Essential reading for anyone interested in the issues of Zionism, Judaism, Jewish-ness, anti-Semitism, and history in general. (Atzmon maintains that Zionism “developed as a reaction to the emancipation of European Jewry”, when it was realized that this “might lead to the disappearance of the Jewish identity”. He further maintains that Zionism drew strength from a “created image of emerging anti-Semitism” . . . “a myth of persistent persecution”. Hence Herzl’s displeasure when French Jews, in the wake of the Dreyfus affair, showed signs of feeling “truly emancipated”.)
Elsewhere, Atzmon shows how a tribal cult like Zionism, which by its nature is exceptionalist, is incompatible with a universalist ethic, and suggests that nothing truly progressive can be expected from a state, such as Israel, that clings relentlessly to “a phantasmic, invented yesterday”. Appositely, he notes that Britain and America have also abandoned a “true historical discourse” in favor of a “banal and simplistic historic tale to do with WWII, Cold War, Islam, 911, etc”.
EXTRACT: The Holocaust religion [as first postulated by Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz] is the conclusive and final stage in the Jewish dialectic: it is the end of Jewish history, for it is the deepest and most sincere form of ‘self-love’. Rather than requiring an abstract God to designate the Jews as the Chosen People, in the Holocaust religion the Jews cut out this divine middleman and simply choose themselves. Jewish identity politics transcends the notion of history — God is the master of ceremonies. The new Jewish God, i.e. ‘the Jew’, cannot be subject to any human contingent occurrence. Thus the Holocaust religion is protected by laws, while every other historical narrative is debated openly by historians, intellectuals and ordinary people. The Holocaust sets itself as an eternal truth that transcends critical discourse.
An excerpt from an article entitled ‘Morocco’s Ancient City of Fez’, by Harvey Arden, in the March 1986 edition of National Geographic. I have posted it in connection with a debate at Shelfari.
This article by Rachel Shabi is from The Guardian of December 16, 2010. It carries the preamble: “The Israeli government’s demand that Palestinians recognise exiled Arab Jews as ‘refugees’ is political point-scoring.” Most, if not all, of the points have been made before. But as the Israelis invariably argue that “what we did to the Palestinians is no worse than what the Arabs [later] did to the Jews in Arab lands”, it’s always good to see the points restated.
While the US has given up pressing for a freeze on illegal settlement building, one Israeli minister has been cranking up the volume on an issue he apparently considers more pressing. The deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, recently launched a new initiative to demand that Palestinians “recognise Jews who exiled from Arab lands as refugees”.
Ayalon’s initiative is in alliance with Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), whose mission is to put this issue on the international agenda.
The idea itself has been in circulation pretty much since the 1970s when the Palestinian refugee issue was beginning to gain traction within the international community. Since then, it has resurfaced pretty much whenever there are peace talks – hence its return during this latest, wilted round of exchanges between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
As Ayalon puts it, the initiative is explicitly a response to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return to the land of Israel”. The reasoning is: if Palestinians think of themselves as refugees, forced to leave their homes in the tectonic shifts that created Israel in 1948, so, too, were the Jews exiting Arab lands in the same seismology.
There are all manner of problems with this formulation. First, many Middle Eastern Jews dislike being called refugees. Some reject this label because they left Arab lands out of a pioneering desire to relocate to what would become Israel; some say they were uprooted from Arab lands, either by agitating Zionist emissaries, or by the shockwaves that Zionism sent through the Middle East.
Another thorn in the side of this argument is that Israel was created explicitly as a homeland for Jews, while for Palestinians, the homeland is the place from which they were exiled. That means there is no point in lauding Israel for “absorbing” the “Jewish refugees” from Arab lands, while chiding Arab countries for not doing the same with Palestinians – which seems to be the Jewish refugee claim’s secondary reasoning.
There are undoubtedly compensation claims to be made by Jews whose properties and possessions were impounded when they left some Arab countries – Egypt, Syria and Iraq spring to mind – but it isn’t clear why those seeking recompense would automatically wish Israel to represent them in this matter. In fact, many Jews both inside and beyond Israel have specifically declined the offer.
If Ayalon, or JJAC, or any of the other groups, were genuinely concerned for the history and legacy of Middle Eastern Jews, there might be better ways to express it. For instance, they might think about setting up heritage centres to commemorate Jewish life in Arab lands, or promote and celebrate their cultural, political and linguistic output, or address the ethnically-driven social imbalances that still exist in Israel between Jews of European and Arab origin.
But the fact that the sole and stated point of such initiatives is to corral the subject into the frame of Palestinian refugee claims means that, to Israel, the experience of Jews from Arab lands exists only to be hijacked and hocked for cheap, political point-scoring. After all, if there were no Palestinian refugees, would the Israeli government still be raising the issue?
