16 November 2017

The Australia–Israel Be’er Sheva Dialogue: round three

From ASPI, 14 Nov 2017, by Anthony Bergin:



On 1 November, ASPI and the Begin–Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies met in Tel Aviv, Israel, at the third Be’er Sheva Dialogue to build on the work initiated at the first round, held in Israel in 2015, and the second meeting, held in Sydney last year.

The ASPI–BESA dialogue brings together experienced voices from Australia and Israel to share perspectives and analyses on common security challenges, while reflecting more broadly on the outlook for the relationship between the two countries.

Having participated in all three dialogues, I think it’s fair to say that the Be’er Sheva Dialogue (named after the 1917 battle in which the Australian Light Horse fought) has grown in stature. That’s evidenced by the number of high-level Australian and Israeli participants across government, parliament (from both sides of Australian politics), academia, think tanks, industry, the military and the intelligence communities. A number of Australian and Israeli delegates commented that the increasing maturity of the dialogue means there’s now a greater candour and depth to the discussions.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressed this year’s dialogue. His audience also included many supporters of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, who’d made the journey to Beersheba to attend the commemoration of the centenary of the famous charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade to capture the town on 31 October 1917.

Turnbull saluted the achievements that the dialogue had accomplished in a short time, identifying areas of collaboration in defence between Australia and Israel for their mutual benefit. The prime minister’s visit to Israel culminated in the signing of a memorandum of understanding on defence industry cooperation.

Australia and Israel also agreed during Turnbull’s visit that our respective defence officials will now hold annual discussions on strategic and security priorities. To date, there have been almost no high-level military exchanges between the two countries. There’ll also be a track 1.5 cyber dialogue held in Australia next year. These positive measures were suggested at the earlier Be’er Sheva dialogues and were set out in a joint paper produced last year by ASPI and BESA.

We’ve always been seen as friendly by Israel, although it’s rarely been a major focus of policy efforts in Jerusalem. While there’s a mutual recognition of shared values, there hasn’t been sufficient recognition given by either state to how each contributes to the other’s national interests. What both countries are now discovering through high-level visits and track 1.5 dialogues, such as the Be’er Sheva Dialogue, is that there are also lots of opportunities to enhance bilateral cooperation.

In a way, that’s hardly surprising. Both countries face challenges from Islamist extremism. Both countries’ militaries are focused on how to incorporate cyber capabilities into military operations. Both countries operate American equipment and both are close to major choke-points along maritime oil and trade routes, making maritime security an important component of national strategic policy. In air power, both countries have acquired the F-35.

Delegates to the 2017 Be’er Sheva Dialogue exchanged views on regional challenges in the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, terrorism, cybersecurity, maritime strategy (Israel is highly dependent on sea commerce and has significant offshore energy resources), defence industry cooperation, strategic policy under President Donald Trump, and hybrid warfare strategies.

On the cyber and innovation agenda, it was evident that Australia can learn a number of lessons from the Israeli cybersecurity success story, particularly in start-ups and skills development. But we need to be mindful that the Israeli experience may not directly translate to Australia: much of Israel’s success stems from compulsory military service and the unique cybersecurity skills nursery that the Israeli Defence Force provides.

In an interesting aside, one delegate noted that Australia is benefiting from Israeli technology in our almond industry. Significant investments here are safeguarded by Israeli sensors in orchards that tell what the trees need, such as water and fertiliser, making this an unusual cybersecurity issue.

Areas noted for possible future joint exploration were how both sides can counter the soft-power threats to liberal democracies and how to leverage social media monitoring for indicators of radicalisation or intended terrorist acts. It was also clear from our discussions that there are prospects for further joint exchanges on how we can share experiences of hybrid threats and what they mean for the battle space, as well trends in military innovation, specifically unmanned aerial vehicles, force protection and missile defence. There was a strong interest in sharing lessons on how to protect the gas industry at sea.

Australia and Israel should identify the conditions for closer practical collaboration in cyber industries with security applications. Israeli government agencies work closely with their cyber industry. Australia can learn a lot from the Israelis on how to build trust and achieve a common purpose between government and the private sector.

