“We will not be celebrating”

“We’re not celebrating Israel’s anniversary”

The letter linked to above (full text at the end of this posting) appeared in The Guardian‘s letters section on 30 April.  It’s notable that all signatories are Jewish activists.  It made me think about how credibility is conferred (or not) on one’s ideological and theoretical positions by virtue of one’s ethnic, religious, national or sexual identity.  For example, remember when a few weeks ago Khaldoun experienced some racist comments posted to the blog that provoked a rethinking of our comments policy?  One of the comments that we decided not to publish claimed that our blog postings and positions were transparently the thinking of “Arab Moslems.”  This comically points to the fallacies of simplistic reasoning about the relationship between identity and theory, since most of Khaldoun’s contributors are not Muslim and only a couple of us are Arab.  But it is a reminder that people do make those links, and that knowledge or assumptions about an author’s identity influences how people read her or his theories.  In the case of this Guardian letter, the authors clearly decided that their position on Israel’s 60th anniversary would be strengthened by pointing out to readers that they were Jewish.

I had reason to think about the links between ideological credibility and identity recently when I was in Cairo. I went there to start a new research project on reproductive health technologies, but I met with a range of Egyptian and Arab intellectuals in homes and salons where we chatted generally about contemporary political and ideological currents in the Arab world.  At one point, I was talking to the owner of a Lebanese-Syrian press that publishes a lot of Western scholarly literature in translation.  We were talking about the anthropology of archaeology and we got to talking about the case of Nadia Abu El-Haj’s book, Facts on the Ground (if you’re not familiar with the controversy, see this discussion on Savage Minds). The publisher was very familiar with Abu El-Haj’s book and I suggested to him that he should translate it and publish it in Arabic, if it wasn’t already. But he said that he wasn’t really interested because she was Palestinian. Why? It was because, he told me, he thought that an argument like the one Abu El-Haj makes isn’t as powerful when it comes from a Palestinian as when it comes from an Israeli or Jewish academic (he mentioned Ilan Pappe as an example).  I thought it was really depressing that an assessment of the book couldn’t rest on its own merits but rather had to take into account the ethnic identity of its author, but it was probably a realistic assessment of how identity shapes perceptions of academic credibility, and as a publisher whose bottom line is financial, it was a factor he had to take into account.

What about other contributors to / readers of this blog?  In what ways has your religious/ ethnic/ national/  sexual/ etc identity shaped how people evaluate your positions on Middle East issues?

–L.L. Wynn

In May, Jewish organisations will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. This is understandable in the context of centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust. Nevertheless, we are Jews who will not be celebrating. Surely it is now time to acknowledge the narrative of the other, the price paid by another people for European anti-semitism and Hitler’s genocidal policies. As Edward Said emphasised, what the Holocaust is to the Jews, the Naqba is to the Palestinians.

In April 1948, the same month as the infamous massacre at Deir Yassin and the mortar attack on Palestinian civilians in Haifa’s market square, Plan Dalet was put into operation. This authorised the destruction of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of the indigenous population outside the borders of the state. We will not be celebrating.

In July 1948, 70,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in Lydda and Ramleh in the heat of the summer with no food or water. Hundreds died. It was known as the Death March. We will not be celebrating.

In all, 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. Some 400 villages were wiped off the map. That did not end the ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Palestinians (Israeli citizens) were expelled from the Galilee in 1956. Many thousands more when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Under international law and sanctioned by UN resolution 194, refugees from war have a right to return or compensation. Israel has never accepted that right. We will not be celebrating.

We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations.

We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.

