My Israel Question
My Israel Question
In this determined and controversial critique of the role of Zionist lobbyists in influencing the public sphere, and exhaustive consideration of the Israeli occupation of the
Recalling attempts by elements of the Zionist lobby to discredit Palestinian peace activist and political figure Hanan Ashrawi after she was awarded Sydney Peace Prize, Loewenstein details what he sees as a stifling and intimidating atmosphere created by the lobby in its attempt to limit debate over the future of
Perhaps one of the most telling chapters of this title comes late in the second chapter where Sara Roy argues in quote provided by Loewenstein,
"In the post-Holocaust world, Jewish memory has faltered - even failed - in one critical respect: it has excluded the reality of Palestinian suffering and Jewish culpability therein. As a people, we have been unable to link the creation of
In response to the plight of the Palestinians, Loewenstein refers to the notion held by some Israelis that there never was a historical Palestine and that, as a consequence, Palestinians are really "Hashemite Jordanians" - and thus that Palestinians should make their home in Jordan. What emerges is a picture where some on the Israeli right seek to provide a rationale for, or an excuse for policies which really cannot be seen as anything short of 'ethnic cleansing'.
There were some for whom the choice confronting the Zionist movement was clear even well before the formation of the modern Israeli state. Loewenstein accredits the following quote to Y.Weitz, "head of the Jewish Agency's colonization department" from 1940;
"Between ourselves it must be made clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country...there is no other way other than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, to transfer all of them: not one village, not one tribe, should be left."
For Loewenstein, the logic of this statement remains in force even today. As he argues, "
In response to this, there would by many who, as Loewenstein recognizes, would claim that in the 2000 peace talks, former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak offered Arafat 'everything' - and that his refusal demonstrated that there was 'no partner for peace'. Refuting these claims, Loewenstein goes on to argue that the 2000 peace talks provided no resolution to the question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, with Israel seeking instead to annex great swathes of territory while failing to provide "full legal rights to the annexed Palestinian residents." Furthermore, Loewenstein maintains that, in the talks,
Alongside his broader critique of the Israeli occupation, Loewenstein subjects the world Zionist lobby to searching criticism, pointing to instances where the lobby has targeted critical voices in the United States, in Britain and also in Australia, reprimanding media for 'bias' or, at worst, accusing critics of anti-Semitism. In particular, Loewenstein notes the power of the Zionist lobby in the
"Despite the power of the Zionist lobby, other factors also shape
Despite this complicated picture, however, the author clearly argues that the influence of the Zionist lobby is key, and weighs upon the minds of US policy-makers. In particular, Loewenstein notes how when Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney "questioned the occupation of Palestinian land, Jewish organizations, including the AIPAC, offered financial support to her rival, Denise Majette."
By contrast with Britain, where critical voices remain prominent through publications such as the Guardian and the Independent, Loewenstein sees the Australian public sphere as being closer to that of the US where, according to the Guardian, "[The] parameters for debate are relatively narrow compared with the rest of the western world."
In particular, Loewenstein focuses on the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), which he describes as "the only well-funded Jewish group in the country, and the best organized." As he argues, AIJAC "takes a high profile stand on many issues, yet is not accountable to the community through elections." Loewenstein notes how AIJAC lobbied vociferously against the bestowing of the Sydney Peace Prize upon Hanan Ahshrawi. In the face of such lobbying, Loewenstein observes, every corporate sponsor ultimately abandoned the foundation. The author indicates: "the organizations were told their 'client base' would be affected if they continued their support". The author also observes how AIJAC has pressured the Australian Labor Party to silence, or otherwise disassociate itself from dissenting Labor figures such as Julia Irwin, with other backbenchers, who "spoke out in favor of a Palestinian state and against the harshness of the occupation". Irwin responded to this pressure arguing, "...The Israeli Labor Party tolerates more diverse views than some in the Australian Jewish community suggest the ALP should tolerate...".
Loewenstein also associates AIJAC with attempts to influence programming of Australian public broadcasters such as the ABC and SBS. Specifically, the author observes a 2003 AIJAC report which objected to "SBS calling the West Bank,
The author also notes similar episodes in the
By contrast, Loewenstein is supportive of efforts by some in the media to represent Palestinian voices and perspectives. Against charges of bias: of anything other than '50/50' coverage of perspectives, Loewenstein refers to a statement made by journalist, Robert Fisk. Fisk had argued,
"in the realm of warfare...you are morally bound as a journalist to show eloquent compassion to the victims, to be unafraid to name the murderers and you're allowed to be angry.... [In] 1982, in Sabra and Shatila, I wrote about the victims, the dead who I physically climbed over and the survivors. I did not give 50 per cent to the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia who massacred them nor to the Israeli army who watched the murders and did nothing."
Fisk's musings are especially relevant in circumstances where "Mass confiscation of land, acts of collective punishment, arrest without trial and house demolitions [have become] the norm".
Loewenstein criticizes the practice amongst some journalists of fending off criticism of bias by seeking some illusory 'balance' in the reporting of events. In particular he argues, "Too often...accepting 'official sources' as accurate, while dismissing dissenting perspectives as unreliable, results in disproportionate emphasis on an establishment perspective and in support for state power...". Loewenstein's criticisms and observations are especially poignant given efforts by the Howard Conservative government in
Perspectives including those favoring a Two State Solution, and those favoring a
"The true alternative facing the Middle East in the coming years...will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single integrated bi-national state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians."
Unfortunately, though, such perspectives are not developed, nor does Loewenstein provide a broad assessment of competing claims for a Two-State and One-State, or 'bi-national' solution.
The 'bi-national' solution, here, envisages the creation of a federation, with Israeli and Palestinian republics as member states. Perhaps what many Zionists fear most of all, here, is not simply terrorism, but rather the rise of a peaceful liberal human rights movement in
Certainly, all the moral arguments remain on the side of those in favor of the bi-national approach. Envisaging peace and conciliation amongst Israelis and Palestinians, the proposal offers the hope of co-existence and mutual identification with the entire of the land formerly known as
Nevertheless, there are significant obstacles to such proposals. Most tellingly, Loewenstein notes that "since 1994 more than 700 Israelis have died in more than 120 suicide attacks." Currently, Israeli hostility to the Palestinians is sharpened by the constant threat of terror attacks, and certainly Hamas still aims to eliminate the state of
It might also be noted that such views as Judt's seem unnecessarily dismissive of the prospects of a Two-State solution which provides full citizenship rights to Palestinians living within Israel, and recognizes the suffering of refugees, offering compensation and recognition for those displaced after the 1948. While a 'bi-national' solution may seem an ideal: an ideal worth working for over the long term, the more immediately realizable option of a 'Two State Solution' should not be ruled out - especially if it addresses the core grievances of the Palestinian people.
Importantly, though, should Palestinian recognition of Israel rest upon the acceptance of pre-1967 borders, recognition of the grievances of refugees and the affording of full citizenship rights to all residents of the state of Israel: then it is up to Israel to establish its legal and moral legitimacy in the face of the plight of those people whom it has displaced and dispossessed.
Unfortunately, Loewenstein's outright rejection of Zionism is likely to alienate those who endure in their commitment to the cause of a Jewish National Home, while at the same time recognizing and addressing the grievances detailed in his book In an interview with refusnik (ie: a conscientious objector against compulsory Israeli military service), Martin Kaminer, Kaminer reflects on the changing definition of Zionism: "Noam Chomsky said the 50 years ago I was called a Zionist and now I'm called an anti-Zionist even though my views haven't changed." It is up to those on the Israel Left, and in the Left of the Jewish Diaspora - and all Jews of good conscience - to reject a definition of Zionism that goes beyond the original aim of providing a 'Jewish National Home' (which could be interpreted in terms of a bi-national state or otherwise a two state solution) instead embracing the notion of a 'purely Jewish State': a state which by its very definition discriminates against non-Jews. There are many in
All in all, Antony Loewenstein has produced a work that penetrates to the very heart of the question of the Israeli occupation, drawing on a range of sources including interviews with a wide range of journalists, academics, refusniks, activists and other public figures to provide an impressive and critical consideration of the history and future of Israel, of Palestine and of the Zionist movement. For those wishing to come to grips with the issues surrounding the Israeli occupation, and the work of what Loewenstein calls the 'Zionist lobby' in framing, limiting and influencing debate on the Middle East, and the role of the United States and Israel in the region, this title makes essential and absorbing reading.
Tristan Ewins is a freelance writer, teacher and member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP)