Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Housing Crisis

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Jamie Hyams

Most media coverage of the Israeli announcement of plans to build 1,600 apartments just past the old Green Line in northern Jerusalem failed to mention that the houses are planned for an existing Jewish neighbourhood. Also, as Greg Sheridan noted in the March 18 Australian, “the Palestinian Authority for 12 months refused to negotiate with Israel; that was fine. It then named a square after a female suicide bomber who killed 37 civilians, including 13 children. No hint of a US rebuke there. But Israel announcing the apartments is apparently the end of Middle East peace as we know it.” While Sheridan was writing about the US Administration, his comment applies equally to the Fairfax press. Leading the way, predictably, was the Canberra Times which, in a March 13 editorial, claimed, completely incorrectly, that the decision was a “clear breach of international law” and that, in Israel, there is “a clear aversion for entering into new negotiations for a two-state solution…” It also claimed that having negotiated in good faith at Camp David, “many Israelis” feel “they can be expected to do no more.” It was as if the Gaza withdrawal, Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer and Netanyahu’s moratorium on building in settlements never happened.

The March 15 Times featured an incredibly skewed history of Israel by the Independent’s Johann Hari in which, in 1948, Palestinians were “suddenly driven out [of their homes] in a war to make way for a new state” and “hardly fought back” until, “after decades” of Israeli mistreatment “they fought back with violence”. Then there was a March 18 Gwynne Dyer piece calling on the US to “defy Israel”. On March 19, though, the paper did print a piece by AIJAC Executive Director Dr. Colin Rubenstein, responding to Hari, in which he explained that, far from settlements or housing being the problem, “The real obstacles to peace are the Palestinian refusal to even talk to Israel, let alone accept its right to exist as a Jewish state, the effective civil war between Hamas and Fatah, the weakness and lack of authority of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority’s ongoing incitement of hatred towards Israel, including the honouring of terrorists who have murdered Israeli civilians.”

A March 19 Financial Review editorial claimed, “Israel is less interested in peace than doing whatever it takes to grab land and break Palestinian resistance to its brutal rule.” In that edition’s “Review” section, but seemingly unread by the editorial writer, Ehud Yaari explained that many Palestinians now feel that by denying Israel a final deal “they are increasing their chances of gaining a state for which they would not be required to make political concessions.” The Israeli announcement was also condemned in editorials in the March 15 Sydney Morning Herald and the March 17 Age, which referred to “the government in distant Tel Aviv.” Israel’s government has been based in Jerusalem since 1949. The March 12 Age had quoted Dr. Rubenstein explaining that the housing announcement did not violate Israel’s moratorium on building in settlements as “That freeze never applied to east Jerusalem and never would under any Israeli government.” Nonetheless, this point was absent from the editorial.

Meanwhile, on the March 10 “Midday Report” on ABC TV, Anne Barker declared, “The growth of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank is the biggest obstacle to peace.” Apparently the ongoing Palestinian terror and refusal to even talk come somewhere behind the building of houses. On ABC Radio’s “The World Today”, also on March 10, Barker claimed, “The Israeli leader infuriated Palestinians by announcing plans to build another 1,600 Jewish homes in east Jerusalem.” In fact, the announcement was made by a local planning committee, without Mr. Netanyahu’s prior knowledge.

The Israeli housing announcement was not the only issue involving projects in Jerusalem to draw unsatisfactory coverage. Reporting on a delay in work on the proposed “King’s Garden” archaeological tourist park in Jerusalem, SBS TV News reporter Jane Braslin stated, on March 3, “Dozens of Palestinian homes would be demolished as part of the project. And even though most would be eligible for alternative housing, the Arab residents doubt the city’s motives.” This was followed by the residents’ lawyer claiming that the municipality just wants to destroy the neighbourhood. There was no mention that the homes to be demolished were built illegally on an important archaeological site. Reporting for the ABC TV “Midday Report” on March 17 about violence in Jerusalem, Ben Knight stated, “This violence was caused by the opening of a controversial synagogue in the Old City.” The synagogue in question had actually been on the site since the 17th century but was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948 and now restored. It’s only “controversial” because the Palestinians reject any Israeli rights in even the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

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