Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – April 2023

Mar 28, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Netanyahu’s trials 

Writing on protests in Israel against the Netanyahu Government’s judicial reform legislation, Nine Newspapers columnist Peter Hartcher (March 7) quoted a recent piece by visiting AIJAC non-resident scholar Ehud Yaari saying that Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu is a “leader who rose against his own people.” Hartcher also quoted Yaari saying Netanyahu has been worn down by his ongoing corruption court cases.

On ABC Radio National “Saturday Extra” (March 11), Yaari predicted the conflict created by the Israeli Government’s push for judicial reform, and the huge protests occurring weekly against it, will be resolved through “a compromise which is going to be sensible, which will not amount to the Government taking over control over the Supreme Court and the rest of the judicial system.”

Yaari also said Netanyahu “has shot himself in both legs. Now he is limping towards a compromise which will be a very far cry from what he and his lieutenants expected to achieve… All his moves are intended to reach to bring him to a point where he is freed of the chains of [his] trial.”

 

Case not heard

A six-minute report on the ongoing protests against the Netanyahu Government’s judicial reform legislation from Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn on ABC TV “7.30” (Feb. 16) wasted an opportunity to bring viewers an explanation of the pro-judicial reform case, alongside the arguments of critics.

The failure to do so was frustrating because Horn went to the effort to interview Eugene Kontorovich, a legal scholar who, as she explained, belongs to a “right-wing think tank that drafted the policy papers for the judicial changes.” 

Horn said Kontorovich believes “the Supreme Court… has too much power over Israeli society.” Immediately the piece cut to Kontorovich saying, “Everyone has a sense that there’s a need for checks and balances. And the Supreme Court is currently the only institution in Israel with no checks, but yet [has] power over every single issue of public life.” 

A second grab of Kontorovich featured him focusing on the protests, not the case for reforms, saying, “when the opposition mobilises people to conduct massive demonstrations, says it’s the end of democracy, it’s not surprising that… foreign investors will get worried…in a sense, they’re trying to create a crisis.”

Apart from Netanyahu condemning protestors, the other four talking heads all opposed the proposed reforms.

 

TV trials

SBS TV “World News” (March 17) reported Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholtz’s criticism of the proposed changes during Netanyahu’s recent trip to Berlin. The segment included Netanyahu saying, “The ideas that are presented in Israel as though this is a break with democracy is not true. Israel was, Israel will remain a liberal democracy, not different. And as strong and as vibrant as it was before and as Europe is today. We are not going to deviate from that one bit, and we’re committed to it.” 

On March 19, “World News” reported a Melbourne demonstration, which included senior Rabbi Ralph Genende saying, “It really disturbed me that [Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s compromise] … proposal was given hardly any time at all. It was just brushed off.”

An SBS TV “News in Arabic” (March 16) report on anti-judicial reform protests included an Israeli protestor opposing weakening the power of the Supreme Court by alleging, “Our country is not good at equality for minorities, not for women, not for LBGTQ.”

ABC TV “The World” (Feb. 22) interviewed Times of Israel’s Tal Schneider, who said the reforms would “chang[e] Israel’s democracy overnight… to something of a semi-dictatorship where the executive power, which is the government, controls both the House, the Parliament, and the judicial system.”

Schneider said protest leaders “don’t trust either [Netanyahu’s] coalition or [the] opposition” which is willing to consider compromise legislation that she said would still amount to “half a dictatorship”. 

 

Warning bells

On March 3, the Australian editorialised that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors’ detection of traces of uranium enriched to 83.7% in Iran shows the country is on the “cusp of being able to build an atomic bomb [which] sounds an alarm the international community must not ignore.”

The Guardian Australia (March 8) reported that IAEA chief Rafael Grossi had walked back widely reported comments that Iran had agreed to the Agency resuming monitoring of its nuclear facilities.

The article noted that Grossi “said there was no agreement at this point on Iran handing over older footage and data taken by cameras and other equipment at the nuclear-related sites, or on future provision of that footage and data.”

 

Gulf Course

On ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (March 13), Atlantic Council analyst Jonathan Panikoff blamed Iran for the rupture in relations between it and Saudi Arabia in 2016 – now recommenced under a deal brokered by China.

