As a Jew writing about the Israel/Palestine conflict, it is clear that many fellow Jews are fundamentally opposed to robust debate on the Middle East. They simply look away, refusing to acknowledge the depths of depravity perpetuated by the Israelis in the occupied territories. A profound moral blind-spot suddenly appears, and Jews become insulated from criticism or censure. Or so they think.
The hatred of Jews and Israel is growing around the world, and the reasons for this are clearly linked to the Jewish state’s rampant misbehaviour (encouragingly, a recent poll suggests that many young Americans no longer feel that Israel is a central part of their lives.) This year’s release of the Israel Lobby paper – an important debate about US/Israel relations – caused a firestorm. The authors are now working on a book about this subject (due for release around September 2007) and this will undoubtedly force even more Americans to reassess the open-ended US support for Israel. Many prominent Jews, including George Soros, are fighting against the expectation that Jews will support whatever government resides in Israel as well as its policies, no matter the cost to Palestinians, Lebanese or Jews.
Since I started writing about the conflict in 2003, I’ve discovered that one individual in particular, Federal Labor Jewish MP Michael Danby, is singularly lacking in curiosity on the great issues facing Israel (some background here and here.) For him and his fellow travellers, Israel is constantly striving for peace, kind to the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, always acting defensively and a proud democracy in the heart of a dirty Middle East. Israel cannot be criticised. Jews cannot be challenged. It is, as one American academic recently said, “a Warsaw Ghetto of the mind.”
During the 2004 election campaign, both Danby and his Liberal Party Jewish opponent damned me in their campaign material for defending the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize winner Hanan Ashrawi and contributing to the best-selling book, Not Happy, John! Suffice to say, the sight of supposedly grown men proving their obedience to Zionism was amusing to behold.
In August 2005, Danby wrote a letter to the Australian Jewish News condemning my (unpublished and unfinished) book, demanding my (very supportive) publisher, Melbourne University Press, not proceed and urging “the Australian Jewish community, and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.” Since that point, Danby has spent an inordinate amount of taxpayer dollars ranting and railing about the dangers of My Israel Question. Suffice to say, his campaigning has been an abject failure.
The book moved into a 2nd reprint within a week of hitting the shops in early August. It is now in its 3rd reprint (with an added booklet) and remains on many best-seller charts around the country. The message has been widely disseminated by virtually all media outlets in the country and reviewed extensively. I have been invited around the nation to speak at writer’s festivals, public meetings, universities, media outlets, forums and lecture halls. There has been some overseas interest, as well.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive (despite also receiving a healthy percentage of hate-mail, principally from Jews). I have now received over 1000 letters and emails from both Australia and overseas from people telling me their very personal take on the book, its message and the desperate need for a public debate on matters of Zionism, occupation and Judaism. Rather than ignore the book, as Danby and his ilk wished, it has been warmly embraced by any number of Jews, Muslims, aethiests and many others.
The reality is that the debate has completely left the hard-line Zionists behind. Through its actions, Israel has become a rogue state that consistently ignores the will of the international community and the UN. A state that is expanding, not reducing, the occupation. A political system that is about to welcome into its heart a fascist who believes in the ethnic cleansing of Arabs and Palestinians. In the Jewish Diaspora, honest debate on these matters is constantly stifled by the Zionist lobby and its obedient followers.
But the tide is clearly turning and the response to both the Israel Lobby report and my book proves this point. The more smears, personal attacks, innuendo and slander thrown by the Zionist lobby, the greater their ideology looks strained and desperate. I’ve lost count of the number of Jews, many of whom vehemently disagree with my position, who believe that Danby and the Zionist lobby are doing their cause serious damage through their counter-productive tactics. I liken them to rats on a sinking ship, aware of their fate but truly incapable of doing anything about it.
The latest chapter in the saga emerged last week in the Australian Jewish News. Danby placed a four-page advertisement – your tax-dollars at work and maybe the assistance of a Zionist lobby like AIJAC? – in an attempt to convince his electorate and the Jewish community in general that he was “standing up for our community” (you can download the document here: Danby PDF). Page 3 is the highlight (though he also slams my appointment to the board of Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East and North African Studies and its head Dr Andrew Vincent):
The piece, framed as a slice of investigate journalism and agit-prop, attempts to justify why the Jewish MP stood up to Melbourne University Publishing, my publisher Louise Adler and yours truly. I am “entitled to my views – ignorant, offensive and superficial though they are – but I don’t apologise for my decision to launch a ‘pre-emptive’ strike against his book last year.” A book, I should add, that he hadn’t read (though I’m reliably told he now has read it, hopefully paying full price for the pleasure.)
I wasn’t aware that politicians were in the business of providing seemingly never-ending free publicity for first-time authors. I’m accused of being ignorant, naive, extreme, bigoted and “little-known”. The real question is this: why is Danby, one year before a Federal election, pushing out propaganda about a book over which he no control or influence? His pre-selection is safe and yet he clearly feels so rattled he wants his electorate to think he’s standing up to these dangers in the Jewish community (does he not have a decent media advisor?)
Danby wants a Jewish community that doesn’t speak out of line, that allows him and a handful of other equally unthinking Zionists to dictate policy and positions on the Middle East. He can’t accuse me of anti-Semitism (a favourite ploy of many Zionists) so he prefers the option of attempted character assassination. Unfortunately for him, the result just looks pathetic (and the book continues to sell and sell.)