The discussions about China, particularly on critical infrastructure investment in Israel (China is building key Israeli ports and Chinese military vessels have visited Haifa), suggest there’s an opportunity for greater exploration between the two nations on the role of China and foreign investment.

In defence, consideration might be given to undertaking a small-scale joint Australia–Israel military exercise in the coming year in an area of mutual interest. The announcement of defence exchange between officials is very positive, and consideration should be given in the near future to having a regular ministerial-level dialogue.

On international policy, our discussions showed that there’s potential for looking beyond bilateralism and mapping possible structures for discreet multi-party consultations (for example, with India, which Israel is forging closer relations with).

The third Be’er Sheva Dialogue again underlined how each state can contribute to the other’s security interests.

03 November 2017

Australia-Israel: "OUR UNBREAKABLE BOND"

From The Australian, 31 Oct 2017, by The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia:


Brigadier General Granville de Laune Ryrie leads the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade across the desert at Esdud on the Philistine Plain in 1918

THE CHARGE of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba has inspired Australians for generations.

The veterans of the charge re-enacted it in Charles Chauvel’s 1940 movie Forty Thousand Horsemen—a confidence booster for a beleaguered nation at war.

As a young boy at boarding school in the early ’60s I watched it again and again—we all imagined ourselves spurring our horses through the Ottoman fire, leaping across the trenches and onward to victory.

Where so many armies had marched and charged before, it was one of the last great cavalry charges, an act of bravery that has echoed through the century since; an against-the-odds victory that broke the Ottoman lines and spurred the Allied forces on to Jerusalem.

The charge itself was an astonishing achievement. At dusk on October 31, 1917, Brigadier General William Grant gave the 800 Australians of the 4th Light Horse Brigade their orders: “Men, you’re fighting for water. Use your bayonets as swords. I wish you the best of luck.”

The cavalry began with a trot, accelerated to a canter and then to a gallop across 6km of open country outside Beersheba, under ferocious fire from well-entrenched Ottoman defenders.
Trooper Edward Dengate recorded the desperate charge. “We spurred our horses… the bullets got thicker… three or four horses came down, others with no riders on kept going, the saddles splashed with blood.”

Brutal hand-to-hand combat followed and 31 Australians were killed. But the 4th Light Horse Brigade prevailed. They had defeated an Ottoman force five times their size, and taken Beersheba and its vital water supply with it.

Just weeks later, the Australians marched with General Allenby into Jerusalem, while in London the Balfour Declaration was signed, paving the way for the creation of the modern state of Israel.

A century on, the city of Be’er Sheva is an oasis of technology and great practical ideas—a shining example of the best attributes of Israel and the Israeli people—ingenuity, resilience, and hard work.

Today, Australia and Israel share these values. We have an unbreakable bond that is only getting stronger. As we honour the memory and sacrifice of the Anzacs of 1917, we are determined to strengthen the ties between our two nations in 2017, and in the years to come.

Lest we forget.


14 October 2017

ABC’s hubris laid bare

From The Australian, October 14, 2017, by GREG SHERIDAN:
 

...Michael Danby, the federal Labor member for Melbourne Ports, has been feeling some moral indignation about the ABC’s coverage of Israel.

... Danby is not a single-issue politician but is a strong supporter of Israel who believes the ABC does not report the nation fairly.

Frankly, no one could seriously contest that proposition.

...Danby took two ads in The Australian Jewish News over a couple of weeks to complain about the treatment of Israel by the ABC’s Sophie McNeill.

The ABC’s Media Watch summarised one ad. It said: 
“The nub of Danby’s complaint is that two recent stories by McNeill received very different coverage. The eviction of a Palestinian family last month after a court returned their home to Jewish ownership scored a two-minute feature on the midday news.
“But the stabbing to death of three members of a Jewish family in July did not receive such personal treatment and was reported only in the context of a surge of violence in which four Palestinians were also killed. They did not get feature treatment either. So, is that bias? Or part of a pattern?”

It is honest of Media Watch to pose the question that way. Let me answer it: Yes, it is a pattern, and yes, it is bias.

