Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Israeli Occupation Force Intelligence Officers refuse to serve and expose Israel's control and oppression of Palestinians

Dear friends,
I am a little late in posting this up due to being swamped with other work. In the last week, 43 elite Israeli Occupation Force officers from the IOF Intelligence Unit have issued a letter refusing to serve.  The letter by the soldiers reveal the exact nature of Israel's control over Palestinian lives and the intelligence gathering (ie. spying) is not about ensure the security and safety of Israel or its citizens, it is about controlling and oppressing Palestinians, about turning them into collaborators.  It is about undermining opposition to Israel's human rights abuses and oppression of the Palestinian people.

I have included below an interview published in YNET with some of the IOF Intelligence refuseniks, as well as Gideon Levy's article from Haaretz.

In solidarity, Kim


Intel troops: Why we won't serve in occupied territory

In letter sent to PM and chief of staff, 43 officers, soldiers, graduates of the IDF's elite intelligence unit, 8200, say they will no longer report for reserve duty related to the Palestinian arena. 'No one asks himself if the targets we collect for the air force justify ruining the lives of 1.5 million people,' they say.
Elior Levy, YNET, 12 September 2014

For D., it happened after his discharge from the army, when he saw the movie, The Lives of Others, about the Stasi, Communist East Germany's secret police, who listened in on people and thus invaded their private lives. "I was shocked," he says. "On the one hand, I identified with the victims, with the persecuted side, who were denied rights that are so fundamental that I take them for granted. On the other hand, I suddenly realized that during my military service, I was on the side of the persecutors, that we do the exact same thing, only far more efficiently."
The feelings of unease befell N. much earlier, already during the course of her military service, when as a representative of Unit 8200 she witnessed an assassination operation in which the target was mistakenly identified and a child was killed instead.

(Photo: Tal Shahar)
(Photo: Tal Shahar)

"In Dan Halutz's famous speech, with the controversial remark about a light tap on the wing (following the 2002 targeted killing of the head of Hamas' military wing, Salah Shehadeh, that also resulted in the death of 14 civilians, E.L.), he essentially said to the pilots, 'You're ok, you don't see the full intelligence picture and you carry out orders, and so you can sleep well at night,'" N. says.
"So the pilots aren't responsible for the killing because they are simply carrying out orders, and the people at 8200, too, aren't responsible for the killing because they carry out intelligence work only and pass on the information. Everyone shirks responsibility. So who then isn't supposed to sleep well at night? I think we all signed this letter because we realized that we aren't able to sleep well at night."
Read full letter (Hebrew)

D. and N. are two of the 43 officers and soldiers serving as reservists in the elite intelligence unit, 8200, who this week signed a letter in which they declare they refuse to play any part in actions against Palestinians and while therefore no longer report for reserve duty in that arena. "Our consciences won't allow us," they wrote, "to continue to serve this system and violate the rights of millions of people."

This is the first time that reserve members of the unit have drawn up a letter of refusal. "The general perception is that service in the Intelligence Corps is devoid of moral dilemmas and functions only to reduce violence and harm to the innocent," the letter reads. "During the course of our service, however, we learned that intelligence is an integral part of the military control over the territories. The Palestinian population, under military rule, is totally exposed to espionage and surveillance on the part of Israeli intelligence. In light of this, we have come to the conclusion that as individuals who served in Unit 8200, we, too, bear responsibility for the situation and are obliged to take action. We call on current and future Intelligence Corps soldiers, and the citizens of Israel at large, to sound their voices against these wrongs and to work towards bringing them to an end. We believe that the future of the State of Israel, too, depends upon it."
In their first interview, the reservists who signed the letter offer a rare glimpse of the soul-searching they went through in the framework of their service in the Israel Defense Forces' largest intelligence-gathering unit, which has long served as a breeding ground for the Israeli hi-tech industry and sends many of its graduates into high-powered positions in the economy and society. The incidents they speak about, they adamantly stress, have no connection to Operation Protective Edge, in which they didn't take part.

A Pandora's Box of thoughts

Six members of the unit came to the interview, which took place at the apartment of one of them, armed with written testimonies from other signatories. The people behind the initiative note that most of those who signed the letter do reserve duty in Unit 8200 and, from the point of the view of the IDF, are available for call-up at any given time. Some until now have exercised their refusal to do reserve duty under various pretenses, during Operation Protective Edge too.

(Photo: Tal Shahar)
(Photo: Tal Shahar)
"The unit is very much like a family, so the commander calls your directly to see if you can come for reserve duty; there's no mediation by a liaison officer with an official call-up," explains R. "We developed a system of avoiding duty using different excuses every time – an exam or a trip abroad. Thus, in essence, I avoided reporting for reserve duty without declaring that I refuse." 

They are very sure of themselves and the dramatic step they have taken; nevertheless, the stress they are under is plain to see. Some are studying towards advanced degrees; others have already found positions in industry. They are the kind of people that Israeli society is happy to embrace and take pride in when all is well. But now – as is evident to them – they are about to pay the price. 

"And that's the hardest part for me – that people will view what we are doing as treason," confesses S., a reservist officer from the unit and the highest-ranking signatory on the letter. "We all know that such a step places us beyond the boundaries of the Israeli consensus. Very many people support us and identify with us, but they fear the reactions and the personal price they would have to pay, and so they refused to sign," he says. 

"I approached several people, and a good friend of mine from the unit said to me, 'I agree 100 percent with what is said in the letter, but I am afraid it would be detrimental to the career I am planning,'" N. relates. "Even the person who told me about the initiative didn't sign in the end because he got cold feet." 

S. has no second thoughts about his decision, but is agonizing about the potential implications. "We want to reach the Israeli public and not to be shunned by it," he says. Our wish is for the message to be understood, for it to be a statement by people concerned about the situation here and who are doing it because we care and not for the purpose of burning bridges. But I am sure there will be elements who will exploit the letter and call it treason, just like they do these days to anyone who defies the consensus." 

The idea of the letter had been simmering in their minds for a year. It started with a regular chat among members of the unit who remained in touch after their military service. "After my discharge, I felt like I had a Pandora's Box of thoughts," D. relates. "I started talking to a few people and discovered that many feel the same. It was all went ahead very cautiously. We spoke about our thoughts and the questions, and we thought about courses of action that we could choose. We began initially by formulating a declaration that we could stand behind. It took a very long time and went through various versions. 

"It was important for us for the letter to be precise and focused so that it would win as widespread support as possible. Our refusal to serve relates only to the Palestinian arena and not to the other arenas with which the unit deals. Precisely because we think that refusal is a very radical and drastic step, particularly in Israeli society, it was important for us to make it clear in the letter that we are refusing only because from a moral perspective we are unable to be a tool to intensify the military control in the territories." 

After they formulated the letter, they began to share the idea with other people in the unit – friends to friends. Senior members of the unit and its commanders were unaware of the initiative. "The approaches were made in face-to-face encounters, with us beating about the bust until we felt confident enough to speak about the issue directly. It all went ahead discreetly so that it didn't reach those who didn't need to know about it."  

