William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.Ken Livingstone has paid a price paid by others before him, because he has broken the rule that you can not draw links between Zionism and Hitler.  Sometimes such links really should not be drawn, as when people say that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is just the same as what Nazi Germany did to the Jews.  This is patently absurd, and it is not helpful to the Palestinians, who desperately need their dire plight to be known and understood in an accurate way, not in some infantile caricature which flattens out all differences.  Obviously there is some overlap, in that a whole people is being victimised on the basis of their racial origin, but the differences are immense – the scale of the oppression and the killing was massively worse by many orders of magnitude in Nazi occupied Europe.  This should not give rise to complacency, as the sufferings of the Palestinians are taking place right now, those of the European Jews were stopped over 70 years ago, but nor should the differences be ignored.

The question on the current occasion is this: was Ken Livingstone right to make connections between Hitler and the ideology of Zionism?  The answer in terms of politics is easy: he was right to defend Naz Shah, who had been attacked merely for retweeting an image from Jewish academic Norman Finkelstein’s blog.  Should he have used the language he did?  No, as an experienced politician he really should have known better.  With print, television and radio media keen both to damage the Labour Party and to see anti-semitism as the motivation for every criticism of Israel (there is now a long, long list of Jews who are said to be “anti-semitic”, and Finkelstein is on that list), he should have chosen his words much more carefully.  As an individual interested in history, he had the right to say all that he did, and people who have actually read his words and checked them against the facts have not been able to contradict him.

In his 1981 novel The Portage to San Cristóbal of A.H., French Jewish writer George Steiner examined the issue of the ideological connections between Nazism and Zionism, through the mouth of Hitler himself.  The plot concerns the attempt of holocaust survivors to bring Hitler, who has been found alive and living in South America, back to Israel to stand trial.  When this proves not to be possible they try him in situ in the Amazon jungle.  He presents the defence himself, part of which is that the doctrine of the Master Race is taken from the idea of the Chosen People, and that the Promised Land inspired the idea of Lebensraum.  He also says that the Jews should thank him for his actions leading to the establishment of Zion.  As Hitler is given a lot of room to outline his defence there was obviously some shock when the book was published, including the predictable accusations of anti-semitism.  But to many critics, both Jewish and non-Jewish, it was seen as an important attempt to examine this sensitive issue.


It would not have been possible, or even perhaps right, for the book to have been written by a non-Jew, and it strikes me that, even with a Jewish author, the book would be almost impossible to publish if it appeared for the first time now.  It is strange to be living in a time in which freedom of speech is seen as such a central part of the dominant culture, and yet there are so many taboos around what may be said, and one of these is that it is forbidden to explore the genealogy of Zionism.  In Leviticus, the scapegoat was appointed to remove the sins of the whole people.  By banishing the goat, the sins were also removed.  Europe and its child America had committed a grave sin by its inhumane treatment of the Jews over many centuries, culminating in the horror of the attempted Final Solution, and in 1948 Palestine was officially chosen to be the scapegoat.  Like the goats of ancient times it was a completely innocent party.  Now we have moved into a new phase: the guilt is now about what we have allowed to happen to the Palestinians in the intervening years.  This is something we can not look at squarely – we can only deal with it by pretending that the Palestinians are the guilty party.  The Palestinian goat has to carry all the blame, and we can not allow it back from the desert.  So how do we deal with feeling guilty about a scapegoat?  We have decided to designate a new series of scapegoats, made up of everyone who tries to point to the truth of the situation.  They will also be sent out into the desert with the label “anti-semitic”.  Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone are just the latest scapegoats: they surely will not be the last.


(graphic by Alexandra Koch)

I thought I would outline my learning journey, in case it was of any use to anyone. I suggest using each resource for as long as possible, but if you are genuinely stuck then find different materials, but be aware of the tendency to keep switching. This is as common tendency, and I suffer from it myself, but it is really not helpful. You might take my guidance seriously as I am a lifetime learner, of languages and musical instruments, or you might think this is a load of rubbish and ignore it – that’s fine.

My first serious resource was Duolingo. Duolingo has come in for a lot of criticism over the years for being superficial, that there isn’t the same level of real struggle that you find when speaking a foreign language, but if you see it for what it is then it can be very helpful. Be assured that it will not make you a fluent speaker of the language, but if you complete the whole tree then you will have had a lot of practise at many of the basic patterns and you will know a lot of vocabulary. You will also be competent in reading the Cyrillic alphabet, which is a must, and this is something which the Duolingo course does very well. As you explore various resources you will find many competing ways to transliterate Ukrainian, but none of these is as useful as being able to read text in the original alphabet without struggle.

