Saturday, September 30, 2006

"Do not separate yourself from the community".

I do not, as a rule, pay much attention to the minuter tendencies in Zionist politics. The author of Jews Sans Frontieres peers over his lenses at them from time to time, but I have a weaker stomach than he does. However, I recently found this. It is an 'Open Letter to Jews for Justice for Palestinians', written following Israel's murderous destruction of Lebanon. One of Jews for Justice for Palestinians' members replied here. JfJfP's politics are fairly centrist, supportive of a two-state solution and so on. They picketed a pro-Israel rally which was staged to pump up the overseas troops while Israel was busily bombing ambulances and apartment blocks, and were spat at and called traitors and concentration camp kapos and all the usual shit.

Anyway, back to that open letter. It was not the fact that the letter is a fusion of glib, bald-faced lies, portentous bullying and unsupported assertions that arrested my attention. So much is to be expected. What drew my attention was that the authors of the letter were calling JfJfP traitors. I quote:

Your spokespeople, in their unbounded ignorance of Jewish sources, flatter themselves by invoking the Biblical prophets and the Mishnaic sage Hillel as their points of reference. They appear to be unaware of the fact that while Jeremiah, Isaiah and their colleagues criticized Israel relentlessly, they did so from within the midst of their people. They did not march with its enemies who wish for its destruction. Your self-styled rabbinic authorities also seem to have missed one of Hillel's central precepts, recorded in Perkei Avoth (Ethics of the Fathers): Do not separate yourself from the community.

We are confident that when the history of this period is written and the widespread loss of political reason that characterizes our age is finally recognized, your group will be properly consigned to a footnote in the long and dishonourable tradition of Jewish sycophancy and collaboration with hostility that has polluted the margins of European Jewry over the generations.


I declare myself perplexed at the religious claims here and involve myself in no part of them, but the political message is fairly straightforward. That "dishonourable tradition of Jewish sycophancy and collaboration with hostility", if it can be called a tradition, includes especially the pioneers of Zionism, of course. But that isn't really the point. The point is that the authors of that open letter - Shalom Lappin, Eve Garrard and Norman Geras - are in fact here conflating Judaism with Israel. To be anti-Zionist or to even associate with those who are is to be anti-Jewish, and is for a Jew to "separate yourself from the community". As it happens, this is a really easy complaint to get around: all Lappin, Garrard, Geras and all the other spiteful, bigoted bullies of their ilk have to do is to stop apologising for Israel, sign up to Jews for Justice, and then the latter will no longer be apart from "the community". But that again misses the point, which is that they evidently feel they are entitled to make a claim on the identity of other Jewish people on behalf of Israel.

Geras et al couldn't entirely support the attack on Lebanon, or at least not everything entailed by it, so you know what they went through in trying to provide a presentable defense that wouldn't look like mere sociopathy. If you look through Geras' blog archive from the period, it's ugly stuff. Shalom Lappin babbling about Israel's strategic problems, Geras saying that Israel had a "just cause" and it was being unfairly targeted for criticism simply because one or two little war crimes had been committed. It's a terribly traumatic experience, I imagine. But, far from proving their Budapest moment, it ended up consolidating their apologetic stance and driving them quite mental in the process. So much so, in fact, that they chose to publicly and openly express the sort of bullying fanaticism that they would surely keep under covers under normal circumstances.

Incidentally, Geras has this complaint which JfPfJ draw attention to at the appendix to their reply, which is that by contextualising what Amal Saad-Ghorayeb calls the "anti-Judaism" of Hezbollah, they make themselves apologists. Indeed, this is a complaint Geras often has - yes, you deplore 9/11, but you then go on to say US imperialism is partly responsible; similarly, yes, you deplore 7/7, but then you go on to say that the Iraq war is partly to blame. This game is meaningless, of course, but what would Geras think if someone had said something like "all these people going round raging about the twin towers last Tuesday, I mean, do they ever stop to think about Darfur or sanctions on Iraq? It's an order of magnitude!" I think I could guess what that would reduce him to. And yet, this was precisely his complaint following the murder of over a thousand people in Lebanon for a David Aaronovitch pre-Prime Time programme on Channel 5. This is always the complaint, of course. Please talk about Darfur, and not Israel. Why not discuss the situation in Chechnya, rather than how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been murdered by the US occupation? How about a little news from the Democratic Republic of Congo? Weather's nice. You could talk about that. Anything, in fact. Look, there's a squirrel. Oh, you insist? Very well, you are either a renegade or an antisemite.