6 Nov 2013

Is It Anti-Semitic To Protest Injustice?

By Peter Slezak

Even its critics must acknowledge that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a peaceful protest against Israel's serious violations of human rights and international law, writes Peter Slezak

After a recent public speech, I received an email from someone I don’t know named Bloom, who said that I should have perished in the Holocaust with the rest of my family.

Ironically, the insult was prompted by my support of an academic colleague, Professor Jake Lynch, who has been charged in Federal Court with racial discrimination against Jews, but who is, in fact, a distinguished defender of human rights, justice and international law. Acting in accordance with the growing movement for institutional Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), Lynch chose not to collaborate with an Israeli academic from a university deeply complicit in the brutal 46-year occupation of Palestine.

Non-Jewish critics of Israel are accused of anti-semitism for supporting causes such as BDS, while Jewish critics regularly receive vile denunciations and even death threats from other Jews. Most common is the label "self-hating Jew" – a pseudo psychological diagnosis of a mental disorder for which the only criterion is criticism of Israel.

Support for the BDS movement is not anti-semitic. Even its critics must acknowledge that BDS is based on the call from Palestinian civil society to protest Israel’s serious violations of human rights and international law.

Palestinians have long been condemned for violent resistance to the Israeli occupation, so the emergence of peaceful protest through BDS should be welcomed. Instead, it is denounced and slandered as racist. But BDS is a rights-based movement which is against racism in all forms, notably and explicitly against anti-semitism.

Despite their own rhetoric, most Jews understand that BDS is a political and moral challenge to Israel and its supporters and not a form of anti-semitism. While it is often characterised as "deligitimising" Israel (whatever that means), it is actually deligitimising violations of human rights and international law by Israel: the 600,000 settlers on the West Bank are all in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The separation wall cuts off about 10 per cent of the West Bank and has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Sixty per cent of the West Bank designated Area C is under full Israeli control where Palestinians in villages such as Susiya are evicted from their tents, and their water cisterns and solar panels are destroyed. There have been 28,000 homes of innocent people demolished since 1967. None of this can be explained on the grounds of security or the defence of Israel.

The West Bank is criss-crossed by Israeli-only roads and hundreds of check points. Unarmed protesters are regularly shot in their own villages such as Bil'in, Nil'in and Nabi Saleh. Then there is the tragedy of Gaza, in which 1.5 million people suffer the collective punishment of an ongoing siege and the effects of large-scale military assault. Since their expulsion in 1948, Palestinian refugees are denied their Right of Return in international law, while Jews assert their own spurious “Law of Return” which entitles an Australian or American with no connection to the land to dispossess a Palestinian. This is what BDS is about.

It is often suggested that BDS is somehow depriving Israelis of their rights and freedoms. This attempt to reverse the moral criticism is completely ill-conceived. BDS does not prevent anyone from doing anything, but rather asks people to exercise their discretion in where they invest their money and with whom they choose to collaborate.

Plainly, the issue is not racial discrimination. The legal action against Lynch is being pursued by an Israeli group Shurat HaDin, directed by the Israeli government and Mossad. This fits the definition of foreign interference in Australian political affairs according to the ASIO Act of 1979. Such "lawfare" is being pursued around the world to harass peace activists and to inhibit the growing, non-violent protest movement modelled on sanctions against South African apartheid.

The legal case on behalf of a foreign state serves only to bring into relief the logical absurdity and cynicism of the slur of anti-semitism against critics of Israel. Criticising government policies of Italy is not anti-Catholic. It is a cynical tactic to insist that Israel is a Jewish state acting on behalf of all Jews and also to complain that criticism of the state is anti-semitic.

In the wake of the Holocaust, exploiting a widespread sensitivity to this charge in order to stifle political criticism is deplorable. It is also counter-productive. Pleading victimhood has become somewhat difficult when Israel is fourth most powerful military regime in the world, armed, funded and supported by the world’s only superpower.

Moreover, to label critics of Israel as anti-semitic is to dishonour the memory of Holocaust victims by cheapening the term to include decent people who stand for universal human rights and justice. The vile abuse of critics of Israel is less surprising when it gets tacit licence from community and political leaders.

