Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – March 2024

Feb 29, 2024 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Unbelievable? Not really

Australia joined the US and more than a dozen other countries in suspending aid to UNRWA, the main aid agency for Palestinians, because of revelations that at least 12 staff were involved in Hamas’ October 7 massacre. 

On Jan. 29, News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt called UNRWA a “grievance industry that generates $1bn a year in donations. It’s also largely captured by Palestinian staff, employing 30,000 of them, including 13,000 in terrorist-controlled Gaza. Not surprisingly, Palestinian teachers employed by UNRWA have repeatedly been caught preaching Jew hatred and using atlases showing Israel literally wiped off the map… 

“No other ‘refugees’ get a UN organisation just for themselves 78 years later, nursing the fantasy of a ‘right of return’, instead of encouraging them to get on with their lives.”

On Feb. 6, ABC Radio National “Drive” meekly accepted a claim from UNRWA’s Thomas White that “we go to extraordinary measures to ensure… staff abide by humanitarian principles, one of them… being neutrality,” adding that “the vast majority of UNRWA staff are committed doctors, teachers, nurses, water engineers.” 

On Sky News (Feb. 19), Liberal Senator Claire Chandler attacked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade after it disclosed at Senate Estimates that Australia paid UNRWA $20 million last year without undertaking the usual “compliance checks” to “make sure [it] isn’t undertaking terrorist activity.”


Reform school

In the Australian (Jan. 30), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein was quoted saying Australia “needs to find ways to drastically reform how such aid is delivered – perhaps by giving the UN High Commissioner for Refugees the same responsibility for the Palestinians it has for every other refugee population in the world.”

Liberal Senator Dave Sharma told Sky News (Jan. 29), “I don’t think we should ever fund that organisation again… When I returned as Australia’s ambassador to Israel in 2017, one of my valedictory messages was UNRWA is part of the problem here. Not part of the solution.”

In the Australian (Feb. 15), former Labor government adviser Ben Scott agreed that UNRWA’s endorsement of “the return of Palestinian refugees to their ancestors’ homes in today’s Israel is not consistent with a two-state solution.” 

The Australian website (Feb. 15) ran Zionist Federation of Australia President Jeremy Leibler’s op-ed noting the “UNHCR, the agency responsible for the rest of the world’s refugees, cares for 13 times the number of people, with half the staff. UNRWA spends almost double the amount of money on each Palestinian refugee than the UNHCR spends on any other refugee across the globe… UNHCR resettles… hundreds of thousands of people each year. In 75 years… UNRWA hasn’t resettled a single individual.”


State of delusion

On Jan. 29, the Age ran two op-eds promoting a “one-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one by former anti-Israel Human Rights Watch activist Sarah Leah Whitson and another by academic A. Dirk Moses.

Moses claimed that “in 2007”, it was already “clear” that “the two-state solution… was no longer viable. There were simply too many settlers, settlements.” Yet this didn’t stop Israeli PM Ehud Olmert only a year later offering to create a Palestinian state on the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a shared capital in Jerusalem.

Whitson claimed the two-state solution died in 2000, leaving “a massive void where once there was an imaginable path toward a more just future.”

The peace process did not die in 2000. Not only was there Olmert’s 2008 offer, but there were serious prospects for two-state peace advanced in 2013-14 and 2020 but rejected by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. 


How Green was my hatred

NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong’s speech to a pro-Palestinian gathering referring to the “Jewish lobby” having widespread “tentacles” which they use to “influence power” was widely reported and condemned. 

On Feb. 7, the Daily Telegraph said “what Leong said… was extremely close to age-old bigotries about Jews controlling the world… We invite Leong to reconsider her words and to read more widely.”

In the Australian Financial Review (Feb. 12), former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said since Hamas’ October 7 massacre, the Greens have “given legitimacy to antisemitism” and “been demonising… Israelis… Hamas… aren’t… fighting for a two-state solution. They want the Jews eliminated. The Greens know this but have still gone out of their way to support Hamas.”

On Jan. 28, West Australian columnist Ben Harvey said Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John must “accept two facts. Israel is going to exist and Palestinians voted for Hamas knowing their political rulers were murderous Jew-haters.”


The Full Story

ABC journalist Alexander Lewis’ two reports for ABC TV (Feb. 2) on the NSW Police announcement that they had concluded video from a vile anti-Israel protest outside the Sydney Opera House on Oct. 9 did not include the phrase “Gas the Jews” but rather “Where’s the Jews”, were balanced. 

