Israel, Zionism, Anti-Semitism and Palestine : A Discussion

A thread for peace in the Middle East

The following discussion has been put together from an ongoing thread of posts on the MDS/Austin listserv from March 19-21, 2008. The posts have created both noise and reason, dissonance and unity. The selection below, we believe, is, at the very least, thoughtful. Nothing is resolved. Not when it comes to the question of Zionism, the role of Israel, and the struggle for peace in the Middle East. This discussion is ever a continuing one. Hopefully this can be a usefull contribution to the dialogue. Feel free to chip in.

Thorne Dreyer, The Rag Blog.

The Zionists have won the war with words if there is no difference between Zionism and being Jewish. Kind of like being American/Republican, being Christian/Evangelical. And we have already been informed that a Jew who denies being Zionist is a Jew hating him/her self. There are only Zionists (True Semites) and anti-Semites by this definition. And Muslims are all terrorists, of course, Islam-o-terrorists.

Alan Pogue

There is a lot of generalizing going on here about Zionism, what it is, what it means and who believes in it.

I am Jewish. I believe in the existence and promotion of Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people. I have been there twice and as most who have been there agree, since Israel became a state, this thin slice of undeveloped desert wasteland, in the hands of the Zionist Jews, has been turned into an amazingly rich and productive oasis in the desert. I’m sure most of you know that it was the British, through the British Mandate of 1920, who gave a section of what is now Israel the name of Palestine. The land we now call Israel came to be after it’s own War of Independence of 1948.

With the help of Jews around the world Israel has built the Hadassah Hospitals which accept ALL patients of ALL religions and national origins. I have been there and have met Arab patients, extremely rich and ultra poor, whose lives have been saved at these hospitals often without having to pay anything. A great majority of the medical miracles that happen in the world today are attributable to Israeli research.

Same with computer technology, satellite technology and cell phone technology. The Israelis have built universities and trade schools which have educated and trained thousands of immigrants who other countries would not accept. The people of Israel have created so many miracles in a land which used to be desert occupied by a very poor people who could not or would not make any progress on their own. None of the Arab countries have ever been willing to take in their Arab brethren or help them financially. What’s up with that?????

Most of the Jewish people I know, and that’s saying a LOT, have no desire to move their lives to Israel. Most Jews I know who care about Israel financially and ideologically support it.

Maybe half of these Jewish people would consider themselves Zionist-minded, but do not want to live their lives there. Its a challenging life there for Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis alike, living in a constant war zone, and not knowing if the bus one takes will be blown up on the way home. This is reality for all who live in this area of the Middle East.

I am quite optimistic in general but sincerely believe that the conflict between Israel and its neighbors will never end. There are way too many in the region who live to see the day that all Jews are destroyed.

I do not deny that many Palestinian people are suffering, are lacking freedoms and rights, can’t get to the doctor or to their jobs due to roadblocks which must exist due to the high incidence of Arab terrorism. I believe it’s an unsolvable quandary because the Arab folks who really have the power really do want to rid Israel and the world of the Jews. I believe that although the Israeli folks who really have the power have not made Palestinians’ rights their first priority, that they have a tough nut to crack daily trying to protect their people and keeping Jewish Israel from being destroyed.

I’ve gone on way too long but needed to give another perspective. I am no good at debate and shy away from argument and conflict. I am just a Zionist-minded Jew who wants everyone in the world to live in peace. Toward this end I toil. Peace to you all and to all people.

Jamie Josephs

I have a problem with a number of assumptions expressed in Jamie’s statement and previously put forth by others, most notably Michael Eisenstadt. One central assumption is especially troubling.

As stated in Jamie’s post:

”… the Arab folks who really have the power really do want to rid Israel and the world of the Jews.”

I cannot take this assumption at face value. I stated my reasons two years ago in a ”remembrance” after the passing of a remarkable internationalist Israel-loving Jewish revolutionary comrade and friend, Stew Albert (“Remembering Stew Albert,” Counterpunch, Feb. 1, 2006).

