During the recent Prisoner X story about Israel’s covert and often illegal terrorism in the Middle East, I was interviewed by ABC Radio AM on the related issues.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, a leading Zionist lobby group, sees its role as enforcing public debate over Israel/Palestine. They miserably fail at this, of course, but that won’t mean they won’t try. Really hard.
Their latest comedy routine involves sending a massive complaint, via its clearly exhausted head Peter Wertheim, to ABC about my appearance, accusing me of anti-Semitism and worse. It’s worth looking through their reasons for feeling hurt, upset, obsessed, damaged, punished and sore. What these pro-occupation “leaders” fail to understand, as public debate across the West is turning against apartheid Israel, is that their energy would be much better spent on actually addressing the myriad of issues in Palestine and Israel, like, um, an ever-expanding occupation, instead of trying to bully the public broadcaster. If nothing else, this plays into the worst stereotypes of under-handed Jewish behaviour. Another own goal; well done lobby.
Audience and Consumer Affairs
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
I write to express my concern about the segment on ABC Radio’s ‘Saturday AM’ program on 13 February 2013, comprising an interview by presenter,Elizabeth Jackson, of another journalist, Antony Loewenstein. A transcript of the interview is attached. An MP3 recording is accessible on the ABC website.
I consider that the segment involved gross breaches of the ABC’s Code of Practice 2011, which I will detail below.
The themes of the interview are encapsulated in a series of assertions in the introduction and in the interview itself. The principle assertions are itemized below. Our comments in response to these assertions appear in square brackets after each item.
1. “The most secretive workings of the Jewish state”. [Every State, including Israel, has “most secretive workings”. But to juxtapose the words “most secretive workings” with the word “Jewish”, instead of referring to “Israel” by name, appeals subliminally to notorious anti-Jewish stereotypes about the supposed power of Jews as a collective, and about Jews supposedly being engaged in a world conspiracy. Later in the interview other stereotypes are introduced impliedly accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations. These stereotypes are internationally recognized as among the hallmarks of anti-Jewish racism and prejudice – see Working Definition of Antisemitism as adopted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights
(http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2011/working-definitionantisemitism) and the UK All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Antisemitism (http://www.antisemitism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/AllParty-Parliamentary-Inquiry-into-Antisemitism-REPORT.pdf) among others].
2. There are many perplexing elements to this story; one of them is the deafening silence.
Silence and gag orders from Israel, silence from the Australian Jewish community, and perhaps most perplexing of all, silence from Ben Zygier’s family. [The claim of “silence from the Australian Jewish community” was a blatant falsehood.
In point of fact, the previous day presenter, Fran Kelly, had conducted a detailed interview of the President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, Philip Chester, on ABC Radio National about the entire subject.1 Ms Jackson should have challenged Mr Loewenstein, with the fact of that interview, which also aired on the ABC. Further, silence from Ben Zygier’s relatives is a dignified and understandable response from a grieving family. To describe their silence as “perhaps most perplexing of all”, implies that the family’s response is in some sense aberrant and unnatural. In our view this was an unwarranted and disgraceful attempt to reflect adversely on a family in mourning.
3. Co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, Antony Loewenstein, says he believes the Jewish community in Australia is embarrassed. [The reference to Independent Australian Jewish Voices implies that Loewenstein has some kind of constituency within an identifiable section of the Australian Jewish community. On its website, Independent Australian Jewish Voices admits2 that it is not an organization with membership, decision-making procedures and a political platform, and that the small number of people who signed their original statement in March 2007, “probably won’t agree on anything else besides that statement they signed”. It is therefore misleading to suggest that Lowenstein has any constituency at all. Nor does he have any academic or scholarly credentials whatsoever, or any particular real-life experience that might explain why the ABC seeks him out so frequently as a commentator about Israel. Indeed, Antony Loewenstein published a grossly antisemitic ‘poster’ on his website on 11 and 12 July 2010 (Attachment AF).
The ECAJ sent an informal complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission at 1:00pm on July 12 (Attachment AG). Later that day, Loewenstein removed the ‘poster’ from his website and published a retraction (Attachment AH).
4. The journalist says the case involving Ben Zygier should be a wake-up call to the community in Melbourne and Sydney to re-examine the way young Jewish youths (sic) are educated at religious schools in Australia.
[Without evidence or substantiation of any kind, or indeed any attempt to examine what “young Jewish youths” are in fact taught at Jewish schools in Australia, the assertion is made that there is some connection between the Ben Zygier case and what they are taught. Not only is this inaccurate, it feeds into the propagation of anti-Jewish stereotypes as referred to in our response to 1 above. I understand that Loewenstein never attended a Jewish school, “religious” or otherwise, and has no direct knowledge, let alone expertise, concerning their curricula or teachings.]
5. He says Australian Jews need to re-think the wisdom of a culture (sic) which encourages young men and women to join the Israeli military.
[Again, without evidence or substantiation of any kind, or indeed any attempt to examine the “culture” of the Australian Jewish community, the assertion is made that that culture encourages young men and women to join the Israeli military. Not only is this inaccurate, it feeds into the propagation of anti-Jewish stereotypes as referred to in our response to 1 above].
Then, in the body of the interview, Loewenstein makes the following assertions without contradiction or challenge from the presenter:
6. The Jewish community in Australia has taken the position of complete lockdown, where there has basically been virtually no comment about the details of the case. [See our response to 2 above].
