Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – July 2021

Jul 2, 2021 | AIJAC staff

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Hors de combat

Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman (May 23) skewered the “taxpayer-funded ABC and SBS” for portraying Israel as the “aggressor” during the May conflict, by “not giv[ing] their audience the basic facts about the conflict.”

He said “left-leaning commentators like to compare the [imbalance in the] death toll… but that ignores the reality that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have no regard for death while the Israelis regard all life as sacred.”

“Proportionality”, he said, is “beloved” by “the ABC and SBS commentariat” but “is meaningless unless both combatants observe the rules of war which Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah in Lebanon do not,” he argued. 

Whilst the AIR endorses Akerman’s criticism of the ABC, we think he was a tad unfair to SBS, which has been generally more balanced than the ABC when reporting on Israel. Moreover, some commercial TV reporting, particularly Channel Nine’s, left a lot to be desired, such as its May 19 bulletin which claimed, without a hint of irony, that Hamas was “threatening more rocket strikes on Tel Aviv if [Israel’s] bombing of residential areas did not stop.”

 

Q&A – questions to answer 

ABC TV “Q&A’s” adherence to its statutory obligation to be fair and balanced was brought into question with the May 27 episode covering the Israeli-Palestinian issue which included high profile Palestinian advocate Randa Abdel-Fattah but no equivalent mainstream pro-Israel Jewish panelist.

Joining Abdel-Fattah on the pro-Palestinian side of the ledger were lawyer Jennifer Robinson, who has represented the Palestinian Authority at the International Criminal Court, Labor MP Ed Husic and Indigenous musician Mitch Tambo, who admitted he didn’t know much about the issue but was critical of Israel.

The only voice willing and able to speak truth to Palestinian propaganda was former Australian Ambassador to Israel and current federal Liberal Member for Wentworth Dave Sharma.

Abdel-Fattah’s bluster included calling a “lie” Sharma’s comment that Hamas was responsible for the recent conflict and disparaging his claim that Hamas remains committed to terrorism and Israel’s destruction. 

Unsurprisingly, she attacked Israel’s enforcement of the Gaza blockade and not Hamas, which has spent the last 14 years stealing international aid to build a militarised tunnel system instead of bomb shelters that might protect civilians in Gaza during the four self-destructive wars it has initiated with Israel.

Robinson claimed Israel deliberately targets journalists to stop scrutiny of its actions in Gaza, which is ironic given reporters in Gaza know that they risk harassment or worse if they actually report on what Hamas does.

On the previous week’s episode (May 20), Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said of the Israel-Hamas conflict that he did not want to see problems “on the other side of the world” being imported into Australia. Labor MP Tony Burke praised the recent ALP national conference resolution calling on a future Labor government to recognise a Palestinian state but didn’t explain how any responsible government could recognise such a state while Hamas rules in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Labor foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong pushed back against the party’s Queensland branch after it passed a motion accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing and being responsible for the 11 days of fighting. The Australian’s June 9 report said, “Senator Wong said viewing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from one perspective ‘will not advance the cause of peace’.”

 

Blockade blackout

An SBS TV “World News” (June 5) report by Claudia Farhat on delivering aid to Gaza claimed that “Egypt has pledged $640 million to help rebuild Gaza, and is urging Israel to lift its blockade.”

Given Egypt enforces the blockade too, this would be a bizarre statement if correct.

The error appears to be Farhat misattributing the comments of senior Hamas official Khalil al-Haya, who called for an end to the blockade immediately after meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Gaza. 

Meanwhile, on June 8, SBS updated an article by Farhat to correctly note Egypt also participates in blockading Gaza.

 

Pedestrian’s hit and run

A worrying trend during the recent conflict was the large number of reports billed as factual “explainers” turning out to be crude exercises in Israel bashing.

On May 13, on youth-oriented website and social media content provider Pedestrian.tv – which is owned by Channel Nine’s parent company – staff writer Zac Crellin’s “explainer” was ostensibly meant to assist readers gain an “understanding” of the issues, yet appeared designed to do the opposite. 

Portraying Israel as an aggressor and the Palestinians as innocent, Crellin said the conflict began in 1948 when the UN split Mandatory Palestine into two states “so that Jewish people in Europe could create a homeland through violent colonisation. There are plenty of parallels with how British people invaded what we know as Australia.”

