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Landau has Landed

November 14, 2011 – 4:23 pm23 Comments

David Landau

By Mandi Katz
Earlier this month I attended a panel as part of a Jewish book festival In Melbourne. It was a lively and diverse discussion on all things bookish and Jewish.  That is, until one of the panellists, a publisher said that he was planning to publish the English edition of a book of testimonies of Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories. The temperature rapidly rose as several people become very vocal, criticising the publisher on grounds that the book will provide fuel for anti-Semitism and anti -Israel sentiment.

No-one claimed that the testimony was unreliable or untrue; the concerns were that the book would feed anti-Israel views.

Civil as this episode was (it was in a book-shop after all), it confirms my view that for many in our community, when it comes to Israel, PR comes first. The desire for frank discussion among rational people who share a deep concern for Israel takes second place to the need to explain how vulnerable, and how just, Israel is. People who don’t see it that way are regarded as dissenters; at best as irresponsible, at worst as self haters and traitors.

David Landau, the Israel correspondent for The Economist and former Editor in-Chief of Ha’aretz newspaper, who will be visiting Australia this month as a guest of the New Israel Fund (Australia), has often been described as a dissenter.

Landau is unusual; he is an Orthodox Jew who made aliyah in 1970 and remains a proud and loud member of the peace camp. His credentials are unquestionable: he’s collaborated with Shimon Peres on his memoirs and on a recently released biography of David Ben-Gurion and has authored a forthcoming biography on Ariel Sharon. And after years at the Jerusalem Post and then at the helm of Haaretz, he speaks with insight and authority.

But it doesn’t take great Google skills to discover that Landau can be controversial. He is laser sharp in his commentary, some of which is very critical of Netanyahu’s government. He has also been known to use language which is either colourful or off colour – depending on your sensibilities.

Some in our community have already questioned why we chose to invite someone like David Landau. The answer is simple: if we set out to raise awareness and understanding about Israel and the dilemmas it faces, it makes no sense to censor valid perspectives, which reflect the views of many Israelis and are aired freely in Israel.

Looking no further than the mindless and hateful language outside Max Brenner shops across Australia, or the distorted views of Lee Rhiannon and cohorts, it is clear that there is a need for pithy messaging that conveys the deep truth that Israel has the right to defend its people and borders.

But proper discussion about Israel has to involve more than messaging. Truth and nuanced understanding don’t feed hate and violence. Propaganda, whichever side it comes from, is always more dangerous than balanced and considered discussion. People with dogmatic views will find fuel for their agendas regardless of this sort of discussion.

When we substitute careful analysis with spin, what gets glossed over are some hard truths: that the ongoing occupation, regardless of historical and security context, involves serious human and civil rights breaches; that the issues are existential for Palestinians too and that the number of Palestinian deaths in this conflict significantly exceeds the number of Israeli deaths; and that while Palestinians have agency in this conflict, and responsibility for the current impasse, Israel uses its superior power in ways that entrench the status quo.

It is very gratifying to focus on Israel’s many achievements, which are all the more impressive in its region, but what gets neglected when we do that above all else, is that Israeli society faces profound challenges. If we are to relate to Israel honestly, issues such as the extreme economic disparity in Israel, the threats to religious and political freedom and discrimination faced by minorities, need to be discussed with openness and maturity.

Anat Hoffman, the director of the Israel Reform Action Centre who was in Melbourne earlier this year, underscored this point. In her opening remarks she said she would tell us some uncomfortable things about Israel, things we might prefer not to hear – but that we wouldn’t love Israel any less at the end of her address.

She was right. Like many people, I have over the years come to understand Israel differently, in a less starry-eyed way. It has not diminished how much I care about Israel, and it has helped me understand how much Israel needs diverse support, including support for organisations such as those funded by the New Israel Fund, which tackle some of these complexities.

