When you read the reports, look for the people

Three recent publications analyze Israel’s regime as Jewish Supremacy, Apartheid, and Settler Colonialism

Analysis is important because it is the context for the lives and deaths of Palestinians.  They should live on every page.  And every time you read about ‘apartheid in the West Bank,’ say under your breath ‘and the Gaza Strip.’  Although the West Bank is more visible, Tareq Baconi calls  Gaza ”the very embodiment of Israel’s settler colonialism… the confinement of Palestinians to urban enclaves entirely surrounded by Israel or Israeli-controlled territory.”  

I lived in Gaza 2011 – 2015.  There, the walls become the horizon and concrete delineates the earth.  I loathe those choking walls.  I don’t give a rat’s ass who built them. That they were built for Jewish benefit confers a responsibility which I accept, but it does not make this a story about us.  I intend to dismantle those walls, with my pen and with my fingernails if need be, because two million people are trying to breathe behind all that concrete.  They are the point of the story.

Behind those walls, even the air and the dust have been made dangerous.  Concentrations of heavy metals are accumulating in Gaza’s environment and in the bodies of its people, as a result of the weapons that the IDF has chosen to use in repeated bombardments.  Gazans are now born with more birth defects and non-communicable diseases. They develop more cancers, and they die an average of nine years younger than Israelis.  This is what is means to devalue life.

Gazans know they are being slowly poisoned, but where should they go? I remember visiting the UN Al Fakhoura school during the 2014 war.  Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN allege the illegal use of white phosphorous shells in that schoolyard in 2009.  Imagine the chemical burns, and then imagine bringing your children back to the same place to shelter from the next bombardment – the very place that could not keep you safe last time.

That is what it means to read that Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping [Gazans] in a territory it continues to actively destroy.”  It means having no safe place to bear and protect your children.

And each time I read that Israelis in illegal West Bank settlements enjoy the rights assigned by Israel’s civil law while Palestinians live under military law, I think back to August 2, 2014. 

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was nearly a month old and a quarter of a million people had been shoehorned into 90 UNRWA shelter-schools (soon there would be 293,000).  The houses of 92,000 Palestinians had been obliterated in Shuja’iyya, and many of the homeless had been squeezed into Jabalia’s already bursting shelter-schools.  In the pre-dawn of July 30, the Jabalia Elementary A&B Girls School was itself shelled.  Around 3000 Palestinians had taken shelter in the building, which was clearly flagged and legally protected as a United Nations installation. The shells killed 16 people while they slept or prepared for prayers, and injured 99 more.

On August 2, I went with Bob Turner, then-Gaza director of UNRWA and my employer, to meet with the head of UNRWA’s Jabalia shelter operations.  We drove through a cratered landscape, everything the colour of concrete dust.  Our colleague was an older man, slumped and unsteady from exhaustion.  Day and night, he had made himself present and visible, mediated local politics and intervened in every clash, harranged me for supplies, listened and resolved disputes among Jabalia’s 80,000 shelter residents.  His hands, his jowls, his voice all trembled from lack of sleep – but he was in his element. He could not stop the bombs but he could personally impose order over chaos on his patch of ground. He could maintain civility in under-supplied shelters that held as many as 100 people per classroom.

When we left, I fretted to Bob, “He’s going to have a heart attack.  Any minute.”

Bob agreed and added with admiration, “You want to try to stop him?  He’s unbelievable – he is holding that together.”

His name is Khalil el-Halabi and he held that together.  He survived Israel’s military bombardment, only to encounter Israel’s military courts.

In June 2016, Khalil’s son Mohammed was arrested by Israelis.  They charged Mohammed with diverting millions of dollars of donor funds to Hamas, although neither his employer, their auditor nor the Australian government could find any financial irregularities to answer for.  Journalists have investigated the absurdity of this case of not-missing money.  Mohammed has not been told the details or the identity of his accuser – although he has been brought from Israeli jails into Israeli courts 154 times over a period of four and a half years.  He remains in detention, his children remain without their father, and Khalil and his wife remain without their son. If anyone in Israel has evidence that a crime has taken place – let alone evidence that Mohammed committed it – they have not made that evidence known. 

