Nick Cohen: hatred is turning me into a Jew

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Nick Cohen pretty much sums up how I feel. No matter how ambivalent I might be about what Jewish identity is, I would never deny I was Jewish to somebody using it as a way to undermine my argument.

The confusion comes when the word ‘Zionist’ is used in the same way. ‘Zionist’, ‘Jew’ and ‘Israeli’ are frequently conflated. Here is an example from the Palestine Chronicle in which somebody expresses their worry about the influence of Israel in Westminster by counting Jews in the Houses of Parliament. There are many other examples. When Israel goes to war, Jews get hit out at across the world. In the eyes of the hitters, they are legitimate proxy targets.

For a growing number on the British Left, there can no more be shades of Zionism than shades of apartheid. To them, Zionism is absolutely different from the nationalism they respect in Palestinians. Rather it is regarded as the most virulent racism. In fact, there are many shades of Zionism, ranging from a yearning not to live as a precarious minority, to an untenable religious claim to the land from the river and the sea, and many other views in between. Many Zionists are trying to work out a way to live in a state for Jews and its people – as ratified in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

So while it is good, as Nick Cohen urges, to advocate for Israel on grounds other than the enhanced credibility of not being Jewish, it is important, when called a ‘Zionist’ to remember to challenge:”What do you mean by Zionist“?

But it is also important for campaigners – particularly those hostile to Israel in the way that Nick Cohen describes – to understand that a sense of one’s own Jewishness, or a sense that one is perceived as Jewish, in combination with hostility to Jews, is likely to engender some form of Zionism.

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3 thoughts on “Nick Cohen: hatred is turning me into a Jew

  1. Rosso Verde

    Jewish people whether they consider themselves Zionist (of whatever shade) or not, are vunerable to what is a clear upsurge in racist violence or abuse.
    I think it has parallels with the anti-muslim hysteria post 9/11. Indeed many of the most visible Jewish people, some Ultra Orthodox groups like the Satmar are frequently “Anti-Zionist” and probably the most likely to be identified and harrased.
    Here in the UK and the rest of the diaspora, whatever people think of Israel as a state, or of the recent actions of the Israeli government, it is no more acceptable to attack, verbally or physically Jewish people than it was to blame muslims in general for the actions of Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia or Hamas.
    Your last paragraph is interesting:
    “But it is also important for campaigners – particularly those hostile to Israel in the way that Nick Cohen describes – to understand that a sense of one’s own Jewishness, or a sense that one is perceived as Jewish, in combination with hostility to Jews, is likely to engender some form of Zionism.”

    It can also go the other way, my Grandfather became increasingly sceptical about and antagonistic to Israel, as a naturalised British Jew after attacks on British Soldiers in the events leading up to the foundation of Israel in 1948 (was in the Army at the time) he even jokingly said he was “Anti-Semitic”

    I agree it is totaly unreasonable to put anyone under pressure because they are Jewish, to justify or reject the actions of Israel.

    Reply
    1. Mira Vogel Post author

      Hello Rosso, thanks for dropping by.

      “I think it has parallels with the anti-muslim hysteria post 9/11. Indeed many of the most visible Jewish people, some Ultra Orthodox groups like the Satmar are frequently “Anti-Zionist” and probably the most likely to be identified and harrased.”

      Yes – what I’d call the badged Jews – the visibly Jewish – I think the incidence of antisemitism would have been much greater if more Jews had been visibly Jewish. But I think that for some people – the ones of the view that Jews have a tacit allegiance to Israel and work together covertly on this shared cause – unbadged Jews can be deeply unnerving, like an infiltration. This is an old and recurring trope in antisemitism (not exclusive to antisemitism, but strongly associated with it). There’s a resurgence of talk about ‘Jewish power’ in British society which feeds on this sense of infiltration.

      There are a lot of parallels with anti-Muslim feeling post 9/11 – the main difference as Nick Cohen points out is in the way the Left has responded, in the main. I think this is because Jews are ahistorically perceived to be white, wealthy, influential, well-protected, right-wing, and supportive of the despised ‘US Imperialism’ and ‘Israeli colonialism’. I think that the lack of good, principled pro-Palestinian activism risks making this a self-fulfilling prophesy if Jews come to feel themselves precarious. And yet I see little motivation to come to terms with the arguments against antisemitism. At my UCU branch yesterday, I proposed a simple note acknowledging the upsurge in antisemitism in British universities associated with Israel’s conflicts, to be added to a motion which supported twinning with a Palestinian university. This was rejected and the antisemitism was denied, despite my examples, which sadly are many. I can only perceive this as ominous.

      My last para wasn’t specifically related to campaigning about Israel, so I think you are talking about something else – the way Jews respond when they disagree strongly, or condemn, acts of the world’s biggest Jewish collectivity, the Jewish state. Some attempt to distance themselves (Jewish Socialists, Jews against Zionism, and those without an identity-grouping such as members of London One State) and some try to be critical friends (J-Street, and those without an identity grouping such as members/supporters of organisations like The Abraham Fund). I find the first bunch difficult to understand – I think they are deeply aggrieved because they feel that Israel – which used to be an ornament to Jewish socialism when it was a socialist state – is now a terrible embarrassment, and worse, has betrayed their interests. Rather than engaging with the reasons for the right-wards shift there is a resolve to fight Israel and demean Israeli society. Personally, I would like to help the peacemakers on the ground – the ones who are trying to engage citizens of Israel and the OPTs, and the diasporas who are involved, in reaching a negotiated, equitable, secure political settlement.

      Bloody hell, I’m verbose. Bye.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: New Israel Fund needs international solidarity; non-Israeli Jews need theirs « Greens Engage

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