Now is the time to speak

Now is the time to speak – not later.

In the perpetual present tense of so much reporting, today’s violence began today. But it didn’t.

Today’s violence began 75 years ago, when Israel occupied Palestine and dispossessed its people. The nationalist project of Zionism rests upon rounds of increasing structural and military violence. Palestinians resist, as occupied people are legally entitled to do (although no one, nowhere, has a ‘right’ to unlimited violence). That’s the dynamic: the occupier holds the power and has the choices, while the occupied people resist. A new generation of Palestinian youth is stepping up its resistance just as Israel’s far right, religio-nationalist government is stepping up its aggression.

On 26 January Israel attacked the tiny, dense refugee camp of Jenin, killing ten people. Then a Palestinian opened fire in a settlement (built on land captured in 1967, in occupied East Jerusalem), killing seven people. The Palestinian was quickly killed, while the Israeli military forces walked away from their killings; confident of their impunity.

Today we say –

1. We seek a solution anchored in law and human rights. Neither Palestinians nor Jews will be free or healthy until this illegal occupation is replaced by a decent, dignified society where all people enjoy their rights.

2. Do not ask everyone to take one step back, because occupier and occupied are not two parties with equal responsibilities. We urge our government to actively support the International Court of Justice, whose job it is to assign responsibility for the disastrous violence which is integral to Israel’s occupation.

3. We grieve for those who have been killed. We call on our government to act in support of the laws and treaties it signs in our names. Act as we are obliged to act, to protect the occupied people and preserve the safety of civilians everywhere.

4. A cessation of violence is not the same as a solution. We urge, we plead with our government to speak and act in a principled, unexceptional, rights-based manner in Palestine so that real justice can be brought nearer without any need for more violence. We are not powerless; we are just inexcusably timid.

5. We urge our Jewish community and institutions to roundly disavow Israel’s government, which gives power to Kahanists, outright fascists and racists. They will push the occupation to new lows in all of our names.

Now is the time to speak—not later, when this has gone any further.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

J4P-AJV survey: What happens when we speak about Palestine in Aotearoa?

Read the full survey results here

In 2022, New Zealanders were repeatedly called antisemitic for beliefs consistent with universal human rights and democratic norms

This survey speaks about a category of social and religious harm in Aotearoa.

Because it confuses opposition to Zionism with a hatred of Jews, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA WD) enables Zionist individuals and organisations to make false and unanswerable accusations of antisemitism against their fellow New Zealanders. New Zealanders are being labelled as antisemites for upholding the UN-recognised rights of Palestinians, or simply for making statements about their Palestinian or non-Zionist Jewish identity. In 2022, two national surveys of antisemitism were distorted by classing opposition to Israel’s illegal occupation as a prominent form of antisemitism. The NZ Jewish Council survey explicitly labelled every respondent as an antisemite if they held views consistent with global human rights reporting, and with our basic democratic norms.

Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices jointly surveyed New Zealanders who advocate for Palestinian rights. In these pages, we begin to hear their experience of being falsely accused. These voices signal the need for more systematic study of the IHRA WD’s stealthy use to silence Palestinian speech, harm human rights advocates and denigrate non-Zionist Jewish identity in Aotearoa.

  • 86% of respondents have witnessed accusations addressed to others in public, private or religious (synagogue) venues.
  • 67% have been personally accused of antisemitism, including 10 of the 14 respondents who identified themselves as Jewish or Palestinian.
  • Only 2 respondents have been accused of antisemitism for comments relating to Jews or Judaism. 93% of respondents were accused for commenting on the actions of the Israeli state, politicians, police or military forces. 66% were accused for commenting on the history or Palestine, and 62% for commenting on Palestinians’ equal entitlements to UN-recognised rights.
  • 31% of respondents reported being or feeling threatened.
  • Although we tend to speak of these accusations taking place online, 62% of our respondents have been accused in a face-to-face encounter. 55% have been accused on social media, while 28% have received letters or emails accusing them of antisemitism. This problem is experienced more intimately than we had assumed.
  • Seriously harmful personal outcomes were most likely to be reported by Jews or people of Arabic descent.

