Posts Tagged ‘anti-Semitism’

Well, not much really…. Just that when you invite people who don’t consider each other to be “within the pale”, as British columnist David Aaronovitch said, then the discussion on anti-Semitism turns into character assassination.  

No one expected a calm discussion during the debate entitled “Anti-Semitism – Alive and Well in Europe?”, which was organised by the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. Along with Aaronovitch, the panel included Gilad Atzmon and the Observer columnist Nick Cohen. 

It’s not clear why Cohen was invited to join at the very last minute when his views, to the naked eye at least, are akin to those of Aaronovitch’s. It would be fair to describe both men as supporters of Zionism who believe that anti-Semitism is on the rise and that much of it is “unfairly” blamed on Israel’s actions. 

Atzmon’s views, on the other hand, are well-known to those who follow websites on Palestinian activism. He has very strong views on “Jewishness” and “Jewish identity”, and makes a clear distinction between Jews as a people and those who commit crimes in the name of “Jewish ideology”. 

Both Aaronovitch and Cohen launched an attack on Atzmon. Aaronovich took the podium for 18 minutes (when we were told each speaker would only have 10, and indeed Atzmon had less than 10) during which he gave a  theatrical performance, reading out paragraph after paragraph of Atzmon’s articles to prove the point that the man was “fascist”. I doubt anyone in the audience managed to grasp what he was saying, but when you spit out the word “Jews” then at least it gives the impression what you’re saying about them is bad! 

Cohen, other the hand, kept wondering, over and over again, why “upper-class”, “educated”, “white” people would waste such a beautiful spring day debating anti-Semitism with a “nutter” (well, at least I could say I learned something about racial and class prejudice that day!) 

One can imagine how shocked and angry Atzmon was by the time it was his turn to take the podium. And this is why the event became a missed opportunity. He  tried to steer the debate back to its theme, but at times his emotions failed him. In between having to answer to the attacks levelled against him by Aaronovitch and Cohen, and trying to remind people of what they came to discuss, much of his ideas were lost on those who’ve never followed his writings. 

Once the floor was opened for questions, a member of the audience said the discussion, as a whole, “was a profound disappointment”. 

So why did the Oxford Literary Festival invite Atzmon? After all, he’s the “proud self-hating Jew” who wonders how America has allowed its foreign policies to be shaped by “ruthless Zionists”. He’s the one who insists that the burning of synagogues is illegitimate, yet he believes the motivations behind such actions are political rather than religious or racial.

Cohen certainly conceded that whenever Israel launches a fresh attack on Gaza or Lebanon, synagogues and Jewish cemeteries are attacked in the UK. Yet somehow he refuses to accept the correlation between Zionist policies and anti-Semitism. He wants us to believe that anti-Semitism is fuelled by pure hatred for the Jews. After all, Chinese property wasn’t attacked in the aftermath of the Tibetan clashes last year. Sudanese property wasn’t attacked when Darfur was in the media. 

Well, Mr. Cohen, maybe it’s because China and Sudan are being condemned in the international community, especially in Britain, while Israel to this day is being hailed as the West’s indispensable partner. Maybe it’s because what Israel has committed in Gaza during “Operation Cast Lead” earlier this year has created more devastation than what happened in Darfur (and this is according to the head of the International Red Cross). Maybe it’s because it is acceptable for British Jews to join the IDF, and actively take part in Israel’s wars, while British Muslims or Chinese or whatever would never dare join a non-British army. 

The response from some members of the “upper-middle class, educated, white” audience proved that these questions are not an endorsement of conspiracy theories. They are legitimate questions. 

One man raised the question of the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington. It was their pressure that led Obama to back down on his decision to appoint Mr. Freeman as an advisor, a man well-known for his criticism of Israel. “In those circumstances,” the man asked, “is a rise in anti-Semitism surprising when democracy is affected by that type of lobbying activity that prevents Obama from being able to appoint Ambassador Freeman?” 

