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Jews on Jews

By Antony Loewenstein - posted Friday, 18 July 2008


The 60th anniversary of Israel’s birth saw a flurry of praise by the worldwide Zionist community.

The Australian Jewish News editorialised that “Jews all over the world feel Israel is the most special place on earth”. Furthermore, “the Israeli Defence Forces are the envy of the world … and [has] stood tall in every war it has engaged in”. It was embarrassing in its enthusiasm for a country that remains desperately short of global friends.

Writers Bernard Avishai and Sidra DeKovan Ezrahi recently wrote in US newspaper the Forward that, “Diaspora Jews … advance the only version of Israel they can really understand: a garrison state for world Jewry. They feel useful, even heroic, warning against ‘existential’ threats: global anti-Semitism or Iranian jihadism.” This is just one expression of modern Jewry, and undoubtedly the most belligerent, but alternatives are growing in strength and being heard; not all Jews view criticism of Israel as illegitimate or traitors to the cause.

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Some non-Jewish Australians and Muslims are unaware that many Jews don’t support Israeli policies. It is a welcome development that these Jews, in initiatives such as Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV), articulate to the wider public that the Jewish community does not speak with one voice on Israel and Palestine.

Although IAJV, like Independent Jewish Voices in Britain, cannot claim to represent a majority of Jews, they are beginning to engage with the media and political elite and presenting alternatives to the official Zionist narrative. Moreover, demonising and smearing Israel’s critics is a futile path adopted by prominent members of the global, Jewish Diaspora. It doesn’t defend Jews and merely reinforces anti-Semitic stereotypes. As Israel Lobby co-author Stephen Walt recently told an audience at Hebrew University: “I don't think it is my words that harm Israel, but rather Israel’s actions.”

When US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told an American Jewish audience in early May that, “increasingly the Palestinians who talk about a two-state solution are my age”, she was speaking an undeniable truth about the growing difficulty of achieving this goal. In other words, years of futile peace talks have convinced many Jews and Palestinians - including close associates of Palestinian President Abu Mazen - that a bi-national state is the only answer.

Israel’s ongoing colonisation of the West Bank has made a contiguous and independent Palestinian impossible. Moreover, the active discrimination of Israeli Arabs leaves 20 per cent of the country’s population disenfranchised. Why should they believe in the sentiments of the national anthem, Hatikva?

Veterans of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle visited the West Bank in early July and were shocked by what they saw. “Even with the system of permits, even with the limits of movement to South Africa, we never had as much restriction of movement as I see for the people here”, said ANC parliamentarian Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.

Fatima Hassan, a leading human rights lawyer, said that the situation in Palestine is “worse than we experienced during apartheid”. These facts are uncontroversial, and yet the vast majority of the Jewish Diaspora remain silent over the crimes, implicitly endorsing them.

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Two other recent stories should have generated outrage in the Jewish community. Liberal group Sikkuy, backed by the European Union, found that Jews live longer in Israel than Arabs. A spokesman for the group explained why. “Although Israeli governments declare they are committed to promoting equality among all citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, the reality in Israel shows equality is only in theory.” Furthermore, prominent Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, is taking the state to court over its illegal West Bank settlements and blatantly stealing Palestinian land in the process. Both cases should illicit shame and profound embarrassment for those Jews who claim to believe in Jewish “democracy”, but solidarity and gutlessness combine to create impotence.

May’s 60th anniversary saw a host of leading articles in the Western media outlining one-state plans, something unimaginable a few years ago. American-Palestinian Ali Abunimah argued in the Sydney Morning Herald that he was involved in the “One State Declaration”, “principles for a common future in a single democratic state”. Such ideas, including the ethnic cleansing of 1948, are moving into the mainstream at a time when endlessly repeating the mantra of “two states for two peoples” is heard in the halls of Washington, London and Canberra.

Hundreds of Jews signed a letter in the London Guardian in late April that explicitly rejected this idea of treating Israel, the occupier, as the victim. “We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people … We will celebrate when Arab and Jews live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.”

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About the Author

Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist, author and blogger. He has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, Haaretz, The Guardian, Washington Post, Znet, Counterpunch and many other publications. He contributed a major chapter in the 2004 best seller, Not Happy, John!. He is author of the best-selling book My Israel Question, released in August 2006 by Melbourne University Publishing and re-published in 2009 in an updated edition. The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. His 2008 book is The Blogging Revolution on the internet in repressive regimes. His website is at http://antonyloewenstein.com/ and he can be contacted at antloew@gmail.com.

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