essay by Antony Loewenstein in New Matilda is here:

As the BDS cam­paign starts to gain trac­tion, ac­cu­sa­tions of anti-semi­tism should be treated gravely – whether from pro-Pales­tine ad­vo­cates or Is­rael’s de­fend­ers, writes Antony Loewen­stein

The charges of racism were se­ri­ous. Uni­ver­sity ori­en­ta­tion weeks, re­ported Ru­pert Mur­doch’s news­pa­per, The Aus­tralian, in early March, “have been marred by a se­ries of al­leged anti-se­mitic in­ci­dents”.

So­cial­ist Al­ter­na­tive stood ac­cused, ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Union of Jew­ish Stu­dents, of ex­press­ing hate­ful com­ments to­wards Jew­ish stu­dents, prais­ing Hamas and call­ing for “death to the Zion­ist en­tity” at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales.

The re­li­a­bil­ity of the al­le­ga­tions of anti-semi­tism has not yet been as­sessed but, if they are found to be true, those re­spon­si­ble must be op­posed. A spokesper­son from So­cial­ist Al­ter­na­tive tells me that his or­gan­i­sa­tion cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nies all of the al­le­ga­tions.

Fed­eral Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Christo­pher Pyne, a man who never misses an op­por­tu­nity to fight a cul­ture war he can’t win, ac­cused back­ers of the boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment against Is­rael of mak­ing anti-semi­tism “a fash­ion­abil­ity among highly ig­no­rant sec­tions of the far Left”. He wanted uni­ver­si­ties to “step in and take a very firm line” against racism on cam­pus. “Free speech does not ex­tend to ugly threats and phys­i­cal ha­rass­ment,” he ar­gued.

It’s time to call this co-or­di­nated cam­paign of the local Zion­ist lobby and the Mur­doch press for what it is; a cheap­en­ing of real anti-semi­tism and a clear at­tempt to brand all crit­ics of Is­rael as Jew haters. It’s a tac­tic im­ported from Amer­ica and Eu­rope, ar­tic­u­lated from Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu down, that aims to neuter op­po­nents of the Jew­ish state’s bru­tal, mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion as de­luded and anti-se­mitic.

The rhetoric is in­creas­ing as BDS scores im­pres­sive wins glob­ally — count­less Eu­ro­pean firms are chang­ing their busi­ness prac­tices to­wards Is­rael in re­ject­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion — and has en­tered the main­stream as a le­git­i­mate tool to op­pose Is­raeli poli­cies.

Is­rael sup­port­ers have long be­lieved that bet­ter PR will solve its prob­lems, as if, for ex­am­ple, there’s any way to pos­i­tively spin dozens of Is­raeli teens an­nounc­ing their re­fusal to serve in the IDF due to its dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on Is­raeli so­ci­ety and Pales­tin­ian lives.

It’s a small but deeply coura­geous step in a so­ci­ety that still idolises a human rights abus­ing army (Amnesty’s new re­port de­tails count­less ex­am­ples of the IDF killing Pales­tin­ian civil­ians in cold blood).

None of these pro­found shifts should es­cape the de­bate in Aus­tralian, where the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment re­fuses to con­demn il­le­gal Is­raeli colonies in the West Bank.

The es­tab­lish­ment Zion­ist lobby has tried for decades, with a de­gree of suc­cess, to in­su­late the Jew­ish com­mu­nity from the re­al­i­ties of oc­cu­py­ing Pales­tine.

The ad­vent of the in­ter­net and so­cial media, along with a more crit­i­cal young pop­u­la­tion who won’t be eas­ily bul­lied into sup­port for Is­rael be­cause of the Holo­caust, are chang­ing the land­scape. Hence the need to use old, tired tac­tics. Par­rot­ing Ne­tanyahu’s fear-mon­ger­ing over Iran and Arabs is in­creas­ingly treated world­wide with the con­tempt it de­serves.

The old men who run the Jew­ish com­mu­nity may catch on one day that it isn’t enough to run an hack­neyed style en­e­mies list against op­po­nents; count­less jour­nal­ists and ed­i­tors will tell you of the bul­ly­ing calls, let­ters and emails em­ployed by the Zion­ist com­mu­nity against crit­i­cal cov­er­age. It only some­times now works.

It’s a fail­ing style even called out by The Aus­tralian’s Mid­dle East cor­re­spon­dent John Lyons in a re­cent, ro­bust de­fence of his stun­ning ABC TV 4 Cor­ners story on Pales­tine, ac­cus­ing dis­tant, self-ap­pointed Zion­ist lead­ers of being lit­tle more than blind de­fend­ers of Is­raeli gov­ern­ment pol­icy. Pun­dits take note: when­ever quot­ing such peo­ple re­mem­ber to whom they pledge par­tial al­le­giance and ask about their fund­ing sources.

