Pride and Prejudice on Jerusalem Day March – But Mostly Prejudice

Ben Goldstein

Jerusalem has become my adopted home over the past few months. Its stones, its people, its diversity, its history and its raw energy combine to make it one of the most unique places on the planet. Weaving through its ancient streets and modern cafes listening to the cacophony of languages is an achingly beautiful way to spend an afternoon.

Yesterday afternoon, though, Jerusalem’s delicate splendour was fractured. I watched as a nationalist mob of thousands of juvenile testosterone-filled boys marched through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. They were having a great day out, some with families, most with their classmates. There was singing, shouting, screaming, chanting. Flags were waved, held aloft and worn as scarves. The police kept a watchful eye on proceedings.

It felt awfully like an English Defence League demo or maybe a Trump rally, albeit with more kippot, more niggunim and far fewer muscles.

I was there helping to document the event, which has a history of racist rhetoric and violence. The organisation Ir Amim station volunteers along the route. It seemed like the presence of our cameras – and those of other left-wing organisations – had some tangible effect.

“Eugh, there are tonnes of smolanim [lefties] here,” pouted one boy.

“Right, so be on your best behaviour,” barked his elder.

Two 14-year olds wearing Israel flags then started bashing on the shutters of an Arab shop. Noticing us filming, their guardian grabbed them and moved them on, telling our cameras that, on this happy day, it doesn’t matter that we are lefties, and that G-d loves us anyway. (Thanks!).

Meanwhile, a cute family were posing for a photograph. They smiled as they basked in the joy of the Jewish conquest of Jerusalem 49 years ago. Their backdrop? A shuttered Palestinian coffee shop. It was an almost comically perfect portrait of the dual realities that coexist in space and time in this city.

Racism is embedded in the march itself: could you imagine the Israeli police shutting down the Jewish Quarter for a Naqba Day march replete with Palestinian flags and Hamas propaganda? The state, while seeking to manage and minimise the damage, effectively supports a march which requires Palestinians to be cleared out of their neighbourhood and kept behind army barricades for their own security. There is no reason at all for the march not to happen in the Jewish area of the Old City (incidentally, where most of the seminary girls march). The only reason it happens here is as a muscular demonstration of Jewish power over Palestinians. It’s the very definition of state-endorsed racism.

At one point, an Arab woman in a wheelchair braved the crowd, pushed along by her elderly husband. We got our cameras out, expecting the worst. But the marching boys made space for her, shouting at each other to create a channel through which the pair could travel. This woman’s vulnerability seemed to wash out the drug of religious-infused ultra-nationalism, and, for a moment, the boys stopped being threatening marchers and became boys again. I don’t know whether that’s hopeful or just painfully sad.

The meshuganas continued for a couple of hours. I spotted the largely-French group from my MASA programme in the crowd with our madrich (leader) – despite his promise that they would not be marching through the Muslim Quarter. They shouted over to me, their euphoria clearly obscuring the fairly obvious fact that I was one of the spoil-sport smolanim ruining the fun.

After the march finished and the garbage-filled streets slowly returned to an eerie silence, what remained were the stickers. The day ended with the Muslim Quarter literally plastered with Jewish nationalist angst in the form of hateful slogans: “Transfer [Arabs] now!”; “The daughters of Israel for the nation of Israel!”; “Free the Temple Mount”.

We began to pick them off the walls, climbing on each other’s shoulders to reach the high ones, which earnt some chuckles from the Palestinians returning to their shops. The police helped out, as did the Essex-born Israeli cameraman from the Israeli news channel Arutz 2. We made to leave the Old City and we all agreed to exit via the Damascus Gate. Here we were – a group of Jews and Israelis, living in this place and deeply committed to its future – and we didn’t want to step foot in the Jewish Quarter. So much for United Jerusalem.

A version of this post first appeared on the All That’s Left Collective website.

Jewish Celebration Has Multiple Narratives, and Yom Haatzmaut Should Too

Amos Schonfield

At Jewish weddings, the groom stamps on and smashes a glass.

This custom has several meanings, and you may know the most familiar of them. The argument is that even on supposedly the happiest day of one’s life, it is important to reflect on moments of sadness and loss. The breaking of the glass serves to symbolise the destruction of the Temples, and more recently has been intertwined with Holocaust symbolism by way of Kristallnacht (‘The Night of Broken Glass’). It gives us pause during the festivities, a moment of dissonance.

The practice of having multi-layered narratives in play simultaneously is fairly common in Jewish practice. Sitting Shiva after the death of a relative allows people to publicly and privately fondly remember the deceased. The Passover Seder tells a story of death and desolation while we sit in luxury. Rosh Hashanah combines earnest repentance with tasting the first fruits and enjoying the company of loved ones. We have cultivated these practices over time, creating complex rituals that make them continuously compelling. This complexity reflects the layered way we construct group identities. We not only revel together, but we struggle and perhaps mourn as a community too.

However, this nuance and thoughtfulness is yet to make it into the Israeli Calendar, and in particular Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) and Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day). I have vivid memories of the binary opposite atmospheres on these sequential days. At my Jewish secondary school, Yom Hazikaron was naturally mournful, which then flips into unbridled joy on the anniversary of national independence. These national holidays were composed using Jewish holidays as a template – just as Israel’s other national symbols and structures borrow heavily from Jewish tradition – and yet seem to have summarily ignored one of their core tenets.

This singular focus is clearly designed to amplify the emotional energy of the day by uniting everyone around one emotional palette. With both remembrance of fallen soldiers and independence being such fresh topics to the conflict-ridden, relatively new country, it feels like a natural fit. I was taught about the shift as sun sets on Yom Hazikaron and the country shifts gear from sadness to joy. The pride in this tradition is considered a jewel in the Israeli Calendar, highlighting the intrinsic link between the country created and the soldiers that fell to establish and protect it.

