Noted and Quoted – November 2018

Fairfax Media's Peter Hartcher weighed in heavily on PM Morrison's announcements

Walking a fine line

PM Scott Morrison’s announcement during the closing stages of the by-election in Wentworth – an electorate with a large Jewish population – that Australia would consider changing its support on the Iran nuclear deal and moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to west Jerusalem moved media veteran Tony Walker to confusingly invoke the “30 pieces of silver” Judas received “to betray Jesus.” 

Given that two millennia of Christian dogma portrayed Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver as analogous to the Jewish people’s supposed collective and eternal guilt for his crucifixion, the reference was either thoughtless or highly insensitive, ABC Online (Oct. 17).

[Ed. note: Tony Walker responds:]

Dear Sir,
Regarding your reference to an item by me that appeared ABC Online (October 17) dealing with arguments over a proposed move of Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could I make the following points. In my biblical reference to “30 pieces of silver’’ to describe what I believed was an inducement to the voters of Wentworth to support the Liberal candidate, I had no wish to give offence to a particular voting group. I was making what I believed was – and many others would –a literary allusion more generally. This reference has been used throughout history to describe an inducement, or even a bribe. However, I recognize that such a form of words may have given offence for historical reasons. This was absolutely not my intention. I regret having made such a biblical reference in the circumstances.
Yours faithfully,
Tony Walker, South Yarra.

 

Diplomatic immunity

Former Australian diplomats were wheeled out to bash PM Morrison’s announcement. The fact that most were not neutral observers went unnoted. 

Take veteran Israel basher Ross Burns who wrote in the Australian Financial Review (Oct. 19), “A decision to follow Trump’s move of the American embassy to Jerusalem would essentially ditch any outcome based on negotiations between the two parties, handing Israel in advance most of the key points of a ‘final status’ outcome.” Jerusalem is only one small part of the “final status” puzzle and past Israeli governments have offered to share sovereignty with the Palestinians in a final peace deal on more than one occasion, but been rebuffed. 

What the paper did not disclose was that Burns is a past board member of the Australian pro-Palestinian lobbying group APAN, and has referred to Israel’s creation using the Palestinian term “Nakba” (catastrophe). 

Then there was former Australian ambassador to Syria and Egypt Bob Bowker who lectures at the controversial ANU Centre for Islamic and Arab Studies. 

In an interview with ABC Radio “PM” (Oct. 17) he conveniently ignored the nuances in the Government’s statement, saying “to remove [Jerusalem] from the equation is simply going to make it even harder to get the Palestinians to participate.” Bowker also warned against “unilateral actions which deeply undermines international confidence in the United Nations.” 

Yet even several recent UN secretaries-general have conceded that the UN has a bias problem with Israel – “international confidence in the United Nations” would be better served by addressing this reality, rather than sweeping it under the rug as Bowker appears to prefer.

Lane Way 

ABC host Sabra Lane, interviewing Foreign Minister Marise Payne on the timing of the government’s Jerusalem announcement, put to her that “Middle East and African ambassadors met in Canberra yesterday. They’re very unhappy – one telling the Guardian that it would be quote, ‘a fatal mistake’.” 

The unnamed “ambassador” was none other than Izzat Salah Abdulhadi, the head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia, whose remarks were hardly surprising, ABC Radio “AM” (Oct. 17).

Leaky claims

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi’s leaked private remarks to Minister Payne that a Jerusalem recognition decision would “slap Indonesia’s face on the Palestine issue” were widely reported. 

Much of the ABC and Fairfax commentary seemed to accept as entirely reasonable the notion that Jakarta should wield a de facto veto on where Australia locates its Israel embassy.

In contrast, the Daily Telegraph (Oct. 17) condemned the implied threat in Marsudi’s warning to Australia to avoid decisions that could “undermine…global security” and said, “Australia cannot allow any major international decisions to be dictated by fear.”

The paper urged moving the embassy as an act of solidarity with Israel.

On repeat

Fairfax international editor Peter Hartcher was quoted all over the media condemning PM Morrison’s announcement in extreme terms, writing, “To betray the national interest to chase a few votes is irresponsible.”

He accused PM Morrison of “pander[ing]” to the Jewish voters in Wentworth by echoing US President Donald Trump who had changed policies “to gratify Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” 

According to Hartcher, unlike the US which is a “superpower”, Australia cannot adopt positions which are “stridently, uniquely pro-Israel” because our key strategic ally is Indonesia which is “the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation… Indonesia’s political system is primed to take offence from Australia at any time.”

Hartcher warned that if PM Morrison is “prepared to risk Australia’s vital interests for the Jewish vote in one seat, how far would he go for the Muslim vote in half a dozen seats?” Yet just maybe, Morrison actually thinks it is good policy? Age/SMH (Oct.17). 

Hartcher was invited to air his indignation on several ABC programs. 

