War is not the an­swer. Ever

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Jonathan Freed­land

PER­HAPS IT was my choice of hol­i­day read­ing. The book that dom­i­nated my sum­mer break was Howard Ja­cob­son’s ex­cep­tional and un­set­tling new novel, sim­ply ti­tled “J”. The word “Jew” does not ap­pear, yet that very ab­sence is the book’s haunt­ing theme. He de­picts a world in which a peo­ple once present ap­pear to have been erased, though ex­actly “what hap­pened, if it hap­pened” — in the novel’s re­peated phrase —is left vague, es­pe­cially to those liv­ing a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions later.

It is dark and dis­turb­ing and un­like any­thing Ja­cob­son has writ­ten be­fore. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it would not be a shock if it brought the sec­ond vic­tory in four years for Bri­tain’s great­est Jewish writer.

But it left me un­nerved. Not least be­cause the mood I’d left be­hind was al­ready anx­ious. Anti-Jewish sen­ti­ment has surged in Europe, while in Bri­tain the Com­mu­nity Se­cu­rity Trust re­ports that July was the sec­ond worst month for an­ti­semitic in­ci­dents in 30 years.

For many, the ap­par­ently mi­nor flap over the Tri­cy­cle The­atre’s host­ing of the UK Jewish Film Fes­ti­val felt like an omi­nous tip­ping point. The Tri­cy­cle’s in­sis­tence that the fes­ti­val was only wel­come if it cut all fi­nan­cial ties with the Is­raeli Em­bassy — a de­ci­sion now, thank­fully, re­versed — seemed a re­al­i­sa­tion of long-held Jewish fears. Did this mean that Jewish par­tic­i­pa­tion in the cul­tural life of the coun­try — and, re­mem­ber, this was a fes­ti­val of Jewish, not Is­raeli, cinema — would now be con­di­tional on our first is­su­ing a public dis­avowal of Is­rael?

I un­der­stand th­ese anx­i­eties and share some of them: I found the im­pli­ca­tion of the ini­tial Tri­cy­cle move chill­ing. But we need to be care­ful not to lose our bear­ings. For one thing, strained though th­ese times are, we are not the main vic­tims here. That un­wanted dis­tinc­tion be­longs to the dead and wounded, some of them Is­raeli, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity Pales­tinian, with vast num­bers of the lat­ter civil­ians. Anx­ious though we are, and vig­i­lant as we must be, about an­ti­semitism, we should not de­lude our­selves that we are the main story. We are not.

In­deed, when we ob­sess over, say, ex­ces­sive or bi­ased me­dia cov­er­age of the Gaza con­flict, it can look like dis­place­ment ac­tiv­ity — as if we are

The Tri­cy­cle was a warn­ing of loom­ing pariah sta­tus

try­ing to avoid what mat­ters most, and what is most un­com­fort­able. Namely, that Is­rael is in a strate­gi­cally calami­tous sit­u­a­tion.

For the third time in five years it has at­tempted to solve the prob­lem of its hos­tile Gaza neigh­bour through over­whelm­ing force, pound­ing the Strip day af­ter day. Each time it fails. The rock­ets re­sume. Judged purely in terms of ef­fec­tive­ness, this pol­icy is an un­de­ni­able fail­ure.

That’s even be­fore you con­sider the moral­ity of tak­ing ac­tion that, as a mat­ter of cer­tainty, you know will kill hun­dreds of civil­ians, in­clud­ing chil­dren, guilty of noth­ing. Blame Ha­mas if you like for fir­ing from pop­u­lated ar­eas, but when Is­rael pulls the trig­ger it shares in the moral re­spon­si­bil­ity. And for those who pre­fer self-in­ter­est to moral­ity, just as­sess the dam­age th­ese now-reg­u­lar pound­ings of Gaza are having on Is­rael’s stand­ing around the world. In that re­gard, the Tri­cy­cle was a warn­ing of the pariah sta­tus that is loom­ing.

All this arises from a fun­da­men­tal mis­con­cep­tion: the be­lief that Is­rael’s con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans is ca­pa­ble of a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion. It is not. The only an­swer is po­lit­i­cal, which means ne­go­ti­a­tion and com­pro­mise — even with the blood­i­est ad­ver­saries.

The painful truth is that Is­rael is on the wrong track — and doesn’t seem to have a clue how to get off. Jonathan Freed­land is ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor, Opin­ion, of the Guardian

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