There are lots of reasons to avoid thinking too much about Israel, in current parlance to “disengage”. Terror against Israelis is vile, and it is distressing to see the hatred directed at Israel.  There is no simple solution or happy ending to this conflict and for many people, thinking about the options that Israel faces is too hard. It’s easier to not to think about it, or to take comfort in a party line.

But putting PR before our individual and communal understanding of Israel’s predicaments is not the answer. We can’t turn our backs on Israel by disengaging, and we undersell our commitment to Israel when we apply a less thoughtful and honest approach to understanding Israel’s dilemmas, than we do to understanding other political, religious or ethical issues.

Critics can label David Landau and the many and diverse people interested in hearing him speak in Sydney and Melbourne this month as dissenters. Or they can come with an open mind and hear what he has to say.

Mandi Katz is a member of the board of New Israel Fund Australia

David Landau will be speaking in Sydney and Melbourne over the next two weeks

Details

Sydney

Wednesday 16 November at 7.00pm – 20s and 30s NIForum

Thursday 17 November 17th at 7.15pm – Inner West community event

Sunday 20 November at 7.15 pm – Emanuel Synagogue/Eastern Suburbs community event

Melbourne

Wednesday 23 November at 7.45 pm – Caulfield Park Pavilion  (Registration on line or at door)

Thursday 24 November at 7.30pm – 20s and 30s NIForum

Registration details – see nif.org.au

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23 Comments »

  • HarryJohns says:

    I’m not surprised that the NIF is hosting Mr Landau. Basically, any left-winger gets NIF support, no matter how outrageous their views, all in the name of free speech and promoting diversity of opinion.

    But heaven forfend if one should express a right-of-centre opinion. The the NIF brands such people as intolerant, right wing fundamentalists.

  • ariel says:

    Mandi,

    The bottom line as I see it is that Mr Landau is an Israeli citizen. We are not. He has the right to dissent his own government. We do not have the right to dissent his government.

    Conversely, we have the right to dissent the Austrlaian Government. Mr Landau does not.
    (How one can actually dissent someone else’s government is beyond me since it doesn’t fit the definition of the term).

    If we want to make a change to Israeli society – and there is much which needs change – we should make aliya, not pontificate from the comparative paradise of Australia.

    We can criticise Israel – come to my house and see how often we do; I often say I haven’t moved to Israel because I have serious misgivings about Israeli society. It may be my role to tell that to my relatives and friends in Israel, but it is not my role to actively interfere in their society. That is their role should they choose to do so.
    Just as I would not want them interfering in Australian society.

  • R B says:

    Ariel,

    Thank you for expressing what I’ve been feeling for a long time.

    I had enough of all these Jews, who live at a nice houses in Caulfield, their 20yo and 18yo sons work in the family business or study at Monash, saying that “Israel should not compromise on anything”, “Israeli policy should follow the ideas of Rabbi Meir Kahana”, or, on the other side, “Israel should let the Palestinian refugees return to their pre-1948 homes”.

    These are the Israelis who will pay the price for the dodgy political adventures that you preach for, not you!!!
    If this is so important to you, make Aliyya and see you there, when your boys are conscripted to the IDF and your economic existence depends on the world’s willing to trade with Israeli companies, and on the security situation in Israel itself.

    Such claims sound even more hypocrete and pathetic when they come out of the mouths of Israeli migrants, who gave up the hardships of living in Israel, but think that they should have the right to vote in Israeli elections (currently, they don’t) and demand their brothers to fight to their last drop of blood.

  • akiva says:

    please, Ariel, some basic english grammar – one cannot dissent something; one may, however dissent *from* something. Please, be literate!
    Unless you’re trying to say ‘diss, in which case I think you’re in the wrong country and ethnic community.

    besides this ugly language, how does your point relate to going to hear Landau, who as you say IS Israeli, speak? I’m not sure whether you’re saying that people shouldn’t go or not.

