A diaspora divided
From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)
Arthur Nelsen | Aljazeera.net | 9 January 2004
Shock waves from the continuing carnage in the Middle East are increasingly dividing the Jewish diaspora, and the rifts are becoming ugly.
Aljazeera.net has uncovered evidence of an anti-Semitic hate mail campaign against Jewish peace activists in London, which involves rabbis and at least one respected Israeli literary figure.
Diaspora Jewish communities have traditionally rallied round Israel in times of crisis. But faced with an occupation that seems to have no end, and a perceived increase in anti-Semitism accompanying it, discontent among British Jewry is rife.
Even the highly conservative Board of Deputies of British Jews is now said to estimate opposition to the Sharon government within the UK Jewish community at about 30%. Some rightwing Zionists are turning on their co-religionists with vitriol.
Deborah Fink, 37, is an activist with Jews for Justice for Palestinians (Jfjfp). She was targeted in a hate email campaign after she helped organise a ”Just Peace UK” satirical Christmas Carol protest against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories last month.
In one week she received over 150 emails. Some were virulently anti-Semitic.
“Too bad Hitler didn’t get your family,” a Bruce M Seligsohn wrote. “With six million Jews dieing (sic) 60 year ago it’s a shame scum like you somehow managed to survive.”
“Hitler killed the wrong Jews,” agreed another anonymous writer.
“It was harassing,” said Fink. “It took up my time and I found it upsetting that Jews could say that sort of thing to other Jews. Also, I depend on the internet for my work and I was worried that if it continued, I could lose my business.”
Four other people were targeted in the hate email campaign, one of whom had to delete all the emails she was sent “because it made her felt dirty,” said Fink.
But even a rabbi joined in the tirade. “Your Jewish soul died the day that you sold it to the purveyors of murder,” Rabbi Allen Kaplan wrote to Fink. “Your soul, my dear, is petrified and lost.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the hate mail campaign was that it appears to have begun with an appeal by the celebrated Israeli novelist, playwright and journalist, Naomi Ragan, for a “counter-campaign” against Jfjfp by British Jews.
Ragan sent out Fink and four other activists’ email addresses on a mailshot [circular email sent to many recipients] that slandered Debbie as a “self-hating Jew” before concluding with a Christmas carol that called for “dove-brained supporters” of the Palestinians to “all be hung from the nearest tree”.
The prose will not win Ragan many literary prizes. However, Caleb Ben David, the managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, which employs her as an opinion columnist, said that they would be taking no action.
“We wouldn’t take a position on judging Naomi Ragan’s conduct,” he said. “The private life of our outside contributors is not the business of the newspaper. Did she break the law? No.”
Whether Ragan’s actions would render her subject to prosecution under British law is a moot point. But the implications of her group’s words and deeds were not lost on Fink.
“They call us ‘anti-Semitic’, but they’re the ones who’re being anti-Semitic towards Jews who think differently to them. I’m shocked that journalists and rabbis will stoop so low,” she said.
“I was particularly disgusted by the rabbi telling me I had no soul, actually. They’re influential people and if he’s saying that about me, what’s he saying about Palestinians?”
Such concerns are voiced more openly these days. Since the Intifada began, Jewish peace groups have mushroomed with organisations such as Jfjfp and Just Peace (JP) organising protests and pickets.
One newly formed group, Jews Against Zionism (Jaz) has gone further, with members disavowing their ‘right to return’ to Israel. Eighty people attended the inaugural Jaz meeting in London last June.
In November, the first ever Jewish anti-occupation demonstration was staged in the heart of London’s Jewish community, Golders Green, despite several threatening phone calls to protest organiser, Dan Judelson.
One simply said, “If you come to Golders Green, you might not get out again”.
“The Board of Deputies of British Jews has a responsibility for this situation,” said Judelson. “They don’t promote threats, but they do absolutely nothing to stop them, and only support every action that Israel takes.”
In the event, the far-right Betar group held a counter-protest, waving Israeli flags and shouting “traitors” and “anti-Semites” at the peace demo. One Israeli army veteran, Pete Hall, was attacked by extremists as he left the anti-occupation protest.
“We were just packing up to leave, when two guys in their forties ran up, punched me in the face and then ran off again,” said Hall. “I was knocked to the ground and the side of my mouth was cut.”
The irony of the situation was not lost on the former soldier. “I was in the Israeli army in 1967,” he added. “I can’t believe that the Jewish right in England is now attacking the Israeli left.”