Jonathan Freedland (‘Jewish anger is about Labour’s failure to listen with empathy’, The Guardian: 28 07 2018) writes with feeling about the importance of the idea of Israel and Zion and Jerusalem for many Jews, and how this is psychically embedded within their sense of self and community. This is a moving reminder of the existential dilemma Jews face in their political relations with other countries and other people. While this sense of identity is rooted in the historical experience of Jews as victims, the fault line in Freedland’s commentary is that he appears to characterise “the Jewish community” as inherently blameless, and incapable of political fault or responsibility.
In restating the “principle that Jews, like every other people on Earth, should have a home and refuge of their own”, he glosses over the facts of the origination of Israel via the dispossession of the Palestinians from their land. And “every other people on earth” does not appear to include the Palestinians, so by implication exemplifies a regrettable exceptionalism, even ruthlessness. In addition, speaking of the right of a people to a home and refuge “of their own” promotes monoculturalism and territorial and political discipline as both possible and desirable: borders to keep people out; and rules to regulate behaviour and relationships on the inside, to preserve Jewish ‘purity’ and safety. Stuff multiculturalism.
It is hard to see how the idea of Israel can be kept apart from the actuality of the Israeli state: its militarisation, its racism and its violence towards Arabs and in particular Palestinians. Is it the idea of Israel that prevents the acknowledgement of these cruelties and aggressions on the ground?
Freedland says that “Labour could have sat down with the Jewish community and ironed out wrinkles”. Which Jewish community would that be? And given the aggression of the sustained attack on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party since his election as leader, I’m not sure “wrinkles” quite covers the problem. Freedland complains that instead, the Labour party “drew up its code of conduct [i.e. an additional protocol to be used in liaison with Labour’s adoption of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition] itself, without consulting the organised Jewish community at all”. That would be those Jewish bodies purporting to represent all Jews, but not willing to be in the same room as each other at a meeting with Jeremy, as they demand control of Labour party process.
Freedland’s reference to “the army of self-described anti-racists” (thanks for that), who are not showing enough “empathy and solidarity”. . . . includes Billy Bragg, “taking up a position antagonistic to Jews”, who he hastens to describe as “a good man” and “no anti-semite”. My guess would be that Bragg’s “antagonism” is not towards Jews as Jews (and therefore anti Semitic), but towards the behaviour of certain Jews, for example, the Israeli government and the IDF towards Arabs and Palestine; and the leaders of the organised Jewish community in the UK towards the twice-elected leader of the Labour party. Is Freedland pretending not to understand that?
Freedland admits that “maybe that editorial printed in the Jewish newspapers was over the top”. “Maybe”? And is outdoing the Sun and the Daily Mail only “over the top”?! As well as an unprecedented and irresponsible attack on a Labour leader, this recent co-ordinated front page splash across three Jewish newspapers was also a desperate effort at control of the Jewish community: a message to all Jews, especially ‘dissident’ Jews, to feel the fear, share the venom, and get in line. Choose patriarchal orthodoxy.
val walsh / 29 07 2018