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Another day and another non-story in Murdoch press over Palestine

Posted: 05 Apr 2011

 

This is what pathetic obsession looks like. Murdoch’s Australian has run days and days of furious coverage of the “extremism” of the Greens over its boycott of Israel policy. I may have missed it but the sky hasn’t caved in yet. Perhaps Rupert will organise that shortly.

Today sees yet another piece which doesn’t really say much about anything. When a paper refuses to publish any alternative views on the subject of the Middle East, they don’t look confident; it’s a sign of intellectual weakness that another perspective can’t be handled or heard:

The battle for the soul of the Greens in NSW has intensified, with some elements angry at new rules that will give hard-left senator-elect Lee Rhiannon the right to participate in state parliamentary partyroom meetings.

Conservationists in the party yesterday described the new rules as a continuation of the “Stalinist” control over party affairs exercised by Ms Rhiannon during her 11 years in the state upper house, which ended when she quit to contest a NSW Senate spot last year. Ms Rhiannon declined comment.

Although the Greens do not have official party status in NSW, the partyroom rules have been developed in response to the party’s enlarged numbers following the NSW election last month.

The party will have as many as five upper house MPs and has secured its first lower house representation, with former local mayor Jamie Parker ousting former NSW education minister Verity Firth from her inner-western Sydney seat of Balmain.

Ms Rhiannon, who is seen as a potential leadership rival to Bob Brown, has clashed with Senator Brown even before she takes up her Senate seat in July. Senator Brown last week criticised Ms Rhiannon for her support of a boycott of Israel, which he claimed had cost the Greens a second lower house seat in NSW.

He said the state party’s Israel policy was a mistake.

Fiona Byrne, the party’s candidate in the inner-western Sydney seat of Marrickville, supported an Israel boycott on the local council, but made contradictory claims on whether she would push for a statewide boycott.

During her time in state parliament, Ms Rhiannon clashed frequently with fellow Greens MP Ian Cohen, a noted campaigner on conservation and nuclear issues.

Ben Oquist, a former aide to Mr Cohen, is now Senator Brown’s chief of staff and was repeatedly blocked by Ms Rhiannon from preselection for a state upper house position.

Mr Parker has also been engulfed by the Israel issue, attracting widespread criticism for an online interview in which he accused “progressive Jews” of providing cover for Israel’s “extreme actions”. Mr Parker, who has declined to be interviewed by The Australian since the election, told another newspaper yesterday he supported the policy of the NSW division to boycott Israel.

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies has written to Mr Parker seeking clarification of his remarks reported by online publication New Matilda, which he has since denied making.

Board president Yair Miller said in a statement to The Australian: “We have written to Jamie Parker about his reported comments and the Jewish community’s concern with them and perception of them.”

As mayor of Leichhardt, Mr Parker was instrumental in starting a program that supports the peaceful reunification of Palestine and Israel on the West Bank.

Australian journalist Imre Salusinszky then writes something that asks the “Left” to not obsess so much about Israel because clearly he cares deeply about human rights (well, not the Palestinians mind you, they can be just ignored or mocked):

Opposition groups in Libya and Middle Eastern countries should abandon their protests and return to their homes and workplaces.

These deluded protesters appear to believe their problems stem from the corrupt despots who run their countries.

This is not correct. Their problems stem from a sliver of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, 470km long and 135km wide at its widest point.

This tiny nation, Israel, is the root cause of all the problems in the region.

How do we know this?

Because we have been taught it for the past 25 years, by Left intellectuals in the West.

This is why it has been so baffling to discover, over recent months, that the populations of those neighbouring countries do not appear to be paying attention.

Why don’t they attend to the message of Marrickville Council, in inner western Sydney, which has imposed a boycott on Israel while leaving relations with Cuba, Zimbabwe and other dictatorships intact?

Bradley Manning is suffering so stand up for him

Posted: 05 Apr 2011

 

At least a few are but where are the major political and media elites? Silence:

British diplomats will express with officials in Washington for a second time MPs’ concerns about the treatment of a US soldier charged with leaking thousands of sensitive cables to WikiLeaks, the government has confirmed.

Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham said staff at the British embassy in Washington would discuss Bradley Manning‘s detention with the US state department.

Bellingham made the promise after Labour MP Ann Clwyd raised the matter in parliament on Monday night.

Clwyd said Manning, who is charged with downloading 250,000 sensitive cables and passing them to WikiLeaks, had been stripped at night and held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

His treatment at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia made it more difficult for the US and Britain to campaign against human rights abuses in other countries, she said.

Clwyd, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human rights, said that the UK’s credibility was at risk in “places where human rights are not nearly so well observed.”

She called on the government to offer practical support to the British relatives of Manning.