Panikoff cited, “an increase [in] Iranian aggressiveness in the region, including arming a variety of entities… prominently in Iraq but also in Yemen that started to become a real issue for the Saudis. They felt like they were more and more under threat and you also had a situation in which, at the time, the Iranian government felt like it was in a better place with the US” after the 2015 nuclear deal.

He said China, as the largest importer of Saudi and Iranian oil, was well placed to mediate between the two countries, given Iran is boycotting direct talks with the US. 

On ABC TV “World News” (March 15), Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies analyst Tuvia Gering said, “many people here in the region are very sceptical that this would be able to hold… even when they had the embassies in place, the relationship was really fraught and violent. So, it still remains to be seen.”

 

The Federman Factor 

Discussing the cold-blooded murder of two Israeli brothers who were driving through the Palestinian village of Huwara and the indefensible violent riots in response by settlers against the Palestinian residents of the town, Associated Press Middle East correspondent Josef Federman provided some rarely heard context about the dynamics that underpin recent upticks in violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Talking to ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (March 1), Federman explained that on the Palestinian side, “there are lots of weapons now in the West Bank, something we haven’t seen in the past… Many of these attackers act individually. So, the army has a hard time going after organised groups to stop this. And then when you combine this with the presence of far-right Israeli politicians who are constantly calling for a tougher approach, a harder crackdown and so forth, this creates a very combustible atmosphere.”

Federman noted the Israeli army acknowledged serious operational failings contributed to the riot, including closing roads to prevent vehicles travelling to Huwara but not anticipating rioters might instead simply walk into the village on foot.

Discussing the murder of American-Israeli Elan Ganeles, killed driving through the West Bank, Federman noted, “he was 26 or 27 years old, and he did not even live in Israel… He was in the country to visit friends and to attend a wedding. So, you know, a very, very sad story on the individual level.”

 

Huwara horrors

An SBS TV “World News” (Feb. 28) report on the Huwara violence noted that “There’s been more bloodshed in the West Bank with a suspected Palestinian gunman killing an Israeli American motorist near the city of Jericho. It comes a day after Israeli settlers rampaged through the Palestinian village of Huwara in response to the deaths of two other settlers.”

The report included Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki condemning the international community, saying, “Did it sanction the occupying power for committing international crimes? Did it assist the Palestinian people in seeking redress at the International Court of Justice? No.” 

This is an absurd claim – the Palestinian Authority constantly incites terrorism against Jews and Israelis and uses international aid to financially reward acts of terror carried out by Palestinians. Meanwhile, the Jewish violence in Huwara was widely condemned in Israel. So, if anyone has earned a hearing for inciting violence before the ICC, it is the PA.

A report on Channel Ten’s “5 pm News” (Feb. 27) said, “This year alone, more than 60 Palestinians have been killed by security forces. On the other side, 13 Israelis have lost their lives.” This does not take into account that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian fatalities were gunmen or those involved in violent acts, whilst Israeli civilians are deliberately targeted.

The Age’s headline, “Settlers torch homes in deadly rampage” (Feb. 28), placed the emphasis on the reaction to the murder of two Israelis, while the introduction to the story was more balanced. 

The Guardian Australia (March 3) was one of the few media outlets to note that Israel subsequently arrested five settlers over the riot in Huwara. However, it was actually eight, not five.

 

Jenin Scene

SBS TV “World News” (March 8) reporter Claudia Farhart’s story on an Israeli raid in Jenin appropriately noted that the “six [Palestinians] who died have all been claimed by Palestinian militant groups.”

ABC TV “7 pm News” (March 8) Victorian edition newsreader Tamara Oudyn noted that “One of them was a Hamas fighter suspected of fatally shooting two brothers from a Jewish settlement last week.”

 

Carrtoon shows

In Tasmania’s Mercury (Feb. 23) former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr peddled a familiar tale of vitriolic half-truths about Israel in an op-ed calling for immediate Australian recognition of a currently non-existent Palestinian state.

The Albanese Government’s condemnation of a recent Israeli announcement of an intention to build 10,000 new units in settlements was welcomed by Carr who implied the construction would be in new settlements and said, “it’s a big step to criticise Israel because in Australia its organised friends are a powerful lobby.”

