Talk by Michael Brull to the session on “Pushing the parameters of being pro-Israel“
At the 2013, Limmud Oz Australia’s annual Festival of Jewish learning and culture
I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
Suppose you had a son, and your son took up heroin. To pay for his habit, he broke into cars and robbed people.
Would you encourage him? Would you buy him a knife and a crowbar?
Or would you tell him that he was on a stupid and self-destructive path? That what he was doing was wrong, and you hoped for better from him? Would you let him continue on his way? Or would you encourage him to choose a better path? Would you beg and plead with him until he did so?
In my view, the answer is obvious. Anyone who loves their son would hate to see their son doing things that hurt himself. They would want to feel proud of him, and would hope to guide him towards doing the right thing.
Suppose, however, that some guy you absolutely hate took up heroin and robbery. Would you put the same amount of passion and dedication into helping him onto a better path? Or would you quietly watch as he destroyed his life? Perhaps, if you hated him enough, you might even offer him some encouragement. Maybe you’d tell him he should ignore his critics and live life however he saw fit.
For those of you who claim to love Israel, my question is, in what sense do you love it? Do you love it like you would your own son? Or do you love it in the same way that you love your worst enemy? Do you encourage it to do the right thing, and to avoid a self-destructive path? Or do you say that everything it does is great, and attack anyone who disagrees? In short, do you help Israel, or are you an enabler?
We’ve seen the answer of some, such as those who wanted to ban my friend Peter Slezak from speaking at Limmud Oz. According to the Jewish News, the Jewish Board of Deputies President and Executive Council of Australian Jewry Vice President, Yair Miller, together with the JCA President, ‘met with Limmud Oz organisers, who agreed they had included speakers who ‘have crossed the line’’. I’d love to know who the other subversives are, Mr Miller.
This panel originally wasn’t going to include Mr Miller, but he was imposed on our panel by the Limmud Oz heads. I’m glad that he is here today, because I have been criticising his organisations for years, and hopefully today he can respond to some of my criticisms.
In 2008, ECAJ and AUJS wrote a submission to a Senate inquiry on academic freedom. ECAJ did so as ‘the representative body of the Australian Jewish community’.
In their submission, they invent five schools of historiography on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. School four is described as ‘Israeli post-revisionists’, and has one author: Benny Morris. The submission virtually demands Benny Morris be taught at universities. He is described as ‘easily the most reputable and authoritative author’ on the Palestinian refugee problem, and lament that in a single Macquarie university course, his work was not listed in the required readings.
However, they also say who should not be taught. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s writings are described as ’focussed almost exclusively on demonising and delegitimising Israel’. US scholar Norman Finkelstein is condemned for the ‘immoderate nature’ of his ‘anti-Israel and anti-Western views’. They conclude that ‘On any analysis, the writings of both Pappe and Finkelstein would satisfy the working definition of anti-Semitism’. No evidence is adduced for this scurrilous claim about two Jewish authors, presumably because none exists.
From the submission, one might get the impression that ECAJ and AUJS were concerned about racism. This impression would be misleading. The proof is in their promotion of Benny Morris.
In a famous Ha’aretz interview, Benny Morris announced that ‘Ben-Gurion was a transferist… There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing… A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population.’
However, Morris was critical of Ben-Gurion in one respect: ‘he got cold feet during the war. In the end, he faltered.’ Morris explained that ‘If he was already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job. I know that this stuns the Arabs and the liberals and the politically correct types. But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country – the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake.’
Morris went on to explain that Palestinian society ‘is in the state of being a serial killer. It is a very sick society’. ‘The Arab world as it is today is barbarian.’
So whilst ECAJ legitimises someone who openly spouts anti-Arab racism, and demands that he be made mandatory reading for university students, they pretend to be offended by the alleged anti-Semitism of Jewish scholars. This is a classic case of the cynical abuse of the issue of racism by major Jewish organisations, for the sole purpose of serving the interests of the Israeli government.