None of us has the right to define our identity so expansively

as to demand the erasure of another.

Human rights and the IHRA WD are not two equally valid, opposing views. Human rights is our global, codified, committed standard and the IHRA WD violates it. Antisemitism is real and integral to the worldviews of White supremacists and the far Right. The IHRA WD does not combat that primary source of real antisemitism. It is a tool to punish support for the equal human and political rights of Palestinians, and it is a mechanism to Zionise and monopolise Jewish identity.

In our Appendix, we excerpt from United Nations and New Zealand Human Rights Commission reporting on the need to address antisemitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism in ways that support and advance our universal human rights. That is the way forward.

We call on our government to publicly oppose

any adoption, use or endorsement of the IHRA WD

in Aotearoa or in the United Nations.

Read the full survey results here

Time to find out what happens when we speak about Palestine in Aotearoa

What happens when you speak about Palestinian rights in Aotearoa?

In our conversations with government, media and others we work around the lack of reporting on the lived experience of advocating for Palestinian equality—whether in our own public space or in Palestine.

There have been two recent studies of antisemitism in New Zealand. Both carefully avoided the issue of anti-Zionist ‘antisemitism’—the accusation that Palestinian identity or advocacy is necessarily anti-Jewish. Enabled by the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, these accusations aim to silence political speech by blurring it into contemptible racism and threat.

Today Alternative Jewish Voices and Justice for Palestine jointly launch a survey of the experience of Palestinian speech or advocacy. Have you been accused of anti-Zionist ‘antisemitism’? If you are Jewish or Palestinian, has your identity been denigrated or denied because of your speech? If you are a public figure or a human rights activist, have you been branded an ‘antisemite’? Have you witnessed these accusations targeting others?

This survey is open to any New Zealander who has experienced or witnessed this phenomenon. Please take the time to respond. We will present some of the stories during January. Perhaps this compilation will also lead to more systematic study.

The survey will be open through December. We do require your name and email to validate responses, but we will not identify any respondent by name.

Survey: What happens when you speak about Palestine in Aotearoa?

If you have any questions, please contact us:

Justice for Palestine or Shma.koleinu.nz@gmail.com

Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

Meir Kahane and us: what is Kahanism and what shall we do?

Meir Kahane photo Ilan Ossendryver/Israel Sun Ltd., Judaica Collection, Harvard Library. Itamar Ben Gvir, All Israel News

Israel’s election will bring Itamar Ben Gvir’s Kahanist Religious Zionism into coalition. What does that mean?

Shaul Magid’s excellent book,  Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical reminds us that while Kahane’s legacy is most evident in Israel, key elements of Kahanism have also entered the Zionist-Jewish mainstream right here at home.

As a New York rabbi, Meir Kahane (born 1932, assassinated 1990) dug the rabbit hole for a Jewish militia identity. He established the Jewish Defense League (JDL): an armed, rightwing Jewish vigilante force. On May 9, 1969 its members massed at a Reform synagogue, bringing pipes and chains to prevent an invited Black speaker from discussing reparations for slavery. Kahane had no interest in Jewish accountability or the oppression of others.

We Jews in our 60s and 70s recall the early JDL—muscular fellows with fists on their black T-shirts, soliciting Jewish university students. They called themselves the New Jews, and they hawked an in-yer-face identification that broke away from our parents’ post-Holocaust timidity. The JDL pride in Jewish fighting power prefigured today’s militia culture. JDL leaders would be indicted for arms smuggling and possession of explosives.

Beyond the black Tshirts, Kahanism rejected the liberal democracy that permitted our Diaspora Jewish lives. He loved the Jewish collective in theory but disparaged most of us as weak, our Jewish power unactualised. Magid’s book is rich with Kahane’s insults for religious or secular Jews who did not locate our pride or our identities in ethnic violence.

