Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – April 2019

Apr 3, 2019 | Allon Lee

Greens candidate Julian Burnside QC: The Australian's Nick Cater suggested the high-profile barrister’s “obsession with the sins of Israel” would see him fit in with the party
Greens candidate Julian Burnside QC: The Australian's Nick Cater suggested the high-profile barrister’s “obsession with the sins of Israel” would see him fit in with the party


Don’t settle for less

As AIR has noted repeatedly over the years, contrary to the media’s reflexive acceptance of Palestinian propaganda, settlement growth during the past decade of Netanyahu-led governments in Israel has been historically low.

So it was a pleasant surprise to read in New York Times correspondent David Halbfinger’s report on the electoral chances of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that His halting promotion of the settlement enterprise on the occupied West Bank has exasperated settlers and their supporters.” 

Halbfinger also noted that Netanyahu’s biggest challenge is from the “broad centre where Netanyahu is most at risk politically, where voters have shown a preoccupation with bread-and-butter issues on which the prime minister has not distinguished himself,” Age/Sydney Morning Herald (March 4).

By contrast, on ABC Radio National “Saturday Extra” (March 2), Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev insisted the election was about security and the conflict with the Palestinians, not domestic issues.


Conflicted minds

The webpage accompanying ABC Radio National “Saturday Extra” on March 16 used an image of an Israeli strike on Gaza to illustrate a segment dedicated to the issue of why peace has been such an elusive goal for human beings and cultures across thousands of years.

The segment – an interview with Belgian professor of international politics Jonathan Holslag about his new book – had nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was not mentioned at all.


Burnside’s dark side

Julian Burnside’s announcement that he will run as a Greens candidate at the forthcoming federal election saw Nick Cater suggesting that the high-profile barrister’s “obsession with the sins of Israel” would see him fit in with the party. 

Burnside’s blog, Cater said, “regularly posts sermons reprimanding Israel, defaming the Israeli army and comforting their enemies” and noted that in 2017 he had signed a “letter imploring then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to ‘rethink its one-sided support for the Israeli government’ and cancel the visit of his counterpart, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”.

Cater accused Greens MP Adam Bandt of condemning “racist hate speech” and Pauline Hanson’s xenophobia one minute and in “the next he’s posting an image on Facebook of a hook-nosed banker based on images published in Nazi-sympathiser newspaper Der Sturmer during the Holocaust. Greens leader Richard Di Natale hijacked a condolence motion in the Senate to launch an unfounded character attack on former Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres. The Greens have proposed policy demanding the Australian government ‘halt military co-operation and military trade with Israel’ and ‘recognise the ongoing injustice done to the Palestinian people’. Yet the Greens have never condemned Palestinian violence or terrorism against Israelis,” Australian (March 11). 


Unprobyn claims

Reporting of PM Scott Morrison’s statement in mid-February that the federal Parliament House computer network had been hacked by a “sophisticated state actor,” prompted media speculation on the possible culprits – presumed to be found outside the Five Eyes intelligence community (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US).

ABC political editor Andrew Probyn said of the “non-Five Eyes nations who have the technical capacity to conduct such a high-tech heist, they are few – France, Israel, Russia and China among them,” ABC TV “7pm News” (Feb. 18).

But Israel had little to gain from such a hack, especially given that on Jan. 29, Australian National Cyber Security Adviser Alastair MacGibbon signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cyber cooperation with the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) in Tel Aviv, building on a previous MoU with Israel on cybersecurity signed by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2017. 

Nine reporters David Wroe and Chris Uhlmann ruled out Iran as allegedly incapable of the attack, writing, “Only four nations are thought to be capable of such a high-level attack: China, Russia, Israel and the United States,” Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Feb. 18).


ABC confronts Antisemitism

ABC radio continued to provide strong coverage of the ongoing rise of antisemitism in the West. 

On ABC Radio National “AM” (March 7) Sharon Nazarian, Senior Vice President for International Affairs at the US-based Anti-Defamation League said, “When observant Jews cannot walk around the streets of Paris with the Jewish star around their necks, we know that society is moving in the wrong direction.”

The report quoted statistics claiming the US saw a 57% rise in antisemitic incidents in 2017 and according to the Macron Government there was a 75% increase in France in 2018.

Nazarian attributed these leaps to “rising nationalism and populism, rising mass migration of people and the role of technology and the amplification of hate online.”

American academic antisemitism expert Dr. Deborah Lipstadt linked the increases to “populist leaders who have used antisemitism to strengthen their position” and the phenomenon is found on the political left and right with criticism of Israel often steeped in antisemitic language.

“I think there seems to be a certain balance and a recognition of when is it criticism and when is the criticism becoming a foil for antisemitism,” Lipstadt said.

The report noted US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar apologised after she was accused of using Jewish stereotypes in tweets criticising supporters of Israel and the resignation of nine UK Labour MPs who accused the party of institutional antisemitism. 


Levey Versus Lipstadt

Academic Geoffrey Brahm Levey’s review of Deborah Lipstadt’s book Antisemitism: Here and Now criticised her “treatment of the Israel factor.” 

According to Levey, “she is wrong to claim that questioning Israel’s right to exist is axiomatically antisemitic. To demand only Israel’s disestablishment among the family of nations, many of which are guilty of systematic abuses, is clearly discriminatory. However, one can hold that it was a mistake for a Jewish state to be established in Palestine without remotely being antisemitic. Even the founding father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, initially campaigned to place the Jewish homeland in East Africa.”

In 1903, six years after the first conference launching the Zionist movement was held, Herzl supported a British proposal to create a homeland in East Africa against the backdrop of vicious pogroms. He endorsed it only as a temporary measure until Palestine became a viable destination for large scale Jewish settlement. 

Whilst Levey acknowledged the possibility that antisemitism might conceivably underscore extreme anti-Israel views, noting “the 2018 Global Anti-Semitism Report found that ‘70 per cent of anti-Jewish attacks were anti-Israel in nature,’” he placed greater faith in the idea that the Jewish state’s “brutality towards the Palestinians provokes brutal and intemperate politics elsewhere in reaction.”

He accused both “Israeli politicians and Jewish leaders [of] responding to any criticism of Israel with the charge of antisemitism. Often, non-Jews who are concerned about the Palestinians’ situation invoke traditional antisemitic tropes without realising it or intending to do so.”

The evidence Levey adduced for this was controversial US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who was censured by her own Democratic party for using antisemitic tropes to attack not only Israel, but Americans who back Israel.

But why does Levey assume Omar’s use of antisemitic tropes was inadvertent, especially given that she keeps doing it?

Levey also failed to discuss the prevalence of antisemitism in Arab and Muslim discourses regarding Israel and Jews, which Lipstadt covers in a chapter, Age/Sydney Morning Herald (March 2).


An Editorial Omission

Responding to the abhorrent mass murder by a right-wing terrorist of 50 Muslim men, women and children in Christchurch on March 15, the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) correctly editorialised (March 18) a warning that the “political class needs to rethink how it talks about social cohesion, religion and immigration.”

But the editorial was on shaky ground in what appeared to be a clumsy attempt to minimise the past, present and future threat from Islamist violence.

According to the Age and SMH, “The facts are that Islamist extremists are not chiefly responsible for terrorism. Every terrorist attack in the US last year had links to far-right extremists.”

Since when did the Age and SMH see the world through such a US-centric lens? Islamist extremists have carried out attacks or been stopped from carrying out attacks across the globe, not just in the US. 

In the past two years, successful Islamist terror attacks have been perpetrated in Britain, Sweden, France, Spain, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, and in Melbourne, Australia as recently as November 2018. 

Meanwhile, the Sunday editions of both the Age and SMH (March 17) had themselves reported that in Australia, ASIO has said “it and other agencies had disrupted 14 major [terror] attacks since 2014, all but one of them related to Islamist extremists.”

Globally, the vast majority of terror fatalities have occurred in the context of Muslim on Muslim violence in the Middle East, much of it Islamist inspired.


Peter picks it

Maybe the Age and SMH should listen to its own columnist, Peter Hartcher, who warned three days before the Christchurch terror that Islamic State (Daesh) may have been defeated but it is “merely the most recent recrudesence of a much older idea of a vengeful revival of Islamic glory. They will not be the last. Islamist terrorism changes its form but does not lose its virulence. It’s now entering its fourth transformation in contemporary times…

“The Taliban rose and occupied Afghanistan. It was subdued but begat al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda rose and bombed US cities. It was subdued but begat Daesh. Daesh rose and declared a caliphate in the Middle East. Daesh’s caliphate was subdued but begat terrorist attacks worldwide and set up a new attempt at a sub-caliphate in South East Asia, based in the Philippines, until it, too, was crushed.

“It is not a group but an idea. A shape-shifting movement of individuals, groups and governments is continuously forming, disbanding and reforming around that idea.”

Or they should listen to British radicalisation expert Ed Husain who argued in the Sunday Age/Sun Herald (March 17) the challenge to “our open societies… is a twin danger: a deadly combination of far-Right fascism and Islamist extremism. They feed and need each other. This is not about any particular organisation, an al-Qaeda or an IS, or a Combat 18 or a Ku Klux Klan.”


Consular advice

The basic logic of the Trump Administration’s decision to close the US consulate in Jerusalem was missed in an Associated Press report that appeared in many iterations in the Australian media on March 5.

