Blog – Letter to Prime Minister: Covid19 and Gaza

When we meet …

by Tameem Shaltoni and Marilyn Garson

Tameem Shaltoni and I (Marilyn Garson) had exchanged some comments on social media. We met for the first time in May, when I drove past his town. We brought our coffees to a park and sat down with all the history, emotion and potential that Palestinians and Jews bring. Our meetings are vital and charged, and we decided to get to know each other in writing. We speak only for ourselves. Indeed, this is about what happens when we meet as individuals who wish to do more than be polite.

Tameem: I have to admit, this is the first time I engage in a face to face dialogue about Palestine with a Jew.
The expulsion of my family from Palestine to clear the way for Jewish settlers in the shadows of WWII severed our lives and traumatised us. Based on where I grew up and what my family went through, it was unthinkable to co-exist with Jews, let alone co-resist! But here we are, I’m glad that we are talking and letting our different worlds clash.

Marilyn: So am I. Jeff Halper writes about ‘bridging conversations’ in his book, Decolonizing Israel – Liberating Palestine. We have to find ways to be ourselves – to bring our identities into a conversation that imagines liberation from our real, historical starting points.  Our questions and the trust we build are the bridges that we need to cross.

Tameem: As a Palestinian, Palestine to me is embodied in the holy city of Al-Quds (Jerusalem), and Al-Aqsa mosque is the centre of my universe. Al-Aqsa mosque is the only name I’ve ever known that place as. As a Jew, Marilyn, what does Al-Quds (Jerusalem) mean to you?

Marilyn: Jerusalem is an integral part of my religious history and imagination. It holds great emotion for me. A Muslim or a Christian can say the same thing, but you cannot go the place we both love. I once drove to Jerusalem with a Gazan colleague.  I have visited over the course of nearly half a century, while she who lives two hours away was seeing the Al-Aqsa mosque for the first time in her life.

Jerusalem will always be plural for me: ours. I believe that the layers of Jerusalem need to be loved and shared by all of us. A society that loves religions – plural – and is governed by and for all of its citizens would be a far more Jewish place than this apartheid Israel.

I think that some Jews fear your love for Al-Quds. They fear that you must want to turn the tables and exclude or harm Jews as you have been harmed. If there were to emerge a decent and dignified society between the river and the sea in which Palestinians play a full role, can you imagine sharing the center of your universe?

Tameem: Yes absolutely. Exclusionary thinking is a big part of why we are here now, and two wrongs don’t make it right. I respect the different layers of perspectives of Jerusalem, and I believe in a permanent solution based on inclusiveness and right to belief(s).

As part of a reconciliation process, we also need to have honest conversations based on evidence and historical facts to understand those different layers and work through reasonable solutions to share and co-exist, and when I say ‘honest’, I mean honest to ourselves first and to each other. At the moment, the atmosphere is too politically loaded to have meaningful conversations about the shape of a permanent solution, and I believe there’s a lot of disinformation going around. This brings me to my next question.

What does ‘being indigenous’ mean to you and what part of the world -if any- do you think you indigenous of?

Marilyn: I’m not indigenous to Palestine, nor to the Eastern European places from which my grandparents fled, nor Canada (where I was born) nor Aotearoa where I live as tauiwi. I’m a citizen, and I live my Jewish life where I live. I am loving the recent flowering of Diasporist Judaism like mine.

Because I am neither Palestinian nor Israeli, the shape of solutions is not my brief. Foreigners don’t draw the maps. We build the pressure that requires change.

Tameem: The history of Jews’ persecution for thousands of years is horrific, let alone the Holocaust which is the worst crime I’ve ever heard of. What I often hear from Israelis and Jews in particular is; my family’s expulsion from Palestine is a natural outcome of the Holocaust and Jews’ persecution, which to me is absurd of course. How do you relate between the Holocaust and Jewish persecution, and Palestine and the Palestinians?

Marilyn: I think Israel was the product of an intentional settler-colonial project, an overwhelming moment of genocide and shock, and a whole array of visions. There was Jewish support and Jewish opposition but the fact is that my antecedents took the homes of yours. That act lies unsettled since the birth of Israel. That act did not resolve the horror of the Holocaust, and it initiated a second national trauma. Your family’s expulsion was neither natural nor acceptable. Until we acknowledge and transform that, until the cycle of trauma and response is broken, the Palestinian Nakba will be a living event in the present tense.

Working with child survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide, with Afghan women and in Gaza, I have known people who lived their lives trapped within their trauma, and people who transcended it. I have known child soldiers – profoundly victimised – who learned with difficulty not to beat their own children as adults. It did not diminish their childhood horror for the adult to break the cycle from victim to abuser. Everyone needs to do that.

Tameem: Let’s talk about antisemitism. By the way, not many people know that as a Palestinian Arab, I am Semite too!  I’m being told that demanding justice for what happened to my family and my people is antisemitic. Do you feel threatened by my Palestinian identity and activism?

Marilyn: I was raised to deny your existence. I have had to confront and learn from that – learn to meet my cousins.  I think we both need to distinguish our identities from others who use the same labels differently. Occupation is not my Judaism but it is the Judaism of some. Palestinian resistance is not about Jewishness but it can be a pretext for some people who hate Jews. As I understand it, Palestinian resistance is an assertion of our full, equal human and political rights. That is no threat to me; on the contrary, that’s the world in which I wish to live.

But to be honest, I do feel uncertain as we begin. I love being a Jew while generations of your family have been shaped and harmed by a system built for Jewish privilege. You – not I – have the emotional initiative when we meet: you tell me what occupation means. You have a right to fierce emotions, and I need to really hear you if I am to support your work to obtain justice.

