Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – February 2024

Jan 25, 2024 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Unstated truths

An ABC online video report (Jan. 6) and article (Jan. 12) on the history of the two-state solution by former ABC Middle East correspondent Ben Knight omitted key facts. 

Knight acknowledged Arab leaders rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan that would’ve created an Arab state alongside Israel and went to war instead, resulting in Israel surviving and “Egypt controll[ing] Gaza, while Jordan controlled the West Bank and half of Jerusalem.” The obvious missing point was that Egypt and Jordan had 19 years to create a Palestinian state but did not.

His claim that, after Israel won control of the two territories in the 1967 war, “it took until 1991 for everyone to get in the same room” to try to make peace, ignored Arab leaders’ vociferous rejection of Israel’s offer immediately after the 1967 war to discuss land for peace. 

Israeli PM Barak’s offer at the 2000 Camp David peace summit to create a Palestinian state – which PLO leader Yasser Arafat rejected – was mentioned. 

But Knight then asked, “Were there other attempts after Oslo?” and noted only the 2002 “Arab Peace Initiative”, which offered “full recognition of Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state, with its capital in east Jerusalem… It’s still on the table.”

That plan was rejected because, among other things, it insisted on a Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, which would’ve ended the country’s Jewish majority, and was presented as the Second Intifada was raging.

Missing from Knight’s story was Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s 2008 peace offer that largely mirrored the Arab plan (without the unconditional right of return), which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas admitted he rejected “out of hand”.

The 2013-14 negotiations during Barack Obama’s presidency when, according to US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk, Israeli PM Netanyahu “sweated bullets” to reach a two-state deal, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had “checked out”, were also overlooked.

Knight dubiously claimed peacemaking today is harder because there are “far more religious [Israelis] who believe God gave them the land.”

Israelis overwhelmingly support a Palestinian state if it would bring an end to the conflict. Meanwhile, surveys show 75% of Palestinians supported the October 7 massacre of Israelis, revealing the true impediments to peacemaking.

 

Roger, Rodger

Analyst Rodger Shanahan was another who failed to recognise the actual roadblocks to peace, arguing in Nine Newspapers (Dec. 29) that while “Palestinians have squandered previous [peace making] opportunities…” also culpable are “successive Israeli governments… encouraging land grabs and illegal settlements.”

The Israeli factors are overstated – settlements take up minimal land and have not been significantly expanding geographically, while dismantling some settlements has featured in past Israeli peace plans.

Shanahan also said Israel’s war against Hamas involves only sticks and no carrots, which “many Palestinians will see as justifying future attacks.” Apparently, he feels Israel should have responded to the October 7 mass terror attack and mass kidnappings by offering the Palestinians “carrots” or rewards. 

 

Seeing the light? 

ABC reporter Nicole Johnston, formerly of Al Jazeera, whose past reporting on the Gaza war has often been one-sided and incomplete, was atypically balanced on ABC News Radio (Dec. 28) when discussing an Israeli-organised media tour of an “extraordinary” four kilometre-long tunnel in Gaza near the border with Israel.

“It’s been well known that… no part of Gaza is not ridden with [Hamas’] tunnels,” Johnston said.

A rail line inside the tunnel was “clearly” used for “dragging weapons, moving fighters… and we know during the current conflict, they’re also hiding hostages under there,” she said.

The media tour also visited the Erez Crossing, the main people crossing into Gaza from Israel, which Hamas attacked on Oct. 7, “allowing it to breach the border and then carry out its rampage in southern Israel… large parts of that, of course, were destroyed… they’re now being rebuilt by the Israelis,” she said.

However, Johnston incorrectly said Israel and Egypt’s blockade on Gaza imposed in 2007 was a “siege”. 

Meanwhile, on ABC TV “The World” (Dec. 21), global affairs editor John Lyons’ report began with IDF footage of another Hamas tunnel, of which he said, “From outside, everything looks normal. Everything looks like a regular city.  Under the heart of Gaza City, according to the Israeli army, lies Hamas’ centre of power… These newly discovered tunnels, says Israel, connect the offices and residences of Hamas leaders high on Israel’s wanted list.” 

 

Factual freelancing 

On news.com.au (Dec. 16), freelancer Jamie Seidel’s analysis of a statement co-signed by Australia, New Zealand and Canada condemning Israeli settler violence claimed that “Illegal Jewish settlers have killed hundreds of Palestinians… in the occupied West Bank since the October 7 terror attack.”

