Joke: How many Zionists and left-wing activists can you fit into a Monash lecture hall?
I recently attended the annual Vice Chancellor’s debate at Monash University. This year, in what I believe was a cunning bid to ‘sex’ up the lecture, the debate topic was ‘should the West engage with Hamas?” On the affirmative side was former PM Malcolm Fraser, head of Australians for Palestine Michael Shaik and terrorism academic Debra Smith. On the negative side was head of the Australian Zionist council and local dentist Danny Lamm, some kid from the debating association wearing a suit and dashing former barrister cum Labour politician Mark Dreyfus.
As soon as I arrive to what I thought would be a bunch of ageing ideologues in an empty room, I find a who’s who of the Zionist/Palestinian lobby groups and some scruffy looking university students holding a sign. (Why is it that the fact that the anarchists may actually have fleas makes them that more attractive…or is that just me?)
The lecture hall is swelling with people and we all awkwardly squish to sit in the fire escape route. Foe next to Foe. People are gunning for a fight and the tension is palpable. One Jewish guy yells across to his friend ‘can you believe it.. one guy here I just spoke to didn’t know what a Qassam (rocket) was.. he thought it was a firecracker!” There is so much smugness in the air that it’s almost hard to breathe. Everyone seems to think they have the monopoly on truth and righteousness, and those not in agreement are just morally deficient troublemakers. At one point in the debate a woman hisses at one of the speakers and instantly gets silenced by the audience. We are all trying to prove that we are not savages, that we can sit and have a civilized discussion on this topic. But I can almost see everyone’s hearts thrusting against their chests when a side they disagree with puts its case forward. At least everyone is on the same page in that we all feel misrepresented and misunderstood.
When the lecture finishes, once again no on seems to have won which is no surprise seeing as no one was really here to be persuaded of anything. I guess holding on to our own belief systems, be they based on the church of god or reason, is comforting. I, however, just feel nauseous from the whole thing. I exit to see an older Jewish woman pointing her finger angrily at a scruffy university student, yelling: ‘You’re a Trotskyite aren’t you!’
Where can we go from here?