Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Israeli dissident journalist Gideon Levy speaks in Sydney

Gideon Levy is one of Israel’s most outspoken journalists. He’s been writing for decades in Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the devastating effects of the never-ending Israeli occupation of Palestine.

I first met Gideon in Tel Aviv in 2005 when I was researching my first book, My Israel Question.

Since then, he’s become an inspiration for daring to reveal the dark side of Israeli society and what it’s supporting in the West Bank and Gaza.

He recently toured Australia, and received extensive media coverage, and I was privileged to speak alongside him at Sydney University. It was one of the biggest Sydney Ideas events of the year, with nearly 500 people present.

My comments begin at 50:07 and then a Q&A with Gideon.

Here’s the audio:

And the video:

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The Wire interview on Trump moving US embassy to Jerusalem

US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem is unsurprising and clarifying. It proves, once and for all, that Washington will only do the bidding of the Jewish state.

I was interviewed on Australian news program The Wire about the move:

Access and ownership of Jerusalem have been a hot issue for decades after its occupation by Israel. Peace talks have stalled multiple times and Donald Trump has thrown a spanner in the works once more.

The US President recently announced his intentions to move the US Embassy into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Which has caused condemnation from other political leaders and protests in the streets.  The consequences of his actions could be felt for years.

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Is it time to boycott Australia over its refugee policies?

My following article appears in Australian news outlet, Crikey:

Let’s talk about boycotting Australia.

Australia’s war on asylum seekers at Manus Island, Nauru and other privatised detention facilities on the Australian mainland is seemingly unstoppable by traditional means. While condemned by every human rights organisation in the world, Canberra is unmoved. The demonisation of (mostly) brown and Muslim individuals is an effective tool for politicians as well as many in the Murdoch and tabloid press to whip up fear and aggression against outsiders. And it’s been working for 25 years with Australia now inspiring hardline European policies.

When politics and international law fail to intervene if abuses occur, alternative tactics are required. Supporting a tourist and sporting boycott is one way to draw local and international attention to Australia’s mistreatment of refugees. It would inevitably lead to a hardening of views among some Australians, and vicious opposition by many in the media who would label it unrealistic or extreme — but that’s exactly the point. Business-as-usual ideas have failed for more than two decades. It’s time to try something new.

Back in 2014, I wrote in The Guardian that the United Nations should impose sanctions on Australia over its asylum seeker policies. Then and now it was a highly contentious view, and the UN is a deeply flawed and corrupt body itself, but my aim was to make Australians realise that turning a blind eye to what was happening on Manus Island and elsewhere should come with a tangible, economic price. In other words, let’s turn capitalism against a rich, capitalist country.

In 2015, I wrote in The Guardian again about boycotting companies, and divesting from them through shareholder activism, that financially benefited from Australia’s refugee policies. This included Serco, G4S and International Health and Medical Services. Earlier this year, when I raised the idea on ABC TV of a sports boycott against Australia, the online response was often vitriolic (though far from entirely).

“Sports and politics don’t mix” was the most tiresome response, as if people had conveniently forgotten the long and noble tradition of fighting oppression and racism during apartheid South Africa and in the US today with sports and its icons. There’s also a growing global divestment campaign against the coal industry.

The growing success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, to pressure the Jewish state to abide by international law in its war against the Palestinians, is because it has massive Palestinian support within Palestine, granting the movement legitimacy in the eyes of global activists.

There are examples of Australians pushing for similar legitimacy here with current and former asylum seekers. The only Australian organisation that I know that’s pushing to sanction Australia is Rise: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees. They state: “Australia should be excluded from participation in all international humanitarian and human rights decision making processes until mandatory detention and refoulement of asylum seekers and refugees is abolished in Australia.”

What would a boycott against Australia look like? Because it’s unlikely that any countries would refuse to play Australia in cricket, football, hockey, netball or rugby (as these nations are themselves involved in abuses against minorities), it’s up to engaged citizens to put pressure on teams and their corporate sponsors to take a public stand against Australia’s refugee posture. Generate public protests in Australia and globally when Australia’s national team plays. Brief activists in foreign cities to write letters and op-eds whenever Australia appears. Australians crave global acceptance and will loathe being forced to consider why their teams are being shunned.

