Jonathan Freedland

Israel needs its internal critics

By Jonathan Freedland, February 18, 2010

Perhaps from the very beginning, there have been two distinct types of critic of Israel: those from within and those from without. For many years, the latter have been barely tolerated. If outsiders - whether the United Nations or the BBC or Amnesty International - dare to criticise Israel, their observations are immediately discounted. "What do you expect of [fill in name of loathed foreign institution here]? We've always known they hate us."

Dissenting voices from the inside, however, were treated differently.

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JFS: Why are no heads rolling?

By Jonathan Freedland, January 7, 2010

It’s a new year, a new decade and a time when we are told to look forward, rather than back. Nowhere is this attitude stronger than among the leaders of British Jewry who, after one of the most appalling episodes in our communal history — the Supreme Court ruling that the admissions policy of JFS fell foul of the law on racial discrimination — are keen that we draw a line and move on.

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Casually caustic 'diplomacy'

By Jonathan Freedland, November 26, 2009

If every great stereotype should be lived up to, then the retired panjandrums of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been fulfilling their duty admirably. The stereotype, cherished fondly by British Jews down the ages, is of the FCO man as “Arabist”, innately hostile to Israel and with perhaps a less-than-charitable attitude towards — how shall we put it? — those of the Mosaic persuasion.

No doubt today’s Foreign Office would reject the caricature, noting that they serve happily under a Jewish Foreign Secretary. But the ex-diplomats don’t all seem to have got the memo.

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A big blind eye to extremism

By Jonathan Freedland, October 22, 2009

Here’s one accusation I never thought I’d have to make: I’m worried that we Jews are not sensitive enough about antisemitism. Oh, I know we’re super-vigilant about the threat from the Arab and Islamist extremes and I know, too, that we scour every sentence in the liberal media for the smallest hint of bias. Rightly so.

Yet when a menace looms so large it could blot out the sun, somehow we fail to see it — even when the source of the danger is that part of the world where antisemitism wreaked its most lethal havoc.

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We were once the 'maniacs'

By Jonathan Freedland, September 17, 2009

Terror suspects, caught by police surveillance, boast of the blood-curdling havoc they hope to wreak. “The corpse of an enemy smells nice”, they hiss. In messages addressed to the British public, they say the deaths they plan are “retribution you have so justly earned.” After all, insist the killers, “For many years we have suffered humiliation.”

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Bevis Marks: a very fishy row

By Jonathan Freedland, August 27, 2009

They say there’s no war so bitter as a civil war, to which we can surely add an amendment. There is no broiges quite so acrimonious as a synagogue broiges. If you want a row that has fear, loathing and everything in between, look no further than a bust-up in a shul.

The sensible JC columnist would steer well clear. It’s impossible to write about a synagogue dispute without one faction — sometimes both — denouncing you in the following week’s letters page for totally misunderstanding the entire business. Still, every rule is made to be broken — so here goes.

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Yes! If you will it, you’re a Jew

By Jonathan Freedland, July 9, 2009

If it’s physically possible to give a cheer and a sigh at the time, then that was my reaction on hearing last week’s ruling in the JFS case.

I cheered that the Court of Appeal had seen the injustice in denying a boy a Jewish education just because his mother’s conversion was not deemed good enough by an Orthodox establishment that prides itself on having the most intransigent “standards” in the entire Jewish world.

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Big test of settlement attitudes

By Jonathan Freedland, June 4, 2009

By all accounts, Barack Obama is a keen and skilful poker player. That’s useful to know because he’s about to call the bluff of Israel and many of its supporters around the world.

That much became clear last week when Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, told Israel that the President “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions” but an end to all settlement expansion on the West Bank. Period.

Obama himself has rammed the point home. He wants a “freeze on settlements”: no qualifiers.

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A very futile boycott attempt

By Jonathan Freedland, April 30, 2009

Tricky business, boycotts. Take the case of Omar Barghouti. In 2004, the graduate of Columbia in New York helped found the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel campaign, urging scholars and researchers around the world to cut ties with Israel’s universities. But, as reported in last week’s JC, Barghouti is studying for a doctorate at… Tel Aviv University.

