Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – July 2023

Jun 28, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The real Israel

In the Australian (June 10), media commentator Gemma Tognini filed a column written during her recent trip on an AIJAC-organised Rambam study visit to Israel.

Tognini was troubled by the disconnect between what is reported about Israel and the reality she was seeing during her visit.

According to Tognini, “We have travelled the length and breadth of the country. From the southern borders to the north, spent successive days on the West Bank, in refugee camps, meeting with leaders of the Palestinian opposition parties…

“One thing I’ve learned this week is how incredibly complex this country is. How, on both sides, there is a hunger for an end to conflict. How, on both sides, there are many for whom peace would mean unemployment and irrelevance on the world stage, so they won’t entertain it…

“Throwing around the word apartheid so freely and so recklessly? It’s an insult and it’s ignorance writ large. 

“Language matters. Language is about intent. Oh, the irony that these words are typically thrown about by those who love to constantly remind us words can equate to violence. 

“Moreover, it’s the latent anti-Semitism underpinning the free and easy use of these words.”

 

Flying the flag

A radio report by ABC Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn on “AM” (May 19) concerning the annual Jerusalem Day march on May 18, which marks Israel’s capture of the eastern half of the city in the 1967 Six Day War, was criticised by the Australian’s “Media Watch Dog” column that same day for lacking balance. 

The column said even the New York Times – which is “no friend of Israel” – had noted, “Israeli officials say the parade is a largely peaceful and festive event marred by only a small minority of participants. But several groups of marchers were filmed making threats to Arabs, and some threw sticks and bottles for several minutes at Arab journalists in full view of the police… Some Jewish Israelis attempted to set a different tone [and] distributed flowers to Palestinians in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.

Horn’s report was focused only on the rightist elements in the march.

Moreover, Horn’s script said that “For Israelis, it’s a day of celebration. They see this as the day Jerusalem was unified as their capital. But according to international law, Israel occupies east Jerusalem.” Aside from asserting as fact a disputed international law issue, what was missing is the real reason for the joy, which is that unification means Jews can visit and pray in the Old City, where Judaism’s holiest sites are located. This was denied them when Jordan illegally occupied the eastern half of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967 – and often before that, as well. 

The report included a Palestinian woman saying that “everything they’re doing is out of fear. If they were the rightful owners of this land, you wouldn’t need all the police.” If Palestinians accepted that Jews have a right to live in Israel and stopped trying to kill Jews engaged in peaceful activities, there would also be no need for “all the police”. 

SBS TV “World News” (May 19) noted accurately that, “Despite the tense atmosphere and a few scuffles, the event ended with no major security incidents.”

 

No missing link

On ABC TV “The World” (May 25), visiting former deputy speaker of the Knesset and member of the left-wing Meretz party, Naomi Chazan, dispelled some misconceptions about the protests in Israel against judicial reform.

Chazan said it was unlikely there was a direct link between Palestinian terror and Israel’s judicial protests. 

She explained, “some outside parties have seen [the protests] as a sign of Israeli weakness. I think incorrectly,” citing Israel’s “five sets of elections in the last three years” as a sign of the country’s ongoing political instability. 

Concerning the Gaza violence, she said, “I would say this was the 14th round of violence between Israel and Gaza. And since the turn of the century, the beginning of this millennium… the cycles now are very clear… there are attacks in Israel. The[n], Israel bombs Gaza… two populations are totally traumatised.”

On May 29, Nine Newspapers’ Matthew Knott’s article on Chazan noted,“Chazan questioned whether it was the right time” for the Albanese Government to recognise a Palestinian state or “whether this would only inflame tensions further.”

 

Muddying the waters

Nine Newspapers Culture and Lifestyle reporter Nell Geraets (June 1) misunderstood the substance of the allegations against former Pink Floyd band member Roger Waters. 

Geraets said Waters “has drawn the ire of some Jewish groups for his stance supporting Palestine, and has faced accusations of anti-Semitism” and noted his support for the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement, “which encourages musicians to boycott performing in Israel.” 

In fact, BDS’s real goal is the destruction of Israel, as several of its key leaders have publicly acknowledged.

The article said, “Waters has repeatedly denied accusations of antisemitism, arguing elements of his performances are in protest against Israeli policies rather than Jewish people.” 

