Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Noted and Quoted: Islamist Terrorists, Democrats - same difference

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Islamist Terrorists, Democrats - same difference

After the Hamas election, some commentators implied, absurdly, that the Israeli right were the equivalent to Hamas. When you see the Likud (which actually cautiously accepts the idea of Palestinian statehood and has withdrawn from territory) advocating the mass murder and expulsion of all Palestinians, then they will be equivalent, but this is not ever likely to happen.

Academic Fawaz Gerges stated, “You know… as you know, when Ariel Sharon was elected one of the arguments that was made by some Palestinians is that we should not… they should not engage Ariel Sharon because Ariel Sharon was an ultraconservative militant. I think the same argument can be basically applied to Israel…The fear is that the Israeli electorate will respond … by electing an ultraconservative government like Benjamin Netanyahu. This would be really a worst-case scenario, because you’re going to have two militant governments,” ABC Radio “The World Today” (Jan. 27).

George Negus interviewed Abdallah bin Serkal, a friend in Dubai who runs an open mosque and who Negus described as a moderate Muslim but who stated that he does not regard Hamas as terrorists. Negus expressed concern about what would happen, “if the extremists in Israel got power, with Hamas in power in Palestine,” SBS TV “Dateline” (Feb. 15).


Hamas = Israel

Age and Sydney Morning Herald Middle East correspondent Ed O’Loughlin had a long 1400+ word feature in both papers (Feb. 4) whose primary purpose (despite some throwaway lines about how both sides need to “ask some tough questions”) appears to have been to try to convince readers that Israeli governments are just as bad as Hamas.

O’Loughlin initially claimed to be merely repeating what Palestinians say, but by the end of the piece, he had dropped any pretence and was presenting the Palestinian claims as fact.

Referring to Israeli commentators denouncing “the Palestinians for electing a party that rejects the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution…They forget that Israelis did the same thing themselves in 1996…when arch-hawk and Oslo rejectionist Benjamin Netanyahu displaced peacenik Shimon Peres,” he wrote.

He came close to comparing all Israeli governments to Hamas when he stated, “ Why should Hamas formally recognise the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Israel when successive Israeli governments have taken practical steps to block the creation of a genuine Palestinian state?”

In the context of his argument, he was clearly supportive of Palestinian claims comparing Israeli self-defence to Palestinian terrorism when he demanded, “Why, ask Palestinians, does nobody in the West ever ask Israel to renounce the use of violence in pursuit of its political goals?”

O’Loughlin also argued dismissively that “Hamas’ violent, mystical and antisemitic founding charter has been widely cited in Israel as proof that it will never be prepared to moderate or negotiate, whatever its leaders may now be saying,” implying that Hamas leaders now say they have a different policy, which is not the case at all.


The US and Israel voted for Hamas?

Others were quick to claim that the Hamas victory was ultimately the fault of their favourite bugbears, Israel and the US.

Prof. Amin Saikal of the Australian National University claimed, “Hamas’ triumph comes as no great surprise. It has occurred… largely as a result of the Israeli and American pressure to change the agenda of Palestinian politics to their liking... It is time for sober heads to prevail in Tel Aviv and Washington,” The Age (Jan. 28).

Shahram Akbarzadeh, a senior lecturer on the Middle East at Monash University, claimed, “More than a decade has passed since the formation of the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinians are no closer to a viable national state. This is, of course, not the fault of Fatah leadership, at least not entirely. Fatah was caught in an impossible position…The question now is whether a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority will repeat the Fatah experience, or break the deadlock…the answer will be found in Washington and Tel Aviv.” The Australian (Jan. 30).


Corrupt? Who us?

PLO representative in Australia Ali Kazak wouldn’t accept that the Fatah run Palestinian Authority had a problem with corruption, claiming, “Well, look, the whole thing about this so-called corruption is over exaggerated. No doubt we do have corruption, but as much as there is corruption in the United States or Australia or Israel or anywhere else,” ABC TV “7.30 Report” (Jan. 27). However, Mark Willacy spoke to Ahmed al-Maghani, the Palestinian Attorney-General, who is conducting an investigation into corruption by Palestinian Authority officials. Willacy reported, “‘Just how much money has been pilfered is a good question’, he says. ‘I believe the amount to be close to US $700 million but it could be more. These millions have been transferred into personal accounts here and abroad,’” ABC Radio “Correspondents Report” (Feb. 12).


