After a lengthy break from making interviews, I am finally returning to this aspect of my work with what I consider one of the most interesting interviews I ever made. One of my readers (thanks RC!) pointed me to the website and work of Robert Tucker, truly an immensely interesting and courageous person whom I consider to be the living proof of the fact that no amount of propaganda and indoctrination can overcome the human desire for truth, freedom and justice. Robert, who was born as a American Jew (usually the most indoctrinated Jews anywhere on the planet, at least in my experience) simply says that “we are defined by our choices” yet these six simple words contain within themselves the assumption that we are *not* just defined by our environment or genetic makeup, a basic truth which both nationalists and racists have totally forgotten. I believe that being defined by our choices is a core element of our common humanity, that this freedom to choose is likewise a core element of our essence as human beings and that what I would call the “brotherhood of choices” is far more important in our lives than our ethnic origins (just recall the Parable of the Good Samaritan).
It is always a joy for me when any person breaks free from the ideological shackles he/she was born into and bursts into a life of true freedom of the spirit. This is a painful process which can only be completed through a great deal of suffering and anguish, but one which eventually leads to peace. I hope that Roger’s example will inspire many others.
– When Abraham wept
The Saker: Please introduce yourself, tell us about the various organizations or websites you are associated with and what considerations brought you to get active in “Internet-based politics” (for lack of a better word)?
Roger Tucker: I think that I am a fairly typical product of my time, place and antecedents. I was born and brought up in Newton, one of the largely Jewish suburbs of Boston, populated then as now with a lot of professional and business types, particularly faculty of the major schools, like Harvard and MIT, doctors, lawyers, accountants et al. I rebelled against the whole shtick, heavily influenced by my mother, I think, who was a woman way ahead of her time but made the mistake of entering into a conventional marriage, one which suffocated her. Well, we are defined by our choices and inexorably reap the consequences.
I am part of two worlds that I have chosen. The first, following an evolution starting in my early teens, is the rather vast arena of Buddhism. At first it was Zen, and then in the early 70’s I became a student of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a Tibetan meditation master. The associated organization is Shambhala International, which acts as a container and transmitter of the teachings of this particular lineage. The second, which dates back only about five years, is the world of political activism. This is in stark contrast to my attitude and activities when I was a student in San Francisco in the 60’s. I was very much a part of the local counter culture, which was involved in that remarkable spiritual revolution that was prologue to so much of what we take for granted these days, in spite of the fact that the counter-revolution was so emphatically successful. However, across the Bay in Berkeley, there was a political revolution of sorts going on, the Free Speech Movement, robust antiwar activity, heavy support for the Civil Rights movement, People’s Park, and so forth. Well, identifying much more with the flower children, I dismissed most of that as the realm of the “politicals,” as we called them, and went about my business.
About five years ago I found myself suddenly aware that I had been, like most people, in something like a state of hypnosis regarding the State of Israel and the profoundly malevolent influence its existence and activities were having on both international affairs as well as domestic realities back here in River City. So I kind of woke up, snapped out of it, and almost immediately concluded that there was one, and only one way out of the mess – and that is what is known as the One State Solution. Having come to this conclusion, one thing just followed another and I found myself setting up a website as a source of information, education and advocacy. That led (I won’t go into the technical reasons why) to my current website.
What were the circumstances which brought you, a Jew, to turn to Buddhism? What about Christianity, Islam or Hinduism, have you ever considered these?
First of all, even as a youngster I never felt the slightest inclination to believe in God any more than I bought into the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. To me they were all childish productions of the mind that were best categorized by Freud as “infantile wish-fulfillment fantasies.” But, atheism, of course, is not very satisfying spiritually – it is merely a negation of theism. So I set about actively searching for answers to the age old elemental questions that can best be summed up as “who am I – and what is That?” I felt sure that there must be, or must have been someone, somewhere, who had at least the slightest idea of what was actually what, but for a long time didn’t feel that I could even be sure of that. I read The Way, by Lao-Tze, the Bhagavad Gita (and gave a talk on it to other young people), looked into Sufism and even joined a Quaker Meeting, and while a student at the Army Language School took a course in the history of Islam, but it wasn’t until after I returned from a three year stint in the Army that I settled on Buddhism. This was precipitated by a lecture at Brandeis by D.T. Suzuki of Tokyo University. I came out of that talk with two distinct feelings. One was that I hadn’t really understood a word that he had said. The other was that for the first time I had listened to someone who was privy to the truth about the nature of existence. Such is Zen. I remember the sense as I was walking out of the auditorium that I was two feet off the ground. I had the feeling that I was, finally, not alone. I have since come to the conclusion that there are religions and there are wisdom traditions, and the former are by-products of the latter, sort of like ossified husks that preserve the form but have discarded the essence. Among the wisdom traditions I happen to find Buddhism to be the clearest and most useful.
