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Apr 15, 2011

Where are the Arab voices on the BDS coverage?

Where are Arab voices in the Australian media as part of the coverage of the NSW Greens embracing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel?


A few weeks after the start of the Iraq war in 2003, I talked to a senior editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and asked her why there were basically no Iraqi voices in the paper, either for or against the conflict. “I never thought of that”, she replied.

Eight years later, we still barely hear or see any Arabs in the Australian media.

I’ve been thinking about this recently during the created “scandal” by the Murdoch press over the NSW Greens embracing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, a grassroots Palestinian-led movement now backed by many groups globally.

There have been dozens of articles in the Australian recently calling the Greens “extremists”, implying the party is anti-Semitic, claiming BDS is akin to genocide, extensively quoting the Labor and Liberal parties (who unsurprisingly both condemn BDS) and the Zionist lobby (who again oppose it).

Today there are two more articles in the paper that only feature anti-BDS and Anglo voices and force Federal Human Services Minister Tanya Plibersek to distance herself from mildly critical comments she made against Israel many years ago.

Former Labor MP Julia Irwin was harassed and abused for simply daring to advocate Palestinian rights, as she told Crikey in 2010.

No dissent must be allowed in the Australian Parliament, uniformity of opinion is central to maintain the illusion of unqualified backing for Israel (despite public support moving in the opposite direction).

It’s comical to read today union leader Paul Howes condemn the Australian unions who support BDS as “divisive” when none of those unions are actually heard in the story.

Greens leader Bob Brown has also condemned BDS, in all likelihood because sees the issue as a risk politically, doesn’t want to take on the Zionist lobby, is not fully across the apartheid conditions suffered by Palestinians under Israeli occupation or isn’t listening to the wide section of the Australian community who have publicly backed BDS (including churches, civil society groups and major unions). Sadly, many of these people have remained publicly silent during the recent onslaught by the Murdoch press, despite being approached for comment.

The media coverage has neglected to mention the reality on the ground in Palestine, including pogroms against Arabs in the West Bank and the rise in Christian fundamentalists wanting to join the IDF and live in illegal colonies.

Palestinians or Arabs have been entirely absent from the discussion. Dissident Jews are nowhere to be found.

For example, the public advocate for Australians for Palestine, Palestinian Samah Sabawi, with a long track record of publishing related articles, has had none of her articles published. Last night’s ABC TV news reported the BDS story and ignored all Arab perspectives.

The Australian, which has led the demonization campaign against the Greens, Fairfax and most of the ABC have either pummelled the issue (in the case of the Murdoch broadsheet, while rejecting counter views) while the others are simply absent from the field. It’s a combination of gutlessness, reliance on the usual (read conservative, pro-Zionist and white) sources and continued refusal to feature the Arab voice.

Then there was yesterday’s story in The Australian and The Daily Telegraph on BDS in Sydney.

Marrickville council decided in December to back BDS and next week a report will be released outlining how the council can implement the policy. Both papers claimed residents of Marrickville would have to pay $4 million as a result of cutting ties with businesses linked to Israel. Mayor Fiona Byrne disputed the figure but this didn’t stop a long line of critics, including NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, coming out to slam the proposal.

The council is today being threatened with the sack unless it rescinds the plan.

The official council report simply provided only unrealistic and very expensive options and ignored the founding principles of BDS that any successful campaign must be strategic and achievable rather than heroic. The council must clearly take some responsibility for not better explaining and selling the BDS decision. The most expensive suggestions for boycott in the council report (such as Holden and Hewlett Packard) aren’t even a major focus of the BDS campaign.

Like a local council supporting a boycott of Burma – something pushed by Marrickville in years past – local government can continue to pursue BDS without any cost to the taxpayer. What remains vital is the original commitment to BDS and its support for non-violent resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

Want examples? Sanctions, such as refusing to meet with Israeli mayors (on the rare chance one comes to Marrickville) would cost nothing but have great moral power. Also cultural and sporting boycotts cost nothing and show solidarity with occupied Palestinians.

