When you publish an ezine like Crikey for a few years, you soon get to
know something about lobby groups that are sensitive to criticism and
in light of the debate in Crikey over recent days, it’s time to put
this on the record. For what it’s worth, in my experience the so-called
Jewish lobby is easily the quickest to leap into action and accuse you
of bias. There’s nothing wrong with having a right of reply or engaging
in debate, but it gets completely offensive when they throw in the line
that Crikey is anti-Semitic, because this is basically accusing you of
racism.

As a fearless ezine that boasted about taking on the rich and powerful,
I have to confess that the one major punch that I consciously pulled
over the years was examining or challenging the so-called Jewish lobby.
It just wasn’t worth the grief and there wasn’t necessarily anything
bad going on anyway.

Besides, there is the powerful argument that the scale of the
persecution and genocide the Jewish community suffered during the
Holocaust affords them every right to be super-sensitive to
persecution, racism or even bias about the Middle East. The Jewish
lobby is powerful, but they deserve to be in light of history.

However, the sensitivity has a number of levels, some of which go too
far. Firstly, in my experience simply pointing out that someone is
Jewish draws accusations of anti-Semitism. The fact of the matter is
that Jews are a super-race who rise to the top of the diaspora all over
the world and have arguably been more successful as a community in
Australia than anywhere else. We proudly took more Jewish refugees per
capita than any other country after the Second World War and they have
enriched our community enormously.

However, that doesn’t mean journalists or commentators should be called
anti-Semitic for pointing to the community’s extraordinary success and
resulting power. I got so sensitive to these claims that I subscribed
to Australian Jewish News
and decided it was safer just to report faithfully issues raised in the
paper as a way of taking cover from the inevitable racism accusations.
So when the BRW Rich List came out, we reported what Australian Jewish News wrote rather than making the most obvious point ourselves that an extraordinary 30% plus of those listed are Jewish.

All of this isn’t a big drama because the Rich List is not a story
about religion anyway, but then a few weeks ago I bumped into a top
Melbourne lawyer on a Sunday at a cultural event. We exchanged a few
pleasantries and then he said: “Gonski says you pick on all the Jews.
You’re not anti-Semitic are you?”

I was shocked that someone as senior and respected as David Gonski, who
has chaired everything from Coca-Cola Amatil to the Australia Council,
would be putting it around that I specifically attack people because of
their religion.

Having accumulated Australia’s biggest enemy list amongst the rich and
powerful, it is inevitable that prominent members of the Jewish
community will be criticised from time to time. However, here’s a list
of the ten most attacked people in Crikey and Jeffed.com when I
controlled them: Kerry Packer, Rupert Murdoch, Alan Jones, Ron Walker,
Jeff Kennett, Natasha Stott Despoja, Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Steve
Vizard and Eddie McGuire.

None of them is Jewish, yet someone like David Gonski portrays me as
someone deliberately attacking people because they are Jewish. It’s
completely offensive. Truth be known, my gut instinct has actually been to
go easier on someone whom I know to be Jewish, just to avoid
being labelled a racist again. That isn’t a healthy sign for free
speech in an open democracy.

The lesson of this tale is a bit like Israel’s attacks on Lebanon’s
infrastructure. Sure, go in hard against appalling Holocaust deniers
and mad mullahs who want to wipe democratic Israel off the map, but keep
it in proportion and don’t indiscriminately spray the anti-Semitic
allegation around against all and sundry. In the case of Crikey, it’s wrong
and unfair, but it did have the effect of ensuring I never initiated a
detailed discussion about the so-called Jewish lobby in Australia.
Given that Crikey is meant to shine a light on those with power, we
probably should have.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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