Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – October 2020

Oct 6, 2020 | AIJAC staff

An Age article on the Jordan Valley was flooded with anti-Israel smears and distortions
An Age article on the Jordan Valley was flooded with anti-Israel smears and distortions


Historic coverage

The momentous signing of peace agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Sept. 15 at the White House made every local TV station’s evening news bulletins the next day.

The lead story on SBS TV “World News”, Omar Dehen’s report said the deal covers issues such as education, health, security and trade but doesn’t “mention…the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” The report noted that “Palestinian militants” fired two rockets at Israel from Gaza. 

Palestinian activist Noura Erakat was shown saying, “these deals have nothing to do with peace…this is about the United States expanding its fear and influence throughout the Middle East.”

CNN reporter Oren Liebermann also appeared in the story – he said the countries’ “covert relations” moving out “into the open is a big step”. “Palestinians are in a very difficult spot,” he added, their objections ignored, while “a door has been opened by the Emiratis” with more Arab states likely “stepping through that door.”


Moving with the times

During the fourth item on ABC TV “7pm News” on Sept. 15, US correspondent David Lipson noted how decades of peace process efforts under former US presidents “Clinton, Bush and Obama” failed to achieve a “two state solution” but “this most unconventional President has delivered a breakthrough by sidelining the Palestinian people entirely.” 

The Trump Administration had given the Palestinians a chance to participate in formulating its peace plan, which includes a US$50 billion economic fund, but the Palestinians boycotted all discussions.

Lipson said, “it is not the deal of the century that the President promised but it is a very good start” which will “cement ties” and present a united front against a “common enemy” in Iran. (By the way, Trump never used the term “deal of the century” for this peace plan).


Palestinian Indifference?

In a live TV cross, ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek said Palestinians have responded with “indifference” and “despondency” to the agreements, and “very few Palestinians [are] answering a call to protest.” He called rocket fire from Gaza “largely a symbolic statement” but said Palestinians “know…they need new leaders and a new approach and…quickly because the region is moving on without them.” 

Speaking later that night on ABC TV “The World”, Tlozek said the normalisation deals show “countries are lining up to form a kind of regional bloc against Iran, and that the Palestinian issue has…been on the sidelines for a long time, but now that fact is out in the open.”

He again said rocket fire from Gaza was “largely symbolic” but qualified this, saying “in the context of the last couple of years, they are nothing compared to some of the recent escalations between Hamas and Israel, and the other factions in Gaza.”

Tlozek also said, “the military occupation by Israel – the world’s longest – is ongoing and in three years the US says it [will] endorse Israel’s annexation of large parts of the West Bank.”

This is incorrect. The US Administration guaranteed the UAE that the extension of Israeli sovereignty is off the agenda until 2024, but made no promises it would approve it at that time. 

As for the definition of “longest military occupation”, it is completely arbitrary. China has occupied Tibet since 1950 and Russia has been occupying territories it has no legal right to since 1945.


Short and sweet

The commercial TV stations devoted significantly less airtime to the signings.

Channel 7 said the accords would “bolster…an anti-Iran coalition” but “Palestinians see the deal as a betrayal.”

Channel 9’s US correspondent Amelia Adams said the deal had “garnered US President Donald Trump a Nobel Peace Prize nomination” and noted that rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza during the ceremony. Channel 9 also showed footage of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat at the White House in 1993 and said the peace deal signed between “Israel and the Palestinian leader… eventually failed.”

Channel 10’s Hugh Riminton’s report said it is “not a peace deal, the signatories were not at war. But it is a diplomatic breakthrough.” Noting the rocket fire from Gaza, Riminton claimed Palestinians are “walled in and increasingly forgotten” and “they say they have no option but to fight.” 

This comment attributed to the Palestinians is, of course, incorrect. Palestinian leaders are refusing to negotiate. 


