Saturday, 14 April 2007

Michael Danby, federal Labor MP (Melbourne Ports) and, until recently, "a member of the Editorial Board of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council", has complained to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) "about an intemperate email from current affairs reporter Emma Alberici and the inclusion of Israel critic Anthony Lowenstein on the new ABC TV panel discussion show, Difference of Opinion".

Jeff McMullen, the program's host, replied to Danby's letter, which opined "that Mr Lowenstein did not represent Jewish Australians".

ABC managing director Mark Scott "has also sent a conciliatory email to Mr Danby". Scott furthermore agreed to meet with Danby to talk about the issue.

An ABC Corporate spokeswoman, Sandy Culkoff, told The Australian:

"Anthony Loewenstein was not included on the panel as a representative of the Australian Jewish community. He is a journalist and author who holds positions at Macquarie University relevant to the topics being discussed on this episode."

In March, Danby received an e-mail in response to another complaint he made, causing him to "file a complaint to ABC radio's editor of network news Gordon Lavery, who replied that Mr Danby's views did not warrant further coverage".

Ultimately, ABC director of corporate strategy and governance Murray Green apologised to Mr Danby. The matter is under investigation by ABC director of editorial policies Paul Chadwick.

Loewenstein is part of a recent push among concerned Australian Jews to ensure that moderate voices are heard in the ongoing Israel-Palestine debate. In his book, My Israel Question, Loewenstein tells of the "vitriolic response", "vicious comments", a "barrage of vitriol" that followed the publication of an article in July 2003 entitled 'Defiant Israel blind to what it has become', in which he wrote:

The ability of so many in the Jewish world to dismiss the obvious facts of the occupation is due, in no small part, to ignoring the facts of the Middle East. From the time Israel was established most Jews appeared unaware or unwilling to hear the stories of thousands of displaced Arabs, the violence against them by the early settlers and the lack of redress for their grievances.

The Sydney Morning Herald, where the piece was published, no longer holds it online.

Danby's pestering of the ABC will only alienate those Australians, like me, who believe that both sides deserve to be heard. I'll trust the ABC over the Zionist lobby that Danby represents any day to inform me of the truth about international affairs.

14 comments:

Andrew Landeryou said...

I think you'll find it's been very many years since Michael Danby was on the board of AIJAC.

Not that the facts would get in the way of anyone who characterises Israel as an "occupation", talk about the "Jewish world" as a pejorative and with such certainty about what "most Jews" do.

Being concerned about the welfare of the Palestinian people (I assume your motivation) is a good thing, I just hope you stop yourself the next time you consider embarking down the well-worn path of racial generalisation and stereotyping. Keep walking down that path and it takes you to Auschwitz.

Dean said...

Describing Israel as an 'ossupation' was not my word.

I did not talk about the 'Jewish world' as a pejorative.

I made no generalisations about what 'most Jews' do.

You are way, way off the mark, buddy. I made no generalisations about race. I did no stereotyping. I suggest you read my post again.

As to denying the Holocaust: it's something I've never done, and would never do.

I merely reported what has happened recently in the Australian media.

However, I do support Anthony Loewenstein's efforts to generate a debate that is more temperate and less fanciful.

Ian Perlman said...

You say: "I do support Anthony Loewenstein's efforts to generate a debate."

That's fine, but Mr Loewenstein has yet to generate a debate, in terms of actual proposals, as distinct from shrill reheating of well known existing criticisms.

Furthermore, after some two or three years of reading and hearing him, I have yet to see him respond to the legitimate criticisms levelled at him. Reactionary posturing is not debate.

To support him at this stage, when there are many legitimate players in this topic, is nothing more than petulance, and to defiantly praise the ABC reportage over "the Zioniust lobby any day" is pamphleteering.

There is a sotto voce hiss in that phrase.

Dean said...

To characterise Loewnstein's contribution to the debate in Australia as "shrill reheating of well known existing criticisms" is IMHO not correct. Quite the contrary, it is the Jewish press that carries shrill denunciations.

Danby is shrill, Loewenstein is refreshing.

Shrillness is what we expect from Ahmedinejad, not from well-educated, liberal, democracy-loving Jews. They should know better.

As to:

"To support him at this stage, when there are many legitimate players in this topic, is nothing more than petulance," I deny it unreservedly. Show me one iota of petulance in what I wrote.

Who, furthermore, are these "legitimate players"? I read two broadsheets daily, surf the web's newspapers enthusiastically every night. I have yet to see any other "players" as you call them, on the same side as Loewenstein.

Finally:

"There is a sotto voce hiss in that phrase."

Well, what a surprise! Like Landeryou, you attempt to insinuate that I am anti-semitic. I reject it categorically. To use this ruse is to capitulate, to show weakness. Buck up, fellow! You guys should stop while you are ahead, instead of making such unsubstantiated suggestions.

