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.

Jewish dissent landing in front of countless mainstream readers

This is how the Independent Australian Jewish Voices advertisement looked in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, on page five of News Review. Prime position for hundreds of thousands of readers to see a message of Jewish dissent over Israeli crimes in Palestine:

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Failing to take responsibility for what Zionism has created

Following the publication of the Independent Australian Jewish Voices advertisement across the Australian media yesterday, Zionist columnist Mark Baker writes in the Australian Jewish News that debate over “Jewish” issues should be wider but he still wants to proscribe certain boundaries. He condemns the lack of “balance” in the IAJV statement, implying somehow that both Israelis and Palestinians are equally to blame for the issue. Baker simply can’t come to terms with his own complicity in the Zionist occupation project, deploying equivocal language in the process. Soft, Left Zionist ideas have allowed the Jewish Diaspora to show its “love” for Israel by stepping so carefully around the Middle East debate that the Israeli government has merely continued to continue the colonies in the West Bank and beyond:

There is a McCarthyist spirit in the Jewish air, an atmosphere where thoughts are censored and words cut off mid-sentence. In an age of mass communications, there is no need to summons a person to testify. A flick of the computer button can spread a lie through the viral stratosphere, and travel to people’s dinner tables for a lively conversation of malice and libel.

The crucible for these whispering campaigns is spawned by fear, and in our world there is indeed much to fear. As Jews, our traumas born of history are being fuelled by an international effort to delegitimise the places and ideas we love most. Our Zionism – Israel – is under threat in a way that I have not experienced in my lifetime, surpassing even the 1975 UN circus that equated Zionism with racism. Today, the climate that would turn Israel into a pariah state is buttressed by a world leader who uses genocidal rhetoric, and will soon have the means to make good on his promise.

Yet in defending Israel, we also need to be vigilant that we do not surrender the values that make Israel worth fighting for; the justness of its identity as the national homeland of the Jewish people, its commitments to free speech and equality, the passionate arguments that make Israel one of the world’s most vibrant democracies.

Within Israel, there is currently a struggle over the meaning of these values that goes beyond the political wings of Left and Right. Which is the truer face of Zionism: The Zionism of the settlers in Hebron or the Zionism of protestors at Sheikh Jarrah? The Zionism of groups that are attacking Israel’s Supreme Court and universities, or the Zionism that values the rule of law and academic inquiry? The Zionism that treats Israeli Arabs as a fifth column, or the Zionism that upholds the rights of the Arab minority in the spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence?

For those of us in the Diaspora for whom Israel is one of the core pillars of our identity, we cannot ignore the impact of these struggles. In fact, our community has always provided an infrastructure that respects the differences among us, while recognising that in our diversity we are all working towards a common goal.

How do we define these common goals of Zionism? How do we reach them?

Herein lies the current danger. There is a worldwide trend in Israel and the Diaspora to circumscribe in the narrowest way how we love and advocate for Israel. Patriotism gets measured through rigid slogans rather than through the vitality of Israel itself.

The danger that we face is that increasing numbers of Jews will find themselves alienated from this constricted space, and pushed outside the doors of Jewish life.

There are many students, for example, who in this last election voted for the Greens as an extension of their Jewish readings of environmental responsibility. I have heard people characterise these voters as traitors and anti-Zionists. If we really cared about Jewish continuity, would we allow them to be maligned in this way?

Should we censor Jews if they state that they do not believe in the strategy of blockading Gaza, or if they argue that Jerusalem should be the shared capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state, sentiments that are expressed by a large portion of Israelis?

To be sure, anyone who is a Zionist today will be concerned about the campaign to delegitimise Israel and how words of criticism might fuel the anti-Zionist agenda. The recent statement by the Independent Australian Jewish Voices, for example, lacks any semblance of balance and is designed to present an inflammatory condemnation of Israel, heightened by rhetorical references to Holocaust memory.

While a balanced response is difficult to strike, a monolithic approach that does not allow for criticism of Israeli policies is counterproductive. It rings false with the public and with ourselves; it smothers the diversity of our Zionist commitments; it serves the status quo and undermines the imperative of reaching a two-state solution; and it won’t wash with a younger generation of Jews who are demanding an authentic, open conversation about their values and Israel.

A culture that stifles debate is encircling our community. Fear of being abused or distorted or taken out of context is silencing many younger Jews.

