Yaba Yaba

what? another blog? you must be joking.

my short talk yesterday

with 4 comments

I was planning to post my notes for the Jewish Socialist After Gaza event beforehand. Of course, I was still writing them at 7pm. So here they are:

The title of this evening is “After the war on Gaza: What next for the Palestinians? And how can Jews here and in Israel help bring about a just peace?” I would like to start by disqualifying my self from answering both questions. First of all, I don’t think I have a right to tell anyone – Palestinian, British, Israeli, Muslim, Christian, Jewish or other – what they should do. Even if I did, my belief is that the less you tell people what to do, the better a job they do at figuring it out. Second, and perhaps more critical, I have a serious difficulty with the juxtaposition of Palestinians and Jews implied by the title. I see that distinction as the root cause of the current tragic situation, and any statement that emphasises it is dangerous. I will get back to that in a moment.
So what can I offer you tonight? Only this: my fears and hopes for the land I love, and my thoughts about what I should do. If you can help me by commenting on these, I am grateful. If you will find some of the questions I ask myself resonating with your own, then perhaps your time has not been wasted. If not, my apologies. I’ll try to keep it short.
Sitting here, looking there, I feel sad, confused and disempowered. I watch with horror as governments who claim to represent me and defend my loved ones launch attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, killing thousands of civilians. I hear, unbelieving, how my friends and family justify these attacks as inevitable acts of self-defence. I see, and cannot explain, the rise of Lieberman and resurrection of Netanyahu. I know what I would be doing if I was there – but I’m not. The events seem to be rushing at me at torrential pace, I feel the urgent need to respond, react, do something – but just can’t see a path ahead, my instinct is to “just do anything, anything but silence”. In fact, as paradoxical as it may seem, this is probably the right time to stand still for a moment and reflect. Standing still is better than rushing headlong over a cliff.
We hear a lot about the two peoples, the two narratives. In fact, we have many peoples and many narratives: there are Druze, Muslims, Christians, Samaritans, Bedouin, 1st, 3rd, 10th generation Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, Jews of Arab heritage, and so on. Yet we all have one land, one history, and if any – one future. Denying these facts is what I see as the first source of our predicament. The second, related issue is that this one land speaks two languages. No, not Hebrew and Arabic. I’m talking of the language of life and the language of death, the language of hope, and the language of despair.
For me, as I learned from my friend Mohammad Darawshe, despair is not an option. So what can I do? What I have been doing – only more. Side myself with those who deny the boundaries between people, who seek the common humanity in all, who continue to build our common future.
A small example: earlier this week, Yuli Tamir, the Israeli minister of education, adopted the revolutionary recommendations of the committee for “education for shared life”. This committee, chaired by Professor Gavriel Solomon and Dr. Mohamad Isaweer, and initiated by the Abraham Fund argued that Jewish and Palestinian children of Israel should all learn and appreciate the culture, history and aspirations of each other, and should acknowledge common values of democracy, respect for minorities and civic and social justice.
You may ask: what has this to do with Gaza? And I say: everything. If such a programme would have been in place 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have been looking back at Gaza.

Unfortunately, Karma Nablusi had to cancel on the last moment. The convoy she had planned to join, going into Gaza, had been rescheduled a day earlier.

David Rosenberg opened the evening with a review of the growing dissent among UK Jews towards the actions of the Israeli government. He then moved on to criticise the established mainstream (and arguably self-appointed) leadership for silencing any discording voices. A theme that was picked up by many of the commentators later on.

Gerald Kaufman MP made several references to his YouTubed speech at the commons, and in fact echoed several of the themes in that speech. Without question an eloquent and well-rehersed speaker, he portrayed the position of the disallosioned British zionist. A picture somewhat wasted on the audience in the room, who had no part of Zionism to start with.

Then the floodgates where opened. In true Jewish socialist tradition, everyone was entitiled to an equal voice, and indeed several people in the audience pulled note sheets from their pockets and read speeches longer than mine. Most of them seemed to focus on the marginilisation of Jewish radicals. I found that confusing, first as Leila told me later, I thought we were here to talk about Gaza. Second, in my dictionary radical means way-off-centre. If you don’t want to be in the margins, why define yourself as radical?

Anyway, on and on it went. I felt that most of the comments where essentially historical reviews and ethical manifestos, but the chair, Julia Bard, thought there were many fresh ideas for action. Maybe. Sometimes sitting on the stage focuses your hearing on certain things. On the other hand, I might have a different idea on what constitutes action, a more Newtonian view.

I did mention the UK Friends of the Abraham Fund, and some people asked me for details. Here’s the website:


Which is really a couple of pages with basic details, as part of the general Abraham Fund site. Probably the best way to keep up with our activities it to join the mailing list. email tafi-uk-subscribe@googlegroups.com or, for general enquiries, call info@abrahamfund.org.uk


Written by yishaym

February 12, 2009 at 6:22 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Yishai
    Sadly like you I felt the same about the tenor of the evening even though the JSG is a group I feel politically at home with. Our members and others on the Jewish left really need to learn to listen and to ask questions, not to continually polemicize. It drives potential friends away as I can attest from last night.
    But I do want to ask you some questions.
    – Dialogue is important. Political strength is built from shared interests and values. But whose interests and whose values? Isn’t the problem with the Abraham Fund that it’s working from a deficit position? It’s not the Israeli Jews who are having their civil rights personally attacked, it’s the Arabs. Isn’t there a danger of patronisation, distracting from the real problem, of in fact weakening the political rights of the Arabs who will always be culturally and politically disenfranchised in a Jewish State?
    – I was really concerned to see Michael Howard play such a prominent role in the You Tube clip. He is a right wing politician who has abused and denigrated immigrants to the UK. His comments as leader of the Tories at the last election were despicable and racist. How can the organisation have any credibility when people like Howard are trundled out to support you?


