When Did I Stop Being a Jew – reposted

This is being reposted as Facebook in an act of censorship has categorised the original as ‘abusive’

Mike Cushman, chair of FSOI, explains that to be Jewish is not about supporting Israel but about abiding by a moral code that stands against oppression

Those of us in Free Speech on Israel and even more our colleagues in Jewish Voice for Labour are accused every day on Twitter of not being real Jews. I, like soMike Cushmanme of our other activists, am a Jewish atheist but others of my colleagues are observant and some work for shuls. But this is not good enough for our detractors. This trolling by apologists for Israel is meant to both hurt us on a personal level and devalue our efforts to show that not all Jews rally to Israel’s crimes.

I was born of a Jewish mother, which under Jewish law is definitive even if I had not been circumcised, as I was, eight days later. I was Jewish enough to go to cheder every Sunday to learn about Jewish history and fail to learn Hebrew – but then on the other six days I also failed to learn French.

I was Jewish enough to be Bar Mitzvah and enthused enough by that to attend shul every Saturday for a time, until I stopped believing in a God who intervened in our daily lives. Despite that, I was still Jewish enough in 1967 to volunteer to go to Israel to help save it. An offer I soon came to regret and which the Israelis had the good sense to decline; I would have been useless. By about 1970 I had come to realise that the six-day war had not led to salvation but to occupation and illegality.

I did not come from a very observant family, like many others more high-holiday than every day Jews. But Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur were important days for our family and every year my parents held a seder for our extended family – one of the high spots of my year. As the youngest I enjoyed asking the four questions, I still enjoy asking awkward questions, and was fascinated by the escalating arithmetic of the plagues and the disputatious, logical to the point of nonsense, nature of Jewish argument it demonstrated.

I remained Jewish enough that when my mother could no longer live independently I made sure she was looked after in Nightingale House, the renamed Home for Aged Jews, and to arrange my parents’ funerals with the help of their synagogue (of which my uncle had been president for many years).

I have always said I am a Jew for as long as the Nazis say I’m a Jew and for as long as Israel says I have the right to ‘return’ to a country I have never lived in.

I am a Jew by birth and culture, not by religion – by choice – nor by race, since there is no Jewish race.

I am Jew who is haunted by the experience of my unknown and uncounted cousins who died in Warsaw or Treblinka and I ask myself what does that experience teach me? As explained by my parents, it means that it places an obligation on all Jews never to visit on anyone else the oppression my cousins suffered from the Nazis, or the pogroms and the Cossack raids my Grandparents fled. In my eyes you cannot be a real Jew, despite your yamulkas, your teffilin and your mezuzahs, if you have not learned that simple lesson.

Last Monday I was proud to stand with the real Jews in Parliament Square against those who profess Judaism and fail its basic moral test. If anyone doubted that on Monday, by Saturday the leaders of that assembly were excusing the pre-meditated shooting of Palestinian children and civilians.

In cheder I learned about the prophets, the truth tellers, who called out against the proud leaders of Israel and Judea and were excoriated by the Kings and their courtiers who thought their power and riches excused all. Plus ça change…

The ‘Jewish nation’ is the central myth of Zionism. It needs to be dismantled

Jonathan Ofir argues that trying to imagine a Jewish nation into existence leads to nonsensical parodies of Israeli  citizenship and nationality and excises the Palestinians

Republished by permission from Mondoweiss

Today, April 18th, is the eve of Israel’s 70th Independence Day. Some are probably wondering how that may be possible, if Israel declared its independence on the evening of May the 14th. The answer is, that Israel celebrates the event as if it was a Jewish holiday, according to the moon calendar, which most often does not coincide with the Latin, sun-based calendar.

This is only one aspect in how Israel seeks to apply itself as a “Jewish State”. But I am going to speak about an even more essential ideological aspect that sits at the heart of Zionism. It is not the notion of the Jewish state as such, but the notion of the Jewish nation.

