Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Noted and Quoted - March 2017

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A bit rich

The media's fixation on Australian business people's Jewish background is alive and well.

In the Australian (Feb. 10), Graham Richardson critiqued PM Malcolm Turnbull's speech that called Bill Shorten a hypocrite for attacking his wealth whilst he himself meets with "Dick Pratt and Solly Lew and Lindsay Fox and all the other billionaires... in Melbourne".

According to Richardson, "the Labor Party in Victoria has had a longstanding and extremely close relationship with the Melbourne Jewish community. That community is extremely wealthy and counts among its membership a great many billionaires."

Fox is not Jewish but apparently only wealthy Jews interest Richardson.

The Australian's "Margin Call" (Feb. 21) acknowledged PM Netanyahu's forthcoming Australian visit, saying he will "be fussed over by the local business community" with "private jets... due to fly en masse to Sydney... as prominent members of the Melbourne Jewish community mark the occasion."

The report listed a number of Jewish businessmen and women, gratuitously detailing their purported individual net worth.

In the Australian Financial Review (Feb.20), a report on former PM Kevin Rudd's backing of Bob Hawke's call to officially recognise Palestine as a state quoted Robert Magid in response, identifying him as "a BRWRich List property developer who publishes the Jewish News." (Surely it was enough to simply identify Magid as the Jewish News publisher?)

The Australian's John Lyons began his story (Feb. 23) on Netanyahu's lunch in Sydney by saying it took place "In front of six billionares" whom he later identified by name, and then added, "But somewhere among the sea of billionaires and millionaires, there was an elephant in the room. The concept of a two-state solution was barely mentioned."


Contrasting views

In the Canberra Times (Jan.19), Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine Chairman Kevin Bray attacked the Turnbull Government's criticism of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 that condemned Israeli settlements, recognised east Jerusalem as Palestinian and held Israel entirely responsible for the ongoing conflict.

"If it were the true friend of Israel it claims to be, our government would support Resolution 2334 as an essential step along the way to the just and lasting peace that is in Israel's and Palestine's best interests," Bray wrote.

He also derided the prosecution of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, as only proceeding because video footage caught him shooting dead a disarmed Palestinian terrorist in Hebron.

Bray tried to contrast the sympathy shown to Azaria by Israeli politicians and sections of the public with the fate of a Palestinian who was shot dead just after he had used a truck to kill four Israeli cadets on Jan. 8.

In a published response in the paper (Jan. 25), Israeli Ambassador Shmuel ben Shmuel replied that Bray "deliberately" did not use "the word terrorism because it doesn't serve his purposes. He also avoided mentioning that if an Israeli soldier does act against the IDF's strict protocols, they are held to account" and had minimised Palestinian terror as "perceived Palestinian misdemeanours."

Ben Shmuel noted that the Palestinian truck attacker had reversed over his victims, thereby forcing soldiers to kill him.

He said 2334 ignored the "issue at the heart of the conflict: Palestinian rejection of Israel's right to exist" and had emboldened the Palestinians to avoid direct negotiations in favour of imposed solutions.

"The road to peace between Jerusalem and Ramallah passes through just that - Jerusalem and Ramallah. Not the halls of the UN," he asserted.

 

Unbalanced on balance

The Australian's Troy Bramston (Feb. 16), who broke the news that ALP elders Gareth Evans and Bob Carr back unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, included their litany of dubious claims with no balance.

These included the questionable Palestinian demographic threat to a Jewish majority and the supposed lack of voting rights, which is a bit bizarre given the Palestinians don't seem to care that Mahmoud Abbas' term ended in 2009 and Palestinian parliamentary elections were last held in 2006.
Bizarrely, only Sky News (Feb. 16) seemed to report former PM John Howard's statement that "the idea that Australia should unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state without that resulting in an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is fundamentally wrong... Israel has offered a settlement on a number of occasions and that has been rejected."


Ruddy unfair

Elsewhere, some in the media also felt that Kevin Rudd's recognition call required no balance.

On Feb. 17, ABC Radio "PM" host Mark Colvin discussed Rudd's call with reporter Julia Holman.

Holman noted that although the two-state resolution enjoys bipartisan support in Australia, the ALP policy is more "complex", saying, "if the next round of peace negotiations fail, then the party should consider whether or not to recognise Palestine. The key issue is... some Labor MPs are saying... there's unlikely to ever be formal peace negotiations."

There were peace talks only three years ago, ultimately terminated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, not Netanyahu.

Colvin asked, "what's been the reaction?"

Holman ran audio from Federal Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou, Parliamentary Friends of Palestine co-convenor, backing Rudd, as the only reaction offered.

The dissenting comments of AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein, who Holman had interviewed earlier for the report, only appeared in her online article.

Fairfax correspondent Latika Bourke's verbose online report three days after Rudd's announcement also did not include any balance.


