The Full Motley: chair Robert Manne, Ghassan Hage, Mark Baker, Gerry Simpson and Rai Gaita, at the last event of  ‘Gaza: Morality, Law & Politics’, a lecture series pitched dead centre on the world’s most contested ground.

We were told by Chair Manne in his stentorian bass that the discussion was being taped for a future episode of Radio National’s religious program Encounter. (Which seemed odd.) And that during the last third questioners from the floor should ‘say their names so that they could be identified’. (Bemused titters.) I brought out the comfort of my sketchbook.

During the discussion at least three of the five used the word despair regarding Israel-Palestine. Gerry Simpson also quoted the wonderful formula: ‘States do not commit crimes; they only make mistakes.’

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The convener, Professor Raimond Gaita (he of Romulus, My Father).

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The anti-Zionist Ghassan Hage and the Zionist Mark Baker (where a Zionist is someone who thinks the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland should exist; and vice versa, but not therefore anti-Semitic).

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Midway in the discussion Baker was responding to Hage and making a remark about the survival of the Jewish culture. Whereupon, Hage in mock exasperation beckoned the hand mike back from Baker and nuanced: ‘This is not about Jewish culture. Jewish culture has produced some of the great thinkers. I can’t think without Jewish culture. I’m talking about Israeli culture.’

paleJust in front of me was this young man. Before the discussion began he was already in a state of high nervous energy, talking to his companions about question time. At last, the panelists yielded the floor, and the young fellow – arm waving vigorously – shot up and as requested, identified himself – thus: ‘Who speaks for me? I am Palestinian. Who is speaking for me?’

Prof. Gaita pointed out that there was no Israeli speaker on the panel either. (Indeed the panel was clearly sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, and was of the general view that things were set to be problematic from 1948, that is to say from the inception of modern Israel. The audience too was clearly pro-Palestinian.) That did not satisfy the youth who repeated his question even more excitedly, and had to be patted and calmed by his friend. ‘Sit down, sit down.’ Faced as he was with all that high wattage intellect, perhaps he still had a point, or was inadvertently grasping the blunt end of a point, a point as densely overlaid as the mending over the hole of an old garment.

There may be many speaking for the Palestinians, but there are very few Edward Saids. Judicious men all, and impeccably measured in the discussion, yet the audience could not help but remark of the men on the panel – Manne is Jewish; Baker, Jewish, was the apologist for Israel; Simpson aimed at the dispassion of the international jurist; philosopher Gaita had previously stated that he was a Zionist (as defined above) and married to an Israeli. And Hage, who did take up the Palestinian cause, is of Lebanese descent, and is perhaps more than anything that old-fashioned figure: a cosmopolite, an internationalist, a flaneur.

The pixie-ish Hage had the most G. Greer-like moment of the evening when, giving his more or less final statement, said that as realism had not produced the goods, maybe it was time for idealism. He championed the concept of a single state – Jews and Palestinians and whoallelse together. He even, I think, mentioned John Lennon…

Finally, a woman on the other side of the auditorium delivered in her stentorian alto an awesome evocation of the separatist seventies: How can we find solutions to these problems when it is being discussed by the very same misogynistic, racist, homophobic patriarchal hegemony which first created them?

Maybe the answer is Yoko Ono.

Update: The Monthly‘s wonderful SlowTV
has videos of three of the talks:
Raimond Gaita, Mark Baker, Ghassan Hage

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