Can something be anti-Semitic and not anti-Semitic at the same time? — Some points about anti-Jewish sentiments and the British left

While most forms of anti-Jewish sentiments and behaviours are undebatable, at the heart of the ‘Anti Semitism on the Left’ controversy is the complex question of whether criticism of Israel or Zionism is charged by, and/or charges, anti-Jewish sentiments. As Israeli, British and Jew-ish, I touch on this complexity, while warning comrades and Jews of three effects of the debate.

First, that the outcry of these issues underestimates or distracts others from the more dangerous and immediate racism (against Jews and others) in the Right, due to being played by (or playing into) the ‘balancing’ mainstream media tendencies.

Second, from the way in which relatively-disproportionate coverage of anti-Jewish racism, in comparison to more urgent, broad and violent forms of British and European racism, is itself racist, too (e.g. Windrush, Grenfell, Acid attacks, drowning refugees, selling arms, etc.).

And, third, of avoiding the type of victimhood that this allows, one which makes excuses for racist practices and tendencies in Israel, and ignores our past mistakes of not doing enough to tackle them. We must therefore allow, even encourage, criticism and accountability of Israel/Zionism.

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The reification of Palestine and Israel

I love Tamer Nafar. What an excellent performer! I love his music and his politics. Never spearing his audience the burden of politics, and the multilayered difficulty of being a Palestinian, combining criticism of the West and Israel, with that of Palestinian society, and of those observing it. I thoroughly enjoyed his show last week, which was part of his UK tour, where he tried new electronic material, this time in English. It was a huge hit, if you ask me. Very different to his previous works, and really taking his art to the next level, upping the game and giving the audience an extraordinary time.(*)

But what was particularly evident for me in comparison to previous DAM songs, is that it really expressed more forcefully how tired he is of it all, and how he just wants to live his life and be happy. Aren’t we all!? The best moment for me was just after he said to the audience that he ‘misses Palestine,’ when he curtailed and dismissed their responding cheers with – ‘not your Palestine, fuck you, you are mostly white people…. My Palestine!’ Although, most of the audience was not exactly white, it doesn’t really matter, and not only because they/we live in the whitedom, which makes us part of it.(**) But because I strongly identify with the problem of how speaking abroad about Palestine (or Israel) has a strong feeling of reification of the place, of departing it into an idea. I even wrote about it, shortly after moving to the UK from Israel, as I was toying with engaging with British-Jews politically, to contest their automatic misinformed Zionism with first hand experiences.

I still think that being ‘pro-Israel’, for example, is utterly meaningless. Where would you find anyone who is ‘pro Swedish’ or ‘pro British’? What would these even mean? Especially, as Israelis are in huge disagreements over what is best for their society, and many of them disagree with  Zionism, or with what it had become, or always was. Does being pro-Israel means supporting Zionism unconditionally? Is peace not pro-Israel? Human rights? I’ve also seen many ideas about what Palestine is, or what’s it like to be a Palestinian, which are often simplified romanticised generalisations, and so, pro-Palestinian is as weird to me.

The point is, for now, that these ideas of Israel and Palestine are reflections of those who imagine them, through lenses and contexts that are fairly dissimilar to how Palestinians (particularly in Palestine) and Israelis (particularly in Israel) envision and experience them, and they revolve around different concerns.


(*) Despite a cultural-mistranslation that resulted in an anti-Semitic expression, which really ruined it for many of us, and was also a little bit sexist. Trying to deliver a ‘make love no war’ message, or to upset the oppressor’s violence with humor and sexual desire, he (/DAM) used ‘I fell in love with a Jew,’ which works nicely in the Arabic (and Hebrew) context(s) and fits nicely in the appropriated melody, but would be better as ‘with a Jewish girl’ in English. Him laughing at its racism on stage, as if to defend the non-seriousness of it, or saying that he is ‘allowed’ because he is a victim of Jews, (which I heard from many Palestinians), didn’t make it any better. He wouldn’t have used ‘fell in love with a Nigger’ if some black people would have been his oppressors, I hope. And why would she love him back, if he is using potentially-offensive words?

(**) Also, many ‘whites’ are far more disadvantaged than Nafar imagines them to be. In our current times of heartless capitalism, many whites are ‘left behind,’ voting Trump or Brexit or to the far right, not to lose their benefits from the affiliation with and the first world.

