I co-founded Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) nearly three years ago. Since then, our achievements have been modest, but the key aim has always been to expand public debate over the Middle East and show to the wider community that not all Jews back Israeli apartheid in the occupied territories.
It’s therefore pretty amusing to read a piece published in today’s National Times attacking IAJV…as if we started recently. It rehashes the usual arguments, clearly ignores any discussion about Israel’s behaviour in the West Bank or Gaza and focuses on the initiative’s supposed dishonesty:
It is now more than two years since Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) was launched in a flurry of publicity, and past time for the original and latter signatories of its initiating declaration to take stock of their commitment.
According to the declaration, that commitment by its Jewish signatories is to “ensuring a just peace that recognises the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians with a solution that protects the human rights of all . . . (and that) Israel’s right to exist must be recognised and that Palestinians’ right to a homeland must also be acknowledged.”
This is an inoffensive statement and could loosely be sanctioned by the mainstream of Australian Jewry. Moreover, nothing is gained by an attack on the integrity of the signatories, one of whom is Antony Loewenstein who was featured on this website yesterday. Other aspects of the declaration may invite harsher interpretation, but those clauses do not detract from the straightforward call for an equitable analysis of the “crisis in the region”. More worthy of examination are the steps that have been taken by the IAJV organisers following the publication of the declaration.
The declaration is the centrepiece of what has become a dense online forum for anti-Israel and anti-Zionist views. The dilemma is clearly understood by the organisers, who must find a means to incorporate the innocuous clauses of an originating document while promoting views that breach its parameters. In legal constitutional matters this conflict would be resolved by a superior court. In the abstract world of the internet, the organisers achieve this by way of a less accountable device – a tortuous statement that prefaces the website and reads in part: “It is evident that we as organisers cannot speak in the name of anyone unless explicitly authorised to do so, and there can be no suggestion that signatories are in any way endorsing or associated with a statement unless they explicitly sign it . . . (we) must do whatever we hope is worthwhile and constructive towards the broad principles enunciated in the original statement.”
This begs the question, despite this statement do the signatories know what is written on their behalf, or in the alternative, that they have been disenfranchised from a project that lays its foundation squarely on their name and ethnicity? The logic of this foundation is inescapable, because without the Jewish signatories to the declaration, the IAJV is deprived of its raison d’être. The views of a handful of little known commentators would garner far less attention without the original declaration or the much proclaimed ethnicity of its signatories. Certainly virulent criticism of Israel is now so pervasive on the internet as to make the existence of yet another condemnatory website merely conventional. The power of the IAJV lies solely in the ethnicity and imprimatur of the signatories.
The signatories may believe that they have signed a petition of sorts, but in fact they have provided a platform for a broad criticism of Israel, that contrary to its declaration, is not matched by an equivalent critique of the Palestinian or regional positions. No doubt the organisers will counter, again as stated in the prefacing statement, that they intend to redress a perceived bias in the media, but once more this would be disingenuous. The declaration is too plain-spoken to allow this re-interpretation: “We call upon fellow Jews to join us in supporting free debate to further the prospects of peace, security and human rights in the Middle East.” Human rights abuses, security concerns and freedom of debate are hardly concerns that can be solely ascribed to Israel, particularly in a region where democracy is an anachronism.
The ongoing discussion regarding the IAJV has unfortunately played into the hands of a few largely unknown but canny organisers. Remove the bluster and the issue is not the credibility of their opinion or those featured by way of links to other publications, rehashed on thousands of similar websites, but rather whether those opinions reflect representations made to signatories. For the signatories there is a larger moral issue to consider. If they wish to promote a forum that makes Israel chiefly accountable for the Palestinian plight and the prospects for peace in the region, then they are in the right place. If not, or their views are tempered by pragmatism or even a well-informed ambivalence, then it is time to reassess that initial commitment.
So here’s an idea for the signatories. Take a tour of the IAJV website, look around, become familiar with the landscape. It will soon be clear that the declaration you signed was achieved more in the breach than in its plain meaning. May we suggest a new declaration, reflective of the website’s actual content. Something along these lines would suffice: “We condemn the Jewish state as the principally guilty party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and primarily responsible for its resolution.” Not only does it shave hundreds of unnecessary words from the original declaration, it is also more candid, straightforward and honest. That is something the signatories can choose to endorse. Or not.
Manny Waks is the founder of the Capital Jewish Forum and a public servant based in Canberra. Geoffrey Winn is a Melbourne based lawyer and author.
Frankly, it’s odd to have to make the same points over and over. IAJV is not an organisation or a group. There are no members. A handful of people organise occassional petitions and events and anybody who wants to sign-up or be involved can be. And people can ignore these programs, too. Nothing more, nothing less.
Waks and Winn either ignore this clearly stated aim or remain uncomfortable with Jews speaking out critically against Israel and its policies.
Get used to it lads, we have much more planned in 2010.