Wednesday, March 01, 2006

There will be a major update to the official NCF posts on this blog in the coming days. In the meantime, below, as the first of a series of posts under my own name, is a response to a recent piece regarding Israel published in the Guardian, which I had circulated previously. I have also posted some of the comments I have received in response. Thanks for these, they are always appreciated.

Dear all,

I am writing to you in regard to an article by Paul Oestreicher, one of the chaplains at my (Sussex) university, which appeared in the Guardian on 20/02/06. Frankly, I consider the piece, and its central claims, to be grossly mistaken if not outright offensive. So much so that I felt the need to write – the list is blind copied as is best practice, but most of those on it will find the issue of some interest. For your reference, I have copied the piece below, but I am keen for you to review the reply I had sent to the Guardian. Joseph Harker (who amongst other things edits their response column) wrote that he considered the points I raise highly interesting, but felt that the relationship – simply being a student at Sussex – was not enough to publish, as the column is meant for people who have directly been written about. The letters page editor was adamant that the reply was at least a hundred words too long, and wanted to edit it, but the subject at hand is highly delicate, and I did not feel comfortable putting my name to something which they may have cut considerably. Needless to say, I ask you to excuse my intrusion into your day, it is rare that I send unsolicited mail, but given that I am currently studying at Sussex, and that I am deeply upset by Mr Oestreicher’s comments in a national paper widely read amongst you, I trust you understand. Please let me know any comments you yourselves may have, and – having never met Mr Oestreicher personally, I have of course included him as a recipient of this e-mail, and it goes without saying that this is solely an attack on his views as regards the matters he has discussed in the article.


Davis Lewin


Please scroll down to read the original piece and the reply or click here to go straight to the reply (this link does not work on the blog).

Israel's policies are feeding the cancer of anti-semitism

It is a lie that to reject Zionism as it is practised today is to be the inheritor of
Hitler's racism

Paul OestreicherMonday February 20, 2006The Guardian

The chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, is right. His reaction to the Anglican synod's call for sanctions against Israel is understandable. Hatred of Judaism - now commonly called anti-semitism - is a virus that has infected Christendom for two millennia. It continues to stalk the world despite its most virulent outbreak in Nazi Germany. It should not be left untreated. For too many it remains the unlearned lesson of the Holocaust. It should haunt decent Christians for generations to come.

The German pope knows that particularly well and is on the battle lines against it. On this issue, nothing divides him from the Archbishop of Canterbury and most other church leaders. If, as some now think, today's Jews are the Muslims - hatred transferred - that simply means there is a battle to maintain our common humanity on more than one front. All collective hatreds poison the body politic.
I say this as the child of a German Jewish-born father who escaped in time. His mother did not. I say it as a half-Jewish German child chased around a British playground in the second world war and taunted with "he's not just a German, he's a Jew". A double insult. But I say this too as a Christian priest who shares the historic guilt of all the churches. All Christians share a bloody inheritance.
If I feel all that in my guts and know it in my head, I cannot stand by and watch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - one of the world's most dangerous outbreaks of collective hatred - as a dispassionate onlooker. I cannot listen calmly when an Iranian president talks of wiping out Israel. Jewish fears go deep. They are not irrational. But I cannot listen calmly either when a great many citizens of Israel think and speak of Palestinians in the way a great many Germans thought and spoke about Jews when I was one of them and had to flee.
If the Christian in me has good reason to be ashamed, so now does the Jew in me. I passionately believe that Israel has the right, and its people have the right, to live in peace and in secure borders. But I know too that modern Israel was born in terror and made possible in its present Zionist form by killing and a measure of ethnic cleansing. That is history. Tell me of a nation with an innocent history. But the Zionism at the heart of Israeli politics is about the present and the future. It makes me fear for the soul of Israel today and the survival of its children tomorrow.
The Israel characterised by the words of Golda Meir that "there was no such thing as Palestinians ... they did not exist" is an Israel that is inevitably surrounded by enemies and that can only survive militarily and economically as a client state of the world's only superpower, for now. Nor can its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East last for ever. Peace cannot be made by building a wall on Palestinian land that makes the life of the miserably conquered more miserable still. A Palestinian bantustan will be a source of unrest and violence for ever.
I say all this despairing of the Israel I love. Its people are my people. The Palestinians are my neighbours. I wish they had stronger and better leaders. I wish their despairing young people had not been driven to violence. Just as I understand Jewish fears, I understand their despair. Only an Israel that understands that too can change it. And there are Jews in Israel and in the diaspora who know it. Most of them, out of a fear of being thought disloyal, are afraid to say what they know to be true. The state of Israel has become a cruel occupying power. Occupations, when they are resisted, are never benevolent. They morally corrupt the occupier. The brave body of Israeli conscientious objectors are the true inheritors of the prophets of Israel. They are the true patriots. What nation has ever loved its prophets?
But the main objective of my writing today, is to nail the lie that to reject Zionism as it practised today is in effect to be anti-semitic, to be an inheritor of Hitler's racism. That argument, with the Holocaust in the background, is nothing other than moral blackmail. It is highly effective. It condemns many to silence who fear to be thought anti-semitic. They are often the very opposite. They are often people whose heart bleeds at Israel's betrayal of its true heritage.
I began with the recognition that the cancer of anti-semitism has not been cured. Tragically, Israel's policies feed it - and when world Jewry defends Israeli policies right or wrong, then anger turns not only against Israel, but against all Jews. I wish it were mere rhetoric to say that Israeli politics today make a holocaust the day after tomorrow credible. If the whole Muslim world hates Israel, that is no idle speculation. To count on Arab disunity and Muslim sectarian conflict and a permanent American shield is no recipe for long-term security.
There are Israelis who know all that, and there are Jews around the world who know it. In Britain, Jews for Justice for Palestinians organises to give Jewishness a human face. Tell them they are anti-semites and they will laugh bitterly, for the charge hurts deeply and is a lie. Prophets such as Uri Avnery give all this eloquent expression, but are heard by only a few. The media are afraid of a lobby that is quite prepared to do them serious damage.
Yes, of course, there are many who express their solidarity with the Palestinian people. Some are Christians. They deserve respect. If, whether wisely or not, they call for sanctions, that does not make them Jew-haters - not in theory and not in practice. My concern, however, is to express solidarity with the Israel that is not represented by its leaders or popular opinion. Once, in the days of Hitler, there was another Germany represented by those in concentration camps alongside Jews and Gypsies, the martyrs who are celebrated today. There is such an Israel too. Its voices are still free to speak, though often reviled and misunderstood. That Israel has my solidarity, as all Jews have my love and prayers.
· Paul Oestreicher was a member of the Church of England's general synod and director of the Centre for International Reconciliation, Coventry Cathedral; he is now a chaplain at the University of Sussex


