My Israel Question


Jamie Glassman is a British Jewish writer on The Ali G show, a comedy program known for intentionally offending deserving establishment figures. Glassman recently attended the Edinburgh Arts Festival and was disturbed. He wrote in the London Times:

“There have always been anti-Semitic jokes. But you know times are changing when you go along to a stand-up show at the Pleasance Courtyard at the Edinburgh Fringe and you hear audience members shouting ‘Throw them in the oven’ when the comic suggests kids should stop playing Cowboys and Indians and replace it with Nazis and Jews.”

His conclusion was perhaps understandable but thoroughly inaccurate. There was, he noted:

“…a growing trend among left-thinking people in this country and around the world to accept as dogma that those on the Left should hate Bush, Blair, American imperialism, Israel and, while we’re at it, the Jews. It is a cultural trend that I’ve found increasingly evident but never before has the Jew-hating element been so overt. This week has confirmed that my Jewish paranoia is not entirely unfounded. As the old saying goes: ‘Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.’”

How often do we hear that the Left is infected with a vicious Jew-hatred? And how often do Jews tell each other that every criticism of Israel is driven by a pathological rejection of Israel’s right to exist? I’m here to tell those Jews that it’s time to stop living like it’s 1948. Israeli actions in Palestine and Lebanon are directly contributing to worldwide legitimate criticism of the Zionist state. For a growing number of global citizens, Israel is a pariah. It’s about time we discovered why.

Real anti-Semitism does exist, of course. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported recently that a number of Jewish students at Sydney University had recently suffered verbal and physical abuse and “Kill Jews” had been spray-painted around Sydney. All these acts are unacceptable and patently racist. But none of this means that Jews fear leaving their houses or should remain in ghettos. Many do a pretty good job on their own without needing encouragement.

I wanted my book, My Israel Question, to offer divergent views. I asked the majority of so-called Jewish leaders in Australia for comment, but they either ignored the request or offered verbal abuse. Federal Labor MP Michael Danby announced last August, before the book was finished and without having read any of it, that my publisher, Melbourne University Publishing, should “drop this whole disgusting project” and instructed the Jewish community to not buy the book. The message was clear. The Jewish leadership was petrified of open and honest debate on the Middle East conflict; they simply had too much to lose.

 Over two years of writing, researching and spending time in the Middle East and the US – as well as being slammed by simply defending the rights of Palestinian human rights campaigner Hanan Ashrawi after she won the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize – I soon realised that I wasn’t being silenced but the issues of Israeli occupation and the Zionist lobby were routinely avoided by the mainstream media. I wanted my book to readdress that imbalance.

Honest debate about Israel and Palestine is sadly lacking in Australia and much of the Western world. It’s invariably overly emotive, factually challenged, partisan and counter-productive. Arabs, Palestinians, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, atheists and concerned citizens rarely find middle-ground on the most contentious areas, such as Palestinian refugees, the dividing of Jerusalem and the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Discussing Israel and Palestine is therefore vital in an age of rising fundamentalisms. Labelling critics of Israel as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel merely attempts to silence individuals who passionately believe the current political path of the Jewish state is destined to lead to its disappearance. I share this fear. The simple truth is that Israel’s long-term security lies with the Arab world, not a superpower thousands of miles away. A superpower, it should be noted, that has suffered an inglorious and welcome defeat in Iraq and whose reputation in the Arab and Muslim world has never been worse.

Martin Jacques, a visiting research fellow at the London School of Economics Asia Research Centre, writes in the Guardian:

“Israel was created as a result of one of the worst racial atrocities in modern history. It was in part a sense of guilt and sympathy that persuaded the West that it must help the Jews create their own state. From the outset, two factors were always likely to haunt the project; first, it involved the annexation of land that was Arab; and second, it implied the foundation of an ethnic state, with all the exclusivist and racist attitudes that this potentially involved.”