Recognising reality

Victorian Federal Labor MP Michael Danby was widely reported in the media, including ABC Radio "PM" and SBS TV "World News" (Feb. 21) rubbishing those individuals pushing for recognition, particularly Hawke and Carr, who he said on the ABC were hypocrites for being silent about the persecution of Tibetans and Uighurs when the Chinese President recently visited. In an earlier op-ed, Danby noted that former US President Bill Clinton described PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's 2000 rejection of a Palestinian state as an "error of historic proportions," Australian (Feb. 17).

Putting things into perspective, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Sen. Penny Wong said, "we should be focused on what we can and should do, bearing in mind we have a limited capacity to actually influence the outcome. Ultimately peace is in the hands of the parties concerned, the Israelis and the Palestinians," ABC TV "7.30" (Feb. 23).

Likewise, ALP Senator Sam Dastayari said, "In recent years, there have been atrocities in Syria, Libya, Iraq and throughout the Middle East... the Labor Party can't afford to focus on the Palestinian question at the expense of the other humanitarian challenges," Australian (Feb. 20).

While former ALP federal minister Graham Richardson erroneously claimed "Israel, on Netanyahu's watch, continues not only to build more settlements on the West Bank but to give approval to more and more of them" [Israel has of course not built any new settlements for more than 15 years, nor approved any] he correctly advised against recognition "as long as Hamas is prepared to retain its stated belief that there is no room for Jews in the area now called Israel," Australian (Feb. 23).

The Australian (Feb 24) reported "former ALP opposition leader Kim Beazley said the focus on Israel and Mr Netanyahu, who he described as a ‘difficult messenger' for social democrats to bear, had effectively given the Palestinians a free pass on hard questions such as the issue of Palestinian returns and the status of east Jerusalem. ‘I think they have become very comfortable with not arriving at a conclusion but with keeping the pressure on Israel,' Mr Beazley said."

Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Ed Husic backed the current ALP policy, saying, "I think we've set out a really... good framework in which this can be discussed and progressed," ABC Radio National "Drive" (Feb. 22).


"Never Again"

Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's visit saw Jewish pro-Palestinian activist Peter Slezak compare Palestinians to Jews in the Holocaust.

"There's a lesson we're supposed to have learnt. We say never again, but sadly I think most Jews don't understand that properly," he said.

Whatever one thinks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any claim that Palestinians are suffering anything remotely similar to the industrialised mass slaughter of the Holocaust simply cannot be defended either factually or morally.

Slezak should follow his own advice and "never again" repeat his immoral slur, SBS TV "World News" (Feb. 21).


The Atkins diet

Courier Mail National Affairs Editor Dennis Atkins (Feb. 22), who travelled to the West Bank with a Palestinian advocacy group, reeled off a litany of propaganda points, few of which bore any resemblance to reality.

He claimed, "the dirty little secret of Israeli politics, which everyone knows but few say out loud, is that the current government, most opposition parties and a probable majority of people like things just the way they are". Polls show that a majority of Israelis would back a Palestinian state if it meant genuine peace in return.

Atkins blamed former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon for rejecting the 2002 Arab peace initiative because it "included a return to the pre-1967 borders and a withdrawal... from all settlements."

It was rejected because its terms were non-negotiable and included what was essentially a demand for an unlimited right of return for Palestinians to what is now Israel.

He also implied Israel's security barrier was a "psychological and physical barrier", forgetting that it was reluctantly built and played a major role in reducing terror during the Second Intifada.

Atkins also erroneously claimed the portion of the West Bank under complete Palestinian self-rule is 3% - it is actually 18% - and that the area under full Israeli control is 72% - it is actually 63%.


Kenny believe it?

Another who took the Palestinian propaganda tour was Fairfax chief political correspondent Mark Kenny who claimed "the program of illegal Jewish settlements...ensur[es] with every passing day that no contiguous Palestinian state remains to be handed back."

Before pushing the argument that "even Palestinians on the ground increasingly concede that a two-state future is slipping away", Kenny should check comparative maps of the West Bank from 1993 and 2015 (tinyurl.com/hsgs6tr) which show how little settlements have expanded. The settlement population may have increased but the settlements themselves remain static; Age/Canberra Times/Sun Herald (Feb. 19).

Meanwhile, a balanced Age editorial (Feb. 20) outlined the compromises Israelis and Palestinians need to to make for peace, whilst criticising what it considered unhelpful Israeli impediments to achieving that goal.


