Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – November 2022

Oct 27, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Capital Crimes

Numerous media reports of Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s announcement on Oct. 18 that Australia would no longer recognise west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital incorrectly interpreted this to mean that henceforth Tel Aviv would be regarded as Israel’s capital.

The Guardian’s initial report misquoted Wong, claiming she said, “This reverses the Morrison Government’s recognition of west Jerusalem. Australia’s position has always been and remains in Tel Aviv.”

Wong actually said, “Australia’s embassy has always been and remains in Tel Aviv.”

During Sky News’ live coverage of Wong’s press conference, an onscreen graphic said “GOVT RECOGNISES TEL AVIV AS CAPITAL OF ISRAEL”, while a report on the Australian website claimed that “Foreign Minister Penny Wong has denied Labor has dropped recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel instead of Tel Aviv.”

A primer on the website The Latch asked, “What’s the capital of Israel? Well, depending on who you ask, it’s either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. According to the Australian government, it was Tel Aviv, then, under Scott Morrison, it was West Jerusalem and now, according to Foreign Minister Penny Wong, it’s once again Tel Aviv.”

On the Conversation website (Oct. 18), Tony Walker, a former Middle East correspondent and biographer of Yasser Arafat who should know better, wrote, “The simple fact is Australia has now realigned itself with all its friends and allies, with the exception of the United States, in its decision to again recognise Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.”

The “simple fact is” that, until the Morrison Government recognised west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Australia, like much of the rest of the world, had not recognised any city as Israel’s capital, but had chosen to locate its embassy in Tel Aviv. 


Simon says

Talking to Sky News (Oct. 19), Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Simon Birmingham said the process leading to the change in designation was “shambolic”.

He noted that “at the last election, senior Labor figures… reassur[ed] Australia’s Jewish community there was no difference between the parties in relation to their support for Israel and their position on these sorts of matters. Then we had leaks coming out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade earlier this week suggesting that there was to be a change in relation to Australia’s recognition of west Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. These were then emphatically denied by Minister Wong’s office itself… stating very clearly that there was no change in the position. And yet then hours later we have the Minister coming out and making an announcement that there has been a change in position. She did so on a holy day in the Jewish calendar, showing complete disrespect for the Israeli and Jewish communities… with little to no consultation.”

On ABC TV “Breakfast” (Oct. 19), Birmingham said that “the Government has not provided any compelling reasons as to why it is in Australia’s national interest to take this decision at this time. It’s a decision that has been welcomed by terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, yet has been condemned by the Israeli Prime Minister Lapid.”


Leeser Known

On ABC TV “Afternoon Briefing” (Oct. 18), Liberal MP Julian Leeser said of the decision, “West Jerusalem has been part of Israel since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The Parliament is there, the Supreme Court is there, the Prime Minister lives there, the President lives there. It looks like the capital of Israel to me.”

The Daily Telegraph (Oct. 20) quoted Leeser in the context of reports that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had praised Labor’s announcement, with Leeser noting Australia lists these as terrorist organisations. 


Labor Line

On ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Oct. 19), Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen decided attack was the best form of defence when asked if the Government could have “managed better” how the decision was announced given it was a Jewish holiday. 

Bowen said, “I’ll tell you what could have been managed better… The previous government cynically, pathetically changing what had been a bipartisan policy for decades since the 1940s in a pathetic attempt to get votes in the Wentworth by-election.”

On ABC TV “Breakfast” (Oct. 19), Labor Senator Don Farrell said, “Australia remains a great friend of Israel. Our embassy has always been in Tel Aviv and despite statements from the previous government, they didn’t move our embassy from Tel Aviv.”

On ABC TV “Afternoon Briefing” (Oct. 18), Labor MP Michelle Ananda Rajah said, “we are… maintaining a long-standing bipartisan agreement that has stood the test of time with the Abbott Government, the Turnbull Government and successive other governments, whereby we have always maintained that Tel Aviv is the site of our embassy.” 

Ananda Rajah added that the decision did not indicate a drop in support for Israel, and that Australia has “a lot to learn from Israel, especially with respect to innovation and mitigating the effects of climate.”


