ABC Radio Pacific Mornings program, broadcast across the Pacific, interviewed me this morning about my work as an independent journalist over the last 15 years. From the Middle East to disaster capitalism and Australia enabling corruption in Papua New Guinea to tackling faith, it was a wide-ranging discussion:
I was interviewed by The Wire news radio program yesterday:
The already fragile stability in the Middle East has been further affected in recent weeks, with the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
Overnight 55 Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state. This is the highest protest casualty rate in the region since 2014, and has some experts feeling that the US’s increased backing of Israel will lead to a more aggressive stance on neighbours such as Palestine and Syria.
My investigation in the Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age:
The legal pursuit in Israel of alleged sexual predator Malka Leifer took a strange turn this week.
As she fought extradition attempts by Victoria Police over 74 charges of child sexual abuse, the 54-year-old first gained, then lost the support of influential Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman.
Grossman is a highly respected rabbi in Israel. He was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in 2004 – Israel’s highest cultural honour – and he’s the founder and head of Migdal Ohr, a major NGO that helps children and underprivileged teens across Israel.
But last week, in a surprise appearance before the Jerusalem district court, he pledged to monitor Leifer under house arrest if the judge agreed to her release from police custody.
It was “humiliating”, he claimed, for Leifer to remain incarcerated, and bad for her mental health.
The court apparently agreed and authorised her release.
Leifer is a former teacher and principal at Melbourne’s ultra-orthodox Adass Israel girls’ school, who fled Australia with the aid of the Adass community after her alleged offending was revealed.
One of Leifer’s alleged victims, Melbourne-based Dassi Erlich, was gutted at the court’s decision.
“We are trying so desperately to hold onto hope and trying to desperately see justice. We want to hold onto the fact that we will see her back in Australia one day,” she said.
However, early this week, Grossman reversed his position and withdrew support for Leifer, citing the perception that his backing had been “interpreted as supporting an attempt to avoid trial”.
There are many confounding aspects of this case including the role of Rabbi Grossman.
Grossman has assisted accused sexual predators before, including Breslov Rabbi Eliezer Berland who fought extradition to Israel from South Africa. Grossman went to South Africa twice and argued for Berland to be given bail.
Ultimately, Berland was sentenced in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in 2016 after admitting to one assault and two counts of indecent acts.
So why did Grossman back away from Leifer?
Multiple sources in both Australia and Israel said the backlash against the rabbi’s decision to support Leifer was immediate. Donors, staff and some board members of his Migdal Ohr organisation objected to his move on social media, and directly to the organisation.
One source said that he personally knew people who had contacted board members to complain, only to be told they were sullying the reputation of a fine man.
However a social media campaign involving Australian and American activists and a number of Australian rabbis put moral pressure on the rabbi. An open letter addressed to Grossman said Leifer’s alleged crimes had “caused untold pain and suffering”.
“Your conduct in this matter raises many serious questions … By involving yourself in legal proceedings which have nothing to do with you for the purpose of supporting an alleged multiple rapist and child sexual abuser and in showing no regard for the pain and suffering of her alleged victims, you are guilty of not only gross Rabbinic overreach but have also committed a huge Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name), which has brought the entire Jewish community into disrepute,” the letter read.
More than that, sources say, was the threat to the funding of Migdal Ohr.
Rabbi Grossman’s group claims to endorse child protection, and sources have told Fairfax Media many key funders, particularly in the United States, demanded that Grossman retract his support for Leifer.
About half the funding for Grossman’s organisation comes from the Israeli government, and the rest from Jewish communities from across the world including Canada, Brazil and Britain and 10 percent from the Jewish Agency for Israel. The United Israel Appeal Australia (UIA) donates money to the Jewish Agency but a representative from the UIA in Melbourne told Fairfax Media that “we’re transparent about where our money goes” and none had ever been sent to Migdal Ohr.
“Rabbi Grossman didn’t have a moral realisation”, the source said. “He didn’t issue an apology for the hurt caused [to Leifer’s victims.]”
