Friends of A Dictator
Calling for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to remain in power, former RAAF pilot Byron Bailey wrote that Assad’s brutality “is a reaction to attempts by Sunnis to topple him and the fear of wholesale slaughter that may follow.”
As vile as ISIS is, the fact remains that Assad’s forces are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the 300,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war – and these began well before ISIS ever came into existence.
Bailey also claimed that ISIS’s “wanton barbarity and cruelty” is worse than the Waffen-SS, Daily Telegraph (Sept. 18).
Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior adviser to Assad, said the West’s desire for Assad’s ouster was a plot aimed “at destroying our country, turning our identity, erasing our cultural heritage… It is Syria that has been targeted, it is not President Assad.”
Furthermore, “Syria has been a very independent country and that’s not what the West wants. They want us like a country that is a satellite for the West and we will never be that.”
Clearly Assad would prefer his country to remain a satellite of Iran and Russia! ABC TV “Lateline” (Sept. 17).
Iran plays dumb
Abdolhossein Vahaji, Iran’s Ambassador to Australia, told Fairfax’s David Wroe (Sept. 12) his country supports the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad because without him “the situation is going to be worse…who is going to take over?…ISIS is going to take over.”
Wroe sensibly noted, “the regime has killed far more civilians than Islamic State has in the four-year civil war, which has claimed about 250,000 lives.”
Moreover, in 2011, long before ISIS arose in neighbouring Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets to peacefully demand Bashar al-Assad’s resignation.
It was Assad’s brutal crackdown with Iran’s backing that ultimately led to the civil war and it was this that paved the way for ISIS to arise in eastern Syria.
Vahaji continued, “anything where you don’t know… what is the plan for the future means you are moving in the darkness, and moving in the darkness is going to have side-effects.”
You mean like when the Shah of Iran was deposed in 1979 in a popular uprising that was quickly hijacked by Ayatollah Khomenei who ushered in an Islamist reign of terror that is still with us today?
Assad state of affairs
Former George W. Bush Administration deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams expressed disappointment in the shift in Australia’s position to now supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad possibly remaining leader.
He wrote that keeping Assad in power will keep “Islamic State alive and growing. Under those circumstances it will continue to recruit Sunnis… We can all understand that the awful situation in Syria today leaves us with no wonderful and attractive options. But let us not delude ourselves into thinking that Russia is trying to help, or that Iran is doing so. They are working, and killing, for Assad.”
Abrams said, “even now, after years of Islamic State and regime military action, non-jihadi rebels control parts of the country. They could do better if they had real help instead of the small and embarrassing efforts the US and a few other countries have made,” Australian (Oct. 1).
Federal Labor MP Michael Danby accused Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of abandoning the “bipartisan position that ruled out a Syrian future with Assad at the helm” which “follows a pattern of pushing for a closer relationship with Iran,” Daily Telegraph (Oct. 8).
In contrast, foreign editor Greg Sheridan praised Bishop’s stance as the “height of realism at its most noble – the West must negotiate with the forces on the ground…she recognises that you can’t just wish the Iranians away, and that no progress can come to Syria without some degree of Iranian involvement,” Australian (Oct. 3).
Long time anti-Israel columnist Patrick Cockburn wrote that “in Iraq and Syria, we are back to a period of drastic demographic change not seen in the region since the Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee by the Israelis in 1948.”
There have actually been numerous Mideast crises leading to larger refugee flows since the displacement of Palestinians (which was a direct consequence of the Palestinian Arab leadership’s decision to reject the UN partition plan and launch a war of annihilation against the Jewish community). These include the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, the Yemen civil war of 1962-70, the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, the anti-Kurdish Anfal campaign (1986-1989) and the 1991 uprisings in Iraq (1990-91) – plus the huge refugee problems in Afghanistan and Sudan.
And of course, Cockburn would never mention the 800,000 plus Jews from ancient communities located across the Middle East who were scapegoated and forced out by Arab countries following Israel’s creation, Canberra Times (Sept. 12).
Former Middle East correspondent John Lyons castigated the Jewish state because “Israel, an immediate neighbour of Syria and a country built on refugees, has refused to take a single one [from Syria], saying it has ‘no geographic depth or demographic depth’.”
Israel is one of the smallest countries in the region and is still technically and practically at war with Syria, with Syrians educated to despise Israelis. Surveys have confirmed that most Syrian refugees still do. Regardless, Israel runs humanitarian aid schemes in Jordan, provides expensive medical treatment free of charge in Israel to hundreds of Syrians injured in the fighting and gives other substantial assistance to southern Syrian communities, Australian (Sept. 12).
On ABC TV‘s “Q&A” (Sept. 14) columnist Rowan Dean offered a more balanced assessment.
“Israel is the only Middle East country where the Christian community is growing. Every other Middle East country, the Christian communities are being reduced…driven out or…butchered”. Furthermore, “there’s very few Jewish Middle Eastern communities left outside of Israel”.
