Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – October 2022

Sep 30, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

A royal calling

Media coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing and the ascension of Charles to the throne inevitably saw a smattering of references to Israelis and Palestinians.

On Sept. 9, SBS Radio “Arabic24” Executive Producer Sylva Mezher was quoted on the broadcaster’s website saying there was a “huge outpouring of emotion” from listeners calling into the program’s morning talkback segment.

The website said this included “callers from the Palestinian community, who expressed disappointment and sadness at the Queen’s passing before the ‘putting in place of a fair and final outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’” 

On Sept.10, News Corp papers reported that King Charles had “expressed his wish to be a peacemaker ahead of a trip to Israel and the West Bank in 2020.”


Off key

A feature in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (Aug. 27) on visiting conductor Zubin Mehta, who is neither Jewish nor even an Israeli citizen, noted his 60-plus year relationship with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO).

The profile said, “the dirt dished by music critics could hardly be more challenging than the responses in Israel whenever he ventured support for a two-state solution. ‘I’ve spoken my mind, the main politicians know what I think,’ he says. ‘None of these politicians could ever get rid of me. One or two tried and there was an uproar. Nobody touches Mehta!’” 

Calling for a two-state solution is not controversial in Israel. Mehta’s criticism has mostly concerned Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. 

Israeli respondents to Mehta’s criticism have overwhelmingly been respectful, acknowledging his extraordinary support for Israel since he first conducted the IPO in 1961. 

In 2003, Mehta conducted the IPO in the carpark of a Jerusalem market that was the target of suicide bombings. He has been highly critical of the boycott Israel movement and condemned Hamas for firing at Israeli towns and cities.

In a 2012 interview, Mehta said of international criticism of Israel that “most of it is unfair. Part of it is fair.”


A thaw point

An Age and Sydney Morning Herald (Sept. 5) report on burgeoning unofficial ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia incorrectly claimed that “Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours shunned the Jewish state in solidarity with the Palestinians expelled to create it.”

The reality is that Saudi Arabia’s hostility to the Jewish state was cemented well before any Palestinian Arabs were displaced – most were not expelled, and many fled without ever seeing an Israeli soldier – in the 1948 war.

Not only did Saudi Arabia vote against the 1947 UN Partition Plan that would have divided Mandatory Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, which would have meant no Palestinian Arabs being displaced, but it also sent fighters to attempt to destroy the nascent Jewish state.


No crime, no punishment

An Israeli finding that there was a high possibility one of its soldiers accidentally killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during a firefight in Jenin in May was given the ABC treatment.

Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner’s report on ABC TV “Mornings” (Sept. 6) asked, “How is it that a Palestinian American TV journalist covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank is shot and killed while doing her job? Shireen Abu Akleh had been wearing a helmet and a clearly marked press vest.”

Joyner did not bother to provide any answer. For that, viewers needed to read an Associated Press report on the ABC website which stated that an “Israeli official said the soldier’s vision from inside the vehicle was ‘very limited’, causing Ms Abu Akleh to be misidentified in a split-second decision.” It might also have noted that she was more than 150 metres from the nearest Israeli soldiers at the time she was killed, so any markings would have been very difficult to see. 

Joyner also said that “Palestinian officials… blame Israel for the killing.” They did more than that. As the AP report noted, “Palestinian officials… accused Israel of intentionally killing Ms Abu Akleh.” Joyner’s report ended with a statement that “Israel says it will not launch any criminal investigation into the matter, meaning essentially that no soldier nor anyone in the country’s military command will face any punishment.”

In contrast to Joyner’s report, SBS TV “News in Arabic” (Sept. 6) included Israel’s explanation of why no one deserves to “face any punishment”, namely, because “there is no suspicion of a criminal act that justifies the opening of a criminal investigation by the Military Police.”

“News in Arabic” also said that in July, “the Israelis spoke of the difficulty of determining the source of the bullet that killed [Abu Akleh] even though a United Nations investigation [that month] confirmed her death by an Israeli bullet.”

In fact, no impartial investigation “confirmed” any such thing. Initially, the Palestinian Authority had refused to hand over the bullet for analysis. When the bullet was eventually released for analysis, US ballistics experts said it was too badly damaged to draw any conclusions.


