Noted and Quoted – October 2018

Hamza Zbiedat: MA'AN Development Centre field worker reportedly a supporter and affiliate of terrorist organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Misrule of Law

ABC TV’s “7.30” has long been the scene of many questionable reports on Israel leading to official complaints of bias. Temporary Middle East correspondent Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop’s story on Sept. 4 on the Jewish nation state bill – passed on July 17, so hardly breaking news – was no exception.

The report unsubtly tried to hammer home the claim that Israel is now officially a racist, supremacist state only for Jews.

Host Leigh Sales’ introduction stated that the law “defines the country as exclusively a Jewish state” and that “the so-called nation-state law is the latest in a series of policies seeking to enshrine Jewish supremacy amidst a surge in ultra-nationalist sentiment.” 

Rubinsztein-Dunlop’s story echoed repeatedly Sales’ lines and focused on critics of the law, including Israeli Arab singer Mira Awad who represented Israel at Eurovision in 2009. Rubinsztein-Dunlop claimed the law means “Because Mira Awad is an Arab, Israel is officially no longer her nation,” while she and a Jewish colleague “are no longer equals.”

All these statements are patently untrue. 

All Israeli citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, have equal rights. There are other basic laws – “Human Dignity and Liberty” and “Freedom of Occupation” (meaning jobs) – which have equal standing and which guarantee the human rights and equality of all Israelis. Furthermore, Israel has been explicitly a Jewish state since 1948, so little has actually changed. 

Rubinsztein-Dunlop said the law “puts Hebrew above Arabic as the only official language.” A journalist interested in fairness would have provided the relevant context, noting that the law says, “The Arabic language has a special status in the state,” and that the clause making Hebrew the language of the state “does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

Many other countries have similar provisions in their constitutions that give preferred status to ethnicities or language, including European and Asian democracies, that do not discriminate against the individual rights of those not part of that grouping. 

Yet Rubinsztein-Dunlop’s report framed this unremarkable law as being unique to Israel.

Amos Schocken, the increasingly extreme publisher of the far left Israeli newapaper Haaretz, was quoted saying the law “turns Israel into a potentially apartheid state.” 

The only defender of the law included in the story was Israeli Parliamentarian Sharren Haskell – but Awad was given the final word with the inflammatory claim that “they want to get rid of the Arabs.”

Irregular broadcast

On August 27, SBS TV’s 6.30pm “World News” ran a report on Gaza which contravened the network’s ostensible commitment to not use Al Jazeera English stories when covering the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Al Jazeera is owned by the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Qatari royal family, which is one of the major patrons of Hamas. 

Moreover, as has been widely reported from leaks, the testimony of former employees and even Australia’s own Peter Greste, Al Jazeera has an editorial directive to actively promote an agenda consistent with the Qatari government’s viewpoint.

The report by Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith focused on the opening of Gaza’s border with Egypt and Palestinians taking advantage of the opportunity to leave and seek better economic opportunities elsewhere. 

True to form, Israel was solely blamed for the economic difficulties experienced by Palestinians who are “locked in by Israel’s blockade” according to Smith, despite Egypt not only enforcing it, but doing so much more harshly than Israel does.

Amazingly, Smith managed to avoid mentioning Hamas even once, let alone raising the possibility that it must shoulder any degree of responsibility for Gaza’s situation.

It is just this kind of completely one-sided reporting that has seen many critics contend that Al Jazeera disqualifies itself as an impartial news source for a public broadcaster like SBS (or the ABC for that matter). 

Say it ain’t so Joe

In a piece on the issue of who has the right to speak on contentious issues involving racism, columnist Joe Hildebrand claimed that “the contentious section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it illegal to offend someone based on their racial identity. And only last year the Grand Mufti of Australia made a submission to parliament calling for 18C to be extended to include religion”. He also suggested this might affect the ridiculing of new Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s faith on the ABC. 

Yet this is a common misconception. Firstly, the law makes certain acts unlawful, not illegal, which sounds similar but has quite different implications in our legal system. Moreover, Section 18D of the Act includes broad exemptions, including for artistic works, academic works and fair comment on matters of public interest. These safeguards would presumably still apply if religion were included in the legislation, Daily Telegraph (Sept. 4).

Ma’an Overboard

News Ltd senior journalist Sharri Markson has uncovered another instance of Australian taxpayer funds distributed to aid organisation Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA allegedly being used to pay the wages of a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) which is proscribed in Australia and elsewhere as a banned terrorist group. 

According to Markson, “the MA’AN Development Centre is employing as a field and media co-ordinator, Hamza Zbiedat, who is a supporter and affiliate of terrorist organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)… In June, the Daily Telegraph revealed the same organisation had employed since 2012 a leader of the PFLP in Gaza, Ahmad Abdullah Al Adine, 30, as their Project Co-ordinator and Field Monitor.” Adine was killed in the “March of Return” protests in May. 

