A response to Jordy Silverstein’s article “Broadening the context of Australia’s ‘Zionist lobby'”, published at “The Conversation”
This article was submitted to “The Conversation”, but they declined to publish it.
So much has been written about Bob Carr’s memoir “Diary of a Foreign Minister”, and his claim that the “extreme right-wing” Melbourne-based “Israel lobby” has too much, or ‘unhealthy’, influence over Australian foreign policy. It is quite astonishing that in the debate, key critical questions have not been raised in the mainstream media. Most curiously, one of these basic questions was – what are actually the “unhealthy” positions of these Jewish organizations? Absurdly, while some commentators where quick to agree with Carr’s premise, rarely they have shown even a minimal understanding or knowledge of this “lobby” whose “influence” they were pooh-poohing.
Case in point – Jordy Silverstein’s article “Broadening the context of Australia’s ‘Zionist lobby'”, in which she makes two main false claims. The first is her assertion that the so called “Zionist lobby” (everyone seem very careful not to call it the Jewish lobby, tellingly) is claiming to be representative of all Zionists, or even the entire Jewish community in Australia. She then, almost nonchalantly, questions whether the Jewish-Australian population even constitutes a community, since it is so pluralist, as if other ethnic communities are more monolithic. Often they are not, and yet their ability to pursue their interests and voice their concerns and views through community organizations is not questioned.
Normally, it would be hard to refute this claim of behalf of the vaguely-defined “lobby”, but since Silverstein specifically mentions AIJAC several times in this context, she made it much easier: AIJAC never claimed to represent every single member or group within the pluralistic and diverse Jewish community, or even within the Zionist majority. In fact, it works in parallel to, and often cooperation with, other community organizations, some of which, legitimately, hold different views on certain issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. AIJAC does, however, represent the interests and views of the mainstream within the Jewish community, both on Israel and on local community-related issues.
This point, of representation of the mainstream, is worth highlighting, as it is directly linked to the second false claim in Silverstein’s article, which only reiterates Carr’s similar claim – that the Zionist lobby is extremely right-wing.
AIJAC has responded to this argument recently, emphasizing that “Mr Carr’s claim that we take an extreme right-wing view on Israel is simply puzzling. AIJAC’s goals in the Middle East are exactly the same as his – a two-state resolution whereby an independent Palestinian state arises on the vast majority of the West Bank and Gaza augmented by land swaps from Israel for West Bank land Israel retains, while the Palestinians accept Israel’s right to live in peace as a Jewish state. This is the position shared by all Australian governments, not to mention US Administrations, since the Oslo Accords. Yet somehow, we are ‘extreme right-wing.’”
AIJAC is not even “extreme right-wing” according to Silverstein’s own definition, which she outlined in the comment section. She writes that right wing Zionists see the settlement as legal and “not a problem” and oppose Palestinian statehood. AIJAC’s position is far more nuanced; the question of legality of settlement is in dispute and there are many views among international law expert legal on the matter, none of which is binding. The settlements are one of several key issues that must be negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians and resolved as part of the two-state solution, which AIJAC supports. That would include, of course, the creation of a Palestinian state. It appears that by her own parameters, AIJAC is not so extreme after all.
That being said, AIJAC says it is worried about the growing obsession with the settlements issue, as demonstrated by Carr’s statements, which it sees as counter-productive to the goal of a negotiated solution to the conflict because first of all it disproportionately places all the pressure and responsibility on Israel, and secondly it creates the false assumption that settlements are the only obstacle for peace, and once they are removed the conflict would end. The precedent of post-disengagement Gaza, unfortunately, strongly suggests otherwise.
Silverstein also argues that right wing Zionists “embrace” the checkpoints and “separation wall” and place all blame for the continuation of conflict on the Palestinians. Again, AIJAC’s position is not so simplistic. The security fence (over 90% of it is, in fact, fence and not wall) has been saving civilian lives ever since the bloody days of the second intifada. Most of its route is along the Green Line border between Israel and the West Bank and it is a purely defensive measure. Disputes over specific segments of the fence are settled in court, according to rule of law, due process and the right to appeal. Rather than an “embrace”, this position is an acknowledgment of the unfortunate reality of security risks faced by Israel and an attempt to save innocent lives by non-aggressive means.
In such a protracted conflict such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is no black and white. Instead of pointing fingers and assigning blame entirely on one side or the other, the important questions AIJAC deals with are about the current challenges facing the majority within both peoples in their quest to end the conflict. Therefore, the true obstacles for peace are specific factors that are in opposition to the two-state solution, such as incitement, the refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state in keeping with the principle of mutual recognition, the demand for a broadly-defined “right of return”, as well as the influence of extremist groups, most notably Hamas rule in Gaza.
In Israel, Australia and the US, and even Europe, the two state solution is the mainstream political position both on the left and the right. It is AIJAC’s position as well. Yet some seem far too eager to find reasons to attack a scapegoat known as the “pro-Israel lobby”, personified by AIJAC, and label then as extreme-right fringe groups even when they consistently and openly advocate for this Australian consensus view of a negotiated two-state resolution.
Anyone who actually knows AIJAC’s work up close and is aware of its mainstream positions would not fall into this trap. But more importantly, anyone with even a basic understanding of lobbying in Australia would be outraged that the normal and completely legitimate behavior of a single community attempting to influence Australia’s elected officials on an issue of importance to them can be singled out in this manner.