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Anti-Semitism, one of the oldest forms of racism, is to be thoroughly abhorred, but also to be abhorred is the accusation of anti-Semitism when used in an attempt to silence those who would lift the veil on the cruel subjugation of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.
Once again I am accused of anti-Semitism in the annual report of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). They make this accusation on an interpretation of a definition of Anti-Semitism formalised by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Let me reiterate a few facts:
· The notional 22% of historic Palestine that remains for Palestinians is fast disappearing. The continued expansion of illegal Jewish settlements their connecting roads and infrastructure is denying any real possibility of a Palestinian State, the espoused bi-partisan hope of the Australian Parliament
· The dehumanizing reality of checkpoints makes daily living for Palestinians close to impossible.
· Access to water has been almost totally denied the Palestinian population while the Settlements are surrounded by irrigated lawns.
· Children as young as 12 are incarcerated in military courts, often without charge and without proper legal representation, forced to sign statements in a language they do not understand.
· The 2 million Palestinians on the Gaza strip live in the most dehumanizing conditions on the planet.
· One could go on.
· A poll of the general population indicates that support for Palestinian rights is increasing as is condemnation of the Israeli occupation.
· More Australian politicians are whisked off to Israel with all expenses paid than visit any other country in the world. Why? Presumably to absorb the Israeli narrative.
· The ‘Lobby’, call it the Jewish Lobby, the Zionist Lobby, the Israeli Lobby, it does not matter very much, has enormous influence on Australian media and Australian politics. It is very difficult to have published a story which reflects the facts on the ground in the occupied territories without, as John Lyons points out, the source of that story being made to pay a very high price.
· Why does the ‘Lobby’ have so much influence in Australian domestic affairs? I have put that question to a number of politicians. I have suggested it relates to financial donations, but this is denied. Financial donations are usually the reason why inexplicable attention is given to a particular cause. What other reason could there be? Clearly the reason cannot be support for a just cause.
Support for Israel is a just cause – but not on any terms. Israel must make clear what it wants. When demands are made of Palestinians, and then met, other demands are made. The demand that the State of Israel be recognised has been met. Now the demand is that Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish State. If that is what it wants then it should immediately withdraw to the 1967 borders and evacuate all the illegal 700,000 settlers on the West Bank. This is clearly not what Netanyahu or his government intend. Even if this were achieved, which, given numerous statements emanating from members of the Knesset make it extremely unlikely, what then would be the status of the 20% Arab population who currently reside in Israel?
If Israel wants a ‘Greater Israel’, a state with borders from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, it cannot under any circumstance be a Jewish State. If Israel wants to be known as a democratic State, then it must grant equal rights to all citizens. In Israel itself the 20% Arab population endures discriminatory restrictions that do not apply to the Jewish population. Despite these restrictions, Israel itself cannot be fairly described as an apartheid state. But this is not the case with the regime it runs in the occupied territories. Palestinians live under an apartheid regime that appears more uncompromising by the day.
My challenge to Australian politicians on both sides of the political divide is do far more than pay lip service to a two-state solution. Lip service where nothing changes, indeed where the oppression becomes more entrenched year on year, makes Australia compliant to apartheid, a situation long eschewed by Australia in relation to South Africa.
The account of an interview by Robert Cohen, a respected but dissident Jewish writer in England’s premier Church of England weekly is apposite to the points I am making https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/1-december/features/features/the-truth-is-simple-but-unwelcome Cohen has been “writing from the edge”, as he puts it, since 2011, primarily about interfaith relations and Israel/Palestine, in a monthly blog, Micah’s Paradigm Shift. The reference is to Micah 6.8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
So far, so uncontroversial. Many of the people whom he criticises implicitly, Christian and Jewish, would endorse that prophetic call. The conclusions that Cohen comes to, however, are sometimes very different from theirs. In particular, he is calling for Churches to commit to “costly solidarity” with the Palestinian people. Among his prescriptions is “refusing to allow your local Jewish communal leadership to set the boundaries of permissible debate on Israel”.
So am I an anti-Semite?
· If demanding that Palestinians have equal rights with Israelis is anti-Semitic then yes I am an anti-Semite.
· If demanding that Israel end the occupation and allow a free and sustainable Palestinian civil society is anti-Semitic, yes I am an anti-Semite
· If calling out the Israeli government for its hypocritical values and standards, granting a liberal life style to its own and denying it to the Palestinians is anti-Semitic, then yes I am anti-Semitic.
· If saying that the policies of the Israeli government toward the Palestinians stand in sharp contrast with the values of righteousness and justice espoused in the Hebrew scriptures, which I honour, is anti-Semitic, then yes I am anti-Semitic.
· Do I honour Jewish religion? Absolutely, and with respect probably know far more about it than the average secular Jew. Do I respect Jewish culture and ethnicity? Absolutely, indeed the Jewish roots within my own family are treasured.
· Are any Jews members of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network that I chair? Absolutely, indeed on its executive. There are a significant number of Australian Jews who make all the points that I make against the Israeli government and yet with greater passion and urgency because, as they claim, the Israeli government does not act in their name.
I understand the Hebrew and Christian scriptures to say that any sense of chosenness that might be understood and humbly accepted, is never for oneself, but it is to be acknowledged and implemented in the blessing that must flow to others.
Any attempt to silence me will be treated with the contempt it deserves. If any disagree with the veracity of the statements I have made then come with me to Palestine and see for yourselves.