What to make of this binary? As a committed Zionist with a complex relationship with the existing Zionist establishment, I’d say it is pretty deficient. But the question I’d rather ask is what are we missing here? In buying into the current calendar, I give myself time to mourn and then time to celebrate. However, I don’t let myself do both, or consider the ways the two are connected. The window for dissonance that we open up in our Jewish practices stays shut.

In a country seeking to welcome so many different identities, spaces for dissonant thinking is vital. People come from different religions, religious backgrounds, political persuasions, ethnic and national backgrounds; these salient divides apply to diaspora communities too. The way you behave on these national holidays becomes a litmus test for the quality of your Zionism or ‘Israeliness’. In order to be truly open, we need to confront divergent feelings and sometimes ask ourselves difficult questions.

What might this look like? Yom Hazikaron can be celebratory of soldiers’ courage and fearless in confronting issues of war and Israel’s militaristic society. Yom Haatzmaut can offer us a chance at a collective look at the ‘State of the Union’: in celebrating Israeli independence, we should ask ourselves just how successfully we are wielding the responsibility of statehood.

Sometimes this will be a chance – as with the Israel Prize – a cause for celebration. At other times, we should be having conversations on what more needs to be done. And we should also open our minds to the interconnectedness between Israel’s national holiday and the commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba, which occurs the day after.

While I’m certain there are several groups and individuals doing something of this sort, I visited JCoSS for last Yom Haatzmaut, and they fully held this balance. The day was an opportunity to jump wholeheartedly into what it means to engage with Israel, inviting in expert educators while wearing blue and white and celebrating as a community. I hold this in contrast with my old school’s Yom Haatzmaut, which prepared for the day by plastering the walls with Hasbara-esque Israeli achievements – ‘did you know that Israel produces the Merkava tank, which is the best in the world’ and other such bizarre statements – and then had (single-sex) Israeli dancing wearing blue and white and waving enormous Israeli flags. Nuanced, it wasn’t.

The effect here is to lower Zionism to its lowest common denominator, to a simple form of nationalism rooted in shared myths and shakshuka pans. Zionism, for me at least, feels distinct form that. Understood perhaps more honestly, Zionism should be viewed as a refugee liberation movement in need of a facelift. Rather than speaking to the exceptionalism of the country (Israel), it rather serves as a memorial to persecution and pogroms. The way in which Yom Haatzmaut does little more than nod to that in lieu of bombastic concerts does the legacy of Chalutzim and visionaries a disservice.

Rather than expecting everyone to embody the feeling of the day, these national holidays can be opportunities to re-engage and deepen one’s engagement with Israel. This would not only help us to internalise a more realistic vision of Israel, but make these national holidays into a different kind of event. It becomes a continual conversation between the past and present, something that continues to morph as our understanding of Zionism means, and engages us in our own personal feelings in a deep way.

Over the past handful of centuries, the Jewish people have turned creating complex occasions into an art form. Just look at Purim: one part Halloween with institutionalised alcoholism, one part retelling of attempted genocide. If we are capable of that, why do we settle for rehashing the 4th of July on the back of a siddur and hoping that it will suffice?

For Liberal Zionists, Israel Apartheid Week is Exhausting

Natasha Spreadborough

Israel Apartheid Week strikes a significant chord with the Jewish community everywhere. As the cardboard, graffiti-covered walls and faux-checkpoints go up around university campuses, so do the leaflets, tweets and Facebook posts about Jewish-Arab coexistence, Palestinian terrorism, “the real Israel/apartheid/take your pick”. On both sides the dialogue is vicious, hateful, and uncompromising. On both sides it involves the wilful distortion of truth and consistent over-simplification in order to put forward one aggressive narrative. Liberal Zionists find themselves stuck in the middle.

Israel Apartheid Week whips up a storm of hatred against a place many of us hold dear, and an aggressive dehumanisation of a population we are often very familiar with. In the manic fervour surrounding IAW events, nuance is frequently lost in any discussion or event. I sat with several Jewish students in the SOAS (University of London) Student Union last year during a debate on the academic boycott of Israel listening to the entire room scream that Israel will be burned to the ground. This is not infrequent during IAW.

This year saw a mock Israeli checkpoint at Cambridge University, with students dressed up in khaki and wielding fake guns. A similar event was held at Leeds University, with one Jewish student reporting feeling threatened, particularly by the Israeli flag armbands the students bore. At SOAS, their yearly cardboard replica of the separation barrier was again erected outside the university, covered with phrases such as “illegal under international law” and “cutting people off from schools, hospitals, food, water”.

This kind of environment is not only painful for Jewish students, but tends to encourage instances of overt antisemitism. It is a week where we see kosher food removed from Student Union shop shelves and Jewish students evicted from student societies on account of their Zionist beliefs. Some Jewish students report feeling endangered, particularly on smaller or more hostile campuses, and are compelled to travel around in groups, or avoid their campus all together.

At the same time, liberal Zionists are forced to wrestle with the points and ideas being aired, and the response of the mainstream Jewish community. Many of us are very aware of the violence and injustice of the occupation, and are actively involved in battling it. As such, we can be uncomfortable with responses from the wider Jewish community which tend to whitewash Israel and deny the problems we know to be true.

Last November I was lucky enough to attend an incredible four-day trip around Israel and the West Bank with Yachad, a pro-Israel pro-peace organisation based in the UK. We were exposed to a wide variety of opinions and realities surrounding the occupation, meeting with Israeli NGOs, think tanks and human rights workers, Palestinian activists, Israeli settlers in the West Bank, and members of the Israeli government. What resounded for us was becoming aware of the depth of violence, injustice and inequality in the occupation. None of us were naive of this before, but many of these things we experienced we’d previously only heard about through the prism of anti-Israel discourse and activism. It’s hard to glean accurate information from organisations committed to one narrative, or to trust people who perpetuate such antisemitism. It is equally hard to deny what you experience as a reality.

