Old habits die hard
According to SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 19) “US President Donald Trump…will wait until after Israel’s September elections to release a peace plan for the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government at April elections forcing the fresh vote. And the long-awaited US peace proposal for the Middle East has since been put on hold. The economic portion of the plan – a $50 billion investment pledge for the wider region – was released in June.”
SBS should know better after continually reporting the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Sinai Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. Falling back on phrases like “peace plan for the region” and “peace proposal for the Middle East,” as though everything in that part of the world is dependent on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is woefully outmoded. Moreover, the “investment pledge for the wider region” is also about helping Palestinians classed as refugees, the majority of whom are descendants of Palestinian Arabs displaced in the 1948 war but who have not received citizenship in the Arab countries in which they live, SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 19).
Desert snow storm
An informative piece from Age Features Editor Maher Mughrabi and Felicity Lewis on the central Islamic religious practice that requires Muslims to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia included a brief discussion on whether the pilgrimage should be boycotted this year because of the kingdom’s human rights record.
The piece’s glaring omission on human rights was any mention of the discriminatory total ban imposed on non-Muslims visiting Mecca, not only during the five-day festival, but at any time of the year, Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Aug. 10).
Good to Geough
The previous day Mughrabi waxed lyrical on the career of Nine Newspapers’ retiring foreign correspondent Paul McGeough.
Mughrabi said McGeough was a reporter who took “risks” to bring readers “news” and enjoyed “extraordinary access” to the Middle East’s “key players”.
Long-time AIR readers will recall the many times McGeough featured in these pages for his extreme and highly partisan anti-Israel reporting, which likely explains why he was part of the 2010 Gaza flotilla (where he claimed to have conducted eyewitness reporting, even though he was not actually on the Mavi Marmara where the key drama occurred).
McGeough also interviewed Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who McGeough erroneously insisted supported a two-state solution.
Mughrabi shielded McGeough’s reputation by not highlighting his wildly implausible 2004 story in the Sydney Morning Herald where he alleged that Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi had personally shot dead six Iraqis in a Baghdad police station – in front of four Americans – just days before he was handed interim control of Iraq. McGeough’s evidence centred on two unnamed witnesses. The conspiratorial story was never picked up by any other major media outlet.
News Corp columnist Caroline Marcus called out the hypocrisy of senior ALP members who objected to Raheem Kassam, a former Muslim with a record of controversial statements, being granted a visa to speak at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in August.
According to Marcus, “There is some irony in the fact that at the same time the ALP was denigrating conference speakers for apparent extremism, it was merrily welcoming UK Labour’s Emily Thornberry, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, to Australia. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said that ‘there’s enough extreme right-wingers here in Australia without us importing them’. Both Albanese and [NSW Senator Kristina] Keneally were only too happy to pose grinning alongside the shadow foreign secretary in snaps posted to her Twitter feed. That’s despite her party being absolutely riven by claims of antisemitism driven by its hard-left leader Corbyn.
“This is a man who has infamously described terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’, posed a few years ago with a wreath near the graves of terrorists who killed Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972, and appeared at a pro-Palestinian protest alongside the Hezbollah flag. The party he leads is now haemorrhaging members at a rate of more than 100 a day, and has received many hundreds of complaints of antisemitism in the past year. Yet Albanese has been content to meet with Corbyn at least three times in the past 17 or so months and the pair are reportedly close,” Daily Telegraph (Aug. 13).
Visiting Brookings Institute fellow James Kirchick also encouraged the ALP to distance itself from UK Labour Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, warning that “hardly a week has gone by in which some sort of anti-Semitic outrage has not ensnared the party. Traditionally the home of British Jewry, Labour is now viewed, in the words of highly respected former British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, as an ‘existential threat’ to Jewish life.”
He noted of Corbyn that “there is seemingly not a single anti-Western thug or autocrat he has not invited to tea or for whom he has not expressed admiration. He has called Hamas and Hezbollah – genocidal terrorist organisations constitutionally committed to the murder of Jews worldwide – his ‘friends’, and consorted with characters far more objectionable than Pauline Hanson or Fraser Anning, figures no Australian Labor Party leader would be caught dead with.”
