JEWISH POWER
by Paul Eisen

 

 

The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish
state with Jewish soldiers using weapons displaying Jewish religious
symbols, and with the full support and complicity of the overwhelming
mass of organised Jews worldwide. But to name Jews as responsible for
this crime seems impossible to do.


The future is always open and nothing can ever be ruled out; but, for
now, it's hard to see how Israel can be stopped. After over fifty years,
it is clear that Israel will only relinquish its eliminationist attitude
to Palestinians and Palestinian life when it has to. This need not be
through military action but it is hard to see how anything else will do.
The conventional wisdom - that if America turned off the tap, Israel
would be brought to its knees - is far from proven. First, it's not
going to happen. Second, those who believe it, may well be
underestimating both the cohesiveness of Israeli society and the force
of Jewish history which permeates it. Even more unlikely is the military
option. The only force on earth which could possibly confront Israel is
the American military, and, again, that is not going to happen.
Palestinian resistance has been astonishing. After over fifty years of
brutal assault by what may well one day be seen as one of the most
ruthless and irrational powers of modern times, and with just about
every power on earth ranged against them, Palestinians are still with
us, still steadfast, still knowing who they are and where they come
from. Nonetheless, for the time being effective resistance may be over
(though the possibility of organised non-violent resistance can never be
ruled out), and, for now, the only strategy open may be no more than one
for survival.


For us it is so much easier to deny this reality than to accept it, and
doubtless the struggle will continue. How fruitful this will be no-one
can say. Although the present seems hopeless, survival is still vital
and no-one knows when new opportunities may arise. Anyway, to struggle
against injustice is always worth doing. But what if the struggle
becomes so delusional that it inhibits rather than advances resistance?
What if the struggle becomes a way of avoiding rather than confronting
reality? Those slogans "End the Occupation!" and "Two States for Two
Peoples!" are now joined by a new slogan, "The One-State Solution!" This
is every bit as fantastic as its predecessors because, just as there
never was going to be an end to the occupation, nor a real Palestinian
state, so, for now, there is no possibility of any "one state" other
than the state of Israel which now stretches from the Mediterranean Sea
to the Jordan River, and the only "solution" is a final solution and
even that cannot be ruled out.


"ZIONISM IS NOT JUDAISM; JUDAISM IS NOT ZIONISM...."


The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish
state with Jewish soldiers using weapons with Jewish religious symbols
all over them, and with the full support and complicity of the
overwhelming mass of organised Jews worldwide. But to name Jews as
responsible for this crime seems impossible to do. The past is just too
terrible. All of us know of the hatred and violence to which accusations
against Jews have led in the past. Also, if we were to examine
critically the role of Jews in this conflict, what would become of us
and of our struggle? Would we be labelled anti-Semites and lose much of
the support that we have worked so hard to gain?


The present, too, is full of ambiguities. Zionism is not Judaism;
Judaism is not Zionism has become an article of faith, endlessly
repeated, as is the assertion that Zionism is a secular ideology
opposed, for much of its history, by the bulk of religious Jews and even
now still opposed by true Torah Jews such as Neturei Karta. But Zionism
is now at the heart of Jewish life with religious Jews amongst the most
virulent of Zionists and Neturei Karta, despite their impeccable
anti-Zionism, their beautiful words and the enthusiasm with which they
are welcomed at solidarity rallies, etc., may well be a million miles
from the reality of Jewish life.


And even if Zionism can still be disentangled from Judaism, can it be
distinguished from a broader Jewish identity or Jewishness? So often
Zionism is proclaimed to be a modern add-on to Jewish identity, another,
albeit anachronistic, settler-colonial ideology simply adopted by Jews
in response to their predicament. But, could it be that our need to
avoid the accusation of anti-Semitism and our own conflicted perceptions
and feelings, our insistence that Zionism and Jewishness are separate,
has led us seriously to misunderstand the situation? Has our refusal to
look squarely at the very Jewishness of Zionism and its crimes caused us
to fail to understand exactly what we are up against?Jews, Judaism and Zionism
Jews are complex; Jewish identity is complex and the relationship
between Judaism the religion, and a broader, often secular, Jewish
identity or Jewishness is very complex indeed. Jewishness may be
experienced a long way from synagogue, yeshiva or any other formal
aspect of Jewish religious life, yet is often still inextricably bound
to Judaism. That is why secular Jews are able to proclaim their
secularity every bit as loudly as they proclaim their Jewishness. Marc
Ellis, a religious Jew, says that when you look at those Jews who are in
solidarity with Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of them are
secular - but, from a religious point of view, the Covenant is with
them. For Ellis, these secular Jews unknowingly and even unwillingly may
be carrying with them the future of Jewish life.


Jewish identity, connecting Jews to other Jews, comes from deep within
Jewish history. This is a shared history, both real and imagined, in
that it is both literal and theological. Many Jews in the west share a
real history of living together as a distinct people in Eastern, Central
and then Western Europe and America. Others share a real history of
settlement in Spain followed by expulsion and then settlement all over
the world, particularly in Arab and Islamic lands. But this may not be
what binds all Jews, because for all Jews it is not a real, but maybe a
theological, history that is shared. Most Palestinians today probably
have more Hebrew blood in their little fingers then most western Jews
have in their whole bodies. And yet, the story of the Exodus from Egypt
is as real to many of them, and most importantly was as real to them
when they were children, as if they, along with all Jews, had stood with
Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai.


