Why we need to discuss unhealthy power of Zionist lobby part 44225

My weekly Guardian column:

To have a prominent political figure challenging the power and message of the Israel lobby is almost unheard of in most western nations – which is precisely what makes the just released diaries of former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr all the more remarkable.

Across 500 pages, Carr catalogues his intense exercise regime, friendships with Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger and hectic schedule of meetings and first-class travel. Carr’s more eccentric quotes certainly makes it tempting to dismiss the book, but to do so would be missing the vital importance of his remarks on the Israel/Palestine conflict and Zionism’s most aggressive advocates.

Carr explains, in compelling detail, how Melbourne’s Zionist lobby pressures, romances, bullies and cajoles politicians to tow the most fundamentalist position over illegal Israeli colonies, Palestinian recognition at the UN, and even the language used to describe Israeli actions. He also claims that Israel lobby financing impacted the positions of elected politicians on foreign policy. Carr reports former Kevin Rudd telling him that about one-fifth of the money he had raised in the 2007 election campaign had come from the Jewish community, and criticises Julia Gillard’s unfailing pro-Israel stance (see, for example, her effusive praise of the Jewish state after she received the Jerusalem Prize), pointing out that she would not even let him criticise Israeli West Bank settlements.

“It’s an appalling situation if Australia allows a group of [Jewish] businessmen [in Melbourne] to veto policy on the Middle East”, Carr summarises in frustration (unsurprisingly, local Zionist groups have responded with fury and defensiveness to the attack).

Carr is right, of course, but I would also have liked to see him discussing in depth the countless numbers of politician and journalists taken on free trips to Israel by the Zionist lobby, where they are often given a selective tour of the region. Tim Wilson, to take just one example, described an introduction to Israel which included a visit to a refugee camp in Bethlehem and a tour of the old city of Jerusalem, along with “meetings with politicians, academics and journalists” (organisers insist guests are “not controlled” and allowed open access).

Part of the softening of politicians to be receptive to the most extreme views on Israel and Palestine comes from those sponsored trips, coupled with relatively weak Palestinian advocacy and a post 9/11 context which paints Arabs with a discriminatory brush. These trips are not, as The Australian claimed last week, “to better understand its strategic fragilities from the ground” – that’s just lobby language. No, those trips – such as AIJAC’s Rambam Israel fellowship – are in essence programs engineered to show journalists, human rights commissioners, advisors, student leaders and politicians the Israeli government perspective. More than a fair share of them return to Australia singing the praises of Israel, issuing caution over any end to the occupation in the process.

Be astounded with this list, provided by the essential blog chronicler of the lobby, Middle East reality check, of all the media and politicians who have taken these trips over the last few years. This hand-holding can be perceived as one way to propagandise the elites against growing public support for Palestine, especially since few of these visitors seem to use their own initiative and visit Gaza or the West Bank for more than a few hours.

The lobby has to acknowledge its power and access to senior politicians. AIJAC head Mark Leibler didn’t realise or care during his ABC TV Lateline interview last week that boasting about such encounters, when most of his meetings with prime ministers and senior ministers aren’t on the public record, reinforces the public perception that they too often operate in the dark, without accountability. Let’s not forget: this is a lobby which often pushes Australia to take a hardline view on settlements on occupied territories only shared by a handful of other nations, such as the Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru at the UN.

We are that isolated, and Australians deserve to know what goes on behind the scenes. In the meantime, it’s considered perfectly normal for our political class to proudly tweet a photo with Moshe Feiglin, one of the most hardline Israeli politicians (as Australia’s ambassador to Israel did last week), or to welcome a pro-occupation Israeli leader such as Naftali Bennett to Australia.

This is the political environment in which Carr’s diaries and observations must be seen. Australia, and most western countries, continue to indulge Israeli occupation. But cracks are appearing in this strategy, and Carr should be congratulated for slamming the groups and power centres that aim to continue this dysfunctional alliance.

