Anti-Semitism

Mentioning Hitler in the same interview as Israel is completely silly. What was Ken Livingstone thinking? But some would argue any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

Prospect magazine came too close to that when it asked, at what point does legitimate criticism of the Israeli government turn into unfair singling out of the country—and of Jewish people generally? Of course I “single out” Israel. I have never taken any action about Chinese oppression of the Uighurs or of Tibet.

Any activist has to pick their causes. What speaks to your heart? As well as LGBT and Green Party emails, I get Palestinian Solidarity Campaign emails forwarded by a man, because another friend saw there was a demonstration in Swanston one weekend and suggested I go. Two friends have been to Israel with the Ecumenical Accompaniment programme. I am in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions certainly of Settlement produce, though I am unsure about other Israeli produce.

Even if Hitler was a Zionist in 1933, it reflects no more on Zionists than his vegetarianism. Livingstone’s other remark, that there is a well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israel policy as antisemitic, is arguable. I get PSC emails, and I am sure there are emails on campaigning against BDS, including on how to play the “Anti-Semitism” card. The foulness of anti-Semitism, which has roots throughout the history of Europe back to the blood-libel and even the Roman empire, must not be obscured by trivial attacks on well-meaning Palestine campaigners.

A commenter on that Prospect article thought my concern with Israel “unfair singling out”, “unless you can show there is something more oppressive about the Israeli occupation than, say, China’s occupation of Tibet”. Behind its paywall, you expect the comment threads on Prospect to be better. I have no knowledge of China in Tibet. I have other things to learn about.

So, some false accusations are thrown against the BDS side.

I expect better of Israeli Jews. Some whom I see on BBC4 documentaries have British names and accents. Precisely my fellow-feeling with them, rather than racist Othering, makes me feel they should not oppress the Palestinians so.

What of generalisations about Israeli Jews? I feel they should take action to stop the oppression of the Palestinians. I feel it is wrong to use the accusation of racism to shut down arguments. Is the generalisation unfair? Not all are anti-Semitic.

Naz Shah was suspended from the Labour Party for having shared a facebook status calling for Israeli Jews to be deported en masse to the US, before she was elected MP. I disapprove; but find the Prime Minister’s statement that you have to accept there are circumstances in which [Trident’s] use would be justified, far more repugnant. If you disagree, refute my arguments, do not simply try to blacken them with the boo-word “anti-Semitic”.

After I wrote that, I read the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s q&a on antisemitism and BDS.

Revolting Jews

Arch of TitusIf the Jews obeyed the Torah completely even for one day, the Kingdom of Heaven would come. What would that mean? For me, it means everyone obeying the laws of God- love God, and love everyone else. Do to them as they would have done to them. For a strain of Christianity, it means Rapture, end of the laws of physics and resurrection of the dead. For the Jews of the first century CE, it meant all humanity would worship on the Holy Mountain, that is Jerusalem. Many of them thought this would be by conquest.

There are 235 uses of the phrase “Lord of Hosts” in the Old Testament, and only two in the New Testament, one of which is a quote. Malachi, prophesying during the reign of the Persians, complained that the worship in the Jerusalem temple was inadequate. He wrote And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. God would conquer the other nations, who would submit.

Then Alexander conquered the Persians, and his successors in Egypt then Syria took control of Judah and Galilee. Just as Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Revelation) of Syria decided finally to Hellenise the Jews, setting up his altar in the Temple and provoking the Maccabean revolt, Roman power was rising. Mattathias killed a Jew sacrificing on a pagan altar, and the Greek official enforcing it, and his sons led the revolt and became rulers and high priests in Jerusalem. Jews interpreted this as God acting to defend his people. Arch of TitusThey celebrated the festival of Hanukkah yearly to remember, and read of it in the books of the Maccabees.

The Israelite covenant with God had been that the people would obey the Torah, and God would look after them. In 63BCE, Rome conquered Jerusalem and made the Jewish kingdom a client state; and in 6CE Augustus placed it under direct Roman administration. God would set the Jews free if the Jews kept their part of the Covenant; but the Messiah, a military leader, had not come. So, the temple worship was untrue, the Essenes said. The Pharisees devoted themselves to keeping Torah. Jesus prophesied that the Jews would revolt, and the Romans crush them: his new concept of the Kingdom of Heaven was the law of Love and non-violence.

