Blog – Letter to Prime Minister: Covid19 and Gaza

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Israel’s propaganda machine again uses Anti-Semitism accusation to distract from justified criticism of Israeli government actions

Israel’s propaganda machine again uses Anti-Semitism accusation to distract from justified criticism of Israeli government actions

Newshub is reporting that Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman is being accused of anti-Semitism by the Israel Institute of NZ because she has shared an Instagram post which criticises Israel for ‘medical apartheid’ because while rolling out the COVID vaccine to Israeli citizens and  right wing settlers on the occupied West Bank, Israel is making no effort to share the vaccine with the 5 million Palestineans who fall under Israeli occupation.

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2021/01/green-mp-golriz-ghahraman-accused-of-anti-semitism-over-instagram-post.html

This is an example of why I joined and want to be part of the Sh’ma Koleinu collective – to provide an alternative Jewish voice.  I cannot stand by and allow this criticism to be construed as the voice of New Zealand Jewry. It is clearly not representing me or the other collective members of Sh’ma Koleinu / Alternative Jewish Voices. The Israel Institute of NZ is a propaganda front for the extremist right wing Israeli government, which is again using the false accusation of anti-Semitism to attack someone criticising Israeli policy, instead of dealing with the substance of the argument. 

Let’s be clear – it is completely accurate that the Israeli government is excluding Palestinians from distribution of the COVID vaccine.  Therefore it is accurate to accuse Israel of ‘medical apartheid’.  Golriz Ghahraman is simply putting a tick next to a factual description of Israeli Government actions.

AJV has been raising the issue of the Israeli Government’s use of the term anti-semitism as a way of attacking those who raise legitimate and rational criticism of their actions. This is another clear example of the NZ propaganda arm of Israel rushing in to attack an elected NZ Member of Parliament for stating a truth that Palestinians are being treated differently than Israeli citizens. Isn’t that what apartheid means?

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The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is not antisemitic

We, Alternative Jewish Voices and friends, support the call sent out by the signatories to the statement below to reaffirm and insist that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is not antisemitic.

Marilyn Garson, Fred Albert, David Weinstein, Ilan Blumberg, Tami Louisson, Sarah Cole

We want to state unequivocally that the Palestinian-led global movement for justice, which speaks in the name of international law and human rights, and the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is not antisemitic. We want to state unequivocally that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. We strongly oppose any and all efforts by the US, Israeli or any other government to conflate support for BDS or opposition to Zionism with antisemitism.

Eva Ackerman, Arielle Angel, Peter Beinart, Judith Butler, Jonathan J. Cohen, Jane Hirschmann, Adam Horowitz, Alan Levine, Richard Levy, Nina Mehta, Hannah Mermelstein, SarahAnne Minkin, PhD, Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, Sheryl Nestel,Donna Nevel, Kathleen Peratis, Rosalind Petchesky, Jacob Plitman, Rabbi Brant Rosen,Deborah Sagner, Mark Tseng-Putterman, Rebecca Vilkomerson, Rabbi Brian Walt,Lesley Williams, Dorothy M. Zellner

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Letter to the Prime Minister concerning Gaza and Covid-19 from Wellington Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices

We are pleased to work with Wellington Palestine on this urgent letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

To the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern

Dear Prime Minister,

An appeal to intervene on behalf of the people of Gaza.

While Aotearoa New Zealand has been patiently managing the long tail of our second COVID-19 outbreak, the occupied Gaza Strip first identified community transmission of COVID-19 on August 24.  Today there are more than 1200 cases in its crowded cities and refugee camps.

We, the citizens of Aotearoa NZ, are failing a community in immediate danger. Why is Gaza our responsibility?  

The UN General Assembly and Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the International Committees of the Red Cross, human rights and legal NGOs all agree that International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation apply in full throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  Occupied people are legally protected people.  The duty of states like New Zealand, and one of the first duties of the occupying power, Israel, is to uphold the rights of the occupied people of Palestine. 

Gaza has been battered for a month, as Israel responds to individual acts of Gazan protest:

August 11, Israel closed the one entrance for goods into Gaza

August 13, they cut off fuel supplies.

August 16, they militarily closed Gaza’s fishing waters.  

From August 17, Gaza had insufficient electricity to pump water into Gazan homes.

On August 18, Gaza’s only power plant shut down for lack of fuel so that Gazans have had only a few hours of electricity each day.  