    Ralph Levinson

    February 13, 2009 at 12:33 pm

  2. Ralph,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I’ve taken some time to consider them, but I’m not sure I have a complete answer. So please – let’s continue the discussion.

    I’m not sure I follow your critique of the Abraham Fund. Yes, it is the Arab minority which is marginalised, and which seeing its civil rights under attack. This is exactly what the Abraham Fund Initiatives aims to address, by a three-pronged strategy: empowerment of the Arab minority to exercise its rights, education of the Jewish majority to appriciate and respect those rights, and systemic change of the political administration.
    The problem is not with Israel’s definition as a Jewish state. Britain is a Christian state, yet it values diversity and multiculturalism. The problem is with the lack of democratic tradition.

    As for Michael Howard, I cannot comment on his past as Tory leader, for two reasons. First, it is irrelevant to his support of the Abraham Fund. Second, I am not familiar with the facts. For me, what counts, as far as the Abraham Fund is concerned, is his words and actions with respect to the Abraham Fund. We have many supporters from across the political scene, and would gladly welcome any leaders, present or past, of any major political body. One could argue that the Abraham Fund’s tactic is to engender radical change by engaging with the political centre.


    February 14, 2009 at 5:51 am

  3. Hi Yishay
    Personally and politically I’m drawn to what you are doing. And your talk left me delighted that you are engaged in such a process of change. What you are achieving is important and I don’t want to minimise it from the sidelines. But I will try to clarify without being too verbose, I hope.
    Dialogue can lead to change but the partners in a dialogue do not necessarily have equal power, often they don’t. Over the years there have been many attempts from progressive Palestinians and Israeli Jews and Arabs and other minorities to produce a more equitable society but seemingly without much success. The wall dividing the green line, the appalling house demolitions, the humiliation of Palestinians who want to travel from one place to another (I’ve seen this very graphically for myself), the daily oppression and suspicion of many Israeli Arabs, the prison camp of Gaza, seem to me if anything worse than what they were. How can Palestinians then be equal partners in a dialogue when they are politically untermenschen? How realistically can they set the agenda? The process of engaging in the transformative actions that you are doing is one part of the process but more must change as well.
    Israel is not a Jewish state in the same way that Britain is a Christian state although you are right about the lack of democratic tradition in Israel. While many talk about Israel being democratic, ask the Palestinians about this (I mean this rhetorically). Establishment of the political rights of the Palestinians is simply a contradiction of the foundation principles of Zionism: a state which can only tolerate the political rights of minorities provided they are subsumed to the safety and security of a Jewish State. I know the declaration of independence declares full equality to its citizens but this has never been the case. There is simply no analogy here to Christianity in the contemporary UK. Unfortunately establishing that security has always involved trampling on the rights of Palestinians. Christianity in Britain is simply not a big deal any more – there is systemic discrimionation but that has little to do with the church or the nature of Christianity in the British political system. I feel that a Jewish State in the Middle East is simply not viable – it will always be oppressive towards its minorities. The hideous settlements are an expression of the colonialist expansionist policies.
    I say this with sadness and some difficulty. My older sister went on aliyah before I was born, I have family in israel (a sister, nieces, nephews, cousins) and Israel became a refuge to my father’s family in the former Soviet Union who had been savaged by the Nazis and later, though not as severely, by the Soviet govt. I used to see Israel as a refuge in case of rampant antisemistism here but I don’t any more. There seems to me quite enough antisemitism in Israel itself to be getting on with.
    Palestinians and Jews need to organise to break down the barriers which separate them (which is what you are doing)and that involves the principles on which the Jewish state is founded, a repudiation of its very status (and about that I’m less certain).
    Paradoxically I find far more optimism and hope in the words and actions exprfessed by people like you and Bassam Aramim, and of course many other secular Palestinians and Israelis (for example B’tselem, writers like David Grossman) than polemicists who refuse to see complexity. So I really hope you’re right despite my deep scepticism and profound horror of Gaza.
    Well, I’m afraid I really do disagree with you about Michael Howard. An organisation like yours should be careful about its friends. Michael Howard is not a centrist politician, he is on the far right. There is no need for an openly racist party in the UK when you have people like him refusing to recognise the human rights of refugees and immigrants. Those of us who might support what the Abraham fund is doing and who know what Howard has been up to in the UK would rightly recoil from him. No sign that he’s changed here, perhaps he thinks he can take a more liberal line where it won’t affect him personally.


    February 15, 2009 at 10:56 pm

  4. […] 2009 — Mira Vogel Yishay has been speaking intrepidly about Israeli peace activism to the Jewish Socialist Group and on the Iranian government’s Press TV. Posted in The Left, boycott opposition, peace […]

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