In 66-73 the Jews rose. They fought among themselves as much as against the Romans, because of differing interpretations of how Jewish behaviour would please God enough that he would rise up and defend them. In 70AD Titus destroyed the Jerusalem temple. In 132, Simon Bar Kochba led a second revolt, put down in 135 with the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem. The Jews preserved their identity as a people through obedience to Torah, despite dispersal and persecution.

Religion may be abused, but at its best inculcates disciplines, practices and a sense of community which is good for humanity. Beware magical thinking, that God will look after me if I perform acts pleasing to God, unrelated to practically achieving my goals. The pictures are of the Arch of Titus, commemorating the removal of temple treasures to Rome.

Compassion

Peter ministered in Meeting: as we think of April Jones and her family- the five year old girl from Machynlleth, we should spare some compassion for Mark Bridger, now charged with her murder. He too had family, friends, a life. And I thought, No. If I knew him, I might have some feeling for him, though perhaps I would owe it more to her; but as it is, I have not enough compassion for the people I know, hardly enough for myself. And- yes, he is entitled to a fair trial, and even mitigation of his suffering if that be possible, but I can have no part in that, and so wishing for it seems cheap.

After, Ann, an Ecumenical Accompanier for three months in 2011, gave a talk. I had not realised how the West Bank is so overrun by Israeli soldiers, for the last ten years, so the Palestinians are divided from their neighbours. The gaps between the brown areas are where the settlements are, restricting the movement of the Palestinians. She showed a picture of a town surrounded by beautiful flower beds, and one of polytunnels, watered and growing peppers and aubergines for the British supermarkets among others, for all the water is controlled by Israelis. She spoke of a village where the Settlers had told the villagers to get out, in 2003, and so now accompaniers record the sufferings of the villagers. Settlers come into the village with impunity and with guns, and urinate in the village well. She told of the army bulldozing homes, and even attacking the entrances to caves with bulldozers so that the cave become less habitable. Even where settlement activity is illegal under Israeli law, it proceeds. The US votes against Security Council condemnation, and the UK abstains, which blocks resolutions.

The villagers had just two days to harvest their olive trees, but because they had not been able to tend the trees the crop could fit in the mayor’s pocket. If this treatment has not yet driven out the Palestinians, they may only be extirpated by killing them. As the Third Reich discovered, simply shooting unarmed civilians upsets soldiers, and reduces their combat effectiveness. The gas chambers were easier on the operators. Ann talked of soldiers weeping because they could not bear what they were ordered to do, and of a Settler child screaming hatred of her because she was preventing them taking the land given by God to the Jews.

Then we had lunch, a convivial affair. The daughter of one of us, I had not known her, is going out as an Accompanier. I chatted  to two dark-skinned chaps, a rare though not unheard of sight in a meeting house. One is a Muslim, who grew up in Coventry in the 1960s, and bewails the corruption of Pakistanis in Pakistan- the drone strikes could not happen without government complicity- and in England. He is a believing Muslim, and hates the mosques: the Imams are trained and mosques built with Saudi money. The Imam thinks he is there to tell the people what to think and what to do. They think alike, the Saudis, the Israelis and the American Evangelicals. We agree how beautiful Coventry Cathedral is- going North, to black despair, and meeting God there. Constantine took the Church and made it his own power tool. What can be done? He does not know, though there is hope in Microfinance.

I came home to watch Robert Hughes on The Shock of the New explain how similar was the architecture of Stalin’s Russia- this was before the Wall fell- Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and-

corporate America. One example he picked on was the John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts.

As I cycled home, a girl walking by exclaimed, “Love the helmet”. So do I. It is pink, with flowers on. My arms are bare in the almost-warm-enough sunshine. Another cyclist passed me, and commented, “The drivers are less manic on a Sunday”. Almost all are courteous, waiting for a clearly safe place to overtake me.