The ABC is consistently biased against Israel in a similar way to the BBC and for similar reasons. The overwhelming majority of ABC reporters and general broadcast commentators share a fairly narrow spectrum of world view, ranging from the middle left of Labor to the green left.

This is why the ABC finds it so difficult to come to grips with, or even understand, the complaints this kind of bias generates.

Within their world view these ABC broadcasters mostly behave professionally, and in the field often with heroic distinction. But in that world view, as has been well established in countless books and studies, Israel represents, entirely falsely in my view, Western colonialism, militarism and racism.

This gives reporters and producers an instinct never to represent Israel sympathetically. Jewish Israeli civilians (even victims of terrorism) are almost never portrayed sympathetically on the ABC, unless they are abusing their government or society. Then they are moral heroes.

To humanise an innocent Jewish Israeli grandfather or child brutally murdered in their home by a terrorist seems somehow or other to be supportive of Israel, so it is rarely done.

Danby in his ads was responding to this profound emotional truth. 

The ABC’s response to Danby’s criticisms is dismaying. It exhibits bullying, hubris and unchecked power.

But first a word on McNeill. It is the case that she had a record, before her appointment as a correspondent, of pro-Palestinian activism. It is entirely legitimate for critics of her journalism to point to that history. It’s also entirely legitimate to criticise journalists. This may shock you, dear reader, but there have been occasions when I myself have been criticised, even indeed on the ABC, meaning the criticism came from taxpayers’ money.

ABC broadcasters sometimes darkly refer to “dossiers” that have been compiled on McNeill, as though this involved nefarious access to ASIO files. What they mean by dossiers is articles and footage that McNeill herself has produced. In other words, judging a journalist by their output.

Quelle horreur — surely only the Elders of Zion could plot such fiendish stratagems!

The ABC issued a kind of papal document beatifying McNeill and condemning Danby’s criticism as “highly inappropriate”. McNeill herself issued a bizarre statement demanding Danby be censored. She said: “If using taxpayer dollars to print false claims about a journalist is allowed within parliamentary guidelines, then clearly they need to change.”

Just take a step back and look at the larger picture. Danby, who almost never appears on the ABC, has paid for critical but not remotely abusive ads, the basic accuracy of which is attested by the ABC’s Media Watch, in small-circulation newspapers that might reach 20,000 readers. In response he is attacked, mocked, vilified and condemned in many ABC news programs and by numerous ABC commentators to a cumulative audience in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.

Surely even in the ABC someone must see this is a kind of parody of free speech.

It’s more like the Chinese Communist Party discovering an enemy of the state preaching in a home church and simultaneously denouncing him in People’s Daily, Global Times and the Xinhua News Agency (irony alert, that sentence consciously involves exaggeration, don’t pretend to take it literally).

The ABC did the same thing a couple of years ago when a Jewish old folks’ home withdrew an invitation to the actress Miriam Margolyes to read from an anti-Israel play. All over the country the ABC beat this story to death as a crime against free speech.

Naturally the nursing home didn’t want to debate Margolyes, so she was given uncritical interviews, with no attempt to provide a balancing voice, to a cumulative audience in the hundreds of thousands to berate Israel and defame the Jewish community.

Oi vey!

The implication is always that Jewish criticism of the ABC over Israel is somehow sinister. Two questions: what penalty has any ABC producer or broadcaster ever paid for this criticism? Answer: none. Therefore it is really not too sinister. And is not even the ABC aware of the true, astonishing weirdness of a body that gets more than $1 billion of taxpayers’ money each year trying not to answer criticism but to declare it “inappropriate”?

A more sophisticated broadcaster would have interviewed Danby at length about his criticisms, even if the interview was robust or Danby’s views were answered by somebody else.

The worst part of this saga is that Bill Shorten gave in to ABC pressure and admonished his colleague.

Full disclosure: I have known Danby for more than 40 years, and admired him all that time. He is exactly the kind of person we need in parliament — passionate, fiercely independent, brave as a lion, taken up with human rights concerns in China, Tibet, North Korea, Darfur — a genuine internationalist of which there are almost none in Canberra.

