The Middle East is always a delicate issue to report but we’ve tried to give everyone a say in this piece which looks at whether we were wrong to disclose that Age editor Michael Gawenda is Jewish in the context of a Leunig cartoon that he pulled.

This time they broadened it to include ABC director Michael Kroger who took up the cudgels for Rubenstein as explained on this link to the Media Watch website.

Now Crikey does not know what religion Michael Kroger is, but if is Jewish I would argue that Media Watch should have included this as a relevant fact because he is certainly pushing the AIJAC agenda pretty card.

We have been caught up in a debate about this issue since the previous Monday’s Media Watch when we sent this sealed section to subscribers on May 7:

Controversial May 7 Crikey sealed section

“Media Watch had a big go at the Jewish lobby last night for spreading misinformation about the recent BBC documentary shown on Four Corners getting stuck into Ariel Sharon.

They lined up Colin Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, for some serious treatment and it will be interesting to see if he backs down on some of his extreme public statements attacking the ABC for running the program. Check out what Media Watch said here.

As an aside, it was interesting to see the debate on Media Watch between Age editor Michael Gawenda and Age cartoonist Michael Leunig about that cartoon on the Middle East which Gawenda refused to run. You can check out the Leunig yarn here.

And view the said Cartoon: here.

(Interestingly, Media Watch disclosed last night that they received 2000 emails and 85 per cent of them said The Age should have published the Leunig cartoon.)

Crikey accepts that you should not make gratuitous references to someone’s religion, but in this instance believes that it is relevant to point out that Michael Gawenda is Jewish.

It is the same debate that is gripping Izzy Asper’s Canwest newspaper operation in Canada. Does Michael Gawenda’s religion affect the way he edits The Age and how the paper covers the Middle East? In this instance, he is really sticking his head out in censorsing a respected cartoonist from running a cartoon that Gawenda believes besmirches Israel.

Afterall, Gawenda did commit to write the biography of Joe Gutnick who provided more financial assitance to the right wing Netanyahu government is Israel than virtually any other businessman in the world. When Gutnick’s star fell, the book deal eventually fell over.

And when Solomon Lew was being widely attacked in the media over the Yannon scandal at Coles Myer, he chose to give Gawenda extraordinary access and the result was a favourable cover story in Good Weekend about 5 years ago which was out of step with the rest of the media at the time.

Gawenda lays into Crikey

Sealed section sent to subscribers on May 8, 2002

Age editor Michael Gawenda labelled me “contemptible” yesterday for commenting on his Media Watch exposed censorship of a hard-hitting Leunig cartoon on the Middle East and pointing out that he is Jewish.

At least he didn’t call me racist or anti-semitic. Crikey’s philosophy is to “disclose, disclose, disclose”. If you put all the facts on the table, the punters will be better informed. Information is power in this modern world and we are all about distributing both as widely as possible.

We regularly come up against people who condemn Crikey for disclosing information. In this instance, I genuinely think it is a “relevant fact”. Can you imagine what the Colin Rubenstein’s of this world would say if an Islamic editor of The Age was revealed on Media Watch to have pulled an anti-Palestine cartoon.

There is certainly a debate to be had as to whether Gawenda is unduly influenced by the Israel lobby and given that he wields considerable power as Age editor in our community, I think it is entirely reasonable for it to be explored as an issue by a media watchdog like Crikey.

Crikey subscribers are thoughtful, liberal-minded people. It’s not as if the disclosure is going to be picked up by thousands of racists and used to fuel anti-Jewish sentiment in the community. If anything, I’m more sympathetic to the Jewish cause (and have more Jewish friends) in this debate, but this is really a debate about disclosure, relevance and publishing guidelines.

For instance, I also think that 4 Corners should have included Alan Jones’s homosexuality as a “relevant fact” in their piece. The profile was in part about his incredibly dominating influence over boys and men – be it at boarding schools like Kings or rugby clubs like Manly.

He is an obsessive and dominating figure who takes males under his wing. I was expecting the program to at least explore some of the mythology and rumors that have swirled around Jones ever since his homosexuality was placed on the public record thanks to the London toilet block incident. Why be so PC and leave it out of a 45-minute profile?

If any of you think all of this makes me a hompohobic racist, I’ll happily publish your thoughts in yoursay as it is a worthwhile debate to have.

