Hannah Weisfeld of the Zionist Yachad group first accepts then deletes my response to her article on Jewish Identity
|The hypocritical Liberal Zionist group Yachad which argues that support for Israel is compatible with support for peace|
|Hannah Weisfeld - Yachad Director who prefers to delete critical comments rather than justify her pretentious writings|
UPDATE: I have been asked by Hannah Weisfeld to point out that the moderators of the LSE blog deleted my post to them. I am happy to do so but as the author of the article she had a responsibility to ensure that there was no political censorship of the comments on the article.
I have also since had an email from the moderators saying that my comments were deleted because I called Hannah a hypocrite. I told them I stand by that comment, which they wished to remove. Likewise they objected to a further comment calling Jonathan Hoffman a fascist. Whilst I didn't save the comment I did point out that Hoffman has organised and attended protests with members of the English Defence League and literally held hands with the Jewish Nazi Jewish Defence League. Whether he is a fascist personally is frankly irrelevant but his comments were not deleted. Hannah has not commented on this either.
The dividing line between Zionists and non/anti-Zionists is support or opposition to a 'Jewish' state. Why? Not because some of us would object to an Israel which was as Jewish as Britain is Christian but because being Jewish in a settler colonial state inevitably means it is a Jewish racist state. In Britain being Christian does not affect the civil and political rights of someone who is not Jewish. I don't have any less or more rights, being Jewish, than someone who is Christian. Yet in Israel being Jewish is to be privileged vis a vis a non-Jews.
It was said that in Nazi Germany even a non-Jewish tramp could feel superior to a highly educated Jewish lawyer because the former belonged to society whereas the latter was an alien. So too in Israel. Even the lowest Jew feels superior to the most educated Arab because it is a Jewish state. In a settler colonial state, being Jewish (or White etc.) defines the identity of the coloniser, the oppressor. Hence why Israel is, in the words of the late great Israeli sociologist, Baruch Kimmerling, a herrenvolk state.
Within Israel there is no role left for ‘liberal’ or ‘left’ Zionism. It is an oxymoron. The old ‘Marxist' Zionist Mapam/Meretz (Civil Rights) Party just managed to hang on at the 2015 election to 5 seats in the Knesset, one less than the fascist Yisrael Beteinu. The party that is called ‘centrist’ in Israel, Yesh Atid, would be considered on the far-Right in this country. Its leader Yair Lapid recently attacked the Israeli soldiers organisation Breaking the Silence for exposing the Israeli Army’s war crimes. He has also decried the idea of Jews marrying non-Jews saying how concerned he would be if that happened to his own daughter.
The only role left for liberal/'socialist' Zionism is outside Israel. Its purpose is to act as public relations advocates for Israel, whitewashing the 'Jewish' State clean and telling people how 'democratic' it is. After all they are living proof of how dissidents thrive in Israel. What they never tell you is how civil and democratic rights even for Jewish people are now under attack. Eg they don't mention the latest Transparency Bill whose sole purpose is to demonise and attack human rights organisations like Breaking the Silence and Btselem, which within Israel are seen as traitors to the national collective. They are now obliged to publish the fact that they receive funding from abroad, with the implication that they are funded by foreigners hostile to Israel, unlike organisations that receive private money from American billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Saban.
In the first Knesset elections in 1949 Mapam, who considered themselves ‘Marxist’ Zionists, gained 19 seats making them the second largest party in the Knesset. Although they split into two (Mapam and Ahdut Ha’avodah) in the next Knesset elections both wings achieved the same result. Today they are irrelevant in the Zionist spectrum. Of course Mapam then were within the Zionist consensus. Their militia, Palmach, had been involved in the worst atrocities and massacres of Palestinians during the Nakba.
In the last few days alone the fascist Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy Rabbi Eli Dahan, have forbidden Israeli soldiers from volunteering to help refugee children in South Tel-Aviv. As Ha’aretz reported [Lieberman Orders to Cancel Soldiers' Volunteering With Children of Asylum Seekers in Israel] the ‘Defense minister says soldiers should engage in activities within the realm of public consensus, 'especially when in this case it involves activities with a population that isn’t residing here lawfully.'
In Israel virtually all asylum seekers are ‘illegal’ because Israel doesn’t grant refugee status. The reason for this is that they are non-Jewish and therefore threaten, as Netanyahu explained, the Jewish identity of the Israeli state. [Netanyahu: Illegal African Immigrants - a Threat to Israel's Jewish Character] Refugees are termed by people like Dahan ‘infiltrators’ a term which used to be applied to the Palestinian refugees who secretly returned to Palestine after having been expelled. The refugees are described in exactly the same terms.
