The Federal Court’s dismissal of a racial vilification charge under Section 18C against three Queensland University of Technology students, and developments in the case against Australian cartoonist Bill Leak, reenergised the debate on the merits of the 20-year-old civil legislation – with PM Malcolm Turnbull announcing a parliamentary inquiry.
AIJAC National Chairman Mark Leibler argued in the Australian (Nov. 14) that the law’s inclusion of the words “insult and offend” is not what is giving rise to controversial claims, as some keep claiming, but the behaviour of the Human Rights Commission headed up by Gillian Triggs.
Leibler explained that “these cases went off the rails because of the way the complaints process was administered by the Human Rights Commission. The commission’s president did a good deal of media last week and used it to agitate for greater power to raise the threshold test for determining whether to pursue conciliation or terminate a complaint. She’s also backed the idea of replacing the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ with the word ‘vilify’ to clarify the law’s intent.
“But the main effect of Gillian Triggs’s selective explanations has been to deflect attention from the commission’s own shortcomings in administering the legislation, and fulfilling its role and function. Because while she is correct in saying the president is duty bound to investigate all complaints and to attempt conciliation, following the exercise of these responsibilities, the president clearly has all the power required to terminate a case expeditiously on the ground that it lacks substance.”
He said the Commission has the power to dismiss frivolous cases and “the suggestion that it would have made no difference to the course of the QUT complaint if the commission had dismissed it earlier on the grounds that it had no reasonable prospect of success lacks real world credibility…As a lawyer with five decades of practical experience, I’ve learned that nothing focuses the mind more than an early indication from an independent third party that a claim lacks substance.”
AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein told SBS TV’s Daniela Ritorto (Nov. 8) that “I am very confident that mainstream Australia and mainstream politicians will see the importance of maintaining this racial vilification legislation.”
An online report from SBS’s Marija Jovanovic stated that Rubenstein “supports the inquiry because he is confident that it will highlight the importance of maintaining the racial vilification legislation. Mr Rubenstein said: ‘It’s healthier to air these things, let everyone put his or her case forward and hopefully we will arrive at a constructive consensus.'”
In the Sydney Morning Herald (Nov. 8), Michael Gordon quoted Rubenstein agreeing that the legislation may “require further consideration and review” but certainly not its elimination because “especially at a time when xenophobia in Australia is rising, this legal provision continues to be essential in helping to maintain social cohesion while providing victims of racism with a just method for seeking redress.”
Saturday Paper correspondent Karen Middleton, without referring to AIJAC’s focus on process reform, wrote (Nov. 12), “The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council is now also adding its voice to those suggesting there is room for improvement.”
Oh, say, can you 18C?
Federal Labor MP Michelle Rowland defended keeping 18C unchanged, saying, “this is a piece of legislation that was brought about 20 years ago in response to some very serious inquiries, including the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. This is a piece of legislation that guards against antisemitic speech and some of the worst forms of racism in our community. A minute number of cases actually make it to the courts and are heard. The vast majority of them are actually resolved far in advance. This is a piece of legislation that has worked,” SkyNews “AM Agenda” (Nov. 7).
Columnist Graham Richardson said he believes in free speech, “but I could not ever abide giving Holocaust-deniers the right to spread their racist nonsense. To have met Auschwitz survivors is to know those who suffered terrible deprivations and lost so many of their close family members. No one should have the right to tell those survivors that their stories are all lies,” Australian (Oct. 28).
News Ltd columnist Susie O’Brien said, “we shouldn’t amend the Racial Discrimination Act to make it easier for people to be racist. Free speech should not give people an unfettered right to humiliate, insult and offend others. More important is the right of all people to be treated fairly and with respect. It’s time to defend the controversial Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), which has been soundly hijacked by liberal free-speechers.”
Similarly to Leibler, O’Brien argued that, “the process is the problem, not the law itself,” with free speech protections enshrined in Section 18D covering “anything said in good faith, in the public interest or for an academic, artistic or scientific purpose,” Advertiser/Herald Sun (Nov.8).
A Reuters story on the ABC website (Nov. 8) noted that Israel has rejected participating in a planned French-sponsored conference to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The report noted that Israel sees the conference as a “platform” for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “to grandstand, rather than engaging directly with the Israelis” and that Israeli PM Netanyahu’s office said the government opposes the conference because “an agreement will only come through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
The report also stated that “Palestinians say they cannot resume talks with Israel until it suspends the building of settlements on occupied land the Palestinians seek for an independent state and meets previous commitments, including the release of prisoners.”
