AFR columnist defended

Joe Gersh

THE Australian Financial Review (AFR) has doubled down after an “in-joke” between columnist Joe Aston and Jewish businessman Joe Gersh offended members of the community.

In his “Rear Window” column last Friday, Aston addressed Gersh’s appointment to the ABC Board with “After the recent retirements of Simon Mordant and Steven Skala, Aunty’s board was briefly short of its requisite Jewish investment banker. All is again right with the world!”

Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said he’d fielded a number of complaints, however AFR editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury told The AJN Aston “is the furthest thing from an anti-Semite” and had not intended offence.

“He writes ‘Rear Window’ in a caustic tone that spares no one. It can be ironic, sarcastic, praiseworthy, literal or proverbial,” he said.

While praising the Jewish community’s “disproportionate contribution” to Australian society, Stutchbury qualified that society “is made stronger by a culture of free speech”.

“It is regrettable that public dialogue has degenerated to the point that so many seek to censor views and language based on complaints of offensive discrimination that hardly exists,” he said.

Abramovich said the AFR’s editors missed the point.

“This is not about censorship. It is about raising an alarm with those whose job is to edit and to exercise good judgement about a statement that crosses a line,” he said.

“While we accept Aston did not set out to cause hurt and offence, such irresponsible remarks run the risk of giving credence and affirming in the minds of many, the resilient ugly association of Jews and money, and playing into the conspiracy theory about Jews nefariously wielding undue influence.”

Gersh himself told The AJN that Aston was a “good friend” and “certainly no anti-Semite”.

“The role of ‘Rear Window’ is to poke fun … so much of what is written is jocular and somewhat tongue in cheek and should be read in that light,” he said.

“I’m of course aware references to ‘Jewish bankers’ invoke a classical anti-Semitic trope, so members of the community are entitled to be sensitive to the issue. I don’t believe that was what Joe Aston had in mind when he penned the column.”

He added that Aston has visited Israel twice, is “well informed on Jewish matters and has a wide circle of Jewish friends”.