Causes and solutions…writes Peter Slezak

July 24, 2014 by Peter Slezak
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When patriotic, tribal passions are at their height as now, it is undoubtedly the hardest but the most important time to pause in the name of our common humanity to reflect honestly on the causes and possible solutions to the tragedy that is engulfing Israel and Palestine.

Dr Peter Slezak

Dr Peter Slezak

As Bertrand Russell said, we are never as noble, and our enemies are never as evil, as we like to think. It is precisely because of the chasm that separates rival views on Israel/Palestine that we must recognize the need, now more urgent than ever, to pause and to listen to our adversaries – especially those among our fellow Jews.

When I was a student I watched Jacob Bronowski’s TV series The Ascent of Man with its unforgettable last moments in Auschwitz as he kneeled holding a handful of mud. He said,

… I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. …

This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave.

Quoting Cromwell, Bronowski made a plea to recognize our fallibility.

In the end … “I beseech you … Think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Bronowski was articulating a central tenet of the Enlightenment, scientific attitude – namely, the need to hear the Devil’s Advocate. This was theme of 19th C. philosopher J.S. Mill’s classic work ‘On Liberty’ – the importance of hearing the dissident opinion, the most contrary view from our own.

Anyone with a shred of humanity today must heed the same plea from fellow Jews – many of whom are children of Holocaust survivors like Harvard’s Sara Roy who is a  foremost expert on Gaza, Amira Hass who is an Israeli journalist for Ha’aretz, and Norman Finkelstein who is a US historian. They are among many Jews who differ on fundamental facts about Israel/Palestine today and its tortured history. There is too much at stake to ignore or dismiss these alternative “narratives.” When so much tragedy is at its height, it is both harder and at the same time more urgent to “think it possible you may be mistaken.”

The precept that we must hear dissident voices was the theme of my talk to the Limmud-Oz Festival in Sydney last year. It was an exquisite irony that it was deemed to require banning by some in the organized Jewish community. Evidently, the story and the lesson of the great Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza is too subversive for Jews to hear.

Today, many around the world are making Bronowski’s plea to their fellow Jews, namely, to consider the possibility that widely taken-for-granted assumptions and factual beliefs about Israel/Palestine may be mistaken.

Of course, there is never enough room in a single article, a single lecture or single conversation to explore divergent views of the Israel/Palestine conflict. But we must begin by resisting familiar tricks to prevent taking each other seriously. The idea that Jewish critics of Israel are “self-hating” is a meaningless, pernicious absurdity, but it reveals an incapacity or unwillingness to consider alternative opinions.

Proponents of this idea also insult the intelligence of those to whom it is recommended. The pseudo-psychological diagnosis is intended to prevent people hearing alternative opinions and, thereby, to think for themselves. The denunciation and demonization of critics of Israel is reaching frightening levels and we must start the difficult process of talking across the significant divide on Israel/Palestine – the growing fault-line evident now in Jewish communities around the world. The point is not to accept uncritically any alternative views, but rather not to accept uncritically your own. This means making the effort to break out of the circle of opinions that confirm and reinforce your own opinions – the sources we all tend to rely upon – in our reading, in our communities and in our dinner parties. For example, Jewish audiences never attend visiting speakers such as Israeli Jeff Halper, Ilan Pappe or Noam Chomsky on lecture tours if they are not reinforcing the received opinion. One such visitor has been Israeli Miko Peled, the son of famous General Mattityahu Peled, whose story is particularly poignant (

A common reaction to Jewish critics of Israel is the justified demand that we also condemn the crimes of Palestinians such as the Hamas rockets. With others Jews and indeed Palestinian critics of Israel, I have unhesitatingly condemned the Hamas rockets as a violation of international law. However, when I have repeatedly, publicly on social media such as Twitter, asked Jewish organizations like ECAJ to reciprocate and to condemn the racism and crimes of Israel, they have remained stubbornly, conspicuously silent. What message does this give to the Palestinians and to the world? We can’t insist that Israel is a Jewish state acting in the name of Jews and then be surprised if others fail to make the distinction. How can we expect legitimate criticism of Israel to be distinguished from antisemitism if leading Jewish figures and organizations refuse to permit the distinction? In the famous words of American journalist Edward R. Murrow, we must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. Above all, as Amira Hass warns from her mother’s experience in Bergen-Belsen, we cannot watch in silence what is being done in our name and then protest afterwards we didn’t know.

