May 12, 2009

To all our critics who jhave already written off the Leonard Cohen call which we have made, please read the report below, and reassess your certainties… I really do not believe we have heard the last on this issue.

Anti-Israel activists urge Leonard Cohen to nix T.A. show: Ha’aretz

Anti-Israel activists are stepping up efforts to dissuade Leonard Cohen from performing in Israel in September. The activists urge supporters to “apply pressure during his tour by local groups along his path,” in their most recent appeal, which was circulated on Monday in various pro-Palestinian mailing lists. They added that letters “and various actions” might prove “instrumental in helping him take the decision to cancel his last concert.” This, they explain, is because “it is obvious the situation in Palestine and Israel is quite clear to Leonard Cohen, to judge by his song entitled Questions for Shomrim. The poem begins with the words “And will my people build a new Dachau
and call it love, security, Jewish culture.” It also reads: “You were our singing heroes in ’48, do you dare ask yourselves what you are now” and: “now my son must die for he’s an Arab.” The anti-Israel activists called on supporters to write to Cohen’s manager and leave messages on his official online forum. They published a list of destinations on Cohen’s tour, ending with Israel “if we are not successful.” In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Leonard Cohen flew to Israel to perform before reserves and regular soldiers fighting in the Sinai desert. Two main letters of protest against the concert have been circulated so far. The most recent one was co-signed by a hundred Israelis and Palestinians, who wrote that Israel’s “ruthless, criminal bashing of the Palestinians has met with little international criticism.” Addressing Cohen and urging him to cancel, the Israelis said: “We cannot envision you cooperating with continued Israeli defiance of justice and morality; we cannot envision you playing a part in the Israeli charade of self-righteousness.” They included the poem Questions for Shomrim in their appeal.
The first letter of protest was published last month by Pro-Palestinian professors from the U.K. from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, who warned Cohen that he would be performing “for a public that by a very large majority had no qualms about its military forces’ onslaught” in Gaza. The scholars – Haim Bresheeth, Mike Cushman, Hilary Rose and Jonathan Rosenhead, added: “You will perform in a state whose propaganda services will extract every ounce of mileage from your presence. They will use it to whitewash their war crimes.” The authors of the letter explained that Cohen needs to cancel the show in Ramat Gan lest it be attended by Arab-killing Israeli soldiers who are “drinking beer” and “playing backgammon with their mates and going to discotheques.”

Below you can read the letter sent to the Jewish Chronicle, affter they published the article by Mr. Freedland. We have asked them to publish it as a ‘right of reply’ letter, but we got no reply, of course… So much for the openness of the JC to other Jewish voices, apart from their own!

Open Letter to Jonathan Freedland at the Jewish Chronicle:

In a typically snide and self-satisfied article, published in last week’s JC (“A very futile boycott”, April 30th, 2009), the Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland is oozing schadenfreude over the ‘failure of the boycott’ against Israeli institutions. He obviously does not follow the news, or maybe he just ignores it. In gloating over Leonard Cohen’s planned visit to Israel, he manages to carefully disregard the growing success of the boycott, both in the UK and abroad. Only a couple of weeks ago, a motion for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel was passed by the Scottish TUC.  Recently Veolia, the multinational building the Jerusalem tram lines on occupied land held illegally, has lost very large contracts in Sweden and Bordeaux, as a result of the boycott campaign. We could go on.  This success is the result of a number of important factors: Many Jews have joined (or initiated) the local campaigns, and at last, ordinary people feel they can playa role in this endless saga, and act like they did against apartheid, rather than rely on spineless diplomacy delivering only further disasters.

