Nova Peris’ apologism for colonialism and genocide

May 29, 2024
Co-Chairs of the Australian Republic Movement Craig Foster (left) and Nova Peris (right) pose for photographs at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Nova Peris has since resigned her position through difference of opinion in relation to Israel. Image: AAP/Lukas Coch

In repeating blatant Zionist propaganda to justify her support for Israel, Nova Peris erroneously and harmfully conflates Jewish identity with support for the Zionist project in Palestine, which in effect depicts all Jews as complicit in Israel’s criminality. Her abject apologism also betrays all indigenous peoples’ struggles against colonial oppression.

In an interview on Sky News Peris explains that her decision to step down as co-chair of the Australian Republican Movement was prompted by Craig Foster’s social media post that Israel is committing “the gravest crimes against humanity, of apartheid and genocide.” This should not be controversial. Respected human rights organisations have concluded that Israel practises apartheid, and the International Court of Justice is considering whether Israel’s barbarism in Gaza constitutes genocide.

Peris also attempts to dilute the ICJ ruling by noting that Joan Donoghue, president of the ICJ at the time, said in a BBC interview that the ruling means that Palestinians have “plausible rights to protection from genocide.” What Peris omits is that Donoghue continued that these rights were at a real risk of irreparable damage. In other words, according to the UN, “the ICJ found it plausible that Israel’s acts could amount to genocide.”

On 2GB radio, Peris implies that the growing outrage at Israel’s unbridled savagery in Gaza constitutes antisemitism. This is false. Criticism of Israel, even outright rejection of Zionism, is not antisemitic. To the dismay of the Israel lobby, it is unable to silence the growing number of Jewish people condemning not only Israel’s current murderous assault on Gaza, but its occupation in the West Bank, its apartheid, its ongoing ethnic cleansing, and indeed the entire Zionist project.. In its eyes, we are also antisemites. If she wants to stem actual antisemitism, Peris should concern herself with the White nationalists of the far-right.

To understand the twisted nexus between Zionism and racism, Peris should delve into the comprehensively documented relationship between Zionism and the Nazi regime. Israel also has a sordid record of supporting regimes repressing their indigenous populations, from apartheid South Africa to the Guatemalan genocide. Israeli leaders have even cultivated bromances with open and closet antisemites such as Donald Trump, Victor Orban, and Jair Bolsonaro.

Then there’s its embrace of fundamentalist evangelical Christians. Scratch their fanatical Zionist loyalties and find that their philosemitism derives from the belief that an apocalyptic war between Israel and Iran will herald the return of their messiah. Jews who haven’t converted to Christianity will be immolated, but that doesn’t deter Israel from accepting millions in donations, nor from allowing Southern Baptist megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress to pray at the opening of the US embassy in Occupied Jerusalem.

On the basis of a recent ten-day visit to Israel, Peris declares, “there is no apartheid in Israel.” Of course, her minders arranged visits to a kibbutz devastated by the attacks on October 7, and to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. She would have been kept blissfully ignorant of the irony that this monument to genocide overlooks the site, now a psychiatric hospital, of the village of Deir Yassin where Jewish militias massacred scores of Palestinians a full month before Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence, in defiance of ongoing UN negotiations, ignited the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

In a video released earlier this year, Peris echoes Israel’s tactic of accruing to itself credit for admirable action by Jews. While it is true that “Jewish people have played a leading role in establishing the rights of indigenous Australians,” Jews have a strong history of involvement in social justice struggles everywhere, including London’s East End, apartheid South Africa, and the civil rights movement in the US. This comes from Jewish teachings and not, as Peris claims, the Jewish experience of “an eternal connection to a land.”

While many Jewish people feel a strong connection to places that feature in our historical and religious narratives, neither Jewish faith nor Jewish spiritual practice is land-based, and Jews are not analogous with indigenous peoples in their profound spiritual interrelationship with Country. The ancient historic Jewish presence in historic Palestine is irrelevant to Zionist claims on its real estate. Jews lived in Palestine for centuries, as they did across the Arab world, enjoying rights and protections beyond imagining for those of us who endured centuries of persecution in Christian Europe. As Hamas makes very clear in its 2017 charter, the Palestinian grievance is with Zionism, a colonial project, not with Judaism or Jewish people.

Peris is correct in her refutation of the lie of Terra Nullius. It is, however, ironic that she places Jews as the indigenous people, when it was the Jewish European founders of Zionism who claimed that Palestine was “a land without a people (for a people without a land).” She is similarly ill-informed in her outrage that Jews in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory are called “settler colonialists.” The Zionists clearly stated their intention to establish a colony in Palestine, and sought diplomatic and financial support for the project.

Peris is “saddened to see our sacred Aboriginal flag […] being misappropriated by Palestinian, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish groups in Australia.” On the contrary, the Aboriginal people standing in solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for human and national rights understand their shared identity as colonised peoples. Furthermore, the Palestine solidarity movement explicitly rejects antisemitism, as it does all forms of racism and exclusion. As Jews, we are particularly warmly welcomed. The only anti-Jewish behaviour most of us experience is from Zionist Jews, who accost us in the street and on public transport, threaten our careers, shower us with deeply antisemitic abuse in council meetings, and even assault us.

Peris’ commitment to “Truth Telling” is admirable. However, she cannot deliver on that promise while her views remain captive to a lobby group with no scruples, and entrenched networks of influence. An awareness of the actual history and current realities in Israel-Palestine would surely prompt Peris to reconsider her support for a country with a shocking record of colonial violence. A growing number of Jewish Australians would welcome her commitment to justice for all people between the River and the Sea.

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