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Sex, Lies and God’s Promise: Response to a Diatribe

November 28, 2012

An article titled “In Defence Of Israel” is being circulated to media-persons in India by the Spokesman of the Embassy Of Israel in Delhi. This article, published in Open magazine, was written by Jonas Moses Lustiger (a student based in Paris, who has earlier lived in India).  The article names me specifically, and refers to mine and Aditya  Nigam’s posts on Palestine in Kafila, but I was not interested in engaging with Lustiger’s largely ill-informed, propagandist and misrepresenting rant. But now that it appears we are responding directly to the Israeli state, I feel perhaps I should put some things on record.

(Our three posts on Kafila are Nakba and Sumoud, Living the Occupation and Imagining Post-Zionist Futures)

 Let me begin by stating my complete agreement with Lustiger on three of his key statements in the Open article.

First:

It is true that Israel’s current government is one of the worst it has known and most of its citizens have lost hope for peace. It is also true that Israeli society is turning more racist, intolerant and ignorant of the suffering and existence of their immediate neighbours—Palestinians. Of course, the Palestinian people have been denied many rights and have been living under precarious conditions since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. True, they have been repeat victims of unjustifiable violence and a large proportion of Israeli politicians deny their claim to an independent land, even as Israel threatens the viability of a Palestinian state by wielding tools of colonisation. 

Pretty much sums up our three posts on Kafila – what’s not to agree?

Second: I’m also in complete agreement with him on his characterization of Cameri Theatre (in the context of INCACBI’s call to boycott Cameri Theatre when it performed in Delhi):

It is true that the Cameri once performed in Ariel, a colony in the West Bank, despite a cultural boycott declared by Israeli artists and writers, and this is condemnable.

Nevertheless, says Lustiger, “this does not make it a ‘propaganda tool’ ” of the Israeli state, as the INCACBI statement claims. Well, that’s a matter of opinion, isn’t it? If Cameri Theatre defied the calls of progressive Israelis not to perform in notorious Ariel, as Lustiger concedes, then it seems reasonable to assume it is being used by the Israeli state (much as Lustiger’s own piece is!) as a propaganda tool.

And third:

Of course, by occupying and oppressing a people for more than 40 years, Israel has contributed to creating and aggravating its reality

 Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Lustiger then deftly sets aside all these True Confessions to segue into saying unkind things about “Indian intellectuals” who do a

cut-and-paste of the anti-Zionist position of American academics like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, but without their knowledge and experience of Jewish history.

No deep knowledge of Jewish history and still daring to write about Palestine. The audacity! Of course, only Jewish history is relevant to understanding Palestine, because as Golda Meir put it decisively:

There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist. (In a statement to The Sunday Times, 15 June, 1969)

Lustiger submitted a comment of 1695 words to Kafila, responding to me in the debate on Aditya’s post “Imagining Post Zionist Futures”, a comment that was nothing like the Open article in tone or content. There he adopted an extraordinarily offensive tone, advising me that it would

be more efficient to focus on alternative development models, inequalities, Kashmir, North East, Adivasi, Naxalites, Woman rights, Dalits, all crucial in India today, and not to loose [sic] time uttering so many ineptitudes and formulating unverified statements… I kindly advise you to Wikipedia “historiography”, “epistemology” and probably “deontology”.

That was useful, certainly, and I took his kind advice to heart. Thanks to him, I now know the meaning of those really big words. (Not to mention the correct spelling of “lose”.)

Now, having conceded the absolute unethicality and cruelty of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, what does Lustiger do? Two quick sleights of hand, familiar to those of us who have been following the issue of Palestine for  decades:

a) switch to the sufferings of Jews under the Holocaust:

Zionism was born in an extremely anti-Semitic 19th century Europe after a two-millennium history of Jews at the receiving end of discriminatory laws, massacres, forced displacement, ghettoisation and utmost poverty.

 But who in India talks about the Holocaust, he asks.

 Well, my first post on Kafila certainly did. I said:

Fleeing terror and genocide in Europe, and anti-semitism globally, Jews from all over the world poured into Palestine.

I didn’t use the heavily loaded code word ‘Holocaust’, it is true. But what does Lustiger think I’m talking about? Is the problem that I didn’t spend sufficient words and time on it? But as the Americans say pithily – everything isn’t about you, honey!

And presumably that phrase in the sentence (“from all over the world”) also answers his other question:

Do Indian experts on West Asia know that the Israeli people are not merely European,  as many here tend to believe, but are a mix of people of Indian, Georgian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Persian, Chinese, Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Argentine, Uzbek, Syrian,  Afghani, Turkish, Brazilian, Ethiopian, origin?

(He also mentions in this long list “Polish, Portuguese, Austrian, German, Russian, Bulgarian and French”, which I would have thought are “European”, but then what do I know? I only cut and paste from American writings and need to look up Wikipedia to learn the meaning of deontology.)

The Jewish people suffered in European nations because of anti-semitism up to and including Nazi gas chambers. We know this in India – most English readers grew up crying over Anne Frank’s diary. But how is that suffering translated into dispossessing the residents of Palestine from their land? How does that justify methods of dispossession and ethnic cleansing perfected by the Israeli state that even the Nazis could learn from?

Aditya’s post quotes Edward Said as saying poignantly:

Oslo required us to forget and renounce our history of loss, dispossessed by the very people who taught everyone the importance of not forgetting the past. Thus we are the victims of the victims, the refugees of the refugees.

b) The second sleight of hand is the claim that Israel is the Only Democracy in a Sea of Arab States.

Israel since its independence has been the region’s only free and pluralistic democracy and one of Asia’s few. Arab Israelis, 20 per cent of Israel’s population, have by law the same rights as all other citizens. They vote and send representatives to the Knesset (legislative assembly) in every election.

