Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – July 2019

Jul 1, 2019 | AIJAC staff

Trita Parsi: Pro-Iran spin on tanker attack
Trita Parsi: Pro-Iran spin on tanker attack


Tanks for nothing

The ABC appropriately reported on the terror attack on two oil tankers, the Japanese Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian Front Altair in the Gulf of Oman (about 14 nautical miles from the coast of Iran) on June 13, which the US blamed on Iran.

But speculation over the identity of the perpetrators of the attacks and analysis of the ramifications were overwhelmingly delegated to commentators known for their sympathetic understanding of Iran’s leaders.

ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (June 14) featured an interview with Washington-based Dr. Trita Parsi, founder and former president of the National Iranian American Council, a pro-Iranian lobby group. He suggested the US itself might be responsible for the attack. He questioned why Iran would embarrass Japan by attacking one of its tankers when its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting the country. Parsi said the attack would humiliate Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei if committed by Iran.

Yet some pundits have suggested that the attack was deliberately timed for the visit of Abe – who was reportedly trying to act as a mediator between Iran and the US – precisely to send a message to US President Donald Trump.

Three days after the attacks, ABC Radio National “PM” (June 17) introduced a report on the ramifications by saying, “Remember the non-existent evidence of weapons of mass destruction cited by the governments of the United States, Britain and Australia to justify war in Iraq? Well, memories of that might well explain the caution being shown by some US allies today in the face of US assurances that it can prove that Iran carried out attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.”


Late night lunacy

ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (June 17) host Philip Adams and Deakin University academic Shahram Akbarzadeh were in furious agreement that there was little evidence Iran was behind the attacks. 

Adams also cited the failure to find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction after the 2003 US-led invasion as proof that the Trump Administration’s accusation Iran is responsible for the tanker attacks cannot be trusted.

Akbarzadeh said the US Administration is seeking regime change in Iran, pointing to a list of 12 demands US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Teheran last year that the academic said “went to the very core of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” 

The pair also agreed that sanctions and threats of military action against Iran have only entrenched the hardliner elements in the regime, with Akbarzadeh saying it “feeds the fire of extremism” in Iran which then makes it difficult for “civil society… to find some level of normalcy.”

These claims are not borne out by history. Sanction and the threat of military action by the Bush and Obama Administrations compelled Iran to negotiations.

Continuing with his questionable interpretation of history, Akbarzadeh said renewed US sanctions were causing hardship for Iranians and have led to unrest, noting the widespread riots in January 2018.

Yet these riots predated the return of the most significant US sanctions by several months and had nothing to do with Trump Administration policies. As a Jan. 3, 2018 Washington Post report on the protests from Iran noted, “Working-class Iranians who want higher wages and a solution to unemployment are frustrated that the economy has been slow to grow despite the lifting of sanctions under an international nuclear deal… Protesters are also demanding to know why Iran has spent billions of dollars on foreign policy in the Middle East at a time when people are struggling at home.”

Akbarzadeh painted a picture of a pacific Iranian regime, insisting “the whole notion that Iran is a security threat to its neighbours is a fabricated fiction. It’s really made up. Iran has not been aggressive towards any of its neighbours.”

Akbarzadeh’s claim is clearly contradicted by the boasts of regime officials that Teheran controls the four Arab capitals of Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, and Sana’a, and the reality of an Iranian military presence in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Gaza, etc. 

A pro-Iranian piece in the West Australian (June 17) from Oxford University’s Mark Almond said “in Washington, an anti-Iranian sentiment prevails, a legacy of the hostage crisis at the end of the 1970s.” That legacy prevails because Iran has spent 40 years denouncing the US as the “Great Satan” that needs to be defeated, and rejected repeated US offers to negotiate, leading up to former President Barack Obama extending the hand of peace and agreeing to a nuclear deal that greatly favoured Iranian interests.


Iran in the right direction

By contrast, a report by Rena Sarumpaet on SBS TV “World News” (June 14) included analyst Sigurd Neubauer’s plausible explanation for why Iran might have carried out the tanker attack, saying, “From the Iranian side it’s seen very different. And that is that the Americans wanted to impose regime change through economic pressure. And these dynamics explain why the Iranians are taking these extraordinary dangerous moves.”

Elsewhere, the Australian (June 17) editorialised that “Iran’s denials should be seen in the context of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei’s recent threats to sabotage shipping, and Revolutionary Guard commander Ismail Kowsari’s warning that his forces would ignite havoc in the seaway if Mr. Trump imposed sanctions on Tehran’s oil sales. Washington did so in April, damaging Iran’s economy. The attacks are aimed at spiking oil prices and undermining pressure Mr. Trump is bringing on Tehran over its nuclear ambitions.”