Yet people like Weisfeld, knowing full well that they have no influence within Israel, devote their time to whitewashing the Israeli state and labelling its critics ‘anti-Semites’.
Recently I was referred to an online article by Hannah Weisfeld, Director of the Liberal Zionist Yachad. The Labour anti-Semitism row has thrust British Jewish identity into the public domain, but its complexity is often lost Yachad doesn’t attempt to defend each and every Israeli atrocity. It accepts that Israel isn’t perfect. Indeed Weisfeld gets quite angry when Zionists defend each and every Israeli abomination. She doesn’t however like the use of the word ‘Zionism’ because that implies a connection between Israel’s behaviour and how and why the Israeli state was set up. Zionism provides the explanation for why Israel is a uniquely racist society, based as it is on ethno-religious supremacy.
Weisfeld is quite prepared to accept criticism of Israeli policies but she does this in order to defend the Israeli state as a Jewish state. In other words she will criticise individual policies of Israel all the better to defend the Jewish supremacist state itself.
Yachad is an integral part of the Jewish establishment. Ms Weisfeld is not happy when crude Zionists, like former Zionist Federation co-Chair Jonathan Hoffman, argue that all criticism of Israel is ‘anti-Semitic’. This is too blunt an instrument. Rather Ms Weisfeld, in an extraordinarily confused and muddled article, tries to argue that Jewish identity today is bound up with the Israeli state. By criticising Israel as a Jewish state and denying its ‘right to exist’ you are therefore anti-Semitic.
To Weisfeld criticism of Jewish ‘identity’ and identification with Israel is anti-Semitic. It is of course a thoroughly dishonest argument. Criticising an identity, even assuming that support for Israel is equivalent to Jewish identity today cannot logically be racist unless that criticism is made primarily as a means to attack the group itself (e.g. the Nazi attack on Jewish ritual slaughter had nothing to do with concern for animals and everything to do with hatred of Jews as Jews just as Right-wing attacks on the Muslim religion’s homophobia is racist if the same people are not prepared to condemn the Christian and Jewish religion’s homophobia.
There is however no evidence whatsoever that when people criticise say the bombing of Gaza they are doing so as a way of attacking Jewish people in Britain. If Jewish people are attacked on account of what Israel does it is because groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews deliberately associate Jews with Israeli atrocities.
When I first saw Weisfeld’s article I wrote a response and posted it to the web site, which is the ‘Religion and The Public Sphere’ blog of the LSE. I assumed that normal academic guidelines applied. The site is moderated and after a short delay my rebuttal to the article appeared alongside other, virulently Zionist comments, including one from Jonathan Hoffman which denied that Zionists say that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are synonymous. I immediately posted back a couple of references proving that Hoffman was lying, not least because I have personally heard him shouting that anti-Zionism was anti-Semitism.
Strangely when I went back to the site a couple of days later my response had disappeared. It would seem that Weisfeld was unhappy to have me take her article apart on an academic site and therefore used her position to delete my criticism of the article. This is a good example of the Zionist attitude to free speech and debate. Ms Weisfeld holds, according to the Yachad site, an MSc in Global Politics. It would seem that Ms Weisfeld isn’t confident enough to deal with criticism. I am therefore publishing both my own critique of her article and the article itself.
It is a good illustration of the racist consensus within which even the most liberal Zionists operate that my comments were deleted whereas those from Hoffman remained. Hoffman has been happy to protest alongside fascists such as the English Defence League. He was memorably photographed dancing down the street outside Ahava, an Israeli shop in Covent Garden which we successfully closed, hand in hand with Robert Moore, a founder of the Jewish Defence League, a virulently Jewish Nazi organisation which is banned as a terrorist organisation in the United States. Ms Moore has been involved in physically trying to disrupt Palestinian and anti-Zionist meetings in Britain and her boyfriend was recently convicted of assault for one particular attack. The JDL were the Jewish section of the Holocaust denying, Hitler loving English Defence League. It probably didn’t even occur to Weisfeld to delete Hoffman’s comments because Hoffman and Weisfeld both operate within the same racist Zionist consensus.
