Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – October 2021

Sep 17, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Wrong direction

An SBS TV “World News” Aug. 22 bulletin noted that an Israeli soldier was shot in the head and a 13-year-old Palestinian in the neck during violent protests by Palestinians along the Gaza-Israel border and that “live fire was reportedly used by both sides.” 

Later that night, ABC TV “7pm News” (Vic.) reported that “Israeli troops say they opened fire when Palestinian protesters threw explosives at them and tried to scale the border wall.” 

A one-sided Daily Telegraph report (Aug. 25) said Israel has “once again bombed Palestinians in Gaza after incendiary balloons launched” started fires in Israel’s south, adding that “Gaza…has been under a strict Israeli blockade since 2007.” A shorter version appeared in the Herald Sun.

SBS TV “World News” reported Gaza protests on Aug. 26, saying Palestinians were “calling on Israel to ease its blockade,” adding that “Hamas is said to have kept the crowds back from the border at the request of Egypt, which has been trying to broker a long-term cease-fire.” 

ABC TV “The World” (Sept. 3) reported that “hundreds of Palestinians took part in the protest with the Israeli military reporting the protesters were setting fire to tyres… to voice anger at an Israeli-led blockade of the territory.”

On Sept. 4, the Daily Telegraph said the “demonstrations” are in “protest against Israel’s almost 15-year-long blockade of the coastal enclave.”

All the reports mentioning the blockade failed to note that Egypt enforces it too. This raises the question, why aren’t Palestinians also protesting along the 15km stretch of border that Gaza shares with Egypt?


Bitter treats

On Sept. 7, ABC TV “The World” reported that Israeli “war planes” had targeted “a Hamas manufacturing workshop and military compound” in response to “activists linked to Gaza’s ruling Hamas group” who had “launched… balloons carrying explosive devices” in support of six Palestinian terrorists who escaped from an Israeli prison.

An earlier report on the same incident by SBS TV “World News” (Sept. 7), noted the celebrations of the prison escape in the West Bank and that “members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group” had distributed sweets on the streets. 


Furiously Foolish

United States Studies Centre research fellow Susannah Patton opined in the Sydney Morning Herald (Sept. 1) that “Australia’s ties with south-east Asia… are a good news story… missed in the fury of policy debate centred on China…”

However, Patton claimed PM Scott Morrison’s “mooted moving [of] Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, in an echo of Donald Trump’s policies” left Indonesia and Malaysia “furious”.

This is a gross exaggeration. 

Indonesia’s media barely covered the issue and political opposition was confined to a vocal minority. Moreover, the virulently antisemitic perpetual Australia critic Mahathir Mohamad was Malaysia’s PM in 2018 when the Jerusalem issue was discussed.


Better late than Never

It appears to have taken two months, but the ABC finally noted the widespread Palestinian protests in the West Bank directed against their own leaders, following the beating death of high-profile Palestinian Authority (PA) critic Nizar Banat in June.

The welcome and informative Sept. 2 report on ABC Radio National “Religion & Ethics Report” – technically not part of the ABC’s news and current affairs department – was not produced in-house, but was the work of former Australian-based journalist Irris Makler who now lives in Israel. 

Makler’s report cited veteran Arab Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who said he believes that “Palestinian leaders are more worried about reactions in the US and Europe than on the Palestinian street and that [it]… boils down to money.”

Abu Toameh added, “these are the largest funders of the Palestinian Authority. Money buys you loyalty… keeps you in power and for President Abbas… in his 16th year of a four-year term in office… the name of the game is survival… as long as [the US and Europe] are happy with him and satisfied with him, the Palestinian people can just wait.”

Abu Toameh was also quoted saying that despite the PA Justice Minister submitting a report into Banat’s death, no one knows “the findings… Who’s guilty? Who ordered the arrest? Who are the people who participated…? There are many question marks.” 

Banat’s colleague Diala Ayash was quoted saying Palestinians “need transparency, justice, lack of corruption and we want the Palestinian Authority to allow resistance, we want to protest, we want to fight.” This presumably means “fight” against Israel, which suggests Banat was not quite the peacenik some have suggested. 


Cross words

AIR has previously reported on the habit of Age/Sydney Morning Herald crosswords attributing to “Palestine” events, people and places that are indelibly rooted in Jewish history. This unfortunate habit has again resurfaced.

