A discussion entitled “Different Perspectives on Israel” was held on 03 October, 2019 at the University of Auckland. Dr David Cumin and Mr John Minto presented. Below are their opening remarks in video and text form.
Dr Cumin’s remarks
Last year I met with officials at the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Before the meeting started, a senior official told me they just wanted to let me know they “believe Israel has a right to exist.”
It would be an insult if an official from any other country were to suggest New Zealand’s right to exist were up for debate or a matter of belief. I’d also be surprised if any of our officials would so casually suggest there is a question mark over the existence of any other UN member country.
But the right of Israel to exist is questioned, and there are concerted efforts to demonise and delegitimise the Jewish state, and to deny the right of Jews to self-determination in their indigenous land.
Leaders of the NZ Trade Union movement, which Mr Minto is involved in, curse Israel for alleged crimes and call for a boycott of Israelis, yet they are happy to host Indonesian delegates without even raising the actual crimes of Indonesia against West Papua. I’m sure many union members (that pay union fees) would be shocked by the anti-Israel sentiment of the leaders and of their gross hypocrisy.
Similarly, no one is suggesting that China shouldn’t exist because they are actually putting Uighur Muslims into concentration camps and actually occupying Tibet; or that Turkey is illegitimate because it really occupies Cyprus, for example.
Only alleged crimes of Israel are used to challenge the existence of Israel and the Jewish nation is clearly singled out as a people who should be denied a state.
This denial is at the heart of the ongoing conflict and the real reason there is no peace. It is also why we are having this discussion – I submit to you that there are two major perspectives on Israel:
- those who don’t think Israel should exist as an equal among nations, which is a view taken by a few radical groups around the world; and
- The perspective that a majority of people – myself included – take, that Jews have a right to a nation in their indigenous lands like any other modern nation state and it should be treated as an equal to other states.
These two perspectives are not new. There has been opposition to the existence of a Jewish national home, just as some have opposed the existence of Jews, since the First Temple was destroyed and Jews were expelled from Israel by the Babylonians more than two-and-a-half thousand years ago.
The Roman Emperor, Hadrian, also attempted to erase the Jewish connection to the land in 135 CE by renaming Judea, “Syria Palestina”, after the extinct Philistine people who had been enemies of the Jews.
More recent opposition to Jewish self-determination saw Arab violence force the British government to limit Jewish immigration to their Mandate of Palestine in the 1930’s, just as European Jews, in particular, were seeking refuge.
And there are current examples of people calling Jesus a Palestinian, erasing his Jewish identity and denying the fact he was born in Judea; and the publishing of modern maps that rename the State of Israel, ‘Palestine’, just like Hadrian did almost two thousand years ago.
But the archaeological, genetic, and historical evidence is clear; by any measure, Jews are the Tangata Whenua of Israel, just as Maori are the Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa.
Despite attempts to erase this fact, Jews have maintained ahi ka – home fires burning – throughout the millennia, with a constant presence in the land and prayers for a return to rebuild a national home.
The Jewish opportunity to rebuild their nation came after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I – with help from brave ANZAC troops. The League of Nations – a forerunner to the UN – met in San Remo in 1920 and laid the political foundation for the creation of the 22 modern Arab League States and the one and only modern Jewish State of Israel. Yet no one openly questions the borders of any of those countries, except Israel.
Israel’s declaration of independence shortly after, in 1948, was an unparalleled event in history. No other people has repeatedly lost its land to colonists, been scattered around the world, and suffered pogroms, attempts at annihilation, and forced assimilation yet maintained a sense of identity and returned to rebuild their nation.
However, continuing opposition to Jewish self-determination has meant the modern state of Israel has had to defend against at least three full military wars on multiple fronts; contend with hundreds of suicide bombings and other terror attacks; and endure boycotts, embargoes, attempts to rewrite history, and disproportionate political attacks from within the most powerful international organisations.
Yet Israel has not only survived, but thrived. Jews revived a language, drained swamps, cultivated the desert, and have built a nation on a sparsely populated land; Israel is now a world leader in med-tech, green-tech, high-tech, and agri-tech; and has assisted more than 140 countries with humanitarian efforts despite some of those nations not recognising the Jewish state.
And Israel has developed an independent judiciary, a vibrant free press, and a democratic parliament with full representation of all its citizens. Israel is not perfect, but it is the world’s 10th oldest continuous democracy and should be a model for its neighbours and for many other countries in the world.
While Israel has defended her citizens against military invasion and developed methods for thwarting terror attacks, those who wish to destroy the Jewish nation have had to acknowledge Israel’s might to resist, but they haven’t accepted its right to exist.
This refusal to accept the Jewish nation as equal is the reason there is conflict. And opposition has shifted from military and violent means to the weaponisation of politics. This is the new front in the war against a Jewish home in their indigenous lands and facts don’t get in the way of anyone determined enough to dispose Jews of self-determination.
I want to discuss three of the ways Jewish self-determination is being attacked today before concluding with some hope. Those three obstacles to peace are:
- Efforts to demonise and delegitimise Israel with lies;
- Continuing incitement and acts of violence; and
- The insistence that Israel must accept at least five million Arab Palestinians as citizens.
Let’s start with the malicious language used against Israel. Just like Jews were accused of murdering Christian babies for religious rituals, and Jews were blamed for the poor situation of Germans in the 1930s, the Jewish nation is falsely blamed for all manner of acts around the world.
There was even a community leader in New Zealand who suggested Israel was behind the Christchurch terror attack.
I was at two Iftar dinners this year where my Muslim hosts quoted Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Rabbi Sacks has also been eloquent on this point, saying:
“In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, the state of Israel. It takes different forms but it remains the same thing: the view that Jews have no right to exist as free and equal human beings.”
Those who wish to harm the Jewish nation state use terms like “apartheid” and “genocide” just like previous generations have falsely accused Jews of poisoning wells or murdering babies.
It doesn’t seem to matter that using such terms demeans the memory of people who suffered under real Apartheid or real genocide.
In Israel, the facts speak for themselves: all citizens – including the 20% Arab population of Israel – have equal rights; Arabs are represented in all aspect of Israeli life, from Supreme Court Judges to the people’s choice in Masterchef; the Arab Palestinian population continues to increase; and they have quality of life stats that are among the highest in the Middle East.
The fact that obesity is a public health issue in Gaza doesn’t stop comparisons to Nazi conentration camps and neither does the increasing population stop claims of “genocide”.
This sort of total disregard for the truth and misappropriation of the Holocaust is why such examples equating Israel with Nazis has been deemed antisemitic by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The perpetuation of lies is also a part of the founding documents of Israel’s enemies. For example, passages of the fabricated “Protocols of the Elders of Zion“, that claim Jews control the press and world economies, are enshrined in the Hamas Charter, along with paragraphs that reject negotiations and call for the creation of an Islamic State in place of Israel through violence.
Hamas continues to act out its charter through rocket attacks, building terror tunnels instead of infrastructure, and violent riots on the border with Israel to which they bring children who act as human shields.
The quote of Israel’s first woman Prime Minister, Golda Meir, rings so true – “There can only be peace when the Arabs start to love their children more than they hate us.”
This is the second major obstacle to peace – violence.
And it’s not only the terror group in charge of Gaza that calls for and commits violent acts; a similar pattern of behaviour is true for the faction that controls parts of Judea and Samaria.
The Palestinian Authority not only takes money from infrastructure projects to pay terrorists based on the number of Jews they murdered, incites violence in school textbooks, and teaches that the Jews have no right to a homeland. Palestinian schools and sports facilities are proudly named after suicide bombers and official government publications praise terrorists.
This indoctrination has a flow-on effect, with almost half of Arab Palestinians recently polled believing they should take up arms against Israel rather than negotiate for peace. And we’ve seen terror attacks in just the past few months in Judea and Samaria where a teenager was stabbed to death and another was murdered in a bomb attack. May their memories be a blessing.
