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Overland and bias: a response to some critics

A few days ago, we received a letter (published below) signed by six Australian academics: Professor Bernard Rechter, Professor Douglas Kirsner, Professor Andrew Markus, Dr Bill Anderson, Dr Nick Dyrenfurth and Associate Professor Philip Mendes. They were, they said, collectively writing to the board of Overland and to its patron, Barry Jones, about ‘recent editorial bias on Israel/Palestine’.

We cannot speak for the OL Society. But editorial decisions are the responsibility of the editorial staff. We make the allegations against us public, partly because they are too serious for closed-door insinuations, and partly because, by seeking to exert organisational pressure on editorial policy, the letter illustrates, in a small way, the obstacles to debating Israel/Palestine in this country.

Let us begin with the obvious point that accusing an overtly political journal of ‘bias’ makes no sense whatsoever. When Overland launched in 1954, it proclaimed its ‘bias’ (literally) with a famous phrase borrowed from Joseph Furphy. That slogan was meant to signal that the journal gave a voice to the Left, just as Overland does today.

But we suspect that by employing words like ‘bias’, ‘prejudic[e]’, ‘demonise’, Mendes and co. intend to imply something rather darker – that the Overland editorial team is anti-Semitic. If that is what they mean, they should come out and say so. For the record, any allegation that Overland publishes, accepts or otherwise endorses anti-Semitism or any other form of racial discrimination is utterly scurrilous, and we reject it entirely.

In relation to our coverage of Israel/Palestine – which consists, it might be noted, of a debate over three years between four Jewish writers, some of whom uphold a two-state solution and some of whom do not – Mendes and co. write:

We can all agree that the Australian Left has no consensus on this issue. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that a wide majority on the Left today support a two-state solution which encapsulates recognition of both Israeli and Palestinian national rights. It is also fair to say that those fundamentalists who advocate the elimination of Israel and its replacement by an Arab State of Greater Palestine represent a small, if sometimes vocal, minority.

Yet it is precisely these marginal views, which demonize Israel and infantilize the Palestinians, that seem to have captured Overland’s agenda in recent years. We note, for example, the three recent articles that appeared in issues 187 by Ned Curthoys, 193 by Antony Loewenstein, and 198 by Michael Brull. […] Our principle [sic] question is why Overland has chosen to highlight these vexatious voices who contribute only fanatical polemics and represent nobody in either the Jewish community or the Left, and chosen to ignore or actively censor the large group of Jewish (and broader Left) voices who are able to present serious contributions on the complexity of the conflict. (emphasis theirs)

Here, our critics entirely misunderstand the Overland project, which is not, and never has been, to present the ideas of the majority. On the contrary, almost by definition, our small magazine provides space for views that do not receive a hearing elsewhere. In Overland’s case, those views are inevitably political. As its website makes clear, Overland has

a tradition of publishing dissenting articles with a political and cultural focus. […] Overland is the only high-profile Australian literary magazine that sees the publication and advancement of new and marginal writers as part of its charter. (emphasis ours)

The notion that publishing minority views constitutes ‘censorship’ is truly bizarre. Let’s put the question specifically. Are Mendes and co. silenced? Do they or their co-thinkers lack forums in which to expound their ideas?

No, not so much. For the sake of brevity, let us merely consider their access to the Australian, the country’s only national newspaper, and a publication with a circulation and reach far beyond that of Overland. A quick search through the archives reveals the following: a piece by Nick Dyrenfurth on 16 March 2009, accusing leftists of anti-Semitism; a piece by Nick Dyrenfurth and Philip Mendes on 13 May 2009, accusing leftists of anti-Semitism; a piece by Nick Dyrenfurth and Philip Mendes on 19 September 2009, accusing leftists of anti-Semitism; a piece by Nick Dyrenfurth and Philip Mendes on 11 November 2009, accusing leftists of anti-Semitism. (At that point, our patience began to wane somewhat.)

Given this record, we might equally ask Dyrenfurth and Mendes whether, with their avowed commitment to representation, they organise similar open letters to the Australian’s editorial board, urging that Murdoch provide space for, say, environmental activists alongside his regular quota of climate change denying columnists. After all, to borrow a phrase, those who want action on global warming ‘represent the majority of the population’ – but, oddly, they seem to have been deliberately excluded from the pages of the Australian!

