Noted and Quoted – July 2018

60 Minutes' Tom Steinfort

One track mind

ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (May 24) heard from Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of the Red Cross, following Egypt’s decision to open its shared border with Gaza for one month, which host Hamish MacDonald said was the longest period since 2012. 

One might have expected the interview to shed some light on a rarely covered aspect of the Gaza blockade – except that’s not how it played out.

Broadcast on May 24, 10 days after the deadliest day of rioting, and well after Hamas admitted the majority of those killed were not civilians but its own or affiliated fighters, MacDonald was still pursuing his obsessive line of questioning insisting that Israel did not act in self-defence. 

Rocca, however, would not be drawn into answering MacDonald’s leading questions.

MacDonald asked, “Are you having conversations with the people you’re meeting about why they were there? Whether they were there of their own choice or whether they had been forced to go there? Encouraged to go there and if so by whom?” 

Rocca said he had very “superficial” discussions in Gaza on those questions.

MacDonald persisted, asking, “Is there any doubt in your mind though that among those injured there are genuine civilians?”

Rocca said he couldn’t confirm if the injured had belonged to “aggressive” elements.

MacDonald could have asked why the Red Cross doesn’t demand Egypt end its blockade with Gaza, which is far stricter than Israel’s. 

That is, if he could tear himself away from a line of inquiry that he has relentlessly pursued in contradiction to the evidence, including from guests he himself previously interviewed (see AIR June).

Let’s go fly a kite

The ABC’s apparent decision to downplay the threat of violence from Gaza was on display in an ABC TV “7pm News” report (June 9) that said “demonstrators gathered en masse, with some sending flaming kites into Israel to mark the anniversary of the 1967 Arab/Israel war.”

These incendiary kites are terror weapons and have been used throughout the “March of Return” protests – not as some sort of symbolic effort “to mark the anniversary of the 1967 Arab/Israel war.” They have burnt thousands of acres of agricultural land and forests and only a combination of luck, military intervention and fire-fighting efforts has stopped them engulfing Israeli towns. 

Unholy mess

Channel Nine’s “60 Minutes’” latest Israel bashing report titled “Unholy real estate”, broadcast on May 20, followed a well-worn template.

Host Tara Brown attributed the violence in May in Gaza to US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite the protests being planned well in advance of that decision and having much more to do with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

The report from Tom Steinfort blamed the on-going conflict almost wholly on settlement construction. 

Gerard Horton, an Australian lawyer who runs a pro-Palestinian NGO that has no relevance to settlements, told Steinfort, “there’s no nice way of doing settlement construction,” they are “war crime[s]” and against the Geneva Conventions. 

Steinfort told viewers that in 1967, “Israel fearing an Arab invasion pushed out claiming most notably the Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

Actually, it was Jordan firing artillery from east Jerusalem at west Jerusalem that led to Israel controlling the West Bank. 

The Jewish perspective was provided only through a religious prism, focusing on Australian-born Daniel Luria, whose organisation buys Arab properties in east Jerusalem for Jews to move into. 

Luria explained that Jews have been living in Jerusalem for 3,800 years.

Horton said the situation was “worse than apartheid”, because through its settlements Israel is “taking the land without responsibility for the people.” 

The comparison is an absurd one. Under Apartheid, black South Africans were denied a slew of rights, including the right to vote. Arabs in Israel have full rights, whilst more than 95% of Palestinians on the West Bank are ruled by their own elected leadership. 

Moreover, Israeli settlements cover less than 1.9% of the West Bank and Israel has offered to establish a Palestinian state on land equivalent to 100% of the West Bank and to share Jerusalem – an offer the Palestinian Authority has rejected on three occasions. Viewers heard none of these things. 

Barns in a china shop

Fretting that Tasmania’s “booming trade relationship with China is in jeopardy because the Turnbull Government, the ALP opposition and their allies in the media are demonising China”, Greg Barns returned to his favourite themes – the supposed evils of Israel and the “bullying and interference” in Australia by its supporters.

According to Barns, “The Turnbull government and the ALP have agreed on a so called ‘foreign interference’ law which is squarely aimed at criminalising contact with China (naturally the gross interference and bullying of US and Israel on Australian media and politicians does not matter)… The Australian media as a whole bashes China but refuses to examine Israel and the US, both of whom are routine meddlers in Australian political and policy debates,” Mercury (June 11).

Funding furore

Among the coverage of the Australian National University’s refusal to establish a $2 million centre dedicated to Western Civilisation because the donor wanted a say in personnel and how the course would be run, the Australian’s Rebecca Urban reported on the millions of dollars the Australian National University’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS) has accepted from Middle Eastern dictatorships since it was established in 1994.

