Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – January 2024

Dec 20, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Hospital Corners

In mid-October, ABC Middle East correspondent John Lyons was reluctant to comment on the overwhelming evidence that a misfired PIJ rocket, not an Israeli missile, caused a blast in the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital carpark in Gaza.

Yet Lyons was more than happy to talk about what the IDF found when it took control of Al-Shifa Hospital, which Israeli and US intelligence believe sat atop a major Hamas command and control centre.

On ABC TV “News” (Nov. 16) Lyons said, “For weeks, they’ve been telling us, the United States and Israel, that [Hamas has] been using hospitals generally and specifically the largest. They haven’t found it.” 

IDF footage exhibiting weapons collected – three AK 47s, a backpack with grenades – was “pretty thin,” he said. [Ed: A large tunnel network connected to the hospital was found later.]

Lyons said he’d seen a BBC interview with a doctor who complained that for 40 days Israel has been “trying to kill us” but now “they want to give us dressings and saline.” 

As Lyons knows, the IDF was trying to kill or capture Hamas fighters, not medical personnel.

On ABC Radio “PM” (Nov. 16), host David Lipson asked if the weapons located “justif[ied] this raid?” Lyons said the “smoking gun that the Israeli army had sort of built up expectations for has not been found” but did concede Israel “gave a lot of notice” and “Hamas…had a lot of time to clear out and cover its tracks.”


Ceasefire? Cease Hamas first 

In the Courier Mail (Nov. 29), AIJAC’s Justin Amler called a “long-term or permanent ceasefire” a “terrible idea” if implemented before Hamas’ offensive capabilities were degraded. 

A premature ceasefire would “prolong” conflict and “cost…more lives, because it would effectively mean Hamas survives,” he said. 

The next day, in the Daily Telegraph, AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein insisted that a permanent ceasefire was impossible “as long as Hamas refuses to surrender and release all remaining hostages, and wields the power and intent to murder, massacre, fire rockets into Israel and take more Israelis hostage as it did on October 7.”

Earlier, on Nov. 22, Israeli Government spokesperson Avi Hyman explained on Sky News why the Palestinian Authority (PA) “can’t be in charge” of Gaza after the war ends. 

He noted that the PA had issued “an official statement, claiming that [the] 360 Israelis…gunned down at that peace festival, that rave, didn’t happen, denying that it happened.” 


Not a fit state 

In the Canberra Times (Dec. 9), AIJAC’s Paul Rubenstein rejected the demands of pro-Palestinian activists calling for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dissolving Israel would end “the Jewish right to self-determination,” he said, which “raises so many alarm bells” for Jews.

The consequence would be a loss “of power over their own safety, security and destiny,” he said, and noted the fate of Yazidis, Kurds and Christians who have suffered persecution in the region because of their minority status. 

Earlier, on Sky News (Nov. 26), AIJAC’s Joel Burnie discussed how “Palestinian television…is just littered with grotesque antisemitic references, whether that be the televised sermons of imams who referred to Jews as apes and pigs or these TV shows for young children.”



On ABC RN “Drive” (Dec. 4), Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman explained the significance of a 30-page document that Israeli intelligence had uncovered that outlined Hamas’ goal of carrying out a massacre in Israel, which it accomplished on October 7.

Bergman said Israeli intelligence viewed the document as “not reflective of what Hamas can do. But…a wish plan [of] what Hamas wants to do.”

Bergman rejected the conspiracy theory that Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu ignored the evidence in order to create an excuse to attack Gaza. 


Perverse Pride

ABC Middle East correspondent Adam Harvey’s report on ABC Radio “AM” (Nov. 30) showcased the pride Palestinians in the West Bank feel when their sons die fighting against Israel.

Host Sabra Lane’s introduction said, “in and around the city of Tulkarem, Israeli forces have killed more than 50 Palestinians since the Hamas October 7 attacks.”

Harvey’s report noted that “many” of the more than 50 killed “were fighters with Fatah, the armed wing of the Palestinian Authority.” 

An online article Harvey co-authored with fellow ABC reporter Riley Stuart noted that in a recent poll of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, 59.3% of respondents supported Hamas’ October 7 attack “strongly” and a further 15.7% “supported it somewhat”.

Both reports quoted Samah Shehadeh expressing pride that her 24-year-old son had been killed during an IDF operation in November: “Yes, of course. Of course. Why shouldn’t we be proud?”