And histories like that don't stop at the present. Even for secular
Jews, though unacknowledged and even unrealized, there is a sense, not
only of a shared history, but also of a shared destiny. Central to
Jewish identity both religious and non-religious is the sense of mission
centered on exile and return. How else to explain the extraordinary
devotion of so many Jews, religious and secular, to the "return" to a
land with which, in real terms, they have very little connection at all?
For many Jews, this history confers a 'specialness'. This is not unique
to Jews - after all, who in their heart of hearts does not feel a little
bit special? But for Jews this specialness is at the centre of their
self-identification and much of the world seems to concur. For religious
Jews, the specialness comes from the supposed covenant with God. But for
secular Jews, the specialness comes from a special history. In either
case this can be a good, even a beautiful, thing. In much of Jewish
religious tradition this specialness is no more than a special moral
obligation, a special responsibility to offer an example to the world,
and for so many secular Jews it has led them to struggle for justice in
many places around the world.


At the heart of this Jewish specialness is Jewish suffering and
victimhood. Like the shared history itself, this suffering may, but need
not, correspond to reality. Jews have certainly suffered but their
suffering remains unexamined and unexplained. The Holocaust, now the
paradigm of Jewish suffering, has long ceased to be a piece of history,
and is now treated by religious and secular alike, as a piece of
theology - a sacred text almost - and therefore beyond scrutiny. And the
suffering never ends. No matter how much Jews have suffered they are
certainly not suffering now, but for many Jews their history of
suffering is not just an unchallengeable past but also a possible
future. So, no matter how safe Jews may be, many feel just a
hair's-breadth away from Auschwitz.


Zionism is at the heart of this. Zionism is also complex and also comes
from deep within Jewish history with the same sense of exile and return.
Zionism also confirms that Jews are special in their suffering and is
explicit that Jews should 'return' to a land given to them, and only
them - by God if they are religious, or by history if they are not -
because they simply are not safe anywhere else on earth.
But so what? If Jews think that they are a people with a religious link
to a land and have a deep wish to 'return', why should we care, so long
as the land is not already populated by Palestinians? And if Jews feel
that they are special and that God has made some kind of special
arrangement with them, so what, so long as this does not lead them to
demand preferential treatment and to discriminate against others? And if
Jews feel that they have suffered like no-one else on the face of the
earth, fine, so long as they do not use this suffering to justify the
imposition of suffering on others and to blackmail morally the whole
world into quiescent silence.


This is the problem with Zionism. It expresses Jewish identity but also
empowers it. It tells Jews (and many others too) that Jews can do what
Jews have always dreamed of doing. It takes the perfectly acceptable
religious feelings of Jews, or if you prefer, the perfectly harmless
delusions of Jews, and tries to turn them into a terrible reality.
Jewish notions of specialness, choseness and even supremacism, are fine
for a small, wandering people, but, when empowered with a state, an army
and F16s become a concern for us all.


Zionism as Jewish empowerment in statehood changes everything. Israel is
not just any state, it is a Jewish state and this means more than just a
state for Jews. This Jewish state is built on traditions and modes of
thought that have evolved amongst Jews for centuries - amongst which are
the notions that Jews are special and that their suffering is special.
By their own reckoning, Jews are "a nation that dwells alone" it is "us
and them" and, in many cases, "us or them". And these tendencies are
translated into the modern state of Israel. This is a state that knows
no boundaries. It is a state that both believes, and uses as
justification for its own aggression, the notion that its very survival
is always at stake, so anything is justified to ensure that survival.
Israel is a state that manifestly believes that the rules of both law
and humanity, applicable to all other states, do not apply to it.


Their own worst nightmare


It is a terrible irony that this empowerment of Jews has come to most
resemble those empowerments under which Jews have suffered the most.
Empowered Christianity, also a marriage of faith and power, enforced its
ideology and pursued its dissidents and enemies with no greater fervor
than has empowered Judaism. In its zeal and self belief, Zionism has
come to resemble the most brutal and relentless of modern ideologies.
But unlike the brutal rationality of Stalinism, willing to sacrifice
millions for political and economic revolution, this Jewish ideology, in
its zealotry and irrationality, resembles more the National Socialism
which condemned millions for the attainment of a nonsensical racial and
ethnic supremacy.


Of course there are differences but there are also similarities.
National Socialism, like Zionism, another blend of mysticism and power,
gained credibility as a means to right wrongs done to a victimized
people. National Socialism, like Zionism, also sought to maintain the
racial/ethnic purity of one group and to maintain the rights of that
ethnic group over others, and National Socialism, like Zionism, also
proposed an almost mystical attachment of that group to a land. Also,
both National Socialism and Zionism shared a common interest - to
separate Jews from non-Jews, in this case to remove Jews from Europe -
and actively co-operated in the attainment of this aim. And if the
similarity between these two ideologies is simply too great and too
bitter to accept, one may ask what National Socialism with its uniforms,
flags and mobilized youth must have looked like to those Germans,
desperate after Versailles and the ravages of post-First World War
Germany. Perhaps not so different from how the uniforms, flags and
marching youth of pre- and post-state Zionism must have looked to Jews
after their history of suffering, and particularly after the Holocaust.
This is, for Jews, their own worst nightmare: the thing they love the
most has become the thing they hate the most. And for those Jews and
others, who shrink from the comparison, let them ask themselves this:
What would an average German, an enthusiastic Nazi even, have said in,
say, 1938 had they been confronted with the possibility of an Auschwitz?
They would have thought that you were stark, staring mad.

