Democracy and Middle East problems sorted at Perth Writer’s Festival

As if.

But it’s been a wonderful few days here in sunny and very warm Perth.

My first session yesterday was alongside philosopher Raimond Gaita on Gaza: Zionism and Anti-Zionism.

Rai outlined his belief that a two-state solution was the best and most just way to resolve the Middle East crisis and didn’t accept my contention that Zionism is inherently racist due to its discrimination since the first days of Israel’s founding.

I countered that Greater Israel in 2011 cannot be separated from the mainstream. The West Bank occupation is backed by all mainstream Zionist parties; it only strengthens and grows every year. The Israeli left or peace movement is incredibly weak. It exists and I deeply admire its resilience but far too many Israeli Jews have simply remained silent as the country descended into a colonisation-friendly land. It needs outside help to gather major power (something many activists in Israel told when I was last there).

I argued that boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) was the only way to show Israel that its behaviour was unacceptable and it would not be treated like a “normal” nation until it followed international law.

Rai has an emotional connection to Israel – his wife is Israeli – but I argued that this blinded him to the inability and unwillingness of the Zionist state to reform to what he says is possible; a just Jewish-majority nation that treats all its citizens equally.

It was a robust but friendly engagement with roughly 2/3 of the audience seemingly agreeing with my points and around 1/3 apparently upset with any criticisms of Israel (there are many South African Jews in Perth and I heard one Zionist leader leave near the end shouting, “Enough of this anti-Semitism.” Yes, she was deeply missed).

What pleased me was that raising questions about a one-state solution, ending Zionism, embracing BDS and discussing the racist nature of Israeli society were increasingly acceptable discussion points in the mainstream. As it should be.

My second event alongside Ken Crispin, John Keane, Tariq Ali was The Democracy Debate. We all tackled different areas but the main theme was one of defining democracy and not simply presuming that accountable democracy would automatically occur.

I mentioned Wall Street’s massive corruption scandals in the last years and reminded people that nobody had been prosecuted for these crimes. Arguably more money was stolen by major banking firms than all brutal dictatorships in the world combined. And this was in the US, the land of the supposedly freest and most open democracy.

Wikileaks is an essential new tool in challenging the cosy relationship between power and the media, exposing the ways of our governments kept hidden by officials and many journalists. Such websites clearly help democracies and should be backed. Of course, many journalists don’t like Julian Assange’s site because it tackles their own closeness to power and inherently wonders why the embedded mindset is so central to modern reporting.

“The Arab world has created these democratic movements despite of us not because of us”, I said. Tariq Ali and John Keane both expressed admiration for what’s happening across the Middle East and how out of touch US and Western foreign policy seems in response.

Closer to home – and these comments were warmly received here in Western Australia – I asked why governments of all major political stripes were so keen to debase democracy by selling off public assets to a company such as British multinational Serco. A protest recently took place in Perth against the impending privatisation of local hospital services.

After the event, as all of us were signing our books, many people approached me and said they felt frustrated with the lack of public and media discussion about the issue of Serco slowly working its way into the Western Australian political system. Perth is a one-paper town and it’s very narrowly-focused. Clearly time to further investigate how Serco is operating here.

Finally, after the event, a Vietnam veteran stormed up to Tariq Ali and me and wanted to know why “people like us” contributed to wars being inaccurately reported (during the event I had called for the media to show the realities of our colonial wars, therefore making it far harder for governments to send our troops to futile endeavours). He said that the West had essentially won the Vietnam War but the Western media had convinced the public at home that it was too cruel. I said that good journalists don’t work to parrot military or government spin.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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