Abulhawa exposed by the ABC, which then buried the story
Mar 17, 2023 | Allon Lee
With the ABC’s reputation as a welcoming and safe space for all things pro-Palestinian, controversial US-based Palestinian writer Susan Abulhawa likely would have expected ABC Radio Adelaide “Mornings” to treat her with kid gloves when she spoke to its host David Bevan on March 7.
One of 10 Palestinian writers invited to this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week, Abulhawa’s toxic views on both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – whom she termed a “depraved Zionist trying to ignite World War III” – and Israel had made her a lightning rod for controversy in Australia leading up to the event.
The decision to invite so many Palestinians and no Israelis, was defended by Festival director Louise Adler who said, “We should encourage a diversity of opinion and create a brave space, a courageous space.”
Some commentators argued she should be allowed to come to Australia where she could then be challenged – something that absolutely did not happen at the Writers’ Week, where the sessions she participated in were reportedly more like pro-Palestinian rallies, with panelists competing to make increasingly outrageous and extreme claims about Israel, and the pro-Palestinian audience breaking out in cheers for each one.
However, ABC interviewer David Bevan actually did what the festival failed to do. Over the course of a searing 18-minute interview prior to her festival appearance, Abulhawa was revealed as someone who can dish it out, but cannot take it herself.
In welcoming Abulhawa to the program, Bevan cut straight to the chase, putting it to her that “you do say hateful things, don’t you?”
Objecting, Abulhawa, who lives in America, absurdly argued that Palestinians are powerless and therefore she cannot be accused of either “hate speech” or being deemed racist.
“I don’t think so. No… hate speech, racism requires a power gradient. It flows from people with power to those who are powerless. We are quite literally a colonised, exiled people who live under a brutal military occupation with one of the worst human rights records in the world. We are powerless,” she said.
Abulhawa tried to imply even asking such questions is racist.
“It is shocking, quite frankly, that after 75 years of this, we are still being tone policed and the extraordinary hate and violence that comes our way from Israel is, is given a pass. And, and some of those horrendous things said about us for 75 years and our reaction to that is what is what Western media latches onto,” she said.
Undermining her own argument that her comments did not constitute “hate speech”, Abulhawa ventured that, “you know, I’ve heard some really horrible things said by Ukrainians about Russian soldiers and really violent statements. I’ve never once heard anyone in the media take them to task on that. Why the double standard?”.
Raising her social media post about Elan Ganeles, an US-Israeli citizen who was murdered whilst visiting Israel for a wedding, Bevan suggested that calling Ganeles a privileged white man who was “human garbage” was an example of her “hate speech”.
Taking umbrage, Abulhawa replied, “he was a privileged white man. An Ivy League young man from America who left his home to serve in a colonial military…that is violently oppressing and robbing Palestinians… And he was killed by those natives that he had been oppressing. I think the media should be honest about who he was and stop pretending that he was an innocent guy just attending the wedding, because that’s not true.”
Still trying to flip the racism card, Abulhawa accused Bevan of “Western media tone policing Palestinians…[for]…how we talk about those people who have been terrorising us for 75 years… You want to paint this picture of, of, oh, the hateful Arab, the violent Arab, the, the irresponsible, the irrational Arab.”
Bevan shrugged off Abulhawa’s effort to make him the target, by asking, “If I’ve understood you correctly, what you’re saying is it’s okay for a people that you say are oppressed to hate. It’s okay for people who are you say are oppressed for them to describe a man who’s been killed as human garbage. Is that what you’re asking us to, to accept here in Adelaide?”
A suggestion by Bevan that Ganeles “was [not] acting as a soldier when he was killed” or behaving as a “violent coloniser”, but rather was just a “citizen” going to “a wedding,” elicited a furious response from Abulhawa.
“Of course, he was [a soldier]”, she insisted and asked “it doesn’t matter if he has a history of being a violent coloniser at the moment that he was killed?” Her rationale for that claim was a modern take on PLO propaganda that every Israeli is a legitimate target – “the entire Israeli military is a violent colonial military” so his past service rendered him a legitimate target.
