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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Free speech

As many of you know, I'm currently writing a book on Israel/Palestine for Melbourne University Publishing, due in May 2006.

The following letter appears in this week's Australian Jewish News. It's written by Federal Labor MP, Michael Danby. Its agenda is clear. Why is a member of parliament trying to stop the publication of my book? What is he afraid of? History doesn't look kindly on such attitudes. And we all know what other historical individuals favoured this behaviour. By the way Michael, try and spell my name properly next time. It's Antony, not Anthony:

"The graduating class of Mount Scopus of 1972 had some interesting people, many of whom made a mark on wider Australian society. One of my fellow graduates of that year is Louise Adler, the current publisher of Melbourne University Press (MUP).

"Louise was and is an intellectually engaging person, if a little predictable with her inevitable criticism that Labor is a "sell-out" and that supporting Israel, moderate democratic Israel, as I do, makes me a "Zionist right-winger". It's a badge of honour, Louise.

"However, faint praise for Adler is a sidebar to the substance of the issue. I want the entire Jewish community to know that I absolutely dissociate myself from her decision to publish a book edited by Anthony Loewenstein about the Australian Jewish community.

"In preparation for writing his book, Loewenstein sent me a number of questions, based on assumptions, which made his views so blatantly obvious that I refused to answer them or participate in his book.

"I will have no part in his and Adler's propaganda tract scheduled for publication in 2006, which will be an attack on the mainstream Australian Jewish community.

"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."

Federal member for Melbourne Ports

UPDATE: I've been asked to provide the questions I emailed Danby in late 2004 (what, exactly, has taken him so long to respond?) The questions are reasonable and balanced. I was keen to have his opinions in my book. His then media flak, Dror Poleg, told me that Danby was considering the questions and would answer them asap. He gave me the same response for around one month.

It wasn't until early this year that Danby's office informed me that he wouldn't answer my questions, nor release a statement of any kind. His right. But to now suggest that my original questions were "based on assumptions" is incorrect, as you will see below. Michael, afraid of some old-fashioned debate?

1) What is your view of Labor backbenchers who express dissenting views on the Israel/Palestine question? Is the ALP a broad enough church to accommodate many views, rather than just the standard, pro-Sharon line?

2) Do you see and hear in your electorate dissenting Jewish voices critical of the Sharon government? If so, how do you incorporate them into your own viewpoints?

3) How do you explain the general acceptance in the Australian Jewish community of most, if not all, of Israeli government policies?

4) How do you explain the increasing closeness between the Australian and Israeli governments, particularly under John Howard's government? Do you think a Federal ALP government would have as close a relationship?

5) What is your view of the influence of the so-called pro-Israeli lobby in Australia? Is Melbourne the true source of this influence?

6) What is your view of the mainstream media's coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict, especially the media in Melbourne and Sydney?


Blogger Shabadoo said...

Could you be a bigger hypocrite? What, no one is allowed to criticize the Antmeister, because he's so bloody right - er, left! - about everything? You're the biggest self-hating Jew this side of the Parramatta River, you go into every situation with a chip on your shoulder the size of a Gaza settlement, and you're always on about how great it is to buy Venezuelan oil to the exclusion of others, among other little campaigns of yours. And you and your guuuuuurlfriend are well on the record as considering the mainstream Jewish community as bigoted and racist, and any support for the State of Israel is de facto evil right-wing Zionism in your book. Now, someone suggests bringing a bit of free-market resistance - something pretty confronting to a lefty like you - to your book, says they want nothing to do with it, and suddenly you lose your mind.

Friday, August 26, 2005 12:07:00 am  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

I'm not stopping the publication of anything, nor trying to do so. I believe in the free market of ideas. Danby is actively trying to get a work he disagrees with censored. It's pretty clear. To most people.

Friday, August 26, 2005 12:16:00 am  
Blogger evan jones said...

Is Brendan Nelson examining the syllabus at Mount Scopus?

Friday, August 26, 2005 6:45:00 am  
Blogger Shabadoo said...

How about you release the questions you sent to the MP? Then maybe we could have an idea of whether or not he's got a valid complaint.

Friday, August 26, 2005 8:10:00 am  
Blogger weezil said...

Antony, onje thing I've learned about blogging in the last year and a half:

* Good blogs get commenters.

