Blog – Letter to Prime Minister: Covid19 and Gaza


Resistance is not terror

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has issued a military order which designates six leading Palestinian legal and human rights groups as “terrorist” organisations. The government of Israel has declined to back its orders with evidence.

The order criminalises lawyers who provide legal aid, and observers who inform the world of human rights abuses: Addameer,  Al-HaqPalestine branch of Defence of Children International, Union of Agricultural Work CommitteesUnion of Palestinian Women’s Committees, Bisan Center for Research & Development. 

On the websites of the targeted organisations, you will learn about incarcerations, documented human rights violations, the imprisonment of children, aid to farmers in the West Bank. To prevent the sharing of such information, the Israeli government will now fight these activities as if they were fighting terrorists. 

Leading global human rights organisations have objected in the strongest terms. They clearly state that they will continue to work with their Palestinian colleagues:  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call it “an attack on the human rights movement” while B’Tselem calls it “a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work.”

Alternative Jewish Voices calls this military order the contemptible act of an authoritarian.  This order would jeopardise the funding which creates factual information about Palestinian life under Israel’s occupation.  The order poses a new level of violent threat to the defenders of human and legal rights.  If we do not defuse that threat internationally, it will set a frightening precedent for all of the people who stand up to authoritarians around the world.

Israel’s military order extends its pattern of criminalising any resistance to its regime of occupation, de facto annexation and legislated apartheid.

Members of Israel’s government refer to boycotts – the non-violent exercise of economic choice – as economic terrorism.  Israel’s President called Ben and Jerry’s decision not to sell ice cream on occupied land as “a new kind of terrorism.”  Around the same time, Israel confiscated 23 tons of chocolate bars destined for Gaza with the explanation, “We will continue to hunt down networks that fund terror.” 

There seems to be no form of resistance that Israel won’t categorise as terroristic.  This new military order will criminalise even the use of the law.  In occupied Palestine, it appears that resistance will be treated as terror, period.

We urge the government of Aotearoa-New Zealand to take the recent advice of Ban Ki Moon, former Secretary General of the United Nations, and change our yawning diplomatic stance:

“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… 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… resulting in 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.”

When will we defend the people who defend the law and human rights?

Alternative Jewish Voices  

October 26, 2021


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.

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?


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


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

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.


Marilyn Garson e:

Neil Ballantyne e:


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).

After the atrocity: what are we doing?

Image: Middle East Eye, Feb 27, 2023

Hundreds of Israeli settlers have rampaged, terrorised, burnt, shot; wounded nearly four hundred and killed one person in Huwara in the West Bank, Palestine. Palestinians are an occupied people whose protection is Israel’s legal responsibility. In law and in any framework of human decency, we are responsible for upholding their protection and punishing violations.

Without equating the responsibilities of occupier and occupied people, Alternative Jewish Voices abhors all of the violence and we grieve for each and every death. But shame, no. Shame is a feeling that grows the gap between one’s image and the reality one confronts, so shame is not my response to these settlers.

We already knew that the settlers are the shock troops of a racist religio-nationalism. They inhabit illegal settlements and they hunt in the company of the army that sponsors them. The settlers filmed themselves—that’s how sure they are that the Netanyahu government (whose project they implement) will protect them. Thus far they are right. Their crime disgusts me.

Shame is not my response to the Netanyahu government that incited and protected this atrocity: uniformed soldiers accompanied the mob. We already knew that this government has handed power to racists and fascists. I had no delusions that might sour into shame. The leaders of this government belong in court—a court they have not neutered. Send them to the International Court of Justice, and add the crime of Huwara to their charge sheet. Their actions are contemptible.

I feel what I felt on the morning after the Israeli military obliterated the Shuja’iyya homes of 92,000 Gazan Palestinians in July, 2014: shock. The smells lingered, disbelief hung in the air. No warning prepares one for that much violence. No theory fully captures the willingness to commit such atrocities against trapped civilians. That is how I feel: forewarned and still shocked.

I am the grandchild of four refugees from the pogroms of Eastern Europe. When (quoting Israeli organisations) I say that Israeli settlers have carried out a pogrom, I speak from memory. I choose to use a loaded term to plead for attention: a malevolent rabble is loose and if they are not stopped, they will hunt again and again.

I feel such dread and terror for the Palestinians who must live with Israel’s armed racism every hour of their days and nights. Their exposure is beyond imagining. They will not be safe until they have international protection.

Shame? I am ashamed of our government, which speaks in our names about law and the rights of all human beings but does nothing to bring about safety—nothing. My government inhabits a diplomatic fugue state, unable to recall our obligations yet expecting to wake in a two-state fairyland. Laws are not upheld by empty speech. They are predicated on action.

