Sunday, 25 November 2018

Yachad, Airbnb and a new untogetherness

Like the vast majority of Israelis, I am pro-peace.  I supported the withdrawal from South Lebanon, the disengagement from Gaza, the Oslo Accords.  I would have voted in favour of a deal along the lines of Olmert’s 2008 offer, had it been accepted by the Palestinian leadership.  Which means that I would have supported Israel’s withdrawal from some 95% of the West Bank, including the evacuation of many settlements.
Don’t get me wrong: I never thought that ‘the settlements’ are a serious obstacle to peace.  After all, there was no peace when there were no settlements; and the sure-proof way to ‘stop the settlements’ and ‘dismantle the occupation’ – if indeed that is what they want – is for the Palestinian leadership to make peace.
But I know there are people – including Jews in Israel and the Diaspora – who think otherwise, who have come to resent ‘the settlements’.  I disagree with them, for the reasons mentioned above – and more; but they are entitled to their opinion.

‘The’ settlements?

But this is not about being pro or against ‘the settlements’.  It’s about discrimination against Jews.  A few days ago, Airbnb has decided to de-list B & Bs owned by Jews in the West Bank.  Their press release is dishonestly entitled ‘Listings in Disputed Regions’.  ‘Dishonestly,’ because the decision targets just one ‘Disputed Region’ – the West Bank; which happens to be ‘disputed’ by Jews.  This is not about settlements in disputed territories; it’s about ‘the settlements’ – the only ones inhabited by Jews.
Writing for The Spectator, Brendan O’Neill puts it better than I ever could:
So alongside being the only country that pop stars refuse to play in, and the only country whose academics are boycotted on Western campuses, and the only country whose dancers and violinists cannot perform in cities like London without gangs of people screaming them down, and the only country whose produce is routinely avoided by luvvies and liberals, now Israel is the only country that has been politically punished by holiday app cum conscience of the Twitterati, Airbnb.
The world is, of course, full of ‘Disputed Regions’; lots of them are subject to ‘settlement’ by one of the parties to that dispute; and Airbnb happily operates in quite a few of them.

One of the more than 150 Tiobetans who self-immolated in protest against the
Chinese occupation and policies.
Formerly an independent (albeit relatively underdeveloped) state, Tibet was conquered by the Chinese Army in 1950.  China has been ruling the region with an iron fist ever since, in the face of visible Tibetan opposition – manifested for instance through periodic revolts and numerous acts of protest, including more than 150 instances of self-immolation.  The Free Tibet organisation (headquartered in London) accuses the Chinese occupation of causing more than 1 million fatalities among Tibetans; many more have been tortured; others live in abject poverty; the Chinese authorities are trying to forcibly assimilate the Tibetan population, actively discouraging them from enjoying their own culture, from practising their religion and from speaking their own language.  Moreover, China is actively encouraging settlers from among its own dominant Han ethnicity to move to Tibet.  No equivalent of B’tselem was ever allowed to operate in Tibet of course, so the exact number of Han settlers is unknown, but it is claimed that they threaten to become the majority in the region.  The Han settlers and ‘collaborating’ Tibetans are rewarded with economic benefits that are denied to the rest of the population.  In the words of the Dalai Lama:
The new Chinese settlers have created an alternate society: a Chinese apartheid which, denying Tibetans equal social and economic status in our own land, threatens to finally overwhelm and absorb us.
I found 300+ properties listed by on Airbnb.co.uk in Tibet’s capital Lhasa alone.  As far as I could see, they are all listed in Mandarin (the language of the Han settlers), rather than in the Tibetan language.  I randomly checked out 20 of those properties –all 20 hosts had Chinese (rather than Tibetan) names.  Quite a few actually disclose their origin in the ‘Hosted by…’ section.  “I’m from Inner Mongolia [a region in Northern China], writes the owner of Airbnb listing #25988191.  “In 2013, I resigned from a foreign company in Shanghai and then moved to Lhasa” – location #28316356.  “From Chengdu [capital of Sichuan Province in the South-West of China], came to Lhasa alone in 2013” – location #24162447.  “I graduated from Jinan University in 2012 with a master’s degree in journalism. At the end of October 2013, I moved to Tibet by myself.” – location #14696223.
Tibet is just one example.  In 1974, the Turkish army invaded Cyprus, conquering the northern 40% of the country.  The ethnic Greek inhabitants fled or were expelled almost to the last person.  No Greek Cypriot remained, for instance, in the seashore resort of Famagusta, which had been predominantly Greek.  Most of Varosha – Famagusta’s main tourist neighbourhood – was fenced off by the Turkish army and declared a ‘closed military area’.  Here’s the testimony of a journalist from The Telegraph:
Today, one part of Famagusta still remains entirely sealed off by rusting barbed wire, fiercely guarded by Turkish troops. Known as Varosha, it represents about 20 per cent of Famagusta and was the prime tourist area, comprising the stretch of golden sand, behind which stand skeletons of bombed and abandoned hotels and apartments, and streets of looted shops, restaurants, mansions.
The ghost town is heavily guarded by soldiers, and aggressive signs make it clear that this is a no-go area.[…]
For the past two years, I have been visiting the north and south of Cyprus regularly to research a novel. In that time, I have seen extensive building work taking place in the area surrounding Varosha, making it unrecognisable to former inhabitants. A large population of settlers from the Turkish mainland live there, their lifestyle and culture very different even from that of the Turkish Cypriots.
Ethnic distribution in Cyprus, before and after the Turkish invasion.
 Circa 40,000 Turkish troops still ‘protect’ Northern Cyprus and its ethnic Turkish inhabitants – including some 250,000 Turkish settlers, who are thought to represent by now the majority of Northern Cyprus’s population.  And who often live on land (and even houses) formerly owned by Greek Cypriots.
In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey must pay circa EUR 20 million in compensation to Greek Cypriot owners of hotels and other businesses.  In its Resolution 550/1984, the UN Security Council stated that it:
Considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of that area to the administration of the United Nations.
Needless to say, that request was rejected by Turkey, as were various condemnations of its ‘settlement’ policy.
Airbnb.co.uk lists 39 properties in Varosha alone (there are hundreds in Famagusta and the rest of the ‘Disputed Region’ of Northern Cyprus).  Unsurprisingly, the owners generally have Turkish names.  At location #24539082, host Ergin (a Turkish male first name meaning ‘mature man’) advertises his ‘Chic and Design Boutique Hotel at City Center’, which offers 36 en-suite bedrooms.  The hotel’s location is given as Kıbrıs (the Turkish equivalent of Cyprus), but the page also describes the location as ‘Turkey’.
Airbnb serenely lists locations in Western Sahara, Kashmir, Myanmar, Rwanda, Sudan, even a solitary one in Crimea. Let’s not forget the Falkland Islands, and a location listed as ‘Gibraltar, United Kingdom’ – a description that will surely rile quite a few Spaniards.  And dozens of other ‘Disputed Regions’ around the globe, many of which have seen horrendous atrocities.  And more: how many of the thousands of B & Bs in Poland are really Jewish houses taken over by neighbours – some as ‘reward’ for collaboration and betrayal?  How many belonged to the millions of ethnic Germans, Ukrainians and Lemkos that, between 1945 and 1950, were violently thrown out of their ancestral homes and lands?  Who knows?  Who cares?  Certainly not Airbnb!

