Accusations against AJDS – An opinion.

A personal opinion from Larry Stillman.

AJDS has been accused of many things over the years, including being a supporter of terror or anti-Israel ‘fundamentalism’.  The Jewish Community Council of Victoria minuted that AJDS was antisemitic, though it has backtracked to a degree without offering an explanation or apology.

More recently, Phillip Mendes stated that “you can guarantee that Larry Stillman will line up 90 percent of the time with the [anti-two state] fundamentalists as AJDS did with Overland Magazine for example. And they will then claim it is unfair to expose that is what they are doing. How pathetic.”

This is tiresome stuff for several reasons.

It is a re-hash of old, very old differences, that go back about 20 years with AJDS and are as much about personal clashes with a long list of people  as their politics  (thus Mendes’ labelling of now deceased members of AJDS as “good Jews” or “Uncle Toms”).  In another case, it is a  re-hash of a debate over material that was published in Overland Magazine– and the  subsequent AJDS defence of  giving space to different viewpoints on Israel/Palestine, interpreted by Mendes as a defence of the indefensible.    Mendes’ contretemps is  also about the interpretation of the course of Israeli history, that is, whether Israel is in an “existential crisis” with its neighbours, or that other interpretations can be put upon  Israel’s wars.  His difference is probably also a deep annoyance that AJDS does not “wave the flag” for Israel, though most of the AJDS committee, as far as I know, have strong personal or other relationships with Israel ( I have relationships with two Israeli universities, but I don’t like having to prove my “loyalty”.)

Mendes now also speaks of  somewhat spooky  “philosophical anti-Zionists” in AJDS as opposed it seems, to “moderates”.   It also exaggerates my role in AJDS–at one point he used the word “Stillmanites”–it shows a complete misreading of where people are at in an organisation which is a most of all a forum, not a political party with a particular line. The only reason why my name is out there is because I like to write. It does not mean I lead a faction, and it is laughable to think I have the capacity to do so.

Mendes seems unaware that a new generation of people is now increasingly involved with with AJDS, or groups around it,  and they have have a lot of grounded experience in Israel as well,  both within Zionist movements and beyond it. But Mendes now sees the spectre of  “unapologetic philosophical anti-Zionists” as a new demon.   In fact, I think  that the views we share are ones that many people on the post or even left-Zionist Israeli left would now share–it is a pity that Mendes does  not appear to be aware of the considerable traffic on Facebook for example, in Hebrew, by people documenting human rights abuse in Israel or in the Occupied Territories or even in the pages of Haaretz.   This is the stuff that is informing people like myself, not fundamentalist screeds.     If he considers that AJDS is fundamentalist or extremist, then how is it that much of what AJDS appears concerned about is documented by by people such as Rabbis for Human Rights (who are very Zionist) ? Or are they too extremists? If one sees that Zionism does not offer a solution for the security of Israeli Jews, then what can?   If one calls it post-Zionist, is that necessarily against the security of Jews in Israel?  Perhaps Mendes is reflecting, in his own way, the split that exists between the institutions that have dominated acceptable views about Israel and the very public splits that have emerged in the US and now the UK.

So what about the Z word?  From my point of view, in a democracy, people are entitled to believe that they want. If they want to call themselves Zionists but do no harm to others, and support human rights, then I have no issue.  However, if they call themselves Zionists and engage in or support oppression, and separate development,   or pretend that Zionism has only benign effects, then I don’t agree with that form of Zionism. Consequently, I  do believe  that Zionist parties (and diaspora Zionists)  have to come to accept an Israel of all its peoples and that fundamental constitutional arrangements are required if Israel is to survive as an independent country.    There are proposals for this from Israeli Palestinian organisations such as Adalah and others, for  “Arabs and Israeli Jews in this country is to create a democratic state founded on equality between the two national groups” [ From the Haifa Declaration].   That is a point which probably challenges everything Mendes and others think Israel  about Israel as a “Jewish state”. The statement is particularly challenging,  because it has not come from Jews, but well educated Israeli Palestinians who wish to live side by side in equality.  It is hard to dismiss the proponents of such a statement as supporters of the “Arab State of Greater Palestine” as Mendes has characterized Palestinians on other occasions.