As the ABC website correctly noted (Dec. 17), settlers stand accused of killing eight Palestinians – some in circumstances that appear to be clear self-defence – not hundreds.

 

Belabouring the point

On Sky News’ website (Jan.17), former ALP Senator Stephen Loosley criticised the Albanese Government for rejecting a US request to deploy an Australian warship to repulse Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

Loosley made the telling point that “It’s a curious reality that the critics of Western intervention in the Red Sea almost never offer an alternative. Calls for a ceasefire in Gaza are supposed to persuade the Houthis to cease their attacks in the Red Sea. Just as easily, the reverse impact may occur, with the Houthis being emboldened and the attacks escalating.”

Meanwhile, in the Australian Financial Review (Jan. 17), former trade union leader Michael Easson wrote that the PA sees Israel “as if the country was another Algeria, with Israelis like the French bound to depart. How can an enduring agreement be possible with this mindset?”

 

Seeing Red

In the Australian (Jan. 3), Professor Greg Rose and analyst Anthony Bergin called out the West for not confronting Iran’s bellicose behaviour in the Red Sea and elsewhere via the use of proxy terror groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. 

They noted several ways to target the rogue state, including coordinated financial sanctions and a “covert military operation” against Iran’s spy ship, the Behshad, which is currently supplying intelligence and weapons to Houthi terrorists attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea. 

Meanwhile, the Australian Financial Review (Jan. 5) warned of the urgent need to neutralise the Houthi threat hanging over shipping, pointing out that China is the main beneficiary, and could respond to Western weakness by adopting similar standover tactics in the contested South China Sea.

 

Ticked off

On Dec. 23, News Corp columnist James Campbell condemned a “report” on the ABC’s Tik Tok account that was “nothing less than a straight-out ad for the boycott of Israeli businesses and businesses that do business in Israel, produced by a reporter holding a big ABC microphone.” 

The report by Amal Wehbe – a pro-Palestinian activist before joining the ABC – featured no balance, he said, only restaurant-owner “Oz” who told her, “I worked out I was spending close to 40 to 50 grand a year on Israeli and American product. I’ve been in the boycotting of those products for just under two months.”

After widespread complaints, the ABC removed the clip before reuploading it with added “context”. 

Campbell wrote “The reworked version claims – falsely – that [BDS is] a movement ‘that’s campaigning for Israel to leave Occupied Palestinian Territory’ and discourages buying from businesses ‘operating in the West Bank or East Jerusalem’.” 

In fact, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement calls for boycotting all Israel-linked businesses, while its co-founders admit the movement’s real goal is Israel’s elimination and replacement by an Arab-majority Palestinian state.

The Australian’s Dec. 21 report by Sophie Elsworth quoted the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Alex Ryvchin saying, “Publishing promotional content for the anti-Israel BDS movement is reckless and grossly unprofessional, particularly at a time when Jewish businesses are facing vandalism and black-listing.” 

 

Who’s counting?

In the Australian (Jan. 2), Wollongong University’s Professor Greg Rose and RMIT’s Professor of Mathematics Lewi Stone investigated factors affecting “the reliability of information on fatality rates” coming out of Gaza.

They noted that Gaza’s Ministry of Health (MOH) answers only to Hamas and its daily statistics don’t differentiate between combatants and civilians “leaving the impression that nearly all Gazans killed were civilians.”  

UN reports also “cannot be trusted”, because they rely on the Gaza MOH, while an analysis of UN reports in October showed many inconsistences and contradictions, including “More women and children died than there were total fatalities on several days, such as on October 26,” while on “October 29, no males at all” are supposed to have died. 

 

History Lessons

AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein explained in the Canberra Times (Jan. 15), “The Israel Defense Forces have had to fight to gain control over a densely populated terror statelet that Hamas assiduously built up over the past 16 years, with extensive military infrastructure found in every civilian neighbourhood and refugee camp… It has also meant a devastatingly costly conflict for the Gazan civilians who live and work in the neighbourhoods interwoven and undermined by Hamas’ terror tunnel network and other military infrastructure.”

In the Daily Telegraph on Dec. 19, Rubenstein addressed the question of aid, noting, “The IDF is already routinely announcing humanitarian pauses of several hours at a time not dependent on Hamas concessions, as well as providing safe corridors for both evacuations and entry of aid convoys.”

