Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – August 2021

Aug 2, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Sharp Albo

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s repudiation of former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr’s push for the ALP to embrace a boycott of Israel won praise from Nine newspapers’ foreign affairs and national security correspondent Anthony Galloway (July 16).

Galloway wrote Albanese “has a long history of standing up against the more extreme elements of his party’s Left, including campaigning against the former Marrickville council’s boycott of Israel over a decade ago.”

He wrote Albanese’s acknowledgement of the prevalence of antisemitism on the extreme Left was important and that he had “avoided the trap of adopting false equivalency.”

Albanese, he wrote, had called out “wrongdoing on both sides,” citing his criticism of the ‘‘indiscriminate’’ firing of rockets by Hamas and other militant groups into Israel as ‘‘counterproductive’’ but was careful to add that Israel should be criticised for ‘‘responding aggressively”. 

Actually, that was an example of false equivalence.

Israel does not arbitrarily “respond aggressively”. It carries out military operations against valid military targets when Hamas and other Islamist groups based in Gaza fire rockets at its cities – as any country would. Moreover, a failure to do so only emboldens Hamas to continue instigating violence that clearly violates the laws of war. 

 

Wild West

On July 19, the Sydney Morning Herald published a response to Galloway from pro-Palestinian activist Jennine Khalik who warned that Anthony Albanese risks “electoral damage” from “Australian-Palestinians and their supporters” in western Sydney who would refuse to help out during election campaigns unless he was more anti-Israel. 

The article made a clumsy attempt to shame Albanese into smearing Israel as an apartheid state, using the interesting tactic of asking why the Labor leader thinks he knows better than South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

Khalik couldn’t enlist South African leader Nelson Mandela, the foremost expert on apartheid, to her cause because he refused to ever make the comparison. In fact, Mandela held a number of positions that would likely enrage Khalik, such as supporting a two-state peace and saying during a 1999 visit to Israel that “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing (from the territories) if Arab states do not recognise Israel within secure borders.” 

Khalik also condemned Israel for charging Palestinian Khalida Jarrar with “encouraging terrorism and being a member of an illegal organisation.” 

The “illegal organisation” of which Khalida Jarrar is a senior official is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – proscribed as a terror group by the United States, Japan, Canada and the European Union. Her most recent arrest followed a PFLP terror attack in the West Bank in 2019 which killed a 17-year old girl.

Much of the article was couched in the “woke” language favoured by progressives. The irony is that Khalik and so many others like her are progressive on everything but Palestine, refusing to condemn Hamas and Fatah for their lack of democracy and appalling human rights records, including deaths in custody, calls for genocide, racism, antisemitism, and persecution of Palestinians who identify as LGBTQI.

 

Barns-storming

In the Hobart Mercury (July 19) columnist Greg Barns also slammed Anthony Albanese for his opposition to boycotts against Israel and refusal to label Israel an apartheid state.

To justify his criticism, Barns pointed to a Human Rights Watch report from earlier this year that he said “detailed an impeccably correct legal analysis” proving that Israel’s “policies and practices… towards Palestinians in the occupied territories” is apartheid.

A published response in the Mercury (July 21) by AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams debunked many of Barns’ criticisms. 

Hyams noted that “all Israeli citizens have equal rights, regardless of ethnicity, origin or religion. Israel’s Arab community is well represented in the parliament, the army, the judiciary and all professions. Now, there’s an Arab party in Israel’s broad governing coalition, there are two Arab cabinet ministers as well as a deputy minister, and a member of the Arabic-speaking Druze community heads the country’s coronavirus response.”

As for the Palestinians, Hyams said, “all Palestinians in Gaza and the vast majority in the West Bank have their day to day lives governed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority respectively, under their own laws, in accordance with the 1994-5 Oslo Accords.”

Noting that the Palestinian Authority had rejected offers of a state in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and had boycotted peace talks since 2014, Hyams said, “If Barns and others really want Palestinian justice, they should urge the Palestinian leadership to genuinely engage with Israel and work for a two-state peace that would benefit all Palestinians and Israelis,” instead of pushing for boycotts that only encourage Palestinian intransigence.

 

Squadrons of hatred

Australian Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan condemned the “lack of reaction” from the left as Iran installed “mass murderer and extreme hardliner, Ebrahim Raisi, as its new president” (June 26). 

