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JfJfP comments


2016:

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

2015:

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

2014:

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

2013:

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

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Posts

Dear Profs you make Zionism critically untouchable

Three articles, 1) Robert Cohen, get history right; 2) Letter to the Times from three well-known Jews, 3) JTA also comments.

See also Two faces of Zionism by Brian Klug
The iterations of the “Balfour Declaration”
When rich Jews belonged and poor Jews were aliens by Simon Schama, November 2017
Israel To Build Wall In Jordan Valley, Imemc 2013


Domestic and commercial Israeli buildings, used for turning the north of the valley into a plantation of agricultural products for Israelis, in the Palestinian Jordan Valley. Several Jewish Home MKs including Miri Regev and Naftali Bennet have urged the Israeli state to annex the valley to further the zionist aim of turning Palestinians into day labourers. Photo from Daily Telegraph, Alamy

Dear Simon Schama, you need a history lesson on Zionism

By Robert A.H. Cohen, Writing from the Edge/Patheos
November 08, 2017

Dear Professor Schama

I’ve just read your letter to The Times [see below] this week about Zionism and antisemitism in the Labour Party, co-signed by your fellow historian Simon Sebag Montefiore and novelist Howard Jacobson. As you’re the senior academic, I’m addressing my concerns to you, although I’m slightly embarrassed at having to offer someone of your reputation a history lesson.

While I’m sympathetic to some of your points over the language and tone of the Israel/Palestine debate in some parts of the British left, overall your letter only adds to the lock down of freedom of speech on Israel by attempting to make criticism of Zionism toxic by association. That doesn’t feel like a good position for you to take as a public intellectual.

Your letter makes questioning either the theory or outcomes of Zionism politically, socially and morally unacceptable. In my view, that does little to help our understanding of Zionism, modern Jewish history, or traditional rabbinic Judaism. And, like others before you, you are muddying the meaning of antisemitism.

“Troubled” and “Alarmed”

You say you are “troubled” and “alarmed” by how constructive criticism of Israel has “morphed” into something closer to antisemitism under the cloak of “so called anti-Zionism”. While I too would condemn anti-Zionist criticism that employs theories of Jewish conspiracies and control of the media (wrong and far too simplistic), you take things a step further by accusing anti-Zionists of making “false equations” of Zionism with “colonialism and imperialism” and “fictitious parallels with genocide and Nazism”.

I agree that making parallels between the treatment of Palestinians by Israel and the Nazi genocide of the Jews of Europe is bad history and bad judgement. And anyway, referencing Nazis is nearly always counter-productive to the cause of Palestinian solidarity. It results in a row about antisemitism rather than a debate about Palestinian rights.

However, I only wish that the sensitivity around the use of Holocaust era language like “ghettos”, “concentration camps” and “racism” was matched by a concern about the very real historic and contemporary injustices committed against the Palestinian people. Saying Gaza is a “concentration camp” should not be as offensive as the health crisis facing 1.8 million Palestinians today because of the Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The crimes against the Palestinians should not have to match the Holocaust before we can express our horror or outrage. The fact that opposition to Israel is so muted from politicians around the world may account for why some people reach for inappropriate language in the hope of cutting through and being heard. It’s worth understanding this phenomenon in more detail before dismissing it as mere antisemitism.

Colonialism

But it’s your denial of any connection between colonialism and Zionism that makes me seriously question your historical understanding.


New (2010) Israeli packing house in Jordan valley next to older packing house for the Israeli crops. Photos from Corporate Occupation (top) and Corporate Watch

I can agree with your definition that Zionism is: “the right of the Jewish people to a homeland, and the very existence of a Jewish state”, but that’s hardly the whole story. Yes, Zionism was a response to European antisemitism through the re-invention of Jewish nationalism, but you can’t leave it at that.

We both know that Zionism was not the classical 19th century act of a European power to extend its territorial influence and exploit the resources of indigenous peoples. That doesn’t mean Zionism wasn’t a colonial project.

Zionists were comfortable with the language of colonialism and the European view of the superiority of ‘Western civilisation.

If you take another look at Chaim Weizmann’s autobiography ‘Trial and Error’ you’ll be reminded that the early Zionists were perfectly comfortable with the language of colonialism and shared a European view of the superiority of ‘Western Civilisation’ and its right to impose its values on the ‘backward’ dark skinned natives of the Middle East.

Writing to CP Scott, the Editor of the Manchester Guardian, in 1914, Weizmann said that through mass settlement, perhaps of a million Jews over 20-30 years:

“…they [the Zionist settlers] would develop the country, bring back civilisation to it and form a very effective guard for the Suez canal.”

