Since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, a pattern has emerged: Every time war or a significant spike in violence breaks out in Israel-Palestine, conflict between Jews in the UK also intensifies. During each round of conflict, attempts by UK Jewish community leaders to maintain some kind of consensus become ever more ineffectual.
In my book Uncivil War: The Israel Conflict in the Jewish Community, I tried to map out the divisions emerging over Israel in the Jewish community and made the case for processes of dialogue to manage the anguish this conflict causes. While I hope that the book put the issue on the communal agenda, I’d be the first to say it hasn’t solved the problem.
Since Uncivil War came outfour years ago, there have been a number of further spikes in the UK Jewish conflict. The most significant is the most recent. In response to the Gaza border protests of recent weeks, and in particular the killing of 59 Palestinians by the IDF on May 14, the ‘Kaddish for Gaza’ event held two days later ignited a still-ongoing firestorm of controversy.
While the event involved only a small number of Jews, its significance should not be understated. I have long suggested that, if the two-state solution does not materialise and Israel continues to be led by right-wing governments, liberal-left Zionists will start to despair and take more radical positions. While Kaddish for Gaza was supported by those who never identified as Zionists or had ceased to do so, it also included people who would still see themselves as Zionists and who are deeply engaged with Israel.
Further, while the religious framing of the event was inevitably deeply provocative (even to some of those who otherwise share the protestors’ views on Israel), it was also a reminder that the protestors were not secularists with limited connection to communal life. Indeed, it is precisely the presence of youth leaders and others who work for communal institutions that has triggered so much outrage.
While conflict over Israel has long existed within the Zionist camp, historically the most bitter arguments have taken place between the secular anti-Zionist left — who often, but not always, have limited involvement in communal life — and the Zionist Jewish majority. What Kaddish for Gaza suggests is that a similarly vituperative split is beginning to emerge within the communally-involved Zionist mainstream.
In some quarters, the response to Kaddish for Gaza has been identical to the response to the anti-Zionist Jewish left — to try to turn them into pariahs and exclude them from the Jewish community. Aside from the morality of this, it won’t work. Whereas an earlier generation of Jewish radicals often took pride in their oppositional marginality, this generation will fight their exclusion.
The choice is stark: either we learn to live with differences over Israel, or the Jewish community becomes a set of Balkanised enclaves.
Uncivil War: The Israel Conflict in the Jewish Community is published by David Paul