Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – July 2020

Jul 6, 2020 | AIJAC staff

The COVID-19 crisis is fertile ground for antisemitic conspiracy theories
The COVID-19 crisis is fertile ground for antisemitic conspiracy theories


Julie noted

On the ABC website (June 2), the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Research Director Julie Nathan warned that far-right groups are spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Within Western right-wing extremist circles, many are directly blaming ‘the Jews’ for COVID-19. Some say that there was a Jewish owned scientific laboratory in Wuhan that developed the virus. Others say that the State of Israel itself developed COVID-19. In both cases, the accusation is that the virus was designed by Jews to be used as a biological weapon against those of European ethnicity.

“However, some right-wing extremists have rejected these claims of this strain of coronavirus being created by Jews on the basis that it would be counter-productive for ‘the Jews’ to inflict a virus that has resulted in government policies which, they claim, are opposed by ‘the Jews’ — such as closing national borders. More to the point, they argue that the virus itself, and its effect, is potentially a major recruitment and incentive to the anti-globalist and ethno-nationalist cause, a cause which sees ‘the Jews’ as the primary enemy,” she wrote.


No easing of extremism

The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan lamented the unhealthy rise in extremism on both the left and right, which is permeating throughout the West, and the prominence of Jews and Israel as targets (June 20).

According to Sheridan, “in the US, there is serious, violent extremism on left and right. On the right, white supremacists and racists generally spout vicious conspiracy theories and atavistic hatreds that shame humanity. There are active racist groups in the US that allege the coronavirus is a deliberate creation of the Jews. Others claim the Jews are behind the riots, while of course Black Lives Matter claims that US racism is connected to what it alleges is Israeli racism.”

He said the “same people who founded BLM also founded the Movement for Black Lives, and it is more overtly political. Its 2016 platform, for example, included the declaration that Israel had committed genocide against the Palestinians. This is a grotesque statement that is manifestly untrue and as disconnected from reality as any far-right website or QAnon nuttiness. But the Movement for Black Lives is far more powerful than a crazy right-wing website. The statement demonstrates how virulently the old moral disease of anti-Semitism infects both the extreme right and the far left. Rioters in Los Angeles attacked synagogues and Jewish schools.”


First and Foremost

Nine Newspapers’ Bevan Shields reported (June 23) that Israel belongs to a selection of countries called the “First Movers” – including Austria, Denmark, Norway, Greece, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand – which are “an eclectic group of nations that ordinarily would have zero geographic, political or economic need to talk” but which are regularly discussing how to respond to the challenges of coronavirus.

Shields detailed how Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu had helped spark the decision to create the “First Movers” by warning Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in early March that Europe was underestimating the threat of coronavirus and needed to “wake up” and introduce tough measures.

According to Shields, Australian PM Scott Morrison would soon be sharing phone calls with Kurz and Netanyahu as the pandemic spread.

“Leaders privately believe the group has been hugely valuable at a time when bigger multilateral institutions like the United Nations, World Health Organisation and European Union have struggled to respond swiftly and practically to the crisis,” Shields added. 

On June 11, the Australian editorial noted that “together with Israel, Taiwan, New Zealand and a few others, Australia is in the top tier of nations in curbing the coronavirus.” 


Healthy Debate

Israel’s successful handling of the first wave of COVID-19 and its position as a model for others to emulate was highlighted in an episode of the ABC podcast, “Coronacast” (June 2).

Fielding online questions, hosts Dr Norman Swan and Tegan Taylor were asked to comment on why Israel had experienced “a surge in school cases” and been forced to shut the affected schools down.

Dr Swan said the high school in the upmarket Jerusalem suburb of Rehavia had 111 infected students, which meant that “somebody has come into that school and really spread the virus.” 

He added that the coronavirus “needs a cluster to take off. It doesn’t seem to transmit easily just between individuals. An individual goes home or goes to a funeral or goes to a wedding, or indeed goes to a school, and then you get an enclosed environment and it spreads within that and bursts out from there. So it is a virus that needs a cluster, and it has certainly got a cluster in that school in Jerusalem. And it’s a high school, so it’s older kids, and the older the kids get, then the more likely they are to spread it than younger kids in primary schools. And so there is a primary school shut in Jerusalem because a lot of the primary school kids, brothers and sisters, go to this other school in Rehavia. And I think that the other schools, there’s just been one or two cases.”