Yet no less a person than Polly Samson, the wife of Waters’ former bandmate David Gilmour, tweeted to Waters, “You are antisemitic to your rotten core,” with Gilmour supporting this with his own tweet: “every word demonstrably true.” 

Waters has repeatedly compared Israel to Nazi Germany, absurdly accused Israel of genocide and compared the plight of Palestinians to what the Jews suffered in the Holocaust, and used antisemitic tropes, such as the giant pig balloon with a Star of David he previously deployed at concerts. 

On June 9, Nine Newspapers columnist Malcolm Knox also misrepresented the nature of Waters’ offensive views, writing that he “has made statements against Israeli government policy, and somehow this has dovetailed with his songs to get Waters cancelled.”

 

Homeland truths

On ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (May 19), former Palestinian negotiator turned analyst Gaith Al-Omari supported the United Nations General Assembly’s decision to commemorate “Nakba Day” – which mourns Israel’s creation and the displacement of Palestinian Arabs in 1948. 

He criticised the use of the “event” as a “political football” – reproaching pro-Israel supporters, but also Palestinians, including PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who “try to cast some doubt on the legitimacy of Israel.”

Al-Omari explained that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about two nationalist movements with “a very strong, profound connection” to the “same piece of land.”

His explanation for the displacement of Palestinian Arab refugees in 1948 was refreshing. He said, “There was a war between the pre-state Israeli forces and the Palestinians and some Arab armies, and ultimately Israel won. Like what happens in every war, there was mass displacement. Some was a result of some of the Arab governments telling the Palestinians to leave to go out of the way. Some was a result of deliberate Israeli massacres. And I would say the majority was, you know, what people do when there’s a war, they get out of the way of the fighting.” 

While Palestinians may yearn to return to places that are now in Israel, he said, “obviously [they] will not be reclaimed if one accepts that the solution to this conflict is a two-state solution.”

 

Misplaced and displaced

In a rare lapse, an SBS TV “World News” report (May 16) of the UN “Nakba Day” commemoration lacked real balance. The newsreader spoke of “thousands of Palestinians [being] killed,” during the 1948 war. Thousands of Jews also died in that conflict, around one percent of the total Jewish population in Mandate Palestine.

The report included 97-year-old Palestinian woman Intisar Muhana saying that Israel “destroyed our house” during the 1948 war and they moved to Gaza “and they did it again, destroyed our house.” No context was given for what might have caused Muhana’s family home to be destroyed – namely the bloody war launched against the Jewish inhabitants of the area by Arab leaders who rejected the UN Partition Plan that would’ve created an Arab Palestinian state. 

SBS reporter Virginia Langeberg said, “around 5.6 million Palestinian refugees currently live across the Middle East, as well as in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, about half of the registered refugees remain stateless.” 

There are 5.5 million refugees currently registered with the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA). According to NGO UN Watch, UNRWA’s website “admits that most of the 2 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan have Jordanian citizenship. Likewise, the nearly 2.2 million registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza already reside in their homeland, i.e., territory that was once part of Mandatory Palestine and designated for a future Palestinian state.”

Langeberg said, “Israel accuses Palestinians of trying to distort history. It denies the Nakba ever occurred and that Palestinians had fled of their own volition.” 

Israel doesn’t deny the Nakba occurred, just disputes Palestinian claims about its nature and causes.

The report quoted Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen saying, “We shall fight the falsehood that is the Nakba with all our power. And we will not allow the Palestinians to continue spreading lies and to twist history.”

 

Guardian of a Myth

On May 26, Guardian Australia ran a report by its Middle East correspondent Beth McKernan alleging Israel’s Alexandroni Brigade carried out a massacre of anywhere between 40 and 200 Palestinian Arabs in the village of Tantura near Haifa in Israel in May 1948 – a claim whose principal proponent, Teddy Katz, renounced it after he was sued for defamation.

According to the Guardian Australia’s report, the NGO Forensic Architecture has identified three sites near Tantura that may contain mass graves from aerial photos.

The Guardian Australia said the project was commissioned by Palestinian NGO “Adalah,” described as a “human rights group focusing on legal issues.” Adalah is in fact closely tied to the PFLP, a listed terrorist group in many countries.

