Sunday, March 9, 2014

Reporter John Lyons responds to Zionist critics of his Four Corners report on Israel's abuse of Palestinian children.

Dear friends,
as already noted on this blog, on Monday 10 February, the ABC (Australian Broadcast Corporation) ran a hard hitting investigative report by John Lyons on Israel's treatment of Palestinian children (click here for my earlier post).  The report, "Stone Cold Justice", which discussed in detail Israel's occupation and its abuse of Palestinian children - in particular Palestinian child prisoners - was broadcast by Australia's longest running investigative journalism program, Four Corners

Since going to air the report has been viewed widely not only in Australia but also internationally (via youtube and the web), receiving widespread praise.  It has also received concerted criticism from Zionists and Israel apologists, both in Australia and internationally.

As I noted in my previous blog on the report even before the report was aired, Zionist organisations in Australia sought to discredit the report (click here to read).  The Zionist Federation of Australia, along with the Zionist Council of Victoria and other Zionist organisations distributed a briefing paper with the usual hasbara (propaganda) talking points and called on supporters to bombard the ABC with letters and emails complaining about the program.  

As with the Zionist critics of the program in Australia, the international critics offered up the same hasbara talking points and predictably labelled the program as "anti-semitic". The fact that pro-Zionist hasbara groups out side of Australia have felt the need to try and discredit the program reveals the widespread impact Lyons' report has had internationally.

In response to the criticism of his report, John Lyons on Saturday (March 8) responded to Zionist critics and Israel apologists in an article published by The Australian newspaper.   In his scathing response to critics, Lyons points out the hypocrisy of his critics and notes that the way in which Israel treats Palestinian children in the Occupied West Bank would be illegal in Australia. Lyons goes onto note that Israel enforces an apartheid system and points out that Zionist advocacy groups spend more time trying to block criticism of Israel's settlement project than they do advocating for the two state solution, which on paper they supposedly support as they take their lead from the Israeli state which also supposedly supports a two state solution.

In his most cutting criticism, Lyons points out that
"Melbourne-based people such as Sheridan [pro-Zionist commentator regularly run by The Australian] and Rubenstein [head of Zionist advocacy group AJIAC] portray themselves as experts yet ignore reality" and goes on to cite numerous real experts who have real experience with Israel's occupation practices.

Lyons' rebuttal of his critics easily demolishes their mealy mouthed attempts to discredit his Stone Cold Justice report.   The only short coming in his rebuttal is that while he does address a number of individual pro-Israel apologists published by his newspaper, The Australian, Lyons makes no comment on the paper's systematic whitewashing and apologism for Israel's human rights abuses and apartheid regime.

As I have noted previously on this blog (here and here) and in an article I wrote for the online edition of Overland Magazine, The Australian is a pro-Zionist newspaper. In the last three years it has waged an obsessive campaign against the Palestinian initiated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.  In 2013, in an one month period between May 1 and May 31, the Australian published 26 news articles, editorials or opinions on the BDS campaign, the vast majority of which were overwhelmingly negative, condemning the campaign and Palestine supporters as anti-Semitic, accusing them of running an intolerant hate campaign.

Since the airing of the Four Corners' Stone Cold Justice report, which was billed as a joint report by The Australian (as Lyons is their Middle East Correspondent) and Four Corners, The Australian has run at least two editorials and five comment pieces either whitewashing Israel's human rights abuses against Palestinians or justifying Israel's apartheid regime.

On February 11, the day after Lyons report aired on the ABC, The Australian ran an editorial addressing the report. The primary focus of the editorial entitled "Israel moves on child justice" was to whitewash and justify Israel's actions.  The editorial, while noting practices "alleged" in Lyons report are "inhumane", the editorial quickly went on to argue that such actions also need to be understood "in context" and that "it needs to be acknowledged that the Israeli army faces constant and often dangerous provocation in the area, with children in the vanguard of stone-throwing and violence. Brutal as it was, such treatment of as many as 700 children a year was an excessive response to an ongoing, simmering conflict and not the product of state-sanctioned racism".  

This is of course not true and ignores the fact that Zionism, Israel's state sanction ideology is a racist and exclusivist ideology as been shown by a range of historians, researchers and commentators, including Israeli based ones (see here , here and here).  Israeli and international newspapers have repeatedly run stories on surveys and polls which outline the deeply racism which is deeply ingrained in Israeli society (see here , here , here and here )

The editorial then went on to laud Israel for being a democracy and claimed that Palestinian citizens of Israel and their children "have the same
legal, educational, health and other rights as Jewish children".  This is of course not true, as Israel human rights group, Adalah has documented - there are at least 50 laws in Israel which actively discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all of these areas, as well as many more (see Adalah's database of discriminatory laws here).