Crellin also downplayed Hamas’ genocidal, anti-peace agenda and omitted to mention that it was Hamas’ firing of hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, from Gaza on May 10 that prompted an Israeli response and started the war. He also described Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli cities as merely targeting “Israeli airspace”.

Pedestrian also failed to tell readers that Crellin is a signatory to the “dobetteronpalestine” petition (see p. 7) which demands that journalists privilege Palestinian voices and avoid “both siderism”. 

A second piece by Crellin (May 18) incorrectly claimed that “over 200 Palestinian civilians” were killed, and insisted the slogan “From the river to the see [sic], Palestine will be free… is not about throwing Jews into the sea. It’s talking about the contested borders of Israel and Palestine, stretching from the River Jordan in the West Bank to the Mediterranean Sea.”

 

Handy propaganda

Despite Hamas bestowing an award on Al Jazeera for its coverage during the recent conflict, no alarm bells went off at SBS TV “World News” (June 6), which unquestioningly reported the claims made by Al Jazeera’s Palestinian correspondent Givara Budeiri that Israeli police broke her hand and hurt her back and leg when they arrested her during a demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah.

But on his Sky News program (June 8), Andrew Bolt showed footage of Budeiri after being released by Israeli police walking unimpeded, freely employing her “injured” hand, and picking up two of her children at once. 

On June 15, Bolt also criticised a series of so-called satirical headlines on the Chaser team’s website, including one that said former Israeli PM Netanyahu will now have more time to “murder children”, and another associating Israeli actress Gal Gadot with encouraging “baby-slaughter”. 

 

Explain this!

Meanwhile, news.com.au ran three pieces (May 16, 18 and 23) by freelance writer Jamie Seidel on the Israeli-Hamas conflict which included literally dozens of factual errors – about the sequence of events in the recent conflict, about the 1947 UN partition plan, about the status of the West Bank, and numerous other points. Astoundingly, across the three pieces Seidel contradicted himself when describing the same event! Despite Seidel penning an article in 2019 about First Temple era archaeological finds in Israel, on May 16 he seemed to deny the First Temple in Jerusalem ever existed. 

With respect to a different “explainer”, following complaints by the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the ABC made significant changes to an error-riddled article on May 14 called “An attempt to explain why explosions are again filling the skies over Israel and Gaza” by Emily Clark. 

Several erroneous claims were excised, most of which appeared to support the Palestinian narrative that Palestinians are indigenous while Jews are foreign colonialist invaders. These include the statements, “Arab people have lived there throughout” (they in fact only arrived in the 7th century CE), and “Arab people of different faiths and Israeli Jewish people date their claims to the land back thousands of years, but it was in the early 20th century that the brutal displacement of the Palestinians began.”

 

Crystal clear

An avalanche of anti-Israel material on the Guardian Australia website only crystallised “Noted and Quoted’s” question in the May edition – does the paper still back a two-state peace and the ongoing existence of the State of Israel?

On May 7, a Guardian UK-sourced piece said one of the paper’s “worst errors” of the last 200 years was its support in 1917 for the Balfour Declaration which committed Britain to the goal of establishing a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The editorial said, “Israel today is not the country the Guardian foresaw or would have wanted.”

A long essay on May 19 from US Jewish writer Peter Beinart called for Palestinians who were “expelled” or “fled” during the 1948 war and their descendants to have the right to settle in areas that became Israel. This of course means the end of the two-states for two-peoples formula for peace. 

So too did a piece from Palestinian author Ghada Karmi on June 11, which blamed Zionism for the plight of the Palestinians, and not Arab leaders who refused to accept that Jews have a right to self-determination in a small part of the 7,207,575 km2 that makes up what is called the Arab Middle East.

June 4 brought radical Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard’s piece comparing Israel to Apartheid South Africa.

Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, had a go on May 20 calling for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians to be given citizenship and full equal rights inside Israel, as did Guardian writer Kenan Malik on May 24. This is the latest formula used by Palestinian activists to attempt to replace Israel with a single Palestinian-majority state.

Despite the near complete absence of any voices on the Guardian Australia arguing for the two-state model for peace, much less putting a mainstream Israeli perspective, Guardian Australia editor Lenore Taylor was quoted in an Australian report (May 17) on the “dobetteronpalestine” petition saying her paper’s coverage of the conflict was “comprehensive, fair and balanced, which is what our readers have a right to expect.” Perhaps – but only if you use the “dobetteronpalestine” standard which says fair and balanced actually means completely supporting the Palestinian narrative and demonising Israel.

