Building a better antiracist solidarity

We end this Jewish year deeply concerned by the rise of racism, and our Jewish community’s position in Aotearoa. We are letting the Jewish Council situate us as conservative opponents of human rights.

This year, the Jewish Council used funding from the Ministry of Ethnic Communities and the IHRA Working Definition to call two-thirds of New Zealanders ‘antisemitic’. The survey actually showed that most New Zealanders support the conclusion of human rights defenders: Israel’s regime is apartheid. We think it’s wonderful that our neighbours value everyone’s rights. We count on them to oppose antisemitism for the same reason.

But too many New Zealanders now encounter the Jewish community through those alienating, false accusations. In order to end that, we must keep the IHRA’s harmful definition out of Aotearoa. Anti-Zionism is not per se antisemitic.

We have met with MFAT officials to understand the history of the initiative to become an observer at the IHRA organisation. We believe that MFAT does not intend to introduce the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. We believe that MFAT agrees that racism must remain the responsibility of our Commissioners of Human Rights and Race Relations.

The IHRA working definition has no standing in this country—none, kore—and we mean to keep it that way. We will do that by calling out every unofficial use. But that is not enough.

The Jewish community must also reject the path that is being taken in our names.

A 2021 Wellington Jewish community meeting roundly rejected the Wellington Regional Jewish Council’s voice and operations. The regional council has ceased to operate. That’s a start. Nationally we, the Jewish community, need to pay more attention to the unelected NZ Jewish Council. We are lending a passive legitimacy to their increasingly Christian Zionist echo chamber.

During this pre-holiday month of Elul, we are each charged with facing and transcending the attitudes that limit us and harm others. Elul is a time to ask how far we have slid from taking the side of the oppressed.

In the coming year, let us put aside the political ‘antisemitism’ and confront the reality of racism in Aotearoa together.

While our purported community spokespeople spend their days slandering critics of Israel’s human rights record, real antisemitism is encroaching on our public discourse—from the far Right. The hatred of Jews is a core component of conspiracy theory and the White supremacist world view.

Jews belong in the front row of every antiracist gathering, standing up with and for our neighbours. We should also be a focus of antiracist concern. Neither of those is happening yet. A handful of Jews attended the August Wellington anti-hate rally, and when that crowd chanted its list of communities of concern, Jews were not included.

We have become estranged from our natural allies. Those who oppose the far Right need to place antisemitism firmly on their agenda. And we need to turn up.

In the week of AJV’s formation, we wrote:

Hatreds and resentful identity politics have their own histories, but now they have joined forces under the toxic rubric of white supremacy. We need to respond to that together… rather than seeking an ethnic safety behind my synagogue gate or your mosque doorway. No gates for us, please. There is no separate safety.

A real response must be a joined-up, antiracist Never Again that makes us responsible to and for each other. Hatred and violence must be confronted and turned away by a broad, loving, uncompromising embrace of justice and mutual protection. We are each other’s best hope.

The task has become more urgent. The solution has not changed.

In the coming year of 5873, may we build a better antiracist solidarity.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa NZ

We filed an OIA to ask how racism became foreign policy

On June 24 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) announced that Aotearoa had joined the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), ostensibly to combat antisemitism and Holocaust ignorance or denial. We filed an Official Information Act (OIA) request to find out how that was decided.

New Zealand’s observer status does not mean that we have accepted the notorious IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, which silences criticism of Israel by calling it antisemitic. That definition still has no standing in this country. We must not let its advocates introduce it by stealth, as the NZ Jewish Council did when it used that definition to call Kiwis antisemitic for supporting the findings of human rights organisations. Our observer status in the IHRA certainly elevates the risk that the IHRA working definition could be introduced to Aotearoa as a matter of foreign policy, negating local views – precisely as this OIA file shows that MFAT has neglected public discussion to date. We have described the IHRA organisation and our risks here, and proposed some ways to resist both the IHRA working definition and the real antisemitism that we encounter.

Make no mistake, the IHRA definition of antisemitism is not a gesture to the Jewish community. It is the taking of sides: Zionist Jews against all other Jews, against Palestinians and their allies, and against the human rights community. We want to know (a) how this became a foreign policy matter, and (b) whose interests MFAT privileged – for that is the effect of acting behind closed doors.

MFAT kicked our OIA back, then narrowed it and then delayed their reply –  and still MFAT declines to tell us who initiated this process. They refer to the inter-departmental provision of the Official Information Act, so someone else was involved – but MFAT won’t name them. 

The OIA file summarises that Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta agreed to apply for IHRA membership in August 2021. The application was made in April 2022. Copies of the IHRA membership submission would go to the Prime Minister and Associate Minister for Foreign Affairs. Recommended referrals for documents include the Ministers of Justice and Ethnic Communities. Contacts for ongoing work are all MFAT staff. MFAT released no evidence of any community consultations beyond the NZ Jewish Council, whose proposed delegates to the IHRA were all approved.

Based upon the information that MFAT has disclosed:

  • An action dealing substantively with racism does not include a single mention of the Commissioners of Human Rights or Race Relations.
  • The IHRA regime would sever the treatment of antisemitism from all other forms of racism, yet the file shows no debate and zero evidence of the wisdom, efficacy, or desire of New Zealanders to do so.
  • A file establishing a separate Holocaust curriculum does not mention the Minister of Education or curriculum institutions.
  • The file reports that groups of teachers are already being brought biannually to Israel. It does not propose educating our teachers about Palestinian history, and records no consultation with Palestinians.
  • A file that refers to the Christchurch murders as a marker for our risks does not then consult the Muslim, antiracist or human rights communities as to the effectiveness of the interventions it proposes.
  • A file that refers to the IHRA working definition shows no input from a single group or representative of the communities who have been vilified by the international enactment of that definition. A definition that divides Jews into Zionists and antisemites shows not one minute of consultation with the Jewish community as a whole.

In May, during the very weeks covered by these documents, MFAT issued policy advice to local councils warning that Palestinian expression on Nakba Day would be ‘likely to evoke [redacted] criticism from the Israeli Embassy [redacted] and a fairly diverse group of supporters of the state of Israel.’  Having submitted our IHRA membership application in April, having advised city councils to suppress Palestinian expression in May, MFAT led us into the IHRA in June.

MFAT recommends that we should not adopt the notorious IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism ‘at this time’. It notes that those who support the IHRA definition ‘engage heavily in the media and online’. MFAT does not disclose that those heavy social media users are its only community interlocutorss.

On the basis of its recent actions and these documents, MFAT can not be regarded as a trustworthy actor on these sensitive, local issues.

Deborah Geels wrote for the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade that IHRA ‘observership would … demonstrate solidarity with New Zealand’s Jewish community’. As with the Wellington Regional Jewish Council’s suggestion that the Wellington City Council adopt the IHRA definition with no public consultation in February 2020, that kind of solidarity is properly called capture.

We say as we have said before, you do not enact solidarity with the Jewish community by harming our neighbours. The great benefit of the human rights paradigm is its empathy: it values us equally. The IHRA regime severs the political interests of Zionist Jews and addresses them at the expense of all others. Nothing good will come from its hierarchy of human worth.

We have written to Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, asking her to scrap this decision in light of MFAT’s failure to involve or consider the rights of those who will be affected by it. We can best address racism through a human-rights-led engagement among New Zealanders – led by our Commissioners for Human Rights and Race Relations.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

We call on our government to stand with the six Palestinian NGOs

For Immediate Release 

August 21, 2022

Contact:

globaljewishcollective@gmail.com

Jewish Groups Across the Globe Condemn Israel’s Raids on Palestinian Civil Society
The International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine (IJCJP), a Coalition including 15 countries across the globe, endorses the following statements written by two of its member groups, Independent Jewish Voices in Canada and Jewish Voice for Labour in the UK, condemning Israel’s recent raid on Palestinian human rights organizations. We call on our own governments likewise to condemn the raids.
From across the globe, we stand with all those committed to justice and equality. 

and read Jewish Voice For Labour’s statement here.

