Fear of the Other & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th September 2005, central London.
A two-day conference preceded by Judith Butler in conversation with Jacqueline Rose

Publication of conference proceedings

Judith Butler in conversation with Jacqueline Rose

Holocaustal Premises: Political Implications of the Traumatic Frame

How the holocaust has framed some of the debates on the status of Israel and its policies, including thoughts on how it might serve to provide an alternative ethical framework for embracing the complex ethnic realities of today.

Thursday 22nd September, 5.30 pm
(note change of time)

Beveridge Hall, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1

Sponsored by The Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, Goldsmiths College, Royal Holloway
Donation £5 requested – to be collected at the door
For further information contact: fearoftheother@ffipp-uk.org

Conference details:

Fear of the Other & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

23rd and 24th September 2005

Friday: Brunei Gallery, SOAS
Saturday: Birkbeck College London

Organized by The Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace-UK
Co-sponsored by The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities
Hosted by the London Middle East Institute Outreach Programme

This conference is about the role of racism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It deals especially with attitudes and practices that are anti-Arab, anti-Islamic and antisemitic. The aim of the conference is to bring each of these forms of racism into sharper focus; to clarify the relationship between them vis-à-vis the conflict; and to explore ways of overcoming them.

Over the course of two days, the conference will engage a variety of questions. To what extent do the parties to the conflict see each other in terms of negative stereotypes? What form does this take in the culture, politics and propaganda of each side? How far are their perceptions of each other adapted from traditional Western stereotypes of Arabs, Muslims and Jews? How far are they the product of the conflict between them? Which forces outside the Middle East tend to promote bigotry in the region, and why? Under what conditions can the people of Israel and Palestine replace irrational fear of the other with mutual respect? What is the role for people of goodwill around the world in promoting these conditions? And so on.

On the first day, a series of plenary sessions will explore the broad themes expressed in these questions. The opening keynote address will situate racism against Jews, Muslims and Arabs in the context of Western attitudes towards ‘the Orient’. The topic of Panel 1 will be racism directed at Arabs and Muslims, while Panel 2 will be about racism aimed at Jews. Panelists will seek to separate out legitimate political argument from bigoted racist discourse; to identify the sources (both religious and secular) of each kind of bigotry; and to critique the ways in which different forms of racism are instrumentalized in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This will be followed by the second keynote address and a round-table discussion with the focus on action: on what can be done by those who are working for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict. How can such individuals and groups confront racism against Arabs, Muslims and Jews, whether in the outside world or within their own ranks?

The final session on the first day will return to the terrain of Palestine and Israel. The panel will consider various ways in which ‘fear of the other’ is part and parcel of the conflict between the two societies. Topics will include (among others) the demographic debate, the position of minorities, and the growing divide between the secular and the religious.

The second day of the conference will begin with the third keynote address after which participants will have the opportunity to take part in a range of workshops, each of which will revolve around a specific topic or controversy. There will be a final plenary to pull together themes from the conference and to focus on priorities for activity.

Conference Programme
(Last update, 19th July 2005 – Note: All speakers have agreed, but there may still be changes to the order and timing of events)

Day 1: Brunei Gallery

Registration and plenary sessions, 9.15 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.

9.15–9.55:                     Registration

10.00–10.30                  Keynote 1: Azmi Bishara MK: Anti-Semitism, Orientalism in Modernity

10-30–11.45                  Anti-Islamic, Anti-Arab Fears & Impact

Henriette Dahan-Kalev; John Strawson; Sharif Nashashibi

Tea break

12-00–1.15                    Anti-Semitisms, Old and New

Daniel Dor; Brian Klug; Paul Silverstein

1.15–2.15                      Lunch break

2.15–2.45                      Keynote 2: Stuart Hall: Confronting Racisms

2.45–4.00 Confronting Racisms, Obstacles & Potential

Ghassan Abdullah; Edie Friedman; Stephen Frosh; Francesca Klug; Paul Macknay (Natfhe)

Tea break

4.15–5.30 States of Violence; Living with Conflict

Daphna Baram; Uri Hadar; Salim Tamari; Jamal Zaqout


Day 2: Birkbeck College, Malet Street

Workshops and Final Plenary, 10.00 a.m. – 4.00 p.m.

10.00–10.30                  Keynote 3: Judith Butler:
The Perilous Appropriation of “Academic Freedom”: Suppressing Dissent and Critique at U.S. Universities

10.30–1.30                     Parallel Sessions (with a short break in the middle)

1. Confronting antisemitism & Islamophobia/Anti-Arabism
with Susan Jacobs, Keith Kahn-Harris, David Hirsch
2. Beyond boycott

with Yinon Cohen, Uri Hadar, Jon Pike
3. Practical support for Palestinian students and institutions
4. Gaza Today
with Jamal Zaqout
5. Democracy vs. National/Religious Ideologies in Israeli Palestinian Conflict
with Udi Adiv; Aura Mor; Fathi Marshud
6. Managing Aggression in Political Contexts: Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Fear of Contact
with Andrew Samuels
Activating an International Student Network for a complete end to occupation
with Yoav Elinevsky

1.30–2.30 Lunch break

2.30–4.00                      Plenary: After Gaza: Eyad El-Sarraj, Richard Kuper, Lynne Segal

Registration Fee for conference: £30 (£12 concs and low waged)
Send make cheques payable to FFIPP-UK and send to
FFIPP-UK, P.O.Box 46081, London W9 2ZF
Please include an e-mail contact address; and the full name and address for each person registering

Biographies of conference participants

Ghassan Abdullah studied Mathematics and Computing and has worked in the UK, Lebanon, Italy, Jordan, and at Birzeit University. He is currently doing work for the Palestine Media Center and has been involved in FFIPP since its inception.

Daphna Baram is a freelance journalist (Haaretz, the Guardian, the New Statesman) writer, translator and former human rights lawyer in Jerusalem. She was a Fellow of the Reuters Foundation Programme in Oxford (2002-2003) and a Senior Associate Member at St Antony’s College (2003-2004). Author of Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel (2004).

Azmi Bishara is an Arab intellectual, author of several books in political philosophy and two novels, a Palestinian political activist, and since 1996 a Member of the Israeli Parliament. He also publishes a weekly syndicated column.

Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. She is on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace (San Francisco) as well as on the Executive Committee of FFIPP-US. Her recent book, Precarious Life, appeared with Verso (2004).

Yinon Cohen is a professor in the Departments of Sociology and of Labor Studies at Tel Aviv University

Daniel Dor is professor in the department of Communication at Tel Aviv University. His book The Suppression of guilt:  The Israeli Media and the Reoccupation of the West Bank is to be published in Britain in September.

Henriette Dahan Kalev is Director of Gender Studies, Ben Gurion University. She divides her time between research and human rights activism. She is the author of ‘You’re So Pretty You Don’t Look Moroccan’, Sex Gender and Politics and a board member of B’tselem.

Yoav Elinevsky is Professor of Mathematics in MWC College, Massachusetts, USA and a member of the Executive Committee of FFIPP-US.

Edie Friedman started the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) in 1976 and is now its Director. She is also a founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights. JCORE focuses on anti-racist education, Black/Jewish dialogue, and asylum and refugee issues.

Stephen Frosh is Professor of Psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London. His most recent book is ‘Hate and the “Jewish Science”: Anti-Semitism, Nazism and Psychoanalysis’ (Palgrave, 2005).

Uri Hadar is Professor of Psychology at Tel Aviv University (TAU). His research interests include Lacanian psychoanalysis, discourse analysis of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, functional neuroimaging of language and coverbal gesture. He is the author of two Hebrew books on psychoanalytic psychotherapy

Stuart Hall is Emeritus Professor of Sociology from The Open University and Visiting Professor, Goldsmith College, University of London. He is Chairman of Institute for International Visual Arts (INIVA) and a member of the FFIPP-International Advisory Board. He is the author of many books and articles on cultural studies, postcolonial theory and black culture.

David Hirsh is a lecturer in the sociology department at Goldsmiths College, University of London and editor of Engage at www.liberoblog.com.  He is the author of ‘Law against Genocide: cosmopolitan trials’ and now working on antisemitism and anti-Zionism, cosmopolitanism and nationalism, cosmopolitan law and human rights.

Susan Jacobs is in the Department of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University, and has worked on questions of gender rights, agriculture, and agrarian reform, particularly in southern Africa, gender and violent conflicts, and on women’s organisations and networks. More recently, she has conducted research on pedagogies of teaching ‘race’, ethnicity and racisms in UK higher education.

Keith Kahn-Harris is a freelance sociologist and a part-time lecturer with the Open University. He has conducted extensive research in the British Jewish community and into Jewish-Muslim relations.

Brian Klug is Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford, Associate Editor of Patterns of Prejudice, and a founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights. He has written widely on antisemitism, Zionism and Jewish identity.

Francesca Klug is a professorial research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the LSE and a founder member of Jews for Justice and Human Rights. She is a member of the Steering Group to establish a British Commission for Equality and Human Rights and has been involved in campaigns for race equality and human rights for over twenty years.

Richard Kuper is a former academic, publisher and farmer, He is chair of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (UK), formerly on the Executive of European Jews for a Just Peace and active in FFIPP-UK.

Paul Mackney is the General Secretary of Natfhe, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education. The Association is active in antiracist work.

Fathi Marshood is a well known community activist in Israel. An Israeli Arab, he has been promoting the rights of Arab Citizens in Israel for over twenty-five years, assisting Arab organisations and local authorities to develop their services and campaign for equal allocation of resources.

Aura Mor-Sommerfeld is the head of the programme for bilingual education at the Jewish-Arab Centre at Haifa University and the joint head of the “Bridge across the Wadi” fellowship. A member (researcher) of the Multilingual Europe Forum (Goldsmiths College), she works to strengthen educational links between Israel and Palestine, and co-authored On Writing Educational Ethnographies: The Art of Collusion (2005).

Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi is chairman and co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog striving for objective British coverage of Arab issues.

Jon Pike is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University (UK), the author of From Aristotle to Marx (1999), and Reading Political Philosophy (2001); editor of Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy (2003). He is the chair of Engage.

Jacqueline Rose is Professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London. She is a member of the FFIPP-International Advisory Board and of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and has published widely on literature, pyschoanalysis and feminism. Her latest book is The Question of Zion

Andrew Samuels is a university professor, psychotherapist, writer and political consultant. Founder member of JfJfP and Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility. His books include The Political Psyche and Politics on the Couch: Citizenship and the Internal Life.

Eyad el-Sarraj is a psychiatrist, founder of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights and head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. He is the President of FFIPP-International

Lynne Segal is Anniversary Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at Birkbeck College, London University and has published widely on feminism, gender, psychology and politics. She is on the Board of FFIPP-I and a member of JFJFP.

Gabrielle Rifkind is a group analyst, psychotherapist and specialist in conflict resolution. She is Human Security Consultant to the Oxford Research Group and Director of the Oxford Process, which provides secure, structured methods to enable those in adversarial situations to work on resolving conflict and co-author of ‘Hearts and Minds: Human security approaches to political violence’ (2005)

Paul A. Silverstein is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Reed College (Portland, Oregon USA). He is author of Algeria in France: Transpolitics, Race, and Nation (2004). His current research and writing focuses on Berber/Amazigh ethno-politics and philo-Semitism in Morocco.

John Strawson is Reader in Law at the University of East London, teaching international law and Middle East Studies. He directs the Encountering Legal Cultures research group and writes on law and postcolonialism with special reference to Islam, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and International law. His publications include, (ed.) Law after Ground Zero (2004).

Salim Tamari is the director of the Institute of Jerusalem Studies and a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Birzeit University, specializing in urban, rural, and political sociology.

Publication of conference proceedings

Some talks and papers were subsequently published:

Judith Butler & Jacqueline Rose, Holocaustal Premises: Political Implications of the Traumatic Frame

A webcast of the main presentations is available under events on the Royal Holloway College website – scroll down to 22nd September 2005.

Judith Butler Israel/Palestine and the Paradoxes of Academic Freedom
This paper was revised for publication in Radical Philosophy, 135 Jan-Feb 2006


Henriette Dahan-Kalev
Daniel Dor
David Hirsh
Edie Friedman

Stephen Frosh
Brian Klug
Francesca Klug
John Pike
David Renton
Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi
Women Against Fundamentalisms

Zionism, post Zionism and fear of Arabness

Henriette Dahan Kalev
(political scientist and the Director of Gender Studies Program at the Ben Gurion University)

Prepared for the Conference on Fear of The Other and The Israeli Palestinian Conflict, September 23-24 2005, SOAS, London

In this talk I discuss the fear of Arabness of the Ashkenazim (Jews of European and American origin) and its impact on the Mizrahim. I explore the Mizrahim’s reaction to the fear of Arabness and examine it in the light of the post Zionist critic of Arab- Jewishness.

Let me open with two episodes.

When I was 10, there was a boy in my class whose name was Baruch (in Hebrew it means blessed). He had dark skin, black eyes and curly hair. He lived in Beit Saffafa, an Arab village in South Jerusalem. At school he spoke very little but when he did one could hear his Arab accent. His family name was Salman – a name common both to Arabs and Jews. This has always puzzled me: How come an Arab boy was given a Jewish first name ‘Baruch’.

It was only many years later when we once met on the street that I dared asking him about it. He told me that the teachers changed his name from Muhamed to Baruch explaining that it would make it easier for him in a class where he was the only Arab pupil amongst 35 Jewish pupils. As our conversation went on both of us agreed that it was meant to make it simple for the Jewish children and the teachers but it certainly did not ease his social difficulties at class.

