May 31, 2020

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Antisemitism, anti-Zionism and the principle of the divided cloth

Before I talk of a divided cloth, let me address the antisemitic events. Last September I was turned away at the door of a fringe event at the Labour conference because I was a ‘known Zionist’. Last summer as I sat to eat a meal with my wife and eleven-year-old son during a day out at the PalestineExpo I was approached by security and asked to leave. I was treated like a criminal. My ‘unwelcome’ presence had been ‘reported’ by Labour Party members.

I have been de-registered from an event at Parliament because I am a ‘Zionist’ and at Warwick University I was recently turned away from an event with feeble excuses about a ‘PREVENT’ strategy. These however remain oddities in a long line of events I have witnessed over that past few years. If I am recognised once successfully inside, I am treated as a pariah. I have my photo taken, I am ‘accidentally’ nudged, I have abuse hurled at me.

It is not the only reason I identify with the recent story about Jeremy Corbyn’s antisemitic attack on Richard Millett.

The Zoo animals

I have witnessed far too many events where I have seen both Richard Millett and Jonathan Hoffman treated disgracefully. As someone who researches antisemitism online, I have also seen that abuse frequently carried over into social media. These two posts about Richard were shared by two well-known antisemites:

Richard Millett

Only those who have been to these events can truly understand how it feels to be inside one. You become an object of hate and ridicule. All Jews do. Antisemites are all around, each speaker trying to outdo the other and the more vivid the hatred of Jews, the louder the applause. Whether on campus or in parliament, the system is set up to protect the hate. If you protest, you will be evicted. There are feelings of helplessness and at times despondency and depression.

Vilified and vindicated

Sadly only a few Jewish people have been doing this circuit, Richard longer than most. Each of us have our own methods and in several cases our differences have allowed us to benefit from each other. Richard’s questions probe, Jonathan’s outbursts provoke or distract and my silence leaves me more unnoticed than most. Nothing though creates a better feeling than seeing the others in the room. I know this because those times I have felt the worst, were all the times I was the only Jew there.

Yet through all this I have seen an almost rejectionist approach from many in the community. As if what we were doing was self-harming. There was a head-in-the-sand attitude as if everything was under control and Jonathan or Richard were the problem. I have lost count of the number of times I saw these people fight against antisemitism only to face some backlash over their behaviour the following day.

Suddenly the tone has changed. The method of videoing, writing about and archiving records of the antisemitism we have witnessed, has entirely altered the narrative. Almost every piece of evidence of antisemitism that has been brought to light over the last three years was found, witnessed or recorded by a grassroots activist who was out there, fighting against antisemitism, publicly or anonymously.

Last year one of the Jewish community newspapers actually ran a parody of Jonathan Hoffman. A man who has barely lost a day in a perpetual fight against those that mean us harm. The paper actually mocked him.

Everyone knows now, what I have known all along. What Richard was filming, what Jonathan was arguing against, was a virus that was spreading. A disease that has come to pose a real and present danger to us all. If we could go back in time, wouldn’t we all go back to help them?  Maybe if there had been more Jonathans and more Richards, we would have made enough noise, captured enough footage, rocked enough boats, for it to have made a difference before Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the opposition.

Instead we let this virus spread, even as some Jewish people were at the coal face, warning us all it was coming.

How did we get here?

Today we face the possibility of a deeply antisemitic government in the UK. Of a cult of street-wise fascist Jew-haters controlling the dialogue.

As I was doing some research that involved one of the anti-Israel activists, I came across a story from the University of Cambridge in 2010. Historian Benny Morris had been invited by the ‘Israel Society’ to give a talk. Anti-Israel activist Ben White set up a Facebook Page to oppose the talk and without much resistance, the Israel Society caved. Not only did they back down, they even apologised for inviting him in the first place.

The problem was that some people found Morris ‘offensive’.  Apparently Morris ‘has expressed Islamophobic and racist sentiments towards Arabs and Muslims.’

Now the point here is not whether or not you find Morris’s words offensive or disagree with his political position. The question is how does this work the other way around? Do anti-Israel groups cancel events because Jewish people find the speakers antisemitic? Of course not. We ceded Morris and received Pappe in return.

To explain the problem properly I need to introduce the principle of the divided cloth.

The divided cloth

The principle is based on a story from the Talmud, but I first came across the story when reading Jabotinsky’s ‘Ethics of the Iron Wall‘.

Two people walking along the road find a piece of cloth. One of them says: ” I found it. It is mine:” But the other says: ” No: that is not true: I found the cloth, and it is mine: ” The judge to whom they appeal cuts the cloth in two, and each of these obstinate folk gets half. But there is another version of this action. It is only one of the two claimants who is obstinate: the other, on the contrary, has determined to make the world wonder at this magnanimity.

