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Don't Rely on my Support just because I'm Jewish
By Matthew Lewin

My own disaffection started when anti-Arab "settlers" began to invade Palestinian territory.

Dr Giora Goodman, a brilliant young Israeli academic, gave a lecture in London this week in which he attempted to explain why the liberal British media, once the greatest supporters of the Jewish state, are now perceived by the Jewish community as implacably anti-Israel and pro-Arab.

It is a fascinating topic. I remember when I was an enthusiastic young Zionist in South Africa in the early 1960s, and when I lived in Israel for two years in 1963 and 1964, the Jewish state was the darling of the world's liberal and left-wing press. It was the brave new nation state defending itself against numerous hostile neighbours, casting off the mantle of the Holocaust, and engaged in an exciting process of democratic socialism that might indeed have become a light unto the nations.

Even in the 1940s, when Jews were killing British soldiers in Palestine, there were British newspapers that reflected an understanding of and even sympathy for the desire and need for a Jewish homeland.

Support for Israel in the British press was boosted by the Six-Day War in 1967 and the more desperate and difficult war of 1973, as well as by spectacular actions such as the rescue of hostages at Entebbe airport. The image was still of the brave David triumphant against impossible odds.

At the same time there was little, if any, understanding of the plight and aspirations of the Palestinians. When, for example, in 1967 the Israelis bulldozed scores of Arab houses in Jerusalem to create the existing open space alongside the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall, as it used to be called), it was certainly not widely depicted as something outrageous.

So what happened in the last 25 years that turned some of Israel's natural supporters including me into critics, and caused the liberal press to change its attitude? Dr Goodman put forward some elegant explanations in his lecture, including the argument that the Jewish community, once predominantly inclined to support Labour, is now much more evenly spread across the left/right spectrum and has therefore shifted its allegiance to right-wing papers (which, ironically, were hostile to Zionism in the early days). The liberal newspapers, the argument goes, simultaneously discovered that there were millions of Labour-supporting British Muslims out there who were potential new readers and supporters.

Then there were the political changes in Israel in the sudden arrival of tough, right-wing governments, on and off from the late Seventies, which has reinvigorated the semi-dormant conviction in hard-left circles that Israel is just another arm of Western imperialism.

The trouble is that these explanations in which rummage around in the general washing basket of shifting allegiances, historical change, political tendencies and commercial imperatives facing the press just do not confront the brutal realities and activities to which growing numbers of people in the modern world will no longer turn a blind eye.

My own disaffection with Israel started when rabidly anti- Arab "settlers" began to invade Palestinian territory; when Israel seemed to have abandoned its former preparedness to seek peace from within the pre-1967 borders; when aggression began to replace patience and diplomacy; when the concept of the "pre-emptive strike" was invented; and appalling suffering and loss of life followed the ill-conceived invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Then there were the intifadas: children being shot down in the streets, Israeli murder squads working with full state approval, the destruction of civilian homes.

I watched in despair as Israel formed itself into another South Africa, trying to defend the indefensible, accusing anyone who disagreed of being ignorant and biased.

I have been accused, much like The Independent's correspondent Robert Fisk, of being biased in favour of the Arabs. In fact, I hold no brief for the impotent, incompetent and corrupt leadership of the Palestinians, and I detest the Palestinian extremists who murder and maim Israelis in order to kill any possibility of the peace process resuming.

I particularly resent being described as a "self-hating Jew" who cravenly worries about how Israel's behaviour will embarrass me and reflect on me as a member of the Jewish community in Britain. Actually, I am perfectly at peace with my Jewishness, and I am not embarrassed by Israel any more than I was embarrassed by the apartheid regime I rejected earlier in my life.

What I object to strongly is any suggestion that Israel has the right to claim me as one of its natural supporters, just because I am Jewish, and irrespective of the way it behaves. And I will not be told that criticism of Israel is just a matter of politics, bias, commercial allegiances and anti-Semitism.

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The writer is a former editor of the Hampstead & Highgate Express.


Published in the Independent, Sunday, December 9, 2001.

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