Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – April 2022

Mar 31, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Spectator sport

On March 5, Ida Lichter warned in the Spectator Australia that Russian President Vladimir “Putin’s threat of using nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict is a timely reminder of the terrifying power held by nuclear-armed states. Iran vows to annihilate Israel and attacks regional states through proxies. If the regime owned nuclear weapons, could the Middle East survive? Even worse, Iran’s mullahs might try to realise their version of apocalyptic Shia theology that prophesies world domination through war.”

Lichter castigated the Biden Administration for reportedly “capitulating” to Iran while negotiating a “revised nuclear deal”. 

The purported new deal “would legitimise nuclear weapons for Iran,” she said, whilst ignoring Iran’s human rights abuses. It will also give the regime “sanctions relief” and let it keep advanced centrifuges it is not entitled to possess, she added, and warned that “many restrictions on nuclear weapons production are due to expire in two and a half years” because there are no extensions to the sunset clauses from the 2015 deal.

Meanwhile, an SBS TV “World News” report (Feb. 22) on the state of the negotiations claimed, “as the US is yet to re-join the deal it’s not been able to engage in direct negotiations.”

In fact, Iran refuses to hold direct talks with the US, despite Biden Administration officials begging it to do so. This follows an order from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2018 forbidding direct talks.


Peaceful nuclear weapons program?

On ABC TV “The World” (March 16), Iran analyst Sahil Shah trumpeted Iran’s success in stopping Moscow insisting on inserting a clause in any renewed nuclear deal that would have let it trade with Iran in contravention of sanctions imposed following its invasion of Ukraine. 

With a straight face, Shah said Teheran had told Russia, “Our people are heavily sanctioned and we don’t want these external factors between you, the US and Europe to get in the way including the prospect of more oil entering the market.”

The last time Iran received sanctions relief, angry Iranians demonstrated en masse in protest that the promised economic benefits were swallowed up by regime lackeys and the country’s regional proxy militias. 

Shah also talked up the importance of Russia’s involvement for any nuclear deal while treating it as obvious that Iran’s nuclear program is wholly for peaceful purposes, saying that “Iran benefits from having a major world power be able to help it make sure that its nuclear program is efficient, running well and delivering energy to the Iranian people. And more so, not even energy, but things like radio isotopes, things for medical reasons. Other things nuclear energy can provide.”

Iranian documents prove conclusively that Teheran’s nuclear program was never constructed to provide either energy or “radio isotopes” – both of which Iran could get easily without building up a vast and very costly uranium enrichment industry – but nuclear weapons capabilities. 


Muddled East policy

An Australian editorial (March 17) blamed a reluctance by the West’s traditional Arab allies in the Gulf to support efforts to pressure Russia on the Biden Administration’s posture since taking office. 

These decisions include the Biden Administration’s “chaotic abandonment of Afghanistan,” cosying up to Iran, and the decision to treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah state for murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. 

Saudi Arabia “rebuffed the White House’s recent request to pump more oil on to global markets to tame surging crude oil prices,” the editorial noted.

Long term, it said, the US risks letting Russia and China further “expand their influence across the Middle East,” noting that the Saudis are contemplating accepting Chinese yuan instead of US dollars as payment for Chinese oil sales.


Size matters

On March 4, Australian foreign editor Greg Sheridan called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “the most powerful, shocking wake-up call to Western strategic complacency since the end of the Vietnam War” which will require Australia’s military to “urgently… completely reconfigure itself.” 

Among a raft of procurements needed, Sheridan included Australia acquiring “thousands of long-range, land-launched missiles. Hezbollah, a terrorist guerrilla group, has 100,000 missiles and constitutes an existential threat to Israel. We acquire missiles in the dozens if we’re lucky and are a threat to nobody.”

However, military historian Ross Eastgate challenged Sheridan’s analogy, writing on the Spectator Australia website (March 12) that Australia has the benefit of “a vast landmass of 7.692 million km² with no contiguous land borders leaving it separated from potential aggressors by a formidable air-sea gap.” Israel, he said, is inextricably linked to its regional enemies by contiguous land borders and whilst tiny, has the advantage of being able to deploy aircraft within moments of launching. 


A dim view

In an interview on Sky News Australia (March 10), left-wing anti-Israel activist Antony Loewenstein said he doubted sanctions could remove Russian President Putin from power.

