A Jewish Anti-Zionist voice on Scotland’s streets

18-08-11

Last Saturday our banner had its first outing when some of us joined the protest organised by Edinburgh Action for Palestine outside the King’s Theatre. The theatre was putting on the L-E-V dance company, whose performances around the world have been sponsored by the Israeli state.  Every year at the Edinburgh Festival protestors ensure that such cultural ambassadors cannot whitewash over the realities of Israel’s aggressive apartheid regime.

But history doesn’t wait for people to make banners and write formal statements of beliefs, and even before we had got this group properly set up we were on the streets protesting Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza.

Here is Jolanta speaking in Edinburgh at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba in May.

And here is Sarah speaking at the emergency demo in Glasgow a few days later. Sarah also spoke in Dundee the day before. Sarah’s speech is reproduced below:

And Jolanta again at a July demo against the SDL in Glasgow:

18-07-21 Anti SDL demo glasgow

Speech to the emergency demo for Gaza:

I am speaking on behalf of our newly set up organisation of Scottish Jews against Zionism.

No-one with a heart that beats and eyes to see can fail to be moved by the catastrophe that is playing out in Gaza. And despite the careful whitewashing in so much of the mainstream media, this catastrophe is planned and deliberate and is being carried out by a government and an army that claims to represent the Jewish people – my people. That is why it is important that the many Jews who are horrified at what is happening can stand up and say loudly and clearly this is not done in our name.

As some of you may know, I am just back from a week in Rojava, the autonomous predominantly Kurdish area in Northern Syria where they are establishing a bottom up democracy based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan used to fight for a Kurdish state, but he came to realise the dangers that this posed – that when an oppressed minority becomes the rulers of their own state, then they can become the new oppressors. As Israel exemplifies, no group is intrinsically immune from exploiting power to turn against others.

The catastrophe in Gaza today is the continuation and amplification of the catastrophe that accompanied the foundation of the Israeli state, 70 years ago this week. The Arabic word for catastrophe is nakba. The Palestinians who were driven from their ancestral villages to make room for a specifically Jewish state have been commemorating that original Nakba for 7 decades, but never has the situation been as desperate as it is today. Never has the Israeli government been so blatantly unapologetically racist and violent. Never has such a large part of Israeli society been so blinded by racial hate. Never has the description of Israel/Palestine as an apartheid state been more apt. And never has the wider political world been less ready to say ‘no’ to Israeli aggression. Because these developments in Israel have not happened in a vacuum. They are part of a world political shift towards the right.

When folk call on the ‘international community’ to do something, they turn towards politicians and diplomats. These people may wring their hands, even pass a few condemning motions, but they are part of the system that has allowed all this to happen. Real support will only come from the real international community – the people who are standing up in streets and squares across the world in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in opposition to the wider politics that puts greed and power and arms deals before people’s lives.

We can stand here and protest because our ancestors fought for that basic freedom. When the Palestinians stand up to protest against their incarceration in a modern ghetto, they are mowed down by Israeli bullets. And despite the scores of deaths, the thousands of casualties, the indifference of world leaders, the Palestinians have shown a bravery and determination that is truly inspiring.

Understanding and support for the Palestinians has been growing – especially here in Scotland, and especially through the important movement for boycotting Israeli goods and divesting from companies that work with the Israeli government. These actions are hitting Israel’s carefully manufactured image, and Israel is fighting back. They are fighting back by trying to portray anyone who criticises Israel, and particularly anyone who argues against Zionism, as anti-Semitic. Zionism is a political movement for the creation and maintenance of a specifically Jewish state. We believe it is vital that we resist any system that prioritises any one religion or ethnicity. That resistance is not anti-Semitic. What is anti-Semitic is to assume that all Jews are Zionists

Zionism has also been a catastrophe for Jews. It has – to use a biblical phrase – hardened people’s hearts. What happened to the precept of Rabbi Hillel from the first century BC: ‘That which is hateful to you, do not unto another’? What happened to the Talmudic principle that the preservation of human life takes precedence over all other commandments? Should we forget the recognition of shared oppression that encouraged so many Jews to take a prominent place in the progressive left movements of the 20th century?

Those of us who can see what is happening need to speak out and say, for the sake of everyone who lives in that land – Palestinians and Jews and Druze and Armenians and people who don’t identify with any ‘group’- and for the sake of the whole of humanity: Palestine will be free from the river to the sea!

