Yair Lapid has risen rapidly to become a major player in Israeli politics. His party, Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) had significant success in the recent elections.
There is no doubting his charisma. But who is he and what does he stand for?
If I were an Israeli, I’d probably have voted for him because his views most closely meet my own.
I was made aware of an article that was published four years ago, before he was really politically active.
It is called ‘I Am a Zionist’.
I want to analyse the entire article which is really, in my view, a work part poetic, part secular creed. Of course, I present an English translation but I don’t think that matters.
I am a Zionist
I believe that the Jewish people established itself in the Land of Israel, albeit somewhat late. Had it listened to the alarm clock, there would have been no Holocaust, and my dead grandfather – the one I was named after – would have been able to dance a last waltz with grandma on the shores of the Yarkon River.
[ That last sentence is, for me, sheer poetry. It brings together so many themes of what it is to be a Jew in this post-Holocaust world and it introduces an important theme which is overlooked by those who do not understand the attachment of Jews to the Land of Israel. That theme is emotion and, yes, sentimentality, but it is, nevertheless, a valid and most central reason for Zionism.
Lapid tells us that is grandfather, who perished two decades before he was born, would have survived, moved to Israel and would have lived out his latter years with Lapid's grandmother (who survived) by the Yarkon river in Tel Aviv. The whole image is deeply moving to me and I get emotional just reading it.
It speaks of a lost world and lives cut short, but it also speaks of renewal, redemption and hope. After all, Yair is named after his late grandfather, a strong tradition amongst Ashkenazi Jews. He stands in his grandfather's place but his very presence is both a confirmation of the resilience of Jewish life and history and also a form of defiance. The Nazis were not the first nor will they be the last who wish to destroy the Jews. In this sentence, Israel is a refuge where life can be lived and Jews can reach old age to see out their years amid the beauty of their ancestral land in the dance of life, not the dance of death.
Had we, the Jews, listened to the 'alarm clock' then grandfather would be here with us. We will not let that happen again. We listen to alarm clocks now whether they be Iranian or Islamist or terrorist. At the first ring we jump up and we run to defend ourselves and our country and our future as a free independent nation.
All this I read in that one poetic sentence.]
I am a Zionist.
Hebrew is the language I use to thank the Creator, and also to swear on the road. The Bible does not only contain my history, but also my geography. King Saul went to look for mules on what is today Highway 443, Jonah the Prophet boarded his ship not too far from what is today a Jaffa restaurant, and the balcony where David peeped on Bathsheba must have been bought by some oligarch by now.
[So, don't tell us we are colonisers and foreign infiltrators. The Land IS the Jewish people. It is the warp and we are the weft of our history and the fabric is a strong one. Despite your attempts to tell us we are recent converts, that the Temple never existed and that the tombs of our forefathers are really mosques. Despite your attempt to obliterate our history and to pulverise our synagogues and our graves, you cannot separate the warp from the weft - they are made of the strongest steel annealed in the furnaces of our ancestors' torture.]
I am a Zionist.
The first time I saw my son wearing an IDF uniform I burst into tears, I haven’t missed the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony for 20 years now, and my television was made in Korea, but I taught it to cheer for our national soccer team.
[The concept of Jewish soldiers who fight for their land and people is still quite new to Jews. We were often conscripts fighting others' wars or we experienced what it was like to be on the receiving end of soldiers' hatreds and lusts. Russian Jews often preferred to leave the country than send their sons for 25 years military service.
The family story is that my great-uncle in Poland was blinded so the Russians could not take him.
So to see your son (or daughter) in a uniform gladly contributing to the safety of his nation can be an overwhelming one. I know that as a non-Israeli with and Israeli son. So much more Lapid knows it as one who served himself. This too is about emotion and creating continuity and belonging. It's about being in control of your destiny and not to have that destiny belong to the whim of others.
It is also about the idea of your grandfather or great-grandfather cowering in a stiebl in Russia as the Cossacks or the Germans or the Poles, or whoever it happened to be, rode by or entered your town or demanded you line up or took you away for 25 years.
From that to my handsome son or my beautiful daughter wearing an Israeli uniform. If there is such a thing as a miracle...]
I am a Zionist.
I believe in our right for this land. The people who were persecuted for no reason throughout history have a right to a state of their own plus a free F-16 from the manufacturer. Every display of anti-Semitism from London to Mumbai hurts me, yet deep inside I’m thinking that Jews who choose to live abroad fail to understand something very basic about this world. The State of Israel was not established so that the anti-Semites will disappear, but rather, so we can tell them to get lost.
[More strident than I would put it. I think we should still pay for the F-16. No-one owes us anything. We owe the world. We owe the world the demonstration that a civilised country based on Jewish principles is not only possible but desirable.
I don't expect anti-Semites to disappear and I don't think telling them to get lost will help us or deter them. It may make us feel better, though. And as a Jew who was born in the Diaspora I do understand this. I did not chose to be born here. Nor is it that easy to leave. However, the more Israel is unfairly singled out, the more blind eyes are turned to anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred, the more 'anti-Zionism' becomes mainstream and the more the useful idiots of the Left and the deluded 'human-rights' advocates feed the crocodiles, the more likely it is I will leave and have MY last waltz on the Yarkon, as it were.]
I am a Zionist.
I was fired at in Lebanon, a Katyusha rockets missed me by a few feet in Kiryat Shmona, missiles landed near my home during the first Gulf War, I was in Sderot when the Color Red anti-rocket alert system was activated, terrorists blew themselves up not too far from my parents’ house, and my children stayed in a bomb shelter before they even knew how to pronounce their own name, clinging to a grandmother who arrived here from Poland to escape death. Yet nonetheless, I always felt fortunate to be living here, and I don’t really feel good anywhere else.
[Do your worst. We are not moving. This is not about immigration and colonisation, it's about a deep-rootedness that non-Zionists just do not understand. Yes, it's about emotion. It's about history. It's about struggle. It's about self-determination. It's about pride. It's about knowing your great-grandparents stood on a railway platform in Birkenau or by a shallow grave in a forest in Poland. It's about saying 'never again'].
I am a Zionist.
I think that anyone who lives here should serve in the army, pay taxes, vote in the elections, and be familiar with the lyrics of at least one Shalom Hanoch song. I think that the State of Israel is not only a place, it is also an idea, and I wholeheartedly believe in the three extra commandments engraved on the wall of the Holocaust museum in Washington: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”
[Pretty much the essence of what I have been saying. Despite this, the haters are determined to prove Israelis ARE perpetrators. Not as individual miscreants but as part of a national program and as an indivisible consequence of being Jewish. But you know what I think about that.]
I am a Zionist.
I already laid down on my back to admire the Sistine Chapel, I bought a postcard at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, and I was deeply impressed by the emerald Buddha at the king’s palace in Bangkok. Yet I still believe that Tel Aviv is more entertaining, the Red Sea is greener, and the Western Wall Tunnels provide for a much more powerful spiritual experience. It is true that I’m not objective, but I’m also not objective in respect to my wife and children.
[I guess you have to be born in Israel and be a true patriot to believe this. I don't think that being a Zionist means you have to believe that everything Israeli is better than its counterparts in other countries. But I did feel a welling of pride and emotion when I first flew El Al within Israel and I still can't explain why.]
I am a Zionist.
I am a man of tomorrow but I also live my past. My dynasty includes Moses, Jesus, Maimonides, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Woody Allen, Bobby Fischer, Bob Dylan, Franz Kafka, Herzl, and Ben-Gurion. I am part of a tiny persecuted minority that influenced the world more than any other nation. While others invested their energies in war, we had the sense to invest in our minds.