But both Israel’s socialism and its secularism are entirely internal to its Jewish citizens. Non-Jewish people of Israel/Palestine – Muslims and Christians – are excluded from both ideals. Did the “egalitarian socialist communities”, the kibbutzim that Lustiger celebrates, include the dispossessed Arabs whose land was stolen to set them up? Does Israeli secularism include the citizenship rights of non-Jewish people? Aditya’s post explains the hollowness of Israel’s claims to secularism quite clearly. As for the claim of equal citizenship for Arab Israelis, in my second post I have amply demonstrated the falsity of that claim, including citing an Israeli government report that says:

The Arab citizens of Israel live in a reality in which they experience discrimination as Arabs. This inequality has been documented in a large number of professional surveys and studies, has been confirmed in court judgments and government resolutions, and has also found expression in reports by the state comptroller and in other official documents. Although the Jewish majority’s awareness of this discrimination is often quite low, it plays a central role in the sensibilities and attitudes of Arab citizens. This discrimination is widely accepted, both within the Arab sector and outside it, and by official assessments, as a chief cause of agitation…

And then the slam dunk I was waiting for.

Lustiger triumphantly questions whether, with my claims to scholarship on gender, I am aware that

Israel is the only country in West Asia with a vibrant homosexual culture. It is one of the few nations in the world that recognises same-sex couple adoption rights. In fact, Tel Aviv is one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities. Israel is also the only country in the region where women enjoy the same rights as men.

It is clear that propagandists are not interested in even pretending to read the arguments of those who challenge them. I am therefore forced to ‘cut and paste’ the following account of Israel’s “pink-washing” from my own post ( I’m good at cut-and-paste, she said smugly):

Magid tells of being at a checkpoint at which an old Jordanian man was painfully getting out of his taxi to walk through the corridor.  Magid decided not to take it as simply routine. He asked the young security officer – “Why not let him sit in the taxi?”

“It is not permitted,”  said the guard coldly and expressionlessly.

“Look at him”, Magid persisted, “he can barely stand.”

“It is not permitted,” the guard repeated.

“Come on,” Magid demanded,  ”Would they treat you like this in Jordan?”

Goaded, the guard finally burst out with – “Do you know they shoot gay men in Jordan?”

Hanh? you may well exclaim – what does that have to do with anything? Well, it does.  Israel claims to be the only democracy in West Asia because it is “secular” (not Islamic) and because it respects diversity, especially queer rights. It’s interesting that a checkpoint guard should have had that line down pat – is it part of their training, perhaps? (Or to be more charitable, perhaps he was gay himself.)

But as Haneen Maikay, the director of Palestinian queer group Al Qaws, has said, “When you go through a checkpoint it does not matter what the sexuality of the soldier is.”

Israel’s queer friendliness is easily exposed. Yes, friendly to “queer people” – to Israeli (Jewish) queer people.  (Although, in fact, sodomy and homosexuality were illegal in Israel until 1988, while homosexuality has been decriminalized in the West Bank since the 1950s, when anti-sodomy laws imposed under British colonial influence were removed from the Jordanian penal code, which Palestinians follow.)

Jasbir Puar terms this “homonationalism” – the coming together of racist nationalism with queer politics:

Israeli pinkwashing is a potent method through which the terms of Israeli occupation of Palestine are reiterated – Israel is civilised, Palestinians are barbaric, homophobic, uncivilised, suicide-bombing fanatics. It produces Israel as the only gay-friendly country in an otherwise hostile region. This has manifold effects: it denies Israeli homophobic oppression of its own gays and lesbians, of which there is plenty...

The global queer movement opposed to Israel’s Occupation and Apartheid holds that pinkwashing not only manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community, but it also ignores the existence of a growing Palestinian queer movement and gay-rights organizations  such as Aswat, Al Qaws and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. These groups are clear that the oppression of Palestinians crosses the boundary of sexuality

This understanding exists too, among sections within Israel. As Yuval Ben-Ami, Israeli cultural critic points out, Israel’s Gay Pride parade estranges many who experience discrimination on grounds other than sexual orientation, as well as those aware of the discrimination that others face.

Similarly, Aeyal Gross, a professor of law at Tel Aviv University, argues that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool,” even though “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.

Rabbi Alpert, a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinic Cabinet, has spoken publicly against Israel’s  “pinkwashing”: the exploitation of Israel’s reputation as a champion of gay rights in order to rebut claims that it is a major violator of Palestinian rights. In an interview, Alpert said that what troubled her was that Israel claimed to be a Jewish state and homeland for world Jewry. As such, it speaks in her name and this she could not allow. Gays historically have known dispossession and being stripped of rights as human beings. Therefore, she said, they identify with those, like the Palestinians, who have none.

***

These two sleights of hand are all too familiar, and we have thoroughly deconstructed them in our three posts which Lustiger does not think it necessary to read before launching his ill informed tirade.

He claims by the way, that I made “eight factual mistakes”, but he does not say what these are, anywhere. Or perhaps, along with not knowing how to write, I have forgotten how to read?

Lustiger goes on at great length about the dissident voices inside Israel, many of whom Aditya and I  have in fact cited extensively, including B’Tselem, which he thinks he is bringing to our attention.  But it is from among those dissident voices also that the call for boycott of Israel comes.

Ilan Pappe puts it far more sharply than we would (cited in our third post):

In order to stop the extension of these war crimes, the extension of this criminal behavior, let’s admit that we need external pressure on the State of Israel. Let’s thank the associations of journalists, physicians and academics who call for a boycott on Israel as long as this criminal policy continues. Let us use the help of civil society in order to make the State of Israel a pariah state, as long as this behavior continues.

Clearly, the boycott call (a global initiative, as Aditya’s post showed, not one initiated by us illiterate Indian intellectuals)  does not mean “refusing to read, hear, see or talk to artists who hold Israeli passports” or not to “read Israeli novels and poetry, attend exhibitions by Israeli artists, listen to Israeli musicians, watch Israeli theatre performances”.

It means an academic and cultural boycott of institutions in Israel, most of which are complicit with the state’s apartheid policies. It means you can go to Israel and talk to people in a cafe, in an open space, make the point that the global community will not cooperate with legitimizing Zionist oppression of the Palestinian people. Not all visiting Israeli cultural groups need to be boycotted, only those that come under the patronage of the Israeli state, those that like Cameri Theatre do not consider themselves as part of progressive and dissident Israeli voices.

