Israel may well gain its military objectives in Lebanon, just as it always has in the constructively occupied West Bank and Gaza. But Israel is fast losing the war of public opinion.
People across all sectors of Australian society, of all ethnicities and faiths are questioning what has clearly been a disproportionate response by Israel to the military incursions of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Australia’s Jewish community has been largely supportive of Israel. With a relatively higher proportion of Holocaust survivors compared to other Jewish communities in the Western world, many Australian Jews regard support for Israel as a kind of emotional life insurance policy.
But now even prominent Jewish writers and academics are beginning to make critical noises against Israel. This must prove unsettling for more hawkish pro-Israel lobbies. They now see Americans and Australians and New Zealanders and Europeans, people whose support they always took for granted, abandoning the blindly pro-Israel position.
Why is this happening?
Firstly, things haven’t been the same since Yasir Arafat shook hands with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House Lawn. Since then, the Palestinian cause gained respectability.
There was a time when Lebanese, palestinian or Muslim groups on Australian campuses faced a barrage of criticism when inviting speakers critical of Israel to speak. Today, on campuses across the country, Jewish, Muslim, Arab and other students are holding inter-faith gatherings and joint functions.
Secondly, the internet has opened up sources of information hitherto unavailable. Westerners now have access to Israeli and Palestinian newspapers and magazines online. Views and positions labelled anti-Semitic by rabid pro-Israel lobbies are now accessible on Israeli news websites. Previously, such views were only known to people in Israel.
Thirdly, Israel’s treatment of Christian minorities is also becoming known, thanks to the work of writers from various Christian denominations. Books such as William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain are exposing the excesses of Jewish extremists in Jerusalem as they engage in blatant and often violent takeovers of Church land under the watchful and supportive eye of Israeli authorities.
Fourthly, Palestinians have also gained many articulate spokespeople actively building bridges for peace. Attempts to paint Sydney Peace Prize recipient Dr Hanan Ashrawi as a bloodthirsty supporter of suicide bombers in 2003 failed dismally.Attempts to discredit the recent study by two prominent American academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, on the power of the pro-Israel lobby seem to have backfired. In Australia, we see the paper profiled even on the pages of establishment papers such as the Australian Financial Review.
It also doesn’t help the more hawkish pro-Israel lobbies when their views are couched in the xenophobic and racist language of News Limited tabloid scribes. Today, many pro-Israel positions are represented by the most extreme, belligerent and imbecilic argument.
Recently Australia’s Ambassador to Lebanon declared that it is almost inevitable that Australians will be amongst the dead and wounded among Lebanon’s civilian population as Israel’s campaign in Lebanon continues. When Australians see their fellow countrymen and women being incinerated and blown to pieces by Israeli fire power, when the effects of this war begin to affect ordinary Australian families, goodwill toward Israel in Australia will nose-dive.
And should Hezbollah and Lebanon’s armed forces join forces under a unified command, it will be impossible for Israel’s friends in Canberra to cry “terrorist” when young Australians leave in droves to join in the fighting on either side of the war.
Lebanon is being seen as the victim. Israel’s apparent policy of “an Israeli eye for 30 Lebanese and Palestinian heads” is being exposed in all its ugliness.
So what should Australian Muslims do? Should we raise our voices in anger toward those we presume to be Israel’s die-hard supporters? Should we be demanding Jewish Australians to prove their loyalty the way we are demanded to prove ours when Aussie are killed in terror attacks in Bali? Should we be complaining that Jewish leaders aren’t condemning Israeli aggression enough as many complained (and continue to complain) about ours?
Should we produce our own Muslim versions of Mark Steyn and Daniel Pipes? No. We should rise above such divisive strategies.
Now is the time for us to engage our brethren of Jewish faith. Now is the time for us to hold out the hand of friendship. Because the reality is that we are all victims in this war.
We know there are many Australian Jews who are openly questioning Israel’s military policies. We also know there are many decent people inside Israel (including inside Israel’s Defence Forces) questioning and rejecting Israel’s current campaign.
As Israel’s army commits more atrocities, Hezbollah replies by firing more rockets. Who is killed? Ordinary Lebanese. Ordinary Israelis. Ordinary Jews, Christians and Muslims.
As Muslims, we should be the first to hold out the hand of friendship. Yes, we are opposed to Israeli government policies. But that doesn’t mean we show venom and resentment to our Jewish neighbours and colleagues and workmates and classmates.
Extra efforts should be made by Muslim organisations, particularly those representing young people, to arrange meetings and joint functions with Jewish organisations. Imams should go out of their way to meet with rabbis. Principals of Muslim schools should arrange visits to Jewish schools.
It makes me so pleased to see the disciples of Turkish Islamic scholar Muhammad Fethullah Gulen arranging functions with groups associated with the congregation of Temple Emanuel in Northern Sydney. More such gatherings need to occur.
With so much tension in the air, surely now is the best time for Muslims and Jews to interact and to build friendships. Let the hawks and extremists on both sides talk war and blood and death. Let us ordinary Australians, Muslims and Jews, speak the language of friendship.
Rabbi Hillel is quoted as saying: “Judge not your neighbour till you've been in his place.”
The Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him) is reported to have said: “You are not a true believer until you want for your brother what you want for yourself.”
Muslims and Jews in Australia are fellow citizens and neighbours. Now more than ever, both our communities need to show we will not allow conflicts overseas to colour our relations with each other. We are already friends. We now must be seen to becoming better friends.
Words © 2006-9 Irfan Yusuf
UPDATE: The following comment was left in English by this rather friendly dual citizen:
I love your last paragraph. That is the 'ideal' isn't it. I think criticism and more in-depth examination of these conflicts is eessential. I am a practising Australian Christian currently living in the UK (I differentiate myself from 'cultural' Christians, of which most white Aussies/Brits would probably describe themselves as).
And this comment was left in Spanish by a Chilean Jewish brother:
He leído con atención tu blog, y concuerdo con tus ideas.
Como chileno, judío y activista del diálogo fraterno entre los "hermanos separados" te envío un caluroso abrazo desde Santiago de Chile.
Bookmark this on Delicious