Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – June 2024

May 31, 2024 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The Vice Squad

In the Australian (May 14), AIJAC’s Mark Leibler asked how it is that university vice-chancellors refuse to “acknowledge there is a specific anti-Semitism crisis on campuses in this country,” even when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese agrees that there is.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph (May 3), AIJAC’s Dr Colin Rubenstein said the failure of “university administrators to tackle the problem head on” was due to a lack of “courage” and the fact that “many academics [are] complicit in the political hooliganism on… campuses.”

On Sky News’ website (May 16), AIJAC research associate Dr Ran Porat wrote that the pro-Palestinian demonstrators who have turned university campuses into toxic, charged and unpleasant breeding grounds of hate would do well to remember that free speech comes with an asterisk.

“While individuals have the right to express and share their views with the world, this does not grant a license to promote hate, violence, or reject others simply because they hold different opinions. Freedom of speech does not equate to permission for harassment, threats, property damage, or undermining the rights of others. Accountability accompanies our words,” he wrote.

AIJAC’s Justin Amler on Sky News’ website (May 3) said the wave of antisemitism sweeping across university campuses has meant that rather than the terrorist supporters hiding in the shadows, it is Jews who are now feeling vulnerable and intimidated.

The Adelaide Advertiser (May 8) slammed pro-Palestinian protests on campus, saying, “The war in Gaza is a terrible, complicated disaster… it’s just hard to imagine a group of privileged… Uni protesters having a camp and a snooze on the lawn is going to make a shred of difference to the eventual outcome.” 


Academic cheer squad

In contrast, Hobart Mercury columnist Greg Barns approved of the protesters (May 13), who he said, “represent the conscience of the nation.” 

On the ABC “Religion & Ethics” website (May 14), academic Maria O’Sullivan supported the university protests, saying it was “unclear” what the chant “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” means to the protesters.

O’Sullivan decided the less pernicious interpretation was the correct one, writing, “Significantly, Max Kaiser, the executive officer of the Jewish Council of Australia, a newly-formed group of Jewish academics, teachers, writers, and lawyers, told the Guardian recently: ‘In our interpretation, and as it’s explained by Palestinian people the world over, is it’s a call for freedom and equality for all people, Jewish and Palestinian… It’s definitely not something that should be construed as a threat to Jewish people or Israelis.’”

Kaiser does not represent the mainstream views of the Jewish community, which overwhelmingly believes the chant means Israel’s replacement by a Palestinian state and, in all likelihood, the expulsion of most Jews living there.


Seeing the blind spot

However, others sympathetic to the Palestinians were not so blind. 

Canberra Times columnist Mark Kenny (May 12) acknowledged that some of the students’ words and actions have been “abysmal… tactically abysmal… tactically cumbersome… morally indefensible.” However, he also said that “openly siding with the aims of a terrorist group merely does the Israel lobby’s work for it,” which, he said, is to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. 

In the Guardian Australia (May 13), Observer columnist Sonia Sodha expressed concern at the hate that is spilling over from protests, writing, “One example of protest curdling into something deeply nasty is the treatment of Eden Golan, the Israeli contestant in this weekend’s Eurovision contest. Sure, people have a right to protest against Israel’s inclusion in the contest. But it was horrible to see the level of ire focused on a 20-year-old performer, to the extent that she was advised to stay in her hotel room outside her performances, and other contestants felt justified in being publicly unkind to her, including issuing clarifying statements that being caught on video interacting with her did not mean they endorsed the government of the country she is representing. (Why on earth would it?).”


Two states of mind

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in the Australian Financial Review (May 13), said that protesters who “refuse to acknowledge what Hamas did to trigger this [are] just another partisan throwing a log on the fire.” Friedman said, “The only just and workable solution… is two nation states for two indigenous peoples… If you are not for that, you’re part of the problem.”

On May 9, ABC Radio National “Breakfast” host Patricia Karvelas told anti-Zionist National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) president Nick Riemer his claim that a boycott of Israel’s academic institutions would not impact individual Israeli academics “doesn’t make sense”. 

Karvelas asked Riemer if the NTEU is boycotting other countries, including Iran. Riemer said academics in Iran needed to be proactive and approach the NTEU, which Karvelas thought highly unlikely. She also pushed back against his definition that Zionism meant “the violent dispossession and colonisation of the Palestinian people.”


