Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – December 2021

Nov 24, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Fisky business

On ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (Nov. 2) Lara Marlowe promoted a memoir of her marriage to the late Middle East commentator Robert Fisk using the sort of tendentious account of events for which Fisk was renowned.

Marlowe said when Fisk was ten-years-old, his father took him to visit the battlefields of the First World War.

According to Marlowe, “He tells actually in the Great War for Civilization how those battlefields which he visited with his father would determine the whole shape of the modern Middle East because it was in the big carve up after the First World War that all the seeds of the future conflicts were sown…especially the Balfour Declaration which created, eventually created, the State of Israel which promised to protect Arabs and Jews and failed to do that.” It seems a bizarre non sequitur to go from the battlefields of France and Belgium – which is what Fisk said he visited as a child in the Great War for Civilisation – to a denunciation of the Balfour Declaration as the root of all future conflict. 

Yet host Phillip Adams attempted to reinforce Marlowe’s claim, saying, “well, that’s the whole story isn’t it – the imposition of colonial maps on everywhere from Africa to the Middle East in a sense absolutely making future conflicts unavoidable.”


A window on Lebanon

On ABC Radio National “Religion & Ethics” (Nov. 3), Lebanese American writer Kim Ghattas talked about Lebanon’s political, social and economic crisis. 

Ghattas said Lebanon’s troubles stem from corruption and the “entrenched” political “system” put in place by Syria which “continues to serve them and their allies… Hezbollah and Iran.”

Claiming that most Shi’ites in Lebanon do not support Hezbollah, she said that the Iranian-backed terror group maintains its control through “coercion. With arms. With assassinations. It’s very difficult to undo that grip and in other communities it’s not as pronounced but it exists as well.”

She added that, although it may appear that Hezbollah is “pretty much in control of this country” and Iran is “on the ascent…it’s also facing a lot of pushback in Lebanon and Iraq. There are dynamics between… other countries in the region and Israel,” citing the Abraham Accords.

Ghattas’ knowledgeable comments underscored the absurdity of some other Australian media reporting on Lebanon. For instance, on Oct. 31, News Corp papers reported that Saudi Arabia had recalled its ambassador from Beirut and slapped a ban on imports from Lebanon after a Lebanese minister criticised its involvement in the Yemen war. With ridiculous understatement, the report stated that the Saudi move “may drive Lebanon further into the sphere of Iran, which backs Hezbollah, already a major player in Lebanese life and politics.”


Iraq and Ruin

Echoing Ghattas’ comments on pushback in Iraq against Iran’s meddling, the Australian (Nov. 9) noted that the failed drone strike on the home of Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi had Iran’s “thumbprints” on it.

Referring to the major election loss by Iranian-aligned political parties which preceded the strike, the editorial said “the setback was a significant blow to the long-held ambition of Iran’s ayatollahs, as part of their drive for regional Shia hegemony, to turn Iraq into an Iranian province and conduit for Iranian military personnel and weapons sent to support the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and Tehran’s anti-Israel Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon.”

The paper urged that Iran’s “unrelenting acts of state terror” against Israel and Iraq must be “central to any negotiations” when nuclear talks resume.


Hippocratical oafs

Writing in the Guardian Australia (Nov. 1), Lebanon-born Australian Dr Jamal Rifi blasted the Lebanese military tribunal that recently sentenced him in absentia to ten years in prison for his involvement with the Australian charity Project Rozana – which raises money so Israeli hospitals can train Palestinian doctors and treat sick Palestinians.

Dr Rifi wrote he had “accepted without hesitation, the role of deputy chair of Project Rozana” which is a “charitable, humanitarian, non-government organisation… committed to a long-term strategy that will encourage the Palestinian health system to operate independently of Israel and emerge as its equal.”

He attacked “Lebanon and Hezbollah, whose sinister hand is choking life out of the Lebanese people” for having the “audacity” to deny to Palestinians “the future you failed to deliver for Lebanese children including your own children and grandchildren.”


French connection

On the Australian website (Nov. 3), former AIJAC policy analyst Ted Lapkin dismissed French President Emmanuel Macron’s “sputtering indignation” and accusations of “treachery” over the Morrison Government ditching a $90 billion contract with France to supply Australia with diesel-electric submarines, in favour of British or US nuclear powered models. 