[Yes, but what led to the disproportionate number of Jews who have influenced world history? Why are we so clever? Why are we so bookish? Why do we challenge convention and never settle for another person's 'truth'? It's quite simple. Those non-Jews, Darwin and Dawkins, would tell you. Those Jews who live today are here because someone in their past made a decision which saved their life or their children's lives. We have been breeding out those not bright enough to survive for 40 generations or more.
In addition: the Christians and the Muslims often prevented us from full participation in their society marking us out as strangers and infidels or unbelievers whose very presence was simply tolerated. So what did we do: we had to have our own food, our own hospitals our own burial societies, our own places of worship. But above all, our own schools where we could study Torah. We have always been literate. We have always been interested in forensic debate over the matters of Jewish law and custom in the Torah or Talmud. We always spoken at least two languages.
We created a ghetto of the mind and made ourselves more intelligent, more cultured, more spiritual and more self-sufficient. It does not make us superior or better. It just makes us able to do a lot more with a lot less if given the space and the peace to do so.]
I am a Zionist.
I sometimes look around me and become filled with pride, because I live better than a billion Indians, 1.3 billion Chinese, the entire African continent, more than 250 million Indonesians, and also better than the Thais, the Filipinos, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the entire Muslim world, with the exception of the Sultan of Brunei. I live in a country under siege that has no natural resources, yet nonetheless the traffic lights always work and we have high-speed connection to the Internet.
[Please see my response to the previous paragraph.]
I am a Zionist.
My Zionism is natural, just like it is natural for me to be a father, a husband, and a son. People who claim that they, and only they, represent the “real Zionism” are ridiculous in my view. My Zionism is not measured by the size of my kippa, by the neighborhood where I live, or by the party I will be voting for. It was born a long time before me, on a snowy street in the ghetto in Budapest where my father stood and attempted, in vain, to understand why the entire world is trying to kill him.
[And now we come full circle because pretty much all of the world is still trying to kill us either deliberately or through negligence which will allow those who want a second Holocaust to succeed].
I am a Zionist.
Every time an innocent victim dies, I bow my head because once upon a time I was an innocent victim. I have no desire or intention to adopt the moral standards of my enemies. I do not want to be like them. I do not live on my sword; I merely keep it under my pillow.
[This is a major cultural ethical difference between most Israelis and those who would destroy them. However, do not be complacent; there are too many Israeli Jews who do have the moral standards of their enemies. Fortunately, they live within a legal system that, for the most part, restrains them. Yet, the idealised view of the moral Jew is being sorely tested in Judea and Samaria. Recent demographic changes are also causing challenges. Even so, the overall imbalance in hatred and bigotry compared to Israel's enemies, and even some of its friends, is enormous].
I am a Zionist.
I do not only hold on to the rights of our forefathers, but also to the duty of the sons. The people who established this state lived and worked under much worse conditions than I have to face, yet nonetheless they did not make do with mere survival. They also attempted to establish a better, wiser, more humane, and more moral state here. They were willing to die for this cause, and I try to live for its sake.
[Idealism has to be acted upon. I hope Yair Lapid succeeds in demonstrating that he can act upon his idealism and advance the peace process.]
I assume Lapid still feels the same as he did in 2009. This is the manifesto of an Israeli who is proud of his nation and its achievements, proud of his history but aware of the threats to that nation. He will defend it if he has to. But he’d rather live in peace.
This is the reasonable, long time mainstream peace-seeking, compromise making, tough Israeli stance. All it needs is the other side to be of like mind. Sadly, that is not something that is forthcoming.
So, there we were, slaving away for Egyptians, building cities, being abused and generally not being treated like full citizens whilst yearning for the homeland.
Then, despite several diplomatic attempts to persuade the authorities that we should be allowed to return, they just wouldn’t listen. After all, slavery is a good deal for the enslavers and a bad one for the enslaved.
Then, several miracles later, we are on the way to establishing not an Israelite state, but a Jewish state.
We had to do a little ethnic cleansing to protect ourselves from the unprovoked attacks of the indigenous people who didn’t like the idea of a sudden influx of millions of strange Orientals who spent the day under a cloud and the night following a pillar of fire.
They didn’t like the new ideas we were bringing. We would put an end to human sacrifice, eating pigs and marrying your mother-in-law – three closely related ideas for the Canaanites and other inhabitants.
Much better just to jump us and drive us into the sea. Didn’t we originally come from Mesopotamia, anyway. What right do we have to the Land. Just because we claim our G-d gave us some tablets and promised us ‘from the River to the Sea’. Yada yada.
They didn’t believe that our forefathers (which is confusing because there are only three of them) lived here, sheared sheep here, did a lot of stuff with wells here, spent quality time with angels here – all that counts for nothing with these guys.
All they want to do is fight and kill and build cities and worship trees and stuff, whereas, we just want enough space for a few million people to live and settle down so we never have to eat manna again (boring) or spend days at the bottom of a mountain with nothing to do except make graven images.
We said to them: look, we can live here together. Didn’t your Mum ever tell you anything about ‘sharing’? We can make this place thrive. We are good at things you are not, like keeping accurate accounts, hygiene, debating, and driving hard bargains – what more do you want! You are good at making and fixing stuff and carrying heavy loads and so on – we’ve had enough of that. We can do the intellectual stuff, you provide the brawn and we can have one land for two (or more) peoples.
And if that doesn’t work, I’m sure we can divide things up equitably. We’ll even take the swamps and the crappy land that no-one else wants. We can work if we have to. We can build cities too – we did Pitom and Rammses – two of our best works. Never got paid, though. Still rankles.
So whilst you are mulling it over – and here we have to warn you – our G-d is very, very powerful, so I know you’ll make the right decision – it’s time for our annual commemoration of our leaving Egypt and remembering the bad stuff that happens to people that mess with Jews. It also reminds us why so many Jews are dentists and doctors.
So , ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ – and the year after and the one after that and so on, forever and ever – OMAYN!
By the way. Could someone tell me how much, exactly, two zuzim is? Doesn’t sound enough for one kid, to me – not even a small one.
So there I was watching my first child exit his mother’s birth canal in a hospital in Manchester.
Fast forward almost 27 years and I am sitting with my wife in Northern Israel watching that same child receive his beret on completion of his basic training in the IDF.
Roll back again to 1985. No, roll back to 1975.
I am sitting in a House for Jewish students in Liverpool playing chess at the beginning of my second year at University. New arrivals. A young woman with black hair in a fringe peers round the door of the lounge and says ‘hello’ and gives her name. I look up, mutter something, and return to my Ruy Lopez.
Now I know the whole story of how I got from moving my bishop to Knight 5 to the moment an officer rams a beret on my son’s head and I turn to my wife and we are both crying buckets. Not buckets of fear and anticipation, but of pride and a certain bewilderment.
For a few minutes we are Israelis. There are several hundred people pressed up behind us; parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. We are right at the front, a few feet from the action.
We stand for the Hatikvah, the national anthem. I manage the first two stanzas, then I am consumed with an indescribable sensation and my voice breaks. I fight back tears. I compose myself. I manage the last couple of stanzas with gusto.
To be a free people in our own land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem
The ceremony ends.
Fast rewind 30 years.
