My following article, written with John Docker and Ned Curthoys, appears in New Matilda:
It’s not just major western allies who are talking tough with Israel – evidence suggests ordinary Jews are also withdrawing their support from the rogue state
Earlier this month the Sydney Morning Herald’s chief correspondent Paul McGeough quizzically asked if there are any “major allies” left for Israel to offend. With the abuse of passports in the Dubai Mossad scandal, Israel has caused anger in Britain, Ireland, Australia, France and Germany.
It has even managed to annoy the United States, announcing on 8 March, the day of US vice president Joe Biden’s arrival in Jerusalem, that 1600 new homes for Israeli Jews would be built in East Jerusalem — that is, on illegally occupied and annexed Palestinian land. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the announcement “an insult to the United States”, and President Obama reportedly gave Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu an icy reception during last week’s visit to the White House. The implication is clear: if Israel is rapidly losing moral legitimacy in the world, so might its close ally, sponsor, and defender in the United Nations.
Some years ago the American political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, in the London Review of Books, warned that Americans must see that continuing total support for Israel will harm their own national interests, jeopardising “not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world”. With that situation now playing out, western countries are finally beginning to question their traditional subservience to Israel.
Another of Israel’s powerful allies, however, has been steadily moving away from the rogue state for a number of years. The international Jewish Diaspora no longer automatically backs every Israeli action. In what was at first a trickle and is now a broad stream of dissent, Diaspora Jews are regaining their independence and questioning Israel’s moral and intellectual foundations. Refusing the leadership of the blindly pro-Israeli Zionist organisations, they have formed groups of “independent Jewish voices”, including in Australia, suggesting that Israel does not act in the name of all Jews, as it claims to do.
A recent US study found that only 54 per cent of non-Orthodox Jews under 35 were “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state” — compared to more than 80 per cent of those over 65. Another study, conducted by progressive Jewish lobby J Street, found significant opposition among American Jews to continued settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As well, high-profile Jewish activists and intellectuals such as Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, and Ronnie Kasrils, are energetically joining in the international movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, which was launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005 and inspired by the non-violent anti-racist, anti-colonial philosophies of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
In Australia, following similar initiatives in the United States and Britain, prominent Jews have signed a petition rejecting the 1950 Israeli Law of Return whereby people of Jewish descent can migrate to and become citizens of Israel. They are also expressing anger that Israel will not permit the right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles as sanctioned by international law.
The petition, signed by ethicist Peter Singer, actor Miriam Margolyes, feminist Eva Cox, academic and pioneering gay rights activist Dennis Altman, writer Susan Varga, and others (including the three of us), argues that the Israeli Law of Return is “a form of racist privilege that abets the colonial oppression of the Palestinians … We renounce this ‘right’ to ‘return’ offered to us by Israeli law. It is not right that we may ‘return’ to a state that is not ours while Palestinians are excluded and continuously dispossessed”.
The petition sits within an interesting historical context. In 1961 the famous German Jewish philosopher Martin Buber — who was forced to leave Germany in 1938, went to live in Palestine and was himself a cultural Zionist — wrote to prime minister David Ben-Gurion protesting against the persistent refusal of the Israeli government to accept and implement UN Resolution 194. Buber considered that Israel’s refusal to abide by international humanitarian law brought dishonour upon the Zionist movement and the Israeli state. For many decades Buber had put forward the idea that Palestine should become a bi-national state with equal citizenship for Arabs and Jews.
In the present, Jewish intellectuals such as the American Jewish philosopher Judith Butler, have looked to alternative traditions of critique such as those of Martin Buber to pose against the mainstream Zionist ideals that inspired the coming into existence of Israel as a militantly nationalist and aggressive settler-colonial state.
But while she still admires Buber, in a recent interview for the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Butler was quoted as saying that we now have to go beyond the notion of bi-nationalism to consider “even multiculturalism. Maybe even a kind of citizenship without regard to religion, race, ethnicity, etc.”
She continues: “It is no longer the question of ‘two peoples’, as Martin Buber put it. There is extraordinary complexity and intermixing among both the Jewish and the Palestinian populations.”
In our view, although we don’t necessarily speak here for our fellow petition-signatories, renunciation of the Israeli Law of Return by Jews in the Diaspora, and Israel’s immediate compliance with a vast array of relevant international law including UN Resolution 194, would be definite steps towards what Judith Butler envisages as “a kind of citizenship without regard to religion, race, ethnicity, etc”. The kind of citizenship, we might note, that is taken for granted as basic to those very same western democracies that have enabled Israel’s rogue status until now.