 

Don’t let a right-wing Zionist elite scupper the prospect of a socialist UK government

United we stand 'Jewish newsapers'

ScottishJAZ responds to the latest attacks on Corbyn and the Labour Left

Like many other Jews across the UK we are appalled to see the right-wing editors of three ‘Jewish papers’ line up to attack the Labour Party, and more specifically Corbyn’s leadership. The insistence that Labour not only adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism (which they have done) but also every one of its illustrative examples has nothing to do with preventing anti-Semitism. Its dual aim is to outlaw criticism of Zionism and destroy the prospect of a socialist government in the UK. A state that gives priority to any one ethnicity or religion is inherently racist. The law passed by the Knesset last week makes Israel’s racism even more explicit. To equate criticism of this with criticism of all Jews, as those examples do, is both dangerous and itself anti-Semitic. Racism of all kinds is on the rise with the emergence of a new populist right. The only thing that can cut across this is a strong socialist alternative. These editors pose as anti-racists, while attacking those who would address the inequalities on which racism thrives.

We put this out as a press release, and the Dundee Courier asked if they could publish it as a letter:

18-07-28 letter to Courier_1

Welcome

Thank you for looking up our website. We will be adding to this in the coming weeks, but as an introduction, let us explain why we exist and WHAT WE STAND FOR.

We are a community for the growing number of people who identify as Jewish — ethnically, culturally, or religiously — and oppose Zionism. We work together to ensure that there is a specifically Jewish voice in the wider Scottish movement for Palestinian rights and against Zionism.  We are Jews who feel compelled to speak out, and to demonstrate that opposition to Zionism is not inherently anti-Semitic; and we believe we have a particular right to speak out when injustice and oppression are perpetrated in the name of all Jews.

We understand how historical circumstances persuaded the post-War generation that Jewish survival needed Zionism – the movement for the establishment and then the development and protection of a Jewish nation in the historic land of Israel. But we are painfully aware of the fundamental fallacies in the belief that this would in fact create a better or safer society. The concept of a ‘Jewish state’, or any state defined by ethnicity or religion, is inherently discriminatory and racist. And when that state is established in a land that is already inhabited by others, and can only be manifested through settler colonialism, this discrimination is magnified.

The seeds for the escalating state violence and discrimination in Israel today, which has been likened to a new apartheid, were already planted in the underlying logic of Zionism. While some Israeli governments have proved more aggressive than others, we cannot stop at criticising individual politicians and political actions. There can be no genuine peace and security so long as the state maintains an ideology that privileges Jews; and the belief that it is possible to call for peace without opposing Zionism, is a dangerous delusion. Zionism has been a catastrophe for the Palestinians, and a constant threat to political stability in the Middle East and beyond. It has eroded the empathy of all those who support it, and far from making it safer to be a Jew, the actions of the state that claims to represent all Jews have only fuelled a new anti-Semitism.

There have been Jews without Zionism for millennia. While traditional Judaism looks forward to a return to Jerusalem in a future messianic age, Zionism is a modern (19th century) nationalist movement that became the subject of intense argument among Jews, and that only gained dominance after the horror of the Holocaust. Not all Jews support Zionism, and not all Zionists are Jewish. However, Zionism seeks to hold itself above criticism by portraying its political nationalism as integral to Jewishness, so that opposition to Zionism becomes tantamount to anti-Semitism. We argue that this presumption that all Jews share the same political position is actually racist; and that wrongly accusing people of anti-Semitism can be intensely damaging to those accused, as well as serving to obscure genuinely anti-Semitic acts. We are deeply concerned when we see unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism being used as a tool for slurring left politicians and activists, whose commitment to justice leads them to advocate for Palestinian rights.

Almost no-one likes to feel rootless, and all of us want to be able to celebrate and enjoy our Jewishness – whether that be religious, ethnic or cultural; a belief system, a way of life, or a historical legacy. We cannot accept a Zionist veto on who or what counts as Jewish. We want to be able to look back at earlier centuries of Jewish life and say that we’ve not forgotten their struggles and hopes, and their dogged determination to maintain a culture that cannot be reduced to a narrow Jewish nationalism; and we want to enjoy our heritage and tradition without making claims for Jewish exceptionalism of any kind.

Centuries of oppression ensured that there is a long history of Jewish involvement in progressive struggle, but, as Israel has demonstrated, Jews, like any other group, can also be oppressors. We want to be part of that progressive tradition – to feel a bond with Rosa Luxemburg and Morris Winchevsky, as well as with John McLean and Mary Brooksbank – but we recognise that we can no more take credit for this part of Jewish history than we can be blamed for Israeli oppression. We have to take responsibility for our own actions.

Progressive struggle must uncompromisingly embrace full human rights for everyone regardless of ethnicity, and the Zionist project has endowed us with a special duty to stand up for the Palestinians. We will work with others to fight for equal rights for all in Israel/Palestine, to which purpose we support the Palestinians’ non-violent popular struggle, including demands for the end of the occupation as a first stage in any settlement and for the right of return for Palestinian refugee families, and the call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions made by Palestinian civil society.

We have founded this community so that we can provide each other with mutual support and combine our voices to greater impact – as Jews who uncompromisingly embrace full human rights for everyone.