Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – August 2019

Aug 7, 2019 | AIJAC staff

The “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain in support of a US$50 billion plan to bring one million jobs to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank over a decade was given the “ABC treatment.”
The “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain in support of a US$50 billion plan to bring one million jobs to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank over a decade was given the “ABC treatment.”


ABC war on Bahrain?

The Trump Administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain in late June – attended by a range of Arab countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel in support of a US$50 billion plan to bring one million jobs to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and surrounding countries over a decade – was given the “ABC treatment.”

ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek’s monologue on “Saturday Extra” (July 7) oozed with barely concealed contempt for the effort and contained snarky anti-Israel comments. 

Tlozek began by saying, “Israelis don’t generally go to Bahrain unless they’re secretly training the government there to use Israeli spyware to monitor people’s private communications. So for journalists and businessmen travel to the Gulf state, for what the White House called an economic workshop on Palestinian prosperity, was a novelty.”

Israelis don’t go to Bahrain because the latter has largely refused to let Israeli passport holders in since 1948, which means attending the conference was not a “novelty” but historic.

Absurdly, Tlozek claimed that Palestinian leaders “were not attending and were probably unwelcome anyway,” distorting the reality that the Palestinian leadership have rejected any path that does not conform to their dilatory agenda. 

Tlozek did note that Palestinian businessmen who attended were harassed by the Palestinian Authority upon returning to the West Bank and that Palestinians believe President Mahmoud Abbas who is in the 15th year of a “supposed four-year term” is a “huge obstacle to self-determination and progress”. From Tlozek’s tone and words however, it wasn’t because Abbas had rejected Israeli offers of a Palestinian state in 2008 or ended negotiations in 2014, rather it seemed that they object to “accepting” Israel, which Bahrain conference-goers were clearly endorsing.


Bill Me!

Former Australian Ambassador to Syria Anthony Billingsley was allowed to vent on the conference to ABC Radio National “Breakfast” listeners (June 25), claiming that Australia doesn’t support a two-state solution, saying, “you know there is evidence, implicit I suppose, which challenges our stated position of … support for a two-state solution”. In fact, last December PM Scott Morrison reiterated Australia’s “commitment to a two-state solution” and “resolved to acknowledge the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in east Jerusalem.” 

Far left Israeli activist Orly Noy and Palestinian Australian activist Sara Saleh were given carte blanche on ABC Radio National “Drive” (July 8) to bag out Israel as an apartheid state. Noy claimed in defiance of statistical evidence that Jews who came to Israel in the 1950s from the Middle East “70 years later…are still at the very bottom of the social, economic or political hierarchy in Israel” and must deny their true Arab identity to participate in the “Zionist project”. 

Saleh talked about “65 Israeli laws that discriminate against” non-Jewish citizens. These “discriminatory” laws always cited by anti-Israel activists are nothing of the sort and include such things as having the Star of David on the Israeli flag and making Jewish holidays national holidays. 


Numbers game

On ABC Radio “AM” (June 26), Beirut-based ABC Middle East correspondent Adam Harvey’s report on how Palestinian Lebanese saw the Bahrain conference, claimed, “there’s almost half a million Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon alone”. In fact, according to a census carried out under the auspices of Lebanon’s Bureau of Statistics and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2016/17, it was found that there are in fact 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

After AIJAC pointed out the error, the ABC posted a correction on the “AM” website.


Politics, not prosperity, a priority

Except for oblique mentions in articles reporting on other events, the print editions of the Age and Sydney Morning Herald almost completely failed to cover the Bahrain conference.

A 53-word news brief on June 29 reported on an attack on the Bahrain embassy in Baghdad in which protesters substituted Bahrain’s flag with a Palestinian one to express displeasure at the conference.

A long feature (July 6) on the Jordanian-born wife of the ruler of Dubai fleeing the country included a statement that “Jordan fears the US initiative might include pressure on it to grant citizenship to more than 1 million Palestinian refugees.” This seems a wildly inflated figure. According to UNWRA’s website, as of December 2016, “More than 2 million registered Palestine refugees live in Jordan. Most Palestine refugees in Jordan, but not all, have full citizenship.”

In contrast, the Australian newspaper ran substantial and prominent news reports and opinion pieces before, during and after the conference that canvassed the different perspectives of Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and Arabs. American legal academic Eugene Kontorovich made the point that “the Palestinians can comfortably turn down once-in-a-lifetime opportunities because almost all Palestinians already live under Palestinian government,” Australian (June 25). In the next day’s Australian, Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin reviewed the long history of Palestinian boycotts and rejection of peace offers.


Tunnel Vision

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald gave great prominence to a report (July 2) on the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who, it was said, “pulverised diplomatic barriers” by participating in the opening of a 2,000-year-old pedestrian walkway that Israeli archaeologists say was used by pilgrims to reach the Temple in ancient times and is now in an underground tunnel in the east Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan.

