Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – March 2021

Mar 11, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock


Eyes wide shut

The Australian (Feb. 22) asked how the Biden Administration can contemplate “resurrecting” the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) given Iran’s recent behaviour.

The editorial noted that “powerful Iranian-linked militia groups” have “stepped-up rocket attacks… on residual US forces in neighbouring Iraq. The attacks are part of Tehran’s relentless drive to achieve Shia regional domination and force a total US retreat from Iraq.”

A Belgian court has just “sentence[ed] a senior Iranian diplomat to 20 years’ imprisonment for a 2018 terrorist plot intended to blow up a rally of thousands of exiled Iranians outside Paris. They were rallying in opposition to the ayatollahs’ regime and in favour of democracy.” 

And Iran has further breached its commitments under the 2015 deal by announcing it will limit scrutiny of its nuclear activities and “is moving to make uranium metal, which has no civilian use but could be part of a nuclear weapon.”

“Rewarding the ayatollahs for their continuing villainy would be absurd,” the paper asserted.


Reality check

In the Daily Telegraph (Feb. 9), AIJAC’s Tzvi Fleischer and Oved Lobel argued that if the Biden Administration returns to the JCPOA it must fulfil its promise to fix the deal’s flaws.

Iran, they said, is “attempting to panic” the Administration into resuming US participation, without pushing to renegotiate the deal or doing so only after sanctions have been lifted and the leverage to force changes has gone. 

Without changes, “starting in 2025, ‘sunset clauses’ in the JCPOA begin gradually lifting all restrictions on enriching uranium, permitting Tehran to enrich it to any level in any amount. Once that happens, Iran can effectively build nuclear weapons at any time without warning,” they wrote.


Muddled East reporting

On Jan. 27, SBS TV “World News’” wrongly framed opposition to the US returning to the Iran nuclear deal as solely an Israeli concern.

SBS reporter Abbie O’Brien said the Biden Administration has the “challenging task of restoring relations with Iran, while keeping Israel on side.” 

This was emphasised by academic Clive Williams who was broadcast saying, “it will be very difficult for… Biden… to come up with something which would please or satisfy both Israel and Iran.”

Williams added that “what worries Israel is that Iran would no longer be the international pariah that it was under Trump… sanctions would be lifted, including by Australia, and that would all be very positive for Iran.”

Australia never joined the US in reimposing sanctions on Iran in 2018, so Williams is wrong on that. Meanwhile the Sunni Arab states are as opposed to the JCPOA as Israel is.

Furthermore, on SBS TV “World News” (Feb. 17), academic Amin Saikal welcomed US President Joe Biden’s Middle East policy shifts as a signal that the Trump Administration’s policy of “developing an Arab-Israeli front against Iran” was over.


Korean Takeaway

SBS TV “World News” (Feb. 9) earlier reported on a new UN report alleging that North Korea and Iran are cooperating on missile research.

Roger Boyes of The Times (UK), republished in the Australian (Jan. 18), pointed out that Iran seized a South Korean tanker in the Persian Gulf with intelligence obtained from Pyongyang. 


Diehl’s wrong number

Writing in the Australian Financial Review (Jan. 21), veteran Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl said the “prime reason” the Trump Administration gave for “arming and defending Sunni Arab regimes that, when it comes to domestic oppression and foreign aggression, are hard to distinguish from Shi’ite Iran – Saudi Arabia and Egypt chief among them” was “defence” of Israel. 

But, Diehl said, “Israel… has shown that it is more than capable of defending itself against Iran’s conventional threats.”

The Trump Administration sold weapons to some Gulf States on the basis they were needed against Iran and its proxies, which threaten numerous states across the region – which is why it is ridiculous to accuse these states of being as aggressive as Iran is. Moreover, the Administration had to bring Israel into the equation to explain why it was selling equipment that potentially could erode a long-standing US commitment to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the region.


The I rant file

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald (Feb. 24) seemed to suggest that the Biden Administration re-joining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was somehow the key to a needed US policy to “champion democracy, disarmament and human rights consistently across the region.”

The paper said continuing a “partisan stance favouring selected Arab dictatorships as well as Israel’s supremacy” would mean “Washington’s long history of difficulties in the region is likely to continue.”

