By Yael Winikoff.
Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, celebrates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It has come to be traditionally viewed as a time to reflect on victory, joy and peace, and for these reasons has been a date that has been marked with marches and protests on such issues as war, nuclear disarmament and the broader impacts of the nuclear industry.
On Palm Sunday 1982, an estimated 100,000 people attended anti-nuclear rallies across Australia’s cities. These rallies grew by the year, with an estimated 350,000 rallying in 1985. The Palm Sunday rallies were part of the anti-nuclear movement which focused on halting Australia’s mining, abolishing nuclear weapons, removing foreign military bases from Australia and creating a nuclear-free Pacific. In 1986 some 250,000 people marched, and in Melbourne the seamen’s union boycotted the arrival of foreign nuclear warships.
The Palm Sunday rallies during this era, which were organised by the People for Nuclear Disarmament, reflected a strong and vibrant anti-nuclear movement which was successful in influencing government policy.
In 1984 the ALP introduced the three mine policy, limiting the number of prospective and new uranium mines.
Up until 1990, Palm Sunday attracted large numbers of people taking to the streets, with stalls and family friendly protests. After this time, the movement began to shrink, however Palm Sunday rallies continued to occur, demonstrating against various anti-war and anti-nuclear causes. Many focused on the risk of nuclear war, and throughout the gulf wars, marches were held under the banner “no blood for oil.” In Melbourne 2003, 25,000 people marched against the war in Iraq.
In 2014, RAC (Refugee Action Collective) and RAN (Refugee Advocacy Network) canvassed the idea of holding pro refugee rallies on Palm Sunday, reflecting the growing crisis of Australia’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers and failed refugee policies. Since then they have attracted a broad network of groups to co-organise these rallies, which have progressively grown in size since 2014. Last year an estimated 15,000 people marched in Melbourne, demanding justice for refugees, closing the camps on Nauru and Manus and permanent protection for asylum seekers. the AJDS participated in the organising committee and invited Jews for Refugees member Sylvie Leber to speak to the march alongside an interfaith panel.
Sylvie Leber addressed the crowd on the Jewish experience of seeking safety and values towards refugees:
“Judaism commands us to recognise the vulnerability of strangers among us, and to treat them with respect and dignity. Indeed, with love, because our people have often been strangers in a strange land, and have stood where they now stand.
We stand in solidarity with people of all faiths across our country who have offered protection and sanctuary for people seeking asylum.
When France was invaded by the Nazis during WW2, my family was assisted and saved by people smugglers, who helped them get false papers and get them to the free French zone. I would not be standing here today, I would not have been born, if it were not for people smugglers.”
Sylvie’s speech available here: https://www.facebook.com/colette.leber.5/videos/10156675897560717/
View more pictures of the Melbourne 2016 Palm Sunday rally:
Palm Sunday rally 2017
The 2017 Melbourne Walk For Justice For Refugees will be on Sunday April 9 at 2pm, commencing at the State Library. AJDS has again been involved in the organising committee, and the rally is endorsed by AJDS and Jews for Refugees.
The demonstration will draw attention to conditions on Nauru and Manus, which was declared illegal in April of last year, and demanding to bring them here. Organisers have also raised concern over the 30,000 refugees living in the community on Bridging Visas who cannot receive permanent protection, resulting in separation of families, uncertainty and fear of being deported under the government’s new fast track assessment process.
We encourage all our members and supporters to join us at this Palm Sunday rally. More details can be found here:
By Sivan Barak.
Every Friday night for the past 60 weeks I’ve driven out of the ‘ghetto’, over the river, just 32 km south, to the far away land of Broadmeadows. It’s a weekly participation in a macabre ritual, the antithesis to Melbourne’s dubious title, ‘most livable city’. During these visits I witness what I can only describe as Australia’s “banality of evil”, Hannah Arendt’s confronting and harsh term, coined after witnessing the trial of Adolf Eichmann.
Men and women, who are employed by us, uphold cruel violations of human rights. They maintain they are “just following orders” and “needing to pay their mortgage”. It is a surreal experience, as an Australian, to enter a realm, a bubble in our urban space, in which one relinquishes their rights to as simple a request as gifting a book to a detainee, or pointing out administrative incompetence. The desire to visit the detainees, combined with the constant threat of refusal, is manipulated and used against me as leverage to shut down any discussion or query.
MITA (Melbourne Immigration and Transit Accommodation) holds people who are seeking asylum, who have committed no crime. Most asylum seekers detained here are seeking medical treatment. Yet it is a high security facility with rules and regulations for prisons. No mobile phones, musical instruments, or craft materials are permitted during visits. Visitors are required to sit throughout the two-hour visit, without moving from their seat. If a detainee needs to use the bathroom, their visit is terminated.
The visitor community is an incredibly diverse group, spanning all ages and genders, united by a deep-set understanding that a terrible injustice, an insidious evil, is being perpetrated in own name. Our role is to witness lives, to know names, to hug and love and support human beings who could be us, who are now our family. Every week, every visit, my life is enhanced by the trust and love bestowed upon me by my friends inside. I would like to share the thoughts of one young inspiring visitor who wrote this last year:
“Something which I have been thinking of a lot lately is the way the term ‘the voiceless’ is used.
When people refer to people in oppressed situations, they often refer to them as people without a voice or ‘voiceless’.
The thing is people aren’t voiceless.
People seeking asylum aren’t voiceless.
Indigenous people aren’t voiceless.
The LGBTQI+ community aren’t voiceless.
Minority groups aren’t voiceless.
Those living under war, occupation and military rule aren’t voiceless.
Situations, governments, armed forces, militaries and institutions use force, control, media, power, money and violence to keep voices quiet.
These powers do all they can to speak louder, to speak over the top, to control messages, to control people and put them in situations that limit their capacity to be heard.
But people are never voiceless.
Sometimes their voices are taken.
Sometimes their words are misused.
Sometimes they are silenced.
But this doesn’t make them voiceless.
Despite all the layers of oppression people continue to speak up, people continue to be strong, to be true, to share their stories and they continue to speak out.
We just need to listen better.
We need to put ourselves in the right places so that we hear the truth.
We need to allow ourselves to be confronted by the truth of the world.
We need to be the ones listening to the voices of those being oppressed, as they are being oppressed by the very structures and institutions that many of us benefit from.
We may advocate and speak of the things we see, hear and know as the unjust truths. But we aren’t (or shouldn’t be!) speaking of, or for voiceless people.
We are speaking of people who have strong, brave, determined, and unwavering voices.
They’re just not being listened to.”
Jasmine Pilbrow 2016
If you want to get involved, there are so many ways. Let me know.
We share with you the following initiative from Love Makes a Way:
Join us in a Powerful Act of Truth-Telling!
Can you sense change is coming? In response to the #NauruFiles, refugee advocates from all different organisations have been holding vigils, rallies and peaceful acts of civil disobedience to let the Government and Opposition know that enough is enough — Australia’s inhumane treatment of people seeking asylum must end.
As part of this ongoing effort, a coalition of organisations, including LMAW, will be holding #NauruFiles reading vigils around Australia during the week of 12–16 Sept, 2016. At these vigils we will be aiming to read as many of the 2,116 incident reports as possible, as a way to publicly narrate the cruelty that’s occurring in Australia’s detention centres.
Please share this event on Facebook,
and announce it at your church on the weekend.
We want to send a message to the Government and Opposition that the abuse, assault and conditions detailed in the Nauru reports must end, and that they must take responsibility for their poor decisions and the culture of secrecy that has been created around immigration detention.
Most of all, we want to see Australia’s offshore detention camps shut down immediately. Will you join us?
Whether you can give an hour or ten, head to your nearest reading vigil to help us narrate the truth from within our detention centres.
Monday 12 September
BRISBANE: 8am–6pm, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 299 Adelaide St, Brisbane
Tuesday 13 September
ADELAIDE: 8am–5pm, Pilgrim Uniting Church Forecourt, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide
Wednesday 14 September
MELBOURNE: 8am–6pm, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 2 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Thursday 15 September
PERTH: 8am–6pm, Wesley Church, 75 William St, Perth
Friday 16 September
SYDNEY: 8am–6pm, Queen Victoria Building (south end), Cnr George St and Druitt St, Sydney
The following is taken from the campaign page of the Centre for Jewish Nonviolence:
This summer, Jews from around the world are working with Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent activists to end the occupation and build a just future for all.
We’re invited to stand in solidarity with Palestinians living under daily threat of displacement.
Help us stand up to injustice with courage, so that we can plant hope for a future grounded in dignity and justice.
We need your support to:
We’re thrilled to announce that we have a matching grant of $1,000! During the first week of this fundraising campaign every dollar raised up to $1,000 will be matched by our Israeli partners in All That’s Left.
“The situation in Susiya is only one of many such situations in Area C of the West Bank. Several villages near ours have pending demolition orders as well. If Susiya is destroyed and its residents expelled, it will serve as a precedent for further demolitions and expulsions through the South Hebron Hills and Area C of the West Bank. This must not be allowed to happen.”
