Was there ever a time when anti-Israel students felt afraid? Certainly, anti-Zionist fundamentalists, thuggish Israel-bashers and others have been in institutions where they have lost sympathy, debates and votes. But have they ever had to navigate an environment of threats and intimidation?
Have pro-Palestinian, pan-Arab or expansionist Islamist voices been shouted down, physically attacked, bullied or harassed on Australian campuses or in other forums?
I am not talking about anti-Muslim or anti-Arab prejudice, bigotry and racism – which does exist and can have violent manifestations – but thuggish attacks on people seeking to advocate a political position.
At the recent America Jewish Commitee ACCESS/Reut Institute conference in Washington, I met many individuals who had recently been initiated into the society of victims of harassment and threats. The current reality facing supporters of Israel in many cities, states and countries is verbal and physical intimidation and bullying.
Regardless of whether the supporter of Israel is an advocate of a secular Israel alongside a Palestinian state, a person with a religious affiliation with and commitment to the planet’s one Jewish majority state on lands steeped in Jewish history, or someone who supports the notion of a liberal democratic state having the right to self-defence, the treatment is the same.
Far too often, the bullies have faced no consequences for their activities, continuing instead to rail and rant against mythical “Jewish lobby power” while silencing voices of peace and progress.
Of course, the anti-Israel thugocracy is not a recent phenomenon in Australia.
Way back in the days of the Vietnam War generation, Jewish students who would not renounce even minimal support for Israel found themselves ostracised and victimised by leftist groups with whom they had strongly identified.
In most situations, the anti-Israel functionaries are not opposed by mirror images representing some form of anti-Palestinianism, but rather by genuine, decent individuals who believe that neither the Israeli-Arab nor the Israeli-Palestinian situations are zero-sum equations.
So, for example, the intellectually thuggish and ignorant bully-girls and bully-boys in Marrickville Council were opposed by people who sought to find ways to improve the quality of life of Palestinians and Israelis, rather than adopt the boycotters’ agenda of making life miserable for everyone (except, of course, those in Sydney looking for self-satisfaction via a shallow political “victory”.)
Similarly, there are those within a number of Churches in Australia who elevate their self-righteousness and egos to quasi-messianic levels and promote pressure on Israel while ignoring the reality of the conflict, as well as context, history and their own religious ideals. They are trying to run roughshod over supporters of a vision of peace, harmony and improvement in the moral, physical and material well-being of Israelis and Palestinians.
Having been involved very centrally in formal and informal dialogues with significant church groups in Australia for more than two decades, I am observing a resurgence by individuals and grouplets who want to infuse the very worst of quasi-“Christian” political activity into the generally well informed, balanced and reasonable Australian Churches.
Rather than follow the admirable precedent of using the unique Australian opportunity to formulate creative ideas and take a lead in contributing to a more moral and intellectually honest approach to major issues in regional and global church bodies, they have sought to encourage Australian Churches to “follow” others who do not have the freedom and opportunity to act with independence of thought and spirit.
While the Catholic Church in Australia has made a point of explaining that it sees it as a fundamental duty to protest bullying and intimidation, the voices of too many Churches have been silent or muted, as a coterie of “social justice” advocates have aligned themselves with the anti-Israel political hardliners.
Australian Churches which are part of a tradition of promoting a vision for a humanity which expresses fairness, justice and peace should instead rightfully be in the forefront of efforts to oppose anti-Israel bullying and in the vanguard for the promotion of conciliation, cooperation and engagement in the Middle East.