AJN – Loose Lips and the Holocaust

It’s the sort of article one has to read twice just to make sure it’s not a hallucination.

On page 3 of this week’s AJN we learn, yet again, how close we are to another Holocaust.

Or perhaps we learn that if you complain enough to the ABC, they’ll say only positive things about Jews.

Or that it’s OK now to make jokes on the national broadcaster about the Jewish lobby driving up ticket prices.

Ostensibly, it’s a small story: Bad taste comment on the radio, Jewish overreaction, dismissed complaint, Holocaust reference.

Red Symons, on 774 ABC radio observed that perhaps the exorbitant prices asked for Simon and Garfunkel tickets were due to the Jewish lobby. That he said this in a joking manner does not excuse what is a clear double standard on the broadcaster.

Try to imagine a similarly phrased joke about Aborigines in such a context. It’s unthinkable. And this means that certain ethnic groups are more protected than others from ridicule or stereotyping.

While it’s unlikely that Symons meant any harm by his comment, it still opens the way for the acceptability of a certain discourse on Jews that most other ethnic groups would not encounter on the ABC.

The only remaining question is then, how can we Jews turn a slightly unpleasant situation into a communal embarrassment that confirms journalists’ worst suspicions of us? Can we perhaps feed in to the cycle of unflattering coverage of our ethnic group and homeland?

The answer is, yes, and Dr Nathan Pinskier shows us how.

First, he complained to the ABC. When the national broadcaster declined to act, Pinskier moved on to the Australian Communications and Media Authority. They, too, were unwilling to uphold a complaint.

After exhausting these avenues, Pinskier turned to the AJN, and said the following, “As a child of a Holocaust survivor, I am all too aware of how seemingly innocuous comments such as those made by Red eventually sowed the seeds that ultimately led to the Holocaust and the mass extermination of Jews.”

Well… as the granddaughter of FOUR holocaust survivors….

Perhaps, that’s not a nice game to play.

Perhaps one’s ancestry is not an immediate qualification for making incisive social comment.

And perhaps it was something a little more sinister than an ill-conceived joke on the radio that killed six million Jews.

Perhaps this is a matter of taste, but I really would prefer if the memories of the millions killed were not dragged out at every instance a Jew wishes to win a debate. This tactic not only diminishes one’s argument, it is grotesque in its use of human suffering.

Because of this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a number of journalists, most of them non-Jews. Many non-Jewish journalists expressed deep discomfort at reporting on any matter pertaining to Jews.

As far as I could gather, not one of these journalists was in any way anti-Semitic. They were all, however, unnerved by the knee-jerk tendencies of some in the community, and the attendant disciplinary action that their employers might meet out if the wrong Jew was made too angry.

Even if I hadn’t heard this story a number of times, and even if it were based more on a perception of some in our community than on reality, we really need to ask about the consequences of having such an image among media workers.

Most Jews have, on occasion, been upset by what we perceive as unfair coverage of Jews or Israel. I certainly have. But this is an environment we’ve helped to create. Some of us are hell bent on adversarial tactics and shouting opposition down. So far, very few of our leaders or more vocal community members have been canny enough to establish good working relations with journalists.

Instead, our community comprises watchdog and lobbying organisations that are designed to pounce on negative portrayals, only entrenching certain preconceptions of a Jewish aversion to any sort of criticism.

This blog has stated many times: we might do well in high level advocacy with politicians and dignitaries. But we are shamefully immature as media consumers and practitioners.

Our leaders should always bear in mind that they will be successful in their high level advocacy only for as long as it suits those in the upper echelons. The moment the electorate’s opinion turns, and our community becomes an electoral liability, we can farewell that single feather in our cap.

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7 Responses to “AJN – Loose Lips and the Holocaust”

  1. Malki Rose says:

    “Our leaders should always bear in mind that they will be successful in their high level advocacy only for as long as it suits those in the upper echelons”


    and I think our leaders forget that they too shall be prevailed upon by history.

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  2. Morry says:

    It sounds like a lose-lose all round. I doubt that the feral jokes were caused by Jewish reaction, as I’ve been faced with some rather unflattering jokes, which, as you say, no Aborigine would ever be subjected to, and certainly no Moslem. And yes, these jokes and claims of the “powerful Jewish Lobby” are certainly within the framework of free speech, despite their vilifying implications.

    Grit your teeth, grin and bear it, and don’t complain, and the perception is that it’s OK, and it just gets worse. Complain and you oppose freedom of speech. Perhaps the problem is that we’ve nver been consistent, and grin and bear it till it gets too much, then the complaint seems somehow out of place. Moslem consistency seems to work well, and nobody but nobody makes jokes … sorry, couldn’t resist a little wry humour myself.

