Friday, June 7, 2013

Open Letter To Bishop George Browning


Dear Bishop Browning,

Recently On-Line Opinion posted your angry denial of  antisemitism with which you  say you have been smeared through your outspoken criticism of Israel and Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. Israel is a state like any other you complain and any suggestion that criticism of state policies that have lead to the continuing suffering of these people is antisemitism is name calling and unacceptable. It is a sign of weakness you say that betrays the poverty of your antagonists' case.  It's all summed up in a sentence:

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism per se.

You could put that in bold. On-Line Opinion did.

Of course antisemitism is a vile and threatening thing and loose allegations of it are contemptible as are all loose allegations of racism. 

I believe I can offer some insight that might be helpful with this but also there is something with which you might be able to help me. Criticism of Israeli policies is of course not antisemitism per se and it is indeed deplorable, in fact risible, to claim it is. It could only mean that antisemitism was most entrenched in Israel where it quickly laid deep and strong foundations in this vigorous little democracy. 

My difficulty is that I have never been able to find an example of someone serious, seriously suggesting that such criticism is antisemitism. It's been a long search. I have made many appeals in a number of places for an example but with no reports of confirmed sightings that could stand much scrutiny. It's like looking for the Loch Ness Monster. Plenty of denials. The word clouds are dripping with denials of antisemitism from critics of Israel but not a single allegation that criticism of Israel is antisemitism per se .  

You say you have some examples of this from opinion pieces and various correspondence. Will you consider sharing these? Because if indeed you are in possession of a genuine specimen of someone serious, seriously suggesting that criticism of Israel is antisemitism per se then I believe we should have it stuffed and put on display in a natural history museum right next to the frozen woolly mammoth. It would be a crowd magnet.

With all these pre-emptive denials of antisemitism hanging  in the ether like white noise it does beg the question is there some message being jammed here. Because right now the world is swamped with Jew hatred in its most vile forms, Israel is at the centre of it and there is no longer any excuse for not being aware of it.

Which brings me to the first problem I have with your piece.   

You say that the belittling of or discrimination against Jews is utterly deplorable and you make a historical reference to the enormous suffering it has caused. Of course that was antisemitism but you must know this ugly thing is back with a vengeance and that it is especially virulent, dangerous, aggressively violent and mainstream throughout the Islamic world including those parts that you visit frequently. It has surged from an already high base since the Islamic Revolution and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It takes all the classic lethal forms from blood libels of Christian manufacture to satanic conspiracy theories and is most manifest in an intractable, genocidal conviction that Israel can never be recognised as a Jewish state and must be destroyed. Jews have no place as free and equal people. They have no place at all.This is the official ideology that saturates the populations in political cultures that are hardly liberal democracies that encourage enlightened dissent.

And yet about all of this you are silent. Not a word. 

In the shadow of this your observation about historical enormous suffering jars as gratuitous especially when you link it to the plight of the Palestinians which frankly is always good for a wince and some nerve pain. Like an old and very bad joke. Why do critics of Israel always do that? 

Which brings me to the next problem

There is no one claiming that the plight of the Palestinians is a good thing. No one would deny that the history of these people is tragic. But why do your foundation assumptions hold this is Israel's fault and that it is within her power to remedy?  How is it possible to reach such a far reaching position full of implications and set it in concrete without so much as  a moment's thought? It's as if it's some kind of a mental reflex. It's  as if you have closed your mind to any other side of the story. 

It's an all or nothing thing with critics of Israel. Israel has no case. To defend Israel and Israel's policies is in your words to defend the indefensible.

Just like the Arab and Muslim cultural antisemitism that hangs over the whole stage like toxic fog it is impossible not to be aware that Palestinian intransigence to the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state is at the core of Palestinian suffering. Recognise Israel and draw the border.  Yet the Palestinians say no. They want no border and no Israelis and they are immovable on this. 

Not a word about that. Ever. Why? Surely it can't be denied. The Palestinians don't bother. Why would their allies? Do you? 

Which brings us back to criticism of Israel and  allegations of antisemitism. 