AMERICAN JEWS AND JEWISH AMERICA


At the heart of the conflict is the relationship between Israel and
America. The statistics - billions in aid and loans, UN vetoes, etc.,
etc. need not be repeated here - American support for Israel seems
limitless. But what is the nature of this support? For many, perhaps
most, the answer is relatively simple. Israel is a client state of
America, serving American interests or, more particularly, the interests
of its power elites. This view is underpinned by the obvious importance
of oil, the huge strategic importance of the region and the fact that,
if Israel did not further the interests of those who control America,
then we can be sure America would not support Israel. Also, there is no
doubt that, in the IDF, America has found a marvellously flexible and
effective force, easily aroused and let loose whenever any group of
Arabs get a little above themselves.


But is this the whole story? Does Israel really serve America's
interests and is their relationship wholly based on the sharing of these
interests? Consider how much in terms of goodwill from other nations
America loses by its support for Israel, and consider the power and
influence of the "Jewish", "Zionist" or "pro-Israel" lobby, as when many
an otherwise responsible lawmaker, faced with the prospect of an
intervention in their re-election campaign from the Jewish lobby, seems
happy to put his or her re-election prospects way in front of what is
good for America.


The details of the workings of AIPAC and others, and the mechanics by
which these groups exert pressure on America's lawmakers and governors,
have been dealt with elsewhere; we need only note that this interest
group is undoubtedly extraordinarily effective and successful. Not just
a small group of Jews supporting Israel, as its supporters would have us
believe, these are powerful and committed ideologues: billionaires,
media magnates, politicians, activists and religious leaders. In any
event, the power of the Jewish lobby to make or break pretty well any
public figure is legendary - not for nothing is it often referred to
simply as "The Lobby".


But again, there may be far more to the Israel/U.S. relationship than
just a commonality of interest and the effectiveness of certain interest
groups. That support for Israel must be in the interests of those who
control America is certainly true, but who controls America? Perhaps the
real relationship is not between Israel and America but between Jews and
America.


The overwhelming majority of Jews in America live their lives just like
any other Americans. They've done well and are undoubtedly pleased that
America supports their fellow Jews in Israel but that's as far as it
goes. Nonetheless, an awful lot of Jews certainly do control an awful
lot of America - not the industrial muscle of America - the steel,
transport, etc., nor the oil and arms industries, those traditional
money-spinners. No, if Jews have influence anywhere in America, it's not
over its muscle and sinew but over its blood and its brain. It is in
finance and the media that we find a great many Jews in very influential
positions. Lists abound (though you have to go to some pretty unpopular
websites to find them) of Jews, prominent in financial and cultural
life: Jews in banks; Jews in Forbes Magazine's Richest Americans; Jews
in Hollywood; Jews in TV; Jewish journalists, writers, critics, etc.,
etc.


Nor have Jews been slow in exploiting their position. Jews have not
hesitated to use whatever resources they have to advance their interests
as they see them. Nor does one need to subscribe to any conspiracy
theory to note how natural it is for Jews in the media to promote Jews
and their values as positive and worthy of emulation. When did anyone
last see a Jew portrayed in anything other than a favourable light? Jews
are clever, moral, interesting, intense, warm, witty, complex, ethical,
contradictory, prophetic, infuriating, sometimes irritating, but always
utterly engaging. Nor is it any wonder that Jews in influential
positions are inclined to promote what they see as Jewish collective
interests. Is it really all that incredible that Jewish advisers around
the Presidency bear Israel's interests at heart when they advise the
President on foreign affairs?


But so what? So there are a lot of Jews with a lot of money, and a lot
of Jews with a lot to say and the means to say it. If Jews by virtue of
their ability and use of resources (as honestly gained as by anyone
else) promote what they perceive as their own collective interest,
what's wrong with that? First, with some notable exceptions, the vast
majority of Jews can, in good faith, lay hands on hearts and swear that
they never take decisions or actions with collective Jewish interests in
mind, certainly not consciously. And even if they did, they are acting
no differently from anyone else. With a few exceptions, Jews have earned
their advantageous positions. They came with nothing, played according
to the rules and, if they use their influence to further what they
perceive as Jewish interests, what's so special about that? Do not the
Poles, the Ukrainians, the Gun lobby, the Christian Evangelicals also
not work to further their group interests?


The difference between Jews and other groups is that they probably do it
better. Jews are, by pretty well any criteria, easily the most
successful ethnic group in America and, for whatever reason, have been
extraordinarily successful in promoting themselves both individually and
collectively. And there would probably be nothing wrong with this were
it not for the fact that these same people who exert so much control and
influence over American life also seem to refuse to be held accountable.
It is the surreptitiousness with which Jews are perceived to have
achieved their success which arouses suspicion. Jews certainly seem
cagey about the influence they have. Just breathe the words "Jewish
power" and wait for the reaction. They claim it's because this charge
has so often been used as a precursor to discrimination and violence
against them, but never consider the possibility that their own
reluctance to discuss the power they wield arouses suspicion and even
hostility.


