Monthly Archives: July 2010

Office for Judicial Complaints investigates EDO judge

Further to the surprise acquittal of the EDO smashers, the Brighton Argus reports:

“The Office for Judicial Complaints, which deals with objections over the conduct of judges and magistrates, confirmed that an inquiry into how Judge Bathurst-Norman handled the trial is under way.

The move follows a series of complaints from organisations including the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Chief executive Jon Benjamin said: “The judge’s summing up seemed to be more of a character reference for the defendants and an account of the iniquities of Israel and America than a dispassionate appraisal of the evidence.

“Rather than test whether the defence of lawful excuse was available to the accused he appeared more intent on telling the jury why they would be morally wrong not to acquit them.”

You’d hardly think it was the same judge who served Paul Kelleher a 3 month custodial sentence for decapitating a statue of Margaret Thatcher. The jury in an earlier trial had been unable to decide whether he had lawful excuse for his action; Judge Bathurst-Norman ruled that he didn’t.

“I don’t doubt the sincerity of your beliefs,” he said. “Many people share them, particularly in relation to what is happening in Third World countries, and I would be the last person to deny any person the right to freedom of speech and the right to protest against matters which support his beliefs.

“But, when it comes to protest, there is a right way to protest and also a wrong way. The way people banded together last Saturday to demonstrate against the war in Iraq was the right and proper way to make their voices heard. The way you acted to knock the head off a valuable statue of a politician who left power over ten years ago and whose party is no longer the party of government, was very much the wrong way.”

On the other hand, in 2001, he handed down a “remarkably lenient” sentence to a procurement agent for the A. Q. Khan Network (smuggling ring which supports nuclear weapons programmes of Pakistan, North Korea and Iran). He got a fine and suspended sentence.

My guess is that to most people the EDO smashers look erratic and prejudiced, and their acquittal looks like erratic, prejudiced judiciary. But they were supported by Green leader and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, who tells SmashEDO that EDO is making bombs in Brighton, although EDO is not making bombs in Brighton. And if it were, providing it wasn’t in contravention of arms embargoes to the Middle East, it would be operating within the law.

The arms trade is a convoluted business, but EDO is operating within the law, isn’t it. And given that, if we’re against weapons, we need to use our opportunities and rights to try to change the laws about their manufacture, and not support the arbitrary smashings of vigilantes.

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‘The Finkler Question’ longlisted for Mann Booker Prize

In the spirit of making readers aware that Jewish antisemitism isn’t a fiction invented by Zio-Cons or whatever, let me post, uh, a bit of fiction.

From Engage:

Howard Jacobson writes in the Jewish Chronicle:

Every other Wednesday, except for festivals and High Holy-days, an anti-Zionist group called ASHamed Jews meets in an upstairs room in the Groucho Club in Soho to dissociate itself from Israel, urge the boycotting of Israeli goods, and otherwise demonstrate a humanity in which they consider Jews who are not ASHamed to be deficient. ASHamed Jews came about as a consequence of the famous Jewish media philosopher Sam Finkler’s avowal of his own shame on Desert Island Discs.

“My Jewishness has always been a source of pride and solace to me,” he told Radio Four’s listeners, not quite candidly, “but in the matter of the dispossession of the Palestinians I am, as a Jew, profoundly ashamed.”

“Profoundly self-regarding,” you mean, was his wife’s response. But then she wasn’t Jewish and so couldn’t understand just how ashamed in his Jewishness an ashamed Jew could be.

That I know of, there is no Jewish media philosopher named Sam Finkler nor any anti-Zionist group meeting regularly at the Groucho Club. They exist only in the pages of my new novel, The Finkler Question, and any relation between them and real people or organisations is of course coincidental.

For many Jews and non-Jews in this country, Israel has become a figure of speech

Though the ASHamed Jews are a satiric invention, my novel is not primarily a satire. It is a bleak tale of love and loyalty and the loss of both. It tells of three men, old friends, two of whom have recently lost their wives, and a third who has no wife to lose.

The widowers are Jewish, the third man is not. But he would like to be. He envies his Jewish friends their warmth, their cleverness, the love they have inspired, and even their bereavement.

It is a bitter irony that he protests his admiration for all things Jewish just as many Jews are protesting their desire not to be Jewish at all. As the rats desert the sinking ship, he alone – it might appear – is left to clamber aboard.

The ostensible cause of these defections is, of course, Israel. Not the actual Israel. For the purposes of my narrative, Israel exists only poetically, in the imaginations of those who cannot adequately describe themselves without it.

