Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – January 2022

Dec 16, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Terror vision

A worrying increase in Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis has not gone unreported in Australia.

This includes SBS TV “World News” on Nov. 22, which reported the murder of an Israeli tour guide and the wounding of “two civilians and two police officers” after “a Palestinian gunman opened fire near a holy site in east Jerusalem.” 

SBS said the gunman “was later identified as a teacher and a known member of Hamas. It’s the second recent attack in the Old City. Last week, a Palestinian youth stabbed two officers and was shot dead.”

SBS TV “World News” (Dec. 5) also showed CCTV footage of an ultra-Orthodox man being stabbed in Jerusalem by a Palestinian assailant who was shot dead by Israeli security forces. The Australian’s Dec. 6 report of the same incident was given the accurate headline “Cops kill Palestinian assailant” and noted that the attacker was from the West Bank.


No joy in court ruling

On ABC TV “The World” (Nov. 26), Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner reported on an Israeli Supreme Court ruling rejecting Palestinian Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish’s legal appeal for an apology and compensation over the tragic deaths of three daughters and a niece killed by IDF shelling during the 2008/09 Gaza war. 

Joyner noted that the court said the shelling “was an act of war” meaning “the military isn’t liable.” He added that “Israel’s military has long maintained that they fired on the apartment building where the doctor lived thinking they’d seen fighters belonging to Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, on the upper levels of his home. Something the doctor has always denied.”

In fact, the building was targeted when IDF soldiers saw people on the roof acting in a manner that suggested they were lookouts for Hamas. The IDF also said there was evidence that Hamas arms were stored in the building without Abuelaish’s knowledge.


Media mash up

In the Canberra Times (Nov. 22), Australia Palestine Advocacy Network vice-president Nasser Mashni used the appointment of former NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff to the board of SBS as an opportunity to smear both him and Israel. 

Mashni said in appointing Alhadeff “what many Australians hear is that they don’t care to see Palestine and Israel reported on accurately.”

Yet, in terms of accuracy, Mashni was guilty of making his own factually challenged statements, including that “Israeli soldiers fire[d] rubber bullets at people praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, even as Palestinians in Jerusalem fought to avoid a repeat of the brutal ethnic cleansing of 1948. Then Israel rained munitions on Gaza, in what Israeli commentators routinely call ‘mowing the grass’, a ghastly euphemism for violence which saw over 260 people – including 66 children – killed in a week, and the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip decimated.” 

Footage clearly shows Israelis security forces responding to Palestinians throwing stones and Molotov cocktails from within the Mosque. Similarly, Israel did not “rain” munitions on Gaza. It carefully responded to the thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately at Israel, including by targeting Hamas’ military infrastructure deliberately located in high density civilian areas in Gaza.

And “mowing the grass” is a not-so-routine phrase meaning simply managing the constant military threat posed by Hamas and similar terrorist movements in the absence of any acceptable way to permanently end it. 

Furthermore, Mashni’s so-called “brutal ethnic cleansing” refers in fact to what is merely a long running property dispute – in which Israel’s Supreme Court has bent over backwards to avoid evicting Palestinians who it has found are living on property they do not own. And in 1948, it was Jews who were ethnically cleansed from east Jerusalem.

Mashni also asserted that “the world increasingly grasps that Palestinians either live in exile or under the boot of a merciless military occupation.” Israel, he falsely claimed, “has been criticised by almost every country in the world… for completely disregarding Palestinian rights.”

The reality is that as a former journalist and newspaper editor Alhadeff is well equipped to meet the statutory duty incumbent on SBS board members “to ensure… that the gathering and presentation by the SBS of news and information is accurate and is balanced.” Maybe that is what has Mashni so wildly upset?


Seeing red over Greens 

The Australian website (Dec. 1) reported that Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) President Jeremy Leibler sent a letter to Greens federal leader Adam Bandt that “accused the party of not consulting any mainstream or elected Jewish community groups in formulating its new anti-Semitism statement” and criticised it for “pushing back” against the major parties’ endorsement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.

The report noted that the Morrison Government had recently adopted the working definition and that “Labor endorsed the working definition following consultations with Jewish community leaders”, which the Greens failed to do.

Greens multiculturalism spokeswoman Senator Janet Rice was cited saying the party was “committed to fighting anti-Semitism, racism and hatred ‘in all its forms’,” but was concerned “how the definition may be weaponised in order to further particular political agendas and questioned how useful the pursuit of adoption of the definition can be in combating antisemitism.”