An Unhealthy Obsession

In a 2,500-word article on the ABC website (Nov. 27), ABC Global Affairs Editor John Lyons revealed an obsession with the idea that Israeli PM Netanyahu shoulders most of the blame for the failure to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following Oslo.

Lyons said Netanyahu achieved this by building new settlements and sabotaging the peace process.

According to Lyons, during Netanyahu’s first stint as PM, his “announce[ment of] a new settlement – Har Homa” in Jerusalem “began one of the biggest bursts of new settlements since the creation of Israel.”

This is wrong. Netanyahu’s immediate predecessor, Shimon Peres, approved Har Homa’s construction, but legal action delayed actual building until after Netanyahu became PM. 

Moreover, Netanyahu only approved the establishment of two other settlements during his tenure in the 1990s. The vast majority of construction during this period occurred within settlement blocs that Israel expected to retain control of if a peace deal was signed.

Lyons’ claim that, “under Netanyahu, a system of roads was established exclusively for settlers and non-Palestinians” is also wrong. First, these roads are accessible for all Israelis, including Arabs, not just settlers. Moreover, this process started in the Second Intifada under Ariel Sharon’s leadership and was continued by his successor Ehud Olmert to hinder Palestinian shooting attacks directed at vehicles with Israeli plates.

Referring to his long stint as Middle East correspondent for the Australian, Lyons wrote, “in my six years living in Israel I saw Netanyahu take many positions to avoid having to agree to a Palestinian state. In his second term, starting in 2009, he again boosted the settlement expansion. He always had a public reason why Israel could not make peace…Netanyahu sabotaged any prospect for peace” and “undermined the moderate faction of the Palestinians” led by President Mahmoud Abbas. 

This ignores the indisputable fact that between 2000 and 2008 – when Netanyahu was not PM – Palestinian leaders, including Abbas, turned down three generous offers to create a Palestinian state made by Israeli leaders.

It also erases Netanyahu’s own substantial peacemaking efforts, including withdrawing from large parts of Hebron in 1997, and signing the 1998 Wye River memorandum that committed Israel to territorial withdrawals from the West Bank.

In 2009, Netanyahu delivered his historic Bar-Ilan University speech in which he committed to the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu backed this up by agreeing to an unprecedented ten-month settlement construction freeze intended to coax Palestinian President Abbas to restart peace talks he abandoned in late 2008. 

In 2013, Netanyahu agreed to free 104 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails to incentivise Abbas to attend peace talks. US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk has said Netanyahu was “sweating bullets” to reach a deal in 2014, but Abbas had “checked out” at that point.



H2 Woe

ABC reporter Riley Stuart’s online article (Oct. 25) about his visit to the West Bank city of Hebron regurgitated Palestinian propaganda. 

Stuart noted that “Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city…is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians and about 850 Jewish settlers. For people wanting to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hebron is a good place to start.”

The city, he said, is “split into two zones — one controlled by the Palestinian Authority (called H1), and another that has the Jewish settlers living in it, under the control of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF),” H2, where “Palestinians aren’t allowed to drive, or even walk, down some streets. Since the war broke out, Israel has been restricting the movement of Palestinians all over the West Bank.” 

On Dec. 12, ABC Global Affairs editor John Lyons also reported from H2, saying, “nothing more starkly illustrates Israel’s military occupation than this part of the world. This is a major street in one of the largest Palestinian cities in the West Bank. And yet there are Israeli Army guard towers, there are settlers…it’s these soldiers in these guard towers who have the ultimate authority over any Palestinian here.” 

What Stuart and Lyons failed to say is that H2 is tiny compared to H1 and while Palestinians do face some movement restrictions within H2, it is illegal for Israelis to enter H1 at all.


Prisoners’ dilemma

Some media reports of the Hamas-Israel deal that secured the release of 105 hostages (81 of them Israelis) held in Gaza in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails drew a false equivalence between the two groups.

ABC Radio “PM” (Nov. 27) reporter Ryma Tchier – who signed the 2021 #dobetteronpalestine open letter calling for the media to preference the Palestinian narrative – described a group of prisoners released as “detainees” who were “teenagers, mainly accused of public disorder and property damage.”

Tchier conceded that some harmed “Israeli soldiers by throwing stones or Molotov cocktails. Among them, Majd Freihat, who spent a year and a half behind bars.”

In fact, according to both the Israeli Justice Ministry and Palestinian news sources, Freihat was arrested on serious weapons charges and for connections with Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He had also only been incarcerated for six months, not 18.

