Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – May 2024

Apr 22, 2024 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

No aid at all

The tragic deaths of Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom and six World Central Kitchen (WCK) colleagues in an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) drone strike in Gaza on the night of April 1 saw Israel face a barrage of both justified and unjustified criticism. 

The Australian Financial Review (April 6) warned Israel that its “standing in the world… rests on a self-image of an accountable democracy…  Putin might feel free to terrorise Ukrainians, nobody… expects anything better. Israel does not have that luxury.” 

In the same edition, ABC chief political correspondent Laura Tingle wrote, “There is something disturbing about the fact that it has taken the killing of foreign nationals… rather than the killing of countless Palestinians, to apparently tip governments over into straight outrage.” Maybe that’s because the media rushed to portray the incident as an act of deliberate murder, rather than a terrible accident.

The Sydney Morning Herald (April 6) said the “indiscriminate” killings had “erased empathy around the world, and for the first time the support of Israel’s most reliable ally, the United States, has been jeopardised.”


Extreme claims

Terrorism analyst Clive Williams in the Canberra Times (April 5), used the aid workers’ deaths as an opportunity to attempt to discredit Israel’s war against Hamas, including dismissing the “Israeli position on civilian casualties… that Hamas is to blame because Hamas is hiding among civilians and under medical facilities. That’s undoubtedly true – but hiding among civilians is what insurgents and terrorists normally do.”

Contrary to Williams’ insinuations, international law regards the use of human shields as a war crime, and so long as armies do what is feasible to minimise civilian casualties, they are legally entitled to do what is necessary to fight against terrorists.

On April 7, Canberra Times columnist Mark Kenny wrote dramatically, “Aid workers. Unarmed non-combatants endangering their own lives to save others, deliberately targeted and killed. The rocket attack which killed Zomi Frankcom and fellow humanitarian aid workers was coldly, relentlessly thorough.” Kenny’s false claim that Israel was in “defiance of a preliminary finding by the International Court of Justice of a plausible risk of genocide and an order on Israel to cease its military operation,” was challenged by AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams in a letter the Canberra Times published on April 9.

Mercury columnist Greg Barns (April 8), wrote “No one is buying the Israeli Defence Forces line that it was simply a ‘misidentification’ because the convoy… was clearly marked.” 


Qualified criticism

In the Nine Newspapers (April 5), analyst Rodger Shanahan repeated many of the same criticisms heard elsewhere about the aid worker deaths but also noted that “in the years leading up to the conflict, little was said about Hamas’ practice of putting [Palestinian] lives at risk by militarising civilian areas as it built its tunnel systems. And there is also misinformation aplenty in the contested social media landscape – it is not that long ago that many willingly swallowed the fraudulent claim that an Israeli airstrike killed hundreds sheltering in the al-Ahli Hospital.”

News Corp columnist Joe Hildebrand (April 5) said, “I have no doubt Israel did not intend to target aid workers when it killed Frankcom and her colleagues,” and that it is subject to a “double standard”, but added, “Israel… cannot decry base ruthlessness while at the same time deploying base recklessness.” 


Judge and Jury

ABC presenters were unafraid to simply dismiss Israeli explanations for the deaths.

Interviewing IDF spokesperson Lt. Col Peter Lerner, ABC TV “7.30” presenter Sarah Ferguson (April 8) concluded by saying “I’m not accepting your view that it’s a mistake.”

Likewise, on ABC Radio National (RN) “Drive” (April 4), host Andy Park said Israel’s “excuses are frankly beginning to wear thin.” 


On activist duty

Australian columnist Chris Mitchell (April 8) criticised the ABC’s coverage of the aid incident, saying, “Questioning Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman, [RN “Breakfast” host Sally] Sara insisted Gazans were racked by famine. She would not accept that the IDF, on the ground, disputes this, nor Mr Hyman’s correct view that arguments about famine are in fact future projections. Her next interviewee, Jeremy Konyndyk, president of Refugees International, at the end of the 17-minute segment actually confirmed the famine numbers were in fact future projections.” 


Crimes against sanity

More extreme claims included allegations Israel deliberately killed the aid workers as part of its plan to starve Gazans.

On ABC RN “Drive” (April 4), human rights lawyer Regina Weiss said, “Not only was it an intentional attack on civilians, but we can go further and say this was a war crime of intentionally using starvation as a method of warfare.”

