September 17, 2005

Jewish Chronicle: "it is possible to be fiercely anti-Zionist without a trace of anti-Semitism"

So says Tony Klug in his review of John Rose's "The Myths of Zionism" in last week's Jewish Chronicle. Many thanks to John Rose for sending me a copy of the review together with his original reply and the shortened reply that was actually published by the JC.

Here's the review with notes of my own in [brackets]
John Rose, not to be confused with Steven, Hilary or Jacqueline — Roses by other names [but, be warned, of similar politics] — does not perch on the fence: "Zionism," he asserts, "is the problem; its removal is the precondition for peace in the Middle East. It is the precondition for Arab-Jewish reconciliation in Palestine. That is the only possible conclusion to this book."

But it is not so much the conclusion as the premise and indeed the whole theme of the book. In his own words, Rose is an "ageing, Trotsky-supporting, anti-Zionist veteran from the 1968 student revolution." And it shows. To the extent that his aim was to make a contribution to "a debate on the Marxist Left" and to fortify the views of like-minded others, he has doubtless succeeded admirably. But the title alone is enough to ensure that the readership which could make a difference — the subscribers to the alleged myths — won’t get further than the cover. [especially if the promoters of said myths discourage them from doing so]

Rose cites some information gems, from the startling, "By the 9th century, Hebrew had become a leading international language," owing to the role of Jewish traders, through the arresting, "a quarter of the supporters of the International Solidarity Movement are Jewish," to the challenging, "a scholarly consensus is slowly and very reluctantly emerging amongst the archaeologists of modern Israel, that the buildings [Solomon’s Temple] never existed."

The book itself is a testament to how it is possible to be fiercely anti-Zionist without a trace of anti-Semitism. [actually that is big of him but it's also fashionable and easy to say when you're not actually defining zionism.] On the contrary, the author’s concern is that Zionism is the source of a lot of modern-day antipathy towards Jews, especially in Arab countries. He also reminds us that some of the early British pro-Zionists (Lloyd George, Balfour, even Churchill) had anti-Semitic tendencies, while some of Zionism’s strongest opponents were eminent Jews (Montagu).

The book has a number of serious flaws. One is the underlying assumption that a movement is valid only if it is free of myths. Very few nationalisms, religions, cultures or political ideologies would survive such a test. [This is tosh. It's the mobilisation of myth to establish a spurious legitimacy that makes zionism dependent on myths. We're not talking about the children of Lir here, or Romulus and Remus. We're talking about myths that make for a unique demand for self-determination for a people who do not, or at least, did not predominate in the territory it's nationalist movement demanded control of.] Another is that Rose posits a very selective, narrow, bleak version of Zionism, extremist, racist and inhumane: "Zionism sees a static, unchanging and hostile world where Jews can find no peace…," he says, also citing "the Zionist claim that all Palestinian land truly belongs to the Jews" and that Arabs and Jews cannot live together.

Certainly there are Zionists who take such positions but there are others who repudiate such views. [no names of course] Rose appears to find this inconceivable and comes close to debunking myths of his own making.

In his manifest determination to reach certain conclusions, Rose sometimes presents evidence that could just as easily point in the opposite direction. In the chapter "Eighteen Centuries of Jewish Suffering," the numerous instances of emancipation in European countries having failed the Jews is a notable example. Unintentionally, it makes an impressive case for Zionism as a plausible response to endemic anti-Semitism.[Damn it! Now I'm have to read the book again and it's 15 quid. I thought that the point he was making was that the so-called "lachymose" view of Jewish history was bogus and that there were instances of Jewish emanicipation in tandem with the rise of republicanism, liberalism, the Rights of Man, etc. and that in some ways zionism was as much a reaction (in every sense) to those progressive movements as it was to anti-semitism. But I really will have to read it through again.]

