After numerous anti-Israel letters to the editor were published in The Press during April/May 2019, co-director of The Israel Institute of New Zealand, Dr David Cumin, wrote in to provide balance and facts on some of the issues. Mr Minto took particular issue with the statement that the Middle East situation was “complex” and challenged Dr Cumin to a public debate.
The debate took place on 03 October with the title of “Perspectives on Israel”. The Israel Institute of New Zealand has published the opening speeches of both Dr Cumin and Mr Minto.
There were five major themes of Mr Minto’s speech that require a robust rebuttal. There are also a number of outright lies and distortions in his address which we have commented on below. Click on any of the struck-through text to see why it is incorrect or misleading.
The five major themes of his speech that need to be addressed in some detail upfront are:
1. Mr Minto falsely claims Jews are colonialists of the land
This is a common trope and is false because indigenous people cannot be colonisers of their own indigenous land and Jews are indigenous to Israel. It would be more appropriate to see the return of an ancient people to their indigenous lands as the undoing of colonialism, remembering that the Jewish homeland was conquered and colonised on several occasions, by the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Crusaders. The Jewish people always aspired to return and a small number never left. The building of a Jewish homeland was entirely unlike the settler colonialism of nations such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada etc; which is the parallel that Mr Minto wants to make with his emotive language.
While there were Zionists who talked of ‘colonisation schemes’, the connotation of the term in the late 19th and early 20th century was less a dictionary definition of “group of people of one nationality or race living in a foreign place” and more the idea of developing underdeveloped places – the ‘upbuilding of Palestine’ was an oft-used term. Zionism did the latter by turning desert and swamplands into productive agricultural land and a start-up nation. Because of the hard work of Jewish immigrants (the first of whom arrived before Herzl’s Zionism), more Arabs moved to the land to benefit from the higher-paying agricultural jobs that were created.
Mr Minto tries to portray Jews as European colonisers, when in fact Jews saw themselves part of the diaspora and were a distinct minority group living in European countries where they were often subject to discrimination and persecution. The antisemitism they faced in those nations served to increase their desire to return to their ancient homeland. The possibility only arose in the nineteenth century when the Ottomans, in a liberalising phase, opened the country for settlement. In this period, many European nations, driven by religious and political agenda, set up consulates and colonies in the British Mandate of Palestine.
2. Mr Minto falsely claims Israel is an apartheid state
Mr Minto references “apartheid” sixteen times in his speech. This is a false allegation. The comparison Mr Minto tries to make between Israel and Apartheid South Africa is baseless and diminishes the suffering of black South Africans. Under the Apartheid laws, South Africans of different races were compelled to live in separate places and forbidden to intermarry. Municipal grounds could be reserved for a particular race, creating, among other things, separate beaches, buses, hospitals, schools and universities. Signboards such as “whites only” applied to public areas, even including park benches. In Israel, there are no such laws. Arabs are equal citizens and have been Supreme Court judges and the people’s choice of Masterchef.
Social and racial discrimination exists in Israel, just as it does in all countries – but this is in spite of Israeli laws, not because of them. Where discrimination takes place, Arabs have avenues for redress because the law is clear that the only legal distinction between Arab and Jewish citizens is not one of rights, but rather of civic duty. Since Israel’s establishment, Arab citizens have been exempted from compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), as are religious Jews.
Some anti-Israel activists suggest that the term should be applied to the situation in the disputed territories (Gaza, Judea and Samaria), rather than within Israel’s borders. However, the disputed territories are governed by independent authorities and the relationship between Israel and these territories is akin to the situation between two countries. Indeed, these territories have their own seat at the United Nations and are generally acknowledged, by other nations, as sovereign entities – so Israel can’t be held responsible for the lot of those under Palestinian rule.
Sadly, there is apartheid-like discrimination against Arab Palestinians throughout the Middle East. In Lebanon and Jordan, they can’t become citizens, even if they’re born in one of those countries – and, in Lebanon, there has been a ban on Palestinians seeking professional employment since 2005 – although the Lebanese Minister of Labor does now permit Palestinians to work legally in manual and clerical jobs.
By contrast, the thousands of Palestinians who cross the border between Palestine territories and Israel, each day, to participate in jobs in Israel, receive comparable pay and benefits to their Israeli counterparts. None of this was true for South African blacks.
Arabs in Israel, just like Christians in Israel, Ba’hai in Israel, and especially Jews in Israel are freer and more successful than in any other Middle Eastern country. This is something to be celebrated, not reduced to a cheap and false insult that minimises the suffering of so many under white South African rule.
3. Mr Minto falsely claims Arab Palestinians have a “right of return” to Israel
One of the official demands of the BDS campaign is to promote the “right of return” for Arab Palestinian refugees. Activists claim all Arab Palestinians have such a “right” based on UN General Assembly resolution 194. However, even if a UN resolution were to constitute legislation, which it doesn’t, there is nothing in Resolution 194 which would grant Arab Palestinian refugees any “right to return” to Israeli territory and there is no such right in any international law.
In 1974, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Greeks were not entitled to “return” to Northern Cyprus because “Some 35 years have elapsed since the Greeks lost possession of their property… Generations have passed. The local population has not remained static.”
The Palestinians claim they have a “right of return” for not only the Arabs who fled in 1948 but all their descendents, despite the Arab-Israeli conflict lasting more than twice as long as the Turkish-Greek conflict and the local Israeli population certainly not remaining static.
As well as there being no “right” in international law to bestow on Arab Palestinian refugees, the demand is a pretense, whose practical implementation would likely be Jewish genocide or at least the end of Jewish self-determiniation. This is because the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has invented a unique definition of refugees that includes citizens of other countries and all their descendents, and insists that all these people, who now number more than five-and-a-half million, should be allowed automatic entry into Israel.
The very idea that Israel, a country with only 9m people (including 6m Jews) should be forced to accept 5.5m Arab Palestinians with a unique refugee status, especially given that most of them have been taught that Israel is illegitimate and violence is justified, is a certain way to extinguish Jewish self-determination (or half the world’s Jewish population).
Mr Minto’s call for a single, secular state “from the river to the sea” might sound appealing. However, the reality is that Jews would be a minority once again and another Arab state would emerge. There has been no Arab nation to date that provides equal rights for all citizens and has a secular constitution. Israel has all that, but will only be able to maintain it as long as there is not a majority of people who seek another Islamic state.
4. Mr Minto falsely claims Arab terror is “resistance”
While not in the prepared remarks, Mr Minto ad-libbed in his speech a comparison between Arab Palestinian terror and the resistance of French under Nazi occupation. Mr Minto has also previously made this false comparison on social media.
There have been repeated efforts to negotiate a solution to the conflict, with Israeli leaders offering proposals that have all be flat-out rejected by the Arab Palestinian leaders. No such negotiations or offers were made by the Nazis.
And despite the unwillingness of Arab Palestinian leaders to negotiate, the violence from Gaza that necessitates the blockade, and the violence from Judea and Samaria that necessitated the security fence; Israel still facilitates thousands of truckloads of goods into Gaza and still allows tens of thousands of Arab Palestinians to enter Israel for work every week.
Israel’s attempts to protect its citizens and borders and the Nazi attempt to murder every Jewish person. While Gaza has a prevalence of obesity and 1,700 new millionaires, and the population of Arab Palestinians continues to rise, millions of Jews died of hunger and disease and there was a systematic genocide of Jews.
The comparison between Israel and Nazi German is so false and egregious, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has identified it as an example of antisemitism.
If there is any comparison to be made with Nazis it might be with Hamas – a terror group with a charter that includes reference to the genocide of Jews that it enacts. But Mr Minto calls this “resistance” and so whitewashes terror while claiming to be against terror.
Furthermore, interviews with would-be suicide bombers and other research suggests their motivation is religious, born of incitement in mosques and a culture of glorifying “martyrs”. In areas ruled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority Imams will often incite violence in their sermons. Outside of the mosques, street signs, football clubs, and even schools are named after suicide bombers or are dedicated to the memory of terrorists.
And within schools, the curriculum further normalizes and encourages terror, with stories with titles such as “I Shall Sacrifice My Blood to Saturate the Land” and religious textbooks replete with genocidal messages. State-sponsored children’s television bombard the youngest and most impressionable of minds with messages of violence against Jews. This is not “resistance”, but terror.
5. Mr Minto tells Jews to stand against Israel and “reclaim” the symbols of Judaism
Mr Minto devoted the last 350 words of his speech attempting to tell Jews that they are “bad” if they support Israel and “good” if they speak out against Israel.
The vast majority of Jews are Zionists – they believe that Jews should self-determine in at least part of their historical, indigenous land. Mr Minto, who couldn’t even pronounce the Hebrew words in his speech, would like to see Jews abandon the historic, cultural, and religious links to Israel and any ongoing self-determination in those indigenous lands. This is grossly insulting.
Imagine if Mr Minto were to tell Christians to reclaim the cross because it is on the British flag (and others) and is seen as a symbol of oppression and colonisation by some people; or that Muslims should reclaim the crescent because it is on the flag of many countries that really have barbaric policies. Those countries have far worse records on human rights (historic or current) than Israel and yet Mr Minto singles out the Jewish nation for his opprobrium.
Mr Minto also suggests that the New Zealand Jewish Council is not supportive of freedom or justice because it reflects the majority Jewish position of support for self-determination of Jews in their indigenous lands. That the majority of Kiwis also support Israel makes Mr Minto’s position even more egregious.
Finally, Mr Minto claims to be against antisemitism because he condemns Jewish grave desecrations and neo-Nazis. Unfortunately, there are many forms of antisemitism, and fighting one type while engaging in another still makes someone antisemitic.