in service of the
Whose money is it: is the only choice Capitalism or Communism?
Stories of misdemeanours by the banking industry became such a widespread scandal that the holding of a Royal Commission was inevitable, despite the best efforts of many in power and influence to stop it. What is now apparent, however, is that the misdemeanours, as serious, indeed as scandalous as they are, are not the problem, the culture that lies behind them, a culture not restricted to the banking industry, is the problem.
The misdemeanours, charging fees for non-existent services, continuing to charge deceased persons, irresponsibly encouraging and making loans to gain commissions, etc, etc, are all symptoms of a pervasive culture in the finance industry that money is not primarily a means of exchange enabling the flow of commerce and daily living, but an end in itself. The finance industry, with the banks as the mastheads, has developed a culture that legitimises the making of money out of making money. In other words, money used as the vehicle to exchange a commodity of usefulness for another commodity of usefulness, or service, is not the primary objective. The objective is the accumulation of wealth regardless of whether a commodity of value or service is exchanged or not.
Soon after I retired, I worked in the Diocese of Salisbury, UK, in the period that included the global financial collapse of 2008. I was told, at that time, that approximately 25% of Great Britain’s economy revolved around ‘funny money’. That is, wealth not acquired through growth in the production of goods and services of value to consumer citizens either in Great Britain, or through export to overseas markets, but through manipulation of the market itself. Short selling is a well-practiced enterprise beyond banks. It is no more than placing very large bets on the rise and fall of stocks in the market. It adds no value other than accumulating wealth to those who practice it. Similarly, investments on the currency market are bets that one currency will rise or fall in relation to another. Because these practices, and others like them, occur on a very large scale, small ‘mum and dad’ investors find their meagre investments rising or falling out of any real relationship with the commodity itself. ‘Funny money’ to be of any worth must become real money. Because it is made without adding value, it means loss somewhere else, almost certainly to ordinary citizens.
This is one of the reasons why inequity is growing at a frightening rate. Those with money are making much more of it. Those with limited resources are finding themselves falling further and further behind.
Much commentary has occurred in recent years over the reality that while economic growth has prevailed, wages have remained stagnant. This is evidence that a culture of making money out of making money has prevailed over a traditional capitalist culture where individuals are rewarded for production, the creation of value.
This brings us back to the Commission report. The consensus is that the banks have been let off the hook, evidenced by the considerable rise in bank shares the day after the report was released. Certainly, the banks are being forced to change some practices and, if transparency through regulatory bodies with teeth is genuine, then the excesses of recent years will be curtailed. However, will the overriding culture that dominates the financial industry at large be changed? Most commentators at this stage seem to remain unconvinced.
The problem as I perceive it, is that capitalism in the last two or three decades has morphed into a system that does not reward genuine effort or work, but rewards those in a position to manipulate the financial and regulatory system for personal and corporate gain. It should be self-evident that the first loyalty of banks is to their customers. This is not now the case; their first loyalty has been to share-holders. This begs the question, should banks have shareholders, or should their customers automatically be their share-holders? Do banks have a serious and unresolvable conflict of interest between customers who should receive maximum service at minimum cost and shareholders who expect maximum return from minimum expense (customer service)? Exorbitant, obscene, salaries that senior banking staff receive in comparison with high levels of professional skill and responsibility in other areas of civil society distort the role of bankers, while commissions encourage malpractice.
The Prime Minister’s favourite and over used aphorism that in Australian culture ‘those who have a go will receive a fair go’ is not borne out in practice. Those who produce are not rewarded in the same way that those in the financial industry are rewarded. A case could be made for arguing that teachers should be amongst the highest paid in the community, given that their skill and dedication plays a significant role in the productive capacity of the next generation. A very able teacher may in fact be remunerated at less than one twentieth the remuneration of a banker.
The loss of trust currently being suffered by all institutions, including the Church, is hurting the cohesiveness and well-being of civil society. Institutions are by their very nature servants of society. When institutions become self-serving they lose the rationale for their existence, and trust is lost. Society needs institutions to provide, on a large scale, what cannot be provided by individuals. The activity of an institution should be uncompromisingly transparent to those they serve – the public. At the end of the day trust, rather than money, lubricates the moving parts of civil society. Loss of trust is very serious. The option is not the death of institutions but their reform.
Commissioner Hayne has asked whether banks are open to reform. He concluded that, on evidence presented to the Commission, the answer, at least for one of them, is no. But reform they must.
Politics must be reformed. The party system and the factions within parties are self-serving and self-preserving. Cross-party consensus over good policy making should return to the floor of Australian parliaments and financial gifts to political parties should be banned. Elections must be resourced by the piper who should call the tune, the tax-payer not the lobbyist. It is extraordinary that in the wake of the Royal Commission politicians of all colours have rushed to condemn banking practices and call for heads to roll, while new stories of political ill-practice and dubious morality continue to roll out, seemingly with no change or end in sight. According to the latest poll trust in politicians is lower than that of bankers – a considerable achievement given that trust in bankers is below 20 percent.
Churches and their considerable assets must become servants of the population at large – believers or not. Rather than arguing for greater ‘freedom of religion’ and protection under law, as many are doing; churches must abandon any aspiration other than to serve the common good of both corporate and individual Australia, for its physical and spiritual harmony and wellbeing.
While not its mandate, the Hayne Royal Commission has confronted capitalist practice in urgent need of reform. Unless capitalism is open to reform and becomes again the best system to serve the common good of global citizenry, it will become as toxic to the wellbeing of 21st century humanity as communism became to 20th century humanity. The reform will not come from within the banks, it needs to come from the grass roots and enacted by legislators who are prepared to put global common good above self-interest.
