Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – April 2021

Apr 7, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Jab! Jab!

The accusation that Israel has a legal and moral duty to vaccinate five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza remained a regular theme in media reports. 

A news brief in the Australian Financial Review (Feb. 27) noted Israel won’t vaccinate Palestinians en masse who live under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction “arguing they are responsible for their healthcare system.”

An Age/Sydney Morning Herald report (Feb. 23) on Israel sharing vaccines with other countries stated that “Israel has argued that under interim peace agreements it is not responsible for vaccinating them. Israel’s vaccination campaign has included its own Arab population.”

An SBS online report (March 1) from AAP noted that “the PA has not publicly asked for Israel’s help with a mass vaccination campaign” and that “Hamas is seen as unlikely to publicly collaborate with Israel on any vaccination effort.” Former Israeli diplomat Alan Baker was quoted explaining that under the Oslo Accords the PA “was responsible ‘for health and medical issues.’”

An item from Saturday Paper columnist Jonathan Pearlman (Feb. 27) claimed Israel as an occupier state should vaccinate Palestinians, and included Gaza under this legal umbrella. Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005. Although Israel maintains a blockade of the Strip, Hamas’ leaders have admitted many times Gaza is not occupied. 


Better late than never

It took over two months to happen, but the ABC finally reported Israel’s reason for not vaccinating Palestinians in Gaza or under Palestinian self-rule.

An online report (March 1) stated that “Israel says that under interim peace accords of the 1990s it has no such responsibility” and that “Israel has immunised its own Arab population, including Palestinians who live in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.” 

On March 12, ABC TV’s “The World” was the first flagship program to broadcast Israel’s side, noting that “Israel says that under the interim peace accord from the 1990s it is not obligated to vaccinate West Bank occupants.”

The report also said, “the Palestinian Authority has faced criticism for giving jabs to VIPs such as the national football team and ministers rather than medical workers.”

More problematic was host Yvonne Yong’s introductory remarks that “Israel… has faced criticism over its lack of assistance to the Palestinian people.” That would be “alleged lack of assistance.” 


It’s a bit rich

In the Guardian Australia (March 18), Pakistani writer Fatima Bhutto denounced Israel as one of the “rich countries” that has secured vaccines at the expense of poorer nations.

According to Bhutto, “Israel…leading the world in vaccine rollout, is pointedly, purposefully, not vaccinating the Palestinian people it occupies. When asked about it, the Israeli health minister sniffed that Israel had no legal obligation to vaccinate Palestinians. What then were the obligations of the Palestinians, he asked, to look after dolphins in the Mediterranean? It is a statement too stupid – too cruel – to answer. Yes, you have an obligation to the people you occupy; yes, you have an obligation to ‘the sea’… A virus, for some, is manna. Let the Palestinians die.”

Bhutto put a completely unfair spin on what Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told the BBC when asked why Israel was not vaccinating all the Palestinians. He explained that under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the health needs of the Palestinians it governs.

In that context, Edelstein said, “If it is the responsibility of the Israeli Health Minister to take care of the Palestinians what exactly is the responsibility of the Palestinian Health Minister? To take care of the dolphins in the Mediterranean?”

He also explained that Israel does supply vaccines when requested to by the Palestinian Authority. 


Pfizer Prize

A Bloomberg article in the Australian Financial Review (March 12) revealed why Israel was able to secure large scale quantities of the Pfizer vaccine to the chagrin of some other countries.

The story said, “[Israeli PM Binyamin] Netanyahu had offered to pay roughly $US30 ($39) a dose, about 50 per cent more than the US government… He also agreed to share countrywide data on the vaccine, a two-dose product based on an experimental platform called messenger RNA, or mRNA. It’s being used almost exclusively in Israel, in what amounts to a large-scale effectiveness study. By February 22, Israel had given first doses to 47 per cent of its 9 million people, making it the world leader… Israel will provide data that will transform the world’s understanding of how to end the pandemic.”

The article said Pfizer defended its agreement with Israel by noting it “didn’t affect doses going elsewhere.”


Papal bull

Media coverage of Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq highlighted the precipitous decline in its Christian population due to persecution, but largely failed to report on the near total absence of Jews there due to their expulsion.

ABC TV “7pm News” (Vic) (March 6) introduced its report with the statement that “it was an important visit for the country’s shrinking Christian population” and new ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner saying, bizarrely, that Iraq is “known as the cradle of Christianity.”

