I just completed the Gen17 survey, which follows Gen08, Monash University’s first iteration of this survey of Jews in New Zealand and Australia. Let me say first off that I am a fan of surveys, not because I believe in their ability to translate lived experience into accurate data – since there’s always a compromise. But surveys remain an interesting experiment in capturing and representing information, always revealing as much about their author as about the respondents. This one took a long time to complete, but it made me think positively about different kinds of Jewishness and the changes taking place in Jewish communities worldwide.
A rather lengthy section on participation in Jewish schools is followed by more interesting one on identity. Some questions have complicated semantic issues. For instance, halfway through I was asked, In the LAST 12 MONTHS, have you personally witnessed any of the following types of antisemitic incidents in Australia? It made me acknowledge that the Left is often accused of being anti-Semitic for opposing Israeli actions. Does this count as an antisemitic incident? Probably not in the eyes of those who’ll analyse the data. Also, for someone who spent the first 15 years of her life in Israel, other questions seemed tricky to answer accurately. What kind of engagement have I had with Jewish youth movements? Well, for most Jewish kids growing up in Israel, every group engagement is exclusively Jewish.
Nonetheless, Gen17 is comprehensive and well put together in an easily accessible online form. Share the link around. Looking forward to the data analysis reports!
The recent AJDS Annual General Meeting (26/2/17) generously hosted by Sivan Barak was attended by MPs Colleen Hartland and Nina Springle of the Greens, who kindly joined our lunch and told us about their portfolios and experience with Australian Jewish community politics, tackling racism and Islamophobia in our communities, the diversity of opinion within the Greens and the challenges they face moving forward into a very different political reality signaled in part by Donald Trump’s election in the US.
The conversation encouraged us to continue to pursue opportunities for collaboration. To continue the conversation get in touch with:
Nina Springle M.P., Member for South Eastern Metropolitan
03-9584 4013 / email@example.com / www.ninaspringle.com.au
Read Nina’s inaugural speech, 10/2/15.
As many would be aware, One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts will be coming to Caulfield to spruik their divisive and racist politics to the Jewish community. Along with many others in the Jewish community, AJDS stands firmly opposed to the ideas which they put forward, standing instead for principles and practices of inclusion, diversity, and real, substantial multiculturalism.
When they hold their meeting at a gym on December 4th, AJDS will stand together with many others out the front, making clear that we oppose the hatred and fear which One Nation – like other white supremacist groups internationally – foster in our society. We look forward to taking this opportunity to stand alongside many others in order to celebrate the community which we want to build: one which makes no space for racist thought or speech, but which recognises that racist and anti-immigrant statements have a lot of purchase throughout the country. This is historically true and remains true today. It is only through collective action – through fostering and celebrating movements for justice and peace – that a non-racist future can be produced.
Come join us, as we stand united with fellow Jews, Muslims, Aboriginal people, women, queers, and others, to loudly proclaim that racism, fear, and hate are not welcome in our community.
This statement was issued 25/11/16.
You can follow updates about the demonstration against One Nation here.
By Jim Green.
The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission released its report in May. Its main recommendation was to consider turning SA into the world’s nuclear waste dump by importing 138,000 tonnes of high level nuclear waste and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate level nuclear waste.
How much money might be made by taking nuclear waste from other countries? There is no precedent to base an estimate on. There is a great deal of uncertainty about potential revenue, and it is far from certain that revenue would exceed the Royal Commission’s $145 billion estimate of the costs associated with the project. The economic case presented by the Royal Commission was strongly challenged by economist Prof. Richard Blandy, by The Australia Institute and others. Yet those critiques were ignored by the Royal Commission and by the state government.
The Royal Commission glossed over major contradictions in its proposal. For example the assumption is that high level nuclear waste will first be imported for storage to accrue funds to build a deep underground repository. But what if efforts to establish a repository come to nothing ‒ as they have in many other countries? South Australia will be stuck with thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste, most likely on the Eyre Peninsula or the west coast, with no capacity to dispose of it and no return-to-sender clause.
The Royal Commission glosses over the fact that Australia has not yet been able to find a disposal site for our own relatively small stockpiles of low and intermediate level waste. Attempts to impose a national nuclear waste dump in SA by the Howard government failed. Later attempts to impose a dump in the NT failed. And the current attempt to impose a national dump in the Flinders Ranges is being fiercely opposed and will almost certainly fail.