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Personally supporting BDS against Israel

Last night in Sydney there was a successful event to highlight the growing global movement of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel and the legal case against proponent and Sydney University academic Dr Jake Lynch.

Around 140 people came to hear various speakers detailing the many reasons BDS is one just way to apply pressure on occupying Israel.

Here’s my statement of support that I read last night:

South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key successful fighter against apartheid in South Africa, recently wrote a letter condemning US lawmakers for their increasingly crude attempts to curb free speech over BDS. Tutu argued why he long backed BDS:

“I have supported this movement because it exerts pressure without violence on the State of Israel to create lasting peace for the citizens of Israel and Palestine, peace which most citizens crave. I have witnessed the systematic violence against and humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation and pain is all too familiar to us South Africans.”

I support BDS as a human being first and a Jew second. Don’t believe the false rhetoric from the corporate press, some politicians and media as well as the Zionist lobby that BDS is anti-Semitic or discriminatory. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the leading US Israel lobby conference this year, slammed BDS backers as “bigots”. It was a desperate move from a leader and movement, Zionism, that is increasingly known globally as occupiers and brutes. 

BDS is working, removing the legitimacy of a nation that claims to be a democracy but oppresses millions of Palestinians every day. I have seen this with my own eyes in Israel proper, the West Bank and Gaza. 

BDS has moved mainstream, from leading European pension funds divesting from Israeli banks and corporations operating illegally in the occupied territories to Sydney University Professor Jake Lynch refusing to partner with an Israeli academic whose institution colludes with the Israeli state and enforces the occupation. I am proud to call Jake a friend, colleague and partner. 

Believe me when I say that growing numbers of Jews worldwide are uncomfortable with blind support for Israel. Ferocious debates within the Jewish community in the US are a weekly affair. It bodes well for a future when justice for all Jews and Palestinians is possible and both peoples can live free from racism in the name of Zionism. 

When the US-led “peace process” is a sham designed to benefit Israel and the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop refuses to condemn Israeli colonies in the West Bank, BDS is one answer. It challenges the occupier and the forces that support it, demanding equality and punishing the individuals and groups, such as Sodastream, that aim to financially benefit.  

BDS is growing and I’m proud to be part of a global movement that’s led by the Palestinians most directly affected. 

UPDATE: Green Left Weekly has covered the event.

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A truly free society would support and not silence BDS

Me at ABC’s The Drum today:

The BDS movement is a logical and non-violent response to human rights abuses in Palestine, so why is it being threatened in a country like America that prides itself on free speech, asks Antony Loewenstein.

It seems barely a week passes without a student union or corporation somewhere in the world taking a public stand against Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Many now state that they’re following the dictates of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as a way to protest ongoing colonisation of the West Bank and Gaza which remains in breach of international law. In America, where free speech is a long-held tradition, BDS faces multiple attacks against its legitimacy and legal right to be heard, as well as allegations of anti-Semitism.

Today it’s clear that the US political system and, in my view, the sham “peace process” is little more than cover for ongoing and illegal settlement expansion; BDS is rising globally in popularity and coverage partly due to this fact. Even The Australian’s Middle East reporter John Lyons in his paper, the most pro-Israel publication in the country, last weekend accused Australian Zionist leaders of ignoring the human cost of the occupation. For some citizens BDS is seen as a logical, humane and non-violent response to these abuses in Palestine (abuses which countries like the US, UK, and Australia only denounce through lip service). This right, to condemn Israeli actions, should be a fundamental tenet of any democracy.

The only official answer, offered by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters, is falsely accusing BDS of anti-Semitism. At the recent Israel lobby AIPAC conference in Washington, Netanyahu mentioned BDS many times - so much for it being irrelevant and ineffectual as Zionists often claim - and said its adherents were just the latest believers in anti-Semitism. It’s a slur that many people dismiss, hence the gradual rise in BDS support.

Concerned Israeli businesspeople are already feeling the strain and Israeli commentators are worrying that Israel is not winning the war over narrative.

