Burning Issues 24: Jewish identity and UK Jewry

JPost writers on the IJV row and whether Jewish identity can be expressed only through Mideast conflict.

mike leigh pinter 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
mike leigh pinter 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. A link to the writer's most recent column appears after each post. Burning Issues 1-23: Last three: Retaliation for Eilat attack, US candidates' Iran stance, Road map relevancy.
Question #24
After a group of prominent British Jews stirred uproar by attacking the country's Jewish establishment - claiming it puts loyalty to Israel before the human rights of Palestinians, some critics claimed that it was illegitimate for Diaspora Jews who have had no real connection with the Jewish community - who are unaffiliated with Jewish organizational, communal or religious life - to publicly express their Jewish identity solely through their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Do you agree with this criticism? Contributions by Jonathan Rosenblum, Isi Leibler, Jonathan Tobin, Calev Ben-David, MJ Rosenberg and Gerald Steinberg MJ Rosenberg: I'd go even father. I think that anyone, and especially Jews, is entitled to speak out on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The sad fact is that the occupation is defining the way non-Jews see Jews throughout the world. The mythical Ari Ben Canaan (hero of Leon Uris's Exodus and played in the film by Paul Newman) was the face of Israel for decades. Now, to a large extent, the face of Israel has become that of the West Bank settler or those Gaza settlers fighting the Israeli army. Every Jew, worldwide, benefited from Israel's good reputation in the pre-occupation days but today we all are saddled with its bad one. In Europe, Jews who may be utterly oblivious to Israel are attacked because of an anti-Semitic backlash caused by the treatment of the occupied Palestinians. So, yes, even the unaffiliated have the right to speak out. However, I do not believe that their criticism has the power of the criticism that emanates from those of us who have always stood with Israel. In a sense, we earned the right to speak out. Moreover, because our hatred of the occupation is rooted in our love for Israel, it deserves to be taken more seriously. But everyone on the planet, and not just Jews, has the right to speak out about a situation that threatens all our kids. The potential for deadly blowback in the Diaspora produced by settlers and the abuse of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza gives Jews here every right to protest loudly and consistently. And non-Jews too. Thank God there are Israelis who are also doing it. In Washington: Why not realism? Calev Ben-David: This manifesto represents the true victory of Zionism. Many of the celebrities on this list have had virtually no connection with the Jewish community or causes at any time in their lives.Yet they are so concerned about Israeli policies that they now want to put themselves forward as an alternative to the British Board of Deputies? Is their opposition to Israel the only way they can express their Jewishness? Then the irony here is that Israel is truly central to their Jewish identity, such as it is. It is entirely legitimate, both for Jews and non-Jewish, to criticize Israeli policies. And in fact, many of the self-defined "network of individuals" who signed the Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) advertisement have done just that over the years. But to now put themselves forward "as a challenge to the standard concept of the Jewish community" is just laughable. One wonders just how it is this group defines itself as Jewish. Their manifesto rejects "ethnic or group loyalties", yet the only common denominator between them is they have at least one Jewish parent. If they don't see themselves as in any way belonging to the British Jewish community, why in the world should they care what the Board of Deputies, or the British Chief Rabbi, has to say on any subject, including Israel? How can one take seriously public figures that have no trouble criticizing Israeli policies, but have had nothing to say publicly in the past year about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's genocidal taunts and racist Holocaust denial? Are they really concerned, as they claim, as much with Israeli security as they are with Palestinian national rights? The IJV letter declares, "No one has the authority to speak for the Jewish people." Wrong. Judaism may not have a pope, but those individuals who have dedicated their lives for the well-being and security of their fellow Jews certainly have a degree of authority in this regard, whether one agrees with their positions or not. But that company certainly doesn't include the likes of dramatist Harold Pinter, actor Stephen Fry, historian Eric Hobsbawm, and many of the others who signed the IJV statement. The truth is, this episode would be funny, if it weren't so perverse and pathetic. Snap Judgment: Sore losers Jonathan Tobin: There is no question that the notion of tribal solidarity with their own people does not sit comfortably with many Diaspora Jews, especially those who are on the left. And when the question of balancing the rights of their own people with the claims of a group that identifies itself as part of the "oppressed" peoples of the Third World, it is little surprise that many of these intellectuals are at pains to distance themselves from Israel. That these persons should chose to speak out against the seemingly tepid support given Israel by the organized community in Britain (at least when compared to the more assertive American Jewish groups) at this point in time is also interesting. To make the claim that Israel is an evil occupier after more than 13 years of Israeli concessions and unilateral withdrawals and the continued Palestinian refusal to renounce violence and make peace isn't merely obtuse. It is a sign that the Arab propaganda campaign in Europe has now apparently succeeded to the point where it may no longer be possible