house believes the international community must accept
Hamas as a partner" was the motion of a recent Doha
Debate monitored by Tim Sebastian and screened on BBC
Leading the panel against the motion was former White
House speech writer David Frum, an American Jewish
neo-con and the originator of the term "Axis of Evil".
No surprise there.
Speaking passionately on behalf of giving Hamas a chance
was another American Jew Stanley Cohen a New York
The sight of two American Jews with very different
opinions battling it out on air over Hamas was
refreshing. Frum warned the audience that if they voted
for the motion they would be voting for terrorism and
the ultimate demise of their region. Cohen was the most
persuasive with the motion carried by an incredible 89
per cent of voters.
I decided to give Stanley Cohen a ring to congratulate
him on his just stance and the first thing he did was
lay into me for terming the new Palestinian National
Authority as "a Hamas-led government". "Hamas is a
party," he said. "You wouldn't say a Republican-led
government or, in the case of Britain, 'a Conservative
led government" would you?" I was suitably chastised.
Stanley Cohen has the courage of his convictions even
when those convictions are liable to offend his
co-religionists. Listening to him I as reminded that
there are many other Jews who risk being ostracized by
their communities, and, in some cases, even their very
lives so as to stand up for justice in Palestine.
One of the most notable is Uri Avnery an Israeli peace
activist, author, and the founding member Gush Shalom.
Avnery, a German Jew, and the son of committed Zionists,
immigrated to Palestine in 1933 and joined the Irgun
before becoming a commando with the Israeli Defence
Forces. But somewhere along the road, he changed
ideological course and began to work for peace and the
rights of Palestinians.
In 1974, Avnery made headlines by becoming the first
Israeli ever to establish contact with the PLO
leadership. Some eight years later, he met with Yasser
Arafat, the first Israeli ever to do so. Since, he has
worked tirelessly to champion a Palestinian State and to
expose atrocities committed by Israel against the
For eight years, Avnery was a popular Knesset member but
his constant criticism of the Israeli establishment led
former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to shout from
the Knesset rostrum: "I am ready to mount the barricades
in order to expel Avnery from the Knesset".
Another Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion considered
Avnery "Public Enemy Number One", while many politicians
have labeled him "a traitor" or a "self-hating Jew".
Today, Uri Avnery is awash with international peace
prizes and is a greatly respected global figure,
although his status at home is just as controversial as
it has always been.
Following Israel's storming of a Palestinian jail in
Jericho during which Ahmed Sa'adat - a man Israel says
was involved in the assassination of its former minister
Rehav'am Ze'evi – was abducted, Avnery described the
killing of Ze'evi as a Palestinian "targeted killing".
This he equated to the IDF's assassination of
Palestinian political figures with the caveat that all
assassinations are abhorrent.
His comment provoked outrage in some Israeli quarters
with the head of the 'Jewish National Front' Baruch
Marzel calling for Avnery's murder.
A child of Holocaust survivors Amira Hass is another
Israeli who fearlessly battles on behalf of the
Palestinian cause. A longtime correspondent for the
left-wing Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Hass reports from the
occupied territories exposing IDF atrocities whenever
she can and is a recipient of numerous awards, including
the Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Award and the UNESCO
Press Freedom Award.
The Independent newspaper's Middle East correspondent
Robert Fisk refers to Hass as being "among the bravest
of reporters, her daily column in Ha'aretz ablaze with
indignation at the way her own country, Israel, is
mistreating and killing the Palestinians.
In her book "Drinking the sea at Gaza", Hass makes this
"My desire to live in Gaza stemmed neither from
adventurism nor from insanity, but from that dread of
being a bystander…To me, Gaza embodies the entire saga
of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it represents the
central contradiction of the state of Israel – democracy
for some, dispossession for others; it is our exposed
There is little doubt that the evolved sense of fair
play which Hass displays in all her columns comes from
her parents. "My parents came here to Israel naively,"
she says. "They were offered a house in Jerusalem, but
they refused it. They said: 'We cannot take the house of
other refugees'. They meant Palestinians."