In other words, Israel is already acting as a safe haven for at risk minorities.
Columnist Henry Ergas warned that worrying levels of antisemitism among Australian Muslims, reflecting the incitement against Jews rife throughout the Middle East, should make Australia “concerned about the religious composition” of a proposed additional 12,000 asylum seekers.
“Saddam Hussein’s major contribution to Baathist theory, for example, characterised Jews and flies as the ‘creatures God should not have made’; and its blood-curdling finale – “for each insect, there is an insecticide” – was endlessly repeated on state media, along with photos of Baghdad crowds celebrating the public hanging, on January 27, 1969, of nine alleged Jewish spies. As for Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, a Friday religious broadcast proclaiming that ‘we are a nation that drinks blood, and no blood is better than the blood of Jews’ still sets the typical standard. Unfortunately, those hatreds have not remained in the Middle East: rather, there is compelling evidence that we have imported them with earlier waves of Muslim refugees…A 2009 survey of Muslim children in Australian schools concluded that 73 per cent believe Jews are ‘selfish’ and ‘have no morals’, while 93 per cent believe ‘Jews dislike people from other groups’.
“More recently, a study by the University of Sydney’s Suzanne Rutland of Muslim students in western Sydney’s public high schools found pervasive anti-Semitism, including the belief that the September 11 attacks were a Jewish plot (with Jews in New York supposedly ‘phoning each other to stay at home’). And bad as things are in the public schools, in the Muslim schools they are surely worse.
All that has persisted despite myriad government programs aimed at promoting ‘harmony’. Those programs’ failure is unsurprising, since racist beliefs are reproduced, day after day, in the home and in the bile distributed, with complete impunity, through mosques and social networks,” Australian (Sept. 14).
Academic Halim Rane claimed that Australian foreign policy “is also a major contributing factor to the disharmonious relationship that currently exists between Muslim communities and segments of wider Australian society.”
He claimed that “the policies of the successive Australian governments concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict raise the ire of Australia’s Muslim communities and the majority Australians at large [sic]. Support for Israel’s policies and practices towards the Palestinians and insufficient support for Palestinian human rights and self-determination is completely inconsistent with the values and principles of a nation that championed the global campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, purports to be playing a constructive role in global peace and security and advocates democracy and human rights.”
Funny, it’s highly likely that a majority of Australians would be aghast at a Palestinian state that exhibited the same lack of commitment to human rights as the track record exhibited by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, ABC “Religion and Ethics” (Oct. 13).
Meanwhile, columnist Andrew Bolt condemned blaming Muslim radicalisation on government policies, writing “we… get the list of demands from people from whom more should be demanded – demands to ban criticism of Islam, to issue more grants and to scrap foreign policies that help Israel or hurt Islamist groups abroad.”
Bolt suggested radicalisation is directly linked to incitement from extremist Islamic preachers, such as “the Friday sermon last week at the Al-Abrar Mosque in the Gaza Strip, Sheik Muhammad Sallah waved around a knife and shouted for Muslims to stab Israeli Jews,” Courier Mail, Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun (Oct. 15).
Despite having served as Australian ambassador to Israel between 1994 and 1997, the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network’s Peter Rodgers seemed to be calling for a Palestinian state, yet failed to point out Israel’s three offers of such a state.
Instead he ludicrously trashed the 1993 Oslo Accords as providing the “flimsy scaffold for negotiation of Palestinian statehood” while praising Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for telling the UN General Assembly last month the “Palestinians would no longer abide by [them]”.
Oslo could have and should have led to a Palestinian state after a five-year transition period with Israel transferring territory and the Palestinians maintaining security.
Instead, in 1994, even before he arrived in the West Bank, Arafat called Oslo a “despicable truce” and promised “to fight a jihad to liberate Jerusalem”; exploited Hamas’ frenzy for terror; and, in contravention of the agreement, built up his own army.
Rodgers also rejected Netanyahu’s call for a resumption of peace talks by falsely claiming the Israeli PM had said there will be “no Palestinian state ever”.
Abbas of course rejected a Palestinian state first, when he did not respond to Ehud Olmert’s very generous 2008 offer and has walked away from the Kerry negotiations that Netanyahu has been prepared to reactivate, Australian (Oct. 9).
AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein warned against Australia recognising a Palestinian state and noted Netanyahu’s overtures to President Abbas for the resumption of peace talks.
“American mediators say current PM Netanyahu also promised he would withdraw from the vast majority of the West Bank for a secure peace during the negotiations last year.History…demonstrates that direct talks can produce viable proposals for a resolution which would fulfil Palestinian aspirations for statehood and create a two-state peace of the sort the international community has always envisioned. That is why, in Australia, there is bi-partisan consensus that a negotiated outcome leading to two states is the way forward. As Prime Minister Julia Gillard noted in her autobiography with regard to a UN vote on enhanced Palestinian status: ‘to me it was self-evident this was not the path to peace. A million resolutions, billions of pieces of paper would never create a Palestinian state – only fruitful negotiations would,'” Canberra Times (Oct. 16).
