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.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Israel’s Nation State Law: drink driving vs. sober analysis

Recently, the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) has adopted a piece of legislation entitled ‘Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People’.  Pretty much everything that happens in Israel can be described as ‘controversial’ if one follows traditional news outlets (let alone the social media).  But this new law is certainly even more ‘controversial’ than usual.  It has been criticised by many in Israel and by most Jewish organisations in the Diaspora.  Others, of course, have defended it.
There are three main ‘strains’ of criticism: the first basically accuses the Israeli legislators of unnecessarily ‘rocking the boat’.  Indeed, despite the brouhaha, the new law does not ‘do’ anything; it has no practical effect, it does not change the reality on the ground one iota.
A second type of criticism is that the law is poorly designed and drafted: it includes superfluous articles, while leaving out important principles.
I confess that I feel a lot of sympathy towards both these criticisms.  But then there is a third category – those who claim that the law is terribly wrong, even utterly evil.  The degree of ‘wrong’ varies between ‘incompatible with democratic principles’ and ‘profoundly racist’ – depending mainly on the critic’s own ideological inclinations.
Confronted with this new development in Israel, most commentators did what they always do – they quoted other pundits.  I’m otherwise inclined – rather than playing the pointless ‘X said/Y said’ game, I suggest taking a look at the actual text and analysing it, article by article.  Tedious – I know; but also meaningful.  Those who have no patience for such things are invited to let journalists tell them what they should see and think.
If you are still with me, let’s see what we have:
1a. The Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
This is only controversial among Israel’s enemies.  It’s also hardly new: Israel’s Declaration of Independence famously stated:
The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.
 The League of Nations Mandate also declared
[R]ecognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country;
Let’s move on:
1b. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfils its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.
This is nothing else than ‘Zionism in a nutshell’.
The next article is much more controversial:
1c. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
I’ve heard a lot of criticism that points (without actually quoting it) to this particular article.  What I haven’t heard is a counter-proposal.  If we’re not saying that, what are we saying?
Are we saying that the Palestinian people also “has the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel”?  One can say that, if one is so disposed – but one cannot say that and militate for the two-state solution.  If the Palestinian people can exercise self-determination in Israel, then what’s the point of a Palestinian state?
Are we then saying that anyone who’s an Israeli citizen “has the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel”?  Again, one can say that – but how then is Israel “the national home of the Jewish people”?  How does one justify the Law of Return, which gives any member of the Jewish people (but not to non-Jews) the almost unconditional right to become an Israeli citizen?  How does one justify the Jewish character of the state – the flag, the symbols, the holidays, etc.?
Let me quote again from the League of Nations Mandate:
the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
It seems rather obvious: the League recognises that the ‘national rights’ belong to the Jewish people; when it comes to “the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, it sees only “civil and religious [but not national]rights”.
This is further strengthened in Article 4 of the Mandate:
An appropriate Jewish agency shall be recognised as a public body for the purpose of advising and co-operating with the Administration of Palestine in such economic, social and other matters as may affect the establishment of the Jewish national home and the interests of the Jewish population in Palestine, and, subject always to the control of the Administration to assist and take part in the development of the country.
… and Article 7:
The Administration of Palestine shall be responsible for enacting a nationality law. There shall be included in this law provisions framed so as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up their permanent residence in Palestine.
No equivalent provisions were envisaged for the non-Jewish communities.
Nor was that view abandoned with the dissolution of the League of Nations and its replacement by the United Nations.  UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II)/29 Nov. 1948 called for the establishment of two states and it referred to them as “the Jewish state” and “the Arab state” – although both states were to include minorities belonging to the other ethnicity.  In each state, the Resolution called for:
Guaranteeing to all persons equal and non-discriminatory rights in civil, political, economic and religious matters and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion, language, speech and publication, education, assembly and association;
Again, the reference is to “civil, political, economic and religious [rights] […] and fundamental freedoms”, but not to ‘national rights’, or ‘national self-determination’.  To the authors of the Resolution, it seemed obvious that the ‘national’ rights in the Jewish state belonged to Jews – why else would they define it as “the Jewish state”?
Finally, Israel’s Declaration of Independence proclaimed
the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.
The Declaration also states:
The State of Israel […] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture;
Just like the previous documents, the Declaration differentiates between on one hand ‘national rights’ (which it assigns to the Jewish people); and on the other hand other individual and collective rights, as well as basic freedoms, which are to be enjoyed by all inhabitants of the State, without discrimination.
Still, to people coming from a certain ideological environment, all this does not sound right.  In a recent Jewish Chronicle article, Jonathan Freedland fulminates:
Israel has explicitly granted collective rights to one group of citizens and denied them to another.
