Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – November 2021

Oct 27, 2021 | AIJAC staff

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Welcome news 

PM Scott Morrison’s announcement to the Malmö International Forum in Sweden that Australia would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism should have been a timely opportunity for the media to accurately report what it is.

The print edition of the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 15), quoted Anti-Defamation Commission Chairman Dvir Abramovich saying it was a “historic day” in the fight against ‘‘the world’s oldest hatred” – but also noted “human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson and the definition’s lead drafter Kenneth Stern, have raised concerns that the definition was being used to police speech.” Australia Palestine Advocacy Network President Bishop George Browning was quoted claiming the IHRA definition “has been used to shut down legitimate advocacy for Palestine in other places in the world, and we must not allow this to happen in Australia.” No actual examples were cited where this is alleged to have happened – nor is it clear why the views of a Palestinian advocacy group are relevant to a definition of antisemitism.

The report did not appear in the Age print edition. 

 

View from the ivory tower

Writing in the Age (Oct. 18), university student Josh Feldman called on universities to adopt the IHRA definition because Jewish students on campus are “horrifically vilified” for their support of Israel and are questioning whether they should “wear Jewish insignia”. 

Feldman stressed that the definition “does not seek to create a Kafkaesque environment in which free speech is stifled.” The definition, he wrote, specifically states “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic” and there is no intention to have the definition “enshrined into law,” he noted.

Ahead of the announcement, Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge told Sky News “Credlin” (Sept. 16) that “this international definition is important. It provides that guidance for institutions and particularly our universities, to be able to call out poor behaviour when they see it. It’s never going to stop antisemitism altogether. Antisemitism’s been going on for thousands of years. But it can make a difference, particularly in some of the antisemitism from the Left where we’ve seen very significant increases in recent times.”

 

Same old blame game

Marking the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Alex Ryvchin lamented in the Australian (Sep. 14) that it “triggered a dangerous defect in our thinking” that included blaming support for Israel as a key reason it happened.

According to Ryvchin, the attacks “produced a narrative that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and US support for Israel were the root cause of radical Islam’s desire to overthrow the West.”

In Britain, he wrote, “high school textbooks… also suggested Israel’s creation was the root cause of Islamist terrorism and the motivation for 9/11.”

Ryvchin noted the obvious point that “the wicked sectarianism on display in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon finally made mockery of the view that if only Israel withdrew from the West Bank, al-Qa’ida, Islamic State, Jemaah Islamiah and the rest would promptly beat their swords into ploughshares.”

 

White Washing

In October’s edition of the Monthly, commentator Hugh White criticised the Bush Administration’s decisions after Sept. 11 – particularly the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which he said had disastrous regional consequences.

White’s list included Russia’s re-entry to the Middle East; “alienating…Turkey”; “the rise of the Islamic State”; the Syrian civil war; as well as the failure to “transform Iraq” and foster democracy in the Middle East or “curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions or to blunt Tehran’s drive for regional influence.”

Bizarrely, White also added the US “fail[ure] to broker peace between Israel and Palestine” to his list.

The failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had nothing to do with Sept. 11 and little to do with US foreign policy.

The die was cast in July 2000 and January 2001 – well before the attacks – when Palestinian President Yasser Arafat refused to accept Israeli offers, under US President Bill Clinton’s mediation, to create a Palestinian state. 

Instead, Arafat launched a five-year campaign of terror in which more than 1,000 Israeli citizens were murdered. Despite this, Israel offered an even better deal in 2008, which was rejected by current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who also upended peace talks in 2014 during President Obama’s watch.

 

The Accord’s rewards

In the Sydney Morning Herald online (Sept. 19), AIJAC’s Dr Colin Rubenstein celebrated the first anniversary of the historic Abraham Accords that resulted in peace deals between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, which he said had been “a shining light in what is so often seen as a troubled region.”

Noting a variety of benefits of the Accords, he said that perhaps the “most important are the ‘people-to-people’ links. A significant aspect of the Abraham Accords is the recognition of the need to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue between the adherents of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This development has even spread to Australia, where dialogue between Jewish organisations, AIJAC included, and Emirati and Moroccan diplomats has been frequent and warm.”

