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Hanan Ashrawi and the Price of Dissent

Antony Loewenstein

October 23, 2003

It's not easy advocating Palestinian rights. Edward Said frequently
commented upon the constant abuse he had received throughout his life.
Upon his death, the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) in Australia
(related to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in America) renounced Said
as 'anti-American and anti-Semitic'. Supporting Palestinian
self-determination, critiquing Israeli Government policy and questioning
Zionist history was seemingly enough to incur the wrath of Jewish groups
around the world.

Hanan Ashrawi is currently finding herself in similar straits in
Australia. The Sydney Peace Foundation, associated with the University
of Sydney, recently decided to award Dr Ashrawi its annual peace prize.
Previous winners have included the East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao in
2000 and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1999. What originally appeared to be
an uncontroversial choice has developed into a full-blown battle between
the Peace Foundation, elements of the Jewish lobby, the New South Wales
premier, Bob Carr and the Jewish press. The issue in my opinion,
however, is not simply the prize, but a more fundamental debate around
Palestinian identity in Australia. I believe it is nothing less than an
attempt by the Jewish community to delegitimize the Palestinian cause.
This kind of behaviour is becoming a regrettably common Zionist ploy in
the Western world for increasingly transparent reasons.

Since the announcement of the prize to Ashrawi, Jewish groups have begun
a campaign to firstly discredit the high-profile winner, and then to
convince Premier Carr that attending the ceremony on November 6 would
be, in the words of Gerald Steinberg, an associate professor of
political studies at Bar Ilan University, "honouring war, murder and
hatred, while debasing the concept of peace and reconciliation".
Incidentally, Professor Steinberg launched a petition to stop Ashrawi
receiving the prestigious award and received nearly 4000 signatures. The
Australian Jewish News (AJN), the sole Jewish community newspaper in
Australia, wrote in its editorial on October 17, that "an Australian
premier [Bob Carr] is about to present a peace prize to an apologist for
terrorism.The problem is not that Premier Carr is meeting Dr Ashrawi; on
the contrary, the more engagement there is, the greater the chance of
achieving a solution. The problem is that by presenting her with the
prize, he is endorsing her track record."

Her track record, according to the AJN, is thwarting the Oslo peace
deals in the 1990s, not condemning Hamas as a terrorist organization and
suggesting Jews living in the West Bank are legitimate targets for
Palestinian aggression. All these comments are a misappropriation of the
truth. Dr Ashrawi was clearly aware of virulent anti-Palestinian and
anti-Arab feeling in the Australian Jewish community, as her comments to
the Sydney Morning Herald on October 23 suggested: "I knew there would
be mobilised voices trying to malign Palestinians, particularly ones
like me who have been outspoken for peace."

So who are the groups so determined to smear Dr Ashrawi? The Australian
Jewish News has been the conduit through which numerous Jewish groups
and individuals have been able to libel her. The paper, not known for
its coverage outside the official Israeli/Palestinian paradigm, has
chosen to repeat the lies against Ashrawi and in doing so, has become
even more of an impediment to dialogues of understanding between the two
sides. Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald on October 23, Peter
Wertheim, former president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies,

"Ashrawi certainly presents well in the media. She is articulate and
intelligent. But she is also dogmatic and ideologically driven. Her
carefully cultivated media image as a moderate cannot disguise her
consistent history as a rejectionist and a maximalist.

Awarding a peace prize to someone with Ashrawi's track record is a de
facto endorsement of her hardline views. It has everything to do with
politics, and nothing to do with peace. That is why the Jewish community
- not some lobby group - is opposed to any attempt to gloss over her
uncompromising pronouncements and legitimise her views. Hysterical
references to "the power of the Jewish lobby" are merely crude attempts
to deflect attention away from the cold hard facts of Ashrawi's public

Wertheim was gracious enough to argue that "there are, of course,
legitimate criticisms that can be made about the peace process and the
"road map", from both the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives," but
then goes on to list the catalogue of deceptions supposedly perpetuated
by one of the leading lights in the Palestinian movement.

Jeremy Jones, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry,
argued that the awarders of the prize were "blinded by celebrity" and
the decision reflected badly on the judges (primarily University of
Sydney members, while its advisory body consists of Kerry O'Brien, Pat
O'Shane AM and Hugh Mackay, amongst others). This is despite the fact
that two previous winners, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson,
have endorsed the decision.

Indeed in August this year, after learning of Jones' complaints
regarding the Peace Prize to Ashrawi, NSW Labor member Leo McLeay said
the following in the New South Wales parliament:

"Mr Jones's comments on this issue are in line with his regular attacks
on members of Parliament and others who give any support for the people
of Palestine.It amazes me how intolerant Mr Jones and the pro-Israeli
lobby can be. If you are not an enthusiastic supporter of the Sharon
version of the Berlin Wall [in the West Bank occupied territory] you are
considered anti-Jewish. When will the Jeremy Joneses of this world
understand that criticism of the Israeli Government and its actions is
not anti-Semitism?"

