Blog – Letter to Prime Minister: Covid19 and Gaza

Featured

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?

Featured

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

Featured

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

We are pleased to work with Justice for 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

Featured

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).

Important, Welcome News about (and from) the Wellington Jewish Council

At a recent Wellington Jewish community meeting, participants made clear their dissatisfaction with the Jewish Council’s tone of voice, composition, accountability and their narrow definition of the Jewish community’s shared interests.

The Wellington Jewish Council (our regional council, which also sends four delegates to the NZ Jewish Council’s membership of eighteen) has taken this feedback on board.  They have begun the work to revise their constitution and earn their mandate. 

We at Alternative Jewish Voices regard this as a hopeful, significant opening. We share this excerpt from the Council’s email with their agreement:

After reflecting on the discussion held, we propose that in order to re-establish the Wellington Jewish Council, a new constitution will be required that can capture the voice and aspirations of the community. Below is a survey to help begin that journey.  …

Until we have completed the process of drafting and confirming a constitution, the four of us will not purport to speak on behalf of the Wellington Jewish Council as we do not feel that we have a mandate to do so.

The Council has circulated a survey to elicit the Jewish community’s views about the representation we want.  Here’s the challenge.  Wellington Jews who belong to a synagogue will have received this survey at least once.  Our existing institutions have multiple channels and email lists.  How can this consultation include the members of our community who do not belong, or have not felt welcome, in our institutions?  They are disenfranchised now, and their views are essential if this process is to result in the genuine representation of our community as a whole.

Please help by sharing this survey with members of the Wellington Jewish community who might not have received it.  If you are Jewish in the Wellington region, please complete a survey. Please include yourself, in the hope that this conversation will lead to a more inclusive community, and a Council voice that actually reflects and represents more of us.

Here is the survey link

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfWeBfl5bOFUNzgVq6xjVMN1rdFW12Jnj_yBgsycDL4SMtBOA/viewform

If you want a copy of the regional or national Jewish Council’s current constitution, please write to the contact address below or write directly to the Wellington Jewish Council.  The survey is open for three weeks.

Alternative Jewish Voices

No Time for Fragility: we need to do to community differently

The fragility of Zionism is undermining us. Our membership institutions and representation are narrowing the NZ Jewish community, precisely when engagement and collective action are needed. It’s time for us to do community differently.

Let me say (as we have repeated for years) that this is not about being agreed with.  It is about learning to exist and let others exist who disagree.  Zionism must cease to be our litmus test.

A few years back, a fellow Jew told me, “You are a walking indictment of everything I believe.”  That’s an honest statement of a belief so fragile that the very existence of others threatens it.  Problem is, I do live and I will walk.

While I could not walk safely in my own shul, I would wake up at 2:30 am to join Tzedek Chicago’s Torah study group. All I wanted was to belong in some Jewish space. They welcomed me while I was torn in half – but Aotearoa is still my community and its needs are my needs.

For advocating Palestinians’ full measure of rights, I have been targeted in some ugly ways. I have also been the object of astonishing hatred from a few (non-Palestinian) supposed fellow advocates.  Happily, there are plenty of people doing the real mahi of building coalitions and relationships for change.

I wrote a book about my work and my colleagues in Gaza. My Radio NZ interview was cancelled on the day it was to air.  I filed an Official Information Act request to learn the reason.  RNZ disclosed the internal email that had warned, “Given the huge flood of formal complaints we get any time we do a Palestine story without Israeli balance…”

They cut the interview because no one had on hand a story from Israel to “mention before and after.”  Without those defensive bookends in place, our national radio station self-censored. 

In these and other ways, I have learned something that Palestinians already know: this has become an identity campaign of erasure.  Erasure makes others – not the substance of any issue – the object of its attack.  A campaign of erasure is fought through restatements of history, exclusion and lies and harmful forms of license.

To be targeted in those ways, Palestinians know and I have learned, strikes at a deep, essential place.  Emotionally expensive as it is to withstand this form of attack, one cannot concede except by losing one’s very self.

We formed Alternative Jewish Voices partly to do the work of withstanding.

Along the way, we’ve heard from numerous fellow Jews who keep their mouths shut because they know the punishment that would follow if they spoke. We’ve met others who turned away from the community because they cannot keep their mouths shut. The result is the suppression, alienation and exclusion of Jews by Jewish institutions, for reasons unrelated to their Jewishness.

The NZ Jewish Council calls itself “the representative body of Jewish communities in New Zealand.” However, its members are indirectly and not transparently selected by other institutions, further excluding the excluded.  Thus they represent much less than they claim.

We must pry open our institutions or make more institutions.  We, and the media and government, need to listen more widely. We are a religious community, not a single-issue interest group.  Judaism has been plural for 2000 years, and no one has a monopoly on it today. 

