Dear Statistics NZ, we are not Israeli / Jewish

Once there was a Jewish religion. Then code 51117 made us all officially Israeli.

Before Nakba Day, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) advised the Wellington City Council that ‘the Israeli Ambassador or other Israeli groups’ might be discomfited by the sight of Palestinian colours. We wondered which Israeli groups were being given a veto over Wellingtonians’ peaceful use of public space. Tongue in cheek, we wrote, ‘can it possibly be that MFAT doesn’t know the difference between the NZ Jewish community and an Israeli pressure group?’

We set out to educate MFAT about the difference between ‘Israeli’ and ‘Jewish’, only to find that NZ’s official, current ethnic statistical classifications do not distinguish them at all!

Our search turned up only one result, only one way to be Jewish in Aotearoa:

Every ethnic category that we might write on a form (and there are far more labels than this website recognises) has been coded as a subset of category 51117, Israeli / Jewish.

The New Zealand Department of Statistics’ ethnic coding is not the norm. The UK’s Office for National Statistics shows a category ‘CT0753 – Ethnic group: Jewish’ with no reference to Israel. Nor does Australia’s ethnic ‘Jewish’ category #42 mention Israel.

The Australian and UK statisticians understand that Israel is a state. ‘Israeli’ names a citizenship, not an ethnicity. Only Israel itself uses the Jewish religion as a nationality. Naturally, we wonder who might have advised our government statisticians to adopt this outlier Israeli practice in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The same coding is presumably used throughout our official statistics. Coding is an abstract act of organising, but it quickly creates real-world consequences by defining the categories of subsequent descriptions. Here, for example, the same categories describe Wellington’s ethnic composition.

We object to this coding, because Israeli / Jewish names us inaccurately. We further – and at high volume – reject the category’s political consequences. Israeli / Jewish confines our global religion to a territory, and it enlists New Zealand Jews in Israel’s project of ethnic nationalism.

  1. Israeli / Jewish is inaccurate

Our ethnic statistics subsume all non-Israeli Jews into Israeli citizenship, and classify Palestinians as an ethnic group unrelated to their land. That also neatly encapsulates Israel’s nationalist project.

The merging of ethnic Jewishness with Israeli citizenship flatly contradicts the New Zealand Department of Statistics’ own definition of ethnicity:  ‘Ethnicity is a measure of cultural affiliation. It is not a measure of race, ancestry, nationality, or citizenship.’

There is no reason to include a classification of Israeli citizens in our ethnic statistics. We don’t record Canadians or Australians as a distinct ethnic group. Having created an Israeli category, it is an additional wrong to populate that category only with Jews.

The people who reside in the territory governed by Israel are roughly half non-Jewish Palestinians.  State citizenship is an administrative matter in a world governed by states. Residency constitutes citizenship, not religion or any other identitarian qualifier that can be used to create tiers of rights. This is why the NZ Department of Statistics rightly separates ethnicity from citizenship in its words, although not in its action.

It’s especially important to treat Israeli citizenship according to the global norms of citizenship. To do otherwise would be complicit in the erasure of all those non-Jews who are presently disenfranchised and discriminated against.

Conversely, the majority of the world’s Jews are not Israeli. Depending on one’s definition of a Jew (and oy, please don’t ask us about the who-is-a-Jew thing!), there are 15 – 20 million Jews worldwide. Around 46% of us are Israeli. Our government has just relocated the rest of us, and coded away two thousand years of Jewish diasporism.

Aotearoa’s 7000 Jews are 0.035% of the Jewish population of our world. We do not wish to statistically vanish into Israel’s manufactured demographic majority, thank you.

We are not Israeli / Jewish. We are ethnically Jewish citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand

2. What kind of Jew refuses to be Israeli / Jewish? Many.

ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist protest, Toronto 2017. Photo: Marilyn Garson

Israel was established on the premise that Israeli citizenship would be attached to Jewish identity, not to residency as citizenship is constituted in pluralist states like Aotearoa. That founding imaginary privileged a global Jewish population who could belong at will, at the direct expense of a local indigenous population who would never be allowed to belong to their land. That bit of ethnic privilege was coded into Israel’s Law of Return. It grants rights to every Jew and ignores every Palestinian’s UN-mandated Right of Return. Israel’s 2018 Nation-State Law hardened and extended ethnically differentiated rights. It legislated that self-determination belonged only to Jews in Israel, not to Israel’s citizens.