Writing in the Canberra Times (Sept. 22) Zionist Federation of Australia Public Affairs Director Bren Carlill also commented on the Accords, noting, “in just one year, Emirati-Israeli trade went from zero to north of $750 million” as a “new generation of Arab leadership” realised that adherence to the “stale ideology” of solidarity with the Palestinians, whose leaders “rejected four offers of statehood this century,” was not only “holding back Palestinian livelihoods, it was also holding back their own.”

 

Headline acts

A Daily Telegraph report (Oct. 9) of an Israeli magistrate authorising silent Jewish prayer (a decision that was later overturned) on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount correctly noted the site is administered by the Waqf Islamic Trust and that Israeli police had appealed the decision.

However, the report was given an inflammatory headline “Mosque Prayer Outrage”, which implied the judge had allowed Jews to pray in the Al-Aqsa mosque.

On Oct. 2, a report of gun battles between Hamas and Israeli soldiers was given the terse headline of “Four Killed in the West Bank” in the Age and SMH.

But the report did say Hamas had “blamed the rival Palestinian Authority for the killings,” giving a tantalising hint at the complexity of Palestinian politics – a point that was not made in an SBS TV “World News” report of the incident later that night.

 

Anti-Social

On Sept. 17, Nine Newspapers’ Karl Quinn reported journalists, including Lisa Millar, Waleed Aly, Stan Grant and Hamish Macdonald, are increasingly abandoning social media because it has become a toxic space. 

The report included ABC TV “7.30” host Leigh Sales’ recent comments that she is regularly bullied and harassed on social media and quoted her saying “it is overwhelmingly left leaning Twitter users who are targeting ABC journalists for abuse.”

Quinn also made reference to commentator Mike Carlton as “another who copped abuse from the right-wing on social media – he resigned from the Herald in 2014 after his response to reader comments on a column critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza.” Carlton was quoted saying “a lot of people on Twitter and elsewhere see the whole thing through the prism of their own prejudices.”

In fact, Carlton was suspended by the SMH for his extreme language in responding to critics on Twitter and in emails, which included describing one as “a typical Jewish bigot” and telling another “looking forward to hearing from you after you have joined the IDF and gone off to kill some kids.” He was asked to apologise, but instead chose to resign.

The Carlton column that sparked such angry reactions had included provocative claims that Israel’s military operations in the 2014 war were “genocide… ethnic cleansing” and “aim[ed]… to kill Arabs.”

Meanwhile, in the Age/SMH (Oct. 11), Rachel Lord, the wife of former Australian Ambassador to Israel and current Member for Wentworth Dave Sharma, noted that, “during the 2014 war with Gaza… I understood social media to be a place where you play the man as well as the ball and often in as base a way as possible.” 

 

On the banned wagon

A bipartisan federal parliamentary inquiry that recommended Australia should list all of Hamas as a terrorist group after earlier hearing expert testimony on the subject, was widely reported on.

The Canberra Times (Oct. 2) noted that Hamas is listed as a “terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States” and ASIO’s Mike Burgess was quoted explaining that “There’s no doubt the group as a whole does advocate for acts of violence… The brigades are a highly capable terrorist organisation who are committed to the use of terrorist tactics targeting Israel. As a consequence they remain a security concern to ASIO and we support the listing.” The article noted AIJAC and the Zionist Federation of Australia made oral submissions.

The West Australian (Oct. 2) quoted US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former AIJAC guest Jonathan Schanzer saying “the idea of wings within Hamas was fiction.”

In the print edition of the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 15), national security correspondent Anthony Galloway noted that “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has about 10 consular staff in Gaza, raised concerns it would need to make changes if all of Hamas were declared a terror group. But the review found its concerns ‘cannot take precedence over national security.’” 

The Australian (Oct. 16/17) editorialised that the Morrison Government “should waste no time in implementing the recommendation” of the committee. The paper said the listing should enable authorities to “clamp down on funding allegedly intended for… ‘social welfare’ work that find their way to one of the Middle East’s most ruthless jihadist killing machines.”

An SBS TV “World News” report on Oct. 14 noted that “the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network… accused the committee of only seeking pro-Israeli perspectives and urged the Cabinet to disregard the recommendation.”