According to Loewenstein, “The truth is a lot of countries in the last 10, 20 years that have been sanctioned, I’m thinking here Syria, Iraq and others, Libya. Those regimes, uh, the leaders are still there obviously.”

Sanctions on those three countries were not intended to force regime change – although, contrary to Loewenstein’s assertion, the leadership of both Libya and Iraq did in fact change following the imposition of sanctions, though not directly because of them.

Interviewed by Sky News on Feb. 26, Loewenstein said if “we condemn US aggression in Iraq or Afghanistan or Israeli actions in Palestine, we also have to condemn Russian imperialism.” 

Loewenstein’s grouping of Russia with the US and Israel is a false comparison. The US led a multinational intervention in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and al-Qaeda who were responsible for acts of mass international terror. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was launched in the belief of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. In both cases, UN Security Council resolutions were cited as legal justifications for US-led military action.


No room for balance 

In March, the Guardian Australia proved itself a perpetual source of articles one-sidedly hostile to Israel.  

On March 2, the Guardian’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Bethan McKernan wrote, “in the years since the peace process ground to a halt, Israel has faced growing criticism of its treatment of Palestinians as the conflict is increasingly viewed internationally as a struggle for equal rights rather than a territorial dispute.”

If the views of increasingly radical NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are the barometer of international opinion, then McKernan is arguably correct. 

But most reasonable people understand that peace requires two sides to negotiate and the Palestinian political leadership is hopelessly split between the corrupt, despotic Palestinian Authority (PA) which has rejected Israeli peace offers and refused to negotiate since 2014, and the Islamist terror group Hamas in Gaza. This is why virtually all Western governments have rejected extreme claims from groups like Amnesty.

On March 7, the paper ran a long feature from McKernan on a controversial artwork displayed at the Museum of Israeli Art near Tel Aviv depicting two images of an ultra-Orthodox man praying at the Western Wall with the words in Hebrew “Jerusalem of Gold” and “Jerusalem of Shit”. The article only interviewed supporters of the artwork but no critics. 

On March 14, Guardian columnist Arwa Mahdi accused people and organisations of pretending Palestinians don’t exist, which is ironic given the vastly disproportionate column space the Guardian devotes to Palestinian allegations against Israel.

Mahdi condemned liberals for allegedly “abandon[ing] their progressive values, or their courage” and said merely mentioning Palestine “in a vaguely sympathetic way can be enough to elicit bad faith accusations of antisemitism.” 

This ignores the frequent expressions of crude antisemitism in pro-Palestinian activism and how it is used by the PA and Hamas to incite Palestinians to carry out terrorism and justify perpetuating the conflict.

Mahdi disingenuously said, “there is seemingly no acceptable way for a Palestinian to protest oppression or stand up for our rights.”

Maybe Mahdi can start standing up for Palestinian rights by protesting against Hamas, which makes Israeli military operations against Gaza inevitable by firing rockets at Israeli civilians? Otherwise, maybe she can protest against Hamas’ persecution of Palestinian journalists, Christians, and members of the LGBTQI community in Gaza?


Giddy heights 

In the Guardian Australia (March 11), US journalist Peter Beinart, a shrill advocate for a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, insisted the Biden Administration reverse its predecessor’s 2019 recognition of Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 war.

Beinart slammed US President Donald Trump’s recognition, saying international law prohibits the acquisition of territory by force and that “if the US chooses continued hypocrisy, it will make Ukraine, Taiwan and every other weaker nation bordered by a rapacious neighbour more vulnerable.”

This is an astounding claim that inverts the causation of historic events.

The Six Day War is widely accepted as a legally defensive war precipitated by combined Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian aggression. 

In the years and months leading up to the war and during it, Syria launched artillery strikes from the Golan onto Israeli farms and towns.

After the war, the United Nations Security Council accepted that Syria was a belligerent, which is why Resolution 242 called for Israel to return captured territories, but not necessarily all the territory, and said it need only do so upon the conclusion of peace. Israel’s Arab neighbours, including Syria, refused to negotiate.

Despite Israel annexing the Golan in 1981, Israeli governments from the left and right tried unsuccessfully to trade the Golan for a peace treaty with Syria in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Assad regime’s brutal murder and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, mostly civilians, with the cooperation of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia during the Syrian civil war put a stop to those talks.

It is widely understood that no Israeli withdrawal from the Golan is possible nor desirable in the foreseeable future given the regime’s use of chemical weapons and Iran’s efforts to build missile factories and other military installations in Syria to launch attacks on Israel.


Sanity prevails

In the Australian (March 14), columnist Alan Howe expounded on the threat Israel faced in the Six Day War, writing, “on May 24, 1967, Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, said that if there were to be a war ‘our basic objective will be to destroy Israel’. Planning for that war was well under way. Ten days earlier Nasser had removed the United Nations Emergency Forces stationed on the Sinai Peninsula. Two days later he blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping and began massing 100,000 troops on its border. Everyone knew what was coming. Israel’s combined enemies, with more than 500,000 troops, almost 1,000 combat aircraft and 2,500 tanks between them, were about to take on Israel, which had 50,000 troops.”

The brutal reality of Syria in 2022 was exposed on Feb. 25 in the Guardian, by chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon who said, “Assad has continued to bomb hospitals and schools, and burn villages to the ground in a macabre, medieval-style scorched-earth policy… Idlib, a province in northwest Syria, is the only region still free of the tyranny, but with millions of malnourished souls trapped there, and Assad throwing in incendiary devices to smoke them out as you would vermin, it still resembles hell on earth.”


Loud and clear

Surveying global responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Nine newspapers’ foreign editor Lia Timson correctly noted on March 3 that Israel “condemned the invasion and voiced solidarity with the Ukrainian government, but said it was keeping open channels of communication with Moscow… Israeli… Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said his country would back a UN vote to condemn Russia.”

In contrast, a timeline of events on the ABC’s website (March 8) stated for “Sunday, March 6” that “Israeli PM Naftali Bennett – one of the nations sitting on the fence and refusing to outwardly condemn Russia’s actions – met with Putin and later Zelenskyy.”

AIJAC asked the ABC to correct this, pointing out its own website had run an infographic showing Israel had voted for the United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion, and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had earlier issued a clear condemnation of Russia. The email to the ABC also noted that Russia had officially written to Israel expressing its displeasure.

The ABC agreed and changed the wording to state that “Naftali Bennett, prime minister of Israel – which is sitting on the fence and has been moderate in its condemnation of Russia – met with Putin and later Zelensky.” 

The change renders the text less inaccurate, but given Israel unequivocally condemned the invasion in word and deed and is not in fact “sitting on the fence,” perhaps the ABC should be seeking to achieve a standard higher than just “less inaccurate than it was.”


Truth under siege on ABC

On March 1, ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” decided that ABC listeners needed more opportunities to hear from journalist and author Janine di Giovanni.

AIR readers may recall December’s “Noted and Quoted” highlighting the incongruity between the contents of di Giovanni’s recent book The Vanishing on the Middle East’s disappearing Christian population and her statements on ABC Radio National “Religion & Ethics” in November 2021.

The book accurately attributed most of Gaza’s problems and the challenges faced by Christians there to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority but in her ABC interview, di Giovanni named Israel as the predominant cause of the situation. 

The pretext for di Giovanni’s latest ABC appearance was a recent factually inaccurate article on Gaza she wrote for Vanity Fair magazine. 

That article’s problematic statements included an untrue claim that in May 2021, “Israeli police tried to expel long-time Arab residents from East Jerusalem.” Israel’s Supreme Court has not yet adjudicated on the long running Sheikh Jarrah property dispute in question, so there were never any such attempted expulsions. Moreover, in the worst case, these residents may be evicted from specific properties they have been found not to own, but there is no reason they will have to leave east Jerusalem. 

Even more outrageous was the claim in the piece that in the Gaza war, “Hamas and the group Palestine Islamic Jihad sent cascades of rockets onto Israeli settlements.” When did Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Ashkelon become settlements?

Apart from an acknowledgement that “the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are at war and have been for some time”, her latest ABC appearance featured more of the same.

Palestinians in Gaza, she said, “are effectively under siege, both by the Israelis and by Egypt. And this is because of… the election of Hamas. But it’s collective punishment, which of course, is illegal under international law.” 

A siege is intended to compel people to surrender using starvation methods.

Gaza is under a limited blockade designed to hamper Hamas’ capacity to carry out terror attacks in Israel, a blockade which a UN inquiry found to be legal. It wasn’t imposed because Hamas was elected but because, since Israel vacated the territory in 2005, Hamas has used Gaza to fire thousands of rockets at Israel’s civilian population, and launch other terror attacks.

