How refreshing to watch last night's Q&A with writers (in town for the Sydney Writers Festival) instead of politicians for a change.
As it happened, with 3 of the 5 panellists identifying as Jews - UK novelist Howard Jacobson*, winner of the Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question, UK academic Gail Dines (Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality), and Australian ethicist Leslie Cannold - Palestine/Israel got quite an airing. An audience question on Obama's latest fudge on the conflict provided a wonderful opportunity to sort the sheep from the goats, know what I mean?
[* See my 30/9/10 post Jewish Settlers - Now... & Then]
Here was the question that got the ball rolling: "President Obama recently outlined a new approach to the peace process in the Middle East, one that's explicitly based on the 1967 borders. Do you think this approach will work, and what would Howard Jacobson's Sam Finkler make of it?"
The limits of the question were obvious, given that there was nothing particularly new about Obama's approach. As Obama himself admitted in his follow-up speech to AIPAC on 22 May: "There was nothing particularly original in my proposal: this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous US Administrations." Nor did the question acknowledge that Obama had hobbled his reference to Israel's 1967 borders with talk of "mutually agreed swaps."
At any rate, it had Howard Jacobson on his hobby horse of "Jews [who are] ashamed of being Jewish because of Israel." Jacobson doesn't like such Jews apparently. "First and foremost," he averred, "I'm an Englishman... [but] I never went around calling myself an ashamed Englishman because of Mrs Thatcher or Tony Blair."
Jacobson gives us no sense that the English Jews he is referring to derogatively as 'ashamed Jews' (presumably his euphemism for the Zionist putdown, self-hating Jews) may be merely reacting, to one degree or another, to the monstrous conceit of a foreign power that calls itself not just a Jewish state, but the Jewish state, claims that it, and not their birthplace, is their true homeland, and has long been engaged in the grinding genocide of another people... in their name.
The problem here is the man's dishonesty. If only he'd owned up to being the unashamed Zionist that he is, instead of hiding behind the word Jew. This would then have clarified the fact that his so-called ashamed Jews may in fact be principled anti-Zionists, that is, Jews who resent and reject the brutal colonising project that recruits them to the cause whether they wish to be so recruited or not. Still, Gail Dines, to whom I'll return later, would have none of it, and cheekily interjected with "I'm an ashamed Jew."
Jacobson, catering to his audience no doubt, was more honest about his Zionism in an interview in The Australian Jewish News of 20 May. There he was asked, "You're one of very few British Jewish celebrities who will stand up in public [but not on Q&A it seems] and proudly admit to being Jewish and Zionist. Why do you think you're in such a small minority?" Jacobsen responded snidely with: "It's about [them] wanting to be loved. It's about a longing for acceptance. It's about fashionable thinking, and the need English Jews have, particularly in theatre or show business, to show they are intellectually and politically in the swim. Anti-Zionism is as necessary as a union card."
So completely has Jacobson swallowed the Zionist myth that real Jews are Zionists, that he simply cannot bring himself to acknowledge that those he scornfully refers to as ashamed Jews are consciously going over to the anti-Zionist camp because they find it impossible to reconcile their belief in universal standards of decency and humanity with support for a vile ethno-national state that indulges in daily killing sprees against Palestine's indigenous population. Still, what we at least get in the AJN interview is the term anti-Zionist rather than the weaselly term ashamed Jews of Q&A.
On Q&A, in fact, before a largely non-Jewish audience, Jacobson appeared to me to be playing down his Zionist allegience, saying vacuously that he "hopes that Obama's speech will lead to peace," and obfuscating the issue with this pretentious gobbledygook: "You will get no peace in the Middle East as long as Israelis do not understand the equivalent centre of self of a Palestinian... and you will never get peace unless the Arab countries understand the equivalent centre of self of an Israeli."
Which brings me back to Dines' interjection and this pointed exchange:
DINES: And I'm an ashamed Jew
JACOBSON: You should be ashamed of being an ashamed Jew.
DINES: No, I'm not.
Unfortunately, it was at this point that compare Tony Jones paraded his own utterly superficial understanding of the Obama-Bibi-Lobby menage a trois by asking Jacobson irrelevantly, "Do you think it's what Obama is trying to do while taking on both the Israeli government and the Israeli lobby in the United States?"