Well, well, well

An Age feature (Sept. 5) from its former reporter Andra Jackson included a deluge of anti-Israel smears handed to her by a Palestinian activist from the Jordan Valley who she apparently met on a Palestinian propaganda tour of the West Bank.

Relying almost solely on information from activist Rashed Khudairi from the Palestinian town of Bardala, the report claimed there had been 320,000 Palestinians in the Valley before Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 but now there are 65,000. 

A 1967 Israeli census counted 661,700 Palestinians in all the West Bank, and only a few tens of thousands in the Jordan Valley. And this was only a relatively minor drop in Palestinian numbers in the Valley compared to a 1961 Jordanian census. 

Jackson said Israel’s water policies favour settlements and deny Palestinians sufficient water, causing “the flight of many Palestinians” and preventing Palestinian farmers from prospering.

Bardala’s Mayor Ziyad Sawafta said “every time they [Israeli soldiers] destroyed [our] wells, we reopened them.” 

While Israel does destroy illegal wells in areas under its control in the mountainous aquifer region, it mostly ignores them in the Jordan Valley.

Moreover, Bardala is in Area B, under Palestinian Authority administrative control, and it is Palestinian water mismanagement that causes most of the water problems blamed on Israel. 

Jackson’s piece suggested the 1993 Oslo Accords were supposed to have expired after five years but instead the Palestinians were left in a legal straitjacket, including unfair water allocation levels. Meanwhile, she suggested settlements have faced no such limitations and are being allocated most of the Jordan Valley’s water.

In fact, the Palestinians receive more water than agreed to in the Oslo Accords, while Israeli farming settlements in the Valley rely heavily on recycled water, and take little or no water from the regional aquifer.

While the Oslo Accords did envision final status talks to decide the fate of the disputed territories after five years, these agreements did not say the deal’s provisions would expire if those talks did not succeed. Final status talks did take place in 2000 and Israel offered to create a Palestinian state in Gaza and 95% of the West Bank, including all of the Jordan Valley. The offer was rejected. 

Absurdly, Jackson suggested it was oppressive to expect Palestinians to apply for building permits on land they own in Area C, which is under full Israeli jurisdiction. If they did not need such permits, this would be a situation unique under town planning rules almost anywhere in the world.

The article accused Israeli soldiers and settlers of deliberately destroying Palestinian olive groves.

Yet in 2019, West Bank Palestinians produced a record amount of olive products from 10 million olive trees. Even if every Palestinian claim of vandalism against olive trees were verifiably accurate – which is unlikely – it would still mean that fewer than one-tenth of one percent of all Palestinian olive trees had been affected.



David Rowe’s Sept. 17 Australian Financial Review cartoon featured a dining table with an empty chair labelled Palestine, and US President Donald Trump and Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu with the UAE and Bahrain foreign ministers ready to carve up a dove of peace. 

This was in bad taste.

The Palestinians deliberately chose to vacate the table in early 2014, with almost three years left of then US President Obama’s term, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas abandoned US mediated peace talks, vowing never to return. 

Notwithstanding that, Trump has backed creating a Palestinian state and a US$50 billion fund to turbocharge the Palestinian economy.

Moreover, the UAE convinced Netanyahu to suspend plans to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, which the Palestinians had vehemently condemned as ending the two-state solution. 


Statistical highs and lows

Print and electronic reports noted Israel had the unenviable distinction of being the first country to return to full lockdown as coronavirus cases skyrocketed. 

But better news was had in Australian foreign editor Greg Sheridan’s review (Sept. 19) of Ross Douthat’s book The Decadent Society, in which he noted that Israel’s birthrate is the highest of any Western country.

Sheridan wrote, “The decline in the Western birthrate is staggering…The only Western nation that still has a replacement level or above birthrate is Israel” because it “is the one Western nation that… is still fired by a nation-building and people-building project and strives mightily to make the impossible not only possible but real.”


Hostage to missed fortune

Academic Clive Williams speculated in the Australian (Sept. 18) that Iran imprisoned Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert on trumped up spying charges as a bargaining chip to pressure Britain, not Australia.

