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Trying to make sense of..... « Previous | |Next »
November 11, 2003

The recent campaign against the awarding of a peace prize to the Palestinian activist, Hanan Ashrawi, was disturbing. But it is hard the finger on what is disturbing. I't has to do with ethics in politics and I'm struggling. So here is a stab.

It was not disturbing that the campaign was conducted by those supporters of Israel who are clusted around the right-wing, independent think tank the Australia/Israeli & Jewish Affairs Council(AIJAC). Nor was it disturbing that the campaign succeded in getting Sydney University to withdraw the use of its Great Hall for the presentation of the peace prize; or that the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Lucy Turnbull, dissociated the City of Sydney, sponsor of the prize, from the presentation.

It was the content in the campaign that was disturbing, given that this was one of the few times we had heard a Palestinian voice in Australia. So what was disturbing about the campaign content?

In an earlier post I said that there was a resistance to any erudite Palestinian being recognized or honoured; as a well as an attempt to prevent Palestinians from speaking their own moral/political language of resistance to occupation by a hostile power and the systematic and intense violence against the Palestinian population.

However, what is disturbing goes deeper than language. It is also the blindness to the implications of that campaign: the support for Israel as an exclusivist Jewish state.

I found this article by Antony Loewenstein useful in trying to make sense of the blindness. Antony starts by quoting an Israeli philosopher:

'The distinguished Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovitz said in 1968 about the then recent occupation: "A state governing a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners is bound to become a security service state, with all this implies for the spirit of education, freedom of speech and thought and democracy. Israel will be infected with corruption, characteristic of any colonial regime."'

Andy then comments:

"Thirty-five years on, these words have become tragically prophetic. Many Jews can no longer sit by and watch the continuing catastrophe without comment, and look in shame at the ways in which successive Israeli governments have behaved in the occupied territories."

Israel has changed and some Jews are speaking up. Why so? What do they find disturbing?

First, the current mindset, which is one in which the Sharon Government has convinced itself and Washington that it is fighting a war on terrorism. In this mindset Israel----now identified as the Jewish state---is besieged by fundamentalist Islamists who want to see its destruction. This mindset blocks out the reality of many of Israeli state's questionable actions; such as those that parallel apartheid-like policies towards Palestinians. Or those that displace Palestinians from their homeland, the violence against them by the settlers and the lack of redress for their grievances.

Let us call that the Zionism mindset. That term refers to the ultra-right nationalist strand in Israeli politics which currently holds power in Israel. This mindset is what was behind the campaign against Hanan Ashrawi. This mindset reduces the problem to Israel's right to exist and it identifies Israel as exclusively Jewish. Since Arab-Israeli citizens are non-Jews, so they must be made to leave Israel and never be allowed to return. This is ethno-nationalism with a vengance.

Secondly, we have a very closed discourse in Australia about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The critics of this right-wing expansionist Zionism in Australian political discourse are characteristed as the Australia Left, and they are seen as denying Israel's right to self-determination. So they are defined as anti-Jewish, viewed as a racists denying the Jews' right to a homeland and vilified as anti-Semites.

What is also disturbing is the way the critics are misrepresented by the Zionists in Australia. Let me state my position clearly to avoid polemics about my sympathies for the Palestinians. Jews are entitled to a homeland. Israeli has the right of self-determination. Israel has the right to exist. Israeli needs security and secure borders. A two-state solution is the only viable one at the moment.

What is questionable is the way the Israeli state as a regional power currently treats the Palestinian people. The occupation smacks of colonialism of their land, as do the discriminatory laws against Israeli Arabs. So also the continually expanding settlements, the building of a Berlin Wall and the constant confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land. Some of the Israeli state's actions indicate a shift to an apartheid regime; if not the ultimate expulsion of all Palestinians to Jordan.

Right wing Zionism means that Israel's drive to maintain dominion over the occupied Palestinian territories is shaped by an exclusivist ethno-nationalism. An expanded Israel can only a homeland for Jews.

That ethno-nationalism is not acceptable for Australia, since it gives us an Anglo-Celtic Australia. By failing to stand firm in the face of right-wing Zionist campaign, the Sydney liberal establishment (eg., Sydney University and the Sydney City Council), tacitly embraced, and accepted exclusivist ethno-nationalism. They did so despite their official commitment to multiculturalism in Australia.

So why is an exclusivist ethno-nationalism ethically okay for Israel when it is not ethically okay for Australia? What is the ethical difference here? I just see ethical blindness.

It is the lack of criticism of the right-wing Zionist conception of Israel as an exclusivist Jewish state that is disturbing.

What does that say about Australia?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:01 PM | | Comments (5)


"So why is an exclusivist ethno-nationalism ethically okay for Israel when it is not ethically okay for Australia?"

Because Muslims hate Jews more than any other religious and/or ethinic group hates another. And the Jews very, very long history of being discriminated against and even being targeted for genocide.

Like, why would they be paranoid, eh? Can't the Jewish civilians with nails in their bodies from Palestinian bombs see things as rationally as us?

that response evades the issue of Arab-Israei's who are citizens of Israel.

An exclusively Jewish state would exclude them from continuing to be citizens. They would become legal non-entities within the state of Israel.

Only Jews can be citizens in terms of this ethno-nationalism.

So what happens to the Arab Iraeli "citizens" who are no longer citizens?

These would be the same Arab-Israelis who, as patients in Israeli hospitals, cheer when Jewish victims of terrorism come into the hospital? Who can blame the Jews from wanting to be rid of these people. Not me.

Instead of linking opposition to the the Ashrawi prize with Zionism, have you considered that even non-Zionists mightn't like the idea of giving a peace prize to someone who supported the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait?

Ashrawi sums up in her acceptance speech- "For the conflict to be resolved its causes must be identified and solved, while grievances and fears on both sides must be addressed and laid to rest." to which most of us who witness the ongoing conflagration would say- "And you get a peace prize for that?"
I think the general public is getting a bit cynical about such Kellogs awards.

Maybe it is also for what she has done within Palestine--ie. rebuilding institutions (to make the Palestinian state more democratic) or to make Palestine a more just society.