It is hard to imagine a less appropriate context in which to read
Gerard Henderson’s
latest opinion piece. At a time when we’re being inundated by grim
reports of escalating carnage in Lebanon and Israel, Henderson has launched
an extraordinary attack on the notion that a
pro-Israel lobby influences US or Australian foreign policy towards the
Middle East. Washington
and Canberra support Israel, he argues, because it is in
their strategic interests to do so. To suggest anything else is a
“conspiracy
theory”.

Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel, recently begged to differ. On ABC TV’s Lateline last week he noted that
the US Zionist lobby wields significant influence, threatening congressmen
should they dare to cast an “anti-Israel vote.” Similar tactics are directed at
journalists, editors and their boards in many Western nations, including Australia, in an attempt to stifle dissenting
views on Israel and the US.

Henderson conveniently ignores the primary source of much anti-Israel
disquiet: the continued occupation of Palestinian territory. In what ways are Australia’s
strategic interests served by supporting a state that occupies land
internationally recognised as Palestinian? John Howard incorrectly claimed this
week that, “Israel
doesn’t want more territory.” How are Australia’s interests served by the
uncritical support for a state that builds roads only Israelis are allowed to
use and which isolates Palestinians inside walls, military cordons and their
own towns. Any visitor to the West Bank will
confirm this experience. As a Jew, it is shocking to see fellow Jews treat
Palestinians with the contempt historically reserved for Jews.

Precisely because both Israelis and
Palestinians deserve to live in peace, it is vital to discuss the complex
relationship between Israel
and the US
in an open and frank manner. How the pro-Israel lobby influences the political
process and the consequences of that influence are important questions in any
democracy.

Last year Labor MP Michael Danby, the only
Jewish member of Federal parliament, proclaimed that my publisher, Melbourne
University Publishing (MUP), should drop my
book on Israel and urged the Australian Jewish community 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.” Danby hadn’t read the
book. Indeed, I hadn’t finished writing it.

His defence? In an
email he has since circulated widely and addressed to host Tony Jones the day
after my recent appearance on Lateline, Danby claimed he “didn’t need to read
Mr Loewenstein’s book to know what it would contain” and suggested MUP’s
decision to commission my book was “like commissioning Pauline Hanson to write
a book about multicultural Australia.”
So much for an elected parliamentarian’s respect for the concept of democratic
dialogue. Never mind the profound philistinism of condemning a book one hasn’t
read.

I am proud to be Jewish and particularly
proud of our ancient tradition of debate, dissent and inquiry. Jews have always
questioned and challenged the status quo. Israel’s conduct should be an issue
on which we are all entitled to be heard, whether as partisan advocates or
sceptical critics. It is heartening that vibrant debate exists within Israel itself.
Surely the Jewish community in Australia
can handle robust discussion about Israel’s policies. A sustainable Israel and Palestine
requires nothing less.


Antony Loewenstein is author of My Israel Question,
published by Melbourne University Publishing

Peter Fray

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