Secular Jews, Religious Jews and Arabs: The Zero-Sum Game of Israeli Multiculturalism

This is a review of a talk given by Professor Menachem Mautner, a political and legal theorist from Tel Aviv University, on the 1st of February 2010 at Oriel College, Oxford. Again, apologies for the lateness!

I would like to make quite clear at the beginning of this review that Professor Mautner discusses Israel exclusively. He does not refer to the problems between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. His concern is the problems facing Israeli society.

Israel’s Multicultural Society

Since the 1970s and the end of Labour’s hegemony in Israeli politics, Israel has been a multicultural society. But there is a war of cultures going on, the society is divided in two ways.

The War of Cultures 1: Secular Jews vs Religious Jews

Secular Jews, by which Professor Mautner meant “liberal western” Jews and religious Jews, by which he meant “traditional, Judaism” Jews have twice come close to civil war.

  1. First when settlers were withdrawn from Gaza and Northern Samaria. There was a lot of opposition to this move: 20,000 police and soldiers faced off against the settlers.
  2. Secondly, during the al-Aqsa intifada riots, in the face of retaliation by the Arabs.

The Jewish enlightenment of mid-19th century Germany marks the beginning of the opposition between the secular and the religious Jews. From the 1930s to the 1970s secular Jews, represented by the Labour movement, were in political hegemony. Their values were secular, democratic, modern and western.

By the end of the 1970s their power had waned and in 1977 there was a political turnabout in Israel and Labour lost control. Since 1977, there has only been 6 years that Labour were in hegemony. In the 1980s Labour institutions lost power and they have never properly recovered.

The War of Cultures 2: Jews vs Arabs

20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs. By 2020 it will be 23%. Israel is clearly bi-national, but Jews deny it. The 1992 constitutional laws describe Israel as Jewish and democratic only. Arabs are allowed rights as individuals, but not collectively.

  • Arabs are excluded from significant political decisions on foreign policy and defence.
  • Israel doesn’t recognise any Arab holidays as public holidays.
  • There are separate cities, neighbourhoods, institutions, newspapers, schools etc. for Arabs in Israel.
  • In all indices – literacy, development, life expectancy, etc. – Arabs rank significantly lower than Jews in Israel.

This is an explosive mixture, Professor Mautner says, that could lead to a violent struggle.

But solutions are on the table. In 2006/07, Arab-Israeli intellectuals produced a policy paper, ‘Arab Vision,’ outlining a bi-national state like Switzerland, Belgium or Canada.

A Zero-Sum Game

But there is a connection between the two divides: it is a zero-sum game.

  • If the secular Jews move towards the traditional Jews, the Arabs suffer.
  • If the secular Jews move towards the Arabs, the traditional Jews will revolt.

And this situation will only get worse. The demographics are changing: 50% of school children are from either ultra-orthodox or Arab groups. Israeli society is becoming more polarised between the two groups at the extremes.

There is nothing unique in the Israeli multiculturalism. What is unique is that the pressure on the system comes from the centre, not the fringes. The problems faced by Israeli society are more like those faced by Turkey, Egypt or Algeria, not Canada or Belgium.

Although secular and liberal, the government funds ultra-orthodox groups who oppose these values. As a comparison, the Bob Jones University in the USA was stripped of its tax-free status by the Supreme Court because of their racist admissions policy. Israel will never do something like this, Professor Mautner says: it would cause a revolt by the religious Jews.

The Outlook

There are essentially two types of religious Jew in Israel: the ultra-orthodox Jews and the religious Zionists.

  • Ultra-orthodox Jews reject Western values and ideas including democracy and liberalism. They would support a theocracy which excludes women entirely.
  • Religious Zionists, on the other hand, take their ideas from the West as well as from tradition. They go to universities, the theatre and opera. They are democratic and have a religious feminism. They would object to a theocracy and would support liberal politics. They hold the key to the future character of Israel – but which way will they go?

Individualism represents a real danger for the multicultural state. It could polarise opinion and the common good will suffer. Professor Mautner proposes that republicanism could prevent this, if all citizens are able to deliberate over the common good with no exclusion. Labour republicanism has been strong, but it excludes the Arabs. Now it is weak and they can’t cultivate a shared idea of the common good.

