May 12, 2009

Howard Jacobson "on" zionism

I wouldn't have noticed this ludicrous piece by Howard Jacobson in Saturday's Independent but for the criticisms it attracted in yesterday's paper. Here's a chunk of Jacobson's piece:
Zionism was never a single movement, and whatever isn't a single movement cannot be said to have a single aim. A complex of ideologies, Utopian, messianic, visionary, practical, communistical, sometimes dreamily idealistic – Jews and Arabs working the land side by side – sometimes just plain desperate, came together (and indeed didn't always do that) to form that which we call Zionism. Far from uniformly expressing Jewish expansionist ambitions, Zionists agreed only on the necessity to escape the grinding fretfulness of an unceasing anti-Semitism and to end the overwrought Jewish self-awareness of which anti-Semitism was the cause. Living with Arabs, not dispossessing them, was to be a way of achieving this.
And here are Monday's letters:
Israel's agenda for the Palestinians

Howard Jacobson is right ("A letter to an anti-Semite who isn't", 9 May). There are undoubtedly Israelis who would not hurt a fly. Ditto Palestinians. But he is obfuscating the main thrust of Zionism.

Its founding father, Theodore Herzl, favoured the transfer of Palestinians. Israel's first President, Chaim Weizmann, wanted Palestine "to be as Jewish as England is English and Poland is Polish". How could that be achieved when 90 per cent of Palestinians were Muslim or Christian? So he leaped at the idea of transfer too.

Israel's first Prime Minster, David Ben Gurion, established a Transfer Committee in 1936 to study how transfer could be achieved. And he was angered in 1948 that commanders in Galilee failed to ensure the departure of its native population. And when the chance was there in 1948 to allow the Arab peasantry to return to their villages, the UN mediator found Israel's leadership unyielding, "as hard as rock".

Today two-thirds of its Jewish electorate cannot accept the prospect that Israel's growing minority might one day outnumber Jews. Transfer is openly discussed.

Ahmedinejad's words may be odious but they are a distraction. So is Holocaust denial. I share Jacobson's disgust at both, but he should stop using them to distract us from Israel's fell agenda for its captive people.

David McDowall

Richmond, Surrey

Howard Jacobson asserts that no one who has read the history of Zionism will be aware that the aim of Zionism "was to dispossess the Arabs". Well he should read what Golda Meir had to say on the subject. In 1969, the Prime Minister of Israel addressed the question of Israeli settlement policy: "There is no such thing as Palestinians. It is not as though there was a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist."

So, perhaps this explains why Jacobson is so sure that there is no need to dispossess the Arabs.

Michael Hirst

Pangbourne, Berkshire

Howard Jacobson, in his thoughtful meditation on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, refers to "Primo Levi's greatest dread – that those who suffered would never be believed". Ah yes, the Primo Levi who said: "Someone is always someone's Jew, and the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis", not a remark an Auschwitz survivor is likely to have made in jest.

Thomas Tallon


Hmm, Howard Jacobson, thoughtful and meditative?

As it happens, whilst there are benign forms of zionist thought, anything that argues for living space specifically for Jews, is indeed racist and it is Jacobson that knows it, or he's a fool if he doesn't. He should have really muddied the waters with time-wasting talk about cultural and linguistic zionism but maybe he really is an ignoramous and not just pretending.

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