Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – September 2023

Aug 29, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Watching our language

On the Sky News website (Aug. 14), AIJAC’s Justin Amler argued that the Albanese Government’s claim that its decision to refer to the West Bank as “occupied Palestinian territory” would increase the prospects for peace was “wholly misguided and ahistorical.”

Amler noted that numerous generous Israeli peace offers involving creating a Palestinian state did not lead to “even the pretence of a serious counter-offer,” but instead were “often met with murderous violence, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Israelis.”

Earlier, the Herald Sun (Aug. 10) editorialised that the Albanese Government “made a serious error of judgement” by changing its position, a change which the paper said was prompted by “domestic, internal partisan politics” and would have a “chilling impact” on the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated settlement. 

The Australian editorial (Aug. 10) called the decision an “empty gesture”, saying that Australia “would do the Middle East and the world a service if the government, through international forums, encouraged effective steps towards the long overdue resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations… Such progress is unlikely for now, which underlines the futility of the Left arguing for what it thinks about the disputed territories.” 


Crikey gets cranky

On Aug. 11, Crikey reporter Maeve McGregor laid into the federal Coalition for criticising the Government’s change of language.

McGregor wrote that “Labor’s modest shift in position on the enduring Israel-Palestine conflict this week has, according to a sulphurous Peter Dutton, fractured the nation’s emphatically pro-Israel stance. Worse still, the opposition leader insists, the changes weren’t inspired by principle but a thinly veiled concession to the left flank of the party ahead of its national conference.” 

McGregor quoted fervently anti-Israel academic Ben Saul saying the Coalition’s “position is pretty disturbing, and, frankly, quite shocking, and the fact that this is even news demonstrates how extreme the Morrison government was on this” – referring to its decision to recognise west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and oppose some anti-Israel United Nations resolutions.

That Saul regards as “shocking” the former Government’s recognition of west Jerusalem – which has been sovereign Israeli territory since Israel was established in 1948 and its capital since 1949 – reveals how extreme his own views are on Israel.

Meanwhile, Dave Sharma, former Australian Ambassador to Israel and former Liberal MP, told Sky News (Aug. 9) that the “use of the phrase occupied territories is problematic in international law. Occupied presumes that there is another sovereign whose territory that particular land belongs to. Well, the previous sovereign over the West Bank and Gaza was the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist over 100 years ago. The right way to characterise these territories is disputed.”


A Matter of recognition

On the ABC’s “Religion & Ethics” website (July 24), Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim wrote that despite the ALP platform encouraging the Government to recognise a Palestinian state, “recognition cannot create a state where none exists on the ground… It is one thing to opine that a Palestinian state ought to exist; it is quite another to declare that such a state already does exist.”

Moreover, he argued that the split in Palestinian politics mitigates against recognition. Hamas, he noted, rules Gaza and refuses to recognise Israel’s existence nor any agreement signed with it, while the Palestinian Authority is based in the West Bank. Wertheim said “neither Australia nor any other country, including Israel, could rely on any commitments that may be made by the Palestinian Authority or any other entity on behalf of ‘the State of Palestine’ as a whole… So, to what, exactly, would Australia be extending official recognition?”


Nothing to declare

On Aug. 2, “Religion & Ethics” ran British academic Victor Kattan’s response to Wertheim, arguing that there were no legal impediments to recognising a Palestinian state and implying Australia should do so. 

On Aug. 10, Wertheim replied saying that “Kattan argues that a Palestinian state does not have to exist before it is recognised, and that a putative new state can be ushered into existence by the act of recognition itself. As Kattan points out, this idea is known in international law as the ‘constitutive theory’ of state recognition…

“The alternative, more widely accepted view is known as the ‘declaratory theory’, which maintains that recognition is merely an acknowledgement by other states of an already-existing reality. A new state acquires a legal personality and legal capacity only if and when it actually begins to operate as a State ‘on the ground’… In practice, and in their public statements, the nations of the world have generally followed the declaratory theory rather than the constitutive theory.” 

Meanwhile, writing in the Canberra Times (Aug. 17), Melbourne writer Josh Feldman pointed out that during Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent visit to China, he denied the regime was persecuting Muslim Uyghurs, claiming that Beijing’s policies in the region have “nothing to do with human rights and are aimed at excising extremism and opposing terrorism and separatism.”

