Touching Up


For the record, I state here and now that never in my life have I ‘touched up’ Michael Danby, Federal Labor member for the seat of Melbourne Ports. I will not even use the currently popular disclaimer of ‘according to the best information available to me at this particular point in time I have no recollection of having been advised that I may have etc.’ I didn’t do it not in any sense of the term.



But the allegation’s out there. For recently, in Federal Parliament, the esteemed member claimed that ‘Peter Rogers [sic]a former Australian Ambassador to that part of the world touched me up quite unfairly in the Australian Book Review [sic].’

My sin is not to agree with every little insight that Danby offers about ‘that part of the world’ otherwise known as the Middle East. This is especially so when it comes to Israel, of whose policies and actions I am often, but by no means always, critical. My sin is compounded by the fact that I express these criticisms publicly.

Danby, seemingly, doesn’t want any criticism of Israel anywhere, anytime. That’s despite the fact that he’s a member of what is meant to be the most powerful chamber of argument and debate in our land. Danby may be a democratic representative but that doesn’t necessarily make him a democrat.

How else can we explain his attempt to bludgeon Melbourne University Press (MUP) into dropping a book critical of Israel and its supporters written by a young Australian of Jewish extraction, Antony Loewenstein? MUP, our parliamentary representative declared, perhaps turning a worrying shade of purple at the time, should drop ‘this whole disgusting project.’

My Israel Question by Antony Loewenstein

We might note that Danby’s exhortation was made when the book, My Israel Question, had neither been completed nor published. Moreover, (unless he goes back on his word not unknown for those in his profession) hell will freeze over, pigs will fly and Peter Costello will be Prime Minister before Danby casts an eye over a single page of Loewenstein’s satanic verses.

Louise Adler, head of MUP, spurned Danby’s advice. Churlish indeed, as she and he were at school together what is the world coming to when you can’t wheedle a favour out of an old school chum? No more churlish, though, than the book-buying public. If ‘God forbid’ the book saw the light of day, Danby declared, no one should buy it. Unfortunately, for him, the book is already in its second print run.

Besides being a member of the House of Representatives, Danby, it seems, is also a representative of the absolutist mentality that colours so much of what passes in Australia for debate on Middle Eastern issues. Orwellian in its simplicity, it’s an approach that either blames Israel for all the region’s ills, or entirely blames the Arab world and Iran. No middle ground in the Middle East if the mentality were not so ignorant, and dangerous, it would qualify for a Monty Python or Chaser award.

Danby went so far in the same parliamentary speech as to blame the AWB Iraqi wheat scandal on the poisonous influence of leading Australian academics who apparently corrupted the minds of weak-kneed Government officials. He conceded it was a long bow. But, undeterred, he drew it anyway.

When my own book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Herzl’s Nightmare, was published in 2004, one extreme pro-Palestinian supporter branded me as little more than a gullible apologist for Zionism. Meanwhile, in the Australian Jewish News, the book was declared to be the work of a fellow traveller with HAMAS and Islamic Jihad. Not a bad day’s work for one little volume.

Michael Danby MP

I’ll readily concede Danby’s democratic right to criticise me. But could he at least spell my name correctly, and attribute his sources correctly. (My offending review of Loewenstein’s book actually appeared in The Weekend Australian.)

If Danby can’t get such basic detail correct, how well equipped is he to offer advice on matters of greater national weight, like the Middle East?

That said, I really hope he might help with the publicity for my next book, which is on that very region.

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