Accordingly, the place to begin is with such alternative Israeli and Jewish voices such as columnists Amira Hass and Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz, Israel’s human rights organization B’Tselem (, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions ICAHD (, Breaking the Silence (, Mondoweiss (, +972 Magazine (, not least, IAJV: Independent Australian Jewish Voices (, and this article co-authored by two Jews and two Palestinians (


 Associate Professor Peter Slezak is co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) and on the Executive of Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN).



14 Responses to “Causes and solutions…writes Peter Slezak”
  1. Rene Smith says:

    Thank you for your intelligent and humane article. The point you make about questioning our own attitudes strikes at the heart of what makes us human – separate from animals, who respond to instinct without due thought or consideration. There is hope for peace when we heed voices such as yours.

  2. Roy Barry says:

    Mr Slezak
    Hamas wants to kill all jews. They would kill me too if I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hamas is firing random rockets into civilian places in israel. Israel has an effective defence system.Israel is trying to dismantle the Hamas offensive machine. Hamas sacrifice lives to sway world opinion.
    I’m not sure what your point is?

  3. Simon Ryde says:

    To all those who gave a traditional knee jerk reaction to Peter’s article. He wrote “There is too much at stake to ignore or dismiss these alternative narratives”. How can you argue with this point ? It relates to any point in time since 1967 and it can relate to ANY conflict.
    Whatever your views on the Israel/Palestine conflict resolution wont come until both sides apply this principle. So ignoring it , even as a supporter of Israel, is sticking your head in the sand.

  4. Paul Winter says:

    The false concern for human life is sickening! Where is the concern for human life when Hamas bombards Israel or a jihadi murders children in a French school?

    Quoting Bertrand Russell in this context provides another example of Orwell’s observation that something quite so stupid could only have been said by an intellectual. The worst actions of the Allies were more humane than the best actions of the Nazis in WW2. The worst actions of the IDF are infinitely more morally than any action of the Arabs, especially the Jew-hating Hamas.

    It is an insult to one’s intelligence to quote as authorities on humanity people like Roy, Haas or Finkelstein. All of them are lunar-left children of Holocaust survivors. Haas is notorious for advocating Arab stoning of Jews soon after 3 year old Adele Bitton was turned into a living vegetable by a stone thrower.

    It is one thing to hear dissident voices and something else to tolerate hostile enemy disinformation. And Spinoza you are not, Slezak.

    It is not surprising that Israelis ignore talks by Halper (banned from the Jerusalem Post for his obnoxious articles), Pappe and Chomsky, clearly Slezak’s role models. Most Jews would also ignore talks by Goebbels (were he alive), Mashaal or Ayatollah Khamenei.

    The references quoted are all far left anti-Israel, many of them NIF fundees. Instead of criticising Israel, it is a tribute to Israeli democracy that these voices of sedition are tolerated in a society always at war with Hitler ally Sheikh Amin haj al-Husseini’s followers and now engaged in a battle against them.

    The pseudo-intellectuals are false to their learning, to their humanitarian ideals and their concern for life. They are damned when they only condemn Jews defending their lives. They are damned by their silence on deaths and tortures imposed by jihadis on fellow human beings from the Philippines to Tunisia.

  5. Mal says:

    The above comments just confirm the point of your article. It’s just more of the Zionist dogma that will prevent any progress to a lasting peace.
    The fanatical supporter of the superior race that must prevail at any cost is a barbaric and medieval ideology. The path to reconcile this is being promoted by state sanctioned genocide as the only alternative. Promoting the heavy hand of violence that somehow peace will prevail by subjugating a race of people to live within their promised secular state. This is doomed to always fail.
    It is time to stop the madness, put down your guns, rockets and weapons and work through the painful process of living and respecting each other as equals. That’s what we should be advocating. That can only be done when the leaders sit together, work through their issues, demonstrate leadership and are committed to peace.
    Not whilst tons of bombs rain down on them or with the retaliation of rockets do the talking.

    • Mal, you utter totally execrable upside logic. To use the label of a “barbaric and medieval ideology” is to take that very same provable criticism of Hamas with its anti-Semitic Islamic roots that stretch back to the birth of Mohammad and to foist that on to Israel.
      Incredible that JWire permits such anti-Zionist diatribe to be published. But of course we’re Jews, we’re supposed to listen to all sides. As David Singer has pointed out, you won’t find the same frankness and openness from the other side, just hateful vituperation and intolerance.