Seymour Alexander
Ruth Appleton
Steve Arloff
Rica Bird
Jo Bird
Cllr Jonathan Bloch
Ilse Boas
Prof. Haim Bresheeth
Tanya Bronstein
Sheila Colman
Ruth Clark
Sylvia Cohen
Judith Cravitz
Mike Cushman
Angela Dale
Ivor Dembina
Dr. Linda Edmondson
Nancy Elan
Liz Elkind
Pia Feig
Colin Fine
Deborah Fink
Sylvia Finzi
Brian Fisher MBE
Frank Fisher
Bella Freud
Catherine Fried
Uri Fruchtmann
Stephen Fry
David Garfinkel
Carolyn Gelenter
Claire Glasman
Tony Greenstein
Heinz Grunewald
Michael Halpern
Abe Hayeem
Rosamine Hayeem
Anna Hellman
Amy Hordes
Joan Horrocks
Deborah Hyams
Selma James
Riva Joffe
Yael Oren Kahn
Michael Kalmanovitz
Paul Kaufman
Prof. Adah Kay
Yehudit Keshet
Prof. Eleonore Kofman
Rene Krayer
Stevie Krayer
Berry Kreel
Leah Levane
Les Levidow
Peter Levin
Louis Levy
Ros Levy
Prof. Yosefa Loshitzky
Catherine Lyons
Deborah Maccoby
Daniel Machover
Prof. Emeritus Moshe Machover
Miriam Margolyes OBE
Mike Marqusee
Laura Miller
Simon Natas
Hilda Meers
Martine Miel
Laura Miller
Arthur Neslen
Diana Neslen
Orna Neumann
Harold Pinter
Roland Rance
Frances Rivkin
Sheila Robin
Dr. Brian Robinson
Neil Rogall
Prof. Steven Rose
Mike Rosen
Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead
Leon Rosselson
Michael Sackin
Sabby Sagall
Ian Saville
Alexei Sayle
Anna Schuman
Sidney Schuman
Monika Schwartz
Amanda Sebestyen
Sam Semoff
Linda Shampan
Sybil Shine
Prof. Frances Stewart
Inbar Tamari
Ruth Tenne
Martin Toch
Tirza Waisel
Stanley Walinets
Martin White
Ruth Williams
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Devra Wiseman
Gerry Wolff
Sherry Yanowitz

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4 Responses to “We will not be celebrating”

  1. Raffe says:

    Well as a Jew and a Zionist a lot of my beliefs are reflected in the mainstream Australian Jewish community.
    I think that when it comes to groups like the Independent Jewish Voices, or the Australian equivalent Independent Australian Jewish Voices, they are using their Judaism for a political purpose. Surely a person’s ethnicity or religion should not have any factor in the public argument that he or she makes about the policy and issues involved.

  2. Noor Hammad says:

    Raffe,

    Are not Zionists, Jews using their Judaism for political purpose?

    Noor Hammad

  3. Raffe says:

    I suppose so yes. What annoys me is the emphasis put on the fact that they’re Jewish. Many people criticize the State of Israel yet the anti-Zionists are often given much more media attention due to the fact that they’re Jewish. I just don’t believe that religion should have such an important factor in how people perceive their political persuasion.

  4. Raffe,

    The beauty of Judaism is that teaches about love, justice and mercy. Especially from the prophets. Micah in particular (eg Micah 6:8). I give thanks for the courageous representatives of the Jewish community who speak for against the mainstream Jewish nationalist view. Conventional Jewish nationalism sadly is not based on the wisdom of the prophets but is based on fear of the other.

    If you can allow me to close with three quotations.

    ‘Who is the hero?’ Ask the rabbis of the Talmud. Their answer: ‘One who changes an enemy into a [friend].’
    Jay Rothman, Resolving Identity-based Conflict, 1997, p. xiii.

    “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize this will end in bitterness? For how long before you order your men to stop pursuing their brothers?”
    2 Samuel 24:26.

    “The one that maintains we can establish a Jewish Home here through the suppression of the political aspirations of the Arabs, and therefore a Home necessarily established on bayonets over a long period – [is] a policy which I think bound to fail because of the violence against us it would occasion, and because good opinion in Britain and the conscience of the Jewish people itself would revolt against it. The other policy holds that we can establish a Home here only if we are true to ourselves as democrats and internationalists, thus being just and helpful to others, and to ask for the protection of life and property while we are eagerly and sincerely at work to find a ‘modus vivendi et operandi’ with our neighbours.”
    Founding chancellor of Hebrew University and founder of the binational political party Berit Shalom, Rabbi Judah Magnes, 1930.
    Judah Magnes, “Like All the Nations?”, 1930 in Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader, New York, 1959, p. 448 as cited in–Desmond Stewart, The Middle East: Temple of Janus, New York: Double Day and Co, 1971, p. 308.

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