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EDITORIAL: Cancelling Allegra is the Jewish community shooting itself in the foot

The Jewish Independent
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Australia Reacts To War Between Israel And Palestine’s Hamas

Allegra Spender speaks during a ‘United With Israel – Bring Them Home’ protest in November in Sydney (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Published: 7 March 2024

Last updated: 27 March 2024

Let’s get this straight: you can care about suffering Palestinians without being an enemy of Israel.

There is a deep irony in the news that Courage to Care (NSW) has uninvited MP Allegra Spender, who was scheduled to speak at its 25th anniversary lunch, because of her concern for humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Courage to Care (C2C), an otherwise excellent charity, is dedicated to promoting the importance of being an “upstander” rather than a bystander in the face of injustice. Drawing on the stories of the righteous among the nations who sheltered Jews in the Holocaust, it teaches moral courage.

Spender’s supposed offence was to sign a letter calling for the Australian government to resume humanitarian aid funding to Gaza, if necessary through UNRWA.

Polarised thinking demands people either “stand with Israel” unquestioningly or “support free Palestine” by renouncing Israel completely.

In other words, a charity dedicated to standing up for victims has cancelled a speaker because she dared to speak up for Palestinian victims.

There are good reasons to support aid through UNRWA and good reasons to oppose it.

Australia cancelled its aid because there is clear evidence that the UN relief agency is riddled with Hamas terrorists, including some who participated in the October 7 massacre.

It is clear that some portion of the aid is being diverted by Hamas operatives who use hospitals as terrorist bases and have no compunction about denying food to their own people. The decision was in line with a move made by at least nine countries, including UNRWA's major funder, the US.

On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, many of them children, are desperately in need of food, shelter and medical supplies and, while direct drops have started, UNRWA is the only organisation placed to provide widespread aid. Even given the likelihood that some of the aid will provide succour to terrorists, there is a strong case to do what we can to help civilians.

Whether and how to provide aid through UNRWA has become a genuine quandary but, wherever you stand, any reasonable analysis acknowledges that it is possible to want to aid Palestinians while continuing to oppose Hamas and support the right of Israel to self-defence.

Spender represents Wentworth, which has a high proportion of Jewish voters. She has been an outspoken friend of Israel and of Jewish Australians. She was among the first public figures to respond to the October 7 massacre, promoting the lighting of the Sydney Opera House in solidarity with Israel and offering support to Australian Jews affected by the tragedy.

Cancelling Spender is not only wrong but also deeply foolish for the Jewish community.

She also believes Australia should resume aid to Gaza and, together with other Teal MPs, signed a letter last Friday asking foreign minister Penny Wong to restore aid, either through an alternative pathway or by finding a solution that restores funding to UNRWA.

“We recognise the government needs to balance… two legitimate concerns – ensuring our aid does not support terrorism, while supporting Palestinian civilians in a dire humanitarian situation. We believe that it is critical that either an alternative pathway is found to deliver urgent aid, or that the government provides immediate clear direction as to what actions UNRWA can feasibly take in order that funding can be restored,” they wrote.

Courage to Care (NSW) responded by removing Spender as guest speaker for their event, arguing anger over the letter would make her presence “distracting” to the charity's achievements.

We are certainly distracted now – not by Spender supporting aid to Gaza but by a short-sighted and narrow-minded decision by a Jewish community organisation that should know better.

The cancelling of speakers appears to have become a reflex reaction which ensures nobody will listen to anybody with whom they have even the slightest difference of opinion. It’s particularly galling when it comes from a Jewish organisation in the same week that the community expressed outrage at the cancellation of Israeli keynote speaker Moshe Farchi by the Frontline Mental Health Conference.

Claiming “security concerns” (Frontline) or “distraction” (C2C) is disingenuous. What we are in fact seeing is polarised thinking which demands people either “stand with Israel” unquestioningly or “support free Palestine” by renouncing Israel completely.

Let’s get this straight: you can care about suffering Palestinians without being an enemy of Israel. You can support a ceasefire while still believing in Israel’s right to self-defence. You can believe in a Palestinian state without thinking for a minute that it should be “from the river to the sea”.

C2C apparently received dozens of phone calls from Jewish community members pushing a black-and-white view of support for Israel and threatening not to attend their event if Spender spoke. That it folded to such pressure is moral cowardice unworthy of its mission.

Cancelling Spender is not only wrong but also deeply foolish for the Jewish community. No portion of the Australian community is more at risk from the decline in social cohesion which has accompanied the Israel-Hamas war than Australian Jews. We are experiencing cases of death threats, boycotts and doxing and a dismaying growth in antisemitism. We should be pleased to have friends who are not blind partisans but thoughtful supporters who understand the grey zone.

Spender is a good friend of the Jewish community. Her support should be valued, and any differences discussed sensitively and respectfully.

This is not the first time the Jewish community has failed to recognise a friend and made them into an enemy through simplistic demands for what constitutes support of Israel. Former NSW Premier Bob Carr, who founded Labor Friends of Israel, is now one of Israel’s harshest critics in Australia politics.

While Carr’s move against Israel is no doubt connected to Israel’s move to the right, it was certainly not helped by the Jewish community’s refusal to understand that criticising Israel and supporting a Palestinian state do not necessarily make someone “anti-Israel”.

Spender should know that there are many Jewish Australians who care deeply about Israel and also care deeply about the suffering of Palestinians. She is welcome in our community.


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The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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