Think for a moment about what Mendes and co. are arguing. The signatories to this letter are, as they take pains to remind us, all professors or academics of one variety or another, ensconced in well-paid jobs at universities around the country. Many of them are widely published; most have, as we have seen, regular access to the mainstream media. Yet, when Overland prints an article by Michael Brull, a young writer with none of the resources or institutional backing that they enjoy, they complain to its governing body that they are being excluded!

In that respect, the whole episode is sadly typical of how debates about Israel/Palestine are conducted. Mendes and co. urge the OL Society not to permit Overland to ‘highlight the views’ of anti-Zionists like Ned Curthoys, Antony Loewenstein and Michael Brull who, we are told, are irrelevant, marginal figures and as such not worth worrying about. Yet in their writings for the mass-circulation Australian, Dyrenfurth and Mendes attack these ‘irrelevant’ and ‘marginal’ views, over and over and over again. Indeed, they single out John Docker, Ned Curthoys, John Pilger and a variety of other named individuals for public abuse – and neither they nor the Australian offer these people any opportunity to reply.

So it comes down to this. Mendes and co. assert their right to berate their political opponents in the most vituperative fashion. But they also want – in the name of ‘free speech’– to deny those opponents any platform whatsoever, even in a tiny literary magazine.

The politics underlying this dispute should be understood.

The signatories present themselves as friends of Overland, writing more in sorrow than in anger about its current editorial decline. ‘We all strongly respect,’ they proclaim, ‘Overland’s tradition of providing a forum for free and open discussion of democratic and progressive ideas.’

Really? Let us look at what one of our correspondents actually says about ‘democratic and progressive ideas’.

On 2 April 2008, Douglas Kirsner appeared in (of course!) the Australian. There, too, he complained of ‘bias’ – but, on that occasion, he directed his ire towards the ABC:

Why is it that the only intentionally liberal-conservative program on Radio National is titled Counterpoint? […]

In 1968, German student leader Rudi Dutschke, drawing on the idea of hegemony of Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci and of Marxist critical theory, suggested “a long march through the institutions” of power to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of it; as critical theorist Herbert Marcuse put it, “working against the established institutions while working in them”.

The countercultural capture of cultural institutions meant the emergence of what Swinburne University sociologist Katharine Betts calls a “new class” whose object was not old wealth. Instead, Betts writes in her 1999 book The Great Divide, “the attack was concentrated on the Australian mass and its materialism, racism, sexism and insularity”.

A noticeably homogenous class of inner city, tertiary-educated social professionals, often referred to as the chattering classes, has an identity that developed together with mass tertiary education. While the old Left emphasised economic reforms to help the working class, the new class focused on issues such as refugees, multiculturalism, reconciliation, civil liberties and so on. This new class of social professionals includes teachers, academics, public servants and welfare workers who adopt distinct ideological positions and values that serve as social markers for the new class.

The “knowledge class”, which includes ABC journalists, is an important segment within the new educated class that has more distinct values that increasingly set them apart from business and the general community.

I mention this not because I think the ABC has no diversity at all but because it’s a trend embedded within the institutional culture that will take another “long march” to reverse, this time in the opposite direction towards the centre. It’s a march that has begun from the top but needs to infuse its way to the bottom.

Thus it does, indeed, seem that Professor Kirsner holds strong views about ‘democratic and progressive ideas’. He opposes them – and advocates a reactionary ‘long march’ to counter the influence of those concerned about ‘refugees, multiculturalism, reconciliation, civil liberties and so on’.

What does that mean in practice? Well, when MediaWatch caught Janet Albrechtsen distorting quotes to demonise Islamic youths, Kirsner weighed in:

Janet Albrechtsen reveals the entrenched and blind bias in the ABC very well indeed. It’s a very sad story, especially about a program that claims the high journalistic ethics ground without fear or favour.

Often defenders of the ABC claim that it compensates for right wing commentators such as Alan Jones, thereby admitting the endemic bias of “everyone’s ABC”.