But there is another claim, subtler and more worrying. This is that it
doesn't exist; that Jews do not wield power, that there is no Jewish
lobby; that Jews in America do not exert power and influence to advance
Jewish interests, even that there are no such things as Jewish
interests! There are no Jewish interests in the war in Iraq, there are
no Jewish interests in America; most amazing, there are no Jewish
interests even in Israel and Palestine. There is no Jewish collective.
Jews do not act together to advance their aims. They even say that the
pro-Israeli lobby has actually not all that much to do with Jews, that
the Jewishness of Israel is irrelevant and the Public Affairs Committees
(PACs) which lobby so hard for Israel are in fact doing no more than
supporting an ally and thus looking after America's best interests even
to the extent of concealing their true purpose behind names such as
"American for Better Citizenship", "Citizen's Organised PAC" or the
"National PAC" - none of which make one reference in their titles to
Israel, Zionism or Jews. Similarly, Jews and Jewish organisations are
said to be not so much furthering Jewish interests and values as
American, or, even, universal interests and values. So, the major
Holocaust Museum, styled as a "Museum of Tolerance", focuses not only on
anti-Semitism, but on every kind of intolerance known to mankind (except
that shown by Jews to non-Jews in Israel and Palestine). Similarly, the
Anti-Defamation League is but an organisation for the promotion of
universal principles of tolerance and justice, not just for Jews but for
everyone.


This conflation of Jewish interests with American interests is nowhere
more stark than in present American foreign policy. If ever an image was
reminiscent of a Jewish world conspiracy, the spectacle of the Jewish
neo-cons gathered around the current presidency and directing policy in
the Middle East, this must be it. But we are told that the fact that the
Jewish neo-cons, many with links with right wing political groups within
Israel, are in the forefront of urging a pro-Israel policy, is but a
coincidence, and any suggestion that these figures might be influenced
by their Jewishness and their links with Israel is immediately
marginalised as reviving old anti-Semitic myths about Jewish dual
loyalty. The idea that American intervention in Iraq, the one viable
military counterweight to Israeli hegemony in the Middle East and
therefore an inspiration to Arab and Palestinian resistance, primarily
serves Israeli rather than American interests has also been consigned to
the nether world of mediaeval anti-Semitic myth. The suggestion that
those Jews around the president act from motives other than those to
promote the interests of all Americans is just anti-Semitic raving. And
maybe they're right. Perhaps those who promote Jewish interests are in
fact promoting American interests because, for now at least, they appear
to be one and the same.

Jewish America


In Washington, D.C. is a memorial to a terrible tragedy. Not a memorial
to a tragedy visited on Americans by a foreign power as at Pearl Harbour
or 9/11, nor to a tragedy visited by Americans on Americans such the
sacking of Atlanta. Nor is it a memorial of contrition to a tragedy
inflicted by Americans onto another people, such as to slavery or to the
history of racial injustice in America. It is to none of these. The
Holocaust memorial is to a tragedy inflicted on people who were not
Americans, by people who were not Americans, and in a place a very long
way from America. And the co-religionists or, even, if you like, the
co-nationals, of the people on whom the tragedy was visited and to whom
the memorial is built make up around two percent of the American
population. How is it that a group of people who make up such a tiny
percentage of the overall American population can command such respect
and regard that a memorial to them is built in the symbolic heart of
American national life?


The Jewish narrative is now at the centre of American life, certainly
that of its cultural and political elites. There is, anyway, much in the
way that Americans choose to see themselves and their history which is
quite naturally compatible with the way Jews see themselves and their
history. What more fitting paradigm for a country founded on
immigration, than the story of the mass immigration of Jews at the end
of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? For many Americans, the
story of those Jews who came to their Goldenes Medina, their Golden
Land, with nothing and, through hard work and perseverance, made it to
the very top of American society, is also their story. And what could be
more inspirational for a country, if not officially but still
viscerally, deeply Christian than the story of the Jews, Jesus' own
people and God's chosen people, returning to their ancient homeland and
transforming it into a modern state. And for a nation which sees itself
as a beacon of democracy in the world, what better international
soul-mate than the state of Israel, widely held to be "the only
democracy in the Middle-East"? Finally what greater validation for a
country itself founded on a narrative of conquest and ethnic cleansing
than the Biblical narrative of the conquest and ethnic cleansing of the
Promised Land with the addition of the equally violent settlement of
modern Palestine with its own ethnic cleansing and then "making the
desert bloom"?


Most resonant, of course, is the notion of Jews as a suffering people.
The fact that this "suffering people" is now enjoying a success beyond
the dreams of any other ethnic group in America seems irrelevant. Also
ignored is how American Jews have made it to the very top of American
society whilst, every step of the way, complaining about how much
they're being discriminated against. Nonetheless, to America, Jews have
an enduring and ongoing history of suffering and victimhood. But this
history has rarely been examined or even discussed.A Suffering People
That Jews have suffered is undeniable, but Jewish suffering is claimed
to have been so enduring, so intense and so particular that it is to be
treated differently from other sufferings.The issue is complex and
cannot be fully debated or decided here but the following points may
stimulate thought and discussion.


