Palestinians need justice from their own leaders, just like Israel does

Palestinian Authority critic dies during arrest by PA | Israel-Palestine conflict News | Al Jazeera

I want to call out the horrific crime perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority for the violent death in custody of a prominent critic.

Palestinian people deserve justice and the right to free speech, expression and protest.  And free and fair parliamentary elections, which is under threat from the PA.

Whether they live in the Occupied West Bank, in Gaza or the state of Israel, every person, Israeli, Palestinian, Jew, Christian, Muslim, whatever race, religion or citizenship (or lack thereof) is entitled to basic human rights.

Unfortunately this is not the case for many (most?) persons living under Israeli, Palestinian Authority or Hamas rule.

All people, including those living under corrupt, militaristic and authoritarian governments deserve basic human rights.

Nizar Banat was deprived of these rights when (according to local media) he was taken from his home, beaten and dragged away. He is dead, murdered at the hands of PA thugs.  

You will often see the Alternative Jewish Voices collective calling out injustices by the Israeli Government against Palestinians. I strongly oppose and will speak out against the Occupation and oppressive policies and actions of the Israeli government.

I also oppose and call out the militant and oppressive rule of Hamas over Gazans, and the corrupt rule of the PA over West Bank Palestinians.  

But I direct my words at the Hamas leadership, not at the people of Gaza.  

I call out the corrupt rule of the PA, not at the Palestinian people of the West Bank.  

I challenge the aggression, the provocation and human rights abuses of the Israeli government, not at the individual residents of the State of Israel. 

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism: the AJV brief

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism: 

combating racism, enabling protest 

Alternative Jewish Voices is a non-Zionist collective of New Zealand Jews.  We have written this brief to give readers some insight into the task of recognising antisemitism and adopting a definition for policy and public understanding.  You are welcome to download the brief, and please share it widely.

Worldwide, the understanding of antisemitism has become controversial.  In 2016, proponents of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA-WDA) called on civil society and governments to define and respond to antisemitism separately from other forms of racism.  Because the IHRA-WDA conflated antisemitism and protest against Israel’s occupation of Palestine, it enabled many often-baseless charges of antisemitism to be made in Aotearoa-NZ and overseas. Those who advocate for Palestinian rights have been called Jew-haters. 

This does nothing to protect the Jewish community from racism, and the confusion impedes our collective task of opposing racism in all of its forms.

In March 2021, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) 2021 was published to clarify what has become a hostile issue. The JDA situates antisemitism among all the forms of racism which require our combined action, and it offers guidance to distinguish between hatred and political disagreement.  

The two definitions thus differ in their style and intent. We believe that the JDA, while not without its problems, is a more considered document than the IHRA-WDA and we will argue that it offers more nuanced guidance to help decide whether a particular action is antisemitic.[1]

We welcome the Jerusalem Declaration, and we ask you to give it your attention.

We ask government, institutions and authorities to consider both definitions side by side if they are lobbied to adopt the IHRA-WDA as a new definition of antisemitism.  If a new definition is needed at all, then ask what each of the two definitions protects. Ask how they each preserve our right to engage in vigorous political speech without becoming the target of inflammatory accusations.

We urge authorities, media and all of New Zealand to recognise that the Zionist agenda of the IHRA-WDA does not represent the position of the whole Jewish community.

We ask our partners and our neighbours to use the JDA, to reflect on their speech and continue to act in pursuit of justice and equality.

We ask that the name-calling end, so that the real work of making positive change can continue.

Why do we need the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism now?

Regardless of the intent of its writers, the IHRA-WDA has primarily been used against Palestinians and their allies, academics and Jews who criticize Israel.  Even in Aotearoa-NZ, where the IHRA-WDA has no official standing, we have become accustomed to reading routine, sweeping accusations of antisemitism. The accusers blithely write off political protest as Jew-hatred, while overlooking the white supremacist and violent racism of the far right. Palestinians who simply tell their lived stories, or those who call for the application of human rights law in the occupied territories quickly find themselves labelled as people who hate Jews. Social media circulates these stigmatising charges widely, and the individuals have no way to clear their names. These unaccountable accusations distort the public understanding of antisemitism.  When disagreement is confused with racism, the Jewish community’s understanding of the prevalence of genuine antisemitism is also distorted.