Any form of racism must be com­pletely con­demned, whether it’s di­rected at Jews, Mus­lims, Chris­tians or other mi­nori­ties. But the way in which a state and com­mu­nity deals with racism is a more press­ing the ques­tion. After years of falsely ac­cus­ing crit­ics of Is­rael of anti-semi­tism — Syd­ney Uni­ver­sity’s Jake Lynch is the lat­est per­son to face the pre­dictable and costly wrath of an Is­raeli-gov­ern­ment en­dorsed legal case against his eth­i­cally jus­ti­fied back­ing of BDS — the or­gan­ised Zion­ist es­tab­lish­ment lacks cred­i­bil­ity in cry­ing about op­pos­ing racism, when it so fla­grantly en­cour­ages de­mon­i­sa­tion of Is­rael’s crit­ics along racial lines.

They have a morally com­pro­mised voice by being oc­cu­pa­tion back­ers them­selves. How dare they claim to cry over an al­leged rise in real anti-semi­tism (mostly on­line) while at the same time shed­ding croc­o­dile tears against the grow­ing BDS move­ment? Per­haps they should learn some hu­mil­ity and recog­nise what their beloved state has be­come known for glob­ally: re­press­ing Pales­tini­ans.

Po­lit­i­cally, the Ab­bott gov­ern­ment has pledged to re­move sec­tion 18C of the Racial Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act in an at­tempt, in their words, to in­crease free speech (a po­si­tion loudly backed by The Aus­tralian).

Fed­eral At­tor­ney George Bran­dis said on ABC TV’s Q&A this week, de­fend­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed changes that are op­posed by the Jew­ish com­mu­nity and many other eth­nic groups, that the cur­rent draft­ing in sec­tion 18C re­stricts the rights of all peo­ples to speak and be of­fen­sive. Now that there are signs that Bran­dis may be back-track­ing on a com­plete re­peal of the sec­tion, it’s re­ally only the Mur­doch press that bangs on about “free speech” while deny­ing the same rights to many of its crit­ics.

De­spite all this, I’ve ar­gued else­where, in op­po­si­tion to many on the Left who be­lieve the leg­is­la­tion should re­main un­changed, that al­though all speech has lim­its, a ro­bust democ­racy should legally tol­er­ate in­sults over race. But the vast bulk of “dis­cus­sion” over 18C has been at a desul­tory level.

Take the re­cent Aus­tralian Jew­ish News ar­ti­cle by Fer­gal Davis, a se­nior lec­turer in law at the Uni­ver­sity of NSW. He backed main­tain­ing the cur­rent 18C leg­is­la­tion and then wist­fully ar­gued that the Ab­bott gov­ern­ment could be the cham­pi­ons of human rights be­cause “we must con­vince Aus­tralians that human rights are not ‘left wing’; they are at the heart of the fair go.” Nice sen­ti­ments, but ut­terly re­moved from re­al­ity. Davis ig­nores the new gov­ern­ment’s shock­ing treat­ment of asy­lum seek­ers and re­fusal to se­ri­ously con­demn abuses at the UN by al­lies Sri Lanka, Is­rael and Egypt.

The real ques­tions for the Mur­doch press, Zion­ist es­tab­lish­ment, Ab­bott min­is­ters and other sup­posed de­fend­ers of open speech are as fol­lows: will you fol­low the path of many politi­cians in the US, both De­mo­c­rat and Re­pub­li­can, who are in­creas­ingly try­ing to crim­i­nalise civil­ian back­ing for BDS? How se­ri­ous is your com­mit­ment to free speech? How will­ing are you to preach tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance while be­liev­ing that cer­tain is­sues, such as le­git­i­mate crit­i­cisms of Is­rael (de­fined by whom will al­ways be the ques­tion?) are be­yond the pale and anti-se­mitic?

Away from the huff­ing and puff­ing of self-de­scribed friends of Is­rael lies the real lim­its of in­su­lat­ing Is­rael from crit­i­cism. Try­ing to stop BDS, through the courts, laws, par­lia­ment or defam­a­tory at­tacks, will change noth­ing on the ground for Pales­tini­ans, and count­less peo­ple around the world now know it. Is­rael and its dwin­dling band of Zion­ist back­ers in Aus­tralia and world­wide are des­per­ately hang­ing onto 20th cen­tury tac­tics to fight mod­ern op­po­si­tion to a racially based state.

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