A tourist boycott is equally appealing (and a German journalist recently advocated for it). Tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry and many people would undoubtedly suffer if fewer foreigners visited. But there are ways to try and avoid this result. After the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009, some activists asked tourists not to come because the government was attempting to white-wash its crimes (or at least be careful not to stay at hotels or fly on airlines backed by the regime).

Australians could encourage potential tourists, with the aid of a helpful website, to back local communities and economies with no connection to corporations complicit in some way to Australia’s refugee policies. Activists could use culture jamming techniques to challenge Australian tourist ads running around the world, showing the reality away from the pretty beaches. Social media is an effective weapon here, producing alternative tourist messages with images from Manus Island and Nauru.

There’s no one way to end Australia’s cruelty towards asylum seekers but most of the current tactics have failed. If Australians start paying a real price for their acquiesce in punishing refugees, the politics may start to slowly change.

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, film-maker, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and is currently writing a book on the global “war on drugs”.

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ABCTV Lateline interview on Israel/Palestine

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten travelled to Israel this week to “celebrate” the 100-year anniversary of Beersheba and the Balfour Declaration. Palestine was barely on the agenda. After living in East Jerusalem for the last 1.5 years, I was interviewed for Lateline by ABC TV reporter Michael Vincent on the grim reality in Palestine:

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Sydney Ideas talk on Israel/Palestine and realities in the West Bank and Gaza

In September, I spoke at Sydney University alongside US academic Mark LeVine and Palestinian academic Lana Tatour on the realities in today’s Palestine/Israel. Many interesting comments and my thoughts (after living in East Jerusalem for the last 1.5 years) start at 1:00:26:

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The last remaining Jew in Afghanistan

During my 2012 visit to Afghanistan, researching the book and film, Disaster Capitalism, I spent time with the country’s reportedly last remaining Jew, Zablon Simintov, and filmed an interview with him. Living in the centre of Kabul, his house was a tiny apartment with a Christmas tree in the corner. Remarkably, he had remained safe during the civil war, Taliban years and post-US invasion period. He was a grumpy man. He managed a synagogue near his home, attended by Jewish, Western diplomats and aid workers based in the country. He said that these people brought him Jewish food such as matzoh on Passover. He lived a simple and poor life. This video shows Simintov praying in his small, one room apartment:

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Who is trying to silence Israeli journalist David Sheen?

Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen is facing a major legal battle in Israel. 

I’ve investigated the story in British outlet The New Arab:

Israel promotes itself as the only democracy in the Middle East.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak once described his nation as a “villa in the jungle“. But recent years have seen a major erosion of press freedoms in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and an Israeli Jewish public that wholeheartedly supports the suppression of independent media.

Palestinian journalists are routinely harassed and arrested. Palestinians are increasingly targeted on social media after Israel accuses them of incitement. Al Jazeera is now being threatened with closure. Israel’s communication minister Ayoub Kara claimed that Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain were his inspiration for trying to shut the Qatari news channel.

Israeli journalists aren’t immune. Being opposed to the decades-long occupation automatically makes you a target. Israel cannot maintain its control over millions of Palestinians without instituting a regime of control, intimidation, imprisonment and death. Occupation is brutal, unforgiving and now permanent.

Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen is the latest reporter to fall foul of Israel’s draconian political environment – and his case should be a wake-up call to a global community that still clings to the belief that Israel is a thriving democracy.

Sheen has contributed to The New Arab, Haaretz, Al Jazeera and others, and is one of Israel’s finest chroniclers of the state’s mistreatment of its Africans, and a consistent advocate of humanitarian principles.

He is being sued by an Israeli general, Israel Ziv, for writing about Ziv’s connections to the South Sudanese government led by President Salva Kiir.

Late last year, Israel’s Channel 2 discovered that Ziv’s company, Global CST, in addition to assisting and training security forces in South America, Eurasia and Africa, was advising Kiir to defend his beleaguered South Sudanese regime.

Kiir’s military stands accused of encouraging its soldiers to rape women during the ongoing civil war. Ziv and his colleagues allegedly suggested bringing a rape victim to the UN in New York, and giving Kiir the chance to blame these war crimes on traditional African culture. Ziv claims he was only working on agricultural projects in South Sudan.