IOW, is Obama himself, utterly clueless on, and entirely indifferent to, "the centre of self of a Palestinian," in the business of getting Bibi (who once said that the only way to deal with Palestinians is to "beat them up, not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until it's unbearable"*) to understand the "centre of self of a Palestinian"? To which Jacobson lamely waffled, "Netanyahu should have taken a deep breath and said... we'll have to discuss precisely what one means by those borders and of course there were problems with those borders, which is why we kept having wars. But... it's a speech in the right direction."
[*See Fibi Netanyahu, Liel Leibovitz, tabletmag.com, 15/7/10]
Then it was on to Leslie Cannold, who, after saying that she found "Howard's book... just fascinating" on the subject of Jews' "self-absorption," rambled on in the following outrageously self-absorbed fashion: "I am Jewish by background and so often it is seen like I ought to have an opinion and ought to have some say in what, in particular, is going on in the Middle East and in some ways I guess I do because the way that the law is set up in Israel is that I have the right of return because I have a Jewish mother. I'm Jewish and therefore if I ever wanted to go and live there I could and I also feel somewhat attached because I have, you know, a knowledge of history and family and know that when we didn't have a state I definitely accept that that was part of what made us vulnerable..."
Cannold here reveals herself as someone who has simply not thought about the issue under discussion, a condition not helped, no doubt, if all she's ever read on the question of Palestine is Jacobson's novel. The question arises: Do Jewish by background people such as Cannold, with a Jewish mother and a sense of Jewish vulnerability at various points in the trajectory of European history, but comfortably and successfully ensconced in countries such as Australia, Canada, the US or the UK, ever ponder the question Why is Israel holding the door open for me but keeping it slammed shut on Palestinian refugees uncomfortably and unsuccessfully ensconced in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan for the past 63 years?
Sure she goes on to say that she'd like to see "Israelis have as much insight into the need that Palestinians have for land as well, because they are not safe or secure either without a state as we have that kind of understanding about ourselves," but really, how pathetic is that? If only Cannold would take time to read say Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine she might then desist in dishing out liberal Zionist inanities such as the above. One lives in hope. Maybe if someone out there could perhaps post her a copy?
Parenthetically, seeing she's raised the issue of Israel's Law of Return, I'd like to dedicate this pithy little gem thankfully archived on the Jews Sans Frontieres website (1/12/05) from the unfortunately extinct Fat old Jewish New Yorker blog:
"People want to know what I, a Jewish guy, think about Israel. I want to make something clear. I live in New York. I do not have a right and do not want a right to 'return' to Israel. I never was there. I want to skip all the arguments about whether or not today's Jews descend from the people of the Old Testament. I don't care if I do or I don't. It doesn't matter nor should it. The territory that is known to many as Palestine had been peopled by Arabic-speaking folks for centuries. Mainly they were Muslims, many were Christians, and a few of them Jewish too. Most of those people were kicked out of their lands and homes in 1948 by people like David Ben Gurion and Ariel Sharon and more were expelled in 1967. They are the ones who have a right to return, not me."
Anyway, back to the fray. I'm afraid, it was left to the fiesty, unashamedly ashamed Jew Gail Dines to lively up the discussion. After Jones had asked her what she meant by identifying herself as an ashamed Jew, she responded with some very plain speaking indeed:
"Well, I lived in Israel for quite a while. My son is actually an Israeli. I'm an Israeli citizen as well, so I have a vested interest and I was part of the Israeli peace movement as well as the feminist movement, and I think that Jews in Israel have an inability to empathise with the Palestinians because we believe that because of what Hitler did to us, that kind of cleansed us of any future wrong-doings. And I can tell you when I lived there during the Sharon years and the Begin years - and it's gotten much worse now - the Left has been virtually annihilated by the government. Everytime I go back there and meet with my friends, they are under siege by the government. And so I think as Jews, who live in the diaspora, that we need to speak up and we need to say it is absolutely unacceptable that Israel is building all these settlements. It is unacceptable what they did in Gaza. It is unacceptable what they did in Lebanon and we need to say that there needs to be some morality here and that the Palestinians have a right not to be refugees, and that we, as Jews, given what we have suffered, should empathise with them."
