False Dichotomies

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Live from the Globe

This is a guest post by Nick D

The most telling aspect of the utter failure of pro-conflict advocates to disrupt proceedings at the Globe last night came after it had all finished. I was standing in line, waiting to collect my bag, and everyone I could hear was discussing the show – that is, the performance by Habima Theatre of Israel, who carried off what by general consensus seemed to be a magnificent Merchant of Venice. My Hebrew is negligible, restricted to the odd words I recognise from Arabic, but deprived even of Shakespeare’s language the actors were able to convey to me with awesome power the tragedy of Shylock and the malice of his persecutors. A steady, droning beat on the frame drum provided a superbly ominous counterpoint to the psychodrama unfolding before us, on stage and off stage. Jews were on trial – and witless protesters proving once again to be a curse rather than a blessing to the Palestinians – were props in an awesome, all-enveloping spectacle.

They played their roles with an earnest sense of duty, if not much in the way of style. There were a few outside when we arrived, holding Palestinian flags and apartheid state banners, imaginatively, keeping politely to their allotted holding pen. Then, timed to perfection after Shylock had been beaten and humiliated during the opening moments of the play, in an enactment of hatred so potent in the context that it had this sentimentalist in tears, three women immediately in front of my group unfurled a Palestinian flag over the balcony. There were mutterings of “here we go” and security dived in. The evictees were about as endearing as the gang we had just seen on stage, putting the boot into the money-lender and jeering. One repeated, over and over again “I am not being violent, I am not being violent”- until the repeated “I’s” took on the quality of a mantra. I am still waiting for evidence that the typical British pro-war activist – they are not, obviously, pro-Palestinian, or pro-peace, or pro-justice – is not as narcissistic and consumed by hatred as they invariably demonstrate. The next group to thrust themselves towards the spotlight popped up next to me, conveniently, because space was at a premium and we could now anticipate a much more comfortable second half. Again, they produced a flag and it was taken from them in a scuffle, but this time security let them stay for the time being. There were three men and two women, probably in their fifties, grim-faced, and not to be easily removed.

At this point I should lay my cards on the table. I support a Palestinian state – alongside a secure Israeli state of all its citizens, with equal rights for all but a Jewish majority. I lived in the West Bank for almost two years, and not on a settlement. I speak (mediocre) Arabic. I am familiar with Mahmoud Darwish and Sayed Kashua as well as Amir Gutfreund. I do not believe the status quo is just, although I recognise that the Palestinians also have responsibilities for the predicament they are in. There are legitimate ways to protest their situation and to offer solidarity for their struggle. Unfortunately, most of their so-called allies in the UK forgo all legitimacy by the goals they choose and the methods they employ.

I tried to talk to the group making their brave stand next to me. I pointed some of the above out, by way of introduction. The women to my immediate left stared vacantly past me, possessed of her own righteousness. “What of the 5 million Palestinians who don’t have a voice”, she said to herself, as I attempted to find out what she knew of the siege of Nahr El-Bared by the Lebanese army in 2007 as compared with the Battle of Jenin in 2002 – whether, as people often wonder, Palestinian suffering counts when it is inflicted by the Lebanese, or Syrians, or Jordanians, or themselves – by anyone, in fact, but the Jews. No reply. I eventually got a bit more out of one of the men, who, to his credit, was prepared to talk in something approaching a reasonable manner. He assumed that I was a Jew, of course – who else would be at an Israeli production? – and proceeded to inform me that some of the strongest opponents of Israeli policy were Jews, and that “my community didn’t know what was going on”, or “refused to accept what was going on” or words to that effect. The possibility that people might know what is going on, deplore it, but reach different conclusions about its origins and solutions was evidently beyond him. Before, I had been given a taste of his convictions – or was it his comrade? Their faces were more or less interchangeable – when, on asking him why it was only the Israeli company to receive attention of this sort, rather than the Chinese, or the South Sudanese who had also performed at the Globe – he replied “because Israel is an oppressive state”. Fail. No answer to why BDS won’t support a two-state solution. It hardly needs to be said, but as Camus demonstrated in his brilliant essay on Algeria, any justice worth its name is justice for all. There is no room for Jewish Israelis in these people’s vision, and so there is no reason to treat them seriously. Certainly not as peace activists, although they spent the remainder of the half intermittently displaying the v for victory sign. Come to think of it, that’s what they meant. They don’t want peace, or justice, but victory. For the Palestinians. Tell me, how are you any different to the most virulent Kahanists? Any less deluded?

