The politics of name-calling, or, down the rabbit hole we go

The politics of name-calling, or, down the rabbit hole we go.

  • A statement by Jewish Voice for Peace is recirculated by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, protesting Israel’s refusal to vaccinate Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.  The New Zealand Jewish Council calls Ghahraman an antisemite. 
  • The International Criminal Court will investigate potential war crimes by Israeli and Palestinian armed forces.  Israeli PM Netanyahu calls that ‘the essence of antisemitism,’ and the Israel Institute calls it “a kangaroo court only against Israel.” 
  • The NZ Superfund declines to invest in five Israeli banks which fund illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.  Nicola Willis, National List MP says this is “potentially aligning New Zealand with an antisemitic movement.”  The Israel Institute circulates the report and tweets, “NZ embraces BDS.”

What else must you believe, if you consider these acts antisemitic?

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP’s) position signifies the profound disagreement within the Jewish community.  There is no single Jewish stance on Israel or its occupation.  JVP staunchly opposes Israel’s policy, but disagreement is not hatred. To find JVP antisemitic, you need to believe that they act out of hatred for Jewishness because that is what antisemitism means.  You would need to believe that JVP’s 200,000+ supporters, members of their 70+ chapters, their rabbinic, academic and artists’ councils; and New Zealand Jews like ourselves all want Palestinians to be vaccinated because we hate Jews.  

In fact, JVP’s (and our) position is anchored in the human right to health and the occupier’s obligation to proactively intervene when an occupied community is threatened by an epidemic. The Geneva Conventions and International Human Rights Law codify those rights and obligations.  The UN Special Rapporteurs have detailed why Israel’s vaccination policy is “discriminatory and unlawful.”

To find all this antisemtic, you must believe that we are all motivated by hatred rather than by the universal principles of equity and protection.  All of us.

The International Criminal Court will investigate potential war crimes committed by armed forces in Palestine / Israel, particularly in the Gaza Strip since 2014.  All armed forces will be held to the universal standard of the laws of war.  Those laws represent nations’ aspiration to minimize the harm that war inflicts upon civilians and combatants.  The laws refer to people, to flesh and blood human beings – not to religions.  The laws make armed force accountable.  They don’t mention Jewishness or treat Israel differently from anyone else.

To find that antisemitic, you need to find a hatred of Jews concealed within the universal laws and principles of civilian protection.

NZ Superfund has excluded five Israeli banks which fund Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.  Their decision document explains:

“The UN General Assembly has consistently reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) … In resolution 2334 (co-sponsored by New Zealand), the UN Security Council reaffirmed that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the OPT had no legal validity and constituted a flagrant violation under international law.”

The Superfund’s decision was governed by its Responsible Investment Framework, which is in turn “guided by the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment, domestic and international law and policy positions of the New Zealand Government.” (links to both documents are here

The UN Special Rapporteur has explained the obligations of states to uphold the law.

To find the Superfund’s act of compliance antisemitic, you must believe that the Geneva Conventions, every NZ and other government that has voted for UN resolutions for half a century, have been motivated by a hatred of Jews rather than by a legal objection to taking other people’s land by military force.

Much of the world is thus implicated in these three acts. Do you believe that we all act out of hatred for Jewishness – really, all of us?  None of us acts because we consider Palestinian rights, health, dignity, aspirations to be equal to our own?

This politics by name-calling has dug itself into one deep rabbit hole. 

Two things happen when criticism of Israel is instantly condemned as antisemitism.  They happen so fast that we need to stop and take note.

First, name-calling distracts us from the real issues of occupation and injustice.  Suddenly, we’re talking only about Israel.  Palestinian voices have been pre-emptively silenced. Of course Palestinians protest, because they experience the violence of occupation.  However, when protest is rendered necessarily antisemitic, Palestinian protest can be ignored.  We reject that.  Palestinians have their own stories, and Palestinian rights are not about Israel.

Second, when anti-Zionism is rendered antisemitic, Zionism is elevated into the protected sphere of our Jewish beliefs.  Suddenly, Jewish nationalism has appropriated our Jewish religion.  We reject that, because occupation is not our religion.  Suddenly it sounds as if hatred is the only basis for anyone’s opposition to Zionism, and we reject that.  We are not Zionists because we value human lives equally, and that principle is a part of the Jewishness that we love.

We need anchors to understand current events, not slogans.  Each of the actions above is anchored in enduring principles: law, human rights and dignity, the accountability of power.  Those ideals secure us all because they respond universally to racism (including antisemitism) and oppression. 

By contrast, politics by name-calling divides us, and seeds suspicion between us. It blurs political disagreement into imagined racial hatred. Social media companies have become obscenely rich by separating us into echo chambers where we don’t need to hear anything that challenges our confirmation bias.

As long as we are conducting politics in this cheap way, we are also giving the real hatred a free pass.  When someone who claims to be liberal expresses antisemitism, of course we need to call them out. They have betrayed their stated principles.  Far more systematically and far more dangerously, none of this name-calling touches the far right, where antisemitism is an organising principle. 

We urge our neighbours and our government not to be enlisted in this politics of name-calling.  It is not antisemitic – it is not anti-anyone – to protest violations of international law and uphold our equal human rights. 

Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,

Marilyn Garson        Prue Hyman

Fred Albert Diego Lewin

Jeremy Rose

Ilan Blumberg

David Weinstein

Sue Berman

Tell it to a judge: why Gaza needs to be heard in a court of law

Tell it to a judge.

I am not Palestinian but I was a witness to the assault of 2014.  I want its alleged war crimes to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. Those warriors who were ‘brave’ enough to direct an assault on a trapped populace should be brave enough to account for their choices in a well-lit courtroom. 

Why is a court of law important?

Because the menace that underpinned the assault of 2014 is still present: the dehumanization of Palestinians.  Walled off and vilified, anything can be done to the people of Gaza. A trial will amplify their story of being under intensive attack behind a wall.  Let Gazans tell their story.

Because people will still be living with the memory and the imprint of this war.  The body remembers the singed smells that linger on your skin, the sight behind your eyelids of neighbours racing toward rubble to rescue neighbours, the sound of children with chattering teeth. The drifts of white dust in the corners of window sills.  The screams of people in the streets, seeking shelter before nightfall –  but there is no shelter behind a wall.

Because courts prosecute individuals, not nations.  Individuals make choices, and are accountable.  Individual responsibility lets everyone else get beyond blaming whole states. Someone wrote the doctrines, chose the weapons and the targeting parameters and the order of battle.  They should be judged for their handiwork. 

Because of the 18,000 homes destroyed, the 100 family homes targeted in the first week, and the millions of tons of rubble that altered the very landscape of the Gaza Strip.  In 51 days, Gazan forces fired roughly 6000 rockets and artillery shells while Israel’s armed forces acknowledge dispatching 5000 tons of munitions to fire at a trapped populace.  The tonnage and the stated doctrines of disproportionate force like the Dahiya Doctrine await judgement.

Because someone knew that the UN shelter-schools were filled with displaced Palestinians. They knew, because I told them.  As a member of the UNRWA team operating those shelters, one of my tasks was to confirm the pre-existing protections of each flagged United Nations school building that was sheltering displaced people.  Over and over they were told. Those schools were clearly marked on military maps. Everyone knows their location and their signature colours. Someone in Israel knew and fired at them anyway. Seven times they fired, killing 44 Palestinians and injuring 227.  Let those people explain their actions to a judge.

Because the earth trembled with the tonnage of bombs that the IDF used to destroy the homes of 92,000 Palestinians in Shuja’iyya, and because of the quieter killings in Khuza’a.  The stories of Gaza’s neighbourhoods need to be heard and responsibility assigned.

Because of the 73 medical facilities, the ambulances and every other illegal target. Because of the civilian infrastructure destroyed, the water pipes and the power plant, and all the gratuitous hardship that Gazans endured.  The lesson of the war, they said later, was that Israel no longer saw any civilians in Gaza at all.  A court must restore Gazans’ civilian status and protections.

Because of the 293,000 displaced Gazans who endured such trying conditions in 90 UNRWA shelters – because there was no safer place behind that wall.

Because 6,000 airstrikes and 14,500 tank shells and 35,000 artillery shells equates to 100,000 kg of explosives every day, day after day. Israeli forces killed 2251 Gazans including 1,462 civilians, a third of whom were children.  The human consequence of the IDF’s choice to inflict such massive violence must be heard.  Battlefield explosive weapons must not rain down upon crowded cities with impunity again. 

Because beneath those bombs in Gaza, the minutes were interminable.  There was nowhere to flee, no way to help, nothing to do but wait for the next bomb through nights when there were more bombs than minutes. Let a trial record and weigh the harm of those 51 merciless days and nights of minutes of witness.

Because some debased Israelis sat on hillsides eating popcorn. They watched the bombs land on human beings and homes as if it were entertainment.  Around the world, many, many others turned away and did nothing.  Perhaps both sets of people will be shaken to realize that they were enjoying, or averting their eyes from, a crime.

Because what is demonstrated in Gaza with impunity today, is normalized elsewhere tomorrow at the expense of other inconvenient human beings. The assaults upon Gaza are relevant even here, because New Zealand is buying military robots that were tested on the trapped people of Gaza and the West Bank.  Is this who we aspire to be?

Because as a Jew, I have heard the rationales for that massive violence. “It’s necessary.” “Kill all the little snakes.”  “This time we’ll finish the job.”  Now I want to hear the evidence and the verdict on this ethno-nationalist project of ours.

Our world must not value human life so differently when the life is Palestinian. Because our lives are of equal value, Gazans must be heard in court. 

Marilyn Garson

The missing link: why we endorse the One Democratic State Campaign

The missing link: why we endorse the One Democratic State Campaign.

B’Tselem and others have called on all of us to reject Israel’s regime of ethnic power. 

Yes, but then what? Reject it in favour of what?

When we write, when we seek to mobilize opinion and pressure, we are limited by the fact that the action we seek has not yet been articulated.  Do something, we urge, but – do what?  The action is not ours to direct from this distance.  

Human rights give us half of the solution. Our international ownership of human rights law makes the distant injustice in Palestine our business. Rights outline the minimum standard for any dignified, just political plan of action.   But – then what?  Rights show us our doorway, but they do not show us a programme of political action beyond the threshold. 

The impasse arises partly because the aging, locked leaders of Israel and Palestine speak as if one people or the other is going to go away.  They seek an absolute win, rather than imagining the hard work of transformation.  At times, international activists bash away on the same basis.  Meanwhile, Israel’s settler-colonial project is deadlocked and normalizing.  This normalization is not peace, it is a violent inertia.