I fear that if we don’t broaden the discussion, then we will wake up and find a new generation that is Jewishly silent, which will translate into apathy, assimilation, and alienation from Israel. The ideas that we wish to defend will have been destroyed by our own zealotry. And the McCarthyists will have no one left to pursue except themselves.

Mark Baker is director of the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation and associate professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Monash University.

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Australian Jews say enough is enough

The following advertisement appears prominently in today’s Sydney Morning Herald and Australian [in a slightly different version] and in this week’s Australian Jewish News, organised by Independent Australian Jewish Voices:


Roll up for another few decades of settlement expansion in Palestine

My following article appears on ABC’s Unleashed today:

Will they or won’t they? The international media were counting down the hours until Israel’s self-described “settlement freeze” ended this week.

Most Western journalists, based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, looked for any signs from the government of Benjamin Netanyahu that would appease the perceived outrage of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas who claimed he would walk out of US-backed talks if colonies continued construction.

The elaborate dance came and went, building resumed and Palestinians were once again left standing at the altar with no concessions and less land without Zionist footprints.

In fact, if reporters had actually travelled around the West Bank during the last months they would have found extensive settler work. Dror Etkes writes in Haaretz that even according to official Israeli figures the number of housing units built in settlements barely reduced over the last 10 months. Etkes explains:

“The truth is that the settlers know better than anyone else that not only did construction in settlements continue over the last 10 months, and vigorously, but also that a relatively large part of the houses were built on settlements that lie east of the separation fence, such as Bracha, Itamar, Eli, Shilo, Maaleh Mikhmas, Maon, Carmel, Beit Haggai, Kiryat Arba, Mitzpeh Yeriho and others.”

In other words, illegal colonies on Palestinian land expanded and yet virtually nobody said anything about it. A two-state solution is impossible with creeping expansion on a daily basis. It’s no wonder the one-state solution, or a variation of it, is increasingly on the mainstream agenda.

US president Barack Obama spoke at the United Nations last week and warned both Palestinians and Israelis to get on-board with his efforts. If they did not, he said, “Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state” and “Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbours who are committed to co-existence.”

But then the US president included this clincher: “The hard realities of demography will take hold.” This means that soon the numbers of Palestinians and Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel and Palestine, making an occupying Zionist state an apartheid entity by definition.

Tragically, realities on the ground are already apartheid-like and a fair and equitable division of land, called for by Washington, Australia and the EU, is delusional. This is what decades of Western indulgence has done to the Jewish state, criminally assisted by the Zionist lobby in the US and beyond. Witness the Jewish Forward editorial last week that praised Palestinian capitulation to Zionist demands, something America may be keen to accelerate.

Peter Beinart recently wrote in the Daily Beast that, “To be labelled a champion of peace by the American Jewish establishment, it turns out, a prime minister of Israel only really has to do one thing: be prime minister of Israel.”

Furthermore, countless Jewish groups work directly against Israel’s long-term interests. A recent investigation by IPS found Jewish groups in Europe receiving tax exemptions for assisting the IDF and illegal settlements.

In Australia, the media mouthpiece of the Israeli government, the Australian Jewish News (AJN), is equally incapable of being anything other than a repeater of Netanyahu government talking points. If somebody else were leader of the country, the AJN would mindlessly echo these, too. It is for these reasons of unthinking patriotism and nationalist fervour that I remain involved in Independent Australian Jewish Voices as an alternative to bombastic and pro-Zionist, settler positions.

The Israeli government has been committed to the colonial project in the West Bank for more than four decades. Palestinians living under occupation experience this catastrophe daily.

Take the town of Wadi Rahaal, on the desert outskirts of Bethlehem. Its residents are increasingly surrounded by the Efrat settlement and its security infrastructure. The 1,700 residents are close to prisoners in their own land. And, of course, Gaza remains under occupation.

The matrix of control of the settlements was shown to a journalist from the New York Times when Peace Now took her on an aerial tour of the northern West Bank. The group has even released an iPhone app to assist in following the ever-growing movement of the colonies. The Israeli government is so proud of its expansion that the tourism minister is planning West Bank tours “for internal tourism and for tourism from abroad”. Roll up and see Palestinians living in cages.

