Friday, 29 January 2010

An unusual broadcast from Haiti

No one does satire quite like the Israelis... See this sketch on the PR element of Israel's Haiti efforts from Israeli show 'Eretz Nehederet' (a wonderful land).

H/t Shalom Rav

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

An Arab MK visits Auschwitz

Call me naive, but I think it's a good thing.

Mohammed Barakeh, an Arab MK, is attending a commemoration at Aushwitz tomorrow as part of a delegation from Israel. (see here). He's received attacks for doing so from both Arabs and Jews.

The Lebanese Daily Star explains that some Arabs attack him, and those like him who commemerate the tragedy of the holocaust, for political reasons, along these lines:

why help the Israelis and Jews with such an issue when Palestinians and Arabs are being displaced and oppressed on a daily basis by the Israeli state?
Jewish attacks, meanwhile, have tended to focus on his intention to criticize Israel's policies towards the Palestinians while in Poland. To do so, they argue, is to exploit the memory of the suffering of the victims of the holocaust; and I would agree.

(This kind of exploitation, however, is nothing new; Israeli officials have done it too. Abba Eban, for example, spoke of Israel's borders as being 'auschwitz lines', while more recently Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, exploited the memory of the holocaust as a means to delegitimize the Goldstone report, as I discussed in the last paragraph of my post here.)

But the important question is whether the good of Barakeh's visit will outweigh the bad of his exploiting it by using the publicity it will generate to attack Israel. I'm going to go for a yes: by visiting Auschwitz he makes it easier for other Arabs to commemerate the holocaust without fearing vilification along the lines quoted above. Moreover, it should help to foster a climate of reducing the politicization of acknowledging the suffering experienced by 'the other side' in the Israel/Arab conflict, and that can only be a good thing for peace.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The Jewish vote in British Politics

In his Jewish chronicle column this week, Geoffrey Alderman discusses the Jewish vote in British politics: where (and if) it matters, which MPs it may effect, and evidence that at least one MP takes it seriously. Given his history of research on the Jewish community in British Politics (from which I'll be drawing on later in this post) when Alderman writes on these subjects the chances are he's on to something.

The main points:

  • Of the ten constituencies with the highest Jewish population, no less than 7 are currntly held by Labour.
  • Jewish voters are unlikely to swing the vote either way in five of those constituencies, either because they are too marginal (too likely to swing Tory) or too safe.
  • That leaves Harrow East and Hendon. Both these seats would fall to the Conservatives on swings of between 3.0 and 3.8 per cent.
  • In both cases, a Jewish sympathy vote for the incumbent MP could — just conceivably — save the seats for Labour

Some thoughts...

I live in one of the two Jewish-vote-significant constituencies (Hendon). My MP, Andrew Dismore, has certainly tried to appeal to his Jewish constituents. (See the clip below for example, when he used Prime Minister's questions to ask the Prime Minister to wish the Jewish community a happy chanukah.)

But I wonder: how large a factor does the 'Jewishness' of a voter play in their voting decisions? Ignoring class, income, age and other factors, how much of a 'Jewish' effect is there on a Jewish voter's decisions? My guess is not a great deal.

Beyond a strong anti-Israel stance, a desire to ban kosher slaughter, and an opposition to faith schools, I can't think of any other position a parliamentary candidate could take that would be likely to swing many Jewish voters against them for specifically Jewish-related reasons (can you?) Given the fact that in Hendon both Labour and Tory candidate alike will almost certainly take the same positions on these issues, I can't see voters choosing one way or the other out of any specifically Jewish consideration.

The historical context
How have the Jews voted in the past and why? Could this offer any clues as to how they will vote? (I don't think so, by the way, but it's fun to write about anyway...)

In 1867 the Jewish chronicle editorial claimed:
"The Jew feels instinctively that, politically, he is nothing if not a liberal"

This is unsurprising: Jews had been allowed to take a seat in parliament for only since the previous decade, and it was thanks to the Liberal party that they could. The conservatives had opposed changing the rules to allow Jewish MPs to take their seats without swearing a Christian Oath. No wonder the Liberals were the party of the Jews.

Fast forward 25 years and the situation was altogether different. The Chief Rabbi, Hermann Adler, was politically Conservative. So too was D.W. Marks, Minister at West London Reform Synagogue. British Jews, it seemed, no longer were 'instinctively... liberal'.

The reason for the change is twofold.

First, memories are short. As time went on Jewish voters stopped caring about the fact that the Conservatives had previously blocked the entry of Jewish parliamentarians (indeed, very soon after Rothschild took his seat the Conservatives got a couple of Jewish MPs of their own).