Ours is a devastating moment to be a community in pieces. Have we no common interest in discussing city planning, housing, Covid response, climate, racism, inequality? The finite planet, our interdependent health and distributional justice all depend on our collective action.  Fragile communities wither and fail because they deny any need to be challenged by people who don’t fully agree.  We need every challenging conversation now. We confront issues which will not be solved only by people who fully agree with us.

Compare our fragility with the unfolding of mana whenua institutions in Auckland.  They are responding to Covid and related needs by casting their net inclusively, recognising an interdependent crisis and stepping straight in to do the mahi. It should not have fallen so heavily on their shoulders, but their action and their community-building will not be undone.  Maori Health Authority – what a proof of concept.  

If we are to live up to the demands upon us as a Jewish community, we too need to do community differently. We need to formulate aspirational solutions that can anchor a much wider group of us.  We disagree and yet we are in this together.

Marilyn Garson

For Alternative Jewish Voices

Te Kuaka / NZ Alternative podcast: it’s time to do Palestine policy differently

Imagine foreign policy led by our values, grounded in justice.

Imagine policy that speaks to decolonisation – here and there.

Listen to the podcast by Te Kuaka / New Zealand Alternative: From Aotearoa to Palestine, with Nadia Abu Shanab and Samira Archer of Justice For Palestine, and Marilyn Garson of Alternative Jewish Voices.

Big thanks to Phoebe and all of NZ Alternative for making a space to speak aspirationally about the world that can, and should, become our world.

It’s time we met

Don’t be a stranger

We formed Alternative Jewish Voices as a platform for the unrepresented breadth of our Aotearoa Jewish community.  Our community is wider than the membership of Jewish synagogues and organisations.

At the series of Wellington rallies in May, people repeatedly approached us after we spoke.  They introduced themselves as Jews, unaffiliated with any institution.  Some fretted that they might be considered “not Jewish enough to speak.” 

The power to define, and conversely the fear of being excluded by a definition, is hardly new.  We are not writing to examine our history of communal exclusion or alienation here.  We would like to end it.

If you have a Jewish parent or grandparent, then you are part of the community.  Join it: speak up, own and be identified with Jewish issues, explore your culture, history, religion or identity – however you may enter into it. If anyone doubts your standing to do that, please educate them nicely by explaining, “I am as Jew as you.”

In our last national census, the number of people identifying as Jews fell by 20%.  There are nearly three times as many self-identified Jedi warriors as there are Jews in Aotearoa at the moment. Notwithstanding the inherent appeal of being a Jedi warrior, it might also be that our Jewish institutions don’t feel relevant or welcoming to all of us.

This is not a political exercise.  We won’t ask about your politics and we won’t claim to be representing you.  We seek only a more inclusive sense of our own community. We should know each other.

We invite you to get in touch.  Write to the contact address at the bottom of this page.  We’ll make a mailing list, we’ll ask how you might like to be in community.  Who knows where it might lead.  We hope you will find others with curiosity like your own. New friends, a meal, an exchange of stories, a debate, a bit of exploration about this Jewishness of ours – whatever.

Please get in touch, and please share this with others who might want to join us.

Alternative Jewish Voices

When ‘bombs respond to rockets’ someone has buried the lede

“Israeli military bombs Gaza after rocket strike” – The Guardian

A security guard refuses to allow a customer to enter a supermarket.  A small group clings to the individualistic rights that the overwhelming majority have agreed to forego.  A government crashes its own economy.

Those stories only make sense if you know that a pandemic has overturned normal life.  Covid is the lede, the indispensable point which inverts the apparent rights and wrongs of these stories.  Without the lede, you would draw the wrong conclusion from each of the stories.

So it is with these recent headlines, Israel Strikes Hamas Targets After Rocket Launches or Israel hits Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire

There goes Hamas again, disturbing a quiet morning and provoking the Israeli military for no apparent reason.

Israel’s occupation and illegal blockade of Gaza is the lede, the sine qua non that makes sense of the story.  Again this morning, Gazans woke up with countless weapons of aggression pointing at them, with concrete walls and fences and drones and warships surrounding them, with technology and scarcity and deprivation combining to diminish their life chances.  They woke up trapped on a firing range.

Try writing the story that way.

“Still dispossessed, illegally blockaded and deprived of their basic human rights, Gazan Palestinians continue to resist. Fighters fired a number of rockets which landed in an Israeli field.  Israel, still flaunting international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dispatched warplanes to fire grossly larger explosive missiles into Gazan cities.  They claim to have blown up something that was in some way related to the governing authority, but they provided no evidence.”

