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April 6, 2009

An Unhelpful discourse on Israel: AntonyLowestein.com

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.

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