Just this week the National University of Galway passed a motion in support of BDS and therefore became Ireland’s first student union to get on-board. The reason for this move was made clear in the public statement: “Institutional collusion between NUI Galway and Israeli oppression, such as NUI Galway’s use of G4S, the international security company notorious for its provision of security and incarceration ‘services’ to Israel’s inhumane prison regime.”

Last month the student union at the University of Kent decided to sever its ties with G4S and find another provider for assisting the union with a cash handling role. The complicity of G4S in breaching human rights is global, from Australian-run detention centres to poorly run British immigration houses, and cutting ties with the English multinational is gathering steam. The message is clear; hit a company and its shareholders where it hurts, the bottom line.

In the US, politicians and conservative commentators are arguing for the criminalisation of BDS. This would have a chilling effect on free speech in a nation that likes to pride itself on the sanctity of the First Amendment. Perhaps surprisingly, given the American press insulates Americans from the brutal, daily reality of Israeli actions, opposition has been encouragingly strong.

Back in December the American Studies Association (ASA) endorsed BDS and the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities due to their complicity in the Israeli infrastructure of occupation. Individual Israeli academics would not be targeted but any official association with the Israeli state would end until “Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law”.

As a result of this strong and principled stance, echoing the campaign against apartheid South Africa, other state legislatures pledged to help Israel. New York politicians wanted to pass a bill that would have blocked the state from funding academic groups that supported the idea. I wonder if this political enthusiasm was more about securing funding for future political campaigns than an actual belief in Israel. Whatever the case, free speech was threatened and many politicians are still pledging to take action.

The New York Times editorialised (before the bill failed) and wrote that it “would trample on academic freedoms and chill free speech and dissent. Academics are rightly concerned that it will impose a political test on faculty members seeking university support for research meetings and travel”.

The Maryland General Assembly also recently moved to insulate Israel from criticism with a similar bill and even the Washington Post, a strident backer of Israel, condemned it. Maryland may well still back this bill – it has not been quashed.

There are countless other moves to silence free speech over legitimate criticism of Israel, including members of Northeastern University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) being told in early March that their chapter had been suspended for at least a year. The reason that university administrators said the students needed to undergo training was principally due to the group distributing notices across campus that parodied similar eviction notices placed on Palestinian homes targeted for Israeli demolition. Astoundingly, the police were called in to investigate. And this all for just distributing brochures.

This example and many others are why a number of US academics, including Judith Butler and Rashid Khalidi, signed a recent statement that read in part:

“It is important to recognise that boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression … We are now witnessing accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS. We ask cultural and educational institutions to have the courage and the principle to stand for, and safeguard, the very principles of free expression and the free exchange of ideas that make those institutions possible.”

This message must be the core of any reasonable public debate over BDS. Disagreeing with its aim is a legitimate position, of course, but a free society, in America or beyond, is defined by the ability to both tolerate and encourage speech and views that some may find repugnant. American Jewish leaders are waking up to the BDS “threat” and aiming to counter with a pro-Israel message. It’s unlikely that slicker PR will be enough.

The strength of BDS, explained by Jewish Voice for Peace head Rebecca Vilkomerson this month, is that it’s forcing self-described liberals to struggle with the once accepted idea that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic when all the evidence is proving its impossibility. “As a people who have experienced over and over the trauma of refugee-hood and longing for homeland,” she argues, “how can we possibly deny the validity of the right of return for Palestinians? And which do we value more: our fears or our respect for the universality of rights for all people?”

The building debate over Israel/Palestine, with Jews and Arabs, is increasingly about enlarging the tent of public discussion and articulating why virtually all points of view (except for Holocaust denial) must be integral to mature contemporary debate.

A society that believes in free speech would welcome a multitude of views over the Middle East. Trying to intimidate or silence critics of Israel, and its ongoing occupation, is not the way to engender support for the Jewish state.

Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist, author, photographer and blogger. His latest book is Profits Of Doom. View his full profile here.