Given all that; given an occupied people’s legal right to armed resistance (which the International Criminal Court must weigh against the illegality of firing rockets that cannot be aimed); given that the casualties and rubble of this occupation have been overwhelmingly Palestinian; and given the wildly different realities of threat arising from the exchange of fire being reported … why does the media begin with, and implicitly blame the whole mess on, a rocket? 

There would be no rocket if there were no occupation and blockade. To start the story with the rocket is to have normalised all the generations and tonnage of damage done to date. Gazan resistance is a response to Israel’s occupation.  Why not start there, by asking why Israel maintains the abysmal conditions which give rise to armed resistance?

To be clear, I regard Hamas as an unpleasant product of Israel’s occupation.  Having lived under their rule for four years, I believe that they constitute a secondary oppression for Gazans. As a peace-loving, life-loving person, I regard every exchange of fire as a failure of human reason and empathy.  However, responsibility for those failures is not equally shared.  Neither are the harms, and neither are the threats implied by these exchanges of fire. Stand next to the hole made by a rocket and the crater left by a one-ton bomb.  Neither one is nice but you would never, ever mistake one for the other.

Yet, again and again, the media treats Israel as a normal society while treating resistance as the disturbance of normalcy. Why not take law basic human equality as the norm, and challenge Israel’s deviation from that standard?  

 What’s wrong with us, that we think ‘normal’ can or should consist of Gazans accepting life prospects and living conditions that we, ourselves, would never tolerate for our children?

The current normalcy is predicated on Gazans being jolted awake by bombs and missiles landing in crowded neighbourhoods.  Have you ever heard a good-sized bomb explode near enough to make your building shudder, make the doors leap inward from their hinges and turn the windows to spiderwebs? Gazans wake up this way, times beyond counting.

In the mornings after those nights, we used to gather at the desks of colleagues who lived near the sites of missile attacks, bringing cups of strong Turkish coffee and whatever chocolate was at hand.  We would ask if they still had windows, and whether their children had gotten back to sleep.  After each shock, recovery was measured by the number of children who were willing to sleep in their beds, and the number who would only sleep beneath their beds for safety in case the planes came back.  Thunderstorms were an agony for children and their sleep-deprived parents.

The Israeli air force’s ability and willingness to fire into Gazan homes and streets keeps the violence far from Israeli children’s beds or Tel Aviv beaches, while ensuring that there is no square inch of safe civilian space in the Gaza Strip. Nowhere is not dangerous. To be in Gaza is to be hypervigilant because the car in front of you, the apartment down the hall, the road beneath your feet, or your neighbour’s son may be targeted without warning, in the next minute.  Most young Gazan adults have never been free to leave the Strip.  They have lived every minute on this firing range.

That is the lived ‘normal’ which our media declines to mention.  And it is the normalcy that proponents of Israel’s occupation are keen to elide by speaking only of Hamas rather than the whole human community of the Gaza Strip.  Gaza is not Hamas, and Hamas is not Gaza.

When the story begins with that rocket, it asks Gaza, ‘Why do you disturb the peace?’  With its lede, the story would ask why Israel perpetuates these unforgivable conditions. 

But why resist that way? Why poke the Israeli bear?  When I asked them, my Palestinian colleagues sighed that the world only notices Gazans when they fight.  As soon as there is quiet, the rest of us turn quickly away until Gazans find some way to remind us, “We’re still here.”

I wonder if they are right.  Is it our quiet morning that the rocket unsettled – is that why our media seems more ready to condemn the resistance than the injustice?

Marilyn Garson

Shana Tova – Jewish New Year hopes for Palestine, from Alternative Jewish Voices and friends.

Shana Tova – happy Jewish New Year – to Palestine, from Alternative Jewish Voices and friends.

2021 has been the most difficult year.

May the coming year be much sweeter.

May you live in dignity,

freedom and equality,

with the full measure of your rights

and the full expression of your culture.  

May your homes be safe and your journeys undisturbed. May those who have been driven out choose whether to return.

May Palestinian nationality be recognised, so that you speak as of right and manage the resources of your land wisely.

We wish your children healthy food and clean water, schoolbooks and playgrounds and art, and the knowledge that they will sleep safely in their beds at night.

We wish you health in this time of pandemic.

We wish you could just be, living your lives without violence and oppression.  We wish you normalcy – work, rest, untroubled sleep.

We wish you each a vote and a voice to determine the transformation that must occur for everyone who lives between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. May it become a shared space governed as all of its citizens see fit, unscarred by ugly walls and checkpoints.

May you enter into the conversations that will realise such change.

We wish energy and impatience to all of us around you, as we escalate the principled pressure for transformation.  For as long as it is radical to insist upon the full measure of Palestinians’ equal human rights and the unexceptional application of international law; for that long we will continue.

May all of our religions be respected, loved and protected. That, too, is our shared work.

Let 2021 have been the worst year.   

We can make the coming year much sweeter.  