In response, the Federal Government has now suspended its funding to APHEDA. Following Markson’s earlier report, an audit was launched, but funding had continued.

The story said Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA executive officer Kate Lee insisted the “two employees had never worked directly on Australian projects.”

AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein was quoted welcoming the aid suspension, Daily Telegraph/Herald Sun (Sept. 13). 

Appalled, not enthralled

The Guardian Australia (Aug. 15) ran a 10,000 word apologia for the BDS movement from writer Nathan Thrall which sprawled across four-and-a-half pages. 

Thrall imbued BDS with a kind of mythical power that has managed to “hinder… the efforts of Arab states to fully break their own decades-old boycott in pursuit of increasingly overt cooperation with Israel…[and] shamed the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah by denouncing its security and economic collaboration with Israel’s army and military administration.”

Arab leaders choose to make peace or not to make peace, or else they would follow the example of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1977 who really broke a taboo by travelling to Jerusalem. 

While Thrall acknowledged that BDS has “challenged the two-state consensus of the international community” he did not adequately explain the duplicitous and slippery language the movement uses to hide the fact that its ultimate ambition is the end of Israel’s existence. 

Thrall gave BDS bona fides the benefit of the doubt, writing that it was formed in 2005 and “represented something of a last resort. The Palestinians had been crushed by the military defeat of the second intifada.” 

He conveniently elided the fact that Israeli PM Ehud Barak in 2000 had offered to create a Palestinian state which would include Gaza, more than 90 per cent of the West Bank and a share of east Jerusalem, with Israel accepting some refugees but the vast majority to be settled in a Palestinian state and that it was rebuffed by the Palestinian Authority with the Second Intifada as the response. 

But in Thrall’s retelling, he presented this as a “deal that sounded more and more rotten.” 

Moreover, Thrall didn’t question why it is immoral for Jews to insist on being a majority in their own state but it is okay for BDS to pursue a goal of an Arab majority state which, given both Hamas and Fatah have failed to hold elections for nearly 15 years, would be neither paragons of democracy nor human rights.

Equally dubious was his repeated application of “nonviolent resistance” as an appropriate descriptor for BDS – given many of its key advocates also offer support to violent forms of “resistance” as well. 

Barracking for Israel

Contrary to those irresponsibly proclaiming the two-state solution dead because of settlement building, during his recent Australian visit former Israeli PM Ehud Barak insisted the formula for peace is still achievable.

Speaking to Greg Sheridan, he said, “there is a compelling need for us to delineate a line within the Promised Land in which we can focus on the real objective of a Jewish, Zionist, democratic state. This would include probably 80 per cent of the (Jewish) settlements (in the West Bank) and beyond which there will be a space, with land swaps (from Israel), for a demilitarised Palestinian state.”

So, pretty much the proposal the Palestinians were offered in 2000/2001 by Barak and expanded on by Ehud Olmert in 2008. 

Further, if Barak’s outline is accurate, this highlights that there has been no significant increase since his term ended in 2001 in the amount of West Bank land settlements cover – which is less than two per cent, Australian (Aug. 28).

Minority Report

ABC TV “Foreign Correspondent” (Aug. 28) dedicated a full episode looking at the putative reasons why, over the last 20 years, approximately 13,000 Israeli Jews have moved to Germany despite the terrible legacy of the Holocaust. 

Reporter Eric Campbell’s story consisted almost solely of ill-informed and naive Israeli artists and activists ready to stick the boot in to Israel. 

This included Ofer Waldman who belongs to the “German branch of an Israeli human rights group called New Israel Fund.” The New Israel Fund is a controversial left-wing organisation that supports activists and groups that one-sidedly blame Israel alone for the lack of peace with the Palestinians. 

According to Waldman, “Most Germans had never met a Jew actually. Now with all the Israelis here, it becomes more and more rare… You have Israeli restaurants, you have kosher shops, I think you didn’t have in Berlin before. You have vivid Jewish life. So I think it’s something that the Germans felt they need in order to maybe reach a kind of closure regarding the past.”

Gym instructor and former ultra-Orthodox Israeli Avi Binyamin who is moving to Germany said, “Our society is becoming less moral and more tribal. Even if Israel has to live by the sword, and do things to protect ourselves, I would want us all to think and to educate our children that it’s not the default way to act.”

Campbell implied that Israelis moving to Germany have had their eyes opened to the true cruel reality of Israel, saying, “Some expats have become vocal critics of how Israel treats Arabs. While we were shooting in Berlin, the Israeli army was gunning down protestors in Gaza, claiming some were terrorists.” 

Campbell is making one-sided and inaccurate statements. If he is referring to May 14 riots, then by Hamas’ own admission 53 of the 62 killed that day were its own fighters. 

For the show’s premise to work, Campbell had to ignore some fundamental facts. 

