Thanks Australians for Palestine :)

Sometimes, you just get lucky.

Sometimes, you can just sit back and watch your opponents do all the hard PR yards for you.

If you are a Jewish reader of this blog, please imagine that you are an average Aussie (ie a non-Jew without any interest in the whole Israel/Palestine imbroglio).

Now imagine yourself, in front of your TV, watching a bunch of screeching, semi-violent, placard wielding, and very, very shrill people – between 100 and 200 of them, according to various media reports.

These angry folk have congregated in Melbourne to demonstrate in a way that does not strike you as very Australian. Actually, it reminds you of places depicted elsewhere on the news that make you thank God you live in a calm country, governed by the rule of law, and not by the vagaries of the mob.

You look at these people and wonder at their behaviour. Sure, they don’t like Israel, and there are some Israelis in the building hobnobbing with Gillard. But storming that building, forcing the police to use capsicum spray, and having three of their group arrested seems a bit much.

In fact, it seems like a grotesque overreaction. It seems like these folk are dragging the rotting corpse of a far away conflict right into our nice, clean city streets.

These people don’t seem like the types that you could have a discussion with. At uni – if you went to uni – you crossed the square to avoid having one of their papers foisted on you.

These people seem like ratbags first and foremost.

You don’t feel like they care as much about helping Palestinians as they do about feeling powerful as part of a group, pumped full of self-righteous fury, and able to scream and hector in the comfort of a liberal democracy, rather than get their hands dirty actually helping out real, live Palestinian refugees in some God-forsaken camp.

You may – if you’re a follower of world affairs – even wonder how such oppositional behaviour might be received in the Palestinian territories. You might even enjoy the irony.

Australians for Palestine – and their spokestroll, Michael Shaik – have scored a serious own goal in the  great debate about Israel’s right to exist. No disinterested person watching the footage of these protesters will be left feeling that Paletinians’ supporters are anything to take seriously at the philosophical level.

Of course, we could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and get our own mugs on the TV, and sound like participants in all this “unAustralian” behaviour. Or we could just be sensible, bemused onlookers, who support the meeting of various representatives of liberal democracies.

But for now, all I can say is, shkoyach (‘onya), Albert Dadon. Not only do you organise wonderful exchanges, but even their unintended consequences are great.

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27 Responses to “Thanks Australians for Palestine :)”

  1. Edders says:

    Fantastic piece Alex, once again hitting the nail right on it’s head. Having actually spoken to some of the members to this organisation, one of the first questions I generally pose is “what are you actually doing for Palestinians?”. The truth is that they can’t answer it.

    This is the main reason why zionists, jews and any one slightly informed about the situation avoids organisations like Students for Palestine and Australians for Palestine, because despite their names, they are nothing more then a front to bash Israel (not anti-semitic, as others accuse them of, but certainly very anti-zionist and anti-Israel). The reality behind it is they do nothing to help the Palestinians, the irony behind the situation is that many zionist groups do more to help the average Palestinian then Students for Palestine and Australians for Palestine.

    Another thing is Michael Shaik, for those not familiar with Shaik, he is one of the leading figures in Australians for Palestine. I’ve seen this man speak, these scenes are not his first own goal against the Palestinian cause, nor will it be the last. The man is a loose cannon. The tragic irony is that he can remind me sadly of some of the leaders in our very own community who often (as has been pointed out in this blog) shoot their mouth of while speaking for the community. Many heads of zionist councils will be happy to see him remain at the top of Australians for Palestine, because he makes the entire campaign look stupid.

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    • Mohan says:


      I first heard Michael Shaik debate Ted lapkin and there was no doubt who the loose canon was. Shaik sayed on message while lapkin smeared everyone supporting Palestine. And there was the incident involving Dvir Abramovitch at Melbourne University where Dvir left the meeting without facing questions after Shaik’s response to Dvir’s speech. And there is the latest Monash University debate. maichael shaik has punctured a lot of Zionist baloons and that is the problem with him.

