Joint statement by Judith butler and Rashid Khalidi condemns censorship of Israel critics in US

In the wake of Judith Butler’s withdrawal from her planned talk on Kafka at the New York Jewish Museum and the “disinvitation” of Rashid Khalidi by the Orthodox Ramaz high school in New York last week, the two scholars have launched a petition to defend free speech and denounce the censorship that seeks to set the “boundaries of acceptable discourse relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While this petition clearly pertains to the current situation in the United States, we in the United Kingdom cannot afford to be complacent about this kind of activity that seeks only to stifle debate rather than encourage open engagement with diverse points of view on Israel and the Palestinians.

Independent Jewish Voices is an embodiment of this ideal. With regard to the BDS campaign specifically, mentioned in the petition, IJV does not have a collective position on BDS and members of the Steering Group hold different views on the matter. However, we are united on the question of the right to free political expression when exercised through non-violent means, whether in the UK, the US, Israel or elsewhere.

It should be noted that rather than being a question of support for or against BDS, the matter at stake here is freedom of speech. Indeed, the petition makes a strong case against academic boycotts directed against individuals.

This is the full text of the petition followed by a link should you wish to add your support.

Whether one is for or against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a means to change the current situation in Palestine-Israel, it is important to recognize that boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression. As non-violent instruments to effect political change, boycotts cannot be outlawed without trampling on a constitutionally protected right to political speech. Those who support boycotts ought not to become subject to retaliation, surveillance, or censorship when they choose to express their political viewpoint, no matter how offensive that may be to those who disagree.

         We are now witnessing accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS. We ask cultural and educational institutions to have the courage and the principle to stand for, and safeguard, the very principles of free expression and the free exchange of ideas that make those institutions possible. This means refusing to accede to bullying, intimidation, and threats aimed at silencing speakers because of their actual or perceived political views. It also means refusing to impose a political litmus test on speakers and artists when they are invited to speak or stage their work. We ask that educational and cultural institutions recommit themselves to upholding principles of open debate, and to remain venues for staging expressions of an array of views, including controversial ones.  Only by refusing to become vehicles for censorship and slander, and rejecting blacklisting, intimidation, and discrimination against certain viewpoints, can these institutions live up to their purpose as centers of learning and culture.

A list of the first 150 signatories to the statement can be found here.
Posted in Antisemitism, Boycott, Events, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Palestinians, Zionism | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

On the passing of a warrior

A great deal has been written about Ariel Sharon in the days following his death. This is the view of the eminent British historian and IJV signatory, Avi Shlaim, who has for decades followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ariel Sharon’s Legacy

Avi Shlaim

Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday after eight years in a coma, was one of Israel’s most iconic and controversial figures. His long and chequered career as a soldier and politician largely revolved around one issue: the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours. As a soldier he was involved at the sharp end of this bitter conflict. As a politician he became known as “the Bulldozer” on account of his contempt for political opponents and his ruthless drive to get things done. In various ministerial capacities he was a leading player in building Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Without a single exception these settlements are illegal and they also constitute the main obstacle to peace. Sharon was a deeply flawed character, renowned for his brutality, mendacity, and corruption. Despite these flaws he holds a special place in the annals of his country’s history.

Five prime ministers had profound influence in shaping the course of Israel’s history. David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the state, concluded the 1949 armistice agreements – the only internationally-recognized borders that Israel has ever had. His successor, Levi Eshkol, presided, in the wake of the resounding military victory in the June 1967 War, over the expansion of these borders and the subsequent transformation of the plucky little democracy into a brutal colonial empire. Menachem Begin was the first prime minister to sign a peace treaty with an Arab state. He returned every square inch of the occupied Sinai Peninsula in exchange for a peace treaty with Egypt, thereby setting a precedent. Itzhak Rabin was the first Israeli prime minister to move towards the Palestinians on the political front. He did so by concluding the Oslo Accord with the PLO Chairman in September 1993, and clinching the historic compromise between their two nations with the iconic handshake on the White House lawn.

The fifth towering figure in Israel’s history was Ariel Sharon. Sharon was an aggressive expansionist. His main aim when he came to power in 2001was to eliminate the two-state solution and to determine unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel. By the time he fell into a coma five years later, he had gone some way towards achieving this aim. His short-term success, however, gravely diminished the prospect of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Sharon’s legacy is therefore as controversial as his life.

Sharon had always been an ardent Jewish nationalist, a dyed-in-the-wool hardliner, and a ferocious right-wing hawk. He also displayed a consistent preference for force over diplomacy in dealing with the Arabs. Reversing Clausewitz’s famous dictum, he treated diplomacy as the extension of war by other means. The title he chose for his autobiography aptly summed him up in one word – Warrior. Like Shakespeare’s Corialanus Sharon was essentially a fighting machine.  His critics denounced him as a practitioner of “gun Zionism”, as a perversion of the Zionist idea of the strong, fair-minded, and fearless Jew. To the Palestinians Sharon represented the cold, cruel, militaristic face of the Zionist occupation.

As minister of defence Sharon led Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was a war of deception that failed to achieve any of its grandiose geopolitical objectives. A commission of inquiry found Sharon responsible for failing to prevent the massacre by Christian Phalangists of Palestinian refugees in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila camps. This verdict was etched on his forehead like a mark of Cain. But who foresaw that the man who was declared unfit to be minister of defence would bounce back as prime minister?