But this was too much for the unashamedly Zionist (at least in the AJN) Howard Jacobson, who reverted to the last refuge of the Zionist scoundrel when on the ropes - the conflict is sooo terribly, terribly complicated, and it's been going on, like, since time immemorial:
"I think it's an extremely complex business and what upsets me, as a Jew thinking about it all, as a Jewish novelist thinking about it all, is simply really that people really don't know enough about it. You often hear people talking about the occupation. No one wants the - I don't know anyone who wants the occupation. I don't know any Israeli who wants the occupation. But people speak about it as if it just kind of happened. One day there was an occupation. Out of a clear, blue sky Jews dropped - Israelis - Israeli people dropped down and said, 'We'll have that piece of land'. It's not what happened. The people in that part of the world have been fighting for over 100 years. They have been killing one another for more than 100 years. It's a long and complex story. So when we use a word like 'the occupation' we should know what it is that we are talking about but I agree with you entirely that the settlements are vile and I know no humane person that supports the settlements."
Sorry Guv, someone who does know something about the Six Day War of 1967 - in fact he's written what's probably the definitive history of it based on the Israeli archives - begs to differ. Israeli historian Tom Segev knows of heaps of Israelis who wanted the war and its spoils real bad. Some snippets:
"The generals were in their forties, family men, but they clung to the Israeli culture of youth; they were like adolescent boys in rut. They believed in force and they wanted war. War was their destiny. Almost 20 years had passed since the army had won glory in the War of Independence, and 10 years since the victory in the Sinai. They had a limited range of vision and they believed that war was what Israel needed at that moment, not necessarily because they felt the country's existence was in danger, as they wailed in an almost 'Diaspora' tone, but because they believed it was an opportunity to break the Egyptian army." (1967: Israel, the War & the Year that Transformed the Middle East, 2007, p 296)
"[Prime Minister] Eshkol gathered the members of his party's political committee. 'We have been given a good dowry', he told them, 'but it comes with a bride we don't like' - the Palestinians... At that point he was ready to keep Gaza... 'perhaps because of Samson and Delilah'. But Gaza too... 'was a rose with many thorns'. A committee of experts was already looking for areas where refugees could be settled'." (p 369)
"The main pressure to seize the Golan came from General David Elazar of the Northern Command... In the 2 years preceding the war he had broached the matter not only with his superiors in the military, but also with Eshkol... with whom he even discussed the possibility of occupying Damascus." (p 388)
"The effort invested in talks with [Jordan's King] Hussein was intended to largely convince the US that it was genuinely trying to achieve peace. The fear in Jerusalem was that the Americans might force Israel to withdraw [from the West Bank]." (p 568)
But I digress. What was Jacobson banging on about? Oh yes, vile settlements unsupported by any humane individual he's aware of. God bless Dines for pricking that little balloon, which really set Jacobson off, arms flailing:
DINES: The Israeli government supports them.
JACOBSON: Yes, but the Israeli government is run by people I am prepared to accept are...
DINES: Then we should be organising as Jews with a morality against the fact that the Israeli government are supporting the settlements.
JACOBSON: No [NO?!!!], but we know perfectly well that these settlements will be part of the bargaining thing. The Israeli government has to deal with the problem that the people with whom it must negotiate - some of the people with whom it must negotiate - say you've got no right to exist... So they're frightened. Well, blow me [down], the Israelis are frightened. It's not often understood how frightened the Israelis are. They are there surrounded on all sides by people who would like them to not be there. They may...
DINES: See, I think this is the wrong mentality to have as a Jew.
JACOBSON: The poor Israelis...
DINES: I think this is incorrect.
JACOBSON: The Israelis made the terrible mistake of winning the Six Day War. If only they'd lost the Six Day War everything would have been...
DINES: We're not just victims.
JACOBSON: No, we're not just victims.
DINES: We're aggressors in the Middle East as well.
JACOBSON: And we're not just aggressors. We're sometimes victims and sometimes aggressors. It's complicated. It's been going on a long time. [Now where have we heard this before?]
TONY JONES (saving Jacobson's bacon whilst lending credence to his when-on-the-ropes argument): OK. It is, indeed, very complicated. We are not going to resolve it here. We are going to move on to other issues...
I don't know about you, but I'm good for a rematch.