The Politics of Fear
It is well accepted there are few stronger motivators of human behaviour than fear. This is not news to people who exercise power and control. From time immemorial fear has been used by power brokers and politicians to manipulate and control public opinion.
Those in the Christian community know that fear and love are opposites. The former feeds on negativity, the latter on positive energy. As light banishes darkness so love banishes fear. I know this to be true, but I also know that for those whose lives have been conditioned by fear, the banishing of it is no simple matter. What is true for individuals can also be true of nations. If the body politic of a nation has become fear based and largely irrational, it can prove very difficult to change. Decisions become routinely fear based rather than based on fact and good policy.
This is not to say fear is not real, it is. Sadly, the widespread presence of domestic violence is one reason why far too many people live with genuine fear. When the cause of fear is personal and immediate, individuals measure the risk and the options available, and act accordingly. In the case of fear generated by serious illness, sufferers seek skilled advice from an expert in the field and opt for the course that is most suitable for them.
On a mass scale, fear operates rather differently. Usually the reason for the fear is not immediate, it comes as whispered rumour, reinforced by media story that loves to exaggerate the negative. It reaches a point when, with saturated coverage, it is assumed to be correct. It is easy to build fear through unfounded insinuation and inuendo. President Trump is a maestro of fear manipulation. According to him, only he has been able to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems while the reality is, he has ignited a cauldron of possible national and international disruption
Some years ago, there was considerable fear of a bird flu pandemic, on a scale that might have replicated 1919. What was required was not simply an adequate store of vaccine, but hard information. Hard information and analysis of that information considerably placated the fear and gave people, especially in Asia, helpful data upon which to change behaviour.
Over the last 24 hours debate and argument in the federal parliament emanated from concern for the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers imprisoned on Manus and Nauru; but it has quickly become the pursuit of political advantage and leverage, nourished through the fiction or fact of Australia’s border security.
‘Children overboard’ and the Tampa affair won the 2001 election for John Howard. That later evidence showed ‘children overboard’ to be a fabricated lie, did not alter the political victory, won as a result of this deception.
So many falsehoods or outright lies are currently being canvassed in the public arena about the asylum seekers imprisoned on Manus and Nauru. Are we seriously to believe the 1000 detainees are so sick that they would be immediately evacuated to Australia? If so, this is surely a terrible indictment upon the federal Government’s care of these vulnerable people. When Christopher Pyne faced this question from Barry Cassidy on Insiders last Sunday, his obfuscation and high dudgeon must rank, even for him, as one of the most bizarre political performances he has so far conjured up. That Richard Di Natale and Bob Brown would sign them all in, is hardly possible given they are no longer registered as medical practitioners.
Why should this legislation restart the people smuggling trade any more than moving more than 1000 to the US, or moving all the children off the Islands has done?
The Prime Minister’s announcement that he intends to immediately reopen the detention centre on Christmas Island together with his insistence that caring for the health and wellbeing of sick detainees will reopen the people smuggling trade is nothing less than an invitation to them to do this very thing. One cannot help but assume that, to make his point, he intends to instruct border force authorities to let a boat or two through, so ludicrous and dangerous has the whole matter become.
Why has it got to this? Since Tony Abbott became leader of the then Opposition and subsequently rose to become Prime Minister, Australian politics has become incurably binary. Good policy in service of Australia and its people is no longer the primary aim of parliament, retaining or gaining power is the primary aim, along with the crushing and humiliation of opposition. The dispatch box is no longer the place from which big ideas are contested, it is the place where party ideology is ruthlessly and uncompromisingly promoted and defended. There is absolutely no place for paradox in parliament, let alone compromise.
Those of us who are steeped in the Christian tradition know well that truth is seldom singular, it is most often paradox, it is seldom choosing between opposites, but embracing opposites. It is not, ‘this or that, but, ‘this and that’. Australia and Australians should never have had to choose between ‘secure borders’ and compassion for those in need. Our treatment of asylum seekers has been utterly shameful. Equally shameful has been the attempt to silence those who have informed us. It can never be ok to make one group of people suffer in order to satisfy a cause somewhere else, especially if that cause is nine tenths political. Those trapped for the last five plus years have become pawns in another cause, left to languish, to rot; as if somehow the safety of all Australians depends upon their suffering.
The parliamentary figure to rise above others in this context has been the speaker of the House, Tony Smith. He deserves the accolade of the nation for being what the speaker is supposes to be, an impartial umpire.
If as a result of debate and resolution in our parliament over the last 24 hours people smugglers begin again to ply their trade with a successful landing on Australian offshore territory, the blame must not be sheeted home to the legislation, but to a Prime Minister who is dangerously playing the fear card and virtually daring (inviting) the smugglers to come. Even if it is the only card in his pack, for the sake of the current asylum seekers and for the sake of Australian commitment to compassion, he should not play that card.
Although not official, we are already in the campaign for the next federal election. It seems clear that fear is going to be the primary card played. It behoves all Australians to weigh the facts that lie behind the card. Was it ever likely that a leg of lamb would cost $100 because of an emissions trading scheme? – No. Is it inevitable that renewables will turn the lights off and make electricity too expensive for any other than the wealthy? – No. The evidence is the reverse. Can Australia act in a moral and compassionate manner and still retain secure borders – Yes.