According to Urban (June 7), “The centre…has benefited from sizeable donations from the United Arab Emirates and the governments of Iran and Turkey, frequently publishes articles supportive of a Palestine state and Iran, hosts lectures on ‘deconstructing the extremist narrative’ and ‘Islamophobia in post-communist Europe’, and has featured guest speakers who are critical of US policy. It has also spruiked the success of a delegation to Iran late last year – led by ANU chancellor Gareth Evans – as the ‘first round of the Australia-Iran dialogue’ after a 10-year suspension.”

Rubinesque

Noted US academic Michael Rubin said the ANU was “sick” and the “output” of its Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS) a “symptom” – listing the questionable decisions both have made.

This included hosting “Richard Falk, a disgraced 9/11 conspiracy theorist who dismissed concerns about Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s summary executions, repression of women and general human rights abuses as ‘happily false’.” 

Rubin lampooned CAIS director Amin Saikal’s views, citing a 2003 op-ed that claimed Iran “provides for a degree of mass participation, political pluralism and assurance of certain human rights and freedoms which do not exist in most of the Middle East.”

Rubin suggested the truth is otherwise, noting “the Iranian people, who rose up en masse in 2009 and again this past winter, beg to differ. So too do the women imprisoned for removing their headscarfs and the gays slowly strangled from cranes.”

This “skewed reality is the rule rather than reality,” Rubin argued, noting that in a 2004 op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald, Saikal “embraced the fringe anti-Semitic conspiracy theory until then peddled primarily by convicted American fascist Lyndon LaRouche, who argued that a small cabal of Jewish neo-conservatives had hijacked American policy to lead the US into war.”

Rubin also noted that the fact that the ANU changed the name of Saikal’s centre from the Centre for Middle East and Central Asian Studies to the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies after a large Emirati donation “undermines [the] claim that the university maintains a firewall between donor and product.”

Feel bad factor

Australian academic Shakira Hussein, who received her PhD at the ANU’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, complained on ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (June 13) about a workshop she attended as part of a federal government initiative to recruit social media users to help prevent radicalisation via Twitter.

Hussein’s gripe was that the topics to feature in the tweets “were all pretty feel-good,” with the “current affairs” items “the most depoliticised package of news and foreign affairs, current affairs that you can imagine. It was, like a lot of feel-good stories. And you wouldn’t think that there’s anything particularly sensitive about feel-good. Each individual tweet that’s so, but taken collectively it produces this picture of contentedness, I think and, nothing to see here, all is good in the Muslimhood.”

And what had Hussein wanted to see included? 

She said, “There was nothing about pending counterterrorism legislation, nothing about…say the opening of the…move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem including in the week that we were told that we should all be watching [ABC TV program] “Q&A” and tweeting Q&A because Randa Abdel-Fattah was due to appear on “Q&A”, and that’s an incredibly important hour for any inspiring influencer to be on online. That gave us a list of topics that you and I might be covering and the US Embassy and the killing of protesters in Gaza was not among those and we were just told with Randa about her work combating Islamaphobia in Australia.”

Host Tracey Holmes asked Hussein, “what is the problem in trying to balance that ledger with some good-news stories from the Muslim community here in Australia?”

Hussein explained that “it’s nudging everybody towards this sense of complacency with the status quo and because it’s a distraction technique, I think.” 

Apparently, Hussein thinks that it is the role of the Federal Government to help Muslim Australians better attack Israel, and that if it suggests they promote positive stories about Muslims in Australia, this only distracts them from attacking Israel. 

Downsizing

Following a complaint from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the ABC offered a partial apology over its decision to include Anglican Reverend Stephen Sizer – a UK-based antisemite and proponent of conspiracy theories – on a special Good Friday episode of Radio National “Breakfast” (March 30).

As we reported in May AIR, Sizer’s antisemitism includes consorting with and citing Holocaust deniers and circulating and endorsing material suggesting Israel and/or Jews orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.

Sizer was given time to denounce any theological relationship between the Land of Israel and Jews, accuse Israel of “want[ing] all the land” and assert it was “not a democracy.” He was asked about some of his past dalliances with antisemitism, but was allowed to dismiss them without any follow-up questions from host David Rutledge, who instead inserted his own view: “I accept that you’re not an antisemite.”

In response to the complaint, the ABC has placed a statement on the “Breakfast” website that included, “the ABC accepts that the interview did not provide sufficient context for listeners to adequately understand the extent of the controversies.” 

