Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – May 2022

May 5, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

ABC gets the MEMO

An ABC News Radio report (April 20) on violent Palestinian protests in the West Bank appeared to be sourced from a British pro-Hamas propaganda outlet. 

According to the ABC script, “dozens of Palestinians… suffered temporary asphyxiation during clashes with Israeli army forces in the West Bank city of Nablus. Israeli forces used live bullets and tear gas to disperse demonstrators. Tensions mounted across the Palestinian territory since Friday, when Israeli forces raided the al-Aqsa Mosque courtyards in east Jerusalem.”

Tear gas is widely used by police everywhere for crowd control and is not normally referred to as causing “asphyxiation”. 

The text of the report – including the language about “temporary asphyxiation” – appears to be practically word-for-word identical to segments of an article from the notorious UK-based anti-Israel propaganda website Middle East Monitor (MEMO), long-recognised for its pro-Muslim Brotherhood slant and sympathy for Hamas. This is hardly an appropriate news source for the taxpayer-funded ABC. 

Earlier, on April 15, ABC News Radio ran an inflammatory interview from the BBC with Palestinian propagandist Nour Odeh, who refused to accept that Palestinians were throwing “projectiles” at Israelis on the West Bank and said Israel refuses to negotiate an end to the occupation.

 

Whipping up a storm

Visits to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by small numbers of religious Jews during the Passover holiday were repeatedly described on SBS TV “News in Arabic” reports as “storming” of the compound.

On April 18, the lead-in to the bulletin claimed that “Israeli settlers continue to storm al-Aqsa Mosque while protected by the army” – falsely implying they had entered the mosque. 

Later in the program, the newsreader again claimed “tens of settlers stormed” what this time was more correctly referred to as “the courtyards of al-Aqsa Mosque.” 

Apparently, any Jews visiting the Temple Mount are “storming” settlers.

The bulletin also included a factually challenged account of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

This included the reporter saying “incursions began” after “the storming of al-Aqsa Mosque in 1967, but the most serious attack came two years later when a settler set the mosque on fire.”

The so-called “settler” who set that fire was in fact an Australian Christian fundamentalist who was mentally ill.

The reporter claimed the Israeli right wants to “build what the Israelites call the Third Temple in place of the Dome of the Rock.” Whilst it is true that a very small number of Jews advocate rebuilding the Temple, the vast majority of Jews accept mainstream Jewish teachings that this will only occur after the Jewish messiah arrives.

 

Seeing isn’t believing

An SBS TV “News in Arabic” newsreader on April 20 again claimed Israeli police and settlers were “storming” the al-Aqsa Mosque. The reporter’s claim that “For the third day in a row, dozens of settlers storm al-Aqsa” was belied by video footage clearly showing Jews calmly walking, some pushing prams.

Citing the Islamic authorities who administer the site, the reporter said, “settlers did some provocative tours and Talmudic rituals in [the] mosque [court] yard under protection of Israeli forces.”

In fact, the aerial footage purporting to show Jews “provocatively” performing rituals near the al-Aqsa Mosque actually showed them on the plaza in front of the Western Wall, and not on the Mount at all.

The report also claimed this “angered Palestinians” who were “prevented from entering the mosque, but some women managed to stay…. [and]…confront… forces with prayers and takbeers [chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’].”

In fact, the women shown belong to the “Murabitat”, and are paid by Islamist organisations to harass visitors, mostly Jews – but sometimes even visitors from Muslim countries who dared to make peace with Israel.

 

Inclement reporting

ABC TV “7pm News” (Vic.) also succumbed to the “storming” trope, with the April 23 bulletin featuring a graphic stating “Holy site stormed”.

The newsreader said, “witnesses say [Israeli] police entered the holy site after morning Ramadan prayers, firing rubber bullets and throwing stun grenades. Israel says officers were responding to a group of Palestinians who were hurling stones towards an area where Jewish worshippers are allowed to pray.”  That is a strange way to refer to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred site for prayer for many centuries.

Earlier, SBS TV “World News” (April 15) reported a similar targeted attack, correctly noting that “Palestinians began throwing rocks towards the nearby Jewish prayer space of the Western Wall.”

