Forthcoming in Issue Three of Kill Your Darlings is Antony Loewenstein’s ‘Moving Forward? Australia’s relationship with Israel’.
I first discovered the importance of the Israel/Palestine conflict in my early teens, in Melbourne. I remember sitting around the Sabbath table with my parents and cousins, discussing the events of the week as we consumed schnitzels, soggy vegetables and chicken soup. In an age before the internet, we relied on print and radio for information about the Middle East, and it all seemed terribly far away. During the Intifada in the late 1980s, where there was the first mass-organised Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation, many middle-class Israelis suddenly realised that their government’s actions would come at a high moral price.
My family would rail against Palestinian ‘terrorism’, they abhorred then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Israel was blameless, cast as the eternal victim of irrational Jew-hatred. But the racism against Arabs, and blindness to the validity of Palestinian resistance, struck me as sick, a hangover from a Nazi-at-the-door mentality. I complained and challenged these positions, but I was usually dismissed as young and ignorant.
More than fifteen years later, I wrote My Israel Question as a statement against predictable thinking on the Middle East. I was writing as an atheist Jew, and called for a Judaism that wasn’t infected with Zionist supremacy. I opposed the occupation, challenged the Zionist lobby’s bullying of politicians and journalists, and asked for open debate. In return, I received vitriol and hate-mail from an insecure Jewish community wedded to the idea of Israel as a homeland (even though most of them never wanted to live there, preferring a far more multicultural nation in Australia).
But times are changing. I’ve seen a growing willingness in the wider community to challenge Israeli actions and question the Australian government’s unequivocal support of the Jewish state. These kinds of views, unprecedented a few years ago in mainstream society, are principally due to Israel’s increased intransigence and criminality – a consensus that is growing, despite both the Labor and Liberal parties refusing to open their eyes to the new reality in Palestine. Not that you heard any of this during the federal election campaign. In fact, foreign policy was mostly absent from the debate.
Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based independent journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.