« doing the Ali shuffle | Main | the guardians »

October 25, 2004


Barry Cohen, a former Minister in the Hawke/Keating Labor Government, says that anti-semitism is rife in Australia and in the ALP. He also says that he is sick of the calumny heaped on Israel - most of which is a pack of lies--that is put out by people who march behind banners equating Israel with Nazism.

The background context to this situation in the US can be found here. The background context to the debate in Australia can be found here and here. The current political situation in Israel.

The case Cohen makes is this.

He says that the handful of pro-Palestinian supporters in the ALP "has grown steadily as the party has become dominated by the education mafia; former public servants and party union apparatchiks. There are Labor MPs who are vigorous supporters of Israel but their numbers are diminishing and they are being drowned out by the more vociferous members of Labor's hard Left."

He says that when "Australian Jews respond to the grotesque exaggeration about Israel, we are accused of being part of the "Jewish lobby....Israel's opponents in Australia now include those who support the Palestinians not for ideological reasons but because of the increased number of Arab voters in their electorates."

He then describes the mentality of the hard left as one that says the cause of September 11 was America's Middle East policies and their failure to rein in the Israelis. This is repeated ad nauseam by one left/liberal commentator after another.

Cohen says that the (left-liberal crowd in the) Labor Party can "support the Palestinians providing the case they put is not based on the lies spouted by the Palestinian propaganda machine." He adds that "silence on these issues isn't good enough for me. If people want to criticise Israel, fine - plenty of Israelis do. But let it be reasoned criticism, and if they want even-handedness let them also berate the Arab world for its denial of basic human rights for any of its citizens."

That is Cohen's case.

I notice that nowhere in the article does Cohen acknowledge that the Palestinians have a case. Cohen does not even mention the Israeli settlements in Palestinan territory of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Those territories are occupied by the settlers who are supported by the Israeli state. Cohen says nothing about the fundamentalist, xenophobic and anti-democratic settlers opposing Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories. Cohen assumes a unified Israel not a deeply divided one.

Nor does he mention that the Israeli right's policies are aimed at preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state. They are designed to make the West Bank Palestinians stateless persons, who have no civil rights and no recognition as persons in the law. So their lives are spent petitioning for things other people take for granted. Their property and lives can be taken at will.

The failure to acknowledge this case --Palestinian national self-determination and citizenship via a two state solution---means that Cohen is equating criticism of Israel under the Sharon government with anti-semitism--- the standard ploy of the (neo-con?) Israeli right. The right (religious settler movement) is not equivalent to Israel as a Jewish nation.

Their argument is that the Israeli people have the right to defend themselves; they should defend themselves; and they also have an obligation to prevent Israeli children being killed by suicide bombers, from being killed by Palestinian terrorists.


But what is not said, or acknowledged, even in times when Israel launches bloody incursions into the occupied territories, is that the Palestinian people have similar rights and obligations. They also have the right and an obligation to defend themselves and their children from being killed by the Israeli military. And they should do so.

Would Cohen accept that? Would he accept that as a legitimate response to his case?

I have my doubts. Cohen says that he doesn't "want even-handedness when it ought to be obvious to all but the blind that there is no moral equivalence between a country that seeks to defend its citizens from thousands of terrorist attacks, and the terrorists themselves." Fine. But his language implies that he aims that criticism just at the Palestinians.

If you change 'terrorist' to 'military', then you can aim the statement back at Israel. The sentence would read: it ought to be obvious to all but the blind that there is no moral equivalence between a country that seeks to defend its citizens from thousands of military attacks, and the military themselves.

Is that reworking of moral equivalence acceptable? If not why not?

Note that my left liberal hard left argument does not equate Israel with Nazism. It is an argument based on a colonial (Israel) colonized (Palestine) relationship. Maybe that relationship is not the right one to make sense of this conflict. If it is not, then an argument has to be shown for why the self-determination of the Palestinian people is inappropriate claim re a two state solution.

Cohen fails to persuade. He fails to acknowledge that both sides are responsible for the violence, the sense of drift towards chaos, and the deep foreboding.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 25, 2004 12:05 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Anti-Semitism:

» Sydney Peace Prize Lecture: 2003#4 from philosophy.com
In the light of this I want to return to pick up the thread in this post and continue with Hanan Ashrwai's 2003 Sydney Peace Lecture. The lecture was entitled Peace in the Middle East: A Global Challenge and a Human Imperative. Hanan makes a remark tha... [Read More]

Tracked on October 25, 2004 03:28 PM

» While I was out from John Quiggin
I've been off the air with database problems for a day or so, and missed some important developments. First, there was the bad news of the first Australian military casualties in Iraq, an unfortunate but inevitable development, given that insurgents... [Read More]

Tracked on October 26, 2004 09:33 AM


I'm sorry Gary. I'm a reasonably regular reader of your blog since I discovered it in the lead-up to the election and I find what you say often entertaining and sometimes enlightening but the hard left has a problem when it comes to the current situation between Israel and the Palestinians and unfortunately you've followed the position to the letter.

