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Hate speech has no boundaries

November 7, 2010 – 12:09 am111 Comments

Free speech vs. hate speech - a delicate balance

By Larry Stillman

Hate speech is often characterized as ‘words that wound’, words that are deliberately intended to cause severe discomfort, stigmatization, a feeling of being sullied, and humiliation in the face of others.”

Within the Melbourne Jewish community, there appears to be a well-established tradition of encouraging public hatred through the denunciation of people, mostly for political sins, some of which may be true, more often than not (in my opinion) fabrications.

Recently,  on  Galus Australis, I was accused by an observant Jew of being part of a group of “whores who would let their own nation perish,”  with a suggestion that a tree and rope as  part of the solution for dealing with people with opinions such as mine. Others used the word ‘traitor’.  The president of the JCCV has now said that the AJDS is engaged in ‘vilification’ against Israel, and a number of brave pseudonymous individuals continue to regularly interrupt reasonably polite online conversations  on this site with the intent of causing discomfort and stigmatization. Alex Fein suffered such a fate on ‘Sensible Jew’, with simply appalling behaviour by a number of people who clearly delighted at inflicting pain and hurt.  Someone associated with AJDS has been called a ‘capo’ in the pages of the Jewish News, and the list goes on and on and on of insults which are clearly examples by hate speech.

Of course, many Jews and Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation Commission are highly critical of what they claim are expressions of hate speech by artists or actors, Palestinians activists, politicians such as Julia Irwin, Antony Lowenstein (who I think is often wrong), and even journalists (at the Age and Sydney Morning Herald in particular). Getting close to the bottom of the anti-Semitic sewer, there are people like the truly horrible egomaniac known as Frederick Toben, of the Adelaide ‘Institute’ a promoter of neo-Nazism and holocaust revisionism, and self-martyrdom for his cause.  For his sins, he has spent time in a German prison, and been pursued in the courts by the ECAJ. The ECAJ has also pursued the obscure Tasmanian Olga Scully as well as Muslim extremists.

We also know that manifestations of hatred of Israel which at times melt into anti-Semitism are manifested in chants of ‘Israel out of Palestine’, and the Israeli flag has been burned on the steps of Parliament by Palestinian extremists.  Fortunately, more intelligent Palestinian advocates deplore and have nothing to do with such material, but in an environment of strong political anger, things do go awry (as we see with settlers burning Korans).   And of course, there are plenty of people who hate other minorities such as Muslims, with a hate pamphlet being circulated in Elwood recently.

Locally, in 2004, Joseph Gutnick won a landmark lawsuit for libel for material published online in the US but available in Australia, albeit to very few people.  The magazine article made a connection between his business and religious associations that Gutnick particularly objected to.  While there were no grounds to bring suit in the US, a judgement was sought in Australia because of tighter libel and defamation laws.  The case has major free speech implications because it is made it possible to sue for online materials published in one place and read in another.  There is now a case before the courts in which Andrew Bolt, the nasty and quite vindictive Herald Sun commentator has complaints made against him by a number of indigenous Australians, and the judgement when made, could also have significant implications for free speech.

Whether in the case of Jews slandering each other, others slandering Jews, or others slandering others (indigenous Australians, gays), what are the limits to free and particularly hateful speech in today’s environment when language and symbols are in endless play in different contexts?   I understand that a very recent case has ruled that a swastika graffiti done in a workplace was not necessarily offensive—but just graffiti. In fact, it is getting harder and harder to draw a boundary between critical remarks and hate speech, given the free use of swear words, and a culture of confrontation in the media and politics.

My solution is that in the age of the internet, we increasingly need thick hides and ear-plugs, and at the same time, deal with invective as rationally as possible, thereby isolating those who write or speak drivel from their supporters.  Pursuing such people legally only gives them oxygen, and banning their material only sends them onto another website.

The Gutnick case, and potentially the Bolt case, are warnings about the dangers of bringing about lawsuits for viewpoints and statements that disturb people, because they can limit free speech.

Thus, in the case of the Jewish community, which has by and large supported strong legislation against hate speech, I do not think that it has been considered that members of the community could in fact be guilty of encouraging hatred, yet Jews as much as anyone else can be vitriolic haters.

What is the solution?

I think we need to err on the side of free speech rather than censoring people.  If they rant, there is no need to lie down and play the victim, because the new media allows us to hit right back.  We need to counter with rational argument and public excoriation that shows what fools the haters are.   We also need to educate the community, particularly kids about the dangers of prejudicial thinking and action.

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  • Gedalia says:

    You are right that people should exercise restraint and avoid personal insults. In particular using terminology linked to the third reich is very odious.

    However you complianed in your article that the president of the JCCV has said that the AJDS is engaged in ‘vilification’ against Israel. I think there is ample evidence to support this, and it is not a personally directed insult. It is a factual statement that is well substantiated. You may not like to think of the AJDS material that way, but in terms of the content, tone, and effect, it vilifies Israel.

    It is disingenious for you to link the statement by the JCCV president to hate speech. It’s a long bow to draw. Of course I would have a problem with such a statement from the JCCV if it was not true or not well founded. But the JCCV President is right on the mark and the comment is totally appropriate.

  • Eli says:

    Larry, a timely article given the hysteria on a number of the blogs here recently.

    I have on occasion in the past suggested to the editors as I am sure others have that a the moderation policy need not only be clearly and emphatically stated but enforced more actively.

    As to erring on the side of free speech. The Haters and fools you speak of will not be deterred not matter what sanctions are imposed short of being banned. For persons such as yourself and others here on the site who have the capacity to defend themselves it is perhaps not an issue as much as an annoyance to continually have to post rebuttals and defenses.

    For the rest of of us and the many silent readers who fear posting in an environment that can become charged with emotional and personal attacks,the damage and hurt it causes stifles the desire to post and involve oneself in the discussion.

    Free speech comes with a responsibility. For those who abuse a right given by any medium to express their opinions in a manner that does not confer respect and adherence to a certain criterion,then I am happy to censor them and or ban them.

    For the most part those “haters and fools” add nothing to a debate and more often than not hijack the topic and forums.I for one would be happy to see them go elsewhere,since debating them is lost energy.

    The best way to educate the community especially the younger generation is to encourage and engage them on line, in forums such as this and others. In this way they are not only exposed and confronted by the haters and fools, but can better learn how to deal with and also understand how such behavior is not only unacceptable but damaging.

  • alex fein says:

    Larry, “pain and hurt” are inaccurate terms in describing my blogging experience.

    The hysteria of some may have been vexatious and quite often annoying, but it was thoroughly overshadowed by the support and encouragement the blog received.

    You and I have never spoken at any length about my blogging experience – or anything else – so I am unsure why you made that particular assertion.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Gedalia, I’d be fascinated if you could show how AJDS has vilified Israel. Been critical, sure. Vilificatory, no. There is a huge difference.

    Alex, correct, I haven’t spoken to you about your experience other than sending supportive messages I think. But it was my perception that there were trolls who like nothing more than causing pain.

  • Michael says:

    Words that wound…
    I cannot speak to your particular israel-related organisation, but I have recently been considering the scale of damage wrought by the Jewish, Israeli, self-styled New Historiographers and those NGOs who essentially follow their line that ‘Israel was born in sin and therefore to die nobly at its own hands is the best way to atone for this sin’. Using Efraim Karsh as a springboard for this consideration, I understand the following:
    1) the media loves it when high profile families have major disagreements within.
    2) the media has a myopic, hyperfocus on israel- the nation and the state.
    3) the masses are hard working and time poor, when it comes to self-education on a host of issues.
    4) this is exploited by the media, who have a demonstrably negative and consistent bias against israel
    5) time-poor people read the news as a short-cut to moral self-education, re numerous issues.
    6) these masses, on a consistant drip feed of ‘israel as the goliath’ flavoured news, eventually believe the lie in full. Also- the hyperfocus on israel is a healthy way to cleanse their guilt over their impressive failure to help really troubled situations such as Haiti or Darfur. Each hour they spend vilifying israel or its supporters is an hour they can assuage this guilt. Each night they go to sleep after attending a pro-Palestinian rally is one that they can rest easy, having fulfilled their global responsibilities for the day, as hundreds of naked Darfurian women cower in terror in the corner of a tent as they await the worst- the result of the world’s perpetual betrayal of them.
    7) the masses + the media will naturally, eventually lead even a democratic government possessing the strongest of convictions, to foreign policy that at best turns a blind eye or a Pontius Pilatesque washing of the hands re Israel, at worst – one that’s openly hostile. This is simply because a government wants to stay in power, and selling out israel is a small price to pay for the perceived greater good.
    8) the masses + the media + now the governments of most of the countries that populate the UN are stacked against israel.
    9) overtly protecting the Jews hosted in their lands – in word or deed – becomes politically risky. This is because the vast majority of Jews are Zionist, and if not, are suspected by default of being so.
    10) those radicals that would use violence against the ‘cancer’ that is israel and it’s supporters are emboldened by this situation, seeing, as anyone who has a basic knowledge of Islamic history will know, that allah is surely favouring them, as He surely did in the beginning (many Muslims cite the incredibly rapid expansion of Islam after its birth as proof of divine favour).

    The votes in the UN matter, if only for this reason. Besides those of Israelis, the lives of simple Jews on the streets in France are at the whim of anti-israel gangs. What the new Historiographers don’t seem to grasp is that their words that delegitimise israel pose a direct threat to Jewish people around the world. I see no difference between these people and their supporters, and the David Irving Holocaust deniers. The result is the same. And therefore the same laws on odious Holocaust denial should equally apply to them. If you don’t want what happens to your brothers on the streets of France to come to a cinema near you, cease and desist. You’re not helping. You’re very much hurting.

  • [Eds: Holocaust denial and Holocaust deniers are not welcome on this website]

  • Malki Rose says:

    I have studied with Polish Catholic historians in Tarnow and Krakow. They, like you, lost more than 4 million of their own Polish brothers in what you deem a hoax.
    And as for your Polish brethren, their families, cattle and businesses in the once beautiful town of Osweicim, those who were executed to make way for the construction of a non-existent camp known as Auschwitz? They just vanished? And the scores of 90 year old women and men I met who witnessed these events in Tarnow, Oscweicim, Skala, Brzezhin and Belzec with their own eyes? Just a case of large-scale, collective, pre-organised, perfectly uniform dementia?
    You insult the memory of 4 million of your own people.
    Sadly your attempt to villify fails on the count of it being plain hysterical.

