Monday, April 09, 2007

John Spritzler: Israeli exclusionism belies democratic values

It's wonderful the venues John Spritzler is creating to spread the word about what terrible injustices to real people that is a necessary condition of the creation and consolidation of a Jewish state in the former Palestine. All the more that he took as his subject Israel Shahak's revolutionary discoveries of the context of European pre modern anti-Semitism. See below also for John's very good exchange of letters on some of these issues. --RB

John Spritzler wrote:
Dear friends,

Last Tuesday (4.3.07) I gave a talk at the Walpole (Massachusetts) Public Library titled, "Is Jimmy Carter Right About Israel?"

I said Carter was dead wrong, because in spite of his worthy condemnation of Israeli oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, he dismisses the central grievance of Palestinians--Israel's ethnic cleansing of them from the 78% of Palestine that is now Israel-- by not talking about it and by excluding the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes inside Israel from what he defines as a "just solution," and in fact he defends the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine and the ethnic cleansing it uses to ensure an 80% majority population inside of it.

I got a very good response. One man emailed me afterwords, "Enjoyed the talk tremendously."

I began the talk by reading excerpts from a letter to the Somerville News from James Adler, a pro-Israel Jew who said that he supported Israel and opposed divestment because of "the horror of the Holocaust and millennia of persecution and pogroms against the Jews in Europe." But, he said, he felt "honest pain over Israel's history" of "ethnic cleansing" (yes, he used those exact words) which, in his letter, he documents at some length, citing Israeli historian Benny Morris, and quotations of David Ben-Gurion such as: "With compulsory transfer we [would] have a vast area [for settlement]...I support compulsory transfer. I don't see anything immoral in it...Complete transfer without compulsion--and ruthless compulsion at that--is hardly imaginable."

It is no coincidence that this letter appeared in a Somerville newspaper. Somerville residents, more than probably any other town in the United States, know something about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The Somerville Divestment Project has been doing intense educational work on this topic, to the point that 45% of the voters in a state district inside Somerville voted Yes on a ballot question for the right of return of Palestinians to their homes inside of Israel, despite all of the politicians telling them to vote No because "right of return is code for destroying the state of Israel."

As Americans slowly come to learn the sordid truth about Israel's ethnic cleansing, there is very little left for the pro-Israel camp to say except either "God gave the land to the Jews" (which appeals only to religious fundamentalists) or what James Adler says--that Jews, as much as it pains them to have to do it, need to commit ethnic cleansing to survive in a world of anti-Semitic gentiles. This is the "weep and bash" argument: bash one's victim, but cry genuine tears while doing it.

So, while I devoted the beginning of my talk to describing the ethnic cleansing and reading some passages from Ilan Pappe's wonderful book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, I spent the full second half of the talk dealing specifically with the real lessons, as opposed to the phony pro-Israel "lessons," to be drawn from, as the letter writer phrased it, "the horror of the Holocaust and millennia of persecution and pogroms against the Jews in Europe." To do this, I relied on a wonderful little book called Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, by Israel Shahak, who was a Holocaust survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, who lived in Israel from 1945 until his death in 2001, who was a professor of chemistry at Hebrew University, and who was an ardent champion of human rights for Palestinians.

I read passages and summarized what Shahak wrote about the "horror of the Holocaust and millennia of persecution and pogroms against the Jews in Europe." The audience found it extremely interesting. Here, very very briefly, is what Shahak says. I strongly urge you to get the book and read it, because it provides enormous insight and historical context on this topic.

Shahak points out that from 800 A.D. until approximately the French Revolution (when Jews were no longer required to live in segregated Jewish ghettos and could assimilate into the gentile society), there were no Jewish peasants. Jews, even the poorest, were immensely better off than the peasants, especially the serfs in Eastern Europe and Russia. European rulers, the king or the regional noble, used the Jews to help oppress the peasants. In exchange for this the Jewish ruling class of rabbis was given official clerical standing and total legal power over ordinary Jews, including the right of capital punishment. Unlike peasants, who could never marry nobility, Jews could inter-marry with the nobility if they converted. When, during this pre-modern period, anti-Jewish violence broke out (like during the Crusades), it was always by the people at the bottom of society, while the nobles and king always defended the Jews (for self-interested reasons, like maintaining law and order.)

Why was this? The answer is explained by the social role of Jews in this period.

In Poland (famous for its "anti-Semitism"), for example, the peasants were virtual slaves of the nobility. The nobles owned the towns which were inhabited almost exclusively by Jews. Outside the towns, very many Jews were employed as the direct supervisors and oppressors of the enserfed peasantry—as bailiffs of whole manors (invested with the landlord’s full coercive powers) or as lessees of particular feudal monopolies such as the corn mill, the liquor still and public house (with the right of armed search of peasant houses for illicit stills) or the bakery, and as collectors of customary feudal dues of all kinds. Throughout Europe, where peasants were in the worst serfdom, the social function of a large majority of all Jews in the region was to mediate the oppression of the peasants on behalf of the nobility and the Crown.

Shahak writes:

"Consider the most outstanding example revolt of such persecution, the great massacre of Jews during the Chmielnicki in the Ukraine (1648), which started as a mutiny of Cossack officers, but soon turned into a widespread popular movement of the oppressed serfs. The underprivileged, the subjects, the Ukrainians, the Orthodox [persecuted by the Polish Catholic church] were rising against their Catholic Polish masters, particularly against their masters' bailiffs, clergy and Jews. This typical peasant uprising against extreme oppression, an uprising accompanied not only by massacres committed by the rebels but also by even more horrible atrocities and ‘counter-terror' of the Polish magnates' private armies, has remained emblazoned in the consciousness of east-European Jews to this very day—not, however as a peasant uprising, a revolt of the oppressed, of the real wretched of the earth, nor even as a vengeance visited upon all the servants of the Polish nobility, but as an act of gratuitous anti-Semitism directed against Jews as such...