For more information about the courageous, justice-seeking groups that Israel has attacked:

Al-Haq, https://www.alhaq.org  @alhaq_org,

Addameer the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association https://www.addameer.org @Addameer

Defence for Children International Palestine https://www.dci-palestine.org/ @DCIPalestine

Bisan Center for Research and Development https://www.bisan.org/ @BisanResearch

Union of Agricultural Work Committees https://www.uawc-pal.org/ @UAWC1986

Union of Palestinian Women Committees http://upwc.org.ps/

@of_committees offices

Union of Health Workers Committees (UHWC) http://www.hwc-pal.org/

Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

Jewish Groups Across the Globe Condemn Israel’s Unprovoked Bombardment of Gaza

Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 8/9, 2022 

Contact: globaljewishcollective@gmail.com

We, member groups of the International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine, are filled with sorrow and outrage at Israel’s unprovoked aerial bombardment of the community of Gaza, Palestine. We condemn it and its dishonest rhetoric.

This is not a dispute between two sides. An occupying military is attacking an occupied, blockaded community. Israel called this a ‘pre-emptive’ assault, although it provided no evidence for its just-in-case bombardment of crowded cities. Israel has no legal right to military aggression to bolster a blockade which is, itself, in violation of law. This has nothing to do with Israel’s self-defense. We saw with our eyes that it is occupied Gaza that needs defense, and has the right to defend itself.

In three days, Israel killed 44 Palestinians including 15 children, and wounded 350. Scores of Gazan families are homeless and 650 homes were damaged in just the first 24 hours. No Israelis were killed. Beginning on Friday August 5, Israel inflicted gratuitous collective punishment by closing the crossings to Gaza, withholding food, medical supplies and fuel from two million people. In the extreme heat of August, Gazan Palestinians endured bombardment without lights, refrigeration, or pumps to bring water into their homes. Medical facilities cannot function without electricity.

Israel chose to attack a besieged community on Tisha B’Av – a day when Jews lament our losses by siege, two thousand years ago. This choice shames the religion that Israel appropriates to launder the image of its settler colonialist project.

While Gazans endured bombardment, we also wage a battle of words. We reject the rhetoric that would blame Palestinians for Israel’s policy choices. Israel is responsible for its aggression and for every life it takes. The communities of southern Israel say they want normalcy – where is Gaza’s normalcy? Israelis have spent a few days in bomb shelters – Gazans have spent 17 years behind blockade walls. Israel says that no state would accept rockets – tell us which authority would accept bombardment of its cities without resistance. We, in each of our countries, need to counter these narratives and challenge the media outlets that perpetuate them. Gaza is Occupied Palestine: speak to that. There’s your cause.

We call on our governments and the United Nations to condemn and sanction this aggression, to support and invest in the International Criminal Court’s investigations of all violations of law.

We call for Israel to immediately lift its 17-year siege. Let Gazans breathe, walk, and sleep undisturbed today, as is their right. Real peace will only be achieved with justice. We call for meaningful international pressure that demands a solution based on the human and political rights of all who live between the river and the sea.

Signed by these member groups of the International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine:

Jewish Voice for Peace – USA

Jewish Voice for Just Peace – Ireland

Boycott from Within (Israeli citizens for BDS)  – Israel

Jews say No! – USA

Jews against the Occupation – Sydney, Australia

Jewish Voice for Labour – UK

Independent Jewish Voices – Canada

Independent Australian Jewish Voices – Australia

Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

Jewish Voice for Peace – USA

Tzedek Collective Sydney – Australia

South African Jews for a Free Palestine – South Africa

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East – Germany

Jewish Network for Palestine – UK

French Jewish Peace Union – France

Jewish Call for Peace – Luxembourg

How close next time?

Image Arab News, 2014                    IDF Image, Times of Israel 2022

An armed and violent repeat offender has published a list of the places he intends to bomb next. Will we allow it?

The Israeli armed forces (IDF) have released a target list for their next bombardment of Gaza ‘in an apparent bid to pre-emptively justify collateral damage from any future strikes in the densely populated enclave.’ They would like to forestall the sort of ‘harsh scrutiny’ that was directed at their 2021 bombardment. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that the IDF killed at least 243 Palestinians including 66 children in that eleven-day assault. Israel says that it killed ‘225 terrorist operatives’ – an admission that Israel sees few if any civilians among Gaza’s two million inhabitants.

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the press that Hamas operates in close proximity to civilian and protected installations. ‘“The whole world should be exposed to the crimes committed by Hamas, and a heavy price should be exacted from it today.”’ Before he entered politics, Benny Gantz was the 20th IDF Chief of the General Staff from 2011–2015. He led Israel’s 50-day bombardment of Gaza in 2014.

I read about the IDF’s new target list on July 29 – a date whose sensations are imprinted on my body. I spent the night of July 29 2014 on the floor of my office in Gaza City while the building shuddered from the bombs landing around us. The nearness of the explosions made the furniture jump. Security reports counted 132 IDF air strikes, 1275 IDF tank shells and 430 IDF naval shells. One night: 1837 IDF explosive strikes in 720 minutes.

Someone indeed operates in Gaza’s civilian places, General Gantz. And you are asking our permission to bomb even closer.

Action On Armed Violence studied Israel’s 2014 targeting policies, documenting how ‘recent changes to Israel’s military rules of engagement have increased the risk to civilians in Gaza.’ AOAV found that the IDF was permitting explosive weapons to be used nearer to Palestinian civilians than ever before, and nearer than it allowed if an Israeli might be in the area. Israel – not Hamas, Israel – was bombing ever-closer to civilians.

The IDF’s current target list extends their policy of progressively endangering Palestinian civilians, and blaming Hamas for their deaths. Their maps measure the distances between targets and protected buildings in a bid to direct our conversation to Hamas’s choices. This rhetorical overlay avoids all the homes between their points of interest. If we see the people who live beneath all those roofs, we will recall that this should be a conversation about the civilian community of Gaza. Our task is to hold the IDF responsible for choosing to drop bombs on their cities.

The IDF’s current target list seeks to bolster the double standard by which we tolerate the Gaza blockade and repeated IDF assaults upon its occupied, legally protected residents. This double standard sees and values life in Palestine and Israel differently.

The blockade of Gaza densely intermingles civilian and military space. They are also tangled in Israel because the military is so thoroughly integrated into daily life. On the streets of Israel and Gaza, one routinely encounters uniformed and / or armed individuals. Israel’s Ministry of Defense is headquartered in a commercial Tel Aviv centre. General Gantz tries to attribute criminal intent to the mixed nature of space in Gaza – but not in Israel.

Israel maintains an aggressive force-protection policy, which it has justified by calling its soldiers ‘civilians in uniform’. Notwithstanding their lifelong military service, Israelis demand and receive full civilian protection throughout their lives.

Not so Gazans. Hamas is the governing authority of the Gaza Strip employing teachers, bureaucrats, rubbish collectors. They, their families and the families of fighters are all civilians. Yet Hamas family homes, police stations and other buildings are targeted by the IDF, and many more of Israel’s targets simply go unexplained. It suffices to call them ‘Hamas’.

That is the enabling language: ‘responding to Hamas’ sounds more palatable than ‘bombing Gaza’. But Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Hamas. We must de-link these terms, and reject the claim that Hamas bears the blame for the IDF’s choices or for the policies which guide its assaults upon the cities and the civilians of Gaza.

Hamas is not the place that the IDF bombs. They bomb the Gaza Strip, which is one of the most densely populated places on this earth. A list of ‘Hamas targets’ implies that the next Israeli bombs will land in a distinct, guilty, child-free Hamas-place. No such location exists.

Israel’s blockade allows Gazans no target-free space in which to live. With the IDF’s repeated destruction of homes and other structures, everyone and every function is crushed more closely together. This does not make Gazans any less civilian.

The IDF says that it ‘responds’ to Hamas, as if cause and effect begin anew with each story. They are much older: Hamas did not start this, Nakba started this. Settler-colonialism imagined it and structural violence perpetuates it. Blockade, bombardment and profound deprivation provoke Palestinian resistance.

