The defining Israel/Palestine conflict and the challenge for Jews

Writing personally about Israel/Palestine, why I have the positions I do, is something I mostly avoid. But a notable exception is my long essay in this week’s edition of the Good Weekend magazine, inserted every Saturday into the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age. The readership is over one million people and it’s one of the biggest magazines in the country.

The striking profile photo was taken by Wolter Peeters.

The response to my article has been overwhelming, with huge numbers of people writing to express gratitude, support and relief.

PDF: Israel-Palestine conflict_ Antony Loewenstein on being Jewish and critical of Israel

In the days after the story, the Melbourne Age has run letters:

Perils of speaking out
Antony Loewenstein has given us a comprehensive analysis of the dangers of advocating justice in Palestine (Good Weekend, 13/5). I thank him for speaking out amidst the flood of criticism and vitriol that he receives. All of us who advocate for Palestine must be prepared to be falsely accused of antisemitism by the Zionist lobby, but the greatest hatred seems to be directed at fellow Jews.
Calling for an end to Israeli human rights abuses is not antisemitic, but humanitarian. I am deeply saddened by the inhumanity shown by the Israeli regime towards Palestine and its indigenous people. It is truly a case of the abused becoming the abusers.
Lorel Thomas, Blackburn South

Reduced to tears
Antony Loewenstein’s article filled me with strong emotions which reduced me to tears. First, there was awe at the courage of the man speaking out and incurring the wrath of his fellow Jews. Second, there was sadness as he recounted the persecution of Jews, in Europe, from the 1930s, and now, the occupation of Palestinian homes and land by the State of Israel. Next was fear for the future of our world in the face of growing totalitarianism in many countries.
His plea was for open and honest discussion by and with ″⁣the Jewish establishment″⁣ in Australia, which he says remains resolutely Zionist. The previous time Loewenstein wrote in this newspaper, I lamented the deafening silence that followed.
In light of so many citizens of Israel conducting ongoing protests against their government’s moves to hobble their judiciary, we can only hope that this will inspire the local Jewish communities, who have contributed so much to Australia, to take up Loewenstein’s challenge.
Vince Corbett, Essendon

A week after my Good Weekend story, the outlet published a range of letters in response to it:

As a long-time reader and first-time correspondent, I wanted to say thank you for the article by Antony Loewenstein about Israel and Palestine. I’m sure you’ll receive a concerted barrage of outraged letters accusing you of anti-Semitism for publishing it. I’m glad you had the journalistic integrity to publish a minority, unpopular but nevertheless fair and just opinion.
Fleur Taylor
Heidelberg, Vic

There are many falsehoods in Antony Loewenstein’s piece. They cannot go unchallenged. Loewenstein ostentatiously cast himself out of the Jewish community. It’s his right to be an anti-Zionist and to criticise Israel, but not to assert that the community is politically homogeneous and that the state of Israel is irredeemable. It is false to suggest that criticism of Israel leads to ostracism. I have publicly done so and wasn’t ostracised by anyone across the political spectrum.

The most shocking passage, however, was this: “Yes, anti-Semitism is a real and growing threat, but combating it requires an understanding of how unqualified Jewish support for Israeli behaviour sometimes contributes to it.” Implicitly, Jews are responsible for anti-Semitism, despite the cute deployment of the adverb “sometimes”. Imagine writing this: “Yes, anti-Indigenous racism is a real and growing threat, but combating it requires an understanding of how unqualified Indigenous support for constitutional recognition sometimes contributes to it.” One would be rightly cast out of polite society.
Nick Dyrenfurth
Balaclava, Vic

I was very disappointed by this article. I understand that we need to let everybody express their opinion, but the facts shouldn’t be distorted. Israel was declared an independent state after the UN resolution of a two-state solution. The Arab population, with the help of the Arab countries, attacked the Jewish population. Many of these people had just survived the Holocaust. It was a bloody war, but the Jewish population won minus some territories. Some Arabs fled. In 1967, Israel was attacked again by the Arab countries, so they fought back and won. They gained territories. There were other attacks and they won again. Should they apologise for winning? I agree there are many problems, but it’s up to the government to solve. There are no easy solutions.
Judy Davies
Rose Bay, NSW

Thank you, Antony Loewenstein, for your strength and courage to stand up for enlightened, liberal humanism. For keeping up the Jewish tradition of debate. For such a powerfully, honest and moving article.
Vera Yee
Waverton, NSW

The right to free speech should be valued and upheld, and it is regrettable that Antony Loewenstein feels that this right has been denied to him. The right to free speech, however, does not give you carte blanche to ignore objective reality. You do so at your own peril.

I will not canvass Loewenstein’s views. What I do query is the absence of objectivity and nuance. The situation in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank is infinitely more complex than stated by him. There are many people of good will on both sides who desperately want peace, and there are some who do not. Loewenstein eloquently puts the case for the plight of the Palestinian people, but no story about the region can be meaningful without adverting to Israel’s security concerns or the frequent incidents of terrorism against the civilian population of Israel. These are everyday realities which cannot be ignored. The situation is fraught and painful for both sides. Taking a simplistic approach, without offering any solution, is an emotional indulgence and is not conducive to achieving peace.
Nina Bassat
Brighton, Vic

One of Australia’s main pro-Israel lobby groups is outraged about my story and claims that they’ve been silenced. Another critic published an entire page response in the Australian Jewish News (a long-time opponent of my work).

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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