A group of prominent Australian Jews, including the NSW Minister for Roads, Eric Roozendaal, the federal Labor MP Michael Danby and the former Victorian Supreme Court judge Howard Nathan have reacted angrily to calls for a more diverse debate on Israel made by a rival Jewish group this week.
The counter petition, organised by Mr Danby, is a public objection to what it called the “unreasoning attack on Israel and the Australian Jewish community” by Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV).
Other signatories include the union leader Michael Borowick and Rabbi John Levi, the deputy president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
The IAJV’s campaign was launched on Monday on the basis that “the Jewish establishment does not represent the full range of Jewish opinion”. By Wednesday afternoon more than 330 people had signed the group’s petition, The Jewish News reported.
It stated that signatories were committed to a just peace in the Middle East that recognised the national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians. It condemned violence on both sides of the conflict “whether state-sanctioned or not”.
“We feel there is an urgent need to hear alternative voices that should not be silenced by being labelled “disloyal” or “self-hating”, the petition read.
The IAJV’s members, who include the Melbourne University Press publisher Louise Adler, Professor Peter Singer and the author Antony Loewenstein, say they have been vilified by other Jews for their criticisms of Israel. The academic Eva Cox, also an IAJV member, told ABC radio on Tuesday that the group wanted to show that those held up as “spokespeople” for the Jewish community are not necessarily representative.
Yesterday’s dissenting statement from Mr Danby denied that Jews critical of Israel were vilified or silenced. It said its signatories “all support compromise, but this tiny group confuses our well-informed criticism with censorship”.
The academics Dr Doug Kirsner and Dr Philip Mendes helped draft the dissenting statement, along with Mr Danby. “They say people are muzzled or the debate about Israel is stymied,” Dr Kirsner said. “That’s a myth, completely untrue. I feel very proud at the Jewish community because we are very good at having vibrant, robust debates.”
I’m so glad Kirsner feels “proud” of the Jewish community’s spirit of openness. It’s enough to make one all warm and fuzzy inside. What was that, you said? No criticism of Israel is warranted? The Israeli government is the most humane in the world and its army only sometimes uses Palestinian human shields to fight “terror?” No country is perfect, after all, and what’s a few murdered Palestinians anyway? Aren’t we glad that Kirsner has cleared all that up?
Elsewhere, IAJV signatory Dennis Altman explains the necessity for the new movement, then unelected Zionist figure Colin Rubenstein chides previously uninvolved Jews who dare to speak up:
Finally, there were some people who signed the statement who have little or no engagement with the Jewish community, but identify themselves as Jewish to deflect criticism when they malign the organised Jewish community and Israel. It is hardly surprising that other members of the Jewish community are annoyed when individuals who have made no effort to contribute to our communal life and institutions complain those institutions do not represent them.
Dear Colin had better get used to it, because they are many such Jews out there, and they’re starting to stand up.