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Being an Australian, pro-Palestinian Jew

I was recently interviewed for the Executive Style section (!) at Fairfax Media by Gary Nunn, under the headline, Winning By Putting Yourself Second, on my work over Palestine:

Antony Loewenstein is an Australian-Jewish opponent of Israel. Having spent time in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and written two books on the subject, he says it’s his “responsibility as a human first, and a Jew second, to speak out when injustice occurs committed by my people’’.

He says while growing up in Melbourne, he attended Sabbath meals with his family. 

‘‘I recall discussions about Israel and Palestine and the casual racism expressed towards Arabs. I didn’t have the knowledge then or language to forcefully respond but it made me distinctly uncomfortable.”

If he didn’t have the forceful language back then, he’s certainly learnt it since.

“Too many politicians and journalists stay silent and endorse Israeli policies out of a deluded sense of solidarity. Their silence shames us all.”

He admits that his stance puts plenty at stake. “My parents have been partly ostracised by many in the Melbourne Jewish community … and I continue to receive hate mail and occasional death threats for daring to support the Palestinians.”

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Slowly but surely US intellectuals challenge Israeli violence

As Israel continues its strangulation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Jewish state is starting to realise such actions come with a price (like South Africa during apartheid).

This news is big and important (and ignore the typical and utterly tiresome accusations of anti-Semitism) and signals a growing shift to tackle Israel where it hurts; legitimacy. When you occupy Palestinians for decades, expect to pay a price.

The New York Times reports:

An American organization of professors on Monday announced a boycott of Israeli academic institutions to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, signaling that a movement to isolate and pressure Israel that is gaining ground in Europe has begun to make strides in the United States.

Members of the American Studies Association voted by a ratio of more than two to one to endorse the boycott in online balloting that concluded Sunday night, the group said.

With fewer than 5,000 members, the group is not one of the larger scholarly associations. But its vote is a milestone for a Palestinian movement known as B.D.S., for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions, which for the past decade had found little traction in the United States. The American Studies Association is the second American academic group to back the boycott, movement organizers say, following the Association for Asian American Studies, which did so in April.

“It’s almost like a family betrayal,” said Manuel Trajtenberg, a leading Israeli scholar. “It’s very grave and very saddening that this happens, particularly so in the U.S.,” he said.

Dr. Trajtenberg, an economics professor at Tel Aviv University, earned his doctorate at Harvard and like many Israeli academics has had frequent sabbaticals at American universities.

Israel has strong trade ties with Western Europe, where the B.D.S. campaign has won some backing for economic measures, a particular concern for Israelis. Last week a Dutch company, Vitens, announced that it would not do business with Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, because of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel recently faced a potential crisis when it seemed its universities and companies would lose out on some $700 million for research from a European Union program after new guidelines prohibited investment in any institutions operating in territory Israel seized in the 1967 war. Israeli academics were reeling at the possibility that they would be punished over government policy toward the Palestinians, until Israeli and European officials struck a deal late last month to allow Israel to participate.

In April, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland endorsed an academic boycott of Israel, and several times in recent years there have been strong efforts within Britain’s largest professors’ group, the University and College Union, to do the same.

Israelis have long seen Europe as more hostile — even anti-Semitic in some pockets — but a slap from the United States has a particular sting.

“Rather than standing up for academic freedom and human rights by boycotting countries where professors are imprisoned for their views, the A.S.A. chooses as its first ever boycott to boycott Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which academics are free to say what they want, write what they want and research what they want,” Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said Monday.

America is viewed not only as Israel’s staunchest ally, but its best friend, and many analysts have fretted publicly in recent weeks that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outspoken opposition to the interim Iran nuclear deal had damaged relations with Washington.

Next month, the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting will debate a resolution calling on the State Department to criticize Israel for barring American professors from going to Gaza and the West Bank when invited by Palestinian universities.

People on both sides of the issue acknowledged that despite the heat it generates, the requested boycott will have little practical effect, at least for now. The American Studies Association resolution bars official collaboration with Israeli institutions but not with Israeli scholars themselves; it has no binding power over members, and no American colleges have signed on.

