Sylvie Leber, having just returned from a study tour of the Middle East, spoke at the protest against Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia this month. Here is the full transcript, republished with her permission:
The reason I’m here speaking to you today is to let you know that as an Australian Jew, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, does not speak for me or in any way represent me. There are many Jews in Melbourne and elsewhere around the world who feel the same way.
I am an Ashkenazi Jew, born in France of French parents and East European grandparents, three of whom were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
I’ve never felt or believed that as a Jew I should feel connected to Israel or need to visit it, live there or donate money to it. For me Judaism is not a nationality: it’s my ethnicity and culture. From what I’ve seen and learnt in life, nationalism has been a precursor to war and conflict. A favourite slogan of mine is:
“Nationalism teaches you to take pride in shit you haven’t done and hate people you you’ve never met” (excuse the language).
But recently I decided I must finally see for myself what is happening in a part of the world that has had one of the longest standing conflicts, and so this year I went on a study tour of Israel/Palestine, organised by the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network (APAN).
We visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, then travelled to East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nazareth, Nablus and Jordan Valley. We couldn’t get permits to visit Gaza (surprise, surprise).
It was an interesting, powerful and at times a quite disturbing experience. We met many Palestinians. They were refugees, activists, business people, community workers, lawyers, teachers and of course tourism and hospitality workers. If I spent any length of time in conversation with a Palestinian I was eventually open about being Jewish. I was blown away that NOT ONCE did I ever feel a hint of hatred or racism towards myself or other Jews.
Other people we met included Australian consular staff, a young former Israeli army conscript turned anti-demolition activist, Bedouin activists and an acclaimed local British journalist.
We met a Christian Arabic family: they were shopkeepers that had previously run a guest house next door. They told of how they were frequently raided in the early hours of the morning during the time the Wall was being built just across the street from their home. The Wall immediately separated members of this family from each other. Common stories we heard were about army raids while people slept, and families and spouses separated by the Wall.
I saw countless destroyed Palestinian villages with piles of rubble left behind. It is said if you see cactus growing where there is nothing, it was probably the former location of Palestinian villages. We saw lots of tough cacti growing amid the rubble. Bulletholes were to be seen often. I saw empty tear gas canisters and other used weaponry near the Wall. I often felt I was in a war zone and finally understood why all my friends and family said “stay safe” before I left Australia.
Palestinian villages were distinguished from Jewish settlements by the black water tanks on the roof of their houses as there was constant uncertainty of water being cut off. Jewish settlements were well serviced and often had ‘Jewish people only’ roads leading to them not only for ‘security’ reasons but so that they could escape the traffic jams.
We were regularly stopped by soldiers and police while driving to different locations and then there were the checkpoints everywhere. Traffic was regularly held up. One day there were dozens of military buses and police vans with sirens and flashing lights which I later found out were heading towards a Palestinian village which was being demolished illegally by the authorities and where the residents were protesting and resisting.
Perhaps the most shocking thing I saw was in the most peaceful of places, Old Jerusalem, where a young Jewish couple (he was wearing a skull-cap or yarmulke) were wheeling their baby in a pram. The man, a civilian, was wearing a machine gun over his shoulder. I later found out Jewish settlers were easily able to get permits to carry weapons.
The very complicated political history and current administrative regime, walls and borders (with the A, B and C sections), demolitions programs, illegal settlements and permit systems of the region is complex, weird to the point of resembling futuristic science fiction beyond my grasp. I won’t attempt to analyse or comment on it except to say that it seems to be intentionally humiliating, oppressive and racist against Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Bedouins, and is spiralling out of control. This intensification and escalation is being orchestrated by Netanyahu’s regime.
On a positive note, I was struck by the beauty and richness of the Palestinian culture, their dance, music, art and crafts, poetry and the strong focus on education. This was particularly highlighted in the refugee camps where people lived in the toughest of circumstances, severe overcrowding, electricity regularly cut off, no jobs and the lack of enough medical and education services which we take for granted here.
I was struck by how resilient most Palestinians were under the circumstances. The major problem for Palestinians though, from what I saw and heard, is that their political organisations are dis-organised and not united.
One Palestinian activist when asked if she held out any hope for a peaceful solution said that her hope was there, but that it was frozen for now.
My frozen hope melted a little this week when for the first time for the Australian Jewish community, the official body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) criticised Netanyahu for the illegal demolitions and destruction of Palestinian-owned homes and agricultural land and the building of 4000 new settler homes. Saying it was ‘troubling’ and ‘counterproductive’ and hopefully that the legislation will be overturned in Israel’s supreme court to show that it’s democracy is still alive. This was reported in the Australian Jewish News, a pro-Zionist newspaper that rarely approves of any criticism of the Israeli government.
