Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Voices that deserve to be heard

WITH Israel as far as ever from peace, let alone justice towards the Palestinians it wronged, an ever more strident Zionist far Right throwing its weight about, and American presidential candidates pledging their undying support for the Israeli military, it is indeed, as a new book out today says,
A Time to Speak Out.

Those speaking out here are Independent Jewish Voices, as they made themselves known by press adverts last year, when they declared:
“We hereby reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice. The lessons we have learned from our own history compel us to speak out.

It used to be that, horizons narrowed by ghetto walls, and battered and bruised by grim experiences, an older generation was inclined to ask of any new development "is it good or bad for the Jews?". The more enlightened, if not joking about their elders' limits would answer with reason, that what was good for Jews or anyone else would be a world without persecution, where people were protected from being trampled upon, and diverse cultures and traditions were seen as enriching rather than obstructing human fellowship.

Some purported to find a common thread expressing this human aspiration running through from the ancient prophets to modern fighters for social justice.

Be that as it may, came Zionism and it begat, with the assistance of the Great Powers, a modern State of Israel carved out at the expense of the Palestinian people, creating their Naqba. Then came a forty year long occupation in which the "democratic" State rules as colonizer, taking Palestinian land for "security" and settlement, and taking from the Bible what it needs to sanctify conquest and dispossession of others.

At the same time, having conquered also the Jewish Diaspora, Zionism installs a narrower, more oppressive outlook than ever before. The Jews of old could dream, and not all waited for Messiah. From the shtetls of the Old World to the slums of the New, they produced more than their share of thinkers and fighters, "for your freedom and ours", in the words of the Warsaw ghetto fighters.

"But is it good or bad for Israel?" became the sole criterion, and with no room for dissident Israeli voices from the peace camp, when the military establishment and religious Right determine what's good, backed by neo-cons and old cons. Gone were the days when it used to be said that "Two Jews = Three Opinions". If the Zionist Establishment had its way then any amount of Jews could only voice one opinion. Even if it meant supporting some strange and unsavoury alliances. Were Jewish leaders and liberal congressmen troubled by reports of antisemitism from the Argentine junta, or brutality in central America? They only had to be reminded that Israel was doing good business supplying weapons to the regimes.

Does an American preacher, supporting war with Iran, say a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East will be the Armageddon that brings the Second Coming? Right-wing Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu welcomes him. And Netanyahu, we may recall, was welcomed to London by the people who claim to speak for the Jewish community.

So it is good that so many dissenting Jewish voices have been moved to speak out, and good of publishers Verso to have provided a platform to some of them. As the publishers say, A Time to Speak Out explores challenging issues facing diaspora Jews today, notably in relation to the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine. Topics looked at include international law, the Holocaust, varieties of Zionism, self-hatred, antisemitism, the multiplicity of Jewish identities, and human rights.

Among contributors whose names I recognise, Brian Klug has been a leading intelligent critic of the official Jewish community establishment, both of blind support for Israel and its leadership in the community, and has spoken out against the acceptance in Europe of Zionist-inspired definitions of "antisemitism". Brian was guest speaker at the Jewish Socialists' Group conference this year, and we enjoyed continuing discussion over a beer afterwards. He was one of the main people bringing Independent Jewish Voices together.

Jacqueline Rose has been an outspoken critic of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. Anthony Rudolf is a poet and veteran peace advocate. Donald Sassoon, born in Cairo, is professor of Contemporary European History at Queen Mary College, and author of books on Italian history. I remember him joining a demonstration in Golders Green against the 1982 Lebanon war. Gillian Slovo, daughter of South African militants Ruth First and Joe Slovo, is a successful novelist and was involved in Jews Against Apartheid. Antony Loewenstein, to whose blog I have a link, is a young Aussie journalist who has upset the Zionist Establishment Down Under no end. Antony Lerman, whom I knew as a teenager in Habonim, is that valuable rarity, a community staffer and expert who put his career on the line - twice - by standing up to pressure from the ganzer machers (big shots) and saying what they did not want anyone to hear.

Geoffrey Bindman, knighted last year, is a well-known rights lawyer who was legal adviser to the Commission on Racial Equality; Sami Zubaida, emeritus professor of Politics and Sociology at Birkbeck, Iraqi-born I believe, and author of books on Islam and Politics in the Middle East; Anne Karpf, daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland, is a journalist and writer on health and family issues, and a Jewish Chronicle columnist. Eyal Weizman, an Israeli architect now teaching in London, raised a huge row when he exposed how Israel made planning and architecture serve the colonisation of the land; Bombay-born Abe Hayeem has done much to raise this issue here, founding Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine. Francesca Klug, OBE, professorial research fellow at LSE is author of Three Pillars of Freedom and Values in a Godless World. Sociologist Stan Cohen, was head of the Hebrew University's department of Criminology. Then there's feminist writer and psychology professor Lynne Segal, writer and journalist Mike Marqusee, whose latest book is If I am not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew; and last but not least Julia Bard, who worked as a scientist in Africa and Israel, but is nowadays a television and magazine journalist, with whom I have the honour of working on Jewish Socialist magazine.

Quite a selection. Of course they are not the kind of big money donors who carry weight with the Establishment, but nor are they the nobodies and uninformed outsiders that some sour grapes sufferers have tried to make out. I look forward to reading what each has to say, not because I expect to agree with everyone but because they are people who have thought about it, and will give us something to think about.
And no establishment, least of all one trying to regiment people into unthinking obedience, is going to like that..

For more info. about the book contact clara@verso.co.uk
For more about Independent Jewish Voices, visit their website at http://www.ijv.org.uk/

• Title: A Time to Speak Out
• Author: Anne Karpf, Brian Klug, Jacqueline Rose, Barbara Rosenbaum (Editors)
• Publication: 6th October 2008
• Binding: Paperback
• ISBN: 978 1 84467 229 5
• Price: £9.99
• Extent: 320 pages

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