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Is It Anti-Semitic to Defend Palestinian Human Rights?

By       Message Edward Corrigan     Permalink
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Dr. Joel Beinin, in an article, "Silencing critics not way to Middle East peace" (San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 4, 2007), discussed the campaign to silence critics of Israeli policy. Beinin is a Professor of History at StanfordUniversity and is Jewish. He is active with Jewish Voice for Peace. Here is what Beinin had to say: "Why discredit, defame and silence those with opposing viewpoints? I believe it is because the Zionist lobby knows it cannot win based on facts. An honest discussion can only lead to one conclusion: The status quo in which Israel declares it alone has rights and intends to impose its will on the weaker Palestinians, stripping them permanently of their land, resources and rights, cannot lead to a lasting peace. We need an open debate and the freedom to discuss uncomfortable facts and explore the full range of policy options. Only then can we adopt a foreign policy that serves American interests and one that could actually bring a just peace to Palestinians and Israelis."

The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, as well as the massacres, rapes and illegal confiscation of Palestinian property, has been well documented by Israeli historians. These include Simcha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities (New York: Pantheon Books, 1987); Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee problem 1947-1949 (Cambridge University Press: New York, 1987); Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians (Washington D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992); Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Original Sins (Olive Branch Press: New York, 1993); and Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld Publications: Oxford, 2006). There are many more Israeli commentators who have confirmed the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1947-1949 and again in 1967, as well as the ongoing "slow motion ethnic cleansing," as it is called by some Israelis. (See "Slow Motion Ethnic Cleansing," Uri Avnery, CounterPunch, Oct. 9, 2003.)

Yet the allegation of antiSemitism is a frequent smear tactic that has been used against individuals who have publicly supported Palestinian human rights. These individuals include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Bertrand Russell, Mahatma Gandhi, Arnold Toynbee, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, and former UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour.

Most of the strongest critics of Zionism and Israeli policies are Jewish. The only Jewish member of Lloyd George's cabinet when Great Britain first threw its weight behind Zionism in 1917, Sir Edwin Montagu, was adamantly opposed to the creation of a Jewish state. He attacked the Balfour Declaration and Zionism as antiSemitic. Montagu argued that Zionism and antiSemitism were based on the same premise, namely that Jews and nonJews could not coexist.

Ironically, people like me who want Jews to remain in our society, be an important part of our community and be safe from discrimination and racism are diametrically opposed to the Zionist goal of ingathering all Jews to Palestine. Zionists want to "save the Jews" because they are not safe in the Diaspora and face the threat of persecution due to the intractable anti-Semitism of non-Jewish societies. To quote one Zionist commentator, "The Law [of Return] and the Clause and, for that matter Zionism and the Jewish State are necessary so long as the threat to our people continues; so long, in other words, as Diaspora exists.....The Law of Return continues to be necessary for Jewish survival, to serve its essential function in Zionist theory and practice. The Law defines Israel's Zionist mission, our state as protector and refuge for threatened Diaspora Jewry." ("Hands off the Law of Return!", David Turner, Jerusalem Post, December 10, 2007.) Without the history of Christian anti-Semitism that has existed in Europe and the centuries of persecution of the European Jewish community, political Zionism would have no legitimacy.

Sir Edwin Montagu was also afraid that a Jewish state would undermine the safety of Jews in other countries. Montagu's opposition to Zionism and the Balfour Declaration was supported by the leading representative bodies of AngloJewry at the time, the Board of Deputies and the AngloJewish Association, and in particular, by three prominent British Jews, Claude Montefiore, David Alexander and Lucien Wolf.

Historically Zionism was not supported by the majority of Jews. There is a respected and honoured Jewish tradition of opposition to injustice and human rights violations. There is no monolithic position on the part of Jews when it comes to Israel. There is a long, distinguished line of Jewish critics of Zionism and Israeli policies. The list includes Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt, Isaac Asimov, I.F. Stone, Norton Mezvinsky, Alfred Lilienthal, Silvain Levi, Eric Rouleau, Tony Judt, Sara Roy, Ronnie Kasrils, Eric Hobsbawn, Saul Landau, Noam Chomsky, Hans Kohen, Eric Fromm, Bruno Kreisky, Pierre Mendes-France, Richard Falk, Harold Pinter (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature), Philip Roth, Michael Selzer, Don Peretz, Immanuel Wallerstein, Rabbi Michael Lerner, actor Ed Asner and many other leading Jewish intellectuals and religious figures.