Of the five op-eds seeking to whitewash Israel's human rights abuses and apartheid regime run by The Australian, three of the comment pieces were by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, two were published on 14 February and February 22 respectively and sought to denouncing the report or trying to discredit it and the ABC/Four Corners as being anti-semitic, while the third op-ed from AIJAC published on February 18 was in response to an earlier op-ed by former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and sought to defending Israel's military and settlement activity in the Occupied West Bank . 

The newspaper ran a fourth comment piece on 21 February in the name of Israel's ambassador to Australia entitled "Palestinians guilty of turning kids into killers", promoting the long recycled racist Zionist propaganda about Palestinians supposedly teaching their children to hate, ignoring completely the fact that stone throwing happens as a direct result of Israel's brutal 47 year old military occupation of Palestinian villages and lands.  

A fifth comment piece by well know Israel apologist and hard right pundit, Greg Sheridan, accusing Lyons report of being"Evil and deeply untrue" (this was the title of his article) was published on March 1.  It is Sheridan's op-ed, which appears to have prompted Lyons response on March 8.

During the same period, it ran one comment piece on 22 February by Yehuda Shaul from the Israeli soldier group Breaking the Silence which speaks out against Israel's occupation practices. Shaul, who appeared in Lyons report, while condemning Israel's occupation practices focuses on the need to end such practices in order to save Israel from itself. 

In addition, an article by John Lyons was published on 20 February, which reports on the Israel's military announcement that it
would launch a "comprehensive review of its policy of dealing with Palestinian children, including an immediate pilot program to end night-time arrests". 

However, the Israeli military's statements need to be viewed with caution as both it and the Israeli state have  made similar pledges before in the wake of intensive criticism, but has repeatedly failed to implement any real changes to its occupation policies and/or treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including child prisoners.

The Australian, ever the Israel cheer leader, seized on this announcement and ran a second editorial on 21 February which lauded Israel as being "the only functioning democracy in the Middle East" and for acting "wisely" to supposedly end "night-time arrests of Palestinian children suspected of stone throwing and other crimes on the West Bank".  The editorial, however, then goes on to justify the use of Israel military night raids on Palestinian homes and villages, saying "Night arrests were preferred because of the likelihood of violent demonstrations during the day", completely justifying Israel's violation of international law. It then repeated the propaganda promoted by in the op-ed in The Australian the week before by Colin Rubenstein, the executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, that "many of the 700 Palestinian minors arrested annually in Israel are involved in shootings, bomb plots and murder, as well as stone-throwing". 

This of course is an out right fabrication, with various human rights groups all producing reports documenting that nearly all arrests of Palestinian minors have been related to accusations of stone throwing.  As these human rights organisations have noted, the Israeli military targets Palestinian children for arrest and specifically seeks to arrest Palestinian children in order to try and intimidate Palestinian communities and/or to create collaborators (see here, here and here.  Also see my previous post on this issue: here and here ).

Lyons' response, while understandably not able to take up The Australian's biased coverage of Palestine and its attempts to whitewash Israel's occupation and apartheid policies, is nevertheless outstanding and should be widely shared.

I have included his response below and have embedded his Four Corners report once again.

in solidarity, Kim

John Lyons' 4 Corners report: Stone Cold Justice

Distant ‘experts’ choose to ignore Israeli realities

JOHN LYONS The Australian March 08, 2014

SO a priest at a church Greg Sheridan attended in Melbourne said something possibly anti-Semitic, and somehow ABC1’s Four Corners and I are responsible?

It’s not even certain the priest watched the Four Corners program on Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children. But it sounds as if he didn’t need anyone to stoke his anti-Semitism - Sheridan said he spoke as someone “with 2000 years of Christian anti-Semitism behind him”.

Sadly, this is the level to which discussion about Israel has sunk.

Last Saturday, Sheridan said a program I reported for Four Corners was “a crude piece of anti-Israel propaganda that revived some of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes”.

Why can journalists put the Australian Army or federal police or US Army through the ringer, but if we investigate the most powerful army in the Middle East it’s anti-Semitism?

As a correspondent in Jerusalem my job is to report through Australian eyes. What the Israeli army does to Palestinian children systematically - such as taking a 12-year-old from his home at 2am and denying access to a lawyer or parent - would be illegal in Australia .

Four Corners showed how Israel enforces two legal systems in the West Bank, one for Jews and one for Palestinians.

For “exhaustive rebuttals”, Sheridan recommended the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council run by Colin Rubenstein, also based in Melbourne.