“I do not want us to get drawn into a discussion of the rights and wrongs of the WikiLeaks revelations. I would like us now to concentrate on the current conditions of detention for Bradley Manning,” Clwyd said at the adjournment debate speech.

“Manning’s case is important because of the message it sends out to the rest of the world about what kind of treatment theUnited States thinks is acceptable for people in detention. And, for us, it is important what we say – or what we don’t say.

“That matters in places where human rights are not nearly so well observed. People will pay attention in China and in Russia – and in Libya, where we want to be on the side of those fighting for freedom from state repression.

Slamming US occupation of Afghanistan is too biased for Murdoch

Posted: 05 Apr 2011

 

Here’s a non-story to fill the pages of the Murdoch Australian.

I appeared on ABC TV News24′s The Drum last week and discussed a variety of issues, mostly foreign affairs. On most nights the show has a range of guests, usually from the soft left to the soft right, and a number of more strident commentators somewhere else on the spectrum. I’d like some more punchy guests myself more often but there you go.

So this piece in yesterday’s Media section of the Australian is a typical non-story framed as my thoughts (and others on the panel) as evidence that the show (and ABC in general) is utterly unbalanced and skews to the left. Please. It was one night with certain guests, no more or no less. And note how there’s apparently something wrong with me talking about the brutality and immortality of the US mission in Afghanistan.

Using Gerard Henderson as a reliable critic on such matters is akin to asking George W. Bush how much he knows about torture in Abu Ghraib (ie. bugger all through willful ignorance):

The age-old problem — how to achieve balance on the ABC’s current affairs panel shows — is again in the spotlight, after a particularly egregious episode of The Drum last Thursday that featured three panellists and a host, all in furious agreement with one another on a range of policy matters.

The executive director of The Sydney Institute, Gerard Henderson, addressed the matter in his Media Watch Dog column on Friday.

He has also raised questions about the make-up of tonight’s Q&A on the ABC, saying the balance is firmly stacked to “the fashionable, soft-Left opinion”.

The Drum last Thursday was hosted by Tim Palmer, with guests Fran Kelly, Antony Loewenstein and Chas Licciardello from The Chaser.

In a discussion about the US army “kill team” soldier Corporal Jeremy Morlock, who murdered civilians and has been sentenced to 24 years jail for the crime, Loewenstein said he had decided “this sort of stuff is common”.

“It’s part of how . . . the only way you can get through a day (is) to see the enemy as towelheads . . . these images sadly are far more common than we like to believe,” he said of reports that rogue psychopaths had murdered a teenage boy and cut off his finger as a trophy.

Loewenstein said there were “massive, huge suicide rates” among US soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The discussion of Tony Abbott’s welfare proposals was also all one-way.

Henderson addressed the issue in a segment of his Media Watch Dog column that analyses ABC chairman Maurice Newman’s suggestion that there is

a “group-think” ethos in the public broadcaster.

Henderson told Media yesterday that “you would never have an occasion where there were three people with a conservative outlook on The Drum. It would never, ever happen.

“They simply do not understand that there are people with a plausible, defensible, reasonable opinion that is an alternative to the soft Left opinion they all have.” Henderson said he had never been on The Drum, and had only once been invited on Q&A.

Miranda Devine, who writes for The Daily Telegraph, owned by News Limited, publisher of The Australian, has twice been invited but the audience brayed whenever she spoke.

“As a rule, the ABC presents fashionable, Left-wing opinion, which would be fine, as long as there was some balance,” Henderson said.


American Jews starting to speak out against Israel; more, please

Posted: 04 Apr 2011

 

This has been coming for a while and it’s growing.

A fascinating feature in Haaretz that details the growing schisms in the American Jewish community. More and more Jews simply cannot support a Zionist state that oppresses the Palestinians.

Jewish writer Eric Alterman shows indirectly how the only major groups backing Israel in the near future will be Christian fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews, racist Jews who hate Muslims and the right wing who love Israel for oppressing Arabs. Liberal Jewry is turning away:

In the past, you could say to liberal friends who criticized Israel ‘What would you do if you were in their place?. After all, no country would agree to undertake security risks [like] those that are required from Israel. But in recent years it’s more and more difficult to say it. It’s much more complicated to justify the raid on the Turkish flotilla, or the way Israel handled Gaza, or the attacks on human rights organizations. It looks like we we’re reaching a point where liberal American Jews will be forced to choose between their values and their emotional attachment to Israel. And many, alas, are going to stick with their values. There’s a sense of failure of an idea with regards to Israel. This is something very painful for me to say.”

Israelis who back BDS should not be prosecuted by the state

Posted: 04 Apr 2011

 

Resistance:

Below is a short video of Israeli celebrities and several activists, among whom I was honored to appear. The video is in Hebrew and for an Israeli audience, but there are English subtitles. The video essentially is self-explanatory, but to give you a synopsis we are coming out strongly against the bill currently in advanced stages in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that will make it illegal to support and advance boycotts, divestment campaigns and/or a call for sanctions (and perhaps other non-violent political expression) against Israel for its unlawful acts against Palestinians. We are all coming out for democracy, freedom of thought and expression, and stating that this law won’t stop us from resisting the occupation.

