The same, tired story is back again

Just when I thought I could leave Australia and the Australian Jewish News (AJN) would find something else vitally important to write about, here’s this week’s page one “story”:

Inter-Faith activists and Jewish community leaders have critisised comments by Independent Australian Jewish Voices co-founder Antony Loewenstein that Australian Jews are anti-Muslim.

Loewenstein, author of My Israel Question, which claims Jews who criticise Israel in any form are ostracised by the mainstream Australian Jewish community, made the claim of Jewish anti-Muslim prejudice on ABC TV’s Difference Of Opinion on April 2.

His inclusion as the Jewish representative on a show that screened on first-night seder raised the hackles of Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby.

The Labor MP wrote to the ABC, describing the selection of Loewenstein on the panel as “culturally insensitive insolence”.

The sole Jew on a four-member multi-faith panel, Loewenstein said that “within, say, Judaism and within Christianity, I’m talking about in Australia, say, there’s a great deal of anti-Muslim feeling”.

Peta Jones Pellach, the director of adult education at Sydney’s Shalom Institute, is involved in the Australian National Dialogue of Christians, Muslims and Jews and the Women’s Debate Network.

She told the AJN Loewenstein’s comment was “absolute nonsense”.

She said the Jewish community in Australia maintains dialogue “not with all, but with many sections of the Muslim community”.

Moreover, Judaism traditionally respects Islam as a like-minded monotheistic faith, she said, “to which we are closest ideologically”.

“Of course, some Jews are prejudiced, but certainly not the organised Jewish community … he’s just wrong,” Jones Pellach said.

Inter-faith pioneer Rabbi John Levi, who has been meeting with Australian Muslim leaders for the past 45 years and co-founded the Council of Christians and Jews more than 20 years ago, said Loewenstein’s comments came from someone who has not developed any kind of profile in helping to develop Jewish-Muslim relations in Australia.

And the paper’s editorial:

Notwithstanding the fact that a majority of Jewish community representatives would have been unavailable, Anthony Loewenstein’s appearance on ABC TV’s April 2 edition of Difference of Opinion on “Australia and Islam” should be unacceptable to the vast majority of Australian Jews.

The ABC, to its discredit, displayed either its ignorance or its mischievousness in including someone whose arguments on Israel are consistently flawed and whose views are shared by only a handful of Australian Jews.

But it isn’t hard to understand why Loewenstein, the Jewish community’s leading dissident, has become a regular feature on our TV screens and in our daily newspapers. For starters, he is presentable, erudite and, as Pesach night proved, always available. TV producers would regard him as reasonably good “talent”.

Loewenstein’s rising media stocks pose a challenge for our leading communal organisations. If the media is going to continue putting him up as a “representative of the Jewish community”, then the various roof bodies need to respond on two fronts.

First, they need to better educate the media as to which body represents us on which issue. Given that Israel-bashing has been Loewenstein’s main game until now, why did he appear on a show about Islam? Given that inter-faith relations fall under the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s umbrella, whom could it have offered in his place, if approached by the ABC?

Second, and more important, is the need for generational change when it comes to Jewish community spokespersons. The same people have served us with distinction for the past 30 years, but the time for fresh blood has arrived.

The media like their talent to be young and, dare we say it, sexy. Groups such as Young United Israel Appeal, the State Zionist Councils and Australasian Union of Jewish Students should be expanding their briefs to cultivate the next generation of communal spokespeople.

They don’t need to be the elected leaders of these organisations, but they do need to understand the media as well as Loewenstein and to state our case more accurately than he does.

The former will take a bit of work the latter should not.

I commented last week about the ways in which Federal Labor MP Michael Danby displayed yet more sophistication in his analysis of my ABC TV performance, and this week’s AJN merely continues this noble tradition. Only a few words in response this week.

Once again, I never claimed to be speaking on behalf of all Jews. I never claimed that all Australian Jews are anti-Muslim, but a sizeable proportion are (just read the AJN’s letter’s pages to get a sense of the regular anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian hatred all-too-apparent in the mainstream Jewish community.) Finally, perhaps the paper and its few readers might like to reflect on the fact that Israel, if it wants to survive in the international public arena, will need more than simply slicker PR flaks. The country’s regularly brutal behaviour is slowly turning the world against the Jewish state.

Listen up people, the future is most certainly in your hands (and thus far, you’re blowing it on a daily basis.)