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Nov 17, 2009

Israel lobby funds another media tour. Read all about it

Sadly the SMH's Peter Hartcher joins a long line of Australian journalists and politicians taking free Zionist lobby trips to Israel and miraculously returning with glorious tales of Jewish heroism, writes Antony Loewenstein.

“Peter Hartcher is the Sydney Morning Herald’s international editor. He travelled to Israel as a guest of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.”

Hartcher’s latest piece for his paper tells a familiar tale. The UN Goldstone report on the Gaza war — in which Israel and Hamas are accused of committing war crimes — is summarily dismissed as biased, anti-Israel and pro-Hamas.

Hartcher alleges Hamas of “deliberately positioning themselves in residential areas”, yet the UN report, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch found no evidence to back these claims.

Hartcher interviews two major people in the piece — Gerald Steinberg and Isi Leibler — both very close to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Leibler recently called for “a global Jewish solidarity conference” in order to “exorcise the renegades from our midst”. In other words, the purging of Jewish dissidents.

Furthermore, Leibler said J Street, the new “pro-Israel and pro-peace” lobby group, was “reminiscent … of the Jewish communists who defended Stalin’s state-sponsored Soviet anti-Semitism in the guise of promoting bogus ‘peace’ campaigns”.

Hartcher’s article fits into a long line of Australian journalists and politicians taking free, Zionist lobby trips to Israel and miraculously returning with glorious tales of Jewish heroism, Palestinian violence and Zionist democracy. Crikey’s Margaret Simons investigated this tradition in January and revealed a number of participants on the trips failed to disclose the all-expenses paid jaunts (to its credit, the Herald acknowledged Hartcher’s free holiday.)

Hartcher’s article does not include the opinions of anybody other than those who wholeheartedly support the Jewish state and its military actions. Did he consider visiting Gaza and actually speaking to those affected by Israel’s war? He would be shocked, as I was in July, with what he saw

Crikey asked Hartcher to respond to a number of questions about his story and experiences in Israel.

“I am not a partisan in any war,” he said. “Indeed, a Crikey survey of the Australian political ‘punditocracy’ found that there was no more balanced commentator in Australia.”

Hartcher told Crikey he rejects the allegation that his article is biased. In fact, after the article was published in the paper, he added the following addendum online:

A number of comments attach great significance to the fact that, as I pointed out at the end of the column, I travelled to Israel as a guest of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Some impute a hidden agenda. Earlier this year I wrote about the United Arab Emirates after travelling there as a guest of the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

This attracted no comment. It is routine for journalists to accept paid travel. The question is not whether journalists take trips; it is whether they disclose them. Disclosure means that readers can take this into account in forming their views. This is the exact opposite of a hidden agenda.

“Every paid trip always has an inbuilt viewpoint,” he explained to me. “The journalist’s job is to take information from a trip, assess it in the usual way, and to draw on it as one input among many, as we do with every subject, every day.”

Hartcher did not explain why there are no voices from Gaza or the occupied territories.

A token inclusion of a Palestinian voice at the end does not change the fact that the article could have been written in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, such is the acceptance of official claims.

The mutually beneficial relationship in these kinds of articles is revealing. Hartcher says that he simply visited Israel, heard a variety of voices and assessed the information fairly. But this is not “balance” or “objectivity”. Being presented with only one side of the story reveals nothing other than what your hosts want you to hear.

In the Middle East, after decades of conflict, the bastardisation of language has resulted in the wilful ignoring of Israeli occupation and devastation in a war against the Gazan people. Relying on two voices, Leibler and Steinberg, both of whom back the illegal settlement project in the West Bank, seems grotesque when they whine about the “unreasonableness” of the Goldstone report.

The issue here isn’t with the Zionist lobbies that send journalists and politicians on these visits — after all, they are lobbyists for the Israeli position and need to sell their product as best they can — but the individuals who continue to spin propaganda for a state increasingly isolated in the world due to the expanding occupation in Palestine.

During the research for my book, My Israel Question, I spoke to many journalists who had taken these free trips to Israel. Some were embarrassed and others didn’t want to talk on the record about what they saw and with whom they spoke. I sensed many good journalists, in economically tough times, simply couldn’t resist a free lunch. I found that dozens of producers, editors and journalists across all media in print, TV and radio had taken these trips and yet there was little transparency upon their return.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s executive director, Colin Rubenstein, a key organiser of some of these visits, said in April that the visiting journalists and politicians are “mature people. We let them make up their own minds. They’re exposed to a whole range of viewpoints.”

Hartcher writes of concerns in Israel that the country will be tarnished as an “apartheid” state. It already is. A column in the leading, Israel paper, Maariv, said this week that, “most of the judges chose to ignore the big picture and practically helped creating judicial apartheid between Jews and Arabs”.

SBS TV’s Dateline program featured a compelling story in early November that showed fundamentalist, Jewish settlers receiving Israeli legal and military support to forcefully remove Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

This week Britain’s Channel 4 ran a feature on the influence of the lobby in British politics. It found countless Tories funded by powerful Jewish interests who expect favours in return (namely being “pro-Israel”). It also investigated the number of free trips offered to politicians and journalists by Zionist groups.

