Meir Kahane and us: what is Kahanism and what shall we do?

Meir Kahane photo Ilan Ossendryver/Israel Sun Ltd., Judaica Collection, Harvard Library. Itamar Ben Gvir, All Israel News

Israel’s election will bring Itamar Ben Gvir’s Kahanist Religious Zionism into coalition. What does that mean?

Shaul Magid’s excellent book,  Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical reminds us that while Kahane’s legacy is most evident in Israel, key elements of Kahanism have also entered the Zionist-Jewish mainstream right here at home.

As a New York rabbi, Meir Kahane (born 1932, assassinated 1990) dug the rabbit hole for a Jewish militia identity. He established the Jewish Defense League (JDL): an armed, rightwing Jewish vigilante force. On May 9, 1969 its members massed at a Reform synagogue, bringing pipes and chains to prevent an invited Black speaker from discussing reparations for slavery. Kahane had no interest in Jewish accountability or the oppression of others.

We Jews in our 60s and 70s recall the early JDL—muscular fellows with fists on their black T-shirts, soliciting Jewish university students. They called themselves the New Jews, and they hawked an in-yer-face identification that broke away from our parents’ post-Holocaust timidity. The JDL pride in Jewish fighting power prefigured today’s militia culture. JDL leaders would be indicted for arms smuggling and possession of explosives.

Beyond the black Tshirts, Kahanism rejected the liberal democracy that permitted our Diaspora Jewish lives. He loved the Jewish collective in theory but disparaged most of us as weak, our Jewish power unactualised. Magid’s book is rich with Kahane’s insults for religious or secular Jews who did not locate our pride or our identities in ethnic violence.

Meir Kahane moved to Israel, adapting his American-style racism to Israel’s demographics. He was withering of anyone who called Israel a Jewish democracy: he called them apologists for Jews’ absolute, Gd-given entitlement to the land. Kahane’s thought travelled from Judaism as a religion through Zionism and into a messianic religio-nationalism. He did not want a Jewish state like other states. He advocated the blunt-force grabbing of a divinely-granted state, unlike any other state and immune to the laws of states.

For him, Jewish violence was an act of redemption, not defense—rather like the roving bands of settlers in the West Bank. Or Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli mass murderer of Muslims in a sacred place (Itamar Ben Gvir displayed Goldstein poster until it became politically expedient to take it down). Kahane’s party was so extreme that Israel’s parliament drafted a law to ban him and them from politics. He is the only person to have been convicted for ‘inciting racism and endangering security.’

Forty years later, Meir Kahane’s ideological successor, Itamar Ben Gvir, has been elected. The platform of his Jewish Strength party  (within the Religious Zionism grouping) includes illegal acts like annexing the occupied territories and expelling Palestinian ‘infiltrators and land thieves.’ He will shift Israel’s security stance ‘from the defensive to the offensive position, from the policy of “containment of the enemy” to their eradication and destruction.’

Present-day Religious Zionism threatens both Palestinians and the Jewish community. On the first Shabbat after the election, Israel’s Chief Rabbi joined prospective ultra-Orthodox and far-Right coalition members demanding the power to change the legal definition of a Jew. He used his sermon to say,‘“This is an Orthodox state, not a Reform one,” accusing Reform Judaism of “causing assimilation abroad.”’

On purely self-interested grounds, the silence of Aotearoa’s Progressive Jewish community is astonishing.

We need to face the implications of Kahanism here as well as there. Kahanist Religious Zionism has given up on any prospect of shared work for social improvement. It offers a bleak, isolating response to our uncertain time. But uncertainty has always been key to the appeal of the far Right. We will defend our own, they promise—and we will define our own with increasing ideological purity.

We already see Zionism’s assault on Jewish pluralism in Aotearoa. Their only criterion for Jewish identity is Zionism. Half of the members of AJV are religiously observant (regularly attending or leading services, study groups, community organisations) and half identify through Jewish culture or history. Yet NZ Zionist Federation President Rob Berg claims that our ‘sole identity as Jews seems to be the hate for Israel and Zionism.’ Stuff senior business writer Miriam Bell prints and reprints this useful lie unchallenged in NZ and Australia.

Meir Kahane would revel in the closing of the Jewish communal mind right here, and in the radicalising rejection of human rights in favour of Jewish tribal license. The IHRA definition of antisemitism has become an identity weapon; used in practice both to protect Israel, and to narrow Jewishness into good Zionist Jews and invalid others.

So, Kahanism has entered Israel’s government, and it is accelerating the New Zealand Jewish community’s slide from religion into identity politics. What to do?

Itamar Ben Gvir wants Israel’s police portfolio. Imagine putting our White supremacist fringe in charge of the police, handing them the intelligence and setting them free to hunt down tangata whenua, Muslims and Jews, LGBTQ+. A government that includes Itamar Ben Gvir is not politics as usual, and we ask our government to take Itamar Ben Gvir at his word, judge him on his actions, and respond accordingly.

  • Ben Gvir intends to expel and dispossess more Palestinians.  If we are not to aid and abet his lawless vision, Aotearoa must cease any dialogue or sharing of information with Israeli military and security services.
  • Israel’s IT industry is inextricable from the military with which it designs and tests products on an occupied people. If we are not to be accomplices, Aotearoa must cease all commerce and investment with the Israeli IT industry.
  • We already implement our Israeli visa policy racially, giving Israeli Jews visa-free status which we deny to Palestinians. This has got to end, no matter who governs.
  • We ask our government to make a clear, public commitment that Aotearoa will never adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The IHRA  would protect Itamar Ben Gvir and silence his victims’ advocates. When we cite his actual record or challenge his stated illegal intentions, the IHRA would cry ‘antisemite’! It would also allow Aotearoa’s Jewish Right to assert a monopoly over our religious identity, at the expense of Jewish pluralism. Don’t let that happen. Take the IHRA off the table.

We restate our disgust that any New Zealand Jewish institution would acquiesce, would passively permit the advance of Kahanism.  Our parents’ generation rejected Kahane’s unbridled identity-licensed violence. Shame on anyone who does not reject it today.

Shame on anyone who looks down at the ground and mumbles yeah, well, whatever—our Israel, Jewish and Kahanist.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

On Israel’s election and the silence of the NZ Jewish Council

Middle East Eye: “Ben-Gvir is pictured pulling a gun at Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem on 13 October 2022 (Twitter)”

Israel held an election. Roughly two-thirds of the adult population were permitted to vote, and they returned Benjamin Netanyahu to office. His largest coalition partner will be the Kahanist Religious Zionism thugs led by one Itamar Ben Gvir.

This is sad proof that we Jews are no different from anyone else who mainlines ultranationalism. When you ladle Zionism into religion, you cook up the toxic Religious Zionism of Ben Gvir.