There are three key lessons from this story. The Murdoch press is determined to obsess over the Greens on almost every day in an attempt to paint the party as a group of disorganised, rabid loons, although internal party divisions over Middle East policy have been exposed.

How was this week’s front-page Australian story about NSW Greens Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon marching at a rally last year with Islamic cleric Taj Din al-Hilali even remotely a relevant story now? The “facts” in the article were known since the event occurred; media coverage at the time revealed all. Yesterday Rhiannon pledged to continue pushing BDS.

The Australian Jewish News also refuses to publish any dissenting opinions.

The ever-increasing line of politicians and journalists making their sponsored pilgrimage to the Zionist homeland — this week was Sydney Morning Herald international editor Peter Hartcher, “reporting” from Tel Aviv; he’s a repeat offender, as I wrote in Crikey in 2009 — furthers throws the coverage into question.

BDS is now a major topic of discussion in the Jewish community and mainstream media in mature democracies, unlike ours.

The Australian media is revealed as a parochial bunch that prefers to mostly give air-time to white men from think-tanks, academia or the press (there are some exceptions). Today the Arab world is alive with new and exciting voices and yet where are the Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan, Egyptian, Tunisian, Palestinian or Syrian voices in our press, in their own voices, not filtered through a Western reporter’s lens?

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

CORRECTION: In the original story it was stated that Paul Howes has taken Zionist funded trips to Israel. Paul Howes has never been to Israel. The story has been amended to correct the record.


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20 thoughts on “Where are the Arab voices on the BDS coverage?

  1. Gary Stowe

    A bit of background for you Anthony, then a few points.

    I don’t want my comments to be intepreted as supporting Israel’s expansionist policies. These are immoral and unsustainable.

    That said, it’s going to be hard for any of those Arab voices to find moral traction against Israel when so many of those Arab countries (and it’s a bloody long list) are holding their own citizens in oppression or routinely slaughtering them in the hundreds, occasionally the thousands, and if you look at Syria (as just one instance) then in the tens of thousands.

    As for the Greens, their position on Israel cost them my vote in the recent NSW election, and I’ve been voting for them for more than a decade. Singling out Israel is hypocritical and profoundly dumb politics.

    No boycott of China over Tibet? Of Indonesia over Irian Jaya? Or any other of the many that could be mentioned? And certainly no thought of boycotting Australian goods, or vacating the place completely, given our own continued illegal occupation of Aboriginal lands without compensation or treaty. And to get back to the Arabs you mentioned, no call for a boycott of those Arab oil-producing states currently killing their own?

    Anthony, there’s a reason the Israel boycott looks like a purblind, selective, hypocritical, feel-good, do-little attempt to drag in the wanna-be left. It is.

    Gary Stowe

  2. klewso

    “The Oz” vs “The Greens” – isn’t that because “Rupert” doesn’t have a controlling interest in the way they vote (either “owning” or “scaring”) “in his interest”, and up until a couple of months ago, they didn’t have “this” power, they have “as of July”?

  3. Carlos

    Opposition to the BDS is not some dark conspiracy at work as Lowenstien would have us believe but rather a case of residents and businesses in a politically informed community on mass rejecting a divisive and nasty policy, that offers nothing to those it purports to help and costs those (us locals) who were deliberately left out of the decision making process of its implementation.
    Is it any wonder the Australian is having a field day with this, Mayor Fiona Byrne has made herself and her fellow Marrickville Greens appear as quite likely, challenged only by Pauline Hanson as the biggest fools in Australian politics.

  4. Sophie Black

    CORRECTION: In the original story it was stated that Paul Howes has taken Zionist funded trips to Israel. Paul Howes has never been to Israel. The story has been amended to correct the record.

  5. Carlos

    What factual errors in a Lowenstien piece, how surprising…

  6. tinman_au

    “divisive and nasty policy” is one where you invade a country illegally because “you” (as a country) think it’s the “right” thing to do (even though it’s really about oil).

