Local Jewish leaders warn off Labor’s “anti-Israel ratbags”

My following article appears in today’s edition of Crikey:

The Israeli government decided earlier this week to declare the Gaza Strip “hostile territory” and vowed to cut off essential services such as electricity and fuel to the over one million Palestinian residents in the Hamas-controlled territory.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Jewish state to reconsider its decision saying: “Such a step would be contrary to Israel’s obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law.” Israel was publicly announcing it was committing war crimes (and the Israeli establishment supported it).

Lest anyone think that the Australian Jewish community cares about such an egregious decision (let alone condemn it), they’re far too busy worrying about the possibility that a Kevin Rudd-led government may indulge “anti-Israel ratbags” in Labor’s backbench. According to this week’s Bulletin, the self-described leaders of the Jewish establishment are determined to warn Labor that they won’t tolerate anything less than complete obedience to the Likudnik worldview. Any criticism of Israeli policies is unacceptable and displays an unhealthy “anti-Israel” tendency. Zionism isn’t a choice; it’s a political duty.

There is something inherently insecure about a supposedly strong community tolerating no public debate on one of the key foreign issues of our time. The Bulletin article cites Labor’s “fiercest Israel critics” as Tanya Plibersek and Julia Irwin.

Plibersek’s “crime” in 2002 was to claim, correctly under international law, that there is a “rogue state which consistently ignores UN resolutions whose ruler is a war criminal – it is called Israel and the war criminal is Ariel Sharon”.

Irwin dared suggest in 2005, just after Israel’s sham withdrawal from Gaza, that the territory was a “Palestinian ghetto; a prison for its one million people.” Furthermore, “We are witnessing the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem”. The UN recently confirmed her analysis.

Observing these parochial discussions prove how utterly removed from reality Jewish spokesmen have become. While a leading Israeli commentator has openly called Israel’s behaviour in the occupied territories akin to apartheid, a new bestselling book in the US claims that the Zionist lobby is stifling public debate on the Middle East and recently released polling of young American Jews finds that less than half under the age of 35 believe Israel’s destruction would be a personal tragedy, Jewish leaders are more focused on pointing out perceived anti-Israel “bias” at The Age. In their worldview, any criticism of Israel is “biased.”

They don’t want to accept it, but a Jewish “glasnost” is sprouting around the world. Their hysterical responses reflects an inability to recognise that they can no longer claim to speak for all Jews nor be the sole guardians of Jewish identity.

The truth behind these latest constructed fears is that both Coalition and Labor policy is virtually identical on Israel (despite Peter Costello’s suggestions otherwise). If Jews truly believe that any political party is the “best friend” of Israel, they should welcome a robust discussion of Israel’s illegal expansion in the occupied territories or the killing of innocent Palestinians on most days of the week.

But I guess this just makes me biased.

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