Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – October 2016

Sep 30, 2016 | 

It’s not all right

On August 29, the Age, Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald websites ran a Washington Post report about the controversial Palestinian village of Susiya in Area C of the West Bank – that is the area under full Israeli control, with proportionally few Palestinian residents.

The Israeli courts have ordered that the village’s structures be demolished, accepting arguments that its residents are squatters and have built illegally there.

The Post report falsely stated that, “the Israeli government right now wants to formally annex Area C in the West Bank, where 200 Jewish settlements are located, saying that a two-state solution is unworkable.” In the Fairfax papers, this section of the Post report appeared in the online versions of the story, though not in hardcopy versions.

Of course, there is no Israeli Government discussion of annexing Area C.

Complaints by pro-Israel media organisations prompted the Washington Post to amend the story to say the “Israeli right”, not the government, wants to annex Area C. This is an improvement but still an oversimplification.

Only Naftali Bennett’s right wing “Jewish Home” party, which has eight out of the 61 seats in the Israeli governing coalition, has called for annexing Area C.

After the error was brought to the attention of Fairfax, the organisation, to its credit, excised the erroneous sentence completely from its various websites, instead substituting a new accurate sentence: “Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, whose far-right Jewish Home party has strong support from settlers, has recently called on the government to formally annex Area C, where 200 Jewish settlements are located, saying that a two-state solution is unworkable.”

Also unique to the Fairfax online reports was the insertion of a brief reference to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s then upcoming visit to Israel and a phrase noting she has questioned whether settlements are illegal.

On this flimsy basis, the online story was given the loaded headline, “As Julie Bishop prepares to visit the Holy Land, one village tells whole story.”

Start her up

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories saw ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill wearing her activist hat.

On ABC TV “News at Noon” (Sept. 5), McNeill said that at a closed door meeting with Israeli PM Netanyahu, “on the agenda, one of the sticking points for peace talks, Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are seen as illegal under international law. Last week Israel announced it was building more than 280 new housing units in the Palestinian territory. The Obama Administration said it was deeply concerned with the new settlements. When asked if she shared that concern, Foreign Minister Bishop said that’s why she raised the issue with Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

There is no international law determining Israeli settlements are illegal. Further, no “new settlements” were announced – nor did the White House use that term.

Of the 284 units in question, 234 are actually rooms in a single nursing home, a medical facility, in Elkana, which is in a settlement bloc Israel would retain under any conceivable peace agreement.

It was clear from Bishop’s quote that settlements weren’t as central to her discussions as McNeill had portrayed them, with the FM saying, “We discussed the prospects of the peace negotiations recommencing and in that context I raised the issue of settlements and also other issues that may well damage the potential for the peace process to get under way again.”

McNeill’s ABC Radio “AM” report the next day was no better.

Trailing Bishop’s visit to an Australian-funded innovation “landing pad” in “trendy” Tel Aviv to facilitate Australian entrepreneurs wanting access to the Israeli start-up scene, McNeill juxtaposed this with Bishop’s earlier visit to the “occupied West Bank” where “Palestinian Economic Minister Abeer Odeh pointed out that it’s hard for Palestinians to launch tech start-ups when there’s still no 3G phone network.”

Yet in a May 2016 feature, UK Financial Times reporter John Reed listed education standards, weak Palestinian legal frameworks and an economy dominated by the PA bureaucracy as the key challenges Palestinian start-ups face, not 3G or Israeli occupation.

SBS shows the way

In contrast to Sophie McNeill, reporter Gareth Boreham showed how to report on the settlement issue during a SBS World News Radio report (Sept. 12) on Israeli PM Netanyahu’s claim in a video that the Palestinian Authority’s demand that no Jews can live in the West Bank amounted to “ethnic cleansing”.

Boreham avoided calling the settlements illegal, instead saying “Israel has been widely criticised, including by its close ally the United States, for building settlements in territories it captured in 1967 – land the Palestinians want as part of their future state.”

Boreham’s report had other commendable qualities.

Despite featuring PA negotiator Saeb Erekat’s attempt to infer that there are West Bank roads that only Jews can use, “we cannot use anymore as Palestinians, only Israelis can” and saying that “there is a deeper apartheid system being created in the occupied Palestinian territories than that which existed in South Africa,” Boreham ensured there was balance. [Ed. For security reasons, only Israel number plates can access certain roads, which, of course means Israeli Arabs and Palestinians with residency in east Jerusalem, not just Jews. Meanwhile no Israelis are allowed to access the PA-controlled areas of the West Bank.]