I don’t want to give the impression that I consider all religion to be detrimental to human understanding and development – that would be inaccurate and far too simplistic. On the contrary, all religions, as I said, contain the original, genuine spiritual inspiration and wisdom within them. Otherwise they would just dry up and blow away, offering nothing to sustain them. One could say that religious beliefs and practices could be graphed as a spectrum that ranges from hopelessly ignorant, dogmatic fundamentalism (the products of the back country madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan or those of the Saudi Wahhabists, the piney woods Assemblies of God and Bible Colleges in the southern U.S., the Hindu fanatics in the rank-and-file of the BJP of India, and the fetid Orthodox precincts of Brooklyn that send forth the genocidal settler-colonists in the West Bank).
At the other end of the spectrum are the saints and mystics, and ordinary people possessed of transcendental common sense, who may or may not identify as believers in one of the traditional theistic traditions, but who can’t really be distinguished from the practitioners of the wisdom traditions in their basic understanding. It would turn out to be a bell curve, no doubt, with the majority in the muddled middle, basically confused and kind of inwardly agnostic but going along to get along. People will express their natural yearning for spiritual understanding one way or another, and the gulf between belief in God and reliance on science and reason is not as wide as is popularly thought.
To a large extent the difference lies in the confusion between absolute and relative truth. Language itself evolved as a way of expressing relative truth, in order to distinguish between this and that, good to eat or not good to eat, threatening as opposed to harmless and so forth. In order to express absolute truth, that which goes beyond polarities and concepts and points directly to things as they are, art is born and language becomes metaphor, poetry, song and the voice of the spirit.
I am going to repeat an old question here: what/who is a Jew? Do you still consider yourself as a Jew and, if yes, what meaning do you give to your “Jewishness”.
The first part has a simple answer, though it’s not the only answer. Like being human, or male or female, one is born that way. I was brought up to understand that one is a Jew if one’s mother was a Jew, and my parents and their parents were Ashkenazim. The Nazis elaborated on that to include any forebears going back even three generations. The Israelis, likewise, due to their “demographic problem,” have loosened the definition considerably, so that nowadays – if you’re of the “right” nationality or ethnicity, you merely have to make some vague claim to being Jewish. You’re a shoo-in if you’re a white European, which accounts for the hefty number of recent Russian immigrants. The same thing happened in South Africa, under the Afrikaner regime, and for the same reasons.
When one looks at Jewish history, though, the whole picture becomes quite muddled. It appears that, contrary to popular belief (even among Jews), Judaism was for many hundreds of years a very actively proselytizing religion, and a very successful one at that. It has been known for some years that we Ashkenazim (the Yiddish speaking people) are the descendants not of the Hebrews but of the citizens of the Khazarian Empire, which was converted to Judaism back in the 8th Century AD. And due to the efforts of an Israeli historian by the name of Shlomo Sand we discover that many of the Sephardim (from Spain and Portugal) and most of the Mizrahim (Middle Eastern and Asian Jews, mostly North African) are descended from Berber people who were converted by a warrior Queen. His book is currently being translated from Hebrew into English and it will no doubt cause quite a stir, no matter how assiduously the Zionists try to repress and distort it. The ironic upshot of all this is that it turns out that there is no such thing as “the Jewish People,” anymore than there was such a thing as Hitler’s beloved “Aryan Race.” Fascism is always built on some such mytho-history. The “misplaced concreteness,” or reification, of such squirrelly collective terms as “the Jews,” “White People,” “Black People,” “the Working Class” or “Capitalists” is such a cause of unnecessary suffering. I follow Ghandi’s example when he said when he was asked if he was a Hindu “Yes I am, I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” We are all just people, human beings, with the same inalienable right to live in peace and dignity as anyone else, and the same moral responsibility to let others do likewise.
Why are you, a Buddhist Jew, active in the Palestinian question? Why is this topic important to you?