The story implied the archaeological dig threatened Palestinian homes directly above it and quoted critics who said it uses “unorthodox archaeological techniques to highlight Jewish historical claims while marginalising those of Muslims and Christians.”

But as an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 2008 stated, “notwithstanding the claims of the petitioners… the work is being done under professional engineering supervision and as part of an approved construction plan. And not only that. As is clear from the statements of the respondents, most of the operations that the Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the drainage canal are not actual excavation work but involve clearing out garbage that has accumulated in the canal for about two thousand years.”

The court also said the dig was “contribut[ing]… to understanding historical events that are of importance not solely to the Jewish people and to their history (emphasis added).”


Carr talk

Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr denounced the Trump Administration’s foreign policy agenda, claiming that “no longer is the US attempting to broker a settlement between Israel and Palestine that delivers two states for two peoples. The chauvinists in Israel can’t believe their luck as the US President installs his embassy in Jerusalem and flings them sovereignty over the Golan Heights without extracting any concession in return.”

Since taking office in 2017 President Trump has repeatedly called for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and said it was up to both sides to agree on what form that would take, including saying that a two-state solution was his preferred outcome. In recognising Jerusalem, Trump said that Israel “won one point” but will have to “give up some other points later on in the negotiation – if it ever takes place” and made it clear the move did not preclude a future Palestinian state having a capital there. Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan was a strategic statement in response to the Iran-Hezbollah-Russian success in securing the Assad regime’s victory in Syria. Age/SMH (June 28).


ABC missing in action

The ABC’s failure to report on video footage of senior Hamas leader Fathi Hammad calling for Palestinians “to attack every Jew possible in all the world and kill them” was condemned by Andrew Bolt on his eponymous SkyNews program and in his syndicated News Corp. newspaper column (July 17).

Bolt wrote, “The ABC’s silence is infuriating because it demonstrates the wilful deafness of Australia’s anti-Israel left. How many of Hamas’ useful idiots here still insist on believing this terrorist group, which controls Gaza and its two million Palestinians, actually wants peace? How many insist on shutting out all the evidence Hamas actually wants blood? And so we hear ABC presenter Sarah Ferguson, for instance, accuse Israel of ‘unchecked racism’ and insist its leaders ‘sit down with Hamas in order to secure that solution’, as if Hamas was a genuine negotiating partner.”

On Bolt’s show, AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein agreed the ABC was remiss in not reporting on Hammad’s comments, saying, “it goes to the very heart of the problem.”

Rubenstein quoted from Hamas’ charter which says “‘there is no solution to the Palestine question, except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals, international conferences, they’re all a waste of time and vain endeavours. Palestine is an Islamic land, all of it.’” He also explained how three “serious” peace offers had been rebuffed by the Palestinian leadership.


What the hack?

Network Ten’s broadcast of Todd Sampson’s “Body Hack” episode (June 25) from Gaza – which focused on the protests along the border with Israel – was roundly condemned for his insistence that it was not political and did not take sides. 

Columnist Rebecca Weisser wrote, “Sampson says his original mission was to document the lives of medics in Gaza, but once he met his fixer, he ended up making something else. What? Hamas propaganda.”

She said Sampson’s claim that “‘Body Hack is not a political show, we’re not here to take sides’” was “disingenuous… since he didn’t even try to present two sides to the story; he spent three weeks filming in Gaza and none in Israel.”

The program was only interested in “Palestinian pain”, she said, and it failed to note that “more than 20,000 [rockets] have been fired at Israel since 2001.” When Sampson said Israel bombed a school, he omitted to say “that Hamas weapons were hidden in it” or that apartment blocks are hit because “Hamas shoots weapons from heavily populated areas to use civilians as human shields. There is no mention of Hamas diverting millions of dollars in international aid into constructing tunnels to allow terrorists to infiltrate Israel. Or conversely of the thousands of Palestinians who are treated in Israeli hospitals every year.”

She also highlighted Sampson’s failure to state that both Israel and Egypt enforce the blockade of Gaza “to clamp down on Hamas weapons-smuggling and terrorist infiltration,” Spectator Australia (July 6).


Hack No!

Sky News “Outsiders” (June 30) ran footage from “Body Hack” with AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro explaining the many errors and manipulations it contained that whitewashed Hamas’ crimes and smeared Israel.

Among the many points Shapiro made was to point out Sampson’s absurd attempt to make Hamas appear to accept Israel’s existence while painting Palestinian Islamic Jihad as the only party wanting to see the Jewish state’s destruction.

Shapiro also explained the role played by the fixer assigned to Sampson in Gaza, a woman who has admitted she is there to make sure Hamas is happy with the material produced by foreign media professionals visiting Gaza.


A bit Rich

Talking about the selective outrage shown by the world on certain issues, columnist Graham Richardson noted that, “If Israel fires rubber bullets at a Palestinian youth, many are outraged. If another Houthi village is destroyed, we too often look the other way.”

He said “we should all stop pretending that a two-state solution is alive and well…there is Buckley’s chance of a two-state solution in the coming decades. I don’t believe Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet want it and in decades past when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had the chance to close a deal on this, he backed away.”

Bizarrely, he seemed to falsely suggest that Arab villages in Israel “are ringed by tanks and there appears to be not a skerrick of respect between Arab citizens and Israel and its armed forces or government.”

Perhaps he meant Palestinian towns on the West Bank? However, even in that case, most of those are under Palestinian self-rule and their residents do not encounter Israeli forces unless they seek to cross into Israeli-controlled areas, Australian (July 5).


Off target

An Age/SMH primer (June 22) on the current tensions over Iran’s nuclear program claimed “Israel has most cause to fear a nuclear-armed Iran, which has a policy position that the Israeli state is illegitimate and should be replaced with a Palestinian state.”

Whilst Israel is certainly identified in the public arena as Iran’s number one target, Sunni Arab states are also extremely concerned (which the article did imply). Hence, there have been unprecedented public meetings in the last decade between Israelis and senior officials of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, that still do not recognise the Jewish state. Iran has been held responsible for significant terror attacks on Saudi Arabia itself including the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 and multiple rocket attacks launched by Iran’s proxy Houthi rebels. 


Mercury Falling

Hobart Mercury regular columnist Greg Barns claimed (June 24) Iran was “blamed without a shred of evidence” for the recent attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf, implied it was the CIA, and again accused pro-Israel supporters in Australia of “foreign interference.” 

On July 4, Mercury contributor Peter Jones correctly said “the latest tension is really between Saudi Arabia and Iran, vying for hegemony in the Islamic world, split between the Sunni majority (80 per cent) and the Shi’a minority.” But Jones was way off in claiming that “Israel…sees Iran as its greatest threat because of their support for a Palestinian state”. Iran openly says it wants to destroy Israel on an almost daily basis! In addition, Jones’ implied that Iran wants nuclear weapons because the Saudis are seeking them too, which inverts cause and effect.


Jakarta Blues

Age/SMH Southeast Asia correspondent James Massola’s report (July 9) on newly re-elected Australian PM Scott Morrison and Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s meeting at the G20 summit in June included some questionable claims about the issue of Australia recognising west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and consideration of moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Massola said Australia’s “decision to consider moving the embassy infuriated Indonesia’s government…the status of Palestine is a totemic issue in Indonesian politics and for ordinary citizens.”

The issue may be totemic but the Australian Government’s Jerusalem stance garnered little coverage in Indonesian media. And as Massola himself reported in November 2018, attendees at demonstrations on the issue outside Australia’s embassy in Jakarta numbered in the low hundreds, with many of them paid and ignorant of why they were even there.


A nuclear disaster

SBS TV “World News” reporter Hannah Sinclair’s story (July 10) misled viewers on what Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu said in response to Iran’s resumption of increased uranium enrichment.

Sinclair said “regional foes – like the Israeli Prime Minister – have issued military threats in response” to the enrichment.

The story then cut to footage of Netanyahu in front of an F35 fighter jet saying, “Iran should remember that these planes can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran, and certainly Syria.”

This is a gross misrepresentation of the context in which Netanyahu made his remarks.

At the Nevatim airbase, Netanyahu directed his remarks to recent threats by Iranian officials and lawmakers to destroy Israel, not Iran’s increased uranium enrichment.

Netanyahu’s sentences preceding the one included in the SBS report make this absolutely clear, “I am on an impressive tour of the air force base… Here behind me is the ‘Adir’, the F-35. Recently, Iran has been threatening the destruction of Israel. It would do well to remember that these planes can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran and certainly Syria.”

Sinclair created a direct link clearly not justified by the context – which was Iranian threats which SBS did not bother to report.

On July 1, Mojtaba Zolnour, chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said Israel would be destroyed rapidly if the United States attacked the Islamic Republic.

On June 20, former Iranian Defence Minister Gen. Hossein Dehghan said Iran’s military could destroy US military bases in the region and annihilate Israel.

In fact, Netanyahu’s response to Iran increasing uranium enrichment came on July 7 at a Cabinet meeting, and called for sanctions but did not mention military action: “This measure is a very dangerous step, and I call on my friends, leaders of France, Britain, Germany: You signed the deal and said the moment they’d take this measure, harsh sanctions would be imposed.” This comment was reported on SBS’s website, so Sinclair should have been aware of it.


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