There are some on the Jewish left, including Jews for Justice for Palestinians who argue that a group like Yachad is progressive. Ms Weisfeld’s article demonstrates that Yachad uses its ‘progressive’ reputation to undermine BDS and support for the Palestinians, through using the familiar slur of ‘anti-Semitism’ in ways which the more honest and racist Zionist groups find it difficult to do.
It is a mistake to think that there is such a creature as a ‘liberal’ or ‘left-wing’ Zionism. There is an honest and dishonest Zionism. Both are based on racist assumptions concerning a Jewish state, but the latter uses its alleged opposition to Jewish racism (but never an inherently racist Jewish state) in order to better undermine the struggle of the Palestinians. For all its ‘liberalism’ Yachad is as vociferously opposed to BDS as Likud and the racist settler Jewish Home and the fascist Yisrael Beteinu. Those who attack BDS, the only solidarity tactic that has got Netanyahu and the Israeli state on the defensive, are like those liberals who attacked Boycott in South Africa. These ‘liberals’ criticised Apartheid but refused to contemplate its replacement.
The founder of Revisionist Zionism, which is now represented by Likud, Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, once wrote a famous essay The Iron Wall (4.11.23) on relations between the Zionist movement and the Arabs. It was an essay which contained none of the hypocritical and pretentious cant of the ‘socialist’ and liberal Zionists. Jabotinsky wrote:
There can be no voluntary agreement between ourselves and the Palestine Arabs. Not now, nor in the prospective future…. Except for those who were born blind, they realised long ago that it is utterly impossible to obtain the voluntary consent of the Palestine Arabs for converting "Palestine" from an Arab country into a country with a Jewish majority.
My readers have a general idea of the history of colonisation in other countries. I suggest that they consider all the precedents with which they are acquainted, and see whether there is one solitary instance of any colonisation being carried on with the consent of the native population. There is no such precedent.
The native populations, civilised or uncivilised, have always stubbornly resisted the colonists, irrespective of whether they were civilised or savage.
The Zionist peace group Brit Shalom, the ‘Marxist’ Zionist party Mapam/Hashomer Hatzair and other ‘liberal’ Zionists used to pretend, under the British Mandate (1917-48) that it was possible to reconcile the aims of the Zionist colonists with those of the indigenous Arabs of Palestine. They suggested that it was only feudal Arab leaders like Haj al-Amin Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who prevented ordinary Arabs agreeing to a peaceful relationship with Zionism. The ignorant masses were misled by their leaders into opposing the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. They argued that Zionist colonisation was in the Arabs’ interests and once a Jewish state was established the Arabs would come to realise how much they had been misled by their reactionary and feudal leaders.
Today this nonsense has a counterpart in the allegations that if it wasn’t for Israel’s security contractor, the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas, then Palestinians on the West Bank would welcome their land being confiscated, their homes being destroyed and their children imprisoned and tortured. Trouble on the West Bank or Jerusalem is because of the ‘incitement’ of Palestinian leaders.
The ‘socialist’ Zionists who refused to admit Arabs as members of the Jewish only Kibbutzim were no different. It was the ‘socialist’ Zionists who campaigned for Jewish employers to sack Arab workers and who destroyed the produce that Jewish women bought from Arab shopkeepers. The same ‘socialist’ Zionists refused to admit Arab members to their trade union, Histadrut.
The ‘peace’ Zionists were the worst hypocrites. David Ben-Gurion demonstrated this when he asked Martin Buber, a founder of Brit Shalom, whether he had come to Palestine with the consent or against the wishes of the indigenous population.
|Arthur Ruppin, Zionist Executive member and ardent eugenicist and racist|
Arthur Ruppin, a member of the Zionist Executive was a founder member of Brit Shalom. Rupin was known as the Father of Zionist Land Settlement, the person who was directly responsible for planning and organising the first Zionist settlements in Palestine, including Deganiah in 1908. Ruppin was also an ardent believer in the racial sciences and in the summer of 1933 he made a visit to Hans Guenther, Professor of Racial Anthropology at the University of Jena. Guenther was directly appointed to his post by Wilhelm Frick, the first Nazi State Minister in Germany, later Nazi Minister of the Interior, and he was hanged at Nuremberg. [see The Makings of History Revisiting Arthur Ruppin]
|Nazi Professor Hans Guenther, a racial scientist who met Arthur Ruppin at Jenna University to exchange racial pleasantries|
Guenther was the foremost racial scientist in Germany and someone who put the ‘scientific’ stamp of approval on the Holocaust, which he both defended and denied. As Ruppin confirmed in his Diaries, he had a pleasant conversation with Guenther with whom he agreed on the essentials of racism, genetics and racial hierarchies. Ruppin, whose writings were deeply anti-Semitic, was quoted by Nazis such as Alfred Rosenberg when arguing that the Jews were a degenerate ‘race’.
