Academic Friends of Israel. Hitherto I never got further than the name – how can you be a ‘friend’ to a state, with the partiality and unconditional approval that implies? In a consumerist way, of the kind Nick Cohen talks of in What’s Left, I haven’t given them much attention. But I met somebody from AFI recently, and accepted his card with Nick Cohen’s words on solidarity in mind.
Solidarity, what’s that? Is it when you throw your lot in with people or groups whose values you do not accept wholesale, in order to achieve a common aim? When Anthony Julius opts to combine efforts with controversial and right-wing Alan Dershowitz on the specific project of opposing the boycott, is that solidarity? When the Neturei Karta demonstrate against Israel alongside Hezbollah, what’s that?
Somebody – a thoroughly decent revolutionary Socialist – told me that some parts of the anti-boycott campaign were too Jewish to have any credibility. Faced with a similar situation, Arthur Koestler, David Cesarani believes, was pragmatic. Jewish to his core, he buried that part of his public identity in order to more credibly – because less apparently self-interested – campaign for a State of Israel. Maybe he believed that solidarity can only happen between ostensibly diverse people, else it assumes a clannish quality. His times were accutely antisemitic – maybe he sought to purify his reputation and avoid suspicion of pulling strings for his clan. Maybe he believed that most people thought that Jews were instrinsic schemers and sought to disassociate himself so he could get on with the job of supplying them with a refuge. At any rate, he was by Cesarani’s account very successful.
“… to engage the large reservoirs of moderate British opinion in the struggle against this hostility by exposing it for what it is. This requires us to approach fair-minded people with a call to stand against it that they cannot easily set aside. “
He means that Jews alone – and understandably, hitherto it has been Jews or people from Jewish backgrounds who have been most sensitive to and active against the boycott – cannot make the arguments effectively. That is sad, frightening and probably correct.
I’m not one to disassociate myself from right-minded people or groups for reasons of credibility, in the absence of other ethical reasons – particularly when I believe as in this case that to do so is to leave a time bomb still ticking. So that is one step towards solidarity. What would be a real feat would be to get Academic Friends of Israel talking – loudly – about a viable state for Palestinians.
Ordered United We Stand by Alistair Reid.
Oh – and my great uncle? A Church of England minister 🙂