The report said, “Adnan Al Yahya, now 92, was 17 when Tantura fell to Israeli forces. He has testified in several academic and journalistic publications over the years that he and a friend were forced by soldiers to dig a grave at the site and throw dozens of bodies in.”

The report did not include any balance for claims that have been vehemently denied by surviving members of the Alexandroni Brigade and disputed by Benny Morris, Israel’s foremost historian of the 1948 war.

Pro-Israel media organisation CAMERA quoted Morris’ response to the Guardian report; “As most historians have acknowledged, myself included, as many as 70 villagers, combatants and non-combatants, died in Tantura on 22-23 May 1948 and were buried (as were 13-14 Haganah soldiers, who were buried elsewhere). The existence of evidence that there were mass graves proves nothing about numbers and nothing about how those buried died … it certainly adds nothing, no corroboration, to the… charge of an organised, systematic massacre of 200-250 villagers, for which there is no persuasive evidence.”

 

Gushing over water libels 

On May 17, Guardian Australia correspondent Beth McKernan was also responsible for a long feature focusing on claims that West Bank settlers “use three times as much water a day as West Bank Palestinians do” and claimed Palestinians only receive 85.6 litres per capita per day, which is less than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended minimum requirement of 100 litres.

In fact, as CAMERA noted, according to Israel’s Bureau of Statistics, settlers use the equivalent of 1.8 times more water than Palestinians, while according to WHO’s guidelines, the recommended minimum is actually between 50 and 100 litres per capita per day. The Guardian subsequently amended the article.

 

Greens Blues

Writing in the Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail (June 14), AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro said the Australian Greens Party’s decision to remove “support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace paradigm of two states for two peoples” in its latest party platform showed they are “untethered from [the] real world.”

According to Shapiro, “Look for the [two states for two peoples] concept in the policy and you won’t find it. In its place is a murky endorsement of the ‘right to self-determination’ for Palestinians and ‘Israelis’ (not ‘Jews’) – whatever an ‘Israeli’ is supposed to be at the end of the day… the Greens … decreed that millions of Palestinians have a (nonexistent) legal ‘Right of Return’ to Israel, guaranteeing that Israel will be replaced by a majority Arab state. Just in case those meddlesome Israeli Jews disagree, the Greens ‘support the establishment of international mechanisms guided by international law to facilitate this outcome.’” 

He noted that the Greens have reached their new position by ignoring certain fundamental truths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as Palestinian Arab leaders rejecting opportunities to create a Palestinian state, including the 1947 Partition Plan and Israeli offers in 2000, 2001 and 2008.

An online ABC report (June 4) amounted to free publicity for the Greens’ policy platform on Israel and the Palestinians, simply repeating the party’s own media releases, and quoting DFAT’s and Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s public statements on Israeli-Palestinian issues as the only balance.

 

ABC corrective

A Reuters report uploaded to the ABC website (May 22) about an Israeli counterterrorism operation in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus failed to identify that the three Palestinians killed actually belonged to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade – a terrorist group.

Following a complaint, the ABC later added an editor’s note at the bottom of the item pointing out it did not include the political affiliation of those killed.

However, the text and the headline of the article – “Three Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank, ministry says” – remained unchanged.

 

A Defective Corrective

On June 1, the ABC’s revamped complaints unit – now called the Ombudsman’s Office – rejected most of the substance of a formal AIJAC complaint lodged regarding an April 2 online article about the judicial reform controversy in Israel by ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner (see AIR, May 2023). 

The report was mostly news oriented until the end – when Joyner indulged in an evidence and context-free analysis that questioned Israel’s democratic credential, saying its democracy “differs widely from Australia’s.” 

Joyner described Israel’s military rule over the West Bank as “brutal” – which is clearly his own opinion. 

Other nonsensical claims included a suggestion that enforcing a partial blockade on Gaza – which the UN’s Palmer inquiry found was legal – somehow calls into question the nature of Israel’s democracy. 

The article also appeared to suggest that the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank whose daily lives have been under Palestinian self-rule for 30 years actually live under direct Israeli rule, when only tens of thousands of Palestinians living in Area C can be categorised that way.

The report further stated that “Palestinians view the Israeli courts as a key instrument for their oppression.” 