Second, the anti-Jewish pograms in the Russian Pale of Settlement, where 4 milion Jews lived, changed the British-Jewish political landscape. Gladstone was largely silent on the issue of Russian persecution of Jews while the Conservatives were more vocal. Moreover, the persecution led to mass immigration to Britain. Between 1880 and 1914 150,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in Britain, greatly enlarging the number of Jews in Britain, which had stood at 60,000 in 1880. The established Jewish population in Britain were nevous about the immigration. Most of the migrants were poor, spoke little English, and tended to be more Orthodox than the established, and largely sephardi, British Jewish community. How would their arrival change peoples' views on Jews? Would it lead to antisemitism? Conservative MPs supported legislation to restrict the flow of Jewish immigrants; because they feared the consequences of mass Jewish immigration, many British Jews were supportive of this approach, and therefore supportive of the Tories. (To dissuade Jewish immigrants from coming, the Jewish Board of Guardians, for example, put adverts in Jewish publications in Russia stating that life in Britain would be full of hardship).

In the 1906 election the Jewish Chronicle came out in support of the Liberals. There was some evidence that the Jewish immigrants had been responsible for turning the Jewish tide back to the Liberals. But this return to cordial relations between Britain's Jews and the Liberals was to be short lived.

In 1909 the Jewish politician Nathan Rothschild slammed the Liberal Party's 'People's Budget'. It was, he said, a 'robber's budget'. In response Lloyd George likened Rothschild to Pharoah. The Jews were not pleased... After a Liberal parliamentary candidate ran an anti-semitic campaign in Salford South, Alderman notes, 'the second honeymoon between Anglo Jewry and the Liberal party was well and truly over'.

Speed on to 1922 and a young(ish) party - Labour - was to have its electoral breakthrough in an election marred by antisemitism. (while not winning the election, Labour won 23% of the seats - up on the 8% won at the previous vote). The Morning Post and the Spectator argued that British politics was being dominated by Jews and Jewish considerations and the Labour party was branded as pro-Jewish in an effort to harness popular antisemitism against it. Whether or not Labour was pro-Jewish I'm not sure, but the Jews were becoming increasingly pro-labour. For example, all three of the seats for Whitechapel, then the most Jewish constituency, swung to Labour. The tendency for Jews to vote labour was to stay for some time.

The upward social mobility of Britain's Jews contributed to an increase in the numbe of Jews voting Conservative voting in the 80s. More recently, however, there appears to have been a swing back to Labour: in the 1997 election constituencies with large Jewish populations registered a swing to Labour greater than the national average.

As for the soon-to-come election, well, we'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

An armchair supporter

Just putting it out there..

It's called irony...

Stephanie Gutmann has a nicely ironic piece on Israel's construction of a field hospital in Haiti here.

Unfortunately, not all the readers seem to realize the irony...

Monday, 18 January 2010

Helping Haiti

Akiva Elder is a Haaretz journalist I usually admire. But I'm less sure of his op-ed today, which you can read here.

Entitled 'Israel's compassion in Haiti can't hide our ugly face in Gaza', the basic premise of his argument is that Israel's compassion in Haiti only underscores Israelis' indifference to suffering in Gaza.

True though this may be, it's the wrong - offensive, even - message to take from Israel's actions. Israel's efforts to alleviate suffering in Haiti have been impressive and commendable. They ought to be aplauded. Instead, Eldar has used them as an easy launchpad to criticize Israel.

Of course the form of Eldar's argument could be used every time Israel did anything good: I.e, 'Israel's good action here only underscores her bad action there'. Israel, like any country or individual, ought to be encouraged when they do something good and not attacked for having done wrong elsewhere. By all means criticize, but why embed that criticism within any praise for any action - however unrelated?

Friday, 15 January 2010

"Hitler was right" - the new thing to say to ashkenazi peace activists, apparently...

The video below shows the abuse being levelled at ashkenzai (Jews of European origin) peace activists demonstrating against the deportation of Palestinians from Shaikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, in December. Police had intimidated protestors on previous marches (see here).

What you see are two Mizrachi Jews shouting 'Hitler was right' to the peace activists. (Incidentally, such abuse would be considered anti-semitic if a non-Jew did it, so it meets the Telushkin test for who is a 'self-hating Jew')

It might just be a case of two loonies shouting, but still, pretty disturbing.

(Thanks to Jewdas for the h/t)

Thursday, 14 January 2010


I've just finished watching Yoav Shamir's controversial documentary 'Defamation'. The film explores the question: 'what is anti-semitism?'. You can (and should!) watch it here.