Meir Kahane moved to Israel, adapting his American-style racism to Israel’s demographics. He was withering of anyone who called Israel a Jewish democracy: he called them apologists for Jews’ absolute, Gd-given entitlement to the land. Kahane’s thought travelled from Judaism as a religion through Zionism and into a messianic religio-nationalism. He did not want a Jewish state like other states. He advocated the blunt-force grabbing of a divinely-granted state, unlike any other state and immune to the laws of states.

For him, Jewish violence was an act of redemption, not defense—rather like the roving bands of settlers in the West Bank. Or Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli mass murderer of Muslims in a sacred place (Itamar Ben Gvir displayed Goldstein poster until it became politically expedient to take it down). Kahane’s party was so extreme that Israel’s parliament drafted a law to ban him and them from politics. He is the only person to have been convicted for ‘inciting racism and endangering security.’

Forty years later, Meir Kahane’s ideological successor, Itamar Ben Gvir, has been elected. The platform of his Jewish Strength party  (within the Religious Zionism grouping) includes illegal acts like annexing the occupied territories and expelling Palestinian ‘infiltrators and land thieves.’ He will shift Israel’s security stance ‘from the defensive to the offensive position, from the policy of “containment of the enemy” to their eradication and destruction.’

Present-day Religious Zionism threatens both Palestinians and the Jewish community. On the first Shabbat after the election, Israel’s Chief Rabbi joined prospective ultra-Orthodox and far-Right coalition members demanding the power to change the legal definition of a Jew. He used his sermon to say,‘“This is an Orthodox state, not a Reform one,” accusing Reform Judaism of “causing assimilation abroad.”’

On purely self-interested grounds, the silence of Aotearoa’s Progressive Jewish community is astonishing.

We need to face the implications of Kahanism here as well as there. Kahanist Religious Zionism has given up on any prospect of shared work for social improvement. It offers a bleak, isolating response to our uncertain time. But uncertainty has always been key to the appeal of the far Right. We will defend our own, they promise—and we will define our own with increasing ideological purity.

We already see Zionism’s assault on Jewish pluralism in Aotearoa. Their only criterion for Jewish identity is Zionism. Half of the members of AJV are religiously observant (regularly attending or leading services, study groups, community organisations) and half identify through Jewish culture or history. Yet NZ Zionist Federation President Rob Berg claims that our ‘sole identity as Jews seems to be the hate for Israel and Zionism.’ Stuff senior business writer Miriam Bell prints and reprints this useful lie unchallenged in NZ and Australia.

Meir Kahane would revel in the closing of the Jewish communal mind right here, and in the radicalising rejection of human rights in favour of Jewish tribal license. The IHRA definition of antisemitism has become an identity weapon; used in practice both to protect Israel, and to narrow Jewishness into good Zionist Jews and invalid others.

So, Kahanism has entered Israel’s government, and it is accelerating the New Zealand Jewish community’s slide from religion into identity politics. What to do?

Itamar Ben Gvir wants Israel’s police portfolio. Imagine putting our White supremacist fringe in charge of the police, handing them the intelligence and setting them free to hunt down tangata whenua, Muslims and Jews, LGBTQ+. A government that includes Itamar Ben Gvir is not politics as usual, and we ask our government to take Itamar Ben Gvir at his word, judge him on his actions, and respond accordingly.

  • Ben Gvir intends to expel and dispossess more Palestinians.  If we are not to aid and abet his lawless vision, Aotearoa must cease any dialogue or sharing of information with Israeli military and security services.
  • Israel’s IT industry is inextricable from the military with which it designs and tests products on an occupied people. If we are not to be accomplices, Aotearoa must cease all commerce and investment with the Israeli IT industry.
  • We already implement our Israeli visa policy racially, giving Israeli Jews visa-free status which we deny to Palestinians. This has got to end, no matter who governs.
  • We ask our government to make a clear, public commitment that Aotearoa will never adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The IHRA  would protect Itamar Ben Gvir and silence his victims’ advocates. When we cite his actual record or challenge his stated illegal intentions, the IHRA would cry ‘antisemite’! It would also allow Aotearoa’s Jewish Right to assert a monopoly over our religious identity, at the expense of Jewish pluralism. Don’t let that happen. Take the IHRA off the table.

