Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – March 2022

Mar 2, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Winging it 

The Australian Government’s announcement on Feb. 17 that, following a bipartisan recommendation by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, it intends to designate the entirety of the Palestinian Islamist terror group Hamas, not just its so-called separate military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as a terror organisation, was widely reported. So was the simultaneous announcement of plans to also add the neo-Nazi US-based National Socialist Order to the terrorist group list.

The ABC’s coverage of Hamas’ coming proscription appeared to be mostly limited to a short item on NewsRadio (Feb. 17) which noted that the decision will bring Australia into line with “the United Kingdom, the US, Israel and others.” 

The ABC added that “the political branch of Hamas holds a majority in the parliament of the Palestinian National Authority.” Whilst technically true, elections were last held in 2006 and the Parliament has not sat since it was disbanded by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, which seems relevant.

The bulletin said Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews explained that the law only targets people and organisations actively supporting terrorism. Andrews was quoted saying “there is more work that will be done by the Attorney-General in particular, in relation to the listing of Hamas and potentially other organisations to make sure that the rights of those people who are not supporting terrorist organisations are not impacted.”


Far from Eden

The SBS website reported the Hamas announcement on Feb. 17 with a lengthy article filed the next day by SBS reporter Eden Gillespie – who signed but subsequently removed her name from the controversial #dobetteronpalestine open letter in May 2021, calling for the media to prioritise the Palestinian narrative.

Gillespie’s article focused almost solely on critics of the listing worried that “it would make life harder for Gazans and sweep up ordinary Palestinians in counterterrorism laws.”

Academic Ben Saul – who has a long record of one-sided criticism of Israel whilst downplaying Hamas and Fatah criminality and human rights abuses – was quoted calling the move “broad and excessive”. Saul also warned the move would “punish two million Palestinian civilians who rely on Hamas as their government,” and, absurdly, said potentially street sweepers, teachers and nurses working for the Hamas Government could be considered terrorists under Australian law. 

The article also whitewashed Hamas, which was falsely described by Gillespie as a “Palestinian political and militant movement based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that opposes Israel’s claim to these areas and is dedicated to the establishment of an independent state.”

Also quoted was Queensland academic Tristan Dunning claiming an update of the Hamas Charter in 2017 removed the antisemitism in Hamas’ original document, and falsely asserting Hamas now supports a two-state solution. 

Actually, Hamas still opposes Israel’s existence and seeks its violent destruction, a point repeatedly made by its leaders on a near-daily basis – and made clear in the 2017 document Dunning purported to cite.

Gillespie also incorrectly claimed that “Gaza has been under a naval blockade and land siege since 2007 by Israel, which controls who and what gets in and out of the area.” The text was subsequently amended to “naval and land blockade.” 

The blockade is of course also enforced by Egypt, a fact that Gillespie failed to include when updating the piece. 

Also quoted was local criticism from pro-Palestinian lobby group the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) of the listing, claiming that it would “damage Australia’s capacity to play a constructive role towards peace in the Middle East.” 


Complaint Department

On Feb. 15, ABC Radio National “Breakfast” devoted precious air time to promoting a clearly frivolous complaint lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission by APAN vice-president Nasser Mashni, arguing that Australia’s pro-Israel foreign policy causes Australians of Palestinian heritage to experience discrimination.

According to ABC reporter Max Chalmers, who signed the #dobetteronpalestine open letter, Mashni’s only example of discrimination was by a school teacher who had allegedly “compared his son” to Islamist terrorists after a Paris terrorist attack. 

Chalmers said, “Mashni sees it as part of a broader experience of discrimination he and his children have faced in Australia.”

Except this is a fallacious conflation of totally different issues. The offensive and inappropriate insult to Mashni’s son about Islamist terrorists has no possible connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (the Paris attack was committed by ISIS), or to the Australian Government’s policies towards Israel.

With sound effects of bombs exploding, Mashni’s lawyer said part of the complaint related “to an official statement of the Australian Government during the May 2021 Israel bombing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. And…the continued official advocacy on behalf of Israel, to help Israel avoid trial at the International Criminal Court.”

Chalmers said the suit would assert the Australian Government must “say clearly that Israel is an occupying power and to acknowledge when it breaches international law” and the failure to do so has “had a huge impact on his family.”

