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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marilyn Garson

For Alternative Jewish Voices

Disagreement is not racism.

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

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

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

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

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

Disagreement is not hate

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

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

“Excessive criticism is just a fact of political life… There is no requirement in human rights ethics or law that, in order to merit protection, political speech has to be measured or reasonable or balanced.  This point is fundamental to the principle of freedom of expression…. Being contentious and being antisemitic are not at all the same.  The line between contentious and non-contentious speech is different from the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech… It is vital these these two lines are clearly distinguished.”

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

Relational harm

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

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

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

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

What a harmful, isolating trajectory.

There is no separate safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed by these members and friends of Alternative Jewish Voices

Marilyn Garson

Fred Albert

David Weinstein

Ilan Blumberg

Lynn Jenner

Sue Berman

Sarah Cole

Diego Lewin

Yael Shochat

Not At This Hui, And Not In Our Names

Alternative Jewish Voices responds to the statements of NZ Jewish Council spokesperson. Our release also appears on Scoop here: https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO2106/S00124/not-at-this-hui-and-not-in-our-names.htm

We, Alternative Jewish Voices, hope for a productive and unifying second day at the Christchurch anti-terrorism hui.  Security is something we build together and give each other. A threat may be singular, but our safety is collective.

We are saddened to hear that such a kaupapa has been disrespected and we are, additionally, horrified to hear Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses double down on her claim that she was expressing the sentiment of our national Jewish community.

It was wrong to coopt the hui for statements that (according to the comments of those present) securitised and essentialised the Muslim community.  We object to any statement that presumes Palestinian solidarity must imply a love of violence.  Such statements are wrong, period; and it was additionallty wrong to bring those politics into the anti-terrorism venue in particular. 

We feel for those who have been hurt, but we are heartened to hear that the hui will continue with its mission.

We have challenged the Jewish Council’s claim to represent our community.  We repeat our statement in order to challenge Ms Moses’s present claim that the Council’s politics represent the fears of all NZ Jews.

The NZ Jewish Council records its mission thus: “The Council is the representative organisation of New Zealand Jewry. Its objective is to promote the interests, welfare and wellbeing of New Zealand Jewry.” 

However, as we understand it, NZ Jewish Council members are chosen by a number of regional Jewish councils.  The NZ Jewish Council members seem to be appointed through a series of indirect institutional processes.  Members of Alternative Jewish Voices who belong to synagogues – some for many years – have never had any direct input to the composition of the NZ Jewish Council.  Jews who are not members of a synagogue don’t appear to have any voice in these processes at all.  The NZ Jewish Council does not attempt to elicit, include or represent the spectrum of views within the Jewish community.

We want our neighbours to understand that the ardent Zionist voices of the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute do not represent the whole community of New Zealand Jews. They emphatically do not represent us.

Alternative Jewish Voices wishes all participants in the Christchurch hui wisdom and unity.  We all need your kaupapa and we will all benefit from it.

Alternative Jewish Voices of New Zealand

The politics of name-calling, or, down the rabbit hole we go

The politics of name-calling, or, down the rabbit hole we go.

  • A statement by Jewish Voice for Peace is recirculated by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, protesting Israel’s refusal to vaccinate Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.  The New Zealand Jewish Council calls Ghahraman an antisemite. 
  • The International Criminal Court will investigate potential war crimes by Israeli and Palestinian armed forces.  Israeli PM Netanyahu calls that ‘the essence of antisemitism,’ and the Israel Institute calls it “a kangaroo court only against Israel.” 
  • The NZ Superfund declines to invest in five Israeli banks which fund illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.  Nicola Willis, National List MP says this is “potentially aligning New Zealand with an antisemitic movement.”  The Israel Institute circulates the report and tweets, “NZ embraces BDS.”

What else must you believe, if you consider these acts antisemitic?

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP’s) position signifies the profound disagreement within the Jewish community.  There is no single Jewish stance on Israel or its occupation.  JVP staunchly opposes Israel’s policy, but disagreement is not hatred. To find JVP antisemitic, you need to believe that they act out of hatred for Jewishness because that is what antisemitism means.  You would need to believe that JVP’s 200,000+ supporters, members of their 70+ chapters, their rabbinic, academic and artists’ councils; and New Zealand Jews like ourselves all want Palestinians to be vaccinated because we hate Jews.  

In fact, JVP’s (and our) position is anchored in the human right to health and the occupier’s obligation to proactively intervene when an occupied community is threatened by an epidemic. The Geneva Conventions and International Human Rights Law codify those rights and obligations.  The UN Special Rapporteurs have detailed why Israel’s vaccination policy is “discriminatory and unlawful.”