7. There’s been virtually no comment about the relationship between the Jewish establishment in Australia and the Israeli government, and indeed Mossad, and indeed Israeli intelligence and the Israeli embassy.
[Yet again, without evidence or substantiation of any kind, the implication is made that there is a relationship between “the Jewish establishment in Australia” and “the Mossad, and indeed Israeli intelligence”. Not only is this inaccurate, it feeds into the propagation of anti-Jewish stereotypes as referred to in our response to 1 above].
8. The “Jewish communities in Sydney and Melbourne” facilitate and encourage Jews from a young age “to not just be involved with Israel, visit Israel, [but also] incredibly often fight with the IDF (Israeli Defence Force)… and indeed for that matter sometimes joining Mossad. [Yet again, without evidence or substantiation of any kind, the assertion is made that Jewish communal organisations in Australia facilitate and encourage Jews from a young age to join up and fight with the IDF and the Mossad. Not only is this inaccurate, it feeds into the propagation of anti-Jewish stereotypes as referred to in our response to 1 above].
At this point in the interview, the presenter, Elizabeth Jackson, chimes in, not to probe or challenge the interviewee, but to add her own unsubstantiated innuendo:
9. “perhaps it even happens in the synagogues, I don’t know – but how do they facilitate this kind of mentality”.
[Apparently not content with her interviewee’s denigration of the Jewish community, Ms Jackson now invites him to denigrate observance in synagogues generally of the Jewish faith. This is a particularly disturbing and disappointing feature of the interview.
Not only is the assertion inaccurate, it invites uninformed speculation by Loewenstein,who has more than once admitted that he does not attend synagogue, and it feeds into the propagation of anti-Jewish stereotypes as referred to in our response to 1 above].
Loewenstein then continues:
10. Many Jews are sent to Israel, often after school, for a year or six months or whatever. Not that many Jews are moving to Israel – some do. There’s definitely an encouragement to do so – in other words, to be the best kind of Jew you can be, so the thinking goes, some people argue the only way you can do that is to go to Israel and live there.
If you’re a young Jew, you’re likely to have to do military service, it’s compulsory in Israel for three years normally. And you potentially – although this is obviously far less people – could be recruited by Mossad.
Now this sort of stuff I’m not saying is regularly discussed openly in synagogues in Sydney or Melbourne – it’s not.
[Nowhere does Loewenstein attempt to explain how programs in which young people travel to Israel and live there for a short time actually work. No-one is “sent” to Israel. Those who wish to visit are given assistance by Zionist organisations in Australia. Nor was Loewenstein asked whether he has any direct personal knowledge of these matters. Not only are his assertions unfounded, they feed into the propagation of anti-Jewish stereotypes as referred to in our response to 1 above. In point of fact these programs are primarily aimed at educating young Jews about their heritage and about contemporary Israel, and have never had anything to do with recruiting people for military or intelligence organisations].
I submit that the airing of the interview resulted in the following grave breaches of the ABC’s Code of Practice:
(a) Principle 2 – Accuracy. The ABC requires that reasonable efforts must be made to ensure accuracy in all fact-based content. The ABC accuracy standard applies to assertions of fact. The standard was violated – see items 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 above and our responses to them. Loewenstein could not reasonably have been relied on as a “source with relevant expertise” – see our response to item 3 above.
(b) Principle 4 – Impartiality and diversity of perspectives. The ABC has a statutory duty to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism. The ABC is guided by these hallmarks of impartiality:
• a balance that follows the weight of evidence;
• fair treatment;
Impartiality does not require that every perspective receives equal time, nor that every facet of every argument is presented.
In this case the standard was violated by the failure to ask the interviewee to refer to any supporting evidence or otherwise to substantiate his claims, or to probe the basis of his knowledge (if any) or to ask him any probing questions at all. Indeed the interviewer herself engaged in ill-informed anti-Jewish speculation. No attempt was made to put forward credible counter-propositions and seek the interviewee’s response. The
interviewee was not probed specifically about his (lack of) credentials, knowledge or experience to speak about Jewish schools. Nor did the interviewer put to the interviewee information that was already in the public domain that tended to contradict his views. For example, the interviewee was not asked to explain how he reconciled his views with the publicly-reported fact that Ben Zygier attended a non-Jewish school,
Wesley College, for all but the last 3 or 4 years of his school life, and only then attended a Jewish school. Nor was it put to the interviewee that Ben Zygier immigrated to Israeland in that respect is a rare exception amongst graduates of Jewish schools.
Standard 4.5 was breached not merely because the interviewee’s perspective was favoured over alternative perspectives but because alternative perspectives were omitted altogether. For example, the alternative perspectives put forward by Philip Chester in his interview with Fran Kelly the day before, were not put to the interviewee.
(c) Principle 7 – Harm and offence – a public broadcaster should never gratuitously harm or offend and accordingly any content which is likely to harm or offend must have a clear editorial purpose.
Standard 7.1 requires that content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context. This standard was breached by the gratuitous, negative reflection on Ben Zygier’s family for choosing to maintain their silence to the media.
Standard 7.7 requires avoidance of the unjustified use of stereotypes or discriminatory content that could reasonably be interpreted as condoning or encouraging prejudice. This standard was breached several times – see our response to items 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10.