We restate our disgust that any New Zealand Jewish institution would acquiesce, would passively permit the advance of Kahanism.  Our parents’ generation rejected Kahane’s unbridled identity-licensed violence. Shame on anyone who does not reject it today.

Shame on anyone who looks down at the ground and mumbles yeah, well, whatever—our Israel, Jewish and Kahanist.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

On Israel’s election and the silence of the NZ Jewish Council

Middle East Eye: “Ben-Gvir is pictured pulling a gun at Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem on 13 October 2022 (Twitter)”

Israel held an election. Roughly two-thirds of the adult population were permitted to vote, and they returned Benjamin Netanyahu to office. His largest coalition partner will be the Kahanist Religious Zionism thugs led by one Itamar Ben Gvir.

This is sad proof that we Jews are no different from anyone else who mainlines ultranationalism. When you ladle Zionism into religion, you cook up the toxic Religious Zionism of Ben Gvir.

The teenaged Ben Gvir was too far Right to be accepted into the Israeli army. He was a youth leader of the extremist Kach, and his current crew are the proud inheritors of Kahanism, a Jewish supremacy movement outlawed in Israel and classified by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. Until it became politically advisable to remove it, Ben Gvir kept a portrait of the Israeli-American mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinian Muslims and wounded 125 others in a place held sacred by both Muslims and Jews. Ben Gvir is so openly racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, ultranationalist, anti-democratic and violent that Israel’s perpetual supporter, Thomas Friedman, likens his appointment to offering the Proud Boys a Cabinet slot.

This election is least new to Palestinians, for whom unrestrained structural violence has long been the norm. To advocates for justice in Palestine, this election is a depressing acceleration of Israel’s existing direction of travel. To those otherwise-caring Jews who have rationalised the ugliness as long as it was directed only at Palestinians, this is qualitatively new. Jewish Israelis have voted for the bleak enmity, the worshipful violence; the anti-democratic, outright fascistic world view of the Kach gang. To that they choose to belong: that is what Zionism has become.

And we Jewish New Zealanders—how many of us will choose to belong to Ben Gvir’s Israel?

The NZ Jewish Council (NZJC) issued a note to the Jewish community. We asked if they would make it public, and the Chair of the NZJC replied that it is not their place to comment on Israel’s elections. That reply will suffice to understand the unpublished guidance: there’ll be no comment.

They sure commented on Israel when Amnesty International found it to be an apartheid state. They wasted no time publicly calling world’s leading human rights organisation ‘antisemitic’.  They defend Israel loudly enough from the Left. They are forever telling us that Zionism is how they do Judaism, and they deny the validity of our (or any) Jewish identity not centred on Israel.

And now? Now that Israel has served up its far Right in the form of Itamar Ben Gvir, the NZJC has suddenly remembered that their constitution makes no mention of Israel or Zionism, and they’ve gone all shy and reticent. It seems they are willing to set a place for Itamar Ben Gvir at the table of the New Zealand Jewish community. They welcomed Trump when he was politically expedient, so why not welcome one more?

Well, to hell with that.

To go along with Ben Gvir is an abject moral forfeit. To know full well his record and embrace him is to grant permission and extend impunity to his settler shock troops. That stance is complicit through and through.

Presumably the NZ Jewish Council will now wrap Itamar Ben Gvir in the snug blanket of their IHRA definition of antisemitism. Presumably when anyone objects to his violence, his threats to dismantle the courts, his hatred of LGBTQ and his pathological enmity for Palestinians; the NZ Jewish Council will call that speaker antisemitic. If they do that, if they bring Itamar Ben Gvir’s Kahanist terror into the protected space of our religion, they will have trampled the meaning of Jewishness in the dust once and for all.

