Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – July 2022

Jul 1, 2022 | AIJAC staff

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Poll position

The decision by Israeli PM Naftali Bennett to pull the plug on his faltering one-year-old “coalition of change” Government by calling for early elections and stepping down as PM in favour of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid came as a surprise to the Australian media.

On ABC News Radio (June 21), AIJAC research associate Dr Ran Porat explained that ultimately the coalition collapsed because “the only thing that actually connected them is the will, or the desire to make sure that [former Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu] doesn’t regain power.”

Dr Porat said he thought the Government would receive a “pass” mark from mainstream Israelis. 

Profiling likely new Israeli PM Lapid, he said of the former television journalist that “Lapid’s greatest achievement as of now is that he was able to build trust coalitions with other politicians… and prov[e]… that somebody else can be prime minister other than Netanyahu.” 

Politically, he noted, Lapid is a centrist who is left-leaning on civil rights but he is more to the right when it “comes to negotiations with the Palestinians,” adding that “he might appeal to a wider audience, and he has proven himself to be a good politician, which Bennett actually did not.”

Later that day on News Radio, AIJAC senior policy analyst Ahron Shapiro said the outgoing Government had a number of significant achievements, including passing a budget for the first time in many years, but this failed to translate into votes, especially from Bennett’s own right-wing voter base. 

“A lot of people weren’t happy with [the Government] because it was counterintuitive to their political views,” given that it included parties from the far left and the right and even an Arab Islamist party, led by a prime minister, Naftali Bennett, “who had a party that was minuscule,” Shapiro said.

On ABC Radio National “Drive” (June 21), Times of Israel reporter Carrie Keller-Lynn said the coalition managed to agree on 80% of issues but, “ultimately… [the] security [issue] raised its head…. We had riots in the south of Israel, among Israel’s Bedouin community. It definitely intensified around April with Ramadan. We had clashes on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount… it really only intensified as some legislation came out that also touched security issues.”

 

Profoundly wrong

Interviewed by ABC TV News24 (June 21), former Middle East correspondent John Lyons, who has written two highly critical and extremely flawed books on Israel, seemed genuinely ignorant of contemporary Israeli politics as he predicted that the forthcoming election will be a “battle between the far right.” 

Lyons asserted that “there’s no centrist candidate,” and said, “this is between Naftali Bennett, who is very far right-wing and Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also very far right-wing.”

Except the primary contest is actually likely to be between Netanyahu and centrist interim Israeli PM Yair Lapid who heads Yesh Atid (“There is a future”), the second-largest party in the Knesset, with the most seats in the current ruling coalition (17 seats). 

By contrast, Bennett’s Yamina party today has only four loyal MKs and risks not passing the electoral threshold when elections are held. Moreover, reports say Bennett is considering taking a break from politics this election. 

Asked to explain why Israel has gone to the polls so many times in the past three years, Lyons asserted that it was because Israel has “a very fragile coalition system” and “an inherently unstable system.”

Actually, the most critical reason for the political stalemate over the past three years has been the refusal of a number of political parties to support Netanyahu as prime minister whilst he was under indictment on corruption charges.

Should Netanyahu win the forthcoming elections, Lyons predicted, “he would think the time has come… to simply unilaterally annex the West Bank and make it part of Israel, which would be the death of a Palestinian state.”

It is very unlikely Netanyahu will annex any part of the West Bank because one of the conditions of the Abraham Accords, which he regards as a key personal achievement, was not doing so. Moreover, the current US Administration staunchly objects to such a move. But even if he did, it would not include all of the West Bank as Lyons implies, but only those areas that were allotted to Israel under the Trump peace plan. This would mean a future Palestinian state could still be established which would include all of Gaza and more than 60% of the West Bank. 

Earlier, in the Spectator Australia (June 11), Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer wrote of the excitement felt by Knesset members belonging to Netanyahu’s Likud party at the prospect that the Bennett Government would fall. Pfeffer quoted one, who is “normally mild-mannered”, saying Netanyahu’s “coming back and it’s all the left-wing’s fault for demonising him. If it wasn’t for them, the right-wing would have found a different leader by now. But the left made him into an icon and much more dangerous.” Except that it was parties on the right who campaigned loudest against joining a coalition government with Netanyahu as prime minister while he was under indictment.