On ABC RN “Late Night Live” (April 8), Crikey’s Bernard Keane said “There have been credible, independent international bodies that have accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war. And here was, um, an organisation, uh, primarily engaged in food aid being targeted… seemingly deliberately by the IDF.”

In the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (April 9), UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism Ben Saul claimed that Israel has “flouted multiple binding orders of the International Court of Justice to allow more aid and the demand of the UN Security Council to cease-fire to facilitate aid. The starvation of civilians is a war crime.” 

Israel has placed no restriction on the amount of aid that can enter Gaza, and amounts have been increasing dramatically in recent weeks.


Voice of experience

On ABC TV “Breakfast” (April 5), visiting AIJAC guest and veteran Israeli commentator Ehud Ya’ari explained the WCK incident happened at night and that this is “a very complex area, very difficult for military operation, because Hamas has immersed itself intentionally for years within the civilian population. And we have mistakes in a war like this, which is unprecedented in such densely urban area with 600km of tunnels.”



In the Hobart Mercury (April 12), AIJAC’s Allon Lee dispelled some of the myths surrounding the incident.

He corrected claims the Israelis must have seen the logo of World Central Kitchen on the vehicles, by noting it happened at night and “the only way Israeli forces could see the vehicles was via drones that used thermal imaging, not visual light.”

Lee explained that “an independent Israeli investigation led by a retired general concluded that the killings were ‘a grave mistake’ stemming from miscommunication and misidentification, namely a genuine belief by local commanders that Hamas fighters – who had been seen going into a depot with the aid convoy – and not aid workers, were in the vehicles in question.” 

Nonetheless, “the investigation found the decision to fire on the convoy was taken in clear violation of standing orders. Two senior officers involved were fired,” he wrote.

He also quashed the deliberate starvation theory, noting that before the incident, there were 6,000 successful and safe IDF “coordination events” with aid organisations, with nothing similar to the WCK convoy tragedy ever happening before.


Food for thought

Writing in the Australian (March 25), analyst Paul Monk panned claims that Gaza is about to face the world’s worse famine. 

Monk said the United Nations has predicted “1.1 million people in Gaza are facing famine and possible starvation between now and May due to the war.” 

But, Monk noted, the World Food Program has reported that 4.35 million people in Haiti are facing extreme hunger, with 1.4 million on the brink of starvation. 

He also questioned a UN official’s claim that “this is the highest number of people ever recorded as facing catastrophic hunger.”

Monk wrote, “There have been terrible famines in the past century that killed millions… such as in Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China or Mengistu’s Ethiopia.”


Careful what you wish for

Many commentators welcomed the Government’s decision to appoint former Defence Force chief Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin as Special Adviser to scrutinise Israel’s investigation into the incident.

This included Ben Saul, who told ABC RN “Breakfast” (April 8), “I think it’s an important step because there is a very long history of Israel giving essentially impunity to its own forces where allegations of violations have occurred.” 

But in the Australian (April 9), analysts Anthony Bergin and Michael Shoebridge challenged the Government’s decision, writing, “Australia is not coming to this issue with clean hands or credibility,” warning that “we’re creating a serious risk of setting a precedent that could come back to bite us.” 

The pair cited the failure of “our government and military[’s]… handling [of] allegations into war crimes by ADF personnel in Afghanistan. These allegations date back to conduct between 2005 and 2016 – beginning almost two decades ago – and there have still been no legal proceedings to test the evidence in court or hold anyone responsible.”

In the Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail (April 10), AIJAC Visiting Fellow Greg Rose called the decision to appoint a Special Adviser “unprecedented” and a “diplomatic insult”. 

Professor Rose wrote, “Several other countries’ civilian nationals have been accidentally harmed by past Australian Defence Forces operations – including those of Afghanistan and Indonesia. Can they now demand their own special advisors’ access to and oversight of ADF investigation and disciplinary processes? And would we let them?”

On the Australian website (April 9), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein said that world leaders who call for an immediate ceasefire because of the deaths risked falling straight into Hamas’ trap. 