Tameem: I tried to express how I feel, and I had thought the words failed me. Now I think what I have been trying to describe is numbness, and it makes sense no one can define nothingness. Let me instead tell you my story.

As my family’s tragic story goes, an army of Jewish nationalists came to our town, committed a massacre, then went from door to door and got every single human, men, women, children, and elderly to leave town on foot with no food, water, or anything, threw us in a refugees camp and never let us return to our home, then confiscated our house, our land, our workplace, and all of our belongings, and let Jewish settlers from Europe and Middle East move into our house and assumed our previous life right in front of our eyes, and if that was not enough, they tried to erase our identity, deny our history and our plight, and called us a terrorist anti-semite if we dare to fight back.

Because it is an exclusive Jewish nationalist program that devastated me and my people in the name of the world Jewry and you, I believe the world Jewry has a collective moral responsibility to speak up and drive a change from within in parallel to our Palestinian own struggle for justice, dignity, liberty and self-determination. A change from within the Jewish structures could be the best outcome and least violent for the ongoing struggle, and to be clear, a moral responsibility doesn’t mean that all Jews are accountable for the actions of Israeli governments.

To me, a Jewish self-determination right is a matter for the Jewish people, and my only problem with the current manifestation of it in the form of Zionism and colonisation of Palestine is it came on the expense of me and Palestinians.

I just have no respect whatsoever for anyone who is involved in this horrendous crime, from the perpetrators to the Jewish settlers who don’t have a problem in living our stolen lives.

Marilyn: I am sorry for the history that has left you numb. I really hope that you find sources of joy, and company, to lift some of that numbness.

You’ve said something else that we must unpack – “in the name of.”  It would be misleading and embittering to take those claims at face value. White supremacists justify racist violence by saying that they act in the name of all White people, who are under threat from people of colour and others. They make that claim, but any reasonable White person will disavow it in disgust.

When Zionist settler colonialism is justified in the name of all Jews, you should hear their claim the same way. They have no such mandate. Every Jew who says “not in my name” is repeating that those claims are illegitimate.

Everyone who believes in our equal humanity has an obligation to help generate the pressure for change, but I agree with you that Jews have an additional obligation because they are using our names. We cannot be bystanders, because that’s a passive permission for the project to continue.

Tameem: I admire you Marilyn for choosing not to take advantage of the privilege which Israel’s apartheid gave you based on your Jewish identity.

Marilyn: And I admire you for telling every difficult story. Wherever I have worked, war imposed crazy consequences on people because of their identities: these ones were made refugees, those enslaved, dispossessed, marked for death.  Personal stories remind us that the big Nakba consists of terrible individual choices and ongoing consequences like those of your family. Those are the histories by which you earn your Right of Return.

There is no substitute for your voice. We hear you as a human being and we know this isn’t right. We enlist in the work of setting it right because we aspire to live in a world of justice.

Tameem: I can’t find peace and co-exist with what happened without establishing justice. Justice is one of the key principles in a civilised society, without justice laws don’t have any meaning, and life falls apart. Justice is the first step in ‘getting along’ and co-existence. Without justice, co-existence is a bitter capitulation that’s waiting to explode. Remember treaty of Versailles.

Marilyn: Well said: there is no getting along without justice. Neither of our peoples is going to be free of this until we are both free.

And what you think when people want to get along without really challenging the nature of co-existence?

Tameem: It’s the difference between getting real, and lying to ourselves. When we don’t seek justice, we are accepting injustice as a normal tenet of society. Justice is probably the only principle that everyone, no matter where they are on the political spectrum, believes that it must be served with no limit at all the times and in all the places and situations. Unless someone can convince me why I shouldn’t seek justice, then the only real help a friend can offer is to seek justice.

At the end, we can say so much only in the time we’ve got today, and I had enough sandfly bites anyway! so it’s the time to say ka kite ano.

June 9, 2022

Tameem Shaltoni and Marilyn Garson

Jewish groups in ten countries join Germans and New Zealanders to protest the suppression of Palestinians’ right to public expression.

For Immediate Release:  Jewish groups in ten countries join Germans and New Zealanders to protest the suppression of Palestinians’ right to public expression.

Date May 27, 2022

Jewish groups in Germany and New Zealand protested alongside Palestinians when mayors of Berlin and Wellington banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

Justice for Palestine staged a guerilla projection in defiance of the Wellington ban. Photo supplied by J4P

May 15 marked the 74th anniversary of the Nakba (Israel’s expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes). Public events took place throughout the world – almost. The capital cities of Germany and New Zealand suppressed the democratic rights of Palestinian citizens and their neighbours to peaceful public expression. The Berlin Senate banned all pro-Palestinian gatherings and the mayor of Wellington revoked the city’s approval to display the national colours of Palestine.

In Berlin, the Senate, headed by Mayor Franziska Giffey, used the example of a demonstration in April that had seen anti-Semitic behaviour by a small number of individuals to argue that there was a concrete danger of hate crimes, conjuring the spectre of mass rampages targeting Jewish citizens. This pretext was used to cancel long-approved demonstrations and prevent any others relating to the Nakba or Palestinian issues in general, such as the shooting of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, for whom a Jewish group tried to hold a vigil. The police enforced the ban so zealously that even a spontaneous gathering with Palestinian symbols was broken up violently and participants were arrested.

