By Jamie Hyams
Each year the Australian Friends of Palestine bring out a speaker to give the Edward Said Memorial Lecture and, while they’re here, to do the media rounds.
Naturally, the speaker shares their views about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but this year, they had a beauty in Dr. Sara Roy, a Jewish senior researcher in “political economy” at Harvard University and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
In a piece in the Oct. 11 Adelaide Advertiser, despite noting that she lost more than 100 members of her family and extended family in the Holocaust, and that “Within the Jewish community it has always been considered a form of heresy to compare Israeli actions or policies with those of the Nazis, and certainly one must be very careful in doing so,” she did just that. She wrote that she “found at least part of the answers” to some of the questions she had asked herself while listening to her parents’ stories about the Holocaust when she “lived with Palestinians under occupation.” She then listed alleged Israeli atrocities and asked, “What are we supposed to think when we hear this?” Personally, I think it is very sad that someone is too blinded by their personal prejudices to even see the differences between the worst genocide in history and Israel’s self-defence.
And it’s not as though she was in any way ignorant of what occurred during the Holocaust. On the Radio National program “Sunday Nights” on Oct. 19, she described in detail her parents’ Holocaust experiences, and tales of mass extermination. She said that Edward Said had tried to challenge the existing paradigm “with one that is less one-sided” as she also tries to do. She claimed to see her work as the pursuit of justice informed by her Jewish values and said, “This is not a religious conflict, it’s a political conflict.” Try telling that to Hamas and the many other Palestinians and Arabs who refuse to recognise any Jewish state on what they regard as Islamic land. She stated, “The occupation really is about denying people their dignity. It’s about humiliation and dehumanistion.” Actually it’s about security and accepting the Jewish right to self-determination, nothing more, and could have been over long ago had the Palestinians been willing to make peace, but I guess that’s not the paradigm Dr. Roy is interested in.
Dr. Roy had earlier given examples of her “less one-sided” paradigm on another Radio National program, Philip Adams’ “Late Night Live”, where she appeared on Oct. 9. She said she had coined the phrase de-development “whereby the economy is not just under-developed, but it is in a sense dismantled and pulled apart so that one cannot reconstruct it,” to describe what Israel had done to the Palestinians since 1985, and claimed that by 2000, “the Palestinian economy had already been severely compromised. It already had been eroded and weakened after three decades of occupation.” There was no mention that the Palestinians had received more international aid per head than any other population, nor of the massive corruption that had squandered most of it.
Her statements are also completely at odds with the facts. After 1967, Palestinian living standards rose vastly, with income per capita going up ten-fold by 1991 and life expectancy going from 48 to 72 years by 2000, outstripping all neighbouring Arab states. In 1967 there were no universities in the West Bank or Gaza. By 2000, there were 11.
She also claimed that the disengagement failed because of the damage Israel had done to the Gaza economy. In reality, the Palestinians destroyed the economic infrastructure Israel had left behind and turned to terror. She claimed peace talks including Oslo had failed “because they have been predicated on the status quo… They’ve all refused to challenge occupation as the dominant political structure being imposed on Palestinians.” How this equates with the Oslo aim of gradually achieving a Palestinian state is unclear. Asked if she would completely absolve the Palestinians of blame, she admitted the Palestinian Authority “played a very damaging role” but quickly continued, “but it is important to remember …the primary blame lies with Israel as occupier.”
Graham Downie, in the Oct. 26 Sunday Canberra Times certainly seemed taken with Dr. Roy. His column, “The way I see it”, became “The way Dr. Roy sees it” consisting entirely of her quotes and summaries of her comments. She blames all internal Palestinian conflicts on “external pressures”. “Indeed,” Downie writes, “she says dividing Gaza and the West Bank was a key objective of the Oslo process” even though all agreements and Israeli peace offers treated them in unitary terms.
With such ludicrous conspiracy theories, one-sided analysis and seeming disregard for the truth, it gives the Friends of Palestine no credibility that they found her suitable for their purposes.