On August 19, sewage treatment had to cease without electricity. 

Israel began bombing Gaza on August 6, and they sustained the bombardment night after night. 

S Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine and an associate professor of law noted this week,   “Israel remains the occupying power, and international law – including Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention – strictly forbids the use of collective punishment by the occupier.”

On August 24 COVID-19 was found in the community of Gaza. In the same week that Israel reported its highest-ever use of electricity for air conditioning to combat a heat wave with temperatures up to 48C, Gazans lacked electricity to refrigerate food during their lockdown. Hamas and Israel have now agreed to resume some fuel shipments. 

The International Crisis Group is warning that “A major outbreak in Gaza would likely be disastrous.”  It is the responsibility of the occupying power to ensure Gazans’ equitable access to quality health care, but blockaded Gaza has been structurally deprived of the resources to fight COVID-19.  S Michael Lynk adds, “This blockade has no meaningful security rationale. It inflicts great misery on the two million civilians in Gaza, while imposing little harm on any security targets.”

COVID-19 makes this long-standing misery into an immediate threat.

We, New Zealanders of Muslim, Jewish and other identities, urge our government to uphold the laws and conventions that it signs in our names.   If we want to live in a world of laws and human dignity, we must show up together when law and dignity are violated.

Today,  we call on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, to please fulfil our obligations to protect the occupied people of Palestine and restore their equal human rights — especially their urgent right to medical care and COVID-related supplies.  Let New Zealand join the 138 states that already recognize the State of Palestine, and let us speak up for a just solution to the military occupation of Palestine, and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Your sincerely,

Marilyn Garson (Alternative Jewish Voices) and

Neil Ballantyne (Wellington Palestine)

Also signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices: Fred Albert, Jeremy Rose, David Weinstein, Sarah Cole, Marilyn Garson, Asher Goldman, Sue Berman and Prue Hyman

http://ajv.org.nz

Also signed on behalf of Wellington Palestine by Laura Agel, Nadia Abu-Shanab, Gill Bailey, Neil Ballantyne, Carl Bradley, Biddy Bunzl, Shahd El-Matary, James Fraser, Jenny Hawes, John Hobbs, Gillian Marie, Jeanie McCafferty, Ben Peterson, M. J. Pittaway, Aida Tavassoli, Adri van Lith, Kate Slankard-Stone and Samira Zaiton.

http://wellingtonpalestine.nz

CONTACT

Marilyn Garson e: shma.koleinu.nz@gmail.com

Neil Ballantyne e: neil.ballantyne@wellingtonpalestine.nz

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Boycott or Not?

By Marilyn Garson and Fred Albert

Occupation is a legally defined and legally limited status.  However, S Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur and legal academic, finds that that occupation of Palestins  “has become illegal, given its flagrant violations of the foundational principles of the modern laws of occupation.”  In the US, A recent in-depth article in the Harvard Law Review, February 2020, Wielding anti-discrimination law to supress the movement for Palestinian human rights, concludes that, in the US context, BDS is not discriminatory and notes:

The weakness of the discrimination claim is constitutionally significant for anti-BDS litigation. It reveals that, despite states’ assertions to the contrary, the government does not have a compelling antidiscrimination interest that could trump countervailing First Amendment interests. Moreover, the weakness of the discrimination claim matters beyond anti-BDS laws. The past decade has seen antidiscrimination law weaponized to undercut a human rights movement that has opponents at the highest levels of the U.S. government — a trend that threatens other controversial political movements that the government may seek to undermine. Chilling disfavored political movements is precisely what the First Amendment is meant to protect against. While First Amendment protections can and should bow to strong antidiscrimination interests, governments must not adopt baseless discrimination claims in an attempt to override First Amendment protections.

Some members of Alternative Jewish Voices protest the occupation through BDS and some do not.  With this post, we open a conversation about our choice.  We begin as the UK Supreme Court upholds the right of pension funds to protest by divesting from companies which profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

You annex?  I boycott.  I (Marilyn Garson) did not join the boycott until 2020.  Although I considered BDS to be a valid and important Palestinian-led movement, I had several reservations.  I wanted to distinguish between Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, to protest in a way that embodied the two peoples.  BDS is such a broad umbrella, I didn’t agree with every BDS initiative.  I still hoped to enlist more of the Jewish community in conversation about change.  

