By Jamie Hyams
Close Encounter of the Worst Kind
The Radio National program “Encounter” dedicated its March 22 episode to what host Gary Bryson called, “six concerned Jews who are openly critical of Israeli policies in the Middle East.” He admitted “these are very much minority voices, controversial and by no means accepted by mainstream Jewish opinion,” but claimed “they do represent a growing movement.” They did not just choose Jews who make reasoned criticisms of Israeli policies. Instead, they scoured Australia and the globe for some of the most extreme critics they could find. Apart from being Jewish, the guests also had in common the need to misrepresent Israeli history and behaviour to justify their views, but “Encounter” is not the type of program that submits its guests to a rigorous cross-examination. Rather, guests receive gentle questioning, with Bryson at times using his commentary to flesh out their answers.
The first guest was Peter Slezak, a founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, formed specifically to attack Israel. Slezak claimed, “We’ve all been brought up with terrible lies and myths about the whole history of Israel,” and stated, “the way in which the Holocaust has been turned into a justification for creating a state that somehow asserts its rights over the indigenous people can’t be warranted.” He relies on the canard that Israelis use the Holocaust to justify the state’s existence, rather than simply the Jewish people’s right to a homeland, and asserts that the Palestinians are the indigenous people, when, in reality, both Jews and Arabs are indigenous to the region.
Next up was Australian writer Sara Dowse, who believes Israel shouldn’t exist. She blamed a minority stream of Israeli thought, Revisionist Zionism, for the failure of the peace process, claiming, falsely, that “they believe that the Jews were promised all of Canaan, all of Palestine. That is why the idea of the two-state solution is so difficult to achieve, because merely it’s argued that many, many Israelis do not accept the idea that the Palestinians should have their own state.” Of course, no one on this program would consider that the problem is Palestinian rather than Jewish ideology, or that any Jewish reluctance for a two-state solution at this point might be due to well-earned distrust of the Palestinians.
Probably the most extreme of the group, which is a fair effort, was John Docker, who in 2002 tried to organise an academic boycott of Israel and who has urged Kevin Rudd to support a Palestinian “right of return” – which would of course mean the end of Israel. Docker claimed that Zionist organisations seek to “exercise an almost totalitarian control over the Jewish community”, and that Jews around the world, “are beginning to think that Zionism in Israel is a terrible mistake.” He cited extremist and widely discredited historian Ilan Pappe to claim that the Zionist leadership in 1948 had a plan to drive out the Arab population, and that this plan included “scores of massacres… or they were making forced marches in extremely hot conditions, old people, young people, children. Or they were pushed into the sea, and many were drowned.”
After Docker came UCLA history professor Gabriel Piterberg, who claimed the Palestinian/Israeli conflict “is not a conflict just between two national movements vying for the same piece of land, it is a conflict between a national movement of settlers and a national movement of indigenous people” where there was a “major attempt by the settlers to ethnically cleanse the territory” and an inability by the settlers “to accept the existence of the indigenous people as equal human beings.” Apparently he never heard of the UN partition plan which the Jews accepted but the Arabs rejected.
The final two guests were Howard Cooper, an English rabbinic graduate and psychotherapist who claimed, “Anyone who has the slightest sensitivity to the moral and ethical tradition of justice which is at the heart of Judaism must feel disquiet at the way in which the State of Israel has failed to live out its highest and noblest ideals,” and Ephraim Nimni, who now teaches political science in Belfast. Nimni overlooked the equal rights of all Israel’s citizens to claim that “to say that I would like to see the State of Israel to be a state of all its citizens” is “a profoundly controversial argument.”
Bryson gave no justification for such a thorough hatchet job apart from a very brief reference to the recent violence in Gaza. Nowhere in the program was there any suggestion that the Palestinians might be even slightly responsible for any aspect of their own solution to the Middle East problem. Bryson and his producers might feel it is their job to air a program devoted only to those with a one-sided and simplistic view of a complex and controversial issue, but it is unlikely many would agree.