to openly identify as Jewish in some circles without making an obligatory condemnation of Israel. While no one should dispute the right of any group of Jews to voice an opinion, even one as badly misinformed as that of this British group, there is something particularly disagreeable about people who only invoke their tenuous ties to their own tribe as a license to bash it. Their excuse that the defense of Israel is harming the battle against anti-Semitism is a transparent lie. The prejudice against Israel and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and self-defense is itself the prime indicator of the advance of Jew-hatred. To pretend that such a stand is a defense of human rights is a parody of this cause. The only word to describe a gathering of Jews whose purpose is to support such a campaign is shameful. View from America: Who speaks for the Zionists? Isi Leibler: Beyond a core of hard leftists, this is probably the first foray into any kind of Jewish involvement for many of the Jews supporting this group. Most are assimilated, presumably influenced by the intensely anti Israeli atmosphere which pervades the UK society. One also suspects that for many, their involvement is designed to ingratiate themselves with their anti Israeli peers by dissociating themselves from Israel the "rogue state". Anglo Jewish leaders who rely unduly on "silent diplomacy" have made it easier for this group to promote themselves. This is exemplified by the recent internal Jewish controversy over the Institute for Jewish Policy Research - Anglo Jewry's only think tank and research body. The CEO heading this body is on record supporting the substitution of Israel as a Jewish state by a binational entity providing Arab refugees with the right of return. How can one expect the British public to recognise the unrepresentative nature of such an anti Israeli organization, if the head of the Jewish community's think tank himself expresses such outrageous views? Instead of continuing to maintain a low profile, the Board of Deputies, in conformity with the wishes of most of their constituents, should become more assertive. They must make it clear that the Anglo Jewry, like their Diaspora kinsmen, have legitimate differences of opinion concerning various aspects of Israel's policies. Nevertheless they remain overwhelmingly united in supporting Israel as a Jewish democratic state. They should also stress that any Jewish fringe group demonizing or delegimitzing the Jewish state, represent themselves alone and their views are an anathema to the vast majority of Anglo Jews. They could also express surprise that for a group, the majority of whose supporters have never been involved in Judaism or in Jewish life, it is incongruous that they exploit their Jewish ancestry only in order to demonize the Jewish state. Israelis aren't 'racist' - they're worried Gerald Steinberg The views of the self-selected guardians of British Jewry are of significance only in that they give a counterfeit legitimacy to the anti-Israel obsessions of the powerful British Left. There are a number of organizations the Board of Deputies, Jewish leadership Council, and Zionist Federation - that represent the genuine voices of British Jews, and reflect a democratic mandate embracing a wide spectrum of views on Israel - Left and Right. And many of Britain's most committed and intelligent Jews have come on aliya to Israel, to be part of the Jewish renaissance, and escape the intolerance and anti-Semitism. In contrast, the banal opinions of a handful of anti-Israel Jews are used to justify the abuse of human rights to again deny the Jewish people these rights, through boycotts and divestment campaigns. Their simplistic and patronizing statements ignore Palestinian corruption and violence, while promoting the fiction that Israel is responsible for all suffering. Such marginal Jewish voices give legitimacy to classic anti-Jewish tropes and sentiment - the talkback comments on the Guardian website provide ample evidence - instead of speaking out against the anti-Semitic themes that are used in condemning the "apartheid wall" and are run by "charities" such as Christian Aid or War on Want. Claiming to speak in the name of morality, they are contributing to political correctness that tolerates hatred, in which wrong is turned into right, and war is hidden under the facade of a false peace. The next Zionist revolution Jonathan Rosenblum: While I disagree with everything that Jacqueline Rose, Harold Pinter et al, have to say, no one questions their right to express their opinions. Nor have they had any trouble doing so in Britain, where doubts about Israel's very right to exist are more the rule than the exception. Mrs. Rose even succeeded in pushing through a resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israeli universities and researchers. These people do not just want not to be heard; they seek special credence for their views because they are of Jewish descent - something like the exception to the hearsay rule for admissions against interest. But in their case, their strictures against Israel are not against interest: They know little of their Judaism, have never identified with the larger Jewish community, and are hopelessly ill-informed about Israel. Tony Judt (a Jewish professor) finds an ethnic-religious state like Israel to be an "anachronism" in a post-nationalist world. Interestingly, he sees no similar infirmity in all those Moslem states in which Sharia is the law of the land and non-Moslems are barred from citizenship. In his original article in the New York Review of Books pronouncing Israel a relic from another time, Judt made it clear that it had become a trifle uncomfortable at academic cherry parties because of the association between Jews and Israel. The subtext of his essay was the effort to sever that association. The British Jewish critics of Israel do the same. No one with a passing familiarity with the history of Jewish self-loathing will be surprised, though they may still be forgiven if they are repulsed. Think Again: Free will and its deniers