Whatever one wanted Israel to be, this is what Israel has chosen to be. It’s time to admit, as even Thomas Friedman has admitted, “The Israel we knew is gone.”

We hope that our community will not open our door to Ben Gvir and his goons. We hope they will voice their disgust, and reject the passive support that the silent NZ Jewish Council is giving to this Kahanist Religious Zionism.

Throw the fascist bastard out. Let him slink back under his rock, and get this ultra-nationalism out of our religion.

We are Jewish—not Kahanist.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

Humanity Matters: Protest is not “political antisemitism”

Image: Marco Verch https://flic.kr/p/2auTCPA

(A joint statement by Neil Ballantyne on behalf of Justice for Palestine and Marilyn Garson on behalf of Alternative Jewish Voices)

The proliferation of mis- and disinformation in recent years is cause for grave concern, particularly with the attendant risks to minorities and human rights.  Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices were pleased to see Humanity Matters New Zealand publish its report on misinformation, disinformation and online antisemitism in Aotearoa. While the report communicates important aspects of the lived experience of antisemitism, its passive use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism has mingled legitimate expressions of protest with racial hatred. Sadly, that colours the results and constitutes a lost opportunity.

The survey is the first publication by Humanity Matters, a new human rights-oriented NGO. It foregrounds the experience and concerns of Aotearoa’s Jewish community. It offers helpful definitions of disinformation and misinformation and contextualises this in social media and in the recent COVID encounters. The report clearly identifies far Right individuals and organisations in Aotearoa as a source of antisemitic sentiment, and makes many helpful recommendations to challenge and change perceptions of the Jews and Judaism in Aotearoa.

Regrettably, Humanity Matters did not use Aotearoa’s prevailing definition of antisemitism.[1] Instead they included unlimited “criticism of Israel” or “criticism of Zionism” as a category labelled “political antisemitism”. We reject the category of “political antisemitism”, as should all reasonable people.  Antisemitism is the hatred of Jews or Jewishness. Criticism of Israel need not necessarily target Jews or Jewishness at all. Humanity Matters has poorly defined the phenomenon that the study seeks to measure.

The report notes that some members of the Jewish community consider that ‘to be anti-Zionist is to be antisemitic whilst others in the community hold these as separate issues, and for this they can experience exclusion within the Jewish community’ (p. 12). Without further discussion, the authors of the report then adopt the position that criticism of Israel or Zionism is indeed a core element of antisemitism. They decline to survey or analyse the experience of non-Zionist Jews who regularly experience attacks on their Jewish identity by the Zionist-Jewish community.

The IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and stigmatises political protest and human rights advocacy. By declining to distinguish protest from hate, Humanity Matters has reproduced the stigma. Intentionally or not, Humanity Matters has continued the demonisation of the very human rights that the organisation was formed to advance.

According to the survey, anti-Zionist or anti-Israel sentiment is experienced nearly twice as often as any form of classic antisemitism. By reporting this uncritically as antisemitism, its frequency overshadows the real, growing, threatening antisemitism of the far Right which demands our national attention.

Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices advocate for Palestinian rights across a range of social media platforms. We manage our messaging with care and remove posts with comments that descend into antisemitism. Indeed, membership of Justice for Palestine is contingent on agreeing to a statement that:

Justice for Palestine events and social media will not tolerate any act or discourse which adopts or promotes, among others: racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia. Any prospective or current member found to be in breach of this condition will have membership declined or removed.

However, we reserve the right to critique actions of the Israeli state which fly in the face of international law and human rights, such as the slaying of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh, the repeated bombings of Gaza and killing of Palestinian civilians, and the land incursion in Masafer Yatta. We highlight and reject the underlying colonising ideology of Zionist settlers in the Occupied Territories.

Our activities challenge Israel’s violations of law and human rights. Humanity Matters has allowed the human rights work of our organisations, and all citizens of Aotearoa involved in the promotion of Palestininian rights, to be vilified as antisemitism. Their study includes misinformation about the nature of antisemitism which tarnishes and chills work for Palestinian human rights.