On SBS TV “World News” (March 6), Nick Wells’ report was more accurate, saying that “[Pope Francis] will visit the ancient city of Ur, birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, who’s revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. A fitting backdrop for his message of healing and interfaith unity.”

A Reuters report (March 6) correctly noted that “In 1947, a year before Israel’s birth, Iraq’s Jewish community numbered around 150,000. Now their numbers are in single figures. A local Church official said Jews were contacted and invited [to the papal visit] but the situation for them was ‘complicated’ particularly as they have no structured community. However, in similar past events in predominantly Muslim countries, a senior foreign Jewish figure has attended.”

For reasons unknown, this report, which appears to have been published online by regional newspapers and the Canberra Times, is no longer accessible.


Can you dig it?

A trove of ancient Jewish texts and other priceless material found in a cave in the Judean Desert in undisputed Israeli territory clearly was not newsworthy enough in itself for some correspondents – who felt the need to introduce gratuitous commentary that had no connection to the story.

A particularly egregious Guardian Australia report (March 18) claimed that “sections of the dig took place in the occupied West Bank, a part of the Palestinian territories, a common Israeli practice that has led to controversy. The [Israel Antiques Authority] coordinated with the defence ministry, which runs the occupation. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordanian forces in the 1967 war. International law bans the removal of cultural property from occupied territory. The original Dead Sea scrolls, a collection of Jewish texts, were also found in desert caves in the West Bank. However, they were discovered by nomadic Bedouin shepherds in the 1940s and 1950s.”

None of this was relevant to the story.

Moreover, the main collection of Dead Sea scrolls was discovered in 1946 and 1947, during the British Mandate in Palestine, before there was any “West Bank” – the name used by Jordan to refer to the territory it illegally captured in the 1948 war. 

The issue of the archaeological material’s provenance was also poorly handled in the Australian’s AFP sourced report (March 18), which included a sentence that “Israel has been accused of politicising the discovery of ancient Jewish artefacts to justify territorial claims in the West Bank.” 

Except, in this instance, the finds were made inside Israel.

An AP report on Nine News’ website (March 17) also stated that “sections of the dig took place in the occupied West Bank.”

Reports of the discoveries were run in Nine Newspapers, ABC online, ABC TV “The World” and SBS TV “The World” that same day and were free from politics. 


I spy? 

An exclusive Sky News interview (March 9) with Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert detailed the absurd lengths to which Iran went to falsely convict her on spying charges.

Dr Moore-Gilbert said, “there’s no evidence of me being a spy for any country…even the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards couldn’t figure out which country I was supposedly spying for. I was eventually charged with being an Israeli spy because that was the easier thing. You know any mention of Israel in Iran. You know Israel is the little Satan…for the Revolutionary Guards in particular. That was just the easiest country they could try to link me to but even a few months before my release, so mid-2020, they were floating a theory that I was an MI6 agent… this was well after I’d been convicted and tried of being an Israeli agent.”

She said Iran also accused her of being an Australian spy and “for a while I was also accused of being a Bahraini spy because of my research on Bahrain. So, they really had no idea.”

The Revolutionary Guards also tried to convince her to lure her Israeli-born husband to Iran, which “would be a PR coup”, she said. 


Cruel convictions

In the Australian (March 11), AIJAC’s Naomi Levin expanded on Iran’s cruel policy of convicting visiting Westerners on bogus spying charges as one part of the regime’s wider abuse of human rights.

Iran is “pretty blatant about the practice”, Levin said, citing American hostage Wang Xiyue, who said “his Iranian interrogator openly told him that they knew he had committed no crime and he was being held solely to exchange for US-held Iranian prisoners and the release of frozen Iranian assets.”

Levin pointed out that “Iran executes more people than any other country in the world, excepting perhaps China.” 

Those targeted to be murdered are wide and varied, including “political dissidents condemned by clerical courts that offer defendants no real rights”, and an estimated figure of between “4,000 and 6,000 LGBTI people” killed “for crimes related to their sexual orientation between 1979 and 2008.”

Levin said the world is not powerless, citing Australia’s decision to join “58 other countries in signing on to a Canadian-led declaration condemning the arbitrary arrest of foreign nationals by regimes to exercise leverage over a foreign government.”


