GEORGE BROWNING. Peace on Earth, Good will towards all: Tale of Two Jerusalem Prizes

Dec 9, 2019

The holy city’s name focuses the universal longing for peace: the hope, indeed the expectation that diversity and difference do not need to issue in animosity, injustice and violence, but in mutuality, enrichment from the other’s difference.  It is associated with blessing from Melchizedek the mysterious the King of Salem to Abraham, ancestor, founder and prophet shared by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The city is sacred to all three. 

Last week there were two seemingly similar but very different prizes awarded, each with ‘Jerusalem’ in their name – the ‘Jerusalem Prize’ awarded by the Zionist Federation of Australia to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and the ‘Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize’ awarded by Australians For Palestine and the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network to journalist, author and film-maker Antony Loewenstein.

Which of these two prizes most honours Jerusalem and all that it stands for?

The first prize, awarded by the Zionist coalition, sadly projects an exclusive, intolerant Jerusalem.  It rewards Australia’s support for the steady advance of the Zionist enterprise – the creation and expansion of Israel as an exclusive Jewish theocratic state.  It rewards moves that have undermined the achievement of peace and made the overcoming of generational suspicion animosity and violence so much harder.

The latter prize honours one who has kept the dream of peace alive, one who has fearlessly advocated for the rights of Palestinians to live where they have always lived, and to be treated with civility and equality.  This advocacy has not been against Israel but for a future in which Palestinian and Israeli find commonality through mutual flourishing. 

The current oppression meted out to Palestinians flows over to Israelis for they too are diminished by acts of inhumanity. Peace restores dignity to oppressed and oppressor alike.  The absence of peace is too high a price for Palestinians to pay, but it is also too high a price for Israelis to choose. Palestinians continue to pay a price for the creation of Israel that history cannot now reverse. But despite the pain endured by so many for so long, the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize keeps alive a vision of Jerusalem the unifier, Jerusalem the tolerant. 

 Israelis and Palestinians are both let down by inept and inadequate political leadership and by international failure to insist that Israel abide by international law. There’s little consensus on what justice would look like for the millions of Palestinians in refugee camps or blockaded in the Gaza Strip.  Our Prime Minister is a politician who knows there are always at least two sides to a story, but in aligning himself with the World Zionist Organisation he is choosing one side, and sadly for a Christian, keeping the bird of peace firmly shut in the dovecote.  

From its origins Christianity transferred universal hopes for peace from a place (Jerusalem) to a person (Christ). For a Christian, Shalom-Salem-Peace is a notion that is inclusive, without boundary. The Prime Minister must surely find any moves to exclusivity in this most international of cities utterly contradictory; not least because exclusivity makes victims of those excluded. 

The Prime Minister’s assertion in his acceptance speech that “Israel is a beacon of democracy” is sadly without foundation.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was recently indicted for corruption including exchanging favours with Israeli media outlets. He has not stood down. Israeli Basic Law enacted in 2018 stipulates that “the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people” thus relegating Palestinians to inferior status. We don’t call a system democratic when citizens’ rights depend on their religion or race, nor when that State occupies another people denying them rights freedom and autonomy.

Two prizes have been offered almost simultaneously under what appears to be the same name (tellingly one omits the word peace). One prize was given to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and one to the Australian Jewish journalist and writer Antony Loewenstein. One recipient has honoured and comforted the powerful, the other has advocated the rights of those the powerful have down trodden. The latter is the one who honours Jerusalem, Salem, the city of peace. Bravo Mr Loewenstein!

Bishop George Browning is the former Anglican bishop of Canberra and President of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

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