In taking on the colossus of the ABC, Danby spoke truth to power. Good on him.

08 October 2017

The ABC's Sophie McNeill’s Bias

From The Hon. Michael Danby, Member ofr Melbourne Ports, 18 Sept 2017:


Once again ABC Jerusalem correspondent Sophie McNeill has proven to be inconsistent and ignorant in her reporting and handling of news coming out of Israel.


Ms McNeill was passionate in her twitter, play-by-play commentary, of the eviction of the Palestinian Shamesneh family from the East Jerusalem house they had been living in for 50 years. Her emotional plea failed to mention that the Shamesneh’s were squatters in a house that had been vacated during mass evictions, under the Jordanian occupation of East Jerusalem prior to the Six Day War of 1967.

But what of her treatment some days earlier of the tragedy of the Israeli Salomon family who were stabbed to death in their home at their Shabbat dinner table? By contrast with her sympathy for Palestinian family Ms McNeil made only passing reference to the Salomons, without mentioning them by name, as settlers in “occupied territories” Sadly, the death of the three Salomon family members who were gathered around the Shabbat dinner table to celebrate the birth of grandson Yosef, the newest member of the family, is seemingly not news worthy to Ms McNeill. But the Palestinian family, who had to shift are worth a segment on “7.30”

This is an example of the style of Ms McNeill’s reporting. Like her hero John Pilger she dehumanises the side she does not favour by failing to report crucial information about them. She always elevates the Palestinian narrative. This consistent pattern of bias is hard to identify by her editors or ABC views who may not be aware of on the ground events in relation to each other.

24 September 2017

The ABC and SBS need to drop their love affair with Al Jazeera

by Colin Rubenstein (An edited version of this piece appeared in Sydney's Daily Telegraph on Friday, Sept. 22)



The Qatari run and owned Al Jazeera TV News network has itself been much in the news of late – and not for positive reasons. Yet ABC and SBS continue to use Al Jazeera stories as a prominent  part of their own foreign news coverage.

One focus of the recent Saudi-led ultimatums to Qatar has been Al Jazeera. Their demands to Qatar have included that Doha either shut down Al Jazeera or at least stop “acts of incitement and all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred and violence,” including incitement at al-Jazeera

While the four countries  leading the Qatar boycott campaign, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, are hardly bastions of human rights or democracy, when it comes to al-Jazeera’s history of incitement and promoting extremism, they have a  compelling  point.

Al Jazeera consistently promotes the Qatari government’s pro-Muslim Brotherhood agenda, and even materially helps those aligned with it by providing them free communications equipment, according to Mohamed Fahmy, former Bureau Chief for Al Jazeera in Egypt.

Fahmy revealed that Al Jazeera smuggled US$50,000 worth of satellite communication equipment to Al-Qaeda-aligned Syrian rebels, and argues this represents a larger pattern whereby the network’s political goals have put its journalists at risk. Fahmy says
“I believe Al Jazeera’s irresponsible approach to newsgathering contributed to the killing and jailing of the network’s journalists by repressive governments and extremist groups.”
Fahmy was arrested. in Cairo  alongside Australian fellow journalist  Peter Greste in late 2013 for the tenor of their reporting shortly after Qatar joined an Accord with Saudi Arabia and Cairo vowing not to support extremist organisations.

According to Fahmy, the chairman of Al Jazeera, despite knowing about the Accords, failed to warn the journalists about the potential consequences of their reporting. In Fahmy’s words,
“we three journalists committed no crime – Al Jazeera did.”
This was only compounded by Al Jazeera airing incendiary reports attacking the Egyptian government during the journalists’ incarceration and trial.

Peter Greste himself stated that
“from watching some of Al Jazeera’s Arabic coverage and the coverage of Al Jazeera’s Egyptian channel Mubasher (Misr) … politically they seemed quite aligned with the Brotherhood.”
 Al Jazeera staff deny it, but the network in fact routinely criticises  regimes with whom the Qatari government has a gripe – yet never the actions of the authoritarian Qatar government which floods the network with funds.

And there is ample evidence from inside the network that Qatari-appointed editors are telling journalists to cover stories in ways Qatar prefers.

