Israel and Palestine

I’m white, Anglo-Saxon, pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and bitterly opposed to Israel’s actions in Gaza.

I’ve been pro-Israel since I was 8 or 9 years old, and first read of the fight to establish the modern state of Israel. Some of my best friends at school were Jewish, my father’s friends likewise, the finest teachers I ever had (postgraduate work at the Warburg Institute) were Jewish (Aby Warburg was Jewish), my best friend in book publishing was Jewish. The remarkable world of early 20th century Vienna, with Mahler and Freud prominent, was one of the great intellectual and cultural moments in history. My professor at the Warburg, Ernst Gombrich (also a Jew from Vienna), suggested my PhD subject might be the Jewish ghetto in Venice. Visiting Cordoba many years ago and seeing the bust there of Maimonides was a reminder of that remarkable Jewish culture that shared cultural supremacy with Islam back in the 12th century. And I could go on.

As for the bible (the Old Testament as Christians know it), for me it is the most remarkable and inspiring record of any people in history.

Opposing Israel’s relentless attacks on Gaza is not anti-semitism. It is the reverse. I’m passionate about Israel. I wanted to work on a kibbutz when I was in my 20s. But other angry, intolerant and and often fundamentalist forces have taken government in Israel in another direction. There is talk of ‘deligitimising’ the Israeli state. My fear for Israel is that if they continue on their current path that may in many eyes be just what happens.

Talk of double strandards – why oppose Israel when violence elsewhere is as bad or worse – is wide of the mark. Israel was in its early days a society predicated on Western values of tolerance, individual freedom and natural justice. It is its departure from those values, and its massive devaluing of each Palestinian life compared to an Israeli one, which may yet undermine it.

Back in the 1930s there were those who argued that Jew and Arab, already fighting each other at a local level, could still live side by side. I’ll mention Martin Buber, an early hero of mine, in another post. They imagined then a worst-case scenario but could they ever have anticipated the current reality?

America is not united in its support for Israeli actions. Liberal Judaism is more critical, the 18-25 age range opposed, but the old consensus still holds sway, and Hilary Clinton’s loading of blame on to the Palestinians in Gaza doesn’t bode well for sanity in post-Obama American policy.

A two-state solution need not be far away. But there are powerful forces arguing against it, for whom repression is the only answer. How it will work out in time I doubt even if God knows.

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