In Wellington, Mayor Andy Foster forbade the (already approved) projection of Palestinian national colours on a public building after New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) warned that “displaying the Palestinian colours could result in complaints from the Israeli ambassador and other Israeli groups.” MFAT has not thus far named the ‘Israeli groups’ whose feelings take precedence over Wellingtonians’ legal right to peaceful expression.

From our ten countries we, member groups of the International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine, angrily object to the suppression of Palestinians’ rights to individual expression, peaceful public protest and national memory. These 74 years of ongoing Nakba, and the exceptional brutality of the days preceding Nakba Day, both merit public protest. If no one protests, nothing will change.

Mayor Giffey and Mayor Foster, look at the pictures of Israeli police beating, kicking Palestinian mourners. Read the eye-witness testimonies that Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was targeted and killed by a bullet fired from the direction of Israeli occupation forces. Do not neglect the story of 16-year-old Thaer Khalil Mohammed Maslat, killed by the Israeli army on the same day. He was the tenth Palestinian child to be killed by Israeli occupation forces this year.

Then please explain why you responded to Israel’s violence by limiting the civil rights of Palestinian citizens in your cities.

Would you ban Jewish commemoration of our historic days? Would you prevent Jews from gathering to mourn the killing of a prominent Jewish person? We think not.

That which you would not do to us, do not do to our Palestinian neighbours. Our rights as citizens are, and must remain, equal.

Signed by these member groups of the International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine:

Jewish Voice for Peace – USA

Jewish Voice for Labour – UK

Boycott from Within (Israeli citizens for BDS) – Israel

French Jewish Peace Union (UJFP) – France

Alternative Jewish Voices – Aotearoa New Zealand

Jewish Network for Palestine (JNP) – UK

South African Jews for a Free Palestine SAJFP – South Africa

Independent Jewish Voices – Canada

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East – Germany

Jews Say No! – US

Jews against the Occupation – Australia

Jewish Voice for Just Peace – Ireland


For enquiries, please contact

Int’l Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine:

Alternative Jewish Voices Aotearoa NZ:

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East (Germany)

Silencing Palestine and Stereotyping Jews

Justice for Palestine showing the colours at Te Papa Museum. Image by Kevin Stunt, Stuff

When Marilyn Garson’s memoir of working in Gaza was published, Radio NZ scheduled an interview. On the day of the interview, RNZ first promoted and then cancelled it. In response to her OIA request, RNZ disclosed this internal email.

It reads in full, “Hi guys, given the huge flood of formal complaints we get any time we do a Palestine story without Israeli balance, Either we have to drop it or set up another interview – which you would have to mention before and after tonights one.”

We hear about Israel casually, without always hearing from Palestine before and after. But we are not allowed to hear a first-person story of Gaza unless it is bookended by something, anything, from Israel. That’s not journalistic balance, that’s a one-way concession to the possible inconvenience of complaint.

On Sunday May 15, Nakba Day, Wellington Mayor Andy Foster was advised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) to disallow an already-approved display of Palestinian colours on a public building. Although the same building had recently displayed Ukrainian colours without evident concern for the Russian ambassador’s feelings, MFAT advised that “displaying the Palestinian colours could result in complaints from the Israeli ambassador and other Israeli groups.” The Mayor shut it down – leaving Justice for Palestine to get the job done on the following evening.

Again, Palestinian expression was forbidden because someone might complain. Forget the validity of the complaints – there were none to evaluate. The mere prospect of Palestinian stories or the display of a Palestinian flag was problematised in advance.

When the right to be Palestinian in public is made contingent, policy has become racially intolerant. We share this space and we are prevented from enjoying it equally. That makes the suppression of Palestine everyone’s issue.

MFAT’s advice is further inappropriate in ways that anger us as Jews. A government ministry issued advice that “displaying the Palestinian colours could result in complaints from the Israeli ambassador and other Israeli groups.”

The Israeli ambassador is a guest in Aotearoa, whose presence ought not to drive our municipal policy. Given the frequency with which his government is characterised as apartheid, and given the exceptional brutality it has displayed in the past week, he might benefit from seeing the healthy exercise of pluralist public expression. See our joint open letter to the Prime Minister on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and the desecration of her funeral procession by Israeli police.

And exactly who are these ‘other Israeli groups’ whose sensitivities preempt citizens’ peaceful public expression? Is Mossad operating here again? Or does a ministry of our own government truly not know the difference between the Jewish community of New Zealand and an Israeli interest group – can that possibly be??

MFAT, RNZ, Mayor Foster; we are Aotearoa Jews and you need to outgrow your stereotypes of our community.

Members of Aotearoa’s Jewish community express our identities in many ways. Some Jews place a nationalist project called Israel at the centre of their identity. We and other Jews who love justice oppose the apartheid that Israel enacts in our names. We sharply distinguish it from our Jewish identity and we accept a responsibility to pursue justice and peace for all who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

You do not aid Aotearoa’s Jews by marginalising our Palestinian neighbours. Do not prevent us from sharing our city and our airwaves by perpetuating such a zero / sum model of belonging. We hold equal citizenship and we enjoy equal rights to public space and expression. We are members of a pluralist community that needs to unite against exclusion or racism in all of its forms.

Our support of Palestinian expression is pro-democratic, not anti-anyone. We uphold Palestinian rights as we expect others to stand with us when we need them. Our safety lies in the mutual respect we build with our neighbours. That is a necessity, not a nicety. We live together in a dangerous time and we are each others’ best hope.

