If for every two Jews there are three opinions, it is hardly surprising that there is a distinct lack of unanimous support for any policy decision from any Israeliadministration. But, while most British Jews prefer to leave the public criticism to Israel’s many willing opponents, some feel the need to state their disagreements loudly and “as Jews”. Their apparent willingness to lend support to the complete delegitimisation of the Jewish state leaves the rest of us unsure how to respond and it is tempting to simply label them “self-hating Jews”. However, the truth is never so straightforward.
In many, perhaps most, cases the motivation to publicly denounce
Israel is the desire to fight antisemitism. As the CST has observed, the
number of antisemitic attacks in the UK is directly related to tensions
and actions in the Middle East. Some believe that the support Israel
receives from Britain’s mainstream Jewish organisations is a cause of
antisemitism and the only way to fight that is to create Jewish
The founding declaration of Independent Jewish Voices, for example, places the fight against antisemitism at the heart of the organisation. Likewise, Jews for Justice for Palestinians
(JfJfP) state that they “extend support to Palestinians trapped in the
spiral of violence and repression” because they “believe that such
actions are important in countering antisemitism”.
Unfortunately, these campaigns are naïve and counter-productive.
Racists are generally not entirely rational people. The egg-throwing
thug is unlikely to weigh up the probability that the man walking home
from synagogue might disapprove of settlements. Nor is the desecrater of
cemeteries going to check first that his victims haven’t signed an
anti-Israel letter to the Guardian.
More likely is the attitude shown in a comment allegedly left by a member of the Reading Palestine Solidarity Campaign
on a website that “not all adherents to the Torah are enemies of
humanity” because Neturei Karta are not. By opposing any and every
action by Israel, the impression is given that anyone not joining the
public denunciations is fully supportive of all these policies. Far from
destroying the impression of Jewish support for Israeli actions,
their opposition reinforces it. And all this is aside from the impact of
delegitimisation on our fellow Jews in Israel.
Nevertheless, very few anti-Israel Jews are self-hating. We should
recognise this and make sure to keep them within the big tent against
antisemitism rather than making them pariahs. They may be opponents of
Israel but they can be our allies in the struggle against antisemitism.
An example are the Jews of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
The PSC is a leading force in delegitimisation, using trade unions to
advance its call to boycott all things related to Israel. Its public
meetings are often attended by Labour MPs and it invited the banned
Sheikh Raed Salah to speak at one such meeting to be held in the Houses
of Parliament. Many believe the organisation is incapable of
distinguishing between criticism of Israeli actions and antisemitism.
However, during 2011 there has been something of a mini-purge of
the organisation with some previously important members forced to resign
because of their antisemitism. Those effectively expelled include a
former national chair, the chair of one branch, the secretary of another
and the webmaster of a third. Behind all these resignations appear to
be rank and file Jewish members with support from a Jewish member of the
Executive Committee. While the PSC itself may be unable to work our
what antisemitism looks like, its Jewish members certainly can.
We have enough enemies already that we shouldn’t be looking to create more.
So long as anti-Israel Jews retain their sensitivity to antisemitism
we can be sure that they are neither self-hating nor hate us. They
remain allies in our struggle against antisemitism and in some ways are
capable of achieving results in it that the rest of us cannot. We should
thank them for that. If we don’t make enemies of them, we may find that
we have more friends than we thought. May 2012 be a year of
reconciliation and greater unity in our small community. We will all be
better off for it.
This piece was published in the Jewish Chronicle.