"Revolts of oppressed peasants against their masters and their masters' bailiffs are common in human history. A generation after the Chmielnicki uprising of the Ukrainian peasants, the Russian peasants rose under the leadership of Stenka Ryazin, and again, one hundred years later, in the Pugachev rebellion. In Germany there was the Peasant War of 1525, in France the Jacquerie of 1357-8 and many other popular revolts, not to mention the many slave uprisings in all pars of the world. All of them—and I have intentionally chosen to mention examples in which Jews were not targets—were attended by horrifying massacres, just as the Great French Revolution was accompanied by appalling acts of terror. What is the position of true progressives—and, by now, of most ordinary decent educated people, be they Russian, German or French—on these rebellions? Do decent English historians, even when noting the massacres of Englishmen by rebellious Irish peasants rising against their enslavement, condemn the latter as "anti-English racists'? What is the attitude of progressive French historians towards the great slave revolution in Santo Domingo, where many French women and children were butchered? [Or Nat Turner's American slave rebellion in 1831 that killed some white children?--J.S.] To ask the question is to answer it. But to ask a similar question of many ‘progressive' or even ‘socialist' Jewish circles is to receive a very different answer; here an enslaved peasant is transformed into a racist monster, if Jews profited from his state of slavery and exploitation."

While Jews were playing a role in society of "assistant oppressor" of the peasants, the rabbis made the Jewish religion one that was extremely hostile and contemptuous of gentiles and even more so, in particular, of peasants. This was necessary to prevent any solidarity from developing between poor Jews and peasants. Poor Jews had to be made to believe that they could only be happy inside of Jewish society, and therefore that they had to obey the rabbis to avoid being expelled from it. Shahak illustrates this by looking closely at what the Talmud actually says in the original Hebrew about gentiles. Also, Jewish literature reflects the contempt for peasants, as Shahak points out: "The Hebrew National poet, Bialik, in his famous poem My Father, describes his saintly father selling vodka to the drunkard peasants who are depicted as animals. This very popular poem, taught in all Israeli schools, is one of the vehicles through which the anti-peasant attitude is reproduced."

Shahak says that Zionism's contempt for Palestinians is a continuation of Jewish cultural contempt for peasants.

In the modern period, when Jews were assimilating and were free of rabbinical rule over their lives, modern anti-semitism developed, which was quite different from the pre-modern phenomenon. Modern anti-semitism was the way that some (mainly middle class) people, who were opposed to modernism fought against it. Modernism, here, means essentially capitalism based on individualism ("rights"), unfettered corporate power, and an increasingly organized and assertive industrial working class, as opposed to a fondly, if not accurately, remembered feudal society with traditional roles and security for some. It sometimes meant big department stores overtaking little ones, or the unions demanding wages that small businessmen couldn't afford. Anti-semites made "the Jews" a scapegoat for all that they hated. But since assimilated Jews now looked and behaved just like their gentile counterparts in society, it was necessary, if they were to be an effective scapegoat, to create the idea that Jews were a separate and diabolical race. Racist anti-Semitism is very different from the old kind based on hatred of opprression. The anti-semites had nothing in common with Europe's conservative aristocratic (where they still existed, like in Germany) and capitalist elite, but they made an opportunistic alliance with each other in some places, especially in 1930's Germany, where Hitler and the aristocratic and capitalist upper classes formed just such an alliance. The success of this opportunistic alliance of conservatism and anti-Semitism was inversely proportional to the power of those parts of society that embraced universal values of equality and democracy; and it was precisely the working class and peasantry which embraced these values the most.(Hitler's greatest enemies were the working class and, especially as the reality of Nazism became apparent, the peasants, as my book on WWII discusses.)

The obvious conclusion to draw from the Holocaust (assuming we want to prevent something like that from happening again!) is to do everything possible to strengthen the parts of society that embrace universal values of equality and democracy, and to fight those who advocate racist theories. Israel (its Zionist leaders in particular) does exactly the opposite: it adopts a racist ideology to justify a Jewish state having as its sovereign authority "the Jewish people" instead of all residents of the state, and it adopts the racist practice of ethnic cleansing to make the population of the Jewish state be 80% Jewish. Zionism thus makes another racist phenomenon, like the Holocaust, more likely, not less likely.

Zionism is itself, of course, a racist phenomenon. Racist movements go on to create their racist mirror image movements too, because the logic of racism is to attack people because of their race, in the name of other people defined as a race. Hitler's "Aryan" attack on "the Jews"strengthened the racists among the Jews who now lead an attack in the name of "the Jewish people" on "Arabs" [actually, "Middle Eastern gentiles" would be more accurate] which in turn only strengthens elements among the Arabs who identify "the Jews" as the enemy. Nobody except the ruling elites benefits in the end from the proliferation of such racist movements--not ordinary gentiles and not ordinary Jews. When people feel surrounded by an external enemy, they are easily made to obey "their own" rulers who exploit and oppress them that much easier. We need to explain all of this to everybody who is at all influenced by "weep and bash" arguments that will be increasingly used to defend Israel as the public learns the truth about Israel's ethnic cleansing.

John Spritzler wrote:

My first letter to the Brandeis Hoot got an obnoxious reply calling me an anti-Semite. My reply to it, however, was just printed. (I apologize for my letter's grammatical goofs; I had to compose it in The Hoot's online gizmo.) I think it is very significant that Brandeis students are allowing anti-Israel views to see the light of day at Brandeis. --John

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