Both our own experiences and what we heard first-hand from Palestinians and Israeli human rights workers forced us to wrestle with the label of apartheid. We all, obviously, had very different and passionate view points; but it was not important for us all to draw one coherent conclusion. That is the biggest failing of labelling Israel and/or the occupation as apartheid. The strength of the images and connotations it represents instantly shut down a nuanced and critical approach to the occupation, to the conflict, and to the interactions of Israelis and Palestinians. The situation here is not South Africa; it comes with its own context, history(ies), politics, nationalisms and narratives. That is not to say the occupation does not, in so many appalling ways, resemble apartheid South Africa. But it is something that should be interrogated in its own context, and the suffering of the Palestinians should stand on its own merit.

So what can liberal Zionists do around this time, stuck between the whirlwind of hatred and antisemitism, the injustices of occupation, and the battles of distorted narratives? Engage. Engage with the conflict and the occupation. Engage with each other. Engage with your own ideas and (mis)conceptions. Support those organisations that are striving to do the same thing, on either side of the Atlantic. The Forward wrote back in November about a brilliant guide to Israel/Palestine activism, which I am very enthusiastic about, having worked or currently working with many of the organisations listed. Many of them could greatly do with support – financial or otherwise – at a time when Israel’s left-wing NGOs are under attack. If you are able, participate in their work in the region, and learn more about the nuances of the conflict, and what you can do to help. After a taking part in a similar Yachad trip to mine and becoming aware of some of the injustices of the military court system in the West Bank, a group of British students were motivated to raise money for a lawyer to defend Palestinian children caught in the system, a useful and constructive contribution.

Equally importantly, support each other. Reach out to liberal Zionist friends. Become more involved with liberal Zionist organisations locally. Unite with a large and international community who share your values. For Jewish students on campus especially, IAW can be an emotional struggle. Find ways to consistently remind yourself, and be reminded, that you are not alone.

Israel Apartheid Week is an aggressive battle between two polarised narratives. Despite the elements of truth in both sides, neither achieve anything helpful. There are many more ways to raise awareness of the occupation, discuss the complexities of Israel and the conflict, help Palestinians on the ground, and battle antisemitism without resorting to the kind of hatred we see at this time of year. Liberal Zionists should look to each other and to the organisations and communities engaging helpfully with the conflict. There is great work being done.

A Conversation with a Falafel Vendor

Aaron Simons

As I turned down towards Jerusalem’s Ben Hillel Street, a familiar scent floated through the air.

“What would you like my friend?”

Now I don’t often skip meals, but circumstances meant that I had missed lunch. It was early evening and I was gripped by a belligerent hunger, the sort of hunger that demands your attention and doesn’t let you walk past a falafel stall without putting up a fight. I’m a sucker for falafel after a three course meal, let alone in circumstances such as these.

“Go on then. Falafel in pitta please. With all the salads.”

This chickpea temptation was the produce of a kind-looking Mizrahi man, probably in his mid-50s, wrapped up in a scarf and hat against the sharp Jerusalem cold. He refused to serve me the lukewarm falafel sitting under his heat lamp, rolling some fresh mixture instead. Falafel, he insisted, was best served hot.

“So what brings you to Israel?”

“I’m doing some research” I explained. “I’m investigating how British Zionism reacted to the Holocaust.”

He raised an eyebrow and gestured towards the radio in the corner. My Hebrew wasn’t good enough to make out what was being said, but tone alone made clear that the radio host was delivering a harsh invective. I realised that it was international Holocaust Memorial Day.

“The right are complaining. He’s attacking the left. He says that the left keeps comparing the right to the Nazis, by saying that the new law is like forcing the left to wear a yellow star. He’s saying that this is an abuse of the memory of the Shoah.”

In Jerusalem, I imagined, this was a popular radio show. Jerusalem is not a city on the left.

“Do you agree?”

“The right are always complaining. They never admit their own faults. I’m not sure the new law is a good idea. But the left are always exaggerating and talking like the right is the world’s biggest evil.”

I thought about offering my own opinion, but I figured that his would be far more interesting. Caricatures of Israeli politics are so easy to find, but this was a rare opportunity to hear the unfiltered views of a native Jerusalemite.

“And what about you? Where are you, left or right?”

He shrugged sheepishly.

“If I am being honest, I am on the right.”

I put on my most convincing blank face, but he saw straight through it. He could see my disappointment.

“Not the right like that, not the right that is always in the news. Not like the guy on the radio. I’m on the centre-right. I believe in peace, I want peace. I was there with Rabin in the 90s. I was on the streets with him, I believed in him and in the end of the conflict.

But since then things have changed. The Arabs, they do not want peace. They see this as a religious war, this isn’t about land or politics to them. Look, if an Arab wants to stand outside my shop and talk or smoke, he can. But if a Jew were to go to Bethlehem or Hebron and stand outside without the IDF there, he would be dead within 10 minutes.

It is sad. Things are much worse now. I want to be on the left, but I look around today and I can’t be, so I am centre-right. Maybe one day there will be peace. But not today.”

Much has been made of the rise of the Israeli right. Academics, analysts and journalists debate the ideological influence of Jabotinsky’s Revisionism, the left’s historic racism towards Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, the secular-religious divide, and the impact of sustained exposure to terrorism on Israeli society. Anti-Zionist polemicists argue right-wing dominance reflects a society dedicated to West Bank settlements, violence, and racism.

But this was not a settler, a religious radical, or a member of Lehava. Nor did this Jerusalemite mention religious tensions or Ashkenazi condescension. The rise of the Israeli right is perhaps less complicated than it first appears. Would-be Israeli moderates and peaceniks are gripped by one single, powerful, narrative that took root in the early 2000s and continues to resonate strongly today. Many Israelis simply believe that the Palestinians do not want peace.

