A New Voice for Australian Jews


The Jewish establishment claims to speak for all Jews and have Israel’s best interests at heart. In fact, the opposite is true.

Take the late February example of Israeli military using Palestinian human shields during a raid in Nablus, despite t he practice being outlawed by the Israeli High Court. Human rights groups in Israel and internationally condemned the action, but the Jewish community remained mute.

Did they agree? Is their loathing for Palestinians so deep that they can’t see the long-term ramifications? This moral degradation is a daily occurrence in the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine, and yet most Jews remain silent complicit in the crimes.

But the times are a’ changing.

I’m a founding member of Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV), a loose coalition of Jews who are articulating an alternative perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict and challenging the Zionist establishment to justify their support for the Jewish State’s intransigence. We are true friends of Israel and the Palestinians and believe in the national aspirations of both peoples.

Our ‘Statement of Principles’ reads, in part:

We are committed to ensuring a just peace that recognises the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians with a solution that protects the human rights of all.

We condemn violence by all parties, whether State-sanctioned or not. We believe that Israel’s right to exist must be recognised and that Palestinians’ right to a homeland must also be acknowledged.

As Australians we are privileged to live in a democratic State that embodies the principles of tolerance and free speech. We feel there is an urgent need to hear alternative voices that should not be silenced by being labelled disloyal or ‘self-hating.’

Uncritical allegiance to Israeli Government policy does not necessarily serve Israel’s best interests. Our concern for justice and peace in the Middle East is a legitimate opinion and should be met by reasoned argument rather than vilification and intimidation. In particular, we are concerned that the Jewish establishment does not represent the full range of Jewish opinion. Contrary to widespread concerns, anti-Semitism is not fuelled by Jews who publicly disagree with actions of the Jewish State.

Jews understand what it is to suffer racism and victimisation and therefore we are not only concerned about anti-Semitism but also the demonisation of all other minorities.

The response has been extraordinary. The mainstream press has welcomed the debate, thankful that Jews are finally willing to speak publicly and condemn the indefensible. The Jewish establishment, on the other hand, has mostly attacked the petition, its signatories, our motives and my choice of breakfast cereal (muesli, for the record).

Despite claiming to welcome debate, the Jewish community has proven yet again that its representatives and self-appointed yes-men will simply not tolerate dissent. Thankfully, many Jews are now willing to shun these dinosaurs and embrace change. The main Jewish bodies do not represent the majority of Jews these groups ignore the multiplicity of opinions on Israel and a host of other issues.

Thanks to emo

The IAJV has invited Jews to be co-signatories to our Statement of Principles. Since its launch in February, over 440 Jews from a wide variety of backgrounds and attitudes have signed, including Professor Peter Singer, Monash University Dean of Law Arie Freiberg, Melbourne University Publishing CEO Louise Adler, academic Eva Cox, and Melbourne barrister Robert Richter QC. We probably wouldn’t agree on every detail relating to the Middle East, but we do claim that rational debate in Australia is near impossible when Jewish spokesmen (and it is always men, isn’t it?) allege anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, or self-loathing against critics of Israel.

Then there was the sad sight of self-appointed leftist academic Philip Mendes now warmly embraced by the Jewish establishment drafting a counter petition defending the beleaguered Jewish community and proudly stating a commitment to a two-State solution and a host of other platitudes. Unfortunately, the wider community generally doesn’t believe Mendes and his fellow travellers anymore. By not speaking out strongly against Israel’s expanding settlement, they are allowing the Jewish State to literally get away with murder.

A recent BBC poll found that a majority of the world’s population, including in Australia, felt Israel had a ‘negative’ role in the world. Must be rabid anti-Semitism! Perish the thought that growing antipathy towards Israel may have something to do with its occupation of Palestinian land and its indiscriminate violence against Palestinians.

Better PR is not the answer to this problem.

Another intriguing response to the IAJV petition has been the objection to our mention of ‘State-sanctioned violence’ a clear reference to Israel (though we equally condemn Palestinian violence). For many Jews and this has been shown in various letters in the Australian Jewish News and elsewhere Israeli violence is not ‘violence,’ merely self-defence. This Orwellian conceit gives comfort to those who choose to ignore the inhumanity of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and focus on Israel’s supposed victimhood.

Being a Jew means different things to different people. Critics of IAJV have revealed their parochialism by condemning Jews who, previously, have never spoken out as Jews. Perhaps they should wonder why. In the UK, US and much of Europe, Jews are starting to shun decades-old Jewish groups that have simply rubber-stamped Israeli policy and refused to allow true debate across a wider spectrum.

Of greater concern to global citizens should be the ever-tightening embrace between the US Zionist lobby and Christian fundamentalists. Supporting the Iraq War, advocating military action against Iran and isolating the Palestinians is the official public position of the Jewish establishment in the Western world despite the fact that, according to a recent poll, a majority of US Jews are against such actions (more than any other religious group in the US).

The Jewish community needs to ask itself who is speaking up for its needs and concerns. The current leadership is simply advocating a take-no-prisoners approach that, as the BBC poll proves, is leading to Israel’s rapid isolation. Blind US support will not last forever.

IAJV shows the wider community that the ‘official’ Jewish bodies do not represent many Jews, that we have no desire to join them and want alternative ways to be heard. We plan to hold public forums in the coming months and establish IAJV as a permanent fixture in the public arena. We’re only just warming up.

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.