Bad Times in Canberra

Jamie Hyams

Australian Jewish News – 30 January 2009

Bad Times in Canberra

Perhaps concerned that its title as Australia’s most anti-Israel mainstream newspaper was under threat from The Age, the Canberra Times removed all doubt about its credentials. On January 17, Clive Williams claimed Hamas fires rockets because it believes that otherwise Israel would “shelve the peace process”. Clearly the mass of evidence that Hamas has no interest in peace has made no impact on him. He also claimed, again despite all the evidence, that Israel “clearly doesn’t” want a negotiated outcome with the Palestinians, and he attempted to blackmail the Australian government by warning that “failure to take a moral stand” (ie against Israel) could fuel home-grown terrorism. A January 20 piece by Marie-Pierre Allie, president of the French section of Medecins Sans Frontieres, was scathing about Israel’s conduct but silent about Hamas. Allie’s point was to demand Israel terminate its offensive, which Israel had already done by the date of publication, but the Times was apparently so determined to attack Israel that it published the article anyway. That day’s editorial claimed Israel ignores “most of the conventions and norms that govern proper and lawful international affairs” when “punish[ing] its enemies” and that Gaza “demonstrated quite clearly” that Israel “is not interested in negotiating with the Palestinians on a two-state solution.” It didn’t say how defending itself from rockets proved Israel wouldn’t negotiate. Between January 21 and 24, there were also two typical anti-Israel rants by Robert Fisk and virulently critical pieces by Fisk’s colleagues from the Independent Patrick Cockburn and Donald MacIntyre. The letters page was also extremely one-sided against Israel.

Australian Days

The Australian, by contrast, editorialised on January 19 that to accuse Israel of over-reacting in Gaza is to forget that the only reason Hamas is firing “small missiles is that they have not yet smuggled in big missiles that could reach deep and dangerously into Israel.” The January 21 editorial slammed the now infamous Backman article as “offensive”, “egregiously incorrect” and “reprehensible” and pointed out that “short of every Jew leaving the country, there is nothing Israel can do to placate Hamas and its allies.” That day’s edition also had an opinion piece by Victorian Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson in which he too slammed Backman, noting, “In the world according to Backman, the true cause of terrorism is resistance to terrorism.”

McGeough Away

In the January 17 Sydney Morning Herald, Paul McGeough, who has been strongly critical of Israel throughout the conflict, quoted a number of Israeli writers with whom he agrees, most from the far left. He concluded by citing Avi Shlaim, a virulent England-based critic of Israel, as authority for McGeough’s own contention that “all the talk of successive [Israeli] governments about the peace process has been lip service,” and approvingly quoted Shlaim saying the Gaza conflict had led him to re-evaluate his disagreement with a 1948 quote that Israel was “a gangster state headed by ‘an utterly unscrupulous gang of leaders’.”