Australia/Israel Review


Media Microscope: No Amnesty

Mar 3, 2022 | Allon Lee

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Media coverage of Amnesty International’s report smearing Israel as an apartheid state was largely a one-day wonder – apart from the Canberra Times, which dined out on the issue for a week.

ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner had multiple stories and interviews on TV and radio over the 24 hours following the report’s release on Feb. 1, which all seemed to place great emphasis on the fact other NGOs had previously accused Israel of apartheid.

An article on the Amnesty report ran on SBS’s website on Feb. 2 from the broadcaster’s Rayane Tamer – who is a #dobetteronpalestine letter signatory – and Naveen Razik. It paraphrased a rebuttal from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, stating Israel “is the only democracy in the Middle East, has long committed to international law, is open to criticism, has a free press and a strong and independent judicial system that represents Arabs as well as ethnic Jews.” Yet SBS TV “World News” later that day only included Lapid’s suggestion the report was motivated by an anti-Jewish agenda.

Apart from Channel 10, commercial TV evening news bulletins ignored the report.

Sky News Australia’s current affairs programs were overwhelmingly critical of the report. Zionist Federation of Australia’s Jeremy Leibler was interviewed by Sky News Australia on Feb. 2, as was the Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan, who shredded the report’s claims. 

On Feb. 4, the Canberra Times ran Jeremy Leibler’s op-ed which made the point that “If Israel is an apartheid state, no one told George Karra. He’s a Palestinian-Israeli judge in Israel’s Supreme Court. Or Issawi Frej, a Palestinian-Israeli cabinet minister. Or Hossam Haick, a Palestinian-Israeli professor whose groundbreaking research has made him a superstar in the international nanotech space.” 

The Canberra Times ran an op-ed from the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network’s Noura Mansour on Feb. 5, which cited as an example of the Jewish state’s supposed racism a law which limits the right of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who marry Israeli Arabs to automatically become residents of Israel. In fact, this temporary law – which has recently lapsed and is not currently in effect – was passed during the Second Intifada after some Palestinians used such marriages to carry out terror attacks.

On Feb. 7, the Canberra Times ran a screed from pro-Palestinian activists Randa Abdel-Fattah and Sara Saleh chiding Amnesty for not also denouncing Zionism – the idea that Jews are entitled to self-determination in their homeland – as racism. 

An op-ed in the Canberra Times on Feb. 9 by AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein stated that “Amnesty actually admits Israel has no resemblance to apartheid-era South Africa, where blacks were legally unequal and under enforced segregation from whites across all aspects of society. But determined to find Israel guilty of apartheid nonetheless, it invents a definition of apartheid largely derived from an almost forgotten 1973 Soviet-sponsored anti-apartheid treaty… Amnesty’s legally absurd definition of apartheid basically makes any state with a national ethnic identity or lingering problems with discrimination against minorities guilty of apartheid – in other words, most countries.”

The Canberra Times published a long letter on Feb. 11 responding to Rubenstein from Amnesty International Australia’s Sam Klintworth. 

On Feb. 9 the Australian ran a letter from Klintworth responding to a piece published on Feb. 2 from Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin. 

Ryvchin’s article had said, “the report redefines apartheid to little resemble the crimes in South Africa… [which involved] exclusion from schools, professions and public office, segregated toilets and restaurants, and voting prohibitions… Stand on a street corner in Israel and make up your own mind… in Haifa… see Arab-Israeli students in hijabs socialising and studying alongside Jewish-Israeli peers. Forty-one per cent of Haifa University’s students are Arab-Israeli.” Ryvchin also detailed recent scandals involving racism, sexism and bullying behind the scenes at Amnesty, including the head of the gender unit being forced out after complaining that Amnesty was partnering with an organisation which defends and promotes ISIS and the Taliban. 

Klintworth’s letter said, “anecdotes of people having positive personal experiences are not equal to compelling evidence.”

On Feb. 7, Sky News Australia’s website published AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro who wrote “extreme criticism of Israel is the primary litmus test” human rights organisations use to prove their progressive credentials. He said applying “critical race theory to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is “far-fetched”, given “over half the Jews in Israel are people of colour and the story of European Jewry is one of relentless… persecution.”

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