Wednesday, August 29, 2007


MPs and Jewish leaders have condemned a high-profile British charity which has unveiled plans for a world-wide anti-Israel boycott. A document, described as a guide for boycott, divestment and sanctions, appears on the War on Want website, and as a booklet, laying out a strategy for those planning sanctions against the Jewish state. MPs have called on the Charity Commission to investigate the publication, described as a handbook of hate by Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Jeremy Newmark.

It suggests that the boycott movement needs to gain greater popular support in order to grow into a truly global movement. Comparisons are drawn between sanctions against Israel and those imposed against apartheid-era South Africa. Investment in Israel should be presented to the public as investment in a system of occupation, injustice and apartheid, it says in the booklet, co-published with the Palestinian Stop the Wall organisation.

Lorna Fitzsimons, former Labour MP and chief executive of BICOM, the Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre, said that to equate the Palestinians situation with the absolute powerlessness of black South Africans under the apartheid regime is at best misguided, and at worst an insult and a tragedy. Liverpool Riverside Labour MP Louise Ellman said the publication was very questionable for a charity. Ilford North Conservative MP Lee Scott found it disgraceful. I'm going to ask the Charity Commission to look into it.

Labour peer Lord Janner suggested that if the charity wanted to attack anyone they should concentrate on the non-democracies of this world. They seem to be existing on another planet.

Zionist Federation president Eric Moonman warned that those who thought that pressure for boycotts only came from academics and the unions have made a mistake. This is much more serious. It shows that well-meaning people are buying into the boycott too.

Despite the criticism, a War on Want spokesman told the JC: This [document] is produced with our partner organisation Stop the Wall. We helped fund it and we are happy to promote it. It was to be be followed up, by a more extensive study of boycott strategy to be published later this year.

A government spokesman said that War on Want had received government backing of 1.1 million pounds from the Department for International Development, but none of this was for projects in the Middle East.



A conference organized by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in Jerusalem last month dealt with anti-Israel attacks in the United States that constitute, according to organizers, a "long-term threat" to Israel's standing. Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz told Ha'aretz that American academics are at the forefront of those denying Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and admitted: "I see no combined effort to fight this by the Jewish organizations, and, in truth, I myself don't know how this could be done."

I doubt whether organizational efforts could stop anti-Israel attacks, but two incidents in the past few weeks have suggested for me a grassroots approach that, if pursued vigorously, might well slow down their growth. The approach calls for exercising honesty, moral assertiveness and personal indignation against attacks on Israel's legitimacy. The incidents I am talking about started with a rather routine scenario. In fact, it has probably happened to you so many times that it did not leave a memorable mark.

Like many of us, I am on the e-mail lists of friends and colleagues who occasionally call my attention to an article worth reading. So it was that on one of these bright California mornings, I received a message from a colleague with an article and a comment: "Palestinians, with all their suffering under the Israeli apartheid regime, have never been Holocaust deniers."

It is, by today's standards, a rather commonplace remark -- one that could have been written by any of my friends from the far left or the Muslim community. I would normally either brush it off with a head shake: "There he goes again, the same old rhetoric," or start an argument on whether the comparison to apartheid South Africa is appropriate.

I do not exactly know what it was that morning that compelled me to do neither of the two but resort, instead, to what I normally refuse to do -- take offense. It may have been the recent vote in the U.N. Human Rights Commission, calling for a ban on "religious insults" or it may have been the latest press blitz on the moral ills of Islamophobia.

Whatever the cause, somehow an invisible force jolted me into writing my colleague thus: "The word 'apartheid' is offensive to me. In fact, it is very, very offensive. And, since I am not situated on the extreme end of the political spectrum, I venture to suspect that there are others on your e-mail list who were offended by it and who may wish to tell you that this word is not conducive to peace and understanding. It conveys anger, carelessness and a desire to hurt and defame. Hence, it shuts off the ears of the very people you are attempting to reach."

After a short exchange of polite messages, in which my colleague explained that, echoing his idols, President Jimmy Carter and journalist Amira Haas, he used this word not to offend but to evoke a sense of justice among his Jewish friends, I realized that I handled it correctly. I realized that taking offense is a statement of conscience that shifts attention from the accused to the legitimacy of the accusation. It calls into question the accuser's choice of words, his assumptions, his worldview, as well as his intentions, and, thus, turns the accuser into a defendant, at least for a short moment of reflection.

For a split second, I even ventured to imagine how powerful it could be if each one of us were to implant a moment of reflection into the mind of an anti-Israel colleague, but I soon forgot about the incident, and I received no further messages from this colleague. Evidently, he had either deleted my name from his mailing list or had taken note of our exchange and become more conscientious of what he sent and to whom.