‘Together’ with whom?

It doesn’t matter how you feel about ‘the settlements’ or about ‘Israeli settlers’.  Even if they were thieves and criminals, what justification is there for targeting them, while ignoring others who act in the same way – and much worse?  When one targets a specific category of ‘offenders’ (rather than a specific type of offence), this has nothing to do with ethics and justice; it has everything to do with discrimination and persecution.
And when Jews are (again!) subjected to such obvious double standards; when the words ‘Jews’ and ‘boycott’ are once more unashamedly spoken in the same sentence – you’d hope that any Jew worthy of the name would feel outraged.
Well, apparently not.  As soon as the news came out, a London-based outfit called ‘Yachad’ took to the social and traditional media to… express support for Airbnb’s discriminatory decision.
Of course, we are all by now accustomed to various As-a-Jew’s – people for whom bashing the Jewish state is their main link to Jewishness.  But Yachad claims to be “the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement for British Jews”.  “THE”—no less!  It’s their Twitter profile.
So why would “the” pro-Israel, pro-peace movement for British Jews (or even ‘a’ or ‘any’ “movement for British Jews”) support blatant anti-Jewish discrimination?
According to Yachad’s Director Hannah Weisfeld,
Recognition of the green line [sic!] is recognition of Israel’s legitimacy within those borders.  Glad to see @Airbnb recognises Israel’s legitimacy
Deputy Director Maya Ilany claims that
Contrary to Airbnb’s critics, the company has effectively reaffirmed Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state within the Green Line.
“Effectively”??  There is a Hebrew word for this kind of outrageous spin – and it’s not ‘yachad’: it’s ‘chutzpah’!
No, Airbnb has neither ‘recognised’ nor ‘reaffirmed’ Israel’s legitimacy – its press release contains no such declaration.  In fact, that official statement never mentions the term “legitimacy” or any of its synonyms; nor does it include the word “Israel”, though it does refer repeatedly to “Israeli settlements” and “Israelis and Palestinians”.
Of course, even had it been issued, such “recognition” would be absolutely worthless.  As a commercial enterprise, Airbnb was constituted in order to turn profits and make money for its shareholders; it is not in the business of conferring “legitimacy” and sovereignty on anyone and anything – nor does it have any moral standing to do so.
In fact, Airbnb’s press release reveals the trigger for their decision:
[M]any in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced.
We know who those “many in the global community” are: BDS activists and supporters.  Who, as we also know, consider the entire Israel “lands where people have been displaced.”
In fact, Airbnb’s decision is one of “2 big BDS victories” described in a gleeful Palestine Solidarity Campaign statement.  Far from differentiating between ‘Israel proper’ and ‘the settlements’, the PSC statement calls Airbnb’s decision “a significant positive step in the right direction” and wraps it together with
a host of other victories for the BDS movement in recent months, including decisions by artists Lana Del Ray and Lorde to pull out of planned concerts in Israel in accordance with the call for a cultural boycott.
Neither Lana Del Rey, nor Lorde had planned any concerts in ‘settlements’; both were scheduled to perform in ‘Israel-proper’, before succumbing to torrents of abuse from what the PSC calls a “coalition of human rights activists”.
No doubt in order to generate more such “victories”, the same PSC statement also calls for
Support the campaign to boycott this year’s [sic!] Eurovision in Israel.
I.e., the Eurovision Song Context scheduled to take place next year in Tel Aviv.
PSC is right to call Airbnb’s step a ‘big BDS victory’.  Of course, BDS is not about boycotting ‘settlements’, but boycotting Israel and her supporters.  But the BDS’ers will take it one step at a time, like a drug pusher who will sell you pot, before one day switching you to ‘the real stuff’.  Once the initial barrier is breached (i.e. once a person is persuaded that boycotting ‘some Jews’ is a noble, moral endeavour), it is easy to push further.  For instance, Israeli telecoms cover also the West Bank – or at least Area C.  If Bezeq (the Israeli equivalent of BT) stopped providing services to the West Bank, then not just ‘Israeli settlers’, but also Palestinians would be deprived of telephone and internet services.  But that, as we know, does not necessarily bother the BDS activists, who present Bezeq as ‘a company profiting from the Occupation’.  Or take a ‘report’ produced by a coalition of Christian charities obsessed with the Jewish state.  Entitled ‘Trading Away Peace’, it states:
Settlements in the West Bank produce a range of industrial goods, mostly manufactured in purpose-built industrial zones.  Like the settlements themselves, the industrial zones are a violation of international law, which prohibits the occupying power from constructing permanent infrastructure in occupied territory, unless it is for military use or serves the interests of the occupied population.
Yachad would no doubt claim that the report ‘reaffirmed’ Israel’s legitimacy.  But that was neither its intended, nor its actual outcome.  Among the ‘examples’ of companies “in violation of international law” the report cites one I am familiar with, in a professional capacity.  With a turnover in excess of US$ 1 billion, Keter Plastic is arguably the world’s largest and most innovative manufacturer of garden furniture, as well as household and related products.  Headquartered in Herzlia (just north of Tel Aviv), Keter sells in more than 100 countries – including a few Arab countries – and operates more than two dozen factories in Israel, Europe, United States and Canada.  One of these production facilities is located in the Barkan Industrial Park, about 5 miles on the ‘wrong side’ of the Green Line.  The workforce consists mostly of Palestinians from the area, with a smattering of Jews.  The Barkan factory produces less than 5% of Keter’s turnover, but that was enough to include it in the report as one of the ‘international law violators’; which further caused the United Church of Canada, the US Presbyterian Church and the Quaker Council For European Affairs (QCEA) to call their faithful to boycott it.