A quick crossword on Aug. 18 asked for a seven-letter word for “Biblical city of Palestine” with the answer “Jericho”. On Sept. 1, the nine-letter answer to the clues “The Holy Land (Biblical: Canaan)” was “Palestine”.

The word “Palestine” does not appear in either the Jewish or Christian Bible and it is misleading and historically inaccurate to call the area in biblical times by the name “Palestine”. 

In 2019, the Sydney Morning Herald apologised over a previous crossword that made that error and explained crosswords are supplied by an outside contractor. The paper said it would look into it but it seems the problem has not been fixed. 


Maher or Less

Age features editor Maher Mughrabi broke the famous rule that journalists should never become the story.

On Aug. 23, the Australian’s Diary column asked if Mughrabi is a “journalist or activist?” Diary said the lobby group Australia Palestine Advocacy Network was offering a course on writing “great letters to the editor – by (a) Palestinian journalist” – Mughrabi.

Diary quoted Age editor Gay Alcorn defending Mughrabi saying, “There is nothing at all wrong with Maher or anyone else providing tips on writing letters to the editor.”

Diary returned to the subject of Mughrabi on Aug. 30. 

It claimed Mughrabi had used the Age “internal staff electronic messaging site” to attack a comment piece written by his Nine newspapers colleague Anthony Galloway which said Labor leader Anthony Albanese opposed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and deemed “anti-Semitism… a scourge he will not stand for.”

According to Diary, Mughrabi complained Galloway didn’t include a Palestinian voice and insisted that BDS is not antisemitic. Galloway’s article was removed from the Age’s website and did not run in the following day’s print edition, Diary said, adding that the Sydney Morning Herald did not follow suit. 

Diary said SMH/Age deputy federal political editor Stephanie Peatling had defended Galloway, posting that: “It’s a story about Labor politics – not an argument about whether or not BDS is antisemitic. We haven’t quoted any Jewish groups either.”

Mughrabi responded that it was “disingenuous” to say the issue was merely about “Labor politics”, complained he had been “labelled an antisemite in my own workplace”, and concluded by arguing: “The Israel-Palestinian issue is not an inhouse matter for white people.”

The next day, Sky News TV’s “The Bolt Report” noted that Mughrabi’s mother was English and pointed out that earlier this year he had signed the #dobetteronpalestine petition demanding journalists not be neutral in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 


Citizen of the world

News that Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of assassinating Democratic presidential aspirant Bobby Kennedy in 1968, might receive parole was widely reported.

Most stories correctly said he was a Palestinian Christian from Jordan who had moved to the US.

But a Reuters/AP report (Aug. 28) on the ABC website called Sirhan a “Palestinian refugee” and failed to note his Jordanian citizenship. 

Sirhan was four years old during the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation. After Jordan annexed the West Bank, he received Jordanian citizenship but moved with his family to the US when he was 12, although he never became a US citizen. Most people would not consider someone who has citizenship, with the political and legal benefits that brings, to be a refugee.

On ABC TV “The World” (Sept. 2), counter-terrorism expert Professor Arie Perliger also said Sirhan “was a Palestinian refugee, his family moved to Jordan and eventually he moved to the US.”


Turning defeat into victory

The Taliban’s swift takeover in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US-led coalition forces saw AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein argue in the West Australian (Sept. 2) for the Biden Administration to “reverse the narrative of defeat and decline” or risk it becoming an Islamist recruitment tool.

Confronting Iran on “its nuclear threat; its human rights violations; and its destabilising behaviour and state-sponsored terror in the region through its proxies and clients” would be an important place to start, he wrote.

He said the Biden Administration should push for an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution “calling on Iran to cease blocking… IAEA inspections”; “demand” Iran stop its “numerous threatening nuclear steps in clear violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty” as well as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal; and work to “restore the UN Security Council sanctions resolutions that were lifted by the 2015 nuclear deal.”


Teachable moments

Reflecting on the lessons Australia should “draw from the Afghanistan disaster”, the Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan (Sept. 4) said, “The Afghans collapsed in part because their leadership never came to grips with the idea that they might have to cope without the Americans.”

Sheridan warned that “almost all” US allies “have based everything on the idea that America will solve all their military problems and they therefore do not take responsibility for themselves.”

He qualified this by adding a caveat – “with the full exception of Israel and the partial exception of Britain.”