Increasingly critics of Israel are silent or agnostic on the matter of whether Israel is a legitimate expression of national aspiration that if not to be celebrated at least has a right to exist, or whether it is some sort of imperialist relic, ethnocracy, apartheid state or worse best torn down and replaced with something else about which they are necessarily vague especially given that it is never going to happen. 

Only in this way can justice be restored to the Palestinians. 

Increasingly defenders of Israel have a term for this phenomenon. We call it antisemitism.

There is discussion about whether this crazy spiralling antizionism is a new antisemitism or just the same old same old, but antisemitism it is. Or for the benefit of clueless pedants and marginal racists who manage a brain snap over the notion of Arab antisemitism; Jew hatred it is. If you prefer. The name cannot change it. It's still the exact same thing.

This is another silence that troubles me. Here is something that is at the very centre of this nagging and dangerous conflict and well of human misery and yet critics of Israel who will indignantly deny the charge of antisemitism, usually pre-emptively, can not bring themselves to say with assurance that Israel has a right to be left in peace within agreed borders as a sovereign state and if that means anything at all it means sovereignty over her borders and population.  

If a critic of Israel has no difficulty accepting this and saying it with confidence no matter the audience then why the silence about the truth that the Palestinian factions without exception do not accept it?  That they have rejected the notion repeatedly in the past and continue to emphatically reject it with a violence ranging from depraved brutality against civilians to duplicitous manoeuvring abroad with systematic racist and religious vilification at home as part of the compulsory social curriculum for all men, women and children.

They won't even talk about it. To get them to the table they demand something for nothing and then they do nothing. Their leaders can't seriously talk about it at least not with Israelis. They would not survive a week and they say so. In any event it is not just the Palestinian factions that compete for a stranglehold on what passes for a Palestinian polity. 

You are outspoken in your criticism of Israel to the point of not hearing a word in her defence, that which you regard as indefensible, including the defence of Israeli policy in that part of Judea and Samaria where she exercises civil and/or security authority under what is left of the Oslo accords. Yet not a word about this deep rooted hostility for the human rights of another people in their own homeland and yes I mean the Israelis. 

As if this toxic ideology, as often as not rooted in the extremist religious mind, is not at all the cause of the pain of the Palestinian people.  

There are other noisy silences from the critics of Israel in the West that also  blare off key like a brass band of cracked trombones in a winter shower. At times you can barely hear the chanting of antisemitism denial for the din.

We hear nothing about the Jews dispossessed  from Muslim lands in the twentieth century. It's as if these people have been airbrushed from history just as  the warring factions across the region compete for blood curdling shrillness must be the fate of Israel and the remaining Middle East Jews.

Why is that silence so especially ear splitting? There is not a murmur about that Nakba or for that matter all the other Nakbas one after the other that sweep across the Arab and Muslim world including the Palestinians. Nor is there any evidence of any serious curiosity about the cause of it. 

It can't be all Israel's fault.

There are other swamps of silence especially relating to Christians. 

We are witnessing a resurgence in what used to be called theological antisemitism among some Christians but now manifests as clerical antizionism . In its worst forms it is very ugly. It's not pretty in any form. At its crudest it is nothing less than the retailing of war propaganda and hate incitement that lap at the boundaries of violent extremism. The dehumanising of what are called the "settlers", a "malignancy", set for ethnic cleansing and rightly so and their demonisation at an almost mystical level are chilling. Then the "settlers" become the "Zionists".  Look at the language of these sites.  Here is the active nurturing of profound and special grievance aimed in just one direction without any hint of compromise and which ultimately leads no where to go except war.

This completely exonerates everything that has anything to do with the actual cause of the suffering and indeed allies with it. These clerics identify with the ideology and political culture that poison the lives of the Palestinians and other Muslim peoples far beyond and they conflate the police states that oppress these people with the people themselves.    

And that's just the Church of England.

Please do not misunderstand me. This is not at all a religious argument for me. I understand that this is partly a theological dispute between wings of Christianity. However there are over ten million people living between the river and the sea and they are real people and this is one of the most divisive issues on the planet. Clergy from the far ends of the world who choose to become activists in this, perhaps feel compelled by religious impulse to do so, have lost any lingering benefit of clergy in a secular age and are entitled to be scrutinised, and criticised, in the same full measure. Passion is not a qualification in this business.

