Guardian

A Case of Mistaken Identity


One thing which has struck me since coming to live in Britain is the sheer number of Jewish organisations which exist here. Besides all the different religious groups and numerous charitable organisations, there are ‘Jews against this’ and ‘Jews in favour of that’, ‘Independent Jewish whatever’ and ‘Affiliated Jewish so and so’. Inevitably, when I ask non-Jewish British people just how many Jews they think live in the UK, they come up with a number between 4 to 5 million. I can hardly blame them for this mistake given the number of Jewish organisations which seem to pop up like mushrooms after the rain. When a minority roughly the size of Wolverhampton speaks in so many contrasting voices, their number is bound to appear inflated.

So I was not surprised two weeks ago to learn from Keith Kahn-Harris’ CiF article of the existence of yet another Jewish organisation; New Jewish Thought. What is curious is that Mr. Kahn-Harris would consider CiF to be an appropriate forum in which to promote the ideas of his organisation. As he has written himself elsewhere:

“Comment Is Free is frequently an outlet for exciting and challenging writing (a judgment that is based on more than the fact that one of us has contributed to it). But when you peruse a typical comment-thread, the problems with it become apparent. What is striking is that few of the comments really engage with the piece they are supposedly commenting on. Instead, most commentators just engage with each other, often with a viciousness that takes your breath away. There is a kind of circularity to the threads, with similar arguments repeated time and time again and rebutted as often.”

Further, as Mr. Kahn-Harris stated in his article, “[p]eople who are civil and capable of calm debate in every other area of their life, often “lose it” when Israel is discussed”. He even echoed this sentiment in a comment of his own later down the thread:

kkahnharris

16 Dec 2009, 11:42AM

Contributor

@TheHebrewHammer

we can argue for hours on who lies and which is propagandah .

but this thread is on Proper discussion ethics .

Abosultely – let’s try and make this different to other CiF Israel threads. Let’s talk about process, about how we talk as much as what we say..

No such luck; the CiF regulars were out in force and making a mockery of Mr. Kahn Harris’ calls to ‘civilise the debate’. One cannot help be reminded of Gil Seidel’s definition of extreme anti-Zionists in his 1986 book ‘The Holocaust Denial’ as being those who refuse to recognise the Jews as a people, refuse to recognise the existence of antisemitism and refuse to recognise Israel as a nation.

FalseConsciousness

16 Dec 2009, 10:25AM

The conviction that Israel is the only way that Jewish survival in a hostile world can be assured; the belief that Israel is currently under serious existential threat; the fear that western intellectuals are legitimising genocidal Islamism under the cover of pro-Palestinian activism: all these anxieties are real and very difficult to live with. It is no surprise that for those who hold these opinions, the sight of Jews collaborating with “those who are out to destroy us” is not only enraging ? it is terrifying.

This attitude is to be expected, after all Israelis are taught from a young age that the whole world is out to destroy the Jews and that there were no Palestinians when European Jews came and stole the land. The Israeli elites are forced to create a deeply-rooted sense of fear in Israelis because this type of reactionary nationalism is the only force capable of keeping Israelis united in this mercenary state that has no right to exist.

Ranong

16 Dec 2009, 10:53AM

ToryZionist will have to face an ugly reality; the level of hatred and the violence that it considers perfectly reasonable is a frightening aspect of Zionism today.

Ranong

16 Dec 2009, 11:53AM

Papalagi’s reference to ideological education is apposite.

It is undoubtedly true that the influence of some yeshivas is violent and racist and can be seen in the behaviour of the “hill-top youth”. Loutishness is loutishness with or without religion.

But how do we account for the apparent satisfaction felt by allegedly 90% of Israelis (though I’ve never believed this figure) when confronted by appalling scenes in Gaza, without fearing that we are dealing with a nation that has been effectively brainwashed into condoning crimes against humanity?

ThePrompter

16 Dec 2009, 11:12AM

The problem with the pro-Israel people, and indeed the Israeli state, is that it sees all criticism as being anti-Jewish, anti what they are rather than what they do. Maybe having this paranoid mind-set is what enables them to justify what they do.