He exposes the extent to which the subject of anti-semitism has become politicized - by both the supporters and detractors of Israel. Antony Lerman, who used to be the director of Jewish Policy Research offers this analysis of the film here.

Here's my summary of the films main points:

(1) The ADL - the world's largest organiztion combating anti-semitism - reflect and promote a disproportionate fear of anti-semitism. There's around 1,500 anti-semitic incidents reported each year in the US; a small figure for a Jewish community of over 5 million people. The ADL budget amounts to tens of millions of dollars and pays for numerous offices across America. Yet early on in the film, one of its employees explains that they have insufficient resources to deal with the widespread antisemitism in America. When Shamir tries to find a recent example of serious anti-semitism in America, he finds very few. (Incidentally, in Britain for the last few years there's been around 500 anti-semitic incidents reported; also a small figure given a community of around 280,000, yet the CST - Britain's main organization combating anti-semitism - has a budget approaching six million pounds).

(2) Israel has an unhealthy (though understandable) preoccupation with anti-semitism and the holocaust. Thus Israeli school children explain in the film that 'everyone knows the Jews are hated, we were raised that way'. An Israeli journalist at Yediot Achronot newspaper explains that England is anti-semitic; when asked if he is being objective about it he retorts 'why do I have to be objective? were they objective?' (I wonder: who does 'they' refer to?)

(3) Expressions of anti-Israelism and anti-semitism have sometimes been confused, and perhaps sometimes intentionally.

Anyway, definitely worth a watch.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Wes Streeting and the Israel / Palestine facebook wars

A recent group on Facebook attacks the head of the NUS, Wes Streeting, for 'being a particularly Israel-friendly Laborite'.

I read posts on its wall, where a number of the group's members advocate outing their Jewish lecturers as being zionists. Take this gem:

So many people are scared about being labelled anti Semitic, and being accused of creating witch hunts, but by making sure every jewish lecturer is questioned on their views on Israel, (assuming they have views on Israel), its a great way to highlight the issue and do something on our campuses to make zionists feel really uncomfortable!

Problematic, isn't it?

Well yes, but not for the obvious reasons. Not because it advocates a McCarthyite witch hunt of Jewish academics and nor because it seeks to make all Zionists on campus uncomfortable - the problem with this quote is the person who wrote it. Because she's faking it; she's only pretending to be an Israel hater.

A cursory glance on her facebook page was revealing. I found a girl with happy holiday snaps from Israel who supported Alex Dwek's campaign to become president of the Union of Jewish Students. Her facebook friends include both a past and present UJS campaigns officer. Not the background of your average anti-zionist, is it? What we have here is an Israel-supporter masquerading as an Israel hater.

And she's not the only one. Another person posting similar sentiments on the website appeas to be doing the same: among his profile pictures is the one below. Not really convinced he's an anti-zionist either...

Now sure - they're taking the piss with the things they write, and most people will be clever enough to realize that. But not all will.

And because of this, to pretend as they do - as well as being dishonest - is a counter-productive means of combating those who, like one of those posting earlier on the group's wall, support 'find[ing]out just what their jewish lecturers stance is on Israel. In ALL universities.'

Just imagine the scenario: the JC sees the facebook group, gets shocked, and goes to write a story about it. They fail to take the necessary investigative steps undertaken by yours truly and mistake the author of the quote above to be a bone fide Israel-hater. They, along with Melanie Philips et al, go crazy in attacking such sentiments, citing them as 'evidence' of anti-Semitism and anti-zionism on campus today. What a scoop. Only then someone - an annoying blogger or whatever - goes and exposes the whole thing as having been a fake. The 'evidence' is found to be spurious, and in the process the credibility of real evidence of such problems is tarnished.

No, not the best way to campaign.

Exit rights - from states and communities

While avoiding revision I came across this BBC article. It's about Israelis who turn secular after being raised in charedi (ultra-orthodox) families. The resulting hardship they experience raised questions for me about tensions between the responsibilities of states and the rights of communities existing within them.

Multicultural theorists have discussed the idea of 'exit rights' for minority communities living within a state. An exit right can be defined as:

'an exemption from some legally mandated practice, granted to a person or a group, the purpose of which is to protect the religious or moral integrity of that person or group' (Jeffrey Jordan)

Here is an example of an exit right: In Britain, male Sikh's are exempt from wearing helmuts while driving motorbikes - something which is a legal requirement for any other British Citizen - since this would intefere with their wearing of the turban.