I happen to think this is largely true outside my novel as well: that Israel performs a function greater than itself, enabling or disabling ideas about belonging and disengagement, fanning the flames of ancient allegiances and animosities. For many Jews and non-Jews in this country Israel has become a figure of speech, the occasion for wild and whirling words, a pretext for bottling up or setting loose emotions which originate somewhere else entirely.

I began writing the The Finkler Question in 2008 but it came to the boil for me in the early months of 2009 at the time of Operation Cast Lead, as a consequence of which, or as a consequence of the reporting of which – for it, too, like everything else to do with Israel outside Israel, was figmentary – England turned into an uncustomarily frightening place for Jews.

I am not speaking only of the physical threats and even damage that some Jews endured, attacks on persons, synagogues, cemeteries, the Jew-hatred expressed by primary school children etc, but of that anti-Zionist rhetoric which, in its inflatedness and fervour – a rhapsodic hyperbole growing more and more detached from any conceivable reality – was so upsetting in itself.

You do not have to be punched in the face to feel you’ve been assaulted: intellectual violence is its own affront.

The mood of those months inevitably found its way into my novel. I wanted to record what it was like being Jewish in this country then, when it seemed reasonable to ask whether loathing of Israel would spill into loathing of Jews – such a thing is not beyond the bounds of possibility – and whether a new Kristallnacht was in the offing.

Since many German Jews doubted they were in serious danger in the 1930s, how wise would it be of us to doubt we were in danger now? Ah yes, we told one another, but England is not Germany. The only trouble with that consolation being that, in the 1930s, German Jews didn’t think Germany was Germany either.

There was, as there remains, a chorus of jeering Jewish voices warning against crying wolf. There is no antisemitism to speak of in this country, they say, but if we continue to go on about it. . . A fatuously contradictory precaution, since if antisemitism can be roused from its slumbers merely by our going on about it, then its sleep cannot be that deep.

Let’s get something out of the way. I don’t think that being critical of Israel makes anyone an antisemite. Only a fool would think it does.

But only a fool would think it follows that criticism of Israel can never be antisemitic, or that anti-Zionism isn’t a haven in which antisemitism is sometimes given leave to flourish.

In some cases, the antisemitism to which anti-Zionism gives succour is inadvertent. I’d be surprised if Caryl Churchill, author of that odious piece of propaganda, Seven Jewish Children, turned out to be antisemitic in her person. But language has a mind of its own, and sanctimoniousness is catching.

In its unquestioning affiliations, her poisoned playlet snagged on every cliché in the anti-Zionist commonplace book and came up with a medieval version of the blood-sucking Jew whom she claims -and I believe her – it was never her intention to portray.

If her play was a sin against art and history, her greater, person-to-person crime was not to see, after the event, what she had done.

She was the victim, she asserted, of the usual dishonest strategy of accusing anyone of antisemitism who “dares” (as though it takes heroism) to say a word against Israel.

We know this assertion of victimhood well. It is a despicably dishonest strategy in itself, self-aggrandising, delusional, and not without a trace of the very antisemitism it disowns in that it assumes hysteria and malice on the part of every Jew who voices an anxiety. By claiming to be a persecuted minority, vilified by Jews shouting “Antisemite!”, those to whom anti-Zionism is bread and drink seek to exempt themselves from fair criticism.

Indeed, by the sophistry of their reasoning, there is no fair criticism of what they say because every one who argues against them must, ipso facto, be a Jew with a Zionist axe to grind. Thus do those who cry “Blackmail” become blackmailers themselves. Thus do they erect a wall of inviolability around their every expression of anti-Zionism, and thus do they think themselves exonerated of all possible charges of antisemitism, since those who do the charging, they assert, have antisemitism on the brain.

When it comes to Jewish anti-Zionists, their Jew-hatred is barely disguised, not in what they say about Israel but in the contempt they show for the motives and feelings of fellow-Jews who do not think as they do. There is, of course, nothing new in such schismatics; Jews have been railing against one another and indeed against Judaism from its inception. It was a Jew who invented Christianity.

Monotheism probably explains this enthusiasm for dissent. The Jewish God demands a oneness it can feel like a positive duty to refuse. It might even be to our greater glory that we splinter with such regularity and glee. In our variousness is our strength.

But then let’s call the thing that drives us by its proper name. Hiding behind Israel is a cowardly way for a Jew to express his anti-Jewishness. That half the time he is battling his psychic daddy and not his psychic homeland I don’t doubt, though I accept that, in political discourse, we have to pretend that what we are talking about is what we are taking about.

But here is the beauty of being a novelist – I can have fun ascribing pathology to whom I like. I know what’s really bothering them. They are my creations, after all.

Howard Jacobson’s ‘The Finkler Question’ (Bloomsbury) has been included on the 2010 Man Booker longlist.