But yesterday I almost fell over when I heard a US conservative commentator on The World at Noon on Iraq. The ABC must have been desperate – though the anchor did point out that this commentator’s views on Iraq needed to be understood in the context that he was a conservative. I don’t hear such caveats when left wing commentators are introduced.”

Keep it up, Janet!

Dr Douglas Kirsner

Melbourne, Vic

We understand that Kirsner did, at one stage, belong to the Melbourne University Labour Club, back in the days when Leftism enjoyed a certain fashionable cachet. Since then, however, he has evidently picked himself up and returned, more or less unscathed by his radical experiences, to the more traditional Toryism of the professoriate.

Of course, Professor Kirsner’s political evolution is a matter between him and his conscience. But are we seriously to believe that a man who sees in the ABC a tide of radicalism that should be ‘reversed’, a fellow who shouts ‘Keep it up, Janet!’ in support of an Islamaphobic far-Right columnist, really ‘respect[s] the Overland tradition’ and wishes the project well?

We think not.

Why then does his name appear on this letter? Why have these ‘Leftist’ academics made common cause with an avowed reactionary? It is because, as we have seen, the signatories are not concerned with responding to articles with which they disagree, so much as with applying institutional pressure to ensure the offending pieces don’t get published at all. They think that the OL Society board might be more susceptible to names with a historical association with the Left – and so they are prepared to enlist to the cause a former radical who now enjoys hearing pro-war conservatives on the ABC!

Our ‘Leftist’ critics – some of whom, it is true, have made real contributions to the progressive movement in the past – need to ask themselves where, politically, they are heading. Kirsner is merely one on the long list of former radicals transformed into arch-reactionaries by an aggressive and uncritical identification with conventional wisdom about the Middle East. Dyrenfurth and Mendes, those self-proclaimed partisans of the Left, might wonder why the Australian, Murdoch’s ferociously conservative flagship, consistently offers them space alongside the climate change deniers, religious bigots, warmongers and Islamophobes whom it pleases that paper to promote. Is it, as they seem to think, because they present ‘serious contributions on the complexity of the conflict’? Or is it because self-proclaimed Leftists who devote themselves to smearing others on the Left as lunatics and racists serve a useful role for a conservative newspaper?

As to the specific merits of the Overland articles in question, we, unlike our critics, have faith in the ability of our readers to make up their own minds. We would, however, point out that Michael Brull’s piece, which our correspondents single out for particular opprobrium, maintains, for the most part, a remarkably civil tone – particularly when contrasted with the work of his critics. Compare, for instance, Brull’s writing to a typical Nick Dyrenfurth effusion in the Australian, in which the ‘socialist jihadists’ of the University of Sydney are abused as ‘anti-Semitic’, ‘imbecilic’, ‘maddies’ and ‘hatemongers’ – all without the reader learning anything whatsoever about the actual arguments that they uphold.

Michael Brull concludes his essay with the suggestion that issues around Israel/Palestine be opened ‘to free debate, without the usual flood of hysterical name-calling’. That seems to us, the editorial staff at Overland journal, an eminently reasonable proposal, and one to which we are also committed. Precisely because the misery in the Middle East shows no signs of abating, the discussion over Israel/Palestine needs to be broadened beyond simple reiteration of the conventional wisdom.

More generally, in an increasingly homogenised mainstream media, emerging voices that don’t parrot Murdoch talking-points often struggle to be heard. We believe that by providing a platform for ‘marginal’ writers – even if those writers occasionally scandalise a conservative or two – Overland performs an important function. That is the policy the journal has followed since 1954. It is one we will continue to uphold.

Jeff Sparrow

Jacinda Woodhead

Rjurik Davidson

Kalinda Ashton

Alex Skutenko

John Marnell


Messrs Llewellyn, Skutenko, Leggatt, Lee, Hollier, McLaren, Murray-Smiths, Rea and Sparrow

Editorial Board

Overland Magazine

20/4/10

Dear members of Overland Editorial Board,

We are writing to express our grave concern about your journal’s unbalanced coverage of Israeli-Palestinian issues in recent years. We all strongly respect Overland’s tradition of providing a forum for free and open discussion of democratic and progressive ideas. But the recent biased and prejudiced coverage of Middle East affairs has the potential to bring Overland into serious disrepute.

