Media Microscope: Climate of Controversy
May 4, 2022 | Allon Lee
Some federal election candidates on the Climate 200 ticket organised by businessman Simon Holmes à Court came under media scrutiny for their public statements and past actions related to Israel.
Former ABC reporter Zoe Daniel, running against Liberal MP Tim Wilson in the seat of Goldstein, was asked to justify her signing of the “#dobetteronpalestine” open letter in May 2021.
Daniel was quoted in the Australian (April 6) explaining that “my signing… was narrowly framed to express my profound and abiding concern for the safety and welfare of journalists.”
Australian columnist (April 16) and veteran media critic Gerard Henderson criticised sections of the media who ignored the issue, including ABC Radio National “Breakfast” host Patricia Karvelas who had interviewed Daniel. Henderson said the letter “ignored the fact that the 2021 conflict commenced when Hamas fired missiles into Israel.”
On April 16, media reports, including in the Age and Herald Sun, noted that when reporting for the ABC in 2017, Daniel claimed US President Donald Trump had recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to “satisfy… his wealthy Jewish donors.”
The papers ran a statement from Daniel apologising for the “mischaracterisation of Jewish people, including myths such as their enjoying outsized wealth or power.”
What Daniel and most of the media failed to note was that it was actually Trump’s evangelical Christian base that was the key domestic motivator for his Jerusalem announcement, as the AIR noted at the time.
Coincidentally, on April 19, the ABC Religion & Ethics website ran Professor Marcia Pally’s unrelated op-ed on US evangelicals, which observed that “When [Trump] moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he said unambiguously, ‘That’s for the evangelicals’.”
Earlier, the Australian’s Sharri Markson reported (April 8) a 2020 social media post from Daniel’s campaign manager Sue Barrett saying “Hitler altered reality with drugs & [PM Scott] Morrison uses religion” and a 2019 social media post from Barrett’s husband and fellow campaign worker Jobst Schmalenbach asserting “the Jewish right-wing lobby should simply shut up.”
On April 5, Blair Palese, an organiser on the campaign of Climate 200 candidate Allegra Spender, who is running against Wentworth MP Dave Sharma, the former Australian Ambassador to Israel, was the focus of an Australian report. The paper said Palese supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and had slammed Australia’s “shocking support of Israel in killing unarmed children and civilians.”
On April 9, News Corp columnist Joe Hildebrand commented that Sharma’s electorate “with a huge Jewish community… is being targeted by a so-called ‘independent’ campaign supported by activists who call Israel a murderous apartheid state. When some people liken Israelites to white supremacists it is little wonder that others start branding Jews as Nazis.”
The Australian (April 22) reported an apology by Climate 200 candidate Monique Ryan, who is challenging Kooyong MP Josh Frydenberg, for sharing an image on Facebook of Donald Trump photoshopped on the cover of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein was quoted saying “such comparisons risk trivialising the crimes of the Nazis.”
The Advertiser on April 23 noted that Climate 200 candidate, Jo Dyer, who is running in the Adelaide seat of Boothby, tweeted support for an article arguing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved only with the “creation of single [sic], democratic state for all.”
On Sky News “Paul Murray Live” (April 19), Michael Kroger alleged that Holmes à Court has a history of anti-Israel social media posts, while his mother Janet called for then-Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu to be prevented from visiting Australia. Kroger also claimed that Climate 200 targeted four seats specifically because the members are Jewish or strong supporters of Israel.
The Australian (April 11) reported that Warren Mundine, “chair of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation… was attacked on Twitter by Mr Holmes à Court, who labelled the former Liberal candidate a ‘grub’ and a ‘flog’ after he reposted an article by the Australian about Climate 200-backed candidate Zoe Daniel’s criticism of Israel.”
Meanwhile, on Sky News “Credlin” (April 19), commentator Jennifer Oriel said regarding the anti-Israel cloud surrounding some of the independent candidates that criticising Israel is “legitimate” but if “you are not looking at the policies of Hamas which routinely attacks Israel from Gaza, then… that needs to be addressed.”