Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – January 2020

Dec 23, 2019 | AIJAC staff

Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis: Concern over antisemitism in Labour Party
Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis: Concern over antisemitism in Labour Party


Corbyn blimey

Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ public expression of concern at the prospect of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn winning the December 12 UK general elections was big news in Australia.

The Australian (Nov. 28) ran Rabbi Mirvis’ op-ed, which said the legacy of Corbyn’s four years as leader was that “the Jewish community has watched with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, members and even staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism. Even as they received threats, the response of the Labour leadership was utterly inadequate. We have endured quibbling and prevarication over whether the party should adopt the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism.”

In the same edition, Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan wrote, “Anti-Semitism is the hatred of Jews. It is the most ancient, toxic, malign hatred humanity has come up with… there is now in the world a kind of perfect storm of anti-Semitism that is fed from at least four distinct, powerful sources. These are: left-wing anti-Semitism of the type Corbyn exhibits; Islamist anti-Semitism, which is found all over the Arab and Islamic world; extreme right, white supremacist anti-Semitism of the type that motivated the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre last year; and there is the still lingering effect of traditional Christian anti-Semitism… But the two most vigorous sources of contemporary anti-Semitism are the left and Islamists.”

AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein told Peta Credlin on SkyNews (Nov. 27) “it doesn’t get much worse” than the UK Human Rights and Equality Commission investigating Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party for “institutionalised antisemitism” over allegations that 150 complaints of antisemitism have been ignored. Rubenstein also discussed the potential ramifications for the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of Corbyn as British PM – whom he said “is extremely anti-Israel. There is hardly an [anti-Israel] terrorist group that he doesn’t seem to like and regard as his friends – Hamas or Hezbollah – [as well as] his role with Iran.”



Australian columnist Henry Ergas (Nov. 29) argued Corbyn and the UK Labour Party recalled Australian PM Gough Whitlam’s policies and attitudes in the 1970s, which greatly worried the Jewish community.

Ergas said Whitlam accused the Australian Jewish community of “crude blackmail” and “told VP Suslov, a senior official in the Soviet foreign ministry, that he looked forward to the time when ‘the gradual increase in the size of the Arab population in Australia’ would ‘balance’ those pressures away.” Ergas recalled Whitlam had also appealed for a $1 million loan from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by arguing it would help to rebuff the “‘Jewish pressures’ against the ‘democratic forces’.”


From ABC to BBC

ABC TV’s “The World” (Nov. 27) asked British politics expert Alan Wager to discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to apologise to the British Jewish community after being asked four times to do so in a one-on-one interview with veteran BBC compere Andrew Neil.

Wager called it “an own goal” by Corbyn, who “would have known it would come up in this election campaign and on a basic question of campaign tactics and political strategy, he looked unprepared and unready for the questions that were almost inevitably going to come up.”


Bethlehem blues

ABC Radio National “Religion and Ethics Report” listeners (Nov. 20) received an early anti-Israel Christmas gift when host Andrew West failed to challenge Palestinian propagandist Ramzy Baroud’s claims that Israeli policies are preventing Christians in Gaza and the West Bank from practising their faith and are to blame for their fall in numbers in the “Holy Land”.

Baroud has form – in May 2018, he ridiculously and falsely told ABC TV viewers that “no humanitarian aid is allowed in[to]” Gaza by Israel.

This time he said that when Israel was created in 1948, “the estimated population of Christians in Palestine was up to 20 percent” but “now we are looking at about 1 percent of the overall Palestinian population in the West Bank Jerusalem and Gaza.” He said, “A city like the city of Bethlehem, which at one point was almost entirely Christian, now is barely 12% Christian.”

In fact, since the Palestinian Authority (PA) took control over the city in 1995, the Christian percentage of the city’s population has plummeted from 40% to 12%. Since Hamas’ rule in Gaza began in 2007, the Christian population has fallen by two-thirds. In contrast, Israel is the only country in the Middle East whose Christian population has been consistently increasing.

Baroud dismissed any suggestion of Muslim-Christian tension, saying “in Palestine the religious question between Muslims and Christians almost doesn’t exist.”

This is incorrect and there are numerous brave Palestinian Christians who have said as much. 

Baroud claimed Christians in Gaza who had wanted to visit Jerusalem for Easter 2019 “were granted a limited number of permits [by Israel] but on the condition that they do not go to Jerusalem. So what would be the point of them going there in the first place. And the strange thing is that they were allowed to actually cross to Jordan hoping perhaps that they would never come back.” 

West incorrectly put the number of permits at “only 200”.

In fact, according to Arab news service Asharq Al-Awsat, Israel issued “500 Palestinian Christians permits to leave, 300 of them to the West Bank and Jerusalem and 200 to Jordan.”

Asharq Al-Awsat also stated that, “according to a report issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) in February 2018, 1,138 Christian Palestinians live in Gaza.”

