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This is a guest post by Nick D

The other day, I wrote a review for this blog of the Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre, performed by the Habima theatre company (who receive state funding from the Israeli government). Review is maybe inaccurate, because the core focus of my article was on the protests that accompanied the performance. One commenter responded fiercely to the article, accusing me, in effect, of being a shill for Zionism and a “useful idiot”, among other epithets denigrating the shallow nature of the piece. While I condemn the ad hominem nature of his attack, viewing it as part of the problem, and utterly reject his characterisation of my politics, I accept that the vicious nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is bound to generate intense anger, as banal as that statement is. There are some serious issues embedded in his attack which merit a response; moreover there is an element of hypocrisy in my description of the protesters as hate-ridden which deserves further comment. There is also truth to his charge that my article was not analytical enough. I hope in the following remarks to open up discussion about a range of issues that we have both touched on.

This critic’s main charge seems to be that I arrived at the theatre with preconceptions that I was determined to fulfill in my experience of the protests that would inevitably occur. This seems to be what he means by accusing me of “Zionist perception”; that I had a particular worldview which sought confirmation in the cherry-picking of facts and the quick rushing to conclusions. There is some truth to this. I’ve been involved in pro-Palestinian activities (as opposed to activism) and have been exposed to the discourse of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the Second Intifada broke out. I was en route to Nahr El-Bared, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, in 2006 when Israel started to bomb Beirut. I spent a month teaching in Jalazone camp near Ramallah in 2007 and returned to the West Bank in 2009 to teach music for two years. I have also visited Israel independently of these trips as a tourist. In between, I’ve consumed information about the conflict voraciously and participated in online discussion on a fairly frequent basis. I mention none of this to aggrandize my own actions or claim any moral vantage point but to a) point out that I have sufficient experience to feel justified about reaching certain conclusions about pro-Palestinian activists and expecting to find them confirmed b) deserve the benefit of the doubt when anyone tries to draw inferences about my own politics from one, admittedly provocative (and rushed out) article.

My experience of Palestinian activism is that much of it involves hatred of Israel. I have heard friends of mine- people who I have every reason to want to sympathise and identify with – repeatedly mock Hebrew and express disgust at aspects of Israeli society that have nothing to do with the occupation or conflict. This might be understandable coming from Palestinians with direct experience of oppression, as many of my students and friends in the West Bank had had – although I might reasonably then be accused of the racism of low expectations – but it is not understandable (at least, not in the terms of solidarity with the Palestinian cause) coming from international activists. At least not if their goals have any basis in morality. I have also found, in dialogue, that it is virtually impossible to reason with some activists. I corresponded with the Raise the Banners festival about their extraordinary promotion of the unabashed antisemite and hate-monger Gilad Atzmon, but received either evasive replies or – in the case of one of Atzmon’s supporting musicians – pathetic sarcasm. And I know from the writer of this blog that these experiences are common.

To say that you have built up a certain impression of pro-Palestinian advocacy does not, of course, mean that you have the right to interpret reality in such a way as to confirm these impressions. And if you ask to be heard in good faith, then you should extend to others that courtesy. Reaching conclusions prematurely, on the basis of evidence which happens to correspond with particular patterns of experience, may be understandable, but surely it cannot do anything to further a goal of just co-existence, which, in essence, is all I subscribe to (at the moment I see two states, Jewish and Palestinian, as the only way to achieve this; if I am a Zionist, then I am also a Palestinian nationalist).

If I labour these principles somewhat sanctimoniously, it is to get at the following.  In certain respects, my piece was too quick to reach certain conclusions. I engaged directly with three of the activists on Monday.  Based on those interactions – except for one instance, I would hesitate to call them conversations – it would not be totally unreasonable to attribute to them some of the characteristics I did. That is, self-righteousness, narcissism, irrationality and, if not hatred, then something which looked very much like it. Perhaps it is unfair to expect people in that situation to give a calm account of their actions and to discuss politics rationally. They were on the verge of being forcibly evicted when I talked to them and must have been nervous. I recognise that there is courage in subjecting yourselves to the opprobrium (and, given the political context, disgust and hatred) of hundreds of people, not to mention the unpleasantness of being removed by security, and I cannot imagine it being the easiest moment to engage in rational dialogue. If I wanted that, then perhaps I should have talked to the protesters outside.

This all said, and perhaps I didn’t make this point clearly enough in my article, or perhaps it sounded rhetorical; I am waiting to be surprised.  I would love, in all sincerity, to see a protest which demonstrated more imagination than repeating the same, dogmatic, reductive slogans or showed some wit. And I would love to see protests that acknowledged Jewish as well as Palestinian suffering, without necessarily implying an equivalence, or attributing blame. The animus that went into my article was borne of anger at the futility of the tactics employed by Palestinian advocates and of their failure to make explicit goals which non-partisan people could mobilise around. Sometimes I do think “you people are fucking idiots”, and perhaps this feeling crept into the article, but I didn’t write it to pander to a myopically pro-Israeli viewpoint or the prejudices of people who believe the Palestinians and their supporters to be intrinsically evil. I don’t believe that most advocates of BDS want to eliminate the Jewish presence in Israel, either physically or institutionally, and replace Israel with a Palestinian state that doesn’t recognise Jewish rights. But with things as they are, and in the light of my experiences with Israelis and Palestinians, I can only conclude that the only way right of return will be implemented will be through war. So calling for it is a non-starter, and counterproductive if you want peaceful, just coexistence. It is condescending (to say the least) to the Palestinians to offer solidarity to every position they hold and tactic they employ.