An occupied community has a legal right to armed resistance and one day the International Criminal Court will better define that right. In the meantime, we should direct our censure and our outrage in proportion to the harms being done by the IDF and by Hamas. In 2014, Palestinian fighters fired up to 7000 rockets and artillery shells toward Israel. Within the IDF’s policy of progressive endangerment, the IDF dispatched 5000 tons of munitions to fire into Gaza. Five hundred and fifty Gazan children were killed by those munitions, and one Israeli child. These are the proportions that should guide our response to the IDF’s next plans.

No Hamas act releases Israel from its obligations under the laws of war and occupation. In the laws of war, each belligerent is independently responsible and accountable for each of its actions. Unlike Hamas, the IDF fires at will because Gaza has no defensive weapons capable of threatening them. Our tolerance is the IDF’s only constraint – and our tolerance is the aim of their new target list.

Hamas does not ‘make’ Israel bomb. Israeli military and political decision-makers choose to bombard the cities of Gaza, intensively and repeatedly. Israelis shrug – ein breira – that they have no choice. But their policy is a choice, and they have a better choice: don’t drop bombs on cities. Address the causes of Palestinians’ resistance.

The IDF’s 2022 target list is ‘part of a new military effort to maintain its freedom of action in Gaza, which officials said heavily relies on international legitimacy.’ This target list reflects the IDF’s fear that we will revoke our tacit permission for the next rain of destruction. Now is the time to revoke that permission, not later, not after the bombs have fallen.

I deny the legitimacy of pouring thousands of tons of explosives into crowded, blockaded cities. Freedom of action? I see madness set free by our indifference to the wreckage of bodies and buildings. I see a confined community, defenseless before one of the world’s most powerful military machines.

I see crimes past and future, General Gantz. You belong in court rather than in government.

Marilyn Garson

No IHRA for Aotearoa – this does not define us

Download this post as a .pdf here.

On June 24 2022, with no public discussion, Aotearoa joined the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), ostensibly to combat Holocaust ignorance or denial, and antisemitism. We applaud the aims, but the IHRA organisation does not combat antisemitism. It silences criticism of Israel by defining anti-Zionism as antisemitism.

New Zealand’s observer status does not mean that we have accepted the notorious IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRAWD). It certainly elevates the risk that the IHRAWD definition could be introduced to Aotearoa as a matter of foreign policy, without public consultation. We have described the IHRA organisation and our risks here.

This note informs actions that will help keep the IHRAWD out of Aotearoa. The IHRAWD’s use elsewhere shows us how harmful it is. Its impacts are broad, and resistance to it can mobilise new partnerships.

Here we offer a problem description and actions.

  • We distinguish between three IHRAWD-related issues.
  • We explain how the IHRAWD capitalises on old fears to carry out new politics.
  • We critique the definition – which is not a definition.
  • We explain the strategy of introducing the IHRAWD as an instrument of international racial governance. This strategy appeals to the neoliberal configuration of Zionism in Aotearoa.
  • We outline a programme of action: how not to be defined by the IHRAWD.  We need to roll back the IHRAWD’s stealthy encroachment and prevent its adoption in Aotearoa, while we work together to combat real racism.

Distinguishing the issues

To understand the IHRAWD, it is necessary to distinguish antisemitism, the political project of the IHRAWD, and the method of its introduction. Each of those has distinct implications.

The IHRAWD claims to address antisemitism, but it does not reflect and it does not respond to the antisemitism that we see: the racism built into the White supremacist / far Right worldview. The IHRAWD definition tries to sever antisemitism from, and undermine, the antiracist work in Aotearoa. Its use already makes it harder to work together.

Regardless of its stated purpose, in practice the Israel-centred IHRAWD has chiefly been used to stigmatise speech critical of Israel or the Zionist coopting of Jewish identity. This political project targets Palestinians and their allies, non- or anti-Zionist Jews, and more recently human rights supporters.

The strategy of the IHRAWD tries to prevent protest speech by capturing the machinery of regulation. It pre-empts a matter of local public policy by importing a non-negotiable international standard of racial governance. This strategy can be replicated by anyone with enough influence and access. The strategy of the IHRAWD in Aotearoa is therefore important to our national protection of political, protest or dissenting speech. It also belongs on the agenda of those who advocate for an independent, progressive foreign policy.

The Issues Are Older Than The Definition

New Zealanders respond indignantly when Zionist organisations call their Palestine advocacy antisemitic. How did these accusations come about? The IHRAWD has politicised deeply-felt, real issues. We can only name the issues here, and we have listed references for a deeper understanding at the end of our note.

Although antisemitism is very old, scholars and believers have never agreed on its nature: is antisemitism is cyclical, eternal, exceptional?

Some Jews believe that antisemitism is eternal and unchanging. They conclude that Israel was destined to inherit the world’s antisemtism, no matter what Israel’s leaders did. This belief does not engage with the substance of protest against Israeli actions. Such protest merely constitutes a ‘new antisemitism’ (We will keep the scare quotes because we regard this as a scare tactic that should not be normalised).

Zionism or Jewish nationalism is more recent, but what is its nature? It was a minority vision until the Holocaust. Now nationalism is trumpeted as the epitome, and the only acceptable mode of Judaism. Zionism is asserting a monopoly over Jewish identity – a cooptation that has bitterly divided Jewish communities around the world.  Zionism reduces pluralist Judaism to Jews’ loyalty to a territorial administration. That is a racist reduction redolent of antisemitic tropes.

Those who believe that the Israeli state is the culmination of the Jewish religion claim that any challenge to Israel necessarily threatens Jews and Jewish life here at home. In Aotearoa this so-called ‘new antisemitic’ threat underlies the New Zealand Jewish Council’s disempowering messages that Jews are the most endangered group in Aotearoa.

To be clear, the Jewish community is threatened by the growth of White / Right racism, which we should combat alongside our antiracist allies. We are not threatened by protest which upholds Palestinians’ rights. Presenting that protest as a ‘new antisemitic’ threat is dishonest, and it cuts the Jewish community off from empowering antiracist solidarity.

The ‘new antisemitism’ shifts the focus from historic Christian and European antisemitism to the Middle East. The international standard-bearers of the ‘new antisemitic’ threat are Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians in particular. In this worldview, Palestinian resistance to settler colonialism and Israel’s conflicts with its Arab neighbours are driven by racial, implacable hostility. This worldview finds a home in the Islamophobic West and in Hindutva. It explains states’ exceptional indulgence of Israel’s oppression as a matter of domestic security. It calls the prospect of solutions naïve.

The IHRAWD definition enabled these pre-existing beliefs to coalesce around an international governance of antisemitism by providing a single, rigidly defined response.  By joining the IHRA organisation as an observer state, Aotearoa has entered that arena of international racial governance. MFAT’s act brought us into one more sphere where we will be pressured to follow the colonial leaders, rather than devising policy that suits our decolonising identity and aspirations.

Given the divisive nature of these issues, we are astounded that MFAT acted without one word of public discussion. Racism belongs within the spheres of human rights, race relations, and hate speech. It is not a foreign affair.

The IHRAWD seeks to win by regulation a furious contest within the Jewish community, and another between the Jewish community and our neighbours. The neoliberal coalition advancing the IHRAWD has placed the Jewish community in a bind between the intolerance of Aotearoa’s Zionist coalition and our natural place among the antiracists. The IHRAWD imagines Jews and Muslims in eternal opposition. It inhibits our solidarity, even as we see that the White / Right in Aotearoa is taking aim at both of our communities. It would be especially harmful to import this definition to Aotearoa right now.

The IHRAWD Is Not A Definition

The Oxford dictionaries say that a definition is a statement of exact meaning.

The IHRAWD opens with a sentence too vague and plastic to be the basis of decisions: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” A certain perception which may be this is a conditional in search of some content.

The IHRAWD continues with eleven examples of speech, seven of which focus on Israel rather than Jews or Judaism. Not one of these examples was adopted by the IHRA’s own decision-making body – not one – yet the proponents of the IHRAWD insist that they must be adopted in their entirety into IHRAWD governance.