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Modernised progressive Passover Haggadah: A free manuscript for home use

About six years ago, I took part in a Passover Seder lead by the magnificent Sarah Clyne Sundberg. It was the most glorious, interesting and profound Pesachs I have ever participated in. Instead of a mechanical fast read, or a collection of more and less vague costumes that lead to a festive super-meal, her Seder was an open discussion with various philosophical and political branching, and one which welcomed the contributions of everyone around the table, as it probably should be. It was the first time that I, a native ‘Hebrew’ speaker, could fully understand the text , (because the ‘Hebrew’ haggadahs are unintelligible to me, and do not usually have a translation to the modern Zionist language, AKA the contemporary/Israeli Hebrew that I speak). Consequently, I could engage with it and discuss problems in the story, and beyond.

Indeed, it was not an ordinary night, and not an ordinary Seder.

Moreover, Clyne-Sundberg’s (co-authored) haggadah included interpretations and political comments that I was eager to share with others. The experience was so positive that I started working on a Hebrew version already on the next day. Sadly, months of work were subsequently lost when my laptop got stolen in 2013, and only now I was able to start over, and this time finish the work too. (To the Hebrew experimental edition).

English Edition

הגדה פרוגרסיבית לפסח_כתב יד 2018

I am very happy to say that, while a published English edition is scheduled for next year, readers of this blog can now download for free home use (for a limited time, probably) the full experimental English edition of the wonderful, political and egalitarian Clyne Sundberg and Grossman’s Progressive Haggadah. The file is designed and ready to be printed on A5 (or: 2 pages side-by-side per every A4 page, which can be set up in the priting setting of most programmes). Alternatively, you may choose to buy a bounded copy here. I promise that it would be a wonderful night! We only ask in return, to send us comments and proof, after you’ve used it.

Hag Same-akh!

Eyal

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The lost contexts of The Shoah (The Holocaust)

Posted originally in Hebrew

Concentration Camps is a lean entry in the rich Hebrew Wikipedia, currently containing 358 words, of which 256 are dedicated to the Nazi camps. And it is no incident. The WWII German crimes are told in Hebrew in such way that would not weaken their related Zionist arguments, and they are therefore disconnected of the broader context of their contemporary nation-state oppression methods, undertaken mostly by white, ‘ethnically-European-Christian’ societies (or their extensions), who often advocate human progress, liberty and/or equality. There is no great wonder, of course, that the murderous European imperial-colonial context of the Holocaust is neglected from the Hebrew discourse, and that the only focus is on Nazism, considering that contemporary Hebrew is a Zionist language. Yet, at the same time, and for other reasons, this context is missing in other places too, for reasons that might have to do with the legitimacy maintenance and construction of the Self as liberal European countries after the WWII. Anyway, it is important to understand this absence and give presence to the forgettery, for without bravely identifying the causes for these horrible crimes, and without appreciating the true magnitude of the challenge, it would be difficult do prevent them from repeting.

Let us begin by studying that concentration camps were neither invented in Germany in the 1930,  nor were originally devised for oppressing Jews. The term appeared in British internment camps in South Africa, around the year 1900. (Their termination is much to the credit of a ‘snowflake,’ white leftist woman activist, whom the High Commissioner in South Africa regarded as a ‘Boer sympathiser’ and a ‘trouble maker,’ while enjoying full backing of the British right-wing government). Almost simultaneously, internment camps appeared in the systematic genocide in what-is-now Namibia by the German Imperial Army. This reminds us that the Germans did not start their systematic genocides with the Jews, but merely ‘improved’ their methods. Moreover, although not being called that, such camps were already practiced during the preceding century, when tens of thousands of native-Americans were incarcerated in camps, having been marched to them at gun point, in ‘death marches.’ Additionally, from the 19th Century onward, internment camps were also in operation during wars (by the Spanish, US and French armies).