A colleague of mine told me this second episode. She is a woman of Ashkenazi origin. As a child, she said, her parents have always warned her to never cross the street but did not explain to her why. She grew up in a middle class Jewish neighborhood in the Arab-Jewish mixed town Lead and left it after she finished the mandatory military service. Only when she became a peace activist, a couple of decades later she recalled, that her parents did not allow her to cross the street because there was an Arab neighborhood, and like all the Jews in this street, they did not want their children to mingle with Arabs.

These two incidents, minor to Jewish young girls and critical to Arabs who lived amongst them demonstrate Orientalism1 at work. Clearly, these incidences conceal deepest fears that Ashkenazi Jews had of Arabness and of the Palestinians who lived around them and amongst them. They explain how casual and easy could it be to erase

Arab names, bodies, entire neighborhoods while simultaneously living in their midst. But could they eliminate the fear of the Arabs who lived inside them, the fear of the Arab-Jews? And what did the Arab-Jews do with this fear? In other words, how did the fear of Arabness, fueled by the Israeli establishment, an establishment consisting mainly of Ashkenazis, affect those Israelis who were both Jewish and Arab? What did the Arab-Jews do when realized that they live amongst people who envision their Arabness as frightening and as contradicting their Jewishness? Unlike the Palestinian whose Arabness was regarded by Zionist nation builder as compatible with their enmity, the Jews of the Arab countries confused them. As the Zionist project saw itself as the Jews redeemer, the idea of redemption in the case of Arab-Jews was taken further to redeem the Arab-Jews of their own Arabness2 (Dahan-Kale 2001). * For a couple of decades, till the late 1960s, however it looked like success in separating Arabness from the Jews, has been achieved. Assimilated Mizrahim showed loyalty and condemned the Arab enemy, internalizing the derogatory sense of Arabness. Moreover, they participated in national tasks that the decision makers had put on the Israeli society, contributing their share to the militaristic efforts, occupying the territories, and governing the Palestinians people’s lives. For a while this has helped to create amongst many Israelis: Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, a belief that Arabness was finally tamed and the source of fear within them is under control. But not for more then one decade.

An interesting attempt of post-Zionists in the late 1980s involved a particular move, to bring Arabness back in and to problematize it within the Israeli discourse, has shacked up this belief and awakened anew the fears.

This has happened following the breaking through paradigm of Said, Orientalism. The Iraqi-American Jewish scholar Ella Shohat was among the first to apply Orientalism to the analysis of the Mizrahi-Ashkenazi social tension in Israel. Shohat has treated the Israeli cinema and film industry as texts and narratives, exposing within them deepest fears of Arabness embedded in Zionism (Shohat 1989)3. Shoat claimed that Zionism was more or less a particular case study of Orientalism, saturated in fears of Islam and Arabness. Her genuine contribution to the critic of Zionism, in The Israeli Cinema in1991, continued with the post-Iraq war article “Dislocated Identities”4 (1992), offered a theoretical-critical discussion, in which the idea of erasing the hyphen which appended Arabness with Jewishness, has appeared as an Orientalist project. Moreover, what was threatening to the Ashkenazis and the Ashkenazified Mizrahim in her works was that she has re-hyphenated it ruining Zionist tireless efforts to de-hyphen it for decades (Ibid, 1992).

Shohat’s bringing the hyphen back in has re-inflamed the hibernated fears of Arabness of Israeli Jews, and burning experiences from the past, preoccupied the intellectual dispute again. Nevertheless, the variety of the critic of Shohat’s argument, ranging from well Ashkenazified Zionist seculars trough Mizrahi activists, nationalists as well as left wingers, or the Ultra-Orthodox Mizrahim of the third largest political party Shas, have proved Shohat’s view of the Mizrahim to be touch upon the important point of fear but does it in a monolithic and anachronistic in nature5. It spurred a debate showing that Mizrahim are playing an active role in the discourse and not necessarily out of the initial shame or contempt or even of fear of their Arabness.

Indeed, I find it difficult to understand the absence of the discussion of what seems to be the ‘Mizrahim’s’ consent and not just subordination, or Mizrahi dispute with the Zionist de-hyphenization in Shohat’s work. The Mizrahim’s position is very difficult to be summed up. Shohat insists on the Arab-Jews victimization, as one of her article’s title points out: “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims”(1988). In this respect, it reduces the Mizrahim’s diverse reaction to one that is politically passive and uniform. Mizrahim appear to be objects who accepted the Zionist imposition of the ‘de-hyphenization’. This is a monolithic standpoint which do not coincide with possible political heterogeneity and cultural diversity, which Shohat herself attributes to them. Moreover, she does to the Arab Jewishness just the same, Zionism has done to the Jewish Arabness. In other words, Shohat hardly discusses Jewish religion and Jewish tradition in itself. She discusses Diaspora negation in the context of Zionism’s goal to eliminate the Arab-Jews history from the curricula. Shohat’ attempt was to bring it back. She argued that Jewishness when related to the Arab-Jews it was presented in civilian and cultural terms, as Jewish Iraqi language, family life, customs and space (See for example Shohat 1992). Jews distinguished them selves as a community from the Moslems not from the Arabs, she explains. This was a religious distinction which divided the Arabs into groups of Jews and Moslems (Ibid). Her conclusion is that the Arabs-Moslems and the Arab-Jews were not alienated from each other. This indeed was the common description repeatedly mentioned by Jews who came from the Arab world. But while Shohat is giving a peaceful description of the community life in Iraq till the emergence of the Zionist movement, even somewhat nostalgic, Alber Memmi, the author of the powerful work The Colonizer and The Colonized6, discussed his Jewish- Arabness rather furiously insisting that fear of Arabs was part of the Jews experience, back there in the Arab countries. In an article titled “Who is an Arab Jew?” published in Israel Academic Community on the middle East in February 19757, he responded to Muammer Khadafi’s (the Libyan leader) call to the Jews to return to the Arab countries, rhetorically asking them “Are you not Arabs like us – Arab Jews?” Memmi agrees with Shohat that the similarities between Jews and Moslems are rooted in their Arabness and that Arabness is a cultural similarity. But while Shohat sees culture with a capital c and includes history, geography politics and space, Memmi’s culture is written with a small c. He draws the line of Arabness after the habits, music and menu saying that the “Jews were at the mercy not only of the monarch but also of the man in the street.” (ibid) Thus pointing to the constant threat, on Arab-Jews, politics is being drowned as at least two histories. 6 Memmi’s different view of culture, I want to suggest, results from the time in which he wrote his reply to Khadafi, the mid-70s. Shohat on the other hand, is writing in the post- era, post modernist, post colonialist and post Zionist era. To use Shohat’s brilliant explanation of the post- in the article “Notes on the ‘Post Colonial’ (1992)8, the focus in the idea of the post here is on new modes and forms of colonial actions rather then on something that is beyond. When applied to the above point, this results in continuities and in discontinuities. In other words, experiencing a phase of othering within what is imagined as one’s own country, as the Mizrahim did, had a sobering effect of post naiveté. And therefore we can conclude that Mizrahim from Arab countries have indeed suffered both from being Jews in Arab countries and from being Arabs in Israel. Zionism racialized them for being Arabs, and in this sense they were Jewish victims of Zionism and Jewish victims of Arabness in Israel as they continue to be even when de- Ashkenazified like Shohat’s, and others Mizrahi post-Zionists suggest. However, they have learned how to survive both in the Arab countries and in the Zionist country.

What I center on here is how they have survived this racialization in Israel. Although severely economically deprived, in three decades they have learned how to play the Israeli political game and became a significant if not the significant actor on the political arena.

This talk is in a way a continuation of the paper “The Israeli Palestinian Conflict and the Israeli Arab-Jews” which I delivered in a conference in Al-Kuds University in January 20059. I argued than, that the Mizrahim – the Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries are a diverse social category, and their political orientation, in general, and their position towards the Israeli Palestinian conflict, in particular, ranges from the right to the left of the political parties map. Unlike their political image as right wingers, their political considerations are complex and influenced by factors which are connected to the peace process directly and indirectly and in any case are influenced by economic factors and bitter experience of deprivation.

Therefore it would be myopic to see them only as passive and victims and not to consider their impact on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, though indirect impact. Today they are scattered across the political map although their voice is mainly heard from the right wing. Why it is so is a question that still needs to be studied .From this point of view Shohat’s proclamation of Arab-Jewish victimization of Mizrahim remains an abstract idea that might attract intellectuals but is conquered by daily life practices. As their racialization experience was completely different from that of the Palestinians from within and from out of the green line, therefore I suggest seeing them exclusively neither as Arabs – victims of Zionism nor as Israelis identical to the Ashkenazis. This turns the gaze to the Palestinians, and to how they see them? This complication was fairly well discerned by many Palestinians who have been impatient with the abstruse arguments surrounding epistemological foundations of post-Zionism. They have concentrated instead on more historically informed studies of the political conditions and biases of particular knowledge claims, as works of Bishara, for example, demonstrate (1993)10. Such works ultimately derive from Said and they usually want to preserve some kind of distance from Mizrahim as well as from the post-Zionist discourse. The Mizrahim post-Zionist, like Shohat however, who want to bring Arabness back in to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, deny this impatient to exist or to be contestable.

In conclusion the Arab-Jewish idea offers no model of conflict resolution beyond disputes as to how to remove from Zionism the fear of Arabness or how to move to political action. Given this contested position, relations between Palestinians and leftists Mizrahim, have been wary. Mizrahim in the left wing organizations such as Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow and Ahoti – Mizrahi Women Organization have paid little explicit attention to the issues raised by Palestinians outside the academic world11. Like Shohat, the Mizrahi intellectuals in Israel enjoy the game of pulling Zionism from the hands of the mainstream establishment and delivering it to the hands of critical, perhaps post-Zionist activist. But the problem is that this does not bear the exploration of the complex relations between the Mizrahim and Israeli- Palestinian conflict in new contexts. Thus the belief that Mizrahim who hold Arab- Jewish views and who are often identified as left wingers cannot enjoy the sympathy of the Palestinian on the common ground of being Arabs while other Mizrahim continue the occupation in the territories and the oppression of Palestinians. Such belief would be both misleading and synthetic. It is impossible to ignore Mizrahim right wingers who contest from the extreme right and from religious and Orthodox the idea of Arab-Jews. Shas, the Ultra-Orthodox Party representing religious people of Arab-Jewish origin, whom I did not include in this analysis, proclaim being the true Zionists. They don’t even call themselves Arabs or Mizrahim but Sepharadim. Zionist Sepharadim. However, it would be too easy and superficial to put all of them in the same pot as right wingers.

Last comment, it is my contention that understanding the fear of Arabness as looked closer in the case of the Israelis, Ashkenazis as well As Mizrahim, can be applied to the exploration of the fear of Islam and Arabness in general as expressed in other places and in other historical times. USA scholars works such in general as Bernard Louis and Samuel Huntington, and the making of political decisions such as the invasion to Iraq, are not in vain rooted in the fear of Islam. The fear of Islam is not imaginative only, as Said himself points out:

“Yet where Islam was concerned, European fear, if not always respected, was in order. After Mohammed’s death in 632, the military and later the cultural and religious hegemony of Islam grew enormously“. P.59 [my emphasis]

1 Said, Edward, 1978, Orientalism, Vintage, NY

2 Dahan-Kalev, Henriette, 2001. “You Are So Pretty, You Don’t Look Moroccan”, Israeli Studies, Vol. 6:1-14.\

3 Ella Shohat, 1989 Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation, Univ. of Texas Press,

4 Ella Shohat, “Dislocated Identities: Reflections of an Arab-Jew,” Movement Research: Performance Journal # 5 (Fall-Winter, 1992) p. 8.

5. See the Left Bank internet site http://www.hagada.org.il/hagada/ article on the Mizrahi woman trial charged for accusation of Mizrahi woman for collaboration with Palestinian terrorists, Taly Fahima 25.9.04. For religious Mizrahim discourse on Jewish tradition and religion see for example Zvi Zohar, “Sephardic Rabbinic Response to Modernity: Some Central Characteristics”, in: S. Deshen and W.P. Zenner (eds.), Jews Among Muslims: Communities in the Pre-Colonial Middle East, London, Macmillan and New York University Press, 1996, pp. 64-80. For left wing Mizrahi discourse see for example the Democratic Mizrahi Rainbow internet site www.hakeshet.org.il For social justice issues see internet site http://www.haokets.org/ For national-religious position see for example Avi Picard’s Book Review: Were the Sephardim Religious? In Shasha’s internet site The Shepharadic Heritage September 2004: http://student.cs.ucc.ie/cs1064/jabowen/IPSC/journals/SephardicHeritageUp date.php

6 Memmi Albert, 1967 The colonizer and the colonized Boston: Beacon Press

7 Albert Memmi, 1975, “Who is an Arab Jew?” Israel Academic Community on the middle East, February 1975.

8 Shohat Ella, 1992 “Notes on the ‘Post Colonial’, in Social Texts 31/32 10

9 Henriette Dahan Kalev “The Israeli Palestinian Conflict and the Israeli Arab-Jews”, The Faculty For Israeli – Palestinian Peace, FFIPP, The 4th International Academic Conference on An End to Occupation, A Just Peace in Israel-Palestine :Activating an International Network January 3rd – 5th, 2005 Al Quds University East Jerusalem

10Bishara, Azmi, 1993, “On the Question of the Palestinian Minority in Israel” Theory and Criticism, vol. 3 (1)

11 From a recent draft published in the www.keshet.org.il internet site one can immediately identify the Zionist middle class spirit blowing in it. There is not even one issue of the conflict, be it Jerusalem, the right of return or the refugees, that is talked.