It is not a narrative that I think tells the whole story, nor is it one that I completely agree with. But I can see where it comes from. Even West Jerusalemites live in a world where the occupation feels distant but Palestinian violence feels immediate. Rightly or wrongly, Israelis read their recent history as one where offers of peace were returned with nothing but increased violence: Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposals resulted in the second intifada, the Gaza withdrawal lead to Hamas rockets and tunnels.

The dominance of the Israeli right may not be that complex at all. In a political spectrum that places security at one end and peace at the other, Israelis vote for hawkish parties because they simply believe they have no partner for peace.

My new friend was right on one thing though. Falafel is definitely best served hot.

The (Double) Standards Applied to Israel

Carter Vance

One of the most familiar tropes of the hasbara wing of Israel advocacy is the notion that Israel is being “singled-out” in the world for reasons which are implied, if not outright stated, to be anti-Semitic in nature. There is obviously some truth in this. But all too often, this observation is twisted into a dismissal of any critical focus on Israeli policy. It is important to distinguish what is and isn’t true about the standards, double or otherwise, Israeli conduct is held to.

There is no doubt that Israel receives a disproportionate amount of global attention relative to the scale of its human rights abuses. Yet, contrary to the hasbara line, anti-Semitism does not account for bulk of this discrepancy. There is the narrative, popular in leftist circles, of Israel as an essentially colonial project. There is also the fact that Israel, unlike North Korea or Sudan, has extensive economic, military and diplomatic ties with the West.

Perhaps most importantly, criticism of Israeli policy is based in the idea of holding Israel to the very standards its supporters espouse. We are constantly told that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and that this should be applauded. However, democracies, and more specifically liberal democracies professing a devotion to human rights, are and ought to be held to a higher bar. Blindly following Israeli policy wherever it may lead and expecting absolutely no external consequences to flow from this is the definition of the very sort of double standard the people practising it so often decry. We expect human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, but we are told not to expect them in Israel.

Thus the double standards of Israel’s critics reflects the double standards of her supporters. What this ultimately reveals is an essential difference between liberal and rightist forms of Zionism: conditionality. Liberal Zionists do believe in the essential case for a Jewish homeland, but their support for Israeli policy fluctuates on Israel’s alignment with other liberal values.

The idea that Israel is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ that ‘shares our values’ is important across the different Zionist camps. Liberal Zionism, however, does not accept these values as intrinsic to Israel but as a product of her conduct. This is why liberals oppose settlement expansion, gagging left-wing NGOs, racially discriminatory laws and language: because they are not policies living up to the agreed-upon standards for both liberal democracies in general and Israel in particular.

In other words, liberal Zionists agree entirely that Israel’s democratic character is a distinguishing feature we ought to support. The difference between left and right wing Zionism is that liberals do not sharply dismiss any criticisms and use the claim of Israeli democracy as a rhetorical shield. Rather, liberals see democracy, tolerance and respect for human rights as fragile concepts that must be fought for, whether in the United States, the European Union or, indeed, in the Holy Land.

From that liberal perspective, recent actions of the Israel government have been far from laudable. From easing rules on live ammunition fire during protests, to targeting peace-oriented NGOs, to allowing the jailing of 12 year-old Palestinians, these are not laws befitting a healthy democracy. One may rightly say that Israel would be “singled-out” amongst wrongdoing nations for paying some sort of penalty for these policies. But, consider not that many of these policies exist in unsavory regimes the world over, but if they were implemented today in Canada, in the United Kingdom, in France or Germany, criticism would be scathing.

When thought of in that light, the distinction becomes clearer between the liberal and the illiberal becomes ever clearer. Israel is not Sudan, not North Korea, not Gabon nor Saudi Arabia, and it should never be expected to live down to those standards. Rightful frustration with a general over-focus on Israel’s crimes, both at the UN and on campus, should never blind us to the essential values we want upheld. The Zionist camp should be proud, rather than angry, at the lofty standards we set for the Jewish state.

As Santa Starts Taking Sides, Who Wins from the Decision to Label Settlement Goods?

Carter Vance & Aaron Simons

It would seem that no symbol is too sacred in the propaganda drive that fuels the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Christmas approaches, even Santa is not safe.

Last week, a group of Palestinian protesters clad in Santa suits clashed with Israeli troops in Bethlehem. In a debate where image is everything, the outfits were certainly effective. The Israeli soldiers’ combat gear looked brutish and disproportionate against the frivolity and merriment that the Santa suits symbolise.

Next up to co-opt Christmas was Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer. Santa’s sleigh carried gifts laced with a potent political message this year, as Dermer’s presents to the White House were comprised of gifts produced in the West Bank and Golan Heights. Dermer’s gifts were a riposte to the EU decision to label settlement good as such, and the Obama administration’s decision not to protect Israeli settlement goods from boycotts.

The Israeli government’s response to the EU decision was predictable, and summed up in Dermer’s pithy letter accompanying his gifts. “Today, the Jewish state is singled out and held to a different standard than other countries” Dermer wrote. The charge is one of double-standards, for reasons which are implied, if not outright stated, to be anti-Semitic in nature.

The charge of hypocrisy is not an unjust one; Israel is indeed being singled out. Many other territorial conflicts do not have the same labelling rules applied to them. Yet hasbara commentators use this logic to argue that West Bank products should not be specifically labelled rather than that products from other territories of disputed sovereignty should. Indeed, very little commentary opposing the decision seems to think this decision would be just if only it also had included Nagorno-Karabakh in its purview.

This is because, at its core, the ‘singling out’ argument is one of deflection rather than anything else. Aware that it stands little hope of convincing an international audience, Israel wants to avoid any substantive discussion on the legitimacy of the West Bank settlements, and so resorts to deflective arguments to avoid the debate entirely. In this case, the deflection has largely been successful, not least in part because the accusation of double-standards is an accurate one.

