Blog – Letter to Prime Minister: Covid19 and Gaza

Why is Annexation Still Happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marilyn Garson

June 13, 2020

I support BDS, mostly, but . . .

I support BDS, mostly, but . . .

Marilyn and Fred’s arguments in support of Boycotting (and Divestment and Sanctions against) Israel are compelling, and I am fully behind them. But …

There are a few things about BDS that makes me uncomfortable, and prevents me from unreserved support.

There are few things in life that match my beliefs and values 100%. Even though I am a committed Green Party activist and will always vote for them, I don’t support every last one of their policies or initiatives, and am frustrated about their lack of staunchness; but I accept that mostly they are on track, and, unless another party comes along that is better, I donate to, vote and volunteer for them.

With BDS there are a few of their positions (reading from their web site) that don’t sit well with me.

These relate to their boycotting of any Israeli academic, cultural or sports person who may wish to travel and ply their trade outside of Israel, unless those individuals openly and clearly proclaim their opposition to the occupation. This is problematic, and unfair, I feel, and a sanction against freedom of speech and expression.

The rational for this position given by BDS is that, for example, an academic who wishes to give a speech or lecture overseas or at a conference inherently supports the occupation by virtue of their being part of a University or institution that does the bidding of the Israeli Government, e.g. by participating in research that may be used by the military to oppress Palestinians. This paints every person who works or holds a position at an academic institution with the same brush. But clearly many if not most lecturers work there because that is the University where they live, or where their academic discipline is strongest.

I suppose if one works for a tobacco or oil company, it would be fair to hold that person responsible for the harm done by their employer. But that can’t fairly be said to apply for, say a philosopher or ancient history professor or psychology researcher, even if their institution, or one part of it, is complicit in collaborating with the Government in activities that directly enhance the control over and therefore the harm to Palestinians under the occupation.

I was never an employee, but as a Masters student at Victoria University of Wellington, or a B.A. student at the University of California, I hardly (if at all) knew what that institution’s policies were regarding Israel, or the US military, or research into nuclear power or whatever nefarious activities their Board of Governors or donors were up to. Indeed, where I was aware (as at UC Santa Barbara re nuclear power research) I joined public protests against involvement in such activities. Should I have refused to attend those schools and instead find another institution that was more ‘pure’ and fully aligned with my values? Even if I knew, should I be guilty of their crimes or associations? If I buy petrol from BP, am I collaborating with and therefore equally responsible as those who criminally destroy the planet? OK, bad example.

But where is the choice of an Israeli resident who needs an education, a job, or wants to play tennis or violin for an academic, cultural or sporting institution in Israel, where they live?

These people should not be treated as criminals or collaborators to be banned from lecturing on their expert subject to a New Zealand public that is interested in hearing what they want to say. They should not be excluded from a sports competition because their citizenship is Israeli, or refused a venue to perform a classical piece of music. None of these activities has anything to do with actively supporting the illegal and oppressive occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands and people.

There should not be a litmus test for artists, thinkers or sportspeople to declare their political stance against the occupation or on any issue. We should be an open society, and free to choose who we see, listen to and cheer for. Or not to. If someone has abhorrent views, let them come and be seen in the full light of day, and lets protest about those issues. But don’t ban them, or exclude them.

That is where I depart ways with BDS official policy and means, while fully supporting their position on the occupation and the appropriate targeting of those directly culpable and responsible for Israeli Government oppressive actions.

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).

Alternative Jewish Voices oppose Wellington City Council’s non-notified consideration of controversial definition of anti-Semitism – Media release 24/2/20

MEDIA RELEASE 

A group of Wellington Jews (named below) are in the process of forming a collective to provide alternatives to the current narrow range of voices that speak publicly in the name of the Jewish community.  We believe it is important for us to speak out publicly to better represent the diversity of views on Jewish issues, especially on matters of Zionism, the occupation of Palestine, and anti-Semitism.

We have been prompted to speak out now, having learned of the Wellington City Council’s Agenda item this week to consider adopting a controversial definition of anti-Semitism.