The book’s most serious weakness is that it pretends to have a solution. "Removing Zionism" is the other side of the coin that seeks to deny the existence of the Palestinian people. [Bollocks is it. Zionism is an ideology and a system that holds that Jews worldwide have more right to Palestine than the native people of Palestine. The Palestinians are a people. This is Klug pretending to believe that John Rose is calling for the removal of the Jews or the removal of the Israelis. He is calling for de-zionisation. That is an end, not to the Jewish or Israeli presence but an end to Jewish colonial rule.] Maybe one day the two national movements will merge or disappear. In the meantime, progress to peace depends crucially on both peoples coming to terms with the national imperative of the other. Any proposal which ignores this, however well-intentioned, cannot be taken seriously. Propagating
fallacies and indulging the illusions of either side will serve only to doom the long-suffering peoples of the region to further agony.[So there we have it. John Rose, as well intentioned as he is, emerges as a significant barrier to peace and a cause of agony. But being born in a certain place at a certain time may carry with it a "national imperative" whatever that means but zionism is not national in the sense of a people coming from a specific place being Palestinian is. Zionism is a choice, not an imperative. You can support or you can reject it. Being born in Palestine or coming from there is not a choice but when zionism is the choice the existence of a free and equal Palestinian people is negated or a least seriously hindered.]

Dr Tony Klug is a Middle East analyst and vice chair of the Arab-Jewish
Forum.
So here is John Rose's response.
May I thank the JC for the review of my book, The Myths of Zionism, by Dr Tony Klug (August 8th) which recognised it as a "testament" of how to be fiercely anti-Zionist "without a trace of anti-Semitism". I am also delighted that he highlighted some of the book’s "information gems" - the basis of key chapters.

The point about Hebrew as an international trading language in the 9th century is that it underlines the significance of the Jewish merchant class that led Jewish communities for many centuries in medieval Europe. This crucial fact casts a very different light on Herzl’s erroneous view of "Eighteen Centuries of Jewish Suffering’ as a justification for the Zionist enterprise.

The point about Israeli archaeology failing to discover evidence for Solomon’s Temple is part of a wider view that the "United Monarchy of David & Solomon", ie "Ancient Israel", may similarly be biblical myth. This matters because of the cynical way "secular" Zionist leaders like Ben Gurion politically manipulated the bible. For example, in 1936, he told Britain that "the Bible is our Mandate" for a Jewish state in Palestine. Religious nationalism has its roots way beyond the Zionist fringe.

I take Tony Klug’s criticisms of my book very seriously, though I was surprised that he mocked the book’s Marxist perspective and assumed that it prevented a wider readership. Would he, (or for that matter JC readers), really disagree with Marx’s famous formulation concerning England/Ireland that ‘a nation that oppresses another can never itself be free’? Does this argument not apply even more today to Israel/Palestine, especially when the oppressor nation, Israel, is armed to the teeth by the US, the world’s only imperial super-power?
And here's what they actually published which I think probably does justice to the main points that John Rose makes.
May I thank the JC for the review of my book, The Myths of Zionism, by Dr Tony Klug (August 8th) which recognised it as a "testament" of how to be fiercely anti-Zionist "without a trace of anti-Semitism". He also highlighted some of the book’s "information gems". These are the basis of key chapters, which, for example, challenge Zionism’s lachrymose view of Jewish history as well as Ben Gurion’s outrageous claim that the Bible gave him a mandate for a Jewish state in Palestine.

I was surprised, though, that Tony Klug mocked the book’s Marxist perspective. Would he really disagree with Marx’s famous formulation concerning England/Ireland that "a nation that oppresses another can never itself be free"? Does this argument not apply even more today to Israel/Palestine, especially when the oppressor nation, Israel, is armed to the teeth by the US, the world’s only imperial super-power?
What surprises me here is the way that John Rose let Tony Klug get away with manipulating the concepts of peoplehood and ideology or, if you prefer, the way he (Klug) conflates a society (an involuntary group like the Palestinians) with an association (a group of choice like the zionist movement).

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