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Jews Against Israel: Uncovering the Anti-Zionist Agenda – PART 2

September 14, 2009 – 12:11 pm20 Comments
Photo source: Independent Jewish Voices Canada

Photo source: Independent Jewish Voices Canada

By Philip Mendes

As discussed in my previous article on this website, it would appear on the surface that anti-Zionism has become a growing and significant phenomenon in Jewish life. However, in reality, anti-Zionists remain a tiny, marginal and generally detested group within Jewish society.

A key strategy used by Jewish anti-Zionists is to form coalitions with other Jews, who are critical of Israeli policies but do not necessarily share their anti-Zionism, in order to expand their potential support base. For example, the formation of the Independent Jewish Voices group in the UK, which includes prominent anti-Zionists in its Steering Group, attracted considerable attention. But the IJV is not formally an anti-Zionist group.

The founding statement of the IJV could easily have been written by non-Zionists and/or Left Zionist supporters of the mainstream Israeli peace movement. The statement urged a universal upholding of human rights in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, an equal concern to achieve peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians, a rejection of racism directed against Jews or Arabs or Muslims, an open and free debate on Israeli policies, and a negotiated peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

Arguably just as important was what the statement did not say. It did not articulate the anti-Zionist view that Israel was a racist and colonialist state that should be destroyed. Nor did it argue that only Palestinian and not Israeli national and human rights should be respected.

Nevertheless, the IJV did emphasize the importance of prioritizing universalism over what it defined as a narrow Jewish ethnocentrism, arguing that its views would “reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice”. But noticeably the IJV did not explain via any religious or cultural terms the specifically Jewish basis of these universal values.

The Australian debate has largely mirrored the UK debate. The Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) group was formed in February 2007 as a virtual carbon copy of the IJV.  However, the group does not formally exist as an organization. It has no constitution, no membership list, no established procedures for deciding organizational views or strategies, no official policy positions, and no elected leadership. Nevertheless, most of the media construct IAJV as a traditional political group with recognized spokespersons.

The IAJV has pursued a similar strategy to the British IJV of forming broader coalitions with more moderate critics of Israel. The founding statement of the IAJV, for example, which was signed by over 500 Australian Jews, condemned violence by both sides, and urged recognition of the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians including Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinians’ right to a homeland.

The statement also specifically defended the right of Jews to criticize Israeli actions without being labeled as disloyal or self-hating Jews by Jewish establishment organizations. It advocated the protection of universal human rights for all groups in the Middle East, and condemned racism against Jews and all minority groups. Noticeably, the statement did not incorporate any anti-Zionist statements calling for Israel’s destruction, but nor did it make reference to any specific Jewish values or beliefs.

The IAJV also issued a statement during the January 2009 Gaza conflict which was signed by over 200 Australian Jews. This statement criticized the Israeli attack on Gaza as disproportionate both in terms of the firepower used and the resulting civilian casualties, and also condemned the associated Israeli blockade.

However, the statement also acknowledged Israel’s right to protect its civilians from rocket attacks, and urged an end to attacks on civilians by both Israelis and Palestinians. The statement did not include any anti-Zionist rhetoric challenging Israel’s existence, but nor did it suggest any specifically Jewish rationale for the views expressed.

On another occasion, however, the convenors of IAJV revealed their true colours when they canvassed support from the signatories of their founding statement for a pro-Palestinian advertisement in The Australian which implicitly called for the destruction of Israel. This action provoked a backlash from other left-wing Jews. For example, the non-Zionist Australian Jewish Democratic Society, which supports Israel’s existence but vigorously opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, dissociated itself from the IAJV and the advertisement, citing its extreme inflammatory and one-sided language.

A number of the IAJV convenors formally reject Israel’s existence. Antony Loewenstein calls himself an anti-Zionist Jew who advocates Israel’s transformation into a bi-national state. Sara Dowse, who serves as editor of IAJV’s opinion and letters page, uses the time warp argument. She acknowledges that Jews have a right to live in the biblical land of Israel, but then adds that there is no need for a “Jewish state in that land”. Dowse doesn’t seem to be aware that Israel has already existed for 61 years. Elsewhere, she recommends that Israel be transformed from a specifically Jewish state into a homeland where some Jews can continue to live.

Like their overseas counterparts, Australian Jewish anti-Zionists and their supporters also tend to exaggerate their level of support.  For example, ABC journalist Gary Bryson claimed that “Both within Israel and throughout the Diaspora, more and more Jews are demonstrating their concern about what’s being done in their name in Israel and Palestine”. Yet Bryson made no distinction between the small group of six mainly anti-Zionist Jews he interviewed and the much larger number of Jews who are critical of Israeli policies. He also failed to provide any verifiable evidence to support his assertion.

