Australian Labor parliamentarian Michael Danby claims that it was only the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council that campaigned against the appropriateness of this month’s awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi, and that this campaign ended up being counter-productive (“Over the Top Protest Down Under,” November 14).
He is wrong on both counts.
The condemnation of the Sydney Peace Foundation’s shameful partisanship and the expression of disappointment over the decision of New South Wales Labor Premier Bob Carr to present the award was wall-to-wall by all major and mainstream Jewish organizations, federal and state. The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies even overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Carr to reconsider at a time when it was clear he would not. As for the petition mentioned by Danby, this was an initiative of Gerald Steinberg, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and the large number of signatures it garnered was testimony to the ground swell of opposition to the award.
Efforts by Aijac and other organizations achieved results where it counted. Some of Australia’s leading newspaper editorials, opinion columnists and political commentators weighed in against the choice of Ashrawi as peace prize recipient.
Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and other senior government ministers all opposed the choice of Ashrawi. Not a single senior member of Danby’s Labor Party spoke out in Ashrawi’s favor, nor criticized our community’s efforts. Support for Ashrawi was limited to a handful of members on the hard left.
Moreover, Danby’s claims that the prize might have induced Ashrawi to become a genuine partner for peace if the Jewish community had kept quiet are ludicrous based on her own statements.
While in Australia, Ashrawi refused to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization and attacked the Australian government for banning it, accusing Israel of pressuring Australia to do so. She also expressed support for the Palestinian “struggle” and resistance triggered by the “occupation,” rejecting the road map peace plan’s main requirement for Palestinians to stop terrorism and dismantle its infrastructure. To top it all off, Ashrawi threatened to replace Israel with a bi-national state, reaffirming the absolute right of Palestinian refugees to “have the right to choose” whether to live in Palestine or Israel.
It was disturbing that public discussion of this dispute was marred by some racist stereotypes that were cast against supposedly sinister Jewish “lobbying.” In particular, the director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, Stuart Rees, alleged that sections of the Jewish community were challenging “the health of Australian democracy” by using their “formidable financial power” to engage in a campaign of “deceit, bullying and intimidation.” The debate was also sadly sidetracked by some Jewish leaders, who, when confronted by claims that the community was bringing antisemitism on itself by speaking out, engaged in scapegoating other Jewish organizations rather than repudiating this canard.
It is untenable to suggest that, in the absence of criticism, Ashrawi would have received anything less than the fawning saturation publicity she regularly experiences. In all probability, she would have made more inroads among the ambivalent, who, lacking any background, might have been persuaded by her human rights rhetoric camouflaging an uncompromising bottom line.
Australia’s Jewish community has a long and proud record of full and effective participation in Australia’s pluralist democracy. Neither racist invective nor political opportunism inhibited us from speaking out on the inappropriateness of Ashrawi’s award — nor will they in the future on comparable issues. Appeasement is beneath our communal dignity.
Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.