From Guilt to Responsibility: Towards a Pragmatically-Constrained Radical Discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Daniel Dor

This paper is of the programmatic type. My goal is to suggest that the Radical Left can, and should, play a more productive role in the effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than it does at the moment. This, however, can only be done if we manage to allow some pragmatic insights to constrain our discourse – both in terms of our understanding of our own discourse and its audiences, and our conception of the conflict, its history and its future.

As my point of departure, I would like to take the fact that a lot of what seems to us – as people of the Left – as legitimate criticism of Israel and the occupation, is all too often interpreted as the type of illegitimate criticism which emanates, consciously or unconsciously, from anti-Semitism. Instead of trying to find a way to rigorously distinguish between legitimate criticism and anti-Semitic bigotry, I would like approach the problem from a more empiricistic angle, one which accepts that things are the way they are – that such interpretations do play a major role in the discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially in the United States and in Europe – and try to understand why this is the case. And I would like to ask this question in a way that does not immediately blame the other side of intentional or unintentional misinterpretation, or propaganda. Such pro-Israeli propaganda does exist, of course, but I would like to try to understand the phenomenon in a way that does not end up with us tossing the ball away from our own court. I would like to ask the question in a way that might eventually help us understand what we may try to do in order to avoid this type of misinterpretation. At the moment, I will take it as a presupposition that we do not want our critical assertions to be interpreted as anti-Semitic. This presupposition is not as self-evident as it seems at first glace, but for the moment, it will do. I will get back to it later on.

To begin with, then, let me say a few words about discourse in general, and conflictual discourse in particular, that I think will help us understand why the above empiricistic formulation of the problem is so important. Let us try to think about speech events – speech events of all types – as triplets, or triads, of speakers, assertions and audiences. And let us think of speech events as triplets of this type in the strict sense – a speech event is the whole triplet; none of its components can be examined independently of the others; the basic unit of analysis is entire event. When a speaker talks in front of an audience, there are as many speech events there as there are people in the room; and if the very same things are said by somebody else, the entire set of speech events is totally different, even though the assertions, and the audience, are exactly the same. This seemingly modest theoretical move has many fundamental implications for the understanding of communication in general, which I will not get into in this paper. For our purposes now, however, what it implies is that the question we are interested in – why it is that assertions which emerge, from the point of view of the speakers, as legitimate criticism of Israel, are interpreted as anti-Semitic –  is a question about the entire speech event. It is not a question about the assertions, or about the speakers, or about the audiences – it is a question about the interaction between all three. If a certain assertion is formulated by a speaker, and is interpreted by certain audiences, as legitimate criticism – then it does indeed constitute legitimate criticism. But if the very same assertion is interpreted by other audiences as anti-Semitic, then, in the context of the speech events in which these audiences are involved, the assertion is anti-Semitic. The assertion is colored by anti-Semitism, it reverberates with anti-Semitic overtones, whether the speaker likes it or not.

Assuming, then, that we do not like it, I think that this perspective leaves us no choice but to accept that speech events constitute legitimate criticism (of Israel, in our case)  only as long as both sides of the speech event interpret them this way. And if the speaker finds that his or her assertions are interpreted as anti-Semitic, the speaker has no choice but to accept – as a fact – that there is something wrong going on in the speech event, that this cannot be explained away as just a mistake, or the result of propaganda. And if the speaker wants to do something about it, then he or she should consider himself or herself directly responsible for the unwarranted interpretations of his or her assertions: Not guilty of anti-Semitic talk, but responsible for it. And what this responsibility implies is that the speaker should find a way to listen to his or her listeners, and try to understand where the interpretation comes from.

Let me, then, make a distinction between two types of discourses which play an important role in situations of conflict. The distinction, of course, is not clear-cut, but for the purposes of our discussion, I think it is crucial. One type of discourse I will call a Guilt-Oriented Discourse; the other – a Solution-Oriented Discourse. The distinction, I think, is quite intuitive: Guilt-oriented discourses are oriented towards figuring out who is guilty of the conflict; solution-oriented discourses concentrate on how the conflict can be solved. Let me make a few observations about the two types of discourse:

The first observation is that the two types of discourses produce two very different images of the world, in our case, of the conflict: Guilt-oriented discourses tend to accentuate those elements of reality which potentially prove accusations against the other side, or refute accusations against us. This is a hugely powerful epistemic devise. It constructs a worldview of a very specific type. Something in reality becomes important – is highlighted, publicized, argued for, reiterated – only if it helps prove that the other side is guilty of this or that, or, alternatively, if it helps refute an accusation coming from the other side against ours. In this sense, the language which guilt-oriented discourses develop is legalistic. It tends to focus on evidence, intentionality, coercion and victimhood. If they blame us of doing something wrong, we first of all deny it (this is not true; you don’t have evidence for that; you’re lying), and then, if forced to admit it, retreat to the second line of defense – we didn’t do it on purpose; this was not our intention; we were forced to do it. And we accentuate those elements of reality that support this perspective of denial. If, on the other hand, we blame them of something, we spend a lot of energy on proving the deed was done, and we are much more than ready to assume that it was done with perfect intention to do harm. We find it very easy to believe that the other side knows exactly what it’s doing; that there is a plan. And we accentuate those elements of reality that support this blaming perspective. In both cases, we tend to highlight our own victimhood, our own fragility. In this sense, guilt-oriented discourses tend to produce worldviews in which many of the gray areas of reality, and many of its colors, disappear into a black and white picture.

Solution-oriented discourses, on the other hand, tend to accentuate those elements of reality that can be changed for the better. The question is not: Who can we blame for this? But: How can we do something useful about it? This, too, is a very powerful framing strategy. Something in reality becomes important if it shows a promise for improving; if it hints at a possible venue of activity that might be helpful. In this sense, solution-oriented discourses are suspicious of blacks and whites; they are suspicious of simplicity. This is so, because those areas of reality which are indeed black or white – those components of reality which are simple – are probably the most difficult to change. Solution-oriented discourses are looking for those areas of reality which seem to be less crystallized, less frozen, more dynamic and more complex. These are the gray areas. Things look very different indeed when the gray is allowed to stay in the picture.

The next observation is this: The two discourses develop two very different conceptions of time. Guilt-oriented discourses tend to focus on the past. They tend to look for primary causes, for the original sin. This phenomenon emerges directly from the legalistic nature of the discourse: If we did this to them, it is only because they did that to us before. They acted first, we only reacted. But they say that what they did then was in itself a reaction to something we did before they acted. Their action was also a reaction. Where can this spiral of blame stop? Well, only at the very beginning. So guilt-oriented discourses tend to go back into history, running again and again through the same cycles of blame and denial, un

til they reach the origins – and there the debate stops. Now, both sides at least share one conviction: They know that the gap between them cannot be bridged.

And because guilt-oriented discourses focus as they do on the original sin, they tend to imply that a solution can only result from a radical treatment of the original sin. As long as Israel sees itself as a Jewish Democracy, nothing can be done; as long as the Arabs do not westernize to the point of losing their entire identity, nothing can be done. In this sense, guilt-oriented discourses are deeply paradoxical: They turn their gaze to history, but they are a-historical in the most foundational sense. Everything that is important in the history of the conflict can be a-historically explained on the basis of the origin. This is why, when Guilt-oriented discourses turn to the question of solution, they tend to drift into the realm of utopia. “The impossible”, in Edward Said’s famous words, “is easier than the difficult.” If the solution can only be resolved by treating the origin, and if the origin is the most foundational element in the story, then the solution seems very far indeed.

Solution-oriented discourses, on the other hand, tend to focus on the present and the near-future. The general attitude they project is: “We don’t care who started it; what we want to do is try to solve it.” Solution-oriented discourses tend to look at the guilt-oriented discourses – all of them, from all sides – as part of the problem, as another obstacle to a solution. All this does not mean that solution-oriented discourses necessarily turn their gaze away from history. But they spend much more energy looking at the reality as it is right now, and because of that, because they understand the complexity of the problem at present, they tend to find more nuanced narratives of the conflict more plausible. And solution-oriented discourses also imply that a solution to the conflict does not necessarily have to involve a radical treatment of whatever each of the sides considers the original sin. They tend to assume that radical changes may follow the more mundane ones; or that they might eventually turn out to be unnecessary. They tend to assume that radical changes need a more positive atmosphere; that practical solutions to problems on the ground may gradually lead to a change at the deeper level. And they also work with the assumption that the suffering of people on the ground, right now, is more important than principles of abstract justice, or the memories of the suffering of the past.

The third observation is that each type of discourse produces a specific type of identity – both at the individual and the collective level. People and societies project different identities when involved in these two very different types of discourses. Guilt-oriented discourses produce identities which are deeply and bitterly entrenched in self-righteousness, anger and sarcasm; identities which are more than anything else dedicated to the preservation of their own images as innocent victims. There is not a lot of hope there, and definitely no place for the suffering of the other side. Regrettably, this is so for a good reason: At the end of the day, guilt-oriented discourses are about punishment. Once the guilty side is identified – once we have proven our case – it is time to punish. And the punishment is the annihilation of identity. This is what guilt-oriented discourses are about: As long as the other side is what it is, there is no hope for solution.

Solution-oriented identities, on the other hand, are more optimistic, more self-assured. People, and societies, can say and do quite a lot when they do not feel that their very identity is in danger. Solution-oriented discourses understand that, and therefore, they understand that the conflict can only be resolved if both sides feel that they are not pushed out of their identity, that they are not expected to sacrifice everything that they are in order to reach a solution that no longer involves them. This is why solution-oriented discourses tend to spend more energy learning the identities of both sides, looking for those gray areas of identity that might be developed into something that may eventually help bring about some positive change.


Unfortunately, most of the discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – in Israel, Palestine, Europe and the States – is guilt-oriented through and through. Everybody is busy blaming everybody else. In a recent book, The Suppression of Guilt (Pluto Press), I show that the Israeli media is invested in the guilt-oriented discourse to the point of obsession – they are doing everything to produce a coverage of the conflict that blames the other side of whatever happens, and proves that we are innocent. As I show there, some of the media even prefer to characterize the Israeli government as incompetent and irresponsible – to demonstrate that no-one there knows what he’s doing – only to prove, as a last, desperate line of defense, that no intention is involved in anything we do, which means that, at the bottom line, we are not guilty.

But the Israeli media, and Israeli society, are not alone in this. By their very definition, guilt-oriented discourses can only keep going as long as both sides are actively involved in them. And because this conflict is so much about identity – because so much of it is about perceptions and narratives – this cycle of guilt keeps the conflict alive almost as much as the cycle of violence on the ground. This can be most tragically demonstrated by the day-to-day experiences of the spokespeople for the two sides – those Israelis and Palestinians who regularly appear on CNN, for example. The Israeli spokesperson has “a good day at work” when a bus explodes in Jerusalem; the Palestinian spokesperson has a good day when Palestinian children are killed by IDF snipers. This is a fact. It is a fact about this conflict, and I think we should take it very seriously into account.

And we should also accept that most of what is said and written by the Radical Left is thoroughly implicated in the guilt-oriented discourse about the conflict. Most of what is said by spokespeople of the Radical Left is about pointing the finger at Israel, going back to the original sin of Zionism as a colonial project, and assuming a grand plan being handed over all the way from Weizman and Ben-Gurion to Barak and Sharon. And much of it, of course, is about the notion of Israel as a Jewish-Democratic state. One does not have to deny any of these claims – one does not have to deny, for example, that the notion of a Jewish-Democratic state is a contradiction in terms – in order to understand that a discourse that consists almost entirely of accusations of this type does not play a very positive role in the conflict, precisely because its targets everything which is at the center of Jewish-Israeli identity.

All of which takes us back to the question we started with: Assertions which we think of as legitimate criticism of Israel are often interpreted as anti-Semitic not because there is something specifically anti-Semitic about them, and not necessarily because Jewish-Israelis, or Jews outside Israel, identify something that is specifically anti-Semitic about them – but because the assertions are guilt-oriented. The word ‘anti-Semitic’ is used as an adjective, a marker, and it is attached to anything that looks like a guilt-oriented discourse against Israel. Just as Arabs, and people on the Radical Left, would tend to interpret a guilt-oriented discourse directed at the Palestinians as Orientalist, Jewish-Israelis, and Jews in general, would tend to interpret a guilt-oriented discourse directed at them as Anti-Semitic.

Again: The point is not whether we are right or not – we are probably right some of the time, and some of the time we are not – but what type of effect we want to achieve. Earlier, I introduced a presupposition – that we do not want our critical assertions to be interpreted as anti-Semitic. Well, it is important to note that this is not the only option. Some people, for example, might be of the opinion that there is no point in communicating with the Jewish-Israeli public in the first place – the only thing that can be done is the accumulation of outside pressure against Israel. I do not think this is going to work, but if this is the goal, then these people definitely have no reason to complain when what they say is interpreted as anti-Semitic. If, however, we do want to communicate, we have to do something about it: Not to look for a clear distinction between anti-Semitic talk and legitimate criticism of Israel, but to try and see how we can translate what we say from the language of guilt to the language of solution.