 

More capital crimes

On May 26, SBS TV “News in Arabic” reported on the first visit to Israel in 15 years by a Turkish foreign minister and said it “turns the page” in relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv. 

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, not Tel Aviv, and has been since 1949 – and this is recognised by the Australian government. It was evident from the footage shown in the report that Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was greeting his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavusoglu in Jerusalem.

The program’s June 1 report on Israel signing a free trade agreement with the UAE, which it noted was Israel’s first with an Arab state, also implied Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.

Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal report in the Australian (May 31) on a controversial “Flag march” by nationalist Israeli Jews into the Old City to celebrate the unification of Jerusalem in the 1967 war noted that the day “marks when Israel reclaimed East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967.”

The report also managed to get correct the sequence of events for the war between Hamas and Israel in 2021, noting that “Gaza ruler Hamas fired a volley of rockets at Jerusalem during the annual march, sparking a deadly 11-day war.” 

 

O Jerusalem

Given former PM Scott Morrison’s 2018 recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been falsely cited many times since as having caused great damage to Australia’s relations with Jakarta, it was surprising no commentators mentioned it during new PM Anthony Albanese’s visit to Indonesia.

In a sensible analysis of Albanese’s trip, the Australian (June 7) Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan observed that “there is less anti-Western sentiment in Indonesia than in most Muslim countries, but it is still substantial. Most Indonesians think little at all about Australia.”

Also writing in the Australian (June 15), US analyst Walter Russell Mead presented a nuanced picture of Indonesia at odds with how Australian commentators depicted the country. Mead noted that “the Indonesian brand of Islam is notably tolerant,” and Yahya Cholil Staquf, current General Secretary of “Nahdlatul Ulama, at up to 90 million members the largest Islamic association in the world… has visited Jerusalem and publicly attacked anti-Semitism.”

 

Frequent flyers

On Sky News “Outsiders” (June 5), visiting AIJAC fellow Ehud Yaari expounded on the developments between Israel and Sunni Arab states since the Abraham Accords were signed in August 2020. 

According to Yaari, “We are in a process of expanding the Abraham Accords. The question is the pace and who will make the leap… Saudi Arabia… has been accelerating… contacts on all levels. Not just security cooperation, intelligence exchanges vis-a-vis Iran but also business. We’re talking about a big volume of trade. Unofficial, not declared. Dozens and dozens of Israeli businessmen… are allowed into Saudi Arabia quietly with their Israeli passport. In fact, Saudi Arabia has turned itself, very, very quietly…into a third silent party of the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979… which generally passes unnoticed by international media.”

Yaari said Arab states have realised that “they cannot allow the Palestinians to have a veto power over their relations with Israel. That they will no longer be enslaved to whatever is the slogan of the day in the Palestinian Authority… if you go to Dubai airport or Abu Dhabi Airport, you will … sometimes… hear more Hebrew than Arabic.”

Meanwhile, SBS TV’s “World News” and “News in Arabic” (June 16) covered the historic signing ceremony in Cairo for a landmark deal whereby Egypt will liquefy Israeli natural gas which will then be exported to the EU.

 

Shifting sands

A long Wall Street Journal article in the Australian (June 18) pointed out policy continuity between the Trump and Biden Administrations in seeking to deepen ties between Israel and Sunni Arab states in the wake of the 2020 Abraham Accords. The article said, “growing ties between Israel and Arab states, including the assessment that the nations share a common enemy in Iran, had altered the landscape.”

Meanwhile, a report from SBS TV “News in Arabic” (June 10) on US President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank said the Administration had “announced the reopening of the lines of communication with the Palestinian Authority, which were cancelled by the Administration of former President Donald Trump.” In fact, it was the Palestinian Authority who initiated a boycott on contact with the White House. 

 

War Stories

Although the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War is still 16 months away, there was no shortage of references to the historic event.