When the racism of Benny Morris was brought to the attention of Cambridge University’s Israel Society, they disinvited him, explaining that ‘There was no intention to “give racism a platform”.’ The Jewish Board of Deputies chose a different path. They gave him a platform for a speaking tour when he came to Australia. JBD CEO Vic Alhadeff even introduced Morris at one of his talks. Alhadeff began proceedings by describing the JBD’s work against racism.
No one else has commented on, or detected any irony in this. And why should they? The JBD claims to be upset by racism, but what they really care about is anyone criticising the Israeli government, and, occasionally, actual anti-Semitism. Like ECAJ, they are a Jewish enabler organisation.
This is not to suggest that no one can learn anything from Benny Morris’s work. I imagine that if the major Jewish organisations were more familiar with it, they would be less enthusiastic about Morris. For example, in Righteous Victims, Morris wrote:
Like all occupations, Israel’s was founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation and manipulation… Military administration, uncurbed by the civil rights considerations that applied in Israel, possessed ample measures to suppress dissidence and protest. These included curfews; house arrest, with resulting loss of wages; judicial proceedings, ending in prison terms or fines – the work of the military courts in the territories, and the supreme court which backed them, will surely go down as a dark age in the annals of Israel’s judicial system – or expulsions; administrative detentions, or imprisonment without trial, for renewable six-month terms; and commercial and school shutdowns, usually in response to shopkeepers’ strikes or disturbances by students.
Morris notes that resistance was met with:
Brutal repression. Midnight sweeps and arrests, beatings, sensory deprivation measures, and simple, old style torture to extract information and confessions; a system of military courts which bore no resemblance to the administration of justice in Western democracies (or, for that matter, in Israel proper); the demolition (or sealing) of suspects’ houses; long periods of administrative detention; and deportations – all were systematically employed.
This has been going on since 1967. For 46 years, Israel has ruled over the West Bank and Gaza, whilst denying their inhabitants their basic human rights – except for the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, who are subject to domestic Israeli law. Ehud Barak said two years ago that ‘As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic… If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.’ That is, if nothing changes, Israel will be an apartheid state.
Last year, a poll found that 58 percent of Israeli Jews believe that Israel practices apartheid. Only 31 percent said ‘there is no apartheid’.
Shortly after the occupation began, the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz issued a prophecy. He warned that the occupation would not only be oppressive, but would destroy democracy within Green Line Israel. The occupation would lead to ‘self-destruction of the Jewish state, and of relations with the Arabs based on perpetual terror.’ It was ‘unlikely that human rights and civil freedoms can exist even within the Jewish sector’. He concluded, ‘There is no way out of this situation except withdrawal from the territories.’
In May last year, a demonstration, mostly organised by Likud activists, was held. Over a thousand gathered, to demand the expulsion of ‘infiltrators’ – the term pervasively used to refer to Africans. Likud MK Miri Regev referred to the Sudanese as ‘a cancer in our body’. The angry mob proceeded to attack Africans, smash shops and car windows, and chanted ‘the people want the Africans to be burned’.
A poll found that 52 percent of Jewish Israelis agreed that Africans in Israel are a ‘cancer’. Miri Regev later apologised for comparing the Africans to humans.
Israel is going down a very ugly path. Anyone with their eyes open has seen the waves of repressive legislation and national chauvinism sweeping the country. And yet, the official community organisations have chosen not to love Israel like a son, but to hate it like an enemy. As enablers, supporting whatever it does, and trying to prevent a hearing for contrary views. We have word from no less than the former JBD president, Robin Margo, that the ‘majority of’ Australian Jews ‘have heard only the official party line on Israel for years.’
That is the truth. We have heard only the official party line from organisations like the one Mr Margo led. We are going to hear the official party line soon from Mr Miller. These organisations have been enablers, and loved Israel like an enemy, not a son. And so, dear audience. It is up to you to decide how you want to support Israel, and what you’re going to do about it.