The IHRAWD does not define antisemitism, does not draw on our experience of it and does not enable the work of combating it. The IHRAWD breaks with scholarship to muddy our shared understanding and response to antisemitism as a form of racism.

Critique of the IHRAWD arguments

It does not make anyone an antisemite to oppose Jewish nationalism, Palestinian oppression, or to uphold human rights. By saying that we oppose the raison d’etre of the IHRAWD.  In this section, we challenge some of the supporting claims made by proponents of the IHRAWD.

  1. Zionism is Judaism, and Israel is the ultimate expression of Jewishness.

Zionism is Jewish nationalism and it has become an article of faith for some Jews. Judaism has been a plural noun and a diverse religious / ethnic identity for two thousand years. It is more diverse today than ever. We utterly reject the Zionist cooptation of our religion, and its presumed monopoly to define Jewish practice or identity.

Attaching an intolerant Zionist project like the IHRAWD to Holocaust memory instrumentalises that memory for political purposes.

  • Antisemitism is unique and eternal, and requires a response that is separate from other forms of racism.

Every hatred has a history of suffering. Antisemitism is an ancient hate; however, the belief in an eternal, fixed antisemitism gives us an inadequate reading of history. Jews always have been – and today we remain – more than victims. A fixed view of antisemitism impedes Jewish recognition that we have also always been actors. Today White Jews are also the beneficiaries of racialised structures. The IHRAWD impedes the genuine Jewish antiracism that brings us into solidarity with others.

Despite its claims that antisemitism is eternal, the IHRAWD’s focus on Israel enables accusations that have no basis in historic antisemitic beliefs

For example, the NZ Jewish Council’s 2021 survey of antisemitism used the IHRAWD rather than any prevailing definition of racism. They say that 63% of New Zealanders hold antisemitic attitudes, although no more than 21% agreed with any anti-Jewish trope (a figure that is still disconcertingly high). The IHRAWD inflated their findings by adding those who support the world’s leading human rights organisations, and those who believe that democracy grants every adult the right to vote for the government that exercises authority over their lives. Theirs are manifestly not antisemitic beliefs.

The IHRAWD breaks from scholarship to misstate antisemitism, and draws attention to anti-Zionism rather the racism that we see being disseminated by the White / Right. Its use generates alarm and confusion over the prevalence and source of antisemitism.

Concern has been expressed overseas that the IHRAWD creates the policy tick box of the moment. Other longstanding inequities may be deprived of resources.

  • Israel has inherited the antisemitism previously expressed toward Jewish people. It is antisemitic to de-legitimise Israel or deny the Jewish people their right to exist in a Jewish state.

Proponents of the IHRAWD extend the rights of Jews to Israel while denying Palestinians’ rights to Palestine. Both the extension and the denial are wrong.

States do not have human rights. Humans do. Yugoslavia had no inherent right to exist in its erstwhile form. Rather, the people living in that territory had individual and collective rights.

States – or more accurately their regimes of government – earn their legitimacy. Letigitimacy derives from the consent of all those who are governed, and from the fulfilment of international obligations. No state has a right to imagine, legislate and enforce a way of life that is predicated upon permanently excluding categories of its citizens. Israel’s government de-legitimises itself by these actions.

One need not have a particular view of Jewish peoplehood to refute this claim. The great majority of anti-Israel protest observes that no people, in no state, have a right to do what Israel is doing: occupation, dispossession, violent oppression, blockade, apartheid. None of those objections is based upon the religious identity of the occupier or the occupied.

States also have obligations, some of which are codified into international law and conventions. Israel flaunts its obligations. The actions of successive Israeli governments create compelling reasons for people and other states to protest.

Opposing Israel’s actions is not inherently antisemitic.

  • Israel is the object of disproportionate, antisemitic censure by the United Nations and human rights advocates.

Israel is conducting the longest and most flagrantly illegal occupation in modern history. It has been repeatedly found to govern through a regime of apartheid, which is a crime against humanity. That attracts censure.

We see a different exceptionalism: no other state has been the subject of so much censure and so little action by other states to uphold the law of states and the human rights of Palestinians.

  • Israel-protest has become a Left-approved outlet to express antisemitism.

There is some truth in this, just as it is true that Zionists stand too close to Hindutva and to the White Zionism that celebrates Israel’s ethnic power. We all have fellow travellers who are drawn to Palestine / Israel for unhealthy or hateful reasons.

The IHRAWD is precisely the wrong tool to respond to this problem. 

The IHRAWD sets the bar for antisemitism so absurdly low that it becomes more difficult to call out real antisemitism. If 63% of New Zealanders are being called antisemitic, then real antisemites can happily hide in the crowd and protest that they are merely anti-Zionist.

The IHRAWD robs us of the shared understanding that we need to identify and respond to real antisemitism.

  • Anti-Zionism is antisemitism – end of story.

The IHRAWD turns disussion of Palestine into a discussion of antisemitism. The IHRAWD centres the Jewish community, while occupation is a lived Palestinian experience. It prevents any political grasp of the settler colonial project, and it precludes discussion of a just future.

The IHRAWD calls expressions of Palestinian identity, rights and aspirations antisemitic because they correctly challenge the occupier’s claims to exclusive rights (such as the rights reserved for Jews in Israel’s 2018 Nation State Law or its Law of Return). The IHRAWD silences the Islamophobia and dehumanisation that deny Palestinans’ most basic equality.

Method of the IHRAWD

A definition of racism – in this case, antisemitism – should be historically informed and responsive to local experience. The IHRAWD is neither. Neither its norms nor its project address the real antisemitism around us.

Why was this controversial step taken without public notice, without any mention of the roles of the Commissioners of Human Rights and Race Relations? This bypass threatens to make racism one more instance of Aotearoa following the colonial crowd onto the wrong side of history, rather than formulating a progressive local policy based on our experience and aspirations.

Who is bypassing the public stake in this issue – who are the proponents of the IHRAWD? In this country, Zionism is an item on the neoliberal agenda of domestic politics. It interweaves Jewish and Christian Zionism with the leadership of our most conservative neoliberal political entities including the Free Speech Union, Taxpayers’ Union, and Property Investors’ Association. These are groups who undermine our mutual responsibility and social cohesion.

We repeat our call for formal assurance that antisemtism will remain a matter of Aotearoa’s public policy within the spheres of our Commissioners of Human Rights and Race Relations.  Let us concentrate on the real antisemitism.

How not to be defined

The IHRAWD has not been adopted in Aotearoa. Neither is it a fait accompli: we need to roll back its stealthy use and to prevent its introduction. The threat of the IHRAWD creates opportunities for new partnerships and shared action to oppose racism, colonialism and the rise of the White / Right. Partnerships will bring the weight of numbers to bear against the adoption of the IHRAWD in Aotearoa.

First, we must roll back the encroachment of the IHRAWD into our public discourse. That means refusing to respond to accusations within the terms of the IHRAWD. Reject the terms. Explain why you decline to be defined. Make the IHRAWD an issue, as it should be.

Second, the IHRAWD must not derail our focus on the two very real issues of the racism we see around us, and the full individual and collective political rights of Palestinians. The divisiveness of the IHRAWD is best countered by acting with defiant solidarity. Muslims and Jews must not be divided when we see racist ideologies that target both of our communities. More than ever, this should be a time to tell stories of the real, lived Muslim and Palestinian experience. Theirs are the first voices that the IHRAWD would silence.

Third, it’s important to respond to the IHRAWD as an initiative of the neoliberal Christian / Jewish coalition in Aotearoa. This is not merely a Jewish or Palestinian issue. It is one that undermines our politics and our policy autonomy.

The IHRAWD will be kept out by a coalition of groups who place its prevention on their agendas: anticolonial and antiracist activists including Tangata Whenua, supporters of human rights, those who value the protection of speech, and those who seek an independent progressive foreign policy. We can counter the IHRAWD’s broad impacts by forming a broad opposition.

