Category Archives: Independent Jewish Voices

Anthony Lowenstein: Long Overdue Debate Taking Shape

Journalist Anthony Lowenstein has writen a good column for Haaretz documenting emerging fissures in American Jewish tolerance of Israel’s Occupation policies. It should be noted, though, that Lowenstein asks the wrong question: “Why aren’t Jews outraged by Israeli occupation?” Since Jews, like all groups of people, fall along a spectrum of political views and personality types, then of course some Jews are outraged by the Occupation and others aren’t.  A better question, and one we ask here at Muzzlewatch, is: “Why is the Occupation debate off limits in certain circles?” Lowenstein examines how that taboo is developing cracks in the face of “a global wave of Jewish unease over Israel’s future and the Diaspora’s relationship to the self-described Jewish state. It’s a debate that is long overdue.”

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Taboo-breaking books look at Israeli occupation and the Holocaust

A Time to Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity is a must-read new book featuring thought-provoking essays on a range of topics.

In “The ‘Arab Nazi’ and the ‘Nazi Jew’”, British sociologist Anne Karpf has written a nuanced exploration and condemnation of the ways in which the terms “The Holocaust” and “Nazis” have been nearly emptied of meaning through their political exploitation in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Glenn Greewald has written about the freewheeling use of these images on Fox News to condemn liberals.) While Karpf documents the myriad ways in which Jewish and Israeli leaders have invoked this imagery to characterize Arabs and Palestinians, Karpf also looks at how Arab and Muslim leaders have characterized Israelis as Nazis and Palestinians as Jews, wondering how this comports with a policy Holocaust denial.

While Karpf largely considers the issue of name-calling and explosive imagery, we should also ask if there is a place for a thoughtful historical, political and even personal consideration of the relationship between the dehumanization practiced by the National Socialists, and that which is practiced by the Israeli military? In this country, self appointed thought police like the Anti-Defamation League would say no.

Hajo Meyer, a Dutch physicist from Germany who survived 10 months in Auschwitz in 1944, has answered this question with a resounding YES in his absolutely captivating memoir: The End of Judaism. An Ethical Tradition Betrayed. With tremendous love for the Jewish tradition he knew as a child, Meyer’s morally challenging and well documented book is not the kind that makes hyperbolic charges of equivalency between the gas chambers and Israel’s occupation that we have come to expect from the fringes. Far from it.

Rather, he poignantly describes the many years, prior to the mass murder of some 6 million Jews and 5 million others, of his own family’s experiences of dehumanization and humiliation at the hands of other Germans. He is fearless about making the connection to the callousness he sees displayed by many Israeli soldiers in the territories:

We are all too familiar with photographs of Germans in their immaculate uniforms making fun of destitute and frightened Jews. Jews in Germany could count on such humiliation at the hands of the authorities and their fellow citizens. The intimidation and harassment at Israeli checkpoints is not much different from what I experienced in my youth. I will never forget what I went through in this regard, even though it is no longer particularly painful. What I do find painful, however, is the knowledge that the Jews, who are my own people, are involved in similar humiliation of Palestinians.

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Jewish solidarity group urges Canadian gov’t to reverse decision to boycott Durban Review Conference

We wrote earlier about some of the controversy over the upcoming follow-up to the UN conference on racism, otherwise known as Durban II. Canada, the US and Israel have said they will likely boycott the event in Switzerland this Spring.

Earlier today, Canada’s Independent Jewish Voices’ Coordinator Diana Ralph spoke at the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference (Durban II) to advocate for Canadian participation:

“Unfortunately, there has a systematic attempt to portray Durban I was an ‘anti-Semitic hate-fest’,” Ralph pointed out. “This stems from the fact that at Durban some NGO participants and governments challenged Israel’s racist policies. Instead of addressing the substance of these charges, the government of Israel and those who back it unconditionally chose to brand those who levelled criticism of Israel at Durban as ‘anti-Semitic’,” she noted.

“As Jews, we assert that it is entirely legitimate, not anti-Semitic, to criticize Israeli policies that discriminate against Palestinians – not to mention occupying, torturing, assassinating, and collectively punishing them. Those who have been so critical of the Review appear intent upon discrediting criticism of racist Israeli policies and practices – and to prevent the governments of the US, Canada, and EU countries from being pressured to redress historic and ongoing racist practices,” Ralph continued.

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American Jewish Support for Israel: It’s Not As Deep As You Think

Cecilie called my attention to a comment post about Pastor John Hagee. “R” wrote:

Other than in the San Francisco Bay Area, I would estimate that the vast majority of affiliated American Jews agree with and support AIPAC. Its only a handful, typically on the far left that are other wise. Conversely, when I hear Israel being inappropriately criticized by a Jew that doesn’t practice Judaism, go to Shul, keep Kosher, speak Hebrew, celebrate the holidays etc, my first thought is,”Don’t speak as a Jew, you aren’t speaking for me.”

