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Fairfax, the Israel lobby and unchallenged propaganda

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Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu (image via President of Russia website).

Dr Evan Jones discusses the way Australian media frequently channels an unashamedly pro-Israel worldview at the expense of other legitimate perspectives.

Yes, I know that "Fairfax" no longer exists as a corporate entity, but I will continue to treat Nine Entertainment’s Fairfax assets under their previous masthead.

The Sydney Morning Herald (‘Independent. Always’), on 14 February, offered us an interesting – to say the least – piece by Ahron Shapiro titled ‘The key to Middle East peace is getting Palestinians to say "yes"’.

In other words, the key to Middle East peace is getting Palestinians to say ‘yes’ to their own ongoing suffering and displacement.

Of course, that’s only the first step. Iraq was first dismantled and Libya destroyed (done). Iran, the "existential threat", needs to be obliterated; Syria partitioned and gutted; Lebanon subordinated so its water and gas resources can be appropriated, Yemen was destroyed – also about resources – and so on I could go.

Israel’s alliance with the demonic Saudi Arabian state has proved a masterstroke for engendering further regional instability.

Some peace.

The charming Mr Shapiro works for the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). As a ‘senior policy analyst,’ he can’t get his basic facts straight and should consider returning to school.

But what is AIJAC? It is not an organisation formally representative of some section of Australian Jewry (as are myriad other organisations). It is a lobby group for Israel.

Where do its funds come from?

I wrote a letter to the Herald in complaint:

'Just which section of the Australian Jewish community does the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council represent? Can we hear from a Jewish Australian or two who has a better command of the truth and a semblance of humanity?'

It wasn’t published, of course — none of my letters are. 

Why does this organisation, with its obvious and self-interested agenda, acquire a privileged spot in the Herald’s opinion pages? AIJAC’s spokespersons (notably Colin Rubinstein) have appeared in Fairfax media countless times over the decades — including The Australian Financial Review where the relevance of middle eastern politics is not obvious.

A friend, an ex-Fairfax journalist, tells me that any time that something appeared in the Fairfax media even mildly critical of Israel, an avalanche of complaints was directed at Fairfax management and editorial.

Fairfax has simply caved in.

Shapiro’s contemptible slop comes to be published with no problem. The digital version of Shapiro’s article indicates that zero comments were made (I know that to be incorrect), which indicates that any comments were censored.

Shapiro’s article was in response to an article by Paul Duffill, on 11 February.

Israel is carrying out illegal occupation and seizures of Palestinian families’ land in the West Bank – including in Palestinian East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 – to build Jewish-only settlements illegal under international law. Israel’s illegal settlements have more than doubled in size since the beginning of the “peace process” in 1992.

Further, Israel maintains over 65 laws that discriminate against Palestinians.

From which followed, naturally, 13 February, a long letter claiming, no, the problem is that Palestinians are murderous. It’s in their genes and this propensity is furthered by "vicious" propaganda in primary schools (a perennial canard from the faithful). The fact that primary school-aged Palestinians have trouble getting to school, are harassed and gaoled, see their parents and relatives murdered and their homes bulldozed — no, their warped mentality is all a problem of childhood indoctrination.

The NGO Defence for Children International Palestine reported recently that during 2018 Israel killed one child a week in the Occupied Territories, mostly in the concentration camp that is Gaza. Appropriate forethought — after all, they all grow up to be terrorists.

Admittedly, this letter writer resides in Bondi, a long way from the civilisational centre of gravity, but one apparently hasn’t yet confronted that information on the character of Israel is readily available, even without leaving home.

It is curious that those so attached to this dear little vulnerable Middle Eastern country should be so comprehensively ignorant of its essential character. 

Love, as they say, is blind. It wouldn’t matter if this love interest wasn’t at the grievous expense of others.