The article implies that this is inherently racist; it even hints that Israel may now be accused of apartheid – with more justification than before.  The author then goes on to claim that Israel is no longer a democratic country:
Those used to shouting that ‘Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East’ will need to find another slogan — because this is not how democracies behave.
Except that Freedland’s own country recognises Christmas and Easter as official state holidays (‘bank’ holidays).  Neither Rosh Hashanah, nor Eid-El-Fittr (or indeed Diwali, the Chinese New Year, etc.) enjoy that status.  The Christian cross (but not the Star of David or the Islamic Crescent) features on the national flag.   The Church of England is UK’s Established Church and no other faith has that status; the Head of State is also the Head of the Church, etc.  It would seem that – on some level at least – the UK has “granted collective rights to one group of citizens and denied them to another.”
UK does not have a constitution, so that ‘granting’ is done in practice.  But other countries do it explicitly – in fact at least as explicitly as Israel did.
Let’s have a look, for instance, at the Slovak Constitution.  Its Preamble proclaims:
We, the Slovak nation, mindful of the political and cultural heritage of our forebears, and of the centuries of experience from the struggle for national existence and our own statehood, in the sense of the spiritual heritage of Cyril and Methodius and the historical legacy of the Great Moravian Empire, proceeding from the natural right of nations to self-determination, together with members of national minorities and ethnic groups living on the territory of the Slovak Republic, in the interest of lasting peaceful cooperation with other democratic states, seeking the application of the democratic form of government and the guarantees of a free life and the development of spiritual culture and economic prosperity, that is, we, citizens of the Slovak Republic, adopt through our representatives the following Constitution.
Note that the Preamble postulates a “Slovak nation” acting “together with members of national minorities and ethnic groups”.  The term “together with”unites, but also divides.  It clearly says that “members of national minorities and ethnic groups” are not part of the “the Slovak nation”, though they arepart of the citizenry of the Slovak Republic.  In fact, the Preamble establishes two kinds of “we” – two collectives:
  • “We, the Slovak nation”, and
  • “we, citizens of the Slovak Republic”.
The equation it draws is: “We, the Slovak nation” + “national minorities and ethnic groups” = “we, citizens of the Slovak Republic”
How is this fundamentally different from ‘Jewish people’ and ‘Israeli citizens’?
Crucially, the Slovak Constitution talks about “the natural right of nations to self-determination” – a discussion included in the “Slovak nation” term of the equation and not in the ‘minorities/citizenry’ one.
This is not mere semantics.  Slovakia is home (but obviously not ‘national home’) to a sizable – circa 10% –  ethnic Magyar (Hungarian) minority, which has lived in the country for many centuries.
Demographics of Slovakia: the yellow areas have majority Magyar population.
Yet the Preamble to the Slovak Constitution is designed in ethnic terms.  References to “the spiritual heritage of Cyril and Methodius and the historical legacy of the Great Moravian Empire” are no doubt very meaningful to the (West-Slavic) “Slovak nation”; but the (non-Slavic) Magyar minority may find it hard to identify with such symbols of Slavic character.  In fact, they may be decidedly underwhelmed by “the historical legacy of the Great Moravian Empire” (830-907 CE) and prefer to remember the Kingdom of Hungary, which – from circa 1000 CE until after World War I – included the territory of modern-day Slovakia.
The Slovak Constitution is not some outdated document, preserved merely by tradition: it was adopted in 1992.
Has Jonathan Freedland read the Slovak Constitution?  Would he say that it “has explicitly granted collective rights to one group of citizens and denied them to another”?  Would he say that it justifies claims of ‘apartheid’?
Yet Slovakia acceded to the European Union in 2004.  The accession process involves punctilious verification that the country fulfils the Accession Criteria, the first of which is:
political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
The European Union has judged Slovakia (with the Constitution I quoted from above) to fulfil the criterion above.

But let us return to the Israeli Nation State Law.  Paragraph 3 says:
3. The capital of the state: Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.
In the case of Israel (and only in the case of Israel!) this is seen by many as controversial.  But it isn’t new: it is nothing but ‘copy and paste’ from another Israeli law – ‘Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel’, adopted in 1980!  Paragraph 1 of that law states:
Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.
Another controversial provision of the Nation Law states:
4a. The state’s language is Hebrew.
4b. The Arabic language has a special status in the state; Regulating the use of Arabic in state institutions or by them will be set in law.
4c. This clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.
The BBC claims that the
so-called Jewish nation state bill […] downgrades Arabic from official language status
Except that Arabic has never been an official language in the State of Israel.  It has been (along with Hebrew and English) an official language in the British Mandate of Palestine.  While the State of Israel never declared Arabic (or English) an official language, it did enshrine in its laws and regulations the obligation of state institutions to provide services in Arabic, as well as Hebrew.  Articles 4b and 4c of the new law in effect guarantee the continuation of that obligation.
