Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Dear friends,
please find below an excellent article by Australian political activist and author, Jeff Sparrow, which first appeared in Jacobin Magazine.  I have known Jeff for many years both as an activist and in his capacity as editor of one of Australia's oldest political and cultural magazine's, Overland. I also worked closely with Jeff, when he and Antony Loewenstein asked me to contribute a chapter about Palestine and the BDS campaign in Australia to Left Turn, a book look at the left politics in Australia, which they edited.  If you would like to check out the book, you can find can order it here.

Jeff's article below is an excellent exploration of settler-colonialism both in Australia and Palestine.  It examines both the similarities and the differences, as well as the dynamics of settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

Jeff is also the author of a number of books, including: 
  • Radical Melbourne (Vulgar Press, 2001) and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within (Vulgar Press, 2004), written with his sister, Jill Sparrow. 

  • Communism: A Love Story (Melbourne University Press, 2007) is a biography of the radical intellectual Guido Baracchi, a founder of the Communist Party of Australia. 

  • Killing: Misadventures in Violence (Melbourne University Press, 2009) is a study of the social and psychological consequences of executions, combat and animal slaughter. It was a finalist in the Melbourne Prize for Literature Best Writing Award 2009.

  • Left Turn: Political Essays for the New Left (Melbourne University Press, 2012) was co-edited by Sparrow and Antony Loewenstein.

  • Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship (Scribe, 2012) "probes the contradictions of our relationship to sex and censure, excess and folly, erotica and vice."

You can follow Jeff on twitter: @jeff_sparrow 

You can also follow Jacobin Magazine on twitter: @jacobinmag

in solidarity,


When Settlers Dream

Jacobin Magazine  9 August 2014

A look back at the subjection of Tasmania shows that while Israel’s settler colonialism is brutal, it’s hardly without precedent.


Some weeks ago, Greg Shupak noted how the extremity of the violence unleashed during Operation Protective Edge led some to describe Israel’s actions as “irrational.”

They were wrong. A settler-colonial state, Israel’s existence depended first on the forced exodus of Palestinians and then the repeated destruction of their attempts at self-organization.

Israel isn’t unique in this respect. The so-called Black War between colonists and indigenous people in Eastern Tasmania offers another example, one that makes a productive (though obviously not exact) comparison with Gaza, both because it’s less well known to those in the Global North, but also because a raft of recent historiography has thrown fresh light on what settler colonization meant for the island the British originally called Van Diemen’s Land.

Nicholas Clements’ new book The Black War provides a definitive yet accessible account of the conflict. Clements chronicles the war in chapters that alternate between the perspective of the settlers and their indigenous opponents, a conceit, as he explains in the introduction, borrowed from The Palestine-Israeli Conflict: A Beginner’s Guide. It’s a particularly effective mode of exposition for settlement narratives because, rather than attempting to adjudicate between the differing claims of the combatants, it shows how both perspectives arise from the process of colonization itself.

When the Tasmanian landowner George Hobler organized a party of men to fire on a local tribe, he saw himself as responding to the unprovoked spearing of one of his servants. Likewise, when two Aborigines attacked sawyers at a farm near Ben Lomond in March 1831, they seem to have intended to rescue an indigenous girl living on the property. But the Black War cannot be understood as simply an accretion of these individual exchanges. Rather, we need to situate episodic clashes in their historical context: the establishment and maintenance of a settler colony that, by its nature, renders the life of indigenous people unbearable.

Think of the usual presentation of the recent Gaza incursion. The crisis began, we are told, with the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers. Of course, that’s an entirely arbitrary starting point. Why not say that it started the day before that, when an Israeli airstrike killed a Palestinian man and a ten-year-old? But that too would be inadequate. As Gabor Maté says, “There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.”

The conflict in Tasmania, like the conflict in Gaza, only makes sense as a totality.
With the condescension of posterity, it’s easy to dismiss the British colonists in Van Diemen’s Land as monsters, genocidal racists carrying out atrocities for reasons unfathomable to liberal-minded folk of the twenty-first century. Yet, precisely as Israeli officials explained the assault on Gaza as a defensive reaction to Hamas’ rockets, the Tasmanian settlers saw themselves as victims, driven to violence by the terror inflicted by the natives.

In December 1827, the land commissioner Roderic O’Connor wrote a personal letter to the government: “Can we live in a wilderness surrounded by wretches who watch every opportunity and who take delight in shedding our blood?” The next year, settlers near Swanport sent “a statement of the danger … of being ultimately exterminated by the black natives.”

To an outsider, the notion that the whites were in danger of extermination seems as perverse as the Western media’s portrayal as the Gaza conflict in terms of the supposed threat to Israel. But, rather like Israelis today, the colonists explicitly condemned the assessments of such outsiders, who, they said, could not grasp the reality of their situation. In 1830, a Clyde Valley settler explained:
We in the interior are in the most imminent daily danger of our lives and property — of having our houses and barns burnt about our ears in all directions, and our families butchered by these savages and are we to be smoothly informed how we are to act, and that, on the defensive, by a few comfortably seated Gentlemen in their well-furnished and well-protected houses?
Isaac Deutscher famously described Zionism through a parable about a man who jumped from a burning house only to injure the person he landed on below. The analogy accepts Israel’s self-presentation as a refuge from Nazism, a claim that historically simply isn’t true. But it’s less often recognized that Deutscher’s fable applies with equal force to other settler colonies. Many of those arriving in Van Diemen’s Land – the convicts, but also the soldiers – had no choice of their destination. Of course, from the perspective of the natives, the intentions of the settler colonizers scarcely matter.

In Tasmania, convicts and ex-convicts were responsible for much of the bloodletting, so that many of the respectable colonists were able to disavow any direct involvement in killing Aborigines. But the convicts, James Boyce concludes in his magisterial Van Diemen’s Land, “can never be charged with the same level of responsibility as those whose interests they served, and their scapegoating by both the government and the free settlers is too obviously self-serving to be taken as seriously as it often has been.”

After all, as the historian of genocide Patrick Wolfe puts it, settler states “typically seek to distance themselves from the activities of the ostensibly unofficial frontier mavericks on whose depredations they depend.” Think, for instance, of the Israeli government’s relationship to the right-wing settlers in the Occupied Territories, whose activities they both disavow and encourage.

The mainstream consensus about Israel-Palestine holds that peace must begin with the Palestinians accepting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. But the Tasmanian example shows how, in fact, that very demand renders peace — or, at least, any kind of just peace — impossible.

Settler colonization, by definition, must deny the legitimacy of the native population. The settlement of Australia rested on the doctrine of terra nullius, which held the land to be legally empty – and Zionism, of course, depends on the same concept.

The Zionist slogan of “a land without a people for a people without a land” did not literally mean that Palestine lacked people, any more than the British settlers believed Van Diemen’s Land was empty. In both cases, the absence was not of people but rather “civilized people,” for, as Land Commissioner Roderic O’Connor explained in 1827, it would be “a disgrace … to the human race to call [indigenous people] men.”

The Australian founders saw the settlement of the colony as an established fact, with indigenous people relegated to the margins of society. But the Australian constitution still signaled (albeit in passing) the fundamental identity of the new nation with the discriminatory Section 127, which stipulated that “aboriginal natives” be excluded from official censuses. (In 1967, a referendum deleting that section passed with overwhelming public support, an event rightly considered a milestone in the struggle for indigenous rights.)