Having completed this course I was still stuck for people to talk to. My daughter-in-law is happy to compliment my accent, but always replies to me in English. I decided to continue focusing on reading, as this had been very helpful when I was studying German, Spanish and Welsh in the past, allowing me to mass a wide passive vocabulary as well as being an engaging way to learn. The resource I turned to was 100 Ukrainian Texts by Yuliia Pozniak. I am not keen on using Amazon as I think it is an overpowerful company, but I had no choice here. The book is excellent, going through several areas of life with short texts, and again you will learn a lot of patterns from it.

Concurrently with this I used the website https://www.ukrainianlanguage.org.uk. This is very thorough for grammar, and I find that it is easy for a focus on grammar to drag you down in language study. Following the approach of Benny Lewis and other Internet Polyglots, I have decided to leave grammar alone as much as possible, for as long as possible. It is important for using the language correctly, but one can learn through memorising patterns, and study the rules later on. Having said that, it’s good to have a look at grammatical rules, but just don’t allow them scare you. Despite its emphasis on grammar this website has a lot of reading passages, and I worked my way through these, again learning a lot of vocabulary in the process.

If you like flashcards, I would recommend you make your own set using either a paper system or something like Anki. There are sets of words you can download, but if you use words or better phrases that you find interesting or fun then you will remember them better. On Android I use an app called Flashcards Deluxe, which is aesthetically a lot nicer than Anki.

I am currently enjoying another book from Ukrainian Lessons, Як іноземці козака рятували – How Foreigners Were Rescuing a Cossack (I think “how foreigners rescued a Cossack” is more natural English) by Natalia Pendiur. This is well written and entertaining, and I think by the time I have read it two or three times my vocabulary will be greatly increased.

The reading materials I have identified to go to after this are Yuliia Pozniak’s Ukrainian Language Reader (certainly easier than the Pendiur book but more “textbook”ish), and Learn Ukrainian with Beginner Stories by Vasil Koroliv-Stariy, a set of ghostly stories. I also have a few physical books to get to.

I hope this is in some way useful. To help Ukrainian learners, please comment below with any other materials which would be useful for the beginner to intermediate level.

It’s not uncommon for Monotheism to be accused of being largely responsible for the parlous state in which we find the natural world, and I would like to suggest in this post that that is a little unfair. Certainly monotheism was the professed belief system of many of those who began to get us into this mess, and it continues to be the belief system of some of those who are still in denial about the scale of the problem. But it is also the belief of many of those eager to change direction, which shows that things are more complicated than first meets the eye.

For a start, monotheism is often meant as a short cut for Christianity, with Judaism sometimes mentioned, and Islam being included or not, according to the needs of the particular argument being made. But even if we say that we are just discussing Christianity, the latter is a complex accretion of Old Testament ideas, teachings of Jesus and Paul, with Greek attitudes to argumentation thrown in. After all, “I’m right, you’re wrong” is in the tradition of Aristotle and Plato, and doesn’t sound like Jesus at all. It doesn’t even sound like Socrates, which shows that an idea or approach can be lost in a single generation.

This culture of Hellenised, Jesus-ified Judaism subsequently took on Roman imperialism, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism and a host of other isms which have nothing to do with the core teaching, which I think is expressed more clearly in Islam and Judaism than in Christianity. This core teaching is that the Universe is the creation of a Divine Being, that humans thrive when they acknowledge this and give thanks, and that humans owe all to God, and have no gifts other than those loaned to them by God. You the reader are welcome to believe this idea or to see it as utter nonsense, but I am asking you to accept that whether or not you accept it as being true, this is an accurate description of what is meant by monotheism,

The question of how it all went so horribly wrong is a broad one, and in this post I want to point just to one linguistic cause, that of the word “dominion”. I am not a student of Biblical languages, but I understand that the word “dominion” as found in the English Bible has travelled the linguistic route from Hebrew to Greek to Latin, which is the same route traced above for the Christian religion itself. And each time a word travels from one language to another it may change in tone or meaning. It may be that the sense of dominion was weaker, or even not there, originally, and that the sense of stewardship was what was intended. After all, to return to the implication that monotheism means giving all worship to God alone, it is sacrilege for us expect servitude from the world around us. Stewardship, on the other hand, suggests continued responsibility, and a sense of humility. It’s the loss of this meaning that gives rise to the trouble. There are verses are in Genesis which describe humans, well “man”, being given dominion, but I find Daniel 7:14 particularly interesting:-

     "And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."