Long-time followers of the conflict, not to even talk about those who have suffered in it, may think that the above is absurdly naïve, perhaps even a cowardly way of retreating from a genuine conviction. I understand why people reach the limits of naivety. But I can’t see much prospect for an end to this destructive mess without finding a way to preserve a certain degree of naivety, or a willingness to proceed “as if” the other wasn’t totally knowable in advance.

24 comments

24 Comments so far

  1. Gert May 30th, 2012 3:02 pm

    Nick:

    […] review is maybe inaccurate

    Correct. It wasn’t a review of Habima’s performance. They hardly featured in the piece. Centre stage was reserved for the ‘hate filled’ protesters. Like Jonathan Hoffman, Harvey Garfield and Richard Millett you didn’t go to The Globe to enjoy the bard, now did you?

    While I condemn the ad hominem nature of his attack,

    Your own piece was ad hominem from start to finish. The protesters got multiple swipes, including the ultimate reactionary epithet of ‘self-aggrandisers’, driven by vanity. Very reminiscent of Anthony Julius’ ‘Morality of Vanity’ (on anti-Zionist Jews), warmly endorsed by Gilad Atzmon.

    My experience of Palestinian activism is that much of it involves hatred of Israel.

    You’re merely repeating the same now. If Palestinian activism is to be condemned as undesirable and counter-productive, we’ll just have to leave it to the wonderfully cooperative and liberal Israeli G’ment and their allies in the West. After all, they know better than these hate filled crazies!

    It’s quite interesting how you leave out the hate filled reaction critics of Israel, including me, receive at sites like Harry’s Place (a site you claim to know) and many others. I have received over the years as a ‘hate filled’ blogger a barrage of abuse that would fill a small small book, all courtesy of these lovely, rational, approachable Zionists. People like Tony Greenstein, Hasbara Buster and me have all been banned from HP (at least temporarily), but only after being told what Nazi scum we really are. And you complain about my abuse!

    That is, self-righteousness, narcissism, irrationality and, if not hatred, then something which looked very much like it.

    Well yeah, ‘ducks’ and ‘quacking’, eh?

    Perhaps it is unfair to expect people in that situation to give a calm account of their actions and to discuss politics rationally.

    Correct. One account from someone without a dog in the I/P fight described the reaction to the protest as over the top and claimed feeling hatred from the pro-Habima crowd (link provided on request). Protests aren’t places of rational debate.

    I would love, in all sincerity, to see a protest which demonstrated more imagination than repeating the same, dogmatic, reductive slogans or showed some wit.

    Me too. But it’s unlikely: slogans are by their very nature reductionist. Is ‘Boycotts divide, Culture unites’ interesting? By contrast, the protesters that chose to plaster off their own mouths made a nice point. It too got misrepresented by so many Zionists, naturellement.

    And I would love to see protests that acknowledged Jewish as well as Palestinian suffering, without necessarily implying an equivalence, or attributing blame.

    Ah, yes, the constant clamour for ‘balance’, the eternal call of the Zionist crook. In a conflict where one people with a state, every piece of military hardware imaginable and unconditional support from the only remaining superpower is pitted against a dispossessed, impoverished, occupied and caged people, calling for ‘balance’ is absurd and a call from those who just don’t get it or those who know that this tactic serves their side.

    Sometimes I do think “you people are fucking idiots”,

    Extremely nuanced, Nick. And not ad hominem at all.

    It is condescending (to say the least) to the Palestinians to offer solidarity to every position they hold and tactic they employ.

    More perception. Where do we do that? Sorry if we don’t in our protests include long lists of grievances we may have with certain Palestinians or certain Palestinian positions, it’s especially damaging considering your own criticism of Israel was so carefully 100 % kept out of your… erm, ‘review’.

    I corresponded with the Raise the Banners festival about their extraordinary promotion of the unabashed antisemite and hate-monger Gilad Atzmon, but received either evasive replies or – in the case of one of Atzmon’s supporting musicians – pathetic sarcasm. And I know from the writer of this blog that these experiences are common.

    Are you remotely aware of the work done by Tony Greenstein in combating (N)Atzie and the fellow anti-Semites that sail in his ship? (links provided on request) Are you also aware of the opprobrium he received for that… from the Zionist camp? Ultimately it lead him to conclude that the Zionist movement isn’t all that interested in fighting anti-Semitism (and Zionism certainly has form when it comes to seeking/accepting support from known anti-Semites), but rather, much like you, to campaign against those who campaign against the Occupation by branding them as ‘anti-Semites’, ‘Israel haters’ or ‘hate filled vanities’.

    A word to Alex. Had you written a critique of the protest yourself (one didn’t have to attend to be able to form an opinion) I doubt very much I would have had that much to say about it. For one, it wouldn’t, I like to think, have contained so much hyperbole about just what ‘haters’ these people really are. Reasoned critique of BDS is possible but Nick’s piece didn’t qualify as that, I’m afraid.

