So, my friend Ben wrote a book. As a result of writing this book, and of the other work he does, my friend Ben was denounced as an antisemite and a holocaust denier. To reassure you, he is certainly neither of those things. But he has written a controversial book.
Ben White was not ‘denounced as an antisemite and a holocaust denier’ as a result of writing this book. Back in 2002, White wrote that he does not consider himself an antisemite, but he understands why some are. In 2006, White argued that Ahmadinejad wasn’t really denying the Holocaust when he called the Holocaust a ‘myth’. Following widespread public criticism of White’s book, White condemned Holocaust denial and antisemitism, although in his book, White recommended the writings of French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.
I finished reading this a couple of days ago, but I need to put some thinking time in before I reviewed it. I can see why people are angry about it. I can see why it has attracted a lot of negative press. But I think you should read it. I really do.
Ben takes us through three broad sections. The first relates the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It tells the story of the rise of Israel, and the subsequent displacement of the Palestinian people. It is a powerful story, powerfully told, using quotations from early Israeli leaders and interviews with Palestinians affected.
These quotations, however, include doctored quotations, such as the fake quote that Ben Gurion said “We must expel the Arabs and take their places”, when he actually said ““We do not wish and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places.”
What comes across most clearly is the awareness that the Zionist project would require the eviction of the Palestinian people if it was to succeed – and great lengths were gone to in order to ensure that it did succeed. At the end of the section, I was angry. Very angry.
The second section has to do with the current apparatus of Israeli apartheid.
Here Blanche casually uses the term ‘Israeli apartheid’ as if it were a factual description. Yet the term is historically, morally and intellectually flawed. The South African anti-Zionism movement and its use of the apartheid analogy has itself been critiqued in detail.
Ben talks us through the situation on the ground for Arabs within Israel and those in the OPT, again drawing on a wide range of sources. It is painful reading. When I got to the end of this section, I felt more or less despair. How could anything change such a system?
This ‘wide range of sources’ includes Ilan Pappe, Uri Davis, Charles D Smith, Tom Segev, Tanya Reinhart, Jeff Halper, Hussein and McKay, and Maxime Rodinson. White’s use of sources is successfully critiqued here. One wonders how much attention Blanche has really paid to White’s historiography?
And so the third section, which outlined action that I could take, was great. Ben refuses to allow us to walk away because the situation is too complex, or the solutions too distant. We must do something; I must do something. Ask me in a few months what I’ve done – I know that I am too prone to laziness, and am likely to let this challenge pass me by.
What does White challenge Blanche to do? Boycott Israel, divest from Israeli companies and ‘international companies that are profiting from doing business with apartheid’, campaign for EU and international sanctions against Israel. White’s calls for boycotts have influenced churchmen as high profile as Brian McLaren. For many, such calls appear to be an extension of his Israeli Apartheid Gospel, deeply rooted in what seems to many as racist theology. One wonders whether Blanche subscribes to the same theology, namely that Jews cannot have a state because God doesn’t like them anymore?
After the final section is an excellent FAQ, which helped to answer some questions I had about the topic, and should probably be made available online if at all possible. It would by itself lend a lot of clarity to discussions of the issue.
Ben has been criticised for writing a one-sided story. It does come across as one-sided. But then, it seems pretty clear that the reality of the situation is also one-sided.
So the children of Sderot, for example, have been invented as Zionist propaganda?
The book does acknowledge Palestinian violence, and perhaps is not as clear in denouncing it as some would like. But the picture here is of an occupied people fighting against their occupiers – is that really so clear cut, so obviously morally wrong? I suspect that only those who have never experienced the situation could say so.
Does Blanche differentiate between Palestinian violence which is self-defense, violence which is directed against soldiers, and violence expressed as suicide bombs in Israeli cafes, restaurants and nightclubs? The difference should indeed be clear cut and obvious for all.
Ben has also been criticised for quoting innacurately. I don’t know whether that’s true or not; Ben has defended himself here. But it doesn’t ultimately matter all that much.
Well, isn’t this a revealing paragraph? Blanche claims that it does not matter whether White has been quoting inaccurately in his book. I would suggest that Blanche, who argues that there is a difference between ‘fact’ and ‘value’, reconsider some facts about this book and how it was promoted and launched.
Because the reason people are so angry at this book is because it makes the one critique of Israeli policy that is worth making, and that goes to the heart of the issue. Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. In other words, it defines itself in ethno-religious terms. Only Jews can be Israeli nationals; all Jews are welcome in Israel. Imagine if someone suggested that Britain should define itself in terms of a particular ethnic identity! Oh, wait, that would be the BNP – and we don’t like them, right?
By Blanche’s definition, the 57 states which identify as Islamic along ethno-religious lines would also be racist, BNP-like states. Yet Israel is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, with approximately 1 in 6 citizens being Arabs, and Jewish citizens from all corners of the globe, including Ethiopia, Morocco, India and Iraq. One wonders why the Jewish character of the state of Israel is more offensive to Blanche and White than the Islamic character of the 57 Muslim states?
Ultimately, Ben argues that Israel/Palestine must be a place where Jews and Palestinians are equal under the law, and a state which exists for the good of all its citizens. This is much more radical than the two-state solution, much more difficult to move towards than even that mirage. But anything else enshrines racism as a successful nation building strategy.
The world really doesn’t want to go there.
Any serious attempt at anti-racism in Israel/Palestine has to tackle the expressedly racist and genocidal aims of the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah, drawn from religious jihadist ideas, and deny them a platform. Ben White has, ironically, attempted to downplay the jihadist nature of Hezbollah, and praised Christians who are involved in Islamic ‘resistance’ against Israelis. The ruling party in Gaza, Hamas, incidentally, remains a Nazi organisation.
I would assume that if there were a person preaching a similar worldview against Palestinians as Ben White does against Israelis, Blanche would condemn him forcefully, wouldn’t he?