Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

On Peter Singer’s ambivalence towards Zionism

Here’s a very interesting profile, by Dan Goldberg in JTA, on famed philosopher Peter Singer. Despite the almost obligatory disparaging comment about dissident Jews – feeling insecure much, Zionists? – I’m pleased the group I co-founded, Independent Australian Jewish Voices, continues to elicit debate:

He’s been brandished “the most dangerous man on earth,” accused of being a “public advocate of genocide” and likened to Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi “Angel of Death.”

Yet he’s also been hailed as “one of the world’s 100 most influential people” and “among the most influential philosophers alive.”

Welcome to the contradictory world that surrounds Peter Singer, the Australia-born moral philosopher who has been a professor of bioethics at Princeton University in New Jersey since 1999. Loved and loathed, one thing cannot be refuted: Singer, 65, has provoked debate about controversial issues such as infanticide, euthanasia, eugenics and animal rights.

Earlier this month, the Jewish-born, Melbourne-raised ethicist was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The citation noted his “eminent service to philosophy and bioethics as a leader of public debate and communication of ideas in the areas of global poverty animal welfare and the human condition.”

Singer, who lost three of his grandparents in the Holocaust, also has stirred debate on key issues that affect Jews, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ritual slaughter of animals, freedom of speech and charity as a means of combating global poverty.

On the ethics of Israel’s establishment, he told JTA, “Clearly there were moral flaws in the setting up of the State of Israel without proper consultation and participation by Palestinians. But that was a long time ago now, and I think that instead of looking backwards, we should try to work out the best solution for all those living in Israel and the occupied territories.”

In 2010 he signed a petition renouncing his “right of return” to Israel because it is “a form of racist privilege that abets the colonial oppression of the Palestinians.”

The petition, issued by the far-left Independent Australian Jewish Voices, an offshoot of a British group, said that “It is not right that we may ‘return’ to a state that is not ours while Palestinians are excluded and continuously dispossessed.”

Singer says he does not subscribe entirely to the views of the dissenting Jewish group, which has been marginalized by the Australian Jewish establishment.

“I take my own stance on what I judge to be right,” he said. “I have sometimes declined to sign statements from IAJV, for example, because I thought they were too one-sided, and while rightly criticizing actions taken by the Israeli government, did not also criticize actions taken by Hamas.”

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Independent Australian Jewish Voices newsletter just out

The following was sent yesterday:

Dear friends,

We are sending out our occasional newsletter and we would like to express our gratitude for the support we have received. In particular, we are grateful to various generous benefactors without whom our activities would not be possible.

We have recently joined the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), which “has been formed by civil society groups to give a national voice to the Palestinian experience, with the aim of bringing balance and truth to the public debate in Australia about the Israel-Palestine conflict.” APAN “was officially established as an Incorporated Association in May 2011 and its founding membership base includes representatives of Palestinian groups, unions, churches, existing Palestinian solidarity organisations, and Jewish groups.” Peter Slezak is on the Executive, and we are encouraging both individuals and organisations to join. Please visit www.apan.org.au for more information.

Miko Peled, the grandson of one of the signers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the son of a general in the 1967 war, visited Australia recently for a number of talks and public events, sponsored by the Melbourne-based Australian for Palestine (AFP). Peter Slezak joined him and others for a Parliamentary dinner at the NSW Parliament. There is a good interview with Peled here.

The Leichhardt Friends of Hebron sponsored a forum recently on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Speakers included Peter Slezak  Samah Sabawi (from Australians for Palestine) and Joseph Wakim (founder of the Arabic Australian Council). The forum was moderated by Peter Manning, senior lecturer at Monash University.

Also on the topic of the BDS movement, late last year Marrickville council in Sydney endorsed the BDS as a policy. There followed months of intense public debate, political attacks and misinformation about the BDS movement and the alleged costs to the council. In April of this year the council met to discuss whether to rescind their support for BDS. Antony Loewenstein and Peter Slezak, among others, spoke at the council meeting in support of BDS and the council’s decision of December 2010. Here is the the video of Antony’s speech. The council decided at the meeting to revoke their earlier decision to support BDS. For more information about the BDS movement, visit their website: www.bdsmovement.net

In May, the annual Jewish Limmud-Oz festival held at the University of New South Wales cancelled two speakers from their program following complaints that the two supported Marrickville council and BDS. The two speakers were Vivienne Porzsolt (from Jews Against the Occupation) and Peter Slezak. Here’s a Sydney Morning Herald article with more details of what happened, and here’s an article by Peter Slezak in which he discusses his removal from the Limmud-Oz program.

A forthcoming book may be of interest. It is edited by Avigail Abarbanel and called ‘Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Stories of Jewish Activists’ (in the Cambridge Scholars series), with a Foreword by Harvard’s Sara Roy and including chapters by Ilan Pappe, Jeff Halper, Anna Baltzer, and Peter Slezak and Vivienne Porszolt among others.

Here is an article by Antony discussing Palestine’s bid for UN statehood, and this piece, published on September 11, examines the Israeli/American relationship since 9/11.

In a significant development towards enhancing our efforts, we have hired Eran Asoulin as a part time executive officer to supplement the work he has been doing on a volunteer basis.