Silent treatment

In a short report, SBS TV “World News” (June 14) covered the UN General Assembly resolution condemning Israel’s military response to riots on its border with Gaza in May.

The newsreader said the resolution condemned Israel “for using excessive force against Palestinian civilians following the deaths of more than 120 people on the Gaza border. The US, Australia and six other countries opposed to the resolution… The resolution deplored rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli civilian areas without naming Gaza’s rulers Hamas.”

This is only half the story. The US tried to amend the resolution to name Hamas, which Algeria opposed. In a vote, Algeria’s blocking move was defeated 78 to 59 (with 42 abstentions). America’s amendment was backed 62 (yes) to 58 (no), with 42 abstentions. But the amendment vote fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority and so the earlier resolution not naming Hamas passed instead. 

Long in the tooth

Large protests in Jordan against austerity measures saw Carnegie Middle East Centre director Maha Yahya attribute some of the country’s economic challenges to the fact it “hosts other refugees, including Palestinians who have been there since 1948 and then 1967 after the creation of the State of Israel.” 

Jordan has received economic assistance since 1950 from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for hosting Palestinian refugees and their descendants living there. A large majority of these supposed “refugees” have Jordanian citizenship, which means they aren’t really refugees. 

But more fundamentally, how can one argue that people who have been residing in Jordan for between 50 and 70 years are still an economic burden on the country? ABC TV “The World” (June 6). 

Balls up

ABC TV “The World” (June 6) claimed that a highly anticipated friendly soccer match between Argentina and Israel in Jerusalem was cancelled “apparently due to political pressure over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza.” 

Yet SBS TV “World News” (June 7) correctly reported the reason the game was cancelled, noting that “Israel has called on FIFA to investigate claims that threats were made against Argentinian soccer players. The team was forced to cancel a friendly match after it was moved from Haifa to Jerusalem. It’s been reported that Palestinians had been encouraged to burn replica t-shirts of Lionel Messi if the game went ahead.”

Silence is golden

Avner Gvaryahu, the director of the foreign-funded far-left Israeli organisation “Breaking the Silence”, that publishes anonymous testimony from former IDF soldiers alleging Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, showed a galling contempt for truth, valid security concerns and the accountability of Palestinian leaders for the lack of peace. 

During his recent speaking tour of Australia, he refused to acknowledge any reality other than his own opinion that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is bad and completely unnecessary and therefore apparently must end immediately without preconditions.

Speaking to ABC Radio “PM” host Linda Mottram (June 5), Gvaryahu explained his mission statement, saying, “it’s about the fact that we are controlling by force another people. It’s not only an internal Israeli issue. The houses that I invaded, the people I arrested, they can’t vote for Likud…or for a left-wing party… They are affected by the choices and the decisions of Israelis and that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, we cannot keep controlling Palestinians by force until we will decide to end it.”

So, the Palestinians have not rejected at least three serious offers of a state and multiple requests to negotiate such a state? And if he is suggesting unilateral withdrawals without a peace treaty, what happened last time that was tried? Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 led to more than 10,000 rockets being fired at Israel from that territory. Gvaryahu seemed unprepared to acknowledge or engage with even the most basic objections to his pronouncements.

Foul, not fair 

Speaking to Fairfax papers (May 30), Avner Gvaryahu attacked Israel’s military response to the recent violent demonstrations in Gaza, saying, “It makes no sense to bring a sniper rifle to an unarmed protest.”

This was not a one-off slip of the tongue, with Gvaryahu quoted saying, “It is immoral and irresponsible to put snipers with live ammunition in front of unarmed protesters. There have to be other tools as well.”

Disappointingly, for a report dealing with high level military, political and factual issues, journalist Matthew Hall did not include a challenge to any of Gvaryahu’s claims and should have known Israel used a range of non-lethal riot control methods to prevent the border violence before using live fire. 

There was no published attempt to ask Gvaryahu why, if the dead were unarmed, Hamas claimed the overwhelming majority as their own or affiliated groups’ activists and militants or had called on social media for people to bring weapons?

Hall also left unchallenged Gvaryahu’s bizarre claim that “I don’t think what is happening in Gaza is self-defence. I think it is occupation defence… This is basically a prolonged military occupation.” 

Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, a fact acknowledged in December 2016 by senior Hamas leader Fathi Hammad who said “Gaza was liberated…Gaza has become the first Palestinian area to be liberated in this era.” 

Hall did list the many ways BTS has been challenged by Israel’s government, its defence forces and former soldiers, but didn’t note that the group’s claims cannot be investigated because it refuses to supply dates, names and places.