What does it mean to support Israel? What does it mean to support Australia? Here, we understand perfectly well that there are many ways to support Australia – one can make any number of contributions, in any number of fields, which can make it a better place.
People whose occupational or financial interests are tied up with a particular government or its policies may wish to obscure this point, and will try to insist that opposing their particular aspects of the status quo is a form of opposing the entire country.
They are wrong, and we would usually recognise this freely.
Take, for example, the case of Paul Hasluck, the Commonwealth Minister for Territories from 1951-63, and later Governor General.
He complained about the activists for Aboriginal rights who “helped to bring about the situation in which so much of the public discussion concentrated on Australia's shameful record instead of on Australia's attempt to do something better in the future.”
They were the “self-hating Australians” of their time – and it is not hard to think of others. They compared Australia to apartheid South Africa, and complained about Australia to international forums.
Their actions helped make Australia a better place, though they may have made it a worse place for politicians who were determined to oppose any mitigation of the oppression of the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
This point extends to Israel and the Palestinians. There are many people in Australia who consider themselves “supporters of Israel”.
Yet they do not support it in any meaningful sense. Their support consists of endorsing Israeli attacks on Palestinians.
Whilst most of the strongest “supporters” of Israel undoubtedly come from within the Jewish community in Australia, it is striking that, in conversations with many of these passionate defenders of Israel, many of them are strangely ignorant about Israel.
People who love Israel enough to say that its army is the most moral in the world, do not appear to love it enough to pick up a book and read about its history, or even to follow the news in the Israeli media.
When the spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister, Mark Regev says that Israel’s blockade on Gaza is purely for security reasons, this is taken as uncontroversial, axiomatic truth.
It is rather as though someone were to pose as a passionate supporter of Australia, simply because they got all their beliefs and deeply held convictions from the professional spokespeople of Australian governments.
Whether Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd, it was all to be regarded as gospel truth. If such a person existed, they would be called a lot of things, but I doubt “supporter of Australia” would be one of them.
A Gisha survey was conducted of Jewish Israelis on the subject of the siege on Gaza in June 2008.
Thirty-two per cent believed the blockade was for security reasons – most thought it was to punish the residents of Gaza, or to pressure Hamas to change its policies.
Seventy-nine per cent thought it “primarily affects the civilian population”, and 60 per cent agreed it was likely to cause Gazans to turn towards Islamic extremism. Sixty-seven per cent thought it hurt Israel’s standing in the world, and 83 per cent thought that it had made Hamas stronger.
On the factual questions, the Israeli public is not stupid. It understands reasonably well the point of the blockade, and it understands that it has not helped achieve Israeli goals, and has harmed the civilian population of Gaza.
But then there was a disturbing moral question: "Pressure on the civilian population of Gaza, including, for example, preventing medical care for seriously ill patients who need to leave to receive medical treatment, is justified if it weakens Hamas."
Forty-eight per cent agreed, 49 per cent disagreed. The Israeli Jewish public was basically evenly divided over whether or not it was okay to cause suffering to the civilian population of Gaza.
Seventy-six per cent agreed that they deserve human rights – but clearly, not all human rights. Thirty-eight per cent also thought that those who supported human rights for Palestinians “are against Israel”.
The survey went on: “Because of the closure on Gaza, the price of bread and basic goods there has risen drastically, 95 per cent of industry in Gaza is paralysed, the middle class has collapsed and patients are unable to leave for medical treatment. These side-effects are justified, if the security of Israeli citizens improves.”
Sixty-three per cent agreed.
“The closure creates hardships for the residents and drives them to desperation, which is likely to cause increased violence against Israel. Therefore, Israel should ease the closure of Gaza.”
Sixty-three per cent disagreed.
All that they cared about was Israeli security. If innocent civilians suffer in Gaza, that doesn’t matter. If violence against Israel increases because of Gazan suffering, that doesn’t matter. Majorities thought Israel had become less secure (68 per cent) and the towns around Gaza had too (85 per cent).
