A Night at the Plenum

On Monday night, the JCCV held a plenum, preceded by an address from The Age Editor-in-Chief, Paul Ramadge, and it seemed prudent to attend.

Among certain expected elements, there were also a few surprises. The plenum itself was run with consummate efficiency by JCCV President, John Searle.

I’d been bracing myself for an excruciating, anarchic talkfest that extended long into the night. The reality was completely different.

The cordial nature with which Searle, ZCV President Danny Lamm, and SCV Executive Director, Ginette Searle greeted me at the plenum’s conclusion similarly surprised and delighted.

Perhaps Dvir Abramovich’s assertion that open arms await me at our institutions, may have been the one accurate item in his fevered denunciation of this blog.

One point of concern, however, was the composition of the plenum delegates.

The board seemed to comprise four or five men around the age of 40 and one who may have been in his 20s or 30s. The remainder of the men (seven of them) were Baby Boomers. Only one woman (also a Boomer) sat with these men, and one other female board member could not attend.

Among the delegates and other attendees, Generations X and Y seemed almost entirely absent.

That said, were young people actually inclined to attend such a plenum, there would not seem to be any obstacles in their path.

If I, and one other controversial woman my age could visit without incurring any acrimony – quite the opposite – certainly other younger people would have no problems. Indeed, this plenum was publicised via the ZCV mailing list – a gesture to the community indicating a degree of openness. That those not connected with the ZCV may not have had access to such information or that  young people might not be inclined to attend, is a topic for another post.

The generational question was highlighted most starkly during the pre-plenum presentation delivered by Ramadge, of The Age. There seems to be a cultural fault-line running down our community, separating the vast majority of our youth from people over the age of  50.

I did not attend Ramadge’s address itself. I was more interested in the nature of the questions the audience would ask at the end – and also in the general atmosphere and the demography of the attendees.

While a few younger faces were dotted around the audience, at least 80% of the people would have been over age 50. That is a conservative estimate.

The emphasis on generational makeup here is due largely to concerns – mine and others’ – that the disconnection young people feel from the centre of Jewish life in Australia – and perhaps particularly in Victoria – is reaching a critical point.

It is increasingly rare that any young Jew whose parents (usually their father) are not deeply involved with one of the institutions will have any interest in taking up a leadership position, or perhaps even joining such an organisation at all.

The myriad reasons for this will be the subject of future posts.

For now, let’s concentrate on the nature and atmospherics of the Ramadge address question time, because it provides a valuable insight into a core problem for this community.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been having increasing contact with younger Jews – Gen Y – and the single greatest driver of dissociation from the Jewish centre seems to be an amorphous sense that the nastiness, vitriol, and moral one-upmanship of the centre is simply not worth the effort.

They would rather move to the periphery, or even remove themselves from the community entirely, than have to encounter what they perceive as the constant barrage of negative communication.

The corollary of this is, that as young Jews move away from the centre, life on the periphery is rarely conducive to maintaining Jewish continuity. It becomes increasingly difficult to sustain connections to community and culture. For all of us who view continuity as central to our identity, we must take this issue seriously.

How then, does this relate to Monday night’s question session?

Firstly, the almost complete absence of young people from such a rare opportunity to hear a major daily’s Editor-in-Chief address the community is odd in itself.

There are considerable numbers in the youth movements alone who are keen consumers of news and current affairs, and take an active interest in various causes and politics. Blaming Gen X/Y apathy for their non-attendance, I believe, not only misses the point, but also ensures that the underlying problems are exacerbated.

In short, every single question I heard, bar one, had the same tenor, and essentially the same content: there was an aggrieved and somewhat aggressive framing of everything that was put to Ramadge. Indeed, these were hardly questions at all. They were long winded statements about the unassailable rectitude of Israeli actions, and the unconscionable bias of The Age reporters.

At the conclusion of each audience member’s “question,” vigorous clapping and heartfelt words of support from other members of the public flowed through the room.

Throughout it all, I marvelled at Ramadge’s ability to keep his cool, remain unfailingly polite, and low key. Regardless of his merits as an editor, he certainly exhibited advanced skills in keeping his head, when all about them were losing theirs.

Very few in the audience seemed to appreciate that Ramadge had not been compelled by a court order to appear before them. The style of questions leapt over the line from adversarial to outright inquisitorial.

The self-righteousness in the room mingled with an uglier undertone of strength-in-numbers.

This was on starkest display when a member of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society posed his question.

Unlike everyone before him, he sought to praise The Age’s Israel coverage.

Like most people in the room, I strongly disagreed with his point of view; however, I was appalled at the general response to him from the audience.

There were loud heckles and jeers, regular cries of, “Sit Down,” and a broad-based attempt to prevent him from speaking at all.

The absolute intolerance of dissenting opinion is perhaps the best indication of what has occurred at the centre of our community to push young people away. Who in their right mind would want to encounter such hostility and animus for simply voicing an opinion?

When I spoke to John Searle and Danny Lamm about this phenomenon afterwards, I was struck by the incongruousness of their clear good will and openness towards me – even though I had criticised them a number of times on this blog – and their inability to view the question time as problematic for communal continuity.

These do not seem to be men who relish sticking the boot in. They are clearly committed to serving the community. On the other hand, what they view as robust and healthy debate is actually a mode of discourse that will remove the current communal centre as a possible source of connection for most young Jews.

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  5. Les Rosenblatt Writes about Expressing Unpopular Opinions at the Ramadge Address

50 Responses to “A Night at the Plenum”

  1. TheSadducee says:

    “The absolute intolerance of dissenting opinion is perhaps the best indication of what has occurred at the centre of our community to push young people away. Who in their right mind would want to encounter such hostility and animus for simply voicing an opinion?”

    This is the essence of the problems with our communities – you can even see it here at this site between the comments going back and forth between readers.

    There is a hypersensitivity to dissent which expresses itself extremely negatively. It is far beyond robust debate or disagreement. You see people expressing themselves in ways that would ordinarily be unthinkable for them and expressing group-think and ignorance and/or stupidity and emotionalism.

    It is unhealthy, and in the long term, in my opinion, will be debilitating for our communities.

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  2. [...] Jew; More on Goldstone Sensible Jew says that there was a gathering of Jewish communal leaders with Age editor Paul Ramadge. He spoke, then [...]

