John Minto’s 2020 David Wakim Memorial Lecture
The David Wakim Memorial Lecture, a Pax Christi event, took place in September 2020. Pax Christi International is a Catholic peace movement with 120 member organizations worldwide. Its goals are to support peace, respect civil rights, and promote justice. The lecture by John Minto, then president of The Palestinian Solidarity Network Aotearoa (PSNA), commemorated the life and work of David Wakim, the first national president of Pax Christi. The topic was lies about Palestine.
Wakim was an early member of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, which began in 1982 after Israel invaded Lebanon, threatening the survival of the Palestinian movement. As a result, Wakim frequently faced vilification for discussing the dispossession of Palestinian families from their land and homes.
Preserving the Culture of Indigenous Populations
In relation to PSNA’s name, “Aotearoa” is the Maori name for New Zealand in the language of the indigenous Polynesian people. The use of this designation in the organization’s name reflects its commitment to preserve native populations’ cultures. And this dedication also extends to Israel and Palestine.
PSNA is committed to working with groups both in New Zealand and internationally to build and strengthen campaigns for a free Palestine. In addition to dispelling lies about Palestine in New Zealand and beyond, the PSNA calls for the following:
- A just peace in Palestine depends upon the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland and the dismantling of the Zionist structure of the state of Israel
- Recognition that the further partitioning of Palestine to create the so-called Two-State Solution would only lead to further injustice and suffering
- Acceptance of international law primacy and United Nations resolutions as the basis for ending military occupation and all forms of ethnic discrimination in Israel
- The international community’s responsibility to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- The urgent need for the state of Israel to be called to account for its gross abuses of Palestinian human rights
- Justice requires the establishment of a single state in Palestine: bi-national, secular, and democratic
- Full and equal citizenship for all with ethnic and religious rights protected in a democratic constitution
The PSNA’s ultimate goal is to support campaigns and promote a “free Palestine.” However, what does a “free Palestine” — used as either a verb or noun — really mean? Perhaps its one that is not clouded by “lies.”
A String of Lies
In his lecture, Minto rails against the “string of lies told about Palestine and Palestinians by the pro-Israeli lobby” while acknowledging the fact “that the tide is turning in the Western world in support of Palestinian human rights. We are winning the debate — around the world and here in Aotearoa-New Zealand.”
Minto discusses the growing strength of pro-Palestinian campaigns around the world. He references one — the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), launched in 2005 — as having a particularly strong, global impact.
Minto also credits Jewish voices for part of the reason “the tide is turning” regarding more international support for Palestinian human rights. He brings attention to both Palestinian solidarity activists and members of U.S. Congress (like House representative Marc Pocan, who visited the West Bank in a November 2021 delegation), who have shown strong support for Palestinian rights.
Key Findings in Recent Survey
Perhaps what is most interesting about the speech are Minto’s thoughts on key findings from a survey of Jewish Americans by the thinktank The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, released in July 2021.
In his speech, Minto discusses three main findings of the survey:
- One quarter of American Jews express intensely critical ideas about Israel and Zionism, including that Israel is racist, colonial, and apartheid.
- More than that, 31 percent would vote for Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, regardless of Israel lobby smears of the two congresswomen as antisemitic.
- Despite the efforts of Israel lobby organizations to blame the left for antisemitism, American Jews don’t buy it. Fifty-one percent see the right wing as the source of most antisemitism, while only one percent see the left wing as primarily responsible for anti-semitism (12 percent equally blame both the left and right).
Minto deduces from these findings that the narrative surrounding Israel — “as the only peace-loving, democratic state in the Middle East surrounded by hostile Arab neighbours” — is changing as people — Jews and gentiles alike — begin to realize that creating a state run by and for Jews in a land with a majority non-Jewish population is neither morally Jewish nor democratic.
Censoring the Unfavorable
However, Minto warns against the Israeli lobby in New Zealand, which allegedly has pressured members of the New Zealand media against speaking out in opposition to Israeli military occupation and apartheid policies in Palestine. He uses the example of cartoonist Malcolm Evans, who was fired from The Herald after depicting Israel as an apartheid state. Minto admonishes the pro-Israel New Zealand lobby for intimidating pro-Palestinian groups and individuals until they “silence themselves,” creating a media environment that censors anything unfavorable to Israel with dissenters “being called out publicly as being anti-Semitic.”
Minto’s speech ends with acknowledging Israel has a “major image problem,” and the power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinian territories is “overwhelming.” Minto asks that BDS require Israel to follow international and United Nations resolutions.
He also hammers home the importance of BDS campaigns with specific international targets:
- PUMA (supports Israeli soccer teams in the occupied Palestinian land — and is the main sponsor of the Silver Ferns)
- Hewlett Packard (involved in providing technology used for surveillance and to oppress Palestinians living under military occupation)
- Divestment from the 112 companies identified by the UN Human Rights Council as being complicit in supporting illegal settlement building on Palestinian land
Minto believes that the most important thing that can be done in New Zealand for Palestinians is to recognize the struggle, so activists can begin to take action, perhaps as David Wakim would have wanted.
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