From the Editor’s Desk: A Podcast for Those in Search of Nuance

By | Feb 21, 2024
Culture, Featured, Israel-Hamas War, Latest

Almost immediately after the Hamas attack on October 7, Ittay Flescher, who lives with his family in Jerusalem, began receiving messages from friends and acquaintances in Australia, where he grew up. At first they were to check if he was OK, but then people started reaching out for information: Why did Hamas attack? What’s Israel going to do in Gaza? By the end of October, Flescher, a journalist and teacher, says he was spending an hour a day on phone calls, emails, WhatsApp chats and voice notes explaining what was happening in Israel and the region’s history to an ever-growing circle. Flescher suspects there are two reasons people reached out to him: Before moving to Israel, Flescher had been a high school history teacher at a Jewish day school in Melbourne for 15 years and, since arriving, he has been working with organizations promoting dialogue with Palestinians. “They could read the news,” says Flescher of those contacting him after October 7. “But they wanted me to explain it to them, because they knew me.” 

One of those asking was Hannah Baker. Baker is a family lawyer in Melbourne who knew Flescher through his wife. As October 7 and its aftermath unfolded, Baker began questioning the Israel narrative she had grown up with, but also the narratives that were being bandied about in the media. (Both Flescher and Baker note that the Australian Jewish community as a whole is extremely Zionist. “American Jews think of themselves as American first and Jewish second, but Australian Jews are Jewish first, and Australian second,” says Flescher.) After talking to Flescher for hours, Baker, who had created a podcast before and knew the production side, suggested a podcast of their conversations directed toward “people like me who grew up in a Zionist Jewish school and were only taught one narrative growing up.” 

The result, From The Yarra River to the Mediterranean Sea (the Yarra being a river in Melbourne), is a podcast that’s part history lesson, part therapy session and also features interviews with various peacebuilders in the region. Baker often acts like an audience stand-in, asking questions many of us have wondered about or fielded from friends—Who is indigenous to the land? Is Israel a colonial state? What does being a Zionist mean? As Flescher answers, he draws on histories from various perspectives. “I’m not telling history in a standard way—the way either a Palestinian or Israeli would tell history,” he says.“It’s a way a peacemaker would tell history.”  

I stumbled upon this podcast on my social media feed and was quickly drawn to the two hosts, whose frank and empathetic conversations always give careful consideration to the various groups affected by this conflict. “He is the brain and I am the heart,” Baker says with a laugh. Flesher “is so knowledgeable and comes with so many facts, and I internalize the facts” and react emotionally to them, she says. “We are not just talking about history, we are not just talking about politics, we are talking about people’s lives,” she adds.  

So far the podcast has been downloaded 15,000 times—no small feat for something produced independently with no budget—with 80 percent of the downloads coming from Australia. Emails have poured in from listeners explaining how the war has affected their lives, their jobs, their marriages, their schools. This war “has been such a fundamental challenge to the Jewish and Zionist identity of our listeners,” says Flescher. “It affects your Shabbat dinner conversations, it affects the clothes you wear, it affects the friends you have, it affects what you post on social media. And a lot of people are looking for places to process this.”

While the feedback Baker has received is positive, she suspects there are those in the Melbourne Jewish community who dislike the podcast and think now is not the time to be exploring Palestinian perspectives. She has heard that the podcast is the subject of gossip at Shabbat dinner tables in Melbourne but views that as a positive–“at least it’s starting a conversation.”

In some ways Flescher is uniquely equipped to help people process complex stories and emotions. As he describes in one episode, his father was one of the first babies born in the State of Israel after the Declaration of Independence was signed, and he is acutely aware that without the safety afforded by the creation of a Jewish homeland for his refugee grandparents from Germany and Iraq, he would not be alive today. He also tells me his work facilitating and participating in dialogue groups such as the interfaith organization Kids4Peace means there is no one he is unwilling to speak with: “I literally spend all day either facilitating dialogue or having dialogue myself with people I don’t agree with.” This can include anti-Zionists, right-wing Jews or Palestinian nationalists.

“People who have extreme opinions are not crazy,” says Flescher. “They’ve just experienced either a pain or a trauma or a certain ideology that led them to have those opinions. And the first step to healing is to listen to that hurt.”

Flescher acknowledges that dialogue has become more difficult since October 7—“because every person that lives between the river and the sea became a little bit more nationalist and started leaning a little bit more into their own victimhood”—but he thinks peacebuilding work is just paused, not stopped. “It exists,” Flescher says, speaking about an alternative to extremism in the wake of October 7. “It’s hard. And it takes a long time. But if you want peace in 20 years, you’ve got to start working on it now.”

The podcast will end its 12-episode run next month. For those looking to dive in, I recommend starting with the episode featuring Maoz Inon, a peace activist whose parents were murdered on October 7. Another key episode focuses on various solutions for the region, including the one Flescher favors, a two-state confederation. Flescher and Baker had originally planned to have the podcast run for the duration of the war—but the war has gone on much longer than either of them expected. Perhaps they will do a second season, but for now Baker wants to turn her focus to “what it means to be Jewish in Australia today,” while Flescher is finishing up a book based on From the Yarra River to the Mediterranean Sea. “But I really hope that when the war ends, people will see that we have no choice other than to share this land together,” says Flescher. “And we should do that in peace, because otherwise, we’ll just share graveyards.”

This article is part of a package of stories highlighting projects committed to building a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians since October 7. Other stories in this package include:

Podcasts for Peace: Six Shows That Feature Nuanced Conversations about Israel/Palestine

Six Israeli/Palestinian Peace Projects Active Since October 7

From 2005 | Breaking the Barrier: A Look at All Peace Radio

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