- During even the most terrible times of Jewish suffering such as the
Crusades or the Chmielnitzky massacres of seventeenth century Ukraine,
and even more so at other times in history, it has been said that the
average peasant would have given his eye-teeth to be a Jew. The meaning
is clear: generally speaking, and throughout most of their history, the
condition of Jews was often far superior to the mass of the population.
- The above-mentioned Ukrainian massacres took place in the context of a
peasant uprising against the oppression of the Ukrainian peasantry by
their Polish overlords. As has often been the case, Jews were seen as
occupying a traditional position of being in alliance with the ruling
class in their oppression of the peasantry. Chmielnitzky, the leader of
this popular uprising, is today a Ukrainian national hero, not for his
assaults on Jews (there are even references to his having offered poor
Jews to join the uprising against their exploitative co-religionists -
the Jews declined) but for his championing of the rights of the
oppressed Ukrainians. Again, the inference is plain: outbreaks of
anti-Semitic violence, though never justified, have often been responses
to Jewish behaviour both real and imaginary.


- In the Holocaust three million Polish Jews died, but so did three
million non-Jewish Poles. Jews were targeted but so were Gypsies,
homosexuals, Slavs and Poles. Similarly, the Church burned Jews for
their dissenting beliefs but then the church burned everyone for their
dissenting beliefs. So again, the question must be asked: what's so
special about Jewish suffering?


The Holocaust, the paradigm for all anti-Semitism and all Jewish
suffering, is treated as being beyond examination and scrutiny.
Questioning the Holocaust narrative is, at best, socially unacceptable,
leading often to social exclusion and discrimination, and, at worst, in
some places is illegal and subject to severe penalty. Holocaust
revisionist scholars, named Holocaust deniers by their opponents, have
challenged this. They do not deny a brutal and extensive assault on Jews
by the Nazi regime but they do deny the Holocaust narrative as framed by
present day establishments and elites. Specifically, their denial is
limited to three main areas. First, they deny that there ever was an
official plan on the part of Hitler or any other part of the Nazi regime
systematically and physically to eliminate every Jew in Europe; second,
they deny that there ever existed homicidal gas-chambers; third, they
claim that the numbers of Jewish victims of the Nazi assault have been
greatly exaggerated.


But none of this is the point. Whether those who question the Holocaust
narrative are revisionist scholars striving to find the truth and
shamelessly persecuted for opposing a powerful faction, or whether they
are crazy Jew-haters denying a tragedy and defaming its victims, the
fact is that one may question the Armenian genocide, one may freely
discuss the Slave Trade, one can say that the murder of millions of
Ibos, Kampucheans and Rwandans never took place and that the moon is but
a piece of green cheese floating in space, but one may not question the
Jewish Holocaust. Why? Because, like the rest of the Jewish history of
suffering, the Holocaust underpins the narrative of Jewish innocence
which is used to bewilder and befuddle any attempt to see and to
comprehend Jewish power and responsibility in Israel/Palestine and
elsewhere in the world.

JEWISH POWER


What is a Jew?


Israel Shamir, the Russian-born Israeli writer, advocates the right of
all people, whatever their ethnicity or religion, to live together in
complete equality between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Shamir
condemns the behaviour of Israel and of Diaspora Jews and calls for an
end to their preferential treatment, but he also proposes an opposition
to Judaism itself for which he stands accused of being anti-Jewish - a
charge he does not deny but actually embraces.


Shamir proposes the existence of a Jewish ideology, or "Jewish paradigm"
as he puts it, and proposes that it is the voluntary adherence to this
"spirit" which makes a Jew into a Jew. For him, Jewishness is neither
race nor ethnicity - there is, for Shamir, no such thing as a Jewish
'tribe' or 'family' - no biological or ethnic body from which there can
be no escape. Further, this ideology, based on notions of choseness,
exclusivity and even supremacism is, at least when empowered,
incompatible with peace, equality and justice in Palestine or anywhere
else for that matter.


No-one wants to oppose any Jews simply for being Jews, or even for what
they believe, but only because of what they do. The problem is that
since, according to Shamir, what Jews believe and even do is precisely
what makes them into Jews, so opposition to Jewishness as an ideology
surely comes dangerously close to opposition to Jews simply for being
Jews. But for Shamir, Jews are Jews because they choose to be Jews.
Someone may be born of Jews and raised as a Jew but they can if they
wish reject their Jewish upbringing and become a non-Jew. And many have
done just that including such famous escapees as Karl Marx, St. Paul,
Leon Trotsky (and Shamir himself), etc. Opposition to Jews is not,
therefore, like opposition to Blacks or to Asians or to other common
racist attitudes since the object of the opposition is perfectly able to
relinquish the ideology in question.


Shamir has never in any way called for any harm to be done to Jews or
anyone else, nor for Jews or anyone else to be discriminated against in
any way. Adherence to this Jewish ideology is, for Shamir, regrettable,
but not, in itself, a matter for active opposition. Nor does this mean
that Shamir is opposed to any individual Jew just because he or she is a
Jew. What Shamir actively opposes is not "Jews" but "Jewry". Analogous
to say, the Catholic Church, Jewry consists of those organised Jews and
their leaders who actively promote corrosive Jewish interests and
values, particularly now in the oppression of the Palestinians
One doesn't have to be in complete agreement with Shamir to understand
what he is talking about. Why should Jews not have a "spirit"; after
all, such a concept has been discussed with regard to other nations?
"It is dangerous, wrong, to speak about the "Germans," or any other
people, as of a single undifferentiated entity, and include all
individuals in one judgement. And yet I don't think I would deny that
there exists a spirit of each people (otherwise it would not be a
people) a Deutschtum, an italianitia, an hispanidad: they are the sums
of traditions, customs, history, language, and culture. Whoever does not
feel within himself this spirit, which is national in the best sense of
the word, not only does not entirely belong to his own people but is not
part of human civilization. Therefore, while I consider insensate the
syllogism, 'All Italians are passionate; you are Italian; therefore you
are passionate," I do however believe it legitimate, within certain
limits, to expect from Italians taken as a whole, or from Germans, etc.,
one specific, collective behavior rather than another. There will
certainly be individual exceptions, but a prudent, probabilistic
forecast is in my opinion possible." Primo Levi


