4. Loewenstein v Danby -- Australia's debate over Israel
By Crikey reporter Sophie Vorrath
There's an ugly fight brewing in Australia's Jewish community over a controversial new book by Sydney-based journalist Antony Loewenstein. Due for publication by Melbourne University Press next May, Loewenstein's as yet unfinished, untitled book is already attracting feverish criticism for its take on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Leading the attack on the book is the federal member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby. In a scathing letter published in Australian Jewish News this week, Danby says he wants no part in Loewenstein and MUP's Louise Adler's "propaganda tract,” which he said was an attack on the mainstream Australian Jewish community.
Danby said he had taken this stance after questions he got from Loewenstein made his views on the issue “blatantly obvious.”
“MUP should drop this whole disgusting project. If they proceed, I urge the Australian Jewish community, and particularly the Australian Jewish News, to treat it with dignified silence. That is our best response. If, God forbid, it is published, don't give them a dollar. Don't buy the book.”
So why has a book by a relatively little-known journalist that's not even finished got Danby so fired up? And is calling for it to be boycotted appropriate behaviour for a parliamentarian?
Loewenstein told Crikey this morning it was "incredibly disappointing" that Danby would try to "dictate policy" to a publisher. It's a matter of free speech, he said: "It should be acceptable for a Jew or anyone else to criticise Israel or any other country."
"The attitude is 'there's one line and one perspective (on the Israel/Palestine conflict) and if you dare to question it then look out'," said Loewenstein, "it's like 'this is a war and there's no room for dissent'."
MUP's Louise Adler, who graduated from Melbourne school Mount Scopus the same year as Danby and was given "faint praise" in his letter, told Crikey the political views Michael Danby ascribed to her in the letter were "palpable nonsense and pure invention."
Adler said she was proud of MUP's 80-year history of independent publishing and its mandate to publish books of public interest, and "dismayed" that a publisher like AJN "gives space to proposals to boycott ideas." Danby's proposal, she said, was "inimical to the central Jewish values of tolerance and open debate."
Crikey called Michael Danby for a response, but we're still waiting for him to get back to us.