Boreham said Netanyahu “expresses disbelief that West Bank Jewish communities, in what he calls Judea and Samaria, are considered an obstacle to peace when there are almost two million Arabs living in Israel.”

The report also included Israel’s National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister, Yuval Steinitz, responding to US criticism of Netanyahu’s comments, saying, “With all due respect to our best friends in the United States, I think they’re wrong. You shouldn’t underestimate Palestinian incitement and the Palestinian vision of cleaning, sooner or later, not just Judea and Samaria [West Bank] but entire Palestine or the entire land of Israel from… Jews.”

Headline fail

A report on SBS’s website (Sept. 7) over the to-ing and fro-ing over Russian efforts to broker peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was labelled “Israel delays proposed Middle East talks in Russia”.

This is not true and merely reflects the reason given by PA President Mahmoud Abbas for the failure to convene the talks. The audio report that ran on SBS World News Radio correctly reflected this.

Collective fail

That an Algerian goal ball team forfeited a match at the Rio Paralympics, apparently to avoid playing their Israeli counterparts, was widely reported by the Australian media.

But the far more newsworthy postponement of scheduled Palestinian municipal elections by the Palestinian Supreme Court on Sept. 9 – amid doubts that the poll, the first time since 2006 the entire Palestinian polity was going to vote, will ever take place – has been almost completely ignored across the Australian media.

Only the West Australian (Sept.10) bothered to report on the issue.

Its report, sourced from American TNS (Tribune News Services) accurately noted the Supreme Court’s “move reflects infighting in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, tensions between Fatah and Islamic militants from Hamas and rising instability in Palestinian cities.”
It also explained that, “Hamas’ violent seizure of the Gaza Strip in 2007 left Hamas and Fatah, the two leading factions in the Palestine Authority, in a state of estrangement and in control over separate territories. The result has been the atrophy in Palestinian politics.”

And that “in northern West Bank cities over the last year, militants linked to Abbas’ Fatah party have launched increasingly brazen attacks on the Palestinian security forces, triggering waves of crackdowns by the security forces.”

The West Australian did edit out from the original story the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, “who was elected president in 2005 to a four-year term, has never put himself up for reelection.”

That is a small oversight, considering that News Ltd papers, ABC, SBS, the Sydney Morning Herald, Age and Canberra Times appear to have failed completely to report on what is apparently a major crisis of authority in the Palestinian territories.

Missing in non-action

What is particularly surprising was the seeming failure of Sophie McNeill, the ABC’s dedicated Middle East correspondent based in Israel and the Palestinian territories, to file a report on the postponed elections. She tweeted four times on September 8 about the subject as events were unfolding, including one tweet noting that “President Abbas was elected for 4 years… in 2006!” and a second reporting that Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah who “assured her local elections would go ahead as planned.”

Given McNeill knew all this, why is there apparently nothing about any of it on the ABC’s numerous media portals?

Church and hate

Columnist Hal Colebatch condemned the “demonisation and isolation of Israel” by churches, particularly those considered progressive, as “one of the nastiest perversions of Christianity…today.”
He said Australian churches, including sections of the Uniting Church, “attack Israel ceaselessly, but say virtually nothing about the murderous intolerance of the Islamic countries and societies or Islamic terrorism in the West.”

He reported that a World Council of Churches book on Christian and Muslim dialogue “demands the West ‘abandon its pro-Israel attitude.'” The Council’s latest campaign promotes allegations Israel is stealing the “Palestinians water,” which Colebatch dismissed as “bear[ing]… resemblance to the medieval anti-Semitic libel of Jews poisoning water.”

Having visited Israel and the West Bank, Colebatch endorsed the assessment that “backward agricultural methods, wastage, and failure to provide adequate infrastructure” and the “question of how far the Palestinian Arabs’ own leaders are responsible for keeping their own people as ‘victims’ for international propaganda,” are the more likely reasons for water shortages.

According to Colebatch, “progressive churches are losing membership hand-over-fist, in Australia, America and Europe, [whilst] the demographically young, and very often pro-Israel, evangelical churches, are flourishing,” Spectator Australia (Aug. 27).

For whom the bell tolls

On a special episode of ABC-TV “Q&A” (Sept. 5) marking the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, renowned Shakespearean actor John Bell tried to make the case for the relevance of the playwright to today’s times.

According to Bell, “I’d be interested to see a production of ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ where you substituted the word ‘Muslim’ for ‘Jew’ and see how that would resonate today. Because it’s about if someone drives you far enough, and spits on you and abuses you for long enough, you’re going to be like a suicide bomber.”

