Not At This Hui, And Not In Our Names

Alternative Jewish Voices responds to the statements of NZ Jewish Council spokesperson. Our release also appears on Scoop here: https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO2106/S00124/not-at-this-hui-and-not-in-our-names.htm

We, Alternative Jewish Voices, hope for a productive and unifying second day at the Christchurch anti-terrorism hui.  Security is something we build together and give each other. A threat may be singular, but our safety is collective.

We are saddened to hear that such a kaupapa has been disrespected and we are, additionally, horrified to hear Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses double down on her claim that she was expressing the sentiment of our national Jewish community.

It was wrong to coopt the hui for statements that (according to the comments of those present) securitised and essentialised the Muslim community.  We object to any statement that presumes Palestinian solidarity must imply a love of violence.  Such statements are wrong, period; and it was additionallty wrong to bring those politics into the anti-terrorism venue in particular. 

We feel for those who have been hurt, but we are heartened to hear that the hui will continue with its mission.

We have challenged the Jewish Council’s claim to represent our community.  We repeat our statement in order to challenge Ms Moses’s present claim that the Council’s politics represent the fears of all NZ Jews.

The NZ Jewish Council records its mission thus: “The Council is the representative organisation of New Zealand Jewry. Its objective is to promote the interests, welfare and wellbeing of New Zealand Jewry.” 

However, as we understand it, NZ Jewish Council members are chosen by a number of regional Jewish councils.  The NZ Jewish Council members seem to be appointed through a series of indirect institutional processes.  Members of Alternative Jewish Voices who belong to synagogues – some for many years – have never had any direct input to the composition of the NZ Jewish Council.  Jews who are not members of a synagogue don’t appear to have any voice in these processes at all.  The NZ Jewish Council does not attempt to elicit, include or represent the spectrum of views within the Jewish community.

We want our neighbours to understand that the ardent Zionist voices of the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute do not represent the whole community of New Zealand Jews. They emphatically do not represent us.

Alternative Jewish Voices wishes all participants in the Christchurch hui wisdom and unity.  We all need your kaupapa and we will all benefit from it.

Alternative Jewish Voices of New Zealand

Not just antisemitism: protest that neither hates nor falsely equates

Members of Alternative Jewish Voices and Wellington Palestine sat down last weekend to explore the speech of protest that neither hates nor falsely equates.  

We find that language in the discourse of human rights, because rights are either everyone’s rights, or they are nothing. We reject any language which ethnically ranks and values human beings.  Rights value us according to a single, shared human standard.  Then the law can distinguish between the different obligations of occupier and occupied, and the wildly different proportions of actual harm.

We deplore the weapons of war because we are all flesh and blood and family.  We mourn all of the deaths. We do not equate the dangers or the damages. We protest Israel’s regime, wherein the weapons are wielded so disproportionately by the powerful against the powerless.  We call for legal accountability to replace the present, violent impunity.

That is not anti-Israel.  Accountability takes the side of civilians. The armed party which does the overwhelming share of the wrongful killing and destruction, earns the overwhelming share of the law’s attention.  The community which experiences the overwhelming share of the dispossession, loss and harm deserves the greatest part of our concern, our protection.  B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, tracks the casualties of this occupation.  Through the past twenty years, the casualites have been 88% Palestinian. 

Now another 256 are dead in Gaza; 12 in Israel.  It is wrong to decry these factual proportions as anti-Israel, or to attribute antisemitic motives to speakers who are simply counting.

Early in the Great March of Return, Ha’aretz published an Op-Ed by an American rabbi, titled, If You Call the Gaza Death Toll ‘Disproportionate,’ How Many Israelis Have to Die for the Sake of Symmetry?  On May 17, 2018, I responded.

“The deaths arising from Gaza’s weeks-old protests are one-sided: the IDF has killed more than 100 Gazans. They have injured more protestors than Gaza has hospital beds. Médecins Sans Frontières has noted an alarming pattern among the gunshot wounds, indicating a particularly harmful choice of ammunition. No Israeli has been injured or killed.

“You ask whether a person who observes these facts would like to see ‘a hundred Jewish bodies strewn across the desert.’  No, I would not. I am simply observing a fact. I am not seeking more deaths; I am seeking fewer. I am calling attention to avoidable killing. If I may not note the factual distribution of death, then what am I allowed to say?”

Facts are allowed.  Essentializing, dehumanizing hate is not.  Between them lies a hotly contested political vocabulary.

This vocabulary includes objective, discomfiting words like apartheid, a crime against humanity.  Human rights lawyers have repeatedly found that Israel’s arrangements of power constitute apartheid. Their legal analyses make the term available to the rest of us.  I object when anti-Jewish motives are attributed to people for using such substantiated terminology.  It is incidental that this apartheid happens to benefit Jews.  The point is that it illegally, systemically oppresses our fellow human beings. 

If it is antisemitic for non-Jews to conflate ‘Israel,’ ‘Zionist’ and ‘Jews,’ then why do we allow Zionist spokespeople to do precisely that – to hide Israel’s military regime in the protected religious sphere of Judaism?  Are they not essentialising all Jews as nationalists and occupiers? 

When the proponents of Israel’s occupation call their critics antisemitic, they also logically encroach on the meaning of semitism.  I am a Jew, a Semite.  The category is ancient and precious to me. See what they are doing to it. If it is antisemitic to pursue others’ freedom, if human equality is antisemitic, then tell me what they have made of my semitism.