      I heard him thrice and he stayed on task all three times and made pointed rebuttals of Zionist claims. sorry, you have a formidable and principled opponent here. Debate him if you can expose him if you can. Smearing a person only shows bankruptcy of ideas.

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  2. Sol Salbe says:

    We will probably both agree with the corollary of your comments: the argy-bargy at last night demonstration was a PR failure for the pro-Palestinian side. Whether in the long-term it is good for Israel it is more of a moot point. It is not necessarily a zero-sum game. In the long-term those who care about Israel may not prefer the pro-Palestinian movement to be dominated by the forces that indeed dominated last night’s demonstration.
    We may agree or disagree about the nuances of our similarly held positions but I am afraid that you got the wrong mob. This was not an Australians for Palestine (AfP) demonstration. I’ve received invitations from various organisations for the demonstration but none from Australians for Palestine. [Yes I know they had it mentioned on their website but no differently that they covered some Jewish-led events in the past.]This was a Students for Palestine gig. The driving force in that group appear to be one (or more) of hard-left groups. The differences between Australians for Palestine and Students for Palestine seems to be on par to those between Beitar and JCCV or the JCCV and IAJV.
    I wasn’t present last night but some of my Jewish friends were present and I also checked it with sources within the AfP and watched a 10-minute clip of the demonstration on the Ma’ariv website. The own goal was scored by someone else under than Michael Shaik and the AfP.

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  3. Eli says:

    Firstly, let me say the “rent a crowd” protest was nothing more than an opportunistic media exercise that will fade into obscurity, just as Michael Shaik will. However, I am bemused at some of your comments.
    You seem to infer that an average Aussie is some kind of non-politicised, non-migrant descendent, irreligious person who really has no interest in conflicts outside of his local backyard ”….imagine that you are an average Aussie (i.e: a non-Jew without any interest in the whole Israel/Palestine imbroglio)”.
    To say that these “angry folk do not strike you as very Australian etc…”:
    As recently as 2003 there were national protests as students objected to HECS increases. Those protests included marches and rallies, blocking or hindering vehicles entering the campuses and occupying university buildings. To quote from the Age article at the time:

    “Students at Monash University storm the former Vice-Chancellor’s residence on campus yesterday in a bid to reverse the 25 per cent HECS fee increase.
    Students and police were injured after Monash University students stormed and occupied a building on campus yesterday.
    At the same time about 20 Victorian College of the Arts students began an all-night vigil to oppose rising HECS fees.
    The Monash students, also protesting against rising HECS fees, stormed and occupied the former vice-chancellor’s house, now the university’s marketing department.
    Five people were injured when students crashed through a plate-glass window. One student was taken to Monash Medical Centre about 2pm with cuts to one of his legs. He was in a stable condition last night. Two police officers and two security staff sustained minor injuries.”
    Were these students not your average Australians…or is it the issue and not the manner which differentiates them?
    Even more recently, there were the G20 protests in November 2006 in which police were attacked. Perhaps they were a little less polite than your average Australian but certainly not disinterested or uninformed.
    So , to say that “storming that building, forcing the police to use capsicum spray, and having three of their group arrested seems a bit much……” does not make them un-average, just slightly more foolish.
    It is precisely because we have a liberal democracy that “these ratbags” as you call them, can protest. Not that for one moment I agree with violent protest, or their particular politics.
    Lastly to say “It seems like these folk are dragging the rotting corpse of a far away conflict right into our nice, clean city streets…” seems to infer that the Mideast conflict, amongst others, is somehow over and not relevant…