Commercially Unviable

Channel 10’s briefest of brief reports (Sept. 6) on Israel’s findings about Abu Akleh said, “Despite wearing body armour with her press credentials visible, an unidentified Israeli soldier shot her in the head. The Israeli army says she was shot by mistake.” No, the Israeli army said if Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet fired by an Israeli soldier, it was because of limited visibility.

Channel Nine’s website (Sept. 6) butchered AP’s report, stating that “In a briefing to reporters yesterday announcing the results of its investigation into the killing, a senior military official said a soldier opened fire after mistakenly identifying Shireen Abu Akleh as a militant.”

Cut out from the unedited AP report was this qualifier by the Israeli spokesperson that, “‘We know that he fired, but it could very well be that this happened from other fire,’ he added.” 


French foreign region

By choosing to continue to use Arabic language news content from France24, SBS TV “News in Arabic” has repeatedly incorrectly informed its viewers that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.

According to “News in Arabic” (Aug. 23), threats made by Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah against Israel were “heard in Tel Aviv”.

The following day the program reported on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and again incorrectly referred to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital. 

On Sept. 8, a report by “News in Arabic” of the status of talks over Iran’s nuclear program twice implied Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital. 

Underlining the absurdity of this practice, the same report included footage of US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides stating – in Jerusalem – that the US will not “tie Israel’s hands, so it can defend itself against Iranian aggression.” 


Limited appeal

Hamas’ execution of five unnamed Palestinians in Gaza, two of whom were accused of collaborating with Israel in 2009 and 2015, was a low priority for Australian media.

On Sept. 4, variations of an AP report of the executions ran on the websites of regional papers the West Australian and the Canberra Times. The Guardian Australia covered it on Sept. 5. The AP story noted that “rights groups in the past have questioned fair-trial standards in the military and civilian courts of the Islamic militant group” and that Hamas has issued 180 death sentences and followed through on 33 of them. 

The executions were discussed on SBS Radio “Arabic 24”’s weekly cross to its Palestinian correspondent (Sept. 5.)


Playing games

In the Daily Telegraph (Aug. 24), Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) co-CEO Alex Ryvchin lambasted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for claiming that Israel had inflicted 50 Holocausts on Palestinians when asked to condemn the massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Ryvchin explained that “The actual Holocaust involved the destruction of a people in purpose-built factories of death and across thousands of killing sites across Europe. The global Jewish population is still yet to reach its pre-war numbers. The Palestinian population has grown fivefold since the 1960s.”

He asserted that “Abbas knows exactly what he is doing. He understands that an abiding source of support for Israel comes from an appreciation of the Jewish quest for security and a home of their own arising from their people being hunted and murdered in their millions… if he destroys the language used to describe these events, the events themselves will lose meaning.”

Ryvchin also expounded on Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini’s considerable efforts to assist the Nazi genocide against Jews during the Second World War.

In the Weekend Australian (Sept. 10), columnist Christopher Allen accused President Abbas of squandering an opportunity to “to be diplomatic, conciliatory, perhaps to reassert the justice of his cause, and yet acknowledge that times had changed and affirm his commitment to peaceful solutions” by refusing to condemn the Munich atrocity.

Like Rychin, he too said the “Holocaust was a unique historical event, and genocide – of which it is the most appalling example – has a very specific meaning which must not be cheapened by hyperbolic abuse.”

On ABC Radio National, “The Wrap” (Sept. 11) dedicated 50 minutes to reviewing the Munich massacre.


Following the Crowd

The phenomenon of NGOs and activists creating news stories was seen in action in late August. 

In early May 2022, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the up to 1,000 Palestinians illegally squatting on a sparsely populated area of the West Bank called Masafer Yatta, long designated an IDF firing range, can be evicted and their unauthorised buildings demolished. 

For whatever reason, three whole months after Israel evicted a small number of Palestinians and demolished their temporary buildings, in late August media organisations, including the ABC, descended on Masafer Yatta and stories about the subject appeared in numerous outlets internationally around the same time.

ABC Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn filed a television report (Aug. 28) and an online article co-authored with ABC fixer Fuad Abu Gosh – whose anti-Israel views have recently been exposed (see p. 39). 

