Australia/Israel Review


Media Microscope: Reinventing the past

Aug 30, 2023 | Allon Lee

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The Albanese Government’s erroneous claim that its decision to call the West Bank “occupied Palestinian territories” was simply a reversion to longstanding Australian government practice was largely reproduced in media reports. 

The headline on news.com.au’s report (Aug.8) stated, “Labor… to resume recognition of ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’,” a claim reiterated in the introduction.

The Guardian Australia’s Daniel Hurst and Josh Butler (Aug. 8) also fell for the spin, writing, “the… government will reinstate the term ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’.”

Nine Newspapers’ James Massola and Matthew Knott got it right (Aug. 8), writing, “[Foreign Minister Penny] Wong has also previously referred to the Palestinian territories in official statements rather than the occupied Palestinian territories.” 

The ABC quickly adopted the Government’s narrative, a News Radio report (Aug. 8) ending with a comment, “The Federal Government looking to strengthen its objection to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. That’s the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel.”

SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 9) newsreader Janice Petersen’s introduction to Richelle Harrison-Plesse’s report said it was a “move that was swiftly criticised by Jewish groups as inaccurate and ahistorical.” Although Harrison-Plesse’s report did not say it was a reversion, later that night on SBS Radio, a script she prepared referenced, “the Government’s decision to reinstate the term ‘occupied Palestinian territories’.”

Similarly, the Australian Financial Review’s Andrew Tillett (Aug. 9) wrote, “Amid a backlash from Jewish groups, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese defended an announcement to revert to describing East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza as ‘occupied Palestinian territories’.” 

On Aug. 9, the Australian’s Ben Packham wrote that calling the West Bank “Occupied Palestinian Territories” was “a move to appease the party’s Left and avoid embarrassing challenges to [Albanese’s] authority at next week’s national ALP conference.” 

On Aug. 10, AIJAC’s Dr Rubenstein tackled the “reversion” claims in the Daily Telegraph, writing, “Contrary to the Government’s claims, this is not simply a reversion to the stance of previous Labor governments. No previous Australian government of any persuasion has ever taken the position that the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem are all properly termed ‘occupied Palestinian territory’, and for good reasons… no Palestinian state has ever existed, so there is no such thing as sovereign ‘Palestinian territory’. Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan – which illegally occupied those areas – in a defensive war in 1967. Before that, the boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza were simply armistice lines, not national borders.”

Five days after the announcement, ABC TV “Insiders” host David Speers (Aug. 13) said, “The Government’s now adopted new language or reverted to old language, if you like, that describes the territories as occupied Palestinian territories.” But on the following week’s episode, Speers only claimed that Labor had “gone back to declaring the West Bank and Gaza as occupied territories.”

In the Australian (Aug. 15), AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro challenged the Government’s assertion that the West Bank has historically been referred to by Australian governments as “occupied Palestinian territories”, writing, “You’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence to support this claim.” He also quoted senior Clinton Administration official Madeline Albright in 1994 stating at a UN Security Council meeting, “We simply do not support the description of the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war as ‘occupied Palestinian territory’… this language could be taken to indicate sovereignty, a matter which both Israel and the PLO have agreed must be decided in negotiations on the final status of the territories.”

In the Canberra Times (Aug. 20), Mark Kenny wrote the Government “revert[ed] to its previous descriptions of the West Bank as ‘occupied’ territory” and attacked the reaction of the “Israel lobby” to the change as “typically unrestrained.”

The paper published Colin Rubenstein’s letter responding to Kenny (Aug. 24) noting, “The government did not simply say it would describe the West Bank as ‘occupied’ territory, as Kenny states. It has determined it will describe all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza as ‘occupied Palestinian territories’. While previous Australian governments have casually used the terms ‘occupied’ or ‘Palestinian’, no previous Australian government has adopted this as the official description.”

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