Fairfax once had correspondents placed in Israel or with a Middle Eastern roving brief, but their bend-over-backwards attempts at "balance" never satisfied the lobby and they were eternally vilified. Michael Danby, long time "Member for Israel" in the Australian Federal Parliament, exemplified the inquisition against these poor souls in a 2014 issue of The Spectator. Ironically, the pathologically pro-Israel Murdoch press had a Jerusalem correspondent whose book on his experience – John Lyon’s 2017 Balcony Over Jerusalem – lifts the lid on the bullshit. 

That is, if you didn’t know a good deal of the truth already. Immersing oneself in Israeli criminality, in conjunction with the mountain of lies and aggression towards truth-tellers, makes one sick. It’s a serious health hazard, so one has to be selective in one’s exposure.

One can see why generations of Fairfax management and editors have succumbed. No one will notice, they hope, but the abject obeisance is transparent.

My interest in the Palestinian cause developed belatedly and it is a direct result of local media complicity in pro-Israel propaganda. Yasser Arafat dies in November 2004, releasing a hysterical outpouring of denunciation by the tribe, of this "master terrorist" who destroyed the cause of peace. 

I captured the verbal froth for posterity on Znet here.

Coverage has desirably become less partisan since 2004, but the pro-Israel lot still get carte blanche to claim the Israel-centric equivalent that the moon is made of blue cheese and that anybody who denies this truth is a fool with malevolent intent.

Relevant is the current kerfuffle in the U.S., where Somali-born Congresswoman Ihlan Omar (a representative from Minnesota, one of the few sane States in the Union) participated in a twitter exchange on the Israel lobby’s money-fueled influence on American politics.

In the language of one commentator, Omar faced a "juggernaut" of abuse from political heavies and the mainstream media, indirectly confirming her inference. 

The Herald duly reproduced an article from the Associated Press about Omar’s subsequent apology, with the implication that the apology was right and proper.

Such sins deserved maximum global exposure to highlight the seeming pervasiveness of ugly anti-Semitism.

Surprisingly, editorial permitted comments on this article and the bulk of the commenters knew well the name of the game — that Omar was being persecuted for highlighting the truth.

On home turf, we have Sydney University attempting to sack tenured academic Tim Anderson. On 4 December 2018, Anderson was suspended from the University. On 8 February, a panel of three (by a vote of 2 to 1, the union representative dissenting) decided that Anderson’s sacking should proceed.

The Herald’s education reporter, Jordan Baker, normally level-headed, reported the sacking in character assassination language and this without contacting Anderson — the subject of the abuse. 

Anderson’s alleged imposition of a swastika insignia over an Israeli flag was judged "inappropriate", "offensive" and constituted a graphic that ‘does not serve an articulated academic purpose’. The academic purpose of the graphic in a course on human rights, transparent but ignored, was to highlight figures on Israel’s disproportionate murder ratio of Palestinians compared to that of its so-called terrorist enemy, Hamas.

Anderson reports that Provost Stephen Garton, progenitor of the sacking:

"Told me that he thought my 'Gaza Casualties' graphic was not 'even handed'. I asked ‘even handed to apartheid Israel?’ He replied ‘you can cite studies that it is Apartheid Israel and I can cite just as many to show it is not’."

It appears that Garton, the recognised historian compared to Anderson’s fly-blown self-education on these matters, has devoted little time to study of the Middle East. 

Anderson replied — to my mind with a decisive observation:

'I also say he has no mandate to protect Israel from criticism, on behalf of the University of Sydney.'

Quite. But one won’t get to read of Anderson’s opinions because he is denied access to the "respectable" media while it slanders him. Worse, the attempt to sack Anderson has been a joint enterprise of the Australian media and the University (I have written a piece on the background to this affair).

Coincidentally, we have an article by Israeli-born musician Jonathan Ofir, on Mondoweiss, on 8 February, despairing of his birth country.

Ofir notes:

'We have been acting like animals, with barbarism of a degree which indeed could be, and should be, and has been, compared to those whom we love to hate – the Nazis – whose cruelty is supposed to exonerate ours.'

Good thing Ofir doesn’t teach at Sydney Uni, otherwise he would be out of a job.

Then there’s the broader context of the media’s role in our "select" understanding.

