Saturday, 3 December 2016

“OMG! I’ve just renounced my right to Jewish national self-determination.”

Okay, here goes.
I’m renouncing my right to Jewish national self-determination.
There. I’ve done it.
It didn’t hurt.
I’m still here.
I’m still Jewish.
But what was it? And how did I get it in the first place?
And just why do our Jewish leaders like to talk about it so much?

Read the full post at Writing from the Edge @Patheos  

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Reclaiming the lost Jewish voices of the Balfour Declaration

My new post to mark the start of the Balfour Declaration centenary year is published @Writing from the Edge on my Patheos page.

Here's an extract

The tragedy of Zionism is that its implementation could never be achieved without the displacement of another people. Jewish national self-determination meant a Jewish majority directing its own affairs. The vast majority of Jews still see this as nothing more than a very necessary and noble endeavour.
But to make that ambition a reality required the maximum amount of Palestinian land with the minimum number of non-Jews. One way or another, for the Palestinians, Balfour was always going to turn out badly. But to point this out has now become an act of antisemitism.

Read the full post here. 

Saturday, 22 October 2016

‘Children of Palestine’ – the radical new folk song bringing the tragedy to a new audience

‘Children of Palestine’ by Jim Boyes is an outstanding and moving addition to the already impressive repertoire of Coope Boyes & Simpson. It pulls no punches in presenting the Palestinian story from the Nakba to the Occupation and the wars against Gaza. This is no soppy folk song calling for peace and harmony. This is an angry cry of injustice and betrayal set to a traditional folk melody and sung with the trio’s trademark robust harmonies.

Read my new interview with Jim Boyes at Writing from the Edge at Patheos.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

A call for artefacts for the Museum of Modern Jewish Life

Inspired by a visit to the Jewish Museum in Berlin this summer, here's my offering to mark Yom Kippur this year which begins on Tuesday evening 11 October.

Here's an extract.

So this Yom Kippur I ask for funds to acquire
The artefacts of our Jewish today
The large and the small
The highly significant
And the more mundane
This is an exciting project
But we need your help
The Steering Committee
On your behalf
Has compiled a shopping list of items
We feel
Will be necessary
To record
And reflectively
Our present
Modern Jewish experience

Read the full post at Writing from the Edge @Patheos 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Birth of a Kairos Jew

My new post is up on 'Writing from the Edge' at Patheos. 

It's the text of my talk given on Friday 30 September 2016 at Victoria Methodist Church to the Sheffield Kairos group, part of the Kairos Britain movement for church solidarity with Palestine. My thanks to Garth Hewitt, founder of Amos Trust, for inviting me to share the stage with him. Kairos [Pronounced: Kai-ros] is a Greek word meaning ‘the right time’ or ‘the moment of truth’.

Here's an extract

The Jewish Kairos moment will begin on the margins of the Jewish community. Often it will be the Jews who don’t express themselves in a religious language at all.
The Jewish Kairos will only come when we see the Zionist understanding of Jewish history and the nationalist solution to Jewish woes as an aberration rather than a continuum of Jewish values.
I look forward to that Kairos moment when a mainstream Rabbi or synagogue congregation make a categorical statement about Settlements and the Occupation being not just ‘an obstacle to peace’ but barriers to humanity and an affront to Judaism.
Then perhaps I can find a synagogue worth joining.
For many Jews, the Jewish Kairos will be a painful moment and require a new construction of the Jewish narrative, one that can incorporate the Palestinian narrative too.
Meanwhile, Palestinians will need to understand our pain and our trauma, as well as their own, if open hearted dialogue is to be possible.
But remember, this is not a conflict of equals. We Jews hold the power. We have the superpower backing. The onus is on us.
In the meantime, Jews who wish to stand in the Jewish tradition of universal justice will find their friends outside of the Jewish community.

Read the full talk here 

Friday, 16 September 2016

Settlement Boycotts – calling time on the hypocrisy of our Jewish leadership

My new post is just published at Writing from the Edge @Patheos. It's a hard hitting critique of our Jewish Leadership's position on West Bank Settlements.