Nanaia Mahuta, I beg you to treat these war crimes as war crimes. These are the moments for which the laws were written. Professor of international law and former Special Rapporteur Richard Falk wrote yesterday that the rampage in Huwara “qualifies not only as a war crime, but confirms the pervasive genocidal settler aura, now made vivid.”

Image: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP

With such menace afoot, I am ashamed that my community should allow itself to be spoken for by unelected Zionist ideologues. Jews are not collectively responsible for Israel’s actions, but leaders are responsible for their choices. Ours choose to enable Zionist nationalism and punish any opposition to it.

To the individuals who may be squirming in that shameful space between their ideals and the present reality: find some spine, stand yourself up and speak to the reality of Huwara.

I feel heartsick at the settlers’ desecration of my religion. Jewish history has seen false messianism before and damnit, we have not learned a thing.

In prayer services and in study, I have recently discussed Elijah. He sought understanding while a stormy wind split the rocks, then an earthquake and a fire passed before him. In the quiet after the storms, he was enlightened by a still, small voice that asked, “What are you doing here?”

Now is the quiet after the fires in Huwara. What are we doing?

Marilyn Garson

and Alternative Jewish Voices

Jewish Groups Across the Globe Applaud Barcelona Mayor Colau


February 23, 2023


Jewish Groups Across the Globe Applaud Barcelona Mayor Colau

The International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine (IJCJP) is comprised of Jewish groups and individuals who live in fifteen countries. From many cities around the world, our members celebrate Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau’s decision to cut ties with Israel until everyone in Israel/Palestine fully enjoys their rights, safety, and self-determination.

Cities are critical actors for social justice, because cities are the sites of our daily lives. People of every ethnicity and identity share the streets, schools, buses, culture and events of our cities. We form bonds, provide mutual aid in times of need, and enrich urban life with our diversity. Not so in Israel, where apartheid allocates rights, space, public services, protection, justice and life prospects ethnically. 

Until Israel’s cities are shared, we must not normalise the structural violence of apartheid. We thank Barcelona’s mayor and citizens for refusing to look away from abuses that they would not tolerate in their own streets. With principled actions like Barcelona’s, we have the power to require change. 

We are sad to see that Mayor Colau has come under attack for affirming universal human and political rights. That all members of society should live by a single law is both a traditional Jewish teaching and a pillar of secular justice. We stand in solidarity with Barcelonians who have acted to uphold it.

Barcelona’s example reminds each of us to redouble our local efforts to become the next city that stands up for justice.


International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand; South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP); Jews Say No, US; Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, Germany; Zochrot, Israel; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) Argentina; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) Spain; Boycott from Within (Israeli citizens for BDS); UJFP (French Jewish Peace Union); Jewish Network for Palestine (JNP), UK; Jewish Voice for Peace US; Jews 4 Palestine-Ireland, Independent Jewish Voices Canada; Jews Against the Occupation Australia; Jewish Voice for Labour (UK) 

To contact IJCJP:



Now is the time to speak

Now is the time to speak – not later.

In the perpetual present tense of so much reporting, today’s violence began today. But it didn’t.

Today’s violence began 75 years ago, when Israel occupied Palestine and dispossessed its people. The nationalist project of Zionism rests upon rounds of increasing structural and military violence. Palestinians resist, as occupied people are legally entitled to do (although no one, nowhere, has a ‘right’ to unlimited violence). That’s the dynamic: the occupier holds the power and has the choices, while the occupied people resist. A new generation of Palestinian youth is stepping up its resistance just as Israel’s far right, religio-nationalist government is stepping up its aggression.

On 26 January Israel attacked the tiny, dense refugee camp of Jenin, killing ten people. Then a Palestinian opened fire in a settlement (built on land captured in 1967, in occupied East Jerusalem), killing seven people. The Palestinian was quickly killed, while the Israeli military forces walked away from their killings; confident of their impunity.

Today we say –

1. We seek a solution anchored in law and human rights. Neither Palestinians nor Jews will be free or healthy until this illegal occupation is replaced by a decent, dignified society where all people enjoy their rights.

2. Do not ask everyone to take one step back, because occupier and occupied are not two parties with equal responsibilities. We urge our government to actively support the International Court of Justice, whose job it is to assign responsibility for the disastrous violence which is integral to Israel’s occupation.

3. We grieve for those who have been killed. We call on our government to act in support of the laws and treaties it signs in our names. Act as we are obliged to act, to protect the occupied people and preserve the safety of civilians everywhere.

4. A cessation of violence is not the same as a solution. We urge, we plead with our government to speak and act in a principled, unexceptional, rights-based manner in Palestine so that real justice can be brought nearer without any need for more violence. We are not powerless; we are just inexcusably timid.

5. We urge our Jewish community and institutions to roundly disavow Israel’s government, which gives power to Kahanists, outright fascists and racists. They will push the occupation to new lows in all of our names.

