Winter 2014 / Issue 5

As Fathom goes to press, US Secretary of State John Kerry is working intensively with the Israelis and Palestinians to draw up a framework agreement that will set out the principles of a final status agreement and so establish the agenda for the next phase of negotiations. We carry three critical reflections on the peace process.

Isaac Herzog, the new Labour Party leader, sets out his stall: ‘I believe that Israel must move for peace. We must move towards the division of the land between the Palestinians and us in order to maintain the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state. I say this very bluntly.’

David Landau talked to Fathom about his new biography of Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli Prime Minister who died in January 2014. He makes the case for thinking of Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 as ‘establishing an important precedent: that power is wielded in this country, as in every democratic country, by the government.’ Landau also claims that Sharon changed his mind ‘because he could not leave the situation as it was. He said that if we leave it as it is, we will lose our friends, and we may lose America.’

Aluf Benn argues that this is the moment for Prime Minister Netanyahu to pursue a peace deal, because he ‘enjoys ultimate political power to make the deal, even more so than in 2009’ and because a deal would boost the security of Israel. ‘If Netanyahu is serious about his new alliance with the Saudis, the Gulf states, General Sisi’s Egypt and Jordan,’ said Benn, ‘and if he wants to be a senior member in that alliance, then the price of admission is a deal with the Palestinians or a serious step towards such a deal.’ The importance of a peace deal is underlined by Alan Craig’s dispatch from ‘the bomb capital of the world’, Sderot in southern Israel.

The deal struck between Iran and the P5+1 nations in November 2013, is the subject of Ben Cohen’s interview with Olli Heinonen the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director General. ‘History appears to be repeating itself,’ warns Heinonen. ‘Rather than implementing the deal in good faith, Iran is playing games with it, manipulating the Joint Plan of Action to alter to Tehran’s advantage both the circumstances on the ground and the terms of the deal itself.’

The relationship between some demonising forms of ‘anti-Zionism’ and contemporary antisemitism is the concern of several contributors to Fathom 5.

When the Premier League footballer Nicolas Anelka celebrated a goal by performing the antisemitic quenelle salute he touched off a storm of protest. Dave Rich explores why it is now so easy for raw, old-fashioned antisemitism to be inserted into radical politics.

Lesley Klaff explains the phenomenon of ‘Holocaust Inversion.’ This is a form of antisemitism which makes Holocaust memory into a stick to beat ‘the Jews’ with. It does so by inverting reality (the Israelis are cast as the ‘new’ Nazis, with the Palestinians as the ‘new’ Jews) and morality (the Holocaust is presented as a moral lesson for, or even a moral indictment of ‘the Jews’).

David Hirsh reviews aspects of Jewish left-wing anti-Zionism that has underpinned much BDS activism in the West. He points out that before 1939 anti-Zionism was a position in debates amongst Jewish opponents of antisemitism, while after 1948 it became a programme for the destruction of an actually existing nation state. Worse: by characterising a people (the Jews) as a political category (‘the Zionists’), and by treating that category as essentially ‘racist’ or ‘apartheid’ or ‘Nazi,’ Jewish left-wing anti-Zionism has helped to foster a view of Israeli Jews as exceptional to the human community. Hirsh also notes the parochial character of left wing Jewish anti-Zionism; it has little to say about the wider Middle East, except to imagine that Jewish concerns are at the centre of it all.

Martyn Hudson looks back at the life of the Polish historian and socialist Isaac Deutscher who coined the term ‘the non-Jewish Jew’ to celebrate the tradition of Spinoza, Heine, Marx, and Trotsky, but who also argued that internationalists had to come to terms with the lessons of the Holocaust and accept the ‘historic necessity’ of Israel. Michael Allen reviews Gil Troy’s study of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US Ambassador to the United Nations who heroically opposed the ‘Zionism is Racism’ Resolution passed by the General Assembly in 1975 (and formally revoked in 1991).

Two book reviews discuss aspects of the history of Zionism. Colin Shindler praises Shlomo Avineri’s study of Theodor Herzl for ‘casting a new light on the short, troubled and driven life’ of the founder of Zionism. Liam Hoare reviews Yossi Klein-Halevi’s Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation.

Israel’s Arab citizens are the focus of two important essays by Safa Abu-Rabia and Joshua Muravchik. Abu-Rabia maps the emergence of an exciting new Bedouin Arab leadership in Israel’s Negev region: younger, feminist, critical of both state policy and tribal culture, seeking a historic shift from victimhood to empowerment. Muravchik marshals a battery of statistics to show that when it comes to evening out the differences between its Jewish and Arab citizens, Israel has done rather better than most countries encompassing sharply diverse nationalities. We also spoke to Sayed Kashua, the creator of the hugely popular Israeli television sitcom Arab Labour and one of the country’s most successful writers.

The remarkable journeys taken by two iconic American Jews are the subject of warm appreciations. Steven Lee Beeber reflects on the ‘Jewish soul music’ of Lou Reed who, ‘like the Wise Child in the Passover Seder that he played annually in public, saw both the tragedy and triumph of Jewish history.’ Peter Ryley makes the case for recuperating the legacy of the Jewish anarchist Emma Goldman, particularly the ‘mental honesty that led her to confront the apologism and self-delusions of the left to which she still belonged.’
Yair Raveh reviews two films that take as their subject the murder of a Shin-Bet agent by his informant. Bethlehem is an Israeli film by first time director Yuval Adler, and Omar is an Oscar-nominated Palestinian movie by Hany Abu-Assad. Finally, we spoke to Yariv Ben-Yehuda about the rock opera Sakhir, a high-octane romp through the world of Israel’s high-tech start-ups, a place where fidelity to one’s dream can clash with the demands of financial success, with hilarious and disturbing results.

The Editors