University of Newcastle international law expert Amy Maguire expressed scepticism that the complaint would succeed because “these things don’t happen through discrimination complaints. They happen through political processes.”

AIJAC’s Joel Burnie was also quoted disagreeing “that Australia’s foreign policy is… strictly tilted one way. And secondly, I don’t believe that Australian foreign policy negatively impacts the life of a Palestinian Australian living in Australia.” Burnie explained that the Australian Government “has a position that it would like all conflicts to cease and for both sides to show restraint and for both sides to come to some type and some form of peaceful and negotiated ceasefire and outcome.”

SBS reporter Eden Gillespie covered Mashni’s legal suit in an online article on Feb. 16, and failed to include any balance to Mashni and his lawyer spruiking their complaint. 


White Noise

Controversial and ill-informed claims by popular US actor and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg that the Nazi program to exterminate the Jews during World War II was not about “race” but simply “white on white violence” were reported on by TV, radio, print and online news sites.

In the Guardian Australia (Feb. 7), Observer columnist Kenan Malik said Goldberg’s comments illuminate “the way we look at racism (and at Jews) in the present. They also tell us something about what we’ve forgotten about racism in the past. Racism today is viewed primarily through the lens of ‘whiteness’ and of ‘white privilege’. It is something that white people dish out. And something from which non-whites suffer.”

He said, “Jews today are seen as white and privileged and so [are] incapable of being victims of racism. It’s a perspective that has led some on the left to become blind to antisemitism. It’s also led many, like Goldberg, to deny the relationship between racism and the Holocaust.”

Historically, Malik said, “race has never been simply about black and white. It’s a concept that has been used to deem certain people biologically incapable or unworthy of being equal. Over the past 200 years, not just black or Jewish people, but Irish, Slavs, even the working class have, at various times, been viewed as racially distinct and inferior…justifying the practice of unequal treatment – that is, of racism. And of genocide, too.”

He lamented that Goldberg had been suspended from her talk show for two weeks, saying that her comments came from “misunderstanding” not from “malice”.


Holy Moses

In the Spectator Australia (Feb. 12), New Zealand commentator Juliet Moses was less charitable towards Goldberg, criticising her post-apology interview with US TV host Stephen Colbert where the actor said the Holocaust was about white people “fighting each other”.

Moses called this “an astonishing description” which “impl[ies] that there is an equivalence between the Nazis and their victims who, while mounting some remarkable resistance, most famously in the Warsaw ghetto, were overwhelmingly murdered through being burned in synagogues, shot in ditches, stricken with typhus, starved and gassed.”

Earlier, Sunday Age columnist Parnell Palme McGuiness (Feb. 6) said classifying Jews and increasingly “people of Asian heritage” who are “the highest-earning racial and ethnic group in the US” as white “highlights the uncomfortable fact that ‘success’ is now the definition of whiteness used by people trying to weed out discrimination.”


Hard Labor

With a federal election fast approaching, the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) position on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute came under renewed scrutiny. 

In contrast to the ALP leadership’s silence on a local campaign to pressure artists to boycott the Sydney Festival after it solicited and received a small grant from the Israeli embassy in Canberra, Labor Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Senator Penny Wong disagreed with Amnesty International’s absurd report’s characterisation of Israel as apartheid in its treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Her comments were reported by the Guardian Australia, the ABC (Feb. 2) and the Australian Financial Review (Feb.3), amongst other outlets.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese was criticised on Feb. 10 by News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt, who wrote that “in 2014, Albanese… hunted with his pack, accusing Israel of ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinians in Gaza and telling it to stop firing back – firing back, that is, at the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza, had fired first, and had kept firing rockets they’d hidden among the population, to create martyrs for propaganda.”


Labor pains

An inflammatory speech in the Senate by Labor’s Senator Sue Lines deploying the Amnesty International report to condemn Israel, fueled ongoing media focus on the party.

On Feb. 13, Sky News host Sharri Markson interviewed former Labor MP Michael Danby and former Australian Ambassador to Israel and current Liberal MP Dave Sharma, who both criticised Senator Lines.

