Thursday, August 16, 2012


I sometimes have conversations about Israel/Palestine, both online and face-to face, with younger people and they disturb me. Their support for Palestinian statehood, something I have long shared, can often be scarcely differentiated from an anti-Israel sentiment that simply assumes the inherent wickedness of the state. It isn't hatred; it is disdain. Above all, what worries me is their certainty. Doubt does not trouble them, nor do they think of Israelis as anything other than oppressors. Does it ever cross their mind that they are Jews, or that the history of the conflict is inseparable from Jewish history and experience? I don't think so. As a result, they carelessly leave an intellectual door ajar and sometimes I wonder what it is that seeps in through the crack from the room beyond.

And so I come to a remarkable series of thirteen posts by the poet George Szirtes about his sense of his own cultural inheritance. It will be well worth your time to read them all. Whenever I read his poetry, I get a feeling that each word is casting a shadow, dappled layers of meaning, which lays bare a moment in time. In the darkest corners of those shadows lurk the ghosts of the worst of the twentieth century. They are not his own experiences; they are a room that he has necessarily passed through. He wrote these posts to try and explain, "…my feelings about Israel, a country I have never visited, based on a religion I have never practised, and a culture I have never shared". And he shows precisely where those young people go wrong.

The metaphor George chooses is a yellow room, taken from a Chagall painting. It is atmospheric and enigmatic; an intimate, welcoming, refuge. Outside it there is an inescapable sense of unease. The only moment that jars is in his eighth post.
Roughly similar number of Middle Eastern Jews and Arabs left or were expelled from their previous dwelling places in the 1948 period (c 800,000 Palestinians, c 700,000 Jews from Arab homelands). 
The problem here is not that it isn't true, there was a mass displacement of both peoples with all the pain that involved. But unlike the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s, the experience was not symmetrical. Jews had a refuge to move to, one that they were now determined to defend. The Palestinians had nothing, only the camps, only exile. And so they had to invent their own refuge, a room of their own. For the older generation it was constructed from memories of their old homes, something real that they had known and for which they kept the keys and deeds as sacred icons. The younger generation moved in and decorated it with unreality. Palestine became an Eden; one that could be recovered because they had not fallen, they were pushed. It was not made of the mundane; it was a dreamland, a golden room. People kill and die readily for glorious fictions.

And this is the essence of the conflict. Two peoples have become deeply entwined in tragic histories. They have more in common than is often admitted and that is why I repeat the slogan whenever I can that to be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli at the same time is not a contradiction. It is a necessity if we are to untangle these enmeshed tragedies. To practical minds, the two-state solution stands as the starting point for coexistence.

All of which brings me back to these perfectly decent young people and the ideologues who fill them with righteous ardour. It's odd, they never seem to mention the word Jew. Instead they use hopelessly inappropriate analogies – 'colonial settler state', 'apartheid state' and the like. Anything to avoid even thinking that they are talking about Jews and that this noble cause could have anything to do with Jewish people. There is a reason for that of course. We gentiles have a room too. It is part of our history and we don't want to think about it. If we do, it might dilute certainty with ambiguity. The room isn't yellow. Sometimes it is made out of rough planks, sometimes of cement and occasionally it is constructed from neatly dressed stone placed on a picturesque mound in a beautiful northern city. This room is part of our cultural inheritance and it is intrinsically tied up with Jews. It is the room in which we kill them. And so I think I know what bothers me. It is the smell seeping through that half closed door. I can recognise what it is now.

It's gas.

Follow these links to read all the posts in order: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12; 13


George S said...

My case, Peter, was that the Palestinian refugees could have been accommodated and absorbed in the surrounding states, as indeed we Hungarians were in our various countries. We were not kept in refugee camps for decades.

The Palestinians were kept in refugee camps for political reasons, because, as I said in the post, if they had been allowed to assimilate - as we and most refugees have been - that would have been to admit the legality of the new state of Israel. That is still the case, isn't it?

The Plump said...

To an extent George. Though there are differences. One is the willingness of refugees to be absorbed. Another is the nature of the states. They were not democratic refuges from tyrannies, they were tyrannies. And they were deeply hostile to the refugees, seeing them as potentially destabilising.

So yes, refugees were used for political purposes. And yes, Palestinian organisations tried to create a Palestinian tyranny for them as a form of national liberation in classic 70s style.

The central failure was that the UN partition scheme offered a Palestinian state. It was never created.

And what supporters of The Palestinian case never take into account is the nature of Palestinian political discourse. Much of it has not been liberal. It has flirted with Stalinism, fascism and now Islamism. This alone should call for a defence of Israel by the left; not just in itself but as a promise of democracy for Palestinians too. But as I said, there has been a process of romanticisation of the other, the loser, that has ignored many realities.

I suppose what really matters is not that the Arab states could have absorbed the refugees, it is that they didn't. And that created a different experience of exile, one that has to be accommodated in any peace settlement. The opportunities are still there and they need to be taken before another knot is added to the tangle.

George S said...

The history here - not you, Peter, but generally - is so contentious I wouldn't care to enter from a position of relative ignorance. If the Palestinian state had been the West Bank, and if working relations could have been established with Israel, then there might have been hope.

I find myself in some agreement with those who say the creation of an Israeli state where it is was unlikely to work. I think I have been reasonably consistent in my scepticism about the sanctity of ancient homelands for anyone, including Greater Hungary. But, sooner or later, people are where they are and that is what we have to deal with.