(Photo: Tal Shahar)
(Photo: Tal Shahar)

The quiet after the blast

The testimonies paint a picture that may trouble a portion of the public, but many will surely think that the actions of the unit are legitimate, certainly during periods of armed conflict.

"A change came over me during Operation Cast Lead, in 2008," says N., an Arabic translator at the Unit 8200's base who is responsible for the Palestinian arena. "When the operation started, something didn't seem quite right to me. Instead of attacking rocket and weapons dumps in the Gaza Strip, as defensive preparations for the campaign against Hamas, the air force attacked a police parade. The strike resulted in the death of 89 Palestinian policemen.
"I was just a regular soldier at the time, but I wanted the chain of command to know that I viewed the action as immoral and problematic, and not only because of the police casualties. These were precious hours in which we were supposed to be performing our duty – to prevent rockets from being launched against Israeli civilians – and this action didn't serve that purpose. Israel's home front was left exposed to rocket barrages, without the matter being dealt with as it should have been. The officer in charge agreed to convey my thoughts up the chain, but I didn’t get an answer. 

"During the course of the operation, I worked with various teams that were involved in gathering and translating intelligence information about targets in the Gaza Strip. I remember the quiet that befell the rooms in which we worked in the seconds after the air force bombed the targets, a tense quiet with the hope for a hit. When a hit was confirmed, applause and cries of joy filled the room. The identikits that adorned the walls of the rooms were marked with Xs. I had a very hard time dealing with the fact that no one was interested if anyone else was hurt. No one stopped to ask himself if the targets we collect for the air force planes justify the total destruction of the lives of 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip. 

"During the operation, the air force attacked the home of Nizar Rayyan (a Hamas leader in Gaza, E.L.), and 18 civilians were killed, mostly members of his family. On another occasion, there was an attempted strike against the leaders of Hamas' military wing. When the air force reported human casualties, the room was full of tension and expectation to see if the casualties were the intended targets of the attack. When it emerged that they were others, cries of disappointment echoed in the room – not because people were randomly killed, but because they weren't the ones we were looking for. It's hard for me to imagine what my base looked like during Operation Protective Edge; it probably looked the same as it did back then – but only more pronounced." 

The assassination policy is particularly troubling to the consciences of those who signed the letter due to the fact that mistakes that occur claim the lives of innocent people, children too sometimes. "We provide the intelligence for the operation, incriminate the individual and pass on the information to the air force," N. relates. "The unit always has representatives in the field, in the Judea and Samaria Division and in the Gaza Division. Once, when I was the representative, a suspect was identified nearby a weapons dump in Gaza and we thought he was our objective. I remember the picture on the screen – the suspect in an orchard, an explosion, the smoke settling and his mother running towards him. We could then see that it was a child. The body was small. We realized we had screwed up. It was quiet, unpleasant. And then we had to continue. The mood was harsh, but there were more things to do. 

"My duties there were allegedly technical. You're in an office, looking at a picture from a helicopter and the maps. It's very easy to cut yourself off from it and feel distant. It wasn't my job there to ask questions. They told me what they needed from me and that's what I did. I don't even know if there was an inquiry into what happened." 

Most of the people in the unit do what they are told without asking questions. The signatories explain this by noting that from the outset, already during their course, the trainees are led to understand that when it comes to 8200, there is no such thing as a manifestly unlawful order. Some of the signatories, who served as instructors, conveyed this very message themselves, to their soldiers, despite the fact that doubt had started to creep in. 

"They constantly told us that we are not the ones who are in the field, not the ones who are firing, and that it's not our job at all to make that decision," A. says. "There is something of an alternative mechanism in the unit that is called 'personal duty to report,' which means that you must voice your concerns if something is troubling you; but in some instances, they are clearly simply covering their asses." 

The story of Second Lieutenant A. hovers constantly over the conversation with the signatories. A. was a young officer in Unit 8200 in 2003, at the height of the second intifada, who refused to pass on intelligence in preparation for an airstrike on a structure in the southern Gaza Strip due to concerns that innocent civilians would be harmed in the attack. The airstrike was intended to serve as a response to a terror attack in Tel Aviv's Neve Sha'anan Square in January that same year in which 23 people were killed. The target selected was a structure belonging to Fatah. According to sources inside the intelligence community, the instructions were to check when there were people in the building, no matter who they were, so that the green light for the airstrike could be given. The airstrike was called off due to A's refusal. He was tried, stripped of his position and assigned to administrative duties. 

The incident led to a decision to conduct a lesson in all of the unit's courses that is based on the military inquiry into the affair. At the end of the lesson, the instructors lead the trainees to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a manifestly unlawful order. They discovered in retrospect that the inquiry was grossly deficient and inaccurate: The findings note that A. was instructed to ensure that the building was empty so that the airstrike could then take place. "Now, when I know what really happened in that operation," N. says, "I realize that all the discussion that took place about it with the trainees were ridiculous." 

"In 2003, at least there was the second lieutenant who refused to participate in the operation," says A., one of the signatories on the letter. "There were no such individuals in 2014."

How do say 'homo' in Arabic

The reservists who signed the letter aren't troubled only by the unit's sterile approach to the assassination policy. According to them, the Israeli public believes that intelligence is gathered only against terror activists. They wish to cast light on the fact that a significant portion of the targets they monitor are innocent civilians who have nothing to do with military activity against Israel and are of interest to the intelligence organizations for other reasons. These civilians have no idea at all that they are intelligence targets, yet they are treated, according to the signatories, no differently to the terror elements, and the fact that they are innocent civilians does not constitute a relevant consideration.

"I had a lot of trouble with the fact that various personal details were noted as being of importance, details that could be used to extort people and turn them into collaborators," N. relates. "They told us at the base that if we uncover a 'juicy' detail, it is important to document it – for example, financial stress, sexual orientation, a severe illness on the part of the individual or a family member, or medical treatment that they require. 

"Once, they played me the recording of a conversation between an Israeli security official and a Palestinian he was trying to recruit. There's a part in which he says, 'Your wife's brother, he has cancer,' and the Palestinian responds, 'So what?' And he says, 'You know, we have good hospitals.' He was clearly offering the Palestinian something or threatening him in some way. 

"During my service, I collected, among other things, information about innocent people whose only sin was that they were of interest to the Israeli defense system for various reasons. If you are a homosexual who knows someone who knows a wanted individual, Israel will make your life a misery. If you required urgent medical care in Israel, the West Bank or abroad, we looked for you. The State of Israel will allow you to die before it allows you to leave for medical treatment without you first providing information about your wanted cousin. Any instance that leads to snaring an innocent individual who can be extorted in return for information or in order to recruit him as a collaborator was gold for us and for the entire Israeli intelligence community. In the training course, you actually learn and memorize different words for homo in Arabic." 

The immense power in the hands of the soldiers and officers in the unit, most of them in their early 20s, could also be – the signatories to the letter say – the power to corrupt. "When I began my duties, I was surprised by the scope of the responsibility that rested on my shoulders," N. says. "I felt as if I had a say in important matters. I could initiate things that had implications for the lives of the Palestinians, and we exploit this influence that we have over their lives. 