And for Jews it is, perhaps, even more appropriate. The place of Judaism
as an ideology at the centre for all Jewish identity may be debated, but
few would dispute that Judaism is at least at the historic heart of
Jewishness and, whatever else may bind Jews together, it is certainly
true that religion plays an important part. Second, for a group of
people who have retained such a strong collective identity with no
shared occupation of any land, language, nor even, in many cases, a
culture, it is hard to see what else there could be that makes Jews into
Jews. Surely for Jews, in the absence of other, more obvious factors, it
is precisely such a spirit that has enabled them to retain their
distinctive identity for so long and in the face of such opposition.
But if there is some kind of Jewish spirit or ideology, what is it? As
far as Judaism, the religion, goes it seems fairly clear that there is
an ideology based on the election of Israel by God, the special
relationship Jews are supposed to have with God and the special mission
allocated to Jews by God. So for observant Jews there is a special
quality intrinsic to the covenant and to Judaism itself, though not all
of them find it entirely appealing:


"There is a strain in Jewish thought that says there is a special Godly
something or other that is passed down in a certain genetic line which
confers a special quality on people and Jewishness is a special quality.
I call that metaphysical racism." Rabbi Mark Solomon
But whilst easy to see such a common spirit in religious Jews - after
all it is precisely that which makes them religious - it is so much
harder to define it in secular Jews, those Jews who reject, often quite
vociferously, all aspects of Jewish faith. They often claim that they
don't have an ideology, or that their ideology is one of, say, the left:
not only not Jewish, but opposed to all religions including Judaism. Yet
seemingly so free of all such ignorant superstition, these same people
still call themselves Jews, still more often than not marry other Jews
and still turn up to solidarity rallies only with other Jews and under
Jewish banners. What is their ideology?


For my money it is much the same sense of specialness found in religious
Jews but with a special reference to victimhood. "Yes, but only in the
Hitlerian sense", answered philosopher Maxime Rodinson when asked if he
still considered himself a Jew. For many of these Jews it is their
identity as a threatened and victimized people that makes them Jews.
"Hitler said I was a Jew, so I may as well be a Jew" is one response or
"To be a Jew somehow denies all those who ever persecuted Jews a
victory- so I'm a Jew". For these Jews, albeit estranged from Jewish
religious and often community life as well, Emil Fackenheim's famous
post-Holocaust 614th commandment (to add to the other 613): Thou shall
survive! is an absolute imperative. But whatever the motive, this
self-identity runs very deep indeed. Amongst these Jews, no matter how
left or progressive they may be, one may criticise Israel to the nth
degree, poke fun at the Jewish establishment and even shamefully
denigrate Judaism as a religion, but depart one iota from the approved
text on anti-Semitism and Jewish suffering, and you are in deep trouble.
For these rational folk, Jewish suffering and anti-Semitism is every bit
as inexplicable, mysterious and therefore, unchallengeable as for any
religious Jew.


Jewish secularism is often offered as evidence that there is no such
thing as a Jewish identity gathered around any shared ideology. After
all, if all Jews subscribe to the same basic ideology, then how come so
many Jews so obviously don't? And if all Jews essentially support the
same interests, how come so many Jews so obviously don't? But is it that
obvious? Not only do secular Jews very often seem to subscribe to Jewish
notions of specialness and victimhood, but also, in their attitudes to
non-Jews in general, and Palestinians in particular, they are by no
means all that different from religious Jews.


It is often quoted how many Jews are in solidarity movements with
Palestinians and how many of these are secular. And it's true: there are
many Jews in sympathy with the Palestinians and the overwhelming
majority are secular, and the main thrust of post-1967 virulent Zionism
has come to be associated with the religious right. But this secular
Jewish tradition, in fact, has been at the forefront of Zionism's
assault on the Palestinians. It was secular Labour Zionists who created
the Zionist ideology and the pre-state Jewish-only society. It was
secular Zionists - good, humanistic, left-wing kibbutzniks - who
directed and carried out the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians,
and the destruction of their towns and villages. It was secular Zionists
who established the present state with all its discriminatory practices;
and it was a largely secular Labour government that held the Palestinian
citizens of Israel under military government in their own land for
eighteen years. Finally, it was a secular, Labour government which
conquered the West Bank and Gaza, and first built the settlements, and
embarked on the Oslo peace process, coolly designed to deceive the
Palestinians into surrendering their rights.


And even those secular Jews who do support Palestinian rights, on so
many occasions, the solidarity they offer is limited by self interest.
That these people, at least as much as anyone else, act out of their
highest motives may be true. Many have been lifelong activists for many
causes and many find their activism springs, consciously or
unconsciously, from what they see as the highest ideals of their
Jewishness. But nonetheless for many of them, solidarity with
Palestinians means above all, the protection of Jews. They call for a
Palestinian state on 22 per cent of the Palestinian homeland, but only
to keep and protect the 'Jewishness' of the Jewish state. The
Palestinian state they call for would inevitably be weak, dominated by
the Israeli economy and under the guns of the Israeli military - surely
they must know what this would mean!


