Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Once More, into the Breach

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Jamie Hyams

As relations cooled between Israel and the US, some in our media have solely blamed the Netanyahu Government, while others have held the Obama Administration responsible. In the March 23 Canberra Times, Amin Saikal claimed, despite all evidence to the contrary, that since becoming prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu “has remained resolute in his opposition to any negotiated settlement that could result in the creation of an independent Palestinian state.” He added that Israel could “no longer expect to be treated or trusted as any more than a delinquent member of the international community.” This wistful thinking on Saikal’s part is certainly far stronger than anything he has written about his other pet subject, rogue state Iran. The paper’s March 25 editorial bizarrely claimed Israel is “preoccupied with efforts to counter recent American criticism of its stonewalling on Palestinian peace talks.” In fact, Israel has been pushing for talks, but the Palestinians have refused.

On March 27, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul McGeough accused Israel of “constant and disproportionate use of lethal force” while a March 25 Herald editorial claimed that Netanyahu’s reasonable statement that, in imposing impossible demands Barack Obama is holding up peace talks, was “insulting everyone’s intelligence”.

Some unquestioningly accept Barack Obama’s perspective on Israel, in contrast to the analysis that used to be applied to former President George W. Bush. For example, on March 24, SBS TV journalist Brian Thomson reported, “After months of painstaking work by the US Administration aimed at getting the Palestinians back to the negotiating table Israel announced plans to build 1,600 homes in mainly Arab east Jerusalem.” The area in which the homes are to be built is Jewish. Thomson concluded, “analysts say… President Obama is now likely to concentrate on the Middle East, forcing Mr. Netanyahu to display whether he is a genuine peace partner or the obstacle that the Palestinians paint him as.” So if Netanyahu doesn’t do what Obama wants, he is an obstacle to peace. In the past, Palestinian leaders have often refused to comply with US requests, but I don’t recall SBS suggesting this made them obstacles to peace.

In the March 30 Australian, Andrew Sullivan claimed US irritation with “Netanyahu’s refusal to accept that Israeli intransigence over settlements is badly hurting the US’s interests around the world.”

In contrast, Greg Sheridan, in the March 27 Australian, condemned “Barack Obama’s anti-Israel jihad” and his “dangerous new lurch into anti-Israel populism.” On the announcement of the 1,600 dwellings in east Jerusalem which prompted Obama’s hard line, Sheridan wrote, “It would be a radical change of policy for an Israeli government to decree that no building would ever take place in Jewish areas of Jerusalem. It would also be a change of American policy. Moreover, no serious analyst could believe that such building is a roadblock to peace. Peace negotiations have gone on with such building taking place in the past. And all the things that truly make peace impossible – Arab and Palestinian refusal to accept the legitimacy of any Jewish state, Palestinian insistence on certain deal breakers such as the right of return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel proper, the insistent and violent anti-Semitism of Palestinian and Arab propaganda and the regional ambitions of players such as Iran and Syria – will be completely unaffected by any decision to build apartments in a Jewish neighbourhood in East Jerusalem in three years time.”

The paper’s March 25 editorial noted, “The Obama Administration will harden attitudes in Israel if it makes peace negotiations hostage to demands that can never be met. Israel’s attempts to find a peaceful solution, from the time of Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 onwards, were rebuffed, often with hostility.”

In the March 20 Australian, Yossi Klein Halevi noted, “Although Palestinian leaders negotiated with Israeli governments that built Jewish settlements in the West Bank, they now refuse to sit down with the first Israeli government to agree to a suspension of building. Obama’s demand for a freeze on Israeli building in Jerusalem led to a freeze in negotiations.” He added, “In the past year, the US has not once publicly condemned the Palestinians for lack of good faith – even though the Palestinian Authority media has been waging a months-long campaign denying the Jews’ historic roots in Jerusalem.”

In an April 10 Australian piece mainly on the Obama Administration’s failings on Iran, Sheridan noted, “Obama’s recent penchant for beating up on Israel has paradoxically hurt Washington’s standing among Arab nations. The Arab view of the US embodies a weird Janus-faced contradiction. It sees the US as insanely powerful and decadently weak at the same time. Beating up on Israel confirms the impression of US weakness, that it might ditch, or at least humiliate, even its closest allies.”

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