So the proposition is that we should attempt storage and disposal of high level nuclear waste even though attempts to manage low and intermediate level waste have as yet been unsuccessful. And the proposition is that we should attempt storage and disposal of vast amounts of foreign waste even though we have not yet found a solution for Australia’s much smaller stockpile of radioactive waste. Those propositions are reckless and irresponsible.
The public health and environmental risks are profound. Professor John Veevers from Macquarie University wrote in Australian Geologist about the risks associated with a high level nuclear waste repository: “Tonnes of enormously dangerous radioactive waste in the northern hemisphere, 20,000 kms from its destined dump in Australia where it must remain intact for at least 10,000 years. These magnitudes − of tonnage, lethality, distance of transport, and time − entail great inherent risk.”
It should be noted that no country has completed construction of a deep underground repository for high level nuclear waste. There is one deep underground repository for intermediate level nuclear waste ‒ the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the USA ‒ but it has been closed since February 2014 due to a chemical explosion in one of the underground nuclear waste barrels. A U.S. government report details the many failings of the operator and the regulator that caused the WIPP accident.
The Royal Commission had little or nothing to say about other problems overseas, e.g. fires at radioactive waste repositories, the current project to exhume 126,000 waste barrels from a dump in Germany following extensive water infiltration and corrosion, the liquid nuclear waste explosion at Mayak in the USSR, and many others.
Separately, the federal government is also trying to establish a nuclear waste dump in SA ‒ this one for national nuclear waste, much of it from the nuclear research reactor site at Lucas Heights, south of Sydney.
The federal government has identified a site near Hawker in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. The site was nominated by former Liberal Senator Grant Chapman but he has precious little connection to the land. Conversely, the land has been precious to Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners for millennia. The fact that the government is once again targeting a ‘remote’ Aboriginal site ‒ following previous, failed attempts to impose a dump on the land of Aboriginal people in SA and the NT ‒ is beyond comprehension and creates a lot of frustration and hurt. Regina McKenzie, an Adnyamathanha elder living at Yappala station, just kilometres away from the proposed site, says that the proposal is “an attack on our cultural beliefs, history and heritage.”
McKenzie explains: “Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners weren’t consulted about the nomination. Even Traditional Owners who live next to the proposed dump site at Yappala Station weren’t consulted. The proposed dump site is adjacent to the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area. On the land with the proposed dump site, we have been working for many years to register heritage sites with the SA government. The area is Adnyamathanha land. It is Arngurla Yarta (spiritual land). The proposed dump site has countless thousands of Aboriginal artefacts. Our ancestors are buried there. The nominated site is a significant women’s site. Throughout the area are registered cultural heritage sites and places of huge importance to our people.”
The site is subject to earthquakes and tremors, at least half a dozen times each year. And although it seems like desert to the unknowing eye, it is flood land. The water comes from the hills and floods the plains, including the proposed dump site. The last flood in 2006 uprooted massive trees in the area, while an earlier flood destroyed an entire township.
Regina McKenzie, in the name of the Adnyamathanya people, calls on “all South Australians − all Australians − to support us in our struggle” and she states that “Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners will fight the proposal for a nuclear waste dump on our land for as long as it takes to stop it.”
So what should be done with Australia’s radioactive waste? Around 95 percent is securely stored at two Commonwealth sites – Defence Department land in SA, and the Lucas Heights site south of Sydney. It is by no means clear that any waste needs to be moved, and there certainly isn’t any urgency. A number of organisations calls for an independent investigation into all possible options since years; being rigorously ignored by the government which keeps pursuing its central remote dump preferred option.
Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia.
This post is part of Just Voices #11 – Climate Change.
By Yael Winikoff, Sivan Barak and Linda Briskman. In New Matilda, 20/7/16.
The Jewish community in Melbourne is known for its unconditional support of Israel, but as Israel increasingly shifts to the far right, are we too going down that path?
Israel’s shift to the extreme right in policies and public sentiments even prompted public figures in the top echelons of its military and political institutions to speak out. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned of “seeds of fascism” in Israel’s current government, while former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon drew comparisons to 1930s Germany. Following the latter’s resignation, ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman has been appointed Defence Minister.
Attacks on democratic principles and demonisation of human rights groups is clearly illustrated in Israel’s non-government organisation (NGO) bill requiring all Israeli NGOs receiving funding from international governments to detail their finances online. The bill targets human rights NGOs who are most likely to receive funding from international governments, not right-wing and settler organisations, who tend to receive funding from private sources overseas.
Recent events in Melbourne have been alarming in echoing similar tendencies. First, the attack on the play ‘Tales of a city by the Sea’ and the campaign to remove it from the VCE drama studies syllabus. The play, by Palestinian Samah Sabawi, which depicts a love story in Gaza, was called into question by the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC), who demanded its removal from the VCE curriculum.