Lustiger says “I have not heard of boycotts anywhere of Chinese goods, Pakistani novels or Indian films, though these originate in states that oppress people in similarly unbearable ways.” Well, what if there is a call for boycott of these states? What if from within a country a movement emerges that makes such an appeal? Should we not take that seriously? If tomorrow there is a movement and a voice from within China or India that calls for a boycott, certainly we should not dismiss it out of hand. Of course, Israel is a somewhat special case. It has with impunity transgressed all international conventions, protocols and laws. The other state that did this on a large scale was apartheid South Africa, against which we know that this strategy was used to good effect.

In his lengthy, insulting and arrogant comment submitted to Kafila*, Lustiger had made insane “historical” claims, some of which he repeats in this article – for instance, that  European Jews had “lived in Europe since the Exile of first century CE”.  Twenty centuries afterwards, they are still ‘In Exile’ and must “return” to the land promised them by no less than God? So of course, Palestinians dispossessed a mere 45 years ago can have no right of return. This is another common Zionist strategy – the Jewish people have a history that can be traced back for millenia, Palestinians did not exist until 1948.

Of course, Lustiger is no more “insane” than Golda Meir, who said

This country exists as the fulfillment of a promise made by God Himself. It would be ridiculous to ask it to account for its legitimacy. (Le Monde, 15 October 1971)

For us, and for all sane voices in the region, both Israeli and Palestinian, the question is no longer to “determine who this land should be rightfully returned to”, as Lustiger in a third sleight of hand holds. If the issue is posed in this way, there is of course, no resolution, because of the layers and layers of history, settlement, war, conquest etc that any place in the world has.  The question is of how to ensure justice now in that chequered land with its history that has already happened. This was the question Aditya’s post (our third in the series) raised. And there he explored the voices that stand for a bi-national one-state solution.

There is no going back. What there is,  is the present, which needs to be engaged with as ethically as possible. And one possibly effective way to do this is to boycott and isolate the state of Israel in the world community.

————————————————————————————————-

* Every comment to Kafila is a submission, and it is our prerogative to carry it or not. See our Comments Policy, where we specifically say “The authors of posts reserve the right to not publish a comment or to delete one after having published it…” The prime concern for myself (and many others on Kafila) is to ensure a fair representation of views that would not get space in the mainstream media. We aim to curate a debate that is lively and engaging, and explores a variety of non-mainstream views. Lengthy, purely ideological comments that show clear evidence of not having read the posts on which they are supposedly commenting, are very unlikely to be passed on any post of mine.
20 Comments leave one →
  1. Saeed Malik permalink
    November 29, 2012 12:47 AM

    Prof Shlomo Sand makes some points adequately clear in his book ” The Invention of the Jewish People” viz:
    a. Jews conquered or converted people in Yemen, Ethiopia, Berbers in N.Africa, and people in E. Europe, among others. As such there is no single “Jewish people.” Thus for all the Jewish people around the globe to lay claim to Palestine as their ancient homeland is absurd.
    b. The Palestinians of the present day are in all probability Jews of old, converted to Islam or Christianity.
    c. Though the two Jewish captivities are well enough recorded,according to him there is absolutely no historical proof of Jewish “Exile” from the holy land. There is no record of any Roman decree to this effect. All that can therefore be reasonably asserted is that after the Bar Kobcha revolt, and the ensuing Roman retribution, life for the Jews of Palestine became very difficult, as a result of which they probably emigrated to many different parts of the globe. If anything, therefore, this “exile” was the result of a self-imposition.
    Sand, being an Isreali Jew,[ and he is not the first,] has therefore created a difficulty for the doctrinaire historians of Israel. By knocking out the “exile” issue he has also knocked out its opposite i.e “redemption” which is the central point on which the Jewish claim to return to Palestine is based.
    The second great difficulty for official Jewish historians has been created by Illan Pappe, another Israeli jewish professor. He has proved that the war of 48, was planned as a war of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. His research is so compelling, that no half way respectable historian is today willing to trot out the old canard that Palesinian refugees were the creation of invading arab armies who enouraged them to leave their homes so as not to get caught up in the cross-fire of war– that they should withdraw, and would be called back as soon as the jews have been pushed into the sea!
    The central slogan for the creation of Israel was: ” a people without land for a land without people.” It does not need to be argued that this was a lie. But in order to convert this lie into truth, they needed to commit the crime of ethnic cleansing, without which space for a purely jewish nation state could not be created.
    Thus the creation of Israel was based on a lie, and nourished on a crime!
    The Palestinians, who had nothing to do with the trajedies suffered by jews at the hands of europe, were chosen to pay for the crimes of europe.
    Thus without agreement of the Palestinians, the creation of Israel was always going to be illegal, irrespective of whether there was an ” exile” or not. Legitimization of jewish claims to Palestine would legitimize reverse migrations of all the people in history.
    However, now that the crimes have already been committed, and are history, it is time to move forward, and to resolve the problem, rather than exacerbating it.
    But this lies in the power of those who have created the problem, and those who have fully supported them in so doing.
    And it gets solved without difficulty if only Israel withdraws to the pre-67 broders, and lets the Palestinians have just 22 percent of their land, and their independence. But if Israel must go on insisting that it steal ever more Palestinian land, bull doze their houses, cut down their olive groves, and break their bones, just because they have a great gay-rights program going, one would be right in seriously questioning God’s selection of His “chosen people.”

  2. November 29, 2012 6:55 AM

    Awesome stuff ma’am! If this Lustiger fellow has any residual shame, or intellectual germ, it would do him good to read all the three posts in Kafila… but what am I saying??? Haha.

    I loved how you mentioned his “first sleight of hand”! Good stuff. It really is frustrating to see that he has the audacity to talk about cut and paste jobs all the while adhering to the same propagandist notions with which he’s programmed with.

    When will people open their eyes and see.