If Israel opposes the labelling decision, it is assumed that the decision plays into the hands of the BDS movement. Indeed, anti-Zionist and BDS activists cheered it as a victory for their movement, even though it was stated by the EU Commission to be a purely technical procedure. The celebrations of the anti-Israel crowd, however, should be understood in light of the decision’s symbolic, rather than strategic, importance.

Anti-Israel activists will cheer anything that riles the Israeli government. Furthermore, given that this decision was interpreted as a weakening of Israel’s international standing, it added further fuel to the BDS bonfire. But beyond images of a flustered Netanyahu and a floundering Israel-US relationship, the strategic outcome of the EU decision is to harden the distinction between Israel and the occupied territories, and emphasise the EU’s commitment to a two-state solution.

Maintaining this distinction runs counter to the BDS movement’s call for a boycott of Israel in its entirety, which it holds as collectively responsible for West Bank settlements.  Similarly, in upholding the principle of the two state solution, this decision runs counter to the aims of a BDS movement which either outwardly advocates a one-state solution or holds an inalienable right of return for Palestinian refugees incompatible with a two state solution. The BDS movement’s claims of agnosticism on the issue of statehood seem weak compared to the iron-clad commitment of its leaders and followers to one state of Palestine from the river to the sea.

The EU decision thus creates the most unlikely of allies.  A conflation of the West Bank with the totality of Israel is usually confined to the anti-Zionist crowd, but in opposing the labelling move, it is being unwittingly embraced those who consider themselves the Jewish state’s staunchest defenders. A continual erasure of the distinction between Israel and the Occupied Territories leads down a pathway to a one-state solution in which the country will either cease to be Jewish or cease to be democratic. In this sense, those who empower the settlers and those who long for the cessation of Israel’s being are each other’s best friends.

Strangely, then, those most empowered by this decision are liberal Zionists. Uncompromising differentiation between green-line Israel (a flawed, but vibrant, democracy) and the parts beyond (zones of military rule and repression) is the essence of this position. This ability to be critical of Israel whilst still upholding its fundamental legitimacy is what distinguishes liberal Zionism from the all too common blanket support of Israel on the one hand, or a total denial of its right to exist on the other.

This decision redraws the green line in the face of the Greater Israel visionaries and BDS movement intent on erasing it. It makes no difference to the BDS boycott call which covers Israel in toto, and reasserts the primacy of the two-state solution over the one-state calls of Barghouti and other BDS leaders. Whilst both the Israeli government and Palestinian protesters may appropriate Santa to their cause, it would appear that the EU has delivered a Christmas gift to liberal Zionists instead.

Zionish wishes everyone a very merry Christmas.

We Need to Talk About (Talking About) Israel

Jake Berger

Recent events at King’s Jewish Society have reignited the seemingly never-ending debate about the relationship between Jewish Societies and Israel on university campuses. On an issue so prone to polemic, I want to discuss the issue in a more nuanced way than has been done previously, and set out my vision for the big Israel question on campus.

It’s necessary to start by dispelling a myth: the notion that it is possible to surgically cleave a person’s Jewishness from their relationship with Israel. This myth is pervasive, both amongst anti-Zionists accused of anti-Semitism, and amongst Jews who personally do not identify with Israel.

Even if it is possible theoretically, the evidence demonstrates that, in practice, an overwhelming majority of British Jews’ association with Israel constitutes part of their identity as Jews. In a recent survey conducted by Yachad, 93% of British Jews took this position. For 93% of British Jews, it is impossible to separate their Jewishness and their identification with Israel. That’s a staggering proportion, rendering the claim that it’s possible to totally separate a person’s Jewishness and their identification with Israel simplistic, and, for the most part, wrong. The 7% should recognise this fact.

So where does this leave our JSocs?

On the one hand, this invalidates the idea that our JSocs should be ‘Israel free’. If we want JSocs to be collective expressions of our Jewish identities, then it makes no sense to exclude Israel from them. Whilst JSocs should aim to be as inclusive as possible of all Jews, including the 7% of Jews who do not identify with Israel, that 7% should not be able to dictate the terms of the JSoc for the remaining 93%.

Conversely, we often hear that given the strength of Jewish student identification with Israel, JSocs should be advocating for Israel and countering any anti-Israel sentiment on campus. However, this answer too has its problems. What is often overlooked is the multifaceted nature in which these 93% do identify with Israel.

Making JSocs ‘do’ Israel too often means, in practice, a narrow form of (usually) right-wing advocacy that doesn’t fit the way many Jewish students identify with Israel. Some Jewish students identify politically with Israel or Zionism, and it could be a part of their Jewishness that they want to challenge the delegitimisation of the Jewish state. For some Jewish students, their identification with Israel leads them to campaign for the two-state solution and against Israeli settlements. Others identify nationally and religiously with Israel, and it could be a part of their Jewishness that they feel a national connection to their homeland. Or one could identify culturally with Israel, and it could be a part of their Jewishness that they take pride in Israel’s cultural achievements. Or one could identify with a combination of these ideas, or none at all.

The point is that within the 93% who identify with Israel as a part of their Jewishness, identification with Israel is hugely varied. Identification with Israel doesn’t always entail support for policies of Israel, nor does it pertain to a desire to campaign politically for it. It may do for some people, but it also may not for others.

Jewish Societies must reflect the diversity of Jewish identification with Israel, both within and beyond the political arena. Accordingly, Jewish Societies are never going to be the paragon of Israel advocacy that some seem to desire. And I don’t think they should be. Jewishness, and by extension identification with Israel, is too complex and too multifaceted for that to be the case. Like it or not, the complexity of Jewish identity means that one person’s manifestation of their Zionism is not going to be the same as another’s.