One source told Fairfax Media that Grossman knew about the allegations against Leifer as far back as 2012 and supported her.
Fairfax approached Rabbi Grossman Enterprises for a response, but was referred to his earlier statement.
Leifer has been fighting extradition to Australia for four years. She fled from Australia to Israel soon after the allegations were aired in 2008, living there while alleging she was mentally unfit to stand trial.
But police were forced to act after an Israeli private investigator filmed more than 200 hours of footage of Leifer in an occupied West Bank settlement and found her to be a “normal, healthy person”.
She remains in custody while an Israeli judge assesses an appeal to deny her access to house arrest.
There are growing calls from the Jewish community within Australia for the Israeli legal system to facilitate Leifer’s extradition to Australia and face justice. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has raised the matter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in 2017 said that, “justice demands that she be brought back to Australia to answer the charges.”
In 2015, Victorian Supreme Court judge Jack Rush ordered the Adass Israel girls’ school to pay $1,024,428 in damages to Ms Erlich.
Leifer’s fate remains in the balance. Well connected in the secretive Hassidic community, along with her husband Jacob, she’ll undoubtedly fight to stay in Israel and never return to Australia. If the Israeli court finds that she cannot remain in a psychiatric ward and with Rabbi Grossman’s offer now void, she may be released back into the Israeli community. Her victims demand that she faces court in Australia.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, author of “Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe”, and was based in Jerusalem in 2016/2017.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is in trouble, and it partly stems from his close relationship with Australia’s most recognisable billionaire, James Packer.
The country’s second longest-serving Prime Minister is facing potential charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust after an extensive investigation by Israeli police. They accuse Netanyahu of accepting nearly $US300,000 ($A380,000) in gifts over 10 years.
“Case 1000” which is also known as “Cigars and Champagne,” revolves around alleged bribery and paying for favours. Packer, along with Hollywood producer and former secret Israeli agent Arnon Milchan, are alleged to be those behind the payments.
It’s now up to the country’s Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit, to decide whether the police evidence is strong enough to indict the Prime Minister.
Netanyahu does not deny accepting huge gifts from both men, but refutes allegations that he granted them any favours.
Milchan’s personal assistant, Hadas Klein, told Israeli police in November that, “there was an understanding that Arnon had to supply the Netanyahu couple with whatever they wanted. The cigars were requested by Netanyahu personally.”
The Prime Minister alleges that pink champagne and expensive jewellery requested by Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, were tokens of good friendship with Milchan.
Israeli police claim that Netanyahu pushed for the “Milchan law”, cutting taxes for returning Israelis who have spent time overseas, helped Milchan get a 10-year US visa and assisted the producer in furthering his film work. Israeli police have also recommended charging Milchan.
Packer’s relationship with the Netanyahu family is also under scrutiny (though he is not facing charges). According to testimony released by Israel’s Channel 10 in late 2017 after Packer spoke to Australian Federal Police agents in Australia on behalf of Israeli investigators, the casino mogul said: “I admire Prime Minister Netanyahu and am happy that I was given the opportunity to be his friend. I was happy to give him presents, many times at his request and his wife Sara’s request”.
At the time of the interview, a spokesman for Mr Packer’s Crown Resorts said: “There is no allegation of wrongdoing on Mr Packer’s behalf … The Israeli and Australian police have confirmed that he was interviewed as a witness, not a suspect.”
Netanyahu allegedly requested gifts and services from Packer worth up to $US100,000 including champagne, tickets to a Mariah Carey concert (Packer was previously engaged to the pop star) and cigars. Packer also showered Netanyahu’s son, Yair, with gifts including free accommodation at his luxury properties around the world.
Netanyahu responded that Packer was his “neighbour and friend” and “now and again, I asked him to bring me something to Israel from abroad”.