Among current plans, we hope to support Peter Slezak’s inclusion in the 2012 APHEDA tour of the Palestinian territories to report back in the form of public lectures, blogs and articles. APHEDA is the overseas humanitarian aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

Finally, IAJV now has a facebook page and a twitter page, “like” or follow us if you use those services. We will be increasing our online presence with regular updates on many relevant issues, so please visit our website.

As always, we are grateful for funding support which has allowed us to undertake our various activities. To make a contribution you may either use the “Donate” button on our website or use the following bank details for making an electronic transfer:

Unicom Credit Union
BSB: 802-396
Name: IAJV
Account Number: 26241843

Thank you in advance.

Best wishes for now,

Independent Australian Jewish Voices
Peter Slezak
James Levy
Antony Loewenstein
Eran Asoulin
http://www.iajv.org/

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Palestine statehood bid signals long struggle ahead for equal rights

My following piece is published today on ABC’s The Drum:

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas returned from New York to occupied Ramallah on the weekend as “an Arab leader of significant standing“, according to writers from the liberal Israeli paper Haaretz.

The Abbas speech in front of the United Nations, calling for the international body to formally recognise the state of Palestine, allegedly slotted well into the narrative of the Arab Spring:

“Abbas succeeded in giving the Palestinians some hope”, the Haaretz journalists stated. “Following the failure of armed struggle and the freeze in negotiations, Abbas offered them a third way: a diplomatic struggle in parallel with peaceful ‘resistance’.”

The response inside Palestine was mixed but certainly a number of people welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s supposed robust defence of their rights. President Barack Obama’s speech at the UN was the exact opposite, endorsing indefinite paralysis.

Yet it was largely ignored that Palestine’s ambassador to Lebanon said last week that the millions of Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora would not automatically become citizens in a newly created state of Palestine.

Such a position fundamentally contradicts a just resolution of the conflict.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his own speech at the UN last week but it was a cliché-ridden mish-mash of paranoia, bigotry and Holocaust insecurities, none of which befit a man leading the fourth largest army in the world.

It was rightly seen by Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy as the clearest indication yet that the Israeli leadership had absolutely no intention of establishing a two-state solution.

In fact, Netanyahu’s obsession with maintaining the illegal colonies in the West Bank is ensuring a one-state equation and the de-facto end of the Zionist “dream”.

This is something anybody who believes in the concept of equality before the law should celebrate; Zionism inherently discriminates against non-Jews and the Abbas statehood bid indulges the dangerous fantasy that Palestinians should accept a tiny fraction of historical Palestine to appease the nation with a nuclear weapon and super-power backing.

A number of progressive voices in America found the Abbas speech moving, a rare moment where the corporate media had little choice but to listen to a moment about ethnic cleansing, occupation and human dignity. And even I can’t deny the symbolic importance of seeing an Israeli leader so isolated internationally by belligerently declaring that colonisation was a natural right, even responsibility, of the Jewish people.

Not surprisingly, Murdoch’s Australian chastised Abbas for even raising his voice and calling for justice; those uppity Arabs should know their place, serving American and Israeli interests.

The world saw two, competing visions for a future Middle East, Netanyahu and Abbas, yet only one of them resides legally in office (and that person isn’t Abbas, his term in office expiring some time ago).

Whenever “saving” the two-state solution is discussed, an air of unreality permeates the discussion. It is a dangerous fantasy that argues the problems only emerged after the 1967 war and the establishment of settlements in the occupied territories. As Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi argued in the Guardian last week:

“As things stand, the danger is that international endorsement of the current statehood proposal will make it the benchmark for all future peace negotiators, and entrench the idea that partitioning Palestine unequally means justice. True friends of the Palestinians should oppose this application and support their struggle for real justice.”

Partition would merely entrench the discrimination.

In Sydney this week I heard a key spokesperson from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, Rafeef Ziadah, who rightly explained that the struggle for equal rights for all citizens in Palestine – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist or anything else – should threaten the concept of Zionist exclusion. BDS is the legitimate move, wholly backed by international law, to end the occupation, implement the right of return of Palestinian refugees and allow full rights of Arabs inside Israel.

A two-state solution would merely codify these inequalities and the Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas, has spent two decades negotiating (un)equally with a side that has no intention of granting the indigenous population even the most basic human rights.

Too often we refuse to examine what Israel and its Zionist Diaspora colleagues have created in the West Bank. A system of apartheid actively protects the interests of the colonist over the Palestinians in their own land (this recent video shows the kind of impunity enjoyed by settlers). Fundamentalist Zionism is one of the great achievements of the Israeli state and ultra-nationalists are funded, armed and defended by the full weight of the Zionist entity. Abbas has no plan to eradicate this threat.

Moreover, foreign Jewish militants are allowed to enter the West Bank to allegedly protect settlements. The extremist Jewish Defence League is just the latest bunch of bigots that Israel now attracts within its borders.

The Zionist Diaspora is silent over these abominations in an effort to provide “support” for Israel.

The thinking was revealed once again last week when I was approached on a bus by a Zionist lobbyist who used to send me hate emails. He asked if he could sit down and talk. I agreed and we engaged politely for a few minutes. He said he believed that any public criticism of Israel would weaken Zionism and I had to remember that anti-Semitism was everywhere, so in this logic a “weak” Israel was one that couldn’t handle critical comments from a Jew in Sydney.

