Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The case against boycotting Israel

David Hirsh of Engage, here and here. (I've posted the second one previously but not the first one.) Required viewing for anyone who thinks there is no connection whatsoever between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and those who subsume "demonisation" and "campaigns for boycott, divestment and sanctions" into the brave, virtuous category of "criticism".

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Longest Hatred 28

More than 60 years after the Holocaust, Jews are still being murdered simply for being Jews. Here.

The great embarrassment

Shhhh, keep this quiet, don't tell anyone, but Jesus was a (wait for it) Jew, who was born in (careful, is anyone listening?), Bethlehem. But don't say this too loudly, and certainly don't sing any songs about it, because it would be frighteningly embarrassing to have to acknowledge this when Palestinians are being persecuted by those horrible Jews. After all, that would complicate our relationships with the wider community (particularly the trendy anti-Zionist left) wouldn't it, and that has to be a higher priority than singing Biblical and historical truths, right? And, while we're at it, we'd better rip out all the references to Israel and Jews and Jewishness in the New Testament as well, there'll only be a page or so left but hey, it will be worth it so that we can show how relevant and with it we really are. In the process, we can rip out other bits of the Bible we don't like, and then people will really listen to us. Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Evangelicals Now, Israel, and "balance"

Following the frankly shocking article by David Rushworth-Smith in last month's Evangelicals Now, which I wrote about here, the latest edition contains an article by one Colin Nevin entitled "Should Christians support Israel?"
I'm not sure he actually answers the question, but it is certainly a good article. It contains much of what I would see as a solid Christian position on the question: an accurate summary of the reestablishment of the state of Israel and its subsequent struggle for survival; an acknowledgement of the terrible sufferings of the Jewish people throughout history, often at the hands of professing "Christians"; and an outline of a theological position which I believe it is possible even for amillenialist, non-dispensationalist, non-loony British conservative evangelicals to hold, namely that the state of Israel, for all of its flaws and challenges, is in fact a fulfilment of biblical prophecy and part of God's plans to save "all Israel".Given the strength of the evangelical anti-Zionist lobby in conservative circles, it is impressive that the editor has published Nevin's article and he deserves credit for this.

But does this mean that the editor has complied with the recommendation in paragraph 179 of the
Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Semitism that the media should "show sensitivity and balance in their reporting of international events and recognise that the way in which they report the news has significant consequences on the interaction between communities in Britain." In printing the Nevin article, good though it is, has EN now achieved "balance" in its coverage of the Arab-Isareli conflict?
Well, no.

Let's revisit some of the most glaring errors, untruths and distortions from David Rushowrth-Smith's piece. Here they are:

- The false claim that the Palmach was a "jewish-zionist terrorist organisation"

- the convenient omission of any mention of Arab terrorism either between 1920 and 1948 or at any other point

- the failure to distinguish between "Israel", "Gaza" and "the West Bank" and the failure to blame the correct parties for any relative lack of freedom of religion in those places

- the ludicrously false claim that there were no Jews in the area between 70 AD and 1948

- the claim that in 1948 land was "stolen from the legal owners" and that the Palestinian refugees were "herded out": while that was true in some cases, it is also the case that many fled because they were encouraged to do so by their own leaders.

- the omission of any mention of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands

- the fact that Mr Rushworth-Smith sought to bolster his "arguments" by citing Ilan Pappe (known for his fraudulent scholarship and for granting an interview to a neo-Nazi newspaper), Norman Finkelstein (known as the 'neo-Nazis' favourite Jew' and also known for his fraudulent scholarship) and Jeff Halper (likewise known for his fraudulent scholarship and radical anti-Israel agenda).

