THE WRITING LIFE ... Antony LOEWENSTEIN
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER
TAN MAY LEE engages ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN in a discussion about truth and why it matters in journalism
SYDNEY-BASED ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN is the author of the best-selling book, My Israel Question, a controversial discussion of one of the most important issues of our time, as well as The Blogging Revolution, a searching examination of the ways the internet is threatening the rule of some of the planet’s most repressive governments. He actively seeks news on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, two countries everyone knows about but seldom chooses to engage.
Loewenstein’s interest in writing goes back a long time, including being an editor of his university newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, in 1997. He says, “I often liked the idea of provoking and challenging readers, especially about supposedly accepted ‘truths.’ For me, journalism should always be about shining light in the darkness and challenging the establishment, no matter who runs the joint.” This led him to becoming a journalist in 2003 and he has used various media, including the revolutionary transparent media of blogging, to get his reports out there.
“When I first started my blog in 2005,” he recalls, “it was primarily a space to discuss issues related to Israel and Palestine that wasn’t getting adequate mainstream media coverage, namely Israeli aggression in the Palestinian territories and the gradual shifts in Jewish opinion around the world. These days, my site has become an important space to air views and news that should receive far more traction.” His blog has become so popular that he has lost count of the number of emails he has received. He takes his blogging very seriously, making sure his reports are credible. As in journalism, his idea of a reliable blogger is one who has “reliable sources, transparency in their methods” and is “not being a propagandist for one side or the other.”
With an endless archive of information, the World Wide Web is chaotic and unpredictable, but Loewenstein celebrates this. “Information overload happens to me all the time but it’s a generally pleasurable experience. The best journalists and writers are always the ones with the most facts and figures at their fingertips,” he states, and believes that readers can learn how to discern reliable and nonsensical web resources. “This is something that one learns over time, though this is no different to trusting certain newspapers and not others.” If in doubt, The Blogging Revolution makes a good reference.
Loewenstein thinks that the biggest misconception about the type of journalism he does is objectivity. He says, “Truth matters. When writing about Israel or Palestine, for example, the reality hits you in the face and you have to report it. Israel is an apartheid state that must be condemned (like any other country that oppresses people). This is not just my view, but the position of virtually every human rights group in the world, the United Nations, leading activists and citizens.”
His preoccupation with the Israeli state led to My Israel Question, which was a significant achievement for this journalist when he got shortlisted for the 2007 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award. “It was pleasing to be shortlisted for my best-selling book, especially after so many conservative hacks and Zionist lobbyists tried to smear it.” In fact, the criticism of My Israel Question “backfired spectacularly,” as the book has gone on five reprints and two editions. The author is confident that it hasn’t run its course.
For Loewenstein, who bases his arguments on justice and humanity, Israel has been occupying Palestinian land in the name of “security” when the truth about Zionism “has always been about expansionism and conquest.
“The West has stood largely by, if not supported, the Israeli state due to historical guilt (the Holocaust) and strategic reasons. The vast majority of the media coverage of this conflict is nonsense, obsessed with a “peace process” that achieves nothing more than expanded, illegal settlements in the occupied territories. The Jewish state should behave like any other civilised nation, or, as I now believe, face sanctions, divestment and boycotts, until it grows up.”
Aside from backing Israel, Loewenstein feels the West has also fallen short in being a reliable source of news. “One of the great myths of the Western world, of course, is that our media is free and people can and do write whatever they want,” he says, before referring to Noam Chomsky who once stated “the media serve the interests of state and corporate power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and limiting debate and discussion accordingly.”
However, the West also has its advantages. Although outspoken journalists aren’t always popular, they can escape repressive regimes found in persecuting nations. “Find Western allies to cause a noise if you are arrested or intimidated. Remember that your readers value transparency and honesty,” Loewenstein advices.
Constantly fighting against mainstream media has its setbacks and this is all familiar to Loewenstein. “Anybody who dares challenge Israeli policies should expect a barrage of abuse from the usual suspects but the internet has provided an essential portal for more global citizens to witness the reality of brutal Israeli policies against the Palestinians.” He calls himself “an atheist Jew.” He doesn’t practise Judaism, but culturally he is Jewish. As the Israel-Palestinian war has often been viewed as a Jewish-Muslim struggle, Loewenstein receives hate-mail and the occasional death threats. This fuels him though, so much so that even editors fail in censoring his work. And to him, terrorism is any violence against civilians; the only acceptable violence is “resistance to occupation is both legitimate and necessary, from Palestine to Sri Lanka.”
For his research, Loewenstein travels regularly overseas because “far too many journalists and bloggers pontificate from their offices, not realising that often they’re only having their prejudices confirmed, not challenged. Being on the ground is essential to understanding different cultures.” For My Israel Question, he spent two months in Lebanon, Israel and Palestine for research; and for The Blogging Revolution, his research on the web in repressive regimes took him to Cuba, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China.
Being a worldly journalist has certainly taught Loewenstein how to assess the state of affairs in a country. He can guess the motives of media coverage or silence. “I am opposed to media censorship. One can tell a great deal about a country from the ways in which its government treats the media. Censoring information shows a profound contempt for the general public. The internet is one way of challenging this, by publishing blogs, despite the often deep risks in doing so.”
With a multicultural background and being well aware of issues going on in other nations, what is his ideal nation? “No country is perfect, but I think, with all its faults, of which there are many—not least an underlying distaste of complexity, atrocious treatment of the indigenous peoples and occasional bursts of racist fervour—Australia’s lifestyle is pretty decent.”
TAN MAY LEE graduated from the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, where she was awarded the Bonamy Dobree Scholarship for International Students to do her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Language. She also trained as a Master Practitioner in Neuro-Semantics Neuro-Linguistic Programming. She is the editor of Quill magazine. Her story, “From the Roof,” was recently anthologised in Urban Odysseys: KL Stories (MPH Group Publishing, February 2009).
Reproduced from the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2009 issue of Quill magazine