Writing on Afghanistan and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks (Sept. 5), Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman argued that the “Five Eyes (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) intelligence-sharing arrangement would also benefit from the addition of Israel.” 

An Australian editorial (Aug. 19) on the dismal prospects for women under renewed Taliban rule, noted that the group’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid was trying to present a moderate face to the world but had spent years “under the tutelage of Qatar’s immensely wealthy ruling family, which also supports the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists attacking Israel.”


Rules of Engagement

Video footage went viral in mid-August of dozens of members of Melbourne’s Orthodox Jewish community not wearing masks and flouting COVID-19 restrictions by attending an engagement party at a private home. 

The Herald Sun (Aug. 16) splashed the story on its front cover. 

Although the engagement party was not per se a Jewish religious function, the Herald Sun story called it a “Jewish engagement party”. 

The Herald Sun report quoted Jewish Community Council of Victoria President Daniel Aghion saying he was “strongly disappointed” by the party and that the Jewish community was “angry”. 

In contrast, the Age’s report on Aug.17 did not call it a “Jewish engagement party” but did note that “the event sparked outrage within the broader Jewish community.” 


Ugly hangover

The party-goers’ visible Jewish identity led to a spike in antisemitic hate, which was widely reported and swiftly condemned. 

The Herald Sun (Aug. 17) editorialised that “neither cultural nor religious beliefs ought to have any bearing in judging such poor behaviour” and noted that “Jewish leaders have united in condemning the gathering, from which footage depicts guests making light of lockdown restrictions.”

On Aug. 18, the Herald Sun reported a Royal Melbourne Hospital staff member was fired for posting “abhorrent and disgraceful” antisemitic comments on social media. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was quoted condemning the outbreak of antisemitism, calling it “unacceptable and evil… we have a zero-tolerance approach to that in our state… The event we spoke about… was not a function of being Jewish…We called out some bad behaviour. We didn’t call out a community… It was a stupid function. It was an illegal function (but) it was not an act of faith or culture.”

Also receiving wide media coverage were the comments and subsequent apology from Victorian COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar who had said of COVID rule-breakers, “We have accountants, we have architects, we have a sex worker, we have members of the Orthodox Jewish community, and we have a pizza guy who worked in a pizza shop in Glen Eira.”

Victorian MP David Southwick posted his frustration at Channel 7’s Aug. 18 news bulletin which ran an infographic representing the professions and “Jewish community members” as identified in Weimar’s comments.

Earlier that day, Julie Szego’s weekly Age column, said, “anti-Semites, Islamophobes, bigots of all stripes are always looking for a pretext to unleash their hatred. It should depress everyone and surprise no one that Jew-haters are spewing vile prejudice and death threats… The actions of some Jews should not shame all Jews any more than last year’s expansive Ramadan gatherings in breach of coronavirus restrictions should shame all Muslims, or walkabout ‘Karen from Brighton’ should shame all Brightonians.”


Déjà Jew

As the dust settled from the fallout of the engagement party, a second major breach of COVID-19 restrictions was publicised that this time was directly linked to Jewish religious observance.

Footage of a confrontation between Victoria Police and members of a Ripponlea ultra-Orthodox Jewish congregation breaking restrictions by illegally attending services on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), as well as a report of a media cameraman being assaulted at the scene, guaranteed maximum interest.

In a statement published in the Age (Sept. 11), the Adass Israel Synagogue, the main ultra-Orthodox synagogue in Ripponlea, made it clear that the worshippers found breaking COVID rules on Rosh Hashana had not been affiliated with the Adass Israel congregation – which had been fully complying with COVID restrictions – but were an independent group which had met in a separate building. 

AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein’s op-ed in the Herald Sun (Sept. 9) explained that “For more than 2000 years, Jewish teachings have incorporated the rule that ‘the law of the land is the law’ for you. This means that obedience to the law of the country in which any community of Jews lives is a religiously mandated obligation for them and disobedience a transgression against Jewish and civil law. It is hard to fathom why the individuals in Ripponlea would violate core Jewish law concepts – breaking both Australian law and risking people’s lives, not only their own.”

In the Age (Sept. 9), former Australian Jewish News editor Deborah Stone said of the sect responsible for the illegal service, “The group… make… up 2 percent of the 55,000-strong Melbourne Jewish community. They are to Jews what the Amish are to Christians: a closed community who live separately from the rest of society.”