You split hairs by stating that nowhere does Cohen state that Palestinians have a case. Whilst he does not, he does say that "Nowhere is Israel subjected to more criticism than in Israel." Now he isn't talking about criticism regarding the public transport system, the environment, the weather, health funding or any of the myriad issues that occupy vast amounts of time, energy, newsprint and electrons in this country. It is quite clear that the criticism pertains to the conflict with the Palestinians.

Your comments that Palestinians have a right to defend themselves are right out of the moral equivalency playbook that the SL wing of the ALP love trotting out. No, killing innocent civilians is not defending oneself or one's family. No, killing politicians no matter how obnoxious is not defending one's home. I could go on and on but a comments section is not the venue for this argument. Yes, before you ask I am Jewish, my mother is Israeli and whilst I have qualms about Israeli policies and actions towards the Palestinians engaging in hand-wringing, breast-beating and passing racist resolutions in the UN is not going to bring a genuine peace any closer.

If you want to focus on tragedies the world is not short of them. How about campaigning for UN intervention in Darfur. Woops I forgot that the conflict is between two ethnically different Islamic groups. Apparently a little too difficult for the SL wing to get its head around.

Posted by: Noam at October 25, 2004 09:42 PM

You are quite right to pull me up.

My sentence "Cohen assumes a unified Israel not a deeply divided one" is dead wrong. As you point out Cohen says that "Nowhere is Israel subjected to more criticism than in Israel." And as you point out Cohen is clearly referring to criticism that pertains to the conflict with the Palestinians.

However, I do think that you misread what I wrote. I granted Cohen his case re Israel's right and duty to defend itself. I did not challenge it.

What I did dois questioned the way he interpreted his opponents--the hard left mentalty.

I suggested that a similar argument to Cohen's can be made for the Palestinians. They too have a right and duty to defend themselves from a military that kills civilians.

I then said that that was not saying that Israeli actions are the same as Nazism. I denied Cohen's claim.

I suggested that Cohen would not accept my reversal argument. Neither do you. The question is why.Your argument is unclear on this point.

I did reference the Hanan Ashwrai 2003 Sydney Peace Lecture. I did so because she is arguing that both sides are contributing to a circle of violence and destruction. That is quite a different argument to the one Cohen makes. It is a pity that he did not address it.

What then is wrong with my reversal of the Cohen argument?

PS I rejigged the post to try and make my argument clearer.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 25, 2004 10:26 PM

Yes, I understand the objection that Israel is equated with Nazism (the subtle complexities of both situations can not be reduced to this type of swift and uncritical comparison). However, I am equally tired when any criticism of Israels foreign policy is - just as swiftly and uncritically - equated with anti-Semitism. All governments: US, Australian, and British for instance, are (thankfully) subject to constant critique of their foreign policy - why should the Israeli government be immune from such consideration? Perhaps we should consider the possibility that the term "anti-Semitism" is a politically expedient term - far too readily - employed in an attempt to undermine even healthy attempts to make a nation, such as Israel, accountable for it actions. (And no, this is not to suggest that Palestinians should be any less accountable; Israeli accountability and Palestinian accountability are not mutually exclusive possibilities.)

Posted by: angst at October 26, 2004 12:47 PM

We should argue the case that the rightwing Israeli government should be accountible for its actions, whilst fighting and criticizing anti-Semitism (racism)as a racism.

What is rarely mentioned is Israeli rascism preached by Rabbi's, eg., Rabbi Meir Kahane.

These religious fundamentalists say their aim is to drive all the Arabs out of the country that God promised them. And the land God promised them is not the Palestine of the British mandate; it is the Promised Land - including Jordan, Lebanon and parts of Syria and Sinai.

Quoting the Bible they say that they have come to Israel not only to inherit, but also to disinherit the others, to drive them out and take their place.

Their tactic is settlement; settlements that have gradually stolen the lands and water of the neighboring Palestinian villages, uprooted their trees, blocked their roads and built new roads, barred to Palestinians. Almost all the settlements have spawned satellite outposts on the nearby hills.

You rarely hear those Australians who stand with Israel saying much about the religious fundamentalists in the settler movement and their indifference for liberal democracy and the institutions of the state. Their hard core says that when the resolutions of the Knesset contradict the Halakha (Jewish religious law), then the Halakha has priority. After all, the Knesset is just a gang of corrupt politicians. And what value have the secular laws, copied from the Goyim (Gentiles), compared to the word of God, blessed be his name?

The Australians who stand with Israel need to become critical of the relgious fundamentalists as they challenge not only the policy of the government, but Israeli democracy as such. They declare openly that their aim is to transform Israel from a democratic republic into a Halakhic one. They are theocrcats.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 26, 2004 02:07 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)