Yet the Israeli government has flatly refused to end its infliction of suffering on the civilian population of Gaza, and its supporters have supported this refusal.
This can be taken as a microcosm of the issues that will arise in the coming years about “supporting” Israel.
Israeli policy has been consciously determined to cause harm to the civilian Palestinian populations living in the occupied territories.
The Israeli public understands this, because Israeli politicians are not particularly embarrassed about this, and the Israeli Jewish public broadly supports harming Palestinian civilians if it will help them feel safer.
This is plainly not the kind of message a propagandist for the Israeli government will want to push. So Regev says that Israel is defending itself against terrorists who hate Jews and want to throw us into the sea, that it is carefully targeting terrorists and so on.
Israelis presumably know better, but diaspora Jews – and increasingly, the right-wingers who buy into Israeli propaganda – blindly recite the talking points of the Israeli government, bewildered at those perverse enough to hold contrary views – the kind held by a majority of Jewish Israelis.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed some of the statements by leading Israeli military figures calling for things like causing “intense suffering among the population” to achieve Israel’s political goals.
These kinds of comments are being made increasingly openly – a trend that may cause problems in the years ahead for those determined to promote the official Israeli line.
Take Moshe Feiglin, long described in the liberal Israeli Ha’aretz as a fascist.
He is a Deputy Speaker of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), and a member of the Likud, the political party of the Prime Minister.
On July 15, he proposed an “Outline for a Solution in Gaza”. It begins with a warning to Gaza, and proceeds briskly: “All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’. Then a “total siege” on Gaza, and then “conquer”, “using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations.”
He will financially support Gazans who leave, and those Gazans who are willing to fully submit to “Israel’s rule, substance and way of life” will be offered Israeli citizenship.
His lurid language, such as writing “the conquest of the entire Gaza Strip, and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters”, managed to scandalise even the Daily Mail.
Jill Reilly reported that Feiglin “lays out a detailed plan for the destruction of Gaza – which includes shipping its residents across the world”, and noted with astonishment his call for “concentration camps in Gaza”.
Evidently, Israeli politicians can still shock Westerners with their unabashed calls for barbarism: his status still received 2000 “likes”.
Then there is the case of Ayelet Shaked, a Member of Knesset from the further right-wing party, HaBayit HaYehudi.
She posted on Facebook the wisdom of Uri Elitzur, whose words are “as relevant today as it was at the time” 12 years ago.
He explained that “They are all enemy combatants… this also includes the mothers of the martyrs”, who should “follow their sons” to hell, as “nothing would be more just… Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
When the issue was raised at the Daily Beast, Shaked responded with fury, but no apology. Evidently, she lives in a different moral universe.
What is also evident is that so do many Israelis, where her comments remain uncontroversial.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who built his political career on brutal rhetoric towards the Palestinians, stayed true to form in his response to Palestinians protesting within Israel.
He said on Facebook that “These incidents prove once again that the place of these people is not Israel and until then, their rightful place is in jail”.
‘Until then’ is perhaps a reference to his well-known and longstanding plan to expel Palestinian citizens from Israel by redrawing its borders to exclude them from citizenship.
Lieberman also urged a boycott of Palestinian businesses, writing, “I call upon everyone not to shop anymore at the stores and businesses of those among the Arab sector who are participating today in the general strike that was declared by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee as a sign of empathy for Gaza residents and against Operation Protective Edge.”
Strangely, the many Australians who accused advocates of BDS against Israel of anti-Semitism, and even Nazism, did not notice this call for yet another form of BDS against Palestinians by Israel.
Then there’s the case of Major-General (reserve) Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel’s National Security Council.
I quoted him in a previous article – and above – arguing for the infliction of “intense suffering among the population” of Lebanon.
In the New York Times, he explained that “Israel should have declared a war against the de facto state of Gaza, and if there is misery and starvation in Gaza, it might lead the other side to make such hard decisions.”
Yes, he advocated “misery and starvation in Gaza”, to pressure Hamas. Because that kind of argument isn’t scandalous in Israel – and clearly, doesn’t shock readers of the New York Times either.