Leibler was quoted explaining that the definition “explicitly states that ‘criticism of Israel, similar to that levelled against any other country, cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic’. However, where the Jewish people, collectively, are held responsible for Israeli government actions or when Israel’s right to exist is challenged, a dangerous line has been crossed.”


Festival flop

A failed attempt by pro-Palestinian groups to pressure the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) to drop Israeli films from its line up generated a modicum of mainstream media coverage.

This included the Age culture writer Karl Quinn’s report on Nov. 26, stating that “The festival has been accused of helping to ‘perpetrate institutional violence’ against Palestinians by including an Israeli feature, The Swimmer, in its program.” 

Quinn quoted a letter written to festival organisers in March attacking the inclusion of a film from Israeli director Eytan Fox, accusing him of “‘pinkwashing’ – perpetuating an image of Israel as a queer-friendly safe-haven in order to conceal the immense injustices committed against the Palestinian people, especially queer Palestinians… An essential component of pinkwashing – and the reason it is so fervently supported by the Israeli government – is its utility in propagating the notion that Israel is ‘the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.’” 

The Swimmer was attacked, Quinn noted, not because it was about Palestinians, but “BDS activists claim that, in order to receive [state] funding, [Israeli] artists must sign a contract that includes two clauses that declare: (1) I will not undermine the policies of the state of Israel, and (2) I will do my best to serve the policies of the state of Israel. This is state propaganda.”

Quinn’s piece was later updated to include Israel Film Fund executive director Lisa Shiloach-Uzrad saying, “there is not an ounce of truth” in the claim that Israeli filmmakers must sign such clauses, and that “Although the Israel Film Fund is supported by the Israeli ministry of culture, we are proud to say that it allows for complete freedom of speech and promotes artistic expression, even though many films do not show Israel in the best of light.” 

The report quoted MQFF co-president David Micallef declaring, “We will not discriminate based on country or national identity… If in the future a film were to come from Israel, it would be assessed on its merits.”

The report mischaracterised BDS as merely “seek[ing] to use cultural boycotts as a way of pressuring Israel to change its policies towards Palestinians.” In fact, statements by BDS founders make it clear they seek to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Arab-majority Palestinian state. 


One extreme to another?

An AFP report in the Guardian Australia (Dec. 8) noting that the UAE will begin weekends on Saturday and not Friday to make it more globally competitive, included a footnote that “The new arrangement is another bold step for the UAE, which last year bucked decades of Arab consensus by normalising relations with Israel, unlocking hundreds of millions of dollars in deals.”

Yet when the deal was first announced in August 2020, the response by The Observer – the Guardian’s weekend edition – was hostile, stating that, “By breaking ranks with the 2002 Arab peace initiative and setting a precedent for other Gulf states, the UAE, egged on by Trump, has measurably reduced Israel’s incentive to negotiate what has long been considered the only available, just and lasting Middle East peace settlement – a two-state solution honouring the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike. Extremists on either side may ultimately be the historical beneficiaries.”


Vanishing truth reappears

Readers may recall last month’s “Noted and Quoted” pointed out how journalist Janine di Giovanni’s claims on ABC Radio National “Religion & Ethics” (Nov. 10) blaming Israel and not Hamas for the precipitous decline in the Christian population in Gaza were largely at odds with what she herself wrote in her new book The Vanishing.

It was therefore unsurprising to see that even in a sympathetic review of the book run by the Spectator Australia (Dec. 4) there was no mention of Israel but it was correctly noted that “in Gaza… there were 46,000 Christians in the early 1950s. Now, with Hamas in charge, perhaps only 1,000 remain.”


A vaxxed issue

The media was awash with reports of the growing incidence of protesters against COVID-19 lockdowns and mandatory vaccination making inappropriate comparisons to the Holocaust using Nazi symbols, including Swastikas and Holocaust iconography such as the Yellow Star Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis. 

In the West Australian (Nov. 27), Steve Lieblich, Vice President of the Jewish Community Council of WA, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, was quoted calling on people to educate themselves by visiting Holocaust museums.

Lieblich said, “The Nazis had an industrialised killing operation, the entire nation was mobilised to transport and murder people by the thousands on a daily basis… for people to talk about vaccine policy as being comparable to [that]… It’s just ridiculous.”

