The Committee to Protect Bloggers is still alive and kicking.
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)
“The candle kids” grew up and became the “protest movement” of this war. The confused youth who sat crying with their guitars and candles in the city square in Tel Aviv after Rabin’s assassination are now sitting in the Rose Garden opposite the Prime Minister’s Office, no less confused, and seemingly protesting against the war – of course only after it ended.
Just as it was impossible to know what the candle kids wanted, it is difficult to understand what the reservists and the bereaved families want. Most of their complaints should be directed at themselves: Where were you until now? If it is only the demand that some officials go home, it’s a waste of their time and ours. Clones of those who are deposed will replace them very quickly and nothing will change. Olmert, Peretz and Halutz will go home, and Netanyahu, Mofaz and Barak will come to power.
For the first time after many terrible years in which we killed and were killed for no reason, there are question marks hanging over the public discourse. That change should be welcomed. But those who examine the content of the new protest should not hold out great hopes. The arguments of the protesters come down to two main issues, both of them as narrow as the world of the reservist: the IDF wasn’t prepared for the war, and the war was cut short.
An Iranian exhibition displays virulent anti-Semitism:
The title of the show is “Holocaust International Cartoon Contest,” or “Holocust,” as the show’s organizers spell the word in promotional material. But the content has little to do with the events of World War II and Nazi Germany.
There is instead a drawing of a Jew with a very large nose, a nose so large it obscures his entire head. Across his chest is the word Holocaust. Another drawing shows a vampire wearing a big Star of David drinking the blood of Palestinians. A third shows Ariel Sharon dressed in a Nazi uniform, emblazoned not with swastikas but with the Star of David.
Such examples of Jew-hatred are cause for real concern, though are sadly familiar in many Arab nations.
Hizbollah has trumped both the UN army and the Lebanese government by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars – most of it almost certainly from Iran – into the wreckage of southern Lebanon and Beirut’s destroyed southern suburbs. Its massive new reconstruction effort – free of charge to all those Lebanese whose homes were destroyed or damaged in Israel’s ferocious five-week assault on the country – has won the loyalty of even the most disaffected members of the Shia community in Lebanon.
Hizbollah has made it clear that it has no intention of disarming under the UN Security Council’s 1701 ceasefire resolution and yesterday afternoon, Major-General Alain Pellegrini, the commander of the UN Interim Force in southern Lebanon – which the Americans and British are relying upon to seize the guerrilla army’s weapons – personally confirmed to me at his headquarters in Naqoura that “the Israelis can’t ask us to disarm Hizbollah”. Describing the ceasefire as “very fragile” and “very dangerous”, he stated that disarming Hizbollah “is not written in the mandate”.
But for now – and in the total absence of the 8,000-strong foreign military force that is intended to join Unifil with a supposedly “robust” mandate – Hizbollah has already won the war for “hearts and minds”. Most householders in the south have received – or are receiving – a minimum initial compensation payment of $12,000 (£6,300), either for new furniture or to cover their family’s rent while Hizbollah construction gangs rebuild their homes. The money is being paid in cash – almost all in crisp new $100 bills – to up to 15,000 families across Lebanon whose property was blitzed by the Israelis, a bill of $180m which is going to rise far higher when reconstruction and other compensation is paid.
While Israel talks tough against Iran (praying, hoping and knowing that the Bush administration is as demented and militarily clueless as themselves), former Australian ambassador to Israel, Ross Burns, demands a new approach to Middle East affairs. Speaking to the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Muslim States and Societies, he simply argues that one-sided support for Israel is resulting in ever-growing hatred of the West and the Jewish state.
Israel and its blind supporters (and the Howard government is part of the problem) seem to believe that the strength of the US superpower will sustain Israel indefinitely. They’re wrong. Israel’s future lies with closer ties to the Arab world. The numbers game ensures that.
Suffice to say, Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has responded to Burns in his typical petulant way (well, it’s Murdoch’s Australian, but it’s hard to tell the difference these days.)
And speaking of Zionist irrelevance, look no further than here.
Yet more evidence that Muslims are the new Jews. The Wall Street Journal reports on the political reality in Belgium:
Now take the Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), the secessionist Flemish Party previously known as the Vlaams Blok until a court ruled it illegal in 2004. The Blok has longstanding links to Nazi collaborators. One of the party’s founding members is Karel Dillen, who in 1951 translated into Flemish a French tract denying the Holocaust (possibly the only French text for which a Vlams Blok party member has ever shown sympathy.) For many years, the party’s chief selling point was its call to forcibly deport immigrants who failed to assimilate. It also made plain its sympathies with other far-right wing European parties, such as Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France.
But that’s changing. Younger party leaders, realizing their anti-Semitic taint was poison, began making pro-Israel overtures. And the party’s tough-on-crime, hostile-to-Muslims stance began to attract a considerable share of the Jewish vote, particularly among Orthodox Antwerp Jews who felt increasingly vulnerable in the face of the city’s hostile Muslim community. Today, Vlaams Belang is the largest single party in the country.
The fact that Orthodox Jews are voting for such a party suggests a profound identity crisis within Western democracy. Furthermore, the increasingly common expression of pro-Israeli sentiment on the political right is unsurprisingly exposed as little more than Islamophobia.