We’ve come a long way from the Holocaust, world war 2 and the founding of Israel. Millions of Jews have been born since then and more of them live outside Israel than inside it. By choice. Many of these value the identity and traditions that have developed over 2,600 years in which, obviously, the state of Israel played no part; report of a debate in Canada on how to create open discussion among Jews about Israel and Zionism.
Diaspora Jews, in our familiar European and American homelands, have always been subject to costly efforts to turn us into something else. The latest comes from Israel where anxiety about the shrinking of Israel as THE mark of Jewish identity (above custom and religion) has been growing for several years. Large sums have now been allocated, as the Prime Minister’s Initiative, into reversing this trend. It’s not about saving us, as the ‘diaspora’ but about saving israel as The Homeland.
Netanyahu’s late demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as ‘the Jewish state’ has raised many questions and begged one in particular – what does ‘Jewish’ mean to people who so define themselves? It can define ethnicity, religion, cultural heritage; different groups have different rules on who is Jewish; the distinction between Hebrew as a polite word for the language and people (though not religion) has been lost to the all-encompassing, and thus confusing, term Jewish. The contradictory demands that Israel be accepted as any other nation state, and as the unique ‘state of all the Jews’ apart from all others, entrenches the confusion. Three writers from Haaretz give different views on what the terms mean to them.
A new survey of American Jews, commissioned by Jewish Forward, has found that non-Orthodox Jews are increasingly marrying out, assimilating and abandoning religious observance. (The same is true of British Jews.) Does this mean the non-religious are no longer Jewish in any meaningful way?
MK Ariv Levin has tabled an amendment to the Basic Law which would make preserving Jewish identity the exclusive and paramount property of the state of the Land of Israel. This would overrule the requirements of democracy. The presumable intent is to make non-Jews and the followers of the Enlightenment belief in the separation of church and state know that they have no place in the Jewish state. 2 articles plus Notes and links
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.
A sobering discussion by Adam Horowitz on what it is to be Jewish and who still counts as family, what transgressions are acceptable and what unpardonable.
New York academic and activist Bruce Robbins is making a film about how people have changed their minds: “what they were told about Israel and their Jewish identity as they were growing up, what they went through as they started looking at things differently, what Israel and Jewish identity mean to them now…”
Ghoulish gazers get to ogle a horrifying Halloween history from the Forward’s Artist in Residence, Eli Valley. Gasp at the graphics and view the visceral video if you dare, dear reader.
Valley’s latest work for Halloween pokes fun at Zionists for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity… And there is more.
Pressure grows on the Brandeis Hillel Student Board (BHSB) to reconsider their ban on Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). On the latter’s web site it states,” Hillel at Brandeis University provides a rich and vibrant Jewish life on campus“. A thousand students and faculty members have petitioned the BHSB to reconsider but till now unavailingly. The author’s tip to JVP: get yourselves elected to the governing body of BHSB. (There was a previous posting on this theme on 10th March.)
Uri Avnery reflects on “two obnoxious racist laws” that the Knesset has finally adopted, both directed against Israels’ Palestinian citizens. But he reserves his most vitriolic for a third bill, that to outlaw the boycott of Israel – which includes “the boycott of Israeli institutions and enterprises in all territories controlled by Israel”. This includes, of course, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Hillel provides a home for Jewish student groups without consideration of their denomination, but not, it would appear, independently of their politics on Israel. At Brandeis university the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter was rejected for admission to Hillel. “The board effectively said to JVP, ‘Even though we recognize that you express your Judaism politically, and even though we admit other Jewish political groups here, your vision of Judaism and your political vision of Israel has no place in Hillel. Unless you say the magic words ,’Jewish and democratic’ and mean by them what we say you should mean, your organization is treif.’”
J Street’s conference opened last Saturday night. We carry some reports and analyses.
Media and public affairs strategist Dan Fleshler writes in advance of the conference as to “Why the Jewish Right Is Terrified by J Street’s Conference”; Natasha Mozgovaya reports for Haaretz on the opening razzamatazz; and Richard Silverstein injects a note of discord, calling J Street “an empty shell…Where are they on the issues? All over the place.”
2nd March: links to all the speeches at the conference added. 5th March: final update with more links to analytical and critical articles.
Fascist behaviour by right-wing Zionists in Los Angeles is another example of the hatred being expressed towards Jewish Voice for Peace as it roots itself ever-more deeply in American Jewish life. Estee Chandler writes: “Throughout history, every movement for freedom has faced backlash, threats, and violence.” These threats are now coming from other American Jews…
The New York Times publishes an article with the Bay Citizen on the role of Jewish Voice for Peace: “Hundreds of people, mostly Arab-Americans, are expected to gather Saturday in downtown San Francisco to support anti-government protests in Egypt, and a large contingent of Jews representing a Bay Area peace-advocacy group will join them, one of its leaders says….”
Last week the Board of Deputies of British Jews voted down a resolution declaring support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same meeting the Board also affirmed that, “in particular’, it stood completely “behind the courageous stand of the present government as formulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu.” A petition has been raised making the point that a majority of the Jewish community in Britain is in favour of a two-state solution and therefore urging the Board to reconsider its decision.
JNews has launched a bloggers’ corner.
In the first posting Israeli Eyal Clyne ponders his first encounter with Jews in London discussing a meeting about ‘ashamed to be Jewish’: “I quickly came to realize that the discussion had little to do with how Jews feel about Judaism or their identity, and that it had no relevance to questions of pride or shame; rather it was code for gauging attitudes towards Israel… I sat in the audience for a few hours, confused and embarrassed. In front of me others were debating politely, arguing, asking questions, and applauding – about what (they think) is happening in my country. And I insist: MY COUNTRY, not theirs…”
30 January: a response by Brian Klug, one of the original speakers, has been posted as well.
Recently the Board of Deputies organised the publication of “Zionism: A Jewish Communal Response from the UK”, with essays by Rabbis Wittenburg, Bayfield, and Rich and also by Dan Rickman, with a foreword by Vivian Wineman. It argues that “both Jews and Christians – including Palestinian Christians – need to acknowledge the depth of each others’ historic and religious connections with the land of Israel if progress is to be made towards peace”.
We will link to reviews of it as and when they come to our attention.
The rabbis in Israel have stirred up a hornets’ nest and the question of what it is to be Israeli is firmly on the agenda. Israeli society is rapidly closing in on itself and voices that anywhere else in liberal democracies would be mainstream are becoming more an more dissident in Israel. But the naked malice and racism of the recent 300 rabbis’ statement has encouraged many to speak out and reflect, particularly in the pages of Ha’aretz and we reproduce four recent discussion pieces on the interrelated themes of what it is to be a Jew, and Israeli, a citizen and indeed a mensch…
In an article commissioned by the Jewish Socialists’ Group and just published in Jewish Socialist no 60, Diana Neslen describes why, in the wake of the Israeli military’s lethal attach on the Mavi Marmara, a group of Jewish activists took to the high seas on the 10-metre catamaran Irene. She writes of the activity of JfJfP and like-minded others: “We are symbolically acting for all the Jewish community in the hope that it will spur some to capture this moment and begin to turn towards humanity, towards justice and human rights, and against bigotry and human abuse. Only then will emancipation truly be accomplished.”