Given the current Government reversed Australia’s recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and changed the country’s votes at the UN on a slew of resolutions without the “powerful lobby” being able to do anything about it, that’s a stretch.

He called Israel’s policy of trying 12-year-old Palestinians in Israeli military courts “cruel” but failed to note that Israel is obligated to use a military justice system under the rules of belligerent occupation. 

The Mercury ran AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams’ response to Carr (March 1) which pointed out that the two-state solution is currently off the table simply because Palestinian leaders kept rejecting past Israeli offers to create one, while the current leadership is refusing to even try to negotiate an end to the conflict, so recognising a Palestinian state would be wrong and counter-productive. 

 

Kyiv – not Chicken

The myth that only the pro-Israel lobby was disconcerted by the inclusion of Palestinian writer Susan Abulhawa in the 2023 Adelaide Writers’ Week was punctured by the Ukrainian Ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko, interviewed on Sky News’ “Sharri” (March 7). 

Ambassador Myroshnychenko said, “It’s very disappointing that somebody of that reputation and being racist and being antisemitic is allowed actually in that, in that forum. I understand the value of plurality and I understand the value of the freedom of speech. But I think this is just going too far beyond. I know a lot of people are boycotting the Adelaide Writers’ Festival. Ukrainian commentators and speakers have pulled out, including the moderator. And I think that’s quite shameful [that] it’s allowed here in Australia.”

 

Not a fit state

On ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (March 16), former Australian Ambassador to Egypt and Jordan Bob Bowker offered his view that the two-state peace formula to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was dead.

According to Bowker, “when I look at the Israeli-Palestinian situation, the two-state solution is indeed no longer an avenue that is able to be pursued… it’s difficult because you can’t expect a[n Australian] minister to advocate a one state approach, which is in fact the only way that this can now go when neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are prepared at this stage or organised politically and ideologically to pursue that one state approach.” In other words, he argues that a two-state solution is dead, but admits his own “one-state approach” is also hopeless because no one wants it. So, it must be asked, why is he pushing this plan – a plan which effectively calls for Israel’s destruction – if he admits it is just as dead? 

 

A Bob each way

Having rejected the two-state solution and admitted there’s no appetite for the one-state solution, Bowker had earlier proposed his own rather confused plan in the Australian Financial Review (March 3). 

According to Bowker, the path forward temporarily might be a “de-facto two-and-a-half state outcome for the coming decade.

A state, in effect, functioning for the ultra-nationalist and religious Jews; a state functioning for the remainder of the Jews in Israel, and the 1948-era Palestinians, in a divided country; and a semi-state for the remaining Palestinians – which will struggle, with external support, to maintain at least the symbols and service delivery of statehood, but which will lack genuine sovereignty,” he wrote.

So now his plan calls for Israel to be broken into two parts – before being replaced by “a state that treats Israelis and Palestinian as equals.”

Bowker’s proposal ignores the very real probability that, without Israeli security help, any Palestinian state would fall under Hamas’ control and would become an Islamist-run dictatorship a la Gaza, as well as the overwhelming likelihood that, even if it did not, any such state would hardly be the basis for a new state which would fairly “treat Israelis and Palestinian as equals.”

 

Capital thoughts

On Sky News “Sharri” (March 2), visiting AIJAC guest Ehud Yaari said Israel was “puzzled” by the Albanese Government’s decision last September to reverse its predecessor’s 2018 recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Yaari explained, “honestly, we did not understand the Australian move about west Jerusalem. For a very simple reason. Even the Palestinians have no problem with recognising west Jerusalem as Israel, as part of Israel. So, Australia withdrawing recognition of west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was something of a surprise to the Palestinians too.”

He also said Israel is puzzled by former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr “calling for recognition of a Palestinian state where the urgent task now is to rebuild, upgrade and make the Palestinian Authority most effective… before it collapses.”

 

Talking pictures

ABC Radio National “Saturday Extra” (March 12) interviewed Center for Peace Communications founder Joseph Braude about the movie series “Whispered in Gaza” which combines animation with audio testimonies from Palestinians who share their uncensored views of life under the 16 years of Hamas rule in the Strip.