In the Australian Financial Review (June 17), New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argued for greater US military help for Ukraine, saying, “Now is the moment for Joe Biden to tell his national security team what Richard Nixon told his when Israel was reeling from its losses in the Yom Kippur War: After asking what weapons Jerusalem was asking for, the 37th president ordered his staff to ‘double it,’ adding, ‘Now get the hell out of here and get the job done.’”

Writing about the impact rising gas and oil prices are having on the inflation rate, Age/Sydney Morning Herald columnist George Megalogenis (June 18), said, “the Arab oil embargo, which quadrupled prices following Egypt and Syria’s war with Israel in October 1973, is the event that made a global recession inevitable in 1974-75. But the inflation dragon had been stirred beforehand by the debts the US ran up to fight its war of choice in Vietnam.”

 

The Icke factor

In the Age/Sydney Morning Herald (June 4), a review commended author Alice Walker’s Journals while noting, but not identifying, some of the “very crazy things” she has said.

In fact, Walker has praised the notorious British antisemitic conspiracy theorist David Icke for being “brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask.” She has extolled his book And the Truth Will Set You Free, which draws extensively on the notorious anti-Jewish forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, calling it “a curious person’s dream come true.” Icke campaigns for Holocaust denial to be taught in schools, and his conspiracy theories include claims that shape-shifting Jewish lizard people secretly rule the world.

Then there’s Walker’s own dubious writings, such as the poem “To Study the Talmud” which includes the following lines: “Are [non-Jews] meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only that, but to enjoy it?… Must even the best of the [non-Jews be] killed?”

 

Judgement on a Verdict

The ABC gave sympathetic coverage to former World Vision Gaza head Mohammad el-Halabi, who, after a six-year legal saga, was found guilty by an Israeli court of transferring millions of dollars to Hamas. 

On June 16, ABC Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn filed a number of radio and TV reports on the verdict that included very little detail of what the prosecution alleged. Former World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello was interviewed on ABC TV News24, and heard on ABC Radio, disparaging the verdict.

In the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (June 17), Costello and former regional director for World Vision International in the Middle East Conny Lenneberg called Halabi an “innocent man”. 

They said the verdict marked “the demise of the rule of law in Israeli courts,” and claimed, “one of the judges, in the early days of this drawn-out trial, told el-Halabi Mohammad [sic] in open court: ‘This case is not about innocence. You know how these cases go.’ And that is the way 99 per cent of Palestinians who go before Israel military courts are convicted.”

Halabi was tried in a civilian, not military, court and the conviction rates for Palestinians in military courts is not extraordinary. NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data shows that from 2012-16 the average conviction rate for all offences was 89% and as high as 94% for illicit drugs. In Japan, the criminal justice system has a conviction rate that exceeds 99%.

Moreover, Costello and Lenneberg appear to have misquoted Israeli Arab Judge Nasser Abu Taha’s reported words to Halabi in 2017. 

According to then ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill, urging Halabi to accept a plea bargain, Taha told “Halabi that in a security case like this, he does not have much hope of being found not guilty” and quoted the judge saying, “You’ve read the numbers and the statistics… You know how these issues are handled.” 

The pair also falsely claimed that “the verdict was reached despite no substantial evidence being presented” by the prosecution, yet the published portions of the verdict, as excerpted in this AIR edition on p. 23, prove otherwise.

 

Insufficient diligence

Discussing the verdict on Sky News “Bolt Report” (June 16), NGO Monitor’s Professor Gerald Steinberg said NGOs like World Vision fail to carry out due diligence on how aid money is spent in Gaza, which is run by the Islamist terror group Hamas.

According to Professor Steinberg, officials go to Gaza and are shown projects and take it on trust that the aid dollars are well spent. 

He countered Tim Costello’s claim in the media that World Vision only gave US$23 million to Gaza, far short of the US$50 million the prosecution alleged Halabi transferred, saying, “World Vision’s own documents say that there was over $100 million that were transferred to the branch of World Vision operating in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel. So, in fact, Mr. Costello is even contradicting his own institution’s documentation.” 

Steinberg said Halabi “was shown to have been present, including in specific Hamas military installations” and the verdict “talks about the way in which…Halabi took World Vision funds and transferred that in order to buy materials that were used for making… terror tunnels from which the rockets were sent, from which the whole Hamas terror operation is controlled.”

