Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How Pro-Israel advocates in Australia targeted three Australian journalists

Dear friends,
I am a little late in posting this up.  Recently respected Australian journalist, John Lyons recently released a memoir about his time in Jerusalem bureau for The Australian.  As many will be aware, Murdoch's Australian is avowedly pro-Zionist/pro-Israel and Lyons has often been the lone dissenting voice on Israel-Palestine among its permanent roster of journalists. 

In his memoir, Balcony Over Jerusalem, Lyons documents how both the Israeli government and Zionist pro-Israel lobby in Australia systematically targeted him and other journalists, seeking to favourably influence and/or undermine their reporting of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Please find below the Guardian's article from July discussing Lyon's memoir and the targeting of journalist by the Israeli government and Pro-Israeli lobby groups.

In solidarity, Kim


Pro-Israel advocates in Australia targeted three journalists, new book claims

John Lyons says he was put under constant pressure when covering the Middle East for the Australian, and so were ABC reporters Sophie McNeill and Peter Cave

The ABC’s Sophie McNeill was one of the network’s two reporters who were put under the microscope by pro-Israel advocacy groups, a new book claims. Photograph: Sophie McNeill/Instagram 

Pro-Israel advocacy groups in Australia targeted the Middle East correspondent of the Australian newspaper and two ABC reporters, a new book claims.

John Lyons says he was subjected to consistent pressure from the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) while based in Jerusalem for the Australian for six years, as were the ABC’s Sophie McNeill and the veteran ABC correspondent Peter Cave.

In his Middle East memoir Balcony Over Jerusalem, Lyons says Cave told him another group prepared dossiers on Cave and other ABC reporters “and sent them to like-minded journalists and members of parliament”.

Lyons says pressure also came from inside his own paper. He says the former editor of the Weekend Australian Nick Cater refused to publish his work and the pro-Israel lobby bombarded editors with criticism of his reports.

“I phoned Cater and he confirmed that he’d asked for my work to no longer appear in Inquirer [the Australian’s Saturday opinion section],” Lyons writes.

“I let [editor-in-chief Chris] Mitchell know that, from my point of view, the exclusion from Inquirer was just the latest in a long series of disagreements with Nick Cater … he intervened and told Cater that excluding me from Inquirer was not acceptable.”

Lyons writes that an Israeli embassy official was invited by Cater to the Australian’s head office in Sydney, and told editors that the embassy was not happy with him. “To me the idea of an officer of a foreign government wandering the floor of my newsroom criticising me was outrageous.”

Lyons interviewed Mitchell and others for the book, but Cater declined.

In 2015, AIJAC sent a file on McNeill to Jewish members of the ABC board, including the then chairman James Spigelman, and this file claimed among other things that she was unsuitable because she had said “one of the saddest things I’ve seen in my whole life is spending time filming in a children’s cancer ward in Gaza”.

The then ABC managing director Mark Scott ordered a detailed response from corporate affairs, which he took to the board.

“I will not cower to the AIJAC,” Scott said, according to Lyons.

Scott was also forced to defend McNeill from attacks at Senate estimates after the dossier was sent to key parliamentarians.

“Before this reporter set foot in the Middle East, there was a campaign against her personally taking up that role,” he said in response to a question from senator Eric Abetz.
“I am saying that she is a highly recognised and acclaimed reporter … she deserved that appointment and she needs to be judged on her work.”

In a letter to the board, Scott wrote: “The article [by AIJAC] demonstrates to Sophie McNeill and the ABC that her every word will be watched closely by AIJAC and she starts on the ground with this key interest group sceptical. We are all aware she will be under even closer scrutiny now. As they seek to influence our coverage, this is a pre-emptive ‘shot across the bows’.

“The pre-emptive attack on McNeill is similar to the approach employed by lobby groups internationally. The US reporter Jodi Rudoren was targeted when she was appointed Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times in 2012 and accused of being biased against Israel and unsuitable for the post … The New York Times refused to bow to the pressure and Rudoren remained in the position.”

Lyons writes that AIJAC director Colin Rubenstein had unprecedented access to the Australian, speaking regularly to editors and even suggesting articles the paper should run.

After criticising Lyons’s reporting, Rubenstein emailed an alternative article to Cater.
Mitchell, who was supportive of Lyons, later told him that Rubenstein would go behind his back and call Cater if he refused to take his call, Lyons writes. “I got upset with Colin when he rang me and attacked [Australian reporter] Elizabeth Wynhausen as ‘a self-loathing Jew’.

I thought it was inappropriate for him to be making that kind of comment about one of my staff. For some time after that I stopped taking his calls.”

