On racism, how to tackle it and why the state often worsens it

My weekly Guardian column:

As an atheist Jew, I find it distinctly uncomfortable to defend the free speech rights of Holocaust deniers. I utterly oppose the inaccuracy, hatred and intolerance that goes with refuting the reality of Nazi crimes against Jews, gay people, Gypsies and many others.

But a truly free society is one that tolerates and encourages strong exchanges of ideas. This includes the most abominable of them, such as those expressed by German born, Australian-citizen, Holocaust denying Frederick Tobin, a regular bogeyman wheeled out to justify laws against offensive thoughts.

I fundamentally share the view expressed by Noam Chomsky that “acceptable speech” should never be decided by the state, because we “don’t want them to have any right to make any decision about what anybody says.” As a result, “a lot of people are going to say things that you think are rotten, and you’re going to say things that a lot of other people think are rotten.”

Australian academic Clinton Fernandes furthers this argument:

“One of the most important points in any discussion about the right of free speech is this: the defence of a person’s right to express certain views is independent of the views actually expressed. Thus, one might defend Salman Rushdie’s freedom to write The Satanic Verses without agreeing with the content of that book – or even needing to read it.”

These issues have all been thrust back into the public spotlight with the Australian government’s desire to amend the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) to, in their view, expand free and often inflammatory speech. Attorney general George Brandis said last week that, “it is not, in the government’s view, the role of the state to ban conduct merely because it might hurt the feelings of others.”

Tellingly, Brandis has also arguably given the green light for intolerance when he said that people “do have a right to be bigots“. Surely the role of any responsible government is to condemn and fight hatred, rather than encourage it.

The response from the vast bulk of the left to the RDA alterations has been horror and opposition. Minority groups are outraged. The Labor party doesn’t support the changes and leader Bill Shorten has urged the Jewish community to lobby hard against the amendments (a request he would probably not make to other, equally affected communities because of the power of Australian groups backing Israel in influencing both major sides of local politics).

The Zionist establishment, long-time backers of the RDA, have written thousands of words in opposition to the government’s proposed changes, but the irony shouldn’t be lost on us. This is coming from individuals and organisations that routinely petition politicians and media organisations to erect tightly controlled limits on so-called acceptable talk around Israel and Palestine, illegal West Bank colonies and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. They rarely have any complaints when anti-Muslim or anti-Palestinian sentiment is floated in the press.

Unlike those groups, I welcome a robust discussion over the limits, intent and interest of the state in trying to restrict the most offensive speech imaginable – although I do have some misgivings.

I share some of the concerns of learned law experts, such as Andrew Lynch, a director at the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at the University of NSW, who writes in the Melbourne Age that the government has a wilful blindness to the profound power disparity between those individuals or groups who may be offended or hurt by hate speech and those most likely to be using them (such as media personalities or politicians). It’s a position utterly lost on cocooned editorial writers and also on columnist Andrew Bolt, who this week praised his ability to receive an apology for hurt feelings, forgetting that his requests come with the power of the massive corporation behind him. Bolt is neither a fair arbiter of how the law should work in relation to hateful speech, nor in a position to understand the awful effect that verbal abuse can have on an Aboriginal, refugee, Jew, Muslim, or Greek.

In supporting some changes to the RDA – principally supporting the removal of laws against “offensive” speech – I acknowledge that I’m writing this as a privileged white man who has rarely experienced racial abuse or hatred because of my religion (except my public, journalistic frankness over Israel/Palestine and the “war on terror” has brought constant hate mail and even death threats).

And at this stage, I also have to underline the fact that the vast bulk of commentators pushing for changes to the RDA are also white and male. It’s impossible to ignore the lack of female, Indigenous and non-Anglo perspectives (there are some exceptions, such as Aboriginal advisorWesley Aird and Sue Gordon, who both back the government’s moves).

As a result, much of the discussion about the RDA is expressed by a political and media class that indulges racism on a daily basis, from theNorthern Territory intervention against Indigenous citizens to our treatment of asylum seekers, racial profiling, or our backing of wars in the Middle East. These groups and individuals don’t really care about tackling everyday racism, preferring to distract the public from their own shocking records instead.

None of this means, though, that those of us who have spent years fighting discrimination against minorities can’t feel uncomfortable with current laws that seek to restrict free speech. The RDA has not reduced tangible racism in Australia (if anything we’re becoming less friendly to migrants, according to a new study) and we shouldn’t look to a state that entrenches racism to legislate against it.

After thinking about this issue for many years, and growing up in the Jewish community I was constantly warned about rampant anti-Semitism, I support this comment by the 20th century American journalist H L Mencken:

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

It may make our hearts sink, but we owe it to our democracy to defend the rights of the most offensive people in our community.

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On anti-Semitism, BDS, Palestine and justice

My essay in New Matilda is here:

As the BDS campaign starts to gain traction, accusations of anti-semitism should be treated gravely – whether from pro-Palestine advocates or Israel’s defenders, writes Antony Loewenstein

The charges of racism were serious. University orientation weeks, reported Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Australian, in early March, “have been marred by a series of alleged anti-semitic incidents”.

Socialist Alternative stood accused, according to the Australian Union of Jewish Students, of expressing hateful comments towards Jewish students, praising Hamas and calling for “death to the Zionist entity” at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales.