    Refusing to do business with a country that’s acting illegally (both under international and even their own laws) is actually a pretty mature response IMHO…

  7. Tom McLoughlin

    It’s obvious the apologists for the predatory settler movement have no real idea what a vile criminal Yigal Amir is, having murdered peacemaker prime minister Rabin in 1995, and that he remains the poster boy for the ‘settler’ theocrats right now, today.

    It’s also pretty obvious that the local diaspora worthies have never publicly condemned Yigal Amir and his barrackers in the current Isr*ali Govt.

    How foolish will the Greens look when these vile characters behind Yigal Amir get hold of that arsenal of 100-200 nuke weapons? You think that kind of corrupt power will stop at Palestine? Not on current form.

    My prediction – They will never stop until some one stops them, and that work started yesterday.

    BOF and the barrackers for the predatory settlers are the real fools, guaranteed.

  8. Kevin Herbert


    Believe you me opposition to the BDS is a dark conspiracy…a very dark and menacing conspiracy…. ablot on Australian society & its core values.

    And for the record, The Australian is not having a field day with this story. Simply put, it’s doing as directed personally by one K. R. Murdoch….and at the same time, throwing out all fundamental journalistic standards & ethics.

    The ‘dark conspiracy’ of far right wing Zionism in Australia will not win.

    Clearly, the hysterical overreaction by the Australian, and ‘commentators’ such as yourself, shows this to be patently true.

    You’re losing the battle for the hearts & minds of Aussies and you don’t like it.

    Look forward to seeing you at the next Marrickville Council meeting.

  9. Dr_Tad

    A great article by Antony. The most disturbing thing is not the media attack but O’Farrell threatening to sack a democratically elected Council. This is a major attack on democratic rights in this country. Very worrying indeed, and Bob Brown, tied up in his factional attack on the Left in his party, seems silent on this — thereby becoming complicit in the whole tawdry affair (or can someone correct me on that?).


    Freedom of speech, what here? Not when the media so unthinkingly abides the unspoken rule that any criticism of Israeli policy is just one goose step away from antisemitism, or worse.

    Thanks Antony for reminding us that adult discussion can still exist on this subject…once we get past the intimidation.

  11. SoAnyway

    Tell Antony he’s dreamin’

    Doesn’t Crikey have editors to check his ‘facts’?

  12. Jin

    Does anyone have a legal opinion on whether BoF can sack a Council without reason except his sycophantic allegiance to a foreign apartheid entity? Should one now call him King BoF of the Orient?

  13. Mike R

    A large part of Loewensteins’s article above concerns media bias regarding the Middle-East. Unlike Antony, I find it hardly surprising that a media outlet such as the Jewish News is partisan with regards to the Middle-East. This is not that astounding, as I suspect a survey would show that the majority of Jews in Australia support Israel and it is the usual practice for media organizations to tailor their material to suit their constituencies. Similarly it also clear that the editors of Crikey have the view that anti-Zionist rhetoric appeals to a majority of its readership and correspondingly provides articles that would appeal to that audience. It makes commercial sense to do this.

    Antony Loewstein appears to be the standard flag bearer for anti-Israeli agitprop but other Crikey commentators routinely line up to take their turns. Bernard Keane come to memory ( amongst others) and even the ever prolific and erudite Guy Rundle gets a guernsey. To give Crikey credit where it is due, I have (very) occasionally seen viewpoints presented in opposition to the mainstream that have got through to the keeper ( similar to Philip Adam’s columns in the Oz or Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian) but usually commentary critical of the Middle-East party line is restricted to the comments sections and occasional follow-ups.

    If we restrict ourselves to conventional media (Western) , there is, as numerous people have pointed out, strong support for Israel from the right wing Murdoch press and TV news. This is a cross (which is an appropriate reference in this context and at this time of the year) to bear for those supporters of Israel who have a liberal political disposition and who are in general opposed to most of the agendas of these organizations .

    There is a similar challenge for many of those who claim to have left wing credentials and, as part of the associated dogma, pillory the Jewish state for its shortcomings. The left’s cross has to be born and dragged around to the numerous stations of the cross, not along the ‘Via Delorosa ‘but via the Internet, that are manned by an ‘interesting’ assortment of fellow travellers. At these stations of the cross, sustenance can be obtained from an assortment of fellow anti-Zionist travellers of the extreme right (a good selection can be found using Google with following search terms ’Illuminati’ ,’ Lyndon La-Rouche’, ‘ZOG’ , ‘9/11 conspiracies’). Here support for anti-Zionism rhetoric contains material reminiscent of the good old boys KKK type of racism. The best that can be said of them are that they are at least consistent in that they are equal opportunity haters of Blacks, Jews, gays etc..

    If the flavour of these sites (full bodied with the pungency of undiluted anti-Semitism) are too crude for one’s taste then you can veer left and drag the cross, to the middle of the road (milder for those with more discerning tastes ) and finally to regions of the left (here the residual odour can be so subliminal that the aromas are only detectable by the truly discerning). If you can continue, without dropping the cross, you can again be revived by the full bodied flavour from other stations manned by the extreme left. You have now come 360 degrees and have met up with the extreme right again without having reached your destination.

    Another problem you may encounter on your journey, is the difficulty in distinguishing the differences between the two extremes because of their abilities to appropriate or swap each others mythologies (with some suitable audience related modifications) . Just replace the word ‘Jew’ with ‘Zionist’ or vice-versa and you can easily cross the boundaries between the two.

    I hope any readers of these comments, particularly those who find them to be offensive, appreciate how difficult it is to type when one’s tongue is embedded in one’s cheek.

    An example (actually an exemplar) that illustrates the cross-transference of ideas between extremes and, interestingly enough referred to by Loewenstein in his article, was the Julie Irwin farewell debate, which in part, concerned the paid visits to Israel by Australian politicians . As a preface, the traditional right wing conspiracy model is that Jews control the decadent western world through their political influence/control as well as by control of the media and the international financial systems. The lobbying of politicians by Jews are just one part of this conspiracy.

    The local left wing has its own version which involves the assertion that the Zionist lobby is subverting Australia’s political system. In fact, I do share those worries about the Zionist influence upon our politicians and journalists due to paid trips to Israel. A true democracy should insist that politicians and journalists should try and obtain a balanced view of the Middle East by visiting counties on both sides of the Mid-East conflict, not only Israel. There are surely many funding sources that could be tapped to counterbalance the ledger. We all know pollies love their junkets to justify travel to different countries by reporting on how their political systems work. Any of the oil rich Gulf States, the Saudis, Kuwait etc. could provide an all expenses paid trip for the entire Canberra political establishment to all the mid-east parliamentary democracies for about 5 minutes worth of their oil income.

    If funding from Saudi, Kuwaiti , Qatari, Iranian oil money cannot be obtained then there a range of other sources that could be tapped. For instance, as noted above, there is an overlap in views regarding Zionism with those of the far right of the racist spectrum. From the prolific number of blogs of this nature on the Internet they probably have sufficient time (and maybe money?) to join your campaign. A quick Google search using the terms ‘World Zionist Government’ will provide easy access. You will find such gems as http://www.theforbiddenknowledge.com/…/zionisms_master_plan.htm and http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/przion1.htm. You could also try and obtain funding from the Larouche-ites (disregard other aspects of the lunatic conspiracy theories about the British Royal Family) as they seem to be able to publish widely. I don’t know why I have to do all the legwork for you guys.

    Once you have achieved the appropriate level of funding then you can then consider an itinerary.

