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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Independent Jewish Voices: What's it all about?

The Independent Jewish Voices  group is much ado about nothing. The Guardian has spotlighted this little group as though they themselves are a central issue./
What's it all about?

Benjamin Pogrund

February 10, 2007 9:00 AM

After five days of reading/skimming thousands of words I am as puzzled as I was on the first day when I read the Independent Jewish Voices statement. What is it all about?

So the Board of Deputies is conservative and follows an "Israel right or wrong" policy. Who stops anyone putting other views? Who stops anyone making clear, if they want to do so, that the board does not speak for them?

The IJV signatories include people who regularly air their views in the Guardian and elsewhere, criticising Israel to some extent or another. If they are attacked for it, even unpleasantly and abusively, are they so weak and lacking confidence in their beliefs that they cannot stand up for themselves?

I don't understand why the signatories have to huddle together to get their views known. Does it mean that they have strength in numbers? But they are an unelected group. Their declaration consists of worthy, broad aims but how will they agree on a joint outlook and express themselves as situations change and new moral and practical dilemmas arise?

Nor do I really understand why the Guardian has provided a launch platform for the group. What we have is a dispute among Jews about how to react to the Israel-Palestine conflict. That is of interest to the wider press. But to run a public debate over a period of five days?

On the other hand, this week's debate has helped to clarify the divisions among Jews in regard to Israel. Some are so staunch in their support of Israel that they don't want any word of criticism. Others support Israel but believe that it is open to criticism and this must be expressed. Others wish Israel didn't exist.

My own view, for what it is worth, is that - surprise, surprise - Israel is not a perfect society. Its faults need to be publicised so that they can be remedied, whether the harshness and worse of the occupation of the West Bank, or the discrimination suffered by Israeli Arabs, or the treatment of foreign workers, or the plight of the poor, whether Jewish or Arab.

I live in Israel and as a citizen I have perfect right to express my dismay and rage about these wrongs. But I recognise that it could be different for Jews who live in the Diaspora: the existence of Israel is so precious to Jewish people who bear the trauma of centuries of persecution and murders, of which the Holocaust was the most terrible, that some react badly and intolerantly to those who break away and go their own independent way.

It's a situation which probably cannot be resolved, but it needs to be faced for what it is. In this sense, IJV might do some good.

If IJV can help its members/supporters clarify the elusive "Jewish tradition" in their lives, which some have referred to, then that will also be a plus.

Most basic of all, IJV can move from criticism from the distant sidelines to active participation: it can seek out the Israelis and Palestinians who work together for peace and who believe in non-violence to achieve a two-state solution which can provide fulfilment for both peoples. The clever, talented people who have signed up for IJV can contribute massively in many ways to help bridge the distrust and hatred which history and events have created in the Middle East. Let them come and look at the bad and the good among both Israelis and Palestinians, and then get engaged.

A final thought: the Guardian's hospitality has also, inevitably, provided a showcase for the usual nasties - whether non-Jews or Jews - who simply loathe Israel. Whether they are imbued also by hatred of Jews I do not know. But it all came spewing out this week. The fact of Israel's existence - a successful one despite its many and unique problems - makes the bile rise in their throats. Good.

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