The reasons why the date for Australia Day are contentious, will not go away. Directions about dress code will not help, nor will sanctions on local shires who wish to hold citizenship ceremonies on another day. There is a more appropriate day, change to this date will not only remove contentious division about how the 26th January might be celebrated, but the change will greatly assist necessary dialogue about the evolving character of Australia and Australians, and of our place in the world.
The 26th January celebrates the success of one of Great Britain’s imperial ambitions. The arrival of Captain Arthur Philip and the first fleet was noteworthy, of course it was. It is a date that should be remembered in the national calendar. But the date has very little to do with the founding of Australia, or the birth of a proud and independent nation state. For approximately 100 years after the arrival of the 1st fleet, the land that was to become the nation of Australia remained several disconnected colonies of Great Britain, some of them, of course, penal colonies. During this time the land was legally understood to be terra nullius, the actions of settlers and colonial troops cruelly mirroring this assumption.
It was the process of federating over several decades, culminating in the Commonwealth of Australia Act on the 5th July 1900 and its proclamation on the 1st January 1901, that Australia was born.
This process was not easy, even today State identity is as significant if not more significant for many Australians than national identity. This is particularly so for residents of Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland.
Over the 100+ years since Federation, Australia and Australians have evolved, just as life on the planet has and will continue to evolve. The demise of the white Australia policy, the long overdue recognition of Australia’s indigenous people as full citizens and acknowledgment in law that terra nullius was wrong have been some of the more significant components of this evolution. There is still a long way to go, not least in ensuring that Australia’s first peoples not only have the right, but are able to grasp the same opportunity for health, education, employment and life expectancy as all other Australians.
The celebration of Australia Day could be moved to the 1st January, or if this is considered too un-Australian, for it combines too many holidays in one bundle, then to 5th July.
The reason for making the change is two-fold. First it obviously removes conflict over what this day has meant and continues to mean for Australia’s first peoples. Their’s will always be a legitimate objection to the day, no matter what our political leaders might say. The concern cannot simply be dismissed as a ‘black arm-band view of history, it is a reality that 26th January marks a humiliation for indigenous people from which recovery was, and is, painful
But equally important, the change would focus attention away from a moment of past history, with a mixture of positive and negative overtones, to a day which demands attention to the continuing process of Australia’s becoming.
There are many issues about Australia’s evolving character and identity that deserve attention and if the date were changed to celebrate federation, the day could become one of renewal, imagining, of expecting what we can be. Dare I say, it could become a day when the people of Australia demand their elected members engage in bi-partisan policy making.
Let me highlight some matters of our evolving identity:
1. Clearly our democratic processes need to be re-thought, for they are not working. “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. The electoral process must become an expense to the tax payer so that politicians are once more accountable to the Australian people. For now, they are accountable to those who make political donations. Gifts to political parties from individuals, businesses, unions, multi-nationals and other financial entities must stop. Conscience votes should become the norm not the exception. It should not be possible for senators to be elected with a handful of primary votes. Parliament must become a place for genuine debate on policy, not a venue for grandstanding charades.
2. The anachronism of the monarchy needs to be resolved.
3. Australia’s place in the Asian region needs to be more independently asserted.
4. Threats to Australian life must be reconsidered and re-calibrated. Looking at our expenditure it seems we consider a military threat to be our greatest danger, hence the billions being expended on submarines and other military hardware. We don’t really need David Attenborough to remind us climate change is a greater threat, it is already costing us billions, a bill that will escalate in coming years.
5. We need to have a people’s convention about the roles played by state and federal authorities. What was decided, by way of compromise to bring us all together in the 1900’s is not necessarily serving us well in the 21st century. Those in power will want to maintain the inefficiency and duplication of our present system. We need to move beyond this impasse into a more appropriate and dynamic form of federation now and into the future.
I am therefore a very strong contender for a change of date, not simply to avoid the contention that prevails over the 26th January, but because we need a date which enables and encourages conversation about the evolving nature of Australia and Australians. It is no surprise that politicians will resist this change, maintaining the status quo is in their interest, but it is not in the best interest of Australia and its people.
Is Christian Zionism contributing to the Israel/Palestine Impasse?
The insidious influence of Christian Zionism on domestic American politics and through these politics on actions that prevent a just outcome to the Israel/Palestine impasse is far deeper and more threatening to peace and security than is popularly understood. It is past time that it is called out as having no biblical foundation, that its unconditional support for Israel has resulted in actions that are antithetical to Christianity and that its opposition to a just peace, given full reign, would lead the Middle East on an apocalyptic trajectory, a trajectory justified by Zionists as fulfilment of biblical prophecy.
How might Christian Zionism be defined? “Christian Zionism is a political movement within Protestant fundamentalist Christianity that views the modern state of Israel as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, thus deserving unconditional economic, moral, political, and theological support.”
Searching for insights into the reach of contemporary Christian Zionism, let’s begin with the opening of the US Embassy in West Jerusalem in May 2018. The Christian leaders invited to pray and speak at the ceremony were John Hagee, senior pastor at the Cornerstone Mega Church in San Antonio Texas and Robert Jeffrees, pastor of the Southern Baptist Church in Dallas Texas and host of Pathways to Victory syndicated TV programme. Currently, they are arguably the highest profile US Christian Zionists. Let’s hear a little from John Hagee:
“For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits ‘I believe the Bible,’ I can make him a pro-Israel supporter, or they will have to denounce their faith. So, I have the Christians over a barrel, you might say.”
