It was on International Holocaust Memorial Day this year, after issuing a statement that made no mention of Jewish – nor any other – victims of the Holocaust, that Donald Trump signed an Executive Order banning people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The effects were swift and brutal: people who were born in, or are citizens of, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen were immediately banned from entering, with the result being that numerous people were detained, deported, and refused permission to fly. Refugees and others, whether migrating or seeking temporary entrance, were refused entry. This was a closing of the borders in a way which is both a continuation of what has come before, but also something new. As a settler-colony and with a slave history, the United States was founded on such murderous violence: this action is the latest, brutal step in this chain.
Encouragingly, the response was also swift: people across the United States and across the world have stood up in opposition and actively campaigned to oppose this measure and act in solidarity with those detained and impacted by the order.
The AJDS stands alongside them. We seek to make clear that we stand in solidarity with Muslim communities, and others, across the world in our outrage and resistance to this new Executive Order. It is a deplorable, racist, attack on people’s abilities to live their lives: it is causing immense violence.
The AJDS also stands opposed to the response issued by the Australian government, and utterly refutes the idea that they should be working closely with Trump to punitively enforce borders, as Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison have said they will. We know well the racism and violence which already characterises Australia’s ongoing settler-colonialism and treatment of refugees. Rather than increasing border control, just as the United States must reverse this closure of its borders, and work beyond that to a fairer and more open migration system, so too must Australia vastly change its current conditions.
Like many Jews around the world – many of whom are uniting under the banner of #JewishResistance – we remember the lessons of the Holocaust vastly differently to the meanings that Trump, Steve Bannon and their Nazi and white supremacist allies have sought to give it this year. We remember the devastating violence and loss caused by genocide, and we commit to acting in that memory, and in the knowledge of that history, for a more just world. Some of us carry family histories of being refugees, and we all carry that historical knowledge, and so we stand alongside the world’s current refugees in calling for them to be granted access to safety wherever they seek it.
The executive of the AJDS calls on members, supporters, and all Jews who seek justice to actively take a stand against both our government and the US government, and the ways in which they treat racialised minorities, including refugee, migrant, Muslim, and Indigenous communities. Sign a petition, call a politician, attend a rally, have a conversation, donate money, sign up to an organisation’s email list, read new stories, write new narratives: the list of things that each of us can do is endless. If everyone commits to doing one thing everyday, in partnership and solidarity with others around the world, then we can affect serious change. We can only do it together though, acting in solidarity and for justice.
This statement was released by the AJDS 31/1/17
By Naor Bar Zeev
(Appeared originally in the Australian Jewish News in March 12, 2004).
From a Torah perspective, vegetarianism was originally the norm. Initially permitted by God to eat only vegetables, it was only after animals were saved by Noah that humans were permitted to eat meat (Bereshit 1:28-9).
Even then, wanton killing of animals is prohibited and animals must be slaughtered swiftly with a sharp non-serrated instrument.
Many laws reflect the principle of not inflicting needless suffering or pain on an animal:
Although it permitted the eating of meat a posteriori (bedi’avad) following the flood, the Torah encouraged kindness to animals, clearly viewing them as sentient beings with certain rights.
The Torah states: “Should you happen upon a bird’s nest… containing chicks or eggs and the mother is fluttering over [them], you shall not take her children in the presence of their mother. Rather send away the mother and only then may you take her children; then it shall be good for you and you shall have lengthy days” (Devarim 22:7).
Commentators ask whether one is obliged to send away a mother and take eggs to fulfill this commandment, or that it is only if one wants eggs that the Torah commands it be done in this manner. The Torah Temimah counters the former approach by questioning its entire assumption. “For it is clear beyond any doubt that the essence of this mitzvah is to avoid cruelty to the mother.
“Now since creatures were permitted for man’s use, and even their slaughter is ultimately permitted, the Torah allowed taking the children in such a manner that the mother does not see. It is clear that the Torah only provided a dispensation – but if one does not wish to take the young, then clearly he may leave them.