Stone added that “there is a palpable fear in our community” because of the “long history of [Jews] being victimised when times are hard.”


The present tense

A major expose by Nine Newspapers and “60 Minutes” into the activities of the neo-Nazi movement in Australia was a stark reminder that the risk of persecution of Jews remains ever present.

In a letter published in the Age (Aug. 28), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein praised the reports and included a holistic view of the threat.

Dr Rubenstein said, “sadly, anti-Semitism is at the heart of many of their abhorrent beliefs. Even when they rail against immigration and attack various ethnic minorities, they allege their real enemies are Jews, with conspiracy theories complaining that our immigration policies are a Jewish plot to destroy the ‘white race’. The links to some of those demonstrating against COVID-19 restrictions are also concerning. Some demonstrators left behind stickers that showed a Jewish Star of David with ‘9/11’ inside it, next to a QR code linking to a video which made the ludicrous claim that ‘the Jews’ were responsible for al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attacks.”

Meanwhile, there was wide media coverage on Sept. 3 of the Victorian Government’s intention to expand racial hatred legislation – including plans to introduce a ban on public displays of Nazi symbols. On Sept. 4, the Herald Sun reported that “less than 24 hours after” the Government’s announcement, “a giant swastika… [was]… painted on a Mornington Peninsula road.”


In Parliament

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Lib., Cook) – Sept. 3 – In his Jewish New Year message: “I extend my warmest greetings to all who are marking Rosh Hashanah …

“In keeping with this ancient festival – one of the high holy days of your faith – you honour the past and prepare for the future through reflection and repentance. By your actions and prayer, each of you keep alive a sacred tradition that holds both memory and hope for Jewish people across the world…

“Though some challenges still lie ahead, I hope you can begin this New Year in a renewed spirit of hope and faith. May you draw deeply on the same wells of solace and resilience in these difficult times that have sustained the Jewish people through generations. L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem.”

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese (ALP, Grayndler) – Sept. 3 – In his Jewish New Year message: “On behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I wish the Australian Jewish community a Shana Tova U’Metukah – a sweet and happy new year… 

“I am deeply grateful to the Australian Jewish community for your long and remarkable history of contribution. Quite simply, this country is unimaginable without you. Just as you have helped make Australia the nation it is today, you will help shape Australia as we emerge from this crisis.

“May this new year of 5782 bring you and your family naches and simchas, and may the Shofar be granted extra decibels as it ushers in what we all hope will be a year of joy and success, recovery and renewal.”

Dave Sharma (Lib., Wentworth) – Aug. 8 – “I want to wish the Jewish community a particularly sweet and happy new year, shana tovah u’metukah, for the year that’s coming up, wish them well for the time ahead and let them know, importantly, what a valued and appreciated part of the Australian community they are. The amount that they’ve given in terms of their contribution to Australia is well recognised and highly appreciated. Shana tovah u’metukah.”

The following statements are from Sept. 2 media releases on forthcoming legislation to strengthen anti-hate protections in Victoria, including banning displays of the Nazi swastika: 

Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes (ALP, Northern Victoria) – “All forms of hate are unacceptable and have no place in Victoria – expanding our anti-vilification laws to protect more Victorians sends a clear message that this vile behaviour will not be tolerated…we will make sure we consult widely with the community and impacted groups to get the settings right before making legislative changes.”

Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs Ros Spence (ALP, Yuroke) – “Nazi symbols glorify one of the most hateful ideologies in human history. We must confront hate, prevent it, and give it no space to grow.”

Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Neil Angus (Lib., Forest Hill) – “The Victorian Liberal Nationals welcome today’s commitment to ban the Nazi swastika. This reform [is] an important step to ensuring a safer, more [tolerant] community and demonstrating that intolerance has no place in Victoria.”

Shadow Minister for Police & Crime Prevention, David Southwick (Lib., Caulfield) – “Today is an important step forward for all those who have been victims of the ultimate symbol of hate – the Nazi Swastika.

“For too long, frontline police and local communities have been powerless to stop the Nazi swastika being used as a tool to spread hate. More recently we have seen a rise [in] extremist nationalist and racist individuals and groups and this ban will go a long way to take away the symbol that they hide behind.”


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