We know what Atzmon would’ve said, but neither Aaronovitch nor Cohen answered that question. 

None of this justifies attacking synagogues or anti-Jewish graffiti. If anything, Atzmon – whom Aaronovitch and Cohen blasted as a “fascist” and a “nutter – was saying ordinary Jewish people “must be saved of the crimes imposed on them.” The crimes taking place in Palestine aren’t being committed just in the name of Israel, but in the name of the Jewish people. That’s not a conspiracy theory, that’s a fact. If you’re in doubt, go and read the Israeli government’s statements during Operation Cast Lead. 

Is it so outrageous to ask Jews in the UK to disassociate themselves from what is happening in Israel, without being labelled as an “anti-Semite”? Apparently it is. When people applauded Atzmon for making that point in the discussion, they were attacked by Aaronovitch who shouted “Shame on you! How dare you!”, even addressing one member in the audience by saying “You Sir, are an anti-Semite.”

In the aftermath of the July 7th attacks, Muslims were attacked everywhere. It became so dangerous that a fatwa had to be issued allowing women to take off the headscarf if they felt their lives were in danger. Yet at the same time, the Muslim community was under enormous pressure to disassociate itself from the terrorists who blew up those trains and busses. While they were being attacked themselves, they were still expected to make a clear statement that what happened on July 7th does not represent them and is not being committed in their name. 

Try and say that to the Jewish community today without being called an “anti-Semite”. 

Now I don’t want to ponder too much semantics but it is very ironic that anti-Semitism has been coined as a term exclusively for Jews when most of them do not belong to the Semitic race. Arabs, on the other hand, are Semitic. So if for one moment I, as an Arab, could reclaim that definition, I leave you with one point to think about. 

In the beginning of his speech, Aaronovitch wanted to illustrate just how bad Atzmon was. He quoted the Guardian’s Jon Lewis who described Atzmon’s writings as “extremely popular in the Arab world.” Aaronovitch then fixed his audience with a gaze and asked them to keep that sentence at the very front of their minds. 

On second thought, I think I did learn something about “anti-Semitism” that day. 

Dima Omar is a Palestinian journalist and filmmaker. She is based in London. 

To listen to David Aaronovitch reading Gilad Atzmon click here

To listen to David Aaronovitch’s tantrum click here

To Listen to Gilad Atzmon deconstructing antisemitism click here

To listen to Atzmon confronted with a outraged Jewish member of the audience click here
 
To listen to a disappointed member of the audience click here
 
To link to Aaronovitch confronted with a Jewish member of the audience click here
 
To listen to Aaronovitch’s closing remarks click here
 
To listen to Atzmon’s closing remarks  click here

WRITTEN BY Kourosh Ziabari

Nobody, even the hawks and tyrants themselves, would deny the fact that the majority of the world’s decisions are made by a group of certain leaders who lead certain countries of some certain regions! Our world’s population approaches 7 billion as of 2008, with people living in 203 sovereign states and countries, and there are just something around 30 people who decide the destiny and prospect of this “flock” of 7 billion, and this is exactly what we expect of the 21st century’s democracy; a revolutionized form of a then-sublime concept that the conscious human would enthusiastically long for.

Perhaps the extraordinary and outlandish ethnic cleansing and systematic massacre of civilians, committed habitually by the state of Israel, is something instinctive to the very existence of the 60-year old “country”, and as said by Gilad Atzmon in an interview which I had once conducted with him, you can not expect benevolent, human and lawful treatment of downtrodden people by the Jewish state.

 

However, what makes me astonishingly baffled and bemused is the approach of European and North American states to the long-standing punishment of Palestinian people by Israel. Once you dare appear and criticize Israel for its illegal actions, a bunch of mainstream personalities set off to mobilize and accuse you of the famous ‘anti-Semitism’, ‘anti-Judaism’ and such libels.