An article by Markson on Lines in the Australian the next day quoted AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein condemning the Amnesty report, adding that “regrettably, there is a small group of Labor MPs, including Senator Lines, who seize on any opportunity to demonise, vilify and misrepresent Israel.”

Media commentator Rita Panahi used her eponymous program on Sky News (Feb. 2) to highlight current and former federal Labor MPs who have a track record of criticising Israel.

Panahi’s list included Graham Perrett, Senator Anne Urquhart, Josh Wilson, former Tasmanian Senator Lisa Singh, and former West Australian MP Melissa Parke. A somewhat unfair inclusion was senior MP Tanya Plibersek, who in 2002 accused Israel of being a rogue state, but has subsequently and consistently moderated her stance.

On Feb. 17, speculating on what an Albanese government’s foreign policy might look like, the Australian accused the ALP of “doublespeak in relation to Israel, the Middle East’s only real democracy.”

The editorial noted, “Albanese says he supports” Israel but “his silence about the anti-Israel boycott that disrupted the Sydney Festival – after organisers approached the Israeli embassy and accepted a $20,000 grant – was a bad sign that in government, the party’s rabid pro-Palestinian wing would hold sway.” 

Peta Credlin also used her syndicated News Ltd column (Feb. 20) to highlight Lines’ misplaced apartheid attack on Israel.


Straw man

In the Australian Financial Review (Feb. 2), commentator Gideon Rachman lumped former Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu into a group of world leaders including Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who admire Russian “strongman” Vladimir Putin for “his ruthlessness, his willingness to use violence, his macho defiance of ‘political correctness’ and his autocratic style of leadership.”

According to Rachman, “Netanyahu…another self-styled tough guy, relished trips to Russia to discuss geopolitics with Putin. His 2019 re-election campaign featured a poster of the Israeli leader shaking hands with Putin, under the slogan ‘Netanyahu: In a league of his own’.”

The comparison is highly dubious. Israel is a democracy. Russia and Egypt don’t hold free and fair elections and Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy.

Netanyahu, who has always played a hard brand of politics, won power and ultimately lost power fairly through the ballot box. 

As for his relationship with Putin, the heavy Russian military presence in Syria means that Israeli leaders need to maintain good relations with Moscow, in order to be given the latitude needed to neutralise the threat from Iranian and Hezbollah assets there. There was nothing nefarious about Netanyahu highlighting his ability to do so as part of his re-election campaign.


Flights of fancy

In the Australian Financial Review (Feb. 2), former Australian Ambassador to China Geoff Raby questioned the presumption that Beijing is a strategic threat which seeks to “undermine liberal democrac[ies]” like Australia using espionage and recruiting agents of influence. 

According to Raby, “no one should sensibly deny that China is seeking, by sharp and soft power, to influence politics in the West. But so are many other major states. The top three for funded junkets provided to Australian politicians are Israel, China and US.” This is of course incorrect – unlike with China, it is not Israel that pays for any such visits by Australian politicians, but instead local Australian groups.


Lack of authority

A flurry of face-to-face meetings between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials is a sign that the Palestinian Authority (PA) “is in desperate need of Israeli help,” according to the Australian (Feb. 11).

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has not faced elections in 15 years, is beset by questions of “legitimacy” and a surge in popularity on the West Bank of the “Iran-backed Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist groups that rule Gaza,” it said. 

Praising the new Israeli Government’s “willing[ness] to dig the PA out of the hole it is in” the paper said, “Abbas and the PA are paying the price for their mindless refusal, for 14 long years, to sit down and talk peace with Israel.”

“Unconditional negotiations”, it stressed, “remain in the best interests of Israelis and Palestinians.”


COVID truths 

Indifference, not Israel, is the main reason vaccination rates in Gaza and the West Bank have stalled, according to an SBS TV “World News” report (Feb. 10), despite baseless claims blaming Israel made last year by some NGOs that were in turn highlighted on the ABC. 

SBS reporter Gary Cox said 43% of Palestinians in Gaza are fully vaccinated, a figure that rises to 60% for Palestinians living on the West Bank. 

These figures are considerably higher than the regional average of 35%, Cox noted. 

A Palestinian doctor interviewed explained that “The problem is, many still don’t see the urgency. Schools are not abiding by the policy to vaccinate.”