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  3. Alan Freedman says:

    Sensible Jew, what IS your problem?

    Paul Ramadge was invited to hear the grievances of the Jewish community directly from the community itself, and to his credit he listened intently, made notes and was clearly interested in what we perceive to be unbalanced reporting. I was impressed with his sincerity and candour which I believe to be genuine.

    But who ever said that the event needed to be a formal Q & A session? In fact, the conversational tone was probably far more productive than any rigid, tightly formatted meeting would ever have been.

    I totally disagree with your assessment that the questions were “long winded statements about the unassailable rectitude of Israeli actions, and the unconscionable bias of The Age reporters.” The questions generally contained a preamble and then highlighted where the speaker felt the Age had been deficient in its reporting – that’s precisely what Ramadge had come to hear.

    And the reason the member of the AJDS was howled down had nothing to do with limiting his right to speak, but because he waffled on for 5min without even getting close to asking a question. He also made sure that everyone in the room knew that it was his letter that was published in the Age in response to the article by Amin Saikal. Talk about self righteousness!

    Furthermore, it was interesting when one of the probably 200 people in the audience asked how many in the room thought the Age’s coverage of the Middle East was fair, and the only two people to energetically put up their hands were the members of the AJDS.

    You keep demanding to see democracy in action – well, on Monday night you got it!

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  4. TheSadducee says:

    “You keep demanding to see democracy in action – well, on Monday night you got it!”

    -perhaps it might be better to consider that what occured was a demonstration of the tyranny of the mob?

    I’m amused that Freedman confirms that someone was howled down – civilised behaviour to be sure and conducive to free and open expression – and it of course had nothing to do with the fact that this individual was disagreeing with 99% of the aggrieved crowd…

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  5. David Zyngier says:

    Alan Freedman needs to think more clearly about the meaning and nature of
    democracy. Democracy should never be equated to Mob Rule – Tyranny of the
    Majority is not democracy but a prelude to fascism. The quality of a democracy
    can be assessed by how it treats its minorities whether they are GLBT, its poor,
    Russian migrants Gen X or Y, politically or religiously non-conformist.

    While not able to attend the session on Monday I have experienced first hand the
    mob rule of the Plenum of the JCCV and SZC on many occasions. While I am not a
    Gen X or Y, I do publicly identify with the left Zionist political viewpoint. As
    a result of the continued marginalisation and intolerance of the SZC Plenum
    towards our affiliated group (Meretz
    Australia
    ) we took the extreme course of publicly resigning form the SZC to
    highlight its intolerance of diverse points of view.

    The following motion was moved by AJDS and
    seconded by the Bund for the JCCV Plenum’s discussion on Monday:

    Recognising,
    
    . that the Jewish community is diverse and pluralistic,
    
    . that public debate of ideas and issues that affect our
    community are both an expression of the vibrancy of our
    community and a vital part of finding paths to a better future,
    
    . that articulating views passionately is a part of this process,
    
    . that our public debates are conducted through a variety of
    media not all within the Jewish community,
    
    . that not all issues affecting the Jewish community are
    discussed exclusively by Jews,
    
    . that there are no issues on which there is a unanimity of views.
    
    This plenum calls on the executive of the JCCV to draft,
    circulate and publicise a statement:
    
    1.  affirming the importance of public debate on issues affecting
    the Jewish community.
    
    2. affirming the importance of public debate reflecting the
    diversity of views in the Jewish community.
    
    3. rejecting abuse, vilification and threatening behaviour as
    having any part to play in the conduct of our debates and
    discussions.  

    Unfortunately Searle decided NOT to put the motion but to allow "members to think about it before next Plenum".

    Here is an opportunity for all members of the community to express their views openly on this important resolution which goes to the core of what kind of a democracy we actually have in our community!

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  6. TheSadducee says:

    Although I’m reluctant to plug someone else’s site I think it is pertinent to note that Les Rosenblatt who attended this talk (and presumably was the fellow howled down?) has written an article on Galus Australis and that their account of event seems to tarry with SJ’s:

    http://galusaustralis.com/2009/10/everybody-loves-question-time/

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  7. In the interests of further transparency, for the majority of time that the current editors of GalusAustralis.com were generating content at the Sensible Jew site, the Sensible Jew herself had no involvement whatsoever in the site. Having started the site, Alex resigned soon after recruiting other writers to the staff, and only returned after the new writers had moved over to GalusAustralis.com. The content that was moved to GalusAustralis.com only included content that was not generated by the Sensible Jew herself. None of the content generated at GalusAustralis.com since its launch has been created in conjunction with the Sensible Jew. The two sites are now completely independent.

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  8. Alan Freedman says:

    Getting back to Monday night …

    I concede that the term ‘howled down’ was probably not the most accurate expression to use – anybody who was there would know that the session was not a noisy confrontation of the type my critics are used to participating in, but that Les Rosenblatt was chided by the audience simply because he used the floor to promote his own agenda rather than discuss some aspect of the Age’s treatment of Israel.

    After several minutes, the audience ran out of patience and rightly agitated for him to ask a question of finish up – it was certainly nothing like mob rule.

    Sorry Sadducee, you won’t make a case for the restriction of free speech with this one. It was a minor incident in an otherwise excellent evening, and I also suspect the audience’s attitude to the AJDS would have been most illuminating for Paul Ramadge.

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  9. TheSadducee says:

    Alan

    You used the instinctual phrase that suited your recollection of the incident – “howled down”. I think it was accurate and you realised after you wrote it that you perhaps shouldn’t have because it damages the credibility of your assertion that it was an open and fair forum.

    Nonetheless, lets be generous and agree that it was merely chiding.

    Even so, why didn’t the convenors ask him to get to the point? Is that the responsibility of a crowd of people who clearly have an “attitude” towards his identity? I would suggest that they may have rightly lost their patience, but had no right to harass him.

    Additionally, can you elaborate on what you mean by:

    “I also suspect the audience’s attitude to the AJDS would have been most illuminating for Paul Ramadge.”?

    I suspect that it is less than complimentary towards the views and position of the AJDS in the community, but I’m prepared to be disabused of my suspicion.

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  10. Alan Freedman says:

    Yes, the convenor (Danny) probably should have intervened in this regard, but as mentioned earlier, the the session was not a formal meeting and people were given time to make their point (and take responses) in a conversational, civilised and respectful atmosphere.

