Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: On Their Lobby Horse

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Jamie Hyams

On June 4 the SBS TV “Dateline” reporter Amos Roberts covered the play My Name is Rachel Corrie, which consisted largely of an actress reading from Corrie’s letters and diaries.

The report was sympathetic to Corrie and her cause, showing footage of her in primary school making an idealistic speech, showing excerpts of her virulently anti-Israel speeches from the play, and interviewing her parents. Roberts described her group, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), as “committed to non-violent resistance”. This is despite it having sheltered terrorists, and its founders having written in the Palestine Chronicle that, “The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics - both nonviolent and violent.”

The report featured a discussion between Antony Loewenstein, introduced as a Jewish writer who often criticises Israel, and “Bren Carlill [who] works for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, a Zionist lobby group.” It’s interesting that Roberts felt it relevant to mention that Loewenstein is Jewish, but not that Carlill is Christian.

Asked who was to blame for Corrie’s death, Carlill nominated the ISM, saying, it is “a Palestinian organisation, that takes naïve Westerners and puts them as human shields in war zones - it’s actually a war crime according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Rachel Corrie quotes so often during this play. It’s actually a war crime to create and deploy human shields, but Rachel Corrie was a human shield [who] died when protecting a weapons smuggling tunnel.” Loewenstein, naturally, couldn’t accept this truth, claiming, “There were thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Palestinians who were essentially left homeless over years because Israel claimed - without much evidence I might add - that these houses were supporting terrorists, which is simply untrue.”

Carlill also explained that he had “seen the video footage leading up to her death and she was in a ditch, in front of a bulldozer, crouching down.”

Roberts mentioned that the theatre that had originally intended to show the play in New York subsequently pulled it, which led to discussion of the “Israel lobby”. Loewenstein claimed, “What happened in New York was that there was talk about bringing it to the States, there was serious pressure from the powers that be there, from elements of the Israel lobby...” Carlill interjected, “The powers that be?” Loewenstein continued, “Yeah, from the Israel lobby. This is the way the Israel lobby, the Zionist lobby, works. They don’t like something, they put pressure on organisations or individuals… The point is, sadly, the organisation that Bren is a member of, in Australia, does not believe in the concept of open and free debate.” Bizarrely, he made this claim about AIJAC not “believing in free and open debate” while debating an AIJAC representative on national television.

Carlill explained, “We do not try and shut down debate. We want open and free speech...” Loewenstein claimed, “From your perspective only.” Carlill countered, “Newspapers around Australia have opinion pieces for both narratives. This is democracy, this is pluralism, this is freedom of speech. AIJAC is trying to do that.” In reality, it seems it is Loewenstein who tries to shut down debate, by constantly claiming any criticism of anything he writes is somehow an illegitimate attempt to gag him.

The ABC’s “Media Watch” also seems to have a problem accepting that Israel’s supporters have the same right to lobby and to question the fairness of press coverage as any other group. In its May 19 program, it took exception to the fact that former Fairfax Middle East correspondent Ed O’Loughlin’s typically anti-Israel final article, which ran in the Age, did not appear in the Sydney Morning Herald. After reproducing some criticism of O’Loughlin in the Australian Jewish News, and noting that the NSW Board of Deputies had met with Fairfax management to discuss their concerns, they showed a statement from O’Loughlin in which he said, “There has been an intensive lobbying effort to skew the Herald and the Age to a pro-Israeli position and I’ve had nothing but support until now.” In fact, any lobbying was only to try to encourage objectivity in the Fairfax papers.

The item, however, concluded, “Of course, editors have a right to edit. But it seems a poor reward for five years of full-time service in a dangerous and taxing patch for a correspondent to have his final feature spiked, without explanation. And arguably it sends an unfortunate message, both to his critics - and to his successor, the Age’s respected Jason Koutsoukis.” This is despite the fact that there was absolutely no evidence of any outside influence in the Herald decision not to run the story. Some analysis of years of anti-Israel bias from O’Loughlin would have been appropriate, instead of an attack on the occasional criticism of it, but that’s not “Media Watch”’s style.

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