Drama and Diversity in The Jewish Australian Blogosphere, and Shabbat Shalom

On Wednesday, I went for my regular dose of the YourJC blog and found that it had been suspended due to a breach of the Wordpress terms of service…. I had no idea what that meant, or what indeed those young  live-wires might have done in the few hours since I last visited.

All I knew was their absence was not a good thing.

Juan Carlos and the other Your JC writers provide a much needed, uncensored view of what many young Australian Jews get up to, think, and care about. Sure they’re bolshy and write things that are going to whizz right over my greying, 34-year-old head. And they occasionally post material that makes me want to have a very big argument with whoever wrote it. But that’s precisely why they’re so important.

So when, late Wednesday night, I saw their site back up, a professional wrestling photo adorning their come-back post, I sighed an old-lady sigh of relief, had a Bex* and a good lie down.

You can read the full story of what really happened here.

* Does anyone know what a “Bex,” is?

*****

Meanwhile over at Galus Australis, Anthony Frosh wrote a thoughtful and well argued piece about the atheist convention. While my own views on the  matter are closer to those of Barney Zwartz, there’s no doubt that Frosh’s piece was respectful and intelligent and not deserving of what came next.

Galus often deals in controversial issues, but there must have been something peculiar about the topic itself. It brought a torrent of very angry atheist commenters who inundated the site. At the time of writing, 106 comments had been posted on Frosh’s article – many of them by people who’d never commented on Galus previously.

Along with atheism and fury, many of these new commenters shared poor argumentative abilities and appalling expression. Very few seemed able to grasp the fundamentals of Frosh’s argument at all.

*****

That’s the drama – now for the diversity.

If I had to pick a single blog that I would want to represent Australian Jewry to the outside world, it would be Liam Getreu’s. It’s not that I agree with every position he takes, but the sheer reasonableness of his writing is augmented by a refusal to concede his core beliefs. His worldview is nuanced, arguing each case on its merits rather than falling back on easy ethnic chauvanist positions.

Similarly, if I had to choose a blog to conceal from the wider world, it would be AJN Watch. They hate gay people, and show contempt for non-Jews, and non-religious Jews – they’re also not fans of me or my blog. But to omit them is to omit an important aspect of Jewish life in Australia. If they were simply a hate site, then there would be no reason to link to them. But mostly, they deal in matters that other Jewish Australian blogs don’t – matters that are relevant to the daily lives of religious Jews. Their posts on Kashrut (what is Kosher) are particularly interesting – and as a reader commented, the photos they post are often quite cute as well (especially the Purim ones). It may interest some of my non-Jewish readers that the people behind AJN Watch are not Zionists.

In reality, no single blog can represent an entire community. Comparing and contrasting two intelligent poltical takes from polar opposite ends of Jewish Australia, however, can give a valuable insight into the complexities of who we are politically. On the one hand, Jewgle Perth, argues from the religious right perspective, while the Australian Jewish Democratic Society argues from the secular left. Reading their interpretations of the same events – such as the recent imbroglio with the US -  is an important reminder that our community is not monolithic religiously, politically, or even culturally.

Of every online presence, only J-Wire actively seeks to represent every element of this community. Sometimes that is difficult, because there are some sectors, such as certain ultra-Orthodox groups, that do not use the internet.  Because it’s a straight news site (with which The Sensible Jew is affiliated), J-Wire is able to elide many of the sectarian or political differences that opinion blogging tends to get bound up in.

And of course, there’s us: at the Sensible Jew, Yaron and I, with guest writer, Malki Rose (whose follow up article is coming at the beginning of the new week) are a microcosm of this diversity. We come from three very different religious, political, and cultural backgrounds. Somehow, through all the difference and distinction, we still manage to agree that we’re all Jews, we’re all Australians, and we’re all certain our opinions are very, very sensible.*

Shabbat Shalom everybody. See you on Sunday.

*We have been told sarcasm doesn’t translate online… so, we do not really  imagine we are particularly sensible at all.