Gideon Levy, another Israeli journalist who shines light
on his government's mistreatment of the Palestinians,
writes for the same paper as Hass. Like Hass, Levy
doesn't pull any punches, as you can see from the
following excerpt from one of his columns titled "The
victory of brutality".
"A new species of officer is achieving greatness in the
Israeli Defence Forces. These people did most of their
service as occupation officers and their excellence is a
function of the degree of violence and brutality they
exercise against the Palestinians."
One of his latest columns "Who is a terrorist?" in which
he condemns his fellow Israelis for their apathy is
"The sight of the Aben family from Beit Lahiya mourning
its 12-year-old daughter Hadil last week did not stir
any particular shock in Israel. Nor did anyone take to
the streets and protest over the sight of her wounded
mother and little brother lying in shock on the floor of
their shanty in Gaza".
This is how this compassionate man is described on the
right-wing Zionist website www.masada2000.org:
"Gideon Levy is one of the most fanatic anti-Zionist
columnists working for Ha'aretz the daily info-mercial
for the Israeli extremist left…"
Without doubt, one of the most courageous supporters of
the Palestinian rights in occupied Palestine was a
23-year-old American Jew called Rachel Corrie, who lost
her life trying to prevent an Israeli army bulldozer
from tearing down the home of a Palestinian doctor.
The Israeli military described her death as an accident
yet even after the bulldozer mowed her down, it backed
up and did the same again.
The story of Rachel's life and tragic death has been
portrayed in a theatre play but although the play was
scheduled to open in the US, at the last minute the
theatre owner changed his mind fearful of upsetting the
Rachel Corrie's mother Cindy Corrie is determined to
continue her daughter's legacy and is today a director
of the Global Campaign to Rebuild Palestinian Homes.
Another young American Jew Adam Shapiro risked his life
by slipping into Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound at a
time when it was under Israeli military siege. Shapiro
was welcomed by the former Palestinian President and
thanked for his support but upon his return to his
Brooklyn home, he and his family were vilified by their
fellow Jews and forced to move away.
Avigail Abarbanel is a former Israeli citizen who now
practices psychotherapy in Australia. Her message is one
of healing and the wish to bring Israelis and
Since September 2001, when the second Intifadah began,
Abarbanel has been "speaking out in support of the
Palestinian people. I want to reach the Palestinian
people in the hope of providing some comfort," she says.
"I cried many tears for my people all my life but now it
is time to cry for the Palestinian people," she says.
Israeli-born musician Gilad Atzmon terms Zionism as a
"very singular political method aimed at perfecting the
transformation of world disasters and human pain into
Jewish gain. Somehow Zionists always volunteer to serve
the colonial interests of any leading power," he says.
Conductor Daniel Barenboim co-authored a book together
with the late Palestinian intellectual and writer Edward
Said. So as to publicize the book he agreed to an
interview on the Galei Zahal radio station but refused
to proceed when he discovered that the female
interviewer wore an IDF uniform.
Orthodox Jew Joseph Cohen moved to Israel from the US in
1998 and wasn't impressed with what he found there.
Within a short period, Cohen converted to Islam becoming
Yousef Mohammed Khatib. Today he supports Hamas and is a
A Boston-based rabbi Ben-Zion Gold tells his
congregations this: "American Jews, who are the largest
Diaspora community, have to discover their focus
independent from Israel. We have to reject the notion
that we are failed Zionists or that our role is to
support, submissively and uncritically, the policies of
the Israeli government."
Gerald Kaufman, a British parliamentarian has been a
vocal critic of Israeli policies throughout his career
going as far as to term Ariel Sharon "a war criminal"
and Israel a "pariah state". Kaufman has regularly
called upon the British government to impose economic
sanctions on Israel and to terminate weapons sales to
This article would be incomplete without mention of the
late Israeli author and university professor Israel
Shahak, a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration
the 1967 War, Shahak chaired the Israeli League for
Human and Civil Rights and consistently worked to
bettering the lives of Israel's Arab citizens and
Shahak believed that any form of bigotry was despicable.