This means that almost half of the Christian population in Gaza was granted permits by Israel.

West and Baroud misrepresented the situation in Bethlehem, the West Bank town where Christians believe Jesus was born.

West suggested that Christians in Bethlehem struggle because the city “is surrounded by Israel’s wall”.

Baroud expanded on West’s claim, saying, “the apartheid wall… aims at isolating Bethlehem entirely from Jerusalem and in the process from the rest of the West Bank. So with time Bethlehem is becoming almost like a prison for its own population.”

Israel’s security fence was built reluctantly and entirely as a response to the terrorism of the Second Intifada.

The fence absolutely does not encircle the whole city, as West and Baroud implied, and residents of Bethlehem can travel relatively freely throughout the PA-controlled West Bank.


Economical with the truth

In the Australian (Dec. 6), economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani claimed “Iran did not deserve punitive sanctions” imposed on it by the Trump Administration “because it had not violated the terms of the nuclear deal.”

Salehi-Isfahani warned that “Ham-fisted sanctions regimes may cause Iran severe distress, but there are clear limits to their effectiveness. Moreover, they strengthen the position of Iran’s hardliners, and undermine its moderate reformists – a dynamic that compounds the risks that sanctions are supposed to mitigate.”

Rather, “the international community should take a more nuanced approach, guiding Iran toward greater openness rather than attempting to beat it into submission.”

There is little proof the 2015 deal strengthened the moderates and plenty of evidence to show the regime violated its spirit and substance, including by failing to declare clandestine nuclear assets.

Nor was the cause for peace enhanced. Even before Donald Trump was elected US President, Iran was still at the top of the US list of terrorist-supporting countries and its human rights record remained abysmal, plus its support of regional terrorist groups had increased substantially thanks to the funds freed up by the nuclear deal.

Indeed, six months before the US left the deal in May 2018, Iranians protested in neighbourhoods not normally associated with anti-regime sentiment. One of their complaints was the regime’s support for military proxies in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Yemen at the expense of Iranians.

Earlier, British commentator Melanie Phillips had given a more accurate picture of the regime in the same paper (Nov. 27). She noted that “the only person who matters is the implacable religious fanatic who controls Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.” She accused European governments and Britain of refusing to “accept that Iran poses the threat that it does” because “the most immediate threat posed by Iran is to Israel.”


Tom on Teheran

Unlike Salehi-Isfahani, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was unequivocal in describing Iran as a major destabilising force.

Reflecting on the recent eruption of widespread protests in Lebanon and Iraq, Friedman wrote, “Iran’s clerical regime has emerged as arguably the biggest enemy of pluralistic democracy in the region today. There are plenty of Arab dictators keeping their own people down, but Iran is doing it at home and in three other countries at once,” Australian Financial Review (Dec. 6).


Chewin’ DFAT

Columnist Rebecca Weisser questioned the apparent failure of Australia to adjust its position on Iran’s ongoing breaches of the nuclear deal, its attacks on oil tankers and killing of protesters.

Weisser noted that “Iran loved the JCPOA which removed the embargo on Iranian oil exports and dropped sanctions on Iran’s banking and financial system, releasing US$100 billion frozen in Iranian accounts. Iran did not have to renounce state-sponsored terrorism, it continued to test ballistic missiles, nor even have to allow effective monitoring of compliance, surely desirable given Iran’s track record of cheating. Best of all for Iran, it would merely delay its acquisition of sufficient fissile material to create nuclear weapons.”

“But why,” she asked, “in the face of the existential threats facing Israel, is Australia absurdly pretending the JCPOA is achieving non-proliferation objectives, as a DFAT official told Senate Estimates in November?” Spectator Australia (Nov. 30).


Unheralded refugee problem

Nine newspapers’ the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (Dec. 5) reported on Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon’s speech calling for recognition of the 850,000 Jews forced out of Middle Eastern countries after Israel’s creation.

The report quoted Danon saying, “We don’t hear the international community speak of them when they discuss the refugees of the conflict, perhaps because it doesn’t serve the Palestinian narrative.”

The report said the Palestinian Authority observer to the UN Riyad Mansour claimed that the General Assembly’s “long history of resolutions on the conflict don’t amount to prejudice against Israel.”

Given the General Assembly annually passes more resolutions condemning Israel than all the rest of the world combined, what other word might one use?


Nazi business

The growing number of instances of Holocaust minimisation and resurgence in Australia and abroad in the use of Nazi-related symbols was scattered throughout the media.

Michael Koziol of the Nine newspapers quoted Jewish Community Council of Victoria President Jennifer Huppert warning of the increasing “lack of understanding” about the impact of Nazi memorabilia, costumes and symbols in a report on four people dressed in full Nazi uniform, including swastika armbands, entering a Coles supermarket in Woodend, Victoria in late October. Peter Wertheim, co-Chief Executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, was quoted saying it was “truly bizarre that some people are so ignorant of history.” 