The teenaged Ben Gvir was too far Right to be accepted into the Israeli army. He was a youth leader of the extremist Kach, and his current crew are the proud inheritors of Kahanism, a Jewish supremacy movement outlawed in Israel and classified by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. Until it became politically advisable to remove it, Ben Gvir kept a portrait of the Israeli-American mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinian Muslims and wounded 125 others in a place held sacred by both Muslims and Jews. Ben Gvir is so openly racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, ultranationalist, anti-democratic and violent that Israel’s perpetual supporter, Thomas Friedman, likens his appointment to offering the Proud Boys a Cabinet slot.

This election is least new to Palestinians, for whom unrestrained structural violence has long been the norm. To advocates for justice in Palestine, this election is a depressing acceleration of Israel’s existing direction of travel. To those otherwise-caring Jews who have rationalised the ugliness as long as it was directed only at Palestinians, this is qualitatively new. Jewish Israelis have voted for the bleak enmity, the worshipful violence; the anti-democratic, outright fascistic world view of the Kach gang. To that they choose to belong: that is what Zionism has become.

And we Jewish New Zealanders—how many of us will choose to belong to Ben Gvir’s Israel?

The NZ Jewish Council (NZJC) issued a note to the Jewish community. We asked if they would make it public, and the Chair of the NZJC replied that it is not their place to comment on Israel’s elections. That reply will suffice to understand the unpublished guidance: there’ll be no comment.

They sure commented on Israel when Amnesty International found it to be an apartheid state. They wasted no time publicly calling world’s leading human rights organisation ‘antisemitic’.  They defend Israel loudly enough from the Left. They are forever telling us that Zionism is how they do Judaism, and they deny the validity of our (or any) Jewish identity not centred on Israel.

And now? Now that Israel has served up its far Right in the form of Itamar Ben Gvir, the NZJC has suddenly remembered that their constitution makes no mention of Israel or Zionism, and they’ve gone all shy and reticent. It seems they are willing to set a place for Itamar Ben Gvir at the table of the New Zealand Jewish community. They welcomed Trump when he was politically expedient, so why not welcome one more?

Well, to hell with that.

To go along with Ben Gvir is an abject moral forfeit. To know full well his record and embrace him is to grant permission and extend impunity to his settler shock troops. That stance is complicit through and through.

Presumably the NZ Jewish Council will now wrap Itamar Ben Gvir in the snug blanket of their IHRA definition of antisemitism. Presumably when anyone objects to his violence, his threats to dismantle the courts, his hatred of LGBTQ and his pathological enmity for Palestinians; the NZ Jewish Council will call that speaker antisemitic. If they do that, if they bring Itamar Ben Gvir’s Kahanist terror into the protected space of our religion, they will have trampled the meaning of Jewishness in the dust once and for all.

Whatever one wanted Israel to be, this is what Israel has chosen to be. It’s time to admit, as even Thomas Friedman has admitted, “The Israel we knew is gone.”

We hope that our community will not open our door to Ben Gvir and his goons. We hope they will voice their disgust, and reject the passive support that the silent NZ Jewish Council is giving to this Kahanist Religious Zionism.

Throw the fascist bastard out. Let him slink back under his rock, and get this ultra-nationalism out of our religion.

We are Jewish—not Kahanist.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

Humanity Matters: Protest is not “political antisemitism”

Image: Marco Verch https://flic.kr/p/2auTCPA

(A joint statement by Neil Ballantyne on behalf of Justice for Palestine and Marilyn Garson on behalf of Alternative Jewish Voices)

The proliferation of mis- and disinformation in recent years is cause for grave concern, particularly with the attendant risks to minorities and human rights.  Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices were pleased to see Humanity Matters New Zealand publish its report on misinformation, disinformation and online antisemitism in Aotearoa. While the report communicates important aspects of the lived experience of antisemitism, its passive use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism has mingled legitimate expressions of protest with racial hatred. Sadly, that colours the results and constitutes a lost opportunity.

The survey is the first publication by Humanity Matters, a new human rights-oriented NGO. It foregrounds the experience and concerns of Aotearoa’s Jewish community. It offers helpful definitions of disinformation and misinformation and contextualises this in social media and in the recent COVID encounters. The report clearly identifies far Right individuals and organisations in Aotearoa as a source of antisemitic sentiment, and makes many helpful recommendations to challenge and change perceptions of the Jews and Judaism in Aotearoa.

Regrettably, Humanity Matters did not use Aotearoa’s prevailing definition of antisemitism.[1] Instead they included unlimited “criticism of Israel” or “criticism of Zionism” as a category labelled “political antisemitism”. We reject the category of “political antisemitism”, as should all reasonable people.  Antisemitism is the hatred of Jews or Jewishness. Criticism of Israel need not necessarily target Jews or Jewishness at all. Humanity Matters has poorly defined the phenomenon that the study seeks to measure.

The report notes that some members of the Jewish community consider that ‘to be anti-Zionist is to be antisemitic whilst others in the community hold these as separate issues, and for this they can experience exclusion within the Jewish community’ (p. 12). Without further discussion, the authors of the report then adopt the position that criticism of Israel or Zionism is indeed a core element of antisemitism. They decline to survey or analyse the experience of non-Zionist Jews who regularly experience attacks on their Jewish identity by the Zionist-Jewish community.

The IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and stigmatises political protest and human rights advocacy. By declining to distinguish protest from hate, Humanity Matters has reproduced the stigma. Intentionally or not, Humanity Matters has continued the demonisation of the very human rights that the organisation was formed to advance.

According to the survey, anti-Zionist or anti-Israel sentiment is experienced nearly twice as often as any form of classic antisemitism. By reporting this uncritically as antisemitism, its frequency overshadows the real, growing, threatening antisemitism of the far Right which demands our national attention.

Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices advocate for Palestinian rights across a range of social media platforms. We manage our messaging with care and remove posts with comments that descend into antisemitism. Indeed, membership of Justice for Palestine is contingent on agreeing to a statement that:

Justice for Palestine events and social media will not tolerate any act or discourse which adopts or promotes, among others: racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia. Any prospective or current member found to be in breach of this condition will have membership declined or removed.

However, we reserve the right to critique actions of the Israeli state which fly in the face of international law and human rights, such as the slaying of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh, the repeated bombings of Gaza and killing of Palestinian civilians, and the land incursion in Masafer Yatta. We highlight and reject the underlying colonising ideology of Zionist settlers in the Occupied Territories.

Our activities challenge Israel’s violations of law and human rights. Humanity Matters has allowed the human rights work of our organisations, and all citizens of Aotearoa involved in the promotion of Palestininian rights, to be vilified as antisemitism. Their study includes misinformation about the nature of antisemitism which tarnishes and chills work for Palestinian human rights.

Humanity Matters aspires to be an organisation of “caretakers of truth working at the intersection of education, history, and human rights” (p.2). Any organisation with such significant aspirations must adhere to the highest possible standards on the promotion of universal human rights.

