12 December 2023

Letter from the Editor: Amidst Gaza horror, don't confuse opposing Israeli actions with antisemitism

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Israeli and Palestinian flags

Continuing bloodshed in Gaza is sending shockwaves around the world. Photo: Yuliia Bukovsky.

Senior aid world leaders have described current conditions in Gaza as “apocalyptic”.

It’s estimated more than 16,000 people have died since Israeli operations commenced, at least a quarter of them children whose bodies are more vulnerable to explosive shocks, who lose blood more quickly, who are defenceless against military bombardment as the war front moves deep into southern Gaza.

Horrific stories continue to emerge from the 7 October Hamas assault on Israel, including deeply disturbing allegations about sexual violence perpetrated on Jewish women, in addition to the 1200 people murdered by the insurgents.

The distress caused on all sides in Australia is understandable and has, regrettably, also been very divisive, including here in Canberra.

Last week ‘Anita Gelato’ on Bunda Street, an Israeli-owned ice-cream shop, was plastered with stickers advocating a boycott. The stickers showed a red line crossing the Israeli flag, which features both blue and white lines and the Star of David.

There was anger on all sides – from pro-Israeli groups who levelled accusations of antisemitism and from pro-Palestinian activists who defended their right to suggest withdrawing economic support for Israeli businesses.

Antisemitic vandalism

Stickers covering the Israeli-owned Anita Gelato in Civic. Photo: Australian Jewish Association.

But here’s where the problem lies: Israel is the only modern Western state based on a religion. So how do you disentangle a long, long history of reprehensible racist actions against Jewish people from the right to protest Israeli Government actions?

Antisemitism is defined as “hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people”, while traditionally Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in an area where people who describe themselves as Palestinians, mostly Muslims but including some Christians, already lived.

This is not ancient history.

I well recall interviewing an Australian author of Palestinian descent whose grandfather, she told me, wore the key to his confiscated childhood home around his neck and retained title deeds to the property his family lost when the state of Israel was formed after the Second World War.

Israel has a right to exist, a right to defend itself and the history is complex. Not all Israelis and not all Jews support the current government, or the scale of its response to the Hamas terrorist attacks. Not all Palestinians support Hamas and the hell they’ve brought upon millions of innocent civilians.

But characterising everyone who disagrees with the actions of the Israeli Government as a bigoted antisemite is inaccurate and undemocratic.

READ ALSO ‘There’s no place for that sort of hatred’: Vandals behind antisemitic stickers on Civic gelato store could face legal action

More civilians have been killed at a higher rate in this war than any other action since World War II and ordinary Australians are perfectly entitled to protest this horror and urgently seek help for Palestinian citizens as well as Israelis.

The decision by the US House of Representatives to declare that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism” has been framed with the aim of combating a recent and distressing rise in antisemitism across the US.

But it should also be read in a political context that escapes most Australians: Republican support for Israel is strongly tied to US evangelicals for whom biblical prophecies about Israel are a precursor to the end times and Christ’s reign in Jerusalem (with or without the assistance of Benjamin Netanyahu, that bit isn’t clear in the Book of the Apocalypse).

This is transactional American politics at its most transparent. The Republican right needs the Christian right and are prepared to trade with them, just as they’ve done with abortion rights.

There is broad support among US voters for de-escalating the horrific violence in the Middle East, but this is less important to political bean counters in an election year. Let nobody imagine that Donald Trump gives two damns about either issue beyond the votes he can harvest.

Australia does not (currently) suffer from this level of bitter political divide. We are a centrist and mostly secular nation where equality of rights for all citizens – the fair go – is a fundamental value.

Long may that last – it’s what unites us as a nation.

We should repudiate any and all religious prejudice energetically. There is no place for antisemitism in this country or this city. But there is also no place for stifling and shaming the voices of genuine dissent by using religion as a prop.

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“Let nobody imagine that Donald Trump gives two damns about either issue beyond the votes he can harvest.”

You do realise his daughter is Jewish right? Typical ignorant garbage from people who don’t know the first thing about the man. Gotta get in those anti-conservative and anti-Trump comments though right?

“There was anger on all sides – from pro-Israeli groups who levelled accusations of antisemitism and from pro-Palestinian activists who defended their right to suggest withdrawing economic support for Israeli businesses.”

Their rights to protest do not include targeting a minority based on their religion/nationality or vandalising their businesses because of it. I fail to see how this would not be considered a hate crime based on the legislation. Imagine if they did this targeting the owners because they were gay or trans or whatever other favoured “victim” group of the left, would you still be writing pieces that were so tolerant of their opinions?

@Bob
“You do realise his (Trump’s) daughter is Jewish right?”
Ivanka converted to Judaism, from Presbyterian Christian, before she married Jared Kushner … so what’s your point?
What has that got to do with Trump (who when he found out Ivanka was converting, asked Jared “why can’t you convert?”)? Again so what?