I try to be optimistic about this, but it's not easy. 'First recognize Israel then talk to it', would be a starting point. Camp David was an alternative starting point. Didn't get far.

I admire people who seek common ground, but that ground seems to have been small and patchy so far.

The Plump said...

the sanctity of ancient homelands

Both peoples are caught in this trap and are dealing with the consequences of the contradictions in the grand 19th Century nationalist narratives. They persist and are still killing people.

that ground seems to have been small and patchy

Half-full or half empty? The cross-cultural work, the trade union collaborations, the acts of solidarity, the continuing negotiations behind the scenes, organisations like One Voice or IPCRI trying to untangle the mess? I am a natural optimist, but the young people I talk to seem to view all this constructive work as a betrayal of their own grand narrative. And in some ways it is and it should be. It is a good starting point too. Without these small actions peace making will not have fertile soil, once they become embedded it will seem natural.

The history is complex and politicised. So let's stick to something that you raised. Refuge. And there are two points here. The first is that the empty half of the glass is a profound threat - not because of Israel's history or because of the Palestinian cause, but because Israelis are Jews. Refuge as a place of last resort has never been more necessary. Not only does the contemporary left not see this, they cannot comprehend that they are increasing the tension and even the possibility of calamity.

The second is that refuge is something that we all need and many of us take for granted. And so a sub-theme of your series was about Britain, your affection for it and appreciation of what it offers. And in that your parents chose well. I suppose it will always be my ultimate refuge and I suspect yours too. If I ever wholly committed to Greece, I would know that I could return to free health care and bad weather if all went wrong. It hasn't always been like that though and that is why I get so alarmed with the games young people are playing with the lives of others.

Strategist said...

I have to beg to differ with you on this one, I dislike unexamined certainties as much as anyone, but you go too far: “they use hopelessly inappropriate analogies – 'colonial settler state', 'apartheid state'”. These are very precise and illuminating analogies to describe today’s West Bank – what the hell else is it? Of course the young react to the injustice they see in front of their faces, and really what else would we have them do? It is today’s hardline Israeli voters and settlers who have chosen to choke the life out of the two-state solution. The parallels with South Africa are so extraordinarily striking as to be uncanny. The Israelis will in the end need to find their FW de Klerk and go for the one state solution.

levi9909 said...

Peter and George both seem to be working on the assumption that the UN was proposing a workable solution based on two states in what at the time was Palestine.

The problem is that whilst the zionist movement and therefore the Jews in Palestine had all the structures of a state going back at least to the 1920s, the Arabs had no such thing. When the partition was first proposed in November 1947 the Arabs therefore had nothing and no-one to protect them when the zionists began the ethnic cleansing until, when the UK left in May 1948 the neighbouring Arabs states mobilised against an already expanded and mobilised State of Israel.

Here are two articles from 1948 and 1956 by the American leftist, Hal Draper which more idea of what was going on back then than can be gleaned from either Peter or George:

He goes into a surprising amount of detail.

Peter's note that Israel's Jewishness should be taken into account rather than simply its colonial settler or apartheid nature seems to overlook the fact that Israel's Jewishness is owed to settler colonialism and to segregation. Jews from around the world do have privileged access to Israel/Palestine and segregation is maintained to the benefit of Jews and the disadvantage of Arabs. Also, when the settlers are called Jews by their critics, the critics are accused, sometimes correctly, of antisemitism though Israel's supporters also have a tendency to conflate zionists, the State of Israel and the Jews.

The Plump said...

So much to go at, so I will be as brief as possible and not answer everything. First, Levi 99o9,
all states restrict immigration on the basis of ethnicity. Try getting into the UK from outside the EU. On your broader points about segregation, please see below. The wall is a consequence of the events arising from the continuing occupation, which I oppose, not a racial ideology.

And we could spend all day swapping sources and quotes on a contested history. I am not going there other than to say that the UN did partition mandatory Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state, but the mandatory power -Britain - did not see an Arab state as viable and encouraged its absorption into neighbouring states. Given the rise of a specifically Palestinian nationalism, this was always going to be problematic. There is a mountain of historical research published on this.

Strategist. The precision of the apartheid analogy escapes me. Apartheid - segregation of all public facilities by race; Israel no segregation. Apartheid - blacks did not have the vote and were excluded from parliament; Israel all have the vote, Palestinian citizens of Israel sit in Parliament. I could go on and on. This does not deny the fact that there is discrimination as there is in the UK, but unlike apartheid South Africa it is not encoded in law nor is it institutionalised, nor is it based on legally enforceable segregation (in fact, the law prohibits it) nor is there an ideology that posits the inherent, biological inferiority of groups of people. I hate to play the game of being more right-on than thou, but I joined the anti-apartheid movement in the early 70s and taught English to Palestinians on the West Bank in the early 80s. I saw no parallel then, nor do I now.

Now for a general point that I make to all my students. You should never try and analyse through analogy. It is thoroughly misleading and, especially in this case, can lead to a classic logical fallacy that is called guilt by association. Please read this earlier post of mine:

The use of the term apartheid associates Israel with racism, the term colonial settler state with imperialism. The point of the post was to raise something that you may have missed. This is that Zionism was intended to be neither. It is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, one of the most persecuted minorities in world history. This is why the left in George's and my youth supported it.

Now, consequences have come from that movement and the specific problems of a diaspora nationalism trying to establish a national territory, as they have from the denial of Palestinian national self-determination. This is the real conflict. And this is what we should be talking about, rather than trying to change its nature by saying that it is something else, something inherently wicked.