During the 1980s I wasn’t much interested in Israel, or Jewish history, or, indeed, Judaism. Every attack on Israel was keenly felt, however. I was not Israel-neutral but I didn’t much like what was happening to Palestinians on the West Bank, I didn’t like settlements and I found not one Israeli leader that I could identify with. Those views still persist but I can now at least contextualise them.
Truth be told, although I believed in Israel’s right to exist and Jewish self-determination, I didn’t much like Israelis and I simply determined not to go their country until Israeli government policy changed.
I was a bit of a lefty. I still am someone with instinctive left-leaning views. I somehow have an urge to apologise for that. But I’ll demur. For now.
So what changed?
I educated myself. I read history. I learned. I abjured simplistic views of the conflict.
I eventually made my first trip in 1999 and all my preconceptions about arrogant Israelis were confirmed. I did not like the country.
Then, after more visits, I came to understand the culture better and I began to accept the rudeness, the bad driving and the chutzpah. I began the process of understanding that these few million insufferable Orientals were guaranteeing my escape route from future persecution. They were creating a new/old culture so complex and rich and controversial and noisy and wonderful – and against such incredible odds.
I eventually became comfortable not just with my Jewish identity but I came to understand that Israel is really a modern paradigm for the last 2000 years of Jewish history; always under attack, always threatened. Which other people live in constant fear that sooner or later they really will be wiped off the map?
Despite the vicissitudes of this existence over the millennia, and maybe because of it, the Jewish people have not just found ways to survive but also thrive, quite often achieving high levels of literacy, wealth and, where allowed, social status. They always achieved this despite frequent periods of persecution, expulsion and confiscation.
Israel has, since the days of the yishuv, the pre-state political entity, continued on this same path of achievement. But the difference is that with independence and self-determination Jews can, at last, defend themselves from the dark forces that persist in trying to destroy us.
So that indescribable feeling I experienced, which I mentioned before, that I felt as I watched my son receive his beret was due to all this history, all this collective experience, all the pride in his achievement and that of the young men we met that day. Pride in myself. Pride in my people. Secure in the belief and knowledge that, despite its imperfections, its internal problems, external aggression, existential threats, lies, propaganda and undiluted hatred, the despised country of a despised people was at its core strong, moral, determined and righteous.
And mixed with all these emotions was that bewilderment from the realisation that my wife and I were responsible. We were not here by chance. We had truly changed the world as all of us do. The accident of our meeting all those years ago resonates throughout our lives and the lives of our children. Of course, the same is true for our parents and their parents and back through the years and the decades and centuries. Each small act or decision or coincidence leads to everything we and those following us experience for good or ill.
So do not believe that you are not important. We all change the world, the present and the future every day. What we can never do is to predict where these choices will one day lead. We can only strive and hope they are mainly for the better.
Two years ago, when I first decided to become involved in blogging and trying to learn more about Zionism, the Middle-East and Israel, I joined an online Zionist group set up by Ami.
I had just written an article in praise of one of his articles in the Jerusalem Post and this led me to find his group and to apply for membership.
His first response was to warn me that he didn’t want any ‘lurkers’ only committed activists. I bristled, sent him an angry response, he apologised, I apologised and it was only later that I began to realise what a great man he was. I was soon to discover the huge corpus of information on his websites Zionism-Israel.com and MidEastWeb.org.
Ami turned out to be a truly inspirational contact. He wrote brilliantly and his depth of knowledge and his many links to politicians and influential people made him a priceless source of wisdom. I didn’t always agree with him but my respect was boundless. He taught me a great deal over the coming months. In many ways he helped me form my own stance on the issues and he showed me that there is rarely anything black and white about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Ami always, always told it like it was. He disagreed with many of Israel’s policies and bemoaned its inability to make its case properly in the international arena. He was never an apologist for what he knew was wrong, and he was always a champion for what he knew was right: peace and reconciliation.
I never met him. In April this year I spoke to him on the phone when I was in Israel. His first words were: “Where are you?” Not “How are you”. He was an American-born Israeli – not for him the niceties of polite conversation that I, a Brit, am used to. He really did want to know where I was because he wanted to meet me. Finding I was in Jerusalem, he replied that it was the best place to be.
Instead of discussing Israel and politics he gave me advice on how my son could get a job when he came to Israel – and it was good advice.
Ami’s slurred speech was a remnant of the stroke he had suffered months earlier. It never occurred to me that his life was so fragile.
I don’t feel I can do justice to Ami, his intellect, his genius and his humanity. I have to quote his brother’s eulogy, read by one of Ami’s sons at the funeral, and I also want to link to some magnificent tributes from those who knew him much better than I did.
Eulogy for Ami Isseroff Wednesday June 29, 2011
When Ami was born with a congenital heart problem, the doctors said he would not survive, but his mother, Batia, refused to listen and through her perseverance he was able, after several operations, to lead an almost normal life.
She always felt that he was destined for greatness. Today, she would be very proud of him. He fulfilled her fondest dreams in that he married a sweet and caring girl and had three exceptional children, Asaf, Amit and Michal.
He will always be remembered in their hearts as a loving, if irascible husband and father. But the rest of us, will remember him for his wit, intellect and unique outlook on life.
He and I shared many adventures and their retelling always brought us much pleasure.
Early on, we in his immediate family recognized his superior mental abilities as he excelled in his studies throughout high school and college. His memory was phenomenal. He played the piano and guitar as a teenager and his love of music continued throughout his life.
With Ami’s talent for writing and oral disputation, the family thought he would choose to study law. Instead, his Zionist inclinations led him to join a kibbutz in Eretz Ysrael. There, for a time, he was happy to perform socialistically heroic tasks such as driving tractors, moving irrigation pipes, feeding pigs and cleaning out their pens. Difficult as these jobs were, it was the lack of an intellectually stimulating environment that caused him to leave the kibbutz.
He couldn’t believe that at the end of the workday kibbutzniks preferred to watch television rather than have a rousing discussion on some aspect of world affairs, politics or the class struggle. Hence, he embarked on a program of graduate study in Psychology at the Universities of Jerusalem and Haifa.
It was at the University in Jerusalem that Ami met the love of his life, Ruth. Through his long and exhausting, years as a graduate student that included many disputes with his faculty advisors as well as exasperating turf wars between them, it was Ruth”s love and support that kept him from giving up and returning to the States. When the warring parties and their various factions finally agreed to award him a Doctorate in Experimental Psychology we thought that he would be offered secure employment. However, the weak economy and an excess of trained Psychologists made it difficult for Ami to find and keep a University job, despite post-doctoral training at Yale and Worcester Universities.
Fortunately, in the course of his graduate studies he had developed a number of computer skills, including the ability to write complex programs that were at the cutting edge of the technology. These skills made it possible for him to earn a living and to pursue a new vocation as a respected observer and opinion maker in the World’s media and on the internet. It was here that he found his true calling as an outspoken advocate for peace and good will between Palestinians and Israelis.
I know that Ami believed that if ever these two peoples should arrive at a state of mutual trust and respect his major life-effort would not be in vain.
With sadness and love to you all, Hadar Isseroff
I think this is so powerful and moving: http://simplyjews.blogspot.com/2011/06/ami-isseroff-rip-heart-of-real-zionist.html from someone who knew him.
I also recommend this: http://fresnozionism.org/2011/07/ami-isseroff
We often hear people say ‘He/she will be sadly missed’; in Ami’s case this is painfully true. I still feel like a guiding spirit has been taken from me.
The best we can all do to honour his memory is to carry on with renewed vigour from the inspiration we have, and will continue to receive from one who truly is irreplaceable.
