On Sunday March 21st, Jeff Halper spoke at the Montagu Centre/West Central Liberal Synagogue _ the London home of Liberal Judaism – giving a Jewish reframing of the conflict to the Jewish community. The event was organised by Jews for Justice for Palestinians and ICAHD UK. Jeff’s previous talks on his tour round Britain with Ghada Karmi had been on the subject of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, but at this meeting he decided not to talk much about politics but to discuss the complex relationship between the Jewish Diaspora and Israel.
Jeff pointed out that Israel tends to be driven by Jewish nationalism, which is mostly apparent in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – in particular the Book of Joshua, which is all about conquest and is very popular in Israel – whereas the Diaspora has tended to be shaped by the universalist message of the Prophets. He said that Jews have for most of their history lived in the Diaspora. Yet, he went on, Israel negates the Diaspora and has ruined many of its vibrant and diverse Jewish communities by insisting that Jews should move to Israel. At the same time, he said, the Diaspora Jewish community leaders tend to be possessive towards Israel, insisting that it should be the state of the whole Jewish people and refusing to let it develop its own character. He ended with a plea to Diaspora Jews to _let Israel go_ and _get a Jewish life_ of our own, and allow Israel to find its own path in the Middle East. Israel, he said, is a real country with its own separate development. It has to stop being a Jewish state in the sense of belonging to only one people _ the world Jewish people, the majority of whom donat live there. He pointed that the idea of a state belonging to one people is an anachronism, and liberal states now belong to all their citizens.
At question time, Jeff encouraged the audience to make comments and to have a conversation or discussion, rather than just ask questions. Several members of the audience asked if Jeffas plea to the Jewish diaspora communities to _let go_ of Israel meant that we should stop being so concerned about Israel; and Jeff said this was not at all what he had meant. As always happens, an idea occurred to me afterwards that I wished I had contributed to the conversation: that Jeffas description of the Diaspora/Israel connection resembles an extremely dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship. We, the world Diaspora Jewish community, are the neurotic and possessive Jewish mother, and Israel is our destructive and self-destructive daughter. The mother community doesnat have a life of her own and so tries to live vicariously through the daughter and insists that the daughter act to satisfy the motheras needs and neuroses and refuses to let the daughter in her turn develop a personality of her own; the daughter reacts by behaving like a spoilt, dependent child, and becomes destructive and self-destructive. What is needed is a new relationship in which the two forge their own separate identities _ of course there is and should be a close family tie, but each will have their separate lives and respect each otheras right to be different.
Unfortunately Jonathan Hoffman, co-deputy chair of the Zionist Federation, behaved extremely badly, interrupting and heckling Jeff, and was threatened several times with removal by the Chair. He accused Jeff of being a supporter of one state – to which Jeff replied that Israel itself has destroyed the two state solution with its settlement policy, commenting: _Whoever planned these settlements must be the most anti-Zionist of them all, possibly Ariel Sharon._ Jeff said he likes the one state idea and regards it as the most just solution, but thinks it is probably as unattainable as the two-state solution, since the majority of both peoples donat want it. Instead, he advocated a Middle Eastern Union, with Israel, Palestine and Jordan joining in a federation that would later draw in Lebanon, Egypt and even Syria and Iran. He pointed out that many of the problems in the Israel/Palestine conflict can only be solved on a regional basis.
Jeff ended by saying that he is not an anti-Zionist, calling himself a _Cultural Zionist_ in the tradition of Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, who opposed political, nationalistic state Zionism and sought a cultural centre in the land for the Jewish people, in cooperation with the Palestinian people.
For an alternative view of Jeff’s talk at the Montague Centre, here is a link to a right wing Zionist blog
A Jewish Chronicle report on meeting and criticism by some of the Jewish community for the use of the Montagu Centre for the meeting can be found here