Last week I received a surprising email from the producer of a new US radio program hosted by the famed Zionist academic and writer Alan Dershowitz. It’s called Debate Dershowitz. I was invited on as a guest last weekend to discuss Israel, Palestine, occupation and war. As one of America’s most vocal and blind defenders of Israel I wasn’t expecting a calm and rational discussion. It was sometimes hard getting a word in, Dershowitz loves defending Israel and its every actions, but I’m happy to report I mentioned boycotts, violence, Jews turning away from Zionism and the one-state solution. My interview begins at 26:49:
Last week I spoke at Sydney’s Politics in the Pub about the recent Gaza conflict and implications for global attitudes towards Israel. Thanks to Cathy Vogan for filming the event:
My weekly Guardian column:
The South African national high school debating team was recently in Bangkok for the world debating championships. During the competition, the team uploaded a picture of themselves at the tournament’s opening ceremony to Facebook, and controversy ensued.
“Team South Africa wearing Palestinian badges and Keffiyehs to show our opposition to the human rights violations carried out against the people of Palestine,” they posted.
The debating team’s captain, Joshua Broomberg, is the deputy head boy of a prestigious Jewish school in Johannesburg. That sent the online commenters into apoplexy. Threats of violence were made against the students.
Although South Africa has long had a strongly pro-Israel Jewish community, despite the African National Congress government increasingly opposing Israeli militarism and occupation, there are growing splits within the tight, Zionist enclave. Over 500 prominent Jews signed a statement a few weeks ago that read:
“Just as we resist antisemitism, we refuse to dehumanise Palestinians in order to make their deaths lighter on our collective conscience. We sign this statement in order to affirm their humanity and our own. We distance ourselves from South African Jewish organizations whose blind support for Israel’s disproportionate actions moves us further from a just resolution to the conflict.”
In the global Jewish diaspora, dissent against Israel of this magnitude is a relatively new phenomenon. Although support for the Jewish state has been an unofficial second religion for Jews for decades – in my own family it was simply expected that Israel would be uncritically backed in times of war and peace, with Palestinians demonised as unreasonable and violent – times are changing.
This doesn’t please some of the loudest Jewish voices. Conservative writer Shmuel Rosner argued in the New York Times in early August that liberal critics of Israel were severing familial ties. “If all Jews are a family”, he wrote, “it would be natural for Israelis to expect the unconditional love of their non-Israeli Jewish kin.”
“If Jews aren’t a family,” he continued, “and their support can be withdrawn, then Israelis have no reason to pay special attention to the complaints of non-Israeli Jews.”
Rosner believes that Israel will survive without liberal Jewish backing but surely even he recognises that Israel isn’t an island, and without strong support from America – diplomatically, financially and militarily – the Jewish state is isolated and increasingly alone. Rosner knows that Jewish diaspora support for Israel is vital if the Jewish state is to perpetuate its nearly 50-year occupation of Palestinian lands.
The standard tools used to silence skeptical Jews, including those in the diaspora – false allegations of self-hatred and antisemitism, accusations of backing Hamas – are less effective today. Israel can’t rely on diaspora support while hardline Zionists criticise diaspora Jewish voices for an apparently insufficient knowledge of Israeli politics or Hebrew, either.
In reality, despite what Israel supporters claim, the conflict isn’t complicated; occupation never is. Critics have been stripped of their power by the sheer scale of the Israeli invasion in Gaza, and the searing images of death and destruction, which are forcing even the most dedicated Israel backers to question the tactic of collective punishment.
In the US, Israel’s chief backer, support for Israel is flagging. The numbers don’t lie; a recent Gallup poll in the US found that Democrat voters and youth were much less likely to endorse Israel’s actions than the general US population, and a key sample of congressional staffers agreed that “Israel attacked Gaza in a wild overreaction”.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee understands the “vulnerability” of progressive support for Israel in the diaspora. Funding for young Jews to embraceIsrael has been ramped up and “birthright” trips are still ongoing, despite the conflict. But as one Rabbi noted, “This is a hard time to go and make that deep connection that we seek to make [on trips to Israel] … you are not going to see the Israel I saw when I was there in June. It really is different. It changed overnight”. Even the free trips are losing their effectiveness, and little wonder: a recent video, filmed at the Western Wall, shows how some young Israelis consider “another war, and another war, and another war” in Gaza to be normal.