During the 2001 elections campaign, Sharon tried to reinvent himself as a man of peace. Sharon’s spin doctors cultivated the notion that old age was accompanied by a personal transformation from a sanguinary soldier into a genuine peace-seeker. President George W. Bush famously described Sharon as “a man of peace”. For the last forty years the Arab-Israeli conflict has been my main research interest and I have not come across a scintilla of evidence to support this view. Sharon was a man of war through and through, an Arab-hater, and an eager proponent of the doctrine of permanent conflict. He regarded the Palestinians as “murderous and treacherous” and he did not believe that the conflict with them could be resolved by diplomatic means. Following his rise to power Sharon therefore remained what he had always been – the champion of violent solutions. Baruch Kimmerling, the Israeli sociologist, coined a term to describe Sharon’s political programme: politicide – to deny the Palestinians any independent political existence in Palestine.

The dominant narrative during Sharon’s premiership was the “war on terror”. Here he was in his element, making the fight against militant Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad the top priority of his government. After 9/11, Sharon was the first world leader to jump on the bandwagon of the “Global War on Terror”. His message to the American neoconservatives was that they were on the same side: they were fighting terror worldwide while he was fighting terror in his back yard. The Palestinian Authority, the embryonic government of the state-in-the-making, was according to him a terrorist entity. He therefore proposed to deal with it as one should deal with terrorists − with an iron fist. The American policy-makers were convinced by this argument and they turned over the Palestinians to the tender mercies of General Sharon.

No peace negotiations took place between 2001 and 2006 and it was highly revealing that Sharon regarded this as something to be proud of. To his way of thinking negotiations necessarily involve compromise and he consequently avoided them like the plague. For this reason he also rejected all international peace plans aimed at a two-state solution. One was the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which offered Israel peace and normalization with all 22 members of the Arab League in return for agreeing to an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza with a capital city in East Jerusalem and a just solution to the refugee problem. Another was the 2003 Quartet Road Map which envisaged the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel by the end of 2005.

The defining moment of Sharon’s premiership was the launching of “Operation Defensive Shield” in March 2002 in retaliation against a high-casualty Hamas suicide attack. The IDF was ordered to reoccupy the big Palestinian cities on the West Bank which the Oslo II agreement had placed under the control of the Palestinian Authority. In some ways this fraudulently named operation was a replay of the first Lebanon war. It was directed against the Palestinian people; it stemmed from the same equation of Palestinians with terrorists; it was based on the same denial of Palestinian national rights; it employed the same strategy of savage and overwhelming military force; and it displayed the same callous disregard for public opinion, international law, UN resolutions, and the norms of civilised behaviour. Sharon’s real agenda was rather more offensive than defensive. It was to put the clock back; to sweep away the remnants of Oslo; to inflict pain and misery on the Palestinians; and to extinguish their hopes for freedom and statehood.

Sharon was the unilateralist par excellence.  His ultimate aim was to redraw unilaterally Israel’s borders, incorporating large swathes of occupied territory. Stage I was to build on the West Bank the so-called security barrier which the Palestinians call the apartheid wall. The International Court of Justice condemned this wall as illegal. It is three times as long as the pre-1967 border and its primary purpose is not security but land-grabbing. Good fences may make good neighbours but not when they are erected in the neighbour’s garden.

Stage II consisted of the unilateral disengagement of Gaza in August 2005. This involved the uprooting of 8,000 Jews and the dismantling of 22 settlements − a shocking turnaround by a man who used to be called the godfather of the settlers. Withdrawal from Gaza was presented to the world as a contribution to the Quartet’s Road Map but it was nothing of the sort. The Road Map called for negotiations between the two sides, leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Sharon refused to negotiate.  His unilateral move was designed to freeze the political process, thereby preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state and maintaining the geopolitical status quo in the West Bank. But at the same time it was a momentous move that made Sharon many enemies on the right wing of his own party and among the settler community.

The legal term “depraved indifference” refers to conduct that is so wanton, so callous, so reckless, so deficient in a moral sense of concern, so lacking in regard for the lives of others, and so blameworthy as to warrant criminal liability. Sharon personified this kind of indifference in his approach to the Palestinians. Zionist propaganda repeats ad nauseam the slogan “our hand is stretched out in peace”. Sharon’s hand, however, was always clenched in war. Towards the very end of his active life he bolted from the Likud to create the centrist party Kadima but Kadima did not survive his demise. Today it has only two seats in the 120-member Knesset. So Sharon’s last-minute attempt to bring about a re-alignment in Israeli politics has ended in total failure. His enduring legacy has been to empower and embolden some of the most racist, xenophobic, expansionist, and intransigent elements in Israel’s in Israel’s dysfunctional political system.


Avi Shlaim is an Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University and the author of Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations (Verso, 2009).

12 January 2014

Posted in Gaza, Human Rights, Human rights, International Law, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Palestine, Palestinians, Peace Process, West Bank, Zionism | 2 Comments

Are we trapped by our own narratives?

In an eloquent account of why healing the wounds that history has left in Israel/Palestine has proved so difficult, Tony Klug offers a fitting reminder, on the day Nelson Mandela is laid to rest, that while one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, everything seems impossible until it’s done.

 I want to begin this evening with a conundrum, one that I first posed earlier this year at a conference in Amman, Jordan. What, I asked, do the following pivotal events have in common?

The 1967 Arab-Israel war.

The 1973 Arab-Israel war.

The Sadat Initiative.

The first Palestinian Intifada.

The Oslo Accord.

The second Palestinian Intifada.

The uprooting of all Israeli settlements in Gaza.

The 2006 election victory of Hamas.

The Arab uprisings.

The mass social protests in Israel.

The 2013 election result in Israel.

The tearing apart of Syria.

The answer is that none of them was anticipated.


In retrospect, clever experts were of course able to explain, with great clarity, why these events came about. Even, in some cases, why they were all but inevitable. But, for the most part, only after they occurred. I can say this with a degree of confidence because, from time to time, I’ve been guilty of this myself.

