Deborah Wiener

Gaslight: Coming to a Jew near you

Gaslight, the famous play of 1938 and then movie of 1944 just opened in Melbourne. Apparently it is very good. It is apt as Melbourne, and indeed Australia, are becoming known as the crucible of post-war antisemitism. According to Urban Dictionary, gaslighting in its modern iteration means intimidating the victim so as to make them doubt their own memory, perception and sanity. The classic example is to switch something around on someone that you know they are sure to notice, then deny knowing anything about it and to explain that “they must be imagining it” when challenged about these changes.

These days, Jews are being gaslit on an ongoing basis. When Jews cannot walk through a crowd of angry protesting Palestinian supporters on their way to a meeting without being assaulted, then blamed for being assaulted, they are being gaslit. The police, instead of removing the baying mob, remove the Jew. Got a ring to it, hasn’t it? Remove the Jew.
Next, we have the shameful precedent of Israelis being cancelled and Jews’ reaction to same being minimized by the cancellers who take shelter behind the “we had protests and we acted to keep everyone safe” line.

In one week, two comedians and a DJ had their shows cancelled. The comedians were lucky enough to find a different, less timorous, venue.

The most egregious of cancellations was undertaken by the fancy sounding ANZMHA (Australia and New Zealand mental health association) who brought out an Israeli trauma specialist for their conference this week on the Gold Coast. The invitation was issued six months ago. Last Friday at 4pm, with the conference due to start on the Monday, the Israeli was informed that he was cancelled. Not only was he removed from the lecture lineup, but his registration and room were cancelled and boom! He was disappeared. Nor was he given the opportunity to present remotely which, he later confirmed, he would have been happy to do.

The alleged reason for the cancellation was because the organization received threats and a petition of fewer than 200 people, from pro-Palestinian supporters and were thus unable to ensure the safety of the Israeli and other attendees.

Instead of showing some backbone, as did the Italians this week, who, when confronted by a petition of 14,000 demanding that Israel be removed from the Venice Biennale, said such a petition was shameful and told the petitioners there was no way Israel would be ejected from the Biennale, the ANZMHA organizers capitulated to the bullies.

It is ironic in the extreme to note that the theme of the conference was mental wellbeing, confronting bullying and harassment. The bullies in this case won.

The loss is to the community at large in the first instance because they no longer have the opportunity to gain from someone who is a leader in the field of trauma, but it is bigger than that. The loss is also to the now rapidly vanishing idea that Australia was a model of multi-culturalism and acceptance.

Aren’t the lines of our anthem “..for we are One and Free…” There can be no doubt now that we are not one. Perhaps we never were and it was all a myth. Perhaps the “advance Australia fair” and the supposed fair go in which we all rejoice were created in a type of Brigadoon: a place that never existed except in the imagination. And perhaps the gaslighting we see now was always there too, coiled like a snake waiting for the opportunity to unleash its venom.

The Jews in this country are constantly being told that we are too touchy, that things aren’t antisemitic when they are. Classic gaslighting. We cannot hear any condemnation of anti semitism without a corresponding condemnation of islamophobia, as if they were the same beast. The spineless leaders who refuse to condemn one without having to bring in the other only serve to reinforce to we Jews that we don’t really count, that we can’t be the ones to decide what is antisemitic or isn’t. Of course, if the same were suggested to any other minority, like anyone from the LGBTQI community, such would be deemed unacceptable.

But it is seemingly de rigeur to tell Jews when they can be offended and when they cannot. Just like you can cancel them without worrying too much about the consequences.

So Gaslight the show might be back, but this time we won’t be told we are crazy.

This time, we know what has been moved and we won’t stand by why you try to tell us it hasn’t.

Gaslight might be back in town, but we aren’t buying tickets.

About the Author
A family law barrister and amateur Holocaust historian with an interest in writing about what is important right now.