 

Spineless solidarity

On Oct. 13, the Age/SMH websites reported Irish novelist Sally Rooney’s decision to block an Israeli-based publishing house issuing a Hebrew language edition of her new book in solidarity with the demands of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The report noted Rooney’s statement that the publisher has links with the Israeli military. Yes, but it also publishes books with pro-Palestinian themes.

Tel Aviv bookstore owner Yosef Halper, who opposes Rooney’s decision, was quoted saying, “Hebrew is a language, not a political ideology. The Arabs in Israel speak and read Hebrew. Anti-Zionist Jews (yes, there are such people) read, speak and write Hebrew. It is like saying I won’t translate into German because Hitler was German, or into Chinese because of the Uighurs, or English because Trump speaks English.”

Anti-Zionist activist and writer Antony Loewenstein was quoted saying “people are so outraged by Rooney’s decision – more outraged by that than they are by what Israel is doing day to day under Israeli occupation.” 

The piece quoted publisher Louise Adler saying “Sally Rooney is a young author with a young audience and she’s asking people to think about this issue.”

Quinn said Adler “is not a fan of cultural boycotts.” Of course, that didn’t stop Adler signing the “#dobetteronpalestine” petition in May calling on the media to stop reporting both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which is effectively a kind of boycott.

A shorter version appeared in the Age print edition on Oct. 14, but not in the SMH.

 

Rooney Tunes

In the Spectator Australia (Oct. 16), columnist Rod Liddle said when he heard of Rooney’s decision, his reaction was “oh, you lucky, lucky Israelis.” 

Liddle said the news was a reminder of “the modern left’s visceral anti-Semitism.”

“The left,” he wrote, “hates Israel with a venom that is, to most normal human beings, out of all proportion…[BDS] considers Israel – uniquely – a terrorist and apartheid state. That BDS is itself deeply anti-Semitic is something scarcely worthy of debate. Its spokesman says it wants to ‘upend the Jewish state’ therefore denying the right to self-determination to Jews. In doing so, then, it is clearly and explicitly racist. 

“Rooney’s last awful book was translated into 46 languages. Did that include Arabic, the language spoken by the Saudis, Kuwaitis and Emirates — a collection of slave states which deny their citizens the vote, along with all the normal access to human rights? Is it okay for her book to be translated into Urdu or Burmese or even Russian? If so, why? What is the great difference with Israel?” he asked.

On Oct. 20, Age columnist Julie Szego wrote, “Rooney’s decision is nasty but… it’s also impressively on brand. How better to cement her persona as chronicler of millennial Marxists obsessed with gestural politics than indulge in gestural politics on behalf of Palestinians, whose legitimate struggle has acquired totemic status? Especially when she’s being attacked as ‘too white’; standing against ‘Zionists’ helps deflect the charge.”

 

Indefensible 

On Sept. 25 the Australian slammed three anti-Israel US Congresswomen, members of what is known as the Squad, who forced US$1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system to be removed from an appropriations bill intended to stave off a government shutdown in Washington.

The editorial noted that Squad member Ilhan Omar’s tweet “don’t sell arms to anyone who violates human rights” misrepresents the “reality of Iron Dome” which “has no offensive capacity. It causes no casualties.”

In contrast, it said, “Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad rockets, many supplied by Iran, are aimed at Israel’s population centres, to kill and maim” and noted that Iron Dome only activates when “the point of contact is a civilian population centre, which is invariably the case.” 

In the May 2021 war between Hamas and Israel, 4369 rockets were launched against Israeli cities and towns, it said, with more than 90 per cent of those that crossed into Israel “intercepted and destroyed by Iron Dome before they could cause casualties.”

“Fewer Israeli casualties meant there was less political pressure for a full-scale land invasion of Gaza or for indiscriminate airstrikes that would have killed many more than the 240 Palestinians who died during the conflict. Yet that paradox appeared lost on the Squad,” the paper noted.

 

Incoming

On SBS TV “World News” (Oct. 13), Rena Sarumpaet said, “some Democrats had opposed giving Israel one billion dollars to maintain the Iron Dome missile defence system used against militants in Gaza.” Iron Dome is not used against militants but against the rockets and missiles they launch at Israel’s civilian population – which is a war crime.

