Earlier in the year, after the ABC broke a massive story about an Australian man Ben Zygier spying for Mossad and dying in an Israeli jail, there was a great deal of media coverage that questioned the ways in which some Jews saw their relationship with the Israeli state. I was interviewed on ABC Radio AM and predictably elements within the Zionist lobby complained that I was invited and allowed to breath on the air.
The ABC has rejected the complaint and it’s posted below. The fact that the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, a supposedly serious organisation, thinks it’s appropriate to try and censor perspectives that challenge Israel and its policies indicates a profound arrogance and insecurity about its role in society and how it believes its key responsibility is dedication to the Israeli government. Media groups should be well aware of this and act accordingly:
A complaint to the ABC by The Executive Council of Australian Jewry following a radio interview with journalist Antony Loewenstein dealing with the activities of the late Ben Zygier has been dismissed by the national broadcaster.
In a statement released this week, the ECAJ said:
The ABC has dismissed a complaint made by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) about an interview on ABC Radio’s ‘Saturday AM’ program on 13 February 2013 conducted by presenter, Elizabeth Jackson, with commentator Antony Loewenstein.
The ECAJ complained that false claims were made about the supposed ‘dual loyalties’ of Jewish Australians, and that the interviewee making those claims was doing so without evidence, qualifications, expertise or representative status in any part of the Jewish community.
According to ECAJ Executive Director, Peter Wertheim, “During the interview, without evidence or substantiation of any kind, the entirely baseless suggestion was made that there is a relationship between ‘the Jewish establishment in Australia’ and ‘the Mossad, and indeed Israeli intelligence’ which facilitates and encourages Jews from a young age to join up and fight with the IDF and the Mossad.”
Wertheim was especially critical of the Saturday AM program. “It is supposed to be a fact-based news program, not a chat show with entire segments devoted merely to uncontested expressions of opinion. Where were the tough questions, or any questions, asking Loewenstein to provide evidence for his completely unfounded assertions? Isn’t that what fact based program interviewers are supposed to do? Isn’t it their role to elicit the factual basis of opinions expressed by their guests, if any exist?”
“The ABC’s answers to our complaints are either not responsive to the specific matters we raised, or evaded the issue, or were disingenuous”, Wertheim said. “The answers consist for the most part of simple denials that anything untoward was being implied, and irrelevant assertions that Loewenstein has a right to express his opinions”.
Wertheim does not believe there would be any point in the ECAJ pursuing an appeal to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, but noted that this would not be the end of the matter. “The ABC launched a baseless attack on Australian Jews, with insinuations of disloyalty, by interviewing someone who the ABC itself describes as a ‘provocateur’. The ABC has now demonstrated that the process whereby one section of the ABC investigates another does not work”, he said.
The ABC response to the complaint as reported in J-Wire…
Thank you for your letter of 19 February 2013 regarding the recent AM interview with Antony Loewenstein.
Your concerns have been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC. We have reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy, impartiality and harm and offence as well as considering information provided by the program.
The program has explained that this short interview with Antony Loewenstein was intended to provide a peispective cn the highly ne.,^rs’*cfihy story cf the Australian rnan Ben Zygier”s death in an lsrae!! prison, which had broken that week. As a commentator and opinion writer who is often critical of mainstream lsraeli and Jewish organisations for their approach to issues of state security, military service and middle-eastern politics, Mr Loewenstein presented a relevant perspective on the case of the so-called “prisoner X”.
1. Given the context of the discussion was the mysterious and perplexing case of “prisonerX” and his secret detention in an Israeli prison for suspected espionage-related crimes while working for the Mossad, we believe it was reasonable that the report’s introduction referred to “the most secretive workings of the Jewish state”. Audience and Consumer Affairs note that the term “Jewish state” is frequently used to describe lsrael, and the country’s Basic Laws refer to lsrael as the Jewish State. We have concluded that the use of the term in this broadcast did not have sinister or subliminal intent as you suggest, and was in keeping with ABC editorial standards.
2. Having died in detention in Israel under mysterious circumstances and seemingly harsh conditions, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that it was relevant and a matter of public interest for the program to question why Ben Zygier’s family had remained silent on the matter.
We have concluded that the reference to the “silence from the Australian Jewish community” was in keeping with the accuracy standards in section 2 of the ABC Code of Practice.
ABC News management has advised that the program’s production team worked for several days seeking principal relevant perspectives from the Jewish community on this issue and even in the rare instances where comment was obtained, it was of a vague and non-committal nature. I have reviewed the interview with Philip Chester on Radio National Breakfast that you reference in your correspondence and note that he was unable, or unwilling, to engage with any of the issues put to him regarding this case. In virtually every instance, he clearly stated that he was not in a position, or did not have sufficient knowledge, of the issues to speak to them;
PHILIP CHESTER: “Everything that surrounds it, what actually happened to Ben,is just speculation that I can’t add to.”
Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that AM’s description of the silence as “perplexing” accurately reflected the complexity and mystery of the case.
3. The program’s introduction of Mr Loewenstein as the “Co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices” was accurate and provided sufficient context about his perspective. We are satisfied that this reference was not misleading to the program’s audience. As noted above, as a commentator and opinion writer who is often critical of mainstream Israeli and Jewish organisations for their approach to issues of state security, military service and middle-eastern politics, he presented a relevant perspective on the case of the so-called “prisoner X”. In regard to your statement that the ABC seeks Mr Loewenstein’s view “frequently as a commentator about Israel”, AM has provided the following statement;
“We could only find two previous uses of Mr Loewenstein in the AM program, one from 2010 when he was commenting on a book launched by the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and another from 2009 when he was involved in an international protest over Israel’s a blockade of Gaza.”
4. The claim that “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 are educated at religious schools in Australia” was clearly attributed as Mr Loewenstein’s personal opinion and was not presented as a statement cf fact that ls beyond dispute.
In response to your concerns, AM has provided the following comments:
“Although Antony Lowenstein did not attend a religious school, many of his friends and associates did. He grew up as part of the Australian Jewish community in Melbourne and through his associates, is familiar with what is taught in Jewish schools.
Mr Lowenstein mentioned Jewish schools in an attempt to illustrate his belief that Australian Jews are taught that to be “the best Jew they can, they should spend some time in Israel. lt is Mr Lowenstein’s belief that young Australian Jews are told this in religious schools. This is the only connection Mr Lowenstein drew between the Ben Zygier case and religious schools in Australia”.
Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied this was a suitably relevant issue for inclusion within the context of the broadcast and did not, as you suggest, “feed into the propagation of anti-Jewish stereotypes.”
5. Mr Loewenstein’s view that Australian Jews ‘need to rethink the wisdom of a culture which encourages young men and women to join the Israeli military” was clearly attributed as his opinion, based on his personal experience, and we are satisfied that he is entitled to express that view about a culture of which he was a part, growing up in the Jewish community in Melbourne.
6. Please refer to our response to point 2 above.
7. In the interview Lowenstein called for public discussion about “the relationship between the Jewish establishment in Australia and the Israeli government, and indeed Mossad, and indeed Israeli intelligence and the Israeli embassy.” He did not make any accusations or suggestions of improper dealings, he merely called for public debate, in light of the Ben Zygier case. An interviewee calling for public discussion does not breach the ABC’s Code of Practice.
8. Audience and Consumer Affairs note that in November last year, the ABC current affairs program 7.30 broadcast a report on young Jewish Australians who were following a long tradition of ‘making Aliyah’ and preparing to travel to Israel. The program’s research confirmed that in the past four years more than 400 Australian Jews had made the move and most had completed compulsory military service in the lDF. Those who featured in the report spoke passionately about their active support for Israel.
Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that the issue of encouragement and facilitation of young Australian Jews travelling to, living in and serving Israel was suitably newsworthy and relevant for inclusion in the AM discussion and is in keeping with the accuracy standards in section 2 of the ABC Code of Practice.
9. Having asserted his view that Jewish institutions facilitated a certain culture, we are satisfied that it was relevant for the interviewer to follow up with a question asking for more detailed information, asking Mr Loewenstein whether he believed that the culture was perpetuated in synagogues, because they are important community gathering places. This question did not invite Mr Loewenstein to “denigrate observance in synagogues generally of the Jewish faith’ or to “invite uninformed speculation by Loewenstein” as you claim. Lowenstein responded by qualifying that ‘Now this sort of stuff I’m not saying is regularly discussed openly in synagogues in Sydney or Melbourne – it’s not. “We are satisfied that this relevant question and the response did not as you suggest “feed into the propagation of anti-Jewish stereotypes.”
10. We note your comment regarding Mr Loewenstein’s reference to Australian Jews being “sent” to Israel. We do not believe that Loewenstein was claiming that young Australia Jews are deliberately travelling to Israel with the intention of joining Mossad. He was suggesting that this is a possible outcome (as in the case of Ben Zygier) and the Australian Jewish community would do well to discuss it.
There was no editorial requirement for the interviewer to request the interviewee provide “supporting evidence” to substantiate the opinions he expressed on the issues raised in the broadcast. Mr Loewenstein’s perspective was not presented as factual content or the definitive, accepted position on the issues examined in the interview. He was introduced as the “Co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices” and we believe it would be clear to the program’s audience that he was expressing a critical, counter view to the mainstream Jewish community in Australia. As you have noted, he is known as a provocateur who has published inflammatory material and he is renowned as a critic of many lsraeli policies. We are satisfied that the program’s audience would not have taken his comments as established facts, but rather his own personal views.
We are satisfied there was a clear editorlal context in which to raise the issues posed by the interviewer and we cannot agree that she engaged in “anti-Jewish speculation”.
ABC News management has explained that AM made attempts to contact a range of representatives from the Australian Jewish community, but none were willing to participate in an alternate interview. In light of this, the program believed it relevant and newsworthy to raise the issue of why people were not willing to speak publicly on the matter, with Mr Loewenstein. Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that the program made reasonable efforts to seek and include a range of perspectives and and that the broadcast did not unduly favour any one view over another. The fact that others chose not to comment did not preclude the program from discussing the matter with Mr Loewenstein.
On review, we are satisfied that it was newsworthy and a matter of public interest to question why the Zygier family chose to remain silent on the matter. There was a clear editorial context for that issue; it was not raised gratuitously and it was not in breach of the editorial requirements of 7.1 of the ABC Code of Practice.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that this broadcast did not engage in the unjustified use of stereotypes or discriminatory content that could reasonably be interpreted as condoning or encouraging prejudice. We are satisfied that it was in keeping with the requirements of clause 7.7 of the ABC Code of Practice.
I have enclosed a copy of the ABC Code of Practice for your reference.