Bren Carlill, analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, writes: Re. “Re. “Our “passionately pro Israel” PM throws compassion out the window” (13 March, item 10).” In Thursday’s Crikey, Antony Loewenstein slammed Wednesday’s bipartisan Parliamentary motion celebrating 60 years of Israeli independence. Allow me to retort. He opened with a statistic; 50% of Israelis wouldn’t want to live in the same building as an Arab. Such a statistic is worrying, though perhaps partially explained (but not justified) by the parallel statistic that 70-80% of Palestinian children aspire to be suicide bombers, that Israeli Arab politicians (yes – Israeli Arabs have the same civil rights as Israeli Jews) have cheered on terrorist organisations, and actively resist attempts to better integrate Arabs into Israeli society so as not to “Israelise” Arab youth. Loewenstein decried Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s “absence” of compassion for Palestinians. I can’t claim to speak for Mr. Rudd, but I’m sure the man has gone on record saying he wants Palestinians to be secure, safe, democratic, prosperous and independent. I heartily agree, which is probably why in tomorrow’s Crikey, Loewenstein will probably likewise curse my lack of compassion. Apart from wild allegations about yet another supposed Jewish conspiracy solely designed to harm him, the main thing in Loewenstein’s spray needing a response is something he’s been tossing round in recent days – that a majority of Israelis would be willing to negotiate with Hamas. Loewenstein is making the leap that since some Israelis are willing to talk to Hamas, therefore “the democratically-elected Hamas” must be alright. I quote from his letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 March: “[Robert Goot and David Knoll] portray the Palestinians as bloodthirsty terrorists out to obliterate all Jews. Many Israelis do not agree, a majority recently telling a Haaretz-sponsored poll that they believed in talks between Hamas and the Israeli government.” He’s right in one thing; Israelis don’t believe all Palestinians are bloodthirsty terrorists, but they do believe Hamas-niks are. But that doesn’t stop Israelis being willing to negotiate with Hamas if it would bring about a true ceasefire. The problem is, during its last “ceasefire,” Hamas never truly ceased firing. It spent the time passing on rockets and assistance to groups like Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, who never stopped indiscriminately shelling Israeli towns. If Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, stops rockets being fired into Israel, Israel would immediately stop attacking Hamas positions. If Hamas were to recognise Israel’s existence (as per international demands), Israel would begin trading with Gaza again. After all, Syria doesn’t recognise Israel’s existence, and Israel doesn’t trade with it, either. Ultimately, Loewenstein’s true position wasn’t revealed in Crikey or the SMH, but in an ad on page 7 of Wednesday’s Australian. The ad made clear by focusing on 1948, not 1967, that its backers — including Loewenstein — don’t think Israel is wrong because of the occupation, or settlements or its choices in defending itself against Palestinian violence, but rather because of its existence. Charming.

James Harper writes: Les Heimann’s response (Friday, comments) to Antony Loewenstein’s piece has all the hallmarks of the Zionist lobby. While he makes it abundantly clear that he regards Loewenstein as at worst a liar and at best a misrepresenter of the facts, he at no time tries to clarify which part of Antony’s piece is incorrect or how. This is an age old tactic of smearing the man rather than challenging the facts. Keep up the good work Antony. I have long given up hope of any facts from the pro Israel side of the fence.

Duncan Beard writes: Les Heimann writes that Anthony Lowenstein “has [the] right in the privacy of his own home to believe what he likes”. Bullsh-t. Loewenstein can believe – in public – whatever the hell he likes, whether you or I like it or not. Public criticism of the occupation of Palestine is not illegal, nor is it “misrepresentation” or “squirting fantasies”, as you seem to think. We’re not a police state yet, mate.

Frank Birchall writes: Les Heimann’s piece is long on attacking Antony Loewenstein, ad hominem, but extremely short on argument and evidence. According to Les, what Antony said in Crikey is “misrepresentation” and “fantasy”, but Les conveniently omits to specify just what these “fantasies” etc. consist of. Don’t keep us in suspense, Les, let’s have some facts in rebuttal instead of a cheap personal shot.