Friendly fire

On Sky News (Oct. 18), former federal Labor MP Michael Danby questioned the ALP’s foreign policy priorities, noting the Government’s recent decision to double Australia’s annual funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), described as “the Palestinian agency that has employed terrorists and publishes bigotry to its Gaza students.”

Danby said the Jerusalem decision also went against “the Abraham Accords, the zeitgeist in the area for peace” and asked if the Labor party wants “to get Benjamin Netanyahu elected.”

On ABC TV “Afternoon Briefing” (Oct. 18), Liberal MP Bridget Archer whacked both her own party and Labor, saying, “It’s unfortunate that [the 2018 decision] created that sort of divisive discussion at the time, and it’s unfortunate that it’s been further exacerbated or reignited, it seems, with this action or decision today.”



The Guardian Australia – whose reporting regarding the DFAT website led to the Government’s hasty announcement undoing recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, said the impetus for trying to ascertain the Albanese Government’s stance on Jerusalem was then newly minted British PM Liz Truss’ statement she might move the UK embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

In the lead-up to the Guardian Australia’s investigation, it ran two articles from its UK parent railing against Truss.

On Sept. 29, the UK Guardian editorialised that US President Trump’s decision to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was “incendiary” and Britain following suit would “tear up” any “meaningful” two-state solution. 

An op-ed in the same edition by author Donald McIntyre also claimed recognition would “help to bury the notion” of a division of Jerusalem into two capitals.

Both articles ignored the fact that Trump Administration officials explicitly said recognition did not mean a future Palestinian state couldn’t also have its capital in Jerusalem.

McIntyre stressed maintaining the status quo was in keeping with “every UN resolution over five decades” and EU policies earmarking east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

That, of course, ignores the fact that the international community refused to recognise west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital prior to its gaining control of east Jerusalem in 1967.


The New Normal 

On the Age/Sydney Morning Herald website (Oct. 19), Josh Feldman asked how reversing recognition of west Jerusalem would advance peace, while challenging the notion that Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem set back peace efforts.

Feldman hailed “the groundbreaking normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco through the Abraham Accords in 2020. In March this year, Israel hosted a similarly unprecedented summit with the foreign ministers of the UAE, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the United States. Even Turkey, whose president has a history of making inflammatory remarks about Jews and Israel, has sought to repair relations with the Jewish state in recent months.”


Better not call Saul 

On the Age/Sydney Morning Herald website (Oct. 19), academic Ben Saul’s history of Jerusalem since the end of the British Mandate was riddled with errors.

Saul claimed that the 1947 UN Partition “plan was supported by many Zionists, but opposed by most Arabs, since it unfairly allocated a disproportionate share of land to Jews relative to their share of the population.”

Arab leaders were opposed to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine regardless of its size.

Saul also claimed that “Zionists relied on the plan for legitimacy when declaring Israel to be an independent state in 1948, a unilateral move not envisaged by the UN. But Israel refused to accept the plan for Jerusalem [as a corpus separatum].”

This is nonsense. Speaking to the UN on Oct. 2, 1947 on behalf of the Jewish pre-state authority Jewish Agency (JA) in accepting partition, Dr Abba Silver said “we would not question the propriety of placing the old city of Jerusalem… in the custody of an international trustee” but at the same time he “strongly urge[d]” that the 90,000 Jews in “new” west Jerusalem “be included in the Jewish state,” with the JA’s hope being that this “modification” could be negotiated for before partition was implemented. 

By contrast, Palestinian Arabs boycotted the partition plan implementation process entirely. 

After the war ended, the UN General Assembly absurdly still insisted that Jerusalem be internationalised, despite the Arab states refusing to make peace with Israel, which was a necessary precondition to making the plan work. Under that new reality, Israel now publicly opposed the corpus separatum proposal for Jerusalem.


Snark and Non-Sequiturs

On Oct. 20, the Sydney Morning Herald’s snarky “CBD” column clearly felt the need to get in on the action, calling PM Scott Morrison’s 2018 recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a “hasty decision”, which has now been reversed, thus “bringin[g] Australia back into line with most of the rest of the world.” 