You can see the ethnic imaginary at work in the Jewish Council’s recent survey of antisemitism in Aotearoa. Respondents had to agree that Jews are indigenous to Palestine, or they would be labeled antisemitic. The Jewish Council’s survey did not allow any pluralist belonging that might better reflect the thousands of years of settlement and fluid peoplehood in Palestine / Israel.

Israel’s regime has now calcified into one which the global human rights community calls apartheid.  We are deeply offended that our own government should require us to be associated with apartheid each time we name our Jewish religion on a census or any other official form. We are Jews and we are not occupiers.

The former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset or parliament, Avraham Burg, is seeking to break the same Israeli / Jewish coding. Born into a prominent family of religious scholars, Burg takes the ethics of Judiasm to heart. He is suing to be released from his Israeli / Jewish nationality because it violates his religious principles to be identified with the oppression of non-Jews. His statement to the court rejects Israel’s definition as a state ‘belonging to the Jewish nation, and [he writes] that he is no longer willing for his “nationality” to be listed as “Jewish” in the Interior Ministry’s records.’

We are not willing to be recorded as Israeli / Jewish either.  This coding has deep epistemological and ethical implications. It politicises our wondrous, ancient religion and identifies us with the ongoing harm that Israel is doing to our fellow Semites, the Palestinians.

We have asked Minister David Clark to change the codes. We are Jewish New Zealanders and we want our religion back.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand (not Israel)

Official Information Act casts doubt on the NZ Jewish Council’s survey

Under the Official Information Act, the Ministry of Ethnic Communities released the NZ Jewish Council’s (NZJC) funding application, correspondence and related documents to Alternative Jewish Voices. Much of the file is missing the letters ‘i’ and ‘l.’ We have filled those letters in when we quote documents for clarity.

It is misleading to state that this survey had ‘widespread Jewish community support,’ as the NZJC funding application claims.

The survey used an Israel-centered definition of antisemitism, which has no official standing in this country. Its findings are discontinuous with any analysis based on our official definition. The survey departs radically from the 2017 UK study on which it claims to be based. Its findings are better compared with the findings of a 2019 exercise in Canada.

Antisemitism in Aotearoa has been on unprecedented display this year by the White supremacist Right, with worrisome encroachment into our political discourse. The NZJC survey does not reflect our real and present concerns. It seeks to incite a moral panic about anti-Zionism, rather than racism, of which antisemitism is one form.

Nothing in the correspondence with the Ministry of Ethnic Communities indicates that any of these issues were recognised, queried or knowingly approved. The Ministry’s grant must not be understood as an endorsement.

  1. Less than meets the eye

The NZ Jewish Council funding application claims, ‘This is a project with widespread Jewish community support, across multiple organisations.’

The document file includes supporting statements from organisations that are related and not primarily Jewish. See our endnote below[i] for details. Most of the survey’s supporters share Zionism, Evangelical Christianity and very conservative politics. If the Ministry of Ethnic Communities believed that the Jewish community broadly requested a survey centred on attitudes about Israel, it was mistaken or misled.  There is no breadth of Jewish voices in the document at all, nor is there any reflection of Jewish experience.

The NZ Jewish Council is, itself, unelected and unrepresentative. The Wellington Jewish Council members acknowledged in 2021 that they lack a mandate to speak for the community.

Notwithstanding this, the Ministry of Ethnic Communities recommended that a $15,000 grant be given to the NZ Jewish Council, adding, ‘We have good connection with this group.’ Perhaps familiarity replaced due diligence.

The days when a Jewish-Evangelical-Zionist-conservative coalition can claim to speak for the Jewish community are long gone. Around the world, Jewish communities are deeply divided by Jewish nationalism (Zionism). In the course of its 2020 finding that it is not antisemitic to boycott, the Harvard Law Review reiterated the reason for our divide: for growing numbers of Jews, Israel’s project is not our Judaism.

[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.

The Ministry of Ethnic Communities issued its grant without hearing from the ethnic community. The NZ Jewish Council went on to apply a very particular definition.

