Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism

A Palestinian perspective on the IHRA definition, raising some legitimate concerns regarding how the definition is being applied, interpreted and in some cases, weaponized.

The least controversial aspect is that antisemitism should be viewed as being part and parcel of fights against all forms of racism and discrimination. The other elements raise some uncomfortable truths and  reflect some of the more intractable issues:

We, the undersigned Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals are hereby stating our views regarding the definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and the way this definition has been applied, interpreted and deployed in several countries of Europe and North America.

In recent years, the fight against antisemitism has been increasingly instrumentalised by the Israeli government and its supporters in an effort to delegitimise the Palestinian cause and silence defenders of Palestinian rights. Diverting the necessary struggle against antisemitism to serve such an agenda threatens to debase this struggle and hence to discredit and weaken it.

Source: Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism

In Israel, Modern Medicine Grapples With Ghosts of the Third Reich

Interesting account of the ethnical and personal issues involved and their sensible resolution:

The explosion flung him skyward, legs first, before he crashed to the ground.

It was June 2002, at the height of the second Palestinian intifada. Dvir Musai, then a 13-year-old Israeli schoolboy from a religious Jewish settlement, was on a class cherry-picking trip in the southern West Bank. On his way back to the bus, he stepped on a mine laid by Palestinian militants and was gravely wounded, along with two other boys.

“There was a lot of smoke, clumps of earth falling, a smell of burning and gunpowder,” Mr. Musai, now 31, recalled.

Decades of agony followed. Mr. Musai’s right foot felt as if it were permanently afire. And then last year, a surgeon offered him hope — and a disquieting disclosure.

In pre-op at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, Dr. Madi el-Haj told his patient that the anatomical atlas he would use to guide him through the intricate nerve pathways had been produced by Nazis. Its illustrations are believed to be based on the dissected victims of the Nazi court system under Hitler’s Third Reich.

If there were objections, Dr. el-Haj told the Musai family, he could operate without it — but it would be harder. He noted that there was rabbinical approval for the book’s use.

Mr. Musai’s mother, Chana, had lost relatives in the Holocaust.

“She said, ‘If it can help now, we’ll use it,’” Mr. Musai recalled.

That gut-wrenching decision went to the heart of a longstanding debate about the ethics of drawing on knowledge derived from the Nazis’ expansive medical and scientific experimentation — and in this case, the ethics of using the textbook, “Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy.”

The book, by Eduard Pernkopf, stands out for its accuracy and detail, and even in an age of state-of-the-art imaging, some surgeons, among them those who perform peripheral nerve procedures, still find its drawings invaluable.

In a perverse twist, the more advanced the relatively new field of peripheral nerve surgery becomes, the more reliant on the atlas some of its practitioners say they find themselves. That is because even high-tech imaging is of limited use to the complex discipline, in which doctors treat problems like chronic pain caused by nerves that are damaged or trapped.

Pernkopf began work on the atlas at the University of Vienna, where he became chairman of anatomy in 1933, the year he joined the Nazi party. With Hitler’s 1938 annexation of Austria, he became dean of the medical faculty, then president of the university.

The illustrators to whom Pernkopf turned to produce the atlas were also Nazi enthusiasts. Three of the four illustrators incorporated swastikas, SS lightning bolts and other Nazi insignia into their signatures — hallmarks of evil airbrushed out of later editions.

Less is clear about the people whose bodies were dissected so that the illustrators could produce their work. Over the years, there have been questions about whether some had been killed in Hitler’s death camps. Those questions remain unresolved, but many experts believe that most of the prisoners were Austrians condemned in the courts.

After the war, Pernkopf spent three years in an Allied prison camp but was not charged with war crimes. He continued work on the atlas until his death in 1955.

A two-volume edition was published in five languages, with the first American edition coming out in 1963. Elsevier, a European scientific publisher that currently holds the copyright, stopped printing it on ethical grounds, but the volumes can be found in private collections and purchased on eBay and Amazon.

Scholars first raised questions about the origins of the atlas in the 1980s as the Cold War’s “Great Silence” about the Nazis’ medical legacy began to crack.

By the 1990s, the controversy was drawing wider public attention.

Dr. Howard Israel, an oral surgeon at Columbia University who had routinely used the atlas, exposed the Nazi symbols in the artists’ signatures included in early editions of the book.

Then Dr. Israel and Dr. William Seidelman, a Toronto physician, turned for help to Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, asking it to press the University of Vienna to investigate the background of the atlas — and of the dissected cadavers its authors used. After some initial reluctance, the university agreed.

“Things started to unravel,” recounted Dr. Seidelman, who now lives in Jerusalem.

From 1938 to 1945, the university’s anatomical institute received more than 1,370 bodies of prisoners executed by the Vienna court system, according to the findings of an investigative committee. More than half had been political prisoners — people targeted by the Nazi regime. At that time in Austria, joking about Hitler was enough to warrant execution, often by decapitation.

Dr. el-Haj, the Hadassah surgeon, said he was first introduced to the atlas while studying under Dr. Susan Mackinnon, a pioneer in peripheral nerve surgery, at Washington University in St. Louis.

