Important, Welcome News about (and from) the Wellington Jewish Council

At a recent Wellington Jewish community meeting, participants made clear their dissatisfaction with the Jewish Council’s tone of voice, composition, accountability and their narrow definition of the Jewish community’s shared interests.

The Wellington Jewish Council (our regional council, which also sends four delegates to the NZ Jewish Council’s membership of eighteen) has taken this feedback on board.  They have begun the work to revise their constitution and earn their mandate. 

We at Alternative Jewish Voices regard this as a hopeful, significant opening. We share this excerpt from the Council’s email with their agreement:

After reflecting on the discussion held, we propose that in order to re-establish the Wellington Jewish Council, a new constitution will be required that can capture the voice and aspirations of the community. Below is a survey to help begin that journey.  …

Until we have completed the process of drafting and confirming a constitution, the four of us will not purport to speak on behalf of the Wellington Jewish Council as we do not feel that we have a mandate to do so.

The Council has circulated a survey to elicit the Jewish community’s views about the representation we want.  Here’s the challenge.  Wellington Jews who belong to a synagogue will have received this survey at least once.  Our existing institutions have multiple channels and email lists.  How can this consultation include the members of our community who do not belong, or have not felt welcome, in our institutions?  They are disenfranchised now, and their views are essential if this process is to result in the genuine representation of our community as a whole.

Please help by sharing this survey with members of the Wellington Jewish community who might not have received it.  If you are Jewish in the Wellington region, please complete a survey. Please include yourself, in the hope that this conversation will lead to a more inclusive community, and a Council voice that actually reflects and represents more of us.

Here is the survey link

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfWeBfl5bOFUNzgVq6xjVMN1rdFW12Jnj_yBgsycDL4SMtBOA/viewform

If you want a copy of the regional or national Jewish Council’s current constitution, please write to the contact address below or write directly to the Wellington Jewish Council.  The survey is open for three weeks.

Alternative Jewish Voices

Te Kuaka / NZ Alternative podcast: it’s time to do Palestine policy differently

Imagine foreign policy led by our values, grounded in justice.

Imagine policy that speaks to decolonisation – here and there.

Listen to the podcast by Te Kuaka / New Zealand Alternative: From Aotearoa to Palestine, with Nadia Abu Shanab and Samira Archer of Justice For Palestine, and Marilyn Garson of Alternative Jewish Voices.

Big thanks to Phoebe and all of NZ Alternative for making a space to speak aspirationally about the world that can, and should, become our world.

It’s time we met

Don’t be a stranger

We formed Alternative Jewish Voices as a platform for the unrepresented breadth of our Aotearoa Jewish community.  Our community is wider than the membership of Jewish synagogues and organisations.

At the series of Wellington rallies in May, people repeatedly approached us after we spoke.  They introduced themselves as Jews, unaffiliated with any institution.  Some fretted that they might be considered “not Jewish enough to speak.” 

The power to define, and conversely the fear of being excluded by a definition, is hardly new.  We are not writing to examine our history of communal exclusion or alienation here.  We would like to end it.

If you have a Jewish parent or grandparent, then you are part of the community.  Join it: speak up, own and be identified with Jewish issues, explore your culture, history, religion or identity – however you may enter into it. If anyone doubts your standing to do that, please educate them nicely by explaining, “I am as Jew as you.”

In our last national census, the number of people identifying as Jews fell by 20%.  There are nearly three times as many self-identified Jedi warriors as there are Jews in Aotearoa at the moment. Notwithstanding the inherent appeal of being a Jedi warrior, it might also be that our Jewish institutions don’t feel relevant or welcoming to all of us.

This is not a political exercise.  We won’t ask about your politics and we won’t claim to be representing you.  We seek only a more inclusive sense of our own community. We should know each other.

We invite you to get in touch.  Write to the contact address at the bottom of this page.  We’ll make a mailing list, we’ll ask how you might like to be in community.  Who knows where it might lead.  We hope you will find others with curiosity like your own. New friends, a meal, an exchange of stories, a debate, a bit of exploration about this Jewishness of ours – whatever.

Please get in touch, and please share this with others who might want to join us.

Alternative Jewish Voices

Shana Tova – Jewish New Year hopes for Palestine, from Alternative Jewish Voices and friends.

Shana Tova – happy Jewish New Year – to Palestine, from Alternative Jewish Voices and friends.

2021 has been the most difficult year.

May the coming year be much sweeter.

May you live in dignity,

freedom and equality,

with the full measure of your rights

and the full expression of your culture.  

May your homes be safe and your journeys undisturbed. May those who have been driven out choose whether to return.

May Palestinian nationality be recognised, so that you speak as of right and manage the resources of your land wisely.

We wish your children healthy food and clean water, schoolbooks and playgrounds and art, and the knowledge that they will sleep safely in their beds at night.

We wish you health in this time of pandemic.

We wish you could just be, living your lives without violence and oppression.  We wish you normalcy – work, rest, untroubled sleep.

We wish you each a vote and a voice to determine the transformation that must occur for everyone who lives between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. May it become a shared space governed as all of its citizens see fit, unscarred by ugly walls and checkpoints.

May you enter into the conversations that will realise such change.

We wish energy and impatience to all of us around you, as we escalate the principled pressure for transformation.  For as long as it is radical to insist upon the full measure of Palestinians’ equal human rights and the unexceptional application of international law; for that long we will continue.

May all of our religions be respected, loved and protected. That, too, is our shared work.

Let 2021 have been the worst year.   

We can make the coming year much sweeter.  

Marilyn Garson    

Fred Albert

David Weinstein

Judith Reinkin

Lynn Jenner

Sue Berman

Margalit Toledano

Justine Sachs

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 Justice for 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 Justice for 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.