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A Trying Subject

In medieval England, a separate court was established with the purpose of providing redress for people in a fair and just manner. Over the years, this Court of Star Chamber evolved as a judicial body separate from the king’s council. Under the Tudors its mandate expanded but by the time of the Stuarts, it had become a byword for misuse and abuse of power by the king and his circle. 

Court sessions were held in secret, with no right of appeal, and punishment was swift and severe to any enemy of the crown. The Star Chamber became an instrument of oppression, hated by all except the corrupt ones who abused legal process. It was finally abolished in 1641 but to this day, the name survives to designate arbitrary proceedings in opposition to personal rights and liberty. 

There is a form of this Star Chamber mentality today that applies to the way in which the conflict between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours has been and continues to be manipulated to the detriment not only of those directly involved in the region but also to the Jews in the Diaspora who support Israel and who are often held accountable for every act or thing, real or perceived, that happens there.

Next month Southampton University will host a conference – International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism – which not only questions Israel’s right to exist but will have bevy of speakers who are known anti-Israel activists who have called for a boycott of Israel. The result will inevitably be a ‘one-sided’ exercise in Israel-bashing from people with histories of distorting the facts on this subject and of giving “credence to anti-Semitic views.”

And just as in medieval times, where the Jews were accused falsely of poisoning the wells of gentiles, many of the speakers appearing on the agenda of the Southampton conference have track records of laying false accusations against Israel, the world’s only Jewish country. Like the hated Star Chamber, this will be one sided and the object will be to achieve a predetermined outcome. The aim here clearly is to demonise and delegitimise the state and to dehumanise its people, an aim that extends by association to Jewish people who support the state from afar and used to explain or justify lethal attacks on them.

Recently, an anti-Zionist Jewish actress Miriam Margolyes claimed that “people don’t like [Diaspora] Jews” because of “the actions of the state of Israel”. In other words, she attributed the rising trend of anti-Semitism around the world and particularly in Europe where we have recently seen innocent Jews murdered by Jihadists in Belgium, France and Denmark and assaults (including the rape of women) on Jewish civilians in those countries and many others on the victims themselves.

Of course, she presupposes that the actions of the State of Israel in defending its own people from violent attacks are without justification and it is here that we see the insidiousness of the criticism of people like Margolyes and her cronies in the BDS and other anti-Israel movements world-wide. 

Soon after Margolyes’ aired her comments, the opportunity arose whereby they could be tested. Was Israel’s conduct during last year’s Gaza war against Hamas justified in terms of the ethics of battle in asymmetric warfare? Israel, it should be noted, fought that war to defend its citizens against indiscriminate rocket attacks from terrorist groups inside the Gaza Strip – attacks which even Amnesty International, not noted for having a favourable disposition towards Israel, has this week described as “war crimes”. The worst of those attacks resulted in a misfire by Hamas which caused a number of Palestinian casualties for which Israel was blamed at the time.

It would surely be worthwhile to hear the arguments of a renowned expert on this type of warfare in former British soldier Colonel Richard Kemp when he presented a talk earlier this month at the University of Sydney on the topic of “Ethical Dilemmas of Military Tactics”.

Previously, Colonel Kemp had been vocal in his support for Israel, and even testified during the hearing of the Goldstone Report in 2009 that “the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare”. He has continued to defend Israel’s conduct during war since then and despite appearing at Jewish events for the UIA while in Australia, his talk at the University was not specific to Israel/Palestine.

However, this did not prevent a bunch of protesters interrupting his talk and chanting, among other things, “Richard Kemp, you can’t hide. You support genocide”. What ensued was a struggle between the protesters and the campus security, and the event was caught on camera by staff member and BDS advocate, Associate Professor Jake Lynch who is no stranger to anti-Israel controversy. You may recall a few years ago, Lynch and some of his mates supported a resolution by the SRC to severe ties with the Technion University, based on the usual warped BDS logic. 

This time Lynch claimed security guards were blocking the protesters’ freedom of speech, which is quite ironic given that is exactly what this mob was doing by storming the room to disrupt Kemp’s talk. In the view of these people, freedom of speech only applies to those who subscribe to a particular world-view, one where the terrorists are the good guys, where the Israelis are the bad guys and where their own Star Chamber seeks to silence truth. All of this comes across as even more ridiculous being from an Associate Professor who is the Director of the misnomer – “Centre for Peace and Conflict”.

Even more sinister was the controversy that ensued when a woman in the audience allegedly kicked Lynch and threw water on him. Lynch has stated that he was not hurt but nevertheless apparently threatened to sue his assailant and to prove his point took out a banknote from his pocket. According to Lynch, waving money in the face of an elderly Jewish woman is a form of signal of one’s intention to sue. Others might think differently. I will let you connect the dots. There are now calls to have Lynch removed from his position as a result of the incident. While he is entitled to his opinions, however misguided, as a member of staff at an academic institution that should be promoting peace and harmony through learning and understanding, he has proven time and again that he should not be in that position. 

All this should not overshadow the keenness of the usual suspects in the anti-Israel camp to prevent the facts from coming out, facts which inevitably demonstrate the false premise of Margolyes’ claims that Jews are to blame for the increase in anti-Semitism. The truth is that it is the anti-Semites – spurred on by a constant stream of fabrications against the Jewish State – who are responsible.

And, as if to prove the point, just a few kilometres away from Sydney University is the suburb of Marrickville, notorious for its stance on Israel a few years ago when the local council adopted a complete boycott of Israel. Later it was revealed that the cost of the boycott to ratepayers was at least $3.7 million earmarked for the replacement of Hewlett-Packard computers, Holden cars and changing water-disposal services. This from a local council which decided, hypocritically, that it had a mandate to pick and choose the object of an international boycott.

In that quaint suburb sits a theatre called the “Red Rattler” where Hillel, the Jewish student group, wanted to put on a series of stories relating to the Holocaust. When it applied to use the theatre, Red Rattler’s unsigned response was brief – “Our policy does not support ­colonialism/Zionism. Therefore we do not host groups that support the colonisation and occu­pation of Palestine.” 

After the story became viral on social media and in the press, Red Rattler sent an email to the AJN saying that the email sent to Hillel “does not reflect the values of the Community Board of the Red Rattler Theatre”. It continued, “The Red Rattler condemns racism of any kind… We welcome organisations from all cultures and walks of life and actively encourage cultural diversity.”

The “apology” has been accepted but one has to ask what would have possessed the person who wrote the original email to state that was policy? Why does the connection always have to be drawn between what is happening in Israel and Jewish communal groups in faraway countries? Why is Israel often singled out and why are its actions judged without regard to normal standards but rather to one-sided, old-fashioned bigotry and hatred?

Emily Gian
Media & Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia

03 9272 5618