Don’t meet/speak/hang out with dissident Jews

The following article, headlined, “Uni students face heat over Loewenstein debate”, appears in this week’s Australian Jewish News:

A decision by Jewish university students to invite outspoken Israel critic Antony Loewenstein held at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has angered some community members.

Hillel director Gary Samowitz, 25, said he organised the April 22 forum, outside his duties with Hillel, after a number of students requested the meeting. He said the aim of the forum – which also included UNSW philosophy lecturer Peter Slezak – was “to engage” in academic dialogue” and “prepare students so they could counter anti-Israel propaganda” on campus.

But not everyone agreed. One outraged community member told the AJN: “What were these organisers thinking? [Loewenstein] is not on the other side of the Zionist debate. It is as valid as bringing neo-Nazis to debate. There just is no point.”

Loewenstein, author of My Israel Question, is co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, a coalition of Australian Jews critical of Israeli security policies. Most recently, he raised the ire of many in the community when he spearheaded a campaign against the Australian parliamentary motion for Israel’s 60th anniversary by taking out an advertisement in The Australian on March 12, calling it “improper.”

Samowitz argued, however, that it was important for students to hear a range of opinions and engage in a “civilised discussion.”

“Loewenstein is a dissenting voice on the fringe, but all voices should be heard”, he told the AJN. “If there is any place to engage in academic dialogue, then university is the perfect environment.”

UNSW student and Hillel member Mark Sheldon, 20, who attended, said, “I was grateful to meet with one of Israel’s biggest critics so, as students, we are better able to counter their arguments”, he said.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (BOD) CEO Vic Alhadeff said he met with the students after the forum for a debriefing, but emphasised that the BOD played no part in organising the meeting. “We categorically did not approve or organise any meeting with Loewenstein”, he said. “We met the students afterwards to hear from them what their experiences were. We were impressed with the students’ response and their ability, as they conveyed to us, to be able to drive holes through his arguments.”

This piece appeared as the lead article on page 6 of the Sydney edition of the AJN. This inane non-story barely requires comment, but a few thoughts.

Recent studies in the US finds that a growing number of young Jews feel less and less connected to Israel. The reasons for this are many, but include discomfort with Israel’s colonisation of the West Bank, intermarriage and moving away from an ethically-based lifestyle. It’s an almost inevitable sign of a successful minority group.

The fact that the AJN, a supposed paper of record, could only find an anonymous person to compare me to a neo-Nazi, shows the depths of their fears. The Jewish establishment, including the Zionist lobby and AJN, are petrified that Israel is spoken of in any way other than glowing (witness the paper’s editorial on Israel’s 60th, hyperbolic writing that displayed a level of patriotic fervour without any intellectualism or critical edge.)

Are they so threatened by IAJV and my writings that the Hillel students had to be “debriefed” after meeting us? Just in case decontamination was required, I suppose. A confident people believe in debate, challenging ideas and disagreement. The Zionist lobby and its minions crave the opposite, a Stalinist conformity of opinions. Thankfully, they’re not receiving it. Hillel head Samowitz should be congratulated for at least inviting us to speak (and UNSW Jewish author and academic Geoffrey Levey also attended.)

The article mistakenly claims that I “spearheaded” the campaign against Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s pro-Israel motion in parliament in March. This is untrue. Australians for Palestine and other like-minded groups created the movement and around 70 IAJV signatories added their name to the petition. No more and no less. Some svengali role on my part.

Zionists in Australia believe that continuing to sell the same discredited myths to a young generation will ensure a life-long love for Israel. But a growing number of vocal Jews are publicly questioning Israel’s brutality and rejectionism. The Palestinians deserve an equal hearing in the mainstream press (and the recent tour of Palestinian-American Ali Abunimah proved that this is starting to happen, away from the censorious Jewish community.)

The ongoing success of my work – aimed, incidentally, at a non-Jewish readership, as well as Jews, an audience that the Zionist lobby has no clue how to reach, preferring to pressure editors to block opposing views – indicates that the space here and overseas for critical thoughts is expanding. The tone of this laughable article, that somehow the students and the Zionist lobby must prove their allegiance to the “official” line on Israel/Palestine, is really a sign of weakness.

Since when was open debate frowned upon? The two-state solution is dead. New ideas are required. A serious and informed Jewish establishment would welcome it. Instead, we’re treated to the sorry sight of leaders and newspapers trying to seal the cracks.

I never realised I was so dangerous.

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