The South Sudanese regime is guilty of rampant human rights abuses – including murder, rape and ethnic cleansing. Israeli companies have a dark and largely hidden relationship with the African state, selling weapons and surveillance equipment since the country’s independence in 2011.

I was based in South Sudan in 2015 and routinely heard about Israelis visiting to assist the state’s repression.

This fits into Israel’s aggressive policy to befriend African states, selling them arms and defence equipment, in the hope of better diplomatic support at the UN. Israel has also been sending African refugees to Rwanda and Uganda in an opaque process that’s causing immense trauma for the people being sent back.

I interviewed Eritrean refugees in South Sudan in 2015 who had been kicked out of Israel and left to fend for themselves in one of Africa’s poorest nations.

Tellingly, Ziv is pursuing Sheen – but not Israel’s Channel 2 (its report on Ziv is damning). It’s the very definition of a SLAPP suit which is “intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition”.

After the Channel 2 investigation aired last December, Ziv appeared on Israel’s Army Radio. One of the hosts, Amit Segal, asked Ziv: “So how did you get into a situation where you are sitting in a café… and in something like a parody of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, you suggest how he [the president of South Sudan] can whitewash his crimes?”

Ziv chuckled. He was accused by a mainstream journalist of secretly plotting to manipulate world opinion, cover up crimes and was compared to the most anti-Semitic work in history, and yet Ziv did not sue Segal. Instead, he’s harassing Sheen.

Ziv has a history of disturbing behaviour and comments in both Palestine and the world’s trouble spots. As a former commander of Israeli forces in Gaza, he has smeared Palestinians as having a “society for whom lies are its truth”. He has blamed murdered peace activist Rachel Corrie for her own death at the hands of the Israeli army in 2003.

In 2002, Israeli media outlet Kol Ha’ir Weekly Magazine reported that Ziv pushed to close an inquiry into the killing of five Palestinian children in 2001, “an investigation that may question, among other things, Ziv’s own responsibility for the killing”.

Ziv is deeply connected with the Israeli political establishment – many former Israeli politicians have worked for his company, Global CST, and assisted in the repression of innocent civilians across Latin America.

According to Amnesty International, Ziv’s firm was witnessed training Guinean military forces in 2009. That same year, Guinean forces committed horrible human rights abuses. Israel has recently upgraded its relations with the African state.

Wikileaks’ State Department cables released in 2011 revealed that the US had major concerns with Global CST, claiming it “created problems” in Colombia and Peru. US ambassador to Bogota, William Brownfield, wrote that the company “had no Latin American experience and that its proposals seem designed more to support Israeli equipment and services sales than to meet in-country needs”.

Sheen, a friend and colleague, has spent his professional life highlighting the descent of Israeli society into state-sanctioned racism. His astute observations are increasingly rare in a country that celebrates the use of unaccountable violence against perceived enemies.

Most importantly, he has examined the growing tendency of Israeli military figures to profit from its brutal occupation of Palestinians. The Israeli state is now a global leader in providing military, strategic and political advice to nations determined to deter, stop, kill or imprison unwanted minorities.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has worked for years with his media allies trying to silence anti-occupation voices. Critical perspectives on the occupation, Palestinian self-determination, Zionism or Israel’s future are increasingly infused with indignant nationalism and rampant anti-Arab racism.

Sheen is a rare voice who should be celebrated, not silenced. The court case against him, beginning in September, should be carefully watched by global media watchdogs, fellow journalists and foreign governments as a test of the Israeli judicial system to fairly arbitrate between a powerful, former military man and an independent journalist.

It’s clear where justice lies.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist who has written for The New York Times, the Guardian and many others. He is the author of My Israel Question and Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and has been reporting on Israel/Palestine for fifteen years.

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Supporting beleaguered Israeli/Canadian journalist David Sheen

During my recent 1.5 years living in Jerusalem, I became friends with the great Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen. He’s one of the sharpest reporters on Israel’s far-right turn including the Jewish state’s war on African refugees.