In fact, the American Association of University Professors, the nation’s largest professors’ group, said it opposed the boycott. A number of American scholars, while angry at Israeli policies in the West Bank, say they oppose singling Israel out over other countries with far worse human rights records. Others say it makes little sense to focus on Israeli universities where government policy often comes under strong criticism.

“O.K., so a couple of Israeli researchers will not be invited by a couple of American researchers,” said Avraham Burg, a leftist former Labor Party lawmaker who was one of the founders of Molad, a research group that recentlypublished a report on Israeli isolation. “That for me is awful, because the academic community is the last one with the freedom of thought and freedom of expression.”

But Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and a founder of the B.D.S. movement, said the boycott vote shed light on the close collaboration between Israel’s universities and its government and military, and it put those universities on notice that they will become unwelcome in international academic circles.

“It is perhaps the strongest indicator yet that the B.D.S. movement is reaching a tipping point, even in the U.S., the last bastion of support for Israel’s unjust system,” he said.

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What a humanist, progressive, pro-Palestinian Jewish Rabbi looks like

Brant Rosen is that rare breed, an American Jewish Rabbi who remains outspoken about Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.

He’s been profiled in the New York Jewish Forward newspaper:

It was on December 28, 2008, soon after Israel launched its punishing military campaign in Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, that Rabbi Brant Rosen hit the “send” key for a blog post that he believed could well pitch him out of his pulpit.

“We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass,” Rosen had typed out as Israel’s bombs were falling on Gaza — part of a massive response, with numerous civilian casualties, to rockets fired into Southern Israel by the Palestinian faction Hamas, which controls the territory.

“What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza,” Rosen, 50, wrote on his blog, Shalom Rav, “is an outrage.”

The young rabbi, then a decade into his tenure as spiritual leader of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, a 520-household synagogue in Evanston, Ill., concluded his 221-word post with these sentences: “There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?”

That rhetorical question came from a writer whom Newsweek had named earlier that year to its list of the top 25 pulpit rabbis in the United States.

Today, Rosen, 50, heads the rabbinical council of a group called Jewish Voice for Peace, which makes him a high-profile official with an organization on a much different kind of list: the Anti-Defamation League’s “Top Ten Anti-Israel Groups in the U.S.” for 2013.

JVP, which is No. 6 on the list, does not just criticize Israel’s fundamental policies toward the Palestinians and Iran, while claiming its position as a matter of Jewish values. The group contains a range of Israel critics, from self-described left-wing Zionists who favor some form of binational state to outright anti-Zionists. And it supports boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns against targets it views as involved in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. As an organization, it is determinedly agnostic on whether Israel should be governed as an explicitly Jewish state.

An October 2013 report from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs underlines how unusual Rosen’s profile is. Of 552 rabbis from varied points on the political spectrum that the council polled, nearly 40% said they sometimes or often avoided expressing their true feelings about Israel.

“[Rabbis] frequently find themselves fearful of, or caught in the maelstrom of, tension regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their personal views about it,” the JCPA report said.

Rosen said the report’s findings were consistent with his own observations regarding his colleagues. “Most rabbis just don’t engage in Israel at all. They don’t fit in the AIPAC route,” he said, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful mainstream pro-Israel lobby. “But they’re also afraid to speak their truth on this issue…. I confess I was like that for a long time.”

Rosen’s credo for his own congregational leadership is a famous journalistic motto: to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” If he had not become a rabbi, Rosen said, his longtime dream had been to become a newspaper columnist.

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An instructive tale of Zionism, Israel lobby bullying, history and the truth

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.

Adrian Skerritt

Humanities HOD

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.

With thanks

Jason Steinberg

Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies

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Vice interview about Ben Zygier, Israeli spying and Western acceptance

I was recently interviewed by Lily Jovic for Vice magazine:

Last month, Israel struck a 1.2 million dollar deal with the parents of Melbourne-born Mossad agent Ben Zygier, as compensation for his death in prison 3 years ago. The payout seemingly marks the end of the Prisoner X case, a case which despite having serious national security implications, did little to capture the attention of Australia’s government or the people it protects.