    Nick, thanks nonetheless for publishing a clarification. Much appreciated.

    http://developing-your-web-presence.blogspot.co.uk

  2. Nick May 30th, 2012 5:09 pm

    Again, in your first comment you confirm what I have been talking about in this piece: lack of good faith. Believe it or not, I went for the theatre. I thought a play with a antisemitic archetype performed by a Israeli company in front of what would probably be primarily a Jewish audience would be very powerful. And so it was.

    As for the ad hominem stuff, I’m happy to agree on climbing out of that particular gutter. But there is a place for commentary based more on feeling than analysis; this piece was necessary to balance that out.

    To be absolutely clear, I am NOT condemning all Palestinian activism as undesirable and counterproductive. But some of it is, and deserves to be criticised. Of course there are more alternatives than the one you disengenously propose (“we’ll just have to leave it to the wonderfully cooperative and liberal Israeli G’ment”).

    As for hate-filled critics at other sites, bringing this up is (sorry) as banal a tactic as the tropes you accuse me of employing. I was not writing a history of Israeli-Palestinian political discourse. But I have often criticized people on HP for their abuse and virulence, that directed towards commentators (e.g. Alex) and Palestinians (particularly when I was living in Ramallah). You’re just going to have to take my word for it. If you want.

    As for the plastering of the mouths – Ashtar performed last month (before you ask, I couldn’t go, but I did intend to; did you?), so the accusation of silencing seems strange. And the Palestinians are hardly lacking for representation or supporters in the mainstream press (or blogosphere). My argument, shorn of its more emotional aspects, was about the quality of the advocacy; that is the problem, in my opinion, not access to media or opportunities to have their voices heard. (Maybe this is a Zionist misrepresentation of what they were doing: set me straight if you understand it better.)

    Are you able to discern nuance, or does everything have to fall into stereotyped exchanges? I am NOT calling for balance at protests in the sense of drawing an equivalence between Palestinian and Jewish suffering, or keeping score, or splitting the difference. I am saying: if both sides recognised the other’s suffering it would be easier to move towards peace. I am not saying this is a straightforward thing to do, but it is a good principle.

    As for your depiction of Palestine, I don’t know whether you have been to the West Bank, but the situation is more complicated there. Again, you are very quick to accuse me of deploying standard “Zionist” arguments / tropes, etc, but you are at least as guilty of resorting to cliches or simplifications. When I was in Ramallah (2009-11) there was plenty of material wealth on display as well as the abject poverty and deprivation of the camps. Of course, we could discuss criteria for poverty but that would entail moving beyond your rhetoric. Your characterisation seems much more applicable to Gaza.

    As for my “fucking idiots” remark, I was being honest. I I wouldn’t say that directly to someone, as you have rushed to call me a stooge, etc, etc. I at least managed to sublimate that emotion into an article that made some exaggerated claims, but which I have now repudiated or qualified to quite a large extent.

    As for “where do we do that”, I was replying to you bringing up the call for BDS coming from Palestinian civil society, as I thought was clear. Not mystical perception. Basic comprehension skills.

    I didn’t keep criticism of Israel out of my article. I said: “I do not believe the status quo is just, although I recognise that the Palestinians also have responsibilities for the predicament they are in.” By all means criticise me for not going far enough, or making a token reference, etc, but please be honest.

    I am aware of what Tony Greenstein has done re: Atzmon and applaud it. I don’t know where to start with the rest of that paragraph. Firstly, given that I have gone back on some of the exaggerations of my first article, and provided much more nuanced context, you might a) acknowledge this and b) take it into consideration before making an assertion for which you have no evidence anyway.

    I have probably written and talked more about unequivocal examples of antisemitism like Atzmon’s writings than the flaws of (some) pro-Palestinian advocacy, which I do not explicitly call antisemitic in the article on Habima; I talk of hatred of Israel. And I do not “campaign against those who campaign against the occupation”. I have made criticisms against specific examples of ostensibly pro-Palestinian advocacy in two articles (the first was about an absurd Deborah Orr piece which deserved contempt), linked to evidence, the second of which I have now substantially qualified.

    Why should you have the right to define what counts as pro-Palestinian advocacy? My argument, basic as it is, is that when is badly done it undermines the Palestinian cause rather than advances it (that is, what is just about their cause). If I regret aspects (if by no means all) of my original article on Habima, it is not because it criticises activists claiming to act on behalf of the Palestinians but because it was not done well (or fairly) enough.

    The article I wrote on Deborah Orr, I stand by absolutely.

    Apologies for the length of this reply.

  3. Nick May 30th, 2012 5:12 pm

    …and apologies for the repeated “as for…” intro to paragraphs. Yuck.

  4. Gert May 30th, 2012 7:22 pm

    Nick:

    I went for the theatre.

    So, you didn’t know there were going to be protests? You don’t think performing a piece about Venetian anti-Semitism at The Globe at a time when Britain was once again being scrutinised by the Israeli G’ment for being, shall we say, ‘not loyal to Israel enough’, didn’t add a perhaps unintended political dimension? Anyway, I’ll take your word for it.