On TV, the newsreader’s introduction said, “the area has just been legally declared an Israeli military firing zone, after a two-decade court battle.” Actually, the question of legality was confirmed by courts in the late 1990s. 

Horn’s TV report included one Palestinian saying, “We were not given any time to take our belongings out,” but media reports from May confirm Israel gave ample notice ahead of the demolitions

Horn said the UN says “forced evictions of Palestinians here would be a breach of international human rights law” but “the… army… told the ABC the land was uninhabited at the time of the military declaration and that the Palestinian petitioners were not permanent residents of the area”. 

Missing was the fact that in the 1990s, there was evidence “residents” who claimed to live in the area actually had permanent homes in the nearby Palestinian town of Yatta, while the Palestinian Authority had encouraged and supported Palestinians to move into the closed military zone and illegally build there. 


No Charge? 

Media coverage of the 12-year prison sentence handed down by an Israeli civilian court to Mohammed el-Halabi, the former World Vision head in Gaza who was convicted in June of siphoning millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas, mostly failed to include any of the available evidence that convicted him as revealed in the court judgment.

Former World Vision CEO Tim Costello was quoted in an AAP story on the Canberra Times website (Aug. 30), calling the sentence a “shocking injustice” and insisting Halabi was an innocent man framed by Israel for ideological reasons.

A news brief in the Australian (Aug. 31) included the pertinent facts that Halabi was convicted of giving Hamas “tonnes of steel”, being a member of a terrorist group, financing terrorist activities, transmitting “information to the enemy” and possessing a weapon.

On Aug. 20, ABC TV “The World” crossed to ABC Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn who made a bizarre attempt to contextualise the argument made by Halabi’s lawyers that the case was politically motivated. According to Horn, “what I mean by that is there is this… long-running disagreement between Israel and Hamas. The two sides do not like each other” – a strange way of describing Hamas’ genocidal ambitions against Israel and Jews.


Mo laughing matter

Guardian Australia columnist Arwa Mahdawi’s review (Sept. 1) of a Netflix television comedy called “Mo”, featuring Palestinian American comedian Mo Amer, was full of her usual bile.

According to Mahdawi, “You can’t even say the P-word without it causing problems… being Palestinian means constantly being told you don’t exist or being accused by certain pro-Israel voices of being antisemitic simply because you assert that you do exist.”

AIR readers may recall that Mahdawi said similarly absurd things in a Guardian Australia column in March 2022. As “Noted and Quoted” pointed out at the time, given the vastly disproportionate column space the Guardian and many other media organisations devote to Palestinian allegations against Israel, no one could possibly believe or argue Palestinians don’t exist.

Interestingly, “Mo” has actually been criticised by some pro-Palestinian activists for humanising Israelis.


Seeing red over red lines

In the Daily Telegraph (Sept. 6), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein warned that the purported nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran crosses numerous red lines that would give Iran sanctions relief and let it “become if not a fully-fledged nuclear-armed power, then, at minimum, a nuclear threshold state able to weaponise at a moment’s notice, and thus able to enjoy the full strategic and status advantages of being a nuclear power.”

The Australian Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan warned (Aug. 20) that the “Biden administration seems weirdly determined, no matter what Iran does, to negotiate an exceptionally weak nuclear safeguards agreement with Tehran. Trump tore up the last such agreement. It too was weak and lifted sanctions on Iran while allowing the Persian power to legitimise its nuclear industry and enrich uranium, all in exchange for a promise not to pursue nuclear weapons.” 

Sheridan noted that “many serious analysts believe [that for] Tehran hatred of the US and Israel is more important than anything else… it cannot be moderated through engagement or definitively derailed through sanctions.”


Deal with the devil?

Earlier, in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (Aug. 15), British journalist Stephen Pollard said the near fatal stabbing attack on novelist Salman Rushdie shows that negotiations to revive the nuclear deal with Iran must stop, given that Teheran still supports the fatwa [religious decree] issued by regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against Rushdie.

Pollard wrote, “The BBC was reporting… that the Iranian government had ‘distanced itself’ from the fatwa. This is a grotesque distortion… Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini as supreme leader in 1989, has repeatedly reaffirmed the fatwa.”

