As usually while driving, I was listening to LBC (yes, I know: I’m a sad, sad person!) In truth, I had rather switched off from the annoying chatter and was focusing on driving – when I suddenly heard the words “former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn”. And indeed, Corbyn’s voice started to unpleasantly scratch my eardrums, as he muddled through his usual ‘spiel’. It was immediately after the latest local elections and the author of Labour’s most catastrophic electoral defeat in 84 years proceeded to ‘analyse’ the results and volunteer his opinions. I could almost hear Starmer’s groan and Johnson’s merriment. Like a bad smell, some people just don’t go away!
A few days later, also on LBC, I noticed that Tony Blair was still around, as well: to Starmer’s sheer despair he, too, was volunteering his advice!
I was reminded about all that, when I recently read an article by Vivian Wineman. Like the two men above, Mr. Wineman is also a ‘has been’ – though one of much less consequence in the big scheme of things: he was, once upon a time, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
No, don’t feel sorry for me: even a sad person like me does not follow the ruminations of Vivian Wineman. A friend brought his article to my attention, by posting a link to it on Facebook, under the comment:
“I’m quite ashamed of my Past President. This piece is truly appalling.”
This piqued my curiosity and I proceeded to read Mr. Wineman’s contribution, entitled “Jewish Anti-Zionists Holders of the Wooden Spoon?” Not all my readers are British, so I feel I should explain: the Wooden Spoon is a symbol of failure – it is mockingly awarded to the side that finishes last in the Six Nations rugby tournament.
But don’t let that fool you: the key part of Mr. Wineman’s title is… the question mark at its end.
True, he jokingly says that he decided to write about Jewish anti-Zionists because
“I and my family have always been attracted by losers…”
(He should’ve told us that before being elected President of the Board!)
In reality, however, his article reads to me (and to quite a few other people I consulted) conspicuously like an attempt to whitewash (or ‘rehabilitate’, or perhaps legitimise) Jewish anti-Zionism.
Why would he do that? Well, Mr. Wineman was always a ‘progressive’; no, not in terms of shul affiliation, but of political inclination. He chaired far-left outfits like Peace Now and New Israel Fund and is currently, I believe, an ardent sympathiser of Yachad – a group of activists claiming to be ‘pro-Israel’, but whose only aim seems to be turning British Jews from supporters of the Jewish state into harsh ‘critics’ thereof.
As an aside: it has always been my observation that the only thing ‘progressive’ about far-leftists is their progressive antipathy towards Israel. As an example, take Peter Beinart: once upon a time, he used to call himself a Zionist, albeit of the ‘liberal’ variety. Since then, he has ‘progressed’ to non-Zionism, before becoming an ardent anti-Zionist keen on dismantling the Jewish state. Yachad (who also used to call themselves ‘liberal Zionists’ – albeit not in recent times of course) have not gone so far yet. (At least not overtly – they’d be shunned by the entire British Jewish community if they did; though their ‘spirited defence’ of the slogan ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free’ seems to betray their true feelings.)
One of the fundamental errors of judgment that such ‘progressives’ make is to imagine that, by dropping early 20th century anti-Zionists into the conversation, they can somehow legitimise the current ones. That is, of course, ludicrous. In 1917, one could still legitimately (albeit wrongly in hindsight) argue against what was still a project in relative infancy. Should a Jewish state be constituted sometime in the future – or better not? Today, the State of Israel exists. It is not just a tangible reality, but the home of the world’s largest, youngest and healthiest Jewish community. Contemporary anti-Zionists do not debate the merits of a future project; they propose to dismantle an existing, sovereign state (and only one!). They are at best indifferent and at worst hostile to the fate of that community.
But let’s go back to Mr. Wineman and his treatment of anti-Zionist Jews. He starts by stating the obvious (though he rather tendentiously downgrades it to “generally accepted”):
“Zionism has swept the board inside the Jewish community…”
I find myself forced to agree, for once, with Mr. Wineman. Not because the fact is “generally accepted”, but because it is well-documented: every opinion poll ever undertaken shows that, for the vast majority of British Jews, Israel is a major (and often the major) component of their Jewish identity.