      Netanyahu and Trump tossed out each of my objections.  Trump’s ‘plan’ for a greater Israel hands to Israel the Palestinian lands that Israel has settled in the West Bank, Jordan Valley and all of Jerusalem.  The Palestinians had no input into Trump’s plan and of course, they do not agree to hand over their land – their land, which is not Trump’s land to give.

The plan overthrows the very foundation of the law:  it is illegal for a state to acquire territory or take foreign civilian property by military force.  The UN has resolved 8 times that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal. 

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and his main political opponent-cum-coalition partner, Benny Gantz have both consistently promised to annex.  On February 11, the Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyanu saying that Trump supports Israel’s annexation of “all of” the settlements, “all of them without any exception… without Palestinian consent.”  On February 18, Netanyahu added, “Whether they accept it or not, it’s going to happen.”

I take Israel’s leaders at their word.  Wrapped in Trump’s fickle embrace, they will draw Israel’s borders in flagrant disregard for international law.  They will erase any distinction between Israel’s illegal settlements and Israel itself.  Standing next to Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu called the very fact of occupied Jerusalem “a big lie.”

So much for my wish to distinguish between Israel and its occupation.  Israel’s leaders have obliterated the distinction and altered my protest. Annexation would have a “cascade of bad human rights consequences” and it must not happen.  Only sustained international pressure will curb Israel’s expansionist, ethnic nationalism.

As for the risk of finding fellow-travellers beneath the broad umbrella of BDS, Zionism’s fellow-travellers are equally troubling.  They begin with Donald Trump and they include self-named White Zionists, the white supremacists who endorse Israel as their model of white ethnic power.  When I get hatemail from white supremacists, it blends Islamophobia with Zionism. 

The law of occupation is not in doubt, but states have failed to enforce the law of this occupation.  I want to live in a world of laws.  I will not let go of the law, so annexation also changes my personal protest.  Only numbers, only sustained external pressure will drag Israel back into the moral and legal world that the rest of us have agreed to inhabit.  In particular, only external pressure will protect the rights of the most vulnerable, blockaded people of Gaza. 

I never thought I would say it, but in February 2020, I did.  Israel, you annex? I boycott.

Fred’s Background: In my case I was introduced first-hand to the power of boycotts in my teen years in California via the 5-year long fight by the National Farm Workers Association to get better conditions for grape pickers in California.  A boycott of “table grapes” was declared and I can remember not purchasing grapes for years as the dispute dragged on and I can also remember our rabbi strongly supporting the farm workers during this period and often referring to them in his drashot over that time.  So, for me, a boycott is a good way to demonstrate solidarity and to let there be some sort of financial cost for choices made by those in power.

Similarly, I avoided buying goods from South Africa during the apartheid era.  It did seem using economically based tactics did cause the South African government concern in a way that demonstrations and other measures did not.

So, BDS seems a useful tool to protest against the Occupation in Palestine and the blockade of Gaza.  It seems clear that the Israeli government fears BDS more than any number of demonstrations or UN resolutions.  There seems to be a lot of misplaced anger against BDS by Jewish groups who don’t seem to understand that the boycott against Israel is tied to the Occupation and not tied to Jews as such.  I fully support BDS.

Having chosen to protest through BDS, we agree that:

  1. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a rapidly-growing, Palestinian led movement to protest Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and its denial of Palestinian rights.  Its website asks us to use our collective power “to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel, similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”

 A co-founder of BDS calls it:

an inclusive, nonviolent, non-sectarian movement that rejects all forms of racism… It calls for equal rights for all humans, irrespective of identity. It targets Israel and entities that are complicit in its regime of oppression, not on the basis of any real or claimed identity… but on the basis that this regime of oppression denies Palestinians our UN-stipulated rights under international law.[1]

BDS is grounded in international law.  It also inherits a history of effective non-violent resistance. Mahatma Gandhi used boycotts to advance human rights in the 1930s, as did Martin Luther King in the 1950s, and Cesar Chavez in the 1960s. Sustained economic pressure helps to achieve change.  In this occupation, economic boycott makes sense because, as Human Rights Watch Germany wrote in 2019,

years of our research has shown that it is not possible to do business in the settlements without contributing to or benefitting from human rights abuse and violations of international humanitarian law. The only way companies can meet their obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is to stop operating in settlements.