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End this brutalised occupation

By Jonathan Freedland, March 26, 2009

Soon my favourite festival will be upon us, the season of freedom, where we celebrate the greatest liberation story in human history. I love everything about Pesach, from the ridiculous — kosher-for-Passover washing-up liquid, anyone? — to the sublime, including the glow that comes from a family sitting around a Seder table retelling a tale passed down the generations since the beginning of Jewish time.

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Lieberman is betraying Israel

By Jonathan Freedland, February 18, 2009

As parties go, this was not exactly a classic. There was not much in the way of food or drink — just a few plates loaded with those crumbly kosher biscuits that are a staple of the shul Kiddush — and not much of an atmosphere. Indeed, the host was among the last to arrive. Still, the victory party of Yisrael Beiteinu in Jerusalem was a night to remember.

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Why I did not 'rally for Israel'

By Jonathan Freedland, January 14, 2009

It was a strange weekend. Saturday saw a demonstration against Israel’s military action in Gaza. Of course I was not there. I could never stand with those who oppose not just Operation Cast Lead but Israel itself, those who carry banners linking the Star of David to the swastika.

As a believer in Israel, someone who wants desperately to see that country flourish, that could clearly never be my place.

So would I be at the Sunday solidarity rally, standing in support of Israel? Well, no, I could not stand there either.

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I have a dream — a new shul

By Jonathan Freedland, December 11, 2008

If you want to mark the festival of lights with a hernia, I have just the gift for you. Weighing in at a scales-busting 14lbs, A Book of Jews, featured in last week’s JC, is a magnificent treat of a photo album, packed with portraits of every Jew you’ve ever heard of — and plenty that will have you saying “Him? Never!” (Boris Becker anyone?) It will have you swelling with pride: all those scientists (Einstein), artists (Chagall) and swimmers (Spitz). But there is the odd cause for pause, too, thanks to the assorted gangsters, villains and no-goodniks who also make the cut.

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Try America’s new dream, Israel

By Jonathan Freedland, November 6, 2008

As one marathon election campaign ends, another begins. Though something tells me the world will not be following the battle of Tzipi Livni and Bibi Netanyahu - which will rage from now until February - with anything like the obsessive interest they showed in the clash of Barack Obama and John McCain.

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Jew-hatred we don’t care about

By Jonathan Freedland, October 3, 2008

The Baltic states are erasing the memory of the Holocaust - and even prosecuting survivors. Where is our outrage?


With Yom Kippur coming up, I know we are meant to be atoning for our own sins rather than making
accusations against others. But some crimes are too big to ignore.

The crime in question is the Holocaust - or, more precisely, the way we remember it. As the remnant of survivors shrinks, and as that event passes from living memory into history, there is a battle underway for how the Shoah will be recorded for posterity.

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Blind US Zionism will kill Israel

By Jonathan Freedland, August 28, 2008

Both Joe Biden and McCain's likely running-mate are staunch supporters of Israel. But what it really needs is tough love.

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I'm sorry that I got my way

By Jonathan Freedland, July 25, 2008

Let's hope the JCC does not lose momentum now its building plans have been shelved


One of the oddities of my line of work is the frequent desire to be proved wrong. Often we commentators make dire predictions about the state of the world, issuing gloomy warnings about the consequences of this or that decision, consequences which - as citizens, rather than journalists - we obviously hope will never materialise. In this game, vindication is rarely sweet and often bitter.

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The JCC doesn't need a building

By Jonathan Freedland, June 13, 2008

We are among the minnows of the Jewish world, a tiny community by comparison with those in Israel or the United States. And yet we do sometimes manage, as the Foreign Office diplomats might put it,

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Sir Alan, you're hired as our rep

By Jonathan Freedland, May 16, 2008

Alan Sugar is the most visible Jew in this country. And that’s no bad thing

I was hooked even before the chicken. Wednesday nights have been ring-fenced in the diary since the latest series of The Apprentice began, but my addiction goes back even further. To me, Sir Alan Sugar and his would-be employees have become a harbinger of summer, like the sound of leather on willow: when they re-appear, I know that winter is over at last.

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Why Livingstone gets my vote

By Jonathan Freedland, April 11, 2008

We should vote for the man who is best for London, not who is best for the Jews

I wouldn’t vote for Ken Livingstone to be the next head of the United Synagogue. If he was running for the chairmanship of the Jewish National Fund, he wouldn’t have my backing. And if he wanted to lead the Zionist Federation, he could count me out.

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