Interfaith Conference 2: Answers… Some to Questions I Hadn’t Thought to Ask

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series interfaith conference

Today’s morning session of the conference was something of a revelation.

One of the highlights of this conference was meeting a young woman who is part of the Muslim roof body.

Did you know the Muslim community has been having many similar debates to us regarding roof bodies and representation?

Did you know that they had their own political youth-quake (awful term, apologies) 8 years ago? That many of their leaders are now under 40, and at least two are women?

Did you know that they perceive our community as standing 100% united on all Jewish issues, and that they believe we are master media practitioners?

Did you know that our community’s beef with The Age is almost identical to the  Muslim community perceptions of Herald Sun coverage of their faith and people?

I didn’t….

Many of us are aware of how much we can learn from how Christian pastoral care deals with youth issues. Many of us may not know just how much we might have to learn from the Muslim Australian experience of fracture, representation, and generational change in leadership.


Last night, I dragged my decrepit  self to coffee and cake at Brunetti’s in Carlton.

It is the place I always meet the Anonymous Mentor.

For those of you not already aware of how things have evolved at this blog, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in the number of creative, generous, and all-round brilliant people who have helped me or collaborated with me in various ways.

Under normal circumstances, I would refer to them by name, thank them prettily and that would be that.

Unfortunately, this blog has earned itself one or two detractors in certain communal organisations. This means that anyone with a sensitive position, or even just a regular position in a communal organisation will not benefit from being  named publicly here. Indeed, some will benefit less than others.

So… some of the colleagues and collaborators require pseuds. Many of you are already familiar with the Anonymous Benefactor (builder of this site), and the Interfaith Adventurers. Now, I introduce the Anonymous Mentor.

He is a scholar – an expert in a field of political science/history, and while I have never been taught by him formally, every time we have coffee, I come away painfully aware that I have a hell of a lot of reading to do.

So last night The Mentor met one of the Interfaith Adventurers, and together, they neatly answered the questions I posed in the previous post regarding interfaith problematics.

1) Alex:  If you come from an evangelical religion in which one of the central tenets of your faith is that you must save souls from eternal damnation through conversion, how exactly do you reconcile that imperative with the imperative to respect the conflicting beliefs of others?

Answer:  Say you’re working in an office. And in that office, one of your colleagues is an Evangelical Christian. He tries to convert you, but after a while realises that your attachment to chicken soup, bagels, complaining about your health, and of course, your religion is just too strong. He has to abandon the attempt. But he knows that God is aware that he gave it his all – that he did everything he could. So this Christian continues to work in the same office with you and maintains friendly relations. Interfaith is the same deal, only walking into it, the guy already knows that religious attachments are strong and if any evangelism is going to be effective, it just cannot take place in that context.

2) Alex: What if there are elements in another religion that you find unconscionable? What if a tenet of someone else’s religion is not just different from your own, but is profoundly offensive?

Answer: Simple. You do need to start from points of common ground, but once strong bonds have been forged, such issues can be much more easily discussed than if they were couched in adversarial terms without a prior relationship between the interlocutors.

3) Alex:  The speakers kept referring to the extraordinary life and work of the Reverend Martin Luther King as an exemplar of interfaith work.

The only problem is, that while Dr King made common cause with a Rabbi and encouraged numerous Jews to join the Civil Rights movement, the movement itself was a secular phenomenon and many of the campaigners were far less interested in religion than in the very temporal matters of the law, discrimination, and equality.

But more than that, what exactly happened to Black/Jewish relations after Dr King’s death?

How many of us remember Crown Heights?

My question is, how strong is any interfaith or intercommunal movement if it is entirely dependent on the charisma and leadership of one man?

Answer: Alex, you forget the concurrent rise of black separatist and militant groups like the Black Panthers at the time of the Civil Rights Movement. It makes much more sense to blame that sector than Reverend King’s movement for the deterioration in Black/Jewish relations.

Alex: Oh yeah…

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  4. An Interfaith Adventure: Evangelicals, Alcohol, and a Very Strange Night
  5. Talking Tachles 2: In Defence of the Right to Responsive Representation and Transparency

52 Responses to “Interfaith Conference 2: Answers… Some to Questions I Hadn’t Thought to Ask”

  1. Morry says:

    Thanks for an interesting read, and nothing dramatic jumps out at me … unusual :-) Just a couple of comments. I think that rifts in Black-Jewish harmony can more realistically be attributed to the efforts of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam than the Black Panthers. It’s where such discreditted ideas as Jewish slave owners eminated, and Jews being responsible for the slave trade.

    I would have said that in an evangelical religion one can’t really “reconcile the imperitive to save souls with the imperative to respect the conflicting beliefs of others”, yet am very aware of the conscious decision of major churches not to prey on vulnerable Jews in terms of conversion. For some it is less about “respecting the conflicting” than the realisation that the prophesies of the NT make it clear that there are roles for Jews in the second coming (returning to Israel being one), and if Jews were to disappear in a flood of conversions, the prophesies couldn’t happen. What motivates others is a mystery. I’d like to think it is compassion. For Moslems it’s different. It’s rather about the idea of accepting your limitations where it comes to change. It even has its own name, Hegirah, which means “withdrawal”. It could be physical, as in moving to an environment more condusive to Islamic practice, or spititual, as in leaving the efforts to induce change in those around to a more condusive time. It seems more about lack of opportunity than respect, at least that’s the way I read it. I certainly see it as very different, though as of today the only people prostelyzing amongst Jews, targeting them big time, are Jews for Jesus and the other Messianic groups.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Oh Morry, you’re sooo jaded! Heh :)

      But seriously, how is the Muslim Australian experience *not* dramatic? Were you aware of their situation before the post? Does it not strike you as a seismic political shift in the multi-cultural landscape of this country that has profound implications for our own community?

      I’m not being hyperbolic here: The Muslim Community seems to have successfully transitioned between the generations. Do you see anything like that happening with us? If not, what exactly is going to happen to our institutions and our community?

    • Morry says:

      Alex such a short question for such a complex issue. Let me start with your “Did you know that they perceive our community as standing 100% united on all Jewish issues …?” Might that not be because the Moslem community stands 100% united on all Moslem issues? I don’t see Islam as being accepting of anywhere near the diversity we find in the Jewish community. I guess the real question has to be “What changes have the under 40s and the women brought to the community?”

      Our discussions have hinged on the older Jewish leadership being out of touch with the younger sections of our community … but it would be wrong to simply assume that this is also the case for Moslems, and if their views are far more homogenous, as I believe them to be, then passing the baton from generation to generation is quite a simple matter, just a matter of continuity rather ideological change. That makes it somewhat less “dramatic”.

      I think that in our community people, like yourself Alex, are looking for major changes. Some I agree with, but that’s moot. Change is a wonderful aspect of development, but also very dangerous in that it innevitably splits a community, something the Moslems don’t face. We’re still smarting and suffering from the Reform-Orthodox split, and that happened centuries ago. I’m not sure to what degree the Moslems have come to terms with the Sunni-Shia split, even though it dates back to Mohammed’s death. Are their communal institutons not divided along these lines?

      I think that rather than simply looking at the age make-up of either community, the changes being instituted to make those communities function well in the Australian landscape may be more relevant. I see the Moslem community as very insular, and interfaith dialogue largely the domain of more secular Moslems like the Turks … but that could be my own prejudices at play.

      The hardest challenges you pose are the two last. There are always people in each generation who take on the mantle and task of communal leadership, so yes, I do believe that this will continue to happen as long as being Jewish and being a community remains important to people. If that ceases this community will die and be absorbed as so many have in the past.

      Hopefully our institutions will successfully change … this will depend on a high degree of homogenity in the community. That’s where the balance occurrs. Too much diversity and the community fails for lack of consensus, too much homogenity and the community fails its members through too much stagnation. The issue of “too much diversity” needs to be qualified. It goes both to providing a plethora of services, but each involving a small number of people, and to a community trying to move ahead with far too many interest groups pulling in different directions. Ultimately such a community loses all leadership as leaders leave in frustration, then simply dissolves. Both members and leaders remain unsatisfied. A balance, the right balance, is critical.