It is not too late for Humanity Matters to acknowledge the problem with this study, in a way that lets us all focus on their other, valuable findings. We strongly recommend that Humanity Matters and the report’s funders consider an addendum that sequesters their damaging “political” category. Yes, Jews in Aotearoa are increasingly uncomfortable that Israel’s actions are rejected when they disregard international law and human rights. And, yes, Jews in Aotearoa live with the looming threat of real antisemitism, which is anti-Jewish racism. Once contextualised, the first statement need not obscure the second. The idea that this report might be used as an educational resource in schools, whilst including the category of “political antisemitism”, is deeply disturbing.

Alternative Jewish Voices writes regularly about antisemitism, and both organisations care deeply about the intent of this study. We want everyone who opposes the far Right to understand antisemitism as a core element of that dangerous world view, and to read the experience of their Jewish neighbours recorded in this study. Let that experience start conversations and shape action.

For an alternative perspective on antisemitism and Palestinian rights see our video interview with Michael Lynk, former UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Palestine.

            Michael Lynk: On antisemitism and the movement for Palestinian rights.

Neil Ballantyne (on behalf of Justice for Palestine) and Marilyn Garson (on behalf of Alternative Jewish Voices)        


[1] See the Human Rights Act s(28) s(21) s(61). See also https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/2915/7653/6167/Korero_Whakamauahara-_Hate_Speech_FINAL_13.12.2019.pdf page 20. To understand the difference between Zionism and Judaism, and the implications of the IHRA Working Definition, see https://ajv.org.nz/2022/07/18/no-ihra-for-aotearoa-this-does-not-define-us/

The entropy of the IHRA: the Holocaust, Palestine and that definition

Zentropy image: SciTech Daily

We are witnessing an unintended consequence of the IHRA’s political definition of antisemitism. Intending to silence Israel’s critics, the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) has instead made them stakeholders in an uncomfortable set of issues.

Jewish religious and academic scholars disagree whether the Holocaust belongs within or beyond our usual historical categories. This far-reaching question pre-dates the IHRA. Marilyn Garson recalls studying it with post-Holocaust philosopher Emil Fackenheim nearly forty years ago at the University of Toronto.

Some people believe that the Holocaust is sui generis, in a category of its own. Some regard it as the culmination of a fixed, eternal antisemitism; a hatred unlike other racial hatreds. Those beliefs may be deeply held.

Problems arise when that exceptionalism extends to Israel. Jacqueline Rose has described the ‘disgrace’ of making the Holocaust’s ‘barely assimilable trauma’ into the ‘premise’ of Israel’s state programme.[1]

The Holocaust cannot justify or redeem Israel’s ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people. If we let that happen in the name of one people’s cataclysm, we become complicit in a second national cataclysm.

The IHRA’s programme seeks to establish a separate Holocaust curriculum and antisemitism regime—one best understood by visiting Israel. That sealed historical narrative would be protected by the IHRA’s own definition of ‘antisemitism’.

While we, AJV, oppose the IHRA’s exceptional approach to the Holocaust and racism, we respect other views—until they deploy the Holocaust to serve Zionist politics. Then we respect them less.

  • A separate Holocaust education

The Holocaust was unique: a modern, industrialised, European genocide.

The category of genocide assumed that this very worst crime would always be predicated on the existence of an Other to target, dehumanise, blame, dispossess and murder. In Cambodia in the 1970s, there was no Other. The Khmer Rouge manufactured an Other and conducted a genocide so familial that scholars eventually called it auto-genocide. Cambodia’s genocide was unique.

Genocide is a category, not a carbon copy. It does not diminish the Holocaust or the Cambodian or other genocides to place them in a category. On the contrary, it holds them within relevant human history and requires us to confront our human choice and responsibility. It contextualises the programme and the crimes of genocide among other categories of crimes against nations: crimes of war, slavery, apartheid, colonisation. In our view, contextualising the Holocaust is more helpful than sequestering it.

  • A separate antisemitism

We believe that the study of the Holocaust is not enough to shape a compelling and well-grounded response to the antisemitism we see around us today. The Holocaust cannot do that job alone.

The antisemitism of the Holocaust was Christian and European. 21st century antisemitism is better understood within the set of contemporary hatreds. Antisemitism is a core component of the fascist, far Right and White supremacist world view. Every hatred in that toxic bundle has its own history but at the moment, hatreds travel in packs. Antisemitism must not be a separate Jewish issue.

We want to equip Jewish children to confront antisemitism. A vital strand of their equipment will be the mutual respect and reciprocal obligations they acquire by embracing human equality. When that Jewish child stands up, we want her to know that the Maori tamaiti on her right, and the Muslim child on her left will be right there with her, as she is for them.

That requires more than the study of history. Antiracist education must be a current event, our shared mahi.

  • Exceptional Israel as a response

Western guilt aided the UN votes to partition Palestine, establish Israel, and turn a blind eye to international law—all at the expense of the Palestinian nation. Palestinians bore no responsibility for the Holocaust, nor did they agree to hand over their land as compensation for European crimes.

The Holocaust was a factor in Israel’s establishment, but Israel is far more than a response. It is, according to the world’s leading human rights voices, an apartheid state.

As an example of our national commitment to Holocaust education, New Zealand’s IHRA application describes the Holocaust Centre’s biannual junkets for teachers to study the Holocaust in Israel. The Holocaust did not happen in Israel.

Let the Holocaust Centre bring teachers to Europe to learn about the Holocaust where it happened. Let them learn how communities adopt racist, genocidal ideology and descend into the lowest kind of madness. That is a European lesson.

To bring New Zealanders to Israel (and not, of course, to any place of Palestinian history or present-day reality) is to feed them a revisionist history and make them complicit in an apartheid present. It is the cruelest irony to enlist the Holocaust in the erasure of another nation.

  • That definition

The IHRA protects Israel’s exceptional license with the dreaded IHRA definition of antisemitism, which calls anti-Zionist protest and Palestinian identity ‘antisemitic’.

Nonsense. What is antisemitism? Antisemitism is the hatred of Jews or Jewishness. Anti-Zionism which upholds the absolute equality and rights of Palestinians, is not about the religion of the occupier. Palestinians would resist if their occupiers were Martian, and those who love human equality would stand beside them. The IHRA definition calls such protest ‘antisemitic’ in order to silence Israel’s critics—Palestinians and their allies, advocates of human rights, and non-Zionist Jews.

However, we are witnessing an unintended effect of the IHRA definition.

The IHRA definition makes the Holocaust do the ideological work of defending Israel by enabling ‘IHRA-style-antisemitism’ charges. The IHRA organisation uses its name to brand ‘antisemitism’ with the moral authority of the word ‘Holocaust’. Now, by accusing many more people of ‘IHRA antisemitism’, the definition has involved them in the whole set of IHRA issues.