  • Ann E Fink says:

    An excellent article, Mandi, kol ha kavod. It is all about the freedom to discuss issues which are sometimes painful but which have to be addressed. The Jewish community in the Diaspora is NOT the equivalent of any other diaspora, since anyone who qualifies as a “JEW” (whatever that might mean at any point in time) has the right to become a citizen of Israel and vote for its government within weeks of arrival. It is ESSENTIAL therefore that these issues are debated in Australia, so that potential candidates for aliya do understand at least some of the complexities of Israeli society. In any case there has always been vigorous debate in Jewish society about all sorts of issues. Misnagdim versus Hassidim, Bundists versus Zionists; the various Zionist factions. Cherut, Mapai, Mapam, etc. Why should debate be so problematic in the 21st century? What is frightening about the present situation is that this tradition of vigorous debate, so emblematic of jewish society, is now being labelled by a particular political entity as a sign of disloyalty to the state. The really bad PR will come if the Israeli govt. succeeds in passing the legislation now in progress, something the NIF is lobbying hard to defeat, as is the speaker of the Knesset, Likud’s Ruby Rivlin, a die hard Democrat!

  • Mandi Katz says:

    I’d like to comment more when I have a chance and also interested to see what other people have to say but RB one quick question to you.

    You comment frequently on this site about Israel – your remarks are generally interesting, insightful and not ‘rose coloured’. I imagine you like having a forum of people also interested in Israel, with whom to discuss the issues. So my question to you here is why is it different for you to engage in discussion about Israel than for “these Jews … living in Caulfield”. Is there something different between the way and reason that you comment and they (we) do? real question.

  • frosh says:

    Akiva,

    Given that you are offering lessons in literacy, you might want to consider for yourself the appropriate and consistent use of capitalisation. Capitalising letters won’t necessarily see you labelled as a capitalist; you may even still qualify as a bourgeois socialist.

    On the other hand, perhaps you could simply desist in criticising the grammar of those who leave sincere and legitimate comments on this forum.

  • R B says:

    Hi Mandy,

    There are a few reasons why I, as an ex-Israeli, comment about Israel here.

    First, there are many discussions about Israel in this site, but one thing is usually missing: Israelis. Israel is a place where six million Jews live their everyday life, with all the good and the bad, and I think that the views and experiences of people, who grew up there and had lived there for most of their lives, should be represented in such discussions.

    Second, my impression, from both comments about Israel here and from talks with Australian-born Jews, is that many people have idealistic, romantic and obsolete image of Israel, rather than a realistic, sober and up-to-date one. Maybe that is what people are taught in Mt Scopus school, Dror-Habonim etc., maybe this is what people prefer to think. Anyway, I think this should change.

    I do not intend to give advise to those who live in Israel regarding what government should or should not do. I made my choice when I moved to Australia, and I think it is unfair to promote policies in other countries, which result will have direct impact impact on my life here.
    I am just a viewer, and I describe what I see.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    People, people, you’re missing the point. This is not an objective opinion piece, but rather a devious way of promoting an event with which the author is affiliated.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi Harry – quite right. There is no such thing as objective opinion pieces. An opinion piece is by definition NOT objective.
    I want people to come and hear Landau. I don’t know why that’s devious. I declared my affiliation with the New Israel Fund Australia and I suggest people come and listen to what Landau has to say.
    People aren’t scared of ideas. They are coming to hear what he has to say. You should too.

  • Jenny says:

    An interesting article, but it contains a piece of sloppy journalism or spin. Your slur of Lee Rhiannon reflects poor research. All Greens reject anti-semitism in all its forms, and support the right of Israelis to live in peace within secure borders. The Greens condemn violence on both sides of the conflict. That includes the human rights abuses inflicted on Palestinian people by the military might of successive Israeli governments.

    The ongoing blockade of Gaza is cruel and unacceptable. No amount of public relations spin or “pithy messaging” will succeed in dressing it up as legitimate self defence.

    The tactic of vilifying those who expose the abuses committed by the Israeli government, with false accusations of anti-semitism, is simply a disgraceful attempt to silence people through intimidation.

