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How Rami and Bassam changed my attitude to the Israel-Palestine debate on campus

Max Babus
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In the limelight at Shavuot learning

Published: 23 June 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

MAX BABUS rethinks the polarised arguments that haunt the lives of Australian Jewish students.

Just before I heard We Need To Talk: Peacebuilders Rami and Bassam in Conversation, I was part of a group which wrote a statement on how one-sided discussions of the Nakba can result in increased incidences of antisemitism.

The statement, produced by the AUJS ACT executive, detailed how the focus on the Palestinian tragedy can invalidate Jewish experiences and exacerbate our generational trauma, making political discussions intensely personal.

I was fearful about how the statement would be received in my university campus environment. The response was, thankfully, mostly positive but the anxiety it produced was present in my mind as I headed to listen to bereaved fathers and committed peacebuilders Israeli Rami Elhanan and Palestinian Bassam Aramin.

As a Jewish student, the familiar question, “What do you think about Israel?”, combines with the inheritance of the Holocaust to produce an almost visceral feeling of sadness and confusion.

As a Jewish student, I am expected to know more than I do and to express a simple opinion about a complex conflict.

For me, these feelings linger almost spectrally in the background, hovering unconsciously in the back of my mind, before abruptly manifesting. Avery Gordon calls the harsh appearing of these disturbances a "haunting" - when social violence and abusive systems of power make themselves suddenly known. Gordon observes that, unlike trauma, hauntings produce a sense of “something-to-be-done” and push us to consider “something different from before”. Despite my eventual awareness of these hauntings, I’ve often felt powerless in considering what needs to be done.

I think this sense of powerlessness comes from the very uncomfortable place I am often put in as a Jewish student when I am asked to have opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I am expected to know more than I do and to express a simple opinion about a complex conflict.

As Jews, we know the situation is tragic and difficult to talk about. We need instead to think about a new way to grapple with the topic and, ideally, consider how to end the conflict.

Listening to Rami and Bassam gave me a sense of that way forward.

They insisted that not only is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a “normalised abnormal” state of affairs, but the way we lash out at each other about it is an equally normalised abnormality.

I was deeply moved by their approach, so much at odds with how I, as a Diaspora Jew, often see the conflict framed as one side against the other.

We in the Diaspora, and often on campus, try to justify one side having a greater legitimacy than the other in continuing the tragedy of the conflict. The theory and ideology we debate are often disconnected from the reality of the experience on the ground.

We need to elevate those who are rooted in the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, like Rami and Bassam, in our discussions. They bring to the table an approach which moves past anger and into respect, recognition that although we are different, our pain and understanding of the tragedies of the conflict is similar.

This, to me, feels much more conducive to grappling with this situation, dealing with its hauntings as they emerge. Such discourse would be more helpful towards ending the conflict than anything I’ve seen in my entire life as a Diaspora Jew.

Photo: Bassam Aramin addresses a group in Melbourne.

About the author

Max Babus

“Max Babus is co-president of AUJS ACT and is studying at the ANU with a particular interest in transdisciplinary applications of social theory.”

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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