Human rights for all

Philip Mendes is a self-described left-wing Australian Jew, academic and commentator (he also recently reviewed My Israel Question for the Sydney Morning Herald.) In this week’s New Matilda he manages to prove the utter ineffectiveness of much of the Australian Jewish Left in relation to Israel and Palestine:

Andrew West’s article in New Matilda (issue 101) about Antony Loewenstein, constructs a series of binary opposites regarding the Australian Jewish community and Israel.

On the one hand, Jewish supporters of Israel are described as a group of unthinking sheep who obtusely endorse each and every Israeli policy. Even worse, they actively seek to bully and silence Jews who have the temerity to break ranks. And this narrow tribal solidarity is motivated solely by a belief in Jews as ”˜the chosen people.’

In contrast, Antony Loewenstein and other prominent Jewish opponents of Israel are portrayed as brave Jewish dissenters defying vicious harassment and name calling. Their idealistic concern is to break down the walls that separate those exclusivist Jews from the rest of society.

The best that can be said about the above description is that West (and by extension Loewenstein), might have the well intentioned aim of promoting more debate in the Australian Jewish community. Even then, I would say that the aggressive means they have used is most likely to polarise opinion, and hence provide a convenient wedge for Jewish hardliners to discredit all Left-wing opinions.

It would also appear that their definition of debate on this issue is not a range of views on an ordinary political spectrum, but rather the prominent presentation of radical anti-Zionist views that mirror their own. In short, they are paternalists who want to socially engineer the Jewish community to match their ideal.

I must admit that I’ve never been labelled paternalistic or a wannabe social engineer. Mendes and many of his fellow travellers have spent decades supposedly critiquing the Zionist state, the occupation and Israeli brutality against the Palestinians. They have achieved little discernable success. Their deafening public silence during many of the major events in the Middle East – and complete unwillingness to openly and clearly condemn Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories with no “ifs” or “buts” – shows that they still subscribe to the notion that a Jewish democracy can exist in Israel and Palestine, when the facts speak loudly proving the complete opposite.

Mendes wants to convince the wider Australian community that he has bravely campaigned for human rights in the Middle East and has suffered abuse for doing so. I don’t doubt that he has, but this is simply not enough. An individual who subscribes to a human rights agenda is equally critical when Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Americans or Australians breach accepted norms. Mendes is unwilling to do this, always finding excuses, justifications or defences for Israeli actions in the territories. Behaviour, I suspect, he would find unacceptable if committed by another people – non-chosen ones.

I think he also resents – after years of toiling in academia – that I’ve been able to open up this debate in a matter of three years and cause widespread discussion and provocation within the Jewish community and wider society.

This week’s New Matilda also features a discussion about “questioning Israel.”