Now is the time to speak—not later, when this has gone any further.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

J4P-AJV survey: What happens when we speak about Palestine in Aotearoa?

Read the full survey results here

In 2022, New Zealanders were repeatedly called antisemitic for beliefs consistent with universal human rights and democratic norms

This survey speaks about a category of social and religious harm in Aotearoa.

Because it confuses opposition to Zionism with a hatred of Jews, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA WD) enables Zionist individuals and organisations to make false and unanswerable accusations of antisemitism against their fellow New Zealanders. New Zealanders are being labelled as antisemites for upholding the UN-recognised rights of Palestinians, or simply for making statements about their Palestinian or non-Zionist Jewish identity. In 2022, two national surveys of antisemitism were distorted by classing opposition to Israel’s illegal occupation as a prominent form of antisemitism. The NZ Jewish Council survey explicitly labelled every respondent as an antisemite if they held views consistent with global human rights reporting, and with our basic democratic norms.

Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices jointly surveyed New Zealanders who advocate for Palestinian rights. In these pages, we begin to hear their experience of being falsely accused. These voices signal the need for more systematic study of the IHRA WD’s stealthy use to silence Palestinian speech, harm human rights advocates and denigrate non-Zionist Jewish identity in Aotearoa.

  • 86% of respondents have witnessed accusations addressed to others in public, private or religious (synagogue) venues.
  • 67% have been personally accused of antisemitism, including 10 of the 14 respondents who identified themselves as Jewish or Palestinian.
  • Only 2 respondents have been accused of antisemitism for comments relating to Jews or Judaism. 93% of respondents were accused for commenting on the actions of the Israeli state, politicians, police or military forces. 66% were accused for commenting on the history or Palestine, and 62% for commenting on Palestinians’ equal entitlements to UN-recognised rights.
  • 31% of respondents reported being or feeling threatened.
  • Although we tend to speak of these accusations taking place online, 62% of our respondents have been accused in a face-to-face encounter. 55% have been accused on social media, while 28% have received letters or emails accusing them of antisemitism. This problem is experienced more intimately than we had assumed.
  • Seriously harmful personal outcomes were most likely to be reported by Jews or people of Arabic descent.

None of us has the right to define our identity so expansively

as to demand the erasure of another.

Human rights and the IHRA WD are not two equally valid, opposing views. Human rights is our global, codified, committed standard and the IHRA WD violates it. Antisemitism is real and integral to the worldviews of White supremacists and the far Right. The IHRA WD does not combat that primary source of real antisemitism. It is a tool to punish support for the equal human and political rights of Palestinians, and it is a mechanism to Zionise and monopolise Jewish identity.

In our Appendix, we excerpt from United Nations and New Zealand Human Rights Commission reporting on the need to address antisemitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism in ways that support and advance our universal human rights. That is the way forward.

We call on our government to publicly oppose

any adoption, use or endorsement of the IHRA WD

in Aotearoa or in the United Nations.

Read the full survey results here

Time to find out what happens when we speak about Palestine in Aotearoa

What happens when you speak about Palestinian rights in Aotearoa?

In our conversations with government, media and others we work around the lack of reporting on the lived experience of advocating for Palestinian equality—whether in our own public space or in Palestine.

There have been two recent studies of antisemitism in New Zealand. Both carefully avoided the issue of anti-Zionist ‘antisemitism’—the accusation that Palestinian identity or advocacy is necessarily anti-Jewish. Enabled by the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, these accusations aim to silence political speech by blurring it into contemptible racism and threat.

Today Alternative Jewish Voices and Justice for Palestine jointly launch a survey of the experience of Palestinian speech or advocacy. Have you been accused of anti-Zionist ‘antisemitism’? If you are Jewish or Palestinian, has your identity been denigrated or denied because of your speech? If you are a public figure or a human rights activist, have you been branded an ‘antisemite’? Have you witnessed these accusations targeting others?

This survey is open to any New Zealander who has experienced or witnessed this phenomenon. Please take the time to respond. We will present some of the stories during January. Perhaps this compilation will also lead to more systematic study.

The survey will be open through December. We do require your name and email to validate responses, but we will not identify any respondent by name.

Survey: What happens when you speak about Palestine in Aotearoa?

If you have any questions, please contact us:

Justice for Palestine or

Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

Meir Kahane and us: what is Kahanism and what shall we do?

Meir Kahane photo Ilan Ossendryver/Israel Sun Ltd., Judaica Collection, Harvard Library. Itamar Ben Gvir, All Israel News

Israel’s election will bring Itamar Ben Gvir’s Kahanist Religious Zionism into coalition. What does that mean?