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19 Responses to “Drama and Diversity in The Jewish Australian Blogosphere, and Shabbat Shalom”

  1. Joe in Australia says:

    Bex was a brand name for a compound analgesic containing aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine. If you had a headache one of these would likely cure it – aspirin and phenacetin are anti-inflammatories and caffeine withdrawal is the cause of many headaches. The problem with the mixture is that it is habituating, particularly because of the caffeine, and it isn’t good for your stomach lining or kidneys. What made matters worse was that it was advertised as the sort of thing that ought to be taken regularly. People (stereotypically housewives) would take a few every day, and then their kidneys would fail. Google “Analgesic nephropathy Bex” for more references.

    Here’s an article about it from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Ha! Thanks for that, Joe. I guess I need to find a Bex alternative :)

    • Morry says:

      Never had one, but I remember the ads as a child. Bex was also not a pill but a powder. So I guess if you’re taking a bex, you’d be taking a powder …. but you’re still here. What a very strange language.

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  2. AJN Watch fan says:

    >>>if I had to choose a blog to conceal from the wider world, it would be AJN Watch. They hate gay people, and show contempt for non-Jews, and non-religious Jews – they’re also not fans of me or my blog<<<

    Why would you conceal AJN Watch?
    As someone commented here recently that blog is the "orthodox Andrew Bolt". Hiding genuine Torah views from gentiles isn't going to make Judaism – especially your kind of Judaism – any more beloved or acceptable. Especially not by those who don't like us anyway.

    Andrew Bolt too isn't beloved by lefty liberals and their fellow travellers, but his column and blog are amongst the most popular in Australia.
    And this leads me to believe that if AJN Watch and its 'conservative' and indeeed Torah views were widely known it would garner heaps of respect from Australians who haven't succumbed to the Avodah Zarah of political correctness.

    I don’t see AJN Watch "hate" for gays. Rather it relentlessly attacks the unwholesome hunger and craving of these people to advance and promote their abnormal lifestyle.
    I happen to agree with AJN Watch 100%. I say let homos do whatever they like and with whomever or whatever they wish, but please, don’t tell me about it and don’t shove it down my throat or the throats of my kids. Is that really so much to ask?
    (BTW, I would say the same to normal people too if they got into the habit of publicising their sexual habits and bodily functions in the public arena.
    I am prepared to wager that the majority of Australians agree with this view.

    As to them being non-zionists, well, Duh. Charedi Jews are not Zionists. Period. One cannot be a true frum Jew and a zionist at the same time. (Despite what Mizrachi/religious zionists/modern orthodox tell you.) And to the average gentile a Jew being a zionist or not means very little.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      AJN Watch “fan”,

      Firstly, your IP address indicates that you are the same person that has made every other positive AJN Watch comment on this blog.

      If people want to read your views on non-religious Jews, homosexuals, non-Jews, and whoever else disgusts you, they can go directly to your site.

      I do not push my agenda on your site, and you are not free to push your homophobic, anti-secular stance here.

      Re: the single relevant aspect of your comment: I write for both Jews and non-Jews and this blog has many non-Jewish readers who are interested in Jewish matters.

      And believe it or not, not every Jew knows that Chareidim are non-Zionist, either.

      Try to read one of Rav Yaron’s posts on loving your fellow man before Shabbes.

      Shabbat Shalom.

    • I am forwarding the following response with permission of the author. Due to technical limitations, I have to split the comment into multiple sections.

      ———- Forwarded message ———-
      From: Robert Kleiner
      Date: 24 March 2010 14:28

      “They want to shove their sex lives in our faces.”

      Anyone who thinks about it for a few minutes will realise that relationships, unlike sex acts, are difficult to conceal. Promiscuous gay sex, like the visiting of prostitutes by heterosexual spouses, can be done in almost complete secrecy. But living with someone is an open statement for which great numbers of people demand interpretation. “So you’re just bachelors then.” “Are you sisters?” “Still haven’t found the right girl yet?” and so on.