The Jewish diaspora has long been relied upon to endorse and fund Israeli actions. Zionist leaders from my home country, Australia, are this month welcoming one of the most senior members of the Israeli government: Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, who advocates the total separation of Palestinians and Jews inside Israel, and wants “loyalty oaths” for Arab-Israeli citizens. The visit is already being hailed as “a wonderful reflection of the standing of the Australian Jewish community within the leadership of the Israeli government.”
The feeling is mutual. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, wrote a letter to diaspora Jews this month thanking them for “standing by Israel”:
“The support of Jewish communities around the world has been a source of great strength for the people of Israel … Many of you have had to face aggressive protesters, and even violent antisemitism … Israel will, for its part, continue standing at your side, as you deal with hatred and intolerance. Jews everywhere should be able to live with pride, not fear. I have great faith in the Jewish people and in the justice of our cause.”
While Israel doesn’t attract the same degree of support, some blind, it once enjoyed, the extent of dissent shouldn’t be exaggerated. Netanyahu’s message is still overwhelmingly appreciated by the majority of active Jews worldwide. Orthodox and Liberal around the world embrace Israel in their own, often deeply reactionary way – as do plenty of evangelical Christians.
Even some self-described progressive Jews, like the US writer Peter Beinart, still identify as Zionist. They do so to stay connected to family, friends and community. Were they to oppose Israel they would become outsiders. After all, since Israel’s establishment in 1948, and more so since the 1967 Six Day War, communal organisations have been deeply involved in providing the intellectual, emotional and financial backing for the Jewish state.
Who knows how many more Israeli massacres it will take to wean Jews in the diaspora off the Zionist cultural drip-feed? There’s a feeling of belonging, a prestige associated with the Zionist world that makes many Jews feel complete. Losing that means cutting ties with the modern, Jewish ritual of devotion to a foreign country. It’s perhaps hard for an outsider to understand this.
Nevertheless, groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace in America are giving strength to an independent view. While acknowledging the worrying signs of real antisemitism emerging around the world, they argue, as Israeli journalist Amira Hass does, that “If the security of Jews in the Middle East were of real interest … [the west] would not continue subsidising the Israeli occupation”.
Even the prominent Zionist Leon Wieseltier, writing in New Republic, is signalling the surging disquiet. “I have been surprised by the magnitude of the indifference in the Jewish world to the human costs of Israel’s defense against the missiles and the tunnels,” he argued recently.
A “Jewish Bloc against Zionism” marched in the massive protests in London against the Gaza massacre, joining unprecedented outrage from Britain’s political leadership over Israeli behaviour. Jews protested in New York and across America against Israeli actions.
Diaspora Jews should acknowledge the risks that arise from conflating antisemitism with anti-Zionism, a legitimate difference with historical roots. They are increasingly feeling targeted for uncritically backing Israel, and perhaps have the most to lose if this distinction is not made. The alternatives are bleak: a split among Jewish communities along generational lines, or growing disillusionment of the Jewish population.
French Jews are moving to Israel in ever-growing numbers, but few Jews feel safer in Israel than in their own nations. What threatens the Zionist establishment is not antisemitism or migration, but boycotts. A spokesperson for Britain’s Community Security Trust, a group that monitors antisemitism, recently said that the community would “get through” a spike in Jew hatred – “but the boycott stuff is really, really serious”.
Stinging Gideon Levy in Haaretz:
Israel is today the most dangerous place in the world for Jews. Since its establishment, more Jews were hurt in wars and terror attacks that took place in Israel than anywhere else. The war in Gaza took this one step backward – it endangered world Jews as well, as no other war has before it. The Jewish home, the national refuge, not only doesn’t provide refuge, but even threatens Jews everywhere else. When you tote up the results of the war, include that too in the loss column.