 

Creating a faux firestorm when anybody speaks up for Palestinians

Posted: 04 Apr 2011

 

This was a story in Monday’s Murdoch Australian:

Incoming Greens MP James Parker yesterday stayed silent.

He refused to answer claims he had made inflammatory comments about Jewish people when discussing the NSW Greens’s proposed boycott of Israeli goods.

Mr Parker, who on Saturday claimed victory in the seat of Balmain in Sydney’s inner west, was quoted by online magazine New Matilda that the boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] policy supported by some Greens had made many Jewish people unreasonable, while even “progressive Jews” had failed to have a moderate response. “These Jews provide cover for extreme actions if they occur,” Mr Parker said.

“If there’s a sniff of you being critical of Israel, such Jews will attack you and cut you loose.”

Mr Parker said the BDS policy had provoked aggression among Jewish people and that during the election campaign he received hate mail, his car was vandalised and campaign signs were spray-painted with swastikas.

“One letter said I wanted to turn Balmain power station into a gas chamber and the light rail would take people there,” Mr Parker is claimed to have told New Matilda.

“Lefty Jews told me you can’t be surprised if extreme people do extreme things, but they wouldn’t come out in public and condemn it.”

The national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, writing in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, claimed Mr Parker denied making the statements to journalist Antony Loewenstein.

Loewenstein did not respond to The Australian’s request for comment yesterday.

The Australian has made repeated attempts to contact Mr Parker since Friday, but he has not returned calls, nor did either of the Greens’ key spokeswomen in NSW, Allison Orme and Susie Gemmell, persuade him to do so.

And a story in today’s Australian:

A second NSW Greens politician has been accused of dissembling over the party’s policy towards Israel. Influential union and ALP figure Paul Howes said newly elected state MP Jamie Parker may have misled him over inflammatory remarks about sections of the Jewish community.

Mr Parker, who narrowly won the Sydney seat of Balmain from Labor’s Verity Firth, yesterday did not deny claims he made sweeping remarks about Jews in an interview with online publication NewMatilda last week.

But Mr Howes, the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, yesterday reaffirmed to The Australian that Mr Parker had denied making the comments when the union leader confronted him about the original NewMatilda article.

Mr Howes had aimed to blast Mr Parker in an opinion piece published in the Sunday Telegraph over language he deemed “abhorrent”.

In the NewMatilda article, journalist Antony Loewenstein had quoted Mr Parker as saying the boycott, divestment and sanctions policy (BDS) against Israel supported by NSW Greens had made many Jewish people unreasonable, and even “progressive Jews” had failed to have a moderate response. “These Jews provide cover for extreme actions if they occur,” Mr Parker was reported saying in NewMatilda.

“If there’s a sniff of you being critical of Israel, such Jews will attack you and cut you loose.”

When Mr Howes called to check with Mr Parker about whether the quotes were accurate before publishing his column, Mr Parker told him they were not and he had been misquoted.

“He told me he never said it,” Mr Howes wrote in his Sunday Telegraph column.

When informed yesterday that Mr Parker had subsequently not denied making the statement, Mr Howes told The Australian: “Look, Jamie could be lying to me. I don’t know; I hope not”.

Yesterday, Loewenstein published an article in NewMatilda saying he stood by the accuracy of the quotes of Mr Parker.

“I stand by my original story 110 per cent,” he told The Australian.

Loewenstein added in his retort in NewMatilda that he had taken accurate notes of the interview and checked the quotes with the Greens MP before publishing.

“In the case of Parker, I read back his quotes to confirm what he said,” Loewenstein wrote.

“He was happy for me to publish them.”

Mr Parker refused repeated requests from The Australian to discuss the matter, but Greens spokeswoman Susie Gemmell forwarded a statement he had provided to NewMatilda.

In the statement, Mr Parker does not specifically deny the accuracy of the quotes as attributed to him by Loewenstein.

But he says: “Certain quotes are attributed to me which do not reflect the language that I have always used in relation to the conflict in the Middle East.”

It’s important to understand what’s happening here. This isn’t really about who said what and when. The agenda is clear; find a way to divide the Greens before they assume the balance of power in Canberra in July and try and intimidate anybody who dares speak up for Palestine.

BDS will continue. It’s growing globally and that’s the intent in Australia; crush it before it can strengthen here. But the worldwide trajectory is clear while Israel continues to grossly abuse human rights in Israel and Palestine.