“Not only that, but he adds to the bird family’s peace of mind in leaving them united as a family. And no-one can seriously suggest that one is obligated to separate those who are united together!
“Similarly the commandment that one should not slaughter an animal and its offspring on the same day should not be taken to imply that one is obligated to slaughter them separately” (Torah Temimah, Devarim 22:7).
The Rambam (Devarim 22:6) adds that although slaughter is permitted, we must not slaughter to the point of extinction of a species, hence the emphasis on an animal and its offspring being slaughtered together.
The Rambam says “animals suffer very greatly on seeing their young slaughtered, and there is no difference between human suffering and animal suffering in these circumstances. For a mother’s love and compassion for her young comes not from the ability to speak and rationalise, but comes from the consciousness (literally power of thought) which is found in animals just as it is in humans” (Moreh Nevuchim 3:48). This very modern sounding approach was formulated as long ago as the 12th century CE.
Not only is one forbidden to cause suffering to animals directly, but one is also obligated to prevent suffering – an obligation that even outweighs possible discomfort at helping an enemy. The Talmud extends the obligation to unload an animal to mean that one may not place and unbearable load upon an animal to begin with (Bava Metzia 32a).
Modern farming methods do place an unbearable load upon millions on animals who live short lives of severe suffering for the sake of profit.
Clearly our sustenance may be richly enjoyed without causing unnecessary suffering to others. One may have ample energy for the fulfillment of the law without recourse to hurting other sentient beings.
Furthermore, those of the opinion that other living creatures benefit by our eating them and then performing mitzvot might remember that tomatoes may not necessarily be obligated to keep Shabbat or the laws of family purity. Would proponents of such views (AJN 20/2) consider the option of cannibalising non-observant Jews so that might help improve the overall performance of mitzvot in the Jewish community?
Opinions about vegetarianism abound and like so many topics in Judaism, there is no single consensus. Judaism has allowed the eating of meat, but it has gone quite a way to show a preference for the alternatives. Judaism has always been a tradition that inculcates kindness, sensitivity and modesty – all of which lead one to consider vegetarianism as clearly the more “Jewish” option.
Dr Naor Bar-Zeev is a fellow in community child heath at the Centre for Community Child Health.
This post is part of Just Voices #11 – Climate Change.
By Robin Rothfield
(originally published in the Jewish News, 30/9/16)
AS we approach the High Holy Days, how should we in the Jewish community respond to Pauline Hanson’s call for an end to Muslim migration?
Yes, a high proportion of Australians support this call but consider that in 1947 an opinion poll indicated that 58 per cent of Australians were opposed to the resettlement of Jewish refugees from Europe.
But, you may argue, Jews did not take part in acts of terror. Really! In 1946, the Jewish terrorist group Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people.
And remember that Muslims are themselves victims of terror and need sanctuary, just as non-Muslims do when under attack.
Consider the Kurdish Muslim woman, Henekal, suffering from hip dysplasia, who fled IS in Syria with her daughter who was suffering from cataracts and going blind. She managed to get to Lebanon where, after months of unsuccessfully trying to find assistance, and distraught that her daughter could lose her sight, she became hysterical.
Luciano Calestini, an Australian working for UNICEF, happened upon her in the street and the end result was that Henekal and her daughter became part of the government’s one-off humanitarian intake of 12,000 refugees.
We Jews, having suffered so much over the centuries, know how important it is to avoid xenophobia. As Rabbi Ralph Genede, of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, has pointed out: “One of the most popular laws, mentioned more than any other in the Torah, repeated 36 times, is that you shall not taunt or oppress the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
He goes on to say, “And the asylum seeker/refugee is surely the stranger, the outsider – entitled to that special practical measure that is offered by Jewish law and underpinned by the commandment ‘ve’ahavta l’ray’acha ka’mocha’ – love your neighbour as yourself.”