Shaul Magid’s excellent book,  Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical reminds us that while Kahane’s legacy is most evident in Israel, key elements of Kahanism have also entered the Zionist-Jewish mainstream right here at home.

As a New York rabbi, Meir Kahane (born 1932, assassinated 1990) dug the rabbit hole for a Jewish militia identity. He established the Jewish Defense League (JDL): an armed, rightwing Jewish vigilante force. On May 9, 1969 its members massed at a Reform synagogue, bringing pipes and chains to prevent an invited Black speaker from discussing reparations for slavery. Kahane had no interest in Jewish accountability or the oppression of others.

We Jews in our 60s and 70s recall the early JDL—muscular fellows with fists on their black T-shirts, soliciting Jewish university students. They called themselves the New Jews, and they hawked an in-yer-face identification that broke away from our parents’ post-Holocaust timidity. The JDL pride in Jewish fighting power prefigured today’s militia culture. JDL leaders would be indicted for arms smuggling and possession of explosives.

Beyond the black Tshirts, Kahanism rejected the liberal democracy that permitted our Diaspora Jewish lives. He loved the Jewish collective in theory but disparaged most of us as weak, our Jewish power unactualised. Magid’s book is rich with Kahane’s insults for religious or secular Jews who did not locate our pride or our identities in ethnic violence.

Meir Kahane moved to Israel, adapting his American-style racism to Israel’s demographics. He was withering of anyone who called Israel a Jewish democracy: he called them apologists for Jews’ absolute, Gd-given entitlement to the land. Kahane’s thought travelled from Judaism as a religion through Zionism and into a messianic religio-nationalism. He did not want a Jewish state like other states. He advocated the blunt-force grabbing of a divinely-granted state, unlike any other state and immune to the laws of states.

For him, Jewish violence was an act of redemption, not defense—rather like the roving bands of settlers in the West Bank. Or Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli mass murderer of Muslims in a sacred place (Itamar Ben Gvir displayed Goldstein poster until it became politically expedient to take it down). Kahane’s party was so extreme that Israel’s parliament drafted a law to ban him and them from politics. He is the only person to have been convicted for ‘inciting racism and endangering security.’

Forty years later, Meir Kahane’s ideological successor, Itamar Ben Gvir, has been elected. The platform of his Jewish Strength party  (within the Religious Zionism grouping) includes illegal acts like annexing the occupied territories and expelling Palestinian ‘infiltrators and land thieves.’ He will shift Israel’s security stance ‘from the defensive to the offensive position, from the policy of “containment of the enemy” to their eradication and destruction.’

Present-day Religious Zionism threatens both Palestinians and the Jewish community. On the first Shabbat after the election, Israel’s Chief Rabbi joined prospective ultra-Orthodox and far-Right coalition members demanding the power to change the legal definition of a Jew. He used his sermon to say,‘“This is an Orthodox state, not a Reform one,” accusing Reform Judaism of “causing assimilation abroad.”’

On purely self-interested grounds, the silence of Aotearoa’s Progressive Jewish community is astonishing.

We need to face the implications of Kahanism here as well as there. Kahanist Religious Zionism has given up on any prospect of shared work for social improvement. It offers a bleak, isolating response to our uncertain time. But uncertainty has always been key to the appeal of the far Right. We will defend our own, they promise—and we will define our own with increasing ideological purity.

We already see Zionism’s assault on Jewish pluralism in Aotearoa. Their only criterion for Jewish identity is Zionism. Half of the members of AJV are religiously observant (regularly attending or leading services, study groups, community organisations) and half identify through Jewish culture or history. Yet NZ Zionist Federation President Rob Berg claims that our ‘sole identity as Jews seems to be the hate for Israel and Zionism.’ Stuff senior business writer Miriam Bell prints and reprints this useful lie unchallenged in NZ and Australia.

Meir Kahane would revel in the closing of the Jewish communal mind right here, and in the radicalising rejection of human rights in favour of Jewish tribal license. The IHRA definition of antisemitism has become an identity weapon; used in practice both to protect Israel, and to narrow Jewishness into good Zionist Jews and invalid others.

So, Kahanism has entered Israel’s government, and it is accelerating the New Zealand Jewish community’s slide from religion into identity politics. What to do?

Itamar Ben Gvir wants Israel’s police portfolio. Imagine putting our White supremacist fringe in charge of the police, handing them the intelligence and setting them free to hunt down tangata whenua, Muslims and Jews, LGBTQ+. A government that includes Itamar Ben Gvir is not politics as usual, and we ask our government to take Itamar Ben Gvir at his word, judge him on his actions, and respond accordingly.

