Deborah Wiener

What is freedom?

Back in May, I spent 10 days in Israel. Prior to that we had been for the best part of 3 weeks in Spain. As Dara Horn has written, people love dead Jews, and so it is in Spain.  You can do tours of narrow sunless streets where the Jews lived over 500 years ago prior to to being booted out or forced to convert or burnt alive or tortured. Today the descendants of those Inquisitors claim they are very sorry and try to bring back some life to the dead Jews. But here’s the thing- Basque and Catalan Spain have been screaming for independence for around 100 years now, if not more, and Castilian Spain has said, nada! Ain’t happening folks. Franco banned the speaking of Catalan. Basque is a bizarre incomprehensible language related to no other,  and they are refused independence too. But to vote for a Palestinian State- sure thing. Why not? As to be decided. But an independent Catalan or way baby.

So arriving in Israel after visiting Spain and some of its very dead ( and really not very missed) Jews was akin to a rebirth. For in Israel, Jews are very much alive even though most of the world would actually like them( and us) to really, all be very dead.

Walking off the plane you see the immediate ramifications of that desire- the walkway from arrivals down to  passport control is full of pictures of the hostages, most of whom probably are dead, or so we are led to believe.

Immediately the grief hits you.

Everything in Israel is the same but everything is different.

People are the same but different. Nothing is the same and nor can it be. Nor are we who visit the same.

Everywhere, whilst life seemingly goes on in the  boundless energy that is Tel Aviv, there is an undercurrent, a hardness and a sadness and an overwhelming grief. The pictures of the hostages are everywhere, as are people wearing yellow ribbons or dog tags with messages of hope inscribed upon them.

The annual memorial day commemoration was haunting. The annual Independence Day celebration which immediately followed it was both uplifting and celebratory yet contained within it the sadness and grief that permeates the country and its citizenry.

The anger towards Bibi is palpable with posters accusing him of failure in leadership and failure to take reasonability. They blame him for the miscalculation, the “conceptia” which led the politicians to believe that showering Hamas with money would encourage them to build an economy for their citizenry and leave Israel in, if not peace, then at least a kind of accommodation. That “conceptia” of course was proven to be hopelessly wrong, although, to be fair to those who devised it, it did work for a time, but the failures will be dealt with later. In the meantime, amongst the anger and the grief is a determination to get rid of Hamas and try to make the world understand why that has to be done.

Whilst I was there, the IDF reported that 15 terrorists were found inside an UNRWA school. More terrorists  were found next to a UN building and were seen firing at Gazans. At an UNRWA school in Rafah weapons were found. Shafts leading to tunnels are  ubiquitous in Gaza. In private homes, in schools, in medical clinics, in hospitals. Each day there are more and more discoveries of tunnels and shafts in homes, schools and medical centres. Just today was found a butcher’s knife and other accoutrements of terror found in a child’s bedroom.

There was  a meme going around which says that “ it’s a miracle! the UN brought back to life 11,000 women and children,” as they  admitted they overestimated the numbers of dead as they relied upon Hamas’ manufactured figures.

This is at a time when Israel is regularly being accused of genocide and war crimes.

I have seen evidence of genocide.

I have been to Treblinka where around 800,000 were gassed.

I have been to Auschwitz where   around 1 million were  either gassed  on arrival or died later from starvation, illness or malnutrition, including  my grandfather’s half -brother and other members of my family.

I have been to Belzec where around 500,000 were gassed including  in all probability my grandparents

I have been to the killing fields in Ukraine  and heard witnesses talk about the ground moving for 3 days after the mobile killing squads had done their job. The ground was moving because people were still alive, or partly so, under the earth and the piles of bodies.

I have been because it is a moral obligation to visit. Because one has to bear witness, t

And  so I went to the Gaza Envelope and I  saw there the evidence of a pogrom.

My partner asked  me’ Do you really think you should go,have you thought about it?” And I tell him that I have. But that is only partly true. I haven’t thought about it really because there is nothing to think about, it is an obligation, it is to bear witness, to try to hold to account  those who would not believe  and who would deny what cannot be denied.

We live in a time where it is now perfectly acceptable within polite society to call for the elimination of a democratically elected country. It is perfectly acceptable, apparently, for university students to deny access to Jewish students, barring them from entry as hasn’t happened since the thirties.

It is acceptable, apparently, for the vice chancellors and chancellors to allow this to occur and to obfuscate as they never would were this to happen to any other minority  group. They hide behind words which mean nothing and actions which do nothing and pretend they care.  But they frankly don’t.

It is acceptable for the ‘ as a Jews” to be courted and feted by the media as if they represent a group that is somehow holier than the rest of us.  The “ as a Jews” are platformed whereas the rest of we  “ zios” are sidelined and regarded as the offspring of the devil. The “ as a Jews” should really be named Jews for Hitler or Jews for Hamas, and, if they think they are better than the rest of us, there are, as Shai Davidai has said,  no prizes for being on the last train to Auschwitz. There have always been these Jews, those Jews, like Kapos,  the Judenrat, the Jews who helped the Romans and the Greeks. They thought they would be safer, saved, delivered from evil.

But they were not.

Nor did the rampaging Hamas murderers stop to ask if their victims were the ones who had worked with them, trying to find peace. They didn’t need to because they knew. They knew all about their victims including the names of their dogs. And they were butchered as well.