It turned logic on its head – Israel has most of the world’s Western politicians on a string and yet paranoia in the Jewish community runs rampant – and displayed the increasing moral panic that only knows how to repeat tired mantras about Nazis under the bed (once again seen during this country’s sordid BDS “debate”).

This is the collapse of a moral, mainstream Jewish position on Palestinian self-determination.

The Western-backed PA, a corrupt institution reliant on foreign aid to survive, compounds it. Its economy, praised by ignorant Western visitors who enjoy the relative comforts of Ramallah, is a bloated privatised enterprise assisting very few. The Palestine Papers revealed the duplicity of PA leaders who were willing to give away the most sacred aspects of the Palestinian cause, including territory in East Jerusalem. The PA even wanted to block implementation of the Goldstone Report into Israel crimes against Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

The Netanyahu government wants American funding to the PA to continue because it knows full well that its American-trained shock troops are essential tools in the maintenance of the occupation. This is the PA “vision” for Palestine.

Instead of seeing the UN statehood bid as breathing new life into the moribund two-state solution, it should be seen as the death of it. These are the two issues of over 500,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories and an Israeli government that has enjoyed ever-deepening financial and military ties with Washington; Newsweek reports this week that soon after Obama came into office he sold Israel bunker-buster bombs designed to strike Iranian nuclear sites.

The only positive outcome of the statehood bid would be a global realisation that America (and its trusty lap-dog Australia) has no desire to fairly resolve the conflict. Internationalisation threatens the decades-old, cosy relationship between a crack dealer known as Washington and an addict known as Zionism.

We could do far worse than listen to the wise words of Israeli-born Miko Peled, son of a key Israeli military man, Matti Peled, who is currently in Australia explaining that his country of birth must radically reform its heart and soul. His thinking was transformed after finally meeting Palestinians under occupation.

“As an Israeli that was raised on the Zionist ideal of a Jewish state”, he says, “I know how hard it is for many Jews and Palestinians to let go of the dream of having a state that is exclusively ‘our own’.”

No US president, Zionist leader or Australian politician has come up with any coherent argument to counter the coming reality, due to Palestinian population growth and settlement expansion, of a minority Zionist leadership ruling over a majority Palestinian population in a land where just separation is incompatible with true democracy.

The PA statehood bid is the beginning of a longer struggle for recognising the rights of the Palestinian people in their entirety, a future to be secured through BDS and a local and international campaign of action that highlights the impossibility of partitioning a nation with a colonised, Zionist mindset.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and the co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices.

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Australian Zionist organisation refuses to truly engage on BDS

Yet another story of the mainstream Jewish establishment attempting to shut down open debate on the most controversial issues. Certain, set boundaries are established around these discussions and the Zionist lobby polices them vigorously. Of course the effect is the general public seeing Jews once again trying to censor issues such as BDS and ongoing Zionist occupation of Palestine. This is in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

A Sydney festival celebrating ”the broad diversity of opinions within the wider Jewish community” has banned two speakers because they supported Marrickville Council’s ill-fated boycott of Israel.

The University of NSW academic Peter Slezak, from Independent Australian Jewish Voices, and Vivienne Porzsolt, from Jews Against the Occupation – Sydney, were told by email they were no longer welcome to address the Limmud-Oz festival next month, due to their ”active and vocal involvement” in the proposed boycott at Marrickville.

However, organisers said the three-day festival of Jewish learning and creativity would not ”shy away from tough issues”.

The issue of the boycott will still be the topic of at least two sessions, while others would tackle ”challenging points of view”.

Dr Slezak, who had been invited to speak at the event for the second time, said the decision reflected the Jewish community’s ”hysterical” reaction to Marrickville planning to join the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel.

He addressed the topic at the council’s meeting when it abandoned the policy last month. ”I argued that even people who are opposed to BDS should stand up for Marrickville Council against the unprecedented campaign of denunciation and bullying.”

In a statement provided by the Shalom Institute program director, Michael Misrachi, organisers said they decided to rule out presenters who advocated the boycott because it undermined the event’s engagement with Israeli academic and artistic institutions and their representatives.

”This is not about censorship, nor are we seeking to stifle dissenting views. Limmud-Oz is proud of the principles of pluralism and inclusiveness which guide us and Limmuds around the world,” it read.

Mr Misrachi confirmed Dr Slezak and Ms Porzsolt’s names were removed from the list of speakers on the event’s website following complaints.

Two other speakers have since pulled out of the festival in protest at the ban, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.

Ms Porzsolt, who said she would still attend the festival, told organisers in an email they had misrepresented the boycott, and asked them to reconsider.

”My proposed workshop was not even on BDS … The exclusion of me as a person for the ideas I hold generally, and not because of the topic of my workshop, smacks of excommunication,” it read.

The chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, said it endorsed the decision of the Shalom Institute.

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Marrickville, BDS and Palestine in eyes of The Jerusalem Post

One week after Sydney’s Marrickville BDS vote, the issue continues to resonate globally. I was interviewed late last week by the pro-settler and conservative Jerusalem Post newspaper. The journalist was friendly enough but it was clear I speaking to a man who didn’t see the West Bank as occupied but merely Judea and Samaria (the biblical names for areas controlled by the Zionist state).