In March 2007, Hagee spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. He began by saying:
“The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the State of Israel…”
He went on to warn:
“It is 1938. Iran is Germany, and Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat and stand boldly with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… Think of our potential future together: 50 million evangelicals joining in common cause with 5 million Jewish people in America on behalf of Israel is a match made in heaven.
Encouraging Donald Trump to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem Hagee trumpeted: through this action the president will enter political immortality.
Christian Zionism does not support Israel for Israel’s sake, but because ‘believers’ have been led to understand the Bible teaches Israeli sovereignty from the Nile to the Euphrates will herald the end of the world and trigger the ‘rapture’, when Jesus will come again and establish his Kingdom - from Jerusalem. So important is the acquisition of land to this cult like ideology that Zionists resist ‘land for peace’ or the unfolding of a peace process that would ultimately see the establishment of a Palestinian state.
It should not simply be left to secularists to describe this for what it is, absurd, dangerous, nonsense; but Christian voices should cease politely tiptoeing around, seemingly to avoid causing offence to fellow Christians, or being characterised as anti-Semitic by Zionist supporters. What is at stake is nothing less than our understanding of the Gospel itself. Tiptoeing around is to condone cruel apartheid for Palestinians who, through accident of birth and heredity, inconveniently stand in the way of these delusional ambitions, cloaked as they may be in saccharine piety. Tiptoeing around is not simply to support Israel in its overtly apartheid system of colonisation, it is also to turn a blind eye to the reality that Saudi Arabia has been the cradle from which terrorism has sprung, while the demonization of Iran leaves it dangerously outside the checks and balances that come with being part of an international community of trade and diplomacy.
Just as Christian Zionism’s concern for Israel resides in a very different priority; similarly, US Middle Eastern politics is driven not by events in the Middle East, but by US domestic politics and the base from which Donald Trump relies on for support – the Evangelical Christian right. We are confronted with utter hypocrisy and disdain for truth on every corner. It is very unlikely that Donald Trump believes the nonsense of the Christian Zionist position, but being their champion keeps him in the White House. (By contrast the very honourable John McCain refused to accept endorsement from this quarter). It is almost incomprehensible that Christians of any description could condone Trump’s deceitfulness, self-aggrandisement, and appalling behaviour, particularly to women, and yet none of this seems to matter to the Christian right, as long as he supports their agenda.
With numbers that might be upwards of 70 million, how has Christian Zionism become such a potent force in American politics? I do not feel competent to answer that question but will venture a few observations. First, Christian Zionism with its genesis in 19th century millennialism, pre-dates Jewish Zionism by about 50 years. Second, it is misleading to infer that all Christian evangelicals are Zionists. The English evangelical vicar, Stephen Sizer, is a very well-known and articulate critic of Zionism. Third, Zionism was covertly spread through popular and ubiquitous publications such as the Scofield Bible. Fourth, it is almost certainly true that Christian Zionists are far more vocal and virulent in their uncritical advocacy for Israel than American Jews. While a significant proportion of evangelicals and an overwhelming number of Zionists vote Republican, it is reported that most Jews continue to vote Democrat and that there is a growing divide between Israeli Jews and American Jews.
So, what of Australia? How many Christians are motivated by a Zionist ideology is very hard to know. What motivates Eric Abetz to demonise Palestinians and unconditionally laud the state of Israel? Only he could answer. His public statements following the Labor Party motion to make the recognition of Palestine a priority indicate either he has callous disregard for Palestinian suffering at the hands of the occupation and settlement programme, or that he chooses to block this reality from his mind. He continues to insist that Palestine refuses to accept the right of Israel to exist even though since the Oslo accord more than 20 years ago Palestinians have accepted a territorial divide based on 1967 borders. Further he refuses to acknowledge that the boot is on the other foot, most ministers in the Netanyahu government have said they will never allow a Palestinian state.
South African apartheid enjoyed the imprimatur of conservative Christians based on spurious interpretation and application of biblical text. To be doing the same in the land of Jesus who revealed that in God there are no boundaries, no divisions; common or shared humanity is more important than tribal, ethnic or religious identity; is to deny the very foundations of Christianity itself.
There are some matters about which all Australians should feel corporate guilt and shame. Two come to mind. First, we should feel guilt and shame that we have elected to power and tolerate in government political leaders who refuse to acknowledge and give due weight to the consequences of climate change. And secondly, we have elected a government and have kept in power the same political leaders knowing that in our name innocent asylum seekers are being passively tortured on Manus and Nauru. We are all diminished because wilful blindness and deafness from our leaders causes an unnecessary environmental burden on all future generations and especially on the poor; and because some of the world’s most vulnerable have been subjected to crushing cruelty, supposedly in the name of our security.
Over the New Year I have read Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains, 2018. Behrouz is an Iranian Kurd being held on Manus. His manuscript was laboriously tapped out on a mobile phone. It should be compulsory reading for all federal politicians and indeed for any who might still hold lingering thoughts that what we are doing is justified.
Behrouz, is a journalist, academic, poet and writer and a very astute observer of human behaviour. He holds many media and literary awards.
The book begins with an account of his terrifying journey from Indonesia, including the eventual sinking of the unseaworthy boat, his rescue, and eventual arrival on Christmas Island. He was unlucky enough to arrive just after legislation was passed which meant no asylum seeker who arrived by boat would be settled in Australia , however worthy that person might be, let alone declared a legitimate refugee by the UN. They must either return to their country of origin or languish indefinitely on Manus or Nauru.