Fran Mail

Refreshingly, ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Oct. 18) host Fran Kelly did probe the Indonesian domestic angle, asking Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Penny Wong, “could short-term political interest be playing a part in the Indonesian response in a sense? I mean we all know with elections coming up there is a push by Islamic hardliners in Indonesia to have more control over policy.” 

Wong criticised PM Morrison’s lack of Cabinet consultation in reaching the decision but Kelly persisted a few more times before moving on. 

Kelly also correctly noted that the embassy would move to western Jerusalem, which is internationally recognised as sovereign Israeli territory. 

Sofer, so good

Israeli Ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer made a number of media appearances responding to PM Morrison’s announcement.

On SBS TV “World News” (Oct. 16), he said, “Jerusalem is, was and always will be the capital of the State of Israel.” 

On ABC TV News 24 and ABC Radio “PM” (Oct 16), Sofer said Israel had “no input whatsoever, this is an Australian decision.” 

Fairfax’s Fergus Hunter (Oct. 17) quoted Sofer calling a possible embassy shift “a growing recognition of the facts on the ground.”

Undue pressure

The Age (Oct. 17) condemned the announcement and explained it by stating, “Mr Morrison says that he, like his predecessor, has been pressured by the Jewish lobby from the early days of his ascension in August to follow Mr Trump in recognising Israel’s claim on Jerusalem, and to review Australia’s backing of the Iran nuclear deal – a request to which he has also acceded.”

Pressured? When announcing the review PM Morrison said only, “people from the Jewish community have been raising this with me from day one. From day one. It was literally put to me in the first couple of days of me becoming Prime Minister and I’m not rushing into anything here. But what I am doing today is recognising what is a real concern in the Jewish community in Australia.” 

ABC numerically challenged

On ABC Radio “AM” (Oct. 16) correspondent Stephanie Borys said if Australia moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem it “would be the only other nation apart from the US that would have their embassy in Jerusalem.” 

Wrong. Guatemala moved its embassy to Jerusalem two days after the US did in May, while several other countries, including Russia, have recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without moving their embassies.

Channel 10 gets a ZERO

Channel 10’s light-hearted news program “The Project” (Oct. 17) looked at PM Morrison’s Jerusalem announcement by setting the scene with a one-sided, factually-challenged history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

Co-host Waleed Aly said the “UN created the Jewish state of Israel after World War II in Arab populated, mainly Muslim, Palestine to give persecuted Jews somewhere to call home. War followed and ultimately Jerusalem was split down the middle. Israel claimed the rest of the city after 1967’s Six Day War, a claim that wasn’t internationally recognised. They’ve been at each other ever since.” 

The right to Jewish self-determination in Palestine was acknowledged by most of the world’s governments after the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917, and in the 1920 San Remo Treaty. By 1948 the Jewish community in Palestine was ready for statehood. The Holocaust merely provided another valid justification for a Jewish state. 

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is still hot not because Israel “claimed” Jerusalem in 1967 but because Egypt, Jordan and Syria with PLO backing tried to destroy Israel in 1967 and the latter two still refuse to make peace today.

Absurdly, Aly said, “Even Malaysia’s miffed.” Seriously – Malaysia? Is Aly really unaware that Malaysian President Mahathir Mohamed is a proud and long-standing antisemite who made headlines yet again for antisemitic pronouncements in September? 

Unsettling error

A news report on ABC TV “Mornings” and “News at Noon” (Oct. 15) stated that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to attack Hamas over a flare-up in Palestinian protests along the Gaza border. Mr Netanyahu has pledged to respond with very powerful blows if the violent protests continue. Gaza health officials say Israeli forces have killed seven Palestinians during the latest wave of protests. The threat comes after the Israeli Government approved the building of a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.”

The report was wrong in claiming there is a new settlement being built. The plan is to eventually build a 31-home apartment building, a day-care centre and a park on a Jewish-owned site that was until now an Israel Defence Forces base in an existing settlement in Hebron. Further, the announcement and the violence in Gaza were completely unrelated. 

Palestinian terror pays dividends

The old media adage that if it bleeds it leads doesn’t appear to apply if you are an Israeli victim of Palestinian terror. 

The murder of prominent Israeli social media activist Ari Fuld outside a supermarket in Gush Etzion on the West Bank on Sept. 16 appeared to be relegated to a 25-second news reader brief on ABC News Radio (Sept. 17). 

The vicious murder of two Israelis and shooting of a third in a factory in the West Bank settlement of Barkan by a 23-year-old Palestinian was given a 30 second brief by ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek on ABC News Radio on Oct. 8. It appears to have been played only once. 

On Sept. 28, Tlozek filed an extensive online article that focused on the scandal of Palestinian terrorists and their families receiving payments from the Palestinian Authority. 

The article did repeat PA senior official Nabil Shaath’s ridiculous claim that “one million Palestinians had been imprisoned by Israel” since 1967 – which is statistically impossible.

The article’s picture heavy format strongly suggested that an accompanying TV or radio report was prepared, but it does not appear to have ever been broadcast. 

