Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Noted and Quoted - July 2015

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Of ISIS and Iran

Murdoch University lecturer Ameer Ali called on the West to engage Iran "as an equal partner in the fight against IS... or allow IS to become a reality with all unwelcome consequences."

Ali essentially absolved Iran of any responsibility in the rise of IS, blaming Saudi Arabia for promoting "religious radicalism" through "Wahabi sharia" and Israel's "prolonged recalcitrance towards a peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue" as key reasons "for the emergence of IS," West Australian (June 16).

But as AIJAC's Colin Rubenstein explained elsewhere, "Iraq's prime minister from 2006 to last year, Nouri al-Maliki, heavily influenced by Iran, ran a partisan, Shia-leaning government that...discriminated against...Iraq's large Sunni minority" and "at times allowed them to be attacked with impunity by Shia militia. This complete exclusion and alienation by Baghdad - with Iranian backing and support - caused many Sunni to see Islamic State as liberators when the militants expanded into Iraq's Sunni areas last year."

Furthermore, Rubenstein warned that "as its proxy militias exert more domination of Iraq, Iran has no intention of relinquishing this hold to allow Iraq to become a progressive democracy friendly to the West..."

"When Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels recently took over Sanaa in Yemen, Iranian regime figures boasted...that it was the fourth Arab capital under the control of Tehran, along with Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad. Senior Iranian leaders have asserted that Iran is an ‘empire' whose natural sphere of influence runs from India to Turkey," he wrote, Australian (June 8).

Bishop's Gambit

Federal Labor MP Michael Danby criticised Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's reported efforts to negotiate an agreement that would allow Iran to open consulates in Sydney and Melbourne and be offered scholarships for its students in exchange for accepting the return of failed Iranian asylum seekers.

Danby said the reported deal was a "dangerous proposal and could exacerbate inter-Islamic community tensions", citing past mischief-making by Libyan and Syrian consulates, and warned against "partnering with a country so openly intent on undermining Australian and allied interests." He went on to point out that "Iran continues to illegally pursue nuclear weapons technology. Under the 2013 interim agreement, Iran had to convert enriched uranium to the more benign uranium oxide, but has only converted 5 per cent. Worse, since that deal, Iran has produced four more tons of enriched uranium."

Danby also noted that Iran "still supports Hezbollah, which... is officially classified by the Australian parliament as a terrorist organisation," Australian (June 22).

Ted sees red

The Zionist Federation of Australia's Ted Lapkin condemned new Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale for backtracking on his agreement in an interview in the Australian Jewish News to recognise Israel as a Jewish state - especially Di Natale's explanation that such recognition would be "‘not conducive (to peace)'".

Lapkin described the Greens' "negation [of] the Jewish people's natural right to national sovereignty" as standing in contradiction to the Greens platform, which "advocates self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Why would Di Natale deny this same privilege to the Jews? The Greens are untroubled by assertions in the Basic Law of Palestine (2003) that: ‘the Palestinian people are part of the Arab Nation' for whom ‘Islamic Shari'a shall be the principal source of legislation'," Daily Telegraph (June 11).

Erdogan Loses Ugly

Commentary on the electoral setback suffered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambition to shift his country from a parliamentary to presidential system of government noted his insidious anti-Israel and antisemitic stances.

The Australian editorialised (June 9) how Erdogan had set back the cause for "Middle East peace" by providing "outspoken backing of terrorist groups such as Hamas" and losing "no opportunity to heap vituperation upon Israel."

Fairfax columnist Paul Sheehan noted the election campaign "was marked by a classic Erdogan manoeuvre: first create a bogy - in this case a Western and Jewish conspiracy bent on defeating the AKP - and then propose vastly expanded presidential powers as the only policy to see off the plotters," Age/Sydney Morning Herald (June 10).

Radio BDS

A lengthy debate on ABC Radio National "Religion and Ethics" (June 17) saw leading Australian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigner Peter Slezak debate academic Nick Dyrenfurth, who co-wrote a book critiquing the BDS movement.

Dyrenfurth said he opposes BDS because "It's about singling out Israel as a uniquely evil nation state, which exists primarily as a means of oppressing the Palestinian people. And of course on the flip side there's this understanding of the Palestinians as wholly innocent and defenceless people. Now one can empathise with the Palestinian tragedy, I do. It's quite another thing to set up the conflict between an Israeli Goliath and a Palestinian David."

He accused most of BDS's leaders of being committed to "upending the Jewish state itself" through the so-called right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel and their suggestion that all of Israel is "occupied territory".

Slezak said he backed a two state solution, but insisted the Palestinians' right of return was an "international right" without explaining the apparent contradiction.

