The “targeting” and “pressure” that so annoyed John Lyons

Sep 4, 2017 | Tzvi Fleischer

The “targeting” and “pressure” that so annoyed John Lyons

Tzvi Fleischer

Former Australian Middle East correspondent John Lyons – now headed for the ABC as their new “head of investigative and in-depth journalism” – apparently does not like AIJAC very much.

He’s certainly been making that very clear of late in repeated public statements.

First, he was reported in the Guardian to have said that “pro-Israel advocacy groups” targeted him and other journalists and then gave as his sole example a claim that AIJAC subjected him personally to “consistent pressure.”

Then he published a piece in the Australian which said he “encountered repeated pressure from the privately funded, Melbourne-based lobby group the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.”

This is on top of Lyon’s recently released book, Balcony over Jerusalem, which devotes almost a whole chapter largely to attacking AIJAC. (We’ll be putting out our response to that book and the claims in it in due course.)

So what did we do that so upset Mr. Lyons? Mainly, we criticised some of his journalism when he was Middle East correspondent with the Australian from 2009 until January 2015 – and he apparently really did not like that.

So here, for the benefit of our readers, are some examples of some of AIJAC’s past critiques of Mr. Lyons – as well as several related critiques from other sources. We will leave it for you to judge whether these critiques amount to unwarranted “targeting” and “pressure” on a noble truth-telling journalist, or accurate and appropriate criticisms of sloppy, unprofessional and one-sided contributions on the part of Mr. Lyons:


2009 – John Lyons takes uncorroborated claims from a Palestinian and his lawyer in a legal dispute with Israelis as evidence an Israeli judge has improperly colluded against the Palestinian involved.

“Another telling example, was John Lyons’ Aug. 22-23 Weekend Australian Magazine cover story about Nasser Jaber, who claimed his Jerusalem house had been illegally occupied by ‘settlers’ with the connivance of the Israeli police and courts. The allegations included that ‘The settlers’ lawyer was granted a private meeting with the judge, despite protests from Jaber’s counsel that he should be present,’ and that only after the meeting, the judge decided to allow the ‘settlers’ to remain in the house until the case was decided. Lyons complained that ‘Neither the police, the settlers nor their lawyer’ would speak to him. In other words, all information in the article comes from Jaber or his lawyers. Yet Lyons reported many allegations in this dispute which is still before the courts – such as the claimed ex parte court meeting – as fact. According to our sources in Israel, the ex parte meeting claim is simply untrue.”

2012 – Lyons ran consecutive articles claiming incorrectly that an Israeli settlement was splitting the West Bank in half:

The Australian‘s Middle East correspondent John Lyons filed back to back stories on December 7 and 8 sounding the alarm over Israel’s decision on E1. In those articles, Lyons made the erroneous and unsubstantiated claim that E1 would bisect the West Bank.

“In his first article, Lyons went so far as to say that E1 would mean death for the two-state peace formula….

“Lyons claims were not greatly different to those of other noted international correspondents, particularly New York Times‘ Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren. In recent days, the NYT has issued corrections to Rudoren’s stories that can and should have direct implications for Lyons’ claims as well…

“The first, on December 7, about an article [by NYT Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren] entitled ‘Dividing the West Bank, and Deepening a Rift,’ which was originally published on Dec. 2, 2012, clearly acknowledged that construction in the E-1 corridor would not ‘divide the West Bank in two’ nor ‘make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.’”

2013 – John Lyons claims a conspiracy simply because a UNICEF report is fairer to Israel than he’d like (fifth item on page entitled “Conspiracy-land”)

“Five weeks after the Australian‘s John Lyons (April 13) reported on a UNICEF critique of Israel’s military detention policies when dealing with Palestinian minors, Lyons revisited the topic to advance a bizarre claim.

“Offering little in the way of evidence, Lyons wrote that ‘an investigation…suggested that UNICEF had caved in to pressure from Israel or self-censored’ because ‘while UNICEF found Israel had engaged in actions that fitted its definition of torture, the report avoided using that word in its findings.’

“In other words, because a UN report had failed to incorporate Lyons’ preferred terminology there must be some kind of a conspiracy!

“Furthermore, Lyons seemed affronted that UNICEF ‘praised Israel for its dialogue about the system under which Palestinian children from the age of 12 are tried by Israeli soldiers’ and implemented some of its recommendations. Isn’t that the point of a (probably highly expensive) report?”

