Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – June 2022

Jun 2, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

More than symbolic

A Victorian Government announcement that a bill will be introduced mandating that neo-Nazis who display swastikas could be fined more than $20,000 and even spend 12 months in jail received wide media coverage.

Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes was quoted in the Age (May 12) explaining the law won’t apply to online content because the state Government has no power to regulate the digital sphere.

The article quoted Deputy Liberal leader David Southwick, who is Jewish, saying the ban was “the proudest moment” of his political career.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Daniel Aghion was quoted by the Herald Sun (May 12) noting that antisemitic incidents had increased 37% year on year.

On May 4, the Herald Sun reported that a group of neo-Nazis celebrated Adolf Hitler’s birthday at a Bavarian beer hall in Melbourne’s Docklands.

On May 18, the Age reported two Jewish men, one of whom was dressed in Orthodox garb, were assaulted in an antisemitic attack in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick.


Comparing the Incomparable

News Corp columnist David Penberthy (May 1) lamented the “growing…misuse of Nazis allusions” by “even bright and reasonable people” who “cannot distinguish the horrors of the Third Reich with other lesser issues with which they happen to disagree or people they happen to dislike.”

Penberthy’s list included anti-vaxxers wearing “Stars of David” at rallies to protest against vaccine mandates or likening governments wanting to stop the unauthorised arrival of boats carrying asylum seekers to the “Final Solution”.

He chided lawyer Julian Burnside for “think[ing] nothing of likening Coalition figures to Goebbels”; Liberal federal candidate Katherine Deves for drawing parallels “between the trans community and the Nazis”; a protester who egged UAP leader Craig Kelly whilst telling him “to stop hanging around with Nazis” and Climate 200 candidate Monique Ryan for sharing a mashup image on social media of Donald Trump and Hitler.


Doing the hard yards

A long feature in the Guardian Australia (May 2) focused on a visit to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland by former Yorkshire cricket player Azeem Rafiq, famous for the testimony he gave in 2021 to a UK Parliamentary inquiry on the anti-Pakistani and anti-Muslim racism he allegedly experienced whilst playing at the club. 

The visit, which included meeting Holocaust survivors and participating in the March of the Living walk, was prompted by media reports that Rafiq had made antisemitic remarks in a text message, for which he apologised and promised to “take time to understand and learn and educate myself.”

Rafiq said, “I can’t remember ever studying the Holocaust in school… I’d genuinely never heard of it before I met [Holocaust survivor] Lily Ebert… but like they say, once you listen to a witness you become a witness. That’s the responsibility of all of us who have come and learned about it to encourage other people to learn about it… A lot of it I still can’t quite process on a human level at all… we’ve bumped into groups of Ukrainian refugees. It just feels like it’s right on our doorstep again and what are we doing?”


Not fit for children

Age/Sydney Morning Herald film critic Paul Byrnes’ review on May 19 of a new movie about children’s writer Roald Dahl said he was “a man judged by some to have been an anti-Semite (Dahl considered himself anti-Israel, not anti-Jew).” 

But as AIJAC’s Jeremy Jones explained in a letter published by the SMH (May 21), Dahl “acknowledged his antisemitism in an article in The Independent in 1990.” Moreover, Jones said, it is “difficult to argue otherwise in the face of his numerous offensive statements, such as the time he told The New Statesman, ‘There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity … Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason’; his reference to ‘great Jewish financial institutions’ purportedly controlling the US government; and his appalling slur that during his service in WWII, Jewish soldiers were difficult to find.”

In fact, according to Dahl biographer Jeremy Treglown, in 1983, the then editor of the Literary Review, Gillian Greenwood, had to change a review Dahl wrote about Israel’s invasion of Lebanon from referring to “Jews” to instead criticise Israelis, which “allow[ed] Dahl to claim later, ‘I am not anti-Semitic. I am anti-Israel.’”

Even so, according to Treglown, “throughout the article, even as it was finally published, he associated actions of the Israeli government (roundly condemned by many other commentators) with the behaviour and beliefs of Jews everywhere.”


Get real

A beat up in the Guardian Australia (May 18) written by former Jerusalem based correspondent Chris McGreal implied improper behaviour by US pro-Israel lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), alleging it was “pouring millions of dollars” into preventing Democrats from getting elected, particularly “female candidates” who might “align” themselves with the “Squad” – progressive Congresswomen who have been “critical of Israel”.

