Thursday, September 06, 2007

Three on the new anti-semitism

The "new anti-semitism"

12 comments:

G said...

Re the Washington Post article: I have no problem in accepting the reports of a rise in active anti-semitism in Britain in Europe, and share the disgust at this.

But it's absurd to include criticism of Israel as evidence of, or examples of, anti-semitism.

Denis McShane writes: "To express any support for Israel or any feeling for the right of a Jewish state to exist produces denunciation, even contempt."

Well, yes, denunciation and contempt seem reasonable reactions to the idea of a monotheistic state that elevates the rights of adherents to one religion above those of others or none. That does not equate to antisemitism. It is not antisemitic for me, for example, to express contempt at a state that affords second-class status to my partner and his family, Arab citizens of Israel. Equally I abhor the monotheistic nature of other Middle Eastern states.

It is not antisemitic to say that Israel has no moral right to exist in its present form, shaped by its current laws and practices, acting out an institutional prejudice written into its nature since its inception. This is a decent, thought-through stance to take, and to hold this up as an example of antisemitism is simply contemptuous of the terms of civilised debate.

bob said...

Thanks for the comments, G. I have no doubt that you "equally abhor" Israel and other "monotheistic" states in the Middle East, but my strong belief, based on spending most of my time on the left in Europe, is that the overwhelming majority of those who abhor Israel do not "equally" abhor other states in the Middle East but reserve a special hatred for Israel.

For me, it is not criticism of Israel that I have a problem with (I am deeply critical of its present form too), it is this special hatred which I see again and again.

Other states in the Middle East cleansed themselves of their Jewish populations; other states in the Middle East visciously oppress their ethnic and religious minorities; other states in the Middle East have no democracy, which is a lot worse than a two-tier democracy. Morrocco has been occupying Western Sahara for about as long as Israel has been occupying the West Bank. Turkey has never admitted, let alone apologised for, the slaughter of its Armenian population, far worse than the Naqba. Most Muslim states make life unbearable for gay men and women, and discriminate in law against all women. These sorts of things do not make Israel's crimes any the less - but when people are enraged by Israel's crimes and shrug their shoulders at these other crimes, that's when I suspect anti-semitism.


Just quickly on "monotheistic" states - I presume you mean single-religion states rather than states where they believe in only one god? - Israel is not a religious state. It is true that there are some aspects of law where religion has a lot more of a role than in Western democracies (e.g. marriage law) and it is true that in Jerusalem the religious right has a lot of power in the municipal government. But a large number - a majority I think - of Israeli Jewish citizens are Jewish by ethnicity rather than religion.

You can get right to Israeli citizenship by being ethnically Jewish - just as ethnically British people get right to British citizenship or ethnically German people get right to German citizenship. That is how the nation-state has worked almost everywhere since the 19th century, whether we like it or not: it's not a unique feature of Israel.


It is on this issue that the question of Israel's right to exist "in its present form" hinges. It depends what you mean by "its present form". If you mean as a nation-state with self-determination for the Jewish people, then denying this right - without denying this right to all other peoples - is not decent and thought-through, but can only be motivated by either anti-semitism or failure to think through what you are saying.

G said...

To clarify, yes, by monotheistic I meant single-religion states, states that are officially identified primarily with a particular religion, not those were most believe in one god.

You're quite right that there should be a much greater fuss about abuses of rights in other Middle Eastern countries too. I suppose Israel attracts a lot of attention partly because Israelis repeatedly and loudly proclaim it the sole bastion of democracy in the Middle East - deeply disingenuous given the scale of discrimination there and the legal privileges enjoyed by Jews above other citizens.

You say: "You can get right to Israeli citizenship by being ethnically Jewish - just as ethnically British people get right to British citizenship or ethnically German people get right to German citizenship."

That's just not the case. If I was from Ethiopia and I claimed that I was ethnically British going back 2000 years rather than showing that I was born or had immediate familial connections with Britain, I wouldn't be granted UK citizenship on that basis. Yet in Israel the panic about the Arab demographic 'threat' is so strong that Ethiopians (for example) who claim to be Jewish are welcomed with open arms despite having little or no direct connection to the country. This tenuous claim trumps the claims of Arabs who actually lived in what is now Israel just 60 years ago and are prevented from returning. This is not comparable with citizenship qualifications elsewhere in the world.

Besides, to claim as you do that ethnicity/race should rightly give a greater claim to citizenship is (please don't take offence, it's not meant) to unwittingly echo what people such as the BNP would say about prioritising the rights of 'ethnically British' people. The concept is dangerous, and is as objectionable as a single-religion state.

So yes, I do deny the moral right of Israel to be a 'state for Jews' if that involves the subjugation of others' rights. Please do me the courtesy of not accusing me of antisemitism.

bob said...

