Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Questionable

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Jamie Hyams

It has become increasingly noticeable that while the ABC TV show “Q & A” sometimes features members of the Muslim community who are also effectively there representing their community, Jewish individuals featured tend to be those strongly critical of Israel. It may be relevant that the executive producer is Peter McEvoy, who was EP of “Media Watch” when that program seemed very concerned with “exposing” the “danger” to the media posed by those criticising anti-Israel bias on the ABC.

The latest example was on Oct. 15, when “Q & A” featured Alexei Sayle, a comedian and member of “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” who advocates boycotting Israel. Asked about this stance, Sayle claimed Israel “occupied the West Bank and refused to give it back, and stood on the necks of those three million people who lived there, denied them all civil rights” and has become an apartheid state, while the Peres Peace Foundation is “about trying to get the Palestinians to accept the Israeli occupation.” This apparently wasn’t enough for host Tony Jones, so after further panel discussion, which included Federal Liberal MP Christopher Pyne saying he felt, “Israel needs to be able to live free of terrorism and in the situation where it found itself where it could, I think Israel would treat its Palestinian minority population and the West Bank and Gaza quite differently,” Jones asked Sayle to sum up. Sayle obliged, saying, “Dialogue doesn’t work with Israel. It has to be like a kind of recalcitrant child. You have to express your disgust at its behaviour. I think a boycott is – we did it with South Africa. I think we need to do it with Israel.”

The panellists on the Oct. 1 “Q & A” episode, which centred around religion, included Waleed Aly, introduced as a “politics lecturer and former spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria.” The panel was asked why the world was so concerned about Iranian nuclear weapons when, according to the questioner, “the Zionist” is the real problem with “hundreds of people… getting killed in Gaza and West Bank, every day with the support of America.” In response, Aly said, “The minute the conversation turns to Iran, it is going to be deflected towards Israel. And so the problem is that if you’re interested in disarming Iran or somehow reining in that regime, it’s very hard to do that in isolation without also engaging in some kind of agreement that’s going to bring Israel into the mix.”

On May 7, panellists included Randa Abdel-Fattah, introduced simply as an “author and lawyer”. She has written three novels, two about Muslim girls growing up in Australia and one about a Palestinian girl growing up in the wake of an Israeli bomb attack. She also writes opinion pieces harshly critical of Israel. Her own website says she “has used her writing as a medium for expressing her views about Palestinian human rights.” On the show, she claimed that grounds for anti-Israel criticism included “ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages”, “occupation” of, “discrimination against” and “ongoing suffering of Palestinians.” She also denied that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Durban II was antisemitic and claimed that when the Australian Parliament commemorated Israel’s 60th anniversary “you celebrated the dispossession, eviction, dispossession and exile of another people in order to create the state of Israel.”

The March 26 episode featured Jewish and Muslim panellists, but while the Muslim was Susan Carland, introduced as an “academic and sociologist” but also a cast member of the SBS program “Salaam Café”, 2004 Muslim of the year and Waleed Aly’s wife, the Jewish panellist was Louise Adler, publisher and promoter of Antony Loewenstein. Of the two, Adler was in fact the more critical of Israel, assuming that the then current, anonymous and second-hand allegations of Israeli misconduct in Gaza were true and saying, “I think they’re devastating reports and they speak to the dehumanising kind of atmosphere that I think we get from years of occupation.” (In a previous “Q& A” appearance, on May 29, 2008, Adler commented on the controversy over the photos of Bill Henson, by asserting that any censorship meant we’re on a slippery slope towards the Holocaust. Adler appeared on the show yet again on Oct. 22).

The April 2 program included Jewish political scientist Dennis Altman, who complained that Australia under the Rudd Government is too close to the US.

“Q & A” has also featured non-Jews both highly critical and highly supportive of Israel, and Muslims who did not discuss matters related either to their faith or the Middle East, but until the show redresses the imbalance by featuring a member of the Jewish community who reflects the community’s mainstream, consensual views, there will be a Question hanging over it that needs an Answer.

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