Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Lyons' angry roar hides lack of substance

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In a nearly 1,100 word response to Greg Sheridan's dismissal of his "Four Corners" hatchet job on Israel, one might have expected John Lyons would have found space to answer the factual questions raised by his critics. Instead he preferred to attack Sheridan for relying on analysis by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) that debunked many of Lyons' claims (Australian, March 8).

These analyses, which appeared in the Australian newspaper, the Australian Jewish News, the Australia/Israel Review and AIJAC's website, exposed Lyons' catalogue of misreporting, half-reporting, obfuscations and sensationalising.

Lyons insisted the analyses could not be trusted because AIJAC is "a privately funded lobby group with extremely hardline positions on Israel."

If "hardline" in Lyons' worldview means supporting a negotiated two-state resolution, then AIJAC pleads guilty.

Obtusely, Lyons attacked Sheridan, "find[ing] it breathtaking that a journalist would recommend a private lobby group for a rebuttal of journalism."

In other words, after 2,500 years, Western traditions of logic and evidence have run their course and intellectual arguments should be decided solely on the basis of who makes them, rather than their substance.

Of course, Lyons' own reports relied on such shadowy organisations as "Breaking the Silence" that provided largely anonymous "evidence" that cannot be investigated to charge Israel with systemic and widespread mistreatment of Palestinian minors.

Lyons also attempted to discredit both AIJAC and Sheridan, not for the critiques of his "Four Corners" report, but for "repeat[ing] AIJAC's claim about settlements not growing - year after year AIJAC says this while construction booms... Israeli statistics show settler housing more than doubled last year, and in the first half of 2011 grew 660 per cent. Outposts are also surging - these are illegal under Israeli law, yet Israel tolerates them."

Again, Lyons overreaches. First, AIJAC never said there was no growth in settlement housing, only no new settlements and no expansion in the boundaries of existing settlements. Secondly, the 2011 leap Lyons cherry picked was the result of the end of the Netanyahu Government's unprecedented ten-month settlement building freeze intended as a good will gesture to kickstart peace talks.

In fact, overall, during the past five years the Netanyahu Government has built far fewer homes in the settlements than recent predecessors.

As Evelyn Gordon explained last week on the Commentary blog, between 2009 and 2013 "housing starts in the settlements averaged 1,443 a year... That's less than the 1,702 a year they averaged under Ehud Olmert in 2006-08... It's also less than the 1,652 per year they averaged under Ariel Sharon in 2001-05... And it's far less than under Ehud Barak, who is also internationally acclaimed as a peacemaker... One single year under Barak, 2000, produced more housing starts in the settlements (4,683) than the entire first four years of Netanyahu's term (4,679)."

Lyons concluded that "Obama told Israelis their occupation was unfair" but again left out of his reckoning the three offers made but rejected by the Palestinian Authority that would have ended that occupation.

Meanwhile, over at J-Wire, readers might be intersted in a hard hitting analysis of John Lyons' output courtesy of Isi Leibler, the veteran Australian and international Jewish leader who now lives in Israel.

- Allon Lee

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