But how can we do that without losing the critical edge? Well, we may start with the understanding – the critical understanding – that solution-oriented discourses are not without their own dangers. Most importantly, solution-oriented discourses tend to drift into a type of a-moral relativism. They tend to forget that both sides do not suffer in equal proportions; that they are not as strong as each other. They tend to look for easy, shallow solutions, and therefore, they tend to forget that the solution – in order for it to work – should not just be possible and easy to implement, but also fair, and deep, and thorough. And because they look for the easiest solution possible, they tend to allow the stronger side – especially in our case, where Israel is backed by the U.S. – to determine, unilaterally, much of the process and much of the reality on the ground, and, most importantly, much of what is eventually called the agreement. It is exactly because of this – because they reify power relations – that solution-oriented discourses would benefit enormously from a good injection of radical discourse – a radical discourse that, on the one hand, remembers what solution-oriented discourses forget, but, on the other hand, makes an effort to give up the language of blame and join the effort of solution:

Instead of blaming Israel for the conflict, we should insist that as things stand now, right now, finding a just and deep solution to the conflict is first and foremost an Israeli responsibility. Not because of the original sin of Zionism, not because of the background of colonialism, but simply because, at the moment, the Palestinians are under Israeli occupation and not the other way around. This perspective, for example, should allow us to criticize everything that has to be criticized with respect to the IDF’s disengagement from the Gaza strip – regardless of the historical circumstances that made it happen, and regardless of what we may think about Sharon’s intentions there: No, the ball is not in the Palestinian court now; no, it is not their turn to prove that they can rule themselves or that they want a peaceful solution; no, the occupation of Gaza is not over, not as long as the people in Gaza cannot move freely in and out of the strip, not as long as no movement is allowed between Gaza and the West Bank.

Instead of looking for the ideal solution to the conflict, we should understand that what is needed is a good-enough solution – the best solution that is possible – and see what we can do in order to push the notion of good-enough to its limit. Not beyond its limit, not into the realm of the impossible, but as far as it can go. We should try to push the possible-and-easy towards the possible-and-difficult, but not cross the line. In more concrete terms, the question is not whether we should replace the two-state solution with something else – nothing else is possible – but how we can help shape the two-state solution in a way that will be as just as possible, and as deep and thorough as possible. According to all polls, the two-state solution is supported now by the majorities on both sides, and although the disengagement from Gaza has not improved the lives of the Palestinians, it has nevertheless deepened the understanding among Jewish-Israelis that the two-state solution is practically possible – mostly because, for the first time ever, Jewish-Israelis saw with their own eyes that settlements can indeed be dismantled. The two-state solution, then, is possible, but the specific form it may eventually take is far from decided. Between its easiest variations and its most difficult ones, there is a huge space for maneuver. This is where we should concentrate our efforts.

Instead of insisting that the demand for a just solution stems from a certain understanding of abstract justice – our understanding of it – we should make it clear, to ourselves and to our audiences, that a just solution is necessary because unjust solutions do not work. They fall apart. It is in the best interest of all sides to achieve the most just solution possible. And because impossible solutions do not work very well either, we should make it clear – this time mostly to ourselves – that the best of all possible solutions will inevitably involve certain types of compromise over the question of justice. What types of compromise? On what? Why? These are the question we should ask. And the answers should be, by their very definition, pragmatically constrained. Between the unjust solutions that won’t work, and the just solution that is impossible, there is a just-enough solution that is needed. We should try to figure out what this solution is.

Which means that instead of only criticizing, we have no choice but to think productively and positively about some of the details of that just-enough solution. Because this is one of the most important secrets of this conflict: A lot of people, on both sides, do not necessarily object to a just and deep solution to the conflict. They simply don’t know how. If we manage to recruit all the energy, and wit, and clarity of thought that we put into the project of critique – a project which eventually plays a problematic role within the global discourse of guilt – and invest it in radicalizing the solution-oriented discourse, and developing a discourse of responsibility, I am quite certain we’ll be able to play a much more productive role in the effort to finally resolve this conflict.

Back home, I’m supervising a project run by two organizations – the Palestinian organization Miftah and the Israeli organization Keshev – in which we work very closely with the media on both sides, trying to help them break away from the cycle  of guilt, and develop, together, a discourse of responsibility. The Israeli and Palestinian media are very different from each other, and the realities in which they work are very different too. But something about the difficulties we both experience in this project is nevertheless identical. No-one wants to be the first to break away from the cycle of guilt. Each side is suspiciously looking for those first signs of change on the other side: Let them change first, then we will. Of all those who play a role in the cycle of guilt, I think it is the Left which can take the lead and show the way. If we manage to do that, if we manage to produce a new type of discourse, which is radical, and nevertheless solution-oriented, I am sure we will be able to make the type of difference we want. And we will also find ourselves accused much less of anti-Semitism.


Edie Friedman

How can we Tackle Racism against Jews, Muslims and Arabs?

Edie Friedman,  Director Jewish Council for Racial Equality


I would like to look briefly at three main areas:-

1 Why  this racism is exacerbated.

2 What  in principle we can do about it

3 What  can we do in practice (two projects)

·        I am giving a Jewish perspective rather than the Jewish perspective.

·        We are not a monolithic community any more than Muslims, Arabs are.

·        My comments are about getting it right in the UK – it may then make it easier to get it right in the Middle East.

Stereotypes/Prejudices/Racism are exacerbated because:

•   Too often one organisation purports to be the  authentic voice who speaks on behalf of an entire group.

•   Other voices are marginalized, written off as  “extreme”, “left-wing” “unrepresentative”.

•      Therefore debate, mature thinking is stifled.

•   Too often other institutions within  our communities e.g.,  press, religious leaders reinforce  the monolithic views as they provide limited opportunity for us to analyse,  challenge, critically evaluate.

•      Consequently we view the outside world through  a distorted lens.

•   Also reinforcing this monolithic view is the  fact that behaviour of one person becomes synonymous with the behaviour of  everyone in the group. Two examples are Michael Howard and Lord  Jackobovits.  When Michael Howard was Home Secretary people would sometimes ask me, “What are you  going to do about your “Jewish” Home Secretary?” Now I ask you, “Why?  Because I am Jewish was I responsible for his behaviour towards asylum seekers?”  I do not remember  people being asked to take responsibility for the way other Cabinet  ministers who were Christian behaved.  With regard to the former Chief Rabbi, when he  published his response to the Church of England’s report on “Faith in the  City”, he gave what was interpreted as a Thatcherite response.  Many other Jews (less well known)  gave very different responses to this report, yet Lord Jakobovits’s  response became synonymous with the entire Jewish community.  So much so that the Guardian  journalist, Hugo Young, wrote an article equating Jewish tradition (all  four thousand years of it) with Thatcherism.  Can you imagine waking up every morning to that burden?!

So what can we do?  In principle we can:

•   work together to combat all forms of racism  without competing for victimhood.

•   Equality in victimhood is not something we  should strive for, yet too often we do precisely that.

·        ensure that human rights are not sacrificed for group solidarity, conformity.

·       Create dialogue that goes beyond traditional inter-faith dialogue.

·       go beyond “reactive agendas” such as faith schools, ritual slaughter

·       become more overtly committed to secular dialogue on domestic issues such as:

§     Britain becoming a fairer society for everyone.

§     promoting more positive attitudes about asylum seekers and refugees within our own communities and within wider society. This also includes standing up for the Geneva Convention.

§     supporting human rights legislation.

How can we put this into practice – two projects

Project One – Race Equality Education in all schools

•        which goes beyond celebrating diversity to incorporate issues of equality, fairness and justice.

•        JCORE developed material – starting with pre-school age children to helping all children relate their experiences to the experience of other group.

•       Making connections not judgmental comparison between different communities.

•        Aim is to help children under their responsibility, both individually and collectively to combat racism and develop a just multicultural society.

Project Two – Connections Exhibition & outreach project

•        Examines the hidden history of Asian, Black and Jewish communities in Britain as part of British history.

•   stresses positive connections not comparisons,  stresses our ordinariness as well as what makes each group unique.

•   Too often we are defined by negative things –  indentured labour, slavery, the Holocaust.

•   unlike other projects this project is about  connections between minority groups rather than between us and the host  community


1.  Does our race equality education work actually reduce prejudice?

2. Do we have the maturity/courage within our  respective communities to create materials to deal with racism against  Arabs and Israelis?

3. How do we get meetings like today’s into more  mainstream organisations within the Muslim and Jewish communities.


1. Be bolder in creating and sustaining  alternative voices.

2. Work together (and be seen) to work together  on all forms of racism and move away from single issue agendas.

3. Collaborate in producing and implementing race  equality education for all schools (faith and secular).

4. Make sure schools and community groups are  reinforcing the same message. For a start we can we work together to  establish a common set of principles which Muslim and Jewish schools can  adopt and implement.



Confronting racisms, obstacles and potential

Stephen Frosh

I speak here as someone who has always been located within the traditional, orthodox Jewish community, who has always identified visibly as Jewish and who finds himself caught between various rocks and hard places. As an academic working, amongst other things, to oppose racisms and social oppression, it is ‘obvious’ that I should oppose Israel’s actions in oppressing Palestinians, as indeed I do. As a Jew born within a decade of the end of the second world war and the founding of the State of Israel, with family and friends living there or from there, it is ‘obvious’ that I should feel a powerful emotional pull towards Israel and wish to see it survive and safely grow, which again I do. What is so difficult to countenance is that for each community, that of leftist critics of Israel and that of traditionally- and communally-minded diaspora Jews, it is hard to be identified with the other without it smelling of weak-mindedness or more active betrayal. In one place people look with puzzlement on my Jewish practices and my acceptance in what is apparently a straightforwardly Zionist community; in the other, they think I have been distracted by my academic privileges to forget how the world treats us, to overlook anti-Semitism, or even to become a ‘self-hating Jew’.

There can be little doubt that it is much easier to be pessimistic about the mainstream Jewish community’s capacity to tolerate dissent over Israel and or to free itself from demonising assumptions about others, particularly the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim ‘others’ who are being constructed as its foes. In the light of this, the question facing the panel ‘How can we tackle racism against Arabs, Muslims and Jews, whether in the outside world or within their own ranks?’ has a rather dismal answer –‘we can’t’. However, in these few minutes’ introduction, I am going to try to wish this answer away, a least to a small degree, by identifying a few interstices that can be explored, maybe opened up, in order to make space for a constructive critique of Israel and for opposition to racism in our own midst. There are many things to be said about practice here which no doubt we will return to in the discussion and which Edie is particularly well qualified to talk about, being of the long term banging-one’s-head-against-a-brick-wall brigade –I am not unrealistic about the magnitude of the task. But I want to restrict myself to making a few observations, or maybe articulating some dilemmas, and perhaps one principle around Jewish ethics. Some of these speak outwards, some inwards to the community itself.

The first and perhaps main observation concerns a point made yesterday, about rigid perceptions, this time not about dissent within Israel, but about the diaspora Jewish community. I want to note that there is a powerful tendency amongst those who stand outside the organised Jewish community, whether Jewish or non-Jewish themselves, to see uniformity where there is diversity, and to misread –out of ignorance or wishfulness, I think- Jewish religious politics. Mostly, the consequence of this is to miss the possibilities for alliances and progressive moves, but sometimes the tendency to align with any apparent dissenters leads to odd judgements. For example, I have witnessed amongst some radical secular Jews a perverse celebration of those ultra-orthodox Jews who oppose the existence of the State of Israel. I expect that it seems like a brave move for orthodox Jews of that kind to speak out in that way when the common presentation of orthodoxy is that it is homogenously supportive of the right-wing settler movement. What is not noted is the cynical opportunism of many of these groups, combined with their exclusivity and disdain for anyone outside their ranks and channelled into a messianism that is not any the less fervent because it is non- or anti-Zionist, and that is sufficiently distorted from the traditional values of Judaism to allow them to call fellow-Jews ‘Nazis’. Their hatred for the State of Israel does not mean that they wish to replace it with a democratic, pluralistic state in which all will have equal rights, including women and non-Jews: theirs would be a theocracy and the same leftists who welcome them into the anti-Zionist struggle (where these particular ultra-religious groups have been from the start, on grounds having nothing to do with the treatment of the Palestinians) would be demonstrating against it.

Of much more promise is the heterogeneity that can be found in the mainstream orthodox community. In my own community, for example, which is affiliated to the mainstream orthodox movement in this country, the United Synagogue, there are views on Israel that range pretty much across the whole spectrum with the exception that I doubt there is anyone who wishes to see Israel destroyed. For some, it is true, every act in the Land of Israel is in pursuit of a Divine plan; but for others every action of the current and recent Israeli government is an act of brutality. This claim of diversity, I realise, is at variance with my earlier point about being positioned awkwardly by the community, but it is nevertheless accurate and means at least that there are some progressive positions on which movement can in principle be built.

The next issue relates to the ‘self-hating Jew’, an allegation applied for many centuries to critics of Jewish life and more recently of Israel. This calumny is really used, over and over again. Those of you that follow the Jewish press will know of a recent example in attacks on the Israeli writer Amos Oz by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen, the usually intelligent and thoughtful Rabbi of Stanmore Synagogue, and Melanie Philips, a rather better-known and less thoughtful journalist. Oz had identified the disputes over the recent pull-out from Gaza as reflecting within Israel a battle for authority between the democratic state and the fanatical religious right who are trying to coerce the majority. Reading this as an attack on religious Jewry, Rabbi Cohen called him a ‘Jew-hating Jew’; Phillips, reading Oz’s piece as an attack on Israel, said he was an exponent of ‘anti-Israel bigotry’ and had a ‘pathological disdain for his own people’. This is the right wing turning on any expression of dissent, it is true, and as such it looks like more evidence of the impossibility of criticism from within the Jewish community. But without denying the force of this, I want to pick up a feature of this ‘case’ that surprised many of us -the response from within the mainstream, which has been much stronger than one might have predicted. The Jewish Chronicle (in which Melanie Phillips is a monthly columnist) ran an editorial powerfully defending Oz and supporting his comments, also pointing out that he was writing in an Israeli context in which much stronger criticisms of Israel are printed than is the case here. And last week, again in the Jewish Chronicle, Jonathan Freedland wrote a column praising Oz as someone who ‘speaks with a clarity and humanity rarely heard on either side of the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict’. Freedland’s piece ends with the following more general point, addressed, it must be remembered, to a mainstream Jewish readership: ‘Oz himself is used to such vilification and those who make a progressive case for Israel should get used to it, too. Suggest that an end to the occupation and greater regard for human rights are, in fact, in the practical and moral interest of Israel itself –a country whose fate matters to you deeply- and eventually you’ll be called a fifth columnist or a Jew-hating Jew.’ So my point is that this happens, the writing off of dissent as neurosis or betrayal is a common strategy of the intolerant right; but it doesn’t have to stick, it can be resisted and occasionally there are platforms on which to do so and voices that speak out against it.