Reading about the difficult experiences of those who left the world of ultra-orthodox Judaism, however, gets me thinking about another sense of having an exit right: one which would be protection not from the laws of the state, but from the laws or restrictive social mores of a community within a state.

Essentially, if the state has a responsibility to protect community rights - as many multicultural theorists argue it does - then to what extent does it have a responsibility to support individuals within those communities should they wish to exit them? While individuals may have a legally enshrined right to choose their own lifestyles this right is meaningless if as a result of their education and upbringing they have little capacity to do so. Does the state then have a responsibility to enable all its citizens to function within mainstream society? To provide its citizens with both the right and associated capacity to exit their communities should they wish to?

In the Israeli charedi context the question is a significant one. As Irit Paneth of the organization Hillel, which offers practical help to former charedim, explains:

"They often do not know how to open a bank account, use the internet, find work and rent an apartment, she explains, or how to operate socially in the secular world."

If we accept a principle justifying exemption and protection for minority groups from the effects of majority laws or conventions, then it seems to me that this principle must be applied lower down as well: protecting minorities within minority groups from the restrictive practises of their community (should the individuals desire such help). For this reason, the work of the organization Hillel, I would argue, ought to be supported by the state and not left to the voluntary sector.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Being bored makes things less boring

While reading through political sociology notes I made over a year ago I came across this:

Boredom. Four walls, one rounded with a window.
A car passes the time as it drives in
And out of view. The chatter continues
On and on and on and on and…
Drifts into the sound of the background light.
Nothing is being said. Nothing at all.
Just words being thrown like carcassed thoughts.

It's funny, but expressing how bored I was in my notes back then has actually made reviewing them a less boring experience.

Maybe I should do it more often? (Or would that just get boring?)

Friday, 8 January 2010

Boycotting Britain, mark 2

I wrote earlier on the proposed boycott of British goods and services by some Israeli parliamentarians. Richard Slverstein of Tikkun Olam blog has a post on the topic today in which he quotes the text of the letter they sent to the British speaker of the House of Commons:

…In light of this decision [to distinguish between Israeli and settlement products], we are recommending the citizens of Israel to reconsider using the services of companies that operate in Great Britain…

We hope it will not be necessary to take any further action to make it clear how seriously we view this recommendation that in effect promotes a boycott of Israeli produce.

Pretty funny; truly ridiculous. And all this as part of a campaign to limit the information given to consumers about the goods their buying...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Know thy self-haters - or be Jewishly illiterate

I leafed through Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s book ‘Jewish Literacy’ yesterday. It’s subtitled ‘the most important things to know about the Jewish religion, its people, and its history’. Comprising 346 short chapters on all things Jewish, it functions as an introductory encyclopaedia of Judaism’s essentials.

Which is why I was surprised to find ‘self-hating Jews’ among its entries. The chapter begins by defining a self a hating Jew as a Jew ‘who thinks Jews are worse than other people, and who wants to cause them harm.’ Telushkin then goes on to inform his readers that Noam Chomsky is a self-hating a Jew.

I have three problems with the self-hating Jews entry having a place in this otherwise very good and useful book. The first is the suggestion that knowing about self-hating Jews is among ‘the most important things’ to know about Jews, and an essential part of ‘Jewish literacy’. Let’s focus on the positive, please. The second is the definition the chapter offers: I doubt Chomsky and most others branded as self-hating Jews actually believe Jews to be an inferior people deserving of harm. So the application of the term ‘self-hating Jews’ by Telushkin and others doesn’t match the definition of it he gives. Finally, and for the definitional problem highlighted above, I deny the claim that Chomsky is a self-hating Jew.

The two pieces of evidence on which Telushkin bases his assessment of Chomsky are (1) that Chomsky ‘has publically argued for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state’, and (2) that Chomsky also publically attacked a French University who fired a professor who was a holocaust revisionist and that he refused to answer whether or not he believed the holocaust occured. The first piece of evidence is not evidence at all: Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, a number of ultra Orthodox Jews, the former chief rabbi of England, Hermann Adler – all these were against the idea of the Jewish state, often publically. But they, surely, are not ‘self-hating’. The second piece of evidence, meanwhile, is misleading. His public condemnation of the University is reflective of an absolutist (and I would say extreme) commitment to free speech rather than being indicative of Chomsky holding suspect beliefs on the holocaust. As Chomsky said in an interview:

QUESTION:…It's been said that Noam Chomsky is somehow agnostic on the issue of whether the Holocaust occurred or not.
CHOMSKY: My "agnosticism" is in print. I described the Holocaust years ago as the most fantastic outburst of insanity in human history

After reading Telushkin’s entry, I’m still left with questions. Whar is a self-hating Jew and why does Telushkin consider familiarity with the concept to be an essential component of ‘Jewish Literacy’?

