Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – June 2015

Jun 4, 2015 | 

Rowan for Israel

NSW Labor leader Luke Foley’s edict that MPs travelling on subsidised study tours to Israel must spend equal time in the West Bank and Gaza prompted columnist Rowan Dean to imagine such a trip.

“Arrived at Lod Airport, after circling around to avoid being blasted out of the sky by IS, Hamas, Hezbollah…Meet some scientists who invented the smartphone industry… Palestine. Meet a bunch of dudes who invented the grievance industry. They explain how Israel has been oppressing them…‘by existing’… Visit the Wailing Wall…Anyone can go but you gotta be careful coz Arab kids like to chuck rocks… Head up to…the Temple Mount… Lucky I’m not Jewish, coz Jews aren’t allowed in. (Er, isn’t that racist?)… quick trip to Sderot… every bus-stop doubles as a bomb shelter, even the kiddies playground doubles as a bomb shelter… Off to Gaza… Every hospital doubles as a rocket-launching pad, every kiddies playground doubles as a missile silo,” Australian Financial Review (May 2).

Elsewhere, Dean criticised Labor foreign affairs spokesperson Tanya Plibersek’s call for the party to recognise a Palestinian state.

Dean noted that “every time…Israel has offered a state the Palestinians have turned it down” because “the Palestinian Authority leadership, and their terrorist partners Hamas, have no intention of ever agreeing to two states if one of them is Jewish”.

If passed, “the next…Labor government will recognise a Palestine without negotiated preconditions: so we will get a state that (like Hamas in the Gaza strip) kills gays, subjugates women, murders Jews, regularly uses the death penalty…supports terrorism and keeps its population enslaved without free elections,” Courier Mail (May 4).

TED talks

Former AIJAC analyst Ted Lapkin highlighted why the upcoming ALP national conference should reject adopting a resolution recognising a Palestinian state based on the “proposition that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is the wellspring of Middle East conflict”.

He noted that the Palestinian resort to anti-Jewish violence predates the Six Day War by 50 years and has been accompanied by a “coincident rejection of diplomacy”.
“The Arab Higher Committee rebuffed Britain’s 1937 Peel Commission plan to establish a Palestinian state on 85 per cent of the Holy Land. The Arabs again dismissed compromise in 1947, marching off to a war they ultimately lost. As recently as 2001, Yasser Arafat rejected an Israeli-American proposal to create a Palestinian state on 96 per cent of the West Bank and all Gaza.”

ALP pressure for Israel to withdraw from territory not only ignores the ongoing Palestinian security threat, but Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Syrian civil war’s creation of “a power vacuum filled by jihadi militias that have ensconced themselves at Israel’s doorstep on the Golan Heights,” he said, Daily Telegraph (May 12).

“Silence” with a Megaphone

A new report by Israeli NGO “Breaking the Silence” claiming that Israel used indiscriminate fire in heavily populated areas of Gaza during last year’s war saw Fairfax Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard adopt her usual stance that Israel is guilty until proven innocent. 

In neither her 700-word hard copy, nor a mammoth 2,400 word online version did Pollard feel the need to use such qualifiers as “alleged” or “claimed” when reporting the group’s accusations and she failed to include any expert critical of its claims.
The essence of Pollard’s piece can be measured by one anonymous soldier quoted saying “‘…if they attack us and attack our towns, we destroy their cities… once you implement doctrines that entail such use of force…then the killing of civilians is inevitable.'”

What NGOs like Breaking the Silence don’t want people to know – and Ruth Pollard does not inform readers either – is that civilian casualties, however regrettable, are not automatically war crimes under international law.

Thus, senior military figures like US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey, who looked closely at Israel’s tactics, praised the “extraordinary lengths” taken “to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties”. So did two US military law experts – Michael Schmitt and John Merriam – whose report praising Israel’s targeting practices as “in many cases, worthy of emulation” got a brief mention by Pollard online, but of course not in the newspaper, Age/Canberra Times/Sydney Morning Herald (May 5).

The Soundness of Silence?

An excellent analysis from NGO Monitor’s Professor Gerald Steinberg exposed the fallacies of the report by “Breaking The Silence” (BTS).

The report’s omission of vital identifying details, including “names and units in which [witnesses] served”, “dates of the alleged events”, and locations, meant “we are left with a radical political agenda that exploits the language of international law,” he wrote.
BTS’ methodology was also questionable, relying on “leading questions… often constructed…to elicit answers that falsely magnify the appearance of wrongdoing”, and was lacking “questions that would provide greater context, clarification or justification for certain actions”.

The report used “deceiving headlines”, he claimed, including a quotation from a soldier that “I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees”. However, in the body of the text it was apparent that the soldier feared a young woman might be “carrying explosives” yet in the end, the soldiers did not shoot her.