    Of course there are more alternatives than the one you disengenously propose (“we’ll just have to leave it to the wonderfully cooperative and liberal Israeli G’ment”).

    I was being satirical, of course. Not literal. Basic comprehension skills, as you put it.

    My argument, shorn of its more emotional aspects, was about the quality of the advocacy; that is the problem, in my opinion, not access to media or opportunities to have their voices heard. (Maybe this is a Zionist misrepresentation of what they were doing: set me straight if you understand it better.)

    Specific to the Habima protest, there are several reports that come out in favour of the protesters. Their protest seemed totally non-violent and for the most part also quite silent.

    Are you able to discern nuance, or does everything have to fall into stereotyped exchanges?

    When I read your first piece, the total lack of nuance just leapt from the page. Pot meet kettle?

    As for your depiction of Palestine, I don’t know whether you have been to the West Bank, but the situation is more complicated there.

    True but it doesn’t change the fact of Occupation.

    […] or making a token reference, etc, but please be honest.

    A token reference it was. A bit more of that and you’d have suffered the same fate as Alex’ piece (‘If I was Netanyahu’) over at HP. FACT.

    which I do not explicitly call antisemitic in the article on Habima

    When you wrote:

    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?

    … you’re merely echoing the same old anti pro-Palestinian kvetch I suffer on a daily basis. ‘Haters’, or as Sackcloth put it: ‘Jew-haters’.

    Subjectively (of course) I see the behaviour of pro-Israel advocates and their groupies as far, far worse by and large than that of the pro-Palestinian camp. What about the abuse coming from the Zionist side? What about the blatant attempts at suppressing dissent over at HP, in the name of ‘fighting AS’? What about the constant equivocating of the PSC and the Wandering Antisemite (and general racist: read his deLiberation cesspit, truly unbelievable), by Zionists? The constant attempts at linking us to Holocaust deniers? Or nutters like Sackcloth, in general? Hoffman’s infatuation with Roberta Moore, Millett’s allowing her to comment on his blog, much to the delight of a few Zionist habitués there?

    Perhaps it all just reflects the behaviour of the State of Israel itself? What about its seemingly never ending lurch to the Far Right and very ugly racism increasingly raising its head in Israeli society? But your concern is with alleged ‘hate filled’ protesters at The Globe. Priorities, perhaps?

    (the first was about an absurd Deborah Orr piece which deserved contempt)

    Which Deborah Orr piece?

    Why should you have the right to define what counts as pro-Palestinian advocacy?

    I don’t. Do you?

    Nick, critiquing BDS is perfectly possible. The esteemed Finkelstein made quite a good job of it. You didn’t, IMHO.

    http://developing-your-web-presence.blogspot.co.uk

  5. Nick May 30th, 2012 8:35 pm

    Gert –

    Of course I knew there were going to be protests. But I came for the theatre, acknowledging that the protesters were going to be part of that.

    “I was being satirical, of course. Not literal.” Your satire was in the sarcasm. But I’m glad, then, that you agree there you can criticise pro-Palestinian advocacy without wishing its cessation: on the contrary.

    “When I read your first piece, the total lack of nuance just leapt from the page.” Jesus, I have already admitted that I went too far. I even called myself hypocritical. I wrote the second piece to provide the nuance that was lacking in the first. Have you got the humility to admit when you’re wrong?

    “A token reference it was”. Maybe, but honest in its circumspection. I strongly believe that what is happening to the Palestinians is unjust – that’s why I went to Lebanon, Ramallah, etc – but I feel like I am still trying to reach conclusions about the origins of the current situation and a possible way out. The narratives are not as straightforward as partisans of either side like to pretend. You may see this as the kind of equivocation that privileges the powerful (or makes me a “lapdog”); I assure you, that it’s an honest judgement on what I’ve read / seen. I am happy to be persuaded differently (on this note, I think the arrogance and self-righteousness of Chomsky / Pilger etc is a disgrace; see the recent exchange with Monbiot).

    What I am capable of is recognising that there are omissions or distortions in these narratives. And voicing opinions on tactics / goals by pro-Palestinian advocates that seem counterproductive (or, frankly, stupid). This is what I set out to do, albeit in a manner that was arguably counterproductive itself.

    I put this article on HP too, anticipating that I might be accused of apostasy for even backtracking a little (that hasn’t actually happened). I will happily take a mauling for something that was written honestly.

    I don’t doubt that there is a lot of pro-Israeli hatred that goes way beyond what I criticise here. As I said, I challenged a lot of stuff on HP when I lived in Ramallah and I’m sure there’s much much worse than that on other parts of the blogosphere. But those are not the circles I run in, and I suppose – on identity levels – I get more exasperated with people I assumed would be allies on the left, and find hatred / racism there more shocking.

    I notice, then, that you implicitly concede that there is behaviour in the pro-Palestinian camp worthy of condemnation. So I’ll fire the question back to you: do you ever find cause or occasion to criticise the Palestinian camp (aside from absolute lunatics like Atzmon, with whom I am absolutely not equating the Habima protestors)?