Stew and other Jewish leftists in NYC in the late Sixties were conflicted—as are Jews today—over, on the one hand, the forced dispossession of Palestinian Arabs and Jews in the decades leading up to the partition in 1948 and, on the other hand, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s avowed aim to “push Israel into the sea.”

A number of us, Jews and non-Jews, decided to take our questions directly to the PLO Observer Delegation office at the United Nations. A meeting was set up, and a small contingent of NYC leftist crazies descended upon the U.N sometime (I think) in 1969. Quoting my narrative:

”We met with a passionate young Palestinian (late 20s) and had an extraordinarily candid discussion about the Palestinian ‘question.’ At one point Stew announced that he was Jewish and was very concerned about the public perception that the PLO hated Jews.

”Our host replied: ‘Hate Jews! I cannot hate Jews. I am Jewish!!!’

He explained, ‘My mother is Jewish, my father Arab. By Jewish law, I am therefore Jewish.’”

“’That would be like hating myself.’

“’In my village in Palestine,’ he continued, ’Jews and Arabs, for many many generations, lived together peacefully as one people. We laughed and played and sang songs and ate at the same table for supper. Many, like my parents, intermarried. This ended when the Zionists came and drove us from our homes at gunpoint. Our Jewish neighbors were driven away also.

“’We do not hate Jews. We hate the Zionists who took away our land.’”

I should note that our host emphasized that his story of mixed heritage was not unique among the PLO leadership. As for assumptions, let’s start by questioning all of them, including the one about how the Arab states have turned their back on their Palestinian brethren—an assumption BTW that deftly deflects responsibility away from the armed Zionist gangs who spearheaded the removal of the dark-skinned population and later became Israel’s top leadership.

Then let’s look for solutions which address the real causes of the despair and anger. Methinks the road to peace and justice lies therein.

Jim Retherford

Very brave of you, Jamie
, to out yourself as a Zionist on this list, where it is definitely a dirty word. You will no doubt get flamed for the admission. As one who runs in generally liberal to leftist circles, have had this discussion more than once. Though I don’t know exactly where I am going with this, here’s my ramble.

First, a disclosure: I too am Jewish – the garden-variety, secular, non-believer type Jew. I don’t define myself as a Zionist but, throughout my life have worried about Israel. As a kid I, along with other kids in the neighborhood, raised money to plant trees in Israel. We heard the stories about how the kibutzniks made a paradise by bringing life to the desert. And we were proud of our people who created that lush land. I actually dreamed about being a kibutznik. Later in life that dream led to dreams of living communally, which I did for a while.

As a child of World War II, I learned to hate and fear the Nazis and their anti-Semitic brethren around the world. And we heard the stories about Jews being turned away by many countries that they tried to escape to, including this one. We always hung on to the warm knowledge that there was a safe haven – Israel – the one place in the world where all Jews were welcome. That is still an important element of security in Jewish culture.

Now I have other worries about Israel. I worry that the government there, like the government here, is giving the country a bad name, and, by not totally illogical extension, giving Jews a bad name in the process. I, of course, am aware that the Israeli government, like many others, does not necessarily represent the desires of the population. I am also aware that living under constant threat of annihilation and the very real threat of some crazy bomber getting onto your bus or coming into the restaurant you are eating in can make people a little nervous, and hateful. So some support for aggressive policies can, in my opinion, be justified.

Perhaps partially because of Israel’s aggressive policies, I have been hearing a resurgence of what sounds to me like anti-Semitism expressed by all sorts of people. I don’t think anti-Semitism is new. It has existed for probably thousands of years. It had been suppressed though, along with racism of various other stripes, by most people’s desire to appear politically correct. But now it seems that some feel license to let those expressions come to the surface.

It’s not just ignorant rednecks either. I’ve heard radical anarchist friends make all too common slips and, when meaning to say “the Israelis”, instead say “the Jews.” And when referring to the Perle-Wolfowitz-Libby-etc. radical asshole right, I’ve heard people use the word “Jew” in hateful ways. There has even been a return to the “Jewish banking conspiracy” rhetoric.

