Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – November 2023

Nov 2, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

It’s Israel’s Fault!

The roll call of commentators who blamed Israel for the October 7 Hamas massacres was long.

Former Australian Ambassador to Lebanon Ian Parmeter claimed on the Canberra Times website (Oct. 10), “The current situation, in which hardline militants are contained in Gaza, while Israeli forces curtail the actions of Palestinians living in Israel and the West Bank, has suited the Israeli government for many years. It has been able to ignore Arab and international pressure to negotiate a two-state solution or to acquiesce in a one-state solution.”

However, Parmeter undermined his own argument in the Australian Financial Review (Oct. 18) by conceding that rejecting the 1947 UN Partition Plan “was one of the major mistakes the Palestinians made because if they had accepted that plan they would have a state.” He might at least have also mentioned the three two-state peace deals the Palestinian leadership turned down more recently. 

On ABC TV “News” (Oct. 8), anti-Zionist writer Antony Loewenstein justified the violence by blaming the blockade of Gaza, saying “Eventually people will snap, people will break. You cannot… expect Palestinians simply to lie down and accept it.”

The partial blockade of Gaza would have ended years ago if Hamas had renounced violence and recognised Israel’s right to exist.

In the Canberra Times (Oct. 11), Ali Kazak, former PLO envoy to Australia, asserted that “every drop of Palestinian and Jewish blood shed is on the hands of the United States, Australian and Western politicians who closed their eyes to the aggression, occupation, ethnic cleansing, and violation of international laws and resolutions carried out by Israel against the Palestinian people for more than 75 years.”

Kazak effectively justified Hamas’ actions saying “What does the world expect Palestinians to do in these circumstances?”

On ABC RN “Late Night Live” (Oct. 10), Sydney University’s US Studies Centre Professor Brendon O’Connor said claiming the massacre was “unprovoked” is “wrong. I mean, I think there’s a context here that in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank, that life for Palestinian people has obviously been terrible.” 


Let’s force Hamas and Israelis into one state!

Hamas’ massacre was used by Bob Bowker, a former Australian ambassador to Jordan, Egypt and Syria, to demand a “one-state solution”. He wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 8) in the wake of the massacre, “our focus… should now be on encouraging and assisting Israel and the Palestinians to create… a single political entity that provides for equality between Jews and Palestinians.”

Two weeks later, as the reality of October 7 hit, Bowker acknowledged on Radio 3AW (Oct. 24) that “the despicable behaviour of Hamas has set the case for the Palestinians back for a generation at least.”


Changing the Subject

Pro-Palestinian activists commenting on the October 7 massacre essentially denied or avoided uncomfortable questions about it. 

In the Age (Oct. 14) and Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 15), Palestinian Australian playwright Samah Sabawi ignored Hamas’ massacre and instead condemned Israel’s attacks on Hamas assets in Gaza, implying Israel was deliberately targeting civilians. Sabawi accused Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant of calling all Palestinians “human animals”, when he had clearly meant the Hamas terrorists involved in the massacre.

On ABC TV “News” (Oct. 8), Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) President Nasser Mashni’s tactic was to ignore the massacre, saying to discuss it was to “take yesterday out of context.” He then proceeded to craft a narrative of Palestinian victimhood stretching back 75 years.

At the very end of the interview, when asked if APAN “condone[s] the violence and bloodshed being inflicted upon Israelis by Hamas,” Mashni would only say, “We condemn all violence.”

On Nine Network’s “Today Show” (Oct. 12), Mashni questioned whether antisemitic slurs heard at the Sydney Opera House pro-Palestinian protest really even happened, saying, “I’ve been advised by another senior journalist that nobody’s been able to verify the veracity of that audio.”

Sky News’ “Outsiders” (Oct. 15) showed footage of Mashni addressing a Melbourne rally, saying, “We’d also like to thank members of the Jewish community for standing here with us today… These are real Jews, not the filth we’ve got over there.”

Speaking to Sky News’ Erin Molan (Oct. 13), Egyptian-Palestinian-Australian activist Randa Abdel-Fattah had to be coaxed to “condemn the violence that Hamas” perpetrated, but added, “I don’t see them as a terrorist organisation.”

Abdel-Fattah falsely claimed statements that Hamas beheaded babies were “actually refuted by Israeli authorities” and a photo of a “burnt baby was exposed as AI intelligence.”

