Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – January 2023

Dec 15, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Back to the future?

Twin bus bombings in Jerusalem on Nov. 24 that killed a 16-year-old Israeli boy and wounded many others, including one man who later died, received widespread TV, radio and print coverage.

Channel Seven Sydney’s “6pm News” report (Nov. 24) included an Israeli paramedic explaining that the bombs were packed with “nails and ball bearings” to maximise “shrapnel injuries”. Reporter Ashlee Mullany observed that “attacks like this on Israel’s busy bus system were common during the Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s, which left thousands of people dead.”

On SBS TV “World News” (Nov. 24), reporter Rena Sarumpaet said, “Israeli-Palestinian tensions have been high with months of Israeli arrest raids in the West Bank that have killed more than 130 Palestinians… prompted by Palestinian attacks that have killed around 20 Israelis.”


Explosive claims

ABC Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn’s live cross to ABC TV “The World” (Nov. 24) to discuss the twin bus bombings contained two significant problematic claims. 

Horn accurately noted that Israeli military raids on the West Bank were in response to terror attacks. 

But her assertion that “reports are this has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank” omitted the key fact that this figure comes from the UN, which stated explicitly it only started compiling such data in 2005 (the ABC’s website reported this accurately in October). There were many more deaths on both sides during the Second Intifada years, 2000-2004. 

Horn also omitted Israel’s claim that most of these fatalities involved Palestinians carrying out acts of violence.

Discussing negotiations over the formation of Israel’s next government, Horn said, “one of the big concerns that is being negotiated at the moment is where Benjamin Netanyahu will place some very ultra-right-wing nationalists, people who have called for the eradication of Arabs from this part of the world, people who have been accused of inciting violence and inciting attacks and racism towards Palestinians.”

No Israeli MK has called for the “eradication of Arabs from this part of the world,” which implies advocating for the mass murder of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians or mass expulsions. Even the head of the far-right Jewish Power Party Itamar Ben Gvir, who has talked about expulsions, has been clear this would only apply to terrorists, not all Arabs.


Sallying forth

On ABC Radio National “Between the Lines” (Dec. 2), academic Sally Totman said, “the fact that [Binyamin] Netanyahu is willing to partner up with these extreme right-wing groups is a sign that he’s not moderate in any way.”

Netanyahu has partnered up with far-right politicians because all other potential coalition partners have refused to join any government he leads whilst he is on trial on corruption charges. Netanyahu denies the allegations and under Israeli law is entitled to remain in office pending a verdict. 

According to Totman’s analysis, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas “are very concerned about [the] appointment [of far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir] and what that will mean. And I’m sure that they’ll respond if things start to become increasingly repressive in the occupied territories.”

Hamas and PIJ espouse an extreme Islamist agenda, including making it very clear they seek Israel’s destruction. They thus do not need any incentive to carry out terror attacks. 

Equally ill-informed were Totman’s statements about the reasons why the Oslo peace process failed to end the conflict. 

She said, “there was that idea [in 1993] that there would be a two-state solution… peace was coming very soon. And over the years, that’s just been whittled away… even the Camp David Accords in 2000 was a lesser… vision of a two-state solution than even we’d sort of seen in ‘93.” 

This is just wrong. There was never a specific promise of a two-state peace as part of Oslo. Indeed, in 1995, shortly before his assassination, then-Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin specified Israel was seeking to create a Palestinian entity “which is less than a state” at the end of the Oslo process.

Nonetheless, in July 2000, Israeli PM Ehud Barak offered Palestinian President Yasser Arafat a full Palestinian state that included all of Gaza, more than 90% of the West Bank, land swaps, dismantling settlements to provide territorial contiguity, a capital in east Jerusalem and shared sovereignty over the Old City’s holy sites. 

Not only did Arafat refuse the offer, he authorised the start of the Second Intifada terror campaign that began three months later and which lasted for five years, resulting in the murder of more than 1,000 Israelis. 

Despite the terror outbreak starting in September 2000, Barak continued to negotiate, culminating in his January 2001 offer, which former US President Bill Clinton said “was so good I couldn’t believe anyone would be foolish enough to let it go.” 