So, now what?

Because we reject the violent inertia, we welcome one long-awaited political programme of work.  At last, here is a call to action.

Jeff Halper’s book, Decolonizing Israel / Liberating Palestine, is constructive, inclusive and it assigns an appropriately limited role to international activism. Jeff Halper is an Israeli Jew and a longtime activist against Israel’s demolition of Palestinian houses. He is also part of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), a political programme of decolonization that envisions one de-racialized polity from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  Several such projects have been working to fill the void of political imagination.

The ODSC is a Palestinian-led initiative.  Palestinians and Israeli Jews are working together, to imagine what decolonization means in practice, to ask whether it’s possible for such unequal communities to become one society.  The detailed definition of that society is a work in progress, not a finished product.  We endorse their kaupapa and their mahi – their guiding principles and their work.  

The ODSC mandate and principles can be found here.

In a word, the ODSC regards the entire space from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea as needing transformation from settler colonial inequality to a single de-racialized community.  Citizens will bring their own identities to that community, wherein they enjoy a single citizenship with equal rights.

Just as we in Aotearoa-NZ retain our cultural identities while sharing non-sectarian institutions, a single civil society and a joint political future; so will the diverse citizens of this future polity.

Inclusion is not false equivalence.  Decades of settler colonial dispossession, violence and oppression need redress.  Refugees have a right to return, to be compensated and proactively included in the future state’s economy, society and decision-making.  Conversely, as they surrender their privileged role as colonizers and their power as the occupying military, Israeli Jews can be ‘politically reborn’ as citizens of an equal society.  The shape of that polity and economy will be determined by all of its citizens. 

To endorse the ODSC project is to endorse their ongoing work.  As non-citizens of Palestine / Israel, we generate external pressure to demand the work of transformation, but we do not vote and we have no veto.

We choose to support the ODSC as Jews, noting several features of its understanding of Palestine / Israel.

  1. This is a project of transformation, from settler colonialism to a decolonized, de-racialized community.  Everyone from the river to the sea needs to re-imagine a shared society where identity is not a source of privileged political power.  That formulation welcomes Muslims, Christians, Jews and others, while it rejects ethnic nationalism.
  2. Re-imagining is not false equivalence and it is not obliteration.  Decades of colonization need redress. Citizens who acknowledge that can enter into dialogue accountably, without being required to suppress or disavow their identities.  That is a realistic, generous form of inclusion.
  3. Palestinians can not be asked to enter into dialogue until redress, return and proactive integration restore their status and place.  Then civil society can become a critical, shared space where equal citizens imagine a shared future.
  4. The ODSC vision can disarm the present impasse wherein Israelis are told that the price of oppression is preferable to the risks of peace.  No less, it must reassure Palestinians that a sovereignty can be shared with their colonizer.  ODSC understands that security is not zero-sum, it is social.
  5. As a realistic programme, ODSC acknowledges that Israel is not a source of transformation now. Indeed, it reports that Israelis have removed themselves from the politics, and accepted the costs, of occupation.  ODSC calls on distant advocates to unsettle the status quo and require the political programme of work to begin.

When we look at the sphere of advocacy in Aotearoa-NZ and beyond, we notice additional strengths of the ODSC programme as a call to action.

  • An inclusive vision must overtake people whose vocabulary is only negative.  Battery, vitriol and insult are not a political programme. We, here, also suffer from the advocacy of absolutes.  We also hear voices who seem to imagine only a zero-sum victory.  We need to learn the ‘bridging narratives’ that give each other some way to say yes, and start conversations.
  • Our role is limited.  We endorse, we influence government policy.  We press for change.  We own and uphold the framework of rights that sets dignified minimums to make that change.  We rebalance the sanctions for inaction and the rewards for change.  However, we are neither citizens nor negotiators.  Our idealized outcomes are not their problem.
  • We Diaspora Jews can learn from the ODSC transformative programme of work. We, here, also create a politics of insecurity and justification. We let ourselves be told that disagreement is antisemitic, and that our safety lies in separation rather than engagement. We allow progressive politics to end where the occupation of Palestine begins. We have our work cut out for us here, too.

Aotearoa-NZ should be speaking to the long work of re-imagining decolonization.  We have a voice to bring to this work. We are beginning to understand that transformation is all-encompassing and uneven.  Our experience and our glimpses of a decolonized, shared community are worth offering to projects like the ODSC.  In order to do that, we need to look beyond the endless conflict management, the occupation impasse of which our government has become part.

We wish participants in the One Democratic State Campaign all the wisdom and imagination they need.

When you read the reports, look for the people

Three recent publications analyze Israel’s regime as Jewish Supremacy, Apartheid, and Settler Colonialism

Analysis is important because it is the context for the lives and deaths of Palestinians.  They should live on every page.  And every time you read about ‘apartheid in the West Bank,’ say under your breath ‘and the Gaza Strip.’  Although the West Bank is more visible, Tareq Baconi calls  Gaza ”the very embodiment of Israel’s settler colonialism… the confinement of Palestinians to urban enclaves entirely surrounded by Israel or Israeli-controlled territory.”  