It is shameful that despite more than 2,000 terror acts in only the last year, no New Zealand Minister has clearly condemned terror against Israel since Helen Clark did so in 2006.
It is also shameful that New Zealand is not only silent, but complicit in the third obstacle to a peace that involves a safe and secure Jewish nation.
I’m not talking about our record at the United Nations, where New Zealand votes for the disproportionate number of resolutions that single out Israel, unlike our traditional allies like Canada, United States, and Australia.
I’m talking about our funding and support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA. Each year, at least $1m of our tax money goes to UNRWA and our officials praise their work.
And it’s not only the ongoing corruption charges that should be addressed, or the incitement to terror that is taught in their schools; the even greater obstacle to peace is that UNRWA has invented a unique definition of refugees that includes citizens of other countries and all their descendents, and insists that all these people, who now number more than five-and-a-half million, should be allowed automatic entry into Israel.
UNRWA was originally set up to assist the 750,000 Arab refugees who fled to Arab lands during the 1948 war because they were not absorbed by their brothers and sisters, like Israel absorbed an equivalent number Jewish refugees who fled to Israel from Arab countries at the same time.
The conditions of the Arab Palestinian refugees is still not very good, unfortunately. Especially Palestinians in Lebanon, where even those born in the country are denied citizenship and are legally barred from owning property or becoming doctors, lawyers, or engineers – talk about Apartheid.
Arab Palestinians in Syria are banned from owning more than one home or purchasing arable land.
And the Arab Palestinians living in Gaza under Hamas or under Palestinian Authority rule have been denied the democratic right to free and fair elections for 15 years and dare not speak out against the government for fear of arrest, or worse.
Yet, self-proclaimed “Pro-Palestinian” activists don’t speak up for the Palestinians in Lebanon or Syria, or against Hamas or Fatah; because Israel cannot be blamed. Most of the activists aren’t really “pro” anything; they are anti-Israel. Like Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, they are more interested in hurting Israel than helping the Arab Palestinians.
But back to the third major barrier to peace.
The very idea that Israel, a country with only 9m people (including 6m Jews) should be forced to accept 5.5m Arab Palestinians with a unique refugee status, especially given that most of them have been taught that Israel is illegitimate and violence is justified, is a certain way to extinguish Jewish self-determination (or half the world’s Jewish population).
This idea is framed as a “right of return” even though there is no such right in any international law; it is a pretense, whose practical implementation would likely be Jewish genocide.
In 1974, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Greeks were not entitled to “return” to Northern Cyprus because “Some 35 years have elapsed since the Greeks lost possession of their property… Generations have passed. The local population has not remained static.”
The Palestinians claim they have a “right of return” for not only the Arabs who fled in 1948 but all their descendents, despite the Arab-Israeli conflict lasting more than twice as long as the Turkish-Greek conflict and the local Israeli population certainly not remaining static.
So the illegitimate “right of return”, the continuing violence, and the demonising language are three of the major reasons there is no peace.
These three ways of opposing Jewish self-determination in their indigenous lands are all embodied in the BDS – Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions – campaign against Israel.
BDS activists use language designed to demonise and delegitimise Israel. The formal goals of the campaign talk about Jews as colonisers and suggest Arab-Israelis do not have equal rights. This would be as if a group were to say Maori are colonisers of New Zealand and there aren’t equal rights for all in the country.
BDS activists say they are non-violent, but they turn a blind eye to terror against Israel, just like our Ministers have done since 2006, and officially call on Israel to take down the security fence which has saved lives. Some BDS supporters have even excused indiscriminate rocket attacks or suicide bombs on busses as “resistance”.
And BDS explicitly calls for the “return” of Palestinians and claims it is a right.
Rather than seek peace, BDS hurts the 60,000 or so Arab Palestinians who are employed by Israelis, by telling them that they should boycott their own livelihood. It is noteworthy that there are protests by BDS activists outside of the Palestinian Territories, but seldom will more than a few dozen people turn up to promote the campaign within Palestinian society.