Thus, it  was revealed in 2015 that the editor of Al Jazeera English had encouraged staff to push the line that the horrifying Al-Qaeda-inspired murders at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris were a “clash of extremist fringes” – with the journalists as bad as their murderers.

Similarly, an Al Jazeera America journalist says reporters were instructed by their editors to attack Israel in their reports.

Al Jazeera has often criticized co-operation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel – pushing the line of extremist group Hamas, which Qatar backs.

On Israel, Al Jazeera has frequently made irresponsible claims:

  • in 2015, accusing Israel of opening dams in the south of the country to  flood parts of the Gaza Strip. In actual fact there were no such dams in southern Israel.
  • In June, when three terrorists shot and killed two policemen near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount only to flee and eventually be shot and killed, Al Jazeera initially reported the incident as “at least three Palestinians killed in shooting in Jerusalem’s Old City.”
  • It later helped stoke the subsequent two weeks of Palestinian-initiated violence over the Temple Mount by airing incendiary and false claims that Israeli security cameras would allow Israeli authorities to see the naked bodies of Muslim worshippers through their clothes.
  • Al Jazeera recently referred to Haifa, a city in the pre-1967 borders of Israel ,as in “northern occupied Palestine".
  • Most recently, Al Jazeera aired a “documentary” based largely on the claims of Elena Zakusilo, a Ukrainian Jewish woman who claimed on a local television game show that she served in a combat role in the IDF, including being forced by the IDF to murder innocent children. Elementary checking showed she had never had done anything more than voluntary administrative tasks in the IDF.
  • An Al Jazeera reporter in Israel, Elias Karam, recently told a Muslim Brotherhood TV channel that he views his journalism as “resistance” to “occupation.”
  • Most infamously, in 2008, the network hosted an on-air party for recently released Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, treating him as a hero. Kuntar had infiltrated Israel in 1978, and killed four people, including smashing the head of a four year old girl and shooting dead her father.

Australia's  taxpayer-funded television networks – with their statutory obligation of fairness and balance - simply have no business regurgitating  Middle East coverage from this network. They appear to do so, in part, because they can re-use its stories cheaply or for free. But there is simply no excuse for outsourcing their obligations to Australian taxpayers to what is effectively the lavishly-funded communications arm of the authoritarian, extremist-supporting Qatar government.

*Dr. Colin Rubenstein  is Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Previously, he taught Middle East politics at Monash University for many years.

17 September 2017

Israel-bashers in the ALP

The following anti-Israel resolution was proposed to the WA Sate Labor conference by Senator Sue Lines, and thankfully, defeated.

Sue Lines

Text of Senator Sue Lines' defeated resolution:

The WA Labor State Conference notes:
Australia has consistently supported a two state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict;
Israel is an independent and sovereign state while the Palestinians remain stateless;
Palestinians, like other human beings, have the right to their own state and their own nationality. Institutions such as the UN, World Bank and IMF have affirmed their readiness for statehood;
Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu was re-elected on a platform stating ‘there would be no Palestinian State’ , consistent with the Likud Charter;
The Israeli Government has continually sabotaged peace talks sponsored by the United States by announcing the building of more Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land needed for a viable Palestinian State;
Israeli settlements – which have been found to be illegal under international law by the International Court of Justice, the UN Security Council and General Assembly and the high contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions – are designed and strategically placed to prevent a Palestinian state from ever being established;
22 years of negotiations since the Oslo accords have produced no agreement while the Israeli Government has continued to build illegal settlements on Palestinian land and has subjected millions of Palestinians to living in abject conditions and persistently denied basic dignity and human rights under military occupation;
That if Australia’s long-standing commitment to a two-state solution is genuine and meaningful we should join the majority of the worlds nations in the UN – 135 out of 193 (70%) – and recognised Palestine as a nation state;
That a just peace can be achieved in accordance with the relevant United Nations resolutions and international and humanitarian law.
In light of the above, WA Labor calls upon the Australian Federal Labor party and the ALP National conference to support the recognition of a Palestinian state and declare unequivocally that the next Federal Labor government will:
Recognise Palestine as a sovereign nation state based on the 1967 borders;
Condemn the continuation of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land

