by Claudio Russo
Antony Loewenstein is an independent freelance writer. His best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question, has been republished three times. His second book, The Blogging Revolution, focused on the internet in repressive regimes. He is currently working on a book and documentary about disaster capitalism and privatisation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Haiti, Australia, the Asia-Pacific, the “war on terror” and beyond. He sits on the advisory council of the British-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, is co-founder of advocacy group Independent Australian Jewish Voices and contributed to Amnesty International Australia’s 2008 campaign about Chinese internet repression and the Beijing Olympic Games. He is the second writer in Sydney PEN’s ‘Free Voices’ series.
Antony Loewenstein is a man on the move. He’s writing books, making films and travelling the world. The journalist, author, documentarian, photographer and blogger has come a long way from his childhood days in suburban Melbourne.
Without any journalists or writers in his family, Antony had a difficult time deciding on the right career path. His father, a lawyer, provided some initial inspiration for a life at the bar, but Antony’s high school marks failed him.
He says that if asked as a kid what he wanted to do with his future, people may have been surprised by his answer. “I was one of those kids that wanted to be a scientist,” he says.
However, Antony enrolled in an Arts degree. “My grandfather used to say to me ‘Yes, you should definitely be a writer’.”
In 1997, Antony began editing the student newspaper at Monash University. “In it’s time it was the biggest student newspaper in the southern hemisphere and I loved the experience,” he says.
On completing of his degree, Antony made his first attempts at making a living from writing.
“I started freelancing, writing for the street press in Melbourne, doing CD reviews and live music reviews and entertainment stuff, getting paid $5, $10, $15 for a piece, just to get my by-line out there,” he says.
While this provided something of an income, Antony had other goals. His Jewish upbringing spurred a growing desire to learn more about different points of view, particularly those of the Arab world.
“Growing up Jewish, I often felt very uncomfortable with comments I heard in the Jewish community, and in my own family, about Palestinians and Arabs; it was frankly racist. I didn’t fully understand nor have the knowledge to respond to it.”
In 2003, after obtaining a coveted Fairfax traineeship, Antony moved to Sydney. After a short stint at Fairfax Online, Antony started work on his book My Israel Question, which was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier’s Literary Award.
The book, though popular with many including acclaimed journalist John Pilger, evoked widespread criticism from the Jewish community as well as Federal Labor MP, Michael Danby.
Before the book’s release, Mr Danby said Melbourne University Press should drop “this whole disgusting project”. Mr Danby went on to say, “If they proceed, I urge the Australian Jewish community, and particularly the Australian Jewish News, to treat it with dignified silence.”
Antony Loewenstein was labeled “a self-hating Jew” and “an anti-Semite.”
His persistence in seeing things from the other side has made him controversial, but he subscribes to the ethical journalism approach of discussing both sides of any story or situation.
His trip to Peshawar, a town on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a clear example. He recalls his meetings with Hayat, an independent journalist with great knowledge of the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that have become a target for US drone attacks.
To Antony, the stories are there, and people like Hayat are there to tell them, but the existence of no-go zones and a reliance by the Western mainstream media on government press releases have them silenced. He says Pakistani journalists face far greater risks than Western journalists.
“Inherent commercial biases towards perspectives that often don’t hear the common view or common voice exist. Journalism should be about providing a voice for the silenced or a voice for the voiceless.”