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"I am a proud Israeli and a proud Zionist": Dr Mike Benn's letter to the Maccabean

Dr Mike Benn, a Perth-born Israeli who made aliyah in 1981, wrote the following op-ed for this week's edition of Perth's "The Maccabean", after ads for NIF's screenings of "Magash Hakesef" were rejected:

The Maccabean [logo]

Dear Editor,

I have read with interest the recent controversy regarding the refusal by The Maccabean management, to accept an ad placed by the New Israel Fund Australia (NIF), promoting the screening of the Israeli documentary– The Silver Platter.

But before dealing with the issue itself, your Readers may ask by what right do I have to comment on this matter. I was born & bred in Perth – a descendant of Jewish grandparents who arrived in Perth in the 1920’s and 30’s. I was amongst the founding classes of Carmel School. I was an active leader of Habonim and played a leading role in tertiary Jewish student activities.

With the deepest respect for my friends who chose to remain in Australia and to support Israel from “the outside”, in 1981 I made Aliyah and immersed myself in Israeli life – marriage to an Israeli, a captain in the IDF, a kibbutznik and today a self-employed city-dweller.

Thus I believe that as a person whose roots lie in the Perth Jewish community, but who has spent the last 35 years living in Israel, I have full rights to comment on this matter.

But to the issue at hand… On what grounds has The Maccabean management decided not to accept an ad promoting an Israeli documentary? The Silver Platter was broadcast on Israeli television and seen by over 1 million viewers. The opening credits to the documentary, include the Israeli Ministry of Culture & Sport. It seems strange that The Maccabean management has taken on the indirect censorial role that is even stricter than that of the Israeli government itself!

Having viewed the documentary, I cannot fathom what all the fuss is about. Basically The Silver Platter looks at social injustice in Israel – more specifically, economic inequality. There is no exposure of any state secrets and the issues covered by the documentary are topics that are openly discussed in Israel’s media, on a weekly basis.

So if the contents of the documentary is not the problem, what is? Is it because the film is being promoted by The New Israel Fund, Australia? The New Israel Fund is a non-profit organisation promoting social justice, human rights and religious tolerance. Unfortunately, in recent years, in Israel, terms such as “human rights” have become dirty words. Anyone who is seen as even leaning slightly to the left is labelled “anti-Zionist” (at the best) and even “traitor” (as was Yitzhak Rabin prior to his assassination). The last few years has seen a wave of McCarthyism-like fanaticism in Israeli government circles, with the aim of wiping out all “dissenters”. The New Israel Fund has become one of the many targets of this recent anti-democratic Israeli government policy.

I am a proud Israeli and a proud Zionist, who has lived most of his adult life in Israel … and plans to continue to do so. But loving Israel does not mean that criticism of Israeli government policy is illegitimate or even an act of treason. Self-criticism is not a sign of weakness, but of strength … the sign of a healthy society.

I urge The Maccabean management to reconsider its position on this matter and to allow the promotion of an Israeli documentary which portrays yet another aspect of Israeli society and enables we Israelis to look in the mirror and see ourselves “warts & all”. This is the first step towards a just, democratic and Jewish Israeli society.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Mike Benn