But wait, there’s more. Last weekend, I was interviewed by the Geelong Advertiser about anti-Semitism. I argued that anti-Semitism does exist, but is often exaggerated by the Jewish community in times of Middle East crisis (evidence for the prosecution here). I also stated that whenever there is heightened tension in the Middle East, anti-Jewish sentiment increases. It is unquestionably true that brutal Israeli actions are contributing to increased anti-Semitism around the world (likewise, the Iraq war is causing anti-Americanism.) This logic is lost on the MP for Melbourne Ports.
These comments were clearly unacceptable to the self-appointed Jewish community watch-dog, so he released a press statement:
Michael Danby, Federal Member for Melbourne Ports, has condemned anti-Israel polemicist Antony Loewenstein for his attempt to explain the recent anti-Semitic attacks in Melbourne by blaming them on Israel.
Following the anti-Semitic attack on Menachem Vorchheimer in Melbourne last week, Mr Loewenstein was interviewed by the Geelong Advertiser, and suggested that the attack was caused by Israeli actions. “My feeling is that Israeli actions in Israel and Palestine and more recently Lebanon are clearly related to a rise in anti-Semitic attacks,” he said.
“It’s no surprise that Mr Loewenstein, who has made a career of attacking Israel and the Australian Jewish community, should now be found blaming Israel for the actions of anti-Semitic yobbos such as those who attacked Mr Vorchheimer,” Michael Danby said. “This fits in with a pattern of Mr Loewenstein’s behaviour which includes saying about the comedian Sandy Guttman (Austen Tayshus), he said at his website: ‘Jews are often their own worst enemies. It might help if Tayshus didn’t look so much like those awful caricatures we know from the 1930s!’”
“What can we expect from the author of a book which has been praised by the anti-Semites of the Australian League of Rights? [ed: my response to this here.] It is disgusting that someone who says he is proud to be a Jew should seek to use this attack to further his ideological campaign against Israel.
“The fact is that the people who attacked Mr Vorchheimer did not make any reference to Israel or the Palestinians. They said ‘Go the Nazis’ and made shooting gestures at Mr Vorchheimer and his children. In other words they were straight-out anti-Semites, not people outraged by Israeli actions.”
In his Geelong Advertiser interview, Mr Loewenstein denies that there has been a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. “For the Jewish community to say there’s a wave of anti-Semitism occurring is nonsense, it’s just not true,” Mr Loewenstein said.
Michael Danby pointed out that ECAJ’s figures show a clear rise in anti-Semitic attacks and abuse in Victoria this year.
“There have been five reported attacks on Jews in Caulfield alone this year. In March a 17-year-old boy was beaten up by four men who shouted ‘Fuck off Jews’ and gave Nazi salutes,” Danby said. “I would ask his publisher and chief apologist, Louise Adler of Melbourne University Press, whether she agrees with these comments, and what she will do to rein in Loewenstein’s excuses for violent attacks on Jews.
“One minute Mr Loewenstein says there is no rise in these attacks, which is untrue, and in the next breath he says that there is a rise in attacks, but that this is due to Israel’s actions – which is also untrue,” Danby said. “Mr Loewenstein should make up his mind. He should also stop trying to drag his campaign of denigration against Israel into every issue that comes along. He should join the rest of the Jewish community, and indeed all decent Australians, in condemning anti-Semitism.”
I’m a proud Jew who believes that present-day Israel will cease to exist unless it radically changes its worldview. US support for the Jewish state will not last forever (and some Zionist groups are already concerned about the turning of the tide.) Its future lies in the Middle East amongst the Arab world. After the devastation of the Lebanon war, and Israel’s first military loss in its history, the general public is starting to realise that Israel’s aggressive and arrogant stance is unsustainable (during the recent Lebanon conflict, Roy Morgan polling discovered that a majority of Australians rightly blamed Israel and the US for the escalation.)
Danby and his fellow travellers (including the parlous Australian Jewish News) will continue to blame everybody else except themselves and Israel for the Middle East problems. In one breath, I’m a danger, and the next it’s Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So many threats, so little time.
As I said during the recent Brisbane’s Writer’s Festival:
It’s time for Jews to stop blaming everybody else for Israeli failures. Enough with the Holocaust, alleged Palestinian “terror” and victimhood. Take some responsibility for the parlous state of Israel in the international community. For all of us who want a safer Middle East, today’s Israel is currently the problem, not the cure.
Israel and its supporters have a choice; either acknowledge the price of maintaining a racially exclusionary state in the heart of the Middle East or face extinction. Danby puts his head in the sand and flounders. Many others, including any number I’ve met in the last years, are actively working to ensure Israel’s future and Palestinian statehood. Famed Jewish barrister Robert Richter QC said during this year’s Melbourne Writer’s Festival that I was a “truer and closer friend” to Israel than those who believed they “had the ear” of Israel’s Government. “Diaspora Jews need to take a stand,” he said. “It’s not good enough that they have a private audience with the Israeli leader. They ought to be saying some pretty loud things and not just murmuring approval.”
Danby is a murmurer. More and more Jews have chosen a more intellectually rigorous and morally sustainable position.
UPDATE: The following letter appears in this week’s Australian Jewish News:
I have written and published three books over the last four years. They may or may not be at the cutting edge of Australian literature, but at least they have all been reviewed in the AJN. Another novel is in the pipeline (working title: Now Hit Enter), and with luck it should grace the bookshops early next year. Now, because the sales of Antony Loewenstein’s book seem to have gone through the roof, I respectfully ask Michael Danby MP to say nothing about it anywhere, thereby “giving it a credibility it didn’t deserve”.
That should do the trick.