“She knew I came from Israel — she thought I was a Jewish guy,” he recalled.

That he was, in fact, an Arab Muslim from the Galilee changed nothing.

“I was shocked,” he said. “It’s a matter of humanity.”

Dr. Mackinnon bought her first copy in the early 1980s as a young plastic surgeon in Baltimore, and used it to guide many of her surgical procedures.

But troubled by the provenance of the illustrations, Dr. Mackinnon photocopied the first scholarly articles about Pernkopf’s past a few years later and tucked them into the book as a constant reminder.

In 2015, Dr. Mackinnon and her longtime associate Andrew Yee wanted to share drawings from the atlas on an online teaching platform, and sought an opinion from Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt, a Boston physician who has studied the Third Reich.

An international effort was already underway to determine how to handle unearthed human remains and medical specimens from the Holocaust era.

Dr. Hildebrandt took on Dr. Mackinnon’s query and consulted with other experts, giving rise to a special set of recommendations regarding the Pernkopf atlas in a document known as the “Vienna Protocol.” It was written by a prominent American rabbi and ethicist, Joseph A. Polak, and formally adopted by a 2017 symposium of experts at Yad Vashem. Under the protocol, the atlas can be used if there is full disclosure about its origins.

In a recent survey of an international group of nerve surgeons, Dr. Mackinnon and Mr. Yee found that 59 percent of the 182 respondents were aware of the Pernkopf atlas, 41 percent had used it at some point and 13 percent were currently using it.

But the debate is hardly settled.

Dr. Justin M. Sacks, chief of the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University, said he had never come across the atlas until he arrived at the department this year. He argued that it was morally and ethically wrong to use it and that there were perfectly adequate substitutes available in print or online.

“I’m not looking to stir a controversy,” he said in an interview, “but I’m looking to put it where it belongs: in a museum.”

Dr. el-Haj said that while the alternatives might be good enough in other medical fields, when it came to peripheral nerve surgery, they were no match for Pernkopf.

One of eight siblings, Dr. el-Haj grew up in a farming village and aspired to become a nerve surgeon, he said, in the hope of helping his father, who as a young man was left with a paralyzed arm and leg by a work accident. After studying in the United States, Dr. el-Haj returned to Jerusalem with his own Pernkopf volumes in August 2018.

Around the same time, Mr. Musai, who had undergone dozens of operations since his injury, returned to his doctors. Now a married father of two, he could barely walk. His foot could not bear the weight of a sheet at night.

He was referred to Dr. el-Haj.

From his days as a medical student at Hadassah, Dr. el-Haj, 40, remembered Mr. Musai as an angry teenager in terrible pain who harbored a hatred of Arabs.

Mr. Musai acknowledges that was the case.

Israel Trump’s plan revokes Israeli Arabs’ citizenship

Of note:

Just two years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “I don’t intend to bring a diplomatic plan on the eve of the elections.” He was responding to a reporter who challenged him on saying in 2008 that then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, “neck-deep in investigations, has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for Israel” in a quest for political survival. A few days ago, on Jan. 28, Netanyahu did exactly what he said he would not do.

Several hours after “making history” by becoming the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be officially charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Netanyahu took part in the unveiling ceremony of President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace, declaring it a “historic day like May 1948,” when Israel declared independence.

Peace is unlikely to emerge from Trump’s plan, but Netanyahu proved once again that all means justify his end of winning the March 2 elections and remaining in the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. To that end, he mobilized Trump’s help in presenting an alleged peace plan that consists of everything except peace and a Palestinian partner. The East Room ceremony resembled a wedding without the bride, celebrating a deal between Israel and the United States, rather than Israel and the Palestinians.

As expected, the Palestinian leadership rejected the plan. Channel 12 reported that on Jan. 29, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent Netanyahu a handwritten note informing him, “The Palestinian Authority now sees itself as free to disregard the agreements with Israel, including security cooperation.”

Anyone delving further into the details of the 80-plus-page proposal could not have missed the surprising clause allowing Israel to transfer to a future Palestinian state the populated Arab communities in the so-called Triangle of central Israel: Kufr Qara, Arara, Baka al-Garbiyeh, Umm al-Fahm, Kalansua, Taybeh, Kafr Qasem, Tira, Kafr Bara and Jaljulya.

This is not the first time an Israeli government during the Netanyahu era has tried to trade away its Arab citizens in the Triangle, which borders the West Bank, by moving the border and thereby turning them into nationals of a future Palestinian state. The idea previously arose in 2013 when US Secretary of State John Kerry mediated peace talks between the two sides, with the clear goal of finding a solution to the land swap issue. There also appears to have been a hidden agenda — reducing the number of Israel’s Arab citizens — an estimated 300,000 of who live in the Triangle communities.

“Just as with many earlier initiatives, this one too does not have any hold or acceptance among the Arab Israeli or Palestinian public,” Jamal Mjadlah, a social activist from Baka al-Garbiyeh, told Al-Monitor. “This is an initiative devoid of justice and logic, which will not be accepted and will not be adopted.”

