February 10, 2007
Independent Jewish Voices
As many have heard and read, on 5 February a number of UK newspapers carried a declaration by a newly founded Jewish group that seeks to challenge the current Jewish establishment in Great Britain.
According to their website, they identify thus:
Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) is a network of individuals who wish to have a platform for critical debate on major political questions, the situation in the Middle East in particular. The initiative was born out of a frustration with the widespread misconception that the Jews of this country speak with one voice - and that this voice supports the Israeli government’s policies.
In the year that sees the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, our project is to create a climate and a space in which Jews of different affiliations and persuasions can express their opinions about the actions of the Israeli government without being accused of disloyalty or being dismissed as self-hating. The need for such debate becomes even more urgent as the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate.
From a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of views, we all share the belief that the interests of an occupying power should not count for more than the human rights of an occupied people, together with
1. a commitment to human rights
2. the conviction that Palestinians and Israelis have a right to peace and security
3. a condemnation of racism in all its forms, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia
The emergence of this group ties in with that of the New Generation Network, which aims to break down the communalist politics pervasive in the UK both on the government as well as the civil society sides.
Specifically, of course, IJV targets the "all Jews worldwide support the Israeli government in anything they do" myth. This is quite significant, as the Israeli government itself publicly bases much of its policies on this myth, selling the 2006 Summer War as "defense of Jews worldwide" etc. I can only hope that IJV will succeed in their tasks and that this project spreads beyond the UK - particularly the U.S. but also France and Germany where, just like in the Anglo world, "Israel" and "Judaism/Jewish people" are often perceived to be congruent.
Furthermore, such groups like IJV and NGN also have the potential to link up with similarly-minded people in other communities, like Muslim or Arab ones, who have been working assiduously against the hegemonizing structures in their own communities, sometimes much longer than their Jewish counterparts have. Indeed, I already saw in the latest comment section on Rime Allaf's blog a reference to IJV.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the '67 War, marking four decades of the occupation of Palestinian (Gaza, Westbank, East Jerusalem) and Syrian lands (Golan). Much will be written, said, and broadcast about this "event". IJV explicitly refers to it as an impetus for their speaking up, although their omission of the occupation of the Golan makes me wonder if they differentiate between Palestinian and Syrian occupied lands. What prevents them from joining with "Independent Palestinian Voices", "Independent Syrian Voices", "Independent Lebanese Voices"?
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Sounds a bit like Not In My Name, a local group that was quite visible at a lot of the anti-Iraq war demos. (They don't exactly have a national presence, though.)
I can't wait until these people get accused of anti-semitism ;)
Posted by: secretdubai at February 11, 2007 02:35 PM
There's already something called European Jews for a Just Peace, with a British section (don't know the name), but I've got the impression that they are (a) dominated by far-left people and (b) so "palestinianized" as to positively repulse much of mainstream Jewish opinion, e.g. by calling for a boycott of Israel. Forming groups that avoid falling into these two traps, and stick to a bland but broadly attractive pro-peace platform, is the way out of the right-left division that the Palestinian issue has gotten stuck in, in Europe. If that is what is now happening in Britain, a toast to that.
This goes for the pro-Palestinian movement at large too. Seems to me it is almost everywhere run by hardline-militant retards who insist on secterist filosofical debate on Zionist theory, Israeli "apartheid theocracy" or, of course, on the necessity of making parallells with Nazi Germany... and that effectively scares off anyone with a less narrow world view. Probably suits some of them fine, though, because I get the feeling a good number are more interested in exploiting Palestinian misery for the benefit of whatever little Trotskyite sect they belong to, than actually mobilizing opinon.
With such friends...!
Posted by: alle at February 11, 2007 02:45 PM
You beat me to it MSK. I'll just post a mail I had from a friend of mine about it (MK from Toronto, with his permission):
I have seen the declaration by “Independent Jewish Voices” – a group of British Jews who dissent from Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians and the Arab world, and with the support of those policies from the Board of Deputies (mainstream Anglo-Jewish umbrella organization).
Jewish communities around the world have expressed similar sentiments. In Europe, there is European Jews for a Just Peace - in Canada, the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians - has expressed similar views regarding Israel, and regarding the Canadian Jewish Congress.
What strikes me about these initiatives is that they are not a new phenomenon. There is an existing tradition of diaspora Jewish dissent regarding Israel. What happens, however, is that the circle of dissent is growing wider and wider (though still a small minority) as the occupation becomes more entrenched and permanent, and the implications of that become increasingly self-evident.