Continue reading “The ‘Jewish nation’ is the central myth of Zionism. It needs to be dismantled”

Tell us what you mean when you say antisemitism

Brian Robinson describes how much discourse about antisemitism is unhelpful because issues around Israel keep intruding and even Jews find themselves silenced. We must confront an epidemic of hysteria if we are to have a sensible conversation

The problem with almost all discussions on television, radio, print media, and also recent street demonstrations, with respect to antisemitism is that the participants never seem to define the word, but everyone assumes, and leaves the reader, listener, viewer, observer to assume that we’re all talking about the same thing. Antisemitism was classically always about discrimination against, or hatred of, or exclusion of Jews as Jews, simply for being Jews, regardless of anything they did or didn’t do. Various refinements of that definition include adding phrases to include the notion of stereotypical projections, where Jews are perceived in prejudicial ways to be something they are not. The Oxford philosopher Brian Klug, for instance, uses scare quotes, as in for example, ‘Hatred of Jews as “Jews”’.

The arrival of Israel on the scene has complicated this account, partly because Israel calls itself ‘the Jewish state’ and partly because Israeli politicians have regularly claimed to speak and indeed to act for all Jews on the planet, not just on behalf of Israeli Jews. Indeed a proposed ‘Basic Law’ some years ago wanted to claim that Israel is ‘the nation state of the Jewish people’, which would have carried the bizarre corollary that the nation state of a British person who happened to be Jewish was Israel and not the United Kingdom. (Leave aside for now the controversial question of whether there is such a thing as ‘the Jewish people’ in the way there is, for example, a French people. Jewishness, after all, has primarily, some would say exclusively, a religious definition. You can’t for instance be ‘culturally’ Jewish or a ‘secular’ Jew without some prior existence as a born Jew, or one by conversion.)

Jews wrongly held responsible for Israel’s actions

Why this complicates the picture is simply that some people may simply take the proclamations of Israeli governments at their word and falsely blame all Jews everywhere for the actions of Israel, including its crimes against the Palestinians. However there is an additional problem. Many Jews internationally do support Israel whatever it does and are reluctant to be highly critical of Israel’s actions. Leading spokespersons of the Jewish community, for instance here in the UK, secular and religious, regularly remain silent for example as they have done during the many instances of highly disproportionate Israeli military actions against people in Gaza, or almost entirely silent apart from a few muttered words of mild reservation or dissent. (I know personally a number of religiously observant Jews who have found they can no longer participate in synagogue services because of sermons wholly supportive of Israel, and which also discourage criticisms of Israel by congregants.) This can lead to an impression, at best, of silence giving consent.

Suppose that I, to use a phrase that has itself come in for criticism from many Zionists, suppose that ‘as a Jew’ I am condemnatory of Israel’s crimes, and suppose I go further to say that although Israel has been extremely bad for the Palestinians whose lives and prospects its creation wrecked, and is still wrecking, it has also been bad for the Jews? Suppose I add that in making the religion of Judaism so profoundly Israelocentric, it has debased and corrupted that religion and its practice? Suppose I claim in addition that although it’s easy to see just why, in the aftermath of the Holocaust Zionism went from being a minority interest in Jewry worldwide to the major force that it is today, but that nevertheless it was never, as many farseeing and prominent Jewish individuals saw at the time of the Balfour Declaration itself, it was always the wrong answer to the persecution of the Jews in Europe? Suppose I add that Israel, tragically, has been itself a major cause of today’s anti-Jewish prejudice?

Who is the victim?

Suppose I were to say to some of my fellow-Jews: “Look, if you continue to permit your authorised spokespersons to claim publicly that most of you support the brutality that Jewish-Israel is inflicting on its oppressed Other, why would you be surprised if many people of goodwill, perturbed and angered at that ongoing brutality, transfer and express some of that anger towards you, its avowed supporters? If a man is beating a slave and a witness is angered at the sight and protests to try to stop the beating, the protesting witness is going to be angry with a third man who begins shouting in support of the brute and to stifle the protester’s words and nullify him with bogus accusations. Where is the justification for your claims of injured victimhood?”

