Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

ABC's Sophie McNeill tackles incitement, doubles down on insistence that "occupation" behind terror

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The last time a report from Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill ran on ABC TV "7:30", on Oct. 22, it was entitled "Meet the young generation of Palestinians behind the third Intifada" - and seemed designed to elicit sympathy for Palestinian teen terrorists. It sparked uproar against her and host Leigh Sales amid accusations of bias and one-sidedness, that ultimately saw Senator Eric Abetz this week grill ABC Managing Director Mark Scott during Senate Estimates.

One of the major criticisms of that report was that McNeill completely ignored the incitement which Israel says is playing the dominant role in creating the recent wave of terrorist stabbings - with the segment insisting it was inspired by "occupation", " the building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land" and "jobless and...poverty-stricken families."

To her credit, she has now finally run a story covering the widespread incitement which is easily documented - see AIJAC's four stories on the subject so far: here, here, here, and here.

Further to her credit, her segment mentioned and showed images of Palestinian toddlers in incitement propaganda - a disturbing phenomenon she invited a Palestinian official to condemn but he wouldn't.

Unfortunately, the sequel doubled down on the theme of McNeill's previous report (see here under the item under the heading "McNeill's Sophistry") by burying the single Israeli voice featured discussing the problem of incitement with no less than three Palestinian interviewees insisting incitement is insignificant and the violence is wholly Israel's fault because of "occupation" - and then using the words of a dead Israeli terror victim to bolster the Palestinian case.

The report began with Micah Lakin Avni, the son of "76-year-old Israeli Richard Lakin [who] was sitting near the front when two young Palestinian men boarded the bus and started attacking."

Richard Lakin was a ‘good guy' - someone who had taught at a joint Palestinian-Israeli school.

After his father's murder, McNeill said, Micah "tried to make sense of it all, scouring Palestinian social media. He was horrified by what he found."

According to Micah:

Here you have a chart that was posted on Facebook showing how to most effectively stab somebody and hit a major vein or artery. This was posted on Facebook and spread around all around the internet. The amount of incitement to violence on the internet has got these kids worked up to the point where they actually run out, take a kitchen knife, go into the street and run towards an innocent civilian and try to stab them. And I found that one of them had posted on Facebook a few months before a kind of general call to martyrdom saying, "I'm gonna go out and I'm gonna become a martyr and I call you all - upon all of you to do the same."

What followed though were three Palestinians who McNeill used to dismiss Lakin's accusation about radicalisation.

First was Ahmed Yousef who McNeill said "works for Quds News Network, a web-based Palestinian news service that has nearly four million followers. He says the main videos on his site that go viral are the clips that capture what life is like under Israeli occupation" and that he "publishes images that glorify violence against Israelis and he says he will continue to do so."

According to Youseff:

Facebook isn't helping to incite as Israel is accusing; it helps bring the picture to the people, to show them what's happening... This is the situation of Palestinians resisting Israel for the past 67 years.

Note the significance of "67 years" which refers to Israel's creation, not the claim that all the Palestinians want is a state covering the lands captured by Israel in 1967, a point that was left unexplained in the report.

Next was Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouti, a supporter of the BDS movement (also omitted from the report), who said, "where is the cause of all of this? The main cause is occupation and the continuation of occupation."

And finally, the mother of 14-year-old Palestinian Hadeel Awaad who "left her home in the occupied West Bank and went into Jerusalem with her 16-year-old cousin... [where] they started trying to stab pedestrians with their school art scissors. Hadeel was immediately shot dead at the scene".

McNeill said Hadeel "had the latest smartphone, but her mother rejects the idea she was radicalised by online content. Two years ago, Israeli soldiers shot and killed Hadeel's elder brother during a protest near their home. It was an event that greatly affected the young girl."

