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My progressive peers won’t mention the war. At least not to me

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15 December 2023, Brisbane Times, by Ruth Ritchie

As a lifelong protester who has always enjoyed the furious agreement of my peers, conversations since October 7 have revealed an uncomfortable development. I appear to be walking around in a fat suit that resembles the hideous love child of Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump.

Silent colleagues might be afraid of the suit, or their minds are already made up. Always certain, and sometimes right. The identity dysmorphia of one lone writer/arts supporter is nothing in the greater scheme of things. Tragedy in Israel and Gaza is the insurmountable problem, but the undercurrent stifling useful conversation grows stronger daily.

Imagine an Arthur Miller play set in an antipodean theatre company 1000 kilometres from a Middle East war zone. After an initially gentle, probably misguided on-stage gesture traumatises Jewish members of the audience, all hell breaks loose. In the name of peace, white-hot anger and hatred erupts. Nobody apologises or listens, and a beautiful wharf devolves into a tower of Babel. Biblical reference unavoidable.

I parted ways with the Sydney Theatre Company following the curtain-call protest on the opening night of The Seagull. After weeks of stalemate, with no apology from the artists, I had to walk. In my resignation from the STC foundation, I confessed to being “technically not even Jewish enough to hold this microphone. I’m half Jewish, which as my Jewish father repeatedly pointed out, was not a distinction that would have bothered the Nazis. Don’t think because I am half Jewish, that I feel half the outrage … As the progressive left abandons traditional stalwarts and allies … we find ourselves ostracised from our own cool group – the outliers, the artists, the big thinkers. We are bewildered, and the time for frank conversation has come.”

My letter to foundation board members, quoted in this publication on Monday, tested the uncomfortable silence, not from STC staff, who have done nothing but speak to stakeholders. It was a challenge to anyone who might fear repercussions. I, myself, declined to appear on ABC’s 7.30 this week, out of fear of an emotional misstep on my part. (Did I just admit to being afraid of the ABC?)

Can we please not burden the beleaguered STC with this problem any further? (The furore could have kicked off in any museum or theatre.)

Here are just a few hot topics that make bystanders squirm. An unwillingness to separate Netanyahu from Jews or Hamas from Palestinian citizens. Intersectional activists (sincere champions of nearly every marginal disenfranchised group) demanding an all-or-nothing alliance without investigation or question. A fear of further enraging intersectional activists by challenging their right to protest in the workplace. The identification of First Nations artists with Palestinian victims. Open to interpretation: the slogan “from the river to the sea”. Hamas – terrorists or just the people who have blitzed the PR on this thing. Dive in and get your hands dirty. Pick any of the above when you want to blow up Christmas lunch.

I’ve spoken to mature artists about these conversation starters. They, and so many non-Jewish friends, are more than a little intimidated. Jews struggle to speak plainly outside the community, yet none I’ve spoken to endorse the violence that has taken place in the past two months. Having grown up confidently believing that the expression “never again” was universally agreed, only to discover it means “any time now”, Jews are isolated from neighbours. And the general public doubts the rise of antisemitism. Commemorating Kristallnacht in Berlin on November 9 this year, the events of 1938 were conjured as a timely cautionary tale, not a historical memory. Germans get it. Why don’t we?

Social media is unfortunately no arena for nuance. As Obama said recently on Pod Save America: “If there’s any chance of us being able to act constructively to do something, it will require an admission of complexity and maintaining what on the surface may seem contradictory ideas that what Hamas did was horrific, and there’s no justification for it. And … that the occupation and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable.” Reducing that complexity to a six-word slogan that plays on Insta or TikTok is beneath us.

For all the courageous diverse artists who are finally front and centre in our museums and on our stages, is it lost that, in all the Middle East, only one country would celebrate your right to be proud of your identity, make your art and express your opinions? And that would be Israel.

I don’t know how to speak to you, or even hear your pain in the confusion of half-truths. When you shout “from the river to the sea”, do you know which river, or what sea? And when you know that it would involve the eradication of Israel and Jews in that land, are you comfortable to speak it in the same breath as “always was, always will be”?

Having put my head above the parapet only to have it shot off, I’ll just be wearing my oversized Hanson-Trump suit for the remainder of the holidays.

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Article source: Brisbane Times/Ruth Ritchie/2023/12/16

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000