Thanks gain G. No I don't endorse the idea of citizenship by ethnicity, simply that this is the way it works in nation-states. In Britain, if you can show you have a British grandfather, you can get a British passport. This is racist in effect, because it means a white Zimbabwean can get citizenship but not a black Zimbabwean. That is, all nation-states essentially deny rights to others, if they follow jus sanguinis, "the law of blood", to base nationality on descent.)

Israel's version of jus sanguinis is extreme, but not unusual. Ethiopians and Russians can't just turn up and say they're Jewish - the Ethiopian Jews went through a process of authentification (if that's the right word) which was contentious at the time. (Russians have an easier time because Stalin made people have their "nationality" stamped in their ID papers, and Jewish counted as a nationality, so it is quite easy to procure "proof" that you have a Jewish grandparent, even if you have no recognisable Jewish cultural connection.)

Israel is an extreme case because Jews are not welcome in so many other places: try being Jewish and moving back to places in the Middle East where Jews used to live. (Would the West open its borders to Israelis if Hamas won the struggle to wipe out the state of Israel? Probably not. It didn't open its borders when Hitler was trying to wipe them out.)

Myself, I am for full citizenship and right of return for Palestinian Arabs and Jews in the land of Israel. I am against the whole concept of the nation-state as racist.

You have to either support national self-determination for all peoples (including Israeli Jews) or no peoples (including Palestinian Arabs).

G said...

Thanks Bob. But no, it's not a choice between supporting national self-determinatin for Jews or for none. I wouldn't support a homeland for anyone if it means unequal rights for some citizens. It still hasn't been explained that the Jews' right to a homeland trumps the rights of those already living on that land.

On the citizenship/ethnicity point, in Britain citizenship qualification is not about ethnicity. Your Zimbabwean's British grandfather could have been black, white, ethnically Chinese or blue-skinned - it's not about ethnicity but about the nationality that grandfather held. You seem to be conflating ethnicity and citizenship. And this process of authentication is deeply sinister, with immigrants somehow having to show the requisite purity of ethnicity (that concept should ring familiar alarm bells).

In Israel you have people with no direct connection to the country being given the right to settle there on the basis of their ethnicity/race and the fact that their ancestors might have left the approximate region 2000 years ago, while those who once had lives and livelihoods on identifiable plots of land, holding the keys to their former front doors, are denied return. The policy is racist and it is probably uniquely so - the comparison with Britain and others does not hold.

Moving off subject a little into personal grievance, I'm afraid, it also means that you end up with a situation where a teenager from some far-flung part of the world, recently arrived, is kitted out with an IDF uniform which they can brandish at my partner's family - resident in Palestine for generations - and order them where they can and cannot drive, search their vehicle and so on. The immigration policy is an outrage.

I'm heartened to read that you support the Arab right of return. How Israel will then function as a primarily Jewish state I'm confused about.

Genuine best wishes.

G said...

Sorry, that second last paragraph should have read "IDF uniform and weaponry..."

I'm not sure how one could brandish a uniform!

The New Centrist said...

G, I don’t know how much time you’ve spent in Israel or whether you are getting most of your information from in-laws. My guess is you’ve never even been to Israel as that country has more religious freedom than any other country in the region. There are Muslim mosques, Christian churches, Bahai temples, and so on and so forth.

My Hindu relatives who work elsewhere in the ME risk imprisonment for expressing their religious beliefs.

Many Jews are critical of Israeli policies but we draw the line at anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism for the simple fact that it ignores self-determination for the Jewish people. You may not see things this way, but the vast majority of Jews do.

I understand the appeal of universalist aspirations, but frankly, I find them utopian and naïve. We are stubborn animals, hard-wired to emphasize our differences. Where this comes from—the divine, human nature, culture, some combination—I don’t know. But forcing people who despise each other into the same polity does not seem like much a solution to me.

I think the partition of Israel-Palestine is similar to India-Bangladesh. Not the best way to take care of things but certainly better than the bloodshed that would result from a “single state solution” in either geographic region.

You write:

“a teenager from some far-flung part of the world, recently arrived, is kitted out with an IDF uniform which they can brandish at my partner's family - resident in Palestine for generations - and order them where they can and cannot drive, search their vehicle and so on.”

If Palestinian political organizations were not hell bent on killing Israelis, this would not be necessary. But, when your neighbors have committed to killing you, checkpoints and fences are needed. I can imagine how the U.S. government would react if we faced constant rocket attacks from Mexico.

BTW, Indian folks can claim Indian citizenship in pretty much the same manner and a Greek pal of mine recently became a dual Greek-U.S. citizen. Also, many democratic countries favor one religion over another. This is not unique to Israel.

The New Centrist said...

TYPO:

Many Jews are critical of Israeli policies but we draw the line at anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism for the simple fact that it ignores self-determination for the Jewish people.

Anti-Zionism *denies* self-determination for the Jewish people.

G said...

Thanks for your views, New Centrist, but we seem to be talking past each other.

First up, you make the point that non-Jews in Israel are free to worship as they please. I never claimed the contrary, simply that Jews in Israel have greater political and social privileges under the law.

