Jews are not responsible for what Israel does

London solidarity demonstration, 16th May 2021: Screengrab: ITV News

JVL Introduction

“It is racist – antisemitic, if you prefer – to hold Jews, individually or collectively, accountable for Israel’s crimes,” writes Jonathan Cook.

We are all agreed.

But does that absolve those – Jews and non-Jews alike – who actively aid and abet Israel in committing those crimes, or seek to silence support for Palestinians by dishonestly demonising and falsely alleging antisemitism, from bearing some responsibility for the fact that the Israeli regime feels free to act illegally with impunity?

We expect howls of outrage at the very suggestion. We would urge critics to deal with Jonathan Cook’s carefully measured – though passionate – presentation of the argument and the evidence, and not simply scream “antisemitism”.

But we suspect those whose arguments Cook is engaging with are, by the very form in which they present them, impervious to any reasoning about them.

This article was originally published by Jonathan Cook's blog on Sat 22 May 2021. Read the original here.

Jewish groups that aid Israel’s war crimes can’t deny all responsibility for those crimes

Here is something that can be said with great confidence. It is racist – antisemitic, if you prefer – to hold Jews, individually or collectively, accountable for Israel’s crimes. Jews are not responsible for Israel’s war crimes, even if the Israeli state presumes to implicate Jews in its crimes by falsely declaring it represents all Jews in the world.

Very obviously, it is not the fault of Jews that Israel commits war crimes, or that Israel uses Jews collectively as a political shield, exploiting sensitivities about the historical suffering of Jews at the hands of non-Jews to immunise itself from international opprobrium.

But here is something that can be said with equal certainty. Israel’s apologists – whether Jews or non-Jews – cannot deny all responsibility for Israel’s war crimes when they actively aid and abet Israel in committing those crimes, or when they seek to demonise and silence Israel’s critics so that those war crimes can be pursued in a more favourable political climate.

Such apologists – which sadly seems to include many of the community organisations in Britain claiming to represent Jews – want to have their cake and eat it.

They cannot defend Israel uncritically as it commits war crimes or seek legislative changes to assist Israel in committing those war crimes – whether it be Israel’s latest pummelling of civilians in Gaza, or its executions of unarmed Palestinians protesting 15 years of Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave – and accuse anyone who criticises them for doing so of being an antisemite.

But this is exactly what has been going on. And it is only getting worse.

Upsurge in antisemitism?

As a ceasefire was implemented yesterday, bringing a temporary let-up in the bombing of Gaza by Israel, pro-Israel Jewish groups in the UK were once again warning of an upsurge of antisemitism they related to a rapid growth in the number of protests against Israel.

These groups have the usual powerful allies echoing their claims. British prime minister Boris Johnson met community leaders in Downing Street on Thursday pledging, as Jewish News reported, “to continue to support the community in the face of rising antisemitism attacks”.

Those Jewish leaders included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a supporter of Johnson who played a part in helping him win the 2019 election by renewing the evidence-free antisemitism smears against the Labour party days before voting. It also included the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which was founded specifically to whitewash Israel’s crimes during its 2014 bombardment of Gaza and has ever since been vilifying all Palestinian solidarity activism as antisemitism.

In attendance too was the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella organisation for Britain’s main Jewish community groups. In an article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on this supposed rise in antisemitism in the UK, the JLC’s vice-president, Daniel Korski, set out the ridiculous, self-serving narrative these community groups are trying to peddle, with seemingly ever greater success among the political and media elite.

Popular outrage over Gaza

Korski expressed grave concern about the proliferation of demonstrations in the UK designed to halt Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. During 11 days of attacks, more than 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children. Israel’s precision air strikes targeted more than a dozen hospitals, including the only Covid clinic in Gaza, dozens of schools, several media centres, and left tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless.

The sense of popular outrage at the Israeli onslaught was only heightened by the fact that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had clearly engineered a confrontation with Hamas at the outset to serve his immediate personal interests: preventing Israeli opposition parties from uniting to oust him from power.

In his naked personal calculations, Palestinian civilians were sacrificed to help Netanyahu hold on to power and improve his chances of evading jail as he stands trial on corruption charges.

But for Korski and the other community leaders attending the meeting with Johnson, the passionate demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians are their main evidence for a rise in antisemitism.

‘Free Palestine’ chants

These community organisations cite a few incidents that undoubtedly qualify as antisemitism – some serious, some less so. They include shouting “Free Palestine” at individuals because they are identifiable as Jews, something presumably happening mostly to the religious ultra-Orthodox.

But these Jewish leaders’ chief concern, they make clear, is the growing public support for Palestinians in the face of intensifying Israeli aggression.

Quoting David Rich, of the Community Security Trust, another Jewish organisation hosted by Johnson, the Haaretz newspaper reports that “what has really shaken the Jewish community … ‘is that demos are being held all over the country every day about this issue’ [Israel’s bombardment of Gaza].”

