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JfJfP comments


06 May: Tair Kaminer starts her fifth spell in gaol. Send messages of support via Reuven Kaminer

04 May: Against the resort to denigration of Israel’s critics


23 Dec: JfJfP policy statement on BDS

14 Nov: Letter to the Guardian about the Board of Deputies

11 Nov: UK ban on visiting Palestinian mental health workers

20 Oct: letter in the Guardian

13 Sep: Rosh Hashanah greetings

21 Aug: JfJfP on Jeremy Corbyn

29 July: Letter to Evening Standard about its shoddy reporting

24 April: Letter to FIFA about Israeli football

15 April: Letter re Ed Miliband and Israel

11 Jan: Letter to the Guardian in response to Jonathan Freedland on Charlie Hebdo


15 Dec: Chanukah: Celebrating the miracle of holy oil not military power

1 Dec: Executive statement on bill to make Israel the nation state of the Jewish people

25 Nov: Submission to All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism

7 Sept: JfJfP Executive statement on Antisemitism

3 Aug: Urgent disclaimer

19 June Statement on the three kidnapped teenagers

25 April: Exec statement on Yarmouk

28 Mar: EJJP letter in support of Dutch pension fund PGGM's decision to divest from Israeli banks

24 Jan: Support for Riba resolution

16 Jan: EJJP lobbies EU in support of the EU Commission Guidelines, Aug 2013–Jan 2014


29 November: JfJfP, with many others, signs a "UK must protest at Bedouin expulsion" letter

November: Press release, letter to the Times and advert in the Independent on the Prawer Plan

September: Briefing note and leaflet on the Prawer Plan

September: JfJfP/EJJP on the EU guidelines with regard to Israel

14th June: JfJfP joins other organisations in protest to BBC

2nd June: A light unto nations? - a leaflet for distribution at the "Closer to Israel" rally in London

24 Jan: Letter re the 1923 San Remo convention

18 Jan: In Support of Bab al-Shams

17 Jan: Letter to Camden New Journal about Veolia

11 Jan: JfJfP supports public letter to President Obama

Comments in 2012 and 2011



Divorcing the diaspora

Mapam poster encouraging immigration 1950s: it says aliyah (going up) security, bread and peace

The Judaization of Israel

By Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
November 11, 2013

ON MY 16th birthday, in 1939, I rushed to the district registration office of the Government of Palestine to change my name officially.

I shed the German name I was given at birth and adopted the Hebrew first and surname I had chosen.

It was more than a mere change of names. It was a declaration: a divorce from my past in the Diaspora (“exile” in Zionist parlance), from the tradition of my German-Jewish forebears, from everything that was “exilic”. “Exilic” was the worst insult you could throw at anyone at the time.

It said: I am a Hebrew, a part of the great adventure of creating the new Hebrew nation, the new Hebrew culture, the future Hebrew state that was to come into being once we had driven the British colonial regime out of the country.

THIS WAS the normal thing to do. Almost all my friends and acquaintances did so the moment they legally could.

When the state was founded, it became official policy. You could not join the diplomatic service or obtain a senior commission in the army if you bore a foreign name.

And indeed, could one imagine an Israeli ambassador in Germany called Berliner? Or an Israeli ambassador in Poland called Polonsky? Or an Israeli Prime Minister called Grün (Ben-Gurion’s former name)? A Chief of Staff of the army called Kitaigorodsky (the former name of Moshe Dayan?) Or an Israeli international soccer star called Ochs?

Ben-Gurion was a fanatic in this matter. It was, perhaps, the only matter on which we agreed.

THE CHANGING of names symbolized a basic ideological attitude. Zionism was based on a total negation of the Jewish Diaspora, its way of living, its traditions and expressions.

The Founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, now officially designated here as “the Visionary of the State”, envisioned the total disappearance of the Diaspora. In his diary he foresaw that after the founding of the “Jewstate” (wrongly translated as the “Jewish State”), all the Jews who wished to do so would settle in Israel. They (and only they!) would henceforth be called Jews. All the others would finally assimilate in their host nations and cease being Jews. (This part of Herzl’s teachings is completely and deliberately obliterated in Israel. It is neither taught in the schools nor mentioned by politicians.)

In his diaries, which are of high literary value, Herzl did not hide his contempt for the Diaspora Jews. Some passages are positively anti-Semitic – a term that was invented in Germany after Herzl’s birth.

As a pupil in an elementary school in Palestine I was imbued with this contemptuous attitude. Everything “exilic” was beneath contempt: the Jewish shtetl, Jewish religion, Jewish prejudices and superstitions. We learned that “exilic” Jews were engaged in “air businesses” – parasitical stock exchange deals that did not produce anything real, that Jews shunned physical work, that their social setup was a “reverse pyramid”, which we were to overturn by creating a healthy society of peasants and workers.

In my company in the Irgun underground, and later in the Israeli army, there was not a single kippah-wearing fighter, though some wore peaked caps. Religious people were objects of pity.

The prevalent doctrine was that religion had indeed played a useful role throughout the centuries in holding Jews together and enabling the survival of the Jewish people, but that now Hebrew nationalism had taken over that role, making religion redundant. Religion, it was felt, would soon die out.

New immigrants in 1955 learn Hebrew at one of the many schools (ulpanim) set up round Israel to create a national Hebrew culture.