Starved of facts

In the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (April 18), Australian Council for International Development chief executive Marc Purcell claimed, “the evidence that the Israeli government is deliberately starving civilians in Gaza is unequivocal.” 

Purcell’s evidence included Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant’s threat just after October 7 to cut off all electricity, fuel and food into Gaza.

Since then, Purcell said, the “amount of humanitarian assistance… has plummeted each day” and that “even before October 7, the loads of 500 aid trucks a day were required to feed Gaza’s population,” but now less than 100 are entering.

He also implied that Israel deliberately mowed down more than 100 Gazans waiting for food in February and claimed that “the death toll of aid workers in Gaza is more than 200.”

In fact, Israel has been allowing all available aid into Gaza since late October, and since the start of March, more food trucks have been entering Gaza every day than before the war. 

His claim that 500 trucks of aid entered Gaza daily before October 7 is incorrect. Aid made up a minority of the goods loaded onto the trucks entering Gaza before then.

Purcell also ignored the widely-cited evidence that Hamas consistently steals more than half the aid, while inefficient distribution often sees hundreds of truckloads of aid sitting waiting just inside Gaza.

Those tragically killed waiting for aid in the shocking February incident Purcell mentioned were crushed in a stampede or run over by the trucks trying to escape the mob. Israeli troops only later fired on a separate group that advanced on them. Of the “aid workers” killed in Gaza, we don’t know how many were killed by Hamas or, indeed, how many were actually combatants.


SBS’s Catastrophic Nakba report

On SBS TV “World News” (May 15) Liz Maddock reported on “a rare Palestinian protest allowed inside Israel. Police didn’t shut down this annual march for the Nakba – or ‘catastrophe’ – a day that marks the mass expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war.”

As long as no violence or incitement to violence happens, there are no restrictions on Israeli Arabs protesting inside Israel and such protests happen often.

Moreover, 700,000 Palestinians were not expelled in 1948. During the fighting some Palestinian Arabs were expelled, but the majority of those fleeing never even encountered Israeli soldiers. 


Down for the count

There was muted coverage of the UN’s dramatic revision of the claimed death toll of Palestinians since the Hamas-Israel war started.

The Australian (May 20) noted the decrease, saying, “But after Israel has taken a beating over civilian casualties in Gaza, it is worth noting, for the sake of accuracy, that on May 8 the UN almost halved the child fatality toll in Gaza from 14,500 to 7800, and the figure for fatalities of women from more than 9500 to 4959.”

Sky News host Chris Kenny (May 14) commented, “I have said before that we have to be very sceptical … about claims made when it comes to casualties in Gaza … the only numbers coming out of Gaza are numbers that Hamas allows out of Gaza.” 

An online analysis piece by ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek on the costs of the war since October 7 (May 10), asserted that in “seven months of war in Gaza, more than 36,000 people confirmed dead.” There is no “confirmation” of these deaths, only unverified statistical claims from Hamas-affiliated bodies. 


Extraordinary spin

The media overwhelmingly blamed Israel as the party responsible for a failure to reach a ceasefire in early May when Hamas said it accepted a ceasefire offer which turned out to be dramatically different from what the US and Israel had offered. 

On ABC TV “News at Noon” (May 7), Global Affairs Correspondent John Lyons said, “The Egyptians and Qataris have come forward with this proposal based on weeks and months of sitting in on negotiations. They thought that this was acceptable to both sides. Hamas said yes and has accepted it. Israel has said no.” 

Lyons did not explain that the deal Egypt and Qatar negotiated with Hamas was never agreed to by Israel. Nor did he even spell out what the terms of the deal were and why Israel refused to accept it. Some of these unacceptable conditions included that Hamas could release dead hostages instead of live ones, and the demands that Hamas terrorists involved in the October 7 massacre be freed and Israel pull all its troops out of Gaza.

Lyons also said, “Now there is some commentary inside Israel in the influential newspaper Haaretz, which is actually arguing that Benjamin Netanyahu is deliberately sabotaging this peace deal that he expected, or hoped, that Hamas would reject it because his view, whether he would deny he’s sabotaging it… is the job hasn’t yet been done.” 

It was very clear well before Israel’s limited manoeuvres in Rafah that it was Hamas preventing a ceasefire deal being reached over months of negotiations, as the US has acknowledged.