"Any form of racism, discrimination and xenophobia
becomes more potent and politically influential if it is
taken for granted by the society which indulges in it,"
Sadly, Shahak was treated as an outcast by many Israelis
due to his defense of human rights for the Palestinians.
Worse, he was often insulted, spat upon and was the
regular recipient of death threats. Few in Israel
mourned his death.
Besides numerous Jewish individuals divorced from Israel
due to their inherent sense of morality, there are
several organizations. These include 'Women in Black',
formed in Israel in 1988 by women protesting the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Today, this group
umbrellas a major international peace movement.
Gush Shalom founded in 1993 by Uri Avnery seeks to
"influence Israeli public opinion and lead it towards
peace and conciliation with the Palestinian people based
on certain principles that include an end to occupation
and the acceptance of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem
as its capital.
An important organization is B'TSELEM the Israeli
Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied
Territories. This was established in 1989 by academics,
attorneys, journalists and Knesset members so as to
educate Israelis on human rights violations in the
occupied territories and to "combat the phenomenon of
denial prevalent among the Israeli public and help
create a human rights culture in Israel".
Since 1990 The Compassionate Listening Project - founded
by Leah Green, a young American Jew - has organized
visits to Israel and Palestine with the aim of working
towards Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation. The trips
billed as "transformative and unforgettable journeys of
the heart" encompass meetings in homes and offices
throughout the area.
The oldest Israeli peace movement is Peace Now, which
according to its website boasts a broad public base
within Israel. This group was founded in 1978 "during
the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks" when 348 Israeli
reserve officers and soldiers published an open letter
to the Prime Minister of Israel "calling upon the
government to make sure this opportunity for peace not
The letter elicited the support of tens of thousands of
Israelis. Today the movement champions and end to
occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
An important arm of this organization is Settlement
Watch, which monitors and protests the expansion of
settlements and the growth of news ones.
Prominent on the world stage is the Neturei Karta
(Aramaic for 'Guardians of the City') a group of
orthodox Jews who refuse to recognize the existence or
authority of "the so-called State of Israel".
Naturei Karta was founded in "Jerusalem, Palestine" in
1938 and struggles against Zionism. The group says it
opposes Israel "not because it operates secularly but
because the entire concept of a sovereign Jewish state
is contrary to Jewish Law".
Its mission statement includes this: "Jews are not
allowed to dominate, kill, harm or demean other people
and are not allowed to have anything to do with the
Zionist enterprise, their political meddling and their
In a world that is increasingly plagued by divisions
based on race, ethnicity and religion many of us tend to
lump people together, slap them with superficial labels
and credit them with holding opinions based on those
Nowadays, arguably more than ever, people are being
judged according to handy stereotypes, such as the ugly
American, or the Moslem extremist, the decadent and
consumerist Westerner, the standoffish Scandinavian,
while Jews are often viewed in the context of an
aggressive Zionist state. Such stereotypes are used to
incite blanket hatred between members of races and
religions and prevent us from seeing individuals as they
There is another way we can divide the peoples of the
world: those who know right from wrong, are able to feel
compassion and empathy for the less fortunate no matter
who they are; and those who suppress their humanity in
favour of racism, bigotry or will to power.
Let's allow the Welsh poet Stevie Krayer to have the
"Israel is perpetuating a long-drawn-out crime against
the Palestinian people. Because I'm Jewish, I feel
somehow complicit in this crime, which is, after all,
being committed in my name.
As a Jew, I can't help feeling that Jews, of all people,
should not be behaving like this. The Jewish people
have, often come to believe that they are the only ones
who can suffer. They are in denial about the pain they
inflict upon others," she says.
Thankfully, not all!