We are all faced with a question from early on, and one that never goes away. How is one to live one’s life? I’m going to give a Buddhist answer and a Jewish one. The dharma talks about “the eightfold noble path,” which has some similarity to the Ten Commandments, but much more nuanced and spiritually sophisticated. One of these is “right action.” This is not defined – that is left to commentary – but it means to act lawfully, where the term dharma, best translated as “the teachings,” or “things as they are,” is understood to be the basis of proper behavior, what determines how you act in relation to others. This is further elaborated in the Mahayana tradition in the form of the Bodhisattva Path. In order to enter this path, one takes a vow to put others before oneself, indeed, to save all sentient beings. This may sound like a bit of overreaching, but one eventually comes to understand that, given the seamless inseparability of all that exists, there’s really no choice. This becomes, at the very least, one’s aspiration. But, as in all things Buddhist, how you go about it is left entirely up to you, and depends on the depth of your understanding and your commitment to the vow that you have taken. That’s the Buddhist part. (It might strike some that there’s an obvious similarity here to what Jesus taught, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. There’s a great Zen anecdote about that, but no space for it here.)
So let’s imagine a Buddhist who also happens to be a Jew, somebody like me. Let me note here that no one who meets me gets the slightest hint that I am “Jewish.” I don’t fit any stereotype, whether it’s physically, linguistically or culturally. When I was bumming around Europe, the Middle East and Africa, people I met were often surprised when I told them that I was an American – I had to convince people. I wasn’t ashamed of it particularly, although in certain circumstances I, as is still the custom among backpacker types, opted for passing as a Canadian to avoid unnecessary complications. When I found myself in Israel the first time, I wound up becoming a volunteer on a kibbutz, as much a matter of practical necessity as leftover Jewish romanticism. I soon discovered that the “volunteers” were considered a necessary evil by the kibbutzniks – free labor is free labor, a bargain at any price. They avoided any contact with the volunteers except as necessary to get the work done – so much for the original ideal of a communitarian agrarian socialism – it was all business. Whenever possible, I would get away and wander around the country, soon discovering that I was drawn to the Arab inhabitants, the Palestinians, who seemed altogether so much more attractive as people, so much more at home in the land. But I found that conversation would eventually get around to politics, and they would begin to get tense and the anger and frustration were palpable. I wasn’t close at this point to putting two and two together, so I would begin to feel alienated and restive and would soon move on. This pattern of moving back and forth between the two peoples persisted during both of my sojourns in Israel in the early 70’s. But I digress, which is fun, but perhaps confusing to the reader.
Going back to the meaning that I give my “Jewishness,” I should relate that I was sent to Hebrew School to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah, which, in the Conservative Jewish tradition, as in the Orthodox, requires one to chant from the Haftorah in Hebrew. This comprised my Jewish education though I remember very little of it – I was not there willingly; my father insisted, more for social and family reasons than anything else, which was a common attitude among second generation Jews at the time. For those who don’t know, the Conservative school was something of a compromise between the Orthodox (rare at the time except among those born in the old country – I think many of us felt that it was sure to die out completely in America; little did we realize how resilient such cultural artifacts are), and an American invention, Reform Judaism, a precursor to the type of Christianity that became dominant within the National Council of Churches starting in the 60’s, a kind of catch-all that mimicked multi-activity secular institutions while paying lip service to whichever branch of the religion whose name it carried – a sort of social service oriented pastiche whose function was more that of providing some sense of community and social purpose than any semblance of pursuing a religious path. This has somewhat gone out of fashion in recent years, largely replaced by a more robust form that relies on magic and blind faith, signaling a return to traditional American revivalism with the tents replaced by TV and Monster Churches.
The institution I attended was Temple Emeth – ’emeth’ meaning ‘truth’ in Hebrew. In recent years I have found this increasingly ironic as I have become aware of the almost totally mythical nature of the stories that Jews have told about themselves over the centuries, much of which is contained in the collection of folklore called the Jewish Bible. And with the advent of political Zionism, we have a full blown fascist mytho-history that is almost entirely fabricated. But somehow I absorbed something of the wisdom tradition that must have provided the seed for the whole thing, as can be found in every theistic religion if one looks hard enough. Certain words resonate in my mind, like “truth,” “justice” and “righteousness,” which somehow encapsulates the notion of what in Buddhism we call “right action.” It was all quite legalistic, stemming from the famous Ten Commandments and immersed in the injunction to “fear God,” for he is a “jealous God.” I never had the slightest inclination to believe any of the theistic claptrap, but something about how one should live one’s life properly did make sense. The wisdom essence seems to be contained in the Golden Rule. I just looked up a variation that was handy, “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you,” which was attributed to Rabbi Hillel. A Google search then came up with other sources for those exact words, Confucius and Jesus of Nazareth (according to the Gospel of Matthew). One could also say that this formula sums up Mahayana Buddhism, as well as the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. It’s all of a piece.