 

Appalled by progressives

On May 27, AIJAC NSW chairman Paul Rubenstein expressed dismay in the Sydney Morning Herald at the fact that it is not only “acceptable” for progressives to “support… the destruction of Israel and the creation of a Jew-free zone within its current borders…but… almost…a necessary credential for many on the progressive side of politics.”

The next day, the paper ran a letter from veteran anti-Israel activists Stuart Rees, former director of the oxymoronically named Sydney Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and writer Antony Loewenstein, who characterised Hamas’ leaders as prospective peacemakers who have “shown [a] pragmatism and willingness to compromise” but whose “offers of dialogue with Israel are regularly rejected.”

Despite Sky News Australia interviewing Loewenstein twice in May, he clearly doesn’t watch the channel, otherwise he might have seen Hamas leader Fethi Hamad on the “Bolt Report” (May 13) inciting Palestinians “to cut off the heads of the Jews with knives” and even pointing to his own throat to indicate just where to stab: “Cut their artery from here. A knife costs five shekels. Buy a knife, sharpen it, put it here and just cut off (their heads)”, adding that “the Jews have spread corruption and have acted with arrogance, and their moment of reckoning has come.”

In the Canberra Times (June 4), academic Clive Williams said “politicians in both Israel and Gaza seem unprepared to make the concessions necessary to create a pathway to a permanent solution,” which is a ridiculous false equivalence, equating Israel with Hamas’ genocidal plans for Jews and nihilistic governance that has seen it trigger four devastating wars in 12 years.

 

Drum beat

There was no pushback on ABC TV “The Drum”, when a panellist absurdly implied Australian support for Israel is why the Federal Government has not adopted stronger anti-slavery laws that might persuade the Chinese government to stop persecuting Muslim Uyghurs.

Panellist Yun Jiang from ANU’s Australian Centre on China in the World, said Australia is “afraid to open the can of worms on human rights around the world. So, for example, most recently, Israel raided – basically raided Al-Aqsa Mosque which is the third most holy site in Islam and also it has been pushing out Palestinian residents from Sheikh Jarrah, and the Human Rights Watch has labelled it, Israeli policy, as Apartheid. But Australia has been a consistent supporter of Israel. So if we, Australia, was to do more on human rights on China, in Xinjiang, it could expose itself into more criticism about why it is not doing more in other places around the world.”

No panellists responded to Jiang’s statement when host Kathryn Robinson asked them to comment. 

 

On foreign shores

An ABC TV “Foreign Correspondent” (June 10) report ostensibly investigating the long-term viability of the Dead Sea became a vehicle to attack Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Until the 13-minute mark, former Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek’s dispatch was entirely factual, explaining how decades of diverting water from the Sea of Galilee reduced the flows that feed into the Jordan River and maintain the water level of the Dead Sea.

But then the report segued into political activism by accusing Israel of a racist policy whereby settlers receive more water than Palestinians, who are the rightful owners of the water to begin with.

Zeyad Fuqaha, described as a “Palestinian government worker”, took Tlozek to his “home village of Kardala” in the Jordan Valley. 

Tlozek said Kardala is “under the full control of the Israeli military” with Fuqaha claiming it receives less than 50% of the water it needs, while “Israelis in their settlements… are filling up their swimming pools” with Palestinian water.

Tlozek claimed “Israel controls all the water in the Jordan Valley under a temporary agreement that was meant to expire by the end of the 1990s” and Fuqaha lamented that Israel blocks Kardala from erecting buildings or even repairing roads, because Israel is “pushing them to leave their land.”

The Israeli perspective was provided by David Elhayani, who heads the organisation representing settlers. 

Tlozek said “some [settlers] believe God gave them this land”, implying that Elhayani is one of them, despite the fact that he is totally secular.

Clearly Kardala was picked to represent the lived experience of all Palestinian villages under Israeli occupation. Yet Tlozek failed to tell viewers that Zeyad Fuqaha, the “Palestinian government worker”, is in fact a senior official with the Palestinian Water Authority. 

If Tlozek was serious about seeking answers to the allegations raised, he would have contacted COGAT, the Israeli authority that deals with these matters in Kardala [i.e. Area C, not the entire West Bank], or Mekorot, the Israeli company that oversees water infrastructure, not a settler spokesperson. 

Furthermore, Tlozek was just wrong about the agreement the PLO signed with Israel in the mid-1990s – it had no expiration date.

