The saga of holding Israel to account continues. Following the recent call for a campaign against apartheid Israel, played out in the media and online, comes this response by some of Australia’s best-known Jewish academics:
We write in response to the two letters published in The Australian on Monday 21 September by Anthony Loewenstein and Jake Lynch, supporting the call for a boycott of certain Israeli universities as part of a more general Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
In our view, the call for a boycott and the entire BDS concept is counterproductive, marginalises and disempowers the forces for moderation and compromise within Israel, and reinforces the position of the rejectionists on both sides.
It is simply incorrect for Loewenstein to state that Palestinians “overwhelmingly” support the BDS strategy. The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, for example, has been careful not to adopt a position on BDS because of its potential adverse consequences for Palestinian workers.
If people want peace with justice for BOTH the Palestinians and Israelis, then positive measures based on an understanding of the narratives of both peoples are needed. These include co-operative ventures of the kind that currently exist between the Israeli and Palestinian Trade Union movements, an end to all racist incitement against Jews in Palestinian schools and media, stopping new settlements encroaching into the West Bank and the removal of the illegal hilltop settlements by the Israeli government, progressive removal of checkpoints (which is already happening), improving the freedom of movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and a return to negotiations.
The moral authority of movements like BDS is undermined by their very one-sidedness. They highlight the suffering of civilians on only one side of the conflict, to the exclusion of the suffering of civilians on the other side. This has been the approach of Lynch’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, which invariably promotes the ferociously anti-Israel views of people like Loewenstein and John Docker. Both of these commentators make no bones about their desire for Israel to cease to exist but have been conspicuously silent about the likely fate of the Jewish majority now living there if that were to happen. It is probably futile to hope that Lynch will take a more balanced approach when he organizes his Centre’s “peace research” conference for 2010.
For over 60 years international law has called for the existence of two states for two peoples. Israeli and Palestinian polling over a sustained period consistently indicates that this is also what a majority of Israelis and Palestinians want. The denial of self-determination and sovereignty to either people has no international legitimacy at all.
Inaccurate, polemical and emotive statements of the kind made by Loewenstein and Lynch merely serve to polarize people and create a climate of hate. As such, their statements are impediments to the cause of peace with justice which they purport to promote.
Associate Professor Suzanne Rutland, OAM, University of Sydney
Associate Professor Mark Baker, Monash University, Melbourne
Doctor Yoke Berry, University of Wollongong
Professor Allan Borowski, La Trobe University, Melbourne
Professor Andrew Markus, Monash University, Melbourne
Doctor Julie Kalman, The University of New South Wales
I’ve written many times before about this spurious call for “balance” between Israel and the Palestinians, as if one isn’t under occupation (a point conveniently ignored by these “experts”). The solution proposed by those above is essentially to do nothing and hope and pray that Israel will come to its senses, end the occupation and allow a Palestinian state. How’s that theory worked out for them? It’s a call to do nothing and hope for the best.
Outside pressure is the only way for Israel to recognise that its behaviour is both illegal and immoral. I care deeply for Israeli Jews in Israel but they are living like kings compared to those in the West Bank and Gaza.
If this is the best Jewish academia can do, let them come out strongly and openly to condemn Israeli occupation. But they can’t and they won’t. For them, Zionism remains a romantic ideal. Reality is too uncomfortable, especially when viewing the Holy Land from Australia. They refuse to acknowledge what Israel has become with their backing and blind support.
I reported in February the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka and its apparent attempt to white-wash or ignore completely the brutal civil war then taking place in the country.
Now, as the government continues to imprison hundreds of thousands of Tamils, those wily cultural ambassadors are back at it:
Sri Lanka will host the second Galle Film Festival from December 2-6 in the eponymous host town.
GFF is presented in association with the National Film Corporation of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka Tourism and will open with Sri Lankan director Vimukthi Jayasundera’s “Ahasin Wetei,” which was in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival. GFF is a non-competitive festival and hence won’t include a jury.