On April 30, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken chided Hamas for rejecting Israel’s “extraordinarily generous” deal, saying, “In this moment, the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas.”

SBS TV “World News” (May 7) reported Hamas had accepted a ceasefire deal and that the “ball is now back in Israel’s court,” but not Lyons’ conspiracy theory that Netanyahu was deliberately sabotaging negotiations.


Saying “no” to yes vote

In the Daily Telegraph and Courier-Mail (May 15), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein explained why Australia’s decision to back the UN General Assembly resolution granting ‘Palestine’ more rights and to recommend the Security Council officially recognise it as a state was “counter-productive”. 

“The pre-conditions for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace are simply not currently in place” and there is “no doubt whatsoever that many Palestinians see UN recognition… as a major national achievement made possible by Hamas’… mass violence on October 7,” he wrote.

Two days earlier, Dr Rubenstein told Sky News that the vote essentially endorsed “mass murder, rape, kidnapping, hostage taking… as acceptable and effective tools to achieve legitimacy and international support,” adding that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority were both pleased with the outcome.


Wong gets the gong

News columnist Andrew Bolt excoriated Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (May 13), saying, she “protested… her vote to recognise Palestine was ‘the opposite of what Hamas wants’. She says it’s a move towards a two-state solution Hamas opposes – for Israel and Palestine to exist side-by-side… in fact, Hamas had already contradicted Wong. It welcomed the vote, calling it ‘an acknowledgment on the necessity for our Palestinian people to obtain their legitimate rights and an affirmation of the international rally around our people’.”

The Australian (May 13) condemned the Government, saying, “it is not often that Australia votes alongside Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Yemen and Libya. But that is where we were… the government has strayed from longstanding bipartisan policy on Israel, at a time when the Jewish state is fighting for its survival and needs its friends.” 

In the same edition, former Australian Ambassador to Israel and current NSW Liberal Senator Dave Sharma said recognition unfairly attributes blame to Israel for the failure to achieve a two-state peace, noting that “each negotiation has foundered because the Palestinian political leadership has been ultimately unwilling to renounce its claims to the territory of Israel.”

News Corp columnist Joe Hildebrand (May 13) said, “it all comes back to October 7 – the biggest mass killing of Jews since the Holocaust. And this is what makes the UN’s vote declaring Palestine qualifies for statehood so foolish and dangerous. It is not that Palestine should not or will not become an independent state… It is that if and when Palestine does become a sovereign state, the timing of the UN vote means that October 7 will forever be the key foundational moment in that statehood. An act of terror, not an act of protest, will be seen as the key to its success. And don’t take my word for it. Take those of Palestinian advocates.”

The West Australian (May 13) asked, “why is Australia suddenly pitting itself against Israel and pretending it is not?” The paper accused Senator Wong of “itching to make a public stand against Israel for domestic political purposes.”


Senatorial combat

In the Adelaide Advertiser (May 10) and the West Australian (May 13), Senator Wong defended the UN resolution, saying, it “maintained the Palestinians’ observer status with modest additional rights to participate in UN forums,” recognised the Palestinian “aspiration for eventual… membership” of the UN, and “reaffirmed ‘unwavering support for’… a two-state solution – Israel and Palestine –… the opposite of what Hamas wants.”

In the same Advertiser edition, shadow foreign affairs spokesperson Senator Simon Birmingham criticised the Government, saying, the “motion Labor supported reads like October 7 never happened. There’s no condition that hostages be released or Hamas surrender, even though these could end the immediate conflict.” 


Warnings ignored

Writing in the Australian (May 10), Chris Merritt of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia recalled AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein’s 2015 warning of significant weaknesses in Australian federal laws prohibiting racial and religious hatred. 

Merritt said if governments had heeded Dr Rubenstein’s advice, “federal authorities might have been equipped with some of what they need to crack down on the worst aspects of anti-semitism.”

Merritt said, “right now, when the nation is scrambling for a solution to the spread of anti-semitism, reasonable people will find it hard to understand how such a law could have been approved by parliament” and “the case for reforming the code is urgent.”


Setting a precedent

Analysing Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israel involving hundreds of explosive drones, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and rockets on April 14, AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein in the Canberra Times (May 6) called on Australia to join the US and UK by announcing new sanctions targeting Iran’s missile and drone programs.