All of this is leading to an answer to the question of why I am concerned with the Palestinians, of why it’s important to me. I am not particularly attached to Palestinians as such. They are neither better nor worse than anyone else. Everyone is, as it is put in Shambhala Buddhism, “basically good.” But perhaps because I am Jewish, I feel that I have a special responsibility to the millions of people who are suffering at the hands of some of my fellow Jews, and I particularly object to this being done in my name. But really it’s a moral imperative. What’s basically wrong with political Zionism (the Jabotinskian variation that gained the upper hand in Israel in the 1930’s and has had a tight grip on power ever since) is that it directly and flagrantly violates the bottom line of all genuine spiritual traditions. That is to say, it is intrinsically evil, and must be opposed by anyone who has even the most rudimentary understanding of the difference between right and wrong, be they of whatever religious, ideological, ethnic or national persuasion.
What was the reaction of your Jewish relatives and friends to your conversion to Buddhism?
This question I can dispense with quickly, but it does bring up an interesting point. As for relatives, I am close only to my brother, who very generously keeps me from starving and, to a much lesser extent, my father, who kept me from starving while I was growing up. They are aware of my Buddhist connection, but are not particularly curious about it. I put this down to the fact that they are secular – my brother is agnostic and my father’s Jewishness is a matter of identification with the tribe – his pro forma relationship with the religion is, as with most Jews of his generation, more a matter of sentimentality and attachment to some sense of tradition and community than anything else.
I have many Jewish friends, but pretty much all of them are also Buddhists. It might help to point out that just as English is the world’s second language, Buddhism, if my take on this is correct, is the world’s “second religion.” I don’t know how many people (a lot) have told me that if they weren’t a This or a That, or if they were to identify with any spiritual path, they would be Buddhists. I don’t mean to imply that one path is “better” than another. For example, my brother is one of the kindest and wisest people I have ever known, yet the only spiritual discipline (if one could call it that) that one could ascribe to him has been so-called secular humanism. He is a self-taught student of the Western Enlightenment, whose sages were the likes of John Locke, David Hume, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
I should add that “conversion” is not an accurate term in this context. One converts to a religion, and there is a distinction between religions and spiritual (or wisdom) traditions. Religions, as I’ve said, are institutions that grow out of wisdom traditions, a process akin to ossification, or the production of a husk around a seed. The wisdom which is experienced and transmitted by elders, shamans, mystics, practitioners of spiritual yogas, sages, etc., becomes solidified into a masquerade, usually with elaborate trappings and political responsibilities in support of the state. Religions, almost always theistic, are founded on blind faith, dogma. One can no more “convert” to a genuine spiritual discipline than one can convert to physics or gardening.
The Internet is buzzing with discussions about the Neocons and the “Jewish/Israel/Zionist Lobby”. What is your taken on these concepts? Is it correct to conflate them and use them interchangeably as is often done? Norman Finkelstein often repeats that it is wrong to speak of a “Zionist Lobby” because the leaders of the “Lobby” are not at all Zionist in their outlook; according to him, all they are interested is their power. Noam Chomsky says that it is wrong to speak about an “Israel Lobby” because, according to him, the USA is using Israel and not the other way around.
First off, I like the term “Zionist Lobby” because it is the most concise and accurate. “Israel Lobby,” which is the common usage, comes close, but Israel is entirely the creation of Zionism, and therefore not quite as descriptive. Why Finkelstein disagrees I have no idea, but one must bear in mind that he is what we call a “soft” or “closet” Zionist. He, like other soft Zionists such as Jimmy Carter or Uri Avnery, who immediately come to mind, are still supporting the chimerical notion of the “two state solution.” It is for this reason that I consider them to be more a part of the problem than the solution, in spite of their otherwise useful contributions to the general debate, particularly their insistence on viewing Palestinians as fellow human beings rather than cartoon characters with suicide belts strapped to their waists.
But can one really speak of a “Neocon Lobby” when referring to AIPAC, the ADL, or the CPMJO?! Aren’t all these organizations Israel-centric? And if they are, does this not justify speaking about a “Zionist Lobby” or “Israel Lobby”? Furthermore, the fast majority of Neocons, but not all, are Jews and pretty much all members of AIPAC/ADL/CPMJO/etc are Jews also. Should one then speak of a “Jewish Lobby”? Please give us your nomenclature, your choice of words in regards to this issue: in your opinion who is representing whom,..