I think the only thing that will work eventually is a Binational Democracy where Israel is no longer a Jewish state but a multi-cultural one and which must include the displaced Palestinian refugees right of return to their former homes. You may say I’m idealistic but I think it’s the only way Justice and Peace will prevail.
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 Larry Stillman.
Hello all, I ran home like crazy to try to put in a report about the anti-Trump demo for those who are observant though as far as I can see, the sun is well and truly shining.
Yes, there was a 1/2 hearted from Palestine to Mexico slogan attempt by the young ‘chair’ of the protest that annoyed me a bit, but there were as far as I can tell, no anti-Israel signs or posters, at least at the state library. I did not stay for the March down Bourke Street (why they felt the need to hold up trams etc. I don’t know, but this is masorti).
Only one speaker made strong allusion to Israeli/Palestine as a parallel case of exclusion, and frankly, he said nothing that the ‘true’ Israeli left or Haaretz would not say.
Richard di Natale spoke first (or was it second?), and nothing he said would have been objected to by anyone who opposes Trump.
And thank you to Sheikh Mohamed Mohideen, of the Islamic Council for such perceptive and kind words about the important role of the Jewish community in the US –unity being shown- despite differences. I hope this message got through to more than a few people in attendance.
Alexjo Sandra Nissen spoke and was great. The politics of the very factional left organisers may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it is fair to say that Alex was out there, loud, and proud, as an authentic Australian-Israeli activist (yes, not a Zionist, but a believer in bi-nationalism) who does not accept the current mainstream and especially Netanyahu narrative that supports, borders, walls, and discrimination. It took some effort to get the organisers to be inclusive. I think they learned a lesson, and she got a lot of applause.
Watch the recording here.
And a reflection: decades ago, a lot more protests, particularly on Vietnam War issues, were coordinated by a number of church, union, and other organisations. Such people and structures knew each other very well and used to working through differences and the order and focus of events (maybe students were more anarchic, I think so). And, the division of labour was well, highly gendered. I think most of the key people were men, and women were at home with the kids, or did the typing etc. It’s not like that any more. Of course there were exceptions, like Save our Sons.
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
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.
On September 4, 2016, the AJDS held the Decolonisation Forum: From Australia to Israel-Palestine. The event took place at the Multicultural Hub and was well attended, drawing together an eclectic crowd that had gathered to hear our esteemed panelists: Dr. Gary Foley, Dr. Clare Land, and Dr. Sary Zananiri. An additional presentation was delivered electronically by Nina Grunzwieg from Zochrot. The event was chaired by Dr. Jordy Silverstein, who acknowledged our presence on Wurundjeri land and encouraged people to think about what that means. All proceeds from the nights were donated to Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) and we managed to raise $800 to help support Indigenous rights.
Dr. Gary Foley is a Gumbainggir man who has been at the centre of political organising for Aboriginal rights since the 1970s as a writer, educator, researcher, museum curator and actor, and currently a History Professor at Victoria University. With a PhD in History, Foley has helped set up Sydney’s Aboriginal Legal Service and Aboriginal Medical Service, as well as the Aboriginal medical service in Melbourne. In 1971 he was a key organiser of demonstrations against the Springbok tour. He also co-founded the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. Since then Gary Foley has led Aboriginal protests, including at the Commonwealth games and Australia’s bicentenary, been a consultant to the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody and been instrumental in educating non-Indigenous people about colonisation and Aboriginal rights.
Foley began by asking the audience to imagine what a decolonised Australia might look like. It would be a place in which self-determination for Indigenous Australians was possible and encouraged. He talked at length about the influence that Colin Tatz’ work has had on him in understanding the relationship between Jewish Australians and the Indigenous solidarity movement. Apologizing for his ill health, Foley was unable to stay for Q&A time.
Dr. Clare Land is a non-Aboriginal activist and researcher who has been involved in supporting Aboriginal land rights struggles in southeast Australia since 1998. Completing her PhD at Melbourne Uni and receiving the 2013 Isi Leibler Prize, Land continued to publish her research in the book Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and directions for supporters of Indigenous struggles (2015). In it she examines the spaces between Aboriginal aspirations and non-Aboriginal supporters, outlining the ways in which non-Indigenous allies can adopt a more critical political framework which places their lives in relation to ongoing colonisation.
In her talk, Land discussed her book’s structure and the different approaches to the concept of solidarity explored therein. It was fitting to have this contrasting perspective on race relations, privilege and recognition as they play out within the activist movement, especially since Jewish activists fall into a somewhat awkward position in relation to Aboriginal Australians. Aussie Jews represent on one hand the colonisers, but also occupy a minority space in Australian national culture. As Jews, when we come to support Aboriginal Australians in their struggle for decolonisation, we must acknowledge our role in this matrix of power, benefiting as we do from our ostensible Whiteness.
