Media Microscope: You are what you tweet
Aug 26, 2021 | Allon Lee
High-profile barrister and former Greens candidate Julian Burnside’s July 28 tweet claiming Israel’s “treatment of the Palestinians looks horribly like the German treatment of the Jews during the Holocaust” quickly led to widespread condemnation. He deleted it and made an apology, kickstarting two weeks of media coverage and commentary.
The Australian (July 29) reported Burnside’s commitment to Holocaust survivor Moshe Fiszman in 2018 that he would not make comparisons with Nazi Germany after he had reposted an image of then-Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton superimposed on a Nazi officer. The report quoted Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich saying, “Burnside knows very well that there is no Israeli policy, plan or ideology to… expel or annihilate the Palestinian population.”
The next day, the Australian reported Greens leader Adam Bandt’s statement that “the Holocaust is one of the darkest moments in human history and is without modern comparison… The treatment of the Palestinian people can be condemned on its own facts,” along with Abramovich’s criticism that Bandt failed to “directly condemn the cynical exploitation of the Holocaust by Julian Burnside.”
On July 31, the Australian reported Burnside had apologised, quoting him saying, “apart from the numbers being radically different, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is about land; the Holocaust was about genocide.” The story noted Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – whose Hungarian-born mother is a Holocaust survivor – had sent “Burnside a copy of Eddie Jaku’s The Happiest Man on Earth, a story by a 101-year-old Holocaust survivor.”
Burnside’s partner, Kate Durham, drew heat too, after tweeting that Burnside knew more about the Holocaust than Frydenberg, whom she said was “just a Hungarian, just a Liberal. #Fraudenberg.” Burnside ran against Frydenberg in the 2019 election.
The Australian reported (Aug. 2), that Durham deleted and apologised for the tweet, and said her “opinion of Mr Frydenberg had been coloured by his role, as a child of refugees, in presiding over other refugees’ torment.”
On July 31, Gerard Henderson interrogated Burnside’s tweet in his Australian column, revealing that Burnside told him, “‘Israelis kill a lot of Palestinians: certainly the numbers are nowhere near the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust, but the reasons are substantially the same.’”
In the Australian (Aug. 12), Zionist Federation of Australia President Jeremy Leibler wrote, “any suggestion that Israel treats Palestinians like Hitler treated the Jews is deeply offensive and blatantly incorrect… the Holocaust was an exercise in extermination, the Palestinian population continues to grow. In Israel, Palestinian citizens are diplomats, judges, government ministers, members of parliament, journalists, doctors and teachers.”
For Education Minister Alan Tudge, Burnside’s tweet held a different significance, warning in the Australian (Aug. 5) against the “Corbynisation” and acceptance of antisemitism in “our major left-leaning political parties.”
Victorian Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson’s call for the Victorian Bar Council to investigate Burnside for bringing the legal profession into disrepute gave the saga a second wind.
On Sky News’ “Credlin” (July 30), Henderson said the tweet was “probably… the most… contemptible statement ever made by a senior member of the Victorian bar.”
Senator Henderson’s call was denounced by WA Bar Association head Martin Cuerden in a public letter. On Sky News’ “Kenny Report” (Aug. 10), Henderson said Cuerden “really… missed the mark… he did not in any way raise any concern… about Burnside’s [tweet]. He was only concerned about Mr Burnside’s free speech.”
The West Australian reported on Aug. 12 that Cuerden had apologised and quoted Senator Henderson thanking AIJAC’s Mark Leibler for issuing a public letter condemning Cuerden’s statements.
Later that night, Henderson appeared on “Credlin” lambasting, together with host Peta Credlin, Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones’ tweet defending Burnside’s right to free speech.
Yet Hobart Mercury columnist Greg Barns SC’s praise of Burnside’s tweet managed to escape scrutiny. In a repost, Barns had said “good to see a member of the legal profession revealing Israel for what it really is – a depraved rogue state which oppresses and murders Palestinians daily.”
Meanwhile, the Age (July 30) reported on Burnside’s initial tweet, Bandt’s statement and Australia Palestine Advocacy Network vice president Nasser Mashni’s condemnation of the tweet, but Burnside’s subsequent apology went unreported.
And what of ABC coverage? There does not appear to have been any on any major news program.