We can all agree that the Australian Left has no consensus on this issue. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that a wide majority on the Left today support a two-state solution which encapsulates recognition of both Israeli and Palestinian national rights. It is also fair to say that those fundamentalists who advocate the elimination of Israel and its replacement by an Arab State of Greater Palestine represent a small, if sometimes vocal, minority.

Yet it is precisely these marginal views, which demonize Israel and infantilize the Palestinians, that seem to have captured Overland’s agenda in recent years. We note, for example, the three recent articles that appeared in issues 187 by Ned Curthoys, 193 by Antony Loewenstein, and 198 by Michael Brull.

What is common in all three of these articles is the collective essentialising of all Israeli Jews and all Jewish supporters of Israel’s existence, whether supporters of the Israeli peace movement or supporters of a Greater Israel, as inherently evil oppressors. Equally there appears to be a concern to promote miniscule groups such as the Committee to Dismantle Zionism and the Independent Australian Jewish Voices group as in some way representing a significant Jewish dissenting voice. This is a complete nonsense. In fact, they represent a tiny minority even within the wider Jewish Left, and their simplistic viewpoints are overwhelmingly rejected by progressive Jews. Highlighting their views means implicitly excluding the perspectives of 99 per cent of Australian Jews from your journal.

Brull’s particular contribution is rambling, repetitive and contradictory, and of a standard that one might expect to find on a blog devoid of editorial oversight, not as an article chosen for publication in a refereed intellectual journal. It is also overtly defamatory in a manner that is both embarrassing and shameful to Overland. His comments totally misrepresent the views and opinions of one of us (Mendes) who has been publicly commenting on these issues for 25 years. Mendes has consistently argued for a complex analysis of the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. His views are the precise opposite to those described by Brull.

And yes Overland did publish Dennis Altman in issue 196 who presented a more subtle and sophisticated overview of this debate. But Altman did not directly critique the fanatical position presented by Curthoys et al.

Yet there are many left-wing Jews (and far more leftist non-Jews, see for a start, www.tuliponline.org) who support two states, strongly oppose Israeli settlements and expansionism, but also totally reject the simplistic “Israel oppressor, Palestinians victim” argument presented by Curthoys et al, and seek to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation rather than continued violence and enmity. Their views represent the majority of the Left, but seem to have been deliberately excluded from the pages of Overland magazine.

Our principle question is why Overland has chosen to highlight these vexatious voices who contribute only fanatical polemics and represent nobody in either the Jewish community or the Left, and chosen to ignore or actively censor the large group of Jewish (and broader Left) voices who are able to present serious contributions on the complexity of the conflict. We also specifically question why the editor published the article from Brull without taking a basic duty of care to ensure that his arguments were free of falsehoods and libel.

Yours Sincerely,

Bernard Rechter (Professor)

Douglas Kirsner (Professor)

Andrew Markus (Professor)

Dr Bill Anderson

Dr Nick Dyrenfurth

Philip Mendes (Associate Professor)

 

Comments

  1. Wow. What a brilliant piece. Fluent, succinctly-argued, polite and pulls no punches. 11 out of 10 for integrity and clear thinking. Thanks Overland people. You’ve made my day.

  2. Nice read. Just one thing; you are too kind to Janet Albrechtsen. She didn’t distort a quote, she fabricated it. She inserted the word muslim into a quote something which outraged the author. How an academic can applaud this is beyond me.

  3. spell checker strikes again can u change muslin to muslim I don’t want to be accused of fabricating something in muslin

  4. Excellent. This is precisely the role of a journal such as Overland. These issues are too often discussed behind closed doors – both Israel/Palestine and the notion of bias. It fills me with pride that Overland has the courage to shine some sunlight on these questions.

  5. Well, really! It is awfully inconsiderate of you, Overland. Vexatious and marginal thinkers should obviously be suppressed: They cause such discomfort.

    And I have particular empathy for the Messrs’ desire to have only consensus presented despite their acknowledgment that no such consensus exists. I have always found the appeal to the majority a relief from the exigencies of forming my own opinions, in much the same way as Ambien relieves me from the stress of being awake.