However the anger from the anti-Israel side is rooted in the frustration at the irrational arguments and actions of the pro-Israelis.

Lets face it, it is impossible to have a rational discussion about Israeli policy with someone who immediately accuses you of racism (anti-semitism) as soon as you disagree with them.

People are not against Israel because most Israelis are Jews, they are against Israel because of what Israel does. If pro-Israelis could get their collective heads around this fact then the road to peace in that part of the world would open up before them.

And before people come back with ‘what about the Muslims, what about Hamas?’ Hamas is a reaction to Israeli actions. If Israel had not, and did not continue to abuse the Palestinians, then I doubt that Hamas would exist.

ThePrompter

16 Dec 2009, 1:11PM

Jubilation112.51pm –

What Hitler did to the Jews in Europe, as abominable as that was, might well explain the Israeli feelings of persecution, but does not in any way excuse or justify their treatment of the Palestinians.

It is that treatment that has bought about the rise of groups like Hamas.

pongothecat

16 Dec 2009, 11:21AM

I hope you perish…the sooner you are removed from BGU and the face of the earth, the better.

If this is what staunch Zionistists say to fellow Jews they happen to disagree with, one has little trouble imagining what they say and think (in private) about the Palestinians.

And people wonder why the so-called ‘Peace Process’ never makes any headway…

pongothecat

16 Dec 2009, 11:50AM

@Tenerman-

Evict them. Crush them. Or just tell them what their state will look like and force them to yield. It doesn’t matter.

Thank you for making my point for me. A perfect statement of the ethos of the brute and the bully down the ages. There’s no ‘negotiating’ with such people. You either fight or you lie down and die.

Zionist terrorists like the Stern Gang and the Irgun chose to fight in the 1940’s. Why are you surprised and disgusted that Palestinians choose to do the same? Because you think that they’re less than human? But I think we already know the answer to that question, don’t we?

Sorcey

16 Dec 2009, 12:00PM

TheHebrewHammer:

I want you to try to and make a Pro Israeli voice heard in any university in the states or Europe and you will see what is silencing of opinions .

What an absurd statement – in fact the exact opposite is true. Look at the Dershowitz campaign against Finklestein or the Campus Watch website. Criticism of Israel is met with accusations of anti-semitism and intimidation. Your delusion that it’s the other way around only goes to show how out of touch with reality you are.

Moeran

16 Dec 2009, 12:07PM

It appears that we are witnessing a huge conspiracy to silence Zionist thought across the whole of Europe.

Or perhaps it’s just that the civilised world has turned against racism and annexations in the Middle East , just as it did in the case of South Africa.

RepublicanStones

16 Dec 2009, 6:28PM

‘Palestine doesn;t exists ‘

Are you saying there was never a place on the earth named Palestine?

Tenerman

Evict them. Crush them. Or just tell them what their state will look like and force them to yield. It doesn’t matter

. Zionists done the first, have continually tried the second and yet….lo and behold, they are still there. Your third option would have gone down well in S. Africa 30 years ago.

Mr Khan-Harris, a good article. But as has already been pointed out, the idea of a Israel being necessary to save world Jewry is utterly ridiculous, particualrly in the nuclear age.

Unfortunately there are just too many examples of attempts to stifle legitimate debate about the I/P conflict and they seem to emanate nearly entirely from one side of the debate, why is it?

As another poster here continually says, if Israel is interested in peace fine, zionism then has to go.

LittleRichardjohn

16 Dec 2009, 11:13AM

Tenerman

16 Dec 2009, 10:33AM

This is a philosophical dispute, one in which I see defenders of the Palestinians fundamentally wrong.

One to be settled by Rabbis, perhaps?

What about these rabbis, shaking hands with defenders of Palestine at a demonstration against the bombing of Lebanon?

http://littlerichardjohn.blogspot.com/2006/08/jews-against-zionism-contact-with.html

Not all jews are Zionists. Even some pretty findamentalist Jews.

