Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Noted and Quoted - December 2017

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Mercury dropping

In the Hobart Mercury (Nov. 13), columnist Greg Barns penned an extraordinary apologia dismissing claims of alleged Russian and Chinese interference in politics here and elsewhere, saying the true threat comes from the US and Israel.

According to Barns, "do we ever hear the Australian media and political class complaining about the role Israeli interests play in propping up our shameful support for the apartheid state? Former foreign minister Bob Carr rightly exposed and complained about the Israel lobby and its outsized influence in Canberra. As the release by WikiLeaks of diplomatic cables in 2010 showed, Australian politicians are clearly selling out to the US and Israel routinely."

Sounds like good old fashioned conspiratorial claptrap.

In what way are Australia's interests or its democracy suborned by Israel - which is of course not an apartheid state but a democracy whose non-Jewish citizens enjoy equal rights?

Meanwhile, Carr is the director of a Sydney-based Chinese research institute that has been accused of being funded and run as a front for the Chinese Government.

And to give some extra perspective, Australia-China two-way trade in 2016 was A$155 billion which dwarfed Australia-Israel (2015/16) two-way trade of $1.3 billion.

In 2014, Australia's two-way trade with the Middle East and North Africa (excluding Israel) was $27 billion.

So clearly Australian support for Israel does not hamper its links with Middle Eastern countries, while China has potentially far more influence here than Israel.


MacLeod's misunderstanding

The discredited claim that Israel's right of return law for Jews might mean all Jews are ineligible to sit in parliament courtesy of Section 44 of the Constitution received yet another airing, this time courtesy of academic Andrew MacLeod, who argued it might ensnare PM Malcolm Turnbull who has previously said his mother had claimed her family was of Jewish descent.

MacLeod wrote, "Section 44 of the Australian constitution, as we are all becoming aware, prohibits not only dual nationals from being in Parliament, but also someone who is ‘entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power.'"

He quoted ANU academic Professor Kim Rubenstein's opinion Section 44 would not be evoked by Israel's Right of Return, "that citizenship is not automatic. A Jew, exercising his or her rights under Israeli law, must make an affirmative act of acceptance in order to gain nationality." However, Macleod suggested she might be incorrect.

Yet Rubenstein is not the only academic expert who has stated this opinion.

For example, Sydney University Professor of Public Law Mary Crock has said, "the right of return is a right to apply for citizenship, not a right of citizenship... There is no doubt in my mind that they would not be caught by this."

Unlike others who have scurrilously questioned whether Jewish MPs were eligible to sit based on Israel's right of return, MacLeod was at least scrupulous in saying that if all Jews were barred by it, then Section 44 must be amended, The New Daily (Nov. 13).


Voices of doom

The future of Israel as a democracy, as well as the prospects of the current Netanyahu Government, were discussed in print and on radio.

A New York Times sourced article written by Isabel Kershner said traditionally attacks on Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu have come from the left of Israeli politics, including Arab MPs, but "now that criticism is being levelled by former security officials and members of the right-wing establishment itself, including veterans of Netanyahu's own political party and his Justice Department."

She said, "Netanyahu leads what many describe as the most nationalist and illiberal government in Israel's history" and detractors warn that alleged efforts "to control the news media, curtail the authority of the Supreme Court and undermine once-hallowed institutions like the military threaten the future of Israeli democracy. Their warnings have thrown Israel into an impassioned debate over what kind of country it is becoming, and if its democracy - now in its 70th year - can survive."

Kershner wrote that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who is from Netanyahu's own party, warned in a speech that "‘statesmanship has come to an end here'...[the] concept of putting the national interest first."

Rivlin, she said, "did not mention Netanyahu by name but accused those in power of working to delegitimise and weaken ‘the gatekeepers of Israel's democracy,' and, crucially for a country that lacks a constitution, erode the justice system and the influence of the courts."

Britain does not have a constitution either!

In reality, Israel has similar debates all the time. Almost any major political reforms are met with claims from critics that they endanger Israel's democracy. And this is not the first time they have come from the Israeli right or former security officials either, so there really is little that is newsworthy here. Indeed, Australia has seen parallel outbreaks of similar, factually-questionable, claims about our own "endangered" democracy, particularly under the Howard Government, Australian Financial Review (Nov. 2).


Bye Bye Bibi?

Interestingly, during an ABC Radio "Saturday Extra" (Nov. 11) discussion on the same topic, anti-settlements writer Gershom Gorenberg, who echoed much of the criticism of the Netanyahu Government, noted polling showed a long term shift away from Netanyahu's Likud party and the right wing bloc.

Veteran commentator Ehud Yaari agreed that Netanyahu is "fighting a losing battle for survival and along the way he is willing to take steps which may undermine the judicial system, the freedom of the media etc. It's an all out war, it's a situation we've never had before...and it may last for a year or so."

But Yaari disagreed about Israel's democratic fundamentals, saying he was "very relaxed about Israeli democracy and the judicial system and the media etc...I don't think it's in real danger."

Proposed controversial legislation by Netanyahu's "loyalists" is "bound to fail" to pass, Yaari said, suggesting Netanyahu might call early elections which would stymie potential indictment on corruption allegations because charges cannot be laid during an election campaign. But Netanyahu risks not winning any such election, he said.

Yaari warned that the media and political focus on these domestic issues is diverting attention away from the greater threat which is Iran's successful establishment of two strategic land corridors to Israel's borders, through Syria and Lebanon.


Corridor To Domination?

Elsewhere, Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov elaborated on Iran's strategic gain, writing, "Iran now all but controls a land corridor that runs from Tehran to Tartous in Syria, on the Mediterranean coast, giving it access to a seaport a long way to its west, and far from the heavily patrolled waters of the Gulf. The route passes through the centre of Iraq, and Syria, skirting the Lebanese border and what were some of the most active areas of the Syrian civil war, which have been returned to regime control" Guardian Australia (Nov. 13).


A capital idea

Ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Charge of the Light Horse, Liberal MPs called for the Australian Embassy to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel's official capital since 1950.

Victoria's Senator James Paterson told the Australian Financial Review's Andrew Tillett (Oct. 29) that "as a matter of principle every nation should have the right to dictate its own capital and the only country that the international community says can't is Israel," but cautioned that the Embassy should be in west Jerusalem.

WA MP Andrew Hastie said, "It was the heart of the nation in ancient times and remains so today. I see no reason why we shouldn't formally recognise Israel's bond with the ancient city."
Senator Eric Abetz was also quoted backing an embassy move, while the article noted that in January Tony Abbott had called for one.


Saudis circling

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's dramatic domestic and international moves not only undermined the media's favoured narrative that the Arab-Israeli conflict is central to so much of the Middle East's dynamic but showed that Israel is actually considered a de facto ally by Sunni leaders.

In the Saturday Paper (Nov. 11) Hamish McDonald noted that the Saudis "are volunteering Israel" to take on Iranian proxy Hezbollah.

Fairfax's Farid Farid noted (Nov. 12) that "it is an open secret in the Middle East that Saudi Arabia and its allies - particularly Jordan and Egypt - were bitterly disappointed by the outcome" of the Second Lebanon War in 2006 which Hezbollah survived.

On SBS TV "World News" (Nov. 17), Rena Sarumpaet reported on Israel as Saudi Arabia's "one new ally apparently" despite "no formal diplomatic ties" between them.

The story included former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni explaining the "not normal situation" of "Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation...exploiting democracy in Lebanon" and the unprecedented interview held by Israeli Defence Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot with Saudi media recently.

Elsewhere, ABC News Radio (Nov. 8) featured Israeli journalist Barak Ravid explaining the leak of an Israeli diplomatic cable ordering its embassies to back Saudi Arabia in its dispute with Hezbollah, Iran and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. He said the language used was identical to that coming from Riyadh.


Nuclear possibilities

Critiquing the Iran nuclear deal, AIJAC's Shmuel Levin pointed out that the only penalty that can be implemented for Iran violating the agreement "is the full reimposition of sanctions - which automatically ends all restrictions on Iran under the agreement."

He said this is equivalent to a legal system with "only one punishment - the death penalty - for every crime." He also dismissed claims that the deal cannot be renegotiated, pointing to the Reagan Administration's rejecting its predecessor's arms agreement with the USSR and negotiating a new tougher outcome that "actually did more to reduce the nuclear arsenals of both sides," West Australian (Nov. 3).


Seeing double

The story - "Harvey Weinstein hired ex-Mossad agents to suppress allegations, report claims" - was apparently worthy of being run by the Guardian Australia on both Nov. 8 and 9.

The piece itself notes that ex-Mossad employees were only one of a range of methods employed to gather information about or neutralise potential claims of sexual misconduct against him by Weinstein.

Whilst the duplication may well have been an innocent error, it certainly did no favours to the Guardian Australia's reputation as reflexively anti-Israel.


Balfour mail

Maybe the Guardian Australia was inspired by its decision on Nov. 2 to run an op-ed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and the next day, another article from veteran Palestinian propagandist Hanan Ashrawi making almost identical claims.

According to Abbas, the letter from Lord Balfour "promised a land that was not his to promise, disregarding the political rights of those who already lived there... negating the Arab-Palestinian right to self-determination."

Balfour did no such thing. It merely recognised that Jews have national rights in Palestine, which does not at all imply other peoples do not.