I expect this sort of intemperate smearing from uneducated people, not from middle-class Jews.

Ian Perlman said...

I don't know if I have the stamina for this. I find blog commenting a wearying medium for exchange. And I enjoy your blog; so I am not coming from a prefab position of enmity. But you have now ratcheted up the heat, so here goes.

" it is the Jewish press that carries shrill denunciations."

Rubbish. There is but one Jewish newspaper in Australia, and its free speech record is impeccable. So, many of its op-ed writers comment defensively about Israel, or are - quite legitimately - proud of certain aspects of Israel. That is no big deal. Others, including op ed writers, letter writers and vox pop interviewees, criticise Israel, as well as institutions within the Jewish community.

The Jewsih community is plenty rancorous, when not feeling attacked from outside. I come from the left wing of Zionism, and I am satisified that all voices get an airing.

The denunciations of Lowenstein are legitimate, and part of a broad mix. It is now you reheating.

You write: "Danby is shrill, Loewenstein is refreshing."

All I can say, for reasons enunciated in my last post, is that I disagree with the second part of that bumper sticker sentence. Lowenstein provokes and runs, and with a distinct lack of originality. He is a door closer, not a debater. A poodle of the modish left. You have not answered that, except in broad - and may I say shrill - terms.

"Who ... are these "legitimate players"?"

To give one example, two academics from (at the time) Sydney University, published a reasoned historical analysis of the Israel-Palestine situation in the 20th century. Title (from memory): 'One Land: two Peoples' . Authors: Suzanne Rutland and Leanne Piggott. No sensation, no name calling, just objective historical perspective, all sources cited. There are other analyses, papers and books published in Australia.

For John Pilger to be quoted on the cover of L's book to the effect that L has made the greatest contribution of any Australian commentator, is either ignorance, log-rolling or ... anyway, it is poor journalism.

".... I have yet to see any other "players" as you call them, on the same side as Loewenstein."

That depends on what you call 'side.' There is at least one longstanding critical group, the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. But there may be others. Ther is a calibration of Israel criticism that runs from 'Objection to Policy of the Current Government' to 'Should Not Exist'. I don't trust your subjective internet searches.

As to: ".. Show me one iota of petulance in what I wrote.

- Well, what a surprise!
- you attempt to insinuate that I am anti-semitic.
- Buck up, fellow!
- You guys ....
- I expect this sort of intemperate smearing from uneducated people, not from middle-class Jews.
- Shrillness is what we expect from Ahmedinejad, not from well-educated, liberal, democracy-loving Jews. They should know better.

I suppose there is a compliment in there, somewhere. For the record, I don't have reason to think you are an antisemite. And I don't label all critics racists. But these educated, middle-class Jewsih antennae are twitching now.

Obviously, this is a topic on which almost everyone, on every side, is thin skinned. My rule is that commentators should have proposals, not just reactions. Loewenstein fails that test. And the language on his blog is so riddled with animus that he cannot be taken seriously as a participant.

The judgement of those who support him or trot him out as Show Jew is, therefore, questionable.

Dean said...

Ian,

I'm sorry, but Danby's behaviour is, to me, reprehensible. The journalist who wrote the story obviously thought there was something not quite right, as well.

I'm open to learning about new sources of comment about the Israel-Palestine issue. You mention Suzanne Rutland and Leanne Piggott. The problem you've got there is that they are totally unknown to the wider public, of which I'm a member. Your challenge is to get their ideas published in the mainstream media.

As you say, my criticism contains a compliment, however veiled. It's certainly true that I hold Jews to a higher standard than most Muslims. Most Jews are familiar with the day-to-day trappings of liberal democracy, whereas the vast majority of Muslims are not.

As for petulance, you mistake my irony for it. On your part, you hinder my empathy by labelling one of my phrases a "bumper sticker". Both you and Andrew have resorted to this kind of oblique insult, whereas I have not.

If you do a search on my blog for Yvonne Ridley, go in and have a look at the comment I got from a Muslim. Unlike you two, he posted anonymously, so you're one up on him there. But, like you, he was intemperate.

There is too much sensitivity involved in the debate. Having thin skin impedes dialog.

To compete with Loewenstein, the Jewish press and Jewish citizens need to ensure their preferred spokespeople are visible in the media. Danby's criticisms of Loewenstein have had a single result: to increase the amount of support he enjoys in the wider community.

Ian P said...

OK. I am happy to get off the bus here. I have work to do. Sure, I respect your right to criticise Michael Danby. But a few last reactions:

"I hold Jews to a higher standard than most Muslims.'

Please. Don't.

"Most Jews are familiar with the day-to-day trappings of liberal democracy, whereas the vast majority of Muslims are not."