AIJAC argued that this final section of the article was inappropriate in not being labelled as either opinion or analysis; that it lacked context; was factually inaccurate; and did not include supporting evidence.

The response by the Ombudsman’s office to AIJAC’s complaint was amateurish and perfunctory. It failed to engage with the substance of the complaint and instead quoted from large sections of the article that AIJAC had not complained about. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it said those sections were not opinion. The response dismissed the use of the word “brutal” by arguing the NGO Amnesty International and others had referred to Israel that way. 

The response also said the report did not need to provide proper context about the status of West Bank Palestinians because “not all information relating to an issue or event can be or should be included in every factual story.”

The only concession made was to add the word “many” before the line “Palestinians view the Israeli courts as a key instrument for their oppression” to take into account AIJAC’s point that many Palestinians “petition the Israeli Supreme Court, suggesting they recognise it can be useful in maintaining their rights.”

 


In Parliament

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – May 22 – Tabled in response to a petition: “The Albanese [Government]… believe the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict… must be resolved through negotiations between the parties… viewing the conflict from just one perspective will not achieve peace…

“We have reaffirmed Australia’s previous longstanding and bipartisan position that Jerusalem is a final status issue… doubled… funding to [UNRWA]… We are also rebalancing Australia’s position in international forums. [We] shifted five votes related to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in the UN…

“Australia does not support unilateral actions that reduce the prospects for peace… Settlements are an obstacle to peace…”

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (ALP, Isaacs) – June 14 – second reading speech, Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill: “Everyone can, and must, call out hate… Schedule 1… makes it a criminal offence to publicly display prohibited symbols—the Nazi Hakenkreuz, the Nazi double sig rune, and the Islamic State flag—and trade items bearing these symbols.” 

Josh Burns (ALP, Macnamara) – June 15 – “In… Melbourne… we saw some of the most confronting scenes of bigotry and of the glorification of an old ideology that saw one of the worst chapters of human history… people… flippantly signalling… the Nazi salute, and parading around like foolish, young, lost souls…”

Senator Dean Smith (Lib., WA) – June 14 – “The systemic murder of over six million Jews during the [Nazi] terror… The horror of these events is difficult to properly express or represent in words. The world has relied heavily on the contributions of those brave survivors…”

Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – May 22 – “Nazism is not just another political viewpoint; it’s an evil… whose fundamental tenet is the racial superiority of one group of people over another.” 

Greens Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John (WA) – June 13 – “When one group seeks to dominate another based upon race… to perpetuate and entrench and dispossess systemically, there is a word for it… apartheid. And it is a crime against humanity. The Australian Greens believe… Israel is guilty of practising the crime of apartheid.” 

The following two speeches were in the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee estimates hearings, June 1.

Senator David Fawcett (Lib., SA) “The European Parliament… recently passed a resolution expressing concern at the extent of antisemitism, glorification of violence and martyrdom in the textbooks provided by the Palestinian Authority… then used by UNRWA in schools…”

Senator Claire Chandler (Lib., Tas.) “The material that UN Watch has investigated here shows instances of extreme antisemitism and the glorification of terrorism.”

The following four speeches were in the NSW Legislative Council, May 24.

Natalie Ward (Lib.) “I move… That this House recognises Israel’s 75 years of independence and congratulates this achievement.”

Treasurer Daniel Mookhey (ALP) “Israel… a small country, has become a tech powerhouse and is showing the world how innovation should be done.”

Abigail Boyd (Greens) “Some 75 years later, the atrocities committed against the Palestinian people continue… The Greens cannot support the celebration of the creation of an apartheid State.”

Anthony D’Adam (ALP) “It is disingenuous to pretend that this motion is anything more than a provocation… Israel was established and Palestine was erased as a consequence.”

Speaking in the Victorian Legislative Council, Ryan Batchelor (ALP) – May 30 – “In just 7½ decades, Israel has become a thriving nation and a beacon of arts and innovation.”

The following two speeches occurred in the South Australian parliament:

Tony Piccolo (ALP, Light) – May 17 – “The Palestinian people paid and continue to pay a very heavy price for the sins of Western nations to address one injustice by only creating another.”

Irene Pnevmatikos (ALP, Legislative Council) – May 17 – “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

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