Meanwhile, in the Australian Financial Review (Jan. 3), New York Times columnist Tom Friedman noted that “in 2005, Israel “unilateral[ly] withdr[ew]… all Israeli forces and settlements from Gaza,” meaning that for the first time “Palestinians were left… with total control over a piece of land.” 

Hamas could’ve “embraced [the] Oslo [peace process] and chosen to build its own Dubai,” said Friedman, but the terrorist organisation “has never wavered from being more interested in destroying the Jewish state than in building a Palestinian one.”

 

Quotable

On Dec. 26, the News Corp papers quoted AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein’s expression of “deep… disappoint[ment]” at two protesters, one armed with a box cutter, who stormed the stage during the Melbourne Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve. 

In the Australian (Jan. 2), Rubenstein was quoted welcoming a proposed federal religious discrimination bill, saying, “Sadly, there have been recent examples of such hate speech from religious figures, against Jews and other minorities.”

The previous day in the Australian, Rubenstein said vandals who graffitied and smashed the doors of Melbourne’s US Consulate have aligned themselves with terrorists. 

The Australian website (Jan. 6) noted Rubenstein’s criticism of a Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras committee statement that called for a ceasefire but ignored Hamas’ October 7 massacre.

No joy

On Dec. 28, on the Gaza-Egyptian border, ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner filed a one-sided report for ABC TV.

Joyner said, “This gate has been a symbol of why so many people in Gaza are suffering. It’s the only way out for people trying to escape. At the same time, it’s really the main way in for trucks trying to deliver life-saving aid. On average, about 100 trucks carrying essential supplies are allowed through here each day, a fraction of what’s required. The UN says Israel’s total siege of the territory has driven hunger to levels it’s previously not seen anywhere in the world.”

What Joyner omitted was that Egypt refuses to let Palestinians without foreign passports exit Gaza, the delays are on the Egyptian side of the border and Israel says it will admit as many aid trucks as agencies are able to bring in. He didn’t even inform viewers about Israeli concerns – proven by video footage and the testimony of Gazans themselves – that Hamas steals incoming aid. 

 

Winging it

In the Canberra Times (Dec. 9), analyst Clive Williams attacked Australia’s decision last year to proscribe the political wing of Hamas as part of that terrorist organisation, arguing it was damaging to “the urgent need for political progress on the Israel/Palestine issue.” 

But as AIJAC’s Oved Lobel noted in his article published by the Canberra Times (Dec. 16), “Hamas… cannot ever be part of any diplomatic solution… it has made clear in word and deed since the 1980s… its raison d’être [is] to block any territorial compromise that could see a Palestinian state established alongside Israel – in pursuit of its goal of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamist state.” Furthermore, Lobel explained, “Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, rejected any distinction between the so-called ‘wings’ of Hamas.” 

On Jan. 16, Williams absurdly claimed in the same paper that “Israel wants to replace Hamas in Gaza with the Palestinian Authority because it is easier for Israel and the US to control.” 

First of all, Israel has actually been sceptical of US plans to put the PA in charge of Gaza. But more importantly, surely the October 7 massacre gave Israel good reasons to prefer the PA over Hamas.

 

Fellowship on display

A bipartisan group of Labor and Liberal Federal MPs who visited Israel including the October 7 massacre sites on an AIJAC-organised Rambam Israel Fellowship Program study tour in December – where they also met Palestinian Authority officials – received widespread media coverage.

In the West Australian and the Advertiser (Dec. 12) and the Australian (Dec. 18), Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham wrote of the importance of the visit: “Israel has an inherent right to self-defence, which requires the removal of Hamas as an ever-present terrorist threat. No country could live with such a nearby threat after such an atrocity. Israel needs to hear not just words of support, but to see that fellow liberal democracies like Australia demonstrate support for its existence, security and rights.” 

In the Courier Mail (Dec. 20), Liberal MP Andrew Wallace wrote, “Every drop of civilian blood is on the hands of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and their allies. Yet [from] the UN to the schools and streets of Australia… [they are]… blaming Israel for the lives lost… Ask yourself who celebrated the attacks on October 7: Iran, Islamic extremists, white supremacists, Russia.” 

In a West Australian newspaper report (Dec. 17), Labor MP Josh Burns was quoted saying, “After seeing what (Hamas) did to… peaceful civilians living on the border… what Israel wants from the international community is time… to try and finish the removal of Hamas from power.”