Greens leader should back BDS because oppressed Palestinians ask for it

Posted: 04 Apr 2011

 

The last week has seen a barrage of Murdoch attention on the NSW Greens and its embrace of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. It’s a principled and mature position to take, backed by countless groups globally.

Last night on ABC TV Lateline saw Greens leader Bob Brown discuss the issue and sadly he seemed a) unclear what’s actually happening on the ground in Palestine, b) afraid to take on the Zionist lobby or c) doesn’t believe there’s increasingly mainstream support for BDS in Australia. He can do much better and should lead on this important human rights question rather than simply following a predictable (and misguided) convention:

ALI MOORE: Well, I want to look at the issue of a carbon tax and a carbon price in a minute, but first of all if we can look at the Greens, and of course your performance in the NSW state election in the past two weeks. You picked up a seat in the Lower House for the first time, but many expected you to do better and the fact that you didn’t was put down to the support of the Greens in New South Wales for a series of military trade and services boycotts against Israel. You’ve said you don’t agree with the New South Wales Greens, “… who handled so badly that part of the campaign against my advice.” What were you telling the Greens in New South Wales? What didn’t they listen to?

BOB BROWN: Well if you’re talking about that advice, my advice is that you leave national matters to the national arena, and that includes foreign policy. But also if you see an attack coming down the line and a real effort to pursue this issue, as we saw with The Australian newspaper, then you deal with it early. Fiona Byrne in Marrickville is a lovely person and she didn’t deserve what happened and I think the Greens strategists …

ALI MOORE: But do you support the policy? Do you support the policy that New South Wales Greens have for a boycott?

BOB BROWN: No, I don’t and I’ve said this before publicly, Ali, that it was rejected by the Australian Greens Council last year. And I’ve been talking with Jamie Parker, the new Lower House member for the Greens, who’s made this fantastic breakthrough. He’s the Mayor of Leichhardt. He’s going into the Parliament as a Greens voice in the Lower House.

ALI MOORE: And he supports the policy.

BOB BROWN: He said – he told me today there is no way that he will be bringing this policy into the New South Wales Parliament, that he expects me to be looking after foreign policy and that he’s got very important issues other than that that he’ll be taking into the New South Wales Parliament. He won’t be taking this issue into the New South Wales Parliament.

ALI MOORE: Well, given your view, in the Senate just a couple of days before the New South Wales state election, Senator Fifield moved to condemn the boycott of Israel instigated by Marrickville Council. And of course your candidate Fiona Byrne was the mayor of Marrickville Council. You didn’t support that motion. You wanted the opposition of the Greens recorded. Why?

BOB BROWN: Because the motion was not in the interests of the people of Israel or of Palestine. It was a very politically-loaded motion, and I note that Eric Abetz now says, of all people, that he’s going to bring a motion about this into the next parliament. Look, you know, that’s the way the far right in politics works here. But, I would say …

ALI MOORE: But will you be comfortable putting your opposition to this policy on the record?

BOB BROWN: I’ve just done so and so has our national council. But let me tell you, Ali, that the Greens do have a policy on an independent and self-governing state for both Israel and for Palestine living next to each other, for support for the UN motions that have gone through on this, for a non-violent trajectory towards the independent state of Palestine in the future. And neither of the other parties have a policy. You go looking for it, you won’t find one, but the Greens have had – been through the rigour of developing this policy and we stand by it.

ALI MOORE: And this policy that the New South Wales Greens stand by, do you have the power as the federal party to intervene in a state branch if there’s a policy that you don’t agree with, and indeed, what will happen with Lee Rhiannon? The New South Wales senator takes up her position in July. Will she have to recount state policy – or recant state policy in order to take up her position in the Senate and serve under me?

BOB BROWN: No, neither of those things. We’re not in the business of censuring every member of the Greens or branch or state party, but it is pretty obvious, isn’t it, that the national party looks after foreign affairs. I’m the spokesperson for the national Greens on foreign affairs. I know where my party room stand on that. They’re not going to promote this policy. It has been rejected by the Australian Greens and that’s where we stand. And so, if New South Wales Greens wish to maintain the policy, they’ve got nowhere to go with it. And, you know, so be it. What they do …

ALI MOORE: Is it difficult though to, I suppose, have a united party when you have very decisive issues actually dividing the party on state and federal lines in this instance?

BOB BROWN: Like every party, and I can tell you who prevails here: the Australian Greens do. I have discussed this with my party room. There’s no way that this policy is going to be promoted by us in the Parliament, but we stand strongly by the policy I’ve just outlined. And …

ALI MOORE: But what happens if Lee Rhiannon stands up in the Senate and speaks to that policy and supports it?

BOB BROWN: Well, should she be prevented from doing as she wishes? I’m not in the business of suppressing people, but I think you’ll find that Lee will make up her own mind about that, but she – the party room has made a decision that that policy’s not going – and the Australian Greens party rejected the policy so…

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