Here’s the story:

Australian Jewish leaders are confident that the Marrickville Council decision last week to repeal its ban of Israeli goods as well as cultural and academic ties has ended the boycott movement in their country at the governmental level.

“The backlash has been quite strong and unanimous from the wider populace and from the Australian federal government and the New South Wales government, so we find it hard to believe that other local councils will go for this,” said Yair Miller, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.

He said the backlash came about because citizens and national leaders were angry that a local council had overstepped its bounds and become embroiled in an international dispute.

Uri Windt, a member of the Inner West Jewish Community and Friends Peace Alliance, said of the possibility of more councils choosing to boycott Israel, “I don’t think people will be discussing it for a long time.”

The anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is not as well-organized in Australia as in some countries.

“There’s no real official BDS movement here, but there are groups who advocate for BDS,” boycott supporter Anthony Loewenstein, a freelance journalist and co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, said.

Miller commented, “The BDS is fairly well-organized, but it’s very small and only [popular] in fringe radical groups, most of which are Palestinian solidarity groups.”

Nevertheless, Loewenstein said many councils were discussing ways to support BDS, though he declined to name them.

Though he was not happy with the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting, when the Marrickville Council voted to repeal its boycott, Loewenstein said the publicity generated by the council was important. “Like in other places where BDS has been put forward, it creates a bigger debate, which is what happened in Australia.” He attended the meeting.

Calls placed to the BDS office in Ramallah were not returned by press time.

Marrickville Mayor Fiona Byrne, a Greens member of the council who had supported the boycott, was unavailable to speak with The Jerusalem Post, but she said in a council press release that the findings of a staff report on the costs of implementing a boycott had influenced Tuesday’s vote.

“The report identifies some options – the cost of which would be impractical to the council and our local residents,” she said. “The plight of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories has been and remains a source of concern for Marrickville councilors.”

Severing ties with Israel would cost taxpayers an estimated $3.7 million to $4.3m., according to the report.

“We have created a little egg which is support for the plight of the Palestinian people, and a sledgehammer is being used to break that… Certainly we have put BDS on the national agenda, whatever that means,” Byrne said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Many in the media suggested the boycott issue caused Byrne to lose the election for Marrickville’s parliamentary seat in March. The Greens MP candidate for the neighboring district of Balmain, Jamie Parker, who does not support BDS, won.

“Aside from the far-left media, the coverage from mainstream media sources was overwhelmingly critical of Marrickville for getting involved,” Miller said. “The main criticism was that a local council was getting involved in foreign affairs, which is not in their mandate, and for getting in on one side of a very complex conflict.”

In a telephone survey of 500 Marrickville Council constituents, commissioned by the Inner West Jewish Community and Friends Peace Alliance and conducted between March 7 and 13, 48 percent of respondents said their local council should play no role in foreign affairs, though 43% said it should have a minor role. However, 76% expressed opposition to the council taking sides in foreign conflicts, and 51% of respondents were unaware of the council’s boycott motion. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed opposed the motion.

The alliance, which also began an online petition signed by 283 people (signatures of those with no connection to Marrickville were removed) was established by local Jews following the boycott resolution’s ratification. Eighty-five people came to its first meeting and formed its core support group, said Windt, who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“BDS instantly injects a note of divisiveness and fictiousness, because it poses the issue that if you’re against BDS you’re against the Palestinians,” Windt said. “We made the point that we agree with the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and we agree with the two-state solution. It’s not about being anti-Palestinian, but if you want peace you have to create peace there and peace here.”

In an editorial published on Tuesday in the Sydney Morning Herald, alliance members Gael Kennedy and Janet Kossy urged the Marrickville Council to follow the government officials in a neighboring suburb, Leichhardt, where Parker is mayor, by bringing together members of Palestinian solidarity groups and Jewish communal organizations to focus on initiatives in the Middle East where Israelis and Palestinians work together.

On December 14, the Marrickville Council garnered headlines when it became the first such body to approve an Israeli boycott. On Tuesday, the 12-member council voted to rescind part of the resolution it passed in December that said the council would “boycott all goods made in Israel and any sporting, academic institutions, government or institutional cultural exchanges.”

Nevertheless, the council affirmed that it supported the global BDS campaign in principle. The council also condemned all violent acts, and voice support for the right of Israel and a Palestinian state to exist and for local peace initiatives and “the inherent human rights of all residents in the Middle East.”

Morris Hanna, an Independent member of the Marrickville Council and a former Marrickville mayor, voted against the boycott resolution in December and supported its repeal on Tuesday. “This is not a local issue – a local government worries about the environment, parks, kindergartens and cleaning the streets,” said Hanna, an Egyptian Coptic Christian.

Six council members – four from the Labor Party and two from the Greens Party – who voted for the boycott resolution in December withdrew their support for it last week.

Greens candidate posters in Marrickville and surrounding areas were defaced with swastikas before elections, and some council members reportedly received threats. Loewenstein felt this was the work of supporters of Israel, though Miller said that there was no proof that Jews or Israel advocates were guilty. “We took pains to emphasize that the [Jewish] community should act responsibly and with respect at all times,” Miller said.