Salah Smara, a high-tech engineer from Tira, asserted to Al-Monitor, “This is an attempt to enhance ideologies espousing population transfer using political tools to get rid of the Arab citizens rather than physically removing people from their homes. The motivations are racial — to preserve demographic superiority.”

The initiative could also have the absurd and tragic impact on many families by tearing them, as in the case of Firas Azam, an attorney born in Taybeh but now living in the coastal Mediterranean city of Haifa. If the land swap goes through, he would remain an Israeli citizen, but his mother and brother’s Israeli citizenship would be revoked.

“‘And we were like strangers in our land.’ This is my headline for this absurd move,” Azam told Al-Monitor. “Our state, where we grew up, went to school, worked, respected its laws and principles, does not want us anymore and is willing to give us up just like that. I would have expected the Jews to understand this better than any other people in the world, but I guess I was wrong.”

Trump and Netanyahu present the idea of exchanging populated lands as targeting communities that “largely self-identify as Palestinians,” according to the plan. A 2019 study by the Israel Democracy Institute found, however, that only 13% of Arab Israeli citizens define themselves as “Palestinians” in terms of their main identity, whereas 65% are “proud to be Israelis.” The study further indicates that 83% of Israeli Arab citizens want to integrate into Israeli society and become full members of it.

The above results do not conform to the premise of the Trump plan, proving yet again that it is nothing more than an attempt by Netanyahu and Israel’s political right to shrink the number of Israel’s Arab citizens, who constitute 21% of the state’s population. That, in turn, would reduce the number of Arab voters, who obviously do not tend to vote for right-wing parties, helping the right perpetuate its rule and prevent the formation of a center-left government.

Shimon Sheves, who served as director general of the Prime Minister’s Office under the late Yitzhak Rabin, shared his thoughts on Facebook about the actual difference between the so-called deal of the century and Rabin’s peace plan. Indeed, there are many similarities between the American blueprint and the one charted by Rabin, who was, as we know, assassinated because of the peace he sought to advance. At the time, it was Netanyahu who led numerous protests against Rabin and addressed rallies at which Rabin was dubbed a traitor and the crowd chanted, “With blood and fire, we will expel Rabin.” The difference is that Rabin did not agree to land swaps, as Ben Caspit explained in a Jan. 29 Al-Monitor article. Perhaps that is what the Netanyahu-led right really wants: to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of the state’s Arab citizens.

With an effective and well-targeted campaign by the Arab Joint List, currently the third largest Knesset faction, the initiative could backfire against Netanyahu. Such was the case with the so-called Camera Law, a Likud-led initiative to install cameras at Arab polling stations. The alleged idea was to guard against voter fraud, but in reality was devised to intimidate Arab voters. The move ultimately prompted a significantly high Arab turnout in protest in the September 2019 elections. If the current initiative gains ground, Netanyahu will once again be crowned the main campaigner of the Joint List.

Source: Israel Trump’s plan revokes Israeli Arabs’ citizenship

Equally revealing:

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser warned Palestinians on Wednesday that Israeli settlements will continue to expand because rising anti-Semitism around the world means more Jews will immigrate to Israel.

Addressing many hot-button global issues in a speech and discussion with foreign diplomats to the United States, Robert O’Brien also said the president hoped to go to Beijing to talk to the Chinese about a three-way nuclear arms control pact with the U.S. and Russia. He said the president still hopes that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will resume nuclear talks with the U.S.

O’Brien defended Trump’s Mideast peace plan, which was embraced by Israel but rejected by the Palestinians. O’Brien said the plan is not “perfect,” but urged the Palestinians to negotiate terms of the proposed deal. The deal offers economic benefits that would allow Palestine to become the “Singapore of the Middle East,” he said.

The Palestinians have roundly denounced the proposal, which offers them limited self-rule in scattered chunks of territory with a capital on the outskirts of Jerusalem while allowing Israel to annex large parts of the West Bank. Protesters have burned U.S. and Israeli flags as well as posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood with Trump at the White House when he rolled out the plan last week.

“This could be the last opportunity for a two-state solution,” O’Brien said at the Meridian International Center. “The Israeli birth rate is strong and is growing because sadly anti-Semitism in Europe and other places around the world is encouraging more Jews to return to Israel. The settlements are going to continue to expand. If this freeze on settlements doesn’t hold. If this peace process doesn’t work, it may be physically impossible to have a two-state solution.”

It was unusual for a high-level administration official to tie anti-Semitism to the settlements. The Palestinians, as well as much of the international community, view the settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem — territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war — as illegal and a major obstacle to peace. But O’Brien’s comments are in line with the Trump administration strongly favoring Israel in the longtime conflict.

O’Brien didn’t note that the Palestinian population is growing too in both the Palestinian territories and Israel, according to U.N. statistics. The Palestinian population is growing at roughly 2.4% a year, 33% higher than Israel’s.

Those demographic shifts have led previous peacemakers to warn that Israel risks losing its ability to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy without a two-state solution that gives the Palestinians enough inhabitable and arable land to accommodate their growing numbers.

Trump’s plan would foresee the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, but would allow Israel to annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.

