Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – March 2023

Feb 28, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Judicious reporting

Weekly protests in Israel against controversial proposed reforms of the country’s justice system by the Netanyahu Government generated widespread media coverage. 

An excellent summary ran in the Australian Financial Review (Feb. 15) noting the issue is “rooted in a decades-old culture war between different parts of Israeli society.”

Advocates, it said, believe “the move would…ensur[e] that government decisions better reflect the electoral choices of a majority of the population.”

Critics, however, fear “the proposals would…giv[e] too much power to the government; endangering minority rights; and removing limits on the prime minister’s ability to enact legislation that might allow him to escape punishment in his ongoing corruption trial.”

An SBS online report (Feb. 15) on the judicial reform plans quoted AIJAC research associate Ran Porat saying “the worry of protesters is that the government is eliminating political rivals, … protesters feel it’s a dictatorship in the making.”

 

Gone Guy

The Australian (Feb. 16) reported ABC Managing Director David Anderson’s admission in Senate Estimates that the broadcaster no longer employs Jerusalem-based producer Fouad Abu Gosh.

The Australian noted, “last year, Abu Gosh posted a series of anti-Semitic tweets before deleting his social media accounts. Some of his posts compared Israeli police to Nazis, and warned of a Zionist conspiracy to take over the entire Middle East.”

AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein was quoted saying “the outcome also shows that the ABC understands there are red lines that its journalists must not cross.”

Meanwhile, according to Crikey (Feb. 21), SBS reinstated reporter Essam Al-Ghalib, who was briefly suspended for tweets made in 2014/15 that included references to Israel putting Palestinians in “concentration camps” and accusing Israel of being “the biggest terrorist in the world.”

 

Mark of shame 

Canberra Times columnist Mark Kenny employed International Holocaust Remembrance Day to launch a vehement attack on Israel, making implied Nazi parallels. On Jan. 26, Kenny said, “At the beginning of WWII, there were some 9 million Jews in Europe, and by the end, less than 3 million,” adding that “antisemitism remains rife, as does its corollary, anti-Islamism.” 

After discussing the Holocaust, he then slid directly into talking about Israel, implying it was similar by saying, “Another resonance with the perils of toxic nationalism right now though is the slide towards authoritarianism in Israel itself and the occupied West Bank presently under the harsh new Netanyahu government.”

He concluded the article by making his ugly parallel even more clear, “The world cannot be allowed to forget what happened to the Jews of Europe in the middle of the last century. But neither should it turn a blind eye to Palestinians whose lands have been stolen…”

Kenny’s column on Feb. 19 contained an attack on Australian support for Israel, saying “Australia has always defended Israel fiercely, justifying this loyalty (despite unconscionable policy and aggression) with the claim that it is the only committed rule-of-law democracy in the Middle East. Yet even that rationale is all but lost as Israel teeters on the edge of a religious-authoritarian abyss under the most extreme right-wing government in its history.”

AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams’ rebuttal appeared on the Canberra Times letters page (Feb. 22). He slammed Kenny’s Jan. 29 piece for “shamefully compar[ing] the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Holocaust, falsely accusing Israel of abusing Palestinian human rights and stealing their land.” Kenny, he wrote, “ignored… Israeli offers of Palestinian statehood and many other peace initiatives.”

 

Death count

The need to differentiate between civilians and terrorists killed was mostly respected by media reports of an Israeli raid on a terror stronghold in Jenin on the West Bank on Jan. 26 and the shocking murder the next day of seven Israeli civilians outside a synagogue in the Neve Yaakov neighbourhood in east Jerusalem.

Channel 7’s Jan. 27 bulletin said of the raid that “nine people were killed during the incident, including two civilians,” making it clear that most were militants. 

Channel 10 Melbourne’s Jan. 27 report of the raid noted Israel said “their forces were fired upon while carrying out an operation against Islamic Jihad fighters. What ensued was a gun battle lasting hours.” 

News Corp papers reported the raid on Jan. 28 with the misleading headline, “Israel kills 10 including a mother in West Bank.” The article itself was more nuanced. 

 

Showing no resistance 

The Australian (Jan. 30) condemned the Neve Yaakov massacre, saying “there is no moral equivalence between Israeli security forces targeting a terrorist cell preparing to attack Israeli targets and the slaughter of innocents at prayer.”

Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn’s ABC TV “7pm News” report (Jan. 27) on Israel’s Jenin raid acknowledged Palestinians said “seven militants were among the dead” but romanticised the terrorists calling them “armed resistance groups”. 

The next day Horn again referred to “resistance organisations”. 

 

Lost in translation

SBS Radio “Arabic24” (Jan. 30) Palestinian correspondent’s report discussed the raid, noting nine of the ten killed were “armed”, but failing to say Israel’s mission was to stop a planned terror attack. 

An SBS TV “News in Arabic” (Feb. 1) report on a tiny pro-Palestinian demonstration in Sydney, said Israeli soldiers “stormed” Jenin and killed nine “demonstrators,” not armed militants. 

The SBS TV “News in Arabic” Jan. 27 bulletin covering the Jenin raid referred to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital but noted Israel said it carried out the operation to prevent an Islamic Jihad attack.

 

The numbers game

The subtext of Middle East correspondent Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop’s ABC News Radio (Feb. 1) report of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s arrival in Israel was problematic. 

While Rubinsztein-Dunlop noted that “a Palestinian gunman killed seven people outside a synagogue in a settlement in Jerusalem,” he added that “at least 35 Palestinians, including militants and civilians, have been killed in violence in the occupied West Bank in the past month, including ten in an Israeli raid last week.” 

In fact, 31 of the 35 killed were militants. 

SBS TV “World News” reporter Virginia Langeberg’s story (Jan. 31) included basic context, referring to “a 26-year-old shot dead by Israeli forces the previous night. The army said the man rammed his car into a group of soldiers as he attempted to flee an inspection… last Friday… a Palestinian opened fire, killing seven people. The day before, Israeli forces had carried out a deep raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, killing ten people, mostly gunmen.” 

 

McLeod’s missteps

Channel 9 News’ European correspondent Brett McLeod’s reports filed from Israel and the West Bank during Blinken’s visit left a lot to be desired.

A Jan. 28 report from McLeod said the Neve Yaakov “attack came a day after a deadly raid by Israeli forces on a West Bank refugee camp,” with the report referring only to “a raid by Israeli troops… that left nine people dead” without noting they were almost all gunmen.

A Feb. 1 item on Blinken’s meeting with Abbas included McLeod stating that “Blinken said the US opposes action by either side stopping a two-state solution. But most of his examples were of Israeli policies.” McLeod also included Palestinian vox pops in Ramallah but no Israelis.

In his Jan. 31 report, McLeod said the Blinken-Netanyahu press conference “talk[ed] of hope for the future,” with the latter “suggesting peace was not far away. Without saying how.” Yet the report included Netanyahu explaining that “working to close finally the file of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I think, would also help us achieve a workable solution with our Palestinian neighbours.”

McLeod also mentioned “yet another funeral. [A] 26-year-old man shot while driving towards an Israeli checkpoint at Hebron, the 35th Palestinian killed by Israeli forces this month.” 

The driver killed was attempting to ram the soldiers, and was actually the 31st terrorist killed out of the 35.

 

Horn’s pointed report

Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn’s extended report for the ABC TV flagship current affairs program “7.30” (Feb. 7) eschewed analysis in favour of an overall narrative that Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression.

Noting that ten Palestinians killed in Jenin during an Israeli raid in January were “mostly armed militants”, Horn balanced this by quoting a UN statistic that 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank “since they began recording fatalities in 2005.” 

Except Horn failed to explain that an overwhelming majority of those killed were terrorists or involved in violence.

Horn missed an opportunity to ask Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade member Deyaa Abu Waad what he means when he says Palestinians “want to live freely” by following up his comment that “this occupation has been procrastinating for 74 years backed by the UN… ignor[ing the Palestinians and their rights.” This comment suggests “freedom” means Israel’s destruction, not a state on the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Horn said the “peace process [has] stalled for nearly a decade,” but did quote veteran Israeli security expert Yossi Kuperwasser explaining that “there is no partner on the Palestinian side for peace negotiations that would lead to an agreement that… can be acceptable for Israel.”

Earlier, an SBS TV “World News” (Feb. 4) report claiming settlements impede a two-state solution included veteran Palestinian propagandist Mustafa Barghouti making the outlandish claim that the 1993 Oslo Accords were “an intentional policy of establishing more settlements, illegal settlements to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

 

Armed with the facts

On Sky News (Jan. 30), Zionist Federation of Australia’s Bren Carlill challenged claims of equivalence between the murder of seven Israelis outside a synagogue in Jerusalem with an Israeli raid on a terrorist stronghold in Jenin. 

