Back in 2007, I attended a JNF function at the Crown Casino in honour of John Howard, who was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for his friendship and commitment to Israel. For me the main draw card was keynote speaker, Brigitte Gabriel, who I had long admired as a woman of great integrity, prepared to risk her own security to tell the truth.
The Australian Jewish News had reported on her impending visit:
LEBANESE-BORN, American-based broadcaster and commentator Brigitte Gabriel is coming to Australia with a warning.
Her worldwide message is that western countries need to be vigilant about preserving the democratic, pluralistic values of open societies.
Gabriel, formerly a member of Lebanon’s Christian community, does not pull her punches. Asked about how Australia should respond to radical local Islamists supporting terrorist organisations, she said such community leaders “should be expelled or placed in isolation so they can’t infect others with their hate”.
“I’m sure most Australians… will do whatever they can to stop the poisoning of young, impressionable minds.”
She said her first-hand experience with intolerance and war fires her passionate campaign to speak up for democracy and the values of open societies. Her best-selling 2006 book, Why They Hate, analyses radical Islamist thinking.
Gabriel was 11 when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to drive out the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. When her mother was wounded by Palestinian gunfire, she took the courageous step of crossing the border to take her to an Israeli hospital.
She was surprised at how diametrically opposite Israelis were to the “barbaric” image presented in the Lebanese media.
“For my mother, it was a lifesaving experience; for me, it was a lifechanging experience,” she recalled.
Gabriel is now based in Washington and heads the American Congress for Truth, an organisation she founded after the September 11 attacks to raise public consciousness about the dangers of Islamist radicalism.
“Islamo-fascism is a greater threat even than Nazism. A nuclear bomb can do in seconds what it took Hitler years to accomplish,” she said.
Gabriel gave an impassioned speech that night, which was greeted with rapturous applause from the audience. She has worked tirelessly to bring her message to the world, so those who value freedom and truth owe her a huge debt of gratitude. I believe that Jews – who have few friends in the world – should be especially grateful to Gabriel for her passionate support of Israel, the only free society in the Middle East.
Here is what Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson writes about her:
“I was amazed that the Israelis were providing medical treatment to Palestinian and Muslim gunmen… These Palestinians and Muslims were sworn, mortal enemies, dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the slaughter of Jews. Yet, Israeli doctors and nurses worked feverishly to save their lives. Each patient was treated solely according to the nature of his or her injury. The doctor treated my mother before he treated an Israeli soldier lying next to her because her injury was more severe than his. The Israelis did not see religion, political affiliation, or nationality. They saw only people in need, and they helped.”
These words were uttered by Brigitte Gabriel, a Christian Lebanese, journalist, author, social commentator and activist. She is the founder and president of the American Congress For Truth (ACT), a leading national security expert, providing information and analysis on the rise of Islamic terrorism through her lectures worldwide. Ms. Gabriel has addressed the UN, the Australian prime minister, members of the British Parliament/House of Commons, members of the United States Congress, the Pentagon, the Joint Forces Staff College, the U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. Asymmetric Warfare group and the FBI – and has been a regular guest analyst on Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, and various radio stations across America…
Ms. Gabriel’s words cited at the opening of this column made reference to an event she experienced as a child during the Lebanese Civil War. Born in Marjayoun, Lebanon. Brigitte was a nine-year-old girl when Islamic militants launched an assault on a Lebanese military base and destroyed her home. Injured by shrapnel, young Brigitte and her parents had to live underground in a bomb shelter for the next seven years with barely any vital provisions. It was during this period that her mother was seriously injured and taken to an Israeli hospital, and Brigitte personally experienced the humanity shown by the Israelis, in shocking contrast to the constant propaganda she had been exposed to.
These life-changing events shaped the persona of the maturing Brigitte. She recalls: “I was betrayed by my country (who taught me to hate Israel) and rescued by ‘my enemy’ Israel, the Jewish state that teaches the values of love, the Jewish state that is under attack for its very existence…”
In reaction to these revelations she became a passionate activist against Islam and a fighter for Israel and its Jewish values of humanity…besides lecturing in Arabic, French, English and Hebrew… and heading organizations that promote her views, she has penned countless essays, and is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America and They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It.
With these credentials, you would think Jewish community leaders would rush to invite Brigitte to speak. To his credit, Rabbi Kennard, Principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne did invite her to address students, but afterwards spoilt the effect by sending out an email to students disassociating himself from aspects of her talk relating to Islam. Unfortunately this email has now been removed from the public domain, but The ICJS’s reply to some of Kennard’s points is still accessible:
Rabbi James Kennard in the context of discussing a speaker who spoke at Mount Scopus College communicated with his students via email. That communication is in the public arena, and we had published it here on this page. We have removed the full text and a detailed response to the text after discussion with Rabbi Kennard. What remains below are two points in which we criticise the email Rabbi Kennard sent.
- … [The speaker’s] views on Arabs and Israel which seemed close to a black and
- white view that one side is wholly good and the other is wholly bad is not [..my view]. Although I strongly support Israel … judgements of good and bad have to be more nuanced and realistic…
If someone read the above text and did not personally know the speaker, they could come to the wrong conclusion that the Jewish claim to Eretz Yisrael as an ancestral homeland is not wholly correct (“good”). However, anyone knowing Rabbi Kennard would be aware that he holds that the Jewish claim to Israel is clear and unequivocal.