You’ll have to wait for another post for the answers…

Monday, 4 January 2010

The state of one-state arguments

Normblog, one of my favourite blogs, has a recent piece questioning those who suport the one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. His piece is excellent and you can read it here.

People who argue for a one state solution must necessarily, he argues, fall into one of two categories, those who require the consent of both populations - Jewish and Arab - for the one state solution, and those who do not - only requiring the consent of one (or neither)of the populations.

Now if the one-state solution is based on majority consent of both populations then the whole problem of the Israel-Palestine conflict would not exist. Democratic decision making would lead to one state being produced. But short of manufacturing consent (dfficult to see how) this solution is impracticable.

For those who don't require consent and so envisage the one state-solution being imposed on the Jews of Israel, Normblog asks the following questions:

First, how could it be imposed if a reversal of the policy of the settlements could not be? Second, are the Jews to be denied their right of national self-determination while the Palestinians (assuming them to fall in with the proposed one-state solution) are granted theirs? Third, are the democratic one-state solution converts merely sponsoring in a more hand-wringing way what others put less tactfully in their rhetoric - namely, the forcible destruction of Israel?

It's true that Israel may be heading towards a de-facto one-state situation. The region's demography points to a future in which Jews will constitute a minority in the area controlled by Israel - something the international community are unlikely to tolerate - and given Israel's continued settlement building, there is likely to be an even greater reluctance to relinquish that territory in years to come. A one-state situation - not solution - is therefore not entirely improbable.

But there is no good reason for confusing the possibility of a one-state 'situation' with its desirability as a 'solution' - unless, of course, you like the idea of imposing a political setup characterised from the outset by a legitimacy deficit and vigorous and violent opposition. But I suspect few will...

Haaretz, apartheid, the ZF, and antisemitism...

In his column in today's Haaretz, Akiva Eldar did what no British Jewish columnist could dare do in the Jewish Chronicle - he likened aspects of Israeli policy to those of apartheid South Africa.

Now lets be clear: Israel is not apartheid. Under apartheid a minority of whites deprived citizenship to a majority of Blacks. In Israel Jews constitute the majority and citizenship is granted to all people, Jews and Arabs alike.

But the point Eldar makes in his article is that within the occupied territories, comparing the experience of settler Jews to the Arabs living there who are not citizens - the situation may indeed be akin to that of apartheid. A minority ethnic group have power over a majority who are deprived citizenship.

Israel's usual response, Eldar notes, is to distinguish the two situations - apartheid and the setllements - by noting Israel's security concerns; it is these, so the argument goes, that necessitate Israel's policies in the territories. But as Eldar observes, the security claim was also used in the South African context, and, moreover, there have been cases in which the security argument would support Israel doing the opposite of what it in fact does. I think Eldar's argument needs to be developed further: the few examples he offers are not enough to show that Israel's policies are not, on the whole, based on security. Moreover, while never clearly stating it, the implication of Eldar's column is that Israel's policy in the territories is based on similar ideas to those of apartheid South Africa, and this too requires evidence which he fails to supply.

Meanwhile the Zionist federation in Britain maintains that any comparison between Israel and Apartheid South Africa is anti-semitic. And yet the former Prime Minster Ehud Olmert warned Israel was heading towards apartheid. Former Haaretz editor Danny Rubinstein said the same. Can it really be the case that Olmert, Eldar and Rubinstein are all anti-semitic?

Friday, 1 January 2010

The voices of Anglo-Jewry

Keith Kahn-Harris has written in this week's JC of the need to transform the Board of Deputies. Rather than seeking to present a united front, one 'voice of Anglo-Jewry', as it currently tries to do, it should instead provide a space for multiple viewpoints, and then express that diversity of opinion:

The presence of substantial minorities to the right and left of the supposed consensus over Israel is proof — if proof were needed — that the community is divided over this crucial issue. Even the most exceptional communal leaders cannot pretend that Jewish institutions embody the voice of Anglo-Jewry. This being so, the time has come for the “emancipation” of currently marginalised voices on Israel. Bizarre though it may seem, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Likud-Herut UK have a common cause in the struggle for an Anglo-Jewish polity that recognises the community’s diversity.

The Board and other communal bodies need to find a way to ensure that voices from across the spectrum of opinions over Israel can enter into a dialogue. Rather than constantly seeking to present a united front that does not exist, the Board should transform itself into a space within which the full range of opinions about Israel can be heard and properly debated, rather than quashed.