Alternative Jewish Voices will be offering additional resources and initiatives in the coming weeks. We are also happy to bring this korero to others. If you would like to discuss these issues further, please write to contact@ajv.org.nz

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

If you want to read more –

Jewish Voice For Peace on antisemitism: http://onantisemitism.com/

Antony Lerman, Whatever Happened to Antisemitism? Pluto Books.

Research paper from an Oxford University researcher, How the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism is Being Misrepresented. Or, Al Jazeera’s summary, IHRA ‘Misrepresents’ Own Definition.

The series of reports by S Michael Lynk, recently retired as UN Special Rapporteur, outline the illegality of Israeli governments’ actions and our obligation to respond.

Why is the IHRAWD so wrong:

Brian Klug, senior research fellow and a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University:  the IHRA definition fails on its own terms. https://ajvnz.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/b-klug-transcript-3-oct-2020.pdf

Short video from Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) in Canada

Petitions by 300 Jewish studies scholars, another by Talmudic scholars:  https://www.jta.org/2019/06/20/global/300-jewish-studies-scholars-sign-letter-supporting-embattled-former-berlin-jewish-museum-director

Independent Jewish Voices, Canada on the distortion of statistics

The ‘witch hunt… against critics of Israel.’ Ha’aretz https://ajvnz.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/witch-hunt-germanyhaaretz.com-1.pdf

Resisting the IHRAWD, working in solidarity:

Jews for racial and economic justice

Independent Jewish Voices, Canada

Antiracism is the mahi. Anti-Zionism is a separate matter.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png
Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Ralph Bunche, and Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Selma and Montgomery March, 1965. Photo by James H Karale

‘Anti-Zionism’ does not describe our experience of antisemitism in Aotearoa. We mustn’t be distracted from the real nature of anti-Jewish racism.

Too much discussion of antisemitism is dominated by a few accusing Zionist voices and the indignant response to them. That reduces and distorts the issue of antisemitism in three ways.

  1. The IHRA formula – anti-Zionism = antisemitism – politicises racism in the interest of Zionism. That definition impacts Palestinians and everyone who believes that Palestinians have equal personal and political rights in this world. Palestinian rights belong on every social justice agenda. But the IHRA’s political project is not a description of antisemitism.
  2. The IHRA strategy seeks to capture the machinery of regulation in order to prevent speech and make an issue unmentionable. That is a strategy which can be replicated by anyone who has enough influence to pull it off. Therefore any concession to the IHRA strategy threatens everyone’s right to vigorous political speech – but the work of opposing the IHRA definition is not the the work of opposing antisemitism.
  3. Anger at the IHRA definition further impacts the Jewish community. With their ceaseless hostility, a few Zionist organisations are positioning the Jewish community as an enemy of political speech and social justice protest. That ignores the antisemitism around us, and it deters Jews from taking our proper place in the shared mahi of antiracism.

AJV has repeatedly challenged those organisations’ mandate to speak as they do. Several of the most strident groups have strong Christian Zionist ties. They do not represent or act in the interest of the Jewish community. A majority of their directors are Christian Zionist and neoliberal: that is the configuration of the domestic Zionist project. (The NZ Jewish Council is Jewish, unelected and unrepresentative. Its Wellington arm has agreed to suspend operations because it lacks any community mandate.)

These are all important considerations, but none of them describes, reflects or responds to the real nature of the antisemitism that we witness in Aotearoa. Can we talk about the antisemitism, please?

Antisemitism burst our public imagination in the words written on one dusty ute at the Parliament occupation: ’help us stop Jewcinda.’ It was the most revolting antisemitic solicitation many of us had seen for New Zealand’s White supremacist worldview. Bring us your resentments, it invited. We’ve got a simple explanation for whatever you feel you have lost.

Among their many hatreds, the White / Right is antisemitic. It is integral to their beliefs. When a coalition of antiracists stands up to the White / Right, Jews belong in the front row of that coalition. Racism targets and affects us. We understand its harms. Antiracism is our mahi, too.

We, the Jewish community, have been missing in action. We are held back from commiting to a Jewish antiracism by our insular institutions which speak only of Jewish victimhood, in a disempowering monotone. The empowerment that comes from acting in solidarity, and the responsibility that comes with being actors in our own society’s racialised structures – Jews are not being given those messages.

We are additionally kept apart by the political project of the IHRA definition. The NZ Jewish Council’s recent IHRA-based survey of antisemitism spent its money labelling everyone who upholds basic assertions of human rights and democracy as antisemitic. In one go, they overlooked the real racist threat of the White / Right and vilified the antiracists who stand up to them.

MFAT’s unannounced move to join the IHRA organisation heightens the need to distinguish and tackle the two faces of antisemitism in Aotearoa: its White / Right reality and its politicised use by the IHRA.

We must cut through the politics of the IHRA’s distraction from real antisemitism. The IHRA definition has no standing in this country and we need to keep it that way if we wish to preserve our right to protest and speak of justice – including justice for Palestinians.

When the IHRA definition underlies accusations of antisemitism, we urge you not respond in the IHRA’s own terms. If we normalise those terms, we will allow the proponents of the IHRA definition to introduce it by stealth into our political discourse. It would be far wiser to name and refuse the IHRA’s distorted terms, and decide whether you are being accused of politics or antisemitism.

If the latter, then tell them: Antiracist is what I am, and antisemitism is anti-Jewish racism. In Aotearoa racism (including antisemitism) is spread primarily by White supremacists and the far Right. If you’re serious about opposing racism, join us in standing up to them.

… as Ōtepoti Dunedin does.

Image: Sina Brown-Davis, AntiFascist Ōtepoti

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

MFAT, please explain.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Website

On June 24, the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) took up observer status in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). On July 1, MFAT acknowledged it had overstepped by advising city councils not to allow Palestinians to display their national colours on Nakba Day, because it might offend Israel’s ambassador and supporters. Sharply differing definitions of antisemitism underlie both of these developments. Given MFAT’s pro-Israel orientation, we’d like some public assurance about its intentions.

Brian Klug, a member of Oxford University’s philosophy faculty, recently drew a helpful distinction. Antisemitism is inherently political: it is an appropriate object of public policy. Of late it has also been politicised as a vehicle to defend Zionism.

Antisemitism cannot be reduced to present-day arguments about anti-Zionism (and it is racist per se to reduce pluralist Judaism to Zionism). A wise, historically informed definition of antisemitism will be written by scholars, historians, practitioners and policy experts with public input.

To make sense of current developments, we need to understand and distinguish between the phenomenon of antisemitism and its political use.

MFAT has nominally joined an international organisation to promote understanding of the Holocaust and combat antisemitism. We agree that Holocaust education is a public good.

However, the malicious distortion or denial of the Holocaust differs from a general ignorance of history. Holocaust distortion or denial is an intentional, racist tactic which primarily serves White supremacist or far Right purposes. The real antisemitic threat in Aotearoa comes from the White and the Right. We question whether the IHRA organisation is fit for the second part of its mission.

The IHRA organisation is prominently known for the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA-WD). ‘The IHRA definition is one of the most contentious documents in the history of efforts to combat antisemitism… With its intensive focus on the critique of Israel as a marker of antisemitism, the IHRA definition has been heavily implicated in the suppression of Israel-critical speech in recent years.’

The IHRA-WD is a political project of Zionism. It was not designed in response to  ̶  and it does not respond to  ̶  Jewish experience of far Right or White antisemitism. Nor does it respond to Holocaust ignorance. It separates antisemitism from the wider shared work of antiracism, and it shields Israel from criticism by rendering anti-Zionist protest antisemitic. The IHRA-WD would consider most assertions of Palestinian identity and equal rights antisemitic.

The Israel-centric IHRA-WD is the wrong tool for the task of combating antisemitism in Aotearoa. Its use also creates harmful confusion about the meaning and prevalence of antisemitism. We recently wrote about the IHRA definition here, and we cite expert opposition to its use on our resource page.

