Editor of the print edition of The Australian Financial Review Aaron Patrick has written a behind-the-scenes account of the now-infamous junket organised by the Israeli lobby this month, complete with holiday snaps:
“The trips have attained almost legendary status in media circles,” he writes:
“On my trip, last week, there were seven journalists and one academic. We flew business class and graced the VIP lane at Ben Gurion Airport. We had an armed driver and a full-time guide. Experts were paid to brief us. We joked with the deputy prime minister. We had dinner at the Australian ambassador’s house. The trimmer of us swam in the Dead Sea. On the final day — I suspect the most exciting was saved till last — we flew in three light aircraft from Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights, a trip that took 45 minutes. The pilot let the deputy editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Ben English, use the controls for a bit.”
The Israel-Palestine conflict, Patrick continues, is “one of the greatest battles for global public opinion in history”. He willingly acknowledges the trip is part of this agenda, though, he says, “the two representatives of our sponsors who travelled with us didn’t proselytise”.
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“The sole purpose of the trip is to equip people with the reality of the Middle East and the reality of the Israeli situation, which is often misunderstood, but also the situation of the Palestinians,” he quotes Colin Rubenstein, the Melbourne-based executive director of the Australian/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), as saying. “Given our mandate, we want participants to understand and hopefully empathise with Israel’s situation.”
There’s no doubt there’s a war for public opinion going on, but like the Israel-Palestine conflict itself, it is a highly uneven one. The Palestinians do not organise business-class junkets for Australian journalists and others from around the world to see things from their point of view. They do not have the resources to do so, and if they did, those on Palestinian junkets would likely face all manner of hurdles of movement and other obstacles that those who are accompanied by Israeli officials do not. What journalists would see if they went on such a junket would likely be very, very different to what the Israelis would show them.
This morning, Australian journalist Jennine Khalik posted a number of tweets about her own recent visit to Palestine, conducted, she wrote, on “no state dime”. Her experiences included “harassment at checkpoints, guns pointed at us, being held up at the border for 9 hours because of my last name, night raids in the West Bank”.
Patrick disclosed the junket at the bottom of his piece, making him the only Australian journalist who has written on it to do so so far (though his first piece carried no disclosure). But regardless of whether or not the trip is disclosed, the fact remains: once a year, the AIJAC and the NSW Board of Jewish Deputies takes a number of Australian journalists, most of whom rarely or never report on this type of thing, to one of the world’s most divided countries, selectively picking what they see, and showing them a good time. And every year, the Australian media plays into this.