Crikey cops it

Now we copped a bit of stick over this and as a result ran one subscriber’s piece pointing to a pro-Israel column by Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post which sparked this reply from a journalist working in the Middle East:

Dear Crikey,

One of your contributors sent in this the other day:

“Crikey, maybe you might like to post this piece from the Washington Post as it might put Luenig’s cartoon in another perspective. You might also ask why none of this has been reported (to my knowledge) in the Australian media or the ABC.

Washington Post column

So, a few points here:

The big winner in the “What happened in Jenin?” PR battle was Israel. Anyone who had any inkling of what had actually gone on there knew how this would play out. Israel’s spinners decide this would be a matter of deciding if there was a “massacre” or not. Anything outside that limited debate would be ignored, especially if an official investigation team was locked out.

The Palestinian PR soloist Saeb Erekat obliged by hanging himself with unreliable casualty figures.

So now Israel’s team of staff writers (check Charles K’s back catalogue) are playing just that line, with the inevitable background drone that Israel offered Yasser Arafat an unimaginably good deal at Camp David but he chose violence (see Clinton advisor Robert Malley in New York Review of Books for the other side of that debate).

What we end up with is Charles Krauthammer citing a bunch of other reporters (who actually went to Jenin in some cases) on what didn’t happen in Jenin. What he leaves out is what did happen there and elsewhere during the clumsily named “Operation Defensive Shield”.

Let’s get a few facts straight:

* a partial analysis of the bodies recovered over a fairly short period showed around 25 of those dead in Jenin were civilians. Women, the elderly, the disabled and children included.

Here are just a few words from the Human Rights Watch report (available here).

At least four persons were killed by the IDF because they were outside during curfews or walked in areas declared “closed” by the Israeli army.

Hani Abu Rumaila, aged nineteen, spent the night of April 2 at the house of his grandmother. When the IDF first reached the Jenin camp and gun battles erupted at about 4:00 a.m. on April 3, he ran home to his parents’ house and informed his father that tanks had arrived at the outskirts of the camp. Then he decided to return to the gate of the house and watch what the IDF soldiers were doing. His stepmother, Hala’ Abu Rumaila, explained how Hani was killed at about 5:30 that morning:

“The Israelis had just arrived and Hani wanted to open the main gate to the house. He wanted to see what was going on outside. Then, [as he opened the gate], they [IDF] shot him in the leg. He started screaming. When he tried to stand up and run back home, they shot him in the abdomen and chest.”

“A nurse living nearby tried to come to Hani’s rescue when she heard the screaming, but was herself killed by the IDF soldiers”

“Farwa and Rufaida Jammal were awakened early in the morning of April 3 by loud explosions and the screams of Hani Abu Rumaila, who had been severely wounded in their neighborhood (see above). Farwa put on her white nurse’s uniform, marked with the red crescent symbol (the Muslim equivalent of the red cross), and exited the house together with her sister Rufaida, intending to help the wounded man.”

According to Rufaida, they met a small group of unarmed young Palestinian men outside their home who were also trying to assist the wounded Hani, and stopped to discuss with them the best way to proceed. IDF soldiers opened fire on the group, wounding Rufaida and killing her sister Farwa:

“Before I finished talking with the men, the Israelis started shooting. I got hit with a bullet in my upper thigh. I fell down and broke my knee. My sister [Farwa] tried to come and help me. Then, she was shot in her abdomen. I told her I was wounded, and she replied that she was also wounded. I repeated the shahada [the Muslim declaration of faith, customarily recited by Muslims who believe they are about to die]. Then [Farwa] was shot in the heart…. The Israeli soldiers were very near to us22 and could hear and see us. We were clearly visible to them. They kept shooting at us, and I got another bullet in my other leg.”

Eighty-five-year-old Ahmad Hamduni was left virtually alone at his home when the fighting broke out in Jenin refugee camp, because his family had moved to an area south of Jenin two days before. When the fighting reached his area around 3:00 p.m. on April 3, he moved to the home of another elderly neighbor, seventy-two-year-old Raja Tawafshi. The two elderly men first had some twenty-five relatives staying with them, but at about 5:00 p.m. those relatives left the house, leaving the two elderly men alone.

