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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Monday, September 05, 2005

Saga goes mainstream

The saga of Federal Labor MP Michael Danby trying to censor my forthcoming book on Israel/Palestine continues today in the Melbourne Age:

Meddler for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby championed the cause of asylum seekers in June when he declared: "They have the right of free speech." But a few months on, the Jewish Labor MP is selective about civil liberties, given he wants to muzzle Antony Loewenstein, the author of a book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It could be the spiritual insight Danby attained while hobnobbing with the Dalai Lama that has empowered him to urge the boycotting of a book he hasn't read and which isn't yet published — it is due out in May. The saga has drained the ink reserves of the Australian Jewish News, with Danby attacking former Mount Scopus schoolmate Louise Adler, chief of Melbourne University Press: "If, God forbid, it is published, don't give them a dollar."

Adler told Diary she was puzzled that Danby's letter contained quotes from her, given she hadn't had a "conversation of substance" with him before their 1972 graduation or since. "He has clearly spent more time thinking about me than I have about him," Adler said. "The central Jewish values are tolerance and open debate and his letter is proposing the reverse."

Loewenstein is similarly bewildered because he approached Danby last year to contribute to the book and was told the MP would answer some questions, only to find out early this year that he would no longer take part. "That is his right," the author said. Diary could not ask Danby any questions because he did not return two phone calls. It is not the first time Danby has vented sight unseen: in the Jewish publication The Review, he says of David Hare's play Stuff Happens, "I haven't seen the play, nor will I", then cans it based on a review he read.

His boycott of the unwritten book has similarities to Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz's failed attempt to ban Norman Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah by writing to Governator Arnie Schwarzenegger. The Prof denied writing to Arnie, but later conceded: "It was not a letter. It was a polite note."

Even Danby seems to be struggling with his Total Recall because he told the Jewish News that Adler "should drop this whole disgusting project", then thundered to Crikey that he had made "no attempt to censor" Loewenstein. Not even Arnie can extricate him from this one.


Blogger msnada said...

I always wonder about such strident opposition based on hearsay, misinformation and fear. Does Danby think the world is going to crumble, if MUP publishes this book? Is he so insecure in what he believes and thinks, that it can't stand to be questioned? Debate is a good thing, no?

Monday, September 05, 2005 2:41:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

He is that insecure about his position, worried about his seat going to the Liberals and using such tactics because he sees it as his right to do so. His behaviour is matched by many others in the Jewish community here and overseas. Shut down dissent, no matter what the cost.

Never underestimate the response of the general populace hearing the true situation in Israel and Palestine. Danby tries to stop this any way he can. He also knows that his position is starting to lose cache around the world, and not before time.

Monday, September 05, 2005 2:48:00 pm  
Blogger msnada said...

Firstly, if he wants to shut your project down, before he has read it... based on your differing points of view...then that's censorship. He should at least own up to it, rather than dressing it up as a freedom of speech or moral rights issue.

Secondly, I think that the general populace has got some idea that the current situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories/Palestine isn't fully represented. The demonisation of Islam doesn't help either.

Lastly, without the ability and freedom to question and agree or disagree...what is the point? It makes for a very boring life.(I'm paraphrasing my late father here)

Monday, September 05, 2005 3:06:00 pm  
Blogger Neil said...

Look at it from Danby's point of view. There's no point him trying to get on side with people to the left of him, since we have no (effective) choice but to vote for him (in the sense that our preferences will go to him, unless we act very irrationally). The threat to him comes from the right, and in his case from the Jewish right. So it is in his political interest to adopt their views.

Unfortunately, similar stories can be told across just about all seats: the ALP can win only by pandering to the right so long as they are the lesser of two evils so far as the left is concerned. It's not even clear that they can do much about the situation, absent a sea change in the electorate and the media.

Monday, September 05, 2005 3:30:00 pm  
Blogger msnada said...

Neil, you are absolutely correct. But with the ALP moving more to the Right...what does it actually stand for? Look at it from a branding point of view, how are they differentiating themselves from the others? I know, it's a common refrain, "they are all the same." but really, don't you think this is part of the problem- always trying to be populists. Where is the longevity or consistency in this kind of policy making? Anyway, Howard has the role of populist leader cornered, Costello can't dislodge him...maybe the ALP should try a different strategy. They may not win but they'd know what they were fighting for! (Hmmm, even to myself, I'm sounding like a naive idealist..or what did Keating say " a true believer)

Monday, September 05, 2005 4:00:00 pm  
Blogger leftvegdrunk said...

msnada, I think your comment about branding is a prescient one. And we can see pretty clearly how the conservative party of tomorrow wishes to present itself.

Monday, September 05, 2005 5:45:00 pm  

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