Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Get Out of Antisemitism Free

So, an Israeli-Jew was elected to Fatah's Revolutionary Council. Sort of.

Uri Davis has called Israel an "Apartheid State" and has been a long time supporter of the Palestinians and opponent of Israel.

Interestingly, however, the BBC article linked to above does not seem to be fully accurate. For example: "Dr Davis said his Israeli citizenship made no difference to his election." First, that's not exactly what the quote the BBC follows up with really says, but more importantly, Dr. Davis does not seem to be a citizen of Israel at all. According to Ha'Aretz, Dr. Davis renounced his Israeli citizenship in 1980 and instead took up Palestinian citizenship.

Theologically, Dr. Davis is also not Jewish. He converted to Islam some time ago.

An argument could probably be made that Dr. Davis has committed treason by renouncing his nationality and accepting the citizenship and a political role in the government of an entity in a de jure state of war with the country he has renounced.

Israel has enough critics and detractors, however, that it's not really worth prosecuting a citizen who has joined Fatah. More concerning is that Fatah will attempt to make Dr. Davis their get out of antisemitism free card.

For example, from the, Ha'Aretz report: "When his name was announced as number 31 on the list of winners, members in the auditorium of the Bethlehem school where the conference held its meetings applauded long and loud. " Was the applause the same or as noteworthy for any other candidates? That's not clear, but it's interesting that he, of all people should be singled out for such applause, a welcome accorded to a defector, 'one of them, who has come to us after having seen the light.' Perhaps the excitement is also self congratulatory for having the openness to receive a Jew into their midst. Perhaps now Fatah will attempt to claim immunity from any antisemitism because now they have a Jew in their midst. Certainly an antisemite would not allow a Jew onto a governing body. Certainly, that's a line that Iran uses regularly when pointing out the seat in their Parliament reserved for Jews.

So, in a nutshell, Dr. Davis has renounced Israel, renounced Judaism as a religion and has chosen to become a Palestinian. That's entirely his right, but it would be disingenuous for him or Fatah to cite him as an example of the inclusive nature of their movement.


Anonymous said...

I am surprised at the vehemence with which you attack Mr. Davis. I realize that the aim of your post is Fatah and the anti-semitism argument, but the subtle message behind the post is clear: Treason? Prosecution? Anti-semite? I have come across some full fledged Jews, some very religious, who were members of some militantly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel groups. They are usually referred to as "self hating Jews". Why? for not supporting the State of Israel?

So what makes Mr. Davis's politics subject to such attacks: being called a traitor, and that he should be prosecuted? The fact that he converted? The fact that he is involved with Fatah? (you've already confirmed this last question).

If indeed that is the case, then you should also hold this person with the same scorn and contempt as a traitor to his people:

Personally, I don't think either one of them is a traitor to his people, on the contrary, I think they are heroic, in that each has managed to dissociate their religious and ethnic baggage from their moral compass and come to understand and embrace the "enemy". If more people like them existed on both sides, and less people calling them traitors, I think there might be a chance for peace.

A friend.

P.S. Maimonides converted to Islam, and after a brief visit to then Palestine while looking for Israel, preferred to live out the rest of his life in Egypt and serve the Muslim rulers there. Why isn't he a traitor? (I know you can poke large holes in that last argument and that my statement is a gross oversimplification of an amazing life and person, revered by both Jews and Muslims)

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

First, the comment which interested me the most was about Maimonidies. I had never before hear he converted and when I looked it up, could only find that he had been forced to convert and never stopped practicing Judaism. Neither here nor there, but still interesting.

I really don't care what Mr. Davis' religion is, and if he has found meaning in Islam, I'm glad for him. I also don't think he should be prosecuted, but I cannot think of a term other than treason for the act of renouncing ones citizenship, accepting the citizenship of an enemy country and then serving in the government of that enemy. I would not have used the term traitor if Dr. Davis had originally been a Jewish citizen of any other country.
As for the ambassador in the link you mention, no, I don't think that's treason at all. He's an Israeli citizen and serves in the Israeli foreign service.
As for embracing the enemy...I think it is important to embrace the enemy as a partner for peace, as a neighbour, as a fellow human and to work with them towards peace, but joining them is not embracing, it's turning your back on your country in favour of your county's opponents.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised you never heard of that fact. I have a had an, albeit, limited, instruction in classical Muslim philosophy, and having lived in Arabic Muslim countries, have heard of the most famous Arabic Muslim philosophers (much like a any European would know of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau and Aquinas without knowing what they actually said), and beside Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averoes) and others, Maimonides is one of the most respected Muslim philosophers (ironic isn't it?).