Steinberg also noted that BTS receives “substantial funding” from “radical Europeans” who “link their donations to the number of statements that are collected,” Canberra Times (May 11). 

Walker on the wild side

Reporting on the last minute horse-trading to finalise Israel’s new government the Australian‘s Middle East correspondent Jamie Walker wrote that “Netanyahu…walked away from a previous commitment to an independent homeland for the Palestinians, angering the White House.”

This is incorrect. Considering all the media coverage and analysis in Israel pointing out exactly what Netanyahu said, this is highly disappointing and not the first time Walker has made similar claims.

Netanyahu’s actual comments prior to the election were that “anyone who goes to create today a Palestinian state…is turning over land that will be used…for attacks by Islamist extremists against…Israel.” He afterwards repeatedly clarified that he was not taking back his previous statements on the subject and still supported a Palestinian state once this danger was ameliorated, Australian (May 16).

Meanwhile, AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein explained how Netanyahu’s new government was carefully constructed to try to ” tack to the centre as much as possible and resist pressure to move towards more extreme positions” including via the allocation of ministries and leaving open the possibility the centrist Zionist Union party could join “sometime in the future.”

He also noted that both the government and opposition in Israel agree on the danger of Palestinian efforts to get the international community to “impose a deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” recognising that: “A Palestinian state created in the absence of a genuine peace agreement that the Palestinian people would both embrace and implement would be dangerous for Israel, but even worse for the Palestinians, removing the most convincing incentive for Palestinians to end their conflict with Israel. It could, potentially, encourage the kind of open-ended instability and bloodshed that has devastated other parts of the Middle East,” Canberra Times (May 18).

Angel Grinders

Incorrect claims that Pope Francis described Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as an “angel of peace” were widely reported here on May 18, including by the ABC’s website and Melbourne’s Herald Sun.

Headlines in the Adelaide Advertiser, Canberra Times, Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers included variations on “Pope praises Abbas as an ‘angel of peace’.”
But a subsequent statement by a Vatican spokesman, and Italian media reporting, made it clear that the Pope actually offered wishes to Abbas: “may you be an angel of peace”.

Mercifully, reports of the meeting by SBS TV “World News” and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph avoided all reference to the “angel” angle.

Abbas of course is the “angel” who turned down former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s offer of a state in 2008, refused to talk to Netanyahu between 2009 and 2013, and abandoned negotiations in 2014 just at the point that compromises needed to be made.

Julie noted

Columnist Julie Szego dismissed Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s explanation that she wore a headscarf in Iran because “‘you respect the culture wherever you are'”.

Iran, Szego wrote, is “a repressive theocracy” where “the headscarf is not folk custom or ‘the culture’, but a potent symbol of the subjugation of women. And for a visiting foreign minister to adopt that symbol does not indicate ‘respect,’ but a failure of moral courage.”

Szego argued that Iran’s leadership has “more to gain from the Foreign Minister’s visit than we did” with “Bishop’s presence… a significant propaganda coup for a regime eager to shed its pariah status,” Age (April 23).

Riding the lobby horse

An interview with veteran Australian journalist and editor Sam Lipski on a new book he has co-authored with Suzanne D. Rutland detailing the 30-year campaign by the Jewish community and Australia’s political leaders for the rights of Jews in the Soviet Union saw ABC radio and TV host Geraldine Doogue focus on the so-called “Jewish lobby” in Australia.

Doogue appeared to have been most impressed by what she saw as the book documenting the “Jewish lobby [coming] into being. This very powerful entity that is really, I think has affected our politics for quite some time. Do you agree?”

Lipski said he did not “agree with how powerful the Jewish lobby is”, describing its supposed power as “a perception”.

He said the campaign for Soviet Jewry was “the training ground” for Australian Jewish leaders and for the community itself to understand how as a minority it could nevertheless be “part of the whole democratic process.”

This involved learning a range of skills including how to hold demonstrations, write letters to MPs and how, as a community mostly made up of recent migrants, it could “relate to Australia”.

“These might seem today, 50 years later, obvious but they weren’t at the time,” he said.
Lipski explained that “no lobby…can persuade a government to act against Australia’s national interest. In the end the decisions…made by various Australian political leaders…was based on their view that human rights mattered”.

He cautioned “one should distinguish between this… media creation…of this monolithic Jewish lobby and the fact that the Jewish leadership itself contains the same range of pluralist views that you would find within Israel but there’s a bottom line and Israel’s security is something that the Australian Jewish community values to this day and rightly so,” ABC Radio National “Extras” (May 16).

The Meaning of IS

The ongoing threat of Islamic State prompted much discussion in the media.

Columnist Brian Toohey challenged Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s statement that the threat from Islamic State was the “most significant threat to global order in the past 70 years” and a threat to the three centuries old notion of the nation state.