We have objected.  Zionism is not the same as Judaism.  Zionism is Jewish nationalism, embodied in the state of Israel.  It is subject to the same political scrutiny as any other ideology or military project.  Judaism is a religion, and it belongs in the protected sphere of belief. The Jewish community is not protected from racism by foreclosing on protest or silencing Palestinian voices.  The IHRA-WDA advocates claim to act on behalf of the whole Jewish community, while seeking to discredit massive numbers of Jews as antisemites.  Something is very wrong.

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) pulls the emergency brake and resets the issues.

Comparing the definitions

Jerusalem Declaration on AntisemitismIHRA-WDA Working Definition
  Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).  Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Both documents agree that it is antisemitic to use or invoke the classical tropes of Jew-hatred, to essentialise Jews or deny the facts of the Holocaust.  The IHRA-WDA added eleven examples of speech that it considers antisemitic.  Seven of the example deal with Zionism and Israel.  This itself is a point of strong contention, since it places the ideology of Zionism in the protected space of religion.  The two definitions begin to diverge in the extent of political speech they would permit.  See our Appendix for a table of comparisons.

Beyond its text, the IHRA-WDA’s examples have been interpreted in an absolute way.  The expansive application of the IHRA-WDA created the need for the JDA’s intervention.  Therefore, the JDA goes on to cite five examples which counter the creeping presumption that anti-Zionist protest is inherently antisemitic.  The Jerusalem Declaration does not find these forms of speech to be, prima facie, hateful:

  • Supporting the Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights, as encapsulated in international law.
  • Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians … to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants
  • Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles. It also includes its policies and practices, domestic and abroad, such as the conduct of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza … It is not antisemitic to point out systematic racial discrimination.
  • Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.
  • Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights instruments. Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not, in and of itself, antisemitic. In general, the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.

We reproduce the relevant section of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism in full in the Appendix.

Other points of difference

Compare the drafting of the two definitions.  The IHRA-WDA was a working document, intended to aid data collection.  It has no academic or legal imprimatur. Two hundred eminent scholars worked for a year to draft the JDA with legal and constitutional advice.  Their gravitas gives us a serious work, purpose-built and grounded in principles of free speech and opposition to racism.

The IHRA-WDA has been pilloried for its vagueness and contradictions: it fails on its own terms as a definition.  Even the authors of the IHRA-WDA have protested the use to which their working document has been put.  Advocates have sought to harness the machinery of government to shield Israel’s occupation from challenge, in the name of the whole Jewish community.  Particular reputational harm has been done to Palestinians and their allies, to academics, and to dissenting Jews.  The climate of healthy political debate has been chilled. The public understanding of antisemitism has been distorted, in order to shield Israel’s actions from political opposition. 

Importantly, the Jerusalem Declaration does not replicate the IHRA-WDA’s activist strategy.  The JDA is not a rival manifesto but a reset.  It takes no position on Zionism; it takes a position on preserving political debate and opposing racism. 

Some activists have expressed thoughtful reservations, although most have still welcomed the JDA on balance.  They recognise that the alternative is not an imagined ideal definition.  The alternative to the JDA is the perpetuation of the IHRA-WDA’s reputational and political harm.

The Jewish community of Aotearoa-NZ is not protected by protecting Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and the IHRA-WDA is not “what the Jewish community wants.” Government, media and our neighbours must understand that there is no single Jewish position on Jewish nationalism.  We wholeheartedly believe and work to uphold the equal rights and standing of the Palestinians who are dispossessed and harmed by Israel’s actions.  Occupation is not our Judaism.