According to theWorld Jewish Congress (WJC), Germany’s Jewish population is estimated at between 100,000 to 117,000, meaning that only a small minority are Israeli.

Most of the 100,000+ Jews in Germany arrived there “due to the large influx of Jews from the countries of the former Soviet Union” in the early 1990s. 

And what about that Jewish cultural desert in Germany prior to the Israeli arrivals? False.

The WJC says, “there are synagogues, cemeteries, community centres, and offices of Jewish organisations in over 100 cities and towns. Kosher food is available in the major cities.”

Germany was also presented as a utopia for Jewish-Arab coexistence where it is the neo-Nazis who persecute Jews, not Arabs or Muslims.

The story did feature German MP Sawsan Chebli who Campbell said is “one of the strongest defenders of the Jewish community here [and] a politician of Palestinian descent. Sawsan Chebli’s parents were asylum seekers. She’s backed tough penalties for online hate speech and she wants more education on the Holocaust, especially for newcomers.” 

So, as Chebli suggests, and in contrast to the implications in the report, there clearly are significant issues with antisemitism from German “newcomers”, meaning asylum-seekers from the Middle East. 

For instance, there was considerable controversy in Germany earlier this year after Israeli Arab youth Adam Armush, who was wearing a Kippa (Jewish head-covering), was physically attacked in Berlin by three Syrian asylum seekers yelling “Yahud.” (This incident was briefly mentioned in the story.)

Campbell’s report oddly did not include any spokespeople from the established German Jewish leadership.

Labouring over antisemitism 

Making a mockery of Campbell’s report was the nuanced coverage by Fairfax’s European correspondent Nick Miller on the somewhat less rosy picture for Jews in places like Germany and other European countries.

On Sept. 6, Miller reported Britain’s Labour party had, after a long controversy, adopted the international definition of antisemitism noting, “Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn have suffered a summer of accusations of racism, at a time they could have been making hay over the government’s deep divisions and hugely unpopular Brexit plan.”

He wrote, “Labour was investigating 45 allegations of anti-Semitism against party members, including messages such as ‘we shall rid the Jews who are cancer on us all’ and a councillor who referred to a child as ‘Jew boy’.”

Miller noted that although the definition was adopted, so too was “a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians,” Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Sept. 6).

On Sept. 8, Miller stated that “in Germany many had metaphorically put their suitcases in the cellar – but they are now wondering if they should bring them back upstairs and start packing.” 

Well, maybe not the Jews that Eric Campbell wanted to put to air.

Miller quoted European Commission co-ordinator for combating antisemitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, comparing antisemitism to “a seismograph. ‘Whenever anti-Semitism has been on the rise, you know that something bigger is going on. It is a sign that something is going wrong with society.’”

The story also referenced events in Austria, Hungary, Italy, Holland, Greece and Sweden.

Miller said Jewish human rights lawyer Adam Wagner sees the issue as not just on the far-right and dismissed those on the left who “want… to claim it’s a debate about Israel and Palestine rather than Jewish people, but he thinks that’s a red herring,” adding that “I’m getting a lot of stuff saying the Jews control the media, the Holocaust didn’t happen, Jews have dual loyalties they’re not really part of the UK. That’s not about Israel or Palestine that’s just traditional anti-Semitism, stuff that would have been just as common in Der Sturmer in the 1930s.”

Earlier, on Aug. 16, Miller wrote a long feature on Corbyn’s links to Palestinian terror groups. 

A must read? Not exactly. 

The June edition of the Australasian Muslim Times (AMUST) contained three articles that included vicious anti-Israel sentiments that veered into accusations of malevolent Jewish power. 

An article by Shifa L. Mustapha titled “From ‘Shoa’ to ‘Nakba’ – Catastrophe is Catastrophe in any language” suggested that what happened to Palestinians from 1948 onward is broadly equivalent to the Holocaust. 

According to Mustapha, Israeli Jews have adopted the Nazi genocidal frame of mind: “Palestinians, just as their Jewish counterparts in earlier years, have been regarded as less than animals.” 

Israel’s military response to the violent riots in Gaza, showed “there are no qualms about killing them… just as it was for the Jews throughout the Shoa, we are now seeing it revisited upon their neighbours.”

A piece by Bilal Cleland was headlined “The Gaza Massacre”, with the lettering in red and dripping. Cleland suggested the Palestinians killed in the clashes were “sheep”, possibly echoing the “sheep to the slaughter” metaphor applied to innocent Jews murdered during the Holocaust. 

In addition, the title of Dr. Daud Batchelor’s article was “Australia cedes its foreign policy in support of a rogue state [Israel],” courtesy of such groups as AIJAC.

Batchelor warned that “Zionist influence over Australian foreign policy exploded this past decade. Australian citizens are unaware of the extent Zionists influence policies, even where Australian forces are posted.”