Israel needs to actively pursue a Rawlsian liberal regime representing pluralism and tolerance, an inclusive liberalism, not a universal liberalism.

Specific Measures for the Future:

It contrast to some of the theorists I’ve heard speak, Professor Mautner outlined seven specific proposals to bind Israeli society closer together and to make the country a safer and more democratic state for all its citizens.

1. Establish a constitutional court

The constitutional law is currently developed by the Supreme Court, but this is now viewed as biased. A new constitutional court would be staffed by lawyers representing the major cultural groups so that it is no longer divisive.

2. Reshuffle the education system

Currently there are five types of schooling, secular, religious zionist, Arab, Ashkenazi and Sephardic. They rarely intermix. Israel needs mixed schools, some already exist, but it needs more.

3. Change the 1992 laws about the nature of Israel

It is a nation for all Israelis, not just Jews. Israel should become a “Jewish, democratic and Israeli state.”

4. Include Arabs in national symbols

Including the flag and the national anthem.

5. Include Arabic as a national language

On a level with Hebrew.

6. Acknowledge the implications of multiculturalism

Respect for a people means a respect for their culture. Most Arabs are versed in Jewish culture, but not the other way around.

7. Use the example of 10th and 11th century Spain

Where the Jews enjoyed a golden age under Arab leaders.


It was a blessed relief to hear someone put forward concrete, rational proposals for the better integration of Arabs into Israeli society. It’s going to be a long and hard road to travel – overturning institutionalised racism, such as that outlined by Professor Mautner, does not happen overnight – but it will be worth it, for all concerned.

The Making of Modern English Anti-Semitism

This is a review of a talk given by Dr Anthony Julius, author of Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, at Oriel College, Oxford University on Monday 1st March 2010. Apologies for the lateness – it’s been lying dormant in my notebook for almost a year now!

This talk was given as a warning. Dr Julius was keen to point out rising anti-Semitism in left-wing universities. This talk was given at the beginning of “Israel Apartheid Week,” in which many British universities, including Oxford, took part. Students and their professors are dangerous because, presumably, they are intelligent and their words and opinions carry great weight. This new rise in anti-Semitism, Dr Julius says, has developed with the recent rise in anti-Zionism, particularly after the invasion of Gaza in 2008.

The Four Types of English Anti-Semitism

Dr Julius referred to the “amnesia of Anglo-Jews,” they have forgotten the long history of anti-Semitism in this country. There are four types of anti-Semitism to be found in English history.

1. Medieval anti-Semitism

Medieval anti-Semitism reached its zenith (or nadir?) in England in 1290, when King Edward I ordered the total expulsion of the Jews from England. This expulsion was an utterly original English idea, lethal and exterminationist in conception. It was the first national expulsion of Jews and other European nations followed suit (France in 1394 and Spain in 1492, for example). However, Dr Julius does say, in “defence” of the English, that the idea had reached its moment and could have happened elsewhere.

2. English literary anti-Semitism

Dr Julius argues that only in England has literary anti-Semitism reached canonical status. He cites the examples of Chaucer (The Prioress’ Tale), Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice) and Dickens (Oliver Twist). The plot of each of these dramas, Dr Julius says, is basically the same. There is an innocent (usually a child), who is tricked by a conspiring Jew, there is usually murder or blood involved, but then a “miracle” saves the innocent and the Jew is punished.

Dr Julius argues that this English literary anti-Semitism continues to the modern day, with writers like Tom Paulin, most notably his poem Killed in Crossfire published in The Observer newspaper in 2001. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2001/feb/18/poetry.features1]

3. Quotidian or social anti-Semitism

This type of anti-Semitism flared up in England in the 17th century and limps on today. It takes the form of condescension toward and disregard for Jews. It is something one can live with, Dr Julius says, but is demoralising.

4. Anti-Zionism polluted with anti-Semitism

This developed in England from 1967 onwards. It is when opposition to the Zionist project of the Jews, i.e. the state of Israel, becomes tainted with anti-Semitic, i.e. racist, views. It can be secular, Christian, Muslim or Jewish.