The question I did not go on to pose in Amman – I was developing a different theme there – is why is this? What is it about the Arab-Israel-Palestine imbroglio that makes it so difficult, time and again, to foresee the vital turning points in advance of them happening? It is true that decisive changes in other regions of the world sometimes also defy prediction, but the record in relation to this conflict is close to unassailable. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of an exception.

It is an intriguing question, for which I don’t have a definitive answer. But something I have observed over the years of my involvement is that one of the distinguishing features of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that almost everyone who engages with it is, or soon becomes, a stakeholder of sorts in the problem. Inevitably, this moulds the way we view events. Even the most seasoned of commentators and analysts are prone to ‘take a side’.

Sometimes this is quite overt, sometimes it is more subtle — even to the point where we may not actually be aware of it ourselves. Sometimes, the ‘side’ we take may be just an acute frustration with both parties — “a fire on both their houses” or “they deserve each other” are not uncommon invectives. But even this is a position and is liable to influence the holder’s take on events.

Directly or indirectly, consciously or subconsciously, we become players. What we present as analysis is often veiled advocacy. Our impartial ‘facts’ are frequently selected to comply with our witting or unwitting predilections. Our supposedly neutral future projections may be little more than a function of our own desires or delusions or despondencies. Developments outside the framework of our psychological boundaries or emotional affinities are thus apt to catch us unawares.

What is true for outsider pundits who often believe themselves to be above the fray is, by and large, true in buckets for the main parties to this conflict and their global cheerleaders. The extrapolations of partisan voices to this – or any – dispute are rarely reliable guides to the way events will actually unfold in the real world.

Quite recently, I attended a seminar organized by a pro-Israel group. A few days earlier, I had attended a conference hosted by a pro-Palestinian group. The participants at both meetings — with some notable exceptions — came across as reasonable, decent, liberal-minded people with an abiding commitment to human rights. Certainly, they regarded themselves as such.

But, on the whole, you would not believe they were talking about the same conflict. One meeting’s certainties were the opposite of the other meeting’s certainties. One side’s heroes were – I suppose naturally — the other side’s villains. Where there was apparent common ground, such as on the allegedly notorious bias of the press, there was almost total divergence on the direction of the bias. One problem is that when essentially like-minded people gather together, pre-existing Illusions tend to get reinforced rather than face a challenge.

It has been my custom for decades to accept invitations from both camps. I note, with regret, that this is not a common practice. I say ‘with regret’ because if we, as outsiders, wish to influence the future course of events in a way that contributes to the resolution of the conflict –rather than to its exacerbation — we need to acquire an empathetic understanding of the factors that shape the thinking, reasoning and behaviour of the principal protagonists and the way they view events. It is not enough to have this intuition just for the side to which we are instinctively drawn. To act out of knee-jerk solidarity does not necessarily do a service to anyone, even to the cause of the party we favour.

A possible insight into what causes people to take this or that side in the first place may be provided by an old adage, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that goes something like this: “If you were born where they were born and you were taught what they were taught, you’d believe what they believe”.

While falling short of a complete general theory — and certainly there are exceptions — this simple dictum does, I think, go some way to explain not just what we believe but why we believe it. Why we take up certain positions and hold them so fervently. Why Jews, in the main, have historically supported Israel and seen the Palestinians as an irritant or worse. Why Arabs and Muslims, as a rule, have supported the Palestinian cause and seen Israel as an interloper or worse. And why both sides have been equally convinced they were in the right.

What would we believe -– each of us — if we hailed from the other side of the track or river or mountain? What ‘facts’ would we then be predisposed to accept as self-evident truths and which ones, by contrast, would we be inclined summarily to dismiss as propaganda lies? And what of the dedicated fanatics among us? Would their support of the opposing cause be any less partisan or extreme or self-righteous if they happened to be born on the other side of the mirror?

None of this is to suggest that facts are merely subjective. Nor that there are not genuine questions of historical interpretation, justice, legality or human rights. Of course there are. What is suggested, though, is that, to move forward, we need to acquire the ability to view matters beyond our comfort zones and to think outside of our boxes.

So many of us are trapped in and by our own narratives and we devote enormous resources to justifying and reinforcing our own perspectives and simultaneously to belittling or ridiculing the other’s. This is not the prerogative of any one side. All sides do it. Self-appointed experts churn out, and their followers dutifully cite, reams of supposedly scholarly research that ‘prove’, for example, the non-authenticity of the people-hood or nationhood of the other — thus disqualifying them from competing for territory in the first place — and the non-validity of many of their cherished claims. “There is no such thing as the Jewish people!”, asserts one supposed expert. “A Palestinian nation is pure invention!”, claims another. We can think of many other examples.

These commonplace writings, driven by the essentially negative motive to demonstrate as non-existent a phenomenon that is regarded as undesirable are, in general, completely without value. They perpetuate stereotypes and add nothing to the sum total of human knowledge or wisdom. Their solutions — however they are dressed up -– invariably involve the capitulation or subordination of the adversary. They offer no real answers. They just condemn us all to endless conflict.

Indeed, there is a serious risk of this. But such a future is not pre-ordained. It is not as if there is a deep-seated ideological or religious dispute between these two small peoples or an endemic historical enmity. Israelis and Palestinians have clashed — bitterly -– in recent times fundamentally because they simultaneously aspired to the same piece of territory on which to exercise their self-determination. If the geographical targets had been different from each other, it would not have been so hard to imagine the relationship between these two long-suffering peoples as one of alliance and mutual support. And, as far-fetched as this may seem at present, it could still be. In many respects, they have much in common.

So what of these different core perspectives? Let’s take a quick look at the essence of each in turn.