In Arabic history, his name is: Al-Ra'is Abu 'Imran Musa Ibn Maymun Ibn 'Abdallah ('Ubaydallah) al-Qurtubi al-Andalusi al Isra'ili. Translated to English his name means: The Head (of the community), Father of Imran, Moises, son of Maymun, Son of the Servant of God, the Cordoban, the Andalusian, the Israelite. As an interesting aside: note that 'Abdallah or Ubaydallah (Servant of God) is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew "Obadiah".

In Hebrew, he called himself: Mosheh ben Maimon ha Sefaradi. Depending on who you are looking up, you will get different results. Looking Maimonides on Google will give you very limited results that do not represent the whole person. I googled Maimonides and did not find many references to his Muslim conversion and life in the top hits.

However, I've done a lot of reading on him, and all western scholarly works agree that he did indeed convert in his early twenties and lived out the rest of his life as a Muslim, at least publicly. As for the reason for his conversion, there is great disagreement: Depending mostly on the religious background of the writer, Maimonides either was forced to convert or converted willingly. Religiously unaffiliated writers are also divided over the issue. What is certain in all the writings was that in public, he actively practiced Islam, however lived in an Arabic and Muslim Jewish community and was a head of the Egyptian Jewish community.


Anonymous said...

As for his writings, most agree that his writings, philosophy and religious writings (Guide to the Perplexed, Commentary on the Mishnah, Epistle to Yemen, Mishneh Torah, Epistle on Astrology, The Treatise on Resurrection, etc...) were heavily influenced by classical Muslim sources and (Avicenna,Al-Furabi, etc.). It is undeniable that most of his most influential writings had to do with Judaism, but very heavily influenced by contemporary Muslim ideas and themes. It is also undeniable that he did indeed convert, and that much later in his life, he became a leader of the Middle-Eastern Jewish community. It is also acknowledged that on a couple of occasions, he was accused by some Muslim detractors of being an apostate and of having secretly reconverted to Judaism, an accusation which he vehemently denied and other Muslim contemporaries also denied, vouching as to his full Muslimness (Although he did write the Epistle on Forced Conversion, and he included himself as one of the Forced converts). If indeed he was forced to convert, it in unclear what the forcing event was: What is known is that he left Spain as a Jew in order to escape a rise in Muslim and Christian fundamentalism and eventually settled in Fez morocco, home to a thriving Jewish community. There, at a certain moment, he converted to Islam, although it is unknow why, as there are are no knowm events of forced conversions of Jews at the time there. Many speculate that he converted willingly but felt compelled to out of financial, social and personal political necessity and not out of a feat of his life or other forms of violent forced conversion.

I think we will never really really know as to the inner conviction of his conversion. I know a few converts between Christianity and Islam and one convert between Christianity and Judaism, and it is true that for all of them, it is very difficult to forget their past and usually try to find common points between the religions. Is that a possibility with Maimonides? I don't know. However, I don't think one can call Maimonides an exclusively Jewish philosopher when most scholars acknowledge that he was also first and foremost an Arab and Muslim scholar. It would be like calling Irwin Cotler an exclusively Jewish legal mind and denying that he is first and foremost a Canadian legal mind.

Out of the many good books on Maimonides, I recommend you consult: "Maimonides, The Life and World of One of Civilizations's Greatest Minds", written by Joel L. Kraemer.

A friend.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I am VERY impressed with your knowledge of Maimonedes and certainly learned a great deal just from reading those two posts. Thank you for them, very much.

I never knew much about Maimonedes' life, but I did know a bit about some of his writings, especially his heirarchy of charity, which I find--inspiring is not the right word--insightful, is perhaps better...

When I get the time, I will check out Kraemer.

In passing, Egypt seems to be restoring a synagogue named for our subject of discussion: