Questioning Israel


In 2002, Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, wrote that talking about the Israel/Palestine conflict guaranteed sleepless nights:

Reporters who criticise Israel are to blame for inciting anti-Semites to burn synagogues. Thus it is not Israel’s brutality and occupation that provokes the sick and cruel people who attack Jewish institutions, synagogues and cemeteries. We journalists are to blame … If we want a quiet life, we will just have to toe the line, stop criticising Israel and America. Or just stop writing altogether.



Had he written that today, he could have added that Israel, through its recent bombardment of Lebanon and Gaza, has sown the seeds of future anti-Semitism and terrorism against its civilians. Cause and effect. To suggest otherwise defies logic. Just like the Iraq war and its associated outrages have caused unprecedented levels of anti-American sentiment around the world, Israel is not immune from such eventualities.

When I spent time with Fisk in Beirut last March one day before the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri he remembered that Palestinian intellectual Edward Said had told him once that, ‘ the last taboo in America is the American-Israeli relationship. You can discuss Blacks, gays, lesbianism, anything you want in America, but not that.’

The situation is little better in Australia. We deserve to know why a tiny nation on the other side of the world, that has maintained an illegal occupation over the Palestinians for nearly 40 years, is given complete and total bi-partisan support by our two main political Parties. I believe the answers to this question are rooted in geopolitical realities, Zionist lobby pressure and self-interest. And a substantial dose of old-fashioned Islamophobia.

As a Jew, I believe in a secular Israel and Palestine. I don’t believe in the concept of a Jewish State, but neither do I support an Islamic or Christian State. In Israel and the Occupied Territories, to not be Jewish ensures discrimination through legal, political and social means.

As a human being first and a Jew second, I can’t fully support an alleged democracy that occupies another’s land, builds roads specifically for Jewish settlers, erects roadblocks that prevent pregnant Palestinian women giving birth in local hospitals, allows settlers to destroy Palestinian olive groves without sanction and imposes apartheid-like restrictions on movement between towns and villages. I’ve seen much of this with my own eyes.

We’re often told that this conflict is too complex to understand, intractable and filled with age-old rivalries. This is not true.

The biggest single issue (there are others, of course) preventing a comprehensive and just settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute is the Western public’s ignorance of the facts on the ground. What is being funded in our name?

This may sound overly optimistic, but I do truly believe that global public opinion, as usual, is far savvier than our political leaders. Images streaming out of Lebanon in the last weeks mass civilian casualties and the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure have caused a sea change in global opinions towards Israel, while support for HAMAS and Hezbollah in the Arab world has soared. Israel, once again, has mistaken military strength for moral legitimacy.

The Arab and Muslim world has spent a century being raped and pillaged for our pleasure. Now they’re fighting back and we should not be surprised.

Since I started writing extensively on this subject in the last three years, I’ve been amazed by the amount of vitriol thrown in my direction. Last week I received the following email:

You might be getting the love and attention from the media now, Antony, but in 5 years time when the world declares war on Jews, and not just Israel as it is now … you’ll see where everyone’s loyalties (or shall I say prejudices) lie … you’ll be going to the concentration camps just like the rest of us … except when you’re gassed to death, you won’t be going to heaven, you’ll be going straight to hell. So enjoy the limelight now. From a fellow Jew

Thanks to Emo.

Generally, however, I’ve been overwhelmed by the hundreds of messages I’ve received from Jews and non-Jews in Australia and overseas who feel their voices are not being heard on this most important subject. They believe the current path in the Middle East is disastrous and they want to discuss the role militant Zionism has played in it. They also want to know why Arab, Palestinian and moderate Jewish voices are so rarely heard in our mainstream media.

Powerlessness is being transformed into activism, public discussion and greater self-awareness. The mainstream media ignores this at their peril.

One of the most moving emails I received came from a NSW politician:

I am from a Melbourne Jewish family. I have consumed your writing in the media and the Lateline transcript: congratulations on your courage, insight and clarity. And congratulations on opening up a debate within the Australian Jewish community that is 20 years overdue … You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from people like myself who have wrestled for a lifetime with the issue within family and community. And from people who are not Jewish and are deeply offended by the accusation of anti-Semitism for the crime of caring for what happens to the Palestinians.

In the end you are performing a service to the State of Israel, to its citizens and to Jews everywhere. For too long, the Diaspora has provided a moral insulation to Israel, shielding it from the international condemnation that any other nation would receive if it acted towards its neighbours and indigenous people as Israel has. No nation can operate in a moral vacuum without the ethical compass of international opinion, and not expect to hit the rocks.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. In fact, I pose more questions than I know how to answer. Jews have a long and noble history of dissent, and no subject especially the Zionist State should be beyond criticism.

The Australian Jewish community needs to ask itself some questions. Does it want to be represented in the public sphere by the extreme Zionist lobby group Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) a group that is unelected and therefore does not represent the Jewish community in Australia, and a group whose policies, I believe, can only have one outcome: perpetual war against the Arab world? I know there are many Jews who despise AIJAC’s bullying tactics but are afraid to speak out. It is now time for them to do so.

A quiet revolution is in order.

The peace movement intends to win, and it’s only a matter of time before we do.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.