Self-hate or Glasnost?

Banksy artwork on the West Bank barrier.

Something strange is happening in the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, though far away from the action itself.

Deliberations between the two sides continue with little to show for their efforts. The occupation in the West Bank continues to deepen. The November ‘peace conference’ is looking shakier by the day. Hamas is sidelined by much of the international community and the split between it and Fatah is worsening.

But something else happened recently, virtually ignored in the Australia media. Israel flew over Syria and fired its weapons into sovereign territory. Haaretz reported the latest developments:

Syria’s ambassador to Washington over the weekend denied foreign media reports that an Israel Air Force strike on his country 10 days ago targeted a nuclear project being undertaken with the cooperation of North Korea.

According to the foreign press reports, the target of the IAF raid was a Syrian nuclear installation that was constructed in the northeastern corner of the country, with North Korean assistance.

The story shows that Israel is becoming increasingly brazen in flexing its military muscle in the Middle East and Washington is more than happy for it to continue its bullying tactics. After all, the United States recently increased its own military spending in the region, blissfully unaware that trying to isolate Iran will likely have the opposite effect. Israel’s supposed independent status is bankrolled by the world’s leading superpower, and its ability to move is severely limited without Washington’s backing.

But what if we put geo-politics aside from a moment? As a long-time writer on and observer of the Israel/Palestine conflict, I want to argue that there is a fundamental shift occurring within the world’s Jewish Diaspora communities. In the words of‘s senior editor, Tony Karon, a ‘Jewish glasnost’ is upon us.

Pointing to a recent study that showed that only 20 per cent of US Jews aged under 35 felt a strong attachment to Israel, and only 54 per cent were comfortable with the very idea of the Jewish State, Karon writes:

[These] startling figures alone underscore the absurdity of [the]suggestion that to challenge Israel is to ‘defame an entire people.’ They also help frame the context for what I would call an emerging Jewish glasnost in which Jewish critics of Israel are increasingly willing to make themselves known.

When I arrived in the United States 13 years ago [from South Africa], I was often surprised to find that people with whom I seemed to share a progressive, cosmopolitan worldview would suddenly morph into raging ultranationalists when the conversation turned to Israel. Back then, it would have seemed unthinkable for historian Tony Judt to advocate a binational State for Israelis and Palestinians or for Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen to write that ‘Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now.’ Unthinkable, too, was the angry renunciation of Zionism by Avrum Burg, former speaker of Israel’s Knesset.

The evidence is growing that many Jews even some within Israel are recognising that the Jewish State has no long-term future without profound shifts in its behaviour. Perhaps more importantly, however, there are a steadily increasing number of Jews who will no longer be silenced by accusations of disloyalty to the utopian Zionist ideal an ideal that historians can prove was little more than a well-executed plan of ethnic cleansing.

Haaretz columnist Danny Rubinstein has likened Israel’s behaviour in the occupied territories to that of South Africa during apartheid. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book, The Israel Lobby, further erodes the financial, political and moral support offered by the US towards Israel, arguing that the Jewish State should be treated like any other country, not as a special case deserving unique dispensation. Its abominable behaviour in the occupied territories should be reason alone to tie US financial support to withdrawal of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

The launch of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) in Britain and Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) (of which I am a co-founder) show that the self-declared guardians of Jewish nationalism are lying when they claim to speak for all Jews.

The IAJV is planning a number of prominent events in 2008 to show the wider community that Jews welcome a diverse range of viewpoints on the Israel/Palestine conflict, from both Jews and Arabs. No area should be out of bounds nor any proposed solution beyond discussion. And as Jewish dissent reaches the mainstream, the Zionist lobby is responding with predictable hysteria.

For the current leaders of the Jewish community, any crack in the 60-year campaign to present a united front is tantamount to treachery (and seriously threatens their jobs). Those who believe in the concept of Jewish glasnost are used to being labelled ‘fringe,’ ‘far-Left,’ ‘extremists,’ ‘Holocaust deniers,’ ‘anti-Semites’ and ‘unrepresentative.’ Compared to a few years ago though, such ad hominem attacks are brushed aside as little more than a distraction.

It’s simply feeble to watch even so-called liberal Zionists cling to a concept of Israel that only exists in their minds. Their assumptions that the settlements will be removed, that a Palestinian State is essential and Israel is constantly striving for peace are all contradicted by facts on the ground. To accept this, however, would require a fundamental shift in mindset. They’ve spent a lifetime clinging to the idea that Zionism is noble, even utopian, and to give this up is a step too far. Fair enough, but many other Jews no longer care if Israel ceases to exist.

This obsession with policing the bounds of debate (yet again this week we had the unedifying sight of Jewish Federal Labor MP Michael Danby claiming anti-Israel bias in the Fairfax press) merely indicates to the wider community that the Jewish establishment is afraid of robust discussion. In my opinion, such intolerance leads to anti-Semitism. Israel may or may not have a future, but continually resorting to Israeli Foreign Ministry talking points is actually contributing to the Jewish State’s ever-increasing isolation on the international stage.

Criticising Israel is not the same thing as criticising Jews. One of the great successes of the Zionist movement throughout the 20th Century was to convince the wider community that supporters of Israel spoke for all Jews. In fact, a sizeable number of Jews around the world have never supported Israel and never will. These people are only now finding their public voices and re-claiming the mantle of ‘Jewishness’ from Zionist militarism and racist ideology espoused under the guise of an all-inclusive post-Holocaust Jewish identity.

The Jewish glasnost has already succeeded in separating Judaism from Zionism and in articulating frameworks for an Israeli/Palestinian future devoid of racial separation.

Debate in Australia may seem parochial and stale and the Australian Jewish News prefers to keep it that way, moderating the bounds of debate solely along the lines of ‘what is good for the Jews?’ but we are thankfully not immune from global trends. The end result of Soviet glasnost was the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. The path of Jewish glasnost may be far more unpredictable.

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