At rally after rally, in speeches and on leaflets and banners, these
Jews denounce the occupation: "Down with the occupation…down with the
occupation…down with the occupation…" but not a word of the inherent
injustice of a state for Jews only; perhaps a mention of the ill-gotten
gains of 1948, but nothing of the right of return of the refugees, no
restitution merely 'a just solution' taking account, of course, of
Israel's 'demographic concerns'. "We are with you….we are with
you….we are with you" they say "…...but.." Whether it be
condemnation of some form of Palestinian resistance of which they
disapprove, or some real or perceived occurrence of anti-Semitism, for
these Jews there is always a "but."


They should take a leaf from Henry Herskovitz. He is part of an
organisation called Jewish Witnesses for Peace, which holds silent
vigils outside synagogues on shabbat. Of course, all the other Jewish
activists are shrieking at him that you mustn't target Jews for protest,
that you must draw a distinction between Jews, Israelis and Zionists,
that you'll only alienate the people we want to engage.... but he
doesn't care. He knows that support from the Jewish mainstream, as Tony
Cliff the Trotskyite used to say, "….is like honey on your elbow - you
can see it, you can smell it but you can never quite taste it!" Henry
also knows that to say that Jews in America individually and in their
religious and community organisations should not be held accountable for
what is happening is a lie and discredits all Jews before the non-Jewish
world.So these secular Jews often end up being just another round of Michael
Neuman's "veritable shell game" of Jewish identity. "Look! We're a
religion! No! a race! No! a cultural entity! Sorry--a religion!" Because
this is the key to maintaining Jewish power - if it's indefinable, it's
invisible. Like a Stealth Bomber (you can't see it on your radar but you
sure know when you've been hit) Jewish power, with its blurred outlines
and changing forms, becomes invisible. And if you can't see it you can't
fight it. Meanwhile the assault on the Palestinians continues.

"The Jews"


The phrase is itself terrifying because of its past association with
discrimination and violence against Jews, but Jews themselves have no
problem with it. The notion of a Jewish People is at the centre of
Jewish faith with Jews of all or no degrees of religious adherence over
and over again affirming its existence. It is also at the heart of
Zionism even in its most secular forms and is written into the
foundational texts of the state of Israel. The concept even received
international legal approval when the Jewish people were declared, by
the West German state, to be the post-war residual heirs of intestate
Jews. And yet it is an absolute article of faith for everyone, including
those in the solidarity movement, that while we may criticize and
confront Israel and Israelis, we may not criticize and confront the
Jewish people and Jews. Unlike Israel and any other state, the Jewish
People has no common policy and any attack on the Jewish people is,
therefore, aimed at what they are and not at what they do.


But is speaking of the Jews doing this or doing that any more or less
acceptable than speaking of, say, the Americans? If the American
military lays waste a third world country, it is done by order of the
government (a small group) with the full support of the ruling elites
(another small group), the tacit support of a substantial segment of the
population (a larger group), the silent denial of probably the majority
of the population (a very large group) and the opposition of a tiny
minority (a small group). Is it all that different with Jews?
It may be. Unlike the United States, 'the Jews' are not a legally
constituted body and they do not have an obvious and defined common
policy. 'The Jews' do not have an officially designated leadership, nor
do they inhabit one area of land, nor do they speak a common language or
even share a common culture. Theoretically at least there seem to be so
many differences as to render any comparison untenable. In practice this
may not be the whole story.


It is true that 'the Jews' do not constitute a legally recognized body,
but Zionism, with its claim to represent all Jews, has increasingly
confused the issue. It is also true that the Zionists do not represent
all Jews but they do represent the views of very many Jews indeed, and
certainly the most powerful and influential Jews. And there is no doubt
that the overwhelming majority of organized Jews are fully behind the
Zionist project. That 'the Jews' do not have a formally designated
leadership does not mean that they have no leadership - bodies again to
which the overwhelming majority of organized Jews owe allegiance: the
Israeli Government, the World Zionist Organization; numerous large and
powerful Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and The
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, The
Simon Wiesenthal Centre; lesser bodies such as the Board of Deputies of
British Jews and similar organizations in every country in which Jews
reside. Then there is the extensive network of Jewish bodies often
linked, through synagogues to the whole spectrum of mainstream Jewish
religious and community life. All these bodies with their vast and
interconnected network do provide leadership; they do have clearly
defined policies and they are all four-square behind Zionism and Israel
in its assault on the Palestinians.


Does this constitute a definable Jewish collective engaged in advancing
Jewish interests? Officially, perhaps not, but, effectively, when one
notes the remarkable unanimity of intent of all these bodies, the answer
may well be yes. They do not of course represent all Jews nor are all
individual Jews responsible for their actions, but nonetheless 'the
Jews' - organized, active and effective Jews - are as responsible for
the pursuit of Jewish interests in Palestine and elsewhere as 'the
Americans' in Vietnam, 'the French' in Algeria, and 'the British' in
India.


