Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) was launched on Monday 5 February 2007, with an advertisement in The Times newspaper, incorporating the Declaration and List of Signatories. At the same time, launch articles appeared in the Guardian Newspaper as well as on the Guardian website.
Articles and responses continued until Friday 9 February 2007, with a further advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle on the same day.
The Launch of IJV -The Debate
The launch of IJV caused a huge debate, with a range of supportive and critical responses. For the full range see:
This site: Media Coverage of IJV
IJV’s Brian Klug has posted a summary of the responses, which is posted in the article below.
With a Bang, Not a Whimper by Brian Klug
Not with a whimper but with a bang, it would be fair to say. When a number of us got together with the idea that it was time to stake a claim for the principles set out in the IJV statement, we hoped we would have an impact. We even expected that our initiative would not fall entirely flat. But we did not realise that the tinder of public opinion was quite so dry and that news of our ideas would spread like wildfire.
“The rebellion goes global” is the headline of the lead article on the front page of this week’s Jewish Chronicle (JC), which prides itself on being the “world’s oldest and most influential Jewish newspaper”. “International drive to challenge communal leaders’ ‘unquestioning support’ for Israel reaches Britain” explains the strap line. The article reports that in just three days over 1,000 entries on the subject were posted on the Comment is Free site. This is not to say that the JC is sympathetic to IJV, as it makes clear in an editorial [subscription only]. But its extensive coverage reflects the extent of public interest, not least in Jewish circles, in the issues raised by the launch.
It’s the issues, not the IJV as such, that count. As one email writer put it: “Judging by the enormous response, it is clear that these issues have been smouldering beneath the surface for some time”. He thought that the launch of IJV has “catalysed the debate”.
Another wrote: “You have said openly what many of us have felt for a very long time but have lacked a vehicle for expressing our views.”
These sentiments, which have been expressed in abundance over the last week, provide part of the answer to an objection raised frequently – in the threads of comments on this site and elsewhere – during the week. We stand accused of being a clique of marginal Jews who have ample opportunity to express our views in the media; who have invented or imagined the figment of censorship; and who simply cannot bear the heat of vigorous debate.
It would take a while to unpack this accusation in full. Briefly, there is no clique. The two email writers I just quoted are not members of the glitterati. They do not have automatic access to the comment pages of newspapers. Like many signatories to the IJV statement, they are individuals who feel alienated by the prevailing climate of debate over Israel and Zionism within the Jewish world.
Numerous Jews in Britain fit this description. They are at the heart of our initiative. We are seeking to enfranchise people who are effectively disfranchised by the current ethos, whether the lives they lead are within an organised Jewish community or not. Some negative responses to IJV seem to suggest that people who are not in the Jewish mainstream have less right to a voice as Jews; as if living on the margins of “the Jewish community” makes you a marginal Jew. This idea is as invalid as it is offensive.
Furthermore, contrary to the construction put on our words by some critics, none of us is suggesting that there is an unofficial censor who prevents individuals from expressing unpopular views about Israel or Zionism. It’s what happens after people speak out – how their words are received – that is the point. Moreover, individual dissenting voices get lost or drowned out when weighty bodies (like the Board of Deputies or the Chief Rabbi) appear to speak on behalf of all Jews in Britain. It is the combination of these two factors that closes down a debate that should be open.
An open debate on a controversial subject is bound to be vigorous. But vigour is one thing, vilification another. The difference can be seen in the range of reactions to the launch of IJV. There have been reasoned objections and legitimate questions. But there has also been an extraordinary amount of abusive language, ridicule and attacks on our character or motives.
Who are we? We are a network of Jews in Britain who share a commitment to certain principles, especially with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in mind: putting human rights first, rejecting all forms of racism, and giving equal priority to Palestinians and Israelis in their quest for a peaceful and secure future.
We believe that these principles, rather than group loyalty, should determine the parameters of legitimate debate. What is there to hate? Yet the vitriol is ubiquitous. One leading commentator refers to us as “Jews for genocide”. Nothing could offer a clearer illustration of the climate we are describing than an epithet like this.
There is a larger context. Domestically, the IJV statement bears on the current public debate in Britain about the nature of a plural society: Sunny Hundal makes the connection in his article on the Comment is Free website. And there are initiatives like ours abroad, as the front page article in the JC reports. Developments in America are described by Richard Silverstein in his piece on this site and by Gaby Wood in Sunday’s Observer.
At the end of the launch week it is clear that IJV has struck a chord – hence the degree of support we have received – and hit a nerve – hence the scale of the hostility. Things are changing, at home and abroad, and this is just the beginning.
The Launch of Independent Jewish Voices Speak-Out chaired by Jon Snow
The launch of Independent Jewish Voices, at Hampstead Town Hall on Monday 19th February 2007, proved very popular. The hall was packed and, sadly, several dozen people were turned away at the door.
Below are the three main speeches:
Unblocking the Deadlock
by Tony Klug
I should like to put in a plea for the constant demonizing of one side or the other of the Arab-Israeli conflict to stop. It only poisons the water.