As a relevant historical precedent, Lapkin pointed to French President Charles de Gaulle’s “arbitrary cancellation” of a contract to hand over to Israel six fast missile boats that it had already paid for in 1967.

He wrote, “This arms purchase was intended to counter the threat to Israel’s sea lanes posed by a fleet of Soviet missile boats supplied to Syria and Egypt. But then, just before the outbreak of Israel’s defensive Six-Day War in 1967, president Charles de Gaulle decided to realign French foreign policy toward the Arab world. He declared an arms embargo on Israel and cancelled the sale of those missile boats, despite the fact they were paid for and almost completed.”

On Christmas Eve 1969, Israel “took possession of what was rightly theirs”, Lapkin wrote, “orchestrating a snatch operation in which Israeli naval personnel sailed the missile boats… under the inebriated noses of French authorities. Four years later, those missile boats played a major role in the Israeli navy’s decisive victory during the Yom Kippur War in which 10 Syrian and Egyptian naval vessels were destroyed for no Israeli loss.”


Coalition united 

The decision by Israel to designate six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations for allegedly working for and funnelling money to the Marxist terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was accorded considerable media coverage – in part thanks to the predictable denunciations by anti-Israel Australian groups and individuals.

A Sydney Morning Herald report (Oct. 29) noted that “Australian human rights advocates, aid groups and the Australian Council of Trade Unions claimed the move was ‘designed to criminalise, persecute, and silence’ Palestinian civil society and human rights defenders.”

Greens Senator Janet Rice’s condemnation was noted, while Australia Palestine Advocacy Network head George Browning was quoted calling the NGOs “six key, internationally recognised, reputable organisations.”

AIJAC Research Associate Dr. Ran Porat was also quoted, explaining that “The close PFLP links of these groups have become increasingly clear internationally in the past few years, and acknowledged by governments… In many cases, arrests were made and trials were held where officials and employees of these groups were found guilty of terror-related activities.”


Air waves

A news brief on ABC News Radio (Oct. 27) reported that the Australian Greens called the NGO ban an “outrageous move” but noted Israel alleges the NGOs were “covertly financing” a group that has “carried out deadly attacks against Israelis.” 

An inhouse report on the ABC website (Oct. 27) was marked by minimal balance and quoted controversial Human Rights Watch spokesperson Omar Shakir, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, telling the ABC, “This attack grows out of years of efforts by the Israeli government to muzzle human rights reporting.” 

An SBS TV “World News” report (Oct. 25) included comment by Shawan Jabarin, the director of one of the designated groups, Al-Haq, which the report said was a “respected and award-winning, internationally funded rights defender which investigates abuses on both sides.”

In fact, Jabarin was found to be a “senior operative” in the PFLP by Israel’s Supreme Court in 2007. 

In contrast to the ABC report, SBS included some balance, quoting Australia-based Israeli-born academic Eyal Mayroz saying, “there likely is an incriminating money trail,” and “I imagine that there is some solid information” behind the ban, although he also questioned “punishing entire organisations”. 

The report said that the PFLP is a designated terrorist group “according to Israel, the US, the EU and Australia among others.” In fact, the PFLP is not directly proscribed in Australia, although it is on a UN list of proscribed groups to which Australia is a signatory. 


Hack Attack 

A long online feature by ABC Radio Triple J “Hack” reporter Avani Dias about claims by Iraqi-born, UK-based Gadear Ayed, who worked as a junior moderator for social media platform TikTok between December 2020 and June 2021, was marred by a lack of balance, unfounded claims and factual errors.

Ayed said TikTok’s ban on material that includes violence and brutality is “inconsistently applied when dealing with content about Palestinian people” and accused her former employer of blocking pro-Palestinian accounts and removing content that showed Palestinians being attacked.

The examples Ayed used to prove her claim stem from the May 2021 war between Hamas and Israel and the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute which was used by Hamas as an excuse for it.

But the evidence offered of anti-Palestinian moderation was flimsy – such as Palestinian US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib calling on TikTok to “stop censoring Palestinian political speech” and one Australian TikTok user saying his pro-Palestinian videos were censored. 

Moreover, no details were offered about the content of the videos purportedly censored.

There is a wealth of TikTok content that undermines Ayed’s claims, including pro-Palestinian activists crowing about their success rate on TikTok.

At the height of the conflict in May, the BBC reported that a TikTok video of an airstrike on Gaza had 4.4 million views. A video during the conflict which equated Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 whilst being arrested by Minneapolis police had 9.2 million views. Content marked with the hashtag #savesheikhjarrah has been viewed 905.7 million times!

Meanwhile, there are plenty of pro-Israel TikTok users who complained their accounts were suspended and content blocked.

None of this easily available information was included by Dias.

Dias noted the Israeli claim that TikTok fomented anti-Jewish violence with a disturbing video she said “reportedly” showed Palestinians slapping two ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys in Jerusalem. But Dias downplayed what was a genuine copycat phenomenon. It is a documented fact that there were several subsequent similar unprovoked assaults on Jews perpetrated to film and share on TikTok – yet Dias incorrectly claimed it was just one incident shared multiple times on TikTok.

Mirroring the ABC’s inexcusable practice during the May turmoil of reversing the order of events, Dias wrote that “Israel carried out hundreds of air strikes in Gaza and Palestinian Hamas militants fired multiple rocket barrages at Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheba.” It was, of course, Hamas that started the conflict by firing rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, after which Israel started to hit targets in Gaza.


Neighbourhood Watch

SBS TV “World News” reporter Claudia Farhart, who earlier this year filed a number of stories on the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute – the dispute that was cynically exploited by Hamas to trigger an 11-day war with Israel in May – covered the Israeli Supreme Court’s delayed ruling on the case in an online feature (Nov. 3).

Farhart noted that the Court had proposed a compromise whereby the affected Palestinian families would pay A$1,000 a year in rent and receive “protected tenant status” in exchange.

The Israeli group seeking the court’s endorsement that it owns the land would be prevented from “initiating any legal proceedings to evict them for 15 years. But the group would be recognised as the owners of the land,” she explained. 

Farhart said, “Jordan and the UN built the Sheikh Jarrah homes in 1956 for 28 Palestinian families displaced by the formation of the state of Israel eight years earlier. But the settler group says the land was owned by Jews before that, and Israeli law allows them to reclaim it.” It is not just settler groups that say this – a whole series of court cases have already ruled that the land was legally owned by a Jewish society before 1948. 

The report featured Israeli activist Daniel Seidemann suggesting all attempts at compromise are futile: “inevitably, there will be a coalition crisis, there will be a change in government, or there will be a terror attack with double digit casualties in which the bloodlust of certain elements within Israeli society will soar, and they will be evicted.” Yet to evict the families, an Israeli government would have to take the decision out of the remit of Israel’s fiercely independent legal system. This appears highly unlikely, especially since it has not happened over the three decades that the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute has been before the courts already.


Vanishing Truth and Context

On ABC Radio National “Religion & Ethics” (Nov. 10), former Middle East correspondent Janine di Giovanni promoted her book The Vanishing that focuses on the decline in the Middle East’s millennium-old Christian communities, including in Gaza.

Di Giovanni claimed that Gaza’s Christian population currently numbering “about 800” is “shrinking” because “they live under terrible siege conditions imposed by the Israeli Government. They endured an 11-day bombing campaign in May. Electricity cuts, water cuts. Terrible, terrible life that they have there.”

Host Andrew West asked her to discuss the Brazilian Catholic priest who left the Vatican to “be the shepherd of the Gaza Catholics.”

Di Giovanni called him a “remarkable man” before promptly returning to attacking Israel for “punishing” Gaza’s civilians since the election of Hamas in 2007 and “basically besieging them”. This has prevented them going to “Bethlehem for Christmas or Easter,” she said. 

It was left to West to point out that Egypt enforces the “boycott” of Gaza too and that “Hamas is [not] the most benevolent governor for the Christian population.” 

While di Giovanni conceded that Hamas are “not good guys” she insisted they were simply used “as the boogeyman for every time Israel has a bombing campaign which is absolutely inappropriate use of force.” Hamas rocket and terror attacks on Israel – the reason for Israeli counter-attacks – were never mentioned.

She also insisted that “Christians I talk to, they less complain about Hamas, and more complain about life under siege” – as if Gaza’s beleaguered Christians are free to publicly complain about their Hamas overlords. 

She also cited a young Gazan who graduated from dental school but was unable to find a job in Gaza, again blaming Israel. 

Weirdly, di Giovanni’s actual book undermines her assertions in the interview that Israel is the be all and end all for Gaza’s troubles, while Hamas is no issue. 

In the book, she wrote that the young dentist said “his parents, both government workers, had been receiving only half their salaries since the most recent political falling-out between Hamas and the PA in 2017,” quoting him saying “so we are being punished by our own people.”

As for the Brazilian priest, she writes that he said, “The Christian leadership in Gaza – the doctors, the government workers, the engineers – left when Hamas came in. And they took with them their sons and daughters.”

And regarding her silence on the troubled relations between Christians and Muslims in Gaza? In the book, she writes of the priest, “The relationship between Christians and Muslims in Gaza, he said, is deteriorating. No one will admit it, no one wants to talk about it. He told me that his parishioners spoke of times in the past when their relations were better. But Hamas changed that.”

Moreover, the priest tells her that after Hamas and the PA failed to form a unity government in 2016, “Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas began punishing Gaza.”

The book thus does go some way in acknowledging that Gaza’s suffering is a consequence of decades of mismanagement and oppression by first Fatah and then Hamas, and the situation for Christians has been particularly difficult under Hamas’ Islamist rule. Yet nothing of this appeared in the interview.

And as for di Giovanni’s central claim that the Christian populations across the Middle East are disappearing, this is not happening in Israel, where Christian numbers are increasing. Yet she fails to note this fact in either the interview or her book.


In Parliament

Chris Hayes (ALP, Fowler) – Oct. 25 – “I move: That this House: (1) notes that 29 November 2021 is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People as declared by the United Nations in 1977; (2) recognises the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self determination and a future built on peace, dignity, justice and security; (3) acknowledges the obstacles to the ongoing peace process, particularly the need for urgent action on issues such as settlements, Jerusalem, the Gaza blockade and the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories;…

“I…reaffirm our commitment to the Palestinian people and stand united in their struggle for self-determination…Access to necessities such as water is an inalienable human right and, unfortunately, these rights are not being realised due to military occupation. Clearly this is inhumane and unjust. We must work towards affording self-determination to the Palestinian people, including a future that’s based on peace, dignity, justice and security… I believe it falls to countries like Australia, who believe in the dignity of all people, to become more engaged in addressing the need for a tangible process towards the creation of the Palestinian state while ensuring respect and security for a Jewish homeland.”

Dave Sharma (Lib., Wentworth) – Oct. 25 – “My enduring lesson from my time as the Australian Ambassador to Israel is that there are two things that need to happen, effectively, for peace to come about. Firstly, Israel will only make the necessary territorial concessions that are needed for peace once its security is assured. Secondly, Palestinians will only make the necessary identity concessions once the Palestinians are reconciled to Israel’s existence. Both of those elements are missing to date, and have been missing throughout the process, whether it was the UN partition plan of 1947 and 1948, which was rejected; or the three noes of the Khartoum summit, which rejected Israel’s right to exist; or the failure of the Camp David process… or even the John Kerry-led process launched during the Obama administration.”

The following questions and comments come from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee Estimates hearings – Oct. 28.

Senator Janet Rice (Greens, Vic.) – “…last week the Israeli defence ministry designated six prominent human rights organisations in the occupied West Bank as terrorist organisations, effectively outlawing their activities…Will the Australian government denounce this dangerous attack against Palestinian human rights defenders?” 

“What’s the Australian government saying to the Israeli government about the expansion of settlements?”

Chair, Senator Eric Abetz (Lib., Tas.) – “… I’m delighted that, as I understand it, the government has adopted the IHRA definition of ‘anti-Semitism’. Is that correct that in recent times we have adopted that?”

Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne – “Yes, we have embraced that.”

Chair, Senator Eric Abetz (Lib., Tas.) – “The UN Human Rights Council passed that resolution creating a permanent commission of inquiry [into Israel]. What other country is subject to such a permanent commission of inquiry?…I’m just making the point that the UN’s credibility in that regard is severely dented when you think of Israel having democratic elections, believing in the rule of law, et cetera, and some very gross human rights violators are not subject to a standing item on the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

Senator Anne Urquhart (ALP, Tas.) – Environment and Communications Legislation Committee Estimates hearings – Oct. 26 – “Given that [Jewish community leader Vic] Alhadeff has been, throughout his career, a prominent advocate for Israel, was there consideration that his appointment [to the SBS Board] might compromise the SBS’s perceived impartiality with regard to international affairs? Was that taken into consideration?”


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