Dvir Abramovich, ADC chair, accused the play of portraying Israel as a “blood-thirsty, evil war-machine.” Playwright Sabawi wrote in response: “What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.”
Calling for an apology, Sabawi continued to assert that “Anti-Semitism must always be taken seriously. False claims of anti-Semitism used to drive political agendas only trivialise and undermine our fight and resolve to eradicate it and other forms of racism.”
Within weeks another controversy erupted, calling into question the value of free speech and marginalisation in the Jewish community. This was splayed over the Australian Jewish News and across social media. Professor Bassam Dally, an Adelaide academic, was disinvited from Limmud Oz, a festival of Jewish ideas at the end of June featuring speakers on a range of topics relevant to the Jewish community. Dally was scheduled to engage in conversation in a joint session with Sivan Barak from the Australian Jewish Democratic Society entitled “Fighting for coexistence”. The session went ahead without Dally, with a one-sided dialogue highlighting how not to fight for coexistence.
The policy stance that Limmud Oz maintains alleges to a double standard of Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions proponents, who would take platform at a Jewish event but deny the reciprocation of this through the strategy of sanctions. The very act of wanting to speak at Limmud Oz and engage with the Jewish community reflects the opposite: that BDS activists are willing to engage with Zionist and Jewish dialogue, not to shut it down.
Dally told the Jewish News that “The session was never intended to be about BDS and, therefore, the organisers are deciding not only what, but who, their audience may be permitted to hear – in my case, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian heritage.” The very conversations which need to occur for any progress of both Palestinian and Jewish Israeli self-determination are being censored and stifled by fragments of the Jewish community.
A recent poll in the Jewish News revealed an overwhelming majority believe people who call for a boycott of Israel should be allowed to speak at Jewish events. This is an inspiring reflection of the open mindedness of the Jewish community at large but Jewish institutions such as Limmud Oz and various associated Zionist organisations are not echoing this.
Zionism Victoria President Sharene Hambur spoke in support of Limmud Oz’s decision. “BDS does nothing to foster coexistence or a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather is designed to isolate Israel economically, academically and socially in an effort to destroy it,” he said.
While Limmud Oz and its supporters would have you believe BDS is about the eradication of Israel, the BDS movement’s principal aims don’t attest to that. BDS’s call for equality inherently implies the rights of Israelis, yet it has been misconstrued to a call for destruction of Israel. We believe this is to counter attack the BDS movement, and silence anyone associated with it.
While most in the Jewish community in Melbourne would like to see progress towards a peaceful solution to the “Israel Palestine conflict,” one wonders how we are to move towards this goal when Palestinian voices are increasingly being marginalised and silenced. And it’s an absolute shame, because the wisdom, compassion and vision articulated by these two Palestinians is something that every Jewish person concerned with the fate of Israel should be encouraged, let alone allowed, to hear.
Originally published in New Matilda.
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.
The AJDS issued a statement 11/06/16 critical of the decision by Stephanie Hodgins-May, Greens candidate for Melbourne Ports, to pull out of the Zionist Victoria event. We stated: “we feel that it’s important that local candidates be prepared to address and engage with audiences in their electorate.”
Whilst this move by Stephanie has been hurtful to some in the Jewish community, the uproar following her decision has been highly inflated and overly accusatory, with allegations from the Jewish community both in the media labelling Stephanie and the Greens anti-Semitic.
AJDS does not associate itself with this canard. We want to reiterate that the AJDS statement was in no way meant to insinuate any labelling of Stephanie or the Greens as anti-Semitic. The term “anti-Semitic” is thrown around much too freely.
There is no evidence that the Australian Greens or any of their representatives are anti-Semitic. There appears to be a confusion (sometimes deliberate), between the political views of Greens on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the impression that these views are anti-Semitic. In fact, the views taken by Greens on issues such as the Occupation or a two-state solution are by and large, those taken by members of the Israeli left, including support for two, legitimate states (see their policy statement here). Such views are in fact also supported by members of the Labor Party and supporters of Palestinian rights are even found in the Coalition.
Regrettably, Michael Danby has used Hodgins-May’s action for his own political agenda, which tries to wedge the Jewish community by creating a climate of fear of “Green” anti-Semitism.
In a statement released by Danby (9/6) he claimed; “The Greens boycott of the Jewish community shows their deep and intractable antagonism towards the Australian Jewish community.” Danby has also been caught handing out how to vote cards that preference the Liberal candidate for Melbourne Ports ahead of the Greens, defying his party’s National Executive (SMH 16/6).