Dear Madame / Sir,

I regret that our Chief Rabbi’s assertion has proved correct. Already Paul Oestreicher is wreaking havoc with my communal relations. Though aware of his excellent reputation at our university, I am deeply troubled and actually very hurt by the column Mr Oestreicher chose to write. Despite this, let me attempt to dispassionately examine his arguments: As so many people do, he attempts to give force to his opinion by cloaking them in a ‘semi-jewish’ status, through sentimental association with the suffering of his grandmother. He is a prominent member of the Church of England. Say no more. Actually, do: According to him this Jew ‘within’ him is ashamed. He is not Jewish. So the Jew is ashamed. Ashamed of the fact that Israel is comparable, albeit conditionally, to the Nazis in Mr Oestreicher’s opinion. About the fact that the only good Jew is one who is a member of the ‘Jews for Justice for the Palestinians’ – the only group apparently brave enough to stand up to the ‘Jewish Lobby’. And of course, Israel is at fault for fuelling anti-semitism, particularly when all Jews across the world – world Jewry – (apart from JFJFP?) defend her policies right or wrong, as we inevitably do. Sound simplistic? It get’s better: The media are afraid of us!!! Tell that to the Guardian.
To address what Mr Oestreicher claims as the reason for his column: nobody but the modern anti-semites themselves are saying that for Jews to criticise Zionism is equal with ‘Hitlerite’ anti-semitism. You should visit the Israeli Parliament, or the World Jewish Congress sometime. Trust me, we argue. Passionately and fiercely against those policies we consider terrible, and for those we want implemented. It’s just that when people like Mr Oestreicher start talking to us in big polemic, simplistic phrases, making an unjustified comparison with our greatest enemies, claiming, in effect, that we bring it upon ourselves – even though our situation is so very complex – and then claim to be one of us - and therefore ok, well, then we must wonder if they are really the friends they have always claimed to be. What a disappointment.

Davis Lewin
Ugrad, University of Sussex


Paul Oestreicher said...

Dear Davis,

Your email is one of about 300 that have arrived in two days...nearly all frrom Jews, praise and blame in roughly equal numbers. As we're both at Sussex, why not meet and talk. Phone me to arrage something. (01273) XXXXXX.
Paul Oe

Peter Dannheisser said...

Thanks for taking the trouble. I agree with what you say whilst recognising that many people who attempt to sit on the fence can find them selves very uncomfortable.

The passage I cannot accept in any way is the one that begins:

'If I feel all that in my guts and know it in my head, I cannot stand by and
watch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
when a great many citizens of Israel think and speak of Palestinians in the
way a great many Germans thought and spoke about Jews when I was one of them and had to flee. '.

That at best is an oversimplification and at worst is racist and subversive.

However, (there is always a 'however') I guess he is not wide of the mark when he says:

'Peace cannot be made by building a wall on Palestinian land that makes the life of the miserably conquered more miserable still. A Palestinian Bantustan will be a source of unrest and violence for ever.

Running through the whole piece is the view that what has happened and - worse - what might happen is down to Israel's policy and nothing else. That is simplistic as you say, plain wrong and it is also dangerous.

I grow weary of all this backward looking stuff (from any direction) - let him propose a solution.

Peter D

June Jacobs said...

Thanks for sending this Davis I do actually disagree with you and look
forward to talking about it with you one day

I have actually written to him to thank him for the article and as I
remember him some years ago he was a sincere man

All the best June

Dr. Coward (Sussex Uni) said...

On the anti-semitism piece - your point about well meaning lefties recycling the ideas that Jews have brought hatred upon themselves is well made. Shame it didn't get published - although it is sometimes worth letting editors have their way (I once had a 500 word letter edited to 50 for inclusion, but was glad that my basic point was published).