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Marrickville BDS debate showed how little Palestine is understood in Australia

This has been the week of Sydney’s Marrickville council putting Palestine on the national and global map by daring to support Palestine (though sadly giving in to bullying and rescind BDS). At this week’s fiery public meeting, it was clear how many Zionists have vested interests in not acknowledging the devastating effects of Israel’s occupation on Palestinian lands. Far better to talk about Hamas, Hizbollah, terrorism, “democracy” etc.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, reporter Jo Tovey gives voice to those who rarely receive it in the corporate press:

Accusations of one-sided media coverage of the issue were also rife at Tuesday’s meeting. The academic Peter Slezak, of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, said Jewish critics of Israel and supporters of the BDS campaign had not been heard, particularly in the Jewish media.

Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian-Australian, said their voice had been lost. ”I don’t feel we were able to discuss and debate the issue rationally and I don’t feel the door was open for Palestinian voices to discuss what the BDS was about.”

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Jews who understand why BDS must force Israel to be legal and decent

The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network has released the following statement (that I’ve happily signed) articulating an alternative and supportive Jewish perspective on boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel:

Because academic, cultural and commercial boycotts, divestments and sanctions of Israel:

  • are being called for by Palestinian civil society in response to the occupation and colonization of their land,
  • are a moral tool of non-violent, peaceful response to more than sixty years of Israeli colonialism, and,
  • rightfully place accountability on Israeli institutions (and their allies and partners) that use business, cultural, and academic ties to white-wash Israel’s responsibility for continuing crimes against humanity,

The undersigned organizations and individuals stand firm in our support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) initiatives against Israel until it meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law.

BDS is not antisemitic. We reject the notion that the 2005 BDS call from Palestine, and the BDS campaigns the world over which it has inspired, are rooted in anti-Jewish sentiment. On the contrary, BDS is an anti-racist movement against the daily, brutal occupation of Palestine and military threat to the region by the State of Israel. False claims of antisemitism distort the true nature of the Palestinian struggle and are an affront to, and betrayal of, the long history of Jewish survival and resistance to persecution.

BDS is not anti-democratic. We also reject the assertion that the cultural and academic boycotts of Israel defy the democratic principle of free speech. Research and development in academic institutions play a central role in designing and defending Israel’s military and intelligence machinery. Cultural institutions perpetuate the deception of Israeli democracy. To defend freedom of speech for those who disregard justice while demonizing those who struggle for justice is a great disservice to genuine democracy.

Through boycott, divestment and sanctions, civil society asserts our commitment to not contribute to the Israeli state, which is responsible for atrocious acts of disregard for human life and well being. Attacks against BDS campaigns will not prevent us from taking this stance against Israeli impunity. For the Jewish organizations signed onto this letter, self-determination for Jews includes the right to participate in the movement for justice in Palestine and to live in the world with our fellow citizens in peace, freedom, and equity. It does not include the domination and colonization of other people or living separate from our fellow human beings in a state that privileges Jews.

BDS was a key strategy in ending the white South African system of apartheid by applying international pressure. In pursuit of justice, peace and freedom for all, we speak out as Jews committed to BDS and Palestinian liberation.

  • International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
  • Not In Our Name (Argentina)
  • Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in Middle East (EJJP, Germany)
  • Not in Our Name: Jews Opposing Zionism (Canada)
  • Jews for a Just Peace (Fredericton, Canada)
  • Independent Jewish Voice (Canada)
  • Middle East Children’s Alliance (USA)
  • Critical Jewish Voice (Austria)
  • Women in Black (Austria)
  • French Jewish Union for Peace (UJFP)
  • Bay Area Women in Black (USA)
  • St. Louis Women in Black (USA)
  • Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace (USA)
  • American Jews for a Just Peace (USA)
  • Ronnie Kasrils, former South African government minister, writer, founder Not In My Name, South Africa
  • Antony Loewenstein, Independent Australian Jewish Voices
  • Peter Slezak, Independent Australian Jewish Voices
  • Moshé Machover, Professor (emeritus) (UK), founder Matzpen
  • Felicia Langer, Israeli lawyer, author, Right Livelihood Award 2006 (Alternative Nobel Prize) 1990, Bruno Kreisky Prize 1991
  • Mieciu Langer, Nazi Holocaust survivor
  • Hedy Epstein, Nazi Holocaust survivor
  • Hajo G. Meyer PhD, Nazi Holocaust survivor
  • Kamal Chenoy, IJAN India
  • Paola Canarutto & Giorgio Forti, Rete ECO, Italy
  • Liliane Cordova Kaczerginski, IJAN France
  • Sonia Fayman, IJAN France & UJFP
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Ongoing importance of separating Zionism and Judaism

The following interview by Sam Whiteley appears in today’s West Australian:

Freelance journalist Antony Loewenstein is no stranger to controversy.

“The silence is over,” says Loewenstein, author of My Israel Question which generated a swell of public debate and was shortlisted for the 2007 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award.

Co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices and author of The Blogging Revolution, his book My Israel Question, first published in 2006, has incited a litany of hate mail but for this self-prescribed atheist Jew, (who ironically also lost family during The Holocaust), there has never been a greater need for dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Now in its third edition, the book expands upon the region’s struggle and its myriad complex layers. Beginning with his personal understanding of the conflict whilst growing up in a liberal Jewish family in Melbourne, Lowenstein’s brave tome delves further into the problems of Zionism and anti-Semitism, the disconnect between the Jewish in Israel and Jewish Diaspora, issues of the lobbyists and the problematic language used in media to define the conflict.

