My Life as a Jew
Scribe, $35 pb, 277 pp
Michael Gawenda has written a deeply personal story about his Jewish identity. It comes during a period when conflict in Israel/Palestine has been painful for all. While he remains committed to a two-state future that supports the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in their own countries, the author critiques influential sections of the political left where acceptance has come to require demonising the Jewish state. A key message of the book is that too often on the left the only good Jew is one who publicly rejects Israel’s right to exist and remains silent when it is declared racist and nothing more than a coloniser of an indigenous population.
The author acknowledges that peace will require achieving viable and self-determining states for both Israelis and Palestinians. Blinkered ideologies that engender hatreds operate across the divide. Along with thousands of Israelis, he would prefer a more progressive government than what has emerged in recent years as a move to the right. He also believes overreaction from Jewish organisations can be counterproductive, such as the 2003 opposition to the Sydney Peace Prize going to a Palestinian activist. However, this book argues strongly that total hostility to Israel, and ignoring legitimate Jewish historical, cultural, and religious connections to the country, are not only morally bankrupt but also unacceptably tolerant of the anti-Semitism that too often infiltrates accusations and critiques.
Long-established stereotypes and prejudices against Jewish people are on the rise; in Gawenda’s view, they are largely ignored by sections of the political left. In countries like France and Sweden, threats come largely from radical Islamists. In Australia, confrontations are less common, but there are security guards routinely stationed at Jewish buildings and institutions. Gawenda’s working experience as a journalist and editor of TheAge has included encounters with anti-Semitism. One example provided is the conspiracy theory that Jewish interests somehow control or illegitimately influence the world’s media coverage of the Middle East conflict. That proposition is, to use the author’s phrasing, bullshit. Furthermore, an accusation of this kind has fuelled historical racism towards Jewish people. The message of the forged publication The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, produced in Russia and disseminated in the early part of the twentieth century, tragically lives on in many parts of the Muslim world.