    “We are led to believe a lie when we see not through the eye”- William Blake

  3. damitr permalink
    November 29, 2012 11:51 AM

    And after this you might just THE phone call :

    ” The Glasgow Media Group’s Greg Philo and Mike Berry noted in their 2009 book, ‘More Bad News From Israel':

    ‘to criticise Israel can create major problems. Journalists spoke to us of the extraordinary number of complaints which they receive. We have presented our findings to many groups of media practitioners. After one such meeting a senior editor from a major BBC news programme told us: “we wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis”. He then said that the main issues they would face were from how high up had the call come (e.g. a monitoring group, or the Israeli embassy), and then how high up the BBC had the complaint gone (e.g. to the duty editor or the director general).’ (p. 2)”
    via MediaLens

    http://medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=706:gaza-blitz-turmoil-and-tragicomedy-at-the-bbc&catid=25:alerts-2012&Itemid=69

    This just shows how the state of Israel acts coherently using all possible means: pressure groups, corporate media and “independent intellectuals” to legitimize and justify their actions which in any other part of the world would count as serious war crimes.

  4. Sohail Hashmi permalink
    November 29, 2012 12:25 PM

    What takes the cake however is the argument put forward by the “secular” Zionist state and its drummer boys that its claims are based on a promise made by God

  5. Magid Shihade permalink
    November 29, 2012 7:24 PM

    Jonas Moses Lustiger uses “In Defence of Israel” a similar title to the fascist Dershowitz’ work “The Case for Israel,” in which he lays the legal ground for Israeli state terror and extra-judicial killing/hunting Palestinians and Arabs.

    The author is surprised why Indian intellectuals’ have ethical, intellectual, and political sympathy to and solidarity with the Palestinian cause. He tries to propagate Israeli lies about some affinity between Indians and Israelis. In this he ignores among other things the long and natural affinity between Indians and Palestinians; one that went through western colonization, and the other is still under the rule of another, of a particular kind, settler colonial in nature, that is seen by the West and Israelis as the West’s front against the East, which include not only the Arab world but Asia and Africa (Fayez Sayegh, Zionist Colonization of Palestine). It is a state that is heavily involved in arms supplies (for wars and conflicts to further escalate) to many states in both continents and has worked with many racist regimes including Apartheid South Africa.

    “Like India and many other places, Israel and Palestine have such a long and complicated history that quick judgments or simplifications are best avoided.” Really!! What is in common among India and Israel? How is it complicated to point to a settler colonial state’s structural violence? What do Indians need to know? Such line of Israeli propaganda? And if they follow such line, would then they become not radical in the eyes of Zionist mouthpieces? Is this here not another White person telling the Brown folks how to think and what is good for them? Need to teach Indians about history and about Israel? They cannot read or comprehend without the help of Zionist mouthpieces?

    If they are not “ignorant,” they are “dogmatic,” or “demagogical”? Please enlighten us all?

    “The situation in West Asia is dramatic, and there are victims on both sides. It is true that Israel’s current government is one of the worst it has known and most of its citizens have lost hope for peace. It is also true that Israeli society is turning more racist, intolerant and ignorant of the suffering and existence of their immediate neighbours—Palestinians. Of course, the Palestinian people have been denied many rights and have been living under precarious conditions since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. True, they have been repeat victims of unjustifiable violence and a large proportion of Israeli politicians deny their claim to an independent land, even as Israel threatens the viability of a Palestinian state by wielding tools of colonisation.
    But is this all?”

    No it is not. Here are some facts that are widely known and Zionist mouthpieces try to avoid talking about. The year of Zionist colonization started with the help of British colonialism in Palestine in the 1920s. Israel become a de facto settler colonial state in 1948, displaced and ethically cleansed the country of most of its inhabitants. It is a violent state by nature, and violence is the only mean it achieves its being. Here are extra authors for you to consider: Nur Masalha, Walid Khalidi, Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim (and there is a long list).

    “Ms Menon and others seem to forget Israel since its independence has been the region’s only free and pluralistic democracy and one of Asia’s few. Arab Israelis, 20 per cent of Israel’s population, have by law the same rights as all other citizens. They vote and send representatives to the Knesset (legislative assembly) in every election.”

    Really, since when? Here are some sources for you to consider how these Palestinians (not Israeli Arabs, a term used by Zionists) are citizens without citizenship – Nimer Sultany, Ian Lustick, and the list is very long).

    “Israeli journalists, writers and academics are among the harshest critics of Israel and its policies. Even though their opinions are not always well received, they are allowed to express themselves in Israel without being threatened with charges of sedition or blasphemy.”

    It is a democracy for Jews, and especially Ashkenazi western Jews. You as a Jew have more rights than me even though I am an Israeli citizen.

    “I don’t know what would happen to an Indian journalist embarking on a mission to cross the Line of Control in Kashmir.”

    You want India to follow the Israeli path or the other way around?

    “Israel’s educational institutions like Tel Aviv University host students and professors from across the world, including Egypt, Jordan and Palestine.”

    Israeli universities are heavily implicated in arms’ and security research and political justification for Israeli colonial ethnic cleansing policies (www.pacbi.org).

    “Demonstrations against the ongoing operations by Israel in Gaza are held every day in the country and Israelis have repeatedly declared themselves against military intervention in Iran; the popular website Israel Loves Iran is just one example.”

    How many do that? All recent polls that I see in Haaretz and other sources here tell a different story (you yourself acknowledge this earlier in the essay). The public is more racist, more violent, and more inclined for war.

    “An article in The Hindu on 4 November reported that a number of Indian artists, filmmakers and thinkers had called for the boycott of a play by The Cameri, a prestigious Israeli theatre company that was slated to perform at the Delhi International Arts Festival. According to the report, ‘The citizens, in a signed statement, have called for the boycott, as they feel that The Cameri Theatre group serves as an “official propaganda tool for the State of Israel—a state that occupies Palestinian lands and practises apartheid policies on the Palestinian people…
    “I have not heard of boycotts anywhere of Chinese goods, Pakistani novels or Indian films, though these originate in states that oppress people in similarly unbearable ways. It is sad to see enlightened people in Delhi dismiss Israeli art as ‘propaganda’. They seem unaware that the essence of good art is its visionary, ill-behaved and disobedient nature.”

