Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Motion Commotion

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Jamie Hyams


Motion Commotion

Last month’s “Microscope” noted that Alan Ramsey could not let the impending bipartisan parliamentary motion congratulating Israel on its 60th anniversary pass without lashings of vitriol. Naturally the advent of the motion saw many more join the debate.

Ramsey himself, in the March 15 Sydney Morning Herald, quoted at length Liberal MP Sussan Ley, who condemned both Israelis and Palestinians. Ramsey described this as  “extremely courageous”. However, it was apparently not courageous enough, as he changed Ms. Ley’s reference to Israel’s “continued expansion of settlements”, to “[illegal Israeli] settlements [on Palestinian land]” (brackets added by Ramsey). He also made the ludicrous and disturbing claim that “there is no real debate in this country about the travesty of what is happening in the Middle East, and there are those in the community who, with their money and influence, do all they can to ensure no such open debate occurs.” In a companion piece, he described the Rudd and Nelson speeches as “trowel[ling] on the gush”.

The Canberra Times coverage was exceedingly negative. In the March 13 edition, the article about the motion by Ross Peake, was titled “PM snubbed from all sides over Israeli motion.” It began, “More than a dozen ministers and Labor backbenchers were absent from Parliament yesterday when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moved an [sic] motion to congratulate Israel...” Peake then quoted pro-Palestinian Labor MP Julia Irwin at length before finally getting to Mr. Rudd’s speech. He then covered union sponsorship of a virulently anti-Israel newspaper advertisement. The cartoon for the day, by Pope, was titled “The two-state solution turns 60…”, with the “two states” being “The state of denial” showing settlement building, and “The state of despair”. In an opinion piece, Dr. Kevin Bray, chair of Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine, made a litany of complaints about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, concluding, “Excluding Nazi genocide, the parallels with many of the horrors recalled at Yad Vashem are striking.” He falsely claimed that, in 1948, Jews owned only 6% of the land and Arabs the other 94% (most of that 94% was crown land owned by neither) and called for sanctions and boycotts.

AIJAC Executive Director Dr. Colin Rubenstein responded in the March 20 edition, pointing out, “Israel’s efforts at exchanging land for peace have been stymied by ongoing terrorism.”

In Adelaide’s Advertiser, on March 14, Joseph Wakim attempted to parallel Palestinians with Australian Aborigines, and to pillory those, including AIJAC National Chairman Mark Leibler, who have worked for Aboriginal reconciliation and are pro-Israel. Mr. Leibler responded on March 21, drawing numerous distinctions between the Palestinians and Aborigines, including their conduct, pointing out, “The rejection by Yasser Arafat of a just and comprehensive peace deal at Camp David in 2000, and the launching of the second Intifada, which resulted in thousands of dead on both sides, is the saddest indictment on Wakim’s false analogy.”

The Australian by contrast, featured pieces by Zionist Federation of Australia President Philip Chester and Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem on March 12 and 15-16, respectively. Both listed Israel’s achievements and extolled the friendship between Israel and Australia. A March 12 editorial condemned the criticism of Israel from “the usual left-wing, anti-Israel suspects”, and noted the grotesque nature of the conflict was evident “in the joyful celebrations among Gazan civilians” of the Jerusalem Yeshiva massacre. A similarly supportive editorial on March 15 noted, “Neither Hamas nor the Iranian leadership… that sponsors Hezbollah is interested in any settlement that recognises Israel’s existence and they are prepared to use the continued suffering of ordinary Palestinians in a propaganda war to win supporters in the West.”

On March 12, both SBS TV “News” and ABC Radio’s “PM” concentrated on the division within the ALP rather than the actual motion. SBS anchor Amrita Cheema began, “Divisions within the federal government over its policy on Israel have intensified with some Labor MPs boycotting a motion in parliament...” Richard Davis’ report began with the Rudd and Nelson speeches, but then noted that Julia Irwin, among others, had boycotted the motion and quoted her. It also showed the anti-Israel advertisement in The Australian and showed Andrew Ferguson of the left wing union the CFMEU, which was a signatory, saying, “Israel is responsible for human rights abuses and we’ve seen the mass murder of civilians with bombing of Gaza in recent months.”

“PM” reporter Hayden Cooper interviewed Julia Irwin, who said, “Look, I find it hard to congratulate a country which carries out human rights abuses each day, and shows blatant disregard for the United Nations.” However, he also spoke to Australian Workers Union Secretary Paul Howes, who condemned the Irwin, CFMEU and Maritime Union attacks on Israel.

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