Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – September 2020

Sep 9, 2020 | AIJAC staff

Nick Cave condemned a cultural boycott of Israel and said playing concerts in Tel Aviv did not signify support for Israel's government
Nick Cave condemned a cultural boycott of Israel and said playing concerts in Tel Aviv did not signify support for Israel's government

 

What a tweet

Sky News “Kenny Report” host Chris Kenny (July 29) slammed the “inordinate amount of time” UN bodies spend “seeking to discredit” Israel, and lauded Australia’s recent petition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) not to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes at the behest of “Palestine”.

Kenny said, “Perhaps the ICC could find injustices and atrocities elsewhere, perhaps in Syria, Yemen or Sudan and other nations that might be more worthy of its efforts.” 

He also disparaged an ABC producer’s tweet which stated that “Australia argues China should obey international norms, but that Israel doesn’t need to.”

Kenny said, “How very typical of the ABC view on Israel. To even compare the level of human rights accountability, transparency and scrutiny on Israel, as compared to China, is ludicrous.”

Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer told Kenny the ICC move to investigate Israel is a “political stunt” that would damage the court’s reputation.

 

Undiplomatic

Following the AUSMIN annual ministerial-level talks, former diplomat John McCarthy argued in the Australian Financial Review (Aug. 3) for Canberra to determine foreign policy according to Australia’s national interests and not at the behest of the Trump Administration. 

McCarthy claimed, “no serious American ally, except Australia, has a policy on Israel-Palestine issues similar to that of Trump’s America.”

Successive Democratic and Republican Administrations, including President Trump’s, have backed a two-state formula that can only be achieved through direct negotiations. This is Australia’s current position and hardly controversial. 

In 2018, McCarthy opposed the Morrison Government recognising west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – which it has been since 1949 – and which partially followed President Trump’s lead. 

 

Jewish lives matter too

In the Spectator Australia magazine (Aug. 15), New Zealand Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses warned that firebrand Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s long history of antisemitic statements is being overlooked by people wanting to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Moses said, “Farrakhan publicly calls Jews ‘termites’ and praises Hitler as a ‘great man.’” She added his ideology blames Jews not only for “the perceived sins of white people” but says Jews are “orchestrating and profiting off it.”

Whilst antisemitic remarks by high profile blacks have been condemned, “far from being ostracised and ‘cancelled’, [Farrakhan] is embraced and promoted by celebrities and those who profess to be progressives and anti-racists. He sat upfront onstage at Aretha Franklin’s funeral alongside Bill Clinton.”

Citing US civil rights leader John Lewis’ recent passing, she called on people “to embrace his legacy”, which included “spurn[ing] Farrakhan because of his ‘divisive and bigoted’ statements.”

 

A good seed

Musician Nick Cave’s condemnation of cancel culture was picked up by the media, with a number of outlets referencing his previous criticisms of the anti-Israel Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement.

On Aug. 13, Sky News “The Kenny Report” host Chris Kenny applauded Cave for “staring down” the BDS movement and “doing what he does best, sharing his music” with Israelis. In file footage, Cave said he toured Israel because he loves the “Israeli people and to make a stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians. So in a way you could say that the BDS made me [come to] Israel.”

The Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Aug. 13) report said: “in December 2018, he condemned a cultural boycott of Israel and said playing concerts in Tel Aviv with his band the Bad Seeds did not signify support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.”

 

Aly’s Folly?

Network Ten’s light entertainment news program “The Project” (Aug. 5) and co-host Waleed Aly drew flak for the line of questioning during an interview with Beirut-based Portuguese photographer João Sousa on the potential cause of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion.

Asked by Aly if the official explanation that poorly stored ammonium nitrate caused the explosion is “being widely accepted”, Sousa said, “ 99 per cent of the people I’ve spoken with – and I’m talking about Lebanese people exclusively – they all feel that that’s not necessarily the correct explanation. So, people are more likely to believe that this was an attack, a military attack – possibly by Israel – than an accident.”

Aly asked if it’s “because of a general culture of suspicion of government for example, or the geopolitics of the region? Or do they have, kind of, more specific reasons for doubting that explanation in this case?”

Sousa said, “Lebanon and Israel are not really on good terms. And so, there’s always this tension going on. People are always expecting something like this to happen… But I mean like you said, the official version is that it was an accident. So until proven otherwise, I can’t say anything else.”

Commentator Gerard Henderson’s “Media Watch Dog” column (Aug. 7) chided the show’s hosts for not asking “Sousa to provide any evidence to support his view. And no one challenged his Blame the Jewish State conspiracy theory. These days The Project seems to be competing with the ABC to be more Green/Left-than-thou.” Henderson also critiqued the segment during his regular appearance on Sky News “The Bolt Report” (Aug. 9).