The 2013/14 peace talks were predicated on Israel releasing 104 Palestinian terrorists throughout the period of the talks in four lots of 26. They released three lots, but when Abbas made it clear the talks would end prematurely, Israel decided not to release the last batch.
Unfortunately, the Reuters story did not highlight the futility of the French conference, which was made clear by French envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Pierre Vimont, who has acknowledged the conference is unlikely to achieve much but is instead meant merely to provide “new momentum”.
Manne O Manne
In a piece on Sayyid Qutb, widely considered the father of modern political Islamism, academic Robert Manne, who has just written a history of Islamism, reminded readers of the deeply antisemitic, not just anti-Zionist, beliefs embedded in Islamist thinking.
Manne said Qutb argued that “Jews pretend that culture is the heritage of humankind. This is because they hope to insinuate themselves into all governments and societies so as to take control of the world’s financial institutions and to spread the evil practice of usury. (As with all Salafi jihadists, Qutb is not merely anti-Zionist but deeply anti-Semitic),” ABC “Religion and Ethics” (Nov. 7).
The deplorable United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) resolution passed in late October which recognised Jerusalem’s Old City holy sites including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall only by their Muslim names – denying Jewish and Christian ties – was attacked in an op-ed by academic Nick Dyrenfurth. He noted it contravenes UNESCO’s own goal to “‘[build] intercultural understanding: through protection of heritage and support for cultural diversity.'”
The Temple Mount, the site of the Dome of the Rock/Haram al-Sharif was described in the resolution as “an exclusively ‘Muslim holy site of worship’,” Dyrenfurth pointed out, adding that “such extravagant historical revisionism must make the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving blush,” considering “archaeological digs around Temple Mount… have produced abundant evidence of the Jewish people’s timeless connection to Jerusalem.”
He also attacked the resolution for alleging “Israelis wish to harm Islamic holy sites,” explaining how Israel relinquished control over the Temple Mount to the Islamic Trust and forbade Jewish prayer when it captured the Old City in 1967.
“As ISIS destroys thousands of years of religious treasures in Iraq and Syria… UNESCO’s provocative actions will contribute nothing towards creating a negotiated peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution,” and was the latest in a long line of international anti-Israel and antisemitic activism, he wrote, Daily Telegraph (Nov. 4).
Addled book review
Publisher and long-time Israel critic Louise Adler’s review of famed Israeli novelist Amos Oz’s latest novel Judas made a pointed reference when discussing what she thinks is the main quality which can be gleaned from one of the book’s main characters, Abravanel.
“As Judas is to Jesus, as Oz is to Israel, Abravanel is to Ben Gurion. He becomes the traitor of 1948, ostracised for daring to suggest peace with the Arabs requires the Jews not to demand a state of their own, to resist their own assertion of power. Post-Holocaust it is not difficult to imagine the reaction to such a provocative proposal, one that would have sounded more like a death wish than the promise of a future.”
Adler forgets that Jewish settlement in Palestine was peaceful and legal. The violence originated from Arab groups that did not want the Jewish population living there to increase and carried out frequent raids and attacks. There was no condominium possible and there still isn’t until the Arab side accepts that Jews have rights there that go beyond the mere “assertion of rights predicated on biblical texts”, that she suggests is all Zionism is – something she must know full well that Oz would not agree with, Australian (Oct. 29).
Talking to Fairfax’s Nassim Khadem (Nov. 7), visiting retired Israeli Major-General and former National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror explained why the Obama Administration’s Iran deal was not a legacy item.
He said, “instead of dismantling the capabilities of Iran to produce nuclear weapons, they decided to postpone this capability for the future… that was a huge mistake. It’s [just] to buy time and find yourself ten years later in a much more problematic situation.”
He said the international economic sanctions had put Iran “in [a] situation in which they needed very badly the agreement” and “the minute the Iranians understood ‘one, that the Americans are eager to have an agreement more than the Iranians and two, that the Americans are not ready to use the military option, the minute they understood it, the ability of the Americans to get a good agreement disappeared. That was a huge mistake. A historical mistake.'”
Elsewhere, Amidror explained to Jim Middleton that Israel did not launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities because it is not “trigger happy” and would not act until Iran had sufficient material to produce a nuclear weapon.
He also warned that if Iran succeeds in its intention of “opening a corridor” from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, the whole region will suffer, Sky News “Agenda” (Oct. 30).
On Sky News “Viewpoint” (Oct.30) visiting Israeli analyst Dr. Eitan Shamir from the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA), explained that Israelis are saddened by the tremendous bloodshed in the Syrian civil war and “watching events with a lot of concern” but “cannot influence the outcome.”