But Dr. Hilton Immerman, Chief Executive of University of NSW’s Shalom Institute, rejected the comparison, telling the Jewish communal news website J-Wire (Sept. 6) that “it is essential for the Australian public and ABC viewers to understand that Jews have been abused, spat upon and killed for 2,000 years, and yet we have not become suicide bombers. Although I’m sure he didn’t intend it as such, Bell’s statement comes across as a spurious justification for murdering innocent people, mainly other Muslims, and, by so doing, panders to popular left-wing taste.”

International lawlessness

Academic legal expert James Allan highlighted the naivety of those who place their trust in both the administration of international law and the politicisation of the United Nations.

“At the pinnacle of all talk about rights-related international law sits the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [which] currently includes Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Venezuela and the UAE, with Kyrgyzstan, Togo, Ecuador and Ethiopia amongst those also elected to a three-year term beginning in October,” he wrote.

“Saudi Arabia was recently elected as Chair of the Council’s Advisory Committee, and so will be highly influential in the appointing of alleged experts to address various problem areas in human rights. As it happens there has never been a single UNHRC resolution (or General Assembly resolution related to rights-infringement either) against Saudi Arabia for human rights abuses. There have, though, been more of both of those sorts of resolutions against Israel than against all other countries combined. The UNHRC (and the General Assembly) see Israel as more rights infringing than the combined records of all other countries on earth! All this needs to be kept front-and-centre when criticisms regarding rights-respectingness [sic] are leveled against long-established democracies,” Quadrant (Sept. 2016).

UN hypocrisy

As if on cue, a clear example of how the UN often takes a softly-softly approach to countries other than Israel when levelling criticism cropped up in a report by Beirut-based ABC Middle East correspondent Matt Brown.

According to Brown “The UN’s commission of inquiry on Syria says there’s been a surge in violence since a cessation of hostilities failed in March. It says Russia and the Syrian Government have carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. The commission didn’t explicitly state it, but these are war crimes under international law.”

Contrast that with the Human Rights Council’s approach during the 2014 conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Back in July 2014, the Council’s resolution establishing terms of reference to set up an inquiry had no hesitation in making claims that war crimes were committed by Israel, before the investigation even began and before the conflict was even over.

The resolution stated that the “Israeli military assault on the occupied Gaza Strip… involved disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardment of civilian areas, the targeting of civilians and civilian properties in collective punishment contrary to international law, and other actions… that may amount to international crimes,” ABC News Radio (Sept. 7).

18C saw

AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein accused opponents of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act of “misrepresent[ing] its actual operation” and noted that there is “strong bipartisan support, federal and state, for racial hatred laws”.

Rubenstein argued that 18C opponents are ignoring that the language of the act includes “numerous qualifications and safeguards” so it is “simplistic and misleading” to say, “18C makes ‘hurt feelings’ illegal or that it allows ‘feelings to trump reason.'”

He explained why the oft-cited language of 18C – “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” – applies only to acts “‘done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person’ – that is, it requires an intent to target someone for abuse or harassment on racial grounds.”

Further, freedom of speech is not curtailed because “section 18D of the act exempts any ‘fair comment on any … matter of public interest’ done reasonably and in good faith. The wide-ranging exemptions also include expressing a sentiment ‘in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose’ and the vast majority of claims are adjudicated through mediation, not the courts, Australian (Sept.1).

Elsewhere, Rubenstein told Jim Middleton that the Liberal party risks “alienating its base” if it removes 18C and recalled that the Liberals were the original architects of Australian multiculturalism. He said the government needed to remember there was “wall-to-wall” rejection of attempts to change 18C during the last Parliament, Sky News (Sept. 4).

Rundle maul

Extreme left-wing satirist and columnist Guy Rundle saw Colin Rubenstein’s op-ed in the Australian as proof that ultimately 18C will remain on the statute books.

Bizarrely, it wasn’t the quality of Rubenstein’s arguments that convinced him because they “were indistinguishable from those that would be posed by any people of colour, multicultural or indigenous group – but they would never have got such a piece in the Oz.”

Rather it’s because “Rubinstein [sic] is a right-wing Zionist cold warrior of decades standing.”

According to Rundle, “the ‘abolish/modify’ crowd will disparage the multicultural community lobby as enemies of freedom blah blah, but they won’t say boo to Rubenstein or others. Just watch… The opposition of multicultural community bodies makes any change unlikely. The opposition of Jewish community peak bodies kills it stone dead,” Crikey (Sept. 8).




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