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Israel Hamas WarOpinionIsrael

This Israel is failing us on a fundamental level

We must find a way to hold Israel to a higher standard. With or without a vote.
Isabelle Oderberg
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fist coming out of illustration of Israel's parliament

Illustration: TJI

Published: 14 May 2024

Last updated: 13 May 2024

While the world held its breath as Donald Trump ran for the US presidency in 2016, a close friend remarked to me that the whole world should be allowed to vote for the US president, not just Americans.

That same friend also said that if Scott Morrison was elected in 2019, they would give up their Australian citizenship, but that’s a story for another day.

The point they were making about Trump was that as the world watched on horrified, the US population elected an evil, inexperienced, megalomaniac, turnip into the most powerful job on the entire planet. And there wasn’t a damned thing we could do about it.

The reverberations were felt on every inch of the planet.

International relations on every continent were fractured, far-right movements and white supremacists and class warriors grew in power and the financial destabilisation from a shambolic response to the pandemic dragged the entire world economy into the gutter.

We now sit and watch, waiting to see if Trump 2.0 eventuates, knowing that even if we wanted to, we can’t stop it because we don’t have US passports.

Within this tale of abject woe, there are many parallels with how diasporic Jews feel, looking at Netanyahu and Israel. 

Let me tell you a secret, as I cast furtive glances to my left and right. I have never been to Israel.

I could reel off a raft of good reasons… but ultimately, it just never happened.

And yet, for as long as I can remember, Israel has been a looming presence in my life. As an expatriate living in Hong Kong, then when I lived in London, and now, back in my birthplace of Melbourne.

At cheder, it was always presented as an “insurance policy” for the Jewish people. Our backup plan if the world turned against us. Again.

Jews are faced with a turnip of a leader we cannot vote for, but nevertheless affects our lives as Jews in a myriad of ways.

A place in the world where you could be a Jew and not be in a minority. A literal, physical representation of the failure of the world to erase us, despite pretty much everyone having a red hot go throughout the course of history.  

Even as the grandchild of survivors, I have never felt that connection, that strong pull. If I had, I would have gone there, I suppose, instead of the other places to which I have chosen to travel, when I’ve had the opportunity.

But not feeling the pull to visit, doesn’t mean that my life hasn’t been intertwined with Israel. And now, being a Jew in 2024 means thinking about, talking about and worrying about Israel constantly. It dominates our lives in every respect.

And again, Jews are faced with a turnip of a leader, who just like Trump, we cannot vote for, but nevertheless affects our lives as Jews in a myriad of ways.

It has emboldened those who hate Jews to attack us, to smear us. The stench of antisemitism is once again thick in the air, instead of hiding in the shadows, where it usually lurks.

Every aspect of what happened on October 7 was wrong. Nothing will ever change that. The fact that there are hostages still being held in Gaza is an abomination.

But the decisions made both before that day by Netanyahu (and some of the leaders before him), as well as the decisions made since, are equally repugnant. Neither side can claim a moral high ground.

Of course, on paper, Israel’s conduct – its government’s conduct – shouldn’t affect us or reflect on us. But what’s true on paper is not always borne out by reality.

It doesn’t matter that Netanyahu wasn’t elected by a popular majority. It doesn’t matter that he bartered his way to power by making deals with fundamentalists. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t get to vote in that election or any other. And it doesn’t matter that I’ve never been there.

Every time Netanyahu allows nutjob fundamentalist settlers to engage in land grabs that he knows breach international law, it affects all Jews everywhere. Every time he or a member of his government makes vile, racist statements about Palestinians, it affects us. It shouldn’t. But it does.

Any Jew who has ever engaged in psychoanalysis (so by my count, that’s around about 99.9% of us) would know that the first rule of therapy is that you have to accept that you cannot change things over which you have no control. What you can change is yourself, your perspective and the way you interact with the world around you.

Whether I like it or not, my fate, the fate of every Jew really, is intertwined with Israel. And right now, Israel – led by Netanyahu – is failing us on a fundamental level.

We must find a way to hold Israel to a higher standard.

With or without a vote.

About the author

Isabelle Oderberg

Isabelle Oderberg's journalism has appeared in The Age/SMH, Guardian, ABC, Meanjin and elsewhere. She also worked as a media and communications strategist across the not-for-profit sector. She is the author of Hard to Bear: Investigating the science and silence of miscarriage (Ultimo Press)

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