Dyrenfurth accused Slezak of knowing that its implementation "would mean the end of the state of Israel" and explained that the right is said to derive from UN Resolution 194 from 1949 which required "both parties [to] accept... the partition of... Palestine into two, Jewish and Arab states."

Nuclear Non-Sequitur

Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus argued that "the best way to remove the Iranian nuclear threat is to create a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone" and insisted Israel should lead the way by signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Pincus' contention was that "the threat to Israel that generated its bomb - overwhelming Arab armies - no longer exists" and Israel has "far more conventional capability than the nation's neighbours put together, including Iran."
Wow, that's placing a lot of trust in Iran. Iran is already an NPT signatory, but this hasn't stopped it running an illegal covert weapons program, which Pincus correctly noted includes "Natanz (a uranium enrichment plant) and Parchin (a military complex)". Yet Pincus is sure Iran will stop cheating on the NPT if only Israel also signs!
Pincus also cited apartheid South Africa as a model for Israel to follow, having signed the NPT in 1991 and then eliminated its own nukes and schematics.

Yet not only is South Africa not surrounded by hostile countries calling for its annihilation, furthermore - as Pincus acknowledged - Pretoria has retained its weapons-grade uranium stockpile, meaning its government retains a nuclear weapons option for the future! Sunday Age (June 21).

Sophie's House of Cards

Government authorities around the world demolish illegally built dwellings all the time.

Yet according to the ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill, when it involves Palestinians in east Jerusalem it is a major international news event. Further, McNeill's story implied such demolitions were an ultimate cause of Palestinian terrorism.

Reporting for ABC Radio "PM" (June 4), McNeill looked at the Jerusalem municipality's demolition of a house built in east Jerusalem by Najat Abu Khalid for her recently engaged son.

Yet as host Mark Colvin's introduction to the story noted, "the mayor's office says there have been 15 demolitions in east Jerusalem so far this year". These tiny numbers surely make the story an astounding beat up.

Much of the report was dedicated to an allegation that one resident was pushed by an Israeli police officer and knocked down during the demolition as seen on cellphone footage - in unclear circumstances with little ABC effort to clarify them.

Only towards the end did McNeill let us hear an Israeli spokesman explain that the house was "erected on a path in an area where construction is prohibited and...without any reference to or proof of its stability" or let us know that the family had not even bothered to apply for the necessary permits.

Of course, the truth about east Jerusalem building is quite different.

In 2010, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said there are an estimated 20,000 illegal buildings in east Jerusalem's Arab neighbourhoods. Over the previous decade the municipality had demolished only about 60 a year, with approximately 40 illegal Jewish buildings demolished per annum during the same period.

Further studies have shown that the percentage of applications that result in the issuance of a building permit is virtually identical in Arab and Jewish neighbourhoods.

McNeill's report concluded with Najat's brother-in-law saying, "when my son sees you demolishing his house when he is just about to get married, then you are the ones who are going to be creating attackers". The ABC emphasised this point with a sub-header on the story online "Demolitions ‘creating attackers'".

Context Lost at Sea

Another Sophie McNeill report strongly gave the impression she was very unimpressed with Israel's chief military legal officer closing an investigation into the IDF shelling of a Gaza beach on July 16, 2014. That attack tragically killed four Palestinian children who were apparently fooling around in a Hamas military facility.

Her online report (June 12) was short on the details of why Israel said no soldiers would be prosecuted and focused on a statement from an Israeli spokesman to the ABC TV's "7:30" program 12 months ago that the IDF should have been able to tell that the boys were not Hamas fighters.

Clearly, to the ABC, this one tentative statement invalidated all further evidence to the contrary gathered by Israeli investigators showing that the soldiers involved, in fact, could not tell who the figures were, that the area was a fenced-off Hamas military base, and there was intelligence Hamas fighters were going to gather there that day to prepare an attack.

On ABC Radio's "World Today" three days later, whilst interviewing retired Australian Major-General Jim Molan (who co-wrote a report praising Israel's restraint during the war and had studied this episode), McNeill insinuated the beach finding was wrong because "Israel cleared itself of wrong doing".

Molan disagreed, saying, "I would implore every single one of your readers not to accept the headline that Israel clears itself... Israel investigated this... admitted that the tragedy occurred, but there are mitigating circumstances."
When Molan acknowledged he had not visited Gaza, McNeill appeared to feel she had found a "gotcha" moment, asking, "Do you think you can accurately conduct an investigation like this if you don't go to the scene of where this war happened?"

Molan made it clear that Hamas refused to let him and his colleagues enter Gaza.

Clearly seeing great significance in this "admission", McNeill subsequently tweeted her report with the tagline "I asked Jim Molan if an investigation into the conflict can be reliable if you don't visit...Gaza".