Finally in these preliminary remarks, there is something else that anti-racist practice amongst Jews can build on, usually known as ‘Jewish ethics’ –a favourite topic in the orthodox community. This is a large subject, too easily reducible to simplified ideas about treating others with respect and so on (not that this would be a bad thing, within and outside the Jewish community). I want here only to take up one difficult point around Jewish religious exclusivity, the idea of the ‘chosen people’, and to connect it with what is regarded as a fundamental Jewish value, that of Hachnassat Orchim, hospitality, which is associated with the patriarch Abraham, regarded as the originator of Judaism. It should be noted in passing that whereas later Biblical injunctions to treat the stranger well are premised on the notion that Jews ‘were a stranger in a strange land’ and hence know what it is like to be oppressed –a position which resonates with the idea that Jews should not treat others badly because we have experienced anti-Semitism and hence are especially attuned to suffering- Abraham predates the Jews’ experiences as slaves and hence his hospitality (meted out to the angels who come to predict the birth of his son) is gratuitous. Moreover, it is linked to the notion of justice: these same angels warn Abraham of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham then argues with God about the justice of destroying ‘the righteous with the wicked’. So the Hachnassat Orchim that is a basic value of Judaism is not contingent; it is an absolute principle, a defining feature of the way the world ought to be.

In a paper from 1960 on ‘religion and tolerance’, Emmanel Levinas (using gendered language) picks up this idea and writes, ‘The welcome given to the Stranger which the Bible tirelessly asks of us does not constitute a corollary of Judaism and its love of God… but it is the very content of faith. It is an undeclinable responsibility… Before appearing to Jews as a fellow creature with convictions to be recognised or opposed, the Stranger is one towards whom one is obligated. The Jewish faith involves tolerance because, from the beginning, it bears the entire weight of all other men.’ How does this square with the problematic notion of being the ‘chosen people’ that Levinas also discusses in this article? Referencing the idea that the world and the Torah were created as ‘paths to peace’, Levinas goes on to argue that the sense of being chosen ‘expresses less the pride of someone who has been called than the humility of someone who serves… In Judaism, the certainty of the absolute’s hold over man –or religion- does not turn into an imperialist expansion that devours all those who deny it. It burns inwards, as an infinite demand made on oneself, an infinite responsibility.’ What I like about this, what I can see as a useful strand in the battle to create a Jewish community able to deal wisely with its beliefs and to look outwards and not so fearfully at others, is its rigorous acceptance of the idea of a mission that has its own inexorable dynamic. It is not that the Jews have to take on the whole burden of humanity –that would simply reiterate the claim that the Jews are specially chosen to be superior, that (in a neat reversal of anti-Semitic discourse) we alone amongst the peoples are responsible for everything that happens. It is rather that a thrust of Judaism is to tackle the internal tendency to repudiate the other –internal here referencing something both individual and communal- by demanding that the other is recognised; that is, that its otherness is tolerated. ‘It burns inwards,’ Levinas writes, ‘as an infinite demand made on oneself, an infinite responsibility.’


Brian Klug

Distinguishing between Moishe and Israel

Brian Klug

I. Moishe the peddler

I wish my talk today could be lighthearted, but antisemitism is no laughing matter. Which reminds me of a Jewish joke. That’s not quite as paradoxical as it sounds when you remember that irony, especially self-mockery, is a staple of Jewish humour. Why, I’m not sure. But I know it’s true, not just because I grew up in a Jewish household but because Freud says so, and he took humour very seriously. In his treatise Jokes and their Relation to the Unconsious he remarked, “I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character.” On the other hand, it’s not just the Jews. Saul Bellow once said that “oppressed people tend to be witty”. Why? Why would you mock yourself when everyone else is laughing at your expense? Maybe that’s why: if you’re paying for it, you might as well enjoy it too. Why should you miss out? Or it could be a shrug of resignation: as we Brits say, “You’ve gotta laugh!” Or perhaps it’s a way to belong: to laugh at the fact that you don’t. Be that as it may, the joke of which I am reminded is about Moishe the peddler. Moishe was pushing his cart down an alley in Vitebsk (a town in the so-called Jewish ‘Pale of Settlement’ in Russia), minding his own business, when he was stopped by an antisemite. “Hey Jew!” yelled the antisemite. “Who gave you the right to control the world?” Moishe looked puzzled. “You mean me, personally?” he asked. “Don’t be a smart aleck,” retorted the antisemite. “I mean you, the Jews, collectively.” Moishe was amazed. “You know something I don’t know?” “You know perfectly well what I mean,” said the antisemite gruffly. “I’m talking about your cousins, the Rothschilds.” Suddenly Moishe’s face lit up with pleasure. “The Rothschilds!” he exclaimed. “I had no idea they were mishpachah [extended family]!”

There is nothing amusing about antisemitism. But to my grandparents, all of whom were from Eastern Europe (including one from Vitebsk), the very idea of Jewish power would have sounded like a Jewish joke. Yes, there were families like the Rothschilds. But the vast majority of Jews in Europe were people like Moishe, barely able to run their own lives, never mind control the world. To the antisemite (in the joke that I just told) Moishe is indeed a peddler; but not a mere peddler. For he is a Jewish peddler and therefore part of a worldwide web, a cousinhood that operates as one family, run by a cabal of wealthy well-placed Jews, a collective with a collective purpose, whose hidden hand controls the banks, the markets, the media and even governments; all with a view to promoting the ambitions of Jews at the expense of the nations in whose midst they dwell and on whom they prey. If Moishe could see himself through the eyes of the antisemite he would not know whether to laugh – or scream.

As the joke illustrates, the question ‘What is antisemitism?’ is not unrelated to the question ‘What is a Jew?’ Indeed, one way of answering the first is to say that an antisemite is someone who gives a certain answer to the second. This is how the words ‘antisemite’ and ‘antisemitism’ came into existence. When Wilhelm Marr founded the Antisemiten-Liga (League of Antisemites) in 1879, he did so in opposition to so-called ‘Semitism’. ‘Semitism’, for Marr, meant “the Jewish spirit and Jewish consciousness”. It is true that he conceived of Jews specifically as a biological race. But his racial ideology can be detached from his image of the ‘Jew’. Indeed, he did not invent the latter. He found it in the culture of Christian Europe, where it had been lying around for centuries, deposited there by a certain way of interpreting (or misinterpreting) the Gospels, long before secular-minded thinkers dreamt up the newfangled theory of race. Whether Jewish identity is seen as religious, racial, cultural or national, this image of the ‘Jew’ – the image projected onto Moishe in the joke – is the constant element (more or less) in the meaning of the word ‘antisemitism’.

Or should I say old antisemitism? For we hear a lot these days about a so-called new variety. According to those who speak this way, it is not the content of antisemitism that has changed but its object. In his article ‘The hatred that won’t die’, Britain’s Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks has explained why antisemitism is, as he puts it “undeniably the most successful ideology of modern times”. “Its success,” he explains, “is due to the fact that, like a virus, it mutates. At times it has been directed against Jews as individuals. Today it is directed against Jews as a sovereign people.” “The ‘oldest hatred’,” writes Melanie Phillips, “has mutated from a desire to rid the world of the Jews into a desire to rid the world of the Jewish state”. Natan Sharansky in his article ‘On Hating the Jews’ puts it graphically: “Israel,” he says, “has effectively become the world’s Jew”. In other words, Israel has become Moishe, or Moishe has become Israel. Either way, the idea is that the State of Israel today is the personification of the persecuted Jew of old. This view is what puts the ‘new’ into ‘new antisemitism’.

Now, on the face of it, this seems absurd. Among the many differences between the modern State of Israel and the persecuted Jew of old, one stands out: the power of the one as against the impotence of the other. Moishe stands for Jews in general who down the centuries did not possess any real power; such power as they had was limited, contingent, and temporary. It certainly was not enough to prevent one disaster after another befalling their communities, nor the ultimate catastrophe of the Nazi Holocaust. Zionism saw itself precisely as a political movement to empower the powerless. And in this respect, you can say, it succeeded; some would say with a vengeance. At any rate, the State of Israel today is the principal regional power and a major actor on the world stage. Successive Israeli governments pride themselves on their ability to create ‘facts on the ground’ in the face of hostile forces. Moreover, the Jewish state enjoys the full backing of the most powerful nation on earth, the United States. It is not in the position of being persecuted by the Tsar. Israel, in other words, is not Moishe.

Moreover, power tends to antagonize, especially when it’s abused. Successive Israeli governments have been abusing their power for decades in the Occupied Territories and defying international law. Writing in Tikkun, Jerome Slater sums it up succinctly: “[I]t has not been Israeli ‘powerlessness’ that has been the problem,” he says, “but precisely the opposite.” Israel’s problem, in a nutshell, is the opposite of Moishe’s.

Yet there are people, as I have been saying, who equate the two; and they’re not kidding. Why? Why is it that highly intelligent individuals with keen discerning minds, including rabbis trained in the talmudic discipline of pilpul where you learn to make fine distinctions between closely-related concepts (and believe me I know whereof I speak because we had more Jewish Studies lessons at the Hasmonean, the orthodox Jewish school I attended from the age of 5 to 18, than any other subject in the curriculum): Why are such people unable to distinguish between Israel and Moishe?

This is the question at the centre of my talk today. You might say, “Who cares? It’s their problem.” But you’d be wrong. Anyone who cares about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and who seeks a resolution that will enable Palestinians and Israelis to get on with their lives, to live together in the region, whether in two states or one, should care. This includes those of us who are not on the frontline, so to speak, who live here in the UK or elsewhere in the world outside the Middle East. What we can contribute might be limited. But at the very least we can avoid making things worse. We make things worse when we confuse legitimate political anger with antisemitic bigotry. But also when we speak or act in ways that promote this confusion by fuelling the deep antisemitic vein that persists in European culture and that exists elsewhere. With both these things in mind, I shall now discuss the view that Israel, in Sharansky’s phrase, is ‘the world’s Jew’.


II. The inner voice

One reason why some people latch onto this view is that it dissolves, at a stroke, all the troubling complexity of this subject into a simple solution. Moreover, it is a solution that many of us, as Jews, imbibe with our mother’s milk. Here is the voice that we hear in our heads: “It’s happened to us before, and now it’s happening again. It’s like the 1930s or even worse. People hate Israel because they hate Jews. Any excuse will do. They hate us for being capitalists and they hate us for being communists. They want to get rid of us because, they say, we’re a state within a state. Now they hate us for having a state of our own. Like Koheleth says in the Bible, there is nothing new under the sun. Okay, so Israel isn’t perfect. And if it were, would they love us? They’d hate us because we were too good. Go figure! Antisemitism is irrational. There’s no point in trying to get inside the mind of an antisemite. They hate us and there’s an end of it. All we can do is stand together and defend ourselves – and our state – against our enemies.”

Now, if this inner voice is beguiling, this is partly because it is not altogether wrong. We Jews did not imagine our persecution in the past, nor the catastrophe that befell us with the Shoah. Moreover, Zionism was a reaction to persecution, and the very existence of the State of Israel is tied to the Nazi genocide. Furthermore, antisemitism has not gone away; and, although the historical record is complicated, it is one reason for hostility to the Jewish state.

All of which is true, more or less, as far as it goes. But this does not make Israel ‘the world’s Jew’. Granted that Israel today is not the most popular state in the world, we need a criterion, a method for testing whether or not this hostility is antisemitic; and funnily enough we can derive it from the joke about Moishe. Recall the image projected onto Moishe: the Jew as alien, powerful, cohesive, cunning, parasitic, etc. As I said at the time, the content of this image is the constant element (more or less) in the meaning of the word ‘antisemitism’. Accordingly, we can apply the following test: Whenever a text or a person projects this image onto Israel for the reason that Israel is a Jewish state, then that text or person is antisemitic.

“But,” objects the inner voice, “do you really think that all antisemites wear their bigotry on their sleeve? Don’t be so naïve! Don’t you know that ‘Zionist’ is code for ‘Jew’ and that anti-Zionism is a mask for antisemitism?” Well, it can be. I remember clearly the so-called anti-Zionist purges carried out by the Polish government in 1968. I was a freshman at University College London (just up the road from here). In those days, being a student meant being a fulltime activist, and going to classes in your spare time. Representing my college at a conference of the National Union of Students, I argued that these purges should be condemned for what they really were: antisemitism in disguise. So, I know from my earliest days of political activism that anti-Zionism can be a mask for antisemitism.

But think what this means. On the one hand, if it can function as a mask this implies that, in and of itself, anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitic; a mask that looks like what it is masking is no mask. (It would be like a wolf in wolf’s clothing.) On the other hand, if what is hidden is antisemitism, then the fictitious image of the ‘Jew’ still inhabits the text, even if it lies between the lines. In other words, it would be a subtext; and there are ways of bringing subtexts to light by taking in evidence from other sources.

