There’s an ugly fight brewing in Australia’s Jewish community over a controversial new book by Sydney-based journalist Antony Loewenstein.
Due for publication by Melbourne University Press next May,
Loewenstein’s as yet unfinished, untitled book is already attracting
feverish criticism for its take on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Leading the attack on the book is the federal member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby. In a scathing letter published in Australian Jewish News
this week, Danby says he wants no part in Loewenstein and MUP’s Louise
Adler’s “propaganda tract,” which he said was an attack on the
mainstream Australian Jewish community.

Danby said he had taken this stance after questions he got from Loewenstein made his views on the issue “blatantly obvious.”

“MUP should drop this whole disgusting project. If they proceed, I urge the Australian Jewish community, and particularly the Australian Jewish News,
to treat it with dignified silence. That is our best response. If, God
forbid, it is published, don’t give them a dollar. Don’t buy the book.”

why has a book by a relatively little-known journalist that’s not even
finished got Danby so fired up? And is calling for it to be boycotted
appropriate behaviour for a parliamentarian?

Loewenstein told
Crikey this morning it was “incredibly disappointing” that Danby would
try to “dictate policy” to a publisher. It’s a matter of free speech,
he said: “It should be acceptable for a Jew or anyone else to criticise
Israel or any other country.”

“The attitude is ‘there’s one
line and one perspective (on the Israel/Palestine conflict) and if you
dare to question it then look out’,” said Loewenstein, “it’s like ‘this
is a war and there’s no room for dissent’.”

MUP’s Louise Adler, who graduated from Melbourne school Mount Scopus
the same year as Danby and was given “faint praise” in his letter, told
Crikey the political views Michael Danby ascribed to her in the letter
were “palpable nonsense and pure invention.”

Adler said she was proud of MUP’s 80-year history of independent
publishing and its mandate to publish books of public interest, and
“dismayed” that a publisher like AJN “gives space to proposals to
boycott ideas.” Danby’s proposal, she said, was “inimical to the
central Jewish values of tolerance and open debate.”

Crikey called Michael Danby for a response, but we’re still waiting for him to get back to us.