As George says, none of this excuses oppression of any kind, but this is what exists and what we have to deal with.

And George, the lion bit me but left you alone. I must be much more appetising.

George S said...

They pounce and they accuse. The analogy with South Africa is cried up and no actual parrallels provided, simply that they are 'srikingly uncanny'.

I also see 'ethnic cleansing' in there, taken at face value, without any discussion of the conditions of the founding of the state..

Sorry, Peter.

levi9909 said...

Peter, the discrimination of the Israeli state against the Palestinians is encoded into the law. It has several laws that explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews. It isn't as explicit as South Africa was but then South Africa wasn't as noted for ethnic cleansing as Israel is.

Israel's treatment of minorities cannot be compared to other countries since Israel as a state and as a society is founded on the prinicple of colonial settlement, ethnic cleansing and an array of discriminatory laws to copper-fasten the "demographic balance".

I think it is these glib and disingenuous defences of Israel coupled, of course, with Israel's overwhelming power, which make peace an impossibility. I don't know if you make your assertions from a standpoint of ignorance or if you yourself are being disingenuous but comparing the recent and on-going ethnic cleansing of the native majority of a country to the discriminatory nature of immigration laws elsewhere is a discourse of avoidance, not a genuine engagement with the issues.

The Plump said...

Ah, Levi the lion. This needs a fuller response.

Part 1

I am arguing that the description of Israel as an Apartheid state is wholly inappropriate. Apartheid was constructed through a cluster of legislation mainly in the early 1950s. The main ones were:

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949)
The Population Registration Act of (1950)
The Group Areas Act (1950)
The Immorality Act (1950)
The Suppression of Communism Act (1950)
The Bantu Authorities Act (1951)
The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953)
The Bantu Education Act (1953)
The Separate Representation of Voters Act (1956)

Look them up and read the details. If you can point to a similar legislative framework in Israel then you can make the analogy. If not, you diminish the evil that was Apartheid as well as play the game of guilt by association with Israel.

To hammer the point home, this does not mean that there is no discrimination in Israel. Nor does it mean that there is not a contradiction in the Israeli Basic Law between equal rights of citizenship and the definition of Israel as a Jewish state that goes beyond the simple exemption of Arab citizens from military service.

A recent report that catalogues the levels of discrimination is here:
It is pretty damning, but to argue that it constituted Apartheid would be perverse. To call all discrimination Apartheid is to render the term meaningless.

The reason this analogy is argued, as with the others, is because it forms part of a discourse of delegitimation of Israel. I have argued the Palestinian case for over thirty years, but I have becoming increasingly despairing of the dominance of an anti-Israel rejectionism. This is because it has no prospect of success, panders to far right movements like Hamas (just as its mirror image of Israeli apologism bolsters Likud and others further to the right) and undermines a process of mutual recognition, negotiation and reconciliation, which is the only way to begin to unpick the conflict and secure Palestinian self-determination. Delegitimation seeks victory not peace, and it will lose. There are two main features that concern me.

First, this discourse neglects any understanding of the importance of Israel to Jewish people, both as a refuge, and as a form of national liberation and affirmation. I am not alone in thinking this. Edward Said made exactly this point in his 1979 book, The Question of Palestine. Many consequences and misunderstandings flow from this neglect. This is what my post was about and what George illuminated in his series, together with his doubts.

The nature of Zionism was contested within from the beginning of the movement. The arguments between the broad categories of Spiritual, Practical and Political Zionism were resolved by the events of the 1930s and 40s in favour of the latter. Its logic was that the gentile world harboured genocidal intent and that security could only be secured by Jewish statehood. Thus the establishment of Israel cannot be seen outside the context of the attempted systematic murder of the whole Jewish people. The survival of the state was essential to the survival of the people.

Secondly, this discourse neglects the exponential growth of anti-Semitism and global conspiracy theory in the Arab world and beyond. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion now have a currency they were never able to achieve in Tsarist Russia. Any Israeli would look at this and know that the potential for genocide is on their doorstep. The need for refuge has not gone away; in fact it is getting more urgent.

These are the realities that have to be faced in peace making.

The Plump said...

Part 2

Now, as to the accusation of ignorance or dishonesty: I have extended courtesy and respect to you in answering your points on my blog, I would appreciate it if you would reciprocate. I certainly do not doubt your sincerity or your good intentions, but I would say the same thing to you as I say to others. Do not rely on a narrow, ideological interpretation of a complex and, in many ways, historically unique conflict. I would urge you to read more widely, especially the views of those you oppose, read with openness, take a step back and think. And in that way, your admirable passion for justice could be directed where it is needed most, towards the organisations promoting peace and reconciliation.

levi9909 said...

Peter - apologies for firing off a loose cannon as I did and many thanks for your considered responses and patience. I'll both the responses and the patience some thought.

Thanks again

The Plump said...

And your apology is accepted and appreciated. Thank you for being so gracious when I get so pompous.

Rebecca said...

Peter - thank you for this blog post, especially the last paragraph, which made me weep.

Strategist said...