The IHRA organisation houses two incompatible activities: Holocaust commemoration and the political application of the IHRA-WD to shield Israel from criticism for its human rights abuses. The IHRA’s political project takes cynical advantage of the moral authority of the organisation’s name.

We see the same intentional confusion here in Aotearoa. The Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation sounds like an admirable Jewish community undertaking. It is in fact a majority Evangelical Christian organisation whose directors overlap with the Israel Institute (a majority of whose directors are, again, not Jewish). The directors of both organisations overlap with leaders of the neoliberal Free Speech Union, Taxpayers’ Union and Auckland Property Investors’ Association. The names of these entities should not trick anyone into thinking that they represent or act in the interests of the NZ Jewish community. They promote Israel rather than the welfare of the Jewish community of Aotearoa. As with the IHRA, the Zionist project of the Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation benefits from the moral authority of the organisation’s name.

Israeli ambassador, Excellency Ron Yaakoby, was previously the Director for Combating Antisemitism and Holocaust Remembrance in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021, he thanked the countries that had already adopted the IHRA-WD, called on New Zealand to do the same and added, ‘Such an effort can be followed by New Zealand joining the IHRA.’

All this lobbying seeks to politicise antisemitism in New Zealand. We need to restore its public policy focus. Antisemitism is an integral part of the bundle of racist hatreds and resentments that are encroaching on our public discourse – encroaching from the Right. New Zealand’s Jewish community is among their targets.

What now?

The IHRA organisation’s website seems to suggest that its three stages of membership take 4 – 5 years to complete. Membership criteria do not explicitly list the IHRA-WD, but full member states must ‘endorse the previous decisions of the IHRA.’  That sounds like the creaking of a back door.

Defining racism in Aotearoa is not MFAT’s task because it is not a foreign affair. We would like to hear public assurance that the policy discussion of racism (which has begun in the area of hatespeech) will involve the Commissioners for Human Rights and Race Relations – and the public.

There is important work to do in the meantime.

Although the IHRA-WD has no standing in this country, we have just witnessed its effect. The NZ Jewish Council used it in their 2021 survey of antisemitism, classifying beliefs consistent with the world’s leading human rights organisations as antisemitic. The IHRA-WD shaped the conclusion that 2/3 of New Zealanders hold some antisemitic attitudes. The survey was a political act, far removed from the real threats to the security of New Zealand’s Jewish community.

If we do not call out each use of this politicised definition, proponents of the IHRA-WD will introduce it by stealth.

When anti-Zionism is called antisemitism, we should call attention to the IHRA-WD definition in order to preserve our rights to political speech. Conversely we must not shield the real antisemitism that lurks behind some anti-Zionist protest, in order to combat the racism that targets the Jewish community. Those are two sides of the same coin.

We have had one close call to remind us that public officials also need awareness. In 2020, the Wellington City Council was asked to make a harmless gesture to the Jewish community by adopting a little statement called the IHRA-WD. It was placed on the agenda and removed prior to the meeting. The councillors had realised that the Wellington Regional Jewish Council had not informed them of the definition’s political, contested implications.

‘Political’ is a rather nice word for it. Antony Lerman warns that “Jewish conflict over antisemitism is overwhelmingly hateful and bitter. Some Jews seem to believe that there is a special place in hell reserved for other Jews who question” whether anti-Zionism is a new form of antisemitism.

We in AJV can attest to the hostile reception. However, the depth of this division obliges government to hear a range of New Zealanders’ views. In light of MFAT’s status at the IHRA, we want reassurance that antisemitism will not be ideologically redefined behind closed doors.

AJV believes that we do not need a new definition of antisemitism in order to combat racism and preserve our rights to vigorous protest speech. We need action. We need to form a common front against racism in all of its forms (including antisemitism), recalling that the drivers of racism in New Zealand are primarily White and Right. We need to face that way, and face it down together.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

Dear Statistics NZ, we are not Israeli / Jewish

Once there was a Jewish religion. Then code 51117 made us all officially Israeli.

Before Nakba Day, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) advised the Wellington City Council that ‘the Israeli Ambassador or other Israeli groups’ might be discomfited by the sight of Palestinian colours. We wondered which Israeli groups were being given a veto over Wellingtonians’ peaceful use of public space. Tongue in cheek, we wrote, ‘can it possibly be that MFAT doesn’t know the difference between the NZ Jewish community and an Israeli pressure group?’

We set out to educate MFAT about the difference between ‘Israeli’ and ‘Jewish’, only to find that NZ’s official, current ethnic statistical classifications do not distinguish them at all!

Our search turned up only one result, only one way to be Jewish in Aotearoa:

Every ethnic category that we might write on a form (and there are far more labels than this website recognises) has been coded as a subset of category 51117, Israeli / Jewish.

The New Zealand Department of Statistics’ ethnic coding is not the norm. The UK’s Office for National Statistics shows a category ‘CT0753 – Ethnic group: Jewish’ with no reference to Israel. Nor does Australia’s ethnic ‘Jewish’ category #42 mention Israel.

The Australian and UK statisticians understand that Israel is a state. ‘Israeli’ names a citizenship, not an ethnicity. Only Israel itself uses the Jewish religion as a nationality. Naturally, we wonder who might have advised our government statisticians to adopt this outlier Israeli practice in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The same coding is presumably used throughout our official statistics. Coding is an abstract act of organising, but it quickly creates real-world consequences by defining the categories of subsequent descriptions. Here, for example, the same categories describe Wellington’s ethnic composition.

We object to this coding, because Israeli / Jewish names us inaccurately. We further – and at high volume – reject the category’s political consequences. Israeli / Jewish confines our global religion to a territory, and it enlists New Zealand Jews in Israel’s project of ethnic nationalism.

  1. Israeli / Jewish is inaccurate

Our ethnic statistics subsume all non-Israeli Jews into Israeli citizenship, and classify Palestinians as an ethnic group unrelated to their land. That also neatly encapsulates Israel’s nationalist project.

The merging of ethnic Jewishness with Israeli citizenship flatly contradicts the New Zealand Department of Statistics’ own definition of ethnicity:  ‘Ethnicity is a measure of cultural affiliation. It is not a measure of race, ancestry, nationality, or citizenship.’

There is no reason to include a classification of Israeli citizens in our ethnic statistics. We don’t record Canadians or Australians as a distinct ethnic group. Having created an Israeli category, it is an additional wrong to populate that category only with Jews.

The people who reside in the territory governed by Israel are roughly half non-Jewish Palestinians.  State citizenship is an administrative matter in a world governed by states. Residency constitutes citizenship, not religion or any other identitarian qualifier that can be used to create tiers of rights. This is why the NZ Department of Statistics rightly separates ethnicity from citizenship in its words, although not in its action.

It’s especially important to treat Israeli citizenship according to the global norms of citizenship. To do otherwise would be complicit in the erasure of all those non-Jews who are presently disenfranchised and discriminated against.

Conversely, the majority of the world’s Jews are not Israeli. Depending on one’s definition of a Jew (and oy, please don’t ask us about the who-is-a-Jew thing!), there are 15 – 20 million Jews worldwide. Around 46% of us are Israeli. Our government has just relocated the rest of us, and coded away two thousand years of Jewish diasporism.

Aotearoa’s 7000 Jews are 0.035% of the Jewish population of our world. We do not wish to statistically vanish into Israel’s manufactured demographic majority, thank you.

We are not Israeli / Jewish. We are ethnically Jewish citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand

2. What kind of Jew refuses to be Israeli / Jewish? Many.

ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist protest, Toronto 2017. Photo: Marilyn Garson

Israel was established on the premise that Israeli citizenship would be attached to Jewish identity, not to residency as citizenship is constituted in pluralist states like Aotearoa. That founding imaginary privileged a global Jewish population who could belong at will, at the direct expense of a local indigenous population who would never be allowed to belong to their land. That bit of ethnic privilege was coded into Israel’s Law of Return. It grants rights to every Jew and ignores every Palestinian’s UN-mandated Right of Return. Israel’s 2018 Nation-State Law hardened and extended ethnically differentiated rights. It legislated that self-determination belonged only to Jews in Israel, not to Israel’s citizens.