Balfour version 1

And then take a look at the first draft, quoted in Weizmann’s autobiography, of what would become (the considerably watered down) Balfour Declaration in November 1917.

This first version, intended as the official statement to be issued by the British government, was submitted by the Zionist Organisation in Britain to the British Foreign Office in the summer of 1917. This is what the Zionist leadership wanted the British Empire to sign up to and it shows clearly the settler colonialist mindset of Weizmann and his colleagues.

His Majesty’s Government, after considering the aims of the Zionist Organisation, accept the principle of recognising Palestine as the National Home of the Jewish people and the right of the Jewish people to build up its national life in Palestine under a protection to be established at the conclusion of peace, following the successful issue of the war.

His Majesty’s government regard as essential for the realisation of this principle the grant of internal autonomy to the Jewish nationality in Palestine, freedom of immigration for Jews, and the establishment of a Jewish National Colonising Corporation for the re-establishment and economic development of the country.

The conditions and forms of the internal autonomy and a Charter for the Jewish National Colonising Corporation should, in the view of His Majesty’s government, be elaborated in detail and determined with the representatives of the Zionist Organisation.

In other words, the Zionist movement was asking for British Imperial protection, without interference, while it set out on its state building project to create a ‘National Home’. It’s worth noting that there’s no mention whatsoever of the ‘non Jewish communities’ in Palestine or their protection. That wording didn’t come in until the last minute and certainly not from the Zionists.

Professor Schama, why can’t you accept that despite the fact that there  a small minority of Jews had been living in Palestine for 2,000 years, Zionism was clearly going to be a European settler colonial project with imperial backing?

Conflation

Your letter then plays the ‘conflation card’ attempting, like many Zionists before you, to blur all distinctions between Judaism and Zionism.

“Zionism — the longing of a dispersed people to return home — has been a constant, cherished part of Jewish life since AD70. In its modern form Zionism was a response to the centuries of persecution, expulsions and mass murder in Christian and Muslim worlds that continued from the Middle Ages to the mid-20th century. Its revival was an assertion of the right to exist in the face of cruelty unique in history.”

This telling of Jewish history fails to explain why Zionism in 1917 was far from being a mainstream Jewish position; why most Rabbis vehemently opposed it; and why this movement for Jewish ‘return’ on a grand scale was a radical shift in Jewish thinking and history compared to the previous 1800 years.

Professor, this is where you are guilty of “morphing” ideas too. In this case you morph Zionism into Judaism as a tactic to make Zionism critically untouchable. It’s a sleight of hand that you should be revealing through your professional expertise rather than colluding with.

Dancing in Whitechapel

In your Balfour essay for the Financial Times last weekend, you recount how your 16 year old father witnessed “singing and dancing from Whitechapel to Mile End” as the Balfour Declaration became public. But you fail to convey the true diversity of Jewish political thinking at the time nor the almost universal rejection of Zionism across the religious spectrum.

Zionism in 1917 was far from being a done deal for London’s impoverished Jews and Zionism was not the only political dance in town.

I’m sure you know that the East End of London contained Socialists, Anarchists and Bundists, as well as Zionists, all wrestling with how to respond to the challenges of being Jewish in the early years of the 20th century.

As for the Rabbis, the Orthodox rejected Zionism not just because of the socialist secular outlook of most Zionist followers but more importantly because they saw it as a heresy. Only God would decide when and how the Jewish Exile would end. And furthermore, that Exile was as much a question of spiritual distance from the Almighty as it was physical distance from the Land of Israel. I find it hard to believe that you are not familiar with all of this.

Liberal Zionism

You finish your letter with a typical liberal Zionist sentiment that attempts to display even handedness but in the end you once again show a lack of historical understanding.

“We do not forget nor deny that the Palestinian people have an equally legitimate, ancient history and culture in Palestine nor that they have suffered wrongs that must be healed.”

If you really thought this you would not express your opposition to anti-Zionism with such utter condemnation. If you truly recognise the equal Palestinian claim to the land you must also understand why they, and their advocates around the world, cannot count themselves as Zionists. How could the project of Jewish national return with Jewish majority control of the land ever have been achieved without the displacement of the majority people already living there? Zionism was always going to turn out badly for the Palestinians.

You admit to “wrongs that must be healed” but who should do the healing? Zionism and its supporters need to acknowledge responsibility and provide recompense if healing and reconciliation are to stand any chance of success.