Sometimes it involves real damage to the life of an individual, to his soul. We're talking about extortion and it can screw up their lives. The overriding approach in the unit is: 'Why not? If it's possible, then go for it.' I thought it was crazy to be able to do things I could. We're the bosses." 

A number of the signatories note, too, that they found themselves having to deal with information of a distinctly political nature, and that this made them feel uncomfortable. "When I joined the unit, I thought I'd be dealing with thwarting terror, with whatever is necessary to preserve the security of the state," one of them says. "I discovered during my service that a large amount of effort in the Palestinian arena is directed towards things that are not related to security. I worked on gathering information on political matters. Some of them were related to objectives that could be seen as serving security needs, such as undermining Hamas institutions, and others were not. There were political intelligence objectives that don't even fall in with the Israeli consensus, such as bolstering the Israeli position versus that of the Palestinians. Such objectives do not serve the security system but rather the politicians and their agendas. 

"It was very hard for me and others in the department to have to deal with some of the things we did. There was a particular project that shocked us when we learned of it. It was clearly something that we as soldiers are not supposed to do. The information was relayed almost directly to political elements and not to other arms of the defense establishment, and this made it very clear to me that it had very little to do with security needs." 

Another problematic issue that arises during service in 8200 is the unit's spirit. Recordings of wiretapped conversations are kept to play to trainees and soldiers, without any consideration given to the fact that this constitutes serious ethical offenses. Sex chats, for example, are a big hit in the unit. 

"I heard about a department that once turned out all the lights on the floor and played a recording of a sex chat at full volume – several dozen people listening to a sex chat and everyone cracking up with laughter," relates one of the signatories. "That's part of the spirit. And I don't mean only conversations that are stumbled upon by chance. Soldiers knew who to listen to and when in order to find them. They would be passed on from one to the other." 

Another graduate of the unit spoke of feeling bad knowing, in precise detail, about the problems of all of the objectives. "It doesn't feel good to freely speak and laugh about this information. We knew who was cheating on his wife, with who and how often. There were conversations about 'funny' medical conditions such as hemorrhoids. It's part of the way of life in the unit and you call one another over to listen. Photographs relating to objectives or other Palestinians are passed around for fun. Family photographs are passed around and jokes are made about how ugly the children are, and also private pictures that couples have taken for one another. 

"At a certain stage, I distanced myself from the whole story. I also told the friends around me that it isn’t the right thing to do, but everyone said that it wasn't hurting anyone. The commanders knew about it – no question about that. I wouldn't even say they turned a blind eye because it was clearly acceptable, that there was no problem with it. The soldiers don't really bother to hide what they are doing."

The consciences of the recruits

Alongside their concerns about the public criticism they expect to come under, the signatories are already dealing with internal criticism among their families, who are struggling to come to terms with the unusual step they have taken. "My family doesn't support my decision to sign the letter," N. says. "They don't think it's the right thing to do. They look at me like I'm some kind of radical who is doing something of no relevance in a democratic country."

R. says his family members are primarily concerned about the personal ramifications of the letter. "They are worried about me and my friends and hope that we don't end up paying too high a personal price," he comments. 

The official letter, which was sent Thursday to the prime minister, the chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence and the commander of Unit 8200, bears the signatories' full names and ranks. Publication of the letter, one can assume, will create much noise, and may also raise questions and doubts in the minds of 12th graders who are candidates for service in 8200. The signatories know this, but they have no intentions of calling on others to refuse to serve in the unit.

"If someone asks me, I'll tell them about the journey I took and my internal debate and how I feel about my service," A. says. "I will give him the tools, but every future recruit has his own conscience and he needs to make his own decisions. These are tough dilemmas, and anyone who refuses to be recruited into the unit will have to pay a very high price. On the other hand, he may be in the very same place I was in at his age – believing that what we do is designed to minimize the killing of innocent civilians. All I can do is present him with a different perspective." 

The signatories stress they have no wish to establish a movement behind them. They view the letter as a mirror held up to society. "All we want to do is to turn on a warning light in the Israeli public – for them to understand that we've been there, we've done it, and we can no longer continue," says S. "We will agree to return to serve in the unit if we know that the purpose for which we are there is self-defense, and not to perpetuate the military regime."


Mutiny in the Israeli Stasi: exposing the occupation's worst filth

The elite intel unit veterans took a milestone in announcing they will no longer serve the occupation. In their footsteps, perhaps, a few veterans of the Shin Bet security service will also come forward and talk about what they did at work.

Sep. 14, 2014 |

IDF Unit 8200
Graduates of Unit 8200, the IDF's technological spearhead. Photo by Moti Milrod

The 43 veterans of the elite intel unit who announced that they will no longer agree to serve the occupation have made a double contribution to Israeli society. 

Like other conscientious objectors, including soldiers and military pilots, these members of Unit 8200 are courageous and moral. But their refusal has an additional dimension, the likes of which have never been seen before in Israel. They etched another scar into the ugly face of the Israeli occupation, deeper than the ones that preceded it, because it involves the darkest and most base sides of the occupation’s malignant routine. In a healthy society, the reservists’ action and their disclosures would have set off real shock waves. But in Israel, all the systems of defense, offense and propaganda, of ridicule and denial, have already been co-opted for the purpose of swiftly burying this important letter by objector-spies. 

They, too, are among the finest of our youth, perhaps the best – almost like the pilots. Unit 8200, the largest unit of the Israel Defense Forces, has the right of second pick, after the air force, in selecting recruits. Their image is sparkling – and their future is assured; tech firms lie in wait for them. Their military service is free of risk and – like the pilots – they don’t see their victims up close. Until now, their service was nearly free of ethical qualms. They do not kill, beat or carry out arrests, they are jobniks, desk jockeys with prestige, the kind of child nearly every parent would want. Their weapon is their intelligence, their computer and other sophisticated instruments; their bunker is their office. A large part of their work, it must be stressed, is vital and legitimate. And still, Unit 8200 is Israel’s Stasi. 

In contrast to the East German intelligence service, its Israeli successor targets not citizens of the state, but rather the Palestinians who are subject to its occupation. Anything may be done to them, using means the Stasi would have envied. Like the Stasi, it involves not only intelligence gathering and espionage, but also mechanisms to control, extort and exploit an entire nation. This is based on erecting an enormous army of collaborators and informers, recruited through the vicious exploitation of their weaknesses, needs, illnesses and sexual orientations. 

Thanks to Unit 8200, an entire nation exists without the right to privacy. The great contribution of the new objectors is that they have told us about this. In their Arabic studies, they were taught all the forms of the Arabic word for “homosexual” – because they need it. They were required to find out about the sexual orientation, health and financial problems of tens of thousands of individuals. Perhaps there’s a nephew on Israel’s list of wanted terrorists, perhaps a cousin who’s wanted for questioning, offering an opportunity for extortion. Perhaps they’ll agree to talk about the next-door neighbor in exchange for a chemotherapy treatment; a report in return for surgery; snitching in exchange for an income boost; a bit of information in return for a night in Tel Aviv. 