In addition to promoting tourism and film opportunites in the country, GFF’s main focus will be on Sri Lankan and South Asian cinema with participating films including, among others, India’s “Firaaq” from actress and director Nandita Das. Further programming details are being finalized.
As part of its schedule of fundraisers, event galas and workshops, GFF will include “Shooting For Change” which will include documentaries designed to inspire social change. Also featured will be eight short films produced in August during a 10-day film camp for children, hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka and run by American acting coach Constance Tillotsonm with Sri Lankan directors Anoma Rajakaruna and Kasinathar Gnanadas. The 40 participating children came from post-war Sri Lanka’s different ethnic backgrounds.
This is highly suspicious. Like Israel, Sri Lanka wants to be seen as a normal country that runs film festivals and literary events, while the world forgets its blatant crimes.
We will not.
American Rabbi Brant Rosen is an outspoken defender of Palestinian rights.
On Sunday night, the Jewish community will begin our annual Yom Kippur fast.
The physical deprivation is a crucial element of the day, but as with many faith traditions, the fasting itself isn’t really the point. Going without food and water is, rather, a device, intended to sharpen our senses and lead to reflection.
This reflection is notably, pointedly, not a personal pursuit. All through the Yom Kippur prayers, we’re called to do “cheshbon nefesh,” a moral accounting, as a community: “We have sinned,” we pray. “Forgive us.”
But though the rituals are ancient, they’re never far removed from modern life. Between our prayers, American Jews are sure also to discuss the current events that touch our community most deeply: the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, President Barack Obama’s recent meetings with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the United Nations’ recent Goldstone Report, in which both Israel and the Hamas government are accused of war crimes. To my great sorrow, however, many in the Jewish community have already rejected the latter out of hand.
Rather than jointly consider Israel’s acts in Gaza, carry out real cheshbon nefesh, and accept our communal responsibility, it has proven easier for many of us to employ communal defense mechanisms, and insist that in this particular case, there’s no need for reflection.
A headline in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper:
Israel is teetering toward theocracy, with the rise of the Haredim
Discussion in America about a military strike by Israel against Iran has moved from “if” to “when”.
Fox News continues the charge:
Last week America told the world that the UN Gaza report was terribly unfair to Israel and should essentially be ignored.
This week, in yet another sign of Washington’s “seriousness” over Middle East peace, we have this:
The United States called on its close ally Israel on Tuesday to conduct credible investigations into allegations of war crimes committed by its forces in Gaza, saying it would help the Middle East peace process.
Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said that Hamas leaders also had a responsibility to investigate crimes and to end what he called its targeting of civilians and use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in the strip.The UN Human Rights Council was holding a one-day debate on a recent report by Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist and former U.N. war crimes prosecutor.
His panel found the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian militants committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during their December-January war. Israel did not cooperate with the UN inquiry and has rejected the report as biased.
“We encourage Israel to utilize appropriate domestic [judicial] review and meaningful accountability mechanisms to investigate and follow-up on credible allegations,” Posner said in a speech to the Geneva forum.
“If undertaken properly and fairly, these reviews can serve as important confidence-building measures that will support the larger essential objective which is a shared quest for justice and lasting peace,” he said.
The United States joined the Council, set up three years ago, for the first time earlier this year. Posner reiterated Washington’s view that the Council paid “grossly disproportionate attention” to Israel, but said that the U.S. delegation was ready to engage in balanced debate.
Goldstone himself outlined the reasons why it’s vital the international community holds guilty parties to account:
Earlier, Goldstone said a lack of accountability for war crimes committed in the Middle East was undermining any hope for peace in the region.
“A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long,” Goldstone, a former UN war crimes prosecutor, told the UN Human Rights Council.
“The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible war crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence.”
