Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The censoring of Jeff Halper & Israeli / Jewish critics of Israel in Australia

Dear friends,
please find below an article by Israeli anti-occupation activist, Dr Jeff Halper, who recently did a speaking tour of Australia. Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and an outspoken critic of Israel's occupation policies and the war on Gaza. Halper was one of the first Israelis to enter Gaza aboard the Free Gaza boats which broke the illegal and ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza.

The article below is Halper's response to the Australian Jewish News (AJN), Australia's leading Jewish newspaper refusal to publish an paid adverstiment regarding his speaking tour and the attempts by the Zionist lobby in Australia to discredit and censor Halper.

Halper submitted the article for publication to the AJN, who refused to publish it. As a result it was subsequently published on the blog of Antony Loewenstein, an independent Sydney based journalist. Loewenstein is an outspoken Australian Jew, who is opposed to the Israeli occupation. He the co-founder of Australian Independent Jewish Voices and the author of My Israel Question - a book which was inspired by the Australian Zionist lobby's hysterical and laughable over-reaction to Palestinian activist, Hanan Ashrawi, being awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 2003.

It was Loewenstein's article, The Peace Activist the Jewish News rejects (see below), which first exposed the refusal of AJN to run the Halper advertisement.

In solidarity, Kim


Loewenstein's introduction: The following article is written by Israeli/American peace activist Jeff Halper for the Australian Jewish News but the paper refuses to run the piece, despite spending weeks attacking Halper and his supporters in its pages.

Israeli anti-occupation activist, Dr Jeff Halper

An unhelpful discourse on Israel
By Jeff Halper.

The uproar in the organized Jewish community over the prospect of my speaking in Australia is truly startling to an Israeli like me. Granted, I am very critical of Israel ’s policies of Occupation and doubt whether a two-state solution is still possible given the extent of Israel ’s settlements, but this hardly warrants the kind of demonization I received in the pages of The AJN. Opinions similar to mine are readily available in the mainstream Israeli media. Indeed, I myself write frequently for the Israeli press and appear regularly on Israeli TV and radio.

Why, then, the hysteria? Why was I banned from Temple Emmanuel in Sydney , a self-proclaimed progressive synagogue? Why did I, an Israeli, have to address the Jewish community from a church? Why was I invited to speak in every university in eastern Australia yet, at Monash University, I was forced to hold a secret meeting with Jewish faculty in a darkened room far from the halls of intellectual discourse? Why, when the “leaders” of the Jewish community were excoriating me and my positions, did the Israelis who attended my talks express such appreciation that “real” Israeli views were finally getting aired in Australia, even if they did not all agree with me? Given the support my right to speak evidenced by most of the letters published in The AJN, this all raises disturbing questions over the right of Australian Jews to hear divergent views on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians held by Israelis themselves.

It raises an even deeper issue, however. What should be the relationship of Diaspora Jewry to Israel ? Whatever threat I represented to the organized Jewish community of Australia had less to do with Israel , I suspect, than with some damage I might to do to the idealized “Leon Uris” image of Israel which you hold onto so dearly. This might seem like a strange thing to say, but I do not believe that you in the Diaspora have internalized the fact that Israel is a foreign country as far from your idealized version as Australia is far from its image as kangaroo-land. Countries change, they evolve. What would Australia ’s European founders think – even those who until very recently pursued a “White Australia” policy – if they were to see the multi-cultural country you have become? Well, almost 30% of Israeli citizens are not Jews, we may very well have permanently incorporated another four million Palestinians – the residents of the Occupied Territories – into our country and, to top it off, it’s clear by now that the vast majority of the world’s Jews are not going to emigrate to Israel . Those facts, plus the urgent need of Israel to make peace with its neighbors, mean something. They mean that Israel must change in ways Ben Gurion, Leon Uris and Mark Leibler never envisioned, even if that’s hard for you to accept.

Yet I see this as a positive thing, a sign of a healthy country coming to grips with reality, some of it of its own creation, even if it means that Israel will evolve from a Jewish state into a state of all its citizens – a bi-national or democratic state. Rather than “eliminating” Israel , this challenge is in fact a natural and probably inevitable development. It will not be easy, but if you can become multi-cultural, so can we.

But that’s our problem as Israelis. What’s your problem? Why should discussing such important issues for Israel be the cause of such distress for you? Because, I venture to say, you have a stake in preserving Israel ’s idealized image that trumps dealing with the real country. In my view, Israel is being used as the lynchpin of your ethnic identity in Australia ; mobilizing around a beleaguered Israel is essential for keeping your kids Jewish. I would go so far as to accuse you of needing an Israel in conflict, which is why you seem so threatened by an Israel at peace, why you deny that peace is even possible, why a peaceful Israel that is neither threatened nor “Jewish” cannot fulfill the role you have cast for it, and thus why you characterize my message as “vile lies.”