What would it mean, today, to insist that indigenous people accept Australia as a white or a Christian state? The very question sounds both absurd and offensive, precisely because explicitly chauvinist definitions of nationality are so discredited. That’s why Judah Magnes, the first Chancellor of Israel’s Hebrew University, opposed in 1942 the idea of a Jewish state because “the slogan ‘Jewish state’ (or commonwealth) is equivalent, in effect, to a declaration of war by the Jews on the Arabs.”

Likewise, when apologists claim that a state defined by the settler identity remains necessary to prevent a native massacre, they merely reveal how deep-seated the colonial mentality remains.
In the dying years of apartheid, some liberals opposed the attempts to break down the structures of the South African colonial regime, arguing the end of a racially defined state would mean the destruction of the white minority. William Safire, for instance, complained that “real political equality” entailed
… majority rule, and nonwhites are the overwhelming majority in South Africa. That means an end to white government as the Afrikaners have known it for three centuries; that means the same kind of black rule that exists elsewhere in Africa, and most white South Africans would rather remain the oppressors than become the oppressed.
Today, in the context of a multi-racial South Africa, that position seems grotesque.
Let’s recall that, in Tasmania, though some of the colonists favored military action, the head of the settlement, Lieutenant Governor Arthur, was an early advocate of what today might be called a two-state solution.

In a January 1828, Arthur explained, “The measure which I rather incline to attempt, is to settle the Aborigines in some remote quarter of the island, which should be strictly reserved for them, and to supply them with food and clothing, and afford them protection … on condition of their confining themselves peaceably to certain limits.”

He gave this plan official status in a notice published a few months later entitled “Proclamation Separating the Aborigines from the White Inhabitants.” In other words, as Boyce says, “the goal of colonial government policy from April 1828 was thus to reach an agreement with the Aborigines on the division of Van Diemen’s Land.”

What were the results of Arthur’s efforts? The most immediate effect of the supposed partition of Van Diemen’s Land was the intensification of violence against those indigenous people unfortunate enough to be on the wrong part of the island. As Boyce writes, the proclamation “provided the first official sanction for the use of force against Aborigines for no other reason than that they were Aboriginal.”

In other words, it enabled settlers to ethnically cleanse the rest of the land, since, as Chief Justice Pedder put it at the time, “the object of this proclamation is their expulsion wherever they may appear in the settled districts and however harmlessly they may be conducting themselves.”

Moreover, official hopes in a negotiated settlement were largely abandoned by October 1828, with the colony’s executive council claiming that the Aborigines’ “treachery” and “lack of government” made them doubt “if any reliance could be placed upon any negotiations which might be entered into.” Had Mark Regev been present, he might have declared that, of course, the council wanted peace but it lacked a suitable partner.

Yet the war did, in fact, end with a two-state settlement, a result that was disastrous for the indigenous people.

George Augustus Robinson arrived in Hobart in 1826, where, as the Australian Dictionary of Biography explains, he became “secretary of the Seamen’s Friend and Bethel Union Society, joined the committee of the Auxiliary Bible Society, visited prisoners and the condemned in the gaol, and helped to found the Mechanics Institute.” When the government advertised for a “steady man of good character” to attempt a negotiation with the Aborigines, Robinson stepped forward.

Over the next years, Robinson, known as “the Conciliator,” embarked on a series of “Friendly Missions” to induce the Aborigines to cease fighting.

At first, most of the colonists reacted to him in the way the Likudists respond to Israeli peaceniks today. The Launceston Advertiser wrote: “Can it be that we are to thus suffer these people to destroy our Fellow Colonists, and is the Government to sit down supinely and view this destruction calmly and preach conciliation? No! rather let the sentence be extermination.”

The killing of Captain Bartholomew Thomas and James Parker by the Aborigines with whom they were seeking to negotiate fostered a hysterical clamor for reprisals. The Advertiser claimed the men were “victims of a mistaken faith in the sincerity of these blood-thirsty savages” and denounced the “barbarity of a race which no kindness can soften, and which nothing short of utter annihilation can subdue.” The Launceston Independent called for “retribution, deep and lasting, not only upon the perpetrators of the deeds, should they come within our power, but upon the whole race.”

Again, all very familiar. But Robinson did, much to the surprise of most of the colony, eventually convince the majority of indigenous people to accept resettlement on Flinders Island.

By 1830, indigenous society had been shattered. The population had been decimated while the number of whites grew by a thousand or more each year. The historian John West, writing within a few decades of the Black War, explained that the constant harassment by armed parties meant that “parents and children had been divided and families had been broken up in melancholy confusion: indeed, they had ceased to be tribes, and became what they were called — mobs of natives, composed often of hereditary enemies. Infanticide and distress, rapid flight, and all the casualties of a protracted conflict, threatened them with weedy destruction.”

Years later, Robinson himself noted in his diary that there was “not an aborigine on [the Flinders Island] settlement nor an aborigine that has been at the settelement but what bears marks of violence perpetrated upon by them by the depraved whites. Some have musket balls lodged in them … Some of the natives have slugs in their bodies and others contusions, all inflicted by whites.”

When he approached the surviving indigenous people, Robinson promised that if they accepted resettlement, their customs and culture would be respected; they would receive food, houses and blankets; and, most significantly, they would be able to return to their traditional lands once the violence had subsided.

It must have seemed like a decent offer — or at least the best one they would get.

Of course, none of the promises were kept. Whatever Robinson’s intentions, conciliation engendered less a homeland than a prison: as Charles Darwin noted during a visit in 1836, “the Aboriginal blacks are all removed & kept (in reality as prisoners) in a Promontory, the neck of which is guarded.”

The parallels with Palestine are not exact: partly because Israel confronts a demographic challenge not faced by colonists in Tasmania — where, from very early on, white settlers constituted a majority — and partly because, while the settlement in Tasmania was (at the time) relatively unimportant to the British, Israel plays a crucial role for the American empire.

Nonetheless, the similarities are instructive.

When, in 1847, forty-seven sick and elderly indigenous people petitioned to be allowed to leave Flinders Island, the settlers organized a petition to prevent them, explaining that those who hadn’t lived through the war could not appreciate what might happen when “uncivilised creatures with all their savage and bloodthirsty propensities are admitted [sic] to escape into the bush to perpetrate all sorts of depredations and atrocities.” The whites might have been paranoid, but they were not prepared to risk any manifestation of indigenous independence, which might have sparked further resistance.

Likewise, as Shupak says, Israel cannot allow an independent Palestinian state, because a successful expression of Palestinian nationalism represents a continuing threat to the project of an ethnically defined settler colony. Netanyahu has made that explicit, saying “that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan” — something that effectively rules out a sovereign Palestine.

Which is not to say that a two-state solution is entirely impossible. But if it takes place, it will be akin to Robinson’s “Conciliation”: the creation of a kind of guarded reserve, a Bantustan or blockaded open-air prison like Gaza rather than a nation exercising real sovereignty.

Or, put another way, the kind of state acceptable to the Israelis (and, for that matter, to the Americans) will be one to which the Palestinians will only agree if, like the indigenous Tasmanians in 1831, they’re convinced no other choice remains.

Hence the increasingly violent rhetoric coming out of Israel. Unlike the Tasmanian settlers, the Israeli authorities do not think they can get away with physically annihilating their enemies. They do, however, believe sustained violence can sufficiently cow the Palestinians so that they can be “conciliated,” induced to accept the twenty-first century of a Flinders Island reserve.

For Israel, this is both necessary and urgent, a response to the so-called demographic time bomb that will bring a Palestinian majority in “Greater Israel.” That’s Shupak’s point: the current crop of atrocities is neither an accident nor the result of ill-advised policies but a logical response by the Israeli regime to the situation in which it finds itself.

In the course of the Gaza incursion, Henry Siegman, former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, was moved to comment:
When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis – and should be a profound crisis in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success.
That crisis is necessary and long overdue. The Black War provides a chilling illustration of how settler colonialist dreams end.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

REDFLAG: West Bank occupation intensifies

Dear friends,
please find below my latest article on Palestine published by Red Flag about Israel's ongoing attacks and ethnic cleansing in the Occupied West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem

For the last month or so, the RedFlag website has been under digital attack by Zionist hackers due to the paper's unstinting support for Palestine and opposition to Israel's war crimes in Gaza.  RedFlag's website is currently back on line, but due to the ongoing attacks by hackers, the editorial staff at Red Flag are also publishing articles in full on the Socialist Alternative facebook page. 

Please consider supporting RedFlag by liking and following the SA facebook page (click here) and by taking out a subscription to the paper. 

If you are in Australia you can get a hard copy sent to your home or a digital version via email. Similarly if you are from outside of Australia, you can also subscribe and receive a digital subscription. To get your subscription, please contact RedFlag via the Socialist Alternative facebook page.

In solidarity, Kim


Israeli soldiers detain Palestinians during clashes at a protest against Israeli military action in Gaza, in the West Bank village of Silwad, near Ramallah August 15, 2014. Source: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

West Bank occupation intensifies
10 September 2014, RedFlag 
by Kim Bullimore

While the eyes of the world were on Israel’s ruthless and unrelenting 50-day bombardment of Gaza, the Zionist state continued its deadly campaign of murder, occupation, repression and settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. At least 32 Palestinians were killed and almost 1, 400 were injured.

Figures compiled by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) reveal that, between 13 June and 24 August, Israel detained 1,753 Palestinians (an average of 24 per day) and carried out 1,573 military raids (21 per day). The PLO report, titled “Business as Usual”, also documented more than 50 home demolitions, which left 112 people homeless, including 66 children.

Israeli settlers carried out 249 attacks (three per day) against Palestinians. Many occurred in occupied East Jerusalem, where 16-year-old school boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir previously was kidnapped, tortured and burned alive by settlers.

Israel has also declared more than 400 hectares of Palestinian land near Bethlehem to be “state land”. This is the biggest land theft in 30 years. According to the Israeli group Peace Now, the 31 August announcement seeks to turn a “wildcat” settlement, currently consisting of 10 settler families, into a permanent colony.

Since 1967, when it seized control of and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, Israel has constructed hundreds more illegal colonies in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring sections of its civilian population into the territories it occupies.

Over the last 20 years, the Zionist state has repeatedly violated the 1995 Interim Agreement developed in accordance with Article 7 of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which states: “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”

Today, more than half a million Israeli settlers illegally reside in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, double the figure prior to the Oslo agreement.

In the weeks prior to the 31 August announcement, Israel was continuing its illegal annexation of Palestinian land and constructing illegal colonies. Israel approved the building of an additional 1,472 units, making room for almost 6,000 settlers in the colonies of Gilo, Harhoma and Giv’at Zeev. Settlement expansion also took place in the illegal Israeli colonies of Bracha, Yakir and Halamish.

During the assault on Gaza, approximately 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel were arrested for protesting the actions of the Zionist state. Maisa Arshid, an attorney for dozens of those arrested, told Al Jazeera on 5 August that in many cases the Israeli authorities had no evidence to justify the arrests.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted that, between 2 July and 6 August, approximately 1,500 demonstrators, the majority Palestinian, had been arrested. Some 350 of them are now being prosecuted for disturbing public order, unlawful gatherings, rioting and violence against people and property. During the same period, despite a number of violent protests by Israeli settlers and other Jewish citizens of Israel, not a single Israeli Jewish citizen was charged or prosecuted.

Palestinian attorney Suhad Bishara from the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel told Haaretz: “[T]he wave of arrests is intended to silence and crush the right of [Palestinian] Arab citizens to protest, via police violence and hostility.

“The Israel Police treats the Arab community as a potential enemy, and unfortunately, the court approved many of the police’s requests for extended remand, even when there was no ground for this.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Palestine solidarity on Australia's Universities: on Christopher Pyne and The Australian's slander of socialist pro-Palestine students

Dear friends,

Today, The Australian today published a hasbara (propaganda) article written by the Abbott government education minister Christopher Pyne slandering socialist students as anti-semitic due to their role in leading pro-Palestine campaigning on campus.   In particularly he singles out Socialist Alternative, of which I am also a member.  

This article below published two weeks ago by Red Flag and answers all the lies in Christopher Pyne's article in the Australian today.  It should also be noted that for more than two weeks, the Red Flag website has come under concerted attack by Zionist hackers due to Red Flag's uncompromising support for Palestine and opposition to Israel's war crimes in Gaza.   The website is currently back up online but you can also support Red Flag by liking our page on Facebook and subscribing to the paper (and get either a digital or hard copy of the paper).

However slanderous, Pyne's attack on Socialist Alternative is, it is unsurprising.  Socialist Alternative in addition to playing a leading role in campaigning in support of Palestine on campus have also been active in leading the campaign against Pyne and the Abbott government's attack on education, which seeks to cut funding to universities and increase fees for students.

In addition, Pyne, like the rest of the Abbott government, is an unabashed apologist for Israeli occupation, apartheid and war crimes.  Pyne visited Israel at the height of Israel's assault on Gaza, speaking at a number of forums where he actively defended Israels right to carry out war crimes and mass murder in Gaza.

The Australian's anti-Palestine stance, including its active campaign against the Palestinian BDS campaign and supporters of the campaign, has been well documented both on this blog and elsewhere.  For my earlier posts on The Australian's campaign against BDS and pro-Palestine supporters see:

The Australian newspaper and BDS: A case study in obsession

The Australian's faux outrage over the Palestinian BDS campaign and student protests against Max Brenner

An interview with The Australian newspaper on BDS and the Max Brenner Protests ... OR ... What The Australian doesn't tell its readers...

I have also published below an article written by Guy Rundle for Crikey in response to Pyne's slander in The Australian. Overall the article is very good, although Rundle gets one thing wrong.  Socialist Alternative is very active in the campaign against Israeli war profiteer,  Elbit Systems. Along with other community groups and individuals, members of Socialist Alternative are actively involved in organsing the community protest against Israeli war profiteer, Elbit Systems, which is taking place in Melbourne on October 5/6. (for more details on the protest, join the FB page for the protest).