The purpose of all this anti-Semitism, Dr Julius says, is for its function. It is a useful tool, it gives an answer to any problem: just blame it on the Jews.

The Problem of the Holocaust

“The Holocaust has blinded us to modern anti-Semitism.”

The Deborah Lipstadt trial, in which the right-wing historian David Irving lost a libel case for denying the Holocaust, seemed to show that the threat to Jews still comes from neo-Nazi right. Dr Julius emphatically denies that this is so. The Holocaust, he says, has distracted us from the real threat – the left.

Dr Julius cites five reasons why the Holocaust has given us an entirely incorrect image of the average anti-Semite:

1. The Holocaust totalised anti-Semitism

The Holocaust defined antisemitism as wanting the elimination of all Jews. Today, however, anti-Semites recognise “good Jews” (those running Israel Apartheid Week, for example) and “bad Jews” (those who still who cling to the Zionist project).

2. The Holocaust was state-sponsored

This is not the case with anti-Semitism today – in the West, at least.

3. The Holocaust spoke German

Anti-Semitism became associated with a particular national source or paradigm. The Holocaust equated anti-Semitism with the Nazi genocidal type.

4. The threat came from the political right

This is not the case today; the threat is also from the left. Liberals find it hard to understand the national character of Judaism, which leads to anti-Semitism.

5. The Holocaust made us think anti-Semitism was genocidal

That is, thankfully, not the case with English anti-Semitism today.

Anti-Semitism in the UK today

Dr Julius sees 1967 as critical in the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the UK. The increase in Israeli settlement of the Occupied Palestinian Territories between 1967 and 1973 led to the famous / infamous 1975 UN Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism. The 1982 Lebanon war did little to enhance international opinion of the Zionist project and concomitant with the rise in anti-Zionism, Dr Julius detects a rise in anti-Semitism.

This anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism gained strength after the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the growth of radical Islam in the UK, empowered by the fatwa declared against Salman Rushdie in 1989. The fall of the Berlin wall in the same year marked the final collapse of the socialist project and led to increased hatred of the US and Israel from the political left.

Dr Julius sees the response of the political left to Israeli actions in Gaza, particularly the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement of the trade unions, as “exorcising deep-rooted anti-Semitism.” He also warned that, if the Conservatives won the 2010 UK elections, then things could get worse, as Labour are pushed to the left, back to their traditional power base.

In the discourse of the political left, Dr Julius sees Jews portrayed as having a demonic quality. The boycott movement characterises Jews as Nazis, a characterisation that is familiar from medieval times, when Jews were called “pigs”.

But, believe it or not, Dr Julius is optimistic. He says that the dominant English norm is pro-difference, and against any divisive racism, such as anti-Semitism. He says that the empowerment of Muslims is very recent, only since 1989, whereas Jews have a history in the UK going back a millennium.

Conclusions

Dr Julius says that historiographical battles have to be fought. He cites the book Palestine Betrayed by Efraim Karsh as important for undoing the “Nakba narrative” of the Palestinians. This book essentially blames the Arab elites for betraying the Palestinian people by refusing all negotiations with the Zionists.

Dr Julius believes that the boycott movement should be fought, in general politically, but where necessary using the unions’ own rule book to block racist policies.

Dr Julius also argues that Jewish anti-Zionists have got it wrong. Jewish anti-Zionists are a feature of contemporary Jewish politics. From the 1800s to 1945, Jews fell into one of three political camps:

  1. Assimilation: Jews should be individuals in individual states.
  2. Revolution: through socialism, Jews will find equality.
  3. Zionism: the Jews need their own state.

Dr Julius says that after the Holocaust there was “no politics” until 1967. Then the question became: what is Israel’s future? That is when Jewish anti-Zionists really came to the forefront of Israeli politics. But Dr Julius argues that their diagnoses and prognoses are wrong and because of that they are unwittingly colluding with the anti-Jewish project.

One of the proposed solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict is to reform Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories into one state, not as it is now, “a Jewish and democratic state”, but as simply “a democratic state”. Dr Julius describes this proposal as “rubbish”.