Leaving aside the antisemitism, “it was the post-war British Labour Party of Clement Attlee that helped create NATO, built Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and strengthened the trans-Atlantic alliance with the US against a predatory Soviet Union then swallowing up half of Europe. Were he to somehow make it into Downing Street – a proposition that grows increasingly likely as Britain descends into Brexit-induced chaos – Corbyn would undermine all of these crucial elements of the West’s global security architecture, from which Australia has benefited greatly ” Kirchick said, Australian (Aug. 17).
In the Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Aug. 19), Kirchick addressed US politics, slamming the left for parroting the same “resentment based, racial identity politics” they claim to despise in US President Donald Trump.
Kirchick said, “What of the blatant statement of racist thinking from Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts: ‘We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.’ Insisting that someone with a ‘brown’ or ‘black’ face must endorse a set of ideological precepts – in other words, that one’s skin colour ought to determine how one thinks and acts. Yet while practically every mainstream media outlet is describing, as objective fact, Trump’s various outbursts as ‘racist’, not a single one has characterised Pressley’s remark in similar fashion.”
Outside the political class, Kirchick noted, “Recently minted New York Times editorial writer Sarah Jeong spent years tweeting vile insults about white people that would have ended her career had she written them about any other group or ‘race’. Meanwhile, in these same circles, anything nonwhite is sacralised. Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, in a recent interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, justified her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against ‘racist’ Israel by referencing her growing up in the ‘blackest, beautiful city’ of Detroit. Violent attacks on Jews in New York City are at record highs, and are being perpetrated mostly by black and Hispanic men, and yet Mayor Bill de Blasio bizarrely blames it all on a ‘right-wing movement’.”
Barns opens the door again
In a full-throated denial that China is anything other than a good international citizen, lawyer and regular columnist Greg Barns denounced the US as “the greatest threat to global peace” for, amongst other things, “its long-term commitment to the serial and systemic oppression of the Palestinians by apartheid Israel.”
Barns’ apartheid smear might hold some truth if one ignores the fact that Israel’s non-Jewish citizens have the same democratic and civil liberties as the Jewish majority, whilst more than 95% of West Bank Palestinians are ruled by their own elected leadership – which consistently refuses to free itself from occupation by rejecting Israel’s repeated offers to create a Palestinian state as part of a peace deal, and in recent years won’t even sit down to negotiate peace.
Of course, Barns never accuses China of apartheid, despite its refusal to grant independence to Tibet, which it has illegally occupied since 1949 and colonises with ethnic Chinese, and incarceration of more than one million Muslim Uighurs in ‘re-education’ camps. Mercury (Aug. 12).
Australian Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan welcomed the Morrison Government’s decision to contribute to the US-led Operation Sentinel to protect international ships in the Persian Gulf, noting “we cannot expect America to guarantee freedom of navigation in South-East Asia if we won’t help it secure freedom of navigation in the Middle East… It is a decision entirely in the mainstream of Australian strategic policy,” Australian (Aug. 21).
Earlier, James Campbell, national politics editor for the Herald Sun, had urged the Morrison Government to join Operation Sentinel, saying, “it is hard to think of anything more in Australia’s sovereign interests as a maritime nation than keeping one of the world’s most important sea lanes open.”
Campbell also pointed out the misinformation surrounding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, writing, it “was sold as a grand bargain in which Iran gave up its nuclear ambitions in return for the lifting of sanctions. In reality, under the deal Iran did no such thing. It simply agreed to put its ambition for a nuclear weapon on hold for a decade or so. After that time, there would be nothing to stop it acquiring the bomb. That’s the best-case scenario under the deal, assuming the Iranians kept their side of the bargain, a dubious proposition to say the least. Given the dire state of the Iranian economy, the hope was that the lifting of sanctions would be used by its regime to start doing something about improving life for its citizens. Instead, Iran’s government has used the increased revenue from oil sales and the release of billions of dollars that were frozen to increase its mischief-making among its neighbours,” Herald Sun/West Australian (Aug. 8)
Nine Newspapers international editor Peter Hartcher espoused the opposite view, saying at the urging of “Israel and Saudi Arabia”, US President Donald Trump “tore up a very good deal” whereby “Iran surrendered the key elements of its nuclear bomb-making. In return, the world lifted long-standing economic sanctions” and “inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was meeting the conditions of the deal.”
Iran may have agreed not to enrich uranium for a bomb for a set period of time, but as the Iran nuclear archive stolen by Israel shows, it certainly did not “surrender” the “key elements” of nuclear bomb-making, including the plans for making nuclear weapons! Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Aug. 6).
