Kuk im on, dem tone

I don’t know whether Norman Geras or Eve Garrard speak Yiddish. My guess would have to be not, as neither of them has much of a sense of irony. For proof, simply take a look at this document over on Normblog. Norm and Eve, writing in a cod-philosophical style for reasons that escape me, are replying to the recent (and entirely welcome) formation of Independent Jewish Voices.

The article is entitled “Just because you’re Jewish, it doesn’t mean you’re right”, and opens with the statement that “There are people who seem to think that if a certain kind of view is held by a Jew, this gives it special authority… The fact that someone happens to think something as a Jew, or to hold the same opinion as a Jew, is neither here nor there in establishing its cogency.” Are Norm and Eve criticising the attempts by their Engagenik buddies to suppress criticism of Israel, or their assumption that goyim (except for reliable “friends of Israel”) have no moral authority to speak on the Middle East, because criticism of the Israeli state is a sure sign of anti-Semitism? No, they are not. As is par for the course with the Euston crowd, their strictures do not apply to themselves.

What the article seems to be about – and the tautologies and logical leaps don’t make it easy to follow – is that Norm and Eve are worried that the IJV people, because they are Jewish and vocally so, will be taken seriously when they have a dig at Israeli policy. This involves a lot of meandering around hypothetical questions of whether it is possible for a fierce defender of Israel to have a clearer view than a fierce critic (Norm and Eve do not say so, but they strongly imply the fierce Zionist to have a priori a clearer view); the issue of whether critics of Israel are succumbing to goyishe social pressures (although Norm and Eve disclaim the term “self-hating Jew”, here it is in essence); that critics of Israel are obsessed with striking a high moral tone (concern with Jewish morality takes second place to tribal solidarity); and that nobody can legitimately criticise Israel without giving pre-eminence to Israel’s security concerns.

While Norm and Eve put some effort into psychoanalysing the IJVniks, they skirt around the main point. That is, Israel claims to represent the entire Jewish people, and bodies such as the Board of Deputies – a self-perpetuating oligarchy – are usually assumed by the goyim to represent British Jewry in toto, although at least 90% of British Jews couldn’t tell you how the Board of Deputies is elected. It would make sense, then, for Jews who object to Israeli policies to say, “Not in my name”. This is precisely what annoys Norm and Eve, hence their designation of the IJVniks as “Self-Appointed Jews”, their apparent euphemism for “self-hating”.

For a serious look at what Norm and Eve really mean, it is worth returning to the Open Letter to Jews for Justice for Palestinians co-signed by Norm, Eve and Shalom Lappin last August. This is more revealing in that its language is less diplomatic, JFJFP being a less respectable body. The most striking thing is that Norm, Eve and Shalom rip into their antagonists for claiming that Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians violates traditional Jewish values. Of course, it depends which brand of traditional Jewish values you mean. One might expect Norm, for instance, to identify with the universalist humanism of Karl Marx or Rosa Luxemburg.

But no – our scientific materialists, who I am certain rarely darken the doors of a shul, cite as a moral and political authority the fucking Talmud! Specifically, they harp on some dictum of Hillel’s from Pirke Ovos about Jews who “separate themselves from the community”. Vos nokh? Is Norm growing a beard? Is Eve shaving her head and putting on a sheytl? Where do these jokers, who have no serious connection to the religious or cultural life of the Jewish community, get off telling other Jews that they have separated themselves from the community?

The answer of course is the Israeli state, the ersatz religion of many Jews who have abandoned Judaism. According to this standard, by siding with those oppressed by fellow Jews, a Jew does not fulfil a basic moral obligation but, in breaking tribal solidarity, “separates herself from the community”. Thus we have the full implication of Norm and Eve’s “Self-Appointed Jew” – those Jews who deviate a millimetre from what the Engagenik milieu determine to be legitimate criticism of Israel – and that’s a very narrow spectrum indeed – forfeit their right to be called Jews. Meanwhile, atheists of Jewish background can assert their membership of the “community” by obeisance to the Zionist golden calf.

3 Comments

  1. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 28, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    I’m not one hundred per cent convinced by your criticism. Geras makes it fairly clear what he supports, i.e. a two state solution with a capital in East Jerusalem. That he overemphasises the negative in his original letter is hardly the worst of crimes. Nor is a certain partisan feeling towards Israel which he carefully seperates from it’s government. So I think your point about “legitimate criticism of Israel – and that’s a very narrow spectrum indeed” isn’t entirely fair. Seems to me one could launch a fairly strong attack on Israeli government actions from the ground he stands upon.

    Having said that, yes there are issues of inconsistency as regards the ‘Jewish’ critique he proposes. And yet it’s not entirely unreasonable to suggest that as with the situation in Ireland cross currents of religion, political ideology and culture will become entangled in a way that can trip up even the most cautious materialist.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 1, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    There may be something to that. What grips me about Norm is the distance between what he says when he’s being formal and cautious and his reactions to real events. So he’s careful to say that criticism of Israel isn’t necessarily anti-Semitic, but he does have a tendency to pin that label on any actual criticism he comes across. Same with the issue of the two states and Israel withdrawing to its 1967 borders. This always gets hedged about with how the Palestinians need to prove their worthiness as negotiating partners.

    But what struck me about Norm’s article was his insistence that Jews hold diverse opinions on Israel and then the kneejerk condemnation of the IJV people. I’m not sure, but I suspect Norm sees himself as the moderate extreme (as opposed to the Likudniks) and people more critical than him must then be dodgy. That’s just my inference of course, and it would be nice if Norm would say otherwise in so many words.

  3. WorldbyStorm said,

    March 1, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    Absolutely, and for what it’s worth I agree with you that Geras sees himself about being the moderate extreme. Like you I wish in a way he, and others of his political ilk, could work this out more clearly. There is a defense of Israel as it stands in terms of it’s existing reality within the 67 borders (although I also think that it will require a degree of reform – even before we move to a more left position, and I think in particular of the interesting proposals put forward by Israeli Arabs over the past couple of days). But you’re absolutely correct, this stuff about not having a ‘partner for peace’, even if Geras ( I presume) wouldn’t say that himself, is tawdry stuff.


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