Alternative Jewish Voices

Our Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Sent this morning

An open letter to the Government of Aotearoa New Zealand
16 May 2022
Prime Minister Right Hon Jacinda Ardern
Cc Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Nanaia Mahuta

Tēnā koe Prime Minister
NZ Government must hold Israel to account for the murder of Palestinian
journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Justice for Palestine, Palestinian Youth Aotearoa and Alternative Jewish Voices write to call on the Government of Aotearoa New Zealand to hold Israel to account for the murder of Palestinian journalist for Al Jazeera, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead by the Israeli army on 11 May, while covering a raid in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli army subsequently attacked and injured mourners at Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral procession.

A free press is essential to democracy. The targeting of journalists anywhere,
including in conflict zones, undermines democracy and there must be a swift and resolute response to those who try to harm journalists or suppress press freedom.

In 2020 the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate stated Israeli forces had killed over 46 Palestinian journalists since 2000. It is now estimated that over 50 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israel. Further, in May 2021, Israeli forces destroyed multiple tower blocks housing numerous media outlets, including Aljazeera, Associated Press and Middle East Eye.1

These attacks are not an aberration, they are part of a pattern of systematic
targeting of Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces to prevent them from bearing witness to crimes perpetrated against Palestinians every day.

Israel’s actions towards journalists reporting on the illegal occupation of Palestine violate the right to life, freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom from discrimination. They are in breach of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The International Federation of Journalists alongside other organisations has
recently submitted a case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which alleges that Israel’s systemic targeting of media workers in Palestine and its failure to properly investigate the killing of journalists amount to war crimes.2 Abu Akleh’s has been added as one of the named victims in the complaint.

Expert legal counsel for the group that submitted the case stated:3
“The cases communicated to the ICC Prosecutor are emblematic of the ongoing,
systematic attacks and use of lethal force against journalists and media organisations in Palestine by the Israeli security services. These journalists and media organisations were targeted and attacked in circumstances that give rise to strong grounds to suspect that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed.”

Consequently, as citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand, we call on our Government,
elected to represent us, to act in support of human rights and international law by:
• Condemning, in the strongest possible terms, the targeted killing of
Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
• Issuing a statement supporting the International Criminal Court complaint
seeking investigation and prosecution of the systemic targeting of Palestinian
• Calling in the Israeli ambassador, Ran Yaakoby, and demanding an
explanation of what action will be taken to provide justice for Shireen Abu
Akleh, and to establish effective measures to protect journalists reporting
within illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

In solidarity – ngā mihi nui,
Justice for Palestine, Palestinian Youth Aotearoa, and Alternative Jewish Voices


Erev Nakba – the Eve of Nakba Day 2022

Blazetrends: Mourning Shireen Abu Akleh

On Nakba Day we commemorate the explulsion and the ongoing harms inflicted by Israel upon the Palestinian nation. Zionism is the project of Jewish nationalism. We acknowledge our responsibility as Jews to help muster the pressure that is necessary to transform the racist society that Zionism has built.

This week we also mourn for journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, and for 16-year-old Thaer Khalil Mohammed Maslat who was killed by the IDF on the same day. He is the tenth Palestinian child to be shot and killed by Israeli occupation forces this year.

Today Israeli police assaulted Shireen Abu Aqleh’s pallbearers and mourners while the world watched. Absent any comment by our own government, we second the statement of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell: “The European Union is appalled by the scenes … in occupied East Jerusalem. The EU condemns the disproportionate use of force and the disrespectful behaviour by the Israeli police against the participants of the mourning procession.”

Also in the EU, Berlin has banned Palestinian demonstrations including those for Nakba Day. Would Berlin treat its Jewish community the same way, banning the commemoration of Jewish suffering and the mourning of an internationally prominent Jew? We think not.

Attempts to marginalise Nakba Day are acts of public erasure, offering us private excuses not to learn and empathise with the lived experience of Palestinians. When we turn away and desensitise our hearts, we prop up the walls of this world with our backs.

The problem is not simply Zionism. Both there and here the problem is exclusivity, the absolute doctrines of mine and mine alone.

In Palestine we oppose a society of Jewish privilege wherein “the freedoms of one [ethnic] group are inextricably bound up in the subjugation of the other… This is apartheid.” Apartheid is a crime against humanity and that makes Nakba Day everyone’s business.

Here in Aotearoa, we object to the Zionist monotone of our unelected, unrepresentative Jewish Council and institutions. We oppose the institutional intolerance of any belief other than Zionism. Shame on any heart that thinks so small. Judaism has been a plural noun for at least two thousand years.

Look beneath the false claim that all anti-Zionism equals antisemitism. That claim rests upon the false foundation that Zionism equals all of Judaism. Zionist exclusivity enables the outrage which some Zionists direct at any other, older Jewish belief: Judaism is ours and ours alone.

Some Jews do place nationalism at the heart of their identity. We reject their monopoly to act as if Zionism were the only expression of Jewishness. It is not, never was, never will be.

We wrote our kaupapa, our principle, on our homepage on the day of our establishment. Sh’ma Koleinu – hear our voices – there are many ways to be a Jew. We adhere to an expansive Judaism. We let our hearts jump the fences and roam our world. We share others’ losses. We seek their comfort as well as our own. We work for our common future, grounded in justice and dignity.

On this Nakba Day 2022, we stand in solidarity with our Palestinian friends to commemorate the living Nakba.  Our hearts reach out to imagine a peaceful, pluralist, democratic future for all who live between the river and the sea.

Alternative Jewish Voices and friends

Marilyn Garson

Fred Albert

Justine Sachs

Jesse Richardson

Leigh Friday

Sue Berman

Lynn Jenner

Margalit Toledano

David Weinstein

What is the local project of Zionism in Aotearoa?

Global human rights leaders: ‘Apartheid.’ NZ Jewish Council: ‘Antisemitism!’