And Rabbi Genede in his 2014 address to Limmud Oz continues, “Rabbi Berel Wein opines that the greatness of the Jewish people is founded on acts of compassion – Ruth to Naomi; Naomi to Ruth; Boaz to Ruth etc. It’s a little book that’s a pointed reminder of the harmfulness of xenophobia and in many ways about the triumph of the stranger. Ruth overcomes the racial and xenophobic attitudes towards the Moabite woman to become the mother of Israel; the matriarch of royalty.”
By Peter Beinart. Published in Haaretz 19/7/16.
Jawad Abu Aisha owns a cluttered yard in H2, the sector of Hebron that falls under direct Israeli control. He’d like to turn it into a cinema. Many local Palestinians — lacking recreational opportunities — would like to help him. But Abu Aisha says that Jewish settlers, and the Israeli military, prevent him from developing the space. In a democracy, if your neighbors impede construction on your property, you can appeal to local authorities. But for Palestinians in Hebron, Israel is not a democracy. They can’t vote for its government. They live under military law. So when settlers disrupt Palestinian construction on privately owned Palestinian land — as part of their effort to make Palestinian life in H2 so unbearable that Palestinians leave — the army and police do their bidding. The army and police, after all, are accountable to Israeli citizens. And in Hebron, as throughout the West Bank, Jewish settlers are citizens. Palestinians are subjects.
I saw this firsthand last Friday when I left a family vacation in Israel to join 52 Jewish activists, mostly from the Diaspora, on a trip to Hebron organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence and the anti-occupation collective, All That’s Left. We came at the request of a group called Youth Against Settlements. It’s burly, charismatic leader, a student of Gandhi and Martin Luther King named Issa Amro, asked Diaspora Jews to come and help clear Abu Aisha’s yard. He didn’t need American Jewish muscle. He needed American Jewish privilege, the privilege that gives American Jews protection from the Israeli state. Issa hoped that privilege would buy his group a few hours of uninterrupted yard work. He also hoped it would bring them publicity.
Think of Issa as a Palestinian Robert Moses. By 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had been working for years to register African Americans in Mississippi to vote. But local whites brutalized them, often aided by the police. So Moses recruited northern white kids to come south for “Freedom Summer.” He hoped the media would follow, and that once white Americans saw segregation’s true face, they’d push their politicians to support civil rights. Among the more than 1,000 activists who heeded Moses’ call were Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, college students from New York whose murder, alongside African American James Chaney, has become American Jewish legend.
I’ll never know what it felt like to be in Mississippi in 1964. But last Friday, watching dozens of twenty-something American Jewish kids (and a few older activists) haul junk in Abu Aisha’s yard in Hebron, I felt an unusual sensation: hope.
I felt hope because American Jewish Millennials are different. My generation, which came of age in the 1990s, didn’t build a single organization that challenged the American Jewish establishment on Israel. That’s partly because, during the Oslo era, we thought American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders would create a two-state solution on their own. But it’s also because the 1990s were a lost decade for the American activist left, an “ice age,” in Cornel West’s words.
That ice age is now clearly over. From Occupy to Black Lives Matter to the immigrant “dreamers” whose protests forced U.S. President Barack Obama to change his policies on deportation, Millennials have brought street activism back to life. What happened last Friday in Hebron is part of that. Over the last few years, young American Jews have created three new organizations: Open Hillel, which challenges Hillel’s limitations on who can speak about Israel in Jewish spaces on campus, If Not Now, which protests American Jewish complicity with the occupation, and the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, which organizes peaceful resistance to it. Many of the young activists I met in Hebron were products of these groups and talking to them, I realized how formidable a challenge they’re likely to pose to the American Jewish establishment in the years to come.