Shifting the conversation to Abulhawa’s views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saw her spouting debunked Putinesque propaganda to justify blaming Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky for the war’s outbreak, e.g. he provoked Russia through seeking NATO membership, bombed ethnic Russians in the Donbas and refused an offer that would’ve ended the war. The critics of Zelensky, she claimed, were “assassinated, disappeared” and he “shut down newspapers and basically silenced opposition within Ukraine.”
She also accused Zelensky of failing to “protect” his own “people”, saying that “I’ve said similar things about Yasser Arafat, who I felt bore a lot of responsibility for not protecting his people. That doesn’t mean that I absolved Israel of the actual violence.”
Although this point was not elaborated upon, elsewhere she has explained what she means.
Her criticism doesn’t stem from Arafat signing the Oslo Accords or not making peace with Israel when given multiple chances to do so. Rather, it was Arafat’s support for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which backfired. After the US ejected Iraqi forces, Kuwait’s rulers punished the Palestinians for their leader’s lack of support by forcing 400,000 of them to leave.
An article reporting comments she made at the writers’ festival quoted her explaining:
“We were extremely critical of Yasser Arafat in ways that mirror the harshness that I have expressed against Zelensky as well,” said Abulhawa, who was born to Palestinian parents in Kuwait. “Because he failed to protect his people and he betrayed the principles of being anti-occupation, which put Palestinians living in Kuwait in great danger.”
Of course, she did not accuse Arafat of being a “Zionist” – the language which showed her animosity against the Jewish Zelensky was not simply political criticism but racially motivated.
One might have assumed that the ABC would promote both Abulhawa’s sole major media appearance and the forensic skill displayed by one of its own senior journalists in his probing interview.
Instead, only a short sliver of the full 18-minute interview was uploaded on the ABC website.
Listeners were not informed on the corresponding ABC webpage or at the end of the short clip that the full exchange could be heard by clicking on that morning’s episode. However, as per ABC policy, the audio for the full episode is no longer available.
The full extent of Abulhawa’s own goal can be appreciated in former ABC Radio Melbourne host Jon Faine’s March 13 account in the Age of his efforts to engage with her at the festival.
“I was looking forward to meeting her and on Wednesday in the green room introduced myself. She shook my hand, acknowledged my article and said she was pleased to meet me. But strangely before any further conversation could take place her minders interrupted, shut down our chat and shortly after whisked her away, leaving me with my cup of tea and muffin…. I wonder if [festival director Louise] Adler would have invited Abulhawa if she had known about her extreme tweets.”
Bevan’s probing March 7 interview – and Abulhawa’s brittle, morally indefensible and angry responses to his probing – go a long way to explaining why her minders slammed the shutters down on any further substantive examination of Susan Abulhawa’s vile and twisted opinions in the media.
Susan Abulhawa’s ABC interview
David Bevan: It often creates controversy and people would say, good on them. That’s what they’re there for. They’re there to make us think. This year’s Writers Week is no exception because of a couple of guests to Writers Week, and one of them is Susan Abulhawa. And Susan Abulhawa is controversial because of a number of comments she’s made about Palestine and the state of Israel and also the war in Ukraine. She just arrived in Adelaide for her appearance at Writers Week, and on the way she posted a little video in which she said, Look, a number of people have tried to cancel me out and I need to set the record straight. So we thought it would be a good idea for us to speak to her before she takes to the podium. And she joins us now. Good morning, Susan Abulhawa.
Susan Abulhawa: Good morning, David.
David Bevan: Thank you for joining us.
Susan Abulhawa: Thank you for having me.
David Bevan: A lot of people don’t want you to speak. What is it you would like to say?
Susan Abulhawa: Um, well, I mean, I’ve, I released a statement and I, I said I responded to a lot of the accusations in the media. I came here as a writer, as a cultural worker, um, to talk about my novels and about literature, the power of literature and, and thankfully, in no small part to the fortitude of Louise Adler, I will have that chance.
David Bevan: The organisers of Adelaide’s Writers Week, including Louise Adler, have justified your attendance because they say it is more than hate speech. But you do say hateful things, don’t you?