Mr. Wineman goes on to say that
“If a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for instance, were to stand up at a meeting and say that he does not believe in God, eats ham on Yom Kippur and thinks the Bible contains nothing but bubba mayses- old wives [sic!] tails [sic!], there would be distaste maybe, but nothing further and certainly, no calls for expulsion. If our mischievous deputy were to stand up the next month and declare that he did not believe that there should be a State of Israel or even only that he was a supporter of BDS against it, there would be immediate calls for his censure or expulsion.”
Is this, as Mr. Wineman would probably claim, an example of how Zionism “has swept the board”? It sounds rather like a complaint to me.
In fact, the different treatment of the two ‘transgressions’ in Wineman’s ‘example’ is entirely understandable. Renowned researcher and Zionist activist David Collier put it much better than I could:
“One [rejecting God, eating pork] is a personal choice that affects only him – and the other [anti-Zionism] harms the well-being of millions of Jews living in the Jewish state.”
Perhaps subconsciously, Wineman (who was once educated in a yeshivah) used the English words “censure” and “expulsion”. They may be taken as translations of the old Hebrew terms kherem (חרם) and niddui (נדוי), which are part of the Jewish law and were used in pre and post-exilic Judaism. These ‘sanctions’ were originally conceived not as punishment for the transgressing individual (such punishment was expected to come from God, rather than from human beings), but as a prophylactic measure, aimed at protecting the community from the dire consequences of the transgression and from its harmful proliferation.
After conceding that Zionism is widely embraced by Jews, Wineman goes on to claim that
“It was not always so. Just over a century ago in the years leading up to the Balfour Declaration antizionists were in control of the leading streams of British Jewry; the ultra orthodox [sic!], the mainstream orthodox [sic!], Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism.”
In passing: if Wineman wanted to list “the leading streams…” in “the years leading up…”, it seems to me that he should have capitalised ‘Orthodox’, just as he did with ‘Reform’ and ‘Liberal’. This is not me supporting orthodoxy, but orthography! Mr. Wineman may also wish to make up his mind whether he wishes to refer to anti-Zionists (as he did in the title), or do away with the hyphen. Consistency in presentation might eventually result in logical arguments – one never knows!
More importantly, though: isn’t “in control of” a rather weird (and, I’d suggest, dishonest) argument to make? Why not just say (as others try to claim sometimes) ‘the majority of Jews opposed Zionism’? Because, as Wineman knows (and, I suspect, tries to hide), that simply would not be true. We only need to read the following personal account by historian Simon Schama. Describing British Jewry’s reaction to the Balfour Declaration, Schama writes:
“[W]hen the document was made public by the Zionist Federation, my father saw […] singing and dancing erupt in the streets of the East End, from Mile End to Whitechapel. Something propitious, something providential, had happened, but also something against the odds.
That East End street party — ‘a kosher knees-up’, Dad called it, lots of fried fish, cake and shouting — was all instinct and no thought, but then sometimes instincts are the real story. Arthur remembered the ‘Hatikvah’ being sung outside a synagogue close to the family house. A month later the same song brought the crowd to their feet in the Royal Opera House. My father stood outside amid a huge throng beside sacks of the next day’s cabbages.”
But that’s not the story that Mr. Wineman favours. Instead, he writes
“They also dominated the Jewish establishment. While often supporting Jewish settlement in Israel they were opposed to any attempt to create a political entity for them there.”
The ‘they’ in the passage above refers to anti-Zionists. But the word troubles me is ‘also’. What else, did the anti-Zionists dominate? They were part of the establishment, while the Jewish masses by-and-large supported Zionism.
