Dr Jeff Halper is an American born, Israeli-based professor of anthropology, author and co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). This 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominated group resists the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the illegally occupied West Bank. It uses non-violence and civil obedience.

In 2008 Halper sailed as the only Jew on a protest boat from Cyprus to Gaza to highlight Israel’s collective punishment of the Strip. He told an audience in Canada in January that, “The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not because there was a hurricane. There are [Western] countries that are creating starvation in Gaza”.

Halper has just arrived in Australia for a two-week national tour, appeared on yesterday’s Radio National Breakfast and ABC Radio PM, with much more media to come, and will be speaking at universities and public meetings across the country.

But you won’t be reading about his Sydney events in the Australian Jewish News (AJN). The publisher has refused to run ads by Jews Against the Occupation (JAO) that simply inform people of Halper’s schedule. The group was given no reason for the decision except that the publisher had instructed the paper not to allow the ads to appear. Crikey has seen the ad and it only contains titles and locations of the lectures and contact phone numbers.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald also confirms that a planned talk at a leading Sydney liberal synagogue was cancelled due to pressure from the Zionist lobby.

I contacted the AJN’s National Editor, Ashley Browne, to shed more light on the decision to block the ad. He said that the paper was not obliged to run the ads and refused ads all the time.

When pushed, he acknowledged that he supported the publisher, Polaris Media’s Robert Magid — who recently claimed in the paper that the late English playwright Harold Pinter was a “political extremist” for daring to criticise Israel — to cut ads that would “offend significant members of the community, especially subscribers”. I asked him how an ad that simply listed a handful of events would be “offensive”, but he gave no further information.

Magid told the Herald that he rejected the ad because he didn’t “like the crowd who are bringing him out.” He went on: “I am familiar with them. They use their Judaism to bash other Jews and issues associated with the Jewish community.”

I queried Browne why the paper seemed happy to run irregular ads from the fundamentalist, West Bank settler movement. “Nobody has ever complained about those ads,” he replied. Clearly the message of the colonial project in the West Bank — a recent EU report found yet more evidence of illegal development around East Jerusalem — is less “offensive” than a mild-mannered Jewish peace activist.

This latest example of censorship follows a long history of the mainstream Jewish establishment being fearful over honestly debating Israel/Palestine (something we’ve seen over the last days in the US over the forced resignation of Israel critic Charles W Freeman from the post of Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Read more here.

It’s hard to disagree with leading British Jewish thinker, Antony Lerman, who wrote in last week’s London Independent that until Jews stop always seeing themselves as victims, peace in the Middle East is impossible. It’s a shame the AJN doesn’t take its democratic responsibility seriously. Debate over the Middle East is raging overseas and new, more moderate voices, are emerging. Such perspectives are largely absent from the country’s only national, Jewish paper.

Instead, the AJN ran a piece last week by novelist Alan Gold, arguing against the UN’s upcoming anti-racism conference, Durban II: “And now that the storm clouds are gathering over Geneva, we can only look on in horror, and feel as our parents or grandparents must have felt in 1933.”

Memo to the AJN: Hitler died in 1945.

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based journalist and author

Peter Fray

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