This was an interesting talk. I must confess that I don’t subscribe to his opinion that anti-Zionism goes hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism. Perhaps it is a generational thing. Anthony Julius was born in 1956, only 8 years after the birth of Israel. He was 12 in 1967, a very impressionable age.

I’m not saying that some anti-Zionists aren’t also anti-Semites. However, the state of Israel has been around long enough now for most people to be able to distinguish a Jew from an Israeli and, importantly, an Israeli from the state and government of Israel.

No Supermarket: Week 1

Well that was resoundingly successful. I haven’t been to a supermarket since 2010.

Here’s what I bought this week:

  • 3 loaves of sesame bread @ £2.67
  • Le Figaro newspaper @ £1.70
  • 20 bananas @ £3.18
  • 2 cucumbers @ £1.00
  • 15 tomatoes @ £2.25
  • 1 loaf seeded white bread @ £0.97
  • 2 tins of Heinz tomato soup @ £1.78
  • 125g tube of Aquafresh toothpaste @ £0.99
  • 1 punnet of red seedless grapes @ £1.00
  • 200g feta cheese @ £1.69
  • 350g jar of Ajvar sauce @ £1.29

Total: £18.52

So what would it have cost at my local Sainsbury’s? Obviously you can’t get quite the same things – what the hell is Ajvar Sauce anyway?

So, if we exclude that from the list:
My No Supermarket shopping cost me: £17.23.
The same stuff at Sainsbury’s would have cost: £16.88.

So I spent £0.35 more than I should have done. Tsk.

There are a few differences in the shopping basket to note:

  1. I would have had 24 bananas, not 20 (Sainsbury’s Basics bananas come in packs of 8).
  2. I would have had only 12 tomatoes, not 15 (Sainsbury’s Basics tomatoes come in packs of 6).
  3. I would have had only 100g of toothpaste, not 125g (I couldn’t find 125g at Sainsbury’s).
  4. I would not have bought Heinz Tomato Soup, I would have got Sainsbury’s own brand Be Good to Yourself Tomato Soup, saving me another £0.30.
  5. I would not have bought feta from Sainsbury’s. I normally get mature cheddar on special; this week it would have been Cathedral City Mature Cheddar 400g for £1.99. Ouch. It hurts to see that.

I think those things more or less even themselves out (apart from the cheese).

It doesn’t just come down to cost though. It can’t. Even if you include the extra £0.30 saving from the soup, I would have saved only 3.8% on my week’s shopping by going to Sainsbury’s. That is a much smaller saving than I expected.

The Lessons of Week 1

If it’s not about cost, then what is it about? I have no idea, but here are some things I learnt this week:

1. No Supermarkets are less convenient

My ‘local’ shops are further from me than Sainsbury’s – and the markets are even more of a walk. This shouldn’t have been a problem, but turned into a complete disaster when I developed a debilitating foot injury which meant I couldn’t walk for most of the week.

2. I need to learn how to shop again

Without a supermarket crutch to support my dietary habits, my diet has been all over the place.

I’ve eaten a lot more bread than I normally do, simply because it is filling, tasty and widely available. At times in the week, I confess, I was hungry. I’ve eaten everything that was lying around in my cupboards – including muesli that was over a year old, yum!

I expect my diet to stabilise as I learn where to buy what I want to eat. And as I learn to walk again.

3. I can pay by credit card at my local shop

…if I spend more than £5. This is a nice bonus because the nearest cash machine around my way is… at Sainsbury’s.

4. There is an awful lot less choice at No Supermarket

This is a good thing, I reckon. Although it cost me on the soup and the cheese front, it did mean that I got to try Ajvar Sauce! See also #7.

5. There is a lot less packaging involved in No Supermarkets

The fruit and vegetables that I bought were either in recyclable paper bags or were loose. This is a good thing because it means I don’t have to lug all my plastic packaging back to Sainsbury’s for recycling.

6. Fruit and veg at No Supermarkets is a lot more variable

You actually have to look at what you are buying. Once I’ve got over the shock, I’m sure this could turn into quite a pleasant thing. It might make me less of a shopping machine.