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  2. Mohan says:

    Morry is wrong on one issue at least. The Australian Muslims do not see Jews as unied on all issues. I have been to Islamic workshops on Palestine and there has been quite honest acknowledgement of the contributions of persons such as Israel Shahak, Illan Pape, Tanya Reinhart and Uri Aveneri.

    Diana Abdul Rahman of Canberra and Avigail Abrabanel have shared common platforms on Palestinian solidarity and Diana has openly expressed her gratitue to Jewish individuals who speak against the dominant consensus in the community.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Mohan, I know you are a committed advocate for Palestinian rights.

      It may interest you to know that I and many, many other Zionists also care deeply about the Palestinian issue.

      The thing is, pretty much all the Jewish names you mention as advocates for the Palestinian cause are anti-Zionists whose rhetoric is so inflammatory and divisive that they alienate even the most sympathetic ZIonist.

      The Palestinians therefore don’t actually benefit from these people’s advocacy, because the vast majority of Jews will have a knee-jerk reaction to them, and retreat into the broader Zionist camp in a defensive motion.

      Palestinians need MAINSTREAM Jews to sympathise with their cause – the sorts of Jews that either vote in Israeli elections, run Israeli bureacracy, or donate money to Israel.

      In order to achieve this symphathy, do not scream at Zionists.

      I argue EXACTLY the same thing within the Jewish community: do NOT scream at non-Jews who disagree with you.

      No one has ever been convinced by screaming or any other form of stridency.

      Many of us Zionists are people of good fath. You need to start distinguishing between broad-brushstroke political categories and labelling, and begin to examine the points of commonality we all have.

      Otherwise, you do the Palestinian cause far more harm than good.

  3. Nilia says:

    Hey Morry,

    Altough your questions were aimed at Alex, I would like to answer too.

    On homogeneity of Islamic communities-
    Islam is far from being a homogeneous religion or uniting force, far from it; apart from Druze which you have mentioned (which their belonging as a part of Islam is still widely discussed) Islam has within more than 24 different sects and communities which all have fairly different ideas of how one should live their life. Alevi, Bektashi, Naqshbandi, Zaidiyyah are just a few of them. Sunni and Shia is just the starting point of diversity.
    Also, the tension between Shia and Sunni should be looked at from a very non-theological way to start with as the problem is an issue of political leadership in it‘s core.

    On Turkey-
    Unfortunately the shiny bright star given by the West for being so “secular” is not doing much good for Turkey and Turkish people as it is used to create an imaginary yet profitable clash between seculars and religious population. Day by day the concept of “secularism” is becoming more religious-ized, turning Ataturk (the founder of modern Turkey) into a prophet, and his ideology of a laic state, Kemalism, a religion. While Islam is becoming more and more about politics in Turkey. This is why every single morning before school starts, all kids have to say the national pledge out loud which ends with “I offer my existence to the Turkish nation as a gift” and “Happy is the one who calls himself a Turk” This secular and modern nation unfortunately fails to identify any minority or other religious diversity. And on top of this incongruous form of secularism, Turkey has a brilliantly fooled and unfortunately idiotic religious population which has decided to label Ataturk and secularism as “devil’s work”. So as you can see Turkey is not so peaceful with its intrafaith relations and is a very very unique case that can not be compared with any other muslim or western country.

    Finally, Terrorism in the name of Islam-
    This is a tricky one. For anyone who is not familiar with the history of Islam and the actual text Quran, it is not easy to make logic of. I will try to cut it short;
    Islam is more than just a group of religious beliefs and practices. It is also a force that established a whole new civilization, creating a tradition with deep historic roots. When Muhammad – the prophet of Islam, institutionalized Islam in 622 BC, he did not do this only as a spiritual belief, but more as a holistic system that also included societal norms of behavior, moral obligations and actual laws to enforce. His move was no doubt a religious move, but this was an age that made no separation between religion and politics as the concept of secularization was non-existent. Until the European interference in the late eighteenth century, there was no perspective or thoughts on religion and politics as concepts independent from each other. This Western intrusion caused many different reactions; Muslim religious leaders (the ulama) reacted to the Western threat and assimilation by heavily emphasizing Islamic ritual and very conservative interpretation of law and doctrine, becoming more and more hostile to change and progress everyday. On the other hand, some of the elite part of the society began to sympathize Western ideologies of secularization; and suggested that Islamic societies should replace Islamic ways with Western ones.
    The large population of Muslims do not seem to realise that Qur’an is indeed for all generations and ages, and it does not have a time limit, but it does change with time and it should be re-interpreted constantly. Islam is not something you can take literally, there can not be something called Islamic fundamentalism as if you read the Qur’an it is filled with contradictions and/or sentences that just simply do not make sense at all. But these only mean that there is a deeper meaning of this text. If it says wage war on non-believers, on the next page it states you do not have the right to take the life you have not given in the first place. These contradictions are there, because the dimension we live in, the life we perceive is a life of duality, a life of good and bad, heaven and hell, black and white, and contradictions in between. Religion, which one ever, is about something that transcends this life, it is about God which is the Source. It is Wholeness, Unity, opposite of Duality. No heaven, no hell, no good , no bad. There just “is”
    Islam identifies this characteristic, but unfortunately today only the Sufi sect seems to understand it. And unfortunately, people will continue to use religion as a tool to implement their political agendas just like they do in Turkey by using the ideology of secularism.

    Anyways, it is such a deep and complicated topic that I hope I did not give the wrong impression by trying to summarize it here. All I am trying to say is that the Western world largely views Islam without historical context or cultural insight, seeing it as a simply extremely authoritarian religion. It is unable to recognize these most fundamental distinctions within Islamism. Without clarifying and understanding these differences it is impossible to negotiate, satisfy, or eliminate (whatever the suitable solution is) and end this ongoing conflict that weakens and limits both civilizations. By putting Islamic Modernists and Jihadist Islamists in the same category and refusing to differentiate between them, the West clearly strengthens and encourages the militant jihadists to go on with their actions and provocations, meanwhile demolishing the weak bridges that could possibly link Islamic moderate tendencies with the West; currently the only visible chance of a fresh start.
    Only way to avoid and solve the conflict between the West and Islam is both sides to acknowledge each other’s complexity and diversity, and most important of all leave the delusive assumption that all problems will be ceased if the “others” would become more like “us”.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Nilia, welcome!

      I cannot thank you enough for your thoughtful, intelligent comment.

      You have not only articulated much of what I believe, but you’ve informed me of many things I didn’t know before.

      I hope you return to contribute in future debates.

    • TheSadducee says:


      Welcome! Your last paragraph raises some very interesting points which deserve deep consideration.

      I would agree generally that the West (an interesting construct in itself – I presume your referring to post-Enlightenment Anglo-European civilisation?) would largely view Islam, and the Islamic world without historical context or cultural insight and sees both of those issues as defined through an extremely authoritarian religion.

      In saying that is there not also a tendency of the Islamic world to see the West similarly (i.e. without historical context or cultural insight) and perhaps misinterpret the defining cause of the West through an ideological prism (i.e. modernity)?

      I suspect that the problem of failure to respect diversity and complexity is mutual – does anyone have any thoughts?

      I would also like to suggest that I don’t believe the “live and let live” respect for these differences will actually lead to an accomodation which will endure.

      Conflicts of this type are related to identity and are irreconcilable without significant concessions being granted on the part of one of the parties involved which changes the power each side maintains in the relationship.

      Religious societies can either significantly change their religion which impacts on all of society and identity (eg. Christianity post-Reformation leading to a post-religious society (the West) where religion is negligible in determining societal control and cultural interaction) or dominate (or attempt to) their opposition (eg. Islam’s later conquests of Mughal India, Byzantine Asia Minor and Catholic Hungary etc) to maintain/reinforce identity and power.

      Noting this, one must then consider what type of society would one like to live in? A post-religious one where freedom of religion and separation of religion and state are guaranteed and enforced or one where religion and state are entwined and one religion is granted preference and defines life?

      Given these choices I can consider that a desire of the West for the Islamic world to become more like it would not be delusional but sensible.