For years, Jews around the world have commemorated significant life events such as bar and bat mitzvahs or weddings by giving money to plant trees in Israel. The planting of a tree symbolizes life, growth, hope and steadfastness. This summer, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence is carrying these values into the fight against the injustices of Israeli occupation. Alongside our Palestinian partners we will be planting Za’atar herbs and helping to build infrastructure for future agricultural projects in communities that are struggling under Israel’s military occupation.
Agriculture is the economic life-blood of these communities, but Israeli policy and settler violence and intimidation prevent and suppress efforts made by community members to plant and harvest their fields.
Planting is not just about securing economic livelihood, it is also an important form of resistance to the Occupation. Our partners in the South Hebron Hills endure unending threats ofdisplacement as a direct result of Israeli governmental policy which has often resulted in home demolitions (for more information see Ma’an, Haaretz or +972mag). Planting trees and working the land demonstrate rootedness (Sumud) and a firm stand against the occupation, solidifying these communities’ ongoing presence on their lands.
* Donations to the Center for Jewish Nonviolence are tax-deductible under US law.
The Center for Jewish Nonviolence is a fiscally sponsored project of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call For Human Rights.
*All handicrafts the CJNV offers at various Donation Levels come from socially-conscious Palestinian artisans and crafts-makers, such as the Women in Hebron embroidery cooperative.
Who are we?
The Center for Jewish Nonviolence organizes international Jewish support for Palestinian & Israeli nonviolent resistance activists working to end the unjust occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Our campaign this summer, Occupation Is Not Our Judaism, will bring Jews from around the world to engage in direct action and nonviolent opposition to the occupation. We will spend 10 days with our partners in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills engaging in solidarity activism, standing with Palestinians being evicted from their homes and pushed off their land. As Jews from across the anti-occupation spectrum, we say to our own communities, to the Israeli government, and to the world that the occupation must not continue.
Will you help us stand in solidarity with the people of Hebron & the South Hebron Hills?
Answer the call and support this growing movement by contributing to our campaign.
Help us build a more just future for Palestinians, and for all the people who live between the River and the Sea.
Please give generously and Share this campaign with your networks!
Get to know the Center for Jewish Nonviolence’s Leadership team here
By Yael Winikoff.
Journalist Omar H. Rahman has said “the topic (of normalisation) is reaching a fever pitch within Palestinian society.”1 The issue is most certainly pertinent in Palestinian discourse, at times very divisive, and clearly an issue relevant to AJDS’s stance on Israel/Palestine. Further to arguments and counterarguments around the normalisation debate, how can we implement some of these lessons into the work that we do?
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has defined normalization specifically in a Palestinian and Arab context “as the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people.” This definition is also endorsed by the BDS National Committee (BNC). PACBI’s website further states: “Normalization is the colonization of the mind, whereby the oppressed subject comes to believe that the oppressor’s reality is the only “normal” reality that must be subscribed to, and the oppression is a fact of life that must be coped with.”
The anti-normalization movement is in close quarters with the BDS movement in that it has called for an end to all interactions between Israelis and Palestinians that do not subscribe to the same three key tenets: ending the occupation; equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians; and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The movement has much traction in Palestinian communities, with virtually the entire political spectrum of Palestinian youth, student organizations and unions in the occupied Palestinian territory supporting anti-normalisation.2 The radical arm of the Palestinian anti-normalisation movement occasionally rejects any interaction with Israel and Israelis, and is also the subject of robust debate.3
The discourse of coexistence echoes the same tensions implicit in normalisation. Coexistence projects and initiatives tend not to highlight the power imbalances present between Israelis and Palestinians and as such seek to foster a seed of hope for both peoples living together side by side in a peace that does not recognise the core demands of Palestinian civil society.
Palestinians and Jews holding hands around Jerusalem, or attending hug rallies, may make us feel optimistic and guilt free inside, but does little to challenge the very real conditions of occupation and oppression that is daily lived by Palestinians. It does little to illustrate the differing lives lived by participants, by oppressor and oppressed, when they go back to their homes and privileges after a well photographed snapshot of coexistence. What it says, is both parties can rise above the social stigmas and national narratives that give fuel to the intractability of the conflict, without ever actually addressing the conflict itself. It occurs within a vacuum, whereby celebrations of the act of a Palestinian holding hands with a Jew is excised from the very real subject of power that exists in that space. While a Jewish Israeli has more rights and privileges, including freedom of movement, safety from the violence of the occupation, access to State delivered services derived from contested land and water resources, etc., a Jew and Palestinian holding hands in Jerusalem are existent in very differing spaces.
The arguments against coexistence seek to posit a framework where these injustices and power imbalances are addressed rather than normalised and obfuscated. Coexisting means life as usual, no matter how unjust it is. It is easy for an Israeli who participates in normalisation projects to feel that they are not part of the problem. That because they have Palestinian friends of colleagues they have surpassed the oppressions designated within society, even if they are doing nothing to address the injustices that are being committed by their society.
This is exemplified by the fact that almost all coexistence groups in Israel are run by Jews, with funding coming often from Jewish donors abroad or locally. These groups have also received criticism for engaging a “token Arab as co-director.” The post-Oslo period saw an explosion in normalisation programs, which gained credibility and funding when words such as “joint” or “coexistence” were used. The Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information estimates that between September 1993 until September 2000 US$20-$25 million was allocated for funding people-to-people projects.4 Coexistence programs became lucrative while the issue of the deteriorating conditions for Palestinians under occupation remained undealt with, leading to a growing anti-normalisation movement.5
The peace movement has long been dragged along a never ending process of dialogue which has led Palestinians further away from goals of self-determination and achieving statehood. It has done this with the help of projects, rhetoric and images that have fuelled the propaganda required to render the process of negotiations detrimental, such as the staged and now iconic image of coexistence.
In Australia, while some Jews may feel no connections to Israel, we still possess more rights via the Law of return than Palestinians. According to this law we can enter and live in Israel and automatically be assigned the same set of privileges enjoyed by Israeli Jews. So too, coexistence and normalisation projects in Australia serve the same asymmetrical power imbalances existing in Israel.
While anti-normalisation discourse has gained much traction, there is also rigorous critique of its ideologies and methods. Some argue that shutting off to individuals and organisations plays into the hands of the status quo, and is not an effective means of achieving Palestinian rights and self-determination.6 Joel Braunold and Huda Abuarquob, two leaders of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, an umbrella group of civil society activists in Israel and Palestine assert:
“In their effort to delegitimize coexistence programming, anti-normalization activists lampoon people-to-people activities as Israelis and Palestinians coming together to eat hummus then go home. This is an utterly false representation of the people-to-people movement today. Look at the thousands engaged by Parents Circle or Combatants for Peace, the farmers whose crops have not wasted thanks to Olive Oil Without Borders or the communities receiving fresh water owing to the work of EcoPeace. These are just a sample of thousands of people whose lives have been changed through joint programs.”
Interviews and discussions with dissenting Israelis and Jews has found that many individuals who in time challenge the occupation rather than following the status quo began questioning their position after interpersonal interactions with Palestinians. This must in part be credited to the work of person to person coexistence projects. Anti-normalisation beckons the question where is the room for debate, for discussion, for convincing someone who doesn’t subscribe to your own view?7
However, these counterarguments articulating the gains of coexistence and normalisation projects are increasingly being met with dialogue which addresses the complexities of the issue and attempts to etch out ways of working that subvert normalisation. For example, there are a number of organisations that have undergone self-reflection and restructured their organisation and programs to deliver more shared decision making structures and moderation, and altered their discourse on dialogue and co-participation. The principles espoused in the anti-normalisation camp does not posit a complete disengagement of Israelis and Palestinians, but rather a reflection on the work and outcomes that are achieved by such relationships, with a focus on ending the occupation, solidarity and “coresistance.”
Whilst various bodies have provided parameters of ant-normalisation, likening it to BDS demands, the critique of normalisation stands on its own merit as a valid deconstruction of the impact of normalisation projects. In campaigning for justice for Palestinians, we can unpack the work that we do and ask ourselves whether we are fostering a “life as normal” paradigm implicated in coexistence projects, and whether we are explicitly or implicitly endorsing the status quo. We can actively seek to become aware of the privileges that we have as Jews or Israelis.
And in addressing the question of where the room for debate and discussion is within the disengagement of anti-normalisation, in the Australian context there is plenty of room for establishing these spaces for discussion within our own Jewish communities. Whilst Palestinian stories, narratives and lived experience is central to the occupation, the occupation itself, as a policy of the Israeli State is something that can, and should be discussed within Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli spaces.
Translated by Moriel Rochman-Zecher. Originally published at thelefternwall.com/2016/05/01/6-myths-of-the-left-by-idan-landau/ and in Hebrew at idanlandau.com.
The following analysis of the Left by Idan Landau is drawn from the Israeli context in which he finds himself, though as Moriel Rochman-Zecher points out, having translated it for his blog, The Leftern Wall, it is applicable elsewhere.
You can relax: This is not another fiery tirade against about “the problem with the Left.” Even during the periods in which this blog was more active, “the problem with the Left” didn’t concern it. From my perspective, the major problem with/for the Left has been and remains the nationalistic-capitalistic regime of privileges in Israel. Denunciation and public crucifixion of “traitors to the cause” does not constitute a political agenda, regardless of the spiritual needs it may satisfy.
My goal in this piece, as such, is not to wag my finger at anyone; not to dictate, and not to admonish. My goal is more modest: to try to free the imaginations (and through them, the actions) of those on the Left who are chained by certain ways of thinking, among them— myself. Therefore, these ideas are directed not only toward you, but also toward me. In the practice of engaging in politics, and more so, in the practice of struggle, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. It is easy to forget what is more important and what is less. What we want to work and what actually works. It can be said that I tried to answer [the Israeli rock band] Mashina’s piercing question, “Why should I deal with politics now?”, in a non-polemical manner, even as answers [to Mashina’s question] will be happily received. Experience shows that few will budge from their opinions.
And also this: I did not try to sew despair, or to inspire hope. These will be, at the most, by-products of the analysis.
And so, the six myths that I will present here are aimed at the beliefs and behaviours of — let’s say cautiously — certain segments of the political Left in Israel, without committing to a singular meaning of “Left.” Toward those who are convinced that in order to fulfil the Left’s political goals…
1. “We need to achieve a political majority.”
This is the most basic and most damaging myth. There is no basis for the claim that ‘’only a camp that turns into a political majority can fulfil its goals.’’ Buried within this naive belief, taken directly from seventh grade citizenship textbooks, is a paradox: A camp cannot become a political majority as long as it cannot present to the public achievements that will convince them that it is worth voting for this camp. But if its impossible to achieve anything without a majority, then how is it possible to obtain a majority?
In practice, it is very much possible to achieve without a majority. It is also possible to manoeuvre the majority from the sidelines. The founders of the settlements of Kfar Etzion and Sebastia, Hana Porat and Moshe Levinger, did not stand at the head of any political camp when they created facts on the ground right after the Six Day War. It is doubtful if they had more than 100 people on their side. The “Gush Emunim” movement, which was founded after the Yom Kippur War, represented a tiny minority of the religious public, and certainly of the general public. On the subject of their achievements in the years that followed, to the point of no-return, there is no need to elaborate.
Many less dramatic examples exist, too. The Refusenik protest movement during the First Lebanon War, “Four Mothers,” social and ecological movements about specific issues — sexual harassment, minors’ rights, sub-contracted teachers, pollution on the beaches, oil shale, public housing — none of these struggles represented the “majority.” They represented small parts of the public, aware and informed about the ways in which politics impact their fates, dedicated and committed to their goals, in a long term sense, unafraid of personal sacrifices. These struggles reaped successes, despite the fact that large parts of the public were not even aware of them.
What, anyhow, is the “Majority” in modern society? Faceless, identity-less masses; clay in the hands of propagandists and creators of cheap entertainment. The Majority does not take part in the political process, either due to apathy or exclusion. The vote cast every four years does not create change for the future, but rather, at most, ratifies political change that has already taken place, if even that.
As such, leave the Majority alone. The Majority will never be in your pockets. The convergence of a developed set of values and mass political action by the Majority, is an extremely rare event. It is called a Social Revolution, and in the history of each nation, there are no more than two or three such moments. Most of them end in a bloodbath. Regular democracies, which celebrate “majority rule,” in practice actually function as brutal battlefields for united interest groups, each of which represents a minority, and each of which alternately succeeds and loses. The real majority, i.e., the population, yawns in apathy at the spectacle. In shaky democracies like Israel, in which large segments of the public are excluded, either economically or ethnically, from the centres of power, it can be ruled conclusively that “the majority does not rule.”
The most determined minority rules.
2. “We must win hearts and minds over to the values of equality, justice and humanism.”
Yes, for sure. Sometime. No doubt. Very important.
But actually, not urgent. In fact, in the short term — this goal is superfluous. “Values education” is not an easily-digestible kit distributed by the Pedagogical Centre in the Education Ministry. Values, as a way of life and not simply as rhetoric, are something that is built over many years. What happens between the walls of the schools is just a small part of this process, which is, more than anything, influenced by the general public environment in a society, by conversations with friends, by newspaper headlines. And we must admit that in the current period, this environment in Israel is poisonous and the polar opposite of equality, justice and humanism. To reverse it would be a project that would take decades, just as bringing it about took decades of increasingly extreme indoctrination. If anti-black racism in the United States hasn’t evaporated decades after it was made illegal, there is no reason to think that Israel will turn into a progressive society in our lifetime. It won’t happen. Wake up.
These are hard truths to digest, but an open-eyed political struggle cannot allow itself to ignore them. Such a struggle must internalize their meaning, and divert its limited resources, growing smaller and smaller each day, to effective political horizons. What do we want to achieve? To eliminate the regime of apartheid in the Territories? To return to every Palestinian sovereignty over her life, her income, her place of living? These are difficult goals to achieve, but they are feasible. To create a value-change in a society in which half of its population supports the expulsion of Arabs? That is not a feasible goal.
Conclusion: We should adopt an approach that focuses on behaviours, and not on mentalities. We should try to shape deeds and not beliefs. Fortunately for us, the path toward changing behaviours need not run through altered beliefs. Criminals of every sort cease their crimes not because they have been convinced that they are wrong, but rather because they did a simple act of arithmetic: The price became greater than the profit. This basic ability, to calculate price versus profit, is much more widespread than are humanistic values. This is an advantage that we should not disregard.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with educating for humanist values. My claim is that in the short term, it has no impact. It has supreme importance in the long term, in that every achievement obtained by the Left through “effective politics” will not last long in a society that is still tainted to its core with racism and xenophobia. Education professionals tasked with educating for values know this well. My argument is not geared toward them, but rather toward those on the Left who are still trapped in the illusion that in order to create meaningful change here, we need to “convince” as many people as possible that justice, equality and human dignity are more important than the sanctity of the Nation and the Land.
Effective politics, on the other hand, recognizes the sensitivities of the regime, and focuses its efforts on them. The boycott drives the government (and its media mouthpieces) crazy? Excellent. Exposure of the crimes committed by the Civil Administration embarrasses the “only democracy in the Middle East?” Excellent. Cross-Wall cooperation between Jews and Palestinians enrages the Commissars? Excellent.
How do we discern what is a sensitive point for the government? As in a body: when you press on a such a point, out comes a yell. We simply have to see what works. Here it is important to distinguish between a yell for the sake of propaganda, and a genuine yell. The government will frequently fabricate an enraged response to meaningless, fangless actions by the Opposition, in order to distract attention from real and severe crimes. Almost all of the Israeli political system, with its false dichotomy between “Left” and “Right,” is based off of this game. If so, how can we know that our action is effective against the regime — the system of apartheid and oligarchy — and not just against whoever is currently at its head? It is simple. If the Opposition attacks you as well, then your action has threatened something bigger than the distribution of political wealth between the two camps. In summary: If you anger [MK Isaac] Herzog and [MK Yair] Lapid (or whoever replaces them), you are on the right path.
Once again, this is not to argue against the importance of the dozens of organizations who act to minimize the suffering of the Occupation’s victims: in documenting, in helping with the olive harvest, in medical care, in escorting children to school, in legal representation. These victims cannot wait patiently for the Israeli boot, which has been resting on their necks for almost half a decade, to decide to remove itself. Humanitarian action, which disgusts the hearts of certain “strategic” radicals (some of whom blame it for the “eternalization of the Occupation”), is in fact the basic human obligation toward people who are injured, starved and impoverished at the hands of all of our emissaries.
3. “The Left needs to transcend all of its internal divisions and unite into a single political body.”
And then what? If we combined one one-thousandth and another one-thousandth and another one-thousandth, let’s say 100 times, what would we end up with? One hundred one-thousandths, a tenth. Still a tiny minority. Still far from “tipping the scales.” And anyway, what coalition would agree to the participation of Arab MKs, and what sort of Left can we have here without the participation of Arabs?
The entirety of the Left today — depending on how you define “Left” — is no more than one quarter of the population. And that is a very generous estimate, which includes many who hate Arabs, despise organized labour, and are just chauvinists. So what, precisely, will we gain when this entirety unites? What will we be able to do after the unification that we were not able to do before? Cut down administrative budgets?
The argument that “our power is in our unity” [Hebrew link to an Op Ed by former Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, which I couldn’t find in English – MRZ] rests on the illusion that “quantity creates quality.” Reality is much more complicated. Often times, quantity diminishes quality. The Left in Israel, minuscule and divided as it is, is struggling on dozens of difficult fronts simultaneously, and it’s difficult to see how exactly the unification of all of the Left’s bodies and organizations will advance these struggles, which demand expertise, Sisyphean documentation efforts, mastery of different public spheres (the courts, the media, Knesset Committees), and the building of trust and connections with oppressed groups. Large parts of these groups, by the way, are hostile toward one another. The demand to “unify at any price” ignores each oppressed group’s natural preference to firstly achieve its own goals, before fighting others’ battles, let alone the battles of the Others that they abhor. Is it right to sacrifice the just struggles of each community in the name of “education” toward universal rights?
