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Media stifles Gaza narrative

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The mainstream media is bending the truth about Gaza, influenced by the Australian Israeli lobby (Screenshot via YouTube)

A great deal of Israeli money and local Australian Israeli lobby effort is expended on influencing, or rather suppressing, discussion of the Israel-Palestine issue in this country.

One tactic of this lobby was detailed in Crikey: ‘Which Australian journalists and politicians have gone on trips to Israel and Palestine?’

Some of the most well-known people in Australian corporate media have been provided with the Israeli junket funded partly or wholly by the Jewish Board of Deputies or the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).

Politicians are taken on trips organised by the Israeli delegation to Australia or perhaps the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

The Crikey report states:

‘The AIJAC Rambam program counts former Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull, as well as Julia Gillard Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, among its alumni. All four were signatories to the recent letter from six ex-prime ministers condemning “hatred” spread by Hamas — Paul Keating is the only living former Prime Minister to not have signed the letter.’

John Lyons, author of Dateline Jerusalem, is head of investigative journalism at the ABC. He has 40 years of experience in leadership positions including six years as Middle East correspondent for The Australian, based in Jerusalem. He has won many awards including the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year Award, UN awards and three Walkleys.

Despite this distinguished career, which should put him beyond reproach as a professional journalist, he begins his account with an outline of the vilification he suffered in response to his role in the ABC Four Corners program, ‘Stone Cold Justice’, dealing with the treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli military courts.

He said he spent two months developing the program and three months defending it from attack by the lobby.

Lyons writes:

‘Most journalists based in Jerusalem who report exactly what they see in front of them are trolled and abused.’

When Lyons had reported on threats to Jewish schools, a prominent member of the Melbourne Jewish community had praised him for his integrity but when he wrote a story he disliked, he became ‘a Goebbels’ and ‘a Hamas smelly used tampon’.

Lyons is convinced that these attacks are a deliberate tactic to discourage stories on Israel or Palestine.

When editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Lyons says he upset many powerful people including John Howard, Paul Keating and Kerry Packer. But they were nothing compared to the fury of the pro-Israel lobby, comprised of the Israeli Embassy, several formal lobby groups and several individuals associated with them.

The result has been intense self-censoring by Australian media.

As Lyons writes in Dateline Jerusalem:

‘This is the story of how the Israeli-Palestinian issue is the single issue which the media will not cover with the rigour with which it covers every other issue.’

The Australian public is being denied knowledge of what is occurring in this conflict.

Lyons writes:

Most Australians do not know that Palestinians live not just in fear of the Israeli army but of Jewish settlers, who often attack them. Israeli human rights groups have numerous videos of settlers attacking Palestinians while soldiers stand by. Most Australians would not know that there are streets in the West Bank where only Israelis can drive.


Most Australians would not know that Palestinians from the West Bank are not permitted to fly into or out of Israel’s international airport or that Israel controls the water for Palestinians and sometimes turns it off.


And most Australians would not know that in 2018, the Israeli Parliament passed the Nation State Law, which formally entrenches Jewish superiority over Israel’s Arab population.

A major cause of conflict is obviously the occupation of Palestine but the local lobby tries to deny the use of that very term.

According to the UN:

‘... since 1967, over 800,000 Palestinians, including children as young as 12, have been arrested and detained under authoritarian rules enacted, enforced and adjudicated by the Israeli military.’

Save the Children reports:

‘It is estimated that there are between 500 and 1,000 children held in Israeli military detention each year.’

Israelis are not devoid of conscience and over 1,000 former combat soldiers have formed Breaking the Silence, chronicling human rights abuses they have witnessed or committed against Palestinians.

The occupation and the illegal settlements are hot issues but the lobby fears their discussion.

Displaying power

Lyons gives an example of the power of the Israeli lobby in the case of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 2017 visit to Australia.

He held a briefing for editors of major newspapers.