The reliability of the allegations of anti-semitism has not yet been assessed but, if they are found to be true, those responsible must be opposed. A spokesperson from Socialist Alternative tells me that his organisation categorically denies all of the allegations.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, a man who never misses an opportunity to fight a culture war he can’t win, accused backers of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel of making anti-semitism “a fashionability among highly ignorant sections of the far Left”. He wanted universities to “step in and take a very firm line” against racism on campus. “Free speech does not extend to ugly threats and physical harassment,” he argued.

It’s time to call this co-ordinated campaign of the local Zionist lobby and the Murdoch press for what it is; a cheapening of real anti-semitism and a clear attempt to brand all critics of Israel as Jew haters. It’s a tactic imported from America and Europe, articulated from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down, that aims to neuter opponents of the Jewish state’s brutal, military occupation as deluded and anti-semitic.

The rhetoric is increasing as BDS scores impressive wins globally — countless European firms are changing their business practices towards Israel in rejecting the occupation — and has entered the mainstream as a legitimate tool to oppose Israeli policies.

Israel supporters have long believed that better PR will solve its problems, as if, for example, there’s any way to positively spin dozens of Israeli teens announcing their refusal to serve in the IDF due to its deleterious effect on Israeli society and Palestinian lives.

It’s a small but deeply courageous step in a society that still idolises a human rights abusing army (Amnesty’s new report details countless examples of the IDF killing Palestinian civilians in cold blood).

None of these profound shifts should escape the debate in Australian, where the Federal Government refuses to condemn illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank.

The establishment Zionist lobby has tried for decades, with a degree of success, to insulate the Jewish community from the realities of occupying Palestine.

The advent of the internet and social media, along with a more critical young population who won’t be easily bullied into support for Israel because of the Holocaust, are changing the landscape. Hence the need to use old, tired tactics. Parroting Netanyahu’s fear-mongering over Iran and Arabs is increasingly treated worldwide with the contempt it deserves.

The old men who run the Jewish community may catch on one day that it isn’t enough to run an hackneyed style enemies list against opponents; countless journalists and editors will tell you of the bullying calls, letters and emails employed by the Zionist community against critical coverage. It only sometimes now works.

It’s a failing style even called out by The Australian’s Middle East correspondent John Lyons in a recent, robust defence of his stunning ABC TV 4 Corners story on Palestine, accusing distant, self-appointed Zionist leaders of being little more than blind defenders of Israeli government policy. Pundits take note: whenever quoting such people remember to whom they pledge partial allegiance and ask about their funding sources.

Any form of racism must be completely condemned, whether it’s directed at Jews, Muslims, Christians or other minorities. But the way in which a state and community deals with racism is a more pressing the question. After years of falsely accusing critics of Israel of anti-semitism — Sydney University’s Jake Lynch is the latest person to face the predictable and costly wrath of an Israeli-government endorsed legal case against his ethically justified backing of BDS — the organised Zionist establishment lacks credibility in crying about opposing racism, when it so flagrantly encourages demonisation of Israel’s critics along racial lines.

They have a morally compromised voice by being occupation backers themselves. How dare they claim to cry over an alleged rise in real anti-semitism (mostly online) while at the same time shedding crocodile tears against the growing BDS movement? Perhaps they should learn some humility and recognise what their beloved state has become known for globally: repressing Palestinians.

Politically, the Abbott government has pledged to remove section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in an attempt, in their words, to increase free speech (a position loudly backed by The Australian).

Federal Attorney George Brandis said on ABC TV’s Q&A this week, defending his administration’s proposed changes that are opposed by the Jewish community and many other ethnic groups, that the current drafting in section 18C restricts the rights of all peoples to speak and be offensive. Now that there are signs that Brandis may be back-tracking on a complete repeal of the section, it’s really only the Murdoch press that bangs on about “free speech” while denying the same rights to many of its critics.

Despite all this, I’ve argued elsewhere, in opposition to many on the Left who believe the legislation should remain unchanged, that although all speech has limits, a robust democracy should legally tolerate insults over race. But the vast bulk of “discussion” over 18C has been at a desultory level.

Take the recent Australian Jewish News article by Fergal Davis, a senior lecturer in law at the University of NSW. He backed maintaining the current 18C legislation and then wistfully argued that the Abbott government could be the champions of human rights because “we must convince Australians that human rights are not ‘left wing’; they are at the heart of the fair go.” Nice sentiments, but utterly removed from reality. Davis ignores the new government’s shocking treatment of asylum seekers and refusal to seriously condemn abuses at the UN by allies Sri Lanka, Israel and Egypt.

The real questions for the Murdoch press, Zionist establishment, Abbott ministers and other supposed defenders of open speech are as follows: will you follow the path of many politicians in the US, both Democrat and Republican, who are increasingly trying to criminalise civilian backing for BDS? How serious is your commitment to free speech? How willing are you to preach tolerance and acceptance while believing that certain issues, such as legitimate criticisms of Israel (defined by whom will always be the question?) are beyond the pale and anti-semitic?

Away from the huffing and puffing of self-described friends of Israel lies the real limits of insulating Israel from criticism. Trying to stop BDS, through the courts, laws, parliament or defamatory attacks, will change nothing on the ground for Palestinians, and countless people around the world now know it. Israel and its dwindling band of Zionist backers in Australia and worldwide are desperately hanging onto 20th century tactics to fight modern opposition to a racially based state.

