Take a look at the opening paragraph of this Sydney Morning Herald report on Frank Lowy, Australian billionaire and generous donor to such deserving 'charities' as Israel's Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Australia's LibLab:
"The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and one of Australia's greatest refugee success stories, Frank Lowy, joined forces last night to defend multiculturalism against criticisms prompted by the riots in Sydney on Saturday... Giving the inaugural Australian Multicultural Council, Mr Lowy said it was time to move the discussion about multiculturalism to a new phase, 'beyond the recognition that it makes for a more vibrant community, or that we now have a wider choice of restaurants'." (Gillard, Lowy defend multiculturalism, Phillip Coorey, 20/9/12)
What a man, we're expected to exclaim. From refugee rags to riches beyond the dreams of avarice and on to multicultural icon. Bring on the musical!
Reality, however, cannot so easily be (air)brushed aside.
I dedicate this post, therefore, to a critical examination of the two key propositions that underpin Coorey's report: 1) that Lowy was a refugee; and 2) that Lowy is such a paragon of multiculturalism that we, the public, should sit up and take notice of what he says on the subject.
Not that I haven't already animadverted on these matters before - namely in the two posts, Frank Lowy: Arab Fighter (14/11/10) and Refugees (19/7/10) - however, in this post I'll be drawing on a new (for me) source: Jill Margo's 2000 biography of Lowy: Frank Lowy: Pushing the Limits.
Firstly, was Lowy a refugee or an immigrant?
After the war, Lowy and other members of his family returned from Russian-occupied Budapest to their home town, Filakovo, in Czechoslovakia:
"The Holocaust was finally over," writes Margo. "Frank locked away the experience and did not revisit it for 40 years. Throughout 1945 his family began to pick up the pieces of their shattered life. Alex established his own business and opened a shop. John found a new interest: Zionism. Frank was sent to nearby Kosice and a Zionist-funded camp for youngsters, where he was taught primarily about Palestine and Zionism... the Zionist Youth Group [there] was encouraging young people to emigrate to Palestine. Frank understood that this was an opportunity for a new start: There was nothing for me in Czechoslovakia, memories were terrible and I felt enormous inner pressure to leave. I had missed so many years at school, was not motivated to catch up and had no desire to create roots there. Joining the group to go to Palestine was like going to a school camp. This offered a new beginning, a new country, a new identity, a chance to be part of the Jewish drive to create a homeland. The Jewish Agency sent emissaries, collecting strays and displaced persons, and moving them clandestinely to Palestine. I felt I was leaving a place to which I did not belong for a much brighter future." (pp 32-33)
So the reason why Lowy left Czechoslovakia was because he'd been bitten by the Zionist bug. And yet, in his address to the AMC, in which he portrays himself as a refugee, all mention of the siren call of Zion is missing, to be replaced by this:
"And they have returned to their small town [Filakovo] to find they are no longer welcome... The surviving members of this close family know they have become temporary residents in their town and must find somewhere else to be."
In spinning himself as a refugee, Lowy has sketched a postwar atmosphere of anti-Semitic menace, necessitating flight. Nowhere, however, in Margo's biography is there any suggestion that post-war Filakovo is some kind of anti-Semitic hotbed. In fact, his brother John, the first in the family to be bitten by the Zionist bug, is quoted as complaining only that "I felt I had no identity. I was born in Czechoslovakia and was a Czechoslovakian citizen but neither Czech nor Slovak... Palestine seemed to be the place for recreating an identity." (p 32)
It's clear from the above that Lowy did not flee Czechoslovakia for Palestine. Rather he'd been indoctrinated and lured there by Zionist agents (whose only mission was to boost the size of the Jewish community in Palestine vis-a-vis the Palestinian Arabs). And just as Lowy has departed from Margo in his sketch of postwar Filakovo, so too with his account of his journey by boat to Palestine. In Margo, his boat contains 400 passengers (p 33), while in his AMC speech, it's risen to 700. Likewise, in Margo there's no hint of brutality when his boat is intercepted by the British, but in his AMC speech, we get this far more colourful account: "There are scuffles and commotion as the British soldiers board the boat. At gunpoint the frightened refugees are herded into the grey, steel hull of the warship."
Lowy might play the refugee in his AMC speech but the reality was that he'd been recruited, along with thousands of others in the postwar years, by agents of David Ben-Gurion's Jewish Agency for a Mossad-organised attempt to breach Britain's blockade of Palestine, established not, it should be remembered, as an act of anti-Semitic cruelty, but simply to prevent the swamping of Palestine's majority Arab population by illegal Jewish immigration. As the British government stated at the time: "[this] illegal traffic is not, as has been maintained, a movement arising spontaneously among the European Jews who see in Palestine their only hope for the future. Nor are those who encourage and direct it inspired solely by the sympathy which is so widely felt for suffering [rather it is] a widely ramified and highly organized movement supported by very large financial contributions from Zionist sources, which has been built up and put into operation by unscrupulous persons in an attempt tp force the hand of His Majesty's government and anticipate their decision on future policy in Palestine."*
With regard to Palestine then, Lowy was not only not a refugee but an illegal immigrant, an unwitting pawn, if you will, in a Zionist people-smuggling operation, itself just one aspect of the postwar Zionist rebellion against British mandate rule in Palestine.