This awkward subjectivity was immediately acknowledged by Dr. Sary Zananiri, an Australian-Palestinian artist and academic, who delivered a visual presentation about picturing Palestine, the biblicalising of its landscape and projected nationalities. Having completed his PhD in Fine Arts at Monash University looking at the evolving representations of the Palestinian landscape, Sary has continued to examine the colonial processes embedded in the imaging of Palestine. He has exhibited his work both in Australia and internationally. In 2013 he exhibited Pines, Panoramas and Palestine: three proposals for reading the past as his PhD examination at MADA Gallery. More recently he showed Unpicking Jerusalem: a re-examination of the archives at Little Woods Gallery (read more about it here) and was shortlisted for the National Emerging Art Glass Prize at the Wagga Wagga Glass Museum in 2016. He is currently a co-director of the Palestinian Film Festival in Australia and lectures in the Glass Studio at Monash University.
Zananiri began his presentation by emphasising the curious discomfort of being a Palestinian Australian – borne to a legacy of the Nakba and its exile, and yet embodying the colonising power here, in Australia, as a non Aboriginal person. He presented a series of images from Palestine around the turn of the 20th century, and discussed the subtle manipulations of the artists and the ways in which these created and disseminated ideas about Palestinian life prior and during colonisation. By critically examining the different images, Zananiri demonstrated what a de-colonising gaze might achieve in terms of looking ahead into our joint futures as Australian activists – Jewish, Palestinian, Indigenous, or otherwise.
Zochrot‘s Nina Grunzwieg delivered her presentation electronically, covering in detail the work of her organisation. This Israeli NGO has been active since 2002 in raising awareness and promoting justice for the victims of the Nakba, the occupation of Palestine and ensuing devastation culminating in 1948.
There were some challenging questions from the audience, regarding the validity of Palestinian return and of the use of the term Nakba. Other questions addressed to Gary Foley (in his absence) shed light on the deep fissures within the Indigenous community and the contentious issue of intervention. It was evident that more discussion could and should be had, and the audience was engaged by the themes raised by the panelists. The main value of the night was indeed in offering the opportunity to consider and compare various aspects of decolonisation: re-examining ideas of nationhood, of return, reparation, critical action and more. Importantly, there is great benefit in considering the ways in which these notions carry over from one locale and culture to another, in our globalised and localised struggles.
We did record the event but the sound quality in the auditorium was not great. The AJDS is a non-profit organisation that operates solely through donations. If you would like to donate money towards recording equipment, visit this page or write to email@example.com to support our work.
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.
We’d love for people to come along who are interested in getting involved with the AJDS Indigenous solidarity group.
The Aboriginal Yarra River Walk – “Walkin’ the Birrarung” is a highly popular Aboriginal cultural walk which has been running through Melbourne’s centre for almost 10 years, it has opened the eyes, and the hearts, of many thousands of patrons of all ages and walks of life. Come and be a part of this cultural experience.
Discover Melbourne through Aboriginal eyes
Connect with Culture, Connect with Country
Come on a journey of Knowledge and of Spirit
This leisurely two hour Cultural walk begins at the small, but very significant site of Enterprize Park on Southbank, part of the ancestral lands of the Kulin people, which we today call Melbourne. This engaging journey peels away the layers of time and the dramatic irrevocable changes of both people, and place. It evokes the memories of a vibrant natural and cultural landscape. A memory that now lies beneath our urban existence. Come and dispel some old misunderstandings, hear the stories, and see a city with new eyes. “Walkin’ the Birrarung” is not only a cultural and historical journey but an intimate personal one, connecting everyone regardless of age or background, back to a connection with Place. Find Melbourne’s waterfall, its rich wetlands, its Aboriginal people
Its deeper spirit …
Conducted and operated by ABORIGINAL TOURS And EDUCATION MELBOURNE ‘A-TAEM’
‘A-TAEM’ is the proud Victorian Aboriginal owned and operated business of Dean Stewart, a Wemba Wemba-Wergaia man, with almost 20 years’ experience in cultural tourism, education, interpretation and conservation.
Sunday, April 7 at 1 pm
Duration: 1.5-2 hours
Start : Enterprize Park (next to the Aquarium) Melways ref: 43 G10
Concludes: Southbank Shop plaza near Princes Bridge
$35 Full price
Please book online here –
Places are limited to 25 people so book ASAP.
If you can’t make the walk but would still like to be involved in the AJDS Indigenous solidarity group please send an email to Max Kaiser at firstname.lastname@example.org