No one who follows McNeill's reporting - and especially her private tweets - should be surprised that the story placed great emphasis on denying the role of incitement as a catalyst for violence, while insisting on the correctness of the Palestinain claims that the violence is a direct result of "occupation" and other Israeli policies, because it clearly reflects McNeill's personal viewpoint.

We know this because, as I noted in the Australia/Israel Review December 2015 edition (refer again to the item under the heading "McNeill's Sophistry"), during a debate on "Saturday Extra" (Oct. 24) McNeill vehemently disagreed with Jonathan Spyer's assessment that the current violence was founded on a lie that Al-Aqsa is at risk.

McNeill insisted that "Israelis can't go into most parts of the West Bank where the angriest young Palestinians are and I can...and they mention Al-Aqsa but it's really the occupation that they're complaining about." (Spyer pointed out that he actually reads Arabic, unlike McNeill, and has looked at Palestinian social media which explains what motivates terrorists - as opposed to what activists tell journalists like McNeill in order to garner maximum positive PR).

And in case you missed the fact that it is the Israeli occupation that is the cause of the current violence, the report ended with viewers hearing a voiceover reading a Facebook post written by Richard Lakin shortly before his death that McNeill said was "directly addressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu":

"It's time to wake up and seek a common ground with our Palestinian neighbours. Stop all provocation in the West Bank. Enough with the non-negotiations. Everything has gotten more extreme."

So, there you had it, the victim of Palestinian violence speaking from beyond the grave and accusing Israel of responsibility for the lack of peace (never mind that Israel has been offering to negotiate without preconditions constantly, while it is the Palestinians who are adamantly refusing).

But there is a factually-based counter-narrative that McNeill could have included but chose not to, which was a big story in Israel and which provided essential context for why the "occupation" continues. As AIJAC's Sharyn Mittelman blogged earlier in the week:

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has finally admitted what has long been known, that in 2008 he rejected an offer from Israel's then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to create a Palestinian State that would have fulfilled all reasonable expectations from the international community for a two-state peace. This was the third time the Palestinian leadership rejected an offer by Israel for a Palestinian state, following Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offers to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2000 and 2001. 

The admission came during interviews with Abbas and Olmert regarding the 2008 peace negotiations, which aired on Israel's Channel 10 TV. At the 24.05 minute mark of the interview, reporter Raviv Drucker asked Abbas:
"In the map that Olmert presented you, Israel would annex 6.3 percent [of the West Bank] and compensate the Palestinians with 5.8 percent [taken from pre-1967 Israel]. What did you propose in return?" 

"I did not agree," Abbas replied. "I rejected it out of hand."
Olmert's offer of a Palestinian State included nearly all of the West Bank, the entire Gaza Strip, a safe passage corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, an offer to withdraw from the Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem and place Jerusalem's Old City under international control, as well as the absorption of around 5000 Palestinian refugees.
Olmert said in the interview, "I told him, ‘Remember my words, it will be 50 years before there will be another Israeli prime minister that will offer you what I am offering you now. Don't miss this opportunity.'"

But Abbas did miss the opportunity, and as a result, so did the Palestinian people.

In other words, the Palestinians could be free of occupation and celebrating the fifth or even sixth year of their independence but for the rejectionist stance of their own leaders - not according to Israel but to PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself.

You'd have thought ABC viewers might have wanted to know about this but then it would not fit McNeill's own narrative (and remember in the past, she described herself as an "activist", repeatedly used the examples of Palestinians suffering to illustrate the " kind of journalism I want to do" and spoke at pro-Palestinian pro-BDS events) whereby the Palestinians are innocent victims of Israeli policies, settlements and "occupation" - and if she has to mention Israeli terror victims, well, they are victims of Israeli policies as well.

But of course, McNeill not only failed to include Abbas' very public revelation in this story, but appears to have neither reported nor tweeted it anywhere else - and one wonders if she ever will.

Nice work Sophie - you've managed to get the Australian taxpayers to subsidise your "activism".

Allon Lee

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