Wednesday, July 26, 2017

John Lyons Lifts the Lid on the Israeli Occupation of Australia's MSM

I picked up a copy of John Lyons' memoir, Balcony Over Jerusalem yesterday. Just a scan is enough to show that, despite its deficiencies (which can be left to another post), this is an important book. Lyons, of course, was The Australian's Jerusalem-based Middle East correspondent from 2009 to 2015. Tellingly, The Australian, like the Fairfax press, has no such job category these days.

If Bob Carr's 2014 Diary of a Foreign Minister is the first book published in this country to blow the whistle on the malign impact of the Israel lobby on Australia's Palestine/Israel policy, Lyons' book is the first to do so on the lobby's equally malign impact on Australia's journalistic coverage of the Palestine/Israel conflict. As such it should be read (as should Carr's book) by every Australian with any pretensions to political awareness.

In addition to exposing this largely under-the-radar aspect of the Australian mainstream media, Balcony Over Jerusalem is also a chronicle of the quotidian barbarities inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israel's military machine on behalf of its vile and expanding settler ultras.

To quote an example of each of these strands, a) the lobby's corruption of journalism, and b) the cruelty of the Israeli occupation:

a) "As SMH Deputy Editor, I found my phone began ringing with requests for meetings with leaders of the Jewish community... Usually the caller was Robert Klarnet, the public affairs director of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. The board would later coordinate tours in partnership with the Melbourne-based Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). It has become almost a rite of passage for deputy editors of an major Australian news outlet to be offered a 'study trip' to Israel. Colin Rubenstein, the head of AIJAC, told me that AIJAC has sent at least 600 Australian politicians, journalists, political advisers, senior public servants and student leaders on these trips over the last 15 years. It is my assessment that by 'educating' rising media executives, the Israeli lobby has in place editors who 'understand' the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, I barely know an Australian newspaper executive who has not been on one of these trips." (pp 16-17)

b) "So much of this conflict happened quietly. From our balcony, if we looked really carefully at the rolling hills between us and Jordan, we could see a tiny Palestinian house 300 metres in front of us, in East Jerusalem. It had a single light, and two or three goats in the yard. From a distance, we got to know this family - its habits, its movements, its celebrations. We'd see the children head off to school each morning. During the day their father herded goats on the hill.

"The oldest child was doing his final year at school, and there's a Palestinian tradition that if a student graduates the family lets off fireworks. It's a way of letting the neighbourhood know the news. We knew what day the results of the final exams were due so we watched to see whether fireworks were let off that night. We saw several other homes in the valley celebrating - then came fireworks from the little house. The boy had passed.

"Then one morning the little house was gone. The Israeli Army had come while we were asleep and bulldozed it, claiming it was an illegal structure. The little house had been part of our lives. Sylvie, Jack and I decided to walk down the valley to speak to the family. The army had demolished everything except the stairway. When we arrived we found the owner sweeping it.

"It was one of the saddest things I've ever seen. A broken man sweeping his stairway to nowhere." (pp 9-10)

Buy it!

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Dead Weight of Israel Lobby Censorship

From the Australian's former Middle East Correspondent, John Lyons:

"Through my six years in the Middle East I'd come under constant pressure from Israel lobby groups to pull my punches. I realised from many discussions with other foreign journalists that this pressure was applied in many countries. Of the many hours of discussion I had with my colleagues in the foreign media, one comment shocked me. It was when I asked Phillipe Agret, the bureau of Agence France Press, a question. AFP is one of the most powerful news agencies in the world. It is highly regarded as credible and independent. It is famous for resisting pressure in whichever country it operates. Agret and I were discussing how some media groups censored their reporting out of Israel in a way that they did in no other country. I asked him who he thought was self-censoring out of Israel. Without hesitation, he replied: 'Everybody'." (From Man in the middle: For a Jerusalem correspondent, the truth is always hard won, The Weekend Australian Magazine, 22/7/17)

Errr... any of you guys ever heard of resistance?