Everything good and healthy was Hebrew – the Hebrew community, Hebrew agriculture, Hebrew kibbutzim, the “First Hebrew City” (Tel Aviv), the Hebrew underground military organizations, the future Hebrew state. Jewish were “exilic” things like religion, tradition and useless stuff like that.

Only when the full extent of the Holocaust became known, near the end of World War II, did this attitude turn into profound remorse. There was a feeling of guilt, of not having done enough for our persecuted relatives. The shtetl assumed the glow of infantile memories, people started to long for the warm Jewish home, the idyllic Jewish existence.

Even then, Ben-Gurion refused to accept the idea that Jews may live outside Israel. He refused to deal with Zionist leaders living abroad. Only when the new state was in dire economic straits and desperately needed Jewish money did he finally agree to go to the US and ask the Jewish leadership there to come to the aid of Israel.

SINCE THEN, Jewishness has made a huge comeback. The small group of religious Jews who had joined Zionism from the beginning is now a large and powerful “national-religious” movement, the core of the settlers and the extreme right, a pivotal party in the present government.

The anti-Zionist “God-fearing” (“haredim”) Orthodox community are an even bigger force. Though all their eminent rabbis at the time had condemned and cursed Herzl and his supporters, they now use their clout to extort immense sums of money from the state. Their main aim is to keep a separate, religious, school system, in which their children don’t learn anything but scriptures. They prevent their young men from being drafted into the army, so as to avoid them from coming into any contact with ordinary youth, especially women. They live in a ghetto.

A recent alarmist TV documentary quoted demographers who forecast that in thirty years or so the haredim will constitute the majority of Jewish citizens in Israel, by virtue of their enormous birthrate. This would turn Israel into something similar to today’s Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Even now, certain towns and neighborhoods in Israel that are dominated by the Orthodox, are closed to any kind of traffic on Saturdays. Women wearing short sleeves – as all non-Orthodox women do in the hot Israeli summer – are spat upon and sometimes beaten. EL AL does not fly on Shabbat, nor are there any bus or train services throughout the country.

Yaakov Litzman, leader of the United Torah Judaism faction, is now in the government as minister of health

With an Orthodox majority in the state, this would become the general rule. No traffic of any kind on Saturdays, no shops open on religious holidays, no non-kosher food in the shops or in the restaurants (there is plenty now), no secular laws, no circumventing the laws forbidding marriage between Jews and non-Jews, a strict moral code enforced by the police.

The secular population, now in the majority, would probably escape from such a country to greener Jewish pastures in New York or Berlin.

All this was broadcast this week on Israeli TV.

A BILL now being debated in the Knesset would overturn the present doctrine of Israel being a “Jewish and democratic state” and replace it with the doctrine that Israel is “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.

That is presented as the fulfillment of Zionism, but is in fact the very negation of Zionism. The process has come around 360 degrees and arrived back where it started. Instead of the ghetto in the shtetl, Israel itself would become a large ghetto. Instead of negating the Diaspora, the entire Diaspora would become a part of Israel – without having a say in the matter. The state would no longer belong to its citizens (both Hebrew and Arab) but to Jews in Los Angeles and Moscow.

The very idea is, of course, ridiculous. Jews are basically an ethnic-religious world-wide community which has existed for 2500 years without the need for a homeland. Even at the time of the Hasmonean kingdom, most Jews lived outside Palestine. Their abstract connection with Eretz Israel is like the connection of Indonesian and Malian Muslims with Mecca – a holy place to be mentioned in prayers and an object of pilgrimage, but not claimed as a sovereign earthly possession. Until the rise of European nationalism, Jews made no effort for all these centuries to settle there. Indeed, it was forbidden by Jewish Law to go to the Holy Land en masse.

The creation of the IDF, with its conscripts and women soldiers (here in the 1950s), was a key creation of the new, sovereign, Hebrew nation-state.

Israeli nationalism, on the other hand, is rooted in a physical homeland, bound up with national sovereignty and citizenship – concepts foreign to religion.

Early Zionists were forced by circumstances to combine the two opposed concepts. There was no Jewish nation in existence, Palestine belonged to another people. By necessity they invented the formula that for Jews, unlike other people, nation and religion are one and the same. To justify their claim to the country, atheists argued – and still do – that God Almighty had promised the land to the Jews in a deal made some 3500 years ago.

The Israeli government now demands, as a condition for making peace, that the Palestinians officially recognize this formula – “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People”. If they refuse, it means that they are resolved to annihilate us, like Hitler, and therefore we won’t make peace with them.

For me, this is absurd. I want the Palestinians to recognize the State of Israel, pure and simple (in return for our recognition of the State of Palestine). It’s not their business how Israel defines itself (as it is not for us to decide how the Palestinian state will define itself.)

It’s for us – and us only – to decide whether our state will be Jewish or just Israeli.

THAT’S WHERE the matter of names come in.

Lately, only very few people have been adopting new Hebrew surnames. Most retain their German, Russian or Arab ones. I see this as a regression, sliding back into a ghetto.

When I was interviewed this week on the army radio network (strangely the most liberal outlet in the country), my young interviewers attacked me for holding this opinion. They see the semi-compulsory changing of names that was practiced in the early days of Israel as an act of oppression, a violation of privacy, almost a rape.

Most Israelis nowadays are content to retain the names of their Polish, Russian, Moroccan and Iraqi forebears. They are unaware that these names symbolize the re-Judaization of Israel.

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