7. I spent a lot less money at No Supermarkets

Not item for item, but in total. There is very little opportunity for impulse buying at No Supermarkets because there is a lot less choice and so a lot less to tempt you with. A lack of availability also means that you have to make do without. Things I didn’t buy this week include: a ball of string, a rubber and porridge oats.

Well, it’s been a promising start and I’m looking forward to increased mobility in Week 2!

Sleep, Meditation and Dreaming

The Rise of Meditation in the West

Meditation in the West has seen a burst of popularity since the 1960s. An Australian survey in 2002 found that 11% of people in Western Australia have practised meditation at least once in their lives. A 2007 government study in the United States found that 9.4% of people there had practised meditation at some time.

The positive medical benefits for meditation have also recently been documented. The BBC (all hail!) have reported that meditation can reduce blood pressure and ease heart disease as well as actually changing the physical structure of the brain. Cool.

So why is meditation not more a part of Western life? Why is it still seen as an Eastern technique, most often associated with India? Could it be something to do with our sleeping patterns?

What?

Yes, our sleeping patterns. Specifically, our sleeping patterns since the Industrial Revolution.

Before the Light Bulb

In Britain (in the south, so the best case scenario) we spend over half our time without the sun. Roughly 51% of our hours are night. 250 years ago that meant almost total darkness.

Of course there were candles and we could light fires, but open fires were dangerous in our expanding wood-built towns and candles were expensive for most people. Gas lighting was still to be developed.

In the summer, we have about 8 hours of darkness, if we put sunset at about 9.00pm and sunrise at about 5.00am. In the winter, however, we have about 16 hours of darkness, with sunset around 4.00pm and sunrise at 8.00am.

If you can imagine this time 250 years ago, you would be in darkness from the mid-afternoon to the morning. What could you do? You couldn’t read or write, you couldn’t watch television, you couldn’t go outside for a walk to the pub. You couldn’t really do much at all (unless you were a thief) except go to bed or sit around in the dark and chat. For 16 hours a day.

Industrial Sleep

Since the industrial revolution and the explosion in light bulb usage, sleeping patterns in Britain have changed. Sleeping seven or eight hours a night all year round is the norm now – but it never used to be.

When the sun went down, it used to get dark. Now we have lights in our houses, on our streets, we like to relax in the evening with a film. And all this light has done something a little funny: we think it’s summer all year round.

Remember the 8 hours of darkness we get in summer? Isn’t that suspiciously similar to the hours most people sleep? You could call it the minimum that humans have evolved to live with; and that’s what we regulate ourselves to have by using electric lighting in the evenings.

As the chronobiologist Charles A. Czeisler says:

“Every time we turn on a light we are inadvertently taking a drug that affects how we will sleep.”

Pre-Industrial Sleep

Without the miracles of electric lighting, our ancestors spent 51% of their lives in darkness. They couldn’t do much, but they could at least sleep properly.

In fact, there was so much time to kill, that people would have two sleeps: first sleep and second sleep. The first sleep might be from evening until after midnight and then second sleep from the early morning until sunrise – or when the farmer came a-knocking.

But what happened between first and second sleeps? Well, that’s where the meditation comes in. There wasn’t any reason to be fully awake (except to go to the toilet or have sex) so people drifted into this twilight zone of “meditation”. I put it in quotation marks because no one deliberately induced this state: it happened naturally.

First sleep was deep, restful sleep with a burst of dreaming before waking for the first time. Then it was followed by a period of quiet “meditation” before second sleep, which was characterised by more dreaming.

And that was natural.

Can We Still Do This?

Yes we can. Even today, if we are deprived of light for fourteen hours a day, we start to sleep in two shifts. Dr Thomas Wehr did an experiment to test this. After four weeks of acclimatisation to the regime, this is the sleep pattern his subjects showed:

  1. Lie awake in bed for two hours.
  2. Sleep for four.
  3. Awake again for two to three hours of quiet rest and reflection.
  4. Fall back asleep for four more hours.
  5. Wake for good.

The question now is: why would we want to do this? Who’s got fourteen hours to waste on sleep?

