Independent Jewish Voices


The Israeli occupation of Palestine reaches an inauspicious anniversary this year. By the end of June, it will be 40 years since the Jewish State occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. In that period, any goodwill that may have existed toward Israel in its relationship with the Arab world has largely dried up. Its brutal occupation of Palestinian land threatens to destroy the State from within and yet, despite the moral decay necessary to perpetuate the Zionist illusion, few Jews dare to speak out in protest.


A reader of the Australian Jewish News, the largest Jewish publication in Australia, is rarely forced to read reports on the countless Israeli obstacles for Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza. Every measure is justified as a ‘security’ precaution but is, in fact, designed to subjugate the occupied (for a full picture of the situation on the ground, see Haaretz journalist Amira Hass’s recent report).

After years of constant public campaigning against Israel’s delinquent behaviour, the Jewish State’s international image has recently taken a battering and now the Israeli Government’s obsessive approval of the Bush Administration’s manoeuvres is destined to leave Israel exposed like never before.

The latest Likudnik, neo-con fantasy is a military strike against Iran in the hope that violence in Iraq would cease and Israel’s regional supremacy would remain paramount (in fact, a new Israeli report indicates that Iran may chose to simply declare ‘nuclear ambiguity’, not unlike the Jewish State itself). It is, of course, delusion on a grand scale. The quagmire in Iraq shows that we cannot rely on the US media or Democrats to stop the descent into barbarism, so who is left?

The deterioration of Israel’s image has led to Zionist panic across the Western world. The American Jewish Committee has released an essay that specifically targets liberal Jews. In an introduction to the essay, the Executive Director of the Committee, wrote, ‘perhaps the most surprising and distressing feature of this new trend is the very public participation of some Jews in the verbal onslaught against Zionism and the Jewish State.’ Anyone who opposes Israel’s basic right to exist, he continued, ‘whether Jew or Gentile, must be confronted.’

In this worldview, robust criticism of Israel’s illegal occupation is unacceptable and likely to cause anti-Semitism. The arguments are not known for their sophistication.

Australian Jews are notoriously reluctant to express their dissent in public, but British Jews are breaking the mould. The recently launched Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) network gathers many prominent Jews including filmmaker Mike Leigh, historian Eric Hobsbawn and Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter under the banner of opposing the blind pro-Israeli bias of the country’s existing Jewish organisations. More than 100 Jews have already signed a declaration that reads in part:

We are a group of Jews in Britain from diverse backgrounds, occupations and affiliations who have in common a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights. We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole. We further believe that individuals and groups within all communities should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty.

We have therefore resolved to promote the expression of alternative Jewish voices, particularly in respect of the grave situation in the Middle East, which threatens the future of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as the stability of the whole region.

Thanks to Scratch

Responses to the group are already fierce  although the key challenge to the Zionist establishment is the claim that no one body or individual speaks for all of us on Israel. One of the leading signatories of the proposal, Dr Brian Klug, explains:

No one has the authority to speak for the Jewish people. Yet during Israel’s war with Lebanon last summer, Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, told an American audience: ‘I believe that this is a war that is fought by all the Jews.’ His belief is not based on evidence: it is an article of faith, a corollary of the doctrine that Israel represents Jewry as a whole in Britain included.

This is a fallacy; and, moreover, a dangerous one, since it tars all Jews with the same brush. Yet this misconception is reinforced here by those who, claiming to speak for British Jews collectively or allowing that impression to go unchallenged, only ever reflect one position on the Middle East. On its own account, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (which calls itself ‘the voice of British Jewry’) devotes much of the time and resources of its international division to ‘the defence of Israel.’ When a ‘solidarity rally’ was held in London last July in the midst of the conflict with Lebanon, it was the Board that organised it.

All of which suggests that British Jewry, speaking with one voice, stands solidly behind the Israeli Government and its military operations.

There is no question that the Jewish authorities are petrified of this new front against its dominance. Their opposition, however, is rooted in an understanding of Zionism that remains mired in pre-Enlightenment thinking. For the Palestinians, the Israeli occupation has created countless generations who know only the brutal Israeli Defence Forces. Children have lost their will to live.  

Finally, after years of being threatened, intimidated and shamed by fellow Jews, those like me, who care deeply about a peaceful Middle East, are speaking out and having an effect. My own modest ambitions are to start a movement similar to the IJV in Australia to inform the general public about a rogue State that our Government uncritically accepts and supports.

Not unlike the decades-long struggle against apartheid South Africa, our goal is achievable.

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