Alex Kane: How did you get so involved in writing about Israel and Palestine?
Antony Loewenstein: Well, many years ago when I was growing up—I grew up in Australia, in a very liberal, Jewish home—Israel was never a central part of my family but it was something, as most Jews will understand, that was important to support. My grandparents escaped Nazi Germany, my family were killed in the Holocaust, so the idea of Israel being a homeland for the Jews was sort of seen as a given. My grandparents have never been to Israel, my father’s only been once, my mother has never been, and I remember when I was a teenager, well before the Web, talking about something that happened that week, a suicide bombing or something in Israel, and I would sometimes express disdain or criticism of the official Israeli line, and it was met with unbelievable anger and ferocity by my family, by my parents, my other family, and there was a real, clear racism that was existing back then. Two things: one, that we can’t expect Arabs to behave any better because, after all, that’s what Arabs do, i.e., be violent against Jews, it’s sort of inherent in their system, and secondly, that whatever Israel was doing was always defensive.
Fast-forward twenty years in Australia, about seven years ago, Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian politician came out to Australia, she was awarded the peace prize, a prominent peace prize out here, and the Jewish community establishment reacted with apoplexy. She was a “Holocaust denier,” a “terrorist,” all the usual kind of things, and Ashrawi then and now is very moderate. And the argument I said at the time was that if the Jewish community can’t accept someone like her—in fact then she was talking about a two-state solution, she’s hardly a radical—if the Jewish community can’t accept her, then there’s a serious problem. I felt, as a Jew, and I had never written about this publicly, but I felt as a Jew, as a journalist, it was important to put my position strongly, to say that there are some Jews who are critical of Israel, who believe in open and free debate. I wrote about that, got a lot of coverage down here in Australia, was then picked up by Robert Fisk in the Independent in London, and as you could imagine, that caused this issue to go global. He came out and said that it’s important that there are dissenting views.
So, over the years, I spent time in the Middle East, in Israel, in Palestine, I was in the West Bank and Gaza again last year, I’ve spent time in most of the Middle East, in Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc., and feel, I suppose, in many ways that it is important, although I see myself as a human being first and a Jew second, that it’s vital to articulate an alternative Jewish perspective. I mean, years ago, my position was fairly conventional: I believed in the two-state solution, and I believed that because when I was in Israel, many years ago, the people I was speaking to, the one-state solution, people often forget this now, but the debate about this has moved so fast, that there’s obviously a tactical question and a moral question, but certainly, practically five years ago a two-state solution was arguably impossible anyway. Putting aside the moral question of whether there should be a two-state solution, my position about that has changed, and in my latest edition of My Israel Question, my book, I sort of articulate why that is. In its simplest form, it’s because, practically, the colonization process is so far advanced, and its continuing, even during the recent so-called “settlement freeze”–in fact there wasn’t a “freeze” at all, there was settlement building happening, as many journalists, including Max Blumenthal, documented in the last month. And secondly, as a moral question, the issue of a Jewish state existing I think is fundamentally problematic because it inherently discriminates against those who are non-Jewish, which is 20 percent of the population within Israel. I should also say this, finally, that my point is not just being opposed to a Jewish state, I have equal issues with religious states, and I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Iran, Saudi Arabia, Muslim states that inherently discriminate against non-Muslims. Now clearly, they’re not democracies, they don’t claim to be a democracy, and Israel does. I’m not comparing Israel to Iran or Israel to Saudi Arabia, I’m simply saying that my opposition to the concept of a religious state, and Israel is undoubtedly based inherently on an interpreted Jewish history, I think the problem is far bigger than just a Jewish state, I think it’s also the question of religious states oppressing minorities, and we see that across the Middle East.