“Okay,” replies the inner voice, “but what about someone whose criticism of Israel is intemperate? Isn’t this proof positive of antisemitism?” At this point the inner voice sounds very like Alan Dershowitz who argues that when criticism of Israel “crosses the line from fair to foul” it goes “from acceptable to anti-Semitic”. People who take this view say the line is crossed when critics single Israel out unfairly; when they use a double standard and judge Israel by harsher criteria than they apply to other states; when they distort the facts to put Israel in a bad light; when they vilify the Jewish state; and so on. All of which undoubtedly is foul. But is it necessarily antisemitic? No, it is not. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragic and bitter struggle between two peoples. The issues are complex, passions inflamed, and the suffering in both populations is great. In such circumstances, there is bias on both sides. On both sides, people ‘cross the line from fair to foul’. When partisans of Israel’s cause cross that line, this does not make them anti-Arab racists. By the same token, if partisans of the Palestinian cause cross the line, this does not make them antisemites. It cuts both ways.

I don’t think that what I am stating is anything more than common sense, and at this point the inner voice is temporarily fazed. But it quickly rallies. “Maybe,” it concedes, “you have a point there. But how could anyone be a partisan of Palestinian nationalism and at the same time oppose Jewish nationalism? This can only be prejudice against Jews.” This brings us to an issue that lies at the heart of so much misunderstanding about Zionism in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: its deep ambiguity.

(What I am about to say is oversimplified but the oversimplification brings out a distinction that I think is important.) Historically, Zionismhas seen itself as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. But like the Greek god Janus, it has two faces that look in two different directions at once. That is to say, it belongs to two opposite histories at one and the same time. On the one side, it saw itself as a movement for self-determination by (or on behalf of) the Jews, the ‘inside outsiders’ of Europe, a people with a long history of exclusion, oppression and persecution. On the other side, it was itself part of a European expansion into non-European territory. This is because, unlike the case of other self-styled national liberation movements, there was no existing national territory under occupation; the project was to gather in the exiles and populate a land rather than expel an invader. From the beginning, starting with Herzl’s address to the first Zionist congress in 1897, Zionism spoke the language of “colonization”; although this was conceived as colonization for the sake of emancipation, not empire. Seen from this side, Zionism historically was a flight from Europe, not an extension of the European homeland. But seen from the other side, the Jews who came as settlers were Europeans by any other name. And they were. They were both. They were Jewish as distinct from European, and they were European as distinct from Arab.

Yes, antisemitic prejudice can and does motivate some of the hostility to Israel. But by and large, and in the first place, this antagonism is directed against one face – the European colonizing face – of Zionism. This is the face that has loomed larger since the war of 1967 and the growth of Jewish settlements in Occupied Territories; even larger since the collapse of the peace talks in 2000; and larger still since Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002.

“But,” interrupts that inner voice, turning my argument on its head, “if people on the left can see this face of Zionism, why are they blind to its other face? They sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians; have they forgotten the plight of the Jews? This one-sidedness is proof that the anti-Zionist left is fundamentally antisemitic.”

The objection overlooks other possibilities, but it does have some merit. Zionism, after all, was a reaction to antisemitism – not the only Jewish reaction, but nonetheless that’s what it was. Because of antisemitism, Jews in Europe were marginalized and excluded. When people on the left seem oblivious to this history, when they simply fold the Jewish story into a larger narrative of Western imperialism, Jews, whether Zionist or not, are liable to feel marginalized and excluded all over again. It is understandable that this feels like antisemitism, even when it isn’t. Similarly, when critics of Israel or Zionism speak loosely about a ‘Jewish cabal’ or ‘Jewish power’, they are pressing hot buttons – not only in the minds of many Jews but also in the wider culture. Steve Cohen, the Jewish socialist, makes a point that is apropos in his study of antisemitism on the left, called That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic. He writes, “Any group which claims to be against anti-semitism should be ultra-vigilant in the imagery it evokes…”. This is not only a matter of morality, it is also sound political advice. Recall the closing words of the initial speech made by the inner voice: “They hate us and there’s an end of it. All we can do is stand together and defend ourselves – and our state – against our enemies. This is the political bottom line to the view that Israel is ‘the world’s Jew’. In one way, this view is oddly disempowering, casting the Jewish state in the old mould of Jewish victim. In another way, it is a license to pursue a brand of politics based on the idea that only the exercise of unilateral power, especially military power, will secure a future for Israel in the Middle East. It does not help the cause of peace or justice to reinforce the voice that sustains this view.

III. Not kosher

I’d like, in closing, to say a word about this inner voice. I have been speaking about it as something that I too hear in my head. But it’s one thing to hear voices, another to heed them. For me, this voice is not authoritative. I don’t trust it. And the reason I don’t trust it has nothing to do with the distinctions and arguments that I have been making today. It’s for a different kind of reason altogether, one that takes me back to where this talk began. Quite simply (don’t laugh), the voice isn’t funny. It’s too straight, too po-faced. It takes itself too seriously. There’s no self-mockery, no self-criticism. But to take self-criticism out of Jewishness is like taking the light out of a candle or the heat out of a flame: it means taking the ‘Jewish’ out of the Jewish people. You know how some Jews say they can smell antisemitism? Well, when I hear this inner voice, claiming to be Jewish, I smell a rat. In short, it’s not – kosher.

Brian Klug
St. Benet’s Hall


This talk draws on recent work I have done in this area, including the essay ‘Is Europe a Lost Cause? The European Debate on Antisemitism and the Middle East Conflict’, Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 39, no. 1, March 2005.

Quoted in Jules Chametzky, ‘Jewish Humor’, in Leonard H. Ehrlich et al (eds.), Textures and Meanings: Thirty Years of Judaic Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2004, pp. 228-229.

Quoted in ‘Jewish Humour’ in Wikipedia, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_humour.

Wilhelm Marr, Der Sieg des Judenthums ueber das Germanenthum vom nicht confessionellen Standpunkt ausbetrachtet, (Bern: Rudolph Costenoble, 1879), pp. 30-35, excerpted in and translated by Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz (eds), The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 332.

Jonathan Sacks, ‘The hatred that won’t die’, Guardian, February 28, 2002, available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4364620-103677,00.html.

Melanie Phillips, ‘The “oldest hatred” survives in Britain’, Jerusalem Post, 21 April 2005, available at: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1113963510494&p=1006953079865.

Natan Sharansky, ‘On Hating the Jews’, Commentary, November 2003, available at http://www.geocities.com/munichseptember1972/on_hating_jews.htm; reprinted in The Wall Street Journal, 17 November 2003, available at http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110004310.

Jerome Slater, ‘Israel, Anti-Semitism and the Palestinian Problem’, in: Tikkun, vol. 16, no. 3, May 2001, available at http://www.tikkun.org/magazine/index.cfm/action/tikkun/issue/tik0105/article/010512b.html.

Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel, Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley & Sons, 2003, p. 1.

Theodor Herzl, “First Congress Address” (1897), in Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader, Philadephia: The Jewish Publicaton Society, 1997, pp. 226-230.

The point I am making is not quite the same as the one made by Tony Klug in his writings on the Middle East, beginning with A Tale of Two Peoples, London: Fabian Society, 1973, but it is inspired by his approach.

Steve Cohen, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic, Leeds: Beyond the Pale Collective, 1984, p. 86.


Fear of Other

Francesca Klug

Take these two statements:

We know that the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims, here and abroad are decent and law-abiding people who abhor this act of terrorism as much as we do.”


We encourage minorities of every stripe to be proud of their heritage –Jamaicans, Muslims, Jews –as well they should be… So can Italians not champion Italianness? Or the British their Yorkshire Pudding|?”

The first was by the British Prime Minister, speaking in the wake of the London bombings in July.

The second was by novelist-of- the moment, Lionel Shriver, writing in the Guardian Week-end magazine ( I read her book, We need to talk about Kevin, over the summer).

These two statements are of course very different from each other –their authors certainly are – but they share one common feature. The ‘we’ they invoke, implicitly or explicitly excludes groups who, though living in Britain or holding  British citizenship, are somehow ‘other’

{ As a vegetarian, by the way, I am far more likely to be seen munching on a Yorkshire Pudding than supping chicken soup}.

I don’t know who the organisers of this conference had in mind exactly when they titled it ‘Fear of the other?’ But they have left me wondering:

Is ‘the other’ in the conference title meant to refer to Jews and Israelis if you are a Muslim and Palestinians and Muslims if you are a Jew – or is ‘the other’all of us?

All of us here who have a story to tell, about ourselves or our parents and grandparents, which we carry with us all our lives, about the insecurity bred from being perceived as  ‘other’ than the majority, of being ‘other’ than the ones who do not know what it is to have their presence or existenceor quaint cultural habits questioned, neither now nor in the past.

‘The other,’ I would suggest, is all of us who know what it is to be held accountable for the actions or beliefs of a tiny minority who act in our name. Who know what it is to be presumed to hold views we do not necessarily, always or even sometimes share, but are able to understand. Who know what it is to be mistrusted, accused of having an international or foreign agenda, or even feared and despised

Although there are many differences between us, that is something all of us here who are Muslim, Jew, Israeli, Palestinian (or for that matter Asian, Black or other minority) have in common, or can claim some connection with, now or in the past. This common experience of ‘otherness’, in other words, is one which can bind us not divide us, if only we would let it.

But that is here. Over there, in Israel and Palestine, many of these ties that bind, or could bind, do not apply.

Over there, there is a brutal and sometimes deadly occupation of one people –Palestinian, largely Muslim – by another people, Israeli-Jews.

Over there Muslims and Christians who live in the Jewish state are routinely discriminated against and demeaned.

Over there Jews live in fear of the bombs and resistance the occupation and discrimination inspire.

Over there, ‘the other’ clearly is ‘Jews’ if you are Muslim and ‘Muslims’ if you are a Jew – with Israelis, of course, primarily in a relationship of conquest and power over Palestinians.

The problem is of course when over there spills into here with no account made for the substantial differences. That this happens is no surprise when so many Jews, Muslims and Palestinians here so passionately identify with their respective ‘sides’ over there. That is another experience in common (although not one I share) –living here, being a part of here, but also looking over there for identity, pride and self-respect

But that this spill-over is understandable does not make the results any less dangerous. Over here there are age-old festering wounds which are easily stoked and rekindled.

When Jewish organisations or official spokespeople here engage with debates about Israel/Palestine that – as a minimum -refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause [from the inception of the state of Israel onwards] they indulge the fantasy, spoken or otherwise, that there is some ‘natural’ affiliation between Islam and terrorism -an affiliation that, bizarrely, leads Muslims to value life less and commit suicide more than others – when the bitter truth is that it is centuries of colonisation, occupation, humiliation and inequality that has fuelled this sense of alienation and dispossession by many Muslims around the world.

When Muslim organisations or official spokespeople talk about the ‘BBC –not just one programme- having a ‘pro-Israeli’ or Zionist agenda (not what the BBC is best known for by the way) they rekindle the historic slur of Jewish control of the media, and much else, that used to lead Jewish organisations in this country to publish how few Jews were editors or bankers or whatever to disprove the thesis; as if individual Jewish people of diverse views working in one profession is anyway evidence of ‘control.’

(This particular claim about the BBC was most recently made in the context of a disgracefully biased, in my view, edition of Panorama on the MCB. Panorama incidentally produced another programme a while back about a Zionist organisation in America which I am not alone in thinking came close to reproducing the age-old conspiracy theory of Jewish world domination).

It was of course repeated and sustained libels about Jewish control of both capitalism and communism simultaneously (we’re a canny lot) that legitimised the pogroms, massacres, hate campaigns, ghettoisation and ultimately the attempted (and partially successful) genocide of Jews in Europe that led many Jewish people to conclude they had no place in this continent in the first place and to look elsewhere (with or without the underpinnings of Zionist ideology) for a safe haven.

Finally, by allowing the conflict over there to infest relations between Jews and Muslims or other ‘others’ over here, we not only fuel racist ideology and stereotypes -and reinforce the insecurity that bolsters Zionism or confirms Muslim rage and alienation -but we manage to miss entirely the root cause of this intractable dispute and many others around the world.

Those Jews who emigrated to Palestine left, in the main, because life was made impossible for them in Europe. No matter what Zionist ideologues will say about messiahs and promised lands, that is the simple truth. It was made impossible by genocidal racists across Europe, and it was made v. uncomfortable by many Liberals, Tories and Socialists here in England. Lord Balfour of the Jewish homeland fame was in fact one of the prime movers of the 1905 Aliens Act, the first immigration law in this country which was specifically designed to keep out Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe. Offering chunks of Palestine for these ‘undesirables Jewish aliens’ instead was part of the deal, which in turn reflected the imperialist power and colonialist mentality of early 20th century Britain.

[Less well known, by the way, is the lively debate amongst Enlightenment scholars and their Socialist successors –from Voltaire to Marx-  about whether Jewish ethnic or religious identity had any validity at all or was a ‘problem’ which would be eradicated through emancipation or revolution or both. This went on in explicit terms at least until the Holocaust largely burnt it out.]

And if there is alienation and rage among Muslim youth then Palestine is only a part of the equation –although a very important one of course. It was Britain who conquered and controlled so much of the world that the sun never set on it, who created countries like Iraq to famously divide and rule over an oil rich territory by creating one entity for three different peoples and then encouraging one of these groups to govern.

