Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – June 2016

Jun 6, 2016 | 

Saikal feels the Bern

In the Canberra Times (April 20), Amin Saikal used US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ recent comments about Israel to repeat some distortions that have long appeared in the ANU academic’s writings about Israel.

Saikal said Sanders had “broken a taboo by publicly criticising Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians under its occupation and siege. He is the first political figure in the history of the presidential race to do so.”

Firstly, there is no “siege”, but a limited blockade of military materials to an entity run by a group committed to Israel’s destruction.

Secondly, Sanders broke no taboo. Past US Presidential hopefuls who have criticised Israel include independent Ralph Nader, Democrat Dennis Kucinich and Republican Pat Buchanan.

Saikal said Sanders blamed Israel for the Strip’s high levels of poverty and destruction because it uses “disproportionate force” when responding to Hamas’ “provocation.”

You mean the “provocation” of firing missiles at civilian populations?

Missing from Saikal’s analysis was Hamas’ genocidal ambitions for Israel and its diversion of civilian aid to its military infrastructure – which does a great deal to keep Gaza poor and miserable.

He lauded Sanders as one of  “a chorus” of leaders, including Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela who “have called for an end to Israel’s inhumane and apartheid… actions” and back a “two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Sanders has certainly not accused Israel of apartheid – nor had Mandela – and all Israeli leaders since 1999 have backed a two-state solution, including current PM Binyamin Netanyahu. Yet, this didn’t stop Saikal claiming that Netanyahu doesn’t.

Saikal also accused Israel of employing a “shoot on sight” policy for “any Palestinian who engages in violent acts of resistance.”

No such policy exists – and is Saikal really saying that anyone trying to stab an Israeli is carrying out “acts of resistance” and should not be stopped?

SBS defends Israel

No, not that SBS, but Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, Israel’s Ambassador to Australia who twice deconstructed Saikal’s piece.

On the Sydney Morning Herald website (May 5), the Ambassador pointed out how the Palestinians rejected a chance for a state in 1937,1947, 2000-01 and 2008.

“The Arabs and Palestinians refused to make peace before there was a single settlement… no matter how far-reaching [Israel’s] concessions… it is Israel’s very existence which is the sticking point… Peace requires, first and foremost, Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s right to existence.”

In the Canberra Times paper (May 4), Ambassador Ben-Shmuel dismissed Saikal’s tarring of Israel as a particularly cruel occupier, pointing out its extraordinary efforts during war to prevent civilian casualties. He also demonstrated the less than angelic aspects of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, noting they “have adopted terrorism as a first recourse and glorified it.”

Meanwhile, in a published response to Saikal in the Canberra Times (April 28), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein politely questioned Sanders’ knowledge, noting he “told the New York Post that he thought more than 10,000 ‘innocent civilians’ had been killed in the 2014 Gaza war. Even Hamas and the United Nations put the number closer to 1,500, and Israel says it was about 1,000. Similarly, his claims about ‘disproportionality’ reflect a basic ignorance of what the term ‘proportionality’ means in international law.”

Overinflated importance

The fact that ALP party conferences have been hijacked in recent years by fanatics who think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a pivotal issue for Australia and the electorate, was highlighted in an analysis from Fairfax’s Daniel Flitton.

While paying lip service to the bonfire in the Middle East that is Syria and Iraq and the flow on effects, Flitton dedicated the bulk of his analysis to a potted history of the argy bargy between senior ALP figures since Kevin Rudd’s tenure as PM over what its policy toward recognising “Palestine” should be.

Summing up, Flitton stated, “in other words, it’s one of the most tricky and politically treacherous subjects there is.”

Why the issue is “tricky and politically treacherous” was not canvassed, especially given that this is an election campaign dominated overwhelmingly by various domestic issues, Age/Sydney Morning Herald (May 18).

Unbelievably wrong

Another Fairfax professional prone to overemphasising the importance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is chief foreign correspondent Paul McGeough.

Surveying the likely replacement candidate for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, McGeough thought it unlikely that UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova would get the nod.

According to McGeough, the Bulgarian-born “Bokova has a couple of problems – one, as head of UNESCO, she infuriated Washington by admitting Palestine to her organisation; two, Moscow likes her and therefore Washington can’t like her.”

McGeough is wrong about her record on Palestinian issues. Bokova has consistently tried to prevent UNESCO’s politicisation by pro-Palestinian elements.

In October 2015 she criticised efforts to have UNESCO recognise Jerusalem’s Western Wall as a Muslim holy site and in February 2015 Bokova vetoed an attempt to include on UNESCO’s register a series of Palestinian posters filled with hateful imagery. In contrast, in 2014 she backed a UNESCO exhibition showcasing the 3,500-year relationship between the land of Israel and the Jewish people, Age/Canberra Times/Sydney Morning Herald (May 14).

