A world leaders’ video conference on responding to the coronavirus pandemic featuring Australian PM Scott Morrison and Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu received wide media coverage, including on ABC TV “7pm News” and SBS TV “World News” (May 7).
An ABC website report (May 9) said, “Morrison asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take him through the country’s quarantined ‘red zones’. That policy saw the army sent in to control virus clusters and restrict movement, a policy that has been criticised as heavy-handed.”
That criticism came mostly from Israeli politicians. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion was unhappy that the Ramot neighbourhood was included given its 60,000 residents had only 140 infections, and ultra-Orthodox Shas party leader Aryeh Deri grumbled that most of the red zones in Jerusalem covered ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods.
This is unsurprising – reports say 75% of COVID-19 cases in Jerusalem occurred in ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods.
Tlozek by the numbers
Anecdotal and empirical data suggest that Israel has largely succeeded in dealing with the threat of the coronavirus pandemic with relatively few deaths, and its cooperation with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority helped protect Palestinians too.
Veteran Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari – never one to pull his punches – said as much to ABC TV “The World” host Bev O’Connor on April 21.
According to Yaari, “The general sense here is that Israel was able to contain the worst of it. We have altogether 18,000 people infected, about 180 dead, most of them, almost all of them above 80 and 90 years old with background health issues. There is good cooperation, a bit surprising, but it’s occurring with the Palestinian Authority. So there is no outburst from across the ‘67 border’.”
O’Connor seemed to be of that opinion too during a live cross with ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek on May 7 when she said, “Israel is among a number of countries, that includes Australia, that are considered to have got ahead of the outbreak in their own nations. What does it feel like there?”
But Tlozek appeared to disagree, saying, “There is a number of officials in Israel who are, especially Benjamin Netanyahu, who are saying what a great job Israel has done, but look at the numbers…it has 16,000 cases, less than half the population of Australia, 16,000 cases and 235 deaths. So those are the numbers. It had big outbreaks in sections of the population that didn’t follow the social distancing rules, like the ultra-Orthodox Jews and the Israeli Arab areas and Palestinian areas of east Jerusalem where there were big outbreaks and very difficult to contain.”
Israel’s fatality rate for coronavirus cases is 1.66% which is comparable to Australia’s fatality rate of 1.44%. In contrast Belgium, France, Italy and the UK have double-digit fatality rates. Like Australia, Israel also has succeeded in “flattening the curve” much more successfully than most Western states.
Eric looks over Jordan
Earlier that day, ABC online featured an article co-written by Tlozek and Jordanian journalist Ranya Kadri on Jordan’s success in limiting the coronavirus “to under 500 total cases for a population of nearly 10 million.”
Despite hosting “millions of refugees” and having “a fragile economy”, Jordan “has only recorded nine coronavirus deaths. It is an outlier in the Middle East.”
Jordan achieved this through a “harsh lockdown” and “people nearly starved in the process and there were fears of social unrest.”
The article said, “initially, Jordan banned anyone but essential workers from leaving home for any reason, until hungry people stormed food delivery trucks… Then, the Government allowed people to go out in the day, on foot, to local shops for food. Vehicular travel and gatherings were banned. Police and the army set up hundreds of checkpoints, impounding more than 1,000 cars and imprisoning 2,000 people for breaking the curfew. All international arrivals – an estimated 5,800 of them – were forcibly quarantined in Dead Sea hotels.”
But Jordan didn’t stop there, with the Government not willing to “tolerate much criticism of its response, with monitoring group Human Rights Watch reporting that journalists, editors and activists were arrested for airing concerns about the restrictions.”
Aside from the economic challenge of dealing with 1.6 million Syrian refugees, the article claimed Jordan “is also home to millions of Palestinians displaced by the conflict with Israel.”
Millions of Palestinians were not displaced by the conflict and certainly not into Jordan.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, during the 1948 war with Israel, 100,000 Palestinians went to Jordan and 276,000 Palestinians moved from their homes in what became Israel to the West Bank.
After the conclusion of the war, Jordan annexed the West Bank and granted citizenship to Palestinians.
When Jordan lost control over the West Bank in 1967, 250,000 Palestinians from the West Bank crossed over into Jordan.
Even under the most liberal counting, nowhere near one million Palestinians ended up “displaced” into Jordan. One can only make that claim by insisting that, despite the fact most Palestinians in Jordan were born and raised there and have citizenship, they are not really Jordanian.
Lawyer and former Liberal Party member turned anti-Israel activist Greg Barns didn’t need to read the Tlozek/Kadri piece to see a truly draconian response to the coronavirus in action, because according to Barns it is happening in Australia.
In the Age (April 5), Barns warned, “By simply declaring an emergency, governments could once again issue laws by edicts, without parliamentary scrutiny, that ban individuals from being in particular areas…None of these examples is farfetched. We live in an age when fundamental rights such as freedom of movement, freedom of association and presumption of innocence are eroded… the rule of law and liberal democracy is being hit by another wave of grabs for power by the executive government.”
On May 14, the Age and Sydney Morning Herald ran Barns’ warning that under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic the Federal Government has proposed legislative amendments that will give ASIO powers more commonly associated with “authoritarian states.” Barns is entitled to oppose these new powers, but it seems there has never been any counter-terrorism legislation in Australia that has met his approval.
Book review shows some spine
We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know, former ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill’s memoir of her time in that role, received a rare substantive evaluation, with Kurt Johnson recognising that the book provides evidence of one of the major gripes against McNeill’s style of journalism.
Johnson writes, “McNeill demands we bear witness but in doing so she sometimes loses restraint and her prose bloats with adverbs… Indeed, when pressed, McNeill will dispense with professional dispassion and throw herself into the action,” Age/Sydney Morning Herald (May 15).
T.J. Collins’ review in the Canberra Times (May 2) of Colum McCann’s semi-fictional novel about an Israeli and a Palestinian father who lost children because of the conflict, criticised the author for not favouring the Palestinian side in a book whose title – Apeirogon – means an object with an infinite number of sides!
Collins disparages the advice in the book that the conflict “will not be over until we talk” as “bumper sticker bullshit” but, in fact, there hasn’t been nearly enough of it.
For the greater part of a century, Palestinian Arab leaders have made it taboo to talk to Jews. Instead, they have boycotted, incited and carried out terrorism against Jews, on the basis that Jews have no real connection to Palestine, let alone a right to self-determination there.
Collins seems to share this perspective.
According to Collins, the book “falter[s]… in its treatment of the Palestinian question…one gets the distinct impression that he’s not an entirely ‘honest broker’, to borrow a phrase from what used to be known as the ‘peace process’. At best, there’s a moral equivalence at play in Apeirogon. At worst, well, something decidedly worse.”
The Israeli protagonist, Rami, saying he is a “seventh-generation Jerusalemite” and his father-in-law is a general’s daughter, is criticised by Collins.
This means, Collins says, that Rami is “a member of a very tiny minority in a country full of immigrants. It also means that Rami’s ancestors would have lived harmoniously with the ‘old’ Palestinian families, families from which the late Edward Said, and his intellectual successor, Rashid Khalidi, for example, both descend” and “it will not be over until ‘both sides’ find a way to return to the relative harmony that existed before a hegemonic colonial project was unleashed on an undeserving people.”
It is also ironic that Collins cites Said to back his utopian fantasy of Jews and Christians living in harmony before Israel was established.
Even Said, a high profile one-state solution advocate, was not at all optimistic about such “harmony” in the future, admitting in 2000, “the question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews [after Israel is replaced with a Palestinian majority state] is very difficult for me. I really don’t know. It worries me.” Further, contrary to Said’s claims to have been raised in Jerusalem, there is overwhelming evidence that, like PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, most of his upbringing took place in Egypt.
Would Jew believe it?
AIJAC registered a formal complaint with the ABC following the airing of an antisemitic slur by a radio talkback caller on the May 3 edition of “Australia All Over with Ian McNamara”.
Whilst talking about the decline in Australian manufacturing, the caller from Victoria’s Latrobe Valley said, “Over 30 years ago, I managed the Exacto Factory that was specially built in Churchill… Now, Exacto was part of the Bradmill Industries and they had jeans, they even made the fabric for jeans, windcheaters, T-shirts we made… And when I was working they were worried sick that this big Jew was gonna buy it out, buy us out. And blow me down eventually he did and he broke, and he sold all our machinery and everything went over to, he sold it to over China.”
Program host Ian McNamara simply ignored the caller’s derogatory comment as though it was unexceptional.
AIJAC pointed out in the complaint that the caller “invoked an antisemitic trope of a rapacious and heartless Jewish businessman who rides roughshod over the lives of ordinary, hardworking people in an insatiable quest to make money… By allowing [the] comment to go through to the keeper, Mr McNamara, whose reputation is of a trusted figure of authority given his many years on radio, ran the risk of inadvertently seeming to legitimise antisemitism and casual racism to his audience.”
Colonel of Truth?
On Sky News “Outsiders” (April 26), co-host James Morrow asked retired senior British Army officer Colonel Richard Kemp to comment on conspiracy theories that Jews and Israel are responsible for the spread of the coronavirus.
Kemp said, “Unfortunately Israel and the Jews have traditionally become the object of hate and disinformation. You just have to go back to the Great Plague in Europe. The Jews were blamed for that… equally they are blaming the Jews for this…if you look at Israel itself, Israel has put a huge amount of effort, as you would expect, as any decent moral country would into helping the Arabs in the Middle East and not just in Israel itself but in the West Bank and in Gaza which is actually fighting a war against Israel on a permanent basis…and what do they say in response? They say actually the Israelis are responsible for causing it, spreading it and doing whatever they can to stop the Arabs from defending themselves against it. This is not a new story. Any situation in the world, people, particularly the Middle East but not only the Middle East will exploit that situation to attack Israel and to attack Jews.”
The Worst of British
Earlier on the same program, British writer Brendan O’Neill called the British Labour Party a “complete disgrace”, when commenting on the party’s justice spokesperson denying in a recent BBC interview he had said “Zionism is the enemy of peace” in 2016, despite video footage clearly showing he did so.
O’Neill said, “We know over the past few years when Jeremy Corbyn was leader it had a serious problem with antisemitism… this obsessive hatred of Israel, this obsessive hatred of Zionism, completely out of proportion and driven by a complete double standard. Israel was always judged by a different standard to every other nation on earth, which in itself is [an] antisemitic outlook.”
Australia on guard
The Guardian Australia reported (May 10) on the International Criminal Court (ICC) rejecting a petition from a group of countries, including Australia, that argued the ICC should not accept a Palestinian request to investigate Israel for alleged war crimes against Palestinians because Palestine is not a country under international law.
The Guardian noted that the ICC had dismissed the petition because it had yet to determine whether the court had territorial jurisdiction over Gaza, east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein was quoted explaining, “[Australia’s] submission not only outlines strong legal arguments preventing the Court having jurisdiction to consider the ‘Situation in Palestine’ – as the so-called ‘State of Palestine’ does not meet the necessary legal requirements for statehood under international law – but also makes the case that the court risks undermining any prospects of a negotiated peace.”
The article also quoted Rawan Arraf, the director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, saying, “Why is Australia going out of its way to hold back an investigation into Palestine? Australia has always been a strong supporter of accountability and the fight to end impunity. It should not stop now and it should withdraw its request.”
Maybe because Israel itself investigates and acts on allegations of misconduct involving its military and therefore the ICC doesn’t have to, and because the ICC plans seem themselves to be inconsistent with international law principles?
Up to speed on Iran
An SBS TV “World News”’ (April 24) report that the Australian Border Force had arrested two men attempting to smuggle $80 million worth of illegal amphetamines hidden in water bottles into NSW from Iran included some interesting observations about Australia’s relations with the Iranian regime.
SBS reporter Adrian Arciuli said the Australian Federal Police (AFP) force “admits it’s difficult to forge a relationship with Iranian authorities but says it is improving.”
AFP Detective Superintendent Ben McQuillan said, “a lot of the time police-led diplomacy is actually more effective than normal diplomatic channels, so we do deal with the Iranian authorities when we can and they have referred matters to us previously.”
Although there is no evidence in this case of the involvement of Iranian regime agencies, drug smuggling is a highly lucrative source of income for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and for Iranian proxy groups like Hezbollah. The Sydney Morning Herald’s report on the arrests also noted McQuillan’s comments.
On ABC TV “Foreign Correspondent” (May 5), the ABC’s Beirut-based correspondent Adam Harvey’s report on Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis and mass protests included some frank discussion about Hezbollah’s power there.
Harvey said, “the real power in Lebanon lies in crowded South Beirut, with the Shia movement Hezbollah. A state within a state. With its own formidable militia, trained and funded by Iran.”
Former World Bank presidential candidate Ziad Alexandre Hayek said, “Hezbollah, being the most powerful Shi’ite party in Lebanon, and being the only party that is armed, has significant power and is practically in a position to dictate to the country nowadays what it wants happening in politics. Hezbollah… feared that if the current system – where they have the most power among the parties and they can control the government – … changes, they will be in uncertain territory, and this unknown territory scares them.”
Elsewhere, the Australian (May 2) was one of the few Australian media outlets to note the German Government’s decision to widen its ban on Hezbollah to now cover the entire organisation, not just the military wing.