It is widely accepted that the Obama Administration overlooked Iran’s aggressive regional activities and domestic human rights abuses to maximise its chances of convincing Teheran to sign and adhere to a deal on its nuclear weapons program. In other words, the deal was inimical to championing “democracy, disarmament and human rights consistently.”

Thus, the Administration was heavily criticised for its lowkey response to Iran’s violent suppression of demonstrations against the regime hijacking the 2009 Presidential election result. 

Yet, in 2011, the Obama Administration pressured Egypt’s authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak to resign during massive demonstrations against his rule.

During the Syrian civil war, Obama remained disengaged as Iran helped the Assad regime slaughter hundreds of thousands of Syrians and commit numerous war crimes.

The editorial said returning to the JCPOA “will not be simple. Iran has returned to intensive uranium enrichment and increasingly engaged in ‘hostage diplomacy’, including the imprisonment of Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert.”

Uranium enrichment is only the tip of the Iranian nuclear weapons iceberg. 

The JCPOA is fatally flawed because it permits Iran to research and test advanced centrifuges and ballistic missiles whose only purpose can be the delivery of nuclear warheads. Enforcement of the deal was compromised by a reluctance to force Iran to disclose its program’s past military dimensions, which, as the nuclear archive Israel stole in 2018 revealed, was far more extensive than it claimed.

Moreover, hostage-taking has been an unshakeable pillar of Iranian foreign policy since the US Embassy seizure in 1979. 

The editorial also falsely accused Israel and the Saudis of being “deeply opposed to any understanding” between the US and Iran.

In fact, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has consistently argued that, while the JCPOA is fatally flawed, it should be replaced by a better and more comprehensive agreement.


Critical appraisal

In the Courier Mail (Feb. 22), AIJAC’s Dr. Colin Rubenstein argued for the Biden Administration “to impartially weigh the effectiveness of Trump’s individual policies in isolation from the tawdry controversies that surround the former president.” 

Rubenstein pointed out that many of Trump’s Middle East policies “should be counted among his successes, often achieved through non-conventional approaches that involved rethinking the US Foreign Policy establishment’s sacred cows.”

He cited the peace agreements signed by Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco and Sudan with Israel in 2020, noting that as “late as 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry said, ‘there will be no advanced and separate peace (between Israel and) the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace… That is the hard reality.’”

The new Administration knows that some of Trump’s policy changes were working, Dr. Rubenstein said, pointing out that it has “made clear that it will not reverse Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that was long overdue.”

Unfortunately, it hasn’t accepted that Trump was right to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and has appointed “several officials closely associated with negotiating the original JCPOA to positions of influence.”

But the situation has changed since 2015, he added, with “the exposure of Iran’s nuclear archive in 2018 and its ever-growing litany of violations of the JCPOA…. end[ing] the charade that its nuclear program was ever peaceful.” 


On the blink

Israel-based commentator Michael Friedson told ABC TV “The World” (Feb. 8) that the Biden Administration may claim to be seeking to “strengthen and lengthen the deterrence, strengthen and lengthen the obligations of the Iranians” but “Middle Easterners feel he will probably blink first.”

According to Friedson, the Biden Administration does not “want to appear to be guilty of that which the critics of going in the treaty in the first place are suggesting and that’s that they’re weak.”

The problem is that “the Iranians aren’t budging and… Middle Easterners feel he will probably blink first and everybody is waiting to see if that will be the case.”

Asked “how much damage was done by Donald Trump’s handling of Iran?”, Friedson explained that there is a gap between the critics’ “rhetoric” and “the practicality on the ground”.

He said “most experts believe the deterrence created by the economic sanctions is very powerful and is a tool the new President must embrace. He really can’t go very far without that deterrence. And that deterrence is ultimately traced to the position of President Trump.”


Be historical, not hysterical 

In the West Australian (Jan. 21), Daily Mail writer Tom Leonard asked “might history remember [former US President Donald] Trump more kindly than his current critics?”

Leonard said Trump “did sometimes deliver. Granted, some of his key achievements could so easily have backfired badly, but he occasionally got results that might have eluded a more measured leader.” 

According to Leonard, Trump’s achievements included “the raid that killed the ISIS supreme commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019. And Mr Trump also ordered the killing of Iran’s Maj-Gen. Qasem Soleimani, widely applauded as long overdue given his involvement in so many terror outrages. The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have all opened diplomatic relations with Israel – a ‘normalisation’ that had long seemed impossible.” 


