Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – September 2022

Sep 1, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Life support

Following the attempted stabbing murder of writer Salman Rushdie in New York on Aug. 12, an Observer editorial run in the Guardian Australia (Aug. 15), urged “let this attempt on [Rushdie’s] life be what shocks complacent liberals out of their stupor.”

The Australian (Aug. 15) said the knife attack was “a reminder of the threat free, civilised societies continue to face from the evil spawned by Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 Iranian revolution… Rushdie’s alleged attacker… was US born… [but] an admirer of Khomeini… current Supreme Leader… Khamenei has never resiled from the fatwa.”

The West Australian expressed incredulity (Aug. 15), saying, “it is unbelievable to think that after all this time he is nearly killed for writing a book” in 1989.


Sticks and stones

On Aug.15, News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt derided the ABC and SBS coverage of the Rushdie attack. 

Bolt said the headline “Motive unknown” on an SBS online report was “like [saying] this attack was just some random horror,” when it was actually carried out by “an admirer of Hezbollah and Iran… less than a week after Iran’s official online news site called Rushdie’s death sentence an ‘unforgettable verdict for Muslims.’” The ABC, he said, “typically explained this as faults on both sides, difference of opinion.”

Bolt also suggested the “Islamist war on our free speech” seemed to inspire the Left who now demand “trigger warnings or bans on speech they, too, claim is ‘harmful’.”


Old dog, old tricks

The ferocious stabbing attack upon writer Salman Rushdie was a reminder for some commentators that a return to the 2015 nuclear deal will not cause Iran to moderate its behaviour. 

Guardian Australia commentator Simon Tisdall (Aug. 12) wrote, “deal or no deal, the regime’s behaviour seems unlikely to alter radically.”

Tisdall succinctly mapped out Iran’s extensive regional interference, explaining that Supreme Leader “Khamenei personally commands the Quds Force, Iran’s extraterritorial military arm, which operates via proxies in Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine… Most disruptive right now is the huge instability rocking Iraq, caused by rivalry between Tehran-backed Shia parties and militias and the popular, anti-Iranian, anti-American nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Iran’s self-interested attempts to mediate have got nowhere.”


Peter’s principles

Nine Newspapers’ international editor Peter Hartcher (Aug. 16) noted that Rushdie’s attempted assassination was only one of a number of recent “Iran sponsored plots to emerge in recent days,” including attempts to hire assassins to kill former US National Security Advisor John Bolton and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Hartcher noted that Bolton, whom he interviewed during a recent visit to Australia, faulted the Biden Administration for “pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran even as it attempts to murder Americans.”

Moreover, “the fact they are allowing them to enrich uranium at all is a huge concession,” while the economic windfall Iran stands to gain from sanctions relief “will only increase its cooperation with Russia and China to defeat the international sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine war.”

Hartcher also discussed the recent assassination plots on ABC TV “The World” (Aug. 16), pointing out how Teheran had not only praised the Rushdie attack, but has also renewed the fatwa (religious decree) and raised the bounty on Rushdie’s head since it was first issued in 1989. 


Writers’ corner

Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert was profiled in the Age (Aug. 13) ahead of her appearance at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival where she will discuss her book The Uncaged Sky, which tells of her 804 days’ imprisonment in Iran on false spying charges.

Moore-Gilbert was quoted saying, “I am… determined to be a thorn in the side of an Iranian regime which is imprisoning its own citizens by the tens of thousands for ‘crimes’ which in Australian terms amount to little more than going about our everyday lives.” 

Earlier, in the Sun Herald (July 31), writer and Hawke-era minister Barry Jones pointed out that “Iran with a population of 83 million has a higher execution rate per capita than China. There were 977 executions in 2015, when Hassan Rouhani, regarded as a moderate, was president.”


Proxy war

AIJAC’s Oved Lobel explained in the Daily Telegraph (Aug. 17) how the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which fought a three-day war with Israel in early August, fits into Iran’s strategy to destroy Israel.

Lobel said despite Iran seeking to surround Israel with heavily armed proxies, Israel managed to kill the entirety of PIJ’s senior military leadership in Gaza and degrade its capabilities, while easily absorbing the more than 1,100 rockets fired in retaliation by the group without casualties. 