On ABC TV “News”, Lewis said NSW Police confirmed “there was evidence of antisemitic chants at the rally, namely ‘F the Jews’, among other slogans” and Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Alex Ryvchin was quoted saying “the greater issue isn’t whether it was ‘gas the Jews’ or ‘where’s the Jews?’, ‘F the Jews’. Each phrase is as menacing and abhorrent as the next. The real issue here is that two days after the greatest atrocity inflicted on the Jewish people since the Holocaust, a group of Australians, a mob of thugs, gathered to… menace and threaten their fellow Australians.”

But on ABC TV “The World” that night, Ryvchin’s point that the other antisemitic comments were equally menacing was missing.

On Feb. 2, the Sydney Morning Herald said the findings “in no way lessens the impact of” the other “abhorrent offensive phrases less than 48 hours after Hamas gunmen killed some 1200 people, mostly Israeli Jews.” 

On Feb. 5, News Corp columnist Tim Blair wrote “Well, hooray for that. The Jew-hating mob clearly chanted ‘f … the Jews’, as police confirm, but they didn’t say ‘gas the Jews’. They merely asked where the Jews were, as they raucously celebrated Hamas’s rape, torture, slaughter, animalistic defilement and abduction of more than 1000 Jews just a day or so earlier. How completely innocent and reassuring.”


Puzzle peace

In the Australian (Jan. 29), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein analysed Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s controversial Jan. 18 press conference in which he said that Israel must maintain “security control” over all territory west of the Jordan River, which, he admitted, “contradicts with the idea of [Palestinian] sovereignty.” 

Dr Rubenstein argued that Netanyahu is not intrinsically opposed to Palestinian statehood, but noted that every time Israel has withdrawn, terror increases from that territory, citing Gaza, southern Lebanon and parts of the West Bank. 

ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner’s report of the speech (Jan.19) omitted Netanyahu’s line about terror and included Joyner claiming, “Israel has for years… shown no real interest in supporting the creation of a Palestinian state.” 

Netanyahu hasn’t always opposed a Palestinian state. In 2013/14 talks, US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk said Netanyahu “sweated bullets” to reach a deal, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had “checked out.” Netanyahu also accepted the 2020 Trump peace plan.

In the Guardian Australia (Jan. 24), PA representative to Australia Izzat Abdulhadi criticised Netanyahu but wasn’t asked to explain President Abbas’ rejection of peace offers. 

Australian PM Anthony Albanese commented on ABC TV “Insiders” (Jan. 4) that “we need to de-escalate. Part of that might mean, for example, any existence of a Palestinian state would be one which was a demilitarised state as well.” This obviously suggests compromising Palestinian sovereignty, just as Netanyahu had said, yet this was not deemed controversial. 


Minority rules

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have repeatedly platformed fringe, unrepresentative Jewish voices that do not reflect the mainstream Australian Jewish community’s views on Israel to a much greater extent than mainstream ones. 

On Jan. 24, Israeli-Australian writer Itamar Livne wrote that he understood why some Jews might feel uncomfortable attending pro-ceasefire rallies they might perceive as including anti-Israel rhetoric – which he denied was actually problematic – but urged them to do so anyway. An example Livne naively cited was the chant of “From the River to the Sea.” He said while some people “insist… [it[ simply calls for restoration of the human rights of the Palestinian people, the chant is also famously used by Hamas… which until six years ago had no qualms calling for the destruction of all Jews.”

The full chant is “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” which can only mean Israel’s elimination. Moreover, there is ample evidence Hamas still supports killing Jews.

On Feb. 7, the papers ran an op-ed by Sarah Schwartz and Max Elliott Kaiser, who falsely accused “Australia’s pro-Israel lobby groups” of claiming that “any criticism of the state of Israel is… an attack on all Jews.” Pro-Israel organisations support the IHRA working definition of antisemitism which explicitly states, “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” 


The danger zone

In the Daily Telegraph (Jan. 23), AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams explained why Hamas is so dangerous, writing that it supports the Islamic doctrine of “Muqawama” which means “persistent warfare” in Arabic. 

Muqawama… adherents strategise in terms of hundreds of years and see Israel the same way they regard the Crusader Kingdoms of the Middle Ages – a foreign element established through force of arms, which was eventually forced to go back to where it came from. They believe that, ultimately, they can achieve the same outcome against the Jewish state,” he wrote. 

Meanwhile, in the Australian (Jan. 17), AIJAC research associate Ran Porat wrote about the issue of Israeli settler violence, noting “Palestinian terrorist violence is on a much larger scale and has been rising within the West Bank. This trend is actively encouraged by the PA under its weak, long-serving, 88-year-old President, Mahmoud Abbas.”