The Elder of Ziyon has joined forces with Stand With Us and has presented a series of This Is Zionism posters which say a lot about Israel.
If you hate Israel, turn away now.
Israel is 63 today and despite being in a state of war with some or all of its neighbours throughout its history, its achievements are manifold.
Full set of posters can be found here.
Am Yisrael Chai
I have kept my powder dry because the questions raised are complex and lead off into many different avenues.
So first, for the uninitiated, who is Mick Davis and what did he say that has so divided the Jewish community in Britain?
[And even that statement is problematical; to say he has divided the Jewish community, maybe the affair has simply brought out into the open an existing schism. And when I say ‘Jewish community’ that is shorthand for the majority Jewish establishment, mainly conservative and mainly supportive of Israel. It does not include those Jews who have already picked up their camp standard and moved it over to the left and the pro-Palestinian side, yet still consider themselves to be the true representatives of British Jewry.]
Mick Davis is a South African-born businessman who heads up the UJIA (United Jewish Israel Appeal), the leading fundraising organisation in Britain for Israel (although it also supports domestic Jewish charitable ventures). I worked briefly for its predecessor, the JIA in what is now called a gap year, back in the seventies, but that’s another, albeit interesting, story.
Mick is also a luminary of the JLC, the Jewish Leadership Council. This is, apparently, a self-appointed group of, mainly wealthy and influential community leaders of all affiliations and has the following Mission:
1. Enhance the effectiveness of communal political representation, advocacy and relations with Government.
2. To influence communal strategic priorities.
3. To demonstrate the community’s desire for greater strategic coordination and cooperation.
Just who gives them the right for such a mission is uncertain. Let’s just say they abrogated that right for themselves as a group of well-meaning oligarchs, a sort of secular sanhedrin. But more on this later.
Mick Davis is, therefore, a wealthy man who wants to help Israel and the Jewish community in Britain. The UJIA is a charity and, I presume, its trustees appoint its leader rather like the BBC appoints its Director General. Remember that Davis is also one of the aforementioned ‘oligarchs’.
At the now infamous meeting Davis is reported to have said the following:
1. If you try to characterise the leadership of the Jewish community…you would probably find most of them are left of centre in thinking about Israel, that they strongly support a two-state solution, they are worried about the rights of minorities.
Not too controversial, except it is an opinion not backed up by any direct evidence that I am aware of. He is probably right as he knows many of the leaders of the community but he is already overreaching here in claiming opinion as fact.
2. I think you have a left of centre leadership with a genuine concern about minority issues, concerned about the moral dilemmas that we face, concerned about where Israel goes, but it’s a leadership which has never, ever spoken up publicly about that.
Not to mince words, he is saying that the leadership, which he again claims to know, are troubled by many of Israel’s actions and ‘minority issues’, which presumably refers to Israeli Arabs and, perhaps, Palestinians. He says the ‘we’ face moral dilemmas. By ‘we’ I assume he means British Jewry and I assume the moral dilemmas are, as he appears to imply, the occasions when Israel acts in a way that he/the leadership do not agree with but feel constrained not to speak up against.
Of course, this implies that he and the Jewish leadership, nay, the Jewish community has the right to speak up; and if it has that right, it has a moral duty to express disagreement.
This is one of the points which has caused most controversy and debate. I shall return to this later, too.
3. Additional building on settlements, or the bulldozing of houses of people in circumstances which just doesn’t seem to be morally conscionable… forcing non-Jews to take an oath about the nature of the Jewish state…the fact that many Arab Israelis live in circumstances of extreme poverty – that is not to say some Jewish Israelis don’t either – and have a second class service delivery from the state.
Well now the genii is truly out of the bottle. Davis has here done the unthinkable and directly criticised a number of policies both of the present Israeli government and previous governments. House demolitions and so-called settlements are not just the province of this current government, but are on-going policies stretching back decades. The oath of allegiance issue is definitely a policy of the present government whilst Arab poverty and second-class citizenship accusations are a statement of concern about the nature of Israeli society.
Davis’s line here, having established the left-leaning credentials of the leadership, is now aligning worryingly with the rhetoric of the far Left. Although none of the issues he names can or should be denied, they are all mentioned without context.
To berate Israel for the ‘additional building on settlements’ is the Obama line. It fails to spot the fact that before Obama made settlements a grand excuse for the Palestinians to avoid talks, they had never in any previous negotiations, even with Arafat, been seen as an impediment to peace.
I have never liked bulldozing homes because they were once or are the family home of a terrorist. I have no choice but to agree with Davis on this one.
The oath of allegiance also troubled me. That is, until new Jewish citizens were included in the bill. The oath is one of those Israeli specialities, creating problems where there is no need. The Israeli constitution is clear on the nature of the state. I see no reason for anyone to do any other than swear allegiance to the State of Israel and its constitution. Expressing the Jewish nature of the state in such an oath is redundant and just gives food for enemies to chew on. Yet, it is a minor issue.
Why does Davis say that Israel is ‘forcing’ non-Jews to take the oath which is a further misrepresentation of the facts. The oath is intended for all NEW citizens and no-one is forcing them to become Israelis. In the US new citizens give their allegiance to the flag, the constitution and American values. Where’s the difference?
The issue of Arab ‘extreme’ poverty whilst acknowledging there is Jewish poverty, is a strange one for me. I agree there are inequities and many of these are cultural and historical but there are many wonderful examples of Arab integration and success.
What is most egregious about this is that it ignores the fact that Israeli Arabs are, in general, better off than their counterparts in the surrounding countries. I see no issue with the UJIA joining in efforts to raise the status, education and medical well-being of Israel’s Arab population but Davis makes it sound as if the situation is deliberate and one of neglect. It’s a context-free zone, the sort of easy point-scoring that Israel’s enemies are only too happy to use against it. And how does he measure ‘extreme’ poverty?
4. Those are issues that ideally we would like to talk about…but you are fearful of doing that, because you then suddenly say: ‘Well, is it possible that those things will get picked up and woven into the debate of the delegitimisers and present a platform from which they then grow in strength?’
Well, not quite. It depends how you address the issues or perhaps, whether they are actually any of your business. Which is also a question arising from this whole debate. The question is: is it possible to have a free and frank discussion on Israel’s shortcomings in a climate of delegitimisation and demonization? Here’s the moral dilemma: if you believe you are morally obliged as a member of the British Jewish community to speak out against perceived injustices, how to you square that with the fact that, (and especially if you are a communal leader, self-appointed or otherwise), your words can be used as ammunition to denigrate Israel?
Some have questioned that anyone in the Diaspora has any right at all to criticise Israel.
5. In Europe, and this country in particular, there is a strong sense amongst the leadership, and I guess most of the community, that there is a concerted effort to delegitimise the state. Not to attack Israel’s policies, but actually question whether the state as a Jewish state should exist.
Precisely. And that’s why, maybe, as a community leader, you should be a bit more circumspect when it comes to contextualising perceived inequities in Israeli society or government policies. Or maybe not?
Where Davis drew most flak was a direct criticism of Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.
6. I object to the fact that Netanyahu hasn’t got the courage to take the steps that he would like to take. I think he would like to be seen as the person who makes the great advance…He is a prisoner of the past and a prisoner of the circumstances that he finds himself in. I don’t understand the lack of strategy in Israel.
