September 05, 2007

I vainly searched but not in vain

So how did that happen? Well the born again ultra-zionist, Howard Jacobson wrote a ludicrous article in Saturday's Independent about how the left should sympathise with a successful hack like him because as a Jew he was dispossessed of his homeland a couple of millennia ago. I wrote to the Independent to protest his stupidness on the none too relevant grounds that Jews overwhelmingly are not from what we now call Israel and that we are, mostly anyway, the product of hundreds, indeed thousands of years of individual, tribal, communal and even national conversions. Well, on account of my vanity, I looked for my letter and what did I see? Well I didn't see my letter. Censorship? Er, no. There was quite a crop of letters exposing Jacobson's stupidness.

The first writer saw fit to lavish praise on Howard Jacobson, I'm guessing, for old time's sake.
I have few equals in my admiration of the nous and wit of Howard Jacobson, but he makes a great mistake in castigating Robert Fisk's comments about the tragedy of dispossession (1 September).

It is precisely because the Jews have returned to a longed-for homeland that they are a different case, and, even more poignantly, are treating the Palestinians as they were once treated themselves. Robert Fisk must surely be the expert journalistic voice when it comes to the consequences, direct and indirect, for the region and the world, of this mistreatment.

Terry Walsh

Rochester, Kent
Hmm, returned? Returned to a place we couldn't possibly prove we came from. I don't like that. It panders to tribal lore, mythology, that sort of thing. This next one gets closer to hitting the spot:
Of course Jews have the right to a homeland in Israel-Palestine – although the majority, like Howard Jacobson, prefer to find a homeland elsewhere. Jews, like the Palestinians, Brest-Litovsk Poles or Silesian Germans–we might add the Roma, Sikhs, Navaho Indians or Ethnic Fijians – all have the right to a homeland. The issue is whether they have the right to a state maintained at the expense of others.

If white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were to insist on England as a state over which they would be permanently dominant and set out to achieve this by exiling or marginalising those outside their ethno-religious grouping, then Howard Jacobson would be the first to protest. Fisk is right. Only in the case of Israel do we become misty-eyed enough to justify the unjustifiable.

The Rev Duncan Macpherson

Hampton, Middlesex
I say! a reverend. But what's this next one? My friend Georgina:
Howard Jacobson wants us to believe there is no difference between dispossessed Jews and dispossessed Palestinians. The sad difference is, of course, that dispossessed Jews have become the dispossessors of Palestinians. There is nothing suspect in putting greater emphasis on present suffering and injustice, about which something might be done, than on the suffering of the past, however real.

Georgina Baidoun

Milton Keynes
Another good one but it still incorporates this "dispossessed Jews" myth. I understand. It's best not to attack too many premises of a person's point when you write to the press. As it happens that's one of the difficulties correspondents have responding to zionists in the media. It is enormously difficult to find an honest article that promotes the zionist cause so detractors find themselves condemning every paragraph. The sheer contrariness of it all is off-putting to the non-initiated and in this case there's the having to tip-toe through the verbal minefield of saying that, yes, Jews have a right to a homeland, but no, they don't have a right to one at the expense of others. Who wants to go on record saying Jews have no right to a homeland or even seeming like they might be saying that? Oi! Anyway, here's mine.
Howard Jacobson's apparent contention that the Jews of today are the descendants of dispossessed Jews of biblical times is ahistorical nonsense. There have been individual, tribal and even national conversions into and out of Judaism since time immemorial. The Jews of today are are an ethno-religious group defined by descent but not by territory. Jews are people who either practice Judaism or are the descendants of people who practiced Judaism. The Palestinians are the people of a place, Palestine (aka Israel and the occupied territories). Their dispossession at the hands of the Zionist movement took place in the living memory of many of them and the dispossession continues.

We now have a situation where Jews from anywhere in the world have more right to a home in Israel than native non-Jews who are there or who have been driven from there. As a potential beneficiary of that colonial relationship, Howard Jacobson really can't complain.
Now why did I say "apparent contention?" It's because I couldn't bear to actually read the whole article. I just had a quick skim and fired off an even quicker letter. I simply guessed at what he was saying. Judging from the letters they did publish I guess my guess was right.

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