It’s no wonder that Jews may be a little sensitive. I’ve heard anti-Semitic shit since I was a young kid on the streets of Brooklyn, too young to even understand what the hell they were talking about when the Italian and Irish kids called me “Christ-killer”. In high school, we wimpy Jewish kids suffered through a reign of terror, when the Italian kids declared war on the Jews and we couldn’t get on the school busses without getting punched, shoved and threatened with worse by the much tougher bullies. In college, I became active in CORE and got arrested in civil disobedience actions alongside my black friends.

Then, by my senior year, the black kids in CORE decided that the Jewish kids were part of the problem. There was even a period of time when I flat denied being Jewish. Hell, I didn’t believe any of the religious stuff so why should I have to suffer the persecution just because of the small remnants of culture that my family held on to (oh yeah, and because of my nose, which I absolutely hated then).

And all that was on the east coast, where there were enough Jews so that most people, no matter what they felt, knew enough to keep their mouths shut and not express their ignorant ideas about Jews. But then, in 1976, I moved to Texas, where nobody seemed to see anything wrong with expressions like “I Jewed him down.”

After all that ranting, I guess where I’m going is here: While I do not condone imperialistic action on the part of any nation or entity, and while I abhor war, aggression and violence, no matter who the perpetrators, I believe that Israel is not the lone villain in the Middle East. A good deal of the region seems to be influenced by hatred and hateful people, who blame each other for the horrors of their lives. I can’t pray but I hope for peace.

In the meantime, I wish that those here who have the same hope would not solely blame the Israelis and, by extension, the worldwide Jewish community. The danger is that many people do not get subtlety and too many fall into ancient and deep-seated prejudices.

Ric Sternberg

Ric, I really appreciate what you say! Although I was brought up as a Ft. Worth Methodist child, I know that a lot of the things you say about the late 40s and 50s were definitely true in the South, where there were as many misconceptions about Jewish people as there were about “the colored.”

The big difference to me was that I was also learning that Jesus had been a Jew, and he had been a good guy, so how could they all be so bad now? As soon as possible, this led me to meet Jewish people, to find out for myself, which is how I apparently learn things, if at all.

The number of secular Jewish friends (the norm, as with most religions in the U.S. by the early 60s!) had ballooned after I got involved with peace and civil rights activities in Austin — I cannot even begin to credit especially the enormous number of amazing Jewish women who influenced me then and who continue, many of them, to influence me today in positive and life-affirming ways; some of them despite far distance and long silence.

Some of these women didn’t even think of themselves as very political, but their sense of entitlement to involvement made them highly political role models to me! Judaism is certainly a patriarchal religion, but it retains some respect for women, the likes of which Christianity long ago eschewed! The Rag was full of Jewish mothers; our now-famous 1966 all-woman sit-in at Austin’s Selective Service Headquarters was close to half conducted by educated, intellectual, fearless Jewish women.

I learned about Judaism by eating at their tables, schmoozing in their living rooms, sharing their holidays, and hearing an occasional chorus of the Hora or the dreidel song. Among the Jewish menfolk who were also part of the scene — philosophers, scientists, lawyers and businessmen all; what would you expect, a Jewish plumber???– I learned a lot about argument, logic, and verbal sparring; all in the rabbinic tradition of open discourse, disguised as radical gab sessions.

Later on I thought enough of all of those people to raise my son, whose father is a secular Jew, to become a Jewish man, and did my best to create a secularly Jewish home, complete with noodle kugel and the best damn hamentaschen in town! We practiced humanistic Judaism, a system of ethics, in which freedom and self-determination for all peoples are linked with responsibility and self-respect for oneself. On Passover, my son and I like to sing Bob Marley’s “Freedom Song” last.