In solidarity,


Accusations of anti-Semitism against socialist students are lies
-Daniel Taylor, Red Flag, 13 August 2014

Over the past five weeks, as the Israeli military pulverised the Gaza Strip, there have been widespread allegations of an increase in anti-Semitic intimidation and violence on university campuses. The allegations – widely circulated in print, on social media and on commercial radio – include claims that Jewish students are being racially abused, physically intimidated and banned from public lectures. Socialist Alternative has been frequently named as responsible for these acts.

For anyone familiar with socialist politics, which includes at its core unyielding opposition to all forms of racial discrimination, these claims must seem alarming and incongruous. In fact, they are lies with no basis in fact. An explanation requires some examination of the politics of Zionism and socialism on university campuses.

*Socialist Alternative, Jews, and Zionism

Socialist Alternative is a Marxist organisation. Many of the thinkers from which it draws influence, including Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg, were not only Jews, but Jews who lived in periods of intense state-sanctioned anti-Semitic discrimination and pogroms.

Our movement seeks to fight against, and ultimately abolish forever, all forms of racial oppression. In Australia, this requires active struggle against the racist attacks on Aboriginal people, refugees, and Muslims. It also requires solidarity with those who struggle internationally against racism and oppression, such as the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Palestinians. Socialist Alternative student clubs often have spearheaded these campaigns on university campuses and in wider society. We seek to unite all struggles against oppression, break down all divisions of race and sex, and help build movements that can challenge the entire system that generates and perpetuates racism.

This requires a consistent and principled opposition to anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is not a major current in Australian politics, but it is nonetheless a poisonous and vile doctrine that seeks to lay blame for the world's ills on the characteristics of a single ethno-religious group. We celebrate the long history of Jewish socialism and Jewish anti-Zionism, and count many Jews among our members.

*Zionists on campus

There are many organised political currents competing for influence in the political life of Australian campuses. The student wings of the Labor, Liberal and Greens parties are all represented, as are other equally political groups that are sometimes less honest about their affiliation. In the latest controversies over anti-Semitism, they key political group is the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS).

AUJS has a presence on over 20 university campuses in Australia and New Zealand. It describes itself as the peak body representing Jewish youth. AUJS spokespeople are frequently quoted in the press as authorities on anti-Semitism. But AUJS is not an apolitical organisation. As its website proudly proclaims, it exists to "promote a positive image of Israel on campus". This mission becomes particularly crucial during the Israeli military's assaults against Palestinians.

AUJS runs annual tours to Israel, which aim to give participants "a stronger connection … to the state of Israel". AUJS's annual reports boast of campaigns in solidarity with Israel’s military during Operation Pillar of Cloud, a military assault that killed 100 Palestinian civilians; they describe the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel as "our great political challenge". They call for "settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism".

AUJS is not an organisation representing the interests of Jewish students, but an advocacy group for the right wing politics of the state of Israel. Its reports boast that pro-Palestine campaigners cannot host an event on any campus "without running into an AUJS campaign". For this reason, in 2012 the Zionist Federation of Australia sent AUJS a letter of thanks and congratulations for "efforts in combating anti-Zionism". The right wing politics of AUJS and its affiliates are embodied in the person of Matthew Lesh. Lesh serves two prominent roles: he is the political director for AUJS and an official spokesperson for the Young Liberals.

AUJS accuses its enemies on campus of conflating Zionism with Jewishness, and with turning criticism of Israel into hostility to Jews. In fact, conflating Judaism and Zionism is precisely the political goal of AUJS. Slandering supporters of Palestine as anti-Semitic is its primary method for "combating anti-Zionism" and fulfilling the project, outlined in the AUJS constitution, of "actively advancing the interests of Israel".

*Operation Protective Edge

When Israel began its latest massacre in Gaza – which has so far led to the slaughter of more than 1,900 civilians and the widespread destruction of homes, schools, and hospitals – a political confrontation between the supporters of Palestinian rights and the defenders of Israeli militarism was inevitable.

At Monash University, Socialist Alternative moved a motion in the Student Council, condemning Israeli war crimes and occupation. Similar motions, including endorsements of the BDS campaign, were taken up and adopted at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Sydney, Flinders University, and Curtin University. A similar motion moved at La Trobe University was voted down in a heated council meeting. Socialist Alternative also organised and advertised meetings at campuses around Australia, under titles along the lines of "Why You Should Support the Palestinians".

The Israeli military massacre in Gaza was catastrophic for the public image of Israel. Weekly protests against the attack drew thousands of attendees in Melbourne and Sydney, hundreds in other Australian cities, and millions around the world. We are proud that Socialist Alternative's work contributed to this anti-racist and anti-Zionist sentiment.

The initial response from AUJS took the form of a series of press statements expressing concern that the motions passed in student councils would "alienate Jewish students" and contribute to anti-Semitism. This was a clear attempt to conflate political opposition to Israeli policy with racial discrimination against Jews. AUJS also created an absurd series of images, headlined "What Would You Do?" of rockets being launched from one Australian university campus to another. These images were spread on social media and printed on posters, but rang rather hollow, especially after the Israeli military bombed the main university in Gaza.

AUJS also encouraged its members to file a flood of complaints describing the pro-Palestine events as "anti-Semitic", while lobbying university vice chancellors to ban pro-Palestine activism on campus. It managed to get the vice chancellors of Monash and La Trobe universities to send emails to all students implicitly attacking pro-Palestine activists, after what AUJS called "strong AUJS advocacy". AUJS then commenced a campaign of outrageous slander targeting activists at these two universities in particular.

*The slanders

The two most startling allegations were aired by Matthew Lesh on 3AW radio, and repeated by Deakin University's Danny Ben-Moshe in an online article published by The Conversation.

Lesh claims that Jewish students were physically ejected from a public lecture at Monash University, and subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation at La Trobe. Both these claims are absolutely false.

The "lecture" at Monash University was a Socialist Alternative political meeting. Not only were Jews welcome and encouraged to attend, but the talk itself was given by a Jewish member of Socialist Alternative. Attendees were asked to sign a petition calling for an end to Israel's illegal economic blockade of Gaza.

A small group of organised Zionists attempted to gain entry after refusing to sign the petition, and attempted to disrupt the meeting. They gave up after being told the meeting was for supporters of Palestine. There is nothing unusual in this. Socialist Alternative has in many previous instances barred disruptive right wingers who have attempted to disrupt and air racist opinions at our meetings. Even if you don’t agree with this policy, it has nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism. In this case, the meeting went ahead peacefully, with Jewish students both delivering the initial talk and contributing to the discussion afterwards.

Immediately afterwards, the Zionists who had attempted to disrupt the meeting began a social media campaign claiming that Jews had been banned from campus events. Socialist Alternative members immediately contacted them to clarify that Jews were welcome, but that the meeting was not for political defenders of Israeli occupation. No retraction was issued and their campaign continued, proving the utterly cynical use of allegations of anti-Semitism to smear and undermine progressive politics on campus.

The events at La Trobe University followed the decision by the student council to unanimously vote against a motion condemning the Israeli assault on Gaza. As the student council is a democratically elected body accountable to students, Socialist Alternative members produced posters quoting several of the arguments used by the council members to justify their vote – including "It's not our place to point at somebody and say, 'You're committing mass murder'."

The posters did not single out any council members on the basis of religion or ethnicity; they simply quoted the arguments made in the meeting. The student council, obviously fearful for its reputation, instructed security to tear down the posters, and complaints of harassment and intimidation were filed against Socialist Alternative members with the university administration.

The right to host political meetings on campus, and inform students of events that are taking place on their elected leadership bodies, would seem like basic political rights that nobody would contest. But because these rights, when exercised, could contribute to the continued disintegration of Israel's public image, AUJS kicked into overdrive. It launched an aggressive media campaign, claiming that these events represented a wave of anti-Semitic abuse and intimidation at Australian universities.

*Anti-Semitism and the responsibilities of the left

The ongoing genocide of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state naturally horrifies all those who oppose racism. The slanders drawn up by organised Zionists are calculated to undermine this sympathy, and to suggest that campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinians is itself a form of racism. It is an attempt to isolate Palestinians from their natural supporters among anti-racists and supporters of human rights. It lays the groundwork for the intimidation of activists who support Palestine, the banning of their meetings and organisations, and the eradication of any criticism of Israel from university life. Already, because of the AUJS campaign around La Trobe University, activists have been forbidden from forming a "Students for Palestine" club – because campaigning for Palestine is now considered, scandalously, to be a form of "intimidation and harassment".

The death toll from the most recent Israeli attacks on Gaza is now approaching 2,000. The Israeli war machine receives extensive political, military, and diplomatic support from key institutions all around the world. A principled opposition to racism requires participation in a global movement in solidarity with the Palestinians. Socialist Alternative is proud to have played a role in this movement in Australia, and will continue to do so.

The attempt by the political supporters of Israel to define all opposition to its policies as forms of anti-Semitic intimidation and harassment is an outrageous and shameful lie. To slander anti-racist activists, and to promote the racist terror of the Israeli state, while claiming to be taking a stand against racism is an act of utter cynicism.

The Left cannot bow to this intimidation. It has a responsibility to continue raising a voice in solidarity with the Palestinians, to make it clear that Jews can oppose Zionism, and that institutions like AUJS that exist to defend and promote Israeli militarism are not the authentic voice of all Jews.

[Daniel is a member of Jews Against Israeli Apartheid and Socialist Alternative.]
 Rundle: Pyne's bizarre free speech rhetoric a dog whistle to the IPA

Crikey writer-at-large | 29 August 2014


Education Minister Christopher Pyne gave the campaign to abolish 18c another kick in the guts this morning in The Australian -- although it was disguised as an attack on alleged anti-Semitism on campuses.

The principle target of the attack was Socialist Alternative, which is among the groups leading the campaign against the massive fee hikes proposed by the Abbott government. SAlt is also running protest campaigns against Israel, which includes protests against the Max Brenner cafe/chocolate chain, which provides free goody bags to the Israel Defense Forces.

The optics of the Brenner protest aren't great -- the chain consciously imitates a Viennese-style coffee shop, so protesting outside it has ugly associations (which is part of SAlt's recruitment strategy -- those who quail at the complexity of that aren't cadre material. Hence the Brenner protests, rather than a more concentrated attack on the offices of Israeli arms exporters in Australia).

But anti-Semitic they ain't. Neither is the boycott divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which Pyne thinks should be excluded from universities by administrators. Quite aside from the fact that many of the people running BDS campaigns are Jews themselves -- and not only secular-Left Jews, but the increasingly vocal Hasidic groups, who have been anti-Zionist for more than a century -- Pyne's stance suggests a curious attitude to free speech.

The whole idea of the university is as a place of free thought, where both students and faculty should be protected from sanction simply for expressing unpopular ideas. This idea is central to a free society. To try and impose a range of "acceptable" free speech on a university from without is simply a misunderstanding of what the university is. Pyne is simply adopting the "no platform" argument of a section of the Left as regards universities and applying it to a spurious "anti-Semitism". Given that it was opposition by Australian-Jewish groups to changes to 18c that pretty much killed it, it's difficult not to conclude that the real target of this piece -- with its concluding paean to collectivist multiculturalism -- is the IPA and their renewed 18c target.

Such an approach to choking free speech at universities -- which is, in effect, the state choking off free speech -- is part of the new normal: that the greatest enemy of free speech now is the Abbott government, with its "Team Australia" rhetoric, its use of multicultural agents to treat inconvenient speech -- i.e. violent Islamism -- as a bacillus to be "deradicalised", etc. It's a chilling process -- one I'm sure the IPA will attack vociferously and stand up for the right of people to urge jihad. Hello? Hello?

Still, those in favour of 18C will be relieved to see that its friends now include the Abbott government. That is hegemonic victory, by any measure.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What's in the Gaza "ceasefire" deal? Has the siege been lifted?

Dear friends,
As I noted last night, while a ceasefire had been announced the details of the deal were still trickling through and there was some skepticism as to whether the siege would be lifted.

Reading the outline of the deal provided by Reuters, it seems the siege is only partially lifted - meaning that in effect it is still in place, at least on the Israeli side as Israel still controls the land, sea and air borders. However, there will be an easing of restrictions on the Israeli side to allow humanitarian aid through. 

Egypt in a separate deal has agreed apparently to open its borders but there appears to be still restrictions on "dual use" goods (ie. lots of electrical and other building goods, which are deemed as weaponisable). 

So while it is good that there has been an easing of restrictions, we also need to realise that it means that Israel (and Egypt to a lesser extent) can shut the borders down any time they feel like it and prevent much need goods entering the region. It also means that Gaza remains under occupation and that that freedom of movement for Palestinians and goods will still remains restricted and under heavy Israeli control.

The Guardian has similarly noted that the terms of the deal seem to be similar to that of the ceasefire deal in 2012 which only saw an easing of the siege, not an ending of it.

in solidarity, Kim 

What's in the Gaza peace deal? 

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Luke Baker GAZA/JERUSALEM Tue Aug 26, 2014  

(Reuters) - Israel and the Palestinians agreed on Tuesday to an Egyptian-brokered plan to end the fighting in Gaza after 50 days of combat in which more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, 64 Israeli soldiers and five civilians in Israel were killed.

Following are the broad parameters of the agreement, which Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been working on through indirect talks in Cairo over recent weeks.

As part of the deal, both sides have agreed to address more complex issues dividing them - including the release of Palestinian prisoners and Gaza's demands for a sea port - via further indirect talks starting within a month.


* Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza agree to halt all rocket and mortar fire into Israel.

* Israel will stop all military action including air strikes and ground operations.

* Israel agrees to open more of its border crossings with Gaza to allow the easier flow of goods, including humanitarian aid and reconstruction equipment, into the coastal enclave.

* In a separate, bilateral agreement, Egypt will agree to open its 14 km (8 mile) border with Gaza at Rafah.

* The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, is expected to take over responsibility for administering Gaza's borders from Hamas. Israel and Egypt hope it will ensure weapons, ammunition and any "dual-use" goods are prevented from flowing into Gaza.

* The Palestinian Authority will lead in coordinating the reconstruction effort in Gaza with international donors, including the European Union.

* Israel is expected to narrow the security buffer along the inside of the Gaza border, reducing it from 300 meters to 100 meters if the truce holds. The move will allow Palestinians more access to farm land close to the border.