This despicable collecting work – there’s no other way to describe it – is done by soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, and “every Jewish mother should know” this. They collect important security information, and alongside it also political and personal information, and they mark targets for assassination. A few of them tried to talk about it over the weekend, and the radio and television stations rocked with laughter. The commentators vied with each other for adjectives: “trippy,” “scandalous,” “negligible,” “spoiled brats” and, worst of all, “politicos” and “lefties” – in unison, of course. No one came to the defense of a group of people who, until Thursday, were a source of pride. Not even activists from the LGBT community, who are called in after any inappropriate comment about lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. They have been silent about the persecution of their Palestinian counterparts by the state, which brags about its enlightened attitude toward the gay community. 

That’s Israel for you. As long as the members of Unit 8200 were up to their arms in the filth of the occupation, they were considered principled young men and women, and were respected. But as soon as they decided they’d had enough, they became targets for ridicule and ostracism. The step they have taken is a milestone. In their footsteps, perhaps, a few veterans of the Shin Bet security service – the other pillar of the Israeli Stasi in the territories – will also come forward and finally talk about what they did at work. Their commanders already did, partially, in “The Gatekeepers.”
The military and media establishment will quickly stomp on the 43 objectors, but perhaps they will not be forgotten. From out of the deepest darkness, they broke the silence.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Dear friends,
please find below an excellent article by Australian political activist and author, Jeff Sparrow, which first appeared in Jacobin Magazine.  I have known Jeff for many years both as an activist and in his capacity as editor of one of Australia's oldest political and cultural magazine's, Overland. I also worked closely with Jeff, when he and Antony Loewenstein asked me to contribute a chapter about Palestine and the BDS campaign in Australia to Left Turn, a book look at the left politics in Australia, which they edited.  If you would like to check out the book, you can find can order it here.

Jeff's article below is an excellent exploration of settler-colonialism both in Australia and Palestine.  It examines both the similarities and the differences, as well as the dynamics of settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

Jeff is also the author of a number of books, including: 
  • Radical Melbourne (Vulgar Press, 2001) and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within (Vulgar Press, 2004), written with his sister, Jill Sparrow. 

  • Communism: A Love Story (Melbourne University Press, 2007) is a biography of the radical intellectual Guido Baracchi, a founder of the Communist Party of Australia. 

  • Killing: Misadventures in Violence (Melbourne University Press, 2009) is a study of the social and psychological consequences of executions, combat and animal slaughter. It was a finalist in the Melbourne Prize for Literature Best Writing Award 2009.

  • Left Turn: Political Essays for the New Left (Melbourne University Press, 2012) was co-edited by Sparrow and Antony Loewenstein.

  • Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship (Scribe, 2012) "probes the contradictions of our relationship to sex and censure, excess and folly, erotica and vice."

You can follow Jeff on twitter: @jeff_sparrow 

You can also follow Jacobin Magazine on twitter: @jacobinmag

in solidarity,


When Settlers Dream

Jacobin Magazine  9 August 2014

A look back at the subjection of Tasmania shows that while Israel’s settler colonialism is brutal, it’s hardly without precedent.


Some weeks ago, Greg Shupak noted how the extremity of the violence unleashed during Operation Protective Edge led some to describe Israel’s actions as “irrational.”

They were wrong. A settler-colonial state, Israel’s existence depended first on the forced exodus of Palestinians and then the repeated destruction of their attempts at self-organization.

Israel isn’t unique in this respect. The so-called Black War between colonists and indigenous people in Eastern Tasmania offers another example, one that makes a productive (though obviously not exact) comparison with Gaza, both because it’s less well known to those in the Global North, but also because a raft of recent historiography has thrown fresh light on what settler colonization meant for the island the British originally called Van Diemen’s Land.

Nicholas Clements’ new book The Black War provides a definitive yet accessible account of the conflict. Clements chronicles the war in chapters that alternate between the perspective of the settlers and their indigenous opponents, a conceit, as he explains in the introduction, borrowed from The Palestine-Israeli Conflict: A Beginner’s Guide. It’s a particularly effective mode of exposition for settlement narratives because, rather than attempting to adjudicate between the differing claims of the combatants, it shows how both perspectives arise from the process of colonization itself.

When the Tasmanian landowner George Hobler organized a party of men to fire on a local tribe, he saw himself as responding to the unprovoked spearing of one of his servants. Likewise, when two Aborigines attacked sawyers at a farm near Ben Lomond in March 1831, they seem to have intended to rescue an indigenous girl living on the property. But the Black War cannot be understood as simply an accretion of these individual exchanges. Rather, we need to situate episodic clashes in their historical context: the establishment and maintenance of a settler colony that, by its nature, renders the life of indigenous people unbearable.

Think of the usual presentation of the recent Gaza incursion. The crisis began, we are told, with the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers. Of course, that’s an entirely arbitrary starting point. Why not say that it started the day before that, when an Israeli airstrike killed a Palestinian man and a ten-year-old? But that too would be inadequate. As Gabor Maté says, “There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.”

The conflict in Tasmania, like the conflict in Gaza, only makes sense as a totality.
With the condescension of posterity, it’s easy to dismiss the British colonists in Van Diemen’s Land as monsters, genocidal racists carrying out atrocities for reasons unfathomable to liberal-minded folk of the twenty-first century. Yet, precisely as Israeli officials explained the assault on Gaza as a defensive reaction to Hamas’ rockets, the Tasmanian settlers saw themselves as victims, driven to violence by the terror inflicted by the natives.

In December 1827, the land commissioner Roderic O’Connor wrote a personal letter to the government: “Can we live in a wilderness surrounded by wretches who watch every opportunity and who take delight in shedding our blood?” The next year, settlers near Swanport sent “a statement of the danger … of being ultimately exterminated by the black natives.”

To an outsider, the notion that the whites were in danger of extermination seems as perverse as the Western media’s portrayal as the Gaza conflict in terms of the supposed threat to Israel. But, rather like Israelis today, the colonists explicitly condemned the assessments of such outsiders, who, they said, could not grasp the reality of their situation. In 1830, a Clyde Valley settler explained:
We in the interior are in the most imminent daily danger of our lives and property — of having our houses and barns burnt about our ears in all directions, and our families butchered by these savages and are we to be smoothly informed how we are to act, and that, on the defensive, by a few comfortably seated Gentlemen in their well-furnished and well-protected houses?
Isaac Deutscher famously described Zionism through a parable about a man who jumped from a burning house only to injure the person he landed on below. The analogy accepts Israel’s self-presentation as a refuge from Nazism, a claim that historically simply isn’t true. But it’s less often recognized that Deutscher’s fable applies with equal force to other settler colonies. Many of those arriving in Van Diemen’s Land – the convicts, but also the soldiers – had no choice of their destination. Of course, from the perspective of the natives, the intentions of the settler colonizers scarcely matter.

