Rally

By Donna Jacobs Sife

I was a bit young to really experience the social and political impact of the Vietnam war. I wore my moratorium badge, attended a rally or two, and had afternoon tea out in the garden when I visited my friend Wendy, whose father insisted I either take off the badge or I could not come in. But being young, I would not have been able to articulate the social impact of the times. Now I am middle aged. I have more perspective, more experience, and more words with which to express myself.

I have never really known uncertainty. There have always been enough jobs, enough money to get by. Security was not something I thought about. I took democracy and freedom for granted. I have never really felt threatened.

Last week I attended the Peace rally organised by the Friends of the Earth at Hide Park. As I walked with the masses to Martin Place, my Israeli friend said she would like to walk with the Arabs we saw in front of us. I knew, knowing her, how brave and honourable that was. Yes, peace is possible. She and I linked arms and our hearts soared with hope, her eyes brimmed with tears. How ironic that ten minutes later, we were walking away from the rally, arms linked, still tearful but for completely different reasons.

The rally was overwhelmingly united, through hatred of the United States and Israel. Well over three quarters of the placards carried the sentiments - “the States equals Israel equals Terrorism equals Murder”. Spokespeople shouted and screamed for PEACE! JUSTICE! DOWN WITH BUSH! DOWN WITH ISRAEL! It was angry and frightening and there was no room for me - a Jew who is Left Wing and believes in peace. Although I would have been happy to attend a rally for peace as a member of the planet, I know now that I can’t. If I stand there without identifying myself as a Jew, I would feel complicit with those around me. Next time, I will have to take a banner - Jew for Peace.

I want to stand against acts of injustice. I want to march with those who, like me, want to support the victims of war and terrorism. To me, these acts and these victims have no religion, no nation, no race. I am genuinely perplexed that the majority of people who have sympathy for one group, consider it necessary to render the other group the enemy. This vehement polarisation seems so uncreative to me. And terribly dangerous.

It is interesting how in uncertain times, we become more sure. That the more we feel threatened, the more threatening we become. That Anthony Mundine should be expelled from the international boxing association for voicing an opinion that differed from our government’s position, surprises me. It seems so fundamentalist. That a Labour candidate who voices doubts regarding the wisdom of Australia following the States into war, could face possible expulsion from the party, strikes me as frightening.

We are facing a great threat to democracy. But it is not terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, or any other ism. The threat is that of not tolerating voices of doubt. Voices of dissent. Democracy is hard work. Hearing other views, allowing opposing perspectives, these things are not easy, but they are the basic tenants of the Democracy we stand for.

There is a growing implicit conspiracy of silence, and may I say, it is alive and well in our own community as well. The other day I attended a meeting addressed by Ron Wiseman. What a fine man he is, and I deeply appreciate the work he does in raising consciousness for Israel in Australia. But I found myself squirming in my seat in the face of his sureness. America and Israel are the Good Guys, and most of the rest of the world are the Bad Guys. Now I don’t mind hearing his take on the world. What makes me squirm is when it is told to me as fundamental truth. Then, to me, it becomes fundamentalist. I respond better with the precursor - “this is how I see it”. Then I can listen, and see what resonates, try to learn. But when it is told to me, “this is how it is” - my anarchistic response is to fold my arms and say ‘not for me.” The end of the talk was open for questions. I asked if there was room for doubt. If there was room for another view, because it didn’t feel that way.

I know - or at least, to me, there are limits to freedom of speech. Vilification and inciting violence and distorting history - these acts strike me as unjust, and so I stand against them.

I support the Palestinian struggle, just as I support the right of Israel to exist. And although you may not agree with my view , do you not agree that I have a right to hold the view? Tell me you feel threatened by it if you are. Tell me what your vision for Israel is. I will do my best to hear what you have to say. We are all unique, and have our own part to play in Tikkun Olam. Some of us will work for Israel, others of us are called to work inter-religiously, others still see the greatest work is kindness to those in need, one to one, beyond politics.

Life is full of paradox. In uncertainty, we become sure. In the claim of knowing Truth, we become blind. And in acknowledging difference, we become One.

Shema Yisrael - Listen, those who struggle with God.

Adonai Eloheinu - The Creator of Our World

Adonai Echad - This Creator is One