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The disturbing silence of creative communities over Hamas’s massacre

Anita Lester
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The disturbing silence of creative communities over Hamas’s massacre

Published: 16 October 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The silence from artists when Jews are massacred raises concerns about the sincerity of their human rights commitment and suggests antisemitism in their activism.

I consider myself a Jewish artist working across various mediums, including music, writing, film, and painting. Artists, in their many forms, are storytellers and activists. We have a profound responsibility to comment on the world through our work, and there is a rich history of protest songs, political poetry, wartime paintings, and historical films as channels through which artists tell the truth.

Last week, the Jewish community endured a brutal and violent public pogrom, the deadliest since the Holocaust. In the midst of harrowing videos online, shattered faces in my neighbourhood, and heart-wrenching stories from my loved ones, including my mother and brother caught in the turmoil of Tel Aviv, one of the most disturbing aspects was the deafening silence from the creative community. It is unforgivable.

I am a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and my family's journey is one of immigrants seeking refuge, ultimately finding a home in Australia. My parents, who were humanist Zionists, moved to Israel, where I was born, with dreams of peace and unity.

Consequently, I consider myself a staunch advocate for human rights, including those of the Palestinians, who have endured generations of suffering and now face intensified intimidation from my homeland's dysfunctional government, which I strongly oppose.

However, the lack of support for Jews and Israeli citizens goes beyond the pale. It exposes underlying prejudices, and quite frankly, it's embarrassing to witness.

This past week, I’ve been exhausted and heartbroken, trying to make sense of this new reality. It's a darkness that feels simultaneously ancient and new.

The year 2021 was marked by the rise of anti-Israel sentiments that morphed into antisemitism. I lost lifelong friendships and faced cancellation in my creative life. I was publicly shamed and vilified on social media by the arts community, all for identifying as a supporter of Israel, or dare I say, a Zionist.

So what’s going on with arts festivals and arts leadership bodies? They have remained conspicuously silent. Of course, there have been some high-profile advocates, like Bono.

Remember the terrorist attack at the Bataclan - every artist I know rallied in support. natural disasters provoke concerts. But when it’s in Israel…

But until the weekend, when a group of leading Hollywood figures signed a letter of support, and three music labels issued a similar statement, a week after the Hamas onslaught, there were no other names to name. Tellingly, most of the prominent names to sign the letter were Jewish. The pattern continued over the weekend, when a group of Hollywood Jewish writers called out the Writers Guild of America over its silence.

In Australia, the silence has been comprehensive - no funding bodies, no record labels, no publishing houses, no government creative agencies. Nothing. The silence isn't just silence; it's a deep and painful betrayal.

Imagine if a Coachella, a Falls Festival, a Strawberry Fields, or a Glastonbury had been the subject of a massacre - can you imagine how the global creative community would rally around them? Remember the terrorist attack at the Bataclan - every artist I know rallied in support. And wars and natural disasters provoked concerts and fundraisers. But when it’s in Israel…

I am making a film about a Jewish love story. My producer, Jamie Bialkower, is noticing some patterns. He's frustrated with the selective acceptance of funding film festivals, often driven by politicians trying to secure "diverse" votes. He's angered by the pervasive antisemitism in the film industry that goes unchecked.

He recounts stories of casual jokes made in meetings about Jews running the film industry without understanding the background. There is a complete denial of Jewish solidarity driven by a desperate desire to not offend, alongside an abundance of leftist agendas masking as virtue while serving their own interests. And this is just film…and this is just scratching the surface!

The BDS movement, though claiming to advocate for human rights, exerts pressure on film and arts festivals to align with Palestinian causes, sometimes leading to unwarranted boycotts of individuals with Israeli ties, regardless of their personal or creative convictions. The BDS-driven artistic boycott of the Sydney Festival in 2022 was a notable example. Their silence raises concerns about the sincerity of their human rights commitment and exposes the troubling suggestion of antisemitism within anti-Israel activism.

To the creative voices advocating for Palestine, I pose a question: Can you condone the capture and murder of children?

To the creative voices advocating for Palestine, some who express their support before the Jewish casualties have even been counted, I pose a question: Can you condone the capture and murder of children, the graphic display of corpses, unspeakable crimes against women, and the grotesque celebration of death? These are not actions of justice; they are the marks of terrorists. Hamas should not be equated with Palestinians; they are terrorists.

Let's be clear about what it means to be an ally to the Jewish people. It does not involve endorsing harm to innocent Palestinian civilians - who are facing a humanitarian battle because of their terrorist leadership, which, I can confidently say, most Jews cannot condone. It means showing support and empathy as we face an unprecedented disgraceful wave of antisemitism.

This creative community has remained disturbingly quiet when it comes to supporting the Jewish people. This isn't about politics; it's about being an ally, and I fear this lengthy silence has broken our trust. This is something we will never forget.

Photo: Blank frames (Etsy)

About the author

Anita Lester

Anita Lester is a Melbourne-based multidisciplinary artist, working between music, writing, visual art and film. Her work has been shown in major galleries and museums in London, Jerusalem and New York. She has also published a book of poetry and nine children’s books.

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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