Professor Emeritus Moshé Machover, logic and politics

This is cross-posted from the blog, Simply Jews

I have stumbled on a new year gift of a kind in the Guardian. It’s a letter by professor Emeritus Moshé Machover, grandly titled “Israel, Jews and the peace process”. The letter is relatively short and is worth reading in its entirety.

In his analysis (‘It’s time to get to work’: 17 years after Oslo, Clinton takes on the Middle East challenge, 3 September), Ian Black describes Netanyahu as demanding that Abbas recognise Israel “as a Jewish state”.

However, according to Chris McGreal’s report on the facing page (‘Together we can lead people to a future that will end conflict’, 3 September), what Netanyahu actually demanded from the Palestinians was recognition of “Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people”. The difference is significant. Netanyahu is a Jewish prime minister, but he is certainly not the prime minister of the Jewish people, as he implicitly claims.

A state defined by ethnic religion is bad enough; but what Netanyahu’s actual demand amounts to is legitimation of Zionism, and the “right” of Israel to speak and act for an alleged Jewish “nation” consisting of Jews everywhere, including the UK.

I wold like to address first the main points of that letter. Since prof. Machover is expert in mathematical logic, one would expect him to be respectful to logic in general. But he goes illogical immediately, starting with his first statement – “Netanyahu is a Jewish prime minister”. Unless prof. Machover means Netanyahu’s Jewishness (which should be, but obviously isn’t irrelevant to professor), Netanyahu is a PM of a state that includes about 1.5 million Arabs, Druze, Bedouin, Bahai and other minorities*. For good or otherwise, he is a legally elected PM of all people.

Then “but he is certainly not the prime minister of the Jewish people, as he implicitly claims”. “Implicitly” means “Without ever expressing so clearly”. It obviously took the combined talents of “mathematician, philosopher, and socialist activist” to derive something that far reaching. Sheer math logic wouldn’t suffice for that feat. And, while I am far from being Bibi’s fan, even Bibi doesn’t pretend on the title of King of All Jews.

That “All” is especially significant, since prof. Machover uses the regular anti-Zionist strawman, where various Israeli VIP’s are accused in trying to speak for all Jews. Now the state of Israel is being blamed for trying to be a state for all Jews. I can already see how grim-looking British immigration officials are dragging kicking and screaming prof. Machover to the El-Al plane warming up its engines on the tarmac. Doesn’t bear imagining, I can tell you already…

But I digress. The national state of the Jews will hardly care to forcefully detach prof. Machover from his beloved United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, an Anglican Church monarchy with 14 fourteen overseas territories**… You may want to say that I am abusing a formal definition of otherwise enlightened democracy – but the definition Bibi is using is also formal, for the reason mentioned above (*).

Now to lesser issues

  1. For some intangible reason prof. Machover prefers the quote from Chris McGreal (not a friend of Israel, to say the least) to that of Ian Black. I have checked some sources, and the formula Bibi used is different on different occasions. “Israel as the Jewish people’s nation“, “Israel as a Jewish state“, Israel as the state of the Jewish people“, even a lengthy “Israel, not just as a diplomatic or political entity, but as the legitimate homeland of the Jewish people” etc. To me it means that Bibi, while not being letter perfect or sticking to the same formula every time, doesn’t exactly pursue the King of All Jews title.
  2. “A state defined by ethnic religion is bad enough” – yeah, see (**) above.
  3. “Netanyahu’s actual demand amounts to is legitimation of Zionism”. Zionism and its legitimation are anathema to prof. Machover, who spend most of his conscious life fighting Zionism. But, in my humble, Zionism doesn’t require (or, indeed, need) legitimation. At least no more than Communist Party of Israel or Matzpen. It’s a political movement.
  4. “the “right” of Israel to speak and act for an alleged Jewish “nation” consisting of Jews everywhere, including the UK”. That’s another “discovery” of an “implicit” meaning. And another strawman. Becomes quite boring after a time.

To conclude: a short letter, chock-full of illogical claims, blames and political activism.

A short reminder about prof. Machover’s political pedigree: after a stint in Israeli Communist Party, Machover broke with it for the usual ideological reasons (don’t they all?) and established a more radical in many ways Matzpen (nowadays largely moribund). Matzpen gave birth to several new rabidly anti-Israeli / anti-Zionist characters, the more notorious among them Ehud (Udi) Adiv, the “celebrated” Sabra Spy. Probably feeling the hot breath of Shin Bet on his neck, Machover lives and operates in Great Britain since 1968.

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