Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – August 2022

Aug 3, 2022 | AIJAC staff

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

The semantics of “semitism” 

On the ABC “Religion & Ethics” website (July 13), writer and broadcaster John Safran used the South Australian Parliament’s recent adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism to challenge claims aired by its critics.

Safran noted Greens MP Tammy Franks’ speech to Parliament, which condemned antisemitism, but claimed that the IHRA definition was designed to prevent criticism of Israel. 

Franks, he noted, told Parliament that “a Semite… includes a much broader range of people than the Jewish people” and because it’s not clear what a Semite is, it’s not clear what antisemitism means.

Safran explained that the word ‘antisemitism’ only refers to hatred for Jews. The word was coined in “the nineteenth century, when European ‘race scientists’ began labelling Jews as ‘Semites’ to distinguish them from the supposedly superior Aryans. Responding to this, a Jewish intellectual, Moritz Steinschneider, coined the term ‘antisemitism’,” he wrote. 

Earlier (July 8), a news brief in the Advertiser on South Australia’s Parliament adopting the IHRA definition was headlined “SA to adopt anti-Semitic legal ruling.” In fact, the definition is not a piece of legislation and adopting it has no legal ramifications. It is a document explaining what antisemitism is and providing 11 examples to assist in identifying it. 

Meanwhile, the Australian (June 29) welcomed Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott’s statement that “anti-Semitic language or behaviour on campus” will not be tolerated in his condemnation of an extreme anti-Israel motion passed by the institution’s Student’s Representative Council on June 1. 

 

Undocumented

Accusations of antisemitism at this year’s German arts festival Documenta made the news in Australia.

Guardian Australia reported (July 18) Documenta Director General Sabine Schormann’s resignation after the board expressed “profound dismay” about “clearly anti-Semitic content”. 

The report noted the controversy centred on a mural by Indonesian art group Taring Padt which depicts a pig wearing a helmet with the word “Mossad” on it, and an Orthodox Jewish man with SS insignia and fangs dripping with blood. [Ed. Note – The imagery allegedly relates to unfounded claims that Israel supposedly helped former Indonesian President Sukarno murder thousands of political enemies in 1965].

The festival also faced criticism for including a Palestinian group which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which the report said is a problem because half of Documenta’s budget comes from the German government, which considers BDS antisemitic.

Earlier (July 2), the ABC website profiled Australian artists who are exhibiting at Documenta and referenced the current controversy. 

The ABC noted the involvement of Western Sydney Arab theatre group but not this group’s boycott of this year’s Sydney Festival because Israel’s embassy in Canberra had provided funding for a dance performance. The article also did not note that the controversial mural by Taring Padt was first exhibited at the Adelaide Arts Festival in 2002.

 

All’s well that ends well

In the Age (June 24), Hindu academic and priest Dr Jayant Bapat welcomed the Victorian Parliament’s recent vote to ban public displays of the Nazi swastika saying “no one could disagree that such symbols must be stamped out.”

Dr Bapat explained that the new laws exempt displays of the swastika for the Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and other faith communities.

The swastika is found all over India, he said, and “far from being a hate symbol, the Indian swastika is steeped in auspiciousness, goodness and love” and “the Sanskrit word swastika literally means ‘all is well’.”

 

Going down

An SBS TV “News in Arabic” report (June 17) about an elevator Israel is installing outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque holy site in Hebron on the West Bank to give easier access for elderly and disabled people included totally baseless claims by the reporter. 

With no evidence whatsoever – and no Israeli or Jewish perspectives included – the reporter stated as fact that the project is meant to “facilitate settler incursions into the mosque with the aim of Judaising and controlling it.” 

Later, the reporter again stated as fact that, “in order to obliterate the place’s Islamic identity, the elevator installation extends over an area of 300 square metres in the courtyards of the Ibrahimi Mosque.”

The report also included two Palestinians making the same false claims as the reporter.

The report concluded by noting the site’s significance as a Muslim landmark but ignoring its religious importance in Judaism, which regards it as the second holiest site in the world after Jerusalem.

On July 13, SBS Radio “Arabic24” and SBS TV “News in Arabic” incorrectly referred to Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

On June 27, “News in Arabic” reported on a Palestinian cultural exhibition in Sydney and claimed it “reveal[s] the secrets of Palestinian heritage and deepens the sense of belonging to the homeland and to history, despite attempts to abolish this Palestinian heritage and its Arabism.”

