How did an undergraduate peacenik morph into a spokesman for the Israeli army?

The Guy Spigelman I remember was a long-haired hippie-type affiliated with the Labor Students Club (controlled by the Socialist Left faction) and was elected to the Macquarie University Students’ Council on a ticket entitled “Students Against Racism”, his number two being a female student of Jordanian background.

Though active in the Macquarie Uni branch of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), Spigelman was despised by Jewish members of the Liberal Club who saw him as too wishy-washy and too pro-Arab. Spigelman actively sought dialogue with students of Palestinian background.

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In 1992, well before the Oslo accords and at a time when Palestinians were still regarded as a nation of terrorists, at a debate organised by AUJS on the topic of whether Israel should withdraw from the West Bank (or as some rightwing AUJS apparatchiks called it, “Judea and Samaria”) and Gaza, Spigelman supported Israeli withdrawal. Admittedly the reasons he used were more to do with Israeli security (he argued that a survey of retired Israeli generals showed most believe that holding onto the territories didn’t palpably increase Israel’s security) than with any right of Palestinians to a homeland. But he did hack into one Jewish student who made some racist remarks suggesting Arabs were inherently irrational and violent.

A 2006 post on Spigelman’s Australian Jewish News blog speculates on the factors that might affect support for Israel in Australia:

Another scenario — and this has been identified by polling undertaken in Europe — is that the world is becoming increasingly concerned with Islamic Fundamentalism and terrorism — and while there is no great love for Israel, there is less love for the Arabs.

This should not provide us with much comfort. We should not rely on the problems the other side has in order to better our position.

The other side? Maybe Spigelman wasn’t as inclusive and ecumenical in his thinking as I may have thought. Still, Spigelman does have some good advice on how supporters of Israel can help their cause:

…I believe the best advocacy is one that is vigilant in engaging all sectors of the society – from the left to the right – combined with encouragement (and not stifling) of informed debate – including criticism when it is warranted.

It’s advice ignored by Israel’s own ambassador in The Age today.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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