The article quoted mainly from Logan Bayroff from the left-wing Jewish lobby group J-Street, who complained that AIPAC-affiliated organisations promote their preferred candidates by highlighting their stances on issues other than their record on Israel. “Healthcare and reproductive rights and things that have nothing to do with Israel. Which makes sense because those are the things that decide elections, not Israel,” he said, adding AIPAC wants to ensure its preferred candidates get elected. 

So, in other words, the story is that J-Street is unhappy that its bigger rival AIPAC, which has broken no laws and is perfectly entitled to spend money supporting candidates, is not supporting the same candidates as J-Street is. Not much of a story. 


It’s a riot

ABC Radio National “Religion and Ethics Report” host Stan Grant’s introduction (May 6) to a report on violent protests by Palestinians on the Temple Mount left a lot to be desired.

According to Grant, “Clashes at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem… followed a pattern. Israeli police raided the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews after dawn prayers, and to remove Palestinian youth throwing rocks and firecrackers.” 

The Israeli police “raids” were conducted to arrest Palestinian youths who were violently rioting and attacking Jewish worshippers at the nearby Western Wall, not just for the sake of it, as the script implied. 

Israel-based Australian journalist Irris Makler’s report included a Palestinian claim that “settlers” are entering the Mosque. This is nonsense. Non-Muslims have been banned by the Waqf religious authorities from entering any of the Muslim structures on the Temple Mount for 20 years now.


Motion to dismiss 

In the Herald Sun (May 6), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein excoriated the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) for passing an “extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic motion” on April 29 [the motion was subsequently rescinded on May 26, Ed.] that demanded the University boycott Israel, accused Israel of apartheid and “employed language…expected from Hamas or Hezbollah.”

Dr Rubenstein said UMSU had created “a fictitious, one-sided narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Palestinians as natives and any Jewish connection to the land denied… In deeming Zionism a ‘racist, colonial ideology’ and Israel a ‘settler colonial apartheid state’ and ‘colonial project’, yet demanding self-determination for Palestinians, this motion is clearly antisemitic. It denies to Jews the right to self-determination in the Jewish homeland, where Jews have lived for thousands of years, yet demands that same right for others.”

The motion’s claim that Israel “denies the native Palestinians of their right to self-determination, freedom, dignity and equality” ignored the “numerous offers of statehood from Israel that the Palestinian Authority has spurned,” he added. 

Dr Rubenstein also condemned as “arrogant” a clause stating “Judaism and Zionism are not to be conflated as one”, noting that “for most Jews, Zionism – meaning belief in a right to Jewish self-determination in their ancestral homeland – is an integral part of their Judaism.”


Barns makes hay

On May 9, Hobart Mercury columnist Greg Barns defended the UMSU motion, saying claims of antisemitism are a “cheap and nasty slur” to silence “advocate[s]… for the rights of Palestinian people to have a homeland.”

Disingenuously, Barns said BDS “is a movement that says the oppression of Palestinians is unlawful, and calls for sanctions and other economic punishments against Israel – not dissimilar to those actions that, in the end, crippled apartheid South Africa.”

The Mercury (May 18) ran a response by AIJAC’s Allon Lee, who noted “many of the reports [cited by Barns] labelling Israel an apartheid state actually acknowledge there is no real similarity between Israel and apartheid South Africa. Instead, apartheid is redefined to essentially include any discrimination or inequality between ethnic groups” – and most nations could be considered Apartheid under this definition, not just Israel.

Lee explained that people incorrectly “presume… BDS’s goals include ending the occupation and implementing a two-state formula for peace,” noting that BDS documents make no reference to the two-state solution. 

The article quoted numerous statements by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti that, it said, unequivocally prove that BDS’s “clear… goal… is the elimination of Israel.”


Scary Stuff

In Barns’ May 16 column, he praised Tasmanian independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie, who was running for re-election in the seat of Clark, for supporting “the rights of Palestinians” and not being frightened of “the right-wing media and the Israel lobby” like “so many members of parliament in Australia are.” 

Or maybe most voters and MPs can recognise that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more complicated than presented in Barns’ factually challenged assertions without having to be “frightened” into this recognition.