Marilyn Garson    

Fred Albert

David Weinstein

Judith Reinkin

Lynn Jenner

Sue Berman

Margalit Toledano

Justine Sachs

Palestine policy in a rules-based world

Beit Lahiya, Gaza Nov 2012, Marilyn Garson

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged APEC to ensure fair access to Covid vaccines, as a step toward a ‘rules-based’ Pacific region.  As a small, remote country, Aotearoa-NZ depends heavily on those rules. We have moral, legal and self-interested reasons to act and speak for a rules-based world and when we do, our voice carries.

We should use our voice now, while we are all staring at our contradictions.  Covid shows that our health is indivisible – while the old, morally vacant politics have eroded our ability to act collectively on health, climate, inequality, violence, or the massive flows of refugees driven from their homes by from great hardship.   Self-interest lies in restoring our international institutions.  Institutions are not just buildings, they are agreed behaviours and rules.  We need to reinvigorate especially those agreements which underpin our institutions of law, equality and science. 

Why should Palestine be on our agenda?  Israel’s forever-occupation is a product of the old power politics. Our donor and policy choices make us actively complicit: we are part of the Palestine problem.  In May we all watched the intentional destruction escalate once more:  over 260 Gazan lives lost and 13 in Israel, half a billion dollars of infrastructure and housing wrecked, one-fifth of Gazans left without running water, and ongoing expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem. 

On the ground things are only worse, but the excessive violence has finally broken into the mainstream media.  The New York Times, Vanity Fair and others are publishing real images of Gazans’ experience.  Even staid diplomatic voices now declare that states must change their diplomacy in order to bring solutions about. 

And where does Aotearoa stand?  Contrast these two statements.  Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon used to appeal for humanitarian aid to Gaza. Now he speaks of cause, law and responsibility.

“Israel has pursued a policy of incremental de facto annexation in the territories it has occupied since 1967… This is not a conflict between equals… a powerful state is controlling another people through an open-ended occupation, settling its own people on the land in violation of international law and enforcing a legal regime of institutionalised discrimination. Calls for a return to unconditional bilateral talks every time there is a fresh flare-up in fighting will only serve to perpetuate the status quo if these root causes are not addressed. What has become increasingly clear in recent years is Israel’s intent to maintain its structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation… a situation that arguably constitutes apartheid. It is now time for the international community to recognise and confront the consequences of Israel’s policies and actions in this regard.”

Compare that with our Foreign Minister, Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, writing on December 14, 2020:

“Successive New Zealand Governments have been clear that Israeli settlements are a violation of international law.  On 23 June 2020, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rt Hon Winston Peters issued a statement highlighting this and warning that annexation would also breach international law and have negative implications for the peace process… New Zealand has a warm relationship with the Palestinian Authority, but our policy to date has been one of non-recognition of Palestine, on the basis that it lacks sufficient control of its territory to constitute a state…  New Zealand will continue to pursue a principled and balanced approach to the Middle East Peace Process including support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Illegality without consequence.  Blind, bystanding balance.  We can’t recognise Palestine because, well, because it’s so successfully and perennially occupied, for reasons that we warmly decline to analyse.

Is that really where our principles lead us?

Rather than waiting for justice to sprout like magic beans, we could ground our voice in the institutions of law and equality.  International law and the Geneva Conventions are institutions of principle. They oblige our constructive intervention on behalf of all people in a rules-based world.  

Law and treaty and convention are only meaningful if they are supported by action when they are breached. This report by the UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk outlines the sources of states’ legal obligations to act on the many breaches in Palestine, and it notes the characteristics of actions that have helped elsewhere.

Lynk reiterated just last week that Israel’s West Bank settlements, which have transferred 680,000 Israeli settlers onto occupied Palestinian land, should be classified as war crimes.  

“The illegality of the Israeli settlements is one of the most settled and uncontentious issues in modern international law and diplomacy. Their illegality has been confirmed by the United Nations Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and by many international and regional human rights organizations… [but] the international community has been remarkably reluctant to enforce its own laws.”

We sponsored UN Resolution 2334 in 2016 to reiterate that illegality, but we have done nothing to make our action meaningful.  We speak up for principled fair access to Covid vaccines in the Pacific, but we have not spoken to Israel’s legal (and moral) failure to provide Covid vaccines to the people of occupied Palestine.  And so on. 

The rules-based order we seek requires more than that.

Ardi Imseis is a Canadian law professor and former Senior Legal Counsel to the Chief Justice of Alberta. He has made an excellent argument to go further and recognise the State of Palestine.  He elaborates Palestine’s qualification to be recognised, and outlines the legal and institutional value of regarding both Palestine and Israel as sovereign and territorially inviolable. In a world of state-based institutions, a State of Palestine would have access to “a number of legal principles that, by definition, can only apply to states and which are therefore the bedrock of the modern international legal order.”  Recognition would also “serve as a holding operation … to halt the ongoing colonization by the occupying power” of Palestinian territory and Palestinians’ lives. 

