Les­son Bri­tish Jewry should learn [rom the le[t

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Miriam Sha­viv

ON HOL­I­DAY in Is­rael re­cently, I found my­self deep in Gush Etzion, a set­tle­ment bloc south of Jerusalem, for the first time in 15 years. I’d been avoid­ing the Oc­cu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries be­cause it didn’t feel safe and I have no emo­tional or ide­o­log­i­cal at­tach­ment to draw me there. And I didn’t mean to go this time ei­ther — my sat­nav led me there as a short­cut. (Thanks, Waze.) Un­com­fort­able, I kept a care­ful watch for other cars with Is­raeli num­ber plates and sped through as fast as legally pos­si­ble.

But hav­ing sur­vived the ex­pe­ri­ence in­tact, we re­turned twice over the next few days — de­lib­er­ately. We en­joyed a jeep tour of the Gush and then vis­ited a dis­tant rel­a­tive on an iso­lated hill­top. Even the res­i­dents of the clos­est set­tle­ment, a col­lec­tion of run-down car­a­vans in the dis­tance, seemed to re­gard his out­post as a bit ex­treme.

We spent the af­ter­noon ex­plor­ing a cave (“Where young King David hid from King Saul”, he told our awe-struck kids) and watch­ing new­born lambs.

I loved the fresh air and the stun­ning views of the Dead Sea and mo­men­tar­ily un­der­stood the at­trac­tion of those hill­tops. I was also pretty scared through­out, driv­ing through Arab vil­lages where we clearly did not be­long, past large signs warn­ing Is­raelis not to take cer­tain turn­ings be­cause they would en­dan­ger their lives. I won’t be back in a hurry.

Nev­er­the­less, I’m glad we went, for one rea­son: it was a po­lit­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion for my chil­dren.

Although as a fam­ily we have spent sig­nif­i­cant time in Is­rael, they were barely aware of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict and cer­tainly had no con­cept of what the dis­puted ar­eas might look like. Why was the wall built, they wanted to know? What was life like be­hind it? Could Pales­tini­ans drive into Jerusalem? Is this re­ally Is­rael? Why is there a con­flict? And the bit which, un­ex­pect­edly, both­ered them more than any­thing else: why can’t Jews go into the Pales­tinian ar­eas? (“It’s not fair and it’s racist”.)

We dis­cussed the is­sues at length and I hope that see­ing this first-hand was the be­gin­ning of a po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing — which­ever side, left or right, they end up on.

I’ve been think­ing about this ex­pe­ri­ence these past weeks, as the com­mu­nity has grap­pled with the dilemma of how to treat Jews on the far-left when it comes to Is­rael, in­clud­ing mem­bers of Jew­das and those who said Kad­dish for Ha­mas ter­ror­ists. There seems to be a dawn­ing re­al­i­sa­tion on the cen­tre-right that there are more of these peo­ple than they imag­ined; that many are af­fil­i­ated, even ac­tive Jewishly; and that, given the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties, they are go­ing to have a louder voice than many would like.

Our view of Is­rael is ro­man­tic and car­toon­ish

But why did the main­stream com­mu­nity’s re­ac­tion seem to verge on hys­te­ria? Why did it feel like we were be­ing wrong-footed?

It’s not just about left and right. The truth is that as a com­mu­nity, our view of Is­rael is not ter­ri­bly politi­cised. We cel­e­brate Is­raeli in­ven­tions, watch Is­raeli TV shows, en­joy Is­raeli food, do a spot of Is­raeli danc­ing (about 50 years out of date) at wed­dings and bar­mitz­vahs. As tourists, we sit on the beach at Her­zliya or hang out in the lobby of the Dan Pan, and be­lieve that we’re “ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Is­rael”. Our view of Is­rael is af­fec­tion­ate, ro­man­tic, car­toon­ish and mostly de­tached from real life, just like An­glophiles who love Big Ben and crum­pets don’t re­ally un­der­stand mod­ern Bri­tain.

Yes, there are many peo­ple who de­fend Is­rael’s ev­ery mil­i­tary ac­tion, but that’s not true po­lit­i­cal aware­ness. We are, gen­er­ally speak­ing, re­mark­ably ig­no­rant of the larger po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion shap­ing the ar­gu­ment amongst Is­rael’s op­po­nents — con­ver­sa­tions about in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity, im­pe­ri­al­ism, op­pres­sion and so­cial jus­tice.

When Jewish se­condary school grad­u­ates first en­counter this dis­course on cam­pus they are baf­fled and thrown. Encountering this nar­ra­tive and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing ac­tivism is like dis­cov­er­ing you’ve been play­ing cricket for 18 years whilst the rest of the world was play­ing foot­ball. Or maybe like be­ing run over with a steam­roller. We are not equipped to re­spond.

Com­pared to the main­stream com­mu­nity, the Jewish ac­tivists on the far left are more po­lit­i­cally so­phis­ti­cated. They have a more re­al­is­tic grasp of where the ar­gu­ment about Is­rael is in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles, and have the vo­cab­u­lary to par­tic­i­pate. They may of­fend and frighten many of us, but we can learn from their po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness and com­mit­ment.


The road to Gush Etzion from Jerusalem

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