    The way to work towards peace is for Israel to make serious efforts to address the injustice it has inflicted on the Palestinian people. The Israeli government is clearly not interested in that and is intent on the acquisition of even more Palestinian land, which is a recipe for more violence.

  • CB says:

    Sounds like you’re the one who needs to do research Jenny. I mean no disrespect but I think you have been VERY misled.

    “the human rights abuses inflicted on Palestinian people by the military might of successive Israeli governments. ”

    All such reports have proven to be wrong

    “The ongoing blockade of Gaza is cruel and unacceptable”

    Incorrect again. Israel provides more than enough supplies of food and medicine to Gaza while it’s people are plotting to kill Israeli civilians, anyone may bring food and medical aid in – only weapons are blocked from entering, and if the authorities are allowed to check the boats coming in without being attacked, there is no problem.

    “…with false accusations of anti-semitism, is simply a disgraceful attempt to silence people through intimidation.”

    And using fallacious buzzwords like “occupation”, “human rights abuses”, “apartheid” etc are a disgraceful attempt to slander Israel with false accusations. Ofcourse a country/government is evil if it practices human rights abuse, apartheid and occupation. But just saying Israel does those things does not make it true. Greens and their supporters make all their arguments against Israel using those terms to convince people they are right, however the terms are misleading and false when applied to Israel

    “The Israeli government is clearly not interested in that and is intent on the acquisition of even more Palestinian land”

    The lands covering Israel, Gaza and the West bank were lived in for thousands of years by Jews, Muslims and Christians. The Balfour declaration set aside the part of the land where a sizeable population of Jews lived and owned property, as a Jewish land. Thirty years later the Jews were only given a fraction of that land, and acquired it by legal means. They were attacked immediately by arab armies and in the ensuing wars captured more land. They gave back the Sinai in 1967 only because they could trust Egypt to keep peace with them. The Arabs in that whole land never called themselves Palestinians until the 1960s. Arafat took that name from the Romans who had named that land “Palestine” thousands of years before, having changed the name from “Judea” (where do you think the word “Jews” came from?. The people of that land never had their own individual culture, currency, leadership or language. They were the same ethnicity as the Jordanians, some were even from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria etc. My (Jewish) great grandparents lived on the west bank and so did their ancestors for thousands of years. Don’t tell me it’s Palestinian land. It’s the original land of the Jews until they were scattered to Europe, Asia and Arab countries (where they got mostly kicked out in about 1948, whereas the Palestinians chose to leave of their own accord as Arab armies were about to attack. Those Arabs who stayed became Israeli citizens and have rights – they also have members in the parliament). It wouldn’t matter whose land it was, if the Arabs weren’t so angry about the Jews being there. As for acquiring more “Palestinian” land – are you referring to the fact that Israelis are building in their own neighbourhoods?

    And I’m not losing any sleep over the “slur” against Lee Rhiannon – thanks to people like her, some nice people I know are having their business attacked by idiots who insist that an Israeli company owns their stores which is rubbish – they are owned by an Australian company, which is ultimately owned by Australian citizens, who don’t need this crap in their lives.

  • Harry,

    From our moderation policy

    Although you may use a psuedonym when commenting, please do not use more than one psuedonym to comment on a single article as it is misleading and creates a false impression of consensus.

    We kindly request that you do not violate this policy. Please feel free to contact the editors should you have any queries relating to this matter.

  • frosh says:

    Jenny,
    You wrote: “All Greens reject anti-semitism in all its forms”
    That’s an absurd statement (about any major political party) – how could you possibly know that?

    Interestingly, the NSW Greens have recently been embroiled in racial profiling scandal – racial profiling of Jews.

  • ariel says:

    akiva,

    I would love to hear Landau speak and hope I can make it.
    It’s always nice to hear different viewpoints from Israel.

    But I won’t assist him in achieving his vision (whatever it is) nor will I prevent him from doing so – it’s not my role as an armchair observer (albeit a passionate one). That’s the role of Israelis.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Jenny – this is not about “All Greens”.