Some commentators have leapt to Bibi’s defence citing his army service in response to accusations of physical courage. This is a ludicrous response. Davis was talking about moral courage, not physical courage. But this doesn’t make Davis right. What steps does he think Bibi wants to make? What is the great advance? Why does Davis imply here that lack of progress in peace negotiations is due to Netanyahu’s lack of courage? Is he suggesting that he is in thrall to the religious right over settlements? What lack of strategy? The strategy to defeat its enemies and not give in to pressure from the United States to commit suicide, perhaps.
It is at this point that any sympathy for Davis’s position begins to erode, if you have any, that is. What does a philanthropist know about what it is like to make day to day decisions as the Israeli Prime Minister? I think he is wrong about Bibi. I’m not a fan of this current Israeli government but it seems to me Netanyahu has walked a difficult line between appeasing an aggressive and frankly stupid US administration and holding together his coalition.
Davis, in apparently holding Bibi to account for failure to move the peace process forward, completely ignores the real culprits: the Palestinian Authority lead by Mahmoud Abbas which has been greatly assisted by Obama’s naivety in maintaining the long tradition of Palestinian rejectionism.
And now we come to the really bad bit.
7. If… the world community no longer believes that a two-state solution is possible, we de facto become an apartheid state because we then have the majority who are going to be governed by the minority.
Israel is not today an apartheid state… Even though we have things that are entirely offensive to us passed in the Knesset, those things come from tactical issues rather than from anything else and do not represent the mainstream of Israeli society. We still have wonderfully fertile ground to build the moral nation that we want to have.
First, what’s with the ‘we’? Davis is not an Israeli.
Second, to use the apartheid analogy, even for a putative future situation, and even immediately correcting this by saying Israel is not ‘currently’ an apartheid state, is to use the language of every Israel-hater, every Hamas apologist and every Guardianista left-wing anti-Zionist. No Jewish leader should place the words ‘apartheid’ and ‘Israel’’ in the same sentence let alone a South African of an age to know better.
There are so many things wrong with this whole statement. What Davis is saying is that if there is to be no two-state solution, then Israeli Jews will inevitably become a minority west of the Jordan. However, this ignores the fact that Israel has not annexed the West Bank and is increasingly handing over responsibility for its administration to the PA.
Furthermore, why does minority rule have to equate to apartheid? Apartheid is surely something quite different from simply a minority group ruling a larger one. And in any case, how would this come about? I don’t recall a single Israeli administration ever arguing for an annexation of the West bank.
Apparently Davis is using the royal ‘we’ when he says “we have things that are entirely offensive to us passed in the Knesset”. So what? Why does the Knesset have to avoid offence to Davis?
Then another truly unforgiveable utterance:
8. We still have wonderfully fertile ground to build the moral nation that we want to have.
So Israel is not a moral nation and he and the JLC will put Israel on the path of righteousness. The chutzpah of the man. Considering its history and its genocidal neighbours, Israel is more moral than it has any right to be.
We now come to another statement that really put the backs up of many in the community and outside:
9: I think the government of Israel …have to recognise that their actions directly impact on me as a Jew living in London. When they do good things it is good for me, when they do bad things, it’s bad for me. And the impact on me is as significant as it is on Jews living in Israel… I want them to recognise that.
What! Ok, it is true that Israel’s actions can directly impact me as a Jew living in the UK. During Cast Lead and after the Mavi Marmara incident, as I walked to the synagogue on Saturday morning, I felt a little more vulnerable than at other times. But why? Simply because I am aware that anti-Semites will find little excuse to attack Jews. Did I blame Israel? Not in the slightest. Why should I blame Israel for the anti-Semitism of others?
So why should Davis outrageously state that Israel has to worry about his levels of comfort? Davis’s attitude is somewhat patronising toward Israel. He appears to be over-identifying. Again, more commentary from others later.
10: I think there is not only amongst young people but quite a few Jews in this country a desire to see a discussion take place which echoes views about Israel which address the current dilemmas, without wanting to at the same time be attacked and labelled as a self-hating Jew.
Well, here at least, I can see that Davis is well aware of the controversial nature of what he just said and pre-empts the unthinking chorus of those that would label anyone who doesn’t agree with their particular viewpoint on Israel as a self-hating Jew. I would not accuse him of that; far from it. I would accuse him of being somewhat arrogant and tactless.
So there we have it. The ten utterances, the Davis version of aseret hadibrot.
The fallout from these ten utterances is instructive. It asks of us the following questions – in no particular order as they say on all the best TV talent shows.
1. Is it ever permissible for an Israel supporter in the Diaspora to criticise Israel, and if so, when? If Israelis can criticise, why not Diaspora Jews?
2. If it is permitted to criticise under certain circumstances, where is the lines to be drawn? I think this leads to a reductive argument which I’ll discuss later.
3. Is there a real schism in the Diaspora now, not only between left wing Jews such as those who join Jews for Justice for Palestinians or join flotillas to break the blockade of Gaza or who attack Israel in the columns and commentaries of the Guardian, but also in mainstream, conservative Jewry?
4. Are we splitting up along the fault line of the New Israel Fund and Jewish Voice for Peace and their ilk on one side who represent a left of center view and the right wing on the other who view the NIF with suspicion and accuse it of colluding with the enemy.
5. Why do we need, in the UK, the Board of Deputies, the United Synagogue, the Office of the Chief Rabbi, the Zionist Federation, the Jewish National Fund, the UJIA, regional Rep Councils, Habonim, Bnei Akiva, the Federation of Zionist Youth and the JLC and many other charities and community organisations, when there are in ganzen only 300,000 identifying Jews in the UK? Why are we led by rich oligarchs who are not elected, not accountable and seem to come from another era? Why do we have so many machers?
6. Why do those professing Zionism and great love of Israel and dedicate their lives to Israel not go and live there?
Isn’t it wonderful how one person and his remarks can cause such repercussions? Only in the Jewish community perhaps.
Let’s now look at the fallout and how it addresses some of these questions.
One of the first into the fray was Samuel Hayek, a fellow JLC member and chairman of the JNF. He was reported in the Jewish Chronicle as saying categorically that “diaspora Jews should never criticise Israel”
Jonathan Hoffman, vice-chair of the Zionist Federation and a fearless activist for Israel gathered a petition which criticised Mick Davis in the following terms:
Most of Mick Davis’ reported comments were either incoherent or indicative of a breathtaking lack of knowledge and understanding. To imply as he did that only the Left is concerned about minority issues is ludicrous, as is suggesting there is no strategy in Israel (is he even aware of Bibi’s speech at Bar Ilan in June 2009?) and suggesting that anything short of a Palestinian state amounts to “apartheid”.
But the crassest comment was to suggest that Netanyahu’s policies have as much impact on Davis – sitting in London – as on Jews in Israel . We were not aware that Hampstead is within target of Iranian or Hamas missiles, nor that its residents have to send their children to defend the Jewish State for three years. However much philanthropists give to Israel , it is a thriving democracy and they cannot buy political control, just as donors to Universities cannot buy academic control. We are not shareholders in Xstrata (the mining company which Davis heads). Are we entitled to a say in its policies? Of course not. If Davis wants to become an Israeli politician, he should start by making Aliya and voting.
And if Israel ’s policies make Davis uncomfortable at the golf club, let him acquire the knowledge and pride to defend a democracy under fire. If he is unwilling, he is not fit to be a communal leader and should resign (unfortunately he cannot be voted out as he was never elected in the first place).
Which in typical combative Hoffman mode is very much as I see it. But it also adds the accusation that those with money, or who raise a lot of it, are under an illusion that that gives them the right, sitting comfortably or uncomfortably, as they do in Blighty, to attempt to dictate policy to Israel.