Despite Molan screening a clip from the Sydney Opera House that included chants of “Gas the Jews” and “F—k the Jews,” Abdel-Fattah insisted with a straight face, “I didn’t hear anything.”


Rally drivers

Channel Nine’s Davina Smith treated Sydney Opera House protest co-organiser Assala Sayara as though she was the one who had been racially abused when interviewed the day after (Oct. 10). 

Smith asked Sayara, “last night was quite a night… how is the Palestinian community feeling today?” No questions were asked about the antisemitic chants nor the evident joy some protestors took in celebrating the slaughter of Israeli civilians.

On ABC RN “Breakfast” (Oct. 12), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein said of the event, “We saw the most shameful sort of antisemitism we’ve witnessed in Australia for many a year…Australians understand…there’s a right to protest, but there’s not a right to inflame hatred and there’s not a right to incite violence and there’s certainly not a right to support effectively … a terrorist organisation…like…Hamas.”


What role Iran?

The question of Iranian involvement in the massacre was high on the agenda.

In the Australian (Oct. 19), academic Shay Khatiri explored the relationship between Iran and Hamas, pointing out that Iranian General Esmail Qaani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, met with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in April and June. 

Concurrently, Iran and the US were in discussions about a prisoner swap and the release of US $6 billion of Iranian money, he wrote, and “Iran began to claim responsibility publicly for the uptick in Palestinian violence in Israel. It was a ruse to pull Israel’s attention and military and intelligence resources away from the Gaza border.”

On ABC Radio “Saturday Extra” (Oct. 14), veteran Israeli analyst Ehud Yaari said “This is not an Israeli-Palestinian [or] Israeli-Hamas confrontation. What we are confronting now is a regional confrontation about the landscape of the Middle East.”

He said Israel has no choice but to remove Hamas from power, saying, “slaughtering babies, decapitating babies, raping young girls and then burning them…We cannot tolerate such an entity next door…I know your Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, is calling for restraint. Would she call for restraint vis a vis the Nazis…the Japanese…ISIS?… We are going to do it. We are trying to do it as humanely as possible…We are calling on the population of Gaza to remove themselves from the areas of future fighting.”


Barns makes hay

The death toll in Gaza resulting from Israeli airstrikes on Hamas’ assets ahead of a large-scale ground invasion saw mounting accusations Israel was guilty of war crimes. 

On Oct. 16, Hobart Mercury columnist Greg Barns said, “Israel’s cutting off power, water and much-needed supplies to… Gaza… amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Barns’ column on Oct. 23 insisted that Israel’s counterterrorism operations against Hamas targets in Gaza were a “disproportionate response”.

Responding in the Mercury (Oct. 25), AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams said Barns was wrong, and explained why Israel’s actions qualify as a proportionate response according to international law; “Hamas, cynically, embeds its military infrastructure deep within its civilian population, a war crime known as perfidy. Under international law, it therefore bears the blame for resultant civilian casualties. It hides weapons and fighters in homes, apartments, mosques, schools and even hospitals. Its military headquarters, for instance, is actually in tunnels under Gaza’s main hospital.”

He said if the world adopted Barns’ interpretation of what constitutes a war crime, then “no country attacked by an enemy that embeds itself within a civilian population can respond with effective military action. This would simply give terrorist groups like Hamas impunity, which surely cannot be international law’s intention.”

Hyams said claims that “Israel’s… restriction of food, water and fuel” amount to war crimes is wrong, because “nothing in international law requires a country at war to actively assist its enemy, and Gaza does also border Egypt.”

He noted Israel had restored water to parts of Gaza and was allowing the entry of humanitarian assistance.


A Legal Catch-22

In the Daily Telegraph (Oct. 24), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein challenged “the claim that Israel urging Gazan residents to evacuate the strip’s northern area is somehow a war crime.”

He said the “purpose is to protect these residents from becoming collateral damage in Israel’s planned ground incursion. The catch-22 being imposed on Israel is clear – Israel cannot invade Gaza to fight Hamas, it is claimed, because this will inevitably kill Gaza civilians in neighbourhoods where Hamas has embedded itself. And it also can’t ask these civilians to leave.”

On SBS TV “World News” (18-10-23) retired Israeli Major General Yaakov Amidror, a past AIJAC guest, was asked, “how can you justify the sheer number of civilian casualties there will be with this operation?”

