Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Settling for half-truths

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Allon Lee


Another month and another display of the mainstream media's enthusiasm for reporting, largely uncritically, anti-Israel propaganda that bears little relation to the truth about Israeli building in settlements and east Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's meeting with US President Barack Obama was framed as a disagreement over a decision by Israel to continue with the building of 2,610 units in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Givat Hamatos.

An AFP report claimed that "the White House rebuked the Israelis over a plan for 2,600 new settlements in annexed east Jerusalem."

The sentence, of course, was factually incorrect - 2,600 housing units, individual apartments, are not individual settlements!

Moreover, they are to be built in an existing urban neighbourhood of east Jerusalem, not a settlement, Hobart Mercury (Oct. 3).

Elsewhere, a Bloomberg/Reuters report claimed that "the proposed construction...was disclosed by activist group Peace Now."

No, it wasn't. The announcement of final approval for this project was actually made back in December 2012. All that happened recently was that the deputy mayor of Jerusalem signed a routine extension order in the middle of September 2014 reaffirming official approval for the project.

The non-crisis crisis was prompted by Israeli NGO Peace Now's cynical decision to time their media release criticising the routine authorisation extension with Netanyahu's White House visit.

The report also erroneously claimed that Israeli construction of settlements "has been one of the main obstacles to peace talks, including the latest US-brokered negotiations, which collapsed in April. Palestinians claim those lands for their future state."

In fact, since 2000 the peace talks have all been based on the understanding that the overwhelming majority of settler homes, including areas like Givat Hamatos would be retained by Israel, with Palestinians being compensated with land within Israel, Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 3).

A more expansive version of the same Reuters/Bloomberg report ran in the Canberra Times (Oct. 3) and noted that "the Givat Hamatos area, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem on the West Bank, is part of the east Jerusalem territory captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967 and annexed in a move condemned by the United Nations as illegal. Israel maintains the land is disputed territory, the status of which should be resolved in peace negotiations."

Although this paragraph offered readers important information deleted by the Age and SMH, it should have explained that Jordanian control over east Jerusalem was never recognised internationally as legal and UN Security Council resolutions never specified exactly which territory Israel should return and to whom.

All the reports categorically failed to include the fact that at least 800 of the proposed units are to be set aside for Arab residents of east Jerusalem. In other words, the claim that this proposed construction was solely for "Jewish settlements" was a fabrication.

While the Australian Financial Review ignored the original Givat Hamatos brouhaha, it did run a report on Oct. 8 noting the White House's upbraiding of Netanyahu for suggesting that American opposition to Israeli building in the West Bank and Jerusalem was "against American values."

Yet Netanyahu was talking mainly about another contentious issue - the purchase of 25 apartments by Jews in the predominantly Arab neighbourhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem. Netanyahu explained why he viewed condemnation as "against American values" in another interview saying, "‘[What] if I said to you in any part of the United States or the world, ‘Jews cannot buy apartments here?'"

The Silwan issue received less coverage but was also poorly handled.

The Herald Sun report (Oct. 2) was titled "Settlers' home row". Silwan is not a settlement and someone who is Jewish and buys an apartment there is not automatically a "settler".

The introduction was also crude, claiming that "Israeli settlers have forcefully taken over 25 apartments in Arab east Jerusalem, residents and Palestinian leaders say, with the new occupants claiming they legitimately bought the properties."

The report noted that the Israeli police confirmed the "settlers had documents proving they had bought the apartments. But a lawyer representing the Palestinian owners said they denied selling."

That was the real story. There is a long history of Palestinians selling buildings to Jews, pocketing the money and then denying the transaction when subject to Palestinian criticism.

SBS' news website (Oct. 1) ran a report on the issue with the extraordinary and prejudicial headline, "Israeli settlers take over Jerusalem homes."

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