Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Week - Birds of a feather; Trigger-happy headliners; Down the memory hole

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Birds of a feather

SBS TV's "Dateline" program (May 21) travelled to Greece to look at the worrying rise in the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn movement which has used the economic crisis there to increase its Parliamentary representation through scapegoating Jews, foreigners, homosexuals and other rival political groupings.

Whilst it is clear that Golden Dawn mirrors its behaviour on the intimidatory tactics of fascism, Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panayotaros told Evan Williams that they take inspiration from Hezbollah, which has cannily attracted supporters over the years through the provision of social services.

As Panayotaros explained, "Golden Dawn wants to become and will become like the Hezbollah in Lebanon which in effect is a second government which helps even its poorest citizen and over time Golden Dawn will do more for our fellow citizens."

But that, of course, doesn't tell the full story. It's a pity that Williams did not follow up on the Hezbollah angle, and point out how it is not only a proscribed terrorist organisation in many countries but actually controls the Lebanese government.

Even though Hezbollah has only 12 of the 128 MPs in the Lebanese Parliament, it has leveraged this to control 18 out of 30 cabinet seats.

Furthermore, Hezbollah has largely achieved this stunning result through intimidation and assassination, such as the car bombing which killed Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri along with 21 others in 2005 or by military force. In 2008 Hezbollah repelled a government attempt to dismantle its private telecommunications network by attacking West Beirut suburbs loyal to the government. A good model for a fascist organisation indeed.

Trigger-happy headliners

A news story in the Cairns Post (May 30) reporting that Israel would not accept Syria having access to Russian made anti-aircraft missiles was unfortunately headlined with "Israel puts finger on trigger".

No background material was offered on the S-300 missile i.e. it can intercept aircraft as well as ballistic missiles at ranges of over 200 km.

If Syria, or more likely its Hezbollah client in neighbouring Lebanon were given access to such technology, Israeli fighter jets would be vulnerable as soon as they took off from their airbases inside Israel.

Down the memory hole

In the Australian (June 4), Lowy Institute analyst Rodger Shanahan lamented the death of secularist movements in the Middle East, writing how "there is no longer a contest of ideas in the Arab world, only a contest about whom God does and doesn't favour. Today the dominant narrative is one of religion, which in turn is largely a reprisal of the centuries-old contest between the two main branches of Islam."

Shanahan was positively misty eyed for the "inclusive nationalism" of old style Arab secularism which probably explains why he couldn't discern how its failure to advance the living standards and rights of the masses had opened the door to the Islamists.

Even less convincing was Shanahan's thesis that "to understand how religion has robbed the region of its unifying political themes one needs to look no further than the Palestinian nationalist movement, a secular grouping that ignored religious affiliation in its early days. Nowadays, the Muslim Brotherhood that inspired Hamas's Islamist persuasion, and Iran that nurtured its religious character have fatally riven an already divided Palestine."

It is undeniably true that the Palestinian nationalist movement was, historically, largely secular in character - although there is considerable evidence that Yasser Arafat was inspired partly by the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he was a member as a young man, and included classical Islamist themes in his rhetoric from time to time. However, Shanahan is mistaken in arguing that religion ultimately created a "divided Palestine".

Rather, it was the corrupt behaviour of the secular Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) which stole and squandered resources that resulted in a corrosion of its moral legitimacy and ultimately turned ordinary Palestinians towards the more ascetic Hamas.

Compounding this shift was the PA's disastrous refusal to abandon its posture of resistance and revolution against Israel and accept Israel's several offers of statehood.

In not preparing its people for peace, making the historic blunder of rejecting Israel's offer of statehood in 2000 and subsequently launching the Second Intifada, Fatah effectively adopted Hamas' narrative and policies, and thereby legitimised the latter as a serious political player - one which could ostensibly better achieve the same things without the corruption and hypocrisy.

Allon Lee

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