In this era of accusations, how often do we condemn the speech that hates and dehumanizes Palestinians?

We must urgently equalize the hateful, deadly disparity we apply to the dense civilian-military intermingling that prevails in both Israel and Gaza.  Israel consistently ranks among the most militarized states on earth.  Its Ministry of Defense stands in the commercial heart of Tel Aviv.  You can’t walk a block in Israeli cities without seeing weapons, some carried by men and women wearing uniforms and some not.  Gaza is also militarized, some of it visible and some concealed.  Yet we allow ourselves to be told that Israel’s army shields civilians while Gaza’s civilians are deployed to shield Hamas fighters. Which is it? This perception conditions our understanding of justifiable and wrongful killing.

Israel has wiped out generations of Palestinian families on the pretext of striking at individual members of Hamas.  It beggars belief to suggest that Israelis – or anyone else – would accept the killing en masse of generations of the families of their own soldiers, teachers, civil servants, rubbish collectors or police with the same rationale. Nor, straying geographically, would Israelis or anyone else call it justice to blow up the family homes of people suspected of crimes, as Israel does in the West Bank.

Israeli police stations are civic installations, yet the IDF blew up “dozens” of Gaza’s police stations as military targets.  In all these ways, the prevalence of arms in Israel is not seen as forfeiting civilian status. The mere, unproven association with Hamas is allowed to militarize extended families and apartment towers in the Gaza Strip. 

Which is it?  Each inversion protects Israelis and strips Palestinians of their civilian protection. 

We begin discounting Gazan life when we allow “Hamas” to stand in for the name of the place being bombed. Israel does not bomb Hamas, because Hamas is not a place. We see with our own eyes that every bomb lands on the Gaza Strip, an overwhelmingly civilian community.  To euphemise the repeated bombardment of Gazan Palestinians as ‘mowing the lawn’ is the ultimate denial of their humanity. That speech drips with hate and incitement.

It is imperative that we continue to protest boldly, because this did not end with the grief and the wreckage of Gaza.  Since the ceasefire, another 800 Palestinians are facing expulsion from their homes in Silwan.  Naftali Bennett may become Israel’s Prime Minister despite declaring, “I’ve already killed a lot of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.”  Ayelet Shaked may return to prominence despite reminding Israeli soldiers in 2014 to kill the Palestinian “little snakes,” to kill their mothers and to destroy their homes.

The triggers are all still cocked. 

Marilyn Garson, Alternative Jewish Voices of NZ

Ceasefire, but we cannot let this go the same way

Photo Marilyn Garson, from a reclaimed rubble sea wall, Gaza City

I lived in Gaza from 2011, through the attack of 2014, and for one year after. I am not Palestinian, but some of the things I remember will be relevant in the coming months.

The bombardment was shattering. There followed a winter of soul-destroying neglect by donor states. Tens of thousands of Gazans remained in UNRWA shelter-schools.  Many more families shivered in remnant housing, on tilting slabs of concrete, in rooms with three walls and a blanket hung in lieu of a fourth, persistently cold and wet. 

Recovery?  America sold Israel $1.9 billion in replacement arms. The World Bank assessed Israel’s bomb damage to Gaza at $4.4 billion.  Of the $5.4 billion that donors pledged to reconstruct Gaza, in that critical first year the International Crisis Group calculated that the donor states actually came up with a paltry $340 million

Aid is an insufficient place-holding response, but it is needed now.  This time, it cannot happen the same way.

In the workaday business of delivering the material needed to rebuild, the blockade allows Israel to choose the chokepoints of reconstruction.  Having bombed, Israel is allowed to carry on the assault by slow strangulation.

In 2014 they were allowed to impose a farcical compliance regime for the cement that was needed to rebuild the 18,000 homes they had damaged or destroyed.  UNRWA engineers were required to waste their days sitting next to concrete mixers.  International staff spent hours of each day driving between them to count – no shit, count – sacks of cement.  100,000 people were homeless and cement was permitted to reach them like grains of sand through an eye-dropper.  Not a single home was built through the remainder of 2014.

Perhaps this time Israel will choke off the supplies needed to re-pave the tens of thousands of square meters of road they have blown up; it will be something.  We have watched an attack on the veins and arteries of modern civilian infrastructure.  If the crossings regime is allowed to remain in place, we will be leaving the Israeli government to decide unilaterally whether Gazans will be permitted to live in the modern world. 

This time, it simply cannot go the same way. 

I was as frightened by the way the bombs changed us.  1200 hours of incessant terror and violence had re-wired our brains. The lassitude, the thousand-yard-stares, the woman from Rafah who clutched her midsection as if she could hold her twelve lost relatives in place.  I and my team of Gazan over-achievers struggled to finish any task on time.  Eight months later I found research on the anterior midcingulate cortex to help us understand how bombardment can alter the finishing brain. Every step seemed to be so steeply uphill. 

Even more un-Gazan, we often struggled alone.  The very essence of Gaza is its density.  In its urban streets you know the passersby with smalltown frequency.  Gaza coheres with the intentional social glue of resistance.  After the bombardment, people seemed to float alone with their memories. The human heart returns to the scene of unresolved trauma, and our hearts were stuck in many different rooms.