The Fixer is In

ABC Middle East Correspondent Mark Willacy seemed to inadvertently hint at one reason why so much of the reporting from the West Bank and Gaza tends to favour the Palestinians. Like most international reporters, he uses a Palestinian fixer who apparently plays a major role in telling him what the news is and setting up the stories. He explained, “On the way [to a job] I have to pick up my trusty fixer Richard Zananiri. He’s my eyes and ears in the Palestinian territories – he lines up the interviews and he also does the translations, so without Richard, I’d be lost,” ABC Radio “Correspondents Report” (Jan. 29). According to our research, Richard Zananiri (assuming it’s the same man) is an Orthodox Christian who teaches or taught at the Anglican St. Georges College in East Jerusalem, and was an unsuccessful independent candidate for the Palestinian Legislative Council in January. Unfortunately, the Anglican Church in Jerusalem is a hotbed of some of the most extreme anti-Israel sentiments. It is home to the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, led by the Rev. Naim Ateek, who says Israelis are the equivalent of Nazis and are crucifying Palestinians just as Christ was crucified and believes Palestinian suicide bombings are justified. Ateek is also the leading Anglican exponent of “replacement theology” which is an antisemitic Christian stream that says that the Christians have taken over God’s covenant with the Jews.

If it is the same Richard Zananiri and Willacy is using a fixer from this venue, that might explain a lot about some of his reporting.


In Denial

The conviction and sentencing in Austria of British Holocaust denier David Irving, for denying the Holocaust, a crime there, has prompted Melbourne broadcaster Neil Mitchell to write, “The court has reminded [us] of an event in Germany on May 10, 1933, apparently at the direction of Nazi propaganda expert Joseph Goebbels. That night, they piled up the books and burned them. The authors were Jews, Marxists and Bolsheviks. Their crime was to promote ‘un-German ideas’. Is that massively different to locking up a man who promotes ideas that are insensitive, offensive and wrong?” Herald Sun (Feb 23).

While the free speech argument that David Irving should not be punished for his views, however offensive, is certainly a legitimate one, one wonders why Mitchell appears incapable of making this argument without resorting to analogies with Nazis. Irving personally violated a democratically passed, clear, and narrowly defined law in Austria and had his day in court. The Nazis burned books which were perfectly legal when written, and targeted whole categories of authors, often for nothing more than their race, without pretence of legal process. Finally, given that Austria and Germany were the wellsprings of the Nazi Holocaust, could it at least be acknowledged that it is understandable that Holocaust denial is rightfully a particularly sensitive issue there?

But actually, even more worrying was Mitchell’s additional comment – “the damage will be aggravated by some Jews in the world who use the Holocaust as a reason to avoid criticism and justification for bitterness and intimidation… To deny the Holocaust is immoral but equally it is fraudulent to assert, as some do, that it is impossible to question Israel or certain Jewish politics without somehow insulting the dead.” A defence of free speech even for Irving is a legitimate position. An inability to make the case without inserting a general attack on Jews for supposedly using “intimidation” to silence critics makes one worry something more problematic is going on here.


Drawn out Drama

After one of his cartoons comparing Israeli policies to the Nazi Holocaust was entered into an Iranian contest for cartoons about the Holocaust by someone from the ABC satirical program “The Chaser”, Age cartoonist Michael Leunig, responded with self pity, “I’ve had more than a gutful of hostility and hate mail in the past three years, all because I have resisted the rise of fascism”. He added that after the whole affair made him think about dying, “God came in from the paddock and placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. An email popped open; it was the Iranians. They were courteously apologising, they had been co-operative. They cared,” The Age (Feb. 15).

Former Age Editor Michael Gawenda responded to Leunig, criticising his failure to say anything about the actual Iranian competition: “It is of course, just a happy coincidence that this view [expressed by the cartoon] coincides, indeed reinforces, the brave stand of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has fearlessly asserted that the Holocaust is a myth cooked up by the Jews to justify the establishment of the state of Israel which, God willing, will soon be destroyed,” Sydney Morning Herald (Feb. 16). AIJAC’s Ted Lapkin told Cameron Stewart of The Australian, “the thing we need to remember is that the cartoon which was sent in - even though not by Leunig - would fit perfectly within the terms of the competition run by the Iranian newspaper…Leunig can play the martyr as much as he wants. But the fact remains that no one has put out a fatwa calling for his death,” The Australian (Feb. 15). Mark Scott, Editorial Director of Fairfax, subsequently wrote to AIJAC demanding an apology to Leunig for these remarks (even though they were quite parallel to what Gawenda wrote). AIJAC has said it will not apologise.