Revealingly, it seems that when Jewish community leaders watch TV screens showing demonstrators chant “Free Palestine”, they feel it as a personal attack – as though they themselves are being accosted in the street.

One doesn’t need to be a Freudian analyst to wonder whether this reveals something troubling about their inner emotional life: they identify so completely with Israel that even when someone calls for Palestinians to have equal rights with Israelis they perceive as a collective attack on Jews, as antisemitism.

Exception for Israel

Then Korski gets to the crux of the argument: “As Jews we are proud of our heritage and at the same time in no way responsible for the actions of a government thousands of miles away, no matter our feelings or connection to it.”

But the logic of that position is simply untenable. You cannot tie your identity intimately to a state that systematically commits war crimes, you cannot classify demonstrations against those war crimes as antisemitism, you cannot use your position as a “Jewish community leader” to make such allegations more credible, and you cannot exploit your influence with world leaders to try to silence protests against Israel and then say you are “in no way responsible” for the actions of that government.

If you use your position to prevent Israel from being subjected to scrutiny over allegations of war crimes, if you seek to manipulate the public discourse with claims of antisemitism to create a more favourable environment in which those war crimes can be committed, then some of the blame for those war crimes rubs off on you.

That is how responsibility works in every other sphere of life. What Israel’s apologists are demanding is an exception for Israel and for themselves.

Lobby with the UK’s ear

In another revealing observation seeking to justify claims of an upsurge in antisemitism, Korski adds: “We don’t see the same kind of outpouring of emotion when it comes to the Rohingya or the Uighurs or Syria, and it makes a lot of Jews feel this is about them [as Jews].”

But there are many reasons why there aren’t equally large demonstrations in the UK against the suffering of the Rohingya and the Uighurs – reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with antisemitism.

The oppressors of the Rohingya and the Uighurs, unlike Israel, are not being generously armed by the British government or given diplomatic cover by Britain or being given preferential trade agreements by Britain.

But equally importantly, the states oppressing the Rohingya and Uighurs – unlike Israel – don’t have active, well-funded lobbies in the UK, with the ear of the prime minister. China and Myanmar – unlike Israel – don’t have UK lobbies successfully labelling criticism of them as racism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that openly seek to influence elections to protect them from criticism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that work with Britain to introduce measures to assist them in carrying out their oppression.

The president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, for example, pressed Johnson at the meeting this week to classify all branches of Hamas, not just its military wing, as a terrorist organisation. That is Israel’s wet dream. Such a decision would make it even less likely that Britain would be in a position to officially distance itself from Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, where Hamas runs the government, and even more likely it would join Israel in declaring Gaza’s schools, hospitals and government departments all legitimate targets for Israeli air strikes.

Pure projection

If you are lobbying to get special favours for Israel, particularly favours to help it commit war crimes, you don’t also get to wash your hands of those war crimes. You are directly implicated in them.

David Hirsch, an academic at the University of London who has been closely connected to efforts to weaponise antisemitism against critics of Israel, especially in the Labour party under its previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, also tries to play this trick.

He tells Haaretz that antisemitism is supposedly “getting worse” because Palestinian solidarity activists have been giving up on a two-state solution. “There used to be a struggle in Palestine solidarity between a politics of peace – two states living side by side – and a politics of denouncing one side as essentially evil and hoping for its total defeat.”

But what Hirsch is doing is pure projection: he is suggesting Palestinian solidarity activists are “antisemites” – his idea of evil – because they have been forced by Israel to abandon their long-favoured cause of a two-state solution. That is only because successive Israeli governments have refused to negotiate any kind of peace deal with the most moderate Palestinian leadership imaginable under Mahmoud Abbas – one that has eagerly telegraphed its desire to collaborate with Israel, even calling “security coordination” with the Israeli army “sacred”.

A two-state solution is dead because Israel made it dead not because Palestinian solidarity activists are more extreme or more antisemitic.

In calling to “Free Palestine”, activists are not demanding Israel’s “total defeat” – unless Hirsch and Jewish community organisations themselves believe that Palestinians can never be free from Israeli oppression and occupation until Israel suffers such a “total defeat”. Hirsch’s claim tells us nothing about Palestinian solidarity activists, but it does tell us a lot about what is really motivating these Jewish community organisations.

It is these pro-Israel lobbyists, it seems, more than Palestinian solidarity activists, who cannot imagine Palestinians living in dignity under Israeli rule. Is that because they understand only too well what Israel and its political ideology of Zionism truly represent, and that what is required of Palestinians for “peace” is absolute and permanent submission?