The good people who listened and cared as professionals or as neighbours, were themselves suffering.  Parents compared notes through those months: how many of their children still slept beneath their beds in case the planes came back?  Over everyone’s heads hung the knowledge that there had been no substantial agreement beyond a cessation of firing. 

I felt I was watching people reach for each other, and for meaning. Young Gazan men stood for hours, waving Palestinian flags over the rubble of Shuja’iyya while residents crawled over the rubble landscape in search of something familiar. Bright pennants sprouted across the bombed-out windows of apartments.

Not everyone found meaning. Suicide and predatory behaviour also rose. Hamas cracked down on dissent violently, while more-radical groups made inroads among young people who may have felt they had no other agency.  

The aftermath was all these things at once. When I left Gaza in late 2015, it felt poised between resuming and despairing. Since then, it has gone on for another six years.  This bombardment picked up where the last one left off: in 2014 the destruction of apartment blocks was Israel’s final act and this time, it was their opening salvo.

This time, we cannot let it go the same way.

I had to learn to harness my sadness and outrage.  If we are to make it different this time, we need to do that.

In the first weeks after the 2014 bombing, I could only rage at the blockade wall but the wall stood, undented. I didn’t know how to look further, and as a Jew I was afraid to look further. I began to read books on military accountability. Those principles helped to focus my gaze beyond the wall.

Now as then, we have witnessed a barbaric action, comprised of choices.  Individuals are accountable for each of those choices.  It is neither partisan nor, must I say it, antisemitic to call them to account ceaselessly.  Accountability takes the side of civilian protection.  If one belligerent causes the overwhelming share of the wrongful death and damage, then that party has duly earned the overwhelming share of our attention.  Call them out.

Loathe the wall but rage wisely at its structural supports: expedient politics, the arms trade that profits by field-testing its weapons on Gazan Palestinians, any denial of the simple equality of our lives, the hand-wringing or indifference of the bystander.  Those hold the wall up.

Prior to this violence, Donald Trump had been busily normalising Israel’s diplomatic relations – good-bye to all that.  Normalise BDS, not the occupation of Palestine.  Apply sustained, peaceful, external pressure as you would to any other wound.  BDS firmly rejects an apartheid arrangement of power, until all people enjoy equality and self-determination.

See and reject the single system that classifies life ethnically between the river and the sea.  When you recognise a single systemic wrong, you have recognised Palestinians as a single nation.

A statement by scholars of genocide, mass violence and human rights last week described the danger: “[T]he violence now has intensified systemic racism and exclusionary and violent nationalism in Israel—a well-known pattern in many cases of state violence—posing a serious risk for continued persecution and violence against Palestinians, exacerbated by the political instability in Israel in the last few months.”

In other words, this isn’t over and we will not let it go the same way.

The risk to Gaza now is the risk of our disengagement before we have brought down the walls.  That is the task; nothing less.  This time, Gaza must go free. 

Marilyn Garson,

Alternative Jewish Voices

We Have Come to Parliament to End This

Again today, Alternative Jewish Voices joined Wellington-Palestine, Green and Labour MPs and hundreds of our friends to demand that Aotearoa-NZ stand up and act for the protection of Gazans. We added our support to Green MP Golriz Gharahman’s motion to recognize Palestinians’ right to self-determination and statehood. And again today, we are grateful for the warm welcome and friendship we find when we stand up together. Here are our remarks:

Kia Ora, and shukran.  To each of the Palestinians here, I wish safety for your families, for all of the families.

We are the co-founder of Alternative Jewish Voices.  We join you to do the work of ending an atrocity.

Governments can end this.

The Israeli forces will bomb until governments including ours require them to stop.  That is the history.  After the 2014 bombardment, Israel’s office of the comptroller published its report.  It found that Netanyahu and Gantz had bombed Gaza with no meaningful military objective. They found pretexts to bomb for as long as the world allowed it.

They are doing it again.  Do not give them 50 days – we came here to end this.

All of it.  We abhor all the forms of violence that we see, from bombardment to the everyday humiliations of life under occupation, and the decisions of leaders who put military and nationalist interests before the wellbeing of children and civilians. 

We want Aotearoa-NZ to unequivocally condemn Israel’s disproportionate and indiscriminate violence.  We want our leaders to call out all the crimes and end the impunity, to uphold the law and protect the endangered people of Gaza.  That’s how we end it.

We are here to end our complicity in the arms trade.  After the last bombardment, America sold Israel $1.9 billion in new weapons.  This week Biden is selling Israel precision-guided missiles worth $3/4 billion.  That is military business as usual:  Israel bombs, America replenishes their bombs and Israel’s arms trade profits from each field-test of its new weapons. 

We are here to end normal trading relations with Israel, because this is not normal.  We begin by auditing and ending our arms transactions with Israel.  We end our complicity.

Then, please, send the money that we would have spent on military robots to Gaza.  Use our money to repair the roads that lead to the Al Shifa hospital, because those roads have been bombed.  Ambulances can not bring the wounded for help.

Use our money to repair Gaza’s only Covid testing lab, which has been hit and cannot operate.  Spend our money on medical aid, for Covid and for the diseases that will spread because sewage treatment has ceased. Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, the veins and arteries of modernity, is being blasted apart.  More than half of the power lines are down, half of Gaza has gone dark and without the internet, they are falling silent. Israel has shut off Gaza’s fuel supplies, and since May 10 Israel has closed the blockade’s goods entrance.  