  • [Eds: Holocaust denial and Holocaust deniers are not welcome on this website]

  • Malki Rose says:

    So you do believe it is just a case of large-scale, collective, pre-organised, perfectly uniform dementia, then?

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Jerzy Ulicki-Rek is truly an intellectual wreck. Having seen his site and posts, he is off the deep end. The world is flat. I’m not too happy however, that the eds have cut him off. He should have at least been given one post.

    But he can rave elsewhere and I have engaged with such people who are impossible to change. But it can also be a waste of time. I am sure his other friends will also find this site.

    I am not sure if Michael’s grand conspiracy theories make much sense either.

  • Robert Weil says:

    Larry, your description of Andrew Bolt as “nasty and quite vindictive Herald Sun commentator” is a perfect example of the ‘hate speech’ that you decry in your article. It is so typical of you and your moronic friends on the left who have no rational answer to Bolt’s articulate and erudite exposure of how the left and ‘political correctness’ are killing society.

  • Sol Salbe says:

    Gedalia: In relation to the AJDS being vilified you say you think there is ample evidence to support the notion that that the AJDS is engaged in ‘vilification’ against Israel. Your thoughts are appreciated but could you please provide some primary source evidence of anything that the AJDS has said about Israel that would convince other people, especially those not particularly close to the I/P conflict, that the AJDS has indeed engaged in vilification against Israel?

  • Dennis the sensible one says:

    Robert – “nasty and quite vindictive” is not hate speech by any stretch of the imagination. Dennis thinks you missed the point.

  • Ilana Leeds says:


    Thank You Robert you took the words out of my mouth. Bolt is an articulate and vocal voice that many on the left would like silenced. Free speech is all very well when it echoes your views. How much harder it is to allow free speech that you ideologically and politically oppose.
    I feel freedom of speech is all very well, except when it sets out to harm or defame and misrepresent a community or communities by falsehoods even if the text is fiction. If you are going to write, even a fiction text, you need to be true to the people you attempt to portray and be sensitive to their social, cultural and religious mores.
    There are narrow minded bigots in the secular and the religious world and someone’s narrow minded bigot is the other person’s free speech advocate.
    What is the line between free speech and hate speech? When emotive language like ‘nasty and vindictive, or moronic’ is used to describe someone rather than their arguments or their views on the issue under discussion. When the author of a post or an article calls for the ostracism of a person based on their religion, gender, sexual politics, culture or racial grounds and uses quite violent and offensive or emotive language to do so.
    The thing is as you say to develop a rhino hide and use mental ear plugs. There are a lot of cyber bullies around who love to pounce on the unwary and who work hard to destroy the work and reputation of a person just because that person may disagree with them on some issues.
    All writing is biased. All writing has the opinions of the writer embedded in the content and most writers who write seriously have an audience in mind. The important thing is to make sure your views are going to inspire people positively and change people’s lives for the better.

  • Michael says:

    Myeah. Conspiracy theories. Is that the best you’ve got, Larry?

  • Marky says:

    Jerzy Ulicki-Drek

  • Gedalia says:

    Cambridge Dictionary defines the word vilify as “to say or write unpleasant things about someone or something, in order to cause other people to have a bad opinion of them.”

    Promulgating views that Israel is “apartheid” and issuing statements that allege that” Israel’s professed support for human rights is a sham” fits this definition quite aptly.

    The AJDS claims it is for peace, reconciliation and social justice. Yet it fails to place the blame of the conflict where it belongs – at the feet of the Palestinian leaders who refuse to acknowledge the ideological legitimacy of the Jewish State of Israel.

  • Andrew Wirth says:

    Larry, how is your response to Michael in the spirit of your initial posting? Michael essentially articulates a view that just as hate speech is potentially harmful, so too may be unbalanced criticism of Israel. His post was detailed and relatively courteous in tone. How does glibly dismissing his opinion as “grand conspiracy theories” advance the cause of “rational argument” you appeal for, as opposed to a style of “public humiliation” that you decry?

  • Michael says:

    1) See Efraim Karsh: Fabricating Israeli History, 2nd Ed. Larry’s pathetic attempt is in direct accord with the childish and pompous attempt to shout down or dismiss those that take issue on matters of substance.
    It explodes the myth surrounding the supposed authority of accusers (for more, see http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-spine/the-moral-authority-accusers-1-the-fall-human-rights-watch-2-the-j-street-circle-jerk), and shows their positions up to be hollow and, what’s more, given the impact of their loud diatribes on the time-poor masses, all the more sinister.
    2) I would yet go even further than you, kind sir: I don’t believe there is room in the public domain for balanced criticism of Israel given the sorry state of warped opinion on Israel, Zionism and by default extension, the Jews (in large thanks to the Benny Morrises of this world) and this widely held opinion’s direct impact on the lives of innocent Jews.
    As Gedalia put it rather well: the blame for the conflict belongs squarely at the feet of Arab world (see Karsh’s Palestine Betrayed), and more, at those of historians, politicians, NGOs and the world at large. They are expected to know better.

    But no one should know better than Jewish historians, politicians, media, and NGOs; the pathological laziness immediately apparent in their schooling makes their abject failure to support their own family all the more despicable and objectionable.

  • Michael says:

    And by the way, Andrew, in case you missed it – nothing proves my point better, as I lumped AJDS types with the ‘New Historiographers’, and compared them to Holocaust deniers in their sinister impact to public discourse and the physical, financial and psychological wellbeing of Jews across the globe, more than the noted glib dismissal meted out to my points of substance.

  • Sol Salbe says:


    None of those comments looks familiar to me. They don’t sound like anything the AJDS has ever said. As far as I know the AJDS position (even before I joined) was never to refer to Israel as Apartheid. I therefore find it hard to believe that your single line quote comes from an AJDS document. Are you sure quoting the AJDS? Please provide dates, AJN issues, URLs or some other proper references from an AJDS statement or letter to the Editor signed on behalf to the organisation.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Because I am on the road overseas, and in a different time zone, I can’t take up matters of interpretation of Israeli history and many points in detail so I am only taking up what comes to mind.

    The point of my article is the character of personalized attacks on people, that is, as I said at the start “words that are deliberately intended to cause severe discomfort, stigmatization, a feeling of being sullied, and humiliation in the face of others”

    I argue that the best way of dealing with this is “My solution is that in the age of the internet, we increasingly need thick hides and ear-plugs, and at the same time, deal with invective as rationally as possible, thereby isolating those who write or speak drivel from their supporters.” But I’d also say, we need to be overly polite to holocaust deniers.

    But we also need to increase the sophistication of argument in public discourse (thus you accuse me of being childish etc Michael etc, because I found your logic and causal theories, well, illogical and simplistic)– you really believe that I am involved in a sinister attack??

    As for those above who put AJDS and deniers in the same category I strongly argue that you are very very wrong.

    Quoting the New Republic and particularly Marty Peretz on the failure of the left is well, not exactly balanced, given that Peretz has increasingly moved to the right and come out with a range of bigoted statements about American minorities for which has had publicly apologized and as well, has has been at war with others in the New Republic (since fired), and many others on the progressive left for years.

    I think Ilana Leeds has perhaps misinterpreted what I said about Andrew Bolt. I personally think many of his views are horrid and prey on the weak, but I don’t believe that he should be censored or taken to court. That is not the way to deal with Bolt. Defeating him intellectually is, particularly in showing that his views reinforce the worst prejudices in our community, but it is also a highly-paid enterprise for him as an employee of Murdoch. It sells newspapers.

  • Andrew Wirth says:

    Michael, I dont at all accept your comparison of AJDS to holocoust deniers etc- I think their motivation and ideals share almost nothing of significance. I did not intend to express any view on the content of your case or the merits of the the debate over public criticism of Israel – I simply wanted to highlight how quickly the tone can deteriorate even from someone (Larry) who claims to be arguing for decorum in this discourse.

  • Gedalia says:


    I looked at the AJDS website. There are plenty of references to people who are accusing Israel as being aparthied. You will say that these statements are not made in the name of the AJDS. But the AJDS is promulgating the views of those who think this way, and therefore spreading this propaganda.

    The human rights quote I used came from the page http://www.ajds.org.au/node/256

  • ariel says:

    One main observation here:

    When I read the article, I get the impression Larry is equating vilification of entire natural groups (e.g. Indigenous Australians, gays, Jews) with personal insults hurled at him and some others.

    This is not to condone personal insults, but there is a world of difference between saying something like “all Jews are evil” and saying something like “Larry Stillman is evil” or “the AJDS should be shut down because it’s evil”. The members of AJDS have free choice to form the positions they do; Indigenous Australians, Jews, etc. do not have free choice about who/what they are.

    Also, I agree with Gedalia.

  • Michael says:

    Gedalia could say that it is the responsibility of a website to police the comments made on their site, or else, yes, they become a platform for the world’s worst. A Current Affair’s site was recently taken to task for not taking this responsibility seriously, in allowing an anti-semitic comment airtime (online-time).

    Andrew & Larry, I understand the natural gut reaction to the comparison to Holocaust deniers. I should be clear: I know it’s not Israels’ detractors’ intentions to cause physical harm to other Jews. Still, it does not take particular intellectual acuity to understand that Israel’s non-Jewish assailants work on two levels, denying the legitimacy of the State of Israel, and as a central pillar of that, denying the legitimacy and accuracy of the major event to which many – not incorrectly – ascribe as the main reason for the ascendency of the modern state of Israel. The UN had the Jews’ experience three years prior to 1948 firmly in mind. The Soviets and US as we know, certainly had political reasons as well, of course.
    Why do we revile those that deny the Holocaust? Not just because of how it hurts survivors or the memories of those butchered, but because denial means the world could G-d forbid do it again and get away with it. As long as the deniers have convinced enough people to simply doubt the veracity of events.
    That is why – no conspiracies necessary – Holocaust denial is so dangerous.
    There is no difference in impact on the safety of the Jews around the world between Holocaust deniers and Israel deniers. Only perhaps in their intention. I believe many Israel deniers have noble intentions. But as tolerance of Holocaust denial paves the way for further malicious action, Israel deniers must be shown to understand the nature and direction of the road which their good intentions have paved.