    I also wouldn’t use the word ‘harass’ … after Les lectured the audience for several minutes, people started interjecting (as they do) for him to make his point. It wasn’t rude and it wasn’t abusive. I suspect he would say it wasn’t polite but that depends on how thick your skin is, nevertheless, it was rather blunt.

    On point two, you were right he first time – I was not being terribly complimentary to the AJDS, but I don’t share their views and I think they are essentially a marginal group seeking greater legitimacy within the Jewish community. The simple fact is that most people in our community do not agree with them.

    I do engage in dialogue with one member on a regular basis, but ultimately we can only agree to disagree. So be it – fortunately we live in an open society where we can all attempt to persuade others to our way of thinking.

    However, if the AJDS had their way, I doubt Israelis would have the same luxury.

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  11. David Zyngier says:

    Could Alan Freedman please enlighten me as to the meaning of his final remarks about the AJDS:

    “Fortunately we live in an open society where we can all attempt to persuade others to our way of thinking. However, if the AJDS had their way, I doubt Israelis would have the same luxury.”

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  12. Aron Bell says:

    There is certainly more vitriol in your blog than there was on Monday night. I just can’t believe we were at the same meeting.

    Unlike you, I did attend from the beginnig of Mr Rammage’s address and I was most impressed by him and his passion for the paper. The only problem is, I cancelled my subscription because I felt that the reporting by The Age on matters Jewish, was badly biased and tended to portray Jews negatively.

    Before the meeting began he came down off the podium and introduced himself to several people, myself included, and chatted. Mr Rammage then chatted to the audience of his role at The Age and the difficulties in accurate reporting from the Middle East but he assured us that it was his aim to provide accurate and balanced reporting. One of the aims of the evening was to find out why there was a disconnect between what he was trying to achieve and what we as a community perceived was happenning. He invited comment on this. At no time was there “aggrieved and somewhat aggressive framing of everything that was put to “Rammage..” and at no time did anyone comment on the “unassailable rectitude of Israeli actions”. On the contrary, the comments were , by and large restricted to how could The Age get it so wrong, and that the apologies when they came, were too little and too late because the dammage had been done.

    Just where was the self righteousness in the room.

    As for the reaction to Mr Rosenbalt from the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, that only came after he asked a somewhat impertinent question relating to whether Mr Rammage had received any “undue influence on him from the Jewish communal leaders”. Mr Rosenblatt spoke for some time without asking a question and without interuption until then.

    The highlight of the evening was the straw poll taken on who thought The Age portrayed Jews and Israel negatively. Only one hand went up(that Icould see) to indicate that The Age was balanced. Everyone else in the room, whether it was 150 or 200 thought The Age was negatively biased. This was the preception of those who turned up that night and the perception is the reality!

    This is what Mr Rammage will need to address. Why is there such a disconnect between what he and his staff think they are doing and how they are percieved by the Jewish community.

    The meeting ended with Mr Rammage suggesting that he return in a year’s time to see how things have changed. This was met with spontaneous applause. I hardly think he was badly received and I feel sure that he went away thinking he had made a first step in rebuilding the bridges with the Jewish community.

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  13. Alan Freedman says:

    David

    It’s not that hard to work out that the policies of the AJDS would spell disaster for Israel. Whether or not you intentionally aim to appease Israel’s enemies, this is what you do, and the fact remains that your policies would result in an Israel that is very different from the one it is today (if it indeed survived).

    There are 22 Islamic Arab states in the Middle East but the AJDS, a Jewish organisation no less, has a problem with supporting the one and only teency-weency Jewish state – a state with limited natural resources, yet one which contributes to the betterment of mankind in every field of human endeavour. By siding with the Palestinian lobby, you give strength to Israel’s enemies and that ultimately hinders the peace process by endorsing the Arab propensity for violence.

    Your preparedness to sacrifice Israel’s Jewish character for the sake of well-intentioned but misplaced peace would mean that Israel would not remain the modern, open, liberal democratic country that currently exists.

    Jews would have lost their right to self-determination and would again end up living in a hostile environment without the freedoms they currently enjoy, in all areas of life.

    They say history repeats itself because enough people weren’t paying attention the first time!

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  14. TheSadducee says:

    It was a shame that someone didn’t film the event – it would clear up alot of the differing accounts of what exactly happened! Perhaps next time?

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  15. Morry says:

    I have to wonder why David Zyngier, who flies the Palestinian flag, and the AJDS, feel that: “. that our public debates are conducted through a variety of
    media not all within the Jewish community,

    . that not all issues affecting the Jewish community are
    discussed exclusively by Jews”

    Why exactly do they find it necessary to involve the wider Australian public in how the Jewish community organizes itself or addresses issues. That’s a very strange positon for me.

    I can understand it as little as, way back, when they took out full page ads in the Age urging the Australian government to intervene in Israeli politics … something wholly undemocratic for a “democratic” group to do. Lobbying Israelis in Israeli newspapers would be the democratic thing. Their position at the time was for a “one state solution”, which doesn’t add much credibility to their “Zionist” credentials, that David Zyngier cites above, either.

    The AJDS is not a group I’m particularly happy with, and every member I’ve discussed the Middle East with has adhered tenaciously to the Palestinian narrative, with no inclination to consider recorded history as a possible alternative. Hence, I guess, The Palestinian flag flying above, covering the Israeli one.

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  16. TheSadducee says:

    Alan

    Can you elaborate on what you mean by the Arab propensity for violence? Are you talking about it as a tactic or that it is some innate quality of Arabs? Propensity traditionally refers to a natural inclination towards something – which would be quite an offensive, if not racist, position to state.

    Morry

    “Why exactly do they find it necessary to involve the wider Australian public in how the Jewish community organizes itself or addresses issues. That’s a very strange positon for me.”

    - I can’t speak for David but I suspect that they feel that internal discussion in the community is futile. The entrenched voices who refuse to acknowledge any of their points have effectively shut down significantly divergent debate in the community – hence we see the formation of groups like IAJV etc. Perhaps if external people, who have an interest or stake in the ME peace process, can see our debates they may also be able to contribute to them.