Those are criminal acts.  Stop this assault, and use our money to rebuild.

And please send our money to build playgrounds.  Hire counsellors to comfort the children of Gaza. That is where our money belongs. 

And send our recognition.

In a world of state power and inter-state institutions, stateless people will always be vulnerable.  Aotearoa-NZ has withheld Palestinians’ equal standing to speak for themselves in a state-based world.  We support the Green Party initiative to give Palestinians their national voice as a state.  Let us hear them speak and negotiate about their land, their resources, their aspirations and right now, their safety.

Recognition would be a step toward resolving this with justice, not merely suspending the fighting.

And we end this as Jews.  Plenty of us are horrified and disturbed by the bombardment of Gaza.  See our protests, all around the world.  We who love our religion – we need to say out loud that this isn’t it.

So I ask my fellow NZ Jews to join us. Do not wring your hands.  Use your hands to pick up a sign and protest.  What good is your horror without your voice?  Come and shout with us:  we revoke the license that we have given to Israel. 

Netanyahu, you claim to do this in our names?  We cancel your naming rights.  Take our names off your bombs.  Your apartheid, your blockade, that is not our Judaism – we reject it.

The ghetto you have built and bombed in Gaza has no place in our Judaism – we are disgusted by your actions.

We who have enabled, we need to act now, to end this and pursue a just peace for all who live between the river and the sea.

Do justice, love mercy.

B’Shalom – ya’tik al afiah – nga mihi nui.

Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Hamas

A few simple facts to distinguish between the Israeli government’s claim that it is ‘bombing Hamas’ and the actual bombs that are landing on the Gaza Strip.

May be an image of fire and sky
photo credit: AFP

The Israeli armed forces are not dropping bombs on Hamas, because Hamas is not a place.  They are dropping bombs on Gaza, which is one of the most densely populated places on this earth.  The language of ‘bombing Hamas’ gives us the soothing impression that the bombs land in a distinct, guilty, non-civilian Hamas-place.  No such location exists in Gaza.

Israeli space also densely mingles the civilian with the military.  The headquarters of the Israeli Ministry of Defense stands in the commercial centre of Tel Aviv.  Uniformed and / or armed Israelis can be seen on every sidewalk of Israel’s cities and towns. The government of Israel has long justified its aggressive force-protection stance by labelling its army as civilians in uniform.  Yet Israel demands its full share of civilian protections.

Israel places police stations in every neighbourhood, yet it just blew up ‘dozens’ of Gaza’s police stations as ‘Hamas targets.’

I heartily wish that every combatant would stand at a distance from every non-combatant in this world, truly I do.  Until that happens, we must not allow anyone to discount the safety of Gaza’s civilian space as it is being discounted in this bombardment.

I have grappled with my dislike of Hamas in print and through four years of living under Hamas’s rule.  I am no defender of theirs.  I consider Hamas to be an unfortunate product of Israel’s occupation.

However, in Israel’s official speech, “Hamas” becomes a deadly strategic convenience that confuses our understanding of civilian Gaza.  So, a few simple facts.

Hamas is the governing authority in the Gaza Strip. It employs teachers, rubbish collectors and countless other non-combatant civil servants.  Those people are civilians.  The homes of combatant and non-combatant Hamas employees hold families.  Those families are civilians.  The family members of Hamas combatants have not forfeited their civilian protections. The children of Hamas combatants have the same protected status as any other child.

Human Rights Watch studied Israel’s targeting of Hamas persons in their family homes across Gaza in 2014.  Its findings are titled: “Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians: Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy.”

 

Hamas rockets did not start this.  Nakba started this.  Blockade.  Repeated bombardments and deprivation.  Now Sheikh Jarrah has triggered an uprising that Hamas joined with its rockets.  History books don’t begin their explanations with today’s events, and neither should our media.

Rockets do not let Israel off the hook for its bombs.  No number of rockets can relieve Israel of its legal obligations regarding Gazan civilians – not for one instant – because Israel’s obligations are not to Hamas.  In the laws of war and occupation, belligerents are not responsible to each other.  Each belligerent is independently responsible and accountable for its actions.  One violation does not release anyone else from their legal obligations.  

Israel fires at will and has time to make its choices.  It chooses to bomb overwhelmingly at night, exacerbating the fear and depriving everyone of sleep.  Israeli planes and drones and tanks and gunships could fire just as well in daylight because Gaza has no defensive weapons. 

We must hold Israel accountable for its choices. To understand what that means, here’s a good enquiry into military accountability for the deaths they call collateral.

I do not celebrate the rockets, because I hate weapons of war – but I do not equate the weapons of the powerful and the powerless.  Rockets make a hole in the ground.  Bombs blow up apartment buildings and essential infrastructure.  Common sense would never confuse them, and neither should our government in its official statements.

I am aghast when I see the wreckage, the shattered bodies and the now-homeless survivors, the petrified children and the grieving parents who will have this horror imprinted on their minds forever. When an unvaccinated, trapped populace flees before one of the world’s most powerful (vaccinated) military machines, I am speechless at the notion of Israel’s restraint – let alone its claim to victimhood. 