One of his interviewees, John Docker, similarly claimed that “increasingly Jews around the world… are beginning to think that Zionism in Israel is a terrible mistake”. Docker relied solely on anecdotal communications for this assertion. Loewenstein argues that an increasing number of anti-Zionist Jews around the world are challenging Israel’s actions, but provides no estimate of their actual numbers.

Dr Philip Mendes is the co-editor of Jews and Australian Politics, Sussex Academic Press, 2004. This article is an edited version of a much longer paper he presented to the Limmud Oz conference in Sydney on 8 June, 2009.

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  • Chook says:

    Interesting point you make here Philip, but than again, an obvious one. The maniacs on the right make similar claims that they are mainstream when, in fact they are not.

  • Michael Brull says:

    “However, in reality, anti-Zionists remain a tiny, marginal and generally detested group within Jewish society.”

    The latest survey shows some 80% of Australian Jews identify as Zionist. As far as Mendes knows, 20% of Australian Jews could be included in his category of the marginal and detested group. Even though he routinely calls people he disagrees with anti-Semitic, he may well have cast a slur against over 20 000 Jews. But then, this simply reflects how seriously he takes the issue of anti-Semitism.

  • philip mendes says:

    Michael: you are misrepresenting my views and everyone else’s as usual. The survey report – and I was a member of the Technical Advisory Committee which actively advised on the wording for this question and a number of others – found that 13 per cent were not Zionists, and seven per cent either didn’t know or declined to answer. The report did not ask whether people were anti-Zionist at all.

    It did find that 29 per cent of Jews believed all or most West Bank settlements should be dismantled. I hold this view as do many of my friends who would either call themselves left Zionists or non-Zionists. There is no contradiction at all.

    All the report tells us is that many Australian Jews are not supporters of a Greater Israel, and some are either anti-Zionist or like many of my Anglo-Jewish relatives and late father just not interested in Israel or Zionism. The figures for that category are not specifically stated.

    Nothing from this question has anything to do with anti-Semitism which is covered separately in the report.


  • Michael Brull says:

    Okay, so then we’re agreed that your slur may be against over 13 000 Jews, rather than 20 000. For you, the issue of anti-Semitism doesn’t arise, because you obviously don’t think the issue arises in the case of (yet another) vicious attack on Jews who hold different opinions to you.

    I did not know the 29% figure. As someone involved, do you know where people in the public can find the results, or when they will be able to do so?

  • philip mendes says:

    Michael: you can’t move from accusing people of outrageous slurs and various other crimes to suddenly asking them for assistance. When you are sufficiently mature enough to move forward and engage in constructive dialogue with people with different opinions, I and others will only be too happy to help you. Until then you are stuck with your colleagues at IAJV.


  • Larry Stillman says:

    “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus”

    Both the aged learned doctor and the young bull (sorry Brull) should pay a attention to the above tag from the ancients.

    Definitions of who and what is a Zionist is pretty critical to argumentation over the survey.

    I quote from the Gen08 Preliminary Findings, Melbourne and Sydney, p. 15, footnote 5 which deals with the question in the survey: ” Do you regard yourself as a Zionist”.

    In fact, the question was “Do you regard yourself as a Zionist? By the term Zionist we mean that you feel connected to the Jewish people, to Jewish history, culture and beliefs, the Hebrew language and Jewish homeland”

    There was a fair amount of criticism of this broad statement being used to define Zionism in the research seminar about the survey I attended (by variety of academics and others, include at least one Israel academic). And, in other fora there has been commentary on the problems of this question elsewhere. It is a catch-all definition that is too crude a measure. Thus, it certainly captures someone like me, who is identifiably on the critical end, as well as the most extreme Greater Israel supporter. I think it would also capture all the (Jewish) AJDS members I know. It is a motherhood statement that is bound to give high positive response rates that are then reduced to a simplistic ‘Zionist’. Thus, it has built in inaccuracy. I think it is a weakness of the survey.

    With the built-in bias of the question, when combined to other questions such as those about degrees of connection to Israel, a rather crude ‘Zionist’ picture is constructed that seems to becoming an 80/20 argument.

    Yet as Philip observed, Table 5 in the survey shows that almost a majority of people are in favour of the dismantlement of settlements as part of a peace settlement–only 1/3 oppose, the rest don’t know (I am rounding out here, both Melb and Sydney). Now, according to some Zionists, these dismantlers would not be real Zionists! So the stats are just that, crude bones that need flesh.

    Andrew Markus, who is in charge of the survey, said that further qualitative research would be able to unpack the issue further, and I certainly so, to frankly, cut the political, and commentariat crap.