The QCEA is an interesting example of how ‘settlement boycott’ becomes ‘Israel boycott’ and further snowballs into boycott of Jews who support Israel.  In 2012, the QCEA published a ‘Discussion Paper’ meant to ‘inform’ their movement.  In reality, it’s a blatant anti-Israel propaganda document.  But arguably one of the most interesting passages is the one describing an example of successful boycott.  It reads:
Take the example of a boycott campaign against McDonald’s that has been carried out throughout the Middle East: “McDonald’s is a ‘major corporate partner’ of the Jewish United Fund. In its own words, the Jewish United Fund ‘works to maintain American military, economic and diplomatic support for Israel; monitors and, when necessary, responds to media coverage of Israel.’ Also, McDonald’s chairman and CEO, Jack M. Greenberg, is an honorary director of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry. McDonald’s […] announced it is closing down its operation in the Middle East due to loss of revenue as a direct result of the boycott (Oct 2002), and is replacing Greenberg as its chairman and CEO (Dec 2002). Since the launch of the boycott campaign, two of Jordan’s six McDonald’s franchises have closed due to lack of business. In Egypt, McDonald’s decided to change its brand name to Manfoods this past March, in an attempt to dodge the boycott. It had no effect and Egyptian police forces were ordered to guard the entrances to McDonald’s restaurants, after stone throwing incidents took place. A total of 175 restaurants will be closed at a loss of $350 million.
Note that the document published by the QCEA cites among the boycott’s ‘successes’ the purported dismissal of “Greenberg” (not Mr. Greenberg – as people would normally be referred to in Europe!) for the ‘crime’ of serving as the honorary director of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  Note also that McDonald’s – Middle East is brought as purported example of successful boycott in a document discussing BDS, but is actually – according to its description – ‘classic’ Arab boycott of Israel.  This is more evidence that BDS is not ‘a new movement’ that started in 2005, but just a rebranding of the Arab League boycott, an old declaration of economic warfare.
In conclusion, it is only in Yachad’s imagination – either self-delusional or deceitful, but certainly weird – that settlement boycotts ‘confer legitimacy’ on Israel.  Such boycotts are not meant to highlight the difference between Israel and ‘Israeli settlements’, but between Israel and all other countries.  For people who are less informed (i.e., for most people) the message is that Israel is the epitome of evil; a case on its own, the world’s number one human rights violator.  Why else would companies like Airbnb select Israel – and only Israel – for this ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment not meted out on any other state since Apartheid South Africa?
Yachad’s support for boycotts is a new development in the history of this organisation.  Yachad was founded in 2011 as a ‘dissent organisation’ which claimed that the mainstream, elected leadership of the British Jewish community (the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council) are blindly supportive of Israel.  Although its criticism of Israeli policies and actions was often acerbic, initially Yachad was opposed to boycotts of any kind.  In a website post dating from 2013, the group explained:
As a pro-Israel organisation, Yachad believes Israel should be allowed to thrive. Whilst we are opposed to the ongoing occupation, and do not support new investment inside the Israeli controlled West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, we are also opposed to a policy of isolation. […]
Using boycott as a policy tool also implies that the solution to the conflict can be imposed externally without a genuine negotiations process and that the responsibility for achieving peace in the region lies solely with Israel.
Assuming that the 2013 statement above truly reflected its beliefs, Yachad has clearly changed its policy.
Despite its protestations, Yachad understands that steps targeting only Israeli settlements are discriminatory.  Indeed, referring to the uber-controversial EU decision to label produce from ‘Israeli settlements’, Yachad refers to the claim that such labelling:
is inconsistent with the way other territorial disputes are treated.
The Yachad document further comments:
This is largely true. In a commonly cited example, tomatoes grown in Western Sahara but exported by Morocco are labelled as product of Morocco.
But the fact that Israeli Jews are treated in a manner “inconsistent” with how others are treated (read: they are discriminated against) does not prevent Yachad from supporting that discriminatory policy.  And their support for ‘labelling’ (which at the time was presented as fundamentally different from boycott) has now morphed into a full throated support for Airbnb’s boycott.
In fairness, this type of gradual radicalisation of positions shouldn’t surprise anyone.  It is typical of fringe organisations, that struggle to persuade and attract larger numbers of supporters.  They start by presenting what they see as a ‘moderate’ view, in the hope of branding themselves as a ‘broad church’.  But, since in truth they are anything but moderates, their leadership cannot fail to – sooner or later – show their true colours.
In Hebrew, Yachad means ‘together’.  Nice name; but the reality is, these days, that Yachad is ‘together’ with those who target Jews – and only Jews – for boycott.
Yachad’s “founding statement of core principles” (found on their website) opens up with a touching declaration of love:
We are Jews who love Israel, who stand with Israel, whose lives are bound up with Israel. We believe in its right not just to exist, but to flourish. We stand against those who defame it.
Nice words; but there is little evidence of “love” anywhere else on that website.  This reminds me of the proverbial wife beater who, when dragged before a judge, cried:
But I love her to bits, Your Honour!  I only beat her so she knows she’s done wrong and needs to mend her ways…
Love shouldn’t hurt.  If it hurts, it’s not love – it’s abuse.  Like all abusive relationships, Yachad’s “love” batters, not betters.  On behalf of the vast majority of Israelis – who resent boycotts and those who support them – let me urge Yachad: will you PLEASE love us a little less!

