The formation this week of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, a breakaway group from this country’s main pro-Israel Jewish lobby organisations, is an understandable occurrence in any country that prides itself on the rights of free speech and independent thought. Rather than being in conflict with existing bodies, this new group sees itself as equally concerned about the crisis in Middle East, but from a different point of view…
The executive director of the Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council, Dr Colin Rubenstein, disputes the group’s claim of being silenced as “demonstrably false”, and that the Jewish community holds “a kaleidoscope of organisations and views”. The word “silenced” is, in this case, more likely to be out of self-censorship — a reticence to speak out, therefore to risk being branded as disloyal to one’s religion — than a more deliberate form of censorship imposed by others. Whatever the semantics, and whether or not Dr Rubenstein has a point, the important factor is that all voices have the chance to be heard.
Over the last days I’ve heard many stories about Zionist organisations and Jewish establishment figures trying to intimidate some signatories to IAJV and force them to disassociate themselves from its aims, fearful that their long-held iron-grip over “Jewish opinion” is slipping. Too late for that, it already has. Furthermore, we’re receiving hundreds of messages from Jews and non-Jews hoping that the environment for discussing Israel/Palestine becomes less vicious and laced with accusations of anti-Semitism for simply disagreeing with Israeli policy.
One of the more amusing asides has been Jewish leaders talking about the “open and free” debate in Australia on the Middle East and the ability for anybody to robustly discuss the issues. Of course, every mainstream Jewish group holds identical views on Israel/Palestine and is utterly opposed to hearing about Israeli crimes in Palestine or ever-expanding settlements in the West Bank. Such talk allegedly helps Israel’s enemies. In fact, it merely shows to the wider community that a small but growing band of Jews are standing up as human beings and defending the human rights of all, not simply the designated tribe.