Jewish Australians are playing an increasing role calling out Israel for its bombardment of Gaza and killings in the West Bank, while debunking claims of antisemitism levelled at peace protesters.
Four months of war have killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, two thirds of them women and children, destroyed or damaged more than half the homes in Gaza and displaced 80 per cent (1.7 million) of Gaza’s population, with no sign of the conflict abating.
The IDF recently announced a further offensive in Rafah, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterating the conflict would go on until Hamas was completely eliminated.
Largely ignored by the mainstream media, which has focused on reaction from pro-Israel Jewish organisations, many Jews around the world have been outraged by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and rallied for peace and opposed the Netanyahu government’s military response.
The range of Australian Jewish organisations joining in the weekly rallies around Australia in support of the Palestinian people, has included Jews against the Occupation, Tzedek Collective, Emet Australia , Jews Against Fascism and the Loud Jew Collective.
“[We’ve] got to come to terms with the reality of the subordination of Palestinians,” said Vivienne Porzolt, spokesperson for Jews against the Occupation ’48 Australia.
The idea that any criticism of Israel – including through protests, social media posts, or boycotts – is inherently antisemitic is a total fallacy.
“Until Jews are willing to give up a superior dominance position… until they’re willing to live as equals with the Palestinians, they’re not going to be secure and they’ve got to understand that.”
This week the Jewish Council of Australia, a collection of lawyers, academics, teachers and writers, launched to give a voice to Jews who oppose the occupation of Palestinian territories and the violence currently being wrought on Gaza and the West Bank.
Co-founder and executive officer Sarah Schwartz, a human rights lawyer, said: “We are concerned about the rising discourse in Australia, promoted by Israel lobby groups, which conflates antisemitism with support for Palestinian human rights.
“This discourse inaccurately and dangerously paints all Jewish people as being supportive of Israel’s military actions and human rights abuses.
“The idea that any criticism of Israel – including through protests, social media posts, or boycotts – is inherently antisemitic is a total fallacy. No government or country is beyond criticism and accountability.”
"Not all Jewish people support the military actions of the State of Israel"@Sarah__Schwartz speaks about the launch of @JewishCouncilAU, saying there has been "conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-semitism"#6NewsAU | https://t.co/eU0kSSqP9E pic.twitter.com/zSgoQmdTaI
— 6 News Australia (@6NewsAU) February 7, 2024
‘Not in our name’ – an expression of Jewish dissent – is now commonly chanted at rallies and mentioned in online posts, refuting the notion Israel’s actions are committed in the name of all Jewish people.
Calls for a permanent cessation of violence were given added backing by the International Court of Justice’s ruling last month that there was a plausible possibility Israel was carrying out a genocide in Gaza. However, it has not slowed Israel’s military response, with the IDF now ramping up for an offensive on Rafah on the Egyptian border of South Gaza, the last safe refuge of over 1 million displaced Palestinians.
Dissent has manifested in other aspects of Australian life, with Jewish Australians at the forefront of challenging assumptions about the war.
After three actors in the Sydney Theatre Company were heavily criticised for wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh during the curtain call at the end of their show in November – Louise Adler, herself Jewish and a publisher and director of Australia’s writers week, took to national television to show her support for the artists and their right to express their opinions.
Worth noting those now canceling their donations, withdrawing support of artists whose views they don’t share is that there was not a whisper of outrage when most arts org in the country declared #WeStandWithUkraine. So some wars against occupation are kosher and others aren’t? pic.twitter.com/YHaE8MbTg9
— Louise Adler (@louiseadler) December 10, 2023
Amid the ethics of Australian media outlets one-sided reportage on Israel-Palestine coming into question, hundreds of journalists signed an open letter in November for improved coverage, but were met with reporting bans and pushbacks from their organisations.
Independent news, including many Jewish Australian journalists have helped fill the gap with fair and objective coverage. These include Antony Loewenstein, whose book The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel exports the technology of occupation around the world, won the 2023 Walkley Book of the Year Award.
Jewish activism against Israeli state policy and the Zionist movement has a longstanding tradition, with the earliest and strongest opposition to Zionism tracing back to the General Jewish Labour Bund, a leftist political party founded in Russia in 1897.
The party’s key principle of Doikayt (or ‘hereness’) is defined by Jewish scholar and activist Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz as “[T]he right to be, and to fight for justice, wherever we are,” in her 2007 book The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism.
Hereness and other modernist principles like diasporism, directly oppose the Zionist foundations of Israel that claim the right to land occupied by the Palestinians for thousands of years, ideology presently being used as a justification for the violence perpetrated in Gaza, and referred to frequently by Netanyahu.
'Jews Against Genocide' protesters, part of 'Not in Our Name Vienna,' disrupted the Austrian parliament, calling for a Gaza ceasefire, while expressing opposition to Austria's pro-Israel stance, aiming for an end to killing of Palestinians.
— Maktoob (@MaktoobMedia) January 17, 2024
Porzolt told Central News: “No one is entitled to defend an occupation. An illegal occupation, an illegal seat. No one’s entitled to that.
“Right now they’re [Hamas] saying, we will for a permanent cessation of violence, stop all attacks. Israel is not going to do it because they want to destroy Hamas. This is the issue. And that position isn’t reflected in the media.”
Hamas’ attack on October 7, the catalyst for a the latest conflict, has polarised local and international Jewish communities.
For Australian Jews, Porzolt said: “People are deeply, deeply shocked and traumatised about what happened.
“From my point of view, [it’s] so over-focused. I mean, what happened on October 7th was horrific, but what has happened since? What happened before? What led up to it?”
The state of Israel being conceived as a Jewish collectivity has further led to a conflation by some between antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
Rita Tenser, a spokesperson from Tzedek Collective, told Central News: “I definitely think that there is an increase in both. In both genuine antisemitism and what someone might call antisemitism, but it’s actually anti-Zionism.”
Tenser said labelling criticism of Israel as antisemitic was one way of shutting down Jewish dissent, both within and outside the state.
The antisemitism does not come from the houthis. It comes from Israel pretending to be the voice of Jewish belief. This is why anti-zionists Jews chant, “not in our name”. pic.twitter.com/LvRUaJ5DH6
— Tyler Clapper (@tylerclapper) January 18, 2024
“The IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism is always there for anyone who wants to inflate the antisemitism numbers by adding anti-Zionism numbers to it… so when there is more anti-Zionism work, it also looks like there’s more antisemitism,” they said.
While antisemitism has reportedly been on the rise since October 7, Porzolt claimed much of it is actually just criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians and accusations the state practices apartheid.
“I think Israel is a great cause of antisemitism because antisemitism’s deeply rooted in European society anyway,” said Porzolt. “Zionists say ‘Oh well, you’re not a real Jew if you’re not a Zionist’.
“One of the issues I have with Zionism is because the total immersion of Zionism as an identifier of Jewish identity has thinned out what was a very rich culture.
“Zionism’s… statement [is] that the land belongs to all Jews of the world. So they incorporate us into that project in a way that we reject.”
While Jewish organisations, like Tzedek Collective and Jews against the Occupation ’48 Australia, could be crucial in debunking falsehoods regarding Israel and its actions, they get very little coverage from the media.
“Judaism is so diverse, and it’s so diverse worldwide as well, which is something that tends to get erased in this kind of focus on Israel,” Tenser said. “And Israel certainly encourages that because they want to be at the center.”
Both organisations, alongside other Jewish led activist groups, are supporting Palestinians in Gaza, through spreading awareness on social media, supporting local Palestine groups and attending local protests. It’s part of a global movement of Jews hoping to end the violence.
“This is the biggest… movement for justice I’ve seen since the Vietnam War movement. It’s going so deep and so wide. And it’s because it’s on our (mobile phone) screens all the time I think that makes a difference,” said Porzolt.
There is definitely something to be said for just showing people that you’re with them, that you’re not [going to]… ignore what’s happening to them, or justify it somehow.
“It’s not the whole Jewish community that’s… either supporting this or ignoring this.”
The flood of pro-Palestinian support across the community, manifesting in protests, boycotts and noisy public opinion has received little positive coverage by the media, which in particular has ignored dissenting Jewish voices.
“There is definitely something to be said for just showing people that you’re with them, that you’re not [going to]… ignore what’s happening to them, or justify it somehow,” said Tenser.
“I think for us as a Jewish group, that’s particularly important because certainly it’s easier for mainstream Jewish groups to, if not actively support Israel, than to at least like to be silent and just try and put their heads down.
We won't stop until the killing stops.
Ten weeks of war, ten weeks of protests, ten weeks of Tzedek members showing up in numbers pic.twitter.com/IGFc8b36Wl
— Tzedek Collective (@tzedekcollectiv) December 18, 2023
“[While] it’s very easy to just stay focused on the way that it affects you personally… it’s very important to have at least some of us saying no. [The] fact that we’re here and we see what’s happening.”
Main image by Central News.