Numerous independent reports have shown that Palestinians suffer from significant water loss because the PA refuses to maintain or replace the water infrastructure that was transferred to its jurisdiction by the Oslo Accords.

And as a 2018 World Bank report noted, Oslo gave the PA the option to independently extract water from the natural aquifers on the West Bank but it chose not to, preferring to buy water from Israel – which has increased the amount of water it supplies to considerably more than that required by the Accords. 

As for the claim that Israeli settlements are basically stealing Palestinian water, like the rest of Israel, most settlements use recycled wastewater or desalinated water, not river or aquifer water.

 

Iran the whole show

In the Canberra Times (June 4), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein blamed Iran for “indirectly” actioning the 11 days of fighting in May by supplying terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad with the ability to manufacture missile arsenals that have greater accuracy in reaching targets in Israel.

Dr Rubenstein cited missiles expert Fabian Hinz’s claim that “Iran has actually begun designing and testing simple, customised rocket variants optimised for local production by its various proxies” which include Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.

He predicted an increase in Iran’s “destructive and dangerous” regional “proliferation” should the Biden Administration return to the Iran nuclear deal as negotiated in 2015.

 


In Parliament

 

The following speeches were made on June 2 to a motion about the recent Israel-Hamas conflict:

Tim Wilson (Lib., Goldstein) – “…the foundations of this conflict [come] as a result of the failure of the Palestinian cause to respect a two-state solution and a pathway that recognises the right of the Jewish people in Israel as a foundational pillar for peace in the region… Sadly… there have been tragic deaths on both sides of the conflict. That’s a direct consequence of the attempted aggression and of Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Chris Hayes (ALP, Fowler) – “Israel has a right to defend itself and its people. However, when I saw the unwarranted and excessive force against the Palestinian protesters — innocent worshippers…— I was shocked and revolted. The disproportionate use of force saw 222 Palestinians killed, 1,700 injured and 74,000 Palestinians in Gaza displaced… the issue of settlements must be addressed, as this alone continues to frustrate any efforts towards a peace process.” 

Ged Kearney (ALP, Cooper) – “… The active resistance in Israel to the land-for-peace process has been a driving factor of the radicalisation of a new generation of Palestinians frustrated that the Oslo accords have never been implemented… Remember, the genesis of the most recent conflict was the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan evictions within East Jerusalem and the ongoing government campaign to expand settlements in the occupied territories.”

Maria Vamvakinou (ALP, Calwell) – “…This motion speaks to [the memory of those killed] and adds voice to the calls of the many Australians across this country who are rightly outraged… calling on the Australian government to support security, human rights and justice for the Palestinian people.”

Ken O’Dowd (Nat, Flynn) – “It’s been a terrible time for Palestine for a very long time…it goes back to 1948. However, what we saw last month in Palestine was horrific… Israel needs to be held accountable. They have the power to solve the problem… The apartheid culture that exists has no future.”

Josh Burns (ALP, Macnamara) – “it is unacceptable to take out your anger and frustration about this conflict against Jewish people around the world.”

Australian Greens Leader Adam Bandt (Greens, Melbourne) – May 27 – “We are making the conflict worse by a muted response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s blatant disregard for the rule of law and by our military contracts with his government. We must… resolve the underlying issues, not just watch while a just peace is undermined by the next round of evictions, demolitions, settlements and violence. We must push to end the occupation and recognise Palestine…”

Senator David Fawcett (Lib., SA) at Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee Estimates hearing – June 4 – “It’s commonly understood that, in order to build these tunnels, Hamas commandeers construction material brought into Gaza for civilian use. What guarantee do… Australian taxpayers have… that Australian funds going to UNOPS won’t inadvertently be used to purchase goods that end up being used in military installations or building these tunnels?”

Senator Janet Rice (Greens, Vic.) at Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee Estimates hearing – June 3 – “[A recent Human Rights Watch report is] a very significant major international human rights organisation concluding that the Israeli government is committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. You don’t think that would be an appropriate thing for the [Foreign] minister to be briefed about?”

Senator Alex Antic (Lib., SA) questioning the ABC at the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee Estimates hearings – May 26 – “The errors, though, unequivocally do swing to the favour of terrorist organisations like Hamas… These articles are consistently anti-Israel.”

Senator Eric Abetz (Lib., Tas.) also questioning the ABC in Estimates – May 26 – “But [lack of balance] is in every story that emanates in relation to Israel.” 

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