Moreover, the German internment camps were also not the last appearance of disastrous mass populations’ incarceration by governments. In Israel, interestingly, the internment camps in which the British have  incarcerated tens of thousands of holocaust survivors (who were caught ‘illegally entering’ Palestine in overpopulated boats; including my own grandparents), have a semantically differentiated unique term (literally : Arrest Camps, which connotes detention camps rather than concentration/internment, although they are the same thing). The thing is, that this was part of the political landscape that followed WWII, the most murderous war in human history. Indeed, a little earlier, and in much bigger numbers, the US has also incarcerated, on its own soil, entire families, hundreds of thousands of its own ‘equal-rights’ citizens, including women and children, of Japanese, German or Italian background, during WWII (and the Germans also in WWI), to which they were forcibly migrated with army trucks and trains (see photos below).

(Parenthetically, China, Korea and Yugoslavia have also operated such camps later; the extant of similarities to the original forms of Guantanamo or Saharonim Camps, as well as immigrants detention centres elsewhere, is also debatable, yet irrelevant for this post).

American ‘Japanese’ citizens deported to internment camps during WWII

Like concentration camps, Ghettos were also not the brainchild of the Holocaust. The term comes from voluntarily-isolated Jewish ethnic enclaves; but even in the sense of a prohibition of an ethnic minority to exit a dedicated poverty area, the Germans were neither the first nor the last to enforce it (examples include cases from South Africa, and Israel). The Nazis were also not the inventors of death marches (see above); of population extermination by chemicals or starvation; of expulsions and ethnic cleansing (in fact, the biggest ethnic cleansing in modern history was of Germans after WWII; and similar policies were common in Israel-Palestine and the Middle East generally around the 1940s and 1950s), or of the consequent appropriation of goods and property (ditto); of forced labour or labour camps (or much worse, of slavery); of medical experiments and torture; and surely not of the popular hatred of minorities and of anyone ‘not-normal,’ which was ripe with blood-labels and pogroms (which are evident in Israel today too). Even the ‘Nazi’ race theory did not start in Germany or in the 20th century, and the Jews were neither its first nor its main victims.

Indeed, during WWII, Germany was ‘leading’ in magnitude and efficiency of crimes against humanity, which were not directly part of the war effort. But Germany was not exactly alone in its intentional murders of innocent people, as all parties got accustomed to the killing civilians, and have intentionally targeted enemy civilians in epic proportions (destroying entire cities in Britain, Germany and Japan; or murdering dozens of innocent people as collective punishment of Polish or French underground assisations of German officers). Notably, the Allies have also conducted large scale war crimes, some of which had adverse implications on the ability to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. For example, because the American Navy ignored – rather than took hostage – drowning enemy soldiers, Nazi admirals were not brought to justice for the same crime after the war, thanks to the intervention of their American counterparts, against whom they just fought.

Furthermore, even the height of all crimes, the systematic killing of ‘inferior’ peoples on behalf of progress, was also not conceived in Germany, although Germany is where it has reached its record, and, as far as Europe is concerned, more or less its end, too. The systematic killing in extermination camps was designed and ran according to contemporary industry’s managerial concepts, based on technology, efficiency and production lines (and also included private sector companies). The proportions of these murder factories, that killed almost entirely Jews (perhaps as a first stage), is unparalleled. However, it was not a crime that appeared from thin air. Rather its was the climax of violent European domination process. The killing methods, (the minority of which, by the way, were developed in the USSR), were originally designed to ‘euthanise’ individuals with physical and mental disabilities (who were called ‘life unworthy of life‘), and have evolved and ‘improved’ during the War. They were applied to the killing of Jews (and the Others) only when Jews (and others) were already locked up in ghettos and camps which were ‘simply’ difficult to maintain during the demanding war; but also because German commanders complained that the mass-killing with machine guns causes psychological damage to their soldiers. (This, in itself, is also challenging to the mainstream narrative, from two aspects: First, if the Nazis were inhumane monsters, as the narrative holds, how come they had problems of guilt? Second, there is the possibility that the surfacing of this concern to higher commandwas an attempt to halt or question the killing).

Either way, a common denominator of the above-mentioned oppression and killing methods is that the most prominent crimes were conducted by what can be termed ‘ethnically white-European’ countries/societies, and were aimed at those who were considered non-white (and Jews were, and often still are, not considered white). This is in part due to the fact that these societies had the required technological and political means to carry it out. In fact, ‘blacks’ (a generalising term in itself) and native peoples – and not (only) Jews – were those who faced the biggest burden of historical hate and violence, including hundreds of years of slavery, terrible violence and killings. The cruelty and indifference to torture and murder evolved gradually in all the ‘white’ empires, and the Jews were only part, even if significant, of the victims, somewhat because they were there, in the wrong place and in the wrong time. Even in the Holocaust, ‘only’ about half of the victims were Jews.

