Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – December 2023

Nov 24, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Very poor vision

An appalling, ahistorical account on ABC Radio National “Rear Vision” (Oct. 22) of the Oslo peace process which started in 1993 appeared to seek to “contextualise” Hamas’ October 7 massacre as Israel’s fault. 

The program’s less-than-subtle message was a claim that Israel didn’t fulfil Oslo’s end-goal of creating a Palestinian state, and this is the source of the violence.

Former Palestinian Authority official Khaled Elgindy said, “It felt inevitable… we were moving toward a Palestinian state,” but “the process basically didn’t go anywhere” after Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination by a right-wing Israeli in 1995 and Binyamin Netanyahu’s “very right-wing, intransigent government” was elected in 1996. 

Host Annabelle Quince then said, “In 2000, a second… intifada erupted.” 

Journalist and author Nathan Shachar “explained” that the Second Intifada “was the product of a deep disappointment in Palestinian society,” adding, incorrectly, that “according to… Oslo…there would have been a five-year transition period…to a Palestinian state.” 

The program failed to mention the fact that between the Netanyahu Government’s election in 1996 and the Second Intifada’s outbreak in 2000, Ehud Barak served as PM.

Or that in July 2000, at the Camp David summit, three months before the Second Intifada, Barak famously offered to create a Palestinian state that included all of Gaza, most of the West Bank and a capital in east Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat rejected that plan, along with even more generous offers in December 2000 and January 2001.

The program also failed to mention the statehood offer Israeli PM Ehud Olmert made in 2008. 

 

Must be stated

In the Australian (Nov. 3), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein dismissed accusations that “the lack of a Palestinian state alongside Israel…fuelled Hamas’ Islamist ideology and caused this attack.” 

He said, “This is completely upside down – this attack was the clearest demonstration possible as to why it has proven impossible to create a Palestinian state despite sincere and repeated Israeli peace offers.”

“Hamas-run Gaza has for the last 17 years been the closest thing to a fully-fledged Palestinian state that has ever existed… Yet it is precisely in Gaza where terrorism flourished, presenting a mortal threat to Israel’s citizens.”

 

Actions speak louder

Australian columnist Henry Ergas repeatedly hammered the point that Hamas’ actions on October 7 showed it is beyond the pale. 

On Oct. 20, he wrote, “They weren’t hunting for Israelis, much less for soldiers; they were hunting for Jews… Civilian casualties… were the objective… maiming babies, butchering children, raping women and defiling corpses… [the] Nazi[s]… tried to hide their crimes… Hamas’s killers… videoed their atrocities and posted them – to howls of joy that echoed from Gaza to Lakemba.”

On Nov. 3, Ergas said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “is a war of subjugation; Hamas’s is a war of extermination.” 

 

Other perspectives

On ABC’s “Religion & Ethics” website (Oct. 24), Monash academic Suzy Killmister warned against “condemnation of Israel’s retaliation… slip[ping] into retrospective justification of Hamas’ terrorist attack.”

Killmister said “Maintaining silence about Hamas’ attacks can itself speak volumes about whose lives we value, and whose we don’t.”

AIJAC’s Justin Amler in the Courier Mail (Oct. 25) criticised the speed with which Hamas’ “atrocities…have been almost forgotten and replaced with a laser-like focus on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza instead.” He asked “why is it so hard for people to remember and understand” that Israel must defend itself against “a genocidal extremist group listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia and around the world” that perpetrated one of the worse massacres in modern times?

 

UN-believable

In the Daily Telegraph (Nov. 1), AIJAC’s Justin Amler denounced the United Nations for not supporting Israel after the October 7 massacre.

Amler noted the UN Human Rights Council held a minute’s silence two days after the massacre, not for Israelis but “the loss of innocent lives in the occupied Palestinian territory and elsewhere,” and a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a ceasefire failed to mention Hamas.

Meanwhile, former UN Assistant Secretary-General Ramesh Thakur in the Australian Financial Review (Oct. 29) backed Israel’s war against Hamas, arguing that “calls for ceasefire, de-escalation and restraint play into Hamas’ hands.”

 

A sense of proportion

In the Canberra Times (Nov. 3), AIJAC’s Oved Lobel argued that international humanitarian law (IHL) is being “abused” to attack Israel.

Lobel explained that proportionality “has absolutely nothing to do with comparing the overall scope and deadliness of a military response with the scope and deadliness of the terror provocation.” It is about determining whether the incidental loss of civilian life and injuries caused “would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” 

He said because Hamas uses civilian facilities in Gaza – including hospitals, UN schools and mosques – they become legitimate military targets under IHL.