The following scenario has been depicted: Imagine some day you overhear a person in a pub saying to his friends, ‘Jews shouldn’t be living here amongst us, they should go and live with their own kind in a country of their own’, is this person a Zionist or an antisemite? And we know that it could be either, which is not to say that all antisemites are Zionists or that all Zionists are antisemites. In my own childhood that would have sounded absurd to pretty much all the fellow-Jews I knew at the time. Nevertheless we know Zionists can be enthusiastic antisemites, and vice versa.

So, suppose I make any of the above statements, does that make me antisemitic, or a self-hating Jew? Of course it doesn’t. And although my feelings on the matter can never make me want to leave being Jewish, whatever definition I employ for that embraced identity, it can fortify my reluctance to identify with a community that appears to indulge such inexcusable apologetics for Israeli atrocities.

None of the above is to deny that antisemitism exists, of course it does, but overwhelmingly though not exclusively on the right politically, as we can see all too unpleasantly in a number of European countries today. Where it exists it must be fought against. When hate speech occurs, from whatever source, it should be a matter for the police.

Epidemic of Hysteria

But recently in the UK there has been what I can only call an epidemic of hysteria involving the exaggeration of ancient fears (however historically conditioned by a real and tragic past) with the result that some ignorant bigot’s idiot tweet becomes the urgent harbinger of oh-my-god-we’re-all-about-to-be-gassed (again).

As Jews (if I may) we have never been so socially confident in this country, nor so ontologically secure in so many parts of the world, current exceptions notwithstanding. It would merely have been transparently silly had it not been so dangerous for the Jewish community here to have suggested, to have implied without ever actually saying, that Jeremy Corbyn was somehow himself tainted with antisemitism, when everything we know about him over the years is sufficient to guarantee the self-negation of such a thought.

It’s time for everyone, and that includes not least everyone in the Labour party, to calm down and come to their senses.

When did I stop being a Jew?

Mike Cushman, chair of FSOI, explains that to be Jewish is not about supporting Israel but about abiding by a moral code that stands against oppression

Those of us in Free Speech on Israel and even more our colleagues in Jewish Voice for Labour are accused every day on Twitter of not being real Jews. I, like soMike Cushmanme of our other activists, am a Jewish atheist but others of my colleagues are observant and some work for shuls. But this is not good enough for our detractors. This trolling by apologists for Israel is meant to both hurt us on a personal level and devalue our efforts to show that not all Jews rally to Israel’s crimes.

I was born of a Jewish mother, which under Jewish law is definitive even if I had not been circumcised, as I was, eight days later. I was Jewish enough to go to cheder every Sunday to learn about Jewish history and fail to learn Hebrew – but then on the other six days I also failed to learn French.

I was Jewish enough to be Bar Mitzvah and enthused enough by that to attend shul every Saturday for a time, until I stopped believing in a God who intervened in our daily lives. Despite that, I was still Jewish enough in 1967 to volunteer to go to Israel to help save it. An offer I soon came to regret and which the Israelis had the good sense to decline; I would have been useless. By about 1970 I had come to realise that the six-day war had not led to salvation but to occupation and illegality.

I did not come from a very observant family, like many others more high-holiday than every day Jews. But Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur were important days for our family and every year my parents held a seder for our extended family – one of the high spots of my year. As the youngest I enjoyed asking the four questions, I still enjoy asking awkward questions, and was fascinated by the escalating arithmetic of the plagues and the disputatious, logical to the point of nonsense, nature of Jewish argument it demonstrated.

I remained Jewish enough that when my mother could no longer live independently I made sure she was looked after in Nightingale House, the renamed Home for Aged Jews, and to arrange my parents’ funerals with the help of their synagogue (of which my uncle had been president for many years).

I have always said I am a Jew for as long as the Nazis say I’m a Jew and for as long as Israel says I have the right to ‘return’ to a country I have never lived in.

I am a Jew by birth and culture, not by religion – by choice – nor by race, since there is no Jewish race.

I am Jew who is haunted by the experience of my unknown and uncounted cousins who died in Warsaw or Treblinka and I ask myself what does that experience teach me? As explained by my parents, it means that it places an obligation on all Jews never to visit on anyone else the oppression my cousins suffered from the Nazis, or the pogroms and the Cossack raids my Grandparents fled. In my eyes you cannot be a real Jew, despite your yamulkas, your teffilin and your mezuzahs, if you have not learned that simple lesson.