Of course, I know that many anti-Zionists who are supporters of Palestine have a great difficulty in  giving any place at the table to Zionism, or that Zionism is many different things to many different people and there is not an completely evil  causal chain between something that Herzl said and the actions of someone who give money to the JNF or the activities of gun-toting hill-top youth.  That is a  far, far too simplistic an analysis of the dynamics of Jewish identity in the 20th century both in Israel and the diaspora.

I have consequently been pretty critical on Facebook  with supporters of Palestine (eg Ben White or Ali Abuminah) about naive one-state aspirationalism that seems have little to with the reality of long-established communal politics  and the politics of national identity for Jews.  They appear to have little understanding of how secularism of the sort they imagine will be resisted by many traditional communities.   They also appear unable to accept–as I wrote in the above paragraph, that a principle of a future open society is that many Jews will continue to regard themselves and promote themselves as Zionists.   It appears to me that one of the few people who is aware of this complex communal dynamic is Oren Yiftahel, and for that reason, I recommend his writing as he models future arrangements.  The same blindness about the reality of Zionism as reflecting, for better or  worse, particular aspirations  results in the idiocy which leads to resistance to even talking to Israelis unless they engage in a form of negative loyalty oath.  That does not make for peace-making (and look at George Galloway).

For many people who are post-Zionists, the issue is  probably not one of absolutely guaranteed one-or two states,  or whether or not a person is a Zionist, but arrangements in which human rights are at the top of the agenda. What solutions can guarantee the rights of as many people as possible,  doing the least possible harm in future state arrangements? For example, how do we balance the right of return for Palestinians who choose to return to their place of origin against the right of Israelis to live without the fear that they will lose their homes?  If Israel is to continue as a democratic state, then should it continue as a state of all its peoples, or can it remain a state dominated by a special Jewish preference in its constitutional arrangements?  If  “safety” for Jews in Israel is not to be “military safety”, then what are the requisite conditions that would satisfy people and allow them to come to terms with an abiding Palestinian presence?    Is the concept of Israel as the national home for all Jews–as distinct from a cultural or religious centre (together with the right of return), now past its useby date?  What should the nature of such a new relationship be?

Furthermore, for any future Palestinian state, what about the rights of minorities in it (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or purely secular)? Thus, the human rights record of both the PA and the Hamas government is pretty shoddy and Human Rights Watch has no doubts about this.   In fact, as a recent exchange has made very clear to me, those who support Palestinian rights are doing their cause a disservice if they are not more vocal about rights abuses internally, because they hold Israel to such a high standard.  If they are to hold Israel to such a high standard, and pick at it unceasingly for its faults, then it is hypocritical to use the excuse of ‘solidarity’ to ignore rights abuses, or barely hidden virulent nationalism that holds the same dangers as Zionism. Those other teams are going to be in government one day–whatever the shape of that government is–and they need to start showing that they can properly govern.  All these issues need to be put on the table. Otherwise we will get a naive  and permanent privileging in reverse of the rights of one group over another   (to account for the oppressed rather than the oppressor –which as far as I am concerned is an absolutist and defective  analytical model when applied to the situation in Israel/Palestine), because of the sins of the fathers,  and the danger of its political abuse. Furthermore, the questions raised in the  previous paragraph should be of equal concern to advocates for Palestine, because though the rights deficit  is clearly in the Palestinian court, it is only by positively changing Israelis that much of this goal can be achieved.

There has been something of an excursus here, but there has been a need to touch base on a number of issues: the nature of post-Zionism (as distinct from what is demonically-labelled  philosophical anti-Zionism); a concern for a rights-based approach to the future that affects all communities and how Zionism is to be judged in that regard; and the need to tolerate the existence of Zionism as an political ideology in future arrangements; Palestinian responses to Jewish concerns for safety;  and the relationship between Israel and the diaspora.

But to return to the accusation that AJDS is akin to fundamentalist anti-Israel groups. To collapse the criticisms and concerns we have to into the label of fundamentalism and justification of ultra-left idiocy is an deliberate misreading of  the thinking of myself or others in AJDS, akin to the recent labelling of AJDS as anti-Semitic by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.  I think I am right in saying that all the members of the AJDS Executive have a deep concern about the future of Israel, but this is a concern as critical friends. As I said, we are not flag wavers.