One of the released hostages has related discussions she had with her captors about the future of the Jews in Israel. Oh he said , we intend to establish a caliphate. And the Jews? Oh well, they would live under it. And the gays and trans? Oh no, we can’t have them. The Queers for Palestine and associated groups wouldn’t last a nano second in this caliphate that they cheer on so relentlessly.

One  night I went to see “ Golda, the first lady”, a play about Golda Meir in the wake of the 1973 war and the following Agranat commission of enquiry, as a result of which she and other cabinet members resigned.

The irony of it is that as in 1973 they ignored the signs of war, so in October the signs were ignored. Will there be another commission? Probably.

But the other issue is that history, as we know, repeats itself. Not in the same way of course, but in ways that we can learn from.

Being in Israel, only in Israel, do you see a young woman walk out of the theatre with a rifle slung casually over her shoulders as we would throw a cardigan on a cool night. Only in Israel do you see an empty  seat set for the hostages.

The Israelis are living now in a parallel world. On the one hand life is normal, cafes full and it is hard to get a booking at the local manicure salon, which, by the by, is vastly more expensive than Melbourne.

And yet.. and yet. Trauma is seldom visible to the outside eye. Trauma is buried deep below the depths and only those who know can identify it.

Trauma is in hostage square where one can purchase dog tags and hats and bring them home yellow ribbons and bracelets. And you may, if you can bear it, talk to hostage families.

I sense the trauma without seeing it and feel the sensation of it .

And  so I  went  down to the Gaza envelope in order to bear witness to that which is unbearable.

And so I began to think about freedom.

What is freedom? In the wake of recent events challenging our ideas about free speech, about freedom of association, of religion and of freedom from harassment it is apposite to consider what it is and the ramifications of the universal ignoring of hate speech and actions directed at Jews, the same acts masquerading as being against ‘ Zios”.

Jean- Jacques Rousseau famously wrote  that “ man is born free but is forever in chains” and Janis Joplin sang that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. The Australian national anthem has the line “for we are one and free”,and the Israeli national anthem, “hatikva” ( the hope) has as its last line “ to be a free nation in our land”.

But what does it mean to be free when hate speech is yelled at Jews and nothing is done about it, when universities capitulate to threats made by supporters of terror ,when Jews are, as I write this, in this week alone, variously attacked outside a synagogue( Los Angeles), thrown off a flight( JFK by Virgin Atlantic ), attacked in Paris ( 12 year old girl raped), New York and London. At none of these events when police were present did they do anything to prevent or stop the attacks on the Jews. By contrast, the police in Los Angeles prevented the Jews – yes you read that correctly- from entering the synagogue where properties in Israel were being advertised for sale and allowed the Hamas- supporting mob to carry on as they wished.   In London police have told a Jew on his way home from synagogue that he looked too Jewish.

Here in Australia the police have done nothing to assist Jews in feeling safe. Or free. On the contrary , commencing with the infamous Opera House “ where’s the Jews” or “where are your Jews” or “ f the jews”, the police have told the Jews to stay away and done nothing to provide protection, either physical or psychological. Jews don’t feel too free, let alone at one with the rest of the Australian community right now.

Freedom cannot mean that one group of the community can yell racist slogans at another with impunity. Freedom has limits. It is not untrammelled.

How can it be that one group can take over the State library forecourt  in Melbourne, effectively preventing others from attending  that space without feeling threatened.

Rousseau was right when he said we are in chains, for they are the chains of being civilised. The chains that mean that you can’t do whatever you please whenever  you please because that impacts upon my freedom. The chains are the chains of being civilised. But being civilised is not something that Hamas supporters  and the progressive green left are too keen on. For them, freedom does mean nothing left to lose because they, like Rhett Butler famously said, don’t give a damn about anyone else. Their understanding of freedom is to  harass and ban and cancel anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

Freedom is constrained and must be for if not there is chaos and anarchy, which is exactly what the Hamas supporters want. Chaos and anarchy is what the universities are inviting when they capitulate to the campers who refuse to leave unless they get a seat at the table. The capitulation and appeasement that has been done is shameful deserving of opprobrium. The West capitulated to Hitler in 1938 when they allowed him to march into the Sudetenland. That didn’t work out so well. The universities should learn from history, not try to rewrite it by looking at it through rose coloured glasses. Or not at all.

But in my short trip of 10 days  in  Israel I felt freer there than here. I didn’t need to worry about university encampments or rallies or signs or posters or seeing posters of the hostages torn down.  I didn’t see a star of David matched up with a swastika ( see in Byron Bay this week). For despite the trauma and the incomprehension of the world siding with genocidal terrorists, the sense of emotional freedom was overwhelming. I could wear my “ bring them home” dog tag and bracelets  without worrying.

Freedom is amorphous. Freedom is a state of being, a state of mind. But we need to interrogate the underside of it. Australia has prided itself on being a multi-cultural society with everyone happily playing together. That has proven to be a myth. If it were ever true it isn’t true now.  We are not one and we are not free.

The  price of that loss of that is hard to quantify but the ramifications will be felt by a society that is fractured, mistrustful and ultimately weaker.

The only way to rectify it is by strong leadership that demonstrates that freedom means freedom for everyone, not just one group.

I hope that I will see that, but as the days go on I fear that freedom is something we see in the rear view mirror, fading like the dying light.

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