I lived in Gaza 2011 – 2015.  There, the walls become the horizon and concrete delineates the earth.  I loathe those choking walls.  I don’t give a rat’s ass who built them. That they were built for Jewish benefit confers a responsibility which I accept, but it does not make this a story about us.  I intend to dismantle those walls, with my pen and with my fingernails if need be, because two million people are trying to breathe behind all that concrete.  They are the point of the story.

Behind those walls, even the air and the dust have been made dangerous.  Concentrations of heavy metals are accumulating in Gaza’s environment and in the bodies of its people, as a result of the weapons that the IDF has chosen to use in repeated bombardments.  Gazans are now born with more birth defects and non-communicable diseases. They develop more cancers, and they die an average of nine years younger than Israelis.  This is what is means to devalue life.

Gazans know they are being slowly poisoned, but where should they go? I remember visiting the UN Al Fakhoura school during the 2014 war.  Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN allege the illegal use of white phosphorous shells in that schoolyard in 2009.  Imagine the chemical burns, and then imagine bringing your children back to the same place to shelter from the next bombardment – the very place that could not keep you safe last time.

That is what it means to read that Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping [Gazans] in a territory it continues to actively destroy.”  It means having no safe place to bear and protect your children.

And each time I read that Israelis in illegal West Bank settlements enjoy the rights assigned by Israel’s civil law while Palestinians live under military law, I think back to August 2, 2014. 

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was nearly a month old and a quarter of a million people had been shoehorned into 90 UNRWA shelter-schools (soon there would be 293,000).  The houses of 92,000 Palestinians had been obliterated in Shuja’iyya, and many of the homeless had been squeezed into Jabalia’s already bursting shelter-schools.  In the pre-dawn of July 30, the Jabalia Elementary A&B Girls School was itself shelled.  Around 3000 Palestinians had taken shelter in the building, which was clearly flagged and legally protected as a United Nations installation. The shells killed 16 people while they slept or prepared for prayers, and injured 99 more.

On August 2, I went with Bob Turner, then-Gaza director of UNRWA and my employer, to meet with the head of UNRWA’s Jabalia shelter operations.  We drove through a cratered landscape, everything the colour of concrete dust.  Our colleague was an older man, slumped and unsteady from exhaustion.  Day and night, he had made himself present and visible, mediated local politics and intervened in every clash, harranged me for supplies, listened and resolved disputes among Jabalia’s 80,000 shelter residents.  His hands, his jowls, his voice all trembled from lack of sleep – but he was in his element. He could not stop the bombs but he could personally impose order over chaos on his patch of ground. He could maintain civility in under-supplied shelters that held as many as 100 people per classroom.

When we left, I fretted to Bob, “He’s going to have a heart attack.  Any minute.”

Bob agreed and added with admiration, “You want to try to stop him?  He’s unbelievable – he is holding that together.”

His name is Khalil el-Halabi and he held that together.  He survived Israel’s military bombardment, only to encounter Israel’s military courts.

In June 2016, Khalil’s son Mohammed was arrested by Israelis.  They charged Mohammed with diverting millions of dollars of donor funds to Hamas, although neither his employer, their auditor nor the Australian government could find any financial irregularities to answer for.  Journalists have investigated the absurdity of this case of not-missing money.  Mohammed has not been told the details or the identity of his accuser – although he has been brought from Israeli jails into Israeli courts 154 times over a period of four and a half years.  He remains in detention, his children remain without their father, and Khalil and his wife remain without their son. If anyone in Israel has evidence that a crime has taken place – let alone evidence that Mohammed committed it – they have not made that evidence known. 

“Mr el-Halabi’s arrest, interrogation and trial is not worthy of a democratic state,” say the UN Special Rapporteurs. “What is happening to Mr. el-Halabi bears no relation to the trial standards we expect from democracies, and is part of a pattern where Israel uses secret evidence to indefinitely detain hundreds of Palestinians.”

Mohammed el-Halabi’s 155th court appearance is scheduled for January 31, 2021.

Khalil behind a blockade wall, and Mohammed behind bars – this is what apartheid injustice has meant to the el-Halabi family.  Their experience is egregious, but it is hardly unique.

Mohammed is detained alongside the Palestinians that Israel holds in ‘administrative detention’, which is imprisonment without charge.  According to Defense for Children International, 500 – 700 Palestinian children pass through Israeli military detention each year, mostly for throwing stones.  Then there are Palestinians criminalized by joining any of over 400 illegal political organisations; a list which includes every major Palestinian political party.

This is what it means to control lives and award rights and privileges ethnically.  It has gone on so intergenerationally long that ‘occupation’ no longer names it, because occupation is a temporary status. 

Further, the end of occupation would not constitute the transformation that Israel / Palestine needs.  That calls for a decolonizing vision like the one state project, which imagines a de-racialized community of Palestinians and Israelis.

The series of recent publications calls us to action, to generate the pressure for transformational change.  So read them, but peer through their analysis to see the lives that are being lived today, on every line of every page.

Marilyn Garson

Alternative Jewish Voices has arrived (fashionably late) on social media.  Please visit. 

Facebook:  Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices

Twitter:  Alternative Jewish Voices NZ – @JewishNZ

Vaccination without discrimination

Vaccination without Discrimination

Our post last week called out the spurious charges of antisemitism used by NZ Jewish institutions to deflect attention from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.  They were deflecting attention from Israel’s illegal policy of not providing Covid-19 vaccinations to the Palestinian people who live in the territory it occupies. 