For too long, Jews have refused to take responsibility for Israeli actions in Palestine. No longer is it acceptable to argue that ethnic strife is worse in Sudan, Congo or Bosnia. Let’s stop changing the subject and face up to some uncomfortable realities. The nearly 40-year occupation has corrupted Israel’s soul. On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Israeli writer Tom Segev explained the sickness:

“The hatred of Arabs has become legitimate. A state in which so many of its citizens survived the Holocaust is supposed to be strict in its observance of democracy and human rights…Ironically, the oppression in the territories is encouraging anti-Semitism, and in various places in the world it is even endangering the safety of Jews.”

A true supporter of Israel can both love and loathe the homeland. Automatic support only serves to prove that Israel and Jewish Diasporas everywhere are not sufficiently mature to debate this long-standing conflict.

In the few months, we have seen another war initiated by Israel. After destroying much of Lebanon – and Amnesty International said that attacks on civilian targets by Israeli military forces appeared to be deliberate war crimes – the world community has gained an even greater insight into the Israeli establishment’s mindset. What has been achieved? The country’s first military defeat, over one hundred Israeli soldiers killed, a resurgent Hizbollah and Iran and increased hatred around the world. Some victory. And yet the Australian Jewish community meekly mouths every press release coming from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

In the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza, Israeli forces kidnap democratically elected Palestinian leaders. Around 10,000 Palestinians reside in Israeli jails, many never facing trial. Israel does not even respect the international right of these individuals to receive regular family visits. The great Israeli journalist Amira Hass wrote recently in Haaretz newspaper how the Jewish state corrupts the legal process when dealing with the Palestinians:

“The Palestinian detainees are led to a military court: The same military establishment that occupies and destroys and suppresses the civilian population is the one that determines that to resist occupation – even by popular demonstrations and waving flags, not only by killing and bearing arms – is a crime. It is the one to prosecute, and it is the one to judge. Its judges are loyal to the interest of defending the occupier and the settler.”

The release of My Israel Question has provided great insight into the inability of the Jewish community to handle robust debate on the Middle East dispute. Simply put, the Zionist leadership isn’t ready and neither is the community newspaper, the Jewish News. They have preferred to highlight personal gripes, character assassinations and gossip. They’ve too much at stake to honesty assess their own responsibility in perpetuating the myth that loyal obedience to the Israeli state is the only noble and acceptable face of Diaspora Jewry. They will start to pay dearly for this misnomer in years to come, as the ghetto-mentality worsens proportionate to Israel’s falling international standing.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the vast mainstream media coverage offered to the book across print, TV and radio. After five weeks on the shelves, it’s already in a 2nd re-printing and a best-seller. A book of this nature is bound to generate varying opinions, and I certainly havn’t been disappointed. I’ve been compared to accused anti-Semite Helen Demidenko by Zionist lobbyist Jeremy Jones in the Jewish News. Sydney Morning Herald David Marr was kinder and launched the book in Sydney because he believed in “argument – the need for honest, tough, passionate and fair argument about issues that for 50 years have threatened to bring the world to war.”

I’ve received hundreds of supportive messages from Jews and non-Jews in Australia and overseas, desperate to find an alternative to bellicose and bullying Zionism, but I’ve also copped emails such as the following:

“You might be getting the love and attention from the media now, Antony, but in 5 years time when the world declares war on Jews, and not just Israel as it is now…you’ll see where everyone’s loyalties (or shall I say prejudices) lie…you’ll be going to the concentration camps just like the rest of us…except when you’re gassed to death, you won’t be going to heaven, you’ll be going straight to hell. So enjoy the limelight now.
From a fellow Jew.”

But the media has deliberately avoided one of the key findings of My Israel Question, namely the ways in which the Zionist lobby intimidates editors, journalists and board members to silence viewpoints that don’t fit their militaristic and pro-Israeli worldview. I spoke a few weeks ago to an editor at one of the country’s leading newspapers who told me that elements of the Jewish community, through their persistent aggressive tactics, are in fact contributing to senior journalists growing more sceptical towards the Israeli perspective. Are Zionists listening?