Ruppin also believed in the racial inferiority of Arab Jews and at first opposed the immigration of Yemenite Jews to Palestine. He believed that it was impossible to be both Jewish and Black. Ruppin was a believer in the ‘transfer’ of the Arabs out of Palestine in order that there could be a Jewish majority.
|Balad MK Haneen Zoabi flanked by Jamal Zahalke - has been subject to vitriolic abuse by Zionist MKs including physical assaults for defending Israeli Palestinians|
The racism of ‘left’/liberal Zionism was not confined to the early years of the Zionist movement. MK Jamal Zahalke of Balad, the Arab nationalist party described the racism of even the most left of the Labour Zionists, Stav Shaffir: Labor Zionism 'invented racism,' says Joint List MK
"Miss Social Justice Stav Shaffir has never said a word to me. She's never even said hello to me! I am transparent to her. Arabs do not exist! Racist! Racist of silence! Racism of ignoring; I will tell you what that is! Ignoring the existence of a person! Since you are in the Knesset you have never spoken to me! You don't say hello to me! I try and you don't say hello back! Racist!" Zahalke said….
Zahalke continued, calling the Labor Party, which makes up most of the Zionist Union, the "mother and father of racism."
"You invented racism," he said. "The people who took our land, who expelled us, weren't the ones who chant 'death to Arabs.' They're the ones who said 'we're bringing peace to you.' Shame! You should be embarrassed by the racism and discrimination!...You are condescending, wealthy, comfortable Ashkenazim! Give us back the land you took from us...in the name of universal values!"
"Who harmed us more, the Likud or Labor? Labor, of course. Likud built settlements next to Arab residents. You built your kibbutzes and your socialism on the ruins of our towns.
Below is my amended response to Hannah Weisfeld’s article and her original article.
Response to Hannah Weisfeld’s article on Jewish Identity and Zionism
The debate on Zionism and Jewish identity is an important debate. Unfortunately it is normally characterised by the dishonesty and opportunism of Zionism’s supporters, including liberal Zionists such as Hannah Weisfeld. Weisfeld’s argument is quite simply: you can criticise the Apartheid policies of Israel – the demolition of Palestinian homes, the proposed demolition of Susiya village, the demolition of Bedouin villages like Al Arakhib in the Negev as well as all the other abominations that Israel commits but if you generalise about why these things happen and locate it in the Zionist political movement then you are an anti-Semite.
This is the ‘logic’ that Hannah draws upon. And why? Because 93% of British Jews identify with Israel. This is a lie or what is worse, a half truth. I also see my Jewish identity as being bound up with Israel – albeit in opposition to it.
The same City University survey that Yachad commissioned found that 31% of British Jews no longer identify as Zionists. Up 12% in five years. In other words they recoil from being identified with the settler colonial movement that Hannah supports.
What is the nature of the Israeli state that Jews allegedly identify with? It is a state where some 8% only of its population identify as leftist. Where the very term ‘leftist’ is now an insult in common parlance. Where a plurality of the Jewish population supports the expulsion of the Arabs and 79% according to Pew Opinion Survey support the idea that Jews should receive preferential treatment to Arabs. [Israel’ Religiously Divided Society] I doubt that even at the height of Nazi rule in Germany that a similar percentage of the population would have said yes to similar questions.
Israel is not a state with racist policies but a racist state at its very core. Whereas the homes of Arab ‘terrorists’ are demolished, Jewish terrorists’ homes are never demolished. Jewish victims of ‘terrorism’ receive compensation. Arab victims of Jewish terrorism never receive compensation because ‘terrorism’ and ‘Arab’ are synonymous in Israeli discourse. Israel segregates children in school. Even at kindergarten children are segregated. There are no mixed state schools. Israel even allows Jewish students in University to choose whether to live with non-Jews and Jewish women to decide whether they want to share a maternity ward with Arab women.
In Israel instead of direct discrimination what is known as indirect discrimination occurs. Under British law, indirect discrimination is where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice is applied such that fewer people from the Protected group (women, Blacks, gays etc.) can comply than those of a random sample. For example if you say that no one can enter a restaurant with a dog and apply it to a blind person then that is discriminatory because a sighted person can easily leave their dog at home whereas a blind person needs a guide dog to get around. If you expect all people to work unsocial hours, that will adversely impact on women because they are the ones who are likely to have child care responsibilities. It is therefore discriminatory and unlawful in Britain.
