Jews don't count in Victoria
Having been at Melbourne University in the period 1967-72 during the Vietnam War, I’ve been comparing the anti-war Moratorium movement and the current anti-Israel sentiment in the West concerning the fight against Hamas.
Superficially, both involved street marches against the side our governments generally supported (the US, the Israelis). Both involved symbolically flying the flag of the anti-western side (the NLF or Viet Cong; the Palestinians). Both launched one-sided emotional appeals (‘Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?’). And both, obviously, became a defining question of group loyalty and political identification for young adults among the university-educated left.
We might also recall that the big marches eventually had contingents from the more progressive secondary schools, like University High. These were roundly condemned in the mainstream media.
But the contrasts are also striking. We were opposed to the US and Australian involvement in Vietnam because we came to see that it was another nation’s long-running civil war. It posed no foreseeable threat to us. Very few of us actually supported the Viet Cong in terms of its Communist agenda for a post-colonial Vietnam. It was a civil way, and bad things happened to innocent people in both the North and the South, such as napalm and VC massacres of village officials, but neither side, as far as we knew, had been guilty of the appalling atrocities that Hamas committed on 9 October.
Today, the support for the Palestinian cause on the part of the ‘progressive’ left seems dangerously lop-sided. It seems quite lacking in real understanding about the whole Israel/Palestine tragedy over the last 70 years. As bystanders to that long-running mess, and as witnesses to the failure of one peace initiative after another, you would imagine that we in Australia would at least be able to see that the simple-minded condemnation of one side only was pretty idiotic.
Perhaps the demand for Israel (but not Hamas) to stop killing innocents can be explained by an Australian amnesia about the awful facts of war. Apparently we have mythologised the heroics of our past wars (1914 and 1939) to such an extent that we can’t really imagine what it feels like to be a nation at war following an atrocity committed by its declared enemy. In a radio interview a few weeks ago, the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas interviewed a young Israeli woman whose elderly grandparents have been taken hostage. The young woman was obviously in a state of extreme stress merely living from day to day.
It was a reasonably sympathetic interview until the last question, which was ‘What are your feelings about the Palestinian children being bombed in Gaza?’
This was an utterly inappropriate question, coming as it did from someone sitting in a peaceful studio in far-off Melbourne. I felt like saying, PK, imagine it is 1940 and you are interviewing a young woman in London whose family have just been killed by a German bomb. Would you ask her what she thought about innocent children dying in RAF attacks on Berlin? If you did so, you would doubtless be sacked on the spot.
Let’s remember that some 45,000 Londoners died in those air raids in 1940, and that perhaps 2 million German civilians died in the Allied campaign to destroy the Nazis. War is terrible, but people like Australians who are not themselves under lethal attack should not imagine that they have the high moral ground when they call for a cessation of hostilities without any fundamental resolution.
My last point is that the State and Commonwealth governments don’t seem to appreciate that they are presiding over the worst social schism in Australian history. Two communities – the Jewish and the Islamic – are dangerously divided like never before, and one side feels it is under a state of siege in its own city. Feeble platitudes from ministers hardly seem up to the task.
Excellent article as always Julie. The young misinformed teenagers who "protested" in Melbourne this week should have gone through the newly opened Melbourne Holocaust Museum before assembling on the steps outside Flinders St - they really have idea re the reality of the situation, same could be said for many of our elected politicians of all colours......
Ok, I just read the previous draft and the lawyer in me is looking for the marked up changes in this one!
Great article! Would be interested sometime in your thoughts about LGBT promotion in schools which you mentioned (as a parent of younger kids one of my greatest fears in Vic!)
Changes of substance, or just a bit of polishing?