Here’s Schama again, still writing about his father:
“He knew all about the Jewish opposition: anti-Zionists, the grandees of the Anglo-Jewish Association and the Conjoint Committee — Claude Montefiore and those Rothschilds, Leopold in particular — who were on the wrong side of the argument. He was especially horrified by the public accusation of Edwin Montagu, one of the two Jewish members of the Cabinet (the other was the pro-Zionist Herbert Samuel), that the Balfour Declaration was tantamount to being anti-Semitic, since in Montagu’s eyes it presupposed divided loyalties, especially heinous during the war. Others among the anti-Zionist lobby felt the same way, in particular the historian Lucien Wolf, who had actually been questioned about his true nationality by a policeman in 1915 and never quite got over it.
For my father, the defensiveness of the anti-Zionists was a symptom of the gulf dividing West End Jews from East End Jews. The declaration’s 67 words, he thought, could be boiled down to one — the word “home”, bayit. It was all very well for the likes of Edwin Montagu to complain that their indivisible sense of a British home was now vulnerable to charges of divided allegiance, but Montagu’s home was manorial: avenues of oak and elm, game birds flushed from the bracken, dropping to Home Counties guns.”
And here is Wineman, still talking about anti-Zionists:
“Their writings, though unsuccessful in the long term, were of high quality. An outstanding member was Edwin Montagu PC, Secretary of State for India and the third Jew to reach cabinet office in this country.”
Isn’t it sad to see a ‘progressive’ like Mr. Wineman trying to ‘sell’ the selfish machinations of a few ‘Jewish barons’ and community makhers who – then, just like today – ran contrary to what the masses wanted?
Edwin Montagu’s stubborn opposition to the Balfour Declaration is well known. But the reason his efforts (and those of others like him) were “unsuccessful” (not just “in the long term”, but then and there) is that British politicians like Balfour and Lloyd George knew very well that those anti-Zionists were utterly unrepresentative, that they spoke only for a tiny number of privileged Jews. In fact, Balfour understood that Zionism was being embraced by the Jewish masses – and not just in Britain. Speaking at a meeting of the War Cabinet in October 1917, he opined that
“The vast majority of Jews in Russia and America, as, indeed, all over the world, now appeared to be favourable to Zionism.”
I’d say it’s ironic that a Conservative politician like Balfour was attuned to the aspirations of the “vast majority of Jews”, while a century later a ‘progressive’ like Mr. Wineman is still more concerned with what “the establishment” wanted. But then, another ‘progressive’ once said that Zionists like me just don’t get English irony…
I don’t know much about Mr. Wineman’s grasp of English irony (though I don’t suspect him of Zionism). But as for the rigour of his research… his article causes me great concerns in that respect. Because, even if we were to ignore the popular feeling, the picture of Jewish establishment’s attitude to Zionism is itself much more complex than the one he paints.
It is not true that that “establishment” (or the leadership of the British Jewish community) was uniformly opposed to Zionism. Some were – such as Mr. Wineman’s distant predecessor, Board of Deputies President David Lindo Alexander. Others, however (such as Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz) were dedicated supporters of Zionism.
In May 1917, Lindo Alexander published a letter in the Times, which attacked the main tenets of Zionism. He admitted (and how could he deny it) that
“The Holy Land is necessarily of profound and undying interest for all Jews, as the cradle of their religion, the main theatre of Bible history, and the site of its sacred memorials. It is not, however, as a mere shrine or place of pilgrimage that they regard the country. Since the dawn of their political emancipation in Europe the Jews have made rehabilitation of the Jewish community in the Holy Land one of their chief cares, and they have always cherished the hope that the result of their labours would be the regeneration on Palestinian soil of a Jewish community worthy of the great memories and of the environment, and a source of spiritual inspiration to the whole of Jewry.”
“Meanwhile the committee have learnt from the published statements of the Zionist leaders in this country that they now favour a much larger scheme of an essentially political character.”