As for the neocons, that term refers to a very specific group of people composed primarily of Jews who started out on the Left and then, under the influence of Leo Strauss, philosopher, and the other wing of the Chicago School associated with Milton Friedman, economist (both of whom were Jewish), migrated to the Right. Strauss is considered to be the father of neo-conservatism, and is a perfect candidate for the role of the real Dr. Strangelove. As pro-Israel sentiments have historically been more prevalent among the Democrats than the Republicans, Neocon Lobby is a non-starter (as would Neolib Lobby, for the same reason). I have a certain fondness for a term coined by James Petras, Zionist Power Configuration, because it not only references the various formal organizations that are considered to comprise the Israel Lobby, but includes all of the various individuals, corporations, associations as well as the vast army of collaborators, fellow travelers and sympathizers that have made support of Israel a fundamental plank, if not THE fundamental plank of both of the two major political parties (who, by the way, I collectively refer to as the Republicrats).
Most of the confusion about terminology stems from the conflation of three distinct terms, “Jews,” “Israelis,” and “Zionists.” Jews are the people who self-identify as Jews and are considered Jews by others. The basic idea is that of a tribe or a people descended from Abraham of Chaldea (in what is now Iraq) and his progeny. Although that is probably 99% mythology and 1% history, it’s the general view. Many people are under the impression that it refers to people who practice the Jewish religion – that was actually true, by and large, for perhaps a thousand years or so, when Judaism was an energetic proselytizing religion, but hasn’t been for at least the last 200 years. Israelis are the people who are considered to legitimately reside in Israel (they don’t have such a thing as citizenship, as it would hinder their peculiar policy towards their Palestinian population. And Zionists are those who buy into that particular ideology, which is, in essence, the belief that the Jews deserve a nation state of their own and that they had the right to establish a state in Palestine, and to maintain it there no matter what.
Jewish Lobby is a total non-starter. For one thing, most American Jews feel a great deal of ambiguity towards Israel and Zionism. There is the subliminal tribal attraction counterbalanced by a natural repugnance, on the part of people who are otherwise secular, tolerant, progressive children of the Western Enlightenment and so forth, to an ethnocentric, fascist and violent ideology. Then there is the fact that the influence of Jewish Zionism is wholeheartedly buttressed by the far more populous Christian Zionists, who are very much a part of my preferred term, Zionist Power Configuration. And if that term sounds too clumsy, Zionist Lobby will do fine. But I usually say Israel Lobby because it is the most popular term and it isn’t entirely inaccurate.
..who is the dog and who is the tail”?
I consider the relationship between the U.S. and Israel to be basically symbiotic, but “who is the dog and who is the tail” depends on the specific time and context. The term USrael comes in handy in this respect. Both regimes are under the impression that they are using the other, but I think the Israelis are winning that one hands down. Israel couldn’t survive for a month without the all out support of the U.S., and most of official Washington appears to still buy into the notion that Israel is a useful proxy in advancing the interests of American hegemony in the Middle East (principally control of their petroleum resources). That the truth is actually just the opposite is a notion that doesn’t seem to have penetrated at all inside the Beltway (perhaps we could start referring to the Beltway as the Separation Highway and DC as the Domestic Green Zone. How about the U.S. Permeable Membrane that allows money in but filters out any genuine concern for human beings and the planet).
Tell us about the Jewish opposition to the Neocons and the Lobby: who is it composed of, what does it stand for and what exactly does it oppose – the Neocons? Zionism? The State of Israel? What are the main expressions of this anti-Neocon Jewish movement, the progressive readers of Tikkun or Orthodox Jews like the members of Neturei Karta International?
This question is directly addressed in “A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism“, by Yakov M. Rabkin. It is listed on the Books Page of my website .
‘This book sheds light on religious anti-Zionism, which, demographically and ideologically, represents the most serious threat to Israel as a State and as a collective identity. In fact, it is a more grievous and dangerous challenge than Arab and Palestinian hostility. The State, by increasing its achievements, leads the country straight into an abyss. To paraphrase Marx, one could say that Israel, by virtue of its spectacular development, is digging its own tomb.’ (from Noam Chomsky’s review)
In the West most Jewish opposition comes from secular Jews who see the Occupation as the main problem, as well as people like myself who view Zionism as an inherently fascist ideology, and its product, the State of Israel, as a criminal enterprise that has no more legitimacy as a modern nation state than La Cosa Nostra has as a normal corporation. Tikkun, the creation of Rabbi Michael Lerner, a close friend and advisor to the Clintons, represents a group of (mostly secular) progressive Jews who are somewhat New Agey and conventionally postmodern, similar to the Jewish Renewal movement (more spiritual), whose most prominent teacher is Rabbi Zalman-Schechter. In spite of their disgust at Israel’s behavior and compassion for the Palestinians, these people are all soft Zionists insofar as they support Israel’s “right to exist.”