Dominion in the sense of ruling power is clearly not given to “man” in general (this idea has also been used by feminist theologians). What’s more, this kingdom should not be destroyed – it couldn’t be clearer, really.

The idea of dominion slipped even further away from that of stewardship, and when this idea was taken from the Middle East and the Mediterranean to Europe, it was Domination not Dominion that became the model of living with nature, and over the centuries it was Domination which described encounters with non-white people too. It became a central cognitive force within belligerent moves on Africa, the near and far East, the Americas and Australia. Within Europe itself alternative conceptions of human conduct were driven out, so that even after a sudden redirection, such as the French and Russian revolutions, there was no questioning of the concept of domination. Domination of nature became suppression and denial of nature in Stalin’s Russia, no hotbed of monotheism, under the disastrous control of Trofim Lysenko, where the idea could be characatured as being that potatoes could be ordered to behave as the Soviet State wanted them to behave. Mass famine followed. And over the decades, as religion has held less of a place in policy, industry and commerce, this contempt has spread far and wide, to secular societies and religious ones regardless of their connection with the Judao-Christian tradition. Look at India for one example of a religious society, but the damage does not become less in most secular ones.

So where do we go from here? For me it’s helpful to reject the concept of Dominion, and I have never had truck with the idea of Domination, and to return instead to the concept of Stewardship. There are idealists who think we can just leave Nature to do its own thing, but with the current level of human population this is hopelessly naive. Let’s never evangelise about our metaphysical belief systems, but evangelise instead about Stewardship, that Humans can be the gentle, compassionate gardeners and stewards of the whole Earth.

There was a field. It was nothing special, not really used for anything. A bit scrubby, marshy in one corner. On the far side there were a few beeches and oaks. Bumblebees explored the weedy plants near the gate. I think I heard a green woodpecker shouting in the trees beyond the field.

I was on my phone. Checking the news: politics, sport, celebrity. I sent a few jokes to a friend. I don’t know how long I was using my phone.

I looked up. There were diggers and lorries, tarmac all over the place. The field had gone. Houses were going up everywhere. But they kept two or three of the trees, which was nice.

Interesting to see archaeologists who support the Highways England scheme to blast a tunnel and a dual carriageway through a bit of Wiltshire south of Stonehenge resorting to an atrociously dishonest polemical technique known as the ‘amalgam technique’. It is a way of invalidating any and all opposition to a policy by tainting all opponents […]

Stonehenge and the Stalinist Amalgam Technique — The Grammar of Matter

I listen to too many podcasts, and am always looking to trim the numbers. I recently unsubscribed from the Sustainability Now podcast, after an episode on the dangers of glyphosate. While I will kick Monsanto as hard as the next Earth-hugger, this seemed to be an uncritical interview with someone who, despite her scientific background, seemed unable to distinguish between causation and correlation. There was nothing that helped me to clarify my thinking on synthetic pesticides. I already know that they are dangerous physically, socially and economically. The whole concept of dealing with nature by poisoning it is problematic, and I hope to return to this at some point.

Eventually this interview landed in COVID-19 conspiracy world, and specifically the idea that the virus might have been developed in a Chinese laboratory. Our interviewee gleefully repeated this theory, which originates in hard American Right circles, and has been debunked, not least by American security services who would no doubt like it to be true.

A theory, besides being true or untrue, also has a function: it moves discourse in a particular direction. This theory moves us towards the idea that we can blame the virus on the hubristic stupidity of a group of Chinese scientists, so our own behaviour is not responsible. Yes, stupidity plays a central part in this story, but while it is comforting to limit this stupidity to the scientific elite of an unpopular foreign power, the stupidity goes much, much wider. Is it really so unpredictable that a combination of environmental destruction, animal cruelty and unfettered global travel would lead us to this point? There is a clear message here. Covid-19 is both a blight in itself, but also a sign, a warning of something which could have been so much worse, something which may be to come.

The philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy is angry that some are suggesting that Covid-19 is a metaphor, that it has the function of pointing something out about the course that humanity finds itself on. Let him be angry – he is wrong. To say that it’s a metaphor does not detract from it also having a literal reality that makes people ill and in some cases kills them. It does not, or should not, detract from the compassion that we should feel for those affected by the disease itself or the chaos it has thrown up. But despite this, this virus is indeed a messenger. Who sends the messenger? Well that’s a metaphysical question. It could be Gaia, God, the laws of nature, a Karmic typewriter, or a host of other things depending on your outlook. That’s none of my business, but it is the clearest of warnings that we are doing it wrong. We ignore the warning at our peril.

