Slezak questions Rhiannon criticism

Slezak questions Rhiannon criticism

December 19, 2013 by Peter Slezak
It is telling that Alexander Ryvchin’s denunciation of Senator Lee Rhiannon (J-Wire, Dec-18)  fails to mention the grave charges that motivate such critics of Israel, even to rebut them – the egregious, serial violations of human rights, international law and UN resolutions…writes Peter Slezak.

Peter Slezak  photo: Henry Benjamin

Peter Slezak                      photo: Henry Benjamin

Ryvchin entirely neglects the brutal military occupation that has left Palestinians only 15% of the West Bank. Ryvchin makes the usual protest that it is Israel’s security and “right to exist” which is threatened or denied. This is extremely cynical and ironic. The demand that Palestinians recognize Israel’s “right to exist” must be seen in light of the most obvious fact that, after all, Israel does exist, whereas Palestine has virtually disappeared. The Palestinians are not occupying 80% of Israel and pose no security threat to the fourth most powerful military regime in the world.

Among other concerns for critics, Ryvchin’s characterisation of Israel as “the Jewish collective” is impossible to reconcile with its claims to being a democracy when 20% of its citizens are not Jewish and suffer systematic discrimination. Senator Rhiannon is among critics who are concerned with justice, violations of human rights and international law. However, Ryvchin makes the usual disgraceful conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. He fails to acknowledge that most of the sources Rhiannon cites in her Parliamentary address are either Israeli or Jewish such as Professor Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), or the Israeli sergeant who described his commanding officer as a terrorist and Arab-hater who beat up a Palestinian in front of his children. Senator Rhiannon also cites Israeli soldiers of Breaking the Silence and Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem who document gross violations of human rights of Palestinians.

In particular, support for the BDS movement is not anti-Semitic. Even its critics must acknowledge that BDS is based on the call from Palestinian civil society to protest Israel’s serious violations of human rights and international law. After Palestinians had long been condemned for violent resistance to the Israeli occupation, the emergence of peaceful protest through BDS should be welcomed even by those who don’t agree with it. Instead, however, it is denounced and slandered as racist. In fact, BDS is a rights-based movement which is against racism in all forms, notably and explicitly against anti-Semitism. Despite their own rhetoric, most Jews understand that BDS is a political and moral challenge to Israel and its supporters and not a form of anti-Semitism. While it is often characterised as “deligitimizing” Israel (whatever that means), it is actually deligitimizing violations of human rights and international law by Israel: The 600,000 settlers on the West Bank are all in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The separation wall cuts off about ten percent of the West Bank and has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Sixty percent of the West Bank designated Area C is under full Israeli control where Palestinians in villages such as Susiya are evicted from their tents, and their water cisterns and solar panels are destroyed. There have been 28,000 homes of innocent people demolished since 1967. None of this can be explained on the grounds of security or the defense of Israel. The West Bank is criss-crossed by Israeli-only roads and hundreds of check points. Unarmed protesters are regularly shot in their own villages such as Bil’in, Nil’in and Nabi Saleh. And there is the tragedy of Gaza in which 1.5 million people suffer the collective punishment of an ongoing siege and the effects of large-scale military assault. Since their expulsion in 1948, Palestinian refugees are denied their Right of Return in international law, while Jews assert their own spurious “Law of Return” which entitles an Australian or American with no connection to the land to dispossess a Palestinian. This is what BDS is about.

Ryvchin is particularly disingenuous to cite Norman Finkelstein’s critique of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Finkelstein has been critical of certain aspects of BDS but he is a Jew, the son of Holocaust survivors, and academic historian, among the most trenchant critics of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians since their dispossession in 1947. He is, in fact, a supporter of an economic boycott of Israel as a “nonviolent tactic the purpose of which is to achieve a just and lasting settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict.” Ryvchin should heed Finkelstein’s warning that “the real enemies of the Jews” are “those who cheapen the memory of Jewish suffering by equating principled opposition to Israel’s illegal and immoral policies with anti-Semitism.”

 Associate Professor Peter Slezak is co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) and on the Executive of Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN).

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