    To move from a precis of an academic discussion to personal opinion. I thus find the label non-anti-Zionist highly contentious, because it categories a wide range of opinion.

    For example, to categorise those who see the current form of Zionism at a dead end and that Israeli identity is moving into a new stage as simply ‘anti-Zionist’ is not right, particularly because it does not mean anti-Israel. It just means that old ideologies no longer work as foundational philosophies and there is enough ‘patriotic left’ Israeli writing to show that dividing people up as two-state, one-state, no-staters is also inadequate and not useful. There is a transition going on, which affects not just a fair number (I suspect) of progressive diaspora Jews, but Israelis as well who see a complete contradiction between the state as it now is & the values of democracy and universalism vs. the tyranny of the occupier/military state model, with people living in a selective myopia.

    It is also a furphy Phillip to use the universalism -“Jewish” binary (a term I also don’t like) in extrapolation of what the webpages & petitions of IAJV mean at a deeper level of personal identity. I agree that the IAJV is not a formal organisation (or similar organisations) but reflects, at different times, a coalition of interest, and that its label and convenient list of names was improperly used. There is no doubt that there is a noisy ‘hard core’ minority of anti-Zionists, some with very quirky opinions, but that is ignoring the views of a much wider spectrum of people.

    But, without deeper investigation of the personal identity of those of have ‘signed up’, at least to various petitions, no claim should be made about the depth of identify and attachment to specifically ‘Jewish’ values. There are many paths to identity. It is dangerous ground to start claiming what and what is not Jewish and life is not a stone, fixed in the ground. We grow and change. But I suspect that if one sampled many of those who signed up, a surprising degree of identity and attachment to different forms of identity and community would be discovered.

    Philip, I am also surprised that as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee, in the interests of enlightening him, you did not freely offer Mr Brull a copy of the survey which is only available in print. It might actually help. I am sure you have been equally brusque before.

    I will arrange for the Centre for Jewish Civilization to mail you a copy if you can find my email address.

  • ra says:

    To all those who post comments on Galus, I would like to make a plea to keep the comments relevant to the ideas being debated. Fiery debate is terrific but ceases to have any value or utility when it descends into personal attacks. More seriously, personal attacks undermine the legitimacy of the forum.

    Many of posts following Part 1 of “Jews Against Israel: Uncovering the Anti-Zionist Agenda” were tedious personal attacks by and against other comment writers. Not to be forgotten were the ludicrous threats of defamation proceedings. For those of us who are genuinely interested in the ideas at play, such comments are irritating and anti-intellectual, undermining the whole purpose of the Galus project.

    There are many more readers of Galus than post-ers, no doubt because many who only read find this sort of parochialism off putting or have no desire to participate in what often looks like an exercise in name-calling.

    From the first five comments posted after Part 2 of “Jews Against Israel” I get the distinct impression that the personal animosity has returned or is about to. Hence my plea: critique ideas, not the person.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I forgot to mention. Philip, as a member of the Technical Committee could you please encourage the Centre to put the survey reports on line, in the interests of public enlightenment and of course, the capacity to cut and paste.

    If the Centre is concerned about intellectual property, PDFs can be set up so that users cannot print and/or copy. But at least οἱ πολλοί –‘am ha’aretz should be able to read the stuff in its statistical glory, particularly the appendix on methodology.

  • Michael Brull says:

    Ra: My comment was in response to Mendes’ claim that “However, in reality, anti-Zionists remain a tiny, marginal and generally detested group within Jewish society.”

    Do you think this is a discussion of contrary ideas? Or does he call these Jews names? I noted that there could be over 13 000 Jews in this category in Australia. Do you think this is true? Would you agree that Mendes may treat this category of people with contempt? Do you think such contempt is justified?

    Thank you for the information offered, and I should like to take you up on your gracious offer Mr Stillman.

  • ra says:

    My comment was directed at all who post on Galus.

  • Chaim says:

    Larry – I am interested in your comment on Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s proposal for Palestinian state. Do you support him and Fatah?


  • Larry Stillman says:

    le-Haim, that is off topic..If I have time, I will write a personal blog piece, but I don’t know if it is relevant to Galus.

    I know being human is no excuse, but this is as, they say, a curve ball which demands considerable thought. As you may realise, the goal postings are shifting every minute.

    Seriously, as well, is the tone of your question meant to entrap me, or or are you generally interested?

  • I attended a presentation on the survery from Andrew Markus. I get the impression that the question on Zionism didn’t get a meaningful result, and the definition (done by committee, of course) was partly to blame. Everyone is now jumping on that question’s response to prove their own arguments, when we should all acknowledge that there isn’t that much anyone can draw from it.