It’s almost redundant to write what is required to undo Israel’s self-destructiveness. Roger Cohen says in the New York Times that Obama “must now break some [Israelis] bones to get his way” and demand a complete settlement freeze.

Instead, Obama seems to be begging Netanyahu to extend the “freeze” for extensive US concessions. The world’s only super-power is again on its knees before its client state despite Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law Professor and self-described “Israel’s Attorney”, claiming on ABC Radio’s PM that Netanyahu is “very committed” to peace.

But it’s too late. The Palestinians are being asked to accept Israel as a Jewish state, immediately negating the full rights of the over 1 million Arabs inside Israel and acceptance of the legitimate legal rights of the millions of Palestinians with the right to return to ancestral lands. We can’t be surprised that countless Palestinian refugees in Lebanon prefer armed struggle than futile negotiations.

Author of the book, The Invention of the Jewish People, Shlomo Sand, argues that Israel can’t be both a Jewish state and an Israeli democracy and it appears to prefer the former:

“The trouble is that the Zionist enterprise, which created a new people here, is far from satisfied with its creation and prefers to see it as a bastard. It prefers to cling to the idea of a Jewish people-race, profiting for now from its imaginary existence.”

This week’s controversy was the speech at the UN by Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman calling for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to make way for a contiguous Zionist state. Netanyahu was angry about the timing of the speech but not the content. Lieberman is far more honest than the bulk of Israeli politicians; he articulates what many of them have long wanted to do. His recent suggestion was forcing Israeli Arabs to sign a loyalty oath to the Zionist state.

Another recent Lieberman call was that current peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should be about the exchange of land and populations and not land for peace; they must accept a purely Jewish state. Lamis Andoni writes on Al-Jazeera that accepting such an outrageous idea would be a betrayal of the decades-old struggle:

“Israel is pushing for Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state [because] it wants the Palestinian leadership in one swift move to legitimise the expulsion of Palestinian-Israelis and to end any discussion of the right of return.”

This is something that, thus far, neither Abbas nor Hamas would ever accept.

While the US and Israeli-backed Palestinian Authority, armed and trained by American Lieutenant General Keith Dayton to create a crack-team of thugs to crush Hamas opposition in the West Bank and suppress any protest, the international community have a choice.

Many in South Africa are using their historical experience to warn Israel that it faces growing isolation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, amongst many others, are backing calls for the University of Johannesburg (UJ) to sever academic ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University (BGU) due to its collusion with the occupation.

The ultimatum by UJ, issued on Wednesday, was that BGU “would have to work with Palestinian universities on research projects and stop its “direct and indirect support for the Israeli military and the occupation” or face exclusion.

A complete boycott was eventually shunned by the university but serious pressure applied.

The logic of boycott, divestment and sanctions is becoming increasingly clear, with Jews sometimes taking charge. The alternative is playing the game of endless negotiations that always move in one direction; South Africans have the moral authority to lead the way.

Tutu’s call to arms speaks for itself:

“Together with the peace-loving peoples of this Earth, I condemn any form of violence – but surely we must recognise that people caged in, starved and stripped of their essential material and political rights must resist their Pharaoh? Surely resistance also makes us human? Palestinians have chosen, like we did, the nonviolent tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

Antony Loewenstein is a journalist, blogger and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.


When will more Jews not back occupation and oppression?

Many Australian Jews see their role as simply backing anything Israel does. Nuke Gaza? No worries. Those Palestinians clearly deserved it.

Here’s a letter in this week’s Australian Jewish News that perfectly captures the mood. Thanks for mentioning Independent Australian Jewish Voices!

Thank goodness for the unswerving, if not always uncritical, support for Israel by the overwhelming majority of Australian Jews. There is scope for legitimate debate reflecting opinions across the entire political spectrum, and our community organisations reflect and encourage genuine differences.
By contrast, the actions of self-styled “Jewish groups” such as the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) and Independent Australian Jewish Voices reflect only prejudice and bigotry.
Why do we never hear those independent voices raised in defence of the rights of Israeli civilians, or in condemnation of the atrocities perpetrated by our enemies? After years of anti-Israel rhetoric, the AJDS has reached a new low by publicly supporting Israel boycotts.
Faced with the creeping Islamisation of Europe and the downgrading of support from the Obama Administration, it behoves all who are concerned for Israel’s safety and security to rally to its support.
When Jews like those at the AJDS purport to speak “as concerned Jews”, they are doing far more than expressing a contrary or independent political view.
They are encouraging and emboldening all anti-Semites who cower behind the cloak of anti-Zionism, including those committed to the annihilation of Israel. In so doing, they are endangering the physical safety of Israelis and the well-being of all Jews.