Feldman said this “speaks volumes about the nature of the state many in Labor want to recognise: an oppressive, kleptocratic, inept regime that has long prioritised extremism over peace with its neighbour.”


View from the Ivory Tower

On ABC Radio National “Saturday Extra” (Aug. 12), veteran academic and Israel critic Dennis Altman conceded that despite his support for Australia recognising a Palestinian state, “there is of course no particularly well-functioning state at the moment.” 

Yet he traduced opponents of unilateral recognition by saying, “The people who oppose that move keep talking about a two-state solution and yet when they’re offered a possibility of doing something concrete, they suddenly oppose it.” Those who argue for a two-state solution have strong reason to believe that recognising a Palestinian state that does not yet exist would be the opposite of doing something “concrete” to bring such a resolution closer, and would prefer Australia instead help press Palestinian leaders to return to genuine peace talks.

Altman also called for Australia to “engage in dialogue with countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, which… are emotionally and politically aligned with the Palestinian cause and work with them towards some sort of internationally enforced settlement.” This is an absurd proposition given neither state has diplomatic relations with Israel, Malaysian politics is riddled with open antisemitism and both nations have been ardent enforcers of boycotts of the Jewish state. 


Guardian Goes to water

Guardian Australia Middle East correspondent Bethan McKernan’s report on Aug.6 about waterparks in areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority overflowed with anti-Israel propaganda.

McKernan said, “Access to water for Palestinians is greatly impaired by the occupation: Israel controls about 80% of the water reserves in the West Bank, but both the West Bank and Gaza Strip face severe water stress and drought.”

In fact, Israel supplies more water to the Palestinians in the West Bank than it is required to under the Oslo Accords. Moreover, both Hamas, which runs Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, choose not to implement best-practice water policies, despite Israeli offers to help. This includes such simple practices as recycling, maintaining or replacing old broken pipes and preventing water loss through evaporation. 

The report said, “The World Health Organization’s recommended water access level is between 50 and 100 litres per capita a day, but a UN study from 2021 found that Palestinians in the parts of the Jordan Valley under total Israeli control can access between just 30 and 50 litres a day, whereas Israeli settlers living in the same area have 320 litres a day. Palestinians in Area A have between 75 and 100 litres a day.” 

Given the vast majority of Palestinians live in Area A and only a few thousand are in the Jordan Valley (where there are some illegal hamlets with limited access to water infrastructure), it is clear most Palestinians have an adequate supply of water.  

McKernan also indulged in hyperbole with her statement that “Jericho’s waterpark entrepreneurs have had to get creative. One park is supplied by Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, another by the Palestinian Water Authority, and the Safari AquaPark, which also owns the land, has been able to dig its own wells.” In other words, there is a proliferation of sources of water for Jericho. 


Back to the 60s

ABC Radio National “Religion & Ethics Report” (July 19) interviewed Aparna Gopolan from Jewish Currents, a far-left US magazine with a virulently anti-Israel agenda. She accused pro-Israel advocacy groups in the US of teaching extremist Hindu nationalist groups how to block criticism.

According to Gopolan, Hindu activists are deflecting accusations against supporters of contentious issues, such as the Hindu caste system, by comparing any criticism to claims of antisemitism experienced by Jews. Gopolan said Jewish groups “encourag[e] this strategy”. 

One organisation Gopolan named was “this very influential group in the Jewish community in the US, which is called the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, and they’ve pioneered a strategy that is now being used by Hindu groups… you’ll find the ADL being pro-LGBTQ rights, pro-abortion in certain cases. They’ll be against, you know, racism against Black people in the US, but they’ll… take the most reactionary positions possible on the question of liberation for the people of Palestine.”

In fact, the ADL supports the two-state solution formula for peace which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state living in peace side by side with Israel. Gopolan’s use of the words “reactionary” and “liberation” in describing this stance reeked of mindless 1960s-style radical sloganeering. 


Squad Game

Another effort to smear a mainstream US pro-Israel organisation came via Guardian writer Chris McGreal, who (Aug. 12) ran a beat-up about US Congressional Democrats who travelled to Israel on a study tour organised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Referring to AIPAC as “a hardline lobbying group”, McGreal regurgitated the talking points of the left-wing “Justice Democrats”.