Here is some startling news for those who are not meaningfully involved in the efforts: The Left is not “divided.” “The internal divisions” are not substantial. Members of Btselem do not spend their time engaged in battles against Yesh Din, and ASSAF does not put sticks in the wheels of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrant Workers. The good people active in these organizations understand very well that they are part of the same wide political-social-cultural front fighting for radical changes to the current regime. Everyone in his or her limited power is trying to chip away at the wall that is slowly closing around us all. Everyone is worried, and rightly so, that if she or he were to stop cracking away in her corner and would instead join some amorphous “unity” effort, the wall in that corner would grow thicker, and flourish, and the people she cares about would be crushed underneath it. Every day brings with it new injustices, new dangers; living as a Leftist in Israel today is like standing straight in a great muddy deluge rushing down a steep slope. If the Leftist stands with a few other companions, they may be able to defend those standing behind them. If they were to stand in a single, united front with all of their partners, they would be able to watch as the flood swept down all of the other slopes on which no one remained.
However you count the Left, it is small. So small that a thought of “how to turn into a majority in our time” is but a sad joke. When you are small and forced to struggle against forces greater than yourself, you do not waste your time on calculations of size and quantity, but rather focus your thinking and efforts on those action-horizons in which quantity does not matter. One camera in Hebron, one document leaking from a secret meeting between a Minister and an Oligarch: these can be “game changers” no less than a demonstration of hundreds of thousands (which is not going to happen anytime soon, at least not concerning the issues that actually matter).
4. “We must not cooperate with anyone who serves the existing regime.”
Nu, this sort of fastidiousness is a privilege reserved only for furious armchair-Leftists; and let’s be honest, if these armchair-Leftists were to take a look in any direction outside of their armchair, their gaze would fall upon someone who is serving the existing regime. The only logical conclusion of such a purist axiom is that no one should cooperate with anyone else, except for their own bellybuttons (and it wouldn’t hurt to be suspicious of your own bellybutton too, from time to time).
Here’s a recent example. After a long and Sisyphean struggle, the current Knesset passed The Amendments to the Public Housing Transparency Bill [Note: Landau again linked to a Hebrew Haaretz article which I could not find in English; I chose to link to Rabbis for Human Rights’ website, as the organization has been involved in the aforementioned efforts -MRZ] which obligates public housing companies to regularly update the tenants in regard to their rights, their obligations, and every process ongoing in their cases. The law also obligates the companies to update those who are eligible for public housing —who have been waiting for years [Hebrew] for housing— about every decision related to their cases. In a civilized country, such a law would not be thought of as an “achievement” [Hebrew]. After all, we are talking about the most basic obligation of a government toward its citizens; prior to the obligation to fulfil citizens’ rights stands the obligation to not hide from them the information needed in order to obtain their rights. But in Israel, as we know, the government has neglected its obligation for years, and exploited the tenants’ and eligible tenants’ lack of information in order to dispossess them of their legal rights.
The Amendments to the Public Housing Transparency Bill seems to be one of the most important achievements by the Left in recent years. Not incidentally, media coverage of this achievement and its implications was pushed into the margins. Behind this Bill stand two legislators: MK Dov Khenin and MK Orly Levy-Abekasis. The latter is known as a member of a radical right-wing party, which possess fascist traits (such as advocating stripping citizenship from Arab citizens of the Triangle). The Minister Miri Regev, not exactly a human rights warrior herself, advanced this Bill.
And so, was it a mistake to cooperate with MK Levy-Abekasis and Minister Regev? Let’s recall that the role of Members of Knesset in such struggles is important but not central. Members of Knesset are the “finishers” of a relay race, those who translate the fruits of ongoing public struggle to an act of legislation. The struggle itself has been coordinated for years in the civil sphere, by the Public Housing Forum and other groups of dedicated activists, who were the only ones on the Left to show signs of life [Hebrew] during the last elections. These activists correctly identified their partners in struggle in the Knesset, and created an ad-hoc coalition with them. Do the Public Housing activists vote for Hadash or Yisrael Beitenu? An irrelevant question. From an ethical, political and economic perspective, their struggle was a Leftist struggle par excellence. The fact that the parliamentary Left in Israel did not place public housing at the forefront of its agenda is a testament to the emptiness of the categories of “Left” and “Right” in Israeli politics.
In summary: In just, principled, correct political struggles, there is no place for taste and smell. A partner in struggle is tested only on the basis of his or her actions — not on the basis of declarations, political identifications, skin colour, race or sex. This is all the more so in regards to a small, weak Left, which is not able to enlist a wide coalition with the stroke of an SMS, and thus does not have the privilege to rummage around the drawers of any potential partner.
This does not mean that cooperation on one political front should lead to agreeing with or forgiving the same partners on others. It certainly does not mean that the Left has to “soften” or “Centerize” its messages in order to suck up to the Centre. This losing strategy has never given a thing to Leftist struggles, and one need to do no more than recall the names Haim Ramon, Benyamin Ben Elazar and Haim Herzog in order to illustrate this point.
We should struggle against racists when they advance racist policies, but there is nothing preventing us from working with them when the result is egalitarian policy (and even in cases in which this was not their intention; results are more important than intentions). This is not easy. Truly, it is easier to stay by ourselves in the playground and build imaginary friends in the sand. You don’t have to strain and make sacrifices for the sake of a just political struggle. There will always be other who will struggle for you. But you do owe them respect. Sit quietly, don’t interrupt, don’t disdain.
5. “The Left needs to reach out to … and not to …”
For example: The Left needs to reach out to an Israeli audience and not to an international audience. For example: the Left needs to reach out to the Periphery and not to the Centre. To Arabs and not to Jews. To the heart and not to the brain. Truly, there is no end to such recommendations.
So perhaps one last recommendation: Enough of the recommendations of “this yes, that no.” Such recommendations undermine the most fundamental basis of the Left — the universal value of human beings, as they are. Political proclivities based on fences and exclusion do not advance the values of the Left. And they don’t work. Yes, it is extremely important to speak with Mizrahim and the Periphery, but how does this negate turning to international bodies, as the Israeli regime silences and foils all criticism? Must the just struggle of a handicapped Jewish person from Be’er Sheva for his right to housing —a struggle that has a chance of succeeding through intra-Israeli means — come at the expense of a no less just struggle of Bedouins in the Negev whose village is not recognized, and against whom the State has enacted policies of discrimination and theft for five decades, and for whom the chances of success without international support are virtually none?
Must solidarity with Jews exclude Arabs? Must solidarity with the LGBT community exclude the religious community? The accelerated of Israeli society, to the point of general fragmentation, is not a “natural” phenomenon; it is the result of an ethnocratic regime of privatization, based on the principle of “divide and conquer,” which advocates sectoral politics at the expense of the greater good. It is the result of the sacrifice of rights discourse — or, more precisely, discourse concerning the obligations of the State to its citizens — at the altar of identity discourse. Does the Left need to take these sectoral buffer-zones as facts, as the topography of the political field to which we must adjust ourselves, or can we challenge them? And is there a better way to undermine the “sectoral cages” than to adopt pluralistic, heterogeneous, multi-dimensional politics, which lay wreckage to current orders?
Leftists, and also other general kibbitzers, tend to give out advice to the Left about how it should and shouldn’t carry out its struggles. The recommendation to avoid such advice-giving is not simply another act of such advice-giving: Simply, it is a call to return to goals and basic values their birthrights, and to recognize this: different are the pathways and methods and communities needed to get to each goal and each value.
6. “The Left has already lost” / “In the end, the Left will win.”
Meaningless myths. Define “already,” define “end,” define “Left,” define “loss,” define “victory.” You can’t, and even if you could, you won’t agree with each other [Hebrew] about the definitions. So what can we agree on? That there is suffering in the world, that much of it is unnecessary suffering, and that we are responsible for a small part of this unnecessary suffering, and that we have the tools to prevent it. It is enough to know what to do in this life, without knowing how it will end, and who will win in the end.
Following is an edited transcript of an ad-libbed talk with Sivan Barak at Limmud Oz and the ensuing Q&A, June 26, 2016. The session was originally meant to include Bassam Dally, who was disinvited. Go to ajds.org.au/2016/06/limmudoz/ to read the AJDS statement about Dally’s disinvitation.
My name is Sivan Barak, I’m from Melbourne. I know some of you, not all of you. This session was going to be a conversation with a Palestinian person who lives in Australia, in Adelaide, his name is Bassam Dally. We’re not very good friends, but have come across each other a few times over the past few years. We emailed each other and thought about having a conversation, and I explained what Limmud Oz is. He’d not heard about it but thought it was a really interesting idea. He’s all about ideas.