2013 – Israeli commentator and columnist Maurice Ostroff in the Jerusalem Post also dismisses Lyons’ criticism of UNICEF, and responds to his claims of Israeli mistreatment on Palestinian children in the West Bank by, among other things, pointing out that Lyons’ allegations emanate from highly politicised sources:

“Dear Mr. Lyons,

“I refer to your April 13, 2013 article in the Weekend Australian ‘UN”s circle of unaccountability.’

“I have real difficulty in understanding your description of the press conference with UNICEF as bizarre and I am puzzled by your apparent disappointment that Israel did not attack UNICEF for the report, but rather showed cooperation….

“You wrote ‘An investigation by Inquirer suggested that UNICEF had caved in to pressure from Israel or self-censored.’ I hope you don’t expect your readers to take the ‘suggestion’ seriously. In fact it is surprising that a respected journalist like you arrives at conclusions based on unsubstantiated allegations.”

“Your accusing UNICEF of media management and distortion of the truth in favour of Israel is hardly credible. UNICEF does not hesitate to forcefully criticize Israel as proved by the harsh criticisms in the 2013 report, relieved slightly by expressing approval of a number of improvements that have been made in the treatment of juveniles. By comparison the UNICEF report on Turkey for 2010 treads very softly.”

2014 – AIJAC’s detailed expose of the myriad problems in John Lyons’ collaboration with ABC’s “Four Corners”, a documentary called “Stone Cold Justice” on the purported Israeli mistreatment of Palestinian youths it arrests:

“Lyons then reached the crux of the conspiracy theory underpinning his story. He stated, ‘While Israel appears to be making concessions, others argue this disguises a harsher reality. Four Corners has learnt that the Israeli security services now have a new strategy. They bring Palestinian children as young as 12 to massive interrogation facilities like this one. The security services are now targeting the children as a way of gathering information on their villages, including asking them about their neighbours and family.’…

“It is noticeable here that as soon as Lyons makes what he sees as a slight concession that Israel may be making an improvement, he feels compelled to follow it with the claim that Israel is only doing so to cover up something far worse …So what was the evidence for his calumnious conspiracy theory? As explained earlier, it was footage from one interrogation, which, according to Electronic Intifada, took place in 2011 (hardly evidence of a “new” strategy), and unsubstantiated claims from three critics of Israel.

“….it is one thing to criticise Israel for its treatment of Palestinian children who are questioned or arrested for suspected violent crimes, it is quite another to allege, as Lyons does, that Israel’s many documented efforts to improve its policies in this regard are meant to ‘disguise’ a ‘new policy’ of ‘targeting Palestinian children’. This is an outrageous, malicious accusation, and the program did not come close to justifying it with actual evidence. The fact that the ABC saw fit to sensationalise the programme by using this unsubstantiated accusation as the driving force behind the show’s promotion is inexcusable, and should raise questions about journalistic ethics and standards by the national broadcaster that extend beyond this broadcast.”

2014 – A shorter response highlighting some of the shortcomings in “Stone Cold Justice”

“Lyons failed to acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian Authority throughout the entire segment. For the purposes of this documentary, it didn’t exist. As a result, viewers were led to believe that all Palestinian children live under the thumb of ‘abusive’ Israeli soldiers. In reality, as Lyons knows better than anyone, 95 percent of Palestinians live under self-rule in the Palestinian-patrolled Area A, meaning that the vast majority of Palestinian children rarely even set their eyes on an Israeli soldier in the course of their everyday lives…

“Lyons’ documentary was riddled with inaccuracies, and always to the detriment of Israel.

“In one instance, according to a Palestinian source, Lyons understated the age of one of the Palestinian children in his story by two years (he said the boy was nine when the boy was actually eleven) and interviewed Israeli activist and lawyer Gaby Lasky claiming that the boy had been “arrested” when he had only been briefly questioned. In a second instance, Lyons told the story of a five-year-old Palestinian boy who had been briefly detained for rock-throwing, without mentioning that the Palestinian account of the incident is disputed by Israeli sources. In a third instance, he referred to a Jerusalem Post story that Israel had kept Palestinian children at detention facilities in outdoor cages during snowstorms – a claim that has long been shown to be inaccurate.”

