Tag Archives: middle-east

A vision of peace without imagination: Trump’s deal

By Norma Musih and Jon Simons

The proposal of peace plans, for Israel-Palestine or anywhere, are opportunities for political imagination. Even when all that is imagined is the cessation of hostilities, peace plans embody a remarkable human capacity to picture a situation that does not yet exist, to compare it favorably with the current situation, and to act towards making real the vision of a better future. Who could disagree that the people of Israel and Palestine deserve a better future in which they are not condemned “to live by the sword”, in which they can live in security, prosperity and the fulfillment of their human rights? The drafting of peace plans is a crucial step towards diplomatic negotiations and reconciliation of combatants. The Trump plan casts itself as such an act of political imagination, as a “Vision for Peace, Prosperity and a Brighter Future” which people should read so they can “imagine how its concepts will actually dramatically improve their lives,” and which will be the basis for a future peace agreement.

The Trump “deal of the century” has rightly been condemned as a fake peace plan for Israel-Palestine by many potential participants in the peace process. Trump’s initiative is not the first intervention by a western power seeking to “bring peace to the middle east” on behalf of the Palestinian people. The colonial roots of such efforts can be traced from the Balfour declaration to the Oslo agreements. Palestinian official and popular rejection came quickly, including demonstrations in the West Bank. On Saturday February 1st 2020 Israeli anti-occupation groups rallied in Tel Aviv under the banner “Yes to a peace agreement; No to an annexation deal,” in response to the Israeli’s government’s interpretation of the plan that it had been given a green light to annex the Jordan Valley and the settlements in the West Bank by the Trump administration. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem condemned the proposal for a Palestinian “state” comprised of fragmented enclaves as apartheid, like the South African Bantu states.

Trump plan map
Proposed map of Trump peace plan

Certainly, the most appalling failure of the vision is that it has been conceived in the absence of Palestinians. This is also a failure of the imagination. Hannah Arendt conceived of political imagination as the relationships that emerge among people who can envision each other’s points of view. Famously, in her 1963 report on the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, she faulted him not with being an evil monster but with a “lack of imagination,” an inability to imagine himself in the place of the others whom he sent to the concentration camps. The authors of the Trump plan, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, are guilty of such lack of imagination.

Nowhere in the plan is this lack of imagination more shocking than its scant and biased treatment of refugees. While acknowledging that the conflict is about refugees as much as territory and security, it sets up a false equivalence between the Palestinian refugees who have “suffered over the past 70 years” and the “similar number of Jewish refugees [who] were expelled from Arab lands.” No mention of Palestinians being expelled by Israel, of the Nakba, of the systematic erasure of Palestinian presence in what became Israel. No mention of the systematic discrimination faced by Jews from Arab lands in Israel, which promised to be their national home. The plan claims to seek a “just, fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue” but it flagrantly denies the “right of return” established in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, Par. 13, Section 2: “Every person has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.” Palestinians must renounce not only their individual and collective right to return to their former homes in Israel according to the Trump deal, but also accept that Israeli security concerns will trump (pun intended) their right to return to what would become Palestine. The failure of imagination is enormous, as if people have no attachment to home, as if the violent loss of home can be bartered away by a financial compensation scheme under US control.

Arendt’s condemnation of Eichmann’s lack of imagination was controversial, as if she were being dismissive of the enormity of his crimes. Those criticisms missed the point of her claim about the banality of evil, about how such a horrendous event as the Holocaust happened not because of deep evil intentions but because of thoughtlessness, the failure to imagine oneself in the shoes of another. The Trump deal is banal because of its lack of imagination. And if it is imposed on the Palestinians, who can not accept it without ceasing to be a people with rights, it will be as disastrous for them as the disaster – the Nakba – which has already befallen them. Moreover, it will be disastrous also for Jewish Israelis. Not only will they be condemned to be perpetrators of an increasingly apartheid regime, but also their citizenship will be flawed: they will not be equal until the Palestinians are equal.

