Saturday, February 27, 2010

Will IJAN Challenge Jewish Power?

Below is the analysis of Henry Herskovitz (with Michelle J. Kinnucan) of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends to a recent op-ed by Rebecca Tumposky on the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN).

There are many problems with IJAN, which lead me to doubt the purposes of the group. I first question whether they are a Palestinian solidarity group or yet another group that seeks to shield and preserve Jewish power both in Palestine and in the U.S.

In this writer's opinion, Jews - if they are acting in a group that represents Jews in the peace movement - should first and foremost challenge what Akiva Eldar and J. J. Goldberg, among others, call the "Jewish lobby" - the powerful people and institutions (and their rank-and-file supporters) who dominate the US discourse and policy regarding Jews and Israel. Often, these are the very people behind the charge of "self-hating Jews" (and for non-Jews, "anti-Semites") about whom Rebecca Tumposky, national organizer with the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, complains. Yet, nowhere in her article does Ms. Tumposky show a disposition to directly do that.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that three originators of IJAN who live in southeast Michigan, including "Invincible," declined the invitation to stand vigil with us at our Global Vigil Day in 2007 or at any other time. They refused to expose and challenge Beth Israel Congregation--a local institutional bastion of open, unabashed Jewish support for Israel--when they had the opportunity. And yes, I'm the first to admit that standing in front of a synagogue is not the only way to challenge Jewish power, but at the same time ask where does IJAN directly challenge this power using another tactic?

In Tumposky's op-ed she says IJAN "seeks to challenge the violence and injustice of Israeli apartheid" but she and IJAN are US-based. So, where is her mention, let alone challenge, of the Jewish supremacism/power that allows Jews - less than two percent of the US population - to so effectively steer US policy and resources into underwriting Jewish apartheid in Palestine?

Right out of the box, she shows her hand - Tumposky's and IJAN's opposition to apartheid is rooted not in universalistic notions of justice and human rights but in Jewish chauvinism/exceptionalism. Thus, they appeal to Jews on the grounds of "our varied traditions of social justice." And Tumposky wants to make sure - absolutely certain - that fighting anti-Semitism is prioritized in any work on freeing Palestine from the genocide brought on by the Jewish state. Thus, she writes, "We challenge anti-Jewish prejudice while standing in solidarity with organizations that support Palestinian liberation and historic justice ..." In short, IJAN enters the Palestinian solidarity movement with an explicit agenda of highlighting, if not foregrounding, the concerns of Jews, the very people who enjoy Jewish privilege here and in Israel.

Her opposition to Zionism is carefully couched as a subset of opposing colonialism and imperialism, in general: "We share a commitment to participation in struggles against colonialism and imperialism. We therefore oppose Zionism ... IJAN, in fact, opposes all imperialist aggression". She refuses to take notice of the peculiar situation of Zionism - Jewish imperialism - in that Jews lacked a nation-state of their own and, thus, Zionists commandeered other countries, namely Britain and the US, to realize their goals.

Tumposky beats up one or two carefully placed straw men along the way: "We will say it again and again, despite accusations of being 'self-hating Jews': Zionism is not Judaism and the Jewish community." Just who is it that equates Zionism with "Judaism and the Jewish community"? And why is this point so essential for "anti-Zionists" like the IJAN folks? What would Tumposky say to the 757 rabbis - "the largest number of rabbis whose signatures are attached to a public pronouncement in all Jewish history" - who in 1942 stated that Zionism is an "Affirmation of Judaism" and "Anti-Zionism, not Zionism, is a departure from the Jewish religion"?

She also plays a Left Zionist game when she attempts to distinguish the 'types' of Zionism, claiming that "the Zionism we oppose is not a longstanding cultural or religious expression". She conveniently ignores the fact that when push came to shove, all the Zionists - Left, Right and Center - gave their blessings to destroying Palestine.

In the first chapter of his book Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Norman Finkelstein challenged the myth that any of the Zionist tendencies (Labor, Religious, etc.) were ever benign. In short, the only thing about Zionism that really matters is that it "is a form of racism and racial discrimination," as the UN General Assembly correctly identified in 1975.

Tumposky's definition of Zionism is also problematic - "the 19th century ideology that led European Jews to work with imperialist powers to displace and ethnically cleanse the Palestinian people, which continues today." It is folly to imply that Jews were passive objects of that "ideology". Zionism was created, implemented, and popularized by Jews. Are readers supposed to believe that it was the imperialist powers that Jews only "worked with" that committed this crime? Isn't it more accurate to say that Jews led these imperialist powers by the nose - as they still do today - to have non-Jews die for the Jewish state?

When she writes "Israel and its U.S. lobby helped pushed us toward the Iraq war and are exerting similar pressure to attack Iran", readers need to be cognizant of what she omits - EVERY major constituent group of the organized Jewish community pressed for war on Iraq, and there's a list of at least two dozen Jewish individuals - in powerful government or media positions - who also pressed strongly for war.

Tumposky touts "Jewish visions of collective liberation and traditions of social justice", but doesn't give us any proof that this tradition ever existed, other than in the minds of Jews who want their image spit-shined, if not outright falsified. More than 300 years ago, Benedictus de Spinoza, who is often upheld as a great Jewish intellectual, observed that Jews had in fact nothing to commend themselves as superior to others, had acted in such a way as to "incur the hatred of all", and that this hatred was the glue that bound Jews together. Other than, perhaps, a few years during the Civil Rights struggle (and Benjamin Ginsberg casts doubt on even this), Jews collectively have acted in concert NOT for universal well-being, but for the benefit of Jews. IJAN does not seem to be an exception.

Distinguishing IJAN from AIPAC, J-Street and Tikkun, might make good reading, but doesn't let them off the hook. Once again, I'm reminded of Paul Eisen's words: "The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish state with Jewish soldiers using weapons displaying Jewish religious symbols, and with the full support and complicity of the overwhelming mass of organized Jews worldwide. But to name Jews as responsible for this crime seems impossible to do." It seems obvious to me that IJAN and similar organizations exist, in no small part, to prevent the naming of Jews as responsible for the Jewish-led genocide against the Palestinian people.

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