During Israeli Apartheid Week 2011 in Brisbane, there was a teach-in at Kelvin Grove campus of Qld University of Technology. During her presentation, Samah (Australians for Palestine) asked the audience “Who here is a student?” In an audience of 25 people two young men put up their hands. In order to get an idea of the composition of her audience, Samah, an experienced advocate, also asked who is from a church or community group.
Later in the afternoon when the teach-in was over I bade the two students farewell. Both looked at me in a surly manner and hurried past.
As we were cleaning up there was chat among the organisers about these students. Samah explained that students fall into three categories at Palestinian forums. ‘The students are either from socialist groups, are Islamic or have Arab parents or are from Jewish or Zionist backgrounds’.
I asked Samah which category did the two young men fall into.
She said that they were from Jewish and/or Zionist backgrounds.
For no particular reason, this incident reminds me of when I was a student at the University of Queensland in the 1970s. I was a member on campus of the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee (CLCC).
From time to time there were forums held in the student refectory area. On one such occasion, Yussef, another member of the CLCC, was speaking out against the lack of democratic rights in Queensland under the Bjelke-Petersen government.
As Yussef spoke, I was walking nearby with a Jewish friend, Steve. We were studying Zoology together but Steve was not aware of my political association with Yussef. The more Yussef spoke, the more upset Steve became. Finally he exclaimed ‘bloody trendy Jew, why doesn’t he stick to his studies and forget about politics’. Steve explained to me that the speaker was ‘a liberal Jew — the type that you get in New York’.
As Steve went off, I could barely contain my amusement.
Finally I told Steve ‘Yussef’s an Arab, not Jewish, both his parents are Lebanese’.
Steve looked mortified as we went on to lunch.