“The physicists have known sin”, J. Robert Oppenheimer told an audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1947. It was the turning point between World War II and the Cold War: the life-or-death struggle against fascism apparently over, the age of nuclear terror just dawning. Oppenheimer’s “sin”, and that of his peers, had been to invent the nuclear bomb and deliver it into the hands of the US military.
It’s hard to believe now, but some people once thought Israel was a good idea. Not just a good idea, but a great historical breakthrough that would transform the world, and the Jewish people, for the better. “A wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence”, Theodore Herzl wrote in his 1896 pamphlet, The Jewish State. “We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes ... The world will be freed by our liberty.”
Don’t be fooled by the strange feeling that nothing is happening—whether it’s because you’re stuck in an indefinite lockdown, or because you’re in a COVID-free state seemingly unaffected by the east coast outbreak. Right now, Australia’s right-wing politicians, its corporate media, and many of its capitalists are fighting to injure and kill thousands of people by unleashing a virus that they deem too expensive and inconvenient to control.
We’ve had a few near misses, and we might be about to throw it all away. But so far, Australia remains one of few countries in the world in which the coronavirus hasn’t become endemic.
Israel is one of the strangest countries in the world. Its supporters say that it’s the only democracy in the Middle East, a beacon of liberal values in a repressive and superstitious region. It’s a place where even the military are queer-friendly and pro-vegan, a country founded by the inheritors of Europe’s socialist traditions. But those same international supporters include many of the world’s most prominent right-wing authoritarians, from former US President Donald Trump to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the British fascist Tommy Robinson.
Rabbi Meir Kahane taught the world the phrase “never again” when he published his book, Never Again: A Program for Survival, in the early 1970s. For Kahane and his followers, the phrase wasn’t the liberal cliche it is today. Kahane’s “never again” was an injunction to Jews around the world to support atrocities against the Palestinians—from the denial of basic democratic rights to mass expulsions—and the entrenchment of Israel’s existence as a quasi-fascist, anti-democratic ethno-religious state.