Just look, and you will see who is the aggressor and who in need of defense.

When I speak about Gaza, people sometimes tell me that they hesitate to stand up because they’re afraid that they might disrespect the Holocaust. 

Standing up to protect our fellow human beings does not disrespect anyone.  Indifference disrespects the memory of every person who ever needed us to act.

We honour history by living with moral courage.  A trapped community is under assault by one of the most powerful militaries on earth.  Stand up for it.

Help Gaza. Do you understand – we end this.  We own the laws of protection.  Israel always, only stops when it is told to stop by other states. Israel’s Office of the Comptroller assessed that the 2014 war was fought without a meaningful strategy.  They bombed until the world stopped them.  Now they are doing it again.

Jacinda Ardern, we beg you to tell them to stop. 

Marilyn Garson  

Alternative Jewish Voices

Standing together on Nakba Day in sadness and solidarity, outrage and radical hope

May 15, at Wellington’s Nakba Day gathering, we joined Palestinians and many others in outrage and (in the words of another speaker) radical hope. These remarks will be Alternative Jewish Voices’ Nakba Day statement.

Kia Ora,

Thank you – shukran – for inviting me. 

The protests in NZ are furthest from Palestine, so, from the ends of the earth we are with you, seeking your protection, your freedom and all of our futures – because I will only be free when we are all free and safe.

My name is Marilyn Garson, and I am a co-founder of Alternative Jewish Voices.  I’m here with my co-founder Fred Albert. We are with friends and we bring messages of support from more Jewish friends up and down the Island.  We are with you, in sadness and in solidarity.  To each of the Palestinians here today, we wish safety and justice for your families.

Nakba Day and Sheikh Jarrah are both about family homes.  A few generations ago, our antecedents, seeking shelter, took the homes of others.  They drove Palestinians out their homes and built a militarized regime of occupation and apartheid.  Until we resolve it on that level, the Nakba will continue to be an event in the present tense. Israeli settlers are still trying to force Palestinian families out of their homes in the West Bank, in Sheikh Jarrah.  The settlers have ethnic laws and overwhelming force on their side, but their impunity has abruptly ended.

There is no way back to their status quo, because their status quo caused the absolute horror that we see unfolding. 

Let me say that I dread violence, I dread anyone’s violence.  But I do not equate the actions of the powerful and the powerless.  I hate the weapons of war but I see the cause, the power disparities and the proportions of harm.  The Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem tracks the casualties of this Israeli regime. Through the past 20 years, the casualties have been 88% Palestinian – and those have been grossly, disproportionately Gazan. 

As a Jew, I do not know how it has felt to be Palestinian through those years.  I do not narrate the experience of those years.  I listen while you tell me what those years have meant.

But I do know how it feels to sit beneath the bombs in Gaza.  I worked in Gaza through the last war.  I sat beneath four years of bombs, and my body will remember them forever. The bombs that Israeli forces are dropping in Gaza are larger by an order of magnitude than the rockets.  Nowhere on this earth are the power disparities greater than in the repeated bombardments of Gaza.  They are not bombing Hamas, because Hamas is not a tidy, separate, non-civilian place.  No, they are bombing Gaza.  One of the most powerful militaries on earth is bombing in overwhelmingly civilian cities, where a million children are trapped behind a wall.  Gazans are fighting to claim their most basic human rights, to walk free and drink clean water. When buildings are falling around them, when unvaccinated civilians flee from a vaccinated army, when we all know there is no safe place behind that wall – you tell me, who is the aggressor, and who is in need of self-defense? 

I plead with our government to act. Jacinda Ardern, Nanaia Mahuta, where are you?  Gaza is in great danger – we need you to stand up and help them. Occupied people are legally protected people and we need you to enforce the laws of protection. 

To our fellow Jews we say, surely this is not the Israel you had in mind.  So please join us.  Standing here, together, you can see the future.  This madness will end when we admit what we have done, when we listen, restore, return – then we can begin to transform this mess together.  We who hold the power, we start by saying:  “Our lives have equal value.  Jewish supremacy is not our Judaism.  I will not have it done in my name.”

Occupation is not our Judaism – not in my name.  Apartheid is not our Judaism – not in my name.  Bomb a million children behind blockade walls – never, never in my name.  That is not our Judaism.

Our Judaism says: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: justice, justice you shall pursue

We join you to do the work of seeking justice together.

B’Shalom – Ya’tik al afiyah – Nga mihi nui.

Alternative Jewish Voices of NZ

— We are grateful to everyone for their warm welcome, and to our friends at Wellington Palestine for their hard work

Image credits: Tommy-Morum Kelly

In Gaza, the bombs had names on them

Again but differently, that terrifying open-ended escalation.

In 2014, Israel’s final, gratuitous act in Gaza was its bombing of two residential apartment buildings.  In 2021, it is their opening gambit.  They have picked up where they left off – but it’s different this time.  UNRWA which sheltered 293,000 displaced people in 2014 has been gutted by Trump while Gaza’s health, water and other essential infrastructures have been hollowed out by Israel through the years.  Where will people go for shelter?

This time, there is Covid on one side.  Israel has vaccinated its military and systematically refused to meet its legal obligations to vaccinate the Palestinians whose land it occupies.  Gazans in distress, in relatives’ homes, in hospitals, will be unable to socially distance.