Halper at protest attempting to stop Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian residence

This, to be honest, is the threat I represent. Only this can explain why rabbis, community “leaders” and Jewish professors choose to meet me secretly rather than have me, a critical Israel , in their synagogues or classrooms. This is all understandable. You do need a lynchpin if you are to preserve your identity as a prosperous community in a tolerant multi-cultural society. I would just question whether the real country of Israel can fulfill that role, or even if it’s fair to Israel to expect it to.

We are different peoples. Israel can no more define Diaspora Jewish life than you can define Israel . Rather than knee-jerk defense of an imaginary place, you need to develop a respect for Israel and Israeli voices, a respect that will come only when you start regarding Israel as a real country. And you have to get a life of your own. You have to develop alternative Diaspora Jewish cultures and identities. Ironically, after all I have said, the Israeli government will resist that, for it uses you as agents to support its policies, often extreme right-wing and militaristic policies that contradict your very values of cultural pluralism and human rights. Remember: Israel does what it does in your name. Unless you take an independent position, you are complicit.

What befell me in Australia is just a tiny piece of a sad story of mutual exploitation: you using Israel to keep your community together, Israel using you to defend its indefensible policies. Perhaps something good can emerge from all this: robust discussion on the nature of Israeli-Diaspora relations. I’m going home to Jerusalem . You have to let Israel go and get a [Jewish] life.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a peace and human rights organization dedicated to achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He can be reached at


The peace activist the Jewish News rejects
by Antony Loewenstein
12 March 2009

Antony Loewenstein

Dr Jeff Halper is an American born, Israeli-based professor of anthropology, author and co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). This 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominated group resists the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the illegally occupied West Bank. It uses non-violence and civil obedience.

In 2008 Halper sailed as the only Jew on a protest boat from Cyprus to Gaza to highlight Israel’s collective punishment of the Strip. He told an audience in Canada in January that, “The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not because there was a hurricane. There are [Western] countries that are creating starvation in Gaza”.

Halper has just arrived in Australia for a two-week national tour, appeared on yesterday’s Radio National Breakfast and ABC Radio PM, with much more media to come, and will be speaking at universities and public meetings across the country.

But you won’t be reading about his Sydney events in the Australian Jewish News (AJN). The publisher has refused to run ads by Jews Against the Occupation (JAO) that simply inform people of Halper’s schedule. The group was given no reason for the decision except that the publisher had instructed the paper not to allow the ads to appear. Crikey has seen the ad and it only contains titles and locations of the lectures and contact phone numbers.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald also confirms that a planned talk at a leading Sydney liberal synagogue was cancelled due to pressure from the Zionist lobby.

I contacted the AJN’s National Editor, Ashley Browne, to shed more light on the decision to block the ad. He said that the paper was not obliged to run the ads and refused ads all the time.

When pushed, he acknowledged that he supported the publisher, Polaris Media’s Robert Magid – who recently claimed in the paper that the late English playwright Harold Pinter was a “political extremist” for daring to criticise Israel – to cut ads that would “offend significant members of the community, especially subscribers”. I asked him how an ad that simply listed a handful of events would be “offensive”, but he gave no further information.

Magid told the Herald that he rejected the ad because he didn’t “like the crowd who are bringing him out.” He went on: “I am familiar with them. They use their Judaism to bash other Jews and issues associated with the Jewish community.”

I queried Browne why the paper seemed happy to run irregular ads from the fundamentalist, West Bank settler movement. “Nobody has ever complained about those ads,” he replied. Clearly the message of the colonial project in the West Bank – a recent EU report found yet more evidence of illegal development around East Jerusalem – is less “offensive” than a mild-mannered Jewish peace activist.

This latest example of censorship follows a long history of the mainstream Jewish establishment being fearful over honestly debating Israel/Palestine (something we’ve seen over the last days in the US over the forced resignation of Israel critic Charles W Freeman from the post of Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Read more here.)

It’s hard to disagree with leading British Jewish thinker, Antony Lerman, who wrote in last week’s London Independent that until Jews stop always seeing themselves as victims, peace in the Middle East is impossible. It’s a shame the AJN doesn’t take its democratic responsibility seriously. Debate over the Middle East is raging overseas and new, more moderate voices, are emerging. Such perspectives are largely absent from the country’s only national, Jewish paper.

Instead, the AJN ran a piece last week by novelist Alan Gold, arguing against the UN’s upcoming anti-racism conference, Durban II: “And now that the storm clouds are gathering over Geneva, we can only look on in horror, and feel as our parents or grandparents must have felt in 1933.”

Memo to the AJN: Hitler died in 1945.


Anonymous said...

Interesting to hear the thing about Monash University. Last year they hosted Benny Morris to great acclaim. Morris is an outspoken advocate of the view that the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians didn't go far enough.

Young Activist said...

Sounds a lot like the situation in the U.S. Do Jewish activists get accused of antisemitism in Australia too?