More broadly, what role does religion vs secularism play in the issue of Israel, the Lobby and the Neocons? Is religious piety a reliable indicator of the political leanings of a Jew?
It plays a divisive and negative part in Israeli politics, as the religious parties have an influence far exceeding their numbers, but is a non-issue with regard to the Lobby and the Neocons, who are overwhelmingly secular. As for religious piety, I don’t think it’s any different from its role in any of the theistic religions – its basic function is to maintain a bulwark against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, known in Buddhism as samsara (the wheel of birth and death, the world of confusion and suffering, the natural result of continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again and expecting a different result). As this bulwark is an artificial construction, all available spiritual energy is diverted from actually dealing with things as they are into shoring up what is essentially a house of cards. I suppose one could say that the Neturei Karta are the exception that proves the rule, at least in terms of their attitude towards the “Jewish State,” which they consider to be an oxymoron. Joe Lieberman is an example of an Orthodox Jew who appears to be schizophrenic when it comes to separating his general views, which tend to be relatively sane and humane, from his fanatical devotion to Israel. This is not all that uncommon among Zionists in general. One would think that the cognitive dissonance would be deafening, but it has been said that our ability to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously is a big part of what makes us human.
How are people like you who support Palestinian rights and who live in the USA seen in Israel?
That’s difficult for me to say – one can only guess. There is an enormous diversity of opinion about just about everything in Israel, but a recent survey that found more than 80% of (Jewish) Israelis have a strong anti-Palestinian bias demonstrates that government fostering of paranoia and hatred has been largely successful. On the other hand, another survey found that upwards of 40% would emigrate if they could, including a majority of Holocaust survivors, who are allocated less than enough to live on in spite of the huge amounts of money Israel has managed to extort from Europe and North America (especially Germany). The organized pursuit of this blood money is based on the exploitation of guilt about the Holocaust. This extortion racket and its associated spinoffs, such as the Holocaust Museums, has been termed “the Holocaust Industry.”
Do you hear the “if you lived here you would see differently” line very often?
Yes, something like that, but much more common are screams of sarcasm and hatred from Zionist true believers, though my guess is that those mostly come from Brooklyn, the center of Jewish religious fanaticism and the source of the bulk of the settler-colonists in the West Bank.
What is your position on the “Two State” vs. “One State” issue? In your opinion, is it possible for Israel to be a democracy and a “Jewish State”? Have you read Jonathan Cook’s book Blood and Religion: the Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State and, if yes, what do you think about it?
Advocating One State is the project that I’m engaged in. I wrote to Jonathan at one point – we have had a long standing correspondence – and asked if he specifically advocated One State in Blood and Religion (because I hadn’t read it). His answer was “..the book doesn’t specifically advocate one state (although i do) because that wasn’t the goal i set myself with this book. instead the book demolishes the idea both that israel can be a jewish state and democratic and that a jewish state has any interest in peace with the palestinians — with of course the very clear implication that the only solution would therefore be one, secular and democratic state…” I took this as a “yes,” and included it in my listing of books advocating One State, which had been the reason I had asked.
It should be mentioned that although the recent American and Israeli agreement on the need for a Palestinian state appear to be in concert, a closer look reveals that the Israelis are still just playing a delaying game that conveniently masks the consistent view of political Zionism that all the land from the Euphrates and the Nile constitutes “Greater Israel.” At the same time the Israeli people, like any other people, have a genuine desire for peace and security, which must be pandered to. However, there are cracks in this wall of deception, as Olmert’s recent pronouncement indicates. The establishment American view is purely pragmatic. It continues to see Israel as its advance guard in the Middle East, and there is some impatience to finally see borders clearly drawn and some sort of stability arrived at so that the project of fully establishing U.S. hegemony in the region can be realized without all the distracting fuss.
While Jimmy Carter speaks of an Apartheid-like regime in the Occupied Territories he is very careful to stress that he doe not refer to Israel proper. Jonathan Cook’s book focuses on the Israeli Arabs and their legal status and he makes the claim that their status inside the Israeli society is also very much Apartheid-like. Do you agree?