I thought this deserved a more detailed answer because it reflects some misconceptions that are very common among Israel advocates: that most Jews believe as they do; and that non-Zionist Jews are disaffiliated and distant from their religion.

There’s quite a lot of statistical evidence, much of it collected by Israel advocates, showing that American Jewish support for Israel is waning. Ukeles and colleagues summarized the recent studies in a 2006 report titled Young Jewish Adults in the United States Today, published by the American Jewish Committee. I’ve excerpted a few passages from Chapter Two, the Research Review.

There is a consensus among several studies that Israel is not central to young people’s Jewish identity. In Horowitz’s (2000) study of Jews ages 22 to 52 in the New York area, only 33 percent indicated that “supporting Israel” was related “a lot” to what being Jewish involved for them. In fact, on a list of fifteen values, it was ranked eleventh in significance. Finally, in a study of teens (Kadushin, Kelner, and Saxe, 2000), “caring about Israel” was cited as “very important” by only 31 percent of the respondents, lagging considerably behind several other values that were endorsed by upwards of 50 percent of the respondents…

Cohen (2005b) identified generational differences in the level of “engagement with Israel,” specifically contrasting people ages 25 to 39 with those ages 55 to 69. He found that differences were especially pronounced on items relating to “caring about Israel” and on measures related to the extent to which people talked and read about Israel. Older Jews were also more likely than their younger counterparts to hold positive images of Israelis…

Relying on the findings of several focus-group-based studies, Luntz (2005) describes a growing impatience with Israel and a growing emotional connection with the Palestinian cause, especially among Jewish graduate students. In an earlier (2003) study of people ages 18 to 29, Luntz found qualified support for Israel, accompanied by expressed comfort in questioning the Israeli position. He states that young Jews’ “association with Israel is frighteningly weak and ill defined, despite its near daily appearance in the news headlines.”

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Dissenting Jews: First the UK, then Australia, now Germany

The Forward reports:

A declaration criticizing Israeli territorial policies is roiling the German Jewish community and raising questions about the limits of open debate on matters in relation to the Middle East.

At issue is a declaration published in January in one of the country’s most widely read Jewish newspapers, Die Jüdische Zeitung (The Jewish Newspaper). The statement, titled “Berlin Declaration Shalom 5767” — a reference to the current year in the Jewish calendar — and organized by a member of the presiding committee of the Central Council of German Jews, Rolf Verleger, called on Germany’s government to do more to press Israel to make concessions, and asserted that the “root of the problem is the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory since 1967.”

There’s more:

In addition, Die Jüdische Zeitung published an opinion essay by Kurt Goldstein, a Holocaust survivor and honorary chairman of the International Auschwitz Committee, rebutting criticisms of the declaration. “It was said that a Declaration like ‘Shalom 5767’ is grist to the mill of antisemites in the entire world,” he wrote. “However, the reality is that there is nothing more that helps the antisemites [than] what Israel did in the War in Lebanon.”

Ouch.

This follows similar campaigns in the UK and Australia.

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Back in the UK, the talk continues

The Guardian’s Comment is free continues to publish opinion pieces on the launch of Independent Jewish Voices, the initiative that could otherwise be called “Communal Jewish leaders don’t speak for me.”

Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam has added his voice this week with Cracks in the wall:

AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have enjoyed virtual hegemony as the voice of American Jewry on Israel. It is why presidents, senators and Congress members have voted AIPAC’s way (until recently) on virtually all legislation of interest to the group.

But now, if you put your finger to the wind, you can sense a change. Jimmy Carter’s book is a sensation, having sold 200,000 copies as of January 14. The more Jewish greybeards attack it, the more it sells. The book seems to have struck a chord.

The old Israel “consensus” and leadership approaches are ineffective. When AIPAC speaks, politicians no longer salute quite as crisply as they once did.

Well-known British feminist scholar Jacqueline Rose writes on The myth of self-hatred, the so-over-used-it’s-meaningless insult against Jewish critics of Israeli policies. Rose fights back:

To anyone who wishes to charge us with self-hatred, I would reply that it is not those who can withstand the pressure of internal and external criticism who hate themselves.

Arthur Neslen, in Let a thousand flowers bloom, says, “The Jewish establishment never spoke for us, nor allowed us to speak for ourselves.” He goes on:

Over the years, a highly conservative communal leadership has encouraged its flock to experience their Jewishness vicariously through an identification with Israel. Embourgeoisement, assimilation and a long-term decline in anti-semitism have eroded the basis of alternative identities once championed by the Jewish left.

In the current climate, any attack on Israel’s actions or ideology from within the Jewish community can easily be dismissed as, at best, lacking communal legitimacy. At worst, it is experienced by many British Jews as an attack on Jewishness itself. This gives an easy “in” to anti-semites in some sections of the pro-Palestinian camp, who blame Jewishness for everything from Israel’s expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 to the Iraq war. A dangerous nexus is developing. One way to break it is to allow dissenting voices into the fray.

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