    As for the rise of the right / racism in Israeli society, I am not there now and I think Alex does a good job about writing about that. As you can see in the comments, I congratulated him for his last piece on the disgusting incitement in South Tel Aviv. When I lived in Ramallah I attended protests at Sheikh Jarrah. I also wrote a piece for the Orange Tree Theatre production on the settlers in Hebron.

    My article should be seen less as an extremely minor intervention into I/P politics but more as a commentary on the state of the left in this country, which I have every right to be concerned about. I am more guarded, generally, about I/P. I offered solidarity by going and working with the Palestinians.

    I wrote a piece on Deborah Orr half a year ago. It’s on Falsedi somewhere. She deserved strong criticism for an absurd article on the Shalit deal, even if I also made generalisations you would doubtless find fault with.

    As for critiquing BDS itself (rather than the Habima protesters), the remarks I make above are very temperate and, I think, generous in assuming the best of the movement (I just think that calling for full implementation of ROR is utopian and will prolong Palestinian suffering). Unlike Finkelstein who calls them a “cult” who should admit they want to destroy Israel. Do you have any criticism for that?

  6. Gert May 31st, 2012 2:26 pm

    Nick:

    What I am capable of is recognising that there are omissions or distortions in these narratives.

    Yes, but that’s easy and doesn’t solve much.

    – I get more exasperated with people I assumed would be allies on the left, and find hatred / racism there more shocking.

    Are they truly on the Left? I don’t consider the so-called Liberals that so slavishly and uncritically support Israel and the US to be Left either.

    So I’ll fire the question back to you: do you ever find cause or occasion to criticise the Palestinian camp (aside from absolute lunatics like Atzmon, with whom I am absolutely not equating the Habima protestors)?

    Atzmon is crucial in this because even those questionable Palestinians and supporters who might not even have heard of him, inadvertently mimic what he says: the belief that Zionism = Judaism, thus the culpability of Zionism has to be sought in ‘Jewishness’ (to use Atzies term). Unfortunately the equating of Zionism and Judaism (people + religion) and the pretence of speaking for all Jews is a Zionist tactic and would, if correct, indeed invalidate nearly all criticism of Israel as criticism of Jewry, i.e. anti-Semitism.

    Similarly some Holocaust denial (decidedly Atzie’s and his merry band of nutters) find roots in the centrality of the Holocaust to modern Zionism. That particular type of denier then believes that by denying the Holocaust he delegitimizes Zionism.

    Those are the things that make Atzie so ‘important’, not just as a general nutter we can all project disdain and hatred on. Not to mention he’s trying to drive a wedge into the movement.

    I probably don’t criticise some parts of the camp enough but note that the movement does self-police itself remarkably well, something for which it gets no thanks (the policing itself being trotted out as evidence of anti-Semitism in the movement!)

    Unlike Finkelstein who calls them a “cult” who should admit they want to destroy Israel. Do you have any criticism for that?

    Finkelstein likes strong language: ‘cult’ is emotive and inaccurate, to say the least. There was in Finkelstein’s reasoning however something far more interesting than that: his claim that advocating a OSS was futile because other people/countries in the world would sympathise with not wanting to become potential minorities in their own country. That they would have empathy with Israel on that point. Right now that is still true. But I predict (sincerely) that Israel’s behaviour will only worsen, not improve. The crazies on the Far Right are winning, against all odds perhaps. They really don’t care one iota what the ROW think of them. They will eventually make Israel look so bad that the world will stop caring about that Jewish majority and the price that needs to be paid to maintain it.

  7. Nick May 31st, 2012 5:14 pm

    Interesting thoughts, Gert.

    Whatever the origins of the equation between Judaism and Zionism – and I don’t believe it can be simply blamed on the Zionists, the fact remains that a large number of Jews (a majority?) do identify with Zionism / Israel which renders the use of Zionist as a dirty word (or code for evil) distinctly problematic at best. And it shuts down dialogue (I believe dialogue has to take place, even if the conditions of dialogue matter hugely i.e. with respect to issues like normalisation etc).

    It would have been quite natural to have told you to fuck off in the first place, EVEN if you had a point.

    Another thing: “the movement does self-police itself remarkably well, something for which it gets no thanks…”

    I’ve accepted that my original article went too far. But the above looks to me like an acknowledgement that “internal” criticism (or criticism of the critics) is valid; so I wonder whether you regret the rush to judge me as a stooge as I regret- to some extent- the emotive content of my piece, *given* that there was evidence there that I supported the Palestinians? Not just that I talked about “two states” but that I had lived there for two years? Maybe I’m labouring this point: I’m not asking you to retract anything.

    ……” (the policing itself being trotted out as evidence of anti-Semitism in the movement!)”

    If internal policing takes place, surely that’s because there’s something to police?

    Apart from those few things, I suggest we wind this down, though, because we’re going to go back over ground we’ve covered; plus, it makes more sense for some of this material to be “overground” rather than buried in the comments.

