We welcome the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism

We embrace the Jerusalem Declaration on antisemitism as an authoritative statement to bring to our work.

“Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).”

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism was published today, with the definition above. Its signatories are 200 eminent scholars of Jewish and interreligious studies, law and government, arts and philosophy. They laboured for more than a year to write a document that can authoritatively guide us away from the morass of the IHRA working definition (IHRA).  By enabling broad, often baseless accusations of antisemitism, the IHRA has been used to chill political speech and harm many reputations. 

Read the full text of the Jerusalem Declaration, and see the list of signatories.  Their combined standing cannot be dismissed. Read some additional articles and resources here.

The Jerusalem Declaration is built upon the foundations of free political speech and the need to combat racial hatred including antisemitism.  Rather than imagining that antisemitism will benefit from isolation, the Declaration’s preamble writes that “while antisemitism has certain distinctive features, the fight against it is inseparable from the overall fight against all forms of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and gender discrimination.”

Following its preamble and its one-line definition, the Jerusalem Declaration describes the speech that is and is not prima facie antisemitic, addressing the “widely-felt need for clarity on the limits of legitimate political speech and action concerning Zionism, Israel, and Palestine.” 

Its examples counter the IHRA’s overreach.  Recall that the IHRA was only a working document, widely critiqued for its contradictions and vagueness.  It was not written with any special religious or academic imprimateur.  Its primary author has protested that it was never intended for the governmental uses to which it has been put. Notwithstanding that, it been wielded in an absolute, intimidating way.  It has been used to render Palestinian stories and anti-occupation protest preemptively antisemitic. Absurdly, in the name of protecting Jews, masses of dissenting Jews have been accused of Jew-hatred. 

Even here in New Zealand, where the IHRA definition has no official standing, we have become accustomed to hearing routine and unaccountable  accusations of antisemitism.  In addition to reputational harm, the name-calling has distracted us from issues – even as it has made those issues harder and more dangerous to discuss.

Something is clearly and profoundly wrong.  Antisemitism is real but not every disagreement, not every protest is rooted in the hatred of Jews.  We are losing the language to distinguish between debate and racism.

The Jerusalem Declaration intervenes, just when we need an emergency brake.  It represents an extraordinary, senior scholarly agreement.  It is purpose-built, intended to be easily understood and used.  It enables constructive speech and action.

The Declaration’s gravitas is especially valuable to Aotearoa-NZ right now. Efforts have been made to convince our governing authorities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.  IHRA advocates have urged our government to believe that the IHRA definition is needed to protect our Jewish community.  Now there is a alternative definition to place on the table.  Let’s put them side by side and ask which is protecting what.

The Hebrew name of Alternative Jewish Voices is Sh’ma Koleinu – hear our voice.  When they are lobbied ‘on behalf of the Jewish community,’ government needs to realize how diverse and how divided the Jewish community is on the matter of Zionism.  We reject it as an ethnic nationalism.  Government needs to hear our voice, and the voices of others.

We are grateful for the Jerusalem Declaration’s authoritative, concrete intervention.  We will use it.  We urge others to read it, to reflect on their own speech and continue speaking firmly and constructively against racism and injustice.

We want to set realistic expectations.  The Jerusalem Declaration is not an activist manifesto or a silver bullet.  It is not – indeed, no document could be – the end of the debate.  It can end an ugly moment, and return us all to the work at hand:  ending the injustice in Palestine / Israel, and combating all forms of racism with allies. 

The critique written by the Palestinian BDS National Committee supports the Jerusalem Declaration, but includes some worthy reservations.  There will also be others for whom it also does not go far enough.

We acknowledge those limitations. Still we think that the Declaration’s considered, mainstream language is broadly beneficial. It is a document that we can use now.  Our advocacy has suffered from the lack of such an instrument in the past.  We have been able to refuse the IHRA, but until now, we had nothing better to bring to the table.

We embrace the Jerusalem Declaration as a powerful instrument to bring to our unfinished work for justice in Palestine / Israel, and our work against racism.

Passover, the Jewish festival of liberation begins this weekend. It reminds us that we will only be free when we are all free.  What good is my freedom when so many around me are still in chains?

Alternative Jewish Voices of New Zealand

An Evening at Parliament

A big thanks to Justice for Palestine for inviting Alternative Jewish Voices to share the platform last night at Parliament. Green MP Golriz Ghahraman hosted the event, protesting the detention of Palestinian children. Ten MPs from Green and Labour (including both Green Co-Leaders) attended.

Shortly after, we were thrilled to read NZ Young Labour’s strong support for the Palestine Briefing that we and Justice for Palestine jointly submitted to the then-incoming Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

So, as Young Labour suggests, add your support! You can read the brief here. Here is our additional statement on the value of recognising the State of Palestine, and normalizing the equal standing of the Palestinian people:

What would change, if we recognised the State of Palestine?