* Israel will extend the fishing limit off Gaza's coast to six miles from three miles, with the possibility of widening it gradually if the truce holds. Ultimately, the Palestinians want to return to a full 12-mile international allowance.


* Hamas wants Israel to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners rounded up in the West Bank following the abduction and killing of three Jewish seminary students in June, an attack that led to the war. Hamas initially denied involvement in the killings, but a senior Hamas official in exile in Turkey last week admitted the group did carry out the attack.

* President Abbas, who heads the Fatah party, wants freedom for long-serving Palestinian prisoners whose release was dropped after the collapse of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

* Israel wants Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza to hand over all body parts and personal effects of Israeli soldiers killed during the war.

* Hamas wants a sea port built in Gaza, allowing goods and people to be ferried in and out of the enclave. Israel has long rejected the plans, but it is possible that progress towards it could be made if there are absolute security guarantees.

* Hamas wants the un-freezing of funds to allow it to pay 40,000 police, government workers and other administrative staff who have largely been without salaries since late last year.

* The Palestinians also want the airport in Gaza - Yasser Arafat International, which opened in 1998 but was shut down in 2000 after it was bombed by Israel - to be rebuilt.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; writing by Luke Baker; editing by Larry King)


Gaza ceasefire: Israel and Palestinians agree to halt weeks of fighting

Terms of indefinite ceasefire – brokered by Egypt – expected to be similar to those agreed at the end of 2012 conflict

Gaza airstrike

After 50 days of the Gaza conflict, more than 2,100 people were killed, most of them civilians, including about 500 children. Photograph: Majdi Fathi/Corbis

The war in Gaza ended on Tuesday after Israel and the Palestinians agreed to halt fighting indefinitely, putting an end to seven weeks of catastrophic loss of life and destruction, but on terms which are likely to leave many on both sides of the conflict wondering what had been achieved.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad – the main militant groups in Gaza – the Palestinian Authority and Israel agreed on an open-ended ceasefire beginning at 7pm on Tuesday evening, bringing relief to civilians on both sides of the border.

Rocket fire and airstrikes continued until the last moments, and sirens sounded across southern Israel past 7pm. One Israeli was killed and several injured by a mortar shortly before the deadline, the Israel Defence Forces said. In Gaza, two children were killed in an airstrike in Khan Younis shortly before the ceasefire, and police reported that an Israeli airstrike flattened a seven-storey building in Beit Lahiya, the sixth high-rise to be toppled since the weekend.

As the ceasefire came into effect, Gaza echoed with celebratory gunfire and mosques announced victory through their loudspeakers. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in response to text messages sent by Hamas urging victory celebrations.

But the terms of the deal – brokered by the Egyptian government, and reached on the 50th day of the conflict – appeared to be almost identical to those agreed at the end of the previous war 21 months ago. Israel will open crossings on its border to allow the humanitarian aid and construction materials to enter Gaza, and will extend the permitted fishing zone to six miles off the coast of Gaza. The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt is also to be opened.

More difficult issues will be deferred for further indirect talks between the two parties in a month. They include Hamas's demands for an airport and seaport in Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners, and Israel's insistence on the disarmament of militant groups and the return of the remains of two of its soldiers killed in the fighting.

In a televised address, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas thanked the Egyptians, Qataris and US secretary of state John Kerry for their efforts to secure a ceasefire. He added: "The question is now 'What's next?' Gaza suffered three wars and are we expecting another one? We will consult friends and the international community, and we can't continue with 'cloudy negotiations'."

At a press conference at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: "Hamas is grateful to the people of Gaza who sacrificed their homes, children and money. We announce the victory today after achieving our goals."

He added: "[Israeli prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu has failed to force Gaza to surrender. Yes, we defeated them by our standing and our resistance. We will stand by our people and we won't leave them."

Israel accepted the ceasefire, although three cabinet members, including the hardline foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, voiced opposition, according to Israeli media. A government official said: "Israel has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a complete and unlimited-in-time ceasefire. Israel accepted already the Egyptian proposal on 15 July. Israel has always supported an unconditional, open-ended ceasefire."

A US state department spokeswoman said: "We call on all parties to fully and completely comply with its terms, and hope very much that the ceasefire will prove to be durable and sustainable. We view this as an opportunity, not a certainty. There is a long road ahead and we're aware of that, and we're going into this eyes wide open."

The deal follows at least eight temporary ceasefires during the course of the conflict. In Gaza, more than 2,100 people have been killed, most of them civilians, including about 500 children, in the past seven weeks. At least 11,000 people were injured and more than 17,000 homes destroyed or badly damaged. Around a third of Gaza's 1.8 million population has been displaced, many now living in United Nations shelters. Schools, hospitals, factories, farms, mosques and infrastructure such as power and water plants were hit. Reconstruction could take up to 10 years, say analysts. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers died and five civilians – including a four-year-old boy – were killed. Hundreds of families relocated from homes near the Gaza border to safer areas further north.

The Israeli military estimates that the weapons stocks of Hamas and other militant groups have fallen to less than a third of their pre-war levels, by being fired or destroyed in airstrikes.

Three of Hamas's top military commanders were killed last week, and the fate of its military chief , is still unknown after his wife and two children were killed in a massive airstrike last Tuesday. However the organisation claims to have won respect among Palestinians for putting up strong resistance against Israel's military onslaught.

Israeli leaders are expected to claim to have severely weakened Hamas over the past seven weeks, and restored "quiet" to areas within rocket range.

Egypt will hope to gain international credibility from brokering a ceasefire agreement after weeks of abortive talks hosted in Cairo.

The Gaza conflict began on 8 July following weeks of tension after the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and the subsequent revenge killing of a Palestinian youth. Israel responded with a wave of arrests of Hamas members, which triggered intensified rocket fire from Gaza.

BREAKING NEWS: Gaza - Palestinians announce long term ceasefire reached with Israel

Dear friends,
A long term ceasefire has been announced by both Abbas and the Hamas leadership.  The Israeli media is also reporting Israel's acceptance of the ceasefire.

According to media reports the deal supposedly includes:
  • an immediate easing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and a gradual lifting of restrictions on fishing off the coast of the strip.
  • discussions on the creation of a seaport and airport was postponed for a month, when indirect talks betwen Israel and Palestinians will resume.

While details are still emerging and need to be confirmed, some on twitter such as Israeli activist and writer Mairav Zonszein have argued "There is no deal, only an agreed-upon ceasefire and mutual intentions to discuss a deal in the future".

Monday marked the 50th day since Israel started its massacre in Gaza on July 8. The death toll at that time had reached 2,120, of which 577 are children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

In solidarity, Kim 

Gazonto - imagine Toronto bombed like Gaza by John Greyson

Dear friends, Well known Canadian film maker and political activist, John Greyson provides us with another clever film in support of Palestine - imagining the bombing of Toronto as if it were Gaza. 

Greyson is a well regarded film director in his own right and has long been active in Palestine solidarity work. He participated in the 2011 Gaza flotilla and in 2013 while on his way to join the Gaza with Dr Tarek Toubani to carry out medical relief work, they were jailed and tortured by the Egyptian regime for 7 weeks. 