A wave of animosity is washing over world public opinion. In contrast to the complacent, blind, smug Israeli public opinion, people abroad saw the pictures in Gaza and were aghast. No conscientious person could have remained unaffected. The shock was translated into hatred toward the state that did all that, and in extreme cases the hatred also awakened anti-Semitism from its lair. Yes, there is anti-Semitism in the world, even in the 21st century, and Israel has fueled it. Israel provided it with abundant excuses for hatred.
But not every anti-Israeli sentiment is anti-Semitism. The opposite is true – most of the criticism of Israel is still substantive and moral. Anti-Semitism, racist as any national hatred, popped up on the sidelines of this criticism – and Israel is indirectly responsible for its appearance.
But Israel and the Diaspora Jewish establishment automatically tag any criticism as anti-Semitic. It’s an old trick – the burden of guilt is shifted from those who perpetrated the Gaza horrors to those who are tainted with so-called anti-Semitism. It’s not us, it’s you, anti-Semitic world. No matter what Israel does, the whole world is against it.
This is nonsense, of course. Just as not every policeman who gives a Jewish driver a traffic ticket is an anti-Semite, as the Jewish organizations try to put it, and not every robbery of a rabbi is a hate crime, so not every criticism of Israel is motivated by hatred of Jews.
These organizations have become the lightning rods of the criticism of Israel and they have brought it on themselves. This is the price of their blind support of Israel, their noisy propaganda campaigns in Israel’s name, their turning of every Jewish community center into a PR agency for Israel, and their unanimous support for everything Israel does. We’re all one people, they say. In that case, if every Jew who dares to censure Israel, even when it’s involved in brutal conduct, is a self-hating Jew – then everyone bears responsibility.
Quite a few Jews abroad sent me frightened messages during the war, pleading me to stop writing my articles, cease my criticism, because the anti-Semites use them. I replied to all of them that all my articles together haven’t affected Israel’s status as much as one news report from Gaza. I also know many who still harbor sympathy for Israel precisely because of the remnants here of a free society, one that allows criticism.
In any case, the address for the Jews’ fear should be the State of Israel. Many Jews now feel afraid. Part of the fear may be exaggerated, part of it is justified. It seems to me that being a Muslim in Europe is still harder than being a Jew. But in Paris, Jews don’t dare wear a kippa, in Belgium a woman wasn’t allowed into a store because she was Jewish and a French journalist who visited Algiers last week told me that the hatred for Israel and the Jews in France has reached an all-time high.
The address for all the complaints is Israel, because Israel is the one to blame for Gaza.
Whoever is afraid for the Jews’ fate, whoever is shocked by the anti-Semitic incidents, should have thought about it before taking Israel to another runaway war. The world isn’t always against Israel. Suffice it to remember Israel’s status during the Oslo period, when the entire world cheered it, including parts of the Arab world. This world will be happy to embrace Israel again, if this country only changes its bullying, domineering behavior.
Gevalt, anti-Semitism? Maybe. But Israel is supplying the fuse.
This Friday the Lebanese Muslim Association has organised an event titled, “From Iraq to Gaza: The Politics of Fear”. I’ll be speaking alongside many others.
Daring to be critical of the dominant narrative over Palestine or terrorism has upset Rupert Murdoch’s resident race-baiter Andrew Bolt.
There’s also a “story” in today’s Murdoch Australian that features a comical statement from the Zionist lobby, showing how they only want society to hold events that praise Israel under their terms. In other words, never. It’s no wonder they’re regarded as censorious fringe dwellers. And thanks, Rupert, for calling me a “noted anti-Zionist author”:
Liberal MP Craig Laundy will pretty much front any public forum no matter who’s on the panel if it gives him the chance to discuss government policy and break down the “them and us” mentality he says is being perpetuated against the Muslim community.
The western Sydney member for the culturally diverse seat of Reid has been lambasted for agreeing to take part in a Lebanese Muslim Association event tomorrow titled From Iraq to Gaza: The Politics of Fear, which will also be attended by a number of anti-Israeli commentators.
