17 May 2018


by Steve Lieblich, 18 May 2018:

Image may contain: 7 people, including Moshe Yehuda Bernstein, Alex Ryvchin and Navit Shchigel, people smiling, text

Sherry Sufi, Policy Chairman, Liberal Party of Australia (WA Division) organized this debate and discussion at All Saints' College, Bull Creek WA on 17 May 2018. It was a truly admirable effort to arrange the opportunity for such a civil conversation, with the following six eminent panelists.

Dr Moshe Bernstein, an Israeli American academic who undertook extensive training in Rabbinic Studies in Israel, fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, French, German, Chinese and English.
Alex Ryvchin, current Co-CEO of Australia’s peak Jewish representative body the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). His recent book The Anti-Israel Agenda: Inside the Political War on the Jewish State has been internationally acclaimed.
Navit Shchigel , an Israeli Australian educator, activist and an Executive Member of the State Zionist Council of Western Australia, fluent in Hebrew and English.
Noura Mansour, an academic and activist from the city of Acre, with a Bachelors in Political Science and Education and a Masters in International Relations from the University of Haifa, fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, French, Korean and English.
Samah Sabawi, an award winning author, playwright, poet, a Victoria University PhD candidate and an Adviser at the Al-Shabaka think tank, fluent in Arabic and English.
Dr George Hatoum, a Board Member of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), a medical doctor who runs a Family Medical practice in Bankstown NSW with his wife, fluent in Arabic and English.

Sherry’s initiative was enthusiastically received, with over 500 invitees registering to attend, and filling the very-well-appointed, state-of-the-art theatre in the All Saints' College Centre for Performing Arts.

Sherry introduced the event and showed two video messages of encouragement from Liberal Party Parliamentarians.

Each team leader (Alex and Noura) was invited to present a 10-minute introduction.

Alex, in his characteristic eloquence, concisely summarized Jewish history and connection to the land, and then suggested a 5-point process for achieving peace, which included recognition of the Jewish People’s right to a sovereign Jewish nation and the dismantling of Hamas.

Noura used her introductory comments to portray a very personal, emotive narrative. She reviewed her family’s history in the Haifa area, portraying her grandparents lives as filled with harmony and coexistence with Jews and Christians, until the “Nakba” when Palestinians were allegedly expelled from their homes, loaded on boats and pushed out to sea... She suggested that peace must be based on truth and justice. We later discovered what she meant by that.

Then Sherry proceeded directly to Q&A.

Regretfully, as the discussion proceeded, I increasingly gained the impression that the Arab side of the debate is trapped in its pursuit of an all-or-nothing mission, and so peace is NOT possible until that changes.

The Arab team on the panel spent their time repeating the same claims that the PA and Australian so-called “Friends of Palestine” have repeated ad nauseum, that:
  • The so-called “Palestinians” are descended from the ancient Canaanites from which Joshua took the land for the Jewish People
  • “Palestinian” roots in the area go back 10,000 years (despite the fact that the UNRWA definition of a "Palestinian refugee" is someone who lived in Israel from 1946, and lost their home in the 1948-9 war AND their descendents for ever after).
  •  Zionism and Judaism are separate concepts ("good Jews"are not Zionists)
  • Zionism is contrary to Jewish Rabbinic law (because some Rabbis denounced the early political Zionism)
  •  Ashkenazy Jews may not really be Jews 
  • Zionists always planned to forcibly expel Arabs and steal Arab land and homes
  • Israel is an apartheid state
  • Israel’s migration policy is racist because it favours Jews
  • Gaza is an Israeli prison for the Arabs there
  • Israel is engaged in state terrorism, such as murdering the “peaceful protestors” in Gaza this week, or shooting innocent Arabs who just tried to stab a few Jews
  • “the occupation” is the root of all evil – it’s the cause of the flagrant wastage and corruption in the application of foreign aid to the Arabs, and of the dwindling population of Christians in PA-administered territories
The truly critical show-stopper, which palpably extinguished any hope that peace is possible at this time, came when Alex pressed Noura to explain what she meant in seeking “peace with justice”.  She clarified that she means that 6 million alleged descendants of the Arabs displaced from their homes in 1948-9 (most of whom were born outside Israel and have never set foot there) must be allowed to settle in Israel, claim their ancestors’ homes and the full rights of citizens. In her emotive and sentimental manner, she reminisced that her grandmother died outside Israel with the key to her Haifa apartment around her neck. I wonder how I would behave today, if I had worn a key around my neck all my life as a reminder of the Polish farm from which my grandfather was forcibly expelled in 1939?

The debate, in microcosm, summarized the situation of the macrocosm, quite accurately. The Jewish panelists attempted to reason with the audience on a way forward to achieve peaceful coexistence. The Arab panelists sought to score points and “defeat” the Jewish arguments. The Arabs rated verbal, poetic and symbolic victories more highly than any substantive progress towards peaceful reconciliation.

Noura and her well-educated colleagues must see that their unattainable dream predicated on a fake “right of return” for fake “refugees” means the demographic destruction of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish People. By persisting with this all-or-nothing mission and their narrative of insatiable victimhood, peace is impossible. If the only choice they offer, in response to the outstretched hand of peace, is a win-lose choice, then they will lose. Why do they persist?

So, IS PEACE POSSIBLE? Yeah, sure. One day....

Post Script: I had the following two questions prepared, for the Q&A session.

Question 1 -  I was afforded the opportunity to ask this:
20% of Israel’s citizens are Arab Muslims with the same legal rights as any other citizen. However, virtually all Jews have been expelled from Israel’s neighbouring Arab nations and the PA demands territory totally cleansed of Jews for its prospective new Arab state.
Is true peace possible while Jews are rejected as a minority of permanent residents in Arab nations?

Alex suggested that we should ignore Arab antisemitism and just make peace. George denied the facts (the audience expressed shock and amusement).

Question 2 – This question remains un-asked and un-answered.
Muslim nations from Morocco to Pakistan and from Turkey to Yemen, encompassing some half a billion people, are in turmoil, often including horrific violence and mass deaths, from sectarian rivalries and proxy wars by tyrannical hegemons. The Arabs neighbouring Israel also have deadly internal rivalries, between the PA, Hamas and probably also elements of ISIS, Al Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra and others.
How can we promote and be assured of peace between Israel and these few million Arabs, when they have no peace amongst themselves, and when whoever promises anything to Israel today could be assassinated by his own compatriots tomorrow?