The other protests did nothing to dispel these predictable impressions. A few people in the standing section produced flags and shouted “free Palestine” as they were ejected. Aside from contributing to the tension of the theatre – you wondered where the next eruption was coming from, and whether anyone would have a scintilla of imagination and wit – they were almost totally impotent in effect. Perhaps the best one of the night – and this is not saying much – came when a man stood up and pompously intoned “do the Palestinians not have eyes” and “if you prick us, do we not bleed” as he was taken out. Someone told him to piss off, to gales of laughter. As Shylock hesitated on stage, a voice cried out for him to carry on, “we’re all with you”. And, bar a lone woman shouting out that Israel was an apartheid state built on stolen Palestinian land in the street outside, that was it. To her, and all the others I saw in action tonight, I would ask the following questions. Why are you unable, for the most part, to engage in rational discussion with people about the issues you protest? Why does the BDS movement appear to reject a solution that reflects the aspirations of both peoples for independence and self-determination? Why is your “justice” so partial, so one-sided? Why are you so palpably consumed by hatred? Why do you never, ever, address the appalling treatment of the Palestinians by the countries in which they are left to rot in refugee camps? Why do you not recognise that it is impossible to turn the clock back to 1948? Why are you so obsessed with the need to self-aggrandize yourself in actions which merely make you look foolish and ignorant and do nothing to contribute to a better future for the people you purport to represent?

13 comments

13 Comments so far

  1. amie May 29th, 2012 11:23 am

    You sum them up so aptly:

    Why are you unable, for the most part, to engage in rational discussion with people about the issues you protest? Why are you so palpably consumed by hatred.

    For once the pro Israel orgs got their act together and there was a respectable crowd in the counterdemo. There was a public address system with Israeli music. A Libdem MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford who was attending the performance came up to voice her support and accepted the offer of the microphone to articulate her opposition to cultural boycotts.
    As it was the second day of Shavuot, there were fewer Jewish counterdemo people but more by non Jewish people of a rainbow spectrum of diversity, who unlike the other side, were not just screeching the usual slogans but discussing informatively the issues. When a British woman of African heritage draped in huge Union and Israeli flags began to dance in the street in front of our pen, a number of us women joyously joined in and kept going for the duration.

    By contrast, the anti peace, Israel haters were a thin straggle and had no public address system. I went over to engage a young woman in hijab possibly of Somali heritage, carrying an Israel apartheid banner and to discuss from my own personal experience, the apartheid issue. She was interested and was asking me about the wisdom of her Uni of East London’s invitation to Winnie Mandela to Black History month as there was opposition among some of her colleagues. I was able to talk from my experience in being on Winnie’s defence team during the Struggle. I asked her what she thought of Saudi apartheid in barring women participants to the Olympics and she was against that discrimination and said she had signed a petition about that.
    We were getting along fine but the Jewish members of the picket, with their monomaniacal obsession could not bear that we were straying from the message, and kept screeching interjections, yelling “Why are you speaking about Saudi Arabia, why are you discussing this or that.” They are so patriarchal and patronising and only see people like the young woman as cannon fodder to promote their own issues, and cannot bear not to be in control of the conversation.

  2. Gabriel May 29th, 2012 11:41 am

    Good piece. These protests are actually counter-productive to the Palestinian cause. It was the same with the philharmonic. It shows the protesters caring less about Palestinians as much as having loathing for all things Israel.

  3. Gert May 29th, 2012 4:57 pm

    This is one of the worst pieces I’ve ever read on FalseDichotomies.

    To completely debunk it would take an inordinate amount of time, time I haven’t got, because there’s almost no sentence that I can agree with. So I’ll keep it short.

    The post is totally lacking in analysis, resorting instead to mere Zionist perception, most ludicrously high up attempting to create a dramatic arc by linking Shylock’s fate to the ‘mob’ of ‘Israel haters’ (read: ‘Jew haters’). Clever but not quite honest. Very emotive though.

    It’s fluff from top to bottom, a smear piece from an unashamed Zionist, slightly disguised by the author’s ‘soft Zionist’, ‘pro-Palestinian’ stance. It comes as no surprise to find it cross-posted at Harry’s Place, which (badly) disguises its main purpose of smearing any critic of Israel, by pretending to be ‘liberal’ ‘balanced’ ‘reasonable’ pro-Israel advocates (Nick should really read the comments there but he’ll probably like them anyway). It’s slightly better written that what you’d find on sites like Elder of Zyon or the sewer blog ‘Richard Millett’ but in no way rises above that level in terms discourse or purpose.

    Not to mention that the author appears to employ a view on the purpose of BDS that seems largely based on divination (hint: the title of the Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS is “Palestinian Civil Society Calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights”)

    Liberally peppered with words like ‘hatred’ it manages to create the illusion of this small and non-violent protest as a vicious anti-Jewish pogrom. For it Nick will get many pats on the back. Well done lapdog.

    Just about every anti pro-Palestinian advocacy trope, predictably (yawwnn) gets a mention, including the ‘why don’t you protest against China/insert whatever?’ trope (has anyone seen Nick recently at a demo that doesn’t involve I/P?)