“Mr el-Halabi’s arrest, interrogation and trial is not worthy of a democratic state,” say the UN Special Rapporteurs. “What is happening to Mr. el-Halabi bears no relation to the trial standards we expect from democracies, and is part of a pattern where Israel uses secret evidence to indefinitely detain hundreds of Palestinians.”

Mohammed el-Halabi’s 155th court appearance is scheduled for January 31, 2021.

Khalil behind a blockade wall, and Mohammed behind bars – this is what apartheid injustice has meant to the el-Halabi family.  Their experience is egregious, but it is hardly unique.

Mohammed is detained alongside the Palestinians that Israel holds in ‘administrative detention’, which is imprisonment without charge.  According to Defense for Children International, 500 – 700 Palestinian children pass through Israeli military detention each year, mostly for throwing stones.  Then there are Palestinians criminalized by joining any of over 400 illegal political organisations; a list which includes every major Palestinian political party.

This is what it means to control lives and award rights and privileges ethnically.  It has gone on so intergenerationally long that ‘occupation’ no longer names it, because occupation is a temporary status. 

Further, the end of occupation would not constitute the transformation that Israel / Palestine needs.  That calls for a decolonizing vision like the one state project, which imagines a de-racialized community of Palestinians and Israelis.

The series of recent publications calls us to action, to generate the pressure for transformational change.  So read them, but peer through their analysis to see the lives that are being lived today, on every line of every page.

Marilyn Garson

Alternative Jewish Voices has arrived (fashionably late) on social media.  Please visit. 

Facebook:  Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices

Twitter:  Alternative Jewish Voices NZ – @JewishNZ

Vaccination without discrimination

Vaccination without Discrimination

Our post last week called out the spurious charges of antisemitism used by NZ Jewish institutions to deflect attention from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.  They were deflecting attention from Israel’s illegal policy of not providing Covid-19 vaccinations to the Palestinian people who live in the territory it occupies. 

We called on the Israel Institute of New Zealand and the New Zealand Jewish Council to cease labelling speakers for Palestinian rights as antisemites.  Our human equality is not antisemitic.  It isn’t anti-anyone. 

In response, some readers replied that they thought the NZ Jewish Council represents all NZ Jews.

Indeed, the NZ Jewish Council records its mission thus: “The Council is the representative organisation of New Zealand Jewry. Its objective is to promote the interests, welfare and wellbeing of New Zealand Jewry.” 

However, calling the organisation a the representative is different from being representative in practice.

As we understand it, NZ Jewish Council members are chosen by a number of regional Jewish councils.  The NZ Jewish Council members seem to be appointed through a series of indirect institutional processes.  Members of Alternative Jewish Voices who belong to synagogues, some for many years, have never had any sort of direct say in who should be on the Council.  Jews who are not members of a synagogue don’t appear to have any voice in these processes at all.  The NZ Jewish Council does not attempt to elicit, include or represent the spectrum of views within the Jewish community.

We came together as a collective to demonstrate that the Jewish community is diverse in every sense, including our politics.  The ardent Zionist voices of the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute do not represent the whole community of New Zealand Jews. 

As with any other diverse community, more voices need to be heard. 

Having condemned the name-calling, it remains to address the urgent issue of Covid-19 vaccinations for Palestinians living in the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967.  Newshub reported on the name-calling, as if a social media scrap could stand in for the larger issues.  It cannot.

Israel’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been touted internationally as a success.  It is essential to situate that claim within the framework of law and ethics.  But why – why does it always need that context?

When we write, we ground the occupation in law and human rights as well as morality, for two reasons.  First, the law and the overwhelming preponderance of international institutions agree on the framing of this issue (Donald Trump’s administration being the major outlier).  Occupation happens within a legal framework, not a difference of opinions.  We want the media to incorporate that factual context. 

