On Halper, Judaism and humanity

Following my recent publication of American/Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper’s comment on the Australian Jewish community and Israel, I received an email from George Salzman, Prof Emeritus in the Physics Dept at the University of Massachusetts, Boston (but currently based in Oaxaca, Mexico):

Dear Antony Loewenstein,

I’m writing to complement you on the quality of your weblog, and especially of your…  Comment Rules, which provide a lucid guide for holding on to open yet valuable exchanges on the internet. Jeff Halper’s discussion of his recent experience in Australia is actually not so shocking to anyone who has thought about the dynamics of nation states and the value system promoted and ruthlessly enforced by the global capitalist system at its ultimate historical moment. The issues Halper raises are evidentaly important to those who identify themselves as Jews, but I believe he is somewhat mistaken in writing

“. . . In my view, Israel is being used as the lynchpin of your ethnic identity in Australia; mobilizing around a beleaguered Israel is essential for keeping your kids Jewish. I would go so far as to accuse you of needing an Israel in conflict, which is why you seem so threatened by an Israel at peace, why you deny that peace is even possible, why a peaceful Israel that is neither threatened nor “Jewish” cannot fulfill the role you have cast for it, and thus why you characterize my message as “vile lies.” . . .”

My belief is that there are many good people who quite honestly want Israel to be at peace with the other nations and do not have a psychological need for ‘an Israel in conflict’. Certainly many individual Israeli Jews are in favor of peace, I know many American Jews are, and I suspect that is also true of Australian Jews. The problem, I believe, is the widespread false conviction among many Jewish peoples of all national ethnicities that ‘We Jews are unique and very special. We are superior to the goyim.’ In his enlightening study, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine, Joel Kovel argues, quite convincingly, that it is the ideology of Zionism that is at the heart of the immediate conflict. In his exploration of largely taboo considerations, e.g. the violence and murderous parts of Jewish religion, Kovel has taken an important step.

But I think he hasn’t gone far enough. What is, I think, at the heart of the ‘Jewish problem’ is the ideology of ‘being Jewish’, i.e. being apart from and inherently different than and superior to non-Jewish people. That is what we need to overcome. We, and all peoples, need to recognize that we are of a single species and that ethnic differences are simply cultural, as are national characteristics. They have nothing to do with genetics. Every child at birth enters this wonderful world without ethnicity. The culture into which the infant emerges at birth then imposes its ethnicity on the developing baby. It imposes its language, its tribal and/or national cultural values and practices, and the social norms of behavior.

Above all else we are human beings, and should cherish the children — all children — the only true organic link of humanity to the future. I’ve tried to explore some of these and related issues in a series of articles listed here.