Update:

“How can we create a new conversation about Israel & Palestine?”

Received by email, this may be of interest to those of our readers who identify as Jewish, Muslim or Christian.

St Ethelburga’s is recruiting a group of Jews, Christians and Muslims to undergo an innovative process of co-operative inquiry exploring the Israel Palestine issue.  The group will spend a weekend away together in October, followed by an 8 day study and encounter tour of the Holy Land in November.  Followed by futher meetings to reflect on learning.

The programme will adopt the co-operative inquiry approach, which is a reflective action research model in which participants set an agenda and inquire together into a key research question.  The question in this programme will be focused on how to create productive dialogue around the highly divisive and polarising issue of the Middle East.

Our intention is to select a very diverse group of individuals, reflecting as wide as possible a range of perspectives, who have a strong connection to the issue as well as an interest dialogue processes.  We will fund air fares and hotels for successful applicants.

This is a very special opportunity to undergo an intensive learning experience with a diverse group.

Application forms and background information can be found at http://stethelburgas.org/israel-palestine-inquiry

Applications need to be with us by 30 August and selection and interviews will be in the second week in September.

Please forward this email on to anyone you think would be interested.

Please do not reply to this email.  For more information contact justine@stethelburgas.org

Warm wishes,

Justine Huxley
Interfaith Projects Co-ordinator
St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation & Peace

What would you have done?

The question is, what would you have done if this happened while you were nearby:

Bloody Jews,’ he said. ‘Bloody Jews, bugger the Jews, I’ve no sympathy for them.’

I gazed at him, aghast. Where had this suddenly come from?

The encounter I’m here describing took place very recently, in the course of a large academic dinner at a University in another city, not my own one. It was a pleasant occasion, and the people at my table were innocuously and comfortably talking about sociological issues connected with the economic crisis, all completely harmless and (relatively) uncontentious. And then I heard the academic on my right hand side say to the person opposite him, ‘Bloody Jews.’

When he saw my appalled stare, he said impatiently, ‘Oh well, I’m sorry, but really…!’

‘I’m glad you’re sorry,’ I replied politely, collecting myself together for a fight. But then he asked, ‘Are you Jewish?’ When I nodded, this academic – whom I’d met for the first time that day – put his arm around me and said, ‘I’m sorry, but really Israel is terrible, the massacres, Plan Dalet, the ethnic cleansing, they’re like the Nazis, they’re the same as the Nazis…’

You. Yes, I mean you. Can you tell the difference between this illustrious academic’s hate speech and good criticism of Israel? If not, then you’re a plastic anti-racist, and if this kind of attack advances to where it seems to be leading, you’ll be useless if not complicit.

And by you, I also mean me. I don’t want to be a bystander.

Caroline Lucas, democracy and singling out Israel

Raphael writes:

Caroline Lucas declared her support for seven acquitted campaigners who caused £180,000 damage to an arms factory, backing their direct action.

Weggis makes important points on the singling out of Israel, the strange description of criminal damage as “non-violent direct action”, and whether Smash EDO  should be thought of as ‘Gaza campaigners’. In response to her statements he wonders:

“I don’t know but I would hazard a guess that Israel is not the only customer of the factory that was vandalised and that those customers are also using those weapons for killing people. So, why are they not mentioned? I also suspect that there are other factories in the UK selling arms to undesirable regimes. Why have they escaped? Why is it that Caroline Lucas applauds this action directed at one single and specific case and not the general principle? Why did she not take the opportunity, as our “Leader”, to highlight Green Party Policy? Which is: “End all export subsidies and increase controls on UK arms sales, especially to governments who violate human rights.” i.e. ALL governments who violate human rights and not just Israel.”

There is another disturbing element in Caroline’s declarations.

She says: “However, in this situation it is clear the decommissioners had exhausted all democratic avenues and, crucially, that their actions were driven by the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza.”

She adds: “I do think that there is a time when [non-violent direct action] is legitimate and I think that this was such a time.”

What “democratic avenues” had been tried and exhausted? If you exhaust “democratic avenues” – that is, if you fight and lose elections – does it justify you in imposing your views through direct action and violence? The message here, intentionally or not, is that it you don’t get what you want – that is, if your views are not democratically upheld – it is therefore legitimate and helpful to take up smashing. This has implications which are unfavourable to a political party which participates in a parliamentary democracy. Caroline Lucas is our first MP, but here she seems a little conflicted.

In this particular case, the target of direct action is an arms company which does not appear to have any significant involvement in Israel’s military. I have no sympathy for this or any other arms company, but it is clear that the choice of this company in relation to Gaza is irrational and random. Smash EDO started as a response to the Iraq War. Sussex police say that 20 people have been convicted following four demonstrations against the US-owned firm over the past two years. If it was citing Gaza that acquitted these activists on this occasion, then there’s something wrong.