In Tasmania, convicts and ex-convicts were responsible for much of the bloodletting, so that many of the respectable colonists were able to disavow any direct involvement in killing Aborigines. But the convicts, James Boyce concludes in his magisterial Van Diemen’s Land, “can never be charged with the same level of responsibility as those whose interests they served, and their scapegoating by both the government and the free settlers is too obviously self-serving to be taken as seriously as it often has been.”

After all, as the historian of genocide Patrick Wolfe puts it, settler states “typically seek to distance themselves from the activities of the ostensibly unofficial frontier mavericks on whose depredations they depend.” Think, for instance, of the Israeli government’s relationship to the right-wing settlers in the Occupied Territories, whose activities they both disavow and encourage.

The mainstream consensus about Israel-Palestine holds that peace must begin with the Palestinians accepting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. But the Tasmanian example shows how, in fact, that very demand renders peace — or, at least, any kind of just peace — impossible.

Settler colonization, by definition, must deny the legitimacy of the native population. The settlement of Australia rested on the doctrine of terra nullius, which held the land to be legally empty – and Zionism, of course, depends on the same concept.

The Zionist slogan of “a land without a people for a people without a land” did not literally mean that Palestine lacked people, any more than the British settlers believed Van Diemen’s Land was empty. In both cases, the absence was not of people but rather “civilized people,” for, as Land Commissioner Roderic O’Connor explained in 1827, it would be “a disgrace … to the human race to call [indigenous people] men.”

The Australian founders saw the settlement of the colony as an established fact, with indigenous people relegated to the margins of society. But the Australian constitution still signaled (albeit in passing) the fundamental identity of the new nation with the discriminatory Section 127, which stipulated that “aboriginal natives” be excluded from official censuses. (In 1967, a referendum deleting that section passed with overwhelming public support, an event rightly considered a milestone in the struggle for indigenous rights.)

What would it mean, today, to insist that indigenous people accept Australia as a white or a Christian state? The very question sounds both absurd and offensive, precisely because explicitly chauvinist definitions of nationality are so discredited. That’s why Judah Magnes, the first Chancellor of Israel’s Hebrew University, opposed in 1942 the idea of a Jewish state because “the slogan ‘Jewish state’ (or commonwealth) is equivalent, in effect, to a declaration of war by the Jews on the Arabs.”

Likewise, when apologists claim that a state defined by the settler identity remains necessary to prevent a native massacre, they merely reveal how deep-seated the colonial mentality remains.
In the dying years of apartheid, some liberals opposed the attempts to break down the structures of the South African colonial regime, arguing the end of a racially defined state would mean the destruction of the white minority. William Safire, for instance, complained that “real political equality” entailed
… majority rule, and nonwhites are the overwhelming majority in South Africa. That means an end to white government as the Afrikaners have known it for three centuries; that means the same kind of black rule that exists elsewhere in Africa, and most white South Africans would rather remain the oppressors than become the oppressed.
Today, in the context of a multi-racial South Africa, that position seems grotesque.
Let’s recall that, in Tasmania, though some of the colonists favored military action, the head of the settlement, Lieutenant Governor Arthur, was an early advocate of what today might be called a two-state solution.

In a January 1828, Arthur explained, “The measure which I rather incline to attempt, is to settle the Aborigines in some remote quarter of the island, which should be strictly reserved for them, and to supply them with food and clothing, and afford them protection … on condition of their confining themselves peaceably to certain limits.”

He gave this plan official status in a notice published a few months later entitled “Proclamation Separating the Aborigines from the White Inhabitants.” In other words, as Boyce says, “the goal of colonial government policy from April 1828 was thus to reach an agreement with the Aborigines on the division of Van Diemen’s Land.”

What were the results of Arthur’s efforts? The most immediate effect of the supposed partition of Van Diemen’s Land was the intensification of violence against those indigenous people unfortunate enough to be on the wrong part of the island. As Boyce writes, the proclamation “provided the first official sanction for the use of force against Aborigines for no other reason than that they were Aboriginal.”

In other words, it enabled settlers to ethnically cleanse the rest of the land, since, as Chief Justice Pedder put it at the time, “the object of this proclamation is their expulsion wherever they may appear in the settled districts and however harmlessly they may be conducting themselves.”

Moreover, official hopes in a negotiated settlement were largely abandoned by October 1828, with the colony’s executive council claiming that the Aborigines’ “treachery” and “lack of government” made them doubt “if any reliance could be placed upon any negotiations which might be entered into.” Had Mark Regev been present, he might have declared that, of course, the council wanted peace but it lacked a suitable partner.

Yet the war did, in fact, end with a two-state settlement, a result that was disastrous for the indigenous people.

George Augustus Robinson arrived in Hobart in 1826, where, as the Australian Dictionary of Biography explains, he became “secretary of the Seamen’s Friend and Bethel Union Society, joined the committee of the Auxiliary Bible Society, visited prisoners and the condemned in the gaol, and helped to found the Mechanics Institute.” When the government advertised for a “steady man of good character” to attempt a negotiation with the Aborigines, Robinson stepped forward.

Over the next years, Robinson, known as “the Conciliator,” embarked on a series of “Friendly Missions” to induce the Aborigines to cease fighting.

At first, most of the colonists reacted to him in the way the Likudists respond to Israeli peaceniks today. The Launceston Advertiser wrote: “Can it be that we are to thus suffer these people to destroy our Fellow Colonists, and is the Government to sit down supinely and view this destruction calmly and preach conciliation? No! rather let the sentence be extermination.”

The killing of Captain Bartholomew Thomas and James Parker by the Aborigines with whom they were seeking to negotiate fostered a hysterical clamor for reprisals. The Advertiser claimed the men were “victims of a mistaken faith in the sincerity of these blood-thirsty savages” and denounced the “barbarity of a race which no kindness can soften, and which nothing short of utter annihilation can subdue.” The Launceston Independent called for “retribution, deep and lasting, not only upon the perpetrators of the deeds, should they come within our power, but upon the whole race.”

Again, all very familiar. But Robinson did, much to the surprise of most of the colony, eventually convince the majority of indigenous people to accept resettlement on Flinders Island.

By 1830, indigenous society had been shattered. The population had been decimated while the number of whites grew by a thousand or more each year. The historian John West, writing within a few decades of the Black War, explained that the constant harassment by armed parties meant that “parents and children had been divided and families had been broken up in melancholy confusion: indeed, they had ceased to be tribes, and became what they were called — mobs of natives, composed often of hereditary enemies. Infanticide and distress, rapid flight, and all the casualties of a protracted conflict, threatened them with weedy destruction.”

Years later, Robinson himself noted in his diary that there was “not an aborigine on [the Flinders Island] settlement nor an aborigine that has been at the settelement but what bears marks of violence perpetrated upon by them by the depraved whites. Some have musket balls lodged in them … Some of the natives have slugs in their bodies and others contusions, all inflicted by whites.”