He also dismissed accusations that Israel is guilty of genocide, which involves killing done “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” 

“Genocidal countries do not plead for civilian evacuations or give prior warning before individual strikes,” he noted. 

 

Do better SBS 

An article on SBS’s website by Gavin Butler (Nov. 13) argued the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free”, frequently heard at pro-Palestinian rallies, isn’t calling for Israel’s destruction or the genocide of Jews.

Butler, a signatory to the #dobetteronpalestine open letter urging the media to emphasise the Palestinian side when reporting on the conflict, wrote it is a “show of solidarity for the tormented people of Gaza.”

Sydney University lecturer Martin Kear said the slogan wishes Jews and Palestinians could live “side-by-side” as they did before “Israel was established in 1948.”

Deakin University’s Andrew Thomas, who signed a recent petition accusing Israel of committing genocide, was quoted saying, “for a lot of people it is simply about Palestinian solidarity against Israeli occupation.”

The piece did quote the US-based Anti-Defamation League’s statement condemning the phrase as “an antisemitic charge denying the Jewish right to self-determination, including through the removal of Jews from their ancestral homeland,” but Butler’s commentary basically dismissed this claim as wrong.

 

Non-disclosure conflicts 

On ABC Radio “PM” and ABC Radio “Drive” (Nov. 9), barrister and anti-Israel activist Greg Barns spruiked a petition on behalf of lawyers calling on the Australian Government to back a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and ensure international law is upheld.

On “Drive”, Barns admitted, “I’m no expert on the laws of war,” which didn’t stop him from asserting “This is a disproportionate use of force… by Israel. There seems to be no doubt about that.”

“Drive” host Andy Park called Barns a “barrister and National Criminal Justice spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance.”

In fact, Barns has a long history of pro-Palestinian activism, including establishing “Tasmanians for Palestine” in 2018 and serving as patron of the Palestinian Film Festival in Tasmania in 2018, ties which were not disclosed.

 

I Kidwa not 

On ABC RN “Breakfast” (Nov. 15), former Palestinian Authority (PA) Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa blamed everyone but Hamas for the October 7 massacre. 

Al-Kidwa said Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu “ke[pt] the division between Gaza and the West Bank,” which “deprived” Gazans and Hamas of “any potential, serious economic development.”

He also claimed that in previous wars Netanyahu targeted civilians but not Hamas, making “sure that it remains at the helm,” for which Israel is now “paying a huge price.”

Kidwa also said PA President Mahmoud Abbas has no credibility with Palestinians but has remained leader for 18 years because of the “unreasonable support” of the US and Netanyahu.

 

Penny’s hospital handpass

In the Australian (Nov. 13), Anthony Bergin challenged Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s claim on ABC TV “Insiders” (Nov. 12) that Israel cannot target Gaza’s hospitals because “these are facilities protected under international law.”

Bergin wrote, because Hamas uses hospitals as “military facilities and [for] operations,” they lose their protected status.

Israel, he said, is complying with the Geneva Convention’s requirements to “endeavour to remove the civilian population… from the vicinity of military objectives” by offering to “assist with moving vulnerable patients and get them to medical facilities.”

In the Australian (Nov. 8), Bergin and international law expert Greg Rose corrected false claims being made about how to determine if “civilian casualties caused by Israel have been excessive.” 

 

Breakfast indigestion

ABC RN “Breakfast” host Patricia Karvelas issued a trigger warning to listeners after her Nov. 10 interview with Palestinian-Canadian Mansour Shouman.

As a dual passport holder, Shouman was eligible to leave for Egypt with his wife and children when Gaza’s border opened but he chose to remain, saying, Israel “killed my ancestors and took my land in 1948 and 1967. I will not allow them to do the same here.”

Asked why the family returned to Gaza from Canada in 2021, Shouman said, “Unfortunately, the education system in Canada got overwhelmed with leftist agenda, LGBTQ propaganda. We couldn’t raise our children by the social norms and the religious values that we believe in.” 

Insisting he doesn’t “support the killing of women, children or anyone who doesn’t use force against Palestinians,” Shouman said, “Israeli[s] at the age of 18… become part of the military… And those people [killed on October 7] were all occupying settlers around the Gaza Strip.”

Without identifying what she meant, Karvelas said of the interview, “I’d like to acknowledge that many [listeners] would have found some of the things said distressing.”

 

Camp talk

On Nov. 6, Canberra Times columnist Mark Kenny lambasted Israel “for rain[ing] vengeance on Hamas-controlled Gaza, firing rockets into a refugee camp and even an ambulance, peaceful co-existence seems further away than ever.” 

Presumably Kenny was referring to Jabaliya camp Israel targeted on Nov. 1 and an Israeli hit on an ambulance on Nov. 3.

Hamas spun these two incidents as callous Israeli war crimes.

But as AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams noted in the West Australian (Nov. 15), “Israel’s recent attack on the Jabaliya refugee camp was labelled a war crime, but Israel struck a legitimate military target — a military command centre with numerous terrorists including a senior Hamas commander responsible for various atrocities.” Hyams also said “Israeli forces attacking Hamas at Jabaliya were confronted with a line of 100 women and children pushed out by Hamas to protect its fighters,” also a war crime. 

Both SBS TV “World News” and the ABC website (Nov. 4) reported Israel’s claim the ambulance was struck because Israel had received intel Hamas was using it to transport fighters and weapons.

 

Hamas’ cheerleaders?

ABC TV “News” decided that Israeli Ambassador to Australia Amir Maimon’s appearance at the National Press Club on Oct. 25 had to be balanced with an interview-cum-analysis from reporter Nicole Johnston.

A former Middle East correspondent for Al Jazeera English and TRT, a Turkish state-run news service that has a history of broadcasting antisemitic content, Johnston sounded like a Hamas apologist.

Questioning Maimon’s claim Hamas uses human shields, she said, “I covered the 2012 war and the 2014 war…and we never found it to be correct. It is true though, that Hamas, Islamic Jihad…do fire rockets from…behind schools…mosques.” Clearly, Johnston didn’t realise those are textbook examples of using civilian buildings as “human shields”. 

She said because Gaza is so small and has “two and a half million people packed inside,” Hamas is forced to fire rockets from near civilian areas.

Gaza actually has plenty of open spaces and farmland.

Asked to comment on Ambassador Maimon’s long list of Hamas’ atrocities on October 7 – rape, torture, torching families – Johnston focused on claims Israeli babies were decapitated. 

“Some people…say that the issue of dozens of Israeli children being decapitated still hasn’t been verified,” she said.

She also claimed that in previous wars with Hamas, “if Israel was going to bomb a house, often the owners of it would get a call and be told to get out” but “that’s no longer happening.” 

In fact, as ABC TV has reported, Israel has dropped more than 1.5 million fliers telling Gazans to leave for their own safety. Moreover, Israel has made more than five million automated phone calls and sent more than four million text messages to Gaza civilians urging them to evacuate a target area.

 

Hacktavisim

ABC Triple J’s “Hack” (Nov. 13) looked at pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests, but focused overwhelmingly on the virtues of the former.

Reporter Shalailah Medhora summarised ugly scenes on Nov. 10, when hundreds of highly agitated pro-Palestinian demonstrators descended on Caulfield in Melbourne, a heavily Jewish suburb. The protesters positioned themselves in a park opposite a synagogue that was holding a Friday night service that had to be evacuated by police. 

Medhora’s version was “even-handed”, saying, “On Friday night, police in Melbourne had to take pretty drastic measures to rein in a fight between 200 pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters.” 

Guest historian Effie Karageorgos offered romanticised parallels between the anti-Vietnam war movement and Gaza ceasefire protesters, suggesting the latter are more virtuous, because Australian troops aren’t involved. 

Host Dave Marchese read out exclusively pro-Palestinian texts.

A “Hack” report on Nov. 16 pointedly dismissed IDF video evidence claiming to show Hamas had misused Gaza’s Shifa Hospital as “not independently verified”. Hack does not make similar qualifications for Palestinian claims, including Hamas-supplied civilian casualty figures.

 

ABC supports recycling 

During the first five weeks of the Hamas-Israel war, the ABC seemed to follow a pattern of relying repeatedly on a small number of favoured experts who would make the same points in numerous appearances – especially if highly critical of Israel.

Médecins Sans Frontieres Executive Director Jennifer Tierney repeatedly made the case for a ceasefire on ABC TV “News” (Nov. 14), ABC TV “News” (Nov. 10), and ABC TV “Q&A” (Nov. 6).

A warning by Holocaust studies academic Professor Omer Bartov that Israel may be on the verge of committing genocide in Gaza saw him invited to talk on ABC RN “The Minefield” (Nov. 16), ABC RN “Breakfast” (Nov. 14), and ABC News Radio (Nov. 13). 

On RN “Breakfast”, he said, “My own view is that it is not yet genocide, but especially because there’s been such a vast displacement of population that is ethnic cleansing, which is by the way, not clearly defined, and there’s no clear law against it, but… it can come under crimes against humanity”. There was no counter voice heard.

International law expert Ben Saul – recently appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism – appeared on ABC TV “News” (Oct. 10), ABC RN “Drive” (Oct. 24), ABC RN “Breakfast” (Nov. 1), and ABC Radio Triple J (Nov. 6).

Saul’s explanation of proportionality on RN “Breakfast” was vague to the point of obfuscating the actual law, saying, “You can’t launch attacks which would cause excessive civilian casualties.”

 

Speaking truth to IRAN

On ABC TV (Oct. 30), Sydney Peace Prize 2023 recipient Nazanin Boniadi, an Iranian-born human rights activist, called on the Albanese Government to “remove the roadblocks” it says prevents Australia from proscribing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation.

Boniadi said the “root cause” of the “havoc” in the Middle East is the backing Hamas and Hezbollah receive from the IRGC. 


In Parliament

Greens Leader Adam Bandt (Melbourne) – Nov. 13 – “How many more children must die before Labor will… [call] for a ceasefire?”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) – answering: “Israel does have a right to defend itself… the way that it does matters… Hamas has contempt for international law—they’re a terrorist organisation.”

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – Nov. 13 – “What occurred on 7 October was horrific…  Hamas is… dedicated to the destruction of… Israel… they are still holding hostages… in affirming Israel’s right to defend itself, we also emphasise the importance of international law.” In a separate statement the same day Senator Wong said, “The dismantling of Hamas will be required as part of any enduring peace.” 

Shadow Foreign Minister Senator Simon Birmingham (Lib., SA) – Nov. 14 – “The response by Israel to seek to rid Gaza and the region… of Hamas… seeks to ensure peace is possible in the future. Those who utter… ‘ceasefire now’ are ignoring the reality that a ceasefire now, short of a release of hostages, a surrender by Hamas and a handing-over of terrorist capabilities… would only perpetuate the type of tragedy that we have seen.”

Dai Le (Ind., Fowler) – Nov. 16 – “By focusing exclusively on addressing antisemitism, we are prioritising one group and overlooking an entire community. It is impossible to condemn the attack against Israel and ignore the horrors in Gaza.”

Senator Jacqui Lambie (JLN, Tas.) – Nov. 14 – “There is no point whatsoever in calling for a ceasefire when one side is intent upon wiping out the other. Hamas is calling for the destruction of Israel…”

Senator Janet Rice (Greens, Vic.) – Nov. 14 – “75 years of oppression of the Palestinian people and occupation of lands by… Israel. What has happened… since 7 October is not self-defence… These are crimes of collective punishment, crimes against humanity.”

Senator Rice – Nov. 7 – “Ten thousand Palestinians… have been brutally killed just for being Palestinian.” 

Greens Deputy Leader Senator Mehreen Faruqi (NSW) – Nov. 14 – “Can you not see that depravity by Israel in continuing to carpet-bomb Gaza and continuing to annihilate Gaza?… Just call this for what it is—which is collective punishment, which is war crimes, which is apartheid.”

Senator James McGrath (Lib., Qld) – Nov. 14 – “Over 200 hostages are being held by Hamas. Here are their names:…”

Senator Susan McDonald (Lib., Qld) – Nov. 10 – “Israel is… going to great lengths to prevent harming Gazan non-combatants.”

Shadow Assistant Foreign Minister Senator Claire Chandler (Lib., Tas) – Nov. 8 – “[Hamas] has promised to carry out such terror attacks again and again, and yet they still find support in Australia… They dug tunnels and shelters for themselves and forced civilians to act as human shields.”

Senator David Pocock (Ind., ACT) – Nov. 7 – “Israelis are not Benjamin Netanyahu. Palestinians are not Hamas… call for a ceasefire now.”

Senator Penny Allman-Payne (Greens, Qld) – Nov. 7 – “Deliberately carpet bombing hospitals and schools and ambulances is not self-defence.”

Senator Nick McKim (Greens, Tas.) – Nov. 7 – “How many people need to die while you still stand with Israel? How many babies need to be slaughtered…?” 

Greens Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John (WA) – Nov. 6 – “Mechanised murder… has become the response of the Netanyahu government.”

Senator Hollie Hughes (Lib., NSW) – Oct. 24 – Environment and Communications Legislation Committee – Estimates Hearings: “There were a lot of concerns expressed after comments… by your reporter in the Middle East, Tom Joyner, and his reference to the beheading of babies being ‘BS’… can… Australians have faith that Mr Joyner is capable of fairly reporting…?”

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