    In short, Nick D is one of these ‘pro-Palestinians’ who is opposed to the occupation but ends up campaigning against those who… campaign against the occupation. I’d say ‘useful idiot’ if the term wasn’t so overused.

    Full disclosure: my blog is http://developing-your-web-presence.blogspot.co.uk

  4. sackcloth and ashes May 29th, 2012 5:34 pm

    An excellent post from Nick D, accompanied by a hysterical rant by ‘Gert’.

    Yesterday’s independent included a good piece by Boyd Tonkin which included the following quote from one of the Habima actors:

    ‘”We come to the Globe along with 37 countries and languages. And this is the only theatre, and the only language, that should be boycotted? Everything is OK in those other countries? Artists should not boycott other artists… We should [have a] dialogue with everybody. We should discuss and disagree.”’

    Who can disagree with this statement, except for the professional red-brown types associated with the PSC?

  5. Gert May 29th, 2012 5:47 pm

    Yeah, that’s quite a rebuke you’ve got there, Sackcloth. I’m impressed.

    I’n not a ‘type associated with the PSC’, by the way.

    I’m pretty sure ‘amie’ has now also commented at Millett’s blog, second home to Roberta Moore. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

  6. Alex Stein May 29th, 2012 6:14 pm

    Gert – it seems that the responsibility for the ‘dramatic arc’ is with the protesters, who – according to Nick’s report – unfurled the banner immediately following Shylock’s humiliation.

    As for the rest of your post, perhaps it’s because you didn’t have sufficient time, but it’s a series of assertions without any evidence.

    I’m going to deal with what you say about BDS in next week’s post, inshallah.

    Perhaps Nick D has something to add….

  7. Nick May 29th, 2012 6:20 pm

    Gert,

    It’s responses like this that make people unwilling to wade into the cesspit of Israeli-Palestinian politics.

    I would happily debate any of the issues you mention, but you’ve confirmed my main point – that many self-styled pro-Palestinian advocates do seem to be consumed by hatred.

    Aside from the verbal abuse, you don’t seem to have much to say. But I will try to answer any points I can.

    “linking Shylock’s fate to the ‘mob’ of ‘Israel haters’”

    Firstly, I don’t talk of “Israel haters”. You dishonestly pretend that this is quoted from my piece. It isn’t. And I wouldn’t elide it into Jew-haters. I may be banal in asking the same stubborn questions but I not as banal as all that. You are quite happy to create a caricature of me to suit your own argument.

    But in other respects you’re right. Talk of hatred in the piece is based on perception. But it’s a perception that is confirmed again and again. Much more among activists I know than Palestinians, actually, and I lived with internationals in the West Bank / Ramallah for a long time. You demonstrate it in your deluge of abuse just now: “lapdog, Zionist, useful idiot”, etc. Everything I asserted about the protesters was relatively specific and linked to evidence from the performance.

    I never suggested that this protest was anything but non-violent. To suggest that I created the illusion that this was a “vicious anti-Jewish pogrom” is absurd. Can you read? Any fair reading of my article would discount your interpretation as tendentious.

    I reported my experiences. You can believe me if you want, and you can believe that I set out to find what I wanted to find if you want. It’s true that I didn’t expect much more, but I tried to politely talk to the activists.

    As for going to demos, I’m not an activist. I don’t think demos generally achieve much, and I don’t like the company or the politics, often, for reasons I spell out here. This is why I criticise pro-Palestinian activists. But I spent two years working in Palestinian refugee camps, I have Palestinian friends, and your arrogance in accusing me of being a Zionist stooge is contemptible. What have you done, beyond penning self-righteous screeds like this?

    I appreciate that there are lots of reasons why Israel is singled out, some legitimate. But in the context of everything else I bring up, it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that at least some activists are motivated by hatred rather than a desire for justice or concern for Palestinians. And I wanted to report the answer I received – that Israel is an oppressive state. Rather than, say China.

    Even in that case I don’t take it as some kind of smoking gun. It just adds to the total impression of people who are irrational, and filled with hatred. I don’t believe protesters like this help the Palestinians.

    Is Finkelstein also a “Zionist lapdog” for claiming the BDS movement is a cult who should admit they want to destroy Israel? I make no claims like this. And I do not divine anything. Answer me this: does the BDS movement believe in right of return? Will Israelis accept that, ever? If not, how is their programme a recipe for peace? The BDS movement does not support two states – correct me if I am wrong. I do. How does that make me worthy of the kind of abuse you send my way?