Furthermore, Iran’s other Gaza-based proxy Hamas did not join in the fighting. 

“While the prospect of a multi-front [Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] war against Israel involving thousands of rockets and missiles flying from all directions is Jerusalem’s ultimate strategic nightmare, Israel has once again demonstrated this nightmare is still a long way from reality,” Lobel wrote.


Permanently biased

The Australian (Aug. 5) reported condemnations of Miloon Kothari, one of three commissioners on the UN Human Rights Council’s permanent commission of inquiry into Israel’s alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians, who claimed “the Jewish lobby” controls social media and questioned Israel’s ongoing UN membership.

The article noted Australian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Amanda Gorely’s tweet expressing “deep… concern… Anti-Semitism is unacceptable and we condemn it wherever it appear(s),” and UN Monitor on Freedom of Religion Ahmed Shaheed’s outrage that “this [antisemitic] trope has come to the UN!”

AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein was quoted welcoming the Albanese Government’s criticism of Kothari and urging it to publicly call for the disbanding of “the whole unacceptable and unfair inquiry.”

In the Spectator Australia (Aug. 13), former Federal minister Neil Brown satirised the UN Human Rights Council’s obsessive fixation with the Jewish state, focusing on the many major human rights abusers which are the ones sitting in judgment on Israel.


Irish ayes and noes

In the Canberra Times (July 31), visiting Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald explained that Republican Irish support Palestinians because “we were on the receiving end of colonialism and imperialism. We know how that feels, we know what that means. We have nowhere to hide on this question.” 

Jews are not colonisers but an indigenous people who are simply seeking to exercise their right to self-determination in their homeland. Moreover, Israeli leaders have made multiple offers to create a Palestinian state but their Palestinian counterparts have refused to agree if it means recognising that Jews have a right to self-determination in their own state.

On July 29, the Australian’s Alan Howe’s obituary for Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble noted that he was a regular at the annual Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogues.

Asked in 2019 what he would do to “fix” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trimble told Howe he wasn’t sure, but “you need goodwill on all sides.”


Motion sickness

A motion by the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) calling for a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions, which was passed in May and then rescinded after a non-Jewish student threatened legal action, was revived in a slightly amended form in August.

An Age report (Aug. 13) ahead of the vote said anti-Israel activist Greg Barns warned that a renewed threat of legal action against UMSU “represents a serious attack on freedom of speech.” Aren’t boycotts of academics for their nationality or views also an attack on free speech? 

A News Corp story reported that Jewish students fear the motion (Aug. 15) will encourage verbal and physical attacks against openly Jewish students on campus. 

University of Melbourne student Justin Riazaty, who initiated legal proceedings against UMSU’s earlier motion, was quoted saying of its latest resolution it “is a declaration of war against every Jewish student at the University of Melbourne and a blatant attempt to defame and delegitimise anyone who supports Israel and Zionism.”

The report noted that AIJAC, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Zionist Federation of Australia, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and Zionism Victoria issued a joint condemnation of the motion which they said “advocates the eradication of Israel as a state and thus denies the basic right of national self-determination of the Jewish people.” 


Listen and learn

On the ABC “Religion & Ethics” website (Aug. 19), Alissa Foster, Vice President of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), accused UMSU of ignoring its commitment to consult with AUJS after it rescinded the earlier motion.

Foster said UMSU chose to ignore the possible effects a motion which “denounc[ed] Zionism as a ‘racist, colonial ideology’” would have on the welfare of Jews on campus. 

Listing examples of extreme anti-Israel rhetoric expressed at Australian universities, Foster said, “When a student council passes a motion attacking Zionists but squeezes in a line about condemning antisemitism of all kinds, how much reassurance are Jewish students meant to feel?” 


Joe to the world

News Corp columnist Joe Hildebrand, who travelled to Israel recently on an AIJAC study tour, found plenty to write about upon his return to Australia.

On July 26, Hildebrand said Israel “is a state constantly obliged to justify its statehood. It is locked in a perpetual struggle for survival” and yet “it is one of the most free and outspoken societies on the planet. So much so one Arab-Israeli journalist told me he felt almost obliged to critically investigate the Palestinian Authority because his Israeli colleagues were so critical of their own government.” 