BDS targets Israel because Israel is responsible for its occupation, as South Africa was responsible for apartheid. When apartheid ended, so did the boycott. In response to those who claim that the end of the occupation is really a code for ending Israel, we note that neither South Africa nor New Zealand’s own decolonizing steps have made anyone disappear. States do not end when they institute more equitable power relations; they are enhanced. BDS is grounded in the international frameworks that will protect the rights of Israelis and Palestinians in any solution.

BDS, like any political expression, can be used by racists.  However, boycotts are not by definition racist. It is abhorrent to label anyone anti-Semitic for choosing not to conduct business with the occupation of Palestine. 

Racism essentializes and demeans a group of people. BDS explicitly does not target Jews, the Jewish identity or Jewish businesses. If it did, we would be in the front row of those who oppose it. BDS invites Jewish and Israeli participation, and hundreds of thousands of Jews support BDS through membership organizations and campaigns.  

BDS targets complicity with, and the profits derived from, Israel’s occupation. Israel is not the Jewish people, and the occupation is not a religious act. It is a project of military force and political power. It is not anti-Jewish to stand up for the equal rights of all human beings.

Some people charge that BDS denies the Jewish right to self-determination. Political rights, including the right to self-determination, are not Jewish rights in particular. No ethnic group has an exclusive claim to political rights or to power. Palestinians have an equal right to self-determination. Here again, it’s important that BDS in grounded in the legal frameworks that resolve conflict and uphold the rights of all people.

So then, why do folks target the individuals who choose not to trade or invest in the occupation? That’s easy: people attack the protestor in order to deflect attention from the object of the protest. As long as we’re calling each other names, we’re not talking about the occupation of Palestinian land and the devaluing of Palestinian lives. We’re not asking what justice might look like, and we’re nowhere near talking about the regional vulnerability to climate change.

In that spirit, here’s our challenge to readers. We ask that you please address the issue, which is the occupation of Palestine. There’s been enough name calling, and it’s time to have the real conversation. If you support the occupation of Palestine, please say so as clearly as we have said that we oppose it. Defend it, and Netanyahu who has been elected five times to implement it, and Donald Trump who gleefully advances it.

We invite you to debate the real questions.


[1] Omar Barghouti, Two degrees of separation: Israel, its Palestinian victims, and the fraudulent use of antisemitism, in On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017).

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

We proudly join the international Progressive Jewish Response to the Jerusalem Declaration

Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices is proud to sign this international Progressive Jewish Response to the Jerusalem Declaration. Definitions find their value when they are used. Let us return to the real work of opposing racism in all its forms.

05 April 2021 Statement


We believe in a world where we are all safe and cherished—a world without racism, without antisemitism, and without Islamophobia. As fascist, racist, and authoritarian governments and political parties increasingly amass power around the world, we are more committed than ever to the work of building a world where justice, equality, and dignity are accorded to all people without exception.

We write this statement with urgent concern about the ongoing attempts of the Israeli government to evade accountability for its human rights abuses and violations of international law by levying accusations of antisemitism at Palestinians and those who advocate for Palestinian rights. Not only does this silence Palestinians and their advocates, but it also jeopardizes Jewish safety and the struggle to dismantle antisemitism.

The most prominent example of this dangerous campaign is the attempt to impose the flawed and widely discredited International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism on governments, public institutions, universities, and civil society. The IHRA definition is not designed to protect Jewish communities from the rising bigotry and racist attacks we face, predominantly carried out by white supremacists. Instead, it has been employed in many countries as a bludgeon to suppress advocacy and academic freedom. Scores of Palestinian, Israeli, civil society, and human rights organizations from across the globe, as well as academics, writers, and activists—including one of the IHRA’s original authors—have condemned its anti-democratic and repressive impact.

In this context, we welcome the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) as a useful corrective to the dangerously flawed IHRA definition. If an institution believes it needs a definition, the Jerusalem Declaration is a vastly improved replacement for the IHRA. Drafted and endorsed by many of the world’s most preeminent Jewish studies scholars, it opens space for debate, champions freedom of speech, and refutes the most misleading aspects of the IHRA definition. However, in attempting to remedy the deceptive claims of the IHRA definition, the JDA falls into the trap of situating Israel-Palestine at the centre of conversations about antisemitism. If the drafters required this special scrutiny to respond fully to IHRA, then they should have included representative Palestinian perspectives and analyses in shaping the document, without which the JDA remains incomplete. This disproportionate focus risks contributing to the intense policing of discourse on Israel-Palestine, and distracting from the real dangers we face as Jews today from white supremacists and the far-right.