Hoffman’s views were not, however, mirrored by his leader Harvey Rose who said he agreed with much of what Davis had said and added:
“How Israel is perceived in the UK has a direct bearing on our comfort levels in Britain. It troubles me that so many people place the blame entirely on Israel.”
Which I am still trying to decipher. But Rose, too it seems, believes that his comfort levels are as important as Israel’s survival. I would have expected a more forthright defence of Israel from the leader of the ZF. It appears that Mr Rose is on the left of the fault line that I and others see opening in the UK Jewish community.
Even Rose’s stalwart Manchester ZF leader, Joy Wolfe said:
I am reluctant to criticise a fellow Zionist leader. But I strongly disagree with his concern that what Israel does should take into account its impact on Jews outside of Israel. Israel has to do what is right for Israel
So not reluctant at all, Joy. Clearly, veterans in the community are used to having to take sides. Times are a-changing, it appears.
A more traditional view came from Brian Kerner, who used to have Davis’s job as reported by Simon Rocker in the JC:
although “broadly supportive” of Mr Davis’s views, he was against voicing them in public because “it’s only picked up by our enemies, distorted and used against us”.
This is, perhaps, the most hypocritical standpoint possible: ‘I agree with you but I admit it can hurt Israel, so keep shtum.’
It’s impossible to keep shtum in the 21st century as Wikileaks testifies. As I have already said that Davis’s words can be used by Israel’s enemies you would think I would agree with Kerner. My point is slightly different in that all of us who profess to support Israel, if we are to criticise at all, must contextualise that criticism in light of history and the ongoing existential struggle which is taking place right now.
I am somewhat attracted by the view that criticism can be left for later; now is the time to stand behind Israel, but there must be some point at which anyone would criticise, even Israel’s ‘best friends’.
This is the reductive argument I mentioned earlier. Let’s say someone says it is never permissible to criticise Israel, as Samuel Hayek has said. Let’s take an extreme case: a right-wing religious party takes control of Israel and begins to drive out Arabs from Israel and the West Bank. Now, before you start shouting at me, I don’t believe this would ever happen. I am just making a philosophical point. Surely, any real supporter of Israel and any Jew worth his moral salt would protest vigorously to change the policy of the Israeli government.
So by this reductive argument, we then imagine a slightly less worse case scenario. Would you criticise then? It reminds me of the so-called Ground Zero mosque argument which says that two blocks is too close. So what about two and half? Three? At what point would a mosque be permissible? And at what point would criticism be permissible? The answer is that if you allow for the extreme case, then surely, it is always permissible to criticise because it is impossible to draw any precise line beyond which it becomes wrong to do so.
Samuel Hayek again:
If diaspora Jews want to criticise Israel legitimately, there is one simple solution: make aliyah and express your views at the ballot box.
Yet Lord Janner says:
Sadly, in recent years, much has changed about Israeli society. Fundamental red lines are being crossed that threaten to undermine what many of us have worked so hard for. As a Jew and as a proud Zionist, this deeply troubles me.
I accept, of course, that all Jews should robustly and proudly defend the rights of Israel as a Jewish State, and that all Jews should celebrate Israel’s great achievements since 1948. I have always proudly spoken out for Israel over the many years of my communal …
service – and publicly defended her, when she has been under attack, whether in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and in the media, or even in the United Nations. And I shall continue to do so.
Sadly, I have recently seen actions by this Israeli Government which have departed from the high moral purpose enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which I proudly remember my hero and friend David Ben-Gurion signing. I cannot be silent when I know of unequal treatment afforded to some of Israel’s minorities and when the pursuit of peace is being compromised by inaction.
Mick Davis has reminded us that our obligation is to speak out against injustice, even when it is extremely awkward and fraught to do so.
Of course, we have an equivalent obligation to defend Israel from its enemies.
If Israel loses the support of the West and becomes a besieged State, that will not only be serious and damaging for Israelis, but for all Jews. Our destinies are linked.
I would ask Israeli ministers to listen to the convictions of those Diaspora Jews who love Israel, such as myself and Mick Davis.
By expressing our heartfelt convictions, we put before the public the views of many fellow Jews and Zionists, whether they are in Israel or in the Diaspora.
So Lord Janner agrees with Mick. And his is a powerful argument, no?
So we have had petition and counter-petition. Some want Davis to go, others support him and it doesn’t just divide down domestic political lines because Eric Moonman a Labour man like Lord Janner and also a co-President of the ZF, disagrees with Davis and says he should step down.
Melanie Phillips writing in the JC this week says that Davis has the right to free speech but believes he is ‘tragically’ wrong.:
Because, instead of truthfully identifying the cause of the conflict as Arab intransigence and genocidal hatred, they parrot the Israel-bashers’ false claim that the impasse is really Israel’s fault.
Bamboozled by the bullying, they cannot see that the received wisdom is actually a certain route to injustice, genocide and war.
Yet this only covers part of what Davis was saying. His main point, surely, is that there are injustices in Israeli society and he feels morally bound to speak against them.
Lord Kalms does not believe that Jews do not speak out against Israel:
It is simply not the case that British Jews do not speak out about their concerns relating to Israel. Every week across the national and Jewish press, in synagogues and community meetings, the widest imaginable (and often unimaginable) range of views are expressed. They run the gamut of opinions, from the most security-focused Likud sympathiser to those Jews who devote every waking hour to ending the existence of the Jewish state.
If his general points are off the mark, then Mr Davis’s specifics are no nearer to it. It is nonsense to claim that leaders did not speak out against the ‘loyalty-oath’. The UK media, like the Israeli media, was replete with people speaking out against such a ludicrous and repugnant idea….
There are many criticisms that can be made of the Israeli Prime Minister, as of any politician, but the claim that he lacks ‘courage’ is preposterous. His political and military career suggest otherwise.
What he lacks, like his predecessors, is a sincere and capable negotiating partner. The facts of this situation may have been lost on Mr Davis, but the significance of his comments will certainly not be lost on our mutual antagonists.
If someone is going to declare themselves a leader, then they have to take on the responsibilities which such a role brings. First among them is the responsibility to speak the truth. Mr Davis has not done that. He has entrenched lies. No more obvious example could exist than the fact that he has taken up the obscene language of ‘apartheid’.
To even start to talk in this language, as Mr Davis has done, dignifies a lie and eventually turns a lie into a possibility. This will give incalculable support to the most fevered haters of Israel.
Israel is no more going in the direction of apartheid than is Great Britain. But such terms have been created and chosen for a reason: to make Israel a state apart. Only Israel gets spoken about in this way. To join this, particularly as a ‘leader’, is to give an incalculable boon to those who wish to destroy Israel. It is to suggest that if they keep going long enough, continually raising the pitch of vilification, delegitimisation and exceptionalism, then eventually everybody will agree with them. At which point the debate can turn to the one they really want to have – how Israel can be ended.
Wow! I didn’t realise Lord Kalms was such a powerful writer.
So what is the view from Israel?
Quite interesting in fact.
Here’s none other than Tzipi Livni, a possible future Prime Minister, talking about the Diaspora as reported by the Jerusalem Post
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has taken steps that have expedited the reportedly growing rift between Israel and liberal Diaspora Jews
She was about to set out on a tour of the US:
“The main idea of the trip is to open a dialogue with the Jewish Diaspora,” Livni said. “It’s been important to me for a long time, but it intensified over the past few months with the conversion controversy. It reinforced my belief that we cannot continue to deal only with ourselves when our efforts to define what it means for Israel to be the Jewish homeland and a democracy affect Jews all around the world.”