Alternative Jewish Voices has called for us to recognise Palestinians as a people with equal standing to speak about their resources, lives and aspirations.  Recognition would help to bring about the preconditions for any number of states to be governed in the interest of all citizens.  Isn’t that what our government says that it wants?

Early in our own uneven work of decolonisation, Aotearoa-NZ would bring a grounded, hopeful voice to the project of doing Palestine policy differently.  We would add to the external pressure for constructive change.  Surely that is where our values lead us. How much impact would it make, to uphold the laws that we sign or to act in the interest of a rules-based world? Absurdly, in all the decades of this occupation, it hasn’t been tried. 

No single policy will please the Jewish community, because we are not monolithic.  A quarter of the American Jewish voters – and a third of those aged under forty years – surveyed by the Jewish Electorate Institute now call Israel an apartheid state.  Locally, we are as deeply divided.  However, we are not the object of the policy and we must not be an excuse for inaction.  Israel’s forever-occupation is not about us.  As Sara Roy writes,

“Israel’s struggle against the Palestinian people is fundamentally about their presence and their representation to the world.  It is about diminishing if not removing their certainty by depriving them of agency and capacity and condemning them for their own privation.  Palestinians have resisted.  Yet, their resistance is not enough… They must be seen as a civil society with aspirations no different from ours.  They must be seen as the solution to the problems of their region.” 

In our Jewish community, in Aotearoa and in Palestine, there can be no future based on erasing a nation.  We need to embark on the work of listening, making good the harm that has been done, imagining and constructing a future together.  There is no other way forward – and that is the vision to which our national policy should speak.

Marilyn Garson

A future-facing Palestine policy will turn from power to justice

Photo by Marilyn Garson – water behind bars in Gaza

Weeks after the bombardment of Gaza, analysts are asking how to weaken Hamas, rather than writing that one-fifth of Gazans now live without running water to wash their hands during a Covid epidemic.  Israel’s blockade is obstructing precisely the materials needed to repair the infrastructure that Israeli planes bombed in May.  

Those analysts think that the aftermath of bombardment must be the restoration of the status quo ante – a resumption of the way things were before.  As a UN member and donor state, Aotearoa-NZ acts the same way.  We have one eye on Israel’s status quo interests, and the other eye closed.  We have no policy for Palestinians except as the objects of Israel’s regime. 

Even former UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon wants such policies to change.

“Israel has pursued a policy of incremental de facto annexation in the territories it has occupied since 1967… This is not a conflict between equals… a powerful state is controlling another people through an open-ended occupation, settling its own people on the land in violation of international law and enforcing a legal regime of institutionalised discrimination. Calls for a return to unconditional bilateral talks every time there is a fresh flare-up in fighting will only serve to perpetuate the status quo if these root causes are not addressed. What has become increasingly clear in recent years is Israel’s intent to maintain its structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation… a situation that arguably constitutes apartheid. It is now time for the international community to recognise and confront the consequences of Israel’s policies and actions in this regard.”

What if we based our policy on justice?  What might a future-facing policy be, and where can we begin? 

One eye on power: stabilising injustice

As a UN member and a small donor state, our government waits for two states to sprout from decades of systemic injustice (Alternative Jewish Voices takes no position on any number of states. That is a decision for citizens to make).  In the meantime, we relate to Israel as our equal in legitimacy and sovereignty, needing no action from us to bring any solution closer.

Far from criticising Israel’s “structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation,” as a donor we agree to defray Israel’s costs, and manage the humanitarian results.  We do this particularly in Gaza, the stubborn heart of Palestinian resistance and the target of Israel’s purest punishment.

Our interest in the status quo makes Palestinians appear as disruptors, destabilisers.  We send them the most passive forms of assistance.  Elsewhere, aid recipients are told to work for their food, while to Palestine refugee camps we send relief food. We tell educated, eager Palestinian workers to wait quietly.  We do not invest in food production or food sovereignty.

A sack of flour requires no political analysis.  Passive relief sees only impoverished people.  It  does not ask what made them poor, why Gaza has scattered economic activity rather than any coherent economy to speak of, or why Palestinians are so determined to overthrow the status quo.  A sack of flour can sustain life, but without analysis it says nothing about change.

Because we screen out the politics of cause and reduce Palestinians to a humanitarian problem, we find ourselves speaking absurdly. Palestinians must recognise the Israel which excludes them, while Israel need not recognise Palestinians’ most basic human rights.  We speak of Israel’s right to self-defense while the defense of Palestinians – who bear the overwhelming share of casualties – goes unspoken.  We speak of Israeli civilian space while we discount Gazan civilian protections. We deny Palestinian statehood because Palestinians do not fully control their territory.  Yes, exactly, and Ban Ki Moon has done a good job of explaining why that is so.

