Time to honestly debate Israel/Palestine

My following post was written for Khaldoun, the blog recently started by Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East and North African Studies, where I’m a board member:

Robustly debating Zionism has existed for as long as its existence. Jews, historically a persecuted people, were unafraid to discuss the merits or otherwise of the plan to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.

Tragically, something has changed and left many elements of mainstream Judaism and its cheer-squad paranoid about even acknowledging faults may exist within the Zionist ideal. Presumably occupation and bombing refugee camps are traditional Jewish traits.

The recent attacks by right-wing attack dog Andrew Bolt – and the subsequent response by Macquarie University’s Middle East and North African Studies Centre, of which I am a board member – is systematic of this profound failing and insecurity.

Now we have the unedifying spectacle of a leading Australian politician writing to the Federal Education Minister concerned about Khaldoun’s “hate-filled and provocative attacks against Israel, the Jewish people and others who are friends of Israel.” The aim? To close this site down permanently, or at least force its contributors to subscribe to a more “pro-Israel” position.

As a Jewish author and journalist who has written about Israel/Palestine for years, published a best-selling book about it, My Israel Question, and argued regularly with the self-appointed guardians of the Jewish community, this latest ham-fisted attempt is nothing more than a desperate attempt to silence public debate about a conflict that increasingly embarrasses Israel. And for good reason.

Just this week leading Israeli peace group Peace Now announced that the illegal occupation of Palestinian land is growing at a worrying rate. Again. A recent report released by the Israel Bar at Hadarim Detention Centre and Hasharon Prison found widespread use of torture and intimidation, especially against the Palestinians, in the Israeli prison system.

Video cameras are increasingly capturing the barbarity of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, men, women and children who live without sanction for abusing Palestinians on a daily basis. A study last year by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel found that 50% of Israelis taking part said they would not live in the same building as Arabs, would not befriend, or let their children befriend Arabs and would not let Arabs into their homes.

I’ll no doubt be accused of being “anti-Israel” for daring to state such facts but this is the reality of the Jewish state today. Yes, the Palestinians commit crimes, including Hamas and Fatah, and I condemn them unequivocally, but this is not my focus. The Jewish state is racially discriminatory and destined, in my opinion, not to survive for another 60 years.

Over the years I’ve witnessed in Australia but especially in America a campaign of unrelenting pressure by the Zionist lobby against anybody, Jewish or otherwise, who doesn’t speak the “official line” on Israel.

Articulating an alternative Jewish identity and publicly calling for the separation of Zionism and Judaism quickly resulted for me in learning the “rules” of the game imposed by the Zionist establishment. All Jews must support the Jewish State. Any action carried out by the state is defensible, justified and moral. Any public criticism of Israel will be assumed to be anti-Semitic. If Israel is to be criticized, it should only be in hushed tones and in private. Dare to challenge these “rules”, and expect to be bombarded, invariably from fellow Jews, with hate mail, death-threats and public abuse.

Despite these realities, the Jewish state finds itself in a precarious position, addicted to colonisation of Palestinian territory. Ironically for Israel, its inability to remove settlements from occupied land has now made a two-state solution impossible. The alternative? A one-state environment, with Jews as a minority. Equal rights for all citizens is the only answer to Israel/Palestine conflict. “Zionism — contemporary Jewish nationalism — is unlikely to bring Israel peace, because of its failure, or inability, to accord full equality to the claims of others”, wrote New York Jewish blogger, Tony Karon, on Israel’s 60th anniversary.

A year before my Middle East book was released, in 2005, the then only Jewish Federal Member of Parliament, Michael Danby, publicly called for my publisher, Melbourne University Press, not to proceed. He supposedly worried the work would be an extremist text. Since the Zionist lobby aren’t particularly media savvy, this kind of slander, and the subsequent campaign by various Jewish groups, assisted the book becoming a best-seller that recently moved to a 5th reprint. More importantly, however, was the wider community being able to see the kinds of tactics utilised by certain elements of the Zionist mafia, so insecure in their love for Israel that any alternative views must be stopped. Sadly for them, they failed miserably (similar tactics were attempted last year when I co-founded Independent Australian Jewish Voices.)

The current campaign to silence Khaldoun is in the same sordid tradition. For decades after Israel’s formation, the heroic Zionist narrative was the primary version heard in the Western world. The Palestinians were unpeople, ignored and demonised. Today, the situation is different. Arabs are still routinely shunned and their political aspirations crushed – usually by US-backed dictatorships in the Middle East – but new voices are being heard, critical of Israel, Zionism, occupation and US policies in the region. This scares the Zionist community, hence regular attempts to try and throw the “anti-Semitic” tag against anybody who challenges mainstream Zionist thinking.

Andrew Bolt’s understanding of the Middle East is determining how many more countries the West should invade to bring “liberation” to the backward Arabs. Politicians who share this view and have campaigned against this site will inevitably fail because they’re doing the bidding of powerful forces that are using them for their own censorious ends. Is this what the Australian people believe should happen in a democracy?

A story told to me by a good friend perfectly illustrates the fundamental problem within the mainstream Zionist community. A friend of his went to Israel and Poland on the Birthright program, aimed to instil in young Jews a love of the Jewish state. After visiting Auschwitz and waving the Israeli flag in the holy place – an almost grotesque example of Holocaust porn – the men and women were shown around Israel. One night they were in the Jordan Valley and as the sun was setting one of their guides decided to role-play as a Palestinian from the West Bank (the group had not visited the Palestinian territories nor spoken to any Arabs on the trip.)

The guide, playing a Palestinian, told of certain hardships in the West Bank due to the occupation but said he understood why Israel had to implement such a tough “security” regime because his brother was a “terrorist” who wanted to kill Jews.

That’s right. The only “interaction” with Palestinians for these young Jews was with an Israeli Jew who was role-playing. After the experience, the friend said he “better understood” what the Palestinians were going through under occupation.

I can’t think of a better example of the kind of supreme delusion within mainstream Zionism towards the Palestinians. The other side simply doesn’t exist, shouldn’t exist and can’t exist for the Zionist “dream” to survive. The other side are never ready for peace and their leaders are never compliant enough.

The fear of allowing alternative voices to be heard on the Israel/Palestine conflict is really a display of deep weakness. Accusing critics of being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” is the perfect way to mask this disease.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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