We called on the Israel Institute of New Zealand and the New Zealand Jewish Council to cease labelling speakers for Palestinian rights as antisemites.  Our human equality is not antisemitic.  It isn’t anti-anyone. 

In response, some readers replied that they thought the NZ Jewish Council represents all NZ Jews.

Indeed, 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, calling the organisation a the representative is different from being representative in practice.

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 sort of direct say in who should be on the 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 came together as a collective to demonstrate that the Jewish community is diverse in every sense, including our politics.  The ardent Zionist voices of the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute do not represent the whole community of New Zealand Jews. 

As with any other diverse community, more voices need to be heard. 

Having condemned the name-calling, it remains to address the urgent issue of Covid-19 vaccinations for Palestinians living in the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967.  Newshub reported on the name-calling, as if a social media scrap could stand in for the larger issues.  It cannot.

Israel’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been touted internationally as a success.  It is essential to situate that claim within the framework of law and ethics.  But why – why does it always need that context?

When we write, we ground the occupation in law and human rights as well as morality, for two reasons.  First, the law and the overwhelming preponderance of international institutions agree on the framing of this issue (Donald Trump’s administration being the major outlier).  Occupation happens within a legal framework, not a difference of opinions.  We want the media to incorporate that factual context. 

Second, the laws of occupation and human rights are ours to uphold or abandon.  Law and justice make the rights of Palestinian people everyone’s business, and we call once more on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Manuta to make it New Zealand’s business.

Why do we say that NZ has a particular responsibility to Palestinians? The situations of occupier and occupied people are not equivalent.  They have different obligations and protections.  The violence and the losses of this occupation are grossly one-sided.  The law recognizes this imbalance when it protects the occupied people, but the law relies on others to bring it to life and impose penalties.  If we New Zealanders wish to live in a world of laws, a world more aspirational than that of Donald Trump and his beneficiary Netanyahu, we need to take up our responsibilities. 

To understand the obligations of states toward occupier and occupied people, see Part III of this report on “Accountability, Impunity and the Responsibility of the International Community,” written by UN Special Rapporteur and associate law professor, S Michael Lynk.

States’ responsibilities are prominent in the media right now, because Israel is vaccinating Jewish citizens and some Palestinians within its borders at a great rate.  In the occupied West Bank, Israel is vaccinating its Jewish settlers in illegal settlements, but not the Palestinians on whose land those settlements have been built. 

Israel is not providing vaccine to the blockaded Gaza Strip, although Gaza’s suffering is most acute and its options are disastrously limited. Behind concrete walls, 9373 people are crushed into each square kilometer.  2.05 million people are facing Covid without reliable supplies of clean water or electricity – or vaccines.  More than 47,500 cases of Covid have overwhelmed Gaza’s medical services.   Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping them in a territory it continues to actively destroy.”  The Al Shabaka Policy Network writes this week that Gaza as “confronting total collapse … arguably in a state of post-collapse.” 

What is Israel’s responsibility?  UN human rights experts said this week:

“According to the World Health Organisation, more than 160,000 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territory have tested positive for the coronavirus … with more than 1,700 deaths…. [A]s the occupying power, Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention, ‘to the fullest extent of the means available to it’, to maintain health services in the occupied territory… [T]he occupying power is required under the Convention to facilitate relief schemes ‘by all means at its disposal’.  Even if relief consignments, including ‘medical supplies’ are provided by others, Article 60 states that such consignments ‘shall in no way relieve the occupying power of any of its responsibilities’…

“The right to health is also a fundamental human rights issue…. International human rights law… applies in full to the occupied Palestinian territory… The denial of an equal access to health care, such as on the basis of ethnicity or race, is discriminatory and unlawful…. [T]he Oslo Accords cannot derogate from [the law’s] broad protections.  The ultimate responsibility for health services remains with the occupying power until the occupation has fully and finally ended.”

Israel’s responsibility is unconditional and non-negotiable.  And the morality?  Ask yourself how we would regard a policy to vaccinate and care for Pakeha New Zealanders.  It would be repugnant, and to us, it is just as repulsive to know that an occupied people, an ethnic group, are being left susceptible to contagion, illness and death. 

Palestinian people are not beyond our reach.  Their rights are our responsibility.

We call on the media to report this story more appropriately and more prominently.  When the experience of occupation is grounded in human rights, settler-colonial wrongs, and the equal value of human lives we recognise it as being our business.  Those experiences resonate with us and link Palestine to our own work on Aotearoa’s colonial legacies and contemporary racism. 

If those are issues that you care about, then Palestine is your issue, too.

Jacinda Ardern, Nanaia Mahuta, where are you?

Ask them at  j.ardern@ministers.govt.nz and n.mahuta@ministers.govt.nz

Signed by Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson        Prue Hyman

Fred Albert David Weinstein

Ilan Blumberg Tami Louisson

Sue Berman Sarah Cole

Jeremy Rose Lynn Jenner

What is the Israel Institute, and for whom do they speak?

What is the Israel Institute, and for whom do they speak?

Yesterday, the Israel Institute of New Zealand got press coverage for calling Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman antisemitic.  Ms Gharaman was noting Israel’s refusal to vaccinate the Palestinians under its control. 

