Ron Weiser’s column, May 2024

23/05/2024
News and Views

We have been through turbulent times before and each period, for those who experienced it themselves, left deep imprints.

Just some examples.

Following the Yom Kippur war in 1973, university campuses in Australia became uncomfortable and dangerous places for Jewish students.

The Australian Union of Students proposed and promoted anti-Israel resolutions cloaked in language that is not so different from that of today.

There were instances of physical attacks against Jewish students on campus and one particularly vicious assault with iron bars on Jewish students sitting on a university lawn.

In 1982, when Menachem Begin was Israel’s prime minister and following the war in Lebanon and a year of rising tensions, an explosive device detonated on 23 December, in the stairwell of a building next to the fire door of the Israeli consulate on William Street in Sydney. Two people were injured and the building was badly damaged.

Later that day a second explosive device was located in the boot of a car parked at the Hakoah Club in Bondi.

In February and March of 1991, coinciding with the first intifada, arson attacks on synagogues reached a peak, with four fires in six weeks causing serious damage to synagogue properties around Australia.

During the second intifada, when Ariel Sharon was prime minister of Israel, large billboards went up on streets in Australia, which along with pictures of Israelis included photographs of Australian Jewish leaders with an “X” through their faces.

Today, Jewish communities are going through very tough times, amplified by social media, amongst other things.

Today too, Israel is headed by a prime minister who is not universally loved.

However currently there is one absolutely outstanding difference that provides optimistic hope.

And this was missing in far too many cases in the past, both here and in other diaspora communities, when some mainstream Jewish institutions and educational centres were trying to work out how to distance themselves from Israel.

Today we see and feel the unity and resilience of mainstream Jewry together with Israel.

Diaspora Jewry, in the main, does not merely have sympathy for Israel’s situation, nor is it even limited to the higher level of empathy.

The key point is that today, diaspora Jewry understands that its own fate is inextricably linked with that of the future of Israel.

This is a sea change of historic proportions, which some fail to recognise, but it puts us on a different and much better path.

In Israel, this time is also different.

While there are many discussions about tactics, Israelis are united in defending the country, whether the world understands it or not.

President Biden, after arguably having been one of the greatest US presidents in support of Israel and who did so for many months of this war, went completely off the rails in early May.

His very public declaration about withholding certain munitions from Israel, which he tried to explain on the basis of the way Israel was conducting its defensive war efforts, had the following effects:

  • convincing Hamas that its tactics were succeeding and therefore extended the war and harmed hostage negotiations;
  • damaged America’s reputation as a reliable ally, worrying Arab countries in the Middle East about being able to trust in the US; and
  • emboldening Iran.

As Amotz Asa-El described it in the Jerusalem Post, Biden’s actions were “for America’s enemies a shot in the arm, for America’s interests a shot in the foot and for Biden’s leadership a shot in the head.”

Then came the deplorable decision by the ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan, of his intention to seek arrest warrants against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

Biden’s comments may well have also emboldened Kahn.

Now, Biden is at least trying to undo the damage by calling the ICC action “outrageous,” by saying clearly that “there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas,” and asserting that “contrary to allegations made against Israel in the International Court of Justice, what’s happening is not genocide.”

The US President has also stressed, after the ICC’s announcement, that his administration “stands with Israel to take out Sinwar and the rest of the butchers of Hamas.”

However, the genie is out of the bottle.

The Australian Government’s initial reaction has been very disappointing, despite the UK also being critical of the ICC prosecutor’s actions.

Australia is once again out of step with our closest allies and allowing the politicisation of the ICC, in effect, helping to destroy the ICC’s credibility rather than Israel’s.

Israel has repeatedly demonstrated that while it may be divided on many issues, and against the background of disagreement between Netanyahu and Gallant on ‘the day after,’ and while there will be a rocky road ahead on the issue of Haredim serving in the army, Israel’s enemies should not misread this and doubt Israel’s resolve.

One hundred and six out of 120 members of the Israeli Knesset, from the coalition and opposition, signed a statement this week condemning the ICC announcement.

The unity of purpose in Israel together with world Jewry is clear and positive.

There is some irony in that quoting Gold Meir has come into vogue and her sentiments are now universally accepted and adopted throughout the Jewish mainstream world.

This was not always so.

More than 50 years ago Golda said “if we have to have a choice between being dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have the bad image.”

Hard to believe today, but when she said it, it was considered controversial.

Now it resonates widely in a way it did not previously.

We are still dreamers with the belief in a better and safer future, but now have a more realistic overview.

That in itself is a greater plus than it first sounds.

It will lead to better and more durable outcomes.

We are one.

With one fate.

Am Yisrael Chai.

Dr Ron Weiser AM

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