You say “we do not attempt to minimalise their suffering nor the part played by the State of Israel” but the 1948 Nakba was Zionism in action just as the expansion of the Settlements and the operation of Apartheid on the West Bank are also the practical workings out of Zionism today. This is what national self-determination for the Jewish people has turned out to mean in practice, however worthy the theory was meant to be.

You finish by saying that: “We believe that anti-Zionism, with its antisemitic characteristics, has no place in a civil society.”

Professor, to oppose Zionism in the past or today is a perfectly valid and ethical intellectual position to hold whether you are Palestinian, Jewish or a member of the Labour Party. Saying it has no place in civil society does you no credit and displays a lack of intellectual honesty.

There are other ways to define Jewish self-determination that do not undermine the rights of another people. There are other ways to achieve Jewish security that do not involve creating a heavily armed Jewish Sparta in the Middle East. There are other Jewish options that need exploring 100 years after Balfour.

Your sincerely,

Robert Cohen

Israeli settlement in northern Jordan Valley. Israel is being lobbied by Zionists to annex the whole valley to Israel


Letter to The Times from
Howard Jacobson, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Simon Schama

The Labour Party and its approach to Zionism

Sir, In this centenary year of the Balfour Declaration we are troubled by the tone and direction of debate about Israel and Zionism within the Labour Party.

We are alarmed that during the past few years, constructive criticism of Israeli governments has morphed into something closer to antisemitism under the cloak of so-called anti-Zionism. We do not object to fair criticism of Israel governments, but this has grown to be indistinguishable from a demonisation of Zionism itself — the right of the Jewish people to a homeland, and the very existence of a Jewish state. Although anti-Zionists claim innocence of any antisemitic intent, anti-Zionism frequently borrows the libels of classical Jew-hating. Accusations of international Jewish conspiracy and control of the media have resurfaced to support false equations of Zionism with colonialism and imperialism, and the promotion of vicious, fictitious parallels with genocide and Nazism. How, in such instances, is anti-Zionism distinguishable from antisemitism?

Such themes and language have become widespread in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. So far the Labour leadership’s reaction has been derisory. It is not enough to denounce all racisms in general when this specific strain rages unchecked.

Zionism — the longing of a dispersed people to return home — has been a constant, cherished part of Jewish life since AD70. In its modern form Zionism was a response to the centuries of persecution, expulsions and mass murder in Christian and Muslim worlds that continued from the Middle Ages to the mid-20th century. Its revival was an assertion of the right to exist in the face of cruelty unique in history.

We do not forget nor deny that the Palestinian people have an equally legitimate, ancient history and culture in Palestine nor that they have suffered wrongs that must be healed. We hope that a Palestinian state will exist peacefully alongside Israel. We do not attempt to minimalise their suffering nor the part played by the creation of the state of Israel. Yet justice for one nation does not make justice for the other inherently wicked. Zionism is the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. We believe that anti-Zionism, with its antisemitic characteristics, has no place in a civil society.

Howard Jacobson
Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Schama


Three prominent British authors say Labour Party is ‘now closer to anti-Semitism’

JTA
November 6, 2017

Three prominent British Jewish authors said in an open letter that they are concerned that anti-Zionism in the country’s Labour Party is now “closer to anti-Semitism.”

Howard Jacobson, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Simon Schama said in the open letter in The Times on Monday that they are “troubled by the tone and direction of debate about Israel and Zionism within the Labour Party” because,

“We are alarmed that during the past few years, constructive criticism of Israeli governments has morphed into something closer to antisemitism under the cloak of so-called anti-Zionism,” the letter said. “We do not object to fair criticism of Israel governments, but this has grown to be indistinguishable from a demonization of Zionism itself.”

The authors noted that accusations of international Jewish conspiracy and Jewish control of the media have again become ubiquitous, as have creating parallels between the Jewish state and Nazism.

“Such themes and language have become widespread in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. “So far the Labour leadership’s reaction has been derisory. It is not enough to denounce all racisms in general when this specific strain rages unchecked.”

The authors also noted the suffering of and lack of justice for the Palestinians.

“We do not forget nor deny that the Palestinian people have an equally legitimate, ancient history and culture in Palestine nor that they have suffered wrongs that must be healed. We hope that a Palestinian state will exist peacefully alongside Israel.”

Jacobson won the Mann Booker Prize 2010 for “The Finkler Question.” Schama recently published “Belonging,” the second part of his trilogy “The Story of the Jews,” and Montefiore is the author of “Jerusalem: The Biography.”


Howard Jacobson, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Simon Schama are very welcome to reply to Robert A.H. Cohen on these pages. Contact postings@jfjfp.org

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