Talking Palestine in Ubud

I’m currently in Ubud, Bali after being invited by the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival to conduct an event tonight.

The following article appears in the current edition of the local paper, The Bali Advertiser:

2009 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival presents Antony Loewenstein author of “My Israel Question” and “The Blogging Revolution”

Just as the UWRF staff began the task of planning this year’s Festival around the theme of Suka Duka: Compassion and Solidarity, [festival founder] Janet was contacted by Antony Loewenstein, Australian freelance journalist, author and blogger, who is visiting Bali in February. We were struck by how perfectly his works encapsulated our theme, and provoked us to think more deeply about what we mean by compassion and solidarity, and how this is acted out in people’s daily lives.

Loewenstein, a self-proclaimed anti-Zionist Jew and co-founder of the advocacy group Independent Australian Jewish Voices, and is one of that rare and passionate breed of politically engaged journalists whose work is as incisive as it is controversial. Born into a liberal Jewish family in Melbourne, he found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the solidarity he feels with his people and their struggle, but the deep compassion he feels for the Palestinian people subjugated by the Israeli state in the name of Zionism.

The result is the masterful and moving My Israel Question (2006, Melbourne University Press, and reprinted every year since). A very personal account of the Israel-Palestine conflict, My Israel Question offers a critique of modern Zionism and the Israeli state that gathers force through an examination of his own Jewishness. He describes Israel as a fundamentally racist state that enacts apartheid policies on the Palestinian people, a fact that is blatantly apparent yet continues to go unrecognised by the majority of Western commentators and political analysts who continue to defend the rights of the Jewish state at all costs.

How, Loewenstein asks, “could one still have blind faith in a country that enacts citizenship laws to prevent Palestinians who marry Israelis from living in Israel with full rights? How could one idealise a nation with an army that, despite Sharon calling it ”˜the most moral in the world’, frequently engages in war crimes in the Occupied Territories, collectively punishes the Palestinian people, and destroys and steals Arab land for expansion of settlements”?

Loewenstein argues for the right of Israelis “to live in peace and security but not at the expense of the Palestinians”. The conflict can only be resolved by honest and open negotiations, through compassion and solidarity, with a full realisation that each has a right to their own safe and secure statehood.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has rarely been discussed so frankly, and the book provided a catalyst for wide ranging debate in Australia and opened the way for the expression of dissenting views effectively silenced by allegations of anti-semitism. John Pilger pronounced the book the most important Australian writing on the Israel question, and described Loewenstein as ”˜a truth-teller bar none’.

Loewenstein’s sense of compassion and solidarity and his investigation into dissenting voices absent in global media continues in his most recent book, The Blogging Revolution (2008, MUP), a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe who live and write under repressive regimes-many of them risking their lives in doing so.

Galvanised by the US invasion of Iraq, Loewenstein returned to the Middle East, and beyond in search of alternative views and voices, finding them broadcasting loudly through digital networks and communities. His search took 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 discovered the ways in which the internet is threatening the rule of governments.

The Blogging Revolution is an examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It offers a vivid account of life in the Middle East. Salam Pax, the infamous Baghdad Blogger, wrote that Loewenstein “introduces us to many members of the digital tribe, their hopes, dreams and daily lives in countries where the new battle for freedom of expression is being fought.”

Both My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution explore alternatives to mainstream opinions and perspectives that dominate the terms of public debate in the West and limit the range of possible solutions to problems that affect us all.

Loewenstein will be appearing at the first of the UWRF’s Literary Dinner fundraising events for 2009 on Sunday 15 February. In conversation with the provocative and engaging Wayan Juniartha, it will be an evening of lively debate and discussion, a chance to hear a first hand account of the life in Occupied Territories, and an opportunity for us all to reflect on Suka Duka: Compassion and Solidarity.

For further information contact: info@ubudwritersfestival.com

Sunday 15 February
6.30pm, Indus Restaurant 0361 977 684
Free entry