So we submitted, and thought about what we’d discuss as two people who have a lot of agreement but also a lot of disagreement. We wanted to just sit and have the conversation with the people around us, because we don’t get a lot of opportunities to do that, certainly not here. A lot of it is one person in front of a screen, debating and wordsmithing the debates, and looking up facts and backing them up. To have a relaxed conversation with each other and be comfortable with our own views to be able to have this kind of conversation. He agreed to do this.
Our proposal was accepted. We sent in our bios, they were uploaded to the event website, then a few days later we received an email saying that unfortunately Bassam was disinvited because of his public political stance. And that it was against the submission policies of Limmud Oz. When you submit to present at Limmud Oz there is a hyperlink with terms and conditions – and I’m sure you all always click on those hyperlinks and read them thoroughly, as I do. Well We didn’t, just assuming that we are law abiding citizens and we don’t have to do that. Some of his public stances are unacceptable in this privately run organization and therefore he was disinvited. I was allowed to continue with my session, while he wasn’t, though in that same email he was offered to attend the conference at a concession rate. And he did plan to fly here from Adelaide and attend, having already arranged his academic schedule, but decided not to in the last minute.
He did say to me that I should go ahead, and gave me names of ‘appropriate’ Palestinians that could pass the terms and conditions and that I should contact them and ask them to participate. I didn’t feel very comfortable doing that, as an Israeli person, to pick my opponent, I didn’t think that was the right role for me.
Bassam and I will have this conversation when he next comes down to Melbourne, and we’ll forward it. So if anyone is interested, it will be available.
By the way, this is Bassam’s chair [empty chair].
What we planned was actually not to plan it, but to prepare difficult questions for each other, questions that are usually asked of one’s opposition. But we wanted to have this amongst people who are not so opposing of each other but still have huge disagreements about certain serious issues. And so we had planned to prepare the questions and do the hard talk. But because he’s not here I can’t really ask those questions.
He did prepare something that I could read out, but I feel that that wouldn’t be a conversation, nor a dialogue, nor would I learn from it.
From the day I formed myself as a thinking being, having conversations was about having my own opinions and relying on my common sense, my sense of right and wrong, my capacity to listen, learn, and find myself sometimes wrong, and find myself sometimes arguing to change someone’s opinions. It’s confronting and difficult but it’s a lost art. I think we don’t do that very much anymore. We are always so terrified of conflict, and not knowing enough, and not being in our zone of specialised information.
I’m not an academic, so I can’t cite endless treaties and histories. But I do know that since I came from Israel back to Australia (I came back 15 years ago, after having lived in Israel for 15 years and growing up in Israel) it was only here, for the first time, that I actually met Palestinians, and it was only here that I started actually hearing a narrative different to my own. It was only here that I started rethinking my own narrative and getting into robust discussions. And they have been really robust, with my Palestinian friends, who within their own groups have huge debate. We think we’re special, but we’re not. Every community has this going on, and in every community there are people struggling to sound their voice and to be heard and not to be frightened away by conflict, experts, and really strong language of victimhood.
The kinds of conversations we need to have both in Israel and here amongst our communities, are the ones that shift the fear of the other, and shift the completely separate nature of the two narratives that are living side by side.
This is not unique to Israel or Palestine. It’s everywhere. We’re just not having conversations. And regarding the idea of being tolerant to each other as an Israeli in Australia, I feel sometimes that everyone’s talking so quietly and it’s not heated, and anyone who’s lived in Israel understands that there’s a lot more hand gesturing and lot less personal space in which to engage. This, here, is so civil and lovely and polite, but we need to engage with less fear and more openness.
After Bassam was disinvited people started commenting on social media, and within the so-called Left, saying that they don’t support disinviting Bassam, because we think it’s okay to host this kind of discussion, we can withstand it. But, we don’t agree with a lot of what you’re saying, though we support your right to say it. None of these people have ever had a conversation with me, nor have any of them ever had a conversation with Bassam, so how would anyone know if they agree with us or not, unless we have these kinds of conversations?
People said they’ll come to support the session, because they believe in creating opportunities for speech. A lot of them are not here. maybe that’s because its 9:30 on Sunday morning. but I wonder how many people have genuinely come here to have a discussion, haven’t made up their minds, or are sure that they know 100% how they feel about the Israeli Palestinian coexistence question? Is it possible? It’s a question that I think about a lot. Does anyone here have anything to learn about this, do we know everything? I find that I learn something every single day. Not because I’m not strong willed or opinionated, just ask my mother. I don’t lack capacity to argue, I’m not uninformed, but I learn all the time.
Every Friday night I leave work and drive from Carnegie up to Broadmeadows to the MITA Detention Centre. I sit for four hours with detainees and asylum seekers. There’s a group of us and we welcome the Sabbath there. Interestingly enough, there are two Sudanese asylum seekers there that spent a substantial amount of time trying to seek asylum in Israel and so a lot of them know a few words in Hebrew. One of those Friday nights was the first night of Passover, so they said, bring some matzah with you. So there I was, at the top end of Sydney Road, with lots of food, dipping matzah into some hummus, the guys speaking to each other in Fusha… I thought that that was astonishing and surreal. These are the conversations that actually challenge me, and teach me a lot. That happens to me all the time when I talk to Palestinians.
Sometimes it’s really disappointing, sometimes it pisses me off no end, because often I don’t agree with them, but it informs me about how I feel, and if I’m not present in those discussions I am not informed enough to make a decision about things. So that’s my introduction… But what I would like to hear from people, is, do you have questions you want to ask of each other, or of me?
Can you tell me what it is that Bassam said that was cause to be disinvited?
Well I’m not friends with Bassam personally, and I don’t hang out with him. I guess the terms and conditions relate to public statements he’s made. It would be really good if Bassam was here to explain it himself. I feel it would be like an Australian white person answering for an Indigenous person who was disinvited from a discussion about our joined history. It’s completely inappropriate for me to speak as an Israeli about Bassam and his opinions.
This session was meant to cover a lot of topics, not one particular thing. I’m not really sure what his views are on a whole range of things that are important to me, such as refugees, same sex marriage, religion, Israel, the solution. The idea for the session started when we realised we’re both born in 1964, have a lot of the same childhood memories, both grew up in Israel, both speak Hebrew and have a lot in common, as you would, with music, and different kinds of life experience. So that was where we’d start, with our commonalities, and find out more. I would like to know a lot more about his views.
Given the radical opinions that were disallowed, I can always Google him and find out what he says. Other than Google, what can I do?
Unfortunately, a Google search is very shallow and superficial. when we do have our conversation, I’ll invite you, if you’re interested, and we’ll put it online so it’s available for people to hear. But that’s the problem with searching for people and finding out what people think and feel through Google and online archives. They don’t necessarily represent the whole scope of what a person thinks. I can’t imagine that if anyone googled me they’d know anything about how I feel about particular things.
…I grew up on a kibbutz called Nahal Oz, and it’s right on the border of Gaza, and in the years when I grew up, the border was open, and on hot days my parents and I would go to the beach, which was down the road in Gaza, safely. I kind of grew up around Palestinians coming to visit us, and we went to visit them. Beyond that I didn’t know very much… I finished high-school here and then returned to Israel. I did the army and lived in lots of different places, first on kibbutz and later in Tel Aviv.
It was only during the last part of my army service that I actually met a Palestinian person, who was my age. We met in a joint theatre group in the neighbourhood. It wasn’t in the context of demonstrations. His name was Mustafa. He was pretty much the only Palestinian I knew, and at that time we’d just have tea at his house, or a coffee at our house. It didn’t shift a huge amount for me, except that I had met a Palestinian.
It was really only here that I got to know Palestinians. And I didn’t meet them for the purpose of doing so. I was invited to be part of a group discussion. The first thing that came to my mind, and this is something that maybe people who grew up in Israel would understand, was a concern about body smell. Because the only Palestinians I had seen in Tel Aviv were labourers, working on building sites, where they would stay and live, so had no access to showers. I could walk past and smell them. And so when I first met Palestinians I was worried about getting too close because I thought about that. I also wondered whether they’d be violent, or whether they would hate me.
First time I met another Palestinian, who was a friend of a friend, and we were waiting for the common friend, but we’d never met and were sitting in a church, talking about religion or something, waiting for guests. He introduced himself and I introduced myself, and he said, oh you’re Israeli… You’re a Zionist. And I said – Are you a terrorist? And he looked at me, and said, why would you say that? And I said, why would you start like that? You don’t even know me. I was getting a grasp on how I frame myself, how I feel about talking to Palestinians.
I started understanding that there is huge array and difference within the Palestinian community. Not just in their views on Palestine but also in the way that they live. Some of them are bad drivers and what have you. I guess the shift created in me was seeing the differences and the humanity in the other person. And that it’s okay for me to not like all Palestinians, and to disagree with some of them.
It made me question how I come with so much prejudice to almost every type of encounter. Even coming here, I was thinking about who hates me, who’s come here to prove me wrong, who’d disapprove of everything this woman is saying.
