Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – February 2020

Feb 7, 2020 | AIJAC staff

Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer: Cabinet archives reveal concerns over support for Israel
Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer: Cabinet archives reveal concerns over support for Israel


2020 begins on a Downer

A surprising inclusion in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 2) was the coverage given, as part of the release of Cabinet papers under the 20-year rule, to revelations that former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in 1998 “feared Australia was seen as ‘overly supportive’ of Israel while it was isolated ‘in poor company’ supporting the Middle East nation in international forums.”

The Canberra Times (Jan. 1) also ran a report on the 1998 cabinet papers and included Downer telling his colleagues that Palestinian President Yasser “Arafat and the moderates around him remained the best bet for long-term peace, although terrorist groups such as Hamas [and] the Islamic Jihad were gaining support.”

Downer was not asked to comment for these stories, but it is clear as events in the Middle East played out, his views evolved.

Indeed, in a September 2003 interview with ABC Radio, Downer said “since, particularly, the Intifada has erupted, post the attempts by [US] President Clinton to deliver a Middle East peace agreement, Yasser Arafat has not played a constructive role. Yasser Arafat has failed to bring under control Hamas, he’s failed to stop the suicide homicide bombings into Israel and I think that’s tremendously disappointing.”


Ed space

On Jan. 15, the Canberra Times editorial made the interesting observation that “Taiwan shares with Israel and South Korea the distinction of being one of the few countries on earth which have lived with an existential threat from powerful, and sometimes unpredictable, neighbours for many decades.”

On Jan. 1, Age and Sydney Morning Herald world editor Patrick Elligett’s list of potential areas of prospective flareup in the Middle East for 2020 sensibly excluded the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Out of frame

SBS’s website (Jan. 15) ran a 56-second video story called “Journalist honoured” showing the completion of a mural in Gaza memorialising Italian photographer Simone Camilli and his colleague, who died during the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel.

An online caption said the mural marks the “site of the 2014 explosion that killed them during the Gaza-Israel war.”

Italian activist Layla Setabua explained Camilli “was hoping in [sic] a better future for Palestinian people… In fact for us it’s important to be in Gaza because for us is an act of solidarity with the Palestinian [sic].”

Neither the video nor the website included context to explain what happened.

Camilli tragically died whilst filming Gazan bomb disposal officers trying to defuse an unexploded bomb.

Most viewers would have drawn the incorrect conclusion that Camilli had died heroically during fighting or was targeted by Israel.


Tall tales

Earlier, SBS’s website (Dec. 12) ran a short video report that was essentially a free promotion of the controversial United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the legally non-existent Palestinian right of return to Israel it promotes

The report focused on George Salameh who lives in Bethlehem, but whose family was originally from Jaffa – which became part of Israel during the 1948 war.

An on-screen graphic said, “His family and many others were made refugees following the Palestine war. His membership to UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees guarantees his right to return to his family home of Jaffa.”

The exact details of the Salamehs’ departure from the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Jaffa are unknown, but the vast majority of its Arab population left voluntarily in the period after the UN Partition Plan was passed in November 1947 when Arab militias began attacking Jews, and before Israel’s independence was declared in May 1948.

In the video, Salameh said “UNRWA is our life insurance. It is an integral part of the rights of the Palestinian refugee. We are clinging to it because it is our sustenance, it is for protecting our rights. That is it.” 

An onscreen graphic stated, “But Israel still refuses the right to return, fearing a loss in its Jewish majority.”

A Reuters news report elsewhere shows that Salameh was born in 1960, presumably in Bethlehem, long after the 1948 war – when the West Bank was under Jordanian rule. Since 1994, Bethlehem has been under Palestinian self-rule.

Why then is Salameh on UNRWA’s registry as a refugee? Because UNRWA lets Palestinians inherit refugee status from their parents, even if they hold citizenship in other countries. Even Palestinians residing in an area that is de facto under Palestinian rule, as Salameh does in Bethlehem, can be considered refugees.

This has led to the accusation that UNRWA, whose original mandate was to resettle refugees from 1948, is perpetuating and expanding, rather than solving, the so-called Palestinian refugee problem.

Moreover, there is no legal right of return. UN General Assembly Resolution 194, passed in 1948, is sometimes cited as its legal basis – but was actually a recommended plan for a peace agreement, with absolutely no binding legal force. Among its provisions, it said, “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” The words “right of return” are not included and return was conditional on both willingness to live in peace and practicality – still a pipe dream after 70 years.


Hidden child abuse

Itamar Marcus, director of the Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch, warned in the Australian (Jan. 9) that Palestinian children are taught from an early age to hate Israel and Jews and encouraged to embrace terror as a solution to the conflict, which he called a form of “child abuse.”

One of the examples Marcus cited was a video that appeared on the website of Fatah, the political group of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.

The video features “a little boy excitedly await[ing] a gift that his mother promised him for finishing his food. However, his mother shocks him: instead of handing him a toy she hands him a rifle. These are the appalling words that follow: ‘He shouted loudly: ‘O Mummy! Mummy! What is this? Is this the gift?’”

“The mother picks him up, hugs him, and says, ‘My son, we were not created for happiness… They are cursed. Jerusalem is ours, our weapon is our Islam, and our ammunition is our children. And you, O my son, are meant for martyrdom.’”

The PA, Marcus wrote, “has been brainwashing Palestinian children to aspire to martyrdom for more than 20 years. In the past month alone, official PA television has had several children recite poems lauding violence and martyrdom on programs for kids.”


Half the story

A story from ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek on Australian woman Jean Calder who runs a school in Gaza once again omitted some basic points about the blockade of the territory.

According to Tlozek, “Israel maintains a military blockade on the territory because of its ongoing conflict with the Islamist group Hamas, which governs Gaza.” He also mentioned Calder’s difficulties getting in and out of Gaza. 

As AIR has noted many times over the years, the blockade of Gaza is enforced by Egypt too.

AIR has previously called out Tlozek’s glaring omissions on this point, including in December 2019, over his appearance on ABC Radio National “Correspondents Report” (Nov. 17) when he suggested Israeli political intransigence and its blockade are the primary causes of suffering in Gaza, ABC TV “7.30” (Jan. 13).


Courting Disaster

University of Wollongong law professor Greg Rose called on “the Australian Government… to withdraw from the International Criminal Court” (ICC), arguing that the ICC’s pursuit of Israel shows its activities are guided by political and not judicial considerations. 

According to Prof. Rose, “the decision on Friday, December 20, at 4pm to investigate Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity… threatens its credibility as an impartial judicial body”.

He noted that “the prosecutor refuses to investigate the legal situations in disputed territories, such as by Turkish settlers in northern Cyprus or by Russians in Ukrainian Crimea. However, Jews in disputed territory are supposedly criminal. In another example, the ICC pre-trial chamber decided that the prosecutor should charge Israelis with war crimes, though the alleged incidents lacked gravity, according to the prosecutor herself. In contrast, the chamber decided against charging NATO members with more grave war crimes because it is ‘not in the interests of justice’. This is pure politics.”

Rose explained how the ICC charter has become compromised, writing, “All UN members have one equal vote but they vote in blocs. The sole Jewish State lacks a supporting bloc of UN votes. UN institutional bias against the Jewish State has been critiqued even by the UN’s highest level officials, including consecutive secretaries-general. The ICC treats UN General Assembly resolutions as legally authoritative. General Assembly members allocate institutional budgets and senior appointments in UN judicial bodies. The courts repay them with subordinate deference.”

This, he said, leads to “political bias” becoming “reformulated as international legal principle,” causing the UN court system to fall “into disrepute,” West Australian (Dec. 31). 


Naivete scene

Controversial artist Banksy’s latest pro-Palestinian stunt, unveiled in Bethlehem in time for Christmas, hit the media sweet spot.

The diorama called “Scar of Bethlehem” depicts the nativity scene, placing the infant Jesus and his parents in front of a concrete section of Israel’s security barrier carrying the words “love and peace” and an outline of the Star of Bethlehem marred by a bullet hole.

An AFP report in the Herald Sun (Dec. 23) said, “the work is installed at Banksy’s Walled-Off Hotel, where all rooms overlook a concrete section of the barrier built by Israel to cut off the occupied West Bank from Israeli territory.”

The story said hotel manager Wissam Salsaa said the wall “should induce ‘shame in anyone who supported’ its construction. Israel began building the separation barrier in 2002 during the Palestinian intifada.”

The wall was built to prevent terrorists, including suicide bombers, entering Israel from Palestinian-ruled areas of the West Bank, who intended neither love nor peace.

Some critics have also noted that Banksy’s anti-Israel propaganda ignores the harassment experienced by Christians in the Muslim majority city, which has seen their numbers drop from around 40% of Bethlehem’s population when the Palestinian Authority was formed in 1994, down to only 10% today.

A report in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald noted that “Israel says the barrier that cuts through the West Bank is a bulwark against Palestinian suicide bombers. Palestinians see it as a symbol of oppression in Israeli occupied land they want for a state.”

The story said, “Christians make up about 1 per cent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem” but did not explain their precarious position in Palestinian society.

It also stated that “Israel tightly restricts movements out of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by Hamas, an Islamist group that it considers a terrorist organisation.”

In fact, there are lots of countries that consider Hamas or parts of Hamas as a terrorist organisation, including the US, UK, Japan, the EU and Australia.


The House of Usher

A misleading BBC report on SBS TV “World News” (Dec. 25) alluded to the difficulties faced by Palestinian Christians, but did not offer any detail, leaving the distinct impression it was Israel’s ongoing occupation that has affected a “community decimated by waves of emigration.”

