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Many people, including marginalised Jews, do not appreciate that central to Jewish life in Britain, and indeed throughout the world, is the concern for the state of Israel and its perception of threats against its existence. For Jews of my generation, the two major events of the last two millennia were the Holocaust and the creation of Jewish sovereignty in its ancient homeland. They were viewed not in a political but in a religious perspective. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel described in his autobiographical work Night a public execution in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. Someone asked the name of the victim dangling from the noose, and the answer was a bellowing cry from one of the inmates: “God!”

For many Jews, the Holocaust had spelt the end of the Covenant between God and His people. Hitherto, every national disaster was attributed to their own sinfulness. This time, only the absence of God could explain the irredeemable evil the Jews had experienced.

The establishment of a Third Jewish Commonwealth several years later, amid a mighty struggle against five Arab nations, was viewed not only as the rebirth of a people but the rebirth of its God. After the vote in favour of the Partition Plan by two thirds of the UN General Assembly, Jews danced outside their synagogues, just as when, 10 years later after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, they filled the synagogues in numbers that approximated those who attend on the holiest days of the Jewish year. And, of course, for more than 2,000 years, Jews have prayed every day for the ingathering of exiles in the Promised Land; and every year at the conclusion of the Passover meal, they declared: “Next year in Jerusalem”.

In Jewish life, there can be no separation between religion and the sense of identity with a people. They are inextricably intertwined. The Covenant assured the Israelites and the remnant that survived – the Jews – that God would redeem them from their oppressors if they walked in His ways. Everything that happens to the Jewish community is perceived as either an act of God or a sign of His absence. But so ingrained in the Jewish consciousness is a sense of responsibility for one’s own situation, that Jews – particularly those who have not lived under any threat – believe that it is within their power to resolve ­political conflicts with their neighbours. They resist the idea that the enemy may be implacable. They make demands of their own side that they do not make of the other. Rabbis who go against the mainstream and are highly critical of Israel’s policies are hailed as morally courageous, while rabbis, such as myself, who defend Israel are accused of being political.

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Sidney Brichto
August 7th, 2008
11:08 AM
Dan Judelson goes overboard in his criticism of Israel but so long as he believes in a two state solution which he claims he does, and does not demand the acceptance of the return of 4m Palestinian refugees into proper Israel,on which he has not commented, I would not say that he was antisemitic. His reference to the Nazi behaviour of Israel police, however makes him guilty of demonisation.

Dan Judelson
August 7th, 2008
8:08 AM
Szeni, The 10 year old was Hammad Hassam Mousa of Nil'in, shot by an Israeli officer on 29 July 2008. The 17 year brain dead from being shot in the head by rubber bullets was Yousef Ahmad Younis Amira, also of Nil'in. My point was that criticism of Israel in the West is regularly dismissed by people like Brichto as thinly disguised anti semitism. I offer an example of criticism of Israel and you accuse me of spreading a blood libel. Thanks for your help in demonstrating this in practice.

August 6th, 2008
2:08 PM
To Dan Judelson: - read any Israeli newspaper, listen to any Israeli politician and you will find more criticism of Israel than is in the collected works of Robert Fisk and John Pilger; - you can be either Jewish or not; there is no such thing as 'less' or 'more' Jewish; - the neo-Nazis arrested in Israel are not Jewish; - a state 'with a Jewish character' and a million Arabs could be no different from a state with a French character and 5 million Arabs; - if 'the 10 year old boy' is Muhammad Al-Dura, he wasn't killed by IDF. Shame on you for recycling the latest anti-Semitic blood libel. Children tragically get hurt even by 'the most moral army in the world' (and even by US and British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq). If you believe that IDF soldiers routinely murder (sic) Arab children and get away with it, more shame on you; - 'the Green line' has no legal meaning. It is the armistice line at the end of 1948 war and not an internationally recognised border of Israel. If you believe that Israel will give up the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem which is East of the Green line, you are not moderate even by Palestinian standards.

August 6th, 2008
10:08 AM
It baffles me to see how so many intelligent, educated people still believe in gods in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. All faiths make excuses for their god's indifference in the face of terrible devastation, rather than accepting the fact that he/she/it just doesn't exist.

August 5th, 2008
5:08 PM
Well obviously it is important to reach broad agreement about which criticisms of Israel are genuine expressions of anti-semitism, which are sincere disagreements with some of its policies, and which are the result of plain old confusion and/or ignorance. But is Rabbi Brichto's prescription of throwing the concept of Zionism in the dustbin of history the right move I wonder? Zionism isn't just a label that can be abused by anti-semites. It surely also stands for a diverse set of values - social, political, and religious - and a history of discussions and arguments, agreements and disagreements about what Israel should be. To suggest pensioning it off seems ridiculous. As crazy as if the signatories to the US Constitution had said "OK mission accomplished - we won't need these now..." and then thrown their copies of Montesquieu, Locke, etc on a bonfire. And among those discussions were the compatibility of nationalism with the universalistic teachings of Judaism. In 1942, 757 Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Rabbis of America issued a statement on this subject which included the following thought: "...Nor is Zionism a denial of the universalistic teachings of Judaism. Universalism is not a contradiction of nationalism. Nationalism as such, whether it be English, French, American or Jewish, is not in itself evil. It is only militaristic and chauvinistic nationalism, that nationalism which shamelessly flouts all mandates of international morality, which is evil." Some of Israel's critics are undoubtedly motivated by anti-semitism, but all states are capable of falling into "militaristic and chauvinistic nationalism", and becoming deaf to sincere concern about the Palestinians is to be no friend of Israel.

