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John Docker and Ned Curthoys: An Open Letter

John Docker and regular Overland contributor Ned Curthoys are distributing the open letter below on behalf of their newly formed Committee for the Dismantling of Zionism:

J’Accuse: Open Letter to Kevin Rudd Prime Minister of Australia

Dear Prime Minister,

We are part of an increasing number of people around the world of Jewish descent who are sickened by the coldly calculated massacre of the Palestinians of Gaza and who utterly repudiate Israel’s claim that it acts in the name of Jews the world over. Like an increasing number of people around the world of Jewish and non-Jewish descent we are also sickened by the indifference of Western governments, including your government, to the death, maiming, terror and trauma, being inflicted on the Palestinians of Gaza, including on a disproportionate number of children, in what now resembles a vast outdoor prison or policed ghetto. The apparent indifference of your government to the humanitarian plight of the Palestinians lends support to Israel’s crimes against humanity.

We know, as a scholar, you meditate on the long and troubled history of humanity. We trust you do not wish Israel/Palestine to be to your prime ministership what East Timor has become to Gough Whitlam’s, a terrible blot on an otherwise positive record, an instance of putting realpolitik above morality in international affairs. If that is the case, then we urge you to take a stand now, on behalf of the Australian people, against the wanton destruction of the Palestinians and their way of life.

As believers in Gandhian non-violent protest, we call your attention to the Mahatma’s pleas on behalf of the Palestinians in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when the Zionist intention in British-Mandated Palestine to dispossess and drive out the Palestinians was becoming ever clearer. In a 1938 essay “Zionism and Anti-Semitism”, Gandhi passionately argues that Palestine “belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct … Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.”

Recall that the great Australian Sir Isaac Isaacs, the first Australian-born Governor General and a former Chief Justice of the High Court, predicted in essays in The Hebrew Standard in the early 1940s what now has occurred, that the Zionist plans to take over Palestine while dispossessing and marginalizing the Palestinians would be a disaster for international law. Isaacs pointed out that the Zionist campaign to make Palestine a Jewish State was contrary to the Balfour Declaration, which called for a National Home for Jews in Palestine. If Zionism succeeded in creating such a Jewish State, its injustice would, he felt, antagonize the Arab population in Palestine and would exasperate the whole Muslim world. To create a Jewish State, he noted, would necessarily mean the domination of a single nationality over the other nationalities; a Christian or Muslim could not become a full citizen of the new state. Why not, he suggested, make citizenship Palestinian, that is, neither Arab nor Jewish? Isaacs regarded the Zionist plan for a Jewish State as a giant historical step backwards, away from a modern democratic notion of a national unit formed by various nationalities. Instead, Isaacs proposed what, given the recent history of South Africa, we would recognise as a rainbow nation: a vision of Palestine where Jew, Muslim and Christian alike would have equal rights.

Against the Zionist insistence that Jewish identity was tied to political and military possession of a particular land, Isaacs argued that Judaism is “written in the hearts of the Jewish people and is independent of Palestine or any locality”. (One of us, John Docker, has written in his 2001 book 1492: The Poetics of Diaspora on Isaacs’s profound and moving reflections in The Hebrew Standard.) One of the great political theorists of the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt, a German Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, lamented in her 1944 essay “Zionism reconsidered” that the Zionist program of a state for Jews alone had replaced the possibility of a “binational Palestine state” which might have come about as the result of a working agreement with “Arabs and other Mediterranean peoples”. For surely only folly, she argued, “could dictate a policy which trusts a distant imperial power for protection, while alienating the goodwill of its neighbours”. That folly continues and we might well ask along with Hannah Arendt in that same essay, what program does an aggressively nationalistic movement such as Zionism “offer for a solution of the Arab-Jewish conflict?” None at all as the cycle of vicious aggression towards the Palestinians makes clear. New and imaginative solutions based on a non-racist state in Israel/Palestine need to be found urgently.

Early in 2008, on 13 February, in your historic and moving speech apologizing to the stolen generations of the Indigenous people of Australia, some of whom were present in the Australian parliament, you clasped hands and shared tears: please extend the same sympathy and empathy to the Indigenous people of Palestine. Since 1948 the Indigenous Palestinians of historic Palestine have faced having their lives, cities, villages, mosques, fields, olive groves, health, dignity, freedom of movement and rights under international law, unlawfully transgressed and stolen from them. Please reach out to them, please extend your sympathy to the beleaguered Palestinian people. Please listen to the groundswell of opinion that is occurring across the world in relation to Israeli brutality to the Palestinians, amongst Jews and non-Jews alike: enough is enough.

We urge you to bring to public attention, and to support, UN Resolution 194 which declares the unconditional right of the Palestinian refugees – some 700,000 – expelled from Palestine in 1948 to return to their homes. We ask you to reflect on the significance of a conjunction of dates: on 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was declared, Article 13/2 making it clear that, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.” Resolution 194 was declared on the following day, 11 December 1948. The right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes had been demanded by the assassinated UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte (see Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, pp.146, 188). Then as now, Israel disdainfully sneered at the United Nations, the Geneva Convention, and international law.

By publicly supporting the unconditional right of the Palestinians to return to their homeland, you would go a long way in restoring the human rights reputation of Australia in relation to refugees. By doing so, you will grant to Australia an independent foreign policy and our own political and ethical stance, rather than continuing the embarrassing, ludicrous and immoral subservience pursued by the previous government towards the United States of America.

Please, Prime Minister, do everything you can to avert the destruction of the Palestinians.

John Docker

Ned Curthoys

Committee for the Dismantling of Zionism

19 January 2009

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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