Michael Backman, the author of the controversial column published in last Saturday’s Age, has written to Jewish community leaders apologising and claiming he was misunderstood.

But at the same time, e-mail correspondence Backman had with a reader has emerged, suggesting that when the controversy first broke, he blamed The Age for the way the paper edited his words.

Yesterday, Backman wrote to the President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, John Searle, and the President of the Zionist Council of Victoria, Dr Danny Lamm. He said:

Dear Mr Searle & Dr Lamm,

I am writing about my column that was published in last Saturday’s Age which has caused much consternation among members of the Jewish community.

My main interest in penning the column was to demonstrate how Israel’s military action in Gaza was playing out in Muslim communities, particularly in Asia.

In so doing I can now see that some of the forms of words used did not adequately explain what I intended to say. Most particularly, they have allowed some to read into the column sentiments that I did not intend, and which I do not believe.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for any hurt and distress that this has caused.

I would also like to counter one accusation against me: that I am anti-Semitic. The reality is very different. I believe that Israel has the absolute right to exist and that that the Jewish Diaspora is one of the world’s great and most talented Diasporas. At a personal level, I have a deep interest in and respect for Jewish culture to the point where I named my son Shimon, after Shimon Peres. The accusation of anti-Semitism is itself hurtful and offensive.

As with many of my columns, I fully expected some to disagree with the thrusts of my arguments even if they had been expressed more clearly, but the threats and personal abuse that I have received some of which have been expressed in terms of indescribable filth has been shocking and unprecedented in all the years that I have been writing.

I have been writing fortnightly columns for The Age for almost ten years and in that time I have written more than 200 columns. My writing style is robust and I like to take a stand. I fully expect people to disagree with me. I feel that this sort of debate is healthy in any western democracy, and in cooperation with The Age, the column has in the past generated many interesting debates and discussions.

On this occasion, I do understand that an injudicious use of words and themes has caused upset in the Jewish community and for that I can only apologise.

Sincerely,

Michael Backman

But at the same time, correspondence Backman had with Melbourne university student Justin Lipinski shows that he initially claimed part of his column had been more “finessed”, but had been altered by The Age in editing.

For the Lipinski correspondence, see my blog.

Peter Fray

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