    I make absolutely no apologies for the very, very right comparison I have made. My concern is for the safety of Jews, first and foremost. Both forms of denial are quite sinister and have direct impact on our wellbeing. Larry, mine is not to provide invective. I will rather do both: in the arenas where sound bites are the key, I recommend and unabashedly pursue a zero-tolerance policy towards both forms of denial. At the same time, as you can see from my initial comment and this one – I take quite seriously the task of correcting falsely held beliefs. I believe both are necessary for treatment of these social ills.

    Larry, I have consistently, if comprehensively, gone to the substance of your article. Your point is to show personalised attacks have no place in public discourse. In comparing the two forms of denial, I have demonstrated why I believe stigmatisation and isolation of those who hold and express erroneous, dangerous and hurtful beliefs is in fact absolutely warranted. They can be afforded no quarter in the arena of public discourse. Or perhaps you think Neturei Karta, who hugged Ahmadinijad, deserve a special high profile section for their views on Galus?

    You are right to target new media such as the internet in the 21st Century. The fight is that much tougher, being round the world and round the clock, with increasingly time-poor audiences. Internal, Jewish public detractors are understandably the most unwelcome when we have 10 seconds to get a point across – the dithering costs.

    Moreover, if you think such groups will escape censure in the future, recall that no matter how many times nor how loudly, during WWII, the Karaites throughout Europe separated themselves – citing beliefs very much in stark opposition to the ‘Pharisaic Jews’ to which they did not belong – they were carted off just the same (and just as tragically). A Jew is Jew is a Zionist is a Jew, in the eyes of the masses who don’t have time to pause to ask questions. How long can you stave off suspicion by harping on as a ‘conscienscious objector’?
    Every hour an NGO spends not talking about Israel as the Goliath will in very short order direct media attention – and oodles of funding – to assist people and places that truly are in dire straits. In other words- by backing black when you know the money’s on red, means lives of innocent people around the world are lost – and each NGO that aids and abets shoulders the blame. How can I say such a cruel, harsh thing? Because this is demonstrably a simple case of opportunity cost in the world of public affairs.

    The only politeness I would show to deniers is the public explosion of their myths with fact after fact after fact. And their lack of journalistic or academic integrity should be exposed for the whole world to see, and whatever shame they feel and turn-around they hopefully make a la Walid Shoebat should serve as proof of their original intentions.

    If you were on the road, don’t reply with a smug one-line dismissal, as do the New Historiographers. Wait until you have more time. The fault of any characterisation as childish is your own. And your inability or unwillingness to comprehend the cogency of my logic, grasp of crowd psychology in the 21st Century or obvious, basic causal relationships speaks nothing towards its accuracy, any more than a child or a fool that cannot or will not grasp that 2+2 really does equal 4 as a consequence makes the equation false.

    As for the New Republic citation – yet again you fail to address substance. What difference does it make if Fidel Castro (who, incidentally, has got more things right in the recent past vis a viz Israel than certain Jewish organisations) says 2+2=4 or if G-d Himself says so? You want to deal with issues? Deal with them.
    I was, and remain, singularly unimpressed.

  • Malki Rose says:

    I agree Ariel,
    and while I love the spirit and timeliness of Larry’s piece, I also agree with Gedalia on this. It does appear that the AJDS stance on Israel is somewhat vilifying.

    The problem I have with the word, and even its definition is that vilification seems to be extremely subjective.

    Gedalia offers us the Cambridge definition and accordingly it would seem that it really takes very little for anyones comments or stances to be viewed as vilifying of another person, organization or entity.

    I wonder if it is a matter of ‘burden of proof’ such as with the term ‘defamatory/defamation’. One might too easily claim that a statement is defamatory because it aims to defame or, much like the definition of ‘vilify’, aim to bring about a low or ill opinion of someone (individual or entity).

    While there are many who will criticise Israel’s actions, the question is do they or in this, the AJDS, actively seek to cause others to have a low opinion of Israel?

    I would say there are many who love Israel passionately but feel no harm in criticising its actions in the same manner as that of any other state.

    Does the AJDS apply the same criticisms to other nation states equally? Or is the intention to propagate ill opinions of Israel?

  • Michael says:

    Also, I agree with Ariel.

  • Akiva says:

    It seems obvious to me that those who feel that the AJDS vilify Israel do so because they disagree with the AJDS, feel confronted by an organised opposition, and have not either learnt or been taught to consider themselves as an distinct individual from the social groups they happen to be part of. that’s just my point of view, of course :)

    But that’s beside the point of the article. I think the article is asking for a discussion of the questions – where and what is the distinction between the expression of valid personal and communal opposition and the employment of images, comparisons, labels which actively work against a thorough understanding of the point of contention? Are the distinctions different for individuals, compared to institutions? what defines an ‘institution’ in this context? Why is your boundary where it is? Be specific.

    Personally, I agree with ariel about one thing, at least. The boundary should and must be in a different place when dealing with political issues as opposed to issues involving indigenous issues etc. I think we could (possibly?) all agree that, for instance, comparing current Israeli goings on to anything involving the third reich is vilification, and beyond the pale. Although I’ve never heard anyone define precisely why – and I’d be interested to, because I think that all of our reasons might be very different. The closest I’ve come is my friends euphemistic ‘because that’s the point when real dialogue stops’. again, I agree, but I’d like a more specific reason.

  • ariel says:


    The flip side of what you say is that I’ve never heard anyone accurately compare anything Israel does with anything the Third Reich ever did. I hear slogans like “ghetto”, “genocide”, “ethnic cleansing”, etc. But these are non-starters.

    The comparison with the Third Reich is disingenuous and completely inaccurate which is why it is “the point when real dialogue stops”.

    It’s also interesting that many of those who use the comparison are Holocaust deniers. So they deny the Third Reich committed genocide against Jews, but they castigate Israel for copying them and committing genocide against the Palestinians.

    Ergo, it’s not a serious argument and is only used by ignoramuses and Jew haters (the former always being more dangerous).

    For the record: I consider the AJDS to be like Fredo Coreleone (lehavdil pi elef between the Jewish community and the Corleone family)…(see The Godfather)

  • Akiva says:

    yes, I’ve heard the reason – ‘it’s wrong’ before, but that’s not the point of what I asked. What about those people – not deniers, sane people, whether you you like them or not – who insist, after consideration, that the comparison is accurate? They believe it, so do they have the right to say it? Or is it your assertion that it would never even be true that there were – let’s say, even resonances – of such behaviour on the part of Jews/Israel – so therefore it will always be untrue, and always unacceptable. – ?

    Here’s an example, if a somewhat oblique one. Please try to disregard that my politics are left – it isn’t the point of the question. During the flotilla business, a facebook friend tagged me in a note containing his opinion on the matter. As part of the subsequent comments, one of the others tagged in the note posted a link to some sort of flyer showing how well-off the gazans are under the blockade, how many luxury goods they have access to etc. Leaving aside any discussion of the veracity of such ‘flyers’, I was instantly and irresistibly reminded of the photos disseminated by German officials to quell the murmurings that had begun to sound about the ‘Jewish question’. I didn’t comment to this effect on the note, I instinctively knew that that would divert the conversation into generalities and away from the specifics at hand. But nonetheless, the impression was string, and remains til this day.

    I’m sane, and very well educated. I’m a historian. I know how to look at historical narrative and judge what is spin, and what is not. I know how to recognise when I have hit an area in which I can’t tell. I don’t think that any one historical event is ‘just like’ another; in fact, I think that although historical patterns are important, events are usually more important for their differences, rather than their similarities.

    And yes, that was my impression, and I stand by it. Would it have been vilification for me to explain that that was how I felt?

    and, I have to say again – the most interesting and potent part of this article isn’t in questions of reactions to Israel. It’s in the examination of our self-definition, and I think it’s sad that it’s been diverted away from this by the comments so far.

  • ariel says:

    I think I was sent that link…
    How is an obscure article/blog by a freelance journalist in ANY way comparable to an entire Nazi government staging scenes of Jews living well in order to fool the world?
    It’s not comparable at all and anyone with a shred of insight would be able to see that.

    Getting back to Larry’s article.

    I disagree with its conclusion. Rational argument can only work if its built on the same foundations. If one person believes 2+2=4 and the other believes 2+2=5 then there’s no point in engaging in a discussion about mathematics; rather it’s time for one of the parties to retire to Miami…

  • Akiva says:

    that’s disingenous, and beside the point – my reaction was to the dissemination of the flyer on this specific note, in which case the action of the person who posted it is more pertinent than the mere existence of the flyer. I’m not asking you to debate the actual notion that there was a genuine similarity between german propaganda and the flyer. This is emphatically not the arena, it’s a shame people keep making it so.

    My point is this – would it have been vilification or hate comments if I had posted my feelings about the similarity? I genuinely meant them.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I still find Michael’s logistical method and grand conclusions and style of writing difficult to follow, but in the end, I think there is a fundamental disagreement about the place of Israel and Jews in political and personal life and in particular whether Israel/Jews can always be understood to be under threat. But that is a different argument.

    However, good points have been raised about the differences between individual and collective rights and obligations with respect to speech. I still have great problems in wanting to protect any individuals from criticism on the basis of ethnicity. I am currently in Africa. We see the bad effecs of people using their Africanness as a defence against political criticism, with disastrous effects.

    As for holocaust nuts etc, by wanting rational discourse and so on, and I am not much aiming it at them, but the broader public.

    I also find the use of the AJDS statement as an example of vilification a bit strange. It condemns political and military action, not Israel.

    And btw, this article is written by a someone who is a member of AJDS, but I am not speaking for AJDS.

    In politics, I don’t use the word ‘love’ and I don’t think that is a fair or rational way to describe attachment to Israel because it contains an element of emotional blackmail. Thus, by criticizing Israel, you can be accused of not loving Israel which is crazy. I suspect many people like myself are closely attached to the people and culture of Israel, but ‘love’ is not a way to describe this relationship. But this is another topic, in fact worth a piece on Galusaustralis.

    What I am much more interested in this point is discussing why people feel justified in such personalized attacks and psychologizing of critics of Israel. Is it because the criticisms that are made (and I am not speaking here of ultra left cultists or Islamists) are too close to the bone and cannot be easily countered except by ‘playing the man’? Is it that the facts of the occupation etc are too disturbing, distressing and rationally indefensible and can only be dealt with by dismissing the critic personally?