Lyons argues that Australian journalists should not accept the trips to Israel organised by the lobby . “During my time in Israel I would come to believe that Australia’s uncritical support of Israel is both illogical and unhealthy,” he writes.

“For more than 20 years, Australians have read and heard pro-Israel positions from journalists, editors, politicians, trade union leaders, academics and students who have returned from the all-expenses-paid Israel lobby trips. In my opinion, no editors, journalist or others should take those trips: they grotesquely distort the reality and are dangerous in the sense that they allow people with a very small amount of knowledge to pollute Australian public opinion.”

Rubenstein told the Guardian he had spoken to editors over the years, including Cater. “I find it hard to see in what way this is nefarious or improper.”

He added: “I certainly did speak to Chris Mitchell about Elizabeth Wynhausen in 2006, and specifically about a piece which read like a ‘hit job’ on both AIJAC and myself, while evoking all too familiar caricatures. I felt entitled to some right of reply - which I received in the form of a letter.

“I do not recall ever calling her a ‘self-loathing Jew’ and that does not sound like the kind of terminology I would use. As for Chris Mitchell’s claim about ceasing to take my calls, I must say I was not aware he felt that way at the time – which shows how infrequently I actually spoke to him.

“We did put together a public document explaining why we thought Sophie McNeill … was an inappropriate choice for Middle East correspondent for the taxpayer funded ABC, with its statutory obligations of impartiality.

”Everything we do - critiquing media stories; contacting editors, politicians and journalists and explaining our point of view to them; writing our our letters and op/eds; making complaints – are absolutely normal elements of deliberation and debate in a democratic society.

“I would call on those who oppose our views, including Mr Lyons, to engage with different views in a democratic, tolerant and constructive spirit, rather than demand, as he appears to be doing, that those who disagree with him be silenced or suppressed.”

The Guardian approached Cater but he declined to comment.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Nakba and Survival VS Benny Morris

Dear friends,
a review in Haaretz of Adel Manna's new book, Nakba and Survival and a response to Benny Morris's criticism of the book.

in solidarity, Kim

For the Nakba, There's No Need of an 'Expulsion Policy'

In contrast to what Benny Morris claimed, Adel Manna's 'Nakba and Survival' is an inspiring book, noteworthy for its methodical approach in presenting a credible, multifaceted history of the Palestinian tragedy of 1948

 Daniel Blatman, Haaretz, Aug 04, 2017

Benny Morris’ criticism of Adel Manna’s important book “Nakba and Survival: The Story of the Palestinians Who Remained in Haifa and the Galilee, 1948-1956” (“Israel had no ‘expulsion policy’ against the Palestinians in 1948,” July 29)  is part of the historian's efforts – which have continued for over 15 years – to deny what he once claimed in the past: that Israel carried out ethnic cleansing for all intents and purposes in Israel's 1948 War of Independence. (“Nakba,” meaning "catastrophe," is the term used by Arabs to describe the war, when more than 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes over a period of about two years.)

In the past Morris stated this with commendable courage. In a debate with Israeli author Aharon Megged on the pages of Haaretz in 1994, he declared: “The new corpus of facts that have been revealed in documents (for example: details that had been concealed regarding acts of slaughter, expulsion and expropriation carried out by the Hebrew defense forces in 1948 and in the following years) have given rise to a different interpretation of the Zionist enterprise Zionism’s principal aspiration was to solve the problems of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, to establish a political entity that would be a refuge for the Jews and an exemplary country.

An Israeli soldier, armed with a rifle, stop some Palestinian Arabs in a street in Nazareth, Palestine, July 17, 1948, as they are travelling after the allotted curfew time

“But," Morris continued, "Zionism also had other objectives: to take control of the Land of Israel from the sea to the river to replace the Palestinians who lived there: to push them out of the country at the moment of decision the defense forces of the Zionist movement gave expression to the belligerent and expansionist urge that was always at the basis of Zionist ideology, and made sure – whether by means of making them flee and expulsion, or by preventing the return of refugees – to push outside the borders of the state-in-the-making the vast majority of Arabs who lived in the areas that became the State of Israel, and also to enlarge the state beyond the lines drawn in the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution.”

The Benny Morris of 1994 did a better job of explaining what Dr. Manna asserts in his book. But in recent years Morris has been trying to “correct a mistake” and to prove that what he concluded from his research about the expulsion of the Palestinians was actually incorrect. I don’t know what made him change his conclusions regarding the catastrophe that Israel inflicted on the Palestinian people in 1948. What is worse is the fact that Morris wickedly criticizes research that is attempting, in a balanced and critical manner, to deal with the Nakba and its outcome from an angle that doesn’t suit the Zionist narrative – a narrative that Morris also attacked harshly in the past due to its ideological biases.