The Power of Dreams and Meditation

That middle segment of wakefulness is not just sitting around in bed. It is characterised by an altered state of consciousness, neither awake nor asleep, where confused thoughts wander at will, like dreams, and people feel content. This brain-state is very similar to the state reported by people who meditate regularly.

That period of “meditation” allows the sleeper to examine their dreams without the pressures of the day to worry about. How many people these days lounge around in bed, pondering their dreams – if they can remember them at all? No, most people have to get up and go to work, which breaks the spell.

But dreams and quiet meditation are powerful tools. Half-controlled, half-random, dreams offer easy access to suppressed emotions and unexpected thoughts. We can visit old friends, talk to dead relatives, travel in foreign lands, have new experiences and remember old ones.

This period of quiet meditation allows new thoughts to come to the surface, it allows our minds to shuffle through the events of the previous day and to put everything into perspective. “I’ll sleep on it,” is a common saying that reflects this.

The night-time also has a reputation as the “mother of thoughts”. Many artists and creative thinkers report that dreams or sleep in general is the best time for generating new ideas. With a double shift sleep pattern, dreaming, waking and meditation is built in to the system. Twice over.

A Experiment in Double Shift Sleep Patterns

So I tried it (of course). I know that Dr Wehr’s subjects needed four weeks to get into this pattern, but that didn’t stop me trying. The idea that our sleep is supposed to be broken also takes the pressure off. If you wake up in the middle of the night, it’s no bad thing. It’s natural.

So last night I tried it. I went to bed at about half eight in the evening and didn’t get out of bed until about nine in the morning. A good solid twelve hours of rest.

And I did sleep in two shifts. The first was until about three in the morning. Then I simply lay in bed (after checking the cricket score…) pondering the dreams I’d just had. Then I fell asleep again after a while and woke at about half past eight. I then stayed in bed just thinking about the night’s dreaming and got out of bed at nine.

I won’t bore you with my dreams, but suffice to say that I remember them still, twelve hours later. They were dramatic and exciting and perhaps even revealing. I’m going to try again tonight.

Conclusion

On average, we spend 10% of our lives dreaming between 100,000 and 200,000 dreams. That’s an awful lot. I can’t remember too many. One reason for that is that I sleep through too many of them. If I start sleeping in two shifts, like my ancestors used to, then I’ll remember way more. I really appreciate my dreams and the alternate reality that they allow me. Maybe I’ll understand them better, maybe I’ll understand myself better. Maybe I’ll just get a few more stories out of it.

“Let the Night teach us what we are, and the Day what we should be.”

Thomas Tryon, Wisdom’s Dictates (London, 1691)

References

Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-industrial Slumber in the British Isles by A. Roger Ekirch:
http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/106.2/ah000343.html

Modern Life Suppresses An Ancient Body Rhythm By Natalie Angier, March 14, 1995:
http://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/14/science/modern-life-suppresses-an-ancient-body-rhythm.html?pagewanted=print&src=pm

Various BBC reports on meditation:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1847442.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/410003.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7319043.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8363302.stm

No Supermarket: Suma Co-operative

I live in a housing co-operative. Which is awesome, not least because the people I live with try to do things together.

What that means is that every month someone from the co-op orders in bulk from the ethical retailer Suma. Suma is also a co-operative, which means that the business is jointly owned and managed by all the staff. Everyone is paid the same and they work collectively to do all the jobs that need doing (I discuss this mode of business here).

So today (for the first time ever, I’m ashamed to admit) I ordered some food from Suma. This is my shopping list:

  • 80 jasmine green tea bags @ £4.95
  • 1kg of raisins @ £2.95
  • 6kg of porridge oats @ £6.99
  • 12 eggs @ £2.62

Compared to Sainsbury’s, this isn’t bad. You can get 20 jasmine tea bags at Sainsbury’s for about £1, so that’s a touch cheaper at the supermarket. The eggs and the porridge come out at about the same cost. I normally buy Sainsbury’s Basics currents, which are dirt cheap at about £0.60 for 500g (I think), so Suma’s raisins are an expensive upgrade.

Anyway, that should be my breakfast covered for the rest of the month. Now I’ve just got to wait for the delivery on Thursday. At least I don’t have to walk to the shops.