Just imagine if these two small peoples had not clashed on the same piece of territory. What incentive would each side then have had to manufacture so many absurd myths about the other, distorting their histories, despising their religions and trashing their national characters?
It is dangerously misleading to analyze conflicts in such terms rather than by trying to understand how the objective situations on the ground impact on ordinary people caught up in them, whomever they may be. This is not to excuse anyone but to retain a sense of perspective.
Thus, what in 1948 – i n the wake of the Nazi holocaust and the double dealings of the western powers – was a joyous liberation for one tormented people was a wretched catastrophe for another. And something similar may be said about the outcome of the war 19 years later.
And then, when the land-confiscations and settlement-building accelerated a decade or so after 1967, and the Israeli occupation no longer looked to be temporary, Palestinian resistance grew in tandem. If, at times, it turned violent and involved deadly atrocities, it was not because the perpetrators were Palestinian, or Arab or predominantly Muslim, but because they were an occupied people. If there is one cast-iron law of history, it is probably that all occupations and other forms of colonial rule are, eventually, resisted.
In parallel, if there has been a persistent pattern of serious human rights violations in the occupied territories, it is not because the perpetrators are Israeli, nor even because they are Zionist – patriotic Israelis and self-proclaimed Zionists have been among the most outspoken critics, as they should be – and certainly not because they are Jews. It is because they are occupiers, and the violations will end when the occupation ends.
As we know from other cases too, enforced rule over another people brutalizes not just the occupied but the occupier as well. By remaining in the West Bank, Israel has done enormous harm to its own social fabric and its international reputation, to say nothing of the profound damage that has been done to the Palestinians who live there. It should not be left to Israel’s enemies to call for a full and final end to Israel’s occupation. It is time, 40 years on, for the true friends of Israel to assert the same demand.
In this spirit, I propose we call on the Israeli prime minister and government to set about unblocking the deadlock and sparking a new peace momentum by a simple act of state: a public declaration that, in exchange for full peace and subject to agreed equitable land exchanges, Israel is prepared in principle to withdraw fully from the West Bank to enable the Palestinians to build their independent state, with which Israel would desire normal neighbourly relations. Not a hazardous unilateral withdrawal, but a sincere, risk-free, unilateral declaration about the envisaged political horizon.
If Israel’s leadership truly seeks peace, let us hear it make this vital – in principle – statement, loudly and clearly and often. And if not, why not?
Dr Tony Klug is a veteran writer on the Middle East who has been advocating a two-state solution since the early 1970s. He is senior policy consultant at the Middle East Policy Initiative Forum and vice-chair of the Arab-Jewish Forum. His doctoral thesis was on Israel’s rule over the West Bank between the wars of 1967 and 1973.
Athletico Neasden and Beyond
by Brian Klug
I don’t know how many people here read the Jewish Chronicle. I grew up on the JC. We bought it every week without fail in my family, although for many years my main interest was in the back pages where you could find the results of games played in the Maccabi Southern Football League. Reading this week’s issue, I find myself characterised by one letter-writer as someone who has never demonstrated an interest in “the continued existence and health of the Jewish people in any meaningful way”. Obviously this person has no inkling of my many years as a dedicated defensive midfield player for Athletico Neasden ‘C’ team.
His view of me, and of everyone else associated with IJV, is relatively benign. Others go further, including a well-known commentator who, in her column in the JC this week, describes us as “the British arm of the pincer of Jewish destruction”.
Clearly, we have hit a nerve: hence the scale of vituperation and hostility. And equally, judging by the overwhelming support we have received, we have struck a chord.
The remarkable thing about this support is that it comes from across the Jewish spectrum. We stand accused by some of our critics of not being ‘real’ Jews on the grounds that we do not participate in mainstream Jewish life. There are only two things wrong with this accusation. First, it’s untrue: many IJV signatories come from what might loosely be called ‘the mainstream’. (One wrote to us to say that she agrees “wholeheartedly” with the aims of IJV, describing herself as editor of her synagogue’s newsletter.) Second, and in my view more profoundly, the accusation rests on a fallacy. There seems to be an assumption that if you live on the margins of the mainstream Jewish community, this makes you a marginal Jew. But it doesn’t; and it’s a chutzpah to suggest that it does.
One new signatory wrote as follows: “You have said openly what many of us have felt for a very long time but have lacked a vehicle for expressing our views”. Such people are at the heart of the IJV initiative – whether they live their lives within an organised Jewish community or not.
As for the Middle East, we have been dubbed “leaders of the Israel hate-fest”. But it is not hate for Israel that animates us. In some cases, it is even the opposite. I received an email yesterday from someone who wrote, “I joined IJV because I support and love Israel: I have children and grandchildren there and visit regularly; because I go to shul every week … because I believe in justice.” Justice is actually the common denominator; not hate and not love. As I wrote in my Guardian article, some of us “feel a strong attachment to Israel as Jews, others feel none”. But all of us feel a commitment to the principles set out in the IJV statement – and some of us precisely because of our Jewish identity: the historical experience of persecution and the prophetic tradition of social justice.