Isaac Asimov was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century and wrote on many topics. He expressed his views on Zionism in a number of pieces. One example is found in the second volume of his autobiography In Joy Still Felt. There he wrote: "It is wrong for anyone to feel that there is anything special about any one heritage of whatever kind. It is delightful to have the human heritage exist in a thousand varieties, for it makes for greater interest, but as soon as one variety is thought to be more important than another, the groundwork is laid for destroying them all."

Asimov also commented on Zionism in a chapter titled "Anti-Semitism" in I. Asimov, his third autobiographical volume. There, Asimov expressed his distress at the capacity of the historically oppressed (such as the Jews) to in turn become oppressors if given the chance. "Right now, there is an influx of Soviet Jews into Israel. They are fleeing because they expect religious persecution. Yet at the instant their feet touched Israeli soil, they became extreme Israeli nationalists with no pity for the Palestinians. From persecuted to persecutors in the blinking of an eye."

In 1943, a group of 92 Reform rabbis, and many other prominent American Jews, created the American Council for Judaism, with the express intent of combating Zionism. Included in the Council's leadership were Rabbi Morris S. Lazaron of Baltimore; Lessing J. Rosenwald, the former chairman of Sears, Roebuck...amp; Company, who became president of the Council; Rabbi Elmer Berger, who became its executive director; Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times; and Sidney Wallach of the American Jewish Committee.

An example of their views on Zionism is "Palestine," a pamphlet published by the Council in 1944, which stated as follows: "...the concept of a theocratic state is long past. It is an anachronism. The concept of a racial state-- the Hitlerian concept-- is repugnant to the civilized world, as witness the fearful global war in which we are involved."

The American Council for Judaism was founded in response to a 1942 Zionist Conference in the U.S., which proposed the formation of a Jewish army in Palestine before the Jewish state was founded. The Council sent letters to various governments and officials expressing their objection to such a concept as a "religious" state, especially since they believed that "Jewish nationalism tends to confuse our fellow man about our place and function in society and diverts our own attention from our historic role to live as a religious community wherever we may dwell."

Membership in the Council grew to more than 15,000. Its members were highly articulate and greatly angered the Zionist leadership, who wanted the American Jewish community to present a united front on the Palestine question. The book Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942-1948, by Thomas A. Kolsky (Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1990) is a history of the Council during the period just before the creation of the "Jewish state."

After Israel's spectacular success in the 1967 ArabIsraeli war, however, a change

in the policy towards Zionism occurred in the Council, which softened its strict anti-Zionist position. A separate organization was subsequently established in 1969 called American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism (AJAZ). The new group, which was based in New York, continued the original antiZionist tradition of the American Council for Judaism. Rabbi Elmer Berger served as president of AJAZ and also editor of its publication, the AJAZ Report, until shortly before his death in 1996. The American Council for Judaism is still in existence. It is non-Zionist rather than anti-Zionist, but highly critical of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians. Their publications frequently carry anti-Zionist Jewish criticism. Allan C. Brownfeld is the Editor of Issues, their quarterly newsletter, and also editor of their Special Interest Report. Stephen L. Naman is President of the Council.

Adam Shatz, the literary editor of The Nation, has edited a book titled Prophets Outcast: A Century of Dissident Jewish Writing about Zionism and Israel. The book contains essays by 24 prominent Jewish scholars and intellectuals critical of Zionism and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Another important book is The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent, edited by Roane Carey and Jonathan Shainin. It contains articles critical of Israel's policies, written by 27 prominent Israelis.The foreword was written by prominent Israeli historian and journalist Tom Segev. The introduction is by Anthony Lewis, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who worked at The New York Times between 1969 and 2001.

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EDWARD C. CORRIGAN SHORT BIO Edward C. Corrigan holds a B.A. in History and a Master's Degree in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario. Ed also has a Law Degree from the University of Windsor and was called to the Bar of the (more...)

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