2. What is the IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism?

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA-WD) was intended to be a research tool. It sought to make the judgement of antisemitism more consistent by plotting comments on a spectrum. An issue which was part of healthy political discussion at one end of the spectrum, might shade into racial hostility and finally become antisemitic at the other end of the spectrum. The research tool was initiated between 2003-5. It was not completed, but the work reappeared in an absolutist form more than a decade later.

The resurrected IHRA-WD opens with a brief definition of antisemitism. Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (University of London) commented:

Here is the definition’s key passage: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.” This is bewilderingly imprecise.

Eleven examples follow, seven of which are statements about Israel rather than Jewishness. Not a single one of the examples was ever formally adopted by the IHRA’s own decision-making body. The formative notion of a spectrum of thought had been discarded. Instead the eleven statements had been rendered antisemitic in their entirety. Kenneth Stern publically objected,

I drafted the [IHRA] definition of antisemitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it.

The stitched-together IHRA-WD has chiefly been used to call Israel’s critics antisemitic. See our our resource page for condemnation of the IHRA-WD’s history of use, including by a former Lord Justice of Appeal and Judge ad hoc of the European Court of Human Rights; Harvard Law School; Brian Klug of Oxford’s philosophy faculty, and others.

The NZ Jewish Council’s use of the IHRA-WD is consistent with this ideological history. Its use is additionally improper because the IHRA-WD definition of antisemitism has no official standing in Aotearoa New Zealand – none, kore, zip, zero. We have a definition of racism and this is not it.

Nothing in the Ministry of Ethnic Communities file indicates that ministry staff queried the NZ Jewish Council’s method.

3. Discerning the impact of the IHRA-WD

The NZ Jewish Council’s funding application cites the methodology of a 2017 report, Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel.

The UK survey asked a number of paired questions about Jews and then about Israel to help discern whether ‘Israel’ had become a proxy for ‘Jews’ in a respondent’s mind or vice versa:

The interests of Jews in Britain are very different from the interests of the rest of the population … The interests of Israelis are at odds with the interests of the rest of the world.

Jews have too much power in Britain … Israel has too much control over global affairs.

          The survey also included Israel-specific statements, some of which are replicated in the NZ survey. Several of those Israel-specific statements have been published as factual – not antisemitic – findings of the world’s leading human rights organisations.

The UK responses were categorised as ‘strongly agree’ or ‘tend to agree,’ in order to facilitate analysis.

On pgs 33-38, the UK survey asks whether anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments are linked at a population level. The broadest and weakest linkage occurred among ‘a much larger number of people who believe a small number of negative ideas about Jews, but who may not be consciously hostile or prejudiced towards them.’ That group was estimated to include 30% of the population.

The NZ Jewish Council’s method found that ‘63% of New Zealanders surveyed agree with at least one antisemitic view’(p vii, emphasis in the original) – twice as many!

According to the NZJC funding submission, a 2014 survey of antisemitism in New Zealand had found that 14% of New Zealanders held antisemitic views. Can antisemitism have increased 450% in eight years, to a level more than double its prevalence in the UK?

In 2019, Canadians were told a similarly jarring story. Both the Canadian B’nai Brith and the American Anti-Defamation League conducted audits of antisemitic incidents in 2019. The American audit applied more limited criteria to the relation between attitudes toward Israel and Jews. Their method was

careful not to conflate general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with antisemitism. However, Israel-related harassment of groups or individuals may be included when the harassment incorporates establised anti-Jewish references, acusations and / or conspiracy theories, or when they demonize American Jews for their support of Israel. ‘ (p 4, italics in the original)

The Canadian B’nai Brith audit eschewed such qualifications. It cast a wider net and claimed ‘that an equal number of antisemitic incidents has taken place in Canada [and the US] despite the fact that the US has a population 9 times that of Canada and has 17 times as many Jews.’ (Statistics and quote in this section are taken from The Use and Misuse of Antisemitism Statistics in Canada, by Sheryl Nestel PhD for Independent Jewish Voices.)

 Population in 2019Jewish Population in 2019Antisemitic Incidents
Canada37,590,000392,0002207
United States328,300,0006,970,0002107

The use of the IHRA-WD definition foreseeably, greatly inflates the findings of antisemitism because it confuses Israel with Jewishness.

The NZJC’s funding application calls its survey ‘especially [important] as the Jewish Community Security Group (CSG) has recorded a record number of incidents in 2020.’ Unsurprisingly, the CSG uses precisely this ideological definition to count incidents of ‘antisemitism,’ which it then shares with the NZ Police, security agencies and the Embassy of Israel.