    Instead, why don’t you ask Alex to let you write a guest piece either in support of the Habima protesters, or in response to this piece (link below) at Engage (and HP) which I thought on first reading was excellent? This may make me a “Zionist lapdog” or whatever but you will persuade me better with reasons than insults. Assuming you disagree vehemently with it, I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts. And perhaps Alex could crosspost at HP, since you talk of being censored there.

    http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/portia-shylock-and-the-exclusion-of-israeli-actors-from-the-global-cultural-community-david-hirsh/

  8. Gert May 31st, 2012 8:42 pm

    Nick:

    which renders the use of Zionist as a dirty word (or code for evil) distinctly problematic at best.

    Zionism’s excesses, as well as how Israel came into being makes it a dirty word. It remains to this day the real aggressor and occupier. It isn’t CODE for evil, it IS evil. But I don’t object to Israel’s existence. Today I think it was a very bad idea to begin with.

    It would have been quite natural to have told you to fuck off in the first place, EVEN if you had a point.

    Huh?

    […] that there was evidence there that I supported the Palestinians?

    Supporting the Palestinians does not make one per se right (or wrong) about anything. The truth, elusive as it may be, stands on its own, independent of the bearer or observer. But I applaud your work with the Palestinians without reserve.

    If internal policing takes place, surely that’s because there’s something to police?

    If HP and cohorts were really interested in fighting anti-Semitism, instead of trying to smear Israel’s critics into the ground, they would applaud our efforts. Instead Tony Greenstein is the most reviled of them all. I think they HATE him more than they do Galloway and that’s saying something.

    And perhaps Alex could crosspost at HP, since you talk of being censored there.

    HP is a cesspit of racism, reactionary ignoramuses, hypocrites and demonstrable liars. Thanks but no thanks. We don’t call it the Brown Sauce for nothing. I’ll occasionally do a strafing hit and run, at my leisure but that’s it. Debate there is impossible. It’s the worst of the worst, reinforced by further its ‘liberal’ pretenses.

    You also overestimate my interest in the Habima protest. I think it’s a bit of a side show. And now yesterday’s news. Had I thought it so important, I’d have blogged about it on my own soapbox. Real BDS successes will follow. It takes time. Zionism is past its zenith.

    Engage… do I have to? ;-)

  9. Nick June 1st, 2012 9:47 am

    Briefly – on HP: many of the people who comment on posts fit your definition. They are disgusting. But there are also plenty of people (or, some) replying who are prepared to present reasoned arguments and evidence for what they assert. And the posts often do this, whatever you think of their conclusions. They do not *simply* use rhetoric or stereotyping or appeals to emotion to stir up hatred.

    However, I’m not suggesting you go there to debate anything, but to present your point of view in a posting. I suspect that there are many people who read HP who hardly ever reply precisely because of the kind of hostility they think they’ll receive, but you have an opportunity to influence them. Certainly I’ve been influenced by people writing from a more pro-Palestinian perspective, like the guy from the Muddle East blog, who has been attacked viciously in the comments.

    Credit people with some intelligence. The more hysterical the attacks on you, the more sympathetic most people are likely to be to your p.o.v.

    HP is a popular blog, imho, not because its prejudices are a magnet for the deranged and callous but because- by and large- it uses reason and evidence to support its views. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of things I don’t like about it.

  10. Gert June 1st, 2012 1:42 pm

    Nick,

    You display at times considerable powers of persuasion. But does Alex have magic powers? It seems very unlikely that HP, very staunchly pro-Zionist, would accept a piece from an ‘anti-Zionist’, no matter how well reasoned and politely written it might be. I’m also not sure how this ‘cross-posting’ [at HP] works: I always thought it was the site owners who picked what they wanted to publish, much like I endorse (and cut ‘n paste) other writers’ work, without them requesting this.

    It would have to be something in response to something more significant than a protest at a theatre or a shop selling bath bombs (Ahava). Perhaps Cast Lead II (soon coming to a theatre near you, I’m guessing) or something of importance.

  11. Alex Stein June 1st, 2012 2:41 pm

    Gert – there can never be fruitful dialogue with someone who sincerely thinks that Zionism is evil.

  12. Nick June 1st, 2012 3:20 pm

    Alex is able to cross-post without seeking prior approval, I believe. But then, depending on you said, he might not be happy about it appearing on FD in the first place, I guess. I shouldn’t be speaking for him. Alex?

  13. Nick June 1st, 2012 5:20 pm

    *on what you said*

  14. Alex Stein June 1st, 2012 7:17 pm

    If Gert wanted to write something then I’d consider putting it up.

  15. Gert June 1st, 2012 8:35 pm

    Alex:

    there can never be fruitful dialogue with someone who sincerely thinks that Zionism is evil.

    Has Zionism done evil things or has it not?

    Didn’t know you had a direct line to HP, Alex.

  16. Alex Stein June 3rd, 2012 7:51 am

    I don’t have a ‘direct line’, but I am free to cross-post my stuff there.

    As for your question, first you’d have to define ‘evil’; then you’d have to state whether having sometimes done ‘evil’ things makes you ‘evil’ anymore than having sometimes done ‘good’ things makes you ‘good’.

    And, to my knowledge, ‘Zionism’ has never ‘done’ anything, or at least I wasn’t aware that ‘Zionism’ was an animate object.

  17. Gert June 3rd, 2012 1:12 pm

    Alex, you’re now just playing with words. That’s something you’re undoubtedly better at than I am, along with other things. ‘Evil’ wouldn’t have been my choice of words. But you’d reject synonymous words too.

