Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – December 2020

Dec 1, 2020 | AIJAC staff

The ABC website featured a one-sided, propagandistic Reuters story on Israel’s removal of a group of Bedouin, who had been illegally squatting in tents and shanties for the past few years on public West Bank land
The ABC website featured a one-sided, propagandistic Reuters story on Israel’s removal of a group of Bedouin, who had been illegally squatting in tents and shanties for the past few years on public West Bank land

 

In Tents Misreporting

The ABC website (Nov. 5) featured a one-sided, propagandistic Reuters story on Israel’s removal of a group of Bedouin, who had essentially been illegally squatting in tents and shanties for the past few years on public West Bank land that has been a restricted Israeli military live-fire training ground since 1972.

The so-called “village” of Khirbet Humsah – which aerial photos from as recently as 2016 show was almost non-existent at that time – lies within Area C of the West Bank. 

The encampment had received EU funding in a decidedly political act. According to the Oslo Accords, Israel has full jurisdictional control in Area C, the Bedouins in question never sought planning permits for their structures, and Israeli courts confirmed the Bedouins had no property rights to the land in question or right to build there and ordered them removed. The EU was aware of all this, yet funded the construction anyway. The report omitted these key facts. 

The report said Israel had destroyed the Bedouins’ tents which resulted in the “displacing” of “73 Palestinians”. 

Yet, a couple of paragraphs later it stated that “the residents had already moved back to the site, using tents donated by Palestinian aid groups.” In other words, they were not actually displaced, and the claims are exaggerated. 

The report included Israeli claims that it only removed 15 structures — seven tents and eight animal pens – and UN spokesperson Yvonne Helle claiming 76 demolished structures, which she said was “more than in any other single demolition in the past decade.”

 

Burying the truth

Although it is customary to not speak ill of the dead, that doesn’t entitle the media to abandon professional objectivity as happened with some coverage of the death of veteran senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat from coronavirus.

An AP/Reuters story on the ABC website correctly said Erekat was “well known in foreign ministries across the world and regularly featured in the media, he was on the second tier of Palestinian politics and diplomacy.”

But it was on shaky ground in claiming that “He tirelessly argued for a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, defended the Palestinian leadership and blamed Israel particularly hard-line leader Benjamin Netanyahu for the failure to reach an agreement… Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive talks since Mr Netanyahu a hard-liner who opposes concessions to the Palestinians took office in 2009.”

This is unfair to Netanyahu and inflates Erekat’s reputation as a man of peace. 

Erekat may have argued in the media for a “negotiated two-state solution” but thanks to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas he had little opportunity to actually pursue one. 

Abbas put the peace process into deep freeze before Netanyahu was elected prime minister when he effectively rejected Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008 to create a Palestinian state by refusing to respond to or meet with him again.

Soon after returning to the prime ministership in 2009, Netanyahu committed his government to the two-state formula for peace. He also made a goodwill gesture to President Abbas to return to unconditional peace talks by implementing a building freeze in settlements for ten months. 

In 2013, in another effort to restart talks, Netanyahu agreed to release 104 Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel, which led to US-mediated indirect talks. These faltered in 2014 after Abbas refused to engage with substantive issues and entered into a unity agreement with the rejectionists of Hamas that ultimately was never implemented. American mediators have made it clear that Netanyahu offered substantial concessions to the Palestinians as part of those talks.

Since 2014, Abbas has refused to return to peace talks. 

 

Boy oh boy

An AFP report in the Australian (Nov. 11) said Erekat “dedicated much of his life to seeking a resolution to the crisis…He took part in the failed Camp David summit in July 2000, and the September 2010 talks in Washington, which stopped in a row over Israel’s settlement building.”

The report said of the “Palestine Papers” scandal in 2011 – when a trove of Palestinian transcripts and documents purporting to cover peace talks with Israel over the years was leaked to Al Jazeera and the Guardian – that they “showed Palestinian negotiators prepared to offer significant concessions without securing Israeli guarantees on key issues such as east Jerusalem and the fate of refugees.” 

Except that, as a leak from the Palestinian negotiating team, the “Palestine Papers” could not possibly speak about the extent of concessions being prepared on the Israeli side. In September 2008, then-Israeli PM Ehud Olmert offered to create a Palestinian state, which included most of east Jerusalem, and to resolve the refugee issue too. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer “out of hand”, in his own words. 

 

Passing Judgements

ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek used Erekat’s passing to frame Palestinians as helpless victims with limited options to improve their situation.

