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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Peace activist urges Jews to speak out

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Jewish peace activist Avigail Abarbanel, centre, with two of the 25 contributors to her book, Ray Bergmann and Nicole Erlich, both of Brisbane, after the talk at Byron Bay Community Centre on Saturday.

Photo and story Luis Feliu

Israeli-born Palestinian-rights and peace activist Avigail Abarbanel continues to feel the wrath of family and Jews everywhere after turning against everything she’d been taught about the state of Israel and how it came into being.

But she is no longer afraid to speak out against her own ‘tribe’ and urges Jews everywhere not to remain silent and to speak up for human right and against injustice, especially in Palestine.

Ms Abarbanel is on a lecture tour of Australia promoting the book Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists, a collection of 25 essays by Jewish peace activists around the world, which she compiled and edited.

The 48-year-old psychotherapist told an audience at Byron Bay Community Centre on Saturday that up till around 12 years ago, she had always believed in the ‘Israel right or wrong’ mantra, and like most Israelis did not question the actions of their government towards the Palestinians.

She says it’s expected in Jewish communities around the world that all Jews embrace Zionism and give loyal and unquestioning support for Israel and those who criticise Israel are often excluded, vilified and threatened.

Ms Abarbanel, who lives and works near Inverness in Scotland, said that even when she was living and studying in Australia years ago, she still accepted much of what she’d been taught about Israel and Palestine and had even written a thesis on the Australian response to the Kristalnacht, the 1938 attack on Jews in Nazi Germany.

‘I, like many other young Israelis, believed everything we were taught about Israel; and it happens at an early age, we were made to feel proud that we made a country bloom out of the desert, a technological wonder,’ she told the audience of around 40 people.

But that was all to suddenly change as her academic career grew, especially after reading books by historians on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which greatly influenced her, including works by Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe.

‘I was horrified and didn’t realise how much brainwashing had gone on for years during my childhood, in school and the military service and how much fear was a part of that. I know I was a Zionist till much later when I questioned the whole process and what had happened in 1948 [when the state of Israel was declared],’ she said.

‘Reading all this upset and confused me and made me question everything I had felt before; I also felt a sense of betrayal that I had been lied to – how could I be so naive?

‘I had a strong sense of rightness and loyalty of us (Israel) being there and what’s right and wrong,’ she said.

Ethnic cleansing

But she didn’t mince her words on the issue, saying what’s going on in Palestine is ‘ethnic cleansing’, a land-grabbing ‘occupation’ and ‘colonisation’.

‘Israel wants more land; they have no intention whatsoever of finding a peaceful solution to the conflict,’ she said.

‘I gave up my Israeli citizenship in protest after realising what was going on. I felt strongly that it was wrong to create a nation at the expense of another people; I drew the line at that.’

Ms Abarbanel says many Jews like her who do speak out against Israel are vilified and branded traitors, but she believes if more Israelis and Jews around the world stopped being ‘afraid’ and spoke out against injustice, they would feel better about themselves.

During her Australian tour so far, the pro-Israeli lobby has tried to close down or disrupt three of her speaking events, including one at a recent Melbourne Jewish cultural festival.

The Australian Jewish News labelled her in a headline an ‘Israel basher’.

She says she believes in a one-state solution, a non-religious democratic state for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, which she describes as an ‘apartheid state’.

At one of her Melbourne talks, Ms Abarbanel said she was asked by a Jewish audience member ‘why can’t the Palestinians get over it, like the Aborigines have in Australia’.

Brisbane man Ray Bergmann, a contributor in the book, said that when he attended a Jewish youth camp in Sydney as a youngster, he realised a Zionist songbook was wrong in historical fact and simply ‘biased propaganda’.

‘The songs we were taught to sing portrayed Arabs in a negative stereotype and I complained they were teaching us an obviously skewed history to justify what could be understood as an enormous war crime in perpetuating the exclusion of Palestinians from their own homeland since 1948, and justifying a Jewish exclusivity that seemed little different from antisemitism – just a reversal of victim and oppressor!’ Mr Bergmann wrote.

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  1. Onya Abigail !! well done.
    Judahism is a religion. Zionism is a political ideology. Apples and oranges.
    Every country should have the freedom to criticise their own government’s policies.

    “When the people are afraid of their government, that is dictatorship. When the government is afraid of the people, that’s democracy.”
    ( winston Churchill)

  2. Good for Avigail! I’ve heard her on radio and at public meetings in Canberra and she talks good sense. There is no real alternative to a
    ‘one nation’ solution long term. I guess we just have to wait for the current generation of Zionist hardliners to die out though which means more lives lost in the meantime.


    • What about waiting for all the Palestinian hardliners to die out. Gee that would be a racist statement. But it is OK to say that Zionists should die out.

      Instead of wanting people to die out how about some mutual recognition.

  3. Wow, what an amazingly courageous and beautiful woman she is! I commend her for standing up for what she believes is right and for her compassion.

  4. Avigail’s “Beyond Tribal Loyalties” should be acquired at all major Jewish Day schools in Australia. Let it be discussed, disputed and disdained by many. However I feel that the intrinsic value of it will be appreciated by more at such schools – staff and students alike – than many realise.

    The ‘Israel bashers’ are those who do their utmost to suppress such compilations. Not those who create them. Time will prove this to be the case.

  5. “There is no real alternative to a
    ‘one nation’ solution long term”

    People like FatherJon have been crying for the destruction of the nation of Israel long before there was a state of Israel.

    No one here or in Israel tries to suppress “such compilations”, or any other book. What do you think this? An Islamic republic with any surviving Jews safely reduced to dhimmitude ? The “one state” of “Palestine” . March on Islamic totalitarian imperialism. There are hundreds of millions in the world left to oppress and that’s just the women.

  6. Ok so all the problems are because of those Jews again.

    Lets see a one state solution with secular government called Palestine. All the Jews will be treated fairly and there will be complete religious freedom. Was that a pig I saw flying just now?

    We know that Hamas the government of Gaza loves Jews. Their charter only calls for the “Death of All Jews as an affront to Islam. Yes they will be kind and gentle to the Israelis.

    It is amazing that the Israeli Arabs have more rights and freedoms than in any of the Arab countries. Oh yes a Hamas Palestine would be so good to have around.

    So Ms Abarbanel solution is to do away with the state of Israel and have one state controlled by the Islamic Brotherhood. What a good Idea. Can’t wait to see it.


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