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    • In our society, sex lives may be private, but relationships are public. This means that if any lesbian or gay couple wishes to conceal the nature of their relationship, they find they must lie constantly. Any moral person would find such lying extremely problematical. Then, since their relationship is seen as merely a casual and convenient friendship, not a strong loving bond, their closeness to one another is treated lightly. This trend generates not only minor social inconveniences, such as being expected to spend holidays with families but not with each other, but also, in moments of crisis, heartrending severances, such as not being able to see one’s beloved when he or she has been hospitalised. Such a situation is intolerable, unthinkable — it mocks the nature of love. Only a condition of terror would induce people to accept it.

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    • Also, in the absence of real information, stereotypes and mockeries are free to proliferate. Gays and lesbians who remain silent find themselves becoming more and more virulently misrepresented in public and political life. Myths spring up — for example, newspapers reporting a crackdown on men abusing child prostitutes may give the idea that the arrested parties are typical homosexuals (A related historical example that has been extensively studied is the Boise, Idaho sex scandal of 1955-56; see J. Katz’s Gay American History, 1976, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell). AIDS activists expressed this situation perfectly: “Silence equals death.”

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    • There are a few people, gay and non-gay, who imagine that they can make the public get over its reticence about sex by being loud and very public about their own sexual acts or interests. This is a particular political scheme with its own devotees; like all such schemes, it has adherents and sceptics. The important point is that the public nature of openly gay relationships is completely unconnected with this. It is not a political scheme: it is a moral and social necessity, and can only be avoided through unacceptable self-degradation. Anyone concealing such a relationship both creates and facilitates falsehood, and thereby opens the door to social hatred. Any person of conscience would find a way — at his or her own pace, with an eye to his or her own safety — to become honest with society. It’s amazing how many people who teach their children not to lie are insistent that lesbians and gay men should lie. What kind of values do they think we were raised with?

      So think about this the next time you hear someone come out with the old chestnut “Why do they have to shove it in our faces”

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  3. Daniel Levy says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with you here, Alex.

    Frosh’s piece was condescending, bordering on zealous. With quotes like “Richard Dawkins – High Priest of the Atheists, and one of only two people to ever appear on the ABC’s “Q & A” who were more smug than host Tony Jones”, you can already tell that Frosh was playing the man, and not the ball.

    This was not an intellectual argument. It was a bitter rant, and you could tell that Frosh was simply seething behind his computer. Frosh lectured about moral codes and that a lack of metaphysics = lack of morals (despite his protests, that is precisely what he argued. Nobody missed the point, he was simply supreme in his attempts to back-pedal). I think he deserved every part of the torrent of abuse that followed. You notice how few people were there to support him, with even fellow Galus Australis bloggers chiding him.

    There is nothing more frustrating than a zealot arguing that morals must come from religion. There is no correlation between atheists and lack of morality. I would say absence of morality between atheists and the religious is the same. How does Frosh explain the sheer number of those people who ascend to the highest ranks of religion, who then turn around and molest children?

    Surely the answer lies in the fact that religion does not determine morality, and that morality ultimately comes from within. Will you conform to the fabric of society that has evolved to this point? Or will you let your personal urges override your sense of justice and do as you wish?

    Frosh clearly does not hang about in many atheistic circles. Most of my friends are atheistic or agnostic. Few, if none of them, actually have a go at religion. Almost all of them have a go at religion when it is exploited at the expense of the innocent, and to the detriment of wider humanity.

    The exploitation of religion over time has oppressed so many, been the cause of so much bitter anguish, and has forced apologies from all corners of the religious spectrum to those it has wronged.

    It was not religion to blame, but the people exploiting religion. As an agnostic, I have no problem with religion. As a cultural Jew, I am proud of my heritage and enjoy participating in our rituals. I see no reason why praying some words is a heinous act (as some militaristic atheists would argue).

    But I fear the exploitation of religion. I fear the effect that religion has on critical thought. There is something that ultimately does not sit right with me about deferring our morality to a higher power. That somehow exonerates society from committing ills if it was “in the name of God”.

    And so we come back to Frosh. Frosh, behind the safety screen of his faith says “prove that without god there are no morals!”

    I say that this argument is arrogant to the extreme. I say the burden of proof is on you to prove the affirmative, that the existence of the metaphysical necessitates a moral code. And not just any moral code. A moral code which does not oppress, or infringe upon rights. A scant look at history reveals that Frosh might have a hard time of this.