It’s a shame that so many are more guided in their beliefs by the promise of free land than by their spirituality.

If only more Jews were as big as Naturei Khurta who claim that the Talmud teaches that believers may not use human force to create a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah.

http://www.google.co.uk/#hl=en&q=neturei+karta+international&meta=&aq=1&oq=neturei+karta&fp=a60718907b4ba39b

(TinyURL down)

LittleRichardjohn

16 Dec 2009, 11:42AM

Tenerman

16 Dec 2009, 11:26AM

Not all jews are Zionists. Even some pretty findamentalist Jews.

When I hear the word “Zionist” i roll my eyes.

Out of a population of 7 billion, the problems of a few million Palestinians gets far too much focus for what its worth.

You’re indifference to injustice and slaughter is not universal, thank god. Though I can completely understand why you don’t like to be called a Zionist, or supporter of Zionism.

Proper links this time.

Rabbis shaking hands with defenders of Palestine at a demonstration against the bombing of Lebanon?

It’s a shame that so many Jews are more guided in their beliefs by the promise of free land than by their spirituality.

If only more Jews were as big as Naturei Khurta who claim that the Talmud teaches that believers may not use human force to create a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah.

LittleRichardjohn

16 Dec 2009, 12:42PM

Moeran

16 Dec 2009, 12:07PM

It appears that we are witnessing a huge conspiracy to silence Zionist thought across the whole of Europe.

Except that Zionism is not a philosophy, it is a Land-Grabbing exercise by terrorists. It has no justification in the Torah, and no authority in international law.

Can I have my own country please? I have my own philosophy, and I can easily make it into a religion which claims my rightful homeland is Manhattan Island. That’d be nice. Or maybe Florida.

Who do I bomb first to get my Promised Land?

LittleRichardjohn

16 Dec 2009, 3:24PM

I repeat, if all it takes to get your own country is a religion and a terrorist campaign, when do I get to own Manhattan?

LittleRichardjohn

16 Dec 2009, 3:44PM

TheHebrewHammer

16 Dec 2009, 3:30PM

@LittleRichardjohn

with your logic the Palestinian should have ruled the world .

Except that it’s Zionist logic, and the Palestinians only want back the land they were evicted from.

I’m not sure why or how you can’t see the difference.

When Slobodan Milosevic decided to empty an entire country in pursuit of Greater Serbia, you presumably supprted him. There is no difference between his Messianic claim of a medieval inheritance, and the Zionist bronze Age claim.

At one point on the thread a rather interesting, and indeed revealing, case of mistaken identity on the part of Mr. Kahn-Harris occurred.

kkahnharris

16 Dec 2009, 3:33PM

Contributor

@Shachtman

Supporters of IJV, etc, regularly abuse and insult “pro-Israelis” or those that don’t take an anti-zionist view. Why not pick up on this Keith ?

While my article mostly concerned abusive language by a supporter of Israel, I made it clear in the article and extensively in the comments that the problem is not limited to supporters of Israel. There is no monopoly on angry abusive language and many of the examples you cite are worthy of condemnation.

Also:

your article ends up as a plug for your own project which i think it’s fair to say has bombed.

I don’t know what private knowledge you are drawing on – perhaps you are a psuedonymn for Jonathan Hoffman and you are basing your judgement on the 2008 dialogue group you attended – but I am currently doing behind the scenes work that is involving many senior Jewish leaders. I can’t talk about in in more than general terms but don’t assume that you know everything that is going on.

kkahnharris

16 Dec 2009, 3:49PM

Contributor

@Shachtman

Keith – i am not a pseudonym for Hoffman – if you have read any of my comments re my views on Israel on CIF over the last three years you wiill realise that your comment is ridiculous 92 states along The Green Line , all settlers to leave settlements and Jeruslam to be shared). You should have thought a little more before making such a comment.

Keith – i read your website , i know to an extent what’s going on because i talk to various people. Yet you foolishly accuse me of being Hoffman.

But don’t worry keith as i understand that people get carried away and make silly allegations on the subject of Palestine ./ Israel as you have just shown.