  6. Congratulations on a superb piece.

    This constant “attack” on anyone who even dares to challenge Israel, or even questions its actions, is more than tiresome. Accordingly a response such as that which Overland has made – and so well and argued without hysteria – is more than welcome and overdue.

    Keep on publishing as you see fit…..and see to it that the naysayers such as your letter-writers above receive the response that they so richly deserve.

  7. Dear Overland, thank you for highlighting these vexatious voices. Goodness, you must be poking at a sore-spot and “Or is it because self-proclaimed Leftists who devote themselves to smearing others on the Left as lunatics and racists serve a useful role for a conservative newspaper?” has got to be salt in the wounds – ouch. Still; something has to be done to stop the rot.

  8. Thank you for all the support.
    We have updated the post to include as signatories Alex Skutenko, the Overland co-ordinator, and John Marnell, the Overland copy editor. Meanjin has now republished an edited version on its Spike blog.

  9. I don’t see that Messrs Rechter et al have a case at all. The idea that a journal should represent majority opinion is just intellectual bullying; but even were that a valid criterion, considering that Overland’s “coverage of Israel/Palestine … consists … of a debate over three years between four Jewish writers”, wouldn’t there be more justification in criticism that the coverage excluded Palestinian (or Israeli Arab) voices?

    • Excellent point Josh, and we completely agree; this lack of Palestinian and Israeli Arab voices in the journal is something we need to address.

  10. A beautiful demolition of a bullying, insidious and intellectually lazy attack. It really does beg the question of why the signatories decided to go to the board with their vague concerns about exclusion and unsubstantiated accusations of defamation, rather than providing reasoned refutation of specific points in an open article. In my experience, Overland has always been willing to publish dissenting responses to its articles. Their whole approach is patronising to both Overland’s editorial team and the magazine’s readers.

  11. Overland is about freedom of speech, and challenging political views. If we didn’t debate we wouldn’t progress as a society. Not everybody is going to agree with what is published in Overland, but Overland isn’t going to stop publishing varying views simply because the content is controversial – it’s not mainstream media!

  12. Congratulations Jeff et al and best wishes. A measured and considered response in response to what amounts to a double-standard type of intellectual bullying; our coterie of professors have tried to pull rank, but only succeeded in being rank.

  13. It seems to me that the debate over these complaints centres on two interrelated but quite distinct matters:
    1)Allegations of anti-Israeli bias in Overland’s editorial policy; and
    2)Questions of editorial balance in the mass media, especially in The Australian.
    On the first, the correspondents have indeed missed the point of Overland’s purpose and avowed conviction. Their gripe is made worse by the relatively few articles Overland has published on the subject, making the complainants look paranoid. On the second, I’m not sure it is useful to counter these accusations by referring to the column centimetres devoted to pro Israeli rhetoric, even that with a ‘Left’ persuasion, in a conservative broadsheet with national distribution. However, Overland is right to defend its marginal status and the relative power of opinion it offers. The complaints certainly reek of hasbara.

  14. You guys are so patient to have crafted such a diligent reply. ‘Whatever’ would have been a more than adequate response.

  15. Prof Kirsner’s article on ABC bias in The Australian (accessed from the link in Overland’s response to the letter Overland received from Prof Kirsner and others) should leave Overland readers in no doubt about efforts of some people and groups with political agendas to influence the ABC’s editorial content.

    Most members of the community get their information and form their views on important political and social matters through the mass media. For those of you who appreciate the importance of the ABC being maintained as a broadcaster which is truly independent and fearless, please give it your attention too.

    Friends of the ABC needs members, so it has the funds to continue to campaign. And it needs everyone to critically analyse and give feedback to the ABC – on occasions its programming meets the high standards we expect, and when it doesn’t.

    Glenys Stradijot – Campaign Manager, Friends of the ABC (Vic) http://www.fabc.org.au

  16. Perhaps it is that so few criticise Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians that when it happens they can’t believe it. The defenders of Israel (kept busy defending the indefensible) are also hugely well-organised. It needs only the whiff of criticism to have them summoning their collective might, writing outraged letters and articles or ringing talkback to proclaim that Israeli hands bloodied by the deaths (and unspeakable suffering) of thousands of Palestinians, are in fact clean.

    Overland succeeds where mainstream media fails (dismally) to tell another side of the Israel/Palestine story. Keep up the good work Overland.

  17. A considered and open approach strengthened the arguments throughout the post. Great work Overland team.

  18. I always find it a difficult, almost impossible task to argue with the unreasonable. Luckily, not everyone has this problem. Thanks, Overland.

  19. i’m glad you all wrote this. it’s important these bullies are outed.

    a similar thing happened over at New Matilda last year.

    also if anyone missed it, antony lowenstein did a wonderful piece on RN recently. a breath of warm human feeling in all the propaganda which reminded me that it is our doubt, rather than our conviction, which makes us moral beings.

  20. Nice to see a progressive publication react with intellectual gusto to a bogus charge of anti-Semitism. Your staunchness is commendable.

    Providing outlets for disparate voices is a core belief of the left. Murdoch & Co. prove the elimination of such voices is a goal of the right.

  21. The Australian Jewish Democratic Society sent the following statement (reproduced with permission):

    AJDS Statement of support for Overland editorial response to ‘some critics’.
    The Executive of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society is in broad agreement with the views expressed by Jeff Sparrow and the rest of the Overland editorial staff in the final two paragraphs of their 3 May statement titled “Overland and Bias: a response to some critics.” They wrote:
    “Michael Brull concludes his essay with the suggestion that issues around Israel/Palestine be opened ‘to free debate, without the usual flood of hysterical name-calling’. That seems to us, the editorial staff at Overland journal, an eminently reasonable proposal, and one to which we are also committed. Precisely because the misery in the Middle East shows no signs of `abating, the discussion over Israel/Palestine needs to be broadened beyond simple reiteration of the conventional wisdom.
    “More generally, in an increasingly homogenised mainstream media, emerging voices that don’t parrot Murdoch talking-points often struggle to be heard. We believe that by providing a platform for ‘marginal’ writers – even if those writers occasionally scandalise a conservative or two – Overland performs an important function. That is the policy the journal has followed since 1954. It is one we will continue to uphold.”
    The AJDS has for over 25 years been committed to a broadening of debate on the Israel/Palestine issue and has been a proud contributor of news, investigation, analysis and opinion on how the needs for security and peace between and amongst Israelis and Palestinians might fairly be achieved. We encourage civility and respect in debate on political differences over the issue and strongly oppose the vilification and abuse that often follows expression of radical or minority opinions.
    We put this attitude into practical effect by inviting Professor Dennis Altman, a recent contributor to Overland, as guest speaker at our Annual Dinner in December 2009, though not all our members share his views on the Israel/Palestine issue. We have also been instrumental in having the Jewish Community Council of Victoria strengthen its policy supporting civility and opposing vilification in expressions of political difference.
    Les Rosenblatt
    Spokesperson on behalf of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society
    May 6, 2010.

  22. With the exception of one paragraph, the Overland Editorial Board’s reply to the unfair and unreasonable criticism by a group of academics is excellent. However if you are going to object to misrepresentation then you should probably not misrepresent your critics.

    I have no problem with the description of Doug Kirsner as a reactionary in terms of his current views. The two extracts published in your letter establish that quite soundly. However the following paragraph

    “We understand that Kirsner did, at one stage, belong to the Melbourne University Labour Club, back in the days when Leftism enjoyed a certain fashionable cachet. Since then, however, he has evidently picked himself up and returned, more or less unscathed by his radical experiences, to the more traditional Toryism of the professoriate.’

    implies that Kirsner was only involved with the Left because it was fashionable at the time. This is quite unfair. Kirsner came from a left-wing background, was a leader of the Melbourne Uni Labour Club and wrote widely for left wing journals such as Arena. There is no doubt that he has rejected his earlier beliefs but it is rather Stalinist to assume that because a person now takes reactionary positions they must always have been reactionary at heart and not sincere about their earlier progressiveness!

    • Hi Dave,
      I take the point but I do think you’re reading too much in the para. The phrasing might be a tad snide but, clearly, it’s easier to belong to the Left when you’re young and a student and the political tide runs your way. Maintaining that stance in a much more hostile climate, and at the expense of your own career, is more difficult. Which is why the trajectory of these characters is so drearily similar: they breathe fire at twenty (‘No sellout! No compromise!’) but by sixty they’ve become exactly what they were rebelling against. Keith Windschuttle comes to mind.

  23. I think the attempt by Mendes et al to prevent publication of esssays similar to mine in future is remarkable, but by no means surprising. Anyone who read my essay could have seen it coming, and I would recommend to those who hadn’t that they do so, and compare what I’m alleged to have written to what I actually wrote. For example, I advocate a two state agreement: the six signatories of the letter claim I advocate the creation of a single Arab state of Greater Palestine, which is a fabrication, just like the allegation that I essentialise Jews in Israel and Jewish supporters of the Israeli government.

    Even if I did hold the position they attribute to me, there would be no empirical basis for the claim that 99% of the Jewish community would oppose what was written. One of them in particular, and more than one, played various roles in the recent survey which established some 13% of Australian Jews are anti-Zionist. Presumably, they hold that even this 13% of Jews would be outraged at my advocacy of a two-state agreement, and my opposition to Jewish organisations supporting anti-Palestinian racism in my name.

    It is useful to put this in some context. The Cambridge University Israel Society cancelled [http://cambridgetab.co.uk/news/10623/] a talk by Benny Morris because “the intention of the Society was never to give racism a platform”. This plainly doesn’t apply to ECAJ and the NSW JBD. And apparently, the 6 academics who were offended at my writings, which they consider so outrageous, were not offended by the support given to Benny Morris. If they are right, that there are only two perspectives in the Jewish community, those expressed by me, and the other 99%, it would surely reflect poorly on our community. Fortunately, there is no reason to believe this is true. Though these academics purport to speak on behalf of Jews, the Jewish left, and the left, there’s little reason to take that seriously either. They are simply indistinguishable from the Jewish organisations I criticised, which they take pride in, siding safely with the imaginary 99%.

    When Hannah Arendt caused a storm of controversy, she said that it would not have surprised her if she made one or two people angry. That she encountered a flood of criticism made clear to her that her offence was not to individuals, but to vested interests. The sad thing is that whilst the bullying characteristic of Michael Danby, or the (alleged) Anti-Defamation Commission, or AIJAC is more or less predictable by institutional interests, the herd of independent minds who have written in to complain do not have this excuse for their behaviour. One can only hope that given their failure at censorship, they – and others like them – might finally decide to stop trying to stifle debate, but instead try to engage in it.

  24. Whilst on the whole I have no quarrel with what Michael Brull has to say generally, I honestly found the recent article to be just as the writers of this letter describe: “Brull’s particular contribution is rambling, repetitive and contradictory, and of a standard that one might expect to find on a blog devoid of editorial oversight, not as an article chosen for publication in a refereed intellectual journal.”

    I thought this was a pretty spot on description of the article. Three times I have tried to read it, and each time I found it to be nauseating for these particular reasons.

    I assume this will seem like a shallow response, but when I read something in a journal such as overland I don’t want to be bored to death; I don’t want feel like I am being manipulated, or that I am not given the full context of, say, a quote; I don’t want to feel like I’ve been handed a resume of someone’s cred; I don’t want to feel like otherwise good sources are used shallowly making it read like gossip; I don’t want to be told over and over again what their self-righteous opinion is (or specifically, I want to understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, not Michael Brull); and perhaps most of all, I don’t like reading articles that are riddled with cliches.

    Overland’s response was great, but surely next time they could find a marginal voice that is also coherent?

  25. I think it is a good response; really for just contextualising the critiques. Given this context, that they are widely published, well paid academics, powerful, they don’t have a leg to stand on.

    So then there are two questions.

    What motivates them. And why should anyone care what they are saying?

    Their motivation is to kick sand in the eyes, to make the conflict appear opaque and \complicated\. There is no complexity surrounding what is going on in Palestine. There is a massive documentation of exactly what the IDF does, what the government wants it to do and the Isreali judiciary allows it to do.

    There is only a matter of finding out how best to enforce the basics of international and remonstrate the Isreali government for its infringements and crimes against humanity in particular.

    It is a very simple problem that folks like Mendes and co do not want solved; no matter how much they profess otherwise.

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