- “I do not believe it is correct for a non-Muslim to pronounce on what Islam does or does not say, just as I would not want a non-Jew defining [what Judaism does or does not say] for me…“
The argument used by Rabbi Kennard rests on an analogy between Judaism and Islam and assumes that Islam is basically good because Judaism is basically good.
To illustrate that this reasoning is invalid, imagine that Brigitte Gabriel had spoken out against the Ku Klux Klan (“KKK”). Imagine that despite not being a KKK member, she had seen its activity up close and that she subsequently became vocal in criticising it publicly. Surely Rabbi Kennard wouldn’t suggest that the only credible spokespeople to comment on the KKK are its own members.
If it is assumed that Islam is good, then Rabbi Kennard’s analogy is valid. If Islam is questionable or worse, his analogy is invalid. Brigitte Gabriel contends that Islam is questionable or worse, therefore Rabbi Kennard’s analogy is invalid.
Moreover, one can’t prove that Islam is inherently good by assuming that it’s inherently good and dismissing the testimony of people who say it’s not inherently good.
By virtue of his special expertise in Judaism, Rabbi Kennard is using his position of authority to denounce Gabriel’s credibility. In essence he is saying ‘you are not an authority on Islam and therefore are unable to make authoritative statements about Islam’. By the same token, Rabbi Kennard is not an authority capable of denouncing her view and is therefore invalid in attempting to do so.
While all the details are not available, it is clear that Rabbi Kennard tried to distance himself from parts of Brigitte’s speech that mentioned Islam. This is disrespectful, given that she comes from the Middle East, so has first hand experience, and is an acknowledged expert on Islam, with a wealth of knowledge gained over many years, whereas Kennard’s knowledge base is Judaism. Presumably he acted out of a desire not to go against the multicultural worldview. Surely though one of the major Jewish values is telling the truth. In fact, Kennard wrote about this in his excellent article, The triumph of truth:
IN 1984¸ George Orwell imagined a dystopia in which governments were in total control of information. The “Ministry of Truth” told citizens who were the allies, the enemies, the good and the bad. Even when shifting alliances required the past to be re-written, one constant remained; the leader (“Big Brother”) was always feared, beloved, and demanding of total loyalty.
Orwell’s novel was not intended as a prophecy, but for deades totalitarian regimes appeared to be realising his vision. Subjects of such regimes professed their love for their leaders and their hatred for “traitors” who dared to show any sign of dissent.
Yet, in 1989, the world learnt that the dictators had totally and utterly failed. As the Berlin Wall tumbled, and one leader after another resigned or fled, the liberated showed us that they had known the truth all along. They knew that their rulers were nothing but evil despots and they hated them with a passion.
As it was for the revolutions of Eastern Europe, so it is today in the Arab world. Observers of Libya for the past decades have seen masses of demonstrators professing their love for Muammar Gaddafi, bearing his “green book” and quoting from its wisdom. Yet now their true feelings for their leader are clear. With rallies, graffiti and life-risking rebellion, they proclaim their hatred for the dictator and their determination to free themselves from his power.
Similarly, the demonstrators in one Arab capital after another show that decades of government propaganda has failed to hide the truth.
Why was Orwell wrong? With total control of information, why could the regimes not control hearts and minds as well?
In reality, neither Eastern Europe nor the Arab world was totally closed off to outside influences. When I was one of the hundreds who visited refuseniks in the Soviet Union before the era of Gorbachev and Glasnost, despite being watched and occasionally followed, it was not hard to bring information and inspiration from abroad.
East Germans and some other residents of the Soviet bloc were able to receive foreign television that not only provided them with reliable and accurate news, but showed that non-communist life brought both freedom and higher quality of life.
And that was before the internet. Society is only beginning to come to terms with a world in which nearly everyone carries a movie camera in their pocket, and can send text and images instantly around the globe…the days are over when rulers could claim “my people love me” without being immediately contradicted with evidence.
But while televiseion and Facebook may be the handmaidens of a campaign for democracy, they are not its progenitor…The scenes from the streets of Cairo and Tunis owe their origin to something much greater and more powerful – the human spirit and ability to determine the truth.
For me, one of the defining images of the late 20th century was that of the crowd in Bucharest on December 21, 1989. Not only did thousands find the courage to heckle their dictator… but they showed that they could peer behind a lifetime of indoctrination and could perceive reality for themselves.
Perhaps my children will remember the graffiti in the streets of Benghazi depicting Gaddafi as a monkey replacing the hundreds of images and statues that had previously presented him as a virtual demigod, as the iconic symbol of the revolutions of 2011.
These episodes demonstrate that there will always come a time when truth triumphs over falsehood, and that the power of lies and propaganda will come to an end… People know evil when they see it, and when they are forced to live under it.
Our generation has been privileged to see the demise of many tyrannies. Once we could never imagine democracy and private enterprise throughout Eastern Europe and yet now many know nothing else. There is a long way to go. Intense repression abounds in North Korea, Burma and China, even if the world’s human rights monitors look away and pursue their obsession with Israel. The final result of the Arab revolutions is far from clear.
But those defaced portraits of Gaddafi give us hope. Freedom’s progress may be impeded but, like truth, its triumph is inevitable.
Wise words, Rabbi Kennard, which have come back to haunt you. Please don’t follow the “Ministry of Truth”, telling students who are the allies, the enemies, the good and the bad. As Jews, we must not hide the truth in a misguided attempt not to offend the Big Brother of multiculturalism.
Readers might be interested to listen to an ‘on air’ interview with rabbi Kennard on J-Air – ‘Jewish Australia Radio’
Nothing Left with Michael Burd and Alan Freedman