“The truth of the matter is that the term ‘anti-Semitism’ has been used and abused so woefully by both the Israel Zionist lobby in the West and Israel itself, the word had lost a lot of its meaning even though anti-Semitism does exist,” says Loewenstein.

“It’s the longest occupation in modern history and it’s getting worse and in my view many Jews are keen to make no separation between Zionism and Judaism. They can’t, therefore, be surprised when anti-Semitism increases because of Israeli actions. It doesn’t justify it but it certainly explains why this happens. If you don’t separate those ideologies, if you say I am Jewish and I’m a Zionist, there is no difference.”

Lowenstein firmly believes the maintaining of an infrastructure of occupation is far more important to Israel than democracy for the vast majority of people in the Arab world.

“The reality of what Israel has become is there are plans to be a driving democracy. In fact, Israel is not a democracy. It’s a democracy if you are Jewish. If you’re Arab or whatever else, you are actively discriminated against. If you live in the West Bank as an Arab as opposed to a Jew, there are different laws and anyone who believes in human rights, equality and decency in this day and age simply won’t accept this.”

It would be an understatement to say Loewenstein has broken free from the expectations of the Jewish Diaspora community.

“The implication is that if you are a Jew, that somehow you have a responsibility to support Israel,” he says. “I’ve been accused of pretty much everything under the sun and there is no doubt the criticism saddens me,” says Loewenstein, who admits that although his parents have supported his book, they themselves have lost friends over its publication.

He recalls his visit to Gaza in mid 2009 and the mood of its occupants.

“The area, the neighbourhood and its buildings remain flattened six months after the war, nothing really has changed,” says Loewenstein. “What I found in Gaza was a sense of people feeling they’ve been forgotten by the world. While people are not starving, there is to some extent a degree of despair as there is virtually no freedom of movement.

“On one hand, parts of Gaza are really beautiful, it’s on the Mediterranean. On the other hand, there is a lot of mass devastation and to live there you have to be resilient. Life is tough, unemployment is high. Hamas, of course, controls Gaza and my thoughts are that little has changed and somehow we have this idea in the West that if we support the people in Gaza or the Palestinians themselves, you’ll somehow also support terrorism when in fact the opposite is true.”

My Israel Question, whilst condemning Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, recognises a changing narrative and perception of Israel.

“There is no doubt that for the first decade after Israel was formed in the late 40s after the Holocaust there was a certain sympathy for Israel, the Jewish and the Zionist cause which continued up to the Six-Day War in 1967 when Israel took over the West Bank,” Loewenstein says.

“Many Western liberals saw it as a quasi-social experiment. Fast-forward to the 20th century and I think what has fundamentally changed, through the internet and television and 9/11, in an ironic way, is that elements of the Western press are more open to perspectives of both Arabs and Palestinians and indeed dissenting Jews like myself.

“In most Western countries, except for the US, and indeed for most of the world for that matter, they are fundamentally supportive of the Palestinians.

“Israel can only survive in its current form with states like Egypt, Jordon, Saudi Arabia and others as dictatorships which are funded and propped up of course by Washington. Anyone, in my view, who believes in human rights, should welcome that change because there is nothing stable about the majority of Arab people who are living under dictatorships. It may be stable for the leaders but that isn’t really good enough.”

Antony Loewenstein will be a guest of the Perth Writer’s Festival. My Israel Question is published by Melbourne University Press ($32.99)

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Israel/Palestine needs a South African style truth and reconciliation commission

What would Israel/Palestine look like in a one-state solution? An exclusive new article on the Independent Australian Jewish Voices website by John Docker examines some possibilities:

Recent South African history may also give us a basis for new ideas and visions. In Sydney this year I heard Albie Sachs speak about human rights and the rule of law before and after apartheid South Africa. It was very moving to see him in person, a man who in 1966 had gone into exile after sustained mistreatment, including lengthy bouts of solitary confinement, only in 1988 in Mozambique to lose an arm and the sight of an eye after being car-bombed by South African security agents. In The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law Sachs refers to the new legal institutions of post-apartheid South Africa, institutions which I think could be seriously considered as models for a post-apartheid Israel-Palestine.

In the opening chapter, “Tales of Terrorism and Torture”, Sachs gives some of the background for the post-apartheid creation of the famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He observes that state terrorism by South African security forces led to mutilation, massacre, and extermination on a large scale. But he also refers to intense debates in the ANC in exile, initiated by Oliver Tambo, over the question of torture, for it turned out that ANC security personnel were torturing captured South African security agents in ANC camps in Angola. Tambo wished Sachs to be involved, so that a Code of Conduct could be drawn up, “a code of criminal law and procedure, adapted to the peculiar circumstances of an exiled and dispersed political organization”.

What had to be debated, Oliver Tambo made clear to the 1985 assembly, was “whether the Code of Conduct should make special allowance in extremely grave circumstances for what were called ‘intensive methods of interrogation’”.

