How many sides to this debate?

I’m a board member of Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East and North African Studies. It proudly debates the many shades of the region, and rejects the one-dimensional perspective offered by much of the mainstream media. The Centre also attracts its fair share of controversy, principally because it doesn’t subscribe to the Israel right or wrong mentality. Director Andrew Vincent sent the following letter to the Australian Jewish News in late August, but it was never published:

29th August 2006

The Editor
Australian Jewish News

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to correct a number of errors, which have crept into some of your recent articles. To begin with, in your issue of 29th August in a story entitled “Former envoy blasted for attacking Australia’s pro-Israel stance”, you have claimed that Mr. Ross Burns is a board member of the so-called “Macquarie University Arab Studies Department”. I presume here you are referring to the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies, of which I am the Director, and I can assure you that Mr. Burns is not a member of the board. You go on to say that former DFAT employee Professor Andrew Vincent leads this “department”. Once again, your facts are incorrect as I am neither a professor nor a former DFAT employee.

In your issue of 15th August, in a story entitled “Danby decries ”˜Arabist Lobby’ in parliamentary speech”; perhaps quoting Mr. Danby you write “Macquarie University is not providing balance to its students by having speakers, academics and propagandists on one side of the argument”. I would point out that in recent years the Centre has had public lectures by Professor Eytan Gilboa from Bar Ilan University (who spoke about media coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict); Professor Eli Salzberger from the University of Haifa (who spoke about the Israeli Supreme Court); Professor Igor Primoratz from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (who spoke about terrorism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict); Dr. Yossi Olmert, the brother of the present Prime Minister (who spoke about terror and handling terror); and Professor Moshe Ma’oz, also of the Hebrew University. I think that most of your readers would agree that these speakers represent the “other” side of the argument.

It is true that we have also staged talks by Dr. Uri Davis and Dr. Ilan Pappe, who you describe as “well-known (Israeli) people with extreme views…” Unlike the Melbourne Jewish establishment represented by Mr. Danby, which seems to be somewhat to the right of former MK Rehavim Ze’evi, active debate and indeed dissent is encouraged in Israel and this is to the country’s eternal credit.

As you can see, we have provided a forum for a large number of visiting Israelis, who I suspect may outnumber Arabs in giving presentations under the centre’s auspices. Perhaps Mr. Danby’s real objection to our Centre is that we have invited his bete noire Mr. Antony Loewenstein onto our board, and helped him celebrate the launch of his recent book, My Israel Question. Mr. Loewenstein too is a breath of fresh air in the fusty atmosphere of the local community, and is a better friend to the Jewish state than the “Israel right or wrong” brigade.

Yours Sincerely,

Andrew Vincent
Centre for Middle East and North African Studies

UPDATE: Unlike Michael Danby, here’s a politician who actually understands the importance of Macquarie University’s Middle East Centre, and alternative voices.

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