On Sky News “Outsiders” (Aug. 9) co-host James Morrow ridiculed the show for asking a photographer the sorts of questions best left to qualified experts, asking “does it get any sillier?” 

On Aug. 7, Chris Kenny slammed the insinuation on a “mainstream commercial television program” of Israeli culpability, saying that “this is the ugly sort of blame-shifting that fuels antisemitism and… hatred in the Middle East.” Kenny interviewed former federal Labor MP Michael Danby about “The Project” segment.

 

Nothing to see here

Following complaints about the segment, the producers of “The Project” refused to apologise but removed a clip of the segment from the program’s Facebook page.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry announced it had lodged a formal complaint with FreeTV Australia over the segment.

 

In the frame

Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon was highlighted in the media in a way that it has not been since the 2006 Lebanon war.

On SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 11), CNN correspondent Ben Lewis said, “Hezbollah remains more powerful itself than the Lebanese state. It has a massive and rather powerful military presence. It has a presence in Parliament and of course it has its own system of funding, a great deal of which is connected to quite a lot of international crime.” 

Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek in an Aug. 9 report on ABC TV “7pm News” said, “some cast blame for the explosion on the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah, a dominant faction in Lebanese politics, like Nada Zgheib, who lost her nephew.” The report included footage of the grieving woman saying, “We will pull you out from the gutter. I will hang you by the neck. You killed Joe, you killed all the boys. We want to kill all of you.” The report also showed Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah’s TV denial that the port was used to store Hezbollah weapons, rockets, guns, bombs, bullets or nitrate. 

 

Riffing on Hezbollah

The most stinging expose of Hezbollah’s influence came in the Australian (Aug. 12) from high profile Lebanese-Australian leader Dr. Jamal Rifi.

According to Rifi, “Hezbollah-aligned Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah have tried to blindside the people with outrageous claims. Among them is that the explosions were caused by a bomb or a missile fired, they say, by a malevolent force. But where is the evidence? Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, declared he would chair a local investigation to report in five days. On the fifth day, he and his government resigned. With the country in election mode, there will be no investigation… Aoun has closed down the possibility of an international investigation by claiming it would undermine Lebanese sovereignty. No Lebanese investigator would risk their life or the lives of their family by presenting an impartial report.”

He said it was known the port was “under the control of Hezbollah. This accounts for the repeated bombings of Iranian road shipments destined for the port by the Israeli air force.”

The ammonium nitrate was not moved despite many requests to do so, he said, because emptying the deadly cargo would expose Hezbollah’s cache of military assets stored there.

He called for “Hezbollah to hand over its arms to the Lebanese army and let independent Lebanese politicians run the country.”

 

Hezbollah’s encore

The spotlight on Hezbollah was sustained with the verdict handed down on Aug. 18 by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members alleged to have carried out the 2005 car bomb attack that killed Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 21 others. 

Despite three of the four defendants being found not guilty and the court finding it had no direct evidence of Syrian or Hezbollah involvement, the fact that a Hezbollah operative was found guilty was prominently reported. Eric Tlozek’s ABC TV “7pm News” report (Aug. 19) included former NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas – who led the Hariri investigation for two years – saying that “We now have definitive… evidence that a senior member of Hezbollah was, in fact, involved in the assassination.” 

On SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 19), CNN’s Ben Wedeman told SBS anchor Janice Peters that Hezbollah saw the result as “something of a victory” and its supporters were celebrating with fireworks after the verdict was announced.

 

A poor comparison

In the Australian Financial Review (Aug. 11), New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said the United States is “becoming like Lebanon and other Middle East countries” where political differences are “so deep that our two parties now resemble religious sects in a zero-sum contest for power.” 

“Illiberal populists like [US President Donald] Trump”, he said, undermine trust in institutions by telling people, “‘Don’t believe the courts, the independent civil servants or the fake news generators; only trust me, my words and my decisions’… This kind of thinking, in the extreme, is what destroyed Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, and is eating away at Israel.”

Israel, like a lot of countries, is not immune to accusations of overreach by the executive and judiciary, and genuinely has a uniquely powerful judiciary compared to most democracies.  

Moreover, contrary to the impressions of political deadlock in Israel, there is a solid consensus in the electorate on most of the country’s key issues and challenges, including the conflicts with the Palestinians and Iran. 

 

Missing Pieces

In the Age, a primer on the complicated and conflicted history of the Lebanese state by features editor Maher Mughrabi included discussion of the interplay between the country and Palestinians. 

