By Andrew West and Jonathan Pearlman
January 6, 2009
More than 100 Australian Jews, including two award-winning novelists and a former federal cabinet minister, have signed a statement condemning Israel’s siege of Gaza, heightening tensions within the local Jewish community over the violence.
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, meanwhile called yesterday for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza but refused to criticise the Israeli offensive.
Authors Linda Jaivin and Sara Dowse, the environment minister in the Whitlam government, Moss Cass, and the NSW Greens leader, Ian Cohen, are among 120 Australian Jews to accuse the Israeli Government of a “grossly disproportionate military assault on Gaza because it was Israel that violated the fragile truce on November 4, 2008”.
Their statement has provoked a backlash from leaders of Australia’s main Jewish groups, who argue that Israel is acting in self-defence.
The statement was co-ordinated, but not endorsed, by the group Independent Australian Jewish Voices. It is part of an international outcry from dissident Jewish groups, including J Street in the US and Gush Shalom in Israel.
The signatories agree that Israel has a right to defend itself but say “the assault on the population of Gaza will only inflame hatred of Jews, and of the state of Israel, while doing nothing to protect the lives of Israelis”.
They argue that “crude home-made rockets” fired by the Hamas-led government in Gaza have caused relatively few Israeli casualties. “By contrast, Israeli bombardment has caused around 400 (actually more than 600 as of today)deaths and 2000 (actually about 3000 as of today)casualties, including a large proportion of women and children.”
Other signatories include the controversial anti-Zionist writer Antony Loewenstein, the literary critic Andrew Riemer, and academics Andrew Benjamin, Gavin Kitching, David Goodman and Michele Grossman.
“This is a solid minority of leading Jewish figures who are sick and tired of being told what Jews should think about Israel and are appalled by Israel’s crimes in Gaza,” Mr Loewenstein said.
But the executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, accused the signatories of being “indifferent to Israel’s suffering” from repeated rocket attacks from Hamas.
“The comments are grossly ill informed, almost stunning in their ignorance, on the history of the ceasefire and its subsequent breakdown, Hamas’s demands, Hamas’s constitution, Hamas’s willingness to negotiate and other matters,” Dr Rubenstein said.
“They propose that the population of southern Israel must continue to live under constant rocket bombardment, opposing all practical efforts to actually invoke the right to self-defence the signatories say they recognise.”
The head of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, declined to comment directly on the dissenters’ statement but also blamed the crisis in Gaza on Hamas, saying it had fired more than 8000 rockets and mortars into Israel since 2001.
“All the civilian casualties are a tragedy. They stem from the fact that Hamas cynically locates its weapons and fighters in the midst of the Palestinian civilian population,” he said.
In his first comments on the conflict after a 10-day holiday, Mr Rudd appealed for a diplomatic solution that would bring an end to Hamas rocket fire and the Israeli blockade of the territory.
“All Australians are concerned about the humanitarian implications of this conflict.
“And it is critical therefore for Israel to meet its humanitarian obligations under international humanitarian law towards the people of Gaza, in ensuring that they have access to basic goods, food and humanitarian assistance and medical supplies,” he said.