The story noted that in the same month “eight swastikas were painted on the Nylex building in Melbourne’s south-east, alongside other white supremacist graffiti” and a “group of four men were reportedly ejected from Oktoberfest celebrations in the Yarra Valley for dressing up as Nazi soldiers.” Koziol reported that Australian PM Scott Morrison had warned of increasing antisemitism, saying, “We can’t pretend it isn’t happening here – it is,” Age (Nov. 24).

On Nov. 30, the Herald Sun reported about a man wearing a swastika armband in Melbourne’s Southland shopping centre and on Nov. 22, the paper reported on Roger Hallam, British climate change activist and Extinction Rebellion co-founder, dismissing the Holocaust as “just another fuckery in human history.” 


Schooled in hate

In the Spectator Australia (Nov. 16), academic and AIR contributor Ran Porat suggested antisemitic stereotypes in Arabic media may contribute to the occurrence of events like the recently reported racist incidents against Jewish school students in Melbourne.

Dr. Porat said articles in “the Australian media in Arabic regularly include voices spreading overt antisemitism, alongside a dosage of the modern form of antisemitism – anti-Israel fabrications. Despite this being an open secret, it seems that no effective action has been taken so far to remove this offensive content.”

The reports follow a “pattern… of re-hashing classic antisemitic tropes about Jews possessing mythical powers and endless wealth and deviously manipulating or controlling governments behind the scenes (as they demonically conspire to achieve world domination, of course).”


Travel broadens the mind

Australian-based Indonesian journalist Erwin Renaldi’s report on his recent visit to Israel and the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City included some under-reported facts.

Renaldi, who is a Muslim, said he was nervous about visiting.

He noted that while Israel and Indonesia do not have diplomatic relations, passport holders can visit each other’s country.

Successfully passing Israel’s methodical border control process, Renaldi said, “after it was all over, it didn’t seem like such a big deal outside of my head, and I was on my way.”

Renaldi largely avoided over-simplifying the situation, succinctly capturing Israeli rule in east Jerusalem, writing, “the Old City of Jerusalem is wholly under Israeli control, the Al-Aqsa Compound remains under the administration of a Jordanian and Palestinian-led religious trust while Israeli forces secure its perimeters, with various restrictions on who can enter the complex often put in place by Israeli authorities for security reasons.”

Elaborating, he explained, “So despite its significance in Islam, not all Muslims are free to enter the compound as they please. Muslim travellers from overseas – like us group of Indonesians – are usually fine, but for many Palestinian Muslims in the West Bank, various restrictions have been in place for years; for example, when I went, women of all ages can enter, but only men over the age of 50 are permitted, while some need special permission from Israeli authorities.”

In other words, Israeli policy is shaped by security and not anti-Muslim attitudes.

He went on, “Since a security crackdown by the Israeli Government in 2017, Muslims living in the Old City are only able to enter or pray at the mosque on Fridays and Islamic holidays.” He did not explain that these restrictions followed the murder of two Israeli border guards on the Temple Mount by three terrorists who tried to flee by entering Islam’s third holiest site.

Renaldi stated that “restrictions are also in place for non-Muslims, who are only allowed to enter the compound during certain times of the day determined by the Israeli Government.”

He said “there were no metal detectors or barriers in sight, and we pretty much walked straight in no questions asked” but “felt a little uncomfortable by the fact that an Indonesian Muslim could waltz right in and take a photo… while people that lived down the road for years could not.”

By the by, Renaldi did not seem perturbed in his 2018 article that reported on his pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest site in Islam – and a city that is completely off-limits to non-Muslims, ABC Religion & Ethics website (Dec. 8).


A rare sighting on SBS

Whether deliberately or inadvertently, SBS TV “World News” (Dec. 5) shone a rare spotlight on the fact that the 12-year blockade of Gaza has always been enforced by Egypt as well as Israel.

The report focused on a visit to Egypt by 29-year-old Gaza-based journalist Amjad Yaghi to see his mother, whom he had last met with in 1999.

According to the SBS report, Yaghi was “prevented from seeing his ill mother because of strict blockades between Gaza and Egypt.”

Yaghi’s mother had travelled to Egypt for surgery, but had never returned to Gaza.

The story said, “Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005. When the militant group Hamas took over the territory two years later, a virtual blockade was imposed. Because of severe restrictions on entering Israel, the Rafah border crossing into Egypt is the sole exit point for Gazans and while it has opened periodically, it only allows certain people through.”

In reality, unlike Israel which has always given passage through its territory for medicine, aid, and sick people from Gaza seeking treatment, not only has Egypt often truly imposed a “virtual blockade” on Gaza, NGOs and UN agencies rarely if ever demand that it be censured for doing so.


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