The panel includes pro-international boycott, divestment and sanctions academics Peter Slezak and Jake Lynch and noted anti-Zionist author Antony Loewenstein.
Also on the panel are interfaith activist Aftab Ahmad Malik, who is often highly critical of Israel, Labor MP Tony Burke and journalism academic Peter Manning.
Mr Laundy was a key voice arguing against the Abbott government’s ultimately scrapped plan to overturn section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“I knew Tony Burke was going, but I’ve never met the other people on the panel. I don’t know their views on things and I don’t care,” Mr Laundy told The Australian. “They’re entitled to their view. I’m going to explain what we as a government are doing and why we’re doing it and to answer questions about it.
“When I’m invited to go somewhere and explain government policy I will do so.”
Last night a spokesman for the Executive Council for Australian Jewry told The Australian the forum had “questionable intellectual and moral credibility”.
“All the speakers are on record as taking a generally antipathetic view of Israel. Some of them have even called for its destruction,” AJAC executive director Peter Wertheim said. “The entire event is designed as an opportunity to polemicise against Israel and its western allies.”
Mr Burke told The Australian: “It’s an important time for a constructive dialogue with the community about events in these parts of the world.”
Mr Laundy, who said his colleagues backed his move to speak at tomorrow’s event, said overall the reaction in his electorate had been mixed to the latest suite of anti-terror laws — which included requiring travellers prove their trip to designated areas in the Middle East was legitimate — but the dialogue needed to continue.
“There is a lot of detail still to come and the job of a local MP is to front up and speak to a local community … to be that two way-conduit,” he said.
Mr Laundy said he “believes fundamentally in free speech”. “My argument on 18C was pragmatic — with rights come responsibility,” he said. “The people that argue against me over that, are now the same ones who want to persecute someone because of their religion. “They want to criticise me. I should have freedom of association on Friday night but they want to criticise me for doing my job as a local federal MP.”
Mr Laundy, who became the first Liberal to win his seat at the last election, said the message he was taking to the community was that “with rights come responsibility — practise your religion, live within the law”.
He condemned the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as nothing more than “sectarian terrorism”.
Yesterday in Sydney I was honoured to launch the new book by Marcelo Svirsky, After Israel: Towards Cultural Transformation. It was a packed house to discuss Gaza, Israeli politics, racism and the future of the Middle East. Svirsky recently spoke eloquently on ABC radio about Israeli extremism.
Here are my notes from yesterday’s launch:
Strength of book is how it reveals the real Israel to a reader, not the imaginary Israel so often portrayed in our media.
- Explain “statement” at front of book, why did you write it?
- Do you hope Israelis read the book? Do have any sympathy for the Jewish Israeli population?
- Explain schizophrenia of liberal Zionists, here and overseas?
- You’re arguing for the dismantlement of Israel and Zionism. In current debate, this is a radical idea. Why is this necessary?
- Explain real dissent inside Israel, ie Zochrot?
- Why has the extremism of Israeli mainstream been hidden from the world for so long? Eg Moshe Feiglin’s recent, genocidal statement on Gaza.
- Explain logic of BDS.
- Critics of BDS say it unfairly targets Israel when there are other, worse human rights abuses in other countries, such as Iraq, Syria and North Korea. Respond.
- Role of medium power such as Australia towards Israel/Palestine?
- What’s your ultimate vision for your birth country? What do you fear is the future?
- How do your personal experiences shape your current politics on Israel and other issues? What other areas of interest have been influenced by your investment in the Israel/Palestine conflict?
I was interviewed a few nights ago on ABC News Radio on the conflict in Gaza and the realities of the Zionist lobby:
Today I spoke at a large Sydney rally in support of Palestine, Gaza and a dissenting, non-violent Jewish perspective. I think there were only a handful of Jews in the predominantly Muslim and Arab crowd. I hope that more Jews begin to find their voice on this vital humanitarian issue and refuse to allow Israel to speak in our name.
Thanks to Rahaf Ahmed for filming my speech:
This morning I was invited onto Channel 7’s Weekend Sunrise to discuss the Israeli onslaught in Gaza and Israeli government extremism: