Our Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Sent this morning

An open letter to the Government of Aotearoa New Zealand
16 May 2022
Prime Minister Right Hon Jacinda Ardern
Cc Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Nanaia Mahuta


Tēnā koe Prime Minister
NZ Government must hold Israel to account for the murder of Palestinian
journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Justice for Palestine, Palestinian Youth Aotearoa and Alternative Jewish Voices write to call on the Government of Aotearoa New Zealand to hold Israel to account for the murder of Palestinian journalist for Al Jazeera, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead by the Israeli army on 11 May, while covering a raid in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli army subsequently attacked and injured mourners at Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral procession.


A free press is essential to democracy. The targeting of journalists anywhere,
including in conflict zones, undermines democracy and there must be a swift and resolute response to those who try to harm journalists or suppress press freedom.


In 2020 the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate stated Israeli forces had killed over 46 Palestinian journalists since 2000. It is now estimated that over 50 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israel. Further, in May 2021, Israeli forces destroyed multiple tower blocks housing numerous media outlets, including Aljazeera, Associated Press and Middle East Eye.1


These attacks are not an aberration, they are part of a pattern of systematic
targeting of Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces to prevent them from bearing witness to crimes perpetrated against Palestinians every day.

Israel’s actions towards journalists reporting on the illegal occupation of Palestine violate the right to life, freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom from discrimination. They are in breach of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.


The International Federation of Journalists alongside other organisations has
recently submitted a case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which alleges that Israel’s systemic targeting of media workers in Palestine and its failure to properly investigate the killing of journalists amount to war crimes.2 Abu Akleh’s has been added as one of the named victims in the complaint.


Expert legal counsel for the group that submitted the case stated:3
“The cases communicated to the ICC Prosecutor are emblematic of the ongoing,
systematic attacks and use of lethal force against journalists and media organisations in Palestine by the Israeli security services. These journalists and media organisations were targeted and attacked in circumstances that give rise to strong grounds to suspect that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed.”


Consequently, as citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand, we call on our Government,
elected to represent us, to act in support of human rights and international law by:
• Condemning, in the strongest possible terms, the targeted killing of
Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
• Issuing a statement supporting the International Criminal Court complaint
seeking investigation and prosecution of the systemic targeting of Palestinian
journalists
• Calling in the Israeli ambassador, Ran Yaakoby, and demanding an
explanation of what action will be taken to provide justice for Shireen Abu
Akleh, and to establish effective measures to protect journalists reporting
within illegally occupied Palestinian territories.


In solidarity – ngā mihi nui,
Justice for Palestine, Palestinian Youth Aotearoa, and Alternative Jewish Voices

1 https://www.palestinechronicle.com/israel-targets-palestinian-journalists-ramzy-baroud-speaks-out-on-shireenabu-akleh/
2 https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/press-releases/article/palestine-icc-case-filed-oversystematic-targeting-of-palestinian-journalists.html
3 https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/press-releases/article/palestine-icc-case-filed-oversystematic-targeting-of-palestinian-journalists.html

Erev Nakba – the Eve of Nakba Day 2022

Blazetrends: Mourning Shireen Abu Akleh

On Nakba Day we commemorate the explulsion and the ongoing harms inflicted by Israel upon the Palestinian nation. Zionism is the project of Jewish nationalism. We acknowledge our responsibility as Jews to help muster the pressure that is necessary to transform the racist society that Zionism has built.

This week we also mourn for journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, and for 16-year-old Thaer Khalil Mohammed Maslat who was killed by the IDF on the same day. He is the tenth Palestinian child to be shot and killed by Israeli occupation forces this year.

Today Israeli police assaulted Shireen Abu Aqleh’s pallbearers and mourners while the world watched. Absent any comment by our own government, we second the statement of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell: “The European Union is appalled by the scenes … in occupied East Jerusalem. The EU condemns the disproportionate use of force and the disrespectful behaviour by the Israeli police against the participants of the mourning procession.”

Also in the EU, Berlin has banned Palestinian demonstrations including those for Nakba Day. Would Berlin treat its Jewish community the same way, banning the commemoration of Jewish suffering and the mourning of an internationally prominent Jew? We think not.

Attempts to marginalise Nakba Day are acts of public erasure, offering us private excuses not to learn and empathise with the lived experience of Palestinians. When we turn away and desensitise our hearts, we prop up the walls of this world with our backs.

The problem is not simply Zionism. Both there and here the problem is exclusivity, the absolute doctrines of mine and mine alone.

In Palestine we oppose a society of Jewish privilege wherein “the freedoms of one [ethnic] group are inextricably bound up in the subjugation of the other… This is apartheid.” Apartheid is a crime against humanity and that makes Nakba Day everyone’s business.

Here in Aotearoa, we object to the Zionist monotone of our unelected, unrepresentative Jewish Council and institutions. We oppose the institutional intolerance of any belief other than Zionism. Shame on any heart that thinks so small. Judaism has been a plural noun for at least two thousand years.

Look beneath the false claim that all anti-Zionism equals antisemitism. That claim rests upon the false foundation that Zionism equals all of Judaism. Zionist exclusivity enables the outrage which some Zionists direct at any other, older Jewish belief: Judaism is ours and ours alone.

Some Jews do place nationalism at the heart of their identity. We reject their monopoly to act as if Zionism were the only expression of Jewishness. It is not, never was, never will be.

We wrote our kaupapa, our principle, on our homepage on the day of our establishment. Sh’ma Koleinu – hear our voices – there are many ways to be a Jew. We adhere to an expansive Judaism. We let our hearts jump the fences and roam our world. We share others’ losses. We seek their comfort as well as our own. We work for our common future, grounded in justice and dignity.

On this Nakba Day 2022, we stand in solidarity with our Palestinian friends to commemorate the living Nakba.  Our hearts reach out to imagine a peaceful, pluralist, democratic future for all who live between the river and the sea.

Alternative Jewish Voices and friends

Marilyn Garson

Fred Albert

Justine Sachs

Jesse Richardson

Leigh Friday

Sue Berman

Lynn Jenner

Margalit Toledano

David Weinstein

What is the local project of Zionism in Aotearoa?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start with the IHRA

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

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

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

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

Sleight of hand, in two steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa-NZ

NZ Jewish Council calls New Zealanders antisemitic for holding views consistent with the world’s leading human rights organisations

Media Release from Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

The NZ Jewish Council has released a survey which calls hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders antisemitic for expressing views consistent with those of the world’s leading human rights organisations.  By conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with the hatred of Jews the survey is weaponising antisemitism in a way that it is more than dishonest. It is dangerous. Their method should not have been funded.

The survey uses a sweeping definition of antisemitism which conflates opposition to the occupation with the hatred of Jews. Known as the IHRA Working Definition, it has no official standing in Aotearoa, none. This survey shows us why it is so dangerous. Of the survey’s 18 attitudes, fully half are attitudes about Israel rather than Jews.  Therefore, this survey seeks out public objections to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and calls that racism. The NZ Jewish Council has a history of calling disagreement racist.

If, for example, a respondent simply agrees with the conclusion of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Harvard Law School and others that Israel’s regime constitutes apartheid, that respondent is classed as hating Jews. Literally: the survey has no category called ‘agree,’ only a category called ‘antisemitic.’ If a person understands that Palestinians are indigenous to Palestine, they are antisemitic. If they do not consider Israel democratic because they see that the government of Israel wields power over millions of West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians who cannot vote in Israeli elections, they are classed as antisemitic.  These are not hateful attitudes to Jews, they are attitudes that show respect for democracy, international law and human rights.

The Jewish Council’s partisan method has undermined what should have been a serious and timely study of antisemitism. Instead, they have used their platform to alienate our neighbours whose concern extends to the rights of Palestinians.

And where does this method leave Palestinians? A Palestinian who asserts her identity and her full human and political rights would fall foul of this survey on several counts. The NZ Jewish Council has published a document that renders Palestinian identity racist. It should not have been funded.

The study’s first category comes closest to a real definition of antisemitism. Those responses give us sufficient concern to work more closely within Aotearoa’s broad antiracist community. It is a travesty that the NZ Jewish Council went on to politicise the exercise and place one more obstacle in the path of a genuine Jewish antiracism.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa NZ

Apartheid, the Right of Return, and Ukraine

Image: doormat advert

We usually think of a country taking in refugees as a helpful, necessary action for the benefit of all but watching Israel select and privilege Ukrainians of Jewish descent highlights its racist nature.  Israel has refused to take in many refugees from Africa.  Although the news calls the Ukrainians refugees they are, in fact, being offered instant citizenship under an ethnic law.  We also have read that some Ukrainians will be settled illegally on the West Bank, thereby even further alienating Palestine refugees from their land and rights.  Three fundamental issues have intersected here: apartheid, the Right of Return, and Ukraine.

Human rights lawyers including these have determined that Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its domestic regime now constitute apartheid, which is a crime against humanity:

As one tactic of its settler colonial project, Israel has perennially held the parts of Palestine apart. Therefore, every response should consciously address Israel’s single-minded project, although it is being variously enacted in different geographies: domestically through an ethnic hierarchy of rights and entitlements; in Gaza through blockade and repeated bombardment; in the West Bank through the encroachment of illegal settlements and a regime of fragmentation; and globally by privileging the status of Jews as instant citizens-in-waiting while denying the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their own land.

That last phrase needs unpacking because the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their own land are under renewed assault.

First, the descendants of displaced Palestinians are refugees. The United Nations website’s issue page on refugees explains that intergenerational recognition is the global norm, not an exception:

“Under international law and the principle of family unity, the children of refugees and their descendants are also considered refugees until a durable solution is found… Palestine refugees are not distinct from other protracted refugee situations such as those from Afghanistan or Somalia, where there are multiple generations of refugees, considered by UNHCR as refugees and supported as such. Protracted refugee situations are the result of the failure to find political solutions to their underlying political crises.”

Second, Palestinian refugees have an internationally mandated Right of Return. On December 11, 1948, United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 194 outlining principles for a just solution in Palestine / Israel. NZ voted in favour, agreeing that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property.”

Israel’s apartheid regime has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally mandated Right of Return for 74 years.

Daily, we are watching yet another enactment of Israel’s legislated Jewish supremacy: as many as 200,000 Ukrainians of Jewish descent are being brought to Israel under its ethnic “law of return.”  Israeli publications refer to Ukrainian arrivals as ‘immigrants’ taking up citizenship, not refuge. Israel’s race-based law of return offers instant citizenship to far more people than Israel’s prevailing religious law recognises as Jews.

“Israeli officials have declared that they will open their arms to any Ukrainians who qualify to immigrate to Israel. Under the Law of Return, any individual with at least one Jewish grandparent, or a Jewish spouse, is eligible for Israeli citizenship. However, a significant portion of those new immigrants are expected to be … Jewish enough to obtain citizenship, but not Jewish enough to be married or buried as Jews in the Jewish state.”  Times of Israel 

Why would Israel take in a few hundred thousand Ukrainians and emigrating Russians, some of whom may or may not later convert to Judaism? This influx responds first to Israel’s longstanding fear of confronting a Palestinian majority in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Despite decades of policy that has sought to include maximum land with minimum Palestinians, the day of demographic reckoning is close.

“According to the latest figures, the year 2021 saw the number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and those based in Israel approach 7,253,000 Palestinians, which, for the first time ever, came close to the number of Jews that stood at 7,4 million. … A fresh study, released by a journal affiliated to the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence in July 2020, indicated that Tel Aviv sees demography as the most critical ​​menace to its national security.”  MENA Affairs.com

Demography has always underpinned Israel’s disavowal of the Gaza Strip as a fully-fledged, occupied, intrinsic part of Palestine. Don’t count the two million Gazans!!  Gaza’s numbers have always posed a far more strategic threat to Israel than its rockets.

To top it off, “the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division – which is funded by the Israeli government and falls under its direct control – announced the building of 1,000 housing structures for Ukrainian Jewish families in both Israel and settlements in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.” Al Jazeera

That is the coup de grace: Israel is preparing to add Ukrainians to the 620,000 illegal settlers who aggressively eat up the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

We are boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Russia because we wish to live in a world governed by laws rather than predators. At the very same time, Israel is piling tens of thousands of those displaced by Russia’s crimes into its manufactured demographics and its illegal settlements on occupied land. Wrongs are compounding wrongs. Let’s sanction Israel’s violations too.

We wish all refugees safe refuge until they are able to choose resettlement or return to their homes. For the very same reason, we recognise the UN-mandated right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. When the land between the river and the sea is governed by, and in the interests of, all of its citizens then others of any religion can apply to immigrate.

Alternative Jewish Voices

Toward a Jewish Antiracism

What limits Jewish antiracist work and solidarity in Aotearoa New Zealand?

We are witnessing a racist recruitment field day, in the guise of COVID public health protest. Alternative Jewish Voices joins in the disgust.  But what to do?  The public displays of racism (including antisemitism) also highlight the unhappy relationship between our Jewish institutions and the antiracist community around us.

Racism is an Othering, essentialising hatred. Recognising Jews as targets of this individual racism, the Jewish institutional community condemns it and identifies with other likely victims. Every such interfaith partnership is positive, but this is only part of the work.

Racism is also a system of racialised advantage, created to sustain a hierarchy of racial benefit.

Our institutions recognise Jewish victimhood. That’s true but insufficient because they fail to acknowledge that we are also beneficiaries of systemic racism and injustice. Their stance places the Jewish community at odds with the social justice activists who work to dismantle racialised – racist – systems.

As a prooftext, on February 22, the NZ Jewish Council circulated ‘key messages’ to guide Jewish comments on the Wellington protest. They advise Jews to use ‘the term “racism” instead of Antisemitism. This is because many New Zealanders don’t know what Antisemitism [is]. Using the term “racism” strikes an emotional chord with a wider section of the New Zealand public.’