Mountain out of a mole hill

An SBS TV “World News” (June 3) report on violence by Palestinians directed at a small group of Jews visiting the Temple Mount was completely one-sided.

According to reporter Hannah Sinclair, “the head of the Mosque today accus[ed] Jewish groups of provocation,” with spokesman Omar al-Kiswani featured saying, “They carried out a provocative tour, they sang and laid on the ground, those acts trigger emotional responses from Muslims around the world.”

Sinclair said, “the Jewish activists have been accused of breaking a long-held agreement to not visit the Holy Site during the last 10 days of Ramadan.” There is no such agreement.

The report also claimed that “both sides are waiting for US President Donald Trump’s long-delayed Mideast Peace Plan, that he’s dubbed the ‘deal of the century.’”

The Palestinian Authority is “waiting” for the plan only so that it can reject it again, which it has already done before it even knows what it says.

Thankfully Rena Sarumpaet’s June 17 report did note “Palestinian leaders” have “already rejected” the plan.

But other parts of Sarumpaet’s report – which focused on the renaming of a hamlet on the Golan Heights (which the Trump Administration recently recognised as under Israeli sovereignty) as “Trump Heights” – were questionable. 

Particularly puzzling was the decision to seek comment on what is a Syrian issue – there is no Palestinian claim to the Golan Heights – from the head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia Izzat Abdulhadi. 


Back to Front

A report entitled “Ban sparks Gaza rocket” was a classic example of newspapers leading with the last event in a time line and thus giving a false impression about causation.

The report itself said the opposite to the headline, correctly stating that “Israel’s military has taken the rare step of closing the Gaza Strip’s offshore waters to Palestinian fisherman in response to rockets launched at Israel,” Herald Sun (June 14). 


Back in Poll-land

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s failure to form a government and subsequent decision to call new elections for Sept. 17 prompted the ABC to interview AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro (May 30). 

Shapiro told Newsradio’s Glen Bartholomew that Netanyahu was acting defensively by going to elections rather than allow President Reuven Rivlin the opportunity to ask Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz to have a turn at trying to form a government. Nevertheless, Shapiro said, Netanyahu was taking a “big risk” in doing so.

Asked by Bartholomew whether Netanyahu could get a better result in September than he did in April, Shapiro expressed some doubt. “[In the last election, Netanyahu] got the most number of seats he’s ever gotten, and he’s actually made a couple of mistakes since April. He reportedly broke a campaign promise not to bring into coalition guidelines anything that might help him with his corruption cases, but also simply his failure to be able to form a government counts against him.” 

Shapiro said the smallest parties, such as the Arab parties, stood to gain the most from new elections, as they would be getting an unexpected “do-over” to use different strategies and form new alliances to seek a better outcome. At the same time, the largest parties – having already succeeded in April – had the most to lose from new elections, particularly as voter cynicism, apathy and fatigue are expected to suppress turnout. Asked whether Netanyahu’s corruption cases would be directly affected by new elections, Shapiro responded in the negative, noting Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing wasn’t scheduled until October. Indirectly, however, a caretaker government would be less able to help Netanyahu before any indictment, while a new Knesset would likely be formed too late to help him legislatively after the hearing.


Hard Labor

Former Federal Labor MP Michael Danby said his party’s commitment to reverse the Morrison Government’s recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was “an absolutely stupid decision.”

“It wasn’t… moving to Jerusalem to the exclusion of the Palestinians, I think [PM] Morrison said they’d eventually have a Palestinian embassy in east Jerusalem. Ridiculous decision to reverse that. It was like poking someone in the eye when you don’t need to – both the Israeli Government and the supporters of Israel, who are not just the Australian Jewish community in Australia. So, a stupid decision… I don’t think that [ALP Federal Conference’s] decision about recognising a Palestinian state was as set in stone as its advocates and its critics were making out… But we will never know,” Sky News “PM Live” (June 5).


Disputed returns

ABC TV’s “The Drum” (May 30) discussed Israel returning to the polls.

Young Liberals Vice President Brigid Meney, who visited Israel in 2016 with the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, backed Israeli PM Netanyahu, saying he had no choice but to go back to the polls and praised his record as “a leader that has led them through some pretty great economic times, in terms of creating, you know, their start-up hub of the world now, they’re at an all-time low of terror attacks…. I actually think that there’s quite a likelihood that his support will increase [in the new election].”

