“Zionism Is a Colonial Crime”: Interview with Jews Against the Occupation 48’s Laurie Izaks MacSween

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Jews against genocide

The pro-Palestinian rallygoers of Gadigal-Sydney convened at Hyde Park North last Saturday, marking the city’s 19th Gaza ceasefire protest march, which have all seen a procession of tens of thousands marching in unison to call for an end to the Israeli-perpetrated genocide unfolding.

The majority of the 2.3 million Gazan Palestinians, around 1.5 million, are now in Rafah: the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. And these people, traumatised by four months of ongoing carpet bombing, are starving, are without shelter and diseases are rapidly spreading amongst them.

The death toll is closing in on 30,000 Palestinians, with the majority being civilians. Over 100,000 Palestinians have been injured or killed. Thousands are lost under the rubble of the more than 50 percent destroyed buildings. Food, water, medicine and fuel supplies have been cut since October.

The horror unfolding is like nothing seen before. The protest movement that’s been meeting locally and globally is too unique. And despite authorities, federal and state, doing their utmost to frame these rallies as an expression of antisemitism, Jewish voices have been amongst the strongest.

Not in our name

The International Court of Justice ruled there’s a plausible genocide being perpetrated by Israel in Gaza right now. However, the tendency of Israel, its western backers and the mainstream media is to frame any criticism of this military action as antisemitic, which stifles attempts to deal with it.

Judaism is an ancient religion with its followers being Jewish. Prejudice or hostility towards Jewish people is called antisemitism, which has a long history in Europe. Zionism is a European political doctrine that aims to establish a Jewish state on the land that is historic Palestine.

In the public sphere at present, criticism of Israel, the apartheid regime it’s running and the genocide it’s carrying out is being framed as anti-Jewish rhetoric, when no one is even touching upon Jewish religious beliefs or customs in criticising the military attack upon the Palestinians of Gaza.

So, what’s been occurring across the globe ever since the wholesale massacre in Gaza broke out is that Jewish people have poured out onto the streets, vocally making it known that being Jewish does not equate to support of Israel and they’ve vehemently opposed the clear genocide in Gaza.

Undermining the faith

Established in 2003, Jews Against the Occupation ’48 is a Sydney-based group that’s been part of the strong Jewish voice at marches, which have been on a scale that recalls the rallies at the time of Vietnam, but the difference with this movement is it sprung up immediately with such numbers.

Those voters rallying in Hyde Park each week are furious with the Albanese government, which had recognising Palestine as part of its preelection party platform, yet continues to raise Israel’s right of to defend itself in parliament four months into a mass killing of civilians.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Laurie Izaks MacSween, a spokesperson for Jews Against the Occupation ’48, about how she came to find herself actively campaigning against the Israeli settler colonial project and why false flag antisemitism neglects, as well as fosters, real Jewish hate.

Jews Against the Occupation ’48 member Laurie Izaks MacSween in Hyde Park prior to the 11 February Palestine Action Group Ceasefire rally the city’s 18th march in as many weeks
Jews Against the Occupation ’48 member Laurie Izaks MacSween in Hyde Park prior to the 11 February Palestine Action Group Ceasefire rally the city’s 18th march in as many weeks

Laurie, you were present at last week’s 19th Gadigal-Sydney rally, representing Jews Against the Occupation ’48.

These demonstrations have involved massive outpourings of support, largely ignored by the media, since early October.

And protest numbers show no sign of abating, however neither does Israel in terms of the “plausible” genocide it’s perpetrating in the Gaza Strip.

How would you describe what’s happening to the Palestinians living in the occupied territory of Gaza right now?

Israel has complete control over Gaza’s airspace, land, and sea. And the genocide is an intensification of the Israeli practice known as “mowing the lawn”.

It’s also important to remember that, while Israel’s violence towards the Palestinians is shockingly obvious in Gaza right now, Gaza has been under a ruthless siege for 16 years, the West Bank has been under a brutal occupation for 56 years, and Palestinian citizens of Israel have lived under discriminatory laws for 75 years.

So, what is “mowing the lawn”?

It’s an Israeli expression to describe the periodic assaults upon Gaza: on the people and the infrastructure. The IDF’s stated aim in “moving the lawn” is to deter resistance.

Israel is always battering the Palestinian population. They’re trying to batter them into submission. It has always been the plan and it’s intensifying now.

Israel wants comprehensive control, and, as Netanyahu said some years ago, that’s “from the river to the sea”.

It’s a continuation from 1948. It’s expansionist. They’ve always wanted the land without the people and constructed the myth of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’. And the colonial project has been helped along by Britain and the US for their own interests.

It is much like the concept of terra nullius, where the Palestinian people were not recognised as fully human with human rights.

That speaks to the supremacist Zionist ideology, which considers Palestine the land of the Jews and completely negates the Palestinians as the Indigenous people of that land.

Jewish voices, such as your own, have been some of the most vocal rising up in opposition to Israeli state actions both in Gaza and the West Bank over recent months.

The death toll in Gaza is now around 30,000 majority civilian Palestinians dead. Over 100,000 Palestinians have either been injured or killed. And there are thousands more Palestinians trapped under the rubble.

Why would you say it’s important for Jewish people to play a primary role in the global opposition to the extermination program Israel is currently perpetrating?

It’s being done in our name. It is our responsibility to rebel and resist. It’s our responsibility as Jewish people not to be silent and to stand with oppressed people. If we don’t do that, we’re complicit.