You can see the ethnic imaginary at work in the Jewish Council’s recent survey of antisemitism in Aotearoa. Respondents had to agree that Jews are indigenous to Palestine, or they would be labeled antisemitic. The Jewish Council’s survey did not allow any pluralist belonging that might better reflect the thousands of years of settlement and fluid peoplehood in Palestine / Israel.

Israel’s regime has now calcified into one which the global human rights community calls apartheid.  We are deeply offended that our own government should require us to be associated with apartheid each time we name our Jewish religion on a census or any other official form. We are Jews and we are not occupiers.

The former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset or parliament, Avraham Burg, is seeking to break the same Israeli / Jewish coding. Born into a prominent family of religious scholars, Burg takes the ethics of Judiasm to heart. He is suing to be released from his Israeli / Jewish nationality because it violates his religious principles to be identified with the oppression of non-Jews. His statement to the court rejects Israel’s definition as a state ‘belonging to the Jewish nation, and [he writes] that he is no longer willing for his “nationality” to be listed as “Jewish” in the Interior Ministry’s records.’

We are not willing to be recorded as Israeli / Jewish either.  This coding has deep epistemological and ethical implications. It politicises our wondrous, ancient religion and identifies us with the ongoing harm that Israel is doing to our fellow Semites, the Palestinians.

We have asked Minister David Clark to change the codes. We are Jewish New Zealanders and we want our religion back.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand (not Israel)

Official Information Act casts doubt on the NZ Jewish Council’s survey

Under the Official Information Act, the Ministry of Ethnic Communities released the NZ Jewish Council’s (NZJC) funding application, correspondence and related documents to Alternative Jewish Voices. Much of the file is missing the letters ‘i’ and ‘l.’ We have filled those letters in when we quote documents for clarity.

It is misleading to state that this survey had ‘widespread Jewish community support,’ as the NZJC funding application claims.

The survey used an Israel-centered definition of antisemitism, which has no official standing in this country. Its findings are discontinuous with any analysis based on our official definition. The survey departs radically from the 2017 UK study on which it claims to be based. Its findings are better compared with the findings of a 2019 exercise in Canada.

Antisemitism in Aotearoa has been on unprecedented display this year by the White supremacist Right, with worrisome encroachment into our political discourse. The NZJC survey does not reflect our real and present concerns. It seeks to incite a moral panic about anti-Zionism, rather than racism, of which antisemitism is one form.

Nothing in the correspondence with the Ministry of Ethnic Communities indicates that any of these issues were recognised, queried or knowingly approved. The Ministry’s grant must not be understood as an endorsement.

  1. Less than meets the eye

The NZ Jewish Council funding application claims, ‘This is a project with widespread Jewish community support, across multiple organisations.’

The document file includes supporting statements from organisations that are related and not primarily Jewish. See our endnote below[i] for details. Most of the survey’s supporters share Zionism, Evangelical Christianity and very conservative politics. If the Ministry of Ethnic Communities believed that the Jewish community broadly requested a survey centred on attitudes about Israel, it was mistaken or misled.  There is no breadth of Jewish voices in the document at all, nor is there any reflection of Jewish experience.

The NZ Jewish Council is, itself, unelected and unrepresentative. The Wellington Jewish Council members acknowledged in 2021 that they lack a mandate to speak for the community.

Notwithstanding this, the Ministry of Ethnic Communities recommended that a $15,000 grant be given to the NZ Jewish Council, adding, ‘We have good connection with this group.’ Perhaps familiarity replaced due diligence.

The days when a Jewish-Evangelical-Zionist-conservative coalition can claim to speak for the Jewish community are long gone. Around the world, Jewish communities are deeply divided by Jewish nationalism (Zionism). In the course of its 2020 finding that it is not antisemitic to boycott, the Harvard Law Review reiterated the reason for our divide: for growing numbers of Jews, Israel’s project is not our Judaism.

[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.

The Ministry of Ethnic Communities issued its grant without hearing from the ethnic community. The NZ Jewish Council went on to apply a very particular definition.

2. What is the IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism?

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA-WD) was intended to be a research tool. It sought to make the judgement of antisemitism more consistent by plotting comments on a spectrum. An issue which was part of healthy political discussion at one end of the spectrum, might shade into racial hostility and finally become antisemitic at the other end of the spectrum. The research tool was initiated between 2003-5. It was not completed, but the work reappeared in an absolutist form more than a decade later.

The resurrected IHRA-WD opens with a brief definition of antisemitism. Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (University of London) commented:

Here is the definition’s key passage: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.” This is bewilderingly imprecise.

Eleven examples follow, seven of which are statements about Israel rather than Jewishness. Not a single one of the examples was ever formally adopted by the IHRA’s own decision-making body. The formative notion of a spectrum of thought had been discarded. Instead the eleven statements had been rendered antisemitic in their entirety. Kenneth Stern publically objected,

I drafted the [IHRA] definition of antisemitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it.

The stitched-together IHRA-WD has chiefly been used to call Israel’s critics antisemitic. See our our resource page for condemnation of the IHRA-WD’s history of use, including by a former Lord Justice of Appeal and Judge ad hoc of the European Court of Human Rights; Harvard Law School; Brian Klug of Oxford’s philosophy faculty, and others.

The NZ Jewish Council’s use of the IHRA-WD is consistent with this ideological history. Its use is additionally improper because the IHRA-WD definition of antisemitism has no official standing in Aotearoa New Zealand – none, kore, zip, zero. We have a definition of racism and this is not it.

Nothing in the Ministry of Ethnic Communities file indicates that ministry staff queried the NZ Jewish Council’s method.

3. Discerning the impact of the IHRA-WD

The NZ Jewish Council’s funding application cites the methodology of a 2017 report, Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel.

The UK survey asked a number of paired questions about Jews and then about Israel to help discern whether ‘Israel’ had become a proxy for ‘Jews’ in a respondent’s mind or vice versa:

The interests of Jews in Britain are very different from the interests of the rest of the population … The interests of Israelis are at odds with the interests of the rest of the world.

Jews have too much power in Britain … Israel has too much control over global affairs.

          The survey also included Israel-specific statements, some of which are replicated in the NZ survey. Several of those Israel-specific statements have been published as factual – not antisemitic – findings of the world’s leading human rights organisations.

The UK responses were categorised as ‘strongly agree’ or ‘tend to agree,’ in order to facilitate analysis.

On pgs 33-38, the UK survey asks whether anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments are linked at a population level. The broadest and weakest linkage occurred among ‘a much larger number of people who believe a small number of negative ideas about Jews, but who may not be consciously hostile or prejudiced towards them.’ That group was estimated to include 30% of the population.

The NZ Jewish Council’s method found that ‘63% of New Zealanders surveyed agree with at least one antisemitic view’(p vii, emphasis in the original) – twice as many!

According to the NZJC funding submission, a 2014 survey of antisemitism in New Zealand had found that 14% of New Zealanders held antisemitic views. Can antisemitism have increased 450% in eight years, to a level more than double its prevalence in the UK?

In 2019, Canadians were told a similarly jarring story. Both the Canadian B’nai Brith and the American Anti-Defamation League conducted audits of antisemitic incidents in 2019. The American audit applied more limited criteria to the relation between attitudes toward Israel and Jews. Their method was

careful not to conflate general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with antisemitism. However, Israel-related harassment of groups or individuals may be included when the harassment incorporates establised anti-Jewish references, acusations and / or conspiracy theories, or when they demonize American Jews for their support of Israel. ‘ (p 4, italics in the original)

The Canadian B’nai Brith audit eschewed such qualifications. It cast a wider net and claimed ‘that an equal number of antisemitic incidents has taken place in Canada [and the US] despite the fact that the US has a population 9 times that of Canada and has 17 times as many Jews.’ (Statistics and quote in this section are taken from The Use and Misuse of Antisemitism Statistics in Canada, by Sheryl Nestel PhD for Independent Jewish Voices.)