    There is not a day that passes in Melbourne where you have immigrant groups, refugee groups marching and protesting some kind of injustice in a country or region far away from Australia. As peaceful as they are for the most part, they form an intrinsic part of the multicultural aspect of “everyday Australia”. For years the dissidents from East Timor held protests, rallies and marches. All this for “a rotting corpse of a far away conflict”.
    Thankfully the “average” Aussie was interested enough to support and ultimately help in part to instigate change in that country.
    I sometimes wonder if, in your desire for uniformity of consensus, perhaps you mistakenly pursue a vision of a polite, genteel arrangement of protagonists sitting down and sorting out their differences over cucumber sandwiches and tea, while the rest of us should not be bothered with the noise.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Eli, I’m not sure how you inferred that I believe being non-Jewish, Australian and uninterested in Israel/Palestine is akin to deracination. I never implied anything of the sort.

      You also conflate the nature of student protests, involving a narrow-interest, financial phenomenon with ethnic strife. Every single non-Jewish Australian I know differentiates between the two.

      Sexy global left wing causes also bring young students out. It’s expected. But really, so what? No one beyond their student orgs is convinced by the raised fists and placards. The kids look like dinks, the police make a few arrests and people forget about it very quickly. This is quite different from ethnic groups slugging it out, bringing nasty foreign conflicts to quiet, calm Oz. People do differentiate.

      And again you mistakenly infer from what I wrote that I do not believe the conflict in the Middle East is important.

      This is an utterly bizarre interpretation of my words, and is so obviously not what I believe.

      I have written before of my own love of Israel, my staunch and unwavering Zionism (and copped plenty of flak for it, thank you very much), my close family that lives in Israel – you, as a regular reader would have to work very hard to so thoroughly misinterpret my words.

      Remember: I was writing in the voice of the disinterested Australian.

      Sometimes people seem like they’re *looking* for something to take offence at.

      As for your assertion that “not a day passes,” without ethnic unrest of some sort in Melbourne – you and I must live in different cities. Ethno-nationalist demonstrations happen very, very rarely in this city.

      East Timor, for what it’s worth, is a decade old as a protest issue. And that issue was absolutely incomparable to Israel/Palestine in so many ways. There are very few parallels, unless you’re suggesting the Israelis are as bad as the Indonesian governemnt was back then. I certainly hope not.

      The “uniformity of consensus” that you contend I demand, along with cucumbers? Tea?

      What on earth are you talking about?

      Have you forgotten everything you’ve read here over the past few months?

      Something about this post has obviously made you very angry, but I have no idea what it is.

  4. Matt Bleak says:

    Alex, I came to the same conclusion as Eli when I initially read your article. Thank you for clearing up your position in your subsequent comments. I do think you could have expressed what you were trying to say a bit better – It really did seem like you were saying that spirited / rowdy demonstrating was somehow ‘un-Australian’.

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  5. Alex Fein says:


    Someone who is extremely pro-Zionist and someone who is extremely anti-Zionist (Matt Bleak scrawled numerous anti-Israel diatribes on my Facebook wall) chose not to read this post carefully, and fundamentally misunderstood a not-particularly-complicated contention.

    I wonder if there’s something in being extreme – on either side of the debate – that makes it very hard for people to read a post properly. Is there something in the determination to take offence or to be really, really angry, that necessarily robs a reader of the ability to see the very, very obvious?

    Whatever the case, extremism is rarely a good look.
    It has about the same moral and intellectual gravitas as a fluffy pink feather boa on Zsa Zsa Gabor.

  6. Joan Nestle says:

    Dear All, I am one of the “ratbag” speakers at the rally you all have taken such delight in shredding–I, a 70 year old Jewish woman originally from the Bronx, NYC, a queer activist, author and honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne, spoke as a representative of Women in Black, Melbourne which has been protesting the occupation with montly vigils in Melbourne since 1988–you can judge for yourself my ratbag words on my blog– and on the Rather then engage in trashing in old ways, I leave you to judge for yourselves. Joan Nestle

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  7. Alex Fein says:

    Thanks for coming, Joan.


    This thread is NOT about the relative evils of Israelis or Palestinians. The debate about the conflict itself will have to happen elsewhere.

