Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) was launched on March 5, 2007 following the emergence of similar groups overseas in Britain and Germany, and earlier in the US and Netherlands.

Our statement of principles was published in the leading Australian newspapers with 120 signatories, including prominent Australian academics, writers and lawyers. Only three weeks after the launch, the number of signatories was over 450 and more than that of the British group.

In common with other such groups, IAJV is concerned about the narrow range of opinion and fact that is available in the mainstream media on Israel/Palestine and also with the uncritical stance of the leadership of the organized Jewish community. The statement criticized the vilification of dissenting Jews as self-hating or disloyal.

IAJV was founded by Peter Slezak, Antony Loewenstein, Eran Asoulin, and James Levy.


What is IAJV and how does it function?

Since there has been some unclarity about the character and operations of IAJV, it’s important that we articulate the principles that guide our activities.

In keeping with the goals enunciated in our originally published IAJV statement, we as organizers are concerned to widen the debate about Israel/Palestine and thereby to permit a more honest, productive debate that might foster a better understanding of the issues.

However, IAJV is not an organization or society that has members or a process for collective decision making. Just as a practical matter, it should be evident that conceiving of IAJV in such terms would make it impossible to do anything if we had to consult nearly 500 signatories before we could take any actions. Moreover, these signatories probably won’t agree on any thing else besides that statement they signed and, therefore, it’s evident that they cannot be regarded meaningfully as participants in policy-making or practical decisions.

Nevertheless, some people have felt that the original signatories of the statement that initiated IAJV are ‘stake-holders’ who have a special status as members of an organization who need to be consulted about activities or statements made on their behalf. While such a view may perhaps be understandable, it is neither widely shared nor conceivably appropriate although, of course, an organization with membership, decision-making procedures and political platform along such lines could emerge in the future. For the moment, however, IAJV is not such an organization or society and we, the organizers, must do whatever we hope is worthwhile and constructive towards the broad principles enunciated in the original statement – that is, towards creating a wider, more honest debate.

Of course, we must be scrupulous in ensuring that no-one is in any way associated with a statement that they have not explicitly endorsed and there should be no implication of this kind.

Since the inception of our website, we have been posting articles and blogs that express the views of their authors and no-one else. We have also announced our plans to organize public lectures which would, obviously, present only the views of the lecturers. To be sure, not everyone will agree with our choices of articles, lecturers or statements and petitions that we may publish or circulate. As one would expect, our second statement did not receive the same support as the first one and, although many people chose to sign it, many others did not.

However, it cannot be a reasonable objection to our role that we circulated the statement without prior consultation with our original signatories. It should be evident that we circulated the statement precisely in order to obtain explicit approvals of those who chose to endorse it. Even if no-one had signed it, our decision to circulate it cannot be criticized as inappropriate.

The fact that fewer people chose to sign our second circulated statement has been fastened upon by critics as evidence that IAJV “leadership lost the support of many rank-and-file members” (Lamm, The Age, April 7, 2008). This is seriously mistaken for several reasons and, in the light of the foregoing remarks, it should be evident that the mistakes are shared by some of our supporters as well. First, precisely because we have no membership, it makes no sense to speak of any loss of support. If our role as a kind of ‘Jewish Get-Up’ is to promote a variety of views, there can be no grounds for concern or criticism if support will vary from occasion to occasion.

Second, we who are organizing and making some effort to give alternative voices a better hearing are in no way “leadership” and we regard such a conception as utterly inappropriate. The idea of such “leadership” is one we reject since it is quite contrary to the spirit of a democratic community of rational inquiry. It should be clear that the practical requirements of active organizing are quite different from “leadership” in an authoritarian, hierarchical sense. In this regard, our conception of IAJV contrasts with the model preferred in the Jewish community (like many others) where official views are provided by leaders and so-called “experts” for the masses to accept uncritically. Instead, we share the Deweyan ideal of a community of equal individuals engaged in inquiry and dialogue.

In this regard, then, our role as organizers is closely analogous to that of editors of a journal or magazine in which articles and statements are published that express the opinions only of those who explicitly sign it.

While others might make different choices about activities we undertake and articles, speakers, statements or views we may publish, we hope we can promote a rational, civilized debate and foster a wider understanding of the facts and issues at stake concerning Israel/Palestine.


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