It is important to note that this principle extends to other issues related to JSocs and Jewish identity. We would never expect our JSocs to only cater for one religious strand of Judaism, and the same principle should apply to how JSocs approach Israel.

I want to stress that this should not be seen as a negative thing. Rather, I think this diversity strengthens our collective Jewish identity. There are a lot of things we share, but also differences that should be engaged with and discussed. This is what makes us greater than the sum of our parts as a community. I don’t think these differences should be ignored or swept under the carpet – to do so would be both an injustice to the value of our Jewishness, and would result in a watered-down Jewish experience. Part of the beauty of being Jewish is that in a room of two Jews, there are three opinions.

This all links in to what the purpose of a Jewish Society on a university campus is. This is sometimes ignored or forgotten about. A Jewish Society should be there to serve all those on a campus who identify as Jewish, and provide an outlet for them to express their Jewishness. This is not an easy thing to do, and the ‘Israel issue’ demonstrates why it is so hard. But it upsets me to know that there are Jews on some campuses who want nothing to do with their Jewish Society, because the politicised nature of some of the society’s activities makes them feel alienated.

What does my vision look like in practice? I believe that the key to a successful JSoc, on Israel and on other issues, lies in an active and engaged pluralism. Inclusivity is achieved by embracing our issues of difference rather than by pretending they don’t exist. JSocs should not take a singular position on Israel, but cater for a multiplicity of views and identifications. This means JSocs should be able to hold cultural events like Israeli Friday Night Dinners, and support Israel charities such as Leket or Save A Child’s Heart. JSocs should host speakers from both StandWithUs and Breaking The Silence. But for narrower and more overt political advocacy, I would suggest Israel Societies take on that task.

Nor should the 7% of Jews who don’t identify with Israel be ignored – but given that Israel only encompasses a small amount of what JSocs do, there are plenty of other avenues for their Jewish identities to be expressed through JSocs.

The precise calibration of what a JSoc puts on each year is down to the individual JSoc. The people who know what works for their campus are those students who live on it every day during term time, and it would be wrong for some overbearing power to dictate how things should be done. Some JSocs may find that there is a remarkable consensus of opinion on Israel; others may not. But each JSoc should cater to the full range of identity and opinion within its Jewish community.

Therefore I don’t think that discussion of Israel at a Jewish Society should be censored. Israel clearly forms a part of a majority of British Jews’ Jewish identity, and this should be respected and explored. It is important, though, to recognise that differences of opinion exist, together with differences in Jewish identity, and our JSocs should serve this diversity. To ignore it would be against what the Jewish student experience should be about.

Jake is running for President of the Union of Jewish Students in the UK.

Coexistence and Hope in the Shadow of Occupation

Emma Brand

Last time I wrote for Zionish, I was quite critical of Israel. I received a fair amount of positive feedback from fellow 20-somethings, many of whom had difficulty articulating the conflicting feelings they had towards the Jewish state. But one response stands out. I was told I had omitted to offer a sense of hope for the future. I had said a lot of negative things, but left out some of the positive steps that are being taken to make changes in Israeli society.

If my last piece focussed too much on Israel’s inconsistencies and inadequacies, I would like to put a spotlight on some of the organisations working in Israel which inspire me and give me hope for the future.

There are a plethora of organisations working to improve the lives of those who find themselves at a disadvantage in Israeli society. But in the midst of another round of violence, I felt I should focus on the vital work of organisations set up with the aim of promoting coexistence in what must be one of the world’s most divided countries.

There are an inspiring number of groups that bring together Arabs and Jews to work on interfaith projects in which they share a common interest. Many of these groups are arts-focused; Jaffa boasts two interfaith theatres, the Arab-Hebrew Theatre and the Elmina Theatre, the second of which is headed by a husband and wife who are Arab and Jewish respectively. Both of these theatres promote coexistence in everything they do, from the writing, to the casting, to the audiences they reach. Also of note is the Western-Eastern Divan Orchestra, established by Daniel Berenboim and Edward Said in 1999, which brings Palestinian and Israeli musicians together for an annual tour. Similar initiatives abound in dance, film, and even clowning in the form of the Galilee Youth Circus, whose act requires Arab and Jewish teenagers to learn to trust one another and work as a team.

Sports initiatives have also been developed in response; PeacePlayers International, active in both Israel and the West Bank, brings together Jews and Arabs to play basketball, and the smaller-scale Soccer for Peace, is a residential soccer camp for boys in the north of Israel that was piloted this year.

The north is also home to the Sir Charles Clore Jewish-Arab Community Center in Akko, which is notable for its provision for women and children in particular, providing low-cost childcare for both Arab and Jewish children, and working to educate and empower Arab women.

Other incredible organisations also tackle the conflict head-on. The OneVoice movement seeks to empower the moderates on both sides, and has over 700,000 supporters in Israel and Palestine. In my last article, I mentioned the repulsive “Price Tag” – Tag Mechir, so here it is important to give a spotlight to the response; Tag Meir, an anti-racism campaign that acts as an umbrella for many other groups that are fighting the prejudice propagated by Jewish extremists in Israel. The Bereaved Families Forum, also tackles bereavement on both sides, with members promoting peace by standing as living examples of the human cost in continuing to fight.

Rabbis for Human Rights also tackle the injustice of occupation. They have recently been in the news for defending the Palestinian village of Susya from demolition, protecting Palestinian farmers during the olive harvest season, and being attacked by extremist settlers for it. Their work has inspired Jewish supporters to accompany farmers on the way to their crops as a sign of solidarity, but also to be a barrier against settler aggression. They put their lives at risk in doing this, because this is how they wish to enact Torah.