It is also noteworthy that BDS activists in Western countries don’t vehemently call for boycotts or sanctions of any other country, nor do they disrupt film screenings about any other country with fake bombs.
Some governments are acutely aware of the double-standards and discrimination of BDS and have taken steps to address it.
With overwhelming bipartisan support, The United States has passed legislation against BDS, just as they have passed legislation against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation.
And a majority of German lawmakers have also voted for a motion that condemned the discriminatory nature of BDS, saying it was similar to the Nazi boycott of Jews in the 1930s.
The BDS campaign is also similar to the Arab boycott of Israel just after independence. But, as time has gone on, and modernising Arab states have come to realise that Israel is not the root of all Middle East unrest. Particularly with the devastating civil war in Syria and the ascendency of threat posed by Iran in the wake of the nuclear deal, Gulf states have turned to Israel for support and become more open to relations.
Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Bharain are engaging with Israel in matters of trade, technology, water security, agriculture, environment and ecology and in security against the moral chaos provoked by ISIS and Iran’s proxy terror groups in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza.
This more open and positive relationship is a long way from the Khartoum resolution of 1967 when the Arab League issued their infamous three “no’s” – “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it”.
The road to peace is not easy and it’s not always short. It took a courageous Egyptian leader in the form of Anwar Sadat to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and it will take a courageous Palestinian leader to acknowledge that Jews have a right to a nation alongside an Arab Palestinian state.
Jews have always accepted compromise and offered to share the land.
In 1936, the Peel Commission identified “An irrepressible conflict … between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country” and recommended partition of the British Mandate – land which they had already partitioned off to create modern-day Jordan.
Jews accepted that proposal and the 1947 UN proposal to similarly partition the land even though both proposals did not include Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem or Judea and Samaria.
It seems absurd that “Zionists” would accept giving up “Zion”, but Jews have repeatedly made or shown a willingness to make painful compromises for peace that have seldom been reciprocated.
The Arabs rejected the British and UN partition plans, and have continued to reject proposals of compromise without any counter-proposal. In the words of Bill Clinton, following the Camp David meeting in 2001, Arafat was “here 14 days and said no to everything”.
This is despite the offer from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak including a bold compromise on Jerusalem and much of the West Bank. An even more generous offer in 2008 was made by Ehud Olmert to Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas. This was also flat out rejected.
The reason for rejection can only be explained by the perspective of rejecting Jewish self-determination. British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, no friend of Israel, identified this in 1947, when he said
“His Majesty’s Government have been faced with an irreconcilable conflict of principles… For the Jews, the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish State. For the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of [Mandatory] Palestine.”
The reality is that the refusal to accept compromises is encouraged by the international community. As long as Israel, and only Israel, is condemned for defending her borders, for building communities, and for not allowing the fictional “right of return”, the Arab Palestinian leaders have no reason to negotiate.
Why would Arab Palestinian leaders offer to negotiate when their perceived enemy is being condemned so disproportionately and they suffer no consequences whatsoever?
As long as the Arab Palestinian leaders can continue to rule without elections, outlaw the selling of land to Jews, and incite or glorify violence without condemnation there is no reason for them to change their ways.
So, if you don’t want to destroy Israel and you want to see a thriving, modern Arab Palestinian state exist peacefully alongside a Jewish state, perhaps we should rethink our funding to UNRWA, reconsider our voting pattern at the UN, and condemn the terror against Israel.
We should take a stand against any group that discriminates against people on the basis of their origin or nationality and that seeks to destroy rather than build. If we want justice, we need to act in a just way and not hold Israel to double standards. Then there will be more chance of real peace.
I’ll leave you with this:
The denial of the right of Jews to self-determination in their indigenous lands underlies the conflict. Opposition has moved from more violent, military warfare and terror, to a war of words similar to the language used to demonise and delegitimise Jews in previous generations.
As well as this malicious language, there are political efforts to destroy the Jewish home. But, today, these efforts are coming from fringe groups. Most people support Israel and there are shifting attitudes from Israel’s traditional enemies.