I didn’t formally convert to Judaism — if I have any religious belief system any more, it’s more Buddhist — but it bothers me as much to hear the kind of “slips” you mention as it does when I hear someone make a racist remark about illegal immigrants, which I also hear a good bit of these days.

Racism and anti-Semitism are neither one of them dead — and let’s please not forget for a minute that anti-Semitism includes anti-Arab sentiments and dehumanizing characterizations such as “raghead”, “sand n—-r”, “camel jockey”, and so forth, sentiments which fundamentally underwrite our continuing ability to wage war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and, as is so often pointed out on this list, threaten war with Iran. (Those Persians may see a difference between themselves and the rest of the large-nosed peoples, but to us rednecks, y’all all look alike!)

Just as each of us can promote peace by practicing peaceful solutions in our own lives, we need to be mindful that we eradicate racism and anti-Semitism by removing them from our own hearts and minds. They are enemies of the international working class; they divide us so that the capitalists may conquer.

We get a circus or two to distract us, but electing a bourgeois black man or a bourgeois white woman to a figurehead position, EVEN IF IT HAPPENS, which I consider to be, astoundingly, NOT A GIVEN, wouldn’t change a thing in the arenas where the real shit goes down.

Ric also mentions that Israel’s government is no more responsive to its people than ours is, which made me wonder, just in passing, how many Jews of our generation or later have been barred from traveling to or living in Israel (despite the Law of Return) because they were once arrested there, perhaps while working on a kibbutz, with a little hash or marijuana.

I know a couple of such personally, both among the very best human beings I know, who might have been good influences in one way or another, through recent years, on Israel. (The number of “our people” at any given time who cannot, or don’t realize that they can, participate in elections here in the U.S. because of pot-related convictions is staggering.) Here as in so many arenas, the drug war wasn’t Israel’s idea — but vulnerability noodged them to become part of it. FEAR IS THE KILLER.

I personally think that when criticizing Israel’s policies, we should ROUTINELY criticize the U.S. influence which all too often shapes and defines them. The real criticism of Israel is that is is going to wind up about as much of a “Jewish homeland” as the U.S. is the “home of the brave and the land of the free!” We are all tools of multinational capital, which will fly any flag to blind us to its true allegiance: itself and itself only.

Mariann Wizard

You might want to go to the West Bank and see those fine upstanding “settlers” and IDF soldiers. Just don’t get friendly with the Palestinians or you may be shot in the head. Rubber bullet? I have a couple I picked up in Bethlehem if anyone wishes to see/feel how deadly they are.

Is it anti-Semitic to shoot a Jew who is not a Zionist?

Shanbo Heinemann, humanitarian activist from San Francisco, California, sits on the ground after being shot in the head with a rubber bullet fired by Israeli troops during a protest against Israel’s security fence in the West Bank village of Bilin, February 22, 2008. (REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

Alan, who has been there.
(Alan Pogue)

The day in which I can fail to engage the seemingly willfully ignorant U.S. Zionists has passed. My silence will no longer serve as complicity; I can hold my tongue no longer.

Progressive Jews in the U.S. who support Zionist expansionism have no idea (I hope) what they are behind. For a good understanding of the IDF’s undemocratic influence in all Israeli cabinets since 1948, I recommend The Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim. Shlaim’s book demonstrates that, in confluence with those Right Wing religious zealots who control Likud and most recent cabinets, the Israeli military repeatedly makes a mockery of democracy in Israel.

The other “must-read” is Israel Shahak. Fundamentalist Jews do not believe that Palestinians or, for that matter, anyone on this list is a human being—that would likely include Ms. Josephs, Steve Russell, Mr. Eisenstadt, as well as my Jewish daughter and daughter-in-law and her family and more than nine out of the ten US Jews who fund their expansionist behavior.

Eighty seven per cent of the land (inside what so many refer to as Israel) from which Zionist thugs and terrorists drove Palestinian families in 1948 is still vacant. The Palestinians must be permitted to come home from the camps, if Jews are to live in peace on this stolen land.