The book is primarily about his years on Manus and what he describes as a Kyriarchal system designed to intimidate and break those held as its prisoners. A Kyriarchal system is one in which those in power seek to control in submission others, who, for whatever reason, are considered unworthy of the respect and decency that should normally be afforded another human being. Such systems have operated throughout human history with racial, gender, economic, religious and class overtones.
How the system has worked on Manus in our name is so shameful that it makes very painful reading. Behrouz methodically describes all aspects of daily life and how it dehumanises, resulting in developed behaviours, necessary for survival, that the system then rewards. Detainees, with a few exceptions, do not have the luxury of emotional empathy for others. Life revolves around food; the detainees are constantly hungry. Those who arrive first avail themselves of the pick of the food. Those who are last have least. Those who arrive first are always the same, the strongest.
Phoning loved ones back home is a life line. Inflexible rules govern everything. Behrouz tells the story of a man who needed to phone his dying father. The Australian officers would not allow him to make the call for three days because that was his scheduled time for a phone call. By then his father had died.
Medical assistance is described in less than flattering terms as a battle to get past paracetamol and advice to drink more water.
The stench of human bodies in close quarters with crude toilet facilities unavoidably leads men choosing to relieve themselves anywhere other than the designated place.
Adding to our shame, Behrouz describes the Australian officers in a much less favourable light than the Papuans who themselves are treated as less than equals by their contracted Australian overseers. We read of several occasions when the Papuans showed obvious empathy and care when confronted with the detainees suffering; empathy that appears to have been almost totally absent from the Australian custody offices.
Several incidents of death and self-harm are recorded.
Let us pray that Behrouz will soon arrive in Australia, we will be so much the richer for his presence. His insights, which are expressed both poetically and philosophically, are every much as needed as those of the doctor, lawyer or scientist. I particularly liked his insight into the role of the prophet. He observed that every true leader should be a prophet, one capable of leading her or his people into new understandings of truth. Given what passes for leadership these days in the US, or here in Australia, we can but long for such.
What makes our offshore detention even more cruel and hollow is that these days we may have strong maritime borders, but the same does not apply to our airports. Thousands arrive by air, who soon after arrival seek to change the terms of their visa.
There never has been any justification for incarcerating asylum seekers as if they are criminals. The pain and suffering is well documented and well known. The remaining detainees (Behrouz describes himself and others as prisoners) must not simply be released, but resources must be made available for years to come to assist them in recovery from the mental and in some cases physical scars they carry.
I strongly commend Behrouz book to you and recommend you pass it on to your representative in the Australian parliament. Those who continue to hold that our position is morally justified must be confronted with the account this book provides and if they continue to hold this position must envision themselves as directly responsible for its implementation and be held to account, if necessary by the courts, certainly by the justifiable condemnation that history will impose.
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all Humankind
Is ‘peace on earth, good will to all humankind’ a cruel fantasy? Are we destined to live in increasingly walled off environments, afraid of losing the little advantage we think we have?
I have recently returned from 10 days in the Palestinian Territories. The highlight was my journey to Nabi Saleh in Palestinian area C, north of Ramallah, the home of the Tamimi family and totally under the control of Israeli forces. Bassem, the father, shot to publicity when his visa was suddenly cancelled by the Australian government at Amman international airport en route to Australia. Ahed, the young daughter, gained even more publicity through the photograph of her slapping an Israeli soldier on the face as soldiers attempted to enter her house after her cousin was shot in front of her. The campaign ‘free Ahed’ became a global movement.
Meeting them reminded me of meeting Xanana Gusmao for the first time, or of the precious week my wife and I hosted Desmond Tutu in our home. There was a powerful dignity to them. They live in the rarefied atmosphere of those who have resisted intimidation and oppression and have gained a depth of humanity that alludes most of us lesser mortals. Rather than being filled with resentment they have a passion for the freedom of all humanity and have a vision for global peace and equity that is inclusive even of their oppressors. It was a very deep privilege to be with them. All this despite the fact they live with a demolition threat on their 1964 house, built on land that has been their ancestral home for generations. They rhetorically asked, “who is the freest? We who have stood up to oppression, or those of you in Australia who so easily are cowered and avoid telling the truth”? While absolutely no compassion is being shown them from occupying forces, they have no resentment and seek to live in harmony and equality with all who now live in this land Palestinian and Israeli alike. Ironically they are the ones who have found peace and in that sense they are the ones who have ‘won’ , their oppressors can too, when they decide for compassion and reconciliation.
I spent four days in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The intimidating security wall, twice the height of the Berlin wall, curves deeply into the city around Rachel’s tomb. Directly opposite the wall is Banksy’s ‘Walledoff hotel’. Banksy’s art and the wall graffiti use the powerful weapon of satirical image to point to the reality that those who promote fear and oppression are the real prisoners and that even a little girl with a handful of balloons can scale a wall of division.
Humans are created to relate: being isolated or isolating others is to become inhuman. Humans are born to be hospitable: to be greedy and self-focussed is to be less than we can or should be. Humans need the company of the stranger who can become a friend: alone we are nothing; in company we are everything. In recent years the Wise Men have had to take a circuitous route to enter Bethlehem, indeed have had to face the humiliation of check points and the probable confiscation of their precious gifts. But come they still do and in arriving they are still amazed. As Bishop Peter Chrysologus in the fifth century wrote: “God saw the world falling into ruin because of fear and immediately acted to call it back with love. God invited it by grace, preserved it by love, and embraced it with compassion”.