The Jewish Council’s cynicism is wholly inadequate while extremism is trying to worm its way into our national political discourse. Racism is not just a word we can parrot, and we are not excused from understanding that.

A meaningful Jewish antiracism requires us to challenge the fragile worldview that sees Jewish victimhood but not our racial advantage in Aotearoa and not – elephant-in-the-room trigger warning!! – the impact of our very own ‘regime of Jewish supremacy,’ Zionism.

The fragile worldview justifies calling anti-Zionism racist in two ways, one near and one far. We’ve all heard the remote justifications for Israel’s ethnic regime.  The near argument is the one that prevents us from knowing who our antiracist friends are.

The near argument says that advocacy for Palestinians’ full individual and collective rights is the first step toward overt, actionable hatred of Aotearoa’s own Jewish community. Today a person criticises the occupation of Palestine, tomorrow they essentialise and hate Jewishness, and the next day they act on their racism. By that rationale, anyone – including the world’s major human rights organisations – who cites evidence of the racist reality of apartheid Israel will be dismissed as a liar, a hater of Jews. They will be treated as a local security threat.

It is that argument which treats social justice as antisemitic, and treats social justice activists with enmity. That argument is also deeply disempowering of Jews. The Jewish community is reduced to protesting its victimhood, ideologically unable to join in the proactive, wider work of solutions. That argument sidelines us in a fearful corner. 

The slippery-slope argument-to-threat reasoning is only applied unilaterally. It suggests that reasoned, vehement assertions of Palestinian equality and indigeneity can be dismissed as racism – because at some future point, an individual might descend into essentialising racism, or violence.

We agree that an individual might do that. The Zionist slope is every bit as slippery. Some Jewish ultra-nationalists have become illegal settlers who beat and brutalise Palestinians. Some Zionist Cabinet ministers have called Palestinians ‘little snakes’ and urged soldiers to kill Palestinian mothers lest they give birth to more children.  Some New Zealand Jewish office-holders are frequent purveyors of the Nazi insults that their own institutions decry.

Most New Zealand Jews would indignantly object that it is antisemitic to blame all Jews for the extremists among us. We agree. It is equally wrong to condemn every advocate for Palestinian’s human equality as a dangerous antisemite (and doing so tends to lose sight of the real, individual racist threats).

And it is just as wrong for us to describe ourselves only as victims. We are agents in this world. We are not excused from the individual work of understanding our lives and our responsibilities within the systems of racism.

There are many paths to understanding onesself within systems of racism and privilege. One person might recognise the advantage they gained though intergenerational home ownership, another might notice their longer life expectancy as tau iwi. Seeing onesself as a beneficiary of colonisation at home, the settler colonial project in Palestine becomes more difficult to rationalise. Before long, one notices that people who are sensitive to systemic racism will pursue it near and far. A person who is moved to act against racism here, is likely to recognise and act against racism elsewhere – including, prominently, Palestine. Antiracism is an expansive, solidarist virtue.

To work beside our antiracist friends in Aotearoa now, we in the Jewish community need to dismiss the shallow advice of the Jewish Council, and get on with the work of situating ourselves more honestly.

At this moment, we are appalled by the rise of racism in our cities, we are (to varying degrees) beneficiaries of Aotearoa’s own systemic racism, and some of us are protecting the system of Jewish supremacy which is perpetuated in our names in Israel / Palestine. To join in the work here, we need to forego our exceptionalism there.

And that would be to everyone’s benefit because there is no exceptional solution to the world we inhabit. Justice and liberation will be mutual, or they will not be. Here and there, we will only be free when we are all free.

A Jewish antiracism envisions a fearless Jewish life, fully at home in the community of Aotearoa.  

Alternative Jewish Voices

Isolate The Hate

Ugly messages are spreading, capitalising on the protest on the grounds of Parliament. Public health protest has become entangled with death threats and unvarnished racist hate. Expressions of menace and violence are circulating through social and conventional media, expressions that no one would have tolerated a fortnight ago. Now children are hearing and seeing this under the auspices of political protest.

We as individual New Zealanders may debate the best tactics to resolve the protest and return the streets around Parliament to public use.

We as a community have an immediate, shared responsibility to isolate the hate. Do not let it sneak into political discourse. Death threats are not one more opinion. Racism is not just another tactic. It’s poison. We urge everyone to isolate the hate, and to flatly reject it.

To the protesters who are not represented by violence or racism – we urge you to remove it, to loudly disavow hateful speech. Hate benefits no cause. Hatred will taint any undertaking to which it is attached. Hate must not emerge from this protest as a normalised form of political speech. We cannot let that be an outcome.

Some of the hate on display is the hatred of Jews, but antisemitism is not a separate problem and there is no separate solution to it. We call on our Jewish institutions to actively integrate our community with the wider antiracist work that is being done in Aotearoa. Hatred must be confronted and rebuffed by a broad, loving, uncompromising embrace of justice, tolerance and mutual protection.  