Host Julian Morrow noted that the Gaza blockade “began after the military takeover… by Hamas in 2007,” but incorrectly attributed its enforcement only to Israel, and not to Egypt too, which applies it far more harshly. 

Braude said the interviewees “describe their lives, their travails, their aspirations for the future and their experience above all of Hamas as a governing actor. There’s considerable research in Gaza, opinion polling by Palestinian polling groups, human rights work and reportage that shows that Hamas is unwanted by much of its population, that Gazans blame Hamas for starting wars with Israel it can’t win and hiding in bunkers and leaving civilians to suffer the casualties. Hamas rule is a kind of a familiar, corrupt dictatorship that certainly doesn’t live up to the Islamic principles it claims to represent.” 

The program noted that the Iraq-based Islamic Fatwa Council issued an “unprecedented fatwa [Islamic religious decree] declaring Hamas to be illegitimate according to Islamic law” based on the fact that it oppresses Muslims. One of the justifications for the fatwa was the testimonies in the film, Braude explained.

 


In Parliament

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton (Lib., Dickson) – March 22 – Moving that Shadow Attorney-General Julian Leeser be allowed to present a bill amending the Criminal Code to ban Nazi symbols and salutes: “The Nazi regime is one of the greatest evils ever visited on humanity. Nazism is an ideology of unparalleled hate… Nazi symbols… must be condemned wherever and whenever they are found and displayed… It is Australian to stand with people of Jewish faith. It is Australian to stand against those antisemitic incidents…”

Shadow Attorney-General Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) seconding the motion: “There must be no place in Australia for Nazi-style flags, uniforms, salutes and boycotts, because they are the means by which this sickness seeks to perpetuate and promote itself.”

Manager of Government Business in the House Tony Burke (ALP, Watson) speaking against the motion: “I’ve been advised that work on this exact area is being done… in the office of the Attorney-General… These symbols have become the symbols of the worst of humanity…”

Senator James McGrath (Lib., Qld) – March 22 – “I stand in this chamber and I cannot comprehend why any Australian would join the Nazi Party or give the Nazi salute.”

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (ALP, Isaacs) – March 21 – “There is no place in Australian society for public displays of Nazi symbols or the Nazi salute. These are markers of some of the darkest days in the world’s history—of ghettos, deportations and mass murder… We must never, ever forget.”

Senator Dean Smith (Lib., WA) – March 21 – “In accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition on antisemitism, hostility towards the legitimacy of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to statehood is ultimately an act of antisemitic hate.”

Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John (Greens, WA) – March 7 – “There can be no democracy while there is also occupation and inequality. A state that denies rights to millions of people and systemically discriminates against a fifth of its citizens cannot be considered a true democracy… The Greens are calling on the Australian government to immediately end all engagement and trade with the Israeli military…”

Josh Burns (ALP, Macnamara) – March 6 – Moving that the House “reaffirms its commitment to the IHRA working definition of antisemitism… Unfortunately, antisemitism is on the rise again, occurring far too frequently and increasing in hostility… The IHRA definition of antisemitism was created by international Holocaust and genocide scholars to academically understand what antisemitism is.”

The following speeches were in support of the motion:

Julian Leeser – “Sadly, today the epicentre of antisemitic activity is our universities. The situation on campus for Jews is particularly bad. In 2022, SRCs at Sydney, Melbourne, ANU, Adelaide and Wollongong passed motions supporting the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement… There should be no place for antisemitism on Australian campuses.”

Allegra Spender (Ind., Wentworth) – Seconding the motion: “…on antisemitism, it seems we have gone backwards, particularly at universities. This is why the work of IHRA is so important. By proposing a working definition of antisemitism, it provides a tool for organisations, including government and universities, to frame what constitutes antisemitism, to set clear expectations and to help ensure the behaviour of individuals in these organisations is appropriate and respectful… individuals who are subject to racism should be listened to as we try to define what racism is in relation to these people.”

Steve Georganas (ALP, Adelaide) – “It’s important to remember that Holocaust denial and distortion are also forms of antisemitism.”

Andrew Wallace (Lib., Fisher) – “We must act to counter antisemitism… We also have a duty to defend the state of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state and our friend and ally.” 

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