He’s currently embroiled in a legal case in Israel that goes to the heart of that country’s increasing opposition to free speech.

I’ve signed the following statement in support alongside journalists such as Ali Abunimah, Max Blumenthal, Dan Cohen, Ben Ehrenreich, Jonathan Cook, Jillian York and many others:

We are journalists who wish to express our concern at the defamation suit against our colleague David Sheen. He is being sued by a leading Israeli general, Israel Ziv.

Sheen is a respected reporter and analyst, one with a deep knowledge of Israeli society, who regularly investigates issues related to racism and human rights abuses.

Over the years, a number of investigations by the Israeli media have tied Ziv to some of the world’s ugliest regimes.

Sheen’s comments about Ziv were provoked by the latest such investigation, carried out late last year by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. It published transcripts of conversations between Ziv and his business associates in which they discussed rehabilitating the reputation of Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of South Sudan.

This was after the United Nations revealed that Salva Kiir had permitted soldiers under his command to rape women and children on a mass scale. Ziv and his team proposed exploiting a rape victim by bringing her to the UN General Assembly so that Salva Kiir could blame such war crimes on indigenous African tribal culture.

Despite being offered the chance on both Ch2 and Army Radio to deny the accuracy of the transcripts, Ziv declined to do so.

In a subsequent article Sheen wrote about the treatment of Africans by Israelis, he commented critically on Ziv’s behaviour. This is what he is being sued for, despite such criticism clearly being protected under the important right of journalists to comment fairly on matters of public interest.

This is not the first time Ziv has sought to silence journalists.

The Hebrew website Local Call received threats of litigation from Ziv over its reporting of his activities.

And in an extremely rare move, the Haaretz newspaper has removed from its websitefive investigative articles it published between 2009 and 2011 on Ziv’s business activities in Guinea and Abkhazia. Haaretz also parted ways with the reporter who wrote the articles after complaints from Ziv, and in circumstances none of those involved are prepared to talk about.

It is noteworthy that Ch2’s investigation revealed discussions between Ziv and his associates on ways that his company, Global CST, could manipulate and deceive the media about Salva Kiir’s brutal policies in South Sudan. Ziv appears to believe that journalists are there to serve his interests and not to act as independent watchdogs on power and its misuse.

Also noticeable is that Ziv is not suing a large organisation like Ch2 that published the original allegations and is equipped to defend itself in court. He is targeting an independent journalist as a way to intimidate other reporters. This is the very definition of a SLAPP suit, which is “intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition”.

It is important that the principle of journalistic freedom is upheld and that Ziv is not able to use the courts as way to exempt himself and his business activities from scrutiny, or from criticism. For that reason, we stand in solidarity with David Sheen and call on the court to dismiss the suit against him.

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ABC TV The Drum on refugees, boycotting Australia and Israel/Palestine

This week I appeared on ABC TV’s The Drum talking about Australia’s awful refugee policies, Israel/Palestine and the Israel lobby’s pernicious attacks on anybody who dares challenge the Jewish state:

The show has gone viral. One clip, of fellow journalist John Lyons and I talking about the Zionist lobby’s pressuring of critical voices, has been watched nearly 100,000 times (and growing fast). It’s received international attention.

Back in 2014, I argued in The Guardian that Australia should suffer a sports boycott due to its illegal asylum seeker policies. I made the same point on this TV show and many people, with a few notable exceptions, welcomed the idea. Australian legal academic Dr Amy McGuire wrote a story in The Conversation around the issue.

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The Wire interview on Netanyahu, Israel and its contempt for Europe

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been caught speaking privately against the European Union and its often critical stance towards Israel. In reality, the EU occasionally condemns the Israeli occupation of Palestine but continues to maintain very close ties with the Jewish state.

Today I was interviewed by Australian current affairs show, The Wire, about the issue.

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How do we escape our filter bubbles?