A Borderline Case

Australian Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan was closer to the truth of why peace is so elusive (Feb. 21), explaining on "the Golan Heights... controlled by Israel... you can hear how effective the Syrian ceasefire really is... in half an hour, there is rarely more than a few seconds between explosions... On the Lebanese border... barely a few hundred metres into Lebanese territory, is a yellow Hezbollah flag... Hezbollah is now believed to possess tens of thousands of sophisticated missiles that could hit any part of Israel... Even on one of Israel's most stable borders, with Egypt in the south, there is, in the Sinai, a big presence affiliated with Islamic State. And then in Gaza there is Hamas and Islamic Jihad... No wonder Netanyahu will talk about security."


ABC's settlements obsession

The ABC seemed to accept Palestinian propaganda is more important than facts if it reinforces the narrative that Israeli settlements have destroyed the two-state formula for peace.

Israel's announcement of 560 housing units to be built in existing neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem was discussed in an opinion piece on the ABC website (Jan. 23) by Chief Foreign Correspondent Philip Williams under the inflammatory headline, "Israeli building approvals evidence ‘two-state solution' becoming fiction".

The story's credibility relied upon Palestinian propagandist Hanan Ashrawi's testimony that the new housing, particularly in Ramat Shlomo and Ramot, "would entirely surround East Jerusalem, which is occupied Palestinian Territory and would cut it off from the rest of its Palestinian environment, and would... prevent the establishment of a territorially contiguous or even viable Palestinian state."

Not only is this wrong, as a simple map will show, as pro-Palestinian media outlets the Guardian newspaper and Al-Jazeera revealed in 2011, during the 2008 peace talks negotiations in Ehud Olmert's prime ministership, Palestinian negotiators conceded Ramat Shlomo and Ramot would become part of Israel.

On Jan. 25, the announcement of a further 2,500 new housing units was reported on the ABC's website with the claim that Israel said, "most of the construction... would be in existing settlement blocs that Israel intends to keep under any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. However, a breakdown provided by the Prime Minister's office showed large portions of the planned homes would be outside existing blocs."

These so-called "large portions" amount to only 106 units, 4.41% of the total units to be built.


Myopic media

On Jan. 20 in a nine-minute cosy tête-à-tête ostensibly on the wide-ranging topic of "The Trump Administration and the Middle East", ABC Radio "Breakfast" host Hamish MacDonald and the Australian newspaper's controversial former Middle East correspondent John Lyons devoted more than eight minutes exclusively to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Despite the repeated two-state peace offers by Israel, Lyons placed the onus completely on Israel for the lack of peace, saying, "they are the powerful partner... it won't be resolved unless the Israelis are prepared to sit down and talk about it."

Lyons inferred all settlers are violent, and also said that under Netanyahu's leadership there have been "more and more settlers, more and more settlements... And so the Palestinians, many of them I speak to say, look, it's too late. The two-state solution is dead."

Contrary to Lyons' claims, there are no new settlements, while settlement boundaries have remained largely static since 2003, and cover less than 1.9 per cent of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, in a Freudian slip, MacDonald interchanged the terms settlers and Orthodox Jews.

Remarkably, for the first time ever, in a typical report skewed to emphasise alleged Palestinian suffering, Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill offered ABC viewers an approximation of the truth about Israeli settlements, saying "actual settlements only make up between two to three per cent of the West Bank," ABC TV "7.30" (Feb 21).


Bill of fair

Israel's controversial "outposts" bill was extensively covered by the ABC, which ran two informative interviews.

ABC Radio National "Breakfast" host Fran Kelly (Feb. 10) interviewed Israel Democracy Institute's Yuval Shany, who said he supported Israel's Attorney-General's position that the law is unconstitutional.

He also explained the government's stance, noting the bill compensates Palestinian landholders and "legalises the situation" that has existed "on the ground" for many years.

Meanwhile, ABC NewsRadio (Feb.13) ran a US-sourced interview with Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner who explained an important detail that is often overlooked in reporting on settlements.
He said, "settlements are not all of the same type. President Trump can take a position according to which some of the settlements are OK, some of the settlements can stay and can even expand. The Bush Administration and Israel did have a certain understanding that the main blocs of settlements in the West Bank are going to permanently stay within or under Israeli jurisdiction."


The ban wagon

The Trump Administration's controversial temporary ban on visas and refugees from seven Muslim majority countries saw a number of commentators point out that some of the countries listed ban Israelis from visiting.

Herald Sun columnist Rita Panahi (Feb. 1) dismissed those who argue the ban risks further radicalisation and terror, asking, "Do Israelis, banned from multiple Muslim-majority countries, turn to terror?"

According to Herald Sun columnist Tom Elliott (Feb. 3), "the violence-obsessed Islamic State has a stated aim of smuggling terrorists into Western countries via the chaos of its war in both Syria and Iraq... And most of the Muslim nations whose citizens' travel is now restricted by the US have for years banned entry... [to] Israeli passport holders."

On ABC TV "Q&A" (Feb. 6), Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg also noted the "double standards" that six of the seven countries "don't allow Israelis to ever visit."

 

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