Other Labor proponents of this Israel-bashing obsession include:

Bob Carr

Tony Burke

Jason Claire


Wendy Turner

12 September 2017

The New Israel Fund - Vilifying Israel, Again

A board member of the New Israel Fund Australia recently appeared on the ABC's Q&A with a "Dorothy Dix" question for Israeli opposition Member of Knesset Merav Michaeli - a question critical of "Mr Binayamin Netanyahu's nationalist government" policies on foreign-funded NGOs, and implying that Israel's democracy is under threat.


The Israeli-government policy that he criticised, and encouraged Merav Michaeli to criticise, doesn't "shut down" the voice of any NGOs. It simply demands that NGOs that receive substantial funding from foreign sources must declare those sources.

Last year, the Knesset passed a law that requiring NGOs that receive more than half their funding from abroad – including from European governments – to disclose it prominently in official reports. The law requires groups to declare they are reliant on foreign funding in all dealings with officials, and on TV, newspapers, billboards and online.

What's "undemocratic" about that?

The NIF has for many years funded NGOs, like Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Peace Now and Yesh Din, which are active in campaigns that portray Israel as a racist, apartheid state (demonization); undermine Israel’s right to exist (de-legitimization); accuse Israel of war crimes (lawfare); and promote boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS), aimed at destroying Israel as a Jewish nation.

Those NGOs are also funded by European governments and they collaborate with interests outside Israel in these demonization, de-legitimization, lawfare and BDS campaigns. The UK Observer reported last year that the NIF received funds from a George-Soros-funded NGO to promote Palestinian-Authority lawfare and BDS. Tower magazine also reports that NIF-funded NGOs “…cooperate with international partners hostile to Israel... [focussing] primarily on international audiences …in France, Norway, Netherlands, the UK, and the U.S.”

We all have the right to express an opinion about Israeli policies. But only citizens of Israel have the democratic right, at the ballot box, to determine those policies, which will affect their well-being and their safety against daily mortal threats.

It’s a harmful sham for the NIF to put opposition MK Merav Michaeli in a position, here in Australia, that claims to defend Israel’s democracy while it funds NGOs attempting to undemocratically impose the will of foreign interests on Israel from outside the nation.

Shovrim Shtika (“Breaking the Silence”)  is an example number of an NIF-supported NGO which is also supported by several European funders who made their grants CONDITIONAL on the NGO obtaining a minimum number of negative “testimonies.”

This means that Shovrim Shtika is an organization that represents its foreign donors’ interests, not those of Israel.

A document obtained from the IsraeliRegistrar of Non-Profits shows how the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Dutch church-based aid organization ICCO (primarily funded by the Dutch government), and Oxfam Great Britain (funded by the British government) required Breaking the Silence to obtain negative testimonies to qualify for funding.

The Israeli government policies that the NIF representative criticized on Q&A, requires Shovrim Shtika to DECLARE its sources of funds... to be transparent about its funding - that's all. WHAT is wrong with that?

Isi Leibler said on J-Wire, last year:
“...I would urge anybody who has the interest of Israel at heart not to have anything to do with New Israel Fund. It is an organization which is sponsoring enemies of the Jewish people, which is sponsoring groups which are reviling and demonizing the Jewish people. It is sponsoring groups within Israel which are undermining the Zionist vision, and all I can say is you can just look at the list of where their donations go to some of these organizations. It's quite frightening.
Never mind that they may give some other money to social welfare. The fact is, this organization is a pernicious organization. It has been disowned by large sections of the community, and believe me, it's not McCarthyism. It's just outright people are disgusted with an organization that pours money into organizations which, for example, participated in the Goldstone report. They were the first ones to go and accuse Israel of war crimes and all sorts of horrible things, and they are sponsoring organizations which stood  to promote this sort of nonsense today.
I would say to you, any Australians who are committed to the Jewish people, you're not doing the Jewish people or Israel a favor by sponsoring this organization, which, as I say, whatever it may do on the side, you can do it directly....”