Mughrabi said, “Lebanon is also a frontline state in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, with Palestinian attacks on Israel launched from its territory and repeated invasions and attacks by Israel, most notably in 1978 and 1982. Palestinians who fled north during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 still live in refugee camps across the country, barred from citizenship and many professions. Many Lebanese blame the country’s wars since 1970 on Palestinian militants in these camps.”

They have reason to do so. One of the sparks that ignited the 1975 civil war was PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and his thousands of armed loyalists imposing on Lebanon what was essentially a state within a state through violence and intimidation after being expelled from Jordan in 1970 for trying to do the same thing there. 

After the PLO was forced out of Lebanon in 1982, Iran created Hezbollah as a forward column in its campaign to further the Shi’ite Islamist revolution in the Middle East, an essential part of which includes destroying Israel.

Mughrabi did not include this important point.

 

Two peas in a pod

ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” host Phillip Adams and US writer Peter Beinart were in furious agreement that only a one-state solution, i.e. Israel’s demise as a Jewish state, will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (July 22). 

Adams interviewed Beinart – who is not Israeli and doesn’t live in Israel – to discuss his recent essay arguing Israelis should embrace a binational state. 

Beinart claimed that early Zionist thinkers, including Theodore Herzl, were not committed to a Jewish state but more interested in establishing a homeland where the Jewish people could be rejuvenated. 

This is bunk. Herzl’s Zionist treatise published in 1896 was called Der Judenstaat i.e. “The Jewish State” and after the First Zionist Conference ended in 1897 he famously wrote in his diary that “at Basel, I founded the Jewish state.” 

Beinart blamed Israel for the two-state resolution’s failure because it had “inexorably taken more of the West Bank” and so the notion of what a Palestinian state “means has been defined down and down” and Israel’s control over the West Bank is now permanent.

He also accused Israeli Jews of a “conscious” attempt to present Palestinians to Americans and Israelis as having a “kind of compulsive pathological desire to hate and even to kill Jews” which “dehumanises” them.

Yet, since the 1880s, the rhetoric against the political movement for Jews to return to the historic Land of Israel has been couched in blatantly antisemitic rhetoric, and accompanied by genocidal threats and actual acts of indiscriminate violence clearly motivated by raw hatred.

Beinart claimed that the Palestinian national movement has “done some things that I consider to be indefensible but if you compare it… to other national movements… fighting to get individual and national rights for their peoples, the Palestinian national movement doesn’t look particularly pathological. In fact… in the last 15 years it’s proved considerably more moderate than the ANC or the IRA ever proved.”

The reality is that unlike other national movements that have never been given the chance of statehood, such as the Tibetans or the Kurds, Palestinian leaders have spent the past 20 years rejecting Israeli offers to create a state.

Beinart also implied that the Palestinian terror of the Second Intifada, which he acknowledged was “enormously traumatic” for Israelis, had ended voluntarily, and said that since then “the amount of Palestinian violence towards Israeli Jews has been much, much lower” yet bemoaned that neither the Israeli government nor Israeli Jewish public have “mov[ed] towards a greater willingness to embrace a genuine Palestinian State.”

The Second Intifada broke out in 2000 after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat rejected Israeli offers of a state on more than 90% of the West Bank and all of Gaza. Only through the construction of a security barrier and a successful combination of other Israel military tactics, many of which are still in place because of ongoing threats, did it end.

Beinart also overlooked how Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 led to Hamas using the territory as a launching pad to fire tens of thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and build tunnels into Israel with the aim of carrying out terror attacks, leading to several wars. 

And in 2015-16, Palestinian Authority incitement on the West Bank-based on antisemitic rhetoric that Israeli Jews were coming to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque led to a spate of stabbings and car-ramming attacks.

All this occurred during Beinart’s mythical 15-year period of Palestinian restraint, yet Israeli PMs have remained committed to negotiating with the Palestinians. 

In 2008, then Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s offer of a state included all of Gaza, the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank and shared control in Jerusalem. Current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas admits he rejected the offer “out of hand”.

Current Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has invested time and political capital in futile peace talks, yet since 2014 his offer to resume peace talks without preconditions has been flatly rejected.

However, in Beinart’s world, these offers show how Israel has not offered the Palestinians “genuine” statehood since the Intifada. 

Blind spot 

Also interviewed on ABC Radio National “Religion and Ethics Report” (July 29), Beinart claimed that “Israel is also holding millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza… as stateless non-citizens with no voice in the government that dominates their lives.”

Since the mid-1990s, more than 90% of Palestinians on the West Bank and all Palestinians in Gaza have had self-rule under leaders they have picked for themselves (Jerusalem Palestinians are eligible for Israeli citizenship if they want it). It is only the Palestinian leadership’s stubborn refusal to end the conflict that has ensured this status quo has not developed into full independent statehood. 

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