    It is worrisome, and if anybody has any clues on how to implement change in the snide Jewish stereotype jokes and comments, I would certainly love to hear it. As I see it, complaining is counter-productive, but so is not complaining. A classic catch 22. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the Wog Book and produce a bunch of Kike shows. I think that worked well for the Greek community … but I’m just as sure it would fail for us. The difference is that there is nothing loveable in the attitudes to Jews, and these jokes are sadly generally driven by real bigotry. For us, rather than highlighting the absurdity, the response would be “it must be true, they even say it about themselves”.

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  3. TheSadducee says:

    Red was merely articulating what I suggest is a mostly believed, but often unspoken prejudice held by many (on the left – the right also believe this but are less reluctant to articulate it) who perceive themselves as educated and progressive.

    The fact that it was expressed through a joke was meant to evince chuckles from the listeners who would openly acknowledge that it was absurd in fact (i.e. the lobby exists but isn’t actually pushing up S&G ticket prices) but would privately acknowledge that it was based on accepted wisdom (i.e. the lobby exists and it is powerful – look at what happens to anyone who criticises Israel).

    The saddest thing of all is that these types, usually socially aware and passionate about justice etc would decry the idea that they harbour any form of racism or prejudice – they are unaware of it.

    On a slightly less serious note, I suspect that Red is upset and jealous because he knows that no lobby of any persuasion would push up prices for Skyhooks tickets. :)

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  4. SJ,

    Your analogy of a comment about Aboriginals is the best test and shows Red’s comment for what it was. By working to standards that would apply to any minority group, we are not asking for special treatment as Jews.

    The debate about when to play the “Holocaust card” is a very valid one, and comes up regularly.

    That said, Nathan Pinskier’s comment goes to “intention vs impact” in Red’s communication. You have to take into account not just what you meant by the comment in its context, but how the comment will be taken by the listener group.

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  5. sydyid says:

    Perceptions and respective reactions are determined essentially by personal experiences.
    Pinskier would have experienced first hand anti Semitic attrocities or such have been transmitted powerfully at emotional levels. Pinskier reaction is determined by his experience as well as the fact that at this juncture, unlike the time of the attrocities, the actual Shoah,when objection and demands for justice from authorities was out of the question, he can, and avails himself of the right to object. His reaction carries, therefore, a powerfull post factum necessity of redressing the injustices.Therefore Pinskier’s perceived exagerated reaction, including his causistic and perceived progressive outcome. Of all people, fellow Jews must accommodate Pinskier’s condition, by at least demonstrating empathy.
    It is a given that deriding Jews under any pretext is a pervasive “past time” with the vast majority of Australian non Jews, at all levels. Those Jews who have not experienced first hand pernicious anti Semitism, such as those who have lived in Europe, even after the war, but have encountered much milder forms of unpleasant anti Jewish behaviour, are seduced by the otehrwise “easy going ” nature of the Australian larikin, whether inside or out of the strict pub precint and respective levels of merry intoxication. Mostly unacustomed with the cronic and much more virulent manifestations of sheer anti semitism among the true blue working class, condimented by the “true blue” ethnic working class where any mention of the generic Jew has the compulsory lowest pejoratives, still believe that the occasional good humored, populist passing remarks carry such a genuine flavour of innocence that, if rattled, will degenerate in the unwanted forms of cosciencious anti Semitism.
    No, my dear finely articulate pussycats, the bidos zsido, schweine Jude, skata evreos, kossamma iahudi are still very alive and ready to kick at any street corner, hotel and even white collar office. Get out and smell the viciousness of the anti Jewish readiness among the very neighbours of ours, indeed without a CV of anti Semitic upheavals. Red was playing to the audience that is far closer to his pedigree than ours and he knows what makes them grin. Maintaining that damned flame of Jewish awarness among them is precisely what he, not so sublimely, has performed and Mr. Pinskier felt the jolt in his heart ,still bleeding memories.
    We ought to comfort him with the warm touch of our understanding and genlty wipe the tears for the lives and hopes destroyed.
    And we also ought to go after the roshe Titus that still utters sounds of ridicule and grimaces glee at our pain.

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  6. sensiblejew says:

    Morry, as always you ask a number of extremely important and thought provoking questions. I hope to answer at least some of them in the coming post about the communal response to the 60 Minutes piece on Israel.

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  7. sensiblejew says:

    Sadducee, ha! Too true.

    But on a serious note, I completely concur with your analysis. My experience of well-meaning Australian non-Jews shows that these sorts of beliefs are indeed widely held. As I’ve been saying in the past – the only effective combatting of such misconceptions has been done at the most micro level: ad hoc PR and education campaigns that take place at share houses in the inner cities during uni days, and later on, during polite dinner parties.

    This micro approach is probably the best one, but we don’t have enough young people aware that they can make a real difference if they engage constructively.

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