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  4. Daniel Levy says:

    Firstly, just quickly re-reading my comment: I wish to clarify that I do not believe all atheists are perfect little darlings. There is a militarist evangelical faction of the movement which is just as (if not more) distasteful as any religious zealot. Sadly, this faction is a significant portion of the movement, and tends to be the part that gives atheism a bad name, and ironically makes the same logic abuses that it accuses others of making. I more than agree with Frosh on that point.

    Dawkins, however, is not militarist. I would not call him evangelical, either. Like any good academic, he presents his views with logic and thorough argument. I am yet to see him force atheism upon anybody, and I have seen much of his footage.

    Also, re-reading Frosh’s article, I forgot about the bit of his article where he really lost me:

    “It might be more interesting if they actually tried to acknowledge some of the great philosophical challenges that atheism presents.”

    That alone smacks of the ignorance and bigotry which hallmarks that article. Frosh has clearly not read any atheist literature. I am yet to read a book on the subject which does not deal with that exact topic at one point or another.

    Frosh needs to wake up and realise that you can’t author an article and make outrageous claims with:

    1) No evidence
    2) A ridiculous abuse of the burden of proof
    3) Overbearing condescension

    It’s no wonder he copped so much flak. There was just so much that was wrong with it.

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  5. Morry says:

    OK, clearly officially bored, as I checked out some of these blogs. “The Atheist Delusion” presented some fascinating arguments. The responses from atheists were reminiscent of the abusive intolerance on Andrew Bolt’s blog on the same subject. There I waded through over 500 posts, most in the same vein. I only had two issues with the actual article, which, as you say, was both well written and refreshing. The first was the statement: Most wars described as religious wars are actually about tribalism and ideology, and not at their core about theology. In reality, I think all wars, religious or secualr, are solely about power, even when about tribalism.

    His conclusion that everyone fits on an agnostic scale left me a little bemused, as it takes no account that what differentiates the true believer, whether theist or atheist, from the agnostic, is faith. To put to put faith at the end of a “doubt scale” because there is no doubt, is much like putting humans on a dog scale, but at the “two-legged” end, just beyond the amputees.

    I haven’t visited Liam Getreu’s blog before, and so can only comment on this one article which is “not about the Settlements”. He does indeed write very well, and for some that undoubtedly covers up his presumptions and lack of research, but for me some things stood out like sore thumbs … in this article.

    Not five months ago, the US was praising Israel for its commitment to build no new settlements, but only to build for “natural growth”. I seem to remember the words “will do so much for the peace process”. Perhaps not the best in the way of timing, coinciding with Biden’s visit, but this plan had passed from the government to the building authority, who issued the announcement, and was in line with those agreements from last November. The most you can say is that the timing embarrassed the Americans. Israel had only done the very thing for which they had America’s blessing, but none of this features in the article.

    What troubles me the most is : I’m of the belief that the two biggest are recognition (which we have from Fatah, but obviously not from Hamas) and a halt to violence.

    Abbas’ furious insistence that he “will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state” at Annapolis (“peace talks”), coupled with the continued demand for a “right of return”, coupled with continued violence against Israelis from Fatah forces, coupled with the current refusal of face-to-face talks, and probably a dozen other reasons, make it clear that there is no real recognition. Liam thinks there is. But something this axiomatic to his argument, something on which people’s fates hang, deserves better than a bald statement without a single qualifying argument.

    The Fatah Constitution differs little from the Hamas Charter in its call for Israel’s destruction, and both are reflected in the Palestine National Charter. Fatah launched a different strategy at the Rabat conference of 1974, in which it decided that the way to destroy Israel as in stages, the first being to seek legitimacy. If nothing else, Getreu’s article points to the success of that strategy. The qualifying difference between Hamas and Fatah is that Hamas is more honest and less nuanced. The aims, in Israeli terms, remain the same.

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  6. Aaron says:

    Morry why don’t you tell us about the 1999 Likud charter? It’s a toxic document that expressly denies Palestinian rights to self determination: no statehood for Palestine & permanent illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    Charming.