Very much so. Carter is an interesting case of a moderately intelligent person who tries very hard to do the right thing. As such, he is that rare case of a religious person who is genuinely compassionate and I have a lot of respect for him, in spite of the numerous shortcomings of his book on Israeli Apartheid, which includes the fact that he writes atrociously. That such a person, so deeply steeped in both American and Israeli mytho-history, was able to let his conscience dictate such a departure from the conventional wisdom as to actually label Israeli policy as apartheid (a commonplace in the Israeli internal discourse) bespeaks considerable moral courage. At the same time he’s unable to perceive that the Israeli Arabs, so-called, are very much the victims of apartheid as well. A mere glance at the numerous restrictions they live under; their second-class status when it comes to social services, allocations for education, medical services, infrastructure, and so on; the fact that Israeli identity cards are based on religion; that land ownership of 90% of Israel is administered by the Jewish Land Trust and is available only to Jews…well, you get the idea. They don’t have drinking fountains labeled “Jews Only,” but that’s about the only difference between the situation in Israel and that of the Jim Crow South or of South Africa under the Nationalists.
What is your view of modern anti-Semitism? Do you agree with Norman Finkelstein when he says that this is largely an invention of the ADL or with Michael Neumann when he says that the very concept of anti-Semitism has been so overused as to become meaningless?
There’s some truth to both of those assertions, but a comprehensive view of anti-Semitism would involve a much more detailed and nuanced exposition. Finkelstein is referring to the ADL version as the official, mytho-history of innocent Jewish victimhood. It conveniently omits any serious discussion of the causes of the almost universal hostility that Jews engendered in numerous countries over the millennia. I should amend that – this hostility occurred almost exclusively in European countries, in contrast to the Islamic world for example. This is because the only Jews with this history are the Ashkenazim, the descendents of the Khazars, a turko-finnic people who themselves were leftovers from the hordes of Attila the Hun. There is as yet, as far as I know, surprisingly little good historical material on the Khazarian Empire and its subsequent manifestation among the Ashkenazim. It would be a terrific subject for some aspiring PhD student of History.
As for Neumann’s assertion, it’s true as far as it goes, but one must ask how and why that happened. The problem could be said to be encapsulated in the fact that the only real “semites” with whom I am familiar speak Arabic as their native language. And it becomes even more of a muddle as one looks closer. Suffice it to say that “anti-semitism” has become little but a propaganda device used as part of the whole Zionist disinformation project. Anyone who criticizes Israel or its raison d’etre Zionism is automatically labeled an “anti-semite,” and if they happen to be Jewish like me, they are by definition “self-hating Jews.” Anyone who can’t see through this shallow, knee-jerk logic wouldn’t be reading this.
It gets really interesting when one looks at the heavily Zionist influenced intellectual fads that swept American universities in the ‘70s. From multiculturalism to identity politics, from victimology to the criminalization of hate crimes, everything conveniently fit the Zionist playbook. Political correctness was probably the most insidious of the lot, as it was a bid for Orwellian mind control. Fortunately, young people turned out to be resilient and the thought police are having a rougher go of it these days, not that they aren’t still working at it. Perhaps the most dangerous result of this effort has been the criminalization of speech in a dozen or so European countries, with the Germans, not surprisingly, being the worst offenders. The result has been legislation against questioning any details of the official version of the Holocaust, as determined by the priesthood of the new Inquisition. This is a subject outside the scope of your question, but it deserves much more discussion than it gets outside of the insular world of the Historical Revisionists (the officially sanctioned Holocult term is “Holocaust Deniers.”)
I should also point out that both Finkelstein and Neumann are what I have called “soft Zionists” – they too continue to advocate the fantasy of the two state solution. I think that the only way to overcome this lingering problem is by offering free courses in intensive map reading. And if any of your readers find that idea intriguing, the best maps I know of are in Jeff Halper’s book Obstacles to Peace: A Reframing of the Palestinian – Israeli Conflict.
Do you think that most of the vocal critics of Israel, the Lobby or Zionism are harboring a maybe well-concealed but deeply felt hostility towards Jews?
In some cases it’s not well-concealed at all. There are numerous white supremacist and/or “Christian” sites that publish anti-Zionist material. I avoid linking to them for obvious reasons. Then there is the curious case of David Duke, whose Klan past has the effect of devaluing his writings on the subject, but he’s actually quite good on the subject these days, though I assume that most people don’t read his stuff when they see his name on it. Then there are Ziopedia and Israel Shamir. One can find relevant material on their sites that is hard to find elsewhere, but the general odor of Judeophobia permeates the environment around them so it’s kind of touchy. Most One Staters strenuously dissociate themselves from both, but I am inclined to be more inclusive, and I occasionally link to material I find on their sites. Then there’s Joachim Martillo’s blog, Ethnic Ashkenazim Against Zionist Israel, which is well worth a look. It’s difficult to classify, starting with the curious fact that he is neither Ashkenazi or Jewish. But he is quite erudite, and produces a considerable amount of material that is original and is based on an extensive knowledge of Jewish history and religion. This is the after effect of a youthful enthusiasm to convert to Judaism and an associated commitment to learning everything he could about it.