He lambasted the 2015 nuclear deal and noted that “astonishingly, one of the proposals for the new deal is that Iran can put its advanced centrifuges into storage rather than destroying them. And which country has been charged under the deal being negotiated in Vienna with ensuring that Iran does not behave under the new deal as it did before? I promise I am not joking: Russia.”


A womb with a view

Interviewed in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald “Good Weekend” magazine (July 30), demographer Paul Morland noted that Israel was one of the few countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa to buck the trend against falling global birth rates.

Asked to discuss if religion plays a role in the fact that “Israeli women have nearly three times as many children as Singaporean women, although they’re just as educated,” Morland correctly noted that, “in Israel, even secular people have a relatively large number of children.” 

He added that “we have to learn something from the societies which have succeeded in modernising while maintaining above-replacement fertility rates. People have to believe in something, including their country or people, and want to sustain it, and/or love the idea and reality of bringing new life into the world.”


In Parliament

Senator James McGrath (Lib., Qld) – Sept. 8 – “Israel is a beacon of liberal democracy… Israel exists in a permanent state of war, not because it is an aggressor. But it is a victim… of history… of hatred… of historical antisemitism. Yet, Israel is anything but a victim… all her people, Jewish, Christian, Orthodox, Druze, Muslim, nonbeliever – are free…” 

Senator Hollie Hughes (Lib., NSW) – Sept. 6 – “Last week I was… in Israel, hosted by the wonderful organisation known as AIJAC… Whilst in Ramallah… this monument we were looking at was to commemorate ‘the suicide bombers who had killed Jewish civilians’. These people were being immortalised… the fact is that the Palestinians have a policy that is colloquially known… as ‘pay for slay’.”

Senator Hughes – Sept. 7 – “Fouad AbuGosh has worked for the ABC… last year AbuGosh warned that ‘there is a great Zionist project to dominate and control all Arabs in the region’. That sounds very anti-Israel to me. Is that the view of the ABC?… In April… Abu Ghosh tweeted: ‘This is how the Nazis treated the Jews, maybe it’s time for….!!!!’ To me, that is up there with one of the most appalling things you could possibly say.” 

Josh Burns (ALP, Macnamara) – Sept. 5 – “I move that this House: …

(2) acknowledges the importance of Holocaust remembrance…

(4) calls on all states and territories to follow the lead of Victoria and New South Wales and make Holocaust education… mandatory…; and

(5) condemns: (a) antisemitism in all its forms, in line with the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, and resolves to combat it…”

The following comments were made speaking to the above motion:

Allegra Spender (Ind., Wentworth) seconding – “Today, as we are seeing a worrying number of antisemitic incidents reported in our schools and universities, combating antisemitism and Holocaust denialism has never been more important… We also need meaningful implementation of the IHRA definition of ‘antisemitism’ in our universities. There are still too many antisemitic motions passed by student bodies…” 

Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite (ALP, Kingsford Smith) – “In 2022, we’re reminded all too often of the need to continue to fight against antisemitism and other forms of bigotry.” 

Angie Bell (Lib., Moncrieff) – “I was disgusted during… federal elections to see swastikas and racial slurs graffitied across election materials. I wish I could say it was an isolated incident, but indeed it was not.”

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (ALP, Isaacs) – “The battle against ignorance and antisemitism is not the responsibility of state and territory governments alone. Tackling racism and prejudice – including antisemitism – is everyone’s responsibility…”

Monique Ryan (Ind., Kooyong) – “Antisemitic incidents are disturbingly common in this country. They are worsened by ignorance – ignorance we have to continue to fight on every front.” 

Mike Freedlander (ALP, Macarthur) – “I was shaken to my core when I heard about the antisemitic comments and statements that have occurred around Australia in the last 12 months.”

James Stevens (Lib., Sturt) – “It is depressing to hear stories about a lack of awareness of the Holocaust. It is disgusting to see some of the very recent examples of antisemitism and the glorification of Nazism…”

In the South Australian Parliament, Opposition Leader David Speirs (Lib., Black) asked on Sept. 8 – “… will the Premier join with the opposition in condemning the publication of antisemitic statements in the Adelaide University student newspaper On Dit?” 

Premier Peter Malinauskas (ALP, Croydon) – “I most certainly welcome this question… because it does present a powerful opportunity for this parliament to condemn antisemitism in all its forms.”


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