Every time we focus our ire and disdain on each other here in the UK , in other words, we obscure these roots to current conflicts and also to racism and anti-Semitism.

As the acclaimed black columnist Gary Younge wrote in the Guardian this week: “No matter how many young drunken white men beat each other up over the weekend, there is no such thing as white-on-white crime. No matter how bitter their ethnic divides, white people never engage in tribal conflict.” He might have added “no matter that in its time Europe invaded most of the rest of the world, killing and dispossessing hundreds of thousands, terrorists are Muslims and the hidden controllers of the world are Jews.”


Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: a trade union approach

David Renton

First, I should begin by introducing myself properly: my name is David Renton, and I work for the lecturers’ union NATFHE. We’re a union with around 67,000 members, two-thirds working in Further Education, one-third in Higher Education. My post is Equality Support Official – the support means that I am number two in a unit with three officials. My colleague Kate Heasman is the head of the Equality Unit. She reports to our head of universities, Roger Kline, who in turn reports to our general secretary Paul Mackney.

NATFHE’s equality priorities are set by motions debated at our annual conference: so the first NATFHE conference motion to condemn anti-Semitism was passed in 1978: and there have been similar motions since, roughly once every three years. Conference passed a motion condemning anti-Muslim racism for the first time this summer.

As well as conference policy, we also have more detailed equality policies drawn up by our equality committee, composed of members of our elected National Executive Committee. The Equality Committee has just over a dozen members. When the committee draws up any document, it then has to go to our full NEC, in order to be ratified.

For example, in 2003, the Equality Committee drew up detailed advice and guidance to branches in a document entitled ‘NATFHE and its Jewish members’. That was followed this autumn by a document ‘NATFHE and its Muslim members’. (Personally, I think both documents should have been titled ‘her’ not ‘its’ members – the title should have been NATFHE and her Jewish members – but I wasn’t in post when the first document was written).

At events like this, there are likely to be NATFHE members and members of our sister union, the AUT. So it is worth putting some of this activity into context: I believe we are the only union to have published in the past five years detailed guidance setting out the rights of our Jewish members: looking for example at the new Employment Regulations on Religion and Belief, and thinking through what these mean in terms of entitlements to leave, working arrangements on week days, the timing of union events and so on.

With our policy for our Muslim Members, we were the third union to publish such guidance, following on from the NUT and the NASUWT.

What is NATFHE’s distinctive approach? First, we are a union, we believe that any securing of rights must have a workplace dimension. Let me give you an example, I was recently sent a dissertation by an Egyptian woman setting out what she thought should be the priorities for the women’s movement in her country. Her politics were set by the big global questions.

We circulated the document, and found it interesting, but while we could share some of our colleague’s ‘feminism’, we could hardly share all of it. We wrote back and said: what about equal pay? Domestic violence? The stereotyping of genders and what that means for working careers?

We think that same approach should be taken into combating anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racism: we start with workplace conditions: the fact that around 10% of FE students are Muslim, and significantly less than 1% of lecturers are Muslim – what message can that send to people who might think of working in the sector? – unless we challenge the dynamics of stereotyping and occupational segregation that exclude black and Muslim lecturers, then we have done nothing for our members.

There is an idea that NATFHE spends its life planning international events. In fact, although we give modest support to campaigns around Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Venezeula and Colombia: we employ 100 staff of whom not one is a full-time international officer. This year I have attended six Zimbabwe solidarity events, and two Colombia solidarity events, and if this is a Palestine solidarity event, it’s the first I’ve attended all year!

A second point and a different emphasis: we do believe that the present discussion must be set in the context of 9/11: and must take into account this terrible search for culprits, the pressure that puts on people who are different from the majority because we have a different experience of race, religion or migration, the intervention of the government, whether in Iraq, or at home, which has tended to leave all of us wondering how long our civil liberties will remain intact.

We argue that 9/11 has led to an enormous increase in anti-Muslim, and also anti-Sikh, anti-black and anti-Jewish racism. In a context of much fear and anxiety, we have common enemies. For example, last week, I read a report in the Guardian about a new government investigation into terrorist activities on campus. You may remember, it was the front page story last Friday. Through friends, I was able to track down a copy of the document. It gives you a strong indication of what some people – a minority thankfully – of civil servants and ministers – would like to see happen now.

I have brought a copy here, and I will quote from it.

This Glees report is a study of university involvement in three organizations which it terms terrorist – Al-Muhajiroun, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK. The report has little to say about these groups – their size, their activity, what earns them the title ‘terrorists’. Instead, it makes clear that any fundamental reorganizing of the British university system would have to start by clearing out a generation of lecturers who it describes as shielding them, a generation it dubs at one point as ‘the ageing young radical dons of the 1960s’ and at another point the few remaining advocates of ‘free speech’ on campus.

The way to change universities is to give free reign to the secret state: “The Security Services have spent too much time looking over their shoulder at the Government, at politicians and at powerful institutions such as the universities”. The report’s other recommendations include:

1 “full time police officers on campus”

2 A culture shift away from free speech

3 More security cameras on campus

4 “proper screening to exclude dangerous students”

5 “Interview all students to test them for their commitment to higher education.”

6 “Abolish Clearing.”

7 “Establish direct links between university registrars and immigration officers at ports of entry.”

8 “Deny university places to any applicant, home or overseas, who cannot provide proof of identity.”

9 “Maintain a friendly community police presence on campuses. Communities with populations measured in the tens of thousands need a regular police presence.”

10 In future, government policy should be changed to prevent increased numbers of black students at university: “Ensure that the ethnic composition of any single university reflects, broadly, the ethnic mix of the UK as a whole.”

The report portrays all Muslim students are potentially an enemy within. Those of us with long historical memories will know how quickly a climate of fear and suspicion against one people can turn against other groups as well.

So to conclude: NATFHE holds that any project of fighting anti-Muslim or anti-Jewish racism has to include the racism that people experience at work.

Within our universities and colleges, there are gathering clouds of illberalism, which this conference terms ‘the fear of the other’.

We need a united workplace response to these threats.


Transcript of a speech by Arab Media Watch chairman Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi

I would like to start by thanking those behind this very important and timely conference, for organising it and inviting me as a speaker.  Its focus is something that has been of great and personal interest to me for some time, and my thoughts on the subject have evolved constantly over the years.

There is a general consensus that Arabophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are alive and well, and this is true to a considerable extent.  The phrase “the only good Arab is a dead Arab” has become all too commonplace in my e-mail inbox.

However, I think these phenomena are somewhat exaggerated because people tend to fall back on them in a knee-jerk fashion, without proper thought.

As such, criticism of Israeli policies is often misleadingly described as anti-Semitic.  This was explained eloquently and rationally by Brian Klug, one of the organisers of this conference, who I had the pleasure of hosting with Israeli-Palestinian Knesset Member Dr. Azmi Bishara last year at the School of Oriental and African Studies on “The Politics of Anti-Semitism.”

Likewise, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq are deemed to be part of a war against Islam, ignoring those countries’ geo-strategic importance and resource wealth, and the fact that non-Muslim countries such as North Korea have also come under US pressure.  Had Iraq been a Buddhist nation, I do not think this would have stopped its occupation.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the London bombings, I was interviewed at length about an anti-Muslim backlash.  I took exception to this term, because while Muslims were certainly targeted, so were members of other communities, such as Hindus, Sikhs, blacks and Christians.  The Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes is a stark example.  The intention was an anti-Muslim backlash, but the result put members of other communities at risk.  Can this then still be called Islamophobia?

After all, what does a Muslim look like?  What does an Arab look like?  What does a Jew look like?  You simply cannot pigeonhole these diverse peoples.  When there are backlashes against them, they are often a reaction to stereotypes.  Perceived anti-Muslim or anti-Arab backlashes are often actually backlashes against anyone who is not white.  Thus we are looking at a much wider problem of general racism, rather than its specific forms.

Arabs, Muslims and Jews have often suffered together.  When Christian forces retook Spain from the Moors, Muslims and Jews were expelled wholesale.

When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem, Christians, Jews and Muslims were massacred together because they all looked alike.

I visited the Wansee Hall in Germany this year.  This was where the “final solution” to the “Jewish problem” was agreed on.  Someone from our tour group asked our guide, a German expert on the Holocaust, if the Germans, having annihilated the Jews, would have turned their sights on the Arabs.  To our collective surprise, he told us that in North Africa, Arabs and Jews were being liquidated together in German concentration camps.

In the 1950s, when Mizrahi, Eastern Jews were emigrating to Israel, many were attacked by Ashkenazi, Western Jews because they were mistaken for Palestinians.

And I have spoken to, and read about, Mizrahi Jews who have been attacked recently in France because they were mistaken for Arabs.  One Morrocan Jew I got acquainted with this year told me his brother, who lived in France, changed his Arabic name to something more Jewish-sounding to escape harassment.

How then can Muslims and Arabs on the one hand, and Jews on the other, consider themselves as their “other”, when their fortunes and sufferings have been so intertwined?

In fact, there is no exclusivity between being an Arab and being a Jew.  After all, what is a Jew from Morocco, Yemen or Iraq if not an Arab Jew?

An interesting side-note is that I recently watched a documentary whereby a huge country-wide DNA study was done in Lebanon to find out who were the descendents of the Phoenicians.  It turned out that all the communities in Lebanon – Sunni, Shia, Druze and Christian – were from the same gene pool.  This highlighted the tragedy that Lebanon’s civil war pitted family member against family member, and faith should have had no divisive influence.

And on the subject of family, it is not by accident that a popular Arab term for Jews is “cousin.”

Also, if you take Sudan, it is very popular to describe the conflicts there as pitting Arab against African, as if the two are totally separate identities.  Many experts on Sudan, and many Sudanese themselves, will tell you that there has been so much intermarriage there that one cannot clearly differentiate between Arab and black.

And I have met many Moroccans, Libyans, Tunisians and so on who see no contradiction between being Arab and African.

But back to my main point, what I am trying to show is that various forms of racism spring from the same well of ignorance.  For instance, Ku Klux Klan members were just as much against Jews, Arabs and Muslims as they were against blacks.

Also, you are all aware of the Islamophobic stance taken by the British National Party.  Well, there was a documentary last year on the BNP, in which a Jewish undercover journalist uncovered deeply anti-Semitic attitudes as well.

Far-right and neo-Nazi parties in Europe are equally against Arabs, Jews and Muslims, and against immigrants in general.

Therefore, the BNP and other such groups should be more accurately described as generally racist and xenophobic, rather than specifically anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, Arabophobic etc.

It is heartening, then, that despite the Israeli government’s close relationship with apartheid South Africa, Jews, Arabs and Muslims were at the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement, and the civil rights movement in the US.  Likwewise, black South Africans have been sympathetic to the liberation movements in Palestine and Iraq.

As this conference is discussing “fear of the other,” it is important to note that with any foreign occupation, apartheid system or colonial/imperialist movement, the fear that both sides have towards each other is different.  Specifically, those with power fear the loss of it, and those without power fear the continuance or deterioration of the status quo.  The same can be said of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  It is a generalisation, I know, but one worth making.

One generalisation I disagree with in the context of this conflict is the idea that the Palestinians’ “other” is the Israelis, and vice versa.  While there is an element of this in some sections of both societies, on the whole it just is not as simple as that.  The diversity of this audience is a testament to that.

Even within those elements who seem to hate all things Israeli or Jewish, or all things Arab or Muslim, I believe a significant part of this is down to ignorance and a lack of familiarity, rather than someone who knowingly takes up a racist attitude.

On a personal level, I have dated European women whose parents were initially very dubious about the fact they were dating an Arab Muslim, until they met me and got to know me.  They then realised that I was a decent human being just like them, that I was not strapped to a bomb, that I would not kidnap their daughters and veil them.

There is another striking and personal example of how familiarity breaks down walls.  This year I took part in an exercise undertaken by the German government to bring together three delegations of journalists – Palestinian, Israeli and German – for a week in Munich and Berlin.  All but one Israeli had never met a Palestinian, and most of the Palestinians had never met an Israeli other than as soldiers at checkpoints.  There was a great deal of anxiety initially on both sides about how everyone would get on, especially since one of the Israelis was a settler, and most of the rest were either involved with the Israeli army or intelligence.  But within one night, the tensions melted away as people got to know each other.  It became clear within a few days that, when we would go out for meals, people would not separate along national lines.  Israelis and Palestinians would sit together in different groups according to who they liked personally, not where they came from.  In fact, some of the friendships went beyond the platonic!  By the end of the week, everyone was trying to arrange future get-togethers, and urging the Germans to repeat this exercise.  The last night was the most memorable for me – all of us sitting at a shisha café, an Israeli playing the guitar while people sang in Hebrew and Arabic.  Just a couple of weeks back, an Israeli in the delegation who was an army officer invited me to her wedding.  All this from just one week together.

Basically, there is simply not enough interaction between these communities on an equal footing.  It is not about an inherent, insurmountable animosity.

One cannot claim that the “others” in this conflict are Islam and Judaism.  This ignores the fact that there is a sizable and growing number of Jews in Israel and worldwide fighting for Palestinian rights.

It also ignores the Christians of the Holy Land who suffer occupation and discrimination, and the fact there are non-Jews and non-Muslims who have taken sides in the conflict.

In America, for instance, you have Christian Zionists rising in political power, as well as a growing Christian movement of divestment from Israel.

The dangerous and false premise of the Judaism-Islam prism of the “other” is that it implies that Israel speaks for world Jewry, and that Palestine is a solely Islamic concern.

