Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – September 2021

Aug 25, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Striking out

Rocket strikes on Israel by Palestinian and Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon fell victim to the media’s bad habit of making Israel’s military response the focus of headlines and stories.

Balanced reports in the Advertiser and the Courier Mail (Aug. 7) were undermined by the misleading headline, “Israeli jets hit Lebanon”. Reports the next day were more accurately headlined – “Israel in strike back at Hezbollah” and “Israel hits back at Hezbollah” respectively. 

The Herald Sun’s first report covering the incidents was on Aug. 8 with an item misleadingly headlined, “Rocket reply to Israeli attacks.”

On the Age/Sydney Morning Herald websites (Aug. 5) a Reuters/AP report was accurately titled, “Israel launches air strikes at Lebanon day after rockets strike north.”


Hezbollah loses popularity contest

On SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 5), newsreader Janice Peters introduced an interview with CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman by saying, “Israel’s launched air strikes on southern Lebanon where rockets were fired from earlier in the day.”

Wedeman said, “it was the first Israeli air strike on Lebanon since 2006”, adding that Israel was hit by rockets from Lebanon during the May conflict. 

On SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 7), reporter Richelle Harrison said Hezbollah fired 19 rockets at Israel, part of “a tit-for-tat move in the wake of Israeli airstrikes a day earlier.” 

The report included an older Lebanese man saying, “we lived in a similar period in the 1970s when Palestinian fighters were carrying out guerilla attacks against Israel. We are now at the same status and this is causing tension.”

The report elaborated on the “tension” – showing footage of angry Lebanese villagers attacking a Hezbollah fighter suspected of firing rockets at Israel, which Harrison said was “a rare challenge to Hezbollah.”


Father Ebrahim

In the West Australian (Aug. 5), AIJAC’s Oved Lobel said Iran’s “ageing” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei “arrang[ed] for all viable competitors to be barred from even running” in recent presidential elections, to ensure Ebrahim Raisi, a “brutal revolutionary from the 1980s in [Khamenei’s] mould”, who would keep the “system intact”, won.

“Raisi”, he wrote, “cut his teeth during the 1980s as a brutal enforcer of Ayatollah Khomeini’s system of clerical rule” and “oversaw the mass summary execution of thousands of political prisoners over several months in 1988, something of which he remains proud and for which he has been sanctioned by the US. Since then, Raisi has gone from strength to strength as a torturer and butcher, crushing all opposition and protests in his various judicial capacities, including the 2009 Green Movement.”

The Australian’s Aug. 7 editorial noted Raisi’s “forceful” advocacy “of Iran’s missile-building and drone technology.” This includes “kamikaze drones carrying missiles with a range of more than 1,600km that put Israel and other countries across the Middle East within target distance. Tehran has supplied them to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah terrorists attacking Israel, and Houthi rebels in Yemen fighting Saudi Arabia.” The paper warned that Iranian attacks on tankers in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes show the “shortsightedness” of “appeasing Iran with a new agreement that eases sanctions.”


Landslide hits SBS

An SBS TV “World News” report (Aug. 6) on Raisi’s inauguration naively said he won in a “landslide”. In fact, so disillusioned were they by the lack of genuine choice, only 48% of eligible Iranians bothered to vote – the lowest ever turnout.

Writing in the Australian (Aug. 11), US commentator Walter Russell Mead argued that “by ruthlessly engineering the election of a hardliner’s hardliner to the presidency, Khamenei has slammed the door on normalisation and nailed it shut,” ending the hopes of optimists who saw a nuclear deal as the means “to reduce the influence of the hardliners.”


Death by Proxy

On the Australian website (Aug. 14), commentator Jonathan Spyer highlighted Iran’s use of proxies in Iraq and Syria to attack US assets. 

Spyer warned, “a complete US pullout would leave Iraq and part of Syria under the effective domination of Iran, with severe consequences for the balance of power in the neighbourhood. The militias are escalating in an effort to persuade the US to carry out an Afghanistan-style retreat.”


Nuclear spin cycle

On ABC News Radio “Saturday Extra” (Aug. 14), Deakin academic Shahram Akbarzadeh said, “the [Iran] nuclear deal came with a very strict and stringent inspection regime which is way over and above any other inspection regime that is imposed in any nuclear agreement.”

