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.

7 thoughts on “What is the Israel Institute, and for whom do they speak?”

  1. Thanks Marilyn et al,
    These distinctions are necessary to assign correct meanings to words and responsibility for complicit actions.

    Jewish, Zionism, and Semitic have multiple meanings so use of them needs assigning the one that applies to its use in particular circumstances and contexts.

    However the need to defend identification with them when their use is abused or too generalized needs more than philosophy – or a careful dictionary.

    Let’s get to why they are knee-jerk defended, conflated with other identities or overgeneralised. That requires social psychology – that is, identities grounded in trauma, grievance history, mythological histories & history deficits – as well as philosophical distinctions? Why Israel is in denial about its apartheid policies, laws, everyday practices, logic and responsibility avoidance.

    Like

  2. Israel should provide vaccines to Gaza residents. Ignoring this duty is a criminal act and the international community should require Israel to do it. Shame.

    Like

  3. 9 people calling a group “non-representative” seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. And it was the New Zealand Jewish Council who called Golriz antisemitic. The Council does represent Jews in NZ, doesn’t it? And in the media report of the allegation the council Spokesperson explained why the accusation was made. It wasn’t just ‘name calling’. you would do Better to engage with the substance of the issue rather than do what you accuse the others of doing.

    Like

    1. If you look at the Israel Institute’s reporting of this story, you’ll see that both groups use the term.

      This misuse of antisemitism is, emphatically, a matter of substance. This week alone, ten Progressive Jewish US groups have warned against the expansive IHRA definition of antisemitism which “is being wrongly used against those who ‘oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.’” You can read about the suppression of speech and criticism this week in Canada, in the UK, you can read the IHRA definition author’s plea to stop using antisemitism as a substitute for real politics on campus, and so on.

      This is not reducible to ‘we say / the Israel Institute says.’ ‘We’ bring to this matter the law of occupation, human rights law, UN resolutions representing a preponderance of states, the findings of international courts, the International Committees of the Red Cross, legal and human rights NGOs.

      And we would like the media to bring that same context to its reporting.

      Like

    2. NZ Jewish Council members are appointed by the various regional Jewish Councils who then ‘elect’ others to do the Council work. There isn’t any sort of ‘popular’ mandate behind their presuming to speak for all Jews in New Zealand.

      Like

  4. Thank you for that clarification. How are members of AJV chosen and are there more than the 9 who signed the letter? And have you had good responses from media?

    Like

    1. We’re a collective, self-selecting and with a circle of friends and interlocutors, some of whom may opt in to any given statement. We’re not a membership organisation or a rival institution. To repeat what we write on the homepage, we are here to demonstrate the actual breadth of the community.
      The misuse of antisemitism allegations to deter advocacy for Palestinian rights is an international issue, so we are pleased to say that this has been by far our most widely-viewed post to date. We’re hoping that the media learns to present this issue more appropriately and more fully.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s