U.S. officials had discouraged Netanyahu from proceeding with plans to immediately annex any new territory and had played down the possibility that the release of the plan would make any such move imminent. But after the rollout, Netanyahu vowed to bring his West Bank annexation plans to a vote at his next Cabinet meeting just days away.

That surprised and frustrated the Americans. In a series of interviews, Trump’s point people on Israel jammed the brakes on annexation, putting greater emphasis on the prospects of Palestinian statehood that Netanyahu was trying to sidestep.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said a U.S.-Israeli committee would need to be formed to ensure that any move matches up with the Trump administration’s “conceptual map.” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a chief architect of the plan, said Israel should wait until after the March 2 Israeli elections before annexing territory.

Any quick move to annex land would galvanize Netanyahu’s hard-line base and shift the focus of his reelection campaign away from his legal woes. But annexation also would likely spark an international backlash, and neighboring Jordan, a key player in Middle East peace efforts, has warned against it. It could also foreclose the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution.

We must talk about Palestine – without being antisemitic

Worth noting:

It’s hard to write or talk about antisemitism and the Labour party’s handling of it without descending into deep despair, and not just at the mirror the sorry tale is holding up to the whole of our society, which seems to be becoming less tolerant, more racist and less safe for minorities. This is having greater consequences than the Labour leadership can imagine. In particular, it is stifling the ability of commentators and decision-makers to talk sensibly about the real issues in Palestine.

My mother is Palestinian. These issues are deeply personal; we still have family in the West Bank. I am very worried that, at this critical juncture in the history of the region, activists, parliamentarians and journalists feel that they cannot speak out for fear of being branded as antisemitic. My plea is that we must speak more about Palestine, not less, and in this current climate it is something members of both houses of parliament have confided that they are more fearful than ever to do.

Source: We must talk about Palestine – without being antisemitic

Younger Arabs embrace Palestinian identity, redefining Israeli citizenship

Interesting evolution of identity:

Loudspeakers blared nationalist Arabic music across hillsides in northern Israel on Thursday as children ran across a field waving Palestinian flags.

The scene was a rally for members of Israel’s 21% Arab minority. The Israeli term for them is Israeli Arabs, but many now reject that label, identifying instead as “Palestinian with Israeli citizenship,” or simply “Palestinian.”

Each year they hold a gathering to mark the Nakba — or “Catastrophe” — when Palestinians lament the loss of their homeland in the 1948-49 war that surrounded the creation of the modern Jewish state.

The scene was a rally for members of Israel’s 21% Arab minority. The Israeli term for them is Israeli Arabs, but many now reject that label, identifying instead as “Palestinian with Israeli citizenship,” or simply “Palestinian.”

Each year they hold a gathering to mark the Nakba — or “Catastrophe” — when Palestinians lament the loss of their homeland in the 1948-49 war that surrounded the creation of the modern Jewish state.

The event is a celebration of Palestinian identity that, Arab politicians and academics say, reflects a change in thinking over the decades.

On Thursday, busloads arrived at a roped-off field near the Khubbayza, a ruined Palestinian village that lay 20 miles south of Haifa and was destroyed in the fighting between Arab and Jewish forces in 1948.

It and hundreds of others are now marked on paper and digital maps by groups such as “Palestine Remembered.”

The Nakba rally is timed each year to coincide with the day that Israelis in the rest of the country celebrate Independence Day.

On Thursday, Palestinian flags flew in the roped-off field where Israeli authorities gave permission for the gathering. Across a country lane, Israeli banners were draped across the hillside from which Israeli police watched, a drone hovering nearby.

Shouting over the music, Rula Nasr-Mazzawi, 42, a psychologist, said many of the first two generations of Arabs in post-1948 Israel were too scared to discuss matters of identity openly.

“But now we are seeing the younger generation, the third generation, more and more identifying very frankly and very loudly as Palestinians,” she said.

“The term Israeli Arabs is mistaken, it’s not accurate. We are Palestinians by nationality, and we are Israeli citizens.”

Ahmad Tibi, Arab member of Iraeli parliament

In an interview earlier this year, Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament with the Ta’al party said: “The term Israeli Arabs is mistaken, it’s not accurate. We are Palestinians by nationality, and we are Israeli citizens.”

He added: “They are saying Arab Israeli or Israeli Arabs in order to say that we are not Palestinians. We bypassed that. We are part of the Palestinian people, and we are struggling in order to be equal citizens.”

Identity and citizenship

Israel’s population recently passed the 9 million mark, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics. This includes 1.89 million Arab citizens — mostly Muslim, Druze and Christians — living alongside the 6.68 million Jews who make up the 74.2% majority.

Professor As’ad Ghanem, 53, a Haifa University political scientist and co-author of the book “Palestinians in Israel,” drew a distinction with Druze and Bedouin Arabs, many of whom serve in the Israeli military, taken by many as an indicator of integration.

In contrast, most Muslims and Christian Arabs do not serve.

He said Israel’s Arabs had undergone a slow transformation from their initial status as marginalized within both Israel and the Arab world.

A new generation of intellectuals and politicians were “much more strong than those in the 50s and 60s,” and voiced their community’s complaints about discrimination in the job market, and lack of services, he said.

