Media Microscope: Just Joshing
Sep 4, 2019 | Allon Lee
Antisemitism was an important theme in media coverage of efforts to refer Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to the courts on the basis that he holds dual citizenship because his mother was born in Hungary during the Nazi occupation, and is allegedly ineligible to sit in Parliament under Section 44 of the Australian Constitution.
On July 16, Channel Ten’s Hugh Riminton reported that lawyer Trevor Poulton wanted Frydenberg referred to the High Court and Poulton is an ALP member “who some in the party believe is a Holocaust denier obsessed with taking down Frydenberg because he’s a Jew.”
On July 23, Radio 3AW talkback host Neil Mitchell vehemently condemned moves to refer Frydenberg as antisemitic.
On July 31, the Australian reported Kooyong resident and GetUp supporter Michael Staindl had petitioned the Court of Disputed Returns to disqualify Frydenberg because he had “constantly betrayed him” on the issue of climate change. GetUp’s Paul Oosting was quoted in the paper (Aug. 3) as condemning the referral, explaining, “No one should be denied a place in parliament because their family was forced to flee the Holocaust.”
Daily Telegraph columnist Sharri Markson called the referral “dark and troubling” (Aug. 3), because, “Poulton has released a fictional book titled The Holocaust Denier, but says he is not himself a Holocaust denier… In a submission to Parliament, he argues that people should be able to freely debate the facts about the Holocaust, including disputing the ‘narrative’ put forward that the Jews were murdered. He was one of the solicitors who represented notorious Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben.”
The same paper noted (Aug. 7) NSW Labor Shadow Treasurer Walt Secord’s speech in Parliament asserting that “the dual citizenship claims against Josh Frydenberg are deeply rooted in antisemitism.”
Failed Kooyong candidate Oliver Yates – who is involved in a separate case against the Frydenberg campaign concerning electoral signs in Mandarin – also came under media scrutiny. The Australian (Aug. 14) reported that contrary to Yates’ denial of involvement in the referral, he “had tried to enlist supporters within his Kooyong Independents Group to investigate electoral issues such as parliamentary ineligibility.”
The Australian reported (Aug. 2) Federal Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar’s speech in Parliament criticising Yates, noting his “father, William Yates, who also served in this place, has been reported as calling ‘international Zionism’ a ‘terrorist military organisation’…People could legitimately ask, ‘Has the apple fallen far from the tree?’”
The story also quoted Sukkar’s criticism of Kooyong Greens candidate Julian Burnside, saying “‘the citizenship challenge has also been supported by the other failed candidate in Kooyong, the Greens’ Julian Burnside…Burnside is on the record as supporting the BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, movement against Israel, which is of its nature anti-Semitic.” Burnside was quoted denying he was linked to the move to refer Frydenberg.
The paper reported (Aug. 15) Liberal MP Tim Smith’s attack on Yates and Burnside in the Victorian Parliament echoing Sukkar’s comments, and noted that “Smith received across-the-aisle support from state Planning Minister Richard Wynne.”
Three days later, the Australian quoted Burnside saying Yates “‘came over for a glass of wine, but as far as I recall we didn’t talk about section 44’” and Smith’s response that “Any suggestion that those two chardonnay swillers didn’t discuss the section 44 attack on Josh Frydenberg is preposterous.”
One of the more bizarre commentaries on the Frydenberg case came from anti-Zionist academic Alana Lentin who used the referral as an opportunity to declaim on the evils of nationalism, antisemitism and Australia. According to Lentin, “There is one thing that those determined to nail Frydenberg have understood about me and other leftwing Jews. We are anti-nationalist; we have no master, never mind two. Mobilising old antisemitic tropes to bring down a political enemy by using rules established by a white colonial nation-state does not contribute to the fight against racism, no matter what we think about Frydenberg’s role in maintaining Australia’s border regime… Those fighting to unseat Josh Frydenberg are not our allies in the fight to undo racial-colonial nationalism in Australia,” Guardian Australia (Aug. 8).
In a moving analysis, indigenous leader Noel Pearson said “It is not the distress to [Frydenberg] that is so disgusting to me, it is that his mother should be forced to witness yet again the anti-Semitism from which she fled, animating this challenge to her son’s election to the seat of Kooyong,” Australian (Aug. 17).