In the guise of security for the Jewish community, a director of the Israel Institute has circulated reports that call NZ’s support of the UN agency for Palestine refugees ‘NZ-funded antisemitism.’

The same director has written to members of Alternative Jewish Voices, condemning our ‘alignment’ with ‘exposed antisemites’.  We did, happily, add our names to a petition that was also signed by Cardinal Dew, an Archbishop, the Islamic Women’s Association, and a number of others. 

Are they all – MFAT’s advisors to the government of NZ, the Cardinal, the Archbishop, the Islamic Women’s Association – antisemitic?

We are calling out the Israel Institute.  This has gone too far.

The Israel Institute calls itself an independent think-tank. Its three co-directors are David Cumin, Perry Trotter and Ashley Church.  It is not a registered charity, or charitable trust, or incorporated society.  It is not tax exempt.  We found no accountability documentation. 

The Israel Institute represents and accounts to no one but themselves – much like Sh’ma Koleinu.  We speak only for ourselves.  The Israel Institute is not the community.  It is one voice, very strongly promoting views aligned with the Israeli government.  The Israel Institute seems determined to drain the term ‘antisemitism’ of any meaning by hurling it at anyone who opposes Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

The Harvard Law Review noted this kind of action in the course of its finding that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is not antisemitic:

“A primary tool of Israeli advocacy organizations has long been public vilification of Palestinian rights supporters as anti-Semitic, a charge that carries a powerful chilling effect… [T]here are certainly respectable reasons for disfavoring complicity in Israel’s human rights record.  Moreover, the status of being Jewish is not ‘inextricably tied’ to such conduct or complicity – and to suggest otherwise would in fact ring anti-Semitic.  Zionism does not reflect the views of all Jewish people.”

Exactly.  We are non-Zionist Jews.

Let us focus first on the Israel Institute’s insult to Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman.  She circulated a tweet written by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).  The tweet calls on Israel to end its policy of not vaccinating the Palestinians under its occupation.  The Israel Institute finds this JVP message antisemitic, but –

  • From the Jewish Voice for Peace website: “JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.”  Are they all antisemitic?
  • The Israel Institute objects to the word ‘apartheid’, although the London Review of Books did not hesitate to title an article on its website this week:  Nathan Thrall on Israel’s Apartheid.  Apartheid is a legal category of crime, not a religious matter.  It describes an ethnic power arrangement, which repeated legal and human rights assessments have found to be prevailing in Israel.  When lawyers use the term, it is surely available to the rest of us.
  • On Israel’s behalf, the Israel Institute disavows responsibility for Palestinians, but the Geneva Conventions state –
    • “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”
  • The Israeli human rights organisation Gisha summarises Israel’s ‘unconditional’ responsibilities as follows:
  •  
    • Israel is obligated to protect the health and safety of all people living under its control, including by ensuring that the vaccine is available in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This will necessarily require close cooperation with Palestinian authorities and the international community, but their involvement does not absolve Israel from its ultimate responsibility toward Palestinians living under occupation. Where needed, Israel must contribute to covering the cost of the vaccine and its distribution, unconditionally.
  • Rabbis for Human Rights is presently collecting signatures for a petition calling on Israel to meet its moral and legal obligations to vaccinate Gazan people.  As of this morning, Gaza has reported over 45,000 cases of Covid, behind the concrete walls of an illegal Israeli blockade.

So, can they all be antisemitic?  The rabbis, the editors, the universities, the lawyers, the Israeli human rights specialists – all of them? 

We think they share a different condition.  They disagree with the Israel Institute.  However, antisemitism is a pathological hatred of Jews and Jewishness.  It does not mean, ‘people who disagree with the Israel Institute.’

Vigorous disagreement is integral to the world of political ideas.  Brian Klug, senior research fellow and member of the faculty of philosophy at Oxford University recently wrote,

“Excessive criticism is just a fact of political life… There is no requirement in human rights ethics or law that, in order to merit protection, political speech has to be measured or reasonable or balanced.  This point is fundamental to the principle of freedom of expression…. Being contentious and being antisemitic are not at all the same.  The line between contentious and non-contentious speech is different from the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech… It is vital these these two lines are clearly distinguished.”

(italics in the original)

The actions of the Israel Institute concern us for several reasons. 

First, they are harming people’s reputations and trying to prevent the very mention of Palestinians’ human and political rights. 

Second, this weaponisation of the term antisemitism is misdirecting and stoking fear within the Jewish community.  We, the Jewish community, are being told in the guise of security that we are endangered by people who disagree with a hardline Zionist view of the Israel’s nationalist project of occupation.  We are being told that even polite disagreement with Zionism signifies a threat to us as Jews.  History does not bear this out.  Disagreement may be used by hateful people, but disagreement is not per se hateful.

We will expand on this in a post to follow.

Our third and final question is for the media.  When will you begin to elicit other Jewish views?  When will you cease writing these stories without context?  The Israel Institute’s latest insult did not happen in a vacuum.  We propose a more accurate lead for the story:

The law of occupation is clear in the Geneva Conventions and elsewhere.  The United Nations’ Security Council and General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, the International Committees of the Red Cross, human rights and legal NGOs all agree that the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are occupied Palestinian territories, wherein International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation apply in full.  Those laws oblige Israel to vaccinate the people of occupied Palestine.

Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman agrees.  In the face of all that law and authority, the Israel Institute (again) defaults to calling people names.

We, members and friends of Alternative Jewish Voices call on the Israel Institute to apologise for their name calling and stop insulting everyone who speaks up for equal human rights – including the rights of every Palestinian.  The equality of human beings is a foundational Jewish belief, just as it is integral to other religions and to the principles of many secular people.  Let us return to the real meaning of antisemitism – a hatred of Jews and Jewishness – place it alongside other hatreds, and take up the work of anti-racism together.

Stop portraying Zionism as Jewishness.  The occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza are parts of a nationalist military project, subject to International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation. 

Occupation is not our Judaism.

Signed by Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson Tamar Louisson Prue Hyman

Fred Albert Ilan Blumberg

Sue Berman Jeremy Rose

David Weinstein Lynn Jenner

Note:

Please see our page of international resources on the confusion between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

We join Jewish groups across the globe, applauding the Palestinian and Arab statement on antisemitism.

Alternative Jewish Voices joins Jewish groups from around the world:

December 10, 2020
Jews Across the Globe Applaud Statement by Palestinian and Arab Academics, Journalists, and Intellectuals


We, Jewish groups and individuals from across the globe, applaud the recent powerful statement and set of principles signed by 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists, and intellectuals regarding the definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the way this definition has been applied, interpreted and deployed.

As the letter states so compellingly: ” The fight against antisemitism should not be turned into a stratagem to delegitimise the fight against the oppression of the Palestinians, the denial of their rights and the continued occupation of their land.”


It avers: “Antisemitism must be debunked and combated. Regardless of pretense, no expression of hatred for Jews as Jews should be tolerated anywhere in the world. We also believe that the lessons of the Holocaust as well as those of other genocides of modern times must be part of the education of new generations against all forms of racial prejudice and hatred.”


And it also makes clear: “The fight against antisemitism must be deployed within the frame of international law and human rights. It should be part and parcel of the fight against all forms of racism and xenophobia, including Islamophobia, and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism. The aim of this struggle is to guarantee freedom and emancipation for all oppressed groups. It is deeply distorted when geared towards the defence of an oppressive and predatory state.”


See the full statement from Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists, and
intellectuals here.


Signatories:
Anya Topolski Een Andere Joodse Stem, Another Jewish Voice, Belgium
Hilla Dayan Academia for Equality, The Netherlands
Wieland Hoban Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost Germany
Dror Feiler European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP) Sweden
Dr. Itamar Shachar Belgium / Israel
Ofer Neiman, Boycott from Within Israel
Donna Nevel, Jews Say No! USA
Alan Rückert Z. Chile
Sheryl Nestel, Independent Jewish Voices Canada Canada
David Comedi, International Jewish Anti-Zionist
Network-Argentina Argentina
Marilyn Garson, Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices New Zealand
Vivienne Porzsolt, Jews against the Occupation Australia
Rina King, South African Jews for a Free Palestine SAJFP South Africa
Ronnie Kasrils South Africa
Liliana Cordova-Kaczerginski, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network Spain
Alejandro Ruetter, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network Spain
Guy Bollag Switzerland
Richard Wagman, UJFP (French Jewish Peace Union) France
Eyal France
Corey Balsam, Independent Jewish Voices Canada
Rowan Gaudet, Independent Jewish Voices Canada
Itay Sapir, Université du Québec à Montréal Canada
sue goldstein, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network Canada
Haim Bresheeth, Jewish Network for Palestine UK
David Cannon, Jewish Network for Palestine UK
Mike Cushman ,Free Speech on Israel UK
Leah Levane, Jewish Voice for Labour UK
Michael Kalmanovitz, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network–UK UK
Rob Ferguson, Steering Cttee Free Speech on Israel & Socialist
Workers Party UK
Rachel Lever, Labour Party UK
Dorothy M. Zellner, Jews Say No! USA
Stefanie Fox, Jewish Voice for Peace USA
Lesley Williams Jewish Voice for Peace, USA
Ivan Strasburg, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage
Employees (ATSE) USA
Rachel Giora, Boycott From Within Israel
Anat Matar, Tel Aviv University Israel
Haley Firkser Israel
Shir Hever, Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in NaHost. e.V. Germany
The Board A Different Jewish Voice, Amsterdam Netherlands
Michal Sapir Israel
Rebecca Vilkomerson United States
Ofra Ben Artzi Israel
Dr Les Levidow UK
Angie Mindel UK
Yehuda Aharon Australia
Heather Mendick UK
Angie Mindel UK
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead UK
Sue Rabkin South Africa
Motti Shimoni USA
Mike Simons United Kingdom

What would change, if we recognised the State of Palestine?

What will change, when we recognise the State of Palestine?

138 of the UN’s 193 member states recognise the State of Palestine, consisting of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.  Whatever diplomatic outcome they envision, 138 states believe that a solution starts by recognising the parties involved.  Recognition implies that, like powerful and powerless parties to a lawsuit, Israel and Palestine approach the court with equal rights.

Aotearoa-NZ is in the minority.  We do not recognise Palestine. We let the power disparities stand.  We do nothing to acknowledge Palestinians’ national voice, as if that mythical court case should somehow decide about them, without them.

Recognition of Palestine would re-frame the issue.

