Why let truth get in the way?

Robert Fisk was in Sydney last week and lectured on the responsibility of journalists in times of war. I’ve now been informed that around 1500 people attended the event, with hundreds being turned away. This week’s Australian Jewish News editorialises on his speech and is very creative with the truth:

…”Experts” such as veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk are invited on to campus to deliver (unchallenged) lectures which pour scorn on the United States and Israel.

In a lecture to an audience at Macquarie University last week, Fisk stopped just millimetres short of suggesting that Israel was the cause of the 9/11 attacks. The audience reportedly (and predictably) showered him in accolades.

In fact, Fisk said the complete opposite on many occasions – and during my interview with him afterwards – and stressed that Israel had no involvement in the crimes against humanity on September 11.

Furthermore, the suggestion that Fisk was “unchallenged” implies that his appearance would only have been appropriate with a counter pro-Zionist speaker. Next time a pro-Israeli speaker appears in Australia, I look forward to the paper advocating a pro-Palestinian perspective to ensure “balance.”

The newspaper is also concerned about alleged anti-Zionist bias on universities across the country. The first example:

It is gratifying that the vice-chancellor of the University of Western Sydney (UWS) blasted the university’s student newspaper for publishing a scurrilous front-page article describing Jews as “bloodsuckers”, “money-grabbers” and “thieves”.

But even though such affirmative action is commendable, question marks remain over why the article was published in the first place.

The author says it was intended as satire in response to the offensive Danish cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. He says the point was to “show how offensive it is when the same things that are said about Muslims are said about Jews”.

But if the assumption was that the article — not to mention the accompanying cartoons — would cause offence, why was it published?

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president David Knoll was right to suggest that the protagonists “followed the example of the Iranian Government, which responded to the Danish cartoons by promoting an international competition for antisemitic cartoons”.

But it is the prevailing zeitgeist that exists on many Australian campuses that creates a fertile breeding ground for such scandalous material.

I haven’t seen the student newspaper, so I can’t comment. However, the AJN then complains about the simulations conducted by Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East and North African Studies (of which I’m a board member), recently stopped by the NSW Education Department (more info on this here, here and here):

…The Middle East history simulation course at Macquarie, which has now been dropped following protests by Jewish groups, was allegedly biased in its presentation of the conflict to high-school students.

In New South Wales a number of public secondary high schools have participated in Arab/Israeli role-play simulations conducted by the Middle East Centre. The simulations have been adapted by teachers to meet the needs of high school participants focusing on the Arab/Israeli conflict. The simulation process has undergone continual evolution to ensure its success in the secondary school context.

The first simulation was conducted in 2001 with students from Killara High School and North Sydney Boys in conjunction with The Centre for Middle East and North African Studies. In 2002 the simulation gained support from the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre, a collaborative initiative between the NSW Department of Education and Training and Macquarie Uni. Since 2002 both centres have been directly involved with the school simulations and the number of schools participating has increased. In 2005 there were five public high schools.

Teachers have coordinated the school simulations and the coverage and student feedback has been very positive.

In June 2004 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies contacted the Board of Studies and the Principal of Killara High School to complain, citing perceived bias in the content of the material and that there were too many Arab roles compared with the number of Israeli roles. The results were that the Department of Education conducted a formal inquiry into the running of the simulation and the KHS Principal allowed the Jewish Board of Deputies to talk to the Killara students. Though a Palestinian representative was not given the same access and the other participating school refused to allow any non-educational body to talk to their students. I am also aware that there was a Department of Education delegation to Canberra to speak to the Palestinian representative and we believe Brenda Nelson, who at that time was the Federal Minister for Education (and is now the Defence Minister.)

The inquiry formalized a set of procedures for schools to follow when they participated in any further simulations. Thus in 2005 five schools were involved in a simulation which was extremely successful but again drew complaints from the Jewish Board of Deputies. The issue that they were able to complain about was not educational but that not all the schools followed the bureaucratic guidelines. The Department at the end of last year reassesses the simulation and although all the reviews from the participating school were positive, the Board of Studies, fearful of the political fall out, will now not allow the public schools to participate. Many of the teachers involved are very disappointed with the outcome and would like the Department to be courageous and let the simulations continue.

The Jewish News has reported that the simulations will no longer occur because of bias in their delivery, which are not the findings of the Department. Sadly the Department has not clarified this misinformation with the paper.

The full story is yet to be revealed, though Jewish lobbyists have nothing to be proud of, unless, of course, censoring alternative readings of the Israel/Palestine conflict is their raison d’etre.

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