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A truly free society would support and not silence BDS

Me at ABC’s The Drum today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boycott of Israel makes prime-time coverage in Israel

The Zionist lobby and its various backers can argue that global anti-Semitism is the reason the Jewish state is increasingly isolated. Dream on. Here’s Larry Derfner, writing in +972 Magazine, explaining the sign of the BDS times:

On Saturday night the boycott of Israel gained an impressive new level of mainstream recognition in this country. Channel 2 News, easily the most watched, most influential news show here, ran a heavily-promoted, 16-minute piece on the boycott in its 8 p.m. prime-time program. The piece was remarkable not only for its length and prominence, but even more so because it did not demonize the boycott movement, it didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing. Instead, top-drawer reporter Dana Weiss treated the boycott as an established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.

In her narration, Weiss ridicules the settlers and the government’s head-in-the-sand reaction to the rising tide. The segment from the West Bank’s Barkan Industrial Park opens against a background of twangy guitar music like from a Western. “To the world it’s a black mark, a symbol of the occupation,” she reads. “But here they insist it’s actually a point of light in the area, an island of coexistence that continues to flourish despite efforts to erase it from the map.” A factory owner who moved his business to Barkan from the other side of the Green Line makes a fool of himself by saying, “If the state would only assist us by boycotting the Europeans and other countries causing us trouble …” The Barkan segment ends with the manager of Shamir Salads saying that between the European and Palestinian boycott, he’s losing about $115,000 to $143,000 a month in sales. “In my view,” he says, “it will spread from [the West Bank] to other places in Israel that have no connection to the territories.”

Weiss likewise ridicules Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who runs the government’s “hasbara war,” as he puts it. Weiss: “Yes, in the Foreign Ministry they are for the time being sticking to the old conception: it’s all a question of hasbara. This week the campaign’s new weapon, developed with the contributions of world Jewry: (Pause) Another hasbara agency, this time with the original name ‘Face To Israel.’” She quotes the co-owner of Psagot Winery saying the boycott is “nothing to get excited about,” that people have been boycotting Jews for 2,000 years, and concluding, “If you ask me, in the last 2,000 years, our situation today is the best it’s ever been.” That final phrase, along with what Weiss describes as Elkin’s “conceptzia,” are the same infamous words that Israelis associate with the fatal complacency that preceded the surprise Yom Kippur War.

The Channel 2 piece features abortive telephone calls with boycott “victims” who didn’t want to be interviewed for fear of bad publicity. The most dramatic testimony comes from Daniel Reisner, an attorney with the blue-chip law firm Herzog Fox Neeman who advises such clients. He explains:

Most of the companies victimized by the boycott behave like rape victims. They don’t want to tell anybody. It’s as if they’ve contracted some sort of disease and they don’t want anyone to know.

More and more companies are coming to us for advice – quietly, in the evening, where no one can hear them – and they say: ‘I’ve gotten into this or that situation; is there something you can do to help?’”

Without giving the names of his clients or the extent of their losses, Reisner says the boycott is causing Israeli businesses to lose foreign contracts and investors. “My fear is of a snowball effect,” he says. Prof. Shai Arkin, vice president for R&D at Hebrew University, says there are many cases of Israeli candidates for research fellowships at foreign universities being turned down because their resumes include service in the Israeli army.

Advice from a friend abroad comes from Matthew Gould, the British ambassador to Israel: “I love Israel. And I’m worried that in another five years Israel will wake up and find that it doesn’t have enough friends.”

Weiss asks the EU ambassador here, Lars Faaborg-Andersen: “If Israel would change its policy, all this would go away?” The ambassador replies: “Yes. It is about Israeli policies. If the settlement business continue[s] to expand, Israel will be facing increasing isolation.”

The piece presents Tzipi Livni as the country’s would-be savior. She says the current negotiations with the Palestinians (in which she represents Israel, along with Netanyahu confidant Isaac Molho) are holding back the boycott’s expansion, but that “if there is a crisis [in the talks], everything will break loose.” She says she is “shouting at people to wake up.”

Weiss: “What does this all mean? What is it going to be like here? South Africa?”

Livni: “Yes. I spoke with some of the Jews who are living n South Africa now. They say, ‘We thought we had time. We thought we could deal with this. We thought we didn’t need the world so much for everything. And it happens all at once.’”

Sixteen minutes of prime time on Israel’s all-popular TV news show on Saturday night, the end of the week in this country. Bracing stuff. A wrench thrown into the national denial machine – and by Channel 2. Definitely a sign of progress – and of life. Another reminder of why this country is worth fighting for – which, for many of us Israeli boycott-supporters, if not necessarily most of us, is what the boycott, strange as it may sound, is all about.

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Why BDS must be supported for justice in the Middle East

My weekly Guardian column is published today:

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a thriving Palestinian-led initiative that attacks institutional links to Israel’s illegal settlements, has been gaining in popularity. In Australia, the movement has been slowly growing as Israel continues to defy international law – and it now faces one of its greatest opportunities in the court of public opinion.

Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center is an Israel-based organisation that claims to be a civil group “fighting for rights of hundreds of terror victims”. It is currently taking Jake Lynch, head of Sydney University’sCentre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), to the Australian federal court. They assert that Lynch has allegedly breached the 1975 racial discrimination act by refusing to sponsor a fellowship application by Israeli academic Dan Avnon. Lynch and CPACS support BDS, and since Avnon works at Hebrew University – a key intellectual hub which is targeted by boycotters for allegedly being complicit in the establishment of illegal settlements – Lynch declined to be named as a reference.