17/02/2022

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa – New Zealand is a non-Zionist Jewish collective.

Hello? Who is speaking for us??

This is about transparency and representation, so we begin with disclosure.

We record on our homepage that Alternative Jewish Voices is a collective, not a membership organisation. We do not seek donations and we represent only ourselves. Occasionally we ask some friends if they would like to co-sign a post. We are not a rival institution to the entities discussed here. We want to broaden the public dialogue and strengthen the representative nature of existing Jewish institutions. Here, we want to clarify the interests of several groups which might be presumed to speak for our Jewish community.

To put that more bluntly, when members of the media and the public read statements, they should understand who is speaking. If the media wish to present the views of the Jewish community, they need to look more broadly.

In a small community, a few people are always over-represented in organisations. In Aotearoa’s Jewish community, overlapping organisations amplify a few voices whose politics are out of step with the mainstream. There is nothing illegal about that, but we will suggest that it has been harmful.

The Israel Institute is a company, registered in 2019. Together, its three directors (only one of whom is Jewish) embody the meeting of New Zealand’s Jewish and Evangelical Zionism and conservative secular politics. Director Perry Trotter’s bio from his presentation of a 2012 paper to the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization describes his complilation of “resources for those seeking to share Messiah with the Jewish people.” That intersection became prominent when Jewish and Christian or Evangelical Zionists demonstrated together in support of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza during May 2021.

Palestine is habitually cast as a matter between Jews and Palestinians. The role and influence of Christian or Evangelical Zionists is discussed much less frequently. We should update our assumptions and our political analysis.

The blowtorch Zionism of David Cumin’s Israel Institute blog is far from the mainstream. Any critic of Israel will be blasted as an antisemitic lover of terror. On one page he ‘exposes’ more academics (not his first time) as extremists and Jew-haters “calling for the destruction of Israel.” He describes NZ universities as bastions of support for terrorists. Their crime, of course, is to protest or permit the study of Israel’s occupation regime.

(Amnesty International has just joined Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem and others categorising Israel as an apartheid regime, a crime against humanity. The NZ Jewish Council has of course called Amnesty by all the usual names.)

The Israel Institute’s scorched earth politics are not the central issue here. David Cumin, director of the Israel Institute, is also a member of the NZ Jewish Council and the Community Security Group. Intolerance must not come to characterise institutions that claim to act or speak for the Jewish community.

The Jewish Council decries the use of Nazi memes in protest, while the Israel Institute website accuses NZ union members of seeking genocide. The page leads with a graphic of war protestors morphing into uniformed Nazis. The Jewish Council has not, to our knowledge, commented on its member’s use of Nazi imagery. Surely this is a hypocritical selectivity. Nazi references are every bit as distasteful and dishonest when they are written by Jews.

The NZ Jewish Council’s constitution claims that it is “the representative organisation of New Zealand Jewry.” We have challenged this claim in the past. The NZ Jewish Council is not elected. They are appointed indirectly by a limited number of Jewish organisations. Although some Alternative Jewish Voices members have belonged to synagogues for decades, none of us has ever participated in a Jewish Council selection process. Jews unaffiliated with a synagogue are entirely unrepresented.

The Jewish Council’s composition is not representative. Are they inclusive, if not representative?

Shortly after her comments at the Christchurch anti-terror hui provoked a walkout by participants, Jewish Council Spokesperson Juliet Moses appeared on David Cumin’s podcast (Both Ms Moses and Mr Cumin are members of the Jewish Council but we are not aware if Ms Moses remains the spokesperson). Ms Moses used the podcast to warn (around minute 45), “One of the things we need to be wary of and conscious of is the rising fringe group in the Jewish community who have decided to raise their voice… I’m speaking here about the group that’s called Alternative Jewish Voices [and others]. I think we need to be very conscious of that group and think about how to disempower them as much as possible.” 

When the Jewish Council’s unelected members publicly seek to suppress speech, disempower Jewish voices, disseminate Nazi imagery and wild accusations against academia and labour activists (both professions of historic Jewish solidarity), well, the council needs to resolve its internal contradictions before it can aspire to represent the community.

By choosing to speak overwhelmingly about Zionism and antisemitism, the Jewish Council does a further disservice to the fullness of our Aotearoa Jewish community and our interests. What a sadly limited impression of Jewishness they give to our neighbours.

Those public politics do not draw from, and do not represent, the whole of our community. Those things took place the light of day. The following matter does not, and its implications extend beyond the Jewish community.

The Community Security Group (CSG) exists “to support the protection of Jewish lives and the Jewish way of life” in New Zealand.  Some of its activities certainly do aim to do that. We wish to distinguish clearly between the genuine efforts of its volunteers, and one pernicious matter here.