Ignoring these basic but critical facts, Totman criticised the existence of settlements on the West Bank, as well as the “security barrier” and “checkpoints” there – none of which would be an issue if Arafat had accepted the state offered to him.


Hospital pass

The Australian print edition (Nov. 25) and the West Australian website (Nov. 24) were amongst only a few local media outlets that covered the shocking abduction by Palestinian terrorists of Israeli Druze teenager Tiran Fero from life support in a Jenin hospital – which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Fero was taken there after being involved in a car accident.

The West Australian said, “The incident threatened to ratchet up already boiling tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.”

But what neither report noted was that the potential for conflict came primarily from the Israeli Druze community, whose leaders threatened to march en masse to Jenin unless Fero’s body was returned.

The Australian noted that “the bodies of Israelis have previously been abducted to be used as bargaining chips to secure the release of Palestinian[s].”

The West Australian pointed out that “more than 130 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, making 2022 the deadliest year since 2006,” accurately noting that “fighting has surged since a series of Palestinian attacks in the spring killed 19 people in Israel,” and adding that “the Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants.”


Adams’ Catastrophe

ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (Nov. 16) listeners were treated to a classic exhibition of host Phillip Adams’ indifference to balance and factual accuracy when he interviewed Lebanese-born Palestinian writer Fida Jiyris about her recent memoir, Stranger in My Own Land.

Jiyris talked about the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe”, the term used to refer to “the founding of the State of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine.” 

She claimed, falsely, that “at the time, the Zionist militias coordinated a campaign of ethnic cleansing throughout historic Palestine, forcing out Palestinians from hundreds of their villages and from the major towns in order to make room for Jewish settlers.”

Jiryis agreed with Adams’ statement that “in a matter of weeks, around three-quarters of a million Palestinians were expelled, more than half the Arab population of the country.”

In fact, the catastrophe was the rejection by Arab leaders of the 1947 UN Partition Plan that would’ve created a Palestinian Arab state. Instead, they pursued war in an effort to destroy any chance the proposed Jewish state would survive. Most Palestinian Arabs who were displaced never even saw Jewish soldiers but still fled, either because they were told to do so by Arab commanders to make it easier to attack Jewish targets, or out of fear that Israelis would inflict upon them what they planned to do to Israelis.


Frankly disgusting

There was scattered coverage about Farha, a controversial movie by Jordanian filmmaker Darin Sallam which focuses on a 14-year-old Palestinian Arab girl who hides in a cellar from where she can witness fighting in the 1948 war.

The movie has attracted criticism because it depicts Israeli soldiers executing an Arab family in cold blood.

 Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas’ review in the Saturday Paper (Nov. 5) stressed that “I want to be clear that this isn’t a question of doubting the reality of the brutalities that Farha depicts,” but said, “the villainous nature of the Israeli soldiers is so crudely expressed that it dilutes our emotional response to their atrocities.” 

He referred to the “Naqba, the catastrophic events that saw the newly formed state of Israel invade and expel the Palestinians from their land.” 

There was neither invasion nor expulsion. There was a war initiated by Arabs where Jews were forced to defend themselves, which required fighting in areas where Arab forces were based.

A report in the Guardian Australia (Dec. 1) said that the movie “is the story of a friend of [director Darin] Sallam’s mother, who met each other as young women in Syria,” and that “Sallam has also said that while she did not seek to draw a deliberate parallel with Anne Frank, she can see the similarities in the traumatic experiences of the two teenage girls.”

The comparison is odious and typical of those who seek to compare Israel’s creation to the Nazi Holocaust. Farha is a fictional movie, depicting made-up events. 

In contrast, Anne Frank was actually sent to the concentration camp of Bergen Belsen, where she died, because an informant betrayed her family’s secret hiding place to the Nazis. 


Courageous Clive

In the Canberra Times (Nov. 30), analyst Clive Williams said ASIO’s decision to downgrade to “possible” the threat level of a terror attack occurring in Australia after eight years of “probable” is “courageous”.

Williams said in the past “internationally, many Islamist extremist incidents have taken place over the Christmas period,” adding that “so far there has not been any violent spillover in Australia from ethnic/religious-based conflicts in Turkey, Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan, and Xinjiang, but remains a possibility.” 

Williams’ inclusion of “Israel/Palestine” was a little hasty. 