 

Pray do tell

An SBS TV “News in Arabic” report on April 22 referred to a “fifth day of incursions” by Israelis, with one Palestinian interviewed accusing Israel of enacting a “siege” of the “blessed al-Aqsa Mosque”, and preventing “worshippers” from accessing the site. 

Israel has not blocked Muslim prayer sessions at the mosque, and many tens of thousands have prayed there during Ramadan whenever it is not being used by extremist youth as a base for violence against Israelis. 

The report also said “tensions increased” after Israel fired four rockets at “Hamas military positions in Gaza,” before later acknowledging this was in response to a rocket fired into Israel from Gaza.

In contrast, SBS TV “World News” (April 22) noted that “worshippers” were “waving Hamas flags, hurled rocks and fireworks.”

SBS reporter Abbie O’Brien noted Israeli security forces said they “waited until prayers ended before engaging with the rioters” and that the previous day, “dozens of Palestinians, some masked, were hiding in the mosque after throwing rocks and fireworks at officers.”

Showing footage of a few orthodox Jews on Temple Mount, O’Brien said that when they “arrived” [Ed note: no “stormed” this time] they were met by Palestinians “chanting”.

The report included a statement by Israel’s Foreign Ministry that “Israel is maintaining the status quo which includes the freedom of prayer for Muslims and the right to visit for non-Muslims. The police enforce the ban on Jewish prayer.”

 

War, what’s it good for?

Despite the fact that Palestinians have been responsible for initiating ongoing violence on Temple Mount, SBS TV “News in Arabic” (April 15) promoted a narrative suggesting Israel’s Government was deliberately prolonging the current tensions for its own political gain. 

The report included a Palestinian claiming “Israeli governments in the face of political crises… have usually resorted to escalation, because Palestinian blood again does not bear a cost to the Israeli politician, but can attract votes.”

Actually, Israel’s current coalition Government relies on the Arab Islamist Ra’am party for its survival and thus is made more likely to collapse as a result of clashes with Palestinians, especially at Jerusalem’s sacred sites. 

 

Militantly MIA

A Reuters report tallying up Israeli and Palestinian fatalities in recent months was mischaracterised by SBS TV programs “World News” and “News in Arabic” (April 14) which claimed that “14 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian assailants in recent weeks, while according to the Reuters news agency, Israeli forces have killed more than 20 Palestinians since January.” 

On April 12, Reuters’ statement in full was highlighted by the Canberra Times in a pull quote. It stated, “More than 20 Palestinians, many of them armed militants, have been killed by Israeli forces since January [emphasis added].”

 

Welcome trend

Some media reporting on the latest wave of Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians bucked a trend in recent years to avoid labelling Palestinian attacks as terrorism. 

A report in the Herald Sun (March 31) of the March 29 attack in Bnei Brak was headlined “Gun attacks kill 5 in Tel Aviv terror.” The headline used with an article in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (April 9) print editions covering the attack on a Tel Aviv bar on April 7 said “Palestinian terrorist killed after attack.”

Guardian Australia (March 29) used an AFP report on the Hadera attack which pointed out “an Israeli counter-terrorism force happened to be in a restaurant nearby and they ran out and neutralised the terrorists.” Earlier, ABC TV “The World” (March 28) incorrectly said the attackers were killed by “undercover Israelis”. 

 

Capital offences

SBS TV “News in Arabic” reports were inconsistent on the identity of perpetrators in recent terror attacks in Israel.

A March 28 SBS TV “News in Arabic” report on the Hadera terror attack failed to state the identity or the political affiliation of the terrorists and claimed Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.

However, on March 30, the program’s report on a terror attack in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak which left five dead correctly identified the assailant as a Palestinian and noted two previous attacks were carried out by Islamic State sympathisers. 

On April 8, “News in Arabic” reported on the deadly Tel Aviv pub attack, but again failed to identify that the attacker was Palestinian. 

An SBS TV “World News” report by Omar Dehen that same day identified the perpetrator as a Palestinian from the West Bank and noted that it was “the fourth deadly shooting in three weeks.” 

 

Insightful on incitement

In the Australian (April 16), analyst Jonathan Spyer linked recent Palestinian terrorism to the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which “is remembered and marked as a period in which a number of famous Islamic military victories took place…and since Ramadan involves a heightened focus on religious messages, those wishing to incite – via social media or in live lectures at houses of prayer – find a ready audience.”