Second, the laws of occupation and human rights are ours to uphold or abandon.  Law and justice make the rights of Palestinian people everyone’s business, and we call once more on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Manuta to make it New Zealand’s business.

Why do we say that NZ has a particular responsibility to Palestinians? The situations of occupier and occupied people are not equivalent.  They have different obligations and protections.  The violence and the losses of this occupation are grossly one-sided.  The law recognizes this imbalance when it protects the occupied people, but the law relies on others to bring it to life and impose penalties.  If we New Zealanders wish to live in a world of laws, a world more aspirational than that of Donald Trump and his beneficiary Netanyahu, we need to take up our responsibilities. 

To understand the obligations of states toward occupier and occupied people, see Part III of this report on “Accountability, Impunity and the Responsibility of the International Community,” written by UN Special Rapporteur and associate law professor, S Michael Lynk.

States’ responsibilities are prominent in the media right now, because Israel is vaccinating Jewish citizens and some Palestinians within its borders at a great rate.  In the occupied West Bank, Israel is vaccinating its Jewish settlers in illegal settlements, but not the Palestinians on whose land those settlements have been built. 

Israel is not providing vaccine to the blockaded Gaza Strip, although Gaza’s suffering is most acute and its options are disastrously limited. Behind concrete walls, 9373 people are crushed into each square kilometer.  2.05 million people are facing Covid without reliable supplies of clean water or electricity – or vaccines.  More than 47,500 cases of Covid have overwhelmed Gaza’s medical services.   Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping them in a territory it continues to actively destroy.”  The Al Shabaka Policy Network writes this week that Gaza as “confronting total collapse … arguably in a state of post-collapse.” 

What is Israel’s responsibility?  UN human rights experts said this week:

“According to the World Health Organisation, more than 160,000 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territory have tested positive for the coronavirus … with more than 1,700 deaths…. [A]s the occupying power, Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention, ‘to the fullest extent of the means available to it’, to maintain health services in the occupied territory… [T]he occupying power is required under the Convention to facilitate relief schemes ‘by all means at its disposal’.  Even if relief consignments, including ‘medical supplies’ are provided by others, Article 60 states that such consignments ‘shall in no way relieve the occupying power of any of its responsibilities’…

“The right to health is also a fundamental human rights issue…. International human rights law… applies in full to the occupied Palestinian territory… The denial of an equal access to health care, such as on the basis of ethnicity or race, is discriminatory and unlawful…. [T]he Oslo Accords cannot derogate from [the law’s] broad protections.  The ultimate responsibility for health services remains with the occupying power until the occupation has fully and finally ended.”

Israel’s responsibility is unconditional and non-negotiable.  And the morality?  Ask yourself how we would regard a policy to vaccinate and care for Pakeha New Zealanders.  It would be repugnant, and to us, it is just as repulsive to know that an occupied people, an ethnic group, are being left susceptible to contagion, illness and death. 

Palestinian people are not beyond our reach.  Their rights are our responsibility.

We call on the media to report this story more appropriately and more prominently.  When the experience of occupation is grounded in human rights, settler-colonial wrongs, and the equal value of human lives we recognise it as being our business.  Those experiences resonate with us and link Palestine to our own work on Aotearoa’s colonial legacies and contemporary racism. 

If those are issues that you care about, then Palestine is your issue, too.

Jacinda Ardern, Nanaia Mahuta, where are you?

Ask them at  j.ardern@ministers.govt.nz and n.mahuta@ministers.govt.nz

Signed by Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson        Prue Hyman

Fred Albert David Weinstein

Ilan Blumberg Tami Louisson

Sue Berman Sarah Cole

Jeremy Rose Lynn Jenner

What is the Israel Institute, and for whom do they speak?

What is the Israel Institute, and for whom do they speak?

Yesterday, the Israel Institute of New Zealand got press coverage for calling Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman antisemitic.  Ms Gharaman was noting Israel’s refusal to vaccinate the Palestinians under its control. 