Given that David Ben-Gurion took the decision to locate Israel’s capital in west Jerusalem way back in 1949, CBD has a funny definition of “hasty”.

The column then segued into making cheap points about AIJAC-organised study tours for Australian politicians to visit Israel, which it termed “political junkets”. CBD quoted Senator Hollie Hughes, who recently returned from an AIJAC trip, noting that participants did not only hear from pro-Israel speakers, but also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh as well as Arab journalists and business figures.


It’s All Academic 

An opinion piece in the Australian (Sept. 29) by Keren Zelwer discussed growing levels of antisemitism on Australian university campuses that is “cloaked as anti-Zionism” and is “very much spurred on by the woke movement.”

On Oct. 14, the Australian reported on the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) passing a shameful motion that accused Israel of practising apartheid and demanded a boycott of Israeli academic institutions which it said are “complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights through… ties… with the Israeli army.” The motion also opposed the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of Antisemitism (see p. 40).


Strange bedfellows

Anti-Israel leftist commentator Guy Rundle criticised the NTEU motion, but not because he didn’t agree with its substance. 

Writing in Crikey (Oct. 14), Rundle said, “Part of the resolution…is proper: banning its members, as members, from accepting Israeli state-funded trips; opposing the adoption of policies prohibiting criticism of Israel, such as the new IHRA definition of anti-Semitism; and criticising university attempts to silence pro-Palestinian academics.”

But Rundle said, “alas, the NTEU [is a] ‘special case’… It may appear paradoxical that the union with the most left-wing active membership should stay well away from any resolutions with political content, but it’s essential … to defend unrestrained free inquiry in a society where it is under numerous petty attacks.”



On SBS TV “News in Arabic” (Sept. 29), AIJAC’s Tzvi Fleischer explained why it was not “appropriate” for Canterbury Bankstown Council to adopt “The Sydney Statement on Anti-Palestinianism” (see p. 40).

An SBS reporter said the statement issued by the Australian Arab Federation is meant “to combat discrimination and racism against Palestinians.”

Federation spokesperson Hassan Moussa was featured saying, “This statement is to give space to people interested in this Palestinian cause to speak freely without being accused of antisemitism.”

Dr Fleischer responded that whilst “discrimination and racism” against Palestinians is real, the Statement “revolves around political demands” and to “disagree… with some aspects of the Palestinians’ demands against Israel is not anti-Palestinian or a form of racism, as the statement suggests.”


Learning one’s ABCs

The ABC faced criticism along the lines that AIJAC has levelled many times over the years but this time at close quarters.

On Oct. 3, the Australian reported that Fiona Cameron, who has taken up the newly created position of ABC Ombudsman to oversee the in-house ABC complaints process, has told staff in an email that “the ABC can always do better” and that “it is always good to embrace change and review how things can be improved.”

On Oct. 7, Nine Newspapers columnist Osman Faruqi attacked the ABC for its “kneejerk defensiveness of any criticism,” adding that “one of the biggest media companies in the country… shouldn’t be immune from interrogation.”


Middle east reporting muffled

The challenges of reporting objectively in Gaza were exposed by former Australian-Lebanese Middle East correspondent Diaa Hadid on ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” (Sept. 20).

According to Hadid, who speaks Arabic, “I was particularly critical of Hamas. I think I was famously critical of Hamas because I was speaking to Palestinians who would really open their hearts and tell me their experience of living under the rule of a militant Islamic group.”

Revealingly, Hadid said “some of the other Western correspondents who came in, who were also of Arab origin, who were dealing with Hamas” were “tend[ing] to be quite sympathetic to them in a way that I think would really like rile my gut…. [Hamas] expected me to be more sympathetic to them because I was an Arab and I just wasn’t. In fact, I was even more critical…it was made clear to me that I was not welcome anymore in the strip.”


Otherwise occupied

SBS TV “World News” (Oct. 4) claimed that “ahead of elections next month, Israel has been conducting almost nightly raids in territory considered to be illegally occupied under international law.” This is incorrect. Israel has a legal right to be in the West Bank, a disputed territory. 

The territory did not come under Israeli control during the 1967 war as a result of Israeli belligerency but only after Jordan started firing at Israel from the West Bank. 