Givat Haviva, a kibbutz whose whole ethos is “a shared future”, is a particularly admirable organization. In line with this ethos it has established partnership programmes, twinning the Jewish town of Pardes Hanna-Kahur with the Arab village of Kfar Kara as an example. They are currently in the process of developing other partnerships due to the success of this trial. These areas are chosen specifically because of recent discussion of landswaps – the kibbutz seeks to promote coexistence in areas that might come under one rule or the other. Givat Haviva also promotes economic cooperation between Jewish and Arab municipal areas, and the NGOs and Special Interest Groups Forum supports local NGOs from nearby Arab and Jewish communities.

The people of Givat Haviva also operate on an incredibly human level. When I visited the centre, I was given a tour of a local Arab village, Barta’a, which was cut in half by the Green Line. We were really given the sense that our guide, Lydia, knew the village, and that she counted Arab-Israelis and Palestinians among her close friends. That their lives were driving some residents of Barta’a towards radicalism was clearly a source of personal pain to her.

These organisations, and many others, give me genuine hope. But this all feels trite when Israelis and Palestinians are dying in the streets. Whatever these organisations do, Israel has poison at its heart in the form of the occupation, and whilst these coexistence projects assuage its symptoms, that poison will always be toxic.

Could the friendship of an Arab actor and a Jewish actor, cultivated during interfaith theatre work, survive if the Jewish actor, now in a soldier’s uniform and following orders, raided the Arab actor’s home in response to other people throwing stones? And could it survive if the Arab actor, already vulnerable to radicalisation, joined the extremists stabbing Jews out of a combination of desperation and incitement? Probably not. And even if these two actors were not directly involved, would either be blamed for feeling suspicious or unsafe around the other?

These coexistence projects are absolutely vital for the future of Israel. They are a source of hope and offer a way for diaspora Jews who are aghast at the likes of Lehava to engage with Israeli society. But in order for Arab-Jewish relations to truly flourish, the occupation must end. The future of coexistence depends on it.

What makes a Jewish colonialist?

Carter Vance

Conception is powerful in political discourse. When an image about who a group of people are, what their history is and how they came to be where they are is created, it can take on powerful political implications. This is especially the case when this image fits a pre-defined narrative and it easily slots into an existing moral framework. The image can become too perfect to give up, even if the reality is a more complex beast.

In the discourse on Israel-Palestine, as it plays out on university campuses, on the choppy digital sea of social media and most importantly as lived reality on the ground, these conceptions are more than just idle thought experiments. Conception becomes weaponised, drawing easy narrative analogies of colonised and coloniser, or of nobility and savagery, or of rightful and illegitimate. The fundamental conception which underlies a majority of these narratives is that of who and what a Jewish Israeli is.

Who, then, is the Jewish Israeli? Many view the Jewish Israeli as in some core sense a Westerner, a European, somehow unlike and not “of” the place they now inhabit. This perception is fuelled by the fact that Israeli leadership, both historically and today, tends to be drawn from Ashkenazi Zionists, and that pro-Israel commentators and politicians regularly make claims that Israel is an extension of a collective Western “us”. This is evident in claims that Israel “shares our values” or is an “outpost of democracy”.

On the anti-Zionist left, this image of the Jewish Israeli is combined with a violent history between Jews and Palestinians to render the Jewish Israeli a colonialist of the European archetype. Israel is thus seen as a wholly imperialist imposition on the region, meaning Israel can be neatly slotted in with the broader anti-imperialist project of the global Left.

It is this basic idea (not, as is often claimed, anti-Semitism) which gives BDS-type activism such a sense of moral urgency and legitimacy. Apart from the oft-made comparisons to apartheid, it gives fuel to a claim that Israel is the last remaining colonialist project of the modern era. Israel is “singled-out” for its abuses because it is perceived as a European colonial project, something which other countries, despite their crimes, are not.

However, quite clearly, this conception of the Jewish Israeli does not hold up to proper intellectual scrutiny for at least two reasons.

Firstly, depending on how exactly calculations are performed, either a majority or just under half of the non-Arab population of Israel are not in any sense European. These are the Mizrahi and, to a lesser extent, Beta Israeli Jews who lived in the Middle East and Africa for generations until the former were mostly expelled in the aftermath of the 1948 War, and the latter were airlifted to Israel in Operation Moses and Operation Solomon.

On top of this is the fact that it is the Mizrachi vote that keeps Netanyahu in power. Likud’s greater Israel dream is seen as the logical extension of a European colonial project, but that European project is kept alive by Jews with no European origins. Netanyahu’s anti-Arab rhetoric is seen as symptomatic of a colonialist Orientalism, but as Aron Heller notes, Netanyahu’s “hard-line rhetoric taps into Mizrahi disdain for the Arabs who mistreated them in their countries of origin”.

What of the Ashkenazi Jews, who can reasonably be defined as “European” in lineage? An image of these Jews as marauding colonialists is completely at odds with the historical context in which these Jews emigrated to Palestine. Early Zionist settlement was spearheaded by Jews fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe, and two-thirds of Holocaust survivors moved to Israel in the aftermath of the WWII. An analytical framework which transforms a Holocaust refugee into Cecil Rhodes is incredibly divorced from reality. But, as mentioned before, the image is too perfect, and the synthesis into anti-colonialist politics too smooth, for the framework to be given up.

It is often said that Israeli society is increasingly evincing a “bunker mentality”, telling the rest of the world they don’t understand the nation’s plight and should bugger off. If this hardening of attitudes is taking place, and there is indeed substantial amount of evidence to suggest that it is, it is not hard to see why. Israel’s foundation is that of a number of groups of traumatized people looking for refuge from their various existential dooms.