More importantly, Tchier’s report failed to convey to the listeners the fact that victims of stone-throwing and firebomb attacks are often killed or seriously injured, while misleadingly portraying these attacks as directed towards soldiers alone. In fact, many were convicted of attacks against civilians.

On ABC Radio “AM” (Nov. 23), reporter Nicole Johnston focused on Shorouq Dweiyat who was released after serving eight years of her 16-year prison sentence for an “attempted stabbing”. In fact, Dweiyat was convicted of attempted murder after she stabbed and injured one person and attempted to stab another before being subdued. 

After AIJAC pointed out the report’s inaccuracy to the ABC, an editor’s note was placed on the “AM” website clarifying the nature of Dweiyat’s crimes.


Deadly child’s play

SBS’s Ewa Staszewska’s online report (Nov. 24) noted that one Palestinian prisoner released – Nafoz Hamad – was 14 when he stabbed and critically injured a young Jewish mother who was his neighbour. 

But Staszewska left out the key fact Hamad was released after serving less than two years of a 12-year sentence, and once free would return to his family home, near where his victim still lives.


Catastrophe averted?

ABC journalist Nabil al-Nashar’s report for ABC News Radio and ABC TV “News” (Nov. 25) concerning the arrival into Sydney airport of a group of Palestinians from Gaza on temporary visas included a false explanation of what happened in 1948.

Al-Nashar said, “some of those who have gotten Australian visas to come here don’t want to leave Gaza because they say they are afraid of a second Nakba. Nakba is the Arabic word meaning ‘catastrophe’ and it refers to 1948 when over 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homeland.” 

An article under al-Nashar’s byline on the ABC website more accurately said, “The Nakba… commemorates the loss of land and homes in 1948 in the war that accompanied Israel’s declaration of independence, when more than 760,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes.”

AIJAC contacted the ABC to query the discrepancy and request an editor’s note be placed on the “News Radio” webpage pointing out the error. The ABC said it had “issued guidance on the Nakba… since that story.”

On Nov. 22, ABC Radio “PM” reporter Rachel Hayter claimed that the strike on al-Awda Hospital that killed a number of doctors was a “hit by Israel”.

In fact, the identity of the party responsible for the hit had not been determined, as Médecins Sans Frontières’ Simon Eccleshall told ABC TV earlier that day. An editor’s note was put on the item’s webpage pointing this out after AIJAC contacted the broadcaster.


Indigenous wisdom

In the Australian (Nov. 15), veteran indigenous leader and academic Marcia Langton called out members of the indigenous community movement “Blak sovereignty” for supporting Hamas and espousing extreme anti-Israel views. 

Langton wrote, “they claim that Indigenous Australians feel solidarity with Palestinians” and “they refuse to condemn Hamas. I am aghast and embarrassed. They do not speak for me. I fear … that our multicultural society is being torn apart by people deluded about terrorism who have used their protests as a cover for anti-Semitism.” 

“Hamas are terrorists; Palestinian Islamic Jihad are terrorists,” she said, explaining that “the majority Aboriginal view is a repulsion of terrorism.”

On Nov. 30, writing in the News Corp papers, Indigenous Australian Olympic gold medallist Nova Peris condemned “the loss of life in Israel and Gaza,” in particular the rape and torture of women on October 7. Peris also condemned Hamas’ ideology and called for the implementation of the two-state solution recognising both Jews and Palestinians as indigenous to the region.


Winging it

In the Canberra Times (Dec. 8), analyst Clive Williams attacked Australia’s decision last year to proscribe the entirety of Hamas as a terrorist organisation. 

Williams argued that “most such organisations have political and military wings, and it’s the military wing that often engages independently in acts of terrorism. Should the entire organisation be branded a terrorist group – or should there be some differentiation between the non-violent and violent parts?”

Proscribing both wings impedes “political progress on the Israel/Palestine issue,” he insisted.

But making a distinction between “wings” in this case is ludicrous, not least because Hamas leaders have themselves repeatedly said that no such “wings” exist. 


Out there

On Oct. 13, freelance writer David Leser’s article in the Nine newspapers quoted the former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s statement in 1977 that “The Palestinian problem is the core and essence of the conflict… so long as it continues to be unresolved, the conflict will continue to aggravate.”

Leser claimed “that is a very dangerous passage to quote at this terrible moment. Dangerous because it could be read by some as an apologia for the heinous acts we have witnessed in Israel in recent days. It is not.”

This is nonsense. A large majority of Israelis would support a Palestinian state if it meant the conflict was really over.