On 12 October 2018, the weekend Spectrum section of the Herald ran a long article by Diane Armstrong (Polish-born Holocaust survivor, journalist and author) on Holocaust memoirs. It’s a thriving "industry", with members of the Jewish community feverishly organising personal memoirs from people ageing and losing memory. ‘Are we approaching Holocaust overload’ asks Armstrong. And the answer is no.

Armstrong notes:

'What fuels our curiosity, is the urge to understand what remains at the core of human beings when everything is stripped away, because by discovering that, we may begin to understand what we ourselves are capable of.'

Successive generations of Israeli leadership certainly demonstrate, yet again, the ugly possibilities.

'Survivors are keepers of the past who provide a moral context for the future. Their experiences are proof that the moral self can resurrect itself from the inhuman depths through which it has passed.'

Yet successive generations of Israeli leadership missed that lesson.

Armstrong herself has been an inveterate letter writer to the Sydney Morning Herald, defending Israel unequivocally against all critics. Israel, for her, is an admirably functioning country but is dogged by Palestinian terrorism.

In a letter to the Herald, on 22 December 2010, Armstrong opines that the then Marrickville Council’s proposed boycott of Israel should be re-directed to a plethora of other countries ‘where real human rights abuses take place’.

Armstrong was disabused the next day by a letter writer who noted:

'Armstrong's utopian view of Israel's human rights record is in stark contrast to the realities understood by the rest of the world. The growing worldwide boycott campaign is a result of Israel's military occupation of Palestinian land in contravention of international law and UN resolutions.'

For Armstrong, there is no apparent recognition of the nakba; the military repression of the Palestinians who remained in newly-created Israel; the post-1967 Occupation; the brutal repression of the non-violent first Intifada; the settlements, the murders, the endless oppression; and the comprehensive dehumanisation of Palestinian life.

"Never again" is purportedly the point of Holocaust memoirs, but the credo is evidently not universally applied.

Remarkably, in the same issue of Spectrum in which appeared Armstrong’s article, 12 October 2018, there appeared an article on the photo-chronicler of the South African apartheid system, David Goldblatt.

Goldblatt –his parents were Lithuanian Jewish refugees – was documenting the depredations of apartheid while Israel, the self-described liberating state of all Jewry, pursued an intimate relationship with the pariah apartheid state. 

Even more remarkable, Herald archives disclose that Armstrong, long-time travel writer, visited South Africa in November 2012 (accessed via Factiva).

The leader in the article read:

'Rebuilding broken spirits / Diane Armstrong listens as survivors of apartheid brutality share their stories in Cape Town's District Six Museum.'

District Six had been razed and its inhabitants lost that physical continuity that underpins self-knowledge. Armstrong describes the process as erasing ‘more than a century of rich community life’.

Right. Tell that to the victims of the Jewish plunder of Palestine in 1947-48.

Reading the Herald through the dross often gives one insights that were not intended by editorial and authors.

By all means collect Holocaust survivor stories, with their intimate details and nuances, their accounts of physical and mental endurance and resilience. We have just witnessed the centenary of World War I and participant accounts of the horrors are treasured. But when it comes to Israel, there are (as the French say) "two weights two measures". Double standards.

Israel has systematically attempted to obliterate Palestinian memory. Not merely the physical landscape, but the documentary records, as I have detailed elsewhere.

This intrinsic criminality necessitates dissimulation. Hence the hasbara. The Wiktionary one-line entry gives a clearer exposition of its essence than the convoluted Wikipedia entry. 

The role of the hasbara is to create an integrated network of fairy stories. AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro is an antipodean foot solider in this propaganda enterprise. Diane Armstrong, a successful professional, has been a part-time suburban adjunct — one of countless playing a comparable minor but, in aggregate, a significant role.

The mainstream media, whether its principals knowing or unknowing, is a crucial part of the hasbara. When it comes to Israel, the Fairfax media provides ready and free access to a significant public audience.

‘Independent Always’: I don’t think so.

Dr Evan Jones is a retired political economist.

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