With friends like these in Australia

The following editorial appears in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

Israel is a democracy. It contains many political parties with a wide spectrum of views about how to approach the great issue of an eventual Palestinian settlement, as well as many more mundane policies. It has human rights groups which put the Israeli security forces under as intense and critical a scrutiny as any overseas counterpart. It has law professors who debate the legality of Israeli settlements and military operations in the West Bank and Gaza. But sometimes you wouldn’t suspect this from the actions and attitudes of its most prominent defenders abroad.

Here in Australia, we’ve just learnt that the respected Australian Jewish News has rejected advertisements that promote a speaking tour by Israeli professor Jeffrey Halper, who campaigns against the bulldozing of Palestinian homes. Sydney’s progressive Emanuel Synagogue has also cancelled a talk by the professor, because some people objected to what he would have said.

The newspaper’s publisher, Robert Magid, said he pulled the ads because he “doesn’t like” the promoters, three local groups called Jews Against the Occupation, Independent Australian Jewish Voices, and the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine. According to Mr Magid, they “use their Judaism to bash other Jews and issues associated with the Jewish community”. Maybe it’s because criticism that can’t be easily shrugged off as ill-informed or even as anti-Semitic is harder to answer.

In the United States, President Obama’s nominee as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Chas Freeman, has just withdrawn, citing a campaign against him by the “Israel lobby” that “plumb the depths of dishonour and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the wilful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth”.

Mr Freeman is a widely respected former diplomat with expertise on both East Asia and the Middle East, from postings in China and Saudi Arabia. Unlike the previous failed Obama appointments, the problems with Mr Freeman clearly stem from his outspoken, independent views rather than tax arrears, suspected abuse of office or conflicts of interest. His withdrawal augurs badly for Mr Obama’s administration as it shapes up to dealing with a new Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu.

As Mr Freeman has bitterly pointed out, many of Israel’s overseas supporters identify Israel with one faction of its politics, meaning Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party. That hardly speaks to Israel’s great strengths. It will only make many think twice about the shrill messages about Iran’s nuclear threat, Shiite extremism or the danger of even attending the forthcoming Durban Review Conference on racism and discrimination, at which Israel, along with the West, will get the usual Third World bashing.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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