Bob Loves Barack

A love letter masquerading as an op-ed by former foreign minister Bob Carr on US President Barack Obama's foreign policy included a predictable dig at Israel.

Carr accused "Israeli hardliners" of destroying the chance for a Palestinian state by "junk[ing] peace talks in favour of still more Israeli settlements on the West Bank."

Yet the overwhelming majority of building in settlements (which cover less than 1.9% of West Bank land anyhow) has taken place in blocs that Palestinian negotiators have conceded would be retained by Israel in any peace agreement.

Moreover, until Obama's insistence in 2009 on a settlement freeze, they were never an impediment to past peace talks during 2000, 2001 or 2007-8. And construction is actually down in recent years compared to the 2007-2008 period.

Finally, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's unilateral freeze on construction in settlements in 2009/10 failed to entice Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to serious negotiations, Australian (June 16).

Playing Games

Middle East correspondent Jamie Walker reported on convicted terrorist and current Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub's efforts to have Israel suspended from world soccer for allegedly restricting the movement of Palestinian players from Gaza and the West Bank.

Walker quoted Abdel Halawi, a Jerusalem sports store owner, saying that Israel has itself to blame because "‘they built the wall and it affects every Palestinian'... referring to the security barrier that seals off the occupied territories".

This is no chicken-and-egg argument here. If the Palestinians had not started the Second Intifada and sent suicide bombers into Israeli cities after rejecting then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, the security barrier would never have been built by his successor, Ariel Sharon, who supported this security measure only reluctantly.

But Walker didn't acknowledge this simple point - neither in response to Halawi nor as context to his readers.
Neither were readers informed that this year more than 95% of the travel requests relating to Palestinian soccer players were approved by Israel.

Also missing was any focus on Rajoub, former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's right hand man and a convicted terrorist who said in 2013 he would nuke Israel if he could, Australian (May 23).

Busted

A Washington Post story on Israel scrapping plans for separate bus services for Israelis and Palestinians travelling between Israel and the West Bank was reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald/Age with changes that arguably made the report more negative towards Israel.

Called "Plan for separate Palestinian buses frozen" in the Post, the SMH/Age (May 22) went for the tougher, "Handbrake put on ‘apartheid' bus plan".

A Post line stating "West Bank settlements [are] viewed as illegal by many of the world's governments" became "West Bank settlements [are] viewed as illegal by the international community".

Yet, in 2014 Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop questioned whether settlements are illegal under international law, while the US government prefers using the more ambiguous term "illegitimate".

The Post's line, "The driver, a resident of mostly Arab East Jerusalem, was fatally shot" became "The driver, a resident of occupied East Jerusalem, was fatally shot."

Someone apparently decided the original factual statement should be changed to reflect a political position whereby Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem must always be described as "occupied".

Three unwise men?

The plight of Christians in Gaza and the West Bank was minimised during a discussion on ABC Radio National "Late Night Live" (May 25) of the Vatican's canonisation of two Palestinian nuns and supposed recognition of the "State of Palestine".

Host Phillip Adams repeatedly remarked how Pope Francis called Abbas an "angel of peace". In fact, it appears the Pope actually expressed hope that Abbas could "become an angel of peace".

Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab said Christians once made up 20% of the population but now numbered only one to two percent with around 50,000 Christians living in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and 200,000 in Israel.
Adams insisted the numbers were not "so important".

Issa Kassissieh, Palestinian Ambassador to the Vatican, said the canonisation shows "this is the land of love and... justice... not... violence and hatred. And everyone should...build to such a positive step", just like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was doing by "accept[ing] the other" and "consolidate[ing] the Christian presence in the holy land."

No one noted that 20 years of Palestinian self-rule has seen the Christian population plummet in Palestinian-controlled areas while Israel, however, is the only place in the Middle East where their numbers are increasing.
Bizarrely, Kattoub claimed Abbas opposes "any kind of incitement on Palestinian television. He's ordered the educational system to teach tolerance and respect for the other."

Abbas has repeatedly said a Palestinian state cannot include Jews, while the PA media is full of anti-normalisation, anti-peace, antisemitic, and anti-Israel incitement messages plus worshipful references to terrorist murderers.

Elsewhere, Ted Lapkin lamented the insidious campaign of "Christian anti-Israel venom" that is "peddled by the religious Left" that casts Israel as the "villain to be blamed for the decline of Middle Eastern Christianity".

In fact, as Lapkin noted, "last November...Father Gabriel Naddaf - an Israeli Arab from Nazereth (sic) - appeared before the UN Human Rights Council [saying] ‘there's only one safe place where Christians...are protected; enjoying freedom of worship and expression...It is Israel.'" Spectator (June 6).