    As to the wider Australian public being involved – they already are – through Govt. etc. Haven’t you noticed the debates going on about kosher slaughter practices, circumcision etc and potential legislation changes affecting these?

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  17. Alan Freedman says:

    I don’t know whether the Arabs have a natural inclination for violence or use it as a tactic – I just know that they do it a lot. But then what would you expect when they glorify kindergarten children dressed up in military greens or suicide-bomber’s outfits?

    And don’t tell me that their love of suicidal martyrdom, and their desire to take as many Israelis and other infidels on the way, is indicative of a warm, sharing and caring environment.

    And let’s not forget the honour killings, the genital mutilation, the throwing of rivals off the tops of buildings … er, shall I go on?

    I don’t know about you, but for all its flaws I would much rather live in a Western democracy, thanks, and I suspect most Israelis would say the same. Pity the AJDS doesn’t quite get it.

    BTW, the only differing accounts of Monday night came from 1% of the audience, ie the two self-absorbed members of the AJDS – no-one else has a problem with this.

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  18. Sisu says:

    Morry:

    Re: “Why exactly do they find it necessary to involve the wider Australian public in how the Jewish community organizes itself or addresses issues. That’s a very strange positon for me.”

    Perhaps because the Jewish community is part of the wider Australian public? Because many non-Jewish Ausralians have involvements with the Jewish community – you are not isolated and alone. Because the issues of anti-Semitism are not just a Jewish issue but concern us all in a fair and decent society?

    Just some thoughts.

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  19. Morry says:

    As TheSadducee says, there are indeed issues, not of kashrut (the wider Australian community doesn’t give a hang if Jews eat meat with milk or won’t eat pig) but of, say, “animal rights” where our Jewish ritual slaughter practices must be considered. But they certainly aren’t being considered simply because they’re Jewish or on any Jewish level at all. Contrast that to the AJDS desire to involve the general community in issues of the Jewish community’s support for Israel, which has absolutely no relevance at all to Australia (until such time as a law is passed that one can only support Palestinians).

    There is something decidedly undemocratic in anybody, finding their position unsupported within a group they belong to, turning to a larger unconnected group with the aim of applying force or pressure to their group to accept their views. That’s the fascist way. If you truly believe, find ways to convince that constituencey, that’s called “lobbying” and the AJDS does it very well through the AJN and their representation on the JCCV.

    Sisu, as to “the Jewish community is part of the wider Australian public”, that’s true, as is the Catholic Church, but we don’t have the temerity to tell them that they can no longer have bishops, nor can they support a Pope in Rome because we don’t like the idea. That’s entirely their business, just as how we organise ourselves and whom we support, and why, is solely the domain of the Jewish community (except where it crosses into unacceptable Australian behaviour … Jewish ritual slaughter being banned in Sweden as an animal protection measure springs to mind). When this ceases to be so, when whom we elect or support, and how we function becomes a state issue, will be when this society has moved out of democracy and into the domain of totalitarianism.

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  20. David Zyngier says:

    If this is what happened to Rammage and the AJDS at the JCCV I wonder what
    might occur if we. like South Africa’s Jewish Community had a visit by some
    Israeli Conscientious Objectors (shministim  – Hebrew for
    12th-graders). This is what happened to them as reported in
    Haaretz:

    The South African Jewish community is in an uproar about the current
    visit of three Israeli conscientious objectors, who addressed Jewish and
    non-Jewish groups in Cape Town and Johannesburg, equating Israel with
    apartheid-era South Africa and calling for an international boycott against
    Israel.
    The youths were reportedly greeted with insults and threats at some of
    the events they headlined. … At a tumultuous gathering
    at a Jewish institution Wednesday, the trio was "basically lynched,"
    according to an eyewitness. At the end of the event, "all mobbed forward"
    and called the shministim cowards, bringing one of them to tears, the source
    added. Organizer Daniel Mackintosh told Anglo File he and the shministim
    were insulted and threatened by "extremely aggressive" people in the
    audience.

    Are we any better, more civil or tolerant of diverse opinions?

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  21. sensiblejew says:

    David, to cut a long story short: yes we are.

    Violence – or even the threat of violence – is not part of the Australian Jewish character, no matter how heated debate has been.

    While mobs are always to be deplored, one has to wonder what exactly these kids expected. To tell South African Zionists that Israel is equivalent to the vile Apartheid regime is not only historically inaccurate and offensive to the many Jews who fought for equality in SA, but also mind-bogglingly pointless.

    Beyond a publicity stunt, I have no idea what the youths hoped to achieve.

    For what it’s worth, it’s not a good look to compare your group (AJDS) with that sort of youthful arrogance and foolishness.

    Les Rosenblatt had every right to get up and say what he did on Monday night. As I’ve said before, I disagree with him strongly. But his comments did not breach any standards of decency and were well within the parameters of the discourse. They were not intentionally provocative – as far as I could tell – and most importantly, it was absolutely the right forum for him to propound his argument. None of this can be said about the conscientious objectors.

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  22. Morry says:

    Changing tack a little, many of the issues are not really at Paul Ramadge’s level. The word changed here or there, the fact edited out, the issue misrepresented, all tend to happen at either the journalist’s level or in the lower editorial echelons.

    With Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Guardian presented a list of all past recipients … from which every Israeli was missing(Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres). The Journalist’s explanation was “a technical hitch” as where there were co-recipients he put one in the second column, and it, for “technical reasons” hadn’t appeared in the final draft. The problem, when we look at the final draft, is that all the co-recipients do appear in the second column, except the Israeli ones. One also has to ask why the Israeli was always relegated to the second column … one would have thought that protocol would have earned an elected Prime Minister like Yitzchak Rabin the primary spot, in the first column, over a “reformed” terrorist leader like Yassar Arafat.

    Then, the question arises, does a journalist not read the final draft of his work prior to going to print? Why does it require a flood of online protests to generate the acknowledgement that something is wrong?

    There is, of course, also the issue of the highly selective “technical glitch” that homed in on only the Israelis. I don’t think I’m being paranoid. If I had to take a guess, and accepted the truth of the statements made, I would say that the “technical glitch” was one of the typesetters imbued with his union’s “boycott Israel” position, taking it upon him/herself to omit Israel, perhaps earning a slap on the wrist.