“The majority think that they want to be identified as Palestinian,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said most Israeli Arabs still valued their Israeli citizenship and would oppose attempts to transfer them to Gaza or the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule, because “they see all the troubles on the other side.”

A woman shouts as she takes part in the Nakba rally marking the “Catastrophe” when Palestinians lost their homeland in the 1948-49 war, near the abandoned village of Khubbayza, northern Israel, May 9, 2019.

‘Best conditions’

Recently, Arabs were angered after Israel’s parliament last year passed the nation-state law, which declared that only Jews have the right to self-determination in the country.

“Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and only it.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reasserted that principle just before his victory in the election a month ago, saying on Instagram: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and only it.”

He sought to placate non-Jewish citizens — and critics at home and abroad — by adding “there is no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel. They have equal rights like all of us and the Likud government has invested more in the Arab sector than any other government.”

Some of the Arab minority disagree with the sentiments expressed at Thursday’s rally, saying Israel protects them from threats in the Middle East.

“I am very proud to be an Israeli Arab,” said Yoseph Haddad, 33, a Greek Catholic speaking in the mixed Jewish and Arab city of Haifa.

“The fact is that if you take a look around all or most of the Arab nations, the Israeli Arabs here in Israel are in the best conditions.”

But Eyad Barghuty, 39, a novelist and former head of the Arab Cultural Association, said there had been an evolution in identity.

His generation had to struggle to find their roots within a country that emphasized the majority’s narrative, he said, while a younger generation took their Palestinian-ness for granted.

“I saw the ruins of Palestinian villages across the Galilee when I was a young man working on building sites, and I had to go to encyclopedias to look these places up. … Now there’s an app.”

Eyad Barghuty, 39, novelist

“I saw the ruins of Palestinian villages across the Galilee when I was a young man working on building sites, and I had to go to encyclopedias to look these places up,” he said. “Now there’s an app.”

If you want a fair definition of Zionism, it’s best to ask a Palestinian

Interesting and provocative column on the IHRA definition of antisemitism and its use:

There are lots of good reasons to think the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, now adopted “in full” by Labour’s national committee and by Labour MPs, is, well, a bit rubbish.

  • The actual definition of anti-Semitism is not up to much
  • The illustrations are a legal mess
  • It appears to be having no impact on anti-Semitism in the (few) countries which have endorsed it
  • And it’s already being used to prevent open debate on university campuses

A recent article by Tony Lerman gathers together all of these points and more.

It was short-term political expediency which drove this week’s decision-making, necessitated by an ongoing high-stakes campaign of vilification that takes no prisoners.

The Liberal Democrat Party has also fallen into line, no doubt realising that attempting to conduct a rational discussion over the merits of the IHRA burns up too much political capital. And now we read that the Church of England wants to adopt it too. The sanctification of this document is going ecumenical.

But there’s a further problem which should be reason enough to dump the whole IHRA definition, and its illustrations, in the rubbish bin. And it goes beyond the need to guarantee freedom of speech.

The truth of the matter is, the Jewish community can no longer define “Zionism,” or indeed “anti-Semitism,” without the help of Palestinians.

The right to define

I know what some people will be thinking.

Surely, it’s for the Jewish community, through its leadership, to determine what anti-Semitism is? What Zionism is? Surely, an oppressed people should have the right to define the nature of the oppression perpetrated against them? Hence the insistence that the Labour Party adopt, in full and without amendments or caveats, the IHRA definition and illustrations.

That’s what the Board of Deputies of British Jews has asked for. So surely, that’s what it should get?

It’s become a politically difficult task, if not impossible, to challenge this assertion of the right to define what’s perceived as exclusively Jewish experience and terminology, especially at a time when identity politics rules our daily discourse.

The President of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, provided a good example of the accepted parameters of the debate in her statement welcoming the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) decision.

“It is very long overdue and regrettable that Labour has wasted a whole summer trying to dictate to Jews what constitutes offense against us.”

Similarly, the NEC’s addition of a one-sentence free speech caveat was characterized by Simon Johnson, CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council, as driving “a coach and horses” through the anti-Semitism definition:

“It is clearly more important to the Labour leader to protect the free speech of those who hate Israel than it is to protect the Jewish community from the real threats that it faces.”

Devoid of context

But this is a perspective devoid of historical context. It just doesn’t work for the situation in which we as a Jewish community now find ourselves, and which our leaders have done so much to create.

If defining “anti-Semitism” has become, to a considerable extent, what can and can’t be said about Israel and Zionism, then how can it be a question which only (some) Jews get to answer?

And if this is really all about the right to define your own oppression, then why does this rule not apply to the Palestinians?

It’s a bit like trying to define “British colonialism” by only asking the opinion of a 19th-century British diplomat. Or praising “American freedom and values” without acknowledging the experience of Native Americans or African Americans. It makes no sense because you only get half the story, half the lived experience (at most). The language and the ideas in question have more than one owner.

Inextricably linked

For more than 100 years, the history of the Palestinians and the Jews has been inextricably linked. Neither of us can understand our past or present condition without reference to the other. Neither people’s story is complete without the other.

