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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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