Here's an extract:

No comment required
By hiding behind a non-existent ‘peace process’, no judgement need be passed on how land is acquired to build new Settlements or to expand existing ones.
No comment is required concerning the control of Palestinian water resources and their diversion to the Settlements.
No protest needs to be made when Palestinian homes are demolished to make way for Jewish homes.
No concern is necessary when Palestinian farmers are forced to give up the fight to sustain their businesses or when their crops are destroyed by rampaging settlers bent on intimidation. As for freedom of movement, a discriminatory judicial process and the complete absence of any democratic say for Palestinians in Area C (60% of the West Bank), none of this warrants a spec of criticism.
No responsibility. No comment. No morality.

Read the full post here. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Two years on, Scotland’s Jews concerned over Gaza – but for all the wrong reasons

When it comes to antisemitism and the impact of Israel-Palestine on our daily lives, the Jewish community in the UK asks the wrong questions, counts the wrong data and debates the wrong issues.

That’s what comes to mind when reading What’s changed about being Jewish in Scotland” research published this summer by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities following an upsurge in reports of antisemitism during and following Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza.

There are around 6,000 Jews living in Scotland and 300 of them took part in the research via a questionnaire or focus groups. If the findings are representative, then Scotland’s Jews were certainly dismayed by Gaza in summer 2014 – but for all the wrong reasons.


According to the report’s authors, the findings show a heightened level of “anxiety, discomfort or vulnerability” among 32% of those surveyed as a direct result of Scottish public reaction to the Gaza conflict. In addition, 80% of respondents said that events during the summer of 2014 had negatively affected their experience of being Jewish in Scotland. In short, say the authors:

“…the decline in people’s confidence and increase in their feelings of insecurity that we found were striking and extremely concerning.”


What’s not asked by the researchers, or the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, is how we have reached this state of affairs, or whether the Scottish public’s criticism of Israel has any validity, nor what role our Jewish leadership has played in creating such a toxic atmosphere for ordinary Jews?

Of course not.

It wasn’t part of the researchers’ brief because we’re not up for having that debate.

Instead we prefer to count incidents of antisemitism, chart our growing discomfort as Jews, demand a proactive response from the police and politicians and propose more public education about Judaism.

None of this will do the slightest good. Not for Jews living in Scotland or anywhere else in the world.

Without a more open, honest, and above all moral debate about Zionism and Israel, we will continue to flounder in our response to antisemitism and fail to understand what’s enabling such hatred to flourish.

Read the rest of this post at my patheos page Writing from the Edge

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Ten Commandments Revisited (in response to current Jewish and Palestinian requirements)

So here I am, not just wrestling but messing with the most famous sacred text of all – The Ten Commandments. My motivation is this: I’m hoping it may provide a way for affiliated Jews to recognise the radical countercultural solutions that stare out from the pages of our prayer book.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

As a UK citizen, as a European Jew, as a campaigner for Palestine – I’m voting ‘REMAIN’

Good or bad for the Jews?
There’s a tradition in my community of asking on any major national question whether a particular outcome will be ‘good or bad for Jews’. It’s not as selfish as it sounds. It comes of being a minority group, wary of change and always on the look out for potential threats. It’s not the most healthy mindset psychologically, but it’s there none the less.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

“Honey, I shrunk the religion!” Who’s in and who’s out according to Zionism?

The space available to be Jewish is shrinking rapidly. Ironically, it’s both pro and anti-Zionist positions that are making Judaism look so minuscule.

Jewish students on Britain’s campuses now feel they have to choose between their Jewish identity and supporting the National Union of Students. The dilemma has been brought to a head by the election of Malia Bouattia as NUS President and her well-reported anti-Zionist opinions.

Our Jewish students can’t work out why their minority rights (when defined in terms of supporting Zionism) aren’t considered valid in the same way as other groups’ desires for self-determination.

The students are not the only ones feeling their Judaism constrained. 

It’s doing my head in too. But for the entirely opposite reason.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Thank you Chief Rabbi. Now I know. Judaism is to blame for the Palestinian Nakba.

Dear Rabbi Mirvis

When it comes to defining Zionism, you have brought crystal clarity.

You have been emphatic and categorical. You have left no room for doubt.

And why am I writing to you today? Well it’s Nakba Day. And thanks to you, I can now join a perfect straight line between Judaism and the Palestinian ‘Catastrophe’.