Better informed

Similarly, Rich, of the Community Security Trust, says of Palestinian solidarity activists: “Even the moderates have become extremists.” What does this extremism – again presented by Jewish groups as antisemitism – consist of? “Now the movement [in solidarity with Palestinians] is dominated by the view that Israel is an apartheid, genocidal, settler-colonialist state.”

Or in other words, these pro-Israel Jewish groups claim there has been a surge in antisemitism because Palestinian solidarity activists are being influenced and educated by human rights organisations, like Human Rights Watch and Israel’s B’Tselem. Both recently wrote reports classifying Israel as an apartheid state, in the occupied territories and inside Israel’s recognised borders. Activists are not becoming more extreme, they are becoming better informed.

And in making the case for a supposed surge in antisemitism, Rich offers another inadvertently revealing insight. He says Jewish children are suffering from online “abuse” – antisemitism – because they find it increasingly hard to participate on social media.

“Teenagers are much quicker to join social movements; we’ve just had Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, #MeToo – now Jewish kids find all their friends are joining this [Palestinian solidarity] movement where they don’t feel welcome or they are singled out because they’re Jewish.”

Fancifully, Rich is arguing that Jewish children raised in Zionist families and communities that have taught them either explicitly or implicitly that Jews in Israel have superior rights to Palestinians are being discriminated against because their unexamined ideas of Jewish supremacy do not fit with a pro-Palestinian movement predicated on equality.

This is as preposterous as it would have been, during the Jim Crow era, for white supremacist Americans to have complained of racism because their children were being made to feel out of place in civil rights forums.

Such assertions would be laughable were they not so dangerous.

Demonised as antisemites

Zionist supporters of Israel are trying to turn logic and the world upside down. They are inverting reality. They are projecting their own racist, zero-sum assumptions about Israel on to Palestinian solidarity activists, those who support equal rights for Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East.

As they did with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, these Jewish groups are twisting the meaning of antisemitism, skewing it from a fear or hatred of Jews to any criticism of Israel that makes pro-Israel Jews feel uncomfortable.

As we watch these arguments being amplified uncritically by leading politicians and journalists, remember too that it was the only major politician to demurred from this nonsensical narrative, Jeremy Corbyn, who became the main target – and victim – of these antisemitism smears.

Now these pro-Israel Jewish groups want to treat us all like Corbyn, demonising us as antisemites unless we fall silent even as Israel once again brutalises Palestinians.

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Comments (13)

  • Hassan says:

    “Very obviously, it is not the fault of Jews that Israel commits war crimes, or that Israel uses Jews collectively as a political shield, exploiting sensitivities about the historical suffering of Jews at the hands of non-Jews to immunise itself from international opprobrium.”

    And its not the fault of Palestinians that there are degenerates going around being antisemitic, supposedly under the banner of being ‘pro-Palestinian’. Not only are those people being harmful to the Jewish community, but also to Palestinians. Police should release names of antisemtic offenders, and make them apologise to the Jewish community and Palestinians.

  • Dr Alan Maddison says:

    Of course genuine incidents of antisemitism are real and need to be condemned by all, but as Jonathan describes so well, there has been an undeniable campaign to use false, or exaggerated, allegations of antisemitism to silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s illegal acts against Palestinians.

    This was successful in contributing to the electoral defeats of the veteran human rights supporter Jeremy Corbyn (according to a CAA officer) and to the unfair demonisation of Labour members, 99.7% of whom over 5 years internet trawling, never faced a single allegation of antisemitism.

    In fact, the antisemitism index of supporters of Boris Johnson in the CAA’s 2019 survey, was almost twice that of supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. The real motive for such attacks on the latter seems more linked to support for Palestinian equal rights, and criticism of Israeli policies, than genuine antisemitism.

    Bernie Sanders has noted a similar pattern in the USA, and said allegations were not to do with antisemitism, but were clear attempts to silence needed debate on Israel and Palestine.

    Academics and journalists have also fallen victims to such smear campaigns, with employers contacted to dismiss them.

    Naturally not all Jewish people participate in such dishonest tactics, and not all of the people who do are Jewish, but I believe those that have may certainly have encouraged Netanyahu to think he could continue to commit brutal and illegal acts, some say recently for personal political gain, with impunity.

    This needs to be recognised and confronted on both sides of the Atlantic, and elsewhere, for it impedes the finding of an equitable solution for all sides.

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    Disgusted by the fake outrage of MPs and their staging an ’emergency debate on antisemitism’ at the very moment that Gaza was being bombed without mercy. Creepy vote-catching letters from some of these MPs in our local newspaper too. Hassan, maybe you have the right to be angry at a few shouters being seen to discredit the Palestinian cause, but surely the disproportion is what is so striking? I continue to refuse the idea that it is antisemitic to ask other Jews in the diaspora to express horror at what is being done to Gaza, and voice support for the Palestinians on strike in Israel. The young observant members of Na’amod have been calling on their communal leaders to take a moral stand. If this had happened and their call had been answered, could I suggest that the guys driving up Finchley Road calling out insults might not have been so motivated to assume that all Jews support the Israeli military?