Tom Borsky
St Kilda East, Vic

Documentary on Sydney Finkelstein premiere

Independent Australian Jewish Voices and Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine recently organised the Australian premiere of American Radical, on the life and times of Jewish dissenter Norman Finkelstein.

Australian writer and journalist Reuben Brand made a short documentary of the evening’s proceedings:

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Australians rally around the Hebron Festival of Friendship

The following article by Vivienne Porzsolt appears in this week’s Green Left Weekly:

Leichhardt Friends of Hebron can be very proud of the Festival of Friendship for Hebron it held over June 25-26.

The event raised more than $5000 for a kindergarten in the impoverished village of Um al Khair in the South Hebron hills. It also won a significant political victory over the ban the previous Leichhardt Council administration placed on a Palestinian photo exhibition two years earlier.

A festival banner was prominently displayed outside as the town hall filled with people at the opening to hear Greens Mayor Jamie Parker and Palestinian ambassador Dr Izzat Abdulhadi. Palestinian writer Randa Abdel Fattah and Palestinian refugee Fathieh Douer also spoke.

The festival could not have taken place without Parker’s support. It was in stark contrast to the weak-kneed actions of the previous administration.

A panel chaired by journalist and author Peter Manning on “Censorship of the Palestinian story: how does it shape Australian understandings?” included Carole Lawson, former convener of Leichhardt Friends of Hebron, Karen Vesk and Alissar Chidiac, formerly of the Powerhouse Museum, and Dr Peter Slezak from Independent Australian Jewish Voices.

Slezak said the concept of “neutrality” was morally nonsensical in the face of human oppression and violation of international law.

He discussed the tendency to self-censorship and the need for institutions like the ABC, the print media and museums to conduct themselves with integrity and not cave in to the pressure exerted by Israeli propagandists.

The festival also featured the Australian premier of the Welcome to Hebron and a presentation by Lisa Arnold of APHEDA Union Aid Abroad on the history of Israel/Palestine. I spoke about my recent work with Israeli peace activists. There were also musical performances and poetry readings.

The festival received overwhelming support from a wide range of people across the community. Several professional artists performed free of charge.

Leichhardt Friends of Hebron was formed in 2007 to engage Leichhardt Municipal Council and the local community to raise awareness of the Palestinian story and provide practical humanitarian support.

The task was complicated by the intervention of the Inner West Chavurah, a local Jewish community group. It opposed the development of a “sister” relationship between Leichhardt and Hebron on the grounds that a public body like a council should not “take sides”.

The group was concerned, as are many Jews, that the campaign would provoke anger against Israel and Jews. However, it is the brutal actions of the State of Israel that are responsible for anger against Israel.

Jews best protect themselves from this hatred by being clear about the human rights issues involved and taking an ethical stand.

Leichhardt Friends of Hebron supports a collaborative approach. Its partner in building the kindergarten in South Hebron is a group of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis working together to support grassroots Palestinian communities under occupation.

This kind of partnership is an example of the kind of fruitful co-existence that could be possible between Palestinians and Jews in Israel/Palestine.

But for this to happen, the current oppressive regime must be abolished. All people concerned with justice and peace should work together to that end.

[Vivienne Porzsolt is a member of Jews Against the Occupation.]

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IAJV June newsletter

The following email was just sent to the Independent Australian Jewish Voices email list:

Dear friends,

The recent Gaza flotilla debacle has brought international attention to the blockade on Gaza by Israel. Media coverage has been intense and we have been pleased to see the growing dissent worldwide among Jews. The wider community is no longer ignoring the usual Jewish silence or apologetics as even the Sydney Morning Herald editorialised in early June that “it is time for Jews of the diaspora to question Israel’s actions”.

A few days later, IAJV co-founder Peter Slezak published a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald that stressed these issues facing Jews in particular, and called for a more critical, public Jewish position on Israeli behaviour and the 43 year-old occupation:.