Because Israel’s actions were widely regarded as defensive, UN Security Council resolutions have never said Israel was illegally occupying the West Bank and predicated Israel’s withdrawals on the country’s neighbours making peace with it – which Palestinians have repeatedly refused to do, despite numerous opportunities.


Bully for them

The campaign by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists who disrupted the 2022 Sydney Arts Festival to protest the Israeli embassy in Canberra providing $20,000 in funding to stage a dance performance by an Israeli choreographer has ultimately backfired, with Festival organisers announcing a ban on all foreign funding until at least 2024.

The Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Sept. 28) noted that the activists claimed Israeli funding “made the festival unsafe for people of Arab backgrounds and would ‘contribute to the normalisation of the apartheid state.’” The article quoted Festival director Olivia Ansell saying “some artists felt pressured… to withdraw, or else they would be publicly shamed”, suggesting it was actually BDS activists who made people feel unsafe.

The Australian (Sept. 28) quoted singer Katie Noonan, saying that she was subjected to “repeated, vigorous and quite aggressive” pressure to withdraw.

The Guardian Australia (Sept. 28) story omitted any reference to the intimidation, shaming and pressure placed on festival participants. 

Disappointingly, all the media reports failed to note that it was Festival organisers who had solicited Israeli Embassy funding for the dance performance in question.


In Parliament

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) – Sept. 21 – Jewish New Year message: “Shanah Tovah u’metukah—a sweet and happy new year—to our Australian Jewish community as you mark your precious season of High Holy Days.

“For generations, Australian Jewish communities have united in the traditions of faith. Sustained and strengthened by continuity, you have shared in the struggles and triumphs of our nation and enriched the culture and society we cherish… Your spirit of unity and community will continue to be a light to Australia as we face a year filled with new opportunities and challenges.

“May this season and year ahead be as sweet as the symbolic apple dipped in honey.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton (Lib., Dickson) – Sept. 21 – Jewish New Year message: “On behalf of the Coalition and the federal opposition, I extend best wishes to all Australians of Jewish faith, for a happy new year… As you pray at your local synagogue, listen to the blowing of the hollowed-out ram’s horn – the shofar – light candles in your homes, and gather as families for meals, you will renew the same strength and resilience that has defined the Jewish people for centuries.

“The Australian Jewish community enriches our society… I wish you all joy and success as you welcome in the new year. Shana Tova!”

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – Oct. 18 – Media Release: “Today the Government has reaffirmed Australia’s previous and longstanding position that Jerusalem is a final status issue that should be resolved as part of any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people.

“This reverses the Morrison Government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Australia’s embassy has always been, and remains, in Tel Aviv.

“Australia is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist, in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders. We will not support an approach that undermines this prospect…”

Allegra Spender (Ind., Wentworth) – Oct. 19 – Statement: “The federal government’s decision to withdraw recognition of West Jerusalem was rushed and badly handled – made without proper consultation. Announcing the decision on a Jewish holiday was even worse, as it precluded community organisations from making a public response.

“Every sovereign nation, including Israel has the right to determine its own capital. Australia should play a constructive role in supporting a two-state solution, and these actions undermine our efforts without any gains.

“I am writing to the Foreign Minister to express my deep concerns.”

Scott Buchholz (Lib., Wright) – Sept. 28 – “When we went into the West Bank we saw memorials not that dissimilar to the memorials in our small communities where we honour our Anzacs. In the West Bank they also have memorials, but they honour those who have strapped suicide vests to themselves and gone to take the lives of innocent people. The government pays their families a stipend. It’s called ‘pay for slay’. The more people you take out – innocent people, children – with a suicide vest, the higher your family’s remuneration, and then you’re honoured in perpetuity on these memorial-like stone markings outside significant buildings.”

Andrew Wallace (Lib., Fisher) – Sept. 26 – “Today we see the tabling of the [Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security] report into the then home affairs minister’s listing of eight terror groups listed as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code. Some of these names are well-known… These include Hamas, whose unmitigated violence and hatred against the Jewish people, the state of Israel and her allies has continued for over 33 years…”


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