In Israel the neutral provision, criterion or practice most often used is military service (which most Arabs bar the Druze don’t do – why should they serve in the army of a ‘Jewish’ state?). Military service acts as a racist filter in a variety of areas – from welfare benefits, to student grants to employment.
Hannah however knows this. After all she and I can emigrate to Israel anytime we want and claim citizenship whereas friends who are Palestinian and who were born there or whose parents were born there have no such right, because according to the racist logic of Zionism I am ‘returning’ whereas they are not.
What Hannah is saying is yes, oppose the policies of Zionist apartheid but don’t oppose Zionist apartheid itself. Hannah doesn’t like the condemnation of Zionism very much. For Ms Weisfeld ‘Zionism is the belief in the right of Jews to have self-determination in the land of Israel. Any other understanding of this word, or the historical manifestation of it (i.e. the creation and existence of the state of Israel), is a subjective interpretation and not the essence of ‘Zionism’.
It is however Weisfeld’s interpretation that is subjective. Not only subjective but dishonest. The founders of Zionism didn’t describe it as a national liberation movement or a movement for self-determination. They described it as a colonial movement. That was the basis of the appeal of Theodor Herzl to Cecil Rhodes, the leader of white settlers in Rhodesia. It is only when the language of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism entered political discourse on the Left that the Hannah Weisfeld’s of this world began using the language of the oppressed to justify the policies of the oppressor.
Weisfeld’s argument therefore that opposition to Jewish self-determination is anti-semitic or in her parlance ‘creates a real feeling of uncomfortable difference for Jews’ is a wholly dishonest one. Should we have supported apartheid in South Africa because it discomforted white South Africans in this country? Were they more important than Black South Africans?
Weisfeld speaks about subjectivity and then gives a good example of such a phenomenon. She says that ‘No faith community can stomach others telling them what their faith is, or should be’ when it comes to Jews who don’t identify with Israel. Apparently this creates good and bad Jews!
No doubt the same applied to White South Africans who opposed apartheid. They were the ‘good’ South Africans and therefore equally objectionable as ‘good’ Jews. What Weisfeld objects to is criticism of Jews who are or who support a racist entity and their comparison with anti-racist Jews. Despite appearances, Weisfeld is to be located in the former category. Weisfeld would prefer that anti-Zionist Jews disappeared entirely because they confuse her classification of what constitutes a Jew! To her being Jewish and being Zionist are interchangeable, which is also the standard position of anti-semites.
Weisfeld therefore objects to the new President of NUS, Malia Abouattia’s distinction between being Jewish and Zionist. This was in the context of her remark about Birmingham University being an outpost of Zionism. This is an attempt ‘to dictate to Jewish students that Zionism has nothing to with faith and ethnicity’. Apparently one should not suggest that being Jewish and Zionist are separate entities because Zionism ‘has absolutely everything to do with faith and ethnicity’
If Zionism however has ‘absolutely everything’ to do with being Jewish then the terms ‘Zionist’ and ‘Jewish’ are interchangeable. Accordingly someone who criticises the actions of Zionism or the Israeli state is therefore justified in blaming all Jews for the actions of Israel. Yet the EUMC Working Definition on Anti-Semitism, which the Zionist movement has been keen to resurrect, says that anti-Semitism is ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.’ So if you deny that being Jewish and supporting Israel is identical or you blame Jews for what Israel does – you are anti-Semitic. It’s a case of heads you lose, tails I win! Political honesty runs through the Zionist movement and Hanna Weisfeld’s arguments are a good example of this. Zionism makes two diametrically opposed arguments and if you fall foul of either you are anti-Semitic!
Zionism used to be described in Herzl’s day as a colonising movement not a movement of self-determination. How are the Jews a nation. Outside Israel they don’t speak the same language or occupy the same territory. Even their religious customs differ significantly. What is being argued is that they form a separate race. This concept of ‘national self-determination’ is a fundamentally anti-semitic idea. It means that Jews aren’t part of the nations they live among but they form a separate nation/race. This is the basis of the anti-semitic idea of dual loyalty, that the ‘real home’ as Netanyahu described it when addressing French Jews in 2015, was Israel not France. Zionism was a movement of settler colonialism in which European Jewish settlers colonised Palestine, driving out the indigenous population. There is nothing subjective about that.