Fast forwarding then to his decision in 1952 to migrate to Australia from what was by then Israel, we read in Margo that:
"When Frank first went to Israel there was every expectation the rest of the family would follow. But while he was there, Ilona [Lowy's mother] and his brother Alex followed [sister] Edith and her husband to Australia. They could have gone to Israel but economic conditions in the early 1950s were harsh... The thought of leaving Israel was difficult... but, for Frank and his brother John, the urge to be reunited with their mother Ilona was stronger." (p 52)
With regard to Australia then, Lowy was simply an immigrant, not a refugee.
Secondly, is Lowy such a paragon of multiculturalism that he should be lecturing us on the subject?
With the events of September 15 in mind, Lowy opined in his AMC address that migrants "should agree to live by the standards and values of this society... and agree to pass on these values to your children, to ensure they receive a broad and balanced education, untainted by the ideology of hate."
But Lowy's a Zionist who has donated significant sums of money to one of the main arms of Zionist colonialism in Palestine, the Jewish National Fund. As a financial backer of the JNF, Lowy's therefore doing his bit to ensure the maintenance of Zionist settler-colonial rule in Palestine over its indigenous Palestinian Arab population, whether they be in perpetual exile, under military occupation or living in Israel as second-class citizens. To advocate multiculturalism in Australia while funding monoculturalism and apartheid in another is to risk being called a hypocrite.
But there's another reason why Lowy's little homily on multiculturalism rings hollow. It has to do with what he was doing in Palestine in the critical year of the Palestinian Nakba, 1948. All we get in his AMC speech is this:
"Ashore in Palestine, he feels a sense of freedom. No one is chasing him or pointing a gun at him because he is Jewish. But the following year he's in a makeshift uniform, back in the turmoil of war, fighting in the War of Independence for the new state of Israel."
Of course, this kind of patter is the usual stock-in-trade of the Zionist true believer, who cannot bring himself to acknowledge the reality of the massacres and expulsions of Palestine's indigenous Arab population that were perpetrated by Zionist forces in Palestine in 1948. The historical record, however, is what should guide the rest of us. Relying on Margo's sketchy, no doubt sanitised, account of this period in Lowy's life, and fleshing it out with data from scholars of the Nakba, we can get at least some idea of Lowy's involvement in the events of 1948:
Margo mentions an Israeli attack on the Palestinian village of Sejera [ash-Shajara] in February 1948, in which Lowy was wounded. Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi has written of it: "In mid-February 1948, as a battle flared between Arab and Haganah forces in the Baysan Valley, the Haganah forces carried out a diversionary attack on ash-Shajara." (All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, 1992, p 541)
Margo reveals that Lowy was involved in the 'liberation' of Tiberias in April 1948: "We would occupy one house and then move to the next. First we would break down the door, check if anyone was inside, throw in a grenade and then occupy it." (p 43) Michael Palumbo adds the necessary context: "[W]hen it was learned that the British were about to evacuate Tiberias, a company of elite Palmach troops were sent in to reinforce the town's Jewish militia. On the night of 17-18 April, a co-ordinated drive was made to cut the Arab section of town in two. Barrel-bombs, loudspeakers and 'horror sounds' were used to frighten the civilian population. (The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People from their Homeland, 1987, p 107)
After the fall of Tiberias, Israeli troops reportedly looted and desecrated Christian religious establishments there. (Palumbo, p 108)
In June 1948, according to Margo, Lowy joined the Barak battalion of the Golani Brigade. She quotes his commanding officer, Rafi Kocer thus: "They were a highly motivated unit. In some ways I think they were avenging the Holocaust and empowering themselves." (p 46) The question of exactly why Lowy and his troop should be avenging the Holocaust by attacking Palestinian Arabs obviously didn't occur to either Kocer or Margo. I wonder if it's ever occurred to Lowy?
Margo cites a second, final attack by the Golanis on Sejera in June 1948, though her timing appears to be out, however. Here's Khalidi again: "The village was captured on 6 May 1948 in the aftermath of the fall of Tiberias... The attack was part of a Haganah effort to consolidate its hold on lower Galilee before 15 May. Units of the Golani Brigade (mainly the 12th or Barak Battalion) struck at dawn and took the village after a 'powerful attack', according to the History of the Haganah. An unspecified number of villagers were killed during the attack; the Haganah's account states that the village's inhabitants 'fled leaving their dead behind'." (p 541)
Margo goes on to say that "[i]n the 6 months between July and December 1948, Kocer's commando unit had been involved in 73 combat missions, many behind enemy lines," and that from October 1948 Lowy was involved in fighting against the Egyptians in the Western Negev. (p 50)
While only Lowy himself is privy to the precise details of his involvement in what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe describes as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, which led to the Palestinian refugee problem that is still with us today (5.5 million souls and growing), the data presented above is surely sufficient to cast doubt on whether he's really the right person to be lecturing Australians on the meaning of multiculturalism.
[*Quoted in From Catastrophe to Power: Holocaust Survivors & the Emergence of Israel, Idith Zertal, 1998, p 237]