Dissenting Jews on Israel

06 Feb

israeldamascusgate.jpgThere is nothing new about Jews having doubts about the wisdom of Israeli policy. Way back in 1988 I saw first-hand evidence of that when working in a Jewish school where quite a few of the staff were Israelis. There have been critiques like Bernard Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism (Helios 2002), an excellent book, and the link there takes you to a more recent Avishai article in Harper’s.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald reports on growing left-wing Jewish voices against the horrendous status quo: British Jews split over support for Israel:

…Independent Jewish Voices was to publish an open letter on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website yesterday calling for a freer debate about the Middle East among Jews.

Among the more than 130 signatories are the actor Stephen Fry, the playwright Harold Pinter, the film director Mike Leigh and the author Jenny Diski as well as leading academics such as the historian Eric Hobsbawm and the psychologist Susie Orbach.

Jewish leaders in Britain, the letter argues, “put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people” in conflict with Jewish principles of justice and compassion…

A parallel struggle is under way in the US, where the American Jewish Committee published an essay accusing liberal Jews, such as the historian Tony Judt, of fuelling anti-Semitism by questioning Israel’s right to exist.

The essay, by Alvin Rosenfeld, said that “one of the most distressing features of the new anti-Semitism” was “the participation of Jews alongside it”.

Professor Judt told The New York Times: “The link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is newly created.” He feared the two would become so conflated that references to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust would be seen as “just a political defence of Israeli policy”.

Well-known Australian Jewish left-winger Antony Loewenstein reflects on these matters in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

…Despite Israel’s denials of expansionist policy, the Israeli peace group Peace Now says about 40 per cent of settlements have been built on private Palestinian land. Such moves are illegal and do not provide more security as claimed. Furthermore, in towns such as Hebron, hundreds of fundamentalist Jews are allowed to live freely while tens of thousands of Palestinians suffer daily indignities…

While the settlements continue to expand, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert – who recently praised the Iraq war as bringing “stability” to the Middle East – has appointed a far-right extremist as deputy prime minister. Avigdor Lieberman has called for the bombing of Iran and Egypt and the murder of Arab Knesset members who talk to Hamas.

How can a democracy in the heart of the Middle East support a man who campaigns for the forced separation of Jews and Arab in Israel proper and the occupied territories?

Now that a growing number of concerned Jews are raising their voices publicly despite their community’s pressure, there is a hopeful sign for more dialogue and thereby wider public understanding.

Given what the hideous chemistry of right-wing Israeli extremism and Palestinian extremist reaction has wrought, it really is time to listen to these other Jewish voices.

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Posted by on February 6, 2007 in Current affairs, Israel, News and Current Affairs


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