@JustSaying – you really need me to explain to you why is is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that Donald Trump cares nothing about something that affects the spiritual and physical home of of the religion held by both his (let’s face it, favourite) child and son in law? Really? Troll elsewhere.

Can you show any evidence of a single point of time that he wasn’t pro Israel, even before his presidency?

Stephen Ellis10:17 am 12 Dec 23

Ms Jacobs is trying to tread a fine line, referring to the long history of reprehensible racist actions against the Jews, while garnering sympathy for the radical Islamists. A primary reason for the creation of the State of Israel was as a result of the horrendous treatment of the Jews before and during WWII and to reinstate their homeland after many European nations expelled them during and after the holocaust. It was the Nazi’s program of genocide that led to Hitler and the predecessors of Hamas and Hezbollah, joining forces. Including Grand Mufti Haj Amin el Husseini, whose call to “kill the jews wherever you find them,” resonated with the Nazis. Today’s media’s support for these neo-Nazis, including their refusal to lay the blame for the high rate of civilian deaths on Hamas, who deliberately use their own citizens as human shields, is astounding.

When you add to this the treatment of women (and non-heterosexuals, for that matter) in Iran, Hamas’ major backer, and a number of other Islamic States, the horrendous rape, mutilation and murder of women and girls by Hamas on 7 Oct, the murder of non-heterosexuals by the Gazan Government, the ongoing holding of hostages by Hamas and the fact that this war could come to an end if Hamas released all hostages and laid down their weapons, it beggars belief that our left wing media focuses on Israel’s actions while not calling Hamas to account or making any demands of that organisation to stop the slaughter and end the war.

Martin Keast8:43 pm 10 Dec 23

I don’t think modern Israel is based on a religion, more a common heritage. Hamas has a constitution which stipulates death to all jews, that is their crèed. Hamas is therefore fundamentally built on hatred of Jews – it is basically evil.

Israel’s disproportionate and ongoing response is the greatest terrorist recruitment tool there is. What do they think the surviving kids of these Gazan families are going to do? Israel may even eradicate Hamas but there’ll just be another Terrorist group rise up based on the current slaughter. We’re always being told how professional and effective the Israeli intelligence services including Mossad are, so why couldn’t they have infiltrated Hamas and assassinated or captured their leaders then tried and punished them? Then again they had no idea that the 7th October raids were going to happen so maybe they aren’t up to it. interesting to note that the post-WW2 Jewish refugees were offered the Ord River/Kimberleys in WA but the WA people at the time put a stop to it. Good move.

Stephen Ellis11:33 pm 09 Dec 23

One again, Ms Jacobs has this wrong. Most western nations are based on Judea-Christian principles and, like Israel, have, until recently at least, had a high percentage of their populations who identify as Christians. Like Israel these nations are secular, rather than theocracies like the Islamic states. Also like Israel, these western nations have representatives from various religious backgrounds sitting within their Parliaments. Another flaw in her argument is that she, like many other mainstream journalists, seems to accept as fact the numbers being provided by Hamas, without any validation or verification.

While civilian deaths are inevitable in any conflict, efforts must be taken to limit these. The problem in this case is that the terrorists who govern the Gaza Strip are using their own citizens as human shields in an effort prevent Israel from responding to their atrocities and to gain International condemnation of Israel. Ms Jacobs must realise that it is Hamas who should be blamed for the high number of civilian deaths, that it is Hamas that continues to fire missiles at Israel and it is Hamas who continues to hold Israeli women and children hostage. By granting these terrorists the same status as Israel, she is, indeed practicing anti-semitism. I can think of no other reason why she would otherwise support Hamas.

One side believes they are entitled to the land because God gave it to them & the other side believes they are involved in a holy war.

Good luck sorting things out when religious nut jobs are involved.

“More civilians have been killed at a higher rate in this war than any other action since World War II”. Really, where did you hear this fake news? What about the Chinese Civil War, Partition of India, Korean War, Nigerian Civil War, Bangladesh Liberation War, Rwandan Civil War, 1991 Iraqi Uprisings, etc.

I’m not confused; opposing Israeli actions is antisemitism, and bolstering an argument by quoting casualty numbers supplied by a terrorist organisation to engender public sympathy is beneath contempt.

@Tatty Mane
“I’m not confused” Hmmm are you sure?

I assume you condemn the actions of Hamas and their killing of Israeli civilians. Yet you support the killing of Palestinian civilians in Israeli attacks because you say the casualty numbers are supplied by Hamas when there are any number of humanitarian and aid organisations in Gaza who are seeing it for themselves.

Actually you are right, you are not confused – you are delusional.

I’d assumed RM was referencing at least the grotesquely erroneous reporting by all mainstream news outlets, about the Al Ahli hospital strike. The reporting of hundreds of casualties, blamed on Israel, parroting Hamas press releases, was classic misinformation. Educate yourself by attempting to prove that it wasn’t.