Members of Alternative Jewish Voices have been calling on the Community Security Group to act with transparency for a year and a half. We do not know how many among the Palestinian, non-Zionist Jewish, human rights and antiracism communities have wrongly been labeled as Jew-haters in their present, opaque process.

Nothing in the file suggests that the Ministry of Ethnic Communities queried the survey’s method, or the credibility of its findings.

4. The Project of the NZ Jewish Council Survey

How, and against whom, has the NZ Jewish Council directed its survey?

The NZ Jewish Council categorised responses in the most absolute and normative way possible. They define every disagreement with their stance as being antisemitic, easy peasy.


Four of the survey’s seven Israel-related questions require respondents to grant Israel an exception to global norms of human rights and democracy – or be labelled antisemitic.

  • Five million Palestinians cannot vote for the government which exercises authority over their lives. Are respondents willing to create an Israel-exception to this universal democratic norm by calling Israel democratic?
  • Our government and many other individuals, corporations and states boycott Russian goods and products to protest its gross violations of international law. Are survey respondents willing to create an exception by agreeing with the NZJC that the same non-violent economic protest against companies complicit in the occupation of Palestine can only be evidence of a hatred of Jews?

By setting its terms in this way, the NZ Jewish Council has placed Jewishness in direct opposition to some of our bedrock values.

Not only has the NZ Jewish Council called two-thirds of us antisemitic, they have interspersed positive human rights and democratic values with genuinely hateful statements in a document partially funded by a government ministry. That sets an insidious precedent.

Authoritative legal opinions and studies by the world’s leading human rights organisations have established that three of these statements are accurate and are not antisemitic. For example, these groups and distinguished individuals call Israel an apartheid – and therefore not a democratic – state.

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; Michael Lynk, (former) UN Special Rapporteur.

Do we really need to cite legal proof that five million Palestinians are entitled to vote for the government that exercises authority over their lives, or that belief in democracy is not anti-Jewish? Can everyone who aspires to a world of law and human equality be antisemitic?

The New Zealand Jewish Council has constructed a survey which says we are.

The NZJC’s discussion of White privilege (p 36) makes it clear that the designers have very little idea of what they are measuring. It is also clear that they are unhappy with the concepts of intersectionality and Critical Race Theory, but perhaps they should have tried to understand the concept before including a statement about it in a survey. As it stands, the survey statement is somewhat racist in its implied assumption that all Jews must be White (since it should be obvious that only White Jews could have White privilege).

White privilege contends that people who present as White are treated differently and more favourably than those of colour – such as Māori – in many situations. It implies that perceptions of colour are more formative of privilege than ethnicity, which can only be guessed at visually. The issue is especially important in former colonial contexts where the colonisers constructed governmental systems that reflect their world view to the detriment of other groups. This short video includes a straightforward explanation of White privilege.

It is simply ludicrous to call all of the people who understand issues of colonisation and structures of advantage antisemitic.

On page 37, the survey discusses indigeneity. This is a very disingenuous statement, especially in the New Zealand context, and it shows the particular political preferences of those constructing the survey.

In New Zealand, we think of Māori as clearly being the indigenous people of New Zealand, since they were here hundreds of years before other groups arrived. However, in Israel/Palestine, which has been under human habitation for thousands of years, the question of indigeneity isn’t straightforward and it is more likely that multiple groups can claim to be indigenous. The construction and parameters of peoplehood are also fluid and contested.

The survey designers seem to want to transfer the singularity of the New Zealand situation (only Māori are indigenous to New Zealand) to the situation in Palestine/Israel. The only response that they will not consider antisemitic is a response that calls Jews the only indigenous group. This is the Zionist mantra that the land of Palestine/Israel can only belong to the Jewish people. The survey interprets an ideological preference as fact.

The Ministry of Ethnic Communities file contains no expressions of concern with the contents or findings of the study it helped to fund.

5. What are the implications of the NZ Jewish Council’s survey?

The NZ Jewish Council has thrown both public and private money into an ideological project at a moment when a genuine study of antisemitism would have been so helpful. They have advanced the IHRA-WD project by stealth, producing a document which confuses Israel with Jewishness, and confuses antisemitism with the principles of democracy and human rights.