Suddenly, people who have no inherent interest in Holocaust education and no special knowledge of antisemitism do have a stake in policies which support the IHRA definition. The IHRA definition intended to silence Israel’s critics. Instead, by targeting them and lumping them together with real antisemites, the IHRA has made them all into stakeholders.

Much of the early response to the IHRA initiative has been the avoidable, unpleasant result of the IHRA’s choice to advance such a failed definition as its calling card.

We wish it had not happened without consultation. The IHRA politicises everything it touches. Our observer status has dragged us all into a new, already very uncomfortable phase.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa


[1] See Jacqueline Rose, Holocaust Premises: Political Implications of the Traumatic Frame in The Jacqueline Rose Reader, pg 332-340.

Building a better antiracist solidarity

We end this Jewish year deeply concerned by the rise of racism, and our Jewish community’s position in Aotearoa. We are letting the Jewish Council situate us as conservative opponents of human rights.

This year, the Jewish Council used funding from the Ministry of Ethnic Communities and the IHRA Working Definition to call two-thirds of New Zealanders ‘antisemitic’. The survey actually showed that most New Zealanders support the conclusion of human rights defenders: Israel’s regime is apartheid. We think it’s wonderful that our neighbours value everyone’s rights. We count on them to oppose antisemitism for the same reason.

But too many New Zealanders now encounter the Jewish community through those alienating, false accusations. In order to end that, we must keep the IHRA’s harmful definition out of Aotearoa. Anti-Zionism is not per se antisemitic.

We have met with MFAT officials to understand the history of the initiative to become an observer at the IHRA organisation. We believe that MFAT does not intend to introduce the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. We believe that MFAT agrees that racism must remain the responsibility of our Commissioners of Human Rights and Race Relations.

The IHRA working definition has no standing in this country—none, kore—and we mean to keep it that way. We will do that by calling out every unofficial use. But that is not enough.

The Jewish community must also reject the path that is being taken in our names.

A 2021 Wellington Jewish community meeting roundly rejected the Wellington Regional Jewish Council’s voice and operations. The regional council has ceased to operate. That’s a start. Nationally we, the Jewish community, need to pay more attention to the unelected NZ Jewish Council. We are lending a passive legitimacy to their increasingly Christian Zionist echo chamber.

During this pre-holiday month of Elul, we are each charged with facing and transcending the attitudes that limit us and harm others. Elul is a time to ask how far we have slid from taking the side of the oppressed.

In the coming year, let us put aside the political ‘antisemitism’ and confront the reality of racism in Aotearoa together.

While our purported community spokespeople spend their days slandering critics of Israel’s human rights record, real antisemitism is encroaching on our public discourse—from the far Right. The hatred of Jews is a core component of conspiracy theory and the White supremacist world view.

Jews belong in the front row of every antiracist gathering, standing up with and for our neighbours. We should also be a focus of antiracist concern. Neither of those is happening yet. A handful of Jews attended the August Wellington anti-hate rally, and when that crowd chanted its list of communities of concern, Jews were not included.

We have become estranged from our natural allies. Those who oppose the far Right need to place antisemitism firmly on their agenda. And we need to turn up.

In the week of AJV’s formation, we wrote:

Hatreds and resentful identity politics have their own histories, but now they have joined forces under the toxic rubric of white supremacy. We need to respond to that together… rather than seeking an ethnic safety behind my synagogue gate or your mosque doorway. No gates for us, please. There is no separate safety.

A real response must be a joined-up, antiracist Never Again that makes us responsible to and for each other. Hatred and violence must be confronted and turned away by a broad, loving, uncompromising embrace of justice and mutual protection. We are each other’s best hope.

The task has become more urgent. The solution has not changed.

In the coming year of 5873, may we build a better antiracist solidarity.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa NZ

We filed an OIA to ask how racism became foreign policy

On June 24 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) announced that Aotearoa had joined the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), ostensibly to combat antisemitism and Holocaust ignorance or denial. We filed an Official Information Act (OIA) request to find out how that was decided.

New Zealand’s observer status does not mean that we have accepted the notorious IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, which silences criticism of Israel by calling it antisemitic. That definition still has no standing in this country. We must not let its advocates introduce it by stealth, as the NZ Jewish Council did when it used that definition to call Kiwis antisemitic for supporting the findings of human rights organisations. Our observer status in the IHRA certainly elevates the risk that the IHRA working definition could be introduced to Aotearoa as a matter of foreign policy, negating local views – precisely as this OIA file shows that MFAT has neglected public discussion to date. We have described the IHRA organisation and our risks here, and proposed some ways to resist both the IHRA working definition and the real antisemitism that we encounter.

Make no mistake, the IHRA definition of antisemitism is not a gesture to the Jewish community. It is the taking of sides: Zionist Jews against all other Jews, against Palestinians and their allies, and against the human rights community. We want to know (a) how this became a foreign policy matter, and (b) whose interests MFAT privileged – for that is the effect of acting behind closed doors.

MFAT kicked our OIA back, then narrowed it and then delayed their reply –  and still MFAT declines to tell us who initiated this process. They refer to the inter-departmental provision of the Official Information Act, so someone else was involved – but MFAT won’t name them. 

The OIA file summarises that Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta agreed to apply for IHRA membership in August 2021. The application was made in April 2022. Copies of the IHRA membership submission would go to the Prime Minister and Associate Minister for Foreign Affairs. Recommended referrals for documents include the Ministers of Justice and Ethnic Communities. Contacts for ongoing work are all MFAT staff. MFAT released no evidence of any community consultations beyond the NZ Jewish Council, whose proposed delegates to the IHRA were all approved.

Based upon the information that MFAT has disclosed:

  • An action dealing substantively with racism does not include a single mention of the Commissioners of Human Rights or Race Relations.
  • The IHRA regime would sever the treatment of antisemitism from all other forms of racism, yet the file shows no debate and zero evidence of the wisdom, efficacy, or desire of New Zealanders to do so.
  • A file establishing a separate Holocaust curriculum does not mention the Minister of Education or curriculum institutions.
  • The file reports that groups of teachers are already being brought biannually to Israel. It does not propose educating our teachers about Palestinian history, and records no consultation with Palestinians.
  • A file that refers to the Christchurch murders as a marker for our risks does not then consult the Muslim, antiracist or human rights communities as to the effectiveness of the interventions it proposes.
  • A file that refers to the IHRA working definition shows no input from a single group or representative of the communities who have been vilified by the international enactment of that definition. A definition that divides Jews into Zionists and antisemites shows not one minute of consultation with the Jewish community as a whole.

In May, during the very weeks covered by these documents, MFAT issued policy advice to local councils warning that Palestinian expression on Nakba Day would be ‘likely to evoke [redacted] criticism from the Israeli Embassy [redacted] and a fairly diverse group of supporters of the state of Israel.’  Having submitted our IHRA membership application in April, having advised city councils to suppress Palestinian expression in May, MFAT led us into the IHRA in June.