Last Monday I was proud to stand with the real Jews in Parliament Square against those who profess Judaism and fail its basic moral test. If anyone doubted that on Monday, by Saturday the leaders of that assembly were excusing the pre-meditated shooting of Palestinian children and civilians.

In cheder I learned about the prophets, the truth tellers, who called out against the proud leaders of Israel and Judea and were excoriated by the Kings and their courtiers who thought their power and riches excused all. Plus ça change…

Labour right’s failed attempt to smear leading Jewish activist

The suspension from the Labour Party of Glyn Secker, secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour, and his hurried reinstatement, goes to the heart of attempts by Labour’s right-wing bureaucracy to drive out supporters of the left led by Jeremy Corbyn. It demonstrates how they used smears, from overtly anti-Corbyn, anti-Palestinian sources, to try and make false antisemitism allegations stick.

This is an edited and updated extract from an OpenDemocracy article by Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, media officer of JVL

Glyn Secker captained the Jewish Boat to Gaza in 2010. He is a long-standing executive member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. He is also a Unite trade union delegate to Dulwich and West Norwood (DaWN) Constituency Labour Party general committee and political officer for Herne Hill branch. He is one of those members of the Momentum grassroots movement backing Jeremy Corbyn who only recently managed to break the stranglehold of the Blairite “Progress” faction which had dominated DAWN for years. Continue reading “Labour right’s failed attempt to smear leading Jewish activist”

Expulsions and Ongoing Suspensions

This statement about the expulsion of Tony Greenstein from the Labour Party has been issued by Jewish Voice for Labour. Free Speech on Israel fully endorses this statement.

Expulsions and Ongoing Suspensions

JVL, along with all committed to democracy in the Labour Party, continues to be shocked by the unjust and unprofessional  way in which complaints and disciplinary actions are being handled in the Labour Party. It has been clear that there has been one approach to concerns raised about left-wing members of the Party, especially when they are strong advocates for the rights of Palestinians, and another approach to concerns raised about members on the right.

We deplore the fact that a review of disciplinary procedures has not been included in the Party’s Democracy Review. These opaque processes, which seem to give virtually unlimited discretion to unelected officials, would not be tolerated by any affiliated trade union; but they have been employed for over two years to attack supporters of Palestinian rights, critics of Israel and supporters of the policies for which Jeremy Corbyn stands. These processes were heavily criticised in the Chakrabarti Report, which recommended that they be replaced by arrangements which respect due process based on natural justice. This report was accepted by the NEC,  but after 20 months the recommendations on disciplinary procedures still remain on the shelf, whilst further suspensions and expulsions proceed.

The lack of due process in Tony Greenstein’s case has been appalling. Along with others, he had been suspended for an unconscionable length of time and now expelled, mainly on accusations relating to postings he has made after his suspension, and not for antisemitism. This shift in the charges against him was a belated recognition that such an accusation could never stack up against Tony, who has consistently campaigned against antisemitism, as well as against Zionism and the actions of the State of Israel.

Tony’s disciplinary panel stated that: “It [the NCC] must accept, and act upon, the findings of the Chakrabarti Report.” But his hearing was an abuse of the natural justice which Chakrabarti made the centre-piece of her recommendations. Against him stood a barrister, a solicitor and a full time national officer who oversees the disciplinary procedures, whilst he was only permitted representation if he could pay for a solicitor. He was not allowed to have any other advocate; his only support was to be accompanied by a silent friend.

In the current interregnum, and shortly with a new General Secretary in post, we trust that decisions already taken will be re-examined, with all outstanding proceedings being halted and then swiftly revisited should there be cases to answer using the basic principles outlined in the Chakrabarti Report.

