Helen Razer: Palestine Called. Again. Wants To Know If Australia Checks Its Voicemail

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When you’ve got a big profile, you can use it for good, or you can use it for… meh. Helen Razer thinks there’s a few Australians around who can do a little more of the heavy-lifting simply by signing their name.

A few weeks back, a courteous chap asked if I wouldn’t mind signing a letter of support. This document described a Palestine BDS action focused on Eurovision, whose 2019 host state is Israel.  Yes, I said, as (a) he’d asked very nicely and (b) BDS, particularly in this pop culture style, is not a hard sell at all. In fact, it’s a display of good manners. Such action is not the imposition of a view but the invitation to form a view, extended from Palestine to the West. Frankly, my signature to this letter was the most ladylike thing I’d done for a decade.

I sent the thing off. I was now faced with the threat of work if I didn’t hurry to procrastinate. So, I dreamed about this letter, and where it, and where Palestine, might land: If the letter were published, it could be good for Palestine. It would be good for Palestine! And, hey, it would also be good for my rep. Sure, the Queen was unlikely to thank me on one of her lists and those peace people from Nobel might not be in touch very soon. But, Annabel Crabb calls to offer her applause, then tips me off that Palestine will be free by teatime, thanks largely to my signature, so elegant and so civil, even Bibi was persuaded.

Next in this impeccable vision, Annabel bakes a cake to celebrate the intifada. As she pipes a butter-cream likeness of our late comrade Yasser, she says she is sorry for her failure to be troubled by the many, many murders enabled and committed by the US hegemon. She says she will talk about this on the ABC.

What remains of a Palestinian home in the West Bank, after Israeli officials bulldozed it for no apparent reason. (IMAGE: Chris Graham, New Matilda)

These fancies were born. They lived a jiff, then I euthanised them with my club of shame. Dreaming of freedom for Palestine is quixotic enough. Dreaming of freedom at the ABC is delusional. This reverie was dead. Except the bit about BDS being easily understood by everyone as it is: a cordial request for thought.

Thought. An invitation to think. That’s what it is. Nice manners, as everyone can surely see. Well, as it turns out, they can’t.  You put your little-known name to a BDS letter neither you nor Palestine will be thought of as polite. You will be described as naïve, ignorant, evil, hypocritical, “trendy”, a snowflake and, perhaps, a hater of Jews. But, it’s the people of Palestine who are always the most viciously defamed.

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Still. I don’t think I’m the nutjob here. It is quite true I am frequently a nutjob. I sit at my desk in absolute nutjob faith each day that this day will see bright consciousness dawn. I say, Helen: today the people will know today what they have known before, They will know that true freedom is not a “free market” or a “free” nation-state or, FFS, the “freedom” to be proudly white, or whatever Juggalette Hanson is reading this week from her Insane Clown handbook of poop. Freedom is what occurs only when everyday people see all other everyday people as comrades and as the sine qua non of all the people’s freedom. Blah blah.

So, me. Nutjob.

But, not with BDS I’m not. I see this strategy as really hard to either ignore or knock. BDS asks us to think about Palestine. It does not tell us what to think about Palestine. It is non-violent opposition, but not to the brutality of police or other hard state apparatus. It is peaceful resistance to the violence of Western ideas.

In the Eurovision case, BDS asks fans of Eurovision to think about the nation-state in which unitards and barefoot dancers may emerge to sing songs of peace, harmony and mean girlfriends who never text back. BDS suggests to performers no action but inaction. This brief moment which the Euro-vicarious may or may not fill with thoughts of occupation is one that cannot be denounced without a denunciation of thought. This makes BDS nicer and subtler than, say, me, a person who openly tells you that you are a fucken idiot. (To be fair, you often are.)  It shows up acts of opposition, such as the US Israel Anti-Boycott Act, as fearful thuggery.

When the singer Lorde cancelled a Tel Aviv booking, she did not add the refrain I Heart Hamas and May My Kalashnikov Bring Death to America  to her pop tunes. She agreed to think about a half-century of occupation. If you can come up with a better or more considerate means to amplify the voices of an occupied people whose voices are simply not heard, write up the plan, send it c/- Gaza and do try to remember that “reasonable debate” and sassy television panel shows are not luxuries generally available at this address.

Ramallah, Palestine. (IMAGE: Michael Rose, Flickr)

Anyhoo. Back to the marvel of me: this BDS letter turned out to be signed chiefly by stars of the Eurovision stage. Why was I among the signatories? A valid question and one to which the answers are several, including (a) I have no fucking clue (b) your guess is as good as mine (c) Really. I have not even the taint of an idea why I was asked to sign. Fucking chuffed, though. After all, I did sign a letter with a bunch of popstars all declaring they would not perform at Eurovision. This introduces the possibility that I have performed at Eurovision. This is a dream magnificent as the magnificent reality of Celine Dion.

So, this letter, otherwise signed by actual artists who do things and are young, was published in The Guardian, and thereafter in many worldwide outlets. Eventually, my name was identified as Australian by certain of News Corp’s brightest personalities. And, hey, say whatever you like about these hard-right slopportunists, but you sure can’t call ’em choosy. If my largely forgotten name can be a target for one of their morning rage wanks, then any old cumrag will do.

(I propose the term “cumrage” as one of possible utility in future discussion of reactionary media elites. Let’s use this for a week to see if it works as noun and/or verb. E.g. “Chris Graham from New Matilda copped Andrew’s cumrage again this arvo” or, “LOL. Alan is on the radio cumraging Safe Schools and Muslims, somehow both at once!”)

I am, to be clear, making no sort of complaint about this jizz delivery. I am All For Free Speech and deeply opposed to Silencing The Voice of the Right, which is a thing that I could totally do, what with my colossal fortune, proximity to the arse of the parliamentary Liberal Party and entire floor of lawyers. No. Not a complaint. You go, News Corp. Spill your very special seed as you may. Do it on me. Do it for our freedom.

Really, though. No person who makes media their work can reasonably expect freedom from cumrage, and after you’ve copped a load or two, you may even forget to reach for a wipe. It’s not even as though the claims of the Joneses and the Bolts appear sincerely felt or are ably argued. If such persons happen upon my name when recycling pro-Israel arguments made for them by the US State Department years ago, whatevs. Be a bit uncool if I were to claim myself a victim, when my intention in signing this letter was to ask others to think about victims of US and Israeli state collusion in Palestine.

Palestinians search through the rubble of their destroyed homes hit by Israeli strikes in the northern Gaza Strip, during the 2014 assault. (IMAGE: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan, Flickr)

Also, I just don’t give a tinker’s what they say. Should Jones or someone like him declare me a Jew hater in extending the very same sort of BDS invitation many, many principled Jewish and Jewish Israeli people have, I could not care much less.

I will say, though, that my sternum breaks into bits when I remember there are those Jewish people who will hear that there’s another Jew hater around and believe it. Why shouldn’t they? Jew haters exist.

Jew haters exist. Further, a mass hatred of Jews could be provoked again.  Racism of any sort can be recycled by the state, even if we all believe that this or that particular sort of racism is ended. Think of Australia in the 1990s. Political leaders of the ALP were embarrassed by their predecessors’ loathing for anything Chinese, save for deep fried foods in Sussex St. And today in this “Asian Century”, the thing we thought we’d banished is back.  The ABC runs stories about China, and none of them are nice and all of them apply critique never applied to any other nation and one of them this year told us how Chinese people just love to eat little doggies.

Racism does not die. It is infinitely recyclable. Hatred for Jewish people is always a threat to Jewish people and will remain a threat for as long as racism is a complex maintained, in greatest part, by states.

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The hatred of Jews is real, and is repugnant. We cannot forget this. But, nor can we forget to question Israel, even knowing that we will be called, even if Jewish, a hater of Jews. Reactionary media still recycle this hatred when they’re not opposing it in the name of Israel. Let’s not forget that, either. Let’s not forget that the right-wing’s occasional embrace of Jewish people is as convincing and true as my Celine Dion karaoke.

Better people than me cop this Jew hater stuff when they make a peep for Palestine. Jewish people way better than me cop it, too. So, you cop it. You say even a little thing about Palestine, and you’ll cop the right’s dirty load.  You won’t cop much from those who write and broadcast in the name of “progress”. What you cop from the progressive is a snub.

Why is this planned boycott of no concern to big-name Australian press progressives? Why was right-wing press media up in it, while centrists and left-liberals stayed silent?

Each May, progressive pundits almost unanimously express their love for Eurovision, and it makes no sense at all that they’d ignore this call for boycott. It makes no sense for them not to take issue with the boycott’s condemnation by several of the Bolt type. Like, why wouldn’t, say, Charlie Pickering have a go? He could affirm Eurovision and have a go at Bolt at once. Where was he? Where were you?

Where is Annabel? Is Leigh too busy eating dogmeat to make it clear to the BDS folks that she would sign their letter, or anything in the name of big Eurovision ballads? Tony too busy upholding Democracy in Action to pose the BDS question to the panel?

Why is a nobody like me all up for a bit of Palestine 101, when a personality like Clementine Ford has so very many awaiting her every dispatch? Why is Lisa Wilkinson not a little moved to a defence of a people? She was upset by the cruel sexism of viewers who said mean things about her outfits, and as IDF personnel are bound to say mean things about the outfits of Palestinian ladies, possibly even dead Palestinian ladies, she could get upset about these acts, too. Wilkinson’s partner, Peter Fitzsimmons, has been publicly cross with one bloke called Israel. Perhaps next, he can try getting cranky with the state.

Protestors gather during the great Return March. More than 150 unarmed protestors have been killed by Israeli snipers.

Joe Hildebrand. There’s a free thinker who doesn’t mind a bit of biff. He graces all mass media all day with his “I am the guy that left and right hate” thing and I’ll bet he could get another TV gig in the time it takes me to upload another of my unpopular podcasts. So, what do you say, Joe? Step in to BDS, where my modest profile is a little bit south of no use.

And what of our Van Badham, whose appearances on television panels are now almost as regular as her tweets? Will she not defy her party’s Senator Wong and do a little more for Gaza than use it as a hashtag to share the view that this “conflict” is the conflict of equals, and must be viewed as symmetry, with bad people on both sides? Neither of them bankrolled and protected by, say, the USA?

And, yes. Good people can’t care about every good cause all their good lives, but they’ve had 50 years to be good to Palestine. They can’t say it’s slipped their notice. And now they’ve got BDS, asking them to be good and to think.

Only to think, perhaps to read and come, eventually, to an answer. BDS poses its question clearly: will you amplify our voices? Will you who write with such passion about the need for “diverse” voices in media consider our voices in Gaza sufficiently diverse?

I can say and sign stuff without bravery, because I do so with such little risk. I have the confidence known only to us losers. A winner, like Lisa or Joe or Van, has so much more to lose than me in answering the question posed by BDS. But, so much more to gain for Palestine by their courage and their risk.

Get up inside this risk of loss, you winners. And not because I asked. Because Palestine asked. And asked again. And Palestine is still waiting for your answer.

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Helen Razer

Helen Razer in an Australian writer, author and avowed Marxist. She is based in Melbourne and writes regularly for Crikey.com

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