    I think that this has been a method used against the mainstream media in paticular (eg the Age), by just calling various writers antisemitic and we particularly see it used by the pro-Israel right in the US with major reports etc ‘analyzing’ critics of Israel and dumping them all in the one dysfunctional self-hating basket.

    The result of this tactic in my opinion, is that many non-Jewish people interested in the Israel-Palestine question think that Israel-defenders are completely over the top, chauvanistic, defensive, and irrational.

    But once again, we are back to the Israel issue. I’d prefer discussion on other topics. The same tactic has been used against people involved in any number of other issues eg gay rights in the Jewish community, I believe in kashrut disputes (not my area), and elsewhere.

    There are a lot of very thin skins.

  • Malki Rose says:

    “I also find the use of the AJDS statement as an example of vilification a bit strange. It condemns political and military action, not Israel.”

    So does this mean that the AJDS is just as willing to condemn poliical and military action of other nations?

    I understand and agree that it important not to make Israel the focus of this discussion, but I believe this is just one of many tangible examples.

    I believe the “thin skins”, as you say, come from not being able to leave emotion at the door when having these discussions.

    We have seen in the GLBT threads, or those relating to Kashrut as you’ve referenced. You’ll note that Akiva, Daniel Baker and Michael Barnett are very emotive in their discussion of the issues relating to GLBT, as is Shoshanna Silcove with regards to Kashrut. This may be due to the fact that they view themselves, or others, as stakeholders in the issue, but rest assured there are other stake holders who are NOT
    emotive yet just as invested.

    Perhaps we (the minorities or ambassadors of minorities) too readily cry ‘vilification’ on a whole range of issues, for exactly this reason… the emotion has not yet been skimmed from the surface of the debate.

  • Akiva says:

    I have always found the argument that in order to be allowed to have a voice, an organisation which is often critical of Israel’s policies must also criticise everyone else in the world before it has a right to have an opinion different to the mainstream to be completely bizarre. Why must it? It is a Jewish organisation, and Israel is the foremost *public* issue confronting the community. I think it would be a failure if such a group didn’t make Israel its focus.

    The insistence that the AJDS (of which I’m not a member) must also condemn the rest of the world is the same as the ‘if someone else is doing bad things and escaping attention, then I have every right to behave just as badly and get away with it’ – completely weird and immature. we expect better from children.

  • ariel says:

    Yet Akiva, there are a large number of people (a majority?) in our community who don’t believe Israel – as the whole sum of its parts – is behaving badly, despite disagreements with the behaviour of sectors of Israel.

    The vilification here is when “ISRAEL” is condemned for the actions of some of its sectors.

    How would you feel if you went overseas and people told you they hate Australia because of Pauline Hanson?

    I don’t expect AJDS to condemn Sudan etc. But I expect bit of perspective.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Re your question about why it is vilification to compare the actions of Israel to the actions of the Third Reich:

    It is totally wrong to EVER make this sort of comparison, because the principles informing Israel’s actions bear absolutely no resemblance to the principles which informed Nazi Germany’s actions. The Nazis were bent on genocide, systematically and unapologetically. Israel is not. Far from it.

    Even if sane, non-Holocaust-denying people observe a similarity between a particular action of Israel’s and a particular action of the Nazis (I’m not saying there are similarities, I’m just responding to your hypothetical scenario), this similarity would be in visual appearance only, and not in intention.

    It is ridiculous to make a comparison based on the visual similarity of two scenarios. Plenty of things look the same, the more superficially you look at them. The reasons and context behind the visual image are what gives an act its meaning. For example, you might see two people giving themselves an injection and think they are equivalent, but if one is a diabetic on insulin and the other is a drug addict on heroin, the comparison hardly qualifies as valid.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Sorry, meant to add to my comment above:
    Any comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany is necessarily superficial, because of the world of difference between the principles informing their actions. Such comparisons always count as vilification because they – intellectually dishonestly – deny any differentiating factors solely for the purpose of demonising Israel.

  • Adam says:


    I find your posts quite interesting. Do you have a University degree? If so, in what?

  • Akiva says:

    Shira – whilst I certainly agree with you in a general way about the intentions behind the unspecific actions being different, and so any broad comparison worthless, I’m not sure that one can make such a point when it comes to small, specific actions – like, for instance, looking at a photo and disseminating it because you’ve heard that a group of people are being treated badly, and have been shown an image which you believe disproves that assertion, compared to the dissemination of a website which you believe disproves the media reports about Gaza. I don’t really want to labour this point, but, leaving aside the possible issues in why the images were created in the first place, there’s a fair bit of evidence that many people who saw those images in Germany either ‘conveniently’ allowed themselves to believe (or perhaps ignorantly believed) that they were genuine evidence. I think exactly the same equation goes for those disseminating that particular flyer. And, given that, I’m not sure that a comparison is vilification at all.

    Nor am I sure that one cannot comment on the resemblances between events, or things. What one cannot do is say, as a blanket statement, that they are the same.

    Ariel – I have no doubt that you are absolutely correct about your numbers – and this raises the most interesting question of all, in my book. I’m sure that the majority of the community do not, as you say, believe that Israel, as a whole, is behaving badly. Possible (probably?) even a vast majority. Nonetheless, a minority certainly do. A section of them have chosen to express their opposition to the majority by joining together to express themselves communally. Do you (all of you) think this is invalid? If so, how can Australian Jews more ‘legitimately’ express their opposition to the majority sentiment? Or don’t you think that they should?

    I think that these are the key questions. If the conversation gets stuck on a tit-for-tat of opposing opinions and abuse, then it’s a tragedy.

  • rachsd says:


    Mainly because of the heinous nature of the Nazis’ main crimes, any comparison between the Nazis and other groups regardless of the content upon which the comparison is based necessarily implies that the group being compared to Nazis are similar with respect not only to the explicit content of the comparison but with respect to the main crimes of the Nazis.

    With regards to your particular example, and setting aside whether or not the two actions that you are comparing are in fact comparable (which they aren’t), propaganda was a strategy used by the Third Reich but it was not one of the main crimes of that regime. It was also not a strategy that was unique to the Nazi regime.

  • Akiva says:

    Of course propaganda isn’t specific to the third reich, but it is the only other example of that particular sort of propaganda that I personally know of – this is certainly why I thought of it when confronted with the note, rather than something I don’t know about! And I see no real reason why the comparison is not allowed – given that you fail to make the distinction between those that created the propaganda, and those that conveniently used it.

    but, as I said, this issue is one on which we will disagree, and I think the question of how one may legitimately express their dissent on this issue is far more interesting, and pertinent here.

  • Akiva says:

    hmmm. not sure I even mean dissent. Perhaps criticism or outrage – assuming that it is legitimate to express them.

    not sure if you’re aware of this, but your posts come up on my feed as first by Frosh, and then by Rachsd in succession.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Akiva, re legitimately expressing criticism on this issue – regardless of the reasons why comparisons between Israel and the Third Reich are intellectually invalid (and I recognise you may disagree with me on that), there is also an important emotive reason why comparison to the Third Reich should be avoided as a special case. The acute relevance of the crimes of the Nazis to a large proportion (if not the majority) of Jewish Israelis, and the timing of Israel’s establishment partly as a response to the Holocaust, makes it particularly pernicious to make comparisons to the Third Reich. It’s like twisting the knife to inflict that much more pain. If vilification is defined as “‘words that wound’, words that are deliberately intended to cause severe discomfort”, then Holocaust comparisons definitely fit the bill. Maybe this is what you were getting at when you expressed the feeling that Holocaust comparisons were wrong without being able to define precisely why.

  • Akiva says:

    Of course I understand that, but criticism is often intended to create discomfort, and so it should. I do, however, as I said, ‘generally’ agree with you. Not sure that comparing the use of images is comparing to the holocaust directly, as much as to the behaviour of the attendant populaces, though.

    How do you think we can legitimately express our criticism and outrage, then?

  • Marky says:

    I suppose accordingly one can compare the New Zealand government to the third reich. There is something very much in common. The former are apparently the only country to ban Shechita, since the latter did.

  • Akiva says:

    As an archetypal example of the suppression of ethnic identity, especially if that’s the only other one you can think of or know about, I think you probably could. As I write this, I realise something else – I would never consider using the comparison to a non-jewish audience. I think that’s one reason why I didn’t write it in my friend’s note.

  • Akiva says:

    The restrictiveness of this comparison does put the onus on you to get educated about other things, though.

  • Marky says:

    The ridiculousness of your comparison does put the onus on you to get educated. Your comparison is an insult to many of your people. That’s the nicest way I can put it

  • Akiva says:

    either be specific, or answer the question of how, according to you, we can legitimately express our criticism and objection.

  • Marky says:

    Specific: It is totally disgusting to do any comparison between nazis and israel. There are enough non Jews, many of them anti semites, holocaust deniers etc. doing these comparisons for their own agenda. We don’t need our own to do this.

    And you are asking me for ideas how to attack us??!!

  • Akiva says:

    No. I’m asking you 2 questions: do you think we are allowed to express our (if this is what we feel) opposition to and outrage at Israel and Israeli policy and events? If so, how do you think we should do this?

  • Marky says:

    Yes, you can do what you like, if it’s not illegal. It’s a free world. However, there are plenty of disgusting things that aren’t illegal. As for ideas, I can think of many, but I am sure you can out do me with ease.

  • Akiva says:

    That isn’t at all what I was asking – I want to know if you think that there is any *legitimate* way – as in any way that is acceptable to you and your idea of the community’s expectations – for those who disapprove of Israel’s policiies and some of her actions to express that outrage, and if so, how?

  • Marky says:

    Well there is the “tried and tested way”, and it is not illegal in places like Gazza. In fact the government there encourages it. To wear an explosive belt and blow up a bus in Tel Aviv. Although I haven’t full answered your question, as it’s of course not acceptable to me.

  • Akiva says:

    you mean that it is never acceptable to you for a jew to criticize Israel or Israeli policy? Not even to another group of Jews?