I have included below his video, along with the article about it which appeared on Electronic Intifada. 

 in solidarity, Kim 

Short film “Gazonto” by John Greyson imagines Toronto bombed like Gaza 

By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, 24 August 2014

In his compelling new video Gazonto, Canadian filmmaker John Greyson reimagines Israel’s massive bombardment of the Israeli-occupied and besieged Gaza Strip as if it were an attack on his home city Toronto. 

Greyson imagines specific attacks on Palestinian homes, schools, mosques, hospitals and other institutions that Israel perpetrated since 7 July as if they had occurred on real-life Toronto sites including a well-known café, CBC TV, the University of Toronto and the Scarborough Injury Rehab Centre.

The film uses the device of a simulated video game to show how the horrifying effects of Israeli violence against Palestinians are rendered distant or invisible while the violence itself is celebrated.

The “video game” wherein the viewer is addressed as if they are the “player” also forces us to think about complicity and what those of us in Canada, the United States and other countries arming and supporting Israel can do to end such lethal intervention.

Gazonto asks viewers a simple question: what would happen to Toronto, or to your city, if, like Gaza, six thousand places had been heavily bombed in just a few weeks?


Since Israel’s bombardment began, its attacks have killed 2,127 Palestinians, including 512 children, according to the latest count from Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

On Saturday, Israeli warplanes completely obliterated a 12-story apartment building “without giving any specific explanation that can be verified,” Al Mezan said.

“Al Mezan’s investigations indicate that no military activities took place in or around it. Hundreds of its residents, most of whom are families headed by employees of the Palestinian Authority, were displaced,” Al Mezan added.

Israeli occupation forces “also destroyed a large shopping mall in Rafah and caused damages to dozens of homes in the Rafah refugee camp,” according to the group.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Haaretz: Israeli teenagers: Racist and proud of it

Dear friends,
yet another study and article on the increasing racism amongst Jewish citizens of Israel. 

Anyone following reports on Israel and Palestine will be aware of not only repeated studies revealing the increasing and rampant racism inside Israel but also the visible displays of racism against not against Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Arabs in general but also African asylum seekers in Israel. Repeated studies conducted by reputable Israeli organisations have also repeatedly identified significant racism against Jewish citizens of Israel who are not Ashkenazi (European/white) Jews.  

(Studies on Israel's racism: 20112012, 2012, 2013, 2014 Also see David Sheen's website documenting racism in Israel, click here)

In recent weeks, we have seen the repeated public spectacle of Zionist Jews in Israel marching through the streets calling for "Death to the Arabs" and "Death to Leftists".  As one of the students notes in this article: “If we’re not racist, that makes us leftists.”

Studies have also repeatedly shown that the text books used in Israeli schools promote racism against Palestinians, depicting them negatively as murders, rioters, suspicious etc.  A 1999 study of 124 Israeli text books on grammar, Hebrew Literature, history, geography and citizenship for elementary, middle school and high school found that the text books

"present[ed]  the view that Jews are involved in a justified, even humanitarian, war against an Arab enemy that refuses to accept and acknowledge the existence and rights of Jews in Israel.
“The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were delegitimized by the use of such labels as ”˜robbers,’ ”˜bloodthirsty,’ and ”˜killers,’” said Professor Bar-Tal, adding that there has been little positive revision in the curriculum over the years.
A more recent study by Nurit Peled-Elhanan shows that little had changed in the decade after the previous study.  Peled-Elhanan notes Israeli school books never refer to Palestinians unless in the context of terrorism.  In an interview with the Guardian, the Israeli academic notes that Palestinians are always called "Arabs" and that:
"The Arab with a camel, in an Ali Baba dress. They describe them as vile and deviant and criminal, people who don't pay taxes, people who live off the state, people who don't want to develop," she says. "The only representation is as refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists. You never see a Palestinian child or doctor or teacher or engineer or modern farmer."

While this Haaretz article is well worth reading and the study worth noting, both the study and article fail to address the origins of racism in Israel - ie. Zionism.  

Zionism is a settler-colonial ideology and as such is inherently racist. It can not be anything but. Zionism promotes an exclusivist state which privileges one ethnic group over another. It is therefore in compatible with the liberal idea of democracy, something which is ignored by the academics conducting this study. 

In solidarity,


Israeli teenagers: Racist and proud of it

Ethnic hatred has become a basic element in the everyday life of Israeli youth, a forthcoming book finds.

Aug. 23, 2014 |

Lehava protest in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2014.
Members of right-wing organization Lehava protesting the wedding of a Jewish-born woman and a Muslim man in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2014. Photo by Ofer Vaknin

Emil Salman
Authors Idan Yaron (right) and Yoram Harpaz. Photo by Emil Salman

“For me, personally, Arabs are something I can’t look at and can’t stand,” a 10th-grade girl from a high school in the central part of the country says in abominable Hebrew. “I am tremendously racist. I come from a racist home. If I get the chance in the army to shoot one of them, I won’t think twice. I’m ready to kill someone with my hands, and it’s an Arab. In my education I learned that ... their education is to be terrorists, and there is no belief in them. I live in an area of Arabs, and every day I see these Ishmaelites, who pass by the [bus] station and whistle. I wish them death.”

The student’s comments appear in a chapter devoted to ethnicity and racism among youth from a forthcoming book, “Scenes from School Life” (in Hebrew) by Idan Yaron and Yoram Harpaz. The book is based on anthropological observations made by Dr. Yaron, a sociologist, over the course of three years in a six-year, secular high school in the Israeli heartland – “the most average school we could find,” says Harpaz, a professor of education. 

The book is nothing short of a page-turner, especially now, following the overt displays of racism and hatred of the Other that have been revealed in the country in the past month or so. Maybe “revealed” isn’t the right word, as it suggests surprise at the intensity of the phenomenon. But Yaron’s descriptions of what he saw at the school show that such hatred is a basic everyday element among youth, and a key component of their identity. Yaron portrays the hatred without rose-colored glasses or any attempt to present it as a sign of social “unity.” What he observed is unfiltered hatred. One conclusion that arises from the text is how little the education system is able – or wants – to deal with the racism problem.
Not all educators are indifferent or ineffective. There are, of course, teachers and others in the realm of education who adopt a different approach, who dare to try and take on the system. But they are a minority. The system’s internal logic operates differently. 

Much of the chapter on racism revolves around the Bible lessons in a ninth-grade class, whose theme was revenge. “The class starts, and the students’ suggestions of examples of revenge are written on the blackboard,” the teacher told Yaron. A student named Yoav “insists that revenge is an important emotion. He utilizes the material being studied to hammer home his semi-covert message: All the Arabs should be killed. The class goes into an uproar. Five students agree with Yoav and say openly: The Arabs should be killed.” 

One student relates that he heard in the synagogue on Shabbat that “Aravim zeh erev rav” [“Arabs are a rabble,” in a play on words], and also Amalek, and there is a commandment to kill them all,” a reference to the prototypical biblical enemy of the Children of Israel. Another student says he would take revenge on anyone who murdered his family, but would not kill them all. 

“Some of the other students are outraged by this [softer stance],” the teacher reported. “The student then makes it clear that he has no love for Arabs and that he is not a leftist.” 

Another student, Michal, says she is shocked by what she is hearing. She believes that the desire for revenge will only foment a cycle of blood; not all Arabs are bad, she adds, and certainly they don’t all deserve to die. “People who decree the fate of others so easily are not worthy of life,” she says. 