Plump, I think the problem is that we are talking about two different things. In reply to my comment that "'colonial settler state' and 'apartheid state' are very precise and illuminating analogies to describe today’s West Bank", you state that there is no apartheid in Israel.
Jimmy Carter also said that there was no apartheid in Israel and then wrote a book called "Palestine - Peace not Apartheid". He wanted to talk about what was going on in the West Bank, and so do I. (Not to mention Gaza, where the situation is collective punishment and war crimes, not just apartheid.)
If apartheid is a good enough term for Jimmy Carter, who will have thought its use through very carefully, then you need to take it very seriously. Your views on South Africa and Israel/Palestine crystallised in the 1960s/70s/80s. Fine; but now it's time for an update.
I dislike being patronised with comments from George S. Let him explain and defend what goes on on the West Bank first before he does so.
Finally, you say "You should never try and analyse through analogy." To which I reply, I have not done so. I said that it is an analogy that is illuminating, and it absolutely is. I will withdraw "precise", but absolutely won't withdraw "extraordinarily striking and uncanny". Most Israelis I meet and speak to make comments and reveal a mindset uncannily similar to White South Africans.

The Plump said...


As I pointed out above to levi in comments -

Apartheid was a system established by a legislative framework. I didn't add, though I should have, that it was informed by an ideology that said that different races had certain immutable characteristics that were determined by skin colour. Black people were only capable of being labourers and servants to lighter skinned people and that whites were the master race.

It is not enough to use the phrase "most Israelis I talk to". Anecdotal evidence alone is not convincing. You need to be able to say that Israel has an official policy of racial segregation, both in Israel and the occupied territories, enforced by legal code to the extent of making sex between Palestinians and Jews a criminal act and that policy is informed by a pseudo-scientific racism (very hard given the Sephardic population). Then, and only then, can you call it an apartheid state.

If parallels are 'striking' or 'uncanny' - which implies something deeper without committing yourself to an explanation - then they have to be more than superficial. So, does Israeli anti-Arab racism exist? Yes. Does discrimination exist? Yes. Has the occupation led to oppression? Yes. Do land seizures happen? Yes. They are to be condemned and both George and I have condemned them. They happen elsewhere across the globe and they have happened to Jews in spades. Do two wrongs make a right? No. Are all instances of this apartheid? No. Are they all fascism. No. I am in favour of precision of analysis. Comparisons are rarely helpful.

Part 2 to follow.

The Plump said...

Part 2

The apartheid analogy arose because of the separation wall. The Palestinian areas were described, again inaccurately, as Bantustans. Let's get into this. First, the autonomous areas were set up under the Oslo Accords and were supposed to lead to independent statehood. The tragedy is that we never moved on to final status talks. The term was originally used by opponents of Oslo, including the Palestinian far right, who dreamed of the eradication of Israel.

Then came the wall. It is a disaster in all sorts of ways. But surely you can see that there was a contributory element from some Palestinian organisations. The restrictions of free movement was a policy that resulted from the wave of suicide bombings. And they have stopped since, though Islamic Jihad still are lobbing missiles on a very regular basis from Gaza into Israeli towns.

All I am doing here is to say that we need to look at both sides and to understand that Israeli motivation is not racial superiority but self-determination and self-protection. So a question for you. Have you read the Hamas charter? If so, can you understand why it makes Israelis nervous? Can you understand the hostility to the Hamas coup in Gaza? Can you also understand why Palestinian secularists, socialists, trade unionists and the Palestinian Christian minority are being oppressed by Hamas and why they are deeply opposed to it?

Part 3 next

The Plump said...

If you look at Israel today, there are hard-line nationalists, religious extremists, expansionists and the sort of rightists who carried out the Hebron massacre and who assassinated Rabin. They are confronted by a range of peaceniks, leftists, trade unionists (the Histadrut works closely with the PGFTU), solidarity activists and growing anti-poverty campaigns. In other words, it is a diverse political body. I think that we have to be aware of two things.

1. Israel will not abolish itself - nor will it let itself be abolished. It is here and has established its existence. I think that it has a legitimate right to that existence and that this is tied into the whole experience of Jewish history. This has to be understood and accepted.

2. Acceptance of its existence, instead of its delegitimisation, is one of the ways in which we can strengthen the left against the right. The right has grown strong due to the existence of a threat. And if you want to see how real a threat it is, just look at the growth of anti-semitism, especially in the Arab and Islamic world. (Incidentally, I think that recognition is the final stage of an agreement rather than a precondition for talks).

The history is contested. Apologists on both sides have a cluster of myths that fail to address the central realities. To get through these we need clarity, precision and to be specific rather than to try and shoehorn the conflict into ideological paradigms that don't fit (on both sides!). And that reality has to include the history of genocide as well as of dispossession.

Part 4 to follow

The Plump said...

I dislike being patronised with comments from George S. Let him explain and defend what goes on on the West Bank first before he does so.

First, he wasn't being patronising. He was simply exasperated that you talked about the parallel being striking and useful without giving any example of why it should be so. And it was not solely aimed at you but at a particular mindset. And if you throw out an accusation it is for you to justify it rather than avoid doing so by asking you questioner to explain his position (that's a standard rhetorical trick).

Second, George is a friend and so I would appreciate a level of courtesy when you visit my blog, though your visit is welcome.

Third, if he did patronise you, then to be patronised by such a distinguished writer is not to be scoffed at.


Your views on South Africa and Israel/Palestine crystallised in the 1960s/70s/80s. Fine; but now it's time for an update.

So who's being patronising now?? Bloody hell.

I would finish on the same note to you as I did to levi. I would recommend wider reading, including the sort of stuff that may make you irate, and invite you to become a partisan for peace and for both the Palestinian and Israeli left, rather than an advocate of one side in a conflict.