  • Marky says:

    No, of course it’s ok to criticize between ourselves. But not to compare it to the Holocaust or give credence to such a comparison. Any redneck can see this forum, and your post will for him/her “prove” his ridiculous claims. “See it must be true, as even Jews agree with me”

  • Akiva says:

    alright, I’ve asked so many times now that I’m going to give up, since you just won’t understand what I’m asking –

    how is the best way for me to go about expressing my critical opinions of Israel to other Jews? If comparisons to Germany are out of bounds (and, as I say, I largely agree with you on that), what about comparisons to South Africa? If you don’t find organisations like AJDS acceptable, how do I do it? Only through private conversations? Is that what you mean?

  • Mark Symons says:

    Shira said
    “…you might see two people giving themselves an injection and think they are equivalent, but if one is a diabetic on insulin and the other is a drug addict on heroin, the comparison hardly qualifies as valid…”

    On the other hand, this comparison could well be used to highlight the “illness” aspect to drug addiction.

  • Marky says:

    Ok, seeing that you
    are adamant that I have all the answers. You can get signatures from your contacts and send then to whoever. Write to them. I am sure there are other ways, but I need to think.

    Maybe you can also help me. What can I do to stop our neighbors from sending those kassems and missiles to my brothers and sisters. They are also always trying to kill men women and children by explosive belts and shootings. Please let me know what I can do. These usually get a lot worse when we try to do something nice for them e.g. leaving Gazza etc. The Government in Gazza have already said they will only be satisfied once they have all the land till the sea.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Because this is going around and around and up and down, I’ll only add that AJDS has focussed upon Israeli politics because that is one of the core reasons for the organization. Many people object to criticism of Israel, particularly by other Jews. So they are not happy with AJDS. But if you look in the AJDS newsletter for example, you will find plenty of criticism of other countries’ politics. And I think it was Akiva who pointed out that expecting an equal focus of AJDS on the policies of all countries is kind of silly–is this what AIJAC does or the various Zionist federations? No. And AJDS is composed of volunteers and is not a professional outfit like the others.

    But I’d still like some intelligent discussion about the usefulness of lawsuits to dampen criticism, both in the case of Gutnick or Bolt. Should a magazine in the US be taken to court for something it said about Joe Gutnick because the only place it could bring about such a lawsuit was Australia? And should Bolt, who I personally think is a vain man, and who has no intellectual credibility, be taken to court for criticizing how people identify as indigenous?

  • Marky says:

    Akiva writes “what about comparisons with South Africa”. I can’t see any comparison. In South Africa apartheid was for the sake of apartheid, to keep control of Government.. In Israel there is strict security to stop our men, women and children being blown apart. This is not apartheid.

  • ariel says:

    Marky, we’re getting bogged down in specifics.

    Akiva, to answer your question:
    Yes, you should voice your “outrage” in private forums with other Jews, not in public. When you do so, you provide those who want to kill you and your siblings in Israel with fuel.

    We are a family. We should deal with our issues at the dining table, not in the town square. As an analogy, I hope you don’t take you’re children out to the middle of the CBD and lambast them with a megaphone in front of everyone whenever they misbehave…

    Furthermore, as Alan Dershowitz says, when organisations like HRW and Amnesty say they are outraged at Israel and the US, it says more about those organisations than it does about Israel and the US.

  • Michael Susman says:

    This is a good article, well done

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Your question itself is perfectly legitimate. I agree with Ariel. I’ll also add 2 more factors which I think make criticism OK (among Jews):

    1. If it’s backed up with rational, logical argument. If it’s backed up only with emotive name calling or superficial comparisons (which are just another version of name calling) that’s not a good enough basis.

    2. If you are not always critical. Many of Israel’s actions can certainly be criticised, but even to the most hard line critic, not everything about the country is bad. If you never have anything good to say about Israel, your criticism more likely indicates that you don’t harbour any good feelings towards the country as a whole. People who are vocal in their criticism of Israel should be on the lookout for occasions where they can be equally vocal in their praise – to use Ariel’s example, just like you wouldn’t be a good parent if you only focused on your kids’ bad points.

  • Akiva says:

    I don’t have time to respond in the way that I’d like to, but just time to ask for two quick clarification –

    so you (shira and ariel) are saying that I have no right to publicly make it clear that I’m at odds with the ‘majority’ of the JC on the question of Israel? That the most appropriate course of action for me is to keep silent in public?

    also – you both allow for some sort of private dissent between Jews about this – I’m not clear about what forms you accept that dissent is allowed to appear. do you mean only in private, verbal conversations? be specific.

  • Akiva says:

    basically, I’d like a definition of ariel’s ‘private forums’, just in case I haven’t been clear.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    I think it largely depends on who is present, regardless of the size of the forum. It’s fine if it’s among people who care about Israel and have its best interests at heart – in that case the criticism is constructive. It’s not OK if it’s among people who look for any opportunity to demonise Israel, in which case you’re just adding fuel to the fire.

    Criticism of Israel should not be a special case by the way. Criticism of anything should really be reserved for situations where it will be constructive. But in today’s climate we do have to tread on eggshells a bit, specifically in regard to Israel, because it’s such an emotive issue and public opinion in many circles is so weighted against it.

  • ariel says:

    a) This is not about rights, it’s about what’s smart and what’s good for our family.

    b) Go to meetings of JCCV or JBD etc. and voice your opinion and have it minuted.

    I don’t have all the answers.

    I do know that Israeli officials are more inclined to listen when told quietly in private rather than when you criticise them publicly.

    What I have a problem with is when people say “but Akiva says Israel’s wrong; therefore if some Jews are saying Israel is wrong then they must be right and ariel must be an extremist”…

    If you don’t have a problem being this fig leaf, then that in itself is very problematic.

    Despite your intentions, you are contributing to those who want to demonise, deligitimise and dismantle Israel. As I said before, be smart and be considerate of your family members; don’t exercise your rights without responsibility.

  • Michael says:

    I like where the discussion is now. Allow me to put another twist on it.
    Essentially, I agree with Ariel. (Of course, Ariel will be accused of not being able to separate himself objectively from the community in any meaningful way. That’s a fun discussion.)
    I know it is not popular, but many Jews’ actions against Israel stems from one major assumption- that Israel should be treated and perceived in exactly the same way as any other country on Earth (just like Herzl envisioned). This is the basis for confusion as to whether Zionism is racist, etc etc etc. Israel is not the same, was not and never will be.

    1) The “RIGHT” to object in public.
    By way of introduction – let me demonstrate how this is used and abused in the 24 hr public arena. We notice at every turn Palestinian Arab commentators constantly bleat about their rights. Their rights are stamped upon, smothered, strangled etc. They will absolutely never discuss their obligations. If you ask them, they will turn it around to impress upon the audience a) the importance of their rights, and how they’re being stamped on, and how everything else is unimportant – their rights is the only discussion worth having, and/or b) Israeli’s manifold obligations, which by the way, they have failed to undertake.

    Point: Rights vs. obligations.
    Just because something is possible, and permissable, does not mean it is the right thing to do. In fact, as Jews, we look at things completely differently. We don’t have a bill of rights. We have a bill of obligations. That’s the philosophy of the Torah as a document (whether or not you personally ascribe to it). It is a national document outlining first and foremost not our rights, but our obligations.
    Of course, one person’s obligation not to kill someone is another person’s right not to be killed, but you see how critical is the emphasis.
    Moreover, Judaism certainly does discuss rights, and to a much greater length – in the Talmud. But rights are not our starting point, obligations towards others – are.
    We have an obligation to safeguard our extended family above all else. This overrides our right to voice our objections in public. The problem for AJDCers is that they are programmed in Western Christian democracies to think most un-Jewishly. Which is understandable – most of us do. Point 2 follows this point.

    2) A Jewish legal stance.
    We are not allowed to give voice to any thought that is derogatory or may reasonably result in harm to the physical, emotional, psychological or financial wellbeing of another*. Derogatory speech is not allowed, even if it will definitely not cause a person any harm. To focus on the shortcomings of another person is in itself wrong.
    To speak either derogatory or harmful words about a specific group, let alone all of Israel is to be all the more in error – the damage would be multiplied.

    What is the result? Akiva’s question is an excellent one. Can we voice criticism of Israeli or Jewish organisations, or businesses, etc in public? The answer is not only no, but even in private there are limitations.
    To contravene this law is to place lives and/or livelihoods in danger.

    Ah, but there are times you can run through a red light, yes? Such as if someone in the car is giving birth? There are 7 main criteria** for when constructive, potentially harmful speech is allowable, all which must be met – not just one or two. Criticism of Israel etc in almost every possible scenario devised would fail to meet most of these, and therefore Akiva, Larry, et al, the answer to a good question is:

    “No. You may not.” One doesn’t have to like it. One does have to keep it. Or one can expect the majority to come down hard and fast. If you want to change Israel – move there and change it from the inside.

    [*Whether this firm obligation extends to non-Jews I am not sure. Consult your local (normal) rabbi
    ** Such as ‘would the damage potentially caused by speaking be greater than that meted out by the (Jewish) courts? Do you have accurate, first hand knowledge of the facts? Do you have emotional feelings at all about the matter, or would you harbour an amount of malice? Is there an alternative means by which you could bring about the intended result? Is there any other reasonable explanation for the assumed action?]

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    2) A Jewish legal stance.
    We are not allowed to give voice to any thought that is derogatory or may reasonably result in harm to the physical, emotional, psychological or financial wellbeing of another*. Derogatory speech is not allowed, even if it will definitely not cause a person any harm. To focus on the shortcomings of another person is in itself wrong.
    To speak either derogatory or harmful words about a specific group, let alone all of Israel is to be all the more in error – the damage would be multiplied.

    What is the result? Akiva’s question is an excellent one. Can we voice criticism of Israeli or Jewish organisations, or businesses, etc in public? The answer is not only no, but even in private there are limitations.
    To contravene this law is to place lives and/or livelihoods in danger.

    So on that level we need to be all leading exemplary lives devoted to the service of Hashem and Torah as our blueprint for all our actions.

    However by the same token there is the law of the rodef/ pursuer and in the case that NOT speaking out is going to cause harm, then we should speak out and give people a chance to correct their behaviour and actions. Constructive criticism is a positive thing. Otherwise we do risk harm to others.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Michael, your conclusions from the POV of a religious person are extraordinary.

    This means you would not speak out against criminals such as Jewish slumlords in Boston in the 60s, corporate crime in orthodox community in recent times, Kahanists or almost any other form of crime committed by Jews including cases of sex abuse.