They’re formidable because these kids don’t come from the margins of the American Jewish community. They come from its bosom. In Hebron, I met the son of a cantor, an alumna of the Orthodox youth movement Bnei Akiva, an Orthodox young woman who studied in a yeshiva not far where we were protesting, a Jewish day school graduate whose mother was connected to the yeshiva with Baruch Goldstein, a former activist in the century-old Zionist youth group Young Judaea, several former members of the socialist Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair, a young woman who grew up in Chabad, a young woman who taught Hebrew school at Chabad, a young woman whose right-wing Moroccan-Israeli parents immigrated to California, and a young man who until a few months ago worked at a prominent establishment American Jewish organization, until he couldn’t live with himself anymore.
The young people I met are also formidable because they’re learning things that American Jewish leaders don’t know. The dirty little secret of the American Jewish establishment is that its officials know little about Palestinian life under Israeli control. That’s by design. Mainstream American Jewish officials talk incessantly about Palestinians, but they rarely talk to them, in large measure because Hillel-style guidelines inhibit their interaction with people who cross their ideological red lines. Most American Jewish leaders have never met nonviolent Palestinian activists like Issa Amro. Nor have they personally experienced life under Israeli military law. The Jewish kids in Hebron have. On Friday, they got a tiny taste when the Israeli army declared Abu Aisha’s backyard a closed military zone, and then, after some activists retreated to Amro’s house, the army declared that a closed military zone too.
Finally, the young activists I met are formidable because they’re brave. Several said they hadn’t told their parents what they were doing because they’d be disowned. The officials who populate establishment American Jewish organizations are, in large measure, careerists. I’ve lost count of the number of staffers at mainstream Jewish groups who have told me they privately disagree with their organization’s stance on Israel. There are true believers on the American Jewish right, especially from the Orthodox world. But, today, the American Jewish establishment is composed of many people who know in their gut that they’re defending the indefensible. In a confrontation between them and the young activists I met on Friday, I’d bet on the latter.
To be clear, I don’t think protests like last Friday’s will have a direct impact on Israelis. The protests are too American. It’s hard to imagine Israelis interspersing religious songs like “Kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tzar me’od” (“All the world is a very narrow bridge,” from Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav) with civil rights anthems like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” But the protests aren’t meant to change Israeli opinion. They’re meant to change American Jewish opinion, which could in turn change American government policy. And curiously, it was the very Americanism of the protest that made it so Jewish.
Standing in Abu Aisha’s yard, the American-Israeli activist Moriel Rothman-Zecher explained it this way. The Israeli left, he argued, contains many people alienated by Judaism. They’re alienated because they identify Judaism with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, which controls subjects like marriage, burial and divorce, and with right-wing hyper-nationalists like Naftali Bennett. By contrast, American Jews, who live in a country where Judaism is not intertwined with the state, lack that hostility. As a result, they are more likely to see their activism as an outgrowth of their Jewish identity rather than as an attempt to overcome it.
That was certainly the case last Friday. The activists I met weren’t speaking, and singing, about Judaism because they thought it was savvy public relations. They were doing so because Judaism is the language of their lives. At one point during the day, I heard several heatedly discussing whether the Talmud has anything meaningful to say about how to administer a Jewish state. At another, an activist told me about his experience studying Chayei Sarah, the Torah portion that describes Abraham’s burial of Sarah in Hebron.
Over the course of my life, I can remember several moments when contemporary events made me experience Jewish texts or tunes in a new way. I’ll never forget sitting in shul on the Shabbat after 9/11 and hearing the shaliach tzibbur sing Adon Olam to the tune of America the Beautiful. After last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, I heard it sung to the tune of La Marseillaise. And I’ll never forget last Friday afternoon, when we stood outside the settlement that housed the prison where Rothman-Zecher and five other activists had been detained, and welcomed Shabbat by singing Shalom Aleichem and Lecha Dodi. The soldiers and settlers standing in front of us looked at us like we were mad. The Palestinians standing behind us looked confused too, but a Palestinian boy, smiling broadly, nonetheless ran over to us with cups of water.
