Sharonne Blum
Professional Zioness

We too are fighting a war, right here in Melbourne

The slogans scrawled all over make me feel like the city itself is screaming at us - until people with megaphones ramp up the violence
The slogan "Zionism is Fascism" is sprayed on the electoral office of Australian federal Labor Party member of parliament Josh Burns in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda after police said at least five people smashed windows and painted slogans on the walls on June 19, 2024. (William WEST / AFP)
The slogan "Zionism is Fascism" is sprayed on the electoral office of Australian federal Labor Party member of parliament Josh Burns in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda after police said at least five people smashed windows and painted slogans on the walls on June 19, 2024. (William WEST / AFP)

There’s been something on my mind for a couple of weeks since Josh Burns’s office was vandalized and set on fire. For those who do not know, Josh Burns is a Jewish Minister of Parliament here in Australia, for a seat in Melbourne with a significant Jewish population. It was actually something he said at the press conference following the attack: that people are bringing an overseas conflict in the Middle East to Melbourne, that what happens here has no impact on the war in Israel and Gaza.

I’ve heard many people say this and I understand the sentiment, yet it still bothered me. I think it is misguided and shows a sort of failure to see what is right in front of us. The thing is, this war is not just in the Middle East. This war has many fronts and some of those are not conventional combat zones. In my opinion, we are at war. Right here. A war that is psychological, societal, relational. It is a war of information and propaganda that is harming all of us who have to live here together.

This war takes place online where words are being used to distort and invert Jewish suffering, both current and past. Words that echo libels and describe us as the most evil villains on earth. This propaganda ruthlessly demands the right to define us and decide for us what is or is not a legitimate and moral expression of Jewishness, aiming to distinguish between “good Jews” and “bad Jews.” War is waged through the appropriation of our concepts and our language, such as Zionism, Jew, Israel, and twisting them to fit a paradigm utterly foreign to the facts of who we are and what we experience, war is being waged.

The battle scars are recorded in our hearts and souls, manifesting as deep feelings of betrayal, isolation and loss. The wave of hateful words and outright lies can feel like a flood, like we are drowning. But the war does not remain online, it seeps onto the streets.

As elsewhere in the Diaspora, Melbourne’s streets, sidewalks, lampposts, bus stops, footpaths, shopfronts, and walls are a battleground plastered with hate. Slogans scrawled on posters and stickers or spray-painted on the bricks and concrete of our iconic laneways are so prevalent in some areas they make us feel as if the city itself is screaming at us, at me directly, that I am a “baby killer,” and “colonial aggressor,” a stain on all that is good. And why? For daring to be who we are, a people, the Jewish people, connected to each other wherever we are in the world, and to our ancestral home.

The battle wounds from this front land in a similar way, also psychological, triggering feelings of isolation, anger, dislocation and maybe sometimes shame even though we have nothing to be ashamed of. Often there is another battle wound, this one is sort of self-imposed; the limiting or hesitating to travel freely, carelessly without a thought about safety, as we should do in the city we live in. But we often cannot, we stop and think and talk with each other about what the contingency plan is in case of possible hostile encounters. A metaphorical clipping of our own wings.

This is bad. This particular front requires not just us to fight, by fortifying ourselves and taking up space in public, but also government, to take responsibility for the atmosphere of society, its texture and temperature. Good, working, cohesive societies don’t just form organically, they require governance, and sometimes they require really energetic governance, to enact its own policies in order to affirm its core values and norms.

Of course, the war of information and propaganda, of lies and distortion and hate, also spills over into the people on the streets, where some gather regularly to scream abuse at Jews, with megaphones, and picket signs, and catchy rhymes. Sometimes tens of thousands of people chant and repeat abusive heinous lies. “All Zionists are terrorists” is a favorite. This chant is very disturbing. It is hate speech. This chant is inciting hate. Zionism, a legitimate expression of Jewishness, an expression that is far more ancient than the term itself, is being cast as a criminal offence. This accusation is intolerable. The shrieking public’s charge (albeit a loud minority of useful idiots) that 70-90 percent of our community, a minority ethnic group in this country, are terrorists, is simply illegal. It is a violation of the Racial Discrimination Act as well as the Victorian Human Rights Charter. No ethnic group or any minority group should endure such vilification, such abuse.

