Features Australia

Theatre of the Palestine solidarity movement

Self-righteous Westerners and Israel-hating Jews are playing a deadly role

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

Galway, Ireland. They stood huddled in the corner of the lecture theatre whispering ominously. A final pep talk perhaps, or a hasty revision of tactics. Then the leader surged forward, arms flailing, voice bellowing, clad in the colours of Palestine. ‘Get the f–k off our campus, now, you f–king Zionist, f–king prick,’ his body literally convulsing with rage. His acolytes obediently pounded the desks in wild approval. ‘We don’t want your Israeli money around here.’

Professor Alan Johnson, a respected political theorist and one of British Labour’s most astute thinkers, stoically continued his address, speaking in his characteristic soft, measured, thoughtful tones. He presented his analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unsparing in his criticism of both sides, and stated the progressive case for peace: two states for two peoples.

But the protestors weren’t there to engage with ideas, or to advance a negotiated, peaceful outcome to the conflict. They were there to ‘resist’. What they were resisting in that lecture theatre on the western coast of the Irish Republic is not clear. Common sense and tolerance perhaps? But there they were. Seething westerners draped in keffiyehs and kitschy woven Palestine bracelets, the essential uniform of today’s fearless ‘revolutionary’.

Brendan O’Neill, the British libertarian agitator (and Speccie columnist) calls this phenomenon the ‘politically correct form of blacking up’. Ashamed of their ‘white privilege’, the activists appropriate the symbols of a people they see as noble and downtrodden; reducing them to a crude stereotype, a positive one in their minds, but an insulting, racist caricature nonetheless.

For the Israel-haters, Palestinians are helpless victims, totally without agency and therefore without fault. They exist only as an abstract construct of untarnished innocence, an idealised nation of goatherds and olive farmers. But this deception is only one half of the equation. To complete the resistance fantasy, one must conceive of a villain worth opposing, ‘the Zionist Jew’. This equally mythical figure, evil beyond redemption, has been invented just so that it can be slain. It is as far removed from reality as the caricature of the Palestinian as pure victim. All-powerful, menacing, insatiable and lethal. The ‘Super-Jew’, as London Times columnist David Aaronovitch calls it. If the traditional racist stereotype of the Jew is greedy, ruthless and cunning, wait till you meet the Zionist.

Yet Zionism is no more or less than the secular, national movement of the Jewish people. Like the national movement of the Palestinians, it sees the nation-state as the expression of a people’s right to self-determination. It makes no immutable claims regarding the State’s borders. Israel has twice traded territory for peace treaties (with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994). It does not seek to deny equal citizenship rights for members of ethnic or religious minority groups. It does not aspire to impose the religion of the majority on others. But fighting real Zionism, a people’s inalienable right to self-determination, hardly qualifies as the noble struggle about which self-righteous westerners fantasise, and would thus leave their pretentions to heroism unfulfilled. It is a far more intoxicating prospect to defeat imperialism, colonialism, apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, fascism and Nazism in one dizzying swoop. Slay the Zionist beast and redemption is achieved.

Australia had its own Galway moment in March. A guest lecture delivered by the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, on the ethical dilemmas of modern asymmetric warfare, was stormed by anti-Israel activists, intent on shutting the lecture down. The activists chanted through a megaphone until they were forcibly removed by security staff. Scuffles ensued, audience members and activists traded insults and a senior academic at the University was filmed in the unedifying act of waving banknotes in the face of an elderly Jewish woman. The activists who sought to silence speech through a megaphone later claimed to be not only victims but defenders of free speech.

A persistent feature of the anti-Israel movement is the handful of Jews who are to be found in its ranks. They are regarded as immensely useful to the ‘cause’. Firstly, they provide essential cover against charges of anti-semitism, merely by citing their Jewish background. One such activist spoke at an anti-Israel rally during the 2014 Gaza War which featured Israeli flags defaced with swastikas, Hezbollah banners, anti-Jewish chants in Arabic and pamphlets warning that the Australian government has been overrun by a ‘small minority group’. In a statement that was more revealing than he could possibly have realised he declared, ‘I don’t see any anti-semitism here.’