    This thread is about PR and tactics.

    I don’t want people to waste time and effort composing comments that argue with or abuse Joan for her beliefs. Do that on her site.

    Just as I haven’t been letting through the anti-Zionist rants here, I also won’t be letting the other side through either, unless it relates directly to the post.

    I repeat: this thread is for debating AUSTRALIAN PR as it relates to Israel/Palestine – NOT Israel/Palestine conflict itself.

  8. Sisu says:

    This thread has gone out of control very quickly. I think we have been quick to put our own Agendas on to what is a relatively simple point – that extreme action does more to alienate wider Australia than it does to bring it into your Cause.

    As much as Australians like to paint themselves as larrikins, as non-conformists and no matter how much we idolise a sheep stealer and Ned Kelly, we are at heart a fairly conformist bunch. So anythng that rocks the status quo is a good thing (in my opinion), but I agree with Alex’s point that once it goes extreme, you lose the hearts and minds of the wider audience.

    So protest, lobby, promote your cause. And use your anger to further your aims. But don’t be extreme – Dvir Abramaovich’s Family Guy piece in The Age was extreme (any joke about Jews is anti-Semitic) and the replies were shocking in their anti-Semitism. The result? A PR disaster which confirmed in many minds offensive stereotypes.

    In this case, a handful of protesters broke the law, needed to be physically subdued, and thus lost the chance to pass on the message du jour. Another PR disaster – and one that again promotes violence in relation to the Palestinians.

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    • TheSadducee says:

      I concur with Sisu on this and have to add my voice to theirs – the protest turned violent and the impact/message was lost due to this i.e. a PR disaster for their cause.

      I would also pose the consideration to Joan Nestle that the Woman In Black are a passive, non-violent protest group (completely commendable) and yet they participated in this debacle (albeit they left before the attempted trespass into the hotel)

      Does she consider that their organisation’s credibility/image may have been damaged by this? Does she think that the message of WIB benefitted or was harmed from this? Does she think WIB made a mistake in associating with this event?

      I’m genuinely curious to see Joan’s or anyone else’s musings on this because I suspect that WIB were dupes in this instance.

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  9. Steve Brook says:

    The word “Zionism” should be barred forever from political discourse. It means too many things to too many people. To most Jews in Australia, it’s simply the national liberation movement of the Jewish people and a benign way of expressing their identity. To most Arabs and some on the Far Left, it is the essence of evil, the voice of Satan himself. To John Safran, it probably means Jewish mothers.

    If we are concerned about PR for Israel in Australia, it would be of immense help if the actual Israeli decision-makers took some visible first steps towards solving the bitter struggle over real estate in the Middle East. There is a solid basis for Palestinian resentment, and until this is addressed, Israel’s PR abroad will have a hard time. Something about elephants and lounge-rooms.

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    • Morry says:

      Oh dear, where does one start. If we are to “bar forever from political discourse” the words that “mean too many things to too many people” perhaps we should start with the words “left” and “right”. “Citizenship” might be a good contender. In the scheme of things there is actually little disagreement on what Zionism means, there is just rabid misrepresentation by those who abhor it … but the definitions are right there in probably every dictionary, with far less ambiguity than the word “left”.

      That people will demonise and corrupt that which they hate is a given, and we shouldn’t lend it credence by either banning words or burning books, we should, instead, be quietly advocating fact. Here I thoroughly agree with Alex. Quiet demonstrable, provable reality, which is nobody’s narrative, is the best PR. Perhaps this way of showing the Arabs and Israelis where their narrative is flawed might be the best way of bringing people together. Not misrepresenting the issues as a mere “battle for real estate”, when it is defined as far more existential than that by the charters, speeches and activities of a Palestinian leadership of recognised terrorist groups, would be a good first step towards quiet rational PR.