As an occupied people subsisting under a violent military regime, Palestinians have a right to our legal protection.  As the State of Palestine, they have a land and they own its natural resources. Recognition unifies the State of Palestine, which the occupation seeks to divide by policy and force.   The unified State of Palestine lives under a single occupation, although it is differently enacted within Israel, in the areas where Israel is the occupying power, and with respect to refugees elsewhere. 

As citizens of a state in a world where states remain the defining political actors, Palestinians would have access to the institutions, agreements, interactions, enforcement and responsibilities that we all take for granted. They would have access to the websites that we use, to the banking transactions and passports and mail and myriad other systems that are enabled by state agreements.  They would map their own geographies, rather than being administered by military documents that aim to chart the loss of their land and their autonomy.  When settlers occupy, or when Israel openly vows to take, additional land from the State of Palestine; the illegality of those acts would be clear – none of this ‘annexation’ obfuscation. 

These benefits are so normal that we really must re-phrase our question:  why has Aotearoa-NZ withheld all this from Palestinians for so long?  Why should a child be denied all that normalcy, by virtue of being born Palestinian?

Rights and law and diplomatic acts like recognition will not end the occupation. Rather, they describe the internationally agreed minimum standards by which we all live.  When they are upheld, they restore Palestinian lives to those minimum standards.  That sets the stage for two national groups to negotiate in a forum of international law.  We will not be the negotiators, but it is our responsibility to establish fair conditions for that political project.  We uphold the laws.  We drag this occupation into a forum of law for a resolution based on justice, not brute power.

Why do Palestinians live so far beneath those minimum standards now?  The law of occupation, the Geneva Conventions, all those UN resolutions – where are they?  It’s mystifying, we agree.  The tools are all waiting for us to pick them up and use them.  We call on our Prime Minister to uphold the laws and conventions that NZ governments have signed in all of our names – and to bring the State of Palestine fully into the same systems by means of recognition.

We are impatient, because the passage of time is not neutral.  It never was, and Covid has doubled the urgency.  Palestinian living standards, their environment and life prospects are deteriorating sharply: doing nothing is not a cost-free alternative.    

We call on our government to recognise Palestine now.

Withholding recognition is a willful refusal to see a nation of five million people, to insist on their equality and inclusion.  The occupation is exclusive, denying Palestinianhood, downgrading and ultimately erasing it.  Recognising Palestine is an inclusive act.  Recognition affirms Palestinians’ full right to exist in a space that will need to be shared.  We in NZ know that states may colonise blindly, but they must learn to see and listen and speak new languages.  Recognition sees the indigenous people of Palestine. That is the right side of history for NZ to take.

Recognition will also help to correct a conversation that has become toxic.

Too often, protest is merely anti-occupation or merely anti-Zionist; a protest against Israel’s failure to observe law and uphold Palestinians’ rights.  Recognition reframes the issue by centering Palestinians, and normalising their full, equal human and political rights. With that established as our baseline, we can protest the deficit, the rights withheld.  Recognition will strengthen Palestinians’ platform to speak and act on their own aspirations.

Too often, this occupation has been about exceptionalism (Israeli and Trumpian).  We spend too much time on the justifications of the powerful.  Recognition rejects all that.  It brings the occupation back into unexceptional focus: one state occupies the land of another.  Occupation is a military act, governed and limited by law. 

We should be working to invoke that law. As a first step, let us join the majority, the 138 members of the UN who recognise the State of Palestine.

Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,

Marilyn Garson                          Sarah Cole

Fred Albert                                  Prue Hyman

Jeremy Rose                               Sue Berman

Denzelle Marcovicci                Justine Sachs

David Weinstein

Voices of Positive Peace

Change is made by those who show up. The advance work of change is to tell the story, to reach for those who haven’t yet realized that the blockade of Gaza is their issue, too.

I’m grateful to the University of Otago’s National Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, for giving me a platform to speak as part of their forthcoming series, Voices of Positive Peace. I look forward to a live event later this year!

The people of Gaza are not beyond our reach. They are our responsibility.

Why is Annexation Still Happening?

While others think it’s time to challenge their founding structures of ethnic and racial power, Israel is proceeding with plans to annex great swathes of Palestinian land in the West Bank.  In addition to the United Nations, the European Union, Jordan, the Arab League, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, subject-matter experts object to annexation in the strongest terms.

Why is Netanyahu so confident that he can annex anyway?  His confidence is written into the agreement that established Israel’s present coalition government.  As a memo from the US / Middle East Project explains, the agreement outlines coalition operations,

“with one crucial exemption – that the extension of Israeli sovereignty or annexation can be advanced by Netanyahu …  without the agreement of Gantz … To be clear, this is the only area of policy regarding which such a veto override clause exists … [A]ccording to the text, there is only one condition that needs to be satisfied in order for Netanyahu to move forward with annexation… That condition is … that such legislation will be in agreement with the U.S.” 

In other words, Trump is the senior partner in Israel’s coalition government. 

It is insufficient to ask Netanyahu to kindly not break these additional laws.  Palestinian land does not belong to Trump and Netanyahu.  The West Bank is not their vanity project.  Palestine and Palestinian rights have been excluded from determining the future of their land.  We need to hear from the people who are hidden by the occupation’s structures of ethnic power.

Therefore, oppose annexation and assert the equal rights of Palestinians to freedom, agency and justice. 

Marilyn Garson

June 13, 2020