And what was wrong with that “scheme”? Well, Lindo Alexander went on to explain that Jews do not regard themselves as a people and have no national aspirations; they see themselves as just “a religious community”, on a par “with their fellow citizens of other creeds”. Though in fairness he did assign that opinion not to Jews in general, but only to “[e]mancipated Jews” – which we might probably translate in today’s parlance as ‘progressives’. Plus ça change…
So far, the story of Lindo Alexander and his letter would seem to support Mr. Wineman’s contentions. But only if we ignore the end of that story: just a few days later, the Times published a rebuttal penned by Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz. His letter dismissed the opinions of Lindo Alexander and of his ‘sponsor’ and co-signatory Claude Montefiore as unrepresentative of and inconsistent with
“the views held by Anglo-Jewry as a whole or by the Jewries of the overseas dominions.”
And not just the Chief Rabbi: on 17 June 1917, Lindo Alexander’s letter was formally condemned by the Board of Deputies; he was forced to resign. So much for Mr. Wineman’s assertion that “immediate calls for […] censure or expulsion” of anti-Zionists are a relatively new phenomenon at the Board!
And so much for his contention that “the Jewish establishment” was “dominated” by anti-Zionists. In fact, Mr. Wineman’s sole ‘example’ of Jewish anti-Zionist (Edwin Montagu) cannot really be said to have been part of “the Jewish establishment”. As a Member of Parliament and Minister, he was certainly part of the British establishment – but his interest in Jewish community affairs (insofar as those affairs did not impinge on his own) is questionable.
But let’s move on: still speaking about Jewish anti-Zionists (or on their behalf?), Mr. Wineman says:
“On a practical level they saw Zionism as stimulus to antisemitism and as an obstacle to their great project of emancipation.”
While admitting that they were wrong on both accounts, Wineman still informs us that
“The decades following the Balfour Declaration saw the rise of the most frightful antisemitism the world has ever seen. It would be very hard, however, to attribute this to Zionism.”
Now, this is a very misleading way to put it. If I said, for instance, ‘The years after Mr. Wineman’s Presidency of the Board of Deputies saw the rise of the most frightful antisemitism’ – many an unsuspecting reader may understand, whatever the other protestations, that one event led to the other.
No, it would not be “very hard” to attribute the rise in antisemitism to Zionism – it would be impossible for any researcher endowed with intellectual honesty. In fact, the opposite has been argued: that the rise in antisemitism (especially in Europe and parts of the Muslim world) lent Zionism credibility as the solution to ‘the Jewish problem’.
Let me mention just a few ‘milestones’ that preceded the 1917 Balfour Declaration:
- In 1840, the blood libel is employed against the Jews of Damascus. Some community leaders are tortured to death. The survivors are eventually exonerated, but the population nevertheless perpetrates several pogroms.
- In 1882, another blood libel case is launched in Hungary. The accused Jews are eventually acquitted, but the effects of the resulting antisemitic propaganda linger and fester.
- In 1894 (i.e. 3 years before the First Zionist Congress) Captain Alfred Dreyfus is convicted of treason, after an inquiry and trial with strong antisemitic undertones.
- In 1909, the British Vice Consul in Mosul remarks:
“The attitude of the Muslims toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master towards slaves, whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed.”
- Between 1821 and 1906, hundreds of pogroms were perpetrated throughout Jewish-inhabited areas of the Russian Empire. Thousands of Jews were murdered – alongside rapes and other atrocities.
- In 1910, another blood libel incident takes place in Shiraz, Iran. In the ensuing pogrom, 12 Jews are murdered, 50 are injured and the entire Jewish quarter is pillaged.
It is these occurrences of pre-1917 “frightful antisemitism” (especially the pogroms in Eastern Europe) that explain the apparently contradictory position of anti-Zionists like Lindo Alexander. As Wineman himself hints (and as the Times letter proves), they supported the return of Jews to the Holy Land; they only opposed self-determination for those Jews. Why this ‘nuanced’ stance? Because of the pogroms and the antisemitic policies of the Russian tsars, Jews were fleeing Eastern Europe in large numbers – and many sought to take refuge in Britain. That migration resulted in fast increase of Britain’s Jewish population: from 65,000 in 1880 to 300,000 in1914. Despite their sanctimonious protestations, the anti-Zionist Jews cared little about the Arab population of Palestine; their major concern was a potential rise in British antisemitism, one they feared might be ‘caused’ by a continued massive immigration of ‘unemancipated’ (ahem!) Eastern European Jews. Sending those Jews to Palestine was a good solution insofar as it kept them away from Britain; but not if they built a ‘Jewish Home’: that might imply that the Jewish barons were not ‘at home’ in Britain.
