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Criticising the nation of Israel is justified. Demonising Jewish people is not

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Deb Campbell writes: “Does being anti-Israel mean you’re anti-Semitic? Discuss”. No, it does not, and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition is problematic, as Michael Bradley points out. To be prevented from making observations as set out in several of the examples listed in the IHRA is akin to being prevented from saying that what the German government was doing after 1933 was not anti-Semitic.

As someone who grew up as a fervent supporter of the state of Israel — educated first by a diet of Leon Uris as a teenager — I continued to study the issue and have changed my view over the years as a result of wide further reading. I am not anti-Semitic. I am opposed to many of the current policies and practices of the state of Israel, and what it is doing to the people of Palestine.

I think there is — or at least there can be — validity in this statement: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” I would seriously like to read and discuss how precisely the current Israeli behaviour in Palestinian settlements is different materially from the Nazis seeking “lebensraum” (the territory which a group, state or nation believes is needed for its natural development) in eastern Europe in the 1930s and ’40s. Over the years I have sought to discuss this but it seems it’s not something many are prepared to address.

Open debate is surely preferable than enforced censorship, a serious concern in the university context I would have thought. As a graduate of both Melbourne and Monash universities, I would not have accepted when a student, and do not now accept, this imposed restriction on discussion and discovery, and reject their acceptance of this inhibition of intellectual debate. The IHRA definition should be rejected or significantly amended before endorsement.

Peter Cormick writes: Is denouncing Israel’s actions in the West Bank anti-Semitic? The answer must be an unqualified no. On the contrary, we are all obliged to condemn the atrocities committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinians; many Jews do just that. One such Jew is the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé. In his book Ten Myths About Israel, he deals with the myth that “Zionism is Judaism”. Another of his many books, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, provides much detail on the development of Zionism, which may be broadly described as the secularisation of Judaism. Zionism as practised by the Israeli government very clearly inflames anti-Semitism.

Jonathan Hornibrook writes: I am anti all organised religions, which seem to use the presence of a mythical big daddy in the sky to authorise them to commit murder and mayhem on this planet. I am anti-Israel because of its terrorism and foreign relations practices, as I am anti many other nations that indulge in similar practices. I do not attribute Israel’s malfeasance to its Judaism.

Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel are two very different things.

Martin Munz writes: Michael Bradley gives a good account of some of the problems with the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that its friends in federal Parliament are trying to foist onto the university sector. However, there’s more to the story that indicates the campaign the parliamentary friends have been duped into joining is not succeeding.

That the formation of the Parliamentary Friends of IHRA group was greeted with approval by the Zionist Federation of Australia weeks before the group was launched indicates that the group didn’t materialise out of philo-Semitism (however misguided in the circumstances) or electoral self-interest. Rather, the group results from pro-Israel advocacy that seeks to sanitise, suppress or characterise as anti-Semitic pro-Palestinian narratives.

Reports in The Australian Jewish News that Macquarie, Wollongong and Sunshine Coast universities have adopted the definition aren’t evidenced by documents available on their websites that include the definition and its examples as required by the IHRA organisation. Regrettably, the AJN rarely if ever publishes facts or opinions from other sources or balances its generally partisan reporting. In any event those “adoptions” of the definition predate the Parliamentary Friends campaign.

Of 12 responses received to date responding to the Australian and other academics’ January letter of concern at the Parliamentary Friends’ approach to the universities (more than a quarter of the number of the Australian universities), five advise they will not adopt the definition, and another five are considering their position in light of other definitions and documentation that don’t conflate anti-Semitism with strong criticism of Israel at the outset.

Melbourne appears to be the only university that has adopted the problematic IHRA definition and its controversial contemporary examples of anti-Semitism, while Monash, in a footnote to its new anti-racism guidelines, refers only to the definition without mention of the examples.

Jamie Hyams, senior policy analyst at Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council: The reasons for adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism are simple. Anti-Semitism must be fought. To properly combat something, it must be understood. IHRA’s definition is the most authoritative ever produced, drafted over many years by an international panel of experts on genocide and the Holocaust.

