What is the local project of Zionism in Aotearoa?

Global human rights leaders: ‘Apartheid.’ NZ Jewish Council: ‘Antisemitism!’

Human rights lawyers including these now call Israel’s regime apartheid, which is a crime against humanity: Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, in association with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network; B’Tselem; Michael Sfard and Yesh Din; UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk

The apparent project of Aotearoa’s overlapping Zionist institutions is fraught with contradictions. We find their project more coherent when we regard it as being an activity of NZ’s most conservative, neoliberal actors.

Discussions of Zionism usually focus on the sensitive, exceptional license claimed by Jewish Israelis to maintain their occupation of Palestine. However, it is wrong to regard Zionism strictly as a Jewish undertaking in New Zealand today. One of its harshest proponents, the Israel Institute, is a company whose directors are Jewish, Evangelical Christian, and  secular neoliberal.

The internal contradictions of the NZ Zionist partnership are glaring. Liberal and Progressive Jews allow themselves to be represented by leaders of the neoliberal Taxpayers’ and Free Speech Unions. Zionist Jews partner with Evangelical Christians, some of whom support the Jewish return to Palestine in order to hasten Armageddon and the conversion or death of said Jews. The New Zealand Jewish Council (NZJC), one of whose members traffics in Nazi memes, speaks for the descendants of Holocaust survivors.

Right now, while we are all reeling from an unprecedented display of racist disinformation, the Jewish Council has chosen to publish a survey which stresses attitudes to Israel rather than our pressing local reality. Either these folks are tin-eared, or we have not understood their aims well by focusing on their apparent objectives.

This whole fraught assemblage becomes more coherent when we turn our focus to Aotearoa and ask, what are they doing here and now?

Start with the IHRA

Any explanation must begin with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA), the sweeping definition which renders support for Palestinian rights antisemitic. The IHRA elevates the political ideology of Zionism into the protected space of our religion, Judaism, in order to shield Israel from its political critics. The IHRA has no official standing in Aotearoa, none, but our Zionist institutions use it anyway – and it makes all the difference by inverting the object of our attention.

When we begin any study by assuming Palestinians’ full personhood, equal human and political rights, Israel’s occupation is shown to be apartheid. That’s the conclusion of rights- and law-based research. However, the IHRA normalises Israel’s occupation regime as our starting point. When the protection of Israel’s status quo is the starting point, Palestinian identity and rights can be miscast as threats to the legitimacy of that status quo.

Proponents of IHRA-style Zionism project racism onto those who oppose the harm being done to Palestinians. We see IHRA-Zionism politicising Aotearoa Jewishness and making our institutions intolerant. We see it in the endless accusations against public figures and we have seen it play out through intimidation within Jewish institutions and at public events.

Because NZ’s Zionist institutions are a coalition of the Right, they focus on undermining dissent from the Left, rather than on the real and dangerous rise of White supremacy and disinformation. This focus may serve the interests of Israel but it does not advance the safety or the good standing of the Jewish community of Aotearoa. On the contrary, it targets and alienates our antiracist allies because their concern extends to the rights of Palestinians. Who benefits from dividing us – certainly not the Jewish community in whose name this targeting takes place.

Sleight of hand, in two steps

The NZ Zionist coalition has written a selective and intentional framing of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and they have imported that framing to create an atmosphere of domestic threat. That’s a two-step process.

First, the selective framing of Israel’s occupation. Jewish and Christian Zionists rallied together in support of Israel’s 2021 bombardment of Gaza, but we do not hear public promotion of Israel as the site of Armageddon. We hear of Israel exclusively as being endangered and requiring endless, exceptional military license.

As Jews, many of us were raised to admire Israel’s ‘Jewish power,’ and to believe that it would be wielded wisely.  But now we are told to admire Israel as a hegemon-victim, a dangerous fusion of power and entitlement. Former UN General-Secretary Ban Ki Moon and others are urging us to revoke Israel’s license and confront its actions.

This selective framing is called securitisation. Securitisation casts an issue as a threat to the security of the actors in power. It seeks not popularity but fear, compliance, and temporary exceptional powers (which tend not to be so temporary in action). Securitisation shapes decisions and directs resources.

A securitised view of Gaza, for example, portrays Gazan Palestinians as being so inherently dangerous to the Occupying Power as to justify the blockade and deprivation of their rights. It will spend endless funds on containment. Any view of Gaza that is grounded in human equality, rights, and international law regards the blockade as illegitimate collective punishment.

When that securitised rationale is brought home from Israel to Aotearoa, it leads to the chilling, anti-democratic results that we see around us. The IHRA definition of antisemitism allows the Zionist coalition to classify objections to the occupation as antisemitism posing a danger here in Aotearoa. It escalates rights-based political challenge into racial threat and urges action on that threat. The IHRA definition, we repeat, has no official standing in New Zealand.

The Jewish Council’s survey (mostly) of attitudes to Israel’s occupation

The coalition of Zionist institutions and their methods are moving our Jewish institutions far to the intolerant Right. This is the context of the Jewish Council’s survey of antisemitism, which was partly funded by the Ministry for Ethnic Communities. We do need a serious study of racism, disinformation and the place of antisemitism within it – but this document does not study that. It seeks out public concern about Israel’s occupation of Palestine and calls that the problem.

The Jewish Council surveyed responses to eighteen statements, half of which are statements about Israel rather than Jews. Real antisemitism is lost in what follows.

Respondents who replied in accordance with the findings of the world’s leading human rights organisations were classed as antisemites – literally. The survey table contains no column for ‘agree,’ only a column for ‘antisemitic.’ If respondents did not consider Israel democratic because the government of Israel wields power over millions of West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians who cannot vote in Israeli elections, the respondents were called antisemitic. A Palestinian who asserted her indigeneity and equal rights would be called ‘antisemitic’ on at least four counts. Her very identity and her rights have been rendered racist and therefore dangerous to New Zealand’s Jews.

More sleight of hand: If you don’t call apartheid democracy, you’re a racist. Your conscience, commonsense and the world’s human rights leaders tell you that Israel’s occupation regime is not democratic. While you’re grappling with your choice to be dishonest or be called ‘racist,’ you may fail to notice that Palestinians have been erased. You have been placed in a bind that is all about Israel.

One Jewish student tweeted, “Makes me furious to my bones that the NZ Jewish Council are implying that me and many other Jews hold anti-semitic views simply because we are critical of Israel.”

We need to keep repeating that it is not antisemitic to respect democracy and value each other equally. We, like our neighbours, are protected by those values.

This survey does nothing to keep Jews safe or advance our understanding of the rise of real racism around us. It leads to no meaningful policy.

Actions like this alienate a widening swathe of our politically engaged neighbours. Are we to believe that Amnesty International’s 80,000 NZ supporters (of eight million worldwide) all hate Jews and Jewishness?  Or, they are the merely latest targets of a neoliberal coalition that benefits politically from sowing division?

Aotearoa’s political Zionist campaign is better understood as a local neoliberal project operating in the protected space of our Jewish religion. Liberal and Progressive members of the Jewish community should be asking whether the gains of a joint project with the Taxpayers’ and Free Speech Unions still outweigh the local anti-democratic damage.  Is this really where we fit?

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa-NZ