Policy grounded in law

When pressed, our leaders fall back on a learned helplessness.  They ask for the violence to stop, and they throw up their hands as if there were nothing we could do.

We greatly underestimate the role we already play.  Rewards – and peace proposals – have been cast in donor states’ neoliberal terms, asking Palestinians to forfeit their rights and their politics in exchange for investment in a normalised, occupied life.  See for example Toufic Haddad. Donors and diplomats reward the political and business elites who take up that offer. We ignore their illegitimacy and their obstruction of other leadership.

We overlook entirely the leverage we would have if we upheld the laws and conventions that we have signed.  Surely, any just policy begins by upholding the law.

UN Special Rapporteur and Associate Professor of Law Michael Lynk wrote in his October, 2019 report (A/74/507)

“No occupation in the modern world has been conducted with the international community so alert to its many grave breaches of international law, so knowledgeable about the occupier’s obvious and well-signalled intent to annex and establish permanent sovereignty, so well-informed about the scale of suffering and dispossession endured by the protected population under occupation, and yet so unwilling to act upon the overwhelming evidence before it… [T]he international community possesses a great deal of power to ensure a positive, durable and just solution to the occupation.” 

Lynk details the record of illegality, the treaties which oblige us to act today, and the characteristics of countermeasures that have worked elsewhere. The law is ours and we have neglected it.

When states are negligent in their duty, civil society leads – and civil society is not beholden to power politics.  America has no veto here.

Irish government and opposition parties recently adopted a unanimous motion condemning what they called Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank.  A Sinn Fein foreign affairs spokesperson called it “a true reflection of the strength of feeling in this country at the treatment of the Palestinian people by the apartheid state of Israel.”

Civil society can lead government to the podium to speak about justice.  Let’s do that. Let’s begin with a parliamentary debate that requires our elected representatives to publically state their positions.

If we ceased bowing to power and instead upheld international law, we would merely be meeting our obligations.  As a small state heavily reliant on a rules-based order, we would also be acting in self-interest.

Laws are a start, but they are technical minimums. Justice and morality are more aspirational than that.

A future-facing policy for Palestinians, especially for Gaza

Our current policy views Palestinians through the eye of Israel’s security regime. We have adopted the view from outside the blockade wall.  That wall lumps two million Gazans into a single enemy object, to be subdued by means of violence and hunger management. 

The very nicest thing you can say about that view is that it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t even stabilise. No one is deterred, no one runs out of weapons or stops using the weapons they have.  Less politely, our policy notices only two kinds of Palestinians, the violent and the victims.  It denies that a society of recognisable, whole persons lives behind those walls. We do not ask what it means to be stateless, to never travel 50 or more kilometers, or to be born behind walls as one million Gazans have been born – condemned before birth, because they are Palestinian.

Shame on us for wearing the wall’s dehumanising blinders so meekly.

A future-facing policy must see Palestinians as whole human beings: parents, people of every gender, professionals or job-seekers or students, people who live with chronic illness or physical disability, manufacturers and artists, scientists and poets, political actors and agents of their own future, citizens as of right and integral partners to any solution.  Why have we no policy that addresses Palestinians as whole people?

When we open both eyes and identify with Palestinians, we see how differently they live.  For me Gaza’s waste is particularly bitter because, as a society, Gaza has so much of what it needs to thrive: mutual assistance, social cohesion under terrible pressure, one of the world’s highest literacy rates.  Their achievement delineates the thing that is being withheld: their right to live normally.  Justice would place this set of rights at the center of our policy. We would not stabilise Gazans’ avoidable deprivation. We would demand their decent life prospects as we demand prospects for ourselves.

Water offers our policy-makers a starting point.

We in Aotearoa-NZ argue about water as taonga and commodity, its management and beauty and quality, our access and enjoyment and consumption.  We agree that water is essential, a basic human right, necessarily shared.

The World Health Organisation says that every person needs 100 litres of water per day, for consumption and other uses.  West Bank Palestinians have access to only 90.5 litres of water each day.  650,000 illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank receive six times more water than 2.8 million West Bank Palestinians.  

In 2018 Gazans had access to 83 litres per capita, just 80% of the water that we all need to live.  Click here and scroll down to Fact Sheet #187 (6/29/21) to read how extensively Israel’s May 2021 bombardment damaged Gaza’s water infrastructure. One in five Gazans no longer has running water at all, while each Israeli consumes 230 litres per day.  Statistics and further detail here.