Of course, our interlinked relationship is not one of equality. Our story is shared but the consequences of our entanglement are vastly different.

One side has rights and national self-determination. The other side is denied those same things in the name of Jewish security and Jewish national sovereignty. In short, one side has been empowered by dispossessing the other.

The Palestinians have even become caught up in the telling of the Holocaust. Successive generations of young Jews have been taught to see Israel, as it’s currently constituted, as the only rational response to our 20th-century catastrophe. The Palestinians are seen as attempting to thwart that response.

It’s this entanglement of narratives and the need to defend Israel’s legitimacy that have led to the muddle, the confusion and the deliberate politicization of “anti-Semitism” as a concept. And, by contrast, it’s led to the spiritualization of “Zionism” so it has become not a political project but an expression of Jewish faith.All of this has forfeited our right to independently define our oppression without consulting the victims of our new faith in Jewish nationalism. The meaning of “anti-Semitism” and “Zionism” is no longer ours to determine alone. These words, and most importantly the experiences they bring with them, now belong to the Palestinian people too.

To get beyond this, we as a Jewish community, need to confront Zionism’s past and present. We need to rethink Jewish security in a post-Holocaust world. We need to build broad coalitions to tackle all forms of discrimination. That must include antisemitism from the left, and more often the right, which uses anti-Jewish myths and prejudices to promote hatred of Jews for being Jews. And that includes those who use anti-Jewish tropes to critique Israel.

Above all the though, if we want to be serious, rather than tribal, about a fair definition of Zionism, we need to ask the Palestinian people what they think and believe and feel about it. And if they tell us “Zionism is a racist endeavor” we’d better pay attention.

Reflection and repentance

The Jewish High Holidays are coming up. They are a time for reflection and repentance as an individual Jew and as part of a Jewish community. I doubt we’ll see much sign of reflection or repentance on the question of Israel/Palestine. The denial is too deep. The fear of “the other” is too great. The emotional layers of self-preservation are too many.

Not all Jews can or should be held responsible for what’s done in the name of Zionism or the actions of the State of Israel. That’s anti-Semitism. But all Jews ought to feel obligated to speak out against the discrimination, ill-treatment, and racism carried out in the name of protecting Israel. To me, that’s Judaism. And if you don’t see the discrimination, ill-treatment and racism – then read more books, listen to more Palestinian voices, open your heart.

But whether we choose to face into it or not, our relationship with the Palestinian people will remain the single most important issue facing Jews and Judaism in the 21st century.

To my Jewish readers, Shana Tova! A good New Year! May our names be written in a Book of Life that is filled with love and justice for all who call the Holy Land home.

Postscript

Ten questions to the President of the Board of Deputies

For those not following me on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve been asked to reproduce the ten questions I put earlier this week to Marie van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. No response forthcoming so far.

In a critical week for Labour and the Jewish community in Britian, here’s my ten questions to the president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl.

1. Why are you ignoring the Jewish academic experts, notably: David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism; Dr. Brian Klug of Oxford University; and Tony Lerman, the former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, who have all made critical studies of the IHRA document and found it inadequate and unhelpful in numerous ways?

2. Why are you ignoring the concerns expressed by the original drafter of the IHRA definition and its illustrations, Kenneth Stern, who has said the document is already being used around the world to chill free speech?

3. Why are you ignoring the legal opinions of the document provided by Sir Stephen Sedley, Hugh Tomlinson QC and Geoffrey Robertson QC, who have drawn out its failings in detail?

4. Why do you defend Jewish rights to determine antisemitism but support a document which will deny the Palestinian people their right to define their experience of racism caused by Zionism?

5. Can you explain why you think that Israel’s 51-year occupation of the West Bank does not meet the international definition of Apartheid?

6. Will you acknowledge the findings of the 2016 Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism which noted that “there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party”?

7. Are you able to provide evidence that antisemitism is “rife” among the Labour Party’s half a million members?

8. Can you explain why the Board chose to pursue its campaign against the Labour Party only after Jeremy Corbyn became its leader and despite a YouGov survey indicating a fall in anti-Semitism among Labour voters since 2015?

9. Are you at all concerned that the Board’s campaign against Jeremy Corbyn is creating an environment of fear within the Jewish community in Britain which is unjustified and disproportionate?

10. Having stated your commitment “to being a leader for the entire community,” when do you plan to meet formally with Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewdas, Jewish Voice for Labour, or Na’amod – British Jews Against Occupation?

Source: If you want a fair definition of Zionism, it’s best to ask a Palestinian

Holocaust row: Abbas accused of anti-Semitism – BBC News

Not helpful:

Remarks by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas about the Holocaust have been condemned as anti-Semitic by Israeli politicians and rights activists.

Mr Abbas told a meeting in the West Bank the Nazi mass murder of European Jews was the result of their financial activities, not anti-Semitism.

He described their “social function” as “usury and banking and such”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman said the remarks were “anti-Semitic and pathetic”.

Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, remarked in a tweet: “Mahmoud Abbas says money-lending Jews provoked Holocaust… Now there’s a peace partner.”

In New York, the Anti-Defamation League condemned Mr Abbas’s “anti-Semitic assertions”.