Susan Abulhawa: I don’t think so. No. And I don’t think that anyone at the festival actually referred to it as hate speech. Hate speech. I mean, you know, hate speech, racism requires a power gradient. It flows from people with power to those who are powerless. We are quite literally a colonised, exiled people who live under a brutal military occupation with one of the worst human rights records in the world. We are powerless. And it is, it is shocking, quite frankly, that after 75 years of this, we are still being tone policed and the extraordinary hate and violence that comes our way from Israel is, is given a pass. And some of those horrendous things said about us for 75 years and our reaction to that is what Western media latches onto. It’s shocking. I’ve never you know, I’ve heard some really horrible things said by Ukrainians about Russian soldiers and really violent statements. I’ve never once heard anyone in the media take them to task on that. Why the double standard?
David Bevan: A US-Israeli citizen killed by a Palestinian while in Israel for a wedding was described by you in a tweet as a privileged white man and human garbage. That sounds like hate speech.
Susan Abulhawa: He is, he was a privileged white man, an Ivy League young man from America who left his home to serve in a colonial military with, with one of the worst human rights records in the world that is violently oppressing and robbing Palestinians, robbing my family and my people. And he was killed by those natives that he had been oppressing. I think the media should be honest about who he was and stop pretending that he was an innocent guy just attending the wedding, because that’s not true. And you know it’s not true and again, there are literally people there are literally Israeli settlers armed to the teeth right now. Right now, as we’re speaking, rampaging through Huwara after already having committed a pogrom just days ago. They are back there again. And here we are. Here is the, again, Western media tone policing Palestinians about how we talk about those people who have been terrorising us for 75 years. I think that’s the problem. Not, how we speak about these people who give us their hate, who who. We are on the receiving end of violent hate.
David Bevan: Susan Abulhawa. Do you hate that young man?
Susan Abulhawa: I don’t love him. I don’t love him. I don’t.
David Bevan: I didn’t ask you if you loved him, but you described him as human garbage. That sounds like you hate him.
Susan Abulhawa: You know, here you are again. I mean what, why is there no acknowledgement? Why? Why is there no acknowledgement of what, of the hatred that we. The violent hatred that we are constantly on the receiving end? Why have, why has, why does no one ever take a Ukrainian to task for hating the Russian soldiers who, who are, who are decimating their country? It’s as if it’s not okay for us to hate, you ask me as if it’s some kind of criminal activity for me to hate the people who have literally destroyed my family and destroyed my country. And I’m not going to respond. Let me just please, let me just finish. You asked me on here to give my point of view, and that’s what I’m doing. But you want to, you want to put me in this. You want to paint this picture of of, oh, the hateful Arab, the violent Arab, the, the irresponsible, the irrational Arab. I mean this is the respectability politics…
David Bevan: No, no, what I’m trying to…
Susan Abulhawa: I’m not. I’m not going to engage in that.
David Bevan: If I could respond to that Susan Abulhawa. I’m not, I’m not trying to paint you in any way. What I’m trying to explore.
Susan Abulhawa: You, are. But you are David.
David Bevan: If I could respond, what I’m trying to do is work out the conundrum that is faced by us here in Adelaide, and that is we have a writers festival in which it is argued that Susan Abulhawa should be allowed to give a reasoned, nuanced argument for the plight of her people and how they are suffering. And yet many of these comments that you have tweeted and which you own, are not nuanced and they could be taken as hate speech. If I’ve understood you correctly, what you’re saying is it’s okay for a people that you say are oppressed to hate. It’s okay for people who are you say are oppressed for them to describe a man who’s been killed as human garbage. Is that what you’re asking us to accept here in Adelaide?
Susan Abulhawa: So here you are. You see? See here you are again even in just the framing of the question, a man who has been killed, not, not, not a veteran soldier who came to a foreign country to oppress and dispossess and rob native people.
David Bevan: Was he a soldier at the moment he was killed?
Susan Abulhawa: Are you serious? Was he. Was he acting as.