Sachs reports that, one by one, the “young soldiers of Umkhonto We Siswe came up to the platform and gave their answer: an emphatic no”. They insisted that there be “very clear standards and that absolutely no torture be used in any circumstances, whatever the euphemism used”. In Sachs’ view, the young soldiers were making a statement about “the kind of people we were, what we were fighting for, and what our morality and core values were about”.

Opposition to torture became a part of the Code of Conduct, supported by the soldiers and Oliver Tambo and formulated by Sachs and ANC lawyers. Such opposition to torture was also, Sachs says, “absolutely consistent with hard-won principles of international law”. It was in this spirit, Sachs feels, of creating a future “constitutional order in a free South Africa”, that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and allied institutions were established. This includes “what many today regard as the most progressive Constitution in the world”, with its centrepiece Bill of Rights and its respect for human dignity.

So, there’s a key feature here that I believe can be drawn from The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. A future Israel-Palestine could create such a constitutional order, with a Constitution and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission modelled on post-apartheid South Africa’s.

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IAJV November newsletter

The following newsletter was sent out today:

Dear friends,

We are sending our occasional newsletter here and would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has been so supportive of our efforts; both with their willingness to sign our recent statement and donations. You will be aware that we are very limited in our resources and so it is both very heartening and practically helpful to receive so much ongoing encouragement and support. Above all, it indicates clearly that we are helping to fill an important gap in the public dialogue.

Our recent IAJV advertisement appeared prominently in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian and Australian Jewish News with around 120 signatures (http://antonyloewenstein.com/2010/10/09/australian-jews-say-enough-is-enough/) and highlighted the importance of Jews speaking out for peace and justice in the Middle East.

The ad was attacked by the Australian Jewish News’ columnist Mark Baker (http://jewishnews.net.au/news/2010/10/07/saddened-by-the-sense-of-censorship/15800) and a number of Jewish writers in the letter’s pages of the AJN (http://antonyloewenstein.com/2010/10/21/myopic-jews-berate-iajv-for-caring-about-human-rights/).

We are pleased with the more than 130 Jewish signatories (and growing) and very generous financial support that made the advertisements possible. We continue to receive many emails and letters from across the community including both Jewish and non-Jewish supporters who express gratitude and encouragement for our public stand as Jewish voices. We are planning to maintain the momentum with new initiatives and will inform you all soon of IAJV events in the pipeline.

We want to express our thanks to all who contributed in various ways to our efforts and thereby to add to the growing pressure on the Australian government to take a more enlightened view of the Middle East crisis.

In other news, American Jewish writer and activist Anna Baltzer recently toured Australia and attracted large crowds across the country. She received great media coverage (Eg. http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2010/s3047744.htm and http://www.smh.com.au/national/activist-questions-contract-20101026-172eo.html).

Her visit was sponsored by Australians for Palestine, Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine and IAJV and we are again pleased to work together with these groups to promote human rights in the Middle East.

Anna was attacked by the mainstream Jewish community and defended by IAJV’s Peter Slezak on J Wire:

Alan Gold on Baltzer
http://www.jwire.com.au/featured-articles/anna-who/12558

Peter Slezak reply to Gold
http://www.jwire.com.au/featured/who-is-anna-baltzer-peter-slezak-replies/12635#more-12635

David Singer reply to Slezak
http://www.jwire.com.au/featured-articles/anna-who-david-singer-adds-his-view/12662

Alan Gold again
http://www.jwire.com.au/featured-articles/and-over-to-alan-gold/12643

Peter Slezak reply to Gold and Singer
http://www.jwire.com.au/letters/response-to-gold-and-singer/12997

David Singer again
http://www.jwire.com.au/letters/david-singers-reply-to-peter-slezak/13026

Anna appeared at Canberra’s Parliament House and made a presentation to 20 Federal parliamentarians among many others including diplomats and journalists. As in her many talks, Anna presented some of the troubling aspects of human rights violations in the West Bank and the need for governments and individuals to act on behalf of the principles of justice, international law and human rights for all.

Finally, the following links are some recent news from the Middle East:

– Antony Loewenstein, Western politicians prefer to ignore Israel’s inherent racism, Sydney Morning Herald:
http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/western-politicians-prefer-to-ignore-israels-inherent-racism-20101027-173p8.html

– Gideon Levy, Israel is proud to present; the aggressor-victim, Haaretz:
http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israel-is-proud-to-present-the-aggressor-victim-1.322053

– Israeli human rights group B’Tselem on abuse of Palestinians in Israeli detention:
http://www.btselem.org/English/Publications/Summaries/201010_Kept_in_the_Dark.asp

– Israeli human rights group Gisha on the real situation with the Israeli blockade of Gaza:
http://www.gazagateway.org/2010/10/the-ban-on-student-travel-between-gaza-and-the-west-bank-fatma-sharifs-story/

Thanks again for your support and ongoing interest in our efforts.

Best wishes for now,

Independent Australian Jewish Voices
Peter Slezak
James Levy
Antony Loewenstein
Eran Asoulin
http://www.iajv.org/

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Western politicians prefer to ignore Israel’s inherent racism

My following article appears in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

Imagine a mainstream Australian politician saying that Aborigines should be banned from leading tourists around Uluru because they might “present anti-Australian positions” to visitors. The outcry would be furious.