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

'Anti-Zionism’ is about the Joos, stupid!


Raised and educated in the UK, Prof. Ian Almond teaches World Literature at Georgetown University in Qatar.  So, when I heard that he took to the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera to write about antisemitism, I was hopeful. I thought he was going to write about the high incidence of antisemitism (including Holocaust-denial) in the Arab world.  But no: Prof. Almond chose to warn us all of ‘The danger of conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism’.

Still, I remained hopeful while reading the first few sentences.  Says Prof. Almond:
"I still remember the shock I felt when, at the age of 12, my teacher told me the word ‘joo’ I had just spoken, which I had thought to mean to lie or cheat, was actually ‘Jew’ and was anti-Semitic.  Throughout my British childhood, I had used that word casually and frequently, without ever knowing what it really meant."
Almond goes on to analyse the reasons for his childish mistake:
"I start with this example to make a simple point: anti-Semitism is so entrenched in our society, so depressingly persistent, that to trivialise it is to trivialise the blueprint of prejudice itself. It is a barometer of moral cowardice: when someone doesn’t want to take responsibility for their own faults or problems, they blame the Jews."
Prof. Almond is right to use the present tense in the sentence above: this is not ‘historic’, but contemporaneous antisemitism; the future Professor was 12 at the time (Jeremy Corbyn, by the way,  was 32), so that’s a mere 37 years ago.  We may wish to believe that one man’s character – say Brett Kavanaugh’s! – can change in that stretch of time; but deeply entrenched prejudice does not just disappear from an entire society in less than a generation.

Of course, things did change since the 1980s.  We are much more ‘politically-correct’ these days.  School children are less likely to refer to cheating as ‘jewing someone’; if they do, they will be told that they should not use the word in that sense.  But it’s not about a childish word – it’s about the societal prejudice it reveals.  The word may rarely be used with that meaning these days; but the prejudice is still there.  If you want proof, just surf Twitter.  Or listen to the many Labour Party supporters who seem to say that, when African Caribbeans, Muslims or Asians complain about racism, they have a point; but when Jews complain about antisemitism, there must be some dishonest motive behind it.

Prof. Almond’s childhood story is revealing – and his subsequent analysis is correct.  Too bad they are employed to excuse, rather than inform, the rest of his 'learned article'.

After declaring that “anti-Semitism is so entrenched in our society, so depressingly persistent, that to trivialise it is to trivialise the blueprint of prejudice itself”, Prof. Almond proceeds to do exactly that – trivialise it:
"There are definitely some voices who claim to support the Labour Party, and who allow their anti-Zionism to spill over mindlessly into anti-Semitism."
“There are […] some voices who claim…”???  Professor, don’t “some voices” include the very Leader of the Party, who rose to the defence of blood-libellers, conspiracy theorists and ‘artists’ who depict hooked-nosed ‘oppressors’?  Don’t “some voices” include ’illustrious’ members of the Party top brass (and good friends of the Leader), who implied that Jews conspired with their own genocidal persecutors?  Don’t they include a well-attended recent meeting at the Party Conference, where people chanted ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free’ – a call to pogrom on 6.5 million Israeli Jews?  Are these really“some voices who claim to support the Labour Party”???

But that’s not the only place where Prof. Almond’s argument lacks internal logic – not to mention moral clarity.  We are all, in fact, lucky that the good Professor teaches literature, rather than medical science; because – bluntly put – his diagnosis suffers from terminal idiocy, in view of the symptoms that he himself described in the previous paragraphs.