Other Jewish groups have also joined in placing pressure on Bob Carr to
withdraw his support for Ashrawi. On October 22, the Sydney Lord Mayor,
Lucy Turnbull, declared that the City of Sydney would not be supporting
the prize to Ashrawi. Turnbull claimed to suddenly find her an
unsuitable choice because she was allegedly opposed to a two-state

The director of the Peace Prize, Stuart Rees, has said that Ashrawi was
awarded the distinction due to her "lifelong advocacy of women's rights
[being] just one item of impressive evidence of her work for peace with

The debate brings up a number of uncomfortable realities regarding the
influence and mentality of the Jewish lobby in Australia, though their
modus operandi is far from limited to this country. I would argue that
the central, yet unspoken, complaint of the Jewish community is awarding
a prize to a woman who so well articulates the Palestinian cause. In the
current battle for international legitimacy, there is no question that
Israel is losing friends at an ever-increasing rate. For this reason
alone, the legitimacy given to Ashrawi lessen the arguments of Zionist
and Israeli supporters. She is being given credence after a lifetime of
speaking out against Israeli aggression. Speaking on ABC newsradio in
2002 she best summed up the reasons why so many in the Jewish lobby can
never understand the Palestinian cause: "Israel seems to think that it
can initiate collective punitive measures, it can assassinate people, it
can continue to imprison a whole nation and kill civilians at will and
with impunity, and doesn't expect that there are people on the other
side who will adopt the same tactics. This is self-defeating either

What infuriates the Zionist lobby is that Ashrawi has seen a succession
of Israeli leaders unwilling to make peace and she's be unafraid of
saying so. While the likes of Barak, Shamir and Netanyahu has come and
gone, and each of them with a proud history of talking peace while
expanding settlements and clamping down on the Occupied Territories,
Ashrawi has outlived them all.

One of the leading lights of the Israeli peace movement, Uri Avnery,
founder of Gush Shalom, (www.gush-shalom.org/english/) has spent a
lifetime fighting against the militaristic Israeli mindset and
supporting a two-state solution. He recently reminded readers of Ehud
Barak's infamous words a few years ago regarding the Palestinians and
the proposed peace deals: "There is no one to talk with!" This mentality
lives on in the campaign against Hanan Ashrawi. The Jewish lobby doesn't
want people like her in the public sphere talking about Palestinian
aspirations, hopes, fears, angers or dreams. It's much easier to portray
the Palestinians as violent, anarchic and hateful towards Jews, as the
Zionist lobby frequently claims. Indeed, members of the Sharon
Government or Jewish groups throughout the world echo the words of Barak
almost daily.

Rawan Abdul-Nabi, writing on the Australian based Palestinian Human
Rights Campaign website, said in a powerful editorial recently that the
treatment dished out to Ashrawi in Australia fitted a pattern throughout
the world.

"The Sydney campaign against Dr Ashrawi is part of an ongoing history of
attacks against prominent Palestinian spokespeople. Most notably, last
year Dr Ashrawi was targeted as a keynote speaker in the US at the
Colorado College Symposium titled, 'September 11 - One Year Later:
Responding to Global Challenges'. For weeks prior, a national debate was
waged in the media and amongst community groups in an attempt to destroy
Ashrawi's credibility and diminish her ongoing commitment to justice and
peace. The Governor of Colorado, Bill Owens and the State's two Senators
succumbed to the pressure and were publicly opposed to Ashrawi's visit.
During her address in Colorado, Ashrawi spoke most eloquently and
compellingly, passionately and honestly from a Palestinian and humanist
viewpoint, despite the intrusive vocal opposition.

Amidst heckles and jeers Ashrawi testified to some of the brutal daily
realities of living under an illegal military occupation. She spoke of
her willingness to devote her life to peace and justice with Israelis
and Jews:

"I've lived under military occupation most of my adult life. I have been
repeatedly beaten up, shot at, interrogated, [and] even imprisoned. I
have seen some of my best friends killed. My next-door neighbour's kid
shot in the back. I've seen my daughter's childhood totally destroyed,
living in fear, being tear-gassed, and living under curfew. I've seen
houses demolished, crops destroyed, our infrastructure destroyed. And
recently I've lived for weeks under curfew, a prisoner in my own home,
without water, without electricity and often without a phone. I've lived
under constant shelling -- I've seen the windows and doors of my home
(my ancestral home) being blown away. But I'm not saying this to tell
you that I'm a victim -- no --I'm saying this to tell you that despite
all these things, despite my living under captivity and seeing the worst
horrors of violence, being on the receiving end of the last remaining
colonial situation in the world, an occupation, I have never succumbed
to hate. I have never allowed hate to take over, and I have never
accepted any kind of revenge as a motivation."