  • John C says:

    Collective responsibility – as I recall, it was Israel which promoted this idea in the 1970s and 80s.

  • rc says:

    A major trigger for the ‘unrest’ was the annual pogrom (Yom-al Jerusalayim) march by Jewish chauvinists through East Jerusalem -the worst of the Orange marches and the neoNazi parade through Skokie Illinois pale by comparison; it is more reminiscent of the KKK (see Stetson Kennedy’s After Appomattox for the evidence – U P Florida 1995). The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, has participated in such marches and urged British Jews to take part. Is it not incumbent on those Jews who are represented by the Board of Deputies to distance themselves from such a pogromist? Not ‘guilt by association’ – that association leads to the guilt.

  • A good example of the Zionists’ hypocrisy and double standards is the Editor’s Letter which Stephen Pollard of the Jewish Chronicle writes each week. This week he wrote:
    ‘Quite why people going about their daily lives in parts of North London should be linked to Israeli military action is something which lies in the mind of the Jew haters and their fellow travellers.’

    This from someone who spent the past 5 years demonising Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party members for ‘antisemitism’ for the crime of supporting the Palestinians.

    However if Pollard was writing in good faith then I would point him to the Board of Deputies statement on the latest blizkrieg by Israel:

    “We are deeply concerned and saddened by the escalation of violence, and the seemingly unremittent rocket fire against Israeli civilians by Hamas in Gaza.”

    Not a solitary mention of the 230 Palestinians killed by Israel’s bombing nor even the 65 children who were murdered.

    And what is the claim of the Board of Deputies? It proudly proclaims that ‘We are the voice of the UK Jewish community’ on its main web page. Well if that’s true then presumably they claim to speak on behalf of the same North London Jews who they say are suffering from anti-Semitism.

    Is it any wonder that a handful of idiots chose to take the Board at their word and target North London Jews with a convoy spouting anti-Semitic nonsense? The real blame for any rise in anti-Semitism lies firmly with the Board of Deputies, the CST and the so-called Campaign Against Antisemitism

  • DJ says:

    Great article by Jonathan Cook again. What it exposes, is just how ingenuous people like David Rich are when it comes to any discussions on the state of Israel, Palestinian rights and antisemitism.

  • John Noble says:

    Very well thought out and explained, the UK is not the only country to have a poor leader.

  • Paul Wimpeney says:

    Jonathan Cook shows his customary, calm, analytical and cogent approach to identify what most of us have understood but not been able to express nearly so well. He also shows a significant courage by expressing his observations so clearly, since, by his own model of how things work, he will surely be labelled as “antisemitic”.

  • Stan says:

    ‘However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’ IHRA

  • Mike Scott says:

    Jonathan Cook’s analysis is as accurate as usual and is borne out by my own experience here in Nottingham.

    I spoke at the good-sized demonstrations held locally both yesterday and the previous Saturday and began last week by saying one of the many reasons I was there was because I was Jewish and I thought it important to show that many Jews don’t support the Israeli government. I got a massive cheer for that – and another one yesterday for saying it had been the first time I’d been cheered for saying I was Jewish!

    After my first contribution, I was approached by many Muslims who wanted to thank me and shake my hand – one woman praised me for being “so brave”. Yesterday, I emphasised that all racism was equally obnoxious and that we all needed to support each other to stamp it out, whoever it was directed at. There were no signs whatsoever of antisemitism at either demo.

    Those supporting the Israeli bombing are right to be worried – there are signs that the fate of the Palestinians is finally getting some traction in the UK mainstream. We need to do everything possible to encourage that and to look beyond the defunct two-state solution to the best option for a long-term settlement: one democratic state between the river and the sea. Check out the Palestinian-led One Democratic State Campaign on google.

  • Linda says:

    British people in general may feel more personally involved in the Palestinians’ struggles for their “rights” because they think a British Prime Minister (Balfour) facilitated their” wrongs”.

    Balfour, I believe, promised the land on which Israel / Palestine sits to both the Zionists and the Arabs. That’s like me promising to give my house to two different sets of relatives – a disgustingly dishonest deed that sets up long-lasting trouble between both parties.

    I’ve often wondered WHY Balfour behaved so badly. Was he so racist as to assume promises he made to Jews and Arabs didn’t have the same standing as those he made to the major European and US states?

  • Doug says:

    Repeat ad nauseum that Israel is not a Jewish state, call for the Chief Rabbi to resign, he’s no man of God
    Call for vexatious claims of anti semitism to be treated as hate crimes and prosecuted
    Support for the ICC from the Jewish Community would send a strong message
    Keep on keeping on

Comments are now closed.