Indeed, Prof. Almond’s judgement of “some voices” is that “their anti-Zionism […] spill[s] over mindlessly into anti-Semitism”.  So anti-Zionism comes first and “some voices” are guilty only of taking it a bit too far.  But, since (as he himself explained) “anti-Semitism is so entrenched in our society, so depressingly persistent”, isn’t it much more likely that anti-Zionism is the outcome of that deeply entrenched prejudice?  Indeed, that it is just a new symptom of that entrenched disease?  If – God forbid – I suffered from “entrenched” and “depressingly persistent” lung cancer and developed a nasty cough – chances are it’s because of the cancer, not because I sang too loudly in church!

What ‘Costa’ means, of course, is 'the Zionists jew the Palestinians’.

Isn’t that “entrenched [… and] depressingly persistent” antisemitism a much more likely explanation for the visceral animus, unique in its nature and intensity, that “some voices” exhibit towards the Jewish state – and only towards the Jewish state?  Isn’t this why the oppression of Palestinians was so often and emotionally cited at the Labour Conference, while none of the ‘progressive’ leaders cared to mention the plight of Saudi women – those 51% of the country’s population that had to wait until 2018 (2018!) to be allowed to drive (by law, though still not in practice)?

Prof. Almond views as outrageous that
"The IHRA code considers any description of the Israeli State as a ‘racist’ institution to be anti-Semitic."
But – leaving aside the fact that his interpretation of “The IHRA code” is tendentious – which other state is called “a ‘racist’ institution”?  The Labour Party claims that Hungary’s current government is antisemitic and Islamophobic – yet it does not call Hungary “a ‘racist’ institution”.  Jeremy Corbyn politely frowned at Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya; yet he did not call the former British colony of Burma ‘a racist endeavour’ as a result.

But Prof. Almond appears convinced that Israel should be called a racist institution.  He explains why:
"[I]n 1948, three-quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs were forcibly evicted, with British backing, off their own land. To recognise this as racist, in the words of the IHRA code, would be ‘anti-semitic’."
That the “Palestinian Arabs were forcibly evicted, with British backing” would be shocking news to the 1948 British Mandate officials, as well as to the Jewish inhabitants of Kibbutz Ein Hamifratz, bombed by British artillery, apparently in order to ‘assist’ the Arab town of Acre.  But that’s by-the-by.

However, you know what?  Let’s be generous with Prof. Almond: let’s adopt his version of history – however specious.  Let’s assume that indeed the “Palestinian Arabs were forcibly evicted” – though the reality was considerably more complex than that; let’s ignore that that ‘eviction’ occurred in the midst of a civil war that soon morphed into a war of survival against attack by all neighbouring states; let’s even forget that the Arab side perpetrated their own ‘evictions’ – in fact more thorough ‘evictions,’ since no living Jew remained in the territory they even temporarily controlled.

But what I fail to understand, even after all those assumptions, is why and how is that ‘Jewish misbehaviour’ more terrible than dozens of other cases of ‘forced eviction’ that occurred elsewhere, both before and after the establishment of the State of Israel.  ‘Evictions’ that are very rarely – if ever – described as ‘racist’.

Immediately after the defeat of Nazi Germany, borders were re-drawn – and accounts settled.  The ethnic German population of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary (people that had lived there for centuries) was driven out.  So was the population of territories that had been part of Germany, but were now ‘given’ to the USSR and Poland.  In total, 14 million ethnic Germans were driven out of their homes and lands, with the agreement and connivance of the victorious powers.  Circa 1 million died in the process: some at the hands of local soldiers, policemen and civilian vigilantes; others, due to exposure and exhaustion; many died of starvation either before or after reaching war-ravaged Germany (or, rather, territories of the former German Reich, now occupied and governed by the Allies).  The 13 million survivors – and their descendants, accounting these days for almost a quarter of Germany’s population – were never allowed to return and were never granted any compensation.

Ethnic German refugees fleeing westwards 

Ethnic Germans were not the only population ‘evicted’ at the time: so were ethnic Poles living in Ukraine – many of whom were Soviet citizens.  Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians and Lemkos were forcibly expelled from Poland into the Soviet Union; and when the latter closed its border, the remaining Ukrainian and Lemkos villagers were forced to ‘resettle’ in the west of the country, in the former German provinces ‘transferred’ to Poland.  Conditions were harsh and human life was cheap – so many died or were killed on the way; molested women and girls had nobody to complain to: they typically picked up the small children or younger siblings and continued their journey – that is, whenever they and their families escaped being murdered out of sheer sadism and gratuitous brutality.  Those Ukrainians and Lemkos who survived this ‘resettlement’ ordeal were forcibly dispersed, with no regard to family and community ties; the Polish authorities forbade any expression of native language and culture, in a deliberate attempt to assimilate them into the prevalent Polish ethnicity.  (To those wishing to learn more of the terrible history of Europe in the immediate aftermath of World War II, I recommend Keith Lowe’s excellent book ‘Savage Continent’.)

All of the above (and much, much more) happened in what was by then peacetime.  The allied armies ruled in Berlin and over a subdued Europe.  Those 'evicted' did not pose any security risk to the remaining population.  In Czechoslovakia and Hungary, they did not even endanger the demographic supremacy of the majority population.  It can be argued, on the other hand, that this was the making of the new Poland: historically, Poland had been a geographic and demographic patchwork whose existence as an independent nation between the German and Russian ‘spheres of influence’ had been intermittent; the post-war bout of ruthless viciousness gave birth to a completely different country — a Poland with utterly changed borders and a demographic eerily uniform from an ethnic perspective.