He wrote that IS “is no doubt a serious problem. It might redraw the boundaries imposed by the colonial powers in Iraq and Syria and gain a foothold in Africa. But borders have often been subject to change, sometimes violently, over those 350 years” and its military power was limited because it lacked “an air force or a navy, let alone aircraft carriers, B2 stealth bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Australian Financial Review (May 4).

An Australian editorial (April 29) said Bishop’s comments were “thought provoking” but the “essential” point to note was “that the struggle against Islamist terror is likely to be a long and costly one prosecuted across the globe and demanding insight and expertise beyond sheer military might.”

Hugh White dismissed IS, arguing that, “fears last year that IS would take over the Middle East were always overblown.” Airstrikes and “resistance on the ground whenever it tries to take over non-Sunni areas” have halted its “rapid expansion”. He argued that the Obama Administration’s military campaign is “simply a matter of going through the motions, in order to meet domestic political imperatives to be seen to be doing something,” Age/Canberra Times/Sydney Morning Herald (April 28).

An Unconventionally Conventional Approach

Military strategist David Kilcullen, who was a key developer of the US’ highly successful troop surge in Iraq in 2007, argued that while the IS threat is overstated it needs to be confronted. Moreover, confronting IS requires conventional tactics, he said, rather than focussing on the group’s tactical use of terrorism.

“ISIS…fights like a state. As of mid-2015, even taking into account its losses in Iraq, ISIS fields more than 25,000 fighters, including a hard core of ex-Baathist professionals and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] veterans. It has a hierarchical unit organisation and rank structure, populated by former regular officers of Saddam Hussein’s military.

It fields tanks, heavy artillery, mortars and armoured vehicles by the dozen, reconnaissance units mounted in technicals that operate more like conventional light cavalry than guerrillas, internal security forces and infantry units of various levels of quality… There’s documentary evidence that professional soldiers, not terrorist amateurs, designed this structure.

ISIS is now attempting to hold and defend cities using conventional urban tactics, seeking to control lines of communication, and trying to govern the area under its control and extract resources for its war effort,” he asserted, and argued confronting it with conventional military tactics was therefore needed; Age/Canberra Times (May 16).

Carr’s driving obsession

Former foreign minister Bob Carr backed the P5+1’s preliminary Iran deal, asking, “what are the alternatives? Continue sanctions and hope that Iran will wilt?… It hasn’t happened since 2002. That leaves an air bombardment… advocated by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel lobby”.

He then slimed Israel’s leadership, calling them “ethno-nationalists” who fail “to recognise that John Kerry, far from being an anti-Semite, is the greatest friend Israel has.”

Carr ignored the effectiveness of sanctions, which he opposed before becoming foreign minister, in bringing Iran to the negotiating table.

Furthermore, Netanyahu has repeatedly stressed that what he seeks is a better deal backed by a strong military deterrent and tough sanctions, not, as Carr misrepresented Israel’s position, “air bombardment,” Australian (April 25).


Profiling Sydney lawyer Adam Houda who defends jihadist terror suspects, journalist Greg Callaghan noted that he was shown “a graphic picture on his phone of a Palestinian child slaughtered in the terrible conflict last year in which 2,200 civilians in Gaza tragically died. From reading his Twitter feed over the same period, you could be forgiven for thinking the other concurrent atrocities – more than 200,000 killed in Syria and 5,500 in Iraq since 2011 – were mere sidelines.”

While Callaghan was right to note the contrast, it is just incorrect to say that 2,200 civilians died in that conflict – that is the total number of dead, combatants and civilians. According to Israeli sources civilians comprised 50% of the total deaths, while UN figures based on information supplied by Hamas place the total under 70%, Age/Sydney Morning Herald “Good Weekend” (May 2).

Straight from the Hass’ mouth

Phillip Adams’ interview with visiting far-left Israeli journalist Amira Hass was an exercise in picking out the contradictions and omissions.

Admitting that she disagrees with many “Zionist concepts”, Hass conceded that many of the Jews who came to Israel were “refugees” and did so out of necessity in the 50s. The only context she offered was the Nazi threat.

The vital fact that 800,000 Jews living in Middle East countries were forced to flee in the years following Israel’s creation and that most lost their homes and wealth went unmentioned.

Discussing the occupation, Hass was also selective, saying it was difficult to watch Israeli soldiers destroying water cisterns of Palestinians because they live “in an area that needs an Israeli permit for everything they build.” This refers to Area C, where only 5 % of the Palestinians in the West Bank live.

She complained that Israel’s occupation denied democracy to Palestinians and was not “sustainable”. Except Palestinians have been offered their own state three times since 2000 by Israel and have rejected the opportunity to exercise sovereignty and self-determination.

However, Hass accused Australia of eradicating its own indigenous people and said when she hears people say the solution is to dissolve Israel, she answers, “why don’t you dissolve Australia? You got away with most of the indigenous people and luckily, happily Israel and Zionism did not decimate the Palestinians,” ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (April 23).



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