In a recent edition of the Jewish News, so-called Jewish leader Sam Lipski praised Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper for editorially supporting Israel during the recent war in Lebanon. Lipski virtually acknowledged that Israel had lost the war of ideas, and the Jewish state needed all the friends it could get, so “let the record show that in its war of self-defence in 2006, a series of editorials in an Australian newspaper contributed on both counts.” It was a startling display of intellectual laziness, though revealed the sickness that pervades the Jewish community.

Lipski argued for uncritical reporting. He encouraged a newspaper that shamelessly ignored the rights of Palestinians, Lebanese and Arabs. And he celebrated perspectives that blindly supported the Jewish state, with no questions asked. Lipski must be a very insecure man if he can’t handle criticism of his beloved homeland. Besides, such debate is currently occurring within Israel itself, where a majority of Israelis now realise they lost the recent war against Hizbollah. Lipski’s anti-intellectualism was unsurprising for a Jewish leadership that refuses to recognise that we no longer live in 1943 Poland.

Of course, Lipski probably just received his talking points from Australian editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, who told this week’s Jewish News that many critics of Israel, including the Fairfax press, “take the view that Israel is sort of an occupying power and that the Palestinians are freedom fighters who should deserve editorial sympathy.” Mitchell said he had spent time in Israel and argued it was difficult to see “how you can pull back without threatening security.” He claimed the lands taken by Israel in 1967 were “essentially defensive in nature,” despite the fact that the Israeli establishment clearly believed in the original Zionist, expansionist dream; namely, greater dispossession for the Palestinian people. Here’s a memo to Mitchell and his cheer-leaders in the Jewish community: Israel is an undisputed occupying power of Palestinian land. “Pulling back”, as he puts, is not simply necessary, it’s both immoral and illegal to do otherwise.

It’s important to acknowledge some realities. There is a Zionist lobby in Australia. It has every right to lobby its position, like every other ethnic group. It certainly does not have the right to bully journalists, editors and politicians. In a recent article in the Australian newspaper, a Jewish rug-seller said that even mentioning the existence of the Zionist lobby is anti-Semitic. The Israelis openly discuss the role of the Zionist lobby in the US.

The mainstream media is largely sympathetic to the Israeli worldview, classing Hizbollah, Hamas and indeed much of the Arab world as “terrorists”, and unjustly resisting imperial occupation. Dissenting opinions occasionally permeate the stuffy, largely Anglo offices of Fairfax, News Limited and the ABC, but we need to encourage more Arab, Palestinian and less militant Jewish voices to be heard. Why, for example, isn’t there one weekly Arab columnist in any Australian newspaper? It’s time to retire the drooling old males that populate opinion pages across the country.

The Jewish community’s apparent universal support for Israel right or wrong is far more fragmented than we are led to believe. Many do love the Zionist state, but many also express profound distaste for Israeli actions in the occupied territories. It is now time for those individuals to stand up in public and challenge the dominant narrative. The sight of the Jewish establishment discovering that their Zionist thinking is as tired and irrelevant as their insistence on Jews giving money to planting trees in Israel will be a day to savour.

I believe in a safe and secure Israel and Palestine and I say this as a proud Jew. Let’s not wait for the day when support for the Jewish state is largely centred in Washington, London and Canberra. The current militaristic path ensures that Israel is destined to disappear if it doesn’t make more friends in the Arab and wider world.

So enough talking about the Holocaust, Jewish suffering, victimhood, hateful Arabs, terrorists and peace-loving Israel.

Jew don’t have a monopoly on suffering. We’re all human beings who deserve far better than our leaders are currently providing.

It’s time for a revolution.

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based journalist, author and blogger. His websites are: http://myisraelquestion.com/ and http://antonyloewenstein.com/. His email is antony [at] antonyloewenstein [dot] com

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