Controversial statements by Sue Lines, the Senate’s new President, prompted Hildebrand to recall on July 31 her claims last year that “(T)he Israeli lobby is so powerful within the [Labor] party and outside of the party and it really does impact on the sort of movement we’ve been able to make in our policy.”

Hildebrand said, “this seems an odd target for an anti-genocidalist given that the modern state of Israel was founded by the UN in 1947 in the burning embers of the greatest genocide in human history.”

On Aug. 9 he noted that “even in mid-2022, in the famously vaccine charged state of Israel, tourism still hadn’t recovered to a fraction of its former levels. Even the great pull of pilgrimage for billions wasn’t enough to pull a crowd.” 


Olympic sized fails

The reporting on SBS was a study in contrasts regarding Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ wild accusation in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Israel has committed “50 Holocausts” against his people when he was asked to apologise for Palestinian terrorists murdering 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics 50 years previously. 

SBS TV “World News” (Aug. 18) noted that Palestinian militants “attacked the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics 50 years ago.” Footage was run of Israeli PM Yair Lapid saying “Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, including one and a half million Jewish children.” The report also noted that Abbas’ office released “a written statement” reaffirming that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.”

In contrast, the newsreader on SBS TV “News in Arabic” (Aug. 18) described the massacre as “the Munich hostage-taking operation” and failed to note that anyone, let alone Israelis, were killed. 

The reporter also appeared to assume as a given “Israeli crimes against the Palestinians” and said the Holocaust “left more than 6 million dead,” without noting that number specifically refers only to Jews murdered. The report also failed to note that Abbas’ office subsequently issued a statement acknowledging the Holocaust as unique.

No ABC TV or radio flagship programs appeared to cover the controversy, but NewsRadio ran a report from Deutsche Welle (Aug. 18) noting that Chancellor Scholz was pilloried in Germany for waiting until after the press conference ended to condemn Abbas’ comments. 

Commercial TV primetime news programs also apparently did not report it. 


Unpalatable claims

An SBS website profile (July 21) of Melbourne caterer Huda Albardawil stated that she “may have grown up in Qatar, but her heritage is Palestinian. Her family comes from Ashkelon, a city north of the Gaza Strip. During the Palestine War, Albardawil’s family and almost all Palestinian inhabitants of Ashkelon were deported.”

This last claim is simply incorrect. According to historian Benny Morris, the overwhelming majority of Palestinian Arabs who lived in the region around Ashkelon were not expelled or deported. After the Egyptian army occupied the area during the 1948 war and then retreated, most locals fled with it.


Uneven Stevens

A feature on ABC news chief Justin Stevens by Nine Newspapers media reporter Zoe Samios (Aug. 13) noted that AIJAC was one of a number of communal stakeholders to raise concerns about the broadcaster.

Samios wrote, “The Murdoch-owned Fox News, the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council [sic], former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and former Labor political adviser Milton Cockburn have all accused the ABC of bias, unfairness or breaches of editorial standards in the past year (Murdoch’s News Corp competes against the ABC in many areas). This has put immense pressure on a division that the public relies on as a trusted source of information.”

According to Samios, Stevens “focuse[d] mostly on the allegations of political favouritism.” Although he did agree that “we have to accept people who don’t work at the ABC have accused the ABC of being biased for a number of years,” he defended the integrity of the ABC’s widely criticised inhouse complaints process. 


Role Model

Amid the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine and Chinese military drills directed at Taiwan, Israel was repeatedly cited as a role model for how a small nation is able to defend itself. 

On ABC TV “Insiders” (Aug. 7), federal MP Andrew Hastie said,we need to start thinking, with this new development… how we secure ourselves into the future. And I think the strategic culture of Singapore and Israel are good examples of how we can prepare for the challenges ahead, given our size and strength relative to countries like China and Russia.”

On Aug. 9, Australian Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan also tagged Israel, writing, “South Korea and Israel… are two societies superb at living normal lives despite existential threats on their doorstep. Yet both societies, while allies of the US, also take every reasonable measure to ensure their own security.”

“Israel,” he said, “under its own resources, could meet any threat from any nation. Taiwan is a much bigger economy than Israel. It does not make a similar effort at military preparedness. Like most US allies, it is psychologically profoundly dependent on the Americans. This is dangerous.”