Enough already

B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission Chairman Dvir Abramovich said he’s “had enough” of the misappropriation of the word “Nazi” in today’s culture which has turned it into a “comedic punchline” or “effective instrument in demonising and smearing anyone with whom you disagree.”

“Nazis who represent the ultimate evil and conjure horrific visions of suffering and depravity, are appearing in our culture with disturbing frequency and obscenely littering our public square. We have soup Nazis, grammar Nazis, eco-Nazis…to name but a few,” he wrote.

This “lazy reliance on irresponsible analogies makes a mockery of the slaughter of millions and is insulting and painful to victims and survivors,” he concluded, Herald Sun (April 11).

Meanwhile, exhibiting the kind of hyperbole of which Abramovich warned, barrister Stephen Charles compared Australian detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru where asylum seekers are housed to concentration camps.

Describing the conditions as “bleak” and detainees as subject to physical and verbal abuse from guards and locals, he wrote, “when Nazi Germany set up concentration camps in the 1930s, the purpose was to separate various groups – communists, Jews, homosexuals – from the German community, to prevent them being ‘tainted’ by such people… most Germans had little or no knowledge of the awful and dehumanising conditions in which detainees were kept.”

Nazi concentration camp prisoners lived in one of the most depraved dictatorships in history, without recourse to the German legal system nor a free press to air their grievances, not to mention the imminent prospect of being murdered, Age online (May 5).

Happy 68th

Marking Israel’s 68th anniversary, Dvir Abramovich celebrated the Jewish state’s achievement in building a country “with few natural resources and monumental challenges, surrounded by hostile forces” to become a “powerhouse in medicine, technology, science and so much more, Israel made the desert bloom, dried the swamps and now enriches the world in many fields.”

Moreover, the country “comprises a multitude of ethnic and religious groups whose cultural and artistic diversity add to the country’s spirituality and creativity. In a recent survey, if offered a choice of any country in the world, 86 per cent of Israelis, who feel a deep pride, said they would choose this one,” Herald Sun (May 12).

Meanwhile, AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein said the growing and extensive list of countries from “Africa, Europe, the Middle East and especially Asia” with which Israel officially and unofficially does business disproves the claims by “anti-Israel campaigners and their supporters… that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated internationally.”

These “improving ties” are evident “with Japan and Vietnam, and ongoing relations with Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and other regional players – and growing contacts in Indonesia,” Herald Sun (May 9).

The right to write

ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill reported on a book project involving international writers who will contribute essays to mark the 50th anniversary since the West Bank came under Israeli control.

McNeill accompanied a group of the writers on a tour of the West Bank that let listeners hear the writers being exposed only to Palestinian grievances, with no Israeli balance.

That should hardly be surprising, considering the book is the brainchild of radical left-wing Israeli NGO “Breaking the Silence” (BTS). As McNeill noted, BTS are “former Israeli soldiers who speak out against the occupation. Many Israelis see them as far left activists – and they’ve even been labelled as traitors.”

What McNeill did not explain is BTS’s use of anonymous testimony that is light on detail but heavy on hyperbole. It aims to traduce the Israeli Defence Forces in order to convince people that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is a matter of cruel choice, not necessity.

However, McNeill’s report stood out for comments from Australian writer Geraldine Brooks. Although Brooks expressed admiration for BTS, she made some salient points.
Brooks said she opposed calls for boycotting Israel because “peace will only come if people talk to each other… I think anything that pulls people apart and shuts down dialogue and shuts down cultural exchange is only going to slow the process.”

She described Israel as “a vibrant society where so many different points of view are reflected” and said, “nobody is stopping us doing what we are doing here, which is exploring occupation in all its aspects and talking to whoever we want to talk to.”

This is the same freedom that McNeill takes advantage of to file reports like this one that too often exhibit pro-Palestinian bias and insufficient balance, ABC Radio National “Correspondents Report” (April 16).

Vera Baboun and the elephants in the room

Palestinian terror and the rejection of Israeli offers of a state were two key issues that the visiting mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun did not want to talk about when interviewed on ABC Radio.

On ABC Radio National “Religion” (May 11), Baboun complained that Bethlehem is separated from Jerusalem by a wall and is also subject to “many checkpoints”.

Host Andrew West said he travelled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in 1999 which “took about 20 minutes. I’m not sure I could do that today, could I?”

Neither West nor Baboun pointed out the seminal difference.

1999 was before the eruption of the Second Intifada which forced Israeli authorities to reluctantly cut off the easy access to Israel and Jerusalem which suicide bombers and other terrorists coming from Palestinian-administered areas had been taking advantage of.