      Looking honestly and openly at what is, rather than what you would either like it to be, or believe it to be, is the best way of arriving at an understanding that will benefit the long-suffering Palestinian people and Israelis both.

      As Alex says, the time for irrational screaming slogans is long gone, if it ever existed. It is woefully counterproductive and convinces nobody. Factually based quiet dialogue, however, can convince people and bring them together, resolving conflicts.

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    • TheSadducee says:


      I think Steve was speaking “tongue in cheek” so to say about banning the word Zionism i.e. I don’t think he expected to be taken literally.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      It’s a pretty amazing article, isn’t it? I’ve just flagged it in the latest post, and will do an analysis on it later that examines why it works so well.

  10. Eli says:

    Apologies, if my tone seemed angry, I am well aware of your attitude to many of the issues, especially Israel.

    So humour me and please explain what you meant by the following
    “An average Aussie (ie a non-Jew without any interest in the whole Israel/Palestine imbroglio).
    Does that not imply that “average Aussies” whatever that means, are uninterested in the mid east conflict

    “These angry folk have congregated in Melbourne to demonstrate in a way that does not strike you as very Australian.”
    Do average Australians not demonstrate perhaps the wharf dispute many years ago against … employer whose name I forget.

    “Dragging the rotting corpse of a far away conflict right into our nice, clean city streets.”
    Does rotting corpse suggest an issue that has no further relevance or is not worthy of debate…
    “nice clean streets?” what is that? Are we so puritan that a demonstration is seen as anti social?

    “Ethno-nationalist demonstrations happen very, very rarely in this city.”
    At least every couple of months there are protests by Greek Cypriots outside the Turkish embassy. True it’s not every day so perhaps I overstated that, but my point was that ethnic protests occur with regularity for one reason or another in Melbourne as elsewhere and surely do not sully our “clean streets”

    I make no comparison in terms of the conflict in East Timor and the Mid East save to say that protests of this nature should not be described as “rotting corpses of a far away conflict.”

    Overall I was very disappointed in your use of terminology. I don’t believe that Australians are a disinterested lot. They are astute enough to understand the difference between genuine passionate anger and outright violence for the sake of attention.

    I don’t think that you can profess to speak for the average non Jewish Aussie simply because you have some non Jewish friends. Your ethnicity and background preclude you from being so disassociated with many issues that you cannot make an objective effort in transmitting their viewpoint.

    Its perhaps because I know how passionate you are about Israel, that I felt compeled to write what I did.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Eli, you and I may have to agree to disagree on this one. My last response pretty much sums up my beliefs.

    • TheSadducee says:


      I’d go so far as to say that from my experience the average Aussie doesn’t give a fig about the I/P conflict. I doubt if you ran a survey with multiple choice questions/answers whether they could get a 50% accuracy on specific details.

      The only interest they have is when it directly affects them which it doesn’t usually – unless they were hotel guests the other day.

      It really is a “luxury” grievance of the privileged – ordinary folks are worried about their interest rates on their mortgages, job security and ambitions, their circle of friends, their childcare costs etc.

      Where do I get off asserting this? I personally come from a non-Jewish background, my significant other is non-Jewish, as are most of my friends, associates and extended contacts. Virtually all of my experience has consistently demonstrated a low interest in the topic.

      Of course this is anecdotal but perhaps you can provide us with something a little more concrete in the way of evidence to assert otherwise?

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  11. Mohan says:

    Right This is about PR and tactics- OK. Now the protest was organised by Students for Palestine and a few supporters. Some of the SFP did offensive and stupid things which others walked away from. They have hurt their own cause that way.
    And as for the stinking corpse argument and sexy leftis causes etc etc – the corpse has been present in Australia for decades both inside Parliament and outisde it. It is Australian citizesn who have dragged it into Australia – whether the Coalition, Labour and others. So deal with it or else cut off all mention of Israel/Palestine and cut off all ties. Sorry what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. One cannot have Zionism (let me pre-empt responses by saying political Zionism of Herzl/Jabotinsky, WZO, JNF, AUJS,AIJAC, et al)and not protests against Zionism here.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Mohan, a deft attempt, but I remind you: this blog is not aimed at convincing anybody of Israel’s right to exist.