After the men finished their evening prayers, Israeli soldiers suddenly attacked the home. Raja Tawafshi recalled how his neighbor was killed by the soldiers soon after they entered:

“After I had finished praying, they [the soldiers] shot one door of my gate off and it flew into the room. I stood up and they shot at me. I raised my hands. They shot a sound bomb [concussion grenade] inside and the soldiers came inside with their guns. I stood up with my hands up, and [Ahmad Hamduni] was behind me.”

“Because he is an old man, [Ahmad Hamduni] hunches over. The soldiers were worried [about the hunch in his back] and shot him immediately. I told them, he is an old man, and I tried to touch him. Then the soldiers told me to go out of the room.”

* in Jenin as in other West Bank towns Israeli soldiers allowed the injured to bleed (in some cases to death) for days in a couple of cases, banning ambulances from entering to rescue them.

* Palestinian civilians were used as human shields, forced to aproach houses suspected of being booby trapped or containing fighters, or give cover to Israeli troops as they fired.

* Key human rights NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say Israel conducted war crimes in Jenin… and elsewhere in the West Bank.

So here are a few questions for your contributor the Charles Krauthammer fan.

Why did he ignore all the evidence suggesting Israel was guilty of military misconduct at least and war crimes at worst in Jenin?

How many civilian deaths constitute a massacre and under what circumstances? How come Mr Krauthammer has never written a word of criticism of Israel’s military conduct in the past 18 months? Has Mr Krauthammer ever been to the Palestinian Territories to witness the events he is so ready to describe? Why did Israel’s Army stop journalists including myself from entering the Jenin Camp for days after the fighting ended? Why did Israel’s Army stop humanitarian agency officals and supplies entering Jenin Camp for days after the fighting ended? Why was one Israeli soldier quoted in Haaretz newspaper in Israel as saying “the world will be shocked when they see what we did here” on the day the fightng ceased?

Against that my outlet never asserted there had been a massacre and always treated the Palestinian casualty figures as entirely unconfirmed. Where Israel’s Army committed breaches of international conventions and we had the evidence it was reported as fact.

Please feel free to criticise these thoughts but don’t insult me by suggesting that the feeble Charles Krauthammer, an inflexible polemicist of the worst kind, be held up as the Gold Standard of journalism on this issue.

Regards, Australian journalist in the Middle East

A more hysterical response

This response was more in keeping with the standard material floating around on the web amongst the anti-Israel forces and is a little inflammatory:

“Stephen,

In response to the absurd Krauthammer (not quite as good a name as Wolf Blitzer) piece in the Washington Mouthpiece linked to in the sealed section today, here’s an email I just received that gives another side of the situation from the Zionists (it’s a bit repetitive).

Regards, David

The well-travelled ‘Did you know’ email

Did you know that:

* non-Jewish Israelis cannot buy or lease land in Israel?

* Palestinian license plates in Israel are color-coded to distinguish Jews from non-Jews?

* Jerusalem, both East and West, is considered by the entire world community, including the United States, to be occupied territory and NOT part of Israel?

* Israel allots 85% of the water resources for Jews and the remaining 15% is divided among all Palestinians in the territories? For example in Hebron, 85% of the water is given to about 400 settlers, while 15% must be divided among Hebron’s 120,000 Palestinians?

* the United States awards Israel $5 billion in aid each year?

* yearly US aid to Israel exceeds the aid the US grants to the whole African continent?

* Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?

* Israel is the only country in the Middle East that refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and bars international inspections from its sites?

* Israel currently occupies territories of two sovereign nations (Lebanon and Syria) in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolutions?

* Israel has for decades routinely sent assassins in to other countries to kill its political enemies?

* high-ranking military officers in the Israeli Defense Forces have admitted publicly that unarmed prisoners of war were executed by the IDF?

* Israel refuses to prosecute its soldiers who have acknowledged executing prisoners of war?

* Israel routinely confiscates bank accounts, businesses, and land and refuses to pay compensation to those who suffer the confiscation?

* Israel blew up an American diplomatic facility in Egypt and attacked a U.S. ship in international waters, killing 33 and wounding 177 American sailors?

* the second most powerful lobby in the United States, according to a recent Fortune magazine survey of Washington insiders, is the Israeli AIPAC?

* Israel stands in defiance of 69 United Nations Security Council Resolutions?