So he says: “We both found the cloth, and therefore I ask only a half of it, because the second belongs to B. But B. insists that he found it, and that he alone is entitled to it. In this case, the Talmud recommends a wise Judgment, that is, how very disappointing to our magnanimous gentleman. The judge says: “There is agreement about one half of the cloth. A. admits that it belongs to B. So it is only the second half that is in dispute. We shall, therefore divide this into two halves: And the obstinate claimant gets three-quarters of the cloth, while the gentleman” has only one quarter, and serve him right. It is a very fine thing to be a gentleman, but it is no reason for being an idiot.

When Jabotinsky wrote this, there can be little doubt that Trans-Jordan was fresh in his mind, yet as I look across the Jewish landscape, in the UK, in the US and of course in Israel, I see the relevance of this principle everywhere.

What we cede out of our willingness to be magnanimous, what we give up in our desire to appear accommodating is lost if there is no reciprocity. It will never do anything but create a recipe for disaster in a situation such as the one facing Israel and the Jews. If the other side are radical Islamic ideologies and rabid Jew haters, then the 50% you cede is gone. You are left standing on or beyond your red line, negotiating over what little remains.

And without correction, the situation will continue to deteriorate. Jewish progressive movements will continually push the red line as the ‘new point for negotiations’ chases after the tail of those radical Islamic organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. At its core, the entire Oslo process was a real life example of the divided cloth. Every one of the major negotiation points (such as Jerusalem and the refugees) was ‘off the table’. Israel ceded and got nothing in return. Today, Gaza is a Hamas stronghold. Palestinian activists tour our universities supporting a movement (BDS) that calls for the destruction of Israel. All the while, small organisations of Israelis, supported by the writings of those like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, move closer to the Hamas position.

Israel and Diaspora

Israel is more fortunate than the Diaspora. The enemy is as real as the threat and the luxury of fantastical thought is too often interrupted by terrorists to pose much of a threat to the society. When you live next door to Hamas and Hezbollah, reality explodes too often to allow you to forget what it looks like. This is not the case in the Diaspora.

For decades, Jews in the Diaspora have ceded ground to their enemies. There are milestones such as 1982, 1987, 2000 and 2014 but in reality it is a slowly shifting environment. In the 1990’s we bought into the idea that the Palestinian leadership was capable of delivering peace. Decades ago we stop protecting the word ‘Zionism’ because it ‘offended’ others. Today our ‘progressives’ say Kaddish for Hamas terrorists. Of course there is outrage, of course there is a backlash. But another red line has been crossed and without us realising it, the ‘tolerance levels’ of the entire community have been raised again.

The result of our inability to stand our ground surrounds us and has impacted globally how Israel and Zionism is perceived. When you enter a high street bookshop, there will be two types of books on the conflict available, the anti-Israel ideology and the Zionist apology. These are our high-streets and this is where we sit now, stuck negotiating with a lie. We allowed this to happen because we want others to consider us the ‘nice guys’. Yet in our schools, universities and councils this is now where the discussion lies, half way between the the anti-Israel ideology and the Zionist apology.

If you don’t fit this narrative you will be labelled an extremist and ostracised by a community unwilling to defend you. The enemy call everyone they don’t like an extremist or a racist and nobody labelled an extremist or racist will be defended by a community that seeks to appear magnanimous. The result is university debates where the students are introduced to one of two positions, stuck between anti-Israel hate and a Zionist apology. There are no voices left defending Israel. If one is booked, petitions are mounted and the voice is silenced. We allowed this situation to develop.

Parts of mainstream Jewish Diaspora are now sitting on the very edge of Zionist thought. Once our community gave up half the cloth, the minds of our youth became vulnerable, lost in the mid space. But once you shift, the movement continues. At Limmud I heard a Yachad activist argue that anti-Zionists should also be represented on the BOD. Once the starting position is a shifting red line, everything becomes lost.

In a battle of ‘progressive’ v ‘regressive’ the progressives will lose. You can only edge so close to the cliff face before eventually you fall. As a community we need to take action to reclaim some of the ground we lost and learn the lessons about how our own actions are partially responsible for the position we all find ourselves in. The rise of antisemitism is directly linked to our failure to maintain a coherent position in the face of an onslaught. What we tolerated in the sewer is now on the street and our enemies still want us gone.



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The post Antisemitism, anti-Zionism and the principle of the divided cloth appeared first on Beyond the great divide.

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