To repeat myself, to be generally pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli at the same time is not contradictory, it is necessary. Nor does it preclude any criticism or disgust at the tactics and policies of either side. But to be either anti-Israeli or anti-Palestinian is to endorse a regressive and destructive politics that needs to be broken down.

BTW - I wouldn't choose Jimmy Carter as my advocate on anything!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I find myself in some agreement with those who say the creation of an Israeli state where it is was unlikely to work. I think I have been reasonably consistent in my scepticism about the sanctity of ancient homelands for anyone, including Greater Hungary.

The alternative would be a Jewish nation forever persecuted by others, Christians and Moslems and Stalinists etc. The Jews rightly rejected and reject this scenario, however much this discomfits and annoys their enemies. They will no longer tug their forelocks. Those days are gone, although much of the world, in its cognitive dissonance, still hasn't grasped this.

The two-state solution was offered to the Arabs. They rejected it, and rejected it through repeated wars. Israel and the Jews are not the party anyone can morally blame for this.

Carter: oh, yes. His book drips with love for the Jews, the facts, truth and honesty, doesn't it?


The Plump said...

And after the lions comes the tiger.

Let's talk about consequences.

There are two ways that a conflict like this can end. The first is victory by one side or the other followed by an acceptable settlement (rather than a diktat) to ensure the permanent cessation of the conflict. The second is by a compromise settlement and political reconciliation.

The problem that we have here is that on the nationalist extremes neither side is thinking about the settlement, about how wars end. This involves a different mindset.

So Peter, even accepting your anachronistic reading of a complex history, if you reject the two state solution what are you left with? There is a large Palestinian population that either has to accept Israeli rule, have to be permanently suppressed or to be expelled. Which is it? How is it to be achieved? And what are the consequences that flow from it?

Secondly, after dismissing George's point about romantic nationalisms (and I do recommend that you read his 13 posts to understand it properly) you go on to transfer all guilt on to the other, in exactly the same way as some of the pro-Palestinians above do. 'It's their fault, nothing to do with us.' This isn't engaging with the problem seriously.

From the early days of the Zionist movement there was an awareness that the settlement of Palestine would have consequences for the existing population. They had to be faced then, not wished away, and they have to be faced still.

There is a very good essay by the early Zionist Ahad Ha'am on Moses. It is worth reading. He too had doubts about the consequences of settlement. In this essay he celebrated the Jewish genius for justice. But if the absence of forelock tugging also means the absence of justice, then there will be no peace and what then does that mean for the long term security of the state of Israel and the Jewish people?

George S said...

I had to leave this thread for a while because of pressure of work but I am deeply grateful to Peter for following it through so thoroughly.

I am not sure how it is patronising to point out that someone has asserted omething but has not supported the assertion. I am sure Strategist would demand the same of me.

My case is very simple: there is only one state in the world where a long- persecuted scattered minority has a majority. I wouldn't dream of arguing it is an ideal state or a fully just state or a state without any of the problems Peter talks so eloquently about, but I would be careful of making that claim of any state.

However, it is the only state of which such criticsims are consistently made - the only state a lot of people actually want to do away with, and in so doing reduce Jews to minority status everywhere. Back to the occasional pogrom then.

The statistics I reproduced on my blog are generally available. I have not said anything derogatory about Pelistinians or Arabs as a people. Nor would I. They are as human as I am, as are Israelis. They contain a variety of people.

The Israeli settlements on the West Bank should be withdrawn. The reason they are not seems obvious from the maps. Nevertheless they should be withdrawn - under some guarantee of security - in the best hope of planting the seeds of some sort of eventual concord.

But it's no good. It's ineffective. The romanticisation that Peter talks about has happened and once that's in place it's iall but impossible to shift because counter-arguments are not what people want to hear. People like having their blood up in causes that seem just and justify them. To do otherwise would be like crossing the floor of the commons to the hate and hisses of your first side. My dread is that it will take a real cataclysm to shift it.

I am not interested in casting blame or in picking over the finer bones of history to justify this or that stance. The bones I have in mind are real and very big and, though scattered, might perhaps be pieced together given some good will on all sides.

The rest is despair.

The Plump said...


The opposite of despair is hope.

Hope is not optimism. This is from the late American historian, Christopher Lasch, discussing the contrast between the two.

Optimism is "a blind faith that things will somehow work out for the best." It is naive at best. Hope is different. "Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right … Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to those who lack it." And this is really interesting, hope does not "prevent us from expecting the worst. The worst is what the hopeful are prepared for."

I have hope. Necessity and reality demand it. Dramatic armies are lined up against it, but smaller, more profound forces are also at work; the human desire for normality. You can get a glimpse of it in this article.

And it is worth persisting. Our lions and tigers are not bad people, they all carry justice in their hearts. It is just that they are looking away from each other, their backs turned resolutely as they are fed cast-off scraps by their keepers. They need to turn and face each other, purr rather than snarl, and look at the juicy prime steak that they can share if they can embrace.

I have hope - and, in this sense, poetry is hopeful too.

George S said...

Indeed they are not 'bad people', these lions and tigers. I know and like a number and understand they mean well: we remain friends because we have too many other things in common. That is often the case. It is precisely because they are nice people that I despair. If they were not it would be much simpler.

The link you provide is a good story. The hope you speak about is partly in people like him, but more than the people, in his early actions - his willingness to cross divides, his ability to be sceptical about any one-sided narrative by cutting across it. It shouldn't be impossible. It's just very hard.

The Plump said...