As reported in Australian Muslim Times, Lyons said:

“During the briefing, he talked mostly about settlements, as a Right-winger, Netanyahu’s priority was to keep encouraging as many new settlements in the West Bank as possible, to create ‘Eretz Israel’ or Greater Israel.”

The aim is to make a Palestinian state unviable, thus extending Israel, there being little interest in the two-state solution.

Lyons continued:

“The power I witnessed was captured in an email at 11.54 AM on 24 February. It was sent by Colin Rubenstein, the head of AIJAC, to the editors of The Australian. Under the heading ‘Netanyahu Settlements’, Rubenstein told the editors that ‘you can’t use what he [Netanyahu] said there’, he wanted to make sure that whatever Netanyahu said at the briefing remained a secret.”

Settlements are a sensitive issue because they are clearly illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Over 800,000 Jewish settlers protected by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and with their own vigilante security groups are in the West Bank.

The Australian Muslim Times continued:

‘Lyons said he found the Rubenstein email astounding and its suggestion that what might instead be reported on was “the attached fact sheet AIJAC has prepared on the subject”.’

It is no surprise that, as he reports, not a word of Netanyahu’s briefing was published. 

The editors abided by Rubenstein’s instruction:

"It’s worth pointing out that Rubenstein is not an elected official. The Executive Council of  Australian Jewry is the elected representative body of Australian Jewry. AIJAC is a privately funded lobby group which over decades has been supported largely by Melbourne corporate lawyer Mark Leibler."


No other lobby group could get away with such blatant interference.

Neither the USA nor our own Prime Minister would get away with it, but this lobby does.

Australian-Palestinian journalist targeted

Lyons also details the case of Palestinian-Australian Jennine Khalik, who was employed by The Australian for her Arabic ability and her knowledge of the large Arabic-speaking community in NSW. Former editor Clive Mathieson told her at the end of her first year that Israeli diplomats had come to see him and that she had been ‘on the agenda’.

When she wrote about the pressure being placed on the Victorian Education Department to remove a play by Samah Sabawi, an Australian-Palestinian writer from Melbourne, from its curriculum, the attacks intensified. Then when she wrote about a Palestinian singer and refugee, one of the paper’s sub-editors abused her, told her Palestine does not exist and demanded she remove the article.

 She resigned.

The different treatment of journalists who had undertaken the junket to Israel was stark.

Journalists are under threat if they do not stick to the Israeli-approved narrative and even Jewish leaders fear criticism from “the powers that be in the pro-Israel lobby”.

Australian-Palestinian writer feared

An article contributed by Samah Sabawi to the ABC’s Religion and Ethics department became a hot topic.

Scott Stephens from that department sent Sabawi's article – without her permission – to Bren Carlill of the Zionist Federation of Australia.

Then Stephens emailed Sabawi using words similar to those that Carlill used in criticism of the article Stephens published alongside hers.

An ABC inquiry into this was told that it was done to pre-empt a certain line of criticism.

The ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs team found that Stephens had breached the organisation’s principles. Sabawi was given an apology but that was about it.

On 9 September 2020, Stephens emailed a potential contributor saying that the Israel/Palestine issue was ‘too hot’ and ‘we’ve made an editorial decision to “go quiet” on the matter for a while’.

That is how the lobby tries to stifle exposure of the actions of the Israeli regime to the Australian public.


The lobby has even produced a special dictionary, the Global Language Dictionary, funded by The Israel Project, to guide politicians and journalists on what language to use to support illegal Jewish settlements in Palestine.

It attempts to sway the discussion in favour of settlements — even portraying the idea of removing settlements as racist.

It is aimed at moderating language and issues to make it possible to appeal to the Left.

Under the commission of Louise Adler's impeccable professionalism, Monash University produces the series In the National Interest, of which Dateline Jerusalem by John Lyons is the first episode.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. You can follow Bilal on Twitter @BilalCleland.

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