So why should our response be different? Why should 'the Jews' not be as
accountable as 'the Americans' and even ordinary Jews as accountable as
ordinary Americans? Why do we not picket the offices of the
Anti-Defamation League or The Conference of Presidents or the offices or
even the homes of Abe Foxman, Edgar Bronfman and Mort Zuckerman in the
U.S. and Neville Nagler in the U.K.? Why do we not heckle Alan
Dershowitz in the U.S. and Melanie Phillips in the U.K.? What about the
U.K. Chief Rabbi who in his time has had lots to say about Israel and
Palestine? Why do we not take the struggle to every synagogue and Jewish
community centre in the world? After all, every Shabbat a prayer is said
for the state of Israel in every mainstream synagogue in the land, most
of which are focal points for Zionist propagandizing and fundraising, so
why should these Jews who choose to combine their prayers and their
politics be immune while at prayer from our legitimate protests at their
politics? And for those few Jews who are really prepared to stand up and
be counted for their solidarity with Palestinians, why can we not still
give to them due honour and regard as we did to those few Americans who
opposed American imperialism and those white South Africans who opposed
apartheid?


The answer is that we are frightened. Even knowing that Jews are
responsible and should be held accountable, still we are frightened. We
are frightened because criticism of Jews with its woeful history of
violence and discrimination seems just too dangerous a position to take
- it may open the flood-gates to a burst of Jew hatred. We are
frightened that if we were to discuss the role of Jews in this conflict
and in other areas and begin to hold Jews accountable, we might be
labelled anti-Semites and lose support. And, perhaps most of all, we are
frightened of the conflicted inner passions that confound us all
whenever we come to look at these things.


Does speaking the truth about Jewish identity, power and history lead to
Jews being led to concentration camps and ovens? Of course it doesn't!
It is hatred, fear and the suppression of free thought and speech which
leads to these things - whether the hatred, fear and suppression is
directed against Jews or by Jews. Anyway, despite efforts to convince us
to the contrary, we do not live in the thirteenth century. Californians
are unlikely to pour out of their cinemas showing Mel Gibson's 'Passion'
chanting "Death to the Jews!" And, at a time when Jews in
Israel/Palestine, overwhelmingly backed by Jewish organisations in the
west, are desecrating churches and mosques wholesale and brutally
oppressing entire Christian and Muslim populations, we may be forgiven
for finding it hard to get excited about graffiti daubed on some
synagogue somewhere.


If we were to begin to engage with the role of Jews in this conflict, we
may well be labelled anti-Semites and we may well, initially at least,
lose support. The anti-Semite curse has long served as a frightener to
silence all criticism of Jews, Israel and Zionism, and undoubtedly will
be used to discredit our cause. But so what? They call us anti-Semites
anyway so what's to lose? Edward Said spent a lifetime picking his way
through the Israel/Zionism/Judaism minefield and never once criticised
Jews, and he was called an anti-Semite his whole life, right up to and
even after his death. As a movement we have probably spent as much time
being nice to Jews as we have speaking up for Palestinians, and for
what? Where has it got us? We are not racists and we are not
anti-Semites, so let them do their worst. We shall speak our minds.
For so long now Jews have told the world that black is white and not
only that, but also if anyone should dare to deny that black is white
they will be denounced as anti-Semites with all the attendant penalties.
We are held in a moral and intellectual lock, the intention of which has
been to silence all criticism of Israeli and Jewish power. In saying the
unsayable we may set ourselves and others free. And think how it will
feel the next time you are called an anti-Semite to say "Well, I don't
know about that, but I do have some very strong but legitimate
criticisms to make of Jews and the way they are behaving….and I intend
to speak out"?


And you never know; we may be pleasantly surprised. Israel Shamir, who
has no trouble whatsoever in calling a Jew a Jew, was cheered
spontaneously recently when he introduced himself from the floor at a
London solidarity meeting. I saw it with my own eyes. His first
English-language book has just been published; he corresponds freely and
reciprocally with many highly respected figures and is on the boards of
advisers of The Association for One Democratic State in Palestine and of
Deir Yassin Remembered. Perhaps it's all just a case of the Emperor's
new clothes. Perhaps we're all just waiting for some innocent child to
blow the whistle.


The situation facing the Palestinian people is truly terrible. Old
political strategies have got us nowhere. We need a new and widened
debate. It may be that a new and credible discourse which puts Jews and
Jewishness at the critical centre of our discussions is part of that.


And one final point: In a previous piece, paraphrasing Marc Ellis I
wrote:


"To the Christian and to the entire non-Jewish world, Jews say this:
'You will apologise for Jewish suffering again and again and again. And,
when you have done apologising, you will then apologise some more. When
you have apologised sufficiently we will forgive you ... provided that
you let us do what we want in Palestine.'


Shamir took me to task, "Eisen is too optimistic", he said, "Palestine
is not the ultimate goal of the Jews…..the world is."


Well, I don't know about that, but, if as now seems likely, the conquest
of Palestine is complete and the state of Israel stretches from Tel-Aviv
to the Jordan River, what can we expect? Will the Jews of Israel,
supported by Jews outside of Israel, now obey the law, live peaceably
behind their borders and enjoy the fruits of their victory, or will they
want more? Who's next?


*****
Paul Eisen is the London director of Deir Yassin Remembered
(www.deiryassin.org), an organization devoted to commemorating "Al Nakba", the Palestinian equivalent of "The Holocaust". He is of Jewish background, yet opposes organized Jewry's support of Zionism, with their emphasis on Jewish victimhood and "chosen-ness". His e-mail is paul@eisen,demon.co.uk


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