This must be frankly said.

There is something repugnant about a religion that singles out another religion quite specifically for de-legitimisation and rejection at some kind of mystical level. Beyond theology it is risible and it when it extends even to a malign interpretation of religious texts that by their mere existence beyond all doubt prove the Jews and Judaism are the surviving indigenous culture and people of this land, quite apart from religion, then a red line has been crossed.

It is much worse when this is conflated with a theology that vastly magnifies and focuses like a telescope on the story of the Palestinian people post-Israel to the exclusion of all others to the point of what looks very much like the canonisation of martyrs. It is worse still when this theology attributes great sin to modern Israel in the treatment of Palestinians on a scale so mortal it invalids ownership of the land and by inference invites dispossession in favour of a superior claim.

This is more than dangerous crackpottery. It is from an older and much darker age and it is bracing to behold a philosophy anything like this in the twentieth  first century without a moments reflection on the enduring contribution that Christian antisemitism has made to the enormous suffering you have mentioned. It is particularly troubling with the sweep of political Islam and with its undisguised hatred of Israel and Jews with which there is clearly a connection.  

There are some brave voices but again there is much loud silence from Christians including those in a position to do something about it.

Which brings me to the last great silence. Perhaps the greatest of them all.

Why do those who steadfastly criticise Israel and enjoy the good offices of the Palestinian elites not do all in their power to encourage the Palestinians to accept Palestine, accept Israel, accept peace and security, work for prosperity and raise their children in hope and love?

Surely this must be in the best interests of the Palestinians.

Why the silence?  

Is this antisemitism? I don't know.  It's not my field and It's not my place to say.

But why the reluctance to speak this truth to power: that Israel is here to stay, it is in its proper place,  the Israelis will never give up their state, that this world was made to be shared and that Palestine is there for the asking if you want it?

For sure this might take some courage. Likely you will lose some friends. But with just one brave voice the bubble can be burst. Surely Christians, like Jews, believe that? 

Otherwise what are we left with? Never ending grievance and frustration. Never ending war. The never ending stoking of the flames and apart from the antisemitism denials  a never ending silence from those who might have made a difference but were too confused to see what is clear and too weak of character to speak out about it.


cross posted Geoffff's Joint


  1. Very well put, Geoffff. I wonder if the esteemed bishop will now accuse you of "whataboutery" as the critics of Israel usually do.

    I believe anti-Zionism is Jew-hatred ipso facto because it holds the Jews deserve to be stateless, just as the idea expressed in the 1820s that the Greeks could go on living under Turkish rule would have been Greek-hatred. Or call it antipathy toward the Jews or the Greeks, same result.

    Putting it in a more international context, however, and also using their weapons against them, I like best the method of pointing out to those humanitarian racists the fact that they are supporting colonialism (on the part of the Arabs) against the right of an indigenous people (the Jews—the indigenous Palestinians) to exercise self-determination. I believe this kind of argument could put them in far more uncomfortable a position (having to squirm in their seats and explain away their hypocrisy) than an appeal to avoid Jew-hatred.

    Above all, the one truth I find most important of all to emphasize is that Zionism is not about a redress of past wrongs—it is about the restoration of Jewish national rights, the rights of the Jewish nation to unrestricted political sovereignty on their one and only piece of land in the world. If it were about compensation for the Holocaust, then the Jewish homeland need not be in the Land of Israel of all places. But it's about our national rights, much as the Greek people have the right to Hellas, their one and only homeland.

  2. Say goodbye to General Choomin, guys.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I can't help responding, even to a troll, but I must admit he tires me out.

    2. Well, I don't like to ban anyone, but it's obvious that this guy has no interest in actual dialogue, thus he just becomes a waste of our time.

      As you guys know, I like to have some fun on here because it can't always be just - I don't know - misery. The topic that we write on is not fun, but it is vital, which is why we do what we do.