The other use to which the Jewish anti-Israel activist is put is to serve as an ostensible ‘expert’ with insight into the supposedly evil designs of the Zionist Jew. In an exchange of letters about the conflict with Peter Baldwin, a former Labor cabinet minister, the same Jewish anti-Israel activist warned that, ‘[Baldwin] fails to recognise the deep roots of ethnic exceptionalism in Jewish tradition.’ This is the language of academic sophistry, a cloak to disguise an appeal to ancient prejudices and misconceptions held by non-Jews concerning the Jewish religious tradition of ‘the chosen people’. Of course, anyone possessing even an elementary knowledge of theology or of Jewish history knows that the concept of the chosen people is about religious duties, not rights over others, and in no way holds the Jews to be superior to other nations. Claiming that it is the ‘character’ of the Jew that explains Israeli government policies to which one objects is a transparent and deplorable descent into a well-worn and long-discredited racist trope.

We are frequently told by anti-Israel activists that ‘an increasing number’ of Jews are turning against Israel. Yet extensive polling conducted in Australia and the US has consistently found that support for Israel as the State of the Jewish people is perhaps the one issue on which Jews agree most strongly, though of course views about specific policies and the vision of how to achieve peace vary.

So what motivates the tiny number of Jews who turn completely against Israel and the Jewish community, instead of constructively criticising or contributing from within? The answer is perhaps best left in the realm of psychoanalysis. But certainly in the theatre that is the anti-Israel movement, there is no more heroic role to play than that of the ‘dissident’ or the ‘revolutionary’; the Jew who is so ‘enlightened’, so courageous and so moral that he or she will stand against the community, speak truth to power (Jewish power no less) and risk social exclusion. ‘Not in my name’ is the catch-cry. Wearing the tag of ‘self-loathing’ with honour, Jewish dissidents can cloak themselves in the righteous retort, ‘I loathe only injustice.’

The reality is almost the mirror opposite. Jews who turn against Israel and their own community are frequently people who work in academia, the arts, media and entertainment, often succumbing to peer-group pressure to condemn Israel. Far from an act of heroism, their turning is an act of expediency or cowardice or both. The co-operation of their peers and prospects for career-advancement may depend on them having the ‘correct’ opinions. They have little to fear from the Jewish community, to which their affiliations have usually been weak, and of which their knowledge is poor. And the rewards of betrayal can be great – approbation from peers, a shot in the arm for a mediocre career, maybe a book or two.

But bigotry has never been a genuine form of dissent. It would take far greater moral fortitude and be far more ‘revolutionary’ for them to be mavericks among their peers and stand up to the hatred that underpins the anti-Israel movement instead of denying that the hatred exists.

Driven by fanaticism and the desire to act out fantasies of heroism and resistance, the anti-Israel movement is defined by symbolic acts that change nothing. Adherents celebrate when pro-forma anti-Israel resolutions are driven through hospitable forums and pop stars are intimidated into cancelling their gigs in Tel Aviv. How this improves the life of a single Palestinian has never been established. When a moderate voice in the Palestinian leadership emerged some years ago in the form of PM Salam Fayyad, a technocrat who understood that a Palestinian state must be built before it can be recognised, he was invariably labelled a ‘stooge’ and ‘collaborator’, and hounded from office.

When Palestinians starve in their thousands in Syria barely a whimper is raised, never mind a street protest or a petition. When Palestinians are left homeless in Gaza by the Egyptian demolitions of houses to make way for an impenetrable cement barrier, through which not a bag of aid or food can pass (in contrast to the thousands of tonnes of supplies that enter Gaza through Israel each week), the activists are nowhere to be seen or heard from, frozen into indifference since Israel cannot be blamed.