The rationale for Freedland’s festive tone is an odd one: a ‘mistake’ made by us because we wrote to Leonard Cohen invoking his Buddhism rather than his Judaism. Freedland could have worked this out for himself. Most of Judaic current sentiment seems to be anchored in that part of the Jewish tradition which is Xenophobic and hateful towards the other, supporting any military excess with nationalistic and racist arguments. Of course, there is in Judaism a very different tradition, not one which Freedland himself appears to support, unfortunately. This is the tradition of Hillel the Elder: “Do not do unto your friend, that which you will not have done unto you”. This is the best of Judaism – a liberal, progressive, and open-minded attitude towards the Ger, the ‘other in your midst’. This attitude was clearly missing from most of Israeli politics and public discourse in the last few decades, and is even more absent now. Would Hillel the Elder have backed the massacre of the innocents which Israel has carried out in Gaza, Lebanon, and so many other places? It seems clear to us what his position would be – support the weak, disenfranchised and dispossessed. If Leonard Cohen, hardly ‘our hero’, as stated by Freedland, also chooses to ignore Hillel the Elder, then he is neither a good Buddhist, nor a good Jew. That would, indeed, be a great pity, as he is held in high regard by many who like his music and enjoy it.

Prof. Haim Bresheeth, UEL
Mike Cushman, LSE
Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead, LSE

Steve Bell, The Guardian, May 12, 2009

Steve Bell, The Guardian, May 12, 2009

Below you can see the letters page of today’s Guardian, with comments about the Max Hastings article on Saturday. While he quite appropriately decribes how ‘he fell out of love’ with Israel, it is important to read his article and realise how misguided he still is, though he now thinks he has already worked things out…

Military myths in the history of Israel: The Guardian

The Guardian,     Tuesday 12 May 2009

Max Hastings proves not just what he set out to do – that Israel no longer should have our support (How I fell out of love with Israel, 9 May). What oozes at us from every line is his biased and one-sided view of the conflict. The Zionist myth which drove him to Israel in 1969 is alive and well in his memory – it is the physical reality which has failed him. In his adulatory description, all Israelis and their deeds seem to him “brilliant”, “stunning” and “bright”, terms he could not apply to any Palestinian, essentially because he relates no meetings he had with any of them, on the same terms he describes his many meetings with Israelis. This gives away some of his political perspective. Arabs and Palestinians are but extras in this narrative, it seems.
When discussing the Israeli occupation army, the so-called IDF, he notes that “morally, if not militarily, it is a shadow of the force that fought in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973″. Well, well … Any reading of Israeli history by the group known as the New Historians, such as Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe, would have proved to him that his misguided view of Israel, Zionism and the IDF was, and is, totally inaccurate. This army, which destroyed Gaza, had also destroyed Beirut. This is the army which set out on a bizarre colonial journey in 1956, together with the dying empires. Time to give up on the militarised myth!
Professor Haim Bresheeth
University of East London

Max Hastings’s account of how he fell in love and then out of love with Israel is certainly touching. But his belief that Amos Oz’s 1979 prophecy to him has been fulfilled, ie that Israel would end up behaving no better than its neighbours, is unjustified, and his reference to “Israeli military excesses in Gaza” wrong. Rather than resign himself to Oz’s negative prognostications, he should heed the words of Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, who during the recent Gaza war gave this assessment of Israel’s operations: “I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza.”
Alastair Albright

Max Hastings has said, far more eloquently than I could, exactly how I feel about Israel. I too was an enthusiast at its creation in 1948 but then the horrors of Auschwitz were still fresh in our minds and we chose to overlook the terrorist activities of the Stern Gang and the Irgun in achieving the Zionist goal of nationhood and to ignore the plight of hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees. Palestinians are living in hopeless misery which can only find expression in the hatred of their oppressors. Only an imposed arbitration can have any prospect of bringing peace, and that would have to involve the return of the occupied territories under UN resolutions 242 and 338.
Harvey Quilliam
Maghull, Merseyside

Below is the link to Max Hastings’ article, for those of you who have missed reading it.

The paradox of Israel’s pursuit of might: The Guardian

My fuller comment has appeared on Comment is Free/The Guardian:

Time to give up the myth!