    A possible itinerary could be as follows, but please check the DFAT web site for possible travel warnings. A good start would be a visit to Iran to have tea with Mr Ahmadinejad. Make sure no-one in the party wears green as this tends to upset Mr Ahmadinejad’s democratic sensibilities. Those feminists in the touring party could have an interesting discussion about the stoning of adulterous women (I see that the accused adulteress has, due to the humanitarian generosity of the Iranian government, had her stoning commuted to death by hanging). This could be followed up by a visit to Saudia Arabia to see the democratic process in full swing and then a visit to Lebanon to meet the government (don’t mention the word Harriri). You could also have discussions with the Lebanese government as to why the majority of Palestinians in Lebanon are cynically refused citizenship along with most basic human rights (limitations on the right to work and the right to own property are two glaring examples, see- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Lebanon). You could then take a day trip to southern Lebanon courtesy of Syrian/Iranian proxy Hezbollah and spend some time in the caves and the hills overlooking Israel’s northern borders. The politicians could then be able to appreciate if Israel has any legitimate concerns about its security. Other thriving democracies that could be included in the visit are Jordan and Syria. You should also take a visit to Egypt and Libya where hopefully the democratic revolutions are not subverted by the usual suspects, as happened in Iran. I don’t recommend Afghanistan and Iraq as it may be too dangerous. A visit to Gaza by boat (choose the El-Arish option as there is a miniscule chance that the Egyptians would let you in) to see a vibrant democracy in action. You could have discussions with the democratically elected government of Gaza about the current location of the loyal opposition.

    One wonders why the Arab world is not interested in providing funds for such a trip. Surely these devotees of democracy are worried about upsetting Australia’s democratic system? They are not averse to the idea in the U.S. see- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_lobby_in_the_United_States.

    In addition, I think, if the perfidious Zionists are so clever as people claim, they could provide financial support to send politicians on the above trip as well as to Israel, so that they can truly get a current dose of Middle-Eastern reality.

    The point I am trying to make is (despite the facetiousness of the above) is that sometimes the case for each lobby group has more or less merit which can outweigh the respective efforts of the lobbyists. Israel’s deficiencies as a democratic state are well documented in the annals of Crikey and elsewhere. I am not a supporter of the chauvinist policies of the current government of Israel. However it is possible to have a change of government In Israel and obtain a government of a different hue by the ballot box, which is a rarity in the M-E let alone elsewhere. The Arab citizens of Israel also get to vote and elect representatives to parliament (14 currently). This is in stark contrast with the rest of the Middle-East (hopefully this will change with recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and maybe Libya).

    All these contrasts between Israel and its neighbours make the case compelling for Israel to send politicians to the Middle-East to have a close up look at reality. For the same reason, sponsorship by anti-Zionist lobby groups of a similar trip is perhaps less appealing as a closer look may reveal facts, despite the usual presence of government minders in most of these countries, that are counterproductive to their cause.

    Finally returning to the media, not only is there a vast number of web sites and blogs devoted to anti-Zionism but this number is matched the fanaticism displayed by their authors . Many are almost entirely dedicated to providing an up to the minute compendium of a vast array of ant-Zionist material (Antony- put up your hand again.) The professionalism as well as the fanaticism to the cause is impressive. Maybe they have too much time on their hands.

    A Lowenstinian style rant, which I think we are now familiar with, is polarizing. It appears to have as its main aim the provision of a plethora of material that reinforce the prejudices of the converted, while simultaneously antagonizing the opposition. Unfortunately it is all too often successful in both its aims.

    The last thing required in the Middle-East is more of the polarization that sustains the rejectionist and siege mentalities of both sides.

    Many pundits are predicting the demise of the old media and maybe the end of dinosaurs like Murdoch’s Fox media. I for one will not particularly miss it. The Internet is vastly more interesting and you can find material that can challenge your beliefs (or confirm them if that is your want).

    Apologies for the rant but one good rant deserves another.

  14. Philip Mendes

    There are a number of fictional elements in Loewenstein’s argument. His claim that the Jewish News refuses to publish dissenting opinions is nonsense. I can show him hundreds of examples of dissenting letters and articles from just the last two years. To be sure, the paper may refuse to publish material that reflects – in Ilan Pappe’s beautiful words – the views of a Jewish Lord Haw Haw. I also doubt that the National Indigenous Times would publish the views of Indigenous Australians who completely oppose land rights, or that a feminist journal would publish the views of women who totally oppose abortion. Historically oppressed peoples or groups tend to be sensitive about Uncle Toms in their midst.