"Why do the supporters of Israel want to prevent stories like this [Four Corners: Stone Cold Justice (2014)] from spreading overseas? When we arrived we did not realise the prize that many political factions in the country coveted: formalising the occupation of the West Bank into official annexation and achieving Greater Israel... In order to continue pursuing its endgame of annexing the West Bank, [the Israeli right] can't allow the international community to form the view that the occupation is unacceptable. So reports of brutality in the West Bank are minimised so that international opinion does not turn against it." (ibid)

NB: The TWA's piece, Man in the middle, is an edited extract from Balcony Over Jerusalem, by John Lyons and Sylvie Le Clezio, released today.)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

First They Came for the Palestinians...

Political Zionism's global reach, manipulation and corruption of Western, particularly US, institutions goes on:

"The criminalization of political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West. In France, activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing T-shirts advocating a boycott of Israel. The UK has enacted a series of measures designed to outlaw such activism. In the US, governors compete with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements, which the world regards as illegal. On US campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as 'the Palestine exception' to free speech.

"But now, a group of 43 senators - 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats - wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country's decades-old occupation of Palestine. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the punishment: Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000, and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison." (US lawmakers seek to criminally outlaw support for boycott campaign against Israel, Glenn Greenwald & Ryan Grim, theintercept.com, 20/7/17)

The entire report is well worth a read and contains such revelations as: "Perhaps the most stunning is our interview with the primary sponsor of the bill, Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin, who seemed to have no idea what was in his bill, particularly insisting that it contains no criminal penalties."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ms Guardian & Mr Spectator

The Guardian specialises in the burning issues of the day, such as:

"I was happily exchanging messages with someone through an on online dating app recently. He looked attractive enough in his picture, and the conversation was interesting, he seemed engaged and eloquent. And he hadn't propositioned me three messages in. It was time to go to the next level.

"'What do you do for a living?'

"'I have my own business - what about you?'

"'I'm a journalist at the Guardian. Are you a newspaper kinda guy?'

"Then, there it was: 'More of a Spectator reader than the Guardian.'

"Gulp!" (How politics is ruining dating - or should I date a Spectator reader? Alexandra Spring, theguardian.com, 21/7/17)

Donning my agony aunt hat, could I say, Alexandra, that I think your dilemma is more apparent than real. I actually think that the Guardian and the Spectator have much more in common than you think.

I mean, take the Guardian's coverage of "escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions in Jerusalem." (Six dead as Israeli-Palestinian tensions boil over, 22/7/17) No nasty references to OCCUPIED ARAB EAST JERUSALEM whatever. How could Mr Spectator possibly object?

Reading your Middle East correspondent, Peter Beaumont, the reader comes away with the impression that this is just another of those mysterious disputes over "a highly sensitive holy site" caused by those excessively prickly folk living in "Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem," who are forever "clashing" with the poor, put-upon Israeli police. I'm sure Mr Spectator would feel quite at home with this perspective.

And the suggestion that "the compound is considered the third holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews, who call it Temple Mount," could only compel him to conclude that, in all fairness, it should go to the Jews and that's that.

I can guarantee, Alexandra, there's nothing at all in Beaumont's report to scare off Mr Spectator.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Incredible Lady Di

Two union leaders, Diana Asmar, state secretary of the Health Workers Union (HWU), the biggest union within the HSU, and Dr Henry Pinskier, a former vice-president of the ALP, "have described a Health Services Union (HSU) motion supporting a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel as 'anti-Semitic, misguided, ignorant and quite frankly, mad'." (BDS Health warning, The Australian Jewish News, 1/9/16)

They added: "It is not a trade union's job to delve into international geopolitical affairs or to raise misguided and anti-Semitic motions."

In which case then, why has Ms Asmar recently returned from an AIJAC Rambam Fellowship Trade Union Study Visit to Israel, where she "noted how incredible she found it to see Jews and Arabs working together in Israeli hospitals to treat all citizens without prejudice or favour," and "commented on the incredible medical technologies coming out of Israel, expressing incomprehension as to how BDS supporters could want to boycott such life saving techniques." (Returning trade unionists praise Israel at AIJAC function, jwire.com, 30/6/17)

(For the record, the only other Israel-bound unionist named by jwire.com was "Glen Chatterton of the Plumbers Union Service Trade Queensland." They were "accompanied" by Michael Borowick of the Australia/Israel Labor Dialogue (AILD).)