It is different within Israel, too.  Rockets are reaching further and causing casualties. There is an uprising in Lod.  I dread the violence, everyone’s violence.  I am afraid for my family, I am worried and sad for everyone.

Still, I cannot understand this unless I distinguish between the equal rights of civilians to safety, and the grossly unequal Israeli regime that has placed them all in such danger.  With that distinction, I know there is no way back to the status quo ante, because the status quo caused this. 

Generations of settler-colonial occupation, racially differentiated laws and life prospects, forced expulsion and violence with impunity – that was the status quo. Palestinians have abruptly overturned it.  Rejecting the forced expulsion of families from Sheikh Jarrah and incensed by the paramilitary violation of their sacred space, 80,000 Palestinians faced down the soldiers and prayed at Al Aqsa Mosque.  With that, the status quo was over.  There is no way back.

So I sit with my fears, I dream about a post-racial society that has dealt with its crimes, and I send my best to clear-eyed strangers.

But I will not sit still while Gaza is under bombardment.  That is different.  The wall makes that different.

Two million people are trapped within an illegal blockade, crowded together in a pandemic, lacking reliable supplies of clean water or electricity.  Most of all, they lack any way to move to safety.  You cannot protect civilians behind a wall.  I know this.  I was part of the UNRWA emergency response team that could not keep displaced Palestinians safe enough from Israel’s bombardment in 2014.

My heart is racing today as it used to race then.

Gaza is so small that the bombs have names on them.  First the sound smacks into your chest and the earth shudders, and a moment later the curtains flap inward from the rushing air.  You turn to each new pillar of smoke and dust and flame, and you ask, “Who do I know there – which of my friends lives there?  Who have I lost?”  And even if you don’t know anyone in that neighbourhood, the density of Gaza means that the bomb had someone’s name on it.  Someone has lost.

No matter how many bombs fall, you do that every time.  You peer into every pillar of smoke and strain to know who is gone.  The number of explosions does not blunt a single one of them.

And then neighbours race toward the rubble and the fires.  Neighbours come to dig with a shovel or with their bare hands, to search for survivors or to carry the remains of their friends and families for burial.  When the other sounds abate, you hear the screams of relatives who are tormented by their wait.

The wall, the blockade makes Gaza different.

Occupied people are legally protected people.  The law makes their protection our responsibility, and the people of Gaza need us to live up to our responsibility right now.

So speak up.

Nakba is an event in the present tense – in Jerusalem and in Gaza

I woke up to the news and fear cut into me for my family in Israel.  Where are they right now?  I felt one moment of the fear that Palestinians live with.

No false equivalence: nothing about this is equal.

In video, Israeli police are heavily armed and armoured, backed by courts of ethnic law.  Palestinians stand their ground wearing T-shirts.  An armed charge into an unarmed crowd is not a ‘clash,’ it is an assault.

Israeli soldiers have been vaccinated and most Palestinians have not. To hell with Israel’s legal responsibility. They knew that no state would hold them to it, and no state has.

But look – Palestinians are changing the script before our eyes.  They are taking authorship.

On May 8, 80,000 Palestinians came to Al Aqsa Mosque. Israeli police had violated their holy place and they came to reclaim it. They overwhelmed the roadblocks and the paramilitary police and faced them down with their bodies and their prayers.

Palestinians protested in Ramallah and Jaffa, in Gaza and in Haifa.  They are unstitching the Green Line.  Palestinians and their allies are protesting around the world.

Thousands of Israelis have been filmed dancing this morning, delirious at the sight of fire in the Al Aqsa Mosque.  In 2014, Israelis sat on the hillsides of Sderot to watch the bombardment of Gaza.  I think their desensitized madness has spread; the soullessness that comes from wielding overwhelming violence with impunity.

Wait, look again. In Gaza there is danger of a different magnitude. 

Gazan fighters fired rockets to join the uprising, to protest the forced expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. I am not fond of rockets, but having seen both rockets and bombs in action, I would prefer to stand near a rocket than a one-ton bomb.  A rocket makes a hole in the ground, while the airborne bombs of the IDF make the earth tremble.

Israel conducted airstrikes in Gaza on Monday evening, following rocket fire from Gaza that caused damage to one Israeli vehicle, and “lightly injured” one Israeli civilian, according to an Israeli army statement.” 

Israeli bombs killed 20 Gazans overnight. They killed nine children, and injured scores of people. Let that attest to the relative value placed on one Israeli vehicle and twenty Gazan lives.

International governments condemned the rockets and elided the rest.

Israel, still drunk on its Trump license, may believe it can bomb Gaza with impunity.  Gazans, with clarity and unfathomable endurance, with Covid rampant behind a blockade wall, may feel they have less and less to lose.

This is a formula for catastrophe. We must not let it play out again. Gazans are not  symbols to be held up as proof after the fact.  They are human beings under assault right now, and they need our protection.

Do not tut-tut them all to step back equally, because the inequality of the status quo ante was the cause:  a regime of dispossession, apartheid, blockade, ethnically determined lives and life prospects.

We need to respond to the cause and the crimes. We need to demand that our governments uphold the laws they sign in our names to clear the way forward – not back. Intervene, protect, invoke the law, end the Nakba.

Saturday may be Nakba Day, but Nakba is an event in the present tense until we – yes we, calling on law and justice with every means available – bring it to an end.