While working last year for the UN Development Programme in Ramallah, the son of Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yusef became one of my closest friends.  A wonderfully moderate man, we would often talk politics, and I asked him once about his attitude towards Jews.  He told me he would not, and could not, hate Jews because this would mean his own defeat as a human being.  He has had Jewish and Israeli friends who would be guests in his home, he told me, and his grievance was with his people’s oppressors, not Jews in general.  This from a man whose father is a leader of an organisation described as religiously fanatic.

But one also cannot say the “others” in this conflict are Palestinians and Israelis.  Currently, one in five Israelis is a Palestinian, and this ratio is steadily growing.  It is estimated that by 2025, a quarter of Israel’s population will be of Palestinian origin, and by this I mean Israeli citizens, not Palestinians under occupation.

This ignores the diversity in political views within Israeli and Palestinian societies.  There are many Israeli Jews who fight for Palestinian rights and a just peace, and they are often called traitors by other Israeli Jews.

I witnessed this first-hand at London’s pro-Israel demonstration a few years back, when members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and other Jewish peace groups bravely withstood a barrage of insults and spitting.

Think also of the recent Gaza withdrawal, where settlers were calling Israeli soldiers and supporters of the withdrawal Nazis.  To settlers, the majority of the Israeli Jewish public became their “other.”

There are deep and bitter divisions between Israeli Zionists and non-Zionists, and even within the Zionist movement itself, as well as between a secular majority and the increasingly powerful and vocal religious minority.

Likewise, there are many secular Palestinians who feel ever-more estranged from their increasingly popular religious and even fundamentalist compatriots.  There are those who accept Zionism, who wrangle with those bitterly opposed to it.  There are those who support armed resistance, those who oppose it, those who support refugee rights, those who say they are impractical, those who accept total withdrawal, those who will settle for less.

These issues are so sensitive for Palestinians and Israelis that people within their own communities can be viewed as “others.”

Indeed, I have more in common with my fellow Jewish peace activists than I have with, say, an Arab or Muslim extremist.  An Arab who shouts “death to Jews” is just as much an “other” to me as a Jew who shouts “death to Arabs”.  Why should I feel somehow closer to the Arab because he is an Arab?

To be a true peace activist, one must be a universal humanist.  One form of hatred and intolerance is just as lamentable as another.

Last year, on behalf of Arab Media Watch, I worked with Jewish peace groups to organise a commemoration of the Israeli occupation.  It was an extremely moving event which went very well.  One night, we were all sitting together, eating humus and planning things.  The next day, someone asked me how it felt being the only Palestinian in the group.  It was only then that that occurred to me.  To me, we were just dedicated people, friends, with a just cause.  Nationality had not entered my mind.  But once it did, it gave me a sense of pride that we could all work together for a common cause.

Working with Jewish and Israeli peace groups has become a priority for me, and it is this that has made me realise that we are not that different after all, that theories of “the other” are so much more complex than people assume them to be.  Arab, Muslim, Jewish and Israeli peace groups often row in the same direction, but sometimes, unfortunately, on different boats.  This must change.

In short, regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, there is no single, monolithic “other.”  There are many “others,” depending on the issues, characters and ideologies involved, and “others” are just as prevalent among the communities as between them.  It is not about ethnicity or faith.  Give both peoples more credit.

The positive thing about having cross-communal “others” is that it opens up countless opportunities for cooperation and integration, which is vital for peace and prosperity.

We should also move away from the notion that having an “other” or “others” necessarily implies the need for fear.  In this respect, I would like to end with a quote from the Quran:


Women Against Fundamentalisms

Workshop on Saturday, September 24 2005

“Fear of the Other and the Israeli Palestinian Conflict” Conference, London.

Workshop Participants:

Clara Connolly, Gita Sahgal, Rashmi Varma, Nira Yuval-Davis; guest speaker: Ahlam Akram

(with support from Sara Hossain)

Total no. of participants: 32

Clara Connolly chaired the Workshop. She opened the proceedings with a brief history of WAF, and its formation in 1989 in the wake of the “Rushdie affair”. Pointing to the “eerie parallels between this time and that”, Clara argued that the aim of WAF had been to “break open the multicultural consensus” of our times. Inspired by the Southhall Black Sisters, WAF had perfected the art of “washing dirty linen in public”—it broke through the silences enveloping women in communities perceiving themselves to be under siege. Emerging as a multinational and multi-ethnic alliance of women, WAF’s main energies had been directed towards defining a secular project in the UK—from its calls for the dis-establishment of the Church, to its opposition to faith-based schools. WAF asked that all faith-based schools be phased out, and that all schools should provide space within them for pupils of different religions.

Gita Sahgal began her talk by pointing to the silences operating within the Conference itself, in which gender issues were rarely foregrounded. Even when issues of great importance to gender equity were mentioned, a proper analysis was elided. For instance, though panellists on the previous day had mentioned the “demographic argument” made by both sides on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its salience within proto-nationalist Palestinian discourse was not critiqued. Gita quoted Hanan Ashrawi’s argument that the liberation of Palestinians should not come through the wombs of Palestinian women. A second absence that Gita noted was that of any proper discussion of fundamentalisms as a political project, although in a few remarks on settlers a discussion on fundamentalism was inserted now and then. There is a clear need to point to the ways in which a secular nationalist project of Palestinian liberation has been reduced to a Muslim struggle. She pointed out that there are many examples of how other fundamentalist discourses—Hindu and Christian—have been harnessed within the Israel-Palestine conflict. For example, we are witnessing new alliances between the Hindu Right and Jewish fundamentalists that obscure the historic inspiration that the Hindu Right had drawn from Nazi ideology in the 1930s.

Gita then went to critique what she called ‘behalfism’where the politics that we criticize among our ‘own’ are ignored, diminished or defended when committed by the ‘other’. For instance, there was no discussion of the widespread presence of anti-semitism within the anti-war coalition, nor the coalition’s defence of fundamentalism. Gita argued that the anti-war coalition and Tony Blair, far from being implacably opposed, actually mirror each other. The political influence of the Jamaat-I-Islami (many of its leaders can be tried for war crimes) can be seen everywhere in policy-making and war-opposing circles in Britain. Finally, Gita posed the question of the defence of the secular nationalist project. She referred to the experience of India, Palestine and most urgently that of Iraq, where we might begin to hear the long withdrawing roar of the defeated occupying forces. What will be the effect of a defeat for American imperialism that is produced by fundamentalism and Ba’athism? Will the anti-war movement claim victory and go home? How does it affect the Palestinian struggle? She argued that imperialism and fundamentalism both mirror and construct each other (and, not to forget, fundamentalism is also part of American project). The history of imperialism and the nationalisms it produced also produced partitions and the modern idea of blood and soil nationalisms. The urgent task as feminists is for us to oppose fundamentalism and imperialisms simultaneously.

Ahlam Akram spoke about the decline in women’s status in Palestine in the context of Israeli occupation of Palestine. As such, women have increasingly become the cultural bearers of Islam. In the presence of Israeli soldiers, the project of sheltering Muslim women has gained ground, and women’s rights have been the main casualty. The hijab has appeared as an instrument of containment and segregation, especially since the more militarized second Intifada. In the absence of Palestinian judicial system to function as normal, there has been an increasing invocation of customary or sharia laws. The identity of women is being pitted against their religious identity. But women’s equality has to be made an integral part of the nationalist project if Palestinian liberation is to gain its true and full resolution.

Rashmi Varma talked about the so-called crisis of multiculturalism that has dominated public discourse in Britain since the July 7 bombings. She pointed to the limitations of the debate and the way it was being conducted. Far from being a secular discourse, multicultural discourse is in fact collapsing the space of secularism—the discussion is being entirely conducted among the believers. Culture is being collapsed into religion. Secondly, there is a troubling homogenization of the Muslim community in the debates, irrespective of political ideology, race, geography, class background and gender. She pointed to the problematic ways in which the question of Palestine is being harnessed as an exclusively Muslim issue, when the Palestinian national struggle has been the source of many Third World anti-imperialist and nationalist projects. The flattening of the Muslim community has also meant that women have been disappeared from the discussion. While much public discussion has focused on racism against Muslim women, the violence they face within their own communities is met with silence. What is further ironic is that the very same Muslim leaders who are crying about their marginalization are the ones who are shaping Blair’s policy on multiculturalism and the Muslim community. Thirdly, Rashmi pointed out that there is a dangerous convergence in the British (and American) state’s neo-conservative and neo-liberal agendas. She pointed out that class segregation has been an important outcome of capitalism. The replacing of class as an identity category with culture ignores the immiseration caused by the declining welfare state, and by policies of increasing privatization and marketization. The ethic of hard work and family values feeds into the neo-liberal agenda. Current debates on multiculturalism thus obscure the crisis of the British state itself. Finally, Rashmi reminded us that the discussions on multiculturalism were taking place in the deeply distorted context of the “war on terror”, a war that must be opposed by all feminists.

Nira Yuval-Davis talked of the contemporary conjuncture as a “defining moment” that was nevertheless full of paradoxes. She pointed to the repeated and intensifying invocation of human and democratic rights as the basic values that unite and specify the British in Blunkett and Brown [among others]’s speeches and writings, at the same time in which Human Rights values are under increasing threat and the British state is threatening to revoke them. The ethical space of sociality and social cohesion is now being colonized by a multi-faith discourse and moral issues were firmly predicated on religion. In this sense the new multi-faith pluralism has all the disadvantages of the old multiculturalism that we used to criticise, homogenizing groups and their culture and tradition and reifying their boundaries, without its advantages, of recognizing plurality of values and agencies and legitimizing them in education and all other public spheres. In a way, the surge in new faith schools combines this multi-faith discourse with the ethics of neo-liberal consumerism, with the paradoxical outcome that while there are more and more calls for national cohesion there is a growing separatism and children are going to grow up under the authority of their religious leaders – whose undemocratic authority is sponsored and strengthened by the state – without coming into daily contact with other communities and cultures.

Nira finished her presentation by clarifying the notion of secularism that confused many of the participants in the workshop.  She pointed out that the notion is used in at least three different ways in different political and cultural contexts. First is the notion of secularism that is used as a synonym to atheism. This is largely a European notion. Secondly is secularism as the separation of religion from the state and public political discourse – this has largely been the South Asian discourse of secularism. Thirdly is the notion of secularism as it operates in the USA – strict separation of religion and the state but domination of religious discourse in public political sphere.  WAF struggles against the shrinking of secular spaces in public and state discourse but does not condone the first interpretation of secularism as atheism and ‘enlightenment’.

The presentations were followed by a vigorous debate and discussion on a range of issues, but there emerged three focal issues: 1) secularism as not just a Eurocentric discourse—there are other contexts (as in South Asia)—where secularism is an important aspect of civil society;

2) the hijab issue as a contingent issue: means different things in Palestine and in Britain. Hijab cannot be read simply as a retreat into traditionalism. Hijab is often read as a response to racism;

3) women living in fundamentalist societies devise all kinds of means to survive. There is a need for new critiques and new political projects.

For more information on WAF, contact Rashmi Varma


Recognizing Humanity in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict


* Tuesday, 12th July 2005, 6.30-8.30 p.m., central London
Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj speaks with Christopher Bollas on Recognizing Humanity in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj speaks with Christopher Bollas

Tuesday, 12th July 2005, 6.30-8.30 p.m., central London

Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS
School of Oriental & African Studies
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG

Organised by Faculty for Israeli Palestinian Peace – UK (FFIPP-UK)
Hosted by the London Middle East Institute Outreach Programme

Eyad El Sarraj M.D. is a psychiatrist, a human rights and peace activist, and the founder and Chairman of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. He is Secretary General of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen’s Rights and a member of many local and international health and human rights organizations. His human rights activities have led to numerous hardships by both Israeli and Palestinian Authorities, including in 1996 being arrested and tortured for condemning torture by the Palestinian Authority. He is winner of the Physicians for Human Rights Award in 1997 and the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders in 1998. He has published extensively on issues of peace, human rights, mental health and trauma. He is the chair of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (FFIPP).

Christopher Bollas is a Member of the British Psychoanalytical Society, a former Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, and has been in private practise in London since 1973.  He is the author of eight works of non fiction, and recently, two novels—“Dark At The End Of The Tunnel” and “I Have Heard The Mermaids Singing”—and his first book of plays will be published in a few months time.

Chair: Lynne Segal: Professor of psychology & Gender Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London

Other past events

* Tuesday, 12th July 2005, 6.30-8.30 p.m., central London
Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj speaks with Christopher Bollas on Recognizing Humanity in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Recognizing Humanity in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj speaks with Christopher Bollas

Tuesday, 12th July 2005, 6.30-8.30 p.m., central London

Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS
School of Oriental & African Studies
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG

Organised by Faculty for Israeli Palestinian Peace – UK (FFIPP-UK)
Hosted by the London Middle East Institute Outreach Programme

Eyad El Sarraj M.D. is a psychiatrist, a human rights and peace activist, and the founder and Chairman of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. He is Secretary General of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen’s Rights and a member of many local and international health and human rights organizations. His human rights activities have led to numerous hardships by both Israeli and Palestinian Authorities, including in 1996 being arrested and tortured for condemning torture by the Palestinian Authority. He is winner of the Physicians for Human Rights Award in 1997 and the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders in 1998. He has published extensively on issues of peace, human rights, mental health and trauma. He is the chair of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (FFIPP).

Christopher Bollas is a Member of the British Psychoanalytical Society, a former Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, and has been in private practise in London since 1973.  He is the author of eight works of non fiction, and recently, two novels—“Dark At The End Of The Tunnel” and “I Have Heard The Mermaids Singing”—and his first book of plays will be published in a few months time.

Chair: Lynne Segal: Professor of psychology & Gender Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London

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