Veteran Middle East reporter Barbara Plett Usher said, “it has been a difficult year for Palestinians, but Christmas is a time of hope” and that Bethlehem is “enjoying its busiest tourist season in decades” which is a “bright spot despite dark times for the Palestinian economy.”

In fact, millions of tourists visit Bethlehem every year – three million in 2018 – and both the city and the Palestinian economy on the West Bank in general are doing well.

Plett Usher talked of the arrival from Jerusalem of Christian dignitaries who had to pass through the “concrete barrier that separates the two cities” but avoided giving any context.

Plett Usher has faced accusations of anti-Israel bias in the past – admitting in 2004 she cried when terminally ill PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was airlifted from Ramallah for medical treatment abroad.


Wisse words

The despicable antisemitic attacks on Orthodox Jews in New York in December, including a machete attack during Hanukkah on a synagogue in Monsey by an African American man, was covered by Australian media outlets.

In the Australian (Dec. 24), American commentator Ruth Wisse praised US President Donald Trump as “the first president to confront anti-Semitism by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and by extending civil-rights protection to Jewish college students in the US. Yet some Jews and Jewish organisations condemn him as an anti-Semite and denounce his initiatives.”

Wisse said the Left needs to acknowledge the antisemitism emanating on its side of the ideological spectrum and from Arab and Muslim circles, which masquerades as anti-Zionism.

She said, “Liberals who also want to combat anti-Semitism might understandably have wished for a different champion. But the Democratic Party’s descent into anti-Zionism leaves no choice but to support this aspect of the administration’s policy… Confusion becomes mendacity when Trump’s accusers try to deflect attention from the real sources of Jew-baiting by calling the President an anti-Semite – using his defects to conceal the real and present danger from their side of the aisle.”


Antisemitism is colour blind

The Sydney Morning Herald (Dec. 31) ran a column by writer C.J. Werleman who blamed Donald Trump for “record high levels” of antisemitic attacks since he became US President in 2017. 

Werleman admitted “violent assaults on Jews tend to occur along the length of the political spectrum, with ancient and long-standing anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracies shared freely and easily by groups and individuals belonging to all political persuasions,” but asserted “far-right ideologies are responsible for the lion’s share of anti-Semitism that is again ravaging the Western world thanks to the kind of racism and xenophobia that has been weaponised by Trump and other right-wing populists.”

He quoted from an analysis by Batya Ungar-Sargon, an editor at the left-wing US Jewish online newspaper The Forward, where she said, “‘The bad days are back. Orthodox Jews are living through a new age of pogroms.’”

Yet what Ungar-Sargon’s piece actually said, but Werleman did not quote, cast strong doubts on his claims.

According to Ungar-Sargon, “the majority of the perpetrators of the Brooklyn attacks, and the suspects in Jersey City… and now Monsey, were not white, leaving many at a loss about how to explain it or even talk about it. There is little evidence that these attacks are ideologically motivated, at least in terms of the ideologies of hate we are most familiar with.

“And therein lies the trouble with talking about the violent attacks against Orthodox Jews: At a time when ideology seems to reign supreme in the chattering and political classes, the return of pogroms to Jewish life on American soil transcends ideology. In the fight against anti-Semitism, you don’t get to easily blame your traditional enemies – which, in the age of Trump, is a non-starter for most people.” Including, apparently, Werleman. 


Forced to Arm?

A report on SBS TV “World News” by Rena Sarumpaet (Dec. 31) on the Monsey, New York, synagogue terror attack noted the alleged perpetrator’s membership of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.

On ABC TV “7pm News” (Jan. 5), ABC North America correspondent David Lipson reported on the reluctant but necessary debate in Orthodox Jewish communities in America over the need to adopt security measures, including gun ownership.

In contrast to C. J. Werleman, Lipson noted that hate crimes against Jews in the US have surged from “800 to 1900 a year” since 2013, which, although he didn’t say it, suggests it is a phenomenon that predates Trump becoming president.


Mark Antony’s claims

Anti-Zionist writer/activist Antony Loewenstein, reviewing fellow left-wing writer Jeff Sparrow’s new book called Fascists Among Us, would not accept there was any significant problem on his side of the political spectrum. 

Loewenstein said, “far-right extremists pose the greatest threat to our way of life in the last decade, far exceeding Islamists and left-wing radicals. Ignore [those] who argue that left-wing anti-Semitism is just as dangerous as right-wing hate because many on the left push for Palestinian rights, oppose Israeli occupation policies or are anti-Zionist. The facts simply don’t support this thesis.”

Clearly, Loewenstein discounts the plethora of successful and thwarted Islamist terror attacks in Australia, America and Europe, not to mention Syria and Iraq over the last decade! Then there are the terror attacks against the Jews of Israel, Weekend Australian (Dec. 28).


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