Yoav himself claims to have heard Michal say: “Too bad you weren’t killed in a terrorist attack.” 

“The students all start shouting,” the teacher says, according to Yaron. “Some are personally insulted, others are up in arms, and Michal finds herself alone and absorbing all the fire – ‘Arab lover,’ ‘leftist.’ I try to calm things down. The class is too distraught to move on to the biblical story. The bell rings. I let them out and suggest that they be more tolerant of one another.” 

In the corridor during the break, the teacher notices that a crowd has gathered from all the ninth-grade classes. They have formed a human chain and are taunting Michal: “Fie, fie, fie, the Arabs will die.” The teacher: “I contemplated for five seconds whether to respond or keep going down the corridor. Finally I dispersed the gathering and insisted that Michal accompany me to the teachers’ room. She was in a state of shock, reeling under the insult, with tears to come instantly.” 

Six students are suspended for two days. The teacher reports on his conversation with Michal: “She continues to be laconic. This is what always happens, she says. The opinions are racist, and her only regret is speaking out. I just want to hug her and say I’m sorry I put her through this trauma. I envy her courage to say aloud things that I sometimes am incapable of saying.” 

Leftists as ‘Israel-haters’
In his research, Yaron spoke with Michal and Yoav, with other students in the class and with the homeroom teacher and the principal. The multiplicity of versions of the goings-on that emerge suggest a deep conflict and a lack of trust between the educators and the pupils. Each world functions separately, with the adults exercising little if any influence on the youngsters. It’s hard to believe that the suspension, or the punishment inflicted on some of the students – for example, to prepare a presentation for the ninth-grade classes on the subject of racism – changed anyone’s opinion. 

The same goes for the principal’s unequivocal declaration that, “There will be no racist comments in our school.” Even the essay Michal was asked to write on the subject was soon forgotten. “The intention was to launch an educational program, but in the meantime it was postponed,” the homeroom teacher admits. 

A year later, however, the incident itself was still remembered in the school. The same student who told Yaron that she won’t think twice if she gets the opportunity “to shoot one of them” when she serves in the army, also said, “As soon as I heard about the quarrel with that leftist girl [Michal], I was ready to throw a brick at her head and kill her. In my opinion, all the leftists are Israel-haters. I personally find it very painful. Those people have no place in our country – both the Arabs and the leftists.” 

Anyone who imagines this as a local, passing outburst is wrong. As was the case with the girl from the ORT network vocational school who alleged earlier this year that her teacher had expressed “left-wing views” in the classroom – in this case too a student related that he cursed and shouted at a teacher who “justified the Arabs.” The students say that workshops to combat racism, which are run by an outside organization, leave little impression. “Racism is part of our life, no matter how much people say it’s bad,” a student said. 

In the concluding discussion in just one such workshop, the moderator asked the students how they thought racism might eradicated. “Thin out the Arabs,” was the immediate reply. “I want you to leave here with the knowledge that the phenomenon exists, for you to be self-critical, and then maybe you will prevent it,” the moderator said. To which one student shot back, “If we’re not racist, that makes us leftists.” 

The moderator, in a tone of despair: “I’d like it if you took at least something small from this workshop.” A student responds to the challenge: “That everyone should live the way he wants, that if he thinks he’s racist, let him think what he wants, and that’s all.” 

As an adjunct of racism and hatred, ethnic identities – Mizrahi (Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries) and Ashkenazi – are also flourishing. Yoav believes that there is “discrimination between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim. We were severely punished for the incident [with Michal], but if it were the other way around, that wouldn’t have happened.” Yoav later told Yaron that he found the common saying, “What’s this, an [open-air] market?” offensive, because his whole family works in the local produce market. 

“Our business has existed since the state was established,” he said. “I am proud of my father, who is a man of the market. What are they trying to say, that my father isn’t cultured? When people say something about ‘Arabs,’ it’s considered a generalization, but when they say ‘market,’ that’s alright. When people say ‘market,’ they are actually talking about Mizrahim. We need to change the prejudices about the market and about the Mizrahim. People say I am a racist, but it’s just the opposite.” 

“There is no discussion about the topic of racism in the school and there probably will not be,” the principal admits. “We are not prepared for the deep, long-term process that’s necessary. Even though I am constantly aware of the problem, it is far from being dealt with. It stems in the first place from the home, the community and the society, and it’s hard for us to cope with it. You have to remember that another reason it’s hard to deal with the problem is that it also exists among the teachers. Issues such as ‘human dignity’ or ‘humanism’ are in any case considered left-wing, and anyone who addresses them is considered tainted.” 

Threat of noise
Prof. Yoram Harpaz is a senior lecturer at Beit Berl Teachers College and the editor of Hed Hahinuch, a major educational journal. Recalling the recent promise of Education Minister Shay Piron that classes in the first two weeks of the coming school year will be devoted to “emotional and social aspects of the summer’s events,” including “manifestations of racism and incitement,” Harpaz observes that schools in their present format “are incapable of dealing with the racist personality and identity.” 

He adds: “The schools are not geared for this. They can only impart basic knowledge and skills, hold examinations on them and grade the students. In fact, they have a hard time doing even that. In classes of 40 students, with a strict curriculum and exams that have to be held, it is impossible to engage in values-based education.” 

Yaron, a senior lecturer in sociology at Ashkelon Academic College, emphasizes how important teachers and the principal (and the education system in general) feel it is to stick to the curriculum and the lessons schedule – two islands of quiet amid a risk-laden reality. 

“Doing this makes it possible for the teachers not to enter a dynamic sphere, which obligates openness and is liable to open a Pandora’s box, too,” he notes. “The greatest threat to the teacher is that there will be noise – that someone will complain, that an argument will break out, etc. That danger looms especially large in subjects that interest young people, such as sexuality, ethnicity, violence and racism. Teachers lack the tools to cope with these issues, so they are outsourced, which only emasculates educational personnel even more.” 

The demand for quiet in the schools is not only an instrumental matter, deriving from the difficulty of keeping order in the classroom. There is also an ideological aspect involved. In general, there is a whole series of subjects that are not recommended for discussion in schools, such as the Nakba (or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to denote the establishment of the State of Israel), human rights and the morality of Israeli army operations. This was one of the reasons for the warnings issued by Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev during the fighting in the Gaza Strip about “extreme and offensive remarks.” 

Harpaz: “In Israel, the most political country there is, political education has not been developed as a discipline in which high-school students are taught how to think critically about political attitudes, or the fact that those attitudes are always dependent on a particular viewpoint and on vested interests.” 

What, then, can be done? According to Harpaz, the solution will not be found in discussions between the homeroom teacher and the students. Nor is a condemnation, however late, by the education minister sufficient. A more radical change is needed. 

“Values and outlooks are acquired in a lengthy process of identification with ‘significant others,’ such as teachers,” Harpaz explains. “This means that every aspect of the schools – patterns of teaching, evaluation methods, curricula, the physical structure and the cultural climate – has to change in the direction of becoming far more dialogical and democratic.” 

And he has one more recommendation: not to flee from political and moral dilemmas, or from possible criticism. “Our leaders are so fearful of criticism, but they don’t understand that critical education is what generates close ties and caring. We get angry at those we love.”