Humanity Matters aspires to be an organisation of “caretakers of truth working at the intersection of education, history, and human rights” (p.2). Any organisation with such significant aspirations must adhere to the highest possible standards on the promotion of universal human rights.

It is not too late for Humanity Matters to acknowledge the problem with this study, in a way that lets us all focus on their other, valuable findings. We strongly recommend that Humanity Matters and the report’s funders consider an addendum that sequesters their damaging “political” category. Yes, Jews in Aotearoa are increasingly uncomfortable that Israel’s actions are rejected when they disregard international law and human rights. And, yes, Jews in Aotearoa live with the looming threat of real antisemitism, which is anti-Jewish racism. Once contextualised, the first statement need not obscure the second. The idea that this report might be used as an educational resource in schools, whilst including the category of “political antisemitism”, is deeply disturbing.

Alternative Jewish Voices writes regularly about antisemitism, and both organisations care deeply about the intent of this study. We want everyone who opposes the far Right to understand antisemitism as a core element of that dangerous world view, and to read the experience of their Jewish neighbours recorded in this study. Let that experience start conversations and shape action.

For an alternative perspective on antisemitism and Palestinian rights see our video interview with Michael Lynk, former UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Palestine.

            Michael Lynk: On antisemitism and the movement for Palestinian rights.

Neil Ballantyne (on behalf of Justice for Palestine) and Marilyn Garson (on behalf of Alternative Jewish Voices)        


[1] See the Human Rights Act s(28) s(21) s(61). See also https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/2915/7653/6167/Korero_Whakamauahara-_Hate_Speech_FINAL_13.12.2019.pdf page 20. To understand the difference between Zionism and Judaism, and the implications of the IHRA Working Definition, see https://ajv.org.nz/2022/07/18/no-ihra-for-aotearoa-this-does-not-define-us/

The entropy of the IHRA: the Holocaust, Palestine and that definition

Zentropy image: SciTech Daily

We are witnessing an unintended consequence of the IHRA’s political definition of antisemitism. Intending to silence Israel’s critics, the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) has instead made them stakeholders in an uncomfortable set of issues.

Jewish religious and academic scholars disagree whether the Holocaust belongs within or beyond our usual historical categories. This far-reaching question pre-dates the IHRA. Marilyn Garson recalls studying it with post-Holocaust philosopher Emil Fackenheim nearly forty years ago at the University of Toronto.

Some people believe that the Holocaust is sui generis, in a category of its own. Some regard it as the culmination of a fixed, eternal antisemitism; a hatred unlike other racial hatreds. Those beliefs may be deeply held.

Problems arise when that exceptionalism extends to Israel. Jacqueline Rose has described the ‘disgrace’ of making the Holocaust’s ‘barely assimilable trauma’ into the ‘premise’ of Israel’s state programme.[1]

The Holocaust cannot justify or redeem Israel’s ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people. If we let that happen in the name of one people’s cataclysm, we become complicit in a second national cataclysm.

The IHRA’s programme seeks to establish a separate Holocaust curriculum and antisemitism regime—one best understood by visiting Israel. That sealed historical narrative would be protected by the IHRA’s own definition of ‘antisemitism’.

While we, AJV, oppose the IHRA’s exceptional approach to the Holocaust and racism, we respect other views—until they deploy the Holocaust to serve Zionist politics. Then we respect them less.

  • A separate Holocaust education

The Holocaust was unique: a modern, industrialised, European genocide.

The category of genocide assumed that this very worst crime would always be predicated on the existence of an Other to target, dehumanise, blame, dispossess and murder. In Cambodia in the 1970s, there was no Other. The Khmer Rouge manufactured an Other and conducted a genocide so familial that scholars eventually called it auto-genocide. Cambodia’s genocide was unique.