 

Interestingly, those who expound these accusations are either really uneducated and unaware about the historical facts or pretend to be ignorant and uninformed. Etymologically, Semitism refers to the adherence of Semitic languages or ancient Semitic religions. In the former case, Semitic languages are a group of intertwined languages which comprise Arabic, Aramaic, Tigrinya and Hebrew. Arabic is the most widely spoken among the Semitic languages. So anti-Semitism, in its etymological foundation, should more than likely signify the notion of being opposed to Arabic and Aramaic languages, and this is basically unwarranted and meaningless.

 

If one considers the latter case, Semitic religions are Christianity, Islam and Judaism; Christianity and Islam rank first in the world by number of adherents, namely 2.1 billion and 1.5 billion respectively. The total number of world Jews, however, does not surpass 14 million, which is comparatively insignificant in comparison with the two other faiths. So anti-Semitism, again does not represent the school of being opposed to Judaism, as a monotheistic religion.

 

Those who consciously employ this term to demoralize the critics of Israel know well that they can potentially embroil Arabs, Muslims (as all of the Arabs are not necessarily Muslims), African speakers of Semitic languages, Christians and Jews in an erosive conflict with one another.

 

They want to portray Israel as the symbol of Judaism and intimidate the dissidents of Israel thereby, so that they retract and pull back from criticizing the genocidal policies of Tel Aviv and its allies.

 

Issues are really complicated in this field; because you cannot argue with and convince the ordinary people to believe that a “country” cannot be the representative of a religion, as Saudi Arabia can not be the representative of Islam. Religion is the intuitive incorporation of moral, ethical, human and decent values in the hearts and minds of people, and no governmental system can claim that it symbolizes the absolute, supreme incarnation of the official religion which it clings to. Maybe, for example, Iran’s name is officially mingled with the name of Islam, and the governmental system is theocratic, even so, that would be irrational to judge on Islam and its reality based on the situation of Iran. Perhaps Iran might be impoverished someday due to the financial meltdown, so would it be then practicable to conclude that Islam is the religion of poverty and shortage?

 

In the same way, you cannot evaluate religion by considering the majority. The majority of American people (around 75% of the population as of 2002) are Christians, while the governmental system is secular; nonetheless, you cannot assess the authenticity and veracity of Christianity on the grounds of American people’s lifestyle, behavior, contemplation and manner. Even the practicing Christians of the U.S. are quite far away from the fundamental pillars of their religion.

 

Similarly, Israel is not the manifestation of Judaism. Judaism denounces terrorism, killing of the innocent, occupation and trespassing. Israel introduces itself as a Jewish State, while it’s not really what it maintains; it does not practice what it preaches, and unfortunately is wrongly blending the expansionist, interventionist and reactionary notion of Zionism with Judaism as a religion.

 

However, these lexical, etymological and methodological differences aside, what is worth the most is that resistance against bulling and oppression is a cultural heritage that Palestinians have used to nurture during times. I believe that the bastion of resistance against aggression which the Palestinian people have long formed, examines the moral and ethical genuineness of our personalities, thinkers, rhetoricians and theoreticians.

 

I don’t want to give an ultimate declaration; yet I believe that the unconditional support of Israel which is extensively prevalent among the hawkish conservatives and warmonger hardliners with the pretext of defending “Israel’s right to exist” or recognizing its right to “self-defense” merely indicates an advertent blind eye to one of the most striking realities of our era.

 

Thousands of people are ousted from their lands, being slaughtered usually as an entertaining activity for its perpetrators and live under the harshest threats one can undergo.

 

We don’t request anything. We just want the ‘international community’, if that’s not a linguistic equivalent for the U.S. and its European friends, to act, and fulfill the content of 22 UNSC resolutions which have been issued so far, to condemn the unusual actions of Israel. Israel is called the “occupying power” by the UNSC, and we want somebody to end this occupation.

 

I want, as a citizen of the world, to breathe in clean, pure and unsullied air. I want to wake up one morning and hear from the radio that occupation of Palestinians’ lands, massacre of Palestinian people and violation of Palestinians’ rights is eventually ended. May I experience that day?