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    • Morry says:

      Aaron, firstly, there is absolutely nothing “illegal” about Jewish settlements, certainly far less so than Palestinians building on previously Ottoman state lands that they do not own, and certainly way less than the truly illegal Palestinian penchant for building on hundreds of acres of Jewish-titled, specifically JNF, land. Israeli law forbids Jews building on Palestinian-titled land. You might want to explain to me how it could ever be illegal for Jews to build on land they actually do own, but not illegal for Palestinians to build on land somebody else clearly does.

      As to platforms, I guess you may have good reason for living in 1999, and even for misrepresenting even that platform, but I live in 2010, when the latest Likud platform is the 2009 one.

      According to Wiki: In June 2009 Netanyahu outlined his conditions for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, including the state being demilitarized, without an army or control of their airspace.

      And according to the election site (2009):
      LIKUD
      Party Leader: Binyamin Netanyahu
      Campaign Slogans: Because we have a country to run, Remaining strong together
      Official Web Site: http://en.netanyahu.org.il/
      Key Points In Platform:

      Has stated willingness to negotiate peace with Palestinian leadership “not compromised by terror”, but adamantly refuses to negotiate with Hamas and any member of the Hamas-led PA.
      In favor of a realistic solution to the advancement of the peace-process. This is accentuated by an economic peace-plan which will bolster the Palestinian economy.
      Opposed to dismantling of major settlements
      Continue economic reforms started by Netanyahu as Finance Minister
      Favors maintaining status quo in religious/state issues

      Doesn’t that make your post a little “toxic”?

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  7. Mohan says:

    Hello Morry

    Palestinians building on Ottoman State lands is not illegal. The lands become Palestinian by virtue of the end of the empire and common law. If there is noting illegal about building on Palestinian land – it can be made “legal” by Israeli law only in violation of justuice, just as wearing an arm band was “legal” under Nazi law.

    If there is noting illegal why wou;d international law differ and Israel’s chief supporter, source of funds and weapons, the US oppose settlements ?

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  8. Morry says:

    Mohan, do you just make it up as you go along? The Ottoman lands certainly didn’t “become Palestinian”, and definitely not at a time when there were no “Palestinians”. The ownership of those lands passed to the League of Nations by right of conquest. The decision of the League to honour self-determination is a matter of record, as is their decision to pass those lands west of the Jordan River to be a Jewish homeland (1924). Britain was elected to mandate this decision, and ownership of the land was passed to Britain in trust for the Jews. The abadonment of the Mandate by Britain makes these lands ownerless and “disputed”, but the documented agreements and contracts makes Israel’s claim the most viable. The Arabs received their 80% share of Palestine in 1947, when Transjordan, a part of the Mandate, became the Kingdom of Jordan. Israel has, however, expressed a preparedness to give much of these lands away for peace.

    Whatever individual local Arabs owned they retained the rights to, to this day, but that added up to precious little bacause of the way the Ottomans administered the land. You can find all the pertinient documantation in the archives of the UN website. Read them so that we can have more informed discussions.

    As to your last question, governemtn policy has precious little to do with law, but always to do with interests. Many US presidents and Israeli Prime Ministers see achieving peace as a Holy Grail that other have failed to acquire. It has become the quest … and reason flies out of the window with belief. Just as you believe that the lands magically became “Palestinian”.

    The Palestinians have achieved a de facto two state solution, with 98% of the Palestinians livig on their side of the fence under Palestinian rule, aven their own armed police force. They have given nothoing in return, not even the most basic demands of Oslo, not even the “end of violence” they promised and signed. It irks them that Israel’s retention of borders, airspace and security doesn’t allow them to get at Israeli civilians.

