Care to imagine what an editorial meeting is like at Rupert Murdoch’s Australian? No, me neither – “look, over there, a Muslim country the West hasn’t bombed, let’s fix that immediately!” – but there’s a weird obsession over supporting the Israeli government. There’s a direct line from the Israeli PR department to the writers at the Murdoch organ and don’t they milk it for all it’s worth? It’s not about intellectual rigour or facts but blind ideology. From comments about how Palestinians and critics should be grateful for Israel to today three articles that all tackle BDS, Palestine, human rights, anti-Semitism, TERRORISM, ice-cream and pandas.
The word “occupation” is typically absent.
First, a “news story”:
Sydney Peace Foundation head Stuart Rees has lashed out at Julia Gillard for signing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism, calling the gesture “childish, thoughtless but easily populist”.
Professor Rees is on the staff of the University of Sydney’s controversial Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, which last year denied a request for co-operation from the only Israeli academic to create a civics curriculum for both Jewish and Arab school students.
The centre cited its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which explicitly equates Israel with apartheid-era South Africa.
Last month the Prime Minister became the first Australian parliamentarian to sign the London Declaration. “This declaration reminds us that combating anti-Semitism is an active process, not a passive one,” she said. “It demands vigilance. It means remaining alert to new vehicles by which hatred and social poison can be spread.”
Professor Rees originally made his comments in an email responding to comments made by opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne when he attacked the BDS movement on Friday.
“Activism, boycotts and sometimes sanctions campaigns aren’t always anti-Semitic, but when you target individual businesses because they are Jewish, it is clearly anti-Semitic,” Mr Pyne said in a statement on the declaration, pointing to BDS activity at universities in NSW.
“It is sad that 70 years after the second world war and the discovery of the Holocaust we are still having to defend the right of Jewish people to live in their Jewish homeland in Israel free from this kind of anti-Semitic campaign.”
Professor Rees dismissed his remarks as “the usual childish, thoughtless but easily populist response” in the email, which was obtained by The Australian. “Justice for the Palestinians and indeed security for Israelis deserves more than predicable ‘happy to get on any easy bandwagon’ approach of this politician.”
Asked if his criticisms also applied to Ms Gillard, Professor Rees responded “of course”. “The resort to charges of anti-Semitism regarding the world-wide criticisms of the internationally illegal policies of the government of Israel is an age-old technique to stifle any criticism of blatant human rights abuses,” he said.
Mr Pyne said: “It is disappointing that Professor Rees is the director of the Sydney Peace Foundation and yet also a supporter of the BDS movement that seeks to delegitimise Israel, targets Jewish businesses and prohibits a healthy cultural exchange between universities and in so doing damages the prospects for peace.”
Professor Rees declined to comment yesterday, saying he had just returned from overseas.
And an op-ed by Bruce Loudon, a man who praises Israel for its glorious democracy but just happens to ignore the minor detail of millions of Palestinians under a brutal, Israeli occupation:
There is a fundamental flaw in the argument that forms the centrepiece of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Israel, supporters of the campaign maintain, is an “apartheid” state where the evils being perpetrated against Palestinians are equivalent to those committed in South Africa in the darkest days of racist oppression. They demand the same international response (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) that, they argue, succeeded in undoing the white regime.
They see successfully labelling Israel in the eyes of the world an “apartheid” state as the key to forcing it to change course.
It’s an argument that has attracted support around the world, not just among those het up by what they ludicrously perceive to be the threat posed by Max Brenner chocolate shops in Australia. Even that most eminent and widely esteemed of scientists, Stephen Hawking, has bowed to Palestinian pressure and decided to boycott a scientific conference in Israel that he was previously happy to visit.
But it is an argument many with first-hand knowledge of South Africa under apartheid rule and Israel today would regard as a cockeyed distortion of historical reality that should be resisted, for the very basis of it is plain wrong: conveniently ignored is the fact that from its inception in 1949 until Nelson Mandela won power for the African National Congress in the 1994 “freedom election”, the policy of apartheid in South Africa involved the oppression of a vast black majority, purely on the basis of race, by a tiny white minority.
Crucially, it involved the creation of a state in which there was no democracy as we know it – one in which political and most other rights were the exclusive preserve of the privileged white minority. The black majority was disenfranchised and subjected to the most outrageous forms of discrimination in every aspect of their lives. They had no representation in the national parliament.
Black lives were regulated simply because people were black. Segregation was ruthlessly enforced. Blacks were allowed to live only in specified, mostly rundown areas. They had to go to separate, backdoor entrances at post offices. They could not go to white hospitals. Marriage and sex across the colour line was barred.
A lunatic system of race classification deemed what people could or could not do. Blacks couldn’t place funeral notices in the same columns as whites in newspapers. Schools were segregated, beaches were for whites only, and blacks were barred from playing sport with whites.
Israel is vastly different; it bears little relation to the madness of apartheid in South Africa. It is, after all, a country in which there is, yes, an overwhelming Jewish majority, but in which Arabs make up 20 per cent of the population. Crucially, where South Africa, under apartheid, was a racial dictatorship, Israel is a vibrant democracy, a country whose declaration of independence at the time of its foundation specifically promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”.
While the black majority in South Africa was for decades disenfranchised, in Israel, every citizen, of whatever faith or ethnic background, has an inalienable right to vote and to speak out, even against Israel’s existence.
There have been Arab members of the Knesset in every parliament since the country’s formation, and while in South Africa discriminatory laws were administered by a race-based white judiciary, in Israel, an Arab judge was part of a Supreme Court bench that convicted a former Israeli president on misconduct charges.
Arab Israelis have served as government ministers, ambassadors for the country in key diplomatic postings abroad, and in top public service and police posts.
Yet Israel is flogged by the BDS campaigners as an “apartheid” state that deserves to be punished and ostracised by the international community in the way South Africa was. Nothing is heard, of course, about the “apartheid” being enforced by Hamas in Gaza, where strict Islamic law is being imposed, with women barred even from running in a local marathon, while schoolchildren are being segregated and forced to wear Islamic dress. There is also silence on the rank discrimination that is enforced in so much of the Arab world. That South Africa, because of its grotesque system of apartheid, was fair game for the sort of campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions that contributed substantially to the ultimate demise of white rule is hard to argue against.
But comparisons between South Africa then, and Israel now, are neither fair nor sustainable. And they certainly do not accord with reality.
The two situations are vastly different, and it is a pity people such as Hawking allow themselves to be persuaded otherwise. Israel is far from perfect. It has many shortcomings. But it is not an “apartheid” state in the sense South Africa was.
It is a vibrant democracy – significantly, the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. And it deserves better than the gross distortion of reality being espoused by BDS campaigners.
And finally an editorial where readers are told to stop picking on Israel and focus on the real menace, Iran (a nation that this peace-loving newspaper has said in the past could deserve to be bombed):
The Sydney Peace Foundation’s stated purpose is “to promote universal human rights and peace with justice” as the building blocks of any civil society. Foundation chairman Stuart Rees, however, has cast a cloud over the organisation’s bona fides by dismissing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism as “childish, thoughtless but easily populist”. His condemnation of Julia Gillard and opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne for “cowardice” in signing it almost beggars belief.
The Prime Minister and Mr Pyne are two of more than 125 politicians from 40 countries who have signed the declaration, which is a well-modulated affirmation of “democratic and human values” advocating societies built on respect, combating anti-Semitism and discrimination. As Mr Pyne said last week, it is sad that, 70 years after the Holocaust, it remains necessary to defend the right of Jewish people to live in Israel – the Middle East’s only mature democracy – free of anti-Semitic activities such as the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions campaign.
Professor Rees’s stance, in line with many on the Left, contains a curious anomaly. In recent years, while the Left has become more critical of Israel, its Palestinian opponents have become more jihadist. Israel’s critics also pay little heed to the encroaching influence of Iran, one of the world’s most oppressive and menacing regimes. Late last year, after supporting the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the UN, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated his nation’s attitude to Israel when he said any deal that accepted the Jewish state’s existence would leave a “cancerous tumour” forever threatening Middle East security. Such hostile influence further diminishes the prospect of a workable two-state solution. Unfortunately, that prospect has receded since the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, as the influence of Fatah, the Palestinian faction prepared to negotiate a two-state solution, has been usurped.
Through Sudan and Egypt, Iran has been shipping major new weapons supplies to the Hamas terrorists in Gaza, who have governed there since winning a majority of parliamentary seats in 2006. The rockets and missiles are being stockpiled in anticipation of military conflict with Israel, to be sparked by action over Iran’s nuclear ambitions or the civil war in Iran’s ally, Syria.
Iran also has cemented its influence in the Middle East by arming its other surrogate, Hezbollah, with Iranian-supplied rockets in Lebanon. The evidence is incontrovertible that the Assad regime in Damascus, in close collusion with Iran, is seeking to transfer stockpiles of Fateh-110 missiles, with the capacity to carry a half-tonne warhead more than 300km, to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. Such a prospect represents a serious threat to Israel.
Against such a background, the focus of Professor Rees’s “peace” foundation is what he calls “the internationally illegal policies of the government of Israel”. While claiming that Ms Gillard and Mr Pyne “have a lot of serious reflecting and reading to do” and that they should accompany him to Gaza, the professor fails to address the religious fanaticism of Israel’s main opponents. For the head of an organisation ostensibly committed to peace, such bias suggests underlying values that are strangely skewed.
In the real world, away from propaganda for any state or its policies, lies the reality of Israeli actions and the importance of boycotting and challenging this mad normality. Here’s why.