    Regards dialog, of course that is possible: you just need to try and convince me of your position and I do the same with mine. We’ve been doing it for years, by the way!

    I’ve an idea for something that HP might be interested in putting up. I think you’ll like it (at least the idea, I’ve yet to write it). I’ll email it [the idea] to you (copy Nick if you like).

    Now I’d like to ask Nick a question.

    Nick, I think you principally reject BDS because you believe most supporters of BDS are One Staters. While you were working with Palestinians in the WB (and perhaps elsewhere – I don’t know precisely what you were doing) you must have encountered ISMers (and similar), most of which embrace BDS (how can they not? How can we logically reject a call to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians?) Did you discuss that with them? Is it not so that by objecting to BDS or not taking part in it you deprive yourself of a tool to apply pressure on Israel to try and make it comply with International Law? Oooops, several questions here.

  18. Nick June 4th, 2012 9:37 am

    Gert –

    You may be surprised but I had very little contact with activists in the WB. By and large, I was absorbed in my purpose for being there: teaching music, not political activism. I had a little contact with people working for other NGOs, but our circles were fairly narrowly musical / artistic. I was also consumed by a relationship. I can maybe remember meeting an ISM activist once.

    Conversations about politics were fewer than you might expect with Palestinians(particularly compared to my first visit to the WB in 2007), partly because the people I spent time with most were colleagues involved in music and partly I guess because of a general sense of futility that has been commented on elsewhere.

    The more heated debates took place with my western colleagues and friends; as I’ve said before, it was often difficult to have a rational discussion and for the sake of my own sanity I had to let things drop sometimes. With most of the people I can think of, I don’t think I could even begin to discuss BDS rationally, which is why I feel confident in asserting – in my own experience – support for boycotts as a product of hatred / emotion. How can you talk seriously about politics with people who mock the sound of Hebrew and evince disgust with all things Israeli? These being westerners, not Palestinians!

    My objections to BDS are multiple. One: I see two states as the only viable solution, and they’re not calling for that. Two – whatever the reasons for making a special case of Israel, and for the sake of argument, I’ll assume they are all legitimate – I think it is a tactical mistake to single it out. Three – I am skeptical of the value of total boycotts, economic and cultural. I oppose rigid applications of the “no dialogue” / anti-normalisation argument for the same reason. Four – Jewish history makes boycotts (particularly broad ones) psychologically counterproductive. I don’t think they can induce a sense of shame – on the contrary – or force Israelis to make concessions out of self-interest.

    Solidarity, in my opinion, does not mean assenting to whatever tactics or goals the Palestinian movement proposes (or its dominant voices). With all due respect, I think that is condescending. I don’t support full ROR, for example, because no-one has persuaded me that there is any possibility of implementing it without war, whereas other solutions to relieve the suffering of the refugees and ensure an necessarily imperfect justice look more realistic.

  19. Gert June 4th, 2012 4:48 pm

    Nick:

    Four – Jewish history makes boycotts (particularly broad ones) psychologically counterproductive. I don’t think they can induce a sense of shame – on the contrary – or force Israelis to make concessions out of self-interest.

    By that token, any action directed at the Jewish State will always be met with (often orchestrated) expressions of suspicion with regards to the actors’ intentions and comparisons to past persecutors. It is essentially a false argument that aims at turning the Jewish State into a Teflon State: nothing sticks because everything is dismissed as a manifestation of you-know-what.

    Nor is BDS about ‘inducing a sense of shame’: it’s about trying to rectify the power imbalance that exists between the Jewish State and the Palestinian People.

    Without external pressure there will be no change in Israeli behaviour and we will see a continuous worsening of its behaviour.

    Dialogue? All important dialogue between the State of Israel [its representatives] and Palestinian negotiators should be about negotiation. In the current situation negotiating is bit like playing a game of No Limits Texas Hold’em. ‘Palestine’ comes to the table with 10 chips. Israel has a million chips (and right behind it stands a guy with more chips at hand, should the unlikely happen). Guess who wins? Even with the best hands ‘Palestine’ eventually loses even its shirt.

  20. Nick June 5th, 2012 4:21 pm

    Briefly, because I have a friend here: “any action directed at the Jewish State will always be met with (often orchestrated) expressions of suspicion with regards to the actors’ intentions and comparisons to past persecutors.”

    No – not any action. Some actions will resonate with past experiences more than others. Boycotts fall into that category; if – god forbid – the Palestinians were interested in my advice I would suggest an alignment with the civil rights struggle in the US rather than with the struggle against South African apartheid. Firstly because I believe the apartheid analogy to be misconceived – and it can easily be batted away – and secondly because – given Jewish history – mass marches, sit-ins etc. make more tactical sense than boycotts as a means of asserting / claiming your rights while allaying fears over your “true” intentions.

    But the main reason BDS seems flawed is the lack of a pragmatic goal, not its historical associations.

    I’d flip your claim on its head: *with* this kind of external pressure, we will see Israel becoming more extreme and intransigent. It is doubtful whether boycotts can work in the sense of causing economic pain but it seems very likely to reinforce a “they hate us anyway” mentality and a refusal to make concessions.