According to McGreal, the Justice Democrats which “helped fund election campaigns for [congresswomen] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the ‘Squad’ critical of Israeli policies” had “asked why the [Democratic] party was working with AIPAC when it endorsed the re-election campaigns of more than 100 Republican members of Congress who tried to block Joe Biden’s presidential victory.”

In fact, far from simply being “critical of Israeli policies,” some in the Squad support the BDS movement calling for Israel’s destruction, and have been accused of antisemitism. 

McGreal made absolutely no attempt at balance, instead quoting only spokespeople from rival left-wing Jewish organisations. 

This included Hadar Susskind, President of Americans for Peace Now, who accused AIPAC of “defend[ing] Israel’s ultranationalist government and… seeking to defeat progressive members of Congress.”

Except that AIPAC also supports people like House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, an African-American member of the Democrat’s progressive wing. AIPAC is a mainstream pro-Israel organisation that backs both Democrats and Republicans who support Israel.


Matters for judgement

AIJAC’s Ran Porat was interviewed on ABC Radio National “Between the Lines” (Aug. 3) to discuss the ongoing crisis in Israel over the current Netanyahu Government’s proposed judicial reform agenda.

Dr Porat explained that because Israel does not have a constitution and uses a unicameral system of government, in the 1990s the Supreme Court “took upon itself to protect civil rights, to protect the civilians against the government.”

Only when the Court “started to block policies that the government of the day didn’t like” did this suddenly become an issue, Porat said, adding that “[Israeli PM Binyamin] Netanyahu himself protected the Supreme Court and he glorified it many times… as a beacon of democracy.” 

Addressing the supposed threat posed by the higher birth rate among Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population to Israel’s future as a secular, economically strong country, Porat challenged the claim that the ultra-Orthodox endanger Israel’s economic success. He said “the secular population has an immense influence on the ultra-Orthodox population, and they are intermingled. They are part of the job market… part of the economy. We can see hi-tech ultra-Orthodox… I actually see [a] positive future in that respect.”


Lost in the West Bank

ABC Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn’s online article and video report on ABC TV “7pm News” (July 30) about West Bank settlement outpost Pnei Kedem – co-founded by Australian-Israeli Michael Lourie – included numerous errors and important omissions. 

Horn incorrectly claimed Pnei Kedem was a “recently legalised settlement.” In fact, despite government announcements of an intention to legalise it, this hasn’t actually happened.

Both reports stressed as fact that settlements “are illegal under international law” and to back this up quoted Dror Sadot, a political activist with no legal background currently working for the left-wing Israeli NGO B’Tselem. She asserted that “international law is very clear. You cannot take… citizens of an occupier and move it to an occupied territory.”

In fact, many eminent jurists argue Israel is legally entitled to build West Bank settlements, and Horn should have included at least some balance. 

Both of Horn’s reports also stated that “Judea and Samaria is how religious Jews refer to the parcel of land recognised internationally as the West Bank.” In fact, until Jordan occupied those areas in the 1948 war, Judea and Samaria were the internationally accepted terms for the mountainous areas now known as the West Bank.

Other misrepresentations included a claim that “Israel is rapidly expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank” and that “this year already a record number of housing units have been approved in the West Bank, in line with the Netanyahu government’s plan for massive settlement expansion.” In fact, due to high interest rates and inflation, actual housing starts in the settlements are currently at their lowest level in 13 years (see p. 11). 

Another false assertion was the statement that “new settlements have been approved year on year.” In fact, there has only been one new settlement approved in the last two decades. 


ABC errors

The ABC was heavily criticised for a headline it put on a website report (Aug. 6) about a Palestinian terrorist who was killed after he shot dead a Tel Aviv municipal patrol officer.

The headline “Palestinian man killed in Tel Aviv shooting that leaves another critically injured”, turned the terrorist aggressor into a victim.

After Zionism Victoria complained, the headline was amended to “Tel Aviv shooting leaves one man critically injured and one dead” and an editor’s note put on the webpage noting the change. However, no apology was offered.