Morris asserts in his review that, “Concerning the 1947-1949 war, Manna’s story is simple: The Jews uprooted the Arabs from their locales and also did so in the years after the war; a conflict between two national movements, each of them with legitimate claims, did not happen; and, in fact, there was hardly even a war: There was just an uprooting and nothing else.” But isn’t this assertion similar to what he himself said 23 years ago?

Palestinian refugees leaving a village near Haifa, June 1948

Manna, as opposed to several of his critics, is fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and English, which is why, for example, he can not only read and examine official documents of the Haganah (the pre-state Jewish fighting force), but can also survey the Arabic press and other Arabic sources. In other words, as opposed to Morris, whose research is based mainly on official documents from Israeli and British archives, Manna presents a complex and more credible picture of the Palestinian tragedy.

Morris’ tendentiousness is also clear, for example, in his criticism of Manna regarding the interviews he gathered from survivors of the Nakba, who are now elderly men and women. How is it possible, complains Morris, that after so many years people remember what really happened? According to Morris, “Throughout ‘Nakba and Survival,’ Manna ‘shows’ that what people remember 40 or 50 years after the fact is congruent with what is related in the documentation that has come down to us from those years (this, contrary to my own admittedly not very vast experience to the effect that usually there is no such congruence, or else the interviewees simply did not remember anything).”

In other words, according to Morris, what’s really important in order to understand “what really happened,” is what he found in the Israeli or British archives. Strange, since in a review he wrote in the Haaretz Hebrew edition (“These refugees have nowhere to return to,” November 24, 1992) on an encyclopedic collection published by the Institute for Palestine Studies about Palestinian villages that were erased from the map in 1948, he thought differently: “The authors didn’t interview refugees (and in a few years from now none will remain),” he claimed.

Benny Morris still believes that the role of the historian is no more than to tell his readers what he found in an official archive and in documents issued by some government organization or other. Had the study of the Holocaust, for example, continued to be based on a similar approach – as indeed was the case in German historiography in the 1970s – we would know almost nothing about the Jews’ lives and their efforts to survive during the years of their great tragedy, as we now know thanks to the many testimonies from the survivors themselves.

PHOTO: The cover of 'Nakba and Survival: The Story of the Palestinians Who Remained in Haifa and the Galilee, 1948-1956.' 

And that’s actually what Manna does: He brings the story of his people’s national tragedy from the point of view of the victim, of the survivor. Israel’s policy on the Palestinian issue and the policy of expulsion are not at the heart of the book: The story of the expulsion and of the survival is what's found there.

On the issue of the expulsion Morris also squirms in an effort to distance himself from his former self. But here he steps on a land mine: Serious researchers of the phenomenon of mass violence don’t have to find unequivocal proof of the existence of “a policy of expulsion” in order to reach the conclusion that crimes against humanity were committed. He asserts that there was no such policy, and if there were directives issued to carry out massacres in Palestinian villages they were conveyed, he says, “by (vague) order.”

One would think that when the Ottomans decided to expel the Armenians in 1915 they published it in the official press, or when Ratko Mladic decided to slaughter over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995, he made his orders public. Orders and instructions to carry out such crimes are given orally, in closed discussions, and by implication, in ambiguous language. That doesn’t mean that those who carry them out don’t know exactly what is intended by the person who gives those evasive orders.

Morris finds the ultimate proof for the weakness of Manna’s claim regarding the expulsions in the fact that at the end of the war, 160,000 Arabs remained inside Israel. Is that expulsion? If there was a policy of expulsion, he asks, how is it possible that so many Palestinians remained? That reminds me of what Holocaust deniers wrote already in the first years after World War II. A final solution? What are you talking about? How is it possible that hundreds of thousands of Jews remained in all kinds of European countries, and millions in the Soviet Union? Perhaps, those anti-Semites claimed, several hundreds of thousands died from the harsh conditions in various places – but ... gas chambers and mass murder?

Of course, no research is free of errors and imprecise assertions. That’s also true of Manna’s research, and Morris mentions some of them. But Manna’s book is an important contribution to the study of the Palestinian tragedy, and mainly, a rare opportunity for the Jewish reader to understand the human aspect of the great catastrophe that the national independence of his people inflicted upon members of the nation that lived in this country for many years before that.

Palestinian refugees returning to their village after its surrender during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.