A breath of fresh air

On May 30, SBS TV “World News” reported on Project Rozana – an Australian charity involving Jews, Muslims and Christians, which raises money for medical projects in Palestinian areas in an effort to foster better relations between Israelis and Palestinians – sending 20 “hospital grade ventilators” to the Palestinian Authority.

The report also noted that, in 2019, the charity set up a medical fellowship in the name of “Palestinian Israeli” woman Aiia Maasarwe, who was murdered in Melbourne while she was studying there in January 2019.


About time

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald (June 17) reported on the Trump Administration considering withholding aid to Jordan in a bid to secure the extradition of Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi. Tamimi was convicted in Israel of masterminding a notorious 2001 bombing that killed 15 people, including seven children and two American citizens, at the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem.

After Israel released her in 2011 during a prisoner swap with Hamas, she moved to Jordan, and, as the report noted, “has made frequent media appearances, expressing no remorse for the attack and saying she was pleased with the high death toll… Tamimi, a Hamas activist, chose the target and guided the bomber there.”

Earlier, on June 2, the papers reported on the tragic shooting to death of autistic Palestinian man Iyad Khayri by Israeli border police, who mistakenly thought he was carrying a weapon. The story quoted Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz apologising and committing to ensure ‘‘every effort’’ is made to limit casualties while continuing to ‘‘maintain the proper level of security.”

SBS TV “World News” (May 31) included footage of Israelis demonstrating in Tel Aviv to protest Khayri’s death. 


A cartoonish row

Australian Financial Review apologised for a cartoon from its resident cartoonist David Rowe that was published on June 6, following readers’ complaints that it portrayed Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – who is Jewish – as an antisemitic caricature.

Purporting to duplicate a famous painting depicting British explorer Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay in 1770, with Australian PM Scott Morrison in the titular role and a flag proclaiming “Black Lives Matter”, a hooked-nosed Frydenberg was depicted wearing what looked like a traditional Jewish skullcap on his head and carrying a large gold dollar sign.

Rowe said the scene was based on the “famous Emanuel Phillips Fox painting” and he had wanted to make an anti-racism statement following the global protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The report said Rowe “did not deliberately include anti-Jewish imagery” and “apologised for any hurt unintentionally caused and amended and republished the cartoon”. The paper’s website ran an amended version of the cartoon, removing the hook nose and skullcap but retaining the dollar sign.

On June 9, the paper said it “abhors anti-Semitism, from whatever part of the political spectrum and celebrates the contribution of people of Jewish faith and background to modern Australia, especially to modern Australian business.”

The newspaper reported on June 10 that NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff had said “there was concern that the cartoon conveyed the message that Jewish people did not care about black lives, which was at odds with their historical support for the civil rights movements both in the US and Australia. In addition, even though unintended, the cartoon conveyed a number of anti-Jewish stereotypes.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin was quoted saying the incident was a ‘‘cautionary tale to exercise greater care when depicting people of an ethnic minority’’ and AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein said, ‘‘I appreciated the constructive conversations I had with Michael Stutchbury and welcome the amended cartoon and the considered explanation and apology that went with that.”


AP coverage all over the map

The Australian newspaper’s reliance on Associated Press (AP) reports for its coverage of Israel-related news produced mixed results.

An AP report on May 27 said, “Middle East plan, unveiled in January, envisions leaving about 30 per cent of the territory under permanent Israeli control while giving the Palestinians expanded autonomy in the rest of the area. The Palestinians have rejected the plan, saying it is unfairly biased toward Israel.”

An AP report on May 30 said, “The annexation of the Jordan Valley and the far-flung settlements would make it virtually impossible to create a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

According to the report, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu had said Palestinians “in the Jordan Valley, including residents of the city of Jericho, would remain under limited Palestinian self-rule, with Israel having overall security control” and if the Palestinians endorsed the Trump peace plan, they would attain a state.

On June 1, an AP report on Israeli border police in Jerusalem shooting dead Iyad Halak, an unarmed autistic Palestinian they mistakenly thought was carrying a weapon, noted that “Palestinian attackers with no clear links to armed groups have carried out a series of stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks in recent years.”


Foreign Service

An AP report appeared in the Australian (June 11) on German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’ visit to Israel to warn against extending sovereignty to any part of the West Bank because it “would violate international law”.