What we are seeking to do is to draw a different line in the sand. Instead of group loyalty, we believe the debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be based on the principles of justice and human rights that the IJV statement affirms. This basis allows for a wide range of views about what constitutes a better future for Israelis and Palestinians: whether there should be two states, one state, and so on.
So, we are not promoting one particular political agenda concerning Israel. Rather, what we seek to promote is a different, healthier climate of political debate among Jews in Britain. As for those who deny that the present climate is unhealthy, I can only say that we must be living on different planets; and the planet I’m on is called Earth.
We hope that the launch of IJV will create a momentum. In other words, let others pick up the ball and run with it – as (I hasten to add) I never did in my days with Athletico Neasden C.
What led to IJV
by Jacqueline Rose
Independent Jewish Voices began when some of the members of two groups got together in Spring 2005 – Jewish Writers Against the Occupation and the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights.
The precipitating factor was an interview with Ehud Olmert in Ha’aretz, only partly reported in the Western press, in which he made it clear that his immediate political objective was to secure international backing for his realignment plan to annex large swathes of the West Bank and declare the wall as the border of the State (a plan since shelved as a consequence of the Lebanon war of last summer). He then prioritised the need to secure international backing, defining his task as one above all of diplomacy and speaking confidently of securing the support of Bush, Blair and Chirac (this was the part of the interview not reproduced here). For a number of us it seemed imperative that if and when he visited Great Britain, the Foreign Office should not feel able to state without qualification that British Jews were behind this plan, which would make non-viable the possibility of a Palestinian State. Blair’s uncritical support for US policy on Israel was also a serious cause for concern, for instance, his backing for Bush’s March 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon which declared support for retaining parts of the West Bank thereby reversing 37 years of US policy on Israel (Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has described Blair’s position on this as the greatest British betrayal of the Arab people since Balfour).
Our sense of the urgency of this initiative was increased by the Caterpillar affair when the Anglican Church voted to disinvest from this firm which supplies the bulldozers involved in house demolitions to Israel, the bulldozers involved in the death of Rachel Corrie. The Chief Rabbi immediately issued a statement that this move would be detrimental to Anglican-Jewish relations. We felt that it was not in his brief to make such an intervention and also that there were many Jewish people in Britain who would not concur with this view.
Finally, when we were already involved in drafting our declaration, the Lebanese war added another key dimension. We were concerned by Olmert’s declaration that this was a `war being fought by all Jews’, and by the Chief Rabbi statement at the Trafalgar Square rally that British Jews were `proud’ of Israel, as the IDF, in the words of then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, proceeded with its plan to bomb Lebanon back 20 years. And again noting Blair’s craven support for Bush on these matters, we were appalled by his refusal to call for a cease-fire.
Our immediate aim, therefore, was to counter the impression that British Jewry speaks with one voice.
What unites us is a set of common principles, as can be seen from our Declaration:
- a commitment to human rights and international law;
- hatred of racism in all its forms;
- the feeling that the struggle against anti-Semitism, a struggle we consider vital, is diminished whenever criticism of Israel is branded as anti-Semitic; we believe that anti-Semitism will only be given its due and proper attention when this false link is not made so that the real anti-Semites can become the object of focus;
- above all perhaps, the feeling that our history as Jews lays a particular obligation on us to speak out against abuses of human rights even when – or perhaps especially when – those abuses are being carried out in our name.
Once we have stated our shared commitment to these principles, we crucially have a diversity of views: On the most desirable outcome of the conflict in terms of a one or two state solution; On the usefulness of the analogy with apartheid; On the question of a cultural and academic boycott. Within the frame of the above principles, our aim is therefore to create an open atmosphere of discussion.
We would also like to stress that it has never been our claim that we have been silenced as individuals. Nor have we denied that many of us have access to the media. On the contrary, our aim is to bring into the process of debate all those without such a platform – and we have reasons to believe they are many – often defining themselves as Zionists who are sympathetic to Israel but critical of the government’s policies – and who feel unable to speak out for fear of being labelled an anti-Semite or self-hating Jew.
Over the past two weeks, we have received messages of support from: Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, US, Canada, Australia, India, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Malta, Canada, New Zealand, Syria, Belgium and Holland.
In launching our initiative, we see Independent Jewish Voices as appealing to a long-standing Jewish tradition of commitment to justice. We are mindful of the Biblical injunction to remember that we were once `strangers in the land of Egypt’
To end with a quote from one of my favourite Israeli writers, Shulamith Hareven from her 1986 essay, `Identity:Victim’:
`If my only identity is that of the victim, the world’s deterministic and doomed victim, I may (or so it seems) commit any atrocity, including exiling Arabs from their homes (excuse me, dear hawks, `relocating them’) and taking possession of their land, because I am the victim and they are not; because this is the only way I define myself and my identity – forever.
But if I also define myself as the son or daughter of a people with a splendid four thousand year history of responsibility, of conscience, of repairing and improving, of appealing for social order and justice, of a legal system nearly unparalleled in the world, and of the protection of all these traditions; if I have indeed learned and internalised all these, so that they define my identity; then even if often in history I have been the victim of others, I will never oppress those weaker than myself and never abuse my power to exile them. I will not have to define my uniqueness in terms of the past alone.’