MFAT recommends that we should not adopt the notorious IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism ‘at this time’. It notes that those who support the IHRA definition ‘engage heavily in the media and online’. MFAT does not disclose that those heavy social media users are its only community interlocutorss.

On the basis of its recent actions and these documents, MFAT can not be regarded as a trustworthy actor on these sensitive, local issues.

Deborah Geels wrote for the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade that IHRA ‘observership would … demonstrate solidarity with New Zealand’s Jewish community’. As with the Wellington Regional Jewish Council’s suggestion that the Wellington City Council adopt the IHRA definition with no public consultation in February 2020, that kind of solidarity is properly called capture.

We say as we have said before, you do not enact solidarity with the Jewish community by harming our neighbours. The great benefit of the human rights paradigm is its empathy: it values us equally. The IHRA regime severs the political interests of Zionist Jews and addresses them at the expense of all others. Nothing good will come from its hierarchy of human worth.

We have written to Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, asking her to scrap this decision in light of MFAT’s failure to involve or consider the rights of those who will be affected by it. We can best address racism through a human-rights-led engagement among New Zealanders – led by our Commissioners for Human Rights and Race Relations.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

We call on our government to stand with the six Palestinian NGOs

For Immediate Release 

August 21, 2022

Contact:

globaljewishcollective@gmail.com

Jewish Groups Across the Globe Condemn Israel’s Raids on Palestinian Civil Society
The International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine (IJCJP), a Coalition including 15 countries across the globe, endorses the following statements written by two of its member groups, Independent Jewish Voices in Canada and Jewish Voice for Labour in the UK, condemning Israel’s recent raid on Palestinian human rights organizations. We call on our own governments likewise to condemn the raids.
From across the globe, we stand with all those committed to justice and equality. 

and read Jewish Voice For Labour’s statement here.

For more information about the courageous, justice-seeking groups that Israel has attacked:

Al-Haq, https://www.alhaq.org  @alhaq_org,

Addameer the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association https://www.addameer.org @Addameer

Defence for Children International Palestine https://www.dci-palestine.org/ @DCIPalestine

Bisan Center for Research and Development https://www.bisan.org/ @BisanResearch

Union of Agricultural Work Committees https://www.uawc-pal.org/ @UAWC1986

Union of Palestinian Women Committees http://upwc.org.ps/

@of_committees offices

Union of Health Workers Committees (UHWC) http://www.hwc-pal.org/

Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

Jewish Groups Across the Globe Condemn Israel’s Unprovoked Bombardment of Gaza

Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 8/9, 2022 

Contact: globaljewishcollective@gmail.com

We, member groups of the International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine, are filled with sorrow and outrage at Israel’s unprovoked aerial bombardment of the community of Gaza, Palestine. We condemn it and its dishonest rhetoric.

This is not a dispute between two sides. An occupying military is attacking an occupied, blockaded community. Israel called this a ‘pre-emptive’ assault, although it provided no evidence for its just-in-case bombardment of crowded cities. Israel has no legal right to military aggression to bolster a blockade which is, itself, in violation of law. This has nothing to do with Israel’s self-defense. We saw with our eyes that it is occupied Gaza that needs defense, and has the right to defend itself.

In three days, Israel killed 44 Palestinians including 15 children, and wounded 350. Scores of Gazan families are homeless and 650 homes were damaged in just the first 24 hours. No Israelis were killed. Beginning on Friday August 5, Israel inflicted gratuitous collective punishment by closing the crossings to Gaza, withholding food, medical supplies and fuel from two million people. In the extreme heat of August, Gazan Palestinians endured bombardment without lights, refrigeration, or pumps to bring water into their homes. Medical facilities cannot function without electricity.

Israel chose to attack a besieged community on Tisha B’Av – a day when Jews lament our losses by siege, two thousand years ago. This choice shames the religion that Israel appropriates to launder the image of its settler colonialist project.

While Gazans endured bombardment, we also wage a battle of words. We reject the rhetoric that would blame Palestinians for Israel’s policy choices. Israel is responsible for its aggression and for every life it takes. The communities of southern Israel say they want normalcy – where is Gaza’s normalcy? Israelis have spent a few days in bomb shelters – Gazans have spent 17 years behind blockade walls. Israel says that no state would accept rockets – tell us which authority would accept bombardment of its cities without resistance. We, in each of our countries, need to counter these narratives and challenge the media outlets that perpetuate them. Gaza is Occupied Palestine: speak to that. There’s your cause.

We call on our governments and the United Nations to condemn and sanction this aggression, to support and invest in the International Criminal Court’s investigations of all violations of law.

We call for Israel to immediately lift its 17-year siege. Let Gazans breathe, walk, and sleep undisturbed today, as is their right. Real peace will only be achieved with justice. We call for meaningful international pressure that demands a solution based on the human and political rights of all who live between the river and the sea.

Signed by these member groups of the International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine:

Jewish Voice for Peace – USA

Jewish Voice for Just Peace – Ireland

Boycott from Within (Israeli citizens for BDS)  – Israel

Jews say No! – USA

Jews against the Occupation – Sydney, Australia

Jewish Voice for Labour – UK

Independent Jewish Voices – Canada

Independent Australian Jewish Voices – Australia

Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

Jewish Voice for Peace – USA

Tzedek Collective Sydney – Australia

South African Jews for a Free Palestine – South Africa

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East – Germany

Jewish Network for Palestine – UK

French Jewish Peace Union – France

Jewish Call for Peace – Luxembourg

How close next time?

Image Arab News, 2014                    IDF Image, Times of Israel 2022

An armed and violent repeat offender has published a list of the places he intends to bomb next. Will we allow it?

The Israeli armed forces (IDF) have released a target list for their next bombardment of Gaza ‘in an apparent bid to pre-emptively justify collateral damage from any future strikes in the densely populated enclave.’ They would like to forestall the sort of ‘harsh scrutiny’ that was directed at their 2021 bombardment. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that the IDF killed at least 243 Palestinians including 66 children in that eleven-day assault. Israel says that it killed ‘225 terrorist operatives’ – an admission that Israel sees few if any civilians among Gaza’s two million inhabitants.

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the press that Hamas operates in close proximity to civilian and protected installations. ‘“The whole world should be exposed to the crimes committed by Hamas, and a heavy price should be exacted from it today.”’ Before he entered politics, Benny Gantz was the 20th IDF Chief of the General Staff from 2011–2015. He led Israel’s 50-day bombardment of Gaza in 2014.

I read about the IDF’s new target list on July 29 – a date whose sensations are imprinted on my body. I spent the night of July 29 2014 on the floor of my office in Gaza City while the building shuddered from the bombs landing around us. The nearness of the explosions made the furniture jump. Security reports counted 132 IDF air strikes, 1275 IDF tank shells and 430 IDF naval shells. One night: 1837 IDF explosive strikes in 720 minutes.