But is that (to borrow Jonathan Freedland’s expression) “how democracies behave”?  Let’s start with Jonny’s own country: it may surprise him to learn that the official language of the United Kingdom is English and… English.  Of course, the UK government provides services in Welsh (and occasionally in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali, etc.) – but these are not official languages in the UK.
The official language of Sweden is Swedish, notwithstanding the fact that a sizable proportion of Sweden’s population has Finnish as their mother tongue.
When it comes to language, Slovakia is infinitely harsher than Israel: a 2009 amendment to the ‘Language Law’ not only establishes Slovak as the only ‘state language’ throughout the country’s territory, but severely restricts the use of Hungarian – even among ethnic Magyars.
According to EU Observer:
The Law […] seeks to regulate any and all meetings, gatherings, associations and other forms of communication by insisting on the parallel use of the ‘state language’, Slovak, whenever and wherever members of the minority get together in public, and ‘public’ is very broadly defined. Thus, if a group of Hungarian-speakers establish a literary circle, say, their proceedings would have to have a parallel Slovak translation, whether anyone actually needed this or not.  Minority-language schools are obliged to run their administration and documentation in Slovak and the same applies to the health service. The armed forces, the police and the fire service are to be monolingually Slovak. This last, by way of example, creates interesting scenarios – thus in a Hungarian-speaking area, the firemen are very likely to be all Hungarian-speakers, but when putting out a fire, they must speak Slovak to each other and also, of course, to the owner of the house where the fire is.
Violating the Slovak Language Law is punishable by a fine of EUR 5,000 (equivalent to 5-6 months’ average wages in Slovakia).

But let’s go back to Israel’s newly adopted Nation State Law:
2a. The name of the state is ‘Israel.’
2b. The state flag is white with two blue stripes near the edges and a blue Star of David in the center.
2c. The state emblem is a seven-branched menorah with olive leaves on both sides and the word “Israel” beneath it.
2d. The state anthem is “Hatikvah.”
Details regarding state symbols will be determined by the law.

Jonathan Freedland might see these provisions as less controversial.  He would be wrong again, however.  It’s in the eye of the beholder, apparently.
Adalah is a foreign-funded Israeli Arab organisation which set as its mission
to promote human rights in Israel in general and the rights of the Palestinian minority, citizens of Israel, in particular.
Among other projects, Adalah compiled a database of Israeli ‘racist laws’ – laws that, in the organisation’s view, discriminate against the Arab minority.  This includes, for instance, the Flag and Emblem Law (adopted by the Knesset in 1949).  Adalah explains that the law
Adopts the flag of the First Zionist Congress and the Zionist Movement [which Adalah considers a colonial enterprise], a combination of a prayer shawl and the Shield of David, as the official flag of Israel.  The emblem of the State of Israel is a candelabrum, one of the symbols of the Temple era in Jewish history.
The Constitution of (EU member) Malta proclaims in Chapter 2: “The religion of Malta is the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion. […] Religious teaching of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Faith shall be provided in all State schools as part of compulsory education.”
 Back to the Nation State Law:
5. Ingathering of the exiles: The state will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles
6. Connection to the Jewish people
6a. The state will strive to ensure the safety of the members of the Jewish people in trouble or in captivity due to the fact of their Jewishness or their citizenship.
6b. The state shall act within the Diaspora to strengthen the affinity between the state and members of the Jewish people.
6c. The state shall act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious heritage of the Jewish people among Jews in the Diaspora.
Jonathan Freedland appears to object less to these provisions.  Frankly, I can’t understand why.  If Israel is the embodiment of the Jewish right of self-determination, then they are easy to understand as expressions of that right; but if Israel embodies the right of self-determination of its Arab (or Palestinian Arab) citizens, then how does Freedland justify them?  Surely, that position should imply that Israel is obligated to rise to the defence of Palestinian besieged in the Yarmouk refugee camp – just as it would do if Yarmouk’s inhabitants were Jewish?  And why should the state “be open for Jewish immigration”, but not for Palestinian Arab immigration (or indeed for the ‘return’ of Palestinian refugees and their descendants)?  Freedland’s (unstated, but implied) views necessarily lead to the position of Adalah, which postulates that Israel’s preferential immigration law is discriminatory and racist.
7. Jewish settlement: The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.
Here, a tedious linguistic explanation is necessary: the English word 'settlement' is likely to be misinterpreted, because it’s been intensively used (and abused) in relation to Israeli towns and villages beyond the Green Line.  But that would be a mistranslation.  The Hebrew word for ‘settling beyond the Green Line’ is ‘hitnahalut’.  But the law talks about “hityiashvut” – which is the word used for Jewish settlement before the establishment of the State (the term Yishuv – used to refer to the Jewish community in the British Mandate of Palestine – comes from the same root).  So no – this has nothing to do with the ‘illegal settlements’.