Hannah however has another argument up her sleeve. Most Jews identify with Israel therefore if you oppose this identity you are an anti-Semite and a racist. This is the most dishonest of all arguments. It conflates identity with racism. It illustrates all the pitfalls of identity politics and how they can be used to justify oppression. People oppose the Israeli state not because it is a Jewish state but because it is a racist and genocidal state. It is a state of ethnic cleansing and the most virulent forms of racism. By Ms Weisfeld’s ‘logic’ opposition to the death squad regime and state in El Salvador or Guatemala also counted as racism.
The argument is also dishonest on another level. Jewish identity is not fixed or static. It has changed repeatedly over the years, contrary to the Zionist fable about 2,000 years of a longing for a Jewish state. Jews in the Middle Ages, money lenders, diamond cutters etc. wouldn’t recognise the Jews of today. Still less would the warring Hebrews of ancient Canaan. Nor would the Jewish working-classes in the Pale of Settlement who supported the Bund, Communist and social-democratic movements.
The Jewish socialists of the 19th and 20th century hated the bourgeois Zionists who came to terms with and reached an understanding with anti-Semitism. This was epitomised by Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. In August 1903 he paid a friendly visit to von Plehve, the Czarist Minister of the Interior, just four months after the Kishinev pogrom which killed and injured hundreds of Jews. These pogroms were organised and funded by Plehve via the Black Hundreds. Herzl told Plehve that Zionism was taking the Jewish masses away from socialism and on this basis asked for and secured an agreement that Zionism alone would be allowed to remain a legal political movement within Czarist Russia. In return for legalisation, Herzl ensured that there was no criticism of the Czarist government at the All Russian Zionist Congress and the 1903 World Zionist Congress.
Thirty years later, under Nazi rule, Zionism would once again be the sole Jewish political movement which would remain legal and unhindered in its work. The Zionist organisations were the most favoured Jewish groups. Heydrich’s order to the Gestapo of May 1935 made this explicit. As Lucy Dawidowicz and Francis Nicosia, both Zionist historians, noted:
“The activity of the Zionist-orientated youth organisations… lies in the interest of the National Socialist state's leadership [these organisations] are not to be treated with the strictness that it is necessary to apply to the members of the so-called German Jewish organisations (assimilationists).” [War Against the Jews, pp. 118, 240, Zionism & anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany]
As Isaac Deutscher remarked in The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays [pp. 66-67 Oxford University Press, London 1968] ‘to the Jewish workers anti-Semitism seemed to triumph in Zionism, which recognised the legitimacy and the validity of the old cry ‘Jews get out!' The Zionists were agreeing to get out.’
But even if Hannah is correct and most Jews do identify with Israel and its actions, so what? There is no doubt that in parts of Africa, the prevailing religion is bound up with support for female genital mutilation. Religion and social/tribal customs are intermixed because religion reflects social practice. Is it therefore racist to oppose FGM because it is an integral part of the religious identity of some Africans?
In Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world the Niqab/Burkah is an integral part of the religion. Is it racist to oppose the Burkah as a symbol of womens’ oppression? Perhaps Hannah would like to wear one to show her solidarity with her Muslim sisters?
When Weisfeld argues that: 'the public discourse on this issue [Israel] needs urgent attention in order to prevent it from causing continued offence – whether intentional or accidental – to the Jewish community’ what she is saying is that because a majority of the Jewish community identifies with Israel’s racist regime, we must not criticise Israel because we might offend British Jews. Would the same logic have applied if there had been a substantial section of the White British community who had identified with Apartheid South Africa? What if there had been a substantial German population in Britain in 1933? Would it have been racist to criticise the Nazi state?
Jews were in 1961, according to Dr Geoffrey Alderman, twice as likely to be in social classes A&B as non-Jews [Jewish community in British Politics]. If Jews in Britain, whose identity is no longer that of working-class Jews, support a racist and apartheid state, is it racist to oppose that identity? Of course not. Opposing an identity, religious or otherwise, is not racist unless it is a means of attacking the people themselves, i.e. Jews as Jews. I have never known a Palestine solidarity supporter who attacked Jews as Jews, quite the contrary. My PSC group in Brighton is opposed to all forms of racism. Half our branch, including some very elderly people, were out on the demonstrations against the EDL/MFA in Brighton in the past few years. It is the far-Right Sussex Friends of Israel which has cavorted with the holocaust denying EDL.