A year ago, Fred Albert and Marilyn Garson contacted the CSG directly in writing, to express their concerns regarding CSG monthly reports which purport to document antisemitism and assess the level of threat to the local Jewish community. The reports were circulated through community newsletters and email groups, and Fred and Marilyn were told that some content was shared with security agencies.

Some of us have been involved in risk and threat assessments elsewhere.  The CSG’s reporting did not follow responsible procedures.

In 2021 the reports were not shared with the community. That was a positive step given the method being used. However, it removed the reporting process entirely from scrutiny. Fred and Marilyn wrote to the CSG again in 2022, and notified them of their intention to state their concerns publicly.

The 2020 reports copied from an Israeli website some international incidents which “conform to the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.” That expansive definition renders criticism of Israel as Jew-hatred. The IHRA definition has no official standing anywhere in Aotearoa, yet it was the basis of the CSG reports.

The IHRA ideology of the report is crucial, because it led the report writer to toss valid, non-violent political protest into the bucket of racism. Objections to Israel’s armed actions on the other side of the world, with no reference to Jews or the Jewish community of Aotearoa, were treated as racist threat.

The CSG reporting exercise is a fine example of the danger of the IHRA definition.  Real racism is lost when the parameters are stretched beyond meaning.

The reports cited some disturbing, ugly antisemitic hate (not always from within New Zealand). Unfortunately those genuine statements of hate were diluted by being thrown together with statements of protest – and even with articles that documented the danger of using the IHRA definition! Disagreement was not distinguished from threat. Valid protest was rendered antisemitic by association.

Fred and Marilyn combed through six months of reports, and submitted a four-page letter of objections in January 2021. We extract from their letter:

“How does this help in ensuring the safety of the community? … Disagreement with your view is not a risk as such, and probably not a threat…. Our view is that readers are being shown a highly politicised perspective in the guise of important security situational awareness and we are given the impression that our community is being protected when in fact this is an exercise in politics rather than security…. This misdirects the community’s concern by suggesting that our insecurity is best identified by seeking out those who disagree with your views of Israel, and protest its occupation of Palestinian land.  History does not support that assumption.”

The letter documented specific instances of misleading reporting, and examples of social media expressions of protest which contained no element of antisemitic or other threat. If you have ever participated in such legal expressions of protest, this should give you pause.

The letter concluded that none of those instances “in any way implies hatred of Jews or Jewishness, supports violence or can be characterised as antisemitic…. Examples like these suggest that you are writing a report about disagreement with Israel, rather than a report about threats posed to the New Zealand Jewish community.  It is, of course, your right to disseminate your views but it is disingenuous to do so in the guise of security.  We are concerned for the reputations that will be damaged, and for the false sense that we, as a community, are endangered by disagreement rather than by the genuine pathology of antisemitism.”

Fred Albert and Marilyn Garson have again written, calling for a different process. Because this practice affects people within and beyond our community, we, Alternative Jewish Voices list our objections here.

  • Neither we nor those who are harmed by false labels have any way to know whether the CSG continues to share misleading information with security agencies. Given the statements of the IINZ and NZ Jewish Council, protest in New Zealand already takes place in the shadow of such behaviour. We call for transparency.
  • We fear that the punishment of solidarity with Palestinian rights continues to masquerade as threat assessment, doing a disservice both to political debate and to genuine threat awareness. It is legal to protest in Aotearoa. Every faith community should be safe. Those two values must – and can – be more wisely secured.
  • The pernicious IHRA definition is not Aotearoa’s definition of racism. By choosing an ideological tool, the reports failed in their stated goal of threat assessment. People can criticise Israel without antisemitism, and without posing a threat to the Jewish community. The CSG’s standard and their mindset need to change.
  • We do not know if the CSG shares information with any entity outside of New Zealand, an act that would be treated differently by legislation including our Privacy Act. If political information is being shared with Israel, it could impact Palestinians’ ability to travel to their own land.
  • Genuine risk / threat assessment leads to action. Threat can feel paralysing without context and response. A security report should be contextualised with reference to organisations that monitor Aotearoa’s subcultures of hate, not Israel’s IHRA websites. A security group should empower its community with an integrated response within Aotearoa’s wider antiracism activity. Our CSG is ideologically unable to take those steps.

We emphatically protest the CSG’s political actions in the guise of community safety. We call for a review of the CGS’s compilation and sharing of information. People who have been falsely labelled a threat for their valid political speech should be informed so that they can respond. The CSG should apologise and correct its mischaracterisations.

Hear this: it is legal in Aotearoa to protest Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. The full individual and collective rights of Palestinians do not threaten the Jewish community. It does not endanger us when Palestinians tell us their experience, their identity and their aspirations.

