Shlomo Sand, again kicking up controversy, says no. He sees nothing identifiably Jewish in such icons of Jewish culture as Einstein, Marx and Freud – and nor can the governors of Israel define what being a ‘Jewish state’ means outside religious terms. Except that it means not being an Arab. And does Jewish (i.e. Slavic Yiddish) humour raise a laugh among Iraqi Jews? All the customs which may connect Jews are based on Judaic religious practices, the only distinct definition of Jewishness which he thinks is legitimate.
This a belated posting on the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate prize, awarded last February. It is in part a continuation of ideas about the question of Jewish identity amongst diaspora Jews, in part a response to Shlomo Sand, above, who queries whether such an identity can exist outside religious belief (Sand defines himself as Israeli, not Jewish). The articles here, from Jewish Quarterly, the New Statesman and the Independent can be read as either proving Sand right, or proving that a distinctive Jewish culture exists wherever there are large communities of Jews.
The bureaucrats of the occupation control which foreign (including Palestinian) academics may be allowed to enter universities in the oPt. They may not be allowed to enter the territory at all, may get visas which don’t allow them to work, or get temporary visas which don’t allow them to take a tenured job. This is a contravention of international law on the duty of an occupying power to sustain civil institutions, says the Right 2 Education campaign. It is a denial of academic freedom and of Palestinian access to new ideas and ways of thinking so is typically short-sighted behaviour of an occupying power.
Palestinian efforts to get the EU (parliament and Commission) to take up issues of Palestinian human rights have increased and become more focussed in the last year. With several organisations now representing these interests, including the UFree network (based in Oslo) and the CEPR (Council for European Palestinian Relations), Palestinians hope that the EU’s reiterated commitment to unversal human rights will lead to more action to enforce those rights in their dealings with Israel.
So powerful has been the Israeli story of its own creation and acquisition of Palestinian land that testimony from Palestinians has had little effect. But formal documents in the state archive provided evidence for the ‘new historians’ to convince many Israelis of the untruth of the official story. Since then the archive has been closed – except for one file accidentally left out. This has now been been found to show the pressure young academics felt to ‘prove’ that Palestinians left on the advice of their own leaders, and how aware Ben-Gurion was of the role of Jewish militias in seizing the land.
Spare a moment’s pity for the mega-corporations, like G4S, which enjoyed such a bonanza with the privatisation of once-basic state services. Their profits are not within their own control. At a whim of a government, or a miscalculation by their CEO, they can lose those profits and their reputation. Such is the fate of G4S whose profits and reputation have slumped, not least because of their willingness to serve the Israeli occupation’s treatment (illegal) of Palestinians taken prisoner. (Not an issue in their hasty new ethical policy). Join the protest at this year’s AGM on June 6th, London.
If Jews are defined as a separate ‘race’ there is little to choose between antisemitists and zionists in their desire to get Jews out of Europe, argues Joseph Massad in a patchy survey of beliefs about race and Jews. (He ignores the distinctive zionist fanaticism for state-building). He mourns the defeat of the Jewish ‘Haskalah’ (enlightenment’) which sought to integrate Jews in European modernity and, in the cold war, as ‘white’ people – news to the Rosenbergs’ family. Mira Sucharov takes issue with the omission of Liberal Zionism which defines the Daily Beast for which she writes.
Once upon a time the IDF and all the Israeli citizens who had to serve in their citizen army were seen as the ideal embodiment of Israeli vigour, civic commitment and egalitarianism. Now that the primary role of the conscripts is to police the occupation many see military service as ignoble, troubling and morally dubious. Hostility to the Haredim ‘get out of conscription free card’ boosted Naftali Bennett’s vote in the January election. Perhaps the recent support given to the Haredim by non-Zionist Israelis will just prove the point of his Jewish Home party.
A series of questions about issues in the Palestine/Israel conducted by American ‘fact tank’, Pew Research Center, has produced few surprises. Most Palestinians disapprove of Hamas but think only armed struggle will bring them statehood; attitudes towards the US and its role in the conflict provide the sharpest difference between Palestinians and Israeli Jews; the most unfavourable views of President Abbas among all countries in the region come from Israelis, the most positive from the oPt, judgments of Netanyahu in the region are overwhelmingly hostile in every country except Israel. Read on.
