Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

ABC breaks the silence on inanity

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ABC Newsradio Drive host Tracey Holmes is an accomplished journalist with Middle East experience. As such, it was puzzling that she would use the controversial NGO Breaking the Silence - an organisation dealing exclusively with IDF conduct in the West Bank - as her source for a lengthy interview regarding Australian policy towards east Jerusalem, a territory both she and her subject should be well aware is covered by Israeli law and not subject to military administration. 

Holmes' introduction to her June 11 interview with BTS' spokesperson Avner Gvaryahu (which ABC has not made available online) explicitly referenced Attorney General George Brandis' recent statement during Senate Estimates that Australia would no longer refer to east Jerusalem as "occupied east Jerusalem" due to the term's pejorative connotations.

However, the bulk of the interview, which ran for close to ten minutes, seemed to be simply aimed at giving BTS a prime-time platform to pat itself on the back on the NGO's tenth anniversary - an "event" that involved a publicity stunt in Tel Aviv where former soldiers were invited to get on a podium and criticize the IDF (and only criticize, incidentally, as the blogger Elder of Ziyon has shown, a video showed a former soldier who dared to try and defend the IDF was prevented from doing so).

Only in the last two minutes did Holmes get around to the ostensible point of her interview:

Tracey Holmes: I'm sure you've heard of the Australian government's decision to drop the word occupied when referring to east Jerusalem. Is our Attorney-General right in saying that it's an unhelpful word the pursuit of peace is what is utmost important?

Gvaryahu's response was not only transparently self-serving, but divorced from all reality:

I would say the occupation is not only a historical event. It is actually continuing, day-in and day-out. And when you read testimonies, and it's pretty easy - go on our website and you put east Jerusalem. You'll see the stories popping up and you'll see that the reality there is definitely not the same reality I live in while speaking to you in Tel Aviv with freedom and with dignity and my right of self-determination. So I don't know exactly how you would like to call east Jerusalem, but we're definitely talking about the reality that Israel basically has decided not to decide what to do with these territories, and east Jerusalem in them. And when we talk about what we did, we think the best way of describing it is occupation.

In fact, if you actually take Gvaryahu's suggestion and go to the search box on Breaking the Silence's website and type in "east Jerusalem" or even simply "Jerusalem", you will not find a single testimony about alleged IDF wrongdoing in east Jerusalem.

This is hardly surprising, because there is no IDF military occupation in east Jerusalem, which has been treated as sovereign Israeli territory in the eyes of Israeli law since 1967!

Gvaryahu, of course, is entitled to promote his personal viewpoint that east Jerusalem should be divided. Certainly, if news reports over the past decade have been accurate, peace offers by prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert appear to have been willing to include sharing Jerusalem with a Palestinian state in various ways.

However, neither Gvaryahu, nor Holmes as an informed journalist, should be entitled to ignore the realities that Palestinians in east Jerusalem are in a different category in terms of political status as Palestinians in the West Bank.

Had Holmes been interested in providing an opposing Israeli view regarding Brandis' statement, there are any number of Israeli organisations she could have contacted - for instance, Peace Now.

However, Breaking the Silence was certainly not one of them. The fact that BTS was used in this bizarre fashion appears to say something not very positive about the journalism of elements of the ABC.

Meanwhile, the fact that BTS happily let itself be used in this inappropriate fashion, despite the organisation having virtually nothing to do with east Jerusalem, certainly says volumes about the apparent political objectives of this much discredited organisation.

Ahron Shapiro

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