Over the past month, the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of Israel has been noticeably one-sided, even by its usual standards. Israeli-Australian academic Assa Doron, from the ANU, had a piece (Jan. 21) in which he claimed that organisations such as Breaking the Silence, which uses anonymous soldiers’ testimonies to criticise Israel, are the “true patriots”. He wrote, “The current government is attempting to redefine Israel’s raison d’etre as one premised on racism and prejudice towards Arabs.”
Even the bombing of an Egyptian Coptic Christian church led to an attack on Israel, with Farid Farid and Randa Abdel-Fattah claiming (Jan. 27) that it was hard to take support for the Copts from Australian politicians seriously when they “largely turn a blind eye to the occupation of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.”
What was particularly noteworthy was the fervour with which the Herald covered the so-called “Palestine Papers”. These leaks showed two sides putting forward various compromise positions, and, ultimately, the Palestinians willing to accept some but not all of the generally accepted parameters for any peace agreement. The perspective of the Herald was epitomised by the headline (Jan. 26) “Palestinian peace brokers caved in to Israeli pressure.” The article, one of four in four days by Ian Black and Seumas Milne of the blatantly anti-Israel Guardian, portrayed the documents as “revealing the scale of official Palestinian concessions rejected by Israel, but also throwing light on the huge imbalance of power in [the] peace process.” Milne and Black’s perspective is shown by another article (Jan. 28) where they refer to “the armed resistance movements Hamas and Hezbollah.” This is how Hamas and Hezbollah describe themselves, but in the West they are regarded as terrorist, or at least “militant”, groups. An editorial (Jan. 26) took up the theme, describing the talks as “largely a negotiation of unequals.” Anthony Billingsley, a lecturer in international relations at the University of NSW seemingly felt betrayed that the Palestinians had offered any concessions at all. He wrote (Jan. 26) that the papers had the potential to “destroy any lingering illusion among Palestinians that there is any point in negotiating with an Israeli government.” He complained that Palestinian security forces have “worked to suppress Palestinian frustration rather than to protect Palestinians from Israeli attacks.” In other words, Billingsley seemingly wants the Palestinian security to protect rather than oppose the terrorists, even though this is the prime Palestinian obligation under the Roadmap. He also claims the papers “portray [Mahmoud Abbas] and his team as having lost sight of the core interests of ordinary Palestinians.” It’s hard to see how having peace and a state is not a Palestinian core interest.
Naturally Paul McGeough took the same line, writing (Jan. 25) that the documents showed Palestinian officials “fawning over their Israeli counterparts as they seemingly surrender the farm and family silver” while Israel is “implacable”. McGeough was also not happy that the PA has been complying with its Roadmap obligations on terrorism, writing (Jan. 27) “In any other country, the weaker half of the body politic teaming up with powerful foreign forces and the government of the country that occupies its land would be seen as treason.” The Herald’s coverage was extensive, yet silent on the very generous offer of a state made by Ehud Olmert in 2008, as confirmed in the “Palestine Papers” documents.
The tumult in the Arab world provided further opportunities to bash Israel. On Jan. 22, after Tunisia’s ruler fell, McGeough wrote, “George W Bush allowed Israeli and Russian leaders to hijack his so-called war on terror rhetoric to recast the Palestinian and Chechen liberation struggles.” If there was any doubt he was trying to legitimise anti-Israel terrorist groups, he followed up by claiming “Washington needs to deal… with the legitimate role… to be played by Islamist movements like, Hamas… and Hezbollah.” A Herald editorial (Feb. 3) claimed, “an important security underpinning of [Israel’s] tough approach to the Palestinians is undercut.” An Anne Usher piece (Feb. 5) on how the turmoil had excited Israeli Arabs, quoted a few of them complaining about their treatment by Israel, with one claiming racism “is so deeply rooted nobody talks about it, it is taken for granted.” The article didn’t mention that all Israeli citizens, Arab or otherwise, have full democratic rights. On Feb. 14 McGeough claimed that if Egypt succeeded in becoming democratic, “Israel too will be stuck, because the argument that Tel Aviv and the other neighbouring capitals use to justify the denial of human and/or national rights for whole populations across the region is that, left to their own devices, these peoples will go the way of the Iranians and become menaces to the entire region.” Israel, whose capital is Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, does not deny Arab populations their rights nor make any such claim.