On Sky News “Sharri” (Sept. 26), UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer said, “the notion that AOC and her colleagues Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who claim to be progressive and humanitarian, would be doing something that eliminates defence for civilians and effectively empowers terrorists… is truly unbelievable and a betrayal of their principles… showing an irrational hatred of Israel… of Jews.”

On Sky News “Paul Murray Live” (Sept. 26), US documentarian Ami Horowitz called Squad member Rashida Tlaib the “Democrat representative for the District of Hamas.” Horowitz said people who call Israel an apartheid state but fail to “reference Iran, North Korea, China in the same way” are probably antisemitic.

 

Facile material

An SBS TV “World News” report (Sept. 23) on Iran’s Foreign Minister meeting with his EU and British counterparts on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly said he was “signalling” the country’s “intention to resume nuclear talks, halted since June, to restore the scrapped 2015 nuclear pact.”

SBS reporter Naveen Razik said these “moves [were] welcomed by cautious neighbours who also have one eye on Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal.”

The report cut to footage of Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud reading a statement to the UN that “the Kingdom stresses the importance of making the Middle East a region free of all weapons of mass destruction. We therefore support international efforts aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” 

Razik’s reference to Israel was entirely gratuitous. King Salman’s speech made no reference to Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons, and virtually all analysts agree that the Saudis have come to increasingly see Israel as a potential ally against Iran, rather than any sort of threat.

 


In Parliament

The following are responses by Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Marise Payne (Lib., NSW) to two petitions presented to the Parliament – Oct. 18 – “Australia condemns the indiscriminate use of rockets, incendiary balloons, and other methods of attack by Hamas. As Australia said in its address to the United Nations General Assembly… attacks on civilians are utterly reprehensible and the reckless disregard that Hamas has shown towards the people of Gaza and Israel must end. Australia imposes strict financial and criminal sanctions on Hamas.” 

“The Australian Government notes the petitioners’ concerns regarding Israeli policies towards Palestinians. As Australia said at the United Nations General Assembly… the cycle of violence and bloodshed must end. The Australian Government has been clear in calling for all parties to return to direct and genuine peace negotiations as soon as possible, with a view to defining a durable and permanent peace arrangement. Australia continues to urge all sides to refrain from violent or provocative acts, or actions that increase tensions. This includes terrorism, land appropriations, annexation, forced evictions, demolitions and settlement activity. Holy sites are for peaceful worship. They must never be places of chaos and violence.

“While Australia affirms Israel’s right to self-defence in accordance with international law, we also unquestionably affirm the right of Palestinians to live in peace and with dignity. The Government regularly makes representations to Israel with respect to human rights issues, both in Tel Aviv and Canberra. The Government does not support calls to boycott or embargo Israel. This harms Israelis and Palestinians economically and is unhelpful to the peace process.”

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (ALP, Isaacs) – Oct. 18 – “On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I present the following reports:The evidence to the committee overwhelmingly confirmed that the Hamas Brigades do not operate as some kind of independent entity, separate and distinct from the rest of Hamas… Certainly, I have no doubt that Hamas as a whole meets the requirements of being listed as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code. That is also the position that the committee has reached… unanimously and it is a position that the government ought to give serious and urgent consideration to.”

Senator David Van (Lib., Vic.) – Oct. 18 – “I rise to pay tribute to Sir David Amess, the Conservative MP who was tragically murdered last week. Sir David was the lead parliamentarian for the Conservative Friends of Israel. I and some of my colleagues in this place are patrons of the Liberal Friends of Israel. I share his deep passion for Israel and for the Jewish community… [Amess] said: ‘I would certainly have been proud to have been born a Jew, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with our local Jewish community’ – a sentiment I share.”

NSW Shadow Minister for Counter-Terrorism, Police, the Arts and Heritage and the North Coast Walt Secord MLC (ALP) – Oct. 13 – Second Reading Speech, Crimes Amendment (Display of Nazi Symbols) Bill: “Put simply, the Nazi hooked cross is an emblem of genocide and racism. The decision to fly or carry a Nazi flag in a public act or at a rally in NSW is a simple expression of hate… the display of Nazi symbols goes well beyond the realm of political debate or ordinary free speech. These are not symbols of ideas but acts of intimidation… The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s director of international and community affairs, Jeremy Jones, AM, wrote: ‘We are in full agreement with the intent and appreciate the thoughtful framing of legislation on a complex issue.’”

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