There are significant points to make about the Jewish experience in Arab lands, caught in the crossfire of both Zionism and Arab nationalism: you could, for instance, look at why some Arab governments at the time did not handle the issue smartly, why they sacrificed Jewish communities for short-term political expediency, or did not sufficiently resist the rapid conflation of “Jewish” with “Zionist”.
You could also flip it around, and explore how much resistance existed in those countries, among Jews and Muslims alike, to the idea of Jews leaving Arab countries, or review how this departure was experienced as a loss, for both sides.
Or – and this is deeply unfashionable – you could study the long, vibrant experience of Jewish life in the Arab world and ask what went right, as a way of seeking templates for how to make things right again.
There’s no space for any of that in the “Jewish refugee” frame as endorsed by the Israeli government. And that’s yet another reason why it is so wrong-headed, anachronistic and possibly the worst sort of advocacy for Middle Eastern Jews.
Article from Challenge Weekly of November 1, 2010. Is God the great Ethnic Cleanser?
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These letters to The Dominion Post were published on July 19, 2010. On July 29, David Zwartz responded to the first letter, saying (in part): “…The Dominion Post is perfectly correct to describe Israel as the Jewish state. That is how it was described in the text of United Nations partition resolution 181 of November 1947, which authorised the establishment of independent Arab and Jewish states when the British withdrew from their mandate in May 1948.”
The problem with this argument is that it is the constitution of a country that determines its nature, not others’ description of it. And as far as I know, Israel is still (formally) a secular state. If anyone would like to elucidate this issue, perhaps they would be kind enough to leave a comment.
After the Hebrew Scriptures became the Christian Old Testament, for Christians the sacred scriptures of the Hebrews must prove that Christ was the Messiah. A vast array of subtle interpretation by way of allegory, metaphor, and arcane symbolism was and is used to do so. In the early centuries the Old Testament became a “vast quarry with no other function than to provide, by any exegesis however farfetched, arguments for his claims.” * Because Judaism was held to validate the central Christian truth, Jewish refusal to accept Christ was soon viewed as nothing less than resistance to the will of the one God of Judaism and Christ. The persistence of Judaism inevitably created profound doubts. Ultimately the Jewish denial of Christ’s divinity became the true deicide, an act which every Jew commits simply by remaining faithful to Judaism. No pagan or heathen ever held such power over Christianity — indeed, this is the psychological source of the legend of the occult powers of the Jews, for what other people has had the power to deny for millennia their own God? Loving concern for the salvation of one’s former coreligionists easily turns into righteous anger at their “arrogant” refusal to acknowledge the “truth” of their own sacred works. Much of the New Testament is meant to prove that Christianity is the divine fulfillment of Judaism. In the different versions of the passion of Christ, responsibility for his death is gradually shifted away from some Jews in Palestine to a collective entity called “the Jews.” By the Fourth Gospel, John, the Jews are regarded as the bitter enemies of Christianity, the two religions distinct and separate.
For Christians, a Jew could be true to Judaism only if he or she became a Christian, the new chosen people; yet the vast majority of Jews remained within the faith of their fathers. In a time drenched with religion, compromise was impossible. If Christianity is true, Judaism is false; if not, then Christianity is blasphemy. Even today the Vatican and Protestant Fundamentalists cannot recognize Judaism as a separate and valid religion, for that would be tantamount to announcing that Jesus was not prophesied by the Hebrew Scriptures. In the early centuries, passions were at their most intense, for the identity of Christianity was being formed, and it could only be done at the expense of the parent religion. Mythology, as yet untempered by secularism or science, made it inevitable that Christians would turn against the Jews, the one people among them whose faith denied Christ and whose religious credentials could hardly be ignored.
* James Parkes, The Conflict Between Church and Synagogue (New York, 1974), p. 99.
(The above passage is an excerpt from Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany, by John Weiss. Ivan R. Dee, 1996. It can be found on p. 6-7.)
An extremely stimulating and informative work…Weiss has produced a detailed, clearly written account. — Kirkus Reviews
Effective. — ALA Booklist
For many readers this book can safely take the place of an entire history. — Raul Hilberg, author of The Deconstruction of the European Jews
Illuminating…deserves a permanent place on bookshelves. — Publishers Weekly
[For those doing research into anti-Semitism: I have] a copy of Britain’s Jewish Problem, by M.G. Murchin (1939), which purports to put anti-Semitism on an intellectual, rational basis. It appears to be rare, as bookfinder.com lists only one copy for sale — by amazon.com at $US616. If there is any interest in this book among readers of this blog, I’ll try to find time to scan a couple of chapters into my computer and post them somewhere on the net.
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