2 March, 2011

How the anti-BDS protest jerked its knee and shot itself in the foot

Filed under: Current affairs,Jewish community by Joel @ 11:15 am, 2 March 2011.

The Jewish community is often accused of knee-jerk reactions regarding Israel, but I am embarrassed by how true it was in the case of a petition against Marrickville Council’s boycott of Israel. I do not know how many people added their names to the petition, but it was many more than the four family members who emailed it to me asking for my signature, and the 847 who shared the link with their friends on Facebook (five of them my Facebook friends).

Right from the moment I looked at the petition, I thought it too crude and propagandistic to even consider signing it, and I only expect the ministry that it is addressed to would think the same. After all, who would think a campaign entitled Reprimand the Terrorist-Sympathisers at Marrickville Council could succeed? It’s rude to call people names. Labelling someone a terrorist sympathiser shows that one has made no sincere attempt to understand their case, and would rather appeal to fear than to logic.

The petition preamble’s main argument continued along this fear-mongering line:

By this action, the ten councillors have formally aligned their municipality with terrorist organisations seeking to overthrow the State of Israel, the one free and democratic nation in the Middle East … In short, they have espoused totalitarian values over Australian democratic values.

What unconvincing nonsense! followed by references to “playing into the hands of the Islamist Global BDS Movement” and “supporting the worldview of totalitarian Islam”. Woah.

In its final paragraph, this preamble tries to ridicule the council’s departure from traditional local governance, which is much closer to the argument of Federal MP Anthony Albanese, and may be fair enough.

But perhaps the most ironic line of the petition preamble states that local governments “must never be seen to side with … totalitarian, anti-democratic religious fanatics”. The petition was written by an organisation called Q Society whose slogan is “Upholding Australian values”. I don’t know what Australian values are. We have borowed this term from the USA, but there they have a very different understanding of values as defined by their constitution and its Bill of Rights, patriotism to a flag representing those values, and modelling (as statues, for instance) their founding fathers and presidents as the ideologues of those values. I only know of “Australian values” being defined by labelling Australians and their actions as un-Australian, a term which can only be used by someone who has undemocratically divined what Australian means and where its boundaries lie. To me, use of the term un-Australian to label one’s political enemies is edging much closer to totalitarianism and anti-democracy than the political activism of Marrickville Council with the broad democratic-electoral consent of its constituents.

The mission statement of Q Society is summarised as “Pro-Egalitarianism + Pro-Freedom + Pro-Democracy + Pro-Western + Pro-Multi-Ethnic + Pro-Israel + Anti-Islam + Anti-Fascist + Anti-Totalitarian + Anti-Moral Relativity + Anti PC”. (I assume the petition preamble is an example of “Anti-PC” that means “fear-mongering is fine”.) But I don’t see how “Pro-Western + Pro-Multi-Ethnic + Pro-Israel + Anti-Islam” can be deemed anything but hypocritical, hateful, and a likely clue that Q Society are precisely what they claim to be against: religious fanatics.

Read Q Society’s mission statement and I hope you will agree that these are people who the Jewish community should fear rather than find affinity with, and certainly, we should not be running to climb aboard the petition bandwagon built by them.

The actual petition statement is written in very different terms to its preamble, which also makes it extremely suspect. Even if only that carefully-worded petition statement is submitted to the NSW Minister for Local Government, it is not hard for the recipient ministry to find the original fear-mongering nonsense that people read before signing it, especially after it has been so widely disseminated.

The foolishness that allowed this petition to be the largest campaign against Marrickville Council’s decision shot that campaign in the foot. How could anyone who saw that petition virally passed from inbox to inbox take it seriously, and consider its undersigned sincere, intelligent, discriminating people?

Boycotts do not work. If they have any impact at all on the target population, they harm the wrong people, affecting the poorest and disadvantaged first. (Academic boycotts are equally foolish, affecting the most critical voices within.)