Overall I would say that the best informed, most intelligent, articulate and compelling “critics of Israel, the Lobby or Zionism” are just that, and are no more judeophobic or “anti-semitic” than I am, and you will find all of them on my website(s), as long as their work is written in or translated into English. There’s a contributor’s page on my old site that is now a couple of years out of date, but has some detail about all the writers who wrote at least three pieces that I referenced.
What is the purpose of your website? What kind of people is it addressed to and what makes it different from other websites trying to provide good information about the Middle-East?
It is meant to inform and educate, and hopefully help as many people as possible to come to the conclusion that there is only one viable solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and that is the establishment of one democratic state in the land currently comprised of Israel, the Occupied West Bank, and the besieged ghetto of Gaza. Those people of whom I speak are not those whose minds are adamantly made up, but of that relatively small but potent group of people whose minds are still open. Most of all I want to reach ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, for they are the ones who will have to do the hard work of realizing this seemingly impossible but absolutely necessary goal. This is not to say that we don’t need the support of people everywhere, particularly in North American and Europe, whose governments are ignoring their own best interests by going along with the U.S. in propping up what has been accurately termed “the Zionist Entity.” (It’s not a nation state like other nation states, for reasons we don’t have the space to go into here, so what else should one call it?). One could look at One State advocacy as a public health project. I have elsewhere compared Israel to a malignant tumor embedded in the body politic. I leave it to the reader’s imagination to contemplate what happens when such a growth is not only suffered to survive, but is widely nourished and sustained. And bear in mind that the body I refer to is not just Palestine and the Middle East, but the entire world.
If one visits my links page, you will find six websites (one of which is my old one) listed at the top that specifically advocate One State. They all agree on the reasons why this would be a wise, just and workable solution, but they differ in the same way that works of art in the same genre that deal with the same subject matter differ – their creators are individuals with their own unique styles and points of view. So you will find that Ali Abunimah’s Electronic Intifada clearly reflects the outlook of a Palestinian American, while Mazin Qumsiyeh’s Human Rights Web is a product of his background as a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem. Haidar Eid’s One Democratic State Group (Gaza) is unmistakably a view from that tragic enclave. The Committee for the Open Discussion of Zionism grew out of the Zionist hounding of Joel Kovel for publishing his book, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine. Joel, John Siglar (the creator of An Online One State Bibliography in English), and I are all American Jews, but each with our own perspectives and background.
My particular approach is characterized by a quote I have attached to an image on the site’s home page that combines the Israeli and Palestinian flags – “Only connect…” It can be found in E.M. Forster’s Room With A View, but he liked it so much he inserted it as a sort of aphorism at the beginning of “Passage to India.” It says a lot in only two words, and it is my approach to the website, which carries the banner Your One Stop Source For Real (not Faux) Reporting on Israel/Palestine, Zionism, the Middle East, Pax Americana, and Related Matters. It is indeed all connected, and one can’t really put the whole puzzle together, and fully comprehend it, without all or at least most of the pieces.
How can somebody best help you in your work?
Well, I’m so glad you asked! I stopped maintaining one-state.net because the web design front end I was using became no longer compatible with the new operating systems and I’m not a code warrior. The current Google site is OK, but lacks much of the functionality that I would like. So the first answer is technical help. For that and numerous other reasons, I could make good use of some financial assistance, including solving the first problem. There’s a Donations page on the old website that still works, or people could email me if they have something to offer, even if it’s just helpful suggestions.
Thank you very much for your time and for your important work!
Roger Tucker is author of the One Democractic State website and a student and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism who grew up as a Jew in the Boston suburbs. He has traveled widely, including two stints in Israel, and now lives quietly in North Carolina. Aside from watching the birds and the deer in his backyard, he collects and disseminates articles on his website “Your One Stop Source For Real (not Faux) Reporting on Israel/Palestine, Zionism, the Middle East, Pax Americana, and More.” He also writes some pieces himself, – By the Editor – most of them advocating the One State Solution. He can be reached at [email protected].