What is the nature of the meetings you started going to, were they political meetings?
There was an art exhibition I went to, a poetry reading, a whole range of things. Not necessarily political.
If Israeli children truly never engage with Palestinian children, how plausible is it that there will ever be coexistence?
That’s really challenging. It’s not just every Jewish Israeli that doesn’t meet a Palestinian, but also every Palestinian child will never meet an Israeli, except under very narrow circumstances. I first met Palestinians when I was in the army. It was in the West Bank in an army post. How could I possibly know anything about the other and how could they possibly know anything about me? That’s the thing. We need to have these kinds of conversations, we need to meet, and I imagine, and I’m not saying this in a disparaging way, that most of you didn’t come to hear me speak, but to hear Bassam, and that’s great. Because I think if Bassam was coming, or if we had a session outside of Limmud, we would get triple the number of people, because people want to hear and it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with listening to each other, nothing will happen to us, it won’t make us weaker. My resolve and opinions wont completely change. I might learn something, but that’s about it.
I met Bassam at Womadalaide, when he was on a stand for a Palestinian organisation in Adelaide that he’s active in. Bassam is Israeli born and I think the problem is that when we think of Israel we think of Jews but 20% of Israelis are not Jewish and I’m very sad that we are denied the opportunity to hear an Israeli voice, a different Israeli voice. I feel it’s really important that we hear all Israeli voices and I think we’re all diminished by what’s happened here today.
Is he Israeli or Palestinian?
He’s Israeli Palestinian.
Isn’t it the same thing?
Not necessarily. He was born just north of Haifa, and grew up in Haifa, went to Haifa university for his first degree. In Hebrew we’d call him an Israeli Arab, but he’s an Israeli Palestinian.
Seems like there’s been a boycott of your efforts, which is a systemic thing… What would be the one question that you would want to ask the person that would have been sitting in that chair? What was the first question that sprung to mind?
What I was going to ask him? I was thinking about whether I should reveal that…
For our benefit. What would have been the first question. Secondly, with the work that you do, you’re working within systems, but the system restricts your ability to pursue what you’re passionate about. What is it that the system needs to review, apart from its own power base, in order for things to move forward for better, healthier interaction between communities?
I would have begun by seeking his opinion on a project that I worked on here in Melbourne that started in 2008 with a group of volunteers.
First, some background: during the War of Independence, the Iraqi army was situated in Haifa and the local Arab citizens that fled hid behind it. 500 of the citizens of Haifa retreated with the Iraqi army. These were mostly older people women and children. They retreated to Baghdad, and of course never came back.
That community grew to 30,000 and then the Iraq war broke out, the Gulf War, and Palestinian Iraqis fled as well, since the bombs were not discerning. But they couldn’t go anywhere, not to Jordan, Turkey, Iran or Syria, so they got stuck in camps on the border between Syria and Iraq. Just the Palestinians.
In 2008 a group of us applied for resettlement to Australia on behalf of Palestinians living in those tents along the border. Bypassing the system, we downloaded a form, translated it into Arabic, sent it to them, applied on their behalf and we were successful in resettling at first 150 people and later 200 more. Resettling Palestinians to Australia, which means they were getting citizenship.
There were Israelis and Palestinians involved in this group of volunteers. Throughout the project I know that there were quite a few Palestinians living in the diaspora who were very critical of us doing that, of offering resettlement and citizenship for Palestinians, that this would do a disservice to their cause.
We are still in contact with many of the people who resettled in Melbourne, and I asked them how they felt about it. These are Palestinian Iraqis who have been basically displaced since before 1948, who have had no citizenship for over 60 years. I said, how do you feel about that? They said, you know what? What about we swap? We’ve done 60 years, how about they go there and we’ll just sit here and rest in the suburbs. That’s something that I feel that I can actually ask today. I’ve earned my right to ask that of a Palestinian. That’s not an easy question. Because they have huge debate within their community about this. But that would be something I would consider asking, especially because Bassam is part of a group of Palestinians who immigrated here; they didn’t flee, but migrated here for academic reasons.
I lived in Israel for 4 years and had very much the same kind of experience as you. I’ve had a Palestinian student in the same dormitory who’s had to leave because other Israelis didn’t want them there. But I’ll skip over that experience. What strikes me is the similarity to South Africa and the United States, where I’ve lived and worked. A continuing divide between African Americans and American Whites, and for all of the liberalism there’s still an incredible psychological gap and fear. And it was only when I began to work with African Americans that I really began to transform, and they transformed as well. So we need to talk. There are things you agree or disagree on, there are people who are jerks, and it’s clear there are people who are not jerks. It seems what’s happened a few times now here in Melbourne, is that there’s such a need for control and management based on stereotyping. And I hate to say it, but the only acceptable Negros are tame Negros, or niggers, and I’m really using that term advisedly, but that’s the kind of attitude that I feel is completely out of date.
On that note, this Friday, I was driving from Carnegie to Broadmeadows, I took with me a Sudanese man who has been released into community detention and is living in Keysborough. He’s a Sudanese Muslim, who’s spent some time seeking asylum in Israel, was sent back to Sudan, and made his way here. He was in MITA for 34 months and was released two weeks ago into community detention. So we’re driving. It’s an hour and a half of intense conversation in traffic. This time, we’re joined by my 17-year-old nephew, visiting from San Francisco over his summer break. He goes not to a Jewish school but to a state school there, and has a lot of friends who are asylum seekers from Arab countries. So the two boys, as boys do, were bonding, as I was driving, and my Sudanese friend said to him, that as they’re closing down detention centres around Australia, he came down from Darwin with a whole bunch of others. One of them, Ahmad, who’s just turned 20, comes from a region called Ahwaz, which I’d never heard of until I went to Broadmeadows. It is a small region in the south of Iran (Palestinians say that Ahwazis are even more oppressed than they are). So he says that the Sudanese boys, who’ve taken him under their wing, call him Ahmad the Nigger. And my nephew says, yeah, we say that about each other all the time.
So there’s a conversation between this young Jewish American boy and a Sudanese refugee, about niggers, in my car headed to Broadmeadows or Sydney Road, which my parents call the Gaza Strip, and I’m just thinking, this is amazing. It’s a really great learning experience. When I hear the N word I cringe, but only because I know it’s not politically correct, it’s inappropriate, it’s got a history. But that’s all theoretical to me. I was driving the car and could have told them, you can’t use that word in my car. But they’ve reappropriated the word, and they’re using it, and who am I to tell them not to.
Is there something similar to Limmud Oz but for Palestinians, with debate and exploring and learning about Israel? Or Israelis? … If I compare sizes, Israel and the Jewish people are small, and there’s a lot of Arab and Muslim countries. I don’t know if they have the same conversations, if they think about, let’s stop the violence, let’s stop educating the children to hate, and not to be a shahid?
I understand what you’re saying, and I’m no expert on what Palestinian people do within their communities. I have been to conversations, it’s a very small community in Australia. I think there are a lot more supporters who are non-Palestinian than there are Palestinians in Australia. Maybe 4000 5000, of whom 350 are people we brought through, and a lot of the people who have resettled here are completely disinterested in engaging in any level of politics. They are so scarred from living it that they just want to live quietly and never engage. But it’s important that we have these kinds of conversations because in my experience most of the times I’ve had conversations and participated in community events in which there are Palestinian people, people come up to me afterwards and say, are you Israeli? Yes. Were you in the army? Yes. I’ve never met anyone who’s done that. Then we started having a conversation, and obviously I don’t necessarily want to have conversations with all of them, but these opportunities happen when you engage.
We call ourselves tolerant, and aspire to that, but what we are doing is disengaging. Being tolerant today is allowing someone to sit next to us, as on Q&A, people with very opposing views, but we let each other talk in a very civil way, all within the Australian civil engagement. But we don’t actually engage. We are being intolerant, waiting for an opportunity to say our thing, to negate what they’re saying, and it’s not actively listening and hearing the other person, knowing that you don’t actually hold absolute truth and you can learn from interaction with anyone. In many ways we’re intolerant, indifferent. Not engaging in the terms of what tolerance was originally, which is learning from each other and engaging in conflicting opinions, sometimes in a scary way, sometime with people who have been preaching hate to their children. Those are the people you should have a conversation with.
When your neighbour calls for the obliteration of all Jews, who’s to talk to? And it’s all good to have a cup a coffee and see their point, but does it work the other way too? When 360 million people all around you don’t want you there, who’s to talk to?
That was my question too. Who comes to this dialogue? Where do you find them? Do you really want to make a first step, a little one, a drop in this ocean of enemies surrounding us?
That’s why I decided to do this. When Bassam was disinvited I was offered a chance to have a session and I thought, what am I going to do? It was just after Lag Ba’omer, and I thought maybe I’ll talk about cats in Israel. Maybe that won’t be a problem here, for the dialogue. That’s not going to challenge anyone. Then I thought of bringing the Greens representative of Melbourne Ports to come and speak here, who agreed, but we’d missed the deadline.
