Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Settling for Spin

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Jamie Hyams


Much of our media has taken the Palestinian line that the settlements are the main obstacle to peace. Unfortunately, not only are the settlements focused on too heavily, at the expense of the real problem – especially continued Palestinian intransigence and division – but many reports on the West Bank and east Jerusalem are becoming increasingly one-sided and exaggerated, with some bordering on hysterical.

The July 22 Sydney Morning Herald editorial urged the Obama Administration to take a tough line with Israel on settlements and east Jerusalem, stating “core issues” were “the creeping expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank” and “the steady demographic engineering taking place in east Jerusalem, replacing Arabs with Jew.” While West Bank settlement populations may be increasing, the settlements are staying within already established boundaries, and therefore taking no more land. As for east Jerusalem, the Palestinian population is still increasing significantly faster than the Jewish population. Similarly, in an Aug. 13 report for ABC Radio’s “The World Today”, Anne Barker claimed that one Palestinian built his home illegally “in the knowledge that Palestinians applying for a building permit in east Jerusalem are nearly always knocked back.” This is simply not true, and the rates of approval for the two communities are actually fairly similar.

On the July 27 “Midday Report” on ABC TV, anchor Deborah Rice described the “building of Jewish settlements” as “a key stumbling block to peace.” But no new settlements are being built. This was followed by a report from Ben Knight, which also featured on that night’s news, in which Dror Etkes, the director of far left group Peace Now’s settlement watch program (described in the caption as “Human rights activist”) claimed, “In the last half a year, we have seen what I would define as the most comprehensive and daring assault on Palestinian land in the West Bank since now perhaps six or seven years.” There was no Israeli spokesperson to point out that they are taking no more land.

On that day’s “AM” on ABC Radio, Tony Eastley said that one issue that “stands like a giant roadblock” to peace is “the expansion of Jewish housing in the West Bank and Jerusalem.” Anne Barker then referred to “settlements the international community considers illegal,” and continued, “But settlers like Dani Dayan believe they have a God-given right to be there.” But that’s not what Dayan said. He told her, “We liberated this disputed land in a defensive war that was a result of an aggression in order to annihilate the State of Israel. So from a moral point of view no doubt we have every right to be here.”

On that night’s SBS TV News, Simone Sutcliffe said, “Mr. Barak has hinted at halting construction of all new settlements while allowing those being built to continue.” But there are no new settlements. Mr. Barak had hinted there would be no new building in existing settlements, but buildings already commenced would be finished.

On the Aug.10 SBS TV News, Ursula Malone said, “The Israeli government has pledged that Jewish settlers will never again be evicted from occupied Palestinian land, calling the withdrawal from Gaza four years ago a mistake.” In fact, the Israeli government has made no such pledge, and has repeatedly said it will, for example, evict settlers from illegal “outposts” and has endorsed a two-state solution which would almost certainly require settlement evacuations. It is also very unlikely that the government referred to the land as “Palestinian”, something which will be decided by negotiation. On Aug. 19, her colleague Keith Breene said, “Settlements in the West Bank remain the most significant obstacle to the resumption of peace talks.”

Another telling example, was John Lyons’ Aug. 22-23 Weekend Australian Magazine cover story about Nasser Jaber, who claimed his Jerusalem house had been illegally occupied by “settlers” with the connivance of the Israeli police and courts. The allegations included that “The settlers’ lawyer was granted a private meeting with the judge, despite protests from Jaber’s counsel that he should be present,” and that only after the meeting, the judge decided to allow the “settlers” to remain in the house until the case was decided. Lyons complained that “Neither the police, the settlers nor their lawyer” would speak to him. In other words, all information in the article come from Jaber or his lawyers, and Lyons apparently did not attempt to speak with spokepersons from the court or the Jerusalem municipality. Yet Lyons reported many allegations in this dispute which is still before the courts – such as the claimed ex parte court meeting – as fact. According to our sources in Israel, the ex parte meeting claim is simply untrue, as is a claim in the story that Israeli police provided food or other direct assistance to the Jews involved in the dispute.

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