* Better blogs get trolls.

* The very BEST blogs have stalkers.

You have andjam, shabadoo... and Danby. :D


Friday, August 26, 2005 8:24:00 am  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

i asked danby, late 2004, about how the ALP dealt with
dissent re israel/palestine, how he personally dealt
with jewish dissent, view of howard on israel,
attitiudes towards israel and jews in oz. very bland questions.

Friday, August 26, 2005 10:29:00 am  
Blogger Neil said...

I went to a debate between Danby and the liberal candidate for Melbourne Ports at the last election. I'm glad to say I can't recall the liberal's name, but he, too, is Jewish. The liberals obviously thought that a Jewish candidate could threaten Danby's hold on a seat that has a high Jewish population. I came away thoroughly disgusted with both of them. The entire debate, which was held in a Jewish institution, consisted of the candidates trying to outdo each in how much they despised Palestinians and how blindly they endorsed Israel. Danby was attacked at every turn, on the grounds that he belongs to a party that has members who want a binational solution to the conflict. His response was (accurately) to point out that Labor has always supported Israel pretty much whatever it does. If the debate was an accurate reflection of mainstream Jewish opinion on Israel, then it's not a community I want to be associated with.

Danby has a problem: the Jewish community, historically relatively left, is going right as supporters of Israeli unilateralism go right. To keep his seat, he has to outflank the Liberals, which means being more right-wing than them on Israel. Hence his pre-emptive move. I doubt he wants to stop publication of your book, Antony. I think he just wants to get his condemnation in before anyone else.

Friday, August 26, 2005 12:44:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Neil.
I closely followed the debates between Danby and Liberal contender David Southwick last year. It wasn't pretty, to be sure.
Danby is probably trying to pre-empt the release but for a federal MP to be advocating such behaviour should be strongly condemned.

Friday, August 26, 2005 1:13:00 pm  
Blogger Neil said...

Just read the questions, Antony, and I'm not surprised that Danby refused to answer them. They *do* reflect your views (which, as a matter of fact, I share), which are far from Danby's. You assume, for instance, that the general acceptance within the Jewish community of Israeli policy needs explaining, and what you think needs explaining is, in general, a good pointer to your assumptions (Danby probably thinks that *dissent* from these policies needs explaining). Compare: how do you explain the general acceptance of the view that the Earth is more than 5 minutes old? That's an odd question to ak, simply because we share the background assumption that the world is more than 5 minutes old. Asking questions like "is the ALP a broad enough church" to accommodate dissent also carries the background assumption that it ought to be.

For Danby, these questions are a catch-22. If he says that the ALP is a broad enough church to accommodate dissent, then he opens himself up to the kinds of questions he got in the debate I mentioned: how can you belong to such an anti-semetic party? If he says that it is not broad enough, then he lays himself open to holding that ALP is narrow and ideologically driven.

BTW, in regard to 2: I live in Danby's electorate, and I hereby affirm a dissenting view. I support two states, with a pre-1967 border (and hence oppose the location of the wall), or a single state, encompassing Gaza and the West Bank.

Friday, August 26, 2005 1:17:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Mmmm, not answering questions is one thing - and as I said, his right - but trying to get the book censored is a different story altogether...

Friday, August 26, 2005 1:26:00 pm  
Blogger evan jones said...

The vignette by Neil re his attendance at the Southwick-Danby debate pre Election October 2004 is illuminating.
Inflammatory race hatred. The support for a criminal regime engaged in ethnic cleansing not merely of a verbal nature but actively in the suppression of debate in the Australian Parliament.
Why are the opinions of maddog ZIonists acceptable when the opinions of maddog Islamists are not?

Friday, August 26, 2005 6:29:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Some of what Neil describes will be in the book. Last year's election was illuminating, to say the least.
Zionist fundamentalism OK? Of course, it's not the 'other'. We know what much of the West still thinks of the Arab world...
Ah, Edward Said's Orientalism lives and breaths daily...

Friday, August 26, 2005 6:39:00 pm  
Blogger leftvegdrunk said...

Neil, it would be a different story if Danby asked his political opponents a set of questions and could not get a reply.

Ant, I think that why Danby is interfering here is less important than who is asking him to.

Friday, August 26, 2005 8:58:00 pm  

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