Livni said the conversion issue was not the only way the current government was alienating Diaspora Jewry. She also cited the lack of civil marriage, the lagging peace process and the deterioration of Israel’s image internationally.
“The Likud is supposed to be a liberal party, but it has sold out to the haredim on key issues,” she said. “Advancing the peace process is an Israeli interest and a Jewish one. It could help young people connect more at a time when Israel’s problematic image hurts their identity.”
“We need to get into dialogue that isn’t just telling Diaspora Jews to make aliya and support whatever the Israeli government does,” she said. “It has to be much deeper. We have to work on our common bond.”…
“The contribution of Diaspora Jews is not just money,” she said. “We must take their views into account on key issues when we make key decisions about Israel’s future.”
So here is a senior Israeli who think that the views of the Diaspora must be taken into account and that, surely, means taking on board criticism.
And finally weighing in against Davis is none other than the inestimable Isi Leibler in his blog piece “The de-Zionisation of Anglo Jewry”
First he has a go at the oligarchic aspects of Davis’s utterances:
[Davis] also heads a body known as the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) – essentially comprised of a group of wealthy British Jews and their acolytes who, by virtue of their financial largesse, assume a dominant influence on many levels of communal life. The power represented by their collective wealth enables them not to be accountable to anyone and few would dare question their policies.
I’m not sure they are that dominant actually. They just like to think they are.
Needless to say, Davis is fully entitled to say whatever comes to his mind. Nobody seeks to deprive him of freedom of expression.
Many Jews are critical of Israeli governments.
But for a person holding senior public office in a major Diaspora community to indulge in crude public attacks on Israeli leaders and relate to Israel’s security requirements in relation to their impact on his image in non-Jewish circles is surely bizarre and utterly unconscionable.
While occupying the role of chairman of the UIJA in a country in which hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism have reached record levels, Davis brazenly incites his fellow Jews to criticize Israel.
Incites? A bit strong. Leibler is saying community leaders have a duty of care because defence of Israel is far more important than petty criticisms.
And then back to the fact he is wealthy which seems to disqualify him from having an opinion:
Aside from implying that Israel is responsible for the anti-Semitism he is encountering, Davis is effectively warning that when considering defense issues which may have life-or-death implications for Israelis, the government must be sure not to create problems for him in his non- Jewish social circles. From his London mansion, he blithely brushes aside suicide bombers, rockets launched against our children and the threat of nuclear annihilation because his gentile friends might complain about the behavior of his Israeli friends.
On Jewish leadership in Britain today:
One of their leaders actually wrote in The Jerusalem Post, proudly boasting how their pro-Israel advocacy approach was based on “whispering” rather than “shouting.”
We’ve covered this ground already:
Today, by lacking the courage to challenge the propriety of one of its most senior “leaders” indulging in coarse public condemnations of Israel, the trembling Israelite establishment has further undermined the standing of the UK Jewish community.
But it has challenged him, as we have seen above.
One might ask what right Isi Leibler has to comment on the statements of Jews in the Diaspora if the opposite is disallowed.
As you can probably tell, I am mightily confused by all this. But one thing I’m sure of is that internecine arguments must quickly be scotched so we can get on with the more important work of doing our utmost to fight in Israel’s corner.
Should we criticise? We are accused as a community by many of ‘whispering’ and not ‘shouting’ but it appears we can only shout positive things, according to some.
In the end, it comes down to your world view and to a large extent that world view is coloured by your politics; left, right, center. And that is true in Israel as it is in the Diaspora.
I have often felt as Leibler and others that if you are so passionate about Israel you should make aliya and move there. So many community leaders strutting their Zionist credentials like peacocks, yet never having the guts to go and be a Zionist in Israel. And that includes me (not that I am a community leader), of course. I have my excuses and they have theirs.
If all Jews are exiles waiting to return and part of the Jewish people, does that not give them, as Tzipi Livni believes, the right to speak up, to debate and discuss, the right to let their views and criticism be known?
If the Diaspora is silenced because we don’t have the fervour to become Israelis, if we are silenced because we are made to feel like traitors, will that not lead to a further deepening of the schism that is appearing in all countries of the West that have a substantial Jewish population? Israel stands for democracy and freedom of speech. Why should it deny it to me because I live in the UK?
No-one is denying the right to speak, but there is a strong argument to temper criticism because Israel’s enemies leave us with little or no room for it. There is a bigger picture and a more pressing cause.
I don’t really have any answers. I can see both points of view on many of the issues.
Davis’s error was to make these remarks in the way he did and to abrogate to himself an importance he does not have.
Nevertheless, he does represent, or at least voice, a growing trend in British Jewish circles and this may well lead, as Isi Leibler says, to the de-Zionisation of Britain.
And, if it does become too uncomfortable in the UK, not because of Israel, but because of Jew-hatred, then maybe Mick and I will find ourselves on the same plane to Tel Aviv.
[Photo of Mick Davis - Jewish Chronicle]
I didn’t realise what I was about to discover; what I did discover was something of a revelation.
I don’t just post articles, I participate in the discussions which arise out of the majority of posts.
When I first arrived I landed in the middle of what I call the Blog Wars. Despite this being the JC, the blogs are open to anyone provided that they stick to some obvious rules. The blogs and their comments are moderated and it is not unknown for comments to be removed or even for bloggers or commenters to be banned.
What most surprised me was that I soon found there are two main camps: pro-Israel/Zionist and anti-Israel/Zionist. There are also one or two neutrals.
Almost every blog post can be the catalyst for some right old ding-dongs between these two camps. It’s a sort of Jewish version of the Guardian’s CiF (Comment is Free).
I actually found this very interesting, not only could I see how the ‘other side’ thinks, I could also challenge them, be challenged by them, argue with them, but never, of course, persuade them. This is an excellent training and test ground to hone your own arguments, to make sure of your facts and sharpen your own polemics.
It is also, at least for me, as a bit of an old lefty, an opportunity to question your own views and convictions in the light of the counter arguments. But, I can honestly say, this self-examination has not fundamentally changed my views, but it has reinforced my commitment to balance and to avoid dogmatism.
Both sides in these Blog Wars tend to be unyielding, entrenched and assured of their own righteousness. Little quarter is given. Israel is rarely criticised by the Zios and the anti-Zios will continue to sympathise with Hamas and Hizbollah.
By far the most revealing of the anti-Zios is a certain representative of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfjfP). I am not going to name names here; go and read the blogs; it’s unfair to mention any individual here who is unlikely to respond in person and I’m not going to discuss or reproduce the comments that have appeared in the JC. I’ll simply summarise what these discussions ‘below the line’ reveal.
The JfjfP representative is polite and seems to try very hard to be poised and restrained. JfjfP are part of the left wing bloc that organises demonstrations for Palestinians and Palestine and against Israel and Zionism.
This particular JfjfP member claims she is not anti-Israel and recognises Israel’s right to exist (well thanks). She is, however, of the opinion that Israel is a colonialist experiment, that the Occupation is illegal and cruelly prosecuted, that Hamas are understandable freedom fighters, that it is Israel and Israel alone and its policies which are the cause of the conflict; if only Israel would seek peace, negotiate with Hamas and the PA, this peace would magically materialise and 100 years of strife would dissipate into thin air, no-one would attack Jews anymore and her ideal, presumably Marxist, certainly Socialist, state would rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of Israel.
