Thursday, February 08, 2007
Free speech for Jews. posted by Richard SeymourWell it's about time. I'm not being facetious - this is an important and timely development. The founding statement from Independent Jewish Voices is far from an attack on Zionism but nor does it commit signatories to Zionism or to any specific solution to the occupation of Palestine. Its spare assertions about the rights of Palestinians and about the fact that the fight against antisemitism is undermined when criticism of Israel is branded antisemitic, if taken seriously and logically, entail a challenge to Jewish nationalism. Especially the rabid kind that manifests itself during war.
One signatory to the declaration writes very simply that: "the more that the Israeli government claims to act on behalf of all Jews, the more I feel obliged to make my dissenting voice heard." The author of this piece refers to a Jewish tradition of supporting civil rights movements, and I don't think the point is to assert any particular chauvanism: it is rather to assert a counter-claim to Jewish identity. Many of those who have signed have already been involved in initiatives supporting Palestinians, but this initiative specifically seeks to combat the idea that when Israel goes to war it is, as Ehud Olmert claimed during the 33-day assault on Lebanon, "a war that is fought by all the Jews."
And look at what a bunch of apologists is attacking it. These people, of all people, are professing it a hoot and a laugh to suggest that there is any kind of authoritarian communalism within the Jewish community, any attempt to disinherit Jewish people of their right to dissent and demur. The people who wrote this nauseating crap, I mean. And look who is pleading caution.
Apologists for the Israeli government are already professing bewilderment: you guys already criticise us and attack us, they say. You have limitless, gluttonous free speech. Why, the London Review of Books and The Guardian are wide open to your arguments. In fact, if there's a Lobby, you guys are it. Some of you, ha ha, marched with the supporters of Hezbollah, who are calling for the destruction of Israel. This is an example of such argument.
Well, anyone who cares to know about it can find instances where the institutions supporting Israel have worked vigorously to denounce its critics, stop them from speaking, disrupt their activities and so forth. It is by no means simply a matter of some supporters of Israel saying mean things about Jaqueline Rose or Tony Judt. Israel makes a concerted effort to manufacture a Jewish consensus, and devotes hard currency to this, because the entire moral basis for its existence as a Jewish State is threatened by the perception that there are serious divisions as opposed to a few 'renegade Jews' as Elie Weisel might call them. What is more, the declaration makes clear that one of the principal problems is that organisations like the Board of Deputies claim to speak for British Jews, but do so in order to promote a pro-Israeli agenda. What serious person doesn't know that they organised a 'solidarity rally' with Israel when it was pounding Lebanon's housing estates into dust? Who doesn't know that the Chief Rabbi took the trouble to say, during this, that Israel had been too generous in withdrawing from most of southern Lebanon and from the Gaza Strip, since its reward was further war? You could only make such a claim in all seriousness and with no expectation of being derided in front of an audience that was absolutely convinced that: Israel was the legitimate bearer of Jewish interests; its actions were driven by the (perhaps overzealous) imperative of self-defense ('Never Again'); its opponents were driven by antisemitic demonology. There is no other way, with all the facts being as they are, that one could sustain such an idiotic position in the midst of a series of outrageous Israeli massacres. And there is certainly no way, without this communalist appeal, that large numbers of people would be motivated to organise boycotts, lobbies and flak, to pay any attention to GIYUS, AIPAC or similar organisations.
So, I repeat, this is an important and necessary move.