To find all this antisemtic, you must believe that we are all motivated by hatred rather than by the universal principles of equity and protection.  All of us.

The International Criminal Court will investigate potential war crimes committed by armed forces in Palestine / Israel, particularly in the Gaza Strip since 2014.  All armed forces will be held to the universal standard of the laws of war.  Those laws represent nations’ aspiration to minimize the harm that war inflicts upon civilians and combatants.  The laws refer to people, to flesh and blood human beings – not to religions.  The laws make armed force accountable.  They don’t mention Jewishness or treat Israel differently from anyone else.

To find that antisemitic, you need to find a hatred of Jews concealed within the universal laws and principles of civilian protection.

NZ Superfund has excluded five Israeli banks which fund Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.  Their decision document explains:

“The UN General Assembly has consistently reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) … In resolution 2334 (co-sponsored by New Zealand), the UN Security Council reaffirmed that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the OPT had no legal validity and constituted a flagrant violation under international law.”

The Superfund’s decision was governed by its Responsible Investment Framework, which is in turn “guided by the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment, domestic and international law and policy positions of the New Zealand Government.” (links to both documents are here

The UN Special Rapporteur has explained the obligations of states to uphold the law.

To find the Superfund’s act of compliance antisemitic, you must believe that the Geneva Conventions, every NZ and other government that has voted for UN resolutions for half a century, have been motivated by a hatred of Jews rather than by a legal objection to taking other people’s land by military force.

Much of the world is thus implicated in these three acts. Do you believe that we all act out of hatred for Jewishness – really, all of us?  None of us acts because we consider Palestinian rights, health, dignity, aspirations to be equal to our own?

This politics by name-calling has dug itself into one deep rabbit hole. 

Two things happen when criticism of Israel is instantly condemned as antisemitism.  They happen so fast that we need to stop and take note.

First, name-calling distracts us from the real issues of occupation and injustice.  Suddenly, we’re talking only about Israel.  Palestinian voices have been pre-emptively silenced. Of course Palestinians protest, because they experience the violence of occupation.  However, when protest is rendered necessarily antisemitic, Palestinian protest can be ignored.  We reject that.  Palestinians have their own stories, and Palestinian rights are not about Israel.

Second, when anti-Zionism is rendered antisemitic, Zionism is elevated into the protected sphere of our Jewish beliefs.  Suddenly, Jewish nationalism has appropriated our Jewish religion.  We reject that, because occupation is not our religion.  Suddenly it sounds as if hatred is the only basis for anyone’s opposition to Zionism, and we reject that.  We are not Zionists because we value human lives equally, and that principle is a part of the Jewishness that we love.

We need anchors to understand current events, not slogans.  Each of the actions above is anchored in enduring principles: law, human rights and dignity, the accountability of power.  Those ideals secure us all because they respond universally to racism (including antisemitism) and oppression. 

By contrast, politics by name-calling divides us, and seeds suspicion between us. It blurs political disagreement into imagined racial hatred. Social media companies have become obscenely rich by separating us into echo chambers where we don’t need to hear anything that challenges our confirmation bias.

As long as we are conducting politics in this cheap way, we are also giving the real hatred a free pass.  When someone who claims to be liberal expresses antisemitism, of course we need to call them out. They have betrayed their stated principles.  Far more systematically and far more dangerously, none of this name-calling touches the far right, where antisemitism is an organising principle. 

We urge our neighbours and our government not to be enlisted in this politics of name-calling.  It is not antisemitic – it is not anti-anyone – to protest violations of international law and uphold our equal human rights. 

Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,

Marilyn Garson        Prue Hyman

Fred Albert Diego Lewin

Jeremy Rose

Ilan Blumberg

David Weinstein

Sue Berman

Vaccination without discrimination

Vaccination without Discrimination

Our post last week called out the spurious charges of antisemitism used by NZ Jewish institutions to deflect attention from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.  They were deflecting attention from Israel’s illegal policy of not providing Covid-19 vaccinations to the Palestinian people who live in the territory it occupies. 

We called on the Israel Institute of New Zealand and the New Zealand Jewish Council to cease labelling speakers for Palestinian rights as antisemites.  Our human equality is not antisemitic.  It isn’t anti-anyone. 

In response, some readers replied that they thought the NZ Jewish Council represents all NZ Jews.