  • Ben Gvir intends to expel and dispossess more Palestinians.  If we are not to aid and abet his lawless vision, Aotearoa must cease any dialogue or sharing of information with Israeli military and security services.
  • Israel’s IT industry is inextricable from the military with which it designs and tests products on an occupied people. If we are not to be accomplices, Aotearoa must cease all commerce and investment with the Israeli IT industry.
  • We already implement our Israeli visa policy racially, giving Israeli Jews visa-free status which we deny to Palestinians. This has got to end, no matter who governs.
  • We ask our government to make a clear, public commitment that Aotearoa will never adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The IHRA  would protect Itamar Ben Gvir and silence his victims’ advocates. When we cite his actual record or challenge his stated illegal intentions, the IHRA would cry ‘antisemite’! It would also allow Aotearoa’s Jewish Right to assert a monopoly over our religious identity, at the expense of Jewish pluralism. Don’t let that happen. Take the IHRA off the table.

We restate our disgust that any New Zealand Jewish institution would acquiesce, would passively permit the advance of Kahanism.  Our parents’ generation rejected Kahane’s unbridled identity-licensed violence. Shame on anyone who does not reject it today.

Shame on anyone who looks down at the ground and mumbles yeah, well, whatever—our Israel, Jewish and Kahanist.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

On Israel’s election and the silence of the NZ Jewish Council

Middle East Eye: “Ben-Gvir is pictured pulling a gun at Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem on 13 October 2022 (Twitter)”

Israel held an election. Roughly two-thirds of the adult population were permitted to vote, and they returned Benjamin Netanyahu to office. His largest coalition partner will be the Kahanist Religious Zionism thugs led by one Itamar Ben Gvir.

This is sad proof that we Jews are no different from anyone else who mainlines ultranationalism. When you ladle Zionism into religion, you cook up the toxic Religious Zionism of Ben Gvir.

The teenaged Ben Gvir was too far Right to be accepted into the Israeli army. He was a youth leader of the extremist Kach, and his current crew are the proud inheritors of Kahanism, a Jewish supremacy movement outlawed in Israel and classified by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. Until it became politically advisable to remove it, Ben Gvir kept a portrait of the Israeli-American mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinian Muslims and wounded 125 others in a place held sacred by both Muslims and Jews. Ben Gvir is so openly racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, ultranationalist, anti-democratic and violent that Israel’s perpetual supporter, Thomas Friedman, likens his appointment to offering the Proud Boys a Cabinet slot.

This election is least new to Palestinians, for whom unrestrained structural violence has long been the norm. To advocates for justice in Palestine, this election is a depressing acceleration of Israel’s existing direction of travel. To those otherwise-caring Jews who have rationalised the ugliness as long as it was directed only at Palestinians, this is qualitatively new. Jewish Israelis have voted for the bleak enmity, the worshipful violence; the anti-democratic, outright fascistic world view of the Kach gang. To that they choose to belong: that is what Zionism has become.

And we Jewish New Zealanders—how many of us will choose to belong to Ben Gvir’s Israel?

The NZ Jewish Council (NZJC) issued a note to the Jewish community. We asked if they would make it public, and the Chair of the NZJC replied that it is not their place to comment on Israel’s elections. That reply will suffice to understand the unpublished guidance: there’ll be no comment.

They sure commented on Israel when Amnesty International found it to be an apartheid state. They wasted no time publicly calling world’s leading human rights organisation ‘antisemitic’.  They defend Israel loudly enough from the Left. They are forever telling us that Zionism is how they do Judaism, and they deny the validity of our (or any) Jewish identity not centred on Israel.

And now? Now that Israel has served up its far Right in the form of Itamar Ben Gvir, the NZJC has suddenly remembered that their constitution makes no mention of Israel or Zionism, and they’ve gone all shy and reticent. It seems they are willing to set a place for Itamar Ben Gvir at the table of the New Zealand Jewish community. They welcomed Trump when he was politically expedient, so why not welcome one more?

Well, to hell with that.

To go along with Ben Gvir is an abject moral forfeit. To know full well his record and embrace him is to grant permission and extend impunity to his settler shock troops. That stance is complicit through and through.

Presumably the NZ Jewish Council will now wrap Itamar Ben Gvir in the snug blanket of their IHRA definition of antisemitism. Presumably when anyone objects to his violence, his threats to dismantle the courts, his hatred of LGBTQ and his pathological enmity for Palestinians; the NZ Jewish Council will call that speaker antisemitic. If they do that, if they bring Itamar Ben Gvir’s Kahanist terror into the protected space of our religion, they will have trampled the meaning of Jewishness in the dust once and for all.

Whatever one wanted Israel to be, this is what Israel has chosen to be. It’s time to admit, as even Thomas Friedman has admitted, “The Israel we knew is gone.”

We hope that our community will not open our door to Ben Gvir and his goons. We hope they will voice their disgust, and reject the passive support that the silent NZ Jewish Council is giving to this Kahanist Religious Zionism.