The underlying case for a Jewish homeland was strikingly, if inadvertently, put by the poet Lord Byron, as far back as 1815, when some of the worst tragedies to face the Jewish people, including the tsarist pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust, still lay a distance ahead. This was several decades before Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and a full century before the Balfour Declaration of 1917. In his ‘Hebrew Melodies’, Byron, who was not of Jewish heritage himself, wrote: “The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave, mankind their country, Israel but the grave!” By “Israel,” of course, he meant the Jewish people.

Once the Zionist movement eventually came into being, however, all sorts of conspiracy theories and malevolent intent were soon fastened onto it by its detractors, some of it giving off a familiar antisemitic whiff, not so different from that which played the decisive role in winning so many Jews and others to the Zionist cause in the first place.

Conceptually, Zionism was a distressed people’s proud, if defiant, response to centuries of contempt, humiliation, discrimination and periodic bouts of murderous oppression. The Israeli state was the would-be phoenix to rise from the Jewish embers still smouldering in the blood-soaked earth of another continent. The underlying motive, in the eyes of its proponents, was the positive one of achieving safety and justice for a tormented people, not the negative one of doing damage to another people. Yet, in effect, this is exactly what it did do and, as discomfiting as it may be, Israelis and their supporters around the world will, at some point, have to come fully and openly to terms with this.

In the attempt to rectify the enduring Jewish calamity, a second people was obligated to pay a heavy price. The ill-fated Palestinians, in common with their Arab brethren in neighbouring countries and other colonized peoples, had long yearned for their independence free from foreign rule, only to find that, in their case, another people, mostly from foreign parts, was simultaneously laying claim to the same land. Naturally, the Palestinians resisted. Any people would have resisted. In their place, Israelis most certainly would have resisted.

The Palestinians, in like fashion, did not set out to damage anyone but aspired to what they felt was rightfully theirs. Dispossessed, degraded and deserted, they were among the principal losers in the geopolitical lottery that followed the horrors of the Second World War. They were, in a sense, the knock-on victims of Nazi atrocities. Their original felony was, in essence, to be in the way of another distressed people’s frantic survival strategy. Virtually everything that has happened since then is in some way a consequence of this.

This tragic historical clash — the product of centuries of virulent European antisemitism at home and rampant imperialism abroad, crowned by double or, in this case, treble dealings — is the root of the conflict. Almost everything else has been grafted on retrospectively. Self-serving explanations of the type that portray either people as innately wicked or falsify their histories or disparage their sufferings do not in any way aid understanding of the problem. They merely confound the issues, deepen the hatred and poison the air. The core case for each side stands proud in its own right. Neither one is nullified because the other side also has — in its own terms — a strong and valid case.

In the real world of today where, in practical terms, does all this leave us? Some forty years ago, in a Fabian pamphlet, I called for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. I made this proposal because it seemed blindingly obvious from my own research, travels and personal engagements that both peoples overwhelmingly wanted their own state and were not prepared to settle for anything less. I could not see — and still cannot see — any other way of accommodating and reconciling these common, basic, minimum, irreducible aspirations, even if there are more formidable obstacles today in the way of their joint fruition than in the early 1970s.

Following years of agonized internal debate, the PLO eventually caught up with this harsh reality, grasped the nettle and formally adopted the two-state paradigm at its momentous Algiers congress in 1988. The immensity of this move should not be underestimated. It was a hard pill to swallow — and still today not everyone has fully digested it — as it meant lowering Palestinian sights from the hitherto immutable demand for 100 per cent of the land and accepting a scaled-down state on the remaining 22 per cent, comprising the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The implicit PLO recognition of Israel — and, by extension, West Jerusalem as its capital — became explicit and official five years later under the Oslo accords.

This was the Palestinians’ once-and-for-all grand historical compromise — although subsequently they went further still in agreeing in principle to minor, equitable land exchanges, provided that the 78:22 ratio was maintained and that Jerusalem would be the shared capital.

The evident belief of many Israeli leaders that a further deal may be cut over the residual 22 per cent — what Israel’s government, uniquely, calls the ‘disputed’ territories -– has been at the heart of the collapse of most peace plans to date. I do not suggest this was the sole cause of breakdown, for the remarkably low levels of empathy is a two-way street. But what has long been clear is that any future peace initiative would suffer the same fate as its predecessors unless Israel and its supporters were also ready to grasp the same decisive nettle.

Alas, there is no evidence of this on the part of the current Israeli government. Instead, many of its leading figures seem content, if not intent, on continuing the occupation of another people indefinitely and encroaching ever further on their land. Even many of the dissenters in Israel seem reluctantly resigned to this. Yet, if there is one cast-iron law of history, it is probably that occupations – which tend to brutalize the occupier as well as the occupied – and other forms of colonial rule are, sooner or later, resisted.

If Israel continues to deny the Palestinian people the freedom, independence and self-determination that its own people have enjoyed for the past 65 years, it can only be a matter of time until things turn nasty — and probably violent — again: a third intifada but, this time, possibly in the form of a vigorous secessionist movement in the West Bank. To put it another way, I fear the most likely alternative to two states by consensus is two states by chaos.

It is easy to hold that the current Israeli-Palestinian talks are headed for the rocks. Who among us hasn’t confidently predicted this? But before we succumb to the temptation of throwing up our hands in total despair — or kidding ourselves that a harmonious one state alternative is waiting eagerly in the wings — there may be a way to radically change the odds on the outcome of the talks. For, ultimately, the best way to heal the wounds of history is to ensure that the future guarantees everyone a decent place in the sun. Everything hinges at this time on making the failure of the negotiations prohibitively costly and success hugely alluring.

