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

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

Thursday, 10 September 2020

To the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern

Dear Prime Minister,

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 13, they cut off fuel supplies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your sincerely,

Marilyn Garson (Alternative Jewish Voices) and

Neil Ballantyne (Wellington Palestine)

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

http://ajv.org.nz

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

http://wellingtonpalestine.nz

CONTACT

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

Neil Ballantyne e: neil.ballantyne@wellingtonpalestine.nz

J-LINK Progressive Jews against annexation

J-Link in Aotearoa New Zealand – silence in Wellington.

Jews are uniting against Israel’s proposed illegal annexation of Palestinian.  Zionist and non-Zionist Jewish organisations agree.

The Union for Reform Judaism, Union for Progressive Judaism, J Street, T’ruah, and countless other organisations have come out against annexation.  Over 100  scholars of public international law wrote that it “would constitute a flagrant violation of bedrock rules of international law.”  Over 400 Jewish and Israel studies academics denounced it as “apartheid” and a “crime against humanity.” 

J-LINK is an international network of Progressive Jewish organisations.  J-LINK’s opposition to annexation represents 50 organisational signatories from 17 countries.

J-LINK’s Aotearoa signatories (including members of Sh’ma Kolenu, Dayenu, and individual New Zealand Jews) requested a meeting with the Ambassador of Israel to object to Israel’s impending annexation of West Bank land.

Ambassador Gerberg refused to meet, not once but three times. 

J-LINK signatory groups in other countries have expressed their opposition to annexation directly to  Ambassadors / Consuls General in more than 15 meetings. 

Not in Wellington.  Silence here.

Therefore, we can only deduce Israeli Ambassador Gerberg’s response from his reply to Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters’ statement  expressing our government serious concern about annexation. 

In response, Ambassador Gerberg  referred to the “significant opportunity … embedded in President Trump’s peace initiative.”

Ambassador Gerberg, annexation is no opportunity.  It is a flagrant violation of law and a further deprivation of Palestinian human and political rights.

Marilyn Garson for members of Sh’ma Koleinu

June 29, 2020

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

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

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