Indeed, the NZ Jewish Council records its mission thus: “The Council is the representative organisation of New Zealand Jewry. Its objective is to promote the interests, welfare and wellbeing of New Zealand Jewry.” 

However, calling the organisation a the representative is different from being representative in practice.

As we understand it, NZ Jewish Council members are chosen by a number of regional Jewish councils.  The NZ Jewish Council members seem to be appointed through a series of indirect institutional processes.  Members of Alternative Jewish Voices who belong to synagogues, some for many years, have never had any sort of direct say in who should be on the Council.  Jews who are not members of a synagogue don’t appear to have any voice in these processes at all.  The NZ Jewish Council does not attempt to elicit, include or represent the spectrum of views within the Jewish community.

We came together as a collective to demonstrate that the Jewish community is diverse in every sense, including our politics.  The ardent Zionist voices of the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute do not represent the whole community of New Zealand Jews. 

As with any other diverse community, more voices need to be heard. 

Having condemned the name-calling, it remains to address the urgent issue of Covid-19 vaccinations for Palestinians living in the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967.  Newshub reported on the name-calling, as if a social media scrap could stand in for the larger issues.  It cannot.

Israel’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been touted internationally as a success.  It is essential to situate that claim within the framework of law and ethics.  But why – why does it always need that context?

When we write, we ground the occupation in law and human rights as well as morality, for two reasons.  First, the law and the overwhelming preponderance of international institutions agree on the framing of this issue (Donald Trump’s administration being the major outlier).  Occupation happens within a legal framework, not a difference of opinions.  We want the media to incorporate that factual context. 

Second, the laws of occupation and human rights are ours to uphold or abandon.  Law and justice make the rights of Palestinian people everyone’s business, and we call once more on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Manuta to make it New Zealand’s business.

Why do we say that NZ has a particular responsibility to Palestinians? The situations of occupier and occupied people are not equivalent.  They have different obligations and protections.  The violence and the losses of this occupation are grossly one-sided.  The law recognizes this imbalance when it protects the occupied people, but the law relies on others to bring it to life and impose penalties.  If we New Zealanders wish to live in a world of laws, a world more aspirational than that of Donald Trump and his beneficiary Netanyahu, we need to take up our responsibilities. 

To understand the obligations of states toward occupier and occupied people, see Part III of this report on “Accountability, Impunity and the Responsibility of the International Community,” written by UN Special Rapporteur and associate law professor, S Michael Lynk.

States’ responsibilities are prominent in the media right now, because Israel is vaccinating Jewish citizens and some Palestinians within its borders at a great rate.  In the occupied West Bank, Israel is vaccinating its Jewish settlers in illegal settlements, but not the Palestinians on whose land those settlements have been built. 

Israel is not providing vaccine to the blockaded Gaza Strip, although Gaza’s suffering is most acute and its options are disastrously limited. Behind concrete walls, 9373 people are crushed into each square kilometer.  2.05 million people are facing Covid without reliable supplies of clean water or electricity – or vaccines.  More than 47,500 cases of Covid have overwhelmed Gaza’s medical services.   Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping them in a territory it continues to actively destroy.”  The Al Shabaka Policy Network writes this week that Gaza as “confronting total collapse … arguably in a state of post-collapse.” 

What is Israel’s responsibility?  UN human rights experts said this week:

“According to the World Health Organisation, more than 160,000 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territory have tested positive for the coronavirus … with more than 1,700 deaths…. [A]s the occupying power, Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention, ‘to the fullest extent of the means available to it’, to maintain health services in the occupied territory… [T]he occupying power is required under the Convention to facilitate relief schemes ‘by all means at its disposal’.  Even if relief consignments, including ‘medical supplies’ are provided by others, Article 60 states that such consignments ‘shall in no way relieve the occupying power of any of its responsibilities’…

“The right to health is also a fundamental human rights issue…. International human rights law… applies in full to the occupied Palestinian territory… The denial of an equal access to health care, such as on the basis of ethnicity or race, is discriminatory and unlawful…. [T]he Oslo Accords cannot derogate from [the law’s] broad protections.  The ultimate responsibility for health services remains with the occupying power until the occupation has fully and finally ended.”

Israel’s responsibility is unconditional and non-negotiable.  And the morality?  Ask yourself how we would regard a policy to vaccinate and care for Pakeha New Zealanders.  It would be repugnant, and to us, it is just as repulsive to know that an occupied people, an ethnic group, are being left susceptible to contagion, illness and death. 

Palestinian people are not beyond our reach.  Their rights are our responsibility.