There is water in the space between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.  The problem is that Israel has forcibly fragmented the space, giving Israelis vastly greater entitlements than Palestinians – including entitlement to the water resources on occupied Palestinian land.  The problem is not an absolute lack of water. The problem is the endless, violent denial of Palestinian rights and sovereignty.

Donors, I’m sure, are right now negotiating the entry of additional truckloads of bottled water to Gaza and paying all the requisite fees in Israeli currency. They are stabilising the regime that permitted Gazans only 80% of the water they need to live. I welcome every delivery, ever drop, because water is urgently needed to sustain life – but this is not good enough.

The withholding of the human right to water is not altered by those stabilising trucks. Each truck reinforces Israel’s structural power to deprive. The blockade will not be fixed at the margins. 

A policy of water justice would begin with Palestinians’ equal, non-negotiable right to clean water.  It would refuse to engage normally with any regime that differentiates water rights ethnically.  It would recognise the national right of Palestinians to manage the water resources on land that we and the UN recognise as Palestinian land, temporarily occupied.

Finally, alongside law and rights, a justice policy would reach for the holistic justice of belonging.

Our stabilising policies don’t promote transformational work.  We acknowledge our own colonial legacy but we do nothing to promote Palestinian (or Israeli) decolonising projects. Our policy should enable the inclusive voices that are narrating a better way forward.

Alternative Jewish Voices supports the kaupapa and the mahi of the One State Democratic Campaign as a dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis about decolonising their shared future.  We read authors like Noura Erekat who writes that, unlike settler-colonising erasure, the Palestinian demand to fully belong is a broadening, inclusive vision.

We in Aotearoa-NZ are so well placed to speak from ongoing experience about this possibility, this abundance of belonging. If we articulated a Palestine policy in that voice, it would carry so much further than our aid budgets.

Marilyn Garson,

Alternative Jewish Voices

Palestinians need justice from their own leaders, just like Israel does

Palestinian Authority critic dies during arrest by PA | Israel-Palestine conflict News | Al Jazeera

I want to call out the horrific crime perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority for the violent death in custody of a prominent critic.

Palestinian people deserve justice and the right to free speech, expression and protest.  And free and fair parliamentary elections, which is under threat from the PA.

Whether they live in the Occupied West Bank, in Gaza or the state of Israel, every person, Israeli, Palestinian, Jew, Christian, Muslim, whatever race, religion or citizenship (or lack thereof) is entitled to basic human rights.

Unfortunately this is not the case for many (most?) persons living under Israeli, Palestinian Authority or Hamas rule.

All people, including those living under corrupt, militaristic and authoritarian governments deserve basic human rights.

Nizar Banat was deprived of these rights when (according to local media) he was taken from his home, beaten and dragged away. He is dead, murdered at the hands of PA thugs.  

You will often see the Alternative Jewish Voices collective calling out injustices by the Israeli Government against Palestinians. I strongly oppose and will speak out against the Occupation and oppressive policies and actions of the Israeli government.

I also oppose and call out the militant and oppressive rule of Hamas over Gazans, and the corrupt rule of the PA over West Bank Palestinians.  

But I direct my words at the Hamas leadership, not at the people of Gaza.  

I call out the corrupt rule of the PA, not at the Palestinian people of the West Bank.  

I challenge the aggression, the provocation and human rights abuses of the Israeli government, not at the individual residents of the State of Israel. 

Disagreement is not racism.

Following the Jewish Council’s comments in Christchurch, I was sad to read reactions like this:  “I do take antisemitism very seriously, and the Jewish community is an important part of any discussion in preventing racism, but this just makes it so hard.”

Why is it getting harder?  7amleh, the Arab Center For The Advancement Of Social Media, recorded a 15-fold increase in racist, violent and inciting speech against Palestinians and Arabs on the internet during May.  Here in Aotearoa, we hear misleading accusations against advocates for a rights-based solution to the occupation of Palestine.  The accusations purport to describe antisemitism, but we  believe that we are witnessing a politicised deterioration in the way we portray each other. 

          For some time, accusations of antisemitism have been expanding. Sometimes they rely on a definition of antisemitism that confuses Jew-hatred with opposition to the occupation of Palestine.  Called the IHRA Working Definition, it also separates antisemitism from other forms of racism and seeks a separate response.  At the end of this post, we list links to more information about definitions. Here, we want to explore the implications of this era of accusation. To do that, it is only necessary to repeat that the expansive IHRA Working Definition has no official standing whatsoever  in Aotearoa-NZ.  Nor has its claim that non-Zionism is inherently antisemitic. That is not what antisemitism means.

These politically framed accusations hover in the air like space-junk. We want to draw attention to the harm they are causing to our relations and our ability to undertake the shared work of antiracism including the hatred of Jews and Muslims.

