The clueless Senator

When it comes to discussing Israel/Palestine, politicians the world over are notoriously reticent to speak the truth about facts on the ground. In Australia, the only Jewish Federal MP, Michael Danby, seems incapable of mounting an argument that is more sophisticated than repeating press releases from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Both major sides in politics are desperate to maintain the rehearsed lines to keep the Americans happy and what better way to do that than to uncritically praise the superpower’s leading client state, Israel?

Enter Michael Forshaw, a NSW Labor MP. After an undistinguished career and only occasional uninformed comments about Israel, he rose in the Senate yesterday and launched a tirade on anti-Semitism (page 38 onwards). His speech read like comments prepared for him by the Zionist lobby, such was its wilful ignorance. For example:

…What is very disturbing is the growing trend today towards anti-Semitism and demonising Israel and Jews under the guise of academic research and/or political analysis and debate.

He cited statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Mearsheimer/Walt Israel lobby paper and yours truly. My public statements on the pernicious effects of the lobby, its tendency to bully opponents and attempts to silence criticism of Israeli crimes was all condemned:

Mr Loewenstein’s allegations are absolutely ridiculous. They are also hypocritical. Firstly, the very fact that Mr Loewenstein’s article appeared in the Australian newspaper, and that his book, published subsequently, has gained such prominence in the public debate and in the media, including the Jewish media in this country, demonstrates the fallacy of his argument. Following publication of his book by Melbourne University Publishing, Mr Loewenstein received nationwide coverage in both the printed and electronic media. The coverage of this debate went on for weeks, so it is ludicrous to argue that he has somehow been prevented from debating these issues and from having his views heard.

The debate about Israel’s policies, the US’s policies and the Middle Eastern conflicts is very much alive in this country, just as it is in the United States and throughout the Western world. It is very much alive, particularly in the state of Israel itself, which is a strong democracy, albeit one that has been under constant threat for all of its existence. The evidence of that debate stands in stark contrast to most Islamic and Arab nations. I note that my colleague Senator Stephens earlier this year raised in the Senate the plight of Mr Salah Choudhury. Mr Choudhury is a journalist in Bangladesh who had the temerity to write an article criticising Islamic extremism and supporting interfaith dialogue, particularly between Christians, Muslims and Jews. He is now on trial for sedition in Bangladesh.

The second point I want to make is that whilst I have read many articles in the Australian media by commentators such as Mr Loewenstein, Professor Amin Saikal and others criticising Israel, I am still waiting to read an article by them criticising Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic attacks and calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. I very much doubt that those articles, if they have been written, have been censored or prevented from being published.

Thirdly, when it comes to pressure being applied to prevent public debate, the worst instance that I can recall was the call a couple of years ago by academics in the United Kingdom, supported by academics in this country and in other Western countries, for a boycott of Israel, Israeli academics and institutions. Indeed, in the United Kingdom, Jewish academics were sacked for the very fact that they were Jewish. When academics in a democratic country call for a boycott of academics in another democratic country simply because they are Jewish then we have a serious problem. I do not recall Mr Loewenstein ever condemning that action.

A tactic that is also used in criticising Israel is to use the language that is particularly pertinent to the Jewish experience. Israel has been accused of ethnic cleansing, of genocide, of war crimes, of apartheid and even of perpetrating a holocaust on the Palestinian people. That is absolute nonsense and it is anti-Semitic. When your country has been threatened with annihilation, when your people have experienced the Holocaust—the murder of six million Jews—is it any wonder that persons from that community will stand up and defend their country’s right to exist and their people’s right to peace and democracy in the face of anti-Semitism?

Senator Forshaw is clearly still high from his last all-expenses paid trip to Israel and its military machine. During last year’s Iranian Holocaust Denial conference, I regularly condemned the proceedings, as did many Iranians. I have not said I’m being silenced, but the ability of citizens to freely criticise Israel and its policies results in slander and abuse, usually from fellow Jews.

The Senator may think that it is “anti-Semitic” to say the Israeli occupation of Palestine is reminiscent of apartheid, but many distinguished figures would disagree (and I wonder how often Forshaw has actually seen inside the occupied territories further than his Israeli minders would allow him to travel.)

Israel is under constant international pressure because its behaviour is consistently illegal, immoral and counter-productive. The Senator, like so many talking-heads before him, may regard themselves as friends of Israel but they are in fact contributing to the country’s destruction.