We had a chat with Antony Loewenstein, author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, to help us understand why an Australian man turned Israeli spy, jailed without trial and eventually found hanging in a cell while under 24-hour watch, didn’t become the news story of the year.

VICE: Hi Antony. What did you think of the payout?
Anthony Loewenstein: The payout is unsurprising; it’s something governments do pretty commonly as a way to bring silence to the family, who in this case are principally based in Melbourne. They’ve pretty much said nothing the whole time, and generally speaking, members of the Zionist community/lobby have remained silent the whole time too. Countless journalists have tried to speak to them and gotten nowhere. Israel investigated itself and they essentially found that they have no responsibility over what happened, but here’s a million dollars to shut up; it’s a payoff to buy silence.

That’s probably what is most peculiar about this case, the absence of any public discourse, particularly from the Jewish community in Melbourne.
What needs to be understood here is that the Zionist lobby works within the shadows. So when a story like this happens, which is rare, about something that has the potential to embarrass them and Israel, their response is either to say nothing or to deny there is a problem in the first place. It’s a “nothing to see here, move it along” situation, and a damage control approach that is very much supported by both sides of Australian politics. In terms of Zygier, the response of most people in power is: bury it, don’t respond, don’t give it oxygen and hopefully it will go away. Israel’s payment to Zygier’s parents is yet another attempt to make that happen.

What are some questions which, in your mind, the Australian government could press Israel with? If not to bring closure to the family then to at least address security concerns.
How many Australian Jews are going to Israel, taking citizenship and working for the Mossad? What are they doing with the Mossad? The enemies that Mossad sees are the enemies Australia sees, because Australia is a client state of America and Israel. That’s how it works, that’s what real politics is about. How does the Australian government feel about Israeli Australian citizens who undertake potentially illegal behaviour? That’s an important question, the Australian government had no interest in finding that out, they didn’t really care and evidently don’t care because they turn a blind eye and support it.

I think we really have to separate between public statements and private realities. The assassination of a Hamas weapons dealer in 2010 obviously got exposure because the Israelis, in a remarkably stupid manner, were caught on CCTV cameras. The Australian government was publicly pissed off with the fact that Australian passports were used, but I understand privately that this sort of thing happens all the time.

So, Australia isn’t privately concerned with what happened to Zygier or Israel’s austere censorship measures?
Well there’s been a remarkable lack of curiosity, in fact a ridiculous lack of curiosity. The report that the Australian government released after the Zygier incident, was complete bullshit, whitewash. Basically saying yes there were some issues with overall security but Israel behaved fine.

Publicly when something of that nature happens, they have to say something. The idea that Australian passports are being forged for the use of assassination and covert operations is a pretty bad look. Privately, that’s not seen as a major problem and I understand the relationship between both countries is largely unaffected by it all.

In the case of Zygier, the relationship between the two governments has certainly worked more in Israel’s favour. In your opinion, is it more mutual than it appears?
Ultimately the relationship with Israel is fundamentally based on a question of intelligence sharing over issues like Iran and Hezbollah. Bob Carr’s comments in past six months expressing that all the Israeli colonies in the West Bank were illegal, has caused apoplexy. The Jewish community was incredibly pissed off with that, and the result was that they would much rather have had an Abbott government, and here we are. Not to say that was because of them of course, but they are much happier with that kind of governance.

One that props up the image of Israel?
Precisely. The Zygier case feeds into that image paranoia the Jewish establishment has. It looks as if Israel essentially abused or assaulted Zygier in some way, and when Israel is already perceived to be under attack for its countless, daily human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza, this is merely one more stake in the heart. If there’s a sense somehow that there beloved Israel could end up killing one of us, either through suicide or murder, that’s not a good look. It’s led to the shift of Israel’s image from this wonderfully social, left wing country to an occupier and brute.

There’s a real sense that the Zygier case, for a lot of people, was very clarifying and actually confirmed the belief that Israel is a rogue state that treats its own citizens badly. Zygier was an agent, yes, but with dual citizenship.