    Negotiation. Clearly the Palestinians need to engineer a situation in which, insofar as is possible, and against all the odds, they can sit at the table as equals. But that calls – again, in my extremely humble opinion! – for a strategy of peaceful resistance that is more sophisticated and realistic than BDS seems to be. Perhaps you’re right that the world may abandon its commitment to Israel as a Jewish state and a one-state solution / civil rights agenda may seem more pragmatic for the pro-Palestinian movement. But at the moment that doesn’t seem to be the case and I see Finkelstein’s diagnosis of BDS as more relevant.

  21. RS Davies June 7th, 2012 10:54 am

    BDS exists primarily because Palestinian leadership has been failing consistently for the last century and a half. It failed to come to terms with Tanzimat, it failed to develop representative community administration, it failed to be honest with itself, it failed to win the 1948 war, it failed to develop a realistic strategy to respond to the challenges of Zionism, it failed to invest in Palestine, it failed to create systems to manage a society, it failed to recognise that its bellicose and sectarian / racist language led the Palestinian nation inevitably into more violence, it failed to do what it agreed to do under Oslo, it failed to tell its own people the truth about Oslo, it failed to stop its leadership stealing from the people and donor states, it failed to recognise the trap that Arik Sharon set in the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, & walked into it, and the list goes on.
    The BDS movement absolves the Palestinians of all responsibility and assigns to the Israelis all the blame. BDS ignores that in order to achieve reconciliation as happened in South Africa, there needs to be a will to acknowledge the wrongs done. While the Israelis have owned up to the atrocities of Deir Yassin etc, sadly the Palestinians have failed to reciprocate and acknowledge atrocities such as the 1929 Hebron Massacre and that they had a policy of ethnic cleansing from the 1920′s onward.
    While Israel & Palestine are unequal in terms of wealth and power, they are equal in their capacity to exert authority and take responsibility. Sadly the BDS movement inherently is part of the tendency to infantilise the Palestinians.
    BTW if the BDS movement is successful, the EU can expect upward of 5 million ex-Israelis to arrive as refugees – Are we ready for that?

  22. zkharya June 10th, 2012 4:28 pm

    ‘BDS ignores that in order to achieve reconciliation as happened in South Africa, there needs to be a will to acknowledge the wrongs done.’

    That is an excellent and central point.

  23. Nick June 11th, 2012 3:54 pm

    RS Davies,

    Has Israel acknowledged Dir Yassin as an atrocity? I mean officially, not just on the left? I thought they built a new village on top of it. And there’s no memorial as far as I know.

    Your main argument ignores the fact that BDS is a Palestinian-led strategy. Flawed or not, it is an example of Palestinians seeking to acquire leverage over the situation via peaceful means.

    Zkharya – yes, but it cuts both ways.

  24. RS Davies June 18th, 2012 10:21 pm

    Nick
    I believe if you refer to Israeli documents of 1948 the newly formed Israel condemned the Deir Yassin massacre and members of the Haganah / Palmach / IDF were witnesses to the atrocity’s aftermath. In fact they exaggerated driven by a desire to blacken the reputation of their rivals the Irgun. Certainly Ben Gurion acknowledged and formally expressed regret through diplomatic channels to King Hussein at the time

    That there is no memorial there is irrelevant, there are no Palestinian memorials to any massacres of Jews. The village is a major mental hospital today serving the Jerusalem area I believe. There is a suburb on some of the former fields which is not intergal to Jerusalem.

    Sadly Deir Yassin immediately wrapped up in propoganda, with all sorts of allegations and exagerations which informed the resistance by Israelis to acceptance of responsibility.

    In the late 1990′s the Peace Movement tried to start this process of reconciliation by “owning up” to Deir Yassin and recognising the impact upon the Palestinians. It was hoped that in response Palestinians would acknowledge Hebron,or one of the other massacres. Sadly what occurred was profoundly disappointing as it was used as a mechanism to pour out more violent intent, characterised by deeply anti-Jewish sentiments. It was a lost opportunity for people at ground level to create an initiative that confounds the politicians. As far I could determine at the time, the main parties seeking to undermine such a dialogue commencing were the same factions that called for BDS.

    Frankly BDS has no chance of success unless it can persuade the EU to apply full sanctions upon Israel. The chance of that occurring is almost nil as it would find it almost impossible to disengage from Israeli enterprises. Additionally the loss of Israeli collaboration in security and defence might lead us to the situation of the 1980′s where exposure to risk increased due to lack of intelligence. The further danger is that an economically challenged Israel would actively market military & other hi-tech products at prices we could not match and take away our customers (See how Elint & others cut into Rockwell-Collins market in late 70′s)
    But more importantly in Hamburg FreePort Israeli owned soft fruit cargo handling equipment processes 99% of bananas & other tropical soft fruit consumed in North & Central EU. If sanctions are applied then no one could trade with this company. In the first instance that would mean that the Caribbean countries could not export their bananas and get top price, most would rot en route. Second the price of bananas in the shops would sky-rocket which Germans and others would not accept. Frankly in the eyes of the avg Hausfrau, the Palestinians aren’t worth the banana!

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