In the guise of security for the Jewish community, a director of the Israel Institute has circulated reports that call NZ’s support of the UN agency for Palestine refugees ‘NZ-funded antisemitism.’

The same director has written to members of Alternative Jewish Voices, condemning our ‘alignment’ with ‘exposed antisemites’.  We did, happily, add our names to a petition that was also signed by Cardinal Dew, an Archbishop, the Islamic Women’s Association, and a number of others. 

Are they all – MFAT’s advisors to the government of NZ, the Cardinal, the Archbishop, the Islamic Women’s Association – antisemitic?

We are calling out the Israel Institute.  This has gone too far.

The Israel Institute calls itself an independent think-tank. Its three co-directors are David Cumin, Perry Trotter and Ashley Church.  It is not a registered charity, or charitable trust, or incorporated society.  It is not tax exempt.  We found no accountability documentation. 

The Israel Institute represents and accounts to no one but themselves – much like Sh’ma Koleinu.  We speak only for ourselves.  The Israel Institute is not the community.  It is one voice, very strongly promoting views aligned with the Israeli government.  The Israel Institute seems determined to drain the term ‘antisemitism’ of any meaning by hurling it at anyone who opposes Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

The Harvard Law Review noted this kind of action in the course of its finding that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is not antisemitic:

“A primary tool of Israeli advocacy organizations has long been public vilification of Palestinian rights supporters as anti-Semitic, a charge that carries a powerful chilling effect… [T]here are certainly respectable reasons for disfavoring complicity in Israel’s human rights record.  Moreover, the status of being Jewish is not ‘inextricably tied’ to such conduct or complicity – and to suggest otherwise would in fact ring anti-Semitic.  Zionism does not reflect the views of all Jewish people.”

Exactly.  We are non-Zionist Jews.

Let us focus first on the Israel Institute’s insult to Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman.  She circulated a tweet written by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).  The tweet calls on Israel to end its policy of not vaccinating the Palestinians under its occupation.  The Israel Institute finds this JVP message antisemitic, but –

  • From the Jewish Voice for Peace website: “JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.”  Are they all antisemitic?
  • The Israel Institute objects to the word ‘apartheid’, although the London Review of Books did not hesitate to title an article on its website this week:  Nathan Thrall on Israel’s Apartheid.  Apartheid is a legal category of crime, not a religious matter.  It describes an ethnic power arrangement, which repeated legal and human rights assessments have found to be prevailing in Israel.  When lawyers use the term, it is surely available to the rest of us.
  • On Israel’s behalf, the Israel Institute disavows responsibility for Palestinians, but the Geneva Conventions state –
    • “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”
  • The Israeli human rights organisation Gisha summarises Israel’s ‘unconditional’ responsibilities as follows:
  •  
    • Israel is obligated to protect the health and safety of all people living under its control, including by ensuring that the vaccine is available in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This will necessarily require close cooperation with Palestinian authorities and the international community, but their involvement does not absolve Israel from its ultimate responsibility toward Palestinians living under occupation. Where needed, Israel must contribute to covering the cost of the vaccine and its distribution, unconditionally.
  • Rabbis for Human Rights is presently collecting signatures for a petition calling on Israel to meet its moral and legal obligations to vaccinate Gazan people.  As of this morning, Gaza has reported over 45,000 cases of Covid, behind the concrete walls of an illegal Israeli blockade.

So, can they all be antisemitic?  The rabbis, the editors, the universities, the lawyers, the Israeli human rights specialists – all of them? 

We think they share a different condition.  They disagree with the Israel Institute.  However, antisemitism is a pathological hatred of Jews and Jewishness.  It does not mean, ‘people who disagree with the Israel Institute.’

Vigorous disagreement is integral to the world of political ideas.  Brian Klug, senior research fellow and member of the faculty of philosophy at Oxford University recently wrote,

“Excessive criticism is just a fact of political life… There is no requirement in human rights ethics or law that, in order to merit protection, political speech has to be measured or reasonable or balanced.  This point is fundamental to the principle of freedom of expression…. Being contentious and being antisemitic are not at all the same.  The line between contentious and non-contentious speech is different from the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech… It is vital these these two lines are clearly distinguished.”