Amidror replied that, “[Australia] fought in the Second World War…Why…bomb…German cities…when not all of them were supporters of Hitler? We are not responsible for the people of Gaza. We are responsible for the citizens of Israel. But unlike you in the Second World War and in other places, we…[gave] civilians more than a week to leave the area. Hamas stopped them. So, if you have any complaint about civilians who might be killed, ask Hamas.”

On Sky News (Oct. 20), Ehud Yaari explained how Israel tries to protect civilians, while Hamas seeks to put them in harm’s way, saying, “we are calling people on their phones…distributing leaflets… saying to them, move out in time before we are coming in… [to] reach… the tunnels where most of the…military leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are hiding now.”

On ABC RN “Drive” (Oct. 19), former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer complained about the double standards applied to Israel, whose critics insist it must follow international law but largely ignore “the crimes of Hamas and of Hezbollah firing rockets into civilian targets in Israel” and “us[ing] civilians as human shields… I would have thought that was an egregious war crime to use civilians in that way.”


Divided we Fall

AIJAC’s Tzvi Fleischer in the Nine Newspapers (Oct. 11) said, “There seems little doubt that the intense divisions inside Israel over controversial judicial reform proposals over the past year – leading to unprecedentedly large protests against Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on a weekly basis – were a contributing factor that led Hamas to plan and then launch its brutal attacks on Israel on Saturday… Tehran believed the months of protests against the Netanyahu government were evidence that the country was weak.”


The Lyons Line 

ABC global affairs correspondent John Lyons’ many TV, radio and online reports from Israel showcased his belief Israel is the impediment to peace. 

His Oct. 18 online article implied Israel kills Palestinians without justification, saying, “about 200 Palestinians had been killed by the Israeli security forces in the year before the war – about four a week on average. This was business as usual under occupation” without noting that the overwhelming majority were armed members of terrorist groups or people killed whilst carrying out acts of violence.

He claimed “the Israeli army regularly takes children as young as 12 from their homes at night to unknown locations [on the West Bank], before they are placed on trial in an Israeli army court,” but failed to say they were arrested for committing actual crimes.

Accusing the IDF of “carpet-bombing 2.3 million people” in Gaza in response to the massacre, Lyons said, “for a country that says it does not target civilians, Israel certainly is killing a lot of them” – obviously accepting the statistics provided by the Hamas-run health department.

Another online piece by Lyons (Oct. 23) claimed Israel cannot destroy Hamas because it is an “idea” and “what sustains the business model of all [Palestinian terror] groups is Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.” 

Lyons continued his long-standing practice of pretending that Israeli governments have never offered to create a Palestinian state and had those offers rejected by their Palestinian counterparts. Moreover, the terror groups he refers to, such as Hamas, are Islamist and they have a theological commitment to ending Israel’s existence through violence. 

On ABC TV “The World” (Oct. 11) Lyons claimed that Palestinians are provoked into terror by Jews “insist[ing] that they should be able to go to the [Al Aqsa] mosque [on Temple Mount].” Jews want to visit Temple Mount, their holiest site, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock were built, but do not want to enter those Islamic buildings.


Sarah’s scalps

ABC TV “7.30” host Sarah Ferguson refused to let Hamas spokesman Basem Naim’s blatant lies go through to the keeper on Oct. 18. 

Naim claimed Hamas had “offered… a hand of peace 30 years ago by signing the Oslo agreement to achieve the minimum of our human rights of a basic of an independent Palestinian state.” 

Hamas of course has always opposed Oslo and waged a war of terror against any moves towards peace with Israel.

Naim initially denied that Hamas’ terrorists killed civilians on October 7, saying, “we are committed to the international humanitarian law” and targets in Israel were “military compounds… where most of them are soldiers and officers.”

Ferguson said international journalists who visited the massacre sites confirmed they were civilians. Naim conceded that “in the middle of the confrontation, there was some civilians [but] the clear instruction was not to kill civilians.”

Those deaths, he insisted, were caused by “other Palestinian groups” and “even simple, ordinary people” who entered Israel after the fence was destroyed.

On Oct.10, Ferguson had interviewed Palestinian propagandist Mustafa Barghouti who suggested the massacre was being exaggerated.

Earlier, the Australian (Oct. 15) reported that documents found on the bodies of Hamas terrorists revealed that “written orders carried by Hamas fighters sent to attack Israeli towns and settlements… contained the same chilling command: Kill as many people as possible.”


Uncivil coverage

The most egregious example of biased coverage of the October 7 massacre was seen in the initial coverage by SBS TV’s dedicated Arabic language program, “News in Arabic”.

