Australia/Israel Review


Media Microscope: ANU Blues

Apr 18, 2011 | Jamie Hyams

Jamie Hyams

While Canberra’s Australian National University (ANU), is generally regarded as a quality institution, some of the public comment emanating from its Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, headed by Professor Amin Saikal, should properly raise eyebrows.

Amin Saikal continued his irrelevant attacks on US support for Israel in the context of the Middle East turmoil. However, instead of his prior ridiculous claim that the US doesn’t support Palestinian self-determination, as covered in the last Review, his complaint, in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail (March 25) was that “Washington also has shown no sign of matching its stand on Tunisia, Egypt and Libya by giving unqualified support for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” It appears that, by requiring “unqualified support”, Saikal now insists the US must give the Palestinians a state without any need on their part to negotiate, compromise or make peace.

However, Saikal was just warming up for an appallingly extreme piece in the April 6 Canberra Times, the theme of which is that it is morally imperative to impose a no-fly zone over Gaza, similar to Libya, to protect the Palestinians from Israel. The article consists of a litany of claims against Israel, generally false or exaggerated, with no mention of the Palestinian terrorism or intransigence that explains their plight. For example, he claims that the Palestinians’ “aspirations for freedom, independence and democratic existence have continuously been squashed by Israel…It has waged a relentless campaign of territorial compartmentalisation, settlement expansion, violent intimidation and suppression across Palestinian lands.” There is no mention of the many Israeli peace initiatives including the three offers of statehood in all of Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, or of the Palestinian terrorist intifada that necessitated the security measures Saikal so blatantly mischaracterises.

He states, “Israel launched a devastating military onslaught on the [Gaza] Strip to destroy Hamas.” Nowhere, however, did he mention any of the thousands of missiles that precipitated the Israeli attack, nor Hamas’ ongoing commitment to destroy Israel. He claims that Israel is allowing “nothing more” than “essential goods” into Gaza, whereas it is actually currently allowing in all items unless they have a military use.

It is frankly amazing that a senior academic should write such one-sided factually-deficient polemic, lacking essential basic background and context.

In a similar vein (perhaps not coincidentally, some might argue), was a piece on Syria by Jonathan Cheng, described as being based at Saikal’s Centre (and also at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy) in the April 1 Australian. He wrote, “With foreign policy, Assad’s Syria has continued to act in a pragmatic and informed fashion, ensuring both domestic and external support for its position. Unlike Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, it maintained its position as part of the ‘resistance’ axis against Israeli and American aggression, justifying its so-called leadership in the pan-Arab struggle against international Zionism…On the flip side, Syria has also acted cautiously enough to garner sufficient respect and understanding even from its foes. The US and Israel, while often critical of Syria’s support for resistance (or ‘terrorist’) groups, see ‘ideological’ Iran as a much greater threat.”. This may be how Syria’s regime tries to portray its foreign policy, but most regard it as a rogue state for, among other things, supporting what Cheng and the Syrians may see as “resistance” groups, but which are clearly terrorist organisations.

Cheng’s article compares very unfavourably to one by Tom Gross in the April 8 Australian and an Australian editorial of April 2. Gross concluded, “Were the Assad regime to be replaced by a more responsible one, this would be a big gain for the West, for many ordinary Syrians and for the Arab world. Syria is the Iranian regime’s most important Arab ally. It has been a key force in destabilising neighbouring Lebanon, as well as promoting the Hamas regime in power in Gaza. And, unlike Libya of recent years, Syria has been actively working against Western interests.” The editorial noted that Syrian President Assad “has continued to meddle in the affairs of Lebanon and beyond, supporting such evil surrogates as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas. He has forged a close alliance with Iran in support of global terrorism.”

Similarly perceptive and astute analysis seems sparse from Saikal’s Centre. A possibly relevant clue as to why emerged when, at the end of a March 26 Canberra Times article by Matthew Gray, he was described as the “Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies.” This raises the issue of what influence, if any, the Centre’s affiliations and sponsors have.

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