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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 comments

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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

    CARLOS:

    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?).

  10. CHRISTOPHER DUNNE

    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.