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Shame on the Jews who demonize Jews

Pluralism has deep roots amongst Jews. The Talmud, the basis of rabbinic law and primary object of  Jewish study for 1500 years, is not dogma. It is sixty-three books of debate and disputation, commentaries upon commentaries upon commentaries, whose study consists of yet more debate and disputation. And yet, the evidence is that “dissenting” Jews ( parentheses because the “dissenters” are sometimes in the majority) are increasingly subjected to shameful abuse by the Jewish establishment in the UK and elsewhere. Anthony Lerman, former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research who has operated at the highest levels of international Jewish political and intellectual life, yesterday at the Guardian accused Jewish communal leaders and pro-Israel advocacy groups worldwide of  the “vilification, demonisation and marginalisation” of Jews who support Palestinian rights, in order to silence dissenters:

One method of achieving this is to make it harder for Jews to criticise by accusing them of disloyalty, succumbing to “Jewish self-hatred”, and being “fellow travellers” of antisemites – spurious and groundless charges….

The Jewish establishment in the UK – which includes the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, the Zionist Federation and numerous private groupings of the great and the good – is highly experienced at this.

In the past, the targets for this vilification were often outside the mainstream — groups like Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Jewish Socialist Group — or from Liberal and Reform jews like Rabbi David Goldberg. However, Lerman experienced it himself when when he was appointed head of the  Jewish Policy Research think-tank for a second time in 2005:

By then I had served the community professionally for 26 years. A Zionist for decades, I was one no longer. But I wished passionately that Israel would become a democratic state for all its citizens, end the occupation, recognise the Palestinians’ right of return, and acknowledge that Israel’s establishment in 1948 was a Nakba, a catastrophe, for the Palestinians. I had no intention of using JPR as a platform for advocating these views but rather made one of my principal aims creating space for Jewish critical thinking and debate about how Jews should relate to Israel, to its policies towards Palestinians and to the serious impact of its actions on European Jews.

Because he represented far more of a danger than “so-called marginal Jews…. brazen efforts were made to prevent my appointment, and then, once hired, to force me out“. He has documented his experience, and his his five-decade personal and political journey from idealistic socialist Zionist to critic of Zionism and Israeli policies towards the Palestinians a book published this month, The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist. He also says that Mick Davis who is Chair of the Jewish Leadership Council’s Trustees and the United Jewish Israel Appeal and CEO of Xstrata and as much a Jewish insider as anyone has come in for this treatment for statements of which the Jewish establishment disapprove.

Another dissenter from the heart of Israeli politics and world Zionism is Avraham Burg, whoose career included being Chairman of the Israeli Knesset and of two of the largest Jewish organisations in the world the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organisation — respectively the international agency that oversees Jewish immigration to Israel and the umbrella for the world Zionist movement since 1897. He wrote a book, The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From its Ashes, that was highly controversial when first published in Israel and has recently written of Israel’s fading democracy in the New York Times and why he supports the boycott of settlement goods in the Independent. Now he’s just another “self-hating Jewhere and here and here, a “failed Israeli politician” whose “egotism is pathetichere.

And yet, sometimes, these “dissenting” Jews are  in the majority. According to a 2010 survey of the opinions of British Jews, three-quarters oppose settlement expansion in the Palestinian occupied territories, two-thirds favour giving up territory for peace, and just over half see Israel is an “occupying power” in the West Bank, and think that it should negotiate with Hamas. Even where they are not in the majority, Jewish opinion, true to tradition, is remarkably diverse. Pluralism is alive and well in the Jewish community even if it is shamefully stifled by its leaders.

4 Comments

  1. john p reid says:

    Shame on Jews who portray other jews who are pro palestine as wrong, yes but also shame on jews who criticise other jews who criticise Israel,like Gerald kaufman, who has banned those who saiy heis mistaken form their meetings at The committee rooms at the houses of parliament.

  2. Isaac G says:

    As an Israeli who opposes the occupation, I am nonetheless amused to learn that most UK Jews would be willing to give up the territories for peace. The territories in question are not for them to give up. They don’t live here.

    The key here is giving up territory for peace. but, what if giving up territory doesn’t bring peace, but more war and conflict? How would the poll result then read? Most Israelis, like myself, would gladly give up territories for peace, and we have in fact done that with Egypt. Only now, I am not entirely convinced the Sinai will remain de-militerized as per our peace treaty with Egypt, nor am I too expectant that we will begin receiving the gas from Sinai again, as also promised in the peace treaty. The massive increase in the cost of electricity here impacts us, not the Jews of London.

    We left Gaza, and received 10,000 rockets. If we leave the West Bank, will we receive peace? If we leave the Golan, just a few miles from my house, what will be? Had we returned Golan years ago, the civil war would be raging up there, with Al Qaida and Salafists firing down rockets and mortars on us from the Heights.

    And, as an Israeli peacenik living with these realities, I do not need another Diaspora Jew living thousands of miles away giving us advice. Whatever we do here, including trading land for a promise of peace on a piece of paper, affects our lives directly. All it does for you is give you emotional discomfort in your relationship with non-Jews. For us, it is live and death.

    So, some humility on your part would most be appreciated.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Well Isaac, speaking as a Diaspora Jew, forgive me if I don’t choose to take my lessons in humility from an Israeli Jew. But I do have another lesson for you that I learnt from my father, may he rest in the peace that he longed for in Israel even though he was content to remain a Diaspora Jew. We Jews have be trading for thousands of years, but a good Jew doesn’t trade what belongs to somebody else. And the land we’re speaking of here doesn’t belong to Jews, even if Israel has been occupying it for 45 years. It hasn’t brought you peace and it won’t in the future. And it’s my right to support the Palestinians who want it back, and to refuse to buy goods that have been produced in jewish settlements that have been illegally built on it.

  3. Mark Wood says:

    My mothers mother was a Jewesses and as such I have always looked at this faith with kind eyes. Having said that, I do view the The Balfour Declaration as an historic mistake, but the world is full of nations with more recent problems and view this as something in an historical context. I think what it is important is that Israel reaches a settlement with the Palestinians, one that is fair and stops being America’s Airstrip 1. But that could also be said of Britain.

    Neoconservatives and the Project for the New American Century have dominated the worlds view of Jewishness. Guess the world needs reminding that Jewish individuals have always been a strong force in progressive politics. Perhaps also the groups like the friends of Israel from all party’s have been seen to be too successful as a non secular grouping and have disproportionate influence in what is essentially a secular nation. Unless these views are addressed with intelligence and sensitivity, then such public awareness of such things will just generate more xenophobia and mistrust of those in power that happen to be Jewish.

    I am also certain that a lot of the over zealous promotion of Zionism as seen in newspaper comments broads do not actually come from Jews, but twisted individuals from far right groups, it is important for all of us to stand up against such bile when we notice it, other wise the general public will form a truth based on the views of the far right. Let bad history not be repeated.

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