Antony Loewenstein – Not in my name

May 20, 2024
Rafah, Palestinian Territories. 05th May, 2024. Palestinians inspect damaged houses after Israeli warplanes bombed a home for the Al-Shaer family, leading to widespread destruction in the Al-Salam neighbourhood, east of the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Image: Alamy/ Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa/Alamy Live News

For Australian-German author and journalist Antony Loewenstein, Gaza was rarely a place to fear as a Jew.

Living and working in East Jerusalem, before the war, he was a visitor to the Palestinian enclave, enjoying its seafood, its culture, its hospitality, and its people.

“I thought it was important as a Jew, to say to people in the outside world, Gaza is not some far away land that is too scary for you to contemplate,” he says.

“You always hear children. Roughly half the population is under 18. So often you’re seeing kids playing, laughing, crying, screaming … everywhere.

“And I had friends there who had kids, and we often would spend time with those children.

“There was in parts of Gaza real beauty, a calmness. Amazing fresh produce, beautiful fresh fish.”

Now, when he sees images of Gaza’s destruction, it feels personal.

“I’ve tried to look at those images and see, did I go to some of those areas? Did I go to a restaurant there, or did I meet people there on the shore? And I am furious and sad and often feel helpless,” he says.

“Seeing what has happened to Gaza since October 7 has been heartbreaking, honestly, and I’m so ashamed, I’m so ashamed. Because it’s being done in my name.”

Now living in Sydney, Loewenstein is a leading voice among Australian Jews speaking out against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

He is not just appalled by the mass casualties among civilians, but by the insistence that the campaign is about protecting Jews.

“Jewish leaders, in Australia, US, the UK, their message is uniform: back what Israel’s doing, that’s what’s keeping us safe. And the evidence for that is simply absent,” he says.

“It’s actually making us more unsafe. And until Palestinians are safe and secure, Israelis never will be, and Jews never will be.”

For the past six months, Loewenstein has been voicing his outrage to millions of people, appearing as a commentator for media networks like CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English and Turkish radio and television.

His latest book, The Palestine Laboratory, investigating Israel’s testing and use of hi-tech weaponry against occupied Palestinians, has become an international bestseller and won him Australia’s peak journalism prize, the Walkley Award.

He says thousands of people have contacted him to thank him for speaking out.

“Jewish people [have been] saying, ‘Thank God there’s a voice that is against what Israel is doing,’” he says.

But some Australian Jews see him as little better than Hamas. He has received hate mail, anonymous death threats and been labelled a traitor and self-hating Jew.

Suzanne Rutland, an Australian-Jewish historian, believes anti-Zionist activism, regardless of who promotes it, puts Jews in danger.

“The anti-Zionist message leads to attacks on Jews in Australia. So it fosters anti-Semitism, and we’ve seen that with a huge upsurge post October 7,” she says.

“The mainstream Jewish leadership, most Jews see people like Antony Loewenstein, that extreme left-wing voice, as highly destructive to the wellbeing of Jews, and particularly the wellbeing of the over 7 million Jews living in Israel.”

It’s not how he expected his life to turn out when he was studying for his bar mitzvah in Melbourne in the 1980s.

“When I started writing about Israel-Palestine, started thinking about it, literally probably 35, 40 years ago within my Jewish family and synagogue and the wider community, I didn’t think that I would become this person,” he says.

Born in 1974, Antony Loewenstein grew up in a liberal Jewish family that observed Jewish holidays like Passover, celebrated the Sabbath and saw Israel as a safe haven should anything threaten Jews abroad.

His grandparents on both sides escaped Nazi Germany and Austria in 1939 but many others in the family were murdered.

“As far as Antony’s Jewishness was concerned, it was important to us that he should know his heritage,” his father Jeffrey Loewenstein told Compass.

“And I suppose it also was informed by the fact that we had family who’d been lost during the Holocaust. My father’s parents were taken by train to Auschwitz in March 1943, and paradoxically the day they were executed, I was born.”

Like all their Jewish friends and family, Jeffrey and his wife Violet accepted the significance of Israel as a Jewish state.

“Being sort of one-eyed about Israel in the 1970s, I think has to be seen in context,” Jeffrey says.

“Nobody talked about the Palestinians other than as terrorists. And they’d done awful things. The Munich massacre, for example. And you’ve got to look at it in context, in the wider Jewish community in Melbourne, which is the largest — then — Holocaust survivor community outside Israel.”

But Antony Loewenstein did question what he saw as “unthinking” Zionism. After travelling to Israel for the first time in his early 20s, he wrote his first book My Israel Question, criticising both the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Australia and globally.

It became a best-seller but made him a pariah in Australia’s Jewish community. Australia’s then only Jewish MP, Michael Danby, called for the book to be pulped.

Even Antony’s parents were ostracised by the Jewish community.

“Violet and I immediately got the cold shoulder from a lot of [Jewish] people who had been really close friends,” Jeffrey says.

“Antony kind of became a non-person. And that still exists to a certain extent today.”

Even Antony’s parents were ostracised by the Jewish community.

“Violet and I immediately got the cold shoulder from a lot of [Jewish] people who had been really close friends,” Jeffrey says.

“Antony kind of became a non-person. And that still exists to a certain extent today.”

Their treatment led Jeffrey and Violet to question their own feelings for Israel.

When Antony followed his partner Alison to live in East Jerusalem (she worked for an international humanitarian organisation), his parents came to stay. They visited the occupied Palestinian territories, seeing villages where Palestinian homes were being demolished to make way for Jewish settlers.

“I went everywhere in the West Bank, I’ve been to villages that have been destroyed again and again by the Israelis,” Jeffrey says.

“So, I’ve seen it firsthand, what I’ve seen just appalled me.”

Antony believes that much of Australia’s Jewish community is stuck in a time warp.

Overseas, particularly in the US, younger Jews have been progressively turning against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, a process that has accelerated with the deaths of tens of thousands in Gaza being documented on social media.

“I was appalled by the brutality of the Hamas attacks with the targeting of Israeli civilians in parts of southern Israel. And I knew that the impact of them would be so catastrophic for the Palestinians in Gaza.

“It was pretty clear within really a day or so after October 7 that the splits in the Jewish community around Israel and Zionism, which existed long before that day, were going to explode.”

Professor Rutland, citing a June 2023 survey, says 77 per cent of Jews in Australia identify as Zionist.

“Zionism is a Jewish right for self-determination, that is the right for Israel to exist as a state for the Jewish people. It’s so important because our community is largely a post Holocaust community,” she says.

“I definitely think that young Jews, particularly in universities, are influenced more by some of the anti-Zionist narrative, but many simply don’t want to be cancelled.”

Antony Loewenstein says the power of the Zionist lobby is waning.

“The recent, inspiring student protests in the US, Australia and beyond involving large numbers of Jews in opposition to the mass slaughter in Gaza and universities working with weapons manufacturers shows what’s possible,” he says.

“There are far more critical Jews around than many in the Jewish establishment want to acknowledge.

“The false charge of anti-Semitism against anybody who challenges Israeli racism and occupation is increasingly shunned by young Jews, Palestinians and people of conscience.”

 

Stream this ABC Compass episode, Not In My Name on ABC iview.

Article republished from ABC News, 6 May

 

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