The Balfour Declaration – The Tragedy of a Single Letter
The Balfour Declaration – The Tragedy of a Single Letter
The idiocies of Karl Sabbagh
This was a meeting to launch Gilad Atzmon’s The Wandering Who? book which I reviewed. Karl Sabbagh was one of the speakers
Karl Sabbagh is a living example of the saying that there’s no fool like an old fool.
I came up to London on the NHS March train and it was a
difficult decision – to go on the march or go to a conference at University College
London entitled ‘Balfour – 1 Letter 100 Years Later.’ I decided that on balance the march would
probably suffer less from my absence than the conference would gain from my
Unfortunately I missed the opening speech from Avi Shlaim, a
former Israeli Jew from Iraq and Emeritus Professor of International Relations
at St Anthony’s College, Oxford University.
I did however catch the speech of Karl Sabbagh, a former BBC producer
and author. It was not a fair exchnge.
Gilad Atzmon – anti-Semitic ex-Israeli – was once on the periphery of the Palestine solidarity movement
Sabbagh was one of those inflated egos who gave credibility
to a man caused Gilad Atzmon some years ago.
Atzmon’s brilliant thesis was that Zionism was not a settler colonial
project and Israel was not a settler colonial state. Good gracious no. Israel was the product of some mysterious but
long lasting elixir called ‘Jewishness’. Jewishness explained the Holocaust and the same terrible personality defect that the Jews possessed (all except Atzmon that is) that caused the Nazis to murder them was on display once more in Israel where
the Jews, once again, were behaving badly.
It would be churlish to ask whether Gays, Russian POWs,
Poles, Gypsies etc. were also guilty of bad behaviour since they too suffered
large casualties at the hands of the Nazis in WW2. But for crusty
reactionaries who find nothing wrong with imperialism per se but don’t go a
bundle on Jews, then Atzmon is just for you.
So Sabbagh in the Q&A session made the stupid comment that since Israel
is a Jewish state, then if we criticise Russians for what Russia does then why
not blame the Jews for what Israel does.
I managed to get in to try and explain to the
buffoon why the analogy didn’t fit.
Russians were those who lived within the borders of Russia, regardless of
religion. Not that it is a good idea to
blame all Russians for the crimes of Putin but at least he is their
President. Israel is a Jewish state, in
so far as being Jewish mean possessing privileges over and above the Palestinians. It is a racist state and a state of racial
supremacy. But although it is part of
the Zionist creed that Israel is a state of all Jews, including those who live
in the diaspora, this is not something which is accepted by Jews outside Israel.
When Netanyahu went to speak to the American Congress as Prime
Minister he claimed to speak on behalf of American Jewry, this was not a claim
accepted by most American Jews. Only Zionists
and not all of them either accept this canard.
And when he went to France after the killing of 4 Jews at a kosher
supermarket he claimed to speak on behalf of French Jews. This was not accepted by French Jews either.
As Anshel Pfeffer reported, Netanyahu stated
“I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel
but as a representative of the entire Jewish people.”
This bald statement by Benjamin Netanyahu, at a gathering
of French-speaking Likud supporters in Jerusalem on Sunday, should be
astonishing. He was saying that when he insisted on taking part in last month’s
solidarity march of world leaders in Paris, against the wishes of French
President Francois Hollande, he was acting on behalf of French Jews. He is now
planning to do the same in Washington: “Just as I went to Paris, so I will go
anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to
Sabbagh’s vacuous blurb
It’s not a claim that either American or French Jews accept. It is,
however one more racist Zionist trope, that Israel is the state of all Jews It is not a minor matter either since the
claim to be a Jewish state as opposed to a state of its own citizens rests upon
this trope and that is fundamental to the Apartheid state of Israel. Of course it has no legal or
political basis. No Jews outside Israel voted for the Israeli Prime Minister. But it
is an essential component of Israel and Zionism’s racist ideological superstructure. It is therefore sad that Karl Sabbagh should
effectively adopt one of Zionism’s foundational ideas and then use it for
what is a cheap anti-Semitic jibe. One
would have hoped that Sabbagh would have learnt something from the stirring declaration
of Ali Abunimah Granting No
Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad
Atzmon, but as the saying goes it is difficult to teach an old dog
What Sabbagh had to say about the duplicity of the British in
the promises they made and broke and their imperial cynicism was interesting, which is why it
is a great pity that he can’t understand the poisonous and reactionary
character of much of what Atzmon stands for.
However it is also a question of his wider bourgeois politics.
Ghada Karmi, who was on the same panel, spoke movingly about
the attachment of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland and how many of
them still possess keys to the houses they were evicted from. Her daughter Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, who is co-chair of the Palestine Lawyers Association, spoke on Palestine
and international law.
In the afternoon the session opened with the 16 year old
star of the Jack Petchie world debating competition, who won her regional
contest with a speech entitled ‘Birds not Bombs’ but then was subject to the
normal vicious tweets from Zionists who abused her as ‘Miss ISIS’. Leanne is a remarkable young woman, highly
eloquent but with an excellent grasp of the difference between being Jewish and
Zionist. It’s a pity that Sabbagh isn’t
able to grasp what a 16 year old takes in her stride.
Miko Peled, the son of General Mattiyahu Peled, a dissident Israeli
General, gave a speech that can only be described as a tour de force. He was quite clear that Israel has no right
to exist as a racist state and that its desire to claim this ‘right’ was a
product of its colonial mentality.
Malia Bouattia speaking and Jonathan Rosenhead to her right
In the final session Jonathan Rosenhead spoke from Free
Speech on Israel. Jonathan outline the
threat that the new IHRA definition of anti-Semitism poses to free speech, with
the University of Central Lancashire having banned Israel Apartheid Week
because of a misinterpretation of the law but in any event this definition
poses a threat to the right to organise around Palestine. NUS President Malia Bouattia spoke about the
fight inside NUS which faced a disaffiliation campaign from the Israeli funded
Union of Jewish Students, for BDS.
In all a surprisingly good conference, marred only by
Sabbagh’s stupidity. I did approach him
in the interval to try and talk to him but he steamed off in a huff. Clearly not a man who takes a rebuke lightly!