I’m currently in Melbourne for the writer’s festival. I’m speaking on a variety of subjects, including terrorism and the Middle East. Yesterday’s forum, Australia’s Israel Question, drew over 500 people into one of the largest venues of the festival. The sold-out event heard from Federal Court Judge Alan Goldberg, former Australian ambassador to Israel and author Peter Rodgers, human rights lawyer Julian Burnside and leading criminal lawyer Robert Richter. The Melbourne Age reports:
Prominent Melbourne barrister Robert Richter, QC, has called on the Jewish community to speak out when Israeli Government policies adversely affect the Jewish diaspora.
Mr Richter, speaking at a session of the Age Melbourne Writers’ Festival yesterday, said author and commentator Antony Loewenstein, whose controversial book My Israel Question was the subject of the forum, had been, in a sense, a “truer and closer friend” to Israel than those who believed they “had the ear” of Israel’s Government.
“Diaspora Jews need to take a stand,” he said. “It’s not good enough that they have a private audience with the Israeli leader. They ought to be saying some pretty loud things and not just murmuring approval.”
In his book, Loewenstein canvasses an assertion that there is an unspoken understanding in the Jewish diaspora to avoid criticism of Israel and its policies.
Mr Richter, who lived in Israel until he was 13, said there was no longer a question of whether Israel had a right to exist. But when some of the country’s actions meant anti-Semitic sentiment was directed towards those living outside the Jewish state, the diaspora community had the right to criticise, he said.
Loewenstein also writes that the Jewish lobby in Australia works to stifle debate around Israel and particularly its actions in the occupied territories.
To this, barrister and human rights activist Julian Burnside, QC, said: “One of the most important elements in any community . . . is the genuine possibility of freedom of thought and freedom of speech. There are no ideas that are off limits and no questions that are illegal.”
There is clearly a groundswell of interest in debating this subject. The Zionist lobby and its supporters rightly fear an examination of their tactics and motives and prefer to simply smear any opponents. Luckily, this tactic is failing miserably. My Israel Question is now a best-seller and causing Jews and non-Jews alike to discuss the role of Israel in the Middle East and the West’s relationship with the Jewish state.
The conversation has begun.
(My speech during yesterday’s event is here: Melbourne Writer’s Festival discussion paper)