    Yes, this is the least that people around the world can peacefully do. They did so with Apartheid South Africa, and it worked, and doing so against Israel is a very ethical stance. Israel is not an exception, unless you want to make it one. To make all states equally guilty is to ignore one major difference: Israel is a settler colonial state that is from its beginning a violence entity and its relations with the rest of the world is heavily around arms/weapons and violence.

    “Ms Menon’s article in particular shows ignorance of Jewish and West Asian history, common to most Indian intellectuals I have read or heard discussing the subject. I wonder how people who so often refer to ‘Zionism’ and the ‘imperialistic origins’ of Israel and its US ally can be so ignorant. Zionism was born in an extremely anti-Semitic 19th century Europe after a two-millennium history of Jews at the receiving end of discriminatory laws, massacres, forced displacement, ghettoisation and utmost poverty. David Ben-Gurion’s Zionism was based on the principles of utopian socialism. Israel was founded as a socialist country actively supported by the USSR. The country’s moral, cultural and political identity was first crafted in the cradle of egalitarian socialist communities—the Kibbutzim. Some of this is still visible; Israel’s leading publishing house is called Am Oved (‘working people’).”

    The rest was answered before, but “egalitarian”? That is how you call settler colonies that not only displaced local Palestinians, but also was for most part an White/Ashkenazi enterprise, that to this day does not allow Arabs to be members?

    “I have read many Indian intellectuals referring to ‘European Jews’ (who are more accurately called Ashkenazi Jews) as illegitimate colonisers of Palestine. But who in India talks about the Holocaust, the industrial killing in just four years of six million Jews of all ages—two of every three living in Europe in 1939—by the Nazis under Adolf Hitler? Most had lived in Europe since the Exile of first century CE. How many Indian anti-Zionists are aware that during World War II, the US and Great Britain refused asylum to European Jews who lived under racist laws and were threatened with extermination? Do Ms Menon and her fellow thinkers know that after World War II ended, eastern and central European Jews were rendered stateless and kept in displacement camps in Germany? Do they know that many displaced Jews were refused visas to countries like the US? Do they know that of the 3.5 million Jews who lived in Poland in 1939, no more than 300,000 survived, and those who tried to return to their homes in Krakow and Lublin were met with pogroms (five of which occurred in Poland between August 1945 and 1946)?
    I have heard no outrage against or condemnation of this fascination with Hitler, despite easily available information on the Nazi Holocaust in English and other Indian languages.”

    This should make you take a strong stand against Israeli policies, and not be a mouthpiece for Israeli and Zionist propaganda.

    “In fact, Tel Aviv is one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities. Israel is also the only country in the region where women enjoy the same rights as men.”

    Pinkwashing? Does Israel treat the Palestinians based on their sexual orientation?

    “Do Indian experts on West Asia know that the Israeli people are not merely European, as many here tend to believe, but are a mix of people of Indian, Georgian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Persian, Chinese, Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Argentine, Uzbek, Syrian, Polish, Afghani, Turkish, Portuguese, Austrian, German, Brazilian, Ethiopian, Russian, Bulgarian and French origin?”

    Are there Arabs? Are there Palestinian natives to the land? Do they don’t count because you have this colorful rainbow of settler colonial society?

    “The Israeli reality of being a country with mostly hostile neighbours whose legitimacy is still not recognised by 32 countries, and which has to deal with daily attacks and terrorist threats, does not seem to be acceptable suffering to many Indian intellectuals. Of course, by occupying and oppressing a people for more than 40 years, Israel has contributed to creating and aggravating its reality, but denial of the existing situation only results in an inadequate understanding of the issues at stake.”

    Israel is becoming more and more a pariah state all around the world, and this might help in stopping its violence and its causing of instabilities all around.

    “Selective indignation is not consistent with liberalism, and anyone who claims to be a humanist ought to defend the same principles consistently.”

    That is something you should learn from, and not be selective in defending a violent racist state, especially if your claims about yourself are true. In short, the time when Zionists and Israeli were able to spread their lies around the unchallenged is over.

  6. Short permalink
    November 30, 2012 2:33 AM

    This article does a lot of nitpicking but doesn’t seem to address Jonas’ central point: That a lot of people see the Israel/Palestine issue in stark black/white terms. In fact calling him a ‘propagandist’ even though his article does indeed criticize Israel in many ways only goes to prove his point.

    I think there’s something to be said for being wary of romanticizing the underdog. How many times in history has the world uncritically cheered on resistance to oppressive dictatorships only to find that nothing much changes when power changes hands. (Arab spring, anyone?) I doubt very much that the situation would be different if, say, Hamas had the upper hand in the conflict. Israel is doing terrible things, to be sure. But we shouldn’t forget that there are strong elements of intolerance and violence within Palestine as well.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      November 30, 2012 10:30 AM

      Short – If you take the trouble to go over the comments on our earlier posts, you will see that this a common and indeed the only possible Zionist strategy – to accept that the sufferings of the Palestinians due to Israeli apartheid and genocidal policies are indeed intolerable BUT BUT BUT – and then the quick move to three kinds of arguments – a) Jews suffered in the Holocaust, b) Israel is a democratic state and c) How can we talk about returning land because there are many other claimants over centuries, it’s not the Palestinians’ land.
      Zionists propagandists can no longer (openly) talk like Golda Meir. In today’s global political climate, Israel has been thoroughly exposed, and there is so much international solidarity with Palestinians that anyone seeking to sound even faintly credible has to concede the points that Lustiger has.
      As for romanticizing the underdog – you’re right. Indian anti-imperialists were the underdog once, and look what happened after the British left! This is a very strange argument – let us just support the top dog at all times, because new kinds of oppressions will emerge? Of course they will, and they will be resisted, that’s why democracy is not something that is ever achieved once and for all.
      As for Hamas – our third post has been critical of Hamas, but the real point is this – there are strong oppositions to Hamas inside Palestinian society. it’s not only Israeli society that has dissident voices, you know! But how strong can such dissident voices be in the face of the pitiless blockade and bombing of Gaza?