It follows that, for EN to truly "balance" this piece it would require a truly horrible article which might say some or all of the following transparently false statements:

- "All Palestinians are terrorists"

- "All of Israel's problems are down to the Palestinians and none have ever been caused by the mistakes of her own leaders"

- "Prior to 1948, there were no Arabs in what became Israel"

- "During Israel's War of Independence, no Palestinians at all were forced to leave their homes by the Jewish forces"

- "Israel is a perfect state and has never done anything wrong"

- "The Palestinians have no right at all to a state of their own, however small, and ideally they should all be forced to leave their homes"

The author of such a piece might seek to bolster his "arguments" by citing, say, the racist Israeli settlers who referred to Arabs as "sand niggers", or perhaps the late Meir Kahane, who founded the Israeli Kach party. (His agenda was to induce Arabs in the West Bank to leave by offering them compensation, or alternatively by forcing them to leave. If you've not heard of Kahane or Kach, that might be because in 1985, the Knesset passed an amendment to Israel's Basic Law, barring "racist" candidates from election.The Israeli High Court declared Kahane to be unsuitable for election. That's one of many reasons why its wrong to describe Israel as an apartheid state.)

Now, clearly, it would be deeply wrong for EN to commission or publish such a piece. So then, what should EN do to rectify the calumnies of David Rushworth-Smith? Clearly, it should acknowledge the various errors and distortions and apologize. This has not yet happened. Nor have any letters challenging David Rushworth-Smith been published.
Interestingly, a box in the letters page says that “the editorial policy of EN not to reply to abusive letters sent to the office”. This is probably a reference to strongly worded emails sent to the editor responding to the Rushworth-Smith article. Yet this stance has not stopped the editor from publishing a quite astonishingly aggressive (and abusive) letter from Jonathan Castro, entitled "Creationist idiots!", which attacks young age creationists with terms such as “nonsense”, “rubbish”, “quack” theories, incredible ignorance, “mind-boggling stupidity and wilful ignorance”, and the very serious charge that Ken Ham “and his ilk” are all liars! Is there a double standard at work here?
So where does this leave us? At present, EN has not apologized for, or acknowledged its error in publishing an article which encouraged Christians to apologize for the creation of the world's one Jewish state, replete with historical falsehoods and citations from fraudulent scholars and known antisemites.
And so, for the time being, my view of EN will remain sadly dim. At best, EN is promoting an unbalanced, one-sided view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is one of several factors serving to alienate Messianic Jews from British evangelical churches. At worst, it is sadly representative of those British evangelicals who are not only embracing theological and political anti-Zionism, but are also, doubtless unwittingly, turning a blind eye to the evil of genuine antisemitism in their midst. For shame.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The case against boycotting Israel

David Hirsh of Engage speaks in typically impressive manner, here. It is about 7 minutes long and is required viewing for anyone who maintains that anti-Zionism is always entirely separate and distinct from anti-Semitism.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Stephen Sizer and Leeds University 2

I'm going to give this post of Stephen Sizer's a second fisking because, the more I read it, the more repellent it becomes. I can't improve on Bernard Harrison, but there are other points which need mentioning.

The first thing to notice is how Sizer describes the motion being considered by Leeds University Students' Union. According to Sizer, the motion will "label anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism and silence pro-Palestinian groups on campus". It won't. The motion is here, read it. It is a proposal that Leeds University adopts the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, the full text of which is included in the motion.

Note that the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Semitism ["the Report"] recommended that this definition be adopted and promoted by the government and law enforcement agencies so, in inveighing against this definition, Sizer is already putting himself beyond one widely-recognised boundary on thinking about antisemitism. Note too that Sizer is pleading on behalf of the Socialist Workers' Party, an organisation whose explanation of the Holocaust doesn't mention Jews and which has promoted the openly antisemitic Gilad Atzmon. I'm all in favour of free speech, but this is nevertheless concerning. For whom will Sizer plead next?

Now read the Working Definition again, noting how carefully nuanced it actually is.

The bit which Rev Sizer seems to have a problem with is the bit that suggests that there can be some occasions when criticism of Israel may in fact be antisemitic. Here is what it says, emphasis added:

"Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards b requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel."

"However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic."

Note how carefully nuanced it all is: "taking into account the overall context", "could include", and "criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic."