We do not support WCC’s consideration of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism for reasons of process and of substance:

1.      The Council is proceeding to consider a definition of anti-Semitism without consultation with the public or Jews in the region. The document under consideration is hugely controversial and has been the subject of furious debate, global petitions and activism across Europe, Canada and the USA. A key concern is the risk that anyone who airs legitimate criticism of Israeli Government Policy may be labelled as anti-Semitic. Jewish leaders and Talmudic scholars feature on both sides of this debate.

2.      In substance, this document is simply a wrong response to racism.  It is wrong to imagine that any definition can protect anyone.  We believe that the response to racism must be a common, steadfast, loving embrace of justice and diversity.  Racism is not just a Jewish issue, and there will be no separate Jewish resolution. Muslims and other marginalised groups face racism and bigotry. The community must support a strategy to address racism against all groups.

Therefore, we urge WCC Councillors to reject the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, explain what it hopes to achieve in combatting racism, and put the issue out for public and community consultation.

Supported by

David Weinstein

Fred Albert

Marilyn Garson

Jeremy Rose

Contact for further comment – email: Shma.Koleinu.nz@gmail.com

Letter to the Prime Minister concerning Covid 19 in Gaza

Palestine Solidarity – combined organisations’ letter to the Prime Minister

20 March 2020

Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister

Parliament Buildings

Wellington

Kia ora Ms Ardern,

Covid 19 and Gaza

The more than two million people living in the blockaded Gaza strip in Palestine are being left to face the Coronavirus with hopelessly inadequate medical facilities and extreme overcrowding – conditions in which the virus will spread rapidly and devastatingly unless action is taken now.

The usual medical and public policy advice to Palestinians cannot hope to deal with this terrifying scenario. Health officials warn that if the virus enters Gaza, containment and treatment under the Israeli blockade will be nearly impossible.

Gaza’s hospitals are already unable to cope with “normal” medical situations. In March last year the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, reported on Gaza’s “chronic power outages, gaps in critical services, including mental health and psychosocial support, and shortages of essential medicines and supplies.”

In similar vein the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has reported that, even before coronavirus, Gaza’s barely functioning hospitals are dealing with the fallout from thousands of injuries which have resulted from murderous Israeli sniper fire on demonstrators in the ”Great March of Return” protests on the Gaza side of the security fence.

97% of all Gaza’s water is not fit to drink and Gazan hospitals don’t have enough clean water even for medical staff to wash safely. Simply calling on people to wash their hands regularly and keep social distances is a recipe for an unmitigated human catastrophe.

The situation is little better in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank where, as a result of Israeli’s brutal military occupation, medical facilities are also inadequate with serious shortages of basic medical equipment, trained personnel and essential medical supplies.

The looming human catastrophe is clear. When medically well supplied countries like Italy and South Korea have struggled to contain the virus there is no way the hospitals in Gaza or the occupied Palestinian territories will be able to cope.

Each year New Zealand votes at the United Nations for the end of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.

It’s now critical for the government to back up those votes with effective political action. We urge you to put the welfare of Palestinians alongside concern for New Zealanders and speak out calling for Israel to end its blockade of Gaza and military occupation of the Palestinian territories and allow Palestinians to access the medical supplies and equipment they need to deal with this crisis.

Na,

John Minto

National Chair

Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa

Jeremy Rose, Marilyn Garson, David Weinstein and Fred Albert

Members of Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices

(Marilyn worked in Gaza 2011 to 2015)

Julie Webb-Pullman

(Julie has lived and worked in Gaza since 2008 – currently visiting New Zealand)

Catholic Cardinal John Dew

Roger Fowler

Kia ora Gaza

Mike Treen

National Director

Unite Union

Janfrie Wakim

Spokesperson

Palestine Human Rights Campaign

Leslie and Martin Bravery

Authors of “In Occupied Palestine”

anti-racism, not the IHRA

published with Fred Albert, Dominion Post 25/2/20

Mayor Foster, don’t do this.

If you follow the issue of racism or the protest against Israel’s occupation of Palestine, you will know the International Holocaust Memorial Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.  It has lit fires of protest across Europe, Canada and the USA.  The problem lies not in the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism but in a set of examples which have been used to conflate criticism of Israel with a hatred of Jews.  Anti-Zionism has been called anti-Semitism.

