Handing A Club To Anti-Semites
By Philip Adams
28 October 2003
As today's column will provoke accusations of anti-Semitism, let me begin
with a few words in my defence. A classic philo-Semite, I've long been
described as a Jew lover by the anti-Semites in organisations such as
Fredrick Toben's Adelaide Institute. I've been dragged before the Press
Council by the abominable League of Rights and am proud to say I'm
regularly attacked in the hate pages of neo-Nazi organisations.
I'm on the receiving end of stacks of hate mail, up to and including death
threats. My home was attacked by an anti-Semitic group that spray-painted
racist obscenities all over it, then tried to sledgehammer their way in.
My children grew up in a home with a mezuzah, which consecrates it, on the
doorpost. They were taught to respect the extraordinary contribution of
Jews to science, philosophy, philanthropy, ethics, civil rights and the
arts. My first daughter, named Rebecca, renounced her father's atheism and
converted to Judaism. And I've lost count of the occasions when I've
launched books by Jewish authors, opened exhibitions by Jewish artists or
spoken at Jewish fundraisers or at Holocaust exhibitions or museums.
Yet, with growing frequency, I get letters branding me an anti-Semite.
Worse still, I've lost close friends in the Jewish community. Why? Because
in recent years I've found it impossible not to criticise Israel's policies
towards the Palestinians.
It is not anti-Semitic to disagree with Israel's behaviour in the Lebanon
or the disputed territories. It is not anti-Semitic to regard Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon as equally culpable with Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat in the present mess. And it is not anti-Semitic to protest long and
loud against the attempts to denigrate Hanan Ashrawi and those who would
The behaviour of the so-called Jewish lobby over the Ashrawi issue is not
only appalling but extraordinarily stupid. Once again, in its efforts to
suppress and censor, the lobby challenges the efforts of its worst enemies
to become its own worst enemy.
Take the case of the diabolical David Irving. Australian Jewry succeeded in
banning him from entering Australia - the classic Pyrrhic victory. It did
not hurt Irving's cause. Rather, it made him a martyr to his deranged
supporters while providing the oxygen of publicity for his books, videos
Far better to have let him into the country and to confront him. The
demolition job done on Irving in the London libel trial shows his
vulnerability to scholarly attack. Whereas shutting him out in an attempt
to shut him up gives the ill-informed and uninformed the impression that
his opponents have something to hide.
If the campaign to keep Irving out of Australia was counterproductive, the
attack on Ashrawi - and those of us who admire her - is worse.
I'm one of many who regard themselves as simultaneously pro-Israel and
pro-Palestinian, in the sense that we want a negotiated settlement, some
sort of two-state solution. Of course we want the suicide bombings to end.
But we also want the building of that monstrous wall to cease. And we want
to recognise the immense efforts of those, on both sides of the fence - of
the wall, of the political abyss - who've spent their lives trying to
negotiate a workable and equitable solution.
I've known Ashrawi for many years. The last time we spoke she'd just
celebrated her daughter's marriage, the festivities clouded by the
explosions of Israeli missiles. Her response was characteristically
measured and modulated. She has, after all, spent a lifetime in the firing
line, working as a top negotiator between her people and the Israelis,
within the maelstrom of Palestinian politics. I've had dealings with
hundreds of the most prominent people in public life, not only in Australia
but across the world. Their ranks have included quite a few who have won
the Nobel Peace Prize. But I've met few I admire as much as Ashrawi.
Now there are attempts to deny her the Australian Peace Prize. First the
University of Sydney was cowed into slamming the door of the Great Hall in
her face. Then it was Sydney Town Hall, with Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull's
behaviour, calling into question not only her courage but her judgment.
Which brings us to Sydney councillor Kathryn Greiner's attack on the Sydney
Peace Foundation, which she'd chaired for four years. Her attempts to have
the award to Ashrawi overturned were uncharacteristically craven.
Yesterday, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer bought into the issue,
tut-tutting Ashrawi's award. Odd, given that the Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade paid for Ashrawi to attend, and address, the Festival of
Ideas in Adelaide.
Everyone, it seems, is running scared. At least NSW Premier Bob Carr has
refused to back off. Equally admirable, the behaviour of Stuart Rees,
director of the SPF.
As a consequence of their bitter experiences over the centuries, Jews have
stood at the forefront of human rights and civil rights issues across the
world. To be so wrong-headed on this occasion is, therefore, doubly
The campaign smacks of an attack on free speech in this country and, yes,
on free assembly. And it plays right into the hands of the true
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