And not just his actions George, but much more importantly the institutions that enabled him to take them - notably peace organisations and education. Both need developing, especially education in the light of the article. It seems to have gone backwards.

I had to leave this thread for a while because of pressure of work but I am deeply grateful to Peter for following it through so thoroughly.
I followed it through partly due to pressure of work. I must be much better at prevarication that you :-)

levi9909 said...

George - Israel is by no means the only state that people wish to abolish. Personally I would like the United Kingdom abolished and there are many people in the UK who feel the same and for various reasons.

Also, in saying that people want Jews to be a minority, you are projecting your own sectarianism on to others. The only people on this thread who appear to want a specific ethno-religious ratio anywhere in the world are you, Peter and anonymous with regard to the Jews and the State of Israel.

Most of us who want a single state solution are arguing simply from a standpoint of human rights and equality. If states uphold freedom and equality the "demographic balance" should be a matter for indifference.

The Plump said...

Part 1 of 2

Levi, I think that we have to disentangle reality from wishful thinking. What George is saying is that the dissolution of Israel would once again reduce Jews to a minority everywhere and that to propose it is to advocate it in reality, even if that is not the intention.

Incidentally, I am intrigued by your desire to abolish the UK. I wouldn't hold your breath, but what would you replace it with? I think that the distinction though is clear. If us English, living on a rain sodden island, suddenly dissolved our nation state we would still be a secure majority. The ones most resistant to it would be people of Asian and Afro-Caribbean origin as they can claim a British identity. This is why an organisation like the EDL refers to itself as English. This is not so for Jews in Israel, lose their state and they become vulnerable. That doesn't say that it is not possible to be secure as a minority, but it does depend on what minority you are. For example, if I abandoned the UK to live full-time in Greece, I would not be worried. But then I am not Roma, nor am I black or Jewish for that matter. White Europeans have an optimistic outlook on life because we have not experienced anything other than our relative advantages. And, historically, the European Jewish population that felt the most secure, established and assimilated was, ironically, in Germany. This is one reason why George's posts were so interesting, because they examined his family inheritance rather than his direct experience, and showed how that undermined his own complacency.

This is a common factor. I can see it in the book I am avoiding writing in order to reply to you. The affluent, middle class anarchist in the 19th century tended to romanticise the idea of universal solidarity, whereas the ones from humbler origins were far more cautious.

So, what George and I are talking about is what is, what exists and what, for the time being, is not going away.

The Plump said...

Part 2

There is a broader historical context as well. One of the issues raised brilliantly by the historian Mark Mazower (he is predominantly a historian of modern Greece, and hasn't written on Israel/Palestine) is that the rise of nationalism as the central organising principle of human societies created a new problem. The new nation states that began to emerge did not have homogeneous populations and so the issue of the status of minorities was created, particularly with the break-up of the old Ottoman Empire. Single states tend towards the dominance of majority groups that can alarmingly abandon human rights and move towards persecution. Try being Roma in Eastern Europe at the moment or a Kurd in Turkey, Syria or Iran. Globally, ethnic minorities are still attempting to create states that will enable them to be majorities with the securities that come with it. The latest is South Sudan. Obviously, the greater the dispersal of the population the more difficult the problem in a world organised along the lines of national territories. Zionism is simply one of a cluster of movements created by minorities to found a national state, usually through separatist movements. I can't even begin to list here the movements that have failed and those that have succeeded; it is too long. The map of the world today is mainly the product of such movements. Israel was established only in the shadow of genocide and, probably, only because of it.

This is what is. It hasn't always been like this, it is a relatively modern phenomenon. It is not necessarily what should be or what will be. We are only at a point in history. But it is what we have now.

So, if you advocate the single state solution. Think what that means. It means taking the Jewish population of Israel and turning it from a majority into a minority within a new state. It means the destruction of the Jewish state as a place of refuge. It reintroduces all the old insecurities. However democratic and secular the rhetoric, we know from history that majorities can unexpectedly turn very nasty indeed. Will Israelis dissolve their state voluntarily? No, of course they won't. Will there be a popular revolution that will create a new commonwealth? Dream on. Will Israelis hand themselves over to a new majority population that contains explicitly anti-Semitic movements such as Hamas? I don't even need to answer that. Is there a new multi-ethnic national identity waiting to be born? Not now. So to create one state there is only a single option, the military defeat of Israel. The one-state solution is not a solution; it is a demand for war until victory.

I am a scholar of anarchism, though not necessarily an anarchist scholar. One of the things that hold me back from enthusiastically endorsing anarchism (the no-state solution) is that, despite my critique of the nation state, I am sceptical that ethnic hatreds are going to dissolve into some sort of universal humanity, certainly not in the near future. But what the two-state settlement offers is the opportunity for the two peoples to consolidate, develop and evolve from a position of security, thereby defusing the conflict. And, above all, it is achievable and not a fantasy. It is a step forward on the path to peace, if not, to use the chilling phrase that brought us to this point, a final solution.

levi9909 said...

I'd like the United Kingdom to be replaced by one, two, three or even four republics.

"I think that we have to disentangle reality from wishful thinking"

There are many aspects of the current reality that you and George completely ignore and are in denial about. Indeed, the current reality of Jewish supremacy in Palestine appears to form part of your own wishful thinking.

I'm sorry I can't deal with all of your points blow by blow. Since you liken me to an animal that bites, perhaps you could make your points more bite sized in future.


The Plump said...

