Back in June I was invited to Brisbane by the Queensland History Teacher’s Association to deliver the keynote speech at their annual conference. I spoke about Israel/Palestine, the role of Zionist violence against Palestinians, apartheid in the West Bank and the responsibility of all of us to speak out when injustice occurs. It was warmly received.
I was informed soon after the event that the Queensland Zionist lobby was upset. How dare this organisation invite me to talk to teachers, they wrote? Apparently I may have infected these teachers with dangerous ideas, such as BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and a realistic view of the conflict. This is problematic for insular and bigoted Jews who are desperate to maintain the fiction that Israel is a noble state that doesn’t oppress the Palestinians but merely cuddles them gently.
To their great credit, the History Teacher’s Association responded strongly, rejecting Zionist bullying and rightly arguing that alternative views are vital when discussing the Middle East and adherence to a blindly Zionist line serves nobody except propagandists. The correspondence, written by the Zionist lobby and Association, shows the extremism of hardline Jews who refuse to tolerate any challenge to their narrative. Global, public opinion, along with many young Jews, is increasingly turning away from a militant and pro-occupation Israel.
In the Association’s latest public newsletter, extracts published below, it’s clear how out of touch the Zionist lobby has become.
First the Association’s introduction:
The term 3 ejournal is special because it contains a tremendously important debate about the history of the Middle East. Given that so many senior Modern History courses feature a unit on the Arab/Israeli conflict we think it would be useful to share these exchanges. At the recent QHTA Annual Conference, author Antony Loewenstein was invited to explore a notable silence in the crisis in the Middle East narrative – the events of 1948. Indeed, these events have never been accepted as a legitimate part of Middle East Peace talks. Antony highlighted what he believed were key moments in the removal of 800 000 Palestinians from their homes. He also explores the way Judaism and Zionism merge in most mainstream commentary on the Middle East.
In this framework the interests of all Jewish people are identical with Israel and its policies. Antony argues that this is not the case. The presentation drew sharp criticism from Jason Steinberg, President of the Jewish Board of Deputies Queensland Chapter. Jason Steinberg argued that Antony did not have the credentials of a historian to reliably evaluate the circumstances surrounding the establishment of Israel. He indicated that Queensland students were being misled if teachers uncritically accepted Antony Loewenstein’s version of Israel’s foundation year.
In response to Jason Steinberg’s letter, President of the QHTA Sue Burvill-Shaw wrote an account of Antony’s participation in the QHTA conference and outlined the approach Queensland history teachers adopt when teaching contested history.
We have published Antony Loewenstein’s speech, an article by Jason Steinberg criticising the central tenet of a recent book by Antony entitled After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, as well as our letter because they remind us that different interpretations of the past are often connected to current debates and that these debates shape the way evidence is gathered and empathy is expressed. We invite readers to contribute their understanding of the historiographical issues raised in this journal.
When students reflect on the Arab/Israeli conflict it can sometimes appear that violence and religious discord are structural features of the region. The past, and not too distant, provides evidence of vibrant multi-faith communities across the Middle East. In Baghdad, Alexandria and Jerusalem many saw themselves as part of a common Judeo-Arabic culture. Jews and Arabs once sat in the same coffee houses and enjoyed the same music. The Israeli poet, Amira Hess declared, “I am Baghdad’s daughter”. Echoing this affectionate recollection of a Jewish upbringing in a multi-faith environment, Israeli novelist Shime’on Ballas wrote “I have never denied my Arab origins or the Arabic language. I am an Arab who has taken up an Israeli identity but no less an Arab than any other Arab”. These affirmations of a shared culture can be a source of hope.
Dr Brian Hoepper suggests that Tony Abbott’s comments about the Australian History Curriculum might indicate a re-emergence of the of the history wars that raged during the Howard years. In the lead-up to the Federal election Mr Abbott argued that there was a left wing bias in the curriculum because too prominent a place is afforded Indigenous studies and trade union history. The Australian, an energetic participant in most cultural battles, tells its readers that the focus in schools should be the “solid canon of history”. Brian neatly traces the opening salvos in the campaign to shape history education and points to some important questions that need to be asked.
In this edition Janis Hanley encourages us to consider ways that we are able to connect large and complicated global events such as a world war to local sources of historical knowledge. Janis describes an investigation carried out by year 2s at the Mudgeeraba Light Horse Museum and supported by local experts. Also included towards the end of this journal are some teaching suggestions guides to accessing the most recent information about the Senior Ancient and Modern History Curriculum.
Centenary State High School
Here’s the Israel lobby’s letter:
The word “Zionism” was grossly misrepresented by Antony Loewenstein in his speech to the QHTA earlier this year. Zionism is simply the affirmation of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in Israel. It does not imply a territorial claim to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip or to particular borders. The fundamental and incontrovertible nature of the right of self-determination of peoples has been recognized in the UN Charter (Art 1.2) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art 1.1) and by the International Court of Justice in the Namibia, Western Sahara and East Timor cases. Australia’s Professor James Crawford regards the right of self-determination and other peoples’ rights as a category of human rights. Individual rights are another. And yes, we accept that the right applies also to the Palestinians. We support a two-State solution for that reason. The UN has supported a resolution of the conflict on the basis of two States for two peoples since 1947, and has rejected the so-called one-State solution.
If a person were to contend that Palestinians are not an authentic nation and do not have the right to national self-determination and to have their own state, I suspect that that person would be widely denounced as a racist, with Antony Loewenstein leading the charge. Yet he sees no irony in contending, expressly or by implication, that the Jewish people (despite centuries of nationhood and statehood, amply attested by their own records and the writings of neighbouring civilisations) are not an authentic nation and do not have the right to national self-determination and to have their own state. He may not admit it expressly but he is saying, in effect, that it is acceptable for the Jews to live once again as vulnerable minority communities within States which each give expression to the language, culture and history of their majority community, but this would never do for the Palestinians! We say that this would never do for either people.
The following article “One-State Dream, One-State Nightmare” published in the New York Times in August this year will hopefully provide Queensland history teachers with some further information about why the suggestion of a One-State solution would not work.
Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies