Last month, The Age dared to rebuke Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) supremo Colin Rubenstein (see my 28/5/10 post The Heat Is On). Now, following the Gaza flotilla massacre, the Sydney Morning Herald editorialist is calling on Australian Jews to buck the Israel-right-or-wrong line mandated by the Israel lobby:
"We believe that it is time for Jews of the diaspora to question Israel's actions. For too long the spectrum of Jewish opinion outside Israel has been narrowed on Middle Eastern questions to a compulsory, unquestioning support for the Israeli government of the day, no matter what. A few brave individuals challenge this orthodoxy - to their cost." (Candour is not Israel's enemy, 4/6/10)
To my knowledge, this is a first for Fairfax (and the corporate media of which it is part) and should be welcomed.
At the same time, however, the editorialist undermined his call by continuing to peddle, quite unconsciously I'm sure, Zionist jargon and talking points:
1) "Jews of the diaspora"? Does the editorialist seriously believe, as do orthodox Zionists, that Australian Jews are somehow Israelis in exile? If not, why use the term diaspora?
2) "No doubt [the Netanyahu government's] mailed fist approach to protests which push the Palestinian cause will win it support among parts of the Israeli population; other Israelis, though, will view with dismay their country's gradual descent from the democratic ideals with which it was founded, in which the shooting of protesters is only the latest stage."
That is probably the most idiotic sentence in the editorial and betrays a breathtaking and unforgivable ignorance of the Great Zionist Gerrymander of 1948 - the creation of a Jewish majority state via the ethnic cleansing of Palestine's non-Jewish majority under cover of war.
3) "No similar constraints exist in Israel itself, where debate even now is robust about the rights and wrongs of intercepting the blockade-runners, and broader issues of Palestinian rights."
How many times have you heard this particular cliche? The reality, of course, is starkly different:
"So do Israelis think they're right and the rest of the world is wrong? The short answer is yes. A poll of Israel's Jewish population by the daily Maariv from June 2 found that about 95% of respondents agreed it was necessary to stop the vessel. Many Israelis are critical of the handling of the raid, but not of the decision to stop the aid ships or the Gaza blockade policy in general." (Bibi's unlikely new fan club, Ethan Perlson, thedailybeast.com, 5/6/10)
"In Israel, almost all of the protests against the navy's assault on the relief flotilla took place in Palestinian space... In Jewish space, by contrast, business continued as usual. Except for a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, which brought together a few hundred activists. The only site where there was some sign of a grassroots protest against the raid was on Israeli university campuses. While numerically these protests were also insignificant - there were fewer than 2,000 demonstrators from all the different campuses, out of a student body of more than 200,000 - they were extremely important both because they took place within Jewish space and because the protesters were Jews and Arabs standing side by side... There was a visceral response to these campus protests, however, from pro-government students. Counter-demonstrations were immediately organised, bringing together much larger crowds that rallied around the flag. While demonstrations and counter-demonstrations are usually a sign of a healthy politics, in this case the pro-government demos revealed an extremely disturbing trend in Israeli society... What is troubling about these pro-government students is not that they are pro-government, but the way they attack anyone who thinks differently from them, along with their total lack of self-criticism or restraint. If this is how students at Israel's best universities respond, what can we expect from the rest of the population?" ('No Citizenship without Loyalty!', Neve Gordon, lrb.co.uk, 4/6/10)
4) "Not the least reason for the domestic criticism is that Israel's excessive response has now guaranteed the Gaza blockade protest will have imitators, all of them confidently expecting the Israelis to repeat their initial blunder."
Blunder? Hello? When the Israeli military starts getting lyrical, and comes up with a name like Operation Sky Winds, you and I (but apparently not our editorialist) know that it's time to head for the hills. Absent a crash course in Ziolit 101, however, couldn't the Herald's Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutzoukis, have told him that "Statements by senior Israeli military commanders made in the Hebrew media days before the massacre revealed that the raid was planned over a week in advance by the Israeli military and was personally approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. The elite Israeli commando unit known as Unit 13 was tasked with carrying out the mission and its role was known by the Israeli public well before the raid took place. Details of the plan show that the use of deadly force was authorized and calculated. The massacre of activists should not have been unexpected." (The flotilla raid was not 'bungled'. The IDF detailed its violent strategy in advance, Max Blumenthal, maxblumenthal.com, 3/6/10)
From the standpoint of the Israel lobby, the Herald's letter writers have also taken an uncomfortably close interest in Israel's massacre on the Mediterranean.
Here's letters editor, Mike Ticher, writing in his regular Saturday summary, Postscript: "The resources super-profits tax debate chugs on, apparently unstoppable. Apart from that, Israel's interception of the flotilla bound for Gaza has generated almost all our correspondence since Monday. It's not always easy reading. Among other things, the Herald has been accused of hypocrisy, 'peddling falsehoods', a 'pathetic lack of professional conduct', publishing a 'disgusting anti-Semitic rant' and 'an imbalance of opinion' (Thursday's letters page), lacking journalistic integrity, 'pro-Arab bias', being 'extraordinarily pro-Israel', 'sensationalist' and 'hysterical' and of 'milking the confrontation for all it's worth' because of the ethnic background of staff. Our coverage, including the choice of letters, has been criticised more or less equally from both sides, though of course that will not convince anyone we have been impartial. Nor will simply counting the number of letters for and against. For what it's worth, the tide was about two to one against Israel."
That tide was futher indicated in the Herald's regular Reader Poll, which asked readers if "Israel was justified in storming a flotilla attempting to break the Gaza Strip blockade." Of the over 1,500 respondents, 70% said No, with just 13% saying Yes.