Baboun also complained that Area C – which covers 60% of the West Bank – is controlled by Israel and that prevents the growth of Bethlehem. Of course, if the Palestinian leadership had accepted the offers of a state made to them in 2000/01 and 2008, Israel would have withdrawn from 95% of the West Bank.

West asked Baboun, whose trip was sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, if the Australian Government should be more critical of the “growth of settlements.” She said, “Yes, because the growth of settlements threaten the State of Palestine to be”.

Yet there has not been substantive expansion in the boundaries of the settlements since before 2004, and most population growth is happening within the major settlement blocs Israel expects to keep in any peace deal in exchange for land swaps. This means that the contours of a Palestinian state remain the same as the offers made 15 years ago or even 8 years ago.

Baboun talked about Bethlehem as a symbol of peace but failed to mention that under Palestinian Authority self-rule, Bethlehem’s Christian population has continued to decline, from 60 to 70% per cent in the 1960s down to 15 to 20% today.

She also didn’t discuss how upon becoming mayor in 2013, she received smears and threats from both PA loyalists and Hamas alleging she was implementing anti-Muslim policies and last October her home was hit by a Molotov cocktail in this city of peace.

Elsewhere, on ABC Radio National “Saturday Extra” (May 7), Baboun talked about many of the same issues but this time there was a large focus on the alleged “water crisis” in Bethlehem.

She said, “we need in Bethlehem almost 16,000 cubic metres for a day, but we receive 10,000.”

Although she acknowledged that 40 per cent of water is lost because of poor quality pipes, she suggested that a solution is being stymied because Israel has not given permission for a new dam in Area C.

In fact, the issue of water usage is a scandal of the Palestinian Authority’s own making. It refuses to adopt the latest irrigation technology, in which Israel is a world leader, or cooperate with Israel on water infrastructure, and most Palestinian wastewater is released into the ground, polluting the aquifers, including Israel’s own water sources. Israel has obviated many of these issues by building desalination plants and recycling 80% of its wastewater for irrigation purposes.

So Nir and yet so far left

On ABC Radio National “Saturday Extra” (May 21) visiting Israeli author Nir Baram pulled out all the stops in a stunning performance of an extreme leftist telling listeners Israelis are universally cruel and indifferent oppressors.

Denouncing all of Israel’s mainstream leadership, Baram accused it of only seeking “to sustain the status quo” and promoting a “phony peace process like we did in the last 10 or 15 years.”

This presumably includes former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer in 2000 at Camp David of a Palestinian state, and former PM Ehud Olmert’s even more generous 2008 offer.

According to Baram, after the failure of Camp David, Israelis became “disillusioned” and reluctant to talk about a Palestinian state.

Of the violence and the 1,000 Israelis left dead in the wake of the Second Intifada, which was Yasser Arafat’s response to Camp David, Baram had nothing to say.

Apparently, in his worldview, the fact that the offer for peace was met with unprecedented terrorism was not a factor in this Israeli disillusionment. Nor was the rocket fire which followed the withdrawal from Gaza.

He accused the Labor party of wanting to “create a peace process without peace” while Likud leader Netanyahu “doesn’t want to create a peace process, doesn’t want peace.”

And like many on the far-left, Baram sullied the idea of a two-state solution from every angle.

It is a “zombie idea”, he said. It is impossible to implement because Israel “erased the ‘67 border… and settlements now are everywhere.”

Moreover, all “Israeli society is involved in the settlements idea, it’s not just religious people… they built a kind of welfare state in the West Bank for the Jews, so there is no incentive for the Israelis to go back to the ‘67 borders”.

And you can forget a peace deal where Israel retains the settlement blocs because it’s “totally absurd… It’s too big of an area.”

Never mind that Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat admitted in November 2011 that the settlements only cover 1.1% of the West Bank and numerous proposals have been put forward to retain most settlers by Israel keeping 6% or less of the West Bank with lands swaps.

No, the occupation endures because ordinary Israelis are only concerned with their material wellbeing and are “not paying a real price for the occupation,” according to Baram.

Only when the international community deals with the result of 1948 and the “deportation of 700,000 Palestinians” will there be a hope for peace.

And there you have it, without equivocation or nuance, Baram tells you that Israel was born in sin and that’s the real problem – not the “occupation” of the West Bank.

No questions were asked about Hamas’ genocidal ambitions for Israel and Jews, the Palestinian hero-worship of terrorists and indoctrination against seeing Jews as having any national rights.

It was left to fellow program guest Robin Margo, former chairman of the also left-wing New Israel Fund Australia, to point out that a recent poll showed most Israeli Jews still back a two-state resolution.



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