Most importantly, we are acutely aware that defining antisemitism does not actually do the work of dismantling antisemitism. Legislating a static definition for any particular form of bigotry weakens our society’s efforts to combat discrimination across different contexts and over time. Instead of trying to codify definitions of antisemitism, we call on progressives around the world to commit to dismantling it alongside all forms of oppression and bigotry. To create safety and freedom for all people, including Jewish people, we offer these principles and practical steps:

  1. Do not isolate antisemitism from other forms of oppression.
    Situate your work to dismantle antisemitism within the broader struggle against all forms of racism and oppression. Antisemitism is embedded in white supremacy, and is part of the machinery of division and fear used to keep us isolated and vulnerable—the same machinery that is used to target Black people and other people of color, people who are Muslim, immigrants, Indigenous communities, and others. Isolating antisemitism ignores the central threats faced by these communities under white supremacy, erases the lived experiences of Black Jews and other Jews of color, and atomizes a struggle that must be united to succeed. Act from the principles that oppression is intersectional and that justice is indivisible.
  2. Challenge political ideologies that foment racism, hate, and fear.
    Refuse and challenge fascist, white nationalist, and far-right ideologies leading to murderous violence. These conspiratorial and dangerous beliefs are wielded to divide and sow fear across communities, and to reinforce and maintain white supremacy. Cede no ground to the leaders, institutions, and politicians who promote these ideologies and gain power by breeding violent antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia.
  3. Create environments that affirm and celebrate all expressions of cultural and religious life.
    Institute policies and practices that actively embrace, not just tolerate, cultural and religious diversity. White Christian hegemony structures many of our societies, lives, relationships, and institutions. By framing all communities that are not white and Christian as the “other,” this feeds exploitation, hatred, and discrimination. Push back on this harmful reality by assessing your community or organization’s policies and building affirming, inclusive spaces where Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist and all other faith communities can thrive and belong.
  4. Make undoing all forms of racism and bigotry both policy and daily practice.
    Establish racial justice, religious inclusion, and social equity as central pillars for setting policy and making decisions—in organizations, institutions, and legislation. Until our entire society is transformed to the point where racism and antisemitism are truly eradicated, it is up to all of us to create open spaces, rooted in the fabric of daily practice, for anti-racist educational initiatives, curriculums, and frameworks. If we do not make undoing white supremacy, including anti-Black racism, antisemitism and islamophobia, a part of our daily lives, we will never achieve the just future we want.
  5. Practice safety through solidarity, not law enforcement.
    Resist calls to respond to violence against Jewish people by increasing police presence. Increased policing will harm some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, including Jewish people of color. Instead, invest in strategies, practices, and plans that build protection and safety for all our communities, without increasing the power and presence of increasingly militarized law enforcement. Our history shows that freedom and safety for any of us depends on freedom and safety for all of us.

Signed by:

Jewish Voice for Peace (US)
Independent Jewish Voices (Canada)
Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine (UK)
Jewish Liberation Theology Institute (Canada)
Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices (New Zealand)
Boycott from Within (Israeli citizens for BDS)
Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East (Germany)
Jews against the Occupation (Australia)
French Jewish Peace Union (Union Juive Française pour la Paix) (France)
Jews Say No! (USA)
Collectif Judéo Arabe et Citoyen pour la Palestine (France)
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
Een Andere Joodse Stem – Another Jewish Voice (Flanders, Belgium)
Scottish Jews Against Zionism (Scotland)
As the Spirit Moves Us (a Jewish Justice organization)
Tikkun Olam Chavurah

We welcome the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism

We embrace the Jerusalem Declaration on antisemitism as an authoritative statement to bring to our work.

“Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).”

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism was published today, with the definition above. Its signatories are 200 eminent scholars of Jewish and interreligious studies, law and government, arts and philosophy. They laboured for more than a year to write a document that can authoritatively guide us away from the morass of the IHRA working definition (IHRA).  By enabling broad, often baseless accusations of antisemitism, the IHRA has been used to chill political speech and harm many reputations. 