Open letter to Rachel Reeves MP: Why I won’t vote Labour, though I hope for a Labour-led government

Dear Rachel,

You don’t know me but I’m one of your constituents and I wanted to take the time to explain why I won’t vote for you in this election, even though I hope to wake up on Friday morning to a Labour-led government that can implement its manifesto promises. I look forward to a government that will restore the NHS, mitigate the environmental crisis by investing in new energy and cutting fossil fuels, and bring vital services back into public control. I am filled with dread by the prospect of another Conservative government led by Boris Johnson, following his party’s lurch to the right, crashing us out of Europe and further into the social division and inequality that successive Tory governments have exacerbated.

Yet I won’t vote Labour because the party, especially its leadership, has utterly failed to deal with the antisemitism that has surfaced in its ranks. At first, this was something I didn’t want to believe was happening. I came back to the UK, to Leeds, after just over a decade in the US in December 2016, happy to be returning to the NHS – though not yet aware how much the years of austerity had reduced it . I was also looking forward to voting in a country with a mass social democratic party with a real chance to govern. Yet I could already sense that the Brexit referendum had let some dark genies out of the bottle, scapegoating various “others” for various wrongs, just as Trump has done. How, though, could such resentful racism have any hold in the Labour Party? I also didn’t want to believe that as a Jew I would be made to feel unwelcome in the party, especially after an earlier decade during which I lived in Israel, where I was very much on the left of politics, critical not only of Netanyahu’s government’s policies but the systemic oppression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Israel itself. That oppression is shielded in part by pernicious efforts, some of them funded by Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs, to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. So, it seemed too convenient that no sooner did the Labour Party elect a left-winger than the ‘socialism of fools’ – antisemitism – took root in it. Surely it must be the case that anti-progressive politicians and press in both countries, and further afield, had found common cause in amplifying a few marginal cases of antisemitic expression on social media and occasional branch meetings? At first, then, I discounted some of what I heard. I have Israeli friends and know other Jews still in the Labour Party who continue to do so.

But I was learning too much from old friends, some of whom stayed in the party, some of whom left, as well as in regular news reports, to hold out on to my wishful thinking and denial. One friend was very much in the thick of it, trying to counter antisemitic tropes on new media and being constantly abused for doing so. Others were not finding their MPs willing to speak out and some began to find their local branch a hostile environment. Some of what I was told about is reflected in the Jewish Labour Movement evidence submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, an investigation which in itself must cause the Party shame. I do not doubt that there is a concerted right-wing political and media campaign to discredit Corbyn and the Labour Party as much as possible. That’s what they do. But I also do not doubt that a trend has developed among some party members and supporters to substitute a genuine critique of capitalism with conspiracy theories featuring the Rothschilds, George Soros and other “Zios.” There is both antisemitism in the party and coordinated efforts by opponents of Labour and its current leadership to capitalize on it. But if the party really dealt with antisemitism, its opponents would have little ammunition.

Increasingly it became apparent that the party leadership was not interested in challenging the antisemites robustly, taking action that could easily have knocked this issue on the head. What I could justly expect of Jeremy Corbyn – or his staff – would be to call people out on the use of antisemitic tropes as they were posted on social media platforms and spoken at meetings, making it clear that nobody could count themselves as his supporter if they were also a racist. Instead, he hid behind disciplinary processes which have in any case proved inadequate. Of course, to call others out Jeremy Corbyn would have to begin with himself, expressing horror rather than mealy-mouthed “regret” that he had defended Mear One’s antisemitic mural. He would need to admit shame that he had slipped into the worst sort of English “polite antisemitism” by referring to British Jews as Zionists who don’t understand English irony. As a committed anti-racist, he must know by now that we have all been socialized into damaging racist attitudes and that we need to keep working to decolonize ourselves. If Jeremy Corbyn cannot demonstrate political, cultural and intellectual leadership on this issue, why not?

So, sadly I cannot vote for you on Thursday, even though I believe you are a good constituency MP – you’ve written in support of my partner’s PIP appeal – and have an admirable record in Parliament, not least on environmental issues that are close to my heart and current activism. I admit that if your majority were less secure, I would be agonising more on whether to vote for you or the Green candidate. Yet, I expect that you will understand my decision and hope that one day soon you will be able to let me know that the Labour Party is once again a safe political home for progressive Jews.

With best wishes,

Jon Simons