However, I imagine you and I will disagree strongly on the implications of that straight line.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Letter from an anti-BDS Arab to a Jewish BDS supporter [and this Jew's BDS response]

A member of my family sent me this open letter to BDS supporting Jews, hoping I might see the error of my ways. It hasn't worked.

It was published last month and written by Fred Maroun who writes a column for the Times of Israel. Looking at his other posts for TOI he clearly likes to target any Jew who has a problem with Israel. Maroun describes himself as a Canadian of Arab origin who grew up in Beirut, supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and wants a liberal and democratic Middle East.

Here's a quote from Maroun's previous thoughts on BDS, a tactic he seems to enjoy misrepresenting:

Not only is the BDS movement anti-Semitic, but since its objective is the destruction of Israel, the killing of Jews, and the return of the remaining Jews to the stateless and precarious status that they had before May 1948, the BDS movement represents an anti-Semitism at par with Hamas, and the worst form of anti-Semitism since Nazi Germany.

Click here to see Maroun's open letter to people like me [with my responses in bold].

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Three pieces of advice to help British leftwingers kick racism out of their anti-Israel rhetoric

Too often I see those in solidarity with Palestinians lose the plot and allow opponents to grab the agenda and deflect attention from where the suffering really exists.

That's exactly what's been happening in Britain this week as a row over antisemitism in the Labour Party has dominated the news.

My initial reaction to Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone was sympathetic. The whole thing felt hyped up, out of all proportion and part of the ongoing attempts to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party. See Asa Winstanley's article at Electronic Intifada for a compelling account of this.

But after days of news coverage about Zionism and antisemitism, none of which has shed the slightest light on the plight of the Palestinians, my sympathy with how some left wingers express their views on Israel has worn very thin. Their verbal antics have allowed distraction and deflection to triumph as an exaggerated crisis about antisemitism in Britain rules the airwaves.

I don't believe the Labour Party in Britain has a "problem with Jews". Antisemitism in Labour is not "endemic", or "toxic", or "institutional". Or at least no more than it is in the Conservative Party.

But I do believe some comments expressed by some Labour members in support of Palestinians have been crass, ignorant, and yes, antisemitic.

The right wing opponents of Corbyn, and those who can't stand his pro-Palestinian sympathies, are undoubtedly making the most of every stupid social media post and comment they can dig up.

It does feel like a witch-hunt has been unleashed with Labour politicians now lining up, like a parody of a scene from Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible', to say how antisemitism must be "rooted out of the Party".

If the Palestinian people are ever to get the attention and respect they deserve then those who claim to support their cause need to clean up their act, learn some history, avoid own-goals and stay focused on achieving a just peace in Israel/Palestine.
Self-made bear traps

There's a way to talk about Israel that's honest and defensible even though it won't avoid you escaping every accusation of antisemitism. And then there's a way to talk that leads you into a massive bear trap of your own making.

Language and history are incredibly important when it comes to Israel/Palestine and being sloppy with either gets you into a heap of trouble that ought to be avoidable.

So let me offer three pieces of advice to help British left wingers kick racism out of their anti-Israel rhetoric.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Wicked Son's guide to Passover

My new post for Passover is just published at Writing from the Edge

Celebrating Passover can be tricky for us awkward Jews.

Liberation and freedom have become the 'Passover Problematic' for the in-house critics of Judaism in the 21st century.

I'm thinking of Jews like me (growing in number each year) who insist that Zionism as the route to Jewish self-determination has turned out to be a bitter disappointment.

Jews like me who think our movement of political nationalism has created nothing but salt water because it comes at the expense of another people's freedom.

Jews like me who think our synagogue ethics are as thin as a piece of matzoh because they insist that supporting all things Israel is a sacred duty.

Each year our liturgy calls us to welcome 'the stranger' to join our feast because all must enjoy this festival of freedom. Towards the end of the evening, we wait expectantly for the prophet Elijah, hoping his arrival will herald messianic times with justice and peace for all. We even pour him a goblet of wine.

But there's no space at the table for the elephant in the room.

It's an elephant draped in a giant black and white kaffiyeh, who rightly mocks our piety and our celebrations. It's the same elephant that's been turning up at our Yom Kippur services, our annual day of atonement, for decades but finds himself just too big to squeeze through the Shul doors.

So what's to be done?

