Thursday, 26 May 2011

Old Habits Die Hard

Amy-Jill Levine has an interesting paper here, critiquing church statements on Israel: .

She's not, of course, immune to critique herself. For one thing, she wants us to stop using the name 'Palestine'. However, ancient Israel (or Samaria) and Judea only occupied parts of the region, as does modern Israel within its legal borders. The only times it was united were brief periods under David and Solomon, if their empire was historical, and under the Hasmoneans, who may be obscure, but at least enjoy an assured place in history. 'The Holy Land' is horribly sanctimonious, and theologically objectionable, as it suggests that God is more interested in one part of the world than another. 'Palestine', or variants thereof, is attested over an extended period, and is widely understood. There's no other term which can be used for the region without ambiguity and the consequent need for clumsy explanation when  used before a lay audience.

More importantly, she fails to distinguish clearly between antisemitism and opposition to the political programme of the Israeli state. There are those who cry 'antisemitism' at any criticism of Israel; it is for them to demonstrate that such criticism is in fact racist rather than political. Levine calls for 'balance' in church statements about Israel, and critiques them for the lack of it. However, she fails herself to recognise the imbalance between a state equipped with modern weaponry, and the ill-equipped guerilla forces of Hamas, or the inevitable imbalance in the resulting casualty figures.

I think there's a comparison here with the Six Counties; the British Army vastly outgunned all the IRA splinter groups put together, but was no more able to defeat them than the Israelis are to defeat Hamas and Hezbollah. The solution involved talking to the IRA withhout any insistence that it first recognise the legitimacy of the British presence - which it obviously wasn't going to do - followed by mutual disarment, and an honest enquiry into Bloody Sunday, without, it should be said, and enquiry into any of the other atrocities carried out by the British Army. Nothing was said about nationalist atrocities like the pub bombings, which appear to have been carried out by an out-of-control Active Service Unit, operating against policy laid down by the Provisional Army Council. Leaked documents suggest a willingness to talk on the part of the Palestinians, in which case the onus is on the Israeli government to respond in a constructive manner, rather than pointing the finger and insisting that the fault is all on their side. Palestinian crimes need to be acknowledged, but it's right that the emphasis should be on those of the more powerful party.

Levine's position needs to be taken seriously, if the churches are to have any influence in Israel, but allegations of antisemitism should never be allowed to hinder a principled critique of the Israeli state.

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