This will leave plenty of scope for pro-Palestinian groups to criticise Israel without being anti--Semitic: if they level criticism against Israel similar to that which could be made against any other country in the world, if they are factually accurate, and if they are careful with the language they use. Stephen Sizer would have us believe, though, that the motion will label anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism and silence pro-Palestinian groups. This is not only a misrepresentation of the motion (which, incidentally, Sizer himself does not link to) but seems to indicate an unwillingness on Sizer's part to think through the issues. In a typical expression of the Livingstone Formulation, Sizer is claiming that the spectre of antisemitism is being raised disingenuously in order to silence criticism of Israel. He is either unwilling or unable to think through whether there might in fact be a genuine case that antisemitism is a problem which needs tackling. Rather than "Zionists" shouting "Antisemitism!" to stifle debate about Israel, what is actually happening here is that Stephen Sizer is shouting "Israel!" in order to avoid a genuine and necessary debate about antisemitism. Why?

The piece on Sizer's blog goes on to say, sceptically, that "The motion claims, without providing any supporting evidence, that “Anti-semitism is increasing significantly both across the country and within universities and student unions.”

Perhaps Sizer hasn't read Section 6 of the Report, entitled "Antisemitism on Campus". Here's an extract from para 203:

"Tensions and incidents on campus often peak around students’ union votes concerning Israel and Zionism. In 2002 the University of Manchester Students’ Union proposed a motion that anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel was not antisemitism, and that Israeli goods should be boycotted. The Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester told us that a leaflet from the General Union of Palestinian Students, quoting from a neo-Nazi propaganda forgery entitled ‘Prophecy of Benjamin Franklin in Regard of the Jewish Race’, was distributed amongst students queuing up to vote. The leaflet reproduced historic antisemitic slander describing Jews as vampires, and warning that unless they

were expelled from the United States they would enslave the country and control its economy. Further incidents occurred following the defeat of the motion – a brick was thrown through the window of a Jewish student residence and a poster bearing the words “Slaughter the Jews” was pasted on its front door. A knife was stuck in the door of another Jewish student’s residence."

Or perhaps Sizer hasn't read pages 16-18 of the Community Security Trust's 2007 Report, which says this: "The 59 incidents recorded by CST in 2007 in which the victims were students, student bodies or academics represent a considerable rise from the 18 incidents recorded of that type in 2006, 11 in 2005 and 21 in 2004. It is most likely that this rise (228 per cent from the 2006 figure) is largely because of better reporting of incidents to CST."

Examples cited in the report include:

  • A Jewish student was handing out leaflets outside a student union debate at Manchester University when an Arab student called him “You Jewish bastard.” When challenged, the Arab student and said: “Whoops, I mean you Israeli bastard” and walked off.
  • Swastikas were drawn on posters advertising Jewish Book Week at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
  • “Mossad caused 9/11” and “Fight the Jewish terrorists” were written on a desk at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Sizer would seemingly have us believe that this is illusory. Why? Perhaps its because the first and last examples I've cited above, like the extract from para 203 of the Report, give very clear examples of how there are times when anti-Zionism very definitely can spill over into antisemitism. But Stephen Sizer seems to believe that the two are always entirely distinct and we must fight any attempts to suggest otherwise. Why?

So what do we have? We have a representative of the state church, and a professing antiracist evangelical, doing the following:

- twisting the words of the motion to make it say something different to what it actually says

- rejecting a widely accepted definition of antisemitism

- pleading on behalf of an organisation whose track record on antisemitism is notoriously poor

- minimising the reality of ongoing and increasing antisemitism on British campuses.

- denying the fact that yes, sometimes anti-Zionism can very definitely be antisemitic.

This should shock us, but it doesn't surprise me. Despite his frequent claim that he repudiates antisemitism, Sizer uses antisemitic language to describe supporters of Israel, invokes antisemitic conspiracy theories, cites antisemitic sources, asks Holocaust Deniers to cooperate with him, sends out antisemitic material to others, and carries links to the far right on his website. And yet British evangelicals still laud and applaud him. For shame.