We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.
Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention, September 2012
It’s a slightly strange feeling to sit in my apartment near Jerusalem and watch the news coverage of the arguments on antisemitism in the Labour party.
Antisemitism has existed in one form or another for at least two millenia, but the term was first used by William Marr in 1879 to describe anti-Jewish attitudes. This seeming anti Jewish attitude came to a head between 1899 and 1936¹ when a variety of factors increased the seeming resistance to help or integrate the Jewish population. This has led to a strengthening of the argument for Israel to be a ‘Jewish State’ to the detriment of all others in the area amongst right wing Jews and zionists (Jewish, Christian and Muslim). This can be seen in clear evidence through the Nation State Law which states amongst its ‘Basic Principles’ that “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” making it perfectly clear that the Israeli government have now put into law the injustice it has been meting out to the other groups in the country, making the move from a democratic state to a Jewish state plain for all to see.
The Labour parties current ails stem from an argument over the International Holocaust Remembrace Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. In itself, there is no problem with the definition which reads:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
However, the problem lies within the examples set out below the definition. These definitions for the most part are simply that, examples. Not binding or all-encompassing but definitely there to shape the thinking of groups and the legal system when dealing with allegations of antisemitism. The issue that Jeremy Corbyn and others see with these examples is that certain aspects of them could be used to stop any criticism of the actions of the State of Israel. For instance, aligning criticism of the Nation State Law with apartheid may be seen as being against the spirit of the definition.
Here in the land of Israel/Palestine you see the apartheid in action. Regardless of the words from the governing parties this land is an apartheid land, it’s an injust land and it’s a land where saying the wrong thing to the wrong person could get you in serious trouble.
Do the majority of Israelis agree with what their government is doing? Honestly I’ve no idea – I suspect that more left leaning ‘Arab’ Israelis are less behind their government than incoming Israelis from foreign lands. At Schipol airport I sat next to a young Israeli from Tel-Aviv. We spoke and he asked why I was going to Israel, I tried my best to give an answer which was vague but answered his question and after this he answered “I hope you’re going to help the Palestinians”. I was somewhat taken aback by his comment and he went on to explain that he was gay and from a very orthodox Jewish family – apparently not a good combination. He said that he had spent a lot of time in Jerusalem and had many Palestinian friends who were far more accepting of who he was than his orthodox family and friends. He said that he had heard from friends what was happening to Palestinians, seen it with his own eyes and understood why they felt that Israel was against them. After a while of chatting about this he said “I would like to visit Bethlehem and other places but can’t, I’ve tried, they turn me back at the checkpoint saying it’s dangerous and illegal”. These words stuck with me and some time later I was listening to Gregory Porter when ‘Take me to the alley’ came and these words brought me back to that story.
Take me to the alley
Take me to the afflicted ones
Take me to the lonely ones
That somehow lost their way.Let them hear me say
I am your friend
Come to my table
Rest here in my garden
You will have a pardon.
O God of life and love and peace,
We witness the violence and injustice in your Holy Land
And our hearts break.
Our hearts break for all Palestinians—
For the victims of violent attacks from Israelis
For those who have endured decades of occupation and oppression
For those whose homes and olive orchards have been demolished
For those who languish in Israeli prisons and in the “open air prison” of Gaza
For those without nearly enough water and electricity and medical care
For those who are refugees, long displaced from their homes.
Our hearts break for the Jewish people of Israel—
For the victims of violent attacks from Palestinians
For those who live with fear and insecurity
For those who re-live the trauma of the Holocaust over and over.
Our hearts break for the wider world—
For those who are indifferent to the pain and suffering in your Holy Land
For those who distort or turn their eyes from truth
For those who fail to see the humanity of all your children.
Heal us all, O God.
Heal the broken and comfort the sorrowful.
Give hope to the hopeless and courage to the fearful.
Strengthen the peacemakers and reconcilers.
Confront those who practice injustice and commit violence.
We especially pray—
That weapons of war be laid down
That walls of separation and the machinery of occupation be dismantled
That prisoners be released
That demonizing of “the other” cease
That political leaders seek the good of all people in Palestine and Israel.
We pray also for ourselves—
That our eyes will be opened to the ways in which our beliefs and actions have contributed to injustice and to violence.
O God, whose heart breaks for the world,
May your justice dwell in the land
May your righteousness abide in fruitful fields
May the effect of righteousness be quietness and trust forever
May the effect of justice be peace — enduring peace.