Marilyn Garson

When a stone confronts a rifle

When a person holding a stone confronts soldiers who are armed with rifles, ask yourself why they are willing to do that.

On May 8, 80,000 Palestinians came to stand in front of rifles and pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.  They overwhelmed the rifles with their numbers and spirit.  We stand with them.

We deplore Israel’s violation of sacred space during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. We are horrified by the mob violence and the paramilitary police who enable it. This is not a ‘clash’ between two opinions, this is occupation and apartheid at work. 

We reject Israel’s campaign to dispossess the Palestinians, including current efforts to evict families from Sheikh Jarrah.  The New York Times notes, “A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said Friday that the evictions ‘would violate Israel’s obligations under international law’ prohibiting the forced transfer of residents from occupied territory…. [Aryeh] King, the deputy mayor, said ‘of course’ [the evictions] are part of a wider strategy of installing ‘layers of Jews’ throughout East Jerusalem.” 

We say, stop the evictions, and get the Israeli settlers out of occupied East Jerusalem.  This is ethnic cleansing.

Israel’s refusal to vaccinate the Palestinians whose land it occupies in Gaza and the West Bank has been condemned by UN Rapporteurs as “discriminatory and unlawful.” Covid is rampant and we plead with our governments to provide the lifesaving assistance that Israel is withholding. 

We call for an end to Israel’s impunity.  These are crimes.  We must begin to respond to them as crimes. 

We hold the Palestinian protestors in our thoughts.

 — International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine

Alternative Jewish Voices makes this statement as a member of the IJCJP.

To our fellow NZ Jews we ask, is this the Israel you had in mind?

If not, where is your protest? Why are you silent??

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism: the AJV brief

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism: 

combating racism, enabling protest 

Alternative Jewish Voices is a non-Zionist collective of New Zealand Jews.  We have written this brief to give readers some insight into the task of recognising antisemitism and adopting a definition for policy and public understanding.  You are welcome to download the brief, and please share it widely.

Worldwide, the understanding of antisemitism has become controversial.  In 2016, proponents of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA-WDA) called on civil society and governments to define and respond to antisemitism separately from other forms of racism.  Because the IHRA-WDA conflated antisemitism and protest against Israel’s occupation of Palestine, it enabled many often-baseless charges of antisemitism to be made in Aotearoa-NZ and overseas. Those who advocate for Palestinian rights have been called Jew-haters. 

This does nothing to protect the Jewish community from racism, and the confusion impedes our collective task of opposing racism in all of its forms.

In March 2021, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) 2021 was published to clarify what has become a hostile issue. The JDA situates antisemitism among all the forms of racism which require our combined action, and it offers guidance to distinguish between hatred and political disagreement.  

The two definitions thus differ in their style and intent. We believe that the JDA, while not without its problems, is a more considered document than the IHRA-WDA and we will argue that it offers more nuanced guidance to help decide whether a particular action is antisemitic.[1]

We welcome the Jerusalem Declaration, and we ask you to give it your attention.

We ask government, institutions and authorities to consider both definitions side by side if they are lobbied to adopt the IHRA-WDA as a new definition of antisemitism.  If a new definition is needed at all, then ask what each of the two definitions protects. Ask how they each preserve our right to engage in vigorous political speech without becoming the target of inflammatory accusations.

We urge authorities, media and all of New Zealand to recognise that the Zionist agenda of the IHRA-WDA does not represent the position of the whole Jewish community.

We ask our partners and our neighbours to use the JDA, to reflect on their speech and continue to act in pursuit of justice and equality.

We ask that the name-calling end, so that the real work of making positive change can continue.

Why do we need the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism now?

Regardless of the intent of its writers, the IHRA-WDA has primarily been used against Palestinians and their allies, academics and Jews who criticize Israel.  Even in Aotearoa-NZ, where the IHRA-WDA has no official standing, we have become accustomed to reading routine, sweeping accusations of antisemitism. The accusers blithely write off political protest as Jew-hatred, while overlooking the white supremacist and violent racism of the far right. Palestinians who simply tell their lived stories, or those who call for the application of human rights law in the occupied territories quickly find themselves labelled as people who hate Jews. Social media circulates these stigmatising charges widely, and the individuals have no way to clear their names. These unaccountable accusations distort the public understanding of antisemitism.  When disagreement is confused with racism, the Jewish community’s understanding of the prevalence of genuine antisemitism is also distorted.

We have objected.  Zionism is not the same as Judaism.  Zionism is Jewish nationalism, embodied in the state of Israel.  It is subject to the same political scrutiny as any other ideology or military project.  Judaism is a religion, and it belongs in the protected sphere of belief. The Jewish community is not protected from racism by foreclosing on protest or silencing Palestinian voices.  The IHRA-WDA advocates claim to act on behalf of the whole Jewish community, while seeking to discredit massive numbers of Jews as antisemites.  Something is very wrong.

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) pulls the emergency brake and resets the issues.

Comparing the definitions

Jerusalem Declaration on AntisemitismIHRA-WDA Working Definition
  Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).  Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Both documents agree that it is antisemitic to use or invoke the classical tropes of Jew-hatred, to essentialise Jews or deny the facts of the Holocaust.  The IHRA-WDA added eleven examples of speech that it considers antisemitic.  Seven of the example deal with Zionism and Israel.  This itself is a point of strong contention, since it places the ideology of Zionism in the protected space of religion.  The two definitions begin to diverge in the extent of political speech they would permit.  See our Appendix for a table of comparisons.