This survey places the Jewish community at odds with the New Zealand human rights community, antiracism activists, Palestinians and non- or anti-Zionist Jews, and anyone who espouses democracy. Because human rights and antiracist actors extend their concern to Palestinians, the NZ Jewish Council has vilified them. It may serve Israel’s supporters to confuse disagreement with racism, but it does not serve the Jewish community of Aotearoa. This survey seeds unjustified suspicion and fear among us, at a moment when the Jewish community needs to link arms with all those who work against racism.

It beggars belief that any NZ survey of racism could fail to prioritise White supremacist threats in 2022. That the Ministry of Ethnic Communities would fund such an oversight after all the efforts of the Muslim community to draw attention to those threats, after the enquiries into our nation’s security biases, during this shocking season of White supremacist racism, is inexcusable.

If the Ministry of Ethnic Communities had heard from our ethnic community, we are confident this would not have happened.

The NZJC survey must not go unchallenged, nor should its findings be used as a benchmark or policy driver. Such usage would misdirect public resources and concern. To take the survey at face value would encourage a moral panic over anti-Zionism rather than racism, of which antisemitism is one longstanding form. We and many others do oppose Zionism for reasons that have nothing to do with race. We object because Zionism denies the fundamental democratic and human rights of Palestinians.

We who challenge this survey are not standing in opposition to the Jewish community, because this survey cannot be called a Jewish community undertaking. We are taking issue with an ideological project of New Zealand’s dedicated Zionist lobby.

By Fred Albert and Marilyn Garson, For Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa NZ

[i] Postscript:

‘This is a project with widespread Jewish community support, across multiple organisations.’ (NZ Jewish Council funding submission)

Who supported this survey?

Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation

  • Majority Christian, overlaps with the Israel Institute whose directors are also not majority Jewish

Co-founder and trustee Perry Trotter – see http://www.lcje-na.org/perry-trotter (married to co-founder and trustee Sheree Trotter)

  • Director of the Israel Institute
  • Former officer of Ariel Ministries, Presenter at the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Compiles resources for those seeking to share a Christian Messianic message with Jews. See messiah.com.es

Ashley Church

  • Director of the Israel Institute
  • Founder / officer of Free Speech Union, Taxpayers’ Union, Auckland Property Investors Association

Paul Moon, Trustee,

  • Also submitted a separate letter of support on behalf of the Auckland University of Technology History Department
  • Acknowledged as a speaker and contributor to the work of the Friends of Israel Association in that organisation’s annual reports.

New Zealand Friends of Israel Association Inc. NZ Charities Registration Number CC 43880.

  • See the writings of President Tony Kan and others, for their consistent hostility to any non-Zionist expression of Jewishness.

NZ Jewish Community Security Group (CSG)

  • Membership overlaps with the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute
  • We repeat our objections to the CSG’s use of the IHRA-WD to compile and share information with the NZ Police and security agencies, and the Embassy of Israel.

NZ Jewish Council

  • Unelected and not representative. In 2021 the Wellington Jewish Council acknowledged its lack of community mandate and its members agreed not to speak on behalf of the Jewish community.
  • Overlaps with Israel Institute, Community Security Group

Also signing, Deborah Hart, Chair Holocaust Centre of New Zealand and former
Chairperson of the Wellington Jewish Community Centre.

‘widespread Jewish community support’ ??

When we meet …

by Tameem Shaltoni and Marilyn Garson

Tameem Shaltoni and I (Marilyn Garson) had exchanged some comments on social media. We met for the first time in May, when I drove past his town. We brought our coffees to a park and sat down with all the history, emotion and potential that Palestinians and Jews bring. Our meetings are vital and charged, and we decided to get to know each other in writing. We speak only for ourselves. Indeed, this is about what happens when we meet as individuals who wish to do more than be polite.

Tameem: I have to admit, this is the first time I engage in a face to face dialogue about Palestine with a Jew.
The expulsion of my family from Palestine to clear the way for Jewish settlers in the shadows of WWII severed our lives and traumatised us. Based on where I grew up and what my family went through, it was unthinkable to co-exist with Jews, let alone co-resist! But here we are, I’m glad that we are talking and letting our different worlds clash.