A One state solution is the only answer. The true “self-hating Jew” is someone who believes (then acts to make real) the Zionist notion that Jews will never live at peace with their neighbors. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Ya Basta!

Doug Zachary
Veterans For Peace

Israel enjoys democratic government: every faction of the population is represented in the Knesset. The Israel government like few others represents the desires of the Israelis.

Mike Eisenstadt

The problem is that criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitism. It could be, but not necessarily. To say that criticism of Israel invariably masks anti-Semitism is clearly not true, especially given the great number of Jews who do so. Need I mention Noam Chomsky in this regard?

My general position is that there are legitimate grievances, saints and sinners, etc, on both sides. However, Israel is the chief beneficiary of the status quo in that they continue to integrate West Bank land (and water) outside the “green line” (the pre-1967 border), into Israel. I also believe several other things about the conflict.

1.) Israel does not want a peace settlement except on completely favorable terms that require them to give up almost nothing and they have consistently undermined efforts to move toward peace. (Ex.- The Arab League peace plan of 2002, reiterated in 2007, which acknowledges the existence of Israel, has been consistently ignored by Israel although it has been accepted by Hamas.)

2.) Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is brutal (to say the least) and unwarranted. Organized terrorist attacks within Israel have been practically non-existent for many years. Punishing whole populations for the acts of individuals is a clear and egregious violation of all standards of human rights. Regardless, thousands of Palestinians are held indefinitely in Israeli prisons with no legal rights.

3.) Israel is in gross violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it refuses to sign, and acts as an agent for US imperialism in the Middle East in return for billions annually in US military “aid”. Mordechai Vanunu remains in an Israel jail for life for having exposed Israel’s nuclear weapons program.

4.) The principal stimulus to anti-Semitism in the world today are the actions of the Israeli government.

Those are some of the issues and my beliefs about them. No one on this list would condone crimes committed against Jews, past or present. Most of us have benefited enormously from our associations with Jews, who, if my own experience is any guide, have had seminal positive impacts on our lives out of all proportion to their numbers. Therefore, regrettable though it may be, how you were treated in grade school or how bad the Holocaust was, is not really relevant to the issue at hand.

David Hamilton

I’m sorry, but settlements have not been frozen for years.

The number of settlements may have been frozen, but the size of pre-existing ones is constantly expanding. These expanding settlements do “continue to integrate West Bank land (and water) outside the ‘green line’…into Israel.”That Israel wanted to relinquish 88% of the West Bank is not anything to brag about. The West Bank is illegally occupied territory.

If during the Vietnam War, the U.S. conquered Vietnam and then offered to relinquish 8 per cent of the territory, would you have then stopped protesting and joined Young Conservatives for Freedom or whatever they were called? [Young Americans for Freedom — Ed.] That the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel doesn’t mean anything. Israel is a powerful army, Hamas has rinky-dink rockets. Further, Hamas has been calling for a cease-fire and Israel has refused this offer. I’m sure you know about this. Any Palestinian calls for the destruction of Israel are academic. The real issue is Israel’s actual destruction of Palestine.

Surely you care about that, right?In terms of terrorism, Palestinian terrorism is just as deplorable as Israeli terrorism. But we as Americans aren’t funding or supporting Palestinian terrorism, so what can we possibly have to say about it? On the other hand we send billions of dollars to fund Israeli terrorism. Further, Israeli terrorism kills far more people and destroys far more lives than Palestinian terrorism.

Finally, you say that Israel acts in defense of its interests like any other state. So that the U.S. is acting in defense of its interests is a good reason for the Iraq War? I don’t think so. Israel should abide by the same standards imposed upon every other state. No more. No less. That means they should follow international law which calls for the dismantling of the wall, the release of all prisoners from occupied territory, the end to the occupation, the dismantling of settlements, and they should relinquish 100% of the West Bank. And then, if they want to be decent human beings, they can give Palestinians massive reparations.

David Bradley

Posted by The Rag Blog / March 21, 2008
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