By Haim Bresheeth
Old myths die hard! One of the most resilient myths in progressive circles is that of the ‘pure Zionist project, which was defiled by late practice. One such example of this myth in action was the recent article by Max Hastings (How I fell out of love with Israel, Guardian, May 9th) where he indeed admits to no longer being hooked by this specific political movement, as he was some decades ago, but in describing his process of reckoning, he is also describing how difficult it is to shake the Zionist habit.
What oozes at us from every line, is his biased and one-sided view of the conflict, without the slightest attempt at balancing it. It is not difficult to see where exactly he got that version of reality – he ‘always liked soldiers and spent many months over the decades speaking to them ‘under the starry skies of the Middle East; it hardly needs saying that the soldiers he was fraternising with were exclusively Israeli – he mentions no others – and from his many expressions of admiration for their deeds and their manner, and the fact that he started dressing in what he calls a ‘thinly-disguised version of the IDF uniform, it is clear that he had a model before him, one he wished to emulate. All this may be understandable in young and impressionable journalist, and Israel has made a science of luring and snaring such people over the decades. What is less obvious is how the myth has stuck, and how even now, some four decades after his first fateful visit to Israel, he still describes an odd Arcadian utopia of soldiery, as the pure and moral Zionism. The Zionist myth which drove him to Israel in 1969, seems to be alive and well in his memoires and memory – it is the physical reality which has failed.
One cannot escape the nagging suspicion that Hastings has avoided reading about Israels wars, which, for a mature journalist is less understandable. When discussing the Israeli occupation army, the so-called IDF, he notes that morally, if not militarily, it is a shadow of the force that fought in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973. So the IDF in those wars, Hastings is telling us, in no uncertain terms, was ‘moral, and superior to the occupation army of today. Well, well…
Any serious reading of Israeli history by members of the group widely known as the ‘New Historians, such as (the racist) Benny Morris and the historian of the ethnic cleaning of Palestine, Ilan Pappe, would have proved to him, once and for all, that his misguided view of Israel, Zionism and the IDF was, and is, highly ideological and imaginary. Which one of those wars was exactly ‘moral? The 1948 war, in which Israel has expelled 760,000 Palestinians from their own country, then denied them a return, as demanded by the UN? Maybe he is not aware of the many massacres which those researchers has unearthed, by simply ploughing through the IDF archives?
Now, could he possibly mean the 1956 war? This is a war in which Israel has joined the two sinking empires of Great Britain and France, a war so colonially outrageous and illegal, that the USSR and the USA have together called it so, and have forced the combatants out of Sinai by a nuclear warning? What reason could Israel possibly have to attack Egypt, but as an accessory to a bizarre colonial adventure, reminiscent of the worst gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century? Was this the moral war Hastings has referred to? Let us also remember that for over three years before that war, a young IDF officer by the name of Ariel Sharon, a commander of Israels death squad named ‘Unit 101, has attacked a number of Palestinian villages, towns and refugee camps, with a terrifying toll in civilian lives? Was this the high moral standard he holds so dear?
Of course, the 1967 war is a candidate for a moral war, we may be told by Hastings, and by other naïve supporters of military Zionism; there is nothing further from the truth. This was a war, which like in 1956, Israel started and shot the ‘first bullet as President De Gaulle has famously put it. President Nasser was unable and unwilling to go to war against Israel, and has indeed asked Israel for a peace treaty a short time beforehand, only to be ignored. The war had two objectives, and achieved both: To break Nasser grip on middle eastern politics, and to gain control of the parts of Palestine still in Arab hands – the 22% of Palestine which Israel did not control. The results of this ‘moral war were the occupation lasting till now, the hundreds of Jewish settlements built in Syria, Palestine (then still part of Jordan) and Egypt, including the Gaza Strip. A campaign of terror has started against Palestinian aspirations for their own country, following UN resolutions to this effect, and it was this highly ‘moral army that has continually quashed Palestinian hopes for some kind of normality in their lifetime.
Time to give up the myth!

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