February 14, 2007

Rounding up the IJV discussion

Much of the "debate" around the Independent Jewish Voices declaration has been absolutely ludicrous. Here's Brian Klug rounding up on the discussions that have involved several Comment is free articles and possibly over a thousand comments.
"The rebellion goes global" is the headline of the lead article on the front page of this week's Jewish Chronicle (JC), which prides itself on being the "world's oldest and most influential Jewish newspaper". "International drive to challenge communal leaders' 'unquestioning support' for Israel reaches Britain" explains the strap line. The article reports that in just three days over 1,000 entries on the subject were posted on the Comment is Free site. This is not to say that the JC is sympathetic to IJV, as it makes clear in an editorial [subscription only]. But its extensive coverage reflects the extent of public interest, not least in Jewish circles, in the issues raised by the launch.

It's the issues, not the IJV as such, that count. As one email writer put it: "Judging by the enormous response, it is clear that these issues have been smouldering beneath the surface for some time". He thought that the launch of IJV has "catalysed the debate".

Another wrote: "You have said openly what many of us have felt for a very long time but have lacked a vehicle for expressing our views."

These sentiments, which have been expressed in abundance over the last week, provide part of the answer to an objection raised frequently - in the threads of comments on this site and elsewhere - during the week. We stand accused of being a clique of marginal Jews who have ample opportunity to express our views in the media; who have invented or imagined the figment of censorship; and who simply cannot bear the heat of vigorous debate.

It would take a while to unpack this accusation in full. Briefly, there is no clique. The two email writers I just quoted are not members of the glitterati. They do not have automatic access to the comment pages of newspapers. Like many signatories to the IJV statement, they are individuals who feel alienated by the prevailing climate of debate over Israel and Zionism within the Jewish world.
Now, what was I saying? Ah yes, ludicrous. Go to Brian Klug's latest offering. Scroll down to the comments and have a look at some. At the time of writing there are 221. Then nip over to Engage and see the denunciations of these dangerous dissidents. Ok, as a foretaste, here's David Aaronovitch.
I don’t sign newspaper petitions any more, but a girl does like to be asked, and I felt a twinge of preposterous disappointment when the ads came out for Independent Jewish Voices and I wasn’t there, listed among the signatories. After all, organiser Brian Klug couldn’t have known that I’d refuse, albeit graciously. I’m as famous as Uri Fruchtman, aren’t I, Brian? I bloody hope so.
Compare this with what Aaronovitch had to say about Jews for Justice for Palestinians in The Times back in September of last year:
Some time ago, a colleague of my late father’s — an intelligent, courageous person, more skilled in ex-pression than in listening — asked me if I would like to append my own name to JfJfP’s aims. And I changed the subject. Partly because I could see where all this was headed, but mostly because the whole idea of the organisation struck me as a bit weird.

Why would having a Jewish name give me any particularly valuable view of the Middle Eastern quagmire? In what sense would wanting justice for the Palestinians be an expression of Jewishness? Why not just join “Justice for Palestinians”?

No, this was an attempt to lever an element of my identity — an element that might differ hugely from person to person — so as to suggest something more remarkable, more authentic, than a non-Jewish perspective. It might say to Israel: “Look, even a guy with a name like Aaronovitch is critical,” or to Palestinians: “Look, even a guy with a name like Aaronovitch supports you.”
As I said, that's just a foretaste. The fact is that for this rag-bag of zionists (who call themselves non-zionists) at Engage, any dissent from the stock zionist positions sends them into a babbling panic. If they contradict themselves from time to time. That's ok. Being establishment means never having to explain.

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