138 of the UN’s 193 member states recognise the State of Palestine, consisting of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.  Whatever diplomatic outcome they envision, 138 states believe that a solution starts by recognising the parties involved.  Recognition implies that, like powerful and powerless parties to a lawsuit, Israel and Palestine approach the court with equal rights.

Aotearoa-NZ is in the minority.  We do not recognise Palestine. We let the power disparities stand.  We do nothing to acknowledge Palestinians’ national voice, as if that mythical court case should somehow decide about them, without them.

Recognition of Palestine would re-frame the issue.

As an occupied people subsisting under a violent military regime, Palestinians have a right to our legal protection.  As the State of Palestine, they have a land and they own its natural resources. Recognition unifies the State of Palestine, which the occupation seeks to divide by policy and force.   The unified State of Palestine lives under a single occupation, although it is differently enacted within Israel, in the areas where Israel is the occupying power, and with respect to refugees elsewhere. 

As citizens of a state in a world where states remain the defining political actors, Palestinians would have access to the institutions, agreements, interactions, enforcement and responsibilities that we all take for granted. They would have access to the websites that we use, to the banking transactions and passports and mail and myriad other systems that are enabled by state agreements.  They would map their own geographies, rather than being administered by military documents that aim to chart the loss of their land and their autonomy.  When settlers occupy, or when Israel openly vows to take, additional land from the State of Palestine; the illegality of those acts would be clear – none of this ‘annexation’ obfuscation. 

These benefits are so normal that we really must re-phrase our question:  why has Aotearoa-NZ withheld all this from Palestinians for so long?  Why should a child be denied all that normalcy, by virtue of being born Palestinian?

Rights and law and diplomatic acts like recognition will not end the occupation. Rather, they describe the internationally agreed minimum standards by which we all live.  When they are upheld, they restore Palestinian lives to those minimum standards.  That sets the stage for two national groups to negotiate in a forum of international law.  We will not be the negotiators, but it is our responsibility to establish fair conditions for that political project.  We uphold the laws.  We drag this occupation into a forum of law for a resolution based on justice, not brute power.

Why do Palestinians live so far beneath those minimum standards now?  The law of occupation, the Geneva Conventions, all those UN resolutions – where are they?  It’s mystifying, we agree.  The tools are all waiting for us to pick them up and use them.  We call on our Prime Minister to uphold the laws and conventions that NZ governments have signed in all of our names – and to bring the State of Palestine fully into the same systems by means of recognition.

We are impatient, because the passage of time is not neutral.  It never was, and Covid has doubled the urgency.  Palestinian living standards, their environment and life prospects are deteriorating sharply: doing nothing is not a cost-free alternative.    

We call on our government to recognise Palestine now.

Withholding recognition is a willful refusal to see a nation of five million people, to insist on their equality and inclusion.  The occupation is exclusive, denying Palestinianhood, downgrading and ultimately erasing it.  Recognising Palestine is an inclusive act.  Recognition affirms Palestinians’ full right to exist in a space that will need to be shared.  We in NZ know that states may colonise blindly, but they must learn to see and listen and speak new languages.  Recognition sees the indigenous people of Palestine. That is the right side of history for NZ to take.

Recognition will also help to correct a conversation that has become toxic.

Too often, protest is merely anti-occupation or merely anti-Zionist; a protest against Israel’s failure to observe law and uphold Palestinians’ rights.  Recognition reframes the issue by centering Palestinians, and normalising their full, equal human and political rights. With that established as our baseline, we can protest the deficit, the rights withheld.  Recognition will strengthen Palestinians’ platform to speak and act on their own aspirations.

Too often, this occupation has been about exceptionalism (Israeli and Trumpian).  We spend too much time on the justifications of the powerful.  Recognition rejects all that.  It brings the occupation back into unexceptional focus: one state occupies the land of another.  Occupation is a military act, governed and limited by law. 

We should be working to invoke that law. As a first step, let us join the majority, the 138 members of the UN who recognise the State of Palestine.

Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,

Marilyn Garson                          Sarah Cole

Fred Albert                                  Prue Hyman

Jeremy Rose                               Sue Berman

Denzelle Marcovicci                Justine Sachs

David Weinstein

The politics of name-calling, or, down the rabbit hole we go

The politics of name-calling, or, down the rabbit hole we go.

  • A statement by Jewish Voice for Peace is recirculated by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, protesting Israel’s refusal to vaccinate Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.  The New Zealand Jewish Council calls Ghahraman an antisemite. 
  • The International Criminal Court will investigate potential war crimes by Israeli and Palestinian armed forces.  Israeli PM Netanyahu calls that ‘the essence of antisemitism,’ and the Israel Institute calls it “a kangaroo court only against Israel.” 
  • The NZ Superfund declines to invest in five Israeli banks which fund illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.  Nicola Willis, National List MP says this is “potentially aligning New Zealand with an antisemitic movement.”  The Israel Institute circulates the report and tweets, “NZ embraces BDS.”