    The point is that such crime is not just a matter for Jews. Using religion to hide it is appalling. Very similar forms of reasoning are used by fundamentalists in other communities to support crime and terror, so this isn’t just a Jewish matter.

    Similiarly, your confusion of Israel as a secular political entity with a convenant or revealed entity is similar to the dangerous thinking found in other religons. Other streams of Judaism and other religions have moved beyond your very narrow path and of course, the rise of secularism is a reaction to the domination by theocratic thinking.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    So Ilana ‘… that NOT speaking out is going to cause harm’ The argument I put, and in fact religious Jews such as Rabbis for Human Rights is that the Occupation not only is a criminal act against Palestinians, but causes harm to Israel itself.

    Your interpretation of religious obligation is so narrow that it flies in the face of natural justice and social justice because it muzzles people. And by having such a conservative interpretation, almost everything outside of a very small, bounded territory is regard is vilificatory, hate speech etc.

    There is a clear division between your world and that of other religious conservatives (Muslim, Hindu, Christian) and the rest of the world. I see the effects of such conservatism in Sth Africa where I now am, where the Dutch Reformed Church justified slavery and everything else in the interests of social order, and the Afrikaner volkstadt muzzled free expression. Unfortunately, there were Jews who were also enthusiastic supporters of the system in their self-interest and protection. What this justified to defend a notional ‘family’?

    I am about to get a plane, so I must let this conversation continue without me.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Larry, re your criticism of Michael:

    Criticism of Israel’s actions is not comparable to criticism of crime committed by Orthodox Jews. Israel is not a criminal state. Its actions do have negative consequences on many occasions, such as impingement on the rights of innocent Palestinians, but these are regrettable consequences of actions taken in good faith to accomplish goals such as furthering security.
    If you are inclined to criticise such an action, that should be because you believe its negative consequences outweigh the value of its goal – not because the negative consequences are the raison d’etre of the act.

    Crimes such as sexual abuse are purely negative. There is no positive outcome other than the criminal’s own self-gratification, which hardly merits consideration. Such acts don’t merit the sort of partial immunity from criticism which Israel does. Moreover, Michael’s talk of obligations vs rights is important in this case as we have an obligation to protect the victims by stopping the crime.

  • Akiva says:

    oh, so much to comment on – after tonight’s academic deadline, I’m afraid – but I just wanted to say this – off topic, although obliquely relevant – have you heard that Taglit Birthright has merged with Birthright Unplugged to make Taglit Le’Kulanu? Has anyone else heard this news?

  • Daniel Baker says:

    Hi Akiva,

    Sadly it’s a hoax. See http://taglit-lekulanu.org

    Would’ve been great, though!


  • Akiva says:

    wow. I’m gullible – how embarrassing.

  • Ilana Leeds says:


    Larry you have contradicted yourself in your attack on me.

    I reposted a section of Michael’s post because I disagreed with it and I felt that there are many real occasions when we do need to speak out and I think you have completely gone over the top and misinterpreted everything I said.
    Sometimes I must say I feel that I am bashing my head against a brick wall and that no one even listens but just gets on their bandwagon and completely rips apart whatever I say, whatever it is and just because it has the name Ilana Leeds on it there are a few people who just go “let’s give this dog of a woman hell and teach her what is what’ and then I see down the line someone who says something completely similar and they do not get jumped on the way I have.

    I am going to stand by my beliefs and I am prepared to even go to prison or worst rather rather than betray them. See I do not set out to hurt people and never have. When you have been hurt yourself, you do not want harm to come to others. I pride myself on my ability to have absorbed many hurtful situations and move on. That is life.

    I do believe that debate is important and I do believe there are times to be quiet and there are times to speak out. To not do so, would mean that one’s integrity as a person is shot to pieces. When people are actually harming others, it is our duty to speak out and draw attention to what is wrong. To do less is a betrayal.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    Reposted from Shira Wenig

    Crimes such as sexual abuse are purely negative. There is no positive outcome other than the criminal’s own self-gratification, which hardly merits consideration. Such acts don’t merit the sort of partial immunity from criticism which Israel does. Moreover, Michael’s talk of obligations vs rights is important in this case as we have an obligation to protect the victims by stopping the crime.


  • Larry Stillman says:

    I think many people, including many within Israel would in fact argue that many of Israel’s actions are criminal or have been criminal and far exceed the needs of self-defense because they have been acts of state terror. But to take this position does not necessarily mean that one is anti-Israel.

    But I know what we will start arguing about that issue, but I would much rather concentrate on the issue of speech acts themselves.

    In the same way that many in pre-change South Africa believed that opposition to apartheid threatened state security, many supporters of Israel now believe that opposition to settlements etc threatens the state and that ALL word acts are akin to acts of war. I know the analogy is not a very good one, because so much is/was different between the two countries, but in political argument terms, both issues were /are very hot.

    What I am suggesting is that say the views of the churches on apartheid in the 1980s and some Jews could not be lumped into the same bucket as armed struggle groups, and in the same way, views of many progressive Jews (including individuals associated with AJDS) cannot be lumped into the same category as the views and words of those who deny Israel any legitimacy and/or take a militant Islamic approach.

  • Michael says:

    Oh how tired I am of being assumed to be an extremist and a theocrat by people that have never met me.

    Corporate crime in orthodox community: isn’t it obvious that the consideration here would be the financial wellbeing of people doing business with these miscreants? Here, you are obligated to speak out to protect the victim and prevent other potentials from coming to harm (“Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow” means don’t watch someone drown). Facts are facts. In the case of abuse – the failure is with those Haredim close to the cases who are afraid of their skins for having known about the abuse for years, and they didn’t speak up, and they aren’t speaking up. Sort of a mini-Pope issue. I will never defend these dudes. Luckily, we know facts from other sources – we don’t need to hear them from rabbis for them to be true.
    But if I only hear rumours, I can’t spread those – I have to know facts. Otherwise you’ll be hearing that all sorts of people have live-in lovers, or worse, and that destroys societies.

    Your very, very, narrow, negative view of Judaism is apparent.

    The following is the saddest statement, and illustrates my point – what more can one expect from Jews growing up with a Western mentality:
    “Other streams of Judaism and other religions have moved beyond your very narrow path and of course, the rise of secularism is a reaction to the domination by theocratic thinking.”

    Other streams of Judaism have refused to ever call a spade a spade, and are disappearing, partially as a result of smart Jews realising they’ve been sold a dud and being wholly disappointed. I get you, let’s all mindlessly dump Judaism of any extant form and adopt Progressive (“moving beyond”) Judaism.
    What is newer may have tragically replaced something the newbies knew little about. “Progressive Judaism” in its guise as Reform, tarred and feathered Judaism in toto – including (relatively uncrippled) Sephardic Judaism with which they had barely met – with the term “Orthodox” to depict them forever backwards and myopic – old musty men with cobwebs in the corners of their thick glasses huddled over old books – and them: as new, and smarter, and wiser.

    The secular Jews began dissecting Torah as if it were merely Shakespeare (yet more than happy for the oral tradition to form a major basis for whole legal systems in the lands within which they undertook this dissection), and the rest of the enlightenment viewed Judaism just as the Christianity they rejected. In fact the first group helped inform the opinion of the second. So please don’t tell me that most of the world has moved on. We like to replace what we know little about – it’s easier and less time consuming.

    Every debate to which I turn that involves religion in Western democracies, every TV show I see that touches on such issues, constantly portrays ‘religion’ as being Catholic in nature. While I can easily compare Haredi Judaism to Catholic Christianity (See Hakham Jose Faur’s essay Anti-Maimonidean Demons, and book The Horizontal Society – in which he details how a very democratic Judaism in Spain was warped into the theocratic and autocratic Judaism that early Reform met in Europe), I reject “Judaism” as a whole being lumped with a Catholicism (the theocracy of renown) which only in this pope’s tenure has admitted that actually – children who die before their minds are able to grasp the concept of Jesus are not destined for hell after all.

    As I said: what can I expect from someone coloured and shaped by the Western world, itself a marriage between Greco-Roman culture and Christianity? We all have the problem – even Israelis – to a greater or lesser extent.
    Being able to call a spade a spade is not to blindly kowtow to an assumed theocracy. It is to have a morality that does not bend to the wits and whims of the times, but a morality that, with in-built flexibility and understanding, shapes to the circumstances of each and every case be it 1500 years ago or today.

    No, you cannot criticise Israel publicly. In this case, damaging Israel’s legitimacy, creating doubts about its credibility, and generally bringing Israel down – costs lives.

  • Michael says:

    I understand this wasn’t where the discussion was going (which is why I said I would be giving it a different twist).

    Nonetheless, from the view of philosophy/outlook, the Rights vs. Obligations is critical. First we need to establish our obligations. Only then our rights.

    In this light it is in priorities that AJDC and their ilk are in error.

  • Ilana Leeds says:


    I have to say that it was refreshing to read your post after having read some really vitriolic diatribes penned by you at me, I have to agree with everything you have said above.

    And at the risk of further raising the ire of some, your last statement is particularly poignant and a sentiment I concur with.

    ‘No, you cannot criticise Israel publicly. In this case, damaging Israel’s legitimacy, creating doubts about its credibility, and generally bringing Israel down – costs lives.’