Given this document’s global trail of controversy, we were stunned to see a motion on the Wellington City Council’s agenda for Wednesday, February 26 – this week ­– to adopt the IHRA document for our city. The meeting papers cite a request made by the Wellington Regional Jewish Council.  We are not aware of any opportunity for public input in the lead-up to this item 2.1 of General Business. 

Not in our names, thank you.  We urge our council not to take this misguided step, and certainly not without hearing from constituents. How could the WCC opt to bypass the public, when this document is the object of fury elsewhere?

We would like to compile some of the scholarly and popular petitions, count the hundreds of thousands of members of organizations that protest any legislative use of this document.  We would like to cite the document’s own author, Kenneth Stern on the document’s political effect.  He cautioned the US Congress that “giving the [IHRA] definition legal status would be ‘unconstitutional and unwise.’”  He writes that the document’s use in law can demonize valid political speech, by rendering criticism of Israel’s occupation of Palestine anti-Semitic. 

The IHRA definition does nothing new to combat racism.  Its new effect is to regulate the speech of people like ourselves: law-abiding non-Zionists who call for the unexceptional application of law and human rights in Israel / Palestine; Jews and non-Jews alike.

The IHRA document is a political instrument.  It also fails as an anti-racism instrument.

We write as two members of the Wellington synagogue that was recently defaced by Nazi symbols.  We care deeply about responding to racism, but we and all New Zealanders are already covered by the 1993 Human Rights Act.  New papers are not what we need.  Neither the vandal in Wellington nor the shooter in Christchurch care about new definitions on paper.

We need a different, lived response to support our existing human rights legislation. We need to discuss and respond to three magnitudes of hate:  the intimidation of ugly graffiti on a place of worship, the hate-driven murders of 51 Muslims in their mosque, and the rise of racism in institutions and states in our time.

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. If the Wellington City Council intended to reassure Jews by adopting a new definition of anti-Semitism, they were offering a misguided comfort.  We cannot hive off one hate and legislate it away, 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, anti-racist 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.

Let that be our agenda item.  Put the politics of the IHRA away.

Marilyn Garson and Fred Albert

Moses The Negotiator

In Exodus, Moses kept asking the Pharaoh for more. It’s a good thing he did.

This short piece was originally written as a drash for the week of Parashah Bo.

This week’s Torah portion is the tail end of the long list of plagues brought down on Egypt – or mitzrayim, our personal “narrow place” – as the Israelites, led by Moses, continuously ask for their freedom.

Though Pharaoh is famous for saying “no” each time, it’s not completely true. Even as far back as the frogs, the second plague, he begins to offer small concessions. When Pharaoh asks for the frogs to be removed, he says: do this, and the Israelites can make a sacrifice to their God, even if they aren’t allowed to live free lives.

He expands on this offer when Egypt is attacked by vermin: you can even leave Egypt for a short time to make a sacrifice in the desert, but you cannot be free.

In this week’s portion, we begin to see the plagues having a real effect. By the time darkness has covered Egypt, the Pharaoh is actually ready to let the Israelites and their children go! However, he refuses to allow them to take their livestock and thus, their livelihood, and Moses, knowing that certain death would await them in the desert without their cattle, tries again for a better deal.

So when Pharaoh says: you and your children may go, but the cattle will stay, Moses responds: not only will the livestock come with us, but YOU will give us something extra to sacrifice to God. At this point he’s not just asking for the mercy of freedom from slavery, but for the justice of reparations. And although it takes the worst plague of all to finally convince the Pharaoh, the deaths of all the first-born Egyptians, in the end the Israelites are given what they asked for.

I think there’s something in that. As Jews, we sometimes feel as if we are living at the outskirts of society. We have all been exposed to some form of antisemitism in our lives, big or small. Often, we are treated as if we are strangers in our own countries; like our secret loyalty to each other trumps everything else. But we are fighters, lovers of justice, staunch organizers, and, like Moses, excellent negotiators. We no longer fight only for the freedom of our people, but for the freedom of all humankind. It is the ultimate mitzvah.