In other words, socialist ideology colours her opinion of Israel which is demonised in her mind to the extent that it can never be right, can never be lawful, because it is an illegitimate state in the first place. And because of this ideological blindness she, like so many others on the far left, be it George Galloway, Alexei Sayle, Tony Benn, Gerald Kaufman and, indeed, a number of post-Zionist Israelis who take the same stance, she is prepared to overlook the anti-Semitism, the homophobia, the misogyny, the Islamofascist death culture of Hamas and its fellow travellers; for her, their charters are just pieces of paper and they can be persuaded to make peace and forswear their previous acts and deeds and policies and bigotry.
Thus the far left supports representatives of the most dangerous, religio-political movement of our times: fundamentalist Islam. They do this in the name of their own socialist vision of the world and history.
The level of self-delusion, double-think and self-deception involved in this world view is astonishing and frightening. It is anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-Enlightenment and it makes a pact with the real devil by demonising an imperfect state – Israel.
I am not saying that we Zionists and pro-Israel supporters never take an ‘Israel can do no wrong’ position. It does happen and it happens more when Israel is under mortal threat. What room is there for any self-criticism when your opponents are relentless in theirs. Yet I can never ever find the ‘other side’ critical of the Palestinians and their supporters. It’s as if they are perfect, blameless, beyond criticism because if they do anything wrong the Zionists forced them to do it. At the same time, I do find a very lively debate in the Israeli press and the Jewish World.
There is a big difference between fair criticism and an agenda of demonisation and delegitimisation.
It is very sad indeed to encounter Jews who see history only through a socialist or Marxist prism, even if it means contributing to the efforts of those who would destroy Israel and kill all Jews and, therefore, the very Jews who now support them.
I wonder why some Jews who claim to uphold true Jewish values through sympathy and justice for Palestinians must also simultaneously join in with the chorus of the demonisers of their own people.
Why do they have to create a soi-disant ‘Jewish’ group?
What is it that is so important for them about Jewish values that they have to group together as not-in-my-namers?
What is Jewish about denying the right to Jewish self-determination?
What is Jewish about sympathy, even tacitly, for those who would commit genocide of the Jews given half a chance.
What is it that is Jewish about demonising fellow-Jews?
I’m currently reading Howard Jacobson’s latest novel, The Finkler Question, I found a very apt and devastating paragraph which amusingly describes Jews who give succour to their would-be destroyers. In the book there is a group not too dissimilar from JfjfP called ASHamed Jews:
To be an ASHamed Jew did not require that you had been knowingly Jewish all your life. Indeed, one among them only found out he was Jewish at all in the course of making a television programme in which he was confronted on camera with who he really was. In the final frame of the film he was disclosed weeping before a memorial in Auschwitz to dead ancestors who until that moment he had never known he’d had. ‘It could explain where I get my comic genius from,’ he told an interviewer for a newspaper, though by then he had renegotiated his new allegiance. Born a Jew on Monday, he had signed up to be an ASHamed Jew by Wednesday and was seen chanting ‘We are all Hezbollah’ outside the Israeli Embassy on the following Sunday.*
*Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question, Bloomsbury 2010, pp 138-9
As someone interested in my own family history and the many twists and turns it can take and also being fascinated in the detective work that discovers surprising facts about celebrities’ roots, I am a devoted fan of this programme.
Yesterday the celebrity in question was Dublin-born actress, Dervla Kirwan.
Looking at her (which is a pleasant task) and listening to her, you would suspect a long line of Catholic Irish ancestry.
And this is what we got – almost.
Having discovered she is the great-niece of Michael Collins, Irish patriot, founder of the original IRA, Dervla’s search moved to her father’s side of the family and the casual revelation that she had a Jewish ancestor.
In fact, it was her paternal great-grandfather, one Henry Kahn, a Polish Jew who fled the Russian Empire in the late 19th century and set himself up as a tobacconist and a sometime illegal bookmaker.
He also happened to marry a Catholic in a Church of Ireland (Protestant) church, which was some going for the 1890′s.
In 1902, we discovered, he was arrested for breaking the shop window of one Esther Marks and destroying in the process some ‘china ornaments’ and ‘assorted bric-a-brac’.
It appears that Henry was a bit of a character and possibly a somewhat unsavoury one at that.
But what happened next was very instructive; he was tried by a jury in Dublin and found guilty and sentenced to one year’s hard labour, which, for a man in his mid forties, was a terrible sentence.
Our attention was drawn to a newspaper article of 1902 which reports the sentencing and which makes sure we all know that the man in the dock was a Jew.
The judge, or Recorder, was Sir Frederick Falkiner, who had this to say in his summing up after stating that Henry deserved a whipping for one of the worst offences he had seen, or words to that effect. He broke a window and some china, if you recall:
You are a specimen of your nation and your race that cause you to be hunted out of every country.
On reading this, Dervla’s jaw dropped and subsequent enquiry revealed that Falkiner was then 71 years old, had wrongfully instructed the jury as to the verdict and also denied Henry the right to speak before sentencing.
Apparently, this patent anti-Semitism was a little out-of-date even in 1902, and the Jewish Chronicle took up the case and eventually Falkiner was shamed in the House of Commons by the MP for Stepney.
Marvellous to relate, James Joyce echoed this case in Ulysses (which happens to be my favourite book) in Leopold Bloom’s dream which takes place in front of the very same judge.
Genealogy certainly has the power to link disparate elements of our culture.
But don’t you see the echo of the Bathurst-Norman case where an elderly judge was brought out of retirement and dismissed the case against activists who trashed an arms factory in Brighton during Operation Cast Lead because it was supplying armaments to Israel.
In his summing up Bathurst-Norman directed the jury to acquit the accused on the grounds that although they were self-confessed criminals, they did what they did to prevent even more Israeli ‘war crimes’.
So over 100 years later English (Ireland was subject to English law at the time, let’s leave the Scots out of this, they have a different legal system) justice finds that Jews are a special case to be made an example of or to be subject to vilification in an English court of law.
In 1902, a petty crime committed by a Jew receives a heavy sentence (albeit he was reprieved after 6 months), in 2010 those with an animus against Jews defending themselves from murderous anti-Semites (Hamas) get off scot-free because jew-baiting is now a sanctioned pastime once again in England.
All this and the debate, today, about what President Peres of Israel said or didn’t say, meant or didn’t mean, in an interview with Benny Morris, where he may or may not have said that the English (read British) are anti-Semitic.
For a taste of the Peres controversy see No-win journalism and its comments in Melanie Phillips’ blog in the Spectator.
It appears that British anti-Semitism runs deep in certain sections of the English Establishment; so deep, that even after 100 years or more it can still resurface like a recessive gene to produce horrible mutations like Bathurst-Norman.
This is not to say that I believe Britain to be anti-Semitic in the 21st century, but it is certainly there lurking and mutating into different forms like anti-Zionism or anti-Israelism which often, but by no means always, are mere fig-leaves for anti-Semitism.
And poor Henry Kahn? He ended up in a lunatic asylum where he died four years after his release from prison. Isn’t it instructive how, in 1902, a judge could tell the court that Jews had been hunted out of every country they had ever been in.
Who do we think we are? Where do you think we should go? Well, in 1902, the Jews were buying land in Ottoman Palestine and laying the foundations for a Jewish homeland where they would be free of Falkiners and Bathurst-Normans and where they would not be ‘hunted out’ ever again.
They called themselves Zionists.