Someone indeed operates in Gaza’s civilian places, General Gantz. And you are asking our permission to bomb even closer.

Action On Armed Violence studied Israel’s 2014 targeting policies, documenting how ‘recent changes to Israel’s military rules of engagement have increased the risk to civilians in Gaza.’ AOAV found that the IDF was permitting explosive weapons to be used nearer to Palestinian civilians than ever before, and nearer than it allowed if an Israeli might be in the area. Israel – not Hamas, Israel – was bombing ever-closer to civilians.

The IDF’s current target list extends their policy of progressively endangering Palestinian civilians, and blaming Hamas for their deaths. Their maps measure the distances between targets and protected buildings in a bid to direct our conversation to Hamas’s choices. This rhetorical overlay avoids all the homes between their points of interest. If we see the people who live beneath all those roofs, we will recall that this should be a conversation about the civilian community of Gaza. Our task is to hold the IDF responsible for choosing to drop bombs on their cities.

The IDF’s current target list seeks to bolster the double standard by which we tolerate the Gaza blockade and repeated IDF assaults upon its occupied, legally protected residents. This double standard sees and values life in Palestine and Israel differently.

The blockade of Gaza densely intermingles civilian and military space. They are also tangled in Israel because the military is so thoroughly integrated into daily life. On the streets of Israel and Gaza, one routinely encounters uniformed and / or armed individuals. Israel’s Ministry of Defense is headquartered in a commercial Tel Aviv centre. General Gantz tries to attribute criminal intent to the mixed nature of space in Gaza – but not in Israel.

Israel maintains an aggressive force-protection policy, which it has justified by calling its soldiers ‘civilians in uniform’. Notwithstanding their lifelong military service, Israelis demand and receive full civilian protection throughout their lives.

Not so Gazans. Hamas is the governing authority of the Gaza Strip employing teachers, bureaucrats, rubbish collectors. They, their families and the families of fighters are all civilians. Yet Hamas family homes, police stations and other buildings are targeted by the IDF, and many more of Israel’s targets simply go unexplained. It suffices to call them ‘Hamas’.

That is the enabling language: ‘responding to Hamas’ sounds more palatable than ‘bombing Gaza’. But Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Hamas. We must de-link these terms, and reject the claim that Hamas bears the blame for the IDF’s choices or for the policies which guide its assaults upon the cities and the civilians of Gaza.

Hamas is not the place that the IDF bombs. They bomb the Gaza Strip, which is one of the most densely populated places on this earth. A list of ‘Hamas targets’ implies that the next Israeli bombs will land in a distinct, guilty, child-free Hamas-place. No such location exists.

Israel’s blockade allows Gazans no target-free space in which to live. With the IDF’s repeated destruction of homes and other structures, everyone and every function is crushed more closely together. This does not make Gazans any less civilian.

The IDF says that it ‘responds’ to Hamas, as if cause and effect begin anew with each story. They are much older: Hamas did not start this, Nakba started this. Settler-colonialism imagined it and structural violence perpetuates it. Blockade, bombardment and profound deprivation provoke Palestinian resistance.

An occupied community has a legal right to armed resistance and one day the International Criminal Court will better define that right. In the meantime, we should direct our censure and our outrage in proportion to the harms being done by the IDF and by Hamas. In 2014, Palestinian fighters fired up to 7000 rockets and artillery shells toward Israel. Within the IDF’s policy of progressive endangerment, the IDF dispatched 5000 tons of munitions to fire into Gaza. Five hundred and fifty Gazan children were killed by those munitions, and one Israeli child. These are the proportions that should guide our response to the IDF’s next plans.

No Hamas act releases Israel from its obligations under the laws of war and occupation. In the laws of war, each belligerent is independently responsible and accountable for each of its actions. Unlike Hamas, the IDF fires at will because Gaza has no defensive weapons capable of threatening them. Our tolerance is the IDF’s only constraint – and our tolerance is the aim of their new target list.

Hamas does not ‘make’ Israel bomb. Israeli military and political decision-makers choose to bombard the cities of Gaza, intensively and repeatedly. Israelis shrug – ein breira – that they have no choice. But their policy is a choice, and they have a better choice: don’t drop bombs on cities. Address the causes of Palestinians’ resistance.

The IDF’s 2022 target list is ‘part of a new military effort to maintain its freedom of action in Gaza, which officials said heavily relies on international legitimacy.’ This target list reflects the IDF’s fear that we will revoke our tacit permission for the next rain of destruction. Now is the time to revoke that permission, not later, not after the bombs have fallen.

I deny the legitimacy of pouring thousands of tons of explosives into crowded, blockaded cities. Freedom of action? I see madness set free by our indifference to the wreckage of bodies and buildings. I see a confined community, defenseless before one of the world’s most powerful military machines.

I see crimes past and future, General Gantz. You belong in court rather than in government.

Marilyn Garson

No IHRA for Aotearoa – this does not define us

Download this post as a .pdf here.

On June 24 2022, with no public discussion, Aotearoa joined the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), ostensibly to combat Holocaust ignorance or denial, and antisemitism. We applaud the aims, but the IHRA organisation does not combat antisemitism. It silences criticism of Israel by defining anti-Zionism as antisemitism.

New Zealand’s observer status does not mean that we have accepted the notorious IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRAWD). It certainly elevates the risk that the IHRAWD definition could be introduced to Aotearoa as a matter of foreign policy, without public consultation. We have described the IHRA organisation and our risks here.

This note informs actions that will help keep the IHRAWD out of Aotearoa. The IHRAWD’s use elsewhere shows us how harmful it is. Its impacts are broad, and resistance to it can mobilise new partnerships.

Here we offer a problem description and actions.

  • We distinguish between three IHRAWD-related issues.
  • We explain how the IHRAWD capitalises on old fears to carry out new politics.
  • We critique the definition – which is not a definition.
  • We explain the strategy of introducing the IHRAWD as an instrument of international racial governance. This strategy appeals to the neoliberal configuration of Zionism in Aotearoa.
  • We outline a programme of action: how not to be defined by the IHRAWD.  We need to roll back the IHRAWD’s stealthy encroachment and prevent its adoption in Aotearoa, while we work together to combat real racism.

Distinguishing the issues

To understand the IHRAWD, it is necessary to distinguish antisemitism, the political project of the IHRAWD, and the method of its introduction. Each of those has distinct implications.

The IHRAWD claims to address antisemitism, but it does not reflect and it does not respond to the antisemitism that we see: the racism built into the White supremacist / far Right worldview. The IHRAWD definition tries to sever antisemitism from, and undermine, the antiracist work in Aotearoa. Its use already makes it harder to work together.

Regardless of its stated purpose, in practice the Israel-centred IHRAWD has chiefly been used to stigmatise speech critical of Israel or the Zionist coopting of Jewish identity. This political project targets Palestinians and their allies, non- or anti-Zionist Jews, and more recently human rights supporters.