In conclusion, there is less substance than meets the eye in the institutions which might be presumed to represent the Jewish community. They are unable to situate us well within the community around us, parts of which they are busy alienating. This is to everyone’s detriment.

We call on the institutions which claim to represent us, to do just that.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa-New Zealand

We were wrong, and we take it back.

Image from B’Tselem report: Settler Violence = State Violence

Over and over we have asked ourselves and others, how do you think change will be made? We have advocated for the value of holding a door open for people who see that something is wrong in Israel / Palestine, but who do not act. They are the doubting Liberals, the disgruntled Zionists, the ineffectual diplomats, the Progressive-except. By some feat of cognitive dissonance, they are all able to live with a Palestinian exception to their values. We held out hope that information would spur people of conscience to action. After all, numbers build the political pressure for change, and these looked like proximate groups from which to add numbers.

2021, we thought, would be the year that moved people of conscience to action.

The attempted obliteration of Palestine belongs in the category of racism or inequality: structures predicated on intentional injustice. This is a category with no neutral ground. People may express no opinion, but their silence is not neutral because they have a very real, complicit effect. Theirs is the foot on the accelerator. By not (at least) pressing each government to uphold law, treaties and the protections we all owe to an occupied people; bystanders give the occupiers their impunity. Go ahead, no one will hold you accountable. We’ll look the other way.

Desmond Tutu said it simply, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

The horror of 2021 was beyond ignoring, especially the plummeting quality of life in Gaza since Israel’s bombardment. As never before, the most mainstream of media – Vanity Fair, for goodness sake, twice! – placed some graphic reality under our noses. But 2021 went by and mocked our faith in the conscience of the uninvolved.

The diplomatic bystanders admit that it is bad but they hope that it will not always be bad. They ask everyone to be nice as if everyone were equally aggressing. They speak about peace rather than the justice on which any durable peace is built. These people call for patience while the Israeli government seals the exits.

Wait nicely, the Liberal Zionists add, because the problem is Netanyahu. Until he goes, Palestinians and their allies must not resort to violence or display anger, or produce literature, art or history that refers to Palestinian national experience, identity, or existence. They must not make peaceful economic choices that limit the profitability of occupation.  No Nakba, please, we’re fragile.

Netanyahu left office in the middle of 2021, to spend more time with his busy court docket. Since then, Israel’s government has criminalised six leading Palestinian human rights and legal NGOs. It is now expelling Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, carrying out the actions which sparked Palestinian protests last May. It is withholding precisely the materials (such as water pipes) needed to repair the Gazan infrastructure that it shattered in May. Gaza’s formal unemployment has risen to 50.2% although its “actual unemployment is much higher.” Israeli soldiers openly escort West Bank settlers to assault Palestinians. Even Rabbis For Human Rights recognises these settler militias as terror groups. The government of Israel continues to ignore its health obligations as an occupier, despite the Palestinian Ministry of Health pleading for resources to respond to the Omicron outbreaks that began in December in the West Bank and Gaza.

So Netanyahu was not the problem. The problem is a lie, a lie that underpins the intentions of settler colonialism. The lie prefaces apartheid law. The lie is the foundation of the ghetto walls around the Gaza Strip. The problem is a racist belief that values and discounts human life ethnically.

B’Tselem calls this reality “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

Human Rights Watch summarises,

“Across two governments, each in power for roughly half of 2021, Israeli authorities doubled down on policies to repress Palestinians and privilege Jewish Israelis. The government’s policy of maintaining the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians … amounts to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

What can be said to people who see this spreading despair yet continue to imagine that they inhabit a Department of Clean Hands – a safe, privileged place of willful irrelevance. No risk, no responsibility, and no incriminating mirrors. No Palestine please, we’ve excused ourselves.

They are not excused, because standing back is taking a side. Bystanders do not keep the peace because the momentary suppression of resistance is not peace. The complicity of the bystander keeps the tanks rolling and the olive trees burning and it keeps hundreds of children languishing in military jails.

Nelson Mandela saw in 1997 that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” And look: the allies who support Palestinians’ assertion of their full individual and collective rights do so through solidarity. Whether they recognise in the occupation their own stolen land, their own attempted erasure or baked-in disadvantage, Palestine has become integral to any vision of structural change and decolonisation.

Palestinians’ allies are those who pursue justice and abhor the “new politics of exclusion” as it is being written by this occupation. And that includes the proliferating Jewish organisations who disavow occupation in our names. We believe in a Judaism beyond Zionism.

Transformational change will be made by those who turn up, and if 2021 didn’t make you turn up then nothing will.