On Dec. 6 and 7, there was widespread local media coverage of a $1 million reward announced by NSW Police and the NSW State Government to coincide with a new coronial inquest into the twin bombings of the Israeli consulate in Sydney and the Hakoah Club Jewish social venue in Bondi on Dec. 23, 1982. The reports said investigators believe a pro-Palestinian terrorist group called “May 15” based in Lebanon had orchestrated the attacks, which only failed to kill anyone because the bombs used proved defective. 


What’s that smell?

Nine Newspapers’ Konrad Marshall’s profile in the Good Weekend Magazine (Dec. 3) of Amy Taylor, lead singer of the Australian music group Amyl and the Sniffers, misrepresented the Palestinian boycott campaign directed against the 2022 Sydney Festival.

Marshall called Taylor “naïve” because the group performed at the “Festival in January… unaware the event had financial support from the Israeli government, or that a huge boycott was in effect.” 

Israel’s embassy in Canberra was approached by Festival organisers and gave a $20,000 grant that was used for the sole purpose of staging a performance by Australian dancers of the show “Decadance” developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin – who is actually a vocal critic of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Moreover, contrary to the suggestion that the group were outliers for taking part, in fact, a large majority of acts continued to perform at the Sydney Festival. 

The feature said, “some in the punk community branded the band Zionists, accusing them of taking blood money,” and quoted Taylor saying, “we made a mistake. Sometimes you just have to admit you don’t know something.” 

Stung by the criticism, Taylor “dove down a Middle-East-conflict rabbit-hole” consuming pro-Palestinian propaganda “and donating the band’s festival fee to the Olive Kids foundation, which supports Palestinian children.” 

Taylor’s naivety was in automatically assuming that acts who did comply with the boycott were justified in doing so. There is clear evidence that some acts withdrew because of intimidation and threats they experienced on social media.


More capital errors

On Dec. 5, the Canberra Times’ “The Public Sector Informant” section said it received FOI documents relating to DFAT’s decision on Oct. 17 to remove language from its website stating that Australia recognises west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The FOI documents added nothing to the general understanding of why DFAT decided that Australia no longer recognised west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital before Cabinet had taken any decision on the issue.

The Public Sector Informant also erroneously stated that “the former government recognise[d] West Jerusalem as the capital instead of Tel Aviv.” Australia, like most other governments, has never regarded Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.


Black and white reporting

On Dec. 5, the headline and lede in a Canberra Times report favoured the Palestinian narrative regarding Ammar Mefleh, a 22-year-old Palestinian terrorist who was shot dead by an Israeli Border Police officer on the West Bank, implying he was the victim of excessive force.

The report noted a short video showed an Israeli Border Police officer tussling with three Palestinians. Two of the Palestinians break away, leaving the officer wrestling with Mefleh, who pushes the officer, causing his rifle to hit the ground. The officer then pulls out his pistol and shoots Mefleh, who then falls.

Buried in the report was Israel’s response that Mefleh had tried to attack two Israelis in a car, then tried to break into a locked vehicle with a rock, and that he stabbed an Israeli Border Police officer in the face before another officer tried to arrest him.

The article noted Tor Wennesland, special UN Envoy to the Middle East peace process, had condemned the killing on Twitter and called for an investigation (see p. 6). But missing was the fact that Wennesland relied on a selectively edited version of the video circulated by Palestinian activists on social media which made it look like Mefleh was totally innocent.


Guy’s Marxist Glasses

Left-wing Crikey writer Guy Rundle (Nov. 18) indulged in deluded Marxist fantasies to explain the recent Israeli election result.

Rundle asserted that “Jewish supremacism… towards the Palestinians is a new thing… aris[ing]… from the collapse of meaning in the Zionist movement itself, something that has been occurring since the country abandoned social democracy and neoliberalism in its economy, thus creating unprecedented economic inequality between Jews, and undermining the notion of a unified project.”

Ongoing terrorism and Palestinian rejectionism, not economic inequalities in Israel, have been the primary factors affecting how Palestinians are regarded by Israelis. 

Rundle acknowledged some of the issues that caused the previous Bennett-Lapid coalition to collapse, including euphemistically referring to “a rise in incidental crime which saw voters rushing to the right, and travelling well beyond Likud.”