Netanyahu’s friendship with Packer reportedly began in 2014 when the Australian businessman met the Israeli leader at a dinner organised by Milchan and Packer. They apparently connected quickly and Packer soon purchased a multimillion dollar mansion in Israel beside a property owned by Netanyahu.
Packer accelerated his business interests in Israel’s cyber-security industry, saying in 2015 that he wanted to build a company with Milchan because, “Israel now has the highest start-ups per capita in the world and this will provide major opportunities in the future”.
Packer was with Netanyahu in the US Congress and UN General Assembly in 2015 when the Israeli Prime Minister slammed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. In the same year, Packer echoed Netanayhu’s hardline position, saying that it was “the stupidest thing I’ve seen in my life”.
Israel’s Interior Minister confirmed to the ABC in 2017 that he had met Packer’s lawyer to discuss possible residency and citizenship of Israel. Such a development would have significant tax advantages for Packer.
Case 2000 is another headache for Netanyahu. He’s accused of colluding with the publisher of one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth. Caught on tape, the Israeli Prime Minister was telling its owner Arnon Mozes that he would convince his paper’s main competition, Israeli Hayom, owned by Las Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson, to reduce its circulation.
Netanyahu reportedly asked Mozes in return if he could get his publication to be less critical of the Prime Minister and his government. Netanyahu now says he wasn’t serious, but Adelson partially confirmed the allegation, telling Israeli police last year that Netanyahu had asked him not to expand his media outlet.
Adelson used to be Netanyahu’s biggest backer in his battles with the Palestinians and Obama administration, but that friendship appears to have cooled. Adelson is a key Donald Trump backer and reportedly encouraged the US President to move its embassy to Jerusalem and quash Palestinian nationalism for good.
Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him and continues to serve as the country’s Prime Minister.
He has been in a similar situation twice before, facing corruption allegations in 1997 and 2000, but both times he escaped being charged. Israel has a long history of former politicians being indicted for corruption including, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who served time in prison for accepting bribes during his time as mayor of Jerusalem.
Columnist Anshel Pfeffer in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes that Netanyahu’s fatal flaw is that, “just like his belief in the cult of hasbara (or public diplomacy), and that if only Israel explains itself better to the world, everyone will be won over, he’s convinced that his image, as presented by the media, is the source of all his setbacks”.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, and was based in Jerusalem in 2016/2017
Gideon Levy is one of Israel’s most outspoken journalists. He’s been writing for decades in Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the devastating effects of the never-ending Israeli occupation of Palestine.
I first met Gideon in Tel Aviv in 2005 when I was researching my first book, My Israel Question.
Since then, he’s become an inspiration for daring to reveal the dark side of Israeli society and what it’s supporting in the West Bank and Gaza.
He recently toured Australia, and received extensive media coverage (on the public broadcaster ABC), and I was privileged to speak alongside him at Sydney University. It was one of the biggest Sydney Ideas events of the year, with nearly 500 people present.
My comments begin at 50:07 and then a Q&A with Gideon.
Here’s the audio:
And the video:
US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem is unsurprising and clarifying. It proves, once and for all, that Washington will only do the bidding of the Jewish state.
I was interviewed on Australian news program The Wire about the move:
Access and ownership of Jerusalem have been a hot issue for decades after its occupation by Israel. Peace talks have stalled multiple times and Donald Trump has thrown a spanner in the works once more.
The US President recently announced his intentions to move the US Embassy into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Which has caused condemnation from other political leaders and protests in the streets. The consequences of his actions could be felt for years.
My following article appears in Australian news outlet, Crikey:
Let’s talk about boycotting Australia.
Australia’s war on asylum seekers at Manus Island, Nauru and other privatised detention facilities on the Australian mainland is seemingly unstoppable by traditional means. While condemned by every human rights organisation in the world, Canberra is unmoved. The demonisation of (mostly) brown and Muslim individuals is an effective tool for politicians as well as many in the Murdoch and tabloid press to whip up fear and aggression against outsiders. And it’s been working for 25 years with Australia now inspiring hardline European policies.