    My comment was limited to Rhiannon, and people who share her views. I expressed my opinion that her focus on Israel over and above any other foreign conflict is distorted, and her activism against Israel reflects a distorted understanding of the issues.You may not agree with it but it’s not that far from what Bob Brown has said about her, and it’s not a slur.
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/victorian-greens-distance-themselves-from-nsw-branchs-israel-boycott/story-fn59niix-1226031927385

    She has also been criticised by NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham. http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/antiisrael-boycott-opens-fresh-split-in-greens-20110908-1jzy7.html

    Her support for BDS reflects a distorted understanding of the Israel/ Palestine issue, including that it ignores the obstacles to resolution. If you are interested in why BDS is seen as so problematic, read this piece by Naomi Chazan of the New Israel Fund which is a powerful case for a just resolution, and against BDS.

    http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2760806.html

    BDS has its own layers of injustice and is also counterproductive as Chazan explains:
    “global BDS, because it is directed against Israel and all Israelis, indirectly or directly undermines the very existence of the state of Israel. To question the existence of Israel is akin to calling for the elimination of Israel. Sometimes it’s a codeword for a one-state solution, which denies the right of Israel and Jews to self-determination.”

    My piece was mainly about why some n the Jewish community resist more open discussion about Israel . One of the reasons is that there is defensiveness about the distorted and entirely disproportionate focus on this conflict and the lack of balance and context in the way people like Rhiannon address this issue. Of course pithy messaging is not a solution to the underlying political problems, but it may be a partial solution to hateful sloganeering, epitomised by the unthinking Max Brenner boycotters whom Rhiannon has said are using a legitimate tactic.

    You refer to accusations of antisemitism being used to shut down discussion. I didn’t accuse anyone of antisemitism or anything else except having political views that I dont agree with.

    I am advocating broad discussion about Israel in the hope for rational and balanced discussion, and in the place of propaganda from either side of the spectrum.

  • ariel says:

    Max Brenner was the guest chef/judge on Junior Masterchef the other night.
    Let’s see Rhiannon boycott Channel 10!!

  • letters in the age says:

    the interview with phillip adams is worth listing to also on radio national.

    ……………….hes not unusual , but refreshing and insightful.

  • Reality Check says:

    Jenny, spare me. Rhiannon not anti-Semitic? Yeah right, nor is Ahmadinejad. Just have a look at what she rants on about. Only the Jews aren’t allowed to defend themselves. They should go back to Europe.

  • PETER SM says:

    I listened(shtum) to Mr Landau, I found his answers evasive and unbalanced, tailored to the people who invited him.
    The naïveté of some in the audience of Arab intentions is breathtaking. Despite clear Arab statements on various issues such as Jews who would be ethnic cleansed out of any future Palestine or officially published anti semitic lies and incitement in Arab state controlled media or Abbas claim of all Israel as occupied Palestine and public denial of Jewish history in Israel.

  • PETER SM says:

    The Greens ? They are being white anted from within by doctrinaire ultra leftists,whose hatred for Israel or a Jewish state is deeply embedded in their ideology.
    Hence the only foreign issue that brings them to the barricades is Israel. Lee Rhianons ignorant rantings are a product of her Stalinist upbringing.
    It is important to remember she got elected on preferences from the major parties.

  • HarryJohns says:

    See the latest reports in the AJN and on JWire about the negative impact that Landau’s visit has had (http://www.jwire.com.au/news/landau-sparks-controversy/20668).

    This pin-up boy for the NIF once again shows the group for what it is – an avowedly left-wing organisation dedicated to the besmirching of Israel. And this is of course all done in the name of “pluralism” and “free speech”.

  • HarryJohns says:

    Oh yes, and Landau and Ms Rhiannon should get together. Their views are so similar that it is hard to tell them apart.

    Perhaps the NIF should have invited Rhiannon to speak – they would have saved a plane fare and Mr Landau’s speaking fee.

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