    My point with all this is to say that Israel’s PR is more often than not in everyone’s hands except Israel’s, and whilst there is undoubtedly much that can be improved there, the balance is just wildly tipped away from Israeli control and into the hands of people dogmatically opposed to all things Israeli, and often Jewish.

    Ramadge can answer for Age policy, which few of us may have problems with. I have to wonder if he’s even aware of what’s happening at the levels where we see innumerable problems and high levels of bias.

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  23. David Zyngier says:

    Alex, sorry to disagree but I wish your declaration that “Violence – or even the threat of violence – is not part of the Australian Jewish character, no matter how heated debate has been” was indeed true. Four incidents should suffice to demonstrate the error in your assumptions

    This year outside the theatre where “Seven Jewish Children” was being performed a very, very angry confrontation occurred between Jews and Palestinian supporters.It was obvious to any one there that had it not been for the intervention of the police there would literally have been blood in the streets.

    It was only a few years ago that I rescued a Palestinian friend from the physical threats of Jewish demonstrators – he had accompanied me in solidarity to demonstrate against the showing of a film by David Irving in the city – he was wearing a Kaffiyeh – before he had a chance to even debate he was set upon by crazed Jewish Uni students! It was only when I stepped in between them with my body was it possible to talk sense. The fact here is that the Jews were prepared to believe (irrationally) that any supporter of Palestine was also a Holocaust denier.

    In 1972 violence erupted between Jews when PM McMahon was invited to speak at Israel Independence Day. A number of Zionist youth (me included) demonstrated outside the function handing out leaflets decrying the propriety of inviting McMahon to this event over his anti-Semitic apologia in Parliament and were physically attacked and spat on.

    Finally on January 31 1971, thousands of young Jews, ‘Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Association’ members, young leftists and the Workers Student Alliance led by Albert Langer occupied the Yarra Bank to prevent a Nazi (NSPA) rally. When the Nazis absented themselves, the large marched on the Nazi headquarters in North Carlton. In the ensuing riot, the office was ransacked. The Nazi’s leader Cass Young later complained:

    All this time we could hear a noise such as that at a football ground, getting louder. Looking outside, I saw that a huge crowd was coming down the street towards our headquarters.

    Within minutes there were several thousand people, mostly reds and those of the chosen race, milling around outside. We closed all the doors and windows and I posted sentries at the back and on the roof. We hoisted the mighty flag of our race — the swastika — and the Eureka flag at the top front window. The crowd outside began throwing anything it could get its hands on: eggs, tomatoes, rocks and tins. Soon all the windows had been smashed by flying missiles.

    In June 1972, the NSPA tried to hold its annual conference. The fascists kept the location secret. Protesters inlcuding many Jewish youth movements and Uni students instead marched to a triple-fronted brick veneer in St. Albans, which served both as Young’s house and the new [neo-]Nazi HQ. To resounding chants of ‘Death to the Nazis’, we literally tore the building apart.

    The Jewish community is not monolithic – we are like all other communities – we have our fundamentalists and fanatics who are prepared to resort to violence when ever they consider it necessary.

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  24. Alan Freedman says:

    David, I was also at the protest for “Seven Jewish Children”, and whilst it was a noisy affair, there was nothing even approaching violence and I felt perfectly safe there. The police stepped in between the Jewish protesters and the Palestinian supporters simply because the Palestinian supporters were screaming (literally) in the faces of the Jews.

    And do you know what they were screaming? Yes you do – you were there!

    “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.”

    These are your mates, the people who you lobby for and with, and they clearly have no interest in promoting a two-state solution to the conflict. What ever happened to “two states for two peoples”?

    And by the way, the police had their backs to the Jewish kids whilst facing the Palestinians supporters – it is not hard to understand where they perceived any potential danger to come from.

    So if you have distorted the facts around this example, I can’t even begin to believe you regarding your other three examples.

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  25. David Zyngier says:

    Alan Freadman misses the point of my post with his very personal guilt by association attacks on my politics (does he know my political views – I don’t think we have ever met or discussed the politics of the Mid East!).

    Significantly and my point remains uncontested – it was obvious to any one there that had it not been for the intervention of the police there would literally have been blood in the streets. Ergo violence – or even the threat of violence – has been part of the Australian Jewish character.

    The so-called Palestinian supporters at Seven Jewish Children were mainly Trotskyite Infantile Leftists – these people are not supporters of the Palestinians but are political parasites prepared to limpet like attach themselves to any cause with facile and infantile slogans to gain membership and sell their ridiculously childish journals and “news” papers.

    I lobby with and for no-one except a just solution based on reciprocal recognition of two nations rights to self determination in their own homelands.

    The other events are clearly verified by the historical records should you care to look at original history and media sources of the time and cannot be dismissed so lightly.

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  26. TheSadducee says:

    Alan

    Your comment #19 is quite offensive. You are speaking generally of “Arabs” and are not clearly articulating which/who Arabs you are referring to which could lead one to read it as referring to all Arabs.
    I’m sure if someone was as loose with their language concerning Jews you would be (justifiably) offended.

    And your last comment is strange – unless your suggesting that SJ is a member of the AJDS – because she wasn’t happy with the meeting (which is presumably why she wrote this post!)!

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  27. Alan Freedman says:

    David, I have a fairly good idea of your politics by virtue of the fact that you belong to the AJDS, an organisation that works WITH Australians for Palestine.

    OK, let’s get down to tachliss here… here is a simple question for you:

    Do you accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state?

    A simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ will suffice.

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  28. Morry says:

    Actually, David, Alan Freedman did contest your point, and when I put your two positions together, perhaps there would have been “blood on the streets” had there been no police, but it seems it would have been Jewish blood. That hardly negates SJ’s position.

    I note that you don’t deny for a second that the pro-play demonstrators got right into the face of the anti-play Jewish demonstrators while screaming “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.”, nor that they were inclined to violence, instead, you choose to rationalise it by claiming they were mostly not Palestinian. That’s hardly the issue and a total red herring. It seems clear that in the threatened violence the Jews were on the receiving end (whether from hard-assed Trotskyites or Palestinians is of little relevance). It certainly demonstrates no Jewish inclination to violence.

    If you see Jews as inherently violent people your lens is very skewed, and one really has to wonder how true is your view of other issues. I certainly find that I am in almost total disagreement with most of your published views.