Regional factors cited by Cox for the appalling vaccination rates included “Vaccine hesitancy, shortages and roll-out roadblocks are driving up numbers across the Middle East.” 


Hezbollah on ice

On Feb. 17, SBS TV’s new 15-minute nightly Arabic-language news bulletin aired a slick propaganda video from Hezbollah of its fighters training in snow-covered mountains in Lebanon, including by firing at targets marked with blue Stars of David.

The newsreader gushed that the video released by the “media arm of Hezbollah… displays the combat prowess of their fighters.”

SBS failed to point out that Australia, the Arab League and many countries, list Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Earlier, on Jan. 27 SBS TV “World News”, Gary Cox reported on violence between Palestinians and Israeli settlers near the former settlement of Homesh, following the December murder of settler Yehuda Dimentman by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The report said Israel dismantled Homesh in 2005 but despite roadblocks and Israeli law preventing settlers visiting and rebuilding there, settlers attend a Jewish seminary, aka a yeshivah, there. 

Whilst this is accurate and rogue settlers are determined to rebuild the settlement, the report somewhat misrepresented the nature of the yeshivah, which was never shown. There are no permanent structures at Homesh – only a series of tents and demountable buildings that the Israeli army repeatedly tears down.


In Parliament

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Lib., Cook) – Feb. 2 – asked by a journalist, “Amnesty International says Israel is committing apartheid. As a close ally, will you condemn Israel and will we, Australia, reassess its relationship with Israel..?,” responded “Australia has been one of the closest and strongest friends of Israel of any nation…other than the United States…No country is perfect. There are criticisms made of all countries, but I can assure you that Australia and my Government, in particular, will remain a staunch friend of Israel.” 

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – Feb. 2 – Statement: “The [Amnesty] report’s findings are concerning, and we expect the government to review it closely, assess the situation on the ground, and make representations about Australia’s view. Labor does not agree with the use of the term ‘apartheid’. It’s not a term that’s been found to apply by any international court and is not helpful in progressing the meaningful dialogue and negotiation necessary to achieve a just and enduring peace… To be a credible voice we must call out human rights violations wherever they take place.”

The following extracts are from the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Feb. 16:

Senator David Fawcett (Lib., SA) – “I found [The Amnesty report] quite offensive and poorly considered for them to use the word ‘apartheid’.” 

Senator Eric Abetz (Lib., Tas.) – “The Economist ranks Israel as the world’s 23rd-most democratic country and more democratic than Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and the United States, so one wonders where Amnesty International gets off on this. Have we made any representations to Amnesty International to the effect that, if they want to be considered as a credible organisation pursuing genuine issues of human rights, they might like to ensure that they don’t engage in such inflammatory misinformation, which clearly defies the objective facts in relation to Israel?”

Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne – “…we have also joined a number of international partners in rejecting the characterisation of Israel [as apartheid]. Australia has been explicit…as have Germany, the UK, France, the United States and others, and I do not agree with, cannot support and would not consider an accurate representation, frankly, the comments that Senator Lines…made in the Senate last week.”

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Janet Rice (Greens, Vic.) – “Given the clear recommendations relating to trade and investment with… Israel provided by the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council and international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, has DFAT sought any external legal advice concerning issues associated with trade and investment with Israel?”

Senator Kimberley Kitching (ALP, Vic.) – “…the Israeli prime minister was this week visiting Bahrain, so I think that’s very good.”

Deputy Senate President Senator Sue Lines (ALP, WA) – Feb. 8 – “The Amnesty International report…confirms that Israeli policies against Palestinians fit the definition of the international crime of apartheid. We are witnessing these policies enacted on a large scale through mass seizures of Palestinian land and property, forcible transfers, drastic movement restrictions and the denial of nationality and citizenship. It’s also seen on an individual level, through forced family home expulsions and discriminatory judicial processes. The report follows a long list of other institutions and human rights organisations… that have… confirmed that the policies of successive Israeli governments constitute apartheid… Amnesty International is calling on Israel to dismantle this cruel system, and the international community must pressure it to do so.”

Senator Penny Wong – Feb. 14 – the Australian: “[Senator Lines’ speech] does not reflect the position of the Labor Party… Labor is a strong friend of Israel.”


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