There must in no-way be any dispute about the facts of hate, and systematic murdering of millions of Jews by the Nazis (and their collaborators), alongside the extermination of ‘Others’ that white-Europe did not tolerate (e.g. Slavs, Romani, gays, Communists; and in Croatia, also Serbs, Croatians and Muslim-Bosnian populations). These killings were often outstanding in their creative cruelty, and were executed to the cheering support of the rest of the population (which are also not unfamiliar in contemporary Israel). There must also be not doubt that Jews were subjected – especially in the ‘Christian world‘ – to violent racism, which saw murderous manifestations. However, it would be erroneous to explain the Nazi crimes and racism, or the Jewish genocide, as an exceptional event, discontinued from historical human cruelty, and decontextualised of the development and use of the monstrous means in that period (and generally). It is also wrong to detach these from accompanying the imperial projects of Europe and its extensions, often in the name of progress, enlightenment, and even peace (e.g. the Atom bombs).

To fully comprehend the Holocaust, and especially if we, as Israeli-Jews, or as humans, want to prevent it from happening again, we must dare to part from two assumptions that constitute the appropriation of the Holocaust for the Zionist ethos, where the historical importance of facts that do not serve its agenda is being deminished. The first nationalised assumption that we must challenge, is that the key or sole reason for these crimes is the inter-generational unexplained hatred of Jews, which is also exceptionalised from any other form of racism, to mythical proportions. Blacks and indigenous people have suffered more, or most, when they met the ‘christian’ whites. Had the Jews were not those who lived in Europe, and particularly in the time of modern-efficiency-worshiping, and when the specific transportation and technological means were available, it is very plausible that the hatred and crimes would have been directed at other groups, as is perhaps somewhat demonstrable today. The second problematic assumption is that this horrible methods of oppression have appeared out of nowhere, have no history, as if an exception that is outside the realm of human behavior. This is not the case (with the exception of extermination camps, which were also part of context processes, described above).

As Rummel (1994: 30) has demonstrated in his book Death by Government:

In total, during the first eighty-eight years of this [20th] century, almost 170,000,000 men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; or buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens or foreigners. The dead even could conceivably be near 360,000,000 people. 

(These number exclude the events in Zaire, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Yugoslavia, the effects of international sanctions on civilians, and other state-led killings that took place after Rummel has collected his data, or that are unknown; and also exclude other statal crimes that do not necessarily lead to death: torture, imprisonment, persecution, home demolitions,  starvation, threats, etc.). In comparison, Rummel counts 170 civilians that were killed by non-state terror organisations, which really gives us proportion as to where to put the emphasis to prevent harm of innocent people.

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The Capitalist Bargain: Understanding Trump, Brexit and fascio/whitedomists beyond racism

Read the post here

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The urgency of standing up against the most powerful systematic hate criminal in the world

We all know that hate speech is not strange to Donald Trump. He has repeatedly demonstrated hostility,prejudice and violence against various groups, Women, Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, blacks and so on. These hate crimes make Trump not just a ‘bully,’ but the most powerful serial hate criminal in the world, with an entire apparatus of ‘administration,’ party and speakers that back him up.

Some of his actions must be challenged by other American authorities, but others won’t be, and, more importantly, whether they succeed or fail, the global discourse and norms will already be heavily poisoned. To put it simply, we are now at a point where various chauvinistic hate crime is being noramlised. I’ve seen it elsewhere. This is a very quick and dangerous process, and would be very difficult to undo later.

Theresa May’s and the Israeli Government’s sympathy to the man and his administration speed up the process by sending powerful messages of consent and acceptance of this very dangerous man. They show respect with red carpets and gracious credit, overlooking or forgiving his dangerous criminality, and consequently showing hate speech the main door. The only way to stop this fast and nearly irreversible deterioration is with a really strong, urgent and determined resistance, which would show that hate speech has no room in our society. Without sufficient resistance we will soon enough see hate crime entering mainstream discourse and praxis, being justified and legitimised.

ACT.

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