So many Jewish voices

The following letter appears in today’s Australian newspaper:

The letter from Grahame Leonard and other leaders of Australian Jewry (Letters, 7/3) misses the point as to why hundreds of Australian Jews have signed an open letter calling for more open and reasoned debate on the Middle East within and beyond the Jewish community.

We are not disputing the fact that these leaders are, as their letter states, opposed to vilification and intimidation on racial or religious grounds. But what we do dispute is the McCarthy-like vilification of those who do not toe the “Israel right or wrong” position of powerful individuals and organisations in the community. Saying that we should stand for election to Jewish community bodies if we are not happy is not a solution to the much broader problem of the manipulation of historical insecurities in the Jewish community in Australia and in many other countries. Nor does this solution help with the boots-and-all approach of some leaders to the publication of reasoned criticism of the Israeli government from outside the Jewish community.

Critical views of Israel held by many Australian Jews do not threaten Israeli security. Our views are, by and large, based on the criticism of Israeli policies and actions which appear in the free Israeli press itself. We are told that those who are critical of Israel are supporters of Palestinian terror or duplicitous anti-Semites and that, as the British journalist and author Melanie Phillips, a recent guest of the neo-con (and unelected) Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council has put it, we set in place the foundations for a second Holocaust.

This is the sort of intimidation that offends so many people today and why people are speaking out.
Larry Stillman
Elwood, Vic

The following letter appears in today’s Age newspaper:

If Age readers are still in any doubt about how the Jewish establishment treats dissenting voices, they might like to read the following.

Last week, before the letter to which I was a signatory had been published, the Australian Jewish News ran a news story whose first paragraph ran as follows: “A new coalition of Australian Jews critical of Israeli security policies is set to launch a nationwide campaign voicing its dissent against the Jewish State and its supporters.”

Later in the news item, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein was quoted as saying: “Despite the wording of the declaration, it is clearly being used as a publicity stunt by a minuscule number of Jewish-born individuals who have adopted the ugly but increasingly common belief that alone among the world’s nations, Israel has no right to exist.”

Both the news lead and Dr Rubenstein’s comments were classic examples of why the letter was written and the group was formed. Note that signatories are not Jews: they are “Jewish-born individuals”. They are not unhappy with specific Israeli government policies and their uncritical promulgation by local Jewish leaders: they are dissenters “against the Jewish State” and they believe that “Israel has no right to exist”.

I would not have signed the letter or joined its sponsoring group, Independent Australian Jewish Voices, if I thought it was arguing for this position.

What is most galling, however, is that the moderate sentiments in the letter have been treated with such appalling heavy-handedness.

Both the AJN and Dr Rubenstein demonstrated, by these pre-emptive smears and vicious distortions, the truth of a central statement in the letter: “Our concern for justice and peace in the Middle East is a legitimate opinion and should be met by reasoned argument rather than vilification and intimidation.”
Henry Rosenbloom, Carlton North

The following letter appears in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

The Australian Jewish community is one of robust debate and open democracy. Consequently, one reads the announcement of the launch of Independent Australian Jewish Voices with a sense of intrigue and apprehension.

Antony Loewenstein and his group call for “a just peace that recognises the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians with a solution that protects the human rights of all”. That is, of course, entirely consistent with the reasoned and sensible policy positions articulated by the elected leadership of the Australian Jewish community.

Next, they call for “reasoned argument rather than vilification and intimidation”. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has been at the forefront of fighting vilification and intimidation, not only of Jews but of all who face unlawful vilification.

The leadership of the Australian Jewish community is a credible voice in public forums precisely because we use reasoned argument to pursue sensible policies and we base our positions on sound research. We are more than prepared to expose the factually flawed, poorly reasoned material that Loewenstein applauds, such as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s attempt to smear the organised American Jewish community.

The group then says that it seeks “debate to further the prospects of peace, security and human rights in the Middle East”. Anyone who has witnessed debate at established open forums such as the monthly public meetings of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies will tell you that debate and airing of diverse views is the norm within the Jewish community.

Members of Independent Australian Jewish Voices could take advantage of the democratic processes which elect the leadership of our Jewish community and nominate for election to these bodies. That they choose not to, but instead imply the Jewish community leadership acts in ways it does not, speaks volumes as to their concern for democratic ideals.

David D. Knoll NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, and Grahame Leonard, Executive Council of Australian Jewry

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