      (I would also suggest that on a practical level one must also weigh up the progress in a whole range of categories of quality of life differences between each groups – this also tilts the scales in favour of the West).

      Anyone have any thoughts?

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    • Morry says:

      Hey Nilia … that’s a beautiful name,

      thank you so much for your comprehensive response. I do feel far better informed on some issues as a result. I want to reread it after a bit of sleep though :-)

      It did leave me one vital question unanswered, and what you write emphasises that question. You wrote: By putting Islamic Modernists and Jihadist Islamists in the same category and refusing to differentiate between them, the West clearly strengthens and encourages the militant jihadists to go on with their actions and provocations. Almost the mirror image of that point is the question I asked before, if the West is in danger of failing to differentiate between Modernists and Jihadists, and Modernists are aware of it, why are they not showing the difference by announcing that they condemn Jihadi violence, that it is murder, that it is not Islamic. Then the differentiation would be clear. Please don’t misunderstand me, Nilia, I don’t mean that the motivation should be to please the West, but am rather trying to understand why their good conscience doesn’t prompt them to speak out, to try to stop Jihadi excesses. This is a mystery that has plagued me for a long time.

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  4. Mohan says:

    Sorry Alex Fein, I disagree. One cannot be a Zionist – if you mean beleiving in a god given right to Israel or in the superiority of Jewish rights to settle in Israel over Palestinian right to their land – and support Palestine.

    And as for inflamatory, one has only to read writings by Efraim Karsh,Melanie Phillips or Ted Lapkin to see what it means. Avaigail speaks and writes with a very measured tone.
    More importantly is content – From Israel Shahak to Tanya Reinhart to Illan Pappe, the best that apopologists have been able to find is mistakes in spellings, dates and Anglicised versions of Jewish names. compare this with the massive fraud of Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial. Finkelstien is still paying the price of exposing the clay feet of the US intellectual elite.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Mohan, you are free to agree, disagree, or equivocate.

      That does not, however, alter the vast amount of evidence available. It will demonstrate the unworkability of stark dichotomies and simplistic categorisation of human beings in the Israel/Palestine situation.

      You need to start reading beyond the realms of things that only confirm what you already believe.

      Look for people of good faith with whom you disagree, and read their work in the spirit of enquiry.

      Start by googling “Amos Oz” and “Palestinians”.

      Coming onto this site to regurgitate verbatim the party lines of socialist groups does not help the Palestinians.

      Getting into fights with Jews of good faith who may not agree with you does not convince them to help Palestinians.

      You are only serving yourself if you insist on such rigidity.

      To be of any help to anybody, you need to know – and care about the welfare of – BOTH parties to the conflict.

      WIthout this basis, you’re actually part of the problem – albeit a small part.

    • TheSadducee says:


      I do not mean to be disrespectful but I would suggest that you have constructed a model of Zionism which suits your own arguments/views rather than one which reflects the reality of Jewish experience.

      Zionism means many things for different people – both Jews and Gentiles.

      For instance, in my case I see Zionism as a political and social movement aiming at the political and cultural self-determination of the Jewish people (as a national identity) within a national territory.

      (In the case of Israel/Palestine I believe the Jewish people have a historical right to live in those territories based on the fact that our cultural history is derived from those lands. This does not however mean that we have a right to dispossess people who live there.)

      This understanding of Zionism strikes me as a perfectly legitimate issue to support and is such with any ethnic nation state existing today or attempting to exist eg. the Palestinians, and is a right afforded to nations by the UN – as was the case of Israel and Palestine who were accepted by the UN and world community in 1948.

      I don’t think the right to Israel to exist as an independent state for Jews is a serious topic. Only unrepresentative people on the fringe of Jewish interests would argue otherwise.

      The questions of importance that arise from this (for me) are:

      i. what does it mean for Israel to have had its own self-determination created at the expense of the Palestinians’?

      ii. what steps does Israel and diaspora Jewry need to take to ensure that Palestinians are provided with their own nation state in line with the 1948 UNGAR181?

      iii. what needs to be done if the Palestinians and/or Arabs/Islamic world refuse to make compromises?

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    • Morry says:

      Mohan, most Zionists are secular. This means that, for them, Israel wasn’t “God given” but League of Nations given. The League had the legal right to give those Ottoman state lands to the Jews because they owned them by virtue of having destroyed the Ottoman Empire in war. They did not own private land, and so no private land exchanged hands and private title was preserved … but there was so precious little of that, around 10%.

      If you are to delegitimise Israel for this history, Mohan, then you must deligitimise Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, all created at the same time under the same conditions. The bottom line is that, despite your anger and frustration, the League of Nations had the legal right to do as they pleased with these areas after WW1. Thanks to US lobbying they chose the path of self-determination for the peoples residing there. If you support self-determination for the Syrians, the Lebanese etc, and support the rights of the “Palestinians” of the time to set up Jordan on 80% of Palestine, then you must support the right of the Jews to do the same on the 20% … more so, given that the Jews are indigenous to the area, and returning these people, so tied to Palestine, was the stated purpose of the League giving the Jews today’s Israel, WB and Gaza to be a “Jewish Homeland” in 1924. Others like the Lebanese Christians who descended from the Phonecians, and the Syrians also had long histories the League undoubtedly wished to preserve. That is the Jewish right to settle Palestine in a nutshell … deny it and you deny everyone’s right to settle land in the area.

      As to “… over Palestinian right to their land”, “Palestinians” have every right to any land they own, as titles of ownership dating back to Ottoman times are all recognised by Israel. Certainly the idea of the 1924 partition of Palestine was, much like India and Pakistan, that any Arab seeking self-determination in Palestine would have that possibility in the area known as Transjordan (80% of Palestine), whilst any Jew seeking self-determination could do so in that part of Palestine west of the Jordan River (20% of Palestine). Eminently fair, I would say, wouldn’t you Mohan?

      (Using the term “Palestinian” in inverted commas is not intended as any slur. The descriptor “Palestinian” for any Arab only surfaced in the late 1960s. Prior to that under the Mandate, and by their own choice, they were simply known as “Arabs”, as the word “Palestinian” was only associated with Jews)

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  5. Mohan says:

    I know that a refelxive endorsement of Israel is the default position of most Jews. Sorry I haven’t heard or seen any of the above mentioned scream at Jews. Uri Aveneri was a member of Irgun and a soldier and To date I haven’t seen or read anything abusive about ordinary Jews from Shahak, Reinhart, Aveneri, Halper, Abrabanel et al.

    All they have done is invite people by their moral example to examine the validity of being both Zionists and committed to universal values that do not acribe a hierarchy of rights based on religion, ethnicity et al.

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  6. Mohan says:

    Nilaa I agree with most of what you wrote. The problem is that most religious texts can be used to endorse whatever position one chooses. One can quote the Bible to be a pacifist or a war monger. After all the bible enjoins one to turn the other cheek, love thy neighbour etc. It also glorifies ethnic cleansing, a venegeful angry god who rains fire and causes pestilence and despotic prophets who can deprive others of life, liberty and possessions for not being of the ‘true’ faith.

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  7. Mohan says:

    Thank you for your reply. I find this more like creating a strawperson. There are no simple dichotomies as created by the likes of Philips and Lapkin. There is a conflict and a history that is present irrespective of the good faith of individuals.

    I would seek for my own edification the “verbatim” Socialist lines I have quoted. To the best of my knowledge Uri Aveneri, Israel Shahak and Jeff Halper are not socialists- I cannot speak with certainty about Tanya Reinhart and Illan pappe though.

    What I am speaking about is the nature of a doctrine and a state not dichotomies in individuals. Ariel Sharon might treat his Arab servants with great decency but that does not prevent him from being a frontier coloniser.

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  8. Mohan says:

    Thank you Saducee for your input. I must apologise for not clarifying my stand. I did not intend to mean spiritual Zionism of Ghersom Scholem et al or the founders of the Hebrew University etc. What I speak of is what most commentators in Israel and the world mean – political Zionism of Herzl,Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion and their successors.