2014 – A detailed look at three telling fundamental factual problems in “Stone Cold Justice”:

“Both Four Corners and Lyons in the Australian alleged that children were kept in outdoor cages. On February 8 in the Australian, John Lyons wrote: ‘Last month the Israeli government, under pressure from human rights groups, stopped a practice of keeping Palestinian children in outdoor cages at night.’…

“Israel’s Justice Ministry confirmed that the practice in question affected primarily Israelis, not Palestinians…. the claims by the ABC Four Corners program and Lyons suggesting that the ‘cages’ were just for Palestinian children are wrong, and actually led to corrections in other media outlets… – including, in the case of the Independent, one made well before Four Corners went to air…

“According to the Israeli army, minors under the age of 12 are not criminally responsible for their actions and therefore cannot be arrested or placed on trial – something the documentary never mentioned, while often implying the opposite. The Four Corners episode suggested that a nine-year-old boy Karim Dar Ayyoub was arrested by the IDF… However, even according to a Palestinian source, “Electronic Intifada”, this is incorrect. They say that Karim was 11 and he was not arrested but merely detained for questioning for two hours…

“The Four Corners episode also prominently featured emotive footage of a five year-old boy Wa’adi Maswada who was detained by the IDF for allegedly throwing stones…according to the IDF, the child was never arrested and never touched by soldiers. He was not arrested, he was taken home…the IDF did not handle the incident well in certain respects, especially in its treatment of the father, otherwise, their behaviour seems not terribly dissimilar to what police would do in Australia if they witnessed a small child throwing stones at cars – stop him or her, take him or her home, and speak to the child and his or her parents about the problem… But even more telling was the fact that Four Corners accepted it as a fact that the only source of the rock-throwing allegation [against Maswada] was a settler, using this to make an emotive point about how ‘One settler, making one allegation, is able to activate this level of military intervention against a 5 year-old.’ However, the IDF insists Mawadeh was ‘caught in the act’ of stone-throwing by the soldiers…In other words, ‘Four Corners’ decided to take the word of the 5-year-old and his family that there was no rock-throwing and the whole incident was occasioned by a settler, and either made no effort to ascertain the Israeli account of what happened or ignored it if they were aware of it.”

2014 – Honest Reporting pokes holes in a companion piece Lyons wrote for “Stone Cold Justice”

“Central to Lyons’ report is the following:

‘At the heart of the issue is that Israel enforces two legal systems in the West Bank, one for Jews and one for Palestinians. About 2.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank – also known as the Palestinian Territories – which Israel has occupied since 1967.

‘Palestinian children appear before the military court, while Jewish children face a civil court with full legal protections.’

“Contrary to Lyons’ statement, the two legal systems in operation are divided between Israeli citizens (which, of course, includes both Jews and Arabs) and non-citizens. This is not a division based on race, ethnicity or religion but on the legal status of the disputed territories. The reason why Palestinians, both children and adults, are not subject to Israeli civil law is that Israel has never annexed the West Bank and therefore, Israeli law does not apply to the area. Instead, military law is applied.

“It’s safe to say that Lyons would not advocate Israel’s annexation of the West Bank and it’s also safe to assume that were Israeli law to be administered in the disputed territories, there would be an international outcry and accusations of breaching so-called international law.”

2014 – John Lyons’ publicity push for “Stone Cold Justice” also saw him apparently manipulating facts.

“One startling figure Lyons used in his Australian feature was a claim that ‘The UN says 726,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been through the military court.’

“In fact, back in 2009 pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon comprehensively exposed the absurdity of this claim, explaining that if true, it would mean that since 1967 ‘there were, on the average, over 23,000 new prisoners a year…or 500 a week… Even during the height of the intifada, the number of these prisoners never reached 10,000… even if you assume that each prisoner is detained for only a single year and only arrested once, these past eight years add up to less than 50,000 prisoners … extrapolated to 1967 it would add up to under 200,000.’

“Perhaps the most manipulative aspect of the coverage was Lyons’ selective use of UNICEF reports. Happy in pre-publicity and on ‘Four Corners’ to raise a March 2013 UNICEF report critical of Israel, Lyons studiously avoided mentioning an October 2013 UNICEF report that praised three major changes Israel had agreed to in September in cooperation with the UN agency.”

2014 – Greg Sheridan of Lyons’ own newspaper, the Australian, criticises “Stone Cold Justice” as “Evil and deeply untrue”:

The Four Corners program was a disgrace, a crude piece of anti-Israel propaganda that revived some of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes. In the year 2014, are we really going to allege again, on the basis of the flimsiest non-evidence you could imagine, that Jewish soldiers systematically physically crucify innocent children? Is there a school of anti-Semitism 101 operating out there?

2014 – John Lyons responds to Greg Sheridan’s critique of “Stone Cold Justice” by attacking Sheridan for relying on information from AIJAC rather than by refuting Sheridan’s points.

“In a nearly 1,100 word response to Greg Sheridan’s dismissal of his ‘Four Corners’ hatchet job on Israel, one might have expected John Lyons would have found space to answer the factual questions raised by his critics. Instead he preferred to attack Sheridan for relying on analysis by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) that debunked many of Lyons’ claims (Australian, March 8).”




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