Silence is Complicity


The recent war between Israel and Hezbollah revealed deep-seated denial within the Australian Jewish community. The Australian Jewish News editorialised on 17 August:

One can take some comfort in the virtual unanimity that the Australian Jewish community has displayed for Israel’s case throughout this conflict: supporting the Jewish State both financially and morally, through thick and thin recognising the Iranian-Hezbollah threat for the evil that it is, enduring often prejudiced media coverage and periodic outbreaks of anti-Semitism and maintaining a solid Jewish front in times of great peril.



It was a revealing slice of parochialism. The message was clear: any deviation from the official line ¾ namely Israel’s right to indiscriminately bomb southern Lebanon ¾ was deemed inappropriate, and blind acceptance was a virtue to be celebrated. Is the Jewish community truly so insecure that it can’t handle robust criticism of the Jewish State?

Monash University academic and self-proclaimed Left-winger Philip Mendes recently told the Jewish News that, ‘my own view is that all Jews should engage in unconditional solidarity with the State of Israel and its people.’ He went on: ‘But this is not the same as supporting particular Israeli policies or governments. I would like to see a more robust Jewish debate about Israel and the moral and political legitimacy of some of its actions.’

This inherent contradiction neatly encapsulates the modern Zionist condition.

On the one hand, Zionists like Mendes tell Jews and the wider community that they believe in critiquing the Jewish State but there are boundaries for doing so. Being an anti-Zionist   that is, not believing in a State that deliberately discriminates against non-Jews, like Israel is deemed unacceptable and ‘unbalanced.’ Being pro-Israel is apparently ‘balanced,’while being pro-Palestinian is ‘biased.’ As an anti-Zionist Jew, I find this position intellectually untenable. After all, one can be equally pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.

On the other hand, Zionists unquestioningly offer solidarity to Israel and its actions. The nearly 40-year Israeli occupation of Palestinian land continues and yet Jewish commentators barely condemn it.

There are notable exceptions. Leading Israeli commentator Gideon Levy recently wrote:

In large parts of Gaza nowadays, there is no electricity. Israel bombed the only power station in Gaza, and more than half the electricity supply will be cut off for at least another year. There’s hardly any water. Since there is no electricity, supplying homes with water is nearly impossible. Gaza is filthier and smellier than ever. Because of the embargo Israel and the world have imposed on the elected authority, no salaries are being paid and the street cleaners have been on strike for the past few weeks. Piles of garbage and obnoxious clouds of stink strangle the coastal strip, turning it into Calcutta.

And yet the established Jewish community refuses to discuss the corruption of Israel’s soul due to the occupation. The Jewish Left, to which Mendes allegedly belongs, has failed miserably in even getting its position on the public agenda. Where are the voices that demand an end to the occupation, with no ifs or buts? They’ve had years to work on their strategy and yet the only mainstream Jewish voices in the wider community are hardline Zionists. Silence is complicity.

The UK Independent recently featured the following story on its front page:

Gaza is dying. The Israeli siege of the Palestinian enclaves is so tight that its people are on the edge of starvation. Here on the shores of the Mediterranean a great tragedy is taking place that is being ignored because the world’s attention has been diverted by wars in Lebanon and Iraq.

A whole society is being destroyed. There are 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned in the most heavily populated area in the world. Israel has stopped all trade. It has even forbidden fisherman to go far from the shore so they wade into the surf to try vainly to catch fish with hand-thrown nets.

Many people are being killed by Israeli incursions that occur every day by land and air. A total of 262 people have been killed and 1200 wounded, of whom 60 had arms or legs amputated, since 25 June, says Dr Juma al-Saqa, the director of the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which is fast running out of medicine. Of these, 64 were children and 26 women. The bloody conflict in Gaza has so far received only a fraction of the attention by the international media to the war in Lebanon.

Thanks to Bill Leak

Israel ‘s behaviour in the West Bank and Gaza are the tactics of a rogue State. Furthermore, being a non-Jew in Israel proper or the Occupied Territories guarantees discrimination. Not unlike other religious States, Israel’s racism is deemed acceptable because Jews are the main beneficiaries.

And yet even the brutal facts of the occupation are not enough for the Jewish establishment to agitate for Israel to behave like a respectable nation.

There is a sickness within Diaspora Jewish communities. Jewish journalist for The Age David Bernstein told me that the Melbourne Jewish community, the largest in the country, are still living under the shadow of the Holocaust. ‘They are very neurotic and should be treated with sympathy,’ he said. He went on: ‘When you actually engage in debate, they’re so paranoid and insecure about Israel and the state of Jews, any media criticism is seen as an attack on their own essence and as displaying anti-Semitism.’

During the recent Melbourne Writers Festival, leading Jewish barrister Robert Richter QC urged Diaspora Jews to ‘take a stand.’ ‘ It’s not good enough that they have a private audience with the Israeli leader. They ought to be saying some pretty loud things and not just murmuring approval,’ he said.

During the recent war in Lebanon, evidence has now emerged that suggests Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted Lebanese civilians. Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in early September, Meron Rapoport featured testimony from many Israeli reservists who expressed alarm at the number of shells and cluster bombs fired by Israel on civilian populations. It was confirmed last week by an Israeli Defense Force commander that Israel fired more than a million cluster bombs in Israel and used phosphorous shells, which are forbidden under international law.

Furthermore, according to a report by the International Federation of Human Rights, 307 Palestinians were killed by the IDF in the Gaza Strip since the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit by Palestinian gunmen on 25 June. Eighty per cent of the casualties were civilians with no link to terror activity. < /p>

Such behaviour is as unacceptable as Hezbollah firing rockets on northern Israel, and yet the Jewish community establishment remains mute, indeed complicit, in such barbarity. And they wonder why much of world wants to isolate Israel.

It’s time for Jews to stop blaming everybody else for Israeli failures. Take some responsibility for the parlous state of Israel in the international community. For all of us who want a safer Middle East, today’s Israel is the problem, not the cure.

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.