After the misleading passage analysed above, Mr. Wineman proceeds to… argue back-and-forth with himself:
“It would be very hard, however, to attribute this to Zionism. Although the ultra orthodox anti Zionists do blame the Zionists and even specific Zionist leaders for the holocaust this argument is not taken seriously outside their circles. Among the lurid accusations made against Jews dual loyalty did not figure very prominently. The antisemitic charge was not that the jews had a loyalty to an emerging political entity in the Middle East but that they had aspirations for world government.”
Needless to say, only a tiny, extreme minority of Charedi anti-Zionists blame Zionists for the Shoah. By the way, I use the term ‘Charedi’ (חרדי) because that’s how they choose to call themselves. I don’t think that people (especially ‘progressives’ and even more so former Presidents of the Board!) should presume to label communities by names that are – at best – judgmental: let us remember that ultra-Orthodox (even when it’s spelled correctly) includes an element of censure; it means ‘extremely’ or ‘excessively’ Orthodox and that’s not how the people in question view themselves.
Otherwise, the muddled prose above is only remarkable by its careless presentation. After writing alternatively ‘anti-Zionists’ and ‘antizionists’, Mr. Wineman now decided to call them ‘anti Zionists’. Jews also become ‘jews’ in the space of one sentence…
As a Yachad sympathiser (or active supporter?) Mr. Wineman simply cannot resist squeezing in a swipe at Israel – even in an article that purports to discuss pre-1917 attitudes. He sets the scene by sanctimoniously stating
“Political rights are a human entitlement, enshrined in numerous international conventions, not a gift from a merciful government for which the recipients must be duly grateful.”
He then goes on to accuse:
“Ironically the one democratic country where this does not apply is the State of Israel. Arabs within Israel’s pre 1967 borders are full citizens automatically in accordance with Israel’s admirable constitution, but Arabs beyond those borders are not.”
This goes to show that it’s not just English irony that I don’t get– but some people’s logic, too. See, I always thought that no democratic country awards its citizenship en-masse to people beyond its borders. Especially to people who are legally and practically in a state of conflict with that country. Critics of Israel like to pretend that award of citizenship is a universal requirement for people who are ‘controlled’ or ‘occupied’ by the country in question. But that requirement is made out of whole cloth. In fact, while Mr. Wineman’s own country ‘controlled’ or ‘occupied’ for long periods of time people in places like Iraq and Afghanistan – it did not offer them British citizenship.
I suspect that Mr. Wineman recognised the weakness of his own argument. That’s probably why he decided to suddenly change tack, by focusing on East Jerusalem. Which, according to Israeli law at least, is within – rather than beyond—the country’s borders.
“Even in East Jerusalem, where Israel has claimed full sovereignty ever since 1967, Palestinians are not automatically entitled to citizenship.”
Technically speaking, Mr. Wineman is right. Logically speaking, his description of the situation is ‘a bit’ simplistic – not to say economical with the truth. In 1967, Arab residents of Jerusalem were citizens of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – a country at war with Israel. Automatically granting them Israeli citizenship would have resulted in an unreasonable situation, in which citizens of an enemy country can elect and be elected to the Parliament (and in principle become members of the government, etc.)
The problem with ‘progressive’ critics of Israel is not that they demand that Israel adopts the most liberal measures ever encountered – and even go far beyond those; it is that they require Israel to do so in the midst of an existential conflict, in complete disregard of its collective safety and the principles of self-defence. In the mind of ‘critics’ like Yachad and Mr. Wineman, Israel ‘must’ grant Arabs citizenship – even if that would endanger the safety and welfare of her existing citizenry.