    The view in effect that a “chosen people” have superior rights over the native inhabitants of a land on the basis of little more than fable and fiction – land without people, promised land, “return” to the land of ancestors etc. Evidence has disporved all these thesis including the theory of common Palestinian origin. The Israelite tribes were already Jewish when they invaded canaan. Judasism made conversions and there were Jewish communities from the Berbers of North Africa to the Himyars of Yemen to the Jewish communities of Kerala and Bombay in India to Jewish the communities in China.

    The Zionism of Scholem and Buber is not the Zionsm being championed by WZO, AIJAC, AUJS and their allies.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Mohan, I would like to thank you for your reasoned tone.

      Obviously, you and I are going to disagree on certain fundamentals relating to Zionism and Israel.

      The style of writing in this post, however, is now enabling me to see your arguments far more clearly. You have a lot of interesting perspectives to share with us, and I hope to enjoy reading more of your thoughts framed in the understanding that most of us – on both sides of the debate – are not evil and that we all wish for outcomes that serve peace and justice.

  9. Mohan says:

    Regarding cultural rights – and your own conception of Zionism – would you see these rights of residence as exclusive to the Jews or extending to all religions if they choose to describe themselves as a nation. Islamicists speak of a “Umma” -nation – does this give these poeple to settle down in Mecca ? Or if the Catholics believe they are a nation, does it give them the right to settle Rome ?

    Of course, one can define anything to suit one’s convenience. One could choose to define nazism as Geman cultural self-respect and national liberation, that does not change the meaning of Nazism as examined by analysists.

    In a debate, we speak of the generally accepted meaning of terms – whether Zionism or nation. Any debate is meaningful only within the accepted definitions. As I said by Zionism I mean political Zionism as practiced by Herzl and his successors. By nation I mean a community of people with a common national identity based on common territory, social, political and economic iter-relations, language and history. As in the Irish, Germans, French and Chinese. They might have other diversities among themselves including religious differences, but the above mentioned they have in common.

    Debate is meaningful when we proceed on these accepted meanings of words. Otherwise, we could all speak different languages and assume others understand us.

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    • TheSadducee says:


      Regarding cultural rights etc…

      I would suggest that I don’t see Jews as merely an identity resulting from their religion i.e. you don’t have to believe in Judaism to be a Jew.

      I see Jews as a people with their own common culture, languages and histories deriving from a common origin in antiquity which continues into the modern world.

      In this understanding I don’t see a parallel with Christianity or Islam both are which are religious identities which do not claim any national identity and indeed, argue against such a thing as being universal religions for all peoples.

      (In saying that, I do note that many Orthodox Christians identify racially – i.e. Greek Orthodox etc which I think has limited their appeal and abiliity to grow/develop).

      Your point about definitions…

      I would suggest that commonly accepted grounds are the basis of informed debate and hence parties must try to understand things at a mutual level.

      For instance, your suggestion that political Zionism of today derives from Herzl etc would be to me incorrect if stated in that way without further elaboration.

      I would suggest that the Zionism practiced today in Israel is primarily derived from the revisionist Zionism type which derives from the thinking of Jabotinsky. Of course, this is linked to Herzl’s type – all the types have a common ancestry and are influenced by it even Chomsky’s Zionism derives from Herzl’s thinking (though of course he wouldn’t agree with it.)

      As I noted earlier, there are many different types and nuances within Zionism – similar to any political ideology. I think you do it and yourself a disservice by trying to pin it down to one type to suit your own understanding and arguments.

      As to your definition of national identity – I would suggest that Israeli’s today fit that identity. Jews do as well except that they didn’t have the benefit of self-governance within territory after the 1st C CE. They did however have a common culture, religion, languages, historical experience and all identify as a people related to the ancient Hebrews/Israelites.

      Interestingly, it seems to me that you see Jews as an identity related to religion. I would suggest that this is a definition derived from the legacy of a Christian understanding of identity. The pre-Christian Romans saw the Jews as a separate people regardless of their specific religious views or racial origins.

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  10. Mohan says:

    Morry thank you for your legal arguments about “God give” right. I do not wish to contentd the thesis that most Israelis are secular – they might be they may not. But the Likud, Shas settlers et al are not secular – that any one will agree with.
    The League of nations did not defeat the ottoman empire, the colonial powers of UK and France did. The Leagu of Nations was created after the defeat to endorse the colonisation of the Ottoman regions without diminishing reparation claims. David Balfour says as much clearly. The people who did most to defeat the Ottoman empire were the Arab tribes who were promised freedom by the British through T E Lawrence, the Zionist help was confined to the mule corps.

    And coming to the Leagu of Nations (UN) resoultion, the resoultion was flatly rejected by the Arabs while the Zionists declared a state unilaterally and expelled the Arabs. The war broke out after the declaration and Deir Yesin et al happened even before the declarartion.

    The resoultion seeks Jerusalem as an international protectorate not the “eternal, undivided capital” of Israel. Even the Balfour declaration – made above the heads of the Arabs – adds the condition of no prejudice to the rights of the indigenous people.

    I hope these clarifications are useful.

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    • TheSadducee says:


      I personally think Morry’s argument going back to events prior to 1947 is largely irrelevant.

      The fact is that the UN voted to partition the British territory into two separate states (Jewish and Arab) with a separate administration of Jerusalem in 1947 (UNGAR181). Israel declared independence in 1948 and was recognised as a UN member state in 1949 (UNGAR273).

      Was this process unfair? Most likely. Have unfair things happened in history before? Yes. Have the outcomes, as a result of geopolitical games by greater powers turned out disastrously? Sure. Is this an unparalleled historical event? No.

      The reality is that it has happened – you have to deal with it, move on and look forward to solutions.

      As I noted previously, the question of importance here is how can Israel implement UNGAR181/194 to enable a viable Palestinian state and address the occupation and inequalities?

      I don’t see you really putting up much about this but rather engaging in inflammatory rhetoric about the evils etc.

      On a final note I’d like to touch on the Deir Yassin massacre that you refer to. This is a tragic event that happened and should never have happened. However it doesn’t do you any credit to put it out of its context. Groups affiliated with both the Jews and Arabs were committing similar atrocities against each other prior to the war. This doesn’t excuse Deir Yassin – but it does go to show that neither side were innocent in the conflict.

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    • Morry says:

      Mohan, thanks for your response. I find it fascinating that I wrote that “most Zinonists are secular”, and that you read it as “most Israelis are secular”. Particularly so, as most Israelis don’t define themselves as “Zionist”. That’s more of an Islamist definition, as in “The Zionist entity”.

      As TheSadducee pointed out, there are so very many kinds of Zionism, even of political Zionism. The common denominator goes to Jewish self-determination in its own territory. This, though, has been an intrinsic part of the Jewish religion since the first century, so I’m not sure about the boundaries between “political” and “religious” Zionism, or even if they truly exist. In Israeli terms, given what Zionism is about, it is largely a thing of the past that relates to the pioneers who established Israel, now it’s simply about getting on with governance, whilst the Israeli slant on “Zionism” is more about preserving diaspora Judaism and encouraging Aliyah. This is where Israeli Zionist activists are focussed.

      As to the rest, Mohan, you really need to at least read up the facts. The League of Nations comprised Britain, France and the US, all the partners in WW1. Their purpose was to distribute the Ottoman land holdings at US insistance, to which purpose they formed mandates under either British or French supervision, for the purpose of providing each of the people’s there self-determination.

      In the wake of speeches by Lawrence in the House of Lords, Britain did in fact (legally) partition Palestine, which the League had earmarked as a Jewish Homeland, in order to fulfill their promises to those very Arabs who fought for them in WW1. Those Arabs got 80% of Palestine east of the Jordan River, the rest remained earmarked for Jewish self-determination. That was 1924.

      As to the rest, there’s too much to address, unless you really want me to. This is the basis though. It is history and the documentation is available on the internet in UN archives. They make a fascinating read. One of the most fascinating for you, Mohan, might be the Weizman-Faisil agreement, a postWW1 agreement to live in peace and harmony between the very people in your comment, the Arabs who fought with Lawrence and the Jewish Zionists. Let me know what you think.