Sir Richard Dalton, a former British diplomat who served as consul-general in Jerusalem and ambassador to Iran and Libya, said: “I don’t believe, and I don’t think anybody else believes these contributions come with no strings attached.”

There is nothing illegal about this, but doesn’t the public have the right to know whether Jews with investments in West Bank colonies are backing leading politicians?

When was the last time an Australian media group investigated the role of Australia’s Zionist lobby? The Australian Jewish News this year absurdly claimed that the lobby had no influence at all but the evidence proves otherwise.

Hartcher’s column in yesterday’s Herald reveals yet another episode in the ongoing saga of minimising Israeli crimes.

Antony Loewenstein is a journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution

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19 thoughts on “Israel lobby funds another media tour. Read all about it

  1. Stephen Wong

    Hartcher failed to mention in his article that New Zealand actually abstained in the UN vote about the Goldstone report. According to a letter to the SMH from a Mr Stewart Mills, Hartcher also misrepresented Izzat Abdulhadi, the head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia. Mr Mills was told by Mr Abdulhadi that “the Palestinian delegation was disappointed with Australia’s stance on Israel and its rejection of the Goldstone report (not satisfied, as Hartcher says).”

  2. Rena Zurawel

    As long as the Goldstone report condemns both sides of the conflict – it cannot be bias. Particularly, if it does not mention the use of white phosphorus and the effects of DIME bombs on new born babies and the general civilian population of Gaza..

  3. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    Antony, God bless you for your courage.
    I personally know how difficult and dangerous it is to speak out in opposition to establishment bodies, some more dangerous than others.
    Crikey deserves acknowledgement for providing the forum for you which I like to feel is courageous to some extent on their part also.

  4. Frank Campbell

    “It is routine for journalists to accept paid travel.” Yes, Hartcher, and it stinks.

    The conga line of paid apologists to Israel is reminiscent of Soviet days. The fact that Israel has to do it suggests there’s a bad smell. Check under the Gaza rubble…

  5. Frank Birchall

    I endorse Harvey’s comments. It beats me that a prominent journalist like Hartcher (or any journalist for that matter) can report so one-sidedly without recognising that he/she is thereby devaluing their own profession and personal reputation. There is no reference to Israel’s abandonment of proportionality in their response to the rocket attacks; rather the usual acceptance of Israel’s “perpetrator as victim” propaganda.

  6. Jonathan Green

    Received the following thoughts from Peter Hartcher:


    Thanks for putting the questions to me and for giving me a chance to respond.

    I don’t intend to debate the minutiae of how I do my job.

    Please allow me to make five points:

    1. I have accepted paid travel to a number of countries over the years. I have always disclosed the fact when I have written anything as a result. It is routine for journalists to take paid travel. The question is not so much whether journalists take paid trips; it’s whether they disclose the fact. This allows readers to take this into account in forming a view.

    2. I am not a partisan in any war. Indeed, a Crikey survey of the Australian political “punditocracy” found that there was no more balanced commentator in Australia.

    3. Every paid trip always has an inbuilt viewpoint. The journalist’s job is to take information from a trip, assess it in the usual way, and to draw on it as one input among many, as we do with every subject, every day.

    4. My column today, on the Opinion page, does not purport to be an encyclopedic treatment of the history of the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians.

    It presents, as it says in its opening, a view from within Israel, with an explanation of the Australian Government’s position, and a comment from the Palestinian delegation.

    I should have thought that to be self-evident. There is no hidden agenda.

    5. You, by contrast, are a declared partisan in the conflict. You are not in any position to act as a neutral analyst or objective commentator. If you critique my piece, you should disclose your interest, as I have mine.

    If you would like to quote any of my response, I would ask that you quote it all.

    Peter Hartcher.

  7. Purkaeus

    The State of Israel was established illegally, and Western politicians continue to show their contempt for international law by upholding its imaginary right to exist. No state has a right to exist, as such; they are forced upon us, and Israel is a pretty good example of this. It’s time we grew a pair of balls and told the State formed from a Jewish settlement which we helped to create early last century, to grow up and recognize international law, but not before WE recognize it.

  8. Vincent Matthews

    Peter Hartcher’s response to Loewenstein article exposes a guilty conscience. More importantly the whole episode exposes the failure of Hartcher (and the Sydney Morning Herald) to maintain journalistic integrity. The Herald retrieved much of its reputation today by publishing a selection of letters highly critical of Hartcher. Which is more than can be said of The Australian which ran pieces by Jolly Janet A and Opinion Page Editor Rebecca Weisner (both of whom were given free trips to Israel to report what Tel Aviv wanted them to report) but limited any criticism from its outraged readers.

  9. Kevin Herbert

    I endorse Harvey Tarvydas’ comments re Antony Loewenstein & Crikey.