Instead of such suicidal acts, Israel opted for a reasonable solution, which sought to balance the rights of Jerusalemite Arabs with those of her extant nationals. East Jerusalem Palestinians were automatically given the status of permanent residents (תושב קבע). Contrary to Mr. Wineman’s claim, this status confers – rather than denies – political rights: permanent residents are entitled to elect and be elected in local elections (including for the position of prestigious and powerful position of Mayor of Jerusalem). Permanent residents have the same civic and social rights as Israeli citizens, including among many other things education, healthcare, income support, unemployment benefits… The main difference is that, unlike citizens, permanent residents cannot elect or be elected to the Israeli Parliament.
Permanent residency is not something Israel invented for the benefit of East Jerusalem Palestinians; it is a legal status practiced by most democratic countries. I should know: my legal status in the UK is that of a permanent resident. I can vote in local elections, but not in national ones. My resident status will be cancelled if I live in another country for more than two years. I am eligible to apply for British citizenship (having lived here for more than five years), but the granting of citizenship is conditional upon fulfilling a whole raft of requirements including passing a test for knowledge of the English language, an additional test for familiarity with ‘British customs and traditions’ and proving I am ‘of good character’. As for the latter requirement, the Home Office warns as follows:
“To be of good character you should have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of the UK, observe its laws and fulfilled your duties and obligations as a resident of the UK. Checks will be carried out to ensure that the information you give is correct.”
If I apply for British citizenship and my application is approved, I would be granted that citizenship – provided I take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen or the Pledge of Loyalty to the state.
As it happens, I choose not to apply for British citizenship. I feel it would be somewhat dishonest – a travesty: while I like and respect the country, I do not identify as British.
East Jerusalem Palestinians are also entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship. The requirements are similar, though understandably the ‘good character’ part places much more focus on security-related activity.
The PLO considers applying for Israeli citizenship an act of national treason; Hamas probably views it as apostasy. Yet in recent years an increasing number of Jerusalemite Arabs are applying and being granted citizenship. I don’t blame them; nor do I blame the ones that choose not to – it is a personal choice. But nor should sanctimonious hypocrites (ensconced in their soft armchairs in North London) blame Israel for doing only ‘the next best thing’ under very difficult circumstances.
Then, there’s another point of logic: officially at least, Yachad (and, I can only presume, sympathisers like Mr. Wineman) still support the two-state solution, while also claiming that such solution would only be possible with a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. If that is indeed the desired outcome, why, then, would the inhabitants of the future Palestinian capital be created Israeli citizens??
I’m afraid I saved the worst for last: in his back-and-forth ‘debate’ on whether Zionism was “a stimulus [to] the most frightful antisemitism”, Mr. Wineman manages to casually sneak in the following vile sentence:
“The Zionists did not provoke German antisemitism and were able to work with the Nazis on one aim they both shared,- [sic!] to get Jews out of Germany.”
Sure, we all know about the Transfer Agreement. But that Zionists ‘shared one aim’ with the Nazis is a sordid, foul claim. The Nazis wanted to ‘purify’ the ‘Aryan race’ by getting rid of the Jews, while despoiling them in the process; the Zionists wanted to save the German Jews – whom no other country wanted (not even Britain at the time). This wasn’t selling one’s soul to the Devil, but making a deal (even) with the Devil to save souls.
In theory at least, one can be an anti-Zionist without accusing Zionists of ‘sharing aims’ with the Nazis; in practice, it seems that anti-Zionism always ends up in antisemitism – if it does not originate in it to start with. That a former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews should stoop to accusations proffered by the likes of Ken Livingstone and Sergey Lavrov is a matter of immense sadness and deep shame.
A former President cannot, unfortunately, be censored and expelled. All we can do is to symbolically award him the ultimate Wooden Spoon. My granddad would have said, face covered with his huge hands: !וואָס אַ בושה – What a shame! As, I suspect, would his.