Letters to the Editor

March 23, 2007

Jewish Voices I

I am an activist of Jewish descent and read with interest the interview in GLW #703 with Antony Loewenstein on the setting up of Independent Australian Jewish Voices. The IAJV statement follows a similar initiative from British Jews. The statement's aim is to challenge the idea that the pro-Israel Jewish establishment represents all Jewish public opinion on Israel and Palestine. The controversy in the mainstream media over the IAJV statement suggests it has had some success in this regard.

Loewenstein explains that while the aims of the Australian group "are kind of similar to the UK group", they are also "a little bit different". Whereas the British statement condemns human rights abuses by Israel, the IAJV declares: "We condemn violence by all parties, whether state sanctioned or not. We believe that Israel's right to exist must be recognised and that Palestinians' right to a homeland must also be acknowledged."

The difference between the two statements is that IAJV takes a public stand in support of the continued existence of the Zionist state of Israel and rejects the Palestinians people's right, recognised in international law, to armed self-defence against Zionist colonialisation of their national homeland.

I do not believe that the Israeli state's "right to exist" must be recognised by anyone. The state came into existence and continues to exist through the dispossession of and denial of equal rights for Palestine's indigenous population. I believe the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in the replacement of the self-declared "Jewish state" of Israel with a bi-national, democratic-secular state providing equal rights to all the inhabitants of Palestine, regardless of their religion.

I think the statement would have been more inclusive of the opinions of progressive Jews if it had followed the British example rather than by declaring for a "soft" Zionist position.

Linda Waldron

Kew, Vic

Jewish Voices II

Independent Australian Jewish Voices represents a more realistic approach to Israel than those Zionists who give the impression that they defend Israel regardless of its policies. Their attitude seems to be "my country right or wrong".

Conflict with the Palestinians goes back to the period shortly after the Balfour Declaration in 1917. The fundamental causes were a naive belief that an imperialist power could conquer and impose its will on the indigenous population and get away with it for an indefinite period, and at the same time promise the Zionists that Palestine would be the national home for the persecuted Jewish people.

Many of the Zionist-minded migrants were chauvinistic and their leaders and employers discriminatory to the Palestinians.

The refusal of Israeli governments whether Labor or conservatives to allow the Palestinian refugees to return following the massacre of Deir Yassin in April 1948 has been and remains a constant source of conflict. How could it be otherwise — while the Palestine refugees are languishing in displaced persons camps and those Palestinians in Israel suffer from discrimination.

Let us hope that Independent Australian Jewish Voices will articulate policies that can offer humanitarian solutions to the problems that remain unresolved.

Bernie Rosen

Strathfield, NSW

The Unknown Terrorist

In his review of Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist in GLW #702, Simon Butler cited comments made in my review at the Compulsive Reader website that this novel was an example of "why polemics and fictions don't work well together".

I'm was not at all stating that politics and fiction don't work well together or — as Butler also accuses me of stating — that I think Australian novelists should only reflect on politics with a "non-committal subtlety".

Indeed, authors like Andrew McGahan in both The White Earth and the recently released Underground or even Flanagan in Gould's Book of Fish are not at all subtle in their politics and create outstanding, effective fiction that makes strong political points.

The point is that in The Unknown Terrorist, Flanagan, who is capable of so much more, has created a novel solely for the purpose of making a political point. As a result, the quality of the fiction suffered, the setting and characters are wooden and unbelievable, and the political point is watered down by the fictional guise and overwhelming sense of anger and fear permeating the book.

Good fiction is driven by characters, setting and plot, and the theme (strong, political, or otherwise — strong thematics are important in good fiction) should arise naturally from these rather than the other way around.

So I agree with Butler that fiction can be an important vehicle for social change and for author commitment — just that it needs to be driven by the characters and story, not by the point the author is trying to make.

As fiction, I think that The Unknown Terrorist fails on all counts. For a novelist of Flanagan's extraordinary abilities, this is a shame.

Magdalena Ball

Via email {Abridged]

Iranian feminists

I would like to congratulate you for your brave article "Crackdown on Iranian feminists" (GLW #702). As a person who believes strongly in the rights of women and minorities, I have, for many years, been highly concerned about the treatment of such groups in Iran. This treatment has become markedly worse since the current Iranian government came to power. As such, I feel it is our moral duty to bring this issue to the attention of the wider community.

I propose a day of action on university campuses around Australia to stand up to the policies of the Iranian government vis-a-vis women, and other minorities which it continues to oppress.

J. Koonin

Via email

Broadband network

Labor's proposed high-speed national broadband network would particularly benefit people in outer suburbs and rural areas. Schemes like this are sometimes criticised using the claim that adults who decide to live in less central locations should pay the price of this choice, and not receive government assistance. But this is too simple and harsh.

First, many suburban fringe and country residents are children. Second, many are lower-income people who live where they do because of financial pressures.

Disadvantage in Australia is heavily concentrated in particular outer areas. This concentration breeds social problems like crime, depression and unemployment which have costs for the whole community. Spending a small fraction of national income on measures — like Labor's broadband plan — which reduce geographic inequalities is a perfectly legitimate function of government.

Brent Howard

Rydalmere, NSW

Air show

The biennial six-day Australian International Aerospace and Defence Exposition, at Avalon airport, near Geelong, could be discontinued for frustrating the business ambitions of the airport's owners. Bloodthirsty international arms traders have had their fill and the air show will be opened to the general public on March 24-25. I love flying, but I won't be taking my grandkids.

The guest of honour, an old US test pilot, says the best airplane is the one that kills the most. Charming, as we suffer daily reports of more carnage in the Iraq war of political expediency and Australia writhes in a drought accelerated by the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions on Earth.

In 1991, Canberra's Aidex arms fair was closed down by public protest. NSW's Queanbeyan Council artfully offered to host it if the outcomes were only educational. Of course they aren't — do they think we're stupid or what?

Yvonne Francis

Apollo Bay, Vic

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