Why were we performing Kabbalat Shabbat? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it was partly to remind myself of who I am. I had spent the day working alongside Palestinians and being protected by them. I had spent the day fearing Jewish soldiers and police. It was a jarring experience. The normal order of things, as I had learned them since childhood, had been turned upside down. Welcoming Shabbat was a way of centering myself. It was a reminder that no matter how many people tell me I hate Judaism, the Jewish people and the Jewish state — no matter how many people tell me I hate myself — I know who I am. I know when I’m living in truth. And nothing feels more Jewish than that.
I’m not an activist by nature. I couldn’t organize a protest to save my life. But leaving Hebron last Friday, I vowed to come back next year, for the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s takeover of the West Bank. Instead of 50 Jews, I hope we bring 500. I hope you’re one of them.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said that when he marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, he was “praying with his feet.” I now know what he meant. And I know that, to be the Jew I want to be, I must pray that way again.
Originally published in Haaretz.
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
Read “Jews, Refugees and the (im)possibility of history”, an insightful piece by Max Kaiser, about the formation and reformation of Jews For Refugees, published in Overland earlier this month:
A few years ago I received a phone call from the current Energy and Resources minister, Josh Frydenberg. He called me in response to an email I had sent only hours earlier on behalf of Jews for Refugees (JFR), drawing his attention to the case of the MV Struma. The Struma was a ship carrying 781 Jewish refugees from Romania that, on 23 February 1942, was towed from the harbour in Istanbul to the Black Sea, leaving the ship adrift. The next day the Struma was torpedoed and sunk by a Russian submarine. There was only one survivor. When Frydenburg called, the story of the Struma was being referenced in synagogues and the Jewish media, a warning against the Liberals policy of ‘turning back the boats’.
The majority of Jews in Australia have a refugee background; usually, they, their parents or grandparents came in the late thirties from Germany or Austria, or as Holocaust survivors escaping a devastated Europe in the decade following the Second World War. In 2012, I was involved in restarting the then dormant activist group JFR. We tried to campaign within the Jewish community and to get young Jews along to pro-refugee rallies. Most people we talked to were sympathetic, but some were not. One time, we were run off Glen Eira Road by over-eager council workers acting on complaints they had received about postering.
We retreated to the western suburbs to re-assess our strategy. Why were we Jews for refugees? How did the struggles of our parents or grandparents inform who we were and how we wanted to shape the world? We were wary of calling on people morally, of arguing that because Jews have suffered in history we somehow had more of an obligation to speak out against injustice and suffering now.
In her book Landscapes of Memory: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered, Ruth Klüger recounts a discussion with some German PhD students:
One [student] reports how in Jerusalem he made the acquaintance of an old Hungarian Jew who was a survivor of Auschwitz, and yet this man cursed the Arabs and held them all in contempt. How can someone who comes from Auschwitz talk like that? the German asks. I get into the act and argue, perhaps more hotly than need be. What did he expect? Auschwitz was no instructional institution … You learned nothing there, and least of all humanity and tolerance. Absolutely nothing good came out of the concentration camps, I hear myself saying, with my voice rising, and he expects catharsis, purgation, the sort of thing you go to the theatre for? They were the most useless, pointless establishments imaginable.
I often think of something my friend Jem said at the time we were organising JFR: ‘I don’t see history as a series of discrete events from which we can learn moral lessons. It’s about seeing history not as something that is past. History is continuous.’
We can demystify the present by historicising it. In the case of Australia’s migration history, we can understand that in the thirties, and in some senses up until the early fifties when restrictions on Jewish migration were finally abolished, Jews were marked as unwanted others. Our current refugee policy is in line with a long history of violence at the borders of a putatively ‘White Australia’.
Walter Benjamin, in his Theses on the Philosophy of History, famously referred to the struggle for the ‘oppressed past’ – a concept with a double meaning. First, the history and memory of oppressed peoples; second, the fact that very past has been oppressed and suppressed. For Benjamin, history as it is currently constituted is the history of the dominant. ‘Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins,’ Benjamin wrote. ‘And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.’ How, then, do we go about fanning the spark?
