I want to thank the organisers of today’s event for privileging me with an invitation to address you. At the same time though, a part of me wants to say ‘thanks for nothing’ as you guys must know that by speaking at events like this I run the risk of having myself censored and disciplined and sidelined!
I do actually have a painful history of being targeted on account of the things I have said (either in writing or in speech) that are critical of the Israeli government. Indeed, I’ve had the privilege of being invited to address prominent groups of government officials and community leaders on topics completely unrelated to Israel/Palestine, only to find out afterwards that the organisers were subsequently warned not to deal with me again on account of my dubious stance I take on these issues!
I’ve had my websites and my Twitter feed and my Facebook posts gone through with a fine-tooth comb, and reports have been made to my bishop! My sites have been scoured for information in an attempt to indict me as being anti-Israel, even if not anti-Semitic, though I’ve had other people tell me that by being anti-Israel I am anti-Semitic, by definition, as criticism of the state of Israel is a form of anti-Semitism, and this is what I wanted to talk about briefly tonight. Is it OK to criticize the Israeli government, or is it actually a form of racism?
At first glance, political critique and racism seem to be entirely different animals. I am regularly critical of the Australian government. Indeed, I am vehemently critical of this country’s treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and I believe our record in this regard is absolutely disgraceful – something that every citizen of this country should be deeply ashamed of! Even so, by expressing these sentiments I don’t get myself labelled as being a self-hating Aussie or anything like that.
Likewise, I take enormous exception to the actions of the government of the United States, most obviously over their ongoing murderous rampage through Syria, which I believe is inexcusable. I don’t expect everybody to agree with me on that, but I don’t expect anyone either to label me as being anti-American or anything of the sort, as those who know me know I do sincerely love that country and its people.
Why is it then that when I criticize the actions of the State of Israel, an entirely different dynamic seems to apply? For some reason, it seems that I can’t be critical of the way the Israeli government treats its Arab population nor the native people of the West Bank and Gaza without being accused of discriminating against the Jewish people as a race!
This is especially pronounced when it comes to support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israeli goods and services. This appears to be a very ethical form of non-violent protest, similar in nature to the boycott campaign used so effectively against the South African government in the Apartheid era. The accusation though is that is regularly levelled against BDS advocates is that their campaign is only a cover for a new form of Anti-Semitism, aimed at delegitimizing the Israeli government and its people.
Personally, I suspect that some people who support the BDS could, in part, be motivated by a vile hatred of Semitic people. I suspect too that there may be some who support BDS because they have shares in IBM and it suits them to boycott competitors such as Hewlett-Packard! Even so, I am fully convinced that the vast majority of those of us who support BDS do so simply because we see it as the best way of achieving the liberation of the Palestinian people, and of putting an end to the oppression, discrimination and unrelenting brutality they experience at the hands of the Israeli government!
The recent violence displayed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) towards protestors in Gaza – shooting and killing numerous unarmed men and boys, and injuring thousands – seems to me to be such a horrendous crime that it cries out to Heaven for redress, yet this gets very little response from our political leaders!
Indeed, it seems to me the ultimate irony that those ‘leaders of the free world’ who displayed so much self-righteous anger over an alleged gas attack by the Syrian government said absolutely nothing about the undisputed cases of civilian murder that were being carried out across the border in Palestine! Our great custodians of the moral order felt it necessary to send millions of dollars’ worth of missiles into Syria, spreading an as-yet-unquantified amount of death and destruction because they just couldn’t stomach what happened to the citizens of Syria. The murder of the citizens of Gaza though didn’t even elicit a murmur!
How is this possible? I do believe that in part it is because people have been cowered into silence when it comes criticism of the Israeli government. No matter how vile and violent the actions of the Israeli government, you don’t have to say much in defense of Palestine to be labelled an anti-Semitic racist!
Last week’s case of the disgracing of Mahmoud Abbas may be a case in point.
I’m afraid I haven’t been able to get access to the man’s full speech as I was very curious to find out exactly what he said that infuriated so many people. What is unambiguous though is that Abbas has been labelled as anti-Semite and even as a Holocaust-denier by the Israeli Prime Minister. From what I can see, Abbas did question why the Jewish people have experienced such a terrible history of persecution, and he seemed to suggest that it was because of the roles they played in society rather than because of their religion as such.
I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t know if there wasn’t more to what Mr Abbas said. Even so, I found it hard to see that what was presented in the reports was racist, let along that it involved denial of the Holocaust!
I won’t comment further on that as there may be more to the story that I’ve found in my research thus far. Even so, I do see accusations like this thrown about all the time (most obviously online) where people are accused of being anti-Semitic or of being Holocaust-deniers simply because they express concern for welfare of the Palestinian people, and we do need to keep these things separate, for one of the great dangers in this climate is that this attempt to broaden the definition of anti-Semitism will inadvertently lead to a growth in real racism!
Racism is a vile curse and a hindrance to human-rights efforts in whatever form it comes, and I personally believe that there is a real danger of a growth in genuine anti-Semitism, and I believe that at the heart of the problem is the Israeli government itself.
Mr Netanyahu continues to enact policies of violence towards Palestinian people, and he does so claiming that his government acts on behalf of all Jewish people everywhere in the world! Most of us are smart enough to realise that no politician and no government can ever speak or act on behalf of a whole race of people. Even so, as less aware people buy into the lie, the danger is that the violence of the Netanyahu government will indeed be seen as Jewish violence, rather than what it is – the oppressive actions of a corrupt government.
There is no shortage of Jews around the world who cry ‘not in my name’ in response to these actions of the Israeli government. Indeed, in my only-ever trip to Israel in 2002, where I was at the centre of a riot and was almost killed, one of my most enduring memories was standing besides so many young Jewish men and women who were joining us in protest against their government. And while I had the privilege of going home after my ‘Holy Land experience’ those young Jews and Jewesses continued on in the work, enduring humiliation and violence for the sake of their beliefs.
According to Chicago-based Rabbi Brant Rosen, in an article entitled “Anti-Zionism Isn’t a ‘Form of Discrimination’ and It’s Not anti-Semitism“ there are indeed a growing number of Jews around the world who identify themselves as anti-Zionists and are motivated “by values of equality and human rights for all human beings.” We need to keep this in mind, as we need to fight the propaganda that wants to conflate the political and religious and racial dimensions of the Israel/Palestine tragedy.
We must resist all temptations fall prey to racism, just as we must resist the temptation to stay quiet for fear of being accused of racism, for we must speak out!
There are powerful forces trying to shut down discussion about the crimes of the Israeli government, but we must speak out. For the sake of the unarmed protestors who were shot and killed in Gaza, we must speak out. For the sake of all the Palestinian children in Israeli gaols, we must speak out. For the sake of all those in the West Bank who have had their homes destroyed, and for the sake of all those around the world who wear the keys of their ancestral homes around their necks, waiting for their right of return, we must speak out. For the sake of justice and for the sake of God we must speak out.
As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of he good people.” We must not remain silent. We must speak out – viva Palestina! God bless Palestine!
First delivered at UWS Bankstown Campus, May 5th, 2018
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