Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Week - All Shook up; Telling Tales

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All shook up

Anyone might have thought that Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman had just become Australia's new defence minister such were the ripples in our media.

Australian Financial Review international editor Tony Walker (May 28) claimed the ALP under Bill Shorten made "hardly a peep... about the appalling events in the Middle East, certainly no reference to alarming developments in Israel and Palestine where an ultra-nationalist defence minister has been installed to the detriment of... prospects of compromise with the Palestinians."

"Appalling events" and "alarming developments" abound in the Middle East, but only a supposed Israeli example was cited.

Whatever one thinks of Lieberman, he has repeatedly voiced support for a two-state solution and previously held senior ministries in Israeli coalition governments.

On ABC Radio "World Today" (May 26), Sophie McNeill's report painted Lieberman as the harbinger of doom. But Jerusalem Post chief political correspondent Gil Hoffman noted that Lieberman's crazier utterances were said, "whenever he was in the opposition. That's the job of an opposition parliament member - to make his voice heard...[but] Netanyahu runs this country... None of the ministers have any power."

In the Saturday Paper (May 28), columnist Hamish McDonald said Lieberman backs "deporting Arab Israelis to Palestinian areas."

Wrong. Lieberman has proposed that boundaries be redrawn so that Arab Israeli towns and villages near the West Bank become part of a Palestinian state in exchange for Israel retaining settlements - no deportation involved.

Telling tales

Debate continued over the propriety of Victorian year 12 students studying the play "Tales of a City by the Sea" written by pro-BDS activist Samah Sabawi and set in Gaza during the 2008/09 war. (Our analysis of earlier media coverage of the issue is here).

On ABC Radio National "Book and Arts" (May 14), Sabawi claimed attempts to stage the play in Gaza in 2014 were prevented because "two-thirds of [Gaza] city was turned to rubble" during that year's war.

Data compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs shows that Gaza City itself was largely unscathed.

On ABC Radio 774 Melbourne's "Drive with Rafael Epstein" (May 27) Sabawi disagreed with B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich's statement earlier that day to ABC Radio host Jon Faine that the play was "unvarnished anti-Israel propaganda".

Sabawi said "the play does not have one Jewish...or Israeli character simply because inside Gaza, it's a Palestinian realm."

Or, maybe, because being identifiably Jewish or Israeli in Gaza can put you at risk of becoming a hostage or dead.

In the Age (May 28), Monika Wagner, President of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, defended the play's inclusion writing, "I can't think of any text that does not have the potential to offend at least someone."

But as Dvir Abramovich explained in the Age (May 31), because the play excludes vital context, including Israel's 2005 Gaza withdrawal, its repeated peace offers, rockets fired from Gaza at Israel and Israeli efforts to minimise Palestinian casualties in Gaza, "impressionable young students" might absorb "the message that the immoral, faceless Israelis kill Palestinians out of sheer evil."

- Allon Lee

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