There is no historical precedent anywhere in international law for regarding such blockades as illegal “collective punishment”. Indeed, if they are, why are sanctions against Russia not illegal “collective punishment”? 

Instead of attributing the outbreak of the May 2021 war to Hamas’ firing of rockets at Israel, she accused Israel of “punishing Hamas. But, you know, bombs don’t distinguish between civilians and Hamas.”

Actually, Israel tries very hard to distinguish between civilians and Hamas’ fighters when it carries out airstrikes – and careful examination of casualty statistics actually demonstrates that it largely succeeds. This is despite Hamas’ strategy of carrying out rocket attacks on Israel from built-up areas in Gaza knowing Israel risks killing and wounding civilians if it targets the rocket crews in return. 

Di Giovanni also framed Israeli settlements on the West Bank as the central cause of the conflict, as well as “the settler movement, which is stronger and stronger and supported by, you know, many people in the US and probably Australia, Canada.”


Out of Parliament

Senators Eric Abetz (Lib., Tas) and Kimberley Kitching (OBM) (ALP, Vic.) – Feb. 3 – Media Statement on Amnesty International Report on Israel: 

“Amnesty International’s report is littered with errors that rehash discredited claims from other biased reports. It’s wrong in detail and disturbing in its intent.

“Israel is a vibrant beacon of democracy in the Middle East, comprised of Jews and Arabs, Druze and Christians – both secular and religious – whose rights and liberties are protected in equal measure.

“The misappropriation of hateful words does nothing to aid the peace process for a mutually negotiated and enduring two-state solution… We won’t help Israel or the Palestinians by pretending things are different from what they actually are in Israel or by encouraging delusions that the concept of the Jewish state can be crushed by external forces…”

Victorian Deputy Opposition Leader David Southwick (Lib., Caulfield) – March 21 – Facebook: “Kimberley [Kitching]… was a true friend of the Jewish community and Israel.”

Senator James Paterson (Lib., Vic), Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security – Feb. 17 – Media Release: “The Morrison government cannot and will not turn a blind eye to the campaign of violent terror against innocent civilians which is so evidently organised, financed and authorised by Hamas’ leadership.”

Josh Burns (ALP, Macnamara) – Feb. 26 – Posted on Facebook and Twitter a photo of one of his election posters graffitied with a Nazi swastika: “There’s no place for the Swastika in Australia… I’m putting this graffiti up as a reminder that there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed.”

The following are from comments in reply on Feb 26.

Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy Senator Jane Hume (Lib., Vic) – “This is totally unacceptable. The evils of antisemitism must be condemned, consistently.”

Anne Aly (ALP, Cowan) – “This is disgraceful. We shouldn’t tolerate this type of behaviour in a pluralistic, multicultural nation. I’m sure that the majority of Australians stand with you Josh in condemning this.”

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) – “Australians are better than this. There’s no place for this kind of attack in our community.”

Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood (Lib., La Trobe) – “Those who committed this crime must bow their pathetic heads in shame.”

Dave Sharma (Lib., Wentworth) – “Disgraceful and unacceptable.…I’m heartbroken you have to put up with this rubbish.”

Mike Freedlander (ALP, Macarthur) – “Shocking… this should never happen in Australia.”

Brian Mitchell (ALP, Lyons) – “We stand with you Josh Burns, the people of Macnamara and the Jewish community against this evil and hatred.”

Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water Terri Butler (ALP, Griffith) – “Disgusting.”

Senator Hollie Hughes (Lib., NSW) – “That is truly disgusting…No one should have to put up with that.”

Kate Thwaites (ALP, Jagajaga) – “Terrible. As you say, no place for this.”

Milton Dick (ALP, Oxley) – “Sickening to see.”

Matt Keogh (ALP, Burt) – “This is absolutely atrocious and unacceptable.”

Shadow Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – “This is disgraceful and should be universally condemned…”

Victorian Deputy Opposition Leader David Southwick (Lib., Caulfield) – March 9 – Legal and Social Issues Committee: “There is no place for hate in this state… and we know that hateful [Nazi swastika] symbol and that hurtful symbol is used against so many communities, not just the Jewish community, which I proudly represent… my federal colleague Josh Burns… on his political signage… a swastika was painted on his face… There is no place for that… Let us get that symbol banned.” 


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