 

Malicious smears against Labour Party General Secretary candidate Jennie Formby

Jennie Formby
Free Speech on Israel welcomes the statement from Unite defending the union’s South-East Regional Secretary Jennie Formby against antisemitism allegations.
Accusations levelled against Jennie Formby by the group calling itself Labour Against Anti-Semitism are just the latest in its campaign of malicious and baseless charges targeting the Labour Left.
LAAS was created and exists for the sole purpose of suppressing criticism of the state of Israel for its crimes against the people of Palestine. Its smearing tactics have nothing to do with combatting real antisemitism – hostility, prejudice or discrimination against Jews because they are Jews. They expose their malicious intent by citing a definition of antisemitism which has been discredited for conflating criticism of Israel with criticism of Jews, thereby endangering free speech for those campaigning for justice for Palestinians.
In attacking Jennie Formby LAAS are vilifying a committed anti-racist campaigner.
They are also deliberately trying to disrupt the important process of appointing a new general secretary of the Labour Party – a role Jennie Formby is eminently qualified to fill.

Sam Semoff

Free Speech on Israel is saddened to learn of the death of Sam Semoff. Sam was a dedicated supporter of FSOI, opponent of Zionist oppression of Palestinians and a leading figure in campaigns against privatisation of the health service

Sam Semoff
Sam Semoff

Sam’s comrades in Liverpool have published this tribute

It was with great sadness that we heard  of the passing of the much loved American Jewish socialist and fighter, Sam Semoff.

Sam was a stalwart of Liverpool Friends of Palestine for many years, but also became the figurehead of the campaign against the PFI funded new Royal Liverpool Hospital. Attacked personally by Liverpool’s mayor in the Liverpool Echo, Sam continued to campaign for the NHS during the last days of his life, and his death a week before the collapse of Carillion cheated him of the satisfaction of public vindication.

His involvement in politics went back to the sixties, something I only learned about recently. He acted as my Silent Friend when I was interviewed by the Labour Party’s Compliance Unit last year, and it was during this interview that I caught a glimpse of this history. Sam wasn’t a very good silent friend, in that he wasn’t at all silent. We recorded the interview, so I can quote him here, word for word. When the Labour Party interviewer recklessly invited Sam to ask a question at the end of the interview, Sam asked him for his definition of antisemitism. I quote:

I moved to Britain in the seventies. Ahm. I was brought up in an orthodox Jewish household, in New Jersey.… the majority of the community was Jewish but there was a small segment of Polish Catholics who used to beat me up as a kid coming home from school because I killed Christ. I lost an aunt in the holocaust. So I’m a bit sensitive, ahm, when I keep hearing the word, which you used frequently, anti-Semitism. I would just like to ask, plain and simple, what’s your definition of anti-Semitism?

When he received the answer that the Compliance Unit was using the Zionist definition used by the Community Security Trust (a pro-Israel lobby group, which incorporates anti-Zionism within the definition of antisemitism) Sam gave the young man a lecture on the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Again, Sam’s words:

By using the CST definition of anti-Semitism, which includes opposition to a Jewish state in its anti-Semitism definition, well, it will completely skew any report that you will do. I’m Jewish, as I say, my definition of anti-Semitism is when someone says to me, ‘I hate you because you’re Jewish’. If someone expresses dislike or animosity toward a group of individuals because they’re Jewish, that’s anti-Semitism. It has nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with a, a Jewish state. I’m a Jewish person and I question its existence and if you’re gonna use the CST definition of anti-Semitism, then that will skew your investigation completely.

The exchange (if you can call it that – the young interviewer was completely out of his depth and didn’t have much to say in reply) was very funny, despite the seriousness of the issues. It ended with Sam adding a parting comment, in which he explained his journey from youthful left Zionist to campaigner on behalf of Palestinian rights, and in which he also encapsulated what he felt was the heart of Jewishness. It chimes with me, and is why I am such an admirer of many Jewish people and their traditions.

No, there’s something else. It’s just… I remember a political gathering at a friend’s house, just after the six day war. 1967. Sorry, but it’s relevant. We were mostly Jewish. I was still clinging by my fingernails to some notion of left Zionism, but there was an old fella there who didn’t say too much, and he changed me. He’d come down from New York, and he was in a wheelchair. He was in a wheelchair cos of the Freedom Summer. 1964. He’d gone down on a voter registration drive in Mississippi and he’d taken a bullet in the spine. Right? This old guy personified to me what being Jewish was about. Being Jewish, it’s about equality, it’s about the struggle for justice, right? And the whole idea of the only ethnic state on the planet, right, it’s an obscenity. And I’m saying that as a Jewish person.