Recently, prominent figures in the Jewish community have said publicly that BDS is a gift to them as a weapon with which to beat critics of Israel. Thus, in a twisted irony the campaign for Palestinian justice and human rights has been compared with the 1930s Nazi program "Kauft nicht bei Juden" – “Don’t buy from Jews”. Peace activists are slandered with this obscene comparison despite the fact that BDS is directed against many non-Jewish, non-Israeli companies such as Veolia, 4GS and Caterpillar who are profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

Furthermore, the over-reaction to BDS against Israel is hypocritical on the part of its detractors. BDS is a familiar tactic of peaceful protest widely approved even by Israel in relation to other states such as Iraq or Iran. The issue facing us is not BDS but the question of what kind of society we wish to have.

The litmus test of an enlightened society that upholds the principles of free speech and peaceful protest is whether we permit dissent for the views we detest. It takes no decency to defend the views we share. Even Stalin would uphold free speech for views he agreed with. Accordingly, even critics of BDS should defend Lynch against the charges by Shurat HaDin.

In his classic work "On Liberty" of 1859, John Stuart Mill argued we must protect freedom of expression particularly for views that are contrary to the moral, religious and patriotic sentiments of our time. No matter how pernicious they are deemed and no matter how persuaded one might be of “the immorality and impiety of an opinion,” it is in just such cases that censorship is most fatal for “these are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes, which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity.”

Relevant to the lawsuit against Lynch, Mill notes it is among such cases “that we find the instances memorable in history, when the arm of the law has been employed to root out the best men and the noblest doctrines.”

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Phil S
Posted Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 11:49

Probably not overtly anti-Semitic, but it certainly is fashionable among certain chattering classes. Strange, because Israel is the only parliamentary democracy of any standing or longevity in the Middle East. We don't see and hear the same people waxing voluble about violation of human rights in Syria, in Iran, in Lebanon, in Saudi Arabia.

It is extremely fashionable to be anti-Israel.

John Salisbury
Posted Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 17:04

To Phil S. Thanks. I'll never criticise Israel again.


Posted Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 19:36

Isn't Israel just another 'colonial' state defending it right to occupy and exploit the land of weaker others and to supress their human rights and culture with whatever means it can?

The Palestinians continue to suffer after 60 years just as Australia's Aboriginal peoples continue to suffer after 200. It is not yet fashionable to be anti-Australian. Why?

Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 12:15

@ phil

Israel is the only parliamentary democracy?


1- Well it does not feel much like a democracy for the majority Palestinian population Phil and

2- we all remember how the apologists for apartheid South Africa claimed to be part of a "Parliamentary Democracy" as well.


Another thing Phil, please tell us, where were all the Israeli Law firms back in the anti-apartheid era? None of them applied to court to stop Australian sanctions of Apartheid, nor to stop Australian anti-apartheid efforts to disengage from individual South African sportsmen, academics etc in support of our own Australian anti apartheid boycotts.


Phil, do you think:-


1- if the Apartheid South African state rebranded itself as "The Jewish State" would their apartheid policies have been legitimised? and 

2- if "Yes" would "The Jewish State" of South Africa be entitled to accuse every anti apartheid movement of anti-semitism? and

3- would they be entitled to the protection of the Australian Courts to pursue their racist policies unchallenged?

Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 13:42

@ Phil S  Democracy or not,  Israel is the Occupying Power over non-Israeli territories and as the Occupying Power in breach of the laws of occupation.  http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/b86613e7d92097880525672e007227a7/6de6da8a650b4c3b852560df00663826?OpenDocument

No Arab State is in breach of any UNSC resolutions.

Any state in breach of its legal obligations to International Law,  the UN Charter and relevant resolutions is rightfully deserving of harsh criticism.


BTW there's no mention of Israel being a democracy in the Declaration of statehood.  There is mention of a constitution.  Israel has never had a legally elected Government, under the promised and obligatory constitution

Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 13:50


"The Palestinians continue to suffer after 60 years just as Australia's Aboriginal peoples continue to suffer after 200. It is not yet fashionable to be anti-Australian. Why?"

