George Browning – Antisemitism and criticism of Israel

Shocking discrimination suffered by Jews in the past does not give Israel a warrant to make victims of others. You say anti-Zionism is a cover for antisemitism. Let me tell you why your view is wrong.

George Browning was Anglican Bishop of Canberra Goulburn 1993 – 2008. He was President of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network 2013 – 2022. He is now its Patron. He is also Patron of Palestinian Christians in Australia, and of the Palestinian ecumenical liberation theology centre -Sabeel

Cross-posted from Pearls and Irritations


An open letter to the Hon Julian Leeser MP.

First may I express my sincere condolence for Israeli lives lost in the shocking and brutal events of October 7 and express hope that Israeli hostages will soon return home safely. The attack by Hamas was inhumane and without warrant.

I write however to respond to your recent statements about antisemitism published in the weekend SMH, particularly linking antisemitism to criticism of Israel. I wrote to you recently to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your principled stand in promoting a Yes vote to the recent failed referendum. It was the right thing to do, but it took considerable courage and in the political field you have borne a heavy price. Amongst those of us who value integrity, you stood tall.

It is therefore with mixed feelings I respond to you. You quote one of my theological heroes, the late Chief Rabbi of Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks, who is reported to have said “Jews used to be hated for their religion, then they were hated for their race and now they are hated for their state”. You apparently went on to say: ‘Antisemitism is the hatred that never dies – it just mutates over different generations”.

With the profoundest of respect, both you and Lord Sacks suffer from a blindness that seems also incapable of dying. Shocking discrimination suffered by Jews in the past does not give Israel a warrant to perpetually play the victim card or make victims of others. I wrote to Lord Sacks following the release of his otherwise excellent book – Not in God’s Name in which he asserted violence should never be exercised in the name of religion. He appropriately named violence perpetrated by most world religions, including shameful violence perpetrated by Christians but failed to mention the violence perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians since 1948.

If you consider this statement to be provocative, unbalanced, or ‘antisemitic’ I can only assume you have never walked down the makeshift shopping street in Hebron, protected by pathetic hessian which catches hard refuse, but allows urine tossed from settlers above to fall on Palestinian produce, while Israeli soldiers laugh. I assume you have never been to the children’s military courts at which shackled young Palestinians, some still in primary school, are paraded in front of lawyers who provide them with a document in Hebrew, which they cannot read and expect them to sign. I asked the parents of one of these young boys what they would like me to tell Australia, they said “tell them we cannot breathe”. Most are there for throwing stones. Why do they throw stones? Because of the continued harassment they and their parents experience. I can only assume you have not attempted to negotiate the humiliating checkpoints the Palestinians have to negotiate every day.

I assume you have not been to the village of Nabi Saleh in Area C of the West Bank where one branch of the Tamimi family lives. This family have been designated terrorists, many have spent time in goal, including young Ahed. Why, because they object to their homes being destroyed and land confiscated. In return do they hate Jews or even the state of Israel? No, they simply want the opportunity to live as everyone else lives, not be forced to live under suppression where rights are not equal and lives constantly tormented.

Under these circumstances why is the word apartheid ‘antisemitic’? The word accurately describes the situation where one group of people have adequate water and others don’t: where one group is allowed to travel as they wish and the others can’t: where one group lives under civil law and the other under military law: where on Palestinian lands roads are built for illegal settlers that cannot be used by local Palestinians, where one group is referred to by members of the Knesset as animals, and the others are encouraged to believe it is their right to assume property that does not belong to them: where one group builds houses and lives in them and others live constantly under the threat of demolition.

You say anti-Zionism is a cover for antisemitism. Let me tell you why your view is wrong. The constant desire for Israel to expand beyond its accepted 1967 borders appears to be driven by a political, nationalistic ideology which the perpetrators describe as Zionism. Yasser Arafat agreed to the State of Israel based on the 1967 borders. The current Netanyahu government makes no secret of the fact that their version of Zionism forbids them to cede Palestinians the right to one inch of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. If the nationalistic, colonialist ideology of Zionism cannot be singled out, the alternative is quite damning. The only other conclusion is that the state of Israel cannot exist without the continued suppression and ultimate annihilation of the Palestinian people. That is not a conclusion I personally wish to draw. I want to believe the state of Israel is at heart a genuine democracy with liberal values and commitment to live under international law. It is my contention that the State of Israel is corrupted by Zionism and is in the process of making itself a pariah state.

Israel has every right to defend its internationally recognised 1967 borders, but it has no right to defend the annexation of other lands or the perpetual siege of 2.3 million people.

This brings us to the current situation in Gaza.

Israel has essentially told Gazans to get out or die, a choice between expulsion and extermination, between ethnic cleansing and genocide – and while doing so has obliterated exit routes and fired on escaping convoys, leaving Gazans trapped. That the UN Health authority should speculate that starvation is an immanent possibility speaks to this shocking inhumanity. The Israeli president along with previous Israeli prime ministers have said there are no civilians in Gaza.

There is much more that could and should be said. Hamas was guilty of appalling inhumanity, but these shocking crimes seem overtaken by the deaths of 10,000 Palestinians and counting. The State of Israel’s greatest challenge is to demonstrate to the world that its existence is not dependent upon crushing Palestinians and that the State of Israel wishes all Palestinians to have the same rights of religion, culture, employment, travel etc. that are enjoyed by Israeli citizens.

This is an open letter, sent to the Hon Julian Leeser MP, in response to his comments reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on November 17, 2023.

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