But Marrickville Council is too small to make a difference on the ground, and they know it. Like many BDS campaigns, the Marrickville boycott’s main effect is to raise awareness in the community where the boycott is being made. The Jewish community response has brought it greater attention, and one could certainly argue that there is a lot that Jewish community members should become aware of and be thinking about before their automatic click-and-forward response.

15 October, 2007

Orthodoxy and waste

Filed under: Environment,Jewish community,Judaism by Joel @ 11:53 pm, 15 October 2007.

I’ve finally found a good opportunity to write on this topic. Orthodox Jews too often fail to care about the environment and the world. Maybe this is because they associate environmentalism with the “left” and the “liberal”, or because it is too difficult to keep both torah and environment, or because it’s not torah, and therefore bittul torah, or they just assume that God will fix everything for them. But these are usually excuses for simple apathy, or laziness.

5 April, 2007

Freedom of Religion

Filed under: Current affairs,Jewish community,Montreal,Religion,Society and culture by Joel @ 8:07 pm, 5 April 2007.

In March 2005, McGill closed its Muslim prayer room. In 2006 the Canadian Supreme Court overruled a Québec school’s ban on carrying a Sikh ceremonial weapon. In January 2007, Canada was inflamed with discussions of “reasonable accommodation” after the release of a “Code of Conduct” for newcomers to Hérouxville. It seems as if Québec again wants to copy France in a strong stand on Laïcité.

Chapel up the stairs to the leftMcGill Chapel wiped out of existence Suddenly in these last few days, University administration has decided the chapel in the McGill “Birks” Religious Studies building no longer exists. Signs that once indicated its presence are now gone. The room that the rest of the building is centred around no longer has any official purpose or title. (more…)

20 October, 2006

Jews in linguistics

Filed under: Jewish community,Language by Joel @ 12:52 pm, 20 October 2006.

Yesterday in “Neuroscience of Language”, a woman in the front row was identified by the lecturer as Efrat, a post-graduate student. The guy next to me felt the need to point out (by way of name, accent, appearance) that she might be Israeli. I told him after the class that I wasn’t surprised: I estimate that about a quarter of the class is Jewish, a common phenomenon in linguistic circles. (more…)

24 July, 2006

Frum by the bay

Filed under: Jewish community,USA by Joel @ 3:19 pm, 24 July 2006.

On Wednesday morning in Vegas, I printed out a list of Bay Area synagogues, and looked up some maps to show me that I only had a few options approaching downtown San Francisco. So I called “Young Israel San Francisco” (I guess “young” sort of appealed) first from Vegas, and later from a public telephone in Oakland airport. In three 50c phonecalls from the airport to a woman who answered with “Hebrew Academy”, I had arranged a place to stay, eat and pray on shabbat, and public transport there. I thought that was pretty good-going.

Still, when I arrived on the doorstep of Rabbi Lipner a little late (public transport instructions didn’t match reality too closely) at 6:30pm on Friday afternoon, I didn’t know what to expect, nor what anyone answering the door should expect of the hairy youth on their doorstep carrying three large bags. (more…)

7 July, 2006

Communal diversity

Filed under: Jewish community by Joel @ 12:01 pm, 7 July 2006.

I wrote my first letter to the AJN last week. It seems they weren’t interested in publishing it. After a couple of weeks of response to some articles on the short welcome that was extended to the Russian migrants to the Australian Jewish community, the AJN published a seemingly unrelated “glossy magazine”. This was my response:

It was nice to see that the glossy Wedding supplement (AJN 29/6) included its token Russian couple.

But since we’re talking marginalised, it would seem Sephardim don’t get married!

The famed Moroccan wedding feast; the colorful Yemenite henna party; the joyous shabbat chatan were all left unmentioned. Our beautiful Oriental women didn’t grace its pages- not even in the abundant advertisements!

While we are being inclusive and welcoming, why not give those photos a little colour?

I think it’s worth pointing out that our community, while diverse, is very easily dominated by the (granted, majority) European population, whether via South Africa or not. I don’t know whether it’s because the sephardim are so integrated or because they are so different that they are forgotten…

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