      One last comment that may surprise … will surprise you. Despite the fact that the news only focuses on the religious extremists(please don’t read “terrorists” there) the bulk of the Jewish West Bank settlers are indeed secular, living in towns like Ariel, and working as doctors, lawyers, farmers and engineers, many commuting. Most were drawn there by relatively cheap housing and, ironically, a quiet lifestyle … but then, that’s how it was in the 70s.

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  11. Mohan says:

    Alex Fein
    Thank you for your comment. Caring for the “welfare of both people” is not the issue here. The welfare of Israelis is linked with the government’s economic, social, educational and health policies. The welfare of Palestinians is linked with their freedom and land – both of which are being encorached upon through expanding settlements in the West bank and Jordan valley and the gerrymandering of their land into tight cantons cut off by exclusive roads, check points and outposts.
    Working for the welfare of Israelis involving oneself with the policies of the government and other welfare agencies. The welfare of Palestinians requires opposing colonisation.

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  12. Mohan says:

    Sorry Sadducee, I agree there are similarities in Jewish cultures – as there are in other religions. There might be a common origin too as with other religions – Christianity in Palestine, Islam in Arabis, Buddhism in India, Zorastrianism in Iran, Confucianism in China to name a few.
    That does not equate with the followers being a nation. The common origin of a religion is not the same as the common origin of its followers and Judaism is no exception. If one looks for origin in a place Judaism is from Ur in Babylon and made conversions in the region. The Berbers of North Africa and the Himyar of Yeme to name two.

    As you can see, reality does not fit the theory.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Mohan, you’re straying close to Kazar theory here.

      On this site, denial of the Jewish Nation is up there with Holocaust denial.

      You’re welcome to find fellow travellers on the issue on other fora. But not here. To educate yourself, please google Jewish ethnogenesis, and Luigi Cavalli-Sforza. The MOUNTAIN of PEER REVIEWED evidence may cure you of some of some of your misconceptions about us.

      Please note: Any further comments denying our origins using spurious, anti-evidentiary means begun by – and beloved of – the worst anti-Semites will be summarily deleted.

    • TheSadducee says:


      I’m really unsure where your coming from with regards to your views. You seem to me, and correct me if I am wrong, to be suggesting that a Jew is defined solely by their religion?

      How do you determine this? Is there a “type” of Judaism that makes one a Jew? I’m genuinely interested to read your perspective on this.

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  13. Morry says:

    The Sadducee wrote: I personally think Morry’s argument going back to events prior to 1947 is largely irrelevant

    You rarely say anything silly, Sadd, I guess this is just such a rarity. If you want to understand anything you have to go back to the beginning, no matter how far back that is. Want to understand the Sunni-Shia conflict? Besides knowing that they’re killing each other, you don’t have a prayer of any real understanding without going back to the day Mohammed died.

    If you only go to 1948, then why was there partition? Where did that spring from and why? You can only shrug your shoulders without background. Did the Jews steal the land? The only evidence that they didn’t lies in 1920. Do Jews belong? The only evidence for that lies in the first century.

    Two children arguing over a ball … if you don’t go back to when the ball was purchased, you will never know who actually owns it.

    I have a thousand reasons for why you simply can’t understand this conflict without looking at when and how it started, you can’t understand today without yesaterday’s context to guide you. How do you argue Mohan’s accusations of colonisation without going back to the time that proves there was none.

    So, Sadducee, why do you find beginnings irrelevant? Stripped of it’s context 1948 becomes pure nonsense onto which you can tack any accusations you like. What would you say to a new Arab accusation that it was the Jews who attacked first and the Arabs who responded in 1947 (pretty much Mohan’s “colonisation” argument)? “Sorry, I can’t respond to that … I don’t go back before 1947″

    Every legality that legitimises the State of Israel, and proves legal Jewish entitlement to the land lies in documents that date back to the end of WW1. Refuse to go there at your peril, especially in these times when so much effort is going into delegitimising Israel. We should be rolling those documents out on the table for all to see, rather than be coy about visiting that very past that, rationally, takes the wind out of bigotted sails. I can’t really understand your position. How do you understand America without reading its Declaration of Independence and Constitution? Who cares how far back they date?

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    • TheSadducee says:


      My point was to note that Israel exists as an independent state and a recognised UN member state. The clock is not going back before that fact and there was no point for Mohan to go on about dispossession, crimes etc – the facts aren’t going to change i.e. the world/UN isn’t going to disestablish Israel because of events in 1948.

      As someone interested in history (albeit ancient/late antiquity in my own postgrad studies) I would never suggest that studying the historical circumstances and context of a situation are irrelevant or unnecessary for a better understanding of a historical situation.

      In this case I was attempting to move the conversation beyond the usual and extremely discussed litany of grievances eg. Deir Yassin etc towards practical solutions to ending the conflict.

      My personal view is that Mohan has imbibed a whole lot of different perspectives from the left to hard-left including those which border and/or are racist and continues to read within their own ideological preference rather than confront their own prejudices with differing views. I consider you to largely be similar except from the right to hard-right of diaspora Zionist perspective.

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  14. Mohan says:

    This comment has been deleted due to infringement of forum policies.

    Those believing in the various theories that deny the Holocaust or Jewish nationhood are not welcome on this site.

    Those who maek good faith mistakes about Jewish nationhood are advised to do some basic googling.

    Please begin with “Luigi Cavalli-Sforza,” for the immense, peer reviewed bodies of work that definitively demonstrate Jewish ethnogenesis. These are not the ruminations of artistic fantastists – these projects are the products of years of evidence-based, cross-institutional, hard scientific enquiry.

    The results – definitive proof of Jewish ethnogenesis that continues to today – surprised the researchers themselves.

    It is so simple to get the facts. It implies malign intent when one clings tenaciously to ideas that are demonstrably false about the Jewish people.

    Airing of crackpot/racist theories is possible on numerous sites all over the internet – just not here.

    Mohan, as a personal aside: it is clear you care deeply for Palestinians.

    But you must ask yourself: do you care more for Palestinian welfare, or for sticking it to Jews?

    Because if you genuinely care for Palestinians, you owe it to them as an advocate on their behalf, to get your most basic facts straight, to do a bit of research, and to divest yourself of your animus towards the Jewish people.

    When you consistently get things wrong, you diminish the people on whose behalf you are arguing and that is not fair to them. They did not ask for your help. If you offer it in any case, be sure to offer the kind of help that does not wind up doing more harm than good.

    Keep in mind also: Jews do not need to be taught any “lessons” collectively. We are a diverse bunch, and to hector us as a monolithic whole really does smack of racism. Take a breath, do some serious reading, examine your motives, and only then come back to this forum.

    Alex Fein.

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    • Mohan says:

      This comment has been edited for infractions of frum policy:

      Mohan, read below my explanation of what is required of you before you post here again. ANy further infractions will be deleted without notice.

      Alex Fein.

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    • Mohan says:

      Thank you. You migt be hurting your case by mentioning Dr Sforza. I knwo when the truth begins to hurt.

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  15. Morry says:

    I take your point, Sadducee, but, in my opinion you don’t resolve problems by sweeping them under the carpet … epecially not by only one side sweeping them under the carpet. Deir El Yassin happened, had significant effects on events of the time, and has generated a lot of anger and hatred that impedes solutions today. Like in a marriage, we need to understand it, deal with it, put it in context and thus reduce it from the hate-inpiring mammoth it has become, to what it actually was, and move on.

    To make fair judgements the narrative we are basing our judgements on must be as accurate as possible, this accuracy, this always referring the narrative back to documented history, is the only way the gap between narratives can be resolved and a mutually acceptable position arrived at … an agreement. I think that the fact that there was such an agreement in 1920, and such hostility now, is vitally important (you clearly don’t). To resolve the problem we need to understand where this hostility that fuels the conflict suddenly sprang from and what drives it. We need to use objective historical record, that takes no sides, to diffuse it.