But a bill is currently before the Israeli Knesset, led by a parliamentarian from the “moderate” Kadima party, that would bar Arab residents of East Jerusalem from working as tour guides in the city. Knesset member Gideon Ezra said it was essential tourist groups are “accompanied by a tour guide who is an Israeli citizen and has institutional loyalty to the [Jewish] state of Israel”.

It is just the latest sign in an ever-tightening noose around Arabs from the Zionist mainstream in the self-described Jewish nation.

Journalist Gideon Levy writes in the Israeli daily Haaretz that no politician “has even begun to think of Arabs as being equal to Jews”. The Israeli Jewish public increasingly shares these authoritarian views. In a study published in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, 36 per cent of Israeli Jews urged the revoking of Arab voting rights and restriction of free speech in “times of political difficulty”.

Israel is not a democracy for all its citizens but an insecure nation demanding obedience to an ideology that deliberately excludes the legitimate rights of its Arab population.

The occupation in the West Bank is deepening daily, after more than 43 years, with colonies expanding at the fastest rate in two years. The illegal siege on Gaza contributes to Palestinian children suffering debilitating malnutrition.

This is the Israel that Western politicians prefer to ignore. When I recently confronted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott over his blind backing for Israeli “democracy”, he muttered something about the Middle East not being “perfect.” But, I countered, what about Jewish-only settler roads in the West Bank? That was “bad”, he acknowledged, before looking away nervously.

Julia Gillard’s Labor Party shares these delusions. It is one of the reasons that the Independent Australian Jewish Voices group published newspaper advertisements nationally this month demanding the Australian government “exert pressure on Israel to conform to international law and humanitarian standards”.

The growing global concern over Israeli values has been crystallised by the Netanyahu cabinet voting to force non-Jews seeking citizenship to swear allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”.

The decision was met with furious indignation from a vocal minority in Israel, not least Palestinians who were being asked to negate their historical rights. Leftist Jewish Israelis marched through Tel Aviv chanting, “Fascism and ethnic cleansing are standing proud”.

In the Diaspora there was virtual silence. Blind loyalty came before defending democratic values. The Achilles heel is its deference to Israeli government decisions, a Maoist-like devotion to a country increasingly delegitimised by its own occupying policies.

One of the main reasons the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign is thriving around the world – alongside the one-state solution idea – is that Israel ignores global demands to change its behaviour. Cultural and economic isolation worked against apartheid South Africa.

Just the latest example of a principled stance in reaction to the loyalty oath, was the refusal of the English filmmaker Mike Leigh to participate in a program at a Jerusalem film school. He also cited expanding West Bank settlements and the brutal attack on the Gaza flotilla.

Leigh was praised by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel for highlighting “the fact that collaborating with institutions of a state that practises occupation, colonisation and apartheid, as Israel does, cannot be regarded as a neutral act …”

No other Western state has tried to introduce anything like the loyalty oath. The oath is on an ever-growing list of anti-democratic proposals before the Knesset, including a one-year prison term for “incitement for the negation of the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state”.

Palestinians and leftist Jews are loathed fifth-columns to be smeared and isolated.

No obfuscation about the supposedly devilish plans of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran or al-Qaeda can distract from the reality of Israel’s inherent racism. The world should stop pumping in funds to perpetuate the infrastructure of oppression.

Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist and author of My Israel Question.

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Myopic Jews berate IAJV for caring about human rights

Following the Australia-wide advertisement by Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) calling for a more open debate over Israel/Palestine, the following letters have appeared in the Australian Jewish News over the last weeks:

What a dismay to find Independent Australian Jewish Voices’ advertisement in last week’s AJN.

We do live in a democracy where anyone has freedom of expression. However, it is beyond comprehension that this group could even suggest deconstructing vital security systems designed to keep Israel as safe as possible. The very idea that they would ask us to pressure the Australian government with their views is ill-conceived. Such pressures can only incite further anti-Semitism. The protective policies have been designed to safe-guard their relatives who have chosen to live in Israel.

Israel is not just a memorial to the Holocaust as implied in the ad. Israel stands for the present and future existential future existence of the Jewish people. Israel cannot afford the luxury of complacency. It must stay vigilant. Our turbulent past has taught us that.

Rosie Hersch
Brighton East, Vic

“ENOUGH is enough”. This is the title of a large advertisement in The Australian, signed by the Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV).
Now I am returning the same title to them. Everybody is entitled to their opinions, but to advertise it in newspapers is to me a cowardly way to do so.
It has been shown on TV many times how people on the flotilla attacked the Israeli soldiers with iron bars and other tools.
They were warned in advance that they were in foreign waters and that they should turn back. One of their answers was: “Jews, go back to Auschwitz”. Didn’t the members of the IAJV notice it? I wonder how would they react in such a situation.
With the rise of the anti-Semitism around the world, does embattled Israel need this?
Only citizens who live in their own country have the right to criticise it.
Why do those academics not advertise Israel’s courageous medical achievements in Haiti, or the fact that this tiny country accepted refugees from Darfur, or that Israel’s army is the only army in the world that tried to warn their enemies about forthcoming bombardments? I do not recall Hamas doing so before sending rockets to Sderot.
My Jewishness has always been and will remain to be a source of pride, in spite of the fact that I lived through the Holocaust and lost my entire family.

Helen Lepere
Elsternwick, Vic
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