 

Evans can’t wait

The launch of former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans’ monograph Good International Citizenship: The Case for Decency was featured on ABC Radio National “Big Ideas” (March 16).

Evans insisted Israeli policies on the West Bank “satisfy all the criteria” of “apartheid”. 

He said Australia’s major political parties refuse to use the term and implied this was because “the Melbourne branch of the Likud Party is alive and well and flourishing.” 

Maybe Labor and the Coalition demur from the comparison because, unlike Evans, they understand the West Bank situation has nothing to do with apartheid and everything to do with the Palestinian Authority rejecting three Israeli offers to create a Palestinian state and Hamas’ vow to never make peace. 

 

Stuck in neutral

Age and Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Latika Bourke’s article (April 13) on Israel’s ongoing challenge in how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was given the misleading headline “No apologies for neutral Putin stance.”

The article correctly explained that Russia’s military presence in neighbouring Syria gives it leverage over Israel, which is why “Israel has been restrained in its criticism of Russia.”

But this has not led to Israel being “neutral”. Israel’s Government has backed UN General Assembly resolutions censuring Russia and supported its removal from the UN Human Rights Council, while Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has strongly and repeatedly condemned Russia’s actions under Putin.

 

Views from the summit

Commenting on a historic summit in Israel attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well as the foreign ministers of Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE, the Australian (March 29) noted that the “top Arab officials’ willingness to meet at Sde Boker, a kibbutz that was the retirement home of Israel’s main founder, David Ben-Gurion, is indicative of the geopolitical realignment, which has potentially far-reaching implications for the entire Middle East.”

The paper said, “Israel’s new-found ability to work closely with major Arab states to oppose Tehran’s drive for regional hegemony…is one of the most promising developments in the Middle East for years.”

In the Herald Sun (April 25), AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro wrote, “Summit participants have not just ceased to be antagonists, they are also now allies in all but name. Moreover, Saudi Arabia gave its blessing to the meeting, and has been openly saying it sees Israel as a ‘potential ally’. That alliance is directed against conventional, nuclear, terror and destabilising threats from Iran and its proxies.” 

 

IHRA Ire

An SBS TV “News in Arabic” report (April 5) of an Arab Australian Federation (AAF) meeting to discuss its opposition to the NSW Parliament adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism failed to offer viewers context or balance.

The report aired baseless accusations that critics of Israel could now face possible criminal prosecution. 

One person was quoted saying “what’s happening in other countries under this law, people are losing their jobs, because they don’t sign a pledge that they won’t criticise Israel.”

Another person warned the meeting was “an important message for Israeli politicians, that they should know that the community is totally against this decision.” Why “Israeli politicians” were considered to be involved in this NSW decision was not made clear.

To be clear, the NSW Parliament did not enshrine IHRA into law, but merely endorsed a document that offers practical examples of how to recognise antisemitism when it occurs. Meanwhile, claims that employees have been fired and/or forced to sign declarations promising not to criticise Israel because of IHRA are false. SBS Arabic viewers should have been given an opportunity to hear these simple facts, or at least an alternative view.

 

Complaints Department

The Australian’s report (April 4) on an ABC Board-commissioned inquiry into its woeful complaints handling system quoted AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein saying “in many years of lodging complaints, AIJAC has never managed to win a complaint arguing that ABC content lacked context, was biased, or failed to fulfil ABC editorial standards about providing all sides of contentious issues. Our successes have generally been limited to pointing out simple factual errors.”

Dr Rubenstein attributed this failure to “the fact that the organisation handling those complaints… is entirely funded by the ABC and staffed by ABC appointees who make findings based on a set of procedures developed by the ABC.”

The Sydney Morning Herald (April 20) included Dr Rubenstein’s criticism of an Australian Communication Media Authority (ACMA) finding that a May 2021 episode of ABC TV “Q+A” did not breach its charter obligations despite stacking the show with pro-Palestinian panellists.  

Dr Rubenstein was quoted saying, “ACMA absurdly accepted the ABC’s contention that [former Australian ambassador to Israel] Dave Sharma represented an ‘Israeli perspective’ on the conflict, despite his presence on the program being to put the government’s position on a range of issues, not as an advocate for Israel.’’