For me, the lesson of this portion is that we must fight for continual, incremental changes. If Moses had only asked once for his people to be free, they would never have been freed. If he had given up and accepted the first few offers, they would never have been freed. Even if he had accepted the merciful offer to release the Israelites but without giving them any way to sustain themselves, they likely would have died in the desert. When we push for change, we are sometimes given half a victory, or a quarter-victory. We must never settle for less to avoid making waves, or become complacent just because things could be worse. We need justice, not just mercy. This is a powerful message from Moses, in a world where many of us ask for only the bare minimum; where we are afraid of inconveniencing others by being ourselves.

It’s also a funny contradiction from the same people who will, in just a few short weeks, be singing DAYENU, our affirmation that any small victory would have been enough. But why not? We are full of contradictions. We are grateful, but we need more. If we are wise enough, we will ask for what we need. And if we are strong enough, we will keep asking.

Can Aliens Be Jewish?

Are aliens made in the likeness of God? Could they convert?

This short piece was originally written to inspire a discussion at Shavuot.

When the aliens first arrived, there was total chaos. We’d all woken up that morning, secure that we were the only sentient species in the galaxy, and by noon there was a ship the size of Texas hovering over the southern hemisphere. By dinner time, they had sent a message to every radio station, in a dozen different languages. They were refugees, their star was long-gone, and they needed a home. They breathed oxygen, you see, and it was in short supply on every planet but ours. We argued endlessly over what to call them, and there were plenty of good suggestions, but the only thing that ever stuck was “alien,” so that’s what I’m going to call them here. 

Human beings are excellent at coping, so over the next five years, we coped. The aliens moved in, but mostly in the very big cities. Life carried on, especially in little communities like this. We have our own ways of doing things, and not even visitors from space are going to change that.

So there I was, five years after aliens had landed, the office admin for a normal Temple just like this one. I was emailing back-and-forth with a potential convert, trying to organize a time to meet up and discuss what was calling her to Judaism. We’d just arranged the where and when, and her last email ended with – like it was nothing – “By the way, I’m an Alien.” 

The Alien arrived right on time, and I let her into the office to sit with me. She was eight feet tall. She had four arms. Her body was like white roots twisted together. Her head was a ball of burning blue plasma, with one great big eye visible in the center. Her name was Ufa-fsh-kiki, reminiscent of flashes of fire and puffs of smoke, but she charitably told me that I could call her Ufa. 

“Ufa, can you tell me why you’re here?”

Ufa said, “I want to be Jewish. Some days I feel like I am already Jewish, but that it isn’t fully realized.” When she talked, the fire engulfing her face moved back and forth. “I went to another synagogue six months ago, but they wouldn’t teach me.”

“They didn’t do conversions?” I asked.

“They said that I was not made in the likeness of God!”

I was a little afraid that her licking flames might reach out and start devouring the books on the shelf behind her. “We’ll teach you, but some people will still think that. What are you going to say to them?” 

“I will say, has God not appeared as a burning bush?” She drew herself up proudly. 

I liked Ufa already, from our emails, but I knew that if she was going to make it as the only Alien at our Temple she was going to have to argue her case. “Well, Genesis said that humankind was made from earth, and that God breathed life into it. Were you made from the same stuff?”

“Yes, precisely. Dirt is full of nitrogen, and what is breath, if it isn’t oxygen and carbon dioxide? So what is fire, if it isn’t dirt with life breathed into it? Weren’t the elements present at the revelation on Mt. Sinai?”

“I suppose they must have been,” I said, amused.

Ufa continued. “I am just a stranger in your land. I am coming to you to join your people, exactly as the other Aliens have joined the human people… what I need from you is not logical, but conversion rarely is. Maybe it is the way of intelligent life to make choices that are illogical but good.” 

I had to admit that Ufa had made her case well. She struck me as someone who was definitely making her own choices, even if I couldn’t entirely understand. “OK,” I said, getting to my feet. “Let’s sign you up for some classes. The Rabbi is going to like this.” 

