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Once again, Britain’s Jewish leaders miss the point

In a confidential report (revealed by Jewish News), the Board of Deputies of British Jews at last acknowledges that there is a significant division of opinion about Israel among British Jews. However, it proposes to address that division not by promoting open, informed debate, but through pro-Israel forces adopting a somewhat subtler, softly-softly approach. The Board’s report warns: “The risk of arguing for the fault of failure [of the peace talks] lying squarely with the Palestinians while many will at least partially blame Israel, is that supporters of Israel will become increasingly discredited, irrelevant and marginal.”

According to Jewish News, the report argues that, whatever the outcome of the talks, what is needed by Jews is a “positive and proactive”, ‘four-pronged strategy’ around ‘peace, security, prosperity and equality’, which would include ‘efforts to promote further trade with Israel and working on joint projects with civil society organisations.’

In other words, the idea is to find more effective ways to strengthen support for Israel and undermine attempts to put pressure on it through protests, boycotts and divestment.

The Board is still unable to grasp that people, including increasing numbers of Jews, are turning against Israel not because its PR strategy is wanting, but because the truth of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is becoming more widely known. Those who are prepared to face the facts are horrified by the racism, ethnic cleansing, denial of basic human rights and day-to-day violence meted out by Israel to Palesinians, over many decades, and nothing the Board proposes will alter that. So, of course, they will continue to do their best to obfuscate the facts and attack those who seek to expose them.

The Board refers casually to Jews’ “instinctive support” of Israel. There is absolutely nothing “instinctive” about it. Zionism has been assiduously promoted within the Jewish community. Jewish critics of Zionism have been smeared and ostracised. What exactly is the basis of this assumed linkage of all Jews with Israel? The notion that it is “genetic” is wildly anti-scientific and the claim that it is “cultural” is equally untenable (British and Israeli Jews evince a diverse range of cultures and there are plenty of diaspora Jews who find Israel’s culture alien in the extreme, not least becuase of its racism.) It cannot be justified on “religious” grounds because there are substantial portions of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), the Talmud and other Jewish writings that are clearly incompatible with Zionism. At the bottom, there’s nothing more here than the idea that we should support the actions of people who happen to share our Jewish identity – regradless of any other factors. It is, in other words, an essentially amoral ethnic chauvinism.

The real “cultural” link between Israel and its British Jewish supporters is a shared culture of white or western supremacy, with its concommittant contempt for the rights of non-Western peoples. That culture, of course, is widespread in Britain as elsewhere in the west; it does not belong specifically to Jews. So the ostensible link between Jews and Israel turns out to consist in an embrace of the worst aspects of western imperial culture. What a strange and perverse way to assert Jewish identity!

[Those interested in more thoughts about Zionsim and the diaspora might consider checking out my book “If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew” (Verso).]