The way to have these kinds of dialogues is to initiate them and come to them. Even if what’s being said is really challenging. Because you are voicing genuine fear and a reality. It is hard.
Are there any Palestinians here? There should be.
No, they were disinvited!
…I think there is a shift here, as in Israel. There’s a shift everywhere. Every time I’ve participated in forums with Palestinians and Israelis and Jews spoke together, there’s been this almost roadkill fascination with the Palestinian there, because we don’t actually engage, and it’s important to do it. To bring a token Palestinian or to bring my Palestinian buddies to sit here and mingle with the Jews is… well it’s important to do, but this is not the place to do it. I don’t think so. Not for many reasons. Perhaps because of Ramadan, or because it’s early on Sunday morning, or a sense of not being welcome.
But it’s important. Early on Sunday morning or not…
For a Palestinian person to come here, when they’re one of the people disinvited because of their personal opinions. It’s not dialogue here. This is a festival of Jewish ideas. This is not a place for dialogue. Limmud is not set up for as a framework for dialogue. Only one that is very superficial. It needs to be had in a safe place and there’s definitely a desire for it but it’s got to be organised.
This post includes excerpts from April Rosenblum’s “The past didn’t go anywhere: making resistance to antisemitism part of all of our movements” (2014), available here. Posting excerpts from this document has been permitted, so as to promote a discussion of antisemitism. All excerpts from Rosenblum’s paper have been indented and appear in green.
The AJDS provides a forum for critical thinking, dialogue and challenging contemporary progressive issues. We do not necessarily hold all the same views reflected in Rosenblum’s paper.
What does antisemitism look like and why is it a it a problem in the Left?
“From one side, progressive and radical activists and scholars are being attacked by organized campaigns to brand us anti-Semites. In particular, it’s virtually impossible to speak out critically about Israel without being charged with antisemitism.”
“At the same time, we face real currents of unchallenged anti-Jewish oppression in our movements and the world. This endangers Jews, corrupts our political integrity, and sabotages our ability to create the effective resistance our times demand. The Left has long procrastinated on taking on anti-Jewish oppression. In part we’ve had trouble because it looks different from the oppressions we understand, which enforce inferiority on oppressed groups to disempower them. Anti-Jewish oppression, on the other hand, can make its target look extremely powerful.”
“Antisemitism’s job is to make ruling classes invisible. It protects ruling class power structures, diverting anger at injustice toward Jews instead. But it doesn’t have to be planned out at the top. It serves the same ends, whether enshrined in law or institutionalized only in our minds; whether it’s state policy, popular ‘common sense,’ or acts of grassroots movements like our own.”
Why is antisemitism often not incorporated in the Left’s discourse of oppression?
The oppression of Jews is not necessarily associated with systemic socio-economic marginalisation, but rather the application of a mythical racist view that Jews yield too much power.
“The oppression of Jews has a lot in common with the oppressions that all kinds of other people are struggling with today. Racism, classism, sexism, homophobia and all oppressions serve twin functions: they control, endanger and disempower the targeted group, and at the same time, they help to keep a wider system of exploitation and inequality running smoothly.”
“Many oppressions rely on keeping a targeted group of people poor, uneducated, designated non-white, or otherwise ‘at the bottom.’ Anti-Jewish oppression doesn’t depend on that. Although at many times it has kept Jews in poverty or designated non-white, these have been “optional” features. Because the point of anti-Jewish oppression is to keep a Jewish face in front, so that Jews, instead of ruling classes, become the target for peoples’ rage, it works even more smoothly when Jews are allowed some success, and can be perceived as the ones “in charge” by other oppressed groups.”
Jewish oppression is used to scapegoat the world’s injustices on Jews, obfuscating the power structures that global justice movements are centred on tearing apart.
“That’s the nature of anti-Jewish oppression: To cover up the roots of injustice. To make people think they’ve figured out who’s really pulling the strings. This is one of the biggest reasons why it’s important for social justice movements to figure out and confront anti-Jewish oppression, for the movement’s own sake: because anti-Jewish oppression is designed as a way to keep people from understanding where the power lies. And it works.”
What is antisemitism and where does it come from?
Antisemitism, or anti-Jewish oppression, is defined as the system of ideas passed down through a society’s institutions to enable scapegoating of Jews, and the ideological or physical targeting of Jews that results from that.
“Antisemitism as we know it, with its images of special, evil Jewish power, began as a Christian, European phenomenon; though Jews faced mistreatment in Muslim lands, it was a more generic second-class citizenship applied to all non-Muslims. However, with European colonization and inroads made by the Nazis, European-style antisemitic theories have increasingly also entered Arab, Asian and other societies.”
The term ‘Semite’ was itself an invention of European Orientalists, imposed on Jews and Arabs.
“‘Antisemitism’ was a word popularized in 1879 by someone who was neither Arab nor Jewish, Wilhelm Marr. From the beginning it was chosen as a chic, new scientific word to show that Jews were an inferior race (not a religion that they could convert out of), and to replace the word Jew-hatred (Judenhass) so that Jew-haters could enjoy sounding more sophisticated.”
Whilst Semites are an ethnic grouping of peoples, including Arabs and Muslims, the term ‘antisemitism’ is used specifically against Jews from its historic context. Jews did not invent the concept to appropriate the oppression of other Semites.
What does antisemitism in the Left looks like?
“What has the bigger impact is not those individual Leftists who promote anti-Jewish beliefs, but the way that institutionally, people and organizations on the Left are so silent, uncomfortable, defensive, and even accusatory when someone brings up concerns about antisemitism.”
“Jewish communities are filled with people who once made their home in the Left, only to back away after continual encounters there with antisemitism. We’ve now had three generations of Jewish activists pull back from the Left for this reason: First in the ’50s, coming to terms with Soviet antisemitism; next, those discouraged by the New Left’s ignorance of Jewish oppression; now, young activists starting to feel hopeless about the tolerance of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the anti-globalization, anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements.”
Standing up for Palestinian justice and self-determination is not antisemitic!
“Yet instances of anti-Jewish behaviour do come up in Palestine work more than many parts of the Left: Why? It’s not because Palestinian or Arab activists are more anti-Jewish than other people. In fact, they often have a sharper eye than others for catching and interrupting anti-Jewish thinking.”
“One reason is simple: any issue where Jews are very visible will bring out the antisemitism that already exists in the world. Another is more complex: In an issue where some Jews do have real power; it can get hard to tell what’s an accurate observation of unjust actions they have done, and what’s antisemitic thinking.”
“A third problem arises from normal activist tactics. We often fight campaigns by making our opponents look as bad as possible. The Left doesn’t have tons of money, or muscle on Capitol Hill. One of the strengths we do have is moral power to make the other side look bad enough that the world shames them into reversing their policy. One of our main tactics is to make our opponents out to be cold, cruel and inhuman. But when you use tactics like that on a group that’s historically been portrayed as evil and inhuman, where that image has been used for centuries as a tool to incite mass violence against them, you tap into a larger historical power.”
Furthermore, Rosenblum elaborates:
The Mizrahi experience
According to Loolwa Khazzoom in “A big piece is missing from this ‘peace'”, the Israel Palestine conflict is often posited in binaries, both by the Left and the Right, completely negating the Mizrahi experience and Arab Jewish interactions, complexities, and oppressions. Anti-Jewish experiences in Arab regions present other narratives, in which complicated historical, religious and cultural factors intersect. Khazzoom states here, that:
“Seeing Arab resistance and hostility to Israel only from the slant of Arab-as-victim and Jew-as-oppressor overlooks and erases thousands of years of Arab-Jewish history in the Middle East and North Africa. It is inherently Eurocentric: It only recognizes the existence and experience of European Jews, and it only recognizes power as in the hands of Europeans.”
Racisms within the Jewish community… Because Jews come in all colours
The idea that all Jews are white, or Ashkenazi, is held by members of both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. You might wish to have a go at this checklist, which was developed so as to educate about the widening range of privilege experienced in the Jewish community.
By Eva Cox[Originally published in the AJDS newsletter, 30th January 2003, available in our archives, here.]
I am writing this piece in a time of huge turmoil for Jews in the Diaspora as well as for the Israelis and Palestinians. The question for many of is whether we will judge Israel by the same criteria as we might judge others on the ways the campaigns in Palestine are being fought. I am conscious, as maybe most Jews are, that there have been tensions for many of us about the actions of the nation of Israel and the ways we would like it to act.
I write this as a feminist, aware that within Jewish cultures women have not always had their voices heard. I hear too few Jewish women in Israel or the Diaspora speaking out maybe because war is too often still seen as men’s games. We are told that women are influential in Judaism, and that our presumed dominance in the home gives us more power. However, in terms of finding any solutions to the stand off that has been the dirty history in the Middle East for some time, there have been few women seen publicly in positions of power. We see grieving mothers, some women from the peace movements but few women in power positions maybe because a culture of killing and force sits in masculine stereotypes.