We live in an age of filter bubbles. I’ve been commissioned by Germany’s Goethe Institute to discuss these issues online for the next month alongside Austrian journalist Robert Misik. Here’s the first entry that is distributed in 160 nations around the world (here’s the German version):

Once upon a time there were hopes that the Internet would democratize social discourse – but today the talk is mainly about fake news and filter bubbles whenever the subject turns to the question of how digitization influences politics. What can journalists do to regain the trust that has been lost? And what can ordinary people do to engage to a greater extent in discussions with one another again? Over the next few weeks, this will be debated here by the journalists Robert Misik from Austria and Antony Loewenstein from Australia. Their digital correspondence is postage-free – and open to all, so join in the discussion and give your opinion! Contradict! Ask questions! You can take part using the comments field on this page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #freepost. Geraldine de Bastion, who is chairing the debate, will contribute your comments to the exchange.

Geraldine de BastionPhoto: Roger von Heereman / Konnektiv

Geraldine de Bastion: 4 December 2009 marked a paradigm shift on the Internet, as it was on this day that Google began creating personal profiles for every user and individually filtering search results. Internet activist Eli Pariser described this as the start of an “era of personalization”, coining the term “filter bubble” for it in his book Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You.

This growing individualization is evident when we are presented with personalized advertising – and indeed when we use supposedly neutral tools such as search engines to navigate our way through the information medium number one; tools we have to use because otherwise the Internet would be simply impenetrable.

“Customized services” are omnipresent. Rather than being an encyclopaedia of world events, the Internet is more reminiscent of a special interest paper. In our social media profiles too, which should really be connecting rather than isolating us, we find ourselves faced initially with a kind of “one-way mirror”, as Eli Pariser describes it in his book. By watching what we click, algorithms learn more and more about us, and we get increasingly entangled in our own personal bias online: when surfing the web, users only see stuff that matches their profile, their worldviews and their convictions.

Some critics of this theory claim that the filter bubble is not a purely digital phenomenon, and that it is intrinsic in all of us from the start. We view the world through our own particular glasses, surround ourselves with like-minded people and read only things that confirm our own opinions.

So how do you perceive your filter bubble, online and offline? And do filter bubbles in fact exist at all?

 

Robert MisikPhoto: Helena Wimmer

Robert Misik: Of course filter bubbles exist. That is not something that requires any discussion – it is rather a question of interpretation: do the filter bubbles in digital communication enclose and confine us to a greater extent than would otherwise be the case? If this is the question to be addressed, the situation is already more complicated. Modern societies are comprised of a large number of subgroups that differ from one another in terms of their ways of life, political persuasions, personal styles and so on. We have inner city dwellers, working class urban districts, middle classes in the suburbs, the super-rich in their favoured areas, big cities, small towns, villages … The people who live in these various sub-communities also have little contact with those in other sub-communities in real life – and when they do have contact, it tends rather to be on a superficial level.

Digital communication, be it in social networks, forums or other online media, reinforces this logic on the one hand while breaking with it on the other. Reinforced in the sense that, assuming we fit into the patchwork of a community with a particular set of opinions, we will find ourselves inundated with ever more messages that reinforce this community’s prevailing opinions. This entrenches our views and gives us tunnel vision. Yet that is of course only one side of the truth. We can see the opinions of others on a daily basis in the social media and forums – where we are confronted with attitudes that we might otherwise not even notice. That is something that is often overlooked when we talk about filter bubbles.

 

Antony LoewensteinPhoto: Reuben Brand

Antony Loewenstein: A key deficiency of modern society is lack of empathy for the underprivileged, a disease caused by experiencing our daily lives in a bubble. Too often what we read and don’t see online and what we hear and experience in our real lives reduces our ability to relate to others who look or sound different to us. It’s tempting to hate refugees coming from the Middle East or Africa if you feel economic and racial insecurity and are told by your trusted newspaper, TV host or friend that you should fear the “other” because they’re worsening your personal situation. Resisting this impulse requires widening what you consume and consider on a daily basis. This tendency existed before the rise of the internet and social media but it’s now easier to find your own tribe online.

I’ve experienced this in my own work. When I visit Gaza as a journalist and tell people that I don’t feel threatened as a Jew by locals or the Islamist government, the instant reaction is often suspicion because the media has fed a line for decades that Palestinians are inherently violent and Muslims want to kill all Jews. This lie can only be challenged by constantly explaining the truth and showing the fallacy of the position.