The making of modern Poland: new borders and homogeneous ethnicity

Europe isn’t the only ‘savage continent’.  In 1947, even while the newly-formed United Nations was debating the fate of the Mandate of Palestine, an additional former 'British' territory was being partitioned: the former Jewel of the Crown – the British Raj.  Like most colonies, this was not a country – but an artificial contraption made up of numerous faiths and ethnicities, held together (but often also set against each other) by colonial interests.  There was, however, one major fault line, between the Hindu population and the Muslim one.  Both groaned under the British colonial yoke, but also resented and feared each other.  To ‘pacify’ the place long enough to wash its hands of it, the British government implemented a territorial partition into two states.  It was hardly a fair deal: the Hindu-majority state – India – incorporated the vast majority of industrial assets and agricultural land; it also ‘inherited’ most of the former colony’s financial reserves.  The Muslim-majority state – Pakistan – initially comprised just one fifth of the former colony (the Muslim population accounted in 1947 for circa 30%).  Even that consisted of two non-contiguous pieces of territory – West Pakistan and East Pakistan (later to become Bangladesh) – separated by 1,000 miles of Indian territory.

Nations may draw borders, but borders don’t create nations.  Despite the partition, inter-communal violence continued and intensified.  When all is said and done, circa 1 million people are estimated to have lost their life.  15 million were forced to leave their ancestral homes and lands and go into exile – never to return.

A convoy of refugees fleeing West Pakistan in 1947. 
Not even that was enough to defuse the tensions: India and Pakistan have since fought several wars and continue to face each other with relentless suspicion and barely contained hostility.  Since both are armed to the teeth – including nuclear arsenals – this remains a potential source of catastrophic conflagration.

Pakistan officially calls itself an Islamic Republic (Article 1 of the Constitution) – and is recognised under that name by the United Kingdom.  Article 2 proclaims:
"Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan."
Yet I have yet to hear protests from Prof. Almond or from other Corbynites.  Why aren’t they worried about the impact of such constitutional arrangements upon the status of Pakistan’s non-Muslim minorities (Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, etc.)?  And by the way, the official languages of Pakistan are Urdu and English, despite the fact that Punjabi is the native tongue for more than 40% of the population.

As for India, the Muslim minority in the predominantly Hindu country has long complained of discrimination – and independent reports tend to support those claims.  If anything, complaints of oppression and marginalisation have intensified under Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

I would assume that Prof. Almond is familiar with the birth of India and Pakistan – after all he claims Post-Colonial Studies as one of his specialisms.  Unless the good Professor is one of those ‘progressives’ for whom the study of post-colonialism always boils down to one small country in the Middle East…

Despite Prof. Almond’s protestations, the Labour Party did adopt the IHRA Definition – after numerous subterfuges and under huge public pressure.  But Jeremy Corbyn attempted to ‘supplement it’ (read: subvert it) with a proviso ‘protecting’ those who regard
"the circumstances around [Israel’s] foundation as racist."
But why?  How were those “circumstances” different from those that led to the formation of Pakistan?  Or of India?  Or of modern-day Poland?  Or of Croatia – the latest addition to the European Union – the “circumstances”of whose “foundation” included the ethnic cleansing of circa 400,000 Serbs?  Why is it that Corbyn and his supporters never call those countries ‘racist endeavours’?

The list of unpleasant “circumstances”, of course, is not limited to the countries mentioned above.  In fact, such “circumstances” are the rule, rather than the exception: more often than not, countries are born in conflict and strife; frequently, that strife includes numerous deaths, injuries, displacement and suffering of innocents.  That is (to use a British understatement) very unfortunate; but unusual it ain’t.  What's unusual – unique actually! – is the attempt to deny a country its legitimacy in the present and its existence in the future, because of “circumstances” in its past.  What's uncommon – extraordinary actually! – is calling an entire country ‘a racist institution’.  Hey, what an astonishing coincidence: the state subjected to this type of unique and extraordinary assault just ‘happens’ to be the Jewish state!  Surprising, 'innit?? (Note the attempt at English irony!)

No, Prof. Almond: I am not worried about “conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism”: they are one and the same.  You must have learned the wrong lesson from your childhood experience: singling Jews out for 'special attention' is just as wrong, even when you use politically-correct words.  Dear Professor of World Literature, antisemitism is not a matter of vocabulary; it’s not the words you utter – it’s the prejudice you harbour.  You see, the “IHRA code” is more than just a definition.  It’s a test – and you failed.


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Corbyn: end of truce

Hardly a week goes by without a new revelation regarding Jeremy Corbyn’s very questionable past exploding in the news.  His current antisemitism-related actions are – shall we say – hardly redeeming (I’m trying to learn English irony – you see…)

It is therefore understandable that Corbyn and his immediate clique attract most of British Jews’ outrage and anger.

Yet in the heat of that anger, we might forget that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition by a large majority of (the now half-a-million-strong) Labour Party membership.  That membership proceeded to re-elect him – with an even larger majority – after the antisemitism issue had hit the front pages.  What’s more, all the revelations alluded to above did not seem to hurt Mr. Corbyn’s popularity too much: current opinion polls place him as a strong contender to the post of Prime Minister.

