Asking some tough questions

The following article appears in today’s Canberra Times:

Mad world; daring to question the role of Israel
Jenna Price

I can’t write about Israel. It is way too hard. In my family, I am alone in supporting Israel. In my country, there would be few who would support Israel and its actions – and the others are all raving right-wing maniacs.

Well, when I say support, I think it should exist. My husband and children all believe that it would make more sense to have Israel in, say, Poland. What’s the point in being surrounded by enemies, they ask. So I won’t go into the whole thing about how for centuries, Jews felt as if they were surrounded by enemies, even in Europe. Israel was founded as a giant refugee camp, an idea to which most of us would be sympathetic. But right now I’m even more sympathetic to Lebanese families who are getting bombed to death, when they were just minding their own business and living family lives. Lebanon in summer is beautiful and I was delighted to hear that a young family friend was to visit Lebanon this month and get a crash course in Arabic.

He, of course, is trapped there and getting more than a crash course.

It is no longer fashionable among assimilated Jews like myself to support the existence of the state of Israel, and if you do, you had better want it to be in pre-1967 borders or you lose your licence. Joking. In regular circles, however, Jews who criticise Israel are in big, big trouble. Ask Antony Loewenstein. He is the author of My Israel Question, soon to be published by Melbourne University Press. He grew up in a traditional Melbourne Jewish family, went to a conservative private boys’ school and did honours in arts at Monash. But a few years ago, he started questioning the role of Israel in the Middle East. He started questioning his parents. And, they started questioning themselves. Now, they’ve changed their position – lost a few friends along the way – but accepted their son’s view that maybe the Israeli way is not the right way. (In 1975, I remember helping a charming Palestinian boy screenprint some anti-Zionist posters. My mother went off her head. The Loewenstein parents sound far more moderate.)

Antony, 31, is an only child so maybe they get more sway with their doting parents, but his ability to change the way his parents thought might augur well for the success of his book. And I don’t mean the kind of success where the book goes to number one (although I’m sure he’d like that too). The success we need is to bring, to Jews, the frustrating topic of Israel out into the open. To non-Jews, what Israel has done to recently rebuilt Beirut is a disgrace. And if that was happening to any other country in the universe, Jews would feel the same way. It’s raising that consciousness to reflect what is happening in Lebanon which will be a challenge. Why should Israel exist? For Jews, it was built as a haven and in our minds, continues as one, just in case there is another Holocaust.

But I don’t want that state to be built on the corpses of another forgotten nation, as Jews were forgotten during the Second World War. I know the Israel question. I wish I knew the answer.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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