Visiting Israeli analyst Ehud Yaari told ABC TV host Emma Alberici the expectation the P5+1 deal with Iran would see “tacit collaboration, cooperation between Iran and its militias and [the] United States [to] fight…ISIS” has been disproved by Russia’s current greater military involvement in Syria to prop up the Assad regime.
“I think the message the Iranians are giving is very clear. The message is: “We, the Iranians, we are now going with the Russians. We prefer Mr Putin. And together with Mr Putin, we are going to save President Assad,” and would “keep striving for regional hegemony” whilst postponing a decision on nuclear weapons.
Yaari explained that US President Barack Obama’s “doctrine of retreat” in the Middle East has allowed Russia an opening in the region that was denied it since former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger lured the Egyptians away from the Soviet sphere in the early 1970s, ABC TV “Lateline” (Oct. 19).
Turtle Bay Dreams
Australia’s announcement that it will seek a UN Security Council seat in 2028 saw columnist Daniel Flitton doubt our chances partly because of Australia’s support for Israel.
“The 22-nation League of Arab States…are cranky about New Year’s Eve last year and Australia’s final act on the Security Council. Australia was one of only two nations to knock back a Jordanian resolution to demand Israel end the occupation and control of Palestinian territories in the next two years…Australia was conspicuous as the only other country to vote against the plan, rather than abstain,” Age (Oct. 4).
Columnist Andrew Bolt condemned Australia’s twin ambition of securing a seat on the UN Human Rights Council which includes “China, Congo, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the [UAE] and Vietnam…These countries really are judges on a UN body meant to save us from exactly such thugs, thieves, theocrats and dictators.” Bolt also recalled that the Rudd Government’s pursuit of a UN Security Council seat saw it “sucking up to Arab autocracies while attacking democratic Israel’s nuclear weapons program,” Courier Mail, Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun (Oct. 1).
Rowan Callick reported that “Human Rights Watch has urged Australia to ‘lift its game’ in order to achieve its bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2018-20 term,” but also noted, “this week, Saudi Arabia – which a few months ago advertised for eight new executioners, since staff had found it difficult to cope with their increasing workload – has been appointed to head a key panel of the council.”
Callick detailed some of the Kingdom’s human rights violations which include “execut[ing] 85 people this year, in what Amnesty International has called ‘a macabre spike’. Saudi Arabia is a country governed by a single clan. It does not provide freedom of religion. Women cannot open a bank-account without their husband’s permission, cannot drive and cannot leave home without a male relative. The country punishes acts of homosexuality or cross-dressing – depending on the court’s interpretation of the seriousness of the offence – with imprisonment, fines, corporal punishment, capital punishment or flogging. ‘Saudi Arabia opposes any resolution for gay rights,’ the Interior Ministry tweeted in June,” Australian (Sept. 25).
A Wyatt revolution
The Australian Financial Review‘s Tony Boyd noted (Sept. 19) Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy’s enthusiasm for Australia to emulate Israel’s regulatory framework to create new start-ups and foster greater entrepreneurship.
Roy’s “prescription for success is heavily influenced by his Israeli experiences. He says we should follow its lead and centralise all government spending on commercialisation and distribution of seed funding. In Israel, about $400 million a year is disbursed through 70 separate funding pools…administered by [its] chief scientist.”
In the Courier Mail (Sept. 22) Roy said, “Israel spends more money per capita (on start-ups) than anywhere else. They spend about $400 per capita, the US spends about $70 and Australia spends $5.”
Surprisingly, Israel was not among the several countries mentioned during ABC TV‘s “Lateline” interview with Roy (Sept. 22) on how to encourage new start-ups.
Israel’s expertise in maximising agricultural output while minimising water use was highlighted by the Australian’s Rachel Baxendale (Sept. 15) in a report on a 10-day visit to Australia by an Israeli delegation involved in the Arava Australia partnership.
“Israel’s saline Arava Valley receives only 20mm-50mm of rain a year, yet 90 per cent of its 3,500 residents are farmers growing capsicums, eggplant, dates, figs, tomatoes, melons, flowers, grapes and fish, producing up to 60 per cent of the country’s agricultural exports. The success is a triumph of community spirit and breakthrough technology the Israelis are keen to share with Australia,” she wrote.
Australia’s Nuffield farming scholarship (a “Rhodes scholarship for farmers”) chief executive Jim Geltch, who has visited Israel several times, was quoted saying “‘You’ve got to ask, why is so much innovation coming out of Israel?…I think it’s got something to do with the fact that there’s a risk attached to just living in Israel. I walk down (Melbourne’s) Collins Street, and I worry we’ve become too relaxed and comfortable. We’ve got to rediscover that drive to take risks and succeed.'”
This article is featured in this month’s Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.