Priorities

The ABC’s priorities were revealed on Oct.10 when, by contrast with the paltry and hard to find coverage of fatal terror attacks, Tlozek’s radio report into Israel’s refusal to admit American pro-BDS campaigner Lara Alqasem into the country to study at Hebrew University was run on ABC Radio’s flagship “AM” program. The alarmist report implied that she was being “detained” against her will at Ben Gurion Airport and that academic freedom in Israel was at imminent risk of collapse. 

Tlozek said, “Opponents of Israel’s law have accused the government of creating a secret thought police. They’ve also expressed concern about increased questioning of foreigners, including journalists and peace activists, at the border by the Israeli security agency. The [Israel Security Agency] told the ABC in a statement that interrogations were conducted based on suspicion of illegal, violent or terrorism-related activity that could affect state security, not political views.” 

There is no right to be admitted to any country if you are a foreigner and every country applies a good character test to applicants. Alqasem was not “detained”, she simply chose not to return home after being denied entry in order to launch a court appeal – which was ultimately successful.

The three faces of Eric

If you are an ABC consumer it can be a challenge to garner an accurate picture of the complexities behind the violence spewing out of Gaza.

ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek’s online report (Oct. 8) stated that “protests began as weekly marches at the fence, but now there is almost-daily unrest and frequent attempts to breach the border…. among the civilian protesters are militant units whose aim is [to] damage Israeli military installations, infrastructure, or nearby farmland.”

The “marches” have always contained violent agitators and the openly expressed aim has not been property damage but the kidnapping and murders of Israelis.

Tlozek acknowledged that Egypt and Israel enforce the blockade and that “Israel and Hamas both say a long-running conflict between Hamas, which governs Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, which administers the West Bank, is making it harder to improve conditions in Gaza.” 

Israeli opposition MK Ofer Shelah was quoted blaming PA President Mahmoud Abbas “for many of the problems in Gaza, because the PA restricts the importation of fuel for electricity generation, and salaries for public servants” which pushes Hamas and Israel to war.

But when it came to Tlozek’s TV reports, all such nuance was stripped out. ABC TV “News” Victoria viewers (Oct. 8) heard the protestors are only calling for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, ignoring their demands for a self-proclaimed “right of return” to Israel.

Later that night, on ABC News 24’s “The World” Tlozek told viewers that “many in Israel’s security and defence sectors say the solution is humanitarian rather than military” with Shelah’s analysis of the PA’s role in the humanitarian crisis missing. Shelah was heard saying only, “the problem is that when you have a desperate population in Gaza, it’s easy for Hamas to manoeuvre them their way – to use them as a human shield for their aggression against Israel.” 

Barns in the spotlight

This year’s Palestinian film festival prompted Greg Barns to call for sympathy for Palestinian and Israeli filmmakers who suffer “the repression of creativity, including film, by the Netanyahu regime [which] is no different to what occurred in South Africa up until the birth of Mandela’s rainbow nation in the early 1990s. But then that is the nature of apartheid.”

This is absurd – Israel has some controversies over artistic freedom, but they are no different to those in Australia and other democracies over artists’ works, particularly those who have received taxpayer money. Meanwhile, artistic freedom in Gaza under Hamas is non-existent and little better in the Palestinian Authority. Even artistic freedom in contemporary South Africa is hardly unblemished – in 2012 artist Brett Murray was sued for defamation by Mandela’s ruling African National Congress party for a controversial painting of then President Jacob Zuma.

Barns claimed that Palestinian “suffering and the crimes against humanity inflicted on the Palestinians are ignored by our media because they are bullied by the Israel lobby into being ‘balanced’.” Yet Barns has never had any problems airing his completely unbalanced views on Israel in the Australian media. 

On Oct. 8, Barns attacked academic Clive Hamilton’s allegations of Chinese Communist party influence in Australian politics, calling him “hypocritical…[with] nothing to say about the real agents of foreign influence in Australian politics, Israel and the United States.” 

The Mercury (Oct. 12), published AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams’ response, which accused Barns of “blatantly rewriting history” and ignoring that the Palestinian refugee issue was created in 1948 when the Arab leaders lost the war they started to thwart the UN Partition Plan. Hyams also suggested Barns read the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Anti-Semitism.

No Hall Pass

Sandra Hall’s review in Fairfax papers (Oct. 11) of the Israeli Arab film “Wajib” claimed that “because of a large concentration of Arab Christians, [Nazareth’s] Palestinians were allowed to stay on after the Israeli takeover in 1948.” 

An unpublished AIJAC letter noted that “This implies that Arab Muslims were not allowed to stay elsewhere in Israel, which is patently untrue…. Arab Muslims in many areas were actively encouraged to stay by local Jewish authorities. Others were forced to leave because they lived in strategically important sites. However, most of those who left did so either because their leaders urged them to stay out of the way of the advancing armies and assured them they could return once the Jews were all gone, or fled in fear due to false stories of Jewish atrocities. Yet in 1950, there were still 116,000 Muslims living in Israel along with 36,000 Christians.”