“Before its April 14 attack, the West could perhaps turn a blind eye to the malevolent actions of Iran’s proxies and hope to quietly manage Iran’s aggression. That unprecedented attack showed such beliefs are delusional,” he wrote.

Earlier, in the Daily Telegraph (April 18), Dr Rubenstein argued that, “The Iranian attack should… be a wake-up call to Australia and the world to take Iran’s threats more seriously, and its looming nuclear threat especially so.” 


In Parliament

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) – Passover message – April 22 – “We remain steadfast in our determination to counter hateful prejudice and antisemitism….”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton (Lib., Dickson) – Passover message – April 22 – “Know that you do not stand alone in the battle against age-old, enduring and shape-shifting anti-Semitism.”

Mr Dutton – Israeli Independence Day message – May 14 – “Today is a day to affirm Israel’s right to exist and right to defend itself… to celebrate the establishment of Israel and its achievement in becoming a thriving and prosperous democracy… to recognise Israel’s desire to live in peace with its neighbours.” 

The following were responses to questions about the International Criminal Court Prosecutor applying for warrants to arrest Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant:

Mr Albanese – May 23 – “What we don’t do is comment on court proceedings.”

Mr Dutton – May 22 – “Pressure… needs to be for likeminded countries that share our values… to put pressure on the ICC, to make sure that this antisemitic stance that they’ve taken does not advance.”

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – May 22 – “There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas… what we should be focusing on most of all is… the release of hostages and… a ceasefire.”

Mr Dutton: Speech at St Kilda Synagogue – April 19 – “What is truly shocking is the magnitude and the intensity of anti-Semitism which has emerged… in Australia, since… October 7… Until Hamas is defeated, a two-state solution isn’t even conceivable… The Coalition stands with our ally and our friend Israel.”

Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – May 16 – “The chant ‘From the river to the sea’ demands the destruction of the Jewish state. The Prime Minister has said it’s both violent and incompatible with peace, but Labor senator Fatima Payman has accused the Prime Minister of ‘defending the oppressor’s right to oppress’ and repeated the chant. Will the Prime Minister… remove Senator Payman from the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade?”

Mr Albanese replying – “The chant… is inappropriate. I very strongly believe in a two-state solution.” 

Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Simon Birmingham (Lib., SA) – May 16 – moved “That the Senate (a) notes that the slogan ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ opposes Israel’s right to exist, and is frequently used by those who seek to intimidate Jewish Australians via acts of antisemitism…”

Senator Wong – “Most of all we want to do what we can to break the cycle of violence… The phrase ‘From the river to the sea’ is not consistent with a two-state solution.”

Only the Greens and Lidia Thorpe opposed the motion. Senator Payman was absent.

Senator Lidia Thorpe (Ind., Vic.) – May 16 – seeking to move a motion on weapons exports to Israel: “There is a clear genocidal campaign happening, and it’s intended to complete Nakba. It’s intended… to wipe the land of its people.”

Greens Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John (WA) – May 15 – seeking to move a motion on the Nakba: “The Nakba was the violent displacement, dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people… Today’s day of reflection is happening against the backdrop of the ongoing genocide in Gaza… Millions are being actively and deliberately starved… we must expel the State of Israel’s Ambassador to Australia.”

Greens Deputy Leader Senator Mehreen Faruqi (NSW) – May 14 – sought to move a motion commending anti-Israel student protest encampments. 

Shadow Education Minister Senator Sarah Henderson (Lib., Vic.) – “The encampments on university campuses are fuelling shocking levels of hate, incitement and antisemitism across this country… causing extraordinary distress to Jewish students and staff.”

Only the Greens and Senator Thorpe supported the above motions.

Mr Dutton – May 14 – “Prime Minister, 130 hostages still remain in tunnels after the October 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel last year in which 1,200 people were massacred. Violent antisemitism is on the rise here in Australia and indeed around the world. Why did the Prime Minister make a captain’s call to [back] Palestine’s bid for United Nations membership, breaching faith with our Jewish community and decades of bipartisanship…?”

Mr Albanese replying – “We, in supporting that resolution… believe that it’s consistent with providing a pathway to peace… The people who are vehemently opposed to that resolution include Hamas.” 


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