Human rights lawyers including these now call Israel’s regime apartheid, which is a crime against humanity: Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, in association with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network; B’Tselem; Michael Sfard and Yesh Din; UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk

The apparent project of Aotearoa’s overlapping Zionist institutions is fraught with contradictions. We find their project more coherent when we regard it as being an activity of NZ’s most conservative, neoliberal actors.

Discussions of Zionism usually focus on the sensitive, exceptional license claimed by Jewish Israelis to maintain their occupation of Palestine. However, it is wrong to regard Zionism strictly as a Jewish undertaking in New Zealand today. One of its harshest proponents, the Israel Institute, is a company whose directors are Jewish, Evangelical Christian, and  secular neoliberal.

The internal contradictions of the NZ Zionist partnership are glaring. Liberal and Progressive Jews allow themselves to be represented by leaders of the neoliberal Taxpayers’ and Free Speech Unions. Zionist Jews partner with Evangelical Christians, some of whom support the Jewish return to Palestine in order to hasten Armageddon and the conversion or death of said Jews. The New Zealand Jewish Council (NZJC), one of whose members traffics in Nazi memes, speaks for the descendants of Holocaust survivors.

Right now, while we are all reeling from an unprecedented display of racist disinformation, the Jewish Council has chosen to publish a survey which stresses attitudes to Israel rather than our pressing local reality. Either these folks are tin-eared, or we have not understood their aims well by focusing on their apparent objectives.

This whole fraught assemblage becomes more coherent when we turn our focus to Aotearoa and ask, what are they doing here and now?

Start with the IHRA

Any explanation must begin with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA), the sweeping definition which renders support for Palestinian rights antisemitic. The IHRA elevates the political ideology of Zionism into the protected space of our religion, Judaism, in order to shield Israel from its political critics. The IHRA has no official standing in Aotearoa, none, but our Zionist institutions use it anyway – and it makes all the difference by inverting the object of our attention.

When we begin any study by assuming Palestinians’ full personhood, equal human and political rights, Israel’s occupation is shown to be apartheid. That’s the conclusion of rights- and law-based research. However, the IHRA normalises Israel’s occupation regime as our starting point. When the protection of Israel’s status quo is the starting point, Palestinian identity and rights can be miscast as threats to the legitimacy of that status quo.

Proponents of IHRA-style Zionism project racism onto those who oppose the harm being done to Palestinians. We see IHRA-Zionism politicising Aotearoa Jewishness and making our institutions intolerant. We see it in the endless accusations against public figures and we have seen it play out through intimidation within Jewish institutions and at public events.

Because NZ’s Zionist institutions are a coalition of the Right, they focus on undermining dissent from the Left, rather than on the real and dangerous rise of White supremacy and disinformation. This focus may serve the interests of Israel but it does not advance the safety or the good standing of the Jewish community of Aotearoa. On the contrary, it targets and alienates our antiracist allies because their concern extends to the rights of Palestinians. Who benefits from dividing us – certainly not the Jewish community in whose name this targeting takes place.

Sleight of hand, in two steps

The NZ Zionist coalition has written a selective and intentional framing of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and they have imported that framing to create an atmosphere of domestic threat. That’s a two-step process.

First, the selective framing of Israel’s occupation. Jewish and Christian Zionists rallied together in support of Israel’s 2021 bombardment of Gaza, but we do not hear public promotion of Israel as the site of Armageddon. We hear of Israel exclusively as being endangered and requiring endless, exceptional military license.

As Jews, many of us were raised to admire Israel’s ‘Jewish power,’ and to believe that it would be wielded wisely.  But now we are told to admire Israel as a hegemon-victim, a dangerous fusion of power and entitlement. Former UN General-Secretary Ban Ki Moon and others are urging us to revoke Israel’s license and confront its actions.

This selective framing is called securitisation. Securitisation casts an issue as a threat to the security of the actors in power. It seeks not popularity but fear, compliance, and temporary exceptional powers (which tend not to be so temporary in action). Securitisation shapes decisions and directs resources.

A securitised view of Gaza, for example, portrays Gazan Palestinians as being so inherently dangerous to the Occupying Power as to justify the blockade and deprivation of their rights. It will spend endless funds on containment. Any view of Gaza that is grounded in human equality, rights, and international law regards the blockade as illegitimate collective punishment.

When that securitised rationale is brought home from Israel to Aotearoa, it leads to the chilling, anti-democratic results that we see around us. The IHRA definition of antisemitism allows the Zionist coalition to classify objections to the occupation as antisemitism posing a danger here in Aotearoa. It escalates rights-based political challenge into racial threat and urges action on that threat. The IHRA definition, we repeat, has no official standing in New Zealand.

The Jewish Council’s survey (mostly) of attitudes to Israel’s occupation

The coalition of Zionist institutions and their methods are moving our Jewish institutions far to the intolerant Right. This is the context of the Jewish Council’s survey of antisemitism, which was partly funded by the Ministry for Ethnic Communities. We do need a serious study of racism, disinformation and the place of antisemitism within it – but this document does not study that. It seeks out public concern about Israel’s occupation of Palestine and calls that the problem.

The Jewish Council surveyed responses to eighteen statements, half of which are statements about Israel rather than Jews. Real antisemitism is lost in what follows.

Respondents who replied in accordance with the findings of the world’s leading human rights organisations were classed as antisemites – literally. The survey table contains no column for ‘agree,’ only a column for ‘antisemitic.’ If respondents did not consider Israel democratic because the government of Israel wields power over millions of West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians who cannot vote in Israeli elections, the respondents were called antisemitic. A Palestinian who asserted her indigeneity and equal rights would be called ‘antisemitic’ on at least four counts. Her very identity and her rights have been rendered racist and therefore dangerous to New Zealand’s Jews.

