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Paper’s apology over anti-Semitic article 'inadequate'

A former editor-in-chief of The Age has accused the paper of "journalistic failure", blasting the newspaper for printing an "inadequate" apology after it published a column espousing racist views.

The apology said an article titled "Israel living high on US expense account", which caused outrage in the Jewish community, was "published in error".

"The Age does not in any way endorse the views of the columnist, apologises for the distress the column caused to many readers, particularly in the Jewish community, and regrets publication of the column," the apology said.

Former editor-in-chief Michael Gawenda yesterday said the paper had missed the point, and demanded it tell its readers how it would prevent the publication of racist material in the future.

"This is a journalistic failure, this is an editing failure," Mr Gawenda said.

"The apology is not about offending people, the apology ought to be about the publication of something which should not be published.

"Newspapers publish lots of things that they don't endorse, that's what an op-ed page does, it publishes views that the paper disagrees with."

Victoria's Jewish community has considered taking legal action over anti-Semitic comments in the article, written by London-based business contributor Michael Backman.

The piece blamed the 9/11 attacks and the Bali and London bombings on the inability of the Israelis to make friends with the Palestinians, suggested the historical persecution of Jews constituted punishment for the death of Jesus and reinforced stereotypes that Jewish people were selfish and stingy.

Mr Gawenda, who served as editor-in-chief from 1997 to 2004, famously refused to publish a Michael Leunig cartoon that compared the plight of Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II to that of the Palestinians today. Before editing The Age, he worked as associate editor of the Australian Jewish News.

Writing on a blog on The Australian's website yesterday, Mr Gawenda said: "What this apology seems to be aimed at doing is limit the damage to the paper from the publication of this piece."

He told The Australian that questions should be asked about the journalistic culture at The Age.

"What I want to know is how The Age has reached the point where racist rubbish like this gets published, and what the new editor-in-chief intends to do about changing this culture."

A source close to staff at The Age said employees were "upset and amazed" the article had gone to print.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president John Searle said the apology was seen as a first step, but by no means the conclusion of the matter.

The Age failed to return calls from The Australian yesterday.

Original piece,25197,24941081-7582,00.html

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See an excellent refutation of Backman"s rant, by Senator Michael Ronaldson at Also see an update at

Posted by Steve Lieblich on 2009-01-23 07:21:40 GMT

Mr Gawenda wants to know how this trash got published? It"s because while anti-Zionism is not necessarily antisemitism it often is. The fact is that the Left generally has lost sight of the boundary between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment. As the Leunig cartoon case showed, gross inflation of the plight of the Arabs combined with an absolution of their having any responsibility for their situation results in demonisation and deligitimisation of Israel. With two millenia of anti-Jewish demonisation lurking in the collective unconscious it"s not surprising that critics of the Jewish State so easily lapse into traditionally antisemitic terminology.

Posted by Stefan on 2009-01-21 18:29:44 GMT

This apology, as we say in the USA is Bull**it. Pardon my being blunt, but this sucks

Posted by Allyson Rowen Taylor-Los Angeles, CA USA on 2009-01-21 06:09:20 GMT

The apology is no apology. There must be a front page apology or an editorial begging forgiveness of an editor that allowed this vile canard to be published. The culture @ the age is one of selective interpretation rather than reporting. I sent Ronit a copy of my letter to the editor & if you read that you will understand how I feel. I also cancelled my subscription & as soon as possible will be selling my shares in the company. I have been association associated over a period of 70 yrs, with every JEWISH organisation dealing with every aspect of communal life as well as in  the wider gentile community. I have served in the RAAMC  & never encountered anything like this & in other public entities . I feel that we can"t let this go until we once & for all demonstrate that racism has no place in Australia. WE should treat this matter in the way Toben was treated especially as we have seen what placards were carried in the "protest" marches around Australia.

Posted by Dr B Cohney on 2009-01-21 01:08:58 GMT

"Jewish Community Council of Victoria president John Searle said the apology was seen as a first step, but by no means the conclusion of the matter." I"d be interested to see if this statement has any substance and not just a neat conclusion to the story.

Posted by yk on 2009-01-21 00:00:39 GMT

Dear Ralph, ou have done an excellent job in PR in alerting the community of this dsgraceful article.I have threatened to withdraw our Coat Man advertising from 3AW and Melb weekly subsidiaries of Fairfax. Kind wishes, Moshe

Posted on 2009-01-20 23:02:30 GMT

It"s interesting to note that Gawenda has weighed in to this debate. Where are the other CHAMPIONS of anti-racism? Australian Jewish Democrat Society!

Posted on 2009-01-20 21:12:28 GMT