This would be the internecine Israeli Arab violence directed against Jews who live in mixed Jewish-Arab cities and the increase in Palestinian violence from the West Bank and crime from the Bedouin sector in the south.

But even so, Rundle overstated the support for the far right, with the electorate actually split almost 50:50 between the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs. 

Israeli far-right parties succeeded with small voter bases because they coordinated to ensure they crossed the minimum electoral threshold required to enter the Knesset, while at least two left-leaning parties did not.

Rundle also claimed, “Israel would use tactical nuclear weapons before it would yield to a one-state solution.”


Election swings and roundabouts

Speaking to ABC Radio National “Religion & Ethics Report” (Nov. 23), Australian reporter Irris Makler, who lives in Israel, called “[Binyamin] Netanyahu… a political wizard because in fact there isn’t much difference between the results this time and last time…. 30,000 votes in all. But nevertheless, it did translate into an eight-seat majority.”

A Guardian Australia report on the election results (Nov. 27) claimed “US-sponsored negotiations stalled in 2014 but the expansion of Israeli settlements has continued.” Negotiations didn’t stall. As he did in 2008, current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to engage further and ended peace talks, despite a sympathetic administration in Washington.


In Parliament

The following seven statements were given in Federal Parliament to mark “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people”:

Maria Vamvakinou (ALP, Calwell) – Nov. 30 – “There is strong support in solidarity with the Palestinian people, regionally and internationally and in significant communities right across Australia… the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to a state, must be recognised and realised.”

Senator Mehreen Faruqi (Greens, NSW) – Nov. 29 – “Today is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people. The year 2022 has been a year of tragedy after tragedy. Yet, day after day, the courageous Palestinian people resist occupation and oppression… On 5 August, the Israeli regime began a three-day bombing assault in the Gaza Strip, which killed at least 49 Palestinians, including 17 children… Israel is committing the crime of apartheid… the Israel lobby is in overdrive… the trips, and other activities, have only one objective, and that’s to see that no matter what Israel does it will never be criticised by Canberra.”

Tony Zappia (ALP, Makin) – Nov. 29 – “Eight million Palestinian people continue to live in Israel-occupied territory and refugee camps in neighbouring Arab states. Simultaneously, the Palestinian people face everyday struggles for survival, the loss of land, human rights violations and oppression.”

Graham Perrett (ALP, Moreton) – Nov. 29 – “…these settlements are illegal, and they are… strategically placed in positions to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Alicia Payne (ALP, Canberra) – Nov. 29 – “To this day Palestinians make up 21% of the global refugee population.” 

Senator Fatima Payman (ALP, WA) – Nov. 28 – “It is easy to despair at the lack of progress towards [peace, justice and an enduring two-state solution] and at the steep cost to human life, which are felt not only in Palestine but here in Australia as well… Israel is the only country… that systemically prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair-trial rights and protections.”

Max Chandler-Mather (Greens, Griffith) – Nov. 22 – “The term ‘apartheid’ applies, according to international law, when serious human rights violations are committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another, with the intention of maintaining that regime. It is clear apartheid applies here when violations include discriminatory laws and policies, denial of equal nationality and status, harsh movement restrictions, massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, restrictions on the right to political participation and popular resistance, discriminatory underinvestment in Palestinian communities in Israel and restrictions on the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in Israel and the occupied territories.”

Senator David Shoebridge (Greens, NSW) – Nov. 23 – addressed Israel’s election: “How long will Palestinians be forced to wait for the most basic of rights—for freedom and for peace with justice?… Israel has just elected its most far-right government in history, and that’s saying something… 2022 is also on course to be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on record…”

Senator Anne Urquhart (ALP, Tas.) – Nov. 29 – “I stood beside the nine-metre-high concrete wall that Israel has built – twice as high and four times as long as the Berlin Wall – which rips apart Palestinian neighbourhoods and annexes Palestinian lands… Military occupations must be opposed, whether in Ukraine or in Palestine… We must recognise the rights of Palestinians as equal to those of Israelis: to have self-determination, to have security and to live equally amongst the world’s nations. We must also support Israeli accountability in international courts.”


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