In an interview on the recent accusations of anti-Semitism in the UK Labour party, Norman Finkelstein discussed the ethics of making comparisons to the Holocaust, referencing his mother who was a Holocaust survivor and a Communist:
When she saw the segregation of African-Americans, whether at a lunch counter or in the school system, that was, for her, like the prologue to the Nazi holocaust. Whereas many Jews now say, Never compare … my mother’s credo was, Always compare. She gladly and generously made the imaginative leap to those who were suffering, wrapping and shielding them in the embrace of her own suffering …When she saw Vietnamese being bombed during the Vietnam War, it was the Nazi holocaust. It was the bombing, the death, the horror, the terror, that she herself had passed through. When she saw the distended bellies of starving children in Biafra, it was also the Nazi holocaust, because she remembered her own pangs of hunger in the Warsaw Ghetto.
This is a paradigmatic case of what academic Michael Rothberg calls ‘multidirectional memory’, a concept for thinking collective memory against the framework of ‘competitive memory – as a zero-sum struggle over scarce resources’. Multidirectional memory is ‘subject to ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing; [it is] productive and not privative.’ In my own research on the history of the discourse of the Australian Jewish Left, I have found frequent comparisons of the Holocaust with struggles against colonialism, the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and the Vietnam War.
How then do we balance Klüger’s suggestion of the ultimate meaninglessness of the Holocaust and Finkelstein’s mother’s compari
or empathetic, experiencing oppression does not mean you should be held to a higher moral or ethical standard.
Political struggle, however, has the capacity to remake and redeem these pasts, to make them move, slip, and tussle, backward, forward and across, opening new lines of solidarity, and presaging Benjamin’s ‘revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past’.
sons? Memory by itself can only take us so far. Surviving a genocide does not make you a better person, trauma does not make you more insightful Image
My conversation with Frydenberg was fairly unremarkable. He repeated Liberal Party talking points on the need to ‘stop the boats’ and I disputed them. We agreed to disagree and I hung up. I have wondered since why he called so quickly after receiving the email. It seems to me he rang so as to try and arrest the moment – to not let the memory of theMV Struma slip any further; to dispute its multidirectional capacity; to make sure that the dead stayed dead.
This article was originally published 25 May, 2016 in Overland.
We, activists within SEDQ: A Global Jewish Network for Justice, are inviting people around the globe to participate in “Cultivating Justice: a Global Week of Action and Education challenging the JNF”.
This week aims to encourage a closer look at the historical and current work of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF is a quasi-governmental organization based in Israel that has played a controversial role in the creation of the state, and contributes towards implementing some of its discriminatory laws and policies. With dozens of charitable branches abroad, the JNF aims to portray itself as an apolitical organization tasked with “developing” the land.
Through film screenings, reading groups, and other educational events, we seek to uncover a part of the story that is hidden from many of us. As an organization that so many of us were raised with, and which claims to operate on behalf of Jewish people everywhere, we feel a moral obligation to examine closely and honestly its legacy and continuing activities.
We are encouraging you to attend a local event in your community to learn more and share your experiences and thoughts with us!
The week will take place between May 22 and May 29, signifying the time in between two historic events that the JNF is closely linked to: Israel’s creation on May 15, 1948, known to Palestinians as al-Nakba (the catastrophe) due to the forced exile of roughly 750,000 inhabitants; and the June 1967 War and subsequent 49 years of military occupation, which Palestinians commemorate as al-Naksa (the setback).
