Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Prominent Jews call for open debate on Israel

Prominent Jews call for open debate on Israel

· Pinter and Farhi among signatories to open letter
· Institutions accused of not representing community

Julian Borger
Monday February 5, 2007
The Guardian,,2005881,00.html

A group of prominent British Jews will today declare independence from the country's Jewish establishment, arguing that it puts support for Israel above the human rights of Palestinians.

Independent Jewish Voices will publish an open letter on the Guardian's Comment is Free website calling for a freer debate about the Middle East within the Jewish community. Among the more than 130 signatories are Stephen Fry, Harold Pinter, Mike Leigh, Jenny Diski and Nicole Farhi, as well as leading academics such as Eric Hobsbawm and Susie Orbach.

"We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole," the letter says. Jewish leaders in Britain, it argues "put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people" in conflict with Jewish principles of justice and compassion.

The statement does not name the institutions it is criticising. But one signatory, Brian Klug, an Oxford philosopher, writing an accompanying article on Comment is Free, singles out the Board of Deputies of British Jews for calling itself "the voice of British Jewry" while devoting "much of the time and resources of its international division to the defence of Israel".

Mr Klug also criticises Britain's chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, for telling a pro-Israeli rally in London last year: "Israel, you make us proud."

"Others felt roughly the opposite emotion," Mr Klug writes.

The emergence of the group, which calls itself a "network of individuals" and can be found at comes at a time of ferment over attitudes towards Israel, stoked by the war in Lebanon and the bloodshed in the occupied territories. The question of whether radical opposition to Israeli policies necessarily amounts to anti-Semitism is central to the debate.

The row was brought to a head in recent weeks by the resignation of board members of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research (IJPR) after it emerged that its director, Antony Lerman, had voiced support for the merging of Israel with the Palestinian territories into a single bi-national federation and a repeal of the "law of return" giving the right of anyone of Jewish descent to Israeli citizenship.

Stanley Kalms, the former head of the Dixons Group, stepped down as the IJPR's honorary vice president, saying Mr Lerman's views made his position "untenable". Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Lord Kalms called his views "dangerous and unacceptable" and "contrary to my concept of the role of the diaspora - to support the State of Israel, warts and all".

The row has brought furious exchanges to the Jewish Chronicle's letter pages. "Some of our biggest mailbags lately have been prompted by prominent Jewish public figures voicing dissenting views of Israel, which typically provokes angry rebukes from other members of the community," David Rowan, the editor, said.

A parallel struggle is under way in the US where the American Jewish Committee published an article accusing liberal Jews such as the historian Tony Judt of fuelling anti-Semitism by questioning Israel's right to exist. The essay by Alvin Rosenfeld said that "one of the most distressing features of the new anti-Semitism" was "the participation of Jews alongside it".

Prof Judt told the New York Times: "The link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is newly created." He feared the two would become so conflated that references to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust would be seen as "just a political defence of Israeli policy".

The following short-story/poem by an activist from the New England Committee to Defend Palestine says it more eloquently than anything else I have read recently:

A Man Bought A House
By Richard Hugus

A man bought a house on Cape Cod, but without making the usual arrangements. The worst point, and most embarrassing, was that he arrived with his family after a long drive from the Midwest only to find that the owners were still in the house and weren't told that it had been sold. Immediately, the man saw the mistake of not dealing with the owners directly, of not coming first to look at the house, of taking all their things and leaving Illinois without knowing where they were going. The house had not been "sold." The man had not bought it. On hearing the story of the man's dealings in Illinois, the owners could not believe their ears. They laughed at and derided the man. They became angry at the imposition. They made him repeat the story of his foolishness over and over - the story of the realtor with the plaid beret, the $18,000 down payment, the papers that were to be "sent ahead" to his new house. When they sufficiently understood, they called neighbours over to hear the story again. Nevertheless, out of politeness, the owners cleared a place in the garage for the family to stay. The man's children, poorly clothed, slept in the owners' arms. The man's wife, always sensitive to public opinion, made it clear that her marriage to her husband was a mistake and that she thought him an utter fool.

(This and other Hugus poems accompany brilliant art by the Palestinian artist Samia Halaby at

--- "Dr. M. R. Islam" <profr.islam@...> wrote:

What if Israel doesn't have the right to exist. Could someone from 3rd Reich argue Germany has the right to exist in France? Israel is an aphenomenal state. The moral equivalent of that is someone comes to your house, rapes your daughters and then puts up a sign I live in this house. The only way you can live if you accept I have the right to exist within your house.

Sounds absurd? The state of Israel is indeed an absurd concept. Zionists (of Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish denomination) do not like this for obvious reasons, but there is no other way to characterize Israel and Zionism.

Rafiq Islam

On 2/6/07, Samina Mahmood <sammymahmood@...> wrote:

I think what the Jews should discuss is how can Israel coexist with the Arabs without victimising the Palestinians and the Lebanese. If Israel has a right to exist so does the Palestinians. If this problem is not solved there will be more wars.

• "Don't stick a knife in me ten inches, pull it out six, and tell me we've made
progress." - Malcolm X

• "If the U.S. empire succeeds in establishing its dominance, there will be no
future for humanity. Therefore, we should save humanity and end the American
empire." - Hugo Chávez, at U of Tehran, 30 July 2006

• "Our people are connected to the earth, not to the dollar; and it is time the
Crown realized that as well." - Hazel Hill, Six Nations clan mother, 19 Jul 2006

• "We are oppressed people with rights. If peace brings us our rights, then
this is good." - Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader, 26 Feb 2006

• "We are simple people who choose principles over fear." - Statement of the
Iraqi Resistance 10 December 2004

Source: Bangla Vision

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