Ben White writes on Liberal Conspiracy:
‘A favourite tactic of die-hard defenders of Israel is to smear critics of the country’s policies through guilt by association, lies, and decontextualised quotations.’
‘We recognise that today, millions of Israelis and Jews around the world will joyfully mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel (Yom Ha’atzmaut). For many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people’s ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust.’
The letter is nicely put together and rightly calls for Christians to consider Palestinians as well as Israelis, concluding:
‘We therefore urge all those working for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine to consider that any lasting solution must be built on the foundation of justice, which is rooted in the very character of God. After all, it is justice that “will produce lasting peace and security” (Isaiah 32:17). Let us commit ourselves in prophetic word and practical deed to a courageous settlement whose details will honour both peoples’ shared love for the land, and protect the individual and collective rights of Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land.’
Distancing himself from an essay written on Counterpunch as a teenager in which he claimed to understand antisemitism, White protests:
‘The article was trying to look at causes for contemporary anti-semitism. Funnily enough, whenever the smear-merchants cite this piece, they miss out one of the reasons I propose, namely the “history of anti-Semitism” in European culture “that has been, and probably still is, embedded in collective consciousness”. I note that “its roots can be traced, at least to some extent, to the shameful teachings of many in the Church”.’
Yet White himself has celebrated those Christians who seem to propagate such shameful teachings. White published an article on Electronic Intifada in praise of the theology of Donald Wagner, Stephen Sizer, Gary Burge and Colin Chapman. Whilst the anti-Zionism of these Christian teachers may be attractive to some who consider themselves left-wing, what is perhaps less well known is the theology which leads to such anti-Zionism. Burge links the Jewish right to a homeland with obedience to Torah. Chapman argued in his 1983 book Whose Promised Land? that, as Jewish people on the whole do not believe that Jesus is Messiah, they have lost all national privileges, including the right to self-determination.
Such Christians oppose Israel theologically, as they see it as the direct result of Jewish nationalism, and therefore disobedience to God (other states and nationalisms are curiously not condemned). You can hear a particularly vitriolic example of this amongst the archives of Stephen Sizer’s sermons: “I am the Vine, You are the branches”.
Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide comes with commendations from Stephen Sizer, Garth Hewitt (who apparently came up with the idea to re-write Christmas carols with anti-Zionist lyrics), Alex Awad, who alongside Sizer shared a platform with Holocaust denier Frederick Tobin to denounce Israel, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who thinks the Jewish lobby in America is “powerful, very powerful.” Whilst Desmond Tutu clearly has a good record on South African human rights, he clearly falls short on Israel/Jews .
If Ben White can make distinction between South African apartheid and ‘Israeli apartheid’ as he claims, can he not also differentiate between Tutu’s attitudes towards South Africans/South Africa and his attitudes towards Jews/Israel? Doesn’t this weaken his argument? Whilst Ben White denounces Church antisemitism as shameful, he is praised by those within the church who seem to project negative theological stereotypes of Jews and the Jewish nation. When that theology feeds directly into Israel-Palestine, it is legitimate to have concerns about antisemitism. (Imagine, for example, a book on contemporary African history and politics which cited Christian preachers who believe black people shouldn’t be allowed to run countries for theological reasons).
White also refers to a Christian peace organisation based in Leicester, the Leicestershire Holy Land Appeal, on page 99. White last accessed its website in November 2008. By that time, the website had a cartoon competition for English and Palestinian children comparing the Israeli security fence to a dragon.
Writing about Popular Committees Against the Wall, White remarks:
In the village of Budrus, the first Committee was formed in the autumn months of 2003, quickly formulating rules for the organised protests against the Wall.*18 *18 See, for example Aboud village, where the Committee was formed in 2005, http://leicester-holyland.org.uk/18th%20%20November%202005.htm (last accessed 5 November 2008)
From the webpage cited, we read:
‘Sheikh [Taisir] Tamimi and Father [Atallah] Hanna said that the Palestinian People are determined to resist the Wall “which annexes the Palestinian orchards, and separates the people”.’
Hanna is the Greek Orthodox priest forced to step down in 2002 for alleged support of Palestinian suicide bombings against Israelis.
Thus the Christian leaders whom we read about and are referred to in Israeli Apartheid Guide are surely some cause for concern.
White also tackles another objection to his writings:
‘The second claim made against me is that I have defended Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. This is again based on one article, written in January 2006. The piece was critiquing the mainstream analysis of some recent remarks by Ahmadinejad, and the politicised context in which they were being framed. But I make no bones about it – Ahmadinejad is either a Holocaust denier himself, or cowardly encourages those who are (and probably both). As Dana Goldstein observed earlier this year, Ahmadinejad wraps “his Holocaust-denial in a series of legitimate criticisms of present-day Israeli policy”, a disturbing “mixing of fiction and fact”. Ahmadinejad’s anti-semitism is morally despicable, intellectually vacuous, and of no benefit to the people he purports to be supporting (or rather, exploiting), the Palestinians. He is also, of course, ruthless in his approach to dissent, and has the blood of his own people on his hands (as I noted in both that 2006 article, and more recently, this interview with an Iranian journalist).’
White here provides admirable condemnation of Ahmadinejad, which you won’t find in his original article. As White points out, he wrote the article in January 2006 – the same month that Iran announced plans for a Holocaust review conference (this news, ironically, came 15th January four days after White’s article was published). Days later, Iran’s NEDA Institute approached Robert Faurisson for asssistance with Holocaust denial material.
In Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, on page 73 White cites the Lawrence of Cyberia blog for a narrative about the Israeli ‘Separation Wall.’ Yet as late as July 2008, Lawrence of Cyberia was still arguing that Ahmadinejad was not a Holocaust denier. Which begs the question, if Ben White is clear about Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial, why trust a blogger who isn’t clear on this as a reliable source?
Finally, and most seriously, Ben White includes a Roger Garaudy essay on Zionism in his ’select bibliography’ (p.162) of Israeli Apartheid Guide. Garaudy was convicted of Holocaust denial in France in 1998 under France’s Gaysott Law.
The essay White recommends is ‘Religious and Historical Precepts of Zionism‘, from Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. VI, No. 2, Winter 1977. There is no Holocaust denial in this essay, in fact Garaudy sees Zionists as having taken their blueprint from Hitler and the Nazis, inverting antisemitism and the Nuremberg laws to create a Jewish state. Garaudy, in the essay that White recommends, cites Koestler (who in 1976 published the theory that Jews are really Khazars) and Israel Shahak’s writings on Zionism.
However, it is no longer 1977, but 2009, and Garaudy’s Holocaust denial should mean that White does not treat Garaudy as a serious author, any more than White would respect Ahmadinejad as a serious commentator in the light of Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial and antisemitism. Given that Ben White claims that his book is a “beginner’s guide”, is it really appropriate to present Holocaust deniers as legitimate historians and commentators to newcomers to the Israel-Palestine debate? And given White’s forceful and welcome condemnation of Ahmadinejad’s mixture of ‘fact and fiction’, will there be a similar condemnation of Garaudy’s?