The Israeli national anthem is “hatikva”, which means “the hope”. I hope the ancient hatred of Jews will be eradicated and the whole world will come to respect the equal right of Jews to a home in part of their indigenous land.
And if the right will not be respected, then we must continue to ensure that Israel has the might to defend itself, because as the saying goes, “If the Arabs put down their weapons, there will be no more wars, but if Israel puts down its weapons, there will be no more Israel”.
Mr Minto’s remarks
The challenge I issued for this debate was in response to Dr Cumin’s assertion that the situation in Palestine is complicated. That’s a common ploy to discourage criticism of Israel – if you don’t know the details you have no right to an opinion. That’s untrue. White South Africa used to say the same thing to stem criticism of their apartheid system. Israel is using the same tactic.
The situation is Palestine is very straightforward. In a word – colonialism. The movement of Jewish people from around the world to take over Palestine – to displace and subjugate the existing, indigenous Palestinian population.
Theodor Herzl – often referred to as the father of Zionism (the belief in the need for a separate Jewish state) – described it as a “colonial idea”.
He believed Jews would be safe and secure only if they had their own homeland. He considered Uganda in Africa and South America, even Australia, but the movement eventually focused on Palestine – linking the ancient land of the Christian Bible, the Hebrew Bible and the Koran with the colonial project of Zionism.
It’s important to emphasise that Zionism arose from persistent and widespread European anti-Semitism. Jewish communities in Europe were frequently targeted over many centuries across the whole continent where 90% of Jews lived. For example, in Russia whenever the Tsar and the ruling class came under pressure they would redirect the anger and frustration of workers and peasants in pogroms against Jews – inciting mobs to burn homes and synagogues and murdering them.
In this context of discrimination and oppression it’s easy to understand Zionist ideas gaining ground in Jewish communities in Europe. However, it was initially a minority, fringe view compared to the majority of Jews who believed in socialist ideas of international solidarity of workers and which rejected anti-Semitism outright. But in the 1930s emigration to Palestine quickened though surprisingly, in response to the Holocaust, most Jews fleeing Europe went to the US, Australia, Canada and even New Zealand rather than go to or stay in Palestine. Even today there are more Jews living in the US than in Israel itself.
Zionism gained a greater following in the late 1940s for two reasons – the Holocaust (the Nazi attempt at genocide of all Jews living in Europe in which about six million Jews along with Communists, Socialists, homosexuals and Gypsies were murdered) and secondly the desire of western imperial powers, the US and UK, for a client state in the Middle East – one that could be relied on to support western imperial interests in the oil-rich area.
So, when Britain gave up control of Palestine, the United Nations agreed to a Jewish homeland being established in Palestine and a partition plan was signed in November 1947. 55% of Palestine was set aside for the Jewish homeland despite Jews making up just 30% of the population. Almost 400,000 Palestinians were to live in the area assigned for the Jewish state which would have had a small majority of Jewish citizens.
However, well before the formal declaration of the Israeli state, Israeli militia groups, including the Irgun and the Stern gang, began a programme of ethnic cleansing – driving out the Palestinian population.
The Nakba (meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic) had begun. Palestinians were beginning to pay a horrendous price for European anti-Semitism.
The most infamous incident was a massacre of between two and three hundred Palestinian civilians, men, women and children, at the village of Deir Yassin in April 1948.
In his book “The Revolt: The Story of the Irgun,” the leader of the Irgun, and later Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin wrote: “The massacre was not only justified, but there would not have been a state of Israel without the ‘victory’ at Deir Yassin.”
Two weeks after Deir Yassin Israeli militias hurled explosives into the crowded Arab quarter of Haifa. Barrel bombs filled with petrol and dynamite were rolled down the alleys and created a chaotic inferno while loudspeakers of the Jewish militia broadcast recordings of screaming and shrieks of terror and in Arabic cries of “Run for your lives. The Jews are using poison gas”. Less than a week later the same tactics were used to empty Jaffa.