In fact, this paragraph of the law mimics the language of the League of Nations mandate, which called on the Administration of Palestine to “encourage […] close settlement by Jews on the land”.
Back to the Nation Law again:
8. Official calendar: The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state and alongside it the Gregorian calendar will be used as an official calendar. Use of the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar will be determined by law.
9. Independence Day and memorial days
9a. Independence Day is the official national holiday of the state.
9b. Memorial Day for the Fallen in Israel’s Wars and Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day are official memorial days of the State.
10. Days of rest and Sabbath: The Sabbath and the festivals of Israel are the established days of rest in the state; Non-Jews have a right to maintain days of rest on their Sabbaths and festivals; Details of this issue will be determined by law.

These paragraphs sketch the Jewish character of the state.  Once more, they might look less controversial to Jonathan Freedland – but these aspects are listed in Adalah’s database of ‘discriminatory laws in Israel’.
The national anthem of Cyprus praises the “Greeks of old”. Which might not impress the country’s ethnic Turkish citizens. 
Finally:
11. Immutability: This Basic Law shall not be amended, unless by another Basic Law passed by a majority of Knesset members.
Which says that the Nation State Law can only be amended by another Basic Law – and not by ‘just any old law’.
***
When all is said and done, the crux of the matter remains paragraph 1c, which makes “national self-determination in the State of Israel” a unique prerogative of the Jewish people.
Jonathan Freedland believes that this is inherently undemocratic and racist; that it turns Arab Israelis into ‘second-class citizens’.
As I’ve shown, if this is true of Arab Israelis, it is also true of Slovak Magyars and other minorities.  But is it?  Well, it depends on the ideology one chooses to subscribe to.  More precisely, it depends on where one chooses to position oneself on the universalism-vs.-particularism scale (I’ve touched briefly on this subject here).
For extreme universalists, states (viewed at best as a temporary and necessary evil) exist as artificial constructs, aimed at placing barriers between people.  For extreme particularists, they are exclusive ethnic fortresses, to be fiercely defended against any foreign trespassers.  In-between, however, there is a wide range of legitimate opinions.
Sadly, in Jonathan Freedland’s world, there is but one ‘good’ opinion (indeed, just one legitimate world view) – the one he subscribes to.  Anyone who dares disagree is automatically placed outside what David Hirsch calls ‘the community of the Good’; s/he is racist, undemocratic, etc.  Well, I’m afraid, Jonny dear, that this in itself smacks of intolerance and bigotry.
I resent ethnic exclusivism and despise ethnic supremacism; but I also view the state as repository of a people’s historical and cultural heritage, a ‘safe space’ for a particular flavour of humanity to develop and grow.  Complemented and enriched by others – yes; overwhelmed by others – no.
In its most profound sense, ‘national self-determination’ means the right of a people to impart to their state its distinct, unique, ‘national’ character.  It’s about flavour and texture Jonny – not power and subjugation.
I strongly believe that Arab Israelis should have equal political, civil, economic and social rights, as well as personal and collective freedoms.  They should be free to use their own language, to develop, enjoy and pass on to future generations their own culture.  Israel is their home – in every sense but one.  Physically, politically, legally, economically and socially Arab Israelis fully ‘belong’ in the State of Israel – just like Slovak Magyars ‘belong’ in Slovakia.  But we also need to understand that Arab Israelis will always look to the Arab world (and – one day if they so desire – to a Palestinian Arab state) as their cultural and ‘national’ home.  Just like Slovak Magyars will look to Hungary; just like Swedish Finns look to Finland; and – dare I say – just like British Jews look to Israel.  There is nothing wrong with that; nothing untoward or illegitimate.  That makes them neither a ‘fifth column’, nor ‘second class citizens’.
These are my views.  Jonathan Freeland is, of course, welcome to his opinions – as long as they are logical and consistent.  But there is a huge internal contradiction in his world view: even while railing against Israel’s Nation Law, Mr. Freedland is asking the UK Labour Party to adopt in full the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism.  Jonathan objects to the fact that Labour has excluded from their Code of Conduct some of the examples of antisemitism – including
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavo[u]r.
But if Jonathan claims that the right of self-determination of Palestinian citizens of Israel should be satisfied in Israel, then it follows that the right of self-determination of British Jews should be satisfied in Britain (and that of Russian Jews in Russia, etc.)  How, then, does Jonathan Freedland justify his other claim, that the right of self-determination of Jews is embodied by the State of Israel and that denying that right (i.e. denying Israel’s right to exist as the State of the Jews) is an antisemitic prejudice?  And how does he justify his demand for a separate Palestinian state?
Ideology is like alcohol: it affects people’s ability to think straight and constrains their peripheral vision.  One should neither drive a car, nor write a political article while ‘under the influence’!
 
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