The story has been largely ignored. Fairfax Media has not touched it, and ABC TV’s 7.30 only briefly addressed it last week. Instead, it is Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian which has been driving the debate on the issue, publishing countless stories that deliberately conflates antisemitism and support for the BDS movement.

Just last week, after the horrific bashing of Jewish men in Sydney, the paper featured a Holocaust survivor on its front page condemning the attack. Within the article was the rhetorical device of inserting comment about BDS – as if physically assaulting Jewish people was on the same spectrum as a peaceful, non-violent attempt to force Israel to abide by international law. Bizarrely, an op-ed published by Newscorp’s The Telegraph also said that the best response to the assaults was to support Max Brenner – the chocolate shop whose parent company, the Strauss Group, has been a target of BDS protestors for supporting the Israeli Defence Force.

Countless letters have since been published in The Australian reinforcing a correlation between antisemitism and the boycott – following this logic, Lynch and his backers are a threat to public order. This also ignores the nearly 2,000 signatories of a public petition backing Lynch (which a number of academics, including the co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish VoicesPeter Slezak, signed).

Last week, The Australian ran an editorial which implied that Lynch blocked Avnon’s academic credentials simply because he was an Israeli. Another front page story in the paper last week claimed that Hebrew University is a bastion of Jewish and Arab co-operation, yet ignored an example of the institution repressing Palestinian rights through its connections to the arms industry.

Lynch tells me that Shurat HaDin have deliberately skewed his BDS stance. He denies, despite what the group’s Australian lawyer Andrew Hamilton said on ABC TV last week, having “admitted” that he boycotted Avnon because he was Israeli. He told me:

“I have made it abundantly clear from the start that the policy is aimed at institutional links. If the Hebrew University is anything like the University of Sydney, then it probably employs academics from various backgrounds in terms of religious affiliation and country of origin. It would not make any difference to my or the CPACS’ policy if the applicant was originally from Belgium, Botswana or Bolivia – I believe the University of Sydney should revoke its part in the Sir Zelman Cowen and Technion fellowship schemes, and I reserve my right not to collaborate with them. Andrew Hamilton has clearly not paid serious attention to our policy, or to what I have actually done in pursuit of it.”

It’s worth noting that Avnon, endlessly praised in the Australian media as a humanist who believes in co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians, sits on Israeli group Metzilah’s General Assembly. This is a group that put out a report explicitly rejecting the Palestinian right of return to lands stolen by Israel, and claims that a Jewish state discriminating against equal rights for Palestinians is not problematic. It is worth noting that the Palestinian right of return is a requirement in international law.

Largely missing from the ferocious media coverage has been any information about the real agenda of Shurat HaDin. The organisation, according to Wikileaks documents, has strong links to Israeli intelligence and Mossad, just one of the many groups that now prosecutes Israel’s argument for the Jewish state. The law firm tried to sue Twitter for daring to host Hizbollah tweets, former US President Jimmy Carter for criticising Israel and Stephen Hawking for damning the Israeli occupation. Even the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, a leading Zionist lobby, refuses to endorse Shurat HaDin’s case against Lynch, pointing out that attempts to suppress the campaign through litigation are inappropriate.

Also absent from the debate is the reason BDS exists. It is growing due to a complete lack of faith in US-led peace talks. American journalist Max Blumenthal recently published a book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which shows in forensic detail the reality of the Israeli mainstream’s embrace of blatant racism against Arabs and Africans. This isn’t what the Israel Shurat HaDin and its fellow travellers want the world to see. Indeed, Australian Israel lobby AIJAC responded to the latest BDS case against Lynch by completely ignoring illegal settlements altogether. This week Dean Sherr, a young lobbyist, wrote an entire column in The Australian about BDS without mentioning their existence.

The fear of BDS is reflected in the massive amount of money and resources Israel is spending to stop it. Instead of moving towards a democratic state for all its citizens, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to demolish Palestinian homes and build illegal colonies on Palestinian land.

Shurat HaDin’s Australian lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, told Haaretz last week that BDS “does nothing to help Palestinians and indeed harms them. It is merely an excuse for the vilest public antisemitic campaign the western world has seen since the Holocaust.” With such a statement, which essentially compares Jake Lynch to a Nazi, it’s no wonder Zionist advocates are losing the public relations battle globally.

For some of us on the left, using the racial discrimination act as a tool to silence views we find distasteful is deeply worrying – I write this as somebody who opposed the legal case against News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt in 2011. A real democracy is a place where any individual has the right to vehemently oppose colluding with an overseas university institution that disputes equal rights for Jews and Arabs.

I look forward to Australia’s leading public backers of free speech, such as Bolt, Miranda Devine and the Institute of Public Affairs, loudly backing Lynch. Somehow I think I’ll be waiting a while for these brave advocates to find their voice.

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

Back in June I was invited to Brisbane by the Queensland History Teacher’s Association to deliver the keynote speech at their annual conference. I spoke about Israel/Palestine, the role of Zionist violence against Palestinians, apartheid in the West Bank and the responsibility of all of us to speak out when injustice occurs. It was warmly received.

I was informed soon after the event that the Queensland Zionist lobby was upset. How dare this organisation invite me to talk to teachers, they wrote? Apparently I may have infected these teachers with dangerous ideas, such as BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and a realistic view of the conflict. This is problematic for insular and bigoted Jews who are desperate to maintain the fiction that Israel is a noble state that doesn’t oppress the Palestinians but merely cuddles them gently.