Sheridan said, “those campaigners around the world, but especially the so-called Squad of congressional representatives in the US, who claim to be most passionately concerned with human rights, have nothing to say about Raisi” who “oversaw the execution of thousands of innocent Iranians in 1988.”

In contrast to the silence on Iran is their hate for Israel, which “often morphs into anti-Semitism,” he said.

Echoing Sheridan, commentator Frank Furedi said what was “disturbing” about the rise in antisemitism was that “a significant section of society, particularly the woke left, appears to pretend it is not happening or seem indifferent to manifestations of anti-Jewish hatred.”

He suggested this “is because the prevailing culture of identity politics associates Jewish identity with negative connotations… In an age in which white privilege is depicted as a cultural crime, Jews are often represented as a unique, hyper-white community who have far more privileges to check than others. Often this reaction against ‘Jewish privilege’ meshes with hostility to Israel to produce a unique 21st-century species of anti-Semitism,” Australian (July 10). 

 

Butchered

On June 30, ABC TV and radio news programs were broadcasting many different iterations of a report by acting Middle East correspondent Nick Dole about Israeli authorities demolishing a Palestinian butcher’s shop in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighbourhood that had been built without a planning permit.

Dole said human rights groups claim Israel “uses planning laws to expand its presence in east Jerusalem which Palestinians hope to make their future capital.”

On the ABC radio program “AM”, Dole’s report included Human Rights Watch spokesperson Omar Shakir saying Israel seeks to evict Palestinians and transfer the properties to Jewish Israelis which “reflects the Israeli Government’s policy of apartheid against Palestinians.” (Never mind that in this Silwan case there is no Jewish ownership claim involved – the land in question has been set aside to be a park). 

In one of the TV reports, Dole implied the ongoing lack of peace was due to Israeli actions, saying that “with more demolitions likely, peace and cooperation will be harder to achieve.”

None of the reports included any Israeli spokespeople, only Dole saying Israel rejects the claims. 

 

No Israeli Jews, no news?

Despite the ABC’s Nick Dole finding time to file multiple stories about a single shop’s demolition as the result of construction without a planning permit on land the occupant didn’t own, as far as AIR can tell, none of the ABC’s flagship TV and radio programs covered the massive Palestinian protests that erupted that same week in the West Bank. 

The protests were triggered by accusations that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ security forces beat high-profile Palestinian Authority (PA) critic Nizar Banat to death, and were serious enough to potentially threaten Abbas’ rule.

In contrast to the ABC, SBS TV “World News” broadcast two reports. 

A June 26 story noted that “mourners chanted ‘overthrow the regime,’ as they marched [Banat’s] body through the streets of Hebron,” and said that before his death, Banat had called on the West to stop giving aid to the corrupt Abbas. The report also noted that Abbas has ruled by fiat since 2009 and cancelled elections earlier this year that he was almost certain to lose. A follow-up story appeared on June 28.

Apparently, if news doesn’t fit the narrative of Israelis as bullies and Palestinians as victims, then the ABC doesn’t feel the need to cover it.

 

Palestinian anti-vaxxers

ABC viewers also missed out on important nuances in reports that South Korea had accepted 700,000 COVID-19 vaccines from Israel out of a supply of one million that had initially been earmarked for Palestinians but which the PA subsequently rejected.

On July 7, the introduction to an ABC TV “7pm News” report in Victoria stated that “in the world’s first vaccine swap, Israel has sent 700,000 Pfizer doses to South Korea that’s facing a fourth wave of the pandemic. Seoul will have to send the same number of shots back to Israel later in the year.”

Seoul correspondent Carrington Clarke’s report spoke of “the arrival of very precious cargo in South Korea. 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from Israel. They were supposed to be traded with the Palestinian Authority but the deal fell through because some of the doses were too close to the expiration date.”

In fact, out of the one million doses, only about 90,000 fell into the category of “about to expire” and even then, with a two-week grace period, they were still viable. They were clearly rejected because of a Palestinian anti-normalisation backlash, with the expiration dates given as an excuse. 

 

Missing the shot

An earlier online ABC article (July 4) by Nick Dole and Phil Hemingway, published before the South Korea deal, looked at the high vaccination levels in Israel and the low rates for Palestinians living in the PA ruled areas. 