None of the preceding should be understood as justifying Israeli actions or policies. A colonial analysis is not the only possible framework from which to criticise Israel, or to legitimate rhetoric against the two-state solution. As other articles on this website have explained, there is a world of difference between explaining mentalities and condoning them. It should also not be understood as denying the trauma of the Palestinian Nabka. Indeed, it is precisely that ignorance of historical trauma which contributes to a sense of undue demonisation and moral superiority on the pro-Israel right. It is merely the case that this ignorance finds its mirror image in many claims of the pro-BDS left, particularly on university campuses.

Left without a humanising understanding of the traumas of the other side, our narratives drift ever further apart and harden ever more. Against this must be an effort at genuine compassion, a real recognition of generational traumas and the hope that our narratives can at least begin to converge. In that convergence, then, we may begin to see a path forward to the shared solutions that today seem more distant than ever.

Pro-Palestine or Pro-Israel? Why the discourse on Israel-Palestine Desperately Needs To Change.

By Jonathon Leader

Before I start the bulk of this article I thought I’d shed some light on who I am and what my background is. I’m a 23 year old Jewish graduate on the NIF Activism Fellowship. I’m what many would incorrectly call a “liberal” Zionist. I’m actually a socialist one, but that’s a different story. I spent my gap year in Israel. In other words, I’m a cliché.

Those of us interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have watched the same scene repeat itself over and over again. Be it on university campuses, city centres or even on national news: In the red corner, flying the Palestinian flag, passionately cheering “Free free Palestine!” we have the Palestinian Solidarity movement. In the blue corner: flying the Israeli flag, vigorously bellowing out calls of “Am Yisrael Chai” (The Jewish people live in Hebrew) we have Pro-Israeli/Zionist activists. Each preparing to engage in a boxing match of facts; jabbing at each other with rhetoric until one manages to land the knockout blow.  All the while disinterested onlookers walk sheepishly by attempting to get on with their daily lives.

This image and this way of approaching the conflict is actually a highly problematic one. It captures the essence of how we talk about the conflict in the UK, you either “Stand With Israel” or “Stand with Palestine”, with the chasm where nuance used to be left all but intellectually barren, apart from the few advocating for genuine reconciliation and dialogue. What I will aim to do here is identify the most problematic elements of this discourse and attempt to remedy them.

The overarching problem with this image of the conflict is that it paints a picture where the interests of both actors are irreconcilable. This is the fundamental assumption which leads to such polarised positions as “Pro-Israel” or “Pro-Palestine” the fact is; you can be both, and some, although few, are. It’s perfectly possible to simultaneously support Israel’s “right to exist” and oppose the occupation of the West-Bank and the human rights abuses which Palestinians endure as a result. You can also support the existence of a Palestinian state and at the same time denounce Palestinian terrorism; they aren’t mutually exclusive.

The fact is that in order for both Israelis and Palestinians to get the peace they deserve, both sides will have to work together and come to a mutually beneficial two-state solution. If Israelis actually living under the very real threat of terrorism, and Palestinians who actually live under the indignity of occupation, can try and work together for a peaceful solution, then I see no reason why activists living in the UK need to be squawking at each other until our faces turn blue whenever the subject gets bought up.

Surely it’s about time that we recognise that the current approach simply isn’t working. I don’t know any committed activists on either side who after their regular shouting match have turned around and said “shit, maybe they have a point” and proceeded to swap flags/slogans/chants/insults. Whilst many would say “ah, but you’re trying to convince the audience”, the audience aren’t being convinced by the apparent nutter waving a flag and screaming angrily on the street.

If there are any doubts about just how abhorrently uncivilised both sets of activists can be, look at videos of the LSESU Palestine and Israel societies physically brawling with each other on campus in 2012, or an incident in Galway where Pro-Palestinian protesters interrupted a talk and started screaming “you fucking Zionists, fucking pricks, get fuck off our campus” (ignore the names of both videos), and the list of similar instances is a long one. So in future if you hear someone saying something you disagree with regarding the Middle-East, try to not let your first reaction be to call them a terrorist, or a baby killer or any other such meaningless insult. You’re probably better than that. (I hope)

It’s also about time the Holocaust is left out of the debate, Godwin’s law correctly states that the first person to mention Hitler in a debate about anything but Hitler loses. We’ve all heard the accusations that Israel is the new Nazi Germany, over the last Gaza war we’ve also seen the coining of the term “Nazionist”. If you’re going to go around conflating Israel with the Nazis then first you better show me some kind of evidence that Israel’s primary goal is to slaughter every last Palestinian on the planet; including the numerous Palestinians living in Jordan, Syria and elsewhere in the region. This is Nazism; and the lazy, disingenuous and in this case; anti-Semitic use of the slaughter of the Jewish people and 5 million members of other minorities to gain cheap political points is frankly a disgrace.

Equally on the Pro-Israel side, let’s stop evoking Holocaust imagery to somehow sanitise or justify the policies of the Israeli government, including comparing all of Israel’s enemies to the Nazis, and calling Israel’s legitimate 1967 borders “Auschwitz borders”. It’s equally disingenuous and equally exploitative; as it happens, Bibi Netanyahu is probably one of the worst culprits of this; having compared a variety of different states and people to Hitler, including Iran and the Grand Mufti. The fact is that this isn’t the 1940s, its 2015, and the situation in Israel-Palestine is despairing enough without bringing up what is possibly the darkest period in modern history…so leave it out.

I think Amos Oz, an Israeli author was able to encapsulate far better than me what needs to change when he said that “There are only two sides that exist in this conflict, moderates and extremists”. It’s about time that both sets of activists decided which side of they’ll be on. Will they be on the moderate side; actively trying to engage in an honest, civilised, and productive discourse which may at least in a small way make a peaceful settlement more likely? Or will they be on the extremist side, creating an increasingly polarised debate more concerned about winning pedantic squabbles than actually making any progress towards peace?

This doesn’t mean that we all the sudden have to agree on everything that happens in the Middle-East, but let’s at least try and find a more productive way of disagreeing, because the old way really isn’t working.