    After an initial chuckle I suddenly realised there was no reason to laugh at your: I consider you to largely be similar except from the right to hard-right of diaspora Zionist perspective

    Sadducee, I was an ideologically driven kibbutznik for 5 years, many more years in Habo before that. I have always believed in equality of opportunity and providing people with their needs. I run my business that way, with substantial discounts for those financially strapped. My heart aches for the plight of the Palestinians, and I feel a lot of guilt that it stems from Oslo, from our impostion of terrorist overlords that we allowed into the West Bank and Gaza, it stems from our failure to protect them, and that, as the power in charge, was our obligation. I suffer from the frustration of not knowing how to undo that … the best I can come up with is to give evrerything east of the fence to Jordan, but to understand that position you need to go back in history, to 1924. If that makes me “extreme right, then so be it.

    In brief, in those days I would have been seen as left of left. I haven’t changed and still hold to the values I held, yet here I am, “right to hard-right”. Clearly definitions have changd. Thankfully I’ve never cared for these definitions in my perspectives of people. Since the collapse of the Soviet, it seems to be more about people defining “my side” and “your side” than any real “left” or “right”. The problem I do have with these definitions is that in order to fit in with “my side” you are obliged to pay lip service to the entire package. I’m not sure you can be “left” and pro-Israel at the same time, which may explain the Anthony Lowensteins. I think it is these definitions that promote PC thinking in the worst of ways, and perhaps we should abandon the now meaningless left-right dichotomy, and simply judge people and ideas on the positions they present, rather than pigeonholing them.

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    • Sisu says:

      No, Morry, it is quite possible to be Leftist and still support Israel. One of the (often ignored) precepts of the Left is not to blame the victim – ie to recognise when a group of people are being unfairly victimised. In 2001, after 9/11, the ultra-Left (in Australia) were quick to demonise and blame America for its role in the attacks….which of course is (or should be) contrary to what the Left stands for.

      Similar to this is the (ultra-) Left’s approach to Israel. They are so caught up in their post-colonial rhetoric that Israel becomes a punching bag for all that is wrong in Western society. But this should not be the approach of the Left…. one should never blame the victim and no person or country deserves the unrelenting hatred of others because of history.

      At the risk of incurring Alex’s wrath, as a socialist, I disagree fundamentally with the need for the state of Israel; but similarly I disagree with the state of Palestine. Humans should be post-borders; it is our common humanity that should define us and allow us to coexist. That being said, it is unrealistic and (above all) highly unethical to expect Israel to no longer exist. And although my socialism is the core of my political belief, I also recognise that Israel has a right to defend itself, and its citizens, and its way of life.

      It is ultimately futile to try to defend Israel based on history. What the left (and the right) should recognise is the greater disservice and cruelty there would be to dipossess Israel and its citizens of its rights; to recognise that whatever the history, Israel exists in the here and now and should not be subject to the attacks put upon it. The cruelty lies in attacking Israel for its perceived shortcomings, and to hold it to a higher standard than what we hold other countries.

      In the final analysis, I hope this makes sense; ultimately the challenge lies not in the past, or the excuses or reasons for the problems in the Middle East, but in reaching a fair deal for all peoples affected in the Israel-Palestinian equation.

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    • TheSadducee says:


      I’m not sure if you read my comment?

      I don’t think we are in that much disagreement re. context/history etc rather I was trying to move the conversation beyond arguing over those points with Mohan.

      Anyways, as to definitions. I’m sorry if I struck a nerve with you on that one. I acknowledge your historical credentials that you put forward to suggest your centrism eg. kibbutznik etc but your refusal to even acknowledge the occupation in the WB puts you to the political right on the Israeli spectrum – I’m sorry if that upsets you but its true.

      Additionally, I’m reluctant to abandon left-right political identity though I acknowledge that it does require nuance. I reject your assertion that to identify with a movement that you have to buy into the whole package associated with it. Dissent exists and I credit people with the capacity to make their own informed choices if they choose to.

      I’m largely in agreement with Sisu on that you can be left-leaning i.e. subscribe to socialist ideas and support Israel. I however wouldn’t subscribe to their ideas about post-borders etc as they are ideals and unrealistic.

      As to your solution I find this morally questionable – you are suggesting that Israel not comply with its own agreements with the UN that an Arab state be established in the British Palestine Mandate territory? The understanding was that this was to be a separate state from Jordan, not an addition to it.

      What credibility would Israel have if it reneged on its own agreements that established it in the international community eg. UNGAR273?

      Similarly, this is not the desired goal of the Arabs (Palestinians) who have a right to establish themselves as an independent state. Israel doesn’t have the authority to make that decision on their behalf nor on that of Jordan who would be demographically effected as well.

      Anyway, I don’t want to hijack this thread any further so I’ll hope we can turn it back to interfaith activities – anyone out there wanting to put in their comments on it?

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  16. Morry says:

    Hmm, I think there is only one or two levels of reply set into this blog, so this will have to be a new comment. Let me first comment on Sisu’s I disagree fundamentally with the need for the state of Israel; but similarly I disagree with the state of Palestine. Humans should be post-borders

    I have two problems with your position Sisu. OK, here, in my view, is a perfect place where the right-left definitions fail. “Post-borders” is today very Trotskyist, and was always the international communist ideal, hence, one would assume, very “left”. On the other hand it abrogates that most basic of human rights, self-determination, as enshrined in the UN charter, and abrogation of human rights and civil liberties is, in today’s PC regime, assciated with the “right” and totalitarian dictators … at least that’s my understanding of the PC position.

    Certainly in my world, self-determination is all important. People should have a right to choose their own destinies and to group how they please. My second thought is that there has been nothing as personally and socially enriching in this world as the plethora of cultures that borders and nations has produced. Without it the world would be bland and uninteresting. The richness of idioms one language borrows from others that have developed independently, the richness of music, food (no curries or falafel?), clothing, philosphy … the list is endless. Beyond this amazing wealth, though, is the sense of belonging to a smaller like group, something that appears to be a basic human need, ad explains the multitude of sub-cultures in every society.

    It is my contention that, if you could wipe it all out and have one language, one culture, one international nation with no borders tomorrow, it would take little more than a few centuries for first, dialects to appear, then different customs and cultures to grow. The simplistic believe these separations and borders are the reasons for war, the reality is the grasp for power makes borders irrelevant. Somebody driven to power will battle inside borders or out. That’s what drives revolutions.

    Now to the other issue, and it’s OK Sadducee, you didn’t strike a nerve, I have few of those. It’s more that I find this right-left pigeonholing absurdly irrational. In my own case you say that I am right-wing because I’ve taken the trouble to historically check who actually owns the West Bank and Gaza, and I therefore have a problem with the term “occupation” as it’s applied there. Fair enough. So what is supporting Palestinian self-determination in its own state? Is that right or left? And I’m ropable on issues of denial of self-determination. Then there’s a wealth of other issues. I have looked at the science of AGW and find it sorely lacking. I understand that makes me right-wing there. The bottom line is that any person honestly looking at issues, rather than following a given party line, will find him/herself one one side of the fence in some issues, and on the other side in others … doesn’t that make the fence a little ridiculous?

    And, Sisu, I had to smile at your One of the (often ignored) precepts of the Left is not to blame the victim – ie to recognise when a group of people are being unfairly victimised

    Israelis have been continuously “unfairly victimised” from 1920, some 3 decades before the Jewish state, till today, but I don’t see too much recognition, but all blame. The left has been singularly unmoved by Israel’s plight in the face of unrelenting terrorism, and has, largely, chosen to support the terrorists. I have friends who are committed leftists but also supporters of Israel who have been shocked to find themselves ostracised and shouted down because support of Israel is unacceptable in today’s left. Can you imagine how topsy-turvy that is for a Socialist-Zionist like myself? It makes me an impossible anomally, in leftist terms … perhaps that’s what’s troubling the Sadd so much. I don’t know and certainly can’t suppose. Would it not be much easier and healthier for each person to simply explore other people as individuals with a wealth of opinions, rather than simply “right wing, he speaks my language, left wing, he doesn’t”? I think it really puts up huge barriers to people actually listening to and hearing each other. I realise it stretches the brain cells to actually remember the various facets of a person, and it’s far easier to sum them up in a single word, but believe me, it leads to the most abyssmal of social poverty, with the world broken into blacks and whites, rather than the rainbow-hued spectrum that is the reality of people. The worst is the dismissiveness. The most enriching friends we could have are those who think a little differently … the very people the new PC causes adherents to reject. Sad, sad world, in which the “them and us” hostility is far more destructive than any borders could ever be.