The recent exposure of alleged corruption and misconduct in the senior ranks of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was picked up in the media, as were the decisions of Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands to suspend funding as a result.
Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek’s report on ABC Radio “AM” (July 31) noted long-standing criticism of UNRWA that it “was only created as a stopgap measure” and treats Palestinians “differently to other groups of refugees.” The report should have further explored this point, but did not.
He could have noted that refugee status can be held by Palestinians even if they have citizenship in other states, as millions do, and Palestinian refugee status is inherited, which explains why the nominal 700,000 refugees from 1948 now number over five million.
The issue was discussed on SkyNews “Paul Murray Live” (Aug. 13), with commentator Graham Richardson saying the UN is “an organisation that is beyond government control. I don’t know who audits them.”
Australian reporter Elias Visontay’s story (Aug. 13) explored the anti-Israel incitement that has featured in textbooks in UNRWA run schools.
The report noted, “In a Year 9 mathematics textbook issued last year, students were taught frequency tables by tallying the number of “martyrs killed by Israel” each year, and a science textbook taught elastic energy by illustrating how to use a slingshot with a stone against Israeli soldiers. A Year 5 Arabic textbook portrayed Dalal Mughrabi, who carried out a massacre that killed 38 Israelis in 1978, as a national hero. In 2015, the UN admitted that militants had fired rockets into Israel from an UNRWA school in Gaza the year before.”
Visontay quoted AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein saying it was “deeply disturbing to think that Australian funds may have been spent for nefarious – or even illegal – purposes, rather than to help Palestinians in need of support.”
“Australia is a significant contributor to UNRWA and needs to speak out… (and) seek assurances that our aid money is being used as intended,” he said.
Earlier, Rubenstein called for Australia to follow the US, Canada, France, Israel, The Netherlands and Argentina and designate all of Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, not just its military wing, as a terrorist organisation.
He wrote, “Hezbollah itself admits such divisions are artificial… it operates as one organisation, and its political and military ‘wings’ are integral parts of the same terrorist body. Hezbollah receives billions in funding from both Iran and the vast international criminal network it operates, with which it traffics drug and launders money, particularly across Europe and the Americas… In Australia, Hezbollah has been caught money laundering to help fund its terrorist infrastructure abroad.”
Hezbollah admits it is “Iran’s most important international terrorist agent, trained, armed, paid for and commanded by Iranians… A Hezbollah commander recently conceded the group was ready “to initiate hostilities” against Israel, “if and when Tehran deems that necessary,” Australian (Aug. 2).
On Aug. 9, in a lengthy radio interview, Rubenstein told “Tasmania Talks” host Brian Carlton if the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran “really did halt the Iranian nuclear program, it would have got universal support” and advocated banning all of Hezbollah in Australia.
ABC admits error
In a rare occurrence, the ABC acknowledged errors in an interview with Israeli far-left activist Orly Noy and Palestinian-Australian activist Sara Saleh broadcast on ABC Radio National “Drive” (July 8), in which Noy falsely claimed that “70 years” after arriving in Israel, Middle Eastern Jews, known as Mizrahis, “are still at the very bottom of the social, economic or political hierarchy in Israel” and must deny their true Arab identity to participate in the “Zionist project”.
The ABC acknowledged that the program failed to “provide sufficient context on the status of Mizrahi Jews in Israel; it is well documented that Mizrahi Jews are prominent in business, politics, and the military and they have the same voting, legal, civil and religious rights as Jews of European background.”
On July 24, the “Drive” program provided a measure of balance by interviewing the Israeli Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Ron Gerstenfeld, who said “in the last two or three decades, the issue of the” Mizrahi Jews has become a “non-issue in Israel.”
He pointed out that Jews from Europe and Mizrahi Jews have intermarried extensively, making the distinctions meaningless and explained that Mizrahi Jews came to Israel because of the antisemitism that erupted in the Middle East following the state’s creation.
Israel, he said, absorbed Jews from 80 different countries and that “everybody that came, including Ashkenazi Jews… had to give up some segment of their identity and become the new Israeli Sabra… and leave… behind some… fraction of his identity.”
Gerstenfeld also denied Saleh’s claims that Israel is based on a system of “Jewish supremacist ideals” at the expense of “brown and black bodies”, saying Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East that respects individual rights – in contrast to Palestinian society. He also detailed Israel’s past offers to create a Palestinian state which were not accepted by the Palestinian leadership.