To their great credit, the History Teacher’s Association responded strongly, rejecting Zionist bullying and rightly arguing that alternative views are vital when discussing the Middle East and adherence to a blindly Zionist line serves nobody except propagandists. The correspondence, written by the Zionist lobby and Association, shows the extremism of hardline Jews who refuse to tolerate any challenge to their narrative. Global, public opinion, along with many young Jews, is increasingly turning away from a militant and pro-occupation Israel.

In the Association’s latest public newsletter, extracts published below, it’s clear how out of touch the Zionist lobby has become.

First the Association’s introduction:

The term 3 ejournal is special because it contains a tremendously important debate about the history of the Middle East. Given that so many senior Modern History courses feature a unit on the Arab/Israeli conflict we think it would be useful to share these exchanges. At the recent QHTA Annual Conference, author Antony Loewenstein was invited to explore a notable silence in the crisis in the Middle East narrative – the events of 1948. Indeed, these events have never been accepted as a legitimate part of Middle East Peace talks. Antony highlighted what he believed were key moments in the removal of 800 000 Palestinians from their homes. He also explores the way Judaism and Zionism merge in most mainstream commentary on the Middle East.

In this framework the interests of all Jewish people are identical with Israel and its policies. Antony argues that this is not the case. The presentation drew sharp criticism from Jason Steinberg, President of the Jewish Board of Deputies Queensland Chapter. Jason Steinberg argued that Antony did not have the credentials of a historian to reliably evaluate the circumstances surrounding the establishment of Israel. He indicated that Queensland students were being misled if teachers uncritically accepted Antony Loewenstein’s version of Israel’s foundation year.

In response to Jason Steinberg’s letter, President of the QHTA Sue Burvill-Shaw wrote an account of Antony’s participation in the QHTA conference and outlined the approach Queensland history teachers adopt when teaching contested history.

We have published Antony Loewenstein’s speech, an article by Jason Steinberg criticising the central tenet of a recent book by Antony entitled After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, as well as our letter because they remind us that different interpretations of the past are often connected to current debates and that these debates shape the way evidence is gathered and empathy is expressed. We invite readers to contribute their understanding of the historiographical issues raised in this journal.

When students reflect on the Arab/Israeli conflict it can sometimes appear that violence and religious discord are structural features of the region. The past, and not too distant, provides evidence of vibrant multi-faith communities across the Middle East. In Baghdad, Alexandria and Jerusalem many saw themselves as part of a common Judeo-Arabic culture. Jews and Arabs once sat in the same coffee houses and enjoyed the same music. The Israeli poet, Amira Hess declared, “I am Baghdad’s daughter”. Echoing this affectionate recollection of a Jewish upbringing in a multi-faith environment, Israeli novelist Shime’on Ballas wrote “I have never denied my Arab origins or the Arabic language. I am an Arab who has taken up an Israeli identity but no less an Arab than any other Arab”. These affirmations of a shared culture can be a source of hope.

Dr Brian Hoepper suggests that Tony Abbott’s comments about the Australian History Curriculum might indicate a re-emergence of the of the history wars that raged during the Howard years. In the lead-up to the Federal election Mr Abbott argued that there was a left wing bias in the curriculum because too prominent a place is afforded Indigenous studies and trade union history. The Australian, an energetic participant in most cultural battles, tells its readers that the focus in schools should be the “solid canon of history”. Brian neatly traces the opening salvos in the campaign to shape history education and points to some important questions that need to be asked.

In this edition Janis Hanley encourages us to consider ways that we are able to connect large and complicated global events such as a world war to local sources of historical knowledge. Janis describes an investigation carried out by year 2s at the Mudgeeraba Light Horse Museum and supported by local experts. Also included towards the end of this journal are some teaching suggestions guides to accessing the most recent information about the Senior Ancient and Modern History Curriculum.

Adrian Skerritt

Humanities HOD

Centenary State High School

Here’s the Israel lobby’s letter:

The word “Zionism” was grossly misrepresented by Antony Loewenstein in his speech to the QHTA earlier this year. Zionism is simply the affirmation of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in Israel. It does not imply a territorial claim to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip or to particular borders. The fundamental and incontrovertible nature of the right of self-determination of peoples has been recognized in the UN Charter (Art 1.2) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art 1.1) and by the International Court of Justice in the Namibia, Western Sahara and East Timor cases. Australia’s Professor James Crawford regards the right of self-determination and other peoples’ rights as a category of human rights. Individual rights are another. And yes, we accept that the right applies also to the Palestinians. We support a two-State solution for that reason. The UN has supported a resolution of the conflict on the basis of two States for two peoples since 1947, and has rejected the so-called one-State solution.

If a person were to contend that Palestinians are not an authentic nation and do not have the right to national self-determination and to have their own state, I suspect that that person would be widely denounced as a racist, with Antony Loewenstein leading the charge. Yet he sees no irony in contending, expressly or by implication, that the Jewish people (despite centuries of nationhood and statehood, amply attested by their own records and the writings of neighbouring civilisations) are not an authentic nation and do not have the right to national self-determination and to have their own state. He may not admit it expressly but he is saying, in effect, that it is acceptable for the Jews to live once again as vulnerable minority communities within States which each give expression to the language, culture and history of their majority community, but this would never do for the Palestinians! We say that this would never do for either people.

The following article “One-State Dream, One-State Nightmare” published in the New York Times in August this year will hopefully provide Queensland history teachers with some further information about why the suggestion of a One-State solution would not work.