OK levi – snack time

1. I am not comparing you to anything. Lion is a metaphor, not a simile. Read George's posts for the original.

2. One state solution:

There are at least three versions.

a) Proposed by the Israeli far right. It involves the expulsion of the Palestinian population and the incorporation of the occupied territories inside a Greater Israel. It will not happen, as it will mean massive international opposition and probably a major war. The majority of Israelis are opposed.

b) Proposed by secular Palestinian nationalists - the secular democratic state. Sounds nice, but what it means is the end of the state of Israel, Jews becoming a minority within the new state and thus subject to the rule of the majority. It would not be good for them. Israel will not let it happen.

c) Proposed by Islamists (Hamas). The whole of Palestine to be an Islamic state under theocratic rule. Jews to be expelled, though the Hamas charter does talk about the religious duty to kill Jews as well. Not good for the Palestinian Christian minority either, or for human rights for anyone.

Neither of these is going to happen. Proposing it is a way of postponing peace, not ending the conflict. It is not serious peace making.

The overwhelming majority has always been for the two-state solution.

3. Minorities and statehood

Secession and the establishment of new states by minorities is a form of establishing a refuge by enabling them to become majorities in a new national territory. This has happened all over the world. There is nothing special about the ethnic composition of Israel. It has generated a conflict because of Jewish dispersal and the idea of resettling the traditional Jewish homeland where Jews were initially in the minority. In this the Israel/Palestine conflict is unique.

The Plump said...

4. Ignoring "the current reality of Jewish supremacy."

If you think that then:

i) Either you haven't been reading George's scepticism and my support for Palestinian rights closely enough (I even linked in an earlier comment to a Palestinian Human Rights report). Please read this earlier post of mine for a concise view.

ii) Your view of Israeli rule and mine differ. So here is mine. There are two main features.

A) Israel is a liberal democracy with wide concerns about its regional security and is engaged in a military occupation that it is unable or willing, for various reasons (mainly the absence of a peace settlement), to end. This leads to continuing human rights abuses and a level of discrimination against Palestinians that is not acceptable.

B) But its liberalism has also established equal citizenship, representative democracy, the rule of law, civil liberties and has allowed the development of cultural and educational Palestinian institutions in both Israel and the occupied territories. Gay rights and women's rights are protected. There is a wide range of peace movements, cultural collaborations and there is an independent trade union movement, which has a formal collaborative agreement with the Palestinian trade union movement.

There is a conflict between the two impulses that is unresolved.

My problem with left thinking is that it exaggerates A), especially in comparison with the rights of Palestinians elsewhere. It is also accompanied by either ignoring or delivering apologias for the worst Arab regimes elsewhere. The worst killers and persecutors of Palestinians since 1948 have been Arabs, not Israelis.

5. So what do you think of Israeli rule?

Does it compare with neighbouring states, with the systematic terror of the Ba'athist tyrannies of Iraq under Saddam or Assad's Syria? Syria has long been the worst police state in the Middle East and so I found it absurd for them to talk about 'liberating ' the Palestinians. They are showing no compunction about killing them in the current conflict – they seem to be another target for Assad's death squads. And is it any worse than the oppression in Gaza under Hamas after their coup? So why is all the anger directed at Israel and so much else ignored?

Read this. It is by the Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. A few years old now, but I agree with it wholeheartedly.

It is worth searching and reading his journalism.

6. On answering points, remember we are having a conversation not a contest.

A big snack - hope you were hungry.

levi9909 said...

re your various points:

2) Option B would be my fave. I think your assumption that Jews would be a minority is just that, an assumption. Your assumption that Israel will not let it happen presupposes that Israel will always have support from outside power. I am assuming that won't always be the case. The issue for me isn't whether or not the Palestinians return but that they must have the right to return. That is simply equality and it is not a right I would advocate withholding from anyone else.

3) Zionism does not compare with secession. Secessionist are not based on a community converging on a territory, ridding it of most of its existing population and establishing a segregationist state in its place. Of course, many states have been established on the same colonial settler basis upon which Israel exists but Israel is the last of them. So yes, "In this the Israel/Palestine conflict is unique".

4) I think if we follow the you and George plan, then Palestinians muster some rights but not equal rights.

5) Pure whataboutery. It was true in many, even most cases, that human rights abuses were worse in African dictatorships than in apartheid South Africa but the latter stood out for repugnance because racism lay at the heart of the state and its beneficiary society as is the case with the State of Israel though with Israel there is still the matter of ethnic cleansing which is on-going.

The Arab regimes you wag a finger at have plenty of fingers wagged at the from western governments. oppositions and the media. Why bark when you have a dog? Arab regimes are routinely portrayed as being as oppressive as they are. Israel on the other hand is passed off in the mainstream media as being characterised by "liberalism... equal citizenship, representative democracy, the rule of law, civil liberties" etc. These things are mostly true for Jews though even Jews can be barred from elections for advocating ethno-religious equality. They are not true for the whole of society and the victims of Israel's ethnic cleansing cannot participate in those democratic goodies even at the most basis level.

By the way, this word captcha malarkey is a nightmare.

The Plump said...

Sorry to neglect our conversation levi - busy times: The word capture is a pain and still the spammers get through. So briefly and not in order.

The main point is about "pure whataboutery". No, if you think so I have not been clear enough. I have tried to avoid it. It is more why me-ery. It asks the question about why Israel is singled out as the epitome of evil when so much else is going on. It asks for an holistic approach to the problem, to see the question of Palestine within an overall Arab crisis. To be ruled by Assad is not liberation, nor is it freedom to be ruled by Hamas. And nearly all of the states treated Palestinians as third class citizens or denied them rights at all - that is when they were not killing them - Black September? There is a tendency to see Israel as the root cause of the region's evils - not least by those regimes themselves. This is not true. If the Arab Spring has shown one thing, it is the marginal importance of Israel/Palestine.