David Bevan: No. No. No. Was he acting.
Susan Abulhawa: Of course he was.
David Bevan: I’m just asking, was he acting as a soldier when he was killed or was he, he had a history with the defense force and he went there as a citizen to a wedding. Is that what occurred?
Susan Abulhawa: So is that the criteria, then? Is that the criteria? So, so it doesn’t matter if he has a history of of being a violent coloniser at the moment that he was killed.
David Bevan: I don’t know if, he I don’t know if he, I don’t know if he has a history as a violent coloniser.
Susan Abulhawa: The entire Israel military is a violent colonial military.
David Bevan: So do you hate all members of the Israeli Defense Force?
Susan Abulhawa: But here you go. Here you go again. And like it’s the framing of the question. There is, there you, I think you are the ones who have no nuance in even just the framing of the question and even listening to us. I have been sitting here telling you and asking you, why has no one ever taken a Ukrainian to task for the for the language that the very violent language that they have used against Russians? I mean, even the BBC published an instruction manual of how to incinerate Russian soldiers, how to burn them alive. And that was perfectly fine and acceptable. And yet, if.
David Bevan: I don’t think you’d find that here on on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and that is how we’re trying to grapple with this question because we have a situation where these things are being brought to us and we have to decide in our community here in Adelaide what is acceptable, what is acceptable speech, what is acceptable language.
Susan Abulhawa: But even in the framing of your Question David, you are in the framing even of your question you are ignoring the context of an extremely violent Israeli military occupation, which again, at this very moment as we are speaking, have their, are protecting paramilitary settlers who are armed to the teeth rampaging through Huwara in Nablus terrorising people.
David Bevan: In your, in your video posting before you came to Adelaide in the last 24 hours or so, you said nothing Putin has done approaches the horrors wrought by Western wars, whether in Vietnam, Libya, Iraq or beyond. What’s your point?
Susan Abulhawa: My point is to point out the hypocrisy. The. I mean, I mean, you all are just aghast that I would criticize Zelensky and you and you extrapolated my words to claim falsely that I am cheering for Putin.
David Bevan: No, I haven’t said that Susan.
Susan Abulhawa: It is frankly dishonest.
David Bevan: Susan Abulhawa, I have not said that. And indeed, in your posting in your posting, you said that only one online publication contacted you for comment. And that’s incorrect. This program contacted you and read out part of your statement to make sure that people understood that you have in the past criticised Vladimir Putin. So you’re saying I’m trying to create some terrible picture of you. In fact, we made it attempts to to make sure that your criticisms of Vladimir Putin have been put to our listeners. So.
Susan Abulhawa: No, I appreciate you, I appreciate you having me on, actually. But I’m saying, when I said you, I meant Australian media.
David Bevan: Not me.
Susan Abulhawa: So I should have been specific. You’re right. So, so let me just, let me just rephrase that. So Australian media has extrapolated my words and, and, and made their own interpretation and, and false claims that I am a cheerleader for Putin, who in my view, has committed horrible crimes and should answer for them. But that does not mean that we cannot have a robust and honest discussion about what brought us to this point in Ukraine. I mean, in every free democratic society there should be room to have these conversations. Nothing I’ve said about Zelensky’s past is inaccurate.
David Bevan: You say that Ukraine provoked Russia. Is that what you’re arguing?
Susan Abulhawa: Okay. Let me be very clear. Russia and Putin are responsible for the decisions that they made to invade Ukraine.
David Bevan: Right.
Susan Abulhawa: That does not absolve that. Let me finish, please. That does not absolve the decisions that Zelensky made. Indeed, to that were extremely provocative and everyone knew and I’ve said in my statement this this this war came as no surprise to anybody who’s been paying attention to what’s happening in that region for the past decade. And I did reference John Mearsheimer, but there are many other scholars who have been warning that this is coming because the United States and NATO are engineering this confrontation in Russia.
David Bevan: So you think that. So you think that Ukraine bears, what some responsibility for Russia invading them?