That’s all we really know about Zygier, could more information ever emerge?
Obviously a lot has emerged this year, and he was probably involved in some kind of covert action in relation to Hezbollah, and potentially monitoring in Europe what Iran was doing in relation to its nuclear program. It appears that he may well have committed suicide, and it’s far from impossible that he did so, we just don’t know. That information may come out at some point, but not for a long time.

Any information you could divulge from your own research that tells us of Zygier’s involvement in Mossad and his apparent suicide?
In terms of the actual details of what he was doing and how he died, I don’t know. That is far too difficult to discover from here. What I have investigated is the constipation of the Zionist establishment towards this kind of case. They’re embarrassed that it will be seen that an Australian citizen has essentially become a traitor to his own country and undertaken activities by a foreign country, which in Australian law could well be illegal, that is the fundamental point.

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The Wire interview on failed US-backed Middle East talks

The media is once again filled with Middle East “experts” pontificating about the prospects of Obama-led “peace talks” in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine. There’s zero chance of a just outcome. The occupation deepens by the day.

I was interviewed by the current affairs show The Wire to discuss the reality on the ground:

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The Bourdain/CNN take on Israel/Palestine

Surely a healthy sign of the mainstreaming of Palestine. US chef Anthony Bourdain takes his TV show to Israel and Palestine (including the West Bank and Gaza) and shows humanity in Palestine and crass extremism of Zionist settlers:

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The eternal paradox at the heart of Zionism

The always insightful Israeli historian Ilan Pappe  (who endorsed my first book, My Israel Question) on where to from here for Israel and Palestine:

The recent attempt to revive the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians is not likely to produce more meaningful results than that of any of the previous attempts. It comes 20 years after the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The Oslo Accords were a twofold event. There was the Declaration of Principles (DoP) signed ceremoniously on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993; and there was the relatively less celebrated ‘Oslo II’ agreement signed in September 1995 in Taba, Egypt, which outlined the implementation of the 1993 DoP, according to their Israeli interpretation.

The Israeli interpretation was that the Oslo Accords were merely an international as well as a Palestinian endorsement of the strategy the Israelis had formulated back in 1967 vis-à-vis the occupied territories. After the 1967 war, all the successive Israeli governments were determined to keep the West Bank as part of Israel. It was, for them, both the heart of the ancient homeland and a strategic asset that would prevent the bisection of the state into two should another war break out.

At the same time, the Israeli political elite did not wish to grant citizenship to the people living there, nor did they seriously contemplate their expulsion. They wanted to keep the area, but not the people. The first Palestinian uprising, however, proved the cost of the occupation, leading the international community to demand from Israel a clarification of its plans for the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For Israel, Oslo was that clarification.

The Oslo Accords were not a peace plan for the Israelis; they were a solution to the paradox that had long troubled Israel, of wanting the physical space without the people on it. This was the predicament of Zionism from the day of its inception: how to have the land without its native people in a world that no longer accepted more colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

The Oslo II accords provided the answer: the discourse of peace will be employed while creating facts on the ground that lead to the restricting of the native population to small spaces, while the rest is annexed to Israel.

In the Oslo II accords, the West Bank was divided into three areas. Only one of them, Area A, where Palestinians lived in densely populated areas, was not directly controlled by Israel. It was a non-homogeneous territory that constituted a mere three per cent of the West Bank in 1995, and it grew to 18 per cent by 2011. The Israelis granted that area autonomy and created the Palestinian National Authority to run it. The two other areas, Area C and Area B, were run directly by Israel in the case of the former, and allegedly jointly, but also directly in practice, in the latter.

Oslo was meant to allow the Israelis to perpetuate this matrix of partition and control for a very long period. The second Palestinian uprising of 2001 showed that the Palestinians were unwilling to accept it. The Israeli response was to search for yet another Oslo, which we can perhaps call Oslo III, that would again grant them international and Palestinian acceptance for the way they want to rule the occupied territories. That is, by granting limited autonomy in densely populated Palestinian areas and full Israeli control over the rest of the territory. This would serve as a permanent solution in which that autonomy would eventually be termed ‘statehood’.