Very breifly ... Australia was colonized by the British and now Australia is slowly giving back Aboriginal rights to their land.  They're in Australia, citizens of Australia.  Australia in not acting illegally in non-Australian territory.

Israel is acting illegally in non-Israeli territory in breach of the laws of occupation, UNSC resolutions, Customary International Law, International Law, the UN Charter and relevant resolutions.  Israel continues today to illegally acquire non-Israeli territory.  Palestinians in non-Israeli territory are not Israeli citizens.


This user is a New Matilda supporter. Tokujiro
Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 15:11

I take my lead from Antony LOEWENSTEIN and others out of Israel itself who speak with insider knowledge of the injustices and fascist-like like political situation there. If it's good enough for these people to highlight what is wrong - and if that then accords with my own wide reading and understanding of racist injustice around the world/in this land, too - then I don't see why I should remain silent. The just announced finding of the murder of Yasser ARAFAT raises many questions which will not be quelled by shouting anti-Semite at those wanting to know who and why and exactly how - (not just from his wife and family).

Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 18:04

Excellent article by Professor Peter Slezak. The Israeli-funded harassment  of Jewish Australian academic Professor Jake Lynch is outrageous and I have signed the petition in support of him and his associates. The answer to the question is an emphatic "No!"

Israel is a race-based  Apartheid state worse than Apartheid South Africa  - it is certainly NOT a democracy.  Of 12 million Palestinians about 50%  are forbidden to even step foot in their own country, 36% are Occupied Palestinians deprived of all human rights, and only 14%  (Palestinian Israelis) are permitted to vote for the government ruling all fof the former Mandated Palestine.

For anti-racist Jews and indeed all anti-racist humanitarians the core moral messages from the Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million dead, 1 in 6 dying from deprivation) and from the more general WW2 European Holocaust (30 million Slav, Jewish and Gypsy dead) are “zero tolerance for racism”, “never again to anyone”, “bear witness” and “zero tolerance for lying”. However these sacred injunctions are grossly violated by the anti-Arab anti-Semitic racist Zionists running Apartheid Israel and their Western backers involved in the Zionsit-backed US War on Muslims (12 milion dead from violence or war-impoosed deprivation sjnce 1990; see "Muslim Holocaust Muslim Genocide": https://sites.google.com/site/muslimholocaustmuslimgenocide/  ).

The racist Zionists are genocidal, anti-Arab anti-Semtiic  racists who support the ongoing Palestinisn Genocide (2 million palestinan dreaths sicne 1936 from violence, 0.1 million, or from imposed deprivation, 1.9 million) (see "Palestinian Genocide": https://sites.google.com/site/palestiniangenocide/  ). .

The racist Zionists and their supporters are also anti-Jewish anti-Semitic by falsely  defaming as "anti-Semites" decent anti-racist Jews who are morally obliged by "never again to anyone" to publicly object to hoirrendous Israeli human rights abuses.

Indeed the new anti-environment, climate criminal, effective climate change denialist, and extreme right wing Coalition Government of Australia has falsely defamed such anti-racist Jews as "anti-semites",  is threatening to ban  boycotts by environmentalists against companies involved in environmental devastation and has also foreshadowed cutting off any Federal funding for any academic who supports Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Apartheid Israel . Since some of the leading Australian proponents  of BDS are anti-racist  Jewish Australian scholars, this repugnant Coalition policy threatens  termination of the professional careers and university employment of anti-racist Jewish academics - an obscenity redolent of the Nazi era and pre-Nazi era in Europe  (see Gideon Polya, "New Pro-Zionist Australian Coalition Government Threatens Anti-racist Jewish Academics
Who Support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Against Apartheid Israel
" , Countercurrents, 23 October 2013: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya231013.htm ).

All decent people are obliged to speak out and take action in defence of  the Palestinians, anti-racist Jewish Australian academics and indeed in defence of all anti-racist scholars and environmental activists threatened by foreshadowed  Coalition anti-boycott laws.

Zionism is genocidal racism and the racist Zionists, their supporters (notably the Coalition and right-wing Labor in Australia) should be sidelined from public life as have already been Nazis, neo-Nazis, Apartheiders and the KKK.