We call on the media to report this story more appropriately and more prominently.  When the experience of occupation is grounded in human rights, settler-colonial wrongs, and the equal value of human lives we recognise it as being our business.  Those experiences resonate with us and link Palestine to our own work on Aotearoa’s colonial legacies and contemporary racism. 

If those are issues that you care about, then Palestine is your issue, too.

Jacinda Ardern, Nanaia Mahuta, where are you?

Ask them at  j.ardern@ministers.govt.nz and n.mahuta@ministers.govt.nz

Signed by Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson        Prue Hyman

Fred Albert David Weinstein

Ilan Blumberg Tami Louisson

Sue Berman Sarah Cole

Jeremy Rose Lynn Jenner

What is the Israel Institute, and for whom do they speak?

What is the Israel Institute, and for whom do they speak?

Yesterday, the Israel Institute of New Zealand got press coverage for calling Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman antisemitic.  Ms Gharaman was noting Israel’s refusal to vaccinate the Palestinians under its control. 

In the guise of security for the Jewish community, a director of the Israel Institute has circulated reports that call NZ’s support of the UN agency for Palestine refugees ‘NZ-funded antisemitism.’

The same director has written to members of Alternative Jewish Voices, condemning our ‘alignment’ with ‘exposed antisemites’.  We did, happily, add our names to a petition that was also signed by Cardinal Dew, an Archbishop, the Islamic Women’s Association, and a number of others. 

Are they all – MFAT’s advisors to the government of NZ, the Cardinal, the Archbishop, the Islamic Women’s Association – antisemitic?

We are calling out the Israel Institute.  This has gone too far.

The Israel Institute calls itself an independent think-tank. Its three co-directors are David Cumin, Perry Trotter and Ashley Church.  It is not a registered charity, or charitable trust, or incorporated society.  It is not tax exempt.  We found no accountability documentation. 

The Israel Institute represents and accounts to no one but themselves – much like Sh’ma Koleinu.  We speak only for ourselves.  The Israel Institute is not the community.  It is one voice, very strongly promoting views aligned with the Israeli government.  The Israel Institute seems determined to drain the term ‘antisemitism’ of any meaning by hurling it at anyone who opposes Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

The Harvard Law Review noted this kind of action in the course of its finding that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is not antisemitic:

“A primary tool of Israeli advocacy organizations has long been public vilification of Palestinian rights supporters as anti-Semitic, a charge that carries a powerful chilling effect… [T]here are certainly respectable reasons for disfavoring complicity in Israel’s human rights record.  Moreover, the status of being Jewish is not ‘inextricably tied’ to such conduct or complicity – and to suggest otherwise would in fact ring anti-Semitic.  Zionism does not reflect the views of all Jewish people.”

Exactly.  We are non-Zionist Jews.

Let us focus first on the Israel Institute’s insult to Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman.  She circulated a tweet written by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).  The tweet calls on Israel to end its policy of not vaccinating the Palestinians under its occupation.  The Israel Institute finds this JVP message antisemitic, but –

  • From the Jewish Voice for Peace website: “JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.”  Are they all antisemitic?
  • The Israel Institute objects to the word ‘apartheid’, although the London Review of Books did not hesitate to title an article on its website this week:  Nathan Thrall on Israel’s Apartheid.  Apartheid is a legal category of crime, not a religious matter.  It describes an ethnic power arrangement, which repeated legal and human rights assessments have found to be prevailing in Israel.  When lawyers use the term, it is surely available to the rest of us.
  • On Israel’s behalf, the Israel Institute disavows responsibility for Palestinians, but the Geneva Conventions state –
    • “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”
  • The Israeli human rights organisation Gisha summarises Israel’s ‘unconditional’ responsibilities as follows:
  •  
    • Israel is obligated to protect the health and safety of all people living under its control, including by ensuring that the vaccine is available in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This will necessarily require close cooperation with Palestinian authorities and the international community, but their involvement does not absolve Israel from its ultimate responsibility toward Palestinians living under occupation. Where needed, Israel must contribute to covering the cost of the vaccine and its distribution, unconditionally.
  • Rabbis for Human Rights is presently collecting signatures for a petition calling on Israel to meet its moral and legal obligations to vaccinate Gazan people.  As of this morning, Gaza has reported over 45,000 cases of Covid, behind the concrete walls of an illegal Israeli blockade.

So, can they all be antisemitic?  The rabbis, the editors, the universities, the lawyers, the Israeli human rights specialists – all of them? 