A few weeks later, a similar incident occurred. This time, harsh anti-Zionist slurs were scattered throughout an essay authored by the sender -- a history professor at an American university. Essentially, the author blamed Zionism for being the evil force that drives Bernard Lewis' "anti-Muslim diatribes." Emboldened by my previous experience, I sat down and wrote this man -- let's call him Mahmoud -- a message, this time a little longer. I explained that I had found his contempt of Zionism deeply offensive and that given that I consider myself progressive and open-minded, others may share my feeling but were too polite to say so. "I hope," I said, "that as a writer who spends pages describing how offensive Orientalism and Islamophobia are to Muslims and Arabs, that you will be able to understand other people's sensitivities and accommodate them in the future."

I then went further and explained to Mahmoud that, for me, Zionism is the realization of a millennium-old belief in the right of the Jewish people to a national home in the birthplace of their history, a right that is no less sacred than that of the Palestinians or the Saudis. Additionally, I wrote, it pains me to see my hopes for peace being spat upon. Such hopes require that all sides accept a two-state arrangement as a historically just solution, and anti-Zionist rhetoric, by negating the legitimacy of this solution, acts as an oppressor of peace.

Mahmoud explained that he did not mean to delegitimize Zionism or the two-state solution. His portrayal of Lewis' Zionism as the mother of all evils was apparently triggered by a speech delivered at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in March of 2007, in which Lewis pitted Europe and Islam against each other, coupled with AEI (and Lewis') one-sided support of Israel. Personally, I have never understood why a one-sided support of Israel, which to me is tantamount to a one-sided support of a quest for coexistence, would be considered a crime, but this takes us away from our main story.

The point of my story is that, again, I felt invigorated by exercising an almost forgotten right -- the right to be offended. I also noticed that personal indignation has the magic power of shifting the frame of discourse from arguing Israel's policies to the very core of the Middle East conflict -- denying Israel's legitimacy -- an issue where Israel's case is strongest and where Israel's adversaries find themselves in an embarrassing and morally indefensible position.

More pointedly, I felt invigorated by practicing what I have been preaching for months: Religion has no monopoly on human sensitivity; Zionophobia is no less revolting than Islamophobia.

Here I have exercised my right to be offended not against abusers of my religious beliefs -- this I can stomach -- but in defense of a more pivotal part of my identity -- my people, our history, our collective memory and our collective aspirations -- in short, in defense of Zionism. Some claim that Zionism is not entitled to such defense, since "Zionism is a political movement, not a religion," or "Zionism is a recent phenomenon, a product of 19th century European nationalism."

These claimants know little about Jewish history or Jewish identity or how Jewish history and identity were shaped for centuries by the Zionist idea of the "return of the exiles." They certainly have not read the Mishna, or Nahum Sokolov's "History of Zionism (1600-1919)" or my grandfather's siddur (e.g., Veholichenu Kommemiut Leartsenu -- "and thou shall walk us in sovereignty to our country" [Birkat Hamazon]).

We tend to forget that the right for protection from religious insults emanates not from sanctity of religious beliefs but from empathetic concerns for all intellectual resources that shape one's identity. The Jewish experience in the 20th century proves that secular historical narratives can unleash unifying and identity-shaping forces far stronger than religious beliefs in deities, prophets, messengers or the afterlife. Israel, the focal point of these narratives, therefore deserves all the protection that human sensitivity can provide, and we are perfectly entitled to accord her this protection with the same ferocity that we fight religious defamation.

We, as Jews, have been grossly negligent in permitting the dehumanization of Israel to become socially acceptable in certain circles of society, especially on college campuses. Our silence, natural resilience to insults and general reluctance to confront colleagues and friends have contributed significantly to the Orwellianization of campus vocabulary and the legitimization of the unacceptable. Most of our assailants are even unaware of the shivers that go down our spines with utterances such as "apartheid Israeli regime" or "brutal Israeli occupation."

But if we take seriously the moral basis for our right to take offense and exercise that right broadly and consistently, a reverse process of de-Orwellianization will ensue. If instead of avoiding confrontation, swallowing our insults or letting ourselves be dragged into defensive arguments, we simply halt the conversation and assert with honesty and dignity, "Sorry, this is offensive to me," or "This is unacceptable," we will reclaim the respect that our adversaries plan to trample. History and decency have given us that right. If we act on it proudly and resolutely, the word will quickly come around that good company no longer accepts smearing Israel with apartheid or bashing Zionism as a crime.


Social acid has burnt the heart of Britain

Fifty years ago I was a schoolboy in a Liverpool suburb and a strong supporter of Everton like Rhys Jones. My parents were cautious and loving, but they had no qualms about letting me follow the team around the country. That a boy might be killed by a drive-by shooter as he was returning from his local soccer practice would have struck them as an episode in a Latin American coup rather than a possibility in their relatively tranquil lives.