So what kind of unionist is one minute laying down the law that unions shouldn't be bothering their pretty heads with international geopolitical affairs, and the next is up to her neck in a certain international geopolitical affair?

Well, in addition to being  an apparent expert on international geopolitical affairs and anti-Semitism, Asmar's certainly an interesting (and innovative) character, as the following profile indicates:

"Asmar is a former Labor mayor with the troubled Darebin council in Melbourne's northwest. As a novice leader of a small to middle-sized union branch, her salary has raised eyebrows inside the HSU, especially after pay packet excesses of [Michael] Williamson and [Kathy] Jackson. Asmar boosted her salary to $182,000 in the 2014 financial year... On $182,000, Asmar was the highest paid union official in Australia... Asmar's perceived mastery of the industrial landscape and how the modern world came to be has prompted some mirth among her colleagues. At a 2013 national council meeting in Sydney, they recall Asmar referring to 'World War Eleven' - apparently mistaking Roman numerals for the higher number. In all seriousness, what her colleagues do find astounding is the remarkable 'cashing out' of a $25,975 paid maternity leave entitlement that Asmar secured for herself in the 2015 financial year... World experts on gender and employment... say 'cashing out' maternity leave is unheard of, and defeats the whole purpose of the entitlement as leave... There is more that is murky about Asmar. During royal commission evidence in 2014, Asmar claimed she did not know about her election campaign funding because she left it to her husband, David, a former staffer of recently-departed senator Stephen Conroy." (From Diana Asmar: Bill Shorten's no 1 union mate, Brad Norington, The Australian, 7/11/16)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Art of the Barrister

Some light relief:

"Sameh Bayda allegedly had gruesome videos depicting Islamic State violence on his phone and a note from his young wife detailing how she wanted a child to keep as a memento after he died... Geoffrey Foster, the defence barrister for the husband and wife, submitted the Crown had failed to show there was a conspiracy between the pair. He also argued there could be alternative hypotheses for why the concerning material was on Bayda's phone. 'Mr Bayda could be seen as a scholar with a deep interest in the Muslim faith... with a curiosity in propaganda,' he gave as one example." (One half of 'Bonnie & Clyde' too soft to launch attack: court, Ava Benny-Morrison, Sydney Morning Herald, 7/7/17)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tunisian Jihadis

A group of revealing July 13 tweets by Lebanese journalist Jenan Moussa (lightly edited for clarity) on Tunisian jihadis in Syria:

I gained access to ISIS prisoners captured by Kurds in Raqqa. One of them was a Tunisian ISIS member...
I sat for 2 hours with a 34-year-old Tunisian ISIS prisoner. During the interview he never looked me in the eye because I'm a female reporter.
I asked him why he joined ISIS. He said, When the Muslim Brotherhood government was in power*, they encouraged the youth to go to Syria.
He said, In Tunisia the mosques said, Go to Syria for jihad. And we were told there'd be no repercussions when we returned. So I left.
My friend and I flew to Turkey. When the customs officer at Istanbul Airport realized we were going to Syria, he said, Yalla, go fast!
It was just so easy to join ISIS in Syria. Now I look back and I think, Was this all a conspiracy to get us all in one place and kill us all?

[*Presumably a reference to Rached Ghannouchi's Ennahda Movement government of 2011-14. Abdel Bari Atwan has this to say on the subject: "I have observed Tunisians in the ranks in previous jihads, but only in very small numbers... former Tunisian dictator Ben Ali suppressed all jihadist activity and imprisoned even moderate Islamists. The 2011 revolution and the subsequent victory of Islamist parties inspired a revival of hard-line Islamism in that country. Now, groups like Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of the Law, based in Libya) are able to recruit openly and have funded and facilitated the passage of Tunisian jihadists to the frontline." (Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, 2015, pp 165-66)]