More sleight of hand: If you don’t call apartheid democracy, you’re a racist. Your conscience, commonsense and the world’s human rights leaders tell you that Israel’s occupation regime is not democratic. While you’re grappling with your choice to be dishonest or be called ‘racist,’ you may fail to notice that Palestinians have been erased. You have been placed in a bind that is all about Israel.

One Jewish student tweeted, “Makes me furious to my bones that the NZ Jewish Council are implying that me and many other Jews hold anti-semitic views simply because we are critical of Israel.”

We need to keep repeating that it is not antisemitic to respect democracy and value each other equally. We, like our neighbours, are protected by those values.

This survey does nothing to keep Jews safe or advance our understanding of the rise of real racism around us. It leads to no meaningful policy.

Actions like this alienate a widening swathe of our politically engaged neighbours. Are we to believe that Amnesty International’s 80,000 NZ supporters (of eight million worldwide) all hate Jews and Jewishness?  Or, they are the merely latest targets of a neoliberal coalition that benefits politically from sowing division?

Aotearoa’s political Zionist campaign is better understood as a local neoliberal project operating in the protected space of our Jewish religion. Liberal and Progressive members of the Jewish community should be asking whether the gains of a joint project with the Taxpayers’ and Free Speech Unions still outweigh the local anti-democratic damage.  Is this really where we fit?

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa-NZ

NZ Jewish Council calls New Zealanders antisemitic for holding views consistent with the world’s leading human rights organisations

Media Release from Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

The NZ Jewish Council has released a survey which calls hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders antisemitic for expressing views consistent with those of the world’s leading human rights organisations.  By conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with the hatred of Jews the survey is weaponising antisemitism in a way that it is more than dishonest. It is dangerous. Their method should not have been funded.

The survey uses a sweeping definition of antisemitism which conflates opposition to the occupation with the hatred of Jews. Known as the IHRA Working Definition, it has no official standing in Aotearoa, none. This survey shows us why it is so dangerous. Of the survey’s 18 attitudes, fully half are attitudes about Israel rather than Jews.  Therefore, this survey seeks out public objections to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and calls that racism. The NZ Jewish Council has a history of calling disagreement racist.

If, for example, a respondent simply agrees with the conclusion of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Harvard Law School and others that Israel’s regime constitutes apartheid, that respondent is classed as hating Jews. Literally: the survey has no category called ‘agree,’ only a category called ‘antisemitic.’ If a person understands that Palestinians are indigenous to Palestine, they are antisemitic. If they do not consider Israel democratic because they see that the government of Israel wields power over millions of West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians who cannot vote in Israeli elections, they are classed as antisemitic.  These are not hateful attitudes to Jews, they are attitudes that show respect for democracy, international law and human rights.

The Jewish Council’s partisan method has undermined what should have been a serious and timely study of antisemitism. Instead, they have used their platform to alienate our neighbours whose concern extends to the rights of Palestinians.

And where does this method leave Palestinians? A Palestinian who asserts her identity and her full human and political rights would fall foul of this survey on several counts. The NZ Jewish Council has published a document that renders Palestinian identity racist. It should not have been funded.

The study’s first category comes closest to a real definition of antisemitism. Those responses give us sufficient concern to work more closely within Aotearoa’s broad antiracist community. It is a travesty that the NZ Jewish Council went on to politicise the exercise and place one more obstacle in the path of a genuine Jewish antiracism.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa NZ

Apartheid, the Right of Return, and Ukraine

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We usually think of a country taking in refugees as a helpful, necessary action for the benefit of all but watching Israel select and privilege Ukrainians of Jewish descent highlights its racist nature.  Israel has refused to take in many refugees from Africa.  Although the news calls the Ukrainians refugees they are, in fact, being offered instant citizenship under an ethnic law.  We also have read that some Ukrainians will be settled illegally on the West Bank, thereby even further alienating Palestine refugees from their land and rights.  Three fundamental issues have intersected here: apartheid, the Right of Return, and Ukraine.

Human rights lawyers including these have determined that Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its domestic regime now constitute apartheid, which is a crime against humanity:

As one tactic of its settler colonial project, Israel has perennially held the parts of Palestine apart. Therefore, every response should consciously address Israel’s single-minded project, although it is being variously enacted in different geographies: domestically through an ethnic hierarchy of rights and entitlements; in Gaza through blockade and repeated bombardment; in the West Bank through the encroachment of illegal settlements and a regime of fragmentation; and globally by privileging the status of Jews as instant citizens-in-waiting while denying the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their own land.

That last phrase needs unpacking because the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their own land are under renewed assault.

First, the descendants of displaced Palestinians are refugees. The United Nations website’s issue page on refugees explains that intergenerational recognition is the global norm, not an exception:

“Under international law and the principle of family unity, the children of refugees and their descendants are also considered refugees until a durable solution is found… Palestine refugees are not distinct from other protracted refugee situations such as those from Afghanistan or Somalia, where there are multiple generations of refugees, considered by UNHCR as refugees and supported as such. Protracted refugee situations are the result of the failure to find political solutions to their underlying political crises.”

Second, Palestinian refugees have an internationally mandated Right of Return. On December 11, 1948, United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 194 outlining principles for a just solution in Palestine / Israel. NZ voted in favour, agreeing that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property.”

Israel’s apartheid regime has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally mandated Right of Return for 74 years.