Williams noted that Moore-Gilbert has a British passport too, which, he claimed, might have attracted the attention of Iran as part of its campaign to pressure the UK to “release…substantial funds owed to Tehran from an uncompleted 1970s arms deal. (Detained British dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was allegedly told by her interrogators that her detention was linked to the arms deal.)”

But the UK “is probably dragging its feet over release of the money owed to Iran due to ongoing pressure not to do so from the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel – all of whom want to contain Iran’s influence in the Middle East,” he wrote.

Williams insisted the Iranian regime is friendly to Australians.

Meanwhile, in the Canberra Times (Aug. 25) AIJAC’s Naomi Levin quoted US analyst Michael Rubin’s advice on how to free Moore-Gilbert, saying, “quiet diplomacy is… what the Iranians want” because it “allow[s] things to be swept under the rug…when you make this front and centre of every single diplomatic [and commercial] relation with Iran… that’s when the… government listens.” 

Levin suggested Australia’s Ambassador to Iran should ‘suspend’ her official activities in Iran “until Moore-Gilbert is freed.”


Explosive claims

The Nine newspapers (Sept. 19) reported on US State Department Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Nathan Sales’ comments to an American Jewish Committee online forum pointing out that Hezbollah is believed to have been transporting ammonium nitrate across Europe in ice packs since 2012. Ammonium nitrate is the explosives precursor responsible for the Beirut port explosion in August.

Sales was quoted saying, “Why would Hezbollah stockpile ammonium nitrate on European soil?…The answer is clear…so it could conduct major terrorist attacks whenever it or its masters in Tehran deemed necessary.”


Nuclear spin cycle

On SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 21), Abby Denham’s report on US intentions to reimpose sanctions on Iran correctly stated that this was because the UN Security Council rejected a move to extend an arms embargo on Iran set to expire this October under the 2015 nuclear deal.

The segment included US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying the US policy was to try to prevent the “world’s largest state sponsor of terror” from being free to “buy and sell planes, tanks and missiles and other conventional weapons.” 

On SBS TV “World News” (Sept. 20), Omar Dehen’s report on the US announcement that it was triggering “snapback” of UN sanctions, said “countless incidents [under Trump]… have destroyed any goodwill the countries seemed to generate with the nuclear deal five years ago.”

In fact, even under former US President Barack Obama, when the deal was agreed in 2015, Iran’s rhetoric was viscerally hostile towards reconciliation with the US. 

Australian academic Amin Saikal, quoted in the report, insisted renewed sanctions were a Trump re-election ploy.

On Sept. 21, SBS TV “World News”, Abbie O’Brien’s report said US sanctions will apply to organisations and individuals linked with Iran’s nuclear industry and its missile development program. O’Brien also reported US claims that Iran will have enough material for a nuclear weapon by year’s end and accusations that Teheran has resumed long-range missile cooperation with North Korea.


Diss is not reporting 

Reporting on Bahrain’s bombshell announcement that it would sign a peace deal with Israel, ABC North America correspondent Kathryn Diss told ABC TV “News at Noon Weekends” (Sept. 12), that “Arab nations are drawing closer to Israel, at the expense, or at the isolation of the Palestinians… the reason why we’re seeing these Arab nations form allegiances in the region is to try and counter the strength and growing influence of Iran. But that is coming at the expense of the Palestinians.”

Palestinian isolation is entirely self-imposed. Many Arab states are tired of Hamas and Fatah’s rejectionist stance and refuse to continue providing financial aid, or to hold their own interests hostage to seemingly insatiable Palestinian demands.


Hitting a Wall

SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 31) reported on the “historic” first commercial El Al flight from Israel to the UAE and that US envoy Jared Kushner was on board after visiting the Western Wall “which is Judaism’s holiest site.” It is not. The holiest site is the Temple Mount. 