We think they share a different condition.  They disagree with the Israel Institute.  However, antisemitism is a pathological hatred of Jews and Jewishness.  It does not mean, ‘people who disagree with the Israel Institute.’

Vigorous disagreement is integral to the world of political ideas.  Brian Klug, senior research fellow and member of the faculty of philosophy at Oxford University recently wrote,

“Excessive criticism is just a fact of political life… There is no requirement in human rights ethics or law that, in order to merit protection, political speech has to be measured or reasonable or balanced.  This point is fundamental to the principle of freedom of expression…. Being contentious and being antisemitic are not at all the same.  The line between contentious and non-contentious speech is different from the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech… It is vital these these two lines are clearly distinguished.”

(italics in the original)

The actions of the Israel Institute concern us for several reasons. 

First, they are harming people’s reputations and trying to prevent the very mention of Palestinians’ human and political rights. 

Second, this weaponisation of the term antisemitism is misdirecting and stoking fear within the Jewish community.  We, the Jewish community, are being told in the guise of security that we are endangered by people who disagree with a hardline Zionist view of the Israel’s nationalist project of occupation.  We are being told that even polite disagreement with Zionism signifies a threat to us as Jews.  History does not bear this out.  Disagreement may be used by hateful people, but disagreement is not per se hateful.

We will expand on this in a post to follow.

Our third and final question is for the media.  When will you begin to elicit other Jewish views?  When will you cease writing these stories without context?  The Israel Institute’s latest insult did not happen in a vacuum.  We propose a more accurate lead for the story:

The law of occupation is clear in the Geneva Conventions and elsewhere.  The United Nations’ Security Council and General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, the International Committees of the Red Cross, human rights and legal NGOs all agree that the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are occupied Palestinian territories, wherein International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation apply in full.  Those laws oblige Israel to vaccinate the people of occupied Palestine.

Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman agrees.  In the face of all that law and authority, the Israel Institute (again) defaults to calling people names.

We, members and friends of Alternative Jewish Voices call on the Israel Institute to apologise for their name calling and stop insulting everyone who speaks up for equal human rights – including the rights of every Palestinian.  The equality of human beings is a foundational Jewish belief, just as it is integral to other religions and to the principles of many secular people.  Let us return to the real meaning of antisemitism – a hatred of Jews and Jewishness – place it alongside other hatreds, and take up the work of anti-racism together.

Stop portraying Zionism as Jewishness.  The occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza are parts of a nationalist military project, subject to International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation. 

Occupation is not our Judaism.

Signed by Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson Tamar Louisson Prue Hyman

Fred Albert Ilan Blumberg

Sue Berman Jeremy Rose

David Weinstein Lynn Jenner

Note:

Please see our page of international resources on the confusion between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

Israel’s propaganda machine again uses Anti-Semitism accusation to distract from justified criticism of Israeli government actions

Israel’s propaganda machine again uses Anti-Semitism accusation to distract from justified criticism of Israeli government actions

Newshub is reporting that Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman is being accused of anti-Semitism by the Israel Institute of NZ because she has shared an Instagram post which criticises Israel for ‘medical apartheid’ because while rolling out the COVID vaccine to Israeli citizens and  right wing settlers on the occupied West Bank, Israel is making no effort to share the vaccine with the 5 million Palestineans who fall under Israeli occupation.

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2021/01/green-mp-golriz-ghahraman-accused-of-anti-semitism-over-instagram-post.html

This is an example of why I joined and want to be part of the Sh’ma Koleinu collective – to provide an alternative Jewish voice.  I cannot stand by and allow this criticism to be construed as the voice of New Zealand Jewry. It is clearly not representing me or the other collective members of Sh’ma Koleinu / Alternative Jewish Voices. The Israel Institute of NZ is a propaganda front for the extremist right wing Israeli government, which is again using the false accusation of anti-Semitism to attack someone criticising Israeli policy, instead of dealing with the substance of the argument. 

Let’s be clear – it is completely accurate that the Israeli government is excluding Palestinians from distribution of the COVID vaccine.  Therefore it is accurate to accuse Israel of ‘medical apartheid’.  Golriz Ghahraman is simply putting a tick next to a factual description of Israeli Government actions.

AJV has been raising the issue of the Israeli Government’s use of the term anti-semitism as a way of attacking those who raise legitimate and rational criticism of their actions. This is another clear example of the NZ propaganda arm of Israel rushing in to attack an elected NZ Member of Parliament for stating a truth that Palestinians are being treated differently than Israeli citizens. Isn’t that what apartheid means?