Ashrawi herself is no stranger to these sorts of defamatory campaigns.
She has endured campaigns of hate based on slander and lies for most of
her life, from those who are intent on silencing the Palestinian
narrative. Besides, she has lived a significant part of her life under
the jackboot of Israeli occupation; do Australian Jewish leaders think
that their attempts to intimidate and silence will succeed in the face
of truth and integrity? As Dr Hanan Ashrawi herself said at Colorado
College, in the midst of being booed, jeered and faced with "I disagree"
placards every time she made a point, (ironically, even when she
denounced violence against Israeli civilians):

"Not only won't I be distracted -- I wasn't distracted by bullets, I
will not be distracted by signs. I just appeal to you to listen. It's
important, you might have something to learn. While I'm talking to you
here, I have invitations from students, from Israeli universities asking
me to address them, and I've addressed many Israeli universities, and
they want to listen, because by creating a common discourse, a common
language, you overcome not just those stereotypes but precisely those
forces that want to perpetuate the conflict. You're sitting here wanting
to keep us in conflict."

In November 2000, renowned Middle East reporter for the UK's Independent
newspaper, Robert Fisk, interviewed Ashrawi at her home in Ramallah. In
a far ranging piece, Ashwari rallied against journalistic bias towards
Palestinian casualties, the fraud of the so-called peace process and the
continued suffering of her people under constant occupation: "The new
"intifada" will continue - "in different shapes, different forms" - she
believes. "We are not fond of mass suicide, but we want the right to
resist occupation and injustice. Then the moment we say 'resist', the
Israelis pull out the word 'terrorist' - so a child with a stone becomes
the 'legitimate' target for Israeli sniper fire and a high-velocity

The Jewish lobby would claim Ashrawi is justifying suicide bombing, when
she is doing nothing of the sort. She is talking about the right of
resistance to an illegal and brutal occupation. The same right
eventually extended to other peoples throughout the world, not least of
which the ANC and its brothers and sisters in South Africa during the
apartheid years.

The heart of Ashrawi's arguments are best summed up in this comment to
Fisk: "Now we are all being fed well-worn phrases: 'peace process',
'back on track', 'ceasefire', 'time-out', 'put an end to violence',
'Arafat to restrain/control his people', 'do we have the right peace
partner?' This is a racist way of looking at the Palestinians and it
obscures the fact that we've suffered an Israeli occupation all along.
When newspapers ask if Palestinians deliberately sacrifice their
children, it's an incredibly racist thing to do. They are dehumanising
the Palestinians. The press and the Israelis have rid us of the most
elemental human feelings in a very cynical, racist discourse that blames
the victims."

The Jewish lobby in Australia are fully aware they are contributing to
the dehumanisation through their campaign against Ashrawi. If Shimon
Peres, Ehud Barak or Ariel Sharon (laughably referred to by George
W.Bush as "a man of peace") were awarded the peace prize, the Jewish
lobby would celebrate the fairness of the distinction. The very fact
that a Palestinian is winning, galls Jewish leaders and leaves their
bigotry, racism and intolerance clear for all to see. When will we
realise that many of these people don't want peace with the Palestinians
and prefer spending their time labelling critics of Israeli policy as
anti-Semitic? It's a reality many are finally waking up to.

At a time when the Howard Government and the Crean Opposition makes
shameless overtures to the Jewish lobby, the aggressive campaign against
Ashrawi should come as no surprise. As Sydney Morning Herald columnist
Alan Ramsey wrote on 6 September, when commenting on a speech given by
Labor leader Simon Crean to the Jewish community:

Crean: "Beyond the human tragedy, further damage has been done. The
Jerusalem bombing could destroy the peace process. For the sake of the
people of Israel, and indeed the Palestinian people, I hope it doesn't."

Ah yes, `"the Palestinian people". At last, a mention. This extract is
approximately a single page of an 11-page speech. Labor's attitude to
the Palestinians is similarly modest in the other 10 pages. As a
depiction of Labor policy, it represents one of the more sniveling
grovels in recent memory.

As this cartoon (http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/id137.htm ) featured
on Norman Finkelstein's website displays (author of The Holocaust
Industry and Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict), the
last quarter century has seen the Zionist lobby surreally shift from
victim to oppressor, yet still cannily maintain the victim tag, in face
of overwhelming Israeli military and political strength. There is no
reason to believe that the current battle over Dr Ashrawi is not yet
another attempt at legitimising Jewish supremacy in the
Israeli/Palestinian debate.

Antony Loewenstein is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

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