“Everyone seems to be forgetting Israel has repeatedly offered Hamas a six-week ceasefire deal, along with numerous other concessions” and Hamas has refused, “demanding Israel instead completely withdraw from Gaza and effectively allow Hamas to continue ruling the area in exchange for any hostage release,” he wrote.


Uncomfortable truths

Media interest in the aid worker deaths was overtaken by Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s speech on April 9 suggesting the Government might recognise a Palestinian state.

On Nine’s “Today Show” (April 11), host Karl Stefanovic asked Australian PM Anthony Albanese what would be done about Hamas because “separating Hamas and a Palestinian state… it’s just about impossible, isn’t it?”

On ABC RN “Breakfast” (April 11), head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia Izzat Abdulhadi said, “Hamas is a part of the Palestinian people. Hamas is a philosophy. Hamas is an idea.”

Earlier, on ABC RN “Saturday Extra” (March 23), Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin said, “It’s time” for Australia, “which has talked about a two-state solution for 30 years, to recognise the other of the two states as well. That would help us eliminate Hamas as a political factor that threatens Israel and threatens the region.” But he didn’t explain how this would actually work.


Piercing analysis

Instead of recognising a Palestinian state, Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman (April 7) said the Government should “demand that Qatar stop hosting key Hamas leaders” and as “a principal funder of Hamas, pressure the terrorists to immediately release the remaining 134 hostages.” 

Akerman accused the Government of “playing the emotional card, as is the ABC with its relentless prosecution of heart-rending pleas from aid organisations for a unilateral ceasefire with no demands on Hamas to release its captives or stop using Gazans as human shields.”


Hospital military operation 

On ABC RN “Breakfast” (March 22), Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar explained that the IDF returned to Gaza’s main hospital al-Shifa to root out hundreds of Hamas fighters who were there and had taken patients hostage.

Eldar also explained the high Palestinian death toll during the war: “I blame Hamas for sacrificing tens of thousands of people, children and women, for nothing… they know… Israel is not going anywhere. And at the end of the day… we will have to reach a political solution, final settlement of a two-state solution, which Hamas is not willing to consider, as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu.”


Acting out

The Adelaide Advertiser (March 22) criticised vociferously anti-Israel Jewish actor Miriam Margolyes, who said at a public event that too many Jews lack compassion towards Palestinians suffering in Gaza during the Hamas-Israel war, which meant that “Hitler had won”.

The paper said Margolyes “doesn’t have a strong grasp on history” and that the war began with Hamas’ “barbaric attack” on October 7, which left Israel “no other option than to defend itself.” 


Risky business

ABC Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn’s report on “Foreign Correspondent” (March 14) and an accompanying online article focused on the rise in gun ownership in Israel post-October 7 and how Israeli Arabs have fared. 

Horn’s online article said lawyer Adi Mansour of the radical Adalah Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel is more fearful since October 7 of being shot by Israeli Jews.

However, Israeli Arabs are far more likely to be killed by other Arabs statistically. In 2023, 241 of the 299 non-terrorist murders committed in Israel involved only Arabs. Since October 7, there have been very few reports of violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.


Free the Agency

Nine Newspapers’ columnist Waleed Aly (March 22) questioned the Australian Government’s decision to suspend its funding to the controversial organisation UNRWA, which it subsequently reversed.

Aly said that given the Government’s assertion UNRWA does life-saving work that no one else can, it “seems near-certain that Palestinian civilian deaths turned out to be the more acceptable risk” than continuing funding for an organisation accused of having a small number of staff members who were alleged to have helped carry out Hamas’ October 7 massacre.

The Australian’s Paul Kelly (March 20) said the Government should have heeded former Australian ambassador to Israel and current Liberal NSW Senator Dave Sharma, who had warned that “UNRWA has been infiltrated and co-opted by Hamas. Many of its employees are members of Hamas. Its schools and hospitals are repurposed by Hamas as military facilities. Its aid is diverted to support Hamas military aims. These are ingrained structural features of the UNRWA in Gaza, not anomalies.”


A modern miracle

On ABC RN “Religion & Ethics Report” (March 27) Palestinian Christian priest William Shomali discussed the plight of Christians in the Middle East, who have “suffered a lot in the last decades from wars, from instability.” 

However, “there is one optimistic point,” he said, citing Israel and Palestine, as a place where “our numbers are not decreasing.” 