Throw the fascist bastard out. Let him slink back under his rock, and get this ultra-nationalism out of our religion.

We are Jewish—not Kahanist.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

Humanity Matters: Protest is not “political antisemitism”

Image: Marco Verch

(A joint statement by Neil Ballantyne on behalf of Justice for Palestine and Marilyn Garson on behalf of Alternative Jewish Voices)

The proliferation of mis- and disinformation in recent years is cause for grave concern, particularly with the attendant risks to minorities and human rights.  Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices were pleased to see Humanity Matters New Zealand publish its report on misinformation, disinformation and online antisemitism in Aotearoa. While the report communicates important aspects of the lived experience of antisemitism, its passive use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism has mingled legitimate expressions of protest with racial hatred. Sadly, that colours the results and constitutes a lost opportunity.

The survey is the first publication by Humanity Matters, a new human rights-oriented NGO. It foregrounds the experience and concerns of Aotearoa’s Jewish community. It offers helpful definitions of disinformation and misinformation and contextualises this in social media and in the recent COVID encounters. The report clearly identifies far Right individuals and organisations in Aotearoa as a source of antisemitic sentiment, and makes many helpful recommendations to challenge and change perceptions of the Jews and Judaism in Aotearoa.

Regrettably, Humanity Matters did not use Aotearoa’s prevailing definition of antisemitism.[1] Instead they included unlimited “criticism of Israel” or “criticism of Zionism” as a category labelled “political antisemitism”. We reject the category of “political antisemitism”, as should all reasonable people.  Antisemitism is the hatred of Jews or Jewishness. Criticism of Israel need not necessarily target Jews or Jewishness at all. Humanity Matters has poorly defined the phenomenon that the study seeks to measure.

The report notes that some members of the Jewish community consider that ‘to be anti-Zionist is to be antisemitic whilst others in the community hold these as separate issues, and for this they can experience exclusion within the Jewish community’ (p. 12). Without further discussion, the authors of the report then adopt the position that criticism of Israel or Zionism is indeed a core element of antisemitism. They decline to survey or analyse the experience of non-Zionist Jews who regularly experience attacks on their Jewish identity by the Zionist-Jewish community.

The IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and stigmatises political protest and human rights advocacy. By declining to distinguish protest from hate, Humanity Matters has reproduced the stigma. Intentionally or not, Humanity Matters has continued the demonisation of the very human rights that the organisation was formed to advance.

According to the survey, anti-Zionist or anti-Israel sentiment is experienced nearly twice as often as any form of classic antisemitism. By reporting this uncritically as antisemitism, its frequency overshadows the real, growing, threatening antisemitism of the far Right which demands our national attention.

Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices advocate for Palestinian rights across a range of social media platforms. We manage our messaging with care and remove posts with comments that descend into antisemitism. Indeed, membership of Justice for Palestine is contingent on agreeing to a statement that:

Justice for Palestine events and social media will not tolerate any act or discourse which adopts or promotes, among others: racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia. Any prospective or current member found to be in breach of this condition will have membership declined or removed.

However, we reserve the right to critique actions of the Israeli state which fly in the face of international law and human rights, such as the slaying of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh, the repeated bombings of Gaza and killing of Palestinian civilians, and the land incursion in Masafer Yatta. We highlight and reject the underlying colonising ideology of Zionist settlers in the Occupied Territories.

Our activities challenge Israel’s violations of law and human rights. Humanity Matters has allowed the human rights work of our organisations, and all citizens of Aotearoa involved in the promotion of Palestininian rights, to be vilified as antisemitism. Their study includes misinformation about the nature of antisemitism which tarnishes and chills work for Palestinian human rights.

Humanity Matters aspires to be an organisation of “caretakers of truth working at the intersection of education, history, and human rights” (p.2). Any organisation with such significant aspirations must adhere to the highest possible standards on the promotion of universal human rights.

It is not too late for Humanity Matters to acknowledge the problem with this study, in a way that lets us all focus on their other, valuable findings. We strongly recommend that Humanity Matters and the report’s funders consider an addendum that sequesters their damaging “political” category. Yes, Jews in Aotearoa are increasingly uncomfortable that Israel’s actions are rejected when they disregard international law and human rights. And, yes, Jews in Aotearoa live with the looming threat of real antisemitism, which is anti-Jewish racism. Once contextualised, the first statement need not obscure the second. The idea that this report might be used as an educational resource in schools, whilst including the category of “political antisemitism”, is deeply disturbing.

Alternative Jewish Voices writes regularly about antisemitism, and both organisations care deeply about the intent of this study. We want everyone who opposes the far Right to understand antisemitism as a core element of that dangerous world view, and to read the experience of their Jewish neighbours recorded in this study. Let that experience start conversations and shape action.