* Israel sits on the former sites of more than 400 now-vanished Palestinian villages, and that the Israeli’s re-named almost every physical site in the country to cover up the traces?

* it was not until 1988 that Israelis were barred from running “Jews Only” job ads?

* four prime ministers of Israel (Begin, Shamir, Rabin, and Sharon) have taken part in either bomb attacks on civilians, massacres of civilians, or forced expulsions of civilians from their villages?

* Israeli Foreign Ministry pays two American public relations firms to promote Israel to Americans?

* Sharon’s coalition government includes a party Molodet, which advocates expelling all Palestinians from the occupied territories?

* Israel’s settlement-building increased in the eight years since Oslo?

* settlement building under Barak doubled compared to settlement building under Netanyahu?

* the Palestinians have already accepted Israel’s existence on 78% of what was Palestine.

* despite a ban on torture by Israel’s High Court of Justice, torture has continued by Shin Bet interrogators on Palestinian prisoners?

* Palestinian refugees make up the largest portion of the refugee population in the world?

* in 1967 there were only 3 Jewish settlement camps, whereas today there are more than 195?

* extra items for Israel are buried in the budgets of the Pentagon and other federal agencies? There were $1.271 billion in extras in FY 1993, $355.3 million in FY 1996 and $525.8 million in FY 1997. These represent an average increase of 12.2 percent over the officially recorded foreign aid totals for the same fiscal years. It’s reasonable to assume, therefore, that a similar 12.2 percent hidden increase has prevailed over all of the years Israel has received aid.

* Israel receives its annual foreign aid appropriation during the first month of the fiscal year, instead of in quarterly installments as do other recipients? This enables Israel to invest the money in U.S. Treasury notes. That means that the U.S., which has to borrow the money it gives to Israel, pays interest on the money it has granted to Israel in advance, while at the same time Israel is collecting interest on the money.

etc etc etc, you get the drift.

Your feedback on the Gawenda issue

We also had a lot of feedback on the issue of pointing out that Michael Gawenda is Jewish. We’ve pulled the most reactionary response after a couple of complaints but the email essentially suggested Crikey, by extension, was alleging all sorts of terrible things against the Jewish community.

Rubenstein a disgrace

This one was a little more measured and an interesting insight into how Colin Rubenstein is viewed:

Stephen,

As someone raised in a Jewish family, and, as an adult, having lived in a wide, open world; being an individual with the capacity to think and reflect, and having views on all sorts of matters that do not conform to superficial stereotypes, including on Israel (and no, the fact that i was raised in a Jewish family does not make me “pro-Israel”, just ask some of my Jewish and non-Jewish friends); I find it disturbing that your comment that “there is certainly a debate to be had as to whether Gawenda is unduly influenced by the Israel lobby” seems to be based on nothing more than the fact that Gawenda was born Jewish.

Surely, you need some evidence to show that he is “unduly influenced by the Israel lobby” before you suggest there is a real issue as to whether he is or isn’t. Disclosure is, of course, vital in public life, as you say – the danger is when this is used, instead of evidence, to impugn someone’s credibility, professionalism or capacity to exercise independent judgment. Being born into a certain religion or family is a very different matter from, for example, having developed a financial interest in an area in which you exercise power or influence. Unfortunately, your headline-deep analysis does not do the issues justice.

And no, I don’t consider your comment “racist”, just silly and the sort of thing I would expect from those you regularly criticise. Do ya best, Crikey.

Cheers, A subscriber

Were we outing Gawenda?

This one came from a regular Crikey contributor who I respect:

Stephen

Tough call on outing Michael as Jewish, I think.

If he was, say, a member of pro-Sharon lobby group or otherwise politically active in Israelis affairs, then this should be disclosed as was the case with Media Watch identifying Colin Rubenstein’s association with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council in the earlier item.

We don’t whether Michael’s views on the Israeli/Palestinian issue are any more pro- the current Israeli government than any gentile’s or, for that matter, any moderate Muslim’s. He could be a committed pacifist for all we know. So is his racial/ethnic background, of itself, relevant to the issue?

Difficult one.

Is John Howard’s Christianity relevant if he defends ex-Archbishop Hollingworth? Is Simon Crean’s protestant Christianity relevant if he criticises Catholic Archbishop George Pell?

