Arthur Goodman is the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Liaison Officer of the organisation Jews for Justice for Palestinians. We asked him about JJP’s work and what inspires it.
1) On your website, you quote Rabbi Jeffrey Newman: ‘Without justice for Palestinians, there is no hope for Israel.’ Can you tell us why you agree with him, please?
Rabbi Newman has understood Zionism’s existential moral ambiguity. Yes, there was a just cause in the history of European persecution of Jews for Zionists to want a Jewish state, but the Zionists’ determination to have an exclusively Jewish state and to take over all of Palestine led them to expel as many of the indigenous Palestinian population as they could in 1948.
It later led them to occupy and settle the remaining Palestinian land in 1967.
These injustices can only be resolved, and then only partially, by Israel ending the occupation, allowing the Palestinians to exercise their right of self-determination in accordance with international law, and agreeing a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem.
From this ambiguity arises Israel’s two existential dilemmas – political and moral. If Israel continues to occupy and settle Palestinian land, it will never have peace because the Palestinians will never accept being denied self-determination. They will continue to resist and Israel will have to continue repressing them. There will be endlessly recurring violence.
Israeli society will become increasingly defensive as it tries to deny the immorality of what it is doing. Israeli governments will continue resorting to repressive internal measures to damp down protest by its own citizens.
They will increasingly try to portray serious criticism from abroad as antisemitism, and Israel will increasingly become a pariah state as people tire of being manipulated by accusations of antisemitism when they hold Israel to the standards of international law.
2) What action does JJP take to help bring about justice for Palestinians?
JJP actively lobbies the political establishment and embassies of foreign countries to hold Israel to account under international law.
Our main recommendation is that other countries will have to stop doing business as usual with Israel in order to create the conditions in which an Israeli government will agree to end the occupation. The costs of the occupation will have to be made greater than the benefits.
JJP has also been lobbying to protect the right of free speech on Israel against the campaign to brand serious criticism of Israel as antisemitic.
JJP also takes part in demonstrations against Israeli actions, such as the attacks on Gaza, and makes position statements on its website.
It has taken out advertisements in major newspapers in crisis situations, such as the attacks on Gaza. JJP signatories give talks, take part in debates, and write letters to the editor. Letters have been frequently published in the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent and the Jewish Chronicle.
3) Can people in the UK who are not Jewish support or promote your work? What can Jewish people in particular contribute to your work?
JJP exists for Jewish people in the UK to stand up and be counted. Any Jew who lives, or has lived, in the UK can become a signatory.
People who aren’t Jewish, or Jews who have never lived in the UK, can become supporters.
We now have about 1,990 signatories and 250 supporters. Signatories can take part in any of our activities. Supporters can take part in some of them, such as demonstrations.
4) Why did you personally join the organisation? What made this work a priority for you?
After automatically believing in the Zionist ‘story’ that Israel was always right and the Arabs always wrong for most of my life, I had a moment when that began to change.
I saw a photograph in a newspaper of some Palestinian teenage boys throwing stones at heavily armed Israeli soldiers. The thought suddenly came to me that it takes guts to throw stones at armed soldiers, and the next thought was that maybe they have a good reason.
Eventually I started reading the Israeli New Historians and learned what the Zionists actually did to the Palestinians in order to create Israel as a Jewish state in fact as well as in name, and what Israel continues to do.
Being Jewish, I feel a responsibility to say Israel doesn’t speak for me, and that’s why I joined JJP.
5) Can you offer any comment on the present political climate, in which criticism of the actions of the State of Israel often leads to accusations of antisemitism?
For nearly three years, in Western European countries, the very pro-Israel Jewish organisations have been attacking serious criticism of Israel by claiming it is disguised antisemitism.
The attacks have now crystallised in demanding that left-wing and liberal parties, and parliaments, adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.
The IHRA document is written in such a convoluted way that it creates massive uncertainty as to what criticism of Israel would be legitimate and what would be antisemitic, thereby undermining people’s confidence in criticising Israel at all.
Yes, antisemitism exists, it concerns us, and it should be called out whenever it is found. There are some people who combine antisemitism with a justified anger at Israel, and their antisemitism should also be called out.
However, the repeated attacks have exaggerated what evidence shows to be a relatively low level of genuine antisemitism on the Left as if it were a major problem, taking remarks out of context and exaggerating the number of genuine antisemitic remarks.
6) What for you is the essence of Judaism? How does it sustain you in your work for peace and justice?
The essence of Judaism to me is this story from the Talmud. A man asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot.
Hillel gently told him, ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the entire Torah, and the rest is commentary. Now go and study.’
7) We often ask our interviewees to recommend books that are useful for people working for a nonviolent world. Are there any titles that you or colleagues have found especially inspiring?
History is always contested but in no other conflict do the emotional stakes seem higher, nor do the arguments between competing narratives seem to have gone on so long and been fought with such bitterness as is apparent in the history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Many authors, historians and others, have written about all aspects of the conflict.
The key to understanding the conflict can be found in the work of the Israeli New Historians, so-called because they were the first historians to work from Israeli government archives. Israel adopted the British 30-year rule for releasing classified material, so in 1978, 30 years after the formation of the state, the archives began to be opened.
The Israeli historians who wanted to be objective went to work on them, and their first books came out in 1988. The group is generally considered to comprise five people: Simha Flapan, Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé, Tom Segev and Avi Shlaim.
As more archive material has become available, their books have revealed the major causes of the conflict. In so doing, they have generally confirmed the conclusions of Arab historians who worked from oral testimony, and conversely have disproved the assertions of the traditional ‘Zionist’ historians whose work has been shown to contain a lot of nationalist myth-making.
For more reading, see the JFP site