      I start from the belief that all reasonable people accept this right, and that those who don’t, have hundreds of thousands of other places to vent their spleen.

      That’s the short version of why you’ll be finding a number of your comments not making it through moderation. Anti-Zionist rhetoric is not only intellectually indefensible, it is also incredibly boring and pointless on a blog like this.

  12. Morry says:

    Neither was my comment actually about banning words, Sadducee, but did address Steve’s clear antipathy to the word “Zionism”, which he finds rather meaningless. I merely pointed to other concepts we use daily whose definition is far more blurred. Given the wealth of fuzzier words, Steve’s choice of “zionism” to focus on goes way beyond simple fuzziness … don’t you think?

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    • TheSadducee says:


      I’m really not sure – I didn’t read as much into it as you did. Nonetheless your right to point out that there are better examples of fuzzy/blurred meaning in common usage words.

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  13. [...] she avoids, other than the most remarkable one liner ad hominems and so on. So, her considered view on Loewenstein: “someone who cannot master the most basic research skills, someone who writes [...]

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  14. [...] in when the pepper spraying begins. While they hail it as a success, I couldn’t agree more with Alex Fein, either. Big “own goal” from Australians for Palestine. Tagged as: Anti-Israel, Palestinians No [...]

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  15. Mick says:

    To Alex Fein
    Gee…where to begin .you are obviously not familier with the early trade labour movement here in Australia..
    numerous episodes such as in N.S.W in the 1920,s when the coal strike crisis in the Hunter valley led to the then premier Jack Lang to Barricade the State Treasury and government offices defended by squads of N.S.W Police with orders to ressit any attempt at access by federal Representatives.
    Also the Dock Workers Unions Response to sending iron resouces to Japans War industry in the early 1930,s (when they were at that stage rampaging through korea and Manchuria, and not a ‘threat to us’)that led to nation wide strikes and complete halts at all ports and the violent responses and contrivercial strikebreakers used to enforce government policies by the then Menzies government. Pig Iron Bob became his name and it was realised that it was our iron that they were shooting at us in New Guinea. shortly after….of course there was the infamous Victoria Police Strike in 1904-1906? that led to widespread mayhem and riots etc..
    the list does go on..
    In fact regards to Contempary and Historic Palestine .Australia. ..has been a lively and engaging paticipant ..The British agreeing to The Australian lead and managed Campaign in Palestine
    and the following victories that boosted sorley needed morale after the disarsterous british lead operation at Galipoli.e the light horse charge at bersheba 1916 that liberated the arabs who were crucial and stoic allies throughout many campaigns,warmly regarded by aging diggers who were part of the campaigns.Later in ww2 Australian lead support and assaults were pivotal against Rommels German Armies ..Australian units stuborn resistance to a determined and repeated German Assault on jerusalem that kept it in allies hands for later Australian lead campaigns in what was French Syria (Vichy French)Australian with New Zealand and Free French units made up of Senagal recruits as support had crucial victories against the Vichy French and German occupation liberating Damascaus..Further Australian Assaults lead to the Liberation of Beruit that was so warmly and enthusiasticly recieved that it paved the way for Lebanons Autonomy and of course the battles in Gaza.The Australian Tactical Lion And War Time General Harry Chuaval is still revered by many as one of the greats…
    Australia as a national entity with its own Istitutions has many links and legitimate connections both Christian and Muslim to The Land Where Jesus Was Born and had much easier access to their Christian heritage when the Arab and Semite Natives still florished before the sucessive waves of jewish forigniers were
    implementing their self absorbed agengda,s on the landscape..
    i could go on but must refrain…
    please reply
    sincerley Mick

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