AUTHOR “DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS”

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Ben Cubby deals gently with Antony Loewenstein, the dissenter who dared to ask why:

His book, My Israel Question, is a probing analysis of Israel’s direction and an attempt to uncover Australia’s Zionist lobby. Loewenstein’s timing is also, unfortunately, exquisite. The book, delayed for several months, is being launched this week as war flares along Israel’s borders.

Antony Loewenstein: war profiteer! Incidentally, it would have been nice of Ben to tell us why the book was delayed.

Now after two years of research and soul-searching, Loewenstein awaits reaction to the book’s publication, relaxed and comfortable in his Sydney home, with his partner and his pet dog, Chomsky.

Must be hella expensive importing Chomsky’s favourite chew bones … from Cambodian graves. What breed is Chomsky, by the way? Moral relativist spaniel? Freedom-hating puke hound? Whiny bitch?

“It’s still extremely frustrating,” Loewenstein says. “I don’t want to be defined as the guy who criticises Israel; I didn’t ask for this.”

Some tips to anyone who doesn’t want to be defined as “the guy who criticises Israel”: don’t continually criticise Israel. Don’t appear on television, radio, and in the SMH criticising Israel. Don’t obsessively criticise Israel on your website. Don’t write a book, titled My Israel Question, criticising Israel.

In his mid-20s, Loewenstein visited the Auschwitz death camp. “Seeing the results of blind hatred and unchallenged devotion slowly led me to be more questioning on a range of matters, including my heritage and the state of Israel,” Loewenstein writes.

Antony’s visit to Auschwitz led to him question … Jews. Interesting.

In 2003, he landed a journalism traineeship with the Herald’s website, but left after two years to become a freelance writer.

He left? Cubby should talk to his fellow SMH staffers.

Jeremy Jones, a spokesman for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, whom Loewenstein makes passing reference to in My Israel Question, says factual errors about the role and function of Jewish organisations in Australia detract from the book’s value.

“It’s a vanity publication, sloppy and very poorly researched. I’ve read the book and I found it very disappointing. It’s not the sort of thing somebody who doesn’t know the history should read; they might make the mistake of taking it seriously.”

Loewenstein says claiming his scholarship is sloppy is stock-in-trade for people who wish to denigrate his work. “They always say that.”

And they generally back it up.

Aspects of the criticism may be deserved. Much of Loewenstein’s writing to date has comprised polemics and commentary. It is not difficult to discern a certain sameness, a slightly harping tone …

certain sameness, a slightly harping tone …

Loewenstein passionately believes television and newspapers have become terrified of criticising Israel, after hounding by Zionist lobbyists. When asked if he knew of any examples of reporters being guided by editorial directives from his time at the Herald, he said he did not know of one. When pressed, he said he would “rather not go into it”.

So much for “speaking truth to power”.

Happily for Loewenstein, My Israel Question is a serious and interesting work that will stand up to the coming barbs.

He really should thank whoever at Melbourne University Press re-wrote it.

Far from being the work of a “young rebel” – a term he says was used to describe him when he was growing up inside the Jewish community – most neutrals will view it as relatively moderate.

Loewenstein has been called “far left”, most recently by Ted Lapkin, the policy director of the Australia/Israel & JewishAffairs Council, in a debate on the ABC’s Lateline program. A genuine far-left analysis of modern Israel would have been more scathing than Loewenstein’s modest calls for a two-state solution and a re-examination of US financial and military support.

Now we may see why Loewenstein’s book was so long delayed; the brave dissenter’s views have been watered down. His “modest calls” in print are rather less so at Antony’s site, where he writes that “the defeat of America and its allies in Iraq is vital”, “advocat[es] Coalition defeat”, declares himself to be “an anti-Zionist Australian Jew” and “a Jew who doesn’t believe in the concept of a Jewish state.” His feelings towards Jews who don’t share his opinions? “Reception to such ideas within the Jewish community is usually vitriolic, bigoted, racist and downright pathetic. Australian Jews, generally speaking, are incapable of hearing the true reality of their beloved homeland and its barbaric actions.” And bring on militant Islam: “Sooner or later, the US and its Western allies will have to learn to deal with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. True democracy means accepting the will of the people, without interference or obstruction. The West should be worried.”

Loewenstein seems pleased by the prospect of these groups causing alarm in the West. But the real danger, according to him, comes from Israel:

The uncontrolled policies of the Israeli government should now be seen as a danger to enlightened citizens and governments across the globe.

Back to moderate Antony in his SMH interview:

“I just want to encourage people to think about these questions a bit,” he says. “We need to get beyond the idea that everything we do in the West is noble and right.”

A few days after that interview, back at his widely-unread blog, Loewenstein sharpened that idea:

Western “values” deserve to be challenged and overthrown.

UPDATE. Loewenstein continues his moderate act.

Posted by Tim B. on 07/31/2006 at 11:50 AM
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