William Dalrymple has suggested in an interview with Three Monkeys Online, that ‘islamophobia’ has overtaken anti-Semitism as the principle Western expression of bigotry. Would you agree?
Perhaps. Yet I do not want to romantize Islam. Like all religions, Islam can tend toward violence and empire or peace and community. It is not true that those who use Islam for violence are not Muslims. It is like saying that Ariel Sharon is not Jewish because he uses violence to degrade and dislocate another people. He is Jewish but in a way that I oppose.
Many have taken it for granted that post-Holocaust, that the survival of the Jewish people is linked to the creation and maintenance of the state of Israel. You’ve suggested that this can’t be taken for granted and should be probed by Jewish thinkers. Doesn’t the weight of history suggest otherwise? That the Jewish people in exile repeatedly have suffered persecution and Genocide.
Jews and Judaism will survive with or without Israel. But my point is not to argue that Israel shouldn’t exist. I am a moderate on the question of Israel’s existence, indeed on the solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Israel does exist. There should be no questioning of that existence. The probing I am suggesting has to do with the configuration of Israel and Palestine. Here every possibility is on the table to be discussed, rationally, democratically and with the interests of ordinary Jews and Palestinians at the center of the discussion.
To what extent is being Israeli the same as being Jewish? Or to put it another way, to what extent do the actions of the state of Israel affect Jewish identity? Does an American Jew for example have more of a responsibility to speak out against injustice in Israel/Palestine, than a secular citizen in Europe?
Jewish identity is profoundly affected by the state of Israel. I make no distinction between Jewish citizens of Israel and Jews who live outside of the State. We are all responsible for Jewish life. The basic division of Jewish life is not between citizens of the State and the diaspora. The division is between Constantinian Jews and Jews of Conscience. Constantinian Jews are found in Israel and the diaspora; Jews of Conscience are found in both places as well.
One of the things we notice in Ireland in relation to the ‘Troubles’ is an often justified scepticism of outsiders offering viewpoints on the conflict, without having an intimate personal connection with the day to day reality of the conflict – for example the Irish American community. Have you faced a similar scepticism, in relation to your writings, from the Israeli community – and if so, how do you deal with that?
Sure I have faced a similar scepticism but less so in recent years. Jews of Conscience in Israel realise that they are in at a dead-end: the wall that Israel is building is a walling off of the possibility for Israeli Jews to lead an ethical life. But as I say, the Constantinian Jews in America are no better than those Jews who build the wall. They are one and the same.