Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Israel Question

My Israel Question by Antony Loewenstein, Melbourne University Press, 2006, 340 pp, rrp $AUS 32.95

ISBN-10: 0522852688 or ISBN-13: 978-0522852684

Antony Loewenstein's book is essentially about his staunch opposition to the actions of Zionist lobby groups who are determined to portray all criticism of Israel and its policies as Anti-Semitism, in other words conflating the terms Zionism and Judaism. This is the central, and most powerful, message in this book. Antony Loewenstein shows that because of the concerted lobbying of media and politicians by Zionist lobby groups in Australia, the US and UK, it is very hard to have honest discussion on the conflict between Palestine and Isreal.

I found this book very hard to read, and not just because my usual fare is more in the way of fantasy and science fiction. I felt drawn to this book, but I didn't like reading it and often put it down. This book is a polemic, the seed of which is a conflict so ingrained that a resolution seems impossible. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories is an extremely divisive topic, and I am continually dismayed by stories of the unmitigated hatred that come out of this conflict every week. It is not unique; there are many other conflicts around the world that deliver stories of equally depressing portent, but this is the one I feel closest to, due to my name, my lineage: my own Israel Question.

This book has helped me understand what Zionism is, and how the relationship between Zionism and Judaism involves the longing for a home land - which is what the Palestinian people want too.

There are four main sections to this book, each of which show a different aspect of the same general theme. The first part outlines Antony's family upbringing and how his questioning of faith and politics affected his life. It explores in detail a telling event in recent Australian political history - Hanan Ashrawi winning the Sydney Peace Prize - which was a formative period for the author's own career as a writer. The second part is an excruciating exploration of Zionism and antisemitism, and how criticism of the former is portrayed as an act of the latter in so many different ways. The third part continues this thread, closely examining the role of lobby groups as powerful political motivators that warp this debate all over the world. The fourth part focuses more closely on how this lobby driven bias directly affects the media, making it so much harder to find equilibrium between Israel and Palestine.

There are almost 60 pages of notes and references in this book. They are as fascinating as the text, and show the wide variety of influences that went into what was written. My version was accompanied by a small booklet containing essays of a few selected respondents to this book: Julian Burnside Q.C., Justice Alan Goldberg A.O., Robert Richter O.C., Peter Rodgers and David Marr. Justice Alan Goldberg A.O. called the book diatribe, the others were more positive. Each essay gave a revealing glimpse into the author's history and politics, showing how they have affected and been affected by their Israel Questions.

Read this book to gain insight into the Israeli occupation and the wide ranging political and religious issues that drive the conflict. Read this to understand how critical it is that parties on both sides be able to debate as equals, and how this is perhaps the most difficult goal to achieve.