Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Noted and Quoted - December 2015

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Choice selection

Despite the myriad number of sensible commentaries available on the current wave of terror in Israel, the Saturday Age (Nov. 7) opted for a self-righteous op-ed by Israeli novelist Assaf Gavron that essentially blamed Israel itself for the Israeli victims of Palestinian terror.

Arguing that the current violence is "a desperate and humiliated answer to the election of a hostile Israeli government that emboldens extremist settlers to attack Palestinians," Gavron said dissenters in Israel "are ridiculed and patronised at best."

Perhaps that is because the majority of Israelis understand that Israeli governments such as Yitzhak Rabin's, Ehud Barak's and Ehud Olmert's, which no one could argue were "hostile", also had to contend with terrorism, even as they made unprecedented peace offers to the Palestinians.
According to Gavron, Israel's only option is to unilaterally "stop the occupation."

Because that is what is causing terror? No, Gavron implicitly acknowledged terror won't end, but said when the occupation stops "we can look ourselves in the eyes [and] can legitimately ask for, and receive, support from the world. So that we can return to being human."

In other words the terror is not likely to end but at least when Israelis are less powerful and more easily killed, all of Israel and its supporters can be satisfied in the knowledge their victimhood was morally absolute.

Oh, and if you disagree, and would rather be maligned and alive than dead and morally pure, you're apparently not "human".


Too much information

Given there are no real word limits in cyberspace, it is puzzling as to why two paragraphs went missing from an AFP news feed on the ABC's website (Nov. 4) reporting on the discovery of an ancient Greek fort under a Jerusalem car park, rendering the piece incomprehensible.

According to the ABC, "Israel's antiquities body is claiming to have solved ‘one of Jerusalem's greatest archaeological mysteries' by unearthing an ancient Greek citadel, the Acra, buried under a car park. The Temple was razed by the Romans in 70AD. Two Muslim holy sites, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, were built there centuries later. The site, known to Muslims as The Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, is sacred to both peoples."

This is gobbledygook. The citadel and the Temple were two separate buildings.

An internet search uncovered a vital linking paragraph between "car park" and "the temple was razed" explaining that "Archaeologists have puzzled for more than a century over the exact location of the Acra, built by Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-164 BC) to control Jerusalem and the ancient Jewish temple there."

Omitting this paragraph also explains why the last paragraph was excised as it reintroduces "Antiochus [who] is remembered in the Jewish tradition as the villain of the Hanukkah holiday who sought to ban Jewish religious rites, sparking the Maccabean revolt."

But it doesn't explain why they were removed at all.

McNeill's sophistry

Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill, who admitted in 2011 she seeks to frame stories from the perspective of the people who are "really suffering" - and then used Palestinians repeatedly as her examples - followed that unprofessional inclination on an ABC TV "7.30" (Oct. 22) segment entitled "Meet the young generation of Palestinians behind the third Intifada".

Host Leigh Sales' introduction stated, "just hours ago Israeli security forces shot two more Palestinians after they tried to board a school bus." You'd think the two were victims and not terrorists who tried to board that bus and then stabbed a man.

The eight-minute ‘investigation' failed to float incitement or radicalisation as even one factor in explaining the spike in terror.

Instead, the "occupation" was pushed amid claims "the increase in settlements...is the driving anger" and that east Jerusalem Palestinians "rarely get building permits... and if they build without one, their houses are often demolished."

McNeill focused on 16-year-old student Bayan al-Esselli, claiming, "Israeli soldiers say that this friendly, gifted student tried to stab them, so they shot her dead."

Al-Esselli was shot by the female soldier she stabbed!

During ABC Radio National "Saturday Extra" (Oct. 24), McNeill's selective reporting was stark when she adamantly disagreed with top Israeli analyst Jonathan Spyer's assertion that the violence was directly linked to a "falsehood" that the Temple Mount status quo is threatened.

She said, "Israelis can't go into most parts of the West Bank where the angriest young Palestinians are and I can...and they mention Al-Aqsa but it's really the occupation that they're complaining about."

Spyer responded, "I... go to the West Bank and... read and speak some Arabic, so I also follow in Arabic the discussions in the media and in social media... and it might be nice to claim [the violence] is about something else but if you actually follow in Arabic the discussion that's what it's about."

Courier Mail columnist Rowan Dean (Oct. 26) called McNeill's report "repugnant", writing that "these murderers were portrayed almost as heroes" and attacked Sales' intro for imparting "moral equivalence to the actions of the murderers and the security forces protecting lives."

Andrew Bolt's eponymous program (Oct. 25) featured a strong critique of McNeill's report by himself and Federal MP Michael Danby.


Mislabelled

Anne Barker's report into a new EU law requiring Israeli products manufactured in the West Bank be labelled as made in a settlement, claimed the Jordan Valley is one of the "most fertile areas of the Middle East... but these are Israeli settlers in the West Bank, under international law their farms are illegal."