In fact, the Christian population is only increasing in Israel. After the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, Christian numbers there plummeted.


By Saikal

Writing in the Nine Newspapers (April 2), academic Amin Saikal claimed that the Biden Administration’s decision to abstain and not veto a UN Security Council resolution on March 25 marked “an unprecedented rift in US-Israeli relations and comes amid Washington’s growing frustration with Netanyahu’s conduct of the Gaza war.”

Although the resolution called for a cease-fire until the end of Ramadan and for the release of hostages in Gaza, as White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby explained, “It’s a nonbinding resolution. So, there’s no impact at all on… Israel’s ability to continue to go after Hamas… it does not represent a change at all in our policy.” 


In Parliament

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) and Acting Foreign Minister Senator Katy Gallagher (ALP, ACT) joint statement – April 14 – “Australia condemns Iran’s attacks on Israel… This escalation is a grave threat to the security of Israel and the entire region… Australia continues to support regional security, including that of Israel.”

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) speech – April 9 – “Israel… must make major and immediate changes to… protect civilians, journalists and aid workers… We are now thirty years on from the Oslo Accords that put Palestinian statehood at the end of a process. The failures of this approach by all parties over decades – as well as the Netanyahu Government’s refusal to even engage on the question of a Palestinian state – have caused widespread frustration. So the international community is now considering the question of Palestinian statehood as a way of building momentum towards a two-state solution.”

Senator Wong media release – April 8 – “Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin (Rtd) will serve as Special Adviser to the Australian Government on Israel’s response to the [IDF] strikes which killed Zomi Frankcom, and six of her… colleagues… The Special Adviser will provide advice… regarding any further representations or actions that could be taken to ensure a full and transparent investigation and to hold those responsible to account.”

Anthony Albanese television interview – April 3 – “To have aid workers… assisting… the people of Gaza… killed in this way is completely unacceptable. The targeting of these people is just a tragedy.”

Shadow Education Minister Sarah Henderson (Lib., Vic.) media release – April 12 – “We have seen no action… against the terrible wave of antisemitism at some university campuses which has left many Jewish students and academics fearful for their safety.”

Senator Janet Rice (Greens, Vic.) valedictory speech – March 26 – “The starving of the population [in Gaza] is genocide not self-defence, and it is shameful that this Senate still has a motion on the books that says we stand with Israel.”

Senator Penny Allman-Payne (Greens, Qld) – March 25 – “The actions of the United States in supporting the Israeli government… while we see war crime after war crime… risks destabilising Australia.”

Senator Claire Chandler (Lib., Tas.) – March 25 – “In December… the coalition called on the government to impose more targeted sanctions against high-ranking Hamas officials … in supporting Israel’s campaign to disable Hamas and prevent it from committing such atrocities again.”

Tony Zappia (ALP, Makin) – March 25 – “Whilst the Hamas leadership and the Israeli Prime Minister fight for military ascendancy and their own political survival, innocent Israeli and Palestinian people are dying.”

Senator David Shoebridge (Greens, NSW) moving a motion to end all military trade with Israel – March 25 – “this government is content… to send weapons… to Israel to literally fuel the genocide, and… welcomes signing new contracts… for equipment that is literally being tested on the Palestinian people.” (Only the Greens and Senator Lidia Thorpe supported the motion.)

Max Chandler-Mather (Greens, Griffith) moving the same motion in the House – March 25 – “Palestinians… suffer under the worst famine since World War II.”

Elizabeth Watson-Brown (Greens, Ryan) seconding the motion – “Israel… continues targeting civilians in hospitals… Today, more than 100,000 people have been murdered or are injured or missing.” (Only the Greens supported the motion.)

Greens Deputy Leader Senator Mehreen Faruqi (NSW) – March 21 – “Minister, what will it take for the Labor government to withdraw its support for the apartheid and genocidal state of Israel?”

Maria Vamvakinou (ALP, Calwell) – March 20 – “… A war that is arguably the deadliest conflict of the 21st century… The Israeli army… rages against a civilian population that it besieges, kills, displaces and starves.”

Graham Perrett (ALP, Moreton) – March 19 – “The people of Gaza are… living with daily bombings, deaths and starvation, mainly because of Israel’s refusal to let enough food into Gaza… How could anyone perpetrate such an act of barbarism on children?”


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