    I lived in Israel for seven years, eight if you counted my year on Kibbutz in 1986. Israel is so demonised and misrepresented in the world media it actually causes me not to want to read news reports at times.
    My view of Israel is very different. While I do disagree with the rampant secularisation of Israeli society and wish there was a more traditionally Orthodox flavour to the government and society in general, I realise that society is made up of many sectors of people and beliefs and lifestyles. In Torah things are forbidden but the amazing thing about Torah is that the Torah recognises and encompasses the broad spectrum of human experience and sets out a blue print for an ideal existence. Few of us ever attain that in our life time and those that do are tzaddikim. There are traditionally 36 lamed vav Tzaddikim in each generation and when one dies another is born.
    People who have never lived in Israel view the Jewish nation through very warped spectacles. I have been abused many times by the keffiya wearing uni students who collect money for the Palestinian refugees because when I see a sign vilifying Israel and calling Israel a Nazi state it hurts very deep. I have to go up and speak to the people and my first question to them is always,
    ‘Hi, how are you? When were you last in Israel?’ They usually answer ‘Oh I have never been to Israel.’
    ‘so, how do you know what is happening there? Have you been to Aza?’ is my next question and there is usually an answer in the negative. There was one young lass who said she had been on a study tour tour for several weeks to Aza to study the situation ther and I asked her how did she get there and she told me that she landed at the Palestinian Airport, of course. So, nu what airline did you fly and she told me Singapore Airlines and she went to see the barbed wire fence and told me the Israeli soldiers were very aggressive marching up and down goose stepping (were her words) the fence with rifles drawn. I believe that I am a monkey’s aunt if she has been to Aza.
    I never march up and state I am Jewish or say how dare you present Israel in such a dreadfully untrue light.
    I simply ask questions to start them thinking and questioning the propaganda they have been fed.
    I have to agree with Michael that there has been a vicious legitimisation of Israel’s right to exist going on for some time now and some secular and traditional Jews have brought right into it.
    I get cold chills every time I hear someone say ‘well, we will have to absorb the settlers on the ‘occupied’ West Bank into Israel Proper. Don’t they realise that Judea and Sumeria are Israel proper? Just as Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and a Jewish city that allows the other monotheist religions freedoms that both the Arab Muslims and the Christians did not.
    Sadly I will probably be called just another warped religious nutter because a few people are passionately against what I am saying.

  • Ilana Leeds says:


    Sorry that should read

    I have to agree with Michael that there has been a vicious delegitimisation of Israel’s right to exist going on for some time now and some secular and traditional Jews have brought right into it.

    It is too early in the morning and I am tired from an early start on my editing others work for my course and ignoring the editing I should be doing on my own texts.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Larry, re your comment:
    “I think many people, including many within Israel would in fact argue that many of Israel’s actions are criminal or have been criminal and far exceed the needs of self-defense because they have been acts of state terror.”

    This is precisely what I had in mind when I said that Israel is not a criminal state. I know there are those who take the view that some of Israel’s acts are criminal because they exceed the needs of self defense. I think this is a dishonest definition of “criminal”.

    Something which is done for a positive purpose (such as self defense) is not a crime. You can’t seriously believe that the government’s rationale for carrying out – say, a targeted killing, or flotilla interception – is “Let’s create as much pain and difficulty for the Palestinians as possible”. These things are primarily done for security and self defense, which are admirable objectives; of course we may differ on whether the negative consequences of a specific act outweigh its security value – but that doesn’t make it a crime.

    It’s a far cry from the Nazi objective of cleansing Aryan land of misfits and deviants. L’havdil, it’s also a far cry from white collar crime or sexual abuse which have no admirable objectives whatsoever.

  • The Castillan says:

    Sumeria!!! A wonderfully revealing freudian slip.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Shira, who said I was comparing actions of the Israeli military to Nazis?

    Not at all. All I am saying is that some acts are in clear breach of international law and in certain cases are criminal, including the deliberate terrorization of woman and children. And this is also paralleled by similar activities by Palestinian terrorists by the way. But this is no my key point–the key issue that speaking of criminality etc is not a matter of vilification. Such acts also lose Israel friends.

    But I suppose you would consider rabbis for Human Rights, Betselem, Breaking the Silence (Shovrei Shtikah etc) all being vilifiers rather than champions of a better Israel.

    If you wish to build a boundary around both Torah and Israel (as a religion or as a political entity) that is so impermeable, then it appears that everything is a challenge, a risk and a threat and many questions are simply impossible to resolve with equal rights for all. A politically and religiously imposssible vision of Israel and Judaism appears to set the supporters of such a viewpoint on a collision course with everyone else.

    But this is a side issue though a significant one to what I wrote. I still would like more discussion of why there is so much personalized vilification within the Jewish community –or just harsh words–towards minority viewpoints, that appears to be quite irrational at times. This seems to fly in the face of the tradition of learning and intellectualism.

    I’d particularly like to hear a viewpoint from an ordained liberal, reform or conservative rabbi as their voices are notably silent, despite the role that many play in the US in promoting more open debate on many issues. Is it because they live in such an intolerant and conservative environment (at least at a leadership level) that they just stay quiet?

  • Daniel Baker says:

    Malki Rose says:

    You’ll note that Akiva, Daniel Baker and Michael Barnett are very emotive in their discussion of the issues relating to GLBT…

    Enough with the delegitimisation, Malki. Stop painting us a bunch of ranting screaming crying queers. We’re passionate because these issues do not merely affect but define our lives. You’re not immune from a little hysteria yourself, and at any rate, given that your interest in the topic is merely academic (and perhaps a little self-serving, too?) your dismissal of me and others, truly ‘stakeholders’ as you say, is amazingly hypocritical. You don’t fight as though your life depends on it because your life doesn’t depend on it. Those of us who continue to be disenfranchised, abused, and denied a place at the table don’t always have the luxury of being stoic.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Larry, I didn’t mean to imply that you were comparing Israel to the Nazis, and I’m sorry if it had that effect. I mentioned the comparison to Nazism because it was the original stimulus for this part of the discussion.

    And please don’t twist my words. The only time I mentioned vilification was in regard to comparisons between Israel and the Third Reich. Other than that, my posts have only mentioned parameters for acceptable, constructive criticism of Israel, and why those parameters should apply to Israel but not to other topics such as sexual abuse. You seem to have extrapolated a lot in guessing at my views.

  • Sam says:

    Larry Stillman

    The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.[2] Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

    Could this possibly apply to you? I can’t help thinking that you have a classic case when we read this statement that you posted on this thread.

    “I think many people, including many within Israel would in fact argue that many of Israel’s actions are criminal or have been criminal and far exceed the needs of self-defense because they have been acts of state terror. But to take this position does not necessarily mean that one is anti-Israel.”

    Even the fact that you decided to write this article at all shows that you feel quite wounded, that people that you would normally consider fair and reasonable, have criticized you harshly.

    You don’t need to refer to Frederick Toben or Antony Lowenstein, as trying to attach yourself somehow to the hate speech directed towards these two is disingenious as no one has claimed that you are as bad as those two.

    Maybe you should analyze your own politics again in the light of you being in in the small minority amongst intelligent Jews with regard to your very strong criticisms of Israel. Most of us would forgive you for past misdemeanors if you happened to change your view in the future.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Proving my point for me. Thank you.

  • Malki Rose says:

    my last post was re Daniel’s remark.

  • Larry Stillman says:


    Wounded? Nice try, but not at all. I think you are quite off the mark in your argument.

  • Adam says:


    On what basis do you make the claim that:

    “I think many people, including many within Israel would in fact argue that many of Israel’s actions are criminal or have been criminal and far exceed the needs of self-defense because they have been acts of state terror. But to take this position does not necessarily mean that one is anti-Israel.”

    Do you think it is possible to judge Israel’s actions or the actions of soldiers sitting in your comfortable house here in Australia and receiving your information from the Age? I am always astonished how we are so quick to judge and come to conclusions without even knowing half the picture. I am almost positive that you wouldn’t be so quick to judge Australia (for example Australian troops in Afghanistan) based on a few articles in an Afghanistan paper!

    In terms of criticising Israel in the public forum, I am not sure of my stance. On the one hand, I do believe that if one does engage in that type of criticism it needs to be thoroughly investigated first before any comments are made. You can be sure those criticisms will be taken out of context and used by anti semites and those who are against Israel’s existence to further their causes. If I had thought one of my ‘children’ may have done something wrong, I would talk to him/her first and try to keep my criticisms private. They aren’t relevant for the rest of the world. Similarly, your comments in Australian papers will not benefit Israel in any way by improving Israel’s attitudes or actions. On the contrary, it will only harm Israel and Israelis in a very disproportionate and probably unintended manner.

  • Sam says:


    On the contrary, I think I touched a few of your nerves significantly. You are very much in denial about:
    (a) Your cognitive dissonance, in fact denial and blaming others is a key symptom of the condition.
    (b)That I was far off the mark. I believe now from your response that I was right on the money. Where is your balanced viewpoint re what Israel’s enemies are saying in their propaganda war against the legitamacy of the existance of Israel?

    Until I see you give equal weight (at the minimum) to the vilification created by the propagandists, we can’t see your voice as credible when you continually claim that you are not anti Israel. I suppose that Antony Lowenstein is not anti-Israel either, he just wants fair treatment to be accorded to both sides in this conflict. Right!!

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Sam I was critical of propogandists of all sides in my article and I have been critical of unfair critics of Israel..most of this is done in debate elsewhere and I have been critical of Lowenstein.

    What did I say in my article “We also know that manifestations of hatred of Israel which at times melt into anti-Semitism are manifested in chants of ‘Israel out of Palestine’, and the Israeli flag has been burned on the steps of Parliament by Palestinian extremists. Fortunately, more intelligent Palestinian advocates deplore and have nothing to do with such material, but in an environment of strong political anger, things do go awry (as we see with settlers burning Korans). ”

    The question of balance that is called for as a response to criticism of Israel unfortunately, is a misnomer when it comes to the complete inequality the force of power in the current situation. It’s discomforting, but the force of violence is overwhelmingly in Israel’s hands. Israel is not the underdog in its dispute.

    But this is getting away from the issue again. I have no cognitive disonance: just a deep concern for the future of Israel and its trend to becoming a military state governed by an oligarchy with close links to nationalist-religious ideologies that together with Islamists, are a threat to world peace.

  • Marky says:

    “The force of violence is overwhelmingly in Israel’s hand”

    I agree. Had Israel put that fence up twenty years ago and not gone with kid gloves over that time, there may have been a lot less suicide bombings and such.

  • Akiva says:

    still with an unmet paper deadline looming over my head, I must bring up two issues –

    – reading all the various responses, (some of which I don’t agree with, some which I do – more or less irrelevant at this point) – it strikes me how much trust ‘we’ (using the term generically) place in our community organisations and leadership structure. This trust blind. These institutions are not ordained be heaven, nor the leaders representative of anything, really, besides themselves and a momentary snapshot of their current organisations. And yet we rely on them to be telling us the truth without spin, to be our moral compass. Very few of us do any really independent research outside of that packaged for us by various institutions, across various media. and what if they’re, well, institutionalized? not as big as the sum of their parts? passing on uncritically the information they’ve been given. Or are you – all of you who say that Israel and Israeli policy cannot be criticised – suggesting that Jewish organisations can do no wrong? If you’re not saying that, do you ever question our communal trust in these groups or their individuals? If not, why not?