    But what I find most offensive about his piece is this binary construct of white Zionist/Israeli and black Arab/Palestinian. Does he not know that more than half the Israeli Jewish population are Jews or their descendants who arrived in Israel – mainly as refugees – from Arab countries? Is he also not familiar with the significant number of Black Falasha Jews in Israel who arrived from Ethiopia? For example, my own maternal grandfather was born in Safed in the early 20th century, and his family had arrived there from Iraq more than 200 years earlier. This type of family tree is not uncommon for many Jews in both Israel and Australia.
    Philip Mendes

  15. Kevin Herbert

    MIKE R: all that copy…and nothing to say.

    Phillip Mendes: following your statement “Is he also not familiar with the significant number of Black Falasha Jews in Israel who arrived from Ethiopia? “, please inform us how many Black Falasha Jews there are in Israel.

  16. Philip Mendes

    Kevin: I’m sure you can easily answer that question yourself on the internet. Good luck with your search.

    However, if you would like more detailed information on the number of Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab and North African countries including the specific incidences of government-sponsored and popular discrimination and violence in each country (e.g. the 1941 farhud/program in Iraq), I’m happy to refer you to some URLs of my earlier articles. Let me know if you have trouble finding them.

    Maybe crikey.com would also like something published on the forgotten Jewish refugees who had mostly lived in the Middle East for just as long (and in some cases longer than) their Palestinian cousins.



  17. Mike R

    Kev, I am surprised that you have nothing to say. I was waiting with trepidation for your usual insightful analysis and careful critique of my arguments.

    As for the number of Falasha Jews it appears that there are about 120,000 currently residing in Israel. It did not take more than two mouse clicks for me to obtain this information. Just type ‘Falashas’ into Google and click on the first entry.

  18. Carlos

    Kevin Herbert
    It was most satisfying to see that the aggressive rent a crowd assembled for Tuesdays council meeting fail in their attempt to bully and threaten a last minute result for the BDS. From my perspective on the night the presence of the hostile ranting crowd had the complete opposite effect to which was obviously intended. Im sure Max Phillips and Peter Olive must have been wondering how on earth they ever ended up being affiliated with such a clueless mob.
    You can believe what ever you want, but your absurd accusations only highlight the negative pointless and hateful nature of the BDS.

  19. Kevin Herbert

    CARLOS; just in case you haven’t yet realised, the agreed statement put by Mayor Fiona Byrne is virtually the same as the BDS aims….so that measn you’ve been outflanked by the ‘cluless mob’.

    Therefore, I must thank the usual hystercial Zionist Crikey posters for their part in publicising the BDS, along with my thanks to News Ltd and in particular The Australian.

    What could’ve been a relatively low prominence gesture by Marrickville Council, , was made by you & the far right Zionist bigots into front page news around Oz…with a resulting increase in Aussie support for the PLO, Hamas & the BDS.

    Who’s advising you guys? that master of policy bufoonery, Benny N?

    Also, I understand that a leat 5 other councils in Vic & WA are considering their proposals to support the BDS….please keep up your assistance to the BDS, as it’s most appreciated.

  20. Mike R

    Hi Kevin,

    You have an interesting definition of success. If your definition of success includes Fiona Byre losing out at the NSW election and Bow Brown disowning the BDS, then it was indeed an outstanding success.

    As for the passing of a supporting motion, I am surprised that the Israeli government did not convene an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss Marrickville Council’s stance on the matter. But you are right that the whole discussion seems to have galvanised debate in Australia. The water cooler discussions at my workplace have been dominated by the debate to the exclusion of all else. No-one talks about football or the weekends’ activities. It is just BDS and more BDS.

    The whole silly saga of local councillors, whose desire for significance knows no bounds, is ripe for humour. My own pathetic attempt pales into insignificance when compared to the following-



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