Murdoch’s Middle East story

Following my revelations yesterday that Murdoch’s Australian isn’t too keen on robust debate regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict (and censored my commissioned article on Jimmy Carter’s book), Crikey today features some predictable responses:

Nick Cater, The Australian’s Deputy Editor (Weekend), writes: Re. “The debate The Oz doesn’t want to have” (yesterday, item 4). Antony Loewenstein is correct to point out that the debate triggered by Jimmy Carter’s latest book is an important topic which has been overlooked by every newspaper in Australia except The Australian. But Antony is incorrect to suggest that his voice is being silenced. The Australian’s opinion pages under Tom Switzer’s stewardship provide a forum for rigorous and intelligent debate. The number of pieces submitted each day far exceed the space available ensuring healthy competition among contributors. We set the bar high and on this occasion Antony’s piece failed to clear it. I also part company with Antony on his assessment of Geoff Elliott’s piece on the Carter debate in The Weekend Australian’s Inquirer section (January 27/28). Elliott captured the essence of the Carter controversy – the use of the word apartheid in the context of modern Israel – in a fair and balanced feature. The Australian encourages open and frank discussion of the Zionist issue and it would be false to claim we only cover one side of the debate. We ran two of Antony’s pieces after the publication of his book last year together with an extensive review. We were the first newspaper in Australia to pick up on the London Review of Books essay “The Israel Lobby” by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. We ran a number of comment pieces and an extensive extract from the book itself. More recently we ran Elizabeth Wynhausen’s piece assessing the influence of the Jewish lobby in Australia. The Australian’s decision to post a senior correspondent to Jerusalem shows our commitment to informed coverage of Israeli and Middle Eastern affairs. The debate over the issues raised by Carter and others will continue in The Australian.

Sharon Lapkin writes: Re. “The debate the Oz doesn’t want to have” (yesterday, item 4). So, here he goes again. Antony Loewenstein complains yet again that the Jewish lobby is gagging him. Despite being commissioned by MUP to write a book and appearing on numerous radio and television shows (and yes, in Crikey regularly) he continues to claim that he is discriminated against because of his anti-Zionist views. From where I sit, I see him being given a soapbox to promote both his book and his views on many, many occasions in many different modes. Could it be that The Australian simply didn’t consider his work up to par? He claims that it published his opinion pieces three times in 2006 and yet he cries foul now because it didn’t publish something else he wrote. It’s time Loewenstein understood that freelance journalists don’t get every piece they write published. Sometimes editors change their minds and sometimes they don’t like what journalists produce. To point his finger at the Jewish lobby every time the newspapers don’t publish his work is a reflection on his own inability to take the criticisms and rejections on the chin like a professional. It really is time Mr Loewenstein stopped throwing tantrums (and knives) every time someone doesn’t publish or approve of his work.

Lapkin’s comment is about as relevant as her name-sake’s rants (perhaps they breed these figures in an IDF torture chamber.)

Cater’s response appears pretty reasonable but completely ignores the issue. To claim that my Carter article “failed to clear” the high standards set by the Australian is hilarious, and patently untrue. Sources inside the paper tell me so. Also, Crikey inadvertently omitted a key passage from yesterday’s column:

I had my suspicions [why the article was censored], including the fact that I had slammed Cater’s partner, Rebecca Weisser, for her series of factually inaccurate pieces in late 2006 about alleged anti-Israel bias at Macquarie University.

The bottom line is this: every paper has a right to determine what appears in its pages, but once an article is commissioned, and spurious reasons are given for its removal (especially on a subject like Israel/Palestine), we know the real agenda at work. The Australian has often presented viewpoints on the Zionist lobby that no other local paper has touched, and for this it should be commended. But if it wants to be taken seriously (which is difficult, as it still defends the Iraq war, as it supported Indonesia’s Suharto all those years ago), ignoring the gross human rights abuses of Israeli oppression merely contributes to greater hatred of the West.