Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: The Growth of Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel by David Landy
David Landy, an Irish-Jewish academic and a Palestinian solidarity activist has written a book about Jewish Identity and Jewish dissent in the Diaspora.
The book, published on 7th July 2011, was largely ignored by most pro-Palestinian outlets and dissident journals. Almost four months later, Landy’s book was re-launched by JFJFP (Jews for Justice for Palestinians), in the hope, presumably, that it might divert attention from my own The Wandering Who.
Following the JFJFP’s enthusiastic endorsement, I was looking forward to reading Landy’s book, expecting to find, for the first time, some arguments that may counter my own take on Jewish identity politics. But I was disappointed: Landy’s findings only supported my reading of the subject in general, and confirmed my critical take on Jewish anti Zionism in particular.
Like me, Landy, makes a clear distinction between ‘Palestinian solidarity’ and ‘Jewish anti Zionist activism’: “I do not call them (the Jewish anti Zionists) Palestinian solidarity either” (pg. 6). He prefers to refer to his ‘Jewish Diaspora dissident voice’ as ‘Israel-Critical Jews’. Landy has grasped that Jewish dissent is actually more about ‘Jewish liberation’ than about liberating others. It is largely about Jewish secular craving for identity as opposed to any attempt to really change the reality in Palestine: “Few, if any, of my interviewees thought that they were working exclusively for the Palestinians” says Landy and goes on to explain that “This is partly because some participants think they’re protecting the Jewish collectivity from anti Semitism by promoting peace in the Middle East” (pg. 26.)
Such an observation should have alerted Landy to the possibility of something slightly dishonest within the ‘Jewish anti Zionist’ cell. After all, we know that Landy’s ‘Israel-Critical Jews’ completely fail to confront the Jewish Lobby in the UK or the USA. And if that were not enough, they will even join forces with Zionists and hasbara, and are clearly willing to use every possible means to stop others from attempting to expose the lobby and the extent of its political influence.
Despite Landy’s attempt to portray a growing, vibrant Jewish dissent, he is at least honest enough to admit that the Jewish Diaspora is largely supportive of Israel, and that ‘Israel critical Jews’ are still no more than a marginal calling.
But this is more or less where the good news ends, for unfortunately, on every other front Landy’s book is totally lacking in substance. .
For some reason, Landy has completely failed to address the criticism leveled by a rapidly growing number of Palestinian solidarity activists and intellectuals against his protagonists, the ‘Jewish anti Zionists’ .
In the last few months in the UK, more and more exiled Palestinians and solidarity activists have been kicked out from PSC and other solidarity organisations, thanks to relentless pressure from the so-called ‘Israel Critical Jews’. Francis Clark- -Lowes, former Chair of the National PSC was thrown out of the PSC a few months ago due to demands mounted by the infamous Jewish activist Tony Greenstein. Admired Palestinian poet and writer Nahida Izatt was also cleansed . This time it was no Israeli or a ‘Zionist’ who barred her from her local Palestinian solidarity group - it was a Jewish ‘anti’ Zionist Greg Dropkin who had been harassing her and other intellectuals for years. A similar fate was awaiting Gill Kaffash, an admired London activist, who was asked to resign from being Camden PSC’s Secretary. Sammi Ibrahem, Palestinian activist and radio journalist, originally from Gaza, was Chair of Birmingham PSC – at least he was, until he too was expelled due to Jewish ‘anti’-Zionist pressure.
Landy fails to address the embarrassing fact that here in Britain, there is now a wide awareness of the negative and subversive input of some of his ‘Israel critical Jews’. Through the years, Jewish ‘anti’-Zionist Roland Rance achieved a reputation as a leading figure amongst the notorious ‘Wikipedia Jews’. Rance specialises in vandalising Palestinian Solidarity entries on the free online encyclopedia. Tony Greenstein is famous for repeatedly harassing, smearing and defaming an endless list of both Palestinians and solidarity icons. Naomi Wimborne Idrissi, the leader of J-BIG (Jew Only Boycott Campaign) has been exposed numerous times for running clandestine operations against myself and other pro-Palestinian activists. Earlier, in 2005 I myself exposed the ceaseless activity of JPUK members intent on blocking free and vibrant discourse.
One is entitled to ask: how could Landy, a supposedly impartial academic, possibly fail to address the growing fatigue that so many of us feel towards this bunch of ‘Israel critical Jews’? How did Landy manage to miss the glaringly obvious fact that the subjects of his research are regarded by so many of us as being little more than a bunch of AZZ (anti-Zionist Zionists), people who are on the verge of actually being Israeli sayanim ? Landy’s failure to address the subversive McCarthyite nature of the Jewish ‘anti’ Zionist operation is indeed disappointing -- but it is hardly surprising.
Landy spends a lot of time elaborating on the need for an alternative ‘Jewish identity construction’; yet he fails to ask the most crucial question -is such an identity a viable concept?
‘Identity construction’ only becomes meaningful once ‘identification’ comes into play, once one is consciously and practically ‘identifying’ with the ‘constructed identity’, yet such a mental or intellectual process can only carry one away from authenticity or authentic realisation.
Moreover, Jewish anti-Zionism may aspire to ‘universalism’ - but Jewish culture is fundamentally tribal, ethno-centric and, in most cases, racially oriented. It represents categorically, the direct opposite of universalism. So it is not clear how an inherently tribal, political, ethno-centric and exclusive setting can genuinely uphold a universalist standpoint.