AIJAC is not an elected body representing the Jewish community but a privately funded lobby group with extremely hardline positions on Israel. I find it breathtaking that a journalist would recommend a private lobby group for a rebuttal of journalism.

Bob Carr recently revealed that when he was foreign minister, AIJAC “directed a furious effort at trying to block even routine criticism of settlements, as if this were more vital than advocating a two-state solution or opposing boycotts of Israel”.

After reading Carr’s comments, prominent Israeli Alon Liel wrote: “Who are you ‘Israeli lovers’ of the Australia-Israel Council? Who authorised you to put pressure on the Australian government ‘on my behalf’? Especially regarding a matter that affects my family’s future? Why are you trying to ruin my country, pretending you are ‘pro-Israeli?’ “

Liel, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry chief, wrote: “What would you do, dear Jew, if the risk of such isolation was hovering over the head of Australia, France or Canada, countries whose passports you hold?”

He echoed Breaking the Silence, 950 current and former Israeli soldiers who reported on Palestinian children, including one soldier saying a colleague put children against a wall and made them sing Israel’s national anthem - if they didn’t sing in time, he’d hit them.

Another said his commander beat a child “to a pulp” and put a gun in his mouth, saying: “Don’t annoy me.”

When Melbourne Jewish leader Danny Lamm alleged “crude propaganda”, 15 former officers condemned “Lamm’s armchair Zionism, pontificating from afar while true Israelis put their lives on the line”.

Sheridan repeated AIJAC’s claim about settlements not growing - year after year AIJAC says this while construction booms, even outside existing settlements.

US President Barack Obama this week referred to “aggressive settlement construction”.

Israeli statistics show settler housing more than doubled last year, and in the first half of 2011 grew 660 per cent. Outposts are also surging - these are illegal under Israeli law, yet Israel tolerates them.

Having visited the West Bank hundreds of times, I am astonished that Melbourne-based people such as Sheridan and Rubenstein portray themselves as experts yet ignore reality.

Last week Amnesty International said Israeli forces had displayed a “callous disregard” by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, over three years with “near total impunity”.

Last year, Unicef said ill-treatment of Palestinian children appeared to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”, and “children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault”.

In 2012, a delegation of British lawyers led by former attorney-general Patricia Scotland, found Israel had breached six articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Geneva Conventions.

There are also now big issues for Australia relating to the Geneva Conventions, under which Israel’s settlements are widely considered illegal. Yet Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has cast doubt on whether Australia accepts the Geneva Conventions in that regard. Her new policy may have serious implications for Australian soldiers overseas - the conventions govern not only how civilians under occupation should be treated but captured soldiers.

It was after two world wars with their collective death toll of about 80 million that postwar leaders signed up to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The danger of Bishop cherry-picking the Geneva Conventions could expose Australian soldiers who currently have protection.

Sheridan ignores the fact Israeli spokesman Yigal Palmor told Four Corners soldiers were not appropriately trained to detain children. AIJAC criticises me for interviewing “extremist” settler Daniella Weiss - if she is an extremist then so are key members of Israel’s cabinet who share her views. Weiss planned settlements with Ariel Sharon to forestall a Palestinian state.

Leaders of Australia’s Jewish community visiting Israel often approach me for a coffee. One opposed the occupation, saying it was against Jewish teachings to rule over others. Another, from Sydney, wanted the occupation to end. When I asked why he never said that publicly, he replied: “Are you serious? And have the Melbourne guys declare a fatwa against me?” This denial - or fear - does not help Israel.

The film The Gatekeepers, which interviewed six former chiefs of intelligence service Shin Bet, warned about Israel’s future. One, Avraham Shalom, said of the Israeli army: “We have become cruel.”

But one Melbourne Jewish leader told me the Shin Bet chiefs were “all left wing”.

An insight into the attacks on journalists covering Israel comes from Clyde Haberman, an Orthodox-raised American Jew who has just retired after 37 years with The New York Times. For decades, he says, the paper has had correspondents who, no matter how different or good, were branded anti-Semitic or self-hating Jews.

He says correspondents in Israel could expect “to have your integrity hurled back in your face every single day”.

But he thought of a solution: “If I didn’t want to be accused of hating Israel, I should start every story with: ‘Fifty years after six million Jews died in the Holocaust, Israel yesterday’ did one thing or the other.”

Obama told Israelis their occupation was unfair.

It is possible that Obama, Unicef, Amnesty International, 950 soldiers, Shin Bet chiefs and others are wrong and that Sheridan and Rubenstein are right.

But I don’t think so.

John Lyons is The Australian’s Middle East correspondent

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