The anti-Semitic far –right are strong supporters of Israel. Ruth Smeed, spokesperson for the Board of Deputies admitted that ‘‘The BNP website is now one of the most Zionist on the web – it goes further than any of the mainstream parties in its support of Israel’ [The Guardian, April 10th 2008
As for ‘zio’ – it is short for Zionist which is a political not an ethnic category. It is obviously not racist. After all to be a Zionist you don’t have to be Jewish. Some of the most virulent Zionists are non-Jewish. People like Pastor John Hagee, President of the million strong Christians United 4 Israel who believes that Hitler was an agent of god, a hunter, sent to drive the Jews to Israel!
As a Jewish member of the Labour Party who has been suspended for ‘anti-Semitism’ my experience is that I’ve never come across anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. As someone who has spent a considerable part of his life tackling fascist and anti-Semitic organisations like the NF and BNP and who also chased Gilad Atzmon out of the Palestine solidarity movement, I have no problem in opposing any manifestation of anti-Semitism. But I won’t be a hypocrite like Hannah. I won’t use Jewish identity as an excuse for justifying and exonerating the most racist state in the world. A state where Jews now march to the chant of ‘death to the Arabs’. A slogan which used to be the slogan of anti-Semites in pre-war Germany and Poland with Jews substituted for Arabs. At one of these demonstration in Tel-Aviv recently, held to defend Elor Azaria, a soldier accused of shooting an incapacitated Palestinian dead whilst he was lying on the ground, there was a banner ‘death to them all’ and another banner ‘my loyalty is my honour’. The latter was the slogan of the SS. What goes around comes around.
|Tel Aviv demonstration in support of Elor Azaria at which 'death to the Arabs' chanting was dominant|
But as I said in my response to her article, which Ms Weisfeld deleted, I will debate these issues with her in a neutral forum at any time because what she is doing is providing a liberal cover for the most atavistic racism.
|Shami Chakrabarti, whose report the Zionists first welcomed, has now been attacked by them because she is seen as a useful stick to beat Corbyn with|
The Labour anti-Semitism row has thrust British Jewish identity into the public domain, but its complexity is often lost
Shami Chakrabarti’s report into anti-Semitism was published in June. Her inquiry followed the suspension of MP Naz Shah and ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone amid anti-Semitism claims. Here Hannah Weisfeld argues that although the report is helpful in staking out the boundaries of acceptable discourse, it fails to engage in understanding the complex nature of Jewish identity.
In the last few months there have been multiple accusations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and other institutions, including within the leadership National Union of Students (NUS). Labour’s anti-Semitism row culminated in the Chakrabarti report into anti-semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour party, published in June.
The recent headlines are almost all related to how people talk about and discuss Israel, and treat those that seek to define part of their identity in relation to Israel. The way in which British Jews construct their identity as Jews has long been a hot topic of internal debate within the Jewish community. Discussions related to how one identifies as a Jew take place between friends and family, within synagogues and other forms of prayer groups, and within Jewish youth groups all the time.
But rarely is this of broader public interest. As the intersection between strongly held views about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinian people, and Jewish support for the State of Israel, makes front page headlines of the mainstream press in the UK, this internal issue has been catapulted into the public domain.
For the vast majority of Jews, Israel plays some role in the construction of their Jewish identity. In the most recent research conducted by City University in 2015 into British Jewish Attitudes Towards Israel, 93% agreed that Israel played a role in their Jewish identity varying from ‘some role’ right up to ‘central to’. Beyond that near consensus attitude, opinions vary enormously on issues related to policies of the Israeli government, peace with the Palestinians, occupation, security and a wide range of other topics.
Given that the vast majority of Jews fall into the category of, in some way, defining their Jewish identity in relation to Israel, the public discourse on this issue needs urgent attention in order to prevent it from causing continued offence – whether intentional or accidental – to the Jewish community.
It is entirely legitimate to critique the policies of a government with whom you may not agree. This issue is not about whether it is legitimate to criticise the policies of the Israeli government. Indeed, many British Jews are critical of aspects of the policies of the Israel government, and 55% agree that it is legitimate to not only criticise Israel, but to do so publicly. At the same time, it is also possible to find members of the Jewish community who take offence at all criticism of Israel. Those that cannot stomach any form of criticism do the Jewish community a disservice in calling out any opinion about Israel with which they do not agree as anti-Semitic. This compounds the false notion that the Jewish community’s concerns related to anti-Semitism are simply attempts to shut down legitimate debate about Israel.