Marilyn Garson

Fred Albert

Leigh Friday

David Weinstein

First antisemitism, now the Holocaust

While we are looking the wrong way

Assertions of Palestinians’ rights are now routinely met with a barrage of antisemitism charges. The noise doesn’t deter protest. As we write, two dozen artists have pulled out of the Sydney Festival to protest its Israeli embassy sponsorship. Still, equating protest with racism is harmful to everyone.

Having enlisted racism, the Holocaust is now being harnessed to politics.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan this week replied to Emma Watson’s statement of solidarity with Palestinians by calling her a Jew-hater. Later this month, the New York Jewish Week reports that Ambassador Erdan “will introduce a resolution opposing Holocaust denial and Holocaust distortion.” He says that he will base his resolution on the most sweeping definition of antisemitism – a definition which equates criticism of Israel with the hatred of Jews (See our resource page on this definition).

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has disqualified the Israeli government as a protector of Holocaust truth. He falsely claimed that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was inspired to extermination of Europe’s Jews by Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist. His government’s willingness to manipulate the Holocaust in the interests of illiberal allies is well documented by Sylvain Cypel. One cannot abuse and protect the truth on alternate days of the week.

To call Palestinian solidarity racist is to try to discredit the speaker by associating them with racism. It’s also a distraction from the genuine mainstreaming of far Right / white supremacist ideas which include racism.

Three distinct things are happening within the language of protest.  We need to distinguish between them, so that we can pursue both justice and antiracism.

Zionism has attracted openly antisemitic fellow travellers since Richard Spencer began calling himself a ‘White Zionist’ admirer of Israel’s ethnic supremacist regime. Trump supporters openly wore Nazi symbols to storm their Capital building, hoping to prevent a democratic handover of power.

Extremist and hateful memes were bundled into protests against COVID public health measures by the American Right. That noxious bundle has now been imported to Aotearoa.

Of the COVID protest in Wellington on November 9, Nicky Hager warned, “When people I know march down the road with white supremacists, Trump supporters, fundamentalist Christians, people who are pro-guns, anti-UN, anti-immigrant and anti-Jewish, people who believe a powerful “them” want to kill millions and enslave the earth, things have got totally out of hand…. I strongly suspect the Covid resistance is being actively used by some on the right of New Zealand politics to try to destabilise Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Government.”

A separate tactic of name-calling can enlist Holocaust references to undermine valid political speech. For example –

  • In June, the Israel Institute of NZ accused union members of somehow “promoting the murder of Jews” by protesting Israel’s violence against Palestinians. The IINZ webpage features a collage in which a protester morphs into a uniformed Nazi.
  • On December 28, 2020, a Stuff OpEd vaguely wondered whether the memes could be blamed on Green MP Golriz Ghahraman. When challenged on Twitter, the writer attributed to Ghahraman a statement that Israel has committed the “grossest of war crimes, crimes against humanity and, I would say, genocide.” Ghahraman stated her opinion as a lawyer who has worked on war crimes trials. Although the remark does not refer to the Holocaust at all, this OpEd writer accuses her of ‘Holocaust revisionism.’ Stuff published his view uncritically.

There is also a third category of Holocaust reference. Genocide and apartheid may be referenced in protest to name the very worst actions. ‘Genocide’ and ‘apartheid’ are categories of crime – essential subjects which create obligations for us and our government. However, to invoke the Holocaust, rather than the crime of genocide, is misleading and distressing to many people.

We are being desensitised by evermore extreme language. Alternative Jewish Voices will not adopt it, and we will not be moved by it. Instead, we will dig our heels into ground truth.

  1.  The expansive linkage of antisemitism with support for Palestinian liberation is based on a definition which has no standing in Aotearoa. We must not let this overreach go unnoticed. Solidarity with Palestine is not per se antisemitic. The rights of Palestinians are not about Jews.
  2. We protest any denial or distortion of the Holocaust for the same reason that we protest any denial or distortion of the ongoing Nakba. These real, lived experiences belong with us, intact, to spur progress toward human equality and freedom.
  3. Genocide is a category of crime, like apartheid. The discussion of crimes against Palestinians, Uighurs, Rohingya or others is not anti-Jewish (nor is it anti-Cambodian or anti-Rwandan). On the contrary, vigilance honours history and we are all obliged to act on crimes against humanity.
  4. Notwithstanding the existence of racism anywhere in society, the systematic use of Nazi memes characterises white supremacist movements and the far Right.

This last point has been made before but it bears repeating: when anyone is racist, they are wrong. When a white supremacist is racist, they are explaining a core component of their world view. Racism, including antisemitism, fuels their resentment and justifies their violence. No racist gets a pass, but the one is wrong while the other belongs to a demonstrably, repeatedly dangerous cohort.

That is a danger from which we must not be distracted. Look Right for trouble.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa – New Zealand