On the day that a vaccine is announced, that is 100% safe, 100% effective, and will be made available to all regardless of means (unlikely but not impossible), will everyone breathe a sigh of relief and return everything to how it was? Let’s hope not.

Every act of speech or writing has assumptions behind it. In my wish to develop an environmental philosophical position, it’s only fair to declare these assumptions, in this case with a little biography. In early life I was drawn to left-wing politics, and was often found demonstrating outside South Africa House or at military bases, but it struck me that you can’t build a new world by shouting at what you don’t like, so I withdrew from this, and looked for a new frame.

I was drawn to Taoism, loving its acknowledgement of the natural world, and its seemingly accepting moral stance, but Taoism lacked explicit mention of something that had not disappeared from my thinking after leaving my Catholic childhood behind, that is God. Then I discovered Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam, and that seemed to answer this for me, particularly when I came into the presence of a living teacher. The emphasis on personal awakening was there, and in the concept of tawhid, (“unity” / “oneness”), the idea that everything is one was also emphasised. But I wasn’t hearing anything practical about sorting out the mess we were in, as all the focus was on purifying the self. But what if a purified self could carry on polluting, perhaps without even knowing that that is what they were doing? I had looked at Permaculture over the years, and wondered whether that could fill the gap. I wanted to lessen my own impact on the Earth, but as a naturally cerebral individual I have also decided that I want to find the philosophical underpinnings of my approach. In permaculture it starts off with simple ideas: Earth care, people care, fair share.  Through recent exploration of permaculture podcasts I have also become aware of the Regenerative Agriculture movement.  Regen Ag, to use its inelegant abbreviation, gives us the idea that we can simultaneously restore nature, fix carbon and feed humans. It has also been gratifying to discover writers with an environmental spirituality, such as Thomas Berry and the poet-farmer Wendell Berry. Is there something about berries, I wonder?

There are lots of other ideas worthy of examination: the concept of wizards and prophets, Charles C. Mann’s phrase, is an interesting one. Wizards believe all problems have a technical fix, whereas prophets focus more on what is wrong, and that the answer is to turn away from technological civilisation. Paul Kingsnorth is an example of the latter, and his writing is interesting but I think there is a more positive path. Then there are those who reject the term “the environment” which puts a gap between humanity and nature, so they prefer the term “the natural world”. My current thinking suggests we should use “the creation” which seems to have a power, obviously to those who believe in God, but perhaps also to those who do not. Some say that indigenous cultures have the answer to our problems, especially those which do not make a strong separation between humans and other beings. I am not happy about this, because I think there is a distinction, now more than ever, between the power of humans and other beings. We may be the same in essence, and it may be that the same respect should be accorded to both, but surely humans have to take a special responsibility.

There may be good critiques of all these movements and opinions. I would like to hear them and use criticism to move towards a practical outlook for saving the natural world.

The aim is for this blog to begin to contain more references, so that I don’t say “some people say…” without saying who they are. But the fact is I haven’t been collecting references, and I wanted to get started with these ideas, so that will come further down the road.

Islamo-Judeo-Christian culture is taking a lot of the blame for the current environmental crisis, and specifically, the way in which the Abrahamic religions exhort their followers to place themselves at the head of creation is held by some to account for the disastrous way in which humans have slashed and burned their way through so much of beauty and intrinsic value in the earth. But supposing this interpretation is all wrong? Supposing the truth is that this culture has been the source of destruction purely because it has been the most successful culture, and that if someone else had got there first then they would have done just as much harm? After all, currently, other cultures are doing just fine at wrecking the natural world.

I would like to argue that not only is the concept of being steward of the earth not inherently harmful, but that at this point in the environmental emergency it’s the best approach we have. Having been one of the laziest of all bloggers, I would like to explore this idea in a series of posts to be published over the next few months.

Tonight this house is full of running and laughter.
One day, a cold, dry wind, blowing through broken windows,
Will be its only sound.

We mumble through life assuming that those around us will always be there. So we take them for granted, and we take ourselves for granted, until we are awakened by a rude shock.

Today, this week, this year, I want to live with the intensity of a poor man who has accidentally been given a brief but wonderful holiday of a lifetime. I will seize with glad amazement all that life gives me, I will appreciate those in my life, I will awaken myself from my stupid slumber.

Please join me.

Is it reasonable to examine the links between Hitler and Zionism?

Source: Goats, Zionists and Anti-semites