  6. Bassam says:

    Thank you Peter for your humanity and for having the courage to speak the truth at difficult times like this. Reading the comments above only re-enforces what I already know about the Zionist propaganda which feeds on people’s fears and prejudices. Many choose to forget that the occupation of Palestine started in 1948 and the conflict half a century before that. Hamas was founded in 1987, the Khomeini regime started in 1979 and the PLO was founded in 1964. Yet the only problem Israelis have is with Hamas. Just if Hamas stops resisting the occupation, everything will be perfect. We will maintain the siege for 1.4 million people, we will have a free hand to continue building settlements and moving Jews into the West Bank and live happily ever after.
    The Arab league offered Israel peace with ALL Arab countries for the 1967 border (22% of historical Palestine) and a solution to the refugees’ problem. By extension this would have meant peace with ALL Muslim countries. Why isn’t this good enough for the Zionists? Why are those commenting here are cheering on the killing and destruction? Why wouldn’t Netanyahu sign a peace deal with the Palestinians? Why build more settlements, confiscate more land and make the two-state solution impossible?
    The answer seems to be, that the Zionist movement has decided that the Jews are a superior race and should have more rights than any other people on earth. Their security and their well-being are more important that anyone else. Well the last time a certain people had these views the world had to deal the Holocaust. This is what Peter Slezak is trying to warn his fellow Jews, that history will not be kind to those who stood on the hill and cheered the killing and maiming of innocent civilians. After 66 years of occupation, the Israeli leaders must have realised that the Palestinians are not going to go away and a solution needs to be found. What the world will not accept is the same “Final Solution” for the Palestinians. Because there is no other explanation to what is happening in Palestine over the last 66 years.

    • david says:

      Bassam and Peter

      I have amazingly found an alternative Arab voice myself – as you both were not forthcoming.

      Would like to hear your reaction and your response to the following:

      “Hamas, the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, is no “freedom fighter” whether in times of war or relative peace. When Hamas isn’t firing rockets and digging tunnels to target Israelis and ignite wars, it is restricting the rights of women through prohibitions on gender-mixing, harassment of female journalists and citizens who appear in public without a headscarf, inaction and even participation in proceedings wherein women are killed for “honor” and their murderers go unpunished; and more. Religious minorities and dissidents have been targeted, churches torched and many innocents killed as Hamas tries to enforce its Taliban-style interpretation of Islamic law on a desperate and disempowered population. And now, Hamas stokes its base by endangering civilians – particularly women and children – and churning out propaganda to gain sympathizers.

      Ultimately, Hamas has no chance at survival if does not make itself out to be a victim – and it does so by starting wars and sacrificing innocent lives.

      Even if the current conflict were to calm down soon, Hamas will remain a terroristic regime, tormenting the very civilians they claim to be protecting from Israel. Sadly, too many in the West fail to recognize this aspect of the conflict, and support Hamas and its sympathizers rather than agents of real peace.

      The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which regularly and loudly proclaims itself to represent the voices and interests of American Muslims (despite polls revealing this is not even remotely true), was founded and continues to be led by individuals who have expressed support for Hamas. Despite their insistence that they protect the civil rights of American Muslims, their regular abuses of reformists and their toxic connections should raise concerns for all who wish to see peace not just in the Middle East, but between faith traditions.

      Until all people – American Muslims, the broader Muslim community and our non-Muslim allies and friends – recognize that Hamas is a cancer to all people, there will never be peace”.

  7. Danny says:

    Certain dissident voices, such as your mentor, Chomsky and his ilk, set themselves up as prosecuting attorneys against Israel and defence attorneys for terrorist organisations like Hamas, through a highly manipulative and cynical analysis of events. Like the shrewdest of attorneys, whether they realise it or not, their motivation to do so is self-serving, receiving a handsome payoff for their efforts by claiming the high moral ground, thereby achieving recognition in multiple arenas.

    We need not give serious consideration to such perverse analyses. A similar intellectual exercise was employed – and is still being employed in many countries – to condemn the Jews of pre-war Europe for their “crimes” and give apologetic defence to the Nazis.