The Other Cartoons

According to AIJAC’s Ted Lapkin, “It isn’t exactly as if religious bigotry is foreign in the Arab world…From hooked-nosed Hebrew conspirators plotting world domination to the medieval blood libel, the Arab language media resurrect vile evil myths and stereotypes of ancient and recent Jewish history. But the Jews do not respond to such systematic incitement to hatred by rioting in the streets,” Courier Mail (Feb. 15).


Based on Truth?

Kerry O’Brien interviewed Aaron Klein, an expert on Israeli military intelligence who has just written a book about the aftermath of the Munich massacre, about the Spielberg movie, “Munich”. Asked what the main difference was between the film and the truth, Klein explained, “The main goal of the Israeli [in the] movie is revenge… In my book, and the true story is that what Israel were conducting at the time right after the Munich massacre was a campaign of counter-terrorism to prevent the next terrorist attacks. It was prevention and not revenge,” ABC TV “7.30 Report” (Feb. 7).

Asked about the portrayal of Mossad agents in the film as plagued by doubts, Klein replied, “Well I’ve spoken with …more than 50 veterans of Mossad and military intelligence and I must say that all those that I met and spoke with are very proud of what they did…They saw their work as the holy work – they were protecting the people of Israel,” ABC Radio “The World Today” (Feb. 13).

AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein argued, “The film’s message is both historical nonsense and morally dangerous. There is a world of difference, both ethically and legally, between deliberately murdering the innocent to promote a political cause, and carefully targeted attacks on armed terrorists. To ignore this distinction, even in the service of a naïve ‘all violence is wrong’ premise that may feel ‘moral’, is to destroy the basis of the international laws of war which are a vital foundation of our civilisation,” Daily Telegraph (Jan. 30). AIJAC’s Ted Lapkin wrote that while he usually enjoys thrillers, “my testosterone-driven fun was ruined by the factual implausibility and thinly veiled sanctimony that pervaded the film from start to finish,” Courier Mail (Jan. 27).


The Pursuit of Justice

The World’s leading Nazi hunter, Dr Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, in Australia as a guest of AIJAC, was asked about the lack of successful legal action against alleged Nazi war criminals in Australia. He explained, “Part of the problem was the very unfortunate decision to close down the Special Investigations Unit on June 30th 1992. And it was particularly unfortunate because about that time the archives in Eastern Europe…the former communist countries were opening up for the first time and there was free access to the documents…those archives could have provided a lot of very important material which would have made prosecution far easier and far more successful,” Radio National “Breakfast” (Feb. 16).

On Lajos Polgar, Dr Zuroff noted, “Polgar was in charge of the Arrow Cross headquarters in Budapest, and he claimed that no crimes were committed in that building. But it’s very clear now that very serious crimes were committed in that building, that Jews were tortured and murdered,” ABC Radio “AM” (Feb. 14).

In relation to the other suspected Hungarian war criminal currently in Australia, Charles Zentai, he said, “I can assure you that the Hungarian Government would never have sought the extradition of Charles Zentai if there wasn’t a rock-solid case against him,” ABC Radio “PM” (Feb. 14).

Zuroff’s revelations while in Australia led to significant stories about the Zentai and Polgar cases in The Australian (Feb. 14, Feb. 17, Feb. 18) and The Age (Feb. 16, Feb. 17, Feb. 18) as well as other dailies.


Moderately Extreme

AIJAC guest Steven Emerson was interviewed by Ellen Fanning about the role he and his organisation, the Investigative Project, play in monitoring and uncovering Islamist extremists. He described his mission as being to “wake up Western societies to the deception carried out by radical Islamic clerics and leaders in the hearts of Western societies…where they pretend to be moderate, but in fact harbour an ulterior agenda, and that’s very dangerous to public discourse,” Channel 9 “Nightline” (Feb. 19). Mr Emerson also appeared on 3AW’s Hinch program on Feb. 10 and Sky News on Feb. 15.


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