Papering over our pain in the time of genocide

May 20, 2024
Flags of Israel and Palestine with a crack in the middle, concept of conflict

Keeping silent, while a genocide is in full swing for all to see, is not good for social cohesion.

These days any expression of grief over the genocide in Gaza is regarded as a threat to social cohesion. Any expression of moral clarity is labelled antisemitic. A large number of us are expected to keep silent and paper over our pain for the sake of social cohesion.

For many of us, this begs the question. Why is it that only our expressions of grief threaten social cohesion? Why is it that only the reasons for our grief must be suppressed in the media? When the war in Ukraine started we did not ask Ukrainian Australians to keep silent for the sake of social cohesion. We listened to their stories, let them express their feelings and voice their opinions, on matters here and matters in Ukraine. When our media and politicians engage in warmongering against China, there is scant regard for social cohesion. When some politicians and sections of the media campaigned against the long overdue and very modest proposal that was The Voice, there seemed to be little concern for social cohesion. On 7 October last year, we felt the anguish of Jewish Australians, and my heart still goes out to them for their suffering over the hostages. There was an outpouring of compassion from politicians and journalists. No politician and no journalist, and rightly so, asked them to paper over their pain and keep silent for the sake of social cohesion.

For me, our media coverage of Israel/ Palestine is a major threat to social cohesion. The framing, the omissions, the choice of words, the choice of whom to interview, and the lack of context, make many of us feel unseen, unheard and unfairly treated. I have come to expect the usual agenda-pushing coverage from corporate media but I expected far better from our public broadcaster. The ABC coverage over the past seven months has been at best inadequate and at worst shameful.

On the day that all hell broke loose because Senator Fatima Payman, alone among her Labor colleagues, had the courage to call out the Gaza Genocide, the University Network for Human Rights released a report that it called “the most thorough legal analysis” yet to find “Israel is committing genocide” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, ‘Most Thorough Legal Analysis’ Yet Concludes Israel Committing Genocide in Gaza | Common Dreams. A week before, Amos Goldberg, Professor of Holocaust History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote his article “Yes, it is genocide” Prof. Amos Goldberg: “Yes, it is genocide” | Jewish Voice for Labour. Did ABC journalists discuss the University Network for Human Rights report? Did they discuss Professor Goldberg’s findings? I am afraid they were busy asking whether Senator Payman should be removed from a foreign affairs committee. A few months ago, many of us would stay up late watching the proceedings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the case brought by South Africa against Israel, only to be dismayed the next morning by the ABC’s coverage. Did this case not deserve extensive and prominent coverage, across the network? Funny how we treat the UN as important at certain times, and ignore it as irrelevant at others.

As our politicians and journalists seek to silence our voices, as they tread gingerly around the starving, wounded, traumatised and slaughtered in Gaza, and as they continue to speak of the ‘conflict’, they do not serve our social cohesion. All they do is reinforce perceptions of ‘double standards’ and ‘hypocrisy’. They remind one section of our community that our leaders’ concern and empathy are doled out selectively, and that our mainstream media has strayed far from its Code of Ethics. Much of what I read in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz will never be published in Australia. Not in order to safeguard our social cohesion but because it would be deemed too critical of Israel. Nowadays, I only read and watch our mainstream media to keep up-to-date with the approved narrative we are being fed. To keep informed and to understand complex issues, I turn to those independent journalists whose insightful analysis and moral clarity shine through their work.

Conflating criticism of Israel’s policies with antisemitism makes Arab Australians afraid of being falsely labelled antisemitic, and Australian Jews afraid of being wrongly seen as responsible for Israel’s policies. This conflation ignores the voices of anti-Zionist Jewish Australians, distracts from real antisemitism, and devalues the immense contribution of Jewish scholarship on the subject.

Keeping silent, while a genocide is in full swing for all to see, is not good for social cohesion. And if it were, it still would not be the moral choice to make.

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