Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Death of a Statesman

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Allon Lee

 

With the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace dim, Shimon Peres' passing was inevitability refracted through the prism of today's geo-political environment.

In the Australian (Sept. 29), foreign editor Greg Sheridan wrote Peres' death "may well mark the death of the modern Arab-Israeli peace process, which has promised so much, and delivered so little, these past 25 years."

Sheridan clarified that the "two-state solution remains everyone's goal, but with the Middle East in flames and instability everywhere, no one believes it can be implemented in the foreseeable future."

ABC News Radio (Sept. 28) used an Al-Jazeera English report that lacked vital context.

Reporter Rene Odeh said Peres helped "to develop Israel's nuclear capability, a powerful asset it has never admitted to possessing", and "after Israel's capture of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights in 1967, Peres actively worked to establish the first illegal Israeli Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories."

She quoted Peres seeming to blame Israel for not accepting a peace plan he secretly negotiated with Jordan's King Hussein in the late 1980s.

The report did not mention Peres' failure to inform then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of the secret deal nor his accompanying political machinations to try to overthrow the unity government. 

Later that day on ABC News Radio "Drive", the Jerusalem Post's Seth Frantzman said Peres' involvement in establishing the country's defence capabilities allowed Israel "to survive and to sustain itself."

On Sydney Radio 2GB (Sept. 29), the Daily Telegraph's Troy Lennon sensibly noted that "obviously some people think that it's the worst thing in the world that Israel has nuclear weapons but it provided a measure of stability that they probably didn't have before."

On ABC TV News24 "World" (Oct. 30), the Israel Democracy Institute's Yohanan Plesner said, "Mr. Peres has died but his ideas live on. His ideas are deeply rooted in the history both of the Jewish state and the Jewish people."

He said Peres' formative years were between 1939 and 1949 when he learned "the importance of peace and... Israel being able to defend itself by itself." Plesner said peace has not been achieved because it is a "very tough region" with Arab states disintegrating and hatred between Shi'ite and Sunni groups on the rise.

Plesner pointed out that Israeli PM Netanyahu and his government support a two-state solution and agreed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' presence at the funeral was important because the current wave of terror attacks is not "always being condemned properly by the Palestinian leadership."

Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill's report noted that Hamas "the hardline militant group that runs Gaza" condemned Abbas' attendance and that Netanyahu had thanked Abbas for coming, saying, "its something that I appreciate very much on behalf of our people," ABC Radio "AM" (Oct. 1).

On SBS TV "World News" (Sept. 30) Brianna Roberts delivered a balanced report, mentioning that some critics call the bombing of a UN base in Lebanon in 1996 when Peres was PM a war crime but noting, "Israel maintains civilian deaths were accidental, accusing Hezbollah of using them as human shields."

In the Age (Sept. 29), Michael Gordon, reminisced about meeting Peres on an AIJAC Rambam study tour in July.

The Australian Financial Review website (Sept. 30) ran a balanced story with the questionable headline, "Shimon Peres dies and so do hopes for a two-state solution in the Middle East". A more accurate headline was used in the paper (Oct. 1).

On Oct. 2, the paper ran US-based academic Alon Ben-Meir's letter attacking Netanyahu, calling him a "demagogue", while describing Peres as a "statesman".

Dr. Ben-Meir wrote, "Peres never hesitated to change his position... as long as it served the country's interests and advanced peace... Netanyahu... put[s] his personal ambitions and ideological bent above the national interest... Netanyahu recently confirmed... at the UN... his rejection of... a Palestinian state."

AIJAC's Gareth Narunsky's response, published on Oct. 7, noted how "in the very UN speech Ben-Meir cites, Netanyahu told the world... ‘I remain committed to a vision of peace based on two states for two peoples.'"

Fairfax correspondent Catherine Armitage's story noted the large contingent of foreign leaders at the funeral and perceptively observed that "they came... to honour his legacy of hope in the Oslo Accord and the two state solution, even if the... the dream of the Gaza Strip as a Hong Kong-style metropolis has proven fantasy," Age/Canberra Times/Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 2).

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