Okay you’re not Jonathan Hoffman! I thought you might be as you seem to be implying you had knowledge of a project that not many people know about. I didn’t check what other comments you have made which would doubtless have demonstrated your differences from JH.

Still, while my comment might have been wrong and maybe foolish, it was hardly an example of the angry hate-filled discourse I am writing about. Rather it was an example of the constant temptations to make undue inferences in the anonymous world of internet comment threads.

In any case, I have never – here or anywhere else – claimed that I am free of the behaviour I wish to change. Actually, what inspired me to try to grapple with these issues is that I lost my temper and made inappropriate comments in a private meeting a couple of years ago. I’m just as human as everyone else is…

On a thread about civility of debate, it was interesting to see that ‘inconvenient’ comments were still being deleted, which hardly bodes well for improving the quality of debate on CiF as Mr. Kahn-Harris hopes for.

SantaMoniker

16 Dec 2009, 1:10PM

I don’t have time to read all the comments (so apologize if I’m repeating another comment) but this line from Keith’s article amused me:

I run a project called New Jewish Thought that attempts to improve the civility of debate within the Jewish community.

You’re looking in the wrong direction, I’m afraid.

How about starting with two other projects?

1) a project called New Gentile Thought that attempts to improve the civility of debate about israel within the non-Jewish community.

2) a project called New CIF Thought that attempts to improve the civility of debate within the CIF community.

The new projects will educate people not to use the sort of language displayed here on a daily basis to incite hatred against Israel. They will require people to learn not to refer to Israelis as fascists, Nazis, usurpers, barbarians, cockroaches, vicious, land-grabbers, terrorists, conspirators, hidden lobbyists. No use of the activities of the Stern gang about 70 years ago to score points for today.

Etc.

Shachtman

16 Dec 2009, 2:56PM

A prime example of how people get carried away in debates must be the moderator on CIF who made an abusive comment against Melanie Philips. It’s easy to counter Mel’s arguments without resorting to insults but the moderator (The Guardian editor’s daughter” still got carried away. Maybe you could do something about this Keith ?

uscuk

16 Dec 2009, 4:46PM

It is very hard for there to be any rational debate; those that support the State of Israel and believe in the right of all Jews to a State of their own in the Historical Jewish Biblical Land Of Israel, are faced with a barage of attacks in the media from Islamists and their supporters, the likes of Galloway, Booth, Ridley etc; but where does the most vociferous anti-Israel hysteria come from? It is the self hating Jews that read this paper, the “trendy, lefty, vegetarian climate change, sandal wearing 30 and 40 yeart old student” types that act like a pack of baying hounds, attacking Israel from whatever angle that happens to be “flavour of the month”, whether it is Settlements, West Bank Produce, The IDF, Tzipi Livny, or whatever attack is currently PC they think will ingratiate themeselves with the UK’s anti-semitic lobby -(who anyway still call them dirty Jews behind their backs).

Iran and the Palestinians we can cope with but for Israel and the Jewish peoples the worst enemies of today are the diasporas self- hating and self denial Jews, many of whom are writers and readers of this paper.

Keith Kahn-Harris seems to have a long way to go both personally and publicly with his project. Maybe one of the ‘new thoughts’ to which Jews need to reconcile themselves is that there do exist forums in which civilised debate is virtually impossible, as any visitor to CiF is aware. I would also be pleased if more British Jews understood that whilst civilised debate is a fine Western tradition, along with many others, it is not necessarily always the appropriate or suitable course of action in a part of the world which works according to very different rules. For British people, Jews or not, to imagine that they are able to identify the dynamics of the Middle East in terms of their own experience and lexicon is a very severe case of mistaken identity.

9 replies »

  1. (I agree with Richard – at first I thought there was something wrong with my computer).

    Israelinurse, thanks for another illustration of the one track mindedness of the Guardianistas.

    I wouldn’t hitch my wagon to anything Keith Kahn-Harris thinks up – to me his sense of judgement is very much in question, particularly since he chooses to publish on CiF.

  2. I thought it was my eyes!

    A couple of comments on this interesting post, Israelinurse.