He questioned both World Vision’s and the Australian Government’s investigations that found no evidence of wrong-doing, noting that “the audits were not made available,” and pointing out that neither Australia nor Germany has resumed funding for World Vision projects since 2016.

 

Consequences

The Age (May 27) reported on the decision by Melbourne University’s Student Union to rescind an antisemitic and extreme motion that called for the University to boycott links with Israel and implicitly rejected Israel’s right to exist within any borders. 

The rescission motion was passed after the threat of legal action by postgraduate law student Justin Riazaty, who argued that the Student Union had acted outside of its purpose and violated the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012 and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

The article quoted Riazaty, who is not Jewish, saying “although the union has now rescinded the anti-Semitic motion, it really speaks volumes that it was only achieved following threats and legal action.”

 


In Parliament

 

The following four speeches are from the many from all sides supporting the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill in the Victorian Parliament:

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes MLC (ALP, Northern Victoria) – June 21 – “We know that [the Nazi hate symbol, the Hakenkreuz] is a symbol of antisemitism, hate and division. The message it sends is incredibly harmful and damaging to our whole community and in particular our Jewish community. This type of harm is completely unacceptable in a society that is proudly democratic, diverse, multicultural and multifaith.”

Shadow Attorney-General Michael O’Brien (Lib., Malvern) – June 7 – “…we must always be aware and on our guard about those who would seek to downplay or, worse still, to perpetuate or to talk up or to act in relation to this most evil of ideologies—the Nazi ideology.”

Minister for Multicultural Affairs Ros Spence (ALP, Yuroke) – June 7 – “We must do everything that we can to eradicate these attitudes, because as long as we turn a blind eye to these casual displays of racism and antisemitism there will always be the potential for dangerous and hate-filled scenarios to unfold.”

Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs Craig Ondarchie MLC (Lib., Northern Metropolitan) – June 21 – “…unfortunately there are people in this state who use this symbol to effect emotional pain or torment on people of the Jewish faith.”

Meanwhile, in NSW, Gabrielle Upton (Lib., Vaucluse), speaking on behalf of NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman, announced on June 21 – “ The Government is pleased to introduce the Crimes Amendment (Prohibition on Display of Nazi Symbols) Bill 2022.”

The following eight speeches were in the NSW Legislative Council on June 22:

Scott Farlow (Lib.) – “I move: (1) That this House notes that: …(c)Yom Ha’atzmaut commemorates the Israeli Declaration of Independence on 15 May 1948 and is a day of celebration for the people of Israel and marks renewal in the Jewish State as the birthplace of the Jewish people.”

Abigail Boyd (Greens) – “For 74 years, Israel has worked to dispossess and oppress the Palestinian people, who are indigenous to the lands that they have been, and continue to be, driven out of by the settler colonialist State of Israel.” 

Shadow Treasurer Daniel Mookhey (ALP) – “It is extraordinary and unlikely that a tiny country like Israel has gone on to become such an economic powerhouse.”

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Arts and Regional Youth Ben Franklin (Lib.) – “I support the State of Israel and its right to be recognised as a free and democratic nation.” 

Anthony D’Adam (ALP) – “The date 15 May 1948… is also the Nakba, literally ‘The Catastrophe’ for Palestinian people… if one understands the history of the creation of the State of Israel, it was founded through terrorist action.” 

Mark Latham (One Nation) – “[Israel’s] great achievements should be celebrated and recognised by this House.”

Chris Rath (Lib.) – “The connection that the Jewish people have to Israel, being their physical and cultural birthplace, is incapable of being severed.” 

Minister for Metropolitan Roads and Women’s Safety Natalie Ward (Lib.) – “It is paramount that this special culture and the fundamental right of the State of Israel to exist is protected. It is a place of great humanity.”

South Australian MLC Sarah Game (One Nation) – June 15 – “I rise to introduce my amendment bill on Nazi symbol prohibition to the Summary Offences Act 1953.”

Sarah Game MLC (One Nation) – June 1 – “I move: That this council— 1. Endorses and adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism together with its contemporary examples…”

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