But something has changed in the Israeli view of Oslo since the year 2000. The political powers in Israel before 2000 were genuine, I believe, in their offer of Area C of the West Bank, and Gaza to the Palestinians for statehood. The political elite that took over in this century, however, while employing the discourse on two states, has established, without declaring it publicly, a one Israeli state in which Palestinians in the West Bank will be in the same secondary status as those living elsewhere inside Israel. They also found a special solution for the Gaza Strip: to ghettoise it.

The wish to maintain the status quo as a permanent reality became a full-blown Israeli strategy with the rise of Ariel Sharon to power in the early part of this century. The only hesitation he had was about the future of the Gaza Strip; and once he found the formula of ghettoising it, instead of ruling it directly, he felt no need to change the reality on the ground elsewhere in any dramatic way.

This strategy is based on the assumption that in the long run, the international community would grant Israel, if not legitimacy, than at least leniency toward its continued control over the West Bank. The Israeli politicians are aware that this strategy has isolated Israel in world public opinion, turning it into a pariah state in the eyes of civil society groups all over the globe. But, at the same time, they are also relieved to know that so far this global trend had little effect on the policies of the Western governments and their allies.

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US and Western hypocrisy over Syria must be remembered

Great column by John Pilger over the selective outrage:

On my wall is the front page of Daily Express of September 5, 1945 and the words: “I write this as a warning to the world.” So began Wilfred Burchett’s report from Hiroshima. It was the scoop of the century. For his lone, perilous journey that defied the US occupation authorities, Burchett was pilloried, not least by his embedded colleagues. He warned that an act of premeditated mass murder on an epic scale had launched a new era of terror.

Almost every day now, he is vindicated. The intrinsic criminality of the atomic bombing is borne out in the US National Archives and by the subsequent decades of militarism camouflaged as democracy. The Syria psychodrama exemplifies this. Yet again, we are held hostage to the prospect of a terrorism whose nature and history even the most liberal critics still deny. The great unmentionable is that humanity’s most dangerous enemy resides across the Atlantic.

John Kerry’s farce and Barack Obama’s pirouettes are temporary. Russia’s peace deal over chemical weapons will, in time, be treated with the contempt that all militarists reserve for diplomacy. With Al-Qaida now among its allies, and US-armed coupmasters secure in Cairo, the US intends to crush the last independent states in the Middle East: Syria first, then Iran. “This operation [in Syria],” said the former French foreign minister Roland Dumas in June, “goes way back. It was prepared, pre-conceived and planned.”

When the public is “psychologically scarred”, as the Channel 4 reporter Jonathan Rugman described the British people’s overwhelming hostility to an attack on Syria, reinforcing the unmentionable is made urgent. Whether or not Bashar al-Assad or the “rebels” used gas in the suburbs of Damascus, it is the US not Syria that is the world’s most prolific user of these terrible weapons. In 1970, the Senate reported, “The US has dumped on Vietnam a quantity of toxic chemical (dioxin) amounting to six pounds per head of population”. This was Operation Hades, later renamed the friendlier Operation Rand Hand: the source of what Vietnamese doctors call a “cycle of foetal catastrophe”. I have seen generations of young children with their familiar, monstrous deformities. John Kerry, with his own blood-soaked war record, will remember them. I have seen them in Iraq, too, where the US used depleted uranium and white phosphorous, as did the Israelis in Gaza, raining it down on UN schools and hospitals. No Obama “red line” for them. No showdown psychodrama for them.

The repetitive debate about whether “we” should “take action” against selected dictators (i.e. cheer on the US and its acolytes in yet another aerial killing spree) is part of our brainwashing. Richard Falk, emeritus professor of international law and UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, describes it as “a self-righteous, one-way, legal/moral screen [with] positive images of Western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence”. This “is so widely accepted as to be virtually unchallengeable”.

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