Secondly, it's absurd, disingenuous and appears an attempt to shut down argument to claim that anti-Zionism is, in every case, equal to anti-semitism. I've explained quite clearly above, in exchanges with Bob, that my anti-Zionism is not born from anti-semitism. Please respect that it's a reasoned position rather than one of prejudice. Otherwise it becomes a game of putting words and sentiments into another's mouth in order to score points.

The point about Jewish self-determination I partly addressed in this comment to Bob: "On the citizenship/ethnicity point, in Britain citizenship qualification is not about ethnicity. Your Zimbabwean's British grandfather could have been black, white, ethnically Chinese or blue-skinned - it's not about ethnicity but about the nationality that grandfather held. You seem to be conflating ethnicity and citizenship. And this process of authentication is deeply sinister, with immigrants somehow having to show the requisite purity of ethnicity (that concept should ring familiar alarm bells)."

You wrote: "But forcing people who despise each other into the same polity does not seem like much a solution to me."

Perhaps it is naive. However, the Jews and Arabs of Palestine were not always and perpetually in a state of mutual hatred, and I'd like to remain glass-half-full on this one, taking the friendships (and even romances) I know between Jews and Arabs as a sign that all is not lost on that score. Familiarity (real, sustained familiarity) can breed the opposite of contempt.

You write: "BTW, Indian folks can claim Indian citizenship in pretty much the same manner and a Greek pal of mine recently became a dual Greek-U.S. citizen. Also, many democratic countries favor one religion over another. This is not unique to Israel."

Well, that's nice for the Indians and Greeks. Shame about the Palestinian Arabs from what is now Israel who cannot claim Israeli citizenship. Out of interest, which democratic countries favour one religion over another, and is this expressed in a way comparable to that in Israel?

Best wishes.

G said...

Incidentally, New Centrist, you may have missed my point in raising the issue of foreign, newly-arrived teenagers brandishing their IDF-issue guns at Arab Israelis.

You write: "If Palestinian political organizations were not hell bent on killing Israelis, this would not be necessary." Well that's a security issue, another argument entirely. My point was simply about how it must feel for long-resident Arabs to be met with near-child soldiers with little understanding of their newly-adopted country laying down the law down the barrel of a gun to long-established residents - and that jumpy, scared young soldier having been given citizenship simply because of their Jewishness.

bob said...

Personally, I don't believe that anti-Zionism as such is anti-semitic. I believe that many forms of anti-Zionism are anti-semitic, and that others act as covers for anti-semitism. I also think that there is something unpleasant going on when people with no personal connection to the Palestinian plight elevate it above all other injustices. From your comments, G, I feel your anti-Zionism is not motivated by such dishonourable motives. But I do think that you share with other anti-Zionists certain beliefs that worry me greatly.

I'll put it another way. What would a Palestinian state be like in the lands where Israel/Palestine is now? It would allow right of return to all Palestinians. How would "Palestinian" be defined? Surely ethnically, as there is no other way of doing it. That is, a Palestinian state would be a state that puts one ethnicity over all others. And how would it respond to the presence of Jews - who themselves have had lives and livelihoods in this land for decades, and in some cases centuries - amongst them? Could it tolerate unlimited numbers of Jews and still remain a "Palestinian" state?

The very idea of a nation-state and of national self-determination, I believe, only works through ethnicity. There is no way to seperate them. How can you have a Palestinian state without Palestinians?

So, the key question is: do you allow national self-determination or not? And if you do, how can you deny it to one people, the Jews, without being anti-semitic?

So, my view is that the idea of a Jewish state is racist, but not uniquely so. The hypothetical Zimbabwean's grandfather would have to be white, because black Rhodesians in the days of empire were not given British citizenship. In most of Europe, non-white people are considered "foreigners" and "immigrants" even after generations of residing in Europe. Even France, which prides itself in its colour-blind republican conception of citizenship, is threatending to deport citizens of Jewish-sounding names unless they can "prove" they have the right lines of descent to be eligible for French citizenship (see here and here).

I am not saying this to deny the injustice that Arab Israelis and Palestinians suffer. I am simply arguing that to deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination on this basis is wrong.

So, bottom line question: do the Jewish people, as a people, have the right to self-determination?

(P.S. G, thanks for engaging in genuine dialogue. It is rare for people to discuss this issue, from either perspective, in a civil way.

bob said...

"a teenager from some far-flung part of the world, recently arrived, is kitted out with an IDF uniform and weaponry which they can brandish at my partner's family - resident in Palestine for generations"

A couple of footnotes. On the one hand, Bedouin Arabs and Druze also serve in the Israeli military, not just Jews, so in some ways it is more open, less racist, than G suggests. On the other hand, lots of the Russian immigrants who serve, being only tenuously, nominally Jewish, can serve in the forces, but cannot marry or (I think) be buried in Israel, because of the lingering theocratic elements in Israeli law.