In the recent Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu made a late charge which defied polls having him neck and neckwith the Zionist Union Party and he could now become the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister, assuming he is still at the helm in July 2019.
The focus of this media coverage in Australia and the world has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been largely around the negative aspects of Mr Netanyahu's campaigning and his inflammatory rhetoric leading up to election day. A lot of coverage centred on his comments that under his watch, there will be no Palestinian state and the statement about "Arab citizens voting in droves", which was meant, one would think, to push the Israeli right to vote for him as the hours to polling counted down.
Both of these comments he has since retracted or apologised for, but as we all know, the media and the Internet has a long memory and these statements will continue to haunt him for a long time yet.
Journalists here and abroad widely reported of the displeasure of the White House and of course the entirely predictable rhetoric from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, that a 2 state solution under Netanyahu will be impossible. The fact that Abbas (and his predecessors) has routinely walked away from all attempts to negotiate for peace, that Netanyahu ordered a freeze on all settlement activity in 2010/11 in order to discuss a 2 state solution and that every time that the Palestinian leadership talks of their own state, the elimination of Israel as a sovereign nation precedes it; these elements were reported a lot less widely.
Did the media report that the latest Israeli parliament contains the most women (29) and Arabs (17) ever? Or that the latest appointee to the post of Israel's deputy chief scientist is a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem? Or that the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (funded by the European Union), shows that Palestinian Arabs who work in Israel or Israeli settlements are paid more than double the wage of those employed by the Palestinian Authority and triple those working in Gaza? I don't recall seeing much coverage of that.
Netanyahu's comments were cowardly and desperate. They were last ditch attempts to canvas the popular vote and have most likely set the agenda for any viable discussions with the Palestinians back months, if not years. But we know that politicians everywhere say almost anything around election time.
Putting all the election stuff aside for a moment, let's ask a more pertinent question for me personally: what does this mean for Jews in Australia and the rest of the Diaspora? Sadly, I don't believe that it makes any difference. Because unfortunately, the bigotry and vitriol that Jews in Australia (and all over the world) experience daily, has nothing to do with who is running Israel. It is a by-product of the hate towards Jews that's been present since time immemorial, the anti-Semitism that flares up under the guise of disapproval of Israel's actions.
Did the drunken teenagers who boarded a bus in the Sydney eastern suburbs last year, filled with Jewish pre-schoolers, and yelled that they would kill them and Hitler was right – did they protest the supposed occupation of the West Bank? Those who draw swastikas on Jewish graves and write 'Zionist scum' on the walls of Jewish museums - are they protesting Israel's constitutional right to protect itself from constant Hamas missiles and terror tunnels being dug right under it? Is the 6-fold increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Australia last year because people here are indignant about Netanyahu's unwillingness to allow the Palestinian right of return or to open up the shipping port of Gaza? I sincerely doubt it. When Jake Lynch thrusts money in the face of a Jewish woman and student at USyd, he's employing a rancid anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews and money, whether he realises or admits it or not.
Israel's past is a tumultuous one and, undoubtedly, its future will be even more so. But before we argue about its leaders and their policies, maybe we need to look closer to home, and deal with what's happening on our doorstep.
Do I agree with everything that Netanyahu (or the Likud party) say and do? Absolutely not, I believe a lot of what he says is obstructionist and opportunistic and many times he is simply paying lip service to whoever his audience happens to be. But any media outlet that believes the proposition that today's vile anti-Semitic slurs and acts occur only because of Israel's actions (or existence?), is not seeing the truth.
Let's have the debate about policy, let's always ask question and challenge our elected leaders, in Israel, Australia and everywhere else. But let's not allow the old anti-Semitic tropes to simply be applied to Israel and call that 'political comment.
Hatred for Jews runs deep and goes a long way back through Christian and Muslim holy texts. We should not be afraid to call it when we see it. Whether it's BDS (the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement) or the myriad of racist Facebook pages or just a friend who jokes about how Jews run the place and have all the money; if we are to maintain any semblance of an ordered, respectful functioning multi-faith and multicultural society, then we owe it to ourselves to stamp this out, for good.
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