Please somebody, anybody, love Israel

Following my Crikey article last week discussing the inability of the Australian Jewish establishment to tolerate honest debate on Israel/Palestine – and yet condone every Israeli “security” policy against the Palestinians – a wonderfully delusional response appears in today’s Crikey:

16. There’s vibrant debate within the Jewish community

By Assoc. Prof. Douglas Kirsner, chair of the Public Affairs Committee of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission

It’s hard to imagine Crikey finding a less appropriate, less representative, less objective or less well-informed commentator on the internal affairs of Australia’s 120,000-strong Jewish community than Antony Loewenstein.

What universe does Mr Loewenstein live in? He doesn’t like Israeli policies but makes no attempt to debate them or their context, except to hurl epithets. And it’s not just Israel that is in the gun but the Australian Jewish community, which supports Israel’s rights to exist and defend itself.

It’s disingenuous of Mr Loewenstein to accuse Israel and the Australian Jewish community of not wanting a two-state solution. Most Israelis and most Australian Jews want a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as shown in poll after poll. But the Palestinian leadership, particularly Hamas, want a Palestinian state instead of Israel. The Israelis have made many offers of land for peace, most recently the Barak-Clinton plan of 2000, which the Palestinians have answered with suicide bombers and rockets.

Mr Loewenstein tries to present the Jewish community as a monolith in which the sinister “Jewish leaders” permit no debate. This is a bizarre caricature. There are many vibrant debates in the Australian Jewish community about how the Middle East problems can be solved.

The Middle East conflict is a tragedy for both Israelis and Palestinians. The question is, how do we move on and solve the problems that hurt both populations so much? Ordinary Palestianians and ordinary Israelis want peace and a normal life. But Mr Loewenstein is not concerned with the complex problems of the region, he is concerned only to blame one side. He places all the blame on Israel, for daring to exist and to defend itself from attack.

Mr Loewenstein has not a breath of criticism for the extremists of Hamas, who since they took control of the Palestinian Authority have plunged Gaza into civil war and sought to provoke war by abducting Israeli soldiers from Israeli territory. Does not Mr Loewenstein think that Hamas TV in Gaza broadcasting a three year old Palestinian child talking about Jews as “pig and apes” (and shown last week on SBS TV last week as an example of prejudice) bears at least part responsibility for the current impasse?

Mr Loewenstein clearly wants Israel simply to give up and succumb to the demands that it cease to exist. He wants not a two-state solution, but the dissolution of the Israeli state. He asks Israel literally to commit national suicide. Apart from this, he has no solution at all.

There is no compromise, no negotiation, no moving on, no imagination of a future in which two states can exist side by side, no criticism of Hamas, no desire to build partnerships between two peoples who have a right to normal lives. He demonstrates no empathy for Israeli points of view other than those who support his own extreme one.

Mr Loewenstein’s reading of the Bulletin article on the ALP and the Jewish community reeks of this extremism. The Jewish community, like many others, is divided in its party allegiances and perspective, and many discussions in the Australian Jewish News are testament to this robust debate. But Australian Jews appreciate that Liberal and Labor offer bipartisan support of Israel’s right to exist.

ALP policy is firmly in support of the existence of Israel within secure and defensible borders, alongside a Palestinian state. The ALP takes this position not because they are afraid of sinister “Jewish leaders”, but out of conviction. Has Mr Loewenstein ever heard of Dr Evatt or Bob Hawke? There are a few hyper-critical elements in both parties who share Loewenstein’s views, but they have no influence. The Australian Jewish community gets along with both sides of politics.

The Liberal Party’s views on terrorism obviously sit comfortably with most members of the Australian Jewish community, but the anti-terrorist legislation passed with bi-partisan support. Moreover, Rudd’s strong stance on Iran may not fit in with the Loewenstein-Pilger-Fisk world-view. Rudd commented in last weekend’s The Weekend Australian that he was concerned about Iran because of its consistent support for terrorist organizations, principally Hezbollah; its nuclear program; and the fact that it is led by Ahmadinejad, “whose bellicose statements about Israel are not just fundamentally repugnant but inherently destabilising”. Rudd added that the world community, including Australia, needed to “maximise every form of diplomatic leverage against the Iranians to bring them to the negotiating table. It’s very difficult to have business as usual with the Iranians when Mr Ahmadinejad refers blithely to wiping Israel off the map”.

It may be news to Mr Loewenstein, but like other Australians, Jews vote mainly in response to local issues, not international ones, and support parties as do others of their individual socio-economic status. It’s a pity that the Bulletin article didn’t mention Kevin Rudd’s recent announcements on funding for Jewish schools and on school security, which have been widely welcomed in the Jewish community, and not matched by the Liberals, at least as yet.

I’m disappointed at the mildness of the piece. I had hoped to be compared to Hitler, or at least Mussolini, for talking about Israeli misbehaviour in the occupied territories. Instead, we’re treated to an updated version of Leon Uris’ Exodus. Those noble Jews against the barbaric Arabs. Just why doesn’t the world understand us, despairs Kirsner? It must be rampant anti-Semitism. As a woman told me a few days ago at a public forum in which I participated, the world has always hated Jews and always will. Ipso facto, any criticism of Israel is unjustified and anti-Semitic.

Memo to Kirsner: it may feel liberating to portray the Israelis as peace-loving, but most of the world simply doesn’t believe you. Many of us intend to continue convincing the stragglers why the Jewish state remains a danger to the world.