What else must you believe, if you consider these acts antisemitic?

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP’s) position signifies the profound disagreement within the Jewish community.  There is no single Jewish stance on Israel or its occupation.  JVP staunchly opposes Israel’s policy, but disagreement is not hatred. To find JVP antisemitic, you need to believe that they act out of hatred for Jewishness because that is what antisemitism means.  You would need to believe that JVP’s 200,000+ supporters, members of their 70+ chapters, their rabbinic, academic and artists’ councils; and New Zealand Jews like ourselves all want Palestinians to be vaccinated because we hate Jews.  

In fact, JVP’s (and our) position is anchored in the human right to health and the occupier’s obligation to proactively intervene when an occupied community is threatened by an epidemic. The Geneva Conventions and International Human Rights Law codify those rights and obligations.  The UN Special Rapporteurs have detailed why Israel’s vaccination policy is “discriminatory and unlawful.”

To find all this antisemtic, you must believe that we are all motivated by hatred rather than by the universal principles of equity and protection.  All of us.

The International Criminal Court will investigate potential war crimes committed by armed forces in Palestine / Israel, particularly in the Gaza Strip since 2014.  All armed forces will be held to the universal standard of the laws of war.  Those laws represent nations’ aspiration to minimize the harm that war inflicts upon civilians and combatants.  The laws refer to people, to flesh and blood human beings – not to religions.  The laws make armed force accountable.  They don’t mention Jewishness or treat Israel differently from anyone else.

To find that antisemitic, you need to find a hatred of Jews concealed within the universal laws and principles of civilian protection.

NZ Superfund has excluded five Israeli banks which fund Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.  Their decision document explains:

“The UN General Assembly has consistently reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) … In resolution 2334 (co-sponsored by New Zealand), the UN Security Council reaffirmed that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the OPT had no legal validity and constituted a flagrant violation under international law.”

The Superfund’s decision was governed by its Responsible Investment Framework, which is in turn “guided by the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment, domestic and international law and policy positions of the New Zealand Government.” (links to both documents are here

The UN Special Rapporteur has explained the obligations of states to uphold the law.

To find the Superfund’s act of compliance antisemitic, you must believe that the Geneva Conventions, every NZ and other government that has voted for UN resolutions for half a century, have been motivated by a hatred of Jews rather than by a legal objection to taking other people’s land by military force.

Much of the world is thus implicated in these three acts. Do you believe that we all act out of hatred for Jewishness – really, all of us?  None of us acts because we consider Palestinian rights, health, dignity, aspirations to be equal to our own?

This politics by name-calling has dug itself into one deep rabbit hole. 

Two things happen when criticism of Israel is instantly condemned as antisemitism.  They happen so fast that we need to stop and take note.

First, name-calling distracts us from the real issues of occupation and injustice.  Suddenly, we’re talking only about Israel.  Palestinian voices have been pre-emptively silenced. Of course Palestinians protest, because they experience the violence of occupation.  However, when protest is rendered necessarily antisemitic, Palestinian protest can be ignored.  We reject that.  Palestinians have their own stories, and Palestinian rights are not about Israel.

Second, when anti-Zionism is rendered antisemitic, Zionism is elevated into the protected sphere of our Jewish beliefs.  Suddenly, Jewish nationalism has appropriated our Jewish religion.  We reject that, because occupation is not our religion.  Suddenly it sounds as if hatred is the only basis for anyone’s opposition to Zionism, and we reject that.  We are not Zionists because we value human lives equally, and that principle is a part of the Jewishness that we love.

We need anchors to understand current events, not slogans.  Each of the actions above is anchored in enduring principles: law, human rights and dignity, the accountability of power.  Those ideals secure us all because they respond universally to racism (including antisemitism) and oppression. 

By contrast, politics by name-calling divides us, and seeds suspicion between us. It blurs political disagreement into imagined racial hatred. Social media companies have become obscenely rich by separating us into echo chambers where we don’t need to hear anything that challenges our confirmation bias.

As long as we are conducting politics in this cheap way, we are also giving the real hatred a free pass.  When someone who claims to be liberal expresses antisemitism, of course we need to call them out. They have betrayed their stated principles.  Far more systematically and far more dangerously, none of this name-calling touches the far right, where antisemitism is an organising principle. 

We urge our neighbours and our government not to be enlisted in this politics of name-calling.  It is not antisemitic – it is not anti-anyone – to protest violations of international law and uphold our equal human rights. 

Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,

Marilyn Garson        Prue Hyman

Fred Albert Diego Lewin

Jeremy Rose

Ilan Blumberg

David Weinstein

Sue Berman