Our Hebrew name is Sh’ma Koleinu.  That means, hear our voice.  On these matters, please hear all of our voices.

In sum, the Jerusalem Declaration is a definition, an instrument, not a conclusion.  No definition will do the work of opposing racism or advancing justice.  The JDA is an emergency brake to stop the reputational harm of sweeping accusations of antisemitism, and let us get on with the work of justice and equity.  We ask you to embrace it and use it as a guide to end the name-calling, and protect the space for fearless, vigorous debate.

See our resources page: https://ajv.org.nz/resources-for-the-jerusalem-declaration-on-antisemitism/

Contact:  Marilyn Garson in Wellington or Ilan Blumberg in Auckland, shma.koleinu.nz@gmail.com

Appendix:  Detail comparison

Both definitions consider it antisemitic to use or invoke the tropes of classical Jew-hatred.  When their attention turns to speech involving Israel, they begin to diverge.  This table is comprised of direct quotes, taken out of sequence to enable comparison.

Jerusalem Declaration considers these antisemiticIHRA-WDA considers all of these to be antisemitic
 Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust. 
Assuming that non-Israeli Jews, simply because they are Jews, are necessarily more loyal to Israel than to their own countries. Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct or treating Jews, simply because they are Jewish, as agents of Israel.Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
Denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
 Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
 Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Requiring people, because they are Jewish, publicly to condemn Israel or Zionism (for example, at a political meeting).Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

In its Section C, the Jerusalem Declaration counters the IHRA-WDA’s history in practice. Proponents have used the IHRA-WDA to issue sweeping condemnations of protest as antisemitic.  We reproduce the section in full, in the hope that can help us to protect valid protest, and recognise real racism:

C. Israel and Palestine: examples that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic

(whether or not one approves of the view or action)

  1. Supporting the Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights, as encapsulated in international law.
  2. Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants “between the river and the sea,” whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.
  3. Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles. It also includes its policies and practices, domestic and abroad, such as the conduct of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, the role Israel plays in the region, or any other way in which, as a state, it influences events in the world. It is not antisemitic to point out systematic racial discrimination. In general, the same norms of debate that apply to other states and to other conflicts over national self-determination apply in the case of Israel and Palestine. Thus, even if contentious, it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.
  4. Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.
  5. Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights instruments. Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not, in and of itself, antisemitic. In general, the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.

[1] New Zealand’s law on antisemitism isn’t always clear-cut.  The Human Rights Commission has produced a useful paper on hate speech, Korero Whakamauahara: Hate Speech – an overview of the current legal framework. It is available for download here: https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/2915/7653/6167/Korero_Whakamauahara-Hate_Speech_FINAL_13.12.2019.pdf

An Evening at Parliament

A big thanks to Wellington Palestine for inviting Alternative Jewish Voices to share the platform last night at Parliament. Green MP Golriz Ghahraman hosted the event, protesting the detention of Palestinian children. Ten MPs from Green and Labour (including both Green Co-Leaders) attended.

Shortly after, we were thrilled to read NZ Young Labour’s strong support for the Palestine Briefing that we and Wellington Palestine jointly submitted to the then-incoming Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

So, as Young Labour suggests, add your support! You can read the brief here. Here is our additional statement on the value of recognising the State of Palestine, and normalizing the equal standing of the Palestinian people:

What would change, if we recognised the State of Palestine?

138 of the UN’s 193 member states recognise the State of Palestine, consisting of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.  Whatever diplomatic outcome they envision, 138 states believe that a solution starts by recognising the parties involved.  Recognition implies that, like powerful and powerless parties to a lawsuit, Israel and Palestine approach the court with equal rights.

Aotearoa-NZ is in the minority.  We do not recognise Palestine. We let the power disparities stand.  We do nothing to acknowledge Palestinians’ national voice, as if that mythical court case should somehow decide about them, without them.

Recognition of Palestine would re-frame the issue.