When he approached the surviving indigenous people, Robinson promised that if they accepted resettlement, their customs and culture would be respected; they would receive food, houses and blankets; and, most significantly, they would be able to return to their traditional lands once the violence had subsided.

It must have seemed like a decent offer — or at least the best one they would get.

Of course, none of the promises were kept. Whatever Robinson’s intentions, conciliation engendered less a homeland than a prison: as Charles Darwin noted during a visit in 1836, “the Aboriginal blacks are all removed & kept (in reality as prisoners) in a Promontory, the neck of which is guarded.”

The parallels with Palestine are not exact: partly because Israel confronts a demographic challenge not faced by colonists in Tasmania — where, from very early on, white settlers constituted a majority — and partly because, while the settlement in Tasmania was (at the time) relatively unimportant to the British, Israel plays a crucial role for the American empire.

Nonetheless, the similarities are instructive.

When, in 1847, forty-seven sick and elderly indigenous people petitioned to be allowed to leave Flinders Island, the settlers organized a petition to prevent them, explaining that those who hadn’t lived through the war could not appreciate what might happen when “uncivilised creatures with all their savage and bloodthirsty propensities are admitted [sic] to escape into the bush to perpetrate all sorts of depredations and atrocities.” The whites might have been paranoid, but they were not prepared to risk any manifestation of indigenous independence, which might have sparked further resistance.

Likewise, as Shupak says, Israel cannot allow an independent Palestinian state, because a successful expression of Palestinian nationalism represents a continuing threat to the project of an ethnically defined settler colony. Netanyahu has made that explicit, saying “that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan” — something that effectively rules out a sovereign Palestine.

Which is not to say that a two-state solution is entirely impossible. But if it takes place, it will be akin to Robinson’s “Conciliation”: the creation of a kind of guarded reserve, a Bantustan or blockaded open-air prison like Gaza rather than a nation exercising real sovereignty.

Or, put another way, the kind of state acceptable to the Israelis (and, for that matter, to the Americans) will be one to which the Palestinians will only agree if, like the indigenous Tasmanians in 1831, they’re convinced no other choice remains.

Hence the increasingly violent rhetoric coming out of Israel. Unlike the Tasmanian settlers, the Israeli authorities do not think they can get away with physically annihilating their enemies. They do, however, believe sustained violence can sufficiently cow the Palestinians so that they can be “conciliated,” induced to accept the twenty-first century of a Flinders Island reserve.

For Israel, this is both necessary and urgent, a response to the so-called demographic time bomb that will bring a Palestinian majority in “Greater Israel.” That’s Shupak’s point: the current crop of atrocities is neither an accident nor the result of ill-advised policies but a logical response by the Israeli regime to the situation in which it finds itself.

In the course of the Gaza incursion, Henry Siegman, former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, was moved to comment:
When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis – and should be a profound crisis in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success.
That crisis is necessary and long overdue. The Black War provides a chilling illustration of how settler colonialist dreams end.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

REDFLAG: West Bank occupation intensifies

Dear friends,
please find below my latest article on Palestine published by Red Flag about Israel's ongoing attacks and ethnic cleansing in the Occupied West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem

For the last month or so, the RedFlag website has been under digital attack by Zionist hackers due to the paper's unstinting support for Palestine and opposition to Israel's war crimes in Gaza.  RedFlag's website is currently back on line, but due to the ongoing attacks by hackers, the editorial staff at Red Flag are also publishing articles in full on the Socialist Alternative facebook page. 

Please consider supporting RedFlag by liking and following the SA facebook page (click here) and by taking out a subscription to the paper. 

If you are in Australia you can get a hard copy sent to your home or a digital version via email. Similarly if you are from outside of Australia, you can also subscribe and receive a digital subscription. To get your subscription, please contact RedFlag via the Socialist Alternative facebook page.

In solidarity, Kim


Israeli soldiers detain Palestinians during clashes at a protest against Israeli military action in Gaza, in the West Bank village of Silwad, near Ramallah August 15, 2014. Source: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

West Bank occupation intensifies
10 September 2014, RedFlag 
by Kim Bullimore

While the eyes of the world were on Israel’s ruthless and unrelenting 50-day bombardment of Gaza, the Zionist state continued its deadly campaign of murder, occupation, repression and settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. At least 32 Palestinians were killed and almost 1, 400 were injured.

Figures compiled by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) reveal that, between 13 June and 24 August, Israel detained 1,753 Palestinians (an average of 24 per day) and carried out 1,573 military raids (21 per day). The PLO report, titled “Business as Usual”, also documented more than 50 home demolitions, which left 112 people homeless, including 66 children.

Israeli settlers carried out 249 attacks (three per day) against Palestinians. Many occurred in occupied East Jerusalem, where 16-year-old school boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir previously was kidnapped, tortured and burned alive by settlers.

Israel has also declared more than 400 hectares of Palestinian land near Bethlehem to be “state land”. This is the biggest land theft in 30 years. According to the Israeli group Peace Now, the 31 August announcement seeks to turn a “wildcat” settlement, currently consisting of 10 settler families, into a permanent colony.

Since 1967, when it seized control of and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, Israel has constructed hundreds more illegal colonies in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring sections of its civilian population into the territories it occupies.

Over the last 20 years, the Zionist state has repeatedly violated the 1995 Interim Agreement developed in accordance with Article 7 of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which states: “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”

Today, more than half a million Israeli settlers illegally reside in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, double the figure prior to the Oslo agreement.

In the weeks prior to the 31 August announcement, Israel was continuing its illegal annexation of Palestinian land and constructing illegal colonies. Israel approved the building of an additional 1,472 units, making room for almost 6,000 settlers in the colonies of Gilo, Harhoma and Giv’at Zeev. Settlement expansion also took place in the illegal Israeli colonies of Bracha, Yakir and Halamish.

During the assault on Gaza, approximately 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel were arrested for protesting the actions of the Zionist state. Maisa Arshid, an attorney for dozens of those arrested, told Al Jazeera on 5 August that in many cases the Israeli authorities had no evidence to justify the arrests.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted that, between 2 July and 6 August, approximately 1,500 demonstrators, the majority Palestinian, had been arrested. Some 350 of them are now being prosecuted for disturbing public order, unlawful gatherings, rioting and violence against people and property. During the same period, despite a number of violent protests by Israeli settlers and other Jewish citizens of Israel, not a single Israeli Jewish citizen was charged or prosecuted.

Palestinian attorney Suhad Bishara from the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel told Haaretz: “[T]he wave of arrests is intended to silence and crush the right of [Palestinian] Arab citizens to protest, via police violence and hostility.

“The Israel Police treats the Arab community as a potential enemy, and unfortunately, the court approved many of the police’s requests for extended remand, even when there was no ground for this.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Palestine solidarity on Australia's Universities: on Christopher Pyne and The Australian's slander of socialist pro-Palestine students

Dear friends,

Today, The Australian today published a hasbara (propaganda) article written by the Abbott government education minister Christopher Pyne slandering socialist students as anti-semitic due to their role in leading pro-Palestine campaigning on campus.   In particularly he singles out Socialist Alternative, of which I am also a member.  