Gulfs apart

In the Australian (Jan. 20), AIJAC’s Oved Lobel warned that the West’s appeasement of Iran has failed and “Iran’s nuclear weapons program is rapidly expanding. Barring substantial strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities or a regime collapse, there is nothing that can be done to halt it now… If nobody is willing to respond to blatant provocations when Iran does not have nuclear weapons, they certainly will not do so once it does.”

Meanwhile, on ABC Local Radio Melbourne (Feb. 12), analyst Lydia Khalil argued that the Israel-Hamas war “provided too much of a temptation for Iran and its proxies not to take advantage of the situation,” which is why Teheran ordered Houthi fighters to attack shipping in the Red Sea.


ABC’s agit prop

The ABC has appeared to single-handedly wage a propaganda war against Israel’s planned operation in Rafah to wipe out the remainder of Hamas’ forces, running story after story from UN or aid agency figures denouncing any such plans. 

On Feb. 12, far left anti-Zionist Israeli journalist Amira Hass told ABC Radio National “Breakfast” that “the Israeli army keeps claiming… victories… but they have not yet succeeded in completely making Hamas surrender. They do not surrender.” Surely that’s precisely why Israel needs to invade Rafah? 

Earlier on “Breakfast” (Feb. 8), far left Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar said Israeli PM Netanyahu is adamant the IDF needs to enter Rafah because “otherwise it would be considered a political suicide that the Hamas will declare victory.” 

On the ABC website (Feb. 11), ABC Global Affairs Editor John Lyons argued against the Rafah operation saying, “in January, Israel flew a drone over Beirut and assassinated deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri… Which raises an obvious question: Why could Israel not have carried out ‘surgical strikes’ against Hamas’s leadership in Gaza?” Maybe because the leaders are hiding underground in tunnels and a failure to also degrade Hamas’ military infrastructure and fighting force, as well as the leadership, would see it quickly regroup to fight another day?

On Sky News (Feb. 7), AIJAC’s Joel Burnie condemned calls for Israel not to enter Rafah, saying “the call for an immediate ceasefire… means… reverting back to October the 6th, where Hamas remains in power of Gaza, it remains in a position to repeat the massacre, the rape, the pillaging, the murder that occurred on October 7.”

The Australian (Feb. 20) agreed with Israel’s leadership that it’s “essential” for Israel to launch its ground offensive in Rafah to “destroy Hamas” and telling it not to do so “is in essence telling [Israel] to lose the war.” 


Hack by name…

Discussing the legal status of the West Bank on ABC Radio Triple J’s “Hack” Joyner said: “The West Bank is occupied Palestinian territory. What that means is that it’s Palestinian land. The land belongs to Palestinians and is nominally controlled by Palestinians. But Israel has sort of forced itself using its military onto the land since 1967. So, for the last five or six decades, although it’s Palestinian territory, it’s been under Israeli control.”

When the West Bank came into Israeli control in its defensive war in 1967, it was not widely referred to or considered “Palestinian land” and was certainly not “controlled” by the Palestinians, nominally or otherwise. The territory was captured from Jordan, which had illegally annexed the area following 1948 Arab war to destroy the nascent Jewish State. 

Nor did the report include the Israeli view that the West Bank is disputed land, not “Palestinian land”.


Courting Controversy

In the Daily Telegraph and Advertiser (Jan. 30), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein welcomed the International Court of Justice’s decision not to order that Israel implement a ceasefire in Gaza and its call for Hamas to release the hostages it holds. 

However, he criticised the Court for agreeing with South Africa’s claim there was a “plausible” case that acts of genocide might be happening in Gaza.

Dr Rubenstein wrote, “Israel targets only Hamas military infrastructure and makes great efforts to minimise civilian casualties by issuing warnings to evacuate, establishing safe zones, and pausing military activity for hours each day to allow residents to seek food and water. Since early on, it has allowed the delivery into Gaza of all aid that agencies can get there. Why then did the Court say genocide was plausible? The Court uncritically accepted claims by UN functionaries, many with anti-Israel records.”

On ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (Feb. 7) former International Criminal Court prosecutor Regina Weiss argued it doesn’t matter that Israel has tried to minimise civilian deaths, saying, “we can see… the civilian death toll [of] 27,000” – which not only takes Hamas numbers at face value but ignores the fact that even Hamas has admitted that thousands of its fighters have been killed and are included in that death toll. 


Reasons? How unreasonable!

A report on ABC Radio “AM” (Feb. 8) into the ultimately unsuccessful efforts to reach a ceasefire for hostages deal between Israel and Hamas failed to provide the reasons why Israel said no.