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    • Sisu says:

      Thanks for your replies Morry and Sadduce… I feel I am groping towards some conclusion, balancing what I *want* to believe with that which is practical.

      I do object to the need of the state of Israel but do not object to the state of Israel…. I recognise the need for a Jewish homeland but do despair over the need of it. I think this is a problem for many of the Left (or at least the moderate Left) – it goes against our (my) principles for the need of an identity state but we (I) recognise the importance of (in this case) a Jewish-identity state.

      Morry, I think you have misconstrued as well my intention – the socialist in me thinks that borders are unnecessary but sees cultural identities and regional differences as separate to political borders. Hence, it should be (in an ideal world) possible to be Jewish in the Middle East without the need for a separate state. But, like Sadduce, I know this is impossible.

      Hence my support for the state of Israel, but my heartfelt despair that such a state is needed. Hence also my support for Israel to define itself politically, religiously, culturally, and my despair over the Palestinian situation.

      There are no easy answers, but I do like the dialogue. :)

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  17. Mohan says:

    Thank you. I know when the truth begins to hurt.

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  18. Mohan says:

    Sorry Alex about your upper case message. I have not hectored abny one and I did not ever calim Jews were a monolithic group – I was using evidence to argue for the very opposite. Dr Froza is a population geneticist and you seem to imply the very opposite of what you said about diversity.

    As you have seen I did not sermonise or hector – least of all “al Jews”. i was in a evidence -based debate. However, if the truth becomes too uncomfortable that is fine. This is not the first time people have clammed up when confronted with ncomfortable truths. have a good day.

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  19. Mohan says:

    One suggestion> It might hurt your argument to mention Dr Sforza’a research. He is credited with destroying the doctrine of individual races. His main work is concerned with branching of populations from Africa.

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  20. Morry says:

    Hi Sisu, I think you make my point quite dramatically in your November 27, 2009 at 1:16 am response.

    On three seperate occasions you cite the fact that you “despair for the need of a Jewish State” “which is a problem for many on the left”, that the “socialist in you” deplores the need for “an identity state”, and then a simple “despair for the need”.

    The one thing you don’t do is provide any rationale for this position, beyond citing your left or socialist credentials. It very much appears that the only reason for this belief is adhering to groupthink.

    I argued self-detrermination, the intrinsic rights of people to choose to belong to a group and for that group to be a nation-state, as espoused by the charter of the UN. I further argue that every group has the right to develop and advance its culture, language, music, something that can only happen in the rarified environment of that culture and that culture alone. I argued the right of people to bond with like-minded, in a shared destiny. I too, love these discussions, Sisu, but all you have given me to work with is a bald position statement. Do you have any real reasons for abhoring “identity states” beyond that being the position of the group you identify with?

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    • Sisu says:

      Morry, my response brings us back into interfaith dialogue. Interfaith doesn’t mean to accept another faith, or to try to minimise or ignore the differences between faiths, but to accept the differences as having validity. When you only see your identity as valid, and everything else by definition invalid, then you are on the path of demonisation. Whether it is Jews or Arabs, or gays or aliens from the planet Zog, identity-based politics has its problems.

      To me, identity politics sets up an either / or dichotomy – you are either part of our group or you are not. That is a problem with any identity-based group – it does not lend itself to an understanding of other identities.

      In the past month we have seen people victimise boat people claiming refugee status – statements such as “queue jumpers” and arguments that boil down to “we have no space / resources / we’ve had our share”. They are seen as disruptive, or unsuitable, or dangerous. It’s as if we (as the human race) have learnt nothing about compassion for our fellow human beings.

      So my self-proclaimed Leftist credentials have to stand, I’m afraid. I am not against identities but do think that after 3000+ years of recorded history we should be beyond the idea of defining any community by our race, gender, sexualities, religion.

      However, as I said, I recognise that we still have them, and as long as we do I support the right of (in this case) Israel to define itself, defend itself, and to develop as it sees fit. So there is the way I *want* the world to be and the way I know the world works. I am not so naive to expect a loss of identity-based politics or for any of us to be able to truly see the world through another person’s eyes…. but that doesn’t mean I can’t wish for it!

      I know that you are very-identity focused – you have posted on legal continuity of Jews in the Middle East, for example. And that’s valid. But whatever the history, the issue is that there are people in Israel now, who have the same rights as the rest of the people in the world – which is why I support unconditionally the right of Israel to exist and for its population to define itself. For me, the history (and even the identity) is irrelevant because the people there at this point in time have rights. (And before this is misconstrued, I am not saying that a person’s Jewish-identity is irrelevant).

      I see and oppose the evil in demonising Israel and the Jewish people. But I still lament that the human race is still so caught up in defining itself not on commonalities but on exclusions – just see it as the idealist in me.

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  21. Morry says:

    Hi Sisu, thanks for an enlightening and full description of where you stand. It does make a big difference. Your position is clearly very different to mine, and that’s OK.

    My political world is little different to my personal world. Just as I recognise that there are many people whose personal history provides them with different values to mine and that their groups of friends and the people they choose to interact with give the a different culture to my own, and that is how it should be, I recognise the same qualities, needs and desires as groups grow larger.

    Where I have to disagree with you is that this gathering of likeminded has to necessitate the non-acceptance of others, any more than it does with the various subcultures or groups of likeminded friends in any society.

    My point is that we are all “identity-focised”, that is how we understand ourselves and view ourselves, and it may shock, but that includes you Sisu. You define yourself as “Leftist” and share the values of that group. It is how you see yourself. Does that now mean that you pick up a stick and beat the crap out of somebody who sees themselves as “of the right”. Of course not. The presumption that this must happen at the national level when so many nations, with differing self-definition, live alongside each other in peace and harmony, is nothing short of prejudice.

    On other issues it’s more difficult to put my finger on why we disagree. We clearly disagree on the boat people. My most recent ex-partner works with refugees in Dandenong. She once told me the saddest thing. A 30 something year old Vietnamese refugee came to her for help getting into a uni course. In helping him fill out the forms the question of his last occupation came up. “Student” he said. In conversation she mentioned that he was quite old to have been a sudent, and asked what he’d been doing for the past 10 years. “Sitting in a UNHCR refugee camp waiting for a visa” was his reply. That had a profound effect on my attitudes to Tamils who have sat in Indonesia safely, registered with the UNHCR, but can’t be bothered waiting for an invitation. This is our home, and that Vietnamese man respected that. It is he that I want to share my home with, not the person looking longingly at our Centrelink benefits.

    Our refugee program was set up for two people, the one directly fleeing persecution and life threatening harm, and for that one my door is always open. The other is the homeless, and the UN will shelter him till a home is found, any home anywhere, because our understanding of the refugee status is that it is somebody in need of a home. The refugee who, from whatever safehaven he has found, says “the only home I will consider is Australia” is a seperate issue. Of him we ask that he wait patiently, as there is indeed a queue, because we have a limited intake.

    This poor Vietnamese waited 10 years because of others’ selfish disregard for his plight, their refusal to honour our home, our laws, and ourselves in their selfcentred belief that this is their right.

    And before you go there, our own people not so long ago were also refugees. But ours were all of that Vietnamese type. They found safehaven and waited. Of those Jews who found safehaven in Shanghai, and had no guarantor in Australia, many waited as long as 10 years … and never, ever, breached Australian law to get in. Some, like my own parents, did breach Russian sovreignity to escape, but, as I said before, fleeing for your life makes that OK.

    So Sisu, where does your compassion stand on this Vietnamese man in relation to the boat people? All are refugees, but clearly there are refugees and there are refugees. All need help.