Let me introduce to you the Wicked Son of Seder night tradition. He has a radical solution to the awkward Jews' Passover dilemma.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Young liberal Zionists, if you're serious about peace, let go and move on

Fear, intimidation, distress and discomfort. That's the lexicon of life for young liberal Zionists in Britain today.

The pro-peace, anti-occupation, two-state supporting Jews are certainly having a rough time of it.

So why aren't I more sympathetic?

After all, doesn't the fact that moderate well-meaning Jewish supporters of Israel are under attack, point to what really lies behind all of this hostility? Old fashioned, straight forward, anti-Semitism. And isn't it the political left that's stoking all the trouble this time around?

While I've no doubt that anti-Semitism exists in the Labour Party (and across the political spectrum for that matter) there's a whole lot more to it than that. Something else is at play here.

What we're witnessing is an uncomfortable reckoning for young diaspora Jews who are unable to see or accept what has happened to Jews, Judaism and Jewish identity over the last 100 years.

Before I say more, let me recap some recent events to give you a flavour of what's been happening.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Comparing Nazis to Jews? Leon Rosselson explains ‘The Ballad of Rivka & Mohammed’

It’s shocking.

But that’s the point.

You’re not supposed to do this. But he has.

Songwriters have creative licence but has Leon Rosselson gone too far?

A Nazi soldier smashes the head of Rivka, a seven year old girl wearing her new red dress in the Vilna ghetto in 1942. An Israeli soldier fires a shell onto a Gaza beach and kills Mohammed, an eleven year old boy playing football with his cousins in 2014. In the songwriter’s dream, Mohammed and Rivka take each other’s hand and “leave this world of war” – together.

The Polish ghetto has been twinned with the Gaza Strip.

Nazis are on a parallel with Israelis.

And in life and in death, Rivka and Mohammed are together and equal.

Leon Rosselson has given us a new song that will outrage some but bring many more to tears.

But is the comparison of Rivka and Mohammed fair? Isn’t such a coupling of victims a dishonest slur against the state of Israel, a gross exaggeration, and an offence to the memory of the six million?

Hold those questions in your head while I introduce you to Leon Rosselson, England’s finest radical songwriter.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

My poetic response to Facebook 'Friends' and Foes

Sometimes it's easier to say it in verse.

Here's my poetic response to Facebook Friends and Foes who've taken exception to my views on Israel/Palestine.

It's called 'Other Ways of Being Jewish are available' and you can read it over at my Patheos blog page.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The on/off pro-Israel rally that tells us much about the state of British Jewry

My new post is up at Patheos

This week a pro-Israel rally due to take place in Manchester in the north of England at the end of this month was abruptly called off after the venue cancelled the booking.

The organisers of No to Terror, Stand with Israel, a relatively new group called North West Friends of Israel (NWFOI), is crying ‘foul’ and blaming the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement for putting pressure on the hotel. At the time of writing, the Sheridan Suite in Manchester is yet to comment.

The whole (non) event has revealed a great deal about how the most prominent and vocal sections of the Jewish community in Britain view the Israel/Palestine conflict. And since NWFOI is insisting that this is only a temporary setback to its plans, it’s worth looking closely at how the rally was being billed and the language being used to describe the current wave of stabbings and car ramming aimed at Israeli civilians.

When the rally began to be promoted a week ago it was clear it had the backing of the mainstream Jewish community in Britain: the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Zionist Federation, and the Chief Rabbi. The Jewish Chronicle suggested 2,000 would turn up. Big numbers for Britain’s small Jewish community of around 270,000.

I never thought a single publicity poster could sum up so much about what’s wrong with the Jewish community in Britain when it comes to Israel. But this one said it all. And what it didn’t say was equally revealing.

Take a look and then I’ll explain more.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

My five point 2016 manifesto as a dissident, rebellious and awkward Jew

I’m setting out my stall for the year as a digital Jewish activist focusing on Israel/Palestine.

Whether I like it or not, my religion, identity and cultural inheritance means this particular conflict is my problem. I can either attempt to ignore it (not easy) or do something about it (also not easy).

So, here’s my personal manifesto as a dissident, rebellious and awkward Jew in 2016.
Read the full post at Writing from the Edge on Patheos

Happy New Year!