The strategy of the IHRAWD tries to prevent protest speech by capturing the machinery of regulation. It pre-empts a matter of local public policy by importing a non-negotiable international standard of racial governance. This strategy can be replicated by anyone with enough influence and access. The strategy of the IHRAWD in Aotearoa is therefore important to our national protection of political, protest or dissenting speech. It also belongs on the agenda of those who advocate for an independent, progressive foreign policy.

The Issues Are Older Than The Definition

New Zealanders respond indignantly when Zionist organisations call their Palestine advocacy antisemitic. How did these accusations come about? The IHRAWD has politicised deeply-felt, real issues. We can only name the issues here, and we have listed references for a deeper understanding at the end of our note.

Although antisemitism is very old, scholars and believers have never agreed on its nature: is antisemitism is cyclical, eternal, exceptional?

Some Jews believe that antisemitism is eternal and unchanging. They conclude that Israel was destined to inherit the world’s antisemtism, no matter what Israel’s leaders did. This belief does not engage with the substance of protest against Israeli actions. Such protest merely constitutes a ‘new antisemitism’ (We will keep the scare quotes because we regard this as a scare tactic that should not be normalised).

Zionism or Jewish nationalism is more recent, but what is its nature? It was a minority vision until the Holocaust. Now nationalism is trumpeted as the epitome, and the only acceptable mode of Judaism. Zionism is asserting a monopoly over Jewish identity – a cooptation that has bitterly divided Jewish communities around the world.  Zionism reduces pluralist Judaism to Jews’ loyalty to a territorial administration. That is a racist reduction redolent of antisemitic tropes.

Those who believe that the Israeli state is the culmination of the Jewish religion claim that any challenge to Israel necessarily threatens Jews and Jewish life here at home. In Aotearoa this so-called ‘new antisemitic’ threat underlies the New Zealand Jewish Council’s disempowering messages that Jews are the most endangered group in Aotearoa.

To be clear, the Jewish community is threatened by the growth of White / Right racism, which we should combat alongside our antiracist allies. We are not threatened by protest which upholds Palestinians’ rights. Presenting that protest as a ‘new antisemitic’ threat is dishonest, and it cuts the Jewish community off from empowering antiracist solidarity.

The ‘new antisemitism’ shifts the focus from historic Christian and European antisemitism to the Middle East. The international standard-bearers of the ‘new antisemitic’ threat are Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians in particular. In this worldview, Palestinian resistance to settler colonialism and Israel’s conflicts with its Arab neighbours are driven by racial, implacable hostility. This worldview finds a home in the Islamophobic West and in Hindutva. It explains states’ exceptional indulgence of Israel’s oppression as a matter of domestic security. It calls the prospect of solutions naïve.

The IHRAWD definition enabled these pre-existing beliefs to coalesce around an international governance of antisemitism by providing a single, rigidly defined response.  By joining the IHRA organisation as an observer state, Aotearoa has entered that arena of international racial governance. MFAT’s act brought us into one more sphere where we will be pressured to follow the colonial leaders, rather than devising policy that suits our decolonising identity and aspirations.

Given the divisive nature of these issues, we are astounded that MFAT acted without one word of public discussion. Racism belongs within the spheres of human rights, race relations, and hate speech. It is not a foreign affair.

The IHRAWD seeks to win by regulation a furious contest within the Jewish community, and another between the Jewish community and our neighbours. The neoliberal coalition advancing the IHRAWD has placed the Jewish community in a bind between the intolerance of Aotearoa’s Zionist coalition and our natural place among the antiracists. The IHRAWD imagines Jews and Muslims in eternal opposition. It inhibits our solidarity, even as we see that the White / Right in Aotearoa is taking aim at both of our communities. It would be especially harmful to import this definition to Aotearoa right now.

The IHRAWD Is Not A Definition

The Oxford dictionaries say that a definition is a statement of exact meaning.

The IHRAWD opens with a sentence too vague and plastic to be the basis of decisions: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” A certain perception which may be this is a conditional in search of some content.

The IHRAWD continues with eleven examples of speech, seven of which focus on Israel rather than Jews or Judaism. Not one of these examples was adopted by the IHRA’s own decision-making body – not one – yet the proponents of the IHRAWD insist that they must be adopted in their entirety into IHRAWD governance.

The IHRAWD does not define antisemitism, does not draw on our experience of it and does not enable the work of combating it. The IHRAWD breaks with scholarship to muddy our shared understanding and response to antisemitism as a form of racism.

Critique of the IHRAWD arguments

It does not make anyone an antisemite to oppose Jewish nationalism, Palestinian oppression, or to uphold human rights. By saying that we oppose the raison d’etre of the IHRAWD.  In this section, we challenge some of the supporting claims made by proponents of the IHRAWD.

  1. Zionism is Judaism, and Israel is the ultimate expression of Jewishness.

Zionism is Jewish nationalism and it has become an article of faith for some Jews. Judaism has been a plural noun and a diverse religious / ethnic identity for two thousand years. It is more diverse today than ever. We utterly reject the Zionist cooptation of our religion, and its presumed monopoly to define Jewish practice or identity.

Attaching an intolerant Zionist project like the IHRAWD to Holocaust memory instrumentalises that memory for political purposes.

  • Antisemitism is unique and eternal, and requires a response that is separate from other forms of racism.

Every hatred has a history of suffering. Antisemitism is an ancient hate; however, the belief in an eternal, fixed antisemitism gives us an inadequate reading of history. Jews always have been – and today we remain – more than victims. A fixed view of antisemitism impedes Jewish recognition that we have also always been actors. Today White Jews are also the beneficiaries of racialised structures. The IHRAWD impedes the genuine Jewish antiracism that brings us into solidarity with others.

Despite its claims that antisemitism is eternal, the IHRAWD’s focus on Israel enables accusations that have no basis in historic antisemitic beliefs

For example, the NZ Jewish Council’s 2021 survey of antisemitism used the IHRAWD rather than any prevailing definition of racism. They say that 63% of New Zealanders hold antisemitic attitudes, although no more than 21% agreed with any anti-Jewish trope (a figure that is still disconcertingly high). The IHRAWD inflated their findings by adding those who support the world’s leading human rights organisations, and those who believe that democracy grants every adult the right to vote for the government that exercises authority over their lives. Theirs are manifestly not antisemitic beliefs.

The IHRAWD breaks from scholarship to misstate antisemitism, and draws attention to anti-Zionism rather the racism that we see being disseminated by the White / Right. Its use generates alarm and confusion over the prevalence and source of antisemitism.

Concern has been expressed overseas that the IHRAWD creates the policy tick box of the moment. Other longstanding inequities may be deprived of resources.

  • Israel has inherited the antisemitism previously expressed toward Jewish people. It is antisemitic to de-legitimise Israel or deny the Jewish people their right to exist in a Jewish state.