Daily, we are watching yet another enactment of Israel’s legislated Jewish supremacy: as many as 200,000 Ukrainians of Jewish descent are being brought to Israel under its ethnic “law of return.”  Israeli publications refer to Ukrainian arrivals as ‘immigrants’ taking up citizenship, not refuge. Israel’s race-based law of return offers instant citizenship to far more people than Israel’s prevailing religious law recognises as Jews.

“Israeli officials have declared that they will open their arms to any Ukrainians who qualify to immigrate to Israel. Under the Law of Return, any individual with at least one Jewish grandparent, or a Jewish spouse, is eligible for Israeli citizenship. However, a significant portion of those new immigrants are expected to be … Jewish enough to obtain citizenship, but not Jewish enough to be married or buried as Jews in the Jewish state.”  Times of Israel 

Why would Israel take in a few hundred thousand Ukrainians and emigrating Russians, some of whom may or may not later convert to Judaism? This influx responds first to Israel’s longstanding fear of confronting a Palestinian majority in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Despite decades of policy that has sought to include maximum land with minimum Palestinians, the day of demographic reckoning is close.

“According to the latest figures, the year 2021 saw the number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and those based in Israel approach 7,253,000 Palestinians, which, for the first time ever, came close to the number of Jews that stood at 7,4 million. … A fresh study, released by a journal affiliated to the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence in July 2020, indicated that Tel Aviv sees demography as the most critical ​​menace to its national security.”  MENA

Demography has always underpinned Israel’s disavowal of the Gaza Strip as a fully-fledged, occupied, intrinsic part of Palestine. Don’t count the two million Gazans!!  Gaza’s numbers have always posed a far more strategic threat to Israel than its rockets.

To top it off, “the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division – which is funded by the Israeli government and falls under its direct control – announced the building of 1,000 housing structures for Ukrainian Jewish families in both Israel and settlements in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.” Al Jazeera

That is the coup de grace: Israel is preparing to add Ukrainians to the 620,000 illegal settlers who aggressively eat up the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

We are boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Russia because we wish to live in a world governed by laws rather than predators. At the very same time, Israel is piling tens of thousands of those displaced by Russia’s crimes into its manufactured demographics and its illegal settlements on occupied land. Wrongs are compounding wrongs. Let’s sanction Israel’s violations too.

We wish all refugees safe refuge until they are able to choose resettlement or return to their homes. For the very same reason, we recognise the UN-mandated right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. When the land between the river and the sea is governed by, and in the interests of, all of its citizens then others of any religion can apply to immigrate.

Alternative Jewish Voices

Constitution, what constitution: NZ Jewish Council and the Amnesty Report

Sh’ma Koleinu/Alternative Jewish Voices have commented in the past about the New Zealand Jewish Council and its lack of accountability with the wider New Zealand Jewish community.  While the Council has done good work in pointing out antisemitism in the New Zealand context it is on shakier ground when commenting on Israel and news items about Israel, because, I believe, of the rather fixed views of its members.  Further to that, the Council is going outside of its own constitution in commenting on non-New Zealand matters.

I want to specifically talk about a recent press statement the Council made about the Amnesty International report about Israel: Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: cruel system of domination and crime against humanity.  The press statement from the Council can be viewed here.  I want to concentrate not on the content of the press statement but of the reasoning behind feeling the need to write it.

Let’s look at whether commenting on the Amnesty report is even the Council’s business.  The Amnesty report has nothing to do with New Zealand and while Amnesty International has a New Zealand branch that is irrelevant here.  And further to that, the content has nothing to do with New Zealand either.  New Zealand isn’t mentioned once in the report’s 280 pages.

Like all incorporated societies, the Council must have a Constitution (or Rules) and it must be publicly available.  The relevant sections are reproduced below:

3 Purposes of the Council

3.1 The Council is the representative organisation of New Zealand Jewry.

3.2 The objectives of the Council are purely charitable and include

3.2 (a) Ensuring New Zealand is a country which maintains the democratic and civil rights to manifest Judaism in worship, observance, practice and teaching, both individually and in community with others, and either in public or in private;

3.2 (b) Working to secure and maintain the welfare of the New Zealand Jewish community;

3.2 (c) Promoting co-ordination among, and assisting, the Regional Councils; and liaising with and supporting the Council’s affiliated organisations and the smaller communities in New Zealand.

3.3 The Council will represent the New Zealand Jewish community by:

3.3 (a) Speaking on behalf of New Zealand Jewry and its organisations: in the media; by submissions to Parliament, Government departments, and local authorities; and in contacts with other religious and ethnic organisations or NGOs;

3.3 (b) Responding to defamation, discrimination, abuse and/or assault against individual Jews or Jewish groups;

3.3 (c) Raising Jewish consciousness and identity by supporting community educational initiatives and cultural activities;

3.3 (d) Supporting community safety and security measures;

3.3 (e) Supporting and liaising with Jewish communities and individuals in New Zealand;

3.3 (f) Engaging on behalf of the community in interfaith activities;

3.3 (g) Liaising with and supporting other ethnic groups in New Zealand;

3.3 (h) Supporting at-risk Jews in other countries;

3.3 (i) Maintaining contact with overseas Jewish organisations such as the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the Commonwealth Jewish Council, and the World Jewish Congress;

3.3 (j) Taking a public stance on issues of racism, persecution, prejudice and human rights affecting New Zealand residents.

