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Gawenda's journey

A deeply personal story about Jewish identity
December 2023, no. 460

My Life as a Jew by Michael Gawenda

Scribe, $35 pb, 277 pp

Gawenda's journey

A deeply personal story about Jewish identity
December 2023, no. 460

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.

My Life as a Jew

My Life as a Jew

by Michael Gawenda

Scribe, $35 pb, 277 pp

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Comment (1)

  • In order to explain to us why he does not subscribe to the expressions of horror and outrage at the Israeli state’s ethnic cleansing of Gaza and the West Bank, David Trigger recommends we read his ABR review of Michael Gawanda’s book, 'My Life as a Jew'. Trigger approvingly cites Gawenda’s assertion that “accusing Israelis, and by extension Jews, of behaving like Nazis is now commonplace among parts of the far left”. This deft little phrase, “and by extension, Jews”, is an inexcusable slur against the millions of people around the globe who have very clearly made the crucial distinction between the racist Zionist state and Jewish people. Professor Trigger, by tacitly endorsing the words of Gawanda, should not be allowed to propagate this dangerous insinuation because it is exactly the kind of claim which is being deployed to silence critics of the Israeli regime. In the US and elsewhere, a McCarthyite witch-hunt against these critics is now in full swing, driving respected senior academics from their posts, and there is no question that similar techniques are being or will be employed here. Professor Trigger should be asked to retract that insinuation in ABR.

    When Professor Trigger recites the mantra that historical comparisons drawn between Zionist supremacist ideology and Nazism is “commonplace among parts of the far left”, must we presume he is talking about people such as Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Sydney Hook, and scores of other Jewish intellectuals who made that comparison as early as 1948, stating unequivocally that Menachem Begin and his Herut party (later to become Likud), of whom Netanyahu is the ideological heir, were “fascists”, “racists”, “criminals” and “terrorists”:

    ‘Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the "Freedom Party" (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.
    The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin's political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents”.

    Trigger also fails to note that such comparisons appear to be more common amongst far-right Zionist ethnonationalists, to the utter horror of the staff of the Auschwitz Museum.

    As reported in the Jerusalem Post, The Auschwitz Museum in Poland expressed their disgust at the remarks made by Metula Council head David Azoulai:

    "The entire Gaza Strip should be emptied and leveled flat, just like in Auschwitz." Azoulai said.

    “Memory of victims of Auschwitz has, at times, been violated and instrumentalized in various extreme statements,” the Auschwitz Museum said. “Calling for acts that seem to transgress any civil, wartime, moral, and human laws, that may sound as a call for murder of the scale akin to Auschwitz, puts the whole honest world face-to-face with a madness that must be confronted and firmly rejected.”

    Tony Redmond
    Posted by Anthony Redmond
    22 January 2024

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