The PA’s decision to reject one million vaccines from Israel was discussed and the piece included some factually challenged claims by Palestinian officials, including that the expiration dates for the doses were “days only”, that Israel’s offer was more about extending the life of its own vaccine supply and that Israelis only “do what’s good for their health.” The only rebuttal was an Israeli official saying the Palestinians knew the expiration dates when they agreed to the deal.

The article did correctly note Israel’s position that, under the Oslo Accords, the PA is legally responsible for providing health care – including, explicitly, vaccines – to Palestinians under its jurisdiction. 

However, it also included the claim that “human rights groups argue that under the Geneva Conventions, as an occupying force, Israel still has an obligation to ensure Palestinians get equitable access to vaccines.” 

In fact, the Geneva Convention states that “the Occupying Power” should work to control epidemics “with the cooperation of national and local authorities’ health services.”

In 1958, the International Committee of the Red Cross said this means “that there can be no question of making the Occupying Power alone responsible for the whole burden of organizing hospitals and health services and taking measures to control epidemics. The task is above all one for the competent services of the occupied country itself.” 

Throughout the pandemic, Israel has indeed offered its expertise and facilitated the transfer of aid and medical equipment to Hamas-run Gaza and the PA on the West Bank, as required by the Convention.

 

Explosive headlines

A headline on an AP-sourced report run on the ABC’s website (June 17) misleadingly claimed “Israeli air strikes target Gaza, Palestinians respond with fire-carrying balloons as unrest continues.”

In fact, Israeli air strikes were launched after, not before, incendiary balloons were sent across from Gaza, and in response to them.

Headlines used by the BBC (“Israel strikes in Gaza after fire balloons launched”) and Reuters (“Israel strikes Hamas sites over fire balloons, challenging truce”) both reported the sequence of events in the right order.

Moreover, the ABC report’s introduction stated that “Israel says its military struck militant sites in the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday (local time), with Palestinians responding by sending a series of fire-carrying balloons back across the border for a second straight day,” which only heightened the misdirection in the headline to heavily suggest Israel broke the ceasefire first and Hamas responded. 

The ABC did subsequently change the headline to read “Israeli air strikes target Gaza, Palestinians respond with more fire-carrying balloons as unrest continues.”

 

Karvelas goes in reverse

On June 16, Radio National “Drive” also muddied the sequence of events. 

Host Patricia Karvelas’ interview with journalist Sarah Coates about the rockets was prefaced with the sound of explosions, followed by Karvelas stating, “that’s the latest airstrike over Gaza. An attack that saw the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas broken after less than a month. Israeli military have said its aircraft struck Hamas military compounds after flammable balloons were launched from the Gaza Strip overnight.”

Again, it was the launching of the incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel that broke the ceasefire, not the Israeli airstrikes.

 

Accuracy is academic

On July 17, ABC Radio National “Saturday Extra” promoted a biased “essay” on the ABC website looking at Israel’s fourth prime minister, Golda Meir. It was written by Melbourne University historian and anti-Zionist activist Dr Jordana Silverstein, who was a signatory to the Orwellian “dobetteronpalestine” petition in May that called on the media to prioritise the Palestinian narrative. 

Silverstein’s article was simultaneously published on “The Conversation” website. 

While the Conversation’s home-page motto is “Academic rigour, journalistic flair”, neither virtue was evident in the article, and Silverstein’s role in anti-Israel organisations was not disclosed. 

Many of the very sources that Dr Silverstein purportedly relied on actually undermined the claims she made about Meir, while the links provided on the ABC version of the article were often totally off topic.

According to Dr Silverstein, in April 1971, Meir met with leaders from Israel’s Black Panther movement that sought to improve the opportunities for Jews who came to Israel from Middle Eastern countries, and then “famously told the press the Black Panthers were ‘not nice’ people.”

In fact, according to the link provided on the version run by the Conversation, the comment was made “one month later” after “6,000 Black Panthers and their supporters held a massive demonstration in Jerusalem.” Following the clash between demonstrators and police, Meir was quoted as saying the Panthers “are not nice people.” 

In other words, Meir wasn’t talking about the leaders she met in her office in April but the behaviour of unruly demonstrators weeks later.

Whilst calling Meir “remarkable” for becoming Israel’s first female prime minister, nonetheless Dr Silverstein absurdly said she is “perhaps best known for her attempts to project responsibility for Israeli violence onto Palestinians” and saw “Palestinians simply as an enemy to be defeated.”