Watch this documentary by Israeli Social TV about Park Canada, one of the JNF’s largest enterprises:
Come along to the AJDS’ film screening of “Enduring Roots: Over a Century of Resistance to the JNF“, 24 May 2016
Visit the facebook page: /cultivatingjustice/
Add your voice to our campaign or just learn more about the JNF at whatsbehindjnf.org
During the week, post something on twitter, facebook and instagram using the hashtag #cultivatejustice
By Sylvie Leber
“I want to add my voice in support of Muslims in our community and around the world. After the Paris attacks and hate this week, I can only imagine the fear Muslims feel that they will be persecuted for the actions of others. As a Jew, my parents taught me that we must stand up against attacks on all communities. Even if an attack isn’t against you today, in time attacks on freedom for anyone will hurt everyone … As long as we stand together and see the good in each other, we can build a better world for all people.”– Mark Zuckerberg, December 2015
Zuckerberg and I may live on “different planets” but I agree with him on this one. Zukerberg’s statement is very much in the tradition of the Jewish value of “welcoming the stranger”. We know all too well where state-sanctioned racism can lead to – three of my grandparents were murdered by the Nazis during WWII.
I see many analogies between the way Muslims are currently being treated – the scapegoating of a minority by power hungry political leaders – and how Jews in Germany were viewed in the earliest stages of the Third Reich, which ultimately lead to the Holocaust of European Jewry.
In 2011, Sandy Joffe, a Jew, was coordinator of the Alma Rd Community House in a part of Melbourne with a large Jewish population, when anti-Muslim groups, in particular the Q Society, mounted an unfounded fear-based campaign to have the centre’s Muslim prayer room removed.
The Q Society claim that Muslim prayer is racist and rejects other religions, and that the Islamic faith is separatist and proselytising, and that prayer gatherings may encourage violence. They tar all Muslims as having associations with extremists and imply that because they are Muslims they want Sharia law.
The prayer room in question was used for one hour per week on Friday evenings by the St Kilda Islamic Society. There was, and still is, no mosque anywhere nearby. The users of the prayer room were mostly from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. When I asked Sandy about the response from the Jewish community, she said, “a small group of Orthodox rabbis gave sermons openly supporting the Muslims saying it was an issue of freedom of expression and the right to practice one’s faith unhindered”. Interestingly, she added that “some of the progressive rabbis were scared to publicly approach the topic.”
Ultimately, and encouragingly, the racist campaign led to relatively widespread support for the prayer group, including from the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the Jewish Christian Muslim Association (JCMA), the Australian Jewish Democratic Society and the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC).
I particularly love the incisive and funny tone taken by Deborah Stone, the then CEO of the ADC: “I don’t know the Muslims who want to use the Alma Road Community House for their prayers. I have no reason to believe they are terrorists, any more than I have reason to expect that the applicants to run the next Italian restaurant will be using it as a mafia hideout or that the local Catholic school is sheltering a paedophile priest.”
But the Jewish community is renowned for its internal disagreements. In 2015, Galus Australia’s editor, Alex Fein, criticised the current CEO of the ADC, Dvir Abramovich, for his lack of action on anti-Muslim hate. Fein said that three days had passed since “fascists invaded Bendigo to try to terrify Muslims and their friends and the ADC has said nothing. Reclaim Australia has been gathering momentum all year and its connections with racist and fascist groups is obvious with even the most cursory Google search and the ADC has said nothing.”
I know about the importance of interfaith dialogue. Six years ago I worked for the Melbourne-based JCMA. My job was to develop curriculum materials and coordinate an education program called “Open Doors: Schools Visiting Places Of Worship” in which middle-school secondary students would visit a mosque, church and synagogue in one day.
JCMA’s formation was timely in Australia. It had its work cut out responding to the treatment of Muslims after the September 11 attacks in the US. It ran school education programs and created opportunities for interfaith dialogue.
One of the JCMA’s founders, Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, said to me, “Judaism doesn’t believe there is only one way to god. You only have to be a decent human being. No religion has the whole truth and there is much to be learnt from other faiths.”
What is needed is to have people from different faiths sitting together in the same room.
Soon after 9/11, I was at a wedding sitting with a group of Muslim friends and I said, “I think I should convert to Islam”. It was my way of showing solidarity with what we could see coming: a spate of anti-Muslim hate and Islamophobia.