Every. Single. Week.

There are many more vile chants and they seep into our pores causing us tremendous harm — more psychological blows. But they don’t just seep into our pores, they seep into the pores of society as a whole. People, organizations, boards, businesses, entire sectors, especially in the arts (and for Melbourne Jews, this is especially stinging) are infected with this indoctrination, blinding so many people from basic morality. The battle scars here manifest though cancelations, of events and of people, of Jewish artists, performers, entrepreneurs. Venues for events are moved or are kept secret. Businesses closing, moving closer to community because these days the Jewish thread that contributes to the rich tapestry of Melbourne multiculturalism is just not that palatable anymore.

And sometimes the wounds are physical, when a megaphone is thrust against your ear and a person is shrieking about how many children you murdered today, the words cut your soul but the sound itself is an assault on the actual body, eardrum punched by vicious relentless sound waves. When mobs of people whose faces are covered by keffiyot, charge at teenagers, young girls and boys, elderly bubbahs and zaidas, and our mothers too, simply exiting train stations, this is societal violence targeting Jewish people. These mobs scream “fcking Zionists” and “sharmuta,” forcing police to create actual human protective barriers and even having to lift and carry Jewish people (including Holocaust survivors) out of the violent throng. These physical assaults are illegal. We have laws to protect people from such violence and law enforcement must enforce the law.

The media is also complicit in this war-waging, swimming so arrogantly in the bias it creates. Using phrases either carelessly or in carefully calculated ways, to draw equivalences between a barbaric, homophobic, misogynist terror organization that brutalized, tortured, maimed and murdered, thousands of civilians, with the legitimate military response of the country it attacked.

But the equivalences don’t end there. Media reports draw equivalences between intimidating and sometimes violent face-covered mobs here in Australia, with Jews simply existing in public and defending our right to be in public without being attacked. They report on “clashes” between two opposing sides when it is Jewish individuals or Jewish groups being ambushed, abused and attacked. But the media so often implies the sides are equal in hostility, motives, actions and ethics. And then they give airtime to people spouting phrases that call for the total elimination of the only Jewish home in the world. A home we need now more than we ever have before.

And the most heartbreaking theatre of war is the war our children are enduring. The antisemitism they not only see but experience directly, copping hateful abuse on social media (and they are so online, so they witness and experience a lot), on footy and soccer grounds, in nightclubs and parties and festivals, in classrooms and school assemblies, on campuses on public transport and in shopping centers. I work with teenagers and have been told so many stories from my students about what they experienced over the weekend or after school. When I think about the battle wounds of this theatre of war I just weep. I know it makes them strong, and proud, and more Jewish than ever. But it breaks my heart.

This theatre of war is not in Israel or Gaza. It is in the Diaspora. Of course, the dangers are different, but they are real. This theatre of war is very particular. Fighting antisemitism in the Diaspora (while our Jewish family fights terrorism in Israel) has its unique qualities and requires unique strategies, different to those of our brothers and sisters in Israel. This theatre of war has existential consequences for Jews around the world. It will leave battle scars that will require years, if not generations, to process and hopefully heal.

So that is what has been on my mind. We are not experiencing the Middle East as though it has been transplanted here. We are experiencing a war of our own. Make no mistake, we are in the midst of it. All of us. We are fighting. All of us, in different ways. That is why we are so tired, so depleted. But not completely depleted or diminished. We should acknowledge this, speak of it, explain it to our leaders and to our friends.

Whether we like it or not, we are soldiers here too. Not in uniform, and not with guns or trucks or tanks. We fight though, with strength and with soul, for our existence and for our future.

About the Author
Sharonne Blum is a Jewish Studies educator in Melbourne with over 2 decades of experience. Immersed in not only Jewish education but in pedagogy broadly, having been a fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013. With family and friends both in Israel and in Melbourne, she is invested in understanding and nurturing the bond between those two worlds.
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