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  29. Alan Freedman says:

    Sadducee, you are easily offended but I take your point.

    Let’s just use the term ‘most Arabs’ with regards to their use of violence, and certainly the Arabs that Israel needs to negotiate with, ie the Gazans, the Syrians, Hezbollah.

    Come to think of it, perhaps you can enlighten me as to which Arab regimes are actually friendly towards Israel, other than perhaps the Egyptians and Jordanians? And even then, I am not sure I would describe a ‘cold peace’ as friendliness, but at least there is the absence of overt hostility.

    Regarding your other point, if you want to be technical and say that SJ was also not happy with last Monday night’s session, that makes 1.5% of the audience. Big deal!

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  30. David Zyngier says:

    Mr Freedman is obviously unable to read the text of my post as he was blinded by his own prejudices in relation to AJDS: you can read its position statement

    I unequivocally wrote that I support reciprocal recognition of two nations rights to self determination in their own homelands.

    The real question is do you?

    To Morry the issue here is whether some Melbourne Jews may be prepared to be involved with violence – this is what I understood what Alex had in her mind when she wrote: Violence – or even the threat of violence – is not part of the Australian Jewish character, no matter how heated debate has been – I would never want to talk about the Australian Jewish character (or Australian Moslem, Arab, Catholic or any other group for that matter) in such unequivocal and essentialist language.

    The fact is that Jews went to what was obviously a pro-Palestinian event organised by Australians for Palestine to demonstrate so provocatively against it (as is their democratic right in this country. Did they really think that such provocative actions would not lead to(over) heated and debate that could have lead to violence? If not why not? The fact is that a Shaliach from Israel was there to calm things down and make sure that the Jewish demonstrators maintained their cool.

    I reiterate I reject essentialist views about Jews or any other group – we as a community – just like the Palestinians are not monolithic in our views and beliefs – as this Blog demonstrates – no-where could it be suggested that I have even implied that I believe Jews are inherently violent – but perhaps Morry and others do believe that of Palestinians and Arabs.

    Finally and for the last time the other 3 examples I gave about Jewish initiated violence in Melbourne are well documented by a number of sources including the AJN archive (as you wouldn’t accept anything published by The Age!).

    Like all people, we are and would be prepared to initiate violence if the circumstances require it – ask the CSG – speak to the supporters of Betar and the supporters of the underground Jewish Defense League here in Australia who were in the past training in camps to combat the Nazi and other anti-Semitic groups.

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  31. Alan Freedman says:

    I must be a bit thicker than you AJDS people – I have read the statements on your website but I am still not sure whether you accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. You don’t seem to explicitly say so.

    Do I take your answer to be:
    A. Yes
    B. Yes, sort of
    C. Yes, well not really
    D. No

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  32. TheSadducee says:

    David

    You are actually avoiding answering Alan’s direct question – he isn’t asking you whether you endorse reciprocal recognition of two nations rights to self-determination in their homelands – that is a different issue.

    He is asking you whether you accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state?

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  33. David Zyngier says:

    Mr Freedman’s insistence that I accept Israel as a Jewish State is a red herring and a diversionary tactic now becoming the current new demand of the Netanyahu’s government of the Palestinians for any progress towards peace.

    As a Left Zionist I support the State of Israel as the State of the Jewish People – supporting it as a Jewish State depends on what your understanding of the term Jewish means – for too many people within the Jewish community and the fundamentalists in Israel it means being religious. So if you are asking me whether I support Israel as a theocratic Jewish State the answer is NO.

    On the other hand supporting France as a French State or Holland as a Dutch State is not problematic. In fact such questions are only raised by the ultra right wing xenophobic and racist groups within those countries who by asking such questions want to suggest that some of its citizens are NOT worthy of such status and are foreigners.

    Israel was established as we all well know as the homeland of the Jewish People – as a secular and democratic state for all of its citizens – recognising that all of its citizens are guaranteed their rights. Over the years we have seen the growing influence and hegemony of religious fundamentalism take hold within Israel (and our community here as well). This has led to a blurring of what it means to be an Israeli.

    Today there are many (if not most) people in Israel who prefer to self identify their nationality as Israeli – in fact this is what is on the Israeli Passport and Identity Cards. I support the Israeli State and the State of Israel. This state has a majority of citizens who identify as Jewish (but the majority recognise this as a secular identification), but we must also recognise that Israel has a sizable minority of Palestinian Arab citizens (1/5) – can they be loyal citizens of a Jewish State? If Israel maintains its occupation of large areas of Palestine or as some in the Israeli government demand – annex these parts of Palestine – will it deny citizenship rights to these people in order to maintain its “Jewish” majority – or will it start to expel such people as other members of the Israeli government propose in order to maintain their Jewish State? Or will it grant them citizenship and run the risk of their own marginalisation?

    Therefore discussion of whether Israel is a Jewish State or not is a non-starter for me, but is an obsession of some in the Diaspora and those who through their actions and support of the illegal colonisation of Palestine by Israel since 1967 oppose any possible just settlement that recognises the right of the Palestinians to a viable Palestinian State.

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  34. Alan Freedman says:

    Aha! Now we are getting to the crux of my problem with the AJDS.

    Israel was also created to offer the Jews the right of self-determination – a right that every culture is entitled to in our modern world. That does not mean that I necessarily support a fundamentalist theocratic state (to use your terms), but I do support the right of Jews to have a state that maintains its Jewish character, and which it then leaves to its citizens to decide whether that will be based on a religious or secular model.

    Note also that any Palestinian state will be Islamic in nature – their charter says so – yet no-one has a problem with this or any of the other 56 Islamic states that constitute the Organisation of Islamic Conference.

    So in this context, the reason I object to the AJDS’s policies is that these policies would inevitably result in Israel losing its Jewish character. Again, I don’t have a problem with Arabs living in a Jewish Israel, just as I wouldn’t have a problem with some Jews living in a Muslim Palestine if that’s where they choose to live. However, the reality is that if and when a state of Palestine is created it will be Jew-free, but that’s beside the point.

    You may then ask why Israel should qualify for special treatment that other states don’t require, and the answer is very simple.

    As the one and only Jewish state in the world, Israel needs some sort of formal understanding to protect its very nature. There is no risk of Indonesia losing its Islamic identity, or Saudi Arabia, or Iran … or any of them, but there IS a real risk of Israel losing its Jewish character unless it has this protection.