Judaism is a tradition of social responsibility and social activism. We are taught to stand alongside the oppressed and fight injustice.

The conflation of Judaism and Zionism is deliberate on the part of Zionists. They want to speak for the whole diaspora, and that’s not so. There has always been a strong current of Jewish dissent from the Zionist project.

The weekly marches for a Free Palestinian continue after 19 weeks, with massive numbers turning up to each one, with no sign of abating
The weekly marches for a Free Palestinian continue after 19 weeks, with massive numbers turning up to each one, with no sign of abating

That leads me into my next question; the Israeli state and the Israel lobby have been framing criticism of its wholesale massacre and starvation program in the Gaza Strip as antisemitic.

This involves any negative appraisals of actions such as attacks on hospitals, the killing of children and civilians and the controlled demolition of universities being labelled as antisemitic.

What sort of effect would you say this liberal use of the term antisemitic, which is supposed to identify and serve to combat anti-Jewish sentiment, is having?

The Zionist project seeks to paint Jews as the eternal victims. Israel has always lied, been deceptive and framed anything that challenges its narrative as antisemitic.

This framing of criticism as antisemitic dilutes the meaning of antisemitism and encourages scepticism about Jewish historical experience of persecution.

It is dangerous because real antisemitism is allowed to flourish, and it all gets lost in this conflation.

There have been 75 years of brutal and systematic oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli state. The conflation of support for Israel and Jewish identity obviously feeds antisemitic sentiment.

The US veto power in the UN Security Council also ensures Israeli impunity, and this feeds actual antisemitism.

To be clear, there is a distinction between the religion of Judaism and the doctrine of Zionism, which has facilitated the establishment of the Israeli state on top of historic Palestine.

Can you explain this difference?

Judaism is a religion, which encompasses secular Jewish traditions. Zionism has blurred our understanding of what is traditional Jewish practice, which is spiritual, with a political ideology.

The Jewish spiritual practice includes humanity, ethics, and philosophy.

Zionism is a colonial crime. It’s an extremist supremacist political movement that privileges Jews in Israel and in the diaspora to the detriment of the Palestinian people.

Zionism is a wholly European concept. It centres on the European Jewish experience and erases or excludes other Jewish cultures and experiences.

Jewish culture is as diverse as the countries that Jewish people live in. Arab Jews speak Arabic. Iranian Jews speak Farsi. These people are culturally Arab and Iranian. There are Moroccan Jews and Indian Jews in West Bengal and Kerala.

Zionism selectively erases Jewish history, and it puts us all into this victimhood status, in the European sense. It has erased traditions of radical thinking, revolutionary action and solidarity with others to fight for social justice.

Zionism has managed to turn everything on its head.

Awareness of this false labelling of criticism as antisemitism has come to a head at the moment. Do you think it’s being exposed to the point where it will be difficult to continue with it?

I would hope so. Israel has always weaponised antisemitism, supported by both Jewish and Christian Zionists around the world.

Israel takes advantage of the strong block of Christian Zionist support, despite the fact that it is based on deeply antisemitic fundamentalist doctrine.

Jews against genocide

Jews Against the Occupation ’48 have been around for a long time. So, why did you decide to play such an active role in campaigning against Israel, even before the outbreak of the current carnage that commenced in October?

My journey is a lot different from some others’. I didn’t grow up as a Zionist. My mother was from the Netherlands. She escaped the night Holland capitulated in May 1940, when she was ten, along with five or six members of her family. They went first to England and eventually, came to Australia.

My mother was never a Zionist. So, I was lucky. However, we had lots of PEP friends: Jewish “lefties” who were progressive on most issues, except for Palestine. It’s very strange.

These days, Jewish Zionists like to call us self-hating Jews. They disown us, but then claim us as traitors.

So, all through my life, I’ve been involved.

And lastly, Laurie, one of the recent Gadigal-Sydney Free Palestine rallies had a focus on calling on the Australian government to restore its financing of UNRWA, the main agency supplying aid to Gaza.

What are your thoughts on the Albanese government having cut UNRWA funding based on unsubstantiated Israeli allegations?

Dismantling UNRWA is not a new policy of Israel. It targets UNRWA because it keeps the Palestinian refugee issue alive, which is very inconvenient for the Zionist narrative.

Israel has always tried to undermine relief work and UN efforts in general. In 2007 and 2014, and whenever else Israel has “mown the lawn”, they’ve always attacked UN compounds, despite having intelligence provided that they were sheltering civilians.

Israel has also often used propaganda to attack UNRWA. In this instance, only around 10 people out of 12,000 UNRWA staff in Gaza had these unsubstantiated allegations levelled at them, yet Australia saw fit to announce an immediate pause in funding.

This is not the first time Israel has levelled allegations against an aid agency operating in Gaza or the West Bank, nor the first time they’ve destroyed infrastructure provided by the UN and foreign NGOs. Israel has a long history of lying, deceit, and disproportionate use of force.

Australia has always been a US lackey and beholden to the Zionist lobby here.

Israel is just ignoring the ICJ ruling, and this requires all countries to act in respect to stopping the genocide, which includes the provision of humanitarian aid.

As UNRWA is keeping Palestinians in Gaza alive, pausing funding makes Australia complicit in genocide.

Australia’s cutting of aid is just enabling Israel’s genocide, and it is appalling. Politicians can use any doublespeak they like, but they can’t disguise the truth.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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