With thanks

Jason Steinberg

Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies

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Max Blumenthal talks about his new book “Goliath” on Israel/Palestine

American journalist Max Blumenthal has been reporting on the Middle East, the far-right, racists and weirdos for years. He’s a gem, and a friend.

His latest book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, has been released (I’ve just received a copy). Here he is speaking to Abby Martin on RT:

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What happens when you cross mad Zionists, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Elie Wiesel?

Whole lotta mess.

Here’s a great The Real News report by Max Blumenthal and Alex Kane about a recent event in New York (background here and here):

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Vice interview about Ben Zygier, Israeli spying and Western acceptance

I was recently interviewed by Lily Jovic for Vice magazine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beware slam dunk “intelligence” over Syria

The rush to war against Syria is gathering pace. But beware slimy politicians offering certainties (or the Zionist lobby). The truth is murky.

One of the finest dissenting US journalists is Gareth Porter. His latest is essential reading (via TruthOut):

Secretary of State John Kerry assured the public that the Obama administration’s summary of the intelligence on which it is basing the case for military action to punish the Assad regime for an alleged use of chemical weapons was put together with an acute awareness of the fiasco of the 2002 Iraq WMD intelligence estimate.  

Nevertheless, the unclassified summary of the intelligence assessment made public August 30, 2013, utilizes misleading language evocative of the infamous Iraq estimate’s deceptive phrasing. The summary cites signals, geospatial and human source intelligence that purportedly show that the Syrian government prepared, carried out and “confirmed” a chemical weapons attack on August 21. And it claims visual evidence “consistent with” a nerve gas attack.  

But a careful examination of those claims reveals a series of convolutedly worded characterizations of the intelligence that don’t really mean what they appear to say at first glance.  

The document displays multiple indications that the integrity of the assessment process was seriously compromised by using language that distorted the intelligence in ways that would justify an attack on Syria.

That pattern was particularly clear in the case of the intelligence gathered by covert means. The summary claims, “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence.”

That seems to indicate that U.S. intelligence intercepted such communiations. But former British Ambassador Craig Murray has pointed out on his blog August 31 that the Mount Troodos listening post in Cyprus is used by British and U.S. intelligence to monitor “all radio, satellite and microwave traffic across the Middle East … ” and that “almost all landline telephone communications in this region is routed through microwave links at some stage [and] picked up on Troodos.”

All intelligence picked by the Troodos listening post is shared between the U.S. and British intelligence, Murray wrote, but no commmunictions such as the ones described in the U.S. intelligence summary were shared with the British Joint Intelligence Organisation.  Murray said a personal contact in U.S. intelligence had told him the reason was that the purported intercept came from the Israelis. The Israeli origin of the intelligence was reported in the U.S. press as well, because an Israeli source apparently leaked it to a German magazine.

The clumsy attempt to pass off intelligence claimed dubiously by the Israelis as a U.S. intercept raises a major question about the integrity of the entire document. The Israelis have an interest in promoting a U.S. attack on Syria, and the authenticity of the alleged intercept cannot be assumed. Murray believes that it is fraudulent.

But even if the intercept is authentic, the description of it in the intelligence summary appears to be misleading. Another description of the same intercept leaked to The Cableby an administration official suggests that the summary’s description is extremely tendentious. The story described those same communications as an exchange of “panicked phone calls” between a Syrian Defense Ministry official and someone in a chemical weapons unit in which the defense ministry official was “demanding answers for [about?] a nerve agent strike.” That description clearly suggests that the Syrian senior official’s questions were prompted by the charges being made on August 21 by opposition sources in Ghouta. The use of the word “panicked”, which slants the interpretation made by readers of the document, may have been added later by an official eager to make the story more compatible with the administration’s policy.

But the main problem with the description is that it doesn’t answer the most obvious and important question about the conversation: Did the purported chemical weapons officer at the other end of the line say that the regime had used chemical weapons or not? If the officer said that such weapons had been used, that would obviously have been the primary point of the report of the intercept. But the summary assessment does not say that, so the reader can reasonably infer that the officer did not make any such admission. The significance of the intercept is, therefore, that an admission of chemicals weapons use was not made.

The carefully chosen wording of the summary – the ministry official was “concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence” – suggests that the official wanted to make sure that UN inspectors would not find evidence of a nerve gas attack. But it could also mean precisely the opposite – that the official wanted the inspectors to be able ascertain that there was no use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in eastern Ghouta. The latter possibility is bolstered by the fact that the regime agreed within 24 hours of the first formal request on August 24 from UN envoy Angela Kane for unimpeded access to eastern Ghouta. As late as Friday, August 23, the UN Department of Safety and Securityhad not yet decided to give permission to the UN investigators to go into the area because of uncertainties about their safety.

The intelligence summary makes no effort to explain why the regime promptly granted access to the investigators. Another anomaly: the fact that the UN investigators were already present in Damascus, having been initially requested by the Assad regime to look into a gas attack the regime had charged was carried out by the rebels on March 19. The two-page assessment by the British Joint Intelligence Organisation released August 29, pointed to this question:”There is no obvious political or military trigger,” it said, “for regime use of Chemical War on an apparently larger scale now, particularly given the current presence of the UN investigating team.”

Another obvious case of a misleading description of intelligence in the summary involves information from US geospatial and signals intelligence purporting to show that the Assad regime was preparing for a chemical attack in the three days prior to August 21. The intelligence summary describes the intelligence as follows: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.”  