 

Short but sweet

In the Daily Telegraph (July 4), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein said the brevity of Israel’s outgoing Bennett-Lapid Government belies its achievements. 

Dispelling suggestions that it was an “experiment which failed”, Dr Rubenstein opined, “After almost two years of political paralysis, and four election campaigns in 24 months all ending in deadlock, the … government was able to govern reasonably effectively for that year, including passing a budget in November 2021 – the first in almost four years – and keeping the economy progressing on an even keel.”

In foreign policy, “the government…. extended the historic 2020 Abraham Accords with a series of impressive new agreements and meetings with the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan,” while Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons “led to closer strategic co-operation with the US and important regional allies, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia.”

Moreover, the decision by the Islamist Ra’am party to join the Government “broke a long-held political taboo by Arab parties” and marked a turning point for future Jewish-Arab relations, he argued.

 

Selective justice

In the Australian (June 23), Australian Strategic Policy Institute Executive Director Justin Bassi said people lobbying the Albanese Government to intervene in “another country’s legal process” so Julian Assange can return to Australia were “hypocrites”.

Bassi asked, “Where is the loud constant cross-party effort in relation to Australians detained in China?…How often do you hear Assange supporters talk about them or those Australians on death row in China, one of whom, Ibrahim Jalloh, is intellectually disabled? It boils down to this: global fear of being punished by China for any criticism versus the confidence that the US and the UK will rationally engage.”

Similarly, he said, “the hypocrisy is matched by many Muslim-majority countries that have the freedom to criticise Israel in relation to its treatment of Palestinians but are too scared or don’t care about Muslim minorities in China.”

 

Cold Turkey

In the Spectator Australia (June 25), Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer reviewed the numerous foreign policy missteps Turkish President Erdogan has presided over, which have left “him… out in the cold” and forced him to strengthen relations with Israel after freezing them nearly a decade ago.

According to Pfeffer, “under Erdogan, a robust alliance between Israel and Turkey, which had lasted for nearly half a century, ended. Seeing himself as the leader of the Muslim world, Erdogan assumed patronage of the Palestinian cause, accusing Israel of ‘genocide’ in Gaza and using anti-Semitic language.” 

In the intervening years, Israel responded by forming “a new alliance with Turkey’s rivals, Greece and Cyprus, holding joint military exercises and planning with them a natural-gas pipeline under the eastern Mediterranean. Israel has also been improving its ties with ‘moderate’ Arab-Sunni regimes in the region who have no time for the Turkish President.”

 

Grey Eminence

One year shy of his centenary, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger showed he has lost none of his acumen, warning in the Spectator Australia (July 2) about the dangers of resurrecting the flawed 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. 

Kissinger said, “it is very dangerous to go back to an agreement that was inadequate to begin with [or worse] to modify it in a direction that makes it apparently more tolerable to the adversary.” 

The flaws in the deal, he said, included the difficulty of verifying “Iran’s promises”. 

Although the deal may have slowed down Iran attaining nuclear weapons “a little”, he said, it actually made it “more inevitable” by formalising it. 

The 2015 deal also does not resolve the problem that “there is no way you can have peace in the Middle East with nuclear weapons in Iran, because before that happens, there is a high danger of pre-emption by Israel, because Israel cannot wait for deterrents. It can afford only one blow on itself.”

 

An unholy trinity

AIJAC’s Oved Lobel in the Australian (July 21) warned Australian policymakers to prioritise the increasing threat posed by Iran, Russia and China working together to advance each other’s imperial interests.

Lobel noted the critical support Iran receives from China. This includes China signing an economic cooperation agreement worth hundreds of billions of dollars, contributing to Iran’s ballistic missile program and mitigating the worst effects of crushing US sanctions by illegally purchasing Iranian oil. 

Citing media reports, Lobel said Iran is undermining efforts to stop the war in Ukraine by sending Russia hundreds of drones. 

“It has been recognised on a bipartisan basis in Australia that it is no longer possible to compartmentalise the challenge from Russia and China,” he argued. “Yet, strangely, Iran often is left out of the discussion, even though it’s clearly a core partner in the combined effort to undermine and displace the US and its allies and associated ideas of democracy and human rights. Iran’s intention materially to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ideally will rectify this oversight.”

