Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – July 2016

Jul 8, 2016 | 



Fairfax’s Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers (June 10) ran a Washington Post report on the June 8 terror attack in Tel Aviv in which four Israelis were murdered in a café with the headline, “Deadly Shooting at mall opposite defence HQ.”

The report itself merely stated that “the attacks occurred… near Israel’s Defence Ministry” and made no suggestion that the assailants were trying to target the Defence Ministry, rather than the nearby Sarona market shopping complex that was the actual site of the attack.

Were the papers implying the attackers were seeking a military target and the violence was therefore not actually a terrorist attack?

By contrast, the same report in the Canberra Times, Fairfax’s third metropolitan daily, was more reasonably titled “Three dead as well-dressed men open fire at popular Tel Aviv shopping complex.”

Terror tag team

Following the Tel Aviv terror attack, Executive Council of Australian Jewry Public Affairs Director Alex Ryvchin wrote of the increasing links between Hamas and ISIS.

“This latest terror attack comes just days after reports that Hamas had deepened its ties with Islamic State through its affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula,” he wrote.

The Sinai Islamist group, known as Sinai Province, “has carried out a series of sophisticated and devastating attacks targeting Egyptian troops in the region and bringing down a Russian jet in October 2015, killing 224 people.”

Ryvchin said, “the alliance is a complex one” with Hamas “see[ing] the rise of a rival Islamist movement as a threat to its own power… But… both groups have chosen terrifying brutality as a means of suppressing dissent and advancing their interests, and share a political program steeped in religious ultra-orthodoxy.”

On a practical level, “the burgeoning relationship between Hamas and Islamic State has involved joint weapons smuggling operations and has seen Hamas operatives travel to the Sinai to conduct training in the firing of anti-tank missiles.”

He postulated the two might be exchanging expertise, arguing that “Hamas has been teaching Islamic State how to fight conventional forces, Islamic State may well be inspiring Hamas to pursue a new wave of suburban commando operations, which have devastated cities such as Istanbul, Paris and Brussels,” suggesting the Tel Aviv attack might be an example, Daily Telegraph (June 10).

All shook up

Anyone might have thought that Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman had just become Australia’s new Defence Minister rather than Israel’s, such were the ripples his appointment caused in our media.

Australian Financial Review international editor Tony Walker (May 28) claimed the ALP under Bill Shorten made “hardly a peep… about the appalling events in the Middle East, certainly no reference to alarming developments in Israel and Palestine where an ultra-nationalist defence minister has been installed to the detriment of… prospects of compromise with the Palestinians.”

“Appalling events” and “alarming developments” do abound in the Middle East, but it is interesting only an Israeli Cabinet re-shuffle was mentioned as an example.

Moreover, whatever one thinks of Lieberman, he has repeatedly voiced support for a two-state solution and previously held senior ministries in past Israeli governments without causing disaster.

On ABC Radio “World Today” (May 26), Sophie McNeill’s report painted Lieberman as the harbinger of doom. But Jerusalem Post chief political correspondent Gil Hoffman noted that Lieberman’s most controversial utterances were said, “whenever he was in the opposition. That’s the job of an opposition parliament member – to make his voice heard…[but] Netanyahu runs this country… None of the ministers have any power.”

In the Saturday Paper (May 28), columnist Hamish McDonald said Lieberman backs “deporting Arab Israelis to Palestinian areas.”

Wrong. Lieberman has proposed that boundaries be redrawn so that Arab Israeli towns and villages near the West Bank become part of a Palestinian state in exchange for Israel retaining settlements – no deportations involved.

A sober Wall Street Journal/AFP report noted that following Lieberman’s appointment he “assured fellow legislators that he supported the creation of a Palestinian state.” Moreover, the report stated that “according to colleagues who have worked with Mr Lieberman, he is more pragmatic than his public statements would suggest,” Australian (June 1).

West and guest

Lieberman’s appointment as Defence Minister saw ABC Radio National “Religion and Ethics” (June 1) question Israel’s democratic credentials.

US academic David Myers, who alleged on a previous edition there was “creeping apartheid” in Israel, said the past few years has seen “an erosion of some of the foundations of the democratic principles on which the State of Israel was established.”

This is nonsense. Israel’s democratic institutions and principles have developed and grown stronger since the country’s foundation in 1948. They were not born fully formed and are arguably stronger today than during most of Israel’s history, despite some challenges.

Myers said the “decline” in Israeli democracy was a “long term response to the collapse of the Oslo peace process which at its high point really allowed Israelis to think of a future in which they could live harmoniously with their Arab neighbours.”

He contended that since Oslo’s collapse Israelis have said to themselves, “we live in a very unfriendly region, we have to make our own way and we have to do so with a set of values other than those on which this state was originally founded… that sensibility has allowed politicians to really play slippery with some of the foundations of democracy.”