In fact, the deal’s many loopholes enabled Iran to avoid genuine scrutiny of anything beyond routine uranium enrichment at declared sites. This included needing to give Iran 30 days advance notice for many inspections. Moreover, as the Iran nuclear archive stolen from Teheran by Israel revealed, there remains a trove of undeclared Iranian nuclear technology whose whereabouts are unknown even today, despite the supposedly “stringent” inspections.

Asked about Iran-Israel tensions, Akbarzadeh accurately said, “Saudi Arabia and Israel… have been pushing for a much more expansive agreement with Iran because they criticise Iran’s… foreign policies… connections with Hezbollah, with various militia… in the region… So, Israel, Saudi Arabia and many others have been very, very critical.”

On Aug. 12, University of Denver Professor Nader Hashemi absurdly told ABC Radio “PM” that “Iran and Israel…don’t recognise each other’s sort of right to exist in many ways.” 

Before the Islamists usurped the 1979 Iranian revolution, Israel and Iran had full diplomatic ties. Since then, Iran’s mullahs have made wiping Israel off the map a religious and political imperative. By contrast, Israel has stressed it has no quarrel with Iran if it would only stop seeking Israel’s destruction and arming groups attacking Israel. 


On the Dole

Acting ABC Middle East correspondent Nick Dole’s ABC TV “The World” report (July 7) concerning an Israeli law branded “racist” because it prevents Palestinians who marry Israelis from automatically receiving citizenship was marred by a lack of context and balance.

Dole explained that the law – which actually was not renewed, so is no longer in effect – was passed in 2003 after “a string of Palestinian terror attacks targeted Israeli civilians… It was meant to be temporary but it has been renewed every year since, affecting tens of thousands of families.”

Israeli Arab MP Sami Abu Shehadeh was quoted saying, “I don’t know that there is such a similar racist law anywhere else in the world.”

The law is not racist. The law affects both Arabs and Jews who might marry Palestinians who live in the terrorism-exporting West Bank and Gaza. No country in the world grants automatic citizenship to foreigners who marry a local resident, especially if they are enemy aliens. 

Moreover, between the start of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the law’s passage in 2003, at least 130,000 Palestinians received Israeli citizenship or residency through marriage. It is estimated that 48 Palestinians who obtained Israeli residency in this way perpetrated terror attacks inside Israel.


Reading the riot act

Age reporter Cloe Read’s article (July 24) on Medecins Sans Frontieres’ Jerusalem-based medical coordinator Dr Natalie Thurtle was riddled with errors, lacked sufficient balance and made vague claims with no efforts to supply context.

Thurtle expressed disgust that a Palestinian woman was “hit by rubber bullets fired by Israeli forces” and then “disrespected” by being “sprayed with ‘skunk water’, a yellow fluid that leaves a foul-smelling odour similar to rot or sewage that lasts for days.” 

Presumably she was involved in anti-Israel riots – but the article didn’t bother looking at any such context. 

Read said violence “surged” in May “following…an Israeli Supreme Court decision to evict several Palestinian families in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.”

This is simply wrong. To this day, the Supreme Court has made no such eviction ruling. 

Read wrote that “an 11-day Israeli attack with more than 1500 air strikes destroyed thousands of housing units, killed hundreds of Palestinians and left more than 100,000 civilians displaced. Israel says it is protecting itself from Palestinian violence, its bombing campaign a retaliation to rocket attacks by Hamas militants in Gaza.”

It’s incontrovertible that the war started on May 10 after Hamas deliberately began firing rockets at Israeli civilian areas, including at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and continued to do so on every subsequent day of the war, more than 4,000 in all.

Read’s grasp of geography was also askew, stating that “staff at clinics across Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem and Ramallah in the West Bank continue to help the Palestinian Ministry of Health as the bombardment continues.”

The conflict involved Gaza. Those are West Bank cities, where there was no “bombardment.”

Thurtle was quoted grumbling at the low COVID vaccination rates of Palestinians, which she attributed to “hoarding of vaccines by rich countries,” adding that “the whole pandemic has been politicised in lots of ways, in lots of places, and therefore it’s really hard for people to trust the information that they receive.”

The Palestinian Authority’s wilful rejection of one million COVID vaccinations offered to it by Israel in June went unmentioned by Thurtle or Read.


Political spin doctor

On ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Aug. 5) Thurtle proved herself adept at finding ways to avoid criticising decisions made by Palestinian leaders that might account for some of their people’s suffering.

Host Fran Kelly asked if the Palestinian Authority rejecting “1.1 million doses” Israel offered because “they were too close to expiry” was “an acceptable decision on health grounds” or “was that a political decision.”