Crisis Mismanagement

In the Australian Financial Review (Jan. 22), UK Financial Times international affairs editor David Gardner cited a confected and overblown “crisis” from 2010 to try to remind US President Joe Biden that settlements are supposedly the main impediment to Israeli-Palestinian progress.

According to Gardner, “In March 2010, then US vice-president Joe Biden, a stalwart supporter of Israel, arrived in Jerusalem with a brief from president Barack Obama to try to revive moribund peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis. Benjamin Netanyahu, then and now Israel’s leader, had reluctantly agreed to a temporary moratorium on Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. Yet Biden had no sooner pledged unyielding US support for Israel than the Netanyahu government unveiled a big expansion of settler housing on Palestinian land annexed to occupied Arab East Jerusalem after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Instead of kickstarting stalled negotiations, Biden got a kick in the teeth he is unlikely to have forgotten.”

Gardner is wrong. By March 2010, the settlements building freeze had already been in place for more than three months and it never applied to east Jerusalem.

Moreover, the “big expansion” was in fact 1,600 housing units to be built in the well-established neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo, right along the old pre-1967 armistice lines – an area that Palestinian negotiators had already conceded would become part of Israel in any future peace deal.

And it has long been confirmed by the officials involved that the timing of the announcement was chosen by bureaucrats acting without government knowledge.

And as Biden revealed in a speech whilst in Israel, the only reason he condemned it was because President Barack Obama – who was looking for an occasion to more strongly pressure Israel on settlements – told him to.


Child Abuse?

ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek attracted criticism for an online report (Jan. 19) that was provocatively titled “Israeli authorities killed seven Palestinian children last year. Their parents are calling for justice.” 

The report, which included subheadings like “Why are children being shot?”, quoted from the families of children killed or injured. 

The Israeli NGO B’Tselem (which has been accused by former employees of manipulating incidents and testimony to attract EU funding) was quoted claiming “for years, Israel has been implementing a reckless, unlawful open-fire policy in the West Bank.”

An Israeli Defence Forces statement explained deaths and injuries occur in the context of responding to Palestinian violence.

But as critics noted, the report left out vital context, which even B’Tselem felt obliged to include in its reports.

The story focused on 15-year-old Ali Abu Alia who was killed whilst allegedly only in the vicinity of a demonstration and Malek Issa, who was not killed but injured when Israeli troops were responding to rioting.

But not mentioned by Tlozek was that most of the seven “children” killed were teenagers who were engaging in terrorism. These include 17-year-old Mahmoud ‘Omar Sadeq Kmeil, who was shot “after he opened fire at a police post near Bab Huttah” and 16-year-old Muhammad Damer Hamdan Matar, shot whilst “trying to light a gas balloon.”


Poison penmanship

In the Canberra Times (Jan. 23), TJ Collins’ review of former Israeli Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon’s book Friendly Fire was more focused on deploring Israel’s existence, rather than on the book’s merits.

Ayalon’s thesis is that since the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed, Israeli governments have not done enough to foster a climate of trust with Palestinian leaders.

But Collins was not interested in how to achieve the goal of two states living in peace. 

According to Collins, “If you were to…ask [Palestinians] how Israel became its own worst enemy, they’d probably tell you that establishing a Jewish state in Palestine was a pretty good start.” He accused Israel of expelling “hundreds of thousands of people… from their ancestral lands” in 1948. 

Instead of implementing the UN Partition Plan that would have established an Arab state alongside a Jewish state, Arab leaders decided to go to war. While that war led to the Palestinian refugee problem, with some exceptions in particularly vital military areas, these refugees were mostly not expelled. In fact, the majority never even saw any Israeli soldiers before fleeing. 

After losing a war they started, Arab states refused to make peace, or to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and kept the refugees permanently in camps to use as a political weapon.


Come again?

On ABC Radio National “Overnights” (Feb. 27) Australian commentator Keith Suter tried to answer a question about why former US President Donald Trump, who is not known to be religious, was supported by evangelical voters, but confused listeners with muddled and misleading comments about the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Suter said, “the religious right have been mobilised by Trump because he is carrying out their agenda. He’s moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Australia, I think, is still keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv, as is most other countries. But he’s moved it across. We’re getting ready to clean out the Islamic architecture from the Temple Mount and rebuild the Third Temple. So, this fits very much with the idea of clamping down on gay rights and transgender issues and all the rest of it. Trump played to that constituency even though he’s a person of low morals himself.”