    I am not sure that the over-estimation re. the amount of Jews living in the UK is necessarily tied up with the amount of Jewish (splitters!) groups there are. I remember a conversation – in the early 1990s – with an ex-skinhead who was amazed when I contradicted his estimation of 3 million Jews living here and provided him with a figure of just under 300,000. He was one of those fascinated by WW2 and the Jews but had outgrown his earlier jouthful flirtation with neo-nazism and was indeed a Guardian reader and, as it happens, had matured into becoming a ‘decent Englishman’. He had a residual, uncomfortable feeling that Jews were ‘over-represented’ in politics, the arts etc. He was also of the opinion that the Shoah had ‘strengthened’ Judaism. He laughed and took the point when I asked him whether he would prefer this small group to hide its talents under a bushel and cease to be a productive part of the population… How does one begin to ‘unpick’ perceptions like these? It is as Anthony Julius notes – that the English unease with Jews is detached from whether there is a Jewish presence here or not – so 300,000 is already too many as it feels like 3 million.

    I don’t know what to make of Kahn-Harris. I would like to know what he himself took from the comments that followed his plea for ‘civility’ – to whom did he think he was pitching?

    On Kahn-Harris himself –

  3. John I take your point about Kahn-Harris’ plea for civility.

    That would be reasonable and feasible if he had not chosen to publish on CiF.

  4. Thanks again to Israelinurse for another fine job.

    Politics is always going to be emotionally charged whether about Israel or the US elections in 2012. What people think and write politically are always going to fire you up if the issue is important to you. NO sense even thinking about civility regarding the complicated IP conflict – especially in political forums like the Guardian where such opposing viewpoints prevail. At the Guardian, if the topic is the Israel-Palestinian conflict, you can expect several hundred post usually covering the same topics time and time again – but almost always the debate is heated.

    Just getting Jews to debate the issues civilly will be nearly impossible for Keith Kahn-Harris (maybe on his sight he can, however), but the rest of the world also? Uh, seems unlikely. Who wants civility anyway?

  5. I missed this thread, seems that Shachtman did a nice job there, and of course Santa Moniker’s comment was spot on — no wonder it got deleted…
    As always, Israelinurse, interesting observations; re. the many Jewish groups you mention, many of them quite fringy: what would Cif do without them? Inform its readers about mainstream Jewish thought???

  6. HairShirt

    John I take your point about Kahn-Harris’ plea for civility. That would be reasonable and feasible if he had not chosen to publish on CiF.

    Agree. And it would be nice to Jews who are heavily critical of Israel but not to the extent of wishing to see it ‘wiped from the pages of History’ clearly disassociating themselves specifically from the ‘clutch’ of ‘Hate Israel’ quasi Jews who infest CI(F).

    I was thinking that it would be nice if the Guardian organised a trip to Israel and the Liberated Territories for some of these social misfits to experience first hand the ‘starving of Gaza’, (find them if you can), a visit to a Palestinian prison in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel proper. A visit to the Knesset and a short talk with Abu Abbas. A visit to an Arab village in Israel. A visit to a Bedouin encampment. A visit to an Ethiopian Jewish area in Israel. Even a visit to an extremist right wing area of the West Bank. (Yes. They do exist – Hebron)

    I wonder if any of them would be unsettled by actually experiencing reality.

  7. FibularSarcosis – I take your point about a trip to Israel and the Liberated territories by the Guardian. It’d increase their cognitive dissonance no end.

    But would Hamas let them wander around at will, without minders, or would they be marched around the same ruins, photographed again and again for different stories, and beset by primed “victims” all too eager to tell about their suffering, carefully egged on by the likes of Ayad al-Saraj the Palestinian psychiatrist, one of whose specialities is blaming Israel for Hamas’ war policies and the effects on children of Hamas’ use of them as human shields?

    I think that they should be fitted with cameras which could send us back images and commentary in real time.

    I am sure that all of them would be unsettled by experiencing reality. I would be banking on it. I think that Georgina Henry should head up the party.