Israel has justifiably remained highly wary of its neighbours since the Arab states tried to destroy Israel in 1948. Violence, courtesy of the Second Intifada and the failed Arab Spring merely reconfirmed the belief that the region is not yet ready to accept and co-exist with the Jewish state.

Host Andrew West asked what explains the “mentality” behind Netanyahu’s decision to invite Lieberman’s into the coalition and not accept “an offer from the centrist” Zionist Union party, which is the “old Labor party.”

In fact it was a revolt within Zionist Union that killed any hope of its inclusion in Netanyahu’s government.

West accused Lieberman of wanting Israelis Arabs “transferred out of Israel… he’s spoken of blowing up (Egypt’s) Aswan Dam” and now as Defence Minister wants to introduce the death penalty but to only “apply to Arabs.”

Lieberman’s comment regarding the Aswan Dam was made in 2001 and was a threat in the event Egypt broke its peace treaty with Israel and essentially placed itself at war with the Jewish State, while even before he became Defence Minister he had backed down on the death penalty proposal for terrorists.

At least Myers did explain that, contrary to West’s claim, Lieberman does not support “transfer” of people but a two state resolution which would see certain Arab Israeli areas become part of a Palestinian state.

Lessons to be learned

Israeli author and former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman told ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” host Phillip Adams (June 2) that he wrote his new book, Pumpkin Flowers, because “understanding in the West of the complexities of Israel’s situation lags behind the realities of the region.”

He explained there is a lack of insight about the wider region because Western media organisations are vastly over-staffed in Israel, rather than being spread out across other countries in the Middle East, “and if you are unable to understand the region then Israel’s behaviour becomes completely incomprehensible.”

Politically, the world might think Israelis have “swung to the right over the last 15 years” but it’s not because they are “fanatics or don’t understand the region or don’t understand what’s right, it’s because they live very close to a dangerous part of the world and they’ve been burned and don’t want to be burned again.”

Israel, he said, learned at “the end of the 1990s and again in Gaza in 2005” that military withdrawals lead to “power vacuums” which are not filled by “moderate forces who seek some kind of compromise with us but these guys with black masks and black flags” – a reality the West is now learning the “hard way” following the 2003 Iraq war, Syria and the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya.

A Matter of Preference

Federal Labor MP Michael Danby demanded the Liberal Party not preference the Greens above the ALP at the July 2 election because the “Liberals are diametrically opposed to the Greens on all matters political, socio-economic and national security” and “there must be ethics in politics.”

Danby also cited the risk that Liberal preferences going to the Greens might see the defeat of “two of Labor’s most pro-Israel Victorians – David Feeney and Peter Khalil – helping elect anti-Israel Greens instead.”

He pointed out that “even after the tragedies in France, Parramatta and Endeavour Hills, the Greens opposed every serious piece of counter-terrorism legislation. In September, even before ISIS killed 140 people in Paris… Adam Bandt insisted that the Greens oppose even highly restrictive aerial bombing of Daesh targets in east Syria. Scott Ludlam followed suit, declaring, ‘our only contribution [to Syria] being to fan the military flames.’…Last year, new Greens Leader Richard Di Natale claimed that Israel being a Jewish state was ‘not conducive to a two-state solution,'” Spectator Australia (June 4).

Greens screened

The Australian (May 31) reported on the support for the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement of Israel by Greens candidate for Grayndler, Jim Casey.

According to reporter Sid Maher, Casey backed BDS whilst addressing a pro-Palestinian rally in August 2014 in Sydney in his capacity as the NSW State Secretary of the Fire Brigade Employees Union.

Casey told Maher he was not pushing BDS in the election and said neither does the Greens’ platform.

The Herald Sun (June 10), reported on the decision by Stephanie Hodgins-May, the Greens’ candidate for Melbourne Ports, to withdraw from a public debate that included her opponents because it was co-sponsored by Zionism Victoria.

The paper quoted Ms Hodgins-May saying she objected to Zionism Victoria because it allegedly “label[s] the UN as a nuisance and sham…as someone who worked at the United Nations, I no longer wanted to participate under those circumstances.” (In fact, the comments about the UN she was quoting did not come from Zionism Victoria, but a separate organisation, the Zionist Federation of Australia.)

The story said Zionism Victoria described her views as “ill-informed prejudice” while Melbourne Ports sitting MP Michael Danby said of her decision, “The Greens’ boycott of the Jewish community shows their deep and intractable antagonism towards the Australian Jewish community.”

Syriaously Dyer

Commentator Gwynne Dyer sensibly argued that the United States has “reluctantly” accepted Russia’s “long-standing position that the secular Baathist regime in Syria must survive, as part of some compromise peace deal that everybody except the Islamist extremists will accept (although nobody will love it).”

But Dyer then went off the rails claiming that “such a deal back in 2012 would have involved the departure from power of Bashar al-Assad himself, and it could still do so today. He’s mostly just a figurehead anyway.”