    It is easy, at this point, to see just how much people want peace. If the Palestinians (I talk of the leadership) truly wanted peace and to recognise Israel, they would understand that while Israelis are dying this is simply not possible, they would understand Israel’s mistrust. For their people they would be building buinesses and infrastructure, educating towards peace, educating them about Israel as a good neighbour, they would change the charters calling for Israel’s destruction, proving that they are serious about having a homeland and being a peaceful neighbour … all the things from the Oslo accords that they have failed to implement. If, on the other hand, they were trying to destroy Israel, they would be demanding “right of return”, would not recognise Israel as a Jewish state, would not stop terrorist activity (especially from their own forces), would be brainwashing their people towards hatred and martyrdom, a long list, and, hey, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

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  9. Mohan says:

    Hello Morry

    So you are repeating Palestinian denial ? Strange David Irwing goes to jail for denying facts about dead people and you deny the exisatnce of a living nation! And the League of Nations did not win the war. At least get your dates right, it was formed after the war.

    The First Palestinian National Conference was in 1919, long before you accused Araft of creating the nation. Please do your homework before launching into such attacks.

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  10. Morry says:

    Mohan, it may suit your purpose to deliberatey confuse different ideas. First there is a geographic area, named Palestine by the Romans in the second century, that is home to an indigenous people, named for the original name “Judea”, today known as “Jews”. Then there is much the same area that was Known in League of Nations documentation as “the Mandate of Palestine” (encompassing today’s Israel, Jordan, WB and Gaza). Then there was the “Palestine” that reptresented the 20% of “the Mandate of Palestine” west of the Jordan River, administered by the British as the planned “Jewish homeland”. And lastly there is the “Palestine” that is a mythical area that has so far never existed, but that Israel, the US and Europe are trying very hard to create.

    So Mohan, because you use the term interchangibly, you really need to specify which particular “Palestine” you’re talking about.

    “The Mandate of Palestine” was the first thing created out of Ottoman state lands, was split into Jordan and a Jewish homeland (“Palestine”), both allocated Ottoman state lands. The people living in the mandate of the Jewish homeland were called “Palestinians” though they were Jewish. The Arab residents chose their ID papers to say “Arab” because they associated the term “Palstinian” with Jews.

    I did check out the “First Palestinian National Conference in 1919″. I couldn’t find any non-Palestinian references, which made sense given that the consensus of the conference was for Palestine (the area) to be incorporated as southern Syria under Prince Feisal. The texts confirmed what I was saying, with delegates referred to, not as “Palestinian” but as “Arab delegates”. In fact the “Palestinian” in the title is a very misleading translation of “al-Falastini” which should more accurately have been translated as “of Palestine”, not “Palestinian”. I say again, no Arab was called “Palestinian” prior to the late 1950s, and no nation of Palestine existed. Even leading lights like Arafat and Edward Said were Egyptian born and bred, but defined as “Palestinian”.

    PLO = Palestine Liberation Organisation
    PFLP = Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
    DFLP = Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine

    All relate to the area known as Palestine. I’ve asked it before with no response, Mohan, if you are insistent that a Palestinian nation existed, name a couple of kings or presidents, whatever, before Arafat, a bit of its Palestinian history, name the currency used, the flag, the national anthem, and the nations it bordered. Clearly you mean before the Ottomans, as Palestine didn’t exist then, except as a geographic entity.

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  11. Mohan says:

    Sorry Morry

    The name for Palestine in ancient history was Canaan. The name Judea is given during Roman rule for the southern hill region ruled by a client king of the Roman empire.

    I do not wish to get into personalities, however, I will point out that I have not mentioned religion in connection with Palestinian nationhood, while you have denied the existance of Palestine and now find Jews describing themselves as Palestinian.

    Arab, Jew and Palestinian are not mutually exclusive as there were indigenous Jews at the beginning of Zionist colonisation in the 19th century. I can tell you about the Husseni’s, the sanjacks under Ottoman rule about Nadi Filastani et al but that could be dismissed as “Arab propoganda’.

    I will however, write from an eminent Zionist who spoke with brilliant clarity about the project without any pathetic excuses or rationalisation.

    “….Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gainst. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strenght of will, but this exhausts all of the internal differences. We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looks upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie.TO think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benifits we can betsow on them is infantile.This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network….” (Vladimir Jabotinsky, The Iron Wall, 1923).

    Here is an acknowledgement of both Palestinians and Zionist colonisation by an outspoken and brilliant Zionist. I recommend reading the entire article just to assure you that I have not distorted or quoted out of context.

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