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.