Here is where outside parties – such as the EU and the UK and other governments — could step in decisively and give themselves an effective seat at the talks. The virtual presence of other powers around the negotiating table, apart from the US sponsor, is vital in the light of the profound imbalance of power between the two main parties. It is no secret that some external actors are gearing up to take punitive measures, primarily against Israel, in the event of the talks collapsing.

Someone prominently involved in lobbying the EU on these matters sent me an email recently, in which she wrote: “I really do think that the EU is ready to become much more assertive in pushing for a just solution, although there will be a slight hiatus whilst Kerry runs its course”.


But why wait for Kerry to “run its course” before publicly advertizing these plans? What point is served by holding them in reserve as future retribution? Where will that get us, apart from further polarizing the situation? Would it not be more constructive and effective for outside parties to be fully open right away about their intentions, with the express purpose of influencing the course of the negotiations. Let the principal parties – and crucially their respective public opinions – know in advance what the price of failure, and the rewards of success, will be. A strategy such as this — which might well induce a necessary coalition reshuffle in Israel, if not a fresh election — may offer the only realistic chance of resolving the conflict without further bloodshed.

Practical and creative incentives and disincentives need to be devised for each party. The EU, for instance, could be very blunt about its immediate intention, should the talks fail, to implement scrupulously its recent funding directive that distinguishes sharply between Israel proper and its settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, and that other similar measures in the economic, travel and other arenas, are in the pipeline. Individual EU governments could issue matching pledges.

On the other side of the balance sheet, Arab heads of state could map out clearly what normal relations with Israel, as envisaged under the oft-repeated Arab Peace Initiative, will look like in full panoramic colour. They could add a pledge to pay official visits to Israel — as well as Palestine — as soon as a peace agreement is concluded. Other countries around the world could vow to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to the shared capital city of Jerusalem, to be accredited to both states.

Imagine the impact on both sides’ public opinion of an announcement that plans to hold a future Olympics or World Cup in Israel and Palestine were under serious consideration. That massive external investment would help build new cities, industry and transport systems in the new Palestinian state, opening both states to efficient trading and travel connections with the wider region. That boycotts and sieges on all sides would be lifted. That Israel in addition to Palestine would be invited to participate in regional cultural, sporting, trading and other agencies and, in parallel, were promised enhanced relations with the EU.

Such imaginings just scratch the surface. But they are not far-fetched. Before all the experts dismiss them out of hand, let them bear in mind the conundrum with which I started this talk. What is imagined now could conceivably be reality in the not-distant future. It depends on the decisions we choose to make. If every government, international agency and civil society thought deeply about what they could do to influence the outcome of the talks during these few months of enforced quietude, and set about doing it right away, the future may not be as grim as generally feared. It’s a rare, if unintended, opportunity that should be seized now. However, I expect, once again, for one convoluted reason or another, that it won’t be.

Well, I’m sure there is plenty there to disagree with. Thank you.

This is a transcript of the talk by Dr Tony Klug delivered at the Balfour Project Conference,‘Healing the wounds of history’, on 30 October 2013. A video of Tony Klug’s full address is available here.

Tony Klug has been writing about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for over 40 years. His Ph.D thesis was on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank between the wars of 1967 and 1973. In the early 1970s, he called for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In the early 1980s, he co-founded and co-chaired the Council for Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue and later served as vice-chair of the Arab-Jewish Forum. He has been a trustee of the International Centre for Peace in the Middle East and an international board member of the Palestine-Israel Journal. For many years, he worked as a senior official at Amnesty International. Currently, he is a special advisor on the Middle East to the Oxford Research Group.

Posted in Gaza, Human Rights, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Palestinians, Peace Process, Social Justice, West Bank | Leave a comment

Echoes of shattering glass

On the eve of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Oxford Philosopher and IJV signatory Brian Klug delivered the opening lecture at the conference Antisemitism in Europe Today: the Phenomena, the Conflicts held at Berlin’s Jewish Museum.

The museum faced strong and vocal opposition to their choice of keynote speaker, as described here, yet despite the controversy,  the event was characterised as an “obsolete debate” by Israeli daily Ha’aretz. The following paragraphs are excerpts from the lecture delivered by Dr. Brian Klug on 8 November, entitled “What do we mean when we say antisemitism”. The full lecture is available here.

What do we mean when we say ‘antisemitism’? Do we know what we mean? Does it matter? The word matters because the thing matters. It matters because unless we use the same word in the same way we will be talking at cross purposes….

…the word matters because it is heavy with history, echoing with the sound of shattering glass. As a result, it is not only a difficult word but a dangerous one, for it is a word that can do harm if it is misused. Yes, it is a label that we need, a name for something that needs naming and denouncing. But a label can turn into a libel when it is pinned on the wrong lapel. Antisemitism has rightly been called a ‘monster’. But false accusations of antisemitism are monstrous too. For all these reasons and more, the word matters a great deal.“

Dr. Klug went on to describe a series of hypothetical cases of presumed antisemitism and arrived at a definition from a philosophical perspective: “Antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.” Towards the end of the lecture he tackled the question of “antisemitism in disguise.”

 “In raising this issue, the voice in the room mentions the elephant in the room: anti-Zionism. I have no wish to dwell on this subject. But in Europe today, it is impossible to avoid altogether, and at least one panel tomorrow is devoted to it. The difficulty with this subject is that it is so politicized. In the public debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is a familiar, depressing pattern in which opponents appear to be locked in an embrace from which they cannot escape. Critics of Israel, crossing a line in the sand, find themselves accused of antisemitism. They react by accusing their accusers, alleging that the charge against them is nothing more than the machinations of ‘the Israel lobby’. At once, this is seized upon as an antisemitic slur, which in turn is denounced as a Zionist smear. Round and round they go, down and down they go, in an acrimonious circle that gets ever more vicious….