      • Short permalink
        November 30, 2012 11:36 AM

        But I never said ‘support the top dog’. Only, don’t valorize the underdog because they’re the underdog.

    • Magid Shihade permalink
      November 30, 2012 2:39 PM

      84% among Israelis supported the war against Gaza. This means, that if you take out the Arab Palestinian citizens, we are left with almost total support among Israeli Jews for the war. Does that sound like fascism at work?

      Plus, the question here is not about angles and devils, nor about taking sides, but about taking an ethical position against settler colonialism and all the policies that Israel has been pursuing since 1948 to ethnically cleanse the land, dispossess, and repress the native Palestinian population…

  7. My_name permalink
    November 30, 2012 10:52 PM

    Please direct people to

    It is a 90-minute documentary called Occupation 101, which talks about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is a well-researched documentary. I refuse to debate this issue with anyone who has not seen the documentary. I am not sure if it has been mentioned in your three blog posts on the issue. I do not remember there being a mention of it. I think it is important for people to know that a credible documentary exists about the occupation. Lengthy blog posts can be avoided by making people watch it. I am open to facts-based falsification of the things presented in the in it.

  8. December 1, 2012 1:06 AM

    Wow, “Holocaust” is now just a “heavily worded code word”. Facepalm. (I’m fiercely anti-Zionist, but please, come on.)

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      December 1, 2012 9:24 AM

      Thanks Mihir, for giving me the opportunity to introduce you to a body of scholarship that has contested – not the fact that the Holocaust happened, not that it was inhuman and intolerable – but that it was a) unique and b) the first time such inhumanity has been perpetrated in the 20th Century.

      European intellectuals like Hayden White and Dominick La Capra, who could be termed ‘radical constructivists’ on the question of history, and who question the inherent meaningfulness of events, retreat and cautiously reformulate all their complex theorizations in the face of The Holocaust.

      While it is not difficult to understand the burden of guilt and responsibility generated for European intellectuals by the Holocaust, it is not at all so self-evident that the “limits of representation” (Hayden White) are reached when we touch it. Is it indeed the Holocaust that places the first question mark on all claims of European humanism?
      This very thesis, says Wole Soyinka, “merely provides further proof that the European mind has yet to come into full cognition of the African world as an equal sector of a universal humanity – for if it had, its historic recollection would have placed the failure of European humanism centuries earlier, and that would be at the very inception of the European slave trade.”

      Aime Cesaire puts it even more bluntly – “And then one day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific reverse shock: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up…And they hide the truth from themselves, that this is barbarism…the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it…because until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples.”

      What African intellectuals Soyinka and Cesaire are pointing to is that European states perfected these methods of ethnocide and barbarism on African peoples at least a couple of centuries before the 20th, but they wake up to the horror only when white people face the same barbarism.

      Read Mario Varga Llosa’s Dream of the Celt, the biographical novel about the Irish revolutionary Roger Casement, which begins with accounts of what was happening in Africa under imperialism, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

      This is not “Holocaust denial”, this is not say that Jews have not suffered, but this is to say that the term THE HOLOCAUST is to use a heavily coded vocabulary that renders one kind of suffering as unique and beyond any rational analysis, while denying all others any claim to true suffering.

      • December 1, 2012 8:11 PM

        Nivedita, thanks for the lesson but it’s quite unnecessary. I am familiar with and sympathetic to this line of argument. Whether the Holocaust was unique or not, whether the seeds of that totalitarianism were sown by the practices of colonialism and control of the working class or not, however, it totally irrelevant to the point that it is more than just “a heavily loaded code word” in this or in any other context. The Holocaust is what it was and is called; it is the historical context for the sympathy that many on the left initially and mistakenly felt for the young state of Israel; and to evade that point is not useful. Far from increasing the possibility that other sufferings are then understood, you are artificially reducing the salience of one event in order to stress another. Not a tack worth taking.

  9. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    December 2, 2012 8:02 AM

    MS/Mihir – Well played! Having come in as your twittish “facepalm” self with a frivolous comment, and now doing a hasty “I knew that” when faced with information that reveals your ignorance. And on top of that, interpreting African scholarship critical of the unique character attributed to “the Holocaust” as “reducing its salience”.
    “Not a tack worth taking”, Mihir!

    • December 17, 2012 3:13 AM

      Césaire was not a scholar and not African. He was a poet, the poet of the négritude, and was a French from the Antilles (West Indies). He was also a strong supporter of the state of Israel. To quote JM: Facts Ms Menon, facts! Also genocide has a strict legal definition (the CPPCG). Genocide, pogrom, war crime, ethnic cleansing, politicide, are not interchangeable terms. (It is not only a question of proven intent but also a question of scale and means).
      “Holocaust” is as much a “heavily worded code word” as “slavery”, why not say commerce of non-paid workforce?
      I like words and I think deconstruction hasn’t killed intelligebility or meaning.
      Reducing Holocaust to some commonplace “terror” is called revisionism. Refusing contradiction is called dogmatism.
      Please explain how the current Israeli government’s PR could be to denunciate its own policies and to condemn its action, to me this proposition violates all the postulates of logic.