The rise of Donald Trump, Brexit and rampant nationalism in Europe, the US and Australia has made me spend even more time reading, listening and reporting on the movements that caused these political earthquakes. Contemptuously dismissing Trump won’t make his supporters disappear. I don’t personally know any Trump or Brexit voters, and nor do I associate with white nationalists who loathe Islam, but I’m drawn to exploring why many people are.

UPDATE: Week two’s question: What has been your experience: how can we seek and conduct constructive discourse outside the filter bubble?

My answer:

Living and working outside our own filter bubbles requires us to first acknowledge that our own positions are inherently biased and should be challenged. I proudly call myself a liberal and yet I constantly feel disillusioned with the superiority expressed by ‘my side’ in political debates.

Take the 2003 Iraq war, arguably the most consequential conflict of the 21st century. Countless journalists, commentators and supposedly serious politicians around the world backed the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, including many progressively-minded people. They were catastrophically wrong and yet virtually none of these individuals have paid any political or career price for their hubris. Many of the same faces are now advocating the bombing of Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. What this seminal experience taught me was that we need to question our own ‘side’ first, online and in person, while also disputing the mistruths and bigotry of our opponents.

Truth-telling can be powerful. If Wikileaks had existed in 2003, and it published the conversations of George W. Bush and Tony Blair conspiring and lying about the Iraq war, would the war have been stopped before it even begin?

The election of Donald Trump fills me with dread but I’m not suddenly more concerned about ‘fake news’ today than 15 years ago. Social media has undeniably fuelled our ability to feel connected and insulated from views we don’t want to hear but I’m far more worried about group think when it comes to questions of war and peace and the millions of lives that have been lost in the name of national security and fighting terrorism since 9/11.

We should aim to conduct constructive and insightful conversations with everybody online, personal abuse should be avoided, but it’s the height of arrogance to believe that only we have facts on our side and others, like Trump, Brexit or Marine Le Pen supporters, are all delusional.

UPDATE: Week three question: Do we need new tools to secure a digital agora?

UPDATE: Week four question: What would your demands be [for greater media education and diversity]?

We are drowning in public relations. Journalism is suffering. According to a recent study in the US, 15 years ago there were two PR people for every reporter in the nation. Today there are 4.8 PR people for every reporter. The result is that the general public is too often bombarded with press releases as “news” because there are too few journalists to analyse and investigate current events.

One way to address this worrying shift is for greater public funding into a wide range of journalistic endeavours but government-sponsored press isn’t the only solution. Escaping our filter bubbles must begin at a young age.

Universities and schools, starting at kindergarten, should emphasize media literacy and stress the importance of accountable and adversarial journalism. A healthy mantra to be repeated time and again is the famous expression by journalist Claud Cockburn: “Never believe anything until it’s officially denied.”

Scepticism of all government and business claims is a healthy way to assess the news of the day. Don’t simply trust journalists because they’re in positions of privilege; they should earn it by producing work that enhances our understanding of society and brings empathy to the silenced or forgotten.

Despite the proliferation of social media in the last decade, personal contact with people is arguably still far more powerful in changing minds than re-tweeting a thought or sharing a Facebook post. Talk to people with differing views, attend talks with writers and politicians with whom you vehemently disagree and spend less time online.

Finally, some tips for healthy living: enjoy the sun, read a book, have a meal with a friend and don’t always Instagram what food you’re eating.

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What happens when Israeli occupation is permanent?

My article in Australian magazine Crikey:

Less than one and a half hours from Jerusalem, Gaza is like a different planet, literally cut off from the outside world. Its 2 million residents, suffering huge electricity cuts, polluted water (a recent Oxfam report details Israel’s refusal to allow vital equipment into Gaza to fix infrastructure destroyed by the Israelis) and high unemployment (affecting both Gaza and the occupied West Bank) are often forgotten, seemingly doomed to be permanently separatedfrom the West Bank and Israel.

