AIJAC Media Week – Lessons to be learned; Sabawi lingers on

Lessons to be learned

Israeli author and former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman told ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” host Phillip Adams (June 2) that he wrote his new book, “Pumpkin flowers” because “understanding in the West of the complexities of Israel’s situation lags behind the realities of the region.”

He explained there is a lack of insight about the wider region because Western media organisations are vastly over-staffed in Israel, rather than being spread out across other countries in the Middle East.

“And if you are unable to understand the region then Israel’s behaviour becomes completely incomprehensible.”

Politically, the world might think Israelis have “swung to the right over the last 15 years” but it’s not because they are “fanatics or don’t understand the region or don’t understand what’s right, it’s because they live very close to a dangerous part of the world and they’ve been burned and don’t want to be burned again.”

Israel, he said, learned at “the end of the 1990s and again in Gaza in 2005” that military withdrawals lead to “power vacuums” which are not filled by “moderate forces who seek some kind of compromise with us but these guys with black masks and black flags” – a reality the West is now learning the “hard way” following the 2003 Iraq war, Syria and the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya.

Samah lingers on

Media debate over the inclusion in the curriculum for Victorian drama students of “Tales of a City By the Sea”, a play by pro-BDS activist Samah Sabawi set in Gaza during the 2008/09 war, entered its third week.

In the Age (June 3), Sabawi asserted the debate was about her right to free speech, writing, “It seems that I, the writer, missed the memo that I can’t write an artistic piece about Palestinian life without inserting Israel’s point of view into my art.”

The debate has never had anything to do with her right to write the play – only about whether the play is appropriate to include in the curriculum for impressionable students given its one-sided presentation of a complex and contested issue.

Age columnist Julie Szego suggested (June 2) the play should not be on the syllabus, “not because it offends the ‘views’ or ‘sensitivities’ of Jewish groups” but because it “arguably… fails an objective test of intellectual integrity.”

According to Szego, “The play undoubtedly has literary merit; I found Sabawi’s depiction of Palestinians confronting internal and external repression poignant. But…by omitting any reference to the context of Israel’s military onslaught…the Hamas rockets fired into Israeli civilian centres, Sabawi portrays the Jewish state as a killing machine motivated solely by bloodlust. Even an oblique and contested reference to the Israeli justification for bombing Gaza would, in my view, have covered the playwright; as it stands, the work promotes a kind of falsehood.”

She said the Victorian Government’s call for a review into how texts are selected must not focus on consideration of “the views and sensitivities of cultural and religious groups” but an assessment of “facts and not feelings.”

– Allon Lee