There is no international law outlawing this activity and it is not appropriate for an ABC correspondent to make such pronouncements. As Israeli spokesman Emmanuel Nahson explained in the report, the decision is political with "other territorial conflicts around the world not getting the same treatment," ABC TV "World" (Nov. 12).

Nick Grimm who introduced his story on the same topic with sound grabs of the current Palestinian violence, inserted his own opinion on which side was at fault saying, "as tensions remain high, economic pressure is being brought to bear on the occupiers".

Unlike Barker, he did not make pronouncements about disputed international law, stating that "the European Union regards Israeli settlements built on occupied territories to be illegal under international law," ABC Radio "World Today" (Nov. 12).


Barker's bite

On ABC Radio "World Today" (Oct. 22), Anne Barker's report into Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's claim that Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini inspired Hitler to exterminate Jews noted that historians "agree the Mufti was a Nazi sympathiser and an anti-Semite who'd led violent campaigns against Jews in then-British mandate Palestine."

Barker cited Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat's statement, it's "sad... when the leader of...Israel... hates his neighbour so much that he's willing to absolve the [most] notorious war criminal in history."

Fair enough, but she did not report that Erekat (who has previously claimed Jesus as a Palestinian) also said he spoke for "thousands of Palestinians that fought alongside the Allied Troops in defense of international justice" and stressed how "Palestinian efforts against the Nazi regime are a deep-rooted part of our history." So deep-rooted that no one has heard about it!


Lordy, Jordy!

Academic Jordy Silverstein accused Netanyahu of "Holocaust denial" for his claims about al-Husseini.

Silverstein, whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, is also a prominent pro-Palestinian activist, an important fact that was not disclosed.

According to Silverstein, "there's a lot of concern about what does this mean, particularly at this moment in time in Israel with the kind of violence that's happening there at the moment... it's important to... remember... this speech was given... at the World Zionist Congress gathering... [which] has no agenda item that deals with the occupation... to suggest now that the Holocaust is not a European phenomenon but is the responsibility of Palestinians or of the Middle East or of Muslims is, you know, people are framing it as a form of incitement."

Silverstein had little to say about al-Husseini's undeniable links to Hitler and the Nazis, nor did she condemn current Palestinian incitement that often features Nazi-era style antisemitism. Instead she warned that Netanyahu "still has power and is quite dangerous," ABC Radio "PM" (Oct. 22).

A more balanced appraisal was offered by Jerusalem-based journalist Irris Makler who explained to Beverley O'Connor that Netanyahu was trying to say that "even before the creation of the State of Israel what we saw was the Al-Aqsa Mosque being used by a Palestinian leader as a source of conflict between the Jews who wanted to live here, who wanted a state...but [Netanyahu] chose a most cumbersome way" to call attention to the issue, ABC TV News24 (Oct. 23).


Hebron headlines

An undercover Israeli raid on a hospital in Hebron to arrest alleged Palestinian terrorist Azzam Shalaldeh, which resulted in his cousin being shot dead when he tried to attack the agents, was given the inflammatory headline "Israelis kill Palestinian in hospital" in the Canberra Times (Nov. 14).

The Hobart Mercury selected the more neutral heading "Undercover Israeli agents raid hospital" and the Australian chose "Israeli spies raid hospital to arrest man, kill cousin."


Underdone

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald (Nov. 13) reported New Zealand Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne's criticism of Australian immigration detention centres as "concentration camps".

"The modern concentration camp approach Australia has taken is simply wrong. It was wrong when the British tried it in Northern Ireland in the 1970s; it is wrong in Guantanamo Bay, or in Israel today. Australia is no different," he alleged.

Dunne's choice of words to characterise both Australian and Israeli detention centres is offensive to those who suffered and died in Nazi concentration camps. The term "concentration camp" is not applicable here. Such inappropriate comparisons cheapen debate and in this case undermine any efforts to have a serious discussion on immigration policies.


Loudon clear

Veteran correspondent Bruce Loudon accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of having "much to answer for in the growth of Islamic State and the unmitigated evil that has been unleashed by the caliphate."

"For two years at the UN, Russia has blocked every move aimed at achieving a political solution for the civil war... [which] had it succeeded early enough and without Moscow's interference, might have forced a compromise on Assad that could have cut the ground from under the Sunni extremists and headed off Islamic State's establishment... with hundreds of thousands killed in the past two years and upwards of eight million people forced to flee their homes, it might have been expected that Putin would use his influence with Assad to force a solution to the conflict. Instead, he is stirring the pot further and outmanoeuvring Obama at every turn," Australian (Nov. 12).


Ehud watch

AIJAC guest Ehud Yaari's advice that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's exit is the key to ending the ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East reverberated across the media.