    Just as Muslims have the right to live in an Islamic society, so too Jews have the right to live in a Jewish one. The obvious question is that if Israel loses its Jewish character, then where do the Jews go?

    You say you acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people, but then you espouse policies that would deny the Jewish people the very right to determine their own future.

    A homeland is more than the piece of real estate where you live, and when you (the AJDS) engages and works with the Palestinian lobby groups to undermine Israel as a homeland for the Jews, you lose my vote.

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  35. Morry says:

    Nicely avoided, David. You see, nobody,outside yourself, has ever mentioned Israel as “a theocratic Jewish State”. We are all, including Netanyahu, speaking of democracy. If you read Israel’s Declaration of Independence, that declaration, after the preamble, begins “[We...] …HEREBY DECLARE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A JEWISH STATE IN ERETZ-ISRAEL, TO BE KNOWN AS THE STATE OF ISRAEL”.

    That is what Israel was established as, “a Jewish state”. The declaration goes to outline people’s civil and democratic rights, regardless of race, gender etc.

    Successive Palestinian leaders have been prepared “to recognise the State of Israel”, whilst on Arabic programs declaring that “you have to recognise your enemy to destroy it”. The formulation “recognising Israel as a Jewish state” involves real recognition of Israel for what it truly is, with little squirm room. It is fascinating to me that you, David, balk at that recognition as much as Abbas does. Abbas I understand. His mentor was Haj Amin al Husseini, and he cannot offer that level of recognition to “the enemy” that he still seeks to destroy, and yes, he does call Israel “the enemy”, and a Palestinian can face execution for dealing with Abbas’ “peace partners”.

    I have no problem recognising Australia as a “Christian state” which celebrates Christmas and Easter, and am proud to be part of it. Tell me again, why do you refuse to recognise Israel as a “Jewish state” with theocracy (and Israel’s Declaration of Independence makes that a non-starter, your own personal red herring) off the table?

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  36. Aron Bell says:

    David do I take then that you hold that the occupation of Palestine by the Jordanians from 1948-1967 was legal, and what makes you think that if Israel hasn’t annexed Palestine in the last 40 years they will annexe it any time soon

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  37. David Zyngier says:

    It was most interesting and informative to observe the behaviour of the huge and overflowing crowd at last night’s Monash Debate on the issue That the West should engage with Hamas: a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict

    While there were even numbers of Jews and Palestinians (and their supporters easily identifiable in their often Sportsgirl kaffiyot) the audience was without exception polite and civil and even welcoming – giving applause to all speakers and listening quietly without interruption to even the most provocative of statements (which did come from both sides). When one person sought to interject during one presentation, people around that person immediately hushed them. It was only because this was in the row in front of me that I was aware of its occurrence at all.

    This should be a lesson for the JCCV and the Jewish Community. We can listen, we can be civil even when passions are at their highest and inflammatory remarks and accusations are being made.

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  38. Alan Freedman says:

    David, I wasn’t at the debate the other night but why should the civil behaviour demonstrated “be a lesson for the JCCV and the Jewish community”?

    I don’t believe we generally behave “uncivilly” – except of course, unless the AJDS is present!

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  39. David Zyngier says:

    Dear Mr Freedman – maybe you are trying to be funny – but it is not a joke! Harassment and abuse whether directed at AJDS members, Hashomer Hatzair, Meretz, Aleph, Palestinians or any group is a sign of intolerance and insecurity – certainly something to be of real concern and not treated so (apparently) flippantly.

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  40. Alan Freedman says:

    Oh, lighten up David.

    The irony is that in supporting those regimes that seek to de-legitimise and demonise Israel, your AJDS actually propagates the harassment and abuse of decent people in all these countries. In case you hadn’t noticed, women, gays, and non-Muslims don’t get much of a fair go in any Arab country.

    Do you really think a few people criticising you is harassment and abuse? Those women, gays, and non-Muslims should be so lucky!

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  41. Mohan says:

    Freedman speaks of a two-state solution as if it were at hand. The separation barrier and expanding settlements have made it all but impossible. When Uri Aveneri advocated it during the 70’s he was treated as a traitor and now both Likud and labour embrace it while nothing real emerges out of it.

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  42. Mohan says:

    Freedman shows mostly spleen – The Arab regimes are little client states of the US and range fom secular Egypt,Syria, Jordan and Iraq to theocratic Saudi Arabia. Remove the American prop and most of them will collapse certainly Mubarak and the Ibn Saud regimes. However, none of them is resorting to displacement or expansion as Israel does.

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  43. Alan Freedman says:

    If the Arabs accepted the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state NEXT to a Palestinian one and abandoned their program of violence, two things will miraculously happen:
    1. The separation barrier will come down;
    2. The issue of settlements would be easily resolved in good faith as part of a negotiated agreement on final borders.

    … exactly as Resolution 242 intended!

    Come on Mohan, be honest with us all and declare upfront whether your support is for the two state option or a bi-national state as resolution of the conflict.

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  44. Mohan says:

    Sorry Alanm Freedman sems to be curiously unaware of recent history. The Arab League resolution is about seven years old and has been reiterated at least thrice. And the program of violene is being driven by expansion and enclosure of Palestinians in shrinking cantons. And Freedman seems to be unaware of the fact that Israe is not a “Jewish state” as Iran is an Islamic state- but a “State of all the world’s Jews”.

    My support is for whatever is backed by a referundum – two state or one state. My personal view is that Israel has made a two state solution impossible. To quote Dov Weinglass – the peace proecess is the formaldehyde to preserve the two-state solution -. Nothing much has changed since.

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  45. Alan Freedman says:

    “And the program of violene is being driven by expansion and enclosure of Palestinians in shrinking cantons.”

    You have got to be joking! The program of violence is driven by the fact that the Arabs* have an ideological objection to the existence of a sovereign Jewish state in what they perceive as Islamic territory. Read their charters – it doesn’t get any clearer.

    Once they get over Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, all the other issues will simply fade away.

    * I will qualify my statement, however, by saying that this is primarily at the direction of the Arab leadership. I have no doubt that the average Palestinian would be perfectly happy to live alongside Jews, but can’t say so because they have this nasty habit of getting tortured or killed if they step out of line with the dogmatic Arab line.