Right to know

On May 2, the Australian reported that the ABC Board was waiting until after the Federal election on May 21 to release the findings of the independent inquiry it had commissioned into the ABC’s complaints procedures. The story suggested the inquiry’s report agreed with many of the grievances raised by ABC critics, including the lack of procedural fairness for complainants. 

Writing in the Australian (May 9), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein and Allon Lee called on the ABC Board to release the report, saying “the ABC’s complaints process is a hotly debated political item, and the public has a right to know the response from political parties to the report and its recommendations, before they vote.” They argued that not doing so was inconsistent with the ABC’s “member[ship] of Australia’s Right to Know Media Coalition.”

The report was indeed released on May 17. It acknowledged many of the criticisms levelled at the current internally run complaints setup, including the lack of procedural fairness for complainants; the ABC’s problematic and limiting webpage for lodging complaints; the ABC’s tendency as an organisation to exhibit a culture of defensiveness in the face of complaints; and problems with the ABC publicising successful complaints adequately.

However, rather than accepting calls for an independently run system to replace the current set-up, the inquiry recommended creating an Ombudsman position which would have oversight of complaints and be totally separate from the editorial departments of the ABC, reporting to the Managing Director and the Board. 


Report Reports

Nine Newspapers’ Zoe Samios’ article (May 18) on the inquiry’s findings said the “review found it needed to remove the perception the national broadcaster ‘marked its own homework’.” 

The Guardian Australia (May 17) spun it differently, saying the inquiry found “the ABC’s internal complaints unit is an ‘efficient’ system which could… benefit from the addition of an ABC ombudsman to review the findings.”

An Australian article (May 23) quoted Zionist Federation of Australia President Jeremy Leibler asserting that ABC shows have “disproportionately represented one viewpoint over time, in violation of its editorial standards” and “the diversity of perspectives standard should be applied to programs individually, not the ABC as a whole.” 


Elementary, Mr Holmes

An op-ed on Nine Newspapers’ website (May 18) by former ABC TV “Media Watch” presenter Jonathan Holmes attacked the decision of the ABC Board to disregard the report’s recommendation for the ombudsman to report to both the ABC Managing Director and the Board, and have them report only to the Board. Holmes acknowledged that the ABC Board has a statutory responsibility to ensure the broadcaster’s content is accurate and impartial but he insisted there is not a “single media organisation in the democratic world whose complaints process is kept separate from editorial management.”

Given the ABC Managing Director has a seat on the ABC Board, Holmes was splitting hairs. Moreover, contrary to his claim, a number of European countries do have genuinely independent complaints procedures for public broadcasters. 


Hartcher words

On May 17, while speculating on the probable contours of foreign policy under an Albanese Government, Nine Newspapers international editor Peter Hartcher spouted well-worn myths about the Morrison Government’s announcement in 2018 that it was considering moving our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Hartcher said, “[Labor’s Penny] Wong points out that the government almost scuttled its own free trade negotiations with Indonesia when Scott Morrison announced his gambit to move Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He was pandering to the Jewish vote for the 2018 byelection in Sydney’s Wentworth. And mimicking a Donald Trump move. It was a debacle. Indonesia was unimpressed, the National Security Committee of Morrison’s own cabinet sidelined the proposal and the Liberals lost the byelection.”

Donald Trump’s announcement recognising Jerusalem and an intention to move the US embassy there was not done to “pander” to the “Jewish vote” but to fulfil an election promise Trump made to his Christian evangelical base. In the US, Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat.

Moreover, in contrast to Australia, where media, academics and former diplomats notable for having anti-Israel views warned of dire consequences should Australia recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in Indonesia the response was far more measured. It was not an issue that featured in the media or public debates there, and there is no real reason to think it jeopardised the Free Trade Agreement. After all, the anticipated benefits of the Free Trade Agreement were of greater significance for Indonesia’s economy than Australia’s. 


Leser learned

Media commentator Gerard Henderson’s Australian “Media Watchdog” column (May 13) poked fun at journalist David Leser’s anecdote in Nine Newspapers’ Good Weekend magazine (May 7) revealing that ABC executive and harsh Israel critic John Lyons was very unhappy to be challenged on his views about Israel at the Byron Writers Festival in 2017.

Leser was quoted by the Good Weekend saying, “I will always deeply regret the interview I did with John Lyons for his book, Balcony over Jerusalem. John and I had been colleagues and friends for 35 years. His book is a kind of polemic against the Occupation [of Palestine]. He knew how bitterly opposed to the Occupation I’ve always been. I decided to be provocative. I thought the interview required more than a ‘Let’s just agree on all of this’, but it went pear-shaped, and I blame myself for that. It hurt John, it hurt me. And it hurt our friendship, and I regret that.”

Henderson commented, “Shucks. At the ABC, John Lyons has presided over numerous programs which have fanged individuals and organisations. Yet he got oh-so-upset when his views were challenged… yet another example of a journalist who likes to dish out criticism but cannot take criticism.”


Not very politic

An SBS TV “News in Arabic” (May 11) interview with Arab Australian Federation secretary Hassan Moussa on how to vote in the then-upcoming federal elections included him calling on Arab Australians to vote for candidates of Arab background. As a political lobbyist, Moussa’s political advice on who to vote for should not have been included in a segment on how to vote. Especially because it was unnecessary – SBS TV “News in Arabic” on May 10 had noted that the Australian Electoral Commission’s website has a whole section in Arabic explaining how to vote.


In Parliament

Then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Lib., Cook) – May 5 – Israeli Independence Day Message: “Australia admires Israel. In Israel, we see a companion on our journey as sovereign and free democratic nations… Australia will always speak in support of freedom and the people of Israel… My government stands with Israel. On this day… there are many in the world who continue to seek to bully Israel – we won’t be part of that, and we won’t put up with it. We will stand by Israel every step of the way.”

Then-Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) – May 5 – Israeli Independence Day Message: “Few things so perfectly illustrate the power of hope and all that can flow from it quite like the existence of Israel. When it was first proclaimed in 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, that declaration of independence was nothing less than a triumph over the darkness of the Shoah… No matter which party is in power here, Israel will have Australia’s friendship and support. As leader of the Australian Labor Party, I can tell you that you will always have ours.”

Victorian Minister for Crime Prevention Natalie Hutchins (ALP, Sydenham) – May 12 – “The display of symbols associated with Nazi and neo-Nazi ideology is harmful and offensive to all members of our society, and particularly to the Jewish community. The display of such symbols in Victoria is particularly abhorrent given, outside of Israel, Melbourne has the largest per capita concentration of Holocaust survivors in the world.”

The following speeches are from the NSW Parliament:

Opposition Leader Chris Minns (ALP, Kogarah) – May 12 – “I would like to acknowledge the Australian Israeli Community as we come together to celebrate Israel’s 74th anniversary of independence. Australia has had a long, warm and close relationship with Israel… Australia is home to vibrant Australian-Israeli community and I thank them for the rich contributions to Australia over the years.” 

Chris Rath MLC (Lib.) – May 11 – “Today I use my first private member’s statement in this place to demonstrate my unwavering support for the state of Israel and its right to defend itself as the only truly free and truly democratic nation in the region. I also commit to doing everything I can… to combat antisemitism…To target an arts festival demonstrates the low depths that the BDS movement is willing to sink to in their vehemently political anti-Israel campaign. Such fundamentally wrong initiatives must have no place in this State.” 

Lynda Voltz (ALP, Auburn) – May 19 – “On 15 May many of my local residents marked the Nakba, the great tragedy when 700,000 Palestinians were forced in 1948 not only from their homes but from their lands… In this Chamber we condemn all acts of violence, but as my colleague the member for Watson, Tony Burke, recently noted, let us not forget that the violence directly stems from the settlement activity, evictions and hardships Palestinians are enduring alongside attacks on Palestinian holy places.” 

Anthony D’Adam MLC (ALP) – May 18 – “On 11 May Israeli soldiers shot and killed prominent Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh… Despite clearly being a member of the press, an Israeli soldier shot Abu Akleh in the face.” 

Scott Farlow MLC (Lib.) – 18 May – “I refer to a private member’s statement made earlier today that was littered with inaccuracies and assumptions based on dubious media reports and statements from the Palestinian Authority. Laying blame solely on Israel before the results of an investigation are complete is highly irresponsible and a gross example of a member’s clear bias against the Jewish State.” 


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