Dr Brian Robinson, Milton Keynes, UK
August 5th, 2008
2:08 PM
In some ways the article points to uncomfortable truths, but in more important ways it's disingenuous (for instance even if he's right about Hamas, the threat to the two-state solution comes at least as much from settlers in the West Bank, the building around Jerusalem, and similar activities). Where I agree with Brichto, although I disagree with the interpretation he places on it has to do with *tone*, which often does bother me very greatly. I'm a founder member of ICAHD UK, and signatory of the Statement of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and I spent 10 days looking at life for Palestinians in what I hope I'm allowed to call the occupied territories. I think it is true that with regard to a disconcerting number of campaigners on behalf of Palestinians, Jews and non-Jews, there is a certain tone of voice, or in writing, of style, that is not used in any discussion of the wrongdoing of other states or governments (when these are discussed, which is not so in every case). I've spent the past few years trying to understand why this should be so in terms that avoid making attributions of antisemitism. I acknowledge that it is often hard to do so. But when I consider the motivation of those fellow Jews known personally to me, who campaign, as do I, for justice for Palestinians, what I see is a deep revulsion from, for example, what the intellectual and activist Jeff Halper has recently referred to as the *cruelty* of much Israeli behaviour towards ordinary Palestinian people (the house demolitions in the absence of any terrorist threat, the checkpoint humiliations, the way the separation wall destroys the lives and livelihoods of farmers, and so on). What I do *not* see in the people known to me (I am not talking about those I don't know) is anything that would justify such terms as "self-hating" or antisemitic: indeed, I maintain that, considered in terms of their perception of the conflict, they are if anything self-respectful, deeply committed to preserving, and projecting, the good moral name of Jews and of Judaism - even when they may not be believers in God or any gods. Rabbi Brichto might choose to call us "marginalised" but he is profoundly mistaken if he thinks we don't care. And what is really difficult to come to terms with is when some ardent defenders of Israel (although very often not Israeli Jews themselves) simply try to deny - both to themselves and to others - the realities of these Israeli cruelties. When they are admitted, they are often excused either as tragic accidents of the situation, or as some sort of necessary evils to defend the state against worse evils of terrorism. I don't believe that Israel is the worst human rights offender on the planet, I don't believe that it is either appropriate or helpful to invoke, indiscriminately, terms such as Nazism when discussing the country. And to that extent, I'm at one with Brichto. But I disagree fundamentally with the use he makes of legitimate criticisms of that order. We must not let the way some people talk about Israel prevent us from facing and admitting unpleasant truths. The fact that Israel is not the worst offender doesn't mean that it is not offending at all. Perhaps above all, we need a new post-Zionist definition of antisemitism, one that recognises that expressions of revulsion - for instance at the effects of the siege on Gaza, at the way many sick Gazans are dealt with by the Israeli authorities - are valid moral responses to acts that are quite simply wrong. If we choose to write this off as "antisemitism" we are not merely confusing logical categories, we're doing a huge disservice to humanity. Dr Brian Robinson, Milton Keynes, UK

Dan Judelson JfJfP
August 4th, 2008
11:08 PM
Oh, and on the question of maps, please tell me the name of a publisher, shop or other outlet in Israel where I obtain a map that shows the Green Line? Was it a good idea for the Knesset education committee to reject Yuli Tamir's attempt to reverse an Israeli government 1967 decision not to include the Green Line in school textbooks.

Dan Judelson, JfJfP
August 4th, 2008
11:08 PM
Please give examples of criticism of Israel that is not deemed anti semitic. Please explain how as an atheist I am less Jewish than someone for whom "there can be no separation between religion and the sense of identity with a people." Is the right of return for all Jews inviolable, including those discovered by the Israeli police to have indulged in Nazi activities after emigrating to Israel? Please explain how a two state solution (which I support) will deal with the anomaly of around a million non-Jewish citizens in a state that has a "Jewish character." Please explain how "the most moral army in the world" can murder a stone throwing 10 year old boy with live fire one day and a 17/8 year old youth with rubber bullets the next. Thank you.

August 2nd, 2008
9:08 PM
Terrific article

August 1st, 2008
3:08 AM
"First they came for the Jews" and we did nothing. then they came for us. That is one reason why this is important

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