When politics and international law fail to intervene if abuses occur, alternative tactics are required. Supporting a tourist and sporting boycott is one way to draw local and international attention to Australia’s mistreatment of refugees. It would inevitably lead to a hardening of views among some Australians, and vicious opposition by many in the media who would label it unrealistic or extreme — but that’s exactly the point. Business-as-usual ideas have failed for more than two decades. It’s time to try something new.
Back in 2014, I wrote in The Guardian that the United Nations should impose sanctions on Australia over its asylum seeker policies. Then and now it was a highly contentious view, and the UN is a deeply flawed and corrupt body itself, but my aim was to make Australians realise that turning a blind eye to what was happening on Manus Island and elsewhere should come with a tangible, economic price. In other words, let’s turn capitalism against a rich, capitalist country.
In 2015, I wrote in The Guardian again about boycotting companies, and divesting from them through shareholder activism, that financially benefited from Australia’s refugee policies. This included Serco, G4S and International Health and Medical Services. Earlier this year, when I raised the idea on ABC TV of a sports boycott against Australia, the online response was often vitriolic (though far from entirely).
“Sports and politics don’t mix” was the most tiresome response, as if people had conveniently forgotten the long and noble tradition of fighting oppression and racism during apartheid South Africa and in the US today with sports and its icons. There’s also a growing global divestment campaign against the coal industry.
The growing success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, to pressure the Jewish state to abide by international law in its war against the Palestinians, is because it has massive Palestinian support within Palestine, granting the movement legitimacy in the eyes of global activists.
There are examples of Australians pushing for similar legitimacy here with current and former asylum seekers. The only Australian organisation that I know that’s pushing to sanction Australia is Rise: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees. They state: “Australia should be excluded from participation in all international humanitarian and human rights decision making processes until mandatory detention and refoulement of asylum seekers and refugees is abolished in Australia.”
What would a boycott against Australia look like? Because it’s unlikely that any countries would refuse to play Australia in cricket, football, hockey, netball or rugby (as these nations are themselves involved in abuses against minorities), it’s up to engaged citizens to put pressure on teams and their corporate sponsors to take a public stand against Australia’s refugee posture. Generate public protests in Australia and globally when Australia’s national team plays. Brief activists in foreign cities to write letters and op-eds whenever Australia appears. Australians crave global acceptance and will loathe being forced to consider why their teams are being shunned.
A tourist boycott is equally appealing (and a German journalist recently advocated for it). Tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry and many people would undoubtedly suffer if fewer foreigners visited. But there are ways to try and avoid this result. After the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009, some activists asked tourists not to come because the government was attempting to white-wash its crimes (or at least be careful not to stay at hotels or fly on airlines backed by the regime).
Australians could encourage potential tourists, with the aid of a helpful website, to back local communities and economies with no connection to corporations complicit in some way to Australia’s refugee policies. Activists could use culture jamming techniques to challenge Australian tourist ads running around the world, showing the reality away from the pretty beaches. Social media is an effective weapon here, producing alternative tourist messages with images from Manus Island and Nauru.
There’s no one way to end Australia’s cruelty towards asylum seekers but most of the current tactics have failed. If Australians start paying a real price for their acquiesce in punishing refugees, the politics may start to slowly change.
*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, film-maker, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and is currently writing a book on the global “war on drugs”.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten travelled to Israel this week to “celebrate” the 100-year anniversary of Beersheba and the Balfour Declaration. Palestine was barely on the agenda. After living in East Jerusalem for the last 1.5 years, I was interviewed for Lateline by ABC TV reporter Michael Vincent on the grim reality in Palestine:
In September, I spoke at Sydney University alongside US academic Mark LeVine and Palestinian academic Lana Tatour on the realities in today’s Palestine/Israel. Many interesting comments and my thoughts (after living in East Jerusalem for the last 1.5 years) start at 1:00:26: