Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – February 2016

Feb 9, 2016 | 


Sophie’s slant 

An Australian delegation including Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne, Attorney-General George Brandis, Bronwyn Bishop MP, Senator Glenn Sterle and Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson recently visited Israel, meeting various Israeli officials from PM Netanyahu down and discussing important innovation initiatives. ABC correspondent Sophie McNeill, however, initially chose to focus on an at times disharmonious West Bank visit by some of the delegation. In a story on the ABC website, (Dec. 16), McNeill wrote, “An Australian-led delegation to the West Bank… has been criticised by a Minister in the Palestinian Authority, who said the group had ‘false information’ and were ‘not well educated’… Palestinian Minister for Education Dr Sabri Saidam described the meeting as ‘very explosive and very challenging’ and said the group had asked ‘rude and blunt’ questions.”

Tim Wilson responded, in a post on Facebook, “Complete rubbish. Utter and complete rubbish. The article doesn’t say what ‘facts’ were wrong. Do you want to know what the key point of contention was?: should the Palestinians name schools after teenage suicide bombers. The Education Minister accepted it occurred and then called one of the suicide bombers a ‘national hero’.”

McNeill’s online report was subsequently amended to admit that Saidam had said that the questions were about the naming of schools after “people who had killed Israeli citizens,” and to include coverage of the talks with Israelis. A later report on ABC Radio’s “PM” program led with the Israeli talks before returning to the Ramallah visit.


Piercing analysis

Columnist Piers Akerman, who travelled to Israel as part of the Australia Israel UK Leadership Dialogue, wrote on his News Corp blog (Dec. 18) that a meeting between some delegates and Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Sabri Saidam suggested a not dissimilar experience.

According to Akerman, “Both men were asked about the Palestinian Authority’s contemptible practise [sic] of glorifying terrorists… and of the banning of activity which might lead to the normalisation of relations between Palestinian and Israeli children. They denied any knowledge of such activities. They treated the members of the delegation as fools.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Alex Ryvchin reflected on the MPs’ experience, explaining that “No attempt is made to disguise the motivation behind officially naming schools in honour of these mass killers. It is intended to inspire the young to emulate their bloody acts, just as students in healthier societies would aspire to follow the examples of their nations’ great leaders and pioneers.”

Furthermore, “the contrived outrage shown by the Palestinians in response to legitimate questions is consistent with a long history of projected victimhood… The Palestinian leadership schizophrenically portrays itself as powerless and without agency, while at the same time asserting its apparent readiness to govern as a sovereign state. The Education Minister exhibited a similar duplicity, at once asserting his dominion over the naming of schools yet refusing to be held accountable for deeds that are solely his. His discomfort in response to blunt and honest questions revealed a man badly caught out,” Daily Telegraph (Dec. 30).

Sharing the truth

National affairs editor Dennis Atkins, who also participated in the Dialogue, was impressed by the ability of different denominations to share and mostly live in peace in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is the most “contested territorial dispute on earth” – noting that this reality relies on “communal goodwill and logic” and could be a model for coexistence elsewhere in the Middle East, Courier Mail (Dec. 18).


Leadership vacuum

Columnist Gerard Henderson queried outgoing ABC Managing Director Mark Scott’s self-confessed lack of involvement in the appointment of Sophie McNeill as the public broadcaster’s Middle East correspondent.

“At the Senate estimates in November, Scott was quizzed by Liberal Party Senator Eric Abetz concerning the appointment of Sophie McNeill (a self-proclaimed admirer of leftist activist John Pilger) as the ABC’s Middle East correspondent. Scott’s initial response was to declare: ‘I was not involved in Ms McNeill’s appoint (sic) directly.’ He added that ‘she was… interviewed by an experienced panel of journalists’. But if the ABC’s editor-in-chief is not involved directly in such key overseas postings, what’s the point of the position?” Australian (Jan. 9).

Food wars

Fairfax online columnist Ruby Hamad returned yet again to her favourite pastime of launching overwrought attacks on Israel on any possible pretext – this time expressing her “dismay” that “the food of my own people, the Arabs of the Levant (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria), had been rebranded and repackaged as the national food of Israel… It’s difficult to relay how humiliating and devastating it is as an Arab to witness the way my culture has been simultaneously reviled and plundered. I can’t begin to explain the devastation of watching the systematic oppression of Palestinians even as their food, which is also my food, is celebrated by the very ones enacting this oppression… The rebranding of these quintessentially Middle Eastern culinary traditions as ‘Israeli’ is a deliberate effort to legitimise Israeli national identity by erasing Palestine.”

Hamad revealed her own apparent racism, clearly unwilling to acknowledge that Jews are indigenous to the Middle East – indeed, half of Israel’s population are from Middle Eastern communities thousands of years old, and have Middle Eastern culinary traditions as legitimately as her ancestors do. Furthermore, many countries share national dishes. Finally, it is ridiculous to allege Israel is attempting to erase Palestine or the Palestinian people, Daily life blog (Jan. 14).


The broken record that is Amin Saikal’s commentary on the Middle East returned to his all-too-familiar refrain that Israel is at the heart of all the ills there. In a Dec. 18 Canberra Times article about how to defeat “Muslim extremism”, he wrote, “The third required measure is for Israel to act responsibly and end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, including the third holiest site of Muslims, East Jerusalem. Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinian people under occupation and the double standard of the United States and some of its allies in support of Israel have provided violent extremists with a cause celebre on which they have drawn to justify their actions and widen their circles of recruitment.” So apparently ISIS would stop wanting a caliphate, or Sunni jihadis would cease flocking there to battle Shi’ites and Alawites, if Israel gave the Palestinians a state. As usual, Saikal failed to mention Israel’s three generous, but rebuffed, offers of a state. Further, while he referred to east Jerusalem’s importance to Muslims, the fact it contains the holiest site for Jews was of course not mentioned by him.

He then launched into an unacademic litany of claims against Israel that were, at best, half-truths with no context, writing, “The images of Palestinians – some as young as 10 to 12 years old – taken away by Israeli security forces for interrogation and imprisonment in the middle of the night, and shot dead on sight, with their houses demolished and olive trees uprooted, cannot but constantly focus Muslim discontent…”


Radio ranting

New York-based Haaretz journalist Asher Schechter told ABC Radio National “News Radio” (Dec. 8) host Tracey Holmes that ISIS has “no better ally in the West” for recruiting followers than people like France’s Marine Le Pen and US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump – who recently called for a ban on allowing any Muslims into the US.

According to Schechter, “currently there is no direct political cost to undisguised bigotry. In fact bigotry is rewarded. This is why we live in something that looks like the golden age of political bigotry. It doesn’t matter where we look… In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu incited against Israel’s Arab population on the day of the election and was re-elected… So politicians in Western democracies see that anti-Muslim rhetoric, anti-immigrant rhetoric, racist statements are rewarded.”

While Netanyahu did employ insensitive language, it is just not true that what he said amounted to “inciting” against Muslims or Arabs.

He urged Likud voters not to take for granted his re-election because “Arabs” who were hostile to his government were being “bused to the polling stations by left-wing NGOs” in “droves”.

Netanyahu subsequently apologised in person to representatives of the Israeli Arab community for his words.


Imran can’t

The disendorsement of Federal ALP candidate Dr. Imran Syed from contesting the seat of Murray after revelations of extreme Facebook posts by him attacking Israel and Western leaders received markedly different coverage in different outlets.

Although the Age (Dec. 12) stated that his posts were “critical of Israel and its relationship with the West, and link the bombing of Syria and other Arab states to a rise in radical Islam,” no specific examples were included to give readers a genuine appreciation for how extreme the posts really were.

Instead, the Age focused on Dr. Syed’s defence that the ALP was “attempting to stifle free speech” and was “racist”, and quoted his claim that a “‘dark man’ in Australia didn’t have a right to voice his opinion. ‘We have to be blind, deaf and dumb.'”

In contrast, Annika Smethurst’s report in the Herald Sun (Dec. 12) stated that he was dumped for posts describing Israel as “barbaric, murderous and cancerous”, accusing “US President Barack Obama of funding Islamic State”, and for sharing an image blaming Western soldiers for spreading heroin addiction.

A slightly differently worded report from Smethurst in the Daily Telegraph (Dec. 12) noted that he had also called former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair a “mentally retarded clown”.

None of the articles noted that Syed’s posts also included a cartoon accusing Israel of planting knives on Palestinian terrorists nor that his post also blamed Israel for creating ISIS.


Missing peace, missing context

Australian Financial Review International editor Tony Walker, who visited Israel recently as part of the Australia Israel UK Leadership Dialogue, penned an article based on an interview with Michael Oren – noted Israeli historian, former ambassador to the US and now member of the Knesset.

The piece was marred by some questionable editorialising from Walker. These included his description of Oren’s statement that Israel is “a profoundly normal society dealing with profoundly abnormal circumstances” as “a bit misty-eyed”.

Walker also demurred from Oren’s “observation that little divides Israel’s mainstream left and right on the peace process,” claiming that “the right in Israel would most likely part company on the issue of dismantling Jewish settlements outside the more established ones.”

In fact an overwhelming number of Israelis, including on the right, back a two-state formula in the full knowledge that it would require the dismantling of settlements outside “the more established ones”.

Walker also felt the need to contradict Oren’s opinion that it is only the Palestinian side that is boycotting the negotiating table, insisting, “some might say that, as things stand, there are two empty chairs.”

Yet Israel’s PM Binyamin Netanyahu has backed unconditional negotiations since 2009. His offer was finally accepted in 2013 but this lasted only seven months until Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decided to enter a unity government with Hamas, just at the stage of the process when actual compromises needed to be made, Australian Financial Review (Jan. 3).

An earlier Walker piece said that Netanyahu had “fended off American pressure to make significant gestures to the Palestinians on issues such as Jewish settlements.” You mean like Netanyahu’s ten-month settlement building freeze implemented in 2009-10 intended as a gesture? And what of his agreement to release over 100 Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands as the price for the 2013-14 talks?

Walker argued that peace between Palestinians and Israel would require dusting off the 2002 “Arab Peace Initiative agreed by the Arab League…this lays out a bare-bones outline for an end to generations of hostility based on a land-for-peace two-state formula that would result in Israel withdrawing from territories occupied in 1967.”

You mean an offer like former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s one from 2008 that included the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank, Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem, a formula for solving the Palestinian refugee issue and a passage connecting Gaza and the West Bank but which was rejected by President Abbas, as Abbas himself recently admitted? Australian Financial Review (Dec. 19).

Journalist or Book Publicist?

ABC Radio National host Andrew West isn’t a book publicist, but one could have been forgiven for mistaking him for one after hearing his pandering discussion with former Palestinian Authority (PA) PR wonk and outspoken Palestinian one-state advocate Ghada Karmi.

Karmi was on the program to hawk her latest memoir, which focuses on her time working for the PA in the mid-2000s and how she become disillusioned with it.

Glimpses into the inner workings of the PA are indeed rare, and West could have chosen to question her on any number of problematic aspects of Palestinian self-rule – such as Palestinian rejection of Israeli peace proposals in 2000, 2001 and 2008, massive corruption, financial subsidies for terrorists and their families and incitement, just to name a few.

Instead, West merely set up opportunities for Karmi to espouse her revisionist version of history, rooted in her remarkable insinuation that the PA was created out of malice to perpetuate Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza – instead of the easily verifiable reality that the PA was created out of a bilateral agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to lay the groundwork for a two-state outcome under a final-status agreement that would end the conflict.

During the interview, Karmi recalled visiting her family’s pre-‘48 home in the West Jerusalem neighbourhood of Katamon and indignantly baiting the New York Times journalist who lived in the upstairs apartment, “what do you think of Israel now?”

Yet Karmi herself has admitted in her previous memoir that Katamon had been used by Arab forces in 1948 as cover to attack neighbouring Jewish neighbourhoods. This sniping and mortar fire did not cease until Jewish forces captured the strategic area in late April 1948 ahead of the promised Arab invasion from the east.

Offensively, during the interview, Karmi described “liberal Jews” – apparently Jews who are often critical of Israeli policy but still believe in its right to exist – as “utterly useless”. West, who had set up this depiction with a leading question, didn’t challenge her. ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (Jan. 6).

Balance poleaxed

Ruth Pollard concluded her stint as Fairfax Middle East correspondent by adopting the same approach she has maintained throughout her tenure, presenting the difficulties experienced in Gaza, this time of a Palestinian artist, as solely Israel’s fault.

Contrary to UN officials’ own statements that Israel’s blockade is not responsible for preventing reconstruction, Pollard claimed that “chronic shortage of cement – caused in part by the severe restrictions Israel places on the import of cement and other building materials into Gaza as part of its years-long blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory – has been one of the main causes of the shamefully slow process [of rebuilding].”

According to Pollard “the art scene in Gaza… is struggling after eight years of Hamas rule and the decision of Western governments to isolate the group.” So if the West had not demanded that Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel and recognise Israel’s right to exist, the arts scene would be booming and Hamas would allow artists to freely express their creativity? Seriously? Sydney Morning Herald/Age (Dec. 27). 

Peter’s principled stance

Former federal ALP minister Peter Baldwin denounced Bob Carr’s claim at an International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People event last year that “the story of Jerusalem is now being fabricated, Judaising…this great Arab city.”
Baldwin accused Carr of not offering “even a scintilla of balance”, and condemned “Carr’s implicit denial… of any legitimate Jewish connection to the city despite 3000 years of history. Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since the end of the 19th century and a plurality for even longer. All just a ‘fabrication’, apparently.”

He also eviscerated Carr’s justification for switching his support from Israel to the Palestinians because Israel is now “chauvinistic” and “militaristic” – pointing out that Carr ignores Palestinian incitement to violence, Hamas’ call for the “obliteration of Israel”, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and its offers to establish a Palestinian state made in 2000 and 2008, Australian (Dec. 22).



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