in the same league as Hamas. We clearly need to revisit who Hamas are – even if you think that Israel’s strategy is ill-fated, Hamas are a self-declaredly implacable and legitimate enemy. Who will actually cheer the Tricycle’s decision? My prediction is Israel-eliminationists, pro-Hamas activists, Islamists, Arab nationalists and those who are combinations of each. You can judge a controversial action by what the people who like it stand for.

Another is that the ‘plague on both their houses’ approach of not “accepting funding from any party to the conflict” makes me ache for a Hamas that did actually want to fund the kind of arts which theatres like the Tricycle host. What a genuine bridge to understanding that could be. Then the Tricycle could fund both, and the supporters of each would flock to watch. As militant Islamists, I doubt Hamas likes artists because artists tend to be resolutely independent-minded. Israel, on the other hand, is a hothouse for critical films about Israel.

Another is that it’s a big development for boycotting Israel to be considered ‘neutrality’ when it has always been the acceptable front of a longstanding campaign to end Israel’s actual existence. Is the Tricycle’s decision a sign that the boycott is changing its identity to something more constructive? Perhaps but I am a long way from being convinced.

Another is that there is something penetrating about the equal treatment of Israel and Hamas, because it is a neat way to expose differences and inequalities. So when the BBC reports equally, it throws into relief the discrepancies between Gaza and Israel – the number of deaths, the affluence, or the amount of firepower, or the protections available to ordinary residents. When the Tricycle boycotts both Israel and Hamas, you realise that Hamas doesn’t like the arts at all although – as we now know – it has plenty of spare cash.

Another is that the Tricycle caused a self-boycott on the part of UKJFF, because its quest for a quiet life on the home front was interpreted by the Jewish organisers as a wedge to part Jews from the world’s only Jewish state. A few things about this. Though my knowledge about UK Jewry is slim, I know that it is normal for most Jews to have family ties to Israel – that’s the way the cookie crumbled for European Jews after the Holocaust. I also know that in countries where antisemitism is waxing – France, for example – Jews are more susceptible to come-hithers from Israel. I haven’t mentioned the (more positive) spiritual and emotional connection between Jews and Israel, but I understand it’s pretty strong. Under the circumstances, I doubt that attempts to pry apart Jews and Israel will have much success – although without these pressures I’m certain that Israel would come to feel more and more distinct. It is after all, its own place, and it has never given much support to Jews who live outside Israel. And for the moment it has an awful government. But for now, for many Jews, if even at the back of their mind, Israel is their insurance against a resurgence of expulsions, statelessness and physical attacks.

Another is that I hope I’ve exposed as a black joke Nicholas Hytner’s comment that it’s the UKJFF who, though they have always been funded by the Israeli Embassy “have unwisely politicised a celebration of Jewish culture”.

The UK Jewish Film Festival will take place, but keep an eye out for the new venues.

Update 9th August

It’s looking worse and worse for the Tricycle. Adam Wagner of 1 Crown Office Row barristers’ chambers examines has a UK Human Rights blogpost examining whether the Tricycle Theatre has broken the law. He draws attention to the Tricycle’s self-description as an organisation that “views the world through a variety of lenses, bringing unheard voices into the mainstream” (ringing hollow right now). he also sheds light on the tiny amount (should have realised it would be tiny if the Tricycle were offering to cover it) which was probably also a tiny proportion of the overall funding. Nick Cohen points out that the Israeli Embassy did not impose any conditions on the donation. He also points out that the money the Tricycle proposed to substitute for the Israeli money comes from the UK state, which has gone to war in Iraq with drastic loss of human life. The double standards on Israel are unjustifiable. We need to get to the bottom of why only Israel? It is not far-fetched to suppose that at the heart of this is latent unintentional bias against Jews.

Update 16th August

Despite 500 artistic signatories to a letter defending The Tricycle against allegations of antisemitism, the theatre decided to revoke the conditions on the UK Jewish Film Festival. This was a happy outcome, but one which for me was marred by worry that it didn’t represent any change of heart on the part of the Trike. On Twitter the campaign to boycott the theatre – including @TalOfer and @BoycottTricycle – was elated. They should be proud of a well-organised campaign, but they seemed to care more about touting the decision as their victory than celebrating it as an victory of anti-discrimination activism. Maybe they were right – other funders had begun to pull out of the Trike, so maybe it had no choice. In which case, the new decision is not enlightened but forced. Better forced than nothing, but I’m left with a feeling of disquiet and questions about the Trike’s motives. Could they have been persuaded, or was money and the most strident voices the only thing that talked? Are they still susceptible to this antisemitic variety of anti-Zionism which singles out Israel alone for special penalties? The anti-Zionists are livid and mystified, and determined to be the loudest voices and the biggest sticks. For its part the Tricycle’s and UKJFF’s joint statement did nothing to illuminate the situation, or really explain its take on reconciliation. It needed to be clearer about its principles in order for the decision not to be seen by the increasing number of people with antisemitic instincts as a capitulation to Jewish power. As Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles remarked on Twitter, “The Jewish film festival ban/un-ban by Tricycle Theatre” has been a disaster from beginning to end. I wonder if there is still space for reason, persuasion, empathy, and compassion.

Is it pro-Palestinian?

