BISHOP GEORGE BROWNING: Criticism of Israel is not anti-semitic per se 28May13 May 28, 2013


by George Browning   -    Online Opinion    -    28 May 2013

Parliamentarians of both State and Federal Parliaments have been enthusiastically signing the London Declaration which condemns ant-Semitism. Any fair minded Australian citizen will applaud this commitment. Anti-Semitism has historically been the cause of enormous pain and human degradation over centuries. It is to be hoped that this signing sends an unequivocal signal that anti-Semitism at any level of society is totally unacceptable.

However, the statement moves away from its worthy support of Judaism and Jewishness into the world of politics by including in clauses 1 and 6 criticism of Israel as possible anti-Semitism. Israel is one of the world’s Nation States. It has developed policies that are very controversial in its nuclear arsenal and in its occupation of Palestine. It is not acceptable to label criticism of these policies as anti-Semitic.

Like many others who are concerned for international justice I have frequently been a strong critic of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its aggressive programme of Settlement building on Palestinian land. These policies have repressed, alienated and humiliated the Palestinian people.

In particular I have been very critical of the military occupation which has meant total control of Palestinian lives, from the volume of water they are allowed to drink, the freedoms they are allowed to enjoy and the health facilities they are permitted to access. I am also strongly critical of the settlement programme that continues to illegally confiscate Palestinian land and rob Palestinians of their olive groves, homes and livelihoods. This programme has resulted in a form of apartheid on the West bank where those who have resided in the country for countless generations are reduced to non-citizens in their own land.

For expressing these criticisms of Israeli policy I have been labelled anti-Semitic in ‘Opinion Pieces’ and in various pieces of correspondence. I strongly object to such name calling and consider it a sign of weakness that those who use this tactic obviously have no legitimate way of defending the indefensible.

It is to be hoped that our politicians will be heard to be supportive of those voices in our community that speak for justice and will come to their defence. It is also to be hoped that all politicians will be equally ready to sign a document that condemns racial and religious bigotry of any kind, not least that experienced by Christian and Muslim communities in many parts of the world.

To return to the statement: anti-Semitism, the belittling of, or discrimination against, Jews and the religion of Judaism is utterly deplorable and has historically been the cause of enormous suffering. In light of this, it is doubly tragic that the Palestinian people have been the hapless victims of suffering on the edge of such historically horrendous suffering.

Bishop George Browning, is President of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. He served for many decades as an Anglican Priest in Australia, most recently as the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. He is currently undertaking a doctorate regarding climate change and the Church. George has been a frequent visitor to Palestine and host of Palestinian leaders in Australia.

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