Stephanie has responded to the controversy that she is in fact willing to be involved with the Jewish community, stating that she has accepted numerous invitations from Jewish community groups, including AUJS, Habonim, Mt Scopus and Jews for Refugees.
This indeed shows her willingness to engage with the needs and concerns of the Jewish community at large, and that she took particular offence at generalized views put out by Zionism Victoria about the UN, a body which she has worked for in the past.
While we stay out of election politics and do not endorse or promote any particular party or candidate, we believe that the Greens should not be dismissed by politically inflated accusations that they are anti-Semitic, and reiterate from our original statement that the issue has been “drawing attention away from the important local and national policies on which this election should be decided.”
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) is disappointed that Greens candidate for Melbourne Ports, Stephanie Hodgins-May, has decided to withdraw from the candidates forum organised by the Australian Jewish News and Zionism Victoria (ZV). While Hodgins-May may disagree with the politics of these groups – she has specifically mentioned ZV’s attitude towards the United Nations as the basis for her withdrawal – we feel that it’s important that local candidates be prepared to address and engage with audiences in their electorate. Her decision to withdraw has the very real possibility of drawing attention away from the important local and national policies on which this election should be decided, which is a disservice to the electorate.
This statement was issued by the AJDS June 11, 2016
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) is deeply disappointed that the organising committee of Limmud Oz 2016 has decided that the invitation extended to Bassam Dally – who was to speak with Sivan Barak (a member of the Executive of the AJDS) in a conversation entitled “Fighting for Coexistence” should be withdrawn. While the organisers claim that the programming policy enables them to ban Bassam from speaking, we believe that this decision represents a hopeless and shameful misstep and should be reversed.
Limmud Oz makes a claim to being a space for broad discussion, dialogue, and challenging conversations. Yet, in deciding that Bassam is not allowed to speak they have effectively applied a very specific and limited litmus test to one speaker. Indeed, this test demonstrates a deep disrespect for the intelligence of the attendees of Limmud Oz and the Jewish community, and shows the organisers to be out of step with where the community is headed. It beggars belief that the organisers truly believe that talking with a Palestinian who also supports the principles of BDS will harm the community. Indeed, a current poll in the right-leaning Australian Jewish News shows considerable support for hearing the views of BDS supporters at Jewish events. Jews of all ideological persuasions want the right to judge for themselves.
In any case, Bassam and Sivan’s session did not plan to touch on BDS in any way. Ironically, it was to be a session about dialogue and coexistence. The possibility of these seem distant when this session, and likely one of the sole Palestinian voices at the Conference, can be swiftly silenced by invoking the BDS bogeyman. At the same time, the organisers thought it appropriate to include in the program a talk with the antagonistic and loaded title, “ The BDS Movement and the Demonisation of Jewish Supporters of Israel.”
Barring people from a conference because they promote a strategy of non-violence as a response to decades of violence is extremely counter-productive. Such censorship limits the already miniscule number of Palestinian voices that mainstream Jews hear. It is also out of step with the increasing support at home and worldwide from Jews themselves.
Moreover, if the reports are accurate that Limmud Oz’s funding was threatened if Bassam had participated, then we worry about the place of donor funding in the community. Surely, as a community, we should be striving to make spaces for the most challenging and demanding conversations, not allowing financial imperatives to close them off.
The Jewish community in Melbourne, and throughout Australia, would benefit immeasurably from talking more, and more openly, with Palestinians. We have much to learn. Sadly, it would seem that the organisers of Limmud Oz are intent on ensuring that this will be made more difficult.
The AJDS calls on Limmud Oz to reverse their decision, and to ensure that future programs are not tainted by this restriction on the sharing of knowledge and open conversation. Our Jewish community will be richer for it.
This statement was written by the AJDS Executive Committee, June 5, 2016
‘Tales of a City by the Sea’ is a play about Gaza, which tells of a love story set amid war and siege, remains on the VCE curriculum despite accusations it spreads anti-semitism. “It seems that I, the writer, missed the memo that I can’t write an artistic piece about Palestinian life without inserting Israel’s point of view into my art” wrote Samah Sabawi in the Age, adding, “This is wrong on so many levels.”
“What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.”
Read the rest of “Vision of everyday life in Palestine too bleak for some” by Sabawi.
Read an earlier post about the vicious accusations and call for withdrawal of the play from the VCE curriculum.
The Anti-Defamation Commission’s chair will be speaking at Limmud Oz this month, about the subject of bigotry.