Marilyn: So am I. Jeff Halper writes about ‘bridging conversations’ in his book, Decolonizing Israel – Liberating Palestine. We have to find ways to be ourselves – to bring our identities into a conversation that imagines liberation from our real, historical starting points.  Our questions and the trust we build are the bridges that we need to cross.

Tameem: As a Palestinian, Palestine to me is embodied in the holy city of Al-Quds (Jerusalem), and Al-Aqsa mosque is the centre of my universe. Al-Aqsa mosque is the only name I’ve ever known that place as. As a Jew, Marilyn, what does Al-Quds (Jerusalem) mean to you?

Marilyn: Jerusalem is an integral part of my religious history and imagination. It holds great emotion for me. A Muslim or a Christian can say the same thing, but you cannot go the place we both love. I once drove to Jerusalem with a Gazan colleague.  I have visited over the course of nearly half a century, while she who lives two hours away was seeing the Al-Aqsa mosque for the first time in her life.

Jerusalem will always be plural for me: ours. I believe that the layers of Jerusalem need to be loved and shared by all of us. A society that loves religions – plural – and is governed by and for all of its citizens would be a far more Jewish place than this apartheid Israel.

I think that some Jews fear your love for Al-Quds. They fear that you must want to turn the tables and exclude or harm Jews as you have been harmed. If there were to emerge a decent and dignified society between the river and the sea in which Palestinians play a full role, can you imagine sharing the center of your universe?

Tameem: Yes absolutely. Exclusionary thinking is a big part of why we are here now, and two wrongs don’t make it right. I respect the different layers of perspectives of Jerusalem, and I believe in a permanent solution based on inclusiveness and right to belief(s).

As part of a reconciliation process, we also need to have honest conversations based on evidence and historical facts to understand those different layers and work through reasonable solutions to share and co-exist, and when I say ‘honest’, I mean honest to ourselves first and to each other. At the moment, the atmosphere is too politically loaded to have meaningful conversations about the shape of a permanent solution, and I believe there’s a lot of disinformation going around. This brings me to my next question.

What does ‘being indigenous’ mean to you and what part of the world -if any- do you think you indigenous of?

Marilyn: I’m not indigenous to Palestine, nor to the Eastern European places from which my grandparents fled, nor Canada (where I was born) nor Aotearoa where I live as tauiwi. I’m a citizen, and I live my Jewish life where I live. I am loving the recent flowering of Diasporist Judaism like mine.

Because I am neither Palestinian nor Israeli, the shape of solutions is not my brief. Foreigners don’t draw the maps. We build the pressure that requires change.

Tameem: The history of Jews’ persecution for thousands of years is horrific, let alone the Holocaust which is the worst crime I’ve ever heard of. What I often hear from Israelis and Jews in particular is; my family’s expulsion from Palestine is a natural outcome of the Holocaust and Jews’ persecution, which to me is absurd of course. How do you relate between the Holocaust and Jewish persecution, and Palestine and the Palestinians?

Marilyn: I think Israel was the product of an intentional settler-colonial project, an overwhelming moment of genocide and shock, and a whole array of visions. There was Jewish support and Jewish opposition but the fact is that my antecedents took the homes of yours. That act lies unsettled since the birth of Israel. That act did not resolve the horror of the Holocaust, and it initiated a second national trauma. Your family’s expulsion was neither natural nor acceptable. Until we acknowledge and transform that, until the cycle of trauma and response is broken, the Palestinian Nakba will be a living event in the present tense.

Working with child survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide, with Afghan women and in Gaza, I have known people who lived their lives trapped within their trauma, and people who transcended it. I have known child soldiers – profoundly victimised – who learned with difficulty not to beat their own children as adults. It did not diminish their childhood horror for the adult to break the cycle from victim to abuser. Everyone needs to do that.

Tameem: Let’s talk about antisemitism. By the way, not many people know that as a Palestinian Arab, I am Semite too!  I’m being told that demanding justice for what happened to my family and my people is antisemitic. Do you feel threatened by my Palestinian identity and activism?

Marilyn: I was raised to deny your existence. I have had to confront and learn from that – learn to meet my cousins.  I think we both need to distinguish our identities from others who use the same labels differently. Occupation is not my Judaism but it is the Judaism of some. Palestinian resistance is not about Jewishness but it can be a pretext for some people who hate Jews. As I understand it, Palestinian resistance is an assertion of our full, equal human and political rights. That is no threat to me; on the contrary, that’s the world in which I wish to live.

