Asking the difficult question.
19 August 2014
On Sunday night 200 people braved Melbourne’s winter to attend a panel discussion of a timely and important topic –
“Is Anti-Zionism Antisemitism?”
The panel hosted by the Zionist Council of Victoria and the Zionist Federation of Australia was made up of international experts, Dr David Bernstein (Dean of Pardes Institute, Jerusalem), Dr David Breakstone (Deputy Chairman, World Zionist Organisation) and Sarah Mali (Director of Machon and Leadership Project at Jewish Agency for Israel). Moderated by Zionist Council of Victoria Hon. Secretary member, Liora Miller, the evening attempted to put context and understanding around the age old question.
In her introduction to the panel, Liora said:
“In Australia we’ve always counted ourselves lucky that multiculturalism has been a success story and the sort of violence we see elsewhere doesn’t touch us here. Not so anymore. Assaults in Perth and Melbourne on Jews and the vile, verbal attack on the school bus in Sydney let alone the reprehensible nature of some of the material posted on social media and in newspapers should send up warning bells. These are not attacks on Israelis or Israeli installations. Israel and Jews it appears have become one and the same.”
Dr Breakstone, in his opening comments said that the rise of antisemitism and anti-Zionism is perhaps our own fault, as we call Israel the nation of Jews, therefore we as Jews are seen as responsible for everything Israel does and are held accountable as such.
Dr Bernstein said that anti- Zionism is politically correct way of describing the world’s oldest hatred and that it was very difficult to differentiate between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.
Sarah Mali’s expanded on the concept of anti -Zionism as the new vehicle for antisemitism, likening anti-Zionism to a mutation of a larger virus called antisemitism. She stressed the importance of distinguishing between legitimate criticism of Israel and blatant antisemitism, citing the the 3D test as a useful resource. She explained how demonisation, double standards and delegitimisation are all factors used in arguments about Israel that are in fact not simply anti-Zionist, but antisemitic.
“The first D is double standards – when criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the UN for human rights abuses while the behaviour of known and major abusers such as Syria is ignored – this is antisemitism.”
“Demonisation – this is when the Jewish state is being demonized – when Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportional when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis, and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz – this is antisemitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel.”
“The third D is the test of deligitimisation – when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied – alone among all the people in the world – this too is antisemitism.”
Dr Bernstein reminded the audience that anti-Zionism in itself is not necessarily antisemitic, and that there were key differences between being actively anti-Zionist and being a passive non-Zionist. He also felt it was appropriate to discuss the context of the younger generation of Jews living in the globalised Diaspora and trying to understand what the importance and significance of the land of Israel is to the Jewish people.
He also focused on the complex and unique nature of Judaism as both a religion and a nation.
“One of the reasons we have difficulties is the Jewish problem – we are a religion and a nation and we don’t fit into other categories in the world. If we are a religious group, why does a religion need a country?”
The discussion was open to the floor and community engagement was encouraged.
Sarah Mali discussed some of the challenges the Jewish community faces in not only engaging those youth with Israel, but also in reinventing the ties between Judaism the religion and Israel the spiritual home of that religion to make Zionism an integral and central aspect of the Jewish identity.