Susan Abulhawa: I think Zelensky bears responsibility for protecting his people, and I don’t think Zelensky had he not thought that he had NATO on his side…
David Bevan: But what could he have possibly done?
Susan Abulhawa: Would have taken some of.
David Bevan: The what could he have possibly done that would absolve Vladimir Putin from invading?
Susan Abulhawa: For one thing, not bomb his own people in Donbas. Number one. Number two, for, you know, continue to seek NATO membership knowing.
David Bevan: Well, why shouldn’t he seek NATO? If he gets elected, if he gets elected and they want to join Nato, why can’t they?
Susan Abulhawa: You’re not letting me finish.
David Bevan: I’m asking you why, why couldn’t they apply to be a member of Ukraine? Vladimir Putin He’s on the record as saying at one point he said, I haven’t got a problem with NATO expanding and indeed Russia might one day be a member of NATO. So what’s wrong with Ukraine wanting to be a member.
Susan Abulhawa: It’s interesting that you didn’t question me about Zelensky. I mean, I just told you that he was bombing his own people in Donbas and that you just let that pass and you honed in on the NATO thing. And secondly and secondly, there was a negotiated peace, right? There was a negotiated agreement that could have ended all of this. And Zelensky agreed to it, and Putin agreed to it. But Zelensky backed out. It was Zelensky that backed out.
David Bevan: So it’s Zelensky’s fault?
Susan Abulhawa: For backing out of the peace agreement? Yes, he’s he’s the reason that peace agreement failed. It was him. It was absolutely him. There was an agreement in place and it was ready to go. And ironically, this information comes to us from Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister, because he was involved in that.
David Bevan: So if, if somebody…
Susan Abulhawa: The point is…
David Bevan: If somebody sitting in a in a, so if somebody is sitting in a bombed-out apartment in Ukraine, they’ve lost their home and they’ve lost their family. They should blame Vladimir, Volodomir Zelensky. It’s not Putin’s fault for sending the bombs.
Susan Abulhawa: And a lot of Ukrainians do, actually. So but here you go again. You know. I’ve said I’ve said similar things about Yasser Arafat, who I felt bore a lot of responsibility for not protecting his people. That doesn’t mean that I absolved Israel of the actual violence. And I think for like honestly, it’s it’s it’s stunning to me that in a supposed democracy and open society that these conversations are not being had.
David Bevan: Yeah.
Susan Abulhawa: It’s shocking to me that Western media continues to promulgate this, you know, this kind of good versus evil narrative. It’s intellectually dishonest and it’s dangerous.
David Bevan: Do you think that.
Susan Abulhawa: I mean, this is we’re potentially looking at a nuclear conflict. I mean, the ramifications are, are devastating, potentially devastating.
David Bevan: And I think anyone would disagree with you on that front. Now now you’ve got a writers week function to get to. But just to finish on, do you think Russia should keep Ukrainian territory?
Susan Abulhawa: That’s not for me to say. I’m not Ukrainian and I’m not Russian. These things are these, these things are for the Ukrainian people to decide. And but what I can say is that an agreement had been.
David Bevan: A bit hard for them to decide if there’s a Russian tank sitting down your street.
Susan Abulhawa: Well, there’s also people in the Donbas who want Russia to be there and I think and I think, you know, what’s not being reported in the press is the diversity, the range of opinions among the Ukrainians. And sadly, and that’s in part because Zelensky has has assassinated, disappeared, shut down newspapers and basically silenced opposition within Ukraine.
David Bevan: Okay.
Susan Abulhawa: But there is opposition and there is a wide range of opinions within Ukraine. And I think those should be listened to as well.
David Bevan: All right. Well, Susan Abulhawa, thank you very much for giving us your time this morning.
Susan Abulhawa: Thank you, David. I appreciate the opportunity to speak.
David Bevan: Palestinian American author who’s appearing at the Adelaide Writers Week. The Premier was not happy with her being there, and a number of major sponsors, including law firm Minter Ellison, have withdrawn their support because they were offended by a number of things that Ms Abulhawa had to say both regarding Ukraine and regarding the situation in Israel and Palestine. But there we are.