The hacks line-up

The Australian Jewish News continues its tradition of hard-hitting journalism, touching stories that no other “serious” paper would consider:

Outspoken Israel critic Antony Loewenstein has been short-listed for a NSW Government literary prize in a move that has raised eyebrows among Jewish groups and social commentators.

Loewenstein’s controversial book, My Israel Question, has been nominated for the $10,000 Gleebooks Prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

In their citation for the book, described as “a researched guide to the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict”, the judges said Loewenstein had taken aim at Australian Jews and noted, “a Jew’s questioning of Israel is not without emotional cost”.

“At a time when Australia Jewry is publicly fragmenting in its views on Middle Eastern affairs, My Israel Question is a cogent expression of Jewish dissidence,” the citation says.

But the nomination has puzzled the book’s detractors, who claim it is more the result of successful marketing than scholarly analysis.

Conservative columnist Tim Blair said My Israel Question lacked merit in content and style.

“Haven’t these people read the book? If you read the book, any idea of literature flies right out the window,” Blair said. “The guy can’t write. If it was well written, you would read it.”

The executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council Dr Colin Rubenstein said the decision to short-list Loewenstein appeared political.

“The fact that Loewenstein was short-listed for this prize seems likely to represent more a statement by some of the judges of support for his political opinions rather than about the quality of My Israel Question, a tendentious, often pompous, polemic replete with factual errors and flawed analysis,” Dr Rubenstein said.

“It certainly testifies, yet again, to the self-promotional skills of both Loewenstein and [his publisher] Melbourne University Press [MUP] and the absurdity of Loewenstein’s repeated theme that he and other vehement critics of Israel are somehow silenced or the victims of a campaign of intimidation.”

MUP did not return calls from the AJN and would not be drawn on how many copies had sold, but it is understood a revised second edition is due for release in October.

Loewenstein, who is overseas, said on his website that he welcomed the recognition “far away from the rampant parochialism of the Jewish world”.

“I look forward to the accusations of antisemitism by the usual suspects towards the judging panel,” he wrote.

Dr Philip Mendes, co-editor of Jews and Australian Politics, said MUP’s appointment of a full-time publicist to promote My Israel Question had paid dividends.

“It’s a lightweight book, whatever your views are on the Middle East … the sort of thing that might scrape through as an undergraduate honours thesis,” Dr Mendes said.

The award winners will be announced on May 29 at the Art Gallery of NSW.

The Jewish rag must be getting desperate. If they’re needing to quote blogger Tim Blair – whose journalistic achievements include writing about fast cars, visiting the Republican National Conference and barely leaving his News Ltd office – things aren’t looking too healthy.

Colin Rubenstein simply spends his days waiting by the fax machine for the latest talking points from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. And then there’s Philip Mendes, about whom I’ve written before, a man strangely keen for mainstream Jewish community approval.

So, here are a few inconvenient truths about my book. It is indeed re-released later in the year in a new, updated edition (clearly the sign of a dismal failure.) The book was a best-seller in Australia last year, and has just been released in the US. It has generated mountains of interest and support from any number of Jews and non-Jews across the world. It has shown the mainstream Jewish community – and the dwindling number of wannabe militant Zionists like Blair – that their hysteria surrounding the book and its message simply reinforces the (mostly truthful) stereotypes about how Jews deal with criticism of the Jewish state.

Nobody said that Zionists were very savvy, and my personal experiences over the last years have certainly proven that many Jews will go to outrageous lengths to justify Israeli oppression against the Palestinians. Thankfully, Israel is becoming increasingly internationally isolated, and this will only continue in the coming years.

My Israel Question is simply the first round in a long battle.