Proponents of the IHRAWD extend the rights of Jews to Israel while denying Palestinians’ rights to Palestine. Both the extension and the denial are wrong.

States do not have human rights. Humans do. Yugoslavia had no inherent right to exist in its erstwhile form. Rather, the people living in that territory had individual and collective rights.

States – or more accurately their regimes of government – earn their legitimacy. Letigitimacy derives from the consent of all those who are governed, and from the fulfilment of international obligations. No state has a right to imagine, legislate and enforce a way of life that is predicated upon permanently excluding categories of its citizens. Israel’s government de-legitimises itself by these actions.

One need not have a particular view of Jewish peoplehood to refute this claim. The great majority of anti-Israel protest observes that no people, in no state, have a right to do what Israel is doing: occupation, dispossession, violent oppression, blockade, apartheid. None of those objections is based upon the religious identity of the occupier or the occupied.

States also have obligations, some of which are codified into international law and conventions. Israel flaunts its obligations. The actions of successive Israeli governments create compelling reasons for people and other states to protest.

Opposing Israel’s actions is not inherently antisemitic.

  • Israel is the object of disproportionate, antisemitic censure by the United Nations and human rights advocates.

Israel is conducting the longest and most flagrantly illegal occupation in modern history. It has been repeatedly found to govern through a regime of apartheid, which is a crime against humanity. That attracts censure.

We see a different exceptionalism: no other state has been the subject of so much censure and so little action by other states to uphold the law of states and the human rights of Palestinians.

  • Israel-protest has become a Left-approved outlet to express antisemitism.

There is some truth in this, just as it is true that Zionists stand too close to Hindutva and to the White Zionism that celebrates Israel’s ethnic power. We all have fellow travellers who are drawn to Palestine / Israel for unhealthy or hateful reasons.

The IHRAWD is precisely the wrong tool to respond to this problem. 

The IHRAWD sets the bar for antisemitism so absurdly low that it becomes more difficult to call out real antisemitism. If 63% of New Zealanders are being called antisemitic, then real antisemites can happily hide in the crowd and protest that they are merely anti-Zionist.

The IHRAWD robs us of the shared understanding that we need to identify and respond to real antisemitism.

  • Anti-Zionism is antisemitism – end of story.

The IHRAWD turns disussion of Palestine into a discussion of antisemitism. The IHRAWD centres the Jewish community, while occupation is a lived Palestinian experience. It prevents any political grasp of the settler colonial project, and it precludes discussion of a just future.

The IHRAWD calls expressions of Palestinian identity, rights and aspirations antisemitic because they correctly challenge the occupier’s claims to exclusive rights (such as the rights reserved for Jews in Israel’s 2018 Nation State Law or its Law of Return). The IHRAWD silences the Islamophobia and dehumanisation that deny Palestinans’ most basic equality.

Method of the IHRAWD

A definition of racism – in this case, antisemitism – should be historically informed and responsive to local experience. The IHRAWD is neither. Neither its norms nor its project address the real antisemitism around us.

Why was this controversial step taken without public notice, without any mention of the roles of the Commissioners of Human Rights and Race Relations? This bypass threatens to make racism one more instance of Aotearoa following the colonial crowd onto the wrong side of history, rather than formulating a progressive local policy based on our experience and aspirations.

Who is bypassing the public stake in this issue – who are the proponents of the IHRAWD? In this country, Zionism is an item on the neoliberal agenda of domestic politics. It interweaves Jewish and Christian Zionism with the leadership of our most conservative neoliberal political entities including the Free Speech Union, Taxpayers’ Union, and Property Investors’ Association. These are groups who undermine our mutual responsibility and social cohesion.

We repeat our call for formal assurance that antisemtism will remain a matter of Aotearoa’s public policy within the spheres of our Commissioners of Human Rights and Race Relations.  Let us concentrate on the real antisemitism.

How not to be defined

The IHRAWD has not been adopted in Aotearoa. Neither is it a fait accompli: we need to roll back its stealthy use and to prevent its introduction. The threat of the IHRAWD creates opportunities for new partnerships and shared action to oppose racism, colonialism and the rise of the White / Right. Partnerships will bring the weight of numbers to bear against the adoption of the IHRAWD in Aotearoa.

First, we must roll back the encroachment of the IHRAWD into our public discourse. That means refusing to respond to accusations within the terms of the IHRAWD. Reject the terms. Explain why you decline to be defined. Make the IHRAWD an issue, as it should be.

Second, the IHRAWD must not derail our focus on the two very real issues of the racism we see around us, and the full individual and collective political rights of Palestinians. The divisiveness of the IHRAWD is best countered by acting with defiant solidarity. Muslims and Jews must not be divided when we see racist ideologies that target both of our communities. More than ever, this should be a time to tell stories of the real, lived Muslim and Palestinian experience. Theirs are the first voices that the IHRAWD would silence.

Third, it’s important to respond to the IHRAWD as an initiative of the neoliberal Christian / Jewish coalition in Aotearoa. This is not merely a Jewish or Palestinian issue. It is one that undermines our politics and our policy autonomy.

The IHRAWD will be kept out by a coalition of groups who place its prevention on their agendas: anticolonial and antiracist activists including Tangata Whenua, supporters of human rights, those who value the protection of speech, and those who seek an independent progressive foreign policy. We can counter the IHRAWD’s broad impacts by forming a broad opposition.

Alternative Jewish Voices will be offering additional resources and initiatives in the coming weeks. We are also happy to bring this korero to others. If you would like to discuss these issues further, please write to contact@ajv.org.nz

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

If you want to read more –

Jewish Voice For Peace on antisemitism: http://onantisemitism.com/

Antony Lerman, Whatever Happened to Antisemitism? Pluto Books.

Research paper from an Oxford University researcher, How the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism is Being Misrepresented. Or, Al Jazeera’s summary, IHRA ‘Misrepresents’ Own Definition.

The series of reports by S Michael Lynk, recently retired as UN Special Rapporteur, outline the illegality of Israeli governments’ actions and our obligation to respond.

Why is the IHRAWD so wrong:

Brian Klug, senior research fellow and a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University:  the IHRA definition fails on its own terms. https://ajvnz.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/b-klug-transcript-3-oct-2020.pdf

Short video from Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) in Canada

Petitions by 300 Jewish studies scholars, another by Talmudic scholars:  https://www.jta.org/2019/06/20/global/300-jewish-studies-scholars-sign-letter-supporting-embattled-former-berlin-jewish-museum-director

Independent Jewish Voices, Canada on the distortion of statistics

The ‘witch hunt… against critics of Israel.’ Ha’aretz https://ajvnz.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/witch-hunt-germanyhaaretz.com-1.pdf

Resisting the IHRAWD, working in solidarity:

Jews for racial and economic justice

Independent Jewish Voices, Canada