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Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Balfour Declaration – The Tragedy of a Single Letter

The idiocies of Karl Sabbagh

This was a meeting to launch Gilad Atzmon's The Wandering Who? book which I reviewed.  Karl Sabbagh was one of the speakers

Karl Sabbagh
 Karl Sabbagh is a living example of the saying that there’s no fool like an old fool.

I came up to London on the NHS March train and it was a difficult decision – to go on the march or go to a conference at University College London entitled ‘Balfour – 1 Letter 100 Years Later.’  I decided that on balance the march would probably suffer less from my absence than the conference would gain from my presence!
Atzmon's book
Unfortunately I missed the opening speech from Avi Shlaim, a former Israeli Jew from Iraq and Emeritus Professor of International Relations at St Anthony’s College, Oxford University.  I did however catch the speech of Karl Sabbagh, a former BBC producer and author.  It was not a fair exchnge.
Gilad Atzmon - anti-Semitic ex-Israeli - was once on the periphery of the Palestine solidarity movement
Sabbagh was one of those inflated egos who gave credibility to a man caused Gilad Atzmon some years ago.  Atzmon’s brilliant thesis was that Zionism was not a settler colonial project and Israel was not a settler colonial state.  Good gracious no.  Israel was the product of some mysterious but long lasting elixir called ‘Jewishness’.  Jewishness explained the Holocaust and the same terrible personality defect that the Jews possessed (all except Atzmon that is) that caused the Nazis to murder them was on display once more in Israel where the Jews, once again, were behaving badly.

It would be churlish to ask whether Gays, Russian POWs, Poles, Gypsies etc. were also guilty of bad behaviour since they too suffered large casualties at the hands of the Nazis in WW2.  But for crusty reactionaries who find nothing wrong with imperialism per se but don’t go a bundle on Jews, then Atzmon is just for you.  So Sabbagh in the Q&A session made the stupid comment that since Israel is a Jewish state, then if we criticise Russians for what Russia does then why not blame the Jews for what Israel does.
I managed to get in to try and explain to the buffoon why the analogy didn’t fit.  Russians were those who lived within the borders of Russia, regardless of religion.  Not that it is a good idea to blame all Russians for the crimes of Putin but at least he is their President.  Israel is a Jewish state, in so far as being Jewish mean possessing privileges over and above the Palestinians.  It is a racist state and a state of racial supremacy.  But although it is part of the Zionist creed that Israel is a state of all Jews, including those who live in the diaspora, this is not something which is accepted by Jews outside Israel. 
When Netanyahu went to speak to the American Congress as Prime Minister he claimed to speak on behalf of American Jewry, this was not a claim accepted by most American Jews.  Only Zionists and not all of them either accept this canard.  And when he went to France after the killing of 4 Jews at a kosher supermarket he claimed to speak on behalf of French Jews.  This was not accepted by French Jews either.

As Anshel Pfeffer reported, Netanyahu stated that:
“I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people.”
This bald statement by Benjamin Netanyahu, at a gathering of French-speaking Likud supporters in Jerusalem on Sunday, should be astonishing. He was saying that when he insisted on taking part in last month’s solidarity march of world leaders in Paris, against the wishes of French President Francois Hollande, he was acting on behalf of French Jews. He is now planning to do the same in Washington: “Just as I went to Paris, so I will go anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us.”
Sabbagh's vacuous blurb
It’s not a claim that either American or French Jews accept.  It is, however one more racist Zionist trope, that Israel is the state of all Jews  It is not a minor matter either since the claim to be a Jewish state as opposed to a state of its own citizens rests upon this trope and that is fundamental to the Apartheid state of Israel.  Of course it has no legal or political basis.  No Jews outside Israel voted for the Israeli Prime Minister.  But it is an essential component of Israel and Zionism’s racist ideological superstructure.  It is therefore sad that Karl Sabbagh should effectively adopt one of Zionism’s foundational ideas and then use it for what is a cheap anti-Semitic jibe.  One would have hoped that Sabbagh would have learnt something from the stirring declaration of Ali Abunimah Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon, but as the saying goes it is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks.
Miko Peled
What Sabbagh had to say about the duplicity of the British in the promises they made and broke and their imperial cynicism was interesting, which is why it is a great pity that he can’t understand the poisonous and reactionary character of much of what Atzmon stands for.  However it is also a question of his wider bourgeois politics.

Ghada Karmi, who was on the same panel, spoke movingly about the attachment of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland and how many of them still possess keys to the houses they were evicted from.  Her daughter Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, who is co-chair of the Palestine Lawyers Association, spoke on Palestine and international law.
Leanne Mohammad
In the afternoon the session opened with the 16 year old star of the Jack Petchie world debating competition, who won her regional contest with a speech entitled ‘Birds not Bombs’ but then was subject to the normal vicious tweets from Zionists who abused her as ‘Miss ISIS’.  Leanne is a remarkable young woman, highly eloquent but with an excellent grasp of the difference between being Jewish and Zionist.  It’s a pity that Sabbagh isn’t able to grasp what a 16 year old takes in her stride.
Miko Peled
Miko Peled, the son of General Mattiyahu Peled, a dissident Israeli General, gave a speech that can only be described as a tour de force.  He was quite clear that Israel has no right to exist as a racist state and that its desire to claim this ‘right’ was a product of its colonial mentality.
Malia Bouattia speaking and Jonathan Rosenhead to her right
In the final session Jonathan Rosenhead spoke from Free Speech on Israel.  Jonathan outline the threat that the new IHRA definition of anti-Semitism poses to free speech, with the University of Central Lancashire having banned Israel Apartheid Week because of a misinterpretation of the law but in any event this definition poses a threat to the right to organise around Palestine.  NUS President Malia Bouattia spoke about the fight inside NUS which faced a disaffiliation campaign from the Israeli funded Union of Jewish Students, for BDS.

In all a surprisingly good conference, marred only by Sabbagh’s stupidity.  I did approach him in the interval to try and talk to him but he steamed off in a huff.  Clearly not a man who takes a rebuke lightly!


Tony Greenstein 

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