Holocaust academic Jan Lanicek was quoted explaining that the comparisons are “offensive, but I think the protesters want to offend, because then the media will discuss their protest and thus they gain the attention they seek.”

On Nov. 22, the Herald Sun ran an op-ed from AIJAC’s Naomi Levin based on a longer article in the December AIR looking at the deleterious effect of “comparisons used by anti-lockdown protesters to Holocaust tropes.”

The global nature of the problem was highlighted in the Australian Financial Review (Nov. 30) by the UK writer Edward Luce’s observation about anti-vaxxer “protesters wearing yellow stars to liken themselves to the Jewish victims of Nazism.”

Earlier, the Herald Sun (Nov. 14) quoted Anti-Defamation League chairman Dvir Abramovich, condemning placards circulating at protests showing Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews dressed as Adolf Hitler. Dr Abramovich explained that “There is no place in the debate about the new pandemic laws for cheap Holocaust analogies, and equating Premier Daniel Andrews to the bestial Hitler responsible for the gas chambers and the murder of six million Jews and millions of others is beyond offensive… History has taught us that such hateful discourse can and does create a climate that can lead to actual violence.”


Going for woke

In the Canberra Times (Dec. 6), journalist Gabrielle Briner, whose grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, wrote that protesting against COVID-19 measures “in a democracy… is allowed” but the Holocaust imagery they are appropriating to “demonstrate the ‘hardship’ and ‘oppression’ they’re facing” is “not theirs to use” – especially because these measures are there to protect the public health. 

Briner said, “Though they may not mean it, they’re fuelling the anti-Semitic vitriol that is once again seeping from the sidelines into the mainstream public discourse.”

Briner said, “we live in a world that is becoming increasingly unsafe for Jewish people, as anti-Semitic hate crimes spike worldwide” – citing incidents of physical and verbal attacks on Jews around the world, including an incident in London in December when “a group of men spat and threw shoes at a bus full of Jewish teens heading to a Hanukkah celebration in the central Oxford Square.” 

Yet, she lamented, in “this new ‘woke’ world, where inclusion is worshipped and racism is rejected, anti-Semitism somehow doesn’t have a place in this era’s definition of racism.” 

In the Saturday Paper (Dec. 4), writer and broadcaster John Safran reported seeing placards at a rally in Melbourne with the phrase “QUI?” – French for “who” – which is used by far-right groups as code for the “Jews” being behind whatever they are protesting against.

With Jews being scapegoated for the COVID-19 pandemic and governments implementing emergency measures to contain it, Safran opined that “Amazingly, the venom some on the left feel towards Jewish people has led them to tell Jews to stay away from the anti-racism movement… Their gambit is to cast Jews as ‘white’ and thus not the people to talk about, or fight, racism.”


Sin of the times

Australian foreign editor (Dec. 9) Greg Sheridan slammed a BBC report on the antisemitic incident in London during Hanukkah mentioned above, seeing it as a symptom of the disdain shown by some living in the West towards Western culture, of which Christianity and Judaism are “foundation stone[s]”.

Sheridan wrote “The BBC… claimed there were anti-Muslim slurs shouted from the bus. Everyone on the bus denies this. The BBC later changed its report to one anti-Muslim slur, but this too is denied and may have been misheard Hebrew language cries for help… The BBC is forever desperate to find an Islamophobic element to balance any anti-Semitism it reports.”

In an echo of Safran and Briner, Sheridan noted that even “though the West has its own hideous tradition of anti-Semitism” it is “a standard feature of contemporary anti-Semitism to hold Jews of any nationality, citizenship or age responsible for all actions, real and imagined, of the Israeli government”.

According to Sheridan, “the BBC cannot bear to defend Jews, much less Israel, lest it unintentionally find itself defending the West.”


Many unhappy returns

The lead item on the Advertiser’s “Remember When” column for November 29 was the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people” but it offered no context for this day – which first started in the 1970s when the PLO succeeded in having it included as an item in one of the many anti-Israel resolutions the United Nations General Assembly passes each year.

According to the official website of the United Nations, “on that day in 1947, the General Assembly adopted resolution 181 (II), which came to be known as the Partition Resolution [which] provided for the establishment in Palestine of a ‘Jewish State’ and an ‘Arab State’… Of the two States to be created under this resolution, only one, Israel, has so far come into being.”

Missing from the UN website is the explanation why no Palestinian state “has so far come into being” – which is that Palestinian and Arab leaders rejected the Plan because it meant also living in peace alongside a Jewish state, something which some seemingly still cannot accept.