For an alternative perspective on antisemitism and Palestinian rights see our video interview with Michael Lynk, former UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Palestine.

            Michael Lynk: On antisemitism and the movement for Palestinian rights.

Neil Ballantyne (on behalf of Justice for Palestine) and Marilyn Garson (on behalf of Alternative Jewish Voices)        

[1] See the Human Rights Act s(28) s(21) s(61). See also page 20. To understand the difference between Zionism and Judaism, and the implications of the IHRA Working Definition, see

The entropy of the IHRA: the Holocaust, Palestine and that definition

Zentropy image: SciTech Daily

We are witnessing an unintended consequence of the IHRA’s political definition of antisemitism. Intending to silence Israel’s critics, the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) has instead made them stakeholders in an uncomfortable set of issues.

Jewish religious and academic scholars disagree whether the Holocaust belongs within or beyond our usual historical categories. This far-reaching question pre-dates the IHRA. Marilyn Garson recalls studying it with post-Holocaust philosopher Emil Fackenheim nearly forty years ago at the University of Toronto.

Some people believe that the Holocaust is sui generis, in a category of its own. Some regard it as the culmination of a fixed, eternal antisemitism; a hatred unlike other racial hatreds. Those beliefs may be deeply held.

Problems arise when that exceptionalism extends to Israel. Jacqueline Rose has described the ‘disgrace’ of making the Holocaust’s ‘barely assimilable trauma’ into the ‘premise’ of Israel’s state programme.[1]

The Holocaust cannot justify or redeem Israel’s ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people. If we let that happen in the name of one people’s cataclysm, we become complicit in a second national cataclysm.

The IHRA’s programme seeks to establish a separate Holocaust curriculum and antisemitism regime—one best understood by visiting Israel. That sealed historical narrative would be protected by the IHRA’s own definition of ‘antisemitism’.

While we, AJV, oppose the IHRA’s exceptional approach to the Holocaust and racism, we respect other views—until they deploy the Holocaust to serve Zionist politics. Then we respect them less.

  • A separate Holocaust education

The Holocaust was unique: a modern, industrialised, European genocide.

The category of genocide assumed that this very worst crime would always be predicated on the existence of an Other to target, dehumanise, blame, dispossess and murder. In Cambodia in the 1970s, there was no Other. The Khmer Rouge manufactured an Other and conducted a genocide so familial that scholars eventually called it auto-genocide. Cambodia’s genocide was unique.

Genocide is a category, not a carbon copy. It does not diminish the Holocaust or the Cambodian or other genocides to place them in a category. On the contrary, it holds them within relevant human history and requires us to confront our human choice and responsibility. It contextualises the programme and the crimes of genocide among other categories of crimes against nations: crimes of war, slavery, apartheid, colonisation. In our view, contextualising the Holocaust is more helpful than sequestering it.

  • A separate antisemitism

We believe that the study of the Holocaust is not enough to shape a compelling and well-grounded response to the antisemitism we see around us today. The Holocaust cannot do that job alone.

The antisemitism of the Holocaust was Christian and European. 21st century antisemitism is better understood within the set of contemporary hatreds. Antisemitism is a core component of the fascist, far Right and White supremacist world view. Every hatred in that toxic bundle has its own history but at the moment, hatreds travel in packs. Antisemitism must not be a separate Jewish issue.

We want to equip Jewish children to confront antisemitism. A vital strand of their equipment will be the mutual respect and reciprocal obligations they acquire by embracing human equality. When that Jewish child stands up, we want her to know that the Maori tamaiti on her right, and the Muslim child on her left will be right there with her, as she is for them.

That requires more than the study of history. Antiracist education must be a current event, our shared mahi.

  • Exceptional Israel as a response

Western guilt aided the UN votes to partition Palestine, establish Israel, and turn a blind eye to international law—all at the expense of the Palestinian nation. Palestinians bore no responsibility for the Holocaust, nor did they agree to hand over their land as compensation for European crimes.

The Holocaust was a factor in Israel’s establishment, but Israel is far more than a response. It is, according to the world’s leading human rights voices, an apartheid state.

As an example of our national commitment to Holocaust education, New Zealand’s IHRA application describes the Holocaust Centre’s biannual junkets for teachers to study the Holocaust in Israel. The Holocaust did not happen in Israel.

Let the Holocaust Centre bring teachers to Europe to learn about the Holocaust where it happened. Let them learn how communities adopt racist, genocidal ideology and descend into the lowest kind of madness. That is a European lesson.

To bring New Zealanders to Israel (and not, of course, to any place of Palestinian history or present-day reality) is to feed them a revisionist history and make them complicit in an apartheid present. It is the cruelest irony to enlist the Holocaust in the erasure of another nation.