And it’s not just that.  During a (by now famous) meeting of the Labour Party brass, National Executive Committee member Peter Willsman dismissed accusations of antisemitism as malicious fabrications by “Jewish Trump fanatics”.  This elephant-in-china-shop moment caused even the hard-core Momentum party-within-a-party to drop Willsman from their list of ‘endorsed candidates’ for election to the NEC.  And yet, Peter Willsman got elected to Labour’s top forum; more than 70,000 Party members voted for Mr. Willsman despite (or perhaps thanks to?) his outburst.  For comparison, the most popular candidate (Yasmine Dar) got elected with 88,000 votes.

The conclusion is, I’m afraid, inescapable: Jeremy Corbyn did not ‘create’ the antisemitism that we witness – on- and off-line – in 2018 United Kingdom.  In fact, the opposite is true: Corbyn was catapulted to the top on (among other things) a wave of ‘anti-Zionism’ fuelled by antisemitic prejudice.

That antisemitic prejudice (revealed also in a recent survey) has been lurking under the surface.  Albeit weighted down by a ballast of  British reserve, fear and political correctness, the prejudice was there all along.


According to ‘Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel’ (September 2017); published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a London-based independent research organisation, consultancy and think-tank.


That does not exonerate Corbyn and his junta.  True, these ‘socialists’ did not invent antisemitism – nor did the national socialists in the 1920s.  But they rode the wave of antisemitic prejudice, some even whipped it on; even worse, they legitimised it – they turned latent antisemitism into an overt, brazen, self-righteous, mainstream, ‘socially-acceptable’ phenomenon.

One of the 'contributions' that the Corbynistas brought to the debate: it's fine to express prejudice, as long as you say 'Zionists'.


I’m sorry if this sounds disheartening to some.  But we need to recognise that this is not just a battle against Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Seamus Milne.  No, this is part of a never-ending war – one that antisemites have been waging for centuries, long before their hatred had a name.  In recent decades, most British Jews have had little personal experience of antisemitism.  But that, my friends, was not peace; in history’s big picture, it was just a short-lived truce...


Saturday, 4 August 2018

Is Corbyn an antisemite?

I’m only stating the obvious: freedom of speech is arguably the very basis of democracy. The right to speak one’s mind freely is a fundamental human right.

Sounds like a cliché, doesn’t it?  That’s because these concepts are so often used, misused and abused in modern political discourse.  We are so often bashed on the head with the term ‘human rights’ (often by dictators for whom the term has no real meaning) that we’ve come to accept it without question.  In fact, not everything we feel entitled to do is a ‘human right’; and even when it is, that does not mean that such right is unconstrained.

Our unquestioned human right ends where it impinges on another human right.  At that point, the two clashing rights need to be balanced; which is just another way of saying they need to be curtailed.

Freedom of speech is no different.  A fundamental right it may be, but it is far from absolute.  In fact, it is strictly curtailed, even in a democracy.  Because words have consequences.  In fact, words can kill.  The Talmud sages put that observation in a statement that loosely translates as
"Life and death by the power of the tongue."
In modern political thought, the textbook example is shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre.  That ‘freedom’ is prohibited, because the ensuing stampede impinges on the right to live – and to live free of bodily harm.  For the same reason, incitement to violence (and not just the violence itself) is proscribed.

But the line is not drawn at bodily harm.  UK statutes outlaw speech that stirs up racial hatred (the so-called ‘hate speech’), even when the words did not actually result in violence.  That’s in recognition of the fact that not just people’s body needs to be protected, but also their spirit and dignity.  This is also why the UK has laws against defamation.

In both cases (hate speech and defamation), the law does not require proof of intent.  It is not concerned with the motivations behind the act, but with its (potential) consequences.

***
Having established that, let us now go to the (by now famous) fact that the UK Labour Party, while ostensibly agreeing with the Definition of Antisemitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), has deliberately not adopted the part which describes as antisemitic
"Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis."
Instead, Labour’s ruling body (the National Executive Committee – NEC) has introduced in its Code of Conduct the following statement:
"Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct.  It is not antisemitism to criticise the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent.  Chakrabarti [inquiry into antisemitism] recommended that Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.  In this sensitive area, such language carries a strong risk of being regarded as prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party within Clause 2.I.8."
Contrary to what some Party spokespersons claim, the Labour Code of Conduct’s statement does not ‘expand’ the Definition – at least not in this respect; in fact, it clearly contradicts the Definition: where the IHRA Definition declares the Israeli-Nazi analogy a [c]ontemporary example of antisemitism in public life”, the Code of Conduct says that[i]t is not antisemitism […] unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent”.  That’s not saying much: surely anything is antisemitism if there is evidence of antisemitic intent.  But I struggle to understand what such evidence would be and how it could be obtained.  And why would the Labour Code suddenly become concerned with intent, rather than the consequences of the act?

So, is the Israel-Nazi analogy (or “metaphor”, as the Code of Conduct so poetically calls it) antisemitism, or is it not?

To avoid being accused of circular logic, I will deliberately not rely on the IHRA Definition.  Instead, I will use a definition of antisemitism proclaimed not by a supporter, but by a critic of the IHRA Definition. Former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Sedley defined antisemitism as follows:
"Shorn of philosophical and political refinements, anti-Semitism is hostility towards Jews as Jews. Where it manifests itself in discriminatory acts or inflammatory speech it is generally illegal, lying beyond the bounds of freedom of speech and of action."
Sedley, who is currently a Visiting Professor at Oxford University, is right to distinguish between immoral prejudice (“hostility”) and illegal acts, such as discrimination and hate speech.  But the fact that the former is allowed by law (i.e. it is within “the bounds of freedom of speech”) does not mean that it is acceptable.  Antisemitism is racism; profoundly immoral and therefore abhorrent.  If I were to use the ‘n-word’, I would not be imprisoned; but I would rightly be called a racist by every person of good character.