About 250,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out at gunpoint before Israel declared independence in May 1948. After independence five neighbouring Arab countries mounted a token military operation against the newly formed Israeli state in part to try to protect the Palestinian population.
Israeli propaganda portrays this as 600,000 Jews surrounded by 70 million hostile Arabs but the reality was quite different.
A mere 15,000 Arab soldiers with 22 light tanks and ten spitfire aircraft faced 30,000 highly trained Israeli soldiers, another 32,000 second line troops plus 50,000 police and “home guard” personnel.
The leadership of Arab countries was as corrupt and useless then as it is today across most of the Arab world. In Palestine it was a one-sided conflict and by the time international pressure was brought to bear Israel had taken over 80% of Palestine including most of the productive land.
Israeli propaganda tries to argue that the reason Palestinians left their land and homes was because neighbouring Arab countries told them to leave in preparation for an Arab invasion of Palestine. This is untrue and was debunked by Israeli historian Benny Morris in the 1980s. Palestinians were driven out by Israeli terrorism in what leading Zionist Chaim Weizmann described as “a miraculous simplification of our tasks”.
In all between 750,000 and one million Palestinians fled or were driven out of Palestine at gunpoint.
Every day since 1948 Palestinians have had more land stolen, more houses bulldozed, more civilians harassed, attacked and killed, and more Palestinian children murdered with absolute impunity when Palestinians have resisted. For 70 years Palestinians have experienced unbridled brutality. And every day since 1948 Israel has refused to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their land and homes in Palestine.
So while Israel was set up under the United Nations Charter, every day since then it has been in violation of the United Nations Charter, in violation of International law, in violation of United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.
A deep-seated racism is always at the heart of colonialism and Israel is no exception.
“The way to deal with Palestinians is to beat them up. Not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until its unbearable”. These were the words of Benjamin Netanyahu. Imagine if anyone said the same words but swapped the word Palestinians for the word Jews in the sentence.
We would all condemn that as anti-Semitism. So why is there no outcry from western politicians or supporters of Israel when Israeli political leaders spew racist hatred on the Palestinian population?
Former Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan said in 1967 after taking over the West Bank that Palestinians should be made “to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave – and we shall see where this process leads”.
Palestinians are told repeatedly they should accept defeat and go to Jordan or Egypt or any other Arabic-speaking country in the region.
What Moshe Dayan and Netanyahu are saying to Palestinians would be the equivalent of New Zealand Europeans saying to Maori “We’ve taken over this land now so bugger off and go back to Polynesia –– and if you want to stay here without citizenship or rights we will brutalise you if you dare to resist.”.
On the positive side there is condemnation of the Israeli government from courageous Jewish groups and individuals inside Israel and around the world. They speak out against the violent, vicious, racist, apartheid policies of the Israeli state and are an inspiration to all of us.
Meanwhile Palestinians who survived the Nakba and stayed in Israeli controlled areas of Palestine have citizenship of the state of Israeli today and they have seats in the Israeli parliament.
BUT they suffer under an apartheid system of laws which discriminate against them. As George Orwell might have said “All Israeli citizens are equal but some are more equal than others” or as Netanyahu puts it “Israel is not a state for all its citizens”.
If you are a Palestinian citizen of Israel you are exempt from military service in the Israeli Defence Force – in fact you are banned from military service – and because you have not served you are denied state assistance in a whole range of areas. If you are a Palestinian citizen of Israel you are a second class citizen. You are living in an apartheid state.
Who is the international expert on apartheid? Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This Nobel Peace prize winner says the situation is worse for Palestinians than it was for black South Africans under apartheid.
Tutu says “I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing in the Holy Land that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under apartheid.”
When he is asked what the world should do about Israel’s discriminatory policies he says “name it apartheid and boycott!”.
Most importantly for us Tutu says: “We could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through….non-violent means, such as boycotts and disinvestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime.”
It’s important to remember in this context that Israel, the UK and the US were the three last ditch supporters of white South Africa at the United Nations in the face of international condemnation of South Africa’s apartheid system. The situation in Israel was such a close parallel to South Africa that Israel was a natural ally. Back in the 1960s White South African President Hendrik Verwoerd used to say “Why is everyone picking on South Africa? Israel has the same system we have, so why are we being singled out?”. Good question.