As an occupied people subsisting under a violent military regime, Palestinians have a right to our legal protection.  As the State of Palestine, they have a land and they own its natural resources. Recognition unifies the State of Palestine, which the occupation seeks to divide by policy and force.   The unified State of Palestine lives under a single occupation, although it is differently enacted within Israel, in the areas where Israel is the occupying power, and with respect to refugees elsewhere. 

As citizens of a state in a world where states remain the defining political actors, Palestinians would have access to the institutions, agreements, interactions, enforcement and responsibilities that we all take for granted. They would have access to the websites that we use, to the banking transactions and passports and mail and myriad other systems that are enabled by state agreements.  They would map their own geographies, rather than being administered by military documents that aim to chart the loss of their land and their autonomy.  When settlers occupy, or when Israel openly vows to take, additional land from the State of Palestine; the illegality of those acts would be clear – none of this ‘annexation’ obfuscation. 

These benefits are so normal that we really must re-phrase our question:  why has Aotearoa-NZ withheld all this from Palestinians for so long?  Why should a child be denied all that normalcy, by virtue of being born Palestinian?

Rights and law and diplomatic acts like recognition will not end the occupation. Rather, they describe the internationally agreed minimum standards by which we all live.  When they are upheld, they restore Palestinian lives to those minimum standards.  That sets the stage for two national groups to negotiate in a forum of international law.  We will not be the negotiators, but it is our responsibility to establish fair conditions for that political project.  We uphold the laws.  We drag this occupation into a forum of law for a resolution based on justice, not brute power.

Why do Palestinians live so far beneath those minimum standards now?  The law of occupation, the Geneva Conventions, all those UN resolutions – where are they?  It’s mystifying, we agree.  The tools are all waiting for us to pick them up and use them.  We call on our Prime Minister to uphold the laws and conventions that NZ governments have signed in all of our names – and to bring the State of Palestine fully into the same systems by means of recognition.

We are impatient, because the passage of time is not neutral.  It never was, and Covid has doubled the urgency.  Palestinian living standards, their environment and life prospects are deteriorating sharply: doing nothing is not a cost-free alternative.    

We call on our government to recognise Palestine now.

Withholding recognition is a willful refusal to see a nation of five million people, to insist on their equality and inclusion.  The occupation is exclusive, denying Palestinianhood, downgrading and ultimately erasing it.  Recognising Palestine is an inclusive act.  Recognition affirms Palestinians’ full right to exist in a space that will need to be shared.  We in NZ know that states may colonise blindly, but they must learn to see and listen and speak new languages.  Recognition sees the indigenous people of Palestine. That is the right side of history for NZ to take.

Recognition will also help to correct a conversation that has become toxic.

Too often, protest is merely anti-occupation or merely anti-Zionist; a protest against Israel’s failure to observe law and uphold Palestinians’ rights.  Recognition reframes the issue by centering Palestinians, and normalising their full, equal human and political rights. With that established as our baseline, we can protest the deficit, the rights withheld.  Recognition will strengthen Palestinians’ platform to speak and act on their own aspirations.

Too often, this occupation has been about exceptionalism (Israeli and Trumpian).  We spend too much time on the justifications of the powerful.  Recognition rejects all that.  It brings the occupation back into unexceptional focus: one state occupies the land of another.  Occupation is a military act, governed and limited by law. 

We should be working to invoke that law. As a first step, let us join the majority, the 138 members of the UN who recognise the State of Palestine.

Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,

Marilyn Garson                          Sarah Cole

Fred Albert                                  Prue Hyman

Jeremy Rose                               Sue Berman

Denzelle Marcovicci                Justine Sachs

David Weinstein

Voices of Positive Peace

Change is made by those who show up. The advance work of change is to tell the story, to reach for those who haven’t yet realized that the blockade of Gaza is their issue, too.

I’m grateful to the University of Otago’s National Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, for giving me a platform to speak as part of their forthcoming series, Voices of Positive Peace. I look forward to a live event later this year!

The people of Gaza are not beyond our reach. They are our responsibility.

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”

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