The Age, Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald ran a news brief stating, “The United States has closed its consulate in Jerusalem, downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by folding it into the US Embassy to Israel. When Secretary Mike Pompeo… announced the move last year, in October, Palestinians were infuriated, as it fuelled fear the US recognised Israeli control over east Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

The Advertiser, Mercury, Courier Mail version noted “the State Department said the change was to increase efficiency” and the West Australian included a line that “the State Department said the move did not signal any policy changes.”

It makes no sense for the consulate to remain open. Firstly, a consulate implies recognition of statehood, and the US does not recognise Palestine as an independent state. 

Second, US President Donald Trump’s recognition in December 2017 of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital explicitly left open the possibility of a future Palestinian state having its capital somewhere in east Jerusalem.

Third, the closure is intimately connected to the Trump Administration’s policy of encouraging the Palestinian Authority to change its lackadaisical attitude towards participating in peace talks. This point was made in a longer version of the article on the newspapers’ websites.


Where’s the accountability?

The appointment of a new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, economist Mohammad Shtayyeh, warranted a picture cap in the Age, Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald (March 12). The only response quoted in the news brief was from Hamas, which described the factional appointment as a “blow to unity efforts”. 

The papers, meanwhile, did not cover the violent response by Hamas forces used to quell demonstrations against it from Palestinians frustrated with the economic privation that has accompanied Hamas’ dictatorial rule in Gaza. 

SBS Radio “Arabic24” covered it on March 18 but the ABC, with two dedicated Middle East correspondents, appears not to have covered the story. 

Meanwhile, Hamas’ firing of two rockets at Tel Aviv on March 15 was reported by ABC TV News 24 “Breakfast” once without any return to it. ABC News Radio reported it twice as a non-headlined news brief, dropped it for two hours, then placed it as the top story of the hour after Israel responded by bombing Hamas targets. 


Late night lunacy

The important topic of Arab Australian feminism on ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (Feb. 21) included wild attacks on Israel, featuring as it did the meandering, dense verbiage of Australian-Egyptian-Palestinian writer Randa Abdel Fattah and Australian-Palestinian poet/activist Sara Saleh.

Arab Australian women, especially practising Muslims, Abdel Fattah said, are at a disadvantage when interacting with Westerners who tend to judge them from a secular perspective. So what example did she give? 

Abdel Fattah said, “There is a power imbalance there and it is used to start wars. It is used to ignore Palestinian calls for boycotts and for justice. It is used to elevate some causes and ignore others and that’s why I think we need to really open these debates about what feminism really is and who counts as a feminist… why is it that we can rightly listen to somebody and champion the rights of somebody like Rahaf Qunun but ignore the calls of Palestinian women fighting against Israeli brutality? Why can you support Eurovision and an Australian white woman getting into Eurovision and performing in Tel Aviv but you ignore Palestinian women who are calling for a boycott of something that elevates the Israeli occupation? So, that’s what really interests me in about standing up for feminism… this idea of who counts and who doesn’t.” 

Saleh took up the anti-Israel gauntlet, also referencing Rahaf al Qunun, who fled Saudi Arabia and rejected Islam, and was feted by the West, but “it’s a lot harder to stand up for someone [like] Dareen Tatour who is a Palestinian poet who is in jail for writing a poem that was critical of the Israeli state and she herself is an Israeli citizen.” She asked where are the “white feminists” who supported “Rahaf” but “completely ignore someone like Dareen”.

Tatour was jailed in 2018 for five months for poems that Israeli prosecutors said incited violence, but is not currently imprisoned.

What any of this had to do with the day to day experience of ordinary Arab women in Australia who do not espouse the kind of radical rhetoric of Abdel Fattah and Saleh is unclear. 


The Icke factor

News Corp columnist David Penberthy (March 10), argued against the Federal Government’s decision to ban antisemitic conspiracy theorist David Icke from visiting Australia for an upcoming speaking tour.

Penberthy said “Icke’s thesis – I am not making this up – is that the world is run by a cabal of giant shapeshifting lizards. He believes that Adolf Hitler wasn’t the personification of German belligerence during World War II, but was secretly funded by the Jews to enable the creation of the State of Israel. He also believes that the Jews, those pesky buggers, were the true masterminds of September 11, taking a day off from their core business of controlling the banks, I guess…

David Icke has visited Australia on 10 previous occasions and was set to board a plane last month for another of his weird talks.”

The denial of a visa was on the grounds that Icke posed “‘a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community or a segment of the Australian community’,” which Penberthy dismissed as “a load of tosh”.

Meanwhile, Monash University academic Ran Porat, revealed (Mar 8, Australian Jewish News) that columnist and conspiracy theory fan Pierre Sema’an claimed (Feb. 26) in Arabic in the Sydney-based El Telegraph newspaper that a “mysterious cult of global rulers has used the false claim of Holocaust denial, and has ordered Australian politicians to cancel Icke’s visa to Australia”. 


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