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  46. Mohan says:

    The average palestinian is already living among Jews. Many work in – until recently -Israel as labourers and Jerusalem has places where they manage to live together. Even the indigenous Jews of Palestine were inegrated into the fabric of the society. Unfortunately, it is AIJAC et al ideologues who claim that the two populations cannot co-exist. And as I pointe out, Israel is not a “Jewish state”, it is a “state of the world’s Jews” as Uri Avenri never tires of pointing out this untruth.

    What matters more than words are “facts on the ground” and since Sharon’s time in Begin’s government, Israel has continued to create such facts in the West Bank and Jordan valley. And presumably, they get killed not in resistance to evictions and creeping settlements, but because of dogmatic Arab line – whatever that is.

    During the 70’s displaying a Palestinian flag could land one in Jail and Golda Mier famously denied the existance of a Palestinian nation. Hannan Ashravi was a “extremeist” etc. Now Abbas is a partner and Ashravi is more moderate than Abbas. Netanyahu tells the US not to bring up settlements and repeadely declares there will be no Palestinian state , but there is still supposed to be a peace process.

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  47. Morry says:

    Actually, Mohan, Israel is a “Jewish State” for many reasons, the first being self-definition in the document that established it. It is a Jewish state in the same way as Spain is a Catholic state and Australia is a Christian state … as defined by such things as public holidays. Christmas and Easter are public holidays here, the Jewish festivals are public holidays in Israel. It is also the culture that defines it … but I do notice a distinct disinterest in that most basic of human rights, self-determination, in your posts, and I have a real problem with that. It is not that “the two populations cannot co-exist”, only that they have the right not to. Jews have the right to have a state wholly their own, the UN Charter guarantees that … and it’s very much an indisputable matter of long history now, that you bury your head in the ground and refuse to accept. Israel exists as a Jewish state, has done so for over 60 years, and that won’t change, no matter how much you go on about it, and rightfully so … the UN guarantees that.

    Of course, the Palestinians have the same right to set up their own society, and are welcome to do it … just not amongst the Jews. That’s theirs.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “Even the indigenous Jews of Palestine were inegrated into the fabric of the society”. Do you mean under the Ottomans? You certainly don’t mean on the West Bank or in Gaza where an unprotected Jew is instantly murdered.

    As to the rest, during the 70s there indeed was no Palestinian nation, which was a later creation of Arafat’s, in fact no Arab had ever been known as “Palestinian” till the late 1960s. During the Mandate period Arabs refused that label as it was wholly associated with Jews, and their ID papers simply said “Arab”. Hanan Ashrawi consistently voted against peace in the PNC … a pretty much impeccable record, so I guess, despite her smile, soft voice and femininity, “extremist” pretty well fits her politics. It’s why so many, including myself, had a hard time with her “peace prize”. If you wanted to give one to a Palestinian then Saeb Erakat was a natural, somebody who was deeply involved in all the peace negotiations. Abu Rabbo is another.

    As to your “peace process”, there is none because Oslo inadvertantly allowed a bunch of terrorists who had previously been in exile (PLO in Tunisia, PFLP and DFLP in Syria etc), all wholly committed to Israel’s destruction (just check each and every charter), to enter and take control of the, largely, peaceful Palestinian population. Israel’s response to the waves of suicide bombers that resulted was first roadblocks, then a very effective fence.

    If you really want to comprehend the depth of Palestinian suffering, consider that when Israel left Gaza, it left a working hothouse industry that brought in hundreds of millions of dollars per annum, and which could have been further developed to support the entire Gaza population. Instead “the government” dismantled it so that the pipes that made it up could be used to produce rockets against Israel’s civilian population. Traffic lights were also carved up. Concerned for Palestinian suffering? Look to the real culprits.

    Under Israeli jurisdiction 8 universities were established in Gaza for a population under 1.5 million, and the Palestinian standard of living by every criterion, was amongst the best in the Arab world.

    The mistakes of Oslo changed everything for everyone … but in looking for a culprit, look first to Yasser Arafat, who invited every terrorist group that had ever killed Israelis to join the PA. This was to be his push to once and for all destroy Israel … and the Palestinian children, as he was always so proud to point out, would be his soldiers, his martyrs.

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  48. Mohan says:

    Sorry Morry you are wrong. Australia is a secular state with religious distortions in practice. A significant proportion of Australians are non-Christians. And Israel is not legally a Jewish state – as Uri Aveneri never ceases to point out – it is a state of all the world’s jews.Hence the right of Aliya.
    About Gaza, Israel pulled out the guard posts but controls the borders and air space. About the hot house exports, May I refer you to the Red Cross report on the stae of Gaza exports. Israel choose to impose a siege on Gaza because it elected Hamas, while Israelis elected Likud, Shas, Yisrael Beitenu etc. The only conclusion left is that Israel does not wish hamas to transform itself into a political movement. It can answer rocket attacks with military attacks but political challeneges are a different kettle of fish.

    I do not know of eight universities in Gaza, but I will be enlightened if you name them. gaza has always been an arid land of little appeal to Israel. “Go to Gaza” is the Israeli version of “Go to hell”. The real issue is settlements in the West Bank and Jordan Valley.

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  49. sensiblejew says:

    Sadducee, thank you for posting the link. It’s a very important piece for people to read.

    In the interests of transparency, Galus Australis is something of a spin-off site from SJ. Its editors were posting here before setting up their own space, and they moved a lot of their content from this site to the new one.

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  50. sensiblejew says:

    Last word on the subject – re: Galus and SJ…

    What actually occurred, was I handed The Sensible Jew blog to a small committee of writers when I felt the blog was threatening my family situation.

    In handing the Galus people the blog, they inherited a sizable readership, and the ability to link to their new site from a high traffic, established site.

    What had not been discussed was the fate of any content they may have generated on SJ in my absence.

    Their transfer of posts – not only their own, but of other writers – was done without any discussion with me.

    At the time, it did not seem worthwhile to make an issue of this, as my focus was on my family situation.

    As for the separate nature of Galus Australis and The Sensible Jew, a cursory read of both blogs would leave readers in little doubt that they are not in any way affiliated.

    None of this is, however, central to the topic of the post. Let’s move on.

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