[as a student] representing my college union, I proposed a resolution condemning the so-called anti-Zionist purges carried out at the time by the government of Poland. The resolution (which was passed) said that these purges should be condemned for what they really were: antisemitism in disguise. So, I know full well that antisemitism can be hidden behind the mask of anti-Zionism, as the voice in the room puts it. But think what, as a matter of logic, this means. If it can function as a mask, this implies that anti-Zionism, as such, is not antisemitic: a mask that is identical with what it masks is no mask. (That would be like a wolf in wolf’s clothing.) And if it does function as a mask, then once we strip the mask away the thing behind it is laid bare – as if the mask had never been there.

In other words, antisemitism is antisemitism, whether disguised as anti-Zionism – or as anything else – or not.

Then what is it? What do we mean when we say, in a particular case, that anti-Zionism is antisemitic?

The decisive issue would be this: Does the group in question project the figure of the ‘Jew’ (directly or indirectly, openly or otherwise) onto Israel? Do they, so to speak, pin a yellow star on the place, like the badge that was pinned to Kertész’s breast? Do they, in short, turn the Jewish state into the ‘Jewish’ state? ”

The full lecture is available to read here.

IJV would like to thank Dr. Klug for his contribution to a debate that we consider to be very much alive and indeed at the heart of our struggle for a just peace and our defence of the freedom to speak out against injustice.

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Remembering Kristallnacht

75 years after Kristallnacht: minorities in danger

On 9th/10th November 1938, Nazi stormtroopers led a wave of violent attacks on Jewish people and property throughout Germany and Austria, which the Nazis had annexed. During these pogroms, 91 Jews were killed, thousands were taken from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps, 267 synagogues were destroyed, and some 7,500 Jewish-owned shops were smashed and looted.

The Kristallnacht pogroms presaged attempts to remove Jews from German life completely. Many Jews left hurriedly to seek refuge in friendly countries, including Britain, but Britain was already in the grip of an “aliens scare”. Newspaper headlines declared: “Alien Jews Pouring In”, and claimed that “Refugees Get Jobs, Britons Get Dole”. The media accused Jewish asylum seekers of “over-running the country”. Despite wide public revulsion at the violence of Kristallnacht, powerful elements in British politics and business continued to admire Hitler and the Nazi regime. 75 years after Kristallnacht, racists and fascists inspired by the Nazis continue to attack minorities in Europe. In Hungary neo-fascists target Gypsies and Jews. In Greece Golden Dawn members and supporters brutally attack migrants and political opponents. Here in Britain, minority communities, especially Muslims, have been targeted in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile towards migrants and refugees.

As Jewish people mindful of this history, we are equally alarmed at continuing fascist violence and the toxic sentiments expressed by many politicians and much of the media against migrants, asylum seekers, Gypsies and Travellers. We stand shoulder to shoulder with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in their efforts to live here in freedom and safety, to contribute to society, and be treated as equals. As Jews we stand together with all communities seeking to combat racism and fascism here and elsewhere.

David Rosenberg, Jewish Socialist magazine

Prof Frank Land, 1939 refugee and Kristallnacht witness

Ralph Land CBE, 1939 refugee and Kristallnacht witness

Sheila Melzak, Clinical Director, Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile

Dr Jennifer Langer, Director, Exiled Writers Ink

John Speyer, Director, Music In Detention

Margaret Hodge MP

David Winnick MP

Lord (Alf) Dubs

Edie Friedman, Executive Director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality

Gerry Gable, Editor Searchlight Magazine

Prof Nira Yuval-Davis, Director, Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging, UEL

Prof Jacqueline Rose

Prof Francesca Klug OBE, Director of the Human Rights Futures Project

Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah

Rabbi Barbara Borts

Rabbi Howard Cooper

Judge Laurence Brass, Treasurer, Board of Deputies of British Jews

Miriam Margolyes OBE

Moris Farhi MBE

Anne Karpf
, journalist

Bernard Kops, playwright and poet

Michael Rosen
, broadcaster and poet

Michele Hanson, writer

Dr Ros Merkin, Writer & Director of Suitcase 1938

Statement by Jewish Socialist magazine BM3725 London WC1N 3XX. To add your name in support of the statement or to see a full list of signatories please contact the magazine.

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Former Shin Bet Director on the Impact of Occupation

The Middle East – Behind Closed Doors
Ami Ayalon in conversation with Anshel Pfeffer from Haaretz

Wednesday 6 November, 8pm at the London Jewish Cultural Centre

An evening with the former director of the Shin Bet (Israel’s general security service), Ami Ayalon. Ami served as the director of the Shin Bet from 1996-2000 and was responsible for all internal security issues in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.

He was one of the six former heads of the Shin Bet who featured in the Oscar nominated documentary ‘The Gatekeepers’ where he spoke on camera about the impact of Israel’s rule in the West Bank on long term security.

Ami will speak about his experiences serving in the Shin Bet, what he thinks the possible outcomes are of the peace process, and why he has gone on to set up the organisation Blue White Future that aims to repatriate Israeli settlers over the green-line in the West Bank into Israel.

Admiral Ami Ayalon is a former director of Israel Security Agency (the Shin Bet) and a former commander of Israel’s Navy. He has served as a cabinet minister and a member of the Knesset for the Labor party. He instituted a “Code of Ethics” in the Shin Bet and campaigned for it to be enshrined in law. For these contributions to Israel’s security apparatus, the Movement for Quality Government honoured him with the “Knight of Quality Government” award. Ami is a recipient of Israel’s highest military honour, the Ribbon of Valour, for his part in the raid against the Egyptian fortress at Green Island in 1969. Along with Sari Nusseibeh, he founded the People’s Voice peace initiative in 2002.

