Myanmar, Beirut, Frinton, Clacton, Stratford, Israel and Jews responding to ad hominems

Matt’s and my donation eventually went to the Disaster Emergency Committee for Myanmar. The coordinated response to the Myanmar junta’s fatal negligence of its stricken millions is too-slowly coalescing round the UN ‘duty to protect’ resolution. Nick Cohen comments. My MP Lee Scott’s response was succinctly fatalistic – he did not give me to believe that he would be looking for opportunities to coordinate internationally on getting aid and expertise into Myanmar.

There is also a parallel call for donations straight to Myanmar’s monks on the basis that they are best-placed to distribute the aid. Matt and I gave to the experts at DEC in the hope that they are equipped to make good decisions about getting my donation to its recipients, via the monks if need be.

Like Israel, but more vulnerably, Lebanon is a little-noted democracy in the Middle East. For a while it looked as if Hesbollah was attempting a putsch in Beirut, but either they failed or they were flexing their muscles to intimidate the government of Fouad Siniora. Despite their aspirations to power, Hesbollah operatives function outside government. This week marked a turning point in their relations with Lebanon – they turned the guns, which they swore would only ever be aimed only at Israel, inwards. The Observer encourages us to view this as Sunni-Shiah infighting – what about Lebanon’s Christians and democrats? Hesbollah political aid Ali Hassan Khalil is calling this ‘civil disobedience‘ but 24 people have died. Anyway, what does Lebanon owe to Hesbollah, who spurn the democratic government, who are the only terrorist group permitted to keep its weapons after Israel pulled out of Lebanon, who promptly turned them onto Northern Israel again leading Israel to attack in 2006 with enormous collatoral deaths and damage. Hesbollah say that Siniora’s is a puppet government of the imperialists. Nasrallah is reported to have said last Friday that the ruling coalition were “Israelis dressed in suits and speaking Arabic”. This is the rationale – calling the elected government proxy Israelis amounts in Hesbollah language to license to wreck and kill them. I know who I support – the democrats every time.

Yesterday Matt and I took ourselves to the seaside. It was originally going to be our local Southend but then curiosity impelled us to the nationalist monocultural stronghold of Frinton-on-Sea and from there a walk either north on the marshes to Walton-on-the-Naze or south to Clacton. While waiting for the toilet on the train I asked the man next to me if he was going to Frinton – no, he was going to Clacton where his brother lives. He intimated that the men of Clacton are dangerously belligerent of a weekend evening. We eventually struck out for Clacton along a beach strewn with bathers, loungers, lovers, comic toddlers and, once outside Frinton, highly entertaining dogs. At Clacton the boys had that gelled baby-bird hair I love and everybody was lobster red. It was more like a Barkingside-on-Sea but prettier, trashier and more faded all at the same time. Nobody was fighting. On station road we saw a staggering number of adjacent estate agents lining both sides of the road for 100 metres at least.

When we got back into Stratford that evening I thought it but it was Matt who said that he much more at home in St Ratford than he did in Frinton / Clacton. Me too. In Stratford everybody is an outsider. St Ratford is cosmopolitan and so, increasingly, is Barkingside. That makes things better. My home nestles between Nigerian Catholics (from two different tribes); they butt onto the Hindu Patels. Across the road is an English / African family. Jews next to them. Ghanaians beyond. South Africans the other side. Then Alan who is straight up English. And so on. The last thing I see before the road bends is a flagpole. The man in that house flies the George Cross and, occasionally, a jolly roger.

In Stratford gaggles of adolescents bounded and skittered round the shopping centre chattering like starlings. The shopping centre at Stratford is a thoroughfare between the station and the theatre and cinema. It’s warm, dry, lit and protected by CCTV. It’s a good place to spend time with your friends at night if there’s nowhere else and you’re too young for the pub – especially in winter.

On the Central Line on the way back I noticed the Dome of the Rock winking at me from an abandoned copy of the Guardian. It is Israel’s anniversary and in the stuff I read this has mostly been the occasion for intense vilification of Israel (and Israel’s advocates). Disappointingly the author of the piece was one of Israel’s most serious attackers, Jacqueline Rose. I am still getting through the piece – it seems she cherry-picks and appropriates self-critical Israeli fictional writing and presses them into the service of her pre-existing anti-Zionist narrative. It’s worth a response, but I can’t do it now.

A large proportion of the attacks on Israel – and these days when the attacks emanate from people outside Israel or Palestine, and unless they explicitly dissociate themselves, I’m inclined to lump them together whether they be on matters of Israel’s policies and strategies or on its very existence – have bad reasons.

Some people believe that if you can solve the Israel/Palestine conflict you will take the energy out of Al Qaeda’s terrifying war against democracy, women’s emancipation, free speech, &tc. Or failing that, if you can distance yourself from anything that might be construed as support for Israel, you won’t cop any flak yourself. This leads to a lot of ostentatious appeasement in the form of loud condemnation of Israel.

Others like the key people in Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewish Anti-Zionists, Jewish Socialist Group and Jacqueline Rose’s organisation, Independent Jewish Voices, feel that Israel reflects badly on them as Jews and tarnishes their reputation in society. This also leads to showy condemnation of Israel, but this time ostentatiously as Jews. Most Jewish identity pro-Palestinian activists feel personally responsible for the way Israel behaves towards Palestinians. Why this should lead to undermining Israel’s existence rather than certain of Israel’s policies and strategies (about which very few of Israel’s detractors inform themselves sufficiently to comment on) is complicated – may be to do with an idealised view of Jews as morally superior, may be to do with an overarching anti-imperialist bent which finds simplistic expression in acts against Israel, may be a personal attempt, as a Jew, to personally move beyond the Holocaust, may be to do with something else.

Wherever intense scrutiny of Israel is mainstream, as in Britain, all of the above lead to an intensification of scrutiny on Jews which manifests itself in political tests and accusations of that Jews lie and obfuscate to defend Israel from a scrutiny which everybody else perceives as entirely justified. Only last night somebody told me that if I wasn’t Jewish I would feel differently about the Israel-Palestine conflict. This kind of insinuation of untrustworthiness presents Jews with at least two possible responses. You can take the IJV, JfJfP, JSG, JAZ option and try to mollify or defuse your detractors by proving that you personally, or you and your friends, are not biased. You can ostentatiously organise activity which looks to be against the interest of the clan you have been lumped together with. I don’t like that response because it doesn’t address the racism of the detractors. It accepts the charge of Jewish clannishness and seeks distance. Moreover it has no understanding for clannishness and no sense of social factors. This is a very sanctimonious response.

I think it was Hoffer who wrote in ‘The True Believer’ that mass movements can’t survive without a devil. The international movement to support Palestinians is one such movement, as illustrated by the slogans of the boycotters at the Turin Book Fair this week (‘Boycott Israel – Support Palestine’). This climate of demonisation is the reason I take the other choice of response, which is to try to challenge ad hominem arguments about the motives or trustworthiness of those Jews who speak up against the demonising vilification of Israel.


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