(italics in the original)

The actions of the Israel Institute concern us for several reasons. 

First, they are harming people’s reputations and trying to prevent the very mention of Palestinians’ human and political rights. 

Second, this weaponisation of the term antisemitism is misdirecting and stoking fear within the Jewish community.  We, the Jewish community, are being told in the guise of security that we are endangered by people who disagree with a hardline Zionist view of the Israel’s nationalist project of occupation.  We are being told that even polite disagreement with Zionism signifies a threat to us as Jews.  History does not bear this out.  Disagreement may be used by hateful people, but disagreement is not per se hateful.

We will expand on this in a post to follow.

Our third and final question is for the media.  When will you begin to elicit other Jewish views?  When will you cease writing these stories without context?  The Israel Institute’s latest insult did not happen in a vacuum.  We propose a more accurate lead for the story:

The law of occupation is clear in the Geneva Conventions and elsewhere.  The United Nations’ Security Council and General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, the International Committees of the Red Cross, human rights and legal NGOs all agree that the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are occupied Palestinian territories, wherein International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation apply in full.  Those laws oblige Israel to vaccinate the people of occupied Palestine.

Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman agrees.  In the face of all that law and authority, the Israel Institute (again) defaults to calling people names.

We, members and friends of Alternative Jewish Voices call on the Israel Institute to apologise for their name calling and stop insulting everyone who speaks up for equal human rights – including the rights of every Palestinian.  The equality of human beings is a foundational Jewish belief, just as it is integral to other religions and to the principles of many secular people.  Let us return to the real meaning of antisemitism – a hatred of Jews and Jewishness – place it alongside other hatreds, and take up the work of anti-racism together.

Stop portraying Zionism as Jewishness.  The occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza are parts of a nationalist military project, subject to International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation. 

Occupation is not our Judaism.

Signed by Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson Tamar Louisson Prue Hyman

Fred Albert Ilan Blumberg

Sue Berman Jeremy Rose

David Weinstein Lynn Jenner

Note:

Please see our page of international resources on the confusion between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

Israel’s propaganda machine again uses Anti-Semitism accusation to distract from justified criticism of Israeli government actions

Israel’s propaganda machine again uses Anti-Semitism accusation to distract from justified criticism of Israeli government actions

Newshub is reporting that Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman is being accused of anti-Semitism by the Israel Institute of NZ because she has shared an Instagram post which criticises Israel for ‘medical apartheid’ because while rolling out the COVID vaccine to Israeli citizens and  right wing settlers on the occupied West Bank, Israel is making no effort to share the vaccine with the 5 million Palestineans who fall under Israeli occupation.

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2021/01/green-mp-golriz-ghahraman-accused-of-anti-semitism-over-instagram-post.html

This is an example of why I joined and want to be part of the Sh’ma Koleinu collective – to provide an alternative Jewish voice.  I cannot stand by and allow this criticism to be construed as the voice of New Zealand Jewry. It is clearly not representing me or the other collective members of Sh’ma Koleinu / Alternative Jewish Voices. The Israel Institute of NZ is a propaganda front for the extremist right wing Israeli government, which is again using the false accusation of anti-Semitism to attack someone criticising Israeli policy, instead of dealing with the substance of the argument. 

Let’s be clear – it is completely accurate that the Israeli government is excluding Palestinians from distribution of the COVID vaccine.  Therefore it is accurate to accuse Israel of ‘medical apartheid’.  Golriz Ghahraman is simply putting a tick next to a factual description of Israeli Government actions.

AJV has been raising the issue of the Israeli Government’s use of the term anti-semitism as a way of attacking those who raise legitimate and rational criticism of their actions. This is another clear example of the NZ propaganda arm of Israel rushing in to attack an elected NZ Member of Parliament for stating a truth that Palestinians are being treated differently than Israeli citizens. Isn’t that what apartheid means?