Read the full text of the Jerusalem Declaration, and see the list of signatories.  Their combined standing cannot be dismissed. Read some additional articles and resources here.

The Jerusalem Declaration is built upon the foundations of free political speech and the need to combat racial hatred including antisemitism.  Rather than imagining that antisemitism will benefit from isolation, the Declaration’s preamble writes that “while antisemitism has certain distinctive features, the fight against it is inseparable from the overall fight against all forms of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and gender discrimination.”

Following its preamble and its one-line definition, the Jerusalem Declaration describes the speech that is and is not prima facie antisemitic, addressing the “widely-felt need for clarity on the limits of legitimate political speech and action concerning Zionism, Israel, and Palestine.” 

Its examples counter the IHRA’s overreach.  Recall that the IHRA was only a working document, widely critiqued for its contradictions and vagueness.  It was not written with any special religious or academic imprimateur.  Its primary author has protested that it was never intended for the governmental uses to which it has been put. Notwithstanding that, it been wielded in an absolute, intimidating way.  It has been used to render Palestinian stories and anti-occupation protest preemptively antisemitic. Absurdly, in the name of protecting Jews, masses of dissenting Jews have been accused of Jew-hatred. 

Even here in New Zealand, where the IHRA definition has no official standing, we have become accustomed to hearing routine and unaccountable  accusations of antisemitism.  In addition to reputational harm, the name-calling has distracted us from issues – even as it has made those issues harder and more dangerous to discuss.

Something is clearly and profoundly wrong.  Antisemitism is real but not every disagreement, not every protest is rooted in the hatred of Jews.  We are losing the language to distinguish between debate and racism.

The Jerusalem Declaration intervenes, just when we need an emergency brake.  It represents an extraordinary, senior scholarly agreement.  It is purpose-built, intended to be easily understood and used.  It enables constructive speech and action.

The Declaration’s gravitas is especially valuable to Aotearoa-NZ right now. Efforts have been made to convince our governing authorities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.  IHRA advocates have urged our government to believe that the IHRA definition is needed to protect our Jewish community.  Now there is a alternative definition to place on the table.  Let’s put them side by side and ask which is protecting what.

The Hebrew name of Alternative Jewish Voices is Sh’ma Koleinu – hear our voice.  When they are lobbied ‘on behalf of the Jewish community,’ government needs to realize how diverse and how divided the Jewish community is on the matter of Zionism.  We reject it as an ethnic nationalism.  Government needs to hear our voice, and the voices of others.

We are grateful for the Jerusalem Declaration’s authoritative, concrete intervention.  We will use it.  We urge others to read it, to reflect on their own speech and continue speaking firmly and constructively against racism and injustice.

We want to set realistic expectations.  The Jerusalem Declaration is not an activist manifesto or a silver bullet.  It is not – indeed, no document could be – the end of the debate.  It can end an ugly moment, and return us all to the work at hand:  ending the injustice in Palestine / Israel, and combating all forms of racism with allies. 

The critique written by the Palestinian BDS National Committee supports the Jerusalem Declaration, but includes some worthy reservations.  There will also be others for whom it also does not go far enough.

We acknowledge those limitations. Still we think that the Declaration’s considered, mainstream language is broadly beneficial. It is a document that we can use now.  Our advocacy has suffered from the lack of such an instrument in the past.  We have been able to refuse the IHRA, but until now, we had nothing better to bring to the table.

We embrace the Jerusalem Declaration as a powerful instrument to bring to our unfinished work for justice in Palestine / Israel, and our work against racism.

Passover, the Jewish festival of liberation begins this weekend. It reminds us that we will only be free when we are all free.  What good is my freedom when so many around me are still in chains?

Alternative Jewish Voices of New Zealand

An Evening at Parliament

A big thanks to Wellington Palestine for inviting Alternative Jewish Voices to share the platform last night at Parliament. Green MP Golriz Ghahraman hosted the event, protesting the detention of Palestinian children. Ten MPs from Green and Labour (including both Green Co-Leaders) attended.

Shortly after, we were thrilled to read NZ Young Labour’s strong support for the Palestine Briefing that we and Wellington Palestine jointly submitted to the then-incoming Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

So, as Young Labour suggests, add your support! You can read the brief here. Here is our additional statement on the value of recognising the State of Palestine, and normalizing the equal standing of the Palestinian people:

What would change, if we recognised 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

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.