Dr Carlill said Israeli forces went to Jenin “in order to prevent a terrorist group from carrying out an imminent attack… their entire purpose… was to arrest terrorists… nine out of those ten people [they] killed were shot while they were shooting at Israeli soldiers.”

He dismissed suggestions that proposals to let more Israeli civilians carry firearms were irresponsible, explaining that “almost everyone in Israel has gone through the military… [and] know the safe way of handling weaponry” adding that “civilians… have been targeted by Palestinian terrorists. And if [they] have to wait for [the] police… more… will die.”

 

In a state

On ABC TV “News24” (Jan. 30), former Australian diplomat Bob Bowker insisted only a binational state would stop ongoing violence between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Bowker said the two-state solution has “been pursued courageously by Israelis and Palestinians and Arab governments and Western governments for the last 30 years” but “they no longer resonate on the street and they will not be revived in any meaningful way.”

The next day, Dan Shapiro, the Obama Administration’s Ambassador to Israel, told ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Jan. 31), “even those who reject a two-state solution often find that they can’t really articulate a good future. And I think in some ways that’s the logic that will eventually bring us back to that very difficult task. As hard as it looks right now.” 

He argued the Abraham Accords process of “normalisation between Israel and… Arab countries” could “draw some positive energy… into the Israeli-Palestinian arena.” 

 

Non-incidental incidents

An SBS TV “World News” (Feb. 7) report of an Israeli raid near Jericho that resulted in five deaths, noted, “the military wing of Hamas says it will avenge the deaths of its members.” Earlier, on ABC TV “Mornings” (Feb. 7), Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn’s report said, “Hamas, which is the Islamic militant group that runs Gaza, says the men who were killed here were affiliated with them, with Hamas.”

On Feb. 11, SBS TV “World News” and Channels 7 and 9 simply referred to east Jerusalem as the location of a terror attack that saw a Palestinian man drive a car into a crowded bus stop in the Ramot neighbourhood, killing two Israelis and injuring many others. By contrast, Channel 10’s bulletin said, “A driver rammed his car into a crowded bus stop in a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem.”

Visiting Israeli Christian Arab activist Yoseph Haddad told Sky News (Feb. 16) that “Palestinian terrorist[s] do… not kill only Jews. Yezan Fellah from the Druze community. Amir Houri from the Christian community. And just two days ago, Asil Sawaed from the Muslim community were killed by terrorist Palestinians. That’s why terrorism does not discriminate between religion, between race, Christians, Muslims, Druze.”

 

Israel’s Russian dilemmas

On ABC Radio “PM” (Jan. 31) John Blaxland explained the complicated geopolitics behind a suspected Israeli orchestrated drone strike on an Iranian factory allegedly supplying Russia with missiles and drones for use in Ukraine.

Professor Blaxland said, “Israelis by and large would be very supportive of Ukraine,” but are wary of Russia’s “ability to inflict so much pain simply through facilitation of Iranian support to Lebanon and Iranian action in and through Syria.”

On SBS TV “World News” (Jan. 30), Professor Amin Saikal incorrectly claimed, “this is the first time that Israelis may have carried out a direct attack. So therefore, this development is potentially very ominous.” In fact, Israel reportedly conducted at least two such drone strikes on Iran in 2021, and potentially others earlier. 

 

IHRAtional claims

Pro-Palestinian activists vented their anger at Australian educational institutions for adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

Guardian Australia’s Jan. 25 report that Melbourne University adopted IHRA gave disproportionate space to unfounded accusations that a threat of being labelled antisemitic will be used to stifle free speech.

On Feb. 10, the Illawarra Mercury (Feb. 10) reported Wollongong University academic Marcelo Svirsky’s assertion that “The bottom line of this definition is to shut down critical views of the policies of state of Israel.” 

SBS TV “News in Arabic” (Jan. 27) noted Melbourne University’s adoption of the IHRA definition in a story noting the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s latest annual report into antisemitism. SBS’s story included a pro-Palestinian activist claiming the definition is a tool to prevent criticism of Israel and a Melbourne University statement rejecting the assertion.