On ABC TV’s “The World” (Nov. 10), Tlozek said Erekat had told him and other journalists how “very difficult” the past “four years under the Trump Administration” have been for Palestinians and that “he never felt it more difficult to appear before Palestinian people and tell them to trust the peace process than he did during the Trump Administration.”

Given the Palestinian Authority put the peace process into deep freeze in March 2014, with years remaining of the Obama administration, this stretches credulity. What peace process was Erekat referring to?

Tlozek listed the challenges the Palestinians allegedly had to contend with during the Trump Administration, which included, “mov[ing] the US Embassy to Jerusalem, he closed the Palestinian mission in Washington DC. He cut aid to the Palestinian refugees around the region.” 

On ABC Radio “PM” (Nov. 11), a follow up on Erekat’s death from Tlozek included one Israeli perspective, that of commentator Menachem Klein (whose main claim to fame is his minor role as one of many Israeli advisers involved in peace negotiations more than 20 years ago). Klein was quoted praising Erekat for “heroically” standing up to Israel and the US.

 

Flagging Attention

The Daily Telegraph (Oct. 25) reported on the startling fact that no less than 31 instances of Nazi flags being flown on residential properties were reported in NSW over the past two years, yet not a single charge was laid.

Although it is not directly illegal to fly Nazi flags in NSW, police can prosecute under “Section 93Z of the Crimes Act, which was introduced in August 2018, [making] it… an offence to publicly threaten or incite violence towards a person or group on the basis of race, religion… with a maximum penalty of three years’ jail.”

NSW Labor MP Walt Secord was quoted accusing the NSW Government of inaction, saying, “It is extraordinary and damning that there has not been a single person charged under the laws introduced in 2018. The Nazi flag is an emblem of genocide and racism. The decision to fly a Nazi flag is an expression of hatred.”

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman defended the Government’s inaction, saying it was “awaiting recommendations from Victoria[’s]… inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

 

Heartless

The Herald Sun (Nov 7) reported on an email sent by a “leading Melbourne cardiologist” who replied to his sister’s request for advice on what she should do about a tenant asking for a rent reduction during the coronavirus pandemic, saying that she should tell him to “pack his Jew bags and f— off.” 

Unfortunately for the cardiologist, he accidentally sent his email response to the tenant’s representative – Susannah Swiatlo. 

Ms. Swiatlo, whose “father lost family during the Holocaust… burst into tears when she read” the email, according to the media report. 

The report said she subsequently accepted the cardiologist’s apology, in which he said he had “misused a term to a family member that has been conceived as racism, which was in absolutely no way my intention. I am truly sorry … There is not a single fibre of my being that is racist.”

The doctor and the tenants have since met to discuss the incident, with the doctor issuing an apology in person.

 

Hateful youth

On Nov. 14, the Herald Sun reported on the findings of a long-awaited Victorian Department of Education probe into antisemitic bullying at Brighton Secondary College.

According to the Department, alleged incidents included Jewish students being called names like “Jewboy” and told to “get in my oven”, swastikas graffitied on campus and students shouting out “Heil Hitler” and giving Nazi salutes in class.

The Herald Sun said the report, which has not been publicly released, exonerates the school staff, some of whom were accused of insensitivity and protecting the offenders, including the principal who made a “controversial speech” to the student body that was interpreted as potentially antisemitic.

The report made 18 recommendations for Brighton Secondary College, all of which were accepted, and the Department will develop a plan to better understand and address antisemitism.

 

Museum piece

A Holocaust museum to be built in Brisbane with Queensland and Federal Government funding, saw the Courier-Mail’s Jessica Marszalek write (Oct. 11) about visiting the Auschwitz death camp with her grandfather, who was a Holocaust survivor.

Marszalek said, “it’s hard to describe the magnitude of the experience of entering the gates of this infamous place and visiting its museum… the piles of shoes that belonged to the victims, valued higher than the lives of the people wearing them… the hair, piled in mounds taller than a person – remnants of the mass murder of at least 1.1 million people here…[the] photo [of] – two children, waiting outside a building for their parents who would never come back… Visiting Poland and those Holocaust museums taught me more than history books ever could – about the horrors of genocide.”

Across October and November, the Adelaide Advertiser ran stories on the opening of a dedicated Holocaust museum and testimonies from Holocaust survivors Andrew Steiner and Eva Temple. 

Meanwhile, in the Daily Telegraph (Oct. 19), AIJAC’s Naomi Levin warned of the need to take seriously the “nonsensical ramblings” of the QAnon movement, which has attracted followers from across the political spectrum and “has a strong vein of antisemitism”.

 

Peace Apace 

Another month and the announcement of another historic peace deal, this time between Sudan and Israel, was still novel enough to receive fairly comprehensive media coverage.

Television news bulletins covering the breakthrough included SBS, Sky News, and Channels 10, 9 and 7. 

On SBS TV “World News” (Oct. 24) RMIT University Professor Joseph Siracusa said the Sudan deal was more significant than the UAE/Bahrain accords because “prior to this normalisation” the “Sudanese [were] technically at war” with Israel.

On Oct. 26, the Australian editorialised that the Sudan deal “is a massive strategic blow to the misguided presumption that there could never be any normalisation of relations with Israel before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”

In the same edition, the newspaper’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan echoed Prof Siracusa, writing, “But in some ways the agreement with Sudan is even more important. Unlike Bahrain and UAE, Sudan is a big nation, with a population of 41 million and a long history of military conflict with Israel. It sent troops to the 1948 war when the Arab world tried to kill the fledgling Jewish state at birth. It also sent troops to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Khartoum hosted the 1967 Arab League summit, which issued its famous ‘three Nos’— no peace, recognition or negotiations with Israel. After Sudan took an Islamist turn in the late 1980s it became a regular ally of Iran and helped smuggle weapons into Gaza. As a result, Israel repeatedly struck military targets in Sudan.”

On ABC TV “Q&A” (Nov. 2), Lowy Institute analyst Lydia Khalil said the recent accords signed with Israel “weren’t peace treaties. They weren’t in conflict,” prompting Sheridan, who was also on the program, to reply that “they had had conflict with Sudan.”

Despite US President Donald Trump announcing the Sudan deal from the Oval Office in a live telephone hook up with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu primed for maximum election publicity, it appears to have been unreported on any of the ABC’s radio or TV flagship programs. It also didn’t make the hard copy editions of the Age or Sydney Morning Herald.

 

Ignoble

SBS online (Nov. 15) ran a silly piece from the New York Times’ Rick Gladstone looking at past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize “whose actions and behaviour – either before or after the honour was given – have been viewed as unworthy or in some cases even absurd.”

Gladstone’s list of reprobates included Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin who were awarded the gong in 1994 for signing the Oslo Accords which heralded the possibility of a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and created the Palestinian Authority which now governs most Palestinians in the West Bank. 

According to Gladstone, “Rabin, then prime minister, was assassinated in 1995 by an Israeli fanatic who opposed a peace agreement. And efforts since then to resolve the conflict have repeatedly faltered, punctuated by bouts of violence and bitter recriminations. Doubts about a proposed two-state solution have only intensified in recent years, amid threats by Israel to annex territory in the occupied West Bank.”

Questioning Rabin and Peres’ right to their Nobel Peace Prizes is preposterous.

Rabin was murdered, as Gladstone said, by “an Israeli fanatic who opposed a peace agreement”, which is the very definition of someone who gives their life in the cause of peace. 

Peres succeeded Rabin and shortly thereafter called elections, campaigning on a promise to keep implementing the Oslo Accords. 

But a series of deadly Hamas suicide bombings that killed Israelis over the course of the election campaign saw Peres’ double-digit lead evaporate and his rival Binyamin Netanyahu become prime minister. 

As for Arafat, from the moment he signed the Oslo Accords, he repudiated them. 

When speaking in Arabic to his own people he talked about liberating Jerusalem through blood and fire and, alluding to Koranic references, he told Palestinians the Accords were temporary. Arafat also made a big show of arresting suspected Palestinian terrorists, only to have them released from prison shortly thereafter. 

In September 1996, Arafat cynically fomented violence that led to scores of dead on both sides by accusing Israel of threatening the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount, after Israel opened an exit in an archaeological tunnel near the mount.

Four years later, almost to the day, Arafat repeated the tactic, when then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. Arafat’s credibility was at a low point, after foolishly rejecting then Israeli PM Ehud Barak’s historic offer of the creation of a Palestinian state on 95% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, with control over most of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Unlike in 1996, the Second Intifada resulted, which lasted years and led to the violent deaths of 1050 Israelis and thousands more Palestinians.

Yet, according to Gladstone, Arafat, Rabin and Peres should all be stripped of their Nobel Peace Prizes.

Elsewhere, the Australian (Nov. 5) reported on a new exhibition organised for Sydney’s B’nai B’rith in conjunction with Rabin’s family to celebrate his life on the 25th anniversary of his murder. It quoted curator Alexandra Hillman saying, “He made history by achieving peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt, and he made official visits to traditionally Muslim countries like Indonesia [which does not officially recognise Israel].”

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