Elsewhere, Israel was mentioned in a Nine Newspapers report (Aug. 9) on the Albanese Government’s announcement that it wants to lift Australia’s abysmal spending on R&D as a share of GDP. The report noted that “between government and the private sector, Australia spends about 1.8 per cent of gross domestic product on research and development, less than in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Iceland. Among advanced economies, the average is 2.6 per cent. Israel spends 5.44 per cent.”


Double crossed

The West Australian apologised to its readers who complained that the paper’s “Big One” crossword puzzle on July 23 contained inappropriate pro-Palestinian political propaganda.

The crossword asked for a nine-letter word to the clue “Occupied Middle Eastern Country” with the answer being “Palestine as well as a four-letter word to the clue “Largest open-air prison” with the answer given “Gaza”.

Palestine has never existed as a sovereign independent country and Gaza is not a prison but a blockaded territory run by a terror group that is at war with Israel. 

The paper said, “the puzzle was compiled by a former staff member who inserted content that was not appropriate for a general crossword puzzle.”

On Aug. 20, a crossword in News Corp papers also presumed to classify Palestine as a country with defined geographical borders, by asking “Israel, Palestine and which other country have a coastline on the Dead Sea?” Not only is there currently no Palestinian state but there is also currently no territorial contiguity between the Palestinian self-rule areas on the West Bank and the shore of the Dead Sea.


In Parliament

Shadow Attorney General Julian Leeser (Lib., Berowra) – Aug. 2 – “During the coalition’s term in office, Australia was a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council for three years… We spoke out against the notorious Item 7 of the Human Rights Council agenda, which singles out Israel for special treatment.” 

Senator David Shoebridge (Greens, NSW) – Aug. 2 – “Whether it’s the struggle for Palestinian justice, or Kashmiri or Kurdish self- determination, we know that human rights need to be seen as global rights and very much the business of this parliament.” 

The following comments were among the many strongly supporting the Crimes Amendment (Prohibition on Display of Nazi Symbols) Bill 2022 which passed unanimously in the NSW Legislative Assembly on Aug. 8 and the NSW Legislative Council on Aug. 11:

Shadow Attorney General Michael Daley (ALP, Maroubra) leading for the Opposition – “…when we pass this legislation, we are saying in the most stark possible terms to the people who will offend this legislation, who can do so freely now but will not be able to by the end of this week, that their behaviour disgusts us.” 

Minister for Multiculturalism Mark Coure (Lib., Oatley) – “Symbols associated with Nazism are a remnant of a dark and evil period in our world history. They are a painful reminder of what happens when evil goes unchecked, but that is where the symbols should remain – in the pages of our history. They do not belong in public view throughout our tolerant, multicultural society… The bill sends a clear message that the display of Nazi symbols and the hatred and bigotry that they represent will not be tolerated and sends a strong message to Neo-Nazis that their brand of hate has no place in our society.”

Attorney General Mark Speakman (Lib., Cronulla) – “There is no room in our society for what Nazi symbols represent – hatred, abject racism and genocide. The bill reaffirms the New South Wales Government’s powerful opposition to extremism and neo-Nazism and its powerful commitment to abolishing serious vilification and hate crimes.”

Peter Poulos MLC (Lib.) – “The events that occurred under the Nazi regime represent one of the darkest periods of recorded human history. The atrocities committed during that period are almost unimaginable, and the intergenerational trauma they have caused continues to be felt by many people today – in particular, by the Jewish community in New South Wales. New South Wales enjoys a vibrant and inclusive multicultural community. It is based on values of acceptance and tolerance, social cohesion and a common humanity between all of the many people who call this State home. The hateful ideology that is represented by Nazi symbols has no place in our community. The display of those symbols causes harm, especially to our Jewish community, who are frequently targeted by these acts, but also to other groups who were persecuted under the Nazi regime, including other diverse cultural groups, the LGBTIQ community and people with disabilities.”

Then-Shadow Minister for Police and Counter Terrorism Walt Secord MLC (ALP) – “The Nazi flag is an emblem of genocide and racism. The decision to fly a Nazi flag is a simple expression of hatred. The Nazi swastika represents a regime that murdered six million Jews, including more than a million children. It represents a regime that sought nothing less than total fascist domination of Europe… I believe that there is no room in our society for what Nazi symbols represent – hatred, abject racism and genocide.” 


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