Politics Opinion

Avi Yemini sinks to new low, tries to raise money from tragic floods

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Far-Right anti-vaxxer Avi Yemeni crowdfunds personal trip to flood zone (Screenshot via YouTube)

I’ve just seen an Avi Yemini video in which he stands in some floodwater and tries to get some anti-vax material out of the inestimable tragedy of the 2022 flood disaster.

At the end of the video, he stands in a puddle and asks for some money. So now I have to write about ethics.

I’m talking about the ethics of content creation. For context, we find ourselves in a diffused, gig-economy era of "independent media" and "citizen journalism" in which Yemini thrives. 

Even I’m part of this self-starting creator culture, though, and it goes beyond politics. Artists, writers, creators, thinkers and political mouthpieces; many of us have fashioned a space where we create follower bases and some of us eventually need to ask for funds to continue to do what we do.

I have a Patreon account where people can contribute regular amounts in exchange for regular video content. The money I get becomes time I can spare away from my day job, leaving me to create better, more professional media. I don’t promise to change the world: only to make good content and analysis, and put real effort in with the time I’m given. I think this can be a really honest exchange between creator and subscriber.

In the political commentary space, this honest exchange can be complicated by a couple of factors. One is that we all accumulate political opponents; it’s become short-hand in my world to write them all off as "grifters". I suppose it’s difficult for people to see a request for funds at the end of a political take we hate and still accept it as honest work.

Another complicating factor is the dubious presence, in the global culture war-driven "independent media" space, of outlets like Rebel News. Rebel does promise to change the world, or something equally as breathless, and that’s what they fundraise around. They’ve commodified inserting themselves into activist scenes or taking frivolous legal action that essentially acts as theatre for fundraising material. 

They elevate driven alt-right creators like Yemini, their chief Australian correspondent. I’ve followed Avi for years so I’m confidently able to say he doesn’t care about politics much; he’s just prodigiously talented at self-promotion. So he’s a great fit for Rebel. I’ve written in this column space about Avi’s incredible fundraising run throughout the pandemic. 

He’s really converted anti-vax anger into a hot dinner.

I often say to followers that supporting me isn’t as important as supporting the many progressive causes I discuss through my platform. I tell them: if they still have cash to spare after they do that then I’d appreciate it. Making that distinction is crucial when there’s a crisis at hand. Right now we have one happening right down the road.

People in the Northern Rivers and South-East Queensland have lost everything they ever owned. They were lucky to keep their lives (not all of them did). The real cost is incalculable, weighing in the tragedy of it all; but the effort to save them and support them, at least, is going to cost a mint.

Everyone’s pouring in money of their own volition. The Government are about as hesitant to contribute financially as they were to promptly rescue people but in their stead, the average local has stepped up. It’s inspiring. The community has volunteered time, effort, resources and cash in exchange for nothing, giving up everything to support devastated neighbours. Coordination hubs, online and in person, have been set up by exhausted locals.

Many locals in the area tell me that in this scramble to save each other, the wedge created by the debate over vaccines and pandemic restrictions has simply been put on hold. This debate may have torn some Northern Rivers communities apart, but right now, everyone is just too busy saving each other. That’s also inspiring.

Millions of dollars worth of donated supplies have passed through the region. Even wealthy Northern Rivers residents gave their all; the Hemsworths reportedly paid for helicopters to rescue people and deliver supply drops.  Everyone’s chipping in. 

Begging for money in this context would be disgusting. So I’ve not included my usual Patreon requests in content relating to the disaster. This is really just bare minimum human decency. I’ve instead directed people to the many legitimate donation links around.

So.  Now you understand the ethics of political content creation as I see them.

You might, then, understand my reaction to seeing Avi Yemini hopping on a plane with his camera crew to a flooded region. He came to help with clean up and cover the Government’s abandonment of the Northern Rivers.

 

He actually went to the Central Coast to speak to a couple of ex-SES volunteers who say they were recently stood down because of their unvaxxed status — the implication being that the rescue response was poor because of mandates.

In my recent video on the government’s atrocious response to the floods, I discussed the low SES numbers in the region and SES leadership’s failure to act on requests from their ranks around the nation to come and provide professional assistance.  There’s clearly an absolute failure of coordination here.  The Australian Government has not learned from its own failures throughout previous disasters, like the 2020/2021 bushfires.

That, and the incredible efforts of locals to save each other where the Government didn’t, is what we need to discuss. The locals who hopped on boats and jet skis to go and rescue each other. The thing is, when Lismore was over ten metres underwater, I don’t think anyone was checking locals’ vax status. I think they just went out anyway. That’s the real story.

Avi isn’t interested. He deals in bottom-feeding bullshit. But I have come to expect Rebel News’ standard of useless culture war-wrangling, so I could set this aside and pretend it’s not happening like most stuff Avi does.

What I can’t ignore is what happens at the end of his video.

Avi’s shuffling around in a puddle of floodwater he’s found wearing some cute little gumboots. He hasn’t helped anyone. He’s just getting footage. He’s speaking into his comically big Rebel News microphone, about as big as his sweet little head. And he’s asking for money to be donated.

To Rebel News.

He says:

“Just to get here cost us thousands of dollars, both in flights, hotels, renting a car to get to these floods here – the only floods we could even reach. We can only do this with your support... Every dollar counts. Give what you can.”

If it cost you thousands of dollars to get flights, hotels and car rentals to get to some floods, why didn’t you – now, hear me out here – fuck off and not come at all? You could have sent those thousands to people who really needed it.

But I’m stunned to realise that here we’ve come across the previously imaginable: an act that is too low, even for Avi Yemini.

Anyone taking away from money for flood victims at this time is scum. Cleanse yourself of the scum of hearing about Rebel, and contribute to something worthwhile now, including Bundjalung Community Flood ReliefHelp Murwillumbah and the Tweed Valley RegionAnimal Rescue Cooperative and Flood Recovery Help.

Tom Tanuki is an online satirist, social justice commentator, writer and comedian. He has worked in anti-racist political comedy, most notably through his satirical group the Million Flag Patriots and anti-racist group Yelling At Racist Dogs (Y.A.R.D.). You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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