Ameinu Counteracts the “Perverse Ironies” of Our Communal Gatekeepers, Argues Johnny Baker
By Johnny Baker:
A recent viewing of the controversial Israeli documentary, The Gatekeepers, featuring consecutive heads of the Israeli internal security service, left me with feelings diametrically opposed to what I had anticipated. Rather than emerging ashamed and despondent, I experienced a strange sense of pride and hope. After all, if six former Directors of the Shin Bet, spanning a thirty year period, can demonstrate humanity and empathy of the highest order, there is real cause for optimism. These individuals, more so than any other members of Israel’s defence establishment, stand at the coal-face in the struggle against terror. More than any, they have developed an understanding of Israel’s security needs on the one hand, and the aspirations of the Palestinians, on the other. And to a man, although they start from different premises, each has reached the unequivocal conclusion that the ongoing Occupation is unsustainable and debilitating.
Apart from one unfortunate analogy from the ageing Avraham Shalom, there was not a sentiment expressed with which I did not fully concur. Particularly moving was Yuval Diskin’s reaction to the prescient words of Israeli iconoclast Yeshayahu Leibowitz who declared immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War that “if Israel held on to the occupied territories, this would lead to the decline of Israel’s moral stature”. When asked to elaborate, Diskin responded there was nothing he could add because each single word was etched in stone. These gatekeepers, these patriotic Zionists, are an inspiration. They represent a significant sector of Israelis who have a vision of Zionism and the Jewish state as a beacon of democracy and justice. They appreciate the dangers of messianic fundamentalism and understand how it is antithetical to the founding vision of a national movement grounded in the desire to normalise the Jewish condition.
In a perverse irony, the ‘gatekeepers’ of our own community have, in the main, a completely different take on the Zionist enterprise. They are predominantly supporters of the settlement movement and in denial about the corrosive effects of the occupation. Based on past form, five out of six of the previous heads of the Shin Bet (Avi Dichter being the exception) would probably be unwanted guests to our community. The not-welcome mat held out to other distinguished Israelis in the past –Naomi Chazan and David Landau amongst others – is an indicator of this attitude. It is this type of thinking that Ameinu, the Zionist organisation which I proudly head, seeks to remedy.
Ameinu, Hebrew for “Our People”, offers a mainstream and emphatically Zionist voice which at the same time articulates a call for justice and tolerance. We are aligned to like-minded bodies in Israel and the Jewish world. With the growing challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people, we seek to harness the voices of moderation and to project an alternative and responsible voice from within the Zionist community. As Jewish Australians we seek to strengthen our ties with those who are working to build a better, socially more equitable society for all Australians, including refugees fleeing persecution. At the present time, given the centrality of this issue both in Australia and Israel, and in contrast to the pitiful statements of the ECAJ, we seek to formulate a position based on the Jewish experience and ethical tradition.
It must be stressed that Ameinu is neither a lobby group nor, primarily, a fund raising organisation. Unlike NIF, we are part of the WZO internationally and the ZFA locally. Unlike the AJDS, we see ourselves as an integral part of the organised Jewish and Zionist community. And Unlike J-Street, we are not an external lobby group to government, but rather a passionately engaged and at times dissenting group from within.
It is a puzzling paradox that at a time when robust debate is taking place in Israel regarding the nature of the peace process, the values on which the Jewish State should be built and the role of the State in controlling matters of personal status, there is an increasing tendency in the Australian Jewish Community to focus on conformity and to discourage dissent from a uniform– generally conservative – position on matters Israel.
This attitude is distancing many young (and not so young) Australian Jews from the organised Australian Jewish community. It has meant a degree of alienation by a significant minority who have a more liberal political outlook and moderate opinions on Israeli politics and Jewish affairs. Ameinu’s aim is to create a clear and articulate voice for the significant number committed Jews and Zionists in the Australian Jewish community who share our goals and objectives. Thus far, we have succeeded in impacting on the communal debate through our own activities and also through indicating to the ‘established communal leadership’ that they will be held accountable for their words and actions.
We have aligned ourselves with the activities and projects of Ameinu world-wide, particularly with that of Ameinu in the USA, under the leadership of Ken Bob. And, most important, we’ve linked ourselves with progressive voices in Israel – political parties, representative organisations and individuals. In the spirit of, and in deference to, the Gatekeepers of Israel, we are guided by the eternal Jewish values of shalom, tikkun-olam and tzedek.