The Haneef inquiry:

Kerry Lewis writes: Re. “Haneef inquiry can get to the bottom of Andrews’ visa ruling” (Friday, item 9). The pieces by Greg Barnes on the “handling” of the Haneef case, as set out, give the impression more of a political stunt by a minister or two (if not the whole government) with something to prove, aided and abetted by an AFP more intent on protecting political patronage, influence, profile and, thus, funding, than serving justice. As for the grounds of that Ms Payne granting bail, it sounds like their whole case rested on a SIM card given to his cousin 12 months previous to the incident, that they acknowledged he had no connection with an organised terrorist group and that there was no evidence put forward linking that SIM card with any terrorist act. Of interest though is this: “There is no evidence or submission that the SIM card was used or associated with any terrorist attack or activity other than being in a vehicle that was used in a terrorist attack.” Wasn’t it established that that card was 300 km’s away at the time. It’s to be hoped that this enquiry, does “enquire”, that it isn’t used as window dressing, while keeping the AFP on side by not going in “too deep”. If any good does come of it, it will be the illustration of the danger of a Public Service serving a particular party before service of the public and country – that those responsible for what happened will be named and treated accordingly. Anything less could leave McClelland with a reputation no better than Kevin Andrews.

Barry Welch writes: The biggest belly laugh has been provided by George Brandis claiming the inquiry is a stunt and that it is not usual for governments to set up inquiries into the activities of previous governments. Carmen Lawrence and Royal Commission-did I imagine that?

The baby bonus:

Peter Saunders, social research director at the Centre for Independent Studies, writes: Re. “Time for a baby bonus rebirthing” (Friday, item 6). Attacking the baby bonus without asking what family policy should be aiming to achieve is meaningless. Criticising the baby bonus without analysing any of the other payments and services available to families is just simplistic. The baby bonus is one element in a maze of family subsidies, and we need a thorough review of the whole lot – Family Tax Benefit, part A, Family Tax Benefit, part B, Child Care Benefit, Child Care Rebate, Baby Bonus, parental leave, the whole shebang. Never mind the trees, let’s look at the wood. Should families with children have more disposable income than those without? If ‘yes’, the next question is whether it’s better to give them hand-outs or reduce their tax. Then we should ask whether financial help should be tied to particular kinds of behaviour (mum must go out to work to get child care subsidies; mum must stay home to get FTB part B), or whether families should be left to decide for themselves how to spend their money. When we work through these questions, we might conclude that one of the least-bad ways of helping families is to offer untied, non-means-tested payments (or tax credits) which they can spend as they see fit. That’s the baby bonus. Let’s have a serious review of family policy, rather than sounding off in a populist fashion about seemingly easy targets.

Organ donation:

Mitchell Lawlor writes: Re. “Government considers organ donation, 11 people die” (Friday, item 14). Tim Richards has joined the occasional chorus that advocates for an opt-out system of organ donation. While the simple premise of the argument is intuitively appealing, the reality is that the policy is likely to reduce donation rates. Organ donation critically relies on the trust of the community. An opt-out system can only increase donors by finding donors in individuals where a family member may previously have objected to donation. This means the creation of a group of people who may feel disempowered and angry about the circumstances surrounding a loved one’s death. From a purely practical perspective this would be fuel for a media fire surrounding organ donation and may erode trust and therefore increase reluctance to consider donation. My research has shown that by encouraging individuals to indicate their preferences about donation, more individuals have indicated they don’t want to donate that those who have indicated they do want to donate. We certainly do not want any policy that will exacerbate this phenomenon.

Charles Gillam writes: Why stop at opt out? Why give a person any choice to control the body from beyond the grave? Sure, don’t want to offend religious principles. Is a religious principle that results in death a good one?

McDonalds in hospitals:

Carol Nichols writes: Re. “Children’s Hospital: do you really want fries with that?” (Friday, item 15). You’re right Melissa (anti-Sweets) Sweet, McDonalds food isn’t the best nutrition available for children. However, when kids are sick and in hospital it’s often the only treat that will help them cheer up. It’s also the only treat available for the often-neglected siblings who are forced to spend hours (if not days) at bedsides. Thankfully, many of these families can reside at nearby Ronald McDonald House when their children are spending days, weeks, months and years at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Many of these families are from rural and interstate areas and have no other option if they want to be near their sick and dying children. Many other families benefit from McDonalds in other ways too. So lighten up! Get off your high horse and spend some time with the people this actually affects.


Matt Hardin writes: Peter Clarke and John Seip (13 March, comments) seem to believe that scientists and engineers make things up so that they can have some problem to solve and money to make. I can assure you that there is more than enough to be getting on with without fixing climate change or (in the past) the Y2K issue. The Y2K issue was a classic case of engineers and scientists identifying and solving a problem and yet the ignorant and greedy, holding the world to their own standards, give not praise but opprobrium. Had the world’s computer systems collapsed on Jan 1 2000 then I imagine the same people would have been asking “why didn’t you do something?” Anthropomorphic climate change appears to be real, constitutes a catastrophic threat if real and requires urgent action but will the scientists and engineers who identify and ultimately (hopefully) prevent this catastrophe be thanked? We can only hope.

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Peter Fray

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