On Dec. 6, Nine Newspapers columnist Jenna Price argued that Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s war against Hamas “strengthen[s] Hamas’ power and influence” and said that by “murdering Palestinians…he is also harming the diaspora. He is risking the lives of Jews.”

Price essentially blamed Israel, not antisemites, for antisemitism. 


Honest Discussion

On the ABC “Religion & Ethics” website (Dec. 4), AIJAC research associate and Monash University academic Dr Ran Porat wrote movingly of returning to campus to teach a course on the Middle East for the first time after the October 7 massacre.

Dr Porat said he “felt fear” knowing “some students had families in both Israel and Gaza” and having observed “wave after wave of fierce anti-Israel – and often openly antisemitic – demonstrations flood the streets of cities in Europe, Australia, and the Arab world, to say nothing of American university campuses.”

He said he decided the best approach was to share his feelings with the class, allowing the students to reciprocate. He said the discussions and questions were challenging, honest, but respectful. “If we are to emerge from this night together, I’m convinced we need more” similar discussion, he concluded.


In Parliament

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) – Dec. 7 Chanukah message: “I know Jewish Australians are carrying a deep pain in your hearts… As you light the Menorah… be proud of your Jewish faith and the strength of the community in Australia.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton (Lib., Dickson) – Dec. 7 Chanukah message: “May Australians of Jewish faith find comfort in the fact that you are not alone in the fight against evil. You have many friends and allies.”

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – Dec. 7 – “We unequivocally condemn Hamas’s terror attacks… the heinous acts of sexual violence… We call for Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release all remaining hostages. We… affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself as guaranteed by the UN charter… Civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, must be protected…The world has witnessed a harrowing number of civilian deaths, including of children. This must not continue.”

Senator Wong – Dec. 7 – “We know that Hamas has no place in the future of Gaza.”

Shadow Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Claire Chandler (Lib., Tas.) – Dec. 5 – “[Israel] raised the travel warning for Jewish citizens travelling to… Australia, to… ‘Potential threat’… Will the Prime Minister… commit to practical measures to ensure the safety of Jewish Australians?”

Senator Dean Smith (Lib., WA) – Dec. 4 – “I… stress my support for the innocent Israelis illegally being held hostage by Hamas, my sympathy for those… brutally killed and my solidarity for the families and friends who remain.”

Greens Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John (WA) – Dec. 4 – “Dropping leaflets and giving evacuation warnings are offensive distractions from the reality that the policies of… Israel have no regard to the right of Palestinians to live… The Greens call on the Senate… to recognise the very real risk of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Palestine.”

Senator Janet Rice (Greens, Vic.) – Dec. 4 – “our government is effectively saying that international human rights law doesn’t apply to the Israeli government?… We are clearly joined at the hip with US imperialism, the Israeli occupation, and Israel’s persecution and illegal killing of Palestinians.”

Senator Nick McKim (Greens, Tas.) – Dec. 4: – “The acceptance of Zionist sponsored junkets to Israel by journalists and politicians… skews the narrative and compromises integrity. The Zionist lobby’s playbook is to use the media to attack and undermine pro-Palestine figures… to cloud the real issue… the destruction of Gaza and the slaughter of the people… The tactics of Zionist lobbies in stifling legitimate debate are egregious and deeply undemocratic.”

Anthony Albanese – Nov. 30 – “Why people would… protest where the families of [Israelis killed or kidnapped on October 7] were staying is beyond my comprehension and beyond contempt. I’m appalled.”

Peter Dutton – Nov. 30 – “[That protest] is an act of depravity, and… rightly condemned.”

Senator Rice – Nov. 29 – “The humanitarian catastrophe… in Gaza… is putting the Palestinian people at grave risk of genocide, as described by the UN special raconteurs [sic].”

Senator Jacqui Lambie (JLN, Tas.) – Nov. 29 – “People marching and chanting for the eradication of Jews once again is absolutely terrifying.”

Senator Fatima Payman (ALP, WA) – Nov. 29 – “I call on Israel… to end the indiscriminate killing of women in Gaza.” 

Shadow Education Minister Senator Sarah Henderson (Lib., Vic.) – Nov. 27 – “School students may not even be aware that chants like ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ call for the destruction of Israel. Students… should not be used as political pawns by activists.”

Senator Lidia Thorpe (Ind., Vic.) – Nov. 27 – “There is nothing more moral than resistance to evil and genocide. We have resisted for 75 years and we are not stopping now. Free Palestine.”


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