Wednesday, April 01, 2009




Dear Jeff Halper,

There are any number of critics of Israel in Australia,- both Jewish and non-Jewish. We all read the Israeli newspapers, as do most Australian policy-makers and everyone interested in what goes on in the ME.

Listening to polemicists from Israel about their government's policies, quite frankly is of no interest to our Jewish community. For years we had Israelis from the Far-Left, such as Shulamit Aloni and others, coming to us and speaking about their DREAMS AND HOPES for the future,- but all made sure that outside Israel they did not criticize the Government. Why? Because they know full well that there are those who wish, not just to see the downfall of the particular Israeli Government of the day, but for the DOWNFALL OF ISRAEL.


As for our Jewish community's ties to Israel, it is because we know that the only countries where Jews can feel free of officially-sponsored anti-Semitism nowadays, is where the Government also supports the Jewish State against its enemies. Do you realize what happened to the Jews of Venezuela,- just to mention the latest casualty,- where they never suffered from anti-Semitism until Chavez changed his stand on Israel?

Just because some of you, as Americans, never suffered from anti-Semitism elsewhere in the Diaspora, you seem to believe that the elusive peace for which you rightfully yearn in Israel, will come about because you are such goody-goody Jews who will invite your fellow Palestinian Arabs to share in your wonderful country and they will embrace you as brothers. What we see in the wider Islamic world out there however, doesn't fill us with any optimism that this will happen any-time soon.

If your fellow Israelis would agree with you, then Meretz and the far Left in Israel would reign supreme in the Knesset. Then we in the Diaspora would have to support that Government of the day. It is you, the Israeli citizens,- you are the ones to decide what kind of country you want. At the moment you are not representing the majority of Israelis and we do not see the need to give you a 'hechsher' from our organised Jewish community. Let the enemies of the State among us, host you and perhaps you can do some further incitement against your Israeli people amongst them and among the rest of the anti-Zionists.

Until then, we prefer the Israelis who explain, not criticize, their own Government. We don't care if you are extreme on the L or R,- in the Australian milieu we would rather you keep to your pro- or anti- Israel and Palestinian rhetoric to your own country.

Just be pro-Israel outside and we would welcome you with open arms..

M. M.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Jeff Halper writes:

An unhelpful discourse on Israel

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:

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."
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 <>]



Anonymous said...

While I disagree with the notion of not criticising my homeland abroad I have to congratulate you on being so clear and lucid in putting your point of view. I feel like circulating your comments with QED at the bottom in term of my own assessment of some Diaspora Jews.

The only issue I want to take up is your contention that “We all read the Israeli newspapers, as do most Australian policy-makers and everyone interested in what goes on in the ME”, Sorry but you read the English-language editions of some of them. The discourse in the English language is substantially different than that in the Hebrew media. Ynet(H) and Ynetnews(E) have quite a different selection of opinion pieces. And even the English Haaretz does not carry the breadth of views available in the Hebrew edition. Unless you read Hebrew you don't really get a feel for the Israeli discourse.
Sol Salbe

Miriam said...

In reply to Sol Salbe's comment: you are wrong in thinking that you are the only one who reads the Israeli press in Hebrew. In fact, since I started a youthful 'singles group' before my marriage many years ago, called "XIM", (Ex-Israelis and Melbournians)where I met my future husband,- newly-arrived from fighting the War of Independence, our friends are mostly still from that era. All read and listen to the Hebrew media, have most of their families in Israel (now even their children and grandkids) and live between the two countries most of the time.
Phones, e-mails and means of communication on all issues go back and forth. No one in our circle here or there has any problem with the stand of our organised Jewish community, but plenty of problems with the likes of Jeff Halper and his sponsors to Australia. Not only with the far L,- equally with the far R, I should add!