Dodging the Question
A handful of JWPF members joined about 150 others at the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus last Monday to listen to speakers Josh Ruebner, Ben White, and Susan Abulhawa avoid the topics we listed in last week’s report:
1. The legitimacy of the Jewish state
2. Jewish Identity Politics
3. Influence of Jewish Power on US policy
4. Whether or not each speaker recognizes Israel’s “right” to exist as a Jewish state
To report that we were disappointed would be an understatement. Our disappointment began when the student leader of the conference started passing out note cards upon which members of the audience could write their questions – a clear indicator that the ensuing Q&A was rigged. This prompted me to blurt out “I have a question for Mr. Ruebner” and received an unexpected nod from the student leader.
“Does Israel have a right to exist as a Jewish state, and if so, by what right?”
And rather than answering the question directly, Josh took the same dodge other Jewish activists have used in addressing this meddlesome question: He expounded upon state’s “rights” to exist at all, which he suggested is merely a matter of recognition by other states. Perhaps it exists as a collective “right” such as the mutual recognition in overarching bodies like the United Nations. In short, Ruebner refused to address the most fundamental of questions, one that Benjamin Netanyahu continuously demands of Palestinians and isn’t himself afraid of addressing.
PeaceMonger wonders whether Ruebner’s response to the following would be the same as his answer to me:
Josh, the group calling itself the Aryan Nation – Knights of the Ku Klux Klan wish to establish an all-White state in Idaho. Would the KKK have a right to exist as a White state and, if so, by what right?
We don’t think the answer from this Jewish leader in the peace movement would be the same. We dare say that his answer, in the case of confronting White Supremacy, would be unequivocal: Hell no, the KKK doesn’t have the right to establish a White state in Idaho, or anywhere else. Ditto the “right” of the former apartheid regime in South Africa to constitute the state as a White supremacist state.
So what’s keeping Josh from saying hell no, Israel doesn’t have a right to exist as a Jewish state? Well, we think that Gilad Atzmon’s study of Jewish identity politics has a lot to say that answers that question, but Ben White doesn’t want us to go there.
Five Minutes with Ben White
Encouraged by Vigil Supporter D, I asked Ben White why he signed the document attempting to silence Gilad Atzmon. Ben answered that Mr. Atzmon engages in anti-Semitic writing, and when we pressed for an example, he stated that the arguments for such are contained in the document itself. When asked whether he read The Wandering Who; A study of Jewish Identity Politics, he said no, he hadn’t. This prompted D – a professor in philosophy at UMD – to comment on the lack of professionalism by an author and academic such as Mr. White, that he would condemn a fellow activist and intellectual without even reading what the man wrote.
At that point Mr. White said that he’d now already spent five minutes discussing Mr. Atzmon, and that that was five minutes more than he had planned, nor wished for. Vigil Supporter L then approached Ben and suggested to him the possibility of growth that Gilad promotes: a self examination of the group, i.e. that Jews need to look in the mirror to examine their collective behavior, that this process will allow other groups to do the same and “as you grow, we grow”. Perhaps Mr. White listened to her. Time will tell, but we’re not holding our breath.
Vigiler M. wonders if White’s reticence to confront Jewish identity politics is related to his inversion of the title of Uri Davis’ classic study, Israel: An Apartheid State (1987) and his more recent Apartheid Israel (2004). She says one shouldn’t judge a book by its title, but where Davis designates the Jewish state enterprise en toto as an apartheid project, Ben White’s book title, Israeli Apartheid suggests a more limited scope of apartheid as practiced by Israelis or Israel, i.e. a non-essential feature of Israel.
Exposing Left Zionists in the Peace Movement
Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends