Jewish groups have strongly defended controversial Labor MP Michael Danby over taxpayer-funded advertisements he took out in a newspaper attacking an ABC journalist, arguing he has been unjustly targeted.
Mr Danby, who has been publicly encouraged to retire by Labor sources, retains his inner metropolitan seat of Melbourne Ports largely because of support from the Jewish community.
Labor leader Bill Shorten was reported to be “deeply unimpressed” that Mr Danby used public money for two half-page ads in The Australian Jewish News criticising ABC journalist Sophie McNeill for her coverage of the Middle East conflict.
But Anton Block, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said the Labor MP was “correct” in his criticism of McNeill, and accused Mr Danby’s detractors of hypocrisy for their silence over Greens senator Lee Rhiannon’s use of taxpayer funds to promote a boycott of Israel.
“Michael Danby has been targeted in parts of the media because he has been a strong supporter of Israel, and because he has had the temerity to call out anti-Israel bias by certain journalists over the years,” Mr Block told Fairfax Media.
“Ms McNeill is on record as saying that she looks to the work of John Pilger as the inspiration for her journalism, so she is in no position to object when others point to certain aspects of her work as advocacy journalism.”
David Marlow, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, said his members would likely agree with the sentiment expressed in the Labor MP’s advertisements.
“I don’t think the community are big fans of Sophie. Whether they’re big fans of Danby’s ads is another matter,” he said.
“If he’s had a go at her for being perceived as biased, I think most of the community would agree. Would they agree with the newspaper ads? I don’t know.”
More broadly, the Jewish community backed in Mr Danby, Mr Marlow said. “The community appreciates the advocacy work he’s done for the community acting as our member,” he said.
Dvir Abramovich of the Anti-Defamation Commission said his organisation did not endorse politicians, but he defended Mr Danby against suggestions on social media that his support for Israel meant he effectively had an allegiance to a foreign power.
Dr Abramovich pointed to one tweet by a federal Greens staffer that was “liked” by Steph Hodgins-May, the Greens candidate for Mr Danby’s seat – which she stands a good chance of winning at the next election.
“The deeply troubling charges of dual loyalty levelled against Michael Danby that question his allegiance to the nation and label him a ‘foreign agent’, play into classic anti-Semitic stereotypes that have often been used to vilify and demonise Jews,” Dr Abramovich told Fairfax Media.
“While legitimate and reasoned criticisms can be made about the conduct of our elected officials, impugning anyone’s loyalty is an ugly, divisive and hurtful slur that must be roundly rejected.”
McNeill was staunchly defended by her ABC bosses, who said she was an exemplar reporter and urged Mr Shorten to counsel his MP. His central allegation – that McNeill failed to cover a violent stabbing of a Jewish family – was demonstrably false.
McNeill told Fairfax Media: “This is unfortunately part of a campaign of attacks on me and other reporters who refuse to kowtow to intense and intimidating lobbying and dare report the reality of what is happening here on the ground.”