Dissidents set for Australia-wide media campaign

The following article appears in this week’s Australian Jewish News:

Jason Frenkel

A new coalition of Australian Jews critical of Israeli security policies is set to launch a nationwide campaign voicing its dissent against the Jewish State and its supporters.

The group, called Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV), is collecting signatures to back its cause and planning a major publicity blitz in the mainstream media in the coming weeks.

It is based on a similar campaign by the British group Independent Jewish Voices, which was this week accused of “paving the way for a second genocide” by visiting British journalist Melanie Phillips in a public lecture.

In its declaration, entitled “A call for an alternative view” and published on its website, the Australian group claims the “Jewish establishment does not represent the full range of Jewish opinion” and says there is “an urgent need to hear alternative voices”.

“Uncritical allegiance to Israeli Government policy does not necessarily serve Israel’s best interests,” the declaration states. “Our concern for justice and peace in the Middle East is a legitimate opinion and should be met by reasoned argument rather than vilification and intimidation. Contrary to widespread concerns, antisemitism is not fuelled by Jews who publicly disagree with actions of the Jewish State.”

The IAJV group is the brainchild of outspoken Israel critic Antony Loewenstein, author of My Israel Question, and is supported by University of NSW (UNSW) philosophy lecturer Peter Slezak and James Levy, another UNSW academic.

Loewenstein would not disclose the number of signatories to the declaration, but said the group included prominent names.

He said IAJV had been “inspired” by the British dissenters and the two groups had been in contact.

“I think the Jewish establishment will be quite surprised how many Jews who have not necessarily been involved in the past with an organisation, or spoken out on this issue, now feel that the time is right for them to speak out,” Loewenstein said.

Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Dr Colin Rubenstein described the new coalition as “destructive” and said it would help Israel’s enemies.

“Despite the wording of the declaration, it is clearly being used as a publicity stunt by a minuscule number of Jewish-born individuals who have adopted the ugly but increasingly common belief that alone among the world’s nations, Israel has no right to exist,” Dr Rubenstein said.

“The claim that they put forward that all Jewish voices critical of Israeli policies are being ”˜silenced’ is not only inane and untrue, but clearly plays into the conspiratorial mindset of the growing number of people who are violently hostile to both Israel’s existence and the Jewish community.”

Phillips, a critic of the British media for its anti-Israel bias, told about 400 people in Melbourne last Sunday that she called the British dissenters “Jews for Genocide”.

The work of Independent Jewish Voices could have devastating results, she said.

“These people are paving the way for a second genocide,” she said.

Phillips declined to comment on Independent Australian Jewish Voices when contacted by the AJN this week.

In an article published in London’s Jewish Chronicle two weeks ago, she said the attitudes of the British group could have “potentially murderous consequences”.

“At a time when the West is being softened up for genocide by the demonisation of Israel, Jews who reinforce the Big Lie about the Jewish State are helping pave the way for a second potential holocaust,” Phillips wrote.

“The more we try to protect Israel from this lethal onslaught, the more these perpetrators claim that they are martyrs to those who would suppress free speech. The price they would force us to pay for not being thus vilified is to embrace our own people’s destruction.”

Loewenstein said Phillips’ claim was “immoral” and “outlandish” and the most serious charge one Jew could make against another.

“That’s the kind of hysterical response that the vast majority of Jews are resisting,” he said.

“That sort of world view seems to be that any sort of criticism of Israel is antisemitic and assisting genocide and it makes any sort of debate impossible.”

The British group, which includes comedian Stephen Fry, film-maker Mike Leigh, playwright Harold Pinter and historian Eric Hobsbawn, launched last month with a signed declaration criticising the British Jewish community for putting its support for Israel ahead of Palestinian human rights.

Loewenstein said IAJV would express similar sentiments, although it would not target a particular community organisation in the way the British group had focused on the British Jewish Board of Deputies.

But Dr Rubenstein said the campaign was not about alternative views on Israel.

“What they are really seeking is a privileged position for their own views, making them immune from any criticism by the Jewish majority who disagree.”