“One last thing,” the alien objected. I looked at her, afraid that whatever she had to ask was very serious. 

“Does it still break Shabbat if I can’t help kindling a flame?” She gestured to her own head with two of her four arms.

“Well, Ufa, you’ll have to talk it over, but I bet God will understand.” 

Fred Albert – Blog

Are We The New Anti-Semites? Opinion piece published in the New Zealand Herald 13 February 2019 . Authored by Marilyn and Fred

            Defence Minister Ron Mark met Israel’s Prime Minister last week.  Netanyahu is quoted as asking New Zealand to change its definition of anti-Semitism, so that it includes political opposition to Zionism:

“[T]he new form of antisemitism is anti-Zionism, and we ask not only all our friends, but all decent countries everywhere to include [in] the definition of antisemitism, anti-Zionism as well. And so I’ve just made that request from you as well.”  http://www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Events/Pages/event_new270119.aspx

We write as two committed Jews, members of a synagogue, engaging in regular prayer and daily study.  We believe in the enduring, prophetic school of Jewish thought.  As per our understanding of our religion, law and justice, we are not Zionists. 

For that, Netanyahu would like you to call us anti-Semites – pathological Jew-haters.  He would deny us to the right to challenge Israel’s actions, as we challenge the actions of any state (including our own). 

If New Zealand forecloses on political debate in this way, it will forfeit its potential role in seeking justice for Israel-Palestine.

            We are not unusual in our beliefs.  Zionism has always been disputed by Jews on a range of religious grounds.  Some of our greatest modern thinkers objected to the methods and choices of Jewish nationalism, including Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and Martin Buber.  They urged different arrangements of space and power. 

Debate is especially strident within the Jewish community now, as growing numbers of humanist, mostly-young Jews stand up to protest Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.  The Quaker community also protests, and so its development agency has been banned from Israel.  Netanyahu is asking you to believe that, because they are not Zionists, all of these people must be motivated by a sinister loathing of Jewishness itself.

            What do they oppose?  What is the Zionism that Netanyahu is asking New Zealand to protect?

Netanyahu’s settler-colonial Zionism refuses to share place or power.  It has dispossessed Palestinians.  It downgrades the rights of non-Jewish citizens, legislating that “[t]he right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” Although 20% of Israelis are Arab / Palestinian, Netanyahu has stripped Arabic of its official status as a national language.

            What has this got to do with New Zealand?  Heaps – with New Zealand in particular. 

            Netanyahu’s Zionism should resonate here.  New Zealand has acknowledged its own colonial project, and recognized that the ravages of colonialism persist.  We know that mechanisms – beginning with the Treaty – are (only) the foundations of our long, imperfect, national work-in-progress of partnership.  That experience gives us a national voice, a particular harmony to offer to Israel – Palestine.

            New Zealanders will not make the peace in Israel – Palestine from this distance, but we must demand that a dignified peace be made.  Until it is, we must actively support the institutions that protect endangered lives and uphold human rights.  Our collective protest helps to raise the cost of perpetuating injustice, and reward constructive steps forward. 

Individuals act from moral obligation.  Governments have formal obligations to uphold the agreements they sign on behalf of their citizens.   In an advisory opinion that referred to Palestinians’ right to national self-determination, the International Court of Justice reminded state signatories to the Geneva Conventions that they “are under an obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law…”

            Now, today, our government must roundly reject Netanyahu’s intentional confusion of political challenge with anti-Semitism.  When Zionism is blurred into Judaism, a political project is elevated to the status of a protected religious belief.  A policy is shielded from political or legal scrutiny.  We strenuously object to that, because Zionism is not the religion that we want our neighbours to respect, learn about, and protect alongside their own faiths.

            Progress toward human equality depends upon fearless activism.  Power holders have always tried to chill protest and postpone their loss of privilege.  We urge our neighbours and our government not to be deterred by Netanyahu’s name-calling.

            We think he has it backward:  justice is pro-Semitic.

Fred Albert writes from Wellington, and Marilyn Garson writes from Hokianga.  You can follow her on Twitter @skinonbothsides