Your thoughts; not necessarily mine.

"... the Jewish press and Jewish citizens need to ensure their preferred spokespeople are visible in the media."

But there is actually no 'we' - just many constituent parties - until, as I say, there is a sense of threat. So don't wait for the 'right' commentator from Jew Central. He will always say the wrong thing, by someone's standards. Critics of L have done a perfectly adequate job of responding to him. It is from that poit that things get strange.

"Danby's criticisms of Loewenstein have had a single result: to increase the amount of support he enjoys in the wider community."

The conundrum: there is nothing a Zionist can say publicly which will not invite, at the very least, this kind of exchange. An Orwellian tipping-point has been passed. The "wider community" is already receptive to L, much as it might in the past have been to D. At the moment all Zionist and most Jewish comment is, a priori, dismissed as "shrill" or "intemperate."

It goes without saying that Muslims are in a similar bind.

I don't have a solution except to stick with my credo: Proposals, Please.

Anyway, perhaps we'll work it out over a drink one day. I'm an Inner Westie, too.

But how, I wonder, did you identify my middle class status ...?

Dean said...

"there is nothing a Zionist can say publicly which will not invite, at the very least, this kind of exchange"

Ian, this is simply not true. My daily diet of media includes both the Australian and the SMH. I also surf a lot, as you will see from my blog posts. I pay attention. I am extremely suspicious of any kind of spin.

Loewenstein's message resonates with me. I have no agenda but his book says things that nobody else has been visible saying. Emphasis on 'visible'.

As for treating Jews differently from Muslims, it is quite natural. Why do we hold politicians, doctors, lawyers etc accountable in ways we do not the average Joe? Israel is conspicuously more powerful, more educated, more liberal than the Palestinians. My view is that Israel must assume leadership.

The alternative is that global support will dwindle and the 'apartheid' label that is gaining credency, will stick.

Then Israel will really be in the shit.

Ian P said...

Sorry, but I really think you are not getting it. I know your intentions are honorable.

"Loewenstein's message resonates ..."
But what is he saying? Four things: (a) that Israel conducts itself in a cruel and unjust manner, (b) that it is in any case an illegitimate state; (c) that the Jewish community conducts itself in a blind, vindictive and censorious manner, and (d) that he, L, is the victim of slander and muzzling.

On (a) and (b) he has been challenged on specifics and failed so often to respond to the challenges that that part of the audience not intrinsicallly sympathetic - me -has made up its mind. (I then have to wonder about those who are sympathetic, since they - you - are 'resonating' to something all but intangible. It perturbs me.)
(c) is truly petulance. As recently as today, in an exchange in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, he cites a letter to the editor of the Jewish News to make his case. He'll point to a letter to the goddamn editor but avoid critics! What the fuck kind of discousre is this?

(d) is hypocritical bleating, comprehensively negated by his media appearances and his own blog.

So now I am seriously interested in what 'message' resonates with you.

You say that his book says things that nobody else has been visible saying.

I reckon I can match you midnight internet trawl for midnight internet trawl. And I have been intensively tuned into the Israel-Palestine debate for over 30 years now. There is nothing - nothing - introduced by L that has not been contributed with greater potency by other, very visible, thinkers. Even in today's Ha'aretz exchange, he repeatedly refers to, quotes and hides behind - reheats - Tony Judt.

I tell you, feel free to have a go at Israel and at Jews who you disagree with, but with L you're backing the wrong horse.

"As for treating Jews differently from Muslims ... Why do we hold politicians, doctors, lawyers etc accountable in ways we do not the average Joe?"
I don't understand the comparison.

"Israel is conspicuously more powerful, more educated, more liberal than the Palestinians. My view is that Israel must assume leadership."

No. Level playing field. It seems like a compliment, but it is a bind. And delegitimises Palestinian political initiatives, which they are prefectly capable of formulating. As Israel is perfectly capable of fucking up.

In short, I say there are no leaders, only honest proposers. Long term, I am an optimist. But this Loewensteinian noise is irritating to those of us who are dealing with actualities.

The alternative is that global support will dwindle and the 'apartheid' label that is gaining credency, will stick .... Then Israel will really be in the shit.

Outside of the clositered confines of our two noble broadsheets, this has already happened. Certainly so in the mind of Loewenstein, whose langauage is unambiguous.

So again, if you care to continue (and you may have reasons to not, since you have a blog to manage, as I have a working life to get back to): what are the specifics of L and his "message" that earn him such loyal support?

Dean said...

Ian, I have no 'loyalty' to Loewenstein. If he starts being a dickhead tomorrow, then I'll say so.

In your taxonomy of L's message only (a) and (d) resonate with me.

Re: (a): Israel's current treatment of Palestinians cannot continue indefinitely.