      • Nivedita Menon permalink*
        December 18, 2012 12:03 PM

        Thanks MA, for revealing what the Zionist position is reduced to. This is all you could pick up to prove my ERRORS? A quick phrase in a response to a comment in which I didn’t say “Nigerian scholar Soyinka and Martinican poet Cesaire”, but instinctively used one adjective to describe both – “African”. Cesaire, one of the creators of the idea of negritude, who said that it was in Haiti (a “Carribean” country), that “negritude stood up for the first time”; for whom negritude was the shared black heritage of the African diaspora which was not located on the African continent alone! You want to slot him back exclusively into a narrow national identity! Do you even know what negritude means, or did you read that word in Wikipedia for the first time? I’m not surprised you are anonymous here, your arrogance is matched only by your supreme ignorance.
        Compounding your idiocies, you add – “He was also a strong supporter of the state of Israel.” You give no shred of evidence of course. Why bother, right? Just follow the Goebbelsian logic of telling a lie often enough till people come to believe it.
        Cesaire is best known (in the context of Nazism) for the argument I cited in my response to a comment above – that Nazism is a continuation of colonialism, with colonial methods coming back to haunt Europeans, since Nazis were doing to Europeans only what European colonialism was doing to the rest of the non-Western world for 400 years. That, in short “the Holocaust” had been happening to non-white, “non-human” peoples for centuries, but Europe wakes up only when it happens to white people.
        How does that translate into support for “the state of Israel”? (For Jews, of course, he would have had the same sympathy he had for non-white people at the receiving end of those strategies of violence)
        Please educate yourself before you come barging in triumphantly with arrant nonsense (“not a scholar, a poet” forsooth!!).
        You are the kind of person for whom nothing is at stake, you dont really care for Israel or Palestine, everything is a only a competition to show who is smarter. But a word of advice before you make a fool of yourself another time – pick on someone your own size, MA.

  10. Santosh John Samuel permalink
    December 10, 2012 11:25 AM

    Thank you ma’am for the detailed response, which i was sure would come after i saw the Lustiger nonsense in Open. I send Lustiger a link, ‘http://ifamericansknew.org/’, which through its use of graphs/colour, makes understanding of certain facts on the ground very easy.
    p.s.
    Of all our changing of stripes in these post-liberalisation years, it is our complete normalisation of relations with Israel that has saddened many of us. This from a country that was known for its anti-imperialistic stand, leadership of the third world and its moral support for just struggles throughout the world. While a complete boycott might not be practical, the very cosy relationship, especially arms’ trade (defence is not quite the right word for it) that India and the apartheid state of Israel share is shocking, and so is the absence of a counter narrative, even from the official Left. It is a reflection on the kind of valueless leadership we’ve had in these past two decades, the acceptance of the right-wing narrative, the economic boom thrall that we seem to in, and the media not fulfilling its role that things have come to such a pass. India arms’ trade with Israel show how much we have sunk in our own estimation.
    Hopefully, your article(s) would at least lead to some introspection in our polity.

  11. Jonas permalink
    December 18, 2012 7:28 PM

    I think even Press TV doesn’t use in the same paragraph Goebbelsian logic and Zionism. I see you have done your homework but you still do not deserve a 20. It is exactly this position of being a French, a black from the Antilles that had lived in metropolitan France that created the négritude. It’s a powerful cry within this sphere nourished by this tension between the French Republican ideal, the history of slavery and colonialism in the Antilles and motherly African roots. The négritude reinvented in Colonial France a common heritage that called for difference and tried to reconstruct a common African legacy. But Aimé Césaire tried to amend the coercive nature of French identity from within and he was French: he wrote exclusively in French (not in Creol), he supported the transformation of Martinique into a French department, he was an elected member of Parliament for over 50 years, he participated in the résistance, and he did have much sympathies for Israel as stated below in an interview published in l’Express dating from 2001 following the Durban Conference :
    While I may be an illiterate I read French and German.

    “A Durban, un certain nombre d’ONG n’ont pas hésité à accuser l’Etat d’Israël de racisme antipalestinien…
    Ce n’est évidemment pas par racisme que l’Etat d’Israël agit comme il agit contre les Palestiniens. Ce n’est pas parce qu’ils sont arabes! C’est un Etat qui se sent menacé et donc se bat par tous les moyens. Bien sûr, il y a des dérives, mais ce n’est pas parce que les Palestiniens sont de telle race ou de telle couleur. Le mobile, ce n’est pas le racisme, ce serait plutôt le nationalisme.”

    What you forgot to say Ms Menon is that the “Discours sur le Colonialisme” you partially quoted was written by Césaire in 1950, during the Korean War, when he was member of the French Communist Party (he left the PCF in 1956) and his attack was targeted against Capitalism and one of its avatars colonialism:
    “Qu’on le veuille ou non : au bout du cul-de-sac Europe, je veux dire l’Europe d’Adenauer, de Schuman, Bidault et quelques autres, il y a Hitler. Au bout du capitalisme, désireux de se survivre, il y a Hitler.”
    He later modified his position.

    If the seeds of Nazi barbarity lies in colonial exploitation among many other factors (centuries-old Christian anti-semitism, “modern” racialist theories, the atrocities of the First World War, economic crisis, the collapse of the European values, romanticism, nationalism,…read George L Mosse) colonialism and genocide are fundamentally different on multiple grounds. The scale, the intent, the means, the end. The essence of genocide is not only its inexplicability but also its unintelligibility, Primo Levi “Hier ist kein warm”. The trauma of the Holocaust in Europe is in no way linked to a hypothetical dialectic progression of history, a manifestation of negativity. Jews were not these “white europeans” they were the “enemy from within”, the invisible menace. What Europe witnessed with the Holocaust was the climax of European certainties in the most unintelligible act, a well-planed, rational, organized and efficient act, accepted quietly by all (with some notable exceptions): In only four years the destruction of cultures, cities, villages, histories and knowledge and the industrial death of 6 million men, women and children, the only intent and end being the complete annihilation of the Jews, the “Final solution to the Jewish Question”. This is what traumatized Europe, this climax, this inability to act, the unintelligibility of the Final Solution. It wasn’t about the Jews who were asked after the war not to talk and not to share the experience of the Holocaust with people who wanted to rebuild and reconstruct Europe. Why did Sartre and Beauvoir sit at the Café de Flore in 1942? Why did Heiddeger not renounce his professor title at the University of Heildelberg? Why were Augustinian philosophy and sanskrit poetry taught at the college de France the day the Vel’ D’hiv raffle happened in Paris? Why did the policeman of France, Belgium, Austria and Holland accept to arrest the Jews? Why did the trade unionists accept to denounce the jewish workers? Why did railway man accept to conduct the animal wagons to Auschwitz? This was happening in front of everybody’s eyes, in the same towns, houses and villages, and no questions or justification were necessary for Europe to accept, “Hier ist kein warm”. This is not colonialism, not slavery (I’m not saying there is a hierarchy just theses are different incarnation of barbarity). Colonialist discourse tried to justify its barbarity and to make it acceptable to blind Europeans (exoticism is also what Césaire fought). There was no intent in slavery to eradicate an entire people or group. The incarnations of barbarity backed by European enlightenment are multiple but not interchangeable.

