On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, 355 people cast a majority vote in favour of a motion that “Zionism today is the real enemy of the Jews” at a debate that took place on Tuesday 25 January at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
The debate was organized by intelligence2 (the London Forum for Live Debate) sponsored by the Evening Standard - a local London newspaper. It was chaired by Richard Lindley, a veteran television reporter for ITN and the BBC.
Speaking for the motion was Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University; Jacqueline Rose, Professor of English and Drama at Queen Mary, University of London; and Amira Hass, correspondent for Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper. Speaking against the motion was the Daily Mail columnist, Melanie Phillips; former Israeli Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben Ami; and Raphael Israeli, Professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Avi Shlaim opened the debate in favour of the motion by saying:
“I have never questioned the legitimacy of the Zionist movement or of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I reject, and reject totally, is the Zionist colonialist project beyond the 1967 borders. Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories inside the ‘67 borders is the root of all evil. This is the problem: occupation, occupation, occupation. Occupation distorted the natural course of mainstream Zionism. Zionism was above all, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, but it also stood for universal values like freedom, equality, socialism and peace. Post-1967 Zionism, however, both in its secular and religious varieties developed a territorial obsession: the obsession is to keep the whole of the land of Israel in the hands of the Jewish people.”
Speaking against the motion, Melanie Phillips said:
“Ladies and gentleman, the Jewish people today currently face a war by terror and the latest phase in a hundred year attempt to ethnically cleanse them from their historic homeland, first in Palestine, then in Israel; the deligitimization of that homeland through systematic lies, libels, distortions and omissions; the farcical anti-Jewish hatred and prejudice emanating from the Muslim world; a Palestinian society which is indoctrinated in the cradle of religious hatred of Jews and incitement to murder them; assaults on Jews throughout Europe, the bombing of synagogues, the desecration of cemeteries; an upsurge in anti-Jewish hatred in Britain and the West You might think, ladies and gentlemen, that these are enemies enough, but according to Professor Shlaim and the rest of his panel, it is not enough. The real enemy of the Jews is not these people; the real enemy of the Jews is themselves through the creed of Zionism. We are being told that the responsibility for all this is Israel. It’s Israel’s fault. For two reasons: first, because the behaviour of Israel is malign and secondly because Zionism is inherently malign.”
Next to speak was Rose who countered: “how can the creation of a Jewish nation on the back of the suffering, the humiliation of another people, not be dangerous for the Jews?” She then said, “And this was ethnic cleansing (referring to the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in 1948).” She continued, “I urge you to support us; if you do, you will be sending a message to all around the world that the Jewish people did not survive attempted genocide to become the brutal oppressors of another people. Enough, no more, there is a better ethic, and there can be a better, safer, future for the Jews.”
Shlomo Ben Ami, speaking alongside Philips against the motion, said: “The Holocaust should not give the Jews and Israel any moral immunity from criticism. Nor is it proper for the Israelis to conveniently dismiss all, and every attack against the reproachable policies as anti-semitism. But it is likewise indecent that Israel should be singled out for discriminatory treatment in a way that leads eventually to its deligitimization as a state. The argument that Israel is a civilized nation and more should be expected of her, than of say the Arabs, is frankly not only a form of political racism, (this time against the Arabs) but also a self-fulfilling prophecy that encourages the Arabs to persist in their dictatorial and abusive practices.”
An emotional Hass then spoke about Israel’s discriminatory policies in the occupied Palestinian territories and the impact of curfews, separate road systems, settlements, checkpoints, and house demolitions - all aspects of Israel’s 37 year military occupation. She said she could go on, and on, and on, and that “9 hours not even 9 minutes could suffice to describe what it is to be a Jewish master.” So she said: “If you want, and if you feel, and if you like to be masters; if you think that being masters fits into your Jewish values, do vote against this motion.”
Raphael Israeli was last to speak and, ending on a light note, told the following joke:
“When you look at the summary of all these things, we should simply adopt the good sense of a little boy, a Jewish boy, called Jacob Goldberg who went to a Catholic school right here in Europe. The Bishop came along one day to control the content of their studies and he said, ‘My children, I have here a 100 Euro bill. I will give it to any kid who will answer my question properly.’ The question was, ‘Who was the greatest man in history?’ One of the kids says ‘Napoleon’; another says ‘Alexander the Great’ and so on and so forth. Of course they were not the right answers. And then this kid, Jacob, says, ‘I know Bishop. I know the answer.’ The Bishop says, ‘Yes, what is it?’ Jacob said, ‘I think it is Jesus Christ’. And the Bishop was elated saying, ‘of course have the bill, but how could you, Jacob Goldberg, say Jesus and not Moses?’ And this kid with his good sense said, ‘Moses is Moses and business is business.’”
At the end of the session, the vote was read out aloud by Lindley. The result came as a surprise and there were gasps of astonishment in the auditorium. In an online poll only 2.5% of respondents voted in favour of the motion (with 97.2% voting against). Those who actually attended the event were asked before they took their seats how they would vote. The result was evenly split with 30% of those questioned saying they would vote for the motion and 30% saying they would vote against - 40% of those questioned beforehand had not made up their mind. The final results were as follows:
Is Zionism today the real enemy of the Jews?
Don’t Know: 5.5%
I did not vote.
Victor Kattan is a Director of Arab Media Watch.
Announcement: On 1 February there will be a talk & books sale: Zionism - Past, Present & Future chaired by Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi, Chairman of Arab Media Watch. To discuss Zionism’s past, present and future, two prominent authors of recent books on the subject, published by Pluto Books, which will be sold at a 20% discount at the event. John Rose is author of “The Myths of Zionism”, and teaches Sociology at Southwark College and London Metropolitan University. Norton Mezvinsky is co-author, with the late Israel Shahak, of “Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel”, and is a Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University. The talk and book sale will take place at 7pm in Room D602, Clement Building, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE. The event is organized by Arab Media Watch, the Council for Arab-British Understanding, Pluto Books and the LSE Palestine Society.