Meanwhile visiting BESA director Professor Efraim Inbar explained Israel faces three strategic challenges – Iran, ISIS, and the al-Nusra Front, which has required the military to “strengthen… our defence in the north,” ABC Radio “PM” (Nov. 4).
On Nov. 2, ABC TV News24 “World” host Beverly O’Connor introduced an interview with Amidror on Palestinian-Israeli peace talks by suggesting an Israeli announcement it will build 100 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh will affect their resumption – and then strangely failed to ask Amidror directly about the settlements issue.
Amidror explained that “more than three times we tried, we gave all the prices that the Americans told us that if we pay” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will enter peace talks “but he never came”.
He dismissed the idea that Israel needs to do “pay for resuming negotiations” and said that both sides need to come “to the table without preconditions” and negotiate. Israel will be “very flexible about the geography” of a Palestinian state if the Palestinian leadership accepts that Israel is the Jewish homeland, he added.
Be’er Sheva bounty
Foreign editor Greg Sheridan praised the merits of the new report, “The Wattle and the Olive”, issued by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Israel’s Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies under the auspices of the “Be’er Sheva dialogue” which calls for closer Australia-Israel military and diplomatic relations.
The bilateral relationship is based on “shared political values” but “there is a lack of understanding on both sides of their shared strategic interests” and Australia could benefit from “Israel’s expertise in unmanned aerial systems, ship-borne missile defence, cyber-warfare, armoured vehicle protection, smart sensors and a range of other capabilities”.
Sheridan wrote approvingly of the report’s assertion that “an enhanced relationship with Israel would not damage Australia’s standing in the Arab or Muslim world” and quoted the report’s statement that “Middle East countries take it as a given that Israel and Australia have close relations,” Australian (Oct. 31).
Be’er Sheva blues
Ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Charge of the Light Horse Brigade that saw the allies conquer the Turkish controlled region of Be’er Sheva in what is now modern day Israel, journalist and writer Paul Daley warned, “it will pay to listen closely and to be wary about what you might hear from the Australian and Israeli governments. Israel? It didn’t exist, of course, at the time of the charge, which took place in what was then Ottoman Palestine. But Israel has gone to some lengths to claim what happened as something of a formative step in its establishment.”
Although Daley acknowledged “the charge coincided with the British war cabinet’s formulation of the Balfour declaration – in support of a Jewish state in Palestine” he dismissed this as “mere grist to the (Christian/Zionist) mythology”, and said we should ignore it because “few” of the horsemen saw “themselves as being guided by the hand of God, let alone working towards the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland.”
Daley also took exception to a joint Australia Post and Israel Post stamp released in 2013 commemorating the battle by saying, “some historians of the Middle East and Palestinian groups were, rightly, angry at the conflation” because it gave the false impression the battle ultimately led to Israel’s creation. Actually the criticism in 2013 was primarily from extreme pro-Palestinian activist Sonja Karkar – a one-state supporter who is opposed to Israel-Australia collaboration in any form.
But a close look at the stamp shows the criticism is overstated. It was inclusive, mentioning Tel el-Saba, the Arabic name for Be’er Sheva.
Furthermore, it is undeniable that the allied capture of the area led to it subsequently becoming Mandatory Palestine which was granted to the British by the League of Nations with the express aim of establishing a Jewish national homeland there, Guardian Australia (Oct. 31).
Ahead of an upcoming trip to Israel with a Victorian State government cyber-security-focused business delegation, Harold Mitchell noted that Israel spends “4.3 per cent of GDP on R&D, well ahead of [Australia’s] dismal 2.1 per cent. Their high-tech goods and services account for one-eighth of their GDP and half of their industrial exports. And it’s all paying off. The cyber security industry is now worth around $70 billion a year and growing at a rate of 10 per cent. Israel cyber-related export products now amount to about $6 billion a year and that’s up from $3 billion in 2013. Australia has become rich on the basis of natural resources, which has put us in the top 20 nations on the basis of GDP per capita, but we can’t rely on it in the future. It’s plain that we need a smarter economy and that’s the reason for my visit.”
And where is the key site for understanding Israel’s success story?
According to Mitchell, it is none other than Be’er Sheva, which “is a high-tech hub for Israel’s thriving cyber security industry. The world’s leading cyber players are all there in a technology park set up alongside Ben Gurion University,” Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Nov. 11).
Meanwhile, journalist James Dowling reported on Yaakov Amidror’s call for Australia, which he characterised as one of the “good guys”, to become a world leader in cyber security. Amidror said Israel was more than happy to share its experience, Herald Sun (Nov. 1).