In other news, IAJV co-sponsored film screenings in Sydney and Melbourne of the documentary ‘American Radical’ on Norman Finkelstein. These were highly successful events at which Antony Loewenstein and Peter Slezak spoke with other panellists to large audiences in both cities. In particular, there was a significant sense of the growing importance of communication and collaboration between Jews, Palestinians and the wider community.

Towards this end, we would like to draw your attention to the exemplary activities of Australian media producer Daz Chandler in the West Bank, bringing the human face of Palestinians and their plight to a wider audience. We stongly recommend support for her current fund-raising activities seeking to bring broadcast equipment to young people in the West Bank. See her work here:

We believe it is an important initiative and we hope that you may contribute generously to her current fund-raising campaign before it closes shortly. A brief indication of the work from the website:

Although this is a part of the world that features quite heavily in the Western media, the coverage rarely features the everyday individual, living that life. Radio Lajee brings a human face to the refugee community, creating a greater cross-cultural connection built on communication, shared interests and understanding. The project provides this community with a new skill-set, broadcast quality equipment and most importantly, the opportunity to tell their stories their way to a Western audience.

Finally, the following are recent writings on the Middle East:

The Los Angeles Times report on life in Gaza.

The US-magazine Nation reports on the growing movement in the US towards boycotts, sanctions and divestment from Israel.

Gideon Levy in Haaretz on Israel’s growing international isolation after the Gaza flotilla debacle.

Best wishes,
Antony Loewenstein
Peter Slezak
Eran Asoulin
Jim Levy

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Tonight in Sydney: Australian premiere of Finkelstein film

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Questioning the Promised Land is a Jewish need

I’m pleased to see my friend and co-founder of Indpendent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV), Peter Slezak, with a piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald on the importance of Jewish dissent.

These are the kinds of debates the Jewish community are so afraid to have. By defending all Israeli actions, they are blind to the reality of what Israel has become. History won’t forget:

The Mavi Marmara victims are the most visible of many unarmed international solidarity workers and Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli military forces at peaceful demonstrations. Charges that Israel’s lethal commando assault violated international law are far from the most serious it faces, after wars on Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, and Gaza in 2008-09. The lame official excuses for the assault invite the question: what does it take for “supporters” of Israel to protest that enough is enough?

Jewish leaders and their community follow Israeli official script: the raid on the unarmed civilians of the flotilla was in self-defence, just as pasta, coriander and children’s toys entering Gaza pose an existential threat to the Jewish state. The collective punishment of Gaza is merely putting them “on a diet”. George Orwell would have been impressed by such Newspeak in “defence of the indefensible”.

Apologists claim international outrage towards Israel is evidence of global anti-Semitism, seeking to “delegitimise” the Jewish state. The slur has caused non-Jewish commentators and individuals to avoid public criticism. The Jewish establishment has even sought to discredit human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, though the same criticisms may be found in reports of Israel’s own B’Tselem.

The Mavi Marmara victims are the most visible of many unarmed international solidarity workers and Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli military forces at peaceful demonstrations. Charges that Israel’s lethal commando assault violated international law are far from the most serious it faces, after wars on Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, and Gaza in 2008-09. The lame official excuses for the assault invite the question: what does it take for “supporters” of Israel to protest that enough is enough?

Jewish leaders and their community follow Israeli official script: the raid on the unarmed civilians of the flotilla was in self-defence, just as pasta, coriander and children’s toys entering Gaza pose an existential threat to the Jewish state. The collective punishment of Gaza is merely putting them “on a diet”. George Orwell would have been impressed by such Newspeak in “defence of the indefensible”.

Apologists claim international outrage towards Israel is evidence of global anti-Semitism, seeking to “delegitimise” the Jewish state. The slur has caused non-Jewish commentators and individuals to avoid public criticism. The Jewish establishment has even sought to discredit human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, though the same criticisms may be found in reports of Israel’s own B’Tselem.

Diaspora Jewish communities and their leadership have not only avoided making public criticism of Israel themselves, but have sought to prevent other Jews speaking out as well. Those who dare, such as the signatories to Independent Australian Jewish Voices, are labelled “self-hating”, “useful idiots”, “kapos” and even “Jews for genocide”. However, if their communities expect uncritical loyalty of Jews to Zionism, they can hardly be surprised if others fail to make the distinction clearly.

The wider public is not mistaken in seeing a conspicuous Jewish silence as condoning whatever the state of Israel does. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates says: “We should be the first to use rhetoric to denounce ourselves and the people close to us, to expose their crimes and save them from immorality.” It is a moral truism, as is the biblical precept about the hypocrite in Matthew 7:”For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.”