Genocide is a category, not a carbon copy. It does not diminish the Holocaust or the Cambodian or other genocides to place them in a category. On the contrary, it holds them within relevant human history and requires us to confront our human choice and responsibility. It contextualises the programme and the crimes of genocide among other categories of crimes against nations: crimes of war, slavery, apartheid, colonisation. In our view, contextualising the Holocaust is more helpful than sequestering it.

  • A separate antisemitism

We believe that the study of the Holocaust is not enough to shape a compelling and well-grounded response to the antisemitism we see around us today. The Holocaust cannot do that job alone.

The antisemitism of the Holocaust was Christian and European. 21st century antisemitism is better understood within the set of contemporary hatreds. Antisemitism is a core component of the fascist, far Right and White supremacist world view. Every hatred in that toxic bundle has its own history but at the moment, hatreds travel in packs. Antisemitism must not be a separate Jewish issue.

We want to equip Jewish children to confront antisemitism. A vital strand of their equipment will be the mutual respect and reciprocal obligations they acquire by embracing human equality. When that Jewish child stands up, we want her to know that the Maori tamaiti on her right, and the Muslim child on her left will be right there with her, as she is for them.

That requires more than the study of history. Antiracist education must be a current event, our shared mahi.

  • Exceptional Israel as a response

Western guilt aided the UN votes to partition Palestine, establish Israel, and turn a blind eye to international law—all at the expense of the Palestinian nation. Palestinians bore no responsibility for the Holocaust, nor did they agree to hand over their land as compensation for European crimes.

The Holocaust was a factor in Israel’s establishment, but Israel is far more than a response. It is, according to the world’s leading human rights voices, an apartheid state.

As an example of our national commitment to Holocaust education, New Zealand’s IHRA application describes the Holocaust Centre’s biannual junkets for teachers to study the Holocaust in Israel. The Holocaust did not happen in Israel.

Let the Holocaust Centre bring teachers to Europe to learn about the Holocaust where it happened. Let them learn how communities adopt racist, genocidal ideology and descend into the lowest kind of madness. That is a European lesson.

To bring New Zealanders to Israel (and not, of course, to any place of Palestinian history or present-day reality) is to feed them a revisionist history and make them complicit in an apartheid present. It is the cruelest irony to enlist the Holocaust in the erasure of another nation.

  • That definition

The IHRA protects Israel’s exceptional license with the dreaded IHRA definition of antisemitism, which calls anti-Zionist protest and Palestinian identity ‘antisemitic’.

Nonsense. What is antisemitism? Antisemitism is the hatred of Jews or Jewishness. Anti-Zionism which upholds the absolute equality and rights of Palestinians, is not about the religion of the occupier. Palestinians would resist if their occupiers were Martian, and those who love human equality would stand beside them. The IHRA definition calls such protest ‘antisemitic’ in order to silence Israel’s critics—Palestinians and their allies, advocates of human rights, and non-Zionist Jews.

However, we are witnessing an unintended effect of the IHRA definition.

The IHRA definition makes the Holocaust do the ideological work of defending Israel by enabling ‘IHRA-style-antisemitism’ charges. The IHRA organisation uses its name to brand ‘antisemitism’ with the moral authority of the word ‘Holocaust’. Now, by accusing many more people of ‘IHRA antisemitism’, the definition has involved them in the whole set of IHRA issues.

Suddenly, people who have no inherent interest in Holocaust education and no special knowledge of antisemitism do have a stake in policies which support the IHRA definition. The IHRA definition intended to silence Israel’s critics. Instead, by targeting them and lumping them together with real antisemites, the IHRA has made them all into stakeholders.

Much of the early response to the IHRA initiative has been the avoidable, unpleasant result of the IHRA’s choice to advance such a failed definition as its calling card.

We wish it had not happened without consultation. The IHRA politicises everything it touches. Our observer status has dragged us all into a new, already very uncomfortable phase.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa


[1] See Jacqueline Rose, Holocaust Premises: Political Implications of the Traumatic Frame in The Jacqueline Rose Reader, pg 332-340.

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