My following article appears in today’s New Zealand Herald:
The day after the Australian Government announced it was expelling an Israeli diplomat over the forging of its passports in the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai, the Murdoch press was incensed.
The Australian’s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, last week condemned Kevin Rudd’s “over-reaction” to Israel’s “mistake” in the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
For blind defenders of the Jewish state, Israel is engaged in a war on terror that justifies every offensive action.
For Sheridan and many others, Hamas is a terrorist organisation and its members are legitimate targets. But imagine the outcry if Tehran viewed American and Israeli officials, who regularly condemn and threaten the country’s very existence, as enemies of the state and systematically killed them across the globe. The world would respond with outrage and rightly so.
But Israel and its proxies are simply asked to forgive and forget. In the words of Australia’s Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, Israel “is under existential threat”. End of conversation.
Zionist spokespeople in Australia were distressed that the Government had made an “unhelpful” decision over the passports affair and argued that there was no evidence Israel was even behind the assassination; denial mixed with delusion and a dash of arrogance.
The Jewish community is used to getting its way in the halls of power through the canny mix of financial backing, arm-twisting and brutal realpolitik.
Australia’s decision to remove a Mossad agent from Canberra was slightly surprising. Although the British, in the dying days of Gordon Brown’s leadership, expelled an Israeli agent in retaliation for its passports also being forged – alongside countless other affected nations, including France, Germany, Ireland and New Zealand but notably not the United States – Canberra remains one of Israel’s staunchest backers.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd once said that Israel was “in my DNA” and since his election in 2007 has provided diplomatic and political cover for the ongoing siege on the Gaza Strip and continued colonisation in the occupied West Bank, both illegal under international law.
It is seen as political suicide to even mildly chastise the Zionist entity in most Western states, despite Israel’s growing intolerance of free speech, discrimination against Israeli Arabs and forced removal of Palestinians from the West Bank into Gaza, all in direct violation of countless United Nations resolutions.
This week’s massacre by Israel of protesters on the flotilla heading to break the illegal blockade on Gaza is simply the latest example of Israeli arrogance.
For many politicians in the West, Israel is a thriving democracy amid a sea of dictatorships. In reality, it’s a democracy for Jews only, illegally occupying millions of Palestinians and funding Jewish-only roads in the West Bank and Jewish, settler-only infrastructure. I saw last year in the Hebron Hills the running of raw sewage from Jewish settlements directly into Palestinian villages. Furthermore, I witnessed the Israeli Army refusing to allow Palestinian farmers access to their own lands because fundamentalist Jewish settlers blocked the path.
These truths are never seen by the free trips organised by the Zionist lobby for politicians and journalists. Instead – and I heard this during my meeting with senior MPs on a recent visit to New Zealand for a speaking tour – Palestine is visited briefly at best and then only with the Palestinian Authority, the corrupt body armed, funded and backed by the Western powers.
I was pleased to hear, however, that every politician told me that the last five years had seen a seachange in public opinion on the Israel/Palestine question with vastly more letters of concern arriving worried about Israeli actions across the Palestinian territory. This has nothing to do with anti-semitism or anti-Israel sentiment but legitimate outrage over Israel’s flouting of international law and decency.
Such shifts are not yet reflected in the conservative John Key Government. I have obtained a letter sent by Foreign Minister Murray McCully to the Palestine Human Rights Campaign that detailed the reasons New Zealand backed Israel’s recent ascension to the OECD. Although he acknowledged the “number of areas where Israel is failing to meet its international obligations … a lack of a dialogue does not advance solutions to these failings”.
Such weasel words belie the complicity of New Zealand in Israel’s economic development while ignoring its behaviour in the occupied territories.
The recent announcement by musician Elvis Costello to not perform in Israel because of his concerns over treatment of Palestinians is just the latest example of a growing global movement to isolate Israel until it abides with humanitarian law.
The daily breaches of international law are just one reason why virtually every human rights group in the world now calls Israel’s policy of separation and discrimination apartheid in the occupied territories.
Many members of the African National Congress visit the West Bank and argue the situation for Palestinians today is far worse than anything they ever experienced under apartheid South Africa. A new book released last month, The Unspoken Alliance, details extensive connections between Israel and apartheid Pretoria right up until 1994, including the sharing of nuclear technology, arms and methods of oppressing the blacks and Palestinians.
Israel’s relationship with apartheid South Africa remains relevant today because one regime recognised the errors of its way and reformed while the other merely accelerates the colonisation process.
In many ways, therefore, the killing of the Hamas official is a convenient distraction from the wider issue of Israeli actions in the Middle East. Australia has not condemned the murder but merely the use of its passports in the action. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said relations between the two countries will “cool” for a short period then resume normal proceedings. The fact that the Arab states are uniformly repressive – most of them backed by Washington, of course – should not distract us from the status of the Middle East’s only self-styled democracy. Hamas and Hizbollah are both facts of life, born in the fire of resisting Israeli actions. Iran, meanwhile, is not an irrational player and must be rationally engaged to avoid further regional strife. A country such as New Zealand could play a productive role in highlighting the profound disconnect between rhetoric and reality in the Middle East conflict.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent Australian journalist who has published in the Guardian, Washington Post and Haaretz and is the author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.