      That being the case, the very last thing that we need is some noxious anti-Semitic anti-Zionist Nazi coming on here for the sole purpose of trying to cause additional misery.

  3. Outstanding, Geoff.

    "There is no one claiming that the plight of the Palestinians is a good thing. No one would deny that the history of these people is tragic. But why do your foundation assumptions hold this is Israel's fault and that it is within her power to remedy?"

    Y'know, I was at a ballgame a few weeks ago with a buddy of mine whose folks have season tickets almost directly behind home plate. This guy is a Jewish attorney of some means who describes himself as a political independent leaning toward the center-right. At one point, as we were eating our Sheboygan Dogs and watching Buster Posey tear up the playing field, he asked me what I thought of Netanyahu. I told him that I thought that Netanyahu has been traditionally and unfairly maligned in the past, that he was seriously mistaken to apologize to Turkey, and that he is ambivalent about the "settlers."

    My friend then turned to me and said something to the effect of, "Well, he shouldn't be ambivalent about the settlers. If we ever want peace then the settlements must be disbanded."

    I have to say, I was a little taken aback. This is a guy who, during the Bush administration, I had major arguments with in public concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he favored and which I opposed. I mean, we would have loud and acrimonious arguments at cocktail parties toward the end of the Bush administration in which Laurie would, quite literally, drag me away from the guy.

    And, yet, here he we were on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at AT&T Park and he's telling me, essentially, that Arab hatred and violence toward Jews in the Middle East is the fault of those Jews who dare to live where neither Mahmoud Abbas, nor Barack Obama, want them to live.

    This is a fundamental mistake that we must move beyond.

    Jewish people have got to stop blaming other Jewish people for the fact of Arab and Muslim genocidal prejudice toward us. The truth of the matter is that we are not to blame for their hatred and complaining about the fact that Jews live in Judea and Samaria is nothing other than rank anti-Jewish bigotry.

    The Arabs of Israel can have a state for themselves carved out of the Jewish heartland if that is what they actually want, but the historical record shows very clearly that this is not what they actually want.

    Until we honestly grasp that fact we will always be on the defensive.

    Buster Posey is the Giants' star catcher, thus he is at the heart of the defensive lineup. However, if he only played defense he would not be worth a damn.

    Sometimes you have to actually hit the ball, not just catch it.

    1. Quoting your friend: "If we ever want peace then the settlements must be disbanded."

      It's amazing how casually people make that statement. Forcing thousands of people out of their homes—the very thing they vehemently exclaim to be wrong when Arabs are on the receiving end—is advocated here with a light flick of the finger.

      I try to exercise restrain when I write here, both in the posts and the comments. But let me tell you, this ease in which people talk of booting Jews off their land ("for the sake of peace," no less—how noble) makes me immensely angry. This is why I put such an emphasis on talking about "Arab settlers": By that means, I turn this anger into a club against the same people who casually talk of "the necessity of dismantling Israeli settlements." By saying, "I agree with you: The Arab settlements are indeed an obstacle to peace and will have to be dismantled," they are shown where their reasoning can lead to if one just changes the premises (as to who is the indigenous in Palestine and who is the colonist), and I channel my anger by using their outrageous argument against them.

      I want to make it clear to everybody that we Jews will no longer be lightly made demands of.

      Shabbat Shalom all.

    2. Am Yisrael Chai, my friend.

      Your brothers stand with you.

  4. Oh, and this piece was a home run, Geoff, for sure.

  5. Excellent piece, geoffff.

    This personal story about a local Jewish student encountering, for the first time, these same ugly sentiments on our college campuses, seems sort of a good companion, especially considering this troubling bit of delegitimization -

    "Around that same time, a friend who will be entering a liberal arts school in upstate New York this fall recounted how she was handed a pamphlet about Palestine when she asked about study abroad programs in Israel. She told them they must have misunderstood, but they only replied that they did not have programs in Israel. This also didn't make sense. I had learned that the Israeli government is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East and its leaders advocate for human rights, respond to tragedies around the globe and encourage environmental sustainability. Why would a liberal arts college be opposed having a study abroad program there?"