You’re smearing people as delusional because they don’t bow down to your Hamasism.

Essentially we’re back to this: bourgeois progressive leftists have no empirical basis for their boutique ideologically driven belief system, so instead of responding on basis of fact, all they can do is call people names. You have nothing else, only smears.

@Rusty Gear
“The reporting of hundreds of casualties, blamed on Israel, parroting Hamas press releases, was classic misinformation.”
No, Rusty Gear, I’m talking about the many reports from independent people (humanitarian and aid workers), who are in Gaza and describing the horrendous scenes they are witnessing.

“You’re smearing people as delusional …”
Delusional definition: “having ideas or beliefs that are not based in reality” Very apt description of Tatty Mane’s beliefs – oh and yours too.
As for my “Hamasism” – you are truly delusional again, for at no stage have I ever defended or excused the attrocities being committed by Hamas. Unlike you and Tatty Mane, I can see fault on both sides of the Gaza conflict.

“… bourgeois progressive leftists have no empirical basis for their boutique ideologically driven belief system …”
What kind of person decides that anyone who decries the killing of innocent civilians (even though, it’s obvious that in your opinion tyhey are only Palestinians!) is purely pushing a left agenda? Don’t both answering, I know exactly what kind of person does that. If the choice comes to siding with the likes of you and your clearly myopic perspective or have you call me a ‘bourgeois progressive leftist’, then I’ll happily take the latter.

“Educate yourself by attempting to prove that it wasn’t.”
Perhaps you should take your own advice and read more than just the news reports that support your biased and single minded perspective.

JS, this is all just personal attack. You don’t actually have an argument. But that’s understandable. The Guardian/ABC narrative of everything is woke and weak.

@Rustygear
Oh right, Rustygear, playing the ‘fake news’ card are you? OK – you are entitled to your opinion, but even Skynews is reporting the civilain (Palestinian) casualties in Gaza. Oh, but I guess you’d just see those casualties as the unfortunate consequence of the conflict.

Well said Genevieve. Israel has the right to defend itself against attack and the actions of Hamas on Oct 7 were unacceptable and disgusting (I hope everyone involved in planning and carrying out those atrocities are hunted down and face repercussions). BUT Israel does not have the right to commit war crimes under the farce of self-defence. It is not anti-Semitic to question the avoidable deaths of children or the collective punishment of innocents who did not participate in the Oct 7, or any other, attack on Israel.

Last time I checked, the IDF doesn’t drag bodies around the street, or desecrate them, or participate in mass rapes

@Futureproof
OK … so the disgusting actions of Hamas towards Israeli civilians, justifies the killing of Palestinian civilians by IDF, Fp?

Objectivity has never been your strong suit – and yet again you don’t fail to disappoint.

JS, you never fail in your support for the worst in humanity

@Futureproof
Yeah right, Fp.

Got any facts to demonstrate my “support for the worst in humanity”?

You obviously don’t understand the concept of ‘fault on both sides’ – but I guess all I can do is refer you to my previous comment on your objectivity.

Why did you selectively omit the fact that Jewish people also inhabited the Palestine area continuously right up to declaration of the Jewish state? If you are trying to be some above-the-fray voice of reason, you need to include all members of a category, not just the ones that support your stealth argument (the category being people who historically lived in Palestine: you mentioned Muslims and you mentioned Christians. You didn’t mention indigenous Jews).

You fastidiously avoid mentioning also that Hamas is a fanatical group who deliberately put Palestinian civilians in harms way so they can then claim “genocide” to ill-informed woke Western elites, as a psyops strategy. Singling out Zionism for criticism is playing into Hamas strategy. Remembering that Hamas has a *stated* aim of eliminating Jews, you’re attempting to deflect from the very point: westerners are using “anti-zionism” as a fig leaf for their pro-Hamasism, which definitionally is anti-Semitic: i.e. jew-hating. Think about it: when you woke progressives carry on about how Hamas is the one and only political expression that legitimately represents Palestinians, you are either intentionally or foolishly helping to finish Hitler’s work. Please be less woke-pious and approach this issue with more realism about the serious intent of Hamas. Just as ISIS had to be destroyed, so does Hamas, before any talk of a political solution can begin.

Until then, ham-fisted progressive sophistry to attack Israel or Zionism is just playing into Hamas strategy: you’re doing *exactly* what Hamas is arranging a high Palestinian death toll to make you do: emotionally and reflexively blame Israel. Hamas is *deliberately* not evacuating civilians. In their warped view, a high Palestinian death toll is desirable and justified on the grounds that it is an assymetric method to set the tide of international opinion against Israel. Stop being manipulated by the Hamas death-cult philosophy. Doing its bidding really doesn’t make you look as clever as you think you are.

But Rustygear, the article did not do those things you are complaining of. And the emotive hyperbole in you comment makes it read like propaganda.

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