On SBS Radio (Aug. 31), Stephanie Corsetti’s report correctly said the Western Wall “is the holiest place where Jews can pray” and included Israeli PM Netanyahu saying the UAE deal was possible because of “the Trump plan and US support for Arab states willing… to advance peace without a Palestinian veto.”

Nine Newspapers ignored the El Al flight, instead reporting on Hamas and Israel renewing a truce (Sept. 2). 


Barns’ lobby hobby

Greg Barns’ many anti-Israel media statements over the years have snared him regular critical appearances in the AIR. Yet he continues to be published freely.

But Barns doesn’t seem to see it that way, grumbling in the Mercury (Aug. 31) “it is…legitimate to question the vice-like grip that the Israel lobby has on the Australian media and its political class.”

Surely, his continued ability to write whatever he likes about Israel and its supporters disproves the very accusation he is making? 


Fine print, terrible report

ABC Radio National “Religion and Ethics Report” (Sept. 16) host Andrew West seemed to push a ridiculous conspiracy theory based on non-existent fine print buried in the UAE-Israel peace treaty that supposedly would let non-Muslims pray openly on the Temple Mount. 

Sydney-based Israeli expat academic Eyal Mayroz, a signatory to ‘Sydney Staff 4 BDS,’ was asked by West, “you have been reading the fine print of this proposed deal; what does the fine print suggest about the status of Haram al-Sharif, which is the compound that the Israelis know as the Temple Mount?”

Mayroz replied, “I have read the statement issued earlier and there’s an interesting passage there… which has been pointed to as potentially a change in the status quo which forbids all other faiths to pray on Temple Mount… if the limitation on prayers are no longer covering the whole of the Temple Mount, then this is potentially a major change.”

This “earlier statement” was a White House statement on Aug. 13 announcing the historic breakthrough. 

That statement said, “all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths.”

The fact that the statement said “Al Aqsa Mosque”, and not “Haram al-Sharif” – the Muslim name for the whole Temple Mount plaza – was touted as evidence Israel was about to change the status quo that has been in place since 1967.

In fact, the treaties signed on Sept. 15 made no mention of Jerusalem, which West should have known and told his listeners. 

West also wrongly claimed there are two mosques on the Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock is a shrine, not a mosque.

Mayroz insisted the treaties signed were not peace treaties, saying, “They said it’s short of a peace agreement.” Who is they? The word “peace” appears in the title and throughout the documents signed.


Dr. Eyal Mayroz has contacted the Australia/Israel Review and has asked to clarify three points regarding the ABC Radio National “Religion and Ethics Report” story on Sept. 16, and the above AIR story regarding it.

Dr. Mayroz wishes to clarify: 

    1. that, while he did sign an open letter authored by “Sydney Staff 4 BDS” in 2015, he has “never signed any BDS boycott support letter” and is “against the academic aspect of the boycott.” Moreover, the 2015 letter in question “was irrelevant to BDS (the term ‘Boycott Divestment Sanctions’ or BDS, was not once mentioned in the letter).”
    2. that “my interview was conducted on 15 Sept, Australia time, so more than a day before the signing ceremony Thus, we couldn’t have known what will be in the Accords.” 
      However, the AIR stands by its criticism of Andrew West and the ABC regarding this story. We have confirmed that the treaty documents were publicly available as of 9am AEST on Sept. 16, and the story was not broadcast until 5:30pm AEST on that day. The ABC made no effort to adjust or edit the story to reflect the actual contents of the treaty documents and there was ample time to do so, so the segment seriously misrepresented what they say. Furthermore, at no time in the segment was it made clear that the interview had been prerecorded before the treaty signing – and indeed, some of the language in it strongly implied it had not.  
    3.  on the subject of whether the treaties should be called peace treaties, that in addition to the quote from the interview we cited  – “They said it’s short of a peace agreement” – he also said “they call it a peace accord although it is not really a peace accord, because there was never a state of war between the UAE and Israel or Bahrain and Israel.”


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