    Andrew and his team are very good at running surveys and interpreting them. Anyone less qualified should defer to their commentary rather than making their own inferences based on headline numbers.

    The only way to find out if anti-Zionists are indeed a small, detested group, is to do further formal research. And, no, biased comments from people on here won’t cut it!

  • Larry Stillman says:

    On the Fayyad announcement, I would like to point to this discussion by Israelis and Palestinians.


  • ariel says:

    Philip mentions something interesting which is that the media tend to treat IAJV as a functioning political movement when they are nothing of the kind.

    The irony of anti-Zionists is that they wouldn’t be able to march proudly if it weren’t for a strong Israel which protects their rights. Countries with large Jewish populations today don’t practice (physical) anti-Semitism because we have Israel at our backs.

    Menachem Begin as PM once spoke in the Knesset, responding to an interjecting member of the Communist Party . He explained that he opposed a PLO state next to Israel because it would be a client of the USSR and “when the Soviets arrive, the Communists are the first ones to be arrested!”

    Likewise, if Israel were to cease to exist (G-d forbid) the anti-Zionists would be the first ones thrown into the gulags by the Islamists.

  • philip mendes says:

    David Werdiger is of course right about the lack of empirical research on Jewish anti-Zionists. I have based my analysis on their published writings and statements, but I have not interviewed anyone since my earlier 1993 book (The New Left, the Jews and the Vietnam War, Lazare Press) and don’t have the time to do so.

    Margot Salom did a recent Masters thesis in Queensland on Jewish peace activists, but didn’t specifically look at Jewish anti-Zionism. Similarly Barbara Bloch did her phd on a slightly related topic, and David Slucki is writing his phd on the Bund rather than anti-Zionism per se.

    I think it would be great if a young phd student did some serious academic work in this area.


  • Larry Stillman says:

    Philip, does a PhD student have to be young? Are you excluding the wisdom of older people (quite seriously, this is a real question for anyone recruiting students)? I’d be very concerned from many angles if you recruited on the basis of youth alone.

    If we accept that Zionism-non-Zionism is a spectrum of belief, why do you assume that all people with this belief are young?

    Some of the best research is done by people (of any gender affiliation) with substantial life experience….

  • philip mendes says:

    Larry: I should have said young or with youthful energy. All my current PHD students are actually older than me, but they all have lots of energy and passion for their subject. But seriously, this would be a hot topic, and I suspect only someone young and very idealistic would be keen to take it on.


  • Chaim says:

    Larry – I dont know if anyone seem to be still reading this.

    We question was off topic because I had asked you on another article but you had seemed to have moved on…

    The truth is this continuation of who or what or how many anti- non- Zionists are out there seems off… Considering we have had previous threads where one person considers himself a non-Zionist and another Zionist but both seem to be accused of anti- or non-. The polls seem a little ridiculous. Either the definitions are too broad or too narrow. Someone might non agree with the definition of a non-Zionist but may seem closer to that than anti- or Zionist and check that response… instead of putting I don’t know.

    Everyone seem to be from Melbourne or Sydney but Perth people may know Geoff Solomon. He used to say that the 70 Rabbis being segregated and coming up with the exact Greek translation for the Septuagint is not a miracle. Having the 70 Rabbis in the same room and coming up with one translation would have been a real miracle.

    Back to Fayyad’s proposal proposal. I read the bitter lemon essays. No one seemed to have a problem with the proposed imposed Shari’a laws. I notice he was never actually elected. More like an American educated stooge to impress the west. Is there support for him within the Palestinians? Does he or this proposal represent the Palestinians?

  • Margot Salom says:

    Philip – I have only just read this article and comments (I was Googling my name and it came up).   Re age and post-grad research.  I certainly qualify as a senior and am interested in undertaking a PhD.   Not exactly in the area that you are describing re anti-Zionism with Australian Jews (although I certainly would be interested in results if it is ever undertaken)  My interest is in the area of the psycho-emotional ‘motivations’ that result in the strong allegiance of diaspora Jews to Israel despite such events as Gaza etc.   I am already 5 chapters into a book that is leading up to an examination of this and a description of the ‘history’ of the European Jews post Emancipation to present situation in Israel/Palestine.   I can continue with the book but it would be good to do  empirical research.  

    BTW Philip – of my respondents in the Master’s research study, only one stated that they were “anti-Zionist”.  The question was asked on a continuum and all the other respondents chose somewhere else on that continuum!!   I thought that was interesting – but it was in 2004 and a lot has happened since then.

    I do have a supervisor lined up at UQ but I am not sure whether he is appropriate to this topic.   I am waiting for his return from overseas in April to decide.

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