The 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem will be celebrated in Israel this week as liberation — biblically inspired. Palestinians remain under an Israeli regime of house demolitions, ever-expanding illegal settlements (there are now an estimated 700,000 settlers living in occupied territory) and strict controls over daily life. The Palestinian, political leadership is old, corrupt, complicit with Israel and out of touch.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in his 12th year of a four-year term. During his recent visit to the White House, both he and President Donald Trump spoke in motherhood statements about peace but offered no concrete path to create it. A just, two-state solution is dead on arrival; decades of Israeli settlement building killed it. The status-quo is one state, with one rule and law for Jews and another, less equal reality for Palestinians. Trump’s recent Middle East tour offered little more than weapons for Arab dictatorships.

Australia’s role in the conflict is small but significant. Successive governments in Canberra, both Labor and Liberal, though the latter has been more proudly belligerent in Israel’s corner, have offered carte blanche to Israeli actions.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop wrongly questions whether Israeli settlements are illegal under international law (they are, and a UN resolution in December proved that the entire world, except Australia and Israel, knew it). During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Australia, talk of “shared values” was in the air. This was fitting for two nations that ethnically cleansed their indigenous populations and have yet to fully acknowledge, let alone compensate, the victims.

Israel’s “separation barrier” divides Palestinian communities in Bethlehem. Photo by Antony Loewenstein

The effect of Australia’s obsequiousness towards Israel, yet another example of Canberra blindly following Washington’s lead around the world, is the danger of being both on the wrong side of history and out of step with public opinion. Israeli settlement expansion has pushed Palestinians in the West Bank to the brink. Australia and many Western nations have spent decades enabling this policy. Australia’s Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, spends his days channelling Israeli propaganda on social media and palling around with extremist, Israeli politicians. The result is a Jewish state that currently feels no pressure to change.

There are, however, signs of change. The latest poll in the US finds that two-in-five Americans now back sanctions against Israel, and Australian citizens, according to a recent Roy Morgan poll, are both opposed to Israeli settlements and supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

During a recent visit to Gaza, my third since 2009, I witnessed a populationmore frustrated than ever before. With the threat of another war with Israel always on the horizon, many in the Israeli military and government are itching to bomb the Gaza Strip again. “Mowing the grass” is the euphemism used in Israel to describe this perennial obsession with attacking the area. The people in Gaza are unable to plan their lives because of it.

I met many locals who didn’t know if they’d be allowed out of Gaza. Israel routinely blocks departures for spurious reasons and the Egyptian border is mostly closed (reflective of leaders in the Arab world, who for decades have paid lip service to the Palestinian cause but done little to practically support it). It’s now not uncommon for couples to marry with one partner in Gaza and the other somewhere else, Skyping into proceedings. They hope to be reunited soon after the event.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Gaza today is the desire of so many people there to leave. After years of isolation, it’s an understandable feeling. Not convinced by the rhetoric or actions of the Hamas government, the party operates a police state in the territory, and distrusting Israeli intentions, finding a better home elsewhere is necessary, especially for young people. But the opportunity to depart is mostly blocked by forces beyond their control. Time passes, frustrations grow and lives are stunted. It’s a recipe for future conflict and radicalisation.

Family in Gaza displaced during the 2014 war with Israel. Photo by Antony Loewenstein

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Sitting at her desk in Beit Lahia, Gaza, Aesha Abu Shaqfa battles to be heard above the sound of Israeli fighter jets roaring overhead. She worked as the executive director of the Future Development Commission, a local NGO committed to empowering women. It’s a lonely path in a territory devastated by war, Israeli and Hamas intransigence, misogyny and deprivation.

Wearing a red hijab, Shaqfa recently told me that one of her main goals was to reduce the prevalence of childhood marriage. “In our culture, girls having sex at 14 is not rape so we try and educate the girls about the challenges they will face [when married]”, she said. “Girls at 14 do not know about sex and they think marriage is sweet words, a pretty dress and make-up. The divorce rates of 14-18 year olds, for boys and girls, are rising.”

Domestic violence and sexual abuse against minors and adults are worsening because of regular Israeli attacks, social instability, conservative Islam and high unemployment.

Shaqfa, who is divorced from her second husband, acknowledged the huge challenges in Gaza for achieving gender equality. “I have three brothers and a father and only one of them can make sandwiches and tea,” she explained. “Here, women serve men.”