Abbas claimed Israel "forcibly expelled" 800,000 Palestinians and he was 13 "at the time of our expulsion from Safad". Israel did not expel anywhere near that number and if the Palestinian Arabs had accepted partition in 1937 or 1947 none would have been displaced. Moreover, Abbas has previously said his family were not expelled but left of their own accord.

Ashrawi, meanwhile, called the Declaration a "colonial decision", claimed Jews only owned "7%" of the land by 1947 and said Britain should apologise for a century of Palestinian dispossession. Considering the original British Mandate over Palestine included what became the much larger country of Jordan in 1922, surely the Palestinian leadership should have decried that excision then and now? Further, Palestinians did not own 93%, as Ashrawi implied, but a more modest 22% of land. The rest was public land.

ABC Radio National "Late Night Live" (Nov. 1) host Phillip Adams discussed the Declaration with former Guardian editor Ian Black, author of a new book on the topic. Black noted the Jewish historic links to Palestine and claimed the conflict can be traced to the Declaration, ignoring contemporary Arab and Turkish support for Balfour's letter.


Head in the sand

Middle East correspondent Peter Beaumont's report of Israel destroying a tunnel being built by Islamic Jihad from Gaza into sovereign Israeli territory left a lot to be desired.

The report headlined "Israel destroys tunnel from Gaza, killing seven Palestinians" implied the dead were innocent civilians.

The story itself did not adequately explain the tunnels from Gaza were built into Israeli territory.

The closest Beaumont came to an explanation was a sentence that "several times during the 2014 war Hamas militants caught Israeli soldiers off guard by entering the country through tunnel networks."

Hamas planned on sending 200 fighters into the 14 tunnels it had built with the aim of causing mass civilian casualties and kidnappings, not merely targeting military personnel, Guardian Australia (Nov. 1).


A musical conversation

Visiting Israeli singer-songwriter and peace activist Noa (Achinoam Nini) dispelled the common misconception that all Israeli Jews are European in origin.

Nini talked of how her Yemenite forebears walked from Yemen to what is now Israel in 1893 and the unique language Yemenite Jews spoke which was a mix of Hebrew and Arabic. She said that she would love to travel to Yemen but "we're forbidden to do that as Jews."

ABC host Jon Faine tried to coax Noa and her Israeli guitar player Gil Dor to criticise Israel but they refused.

Dor said Israel could have done things differently following its creation and said "there are some similarities to Australia I would say... and things have to be repaired" but "we always have to look into the future and just see what should be done today and not what was. Our legitimacy to exist as people, as a collective way or personal... way has nothing to do with the past."

Faine wanted to discuss settlements but she responded that "people in general have a problem with complex situations and we have an extremely complex situation in the Middle East. It's absolutely not black and white... we should be looking at what we have now and into the future... the only solution for our situation is the two state solution. Having both peoples living in this piece of land, each with their own sense of identity, with their own independence, with their own self-respect."

Dor said the Jewish people have justifiable historical reasons for being paranoid but Israel is "such a strong country, so well armed for its own defence" and should take risks for peace, ABC Radio 774 "Conversation Hour" (Nov. 14).


Fiction versus Terror

Commenting on the latest novel - Kingdom of the Wicked - by controversial author Helen Dale (also known as Helen Demidenko or Helen Darville), Senator David Leyonhjelm criticised the Abbott and Turnbull Governments for introducing "multiple bills to address terrorist threats" which he claimed involved loss of liberty, justified on the grounds that existing laws must be "strengthened".

The threat from these laws, he said, is that "whereas once we could only commit a crime by planning, inciting or undertaking violence, we now risk infringing the law if we investigate, talk about, promote or write about either terrorism or anti-terrorist activity. And of course, the definition of terrorism is sufficiently flexible to cover a multitude of sins."

Dale's book is set in Roman-ruled Judea where Jesus is arrested for inciting a riot in the Temple and in the melee someone accidentally dies, Leyonhjelm explains. Jesus and his followers are arrested and charged with terrorist related offences.

According to Leyonhjelm, "Asking whether a religious figure commonly associated with pacifism (or at least principled opposition to authority) would be caught under modern counter-terrorism legislation enables us to reflect on the sort of authoritarian, illiberal laws we have enacted in the name of the ‘War on Terror'."

Leyonhjelm did not nominate even a single example of counter-terror laws ensnaring innocent people or pacifist revolutionaries. Nor did he cite any examples of the details of people arrested under the Abbott/Turnbull Governments' supposedly increasingly authoritarian counter-terror laws.

The fact that he would cite an implausible work of fiction by his own controversial former staffer as his only example of what's wrong with counter-terrorism laws shows how one-eyed he appears to be on this issue, Australian Financial Review (Nov. 2).

 

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