    It may sound harsh and hardhearted, but if I was setting policy it would be as above. Anybody directly fleeing for their life is welcome. Anybody who has found safehaven, and finds anywhere but Australia unacceptable needs to wait their turn. Should they arrive with no invitation, they should be struck off any Australian list, deported, and be unwelcome in Australia. They can go to their second or third choice. That would dramatically reduce our need to put anybody into detention. We are not solely responsible for the refugees of the world, but we have obligations to fulfill, they are simply not open-ended and one-sided …. with rights always come obligations and that is as true of refugees as anybody else in the world.

    Just a last curious question, Sisu. Do you not define yourself as Australian? Do you not like Australian football, meat pies? From the above you are clearly involved in Australian politics. Do you take no pride in being Australian?

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    • Sisu says:

      Hey Morry,
      In answer to your question on identity, I try to label myself as little as possible. Yes, I’m Australian, but that is an accident of birth more than anything else – how many of us actually “choose” our nation, or indeed our religion or ethnicity? They are put on us through birth….I’m sure if either of us were born in a different place, or time, our opinions on many things would be quite different.

      My other identities are just as problematic as my Aussiehood – I’m same-sex attracted but don’t identify as gay and disagree strongly with most things the current gay movement promotes. My leftist credentials are similarly marred – many on the Left (especially the extreme Left) don’t like to be reminded of certain things (I remember arguing with one extreme Leftist about how Israel is not acting as a neocolonial power, which caused him to have palpitations).

      As for the refugee problem, you said it yourself – “Some, like my own parents, did breach Russian sovreignity to escape, but, as I said before, fleeing for your life makes that OK.” So you admit that thee are times when breaking the rules is understandable. Where do we draw the line? If I had to be a refugee, and I had the means to “jump the queue”, I would do it – especially to help family. But many more refugees fly in, land, get processed into the country, and then declare their refugee status – they are equally “jumping the queue” but because it doesn’t provide a visceral thrill in a newsbite, it is not widely known. The point here (sorry for rambling) is that the only sure way of getting into a country as a refugee is to be in that country. Unfair, but that is the way the system works.

      Identity is the core of many people, but it is divisive. Perhaps not for you, but certainly for others – hence we have Jew / Arab, gay / straight, single / married…. where there is antagonism not based on the percevied actions of a person but on their identities. Religious identities can be similar (I’m trying torturously to get this back on topic) but interfaith activities can help to bridge between people… hopefully to stop the “labelling” and see the person.

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  22. Mohan says:

    Thank you Alex Fein, my attitude towards the followers of any religion, including persons who identify themselves as Jewish, is to quote Valdimir Jabotinsky one of “polite indifference”. If “sticking into” is the case, I prefer to “stick it” into colonisation and racism of any kind.I might tread on a few toes in the process, including Jewish,Christian and Muslim toes, but as individuals I would prefer to approach any one with human dignity.

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    • TheSadducee says:

      Which is a bizarre position to advocate when you have come on here and tried to deny Jewish ethno-cultural identity, which is arguably racist!

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  23. Alex Fein says:

    Morry, I have to ask – do you know any Muslims?

    Seriously, they are so the very oposite of a monolithic bloc.

    They have political, religious, sectarian, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, educational, and socio-economic diversity that highlights just how “un-diverse” Melbourne Jews are by comparison.

    I have known many Muslims that support Israel. I have also known many more that do not.

    As for the changes these young Muslims have brought… I ask you to pay closer attention to the many public statements and press releases that are coming out of the Muslim community. Then think back 10 years….

    The rest of your arguments suggesting change in the Muslim community is insubstantial, hinge on the misconception of lack of diversity.

    Again, Morry… I’m kind of shocked: you are usually a man who values evidence based argument, and there is simply no evidence to suggest that secular Muslims are at the forefront of interfaith. Indeed, the exact opposite is true.

    Your diversity versus cohesion statements, however, are spot on.

    It’s a real challenge. My personal belief is that with the right mechanisms for promoting cohesion in place, diversity is what will allow us to continue existing as Jews in Melbourne long term. If people do not feel trapped in an unlovable religious tradition with no means of finding their own niche, they will leave. But to have many niches that are effectively networked so that we still exist as Jews together, is to ensure our survival.

    But the most important thing to keep in mind, is that the internal divisions in our community are not static and they are not water-tight.

    There are porous peripheries everywhere, through which seep both people and ideas into each others’ groups and often result in the formation of new groups.

    The Reformist and the Mizrahi may have a bone to pick in the abstract, but the young folk often don’t care all that much about the ideological divisions.

    Mizrachi seeps into Shira, Shira seeps into HaMaayan and so on. Netzer seeps into Hashy, Hasy seeps into Habo, Betar and Hashy may scream at each other a bit, but you reckon there haven’t been any mixed marriages between them? And what about the Bnei Kids who don’t adopt the full Mizrahi life-cycle? There are plenty of them…

    The best thing we can do for our community is to stop assuming that the divisions are natural or permanent. They exist briefly in time and space, as opportunity allows them to. And they are similarly dissolved when the time is right.

  24. Morry says:

    Hi Alex,

    clearly poorly communicated (*slaps hand*) as obviously “secualr Muslims” would not be taking part in interfaith meetings. Nor have I personally taken part in any, and though I do know some Moslems, I haven’t discussed their community much (I doubt that they’re exactly communal activists). I did see it as broken up into groups that differ with each other, but are very homogenous within themselves … that could be right or wrong, it’s no more than a perception. Some of those that I know are Druze, and they have their own structures which nobody gets to hear about.

    Back to secular. I do have a number of friends and children of friends who have been active in interfaith meetings. I was curious about the background of the Muslims and asked. After finding out, they came back and it seemed that the Muslims these two groups were meeting with were largely Turkish (devout Turks, not secular), from somewhat secular Turkey. I did wonder at the time whether it was the tolerance of being from a secular state that made it easier for these Muslims to participate. It seems that you are saying that those experiences were an anomally. Perhaps it was a regional thing to do with the suburbs where those meetings took place. So, Alex, I ask the same question, where did the Muslims you met with tend to come from?

    I do freely admit that I know little of the Muslim community and its structures and organisation, and would love to hear more. Especially how they succeed in melding the diverse, often antagonistic groups like the Sunni and Shia (we could learn from that). Also how they respond to Salafi influences. Does it trouble them? What is the connection between community and clerics? What controls are exercised there? As you can see, I have many questions.

    One of my major problems lies with the failure of the Muslim community to publicly confront the issues of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam. It is something I can’t comprehend. Perhaps, in counterfoil to Edders position of Jews being too offendable, Jews are also too prone to apologise, to scream “not in my name” when a Jew perpetrates horrors in the name of Judaism, and perhaps I’m wrong in expecting Muslims to do that … but it troubles me no end that they don’t.

    I did attend a lecture, some time ago, by Sheik Immam of the Preston Mosque, introduced as “the most moderate cleric in Victoria”. When confronted by that very question (not by me), he was visibly enraged, shouting “these people are oppressed, humiliated … they have the right to defend themselves”. To make it clear, the question was about world terrorism. I left that talk deeply shaken, thinking, “if this is the most moderate, I think we’re in trouble”.

    There is much I need to learn before my questions are answered … but perhaps, Alex, you can answer some of them.

    Shabbat shalom

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  25. Alex Fein says:

    Sadducee, once again, thank you!

    Mohan, read Sadducee’s comment carefully: this is precisely the sort of intelligent good faith I was referring to.

    His beliefs may not accord with what you believe, but his premise is one of looking for solutions, and caring about the welfare of BOTH parties in this conflict.

  26. Alex Fein says:

    Also, to any Jews/philo-Semites tempted to engage in this “debate” – don’t do it here. This is meant to be a place for intelligent discussion.

  27. Alex Fein says:

    Sadducee and Mohan – please do not stray into Jewish denialism.

  28. Alex Fein says:


    Mohan, you’ve pretty much spammed the last couple of threads with repetitive and content-free comments.

    I’m giving you a temporary time-out to go do some proper research.

    In other words, you’re on a week’s suspension because you have expressly continued a discussion I said was not tolerated here. Apart from fostering hate-speech, your comments are also making this place much more boring than it needs to be. Go cool off.

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