 

Savage criticism

Meanwhile, on Jan. 16, former Victorian Liberal Party President Michael Kroger pointed out on Sky News Australia approximately 2,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from Lebanon since October 7. On Jan. 18, after Australian FM Penny Wong’s announcement of a further $21 million in aid to the Palestinians, Kroger told Sky it “will go straight to Hamas.” On Jan. 21, Kroger – who visited the Oct.7 massacre sites in Israel – referred to Hamas terrorists as “savages” on Sky News’ “Outsiders”.

 

You Don’t Know Jack

Canberra Times columnist Jack Waterford (Dec. 30) spouted a litany of false claims that misrepresented Zionism, held the Jewish state solely responsible for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even likened Israeli soldiers to the Hamas terrorists who carried out the October 7 massacre. 

Waterford ignored the Arab responsibility for sparking the 1948 war and spoke of how many “Palestinians… were hunted out of their homes, never to be allowed to return, when Israel was created.” 

Zionism – the right of Jews to a state where they became a people and have lived for 3,500 years – was based on the claim that “the Jewish people have a special Biblically based right to Palestine” he said, and insisted opposing it “is not antisemitic, despite the efforts of a powerful lobby to say so.”

Waterford claimed Hamas “is not a state actor” and Israel has no “right to fire indiscriminately into a crowd, a street, a school or a hospital which may contain some member of Hamas” or withhold “vital supplies needed to sustain the civilian population, even if there is a risk that some of it may feed Hamas members.”

Israel does none of those things. 

 


In Parliament

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – Jan. 18 media conference in Jerusalem: “[Issues discussed] include, obviously, the October 7 attacks and I have repeated Australia’s condemnation of those attacks. We have called for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages. We have spoken about a pathway to peace. We have spoken about the importance of a humanitarian ceasefire, which obviously cannot be one-sided, and that we want to see steps towards a sustainable ceasefire. I’ve spoken about Australians’ concerns… Australians are increasingly concerned about the civilian toll and are increasingly concerned about the urgent need for humanitarian access… We have said, as a government, we believe settlements are contrary to international law. We have also consistently said that they are an impediment to peace… We believe that Hamas has no place in the future governance of Gaza. We believe that Hamas is a terrorist organisation which have engaged in atrocities and terrorist acts.” 

The following speeches were among the many in support of the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill 2023, introduced earlier that year:

Shadow Minister for Government Services Paul Fletcher (Lib., Bradfield) – Nov. 28 – “The Nazi regime’s industrialised extermination resulted in the Holocaust, one of the worst crimes committed in history, and the Nazi regime is one of the greatest evils ever visited on humanity. Because of what they represent—this evil, this terror—Nazi symbols are no ordinary symbols. The public display of Nazi symbols is abhorrent to the Australian way of life and has no part in our political discourse. We must condemn Nazi symbols in any form that they are found or are displayed.”

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (ALP, Isaacs) – Nov. 29 – “I find it unthinkable that in this country, which provided refuge to my father, my grandparents and thousands more who fled the Holocaust, some continue to celebrate the ideology of Nazism. Sadly, antisemitism is on the rise… Criminalising the performance of the Nazi salute will complement the other measures in the bill relating to Nazi symbols. Like those symbols, the Nazi salute is widely recognised and used to promote hateful ideologies, recruit followers and convey messages of hatred and violence. It represents the vile ideology of Nazism and conjures fear in many sectors of the Australian community whose predecessors suffered through some of the worst atrocities in history.” 

Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – Nov. 29 – “Antisemitism has been rising in our country for some time. We have witnessed the emergence of ultranationalists on the far right, who use the Nazi symbol and invoke Nazi catchphrases and salutes, and on the far left we see those who think Jewish people are an embodiment of power and privilege. The far left believe their antisemitic arguments are somehow novel, but their arguments are as old as time itself.”

Josh Burns (ALP, Macnamara) – Nov. 29 – “I think it is important that we… come together in a bipartisan way and send a clear message… that it will never be acceptable in our country to glorify the Nazi regime. Australia stands for tolerance, Australia stands for diversity and Australia stands to protect people’s right to hold whatever religion or faith they want.”

Andrew Wallace (Lib., Fisher) – Nov. 29 – “Terrorist symbols, the Nazi hakenkreuz, the sig rune and the Nazi salute represent an extreme hate which has inspired some of the worst atrocities in human history. It is a hate which has fed genocide, terrorism, slavery and crimes against humanity. It is a hate which on 7 October inspired one of the most egregious and evil terror attacks in modern history against the people of Israel.”

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