He holds a BA in economics and political science from Bar-Ilan University (1980); is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island (1982); holds an MA in public administration from Harvard University (1992), and holds an MA in Law from Bar-Ilan University (2010).

Anshel Pfeffer is a journalist at the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz covering military, international and Jewish affairs.

This event is hosted at the LJCC in conjunction with Yachad.

London Jewish Cultural Centre
Ivy House,
94-96 North End Road,
NW11 7SX

Book tickets for this event via the LJCC website.

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Dr Barghouthi on the Future for Palestine

Last Sunday Independent Jewish Voices welcomed Dr Mustafa Barghouthi to discuss the situation 20 years after Oslo. With devastating clarity Dr Barghouthi spoke of the deep fragmentation affecting Palestinian society. This multi-layered assault ranging from the physical to economic and psychological has now been ongoing for over half a century. But the settlements continue to grow while the area available for Palestinians to live on gets smaller and their basic freedoms are curtailed, their rights trampled on. The visual display of supporting evidence, including maps, statistics and video footage (sadly not yet available on the website) was immensely powerful and, at times, shocking, even for an audience already familiar with the plight of Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza, and indeed within Israel’s officially recognised borders. Yet even in the face of such desolation Dr Barghouthi’s message was also one of hope. He called on all who care about securing an equitable,  democratic and peaceful future for Palestinians – and for Israel – to take action. Thanks to international support and organisations worldwide there is no shortage of campaigns to help Palestinians achieve this goal and overcome the injustice in accordance with human rights and international law. But more needs to be done to redress the balance. Mustafa himself is the embodiment of resilience and resistance and his strength of spirit is an inspiration to us all. His words have had a galvanizing effect which we invite you to discover for yourself with this recording of Dr Barghouthi’s lecture.

Posted in Boycott, Events, Gaza, Human Rights, International Law, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Naqba, Palestine, Palestinians, Peace Process, Racism, West Bank, Zionism | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A  Land  to  Die  For?    Soldier  Talk  and  Moral  reflections  of  Young  Israelis”    the new book by David  Ranan  



Israeli  governments  have  for  many  years  succeeded  in  maintaining  a  consensus  in  

Israeli  society  regarding  the  unquestionable  need  to  serve  in  the  army.  This  consensus  

was  based  on  the  ethos  of  a  Jewish  state  surrounded  by  Arabs  who  want  to  destroy  it.  

For  some  time  this  black  and  white  coloration  has  been  allowed  to  erode.    


The  trigger  for  this  book  was  a  recent  visit  to  Israeli  friends  of  mine,  two  of  whose  three  

sons  had  managed  to  wriggle  their  way  out  of  the  army  service.  Only  the  middle  son  had  

chosen  to  serve  in  the  army  and  served  a  full  three-­‐year  service  in  a  combat  unit.  I  say  

chosen”  but  he,  of  course,  did  not  “choose”  to  serve  in  the  army.  Military  service  is  

compulsory  for  most  Israeli  men  as  well  as  for  unmarried  women  and  not  doing  one’s  

duty  is  unusual.


 In  enlisting,  he  followed  not  only  the  law  but  also  the  norm.  And  yet,  I  

was  not  surprised  by  the  existence  of  draft  dodging  –  once  almost  impossible  -­‐  as  this  no  

longer  is  unheard  of  in  Israel.  I  was,  however,  surprised  to  find  this  “situation”  in  an  

Israeli  born  Ashkenazy  (from  European  origin)  and  secular  family.  Secular  Ashkenazy  

Jews  were  the  core  group  behind  the  successful  Zionist  effort  to  establish  the  Jewish  

state  and  its  institutions,  including  the  IDF,  Israel’s  military.  This  is  also  the  segment  of  

Israeli  society  that  in  the  past  used  to  turn  out  the  country’s  elite  soldiers.    


Much  has  changed  since  I  was  drafted  to  the  IDF,  in  the  summer  of  1965,  two  years  

before  the  Six  Day  War.  The  country  has  changed;  its  demographic  makeup  has  changed,  

its  relationship  with  its  Arab  neighbours  has  changed  and  the  resultant  nature  of  tasks  

that  combat  soldiers  are  charged  with  compared  to  what  was  required  of  combat  

soldiers  in  “my  time”  has  changed.    


The  issue  of  draft  dodging  and  of  conscientious  objecting  on  both  sides  of  the  political  

spectrum  is  an  explosive  one  in  Israel.  There  is  hardly  anyone  who  does  not  have  a  view  

in  this  matter.  Youngsters  who  decide  not  to  join  the  army  whether  by  becoming  

conscientious  objectors  or  by  draft  dodging  are  making  a  statement.  But  what  about  the  

others,  -­‐  the  majority  of  young  Israelis  -­‐  how  much  thinking  into  what  moral  issues  

might  be  involved  in  their  army  service  takes  place?  Can  one  expect  eighteen-­‐year-­‐olds  

to  have  the  maturity  to  weigh  such  moral  dilemmas?  Does  Israeli  society  want  its  sons  to  

consider  these  situations  as  dilemmas?  What  tools  have  they  got  at  their  disposal?      


To  understand  how  Israel  deals  with  the  issue  of  motivation  to  serve  and  how  some  

young  Israelis  handle  possible  doubts  and  moral  qualms,  I  interviewed  over  fifty  Israelis  

aged  between  18  and  30.  Some  were  interviewed  in  their  final  school  year,  before  

enlisting,  others  after  completing  their  military  service.  This  book  comprises  of  twenty-­‐

seven  interviews  turned  into  monologues  that  reveal  some  of  the  questions  that  concern  

this  generation.      