Suter is right that the Australian Embassy in Israel has not moved from Tel Aviv, but the Morrison Government did recognise west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2018.

However, something was clearly lost in translation when Suter said, “We’re getting ready to clean out the Islamic architecture from the Temple Mount and rebuild the Third Temple.”

Israel and the Israel Antiquities Authority ensure the holy sites of all religions are respected and absolutely no plans exist to remove “the Islamic architecture on the Temple Mount” – which remains under the control of the same Islamic Waqf (religious trust) which has controlled the area since 1948. 

Perhaps Suter meant to say that the next goal of some fundamentalist evangelical Christians is to “clean out the Islamic architecture from the Temple Mount and rebuild the Third Temple” which they believe is a necessary precondition for the Second Coming of Jesus? But he should definitely have been clearer. 


In Parliament

Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne (Lib., NSW) – Media Statement – Feb. 6 – “Australia has deep concerns with the ruling of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court that it has jurisdiction in relation to the ‘Situation in Palestine’. Australia does not recognise a ‘State of Palestine’, noting that matters relating to territory and borders can only be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. …The International Criminal Court should not exercise jurisdiction in this matter.”

Senator Janet Rice (Greens, Vic.) – Feb. 16 – “The Australian government’s position is a disgrace and deeply disappointing for Australians who support accountability for crimes, including alleged crimes, no matter who commits them or where …We call on the Australian government to advocate human rights equally everywhere and to cease its opposition to this ruling by the ICC. Of course, at the same time, we reiterate our call that they should recognise the state of Palestine…”

Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – Feb. 22 – “I move that this House: “(1) notes that 27 January 2021 marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day,… where we remember the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime and its collaborators, and reaffirm our promise to ‘never forget’ the 6 million Jews and 11 million others including Roma, homosexuals, people with intellectual disabilities, political prisoners, Poles, Serbs and Soviet citizens who were exterminated during the Holocaust; “(2) acknowledges the importance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in honouring the memory of all Holocaust victims, and the ongoing efforts of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to advance and promote Holocaust education to ensure the history and stories of its victims are passed on to successive generations…”

Josh Burns (ALP, Macnamara) seconding the motion – Feb. 22 – “The final point I would make on this debate in this place is to reaffirm Australia’s commitment to the lessons of the Holocaust and to the lessons against persecution. Over summer, we saw in the Grampians… what I would describe as a display of confidence by Neo-Nazi figures in Victoria… I say to the House that there is nothing less Australian than pro-Neo-Nazi symbols and gatherings. Australians fought and died fighting the Nazi regime. We remain committed to learning the lessons of the Holocaust to make sure it never happens again.”

Tim Wilson (Lib., Goldstein), Milton Dick (ALP, Oxley), Dave Sharma (Lib., Wentworth), Brian Mitchell (ALP, Lyons), Fiona Martin (Lib., Reid) and Steve Georganas (ALP, Adelaide) spoke in support of the motion, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Lib., Cook), Shadow Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (Lib., Kooyong) recorded video messages for the Australia-wide commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (Lib., NSW) – Feb. 22 – “Of course, there is the hypocrisy of Twitter. They’re prepared to let totalitarian rulers continue to promote their bile…to take action in relation to President Trump but still let the head of Iran continue with his activities, particularly calling, as Iran does, for the wholesale eradication of Israel.”

Senator Mehreen Faruqi (Greens, NSW) – Feb. 17 – “The unequal and inhumane treatment of Palestinians has continued through the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Israeli government rolled out the vaccine to a large proportion of its population… very few Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been vaccinated… The poverty and destitution that many Palestinians live in under occupation only makes more urgent the need to vaccinate them against COVID-19… Australia must push for an end to occupation, oppression and violence against Palestinians.”

Senator Anne Urquhart (ALP, Tas.) – Feb. 16 – “… the cynical use of the slur of anti-Semitism as a tool to silence critics of Israel for that state’s exhaustively documented human rights abuses against Palestinians must stop.”



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