It has been adopted or endorsed by most Western democracies including Australia, and supported by international bodies including the UN and European Union.

Only opponents of the adoption of the definition with its 11 examples, such as Michael Bradley, claim it is about politics, or restricting academic freedom. It is not. It is purely about fighting racism.

Critics claim it unduly restricts criticism of Israel. However, the definition specifically states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitism”. Those who feel unduly restricted by the definition should reflect on why they need to criticise Israel in a way not similar to how they would criticise any other country.

Some examples refer specifically to the targeting of Israel because, as the definition says, Israel may be targeted because it is “conceived as a Jewish collective”. But it only says the examples “could” be anti-Semitism “taking into account the overall context”.

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” is rightly included, because doing so, while demanding that right for others, discriminates against Jews.

Bradley cites supposed “lead drafter” Kenneth Stern, but a letter by the actual three main drafters, explains Stern “played the vitally important but limited role of being the communications hub” and “virtually all others who were involved … continue to believe now that the adoption and use of the working definition is an essential component in the fight against anti-Semitism”.

Afonso Duque-Portugal writes: Anti-Semitism is a position that discriminates against Judaism, a religion, or, supposedly, a race. Jews do not classify as a race even in the historical past as they genetically reflected the regions in which they lived — e.g. Ashkenazi Jews who live in eastern European countries will have Slavic affiliation; Sephardic Jews lived (and still live) in the Iberian Peninsula and will have Iberian blood; in Ethiopia, they are Beta Jews but carry also native Ethiopian ancestry.

So, it is clear Jewishness is not a race but a cultural or religious group. Being an Israeli does not necessarily mean you are a Jew. To be an Israelite means to have an Israelite nationality, by birth or by being granted one. Some Israelis are Jews (i.e. are affiliated with the Jewish religion), others are atheists, some belong to the Islamic faith, other are Christians — Catholics or Orthodox. So when one positions against policies that are discriminatory against Palestinians — a nationality — we are standing against apartheid, against racism, for lack of a better word.

We abhor the horrors of the Holocaust and the pogroms, abject violence against a group of people who due to their cultural and, often, religious affiliation was persecuted; it is unconscionable and, indeed, a shame on our humanity. It is, though, with the same contempt that we oppose the Israeli government’s discriminatory policies and gratuitous violence against the Palestinians; the killings, the evictions, the destruction of property and so on.

Geoff Rees writes: Israel is a nation. Judaism is a religion. Most citizens of Israel happen to be Jewish. To deny equality of human rights and equality of opportunity to the minority is to denigrate their humanity. It is quite simple to distinguish between a religion and the actions of a national government.

If Israel wants to define itself as a theocracy, then by definition it must cease to be regarded as a democracy that values human rights. And yet the current extreme right-wing Israeli government wants the world to accept that to criticise any of its actions that adversely impact any minority as “anti-Semitism”.

Israel can be either a democratic society that promotes the equality of all its citizens (not to mention the human rights of all the Palestinians trapped for more than half a century in the West Bank and Gaza Strip), or it must be regarded by the world as an undemocratic society that discriminates against those who do not fit into the mould of the majority. There’s no difference between that policy of successive Israeli governments and those in Australia who would demonise, for example, Muslims, South Sudanese, Asians, etc.

Discrimination is discrimination. It’s never democratic, and to criticise that discrimination is an obligation of a humane society.

Dr Gideon Polya writes: Decent anti-racist people are morally obliged to denounce Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, and doing so is certainly not anti-Semitic. What certainly is repugnantly anti-Semitic is the IHRA and its adherents falsely defaming ethnically and/or culturally Semitic anti-racist Jews, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as allegedly “anti-Semitic” for criticising the horrendous crimes of apartheid Israel. Anti-racist Jewish American scholar Professor Bertell Ollman (New York University) said: “The Zionists are the worst anti-Semites in the world today, oppressing a Semitic people as no nation has done since the Nazis.”

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Article source: Crikey | Crikey Readers | 17.3.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000