The article correctly noted one reason ACMA decided the program was not biased was because “the ABC had invited Israeli ambassador Jonathan Peled to appear on the program but he was unable to attend.”

In fact, as was reported shortly after the episode aired, Ambassador Peled declined the offer to appear because he was asked on not as a panellist but only to be part of the audience and possibly given a chance to ask a question. 

 

Not so Good Friday

Discussing Jesus’ teachings, Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Frier’s Good Friday message in the Herald Sun (April 15), erroneously claimed that he lived in the “highly charged world of Roman-occupied Palestine.”

“Roman-occupied Palestine” only came into existence about 100 years after Jesus died.

More accurate was Graeme Roberts of the Presbyterian Church of Tasmania, who wrote in the Mercury (April 15) that “Jesus… lived… in a Roman colony in Israel.”

The Advertiser’s April 17 report of Israeli-Palestinian clashes on Good Friday said, “Jews refer to [the area] as the Temple Mount, referencing two temples said to have stood there in antiquity.” Reputable historians and archaeologists do not question the location of the Second Temple. 

 


In Parliament

Senator Eric Abetz (Lib., Tas) – April 7 – Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee Estimates hearing: “I am assuming that agenda item 7 [which singles out Israel] remains on the UN’s so-called Human Rights Committee? And just confirm to me again that North Korea, China and Cuba aren’t on that agenda as a standing item.”

Josh Burns (ALP, Macnamara) – March 30 – “[the late Senator Kimberley Kitching] was unflinchingly passionate about the Jewish community. Kimberley deplored anti-Semitism and loved the State of Israel…”

Senator Eric Abetz (Lib., Tas) – March 28 – “Senator Kitching was… my loyal deputy of the Australia-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, Israel being the only democratic country in the Middle East. …Unpopular as it was—and still is, in some quarters—Senator Kitching stood up for the right of Israel to exist in secure borders.”

Minister for Finance Senator Simon Birmingham (Lib., SA) – March 28 – “Standing against anti-Semitism and in support of freedoms provided by democracies, alongside basic human rights for all, was to be a lifelong focus of Kimberley’s public life.”

The following speeches were made in the NSW Legislative Council on March 23:

Scott Farlow (Lib.) – “The divisive and destructive BDS movement, in this case backed by terrorist organisation Hamas…works to entrench division and embolden antisemitism and…against the goal of a two-State solution for Israel and Palestine.”

Anthony D’Adam (ALP) – “Israel… is engaging in a process of systematically dispossessing the Palestinian people… Israel is not interested in a two-state solution… and there is no prospect for the Palestinians to get a state of their own… [Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians] is nothing less than apartheid. It is appropriate that we use a boycott-sanctions system when confronted with a regime that engages in the systematic oppression of people living under its jurisdiction.”

Reverend Fred Nile (CDP) – “I move:.. that this House endorses and adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism together with its contemporary examples…”

Abigail Boyd (Greens) – “The definition is liable to suppress legitimate criticism of human rights abuses against Palestinians by defaming critics of Israel as antisemitic… Included in [the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism] are examples that are antisemitic and examples that are not. Examples that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic include… criticising or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism… and boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

Shadow Minister for Counter Terrorism, Police, the Arts and Heritage and the North Coast Walt Secord (ALP) – “Only a tiny fringe are advocating an alternative definition, and they are being manipulated by a disingenuous group of anti-Israel activists and people on the far left and far right of politics.”

Shaoquett Moselmane (ALP) – “The so-called definition conflates criticism of Israel – an apartheid State and settler colonial State – as being antisemitic. That is wrong… It is a political tool being used to deflect criticism of Israel as an apartheid State, which for the past 70 years has subjugated, oppressed and dehumanised the Palestinian people.”

David Shoebridge (Greens) – “It is not antisemitic for Palestinian people to criticise the divisive and racist actions of the Israeli State.”

Anthony D’Adam (ALP) – “I would argue that Israel has made Jewish people more unsafe. The core problem [with] the motion is that the agenda to close down debate around Israel is problematic.”

Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Taylor Martin (Lib.) – “The Premier’s endorsement in December 2021 of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism is another step towards ensuring that we can continue to have a peaceful and vibrant multicultural society in New South Wales.”

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