  • That definition

The IHRA protects Israel’s exceptional license with the dreaded IHRA definition of antisemitism, which calls anti-Zionist protest and Palestinian identity ‘antisemitic’.

Nonsense. What is antisemitism? Antisemitism is the hatred of Jews or Jewishness. Anti-Zionism which upholds the absolute equality and rights of Palestinians, is not about the religion of the occupier. Palestinians would resist if their occupiers were Martian, and those who love human equality would stand beside them. The IHRA definition calls such protest ‘antisemitic’ in order to silence Israel’s critics—Palestinians and their allies, advocates of human rights, and non-Zionist Jews.

However, we are witnessing an unintended effect of the IHRA definition.

The IHRA definition makes the Holocaust do the ideological work of defending Israel by enabling ‘IHRA-style-antisemitism’ charges. The IHRA organisation uses its name to brand ‘antisemitism’ with the moral authority of the word ‘Holocaust’. Now, by accusing many more people of ‘IHRA antisemitism’, the definition has involved them in the whole set of IHRA issues.

Suddenly, people who have no inherent interest in Holocaust education and no special knowledge of antisemitism do have a stake in policies which support the IHRA definition. The IHRA definition intended to silence Israel’s critics. Instead, by targeting them and lumping them together with real antisemites, the IHRA has made them all into stakeholders.

Much of the early response to the IHRA initiative has been the avoidable, unpleasant result of the IHRA’s choice to advance such a failed definition as its calling card.

We wish it had not happened without consultation. The IHRA politicises everything it touches. Our observer status has dragged us all into a new, already very uncomfortable phase.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

[1] See Jacqueline Rose, Holocaust Premises: Political Implications of the Traumatic Frame in The Jacqueline Rose Reader, pg 332-340.

Building a better antiracist solidarity

We end this Jewish year deeply concerned by the rise of racism, and our Jewish community’s position in Aotearoa. We are letting the Jewish Council situate us as conservative opponents of human rights.

This year, the Jewish Council used funding from the Ministry of Ethnic Communities and the IHRA Working Definition to call two-thirds of New Zealanders ‘antisemitic’. The survey actually showed that most New Zealanders support the conclusion of human rights defenders: Israel’s regime is apartheid. We think it’s wonderful that our neighbours value everyone’s rights. We count on them to oppose antisemitism for the same reason.

But too many New Zealanders now encounter the Jewish community through those alienating, false accusations. In order to end that, we must keep the IHRA’s harmful definition out of Aotearoa. Anti-Zionism is not per se antisemitic.

We have met with MFAT officials to understand the history of the initiative to become an observer at the IHRA organisation. We believe that MFAT does not intend to introduce the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. We believe that MFAT agrees that racism must remain the responsibility of our Commissioners of Human Rights and Race Relations.

The IHRA working definition has no standing in this country—none, kore—and we mean to keep it that way. We will do that by calling out every unofficial use. But that is not enough.

The Jewish community must also reject the path that is being taken in our names.

A 2021 Wellington Jewish community meeting roundly rejected the Wellington Regional Jewish Council’s voice and operations. The regional council has ceased to operate. That’s a start. Nationally we, the Jewish community, need to pay more attention to the unelected NZ Jewish Council. We are lending a passive legitimacy to their increasingly Christian Zionist echo chamber.

During this pre-holiday month of Elul, we are each charged with facing and transcending the attitudes that limit us and harm others. Elul is a time to ask how far we have slid from taking the side of the oppressed.

In the coming year, let us put aside the political ‘antisemitism’ and confront the reality of racism in Aotearoa together.

While our purported community spokespeople spend their days slandering critics of Israel’s human rights record, real antisemitism is encroaching on our public discourse—from the far Right. The hatred of Jews is a core component of conspiracy theory and the White supremacist world view.

Jews belong in the front row of every antiracist gathering, standing up with and for our neighbours. We should also be a focus of antiracist concern. Neither of those is happening yet. A handful of Jews attended the August Wellington anti-hate rally, and when that crowd chanted its list of communities of concern, Jews were not included.

We have become estranged from our natural allies. Those who oppose the far Right need to place antisemitism firmly on their agenda. And we need to turn up.

In the week of AJV’s formation, we wrote:

Hatreds and resentful identity politics have their own histories, but now they have joined forces under the toxic rubric of white supremacy. We need to respond to that together… rather than seeking an ethnic safety behind my synagogue gate or your mosque doorway. No gates for us, please. There is no separate safety.

A real response must be a joined-up, antiracist Never Again that makes us responsible to and for each other. Hatred and violence must be confronted and turned away by a broad, loving, uncompromising embrace of justice and mutual protection. We are each other’s best hope.

The task has become more urgent. The solution has not changed.

In the coming year of 5873, may we build a better antiracist solidarity.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa NZ