John D
Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 20:37

I have been there (Palestine - the West Bank) in 2012 and 2013 and I came away agreeing with former Archbishop Desmond Tutu that the situation there is WORSE than apartheid South Africa (where I lived for several years in the 1970s).

I support Jake Lynch and his BDS academic campaign.  Many Israeli academics are wholly complicit in the suppression of the Palestinian people.  There are a few - like Norman Finkelstein, Ilan Pape, Shlomo Sand, Jeff Halper - and others who see the situation in Israel-Palestine for what it is - a racist regime controlled by extremist Zionist fundamentalists.

Are Shurat HaDin being investigated by the Australian federal authorities for anti-Australian practices?  As an alien body acting solely in the interests of a foreign power, they should be.

Shimona from th...
Posted Friday, November 8, 2013 - 06:19

"The West Bank is criss-crossed by Israeli-only roads".

Now that is, quite simply, a lie.

Posted Friday, November 8, 2013 - 22:53

There are no such thing as Israeli only roads. There are however Palestine only roads.

I was quite surprised to see that when I was there.

Posted Saturday, November 9, 2013 - 00:28

Peter Slezak calls himself a Jew and I don’t exactly know what kind of a Jew he is but to be a Jew you just have to have been born a Jew and after that you can behave in any way you like as long as you have fulfilled the religious rituals of circumcision and a bar-mitzvah if you happen to be a male like Slezak.

Richard Falk is also a Jew by birth and he utters the same kind of detractions about Israel as does Slezak. In the case of Falk I found it revealing to read his take on Jewish identity – refer http://richardfalk.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/on-jewish-identity/.

One thing he said there was, “I want to say, yes I am Jewish, and proud of it, but I am equally indigenous, Sufi, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian to the extent that I allow myself to participate in their rituals, partake of their sacred texts, and seek and avail myself of the opportunity to sit at the feet of their masters.”

When I read that I realized that Falk was not really Jewish in the sense that his Jewish identity really mattered to him, for him it was just part and parcel of his combinatorial identity as a human being.

Those of us who have tried to understand the behaviour of Falk, Lowenstein, Slezak & co as they jump so eagerly on to the anti-Israel bandwagon have come to realise that these guys are not self-hating Jews as such, because they actually revel in the opportunity to gain something from the fact that they can advertise their Jewishness.

I like the expression ‘self-denying’ Jew because it is more reflective of the fact that this coterie of alleged Jews actually refute most if not all of their Jewish character, adopting a position that is one of opposition to the very tenets of Judaism and Zionism that are the foundations of what it means to be Jewish.

That said I want to take umbrage at what Slezak has said in his defence of those who attack Israel with a vengeance and don’t want to be tainted with the brush of anti-semitism. Because there is and has been so much anti-semitism throughout history there is a certain blasé attitude to it and a position held that Jews all too often use anti-semitism as a basis for fighting back or for reinforcing Jewish victimhood. Unfortunately the abundance of anti-semitism even in this day and age in Australia is often overlooked, because like the possums that have invaded Melbourne’s gardens – it is too difficult to eradicate so we let it linger.

The champions of the Palestinian cause (the wunderkind of the international Left) climb on to their high horses and tout all these accusations about Israel being in breach of international law by occupying Judea and Samaria, Israel being an apartheid state, the settlements being illegal, Israel is not a democracy, claiming BDS is non-violent means to stop Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and BDS is really an issue of freedom of expression etc etc.  

 In particular much criticism of Israel smears it with odious comparisons to Nazism as a deliberate hateful tactic used to undermine Israel’s credibility. Moreover so much of the truly horrendous behaviour demonstrated by totalitarian regimes around the world is overlooked, which highlights the hypocritical nature of this movement that is so intently focussed on attacking Israel, while Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Malaysia, China etc continue on their merry oppressing way scot free.

They predicate their case on a set of statements and assumptions that have been  trumpeted so often in order to render them true by definition. Those ignorant of history and open to the persuasiveness of propaganda that asserts itself under the banner of human rights have deliberately and purposely twisted the narrative to denounce the religious, moral, cultural and historical foundations upon which Israel exists and is so deeply rooted. 