    I’m also very bored with the victimization of upper-cast JNU professors obliged to defend the world underdogs because they cannot face the reality existing outside their protected campus: rickshawallas earning 50 Rs a day. You fight euro-centricism because you are the most westernized, wear saris and kurta pajamas while listening to Carnatic music at the IIC because you were the one most impacted by European dreams in convent schools. The victim position is completely illegitimate, you flourished under colonial rule and acquired new tools to establish your domination over the country; while you now had demonstrable rational knowledge others were left with “believe”. It is easier to defend Palestine than to destroy cast system, easier to call Gayatri Chakravorty a “women of color” than to call her a Bengali Brahmin, easier to affiliate to the underdogs than to recognize that more than 85% of university professors are upper-cast, easier to talk about post-colonialism than to create an inclusive development feeding 700 million people while preserving identities, tradition and cultures. Easier also to spend just a quick Thursday evening in the Hazart Nizzamuddin Dargah shaking your heads to qawalis than to venture in Shahajanabad or Zakir Nagar at night scared, for no reason, to share and understand the lives, anxieties and conflicts of Indian Muslims. But you are not India, independence is more than 60 years old and what is being built today is a new syncretic identity between what people like from Europe and their Indian values, originating from all faiths and cultures, which you have long lost touch with. This might not go in the right direction and BJP, Gurgaon and shopping malls might be the names but you will have no place in the discussions if you continue to be completely blind and self-indulgent. I think colonialism had a virtue, your millennium long superiority over the Indian society was questioned when you discovered at the entry of a gentleman’s club that you were brown like the rest of us.

    Your generous tears over Anne Frank, the perceptible assimilation of Zionism to Nazism, “selective indignation”, relativism of the Holocaust, the confused amalgam between Jews-Colonialism-Imperialism-Slavery in quoting Amié Césaire assure me that you are not only an anti-zionist (fine with me) but a full-on anti-Semite.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      December 19, 2012 2:32 AM

      Yes Jonas, you have made these points before.
      1. Stick to caste, leave international affairs to us.
      2. Anti-zionist is equal to anti-Semitic
      3. Everybody does terrible things, why do you keep picking on Israel.

      A new sleight of hand is introduced taking advantage of a response I made to another comment – Aime Cesaire. Long disquisition on negritude. (Not relevant, nothing to disagree with.)
      Followed by a few sentences in which Cesaire is quoted by you as saying that Israel is not being racist when it attacks Palestine, it is being nationalist. This is in the context of the Durban conference against racism, you say, in which case the argument could be that not all forms of discrimination are “racist”. Many Indian scholars made this argument against taking caste to Durban. (I dont agree with them, but that’s another debate). I dont see how making this distinction amounts to “support for Israel”, and since you don’t provide a link, there is no larger context in which to judge.
      In any case, it is irrelevant whether Cesaire supported Israel or not – I cited him in the context of his refusing “The Holocaust” a unique status. This was not central to my argument about the Israeli state’s genocidal policies against Palestinians, nor even part of it, Cesaire only came up as a response to a comment on my post, and only to make a point against “the” holocaust. The Zionist assumption of some obvious link between Nazi persecution of Jews and the state of Israel, legitimizing it, is precisely what I reject.

      Two new assertions though, which really reveal the poverty of your ethical standpoint:
      1. Defenders of Palestine in India are classist, casteist, elitist and anti-Muslim (or at least, indifferent to Muslims). So you’re saying there are no Dalit/non-upper caste, Muslim, and non-elite defenders of Palestine in India. Really? Are you even aware of what you are writing?
      2. To defend Palestine is to assume “the victim position”. That is, if I defend Palestine, I’m saying I am a victim. This makes no sense, really it doesn’t.
      (Of course, it seems you think it’s perfectly legitimate for Israel to perpetually assume the victim position even as it bombs Gaza, say. There ain’t room on this planet for more than one victim, and that’s Israel?)

      And why the confused attack on postcolonial theory? I don’t use it, and have never in my life used the term “woman of colour”, let alone described Spivak as such. You have no idea about intellectual debates here, it is clear. What on earth are you going on about, Jonas?

      To what lengths will you run to escape the substantive issues being raised? Israeli apartheid, Israeli war crimes, the growing international chorus to isolate Israel as a criminal state. Never mind my sari and Carnatic music Jonas, and I wont bring up your jeans and T shirt – let’s talk about Palestine, Palestine, Palestine.

      • Nivedita Menon permalink*
        December 19, 2012 12:58 PM

        PS. You are surprised by my “perceptible assimilation of Zionism to Nazism”, by my placing Goebbelsian logic and Zionism in the same space. Have you really never come across this equation before? it has struck many observers of Zionism, I assure you. Some quick links:

        Zionazism: Zionism is the mirror-image of Nazism

        Zionazi : A word that describes the behavior and mentality by certain subscribers to a cult like behavior being practiced by mostly Jews and some Christian supporters in the United States as indoctrination from the old testament. As a result, Zionazis exercised a ruthless relentless fascist like behavior to achieve their goal of ethnicity cleansing Palestine of its indigenous Palestinian population at any cost.

        Zionazi in the Urban Dictionary

        But of course, we are all “anti-semitic” – the sasta sundar tikau auto-response. (I’m sure that with your extensive knowledge of the by-lanes of India, you dont need a translation of that phrase.)

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