The report said, “Israel intends to extend its sovereignty over Jewish West Bank settlements, in line with US President Donald Trump’s controversial Middle East plan”, with critics arguing “unilaterally redrawing the Mideast map would destroy any lingering hopes for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

What the article failed to note is that Trump’s “controversial” plan is actually a road map for creating a demilitarised Palestinian state!

The article quoted Maas saying Germany and the EU “still believe the negotiated two-state solution is the right way, that annexation will not make this solution more probable.” 

But if one party is refusing to negotiate and has refused to negotiate since 2014, then doesn’t that effectively “lead to the two-state solution no longer being viable and that we are on the wrong path,” as Maas alleged would be the result of sovereignty extension proposals in his media conference with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi?


Ageless claims

The Sunday Age June 21 edition ran a small picture caption on the top of page two featuring two figures walking a camel at twilight close to a beach.

The caption said “Palestinians enjoy the beach in Gaza City – one of the few open public spaces in this densely populated city. Go online to see our World of Photos gallery.”

Whilst the caption and the Age website did not elaborate, the claim that there are few open spaces in Gaza is a mainstay of Palestinian propaganda, usually used to attack the blockade of Gaza. In fact, Gazans have access to the well-established and popular Asdaa amusement park which includes water slides, a train ride, a Ferris wheel, amongst other al fresco activities. Moreover, there are plenty of open spaces elsewhere in the Strip itself. 

The claim recalls the accusation made on ABC TV in 2013 that there are no green spaces in Gaza and therefore there are no birds there either, despite abundant scientific and photographic evidence that Gaza is a habitat, and sometimes migratory hub, for up to 171 different species of birds.


ICC meets ABC

An ABC online report (June 12) included Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support for the Trump Administration’s announcement that it will impose sanctions on the staff of the International Criminal Court if they are involved in investigating alleged US war crimes committed during the Afghanistan war.

The article said Netanyahu called President Trump’s decision “bold leadership” in standing up for “justice and … truth”.

Netanyahu was quoted saying, “This kangaroo court is a politicised court. It’s obsessed with conducting witch hunts against Israel, the United States and other democracies that respect human rights, while turning a blind eye to the world’s greatest abusers of human rights, including the terrorist regime in Iran.”

Elsewhere, the Australian newspaper report (June 13) noted that Netanyahu is “angered by the ICC’s moves – strongly opposed by Washington – to probe alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories” and has accused the court of “fabricating accusations that Jews living in their historical homeland constitutes a war crime” with regard to Israeli settlements. The story noted that the US under President “Barack Obama took a more co-operative approach with the court, but the US remained outside of it.”


In Philip’s court

The June 17 episode of ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” focusing on the International Criminal Court was a chance for veteran host Philip Adams to focus on his usual targets and if he could combine them into the one question, all the better.

Practically this meant that the US and Israel were given greater focus than Russia’s invasion of Crimea, for instance, or the Assad regime’s litany of war crimes, which were both totally ignored. 

Adams asked Douglas Guilfoyle, Associate Professor of International and Security Law at the University of NSW, Canberra, “Now, [Mike] Pompeo, who is one of my least favourite people, Secretary of State, said the US would punish the ICC employees for any investigation or prosecution of Americans or Israelis for alleged abuses against Palestinians?” 

Guilfoyle replied, “yes, so in terms of what I was saying before about the territorial basis of the court’s jurisdiction opening the door to potential- fights with non-parties, at the moment, the court has heard argument and reserves judgment on whether it should assume jurisdiction in the most recent years of the Israel-Palestine conflict. So that is a question actively before the court. I should say the court has not yet assumed jurisdiction and has not yet formally opened an investigation, but it’s on the cards.”

Asked if Pompeo was correct that the ICC is a “kangaroo court”, Guilfoyle said, “that’s wildly unfair”. 

He said the ICC “operates independently. The judges are independently elected by the Assembly of state parties. There have occasionally been criticisms that the judges can be elected either on the basis of criminal or expertise or international or expertise [sic]. And maybe some of the judges lack the kind of depth of experience in courtroom management that would be desirable. But that’s a long way from saying that they’re politically motivated.”

Guilfoyle said Australia is “a steadfast supporter of the court”, making no mention of the Morrison Government’s submission that the ICC has no jurisdiction to investigate alleged criminality involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because there is currently no “State of Palestine”.


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