That seems like damning evidence at first glance. However, despite the use of the term “operating,” the US intelligence had no information about the actual activities of the individual or individuals being tracked through geospatial and signals intelligence. When administration officials leaked the information to CBS news last week, they conceded that the presence of the individual being tracked in the area in question had been viewed at the time as “nothing out of the ordinary.”

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Australian Jewish heads love Zionist colonies, conservatism and remain lost cause

Australia has a federal election on 7 September. We’re looking at a change of government to Liberal leader Tony Abbott; a period of neo-conservatism awaits us. I agree with Wikileaks head Julian Assange who argues that one of the key issues is liberating ourselves from genuflecting towards Washington on every issue.

Israel/Palestine has barely featured in the campaign though the Zionist lobby is upset the ruling Labor party talks about West Bank colonies as “illegal”. They want obedience to the Likud line, that Palestinians are a) evil b) violent and c) anti-Semitic. A sign of the paranoia and ignorance of the lobby came this week when Zionist lobbyist Albert Dadon (a man with a background of embracing Israeli apartheid) banned a film critical of Israel from the Israeli Film Festival. Comical, tragic and pathetic.

Here’s a feature in Haaretz by Dan Goldberg which reflects the constipation, ignorance and racism amongst the Zionist elites. Here’s hoping younger Jews are far more enlightened:

Jewish community leaders in Australia have virtually abandoned support for the governing Labor Party, with most privately hoping the conservative Liberal Party wins the federal election next weekend.

The near consensus in favor of Tony Abbott to replace Kevin Rudd as the nation’s next PM comes as the Liberal Party reportedly plans to upgrade relations with Jerusalem, make visa applications easier for Israelis, ban more terror groups and stop financial support to any organization that supports the boycott Israel campaign.

According to a report in The Australian newspaper on Monday, an Abbott-led government would add Israel to the growing list of countries that can access fast-track visas for short-term visits to Australia.

The latest polls predict the Liberal Party will win the September 7 election by 53 percent to Labor’s 47 percent. Voting is mandatory and Orthodox Jews have started to pre-poll because all Australian elections are held on Saturdays.

If the polls are accurate, it would spell the end of a bitter battle between Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Jewish leaders, who were infuriated in January when he joined British Foreign Secretary William Hague in stating that all Israeli settlements are “illegal under international law.”

Carr, a founder of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Israel group in the 1970s, reignited Jewish angst last month in a speech outside Australia’s largest mosque. “All settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and should cease,” he said. “That is the position of Kevin Rudd, the position of the federal Labor government, and we don’t make apologies for it.”

It prompted fellow Labor lawmaker Michael Danby to take out a full-page advertisement in last week’s Australian Jewish News reminding Carr of Labor’s “carefully calibrated even-handed policy on peace.”

Danby, one of federal parliament’s most vocal advocates for Israel, added: “Foreign ministers have come and gone but Australia and our Australian Jewish community’s bond with Israel is as solid as Jerusalem stone.”

But Albert Dadon, the founder of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Forum, who first took Rudd to Israel a decade ago, told Haaretz: “An old tradition in Australian politics was bipartisanship when it comes to support for Israel.

“Unfortunately it is evident that it’s Labor that broke with that tradition and attempted to use Israel as a political football,” said Dadon.

Another senior leader said there is “no question” the leadership of the Jewish community favors the Liberal Party.

He claimed some Jewish leaders felt “betrayed” by the Labor Party after Julia Gillard, who he described as “an unwavering friend of Israel,” was dramatically deposed as prime minister at the end of June.

During Rudd’s first stint as prime minister from 2007 to 2010 he led a successful campaign for Australia to win a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, but was accused of sacrificing support for Israel in a bid to woo Arab votes.

Gillard wanted to oppose the vote to upgrade the status of Palestine at the UN last year but was thwarted by a campaign reportedly led by Carr, who preferred to abstain.

The Jewish vote in Australia is neither uniform nor influential given its relatively small size, and most Jews generally vote primarily on economic and social issues, and not based on the party’s Middle East policy.

But the Liberal Party’s strong economic credentials, coupled with its unapologetic support for Israel, are understood to have attracted increased Jewish support in the last decade.

One Jewish leader said Labor’s wavering posture on Israel would affect some Jewish voters. “I know there are a lot of Jewish people who feel strongly about it,” he said.

Abbott, a London native who once enrolled at a Catholic seminary before abandoning plans for the priesthood, has wooed Jewish voters since his first public speech soon after being elected leader of the Liberal Party in December 2009.

“I’d like to think that nowhere in the world [does Israel] have more stauncher friends than us,” he told Dadon’s Leadership Forum in Melbourne.

Dr. Ron Weiser, a former president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, told Haaretz: “It is not uncritical support that we seek; it is the support of a friend who understands that Israel is a moral entity that behaves morally and with that understanding is more likely in the first instance to assume that Israel is correct rather than incorrect.”

In an apparent swipe at Carr, he added: “We seek the support of a friend who understands the complexities of the Middle East and the fact that the obstacle to peace is not the legality of settlements but rather Palestinian intransigence and Palestinian unwillingness to accept a two-states-for-two-peoples solution.”

But some Jewish leaders fear a Liberal government could “open the door to Holocaust denial” by amending the Racial Discrimination Act. Abbott has mooted the possibility of diluting section 18c of the RDA, which makes it illegal to commit an act that could “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people … because of their race, color or national or ethnic origin.”