    Just as it would be perverse to play the Devil’s advocate and listen to the latter, it is perverse to do so for the former. In fact, with the former it is far worse, since these voices – whether they realise it or not – are complicit in Hamas’s efforts to destroy Israel, effectively rewarding Hamas for using their own people as human shields, as well as undermining Israel’s ability to defend itself from terrorist attacks.

  8. Slezak plays this wicked game of stirring the Jewish conscience that suffered horribly from the Holocaust, trying to persuade that we should not be inflicting anything similar on another people, because of what we suffered ourselves. He is trying to lay a guilt trip on Jews for causing harm to poor innocent Palestinians, wanting to make us doubt our firm belief in Israel.
    Sorry Peter you don’t convince. Our survival as a Jewish people is more important than being nice and obliging to United Nations hypocrites, who would be happy to destroy us, and the hateful disciples of this new evil cocktail of left wing anti-Semitism (disguised as anti-Zionism) and everlasting Islamic Judeophobia.

    • Thank you very much Peter for reminding us of our shared humanity.
      David, how is the survival of us Jews at stake at this time? It seems to me the survival of the Palestinians in Gaza is much more under threat, and by the state established as the Jewish homeland in our name. This mass murder must stop. Just as ‘stopping the boats’ requires a rational, lawful, humane response to the issue of refugees on the modern world, so does ‘stopping the rockets’ need recognition of Palestinian rights and lifting the Occupation. Perhaps hope and faith in humanity are better gudes to action than endless fears of imminent destruction which need a reality check. Regardless of principles, how can Israel survive on its present course? Do

      • Do you really believe that military might alone and eternal domination of another people can ensure security for Israel and Jews? What have we become?

  9. Laibl Wolf says:

    Citing well known intellectuals as a support base doesn’t impress me,Peter. The architects of the Final Solution also possessed PhD’s and cited high ranking academics to support the ‘vermin theory’ about Jews. I am interested in why Peter Slezak chooses this moment to equivocate about the distinction between those who attack and those who are attacked, and like many, falls into the trap of moral relativism. Don’t try to balance ‘the government’ of Hamas’ declaration of Israel’s extermination, with shortcomings on occasion by an Israeli army/citizens that imbues its citizenry and soldiers with ethics and morality to fight a just war. Peter, at a time when the true antisemitic undercurrents are visible for all to see, (a la Kristallnacht, except in located this time in Paris) and coming to the fore in Europe and elsewhere (even right here in Australia) and when the culture of the media is that of ‘avant garde, post modern, ‘hip’ hatred of Israel’, that is not the time to equivocate, especially at a time when your brothers and sisters are weeping and subject to incessant bombardment. Contain yourself and time hurtful pronouncements at a more compassionate moment.

  10. david singer says:

    Peter Slezak

    Could you please furnish me with a list of alternative Palestinian and Arab voices that have responded to the following Hamas declaration:

    “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Moslem generations till Judgement Day?”

    Perhaps you might direct me to alternative Palestinian and Arab voices who condemn the following Hamas declaration:

    “Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Moslem problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?

    “But the Jews will not be pleased with thee, neither the Christians, until thou follow their religion; say, The direction of Allah is the true direction. And verily if thou follow their desires, after the knowledge which hath been given thee, thou shalt find no patron or protector against Allah.” (The Cow – verse 120).
    There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with. As in said in the honourable Hadith:

    “The people of Syria are Allah’s lash in His land. He wreaks His vengeance through them against whomsoever He wishes among His slaves It is unthinkable that those who are double-faced among them should prosper over the faithful. They will certainly die out of grief and desperation.”

    Could you also refer me to alternative Palestinian and Arab voices who have criticised Hamas for indiscriminately firing some 2300 rockets into Israeli civilian population centres over the past 16 days – each of which is indisputably a war crime.

    Perhaps you might add some reading material from alternative Palestinian and Arab commentators condemning Hamas using Gazans as human shields, storing their rockets in UN schools, private homes, hospitals and mosques and failing to supply air raid shelters for the Gazan civilian population whilst Hamas terrorists shelter in the tunnels they built that could have housed the civilian population.

    Have any of your nominated alternative Israeli and Jewish voices – ” Amira Hass and Gideon Levy in Har’aretz, Israel’s human rights organization B’Tselem (, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions ICAHD (, Breaking the Silence (, Mondoweiss (, +972 Magazine (, not least, IAJV: Independent Australian Jewish Voices (

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