Dear Bradley Burston,
I’m a student of Political Science at the University of Tampere, Finland, and I’ve been involved in the Israel/Palestine conflict since the upper level of comprehensive school. I still believe in the two state solution and that supporting the self-determination of both ethnic groupings involved is the only way the conflict can be ended.
Fairly recently, I came to read roughly one dozen columns of yours and decided to contact you. My idea is that I will go through a couple of your statements and provide my own comments and responses to them.
1) What self-hating Jews can teach Muslims (January 27th, 2009)
You write: “Even extreme cases of self-hate, like the pre-caliphate court Jews leading British boycott campaigns, or the suburban-exile kaffiyeh kinderlach of Berkeley, more Palestinian by far than the Palestinians, can play a positive role. If nothing else, they serve a unifying purpose, putting internal squabbles in perspective and bringing Jews of many stripes together in disgust. ”
The term self-hating Jew has always puzzled me. There’s no specific definition of this term (you write: “the Jew who is viciously critical of matters Jewish – or for whom Jewishness and Israel are sources of shame”) and hence it is difficult to systematically disprove. However, the somewhat clearly stated logic has it that a Jew who is deeply critical of Israel can be described as a self-hating Jew. To put this line of reasoning in other words, a Jew who is very supportive of Israeli policies would appear to be emphatically Jewish, or, a real Jew. But is Jewishness an ethnic-religious notion or a political notion? The above reasoning of the wider context of the term self-hating Jew simply suggests that Jewishness isn’t exclusively the former.
To provide an analogy, one could easily make certain loose comparisons between Israel and Finland. Both countries have compulsory military service (although women do not serve in Finland and the duration of the military service is a lot shorter), the number of citizens is roughly the same, more or less successful wars have had a salient impact on the national identities of both the Israelis and the Finns (although Finland hasn’t been involved in any wars since the WWII), there is one dominant religion in both countries etc. Yet, to describe a Finn who, say, is fiercely against the policies of the Finnish government(s) as a self-hating Finn would not only be unheard of: it would cause serious bafflement. The same is true to Sweden and Swedes, Norway and Norwegians and so on and so forth.
In other words, terms which describe ethnic (or religious) backgrounds are apolitical. Why would Jewishness be an exception to this rule?
What puzzles me even more, however, are the criterion according to which one ends up being labeled as a self-hating Jew. The ADL, for instance, has called the MIT professor Noam Chomksy a self-hating Jew. This is difficult to understand. Why would Noam Chomsky, whose both parents were Hebrew speakers (his dad was also a Hebrew scholar and Noam shares his interest towards the Hebrew language), and who was a Zionist youth leader, and who lived in a kibbutz with his wife for a while, hate himself? Furthermore, people like Noam Chomsky have always been calling for the recognition of international law by all sides and, in the case of Israel, that Israel would abandon the West Bank, and also that when an independent Palestinian state would come into existence all states in the region would respect each others’ right to secure borders and territorial sovereignty. He has never defended the bomb or rocket attacks by the militant Palestinian factions. He is consistent in his belief in the rule of law. Yet, he has been repeatedly called as a self-hating Jew. What is one to make of all this? That if a Jew calls for equal rights for both Israelis and the Palestinians and is opposed to the violence committed by both sides he/she becomes a self-hating Jew?
2) The racist Israeli fascist in me (March 17th , 2009)
You write: “What, then, explains the incomprehensible behavior of these people, my friends? What common denominator, other than evil intention, can explain the continued occupation of the West Bank, the risk of demographic disaster, the ill-understood rage of a people cast as the sole perpetrator of and, if at times the victim, then certainly the deserving victim of, wrongdoing?” I’m aware that this paragraph is an ironic one, but allow me to respond to the presupposition.
Although illegal and the greatest obstacle to the realization of a reasonable two-state model, the aspiration of the mainstream of Israeli political culture to integrate parts of the West Bank to Israel proper is not primarily a result of an “evil intention”. If looked at carefully very few political undertakings, if any, are driven solely by this purpose. It seems to me that after the 1967 war the major Israeli parties have simply decided to favor the unlawful annexation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. To make a long story short: a government sets its heart on something and, if feasible, carries out its plans by force and irrespective of the legality of this action. Israel is by no means the only state which operates this way.
There is a somewhat widely held, though not universal, conception in Israel and abroad that it was the religious fanatics who managed to ram through their expansionist vision and hence the blame for the annexation of sizable chunks of the West Bank can be laid to the door of Gush Emunim and such movements. This is hardly the case. Benyamin Netanyahu plays second fiddle to Ehud Barak in terms of the expansion of the illegal settlement infrastructure. That also holds to Yizhak Shamir who, for his part, takes the second place to Yizhak Rabin in the same policy sector.
You write: “Examine the results of the election closely, and you’ll find that a clear majority voted for parties who have gone on record as favoring an eventual Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and less than six percent voted for parties who categorically reject that solution.”
The near universal understanding of the two-state solution is that the Green Line, with minor and mutual adjustments, serves as the future border between the Israel and Palestine. In 1967, the UNSC Resolution 242 reiterated arguably the most fundamental principle of the post-WWII international order, namely “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”, at the very beginning of the resolution.
If one looks at the various peace proposals Israel has made (mainly the Oslo Accords and the Peace Summit at Camp David) the official Israeli positions vis-à-vis this international clamour – besides the world opinion, the juridical interpretation (as expressed by the ICJ, the highest juridical body in existence) calls for such arrangements as well – appear quite rejectionist. Neither the Oslo Accords nor the Peace Summit at Camp David endorsed this framework. As a result of the massive media fuss that emphasized the ostensible concessions Israel had made a rather striking misunderstanding emerged: what Israel pursued was confused with what Israel was entitled to. However, these are two fundamentally separate things and they should never be confused, not in the case of Israel nor in the case of any other state.
Looking forward to reading your response,