Dennis Atkins' analysis noted Yaari's comments that Assad's toppling would "stop the Iranian project, and the chances of a Sunni Muslim-dominated government turning sentiment against ISIS would be boosted. ‘This is a case of better the devil we don't know,' says Yaari". The price, Atkins reported, was agreeing to Russia's demands which include "maintain[ing] its naval facility in Syria - at the port of Tartus just north of Lebanon - and [to] get a slice of the oil and gas resources off the Israeli coast - said to total 26 million cubic feet of gas and 800 million barrels of oil," Courier Mail (Nov. 11).

Yaari's own op-ed explained how "despite IS's ruthless brutality, many Arab Muslim Sunnis are sympathetic to the terror group, as they view it as a Sunni defence against Alawites in Syria and Shiites in Iraq. Therefore, in order for the campaign against IS to work, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad must go. The fight against Assad is mobilising Sunni Arab youth from around the world to come to Syria and join the ranks of IS and other rebel groups. Only once Assad is defeated, can there be enough momentum among Sunni Arab rebel groups to join forces and defeat IS," Australian Financial Review (Nov. 17).


Palestinian reject shopped

Elsewhere, against the backdrop of Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's meeting with US President Barack Obama, Yaari adroitly responded to questioning by Tim Palmer, which repeatedly attempted to position Netanyahu as the sole obstacle to effecting a two-state solution, explaining, "at the end of the day, the Americans have enough experience in the peace process track between Israel and the Palestinians to understand that the major obstacle so far, for the past 20 years or so, has been the Palestinian refusal to make the compromise of a final status solution. So, we have to wait for the next president to step into the White House and see whether he's willing to try and move the Palestinian-Israeli peace process in a different direction," ABC Radio "PM" (Nov 10).

AIJAC's Sharyn Mittelman echoed Yaari's sentiments, writing "What has [Mahmoud] Abbas achieved in his 10 years as President for the Palestinian people? He claims to support a two-state outcome, and yet has twice walked away from peace negotiations with Israel - first from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's offer in 2008 of a Palestinian state on about 97 per cent of the West Bank and east Jerusalem plus Gaza and land swaps. Then in 2014, the Palestinian Authority decided to discontinue negotiations... instead join[ing] a unity deal with... Hamas - despite agreement from Israel's Netanyahu government to accept parameters for peace ‘in the zone of agreement', according to US mediators," Age online (Nov. 13).


Innovation nations

A major Australian delegation led by Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy to study Israel's success in innovation generated healthy media back home.

Business writer Tony Boyd quoted Saul Singer, famed co-writer of Start-up Nation, how "if Australia joined forces with Israel it could become the innovation leader in the Asia-Pacific region...‘we know that the way to build great start-ups is through great teams. I think there is a huge opportunity between Australia and Israel. Australia can be our bridge to Asia. I think Australia can become a regional innovation hub, a hub for South-East Asia as well as combining forces with Israel,'" Australian Financial Review (Nov. 2).

Delegate Scott Middleton, founder of Terem Technologies, wrote, "Israelis are an arrogant lot. I mean that in a good way. It's a characteristic that strikes you from the moment you touch down in Israel and it can be jarring for an Aussie used to the humility of a tall-poppy culture. This self-confidence, combined with a deep level of patriotism makes Israeli's [sic] great brand ambassadors for their innovative, entrepreneurial culture. Many Israeli businesses go off-shore to find global markets and build growth, but they never lose their sense of identity and their passion for the country. Because of this they become great brand ambassadors, selling Israel's capacity overseas and selling the strengths of the country's tech innovation community. Not all countries have as much confidence as Israel. But few have as little as Australia," Technology Spectator (Nov. 4).

According to Roy's own op-ed, "It may surprise that start-up investment rates (if not the volume of capital raised) between our two nations are reasonably similar: 34 per cent of Israeli start-ups are funded against 25 per cent in Australia.

"On another metric, 40 per cent of Israeli founders have a postgraduate qualification while 41 percent of Australian founders are postgraduates. However, a keen point of divergence is the threshold for failure. Forty per cent of Israeli founders have experienced three or more previous start-ups. In Australia, just 9 per cent of founders have the same tried-and-failed history. In Israel there is a relaxed acceptance that start-up failure is normal and shouldn't be spurned," Australian Financial Review (Nov. 18).


Mutual Defence Pact?
Meanwhile, following his own recent visit to Israel, Anthony Bergin, deputy director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), advocated Australia appointing a defence attaché to Israel "as we've done in Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE... The US, Britain, Canada, Korea, Japan, China, India and EU nations such as the Dutch, Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Finns and Norwegians have all seen the advantages of having defence representation in Israel. Such a position would not just bring us military benefits, but by leveraging hi-tech connections with Israel, also help us to develop as a start-up nation", Australian (Nov. 10). Bergin had visited Israel as part of the new Beersheva dialogue program between ASPI and the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies.

 

This article is featured in this month's Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.

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