Thurtle evaded the question, “I can’t really comment on the ins and outs of that. I wasn’t a party to that information… [it] probably wouldn’t be appropriate in this context.” 

Instead, Thurtle blamed everyone else, saying, “it’s not just about Israel and their responsibility to provide vaccination to the population of Palestine,” before repeating the vaccine hoarding claim.

Of course, there is no such responsibility – under the legally binding Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority is explicitly responsible for vaccinating Palestinians. 

Yet, even when Israel does try to give perfectly good vaccines to the Palestinians and they are spuriously rejected, somehow Israel is still at fault. 


The Samah old story

In the Age (Aug 1), Palestinian activist and writer Samah Sabawi tried a new approach to tell the same old anti-Israel story.

According to Sabawi, Israel is to blame for the Palestinian Authority’s brutal response in June to angry Palestinians who protested in their thousands on the West Bank against President Mahmoud Abbas after his security forces beat to death Palestinian dissident Nizar Banat.

Sabawi wrote, “anyone who thinks that [the] sole responsibility for this decline into authoritarianism rests with the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, is delusional. The real issue is the existence of such an authority under a settler-colonialist Israeli occupation and a security apparatus subservient to that occupation.”

The PA, she said, exists only to “polic[e]…the occupation” and has failed to stop Israeli settlement building.

According to Sabawi, the PA “lacks control over basic life, its democratically elected legislative council cannot hold meetings, address labour rights or make decisions over its budget and infrastructure because all of these fall under Israeli control.”

This is nonsense. Since 1994, the PA has exercised control over all these functions on 40 percent of the West Bank, containing almost all the Palestinian population, and from 2005, in all of Gaza – before Hamas took it over in 2007. The legislature does not meet because Abbas won’t allow it to since Hamas won the elections in 2006, and no elections have been held since then.

Sabawi called for an end to the PA and Israel’s “occupation”, insisting this could be achieved through “the power of Palestinians inside and outside the homeland” who “sparked an outpouring of support worldwide. In May, we saw 200,000 people march for Palestinian rights in London, tens of thousands across the US, and even here in Australia at the other end of the world, 15,000 marched in Melbourne on May 22.” 

Sabawi’s prophesy of people power establishing Palestine has little to justify it.

The reality is that Palestinians don’t have their freedom and an independent state because the two political groups that claim to represent the Palestinian people have spent the past 15 years running competing mini-dictatorships, after the Palestinian leadership stubbornly refused repeated Israeli offers to create a state and thereby end the conflict. 


The ABC’s Activists 

In the Australian (July 26), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein said the ABC’s statutory duty to ensure “news and information is accurate and impartial” is being compromised by the “overt activism” of some staff and the lack of an “effective independent mechanism to scrutinise the ABC.”

He noted that former ABC Middle East correspondent, Sophie McNeill, who had “a record of pro-Palestinian reporting,” left to become the Australian researcher for Human Rights Watch, “which engages in anti-Israel campaigning.” 

He said ABC employees acted like activists during the May conflict, including current Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner, who “tweeted his intention to desist from using the word ‘clashes’ after pro-Palestinian activists suggested he should. They argued ‘clashes’ implies false equality between the sides.” 

Other ABC staff, Rubenstein wrote, had “signed a letter calling for the rejection of ‘both-siderism’ and prioritising Palestinian perspectives in coverage”, while some reports were characterised by “misstated details”, incorrect timelines on “which side initiated aggression,” and false claims. 

This included reporting Israel “fired on or ‘raided’ Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque” and falsely asserting that Israel had already attempted to evict Palestinians from homes in Sheikh Jarrah, he wrote.

Dr Rubenstein emphasised the need for a genuine ABC complaints process, after the inhouse unit rejected AIJAC’s complaint about ABC TV’s “Q&A” May 27 episode focusing on the recent violence. 

In “derogation of ABC obligations”, the show had stacked the panel, including two pro-Palestinian activists, he said, resulting in a 4-1 anti-Israel pile on.

Although rejected complainants can appeal “to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, in reality this is little help. ACMA lacks resources, so few decisions are reviewed, and it has no power to require change,” he wrote.


Watch this

On Aug. 5, the ABC substantially amended an online article covering Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) latest anti-Israel report, which focused on three alleged Israeli airstrikes on Gaza (one was in fact almost certainly a Hamas rocket that fell short) during the latest Hamas-initiated war. The article included false claims about international law and seemed to make that shoddy report appear more balanced than it deserved.