          To be very clear, we are not asserting that there is more, or less, actual antisemitism (Jew-hatred) around us. We are suggesting that politicised accusations misdirect our attention and undermine our response to any amount of racism.

Disagreement is not hate

To call someone a Jew-hater because they oppose Zionism and the occupation of Palestine is to confuse a political disagreement with racial hate.  The power of definition is the power to make one’s own view normal or normative, and to problematize other views.  This power escalates disagreement to an intolerance of disagreement, and of the people who disagree.  It elevates a contested idea to the absolute wrong of racism. Regardless of one’s understanding of Palestine, consider that step-change. Once a political view been labelled racist, all dissent can be discredited and the discussion is forfeit.

That step-change does grievous damage to our freedom to passionately contest politics.  It is everyone’s business to protect our right to argue politics.  Brian Klug, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford University Faculty of Philosophy, writes:

“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.”

If any advocate succeeds in protecting their view by officially defining disagreement ashateful, then more political contests will be waged in the same way.  Disagreement will become a contest for the machinery of state (See also Donald Trump’s America). 

Relational harm

To confuse disagreement with hatred is to drive a wedge into our body politic.  Suddenly, linguistically, there are those who agree and those who are racist. That deters anyone who doesn’t want to be labeled as an extremist or an enemy.  Sadly, the real racists are undeterred. They don’t give a damn about definitions and labels.

The antisemitism wedge harms our Jewish community, too. Cass Sunstein’s book, Conformity, discusses the damage that communities do when they narrow their information pool and require members to suppress dissenting views. He cites some Jewish communities to illustrate the risks of insularity. 

Imagine what it would do to any community – to your own group – to be told that people disagree with you out of hatred, that they threaten your security, or (as has been written of advocates for Palestinian’s equal human rights) that they actively wish you harm. Your group might respond by defending its views as absolutely as it defends its safety.  

By attacking dissenting speakers as racist, your group would also be absolved of any need to engage with the substance of disgreement. You might begin to regard your neighbours as dangerous, racists, with voices not worth hearing – even as you find it hard to understand why others do not share your fears.

What a harmful, isolating trajectory.

There is no separate safety

The IHRA Working Definition calls for a separate definition of anti-Jewish racism, and a separate official response. However, there is no separate safety.  It’s a myth. 

In order to believe that Jews (or any group) can separately save themselves from racism, you would have to imagine a day when Muslims or LGBTQ+ or immigrants are still objects of hatred – but not Jews.  Jews would have somehow been removed from the racist’s target list.  That’s magical thinking.  Every hatred has a distinct history, but at the moment hatreds tend to travel in a pack. To confront that white supremacist pack effectively, we need to face it down together.

Separatism erodes our ability to do that, as it denies our need to co-exist in the political space of Aotearoa-NZ. It seeks ‘my’ safety as if ‘my’ safety were the extent of my responsibility.  At its very worst, such ring-fencing becomes zero-sum when ‘my’ safety is allowed to require ‘your’ silence.  If ‘my’ story is normal, then ‘my’ allies are only those who grant me sole authorship.

All this helps to explain why it may be feeling more difficult to be a friend, an ally, or simply to be respected as a decent human being who profoundly disagrees.  Or a non-Zionist Jew. 

We will lose the language to identify and oppose racism if we misuse it to serve another agenda. A politicised definition of antisemitism has no official standing in Aotearoa-NZ, and its use undermines our collective work.  While these loose accusations fly; the real, shared, proximate threat of white supremacist hatred and violence is getting a pass.  The voices from the Christchurch hui’s second day spoke to this, if only they had been more prominent.

A little more than a year ago, a member of AJV decided to report a burst of hatemail.  She was referred to Anjum Rahman of the Islamic Women’s Association, to learn from her experience.  That’s our message in miniature: we need each other.

We have definitions of racism.  What we need is action. We need to form a solid wall of tolerance for each other and intolerance for threats to any of us. 

If you would like to read more from Alternative Jewish Voices on antiracism:

See our resource page for more on the working definition, including this  from an Oxford researcher on its fundamentally misleading advocacy (or Al Jazeera’s summary of the same paper).  In March of this year, two hundred scholars produced the Jerusalem Declaration, which we suggest as a superior, interim tool for understanding antisemitism.  We have written the Jerusalem Declaration Brief and a list of Jerusalem Declaration resources to juxtapose the two definitions.

When the Wellington City Council was lobbied to accept the IHRA Working Definition, we objected for all the reasons outlined above.

We have also written about the individual harm caused to New Zealanders who have been falsely accused of antisemitism, and we have tried to show the depth of that rabbit hole

Signed by these members and friends of Alternative Jewish Voices

Marilyn Garson

Fred Albert

David Weinstein

Ilan Blumberg

Lynn Jenner

Sue Berman

Sarah Cole

Diego Lewin

Yael Shochat