A look through the Purposes of the Council show that it is concerned with issues strictly in New Zealand.  In fact, a word search through the whole Council constitution will show that Israel isn’t mentioned even once in the entire document, and words such as Zionism or Zionist are only mentioned once with a reference to the Zionist Federation of New Zealand.  Why then, is the Council making a press statement about this report, which is clearly outside its stated scope?

And here we come to the heart of the matter.  It is clear that Council members have their own agendas that are, for them, just as important as the purposes stated in the NZ Jewish Council’s constitution.  These are that Council members feel obliged to mimic the Israeli government line no matter what, and that Council members must believe that all ‘real’ Jews are Zionists.  Because their world view is so deeply ingrained, they use the NZ Jewish Council identity and structure as a vehicle for their own views without even knowing they are breaking the boundaries of what the Council is there for.

Toward a Jewish Antiracism

What limits Jewish antiracist work and solidarity in Aotearoa New Zealand?

We are witnessing a racist recruitment field day, in the guise of COVID public health protest. Alternative Jewish Voices joins in the disgust.  But what to do?  The public displays of racism (including antisemitism) also highlight the unhappy relationship between our Jewish institutions and the antiracist community around us.

Racism is an Othering, essentialising hatred. Recognising Jews as targets of this individual racism, the Jewish institutional community condemns it and identifies with other likely victims. Every such interfaith partnership is positive, but this is only part of the work.

Racism is also a system of racialised advantage, created to sustain a hierarchy of racial benefit.

Our institutions recognise Jewish victimhood. That’s true but insufficient because they fail to acknowledge that we are also beneficiaries of systemic racism and injustice. Their stance places the Jewish community at odds with the social justice activists who work to dismantle racialised – racist – systems.

As a prooftext, on February 22, the NZ Jewish Council circulated ‘key messages’ to guide Jewish comments on the Wellington protest. They advise Jews to use ‘the term “racism” instead of Antisemitism. This is because many New Zealanders don’t know what Antisemitism [is]. Using the term “racism” strikes an emotional chord with a wider section of the New Zealand public.’

The Jewish Council’s cynicism is wholly inadequate while extremism is trying to worm its way into our national political discourse. Racism is not just a word we can parrot, and we are not excused from understanding that.

A meaningful Jewish antiracism requires us to challenge the fragile worldview that sees Jewish victimhood but not our racial advantage in Aotearoa and not – elephant-in-the-room trigger warning!! – the impact of our very own ‘regime of Jewish supremacy,’ Zionism.

The fragile worldview justifies calling anti-Zionism racist in two ways, one near and one far. We’ve all heard the remote justifications for Israel’s ethnic regime.  The near argument is the one that prevents us from knowing who our antiracist friends are.

The near argument says that advocacy for Palestinians’ full individual and collective rights is the first step toward overt, actionable hatred of Aotearoa’s own Jewish community. Today a person criticises the occupation of Palestine, tomorrow they essentialise and hate Jewishness, and the next day they act on their racism. By that rationale, anyone – including the world’s major human rights organisations – who cites evidence of the racist reality of apartheid Israel will be dismissed as a liar, a hater of Jews. They will be treated as a local security threat.

It is that argument which treats social justice as antisemitic, and treats social justice activists with enmity. That argument is also deeply disempowering of Jews. The Jewish community is reduced to protesting its victimhood, ideologically unable to join in the proactive, wider work of solutions. That argument sidelines us in a fearful corner. 

The slippery-slope argument-to-threat reasoning is only applied unilaterally. It suggests that reasoned, vehement assertions of Palestinian equality and indigeneity can be dismissed as racism – because at some future point, an individual might descend into essentialising racism, or violence.

We agree that an individual might do that. The Zionist slope is every bit as slippery. Some Jewish ultra-nationalists have become illegal settlers who beat and brutalise Palestinians. Some Zionist Cabinet ministers have called Palestinians ‘little snakes’ and urged soldiers to kill Palestinian mothers lest they give birth to more children.  Some New Zealand Jewish office-holders are frequent purveyors of the Nazi insults that their own institutions decry.

Most New Zealand Jews would indignantly object that it is antisemitic to blame all Jews for the extremists among us. We agree. It is equally wrong to condemn every advocate for Palestinian’s human equality as a dangerous antisemite (and doing so tends to lose sight of the real, individual racist threats).

And it is just as wrong for us to describe ourselves only as victims. We are agents in this world. We are not excused from the individual work of understanding our lives and our responsibilities within the systems of racism.

There are many paths to understanding onesself within systems of racism and privilege. One person might recognise the advantage they gained though intergenerational home ownership, another might notice their longer life expectancy as tau iwi. Seeing onesself as a beneficiary of colonisation at home, the settler colonial project in Palestine becomes more difficult to rationalise. Before long, one notices that people who are sensitive to systemic racism will pursue it near and far. A person who is moved to act against racism here, is likely to recognise and act against racism elsewhere – including, prominently, Palestine. Antiracism is an expansive, solidarist virtue.

To work beside our antiracist friends in Aotearoa now, we in the Jewish community need to dismiss the shallow advice of the Jewish Council, and get on with the work of situating ourselves more honestly.

At this moment, we are appalled by the rise of racism in our cities, we are (to varying degrees) beneficiaries of Aotearoa’s own systemic racism, and some of us are protecting the system of Jewish supremacy which is perpetuated in our names in Israel / Palestine. To join in the work here, we need to forego our exceptionalism there.

And that would be to everyone’s benefit because there is no exceptional solution to the world we inhabit. Justice and liberation will be mutual, or they will not be. Here and there, we will only be free when we are all free.

A Jewish antiracism envisions a fearless Jewish life, fully at home in the community of Aotearoa.  

Alternative Jewish Voices