In its attempt to annihilate the Jews of Europe during World War Two, Nazi Germany murdered some six million of them, building death camps to expedite the mass slaughter.

Driven by fanatical nationalism, the Nazis regarded Jews as a threat to Germany’s “racial purity”.

What did Abbas say exactly?
He was addressing a rare meeting of the Palestinian National Council, the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday.

It was a rare meeting of the PLO’s legislative body

Carried live on Palestinian TV, the 90-minute speech in Arabic included a section on the Palestinian leader’s view of the history of European Jewry, based on what he said were books by “Jewish Zionist authors”.

Jews in eastern and western Europe, he said, had been periodically subjected to massacres over the centuries, culminating in the Holocaust.

“But why did this used to happen?” he asked. “They say, ‘It is because we are Jews.’ I will bring you three Jews, with three books who say that enmity towards Jews was not because of their religious identity but because of their social function.

“This is a different issue. So the Jewish question that was widespread throughout Europe was not against their religion but against their social function which relates to usury [unscrupulous money-lending] and banking and such.”

Mr Abbas also denied that Ashkenazi Jews – Jews from Germany and north-eastern Europe – were actually Semitic, saying, “They have no relation to Semitic people.” Ashkenazi Jews make up one of Israel’s biggest communities, giving the state a long line of prime ministers, including Mr Netanyahu.

It is not the first time the Palestinian leader’s views on the Holocaust have caused offence.

A student dissertation he wrote in the early 1980s argued there had been a “secret relationship between Nazism and Zionism” before the war, and appeared to question the death toll of six million.

He later played down allegations of Holocaust denial, saying in 2003: “The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind.”

How did the Anti-Defamation League respond?

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the ADL, which campaigns to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people”, dismissed the Palestinian leader’s “ahistorical and pseudo-academic assertions”.

“The Palestinian President’s latest diatribe reflects once again the depth and persistency of the anti-Semitic attitudes he harbors,” he said in a statement.

“With public speeches like these, it is not surprising that under Abbas’ leadership, the Palestinian Authority has failed to renounce and combat Palestinian anti-Semitic incitement, including narratives that Jews are to blame for the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic persecution, and which deny or diminish the millennial Jewish presence in and connection to the Land of Israel.”

via Holocaust row: Abbas accused of anti-Semitism – BBC News

My friend and Mid-East expert Arun recently posted on the Arte film, Israel-Palestine: one land, twice promised, link here, noting the balance and comprehensiveness of this two hour doc.

How integrated schools are offering Israel an ‘Iron Dome against hatred’

An alternative positive example, albeit small-scale:

The news from Israel is often bad: attacks on Jews by young Palestinians and reprisals by Israeli forces. Expanding settlements in the West Bank. Escalating fear and hostility. Plummeting prospects for peace.

But a group of dedicated educators is working to bring the two sides together — not at the bargaining table, but in the school room.

“We’re giving hope where leaders have failed,” says Mohamad Marzouk, director of the community department for the bilingual and bicultural Hand in Hand schools.

“Fear and mistrust develops over years when people are separated,” he says. “A kindergarten child goes to an Arabic or Hebrew school and never experiences the existence of children on the other side. This ignorance of the other creates mistrust and fear.”

Marzouk and Rebecca Bardach, Hand in Hand’s director of resource development and strategy, are in Toronto on a speaking tour.

“Hand in Hand is my Iron Dome against hatred,” says Bardach, referring to Israel’s missile defence system. “I can’t change what is happening politically, or the minds of people who hate each other. But I believe we can overcome that sense of helplessness with understanding.”

Hand in Hand, boasting some 1,320 Jewish and Arab Israeli students, and a lengthy waiting list, was founded in 1998 with one school in Jerusalem. It has now expanded to six, from Jaffa to the Galilee. Arab Israelis make up 20 per cent of Israel’s 8.5 million population and many identify as Palestinian Israelis.

The security wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories — Israel’s “separation barrier” — is physically and psychologically divisive, says Bardach. But the two separate language streams of the Israeli school system are a “huge contributing factor” to mutual misunderstanding between Jews and Arab Israelis.

“Children aren’t growing up learning about differences, what we have in common and building common ground,” she says. Parents must make a choice that cuts their children off from one or the other group.

Not so in Hand in Hand schools, where children are taught by Hebrew and Arabic-speaking teachers.

They partner with children who speak the other language, and study together. They also learn the missing links in mainstream curriculums — the other’s religion, culture, food, daily life and history. Elements that allow them to see their counterparts as fellow humans rather than enemies.

Outside the classroom they play together at sports, picnic together and celebrate each other’s holidays.

They and their parents have weathered nearly two decades of anger, violence, war and political outbursts in the world around them, including a 2014 firebombing of the Jerusalem school by Jewish extremists.

That brought even more support for Hand in Hand, from the media, thousands of demonstrators, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

The traumatic event shook parents and children. But they were helped through it by the school’s tradition of unflinching dialogue on the events around them, however painful. It held true even in the past two years, when Jewish parents were afraid to drive on main roads for fear of being attacked, and Palestinian parents feared gangs of extremists who targeted Arabs for beatings.