The report stated that Israel rejected Hamas’ proposal for a ceasefire, and that Binyamin Netanyahu called it delusional. ABC Global Affairs Editor John Lyons set out in detail only Hamas’ proposed stages for the release of hostages, strangely describing this as “what Hamas did want from this deal.” But the report didn’t explain what Hamas actually wanted from the deal in exchange for releasing hostages – information widely available. This included Israel agreeing to release 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, 500 of whom would be chosen by Hamas, the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza, no aerial surveillance of Gaza and an end to Israel’s blockade of military materials entering Gaza. Such detail was crucial to understand why Israel rejected the deal, yet Lyons’ language would have led listeners to think Hamas had no significant demands of Israel. 


In Parliament

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – Feb. 15 – “An impending major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah… would bring further devastation to more than a million civilians seeking shelter in Rafah, many there by Israel’s direction… Our message to Israel is: listen to the world; do not go down this path.”

Senator Mehreen Faruqi (Greens, NSW) – Feb. 15 – “The Australian government… is… shielding and aiding… Israel in its mission to annihilate Gaza and massacre tens of thousands of Palestinians.” 

Andrew Wilkie (Ind., Clark) – Feb. 15 – “There’s no doubt Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza and will unleash even more horrors in Rafah.” 

Alicia Payne (ALP, Canberra) – Feb. 13 – “We need an end to the sickening, indiscriminate killing in Gaza.”

Max Chandler-Mather (Greens, Griffith) on Feb. 12 moved a motion calling on the Government to end support for Israel’s “invasion of Gaza”. He said, “20,000 Palestinians have been murdered by the Israeli military, including over 10,000 children… the Israeli military is on the verge of turbocharging this genocide.”

Josh Burns (ALP, Macnamara) – Feb. 12 – “[The Greens] have ignored standards within their own party… have remained silent in a blatant antisemitic statement by one of their colleagues.” 

The motion was adjourned. 

Michelle Ananda-Rajah (ALP, Higgins) – Feb. 12 – “Antisemitism is disgusting. It must stop.” 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) – Feb. 8 – “I condemn, totally, any form of antisemitism—including the comments by… the [Greens] member for Newtown, whose comments about ‘tentacles’, with regard to the Jewish community, I find offensive.” 

Josh Wilson (ALP, Fremantle) – Feb. 8 – “The wholesale destruction of Gaza is not self-defence.”

On Feb. 7, Greens Leader Adam Bandt (Melbourne) and Greens Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John (WA) moved in the House of Representatives and Senate respectively to suspend standing orders to move a motion on Gaza. Bandt said “Labor must stop backing the invasion of Gaza and help stop a genocide.” 

Shadow Foreign Minister Senator Simon Birmingham (Lib., SA) – Feb. 7 –  “Hamas… continue to call for a repeat of the 7 October attack, for Israel to be destroyed and … genocide of the Jewish people… no nation could or would live with the ongoing threat that is posed… by Hamas.” 

Elizabeth Watson-Brown (Greens, Ryan) – Feb. 7 – “This parliament… must not continue to support Israel’s genocidal actions in Gaza.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton (Lib., Dickson) – Feb. 7 – “This motion… ignores what actually caused this war… fails to mention the fact that Hamas, its leaders, its operatives and its supporters in Hezbollah, Iran, Yemen and elsewhere continue to call for repeats of the 7 October attack.” A similar point was made by Minister for Trade and Tourism Senator Don Farrell (ALP, SA).

Only the Greens and Senator Lidia Thorpe (Ind., Vic.) supported the motion in the Senate. Only the Greens and two independents supported the motion in the House.

Bob Katter (KAP, Kennedy) on Feb. 7 moved a motion to support Israel and condemn Hamas.

Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – Feb. 7 – “Hamas didn’t just seek to brutalise Israel. They sought to unleash antisemitism across the world and, sadly, they have… I say to the Greens: it is time to root out the antisemitism in your political party.”

Senator Jordon Steel-John (Greens, WA) on Feb. 6 moved a motion to support South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

Senator Claire Chandler (Lib., Tas.) – Feb. 6 – “Israel has an inherent right to self-defence, which was recognised in the ICJ ruling… Hamas… wants to see civilians on both sides killed.”

Senator Lidia Thorpe (Ind., Vic.) – Feb. 6 – “In a historic legally binding ruling, the ICJ declared that it is highly likely that genocide is occurring in Gaza.”

Senator David Shoebridge (Greens, NSW) – Feb. 6 – “Any fair-minded observer believes that genocide is occurring in Gaza.”

Senator Nick McKim (Greens, Tas.) – Feb. 6 – “There is a genocide underway in Gaza.”

Only the Greens and Senator Thorpe supported the motion.


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