Meanwhile, the ABC amended an online report (Aug. 8) after AIJAC complained it contained errors. The report referred to the Albanese Government’s July 1 statement, which it claimed had “said the government of Israel’s approval of new settlements in the West Bank – over 5,700 – further reduced ‘the prospects for peace.’” 

Israel had of course not announced 5,700 new settlements, and the Government’s statement had not said it had but expressed concern over approval of “5,700 new settlement units in the West Bank.” 

The amended ABC article reflected what the Government statement actually said. 


Calling time

Citing research by AIJAC’s Oved Lobel, the Australian (Aug. 16) called on the Albanese Government to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran, after Canada and the UK did so in response to the regime supplying Russia with drones for its war in Ukraine.

The editorial noted, “This is the 13th time since October 2022 Ottawa has intensified its targeted sanctions against Iran.”

The paper chided the Government for believing “financial sanctions and travel bans [it] imposed in March on 14 Iranian ‘entities responsible for egregious human rights abuses’ were enough.”


In Parliament

(Note: For the parliamentary debate regarding the Federal Government decision to refer to the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza as “occupied Palestinian territories” and settlements there as “illegal”, see here.)

Tony Zappia (ALP, Makin) – Aug. 9 – “According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, settler violence against Palestinians is ‘a form of government policy, aided and abetted by official state authorities with their active participation’. Understandably, these actions provoke retaliation and jeopardise peace negotiations. Global voices supporting Palestinian statehood and injustice are growing louder while excuses for the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people are rapidly losing credibility.”

Senator Raff Ciccone (ALP, Vic.) – Aug. 3 – “I had the pleasure of taking part in a parliamentary delegation to Israel hosted by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, commonly known as AIJAC by many in this place. The purpose of the delegation was not just to familiarise many of us with the realities of Israeli social, economic and political life but also to get a better understanding and appreciation of the broader Middle Eastern landscape… It was my first time in the state of Israel, and I was overwhelmed by how much history there was.” 

Tania Lawrence (ALP, Hasluck) Standing Committee on Economics – July 25 – “We’re seeing increasing drought, hail, floods… Obviously, that’s going to have incredible adverse impacts on agriculture, and yet we have other countries such as Israel, for example, where 40% of crops are grown in the desert, and where water scarcity and technology is key to being able to achieve the yields that they are. One example… is that they are able to produce a tomato yield in excess of 300 tonnes per hectare, and we’re sitting at around 100 so.”

The following comments are from the Victorian Parliament on Aug. 15:

Opposition Leader John Pesutto (Lib., Hawthorn) – “I desire to move, by leave: 

That this house: 

(a) notes the Albanese government’s decision to abandon sensible diplomacy and its harsh stance towards our democratic friend Israel; 

(b) notes that this decision aligns the federal Labor government with its Labor left faction; and 

(c) calls on the Premier to publicly distance himself from his faction’s stance.” 

Deputy Opposition Leader David Southwick (Lib., Caulfield) – “I desire to move, by leave: 

That this house: 

(a)  notes the worrying, but deeply important, findings of the Australian Jewish University Experience Survey; 

(b) affirms our bipartisan commitment to fighting antisemitism; and 

(c) calls on the Minister for Education to bring university vice-chancellors, Jewish students and leaders together to work towards a solution.” 

(Leave for both was refused. On Aug. 17, John Pesutto moved that the house move to debate the Southwick motion, saying “Antisemitism is a most insidious form of racism… it calls on us as a Parliament to take prompt action.” However, after debate, the motion was voted down along party lines, the ALP and Greens opposing on the grounds that there was not time to debate it this sitting.)

Shadow Special Minister of State David Davis (Lib., Southern Metropolitan) – “…Senator Wong has said… they are going to start referring to the ‘occupied Palestinian territories’… this has certainly upset many in the Jewish community. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council has blasted the shift as a ‘profound disappointment’… AIJAC executive director Colin Rubenstein said: ‘It is incredibly counter-productive to label these areas as occupied Palestinian territories, with the government purporting to know what the boundaries of any future two-state resolution will look like …’ I do not think they should have changed the description… I call on the Minister for Multicultural Affairs and the Premier, if possible, to advocate against this move…” 


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