For such reasons, in a recent article in the New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart has charged the diaspora Jewish establishment with being detached from reality, failing to recognise “Israel is becoming (has become) a right-wing, ultra-nationalist country” being abandoned by younger liberal and progressive Jews. As early as 1948, an open letter published in The New York Times signed by Hannah Arendt, Einstein and others warned against the fatal combination of “ultra-nationalism, religious mysticism and a propaganda of racial superiority”.

It is one of history’s ironies that Jews have embraced an essentialist idea of some intrinsic quality constituting their identity and destiny, since they have been perhaps history’s most aggrieved victims of it. Since the position of diaspora Jews has a critical influence on government policies in Israel itself and elsewhere, Beinart poses the question to Jewish leaders: what would Israel’s government have to do to make them scream “no”? Beinart asks: “If the line has not yet been crossed, where is the line?”

The question of Jewish identity and responsibility has been posed acutely by some Jews themselves, those who break ranks – those referred to in Isaac Deutscher’s essay as ”The Non-Jewish Jew”. Among these, Baruch Spinoza (1634-77) is described by Bertrand Russell as “the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers”. For his heresies, he was given the severest punishment, Cherem – permanent excommunication from the 17th century Amsterdam Jewish community.

He notes the paradox that Jewish heretics who transcend Jewry belong to a characteristically Jewish tradition, among the great revolutionaries of modern thought, including Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. To Deutscher’s list we may add Hannah Arendt, the late renegade American historian Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, all reviled by their communities.

“They all went beyond the boundaries of Jewry,” Deutscher says, to transcend their narrowly conceived ethnic identity while remaining attached to it. Such Jewish thinkers embrace a wider, universal, Enlightenment outlook – the tradition of secular, liberalism and humanism. This is the position of the famous Jewish philosopher Marx – not Karl, but Groucho – who quipped “I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member”.

Do you feel good when your football team wins a game? Do you know any of the players whose success you enjoy and feel you share? Are you proud of being Jewish? Or Irish? Or Australian? What have you done to deserve credit for the achievements of Einstein, Beckett, Bradman or anyone else?

The true heroes in history are the heretics who adopt a critical attitude towards the national symbols and sacred traditions.

Edward Said, the Palestinian intellectual who took students to visit Auschwitz, made the point: “To this terribly important task of representing the collective suffering of your own people … reinforcing its memory, there must be added something else … The task, I believe, is to universalise the crisis, to give greater human scope to what a particular race or nation suffered, to associate that experience with the suffering of others.”

Israel is not the state of its citizens, of whom now 20 per cent are not Jewish, but the state of the Jewish people. The Knesset has considered a bill that would institute a jail sentence for anyone who speaks ”against Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state”. But, as Ariel Sharon explicitly recognised in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, there is a contradiction inherent in attributing these two properties – Jewish and democratic, like green and colourless.

In view of the brutal occupation of the West Bank, inhumane blockade of Gaza, continuing dispossession, injustice and suffering of the Palestinians, Jews might heed Einstein’s prophetic warning in 1955: ”The attitude we adopt towards the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people.”

Peter Slezak is a senior lecturer at the University of NSW’s school of history and philosophy of science.

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Talking BDS post flotilla massacre

My following interview with Green Left Weekly appears today:

Sydney-based journalist and author Antony Loewenstein is an outspoken critic of Israeli policies and author of the best-selling 2006 book My Israel Question. He is the co-founder of advocacy group Independent Australian Jewish Voices and is a board member of Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East and North African Studies. Articles and commentary by Loewenstein can be found at

Green Left Weekly’s Tony Iltis spoke with Loewenstein about Israel’s military assault on the unarmed Freedom Flotilla, which sought to bring humanitarian aid to break Israel’s siege of the Palestinian Gaza Strip. At least nine activists were killed in the assault.

* * *

Loewenstein told GLW he was surprised by Israel’s assault on the Freedom Flotilla. “While we’re clearly used to Israel breaking international law by occupying peoples land, killing people, launching unprovoked wars — that’s normal Zionist behaviour.

“But”, he added, “this was surprising because it appears to be so utterly disproportionate, which again is not unique for Israel, but is so counterproductive.”

