The JC

Letters to the editor, November 17 2023

Orban, Kristallnacht and culture wars


An Israeli army soldier sits in the hatch of the turret of a Merkava battle tank as a column of tanks is amassed in the upper Galilee in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon on October 11, 2023. (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP) (Photo by JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images)

November 16, 2023 11:41

Just six words

There are six words that stir the liberal heart like no other: “occupation”, “apartheid”  “illegal settlements” and  “settler violence”.  When these words are uttered by supporters of the Palestinian cause within the first few seconds of any debate, they ensure an instant victory over any argument, pushing the opponents into a complex web of protracted and futile explanations. Under their banner, resistance, however brutal and bloody, is justified and identified with “fighting for freedom” and “liberation from oppression”.

Now there is a new kid on the block: no longer merely “a Palestinian” but “of Palestine”, rooted in the land, in a homeland and bearing the hallmark of a sovereign state, no matter that such a state has no form nor boundaries and had never in history existed as an independent entity.

Those who perpetuate the myths of Israeli occupation/apartheid/land grabbing ought to engage in serious introspection and study, for their deliberate usage of such accusations has provided a justification for acts of terror over decades.    

Eda Spinka
London NW4

Hubris and failure

Karen Pollock rightly contrasts the vulnerability of pre-war European Jewry with the security enjoyed by those living in Israel today (In 1938 there was no hope. Now we have a Jewish state to offer support, 9 November).

But recent events show that this security cannot be taken for granted. After Hamas has been defeated, Israelis must ensure that they never again play fast and loose with their precious democracy and elect unscrupulous populists like Netanyahu and his band of ultra-nationalist and religious fanatics, whose hubris contributed to a catastrophic failure in intelligence and the death of so many Israelis.

Stan Labovitch

Biden not perfect

Dominic Green’s article on Joe Biden’s re-election chances is interesting (Biden can’t win in 2024 on Israel — but he can lose, 10 November 2023). I hope Mr Biden does win again for, while Donald Trump is superficially pro-Israel, his (at least partially) pro-Kremlin ideology and his “America First” isolationism will not serve Israel well. Russia, remember, couldn’t be more pro-Palestine if it tried. While Ron deSantis is pro-Israel, he is also erratic, homophobic and generally confused.

Joe Biden’s Democrats contain a small rump of abhorrent antisemites, but the Republican Party contains a far-right, evangelical Protestant equivalent, which only seeks to protect Israel in order to fulfil “Biblical prophecy”.

Joe Biden, while not perfect on Hamas’ war with Israel, is fundamentally acting like a friend to Israel, partly owing to his lack of isolationist, insular inclinations. That shouldn’t be forgotten.

Sebastian Monblat

Orbán reconsidered

Five years ago I had a comment piece in this paper, The Jews of Hungary do not live in fear (21 November, 2018). It was in response to criticism from a Holocaust survivor that the country of my birth under its leader, Viktor Orbán, was “very antisemitic”. I disagreed.

I visit the country often and have seen  Budapest’s thriving Jewish quarter, the beautifully restored Great Synagogue, the annual Jewish festival. I argued that there was a lot more antisemitism here in the UK and especially at our universities.

My piece caused something of a stir on this letters page, where certain readers attacked this view. But following the  October 7 massacre, could they have perhaps changed their minds? We can see clearly today the level of Jew-hatred within the British population. There have been aggressive pro-Hamas demonstrations here, in other European countries and around the world.

But Hungary? When Orbán learned, soon after the massacre, of a planned demonstration called “Stand With Gaza” to be held in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Budapest, he immediately banned it, announcing, “Pro-terrorist demonstrations are not allowed in Hungary”.

On the other hand, the government did approve the display of a giant Israeli flag surrounded by lights in Budapest’s iconic Heroes’ Square.

Orbán, a “strong arm” leader, has been castigated by the EU for Hungary’s anti-migrant policies. But maybe sometimes a strong arm is a good thing. According to Zoltán Radnóti, Chief Rabbi of Budapest, Hungarian Jews are safe thanks to Orbán: “Because he keeps the borders closed, there are hardly any pro-Palestinian people in Budapest. There is no threat of attacks. It is better here than in, say, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Stockholm, where it is less safe for Jews. Budapest is an island in Europe, without Muslim fundamentalists.”

I rest my case.

Monica Porter
London NW2

No culture war politics

What threatens our survival is the emotionally virulent fantasy that Jews engineer injustice and oppression and so human happiness is only possible without us. The threat is neither individual immorality nor uncivilised sadism. It is not race, nation or religion. It is totalitarian thinking.

There have always been bad people, and groups of armed men have often thrilled at murder, rape and kidnapping. But the Holocaust was something new because the Nazis’ ambition required the industrialisation of mass killing.

Hamas have inherited Nazism’s obsessional quest for a “final solution to the Jewish problem”. Many in the 1930s imagined that the Nazis were not serious, and their counterparts who thought the same of Hamas appear unmoved by the new evidence.

We cannot afford the decadent, nihilistic distraction of symbolic culture war politics. We need a courageous, well equipped and alert IDF, a rational, efficient and democratic Israel and strong, liberal, universalist states, standing shoulder to shoulder with democratic movements around the world.

That is our best chance of staying safe. It is also our best chance of ensuring that our grandchildren can worry about something more interesting than staying safe.

David Hirsh
Goldsmiths, University of London

November 16, 2023 11:41

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