Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Bringing up Bibi

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Allon Lee


Overwhelmingly, media coverage of Binyamin Netanyahu's re-election framed the comments he made in the lead up to election day as a convenient hook to explain why a two-state resolution is in limbo.

This was largely achieved by misreporting or excluding critical sections of Netanyahu's actual remarks, namely that "anyone who goes to create today a Palestinian state...is turning over land that will be used...for attacks by Islamist extremists against...Israel. [emphasis added].

Some understood his point. A Spectator editorial (March 21) noted that a centre-left government would not change "the nature of Hamas... nor... create... a serious negotiating partner in the West Bank. We can't just blame Bibi for the lack of peace."

The Daily Telegraph praised Netanyahu's victory (March 19) as "good news" because "a powerful and resolute Israel is a crucial partner among the West's freedom-loving countries."

Likewise, veteran Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler told Phillip Adams on ABC Radio National "Late Night Live" (March 18) that 80 per cent of Israelis back "a Palestinian state... but under the present circumstances it would be... absolute lunacy."

The Australian's Greg Sheridan (March 19) also noted that regional chaos "renders the formation of a fully fledged Palestinian state impossible for the moment" and that "most media reports are conveniently leaving out the word ‘today'" from Netanyahu's statement.

Regrettably this included Sheridan's colleague Jamie Walker, the paper's new Middle East correspondent, whose story (March 18) - headlined, "Bibi rules out two-state solution" - quoted Netanyahu's statement without the word "today".

Another Walker piece (March 21) bizarrely quoted Australian academic and BDS supporter Michelle Burgis-Kasthala seemingly encouraging the Palestinians to pursue a one-state solution. No counter view was included.

Fairfax Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard's March 18 report also omitted "today" from Netanyahu's comments. A follow-up Pollard report (March 21), headlined online with the hyperbolic "Relations with US strained as Netanyahu seizes power", sourced analysis of Netanyahu's statehood remarks only from three far-left activists - extreme Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy; Daniel Levy, who in 2010 said Israel's creation was "an act that was wrong"; and Daniel Seidemann, who in 2103 expressed understanding for Palestinian stone throwing. Apparently, no one could be found to even explain why some Israelis might agree with Netanyahu.

Elsewhere, SBS TV "World News" (March 17) newsreader Janice Petersen said, "Netanyahu says he will oppose the creation of a Palestinian state if re-elected" without further explanation. This was redeemed the next day when CNN's Oren Liebermann told Anton Enus that Netanyahu "insisted" a Palestinian state "in today's Middle East with its current instabilities would...be a base for attacks on Israel". The ABC's website (March 17) also reported Netanyahu ruling out Palestinian statehood but on ABC Radio "AM" Matt Brown did accurately quote Netanyahu.

Australian Financial Review international editor Tony Walker's analysis (March 19) also omitted any regional context for Netanyahu's statement and claimed foreign governments were hoping a new government would implement a "partial freeze on settlements." Perhaps like the one Netanyahu implemented in 2009-10 which failed to entice the Palestinians into substantive peace talks?

Completely disregarding the historical fact that the Palestinian Authority spurned three offers of statehood between 2000 and 2008, refused to negotiate substantively between 2009 and mid-2013 and then upended a fourth effort to reach a resolution last year, a Sydney Morning Herald editorial (March 26) held Israel solely responsible for stalled peace talks. It described Israel's approach to negotiating as "glacial" and said Netanyahu seems to have "thrown in his lot with [the] chaos" apparently engulfing the region, rather than "law and order".

Pre-election coverage was also a mixed bag.

An Australian editorial (March 13) bagged Herzog and running mate Tzipi Livni as "showing themselves to be almost as hard line as Mr Netanyahu on [security] issues" and warned, "whoever wins must reinvigorate the stalled peace process and demonstrate some flexibility over the issue of settlements."

Ruth Pollard also saw little difference between Netanyahu and Herzog (March 16),writing, "Herzog has promised to revamp peace talks...his critics say his support for retaining many of the large settlement blocs... erodes the possibility for a Palestinian state in the same way as Netanyahu's policies." 

The West Australian (March 16), however, backed Netanyahu's candidature, stating "it will be in the best interests of Israel if he gets back to power", arguing he "offers stability and certainty that [Israelis'] security is of prime concern."

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