This weekend, John Howard will be honoured at a gala dinner of the Jewish National Fund for his “genuine commitment and friendship toward the Jewish community”. A forest in Israel’s Negev Desert will be named after him. None of this troubles me. Howard deserves to be congratulated. What does trouble me is that he will share the podium with the hawkish chief guest at the dinner, American-Lebanese journalist Brigitte Gabriel, former newsreader for a televangelist TV channel and author of BECAUSE THEY HATE: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America. The book’s cover reflects Gabriel’s main thesis — that “Islamic religious authorities … repeatedly state that they will destroy the United States”. The JNF’s official biography describes Gabriel as an innocent victim of the Lebanese civil war … “pitting the combined forces of militant Muslims and Palestinians against the Christian Lebanese”.  Gabriel’s Lebanese upbringing is described as the “Arabic society, culture, and media [that] taught her that Israel and Jews were the devil”. So, the entire Lebanese civil war was little more than Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims attacking Christians. I doubt too many people from any of Lebanon’s 18 religious sects would agree with such a simplistic explanation. The JNF biography describes how a “barrage of Muslim rockets exploded in her house, leaving her wounded and buried under the rubble”. I wasn’t aware that rockets actually had any religion. Another biography of Gabriel is more telling. It describes the Lebanese civil war as “Lebanon … under Islamic attack”. Gabriel expressed her views in an article penned for Frontpagemag.com. She dismissed the diversity of the Muslim world as “a canvas of hate decorated by different nationalities who share one common ideology of hate, bigotry and intolerance derived from one source: authentic Islam … They slither and they hiss, and they would eat each other alive, but they will unite in a hideous mass to achieve their common goal of imposing Islam on the world.” For more on Gabriel, read here. Are these the types of views Howard wishes to be seen potentially endorsing on the eve of an election? Can Howard afford to share the podium with a far-right commentator with a track record of promoting conspiratorial religious hatred? Perhaps Howard’s office wasn’t aware Gabriel was the guest-speaker. They know now. Perhaps an even more vexing issue is again that of ministerial discretion. The minister has residual discretion to refuse a visa to someone on general grounds which Kevin Andrews has described here in the following terms:

It’s unrelated to religion, it’s related to whether there is a risk to our national security, whether there is a risk to vilification of segments of the Australian community, inciting discord, these are the sorts of criteria which are looked at under these provisions …

What was Andrews or his predecessor thinking when granting a visa to someone who promotes hatred toward substantial sections of the Australian community? Does it mean I can get a visa even if I promote hatred toward certain kinds of Lebanese and all kinds of Muslims?

Peter Fray

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