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Hard News: On Israel

Russell Brown’s HARD NEWS

On Israel


I have been arguing with an occasional correspondent, who, as is his way, tells me I know nothing about the Middle East, that my habitual "wretched wailing about the region" is an indication of my ignorance.

Perhaps he's right: it's not for want of trying. He has sent me several articles, including a critique of the recent Pilger documentary that seems to contain at least as much historical elision and glibness as what Pilger put to air.

The correspondence began with a dispute about Israel's treatment of journalists - particularly in the occupied territories - which has been criticised this year by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Press Freedom Index and the World Association of Newspapers' World Press Freedom Review. Earlier this year I interviewed the BBC stringer Inigo Gilmore, who was quite clear about the ways and means by which he was and could be intimidated by the Israeli Defence Force.

But Gilmore was working in the occupied territories; within the state of Israel (or "within the 1948 boundaries" as my correspondent put it) things are different. There is a vigorous and diverse press, there are many foreign journalists, amongst them, according to my correspondent, "dishonest opinion-shapers intent on expending much effort in excoriating Israel's defense needs while legitimising Palestinian terrorism and helping fuel the new wave of global anti-Semitism."

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I find such easy equation of criticism of the actions of the state of Israel with "global anti-semitism" disturbing. But my correspondent is Jewish and I can't really have any knowledge of what that means right now. I imagine a worry, deep, like organ pain.

Perhaps that's why some Jews seem to turn so viciously on their own when Israel is questioned. The fine British Parliamentarian, Gerald Kaufman, a self-described lifelong "friend of Israel", made a remarkable speech this year, lacerating Ariel Sharon and his government.

"It is time to remind Sharon that the Star of David belongs to all Jews, not to his repulsive Government," said Kaufman. "His actions are staining the star of David with blood. The Jewish people, whose gifts to civilised discourse include Einstein and Epstein, Mendelssohn and Mahler, Sergei Eisenstein and Billy Wilder, are now symbolised throughout the world by the blustering bully Ariel Sharon, a war criminal implicated in the murder of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila camps and now involved in killing Palestinians once again."

Kaufman's concern is that current policy is corrupting the very ethos of the Jewish state, but he was immediately excoriated as a self-hating Jew by the likes of Jewish Watch Dog ("alerting the world to the anti-Jewish/anti-Israeli propaganda on the Internet").

Bizarrely, the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, was soon subjected to similar abuse for no more than implied criticism of the Israeli government. "I am sure Dr Sacks is unused to the foul tone of the hate mail which some Jews send to other Jews," Kaufman wrote in the Independent. Kaufman's subsequent criticisms of the Israeli government's encouragement of settlements in the occupied territories and of war in Iraq are worth reading too. He's a brave and honest man.

I can't be expected to have any sympathy with American Jews prepared to enter and barricade themselves in occupied territory because a God I don't believe in promised it to them 2000 years ago. The absolute lack of compromise on display there is the kind of thing that led to Israeli right-wingers' support for Hamas, a studiedly suicidal means of avoiding any concessions for peace.

My correspondent identifies himself as a "liberal" in the matter of Israel, but he never says what that means. Settlers in or out? Surely, they must go. Israel's new Labour Party leader seems to have hinted thus, this week, in calling for a new chance for peace. Kaufman is right: under current policies, the brilliance of Israel (and there is no other word for what was forged from that unpromising land) will be extinguished and the immeasurable contribution to humanity of the Jewish tradition will be stained.

This is not to to say that the Palestinian Authority is in any way admirable - it is corrupt, and the policy of targeting civilians for murder is evil. But it seems further now than ever away from achieving the state (and not the ludicrous string of statelets it was offered at Camp David) it needs to ever become anything else than what it is now. Essentially, the power to effect change rests most with Israel.

I have still less time for the new (and growing) wave of dispensationalist Christians in America - whose influence reaches all the way up to the Republican leader of the House, Tom DeLay - who also believe that God gave all the disputed land of Israel to the Jews, that there must never be a Palestinian state, because the return to the Jews of all the land God gave them is a precondition for the Second Coming of Christ. And after that, as they read the scriptures, all the Jews can then be converted to Christianity. They want to ethnically cleanse the occupied territories of the Palestinians so that Jesus can eradicate Judaism.

And these are arguably modest madnesses in comparison to the radical Islamist philosophy behind the terror attacks. I still meet people who seem to feel that Bin Laden is some sort of freedom fighter; he isn't. He has no interest in bettering the lot of rank-and-file Muslims: the underlying agenda of the attacks on Bali and Kenya was to target those parts of nations that are actually prospering and destroy them. Radical Islam needs poverty and a sense of hopeless to take hold: so while Turkey has held it off, refugee camps are the perfect petri dish.

Yet the stark fact that radical Islam is the enemy of pretty much everything I hold philosophically dear does not mean anything done in the name of fighting it is alright. I suspect I'm not alone in wishing that all three Abrahamic religions would just leave me the hell alone.

FOOTNOTE: Russell Brown’s Hard News has recently changed formats. What was a weekly BFM radio show and column is now a Blog. Scoop’s email version of Hard News is now comprised of a combination of:
- links to recent Public Address items;
- and, occasionally, like today; with the full text of one of Russell’s blog entries.

Email readers should note that to enjoy the benefit of the hyperlinks contained in the above you will need to visit Hard News’s home at and/or


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