The Board of Deputies, the pro-Israel body favoured by all UK governments as representing Britain’s Jews, is reported to be in a state of chaos, on the edge of self-destruction. We have yet to hear from the members, but unreported in these stories is the loss of its primary leadership role to the JLC which is apparently favoured by the UK government for its more unconditional pro-Israeli line.
Amira Hass, described in one of these TV interviews as “one of the greatest truth-seekers of them all” defends in the interviews her view that Palestinians have a right to throw stones to resist the occupation. “The main thing” she says “is to concentrate on the violence of the ruler”. Introduction and links to these interviews, plus an article from the settlers’ paper Israel Haayom about the Yesha Council’s (settlers) decision to sue Ha’aretz and Amira Hass.
Last February Khaled Meshaal, political leader of Hamas left Syria to live – via his first, brief, visit to Gaza – in Doha. There, in the Qatari capital, he is interviewed by Foreign Policy magazine. He gives brief explanations on why Hamas left Syria, and his opposition to making any concessions until Israel shows itself ready to end the occupation. It is less revealing than other interviews he has given but is, perhaps, a message to an American audience that he is a human being who believes in democracy and human rights – but is unflinching about the priority of ending the occupation.
Another trenchant cartoon from Eli Valley, detailing all the debts Stephen Hawking owes to Israel. eg his teeth contain phosphorus and Israel is a global leader in white phosphorus technology. PS everyone’s teeth contain phosphorus.
Since 1967, the approach to Israel/Palestine taken by the USA and EU has rested on the notion that Israeli governments would be happy to negotiate a stable peace agreement but Arab and Palestinian leaders will not. Evidence that this belief is a fallacy has existed since the release of ‘The Palestine Papers’ by Al Jazeera in 2011 and, says Jonathan Cook, by Wikileaks’ disclosure last month of US diplomatic cables, which speak of Israeli self-destruction. At every stage, leaders of Arab states and the West Bank have been flexible and leaders of Israel (and Hamas), wholly obdurate.
Most Israelis are not as extreme as Im Tirtzu who protest against any commemoration of the nakba. The preferred position is of studied indifference. Anything more means either openly deciding for or against Im Tirtzu’s totalitarian zionism, or openly acknowledging that a great wrong continues to be done, in the name of Israel. Here, one member struggles with the one thing he thinks he knows about Palestinians – their holocaust denial. Perhaps he should know out about the refusal of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine) to make saving European Jews their priority.
Almost half of all Palestinians are refugees (some estimates are higher). Continuing seizures of Palestinian land and demolition of their homes consolidate their exclusion from their own homeland. Nakba day, May 15th, links them all in memory of why they are where they are.
Here is a question begged by conflicting research on genetics– why do so many Jews seem so interested in ‘Jewish DNA’? For some, it ‘proves’ a right to claim Israel as a homeland/state/coloniser. For some it ‘proves’ intellectual superiority. For some it proves Belonging which religious belief no longer provides. Although DNA can show that some Jews have a Middle Eastern origin it hardly explains a predilection for science any more than it explains the preponderance of financiers and property managers who head Britain’s Zionist Federation and Jewish Leadership Council. Apart from some fine distinctions of interest to medics and genetic scientists, the surest thing we know is that we all came out of Africa.
The intensity of self-delusion and make-believe by some Israelis can be hard to fathom, or to imagine, until a solid Palestinian – such as Faysal Mikdadi – defies the cloak of inivisibility to remind all that he remains real, his experience of what he had and what he lost remains real. And the pre-Israel Palestine of Shimon Peres’s nightmares has a solidity that no amount of Presidential sleep will cause to vanish.
A new road running from through a Jewish settlement in E. Jerusalem then onto a major highway constructs a virtual extension of Israel over and through the land which has held out the hope to Palestinians of having their own national capital in E. Jerusalem in the West Bank; further evidence, if it were needed, that the Israelis have no intention of accepting a two-state solution says Fatah. “We are working systematically to link Jerusalem with itself and to the other parts of the country because Zion is important to us” said Netanyahu. As are the unaffordable prices in West Jerusalem.
It may seem ridiculous to be discussing whether, ideally, Israelis and Palestinians should live together in one state or two. It’s pie in the sky while the occupation intensifies. But the idea of what could succeed colonialist Israel is vital in providing something to work for, and work on, to overcome the inertia, go beyond mere resistance , however vital that is. Which means the debate on one secular democratic state, a binational or a federal state or two states has to continue. Here Uri Avnery returns to his argument for two states. Like his critics, he says it depends on what models you generalise from.