And so, the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people are buried under the fantasies, delusions and self-serving conduct of their would-be rescuers. Meanwhile, the Palestinians remain stateless, divided and infantilised, suspended in the role of victims, despite being actors in a conflict it is within their power to resolve.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Alex Ryvchin is the Public Affairs Director for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

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Show comments
  • me, myself and I

    Extremely thoughtful article.

  • Stephen Perry

    Great piece.

    The theatre of these two characatures; the helpless, resisting Palo and the noble,  altruistic Jew For Genocide are such a farce. It’s so good to see such a well presented account exposing the tricks in their circus.

    The JFG character i find more obscene of the two. The dishonesty seems to be greater. There would have to be more financial or vocational advantage while claiming the opposite. A combination of greed, cowardice and deception. Not particularly endearing.

  • Chaim Yankel

    I think we have to really examine how Israel has failed on the hasbara front when it comes to non-observant Jews. This is not to blame the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or leading Jewish groups, but to recognize that better strategies need to be put in place. Instead of “explaining” (literal translation of hasbara), Israel needs to recruit as it has never done previously. Instead of trying to teach the truth from a defensive position, it’s time to aggressively push Israel from an ethical point of view. Imagine a picture of an Israeli lone-soldier with the heading: “My mother cried when I volunteered for Tzahal” and the footer “I’m fighting for human rights, for justice, for all the values of the Jewish people.”

    • Michael Mann

      Do you not think that a lot of opponents are simply not open to explanations? They look for any pretext to indulge their prejudice. It’s not worth the effort. More useful is building solidarity within the Jewish community and continuing to build the strength of the IDF. The only thing that has deterred opponents of Israel to date is military strength.
      Israel might also consider observing the laws of war only as stringently as other state actors have. There are no rewards for bending over backwards since no one credits Israel for its current exacting observance of international law.
      Tien An Men brought domestic peace in China. Perhaps it’s time for the IDF to stop using rubber bullets. Nice guys definitely finish last in the Middle East.

    • Kennybhoy

      Alas Israel hasn’t done hasbara since the end of the Mapai/Histadrut hegemony… 🙁

    • johnb1945

      Israel fails massively in explaining itself.

      I don’t know really why, but I speculate based on observation and interaction with both Israeli and non-Israeli Jews…..

      1) That’s there is a fatalistic assumption (understandable) that the average non gentile “Joe” is born an instinctive anti-semite so there’s no point in explaining Jewish interests to him.

      2) That they assume people already understand both the nature of the Jewish people and their history of persecution. This, in turn, enforces point 1) – after all if “Joe” already knows the travails of the Jewish people and still doesn’t think Jews should have a homeland, then what’s the point?

      Being a “Joe” myself I can say that our knowledge of the Jews is, more often than not, incomplete.

      Firstly, we think Jews are purely adherents of a religion (Judaism). It needs to be explained that Jews are a people and culture too, analogous, perhaps, to anglo saxons or celts and their latter day descendants.

      Most people would accept the reasonableness of a people having a homeland…..

      Second, from an Anglo Saxon perspective, it’s been a long time – several centuries – since there was official, ruling class sanctioned anti-semitism in the Anglosphere. So while we obviously know about the holocaust, we may forget that this is only the worst example of persecution in a history littered with it.

      Having a place from which to defend Jewish culture and represent Jewish interests is ultimately the real justification for Israel. And it is a reasonable justification – most peoples and cultures have somewhere where they are a majority and at least have a chance of ruling themselves and perpetuating their culture..

      These are emotive arguments, but most people can relate to them. Once people understand these, then you can go into the detail of how a West Bank withdrawal (for example) would merely provide a forward operating base for Jihadists and so on.

      The people who oppose Israel implacably are ideological, and they are a minority. Most people are open to persuasion, it’s a question of pitching the case correctly…

  • Harry

    “Driven by fanaticism and the desire to act out fantasies of heroism and resistance, the anti-Israel movement is defined by symbolic acts that change nothing”

    This has been the Palestinians MO Since Day 1.

    • Gilbert White

      There have been many decent, white skinned European people killed by these Pals. since the 7O’s. The EU has given money to the organisers of these atrocities at times and to the ones the Israelis have not culled off. Are the authorities seeking justice for our murdered people including PC. Fletcher?

      • greencoat

        Israel – the only force for truth and decency in the Middle East – delivers justice daily by simply existing, even as the West spits in her face.

  • Michael Mann

    Why have some Jews turned against Israel? In the same way that some Jews in the past converted to Christianity to deflect the opprobrium of their Christian persecutors, some Jews today “convert” to anti-Zionism. Delusional in both cases.

  • Aaron

    I’ve identified a specific fear among Jews as being “found out.” Some are afraid that their very lives are in danger if they express a Jewish identity … and yeah, there’s a chance of that. Some go to extreme lengths to make sure they’re on the aggressive side, it’s not unlike children identifying with animals they fear.

  • Gilbert White

    Excellent points in the old days these overpaid academics would build a profound cabbage white collection. Today they adopt and internalize strange HR paradigms. They must get out and embrace the dangers of the third world more?

  • Apple Orchard

    Some people just love the attention they get as Enfants Terribles. Though the leading Jewish lights of the anti-Israel left are more Terrible than Enfant. Even 70 is not too old for some of these relics who still haven’t got over their glory days during the Springbok tour of the 60s. Finally. Another chance to shine, however hollow the pretext. And there is nothing like the fawning appreciation that you get when you are prepared to bucket your own people, to people who are avid to hate them.

  • Rab iBurns

    Zionism isn’t exclusively secular. In fact the first significant waves in the 19th century were religious (Gaon of Vilna & disciples, etc.).

  • Nadia

    Yo mate excuse me but I am perfectly capable of having my own thoughts. No need for ad hominem attacks. No need to tell me how to think. You derive the right to have your own opinions by the same source from which I derive the right to have my own opinion. I don’t work in media; I work in law and I am perfectly woke to the realities of Israeli violations of international law. I am extraordinarily proud of my heritage and I am extraordinarily aware of prevalent anti-Semitism. You’d find yourself much less loathsome if you stopped tryna shut me (us) down. Not everyone has to think the same way as you. That’s just life.

    • Richard

      Quite a peculiar manner of expression for somebody who “works in law”. Why is the writer “loathsome” in your opinion?

      • Nadia

        Because of the trope of the self-loathing Jew expounded upon in the article, Richard.

        • Maurice Solovitz

          I call it the Jewish Uncle Tom, the House Jew. Normally this thing is a person with little, often no knowledge of Judaism and even less knowledge of Israel or what Zionism means, either historically or in the present time of conflict. The only purpose their Judaism has, and this is what makes it truly and deeply offensive is their predilection for using a Jewish ‘identity’ as a whip with which to attack Jews or their supporters within the non-Jewish community. They are truly disgusting.

          • Mow_the_Grass

            Norman Finkelstein/Noam Chomsky and many others including your own Brit ie Gerald Kaufman – are the modern day equivalent of the ‘kapo’ Jew.
            I spit on them.

  • Mow_the_Grass

    No such thing as a ‘Palestinian’
    Term was invented by the fraud/fake ie Yasser Arafat circa ’67.
    No such country/state ever existed.
    The area was captured from Jordan and is known by its biblical name ie Judea/Samaria.
    Jordan is in fact ‘Palestine’.
    Time for these Arabs presently squatting in in the ‘westbank’ – to go home.

  • Dolce Vito

    How is that the Executive Council of Australian knows what is good for Palestinians?
    They never opposed the solidarity of western activists, if I remember well.

  • Edgar Davidson
  • Basha Kline

    fancy holding up his wife’s underpants for all to see…!