Beyond its text, the IHRA-WDA’s examples have been interpreted in an absolute way.  The expansive application of the IHRA-WDA created the need for the JDA’s intervention.  Therefore, the JDA goes on to cite five examples which counter the creeping presumption that anti-Zionist protest is inherently antisemitic.  The Jerusalem Declaration does not find these forms of speech to be, prima facie, hateful:

  • Supporting the Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights, as encapsulated in international law.
  • Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians … to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants
  • Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles. It also includes its policies and practices, domestic and abroad, such as the conduct of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza … It is not antisemitic to point out systematic racial discrimination.
  • Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.
  • Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights instruments. Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not, in and of itself, antisemitic. In general, the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.

We reproduce the relevant section of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism in full in the Appendix.

Other points of difference

Compare the drafting of the two definitions.  The IHRA-WDA was a working document, intended to aid data collection.  It has no academic or legal imprimatur. Two hundred eminent scholars worked for a year to draft the JDA with legal and constitutional advice.  Their gravitas gives us a serious work, purpose-built and grounded in principles of free speech and opposition to racism.

The IHRA-WDA has been pilloried for its vagueness and contradictions: it fails on its own terms as a definition.  Even the authors of the IHRA-WDA have protested the use to which their working document has been put.  Advocates have sought to harness the machinery of government to shield Israel’s occupation from challenge, in the name of the whole Jewish community.  Particular reputational harm has been done to Palestinians and their allies, to academics, and to dissenting Jews.  The climate of healthy political debate has been chilled. The public understanding of antisemitism has been distorted, in order to shield Israel’s actions from political opposition. 

Importantly, the Jerusalem Declaration does not replicate the IHRA-WDA’s activist strategy.  The JDA is not a rival manifesto but a reset.  It takes no position on Zionism; it takes a position on preserving political debate and opposing racism. 

Some activists have expressed thoughtful reservations, although most have still welcomed the JDA on balance.  They recognise that the alternative is not an imagined ideal definition.  The alternative to the JDA is the perpetuation of the IHRA-WDA’s reputational and political harm.

The Jewish community of Aotearoa-NZ is not protected by protecting Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and the IHRA-WDA is not “what the Jewish community wants.” Government, media and our neighbours must understand that there is no single Jewish position on Jewish nationalism.  We wholeheartedly believe and work to uphold the equal rights and standing of the Palestinians who are dispossessed and harmed by Israel’s actions.  Occupation is not our Judaism.

Our Hebrew name is Sh’ma Koleinu.  That means, hear our voice.  On these matters, please hear all of our voices.

In sum, the Jerusalem Declaration is a definition, an instrument, not a conclusion.  No definition will do the work of opposing racism or advancing justice.  The JDA is an emergency brake to stop the reputational harm of sweeping accusations of antisemitism, and let us get on with the work of justice and equity.  We ask you to embrace it and use it as a guide to end the name-calling, and protect the space for fearless, vigorous debate.

See our resources page: https://ajv.org.nz/resources-for-the-jerusalem-declaration-on-antisemitism/

Contact:  Marilyn Garson in Wellington or Ilan Blumberg in Auckland, shma.koleinu.nz@gmail.com

Appendix:  Detail comparison

Both definitions consider it antisemitic to use or invoke the tropes of classical Jew-hatred.  When their attention turns to speech involving Israel, they begin to diverge.  This table is comprised of direct quotes, taken out of sequence to enable comparison.

Jerusalem Declaration considers these antisemiticIHRA-WDA considers all of these to be antisemitic
 Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust. 
Assuming that non-Israeli Jews, simply because they are Jews, are necessarily more loyal to Israel than to their own countries. Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct or treating Jews, simply because they are Jewish, as agents of Israel.Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
Denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
 Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
 Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Requiring people, because they are Jewish, publicly to condemn Israel or Zionism (for example, at a political meeting).Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

In its Section C, the Jerusalem Declaration counters the IHRA-WDA’s history in practice. Proponents have used the IHRA-WDA to issue sweeping condemnations of protest as antisemitic.  We reproduce the section in full, in the hope that can help us to protect valid protest, and recognise real racism:

C. Israel and Palestine: examples that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic

(whether or not one approves of the view or action)

  1. Supporting the Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights, as encapsulated in international law.
  2. Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants “between the river and the sea,” whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.
  3. Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles. It also includes its policies and practices, domestic and abroad, such as the conduct of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, the role Israel plays in the region, or any other way in which, as a state, it influences events in the world. It is not antisemitic to point out systematic racial discrimination. In general, the same norms of debate that apply to other states and to other conflicts over national self-determination apply in the case of Israel and Palestine. Thus, even if contentious, it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.
  4. Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.
  5. Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights instruments. Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not, in and of itself, antisemitic. In general, the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.

[1] New Zealand’s law on antisemitism isn’t always clear-cut.  The Human Rights Commission has produced a useful paper on hate speech, Korero Whakamauahara: Hate Speech – an overview of the current legal framework. It is available for download here: https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/2915/7653/6167/Korero_Whakamauahara-Hate_Speech_FINAL_13.12.2019.pdf