But she told me that big changes had occurred in the last years, a sentiment I heard echoed across Gaza, despite three wars with Israel since 2007, a repressive Hamas government and suffocating, 10-year siege imposed by Israel and Egypt. “More women are now finishing education, getting work and we’re trying to educate young girls at secondary schools about women’s rights,” she said.

***

I’ve been living in Jerusalem since early 2016 and returning regularly to Israel and Palestine since 2005. My first book, My Israel Question in 2006, challenged the myopic racism of the establishment, Jewish community and in 2013 I co-edited a collection, After Zionism, that outlined alternatives to discriminatory Israel.

Palestinians are rarely heard in the Israeli media as anything other than a security threat. Arab voices are almost invisible and most Israelis never meet a Palestinian except when they’re serving in the army.

Jerusalem is a divided city, with Palestinians in East Jerusalem subject to discrimination and constant house demolitions. Tel Aviv is a beachside city that’s known as a bubble away from the conflict. Decades of conflict, privatisation and disaster capitalist policies have resulted in poverty being one of the highest in the developed world.

Racism is state-backed and encouraged by the highest levels of the Israeli government, knowing it’ll receive domestic support. Bigotry and incitement against African refugees, Palestinians and minorities is common, reflective of a country that was light years ahead of Trump’s war on Muslims. Trying to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel, or Christian rule in the US, requires discrimination and exclusion. Such policies are the antithesis of liberal democracy. Far-right groups in the US and Europe, traditional enemies of Jews, are increasingly enamoured with Israel due to its hardline against Muslims. Israel often welcomes these new friends.

The Oslo peace accords, signed more than 20 years ago by then-US president Bill Clinton, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian head Yasser Arafat, sealed Palestine’s fate, entrenching Israeli occupation as state policy. Today, Israel works hand in hand with the private military industry to sell and promote “battle-tested” weaponry for the global market. Privatising the occupation of Palestine has allowed the Jewish state to perfect the art of military control, assets for nations fighting refugees or insurgents.

This is not without controversy, with Israeli human rights lawyers pushing for transparency over arms sales to repressive states such as South Sudan. When I lived there in 2015, in the capital Juba, I regularly heard about Israelis visiting the country to liaise with South Sudanese officials. Its government stands accused of genocide.

The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War will be marked in illegal, Israeli settlements, a perfect place to commemorate colonial acquisition. A recent poll found that Israeli settlers are the most satisfied of all Israelis with their lives. Many liberal Israeli Jews I know are disillusioned with the situation and looking to leave; they have no hope that Israel’s future will be anything other than a far-right theocracy.

From the beginning of the 1967 occupation, voices of dissent were rare. Euphoria was in the air and dominating the Palestinians without full civil rights was defended as necessary. Little has changed since.

During extensive time with Jewish colonists in the West Bank last year, I found arrogance but surprising insecurity about their long-term situation. Yair Ben-David, living at Kashuela Farms near the Gush Etzion settlements, told me that, “the Western world is at war with radical Islam”. He said Palestinians under occupation “know that Israel is the best place to live,” compared to the rest of the Arab world, and they should be grateful for their situation. “Only Israel is helping the Palestinians,” he claimed. We spoke on a hot day while sheep, goats and rabbits roamed around the settlement. Ben-David always carried a loaded gun.

Despite his knowledge that the Israeli army protected his settlement, and without them he would be unable to survive, he said that he was “greening” the environment for the sake of the Israeli state. If he were forced to leave, because of a peace deal with the Palestinians, he would “resist, though not with a weapon. I would eventually go.”

The situation feels hopeless on the ground but there are rays of hope. Israeli attempts to destroy the global Palestinian solidarity movement has failed. Jewish dissent in the US and beyond is surging, no longer content being associated with a Jewish establishment that offers uncritical backing of the Israeli state. A major step towards change will involve educating Jews and others that occupying the Palestinian people for 50 years isn’t the actions of a normal, healthy state. Without outside pressure, as many Israelis and Palestinians tell me, the situation will never change. Israel’s biggest supporters are increasingly the Christian far-right and far-right fanatics.

Occupying nations never give up power voluntarily. Remember, South Africa was economically squeezed for years before it capitulated and ended political apartheid. Israel is facing a growing global movement aiming for a similar transformation.

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe

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