In its first bulletin after the massacre, broadcast on Oct. 9, Hamas’ invasion of Israel was lionised as an “unprecedented military escalation…the first time in history that the front witnessed a Palestinian ground incursion into Israeli cities.”

The program strongly implied that the Israelis killed were combatants who fell fighting Hamas. No concrete examples were given of how Israelis died and the only Israeli testimony was of an apparently uninjured woman saying she and three others were shot at whilst travelling in their car.

A Hamas spokesperson was heard claiming that “according to international law, settlers are not civilians” and therefore legitimate targets. No counter-opinion was included to explain there is no such “international law” or that the Israelis massacred were not “settlers” but people living on territory that has been Israel’s since 1948.

The following night’s episode was no better, claiming the previous 24 hours were “the most violent and most brutal for civilians” – meaning in terms of “deaths and injuries among Palestinians,” not Israelis. The word “massacres” was used, but only in relation to Israeli strikes on Palestinian targets. An Israeli woman was included calling Hamas’ actions “unjustif[iable]”, but adding it’s only because “they are hurting, frustrated, desperate people.” Only at the end of the episode was an expert quoted admitting that the majority of those killed in Israel were civilians.

Following a complaint by AIJAC to SBS management, later “News in Arabic” programs included more balance and context.

Nonetheless, on Oct. 19, “News in Arabic” downplayed and misrepresented Hamas’ brutal slaughter of 1,400 Israelis, claiming that “violence escalated in the Gaza Strip after Hamas kidnapped 260 Israeli civilians attending a music festival in early October.” The 260 people at the music festival were of course murdered, not kidnapped.

In Parliament

Zoe Daniel (Ind., Goldstein) – Oct. 18 – “My question is to the Prime Minister. Considering the situation in Israel and Gaza, many members of the Goldstein community and other diverse communities are feeling anxious, insecure and unsafe. When can vulnerable institutions in our communities, including synagogues and schools in Goldstein and surrounds, expect to get access to fast-tracked grants promised by the government or other support?”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) – answering the question: “The Albanese Government is committed to ensuring that people of all faiths can live in Australia free from violence and discrimination. The $50 million Securing Faith-Based Places program grants will improve security at religious schools and preschools, places of worship, and faith-based community centres. Grants have been approved in every state and territory across different faith communities, including the Jewish community and the Islamic community, who are both feeling particularly vulnerable at the moment… I see our diversity as a strength. But we need to cherish it and we can’t take it for granted, and that’s why we need to work… with all community leaders to make sure that harmony is maintained in this nation.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton (Lib., Dickson) – on the same question: “To the Islamic communities here in our country, to people of Jewish faith, to people of any faith: they deserve to live in our country unencumbered by racism, by prejudice or by attacks otherwise, and this parliament has and always will stand for those principles.”

Peter Dutton – Oct. 19 – “I think it would also be in our country’s best interest, Prime Minister, to go [to the US] via Tel Aviv and provide support to the Israeli leadership… it is important for us to be able to stand with Israel at this time, as other world leaders have done. That should be to priority, frankly, of any international travel at the moment so that we can seek to be part of an alliance to keep the pressure down on those who seek to have a wider conflict in the region.” 

Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Cybersecurity Senator James Paterson (Lib., Vic.) – Oct. 23 – Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee – Estimates – Department of Home Affairs: “…while we don’t know where whether the IRGC is directly personally responsible for Hamas’ attacks on Israel, we do know that the IRGC and the Iranian Government are among the largest state sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East. Other than Hamas, they also support the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and other terrorist actors in the region. It would be deeply unfortunate if they were escaping the usual sanction for that behaviour by a technicality that they are a state entity. It doesn’t seem like we should be allowing a loophole like that to prevail.”

Senator Paterson – Oct. 24 – Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee – Estimates – Attorney-General’s Department: “Is there any activity that the IRGC could engage in that would be enough for the Government to change its policy, take action, and list them as a terrorist organisation?”

Senator Anthony Chisolm (ALP, Qld) – answering the question: “I think the department has talked through the complexities of this. We’ve covered this off in previous estimates as well. I would note that the IRGC has been a malignant actor and threat to international security for a long period of time now… The reality is that they are a state actor. It’s not something that is possible under the current legislation.”

(For the extensive parliamentary debates regarding the condolence motion in the wake of the murderous Hamas pogrom against Israel on October 7, see here.)


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