This article below published two weeks ago by Red Flag and answers all the lies in Christopher Pyne's article in the Australian today.  It should also be noted that for more than two weeks, the Red Flag website has come under concerted attack by Zionist hackers due to Red Flag's uncompromising support for Palestine and opposition to Israel's war crimes in Gaza.   The website is currently back up online but you can also support Red Flag by liking our page on Facebook and subscribing to the paper (and get either a digital or hard copy of the paper).

However slanderous, Pyne's attack on Socialist Alternative is, it is unsurprising.  Socialist Alternative in addition to playing a leading role in campaigning in support of Palestine on campus have also been active in leading the campaign against Pyne and the Abbott government's attack on education, which seeks to cut funding to universities and increase fees for students.

In addition, Pyne, like the rest of the Abbott government, is an unabashed apologist for Israeli occupation, apartheid and war crimes.  Pyne visited Israel at the height of Israel's assault on Gaza, speaking at a number of forums where he actively defended Israels right to carry out war crimes and mass murder in Gaza.

The Australian's anti-Palestine stance, including its active campaign against the Palestinian BDS campaign and supporters of the campaign, has been well documented both on this blog and elsewhere.  For my earlier posts on The Australian's campaign against BDS and pro-Palestine supporters see:

The Australian newspaper and BDS: A case study in obsession

The Australian's faux outrage over the Palestinian BDS campaign and student protests against Max Brenner

An interview with The Australian newspaper on BDS and the Max Brenner Protests ... OR ... What The Australian doesn't tell its readers...

I have also published below an article written by Guy Rundle for Crikey in response to Pyne's slander in The Australian. Overall the article is very good, although Rundle gets one thing wrong.  Socialist Alternative is very active in the campaign against Israeli war profiteer,  Elbit Systems. Along with other community groups and individuals, members of Socialist Alternative are actively involved in organsing the community protest against Israeli war profiteer, Elbit Systems, which is taking place in Melbourne on October 5/6. (for more details on the protest, join the FB page for the protest).

In solidarity,


Accusations of anti-Semitism against socialist students are lies
-Daniel Taylor, Red Flag, 13 August 2014

Over the past five weeks, as the Israeli military pulverised the Gaza Strip, there have been widespread allegations of an increase in anti-Semitic intimidation and violence on university campuses. The allegations – widely circulated in print, on social media and on commercial radio – include claims that Jewish students are being racially abused, physically intimidated and banned from public lectures. Socialist Alternative has been frequently named as responsible for these acts.

For anyone familiar with socialist politics, which includes at its core unyielding opposition to all forms of racial discrimination, these claims must seem alarming and incongruous. In fact, they are lies with no basis in fact. An explanation requires some examination of the politics of Zionism and socialism on university campuses.

*Socialist Alternative, Jews, and Zionism

Socialist Alternative is a Marxist organisation. Many of the thinkers from which it draws influence, including Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg, were not only Jews, but Jews who lived in periods of intense state-sanctioned anti-Semitic discrimination and pogroms.

Our movement seeks to fight against, and ultimately abolish forever, all forms of racial oppression. In Australia, this requires active struggle against the racist attacks on Aboriginal people, refugees, and Muslims. It also requires solidarity with those who struggle internationally against racism and oppression, such as the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Palestinians. Socialist Alternative student clubs often have spearheaded these campaigns on university campuses and in wider society. We seek to unite all struggles against oppression, break down all divisions of race and sex, and help build movements that can challenge the entire system that generates and perpetuates racism.

This requires a consistent and principled opposition to anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is not a major current in Australian politics, but it is nonetheless a poisonous and vile doctrine that seeks to lay blame for the world's ills on the characteristics of a single ethno-religious group. We celebrate the long history of Jewish socialism and Jewish anti-Zionism, and count many Jews among our members.

*Zionists on campus

There are many organised political currents competing for influence in the political life of Australian campuses. The student wings of the Labor, Liberal and Greens parties are all represented, as are other equally political groups that are sometimes less honest about their affiliation. In the latest controversies over anti-Semitism, they key political group is the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS).

AUJS has a presence on over 20 university campuses in Australia and New Zealand. It describes itself as the peak body representing Jewish youth. AUJS spokespeople are frequently quoted in the press as authorities on anti-Semitism. But AUJS is not an apolitical organisation. As its website proudly proclaims, it exists to "promote a positive image of Israel on campus". This mission becomes particularly crucial during the Israeli military's assaults against Palestinians.

AUJS runs annual tours to Israel, which aim to give participants "a stronger connection … to the state of Israel". AUJS's annual reports boast of campaigns in solidarity with Israel’s military during Operation Pillar of Cloud, a military assault that killed 100 Palestinian civilians; they describe the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel as "our great political challenge". They call for "settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism".

AUJS is not an organisation representing the interests of Jewish students, but an advocacy group for the right wing politics of the state of Israel. Its reports boast that pro-Palestine campaigners cannot host an event on any campus "without running into an AUJS campaign". For this reason, in 2012 the Zionist Federation of Australia sent AUJS a letter of thanks and congratulations for "efforts in combating anti-Zionism". The right wing politics of AUJS and its affiliates are embodied in the person of Matthew Lesh. Lesh serves two prominent roles: he is the political director for AUJS and an official spokesperson for the Young Liberals.

AUJS accuses its enemies on campus of conflating Zionism with Jewishness, and with turning criticism of Israel into hostility to Jews. In fact, conflating Judaism and Zionism is precisely the political goal of AUJS. Slandering supporters of Palestine as anti-Semitic is its primary method for "combating anti-Zionism" and fulfilling the project, outlined in the AUJS constitution, of "actively advancing the interests of Israel".

*Operation Protective Edge

When Israel began its latest massacre in Gaza – which has so far led to the slaughter of more than 1,900 civilians and the widespread destruction of homes, schools, and hospitals – a political confrontation between the supporters of Palestinian rights and the defenders of Israeli militarism was inevitable.

At Monash University, Socialist Alternative moved a motion in the Student Council, condemning Israeli war crimes and occupation. Similar motions, including endorsements of the BDS campaign, were taken up and adopted at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Sydney, Flinders University, and Curtin University. A similar motion moved at La Trobe University was voted down in a heated council meeting. Socialist Alternative also organised and advertised meetings at campuses around Australia, under titles along the lines of "Why You Should Support the Palestinians".

The Israeli military massacre in Gaza was catastrophic for the public image of Israel. Weekly protests against the attack drew thousands of attendees in Melbourne and Sydney, hundreds in other Australian cities, and millions around the world. We are proud that Socialist Alternative's work contributed to this anti-racist and anti-Zionist sentiment.

The initial response from AUJS took the form of a series of press statements expressing concern that the motions passed in student councils would "alienate Jewish students" and contribute to anti-Semitism. This was a clear attempt to conflate political opposition to Israeli policy with racial discrimination against Jews. AUJS also created an absurd series of images, headlined "What Would You Do?" of rockets being launched from one Australian university campus to another. These images were spread on social media and printed on posters, but rang rather hollow, especially after the Israeli military bombed the main university in Gaza.