Simon says

On the tenth anniversary of the Syrian civil war, Guardian Australia columnist Simon Tisdall marked out Israel (March 8) as one of the regional states that “prioritises selfish, short-term interests” vis-à-vis that country.

According to Tisdall, “Israel worries about the build-up of Iranian Revolutionary Guard and pro-Tehran armed forces in Syria and Lebanon. It has launched hundreds of air strikes on Iran-linked targets there, and has urged the US to do likewise in reply to rocket and drone attacks in Iraq, the Gulf and Yemen. For Israel and Iran, Syria has become a forward battle zone in a multi-front struggle. Its people’s well-being is not their concern. Its chronic weakness suits both.”

In fact, the “Iran-linked targets” Israel has hit include missile factories and convoys of game-changing missiles headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon to target Israel, as well as military installations on the Jewish state’s northern border. As for the accusation Israel is not “concerned” with Syrians’ well-being, during the civil war, Israel treated thousands of wounded Syrians and quietly provided aid to the millions of Syrians who fled to Jordan. 


Provocation Prevarication

In the Australian Financial Review (March 1), Sydney University academic James Curran repeated questionable claims that the Morrison Government’s 2018 decision to consider moving Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “needlessly” provoked Jakarta.

Curran called the Government’s proposal “ham-fisted” and criticised it for “follow[ing] the Trump administration’s provocative decision” to move the US embassy.

Curran said, “Morrison ultimately decided against the move, but the damage in Indonesia had been done. The largest Muslim majority country in the world, which has long expressed its support for the Palestinian cause, saw Australia blindly following America and siding with Israel.” 

He suggested that “the move threatened to derail the signing of a free trade agreement between the two countries.”

But as “Noted and Quoted” readers will know, the overwhelming negative response was solely in Australia by Australian commentators who insisted the idea was insulting to Indonesia. The purported furious media and political reaction in Indonesia was actually very muted and limited, while the free trade agreement was of greater benefit to Indonesia than Australia, and went ahead without a hitch.


Platform shooed

A report in the Australian (March 5) that pro-Palestinian ALP members were angry because the party’s latest policy document had omitted a 2018 resolution calling on a future Labor government to recognise a Palestinian state led to a round of media reports speculating on whether the party was abandoning support for Israel.

But on Sky News “Kenny Report” (March 5), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein said if the platform only called for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state it would be problematic but the full ALP position “supports a two-state outcome” reached through “agree[ment] by the parties.”

He said the problem with the concept of unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state is that it doesn’t “help encourage negotiations on the Palestinian side but… impedes them and undermines the [two-state] outcome which the ALP seems to want.”

The real problem, he said, is that Palestinian leaders have rejected “three serious offers for a state alongside Israel” and “unilateral recognition of a supposed state of Palestine without any obligations on the Palestinian side just rewards that continuing intransigence and refusal to negotiate.”

He also noted that the ALP conference in 2018 left it up to a future Labor Government to decide when to implement any “recommendation, including that one.”

Rubenstein also said the Abraham Accords – the normalisation agreements signed by Bahrain, UAE, Morocco and Sudan recognising Israel – “had opened up new avenues for peace making” in the Middle East since the ALP national conference passed its resolution on unilateral recognition in 2018. 


Don’t visit “Cuckoo Land”

Other analyses of the issue included an Australian editorial (March 8) which agreed with former federal Labor MP Michael Danby’s comments that “those seeking to put the Palestinian issue in the party platform ahead of China’s persecution of Tibetans, Uighurs, Hongkongers and Taiwan are ‘in cuckoo land’.”

The editorial also listed how the non-existent State of Palestine fails to satisfy the criteria of what constitutes statehood stipulated by the 1933 Montevideo Convention for the Rights and Duties of States.

The paper cited approvingly a point made by Dave Sharma – Liberal MP and Australia’s former ambassador to Israel – that including a pro-Palestine statement in the ALP platform would be “the wrong call because it pre-empts a negotiated two-state solution, which has always been the policy of Australia” and would co-opt the party into the “brazen Palestinian strategy to achieve recognition through the back door rather than through negotiations with Israel over a two-state solution.”

On the Australian’s website (March 19), commentator Gerard Henderson’s Media Watchdog column criticised ABC TV’s “Insiders” for becoming “insular…in recent times”, citing, amongst other things, its lack of coverage of “Labor’s policy on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”


Shifting sands 

ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (Feb. 24) looked at the Trump Administration’s decision to recognise Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara as a reward for normalising relations with Israel in December 2020.