According to Dyer “the deal that the Russians could have delivered in 2012 would have ditched Bashar al-Assad but left the Baathist regime in place, while compelling it to broaden its base, dilute Alawite influence, and stop torturing and murdering its opponents. An over-confident West rejected that deal, while its local ‘allies’, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, gave weapons and money to the Islamist rebels.”

This is nonsense. Neither Russia nor Iran (Assad’s primary backer) nor obviously Bashar al-Assad, showed any serious sign of supporting such a proposal then or now. In fact, the sham deal to remove Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile in 2013 was an attempt by Russia to protect Assad. Russia’s modus operandi has been to ambiguously float the possibility of Assad’s departure and string negotiations along until such time as the balance of forces changes in Assad’s favour, Canberra Times (May 18).

Sensible Saikal

By contrast, ANU Professor Amin Saikal on this occasion offered some good sense, noting that “it appears that Russia and the US have engaged in a degree of co-ordination against IS as the first priority for the time being. But it is also clear that they have conflicting agendas. Russia wants to save the Assad regime and deepen ties with Iran as the only country in the region whose Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his supporters continue to remain opposed to the US. President Vladimir Putin’s main objective is to secure a strong foothold in the eastern Mediterranean through Russia’s Tartus naval base in Syria’s Latakia province, and to have Iran as an ally in a region where American influence has been on the wane,” Canberra Times (June 15).

Telling tales

Media debate over the propriety of Victorian Year 12 students studying the play “Tales of a City by the Sea,” written by pro-BDS activist Samah Sabawi and set in Gaza during the 2008/09 war, continued.

On ABC Radio 774 Melbourne‘s “Drive with Rafael Epstein” (May 27), Sabawi disputed B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission Chairman Dvir Abramovich’s statement earlier that day to ABC radio host Jon Faine that the play was “unvarnished anti-Israel propaganda”.

Sabawi said “the play does not have one Jewish… or Israeli character simply because inside Gaza, it’s a Palestinian realm.”

Or, maybe, because being identifiably Jewish or Israeli in Gaza can put you at risk of becoming a hostage or dead.

In the Age (May 28), Monika Wagner, President of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, defended the play’s inclusion writing, “I can’t think of any text that does not have the potential to offend at least someone.”

But as Dvir Abramovich argued in the Age (May 31), because the play excludes vital context, including Israel’s 2005 Gaza withdrawal, its repeated peace offers, rockets fired from Gaza at Israel and Israeli efforts to minimise Palestinian casualties in Gaza, “impressionable young students” might absorb “the message that the immoral, faceless Israelis kill Palestinians out of sheer evil.”

Samah lingers on

In an op-ed, Sabawi asserted the debate was about her right to free speech, writing, “It seems that I, the writer, missed the memo that I can’t write an artistic piece about Palestinian life without inserting Israel’s point of view into my art.” The debate has never had anything to do with her right to write the play – only about whether the play is appropriate to include in the curriculum for impressionable students, given its one-sided presentation of a complex and contested issue, Age (June 3).

Age columnist Julie Szego suggested (June 2) the play should not be on the syllabus, “not because it offends the ‘views’ or ‘sensitivities’ of Jewish groups,” but because it “arguably… fails an objective test of intellectual integrity.”

According to Szego, “The play undoubtedly has literary merit; I found Sabawi’s depiction of Palestinians confronting internal and external repression poignant. But… by omitting any reference to the context of Israel’s military onslaught… the Hamas rockets fired into Israeli civilian centres, Sabawi portrays the Jewish state as a killing machine motivated solely by bloodlust. Even an oblique and contested reference to the Israeli justification for bombing Gaza would, in my view, have covered the playwright; as it stands, the work promotes a kind of falsehood.”

She said the Victorian Government’s call for a review into how texts are selected must not focus on consideration of “the views and sensitivities of cultural and religious groups” but an assessment of “facts and not feelings.”

“When in Rome”

Travel writer Steve Meacham shone a rare spotlight on Rome’s 2,000 year old Jewish Quarter, noting that the city has 900 churches but “there were Jews in Rome long before the Christians arrived.”

Rome’s ghetto was created in 1555 by the “anti-semitic Pope Paul IV [who] declared the Jews had to be segregated, locked up each night at sunset behind steep walls and secure gates… The land chosen for [the] Roman ghetto was among the worst in the city. Since the Tiber regularly flooded, the lower parts of the ghetto were regularly underwater.”

Napoleon “to his credit, ended the ghettos. But they were reinstated after his defeat at Waterloo. It was left to Garibaldi, after the reunification of Italy in 1861, to end Papal domination of Rome.”

However the ghetto was again temporarily reinstated in the late 1930s during Mussolini’s dictatorship.

Meacham also highlighted the “high level of security” around Rome’s Great Synagogue, a legacy of “a Palestinian Liberation Organisation terrorist attack which saw a two year old boy killed” in 1982, Age/Sydney Morning Herald, (June 11).




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