Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists

Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists

A report of an event at Wayside Chapel, 29 Hughes St, Potts Point,Saturday June 16, 2012, 1.30 – 3.30 pm.


The Uniting Church in Australia New South Wales and ACT Synod Relations with Other Faiths Committee (“The Committee”) has a mandate that includes:

  • developing resources for congregations and groups to use in the multi-faith activities, and to share experiences and learning locally and nationally;
  • maintaining contact with people of other faiths and their leaders;
  • providing advice and assistance to all councils of the church as requested.

Recalling that the Heads of Churches Statement on the June 4, 2008, recommended:

  • it is time for Australia to become much more active in the cause of peace in the Holy Land
  • persistent advocacy for a freely and peacefully negotiated solution acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians, whether in the form of two states or one
  • greater recognition of the plight of Palestinians after 41 years of military occupation;
  • advocacy for the implementation of international law in reaching a negotiated solution.

Recalling the 12th Uniting Church in Australia Assembly (2009) statement on “Jews and Judaism” that held “the State of Israel and a Palestinian State each have the right to live side by side in peace and security.”

The New South Wales and ACT Synod Standing Committee requested the Committee in July 2010 to:

“meet with Jewish and Muslim leaders to seek collaborative ways to work together to respond to anti-Semitism, Holocaust/Shoah denial, anti-Arabism or anti-Islamic views; and free and open discussion on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” (156/10SC, July 2, 2010).

The rationale for this request was to encourage more open interfaith discussions. Interfaith dialogue is understood as “necessary to specifically target key issues of conflict”. As such there “is an urgent need for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (amongst other issues) to be discussed with greater openness and candour” (New South Wales & ACT Synod Standing Committee 156/10SC, July 2, 2010).

As a result of this Synod Standing Committee resolution the Committee has met with Jewish Voices for Peace (JVOP) — a network of members of the Sydney Jewish community at Chapel By the Sea and at the home of one of the members of JVOP. The Committee has also heard from a representative of Jews Against the Occupation — a Sydney based group advocating for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territory.

It was through this connection with Jews Against the Occupation that the Committee was asked to host Avigail Abarbanel. The hosting of the event does not imply endorsement by the Committee of what was said, but an openness to provide a safe place for a dissenting voice and to hear different views.

Report on the day

On Saturday June 16, 2012 Avigail Abarbanel spoke at Wayside Chapel, Potts Point.

The event was hosted by the Uniting Church in Australia: New South Wales and ACT Synod Relations with Other Faiths Committee (“the Committee”).

Ms Abarbanel was visiting Australia as a guest of Just Peace a Brisbane-based organisation whose aim is to raise public awareness about alternatives to war and the necessity of justice in achieving lasting peace. Ms Abarbanel was also in Australia to launch her book Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists.

Beyond Tribal Loyalties looks at the lives of 25 Jews from Australia, Canada, Israel, United Kingdom and the United States. Peter Slezak from Independent Jewish Voices and Vivienne Porzsolt from Jews Against the Occupation and Jewish Voices for Peace are featured in the book. Other peace activists include Jeff Halper, Illan Pappe, Anna Baltzer, and Rich Forer.

Ms Abarbanel was born in Israel in 1964. After school, she completed her compulsory two years in the Israeli army, initially training as a platoon commander. She completed her military service as a Staff Sergeant. She studied Social Sciences at Bar-Ilan University. She moved to Australia in 1991. She studied a Bachelor of Arts at Macquarie University in Sydney. She then studied Counselling and Psychotherapy and worked in counselling practice for ten years. In 2011 she moved to Scotland.

Ms Abarbanel describes herself as anti-occupation, pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist activist. She attributes the catalyst for her “conversion” from Zionism following first hearing Israeli historian, Avi Shlaimin 2000 speaking on an ABC Radio Programme and then reading his book The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World in 2001. At the time the Second Intifada was occurring.

Ms Abarbanel’s mother was born in Bucharest at the end of the Second World War. Her mother’s father was a Holocaust survivor. Her father’s mother came from a Jewish Greek family.

Ms Abarbanel advocates for a single democratic state of Palestine-Israel with equal rights for all its citizens, she supports the return of Palestinian refugees. She sees Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a non-violent way to end the occupation of Palestinians and bring about a free and democratic state for all the people in Israel and Palestine regardless of religion or ethnicity.

In 2002, Ms Abarbanel, in response to a backlash towards Muslim women who wore head scarves, instigated the National Headscarf day.

The event began with a welcome by Rev Graham Long of Wayside Chapel and an acknowledgement of country was given by Pastor Ray Minniecon. Pastor Minniecon is a descendant of the Kabi Kabi people of South East Queensland. Pastor Minniecon spoke about his own family connection to Palestine and Israel – his grandfather was a soldier in World War I and took part in the in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in Palestine.

Secondly, Pastor Minniecon spoke of the example of William Cooper’s protest of the attacks on Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria. The attacks are called Kristallnact “crystal night” signifying the destruction that led to the deaths of at least 91 Jews and widespread property damage (e.g. broken glass windows). Pastor Minniecon reminded the audience that Indigenous Australians, like his grandfather and William Cooper, were not recognised in the Australian constitution at that time as human beings and counted with flora and fauna.

Following the Acknowledgement of Country, Stewart Mills, a member of the Committee welcomed Ms Abarbanel and acknowledged the controversy surrounding Ms Abarbanel’s visit and confirmed that Ms Abarbanel’s event — despite one news report — was indeed hosted by the Committee. Mr Mills gave an overview of Ms Abarbanel’s book Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists. Mr Mills then welcome Ms Abarbanel to speak.

Ms Abarbanel introduced herself and gave a background to her book. Given the controversy and personal attacks against her. Ms Abarbanel felt it necessary to devote a significant period of time for her talk to be the words of Israeli academic Nurit Peled-Elhanan.

Ms Peled-Elhanan is significant as she herself is a mother of a child killed in a suicide bombing attack in 1997 (the attack killed her daughter). Ms Peled-Elhanan is also significant because her father was a general during the 1967 Arab-Israel war and her grandfather was a signatory to Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Ms Peled-Elhanan instead of becoming bitter, became more critical of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people.

She gave a speech on the June 9, 2012, titled “The 45th birthday of the Occupation”.

The event closed with some discussion around the use of language and how language affected dialogue. Particular debate focused on the word “occupation”. The question was raised whether use of the word occupation was an obstacle to dialogue. However, there was no alternative offered to describe what was happening to the Palestinian people, other than occupation.

Ms Abarbanel was thanked for her time and was presented Noodle cake filled with pistachios (her childhood favourite sweet), some Adriano Zumbo sweets and a card of Sydney with a pop-out Sydney Harbour Bridge: the card reflects Ms Abarbanel’s cultural bridge-building.

For further information:

Late Night Live, “Jewish Peace Activists”, ABC Radio National, June 12, 2012

Avigail Abarbanel (ed), “Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists”, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012

Nurit Peled, “The 45th Birthday of the Occupation”, Speech at Gan Meir, Tel Aviv, June 9, 2012


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