There is so much in our contemporary world about which to be disappointed, indeed about which to despair. But into this despair true humanity can and does break through and the light of what we are intended to be becomes visible again. This last week has seen the extraordinary act of strangers observing a family swept out to sea. It turned out they were an Indian family. These strangers swam out approximately 700 metres through turbulent water to rescue some of them. There was no obligation or responsibility other than the responsibility of shared humanity. No reward was expected other than the satisfaction of knowing that they acted to save the lives of others.
The Old Testament wisdom writers famously said: “without vision the people perish”. (Prov. 29:18). There is little doubt that if given vision for a less selfish, less greedy, and a more harmonious, sustainable, just and peaceful world, people will respond selflessly. From the political elite that vision is not currently on offer, or leadership provided. At present the vision offered is that we are the sum of all that we accumulate or possess and therefore competitive consumption is the only game in town.
The vision emanating from Bethlehem is very different. Sadly, it is a vision that has been lost under the haze of self-promoting and self-aggrandizing religious practice about which the general population has rightly become dismissive.
But if for a moment the smoke can be lifted, and we can see and hear afresh, the vision is as powerful today as it was for those who lived and were transformed by it in the first century.
Grace and humility are more powerful and life transforming than wealth or position. The world and all its creatures need to be viewed not as a market for exploitation and profit, but with awe and wonder. We are to judge our achievements not by that which is most spectacular, but by the plight of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. What is freely shared multiplies, what is withheld diminishes the withholder.
Either there is a story, a narrative, which frees and emboldens all humanity to new heights of shared and sustainable living, or we must all live in our walled environments attempting to protect from the enemy outside the little we have gathered or inherited. But the narrative tells us the enemy is within. If we build the wall, we enclose with us that which has the capacity to undo us.
If we are open to embrace the world and all its complexity and recognise we are no more but no less than a tiny part of a wonderful whole, then the future can truly be: ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to all humankind’.
Full marks to Scomo’s minders for digging him out of his self-inflicted hole
The Prime Minister’s announcement today is a tortuous attempt to salvage himself from a pre-emptive thought bubble prior to the Wentworth bi-election and does not contribute to the peace process as he claims, but rather rewards Israel for bad behaviour.
The best one can say is the announcement is not as catastrophic as many feared. However, the problem with it is that it ignores the reality that Israel has declared Jerusalem to be its eternal and undivided capital. In other words, Australia may somewhat pompously say it is all fine, we are only recognising West Jerusalem, the fact of the matter is that Israel considers Jerusalem to be undivided. If the Prime minister’s words are to have any meaning, he (and Australia) will need to be far more proactive, if necessary, through sanctions and boycotts, to pressure Israel into a genuine commitment to peace and the recognition of Palestinian rights, specifically in East Jerusalem. Supporters of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem argue it is simply recognising reality. That is the point, it is recognising the reality that Israel would like it to be – the surrender of Palestinian rights that exist under international law.
Earlier this year Israel passed what it called a State Law, with ‘constitutional gravitas’, that Jerusalem is its eternal and undivided capital, that full citizenship can only be granted to Jews, that Arabic is no longer an official language and that building settlements is part of core Jewish identity.
In these circumstances, how is it possible to give Israeli recognition in Jerusalem without at the same time ceding Palestinian rights and Palestinian hopes?
Our government continues to justify its unequivocal and uncritical support for Israel on the basis that it is the only democratic country in the Middle East. This is a hoax. By what definition of democracy do we recognise a country that does not grant full citizenry rights to all its people? This week a motion was put to the Knesset that all its people be treated equally. The motion was defeated.
As Bassem Tamimi put it to me last week, the world is run by capitalist colonisers who masquerade as deliverers of democratic government.
Israel currently exhibits all the characteristics of a 19th century coloniser, taking territory without recompense for its economic and geographic gain at the expense of those who have lived on the land in perpetuity, whose lives have been culturally tied to it, for generations. We Australians, or at least our government, has a very short memory. There was a time when we declared our continent to be terra nullius. We now live with the consequences of this ignorant and greed motivated attitude of mind. Israel was created on the same premise: ‘land without people for people without land’. Whether anyone in the past seriously believed the first part of the equation is doubtful, however the regular routine of moving Israeli checkpoints further and further into Palestinian Territory, bulldozing homes and villages and strangling the life of Palestinian people through the relentless building of settlements is not happening on ‘empty land’.
I could accept the Prime Minister’s announcement today, even rejoice in it, if I believed he will use every measure at his command to pressure Israel into acceding Palestinian inalienable rights in East Jerusalem, that he will censure Israel for its settlement building, and that he will do all in his power to ensure the delivery of a two-state solution on 1967 borders within a workable time-frame.
I have absolutely no confidence that this is his intention, based on the previous record of his party in government and therefore see his announcement today as pure politics: appeasing Israel and its supporters in Australia, assuring them that Australia continues to be Israel’s best friend; while at home trying to appease wise souls in Australia’s security and diplomatic service whose job has been to give him ‘fearless advice’ and without doubt have told him that his original thought was cavalier and reckless.
Finally, I wonder if the Prime Minster understands, as sadly I have come to understand, that the window for a two-state solution has, or almost has, passed; that settlement building with its connecting infrastructure has happened on such a large scale that it is now irreversible. Israel has made it clear that it intends to have a million illegal settlers on Palestinian land in the foreseeable future. In these circumstances commitment to a two-state solution could be a cynical commitment to the status quo, giving Israel more and more time to make its annexation of Palestinian lands and its cooping of Palestinians into Bantustans complete.