Meney said Israel uses the proportional representation (PR) election model because “obviously Jewish people have lived as minorities for so long, they set up their parliamentary structure to be that no party shall ever gain a majority.” 

Actually, many of Israel’s founders never intended to continue to use PR. It was only a stop gap measure following the chaos of the 1948 War of Independence, having been the method used to elect members to the pre-state representative bodies. Israel founder David Ben-Gurion’s preference was actually for the British first-past-the-post system.

Australian journalist Peter Greste said PR creates “unstable parliaments but also helps actually drag the political agenda in Israel off to the fringes.”

He said PR has caused “a shift to the extremes of Israeli politics. There is a need to try and stop the far right parties and the religious extremist parties from really dominating the debate and moving Israeli politics off into the fringes. Because the more that happens, the harder it is to achieve any kind of settlement with the Palestinians.”

Greste’s claim is exaggerated. There is a pretty broad consensus in Israel on the core issues surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including the belief that the Palestinian national movement has not genuinely accepted the “two-states for two-peoples” formula for peace.


The media’s annex complex

An AFP report on US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s comment that “Under certain circumstances, I think that Israel has the right to retain some, but not all, of the West Bank” avoided some of the more blatant misreporting that other stories contained, but was not without flaws.

It claimed the “Palestinians…will see the latest comments…as a new nail in the coffin of a peace process that is already on life support.” There is currently no peace process because the Palestinian Authority (PA) refuses to negotiate with Israel, or even US mediators.

Moreover, the idea that Israel annexing parts of the West Bank “in certain circumstances” is controversial is little more than confected outrage given the PA has conceded in previous negotiations that a final peace deal would involve Israel annexing the major settlement blocs as part of land swaps.

The article also stated that, “Following the persistent expansion of the settlements by successive Netanyahu governments, more than 600,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem, among some three million Palestinians.”

In fact, contrary to the implication here, and much to the chagrin of the settlement movement, construction in settlements during Israeli PM Netanyahu’s past 10 years in office has actually been at a historic low, The Australian (June 10).


Building Castles in the Air

ABC Radio National “Blueprint For Living” (June 1) interview with New York University’s Andrew Ross was a blueprint for delegitimising Israel. 

One of the leaders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the US and a voluble supporter of Israel’s elimination – something never disclosed on the show – Ross was invited to talk about his new book, Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel.

The book is filled with gross generalisations, easily disproved claims and Marxist rhetoric and is poorly footnoted. 

Ross said Palestinian stonemasons who travel from the West Bank to work in Israel are paid twice the amount than what they’d receive in the West Bank but should nonetheless be regarded as “a compulsory work force. It’s not forced labour, but it’s not exactly free labour because the workers really have no alternative.” 

Talking about his book, Ross claimed that it “delves into history and tries to really answer the question of who built Israel.”

Unsurprisingly, Ross thinks it was not Jews, but Palestinian Arabs.

“I think in the public mind, the given wisdom is that Jewish settlers and pioneers did so. … They balanced the bricks awkwardly on their shoulders and they made new Jews of themselves, according to Labour Zionism which is the prevailing doctrine at the time. But I found that if you look at the labour record more closely, Palestinians have always been the preferred labour force in that industry… And over time, over the course of a century through thick and thin they’ve always really filled that slot. Today, because they have to cross the Green Line, go through the checkpoints, there are additional reasons why Israeli employers prefer to employ them. For one thing, they go home every night, so they are not a burden on the [Israeli] state… unlike migrant workers who send their wages to their home countries in remittances, Palestinian workers spend their wages on Israeli goods at Israeli prices on the West Bank and so that’s a sort of win-win for the Israeli economy, if you like.”

Asked if they are sought after elsewhere, Ross says they are and from the “’60s and ’70s they developed a lot of these embryonic nation states. They built most of the cities in Jordan, Amman, and when the Gulf states needed their expertise, they went to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the UAE… It’s not an exaggeration to say that Palestinians have built almost every state in the region, except for their own, tragically.”

And Palestinians should be rewarded for this, he argued, suggesting that “there’s a principle of what I call ‘political sweat equity’ here, which means if you build a country it should translate into having civil and political rights in that country. And it’s not an argument you hear very often, which is why I make it in the book.”

Palestinians or those of Palestinian descent have made up more than 50% of Jordan’s population since 1948 and were granted citizenship there immediately. They arguably already have ownership of that country. 

Meanwhile, South and Southeast Asian migrant workers, including Filipinos and Indians, have made an invaluable contribution for decades to constructing the Gulf States. Are they not also entitled to claim ownership of those countries, according to Ross’ logic? 


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