But much of what has been stealing the headlines in recent months are not mere criticisms of Israeli policy. Comparisons between Zionism and Nazism, using old-school anti-Semitic tropes, often replacing the word Jew with Zionist, and the use of name calling towards Jews, represent something far more problematic. The use of the term Zionism or ‘Zio’ as a term of insult, or the repetition of anti-Semitic stereotypes that are repeated by simply replacing the word Jew for Zionist would suggest that there is a sense that Jews identifying with Israel provides an excuse to air views that would be deemed downright anti-Semitic if the word Jew was used instead of ‘Zio’, for example.
Zionism is the belief in the right of Jews to have self-determination in the land of Israel. Any other understanding of this word, or the historical manifestation of it (i.e. the creation and existence of the state of Israel), is a subjective interpretation and not the essence of ‘Zionism’. However, for many people today, Zionism is synonymous with actions of the Israeli government. As a consequence, in expressing dislike or even hatred of these actions, it is all too easy to express dislike or hatred of those that support ‘Zionism’.
It is of course legitimate (although many Jews would not agree) to disagree with the concept of national self-determination and therefore Zionism, and this not stem from any type of anti-Semitism. But when the dislike of national self-determination appears to manifest solely in relation to the Jewish state, it creates a real feeling of uncomfortable difference for Jews. Furthermore, when Jews are told that they do not have to have, or should not have, a relationship to Israel to fulfil their Jewish identity it creates a notion of ‘good’ Jews vs ‘bad’ Jews, with non-Jews seemingly deciding who is ‘good’, with the vast majority of Jews falling into the category of ‘bad’ Jew because of a connection to Israel. Take this Socialist Worker article for example which refers to the many ‘anti-Zionist’ Jews used to justify the contents of the piece. No faith community can stomach others telling them what their faith is, or should be.
When the new president of NUS explained that she had never intended to cause offence to Jewish members of NUS by describing Birmingham University as a ‘Zionist outpost’ she wrote ‘I want to be clear, again, that for me to take issue with Zionist politics is in no way me taking issue with being Jewish…it has been, and will always be, a political argument, not one of faith or ethnic identity. Zionism, religion and ethnicity must not be seen as one and the same.’ But what she failed so deeply to understand was that she was simply telling Jewish students that her version of how Jews should construct their identity was the correct way, despite the fact she was being told by significant numbers of Jewish students that she had got it wrong. That is not to say that the NUS president is therefore an anti-Semite because of this particular comment i.e. someone who actively dislikes or even hates Jews. Yet her decision to dictate to Jewish students that Zionism has nothing to with faith and ethnicity, when for Jews it has absolutely everything to do with faith and ethnicity, is defining Jewish identity on behalf of Jews, which is hard not to see as anything other than anti-Semitic – intentional or not.
Of course she is right to point out that those who choose to entirely conflate Jews, Israel and Zionism are making an untrue and unhelpful contribution. Indeed, the organisation I direct was set up partly to provide a new space within the British Jewish community to speak about Israel, and British Jews relationship to it, in a more critical and nuanced way. Yet, to claim, as she does, and many others on the far left do, that there is a complete separation between these ideas, and therefore it is entirely possible to say whatever you want about ‘Zionists’ is also deeply mispresenting the reality of what being Jewish means to the overwhelming majority of Jews.
The catapulting of these issues into the public domain has put the complex nature of Jewish identity under a microscope. In some respects, this is helpful in simply staking out the boundaries of acceptable discourse. Chakrabati’s report outlines that certain language is simply not acceptable to be used as part of modern parlance such as the term ‘Zio’. The report described the term as “a term of abuse, pure and simple” and recommended that the word ‘Zio’ should have no place in Labour Party discourse going forward.
However, what the report did not address (perhaps because it was outside of its remit) and what so much of the public debate on this issue has failed to do, is to examine that for many Jews the sense of Jewish ‘peoplehood’ rests at the centre of their identity and Zionism is simply the manifestation of peoplehood. This has nothing to do with the Zionism that the Socialist Worker piece earlier referenced so boldly claims has ‘racism towards Palestinians is at its very core’. By refusing to engage in understanding the complex nature of Jewish identity, the debate will continue to remain toxic for the many of the Jewish community and in so doing will fuel tensions between diverse communities that could, and should, be working together to combat hatred of others