Apartheid is the only name one can use to describe this activity. If we are cooperating with Israel on this path then the only option open to us is to insist on equal rights for all, regardless of religion, class or ethnicity.
Mr Morrison and your cabinet, you cannot simply make a statement and think your work is done. Either you genuinely believe in a two-state solution and you will use boycott, sanction, or any other means available to you to pressure Israel to a table where a just solution leading to long term peace, security and harmony on this basis will happen, or you do not. If you do not, then you must require Israel and the PLO to come to an agreement which enables all peoples to live together in the same land in peace and harmony with equal rights, an outcome which would immeasurably strengthen both Palestinians and Israelis and produce an entity which could genuinely be named a 21st century democracy.
The following are glimpses of my recent trip to the Palestinian Territories, written in the context of an open letter to the Executive Council of Australian Jews. I shall write again when the Prime Minister's policy about Australia's diplomatic presence in Israel and its policy towards a peaceful and just resolution for Palestine and Israel alike is revealed.
I am honoured that you think my contribution to public debate on the situation confronting Israel/Palestine is worthy of your monitoring. I note that you have considerable references to me in your annual report on anti-Semitism in Australia. It is to this I would like now to respond.
I have just returned from 10 days in the Palestinian Territories and would like to give you a glimpse into my experiences.
I visited the military court to witness the parading of young children, shackled, before a military judge for action of civil disobedience, primarily stone throwing. Let me illustrate from the case of a young 15-year-old from Hebron. I met his parents in the waiting area. They were a decent normal couple wanting to live ordinary lives who beside facing the daily humiliation of checkpoints and other restrictions have had their lives turned upside down by military intrusion into their home at 3.00.am in the morning when their lad was dragged from them. I asked the boy’s father what message he would like me to take to the world. He said, please tell the world the settlements are choking us. We have no freedom to live normal lives.
The boy, who has already been in custody for a month, was brought in with three others. It was a charade. The whole matter lasted barely five minutes to find his case was adjourned again. He was handed a document in Hebrew to sign, a document he could not read or understand. I felt helpless and humiliated for them, that by default my government supports this daily ritual. (We are constantly reminded that Australia and Israel share the same values – we most certainly do not). I promised the family that I will light a candle for them every day in my home in a feeble attempt to keep the light of hope alive.
I went to meet the Tamimi family. On a few rare occasions in my life I have felt I have been in the presence of true humanity. I felt it when I walked into a room for the first time to meet Xanana Gusmao. I felt it deeply when Desmond Tutu stayed in my home for a week, and I felt it when introduced to the great Madaba (Nelson Mandela). This family exists in the rarefied atmosphere of those who have resisted intimidation and oppression and have retained not simply their own dignity, but also love and commitment for the freedom of all humanity – including their oppressors. They live in area C the largest portion of the Palestinian Territories which is totally under the control of Israeli occupation with no rights or freedoms, including no right to build on their own property. I was reminded that Bassem had been invited to Australia only to find that when he reached the Amman intentional airport his Australian visa had been cancelled, presumably on advice from you guys to the Australian government. Bassem asked me who was the freest, himself who stands up against oppression or an Australian like me who is afraid to stand up against a Lobby that manages to cower Australian media and politicians alike. The answer is painfully obvious.
I journeyed to Hebron again, the largest Arab city on the West Bank. I understand the city consists of 700,000+ Arabs with a few hundred settlers guarded by a couple of thousand Israeli troops. I stopped outside a home that in the previous 24 hours had been confiscated by Israeli authorities, the Arab family that had lived there for generations were gone and a party was being held by the new settler occupants. Again, I walked past the shuttered and ghost like main street which has been banned to Palestinians for the last several years. But I want most to tell you that I walked down the current market thoroughfare for the second time. It is a bustling and culturally wonderful street, but which has tarpaulin and netting above it to try and protect it from the rubbish that is thrown from the settler dwellings above. I had my photograph taken with a wonderful old man in his clothing shop. He showed me a beautiful dress that had been soiled by urine which had been poured down from the settler building above, all done in clear sight of the military outposts that could act to stop these outrages - but choose not to.
I spent a day in the company of a journalist travelling around the world heritage declared area just outside Jerusalem and Bethlehem which is hemmed in by Settlements and its unique vista of terraces and continuous life style over centuries under threat. Clearly the intention is to cut off Bethlehem entirely from Jerusalem and to make life as difficult as possible for the Palestinians, presumably hoping they will go somewhere else. Most will not.
Some will. I visited the Melkite Church in Bethlehem, one of, if not the only Church still using the Aramean language in its worship. I spoke with the Church elder who in 2019 intends to migrate to the UK where his wife and children already reside. He says it breaks his heart to do that, but he said life has been made so intolerable because of the occupation that he feels he has no alternative. It is important for the Christian community worldwide to know that Christianity under occupation has been decimated. It is estimated now that the Christian population in Israel and Palestine is only about 1.7% from a population pre-1948 of over 20%.
From traders in Hebron to taxi drivers in Bethlehem they were all crying out for business. The Israeli Occupation has done such a good job in destroying any economic opportunity for them. The narrative that it is too dangerous for westerners to be in the Palestinian territories is an absolute lie. I have never felt safer. I am an inveterate walker. I walked at all times of day or night in Hebron, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. Not for one moment did I feel my security was at risk. Palestinians are by nature kind, generous and hospitable.