It was precisely this section that was cited by Federal Court judge Catherine Branson in 2002 when she ruled that Adelaide’s Dr Fredrick Toben must stop publishing Holocaust denial material on the Internet in a landmark case brought by Jewish community leaders.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, another Jewish MP alongside Danby in the Labor government, argued in an open letter to Abbott recently that his preference to limit section 18c to acts of “intimidation or harassment” is inconsistent with his support for the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism.

“Section 18c is precisely the kind of legislated protection against anti-Semitism and discrimination that the London Declaration calls on its signatories to enact,” Dreyfus wrote.

The best outcome for the Australian Jewish community would be a narrow victory for the Liberal Party, added one senior Jewish leader.

“That would mean Australia would revert to its historic position regarding Israel but they will not be able to ram through badly thought-out amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act.”

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Tony Abbott’s foreign policy would be as clueless as George W. Bush

My following article appears today in the Guardian:

In April 2010, as the war in Afghanistan was raging and US president Barack Obama “surged” 30,000 more troops into the country, Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott suggested that under his leadership, a Coalition government would have considered increasing involvement. “The government should explain why it’s apparently right that Nato countries should commit more troops, but not Australia”, he said.

Abbott remained silent on the catastrophic civilian toll since the 2001 invasion, evidence of US incompetence, and failed Western policy in the nation – all of which were revealed in recently deceased journalist Michael Hasting’s blistering 2012 book The Operators.

Instead, Abbott’s commitment was to Washington and a war that had helped, in his own words, to bring “universal decencies of humanity” to a “country which has been pretty short on decency for a very long time”. He was also noticeably silent on Australia’s collusion with the notorious warlord and multi-millionaire Matiullah Khan in the Oruzgan province. Independent reporting from the country, away from embedded journalism on the military’s drip-feed, reveals a damning assessment of 12 years of Western occupation leaving the Afghan people exposed to rampant corruption and rising tensions between India and Pakistan.

As Australia approaches a federal election and with the re-appointment of Kevin Rudd as Labor leader and prime minister, it’s worth considering the similarities and differences in foreign policy between the two major parties. In short, there aren’t many. Although foreign minister Bob Carrrecently told the National Press Club that Labor had bravely opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq while in opposition – “there’s no way we would have supported that war” if in power, he stated – there are few precedents for a government in Canberra resisting the overtures from America when war is in the air. I believe Labor would have been seduced by the Bush administration’s sweet whispers just the same.

The war, still costing thousands of Iraqi lives every month, is barely discussed today. Without any apparent regret about the massive loss of life, Abbott claims it “advanced everyone’s interest” – except, presumably, the innumerable Iraqis no longer alive. At least in 2008, Rudd rightly blamed a craven Liberal government for taking Australia to war in Iraq based on an intelligence “lie”.

It’s remarkable how little has been examined about Abbott’s view of the world. There’s a coterie of former advisers to prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer, some of whom are now rising Liberal politicians, who have learned nothing from the disastrous conflicts since September 11, and who still influence Abbott today.

Liberal MP and former Howard adviser Josh Frydenberg has supported the bombing of Iraq since 1998, and claimed in 2005 that a “vibrant, tolerant and democratic Iraq” was possible. The Australian columnist Chris Kenny, a former adviser to Downer, bleats about “anti-Americanism” to anybody questioning the wisdom of bombing and monitoring Muslim countries. In 2010 he was still talking about a US “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan, willfully unaware of the reality for locals away from the Green Zone.

Abbott seems to retain a Bush administration style perspective – you’re either with us or against us. He told Washington’s right-wing Heritage Foundation last year that, “Australia’s foreign policy should be driven as much by our values as our interests”. It isn’t clear what values he cherishes when he told the Central Synagogue in 2012 that, “[Israel is] a country so much like Australia, a liberal, pluralist democracy. A beacon of freedom and hope in a part of the world which has so little freedom and hope.” He made no mention of Israel occupying millions of Palestinians under brutal military rule. He went on: “When Israel is fighting for its very life, well, as far as I’m concerned, Australians are Israelis. We are all Israelis in those circumstances”. It’s a comic book reading of the Middle East (at least foreign minister Carr, along with British foreign secretary William Hague, now rightly calls Israeli colonies “illegal”).

When I met Abbott in Sydney in 2010 and challenged him to learn more about Israel’s flouting of international law, he reverted to familiar, right-wing Zionist talking points. Both the Liberal party and Zionist lobby remain upset that in 2012, Australia didn’t reject Palestine’s statehood at the UN. Foreign affairs spokesperson for the Coalition, Julie Bishop, haspledged to return Australia to an uncritical stance towards Israel, placing us in a very isolated position globally. (The Greens, especially senator Lee Rhiannon, condemns Israel’s destruction of aid projects in Palestine,some of which are funded by Canberra).

Abbott would probably rely less on UN scripture – there’s already talk of removing Australia from the Refugee Convention. Private contractors would continue to benefit from bloated “boomerang” projects through AusAid, and rogue nation Sri Lanka would surely be as warmly embraced as it has been during the Labor years. Indonesia’s brutish military, especially in West Papua, would probably remain unchallenged.

If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s virtually identical to policies under a Labor government. This bipartisanship, shared by major parties in most Western nations, inhibits independent thought. It’s beyond time for Australia to embrace a different path, one not tethered to the whims of Washington’s entrails.

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