 

Right-wing roundup

The Adelaide Advertiser’s Michael McGuire warned that Indigenous Australians in Adelaide are at risk from attacks by a resurgence in support for the far right (July 5).

McGuire recalled the proliferation of far-right groups in Adelaide during the 1980s and 1990s, including anti-Asian rallies of the National Front, the Holocaust-denying Adelaide Institute and skinheads belonging to National Action giving the Hitler salute.

“Perhaps”, he said, “they feel emboldened that their views are not as repellent to broader society as they have been.” 

He cited former US President Donald Trump’s dalliances with White Supremacist groups, domestic leaders who “demonise asylum-seekers, refugees and immigrants” and the “confluence between the far-right and the anti-vaxxers.”

Meanwhile, the Hobart Mercury (July 9) reported the Jewish community in Launceston was frustrated at the inaction of the local council in failing to remove a swastika graffitied near their synagogue. 

On July 18, the Herald Sun reported the discovery of an antisemitic flyer blaming Jews for COVID-19 and lockdowns posted on the fence of the Sassoon Yehuda Synagogue in Melbourne.

 

 

Nature calls

Journalist Irris Makler’s profile of Israeli-based, Melbourne-born environmental consultant Gidon Bromberg in the Australian (July 2) discussed how environment-based projects are effectively normalising relations between Israel and its neighbours.

The construction of three modern wastewater treatment plants in Gaza has resulted in Palestinians being able to swim in the sea for the first time in a decade. Previous attempts to complete the project were hampered by Israel’s fear Hamas would “siphon” cement off to build terror tunnels, Bromberg said. 

However, he noted, Israel acquiesced after being informed sewage from Gaza was infecting Israeli territorial water with E. coli bacteria and had also forced the nearby desalination plant in Ashkelon to shut down occasionally. 

Another environmental project with the potential to create real change is an agreement signed in 2021 whereby Jordan will “produce solar energy for sale to Israel and Israel will produce desalinated water for sale to Jordan.”

“Politicians speak of disengagement. Politicians speak of blockades. But … you can never disengage from a shared environment. What the environment teaches us is that we’re dependent on each other, whether we like each other or not,” he explained. 

 

What’s McGreal’s deal?

The Guardian Australia (July 20) ran another instalment from former Jerusalem-based correspondent Chris McGreal implying it was somehow illegitimate and undemocratic for pro-Israel organisations in the US to spend money opposing Democratic candidates with anti-Israel track records.

The article focused on the contest between former Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Glenn Ivey in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.

McGreal implied there was a racist element to AIPAC’s campaigning, noting that Edwards served “eight years as the first Black woman elected to Congress from Maryland before losing a bid for the Senate in 2016.” 

Not revealed was that Ivey, Edwards’ challenger, who subsequently won the nomination, is also Black and belongs to the progressive camp!

The report also used provocative language saying, “Critics accuse AIPAC and its allies of distorting Democratic politics in part because much of the money used to influence primary races comes from billionaire Republicans” [emphasis added].

The article quoted Logan Bayroff from J Street, a left-wing lobby group that claims to support both Israel and two-state peace but frequently parrots Palestinian talking points. Bayroff called AIPAC “a Republican front organisation” – despite its long history of support for both Republicans and Democrats – and accused it “of crushing a fairly popular mainstream candidate who they’ve labelled anti-Israel with no evidence… It’s really alarming and it’s fundamentally anti-democratic.”

The report did include AIPAC supporter Patrick Dorton pointing out that the group receives financial backing from high-profile Democrat donors and noting that “We’re exercising our democratic first amendment rights in participating in these elections. If you want to look at politicians who’ve intimidated people and chilled discussion on … US-Israel relationship, look at the Squad… there [a]re an increasing number of candidates with radical anti-Israel views running for Congress. Our view is that is dangerous for American democracy and could negatively impact the bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship.”

 

Power plays

Other media reports showed how AIPAC’s actions are entirely reasonable and McGreal’s articles amount to beat-ups.

The Australian’s US correspondent Adam Creighton (July 19) reported on the astronomical sums the Democratic Party has spent to, as McGreal put it, “distort” the primaries of its Republican party rivals.

According to Creighton, the Democrats have “spent a fortune – $US44 million so far – elevating and supporting the most ardent supporters of Donald Trump in the Republican primaries, elections which determine which GOP candidates will stand against Democrats in the November midterm Congressional and gubernatorial elections, in the hope they’ll be easier to beat than moderates.”

“Such sums are more than any major US political party has spent meddling in the affairs of its opponents, with well over three months still to go.” 

It is worth noting that the US$44 million being spent by Democrats to promote pro-Trump Republicans dwarfs the US$8.5 million that AIPAC reportedly has allocated for its political action committees to spend to promote candidates this year.

On July 26, Guardian Australia reported that the Democrats spent US$3 million to help a pro-Trump Republican who also supports the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theories win the party nomination for Governor of Maryland. That article was not by Chris McGreal.

 

Off-side rules

A Guardian Australia article (July 12) on the Palestinian national football team was a typical pro-Palestinian advocacy piece. 

Making no reference to the wars of aggression and terrorism Israel has faced since before it was created, the piece claimed the development of Palestinian football has been adversely affected by “Israel’s increasing control of Palestinian territory since 1948… a major international issue with consequences in every field.”

Except, of course, from 1948 till 1967, Egypt and Jordan controlled Gaza and the West Bank respectively and neither country made any move to create a Palestinian state on those territories, let alone foster a Palestinian football team.

Including accusations that Israel has killed and injured Palestinian players and bombed stadiums, the story ignored the context for those things, such as the Second Intifada’s suicide bombings and Hamas’ indiscriminate firing of tens of thousands of rockets into Israel from Gaza, precipitating four wars. 

 


In Parliament

The following speeches were made in the Legislative Council of the South Australian Parliament on June 15 on the motion by Sarah Game (One Nation) that the Council “Endorses and adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism together with its contemporary examples…”

Dennis Hood (Liberal) –  “It is imperative that a universal definition of antisemitism is recognised in order to better protect our Jewish citizens and inform policymakers and, indeed, debate in this place… Indeed, it is unfortunate that the Jewish community is one of the only groups within Australia whose places of worship, their schools, their communal organisations and community centres are required to operate under the protection of high fences in many cases, armed guards in some cases, metal detectors, CCTV cameras and the like, for security purposes.”

Tammy Franks (Greens) – “What is not as clear is what is a Semite? In my exploration of this issue, it has become clear that the definition is not as simple as it has been portrayed. Originally, a Semite was someone who spoke a Semitic language. This is a family of languages that came from areas that spanned from western Asia to Africa. The meaning includes a much broader range of people than the Jewish people. The definition of antisemitism clearly requires clarity in order to be understood here.”

The following speeches were made regarding the same motion on July 7:

Emily Bourke (ALP) – “Antisemitism has no place in our country or, indeed, anywhere. These racist and repugnant views should rightfully be condemned… It is concerning that there are reports of antisemitism being on the rise in our community… The motion seeks to endorse a definition of antisemitism as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. I understand that this definition has been recognised and endorsed in a number of other jurisdictions, including interstate. I agree that a definition of antisemitism will have value in governments and individuals being able to identify and respond to antisemitic behaviours in our communities. On this basis, the government will be supporting this important motion.”

Connie Bonaros (SA-Best) – “In May last year I introduced a motion in this place calling on us to recognise the right of the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination without external interference, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced… we cannot support motions or actions that risk silencing the conversation about people suffering and about the suffering of Palestinian people—the Palestinian people who continue to live without basic human rights in an open-air prison with sweeping restrictions on movement.

“…I also will place on the record, the analysis of the motion by [the Australian Friends of Palestine Association]. Can I say that is an organisation that I am extremely proud to be involved with. This has been provided by Paul Heywood-Smith QC:… Jewish students at the University of Adelaide are entitled to be upset over pro-Nazi posters, swastikas, etc. They are not entitled to be upset over for example:…comparing Israel’s ethnic cleansing of east Jerusalem with Nazi policies…”

Frank Pangallo (SA-Best) – “I am not so sure that many in this place will have taken the time to seek some clarity and consider the possible implications, particularly the chilling risk to limiting the freedom of expression in criticism of Israel and discussing the violation of the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, should the IHRA definition be widely adopted.”

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