    Almost all my experiences with (self-styled) pro-Palestinian activists have been negative because they have been unable to engage in rational discussion. I have often been totally shocked by this, naive as I am perhaps. I was shocked that Raise the Banners festival in Bradford put on Gilad Atzmon despite the evidence of his views, and it was impossible to discuss this with them. I have actually found it easier to discuss things like Jew-hatred with Palestinians who have experienced Israeli oppression.

    I am happy to carry on this conversation, and to be corrected on anything I am wrong about, but it would be nice if you toned down the abuse, partly because it confirms everything I have been writing about and makes you look stupid. You have the opportunity to change my opinions if you are willing to engage with me in good faith.

    P.S. Also, where do I talk of a “mob”? You really are dishonest in pretending to quote things I never said.

  8. Nick May 29th, 2012 7:26 pm

    Gert – I would also add that, yes, the tone of the piece is provocative. I feel anger and contempt for a lot of pro-Palestinian activists over here (not all) because I genuinely don’t think they promote peace, or justice, or any positive value. I didn’t write it out of anger that they’d successfully disrupted the performance, because they didn’t.

    I don’t believe that these people do anything useful for the Palestinians, and much harm to them, in fact. Part of this is putting people off getting involved because getting smeared as a useful idiot etc etc for asking questions which, though so terribly predictable and boring, beg to be asked nonetheless, is not particularly pleasant.

    As for your line about getting lots of pats on the back at HP, I frequently challenged racist generalisations about Palestinians on the forum when I was living in Ramallah based on my experiences. I would also add that I have taken risks to speak out against antisemitism in the West Bank. I don’t subscribe to any party line, and will happily change my mind about BDS, activism, etc etc if you give me good reason.

    But this is beneath you, isn’t it? You’re a busy man.

  9. sackcloth and ashes May 29th, 2012 7:56 pm

    ‘Yeah, that’s quite a rebuke you’ve got there, Sackcloth. I’m impressed’.

    I don’t want to ‘impress’ you, or any of your kind. People like you are as hypocritical as Barghouti (the MA student at Tel Aviv) and as bigoted as Nazis. I have nothing but contempt for you, and your kind.

    ‘I’n not a ‘type associated with the PSC’, by the way’.

    The trouble is that it’s increasingly difficult to tell the difference between all of you. I just see the same seething rot of Jew-hatred masquerading as pro-Palestinian activism.

  10. Gert May 30th, 2012 1:31 pm

    Nick,

    Yes, I will try and address some of your points, including your own abuse. I am truly a very busy man (thanks for that taunt too!), so it will have to wait a little, at least till tonight.

    To my criticism of your smear piece I want to add in the mean time one thing. The ridiculously over the top ‘they are all self-aggrandisers’ is a reactionary smear the Rightwing has levelled at any so called ‘do-gooder’, in or outside the context of I/P. Let me ask you this: when you were working with Palestinians did you tell them what you thought of these despicable ‘hate filled’ ’self-aggrandising’ ISMers and consorts? And what did they think of that? That such crapola took an interest in their cause, although mainly to satisfy their own vanity?

    You object to being called a Zionist stooge, yet you behave EXACTLY like one.

  11. Gert May 30th, 2012 1:37 pm

    Note that I wrote the last comment w/o having read your other post, which I will now read. Thanks.

  12. Nick May 30th, 2012 2:37 pm

    Gert –

    My “abuse” amounted to mildly poking fun at you for heaping insults in my direction (lapdog, Zionist stooge, fluff piece, etc) and then saying you hadn’t got time to reply. If you’re going to insult someone, at least back them up with arguments or reasons.

    I called you dishonest, fairly, for making things up which I hadn’t said and then enclosing them in quote marks to give the impression you were citing directly from my piece.

    You do the same again here. I have never said “they are all self-aggrandisers”. I admit that my last line might give that impression so, to be plain, this is what I think: a proportion of activists are more concerned with “doing something”, with action for its own sake, than they are doing things which will logically advance the cause they represent.

    As for your other remarks, I have never called ISM’rs “self-aggrandizing” (the internationals I was talking about worked for NGOs out there) and I would appreciate it if you’d stop pretending to quote me. Of course I didn’t think the people I knew were despicable – they were my friends. I know that in general there is a lot of ambivalence about internationals in the West Bank, for various reasons. I am not sure how much of this relates to activism. Certainly our Palestinian friends seemed happy that we were doing what we were doing (teaching music).

    You are desperate to make me into a straw man to knock down. Perhaps I gave you reason to make certain assumptions about my politics with this piece, but I concede that there are faults with it and I hope to have addressed them in the follow-up.

  13. Andi Ali October 14th, 2012 2:21 pm

    If Sarah Ludford is in favour of a Palastinian state – I’m Father Christmas. I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats (Ludford’s party) and is pretty safe bet that Ludford will vote any against measure that supports the creation of a Palastinian state, all while claiming to be in support of a Palastinian state, of course.

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