 Population in 2019Jewish Population in 2019Antisemitic Incidents
Canada37,590,000392,0002207
United States328,300,0006,970,0002107

The use of the IHRA-WD definition foreseeably, greatly inflates the findings of antisemitism because it confuses Israel with Jewishness.

The NZJC’s funding application calls its survey ‘especially [important] as the Jewish Community Security Group (CSG) has recorded a record number of incidents in 2020.’ Unsurprisingly, the CSG uses precisely this ideological definition to count incidents of ‘antisemitism,’ which it then shares with the NZ Police, security agencies and the Embassy of Israel.

Members of Alternative Jewish Voices have been calling on the Community Security Group to act with transparency for a year and a half. We do not know how many among the Palestinian, non-Zionist Jewish, human rights and antiracism communities have wrongly been labeled as Jew-haters in their present, opaque process.

Nothing in the file suggests that the Ministry of Ethnic Communities queried the survey’s method, or the credibility of its findings.

4. The Project of the NZ Jewish Council Survey

How, and against whom, has the NZ Jewish Council directed its survey?

The NZ Jewish Council categorised responses in the most absolute and normative way possible. They define every disagreement with their stance as being antisemitic, easy peasy.


Four of the survey’s seven Israel-related questions require respondents to grant Israel an exception to global norms of human rights and democracy – or be labelled antisemitic.

  • Five million Palestinians cannot vote for the government which exercises authority over their lives. Are respondents willing to create an Israel-exception to this universal democratic norm by calling Israel democratic?
  • Our government and many other individuals, corporations and states boycott Russian goods and products to protest its gross violations of international law. Are survey respondents willing to create an exception by agreeing with the NZJC that the same non-violent economic protest against companies complicit in the occupation of Palestine can only be evidence of a hatred of Jews?

By setting its terms in this way, the NZ Jewish Council has placed Jewishness in direct opposition to some of our bedrock values.

Not only has the NZ Jewish Council called two-thirds of us antisemitic, they have interspersed positive human rights and democratic values with genuinely hateful statements in a document partially funded by a government ministry. That sets an insidious precedent.

Authoritative legal opinions and studies by the world’s leading human rights organisations have established that three of these statements are accurate and are not antisemitic. For example, these groups and distinguished individuals call Israel an apartheid – and therefore not a democratic – state.

Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, in association with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network; B’Tselem; Michael Sfard and Yesh Din; Michael Lynk, (former) UN Special Rapporteur.

Do we really need to cite legal proof that five million Palestinians are entitled to vote for the government that exercises authority over their lives, or that belief in democracy is not anti-Jewish? Can everyone who aspires to a world of law and human equality be antisemitic?

The New Zealand Jewish Council has constructed a survey which says we are.

The NZJC’s discussion of White privilege (p 36) makes it clear that the designers have very little idea of what they are measuring. It is also clear that they are unhappy with the concepts of intersectionality and Critical Race Theory, but perhaps they should have tried to understand the concept before including a statement about it in a survey. As it stands, the survey statement is somewhat racist in its implied assumption that all Jews must be White (since it should be obvious that only White Jews could have White privilege).

White privilege contends that people who present as White are treated differently and more favourably than those of colour – such as Māori – in many situations. It implies that perceptions of colour are more formative of privilege than ethnicity, which can only be guessed at visually. The issue is especially important in former colonial contexts where the colonisers constructed governmental systems that reflect their world view to the detriment of other groups. This short video includes a straightforward explanation of White privilege.

It is simply ludicrous to call all of the people who understand issues of colonisation and structures of advantage antisemitic.

On page 37, the survey discusses indigeneity. This is a very disingenuous statement, especially in the New Zealand context, and it shows the particular political preferences of those constructing the survey.

In New Zealand, we think of Māori as clearly being the indigenous people of New Zealand, since they were here hundreds of years before other groups arrived. However, in Israel/Palestine, which has been under human habitation for thousands of years, the question of indigeneity isn’t straightforward and it is more likely that multiple groups can claim to be indigenous. The construction and parameters of peoplehood are also fluid and contested.

The survey designers seem to want to transfer the singularity of the New Zealand situation (only Māori are indigenous to New Zealand) to the situation in Palestine/Israel. The only response that they will not consider antisemitic is a response that calls Jews the only indigenous group. This is the Zionist mantra that the land of Palestine/Israel can only belong to the Jewish people. The survey interprets an ideological preference as fact.

The Ministry of Ethnic Communities file contains no expressions of concern with the contents or findings of the study it helped to fund.

5. What are the implications of the NZ Jewish Council’s survey?

The NZ Jewish Council has thrown both public and private money into an ideological project at a moment when a genuine study of antisemitism would have been so helpful. They have advanced the IHRA-WD project by stealth, producing a document which confuses Israel with Jewishness, and confuses antisemitism with the principles of democracy and human rights.

This survey places the Jewish community at odds with the New Zealand human rights community, antiracism activists, Palestinians and non- or anti-Zionist Jews, and anyone who espouses democracy. Because human rights and antiracist actors extend their concern to Palestinians, the NZ Jewish Council has vilified them. It may serve Israel’s supporters to confuse disagreement with racism, but it does not serve the Jewish community of Aotearoa. This survey seeds unjustified suspicion and fear among us, at a moment when the Jewish community needs to link arms with all those who work against racism.

It beggars belief that any NZ survey of racism could fail to prioritise White supremacist threats in 2022. That the Ministry of Ethnic Communities would fund such an oversight after all the efforts of the Muslim community to draw attention to those threats, after the enquiries into our nation’s security biases, during this shocking season of White supremacist racism, is inexcusable.

If the Ministry of Ethnic Communities had heard from our ethnic community, we are confident this would not have happened.

The NZJC survey must not go unchallenged, nor should its findings be used as a benchmark or policy driver. Such usage would misdirect public resources and concern. To take the survey at face value would encourage a moral panic over anti-Zionism rather than racism, of which antisemitism is one longstanding form. We and many others do oppose Zionism for reasons that have nothing to do with race. We object because Zionism denies the fundamental democratic and human rights of Palestinians.

We who challenge this survey are not standing in opposition to the Jewish community, because this survey cannot be called a Jewish community undertaking. We are taking issue with an ideological project of New Zealand’s dedicated Zionist lobby.

By Fred Albert and Marilyn Garson, For Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa NZ

[i] Postscript:

‘This is a project with widespread Jewish community support, across multiple organisations.’ (NZ Jewish Council funding submission)

Who supported this survey?

Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation

  • Majority Christian, overlaps with the Israel Institute whose directors are also not majority Jewish

Co-founder and trustee Perry Trotter – see http://www.lcje-na.org/perry-trotter (married to co-founder and trustee Sheree Trotter)

  • Director of the Israel Institute
  • Former officer of Ariel Ministries, Presenter at the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Compiles resources for those seeking to share a Christian Messianic message with Jews. See messiah.com.es

Ashley Church

  • Director of the Israel Institute
  • Founder / officer of Free Speech Union, Taxpayers’ Union, Auckland Property Investors Association

Paul Moon, Trustee,

  • Also submitted a separate letter of support on behalf of the Auckland University of Technology History Department
  • Acknowledged as a speaker and contributor to the work of the Friends of Israel Association in that organisation’s annual reports.

New Zealand Friends of Israel Association Inc. NZ Charities Registration Number CC 43880.

  • See the writings of President Tony Kan and others, for their consistent hostility to any non-Zionist expression of Jewishness.

NZ Jewish Community Security Group (CSG)

  • Membership overlaps with the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute
  • We repeat our objections to the CSG’s use of the IHRA-WD to compile and share information with the NZ Police and security agencies, and the Embassy of Israel.

NZ Jewish Council

  • Unelected and not representative. In 2021 the Wellington Jewish Council acknowledged its lack of community mandate and its members agreed not to speak on behalf of the Jewish community.
  • Overlaps with Israel Institute, Community Security Group

Also signing, Deborah Hart, Chair Holocaust Centre of New Zealand and former
Chairperson of the Wellington Jewish Community Centre.

‘widespread Jewish community support’ ??