Israel is a country that decides today who are to be its citizens. More than twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs, these Arabs preferring to live in a Jewish state rather than any other Arab state. Slezak says that Jews assert their own spurious “Law of Return”, which entitles an Australian or American with no connection to the land to dispossess a Palestinian and he concludes that this is what BDS is about.  In just this single rational for BDS he admits to his racial preference that Israel, a country ostensibly established as a homeland for the Jewish people as an offshoot from the British Palestine Mandate and unanimously endorsed to be such by the League of Nations in 1922, does not have the right to follow its destiny as the proclaimed, central Jewish homeland. He wants to undo the past decisions of history and today’s political reality.

Sorry Slezak, if that is what your BDS is about then it is indubitably racist and I hope that Shurat HaDin is successful in proving that and that you and your anti-semitic mates end up scurrying for cover.

Posted Saturday, November 9, 2013 - 09:37

Phil S,


Here's a rather different view of "the only parliamentary democracy" in the ME.




John D
Posted Saturday, November 9, 2013 - 10:08

No it is not.  There are.  Have you even been there? 

Civilian military occupiers can drive wherever they like, unlike the Palestinians, who also have to be aware of "spot" road blocks being thrown up on roads, designed to restrict their mobility. 

One simple solution would be for all the illegal colonialist "settlers" to get out of the West Bank and return home to Brooklyn, The Bronx, New Jersey or wherever they originally came from.

Posted Saturday, November 9, 2013 - 12:01

In Slezak’s pot pourri of lies and innuendos note the following:

  1. Slezak has trouble understanding the expression “delegitimising  Israel”. He has not spelt the key word here correctly for starters, so maybe when he went to look it up in his anti-Israel phrasebook he couldn’t find it. Delegitimisation involves adopting a broad set of vituperative, spiteful actions to denigrate the very right of a country and its people to live in peace and security.
  2. The separation wall is not a wall as such, rather it is a barrier, but Slezak for opportunistic reasons prefers to use the wrong, more emotive descriptor. Only five to ten percent of it consists of wall as most of it is barbed wire or non-wall structures.
  3. If Slezak ever bothered to go beyond his propaganda guidebook he would find the following in wikipedia about roads in Judea and Samaria – “In response to shootings by Palestinians, some highways, especially those leading to Israeli settlements, were completely inaccessible to cars with Palestinian license plates, while many other roads were restricted only to public transportation and to Palestinians who have special permits from Israeli authorities.  Due to numerous shooting assaults targeting Israeli vehicles, the IDF bars Israelis from using most of the original roads in the West Bank.” So in fact there is no blanket policy of restricting roads to Israelis only.

  4. He refers to “Unarmed protesters” getting regularly shot at, but does he bother to take note of the stones and rocks that they use to provoke trouble and even death in some instances.
  5. The insinuation that the legal action being pursued by Shurat HaDin is under the direction of the Israeli government and Mossad is pure opiniated drivel. This is typical of the way in which Slezak approaches this whole issue. He is always trying to slide in unproven assertions hoping they will escape scrutiny.  
  6. If Slezak were to remember his history of how the Nazis demonised the Jews he might recall that anybody who aided or abetted Jews was also culpable. To suggest that the targetting of non-Jewish, non-Israeli companies nullifies direct comparisons with the 1930s Nazi program "Kauft nicht bei Juden" – “Don’t buy from Jews” is disingenuous to say the least.

BDS at this juncture may not be overtly violent, but as Palestinian leader Dr Mustafa Barghouti has said ultimately the only solution will be violence. That is the implicit threat that lurks behind all the self-righteous justifying of BDS as being about getting rights for the Palestinians. The message to Israel is 'do what we want you to do or we will escalate our campaign to the next level'. No self-respecting nation would surrender to such intimidatory tactics.

On closer examination BDS demonstrates that the realisation of its objectives will be at the expense of the very foundations of Israeli society, ultimately provoking more conflict and solving nothing .

Posted Saturday, November 9, 2013 - 16:39

Shimona from th...  //"The West Bank is criss-crossed by Israeli-only roads".//

"Now that is, quite simply, a lie"

Non-Jewish Palestinians can drive on roads in the illegal settlements?  WOW!!!  I wonder if anyone knows?