The original July 27 article essentially avoided any reference to the Israeli side of what happened in the three incidents, even though the HRW report did include this information.

It also incorrectly claimed that “under international humanitarian law, warring parties can target only military objectives and must take precautions to minimise harm to civilians, including by providing warning of a planned attack.”

In fact, international law does not require warning of a planned attack in all cases, but rather, only when practicable. 

While the ABC article elaborated on two of the three incidents in the HRW report, it omitted summaries of Israel’s explanations of what happened in these incidents.

This included Israel insisting that the May 10 incident in the report was caused by an errant rocket fired by a group in Gaza falling onto the al-Masri family home, not Israeli action, and that a strike on the Al-Shati refugee camp on May 15 followed reports that “a number of Hamas terror organization senior officials [were] in an apartment used as terror infrastructure” at that site.

After a complaint by the US-based pro-Israel media organisation CAMERA to the ABC, significant changes were made to the article, including adding Israeli explanations for the alleged incidents and correcting the incorrect claims made about international law.

Apart from the controversial online ABC story, Australian media coverage of HRW’s report was minimal, extending only to the Canberra Times (July 29) and Channel Nine’s website (July 28). Interestingly, HRW’s follow-up report released Aug. 12, designed to provide a fig leaf of balance by criticising Hamas’ conduct during the conflict, appears to have received zero mainstream local media coverage.


In Parliament

Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Marise Payne (Lib., NSW) – Aug. 10 – “Iran’s continuing shadow war against the state of Israel breaches every foundational principle of the international community of nations and the key obligations of all member states of the United Nations. It is appropriate for the United Nations to address misconduct and its impact on regional stability and the disruption of peace…

“The Australian government calls on Iran to work in good faith with the parties, including to the joint comprehensive plan of action, to return to compliance with the NPT, to allow complete IAEA verification of its peaceful intentions for nuclear technology and to reverse its steps towards weapons-grade nuclear material…

“Hezbollah chose to launch a number of rocket attacks into Israel. Israel made proportionate responses. Hezbollah’s use of villages as human shields is against international law, and in this regard the courageous actions of Lebanese civilians to stop one of the Hezbollah mobile rocket launchers from escaping is worthy of public recognition. This action resulted in the arrest of the terrorists.

“Iran’s well-documented supply of funds and weapons to terror organisations like the Hamas brigades, Islamic Jihad and others fuels instability and violence, and Australia joins international calls for Iran to also cease the abuses of human rights inside Iran, particularly the persecution of religious minorities, including the Baha’i, Sunni Muslims, Christians and Zoroastrians, amongst others.”

Katie Allen (Lib., Higgins) – Aug. 5 – “Australians look to their leaders to ensure all Australians are safe. We believe in a country where those from different faiths feel supported and protected. Now is the time for leaders across the political spectrum to condemn the despicable and antisemitic behaviour that is alive and thriving in the depths of their parties.”

Senator David Van (Lib., Vic.) – Aug. 4 – “I rise to condemn the utterly odorous statements made last week by Mr Julian Burnside where he compared the treatment of Palestinians to the German treatment of the Jews during the Second World War. This vile attempt to equate the people of Israel with modern history’s most disgusting acts is atrocious… antisemitism has no place in Australia…” 

Senator Sarah Henderson (Lib., Vic.) – Aug. 9 – “Antisemitism is racist hate speech at its very worst. It comes in many guises, from calling for Jews to be killed through to comparing contemporary Israeli policy to the horrific enslavement and genocide committed by the Nazis. In his letter to me, [WA Bar Association President] Mr Cuerden admonished me for my decision to call out Mr Burnside’s indefensible and offensive tweet which compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with the German treatment of the Jews during the Holocaust… I will continue to stand up every single day for what is right and just and to call out antisemitism for the ugliness that it is.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (ALP, Mulgrave) – Aug. 17 – at a press conference, addressing antisemitism that followed revelations of a Jewish engagement party that breached COVID restrictions: “Antisemitism is unacceptable and evil, and we have a zero-tolerance approach to that in our state. The event that we spoke about… was not a function of being Jewish… them breaking the rules was not a reflection on the Jewish community more broadly… it was not something that anyone should use to reflect upon a broader group of people… We have a proud Jewish community, a significant Jewish community, and it is simply unacceptable and evil for anyone to be trading in… the antisemitic behaviour and comments that we’ve seen recently… there is never, ever a place in Victoria for antisemitic behaviour or language. It’s simply evil…”


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