Loewenstein said the action shows “sheer arrogance and self-delusion”. He said if the action was fully thought through by Israel, “and evidence suggests it was”, then it apparently believed that “whatever Israel was to do, the world would simply accept”.

“Or more importantly, the US would support Israel when it claims it was self-defence.”

He said: “What does seem clear is that Israel believes using overwhelming force in the middle of the night on a humanitarian ship in the middle of the ocean, in international waters, would somehow not provoke some kind of response.

“The argument has been made that the activists on the boat reacted violently and Israel had no choice but to open fire on them.

“In the footage that Israel has released thus far, you do see evidence of the commandos coming from the helicopters and being set upon by activists.

“But what was Israel expecting people to do? Simply lie there and take it? The truth is that Israel was invading a sovereign entity on international waters and people had a right to defend themselves from that attack.”

He told GLW: “The bigger issue here is not this tragedy, but the siege on Gaza. That’s what this is all about.

“It is about the fact that the siege is immoral and counterproductive. This has brought far greater focus onto the blockade of Gaza, which has been going now for three-and-a-half years.

“I did hear that Egypt has opened its border with Gaza temporarily — we don’t know for how long, maybe just three or four days. Of course Egypt’s role in the blockade is just as scandalous as Israel’s.

“In a sense, they’re a client state that does the dirty work of Israel and the US.”

On whether this incident will prove to be a turning point in the struggle for justice and peace in the Middle East, Loewenstein said: “It’s very hard to say. Clearly, there are now growing international calls for the lifting of the siege, including from our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who’s hardly known for being brave on the Middle East (or on anything really).

“He did come out yesterday and say the siege should be lifted, which is a welcome comment from the Australian government and a very rare one at that.”

But he added, “the government that matters the most is the US”.

“The Obama administration’s response so far has been tepid, to put it mildly. Although they have in the past called for the lifting of the siege, there has not been any comment along those lines in the last 48 hours.”

However, Loewenstein added: “Just this week there was an interview in the [British] Guardian with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who said that there was growing contact between his organisation and the Obama administration but America simply hasn’t got the guts to speak out.

“So there was contact. And if there’s going to be any chance of peace, Hamas must be involved in the process.

“We keep hearing so much propaganda that Hamas are like Hitler, and they’re going to destroy all the Jews, that they hate Jews. There are undoubtedly some elements in Hamas that don’t like Jews. I saw this when I was in Gaza.

“But the truth is that they are a pragmatic political organisation that won a democratic election four years ago.”

He said progress to peace could not occur until Israel and the West recognises this. “If they think that continually blockading and isolating Gaza will achieve their interests — well, in fact, it’s having the opposite effect.

“I don’t see any evidence of Israel changing its position on this, frankly, but there needs to be sustained international pressure. If there’s not, and this should have happened a long time ago, there needs to be sustained growing calls and action [targeting Israel with a campaign] of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

“That is the only way Israel will understand — if it feels political pain.”

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“We would never tolerate this from our enemies”

The letters in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Hear the rising anger about the pass Australia and the West in general have given Israel for decades. Public opinion is shifting. Feel it:

I am sick of the PR spin. I am sick of the tired justifications, I am sick of the diplomatic niceties and double standards. I am sick of the excuses. I am sick of this having no end in sight. I am sick of the inhumanity.

Israeli commandos boarded vessels in international waters and killed several people. Period. The Israeli government has, for decades, oppressed, terrorised and reduced to near starvation close to a million people. Collective punishment is a war crime. There are no excuses.

We would never tolerate this from our enemies. Why on earth is it tolerated from our friends?

Adrian Bain St Leonards

When did the act of repelling invaders from your vessel in international waters become an act of aggression? Mr Netanyahu tells us that his soldiers were ”attacked with sticks and iron bars” and that ”the invaders started it”. The soldiers rappelling in the dark from helicopters were coming to help, were they?

When will the Australian government have the courage to tell Israel to stop the blockade and the occupation?

Edward Poole Annandale

Far be it from me to leap to Israel’s defence. Having signed the Independent Australian Jewish Voices letter in support of the Palestinians, I nonetheless feel condemnation of the Israel Defence Forces is becoming too automatic.

There may be many reasons to condemn the Israeli military, but its actions on board the flotilla are not among them. Ask yourselves what you would expect any other nation to do if ships were sent, in violation of its military blockade, and if its soldiers were attacked when they rappelled on board.

