Complicit in silence

My following article appeared in yesterday’s Guardian Comment is Free section:

During the current Israeli siege of Gaza – correctly described by Saree Makdisi as “strangulation”, Israel’s ambassador to Australia issued a plea for understanding the Jewish state’s position.

The ambassador, Yuval Rotem, argued that, “the people of Gaza are not the enemy”. He also wrote, “nor is there any benefit from Israel making them so” but the words of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert directly contradicted him. “As far as I am concerned”, he said, “all of Gaza’s residents can walk and have no fuel for their cars, as they live under a murderous regime”.

Israel’s supreme court last week ruled that the state could limit the supply of petrol, diesel and electricity. Collective punishment is illegal under international law. Leading neoconservatives now proudly encourage the west to push Egypt to take full responsibility for Gaza. The worldwide Jewish community leadership responds with a shrug or remains complicit in its silence.

The one-year anniversary of the launch of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) in Britain signals a similar milestone for a movement I co-founded: Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV). As I described on this site last March, many Jews in Australia believed that the official Jewish leadership could not claim to speak on behalf of all Jews.

We gathered close to 500 signatures and launched a campaign of public awareness that made clear that a growing number of Jews would no longer issue unconditional support for every action of the Jewish state. The response was overwhelming and continues to this day. Barely a week passes without a disparaging comment about IAJV in the national Jewish newspaper, Australian Jewish News. Like IJV, we plan a series of events and speakers to expand debate in the public domain.

Australian media coverage of the Middle East conflict is predominantly friendly to Israeli goals, ably assisted by a new Labor government. A recent glowing article in Rupert Murdoch’s national broadsheet articulated the mindset: “Deep inside the plucky country”. But groups such as IAJV and IJV are undoubtedly reflecting a global shift in Jewish sentiment, increasingly vocal in their concerns over ongoing Zionist dominance.

A leading Israeli professor has warned that the relationship between Israel and the diaspora is drifting apart. The Jewish state, he said, was “no longer viewed as a safe haven, a source of pride”. Thirty-four per cent of Israeli children are now living in poverty. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu continues to compare conditions in Palestine to apartheid South Africa.

The current American presidential election has proven that unwavering support for Israel is an article of faith for the leading candidates. Republican contender Mike Huckabee writes that Washington should ignore the Middle East’s “terrorist states” – any nation that refuses to bend to Israeli dictates – and “defeat Islamofascism”. However, a recent study by the American Jewish Committee proved that this neoconservative doctrine is fundamentally opposed by a majority of American Jews.

A far saner suggestion, offered by dedicated Zionist writer AB Yehoshua, is for America to recall its ambassador in Israel until all West Bank settlements are removed. Despite all the rhetoric about a two-state solution, the ever-expanding occupation makes this impossible. The number of settlers in the West Bank grew by five per cent in 2007.

Australians are a long way from the Middle East, but a blind man could see that Israeli and American actions are making the region a more volatile place. Perhaps Haaretz editor David Landau was right when he said that the Jewish state had to be “raped” by America to achieve peace.