The success of the Hand in Hand community has led to expansion, but on a shoestring. Its $9 million-a-year budget is financed by the Israeli government and private donations. Scholarships are available, but fees are $1,200 a year. “Not easy to afford” in Israel, Bardach admits.

Source: How integrated schools are offering Israel an ‘Iron Dome against hatred’ | Toronto Star

Has Labour under Corbyn really gone soft on antisemitism? | Tony Klug 

One of the more thoughtful and balanced commentary on the UK Labour antisemitism issue:

For Britons on all sides, it means reflecting on the critical role Britain and Europe played in instigating the conflict in the first place. The tragic historical Arab-Jewish clash was the product of generations of virulent European antisemitism at home and rampant imperialism abroad. It was white Europe’s innate sense of superiority and its routine oppression that fostered Jewish nationalism, Arab nationalism and Palestinian nationalism. Europe’s present-day assumption of the moral high ground over a conflict it helped to shape is breathtakingly audacious. Those on the British left today who disdainfully dismiss Israel as merely a colonial-settler state conveniently forget that Jews were not sent to Palestine as agents of imperial Europe, but were fleeing the continent for their lives.

For its victims, the systematic annihilation of two-thirds of European Jews was not just a shocking historical statistic. A cataclysm of that magnitude has inevitably left an indelible mark on the psyche of a people made to feel not just powerless, but also utterly degraded and worthless. Probably most Jews, including strong critics of successive Israeli governments, hold on to Israel as the phoenix that arose from the ashes. Many lament that the Jewish state did not come into existence 10 years earlier, for that might have saved up to 6 million Jewish lives.

It is these sentiments that are generally uppermost in the minds of Jews who passionately parade their support for Israel. Their myopia regarding the increasingly desperate Palestinian plight is shadowed by the insensitivity of others who dismiss them as simply bigots or oppressors. This is felt particularly keenly when their accusers seem much less exercised by the gross human rights abuses of a host of despotic regimes or the brutal antics of armed militant groups, and in some cases even make excuses for them.

Historically, Jews and Arabs have mostly had cordial relations. The Jewish and Muslim belief systems and customs have much in common. The contemporary conflict has severely undermined these ties and has fostered in their place the parallel phenomena of anti-Jewish sentiment in the Arab and Muslim worlds and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in the Jewish world. Ultimately, only a resolution of the conflict will settle these matters. Here, Europe could be appropriately and energetically engaged. Meanwhile, it should not be forgotten that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are fated to live alongside each other one way or another. Thus they both have an intrinsic interest in spurning the sometimes dubious support of fair-weather third parties whose antipathy to one side or the other can be so odious that it could poison relations indefinitely.

By promptly excluding Downing and Kirby, and investigating recent allegations of endemic antisemitism in the Oxford University Labour Club, the Labour party is showing itself to be alert to this insidious menace. But these steps might be tinkering at the edges. Without prejudging them, a comprehensive open inquiry into antisemitism on the British left, including the Labour party, would help clarify the underlying issues and draw out the important distinctions. As proudly proclaimed opponents of racist bigotry in all its forms, Jeremy Corbyn and the party he leads could provide an important service to the fabric of community relations by taking on this challenge.

Source: Has Labour under Corbyn really gone soft on antisemitism? | Tony Klug | Opinion | The Guardian

Breaking taboo, Jerusalem Palestinians seek Israeli citizenship | Reuters

Interesting choices that Palestinians are faced with:

In East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed, a move not recognized internationally, issues of Palestinian identity are layered with complexity.

While Israel regards the east of the city as part of Israel, the estimated 300,000 Palestinians that live there do not. They are not Israeli citizens, instead holding Israeli-issued blue IDs that grant them permanent resident status.

While they can seek citizenship if they wish, the vast majority reject it, not wanting to renounce their own history or be seen to buy into Israel’s 48-year occupation.

And yet over the past decade, an increasing number of East Jerusalem Palestinians have gone through the lengthy process of becoming Israeli citizens, researchers and lawyers say.

In part it reflects a loss of hope that an independent Palestinian state will ever emerge. But it also reflects a hard-headed pragmatism – an acknowledgement that having Israeli citizenship will make it easier to get or change jobs, buy or move house, travel abroad and receive access to services.

Israeli officials are reluctant to confirm figures, but data obtained by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies indicates a jump over the past decade, rising from 114 applications in 2003 to between 800 and 1,000 a year now, around half of which are successful. On top of that, hundreds have made inquiries before the formal application process begins.

Interior Ministry figures obtained by Reuters show there were 1,434 applications in 2012-13, of which 189 were approved, 1,061 are still being processed and 169 were rejected. The remainder are in limbo.

Palestinians who have applied do not like to talk about it. The loyalty oath is not an easy thing for them to sign up to and becoming a naturalized Israeli – joining the enemy – is taboo.

“It felt bad, really bad,” said a 46-year-old Palestinian teacher who took the oath a year ago. Despite her reservations, she knew it was right for stability and career prospects.

Breaking taboo, Jerusalem Palestinians seek Israeli citizenship | Reuters.