The protestors could have, using exactly the same line of arguments, targeted the Israel Embassy, some cultural events [after all there is also a campaign in support of a “cultural boycott”], or, why not, a synagogue considered too pro-Zionist. As long as the actions would have been driven “by the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza”, then, it would seem to be OK, even if there was not the merest probability of the action having any impact on the situation in Gaza.

Mira adds:

Not for the first time I wonder what kinds of act against Israelis – or  Jews as proxy Israelis – Caroline Lucas would not excuse as simply acting on “the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza”.

On the aquittal of the smashers, Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor commented “I am convinced that His Honour would have ruled differently had he been sitting in the Sderot youth cultural centre, rather than on Brighton’s sunny shores.”

This appeal to “lawful excuse” does get you thinking though. Now, I’m anxious that this is not misunderstood as any kind of threat because we have no plans in this regard – but if, say, Greens Engage came to believe that it had exhausted the democratic processes of the Green Party, would Caroline Lucas consider us entitled to a more direct avenue of action?

Update: Steven Murdoch (p147) sets out some principles by which to judge destructive acts by political activists:

“When justifying a destructive act, activists reject a part of the rationale used to condemn their actions. They may reject the validity of the law that finds their action illegal, the premise that the negative effect of the action outweighed any benefit, or the position that the act is destructive at all. Activism often exists in opposition to the power structures that govern ethics within societies, so it is important to judge each action on its merit rather than simply accept the determinations of those in power.”

Netanyahu, freeze the settlements

By email:

OneVoice counters Yesha Council by calling on Netanyahu to extend settlement freeze

The window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing. Renewed settlement building will devastate the trust being built during the proximity talks and any chances of returning to high level negotiations. The stakes have never been higher.

This is why OneVoice Israel (OVI) published on Monday an advertisement in the Hebrew language daily Maariv asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stick to the principles of the Bar Ilan speech and maintain the settlement freeze.

“If they want to build they can’t speak of two states,” said OVI Executive Director Tal Harris. “We wanted to highlight their contradictions.”

OVI strategically highlighted the negative implications of settlement building, such as an increased isolation of Israel, a confused education system, and the unfortunate realities of a shared one-state nation.

The advertisement was a counter response to one from the Yesha Council, a group of municipal councils of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the biblical names for the West Bank), which called for Netanyahu and other Israeli government ministers to continue building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories after the moratorium is lifted in September.

Translated Text of Advertisement

Leader Needs to Lead

The freezing must continue!

On the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama, the OneVoice Movement and the moderate majority in Israel remind the ministers of the government: a word is a word, stick to the principles of the “Bar Ilan Speech” of Netanyahu.
An end to the freeze is the end to the two-state solution!
For this you were put in office by the moderate majority (not just by the Judea Samaria Council), because you promised to lead to peace and security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: I said in Washington to President Obama, loud and clear: We will be ready, in a future peace settlement, to reach a solution with a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon: Is it not strategic enough for you to separate with an agreement from the four million Palestinians who live among us?

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: Is it not better for you to be accepted amongst the nations of the world as the one who ended the historical conflict, rather than being denied entrance as a persona non-grata?

Internal Affairs Minister Eli Yishai: Already today 35% of Jerusalem’s residents are Palestinians. Is it not better for you to draw clear borders between us and the Palestinians rather than banishing children from the state?

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz: Is it not better to invest in roads which we know for certain will be a part of the state of Israel, rather than investing in more bypass roads all over the West Bank?

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar: The people want to return to the values of Zionism on which the state was founded: with a separation between Israel and the Palestinian nation. If the construction is renewed, could you also educate millions of Palestinian children into loving Zion?

Communications Minister Moshe Kachlon: Is your next battle against the fees that cellular companies charge going to be against the companies that are behind Palestinian cellular companies in a state without clear borders?

Minister Benny Begin: Are you ready to accept the case of a bi-national state?

Citizens of Israel the choice is in your hands! Imagine Israel in 2018.

OneVoice is an international grassroots movement that aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates, empowering them to seize back the agenda for conflict resolution and demand that their leaders achieve a two-state solution.

This is a true test for the two-state solution. You can ensure this opportunity is not missed by adding your voice: forward this e-mail to a friend, join OneVoice on Facebook, or make a donation.

Your actions today can change the events of tomorrow. Imagine 2018.

(By the way, in case it wasn’t obvious to our Green pro-boycott readers, OneVoice is hurt by boycott campaigns like the Green Party’s.)