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Telling the truth about Israel

September 25, 2007

First they came for the Muslims, and I said nothing, because I believe radical Islam is a threat to peace.

Then they came for the anti-globalisation protesters, and I said nothing because those dirty hippies should get a job.

Then they came for the bloggers, so I censored myself because it’s only a hobby after all.

Regular readers may have noticed that I take a no-holds barred approach to commenting on Israel. I am routinely smeared as an anti-Semite for doing this, by cowards who find it easy to attack me than face the truth.

This is a standard tactic by supporters of Israel, and quite frankly, it still hurts: I have spent my whole life lighting racism and bigotry – and then I get bigots accusing me of racism.

I think I am significantly more sensitive to Jewish suffering than most people, and I have made it my business to read a lot of Holocaust literature. I believe that it is our responsibility as human beings to know about the darkness that swallowed much of Europe, and to make sure it never happens again.

Yet I draw very different conclusions from the Zionists.

It is very common for Zionists to brand all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. The logic is that Israel is a Jewish state, therefore if you criticise it you criticise Jews, and are an anti-Semite. This is obvious nonsense, most especially because many Jews are not Zionists and many Zionists – like the Christian right in the US – are not Jewish.

Some Zionists are rather more subtle than this: they say it is not anti-Semitic to criticise Israel per se, but if you criticise Israel more than you criticise Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea, Darfur and all the other monstrosities in the world, then you’re an anti-Semite by nature of the fact that you have singled the Jews out for criticism.

Quite apart from the fact that this kind of affirmative action criticism is impossible, this argument is also nonsense and a distraction from the truth. Of course Israel isn’t the worst state in the world (I didn’t know it was a competition).

The reason Israel needs to be singled out is that it poisons our politics. That’s because the great powers of the world – notably the US, but also Europe and other Western nations – provide cover for Israel, and pretend there is nothing wrong. This is why many Muslims see the West as an enemy.

Even the ‘Left’ is not immune. This idiot, who claims to be on the Left but is clearly not the shiniest pebble on the shore, left comments on my blog calling me a neo-Nazi for criticising Israel. She even provided handy links to neo-Nazi websites.

Everyone knows that the genocide in Darfur is terrible. But the US government doesn’t claim that the Janjaweed are brave, beleaguered people protecting themselves from a faceless mass of hatred.

By contrast, Israel acts with impunity: Israel was able to bomb Lebanon last summer without any condemnation from Britain, and with the active support of the US, which rushed them the bombs by special delivery. Ordinary people were bombed out of their homes.

Zionism is a political ideology that holds that there should be a national state for Jews in the Middle East.

I am critical of that on two grounds:

Firstly, in principal I don’t believe that any group should have an exclusive national state – I don’t believe in a national state for the Scots or the English or the Zulus or the Afrikaners – unless you expand your definition of ‘Scot’ to include anyone living in Scotland, regardless of race or religion.

My second reason for criticising the Zionist state is its actions: there is absolutely no denying that Israel’s behaviour is despicable. Even if I supported the idea of a Jewish state, I would still oppose Israel because of its actions.

So for these two reasons I don’t believe the Jews should have an exclusive state of their own. Instead, I believe we should create a world where anyone can live where they like regardless of their race or religion.

I believe that the best option for peace in the Middle East is a single state of Israel-Palestine, with equal rights for all (also known as the binational solution).

How does this make me an anti-Semite?

One of the best books I have read on the subject is Overcoming Zionism, by Joel Kovel. Not surprisingly, the Zionist lobby try to block the book’s distribution in the US, but were unsuccessful. So much for free speech – no such thing when you criticise Israel.

Anyway, Kovel makes some excellent points, and his book deserves to be read. One of the things he critiques is Jewish exceptionalism – the idea that the Jews are the Chosen People, or different or special in some kind of way. Some Zionists argue that because of Jewish suffering, Jews are in some way exempt from criticism.

Kovel correctly sees this as the flip side of anti-Semitism. The exceptionalists believe the Jews are better, or more special than the rest of us. The anti-Semites suspect they are right, and hate them for it.

For me, Jews are people, no better or worse than anyone else. They have a unique history which has allowed them to make a disproportionate contribution to the world: Marx, Einstein and Spinoza, to name a few of my favourites. The answer is to take that uniqueness and contribute to the human project, not retreat into tribalism.

Kovel argues for the binational solution, and has this formula for bringing change to the Middle East:

Tell the truth about Israel.

Despite the smears, despite the lies, keep telling the truth. And that’s what I decided to do.

I am often accused of uncritically spouting propaganda that I have been force fed. I don’t know where they think I was brought up – Afghanistan?

In fact, the opposite is true – as a South African schoolboy, I was force fed Zionist propaganda, which I uncritically lapped up. After leaving school, I went to Israel, where the differences between what I had been taught and the reality soon became apparent.

My initial response was to look for solutions on the Zionist Left, in Meretz and Peace Now and similar groups. It took more than a year to realise that the problem was with Zionism itself, rather than with a particular manifestation of Zionism, and that the solution lies in the dismantling of Zionism and its replacement with democracy.

I held this opinion for 10 years without ever saying very much about it. I wrote one or two letters to the newspapers, only to be slandered by other letter writers as the worst kind of anti-Semite and neo-Nazi. I decided I didn’t need the aggravation, and didn’t write about Israel again: the anti-Semite slur had the desired effect of shutting me up, and anyone looking through this blog will see there is almost no mention of Israel for the first two years of its existence.

Only one of my critics noticed this. Zionist Youngster points out that I only started blogging about Israel when they bombed Lebanon last summer:

Amazing how that war cut through all the BS and brought the utmost in honesty from the Israel-bashers.

A quote in another post demonstrates just the kind of charming individual we’re dealing with here:

If you believe the existence of Israel as a Jewish state is a wrong, and that that existence is the major cause of the current worldwide conflict, and that the key to solving this conflict is the abolition of Zionism, and that every suicide attack and Kassam rocket (God forbid) on Israeli Jewish women and children is “blowback” or “resistance”, then I regard you as a modern-day Nazi-sympathizer (the modern-day Nazis being the Muslims), and I want you dead.

There’s no one in the world that I want dead. It’s not personal for me.

Last summer, Israel invaded Lebanon, and started bombing innocent people out of their homes. The US sent the bombs, and the British let the US supply flights refuel at British airports, including Prestwick, just down the road from me. Here was a chain of terror with a link right on my doorstep.

And I found I couldn’t keep silent any more.

The injustices being visited on people in the Middle East by Israel and the US are far more important than my hurt feelings, my fear of offending, or my concern about my reputation.

The gloves have been off since then. I say what I think about Israel, and will continue to do so until it it generally accepted that a great injustice is being perpetrated in the Middle East. This injustice fuels terrorism, and the consequences will be with us for generations.

We need to keep telling the truth.

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