Australia/Israel Review

The Last Word: Adelaide Writers’ Week’s “Truths”

Mar 27, 2023 | Jeremy Jones

Mohammed El-Kurd (Image: Twitter)
Mohammed El-Kurd (Image: Twitter)

Now that the gaggle of autobiographers and other fiction writers, together with a few serious scholars and entertaining story-tellers, have had their Adelaide party, we can ask how those few days contributed to our collective sum of knowledge. 

To call someone a “Nazi-promoting Zionist” is simply to employ “a colourful characterisation” (T. E. Collins, Canberra Times). Alternatively, it is simply “a criticism” (Jon Faine, The Age). 

The reason racists like to employ comparisons of Jews to Nazis isn’t actually because it is particularly offensive and because their hate-level has passed boiling point, but because they believe it will “cut through and eliminate grey areas” amid the “cacophony of competing voices” (Maher Mughrabi, in the Age, March 3).

Inviting people who regularly propagate extremist vitriol to speak unchallenged is using a “considered approach” to allow people to “engage with complex and contentious issues” (Louise Adler, Sydney Morning Herald).

You can believe both of these statements at once: The Zionist lobby controls Australian media and culture, and Palestinian activist writer Samah Sabawi has a play taught at Victorian schools despite “the Zionist lobby in Melbourne” opposing it (Penelope Debelle, IN Daily).

You can tweet a mistruth, be corrected and told that it was never true, then tweet that a success has been achieved because it didn’t happen (Bob Carr, Twitter).

Poetic licence excuses racist stereotyping (Mohammed El-Kurd, in a presentation by video).

It is so self-evident that Australian media outlets had “pre-emptively buckled” to a relentless Zionist lobby, that no evidence is necessary or requested when making this statement in, of all places, an outlet that is part of that “buckled” media (Louise Adler, unchallenged by Chip Le Grand, Sydney Morning Herald).

After denying being a racist, one may justify one’s comments by saying racists on the other side of the argument do what you are doing (Susan Abulhawa on ABC Radio Adelaide).

Without making light of the problems which we have as a society if any of the above become mainstream thought, there were two arguments put forward in the wake of Adelaide which were particularly pernicious and dangerous.

The first is that it is okay to be racist if the cause you are advocating is righteous.

This is not just a crude example of a belief that the end justifies the means – it is a subset of the immoral idea that you can lie or do anything else if it helps the “victims” overthrow their tormentors.

Mohammed El-Kurd seemed blissfully unaware that lying is bad form when he said outright he is willing to essentially say anything if it makes Israel look bad.

Maher Mughrabi, in an article that contained so many straw men it was a major fire hazard, was more sophisticated in his sophistry, but in effect echoed this view – although he cautioned against lies that are so ridiculous as to undermine one’s cause.

But it was another implication by Mr Mughrabi which deserved the most unambiguous condemnation.

Those of us who flag antisemitism when we see it are all liars, unworthy of being heard, because our attempts to safeguard the Jewish community and Australians in general are in reality “actually about creating a smokescreen around Israel’s conduct.”

Think about what those who push this line are saying: Jews are lying about our motives – our concerns about antisemitism are disingenuous, motivated solely by allegiance to a villainous nation.

Forget the principle of hearing out victims of racism and giving them the benefit of the doubt – with Jews and antisemitism, assume dishonesty and base motives.

The public discourse arising from Adelaide Writers’ Week showed that “truth” is not valued or even particularly relevant to a disturbing number of people.

I suppose we should give thanks to Writers’ Week Director Louise Adler, whose conscious decision to try to one-sidedly reframe debate on the Middle East had the consequence of bringing all this dangerous and ugly discourse to light.


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