In another stunning example of mischaracterising primary sources to further a political agenda, Dr Silverstein cherry picked from a lengthy article Meir penned in 1973 for Foreign Affairs. 

According to Dr Silverstein, in the article, “Meir rehearsed common settler-colonial false claims of an empty land – or terra nullius, to use language familiar to Australians” settled by Jews who had transformed “a barren and denuded land into fertile fields, flourishing settlements and new patterns of society.”

In fact, anyone who reads Meir’s full article will know that she said the exact opposite to what Dr Silverstein alleged and there is no claim in it that even approximates terra nullius. 

Meir wrote that “When I came to Palestine in 1921 my pioneer generation was neither morally obtuse nor uninformed. We knew there were Arabs in Palestine, just as we knew from our own experience that our labor in malaria-ridden kibbutzim transformed uninhabitable swamps into habitable soil. Far from ignoring the local population, we were sustained by the sincere conviction that our toil created more and better living space for both Arab and Jew. In this belief we were proven right.”

And far from proving that Meir wanted to “defeat” the Palestinians, Meir wrote, “Is the conflict then irreconcilable?… Between the Mediterranean and Iraq – the original area of Mandatory Palestine – there is room for both a Jewish and an Arab state. The name of the Arab state and its internal constitution and order are its responsibility and concern.”

Meir explained that peace can only arise in a framework where Israel’s right to exist was not in question, which is still as relevant today as it was in 1973.

 


In Parliament

 

Kevin Andrews (Lib., Menzies) – June 24 – “I was delighted this week, as the chair of the Australia-UAE Parliamentary Friendship Group, along with the chair of the Australia-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, Senator Abetz, to attend an MOU signing ceremony between Israel and the UAE. This arises from the Abraham Accords… That has led to, and is leading to, greater trade and travel between those countries. This is a manifestation of those international accords being played out here in Australia, so it was a great pleasure to be there.”

Senator Eric Abetz (Lib., Tas.) – June 23 – “Palestinian activist, Sara Saleh, joined the board of GetUp… Saleh had endorsed many of the racist Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions actions against Israel… At a speech to an Australians for Palestine symposium… Saleh proclaimed, ‘We must force Israel into a perennial state of existential anxiety.’ Really? This is truly unacceptable, horrible, racist… Israel is the only true democratic country in the Middle East. She has stood with us. We have stood with her. Against all the odds, Israel recently celebrated its 73rd anniversary of independence.”

The following speakers are members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, addressing the Committee’s recently released “Report on the review of the relisting of Hizballah’s External Security Organisation as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code:”

Committee Chair Senator James Paterson (Lib., Vic.) – June 22 – “We recommend that the government consider listing Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. We do so based on the expert evidence received by the committee that the distinction that we currently draw between Hizballah ESO and the rest of Hizballah is arbitrary.

“Dr Matthew Levitt, a world-renowned expert on Hizballah, told the committee that there is no plausible intellectual case to distinguish between the ESO and the rest of Hizballah, who he described as a ‘singular, unitary organisation’. As he noted, it is a distinction that Hizballah itself explicitly rejects…Twenty-two countries and two regional organisations list them in their entirety…” 

Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Senator Kristina Keneally (ALP, NSW) – June 22 – “…it’s appropriate that the Senate and the public take note that the report that is being tabled today is bipartisan and unanimously supported by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.”

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (ALP, Isaacs) – June 23 – “Let’s be clear about who and what Hizballah is. I have visited the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina, a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires. In 1994 a van loaded with explosives was driven into the building by a suicide bomber, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds more. All of the evidence points to Iran and Hizballah… I find it difficult to understand why it should matter what part of Hizballah carried out this devastating attack…”

Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – June 23 – “The effect of only partially listing Hizballah is that if the defence pleads that a terror suspect is involved with other parts of the organisation but not the listed part, it may hamper the authorities in protecting the broader community from acts of terrorism… a compartmentalised Hizballah is a fiction… Australia is now the only country which lists only the Hizballah External Security Organisation… ASIO… Director-General of Security, Mike Burgess… observed, ‘I agree with your view on how unhelpful the partial listing is for law enforcement.’”

Anthony Byrne (ALP, Holt) – June 23 – “I think it’s very important… to note that we were the only Five Eyes partner that didn’t list the military wing or Hizballah in its entirety in terms of a terrorist organisation, and I don’t think that occurring benefited Australia or Australia’s national interest.” 

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