You were a mensche, comrade. Farewell.

Jon Davies has written this obituary

Sam Semoff was born to an orthodox Jewish mother and a Jewish communist father, who emigrated from Eastern Europe to Pennsylvania to become homesteaders.  An early attachment to left Zionism was dispelled by a meeting in the late sixties with a wheelchair using Jewish activist who’d taken a racist’s bullet whilst on a voter registration drive in the deep south. The germ of his pro-Palestine campaigning was sown by this meeting:  This old guy personified to me what being Jewish was about. Being Jewish, it’s about equality, it’s about the struggle for justice, right? And the whole idea of the only ethnic state on the planet, right, it’s an obscenity. And I’m saying that as a Jewish person.”

Working in the early days of electron microscopy, Sam arrived in Liverpool in the early eighties, having been offered a PhD place, and then a research post at the School of Tropical Medicine. Two lists of student landlords were discovered, one of landlords who accepted non-white tenants and another which didn’t. Sam’s complaint to Senate over this condoning of racial profiling was denied and when he went public, the promised research position went to someone else.

He was active in the Labour Party during the eighties, resigned over the Iraq war, and then rejoined with the election of Corbyn as leader. He was briefly Chair of Liverpool Riverside CLP just before his long-time political adversary Louise Ellman, a committed Zionist, was accepted as candidate. His activism involved him with the Somali community, with which he had close links, pro-Palestine solidarity, and, latterly, with campaigns to save the NHS, against the closure of Liverpool Women’s Hospital and to prevent the building of the new PFI funded (Carillion!) Liverpool Royal Hospital. He was a regular on pickets and demos, latterly lugging his bottle of oxygen.

Zionism grievously damaged the inspiring tradition of Jewish leadership in struggles against injustice and autocracy. Sam Semoff’s life is a shining example of how it has nevertheless survived. His warmth, engaging twinkle and unquenchable battling spirit will be hugely missed.

 

Labour smears Israel’s critics as antisemites

Free Speech on Israel is supporting the Labour against the Witch-hunt’s

Lobby of the Labour Party NEC

Tuesday 23 January
11.00 a.m.-1.00 p.m.

Southside, 105 Victoria Street London SW1E 6QT

1. A moratorium on any new NCC witch-hunt cases
2. The withdrawal of all outstanding NCC witch-hunt cases
3. The immediate implementation of the Chakrabarti report recommendations on Labour’s disciplinary procedures in respect of natural justice and due process

Labour activist and co-founder of Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign Tony Greenstein will shortly undergo a Labour Party disciplinary hearing over accusations of alleged antisemitic comments made online. Greenstein was suspended from Labour back in 2016 when the remarks first came to light. Greenstein has maintained the content was legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and not derogatory statements about Jews. 

Moshé Machover, a British-Israeli activist and member of the UK’s Labour Party, has prepared the following testimony in defence of Greenstein. Machover was also the founder of the Israeli socialist political party Matzpen.  Continue reading “Labour smears Israel’s critics as antisemites”

Hating JVP Shows A Lack Of Good Faith

Jerry Haber

Readers will recognise similar tactics used by Zionist Zealots to abuse supporters of Palestinian Rights in the UK. They will also recognise the methods of taking phrases out of context and making the most negative possible interpretation of statements in the charges of antisemitism made in Labour Party disciplinary cases and elsewhere – editor

This article first appeared in The Forward and is reprinted by permission of the author

Philosophers have something called “the principle of charity,” which requires interpreting a speaker’s statements to be rational and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation.

There ought to be a similar “principle of op-ed charity,” which requires the writer to read the opposition’s statements and arguments in good faith and with the strongest possible interpretation before making criticisms. Too often, we find the opposite: an op-ed that misconstrues, misreads, and offers “evidence” that doesn’t support the claims under attack. Continue reading “Hating JVP Shows A Lack Of Good Faith”