They replied, “No Sylvie, we should become Jews!” We had a good laugh.
Sylvie Leber has taught English to Bosnian Muslim refugees, worked for the Jewish Christian Muslim Association, was cross-cultural education coordinator at the Western Region Migrant Resource Centre, is a member of Jews For Refugees, recently spoke at Melbourne’s Palm Sunday Refugee Rally representing the Jewish community and attended the counter-protests against racist anti-Muslim organisations: Reclaim Australia and the United Patriotic Front. She is an artist, writer and volunteers fundraising for the Council of Single Mothers and Their Children.
This article was originally published 11 April 2016 in RightNow.org.au.
By Linda Briskman
During the summer of August 2014 I entered a Tehran store, where through the window I had observed the vendor wearing a kippah. Despite his minimal English and my imperfect Farsi, he warmed to me as a Jew visiting Iran. His wife was less convinced. She brought out a book of Hebrew writing, which I stumbled over, as it seemed like almost a lifetime since I attended Cheder in Melbourne. To convince her of my authenticity I recited the Shema and then all was well. I treasure the Magen David I purchased from their small shop.
In the ten visits I have made to Iran for academic purposes, I have been curious about its Jewish community, estimated at 20,000. In August of 2015, I decided it was time to satisfy my yearning, and I visited one of Tehran’s numerous synagogues. There I was informed about the life of Iranian Jews in that city, indistinguishable in many ways from communities throughout the world. I heard of kosher restaurants and butchers, sporting clubs, interfaith gatherings, Hebrew lessons for children, Bar Mitzvahs, Bat Mitzvahs and a Jewish hospital open to all. There are also active Jewish communities in other parts of Iran. I learned of the good relationships between Jews and other Iranians, echoing what my Iranian Muslim friends tell me: all Abrahamic religions are important in the Islamic state. And there is a Jewish member of parliament, the Majlis, in accordance with constitutional guarantees of representation of the minority religions of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Judaism.
Later I was privileged to attend a Friday Shabbat service with around 300 people in a Sephardic shul. As the only foreigner present, I was greeted with buoyant Shabbat Shaloms and with the warmth that all Iranians show in reaching out to strangers in their midst. I could have been anywhere in the world but this was Iran. Men were praying; women were praying and chatting; and children were participating in the service and running about. I joined in timeless and universal prayers that bind us through common heritage. Judaism has been preserved throughout various Persian eras during the 2,700 years of its presence in Iran and, as elsewhere, is both an ancient and living religion.
I left feeling spiritually nourished and grateful for the experience. A family approached me. ‘Come’, they said, ‘visit our home to join us for a Shabbat meal’. In their observant home embraced by the warmth of this extended family, I experienced Iranian Jewish traditions, enjoying the combination of Iranian food with Jewish blessings. The allure that is Iran glows with hospitality. It is people that draw me back again and again and this night was a new highpoint, experiencing shared humanity across time, faith, nation and identity.
My visits to Iran are significant in opening my eyes to a world that most Jews in the diaspora have only heard about through negative imagery and words. It’s a constant struggle to explain to fellow Australians that Iran is a safe, intellectual, engaged and vibrant society that is in sharp contrast to the relentless propaganda perpetuated against it. Many do not know that Iran comprises a unique web of minority groups, cultures and religions. This visit to Iran was evocative, occurring within weeks of the sealing of the nuclear accord. Even the doomsday forecasters – right-wing Republicans, Netanyahu and his followers included – could not take the shine off what it means for Iran to be recognised for its international diplomacy and for the scourge of unjust sanctions to be close to an end. Everyone has suffered from sanctions, and now Jews and other minority groups will be able to share with their fellow Iranians in the prosperity and opportunity that we in the sanctioning world take for granted.
Linda Briskman is Professor of Human Rights at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research.
This article was part of Just Voices #9 – Freedom/Oppression , the AJDS newsletter for April 2016.