I understand your argument for disclosure – it would be interesting to hear David Marr and Peter McEvoy’s reasons for omitting the information on air.

Cheers, freelance journalist

Imre weighs into the debate

The question of whether we “outed” Gawenda is dealt with in this exchange with Imre Salusinszky:

Stephen,

Gawenda didn’t nix that cartoon because he’s a Jew, but because he’s an Editor — and a good one.

Even after the recent Good Weekend article by Richard Neville, the cartoon would have marked a new low for loss of perspective in the “mainstream” Australian media. And even after his Christmas homily urging us to make love, not war, with Osama Bin Laden, it would have marked a new low for Michael Leunig.

It is thoughtful of David Marr, though, to post the cartoon on the ABC website, where that highly impartial group, the Friends of the ABC, can gush over its brilliant equation between the systematic slaughter of six million people 60 years ago, and the acts of the State of Israel today, as it tries to survive in the face of unceasing terror.

But I only think that because I’m a Jew, right?

Imre Salusinszky

Crikey’s response to Imre

Imre, would you like me to run this.

If you believed there was some prima facie evidence that Gawenda is overly influenced by the so-called Israel-lobby, do you think it should be disclosed that he is Jewish.

Cheers, SM

Imre’s response

Feel free to run it, Stephen.

What’s to “disclose”? Everyone knows Michael is Jewish!

You’re probably aware that the New Statesman had to run a 2-page apology recently, after a cover-story by John Pilger called “The Kosher Conspiracy”, in which he claimed that powerful Jews in the UK media were preventing the truth coming out on various issues, including Israel. See, comments about influential Jews covertly pushing their sectarian barrows do not occur in a vacuum: they have a long (& shoddy) history.

Imre

From a Melbourne journalist now in Asia

Hi mate,

You’re right about mentioning Gawenda’s religion in this situation. If once upon a time a Luenig had drawn something about Stalin’s gulags or something and a pro-Moscow Communist Gawenda pulled it yarn there’d be howls of protest from all sorts, for example. Leunig is a commentator, according to our law and how it related to cartoonists. He might get howled down for it, but his decision to make such a comment is his right. Pulling it impinges on his professional judgement, of which I reckon his record suggests is pretty good. We wouldn’t want people to make a song and dance about it, but simply mentioning his religion is not a crime. Fairly tough cartoon though wasn’t it. Imagine the shit that would have hit the fan.

Cheers, Patrick in Hanoi

From a spindoctor working in the media

Dear Stephen,

my two shekels on the cartoon:

The cartoon places the blame for the war in the West Bank solely on the Israelis, and links it to imagery equating the Jews with Nazis, which is an obscenity.

On the unseemly issue that you somehow saw fit to raise, I often disagree with what you write and observe, but I’ll never question your gender, skin, colour, religion, or DNA as the basis for what you do.

What you write should be assessed only on its merits as a professional judgment about quality in journalism. It should be the same for everyone in the profession. There is no place, even in crikey.com, for invidious inferences about religion.

Name Withheld

Not impressed with Rubenstein

Stephen,

Let me first say this – I have virtually no involvement with the jewish community and jewish or israeli politics, and think Rubenstein’s conduct was an absolute disgrace as was that of those who tried to have the piece pulled – just as i think the way his organisation AIJAC runs, what is important to it, and its horrible jew-centric view of the world are a disgrace.

I just felt you needed a bit more on Gawenda than you had to suggest influence by the “israel lobby” – I still think you’re a bit light on, but we can disagree on that.

I think where you get into a bit of trouble in your further evidence is in referring to Gawenda on writing Gutnick’s book and the sympathetic portrayal of Solly Lew – now you’re into a bit of confusion between the “Israel lobby” and people who are jewish – now the suggestion is that the fact that he is jewish influences the way he handles stories that involve jews – that’s a long way beyond being influenced by the “israel lobby”. Anyway, we could do this all day – I suppose my sensitivity to this is as someone who is jewish but a long way from the Rubenstein view of the world that totally unfair and erroneous assumptions can be made, and my work and opinions potentially discredited, by my name and the chance that I was born to a jewish mother.

Anyway, I’m all for debate.

Cheers, Name Withheld

Crikey went too far

Stephen,

I watched Media Watch on Monday and thought they handled the issue of the Leunig cartoon very well; presented the facts and allowed viewers to make up their own mind.

