A group supported by a cross-section of Australia’s anti-Israel movement has been revealed to be pedalling overt antisemitic propaganda.
On 1 October, Jewish Agency for Israel employee Avi Mayer stumbled across an alarming tweet by the Free Gaza Movement (‘FGM’), the principal organisers of the infamous ‘Free Gaza Flotilla’ in 2010, and several other flotillas to Gaza. The tweet said ‘Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews’, and linked to a video by neo-Nazi Eustace Mullins, in which he explains that the Nazis were actually aligned to the Zionist movement in the 1930s and the Holocaust was, in fact, a Zionist plot to eradicate the non-Zionist Jews from Europe.
As it transpired, the tweet had been posted by Greta Berlin, a co-founder of FGM and the current secretary of its board. This is not the first time that Berlin has been associated with antisemitism: her ex-stepdaughter attested to her racism in 2007; in June this year, she endorsed a horribly antisemitic book by Holocaust denier Gil Atzmon; and further investigation by Mayer unearthed another tweet by Berlin, in which she promotes an actual Nazi propaganda film, shot by Joseph Goebbels.
As detailed in Mayer’s comprehensive recap, the tweets were then deleted — but it was already too late as they had been saved and re-posted all over the internet. A little later, Berlin took full responsibility for both tweets, but claimed that she had never actually watched the videos and that she had only intended to post the links privately on Facebook.
This excuse did not go down very well — as Jeffrey Goldberg rather sardonically quipped, ‘Her critics pointed out that the private sharing of Nazi propaganda doesn’t fall into a different moral category than the public sharing of Nazi propaganda’.
As a result, Berlin issued a formal apology, and claimed that the link:
was shared with a group of people who were discussing propaganda and racism, and this link was an example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.
Amazingly, it was not a pro-Israel activist who exposed this particular lie, but career anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah from the website ‘Electronic Intifada’. As Abunimah noted:
This statement did not calm the growing controversy. In order to dispel any doubts, many people, including me, asked Berlin to publish screenshots of the discussion from Facebook to show the context in which the video was posted. Berlin, who controls the @freegazaorg Twitter account, refused. …
This evening I had an opportunity to spend several hours with full access to a private Facebook group of which Berlin is an administrator, and where the video was first posted by another administrator on 28 September with the comment “This will be a real thought provoker for some.”
When the video was posted on 28 September it was neither preceded nor followed by any interactions that would fit the description that it “was shared with a group of people who were discussing propaganda and racism, and this link was an example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.” This context does not exist. [emphasis added]
In fact, as Mayer later found out:
a conversation amongst individuals supportive of the video’s context was taking place on Berlin’s Facebook wall for more than 24 hours until she realized the furor[e] her tweet was causing and she decided to delete both the Facebook post and the tweet itself.
Unfortunately, the board of FGM determined that they would stand by Berlin and released individual statements in her defence. The most pathetic statement was from board member Audrey Bomse, who wrote that:
As the child of a Holocaust survivor, I am particularly sensitive to anti-Semitism. I have some political differences with Greta (for example concerning Gilad Atzmon), but in all the time I have known her I have never seen nor heard any signs of anti-Semitism.
In other words, Bomse’s ‘political differences’ with Berlin include Berlin’s support for a virulent antisemite, but Bomse is the child of Holocaust survivors, so could not possibly defend an antisemite.
FGM’s Australian support base
From its very inception, FGM has had a substantial presence in Australia. The founding of FGM was chronicled in a 2010 article by Fairfax correspondent Paul McGeough — himself a participant on the “Free Gaza Flotilla” that year and someone who has been extremely sympathetic to FGM. McGeough identified the prominent roles of FGM’s Australian co-founders Michael Shaikh (also a former employee of Australian Friends of Palestine), Renee Jaoudi, and Sharyn Lock. FGM’s Board of Advisors includes Australian journalist John Pilger.
There is a local affiliate of FGM called Free Gaza Australia (‘FGA’), which is run by Michael Coleman and James Godfrey. As recently as 1 September this year, an article was published in the Green Left Weekly that was written by Coleman and edited by both Godfrey and Berlin — indicating the close ties that FGA and FGM maintain.
FGA itself was founded by ‘six Australians’, including Coleman and one Rihab Charida — a career anti-Israel activist who is also the Australian correspondent for Press TV, the Iranian regime’s English-language propaganda outlet.
For its part, FGA has come-out in staunch defence of Berlin, as can be seen from the following tweets:
Similarly, Coleman has been defending Berlin on the Twitter account of his organisation ‘Music from The Dark Corners’.
Participants on the FGM boat ‘Tahrir’ in 2011 included Coleman, Vivienne Porzsholt from Jews Against the Occupation, former NSW Greens MLC Sylvia Hale, and former Amnesty International employee Nick Wallwork. If any of these participants intends to claim that they had no suspicion whatsoever of the antisemitism in their ranks, it is telling that their profiles appeared on the Canadian FGM website, alongside that of Demır Inal, who said that he was on the boat because:
there is a horrible crime taking place in Gaza and the rest of Palestine in front of the whole world and not enough people are conscious of it due to the almost complete dominance of the world press by the Zionist entity.
FGM has also been endorsed by the Sydney-based Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (‘CJPP’), by the Melbourne-based Australians for Palestine, the Australian Friends of Palestine, and even by the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, including NSW Greens leader David Shoebridge and NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon. In 2010, an FGM fundraiser was organised by Porzsholt, the CJPP’s Rawan Abdul-Nabh, and former Greens candidate for the NSW State seat of Lakemba, Bashir Sawalha.
Australian groups must condemn Berlin and FGM
To their credit, a number of FGM’s former supporters have now disassociated themselves from the disgraced organisation. These include Ali Abunimah (as mentioned above); the Canadian Jewish Voices for Peace; and a number of FGM’s former board members.
The reaction from FGM’s Australian supporters, however, has been a complete disappointment. From what I have seen, none of the individuals or groups who supported FGM have said anything negative about the organisation. In fact, as noted above, FGA have been actively defending Berlin, and the organisation in which she continues to hold a senior position with full support from the board.
The anti-Israel movement styles itself as ‘pro-Palestinian’ and claims to be against racism and hatred, however this is continuously exposed as a lie.
Earlier this month a Facebook page for a Boycott Israel rally in Melbourne featured a comment demanding in German that Jews be “exterminated”. On another occasion this year, Australian activists with the ‘Global March to Jerusalem — Australian National Committee’ posted a Jordanian cartoon depicting Palestinians being crucified by Israel, an age-old antisemitic trope.
In fact, every few months, another of Israel’s strongest critics seems to be outed as a bona fide racist. Most recently — prior to Berlin, that is — was Norwegian Professor Johan Galtung, who was also shown to have strong neo-Nazi sympathies and who Australian supporters have yet to condemn. Before that, another noted anti-Israel activist who works at the UN, Professor Richard Falk, published an antisemitic cartoon portraying America as a viscious, Jewish-controlled dog.
In order to be taken seriously as anything less than a front for the neo-Nazi agenda of the likes of Berlin and Galtung, any people or groups calling themselves ‘pro-Palestinian’ must immediately and unequivocally condemn FGM and completely disassociate itself from any FGM projects. Unfortunately, I will not be holding my breath.