So how do Israel leaders get away with these racist policies?
One important way is by the trick!
Speaking in 2002 former Israeli Education Minister, Shulamit Aloni, was interviewed on the US site Democracy Now and the interviewer asked:
“Often when there is dissent expressed in the United States against policies of the Israeli government, people here are called anti-Semitic. What is your response to that as an Israeli Jew?
Ms Aloni’s response was: “Well, it’s a trick, we always use it. When from Europe somebody is criticizing Israel, then we bring up the Holocaust. When in this country people are criticizing Israel, then they are anti-Semitic. … and that is to justify everything we do to the Palestinians.”
We see this “trick” used in New Zealand and around the world frequently and we will see it used tonight.
In fact Israel has given up trying to win the argument for a Zionist state. They know its indefensible. So their focus has shifted to trying to shut down criticism of Israel. But throwing around claims of anti-Semitism like confetti against BDS supporters will not stop the struggle for Palestinian rights.
What should New Zealand’s response be? It should be based on three things:
Firstly, we must recognise that the so-called two-state solution is no longer possible. It has been buried under illegal Israeli settlements. The solution lies in a single, secular state where all ethnic and religious rights are protected in a democratic constitution which give equal rights to everyone.
Secondly, we have a developing understanding of colonisation and its devastating effects on Maori. We have begun to move forward on this as a country, but we have a long way to go.
Thirdly, New Zealanders have a proud record of standing up against racism and injustice. We took action in support of black South Africans suffering under apartheid and we can take action NOW to support Palestinians suffering under Israeli apartheid.
New Zealanders must demand: the end of Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land, the right of return for Palestinians expelled by Israel and the end of apartheid laws discriminating against Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship and…
New Zealanders must support Palestinian calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. This means, for example, ending New Zealand Superfund investments in Israel, closing the Israeli embassy in Wellington and boycotting Israeli goods.
The fevered attempts by Israel to close down the BDS movement shows just how crucial it is in bringing pressure for change in Palestine.
We can multiply our effectiveness in doing these things by working together – so join your local PSNA group.
I want to finish with an appeal to the New Zealand Jewish community.
I want you to consider the Star of David. For thousands of years it has been a positive symbol of Jewish religious and cultural practices. A symbol of the deep, rich family and community values that are at the heart of Jewish communities.
Now I want you to consider what Israel has done with the Star of David on the Israeli flag. Successive Israeli leaders have transformed it into a symbol of colonisation, a symbol of subjugation, a symbol of military aggression and occupation, a symbol of apartheid, a symbol of racism and a symbol of brutal oppression.
I appeal to Jewish communities across this country to reclaim the Star of David from the Zionists’ ideology and rehabilitate it as a symbol of Jewish values, a symbol of religious and ethnic tolerance, a symbol of compassion and a symbol of pride. A symbol emphasising the mystical Hebrew concept of tikkun olam “healing or restoring the world”.
This means insisting that the New Zealand Jewish Council rename itself the New Zealand Zionist Council. It also means helping a new Jewish Council to emerge with the values needed to support freedom and justice for all peoples – beginning with freedom for Palestinians in the land they have lived in for thousands of years.
We know that this will be difficult, but you also need to know that across New Zealand there are many allies in the fight for Palestinian freedom and in the fight against the rise of anti-Semitism.
I personally have been privileged to work alongside many Jews who were key players in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and who have supported and applauded our efforts in the struggle for Palestinian human rights.
Some of these courageous Jews have been Holocaust survivors themselves.
They recognise racism, they recognise apartheid and they utterly reject the Zionist ideology.
Our group, the Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa, will be with you at the forefront in fighting anti-Semitism. We hope that more of you will be at the forefront in the struggle to liberate Palestine.
Kia ora koutou.
I look forward to your questions.
A video of the full event, including responses to the above, can be viewed here.