Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Map-wiping, revisited

Mar 20, 2008 | Tzvi Fleischer

Tzvi Fleischer

Map-wiping, revisited

Readers may recall that a while back I took on a piece of misinformation being widely circulated, namely, claims that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had never said “Israel should be wiped off the map” as widely reported. US academic and blogger Juan Cole originated this argument, claiming Ahmadinejad had in fact merely called for Israel to “vanish from the pages of history” (as if that is so much better).

Cole and others who repeated the claim about the supposed misquote often implied that “neocons” or Washington warmongers, or the allegedly pro-Israel media were distorting Ahmadinejad’s words to drum up a war with Iran. This talking point did not go away, even after many pointed out that it was the official Iranian news agency that originally translated Ahmadinejad’s words to say “Israel must be wiped off the map”, and that Ahmadinejad was merely repeating the words of someone even more authoritative in the Iranian regime – the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Anyone who is still confused about the Ahmadinejad quote should have a look at the picture above. It does not come from “neocons” or Washington warmongers, or the allegedly pro-Israel media, but from Justice Seeking Students Group, a hardline Iranian student group.
They had just put up a bounty of US$1 million for the murder of Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and two Israel intelligence chiefs (for more details see p. 11). And what did they use to illustrate the banner at their announcement but that same quote from Khomenei. Moreover, as you can see, they helpfully provided an English translation: “Israel must be wiped off the map.”

Speaking the unspeakable
Speaking of critics opposed to pressuring Iran over its nuclear program, they also sometimes deny that the elites in Iran’s Arab neighbours, especially in the Persian Gulf, are privately terrified of Iran getting nuclear weapons. Leaders and officials express their fears often in private encounters, but because of the constraints of regional ideology and fear of public and Iranian reaction, it is not mentioned publicly.

Well, here’s a rare break in the public wall of silence in the Gulf. Sami al-Farraj is head of the Kuwait Centre for Strategic Studies, and was formerly an important adviser to the Kuwaiti government on defence issues. According to Haaretz, he told the Kuwaiti daily al-Siyassah that an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be a good thing. Asked about such a strike, he reportedly said, “Honestly speaking, they [Israel] would be achieving something of great strategic value for the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] by stopping Iran’s tendency for hegemony over the area,” adding that “nipping it in the bud by Israeli hands would be less embarrassing for us than if the Americans did it.”

Al-Faraj also complained of Iranian interference in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, and incitement to strife between Sunnis and Shi’ites, concluding, “We have to call a spade a spade and say that burying the military nuclear Iranian project is in the interest of GCC states, and other countries in the area.”

There has been a puzzling factual error popping up repeatedly in media coverage of the rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. Various outlets have insisted that Sderot and other Israeli towns under rocket attack are “settlements” – terminology which in the Israeli-Palestnian context strongly implies they are in the occupied territories, which of course, they are not. For instance, an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 5 referred to Hamas firing rockets “into nearby Israeli settlements”.

Further, anti-Israel SMH columnist Alan Ramsey, criticising the bipartisan federal motion in recognition of Israel’s sixtieth anniversary (see pp. 36, 39) approvingly and without reservation quoted a statement from “the Australian Committee for Truth in the Middle East”, a group of unnamed activists who specialise in ranting about supposed “Zionist” control of the media. The statement from the ironically-named group claimed Israel’s recent incursion into northern Gaza was in “response to the relative pinpricks of Hamas rockets fired into territory illegally occupied by Israeli settlers.”

Further, David Horowitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, pointed out a similar claim in the European version of Sky News on March 2. A journalist named Al Scardino explained at length that the Palestinian rockets were only targeted at areas “beyond Israel’s sovereign borders. These were areas that the international community did not consider part of Israel… but that Israel claimed nonetheless,” in Horowitz’s words.

Why is this mistake made so often? It is true that Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionists often refer to towns in pre-1967 Israel as settlements, and all of Israel as “occupied territory” because they argue that Israel’s very existence is completely illegal and intolerable. While this may explain the reference by the “Australian Committee for Truth in the Middle East” which has made it clear in past statements that it has similar views, I find it hard to believe that either the Sydney Morning Herald or Sky News start from this premise. No, I think in such cases this error is prompted by ignorance and assumptions made based on what a lot of people think they “know” about the Arab-Israel conflict. Journalists like the Herald leader writer and Mr. Scardino may not follow matters in the Middle East closely but believe they “know” that the conflict can be summed up by the word “occupation”. Therefore, they think they “know” that “so-called” Palestinian terrorism is really only attacks on “illegal settlements”.

It is this barrier, based on what even educated people like journalists think they “know” about the Arab-Israel conflict, that makes it often so hard to get Israel’s case heard.



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