Travesty and Ratbaggery – Gaita and Geoffrey Brahm Levey respond

Okay, I will delay comment for now. I have spoken to friends, comrades, acquaintances, people of Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian and other descent. I will not yet remove or edit anything I have said (and I should note, whilst I presently am thinking of doing so, I have been encouraged by some not to do so), in the interests of preserving the record for now.

Gaita and IAJV signatory Geoffrey Brahm Levey have responded to what I have written. I thought I would give their writings prominence, though hopefully they do not mind having to share this entry.

Raimond Gaita writes:

I’m surprised at the degree to which Michael Brull misrepresents what I said in my lecture on Gaza that was filmed by Slow TV and dismayed by how recklessly he attributes disreputable motives to me. I assumed that people who publish blogs on the website of Independent Jewish Voices, some of whom have been seriously misrepresented and even vilified, would have been more sober, intellectually and morally.

Rightly or wrongly many people, including those who advocate that there be one state of Arabs of Jews between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, believe that long before the founding of the state of Israel, Jews had a claim to settle in Palestine. The nature of that claim, its basis and its scope is contested. In my lecture I suggested that it is misleading to call the Palestinian Arabs the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine because, in the context in which it is commonplace to call Israel a colonial settler state, it implies that Jews who came to Palestine and established political instiutions there had no more right to do so than the British and other white settlers had the right to do so in Australian – no right at all, in fact.

One can, *of course* disagree with that. Even while seeing the case for it, one can reasonably believe that it is even more misleading, and certainly politically more dangerous to justice for the Palestinians, to say, as I did, that the application of the concept of ‘an indigenous inhabitant’ distorts a just appreciation of the way in which Jews and Arabs have a claim (albeit differently) to the same land. But one should not disagree because one believes that my suggestion denies, or any way softens, the harsh truth that the Palestinians suffered a terrible injustice when they were dispossessed at the hands of the Jews. Nor should anyone disagree because they fear there is a quick route, or perhaps any route at all, from my suggestion to a justification for a Jewish State. Indeed, I said explicitly that though anti-state State Zionists like Jehuda Magnes, Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt “did not believe that Jews who came to Mandate Palestine should, morally speaking, have petitioned the Palestinian Arabs for their right to settle there”, they also did not believe that the Jewish claim extended beyond the right to establish a homeland. That is why, in my previous reply to Brull, I quoted the following from my lecture: “Insofar as one acknowledges that justice does not now require Jews to become mendicants for a place in what was Palestine, insofar as one believes they have a claim to be there − even if one believes it is a claim only to a homeland rather than to a state, or only to be one nation in a bi-national state – then that claim is partly based on a relation to the land which is falsified if Jews are described as the non-indigenous inhabitants. Are they therefore the indigenous inhabitants? To say that would be even more misleading. One should therefore draw the conclusion, I believe, that the concept of ‘an indigenous inhabitant’ hinders rather than helps thinking justly about the conflicting claims of Arabs and Jews to the same territory”.

It is true that the balance of my talk was pro Israeli insofar as I argued against a bi-national state in favour of a two state solution and insofar as I devoted more time to defending Israel against critics than I did to detailing Israeli injustices against the Palestinians. My lecture was the third in a series (that I convened) whose audience had, in the previous two lectures, shown palpable hostility towards Israel. Ghassan Hage (there by my invitation) was to speak the next week and I knew he would argue, passionately, an anti Zionist case. The audience at the series did not need more criticism of Israel. Nor after Gaza does much of the audience for Slow TV. It is true that even after Gaza, much of the Palestinian case needs to be made more strongly to politicians in Australia and elsewhere, but the intelligentsia has, for the most part, accepted it.

Even so, I made clear that that I believed that the Palestinians were the victims of crimes before and after the establishment of the state, that Israel had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza (and though I didn’t say so because I thought it didn’t need saying, not only in Gaza), that Israel lacks the moral authority to demands recognition from Hamas while it refuse fully to recognise the Palestinian right to, and need of, a state. Though I denied that “Zionism is intrinsically racist, that racism is of its essence”, I acknowledged the “probably true claim that for racist reasons common in colonial settler societies the full humanity of the Palestine Arabs was at best only partially visible to early Zionist settlers” and, “that racism against the Palestinian Arabs [probably] now goes deep in Israeli society”. And more.

I said in my talk that if one goes by their words, then millions of Muslims throughout the world hate Jews with a murderous ferocity. I take that to be a statement of fact. If Brull disagrees with it, fine, let him say so and why. It is not a racist claim. For years I have written against racism. Together with Robert Manne I have recently finished editing a book that defends multiculturalism and that includes essays by Waleed Aly, Shakira Hussein and Ghassan Hage. I wrote an introduction and an essay attacking racist hostility to Australian Muslims.

Dismayed though I am by Brull’s travesty of what I said and the alacrity with which he attributes disreputable motives to me, I accept that as, regrettably, par for the course. At a pinch I’m prepared to accept as par for the course Anthony Lowenstein’s accusation, based solely it seems, on his reading of Burr’s original attack on me, that I am an ignorant bigot. I am not, however, prepared to accept as par for the course, Brull’s accusation that I am an “anti Muslim racist”. I don’t hope for much from Brull, but for that defamation, I expect an apology from him and from Independent Jewish Voices because its published his blog on its website.

This will be my last response.


Geoffrey Brahm Levey has written… I’m not sure this qualifies as defence of Gaita, though it is in support of him, and opposition to what I wrote.

I was one of the original signatories to the initial petition announcing IAJV’s existence. Though I disagreed with some of the wording of this year’s IAJV petition against Operation Cast Lead, I signed it because I believed stopping the violence in Gaza and on Gazans was more important than my qualms about some wording. I presented a lecture in the recent ACU lecture series on Gaza. I know Rai Gaita. I read his lecture. And Michael Brull’s characterisation of Raimond Gaita, his lecture on Gaza, and his views on Palestinians and Muslims are totally unwarranted and out of line. Even if Michael Brull was correct on the substantive issues — which, in this case, he’s not — why he thinks impugning somebody’s motives and character is germane to putting and winning an argument is beyond me. Ratbaggery only impresses ratbags. If this is what IAJV has become, you may count me out of any further IAJV activities.

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