I had appointments in the Knesset. The one abiding memory of these appointments was feeling the humiliation felt by Arab members of the Israeli parliament that a law has been passed that declares them to be second class citizens. They may in the past have felt this to be true, but now it is enshrined in law. What other country in the so-called free world has enshrined in law 20% of its population can never be full citizens.
These are but a few glimpses, I could give you many more.
I am very grateful to a young Israeli soldier, on duty, who was prepared to engage me in conversation. Following my question as to what future he hoped for he gave a surprising but wonderful response. He said he hoped his children and grandchildren would not be called up for duty as he had been. That they would not have to act against an occupied people as he has had to do and that the time will come when Arabs and Jews will share the same rights and opportunities and live together harmoniously and peacefully.
You see dear ECAJ the occupation is as demeaning to Israelis as it is to the Palestinians. I do not have any sense of antipathy to Jewish people, in fact the opposite, but I have angry contempt for a cruel and evil system that denies common humanity to Palestinians and reduces Israelis to a paranoia of fear and victimhood.
Please keep monitoring me, I would be sad to think my contribution is not worthy of scrutiny. But better still come with me to the Palestinian Territories and see what currently your eyes refuse to see, and your ears refuse to hear.
Nationalism: the world’s greatest threat
We owe President Emmanuel Macron a debt of gratitude for yesterday’s speech in Paris. “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” the French leader said.
“In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”
The first world war was not inevitable in the sense that ‘a great evil’ was being confronted. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 the relationship between Serbia and Austria-Hungary became white hot, but initially at least no other country needed to be involved, least of all Britain. Russian sympathies were with Serbia and Germany’s with Austria Hungary. Piece by piece France, Belgium and ultimately Britain were dragged in, simply because their national pride was tied to the alliances they had formed and the rivalries that existed between them. Lloyd George later remarked that at this time Europe “stumbled and staggered into war”.
The cost of wounded national pride was to be 40 million casualties including 19 million deaths. The first world war is arguably the greatest disaster ever to befall humanity and the greatest ever failure of human leadership, both political and military. What were they thinking when they led the world into such a dark place?
Following the ‘war to end all wars’, in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, Germany was humiliated by the confiscation of many of its territories, by being blamed exclusively for the war and by the reparations demanded of it. Here the seeds of the second world war were sewn, all on the back of arrogant European nationalisms.
After the war there was relief and a desire to put this awful period in the past. There was probably not enough genuine reflection upon what had brought humanity to this point and what needed to be done to avoid a disaster of this magnitude in the future.
Interestingly such reflection was provided at the 1920 Lambeth Conference of Bishops, meeting from all over the Anglican Communion in London at the invitation of Archbishop Randall Davidson. In August 1920 more than 18 months had elapsed since the end of the war, time for sober reflection nd judgement. As recorded in the resolutions and papers of the conference the bishops asserted that the greatest lesson to be drawn from this calamity was that the real danger facing humanity was self-interest and that as dangerous as individual self-interest might be, national self-interest was far greater. They went on to conclude that Christians enjoy two citizenships: that of the country to which they belong and that of the whole human family. Further, if citizenship of the former conflicts with the latter then Christians should be under no misapprehension as to their prior responsibility as global citizens under the sovereignty of God.
These reflections deserve urgent prominence today both within the Christian community and within civil society as a whole as we grapple with the phenomenon of rising nationalism throughout the world. Nationalism is tribalism writ large. It should therefore be no surprise that one of the common features of nationalistic fervour is racist language and behaviour. This article is not long enough to rehearse all the countries caught up in racist language and action, but they notoriously include Myanmar, Philippines, China, Israel and the US. Sadly, Australia is also on the list. Nationalism is forged from an exclusivist identity, in seeing oneself as different to others.
Australian nationalistic fervour has had hundreds of millions of dollars poured into its narrative in the last four years. We are encouraged to see ourselves and our identity forged by war on foreign lands. Why? 60,000 did not return from World War 1. Hardly a family was untouched. Many families had to endure the company of men (and women) who were so bruised by their experience that the rest of their lives were robbed of the joy that might otherwise have been theirs.
There are many competing narratives for Australian identity that are not allowed to properly emerge. Immigration has by any measure had a far greater influence on our identity than war. But more than this the identity of being part of the oldest living culture on the planet, a culture which many of the early white settlers failed to understand and sought to destroy can and should be what makes us so thoroughly unique. The frontier wars that accompanied this struggle find no enduring place in our modern culture of remembrance. Why is there no place for remembrance of these frontier wars in the Australian War Memorial or on ANZAC Parade? Presumably this memory does not suit the nationalistic ANZAC myth we have developed about ourselves through war with foreign nations.
President Macon was right to warn that the perilous clouds of nationalism that were at the heart of WW1 seem once more to be gathering, and particularly so in the language of the so called ‘leader of the free world’. Trump’s voice encourages nationalism in various domains throughout the world, quite apart from his own country, including those that by any measure must be called dictatorships.
I have recently been approached by a consortium of civic leaders to join them in a push to have the constitution change to prevent Australia going to war in the future on the whim of the Prime Minister and his/her cabinet. It will be argued that a decision to take the country into war must be a decision of last resort made only by a joint sitting of the whole parliament.
Nationalism is a cheap and easy clarion call as we have seen by the support those in the far right of our political spectrum can muster. Following the recent Melbourne stabbing the Prime Minister found it easier to go straight to a criticism of Muslims and Muslim leadership than to the disturbed mental health of the perpetrator. In the US many are willing to respond to the racist clarion call; it is dangerously naïve not to recognise the terrible consequences that flow from leaders who would define us in opposition to others.