Neither the IHRA Definition, nor the Labour Code of Conduct deal with criminal offences; they are concerned with ethics, not law.

On the other hand, it is clear that in Professor Sedley’s view, discrimination and hate speech (whether they reach the legal threshold or not) are manifestations of antisemitism.  And therefore, they are in themselves evidence of antisemitism.

Those who insist that drawing the analogy is not antisemitic do so based on the assertion that Israel does similar things to those perpetrated by the Nazis.  For instance, Israel ‘occupies’ – and so did the Nazis; Israel ‘kills’ – and so did the Nazis; Israel ‘discriminates’, Israel ‘ethnically cleanses’, etc.

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn compared the Israeli blockade of Gaza Strip with the Nazi sieges of Stalingrad and Leningrad, which killed millions of people.

Let us move away from the debate of whether Israel actually does those things and whether some or all of them are justified in the circumstances.  Such debate would not only be endless, but also irrelevant.  Personally, I do believe that many of the accusations against Israel are at best distortions and at worst amount to hate speech.  However, that’s not my point here; my point is that, even if everything that Corbyn claims Israel does were true, the Nazi analogy would still constitute antisemitism – because it is employed in an incendiary and discriminatory fashion.

Because what is clear is that Israel is hardly the only country that perpetrates those things.  There are many territories that are ‘occupied’; more Palestinians have been killed by other Arabs than by Israel; extensive ethnical cleansing occurred in ex-Yugoslavia, Cyprus and in many other conflicts, etc.  Not one thing that Israel did and does is really unique; similar (and much worse) acts have been committed by other nations.

Yet the Nazi analogy is almost never employed in relation to other nations.  EU member state Croatia has an incontestable history of collaboration with the Nazi regime that far exceeds even Ken Livingston’s most outrageous accusations against ‘the Zionists’.  The establishment of modern Croatia involved war and the forced expulsion or flight of most of the Serbian population of that territory.  Yet Croatia is not accused of ‘behaving like the Nazis’ – not by Corbyn and not with his support, anyway.

In practice, Israel is the only entity against which that particular analogy is so often and so vigorously deployed.  It is hardly ever used with regard to Assad (who has butchered hundreds of thousands of people, including using chemical and incendiary weapons); or even with regard to Islamic State – a supremacist ‘Caliphate’ with global ambitions, guilty of exterminating entire populations.

Whatever one chooses to accuse Israel of ‘committing’ – the fact of discrimination remains: Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are more exercised about Israel than about any other topic in international politics – bar none; and the Nazi analogy is the obvious expression of that unparalleled hostility.

Why Nazis, though?  Of course, Nazis are themselves a “metaphor” of ultimate evil.  But it’s more than that.  It is not by chance that the event that Jeremy Corbyn facilitated in 2010 in the Houses of Parliament took place on Holocaust Memorial Day; it is not by chance that Jeremy Corbyn and his best mate John McDonnell also wanted to take out the term ‘Holocaust’ from the ‘Holocaust Memorial Day’.  This is not ‘just’ about the Nazis in 1930s – it’s of course about the Holocaust.  The Israel-Nazi analogy is employed not despite, but because Jews were the Nazis’ quintessential victims.  Israelis are compared to Nazis because they are Jews.

This has two subliminal motivations:

Firstly, for antisemites, the Holocaust has always been the ultimate reproach, the pointing finger exclaiming ‘this is what you did!’ and causing some nagging feelings of guilt.  The Israel-Nazi analogy is an attempt to push back against that guilt.  If Jews (or at least ‘some Jews’) can be shown to be ‘just like the Nazis’, then there is less of a reason to feel bad for harbouring feelings of hostility against them.

Secondly, the accusation of ‘behaving just like Nazis’ is likely to be more painful for Jews than for anyone else.  Being called a Nazi is a grave insult for any normal person; but for Jews, who lost a third of their number to Nazi crimes, it is devastating.  Arguably no other accusation can be equally shocking for a Jew.  Those who use that particular analogy do so knowing that it causes the ultimate, most unbearable type of pain and distress.

***

Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite; the Labour Party – with its current membership – is riddled with antisemites, including at its highest levels; the Code of Conduct condones antisemitic prejudice, even while paying lip service to anti-racism.

But it’s more than that: the Israel-Nazi analogy is not ‘just’ antisemitism; it is in fact Holocaust inversion – the ultimate, most pernicious form of Holocaust denial.  It does not deny that the Holocaust actually happened; but, by pretending that the victims can just as well be the perpetrators, it robs it of any moral significance; it kicks the Holocaust into the swamp of moral relativism, there to sink among other ordinary (and debatable) historical episodes.  Changing the name of the Memorial Day is part of the same pattern: the Holocaust thus becomes just a (non-particular) genocide in an ocean of genocides.

Jackie Walker (a devoted Corbyn friend and supporter)
claims that the Jews were responsible for the
Atlantic slave trade and for the ‘African holocaust’.
All this is not ‘just’ an attack on Israel, or an assault on Jews’ connection to the Jewish state; it is not even an ‘intellectual’ pogrom à la Bruno Bauer or Karl Marx.  No, it’s more than that: it is an attack on what it means to be Jewish in the 21 century; an onslaught upon the very soul of the Jewish people.

 
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