Not in my name

For example Laurie Penny says that although Jews aren’t responsible for Palestinian deaths, their opinions carry extra weight and could “make a difference” when raised in opposition to Israel. “It is not anti-Semitic to say “not in my name””.

Picking through that, she’s obviously not expecting to make a difference with the Israeli government since they’re not even taking a steer from the US government at the moment. And she’s not addressing Palestinians (who may by now understand the limits of moral support – very nice thanks but here we still are, cooped up and dying). She’s definitely exhibiting her own political credentials, which matter only within her political bubble. And she may be hoping to inoculate herself against the now prevalent antisemitic view that all Jews should be assumed to support child-killing unless they say otherwise. Isn’t that a bit like urging Muslims to speak up against ISIS massacres? Don’t Jews held to political tests deserve solidarity?

Conclusion: self-centred cop-out.

Palestinian flags

For example, the “gesture of solidarity” from Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman is a stunt which exceeds his office and misuses a local government institution. How can a Palestinian flag have any impact as a symbol of peace when the Israeli flag is absent? It’s a partisan nationalistic symbol.

Conclusion: competitive, vicarious nationalism.

Writing a letter, as a Jew

Plenty of letters have been written by people and groups who wish to ostentatiously set themselves apart from the Jewish establishment.

I don’t get it. If you have a Jewish background but you’re not part of a Jewish communal organisation then you don’t get to send a representative to the Jewish Board of Deputies, the organisation which was formed to allow UK Jewry to make official, democratically negotiated representation to UK government, or its equivalent for your country. That’s understandable – so go and publish your own letter, as long as you don’t make out that your local group of elected Jewish representatives is invalid (I realise this needs more examples, but it’s late…). It probably has its tribulations and gets through them OK. Or if your Jewish communal organisation decides not to send a representative to the BOD but prefers to use the BOD as a counterfoil, then you’re in an anti-establishment clique which represents a cliquey, niche kind of Jewishness. But well done you for being so fresh and diverse. You’ll stand out really nicely against the silent, confused, hurting majority of Jews who feel unable to speak up for Gazans if it’s anti-Zionists and Jew-baiters trying to make them, and who understand enough to hate what Hamas stand for as much as they hate the sight of smashed up Palestinians.

Conclusion: loathsome identity politics from the dullest radicals.

Calling it a Holocaust

Telling Jews that they of all people should have learned from the Holocaust not to treat other people like the Nazis treated them is vindictively stupid. If I think of them as ignorant,  and beside themselves with grief, fear or rage, I can just about bring myself to explain Palestinian men drawing Hitler moustaches and swastikas on pictures Netanyahu and burning them, but when this is picked up by social media with such evident enthusiasm, Bob From Brockley explains the significance.

Conclusion: casual antisemitism of moralising simpletons influenced (maybe unwittingly) by Hamas &tc media strategists.

Fake pictures and other exaggerations

So many fake or misunderstood pictures and so much misinformation that people begin to doubt any of the reportage. On that, read this. Passing off artistic interpretations of a terrible situation as documentary evidence only sends the message that the truth isn’t actually very impressive and we can all relax.

Conclusion: lying and careless retweeting betrays any cause.

Boycotting Israel

The call is to boycott Israel in its entirety until it fulfills a list of requirements. The poorly hidden agenda is to wipe Israel off the map. “Colonization”? By whom? Nobody. “All Arab lands”? If they meant end the occupation they’d say it. “Dismantle the wall”? Not so fast – remember all those suicide bombers and all that Israeli civilian blood? “the right of Palestinian refugees to return”? That’s 12 or so million people who are designated refugees only because the countries where they live (many of whom made life unbearable for local Jews) refused to give them citizenship to keep up pressure on Israel. Imagine any politician even attempting to pull off that scale of immigration at home.

Conclusion: simple partisanship – Palestinian nationalism good, Israeli nationalism evil.

Blaming Israel for antisemitic attacks on Jews in the name of Palestinians

A seriously depressing and disturbing form of Palestine activism – particularly since so many on the Israeli left find it convenient to instrumentalise these attacks on Jews outside Israel as evidence that the Israeli strategy of confinement and bouts of force is failing.

I’m missing it out cos I’m going to bed.

Anything positive, whatsoever?

For those who are genuinely interested, plenty – but I can’t see any low hanging fruit. The easiest is reversing the empathy deficit – so hard to do in Israel or the occupied territories. Also easy, trying to understand, giving consideration to all sides from the religious Israeli settlers to the genocidal jihadis. Refusing to be in a bubble. Paying attention to honest reportage from brave journalists, and commentary from experts who are interested in peace rather than winning. Insisting that humans at risk of harm are at the centre of all conflict considerations. Insisting that every death is investigated, amplifying alternative plans for ending the conflict. Finding ways to drive a wedge between Israel and the expanding settlements, which might include selective boycott. Not leaving it to pro-Israel partisans to hold Hamas to account. Not leaving it to pro-Palestine partisans to hold Israel to account. Refusing to import the conflict. Rejecting zero-sum game politics. Pursuing a vision of peace which doesn’t involve punishing and demeaning one or other of the parties in the conflict. Being careful not to damage the credibility of Palestinian or Israeli politicians by folding them into your own agenda.

 

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