Not unreasonably. In 1955, the anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer described this tranquillity in his book Exploring English Character: "When we think of our faults, we put first, and by a long way, any lapse from our standards of non-aggression, bad temper, nagging, swearing and the like. Public life is more gentle than that reported for any society of comparable size and industrial complexity."

Swearing? Yes, though omni-present in all-male milieus such as the Army, swearing didn't occur in mixed company. Class was irrelevant. My grandmother served behind the bar in a pub on Liverpool's Dock Road before and after the First World War. On only one occasion did someone swear in her presence. The miscreant was promptly taken aside by other dockers and given a talking-to. He returned and apologised.

Next week, I'll be making one of my regular trips from the United States to a different Britain. Like the Jamie Bulger murder of 14 years ago, also in a Liverpool suburb, the casual killing of Rhys Jones has driven home to the British the extent of their social decline - the rise of an underclass, the high rate of crime, especially violent crime, the vandalisation of public spaces, the spread of public drunkenness, and the coarsening of popular culture.

My returning American friends sugar-coat their vacations to me. They enthuse over the historic monuments, the superb theatre, the cathedral cities, the improvement in British cuisine, the precision of the Royal Horse Guards, Fortnum & Mason, and the kindness of almost everyone they met. Almost everyone? Yes, after a while, they admit sadly to the odd disappointment: the snide anti-American remarks directed at them, the warnings against crime near their hotel, the vomiting young people dominating the centres of every town at night. "Going to a West End play today is like going to Broadway in the 1970s," said one. "You thread your way past the same sleazy porn shops, over the same junkies, and past the same drunks, except that the swearing doesn't stop when the play starts."

It didn't happen overnight. Breaking down a strong culture of civic self-control takes time and several social acids. The first such acid was the cultural liberalism generally associated with the 1960s: the attempt to free people from irksome traditional moral customs and the laws that reflected them. Anthony Jay has recently described how the "media liberalism" of the BBC - an institution founded in part to promote social virtues and British institutions - increasingly undermined them all: from military valour to the monarchy.

Assuredly, this revolution had its worthwhile side, especially for the educated and prosperous. Britain today is a freer and more relaxed society with less supervision from maiden aunts and aldermen than in 1955. Combined with a welfare state that picked up the tab, however, cultural liberalism promoted social irresponsibility - more voluntary workless, more divorces, children with fewer opportunities because they live in homes without two parents, a growing underclass, a society that is cruder, more disordered, less gentle. Less neighbourly, too, because of the second social acid: the ethnic and religious diversity introduced by mass immigration.

You may be surprised to learn that "diversity", which is usually discussed as an undeniable social good, has any drawbacks. But Robert Puttnam, an American social scientist, has established from a major survey (and to his own distress) that ethnic diversity makes people less trustful of each other. Worse, people feel this distrust towards those from their own ethnic group as well as towards "the Other". Diversity, it transpires, is a recipe for bad neighbourliness.

This growing distrust might have been lessened, even overcome, by an effective policy of American-style "assimilation" - that is, getting everyone to think of themselves as "British first" and to embrace a common British history and culture. That policy worked well in the US until the 1970s. Instead government promoted the third acid: a "multiculturalism" that encourages minorities to retain their culture and identity. Thus, our rulers set out, eager and well-intentioned, to maximise the differences and therefore the tensions inherent in diversity.

America has so far avoided the worst effects of its own multiculturalism because it has a proud national identity. Most immigrants still want to become Americans as they once wished to become British. Except for the Thatcher years, however, the British establishment, from a blend of multiculturalism and Europeanism, drained all pride and meaning out of Britishness. No one, not even the Scots, wants to assimilate to a nullity.

The result is a fractured, distrustful and disorderly society. And because a diverse society lacks agreed values and standards, governments regulate the behaviour of all, including the law-abiding, to maintain social peace. Thus, we have far more officials supervising us than in the 1950s, but they are anti-smoking social workers and ethnic diversity officers rather than park wardens. The police have become little more than the paramilitary wing of The Guardian, sniffing out "racist" or "Islamophobic" attitudes rather than investigating serious crimes that have some "cultural" excuse. Society gradually becomes more governed and less self-governing.

Rebuilding a united democratic nation that governs itself with decency will be a difficult task. As Geoffrey Gorer pointed out in 1955, however, his gentle Britain had been sculpted by the Victorians from the recalcitrant marble of a brutalised society very much like today's Britain. It will take leaders in the Victorian mould to do it, though.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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