Aman for all seasons

Highlighting the real impediments to achieving lasting peace was Australian-born Israeli journalist Irris Makler’s report in the December Australian Women’s Weekly which focused on Rami Aman, a Palestinian journalist in Gaza who tries to foster peace with Israelis at a grassroots level. 

The article explained that the death and destruction caused during the first Gaza war in 2008/09, convinced Aman that Palestinians needed “leaders for peace” and he was compelled to establish an NGO called the Gaza Youth Committee to reach out to likeminded Israelis.

Yet for his efforts, in April 2020, Aman was imprisoned and interrogated by Hamas for holding a Zoom conference that included more than 200 Palestinians and Israeli Jews calling for peace. 

Aman said, “They accused me of collaboration, trying to make deals with Israel. They accused me of being from the rival political group, Fatah. They accused me of working for the Israeli spy service, Mossad. But I was very clear. I said none of that was true… I am not an agent for anyone.”


In Parliament

Senator Mehreen Faruqi (Greens, NSW) – Dec. 1 – “Palestinians for decades have been amongst the most oppressed people in the world… subject to daily humiliation, brutality and violence… Yet as soon as you raise these injustices you are hounded and condemned. Shamefully and shamelessly they try to label you as anti-Semitic… the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism… has been used to silence critics of the Israeli government for its human rights abuses of Palestinian people… the ultimate taboo in Australian politics is to talk about the human rights of the Palestinian people.”

Senator Anne Urquhart (ALP, Tas.) – Nov. 30 – “This includes labelling a man like Mr El Halabi [arrested in Israel for ties with Hamas] a terrorist and providing absolutely no evidence… We have recently seen [Israel] use the same tactics with civil society organisations in the West Bank, with six of the most respected Palestinian NGOs now officially classified as terrorist organisations.”

Greens Leader Adam Bandt (Greens, Melbourne) – Nov. 30 – “All people have the right to peace, justice and freedom… But, for decades, Palestinians have lived under occupation, and they are denied these rights… Australia should recognise Palestine and advocate meaningfully for an end to the occupation… and ending the Gaza blockade.”

Maria Vamvakinou (ALP, Calwell) – Nov. 22 – “We… continue to see Palestinians suffer the indignities and violence of occupation and conflict… Action means ending the crippling military occupation, the world’s longest in modern history.” 

Mark Coulton (Nat., Parkes) – Nov. 22 – “If you’re for Palestine, somehow you’re supposed to be anti-Semitic… I think that we’re beyond [a two-state solution]. I think we have a level of apartheid, with a suppressed people, and the West Bank has been cut up to such an extent that I don’t know how that would work.” 

Alicia Payne (ALP, Canberra) – Nov. 22 – “The establishment of Israel resulted in more than 700,000 Palestinians being forcibly removed…they and their families… have the right to return to their homes… Gazans… should be allowed to come and go from the Gaza Strip whenever they like.” 

Ken O’Dowd (Nat., Flynn) – Nov. 22 – “I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to live under apartheid rule. At a mosque in Hebron, a line going into the mosque had Israelis on one side and Palestinians on the other side. If that’s not apartheid, I’d like to know what apartheid is. All [Palestinians] seek is fairness, equality and democratic rights for all parties who live in that one stretch of land… The Gaza Strip should be abolished. Let the people be free to move outside those borders.”

Andrew Leigh (ALP, Fenner) – Nov. 30 – “Extremists are exposing vaccine-hesitant audiences to anti-Semitic propaganda on a wide scale… In Melbourne, recent anti-vax protests were attended by several prominent neo-Nazis and addressed by a speaker who once decried the influence of Australian Jews in media and business. The organising page of the Adelaide anti-vaccination rally claimed, ‘Satanic Jews run the health industry.’”

Senator Paul Scarr (Lib., QLD) – Nov. 30 – “Australia should adopt [the IHRA definition of antisemitism]… That is extremely important to note, that the mere act of denying the state of Israel its right of existence is in itself an act of anti-Semitism because to do that is to deny the Jewish people their right of self-determination.”

Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – Nov. 29 – “Sadly we’re witnessing a growth of Holocaust denial around the world… In parts of the Muslim world it is a way of playing into an anti-Jewish message that bolsters an anti-Israel message. In the West it is fuelled by social media and a regression… where people seem incapable of reasoning and assessing sources of information… to tell fact from fiction.” 


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