AUJS also encouraged its members to file a flood of complaints describing the pro-Palestine events as "anti-Semitic", while lobbying university vice chancellors to ban pro-Palestine activism on campus. It managed to get the vice chancellors of Monash and La Trobe universities to send emails to all students implicitly attacking pro-Palestine activists, after what AUJS called "strong AUJS advocacy". AUJS then commenced a campaign of outrageous slander targeting activists at these two universities in particular.

*The slanders

The two most startling allegations were aired by Matthew Lesh on 3AW radio, and repeated by Deakin University's Danny Ben-Moshe in an online article published by The Conversation.

Lesh claims that Jewish students were physically ejected from a public lecture at Monash University, and subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation at La Trobe. Both these claims are absolutely false.

The "lecture" at Monash University was a Socialist Alternative political meeting. Not only were Jews welcome and encouraged to attend, but the talk itself was given by a Jewish member of Socialist Alternative. Attendees were asked to sign a petition calling for an end to Israel's illegal economic blockade of Gaza.

A small group of organised Zionists attempted to gain entry after refusing to sign the petition, and attempted to disrupt the meeting. They gave up after being told the meeting was for supporters of Palestine. There is nothing unusual in this. Socialist Alternative has in many previous instances barred disruptive right wingers who have attempted to disrupt and air racist opinions at our meetings. Even if you don’t agree with this policy, it has nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism. In this case, the meeting went ahead peacefully, with Jewish students both delivering the initial talk and contributing to the discussion afterwards.

Immediately afterwards, the Zionists who had attempted to disrupt the meeting began a social media campaign claiming that Jews had been banned from campus events. Socialist Alternative members immediately contacted them to clarify that Jews were welcome, but that the meeting was not for political defenders of Israeli occupation. No retraction was issued and their campaign continued, proving the utterly cynical use of allegations of anti-Semitism to smear and undermine progressive politics on campus.

The events at La Trobe University followed the decision by the student council to unanimously vote against a motion condemning the Israeli assault on Gaza. As the student council is a democratically elected body accountable to students, Socialist Alternative members produced posters quoting several of the arguments used by the council members to justify their vote – including "It's not our place to point at somebody and say, 'You're committing mass murder'."

The posters did not single out any council members on the basis of religion or ethnicity; they simply quoted the arguments made in the meeting. The student council, obviously fearful for its reputation, instructed security to tear down the posters, and complaints of harassment and intimidation were filed against Socialist Alternative members with the university administration.

The right to host political meetings on campus, and inform students of events that are taking place on their elected leadership bodies, would seem like basic political rights that nobody would contest. But because these rights, when exercised, could contribute to the continued disintegration of Israel's public image, AUJS kicked into overdrive. It launched an aggressive media campaign, claiming that these events represented a wave of anti-Semitic abuse and intimidation at Australian universities.

*Anti-Semitism and the responsibilities of the left

The ongoing genocide of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state naturally horrifies all those who oppose racism. The slanders drawn up by organised Zionists are calculated to undermine this sympathy, and to suggest that campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinians is itself a form of racism. It is an attempt to isolate Palestinians from their natural supporters among anti-racists and supporters of human rights. It lays the groundwork for the intimidation of activists who support Palestine, the banning of their meetings and organisations, and the eradication of any criticism of Israel from university life. Already, because of the AUJS campaign around La Trobe University, activists have been forbidden from forming a "Students for Palestine" club – because campaigning for Palestine is now considered, scandalously, to be a form of "intimidation and harassment".

The death toll from the most recent Israeli attacks on Gaza is now approaching 2,000. The Israeli war machine receives extensive political, military, and diplomatic support from key institutions all around the world. A principled opposition to racism requires participation in a global movement in solidarity with the Palestinians. Socialist Alternative is proud to have played a role in this movement in Australia, and will continue to do so.

The attempt by the political supporters of Israel to define all opposition to its policies as forms of anti-Semitic intimidation and harassment is an outrageous and shameful lie. To slander anti-racist activists, and to promote the racist terror of the Israeli state, while claiming to be taking a stand against racism is an act of utter cynicism.

The Left cannot bow to this intimidation. It has a responsibility to continue raising a voice in solidarity with the Palestinians, to make it clear that Jews can oppose Zionism, and that institutions like AUJS that exist to defend and promote Israeli militarism are not the authentic voice of all Jews.

[Daniel is a member of Jews Against Israeli Apartheid and Socialist Alternative.]
 Rundle: Pyne's bizarre free speech rhetoric a dog whistle to the IPA

Crikey writer-at-large | 29 August 2014


Education Minister Christopher Pyne gave the campaign to abolish 18c another kick in the guts this morning in The Australian -- although it was disguised as an attack on alleged anti-Semitism on campuses.

The principle target of the attack was Socialist Alternative, which is among the groups leading the campaign against the massive fee hikes proposed by the Abbott government. SAlt is also running protest campaigns against Israel, which includes protests against the Max Brenner cafe/chocolate chain, which provides free goody bags to the Israel Defense Forces.

The optics of the Brenner protest aren't great -- the chain consciously imitates a Viennese-style coffee shop, so protesting outside it has ugly associations (which is part of SAlt's recruitment strategy -- those who quail at the complexity of that aren't cadre material. Hence the Brenner protests, rather than a more concentrated attack on the offices of Israeli arms exporters in Australia).

But anti-Semitic they ain't. Neither is the boycott divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which Pyne thinks should be excluded from universities by administrators. Quite aside from the fact that many of the people running BDS campaigns are Jews themselves -- and not only secular-Left Jews, but the increasingly vocal Hasidic groups, who have been anti-Zionist for more than a century -- Pyne's stance suggests a curious attitude to free speech.

The whole idea of the university is as a place of free thought, where both students and faculty should be protected from sanction simply for expressing unpopular ideas. This idea is central to a free society. To try and impose a range of "acceptable" free speech on a university from without is simply a misunderstanding of what the university is. Pyne is simply adopting the "no platform" argument of a section of the Left as regards universities and applying it to a spurious "anti-Semitism". Given that it was opposition by Australian-Jewish groups to changes to 18c that pretty much killed it, it's difficult not to conclude that the real target of this piece -- with its concluding paean to collectivist multiculturalism -- is the IPA and their renewed 18c target.

Such an approach to choking free speech at universities -- which is, in effect, the state choking off free speech -- is part of the new normal: that the greatest enemy of free speech now is the Abbott government, with its "Team Australia" rhetoric, its use of multicultural agents to treat inconvenient speech -- i.e. violent Islamism -- as a bacillus to be "deradicalised", etc. It's a chilling process -- one I'm sure the IPA will attack vociferously and stand up for the right of people to urge jihad. Hello? Hello?

Still, those in favour of 18C will be relieved to see that its friends now include the Abbott government. That is hegemonic victory, by any measure.