This is mainstream American news television, a discussion about how Iran should be bombed, when it should happen, if Israel should be assisted and if Israel should assassinate Iranian leaders to bring regime change. Can you imagine the outcry if Iranian television had the same kind of program, discussing the ways in which Israeli leaders should be murdered and how Israel should be bombed? Shameful:
A new book, Rosemarie M. Esber’s Under the Cover of War: The Zionist Expulsion of the Palestinians, presents 1948 history as it really happened as opposed to how Zionists would like to white-wash events:
During the civil war period [early 1948], Esber writes, “Zionist Jewish military organizations forced more than 400,000 Palestinian Arab inhabitants from their homes in about 225 villages, towns and cities in Palestine.” That comprises approximately half of the total number of Palestinians made refugees during the creation of the State of Israel, as well as half of the depopulated Palestinian cities and villages, the latter largely destroyed as part of the systematic campaign to erase Palestinian society.
Israel’s official narrative has long held that the “refugee problem” was the result of a war sparked in the wake of Israel’s 14 May 1948 “declaration of independence” on the eve of the British withdrawal, and what Israel describes as an Arab invasion designed to extinguish the nascent state. The implication of this claim is that had the Arab states not invaded on 15 May, Palestinians might not have become refugees. But given the sheer scale of the expulsions prior to May 1948, the Arab intervention might more accurately be described as a long overdue and ineffectual attempt to halt a well-planned campaign of ethnic cleansing that had been proceeding unchecked for months.
Antony Loewenstein and Jake Lynch (The Australian, Letters blog, 22 September) criticise Philip Mendes and Nick Dyrenfurth for their opposition to the campaign for “boycott, disinvestment and sanctions” directed at Israel. But they fail to address the central issue pointed out by Mendes and Dyrenfurth – the hypocritical and one-sided nature of this campaign.
Sudan has killed at least 400,000 civilians in its genocidal war in Darfur. Russia killed about 40,000 people in its two brutal wars against Chechnya. Millions of people are suffering under dictatorships in Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Syria and others. Protesters are being shot down in the streets in Tibet, East Turkistan and Iran.
Are Loewenstein and Lynch calling for academic, cultural or communications boycotts against these countries? No, they’re not. Only Israel is so uniquely evil that it merits such treatment. The Israel-Palestinian conflict, which over the past 20 years has caused approximately 8,000 deaths (a third of them Israelis), is apparently worse than Darfur and Chechnya, worse indeed than anything else in the world.
Loewenstein and Lynch’s attack on the Australian columnists do serve a useful purpose in drawing out their real purposes. Firstly the perversity of the Director of Sydney University’s “Peace” Institute, which backs boycotts of Israeli academics rather than enhancing peace between the parties, could now not be starker.
Loewenstein’s support for the elimination of Israel coded as support for a one state solution shows that he was trying to sucker the few hundred who signed his Independent Jewish Voices “two state declaration”. Either way no serious Australian policy maker takes seriously ideas of boycotting Israeli academics and universities.
Michael Danby MHR is Federal Member for Melbourne Ports
My original piece addresses many of the issues inherent in this letter. Always remember the first rule of dogmatic Zionism: change the subject, never talk about the occupation and ignore the gross human rights abuses in the occupied territories.
UPDATE: Here’s Jake Lynch’s response:
I picture apologists for Israel’s serial breaches of international law, like Michael Danby, huddling together in an overheated room somewhere, getting terribly excited when they feel they’ve hit upon a particularly convincing argument, and sallying forth into the real world, certain it’s going to prove persuasive, only to stumble over the one obvious point they forgot.
I’ll let him down gently, then. He may be amazed to learn that, when I was going around, persuading people to boycott South Africa in the 1980s, I was not wholly oblivious to the human rights abuses being endured by the people of Iraq, El Salvador and many others.
In the words of Naomi Klein, boycott is not a dogma: it’s a tactic. The reason for trying it on Israel is that it might work, which is why Danby and his ilk are getting so uptight about it.
Israel presently enjoys impunity for its crimes, which incentivises repetition. End the impunity through BDS and it becomes clear that carrying on the brutal and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory is not in Israel’s interests. That would be a first.
Jewish Israeli academic Neve Gordon – who recently called for an academic boycott of Israel due to “apartheid” in the Palestinian territories – writes:
A simple Google search with the words “Palestinian violence” yields over 86,000 pages, while a search with the words “Palestinian civil disobedience” generates only 47 pages.