I’m not sure that more women would offer more gentle solutions but maybe they could broaden the debate and options from the current versions of ‘my grievance is bigger than your grievance’. Maybe the stereotype of the Jewish mother is affecting my political judgment but I want someone to say ” I don’t care who started it, both of you stop fighting and do it now!”
Would more women make a difference? I do not know because I do not believe that, as potential mothers, we are biologically more caring, gentler or less likely to manifest aggression. However, women have often been socialized into less aggressive ways of solving disputes, which could be why we have more often been leaders of peace movements that armies. Why are there so few women in leadership positions in Israel, despite their long term involvement in politics and even the army?
I read the emails which give a wider coverage than the daily media, and listen to the radio as both sides seek to justify their stance. Both sides have valid complaints against the other but the question is whether the legitimacy of the opposing claims justify the violence being used on both sides. I acknowledge the real fear of Israeli civilians and their anger about their vulnerability, as civilians, to suicide bombers. I do not accept, or in any way approve of, the deliberate targeting of civilians as targets.
However, I also acknowledge the legitimacy of Palestinian anger against occupation and the encroaching settlements and how their anger is fuelled by Israeli army actions and the injuries and deaths of civilians. Both types of actions end up with the deaths of non-combatants, both create residual hate and both fuel resentment which make any negotiations harder.
It’s the intransigence on both sides, which seems to be partly tied up with the masculine values of pride and saving face. Sharon is the ultimate militarist, steeped in traditions of toughness as indicator of righteousness. Arafat is in a more ambiguous position, probably caught between his own hard men and a somewhat duplicitous confusion of statements. Both sides have their elements of extremists, religious and ideological, that do not want peace. Neither side should allow these to have the influence they have. We need new negotiators who have both the courage to reject and control their own warmongers and the capacity to understand that sitting righteously on competing grievances cannot solve the problems.
If both sides have what they see as legitimate claims over the same land, there needs to be some real compromises. There needs to be a recognition of that both have been wrong and wronged and that competing for the high moral ground is not going to work. Maybe if the negotiators have had more maternal experience in breaking up sibling fights they would recognise the need for different processes to move on.
I am appalled by the levels of anti Palestinian prejudice (racism?) and their demonising in both Israeli propaganda and often comments by local Jews. Whatever our desire to support the continuation of the state of Israel, we need to recognise that it was at the expense of the then inhabitants. The claims that this was given by God is not acceptable as anyone can make similar claims on the basis of their different beliefs and who is to adjudicate on their legitimacy.
We have accepted reparations for losses under Nazis but somehow deny the Palestinians’ case. They should not have to pay for the sins of anti-Semites in Europe. I recognise that many originally denied the right of Israel to exist but, now, most of the moderate states would not support this stance. There is a good basis for new agreements but not if Israel continues to create aggrieved and angry potential bombers by gross military interventions.
Why am I writing something like this? I want to see more debate within the Australian Jewish community, as there is in Israel, about the way forward. Loyalty should never be blindly given but should be able to be critical to ensure that the country we want to support deserves not just our but the support of others. The present aggression by Israel, whatever its basis, is making enemies and losing the vestiges of high support that it gained because of collective guilt at inaction on the holocaust. Israel was necessary because it offered us somewhere safe to go, but we need to pay the rent and recognise its survival depends on its reputation and the goodwill of others, not the power of its army.
I am a feminist, secular, humanist Jew. I come fully equipped with a desire to make the world a better place because of what happened to me and my family in Europe in the thirties. I was born in Vienna in February 1938, and Hitler took over early in March. My mother was in her final year of a medical degree; My father, was a university drop out and I suspect, political activist, son of a well off coffee merchant. We became aliens in a short time and joined the exodus.
What happened to me and my family was because we were Jewish. This was not a matter of choice but attribution so I remain indelibly Jewish and have never, as an adult, wanted to deny this. I learned much from two men and two woman in my life: my grandfather Philipp Kantor, who taught me civility; my father Richard Hauser who made me responsible for the fate of the world; my stepmother Hephzibah Menuhin who helped me to care about others but it was her bad example, and that of my mother, who taught me that women should not be silent and complicity with unfair use of power, neither in the household nor in the wider world. That is one basis of my feminism.
April 11th 2002
This interview with Sivan Barak appeared in Federation Story, Federation’s Square’s public archive of Australian stories:
Sivan Barak is an Australian-Israeli Jew turned pro-Palestinian human rights activist.
“You won’t find two Jews that agree on absolutely everything.”
“Although we are a close-knit community, there is such a diversity of opinions. It’s like a big family,” says Sivan Barak, seated in a café in what she refers to as “the ghetto”, the inner Melbourne suburb of Caulfield East.
Everything about her is loud and full of contrasts. Her hair: bright red. Her glasses: bright red. Her lipstick: bright red and her cardigan: hot pink.
“I suppose people refer to me as an annoying mosquito or an agitator within the community.”
She doesn’t seem fazed. In fact, the ability to speak her mind is one of her prized qualities. She is also not alone belonging to a small- but equally loud- Jewish community group.
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS), of which Sivan sits as Executive Board member, has the banner of ‘A progressive voice among Jews and a Jewish voice among progressives.’
Since the 1980s they have advocated for social justice, indigenous and refugees rights and- most notably- Palestinian human rights.
“We are for any political solution that protects the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
In the 1980s, this was a rather radical position, but as Philip Mendes, co-author of Why Boycotting Israel is Wrong: The Progressive Path towards Peace, says attitudes within the community are changing.
“Today, more than 50 percent of the Melbourne’s Jewish community supports a two-state solution,” Dr Mendes says.
Still- within the mainstream Jewish community- Sivan’s group is viewed with suspicion to say the least.
Last year, the group set up a campaign calling on Australia’s Jewish community to boycott “settlement” products- products made within what the United Nations has deemed the illegal Jewish settlements in Occupied Palestinian territories.
The peak Victorian representative body, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) subsequently received requests to exclude AJDS from its membership.
JCCV President Nina Bassat says that although the group has, at times, caused outrage, they are still one of their own.
Rejecting calls to exclude AJDS from the peak body she said: “I may not agree with you but I will defend your right to speak.”
Sivan said one of the objectivities of the ‘don’t buy settlement products’ campaign was to pry open debate and tease out the nuances around Israel’s occupation.
“When it comes to Israel there are blind spots and the fall-back position is ultraconservative.”
Having grown up in a socialist kibbutz (commune) in Israel, Sivan loves Israel.
“You can support Israel but not the occupation,” Sivan says.
When Sivan was 18 she left Australia, the home of her adolescence, to take up voluntary military service in the Israeli army.
“At the time, I believed in the narrative that it was all in self-defence against hostile and hateful neighbouring countries.”
Whilst Sivan was willing to defend, she refused to contribute to building the Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories.
Sivan says it was during a day of target practice when she was asked to shoot at a target that things began to become “unstuck” and the “self-defence” narrative started to unravel.
“It was so easy not to think, not to engage in the issues, especially when you are encouraged and rewarded not to do so.”
“There are times when reality becomes stronger than ideology and what we view as the necessities or conveniences of life gradually erode our principles.”
This could have been the case for Sivan and her newly-wed husband when they were looking to purchase their first home.
The options: an old dingy apartment on the fourth floor in a cheap neighbourhood. No aircon, no lift.
The second: a funky old apartment with Arabic fittings, high ceilings and wooden floorboards in the old Palestinian city of Jaffa.
The third: not an apartment, but a house, with guaranteed low-interest rates, a backyard and carport. The catch- the house is located in Jewish settlements of the occupied territories.
“I had an inkling that something was not right about occupying an old ‘Arab’ apartment. And buying in the settlements was definitely a no-go.”
Sivan and her husband bought the dingy apartment in what she refers to as “the bubble”, the colourful and cultural hub of Tel Aviv.
Comparing Tel Aviv to the land of Oz, Sivan says after the compulsory military service- 3 years for males, 2 years for females- young Israelis migrate to the fun, fast-paced, beach city.
“The bubble is made up of people that don’t want to know anything about anything. All they want to do is float in a nirvana state.”
It was a love for her own people that first turned Sivan towards activism against the occupation.
“Mental illness and drug abuse are rife in Israel. Aside from the harm we are doing to Palestinians, we are destroying our children’s souls by placing them in the role of being occupiers,” Sivan says.
A few weeks ago Sivan’s parents attended an Israeli solidarity march at Melbourne’s State Library. Sivan attended as well- but she was part of the counter rally against Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.
Afterwards, brother and sister from the two opposing rallies embrace: “Coffee?”
“I guess that’s just community for you,” Sivan says, “yeah we disagree and bicker but we still belong to the same tribe.”
Standing on the streets of Melbourne, dressed in black, with red doc martins, Sivan holds a sign: “This Israeli says, NOT IN MY NAME.”
“Loving Israel, for me, means seeing the beauty of the culture, land and people as well as feeling confident in pointing to the ugliness as well,” Sivan says.