IN THE MEDIA

Writer Susan Abulhawa’s Australian friends

Mar 30, 2023 | Justin Amler

Screenshot of John Menadue's blog
Screenshot of John Menadue's blog

Australian Jewish News – March 30, 2023

 

The recently held Adelaide Writers’ Week caused a great deal of controversy when it was revealed that some of the guests were not only virulent and vicious critics of Israel and Zionists, but spread clearly antisemitic tropes.

Particularly controversial was US-based Palestinian writer Susan Abulhawa, a partisan for both Russia and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, an international lobby that aims to isolate and destroy Israel.

Her tweets caused concern and angst in both the Jewish and the Ukrainian communities.

And with good reason.

Abulhawa described Ukrainian President Zelensky as “a depraved Zionist trying to ignite World War III.” She has also tweeted, “DeNazify Ukraine”, parroting the Kremlin’s line about its reasons for the invasion of Ukraine.

Her attacks on Israel include calling Israelis “worse than Nazis”; and saying Israel is “demonic… spawned by devils” and its inhabitants a “nation of degenerates” in social media posts. She even called an innocent civilian victim of a Palestinian terror attack, “human garbage”.

This may seem a bizarre combination of views – support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and for BDS efforts to destroy Israel – yet Abulhawa is hardly alone in espousing both.

And there is a certain logic to this connection from one particular viewpoint – a form of “anti-imperialism” originally promulgated by the old Soviet Union, which sees the world as dominated by evil “Western imperialism” and Israel’s existence as representing the very height of “colonialism and imperialism”.

Under this worldview, Jews in Israel are seen as white colonialist settlers who usurped the indigenous Palestinian population and those who fight against the Jewish state are seen as heroic fighters against this Western imperialism. Similarly, Russia is also depicted as heroically fighting against that same Western imperialism in invading Ukraine – but this time, that Western imperialism is represented by NATO.

In Australia, this worldview is most prominently represented by one particular online outlet – which, not coincidentally, twice recently promoted Abulwaha’s views, first in an interview published on Feb. 25, then in another piece by her on March 9.

That online outlet is the self-described “public policy journal” Pearls and Irritations, run by John Menadue, former Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet under Gough Whitlam. The site is popular among left-leaning circles – and includes many contributions from prominent ALP members.

In just the first almost two-and-a-half months this year, Menadue’s journal has published at least 21 articles attacking Israel in extreme terms, 13 attacking Western imperialism including expressing sympathy and understanding for Russia or Putin, and a further five attacking both Israel and Western imperialism together!

And most of the articles are neither nuanced, provide context, nor acknowledge contrasting perspectives.

Regarding Israel, there are numerous articles depicting it as a racist entity. One titled “How Israel practices apartheid” says that Israel has imposed a “Jewish Israeli supremacy” in order to dominate the “indigenous Palestinian people”. In one fell swoop it tries to cancel Jewish history by purposely ignoring the Jewish historical and national connection to Israel and implying that Jews are foreign interlopers.

An example on the Russia front is the article “2023: a make-or-break year for the global order” by Joseph Camilleri, in which an argument is made that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is in reality a conflict between Russia and NATO – a key Putin talking point of recent months. In making that point, the article is implicitly saying that Russia is effectively pushing back against expansionist Western imperialism, and Putin should be supported.

In light of Australia’s recent AUKUS military agreement, which was born largely as a result of China’s aggressive military build-up and posturing, Menadue published a series of articles sympathetic to China and portraying it as the victimised party, rather than the aggressor, focussing on “Australia’s drive to war with China.”

One even went so far as to say that it is actually China facing “physical annihilation”, depicting it, like Russia, as completely a victim. We can probably be reasonably sure that Ukraine, Taiwan, the citizens of Hong Kong and other countries bullied by China might disagree with that assessment.

A look at all the articles that appear on the Menadue website makes it abundantly clear it is a very vocal voice promoting an “anti-imperialistic agenda” – with the BDS movement seen as a core part of that old-fashioned anti-imperialism. Attacks on Israel are continuous, many so extreme they veer into the realm of being arguably antisemitic, while excuses are constantly made for Russia and China. Other views are only rarely allowed.

Few in the Jewish community have likely been aware of Pearls and Irritations or its influential agenda. But in the wake of the Adelaide Writers’ Week controversy, and based on the principle of “know your enemy”, the community really should be.

Justin Amler is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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