But to be honest, I do feel uncertain as we begin. I love being a Jew while generations of your family have been shaped and harmed by a system built for Jewish privilege. You – not I – have the emotional initiative when we meet: you tell me what occupation means. You have a right to fierce emotions, and I need to really hear you if I am to support your work to obtain justice.

Tameem: I tried to express how I feel, and I had thought the words failed me. Now I think what I have been trying to describe is numbness, and it makes sense no one can define nothingness. Let me instead tell you my story.

As my family’s tragic story goes, an army of Jewish nationalists came to our town, committed a massacre, then went from door to door and got every single human, men, women, children, and elderly to leave town on foot with no food, water, or anything, threw us in a refugees camp and never let us return to our home, then confiscated our house, our land, our workplace, and all of our belongings, and let Jewish settlers from Europe and Middle East move into our house and assumed our previous life right in front of our eyes, and if that was not enough, they tried to erase our identity, deny our history and our plight, and called us a terrorist anti-semite if we dare to fight back.

Because it is an exclusive Jewish nationalist program that devastated me and my people in the name of the world Jewry and you, I believe the world Jewry has a collective moral responsibility to speak up and drive a change from within in parallel to our Palestinian own struggle for justice, dignity, liberty and self-determination. A change from within the Jewish structures could be the best outcome and least violent for the ongoing struggle, and to be clear, a moral responsibility doesn’t mean that all Jews are accountable for the actions of Israeli governments.

To me, a Jewish self-determination right is a matter for the Jewish people, and my only problem with the current manifestation of it in the form of Zionism and colonisation of Palestine is it came on the expense of me and Palestinians.

I just have no respect whatsoever for anyone who is involved in this horrendous crime, from the perpetrators to the Jewish settlers who don’t have a problem in living our stolen lives.

Marilyn: I am sorry for the history that has left you numb. I really hope that you find sources of joy, and company, to lift some of that numbness.

You’ve said something else that we must unpack – “in the name of.”  It would be misleading and embittering to take those claims at face value. White supremacists justify racist violence by saying that they act in the name of all White people, who are under threat from people of colour and others. They make that claim, but any reasonable White person will disavow it in disgust.

When Zionist settler colonialism is justified in the name of all Jews, you should hear their claim the same way. They have no such mandate. Every Jew who says “not in my name” is repeating that those claims are illegitimate.

Everyone who believes in our equal humanity has an obligation to help generate the pressure for change, but I agree with you that Jews have an additional obligation because they are using our names. We cannot be bystanders, because that’s a passive permission for the project to continue.

Tameem: I admire you Marilyn for choosing not to take advantage of the privilege which Israel’s apartheid gave you based on your Jewish identity.

Marilyn: And I admire you for telling every difficult story. Wherever I have worked, war imposed crazy consequences on people because of their identities: these ones were made refugees, those enslaved, dispossessed, marked for death.  Personal stories remind us that the big Nakba consists of terrible individual choices and ongoing consequences like those of your family. Those are the histories by which you earn your Right of Return.

There is no substitute for your voice. We hear you as a human being and we know this isn’t right. We enlist in the work of setting it right because we aspire to live in a world of justice.

Tameem: I can’t find peace and co-exist with what happened without establishing justice. Justice is one of the key principles in a civilised society, without justice laws don’t have any meaning, and life falls apart. Justice is the first step in ‘getting along’ and co-existence. Without justice, co-existence is a bitter capitulation that’s waiting to explode. Remember treaty of Versailles.

Marilyn: Well said: there is no getting along without justice. Neither of our peoples is going to be free of this until we are both free.

And what you think when people want to get along without really challenging the nature of co-existence?

Tameem: It’s the difference between getting real, and lying to ourselves. When we don’t seek justice, we are accepting injustice as a normal tenet of society. Justice is probably the only principle that everyone, no matter where they are on the political spectrum, believes that it must be served with no limit at all the times and in all the places and situations. Unless someone can convince me why I shouldn’t seek justice, then the only real help a friend can offer is to seek justice.

At the end, we can say so much only in the time we’ve got today, and I had enough sandfly bites anyway! so it’s the time to say ka kite ano.

June 9, 2022

Tameem Shaltoni and Marilyn Garson