    Secondly, regarding the use of the Holocaust as an unalterable benchmark for the right to speak out as part of the JC – what do you think of the (really quite surprisingly numerous,considering the circs)survivors who loudly speak out against current Israeli policiy?

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Akiva, I must admit I don’t understand the issues you’ve raised. Re the first, we don’t all get all our information from community organisations – it’s not a matter of blind trust.
    Re the second, I think it’s a non sequitur.

  • Marky says:

    Re the second, my parents, uncles, aunts and almost our entire community were holocaust survivours. I knew many thousands of them around the world. I did not know even one to speak out against Israeli policy. The ones that do, are the tiny exception to the rule. And of course for each one that does speak out, they are made a great hype of, so it looks the way you see it.

  • Michael says:

    I hear the question, as Akiva wants to say it holds for most Jews around the world who, rather than get their news solely from the Age and the like, only get theirs from the Jewish News: why believe, say, the Israeli Foreign Ministry? Why trust that they haven’t doctored video footage re the Mavi Marmara? Or audio from that debacle, saying ‘go back to Auschwitz’ or whatever awful comment it was? Maybe some army desk jockey recorded it himself, before editing in all the necessary info – sound filters, etc?
    Or footage of a ‘dead’ Arab fall off his stretcher, only for us to see the corpse scramble back onto it so the funeral procession waiting around the corner can go ahead, fueling further hatred and resentment (thus preparing the Arab population for peace)?
    It’s a fair question, why are we so trusting? MEMRI.org could all be faked.

    By all means be cautious what you consume from official ministries – Israeli or other.

    But be as discerning in what you consume from the vastly more numerous anti-Israel sources of “information” as you would be with those from the pro-. I don’t see this happening with Jewish anti-Israel-policy groups. I see a blatant, wanton ignorance of unconscionable acts perpetrated by (and statements in Arabic spoken by) Israel’s enemies, and a myopic focus on all of Israel’s perceived wrongs. I mean, if you’re going to take down a building that’s confirmed to be housing a terrorist cell with a tank shell – it doesn’t matter how many leaflets you drop, or how many phone calls to surrounding houses you make. No matter what you do, if in war you send a tank shell hurtling towards a house in a region like Gaza densely populated with civilians, you run the risk of innocents being hurt.

    What’s not OK is to ignore that leaflets were dropped, that phone calls were made – all which might potentially lead to the terrorists actually getting away to safety – and take out a full page colour ad in the Age showing a picture of the destroyed house and civilian casualties with the caption: “Israel strikes civilians yet again”, and the full text describing how the Israeli army’s claim to morality is a farce.
    I’m not saying this particular ad has been placed, but it’s the sort of behaviour certain Jewish groups display – and for what benefit? Assuaging their own conjured up guilty feelings?

    And that’s just the thing – there’s so much more unequivocal evidence in favour of Israeli policies than against, that you’d have to turn an utterly blind eye to it in order just to have time to raise true Israeli army misdemeanors (which can and do happen, and are prosecuted).

    Without context – Israel is seen to do all sorts of horrible wrongs – nothing is too heinous for them. With context – Israel is clearly justified in attempting their policies in reference to its security. It’s in not providing context that Israel is let down by those who become poster boys and girls for justified actions against Jews around the world. (Jews. Because we may be able to separate Jews from Zionists and Israelis, but many others do not.)

    Just as Goldstein in Orwell’s “1984”, Goldstone in our 2010 is used to prove certain points and justify nefarious actions.

    Israel’s critics complain of disproportionate force, whereas Israel’s supporters complain of disproportionate criticism. I think that’s a fact you can take to the bank.
    And when the proportions are indeed measured against one another, “criticism” of Israel melts away in a sea of context.

  • Sam says:


    You make many valid points about the power of the media to bend “apparent facts” or video footage to suit their own agendas.
    Context is the main thing that is usually missing. It is like hearing one phrase of a prime minister’s speech and infering from this, national policy.


    I find your claim that numerous holocaust survivors speak out against current Israeli policy extremely unlikely. You can say it in your post but I doubt that you can support it with ant evidence.
    The overwhelming comment even now, amongst survivors is that thank
    G-d we have Israel, for if it would have existed 10 years earlier, millions of our family and brethren might have been saved from the nazis. In my experience and I have met hundreds of survivors, (my parents included), no-one then goes on to say that they disagree with their treatment of Arabs or their foreign policy.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Sam


    Ann Baltzer, who takes an anti-Israel position, and who was recently in Australia, seemed to constantly try to exploit the mere fact that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, to lend credibility to her position.

    On every promo I saw for one of her events, one of the first things mentions was that “Baltzer’s grandparents survived the Holocaust” Likewise on her Wikipedia page.

    If a supporter of Israel tried to constantly exploit that they are a “3rd generation survivor” then I’m sure people would attack them for that.

  • philip mendes says:

    Guys: you are absolutely right. See below the extract from my earlier article, “The strange phenomenon of Jewish Anti-Zionism: Self-hating Jews or protectors of universalistic principles?” By Philip Mendes, Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, Volume 23, 2009, pp.96-132

    The most offensive use of a pseudo Jewish identity arguably occurs when Jewish anti-Zionists highlight and exploit the Holocaust survivor background of their parents or family in order to justify their attacks on Israel. For example, Figes (2008: 148) argues that her late German-born grandfather who died in a concentration camp would have been appalled by Israel’s actions, and Independent Jewish Voices activist Ruth Tenne (2009) uses her grandparents death in the Holocaust to justify spurious analogies between the Nazis and Israel. Similar statements have been made by British Labour Parliamentarian Gerald Kaufman, and American Jewish academic Sara Roy. Yet any serious survey of Holocaust survivors and their families would almost certainly find that the vast majority furiously reject these statements, and offer strong support for the State of Israel.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Frosh, Sam, Phillip, the issue of use and abuse of Holocaust memory is a highly emotive one.

    As you know, many on the left did not support the recent ad by IAJV concerning the occupation in which allusion was made to the Holocaust.

    My personal view, and that of others is that it was patronizing. provocative and exploitative and the parallel between what went on in Nazi Europe and Gaza etc is inaccurate and it is a bad strategy by Palestinian supporters. I’d prefer that we look for more accurate comparisons of deliberate state oppression.

    BUT, the Holocaust is constantly brought to bear on Israel politics, particularly since the time of Begin in the 1970s when he explicitly brought the memory of the Holocaust to bear as a justification for his policies and of course, the Holocaust has become a central ‘theme’ in American Jewish life (and Australian Jewish life).

    But it has been criticized by intellectuals such as Alan Mintz, who is very much within the Jewish community, and those who take a very explicit political stance (Finkelstein). See also http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mark-levene-the-political-misuse-of-holocaust-memorial-day-488129.html on the political context of it all

    But it is also something of a misnomer to claim that claim that the minority of Holocaust survivors who protest Israeli actions are beyond the pale and by sham Jews. Philip is quite wrong to use terms such as ‘ a pseudo-Jewish identity': who is to judge personal identity?

    Such protests already occurred in a protext against Begin’s invasion of Lebanon outside Yad Vashem in 1982 and there are probably other instances. Philip is making an error in dismissing opinions just because they are minority opinions.

    There is a very good discussion of the ins and outs of Holocaust contextualization in Jewish debate by Tim Cole in a book edited by Konrad Kweit and others. Type in his name and misuses of the holocaust in Google.

  • Akiva says:

    Sam, you mistake me. I’m aware that anti-israeli-policiy holocaust survivors are in a tiny minority (frankly, I think it’s a bit astonishing that there are any at all) – my question was about how you understand these two contradictions in the few instances when they occur.

  • frosh says:


    Trying to account for every single idiosyncratic example of human behaviour is a pointless and futile activity.

  • Marky says:

    There used to be a Jewish jeweller/watchmaker on Bridge Rd Richmond-from war time Hungary- who was always saying that the police here in Melbourne(policing his secondhand licence) are worse than the nazis were in ww2. All the other surviviors who knew him, said he was off his head.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    By the standards of some of the posts here, are ‘Breaking the Silence’ also to be counted as enemies of Israel?


  • Michael says:

    An interesting, wide-ranging speech for you to read.

    In amongst a lot of crowd-pleasing anecdotes Bernstein comes out with some pearlers. Here’re a few for the time poor amongst us:

    “During my twenty years at Human Rights Watch, I had spent little time on Israel. It was an open society. It had 80 human rights organizations like B’Tselem, ACRI, Adalah, and Sikkuy. It had more newspaper reporters in Jerusalem than any city in the world except New York and London. Hence, I tried to get the organization to work on getting some of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly free speech, into closed societies – among them, the 22 Arab states surrounding Israel. The faults of democratic countries were much less of a priority not because there were no faults, obviously, but because they had so many indigenous human rights groups and other organizations openly criticizing them.”

    “A Human Rights Watch Board member told The New Republic that they go after Israel because it is like “low-hanging fruit.” By that, I think he means that they have a lot of information fed to them by Israel’s own human rights organizations and the press, that they have easy access to Israel to hold their press conferences, and that the press is eager to accept their reports. The organization, most would agree, was founded to go after what I guess you would call “high-hanging fruit” – that is, closed societies, where it is hard to get in. Nations that will not allow you to hold press conferences in their country. Nations where there are no other human rights organizations to give you the information.”

    “Human rights issues must be considered in the settlement in the Middle East. Human Rights Watch and others have taken positions on the Wall, the borders, and the occupation, so it is hard to separate human rights issues from political issues. I have tried to show that they are doing damage in their focus on “war” issues, particularly on the issue of “civilian death” where they have questionable expertise. At the same time, in their attempts to do what they think is evenhanded, they fail to recognize the virtues of nations that have had considerable success in making the Universal Declaration of Human Rights truly universal.”

    “Certainly those who disagree with me may think I am too harsh on Human Rights Watch’s Middle East policies and point out that they are doing good work elsewhere. They are! But the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become such a crucial issue. I believe that unless human rights organizations correct some of the things discussed tonight, their authority in the rest of the world will be questioned.”

    “And he [Natan Sharansky] also says: ‘In its refusal to distinguish democratic from nondemocratic regimes, the human rights movement undercuts its own commitment to democratic freedoms and itself becomes a tool of undemocratic powers.'”


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