Academic Dr Randi Irwin claimed that “recognition of Israel…[has] seen protests within Morocco that are against the Moroccan Government’s recognition of Israel’s occupation in Palestine and now I think there’s some domestic tension there that’s happening.”

In fact, Moroccan opposition has been restricted to leftists and Islamists. Most Moroccans know that the two countries have enjoyed semi-official relations dating back to the 1950s and accept normalisation as a pragmatic decision and an acceptable price to pay for recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan territory.

Moreover, Morocco stressed its support for the goal of creating a Palestinian state, so Irwin was incorrect in implying that the Moroccan Government has recognis[ed] “Israel’s occupation in Palestine.”

Kamal Fadel, from the Polisario Front in Australia – an Algerian and Iranian supported revolutionary group which seeks independence for Western Sahara – understandably criticised Trump’s decision, made “in his last days as a lame duck President,” as “unprecedented and dangerous”, arguing it would give a “green light to any authoritarian regime or any despot to go and grab territory by force.”


In Parliament

Senator Anne Urquhart (ALP, Tas.) – March 16 – “It is my hope that Israel will understand that it has a clear obligation to send vaccines to the Palestinian Authority. Differential access is morally and legally unacceptable under international law. So, today I urge Israel to donate to the Palestinians the extra doses it has ordered but does not need… I urge Israel to work with Palestinian authorities to ensure the vaccination of the Palestinian population with the same determination, resources and expertise that they’ve demonstrated to the world with the Israeli population.”

Chris Hayes (ALP, Fowler) – March 16 – “I take this opportunity to raise some pressing issues of human rights facing our global community at the moment. First, I draw attention to the House of the ongoing plight of Mr Mohammed El Halabi, former director of World Vision Australia, who worked in Gaza and on the West Bank. Mr El Halabi was arrested in 2016 by Israeli authorities on the allegation of funnelling $50 million of World Vision money to the terrorist group Hamas.” 

Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – Feb. 24 – “Let me remind the House of some disturbing examples that have occurred in university campuses in recent years. In 2015 Colonel Richard Kemp was shouted down by students and a professor at the University of Sydney when he tried to speak about the ethical dilemmas of military tactics and dealing with non-state armed troops. He previously publicly defended the actions of the Israel Defense Forces, and yet for 20 minutes he was unable to speak. The protesters fought with security, who tried to have them removed. One of the protesters was a director of the University of Sydney’s own Department of Peace and Conflict Studies.”

Katie Allen (Lib., Higgins) – Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources – Feb. 24 – “Which country would you think does science start-ups well? Israel comes to mind for me, and Singapore is possibly the other one.”

Mike Freelander (ALP, Macarthur) – March 22 – “As someone who is Jewish, I really do understand the terrible difficulties that are placed in front of the Uighur people. It does have echoes of Germany in the 1930s…We as individuals elected to public office in a strong and vibrant democracy have a responsibility to stand against human rights violations wherever they occur, particularly now to the Uighur people in China.”

Tim Wilson (Lib., Goldstein) – March 22 – “Representing the third largest Jewish community in Australia, in Goldstein, I am very familiar with the ongoing memory and legacy of the Holocaust. We need to remember that in remembering genocides it is part of the journey of stopping them into the future.”

Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – March 22 – “As a Jewish Australian I’m particularly proud…that Jewish leaders around the world have called out the persecution of Uighurs. [Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth] Rabbi Mirvis called for the urgent, independent and unfettered investigation into what’s happening.” 

Bridget Archer (Lib., Bass) – March 17 – “On 2 March, members and friends of the Jewish community converged on Australia’s oldest synagogue, in Hobart, for the announcement of the establishment of a Holocaust Education and Interpretation Centre. As Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on the day, the centre has been established so that future generations can say, ‘Never again’.”

Senator Jordon Steele-John (Greens, WA) – Media Release criticising former defence minister Christopher Pyne for having business relations with Israeli defence manufacturer Elbit – March 17 – “Elbit is a company that markets their weaponry as being ‘field tested’ by the Israeli Defence Force, a reference to the extensive use of Elbit Systems equipment in Palestine where they have profited from the ongoing occupation and oppression of Palestinian people.”


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