Thus, it was inevitable for Zionism to become the voice of world Jewry and a dominant Jewish identity political discourse.
As opposed to the ‘anti Semitic’ early Zionist school of thought, post-1948 Zionism is shaped as a wet dream - it is supremacist; it is tribal; it is expansionist; but most importantly, it is saturated with self-love. Zionism provides the Diaspora Jew with an opportunity to love oneself against all odds. Israeli military and technological power, for instance, can be realised from a Jewish perspective, as a valid verification of chosen-ness and superiority.
Yet, from an identity perspective, anti-Zionism offers the Jew very little, if anything at all. None of the alleged ‘Jewish anti Zionist’ values are in any way truly Jewish. Solidarity with others is certainly not Jewish (Jewish solidarity is based on clannish brotherhood); universalism is far from being Jewish; and peace, harmony and reconciliation are certainly no Jewish inventions.
Landy provides us with some quotes from his ‘critical Jewish’ interviewees. They all speak in the name of ‘Jewish universal values’ and ‘Jewish justice’; and yet, neither Landy nor anyone else ever provides us with a single reference to a text that actually portrays or explicates Jewish secular universal standpoints. Instead, Landy refers to Jewish ‘diasporist identity’. He tries to draw lessons from Jewish Marxist intellectual Isaac Deutscher, who regarded himself as a ‘non-Jewish Jew’. But Deutscher was the complete opposite of Landy’s ‘Israel Critical Jews’: Deutscher had little time for ‘Jewish politics’ joining the Communist Party in Warsaw rather than the ‘Jews only’ Bund whose ‘Yiddishist’ views he so opposed. Unlike Landy’s 'Israel Critical Jews' who are largely driven by Jewish self-interests, Deutscher was captivated by, and adhered to a universal thought. He believed in unconditional solidarity with the persecuted. Deutscher didn’t need a secular synagogue, a ‘Jews only’ cell or a Jewish party. He was a successful product of Jewish emancipation, an individualist who shaped his ethical views by means of judgment rather than by adherence to any orchestrated ‘identity’ with a ‘constructed emblem’.
The 2nd Category Jews Vs. Landy’s Israel-Critical Jews’
In The Wandering Who I divide Jews who identify themselves as Jews into three categories:
1. Those that follow Judaism.
2. Those who regard themselves as human beings that happen to be of Jewish origin
3. Those who put their Jewishness over and above all of their other traits.
I have no doubt that Isaac Deutscher belongs to the 2nd category; while Landy’s ‘Israel critical Jews, who all operate within ‘Jews only’ political cells, fall into the 3rd category. .
Here, I am about to make a most arrogant suggestion. I’d better just come out with it. My guess is that Landy could have done with reading a bit of Atzmon. It would have saved him from many categorical blunders. And it would certainly have made his text more relevant.
Landy has systematically managed to miss the significant contribution of the 2nd category Jews - those who are genuinely interested in universalism and ethical thinking, yet refuse to operate within ‘Jews only’ political and spiritual cells. It is clear that those amongst those ethically driven Jews who express solidarity and empathy with Palestinians, operate as ordinary human beings by stripping themselves of any trace of Jewish exceptionalism and exclusivity. Amongst those Jews you will find some of our leading thinkers and writers such as Lawrence Davidson, Jeff Blankfort, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, and many others.
It is also true that Landy’s ‘Israel Critical Jews’ have produced a rather limited body of intellectual work, if any at all. They certainly write enough about ‘anti Semitism in the movement’; they tell us what is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’ for Palestine, and they spend a lot of time pursuing any activists who don’t fit into their kosher vision of Palestinian solidarity. They, consciously and enthusiastically, use hasbara tactics - smear, defamation and misinformation - and, if necessary, are not averse to joining forces with their Zionist brothers and sisters. But still, they write little, if anything, about their own identity or ideology. They don’t produce any music, poetry, cinema, plays, literature, plastic art or indeed anything that could be seen as a uniquely Jewish cultural contribution, something that could be considered as offering an alternative ‘identity construct’. That Landy has managed to miss this obvious and crucial fact is staggering.
This lack of Jewish anti-Zionist culture is particularly significant when compared to the wide and varied cultural contributions of Israeli and ex-Israeli dissident voices. Laor, Avnery, Weitzman, Yoav Shamir, Gideon Levy, Shahak, Israel Shamir, Tzabar, Beit-Halahmi, Pappe, Abarbanel, Bereshit and many others are at the forefront of the discourse and in the vanguard of the cultural anti-Zionist battle. Unlike Landy’s ‘Israel-Critical Jews’ (noticeably uncreative culturally and lame intellectually) the ‘Israel-critical Israelis’ operate as a fountain of ideas, using their creativity to push forward the Jewish Diaspora identity discourse. .
I suppose Landy has failed because he was just too engaged in sociological jargon and mired in postmodernist clichés without understanding the true uniqueness of his subject matter; i.e. Jewish identity. Philosophical thinking also seems alien to Landy so he is unable to grasp the metaphysical depth of questions connected to identity, identification and authenticity in the context of Jewish culture and ideology.
But most important, Landy fails because he is a politically motivated activist, and his reading of his subject matter is shaped by political considerations and political ‘correctness’ rather than by a desire for genuine truth seeking.
Though the aspiration of this book is promising and challenging, the result is slightly disappointing.
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|Liaquat Ali Khan|