Why are Australia and its media so fearful of debate on Israels treatment of Palestinians? – The Guardian

Posted By on October 13, 2021

Recently 700 journalists and writers signed a petition calling for fuller media coverage of the plight of the Palestinians. Reportage on the Middle East has long been contested. For Zionists the Australian media is a hot bed of biased, leftwing enmity, for Palestinians the lack of a fair hearing and accurate reporting is a given.

The petition triggered a furore as media proprietors and their editors were called out for self-censorship. There is a tacit consensus in newsrooms across the country that attempting objective reporting and honest analysis isnt worth the grief. Both implicitly and explicitly it is agreed that subjects best avoided are: daily life for Palestinians, the relentless growth of settlements in the occupied territories, the concomitant moral erosion of the Israeli polity, and the complexities at play within Palestinian and Israeli politics.

Believing it to be in the national interest to publish an evidence-based account of the challenges the media confront in reporting on the region, I commissioned John Lyons to write Dateline Jerusalem: Journalisms Toughest Assignment. Lyons is a veteran newspaper editor who spent six years as a foreign correspondent in Israel and is now head of ABC Investigations. The task was to examine the impoverished reporting on this benighted region. Twenty-three editors, senior journalists and reporters confirmed on the record, to him, that the problem was the Israel lobby.

The fact that a lobby group seeks to influence government, the media and the community is neither improper nor unsurprising. Junkets, freebies, duchessing are not new. Neither is lack of transparency. But the impact of lobby groups needs to be recognised. If the media is to keep faith with the public then it must expose how influence is exercised.

When Israels policies are criticised in the public sphere, the reflexive accusation is antisemitism. The defenders of Israel right or wrong share with antisemites a belief that the actions of the state are inextricably bound up with Jewishness. This ensures that Zionism and antisemitism remain the focus of debate and the issue of Palestinian suffering under an illegal occupation is conveniently ignored. Until we can have a public discussion, which moves beyond that deadlock, it seems inevitable that Palestinian voices will not be heard.

The conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism is a long-term strategy and the effect on the Australian media is obvious. It is a proven way to silence critics, ensure questions remain unanswered and media coverage muted. The intemperate and defensive responses to Dateline Jerusalem prove the point. It is clear that if one doesnt want to endure the endless orchestrated letter writing campaigns, the complaints, the phone calls up and down the management hierarchy, it is best to leave the subject of Israel well alone, which of course is not in the public interest.

Years ago I published Antony Loewensteins My Israel Question, which sought to understand the Israel lobby. The response was wildly disproportionate. One might have thought community leaders would engage Loewenstein in constructive discussion to set him straight. Instead the Australian Jewish News engaged in a relentless vilification campaign against the author and his publisher. Michael Danby, then a politician, wrote to Melbourne Universitys vice-chancellor, Glyn Davis, demanding I be sacked and the book pulped. Despite the attempted intimidation the vice-chancellor continued a 14-year steadfast commitment to MUPs editorial independence.

In a review of a new book by Edward Said, I reflected briefly on my own idealistic arrival in Israel at the age of 17, anticipating a socialist utopia and dancing the hora on the tarmac. Instead I was met by Ashkenazi Jews stamping my passport, Sephardi Jews sweeping the floors and Palestinians cleaning the toilets. It was a depressing introduction to a society mired in race and class divisions. My recollection of the experience in a book review prompted a personal visit from the Israeli ambassador demanding I refrain from airing the communitys dirty linen in public. The AJN routinely proclaims on its front page One People, One Voice encapsulating the problem in a nutshell.

Why are the local foot soldiers so fearful of debate, of clear-eyed reportage of the conditions of Palestinian life, of observations that the oft touted only democracy in the region discriminates against Israeli Arabs, of demands for Palestinian self-determination, and critiques of the military occupation that has radicalised successive generations of Palestinians?

The right to live in peace and with justice tragically continues to elude Palestinian and Israeli citizenry. It is a truism that a diversity of opinions is impossible to repress in Israel. Asking why the same diversity of views is not tolerated in Australia should be the start of an important conversation. Let the debate begin.

Louise Adler is vice-chancellors professorial fellow and curator of In the National Interest at Monash University and publisher at large for Hachette Australia

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Why are Australia and its media so fearful of debate on Israels treatment of Palestinians? - The Guardian

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