Politics Opinion

Silence over Israeli genocide provokes social media backlash

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A tweet by commentator Van Badham caused a social media pile-on regarding silence over Gaza (Images via YouTube, Twitter)

Slow, terrifying months into Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestine and every day the moral weakness of our political and cultural systems is discovered.

As the cruelty is beamed around the world in images that never cease to be shocking, the intransigence of those committed to ideological support for Israel (and concomitantly to the suspicious, ignorant debasement of what late American-Palestinian critic Edward Said called “Oriental cultures”) is exposed.

Maybe media commentator Van Badham doesn’t deserve a pile-on and, as always, keyboard warriors take advantage to hurl ugly abuse just because they can. But what’s just happened is symptomatic of an exposure and a breakdown that will have profound consequences.

We cannot continue to provide cover for ideologies that repulse scrutiny with claims that at least their bigotry has a social conscience.

One Van Badham defender on social media called the outrage merely ‘grandiose... resentment’ of her popularity. So, before we get to the details, let’s check the circumstances of her self-inflicted outing.

It’s as though it was always there — a latent bug in the social body. It just wasn’t very active or too obvious because it didn’t need to be, back in those good old days when the Other was so neatly defined as the terrorist in a turban. True, when some nutter with a bomb or a gun turned out to be a Christian-identifying fanatic, things got a wee bit complicated for that neat narrative. But then a plane hitting a building or a grotesque beheading by mad-eyed murderers righted the ship of fools and we sailed on believing in simplistic histories.  

Something seismic is happening right now and, while we thought that things would be different because of COVID, this time after Gaza, things surely have to change. The ground beneath us has opened up, and the edifice of Western cultural superiority, with all its statuesque columns and decorative trimmings, has collapsed into an abyss — or, it ought to have.

It must be impossible to go on once Palestine is obliterated and Israel picks up where it left off, illegally moving “settlers” into a neighbouring country. Surely, those who have chosen either to defend Israel, on account of all kinds of omissions and outright lies, as well as those implicitly supporting Israel by not using their public voices to support Palestine, will be known and no longer trusted to be listened to on any moral or social issue. Surely, you can’t pick and choose when it comes to atrocities.

It's been the simperingly dishonest Zionist voices, many outed in secretive campaigns to silence Palestinian supporters, that have been loudest so far since the increasingly ridiculous accusations of anti-Semitism get traction with the both-siders of mainstream media — even when those accusations are crude and unconvincing.

But now we’re witnessing the outing of those who, it appears, have watched week after week of depraved behaviour by Israel Defence Forces – and not been appalled – who, by their silence, must be called complicit.

If you have a public position as a commentator, if you are an artist or writer or someone who chooses to be a social influencer, if you have any position with the privilege of speaking out, not to do so now about Palestine is wrong.

We’re past the time when it’s okay to stay silent, to sit back and watch. And while the nastiness of social media pile-ons is awful, much more awful is the moral duplicity of those who defend through complicit silence, who approve of the “yes, but...” casuistry of Israel supporters and who, as Van Badham discovered this past week, get caught out when their favourite cause crashes against the wall of a cause they can’t care about.

So, here’s the gist: Van Badham, self-styled Left-wing writer and columnist with The Guardian, decided to repost comedian Aamer Rahman’s “brilliant” standup delivery, which she connected to the hot topic of Sam Kerr.

She wrote on Twitter:

‘A brief reminder that you cannot actually do a racism to white people...’

(Source: Twitter)

Safe, you’d think, as a comment from someone who defends what we rather sloppily call Left-wing values. But Van Badham made the mistake of tagging Aamer Rahman, who responded with barely controlled anger, pointing out that this prolific user of social media has not commented once about the genocide of Palestinians.

Rahman wrote:

‘Even on International Women’s Day, Palestinian women who are being bombed and starved by a genocidal regime do not get a mention from you.’

(Special mention here to Rabbi Eliyahu Mali, head of the yeshiva school in Jaffa, who told students the basic rule in the Holy War being fought in Gaza is “Do not spare any soul... it is the women who create the terrorists”.)

Pointing out Van Badham’s constant support of politicians such as U.S. President Joe Biden and Foreign Minister Penny Wong, now accused of supporting Israel, Rahman concluded:

‘Being a shill for the ALP and the Democrats in the midst of a genocide is peak White feminism at a level beyond parody.’

He asked her to delete the tweet, which she did. She also, belatedly, reposted a photo showing anti-Netanyahu protests in Tel Aviv.

But then...

Van Badham’s partner, Ben Davison, with whom she does a political commentary podcast each week, tweeted this:

‘The West will continue to provide what humanitarian aid we can into an urban war zone full of combat vehicles and terrorists and we will continue to aid Israel to ensure the Iranian and Hezbollah bloc do not invade.’

What’s astonishing about that riposte is that “the West”, for this commentator, is “us” and he knows, apparently, that “them” (what Edward Said and other intellectuals identified as the feared “Other” of Western culture), is a bloc that wants to invade.

Said’s Culture and Imperialism was influential when it was published in 1993, but even those who pride themselves on being part of an educated, thinking cultural class have forgotten what he wrote.

Discussing how European and United States ideologies rarely imagined what the imposition of a supposed morally superior culture looked like for those imposed upon, Said worked with dense nuance through the causes and effects of the imperial mindset:

‘Two central ideas clearly were held over from the past and still hold sway: one was the great power’s right to safeguard its distant interests even to the point of military invasion; the second was the lesser powers were also lesser peoples, with lesser rights, morals, claims.’

Rosemary Sorensen was a newspaper, books and arts journalist based in Melbourne, then Brisbane, before moving to regional Victoria, where she founded the Bendigo Writers Festival, which she directed for 13 years.

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