The “core” of this constituency has come from people associated in one way or another with the left. However the longer the occupation and its associated crimes continue, more and more Jews begin to question the “official line”, not just hardcore leftists.
Definitely these dissenting Jewish voices represent a small minority – but I have noticed less certainty, less “pride” towards Israel by the “mainstream” Jews I encounter. Only a small minority of zealous “friends of Israel” makes a lot of noise. I think the silent majority of Jews (in Canada) are increasingly “tuning out”, are more interested in other - local - issues and are losing interest in this conflict.
As for accusations of treason and disloyalty – IMO this problem is overrated. Sure the small minority of “pro-Israel” zealots will think that, but so what? For the most part their disproval has no effect on the small group of Jewish dissenters, who have never sought (or required) “approval” from this group anyway.
IMO, these growing voices of diaspora Jewish dissent are positive developments in and of themselves – but they are insufficient on their own to have any positive effect on British/Canadian/American, etc. policies in the Middle East. Dissenting Jews in Britain/Canada/USA, etc. need to involve themselves in “general” (not specifically Jewish) initiatives against the Israeli occupation in their countries of origin, in order to have any effect.
Posted by: Shaheen at February 11, 2007 04:40 PM
I don't consider myself part of the "far left" but I generally agree with a nunaced "marxist" analyst of the Israel-Palestine conflict. And I see nothing wrong with comparing Israel's practices to aparthied - except it may be going too easy on South Africa!
Posted by: MK at February 11, 2007 08:45 PM
Dissenting Jews in Britain/Canada/USA, etc. need to involve themselves in “general” (not specifically Jewish) initiatives against the Israeli occupation in their countries of origin, in order to have any effect.
IME the Jews who do that are the least likely to self-identify as Jews before they (we?) self-identify as people with a particular set of opinions. There are plenty of Jews involved in antiwar, etc. causes through mainstream groups, but then we get into the highly complex politics of Jewish identity - I suspect there is a huge correlation the Jews who get involved in such causes and Jews who are less religiously observant (if at all). Which is kind of goofy in my book, if the Israeli Jewish establishment actually is still interested in preserving the Jewish people as such, not simply in making sure the political and religiously observant right wing maintains itself as a coherent whole - personally, the more turned off I am by Israeli human rights violations, the less I have any urge to self-identify as Jewish.
(I'm reminded of my very naive 10-year-old Midwestern suburban self fundraising for the Walk with Israel, much as I had for the MS Read-a-Thon or any of the innumerable other charitable endeavors we did as kids - we canvassed local businesses to see if they would contribute for each mile we walked. A number of Oriental rug shops lined the nearest major street, and one proprietor asked what the money would be used for. "Oh, I don't know planting trees, or building hospitals?" "OK, as long as you're not going to use the money to kill any Arabs. Some of my best friends are Arabs." Not that I really had any clue what an Arab was back then, anyway...)
Pardon the shameless plug but...yours truly, who is featured at the Aqoul aggregator has an essay in the Comment is Free IJV series. My piece, Cracks in the Wall (see link), is about similarities in developments within the American Jewish & British Jewish communities regarding the Israel debate.
Posted by: Richard Silverstein at February 13, 2007 03:54 AM
thanks for the plug - much appreciated.
ISV and other such endeavors are good (although I'm still waiting for Soros & friends to finally do something more than just talk) but the immediate next step would have to be for them to link up, and also to connect to similar "dissenting" voices in the Arab and Muslim communities. Until that happens, they will remain marginal.
Posted by: MSK at February 13, 2007 12:51 PM
MSK: I agree completely. I'm eager, impatient even to hear more fr. the Soros crowd on this initiative. It's a movement crying out to be created. But alas it can't happen w/o money & quite a good deal of it. AIPAC has a $60 million annual budget. The budgets of the top 3 American peace groups current amt. to perhaps $5-6 million. That tells you something. A Salon article I posted about noted that the Soros folk had pledges of about $10 million so far. A good start, but just. So much more to be worked out.
A friend who's on our side but used to work for AIPAC gives the project only a 50% chance of ever coming to fruition. He should know as he's one of the planning participants.
And you are right, the "dissenting" movements on both sides have to collaborate & dialogue more.
Posted by: Richard Silverstein at February 16, 2007 04:34 AM