 

The other refugees

Discussing his new book The Arc of a Covenant, The United States, Israel and the Future of the Jewish People on ABC RN “Between the Lines” (Feb. 18), visiting AIJAC guest Walter Russell Mead dispelled the notion that Israel is a European implant that doesn’t belong in the Middle East. 

Mead explained that “more Israeli Jews are from the Middle East, some of them from countries like Yemen [began] migrating from… to Palestine even before the Zionist movement got going. But the vast bulk of them came after 1948, when many Arab governments expelled their Jews.” 

He explained that “roughly the same number of Jews were driven from their homes as Palestinians. And the thing is that Bibi Netanyahu’s coalition, his supporters tend to come from this Middle Eastern Jewish population and their hard-line attitudes, their lack of trust toward the Arabs, their lack of sympathy for the Palestinians, reflects their own historical experience as a persecuted minority in the Middle East.”

 

Credit where it’s due

On Sky News’ “The Rita Panahi Show” (Feb. 10), Mead praised Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s achievements, noting Israel’s successful hi-tech industry and the Abraham Accords. 

He said, “Those were policy choices that Netanyahu’s Government put into place and then kept going. Look at the Abraham Accords. What Israeli leader in history has signed as many agreements with as many Arab states as Bibi has done?”

On Feb. 2, the Australian’s Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan also extolled Netanyahu’s leadership, calling him “the king of Israeli politics and the critical figure in the Middle East.”

 


In Parliament

The following four comments and questions were from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee Senate Estimates hearings on Feb. 16:

Greens Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John (WA) – “Minister, are you concerned about Israel’s decision to push ahead with the construction of mass settlements across the Green Line against international law?” Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – “Yes. We do not support unilateral actions which reduce prospects of a just two-state solution. Settlements… are an obstacle to peace.” 

Senator Steele-John – “Thirty-five Palestinians were killed in January 2023; 153 Palestinians were killed in 2022, more than in any year since 2005. Has the Australian government made representations to the Israeli government condemning this violence?” 

Senator David Fawcett (Liberal, SA) – “…have the officers sought a briefing or other information from DFAT regarding recognising a Palestinian state?” Senator Wong – “No, not in the terms in which that question is cast.” 

Senator Wong, asked by Senator Fawcett about the ALP platform to recognise a Palestinian state – “Well, the platform resolution is an expression of the views of the national conference, which also make clear this is ultimately a decision, a matter for government… my principal consideration is advancing the cause of peace.” 

Shadow Attorney-General Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – Feb. 15 – “The Iranian regime is a criminal regime… they act no differently than the terrorists who dispense their version of justice from the barrel of a gun on the back of a Toyota truck. Iran’s crimes against their own people have destroyed the resemblance of legitimacy. That’s why I support moves to make Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation. The IRGC are feared; they operate at home and abroad. The Australian Signals Directorate has confirmed that guard-affiliated actors have targeted Australian organisations with ransomware attacks. They’re a known supporter of listed organisations such as Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria. The repeated actions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps rob them of any governmental legitimacy.” 

Greens Deputy Leader and Anti-Racism spokesperson Senator Mehreen Faruqi (NSW) – Feb. 8 – “…Israel has to be called out for its ongoing apartheid and oppression of Palestinians. Universities should be politically active places. That is why last week Senator Steele-John and I wrote to university VCs, urging them not to adopt the IHRA definition…”

Senator Janet Rice (Greens, Vic.) – Feb. 7 – “Palestine is… under occupation. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many other organisations have clearly stated that the actions of the extreme right-wing Israeli government constitute apartheid. Due to the ongoing military blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government, 97 per cent of the water is undrinkable. Media reports indicate that recently there were 144 attacks on Palestinians in a single day.” 

Senator Fawcett on condolence for the late Senator Jim Molan – Feb. 6 – “The report they issued, for example, about Israel and some of Israel’s military conflicts, where, in his words, Israel demonstrated that they had standards for their defence force in terms of adherence to the rules of armed conflict that matched, if not exceeded, those of our own—this earnt him many critics, but it’s an example of where he was prepared to put himself forward to advocate the values that he believed were important.”

Senator Wong media release – Jan. 28 – “Australia unequivocally condemns the horrific terrorist attack that claimed the lives of at least seven worshippers in Jerusalem on Friday evening… That such a cowardly and callous attack occurred on a day where we remember the atrocities of the Holocaust is utterly reprehensible.” 

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