While I don’t take issue with your disclosure that Michael Gawenda is Jewish, I was very surprised that you went further and made the comment, “In this instance, he is really sticking his head out in censorsing a respected cartoonist from running a cartoon that Gawenda believes besmirches Israel.” How did you know that is the reason he pulled the cartoon? Didn’t he say that he pulled it because it went “beyond the limits”? Isn’t it conceivable, for example, that he pulled the cartoon, feeling that the comparison to Auschwitz might be offensive, rather than it besmirching Israel? It might be splitting hairs, but I can see a clear difference. I don’t agree with censoring the cartoon, but at the same time I don’t think its non-publication automatically means Gawenda pulled it for besmirching Israel. I was surprised you made the comment you did. To me, your comment was supposition, not disclosure.

If it matters, I am not Jewish, and don’t have a barrow to push either way on this. While I haven’t been a great fan of Leunig in recent years, I’d fall into his category of people “tearing their hair out” over the present situation. The deaths sicken me, whether they be Palestinians in Jenin, targets of suicide bombers, or even 19 year old Israeli soldiers.

Regards, Name Withheld

The Age is too PC

I have long known he is jewish but I think The Age’s coverage of Israel and the Middle East is fairly unbiased. Main problem with Gawenda is he has allowed The Age to become too PC and this has seriously hurt sales. Constant PC sermonising is tiring and boring,IMO.

Harry

Crikey was right to disclose

Dear Crikey,

I watched four corners last night. Yeah, it didn’t go far enough, but it did show up Alan Jones for the tiny man he is. What a prat. Unfortunately the people who would have watched would have already been of that opinion, I am sure. The battlers don’t watch four corners.

More interestingly, I also watched Media Watch for the first time with David Marr. Splendid. Your comment that Michael Gawenda is jewish was completely relevant, in fact, central to the whole story. It is a damning indictment of political correctness that Aunty felt she couldn’t mention it. Everything makes sense now, given that context. Something which just seemed like editorial interference or just editorial clumsiness now is exposed as editorial censorship, on religious grounds. It stinks. Mind you, I’m pretty much over Leunig.

Andrew

Good Weekend should have disclosed Yannon deal

Sealed section sent out on May 15

The Gawenda – Leunig story doesn’t look like dying down just yet.

Our claim that Michael Gawenda went soft on Solly Lew in a Good Weekend profile elicited this response from an Age editorial heavyweight at the time:

“Stephen,

I was (title withheld) when Michael Gawenda wrote the Solly Lew cover story in 1996. To be fair to Gawenda, one of the conditions that Lew imposed on him at the time was that he would not talk about Yannon. We still went ahead with the piece because it did provide a unique view of a colorful business identity. We certainly erred in not clearly stating that Lew had stipulated that Yannon was out of bounds. At the time the story came out, I conceded to my colleagues at Fairfax and other critics that this omission hurt the journalistic cred of the magazine and also, in some quarters, fed a perception that Gawenda had not pursued Yannon. I still regret that we did not make explicit this very important qualification.

Keep stirring, Name Withheld

CRIKEY: And we’ve also received this clarification on a point made by Imre Salusinszky, which we reported in the yarn that’s up on the site.

“Apropos of the Leunig/Gawenda matter, you reported Imre Salusinszky as writing:

“You’re probably aware that the New Statesman had to run a 2-page apology recently, after a cover-story by John Pilger called “The Kosher Conspiracy”, in which he claimed that powerful Jews in the UK media were preventing the truth coming out on various issues, including Israel. See, comments about influential Jews covertly pushing their sectarian barrows do not occur in a vacuum: they have a long (& shoddy) history.”

Having a stack of old New Statesmen to hand, I note that page 5 of the 18 Feb edition states that the claim (reported in the Herald-Sun and Courier-Mail) that the magazine was forced to apologise for the Pilger article “is wrong, and outrageously so. The apology was solely for the cover, which had nothing to do with Mr Pilger Our apology specifically stated that nothing Mr Pilger had written was anti-Semitic.”