Eiland went on to write an op ed for Ynet, one of Israel’s most popular news sites, where he dismissed the “wrong” view that “the population the organisation is operating from is not the enemy.”
Eiland complained about “food and energy” being supplied to the “enemy state”, by which he meant Gaza.
But “why should Gaza's residents suffer? Well, they are to blame for this situation just like Germany's residents were to blame for electing Hitler as their leader and paid a heavy price for that, and rightfully so.” He openly advocates Palestinian civilians be made to suffer.
Israelis don’t recoil in horror at such advocacy: they understand that it’s Israeli policy. And all the evidence suggests that they are untroubled by that fact.
It is worth noting, there are Australians who are in tune with such advocacy. In the Australian Jewish News (18/7/14), one letter demanded that, “This time the gloves must come off… including the cessation of supplying the enemy with electricity from the Israeli grid”.
Another letter writer urged that the blockade on Gaza be “tightened… making life ever tougher for Hamas. That means Gaza’s Palestinian people will suffer more”. Making Palestinians “suffer more” was not controversial; no letters responded with outrage to this call.
In the latest edition of the AJN (1/8/14), the front page screams “MEDIA DISGRACE”, singling out Fairfax and 60 Minutes for featuring criticisms of the Israeli government, and a cartoon that caricatured Jews.
On the inside, what passed unnoticed was the op ed by Rabbi Ralph Genende.
He wrote that “I am mad at our extreme right wingers stupidly calling to wipe out Gaza (although, my God, I understand their anger and frustration)”, before commenting on how “furious” he was at “extreme left-wingers” and “their fatuous and morally myopic angst”.
He plainly cannot understand why Jews would oppose Israel’s attack on Gaza, but “my God” does he “understand” the “anger and frustration” of those who support wiping out Gaza.
This ambivalent, if not sympathetic position towards proponents of genocide apparently aroused zero notice or interest, though Fairfax has aroused considerable controversy for its cartoon, and has just parted ways with Mike Carlton over his op ed and angry exchanges with Jewish correspondents.
One might speculate on what the reaction would be if a Fairfax writer had explained how well she understood the “anger and frustration” of those who call for Jews to be exterminated.
Nevertheless, there are Israelis who understand the need to sugar-coat their message. Like Tzipi Livni, who wrote, “Hamas paid and will continue to pay a heavy price… And if it wasn’t sufficiently clear to anyone yet, now the world knows who’s responsible for the destruction and the blood of civilians in Gaza.”
It takes a particular perversity to assume that one’s readers will understand that the destruction in Gaza isn’t the fault of the people bombing them. And one can still find liberal Zionists in Australia posting approvingly a blog by a prominent Israeli “liberal”, Naomi Chazan, claiming that Israel’s “emphasis” is “on attacking the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza”.
So let us turn to “supporters” of Israel who are more attuned to the reality of modern Israel.
Thane Rosenbaum wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal where he explained that Palestinians “forfeit your right to be called civilians” when they commit such crimes as electing Hamas – “you have wittingly made yourself targets”.
The column was, however, reprinted at the conservative Israeli Jerusalem Post.
JPost also ran an op ed called “Why Gaza must go”. He explained that “mowing the grass… simply will not cut it. The grass needs to be uprooted – once and for all.”
Explaining his metaphor, Martin Sherman writes that, “The only durable solution requires dismantling Gaza, humanitarian relocation of the non-belligerent Arab population, and extension of Israeli sovereignty over the region.”
“Humanitarian relocation”, of course, meaning forcible expulsion, and “non-belligerent Arab population” meaning the civilians in Gaza. This humanitarian suggestion mostly passed unnoticed.
Meanwhile, Benny Morris – supported by NSW Jewish Board of Deputies head Vic Alhadeff – has added to his collection of appalling statements with an article in Ha’aretz.
Morris argued on July 30 that Israel should “destroy Hamas and clean out Gaza”.
