Since the dawning of the Israel/Palestine conflict, Jewish scholars and intellectuals who have spoken out against the occupation have faced severe criticism from Zionists and Western supporters of Israel. Still, a select few remain who have maintained their stance in addressing the situation as a humanitarian issue, and not an issue of religious loyalty. Ishmahil Blagrove, Jr. interviews Antony Loewenstein, Sydney-based journalist and best-selling author of My Israel Question.
Your book My Israel Question condemns the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the power wielded by the international pro-Jewish lobby. What motivated you to write this book and what has been the response from the Jewish community?
As a Jew living in Australia, I was always curious why most Jews expressed uncritical love towards Israel and were able to defend, justify and explain every single one of its actions. But this wasn't love; it was blind obedience. Even raising such issues with many Jews caused discomfort and rage. I decided a number of years ago that Israel should be held to the high standards of every other nation on earth, no matter the tortured history of the Jewish people during the 20th century. The Jewish community generally reacted harshly to the book - though it was a best-seller in Australia and was recently released in the US - and were upset that I dared challenge Israeli policies in the occupied territories, or question the actions of the Zionist lobby and present alternative Jewish and Palestinian voices rarely heard in the mainstream. A believer in universal human rights supports equal rights for all, not just a favoured religious group or race. I remain a proud atheist Jew.
It is often taken for granted that if you are Jewish then you must automatically support the creation of the state of Israel. How widespread is the Jewish dissenting voice towards Zionism?
Most Jews do indeed support Israel, but a small and growing number are resisting this trend. It is a sad reflection on mainstream Judaism that devotion to the Zionist cause is not an option; it's a given. My opposition to Israel as a Jewish state is based on the concept of a supposedly enlightened state, created in the aftermath of the Holocaust, deliberately discriminating, occupying and excluding individuals who are not Jewish. The success of UK-group Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) and my co-founding of Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) proves that a growing minority of Jews will not be silenced by threats of disloyalty to the cause.
I have heard you described as "controversial," "aggressive," and a "militant anti-Zionist." There are also several blogs which refute your findings and question your sources. Would you suggest these are Zionists or supporters of Zionism attempting to discredit you?
It is a sadly typical response by critics to find allegedly egregious errors in one's work. It also shows that the old tactics of bullying and aggression are failing to work. Zionists, whether Jewish or not, have much invested in maintaining the myth of a noble state battling violent and irrational Arabs. 9/11 has only perpetuated this myth further.
Articulating an alternative Jewish identity and publicly calling for the separation of Zionism and Judaism quickly results in learning the "rules" of the game imposed by the Zionist establishment. All Jews must support the Jewish State. Any action carried out by the state is defensible, justified and moral. Any public criticism of Israel will be assumed to be anti-Semitic. If Israel is to be criticized, it should only be in hushed tones and in private. Dare to challenge these "rules" and expect to be bombarded, invariably from fellow Jews, with hate mail, death-threats and public abuse. Similar attacks have been experienced by historian Norman Finkelstein and former US President Jimmy Carter.
You have received many death threats. Do you take these threats against your life seriously?
Although I have received serious threats - and continue to receive hate-mail on a regular basis - I do not feel that my life is threatened. Thankfully in Australia, and most Western nations, receiving criticism simply means a journalist is doing his or her job.
What would you propose as a way forward to bring peace and stability to Israel and Palestine?
I was once a believer in a two-state solution, but today I argue that only a bi-national state can truly bring peace. A state that grants equal rights for all, ends the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, compensates the Palestinian refugees for their loss and fairly shares Jerusalem. I am not opposed to a Jewish state simply because it is Jewish - I am equally vocal against any state that discriminates one religion over another - but argue that Israel's current path of apartheid is creating a growing threat. Besides, a two-state solution is impossible today due to Israel's daily building of new settlements on occupied land.
Can the US play a role in the arbitration of peace, given the fact that they are not trusted in the Middle-East?
Yes and no. The US is loathed throughout the region, yet most countries rely on Washington for political, financial and diplomatic support. And yet, if America told Israel to end the occupation tomorrow, and threatened to cut its massive aid budget if it didn't comply, the Middle East situation would change profoundly within a matter of days.
Why has the UN not played a more significant role in the establishment of peace? For example, Peace Keepers, resolutions, sanctions, etc...?
The UN has often played a key role in the conflict, but the power of the US to veto virtually every resolution against Israel makes the body often impotent, at best. Israel doesn't trust the UN and the Arab states believe that the US is blocking a peace deal. Simply put, the UN has often chosen the path of least resistance, though many of its bodies continue to provide essential aid to near-starving Palestinians in Gaza and beyond.
What is Israel’s geo-political significance to the US?
A complex question, but Israel represents, certainly since the 1967 Six Day War, an essential ally in a region of perceived threats. A stable nation from which oil can be secured, a moral imperative fulfilled in the ashes of the Holocaust, an ability for the US Zionist lobby to prove its worth to the motherland and a supposed example of democracy amongst dictatorships (mostly backed by the US.)
Israel’s bombing of Lebanon only served to aggravate a deepening sense of resentment in the Middle-East. What is your opinion on the wisdom of the decision to bomb Lebanon and isn't there a real fear that Israel may be seen as a proxy army by the US?
The 2006 Lebanon war was a disaster for all concerned, but predominantly for the Lebanese people. Israel was already seen as a proxy for the US, and this war merely secured that impression. The West hoped that Israel could destroy Hezbollah and Washington wanted this nationalist force eliminated before it would launch a strike against Iran and/or Syria. Alas, it failed and Israel lost the first war in its history. In many ways, Hezbollah now represents the fighting force that challenged Israel and won. The Arab fear of the superpower is diminishing.
Tell us a little about your latest project.
My latest book will be out in 2008 and is about the internet in repressive regimes, such as Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and China. I examine the ways in which dissent has changed thanks to the web, how governments have reacted, how Western multi-nationals are often assisting these regimes to filter their content and how the web arguably represents the single greatest change to the dissemination of information since the invention of the printing press.
1st January 2008