Media Microscope: Capital Offences

Liberal candidate for Wentworth Dave Sharma and PM Scott Morrison

Australian media reporters and commentators had one key task, to accurately report PM Scott Morrison’s statement that “the Government will carefully examine the arguments…we should consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without prejudice to its final boundaries, while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state…[and] examine the merits of moving Australia’s embassy to West Jerusalem, in the context of our support for a two-state solution.”

So, how did it go? 

On ABC TV “The World” (Oct. 16), Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek didn’t appear to have read the statement, sharing only the Palestinian view no shift can happen because “there are multiple UN Security Council resolutions that call upon member states like Australia to recognise the difference between sovereign Israeli territory and occupied territory.” Yes, but the embassy would move to west Jerusalem which is not considered occupied territory. The next day Tlozek still seemed confused, saying Israel’s government worries “that Australia might say west Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and east Jerusalem is the capital of a future Palestinian state,” ABC TV “Mornings” (Oct. 17). Actually, Australia already did.

Fairfax’s David Wroe’s cover story (Oct. 16) buried the east Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital reference in the page 8 spill, but the Australian’s Greg Sheridan and News Ltd’s Sharri Markson/John Houghton stories (Oct. 16) correctly detailed the distinction. 

Fairfax international editor Peter Hartcher’s blistering attack (Oct. 17) on this “unprincipled” announcement was conspicuous for its blatant failure to state these details.

The Australian Financial Review’s many reports also failed to state the policy correctly.

Fairfax’s Deborah Snow (Oct.16) stated no less than four times the embassy would relocate to west Jerusalem but missed the key east Jerusalem point in her online story quoting former senior Australian diplomat John McCarthy’s opposition. McCarthy’s own Australian Institute of International Affairs online article (Oct. 18) also omitted the west/east Jerusalem qualification.

Crikey’s Bernard Keane (Oct. 17) inveighed against Liberal candidate and embassy move advocate Dave Sharma, writing, “it’s clear… he represents… the extremist government of the corrupt… Netanyahu” and completely misrepresented the announcement, saying “the Morrison government is abandoning any pretence it remains committed to a two-state solution.” ANU Professor Amin Saikal made the same error (SMH, Oct.17).

Tony Walker argued that “virtually all countries, including Australia, have kept their embassies in Tel Aviv” because “Settled Australian policy has been not to recognise Israel’s control of territory seized in war,” citing the eastern half’s capture in 1967. Yet West Jerusalem, recognised as sovereign Israeli territory, has been Israel’s capital since 1950, ABC online (Oct. 17).

On Oct. 17, the Age and Canberra Times editorials omitted the west/east Jerusalem policy distinction but the SMH did correctly state the policy. 

Matthew Lesh had explained in the Age/SMH the previous day, “there are currently no negotiations that moving the embassy could undermine – since the Palestinians are refusing to meet without preconditions. A potential positive result of Australia and other countries moving their embassies to Jerusalem is that it places pressure on the Palestinians to finally return to the negotiating table.”

Academic and AIJAC contributor Ran Porat correctly noted, “there is no reason to believe that recognising west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a role it has served since 1950 and is not seriously disputed even by the Palestinians – would in any way pre-empt a future Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem,” ABC online (Oct. 17).

In the Australian (Oct. 17), Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue chairman Albert Dadon wrote that “The relocation… would have zero impact on East Jerusalem; it would be housed in West Jerusalem, as is the US embassy… the Palestinians could justifiably seek recognition of East Jerusalem as their capital.”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ Vic Alhadeff told ABC Radio “AM” (Oct. 16) listeners, “Jerusalem is currently the capital of Israel but it does not preclude east Jerusalem becoming the capital of a future state of Palestine.” In the same bulletin, Palestinian activist Samah Sabawi opposed any shift because Jerusalem is occupied territory. All of it? 

Others correctly stating the policy included the West Australian editorial (Oct. 18) and WA Liberal Sherry Sufi in the same edition. So too did AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein (Age, Oct.19), Executive Council of Australian Jewry Co-CEO Peter Wertheim (Age/SMH, Oct.17) and Herald Sun columnist Rita Panahi (Oct. 17).