Tasks  that  can  involve  Israeli  soldiers  in  moral  dilemmas  are  likely  to  be  the  

responsibility  of  combat  units  during  their  service  in  the  Occupied  Territories.  Although  

some  combat  units  have  been  opened  to  female  soldiers,  most  of  the  combat  roles  are  

limited  to  male  soldiers.  I,  therefore,  chose  my  interviewees  from  the  population  that  is  

most  relevant  to  my  investigation:  males  serving  or  about  to  serve  in  a  combat  unit.


The  monologues  include:  pre-­‐military  service  youths  some  who  are  raring  to  go;  an  

ultraorthodox  boy  who  is  not  going  to  the  army;  a  few  conscientious  objectors  or  draft  

dodgers;  a  young  woman  who  had  planned  to  be  a  conscientious  objector  and  then  

changed  her  mind  as  well  as  a  young  man  who  sat  in  jail  for  resisting  the  draft  and  in  

retrospect  thinks  that  he  was  wrong.  Two  were  court-­‐martialled  and  jailed  for  refusing  

to  serve  in  the  Occupied  Territories and  two  who  had  no  problems  during  their  regular  

army  service  but  some  years  later  when  called  to  reserve  duty  find  the  tasks  difficult  to  

accept;  a  couple  of  religious  idealists  as  well  as  an  idealistic  female  combatant;  left  wing  

soldiers  who  hate  the  occupation,  believe  that  Israel  must  dismantle  the  settlements  and  

get  out  but  do  not  accept  the  legitimacy  of  refusing  the  draft;  and  even  one  who  perhaps  

could  be  defined  as  an  “immoraliste”.  

The author will be speaking about his book at Hashomer House at 8pm on Sunday, 12 May

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Tuesday, April 30th, 6.30 for 7pm (£8)

in conversation with WILLIAM SIEGHART


William Sutcliffe’s just published novel The Wall is a political fable that powerfully evokes the realities of life on the West Bank, telling the story of a Settler child who discovers that there are two sides to every story. It combines the thrill of an adventure story with the universal theme of a lonely teenager’s struggle to break free from his overbearing parents. It is also a fascinating and sensitively handled exploration of the issues surrounding the separation barrier in the Occupied Territories. William is the author of five books including the best-selling, Are You Experienced?

John McCarthy has always been drawn to the mystique of the Middle East. Remarkably, his first-hand experience of its brutal conflicts – he was kidnapped and held hostage in the Lebanon for five years – only strengthened his determination to return and explore its myriad complexities. His most recent book You Can’t Hide the Sun weaves the vivid testimonies of Palestinians who remained in Israel after its formation in 1948 with McCarthy’s own experience of living under constant threat. And in doing so it asks: how can humanity endure in the face of unimaginable oppression, and how can any of us thrive without a place of safety?

William Sieghart is the chairman and founder of Forward Thinking, a conflict resolution NGO that works with the leadership of all sides in the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Tickets can be bought in-store or by contacting or calling 020 7229 1010.

Lutyens & Rubinstein Bookshop, 21 Kensington Park Road, London W11 2E

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A reaction to The Gatekeepers from Lynne Segal (IJV SG)

Last night I went to see the amazing film “The Gatekeepers”, by Dror Moreh. I
would rate it as one of the most powerful documentaries I’ve ever seen. This is
astonishing when it consists of only one thing throughout, extended interviews
with all six the recent ex-Heads of Security (the Shin Bet), one after the other.
They were not chosen because of their views, they are all there. Accompanying
events referred to by the interviewees, there is chilling background newsreel of
the extraordinary brutality consistently meted out to Palestinian communities
over the last sixty years, as well as the effects of suicide bombings, alongside
the continual rounding up and frequent torture of Palestinians of all ages. But
what is truly amazing about the film, almost unbelievable, is that all of these ex-
security chiefs agree on one thing: Israel is not at all safer from what they did
to ‘defend’ it over all these decades, and what is more, they blame Israel’s own
policies for this, for the refusal – apart from the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin –
to even try to talk seriously with Palestinian leaders with the genuine goal of
ending the conflict and making peace.

Interestingly, I’ve been told by one of my Israeli friends that it has been playing to packed audiences when it was shown there a few months ago, and it was hard even to get tickets. What on earth do they make of it, and what are they going to do about it? This is her response to the film:

‘What got me was not the “shock” of revelation … I already knew about the film. What
shocked me was that what these men represent is so horribly typical, such a reflection of our reality here. You can see it in the expressions on their faces. They all talk “cool”, with a little smile … even now, looking back, even being brave enough to speak out, into the camera: they still cannot say that there was another possibility for the man of action: not to quash violently, but to stop everything and say: hey, this is enough, now we will talk and talk until there’s an end of it. They know it – they say this themselves – that any amount of walloping and showing who’s the strong guy here is not going to end the damage. Yet, they don’t face the camera in shame and fear and dismay. Very tellingly, towards the end, one of the men says/sighs: “well, I guess you cannot do this job without coming out a bit of a leftist”. Here’s when Dror Moreh should have stopped everything and asked him: what does it mean for you, “being a leftist”? These men live in a split world. That’s what enabled them to do a job that “had to be done”, and that’s what enables them now that they’re out of the job to find themselves on the other, “left” side, of the equation.’

These security men also agree that it is not only the Palestinians who suffer so appallingly from Israel’s policies. Israel itself is being morally destroyed by the conflict. This is a stunning, unsettling film, do go and see it. And here is an interview with the director on line:

Posted in Events, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace Process, Uncategorized, Zionism | 3 Comments