Loewenstein: New Jewish group breaks 'conspiracy of silence'

Friday, March 16, 2007

The internet launch on March 5 of the Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) has provoked both criticism and support. Author Antony Loewenstein, one of the initiators, told Green Left Weekly that the Jewish establishment reacted "very badly" because, in his view, their position as the spokespeople for the Jewish community for decades is now being challenged.

The internet launch on March 5 of the Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) has provoked both criticism and support. Author Antony Loewenstein, one of the initiators, told Green Left Weekly that the Jewish establishment reacted "very badly" because, in his view, their position as the spokespeople for the Jewish community for decades is now being challenged.

"The [Australian] group is partly based on a British group Independent Jewish Voices, which launched about a month and a half ago with about a hundred individuals", Loewenstein said. It now has about 400 sign-ons, about the same as the Australian group.

Loewenstein commented that while the aims of the Australian group "are kind of similar to the UK group", they are also "a little bit different". He explained that the project had come about in part in Britain and Australia in response to last year's Lebanon war, something he said "pushed people over the edge".

While those signing on to IAJV "don't all agree on issues to do with Israel", Loewenstein added that there is agreement on the need to break the "conspiracy of silence" in the Jewish community. "If you are critical of Israel … you are inevitably accused of being disloyal, self-hating or anti-Semitic. We think this is unacceptable."

"The Jewish establishment in Australia has reacted very badly to the new group mainly because they have had the luxury for decades to be the only spokespeople for the Jewish community. When an issue happens, the media goes to person X or person Y, and they generally all say the same thing: Israel can do what it wants, every behaviour is defensible.

"Since the statement's release, their line has been: 'What are you talking about? Of course there is open debate and free debate in the Jewish community'. At the same time they are basically slagging us off for daring to say there is not.

"The reality is that there are many Jews who believe that the Jewish establishment is incredibly intolerant of views that are not blindly pro-Israel. It is seen as somehow disloyal to question the Israeli government policy."

While critics have accused the group's statement of condoning Palestinian terrorism, Loewenstein points out that "the statement itself quite clearly says that we condemn violence on both sides, state-sanctioned Israeli violence or Palestinian violence.

"A lot of Jewish people complained about this bizarrely saying: 'You are not seriously suggesting that Israeli actions against terrorism are the same as suicide bombings?' They don't regard Israeli violence as violence. But when you put to them, as I did this week, how they explain the fact that Israel was using Palestinians as human shields, they don't know how to answer."

Loewenstein believes the pro-Israel establishment has tried to make out the group is all about him. "It is not about me, it's about a group which represents a wide range of views." He said he is critical of Israel because of its policy that discriminates against non-Jews. "That's a statement of fact in Israel and even [more] in the Occupied Territories."

Among the signatories there are a range of political opinions on the question of Israel, from those who support a single bi-national democratic Palestinian state to those who support the continued existence of a Jewish state of Israel.

Loewenstein said of his own position: "When My Israel Question came out last year … many people criticised me for putting forward a two-state solution, rather than imagining one bi-national state. In the last year my view has changed. A lot of Palestinians and Israelis seem to support two states. [However] because the occupation is expanding, even the possibility of having two states, of actually having a Palestinian state which is viable and independent, is becoming nearly impossible. I can only speak for myself [on this]."

"Hamas is the democratically elected Palestinian government and [while] there might be some elements I don't particularly like, it's irrelevant. The fact is they're the elected representatives, you have to deal with them.

"I think one of the big stumbling blocks appears to be that the world community and Israel say we can't deal with Hamas because it doesn't recognise [Israel's] right to exist and in the Hamas charter that is true. However, since Hamas won [the elections] last year there has been an increasing pragmatism towards Israel. There could be negotiations towards a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. Hamas never said that two years ago. Israel doesn't even want to talk to them and [in that it is] supported fully by the US."

Loewenstein also condemned US moves to foster a civil war in Palestine between Hamas and Fatah, describing the strategy as "absolute lunacy". "The US is funding the opposition, training Fatah militants to try and instil civil war between Hamas and Fatah in a vain hope that Fatah will win and the Palestinian people will suddenly re-embrace them. It's going to fail."

Loewenstein described Israel as having "an utter addiction to expanding the occupation". "It is difficult to believe Israel when it says, 'Yes, we believe in peace, and yes, we would love to give Palestinians a homeland', while at the same time it is expanding the settlements to make that homeland virtually impossible.

"The 40 years of occupation has corrupted Israel's soul. Occupation by definition corrupts a country's soul, not just Israel. The Palestinians have never been further away from a homeland."

[The Independent Australian Jewish Voices declaration can be found at .]

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