Sadly, the Israeli government won’t do this, because “there’s no willingness to sacrifice soldiers (and no willingness to exact a heavy price in blood from the enemy’s civilians)”.
Supposing that he wrote his article the day before, at that point, according to UN statistics, Israel had killed at least 827 civilians. But sadly for Morris, the Israeli government wouldn’t commit to a heavier price in blood from “the enemy’s civilians” – one wonders how many Palestinian civilians Morris regards as a sufficiently heavy price. And how willing Morris thinks Israelis should be “to exact a heavy price in blood” from Palestinian civilians.
Meanwhile, Israeli Rabbi Dov Lior issued a halachic ruling that Israel is “allowed to punish the enemy population”, to deny them electricity and to “bomb the whole area”.
He observed that, “Any kind of talk about humanism and consideration are moot”.
A small paper for orthodox Jews in New York advocated expelling the Palestinians from Gaza: “Use that international aid to relocate them”.
And then “the Jews should go down to Gaza and reclaim their homes and businesses” from the settlements they were removed from in 2005.
Meanwhile, the brother of a soldier killed in Gaza wrote to Netanyahu: “I ask you to take the children out of Gaza and turn to diplomacy — or just stop being afraid of the world and turn Gaza into rubble.”
He supports the Liberal Zionist party, Meretz.
Israeli callousness towards the Palestinians can still shock some. Google’s Play Store featured a game called “Bomb Gaza”, for a while, until popular outcry forced Google to remove the game.
One must also consider the Times of Israel, which has excelled in bad taste. It published a blog called “When Genocide is Permissible”.
The title speaks for itself, and the blog was soon taken down.
On the same day, the Times of Israel ran another blog, where it cited the biblical precedent of the Amalekites.
As Irwin Blank wrote, God commanded the Jews to destroy them utterly. Whilst claiming that “we find ourselves in battle with 21st century Amalekites because we have failed to listen to the L-rd”.
Strangely, after stressing this central lesson, he proceeded: “Does this mean we, on purpose, kill the innocent? No, that is merely an allegory of Biblical times, an example of the cruelty of ancient warfare. But it does mean that we leave nothing that might sustain a weakened and beaten foe. To destroy Hamas utterly, we cannot stop this war until they unconditionally surrender, even if it means making the war more horrific for the people of Gaza, who are the victims of their own leadership.”
He then clarified – as of course he would have to – that he was not “advocating genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza”. He was merely advocating “making the war more horrific for the people of Gaza”.
Because whilst outright genocide still offends English speaking readers of the Israeli press, merely advocating terrorism – inflicting harm on civilian Palestinians – does not.
There are many supporters of Israel in Australia who are simply naïve. They do not understand that Israel is deliberately causing suffering to Palestinian civilians.
The Israeli public does understand this: many of them happily tolerate this fact, and even cheer it.
Those who follow political discourse in Israel and follow its media are aware of this open secret about Israeli policy: the conscious, ongoing policy of state terrorism.
Knowledgeable observers, who in a more meaningful sense “support” what Israel does, acknowledge that they are defending the wilful infliction of suffering on civilians.
There are liberal Zionists in the diaspora who cling to Israeli propaganda. And there are liberal Zionists who are simply silent. Who look at all the death and destruction in Gaza, and say nothing.
Whatever all this is, it is strange to describe it as “support” for Israel.
The Australians who exposed Australia’s oppression of Aboriginal people and denounced it in international forums “helped to bring about the situation in which so much of the public discussion concentrated on Australia's shameful record”.
They made Australia’s record less shameful – though Australians today still have a long way to go.
People who closed their eyes, blocked their ears and turned away from Australia’s institutionalised racism are not people we look back on with admiration as lovers of Australia.
We regard them as complacent.
People who love Australia should want it to be a just place, and people who pushed Australia in this direction have made a valuable contribution to our country.
And so, my questions for supporters of Israel are these: Are you supporting Israel? Are you making it a just place? Or are you closing your eyes, blocking your ears and turning away from its appalling crimes against the Palestinians?
Do you love Israel enough to want it to be a more moral place?