Israel is seen as a liberal democracy because it is. All Israeli citizens have the vote. I have no idea what you are talking about when you say "Jews can be barred from elections for advocating ethno-religious equality". Please enlighten me. I can find no reference to this anywhere. As I said, there is a conflict between Israeli democracy and the occupation.

Palestinian refugees are not citizens of Israel. This is true. But then they do not live in Israel. Those that remained and still live there or who have married Israeli citizens have equal citizenship, but there is discrimination as I have again pointed out. After Oslo, Palestinian democratic rights in the occupied territories have been exercised through the PA elections.

I hugely disagree with you that racism and not nationalism is the heart of the Israeli state. I think that it is fundamentally wrong to say so and a complete misrepresentation. I do not think that there is a conversation to be had on that point. (I think the same applies to all your false analogies on which I have made my position clear).

On the right to return. This is the point that has been conceded by Palestinian negotiators, that the right to return will be resolved within any Palestinian state when it is established and not mean the right to return of, these days, the descendants of the 48 refugees to return to Israel proper. This is a pragmatic concession.

Part 2 coming up

The Plump said...

Part 2 is Uri Avneri's blast at Mitt Romney. This is the best pragmatic statement of the two state solution I have read recently:

SOME OF these people have invented something called the “one-state solution”. That is an oxymoron. There is a one-state problem, there is no one-state solution.

From time to time it is worthwhile to come back to the basic facts of our life:

There are two peoples living in this country.
Neither of the two will go away. They are here to stay.

While the Arab Palestinians living in the country are still a minority, they will constitute the majority quite soon.

Both peoples are intensely nationalistic.

The two peoples have different cultures, languages, religions, historic narratives, social structures, standards of living. At present, after some 130 years of continuous conflict, there is intense hatred between them.

The possibility that these two peoples could live peacefully in one state, serving in the same army and police, paying the same taxes and abiding by the same laws enacted by the same common parliament, is nil.

The possibility that these two peoples could live peacefully side-by-side in two states, each with its own flag and its own elected government (and its own soccer team), does exist.

Such co-existence can take different forms: from a loose confederation with open borders and free movement to closer forms of evolving structures, like the European Union.

I hope that this is not too complicated for Mitt Romney to understand. But this may become irrelevant if – as I fervently hope – he is not elected.
I would hate for an ignoramus to be given the opportunity to learn world affairs on our backs.

See here click on the link - A Message from Romneyahu. Avneri is a veteran peace activist and well worth reading.

levi9909 said...

Hi again, Peter. I had to "phone a friend" about that banning from elections business. Apparently I was ultimately wrong. Parties have been banned by the elections committee or some such and on the grounds that they undermine the "Jewish character of the state" or "threaten the destruction of the state" but bans have been rescinded in time for elections by the Supreme Court though usually for lack of evidence or faulty paper work by the petitioners rather than the principle of law involved.

Apart from that I think we might be going round in circles now, still it's good to talk.

Regarding Israel being seen as the root of all in the region, this is the same as South Africa in Africa as a whole. Even if Israel isn't the root of all evil in the region its existence as a state is predicated on the injustices it has inflicted on the Palestinians. This isn't the case with other states in the region. Similarly, blacks on average could have better lives under apartheid in South Africa than in many, maybe most or all, black African states, but racism was the essence of apartheid South Africa so it attracted more hostility from liberal/left opinion and activism in the west.

Re the character or behaviour of Arab states, I repeat, why bark when you have a dog? And Israel isn't simply described as it is by western media and governments. Its origins, its distinctly illiberal features and its relentless violence towards the natives and neighbours of Palestine have been routinely glossed over or ignored. Often cause and effect have been downright transposed to make Israel appear the victim when it has been the perpetrator.

Re Avnery's points, they're utterly bogus. Israeli Jews come from a variety of ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds and many come from similar backgrounds to those they have ethnically cleansed. Also, Israel conscripts all Israelis into its army bar Palestinian Arabs and certain frummers/haredim. So there are various non-Jews including Arabs such as Druzes and Bedouin in the Israeli army and some Israeli Palestinians volunteer.

Avnery's argument comes down to an ethnically determined numerus clausus case and one which would disgust anti-racists in any other scenario. It also rewards colonial settlers and ethnic cleansers whilst punishing their victims. How would he feel if the "intensely nationalistic" Palestinians were to get most of Palestine and the Israelis were confined to Bantustans? Of course, that would reverse the balance of force but much of what so many Israelis currently want is based on the balance of power being in their favour.

His argument is also essentialist, that is, racist. It takes how some people behave and believe now, superimposes that onto whole societies and then assumes it must always be that way. I think you will find also that Avnery is looking for an Arab strongman to deliver the acquiescence of the Palestinians to an historic injustice. Where such historic injustices have worked - USA, Canada, Australia - the natives have been annihilated, not simply displaced. Where they haven't worked, like say Algeria, the colonisers have been displaced or they have been subsumed into the nation like say South Africa.

For a long time, South African whites, in particular Afrikaners, wouldn't accept political equality with blacks. That was, as for Israeli Jews, when the balance of power was in their favour.

The balance of power won't always be in Israel's favour.