Crikey’s history with Colin Rubenstein

Finally, I should disclose that Colin Rubenstein stitched me up back in 1996 when I was business editor of the Herald Sun. I decided to run this somewhat thin lead in the business section on a quiet day believing that it demonstrated the influence of Ron Walker and raised the question about bidders for Melbourne Airport having private dinners with the PR during the tender process. We only named the Jewish businessmen at the PM’s private dinner because our only source was a Jewish guy and that was all he knew. Rubenstein then came back through Christopher Webb’s column in The Age suggesting that we’d deliberately left out the others at the dinner, including Lachlan Murdoch. We simply didn’t know and we did not identify the participants as being Jewish. The only thing he could possibly have complained about was the reference in a separate gossip item to “special kosher food” that was served for Joseph Gutnick. This only got a run because our source was raving about this fact and claiming it was the first time this had ever happened at The Lodge. Anyway, take a read of what we wrote and what Rubenstein engineered the following day:

PM woos big money

Herald Sun, OCT 10 1996

By Stephen Mayne and Christine Lacy

SOLOMON Lew, Joseph Gutnick, John Gandel and other business leaders dined privately with Prime Minister John Howard at The Lodge on Tuesday in a meeting organised by Crown director and Federal Liberal Party Treasurer Ron Walker.

The dinner, which confirms Mr Walker’s pivotal role with the new government, was part of an ongoing program to familiarise Mr Howard with Melbourne’s richest and most powerful business leaders.

Victoria’s richest man, Richard Pratt, who is worth an estimated $1.5 billion, attended a similar dinner at The Lodge several weeks ago.

Mr Walker, who has raised more than $50 million for the Liberal Party in the past six years, yesterday confirmed he had organised and attended the private dinner.

“The Prime Minister has regular dinners with business leaders to keep in touch with trends in the economy and that is simply all it was,” said Mr Walker, who is head of the Melbourne Major Events Corporation and through Hudson Conway a bidder for Tullamarine Airport.

A spokesman from the Prime Minister’s office confirmed the function was a private dinner with business leaders who had expressed strong support for the government’s policies.

He said Mr Howard met regularly with business leaders and was aware of at least one other such dinner recently held at The Lodge.

The attendance of Melbourne shopping centre king John Gandel, who is worth an estimated $560 million, came on the same day he made an 11th hour withdrawal from the Australian Airports consortium, which left the group without a key Victorian backer.

Mr Pratt is part of a rival consortium, Victorian Airports, bidding for Melbourne Airport, as is Hudson Conway.

Mining guru Joe Gutnick, who is worth an estimated $500 million and recently became president of the Melbourne Football Club, also confirmed he had attended the dinner, his first at The Lodge. He met Mr Howard for the first time at a private meeting in Sydney two months ago.

Mr Gutnick’s attendance further confirms his arrival as part of the Melbourne business elite.

Former Coles Myer chairman Solomon Lew’s seat at the table was surprising, given his close association with former Labor prime minister Paul Keating and the retailing giant’s known donations to the ALP under Mr Lew’s stewardship.

Mr Lew, who is worth an estimated $380 million, is also a director of the Reserve Bank, but is widely expected to be replaced when his five year term expires next year.

ends

Dinner report anger

By Chris Webb, 11/10/96

A PIECE in yesterday’s Herald Sun concerning a dinner hosted by John Howard at The Lodge has been widely criticised by Melbourne’s Jewish community.

The lead article in the business section focused on the attendance at the dinner by three Jewish businessmen – Solomon Lew, Joseph Gutnick and John Gandel – but the piece neglected to mention any of the other guests by name, apart from the function’s organiser, the petrol head Ronald Walker.

The vast majority of the 20 guests were not Jewish and included Cameron O’Reilly, Donald Mercer and John Gough.

The dinners are regular affairs where everyone for five minutes gets on their soap box for the benefit of Howard and Peter Costello.

“I am appalled by the Herald Sun, which highlighted the attendance of three leading Australian Jewish businessmen, while ignoring the other 17 non-Jewish businessmen, including News’ managing director Lachlan Murdoch,” Colin Rubenstein said yesterday.

Rubenstein is the editorial chairman of the Australia Israel Review and is a commissioner of the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

Saying he was “deeply concerned”, he noted that the Herald Sun found it necessary to record that the profoundly religious Gutnick was “specially served kosher food”.

ends

If you got to the bottom of this you are a real trooper so let us know what you think of the whole debate.

Peter Fray

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