Re: (b): L has had shit thrown at him by Jews that shouldn't have been thrown.

Re: my bias toward Israelis: no Muslim nation is a liberal democracy. But what is a liberal democracy? First, the army must be subservient to the political leadership. Secondly, the church must not make laws.

Why is liberal democracy important? Because without it the strong men retain power and injustices proliferate.

It took hundreds of years for the West to arrive at this point, and it will probably take Muslim nations hundreds of years also. In the mean time, Israel can win Western support by making concessions that nobody else in the region would make. With such support, Israel need never fear any enemy because those who sympathised with it would jump to its defence in an instant.

Ian the increasingly weary said...

True, but continually subverted by circumstances:

" Israel can win Western support by making concessions ... Israel need never fear any enemy because those who sympathised with it would jump to its defence in an instant."

The view from my place is darker. Israel, with the enthusiastic approval of many in my faction, has made concessions in the past. Examples:
- release of many Hizb'ullah prisoners, as will probably happen again in coming weeks to trade for release of three kidnapped servicemen;
- restraint from retaliation to Saddam Hussein's Scud attacks in 1991
- partial withdrawal of West Bank territories,
- full withdrawal from Gaza,
- and many of the Oslo 1991 check list, however inadequately executed.

Ys, Western govts have supported these moves. But simultaneously Hamas and other 'violent struggle' parties have taken them as green lights for terrible random violence. Nobody in Israel now thinks a concession is going to be automatically rewarded, or is much of a mood to act on some abstract moral imperative.

But Israel's more unthinking critics grow louder and louder in their general condemnation, finding links ("the Zionist Lobby") to harness it to their anger over Bush, Hicks, Iraq or whatever. Truly, the mob is restless.

So I don't buy that uncritical "Israel need never fear an enemy". The situation is volatile and the enmity pathological. Loewenstinian poodles are the least of it.

I agree, treatment of Palestinians is untenable. No-brainer, to which many Israelis, no doubt, concur. Nobody enjoys being the oppressor. Even what colonialist economic benefits there were have been long cashed in.

But spare the Motherhoood statements. There is an enemy, a vicious enemy who is in his own way protecting the Palestinian people who are not vicious, but are traumatised. And this enemy will not be assuaged by a mere return to previous conditions. Furthermore, unless you subscribe to the retrospective view of ethnic cleansing in 1948, the Palestinians are implicated in their own status quo. The occupation was not an inevitable historical event, but a grope for security by Israel which seemed logical at the time. And, frankly, the Palestinian protest against it was relatively mute for twenty years.

So, Israel may be the powerful party but its concessions have to managed very carefully, and Loewensteinites - if I can dignify a silly idea with so grand a term - rarely show understanding of that, preferring easy and therapeutic MobSpeak.

On which point, indifferent to any Israeli concessions, much of the liberal West that is not governmental, for eg the UK Journalists Union today, simply keeps amping up calls to boycott Israeli academics, products etc. They have their own straw dogs, their own viciousness.

And in writing all of this I suppose I am doing my own little bit to counter it.

I am not looking to be a spokesperson for Israel, and I will continue to urge Israel to make further concessions, but not blindly, or in the naive belief that they will buy favour.

The issue is still long-term survival. All the rest is commentary.

And that is why we educated, middle-class Jews etc etc ... (ad nauseum, even sometimes to ourselves.)

Dean said...

"spare the Motherhoood statements".

This is how Australians think. And it's how most Westerners think, too. As you probably know. Just as you can't speak for all Jews, I can't speak for all gentiles with my nice, elegant blog posts.

The tabloid press is there for a reason, just as there are armed Zionists who refused to vacate in Gaza, and resent calls to vacate the West Bank.

The grand narrative that I propose is more than just a "Motherhood statement" because these are the narratives that motivate journalists and, by extension, the public at large.

You see it every day. Today, for example, in The Australian there's a story about Menachem Vorchheimer, a Melbourne Jew who was insulted and bashed by a group of drunken football yobs while walking to his local synagogue. Those drunken yobs are the people you must get on side, not people like me who make nice distinctions all the time.

All the time.

Ian said...

So .... the onus is on me, to get them on side?

They are racists and thugs. I am supposed to, what, cajole their approval? Dazzle them with my clearminded case-building?

A big ask!

Dean said...

I agree with you but what choice do you have?

Look at Iran's publicity stunts. They're doing it to appeal to the masses in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah is doing it with its charity work in the south of Lebanon. Hamas does it in the Gaza Strip. Without support in the rank and file, they can do nothing.

If Israel is beleaguered and you wish to support its cause, there must be popular support within the communities that Israel needs support from. Just pleasing well-educated public servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs will not do. You need to appeal to those who read The Daily Telegraph.

It may not be pleasant, but I cannot see an alternative.