The blockade may be unjust (it is), and Israel may have a long record of terrible PR-disasters (it does), but the blame for this event rests with the individuals who behaved as peace-loving idealists, but who came armed with knives, clubs and cans of Mace.

You do not need more than 600 activists to get supplies into Gaza, you only need the supplies. And unless your intention is simply to create a scene, you send them via the appropriate channels.

Simon Holloway Newtown

At what point is Israel not the victim?

Ted Keating Tallai (Qld)

For a letter so scathing about melodrama and hysteria, Gabriel Sassoon’s (June 2) has a good deal of both. The Turkish ships were in international waters, not Israeli waters, and no one disputes that. They were not ”storming”, but carrying cargo such as building materials, prohibited by Israel and badly needed for humanitarian reasons to repair the damage that Israel itself unlawfully perpetrated.

Scott Poynting Manchester (UK)

There were no ”armed terrorists entering Israeli controlled waters”, as Gabriel Sassoon says. The attack took place in international waters. The only small arms used were – as reported by the Israelis – taken from the Israeli forces. The ”calculated melodrama, the confected hysteria, the feigned shock and anger” he decries may be caused by the fact that unarmed civilians died and were injured in the attack.

The Israeli line that those on board started the violence holds no water. No violence would have happened had the Israelis not boarded the boats. He and the other apologists do their cause no good by refusing to believe Israel can do no wrong.

Pip Denton Guildford

There you have the whole, complex problem in a nutshell. The world is divided into ”the anti-Israel propaganda machine” and ”the rest of us”.

William Cattell Sydney

The Israeli ambassador, Yuval Rotem, says the Gaza flotilla was a media stunt. Of course it was. The organisers wanted to show what thugs the Israelis are. They wanted to show the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and how little the Israelis allow in for the state to survive. They wanted to show how Israel deals with other views and how little it cares.

We now know.

Paul Stephen Yamba

Susan Jewell (Letters, June 2) and her fellow defenders of outrageous political stunts gone wrong should watch the video evidence, which shows ”unarmed” civilians beating Israeli commandos with iron bars and throwing them from an upper deck – hardly the actions of a group of unarmed peace activists. If Israel’s intent had been anything other than to resolve this with the minimum of force, that would not have happened.

Yammering about these vessels being in international waters is an attempt to fool a public ignorant of what a navy is allowed to do. A navy may board another vessel in international waters for a whole host of reasons. Even if Israel was in the wrong to board them, you are never legally right to attempt to repel naval personnel with violence (just as you are always in the wrong to resist arrest by a police officer).

This incident was a publicity stunt, not an aid convoy. There were other methods to get the aid delivered; this one was taken only because of the publicity generated by the inevitable Israeli attempts to stop it, or because the real intent was to deliver munitions to Hamas.

Anyone with even a passing interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict has seen numerous incidents like this manufactured to get airtime in the Western media. Sometimes I think Hamas could paint a red cross on a tank and the media would call it an ambulance and criticise Israel for blowing it up.

James Ramsay Bexhill

”We came for peace,”’ said the commando, one of the first Israeli soldiers to board the Mavi Marmara. ”They [the activists] came for war” (”There was madness in their eyes – they were trying to kill us”, June 2).

So let me get this straight. Israeli commandos land on the deck of a boat, in international waters, at night, with weapons, and this is in peace. The people on board, armed with nothing more than would ordinarily be found on such vessels (and humanitarian supplies), come in war. This really is a parallel universe, isn’t it?

Gina Hay Bayview

”The organisers’ intent was violent, their method was violent and, unfortunately, the results were violent.” – Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister.

”The flotilla organisers’ intent was violent, the methods employed were violent and, regrettably, the result was violent.” – Yuval Rotem, Israeli ambassador to Australia.

At least one side has its story straight.

Cliff Jahnsen Bowral

The blockade of Gaza by Israel – and by Egypt – has the blessingof the United States. These nations would have us believe the blockade is not intended to hurt the Gazans, but to bring down Hamas.

One cannot help feeling that while the raid on the flotilla by Israel’s navy commandos may have deprived the Gazans of basic daily needs, it has served to strengthen the support for Hamas, not only within Gaza but throughout the region.

Sam Nona Burradoo