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Sep 18, 2017


Immigration Minister Peter Dutton appears to treat the idea of judicial independence as an inconvenience. He routinely overturns decisions of courts, including most recently the High Court, when they review unfavourably decisions made by him or his Department of Immigration and Border Protection. So while Palestinian-born Krystal Trikilis is no doubt celebrating the fact that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has overturned a decision by an official of the Immigration Department not to grant a visa to her 30-year-old Palestinian husband and father of their 2-year-old daughter, sadly this is not the end of the matter. This is despite the fact that the refusal to issue a partner’s visa in this case was done primarily on the basis of what is essentially a kangaroo court — the Israeli military court system.

The decision in Trikilis’ case by Deputy President James Constance was handed down on September 6. Trikilis’ husband, known in the decision as Mr Khalil, was refused a partner’s visa because the Immigration Department was of the view he did not pass the character test in the Migration Act. That test allows the department or the minister to refuse a visa if a person has acquired a substantial criminal record in any country.

What makes the Immigration Department’s original decision to refuse him a partner’s visa so problematic was that it did not rely on a civilian court finding against Mr Khalil but an Israeli military court decision of 2006. In Boxing Day of that year Mr Khalil “was convicted by the Military Court of Shomron of the offences of being a member of a hostile organisation and conspiracy to cause intentional death. The alleged conduct of which Mr Khalil was found guilty occurred when he was 19 years old,” the AAT decision noted. Mr Khalil was released after two years’ imprisonment. His explanation of the alleged offence was that he was at a friend’s wedding when, as is traditional, celebratory fireworks were let off. Israeli soldiers, thinking there was something sinister afoot, arrested Mr Khalil He denied any knowledge of leaks to terrorism or to being party to a “conspiracy of an attempted murder of an Israeli civilian”. Mr Khalil pleaded guilty under duress — he was subjected to torture. He was told by Israeli military officials if he did not plead guilty he would receive a term of imprisonment of eight years. The punishment he endured in his 34 months in prison was characterised by poor hygiene, starvation, humiliation and a refusal by prison officials to provide him with reading glasses.

[How Dutton is slowly undermining the rule of law in Australia]

One would have thought that even the most junior official in Dutton’s department would have seen the conviction of Mr Khalil as being, shall we say, unsafe. Constance certainly understood it as such and in his judgment he observed: “On the basis of the unchallenged evidence of Mr Khalil I am satisfied that he did not engage in improper conduct such as that alleged in the Israeli Military Court.”

And as to the Israeli Military Court system Constance said, even on the material provided to him by Dutton’s department, “there are widely held concerns as to the fairness of the procedures in the Military Courts. Further there were reports which provide some corroboration of his evidence as to the manner in which [Mr Khalil] was treated while in custody and of the circumstances leading up to his agreeing to the plea bargain put to the Judge.” It should be noted Constance was critical of Mr Khalil not revealing the military court conviction when he made his visa application.

[Peter Dutton cancels visa a third time, undermines the High Court in under an hour]

The AAT’s characterisation of the Israeli military court system as being deeply flawed when it is judged against principles of justice and fairness is not particularly controversial. Meredith McBride, writing in Haaretz on March 28 this year, noted that the “UN has repeatedly stated that the court acts in violation of international law. Military courts often lack the impartiality of civilian trials as the judge, prosecutor and translators are all members of the armed forces, rather than independent professionals hired by the state.” McBride is a journalist and now a law student at Fordham University in New York.

The conviction rate in Israeli military courts is almost 100%. On July 9 this year Human Rights Watch researcher Khulood Badawi wrote: “Military trials held by the Israeli army — a defining feature of the 50-year occupation — have a near 100-percent conviction rate and fall well short of any standards of justice.”

If Dutton, who has enormous powers under the Migration Act to override court decisions by simply finding a new basis for refusing a visa or for cancelling a visa, overturns the decision in Mr Khalil’s case then this will send a signal that the Turnbull government supports the notorious Israeli military justice system or that pressure from Israeli supporters and the Israeli government has been brought to bear on Dutton.


Sep 4, 2017


Throughout all the trials and travails of section 44 of the constitution, tales of phantom New Zealanders — and the possibility that the entire Parliament is invalid — one issue has remained undiscussed and unexamined: whether any potential of breach arises for a number of MPs due to Israel’s “right of return”, which is offered to Jewish-descended people and their spouses. The reason? Politics. The argument? That the right to apply for citizenship does not constitute “the rights or privileges” of citizenship itself.

But that discussion may have to be had if the case of Labor MP Katy Gallagher becomes the subject of a High Court referral. Gallagher has the right to apply for Ecuadorian citizenship, under that country’s 2008 revised constitution. Some of the ever-growing number of citizenship experts say that the “right to apply” does not meet the section 44 standard. However, Mary Crock, professor of public law at Sydney Uni, told The Daily Telegraph, of Gallagher’s case:

“Section 44 … covers both people with a present entitlement, who are currently citizens, but also people who could be entitled to citizenship if they applied,” she said.

“The others (MPs) are being referred and … this has to be referred to the High Court.”

It seems highly possible that this expanded conception would apply to the “right to return” as well. Section 44 is, as we have come to realise, pretty wide-ranging: 

44. Any person who –

(i.) Is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

The key question here is the phrase referring to “rights and privileges of a subject or citizen …”, which suggests that you don’t actually have to be a citizen, you just simply enjoy some of the privileges that would accrue to them.

Now, the “law of return” as promulgated in Israel in 1950, two years after the country’s founding, is pretty unequivocal:

Right of aliyah** 1. Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh.**
Oleh’s visa 2. (a) Aliyah shall be by oleh’s visa.
(b) An oleh’s visa shall be granted to every Jew who has expressed his desire to settle in Israel,
An oleh is defined thus:
**Aliyah means immigration of Jews, and oleh (plural: olim) means a Jew immigrating to Israel.

The law was widened a couple of times, from the traditional definition of someone Jewish — born of a Jewish mother — to include converts, those with at least one Jewish grandparent, and male or female and spouses. Once in Israel on an oleh visa, a full citizenship process is undertaken. People can be knocked back — even if they’re deemed to be Jewish — but they effectively have to be deemed an enemy of the state.

[Poll Bludger: section 44 is a sticky wicket in need of reform]

Now, in its extended form, this is the sort of automatic right that the High Court judgment Sykes v Cleary identified as a problem with 44 — that some forms of citizenship were inalienable, no matter how much you tried to renounce them. Sykes v Cleary concluded that all you had to do was take “reasonable steps” to renounce them; whether the nation in question accepted the renunciation was irrelevant.

Many Western Jews have renounced their “right of return” to a country they consider occupied territory, with a group of UK Jews doing so in, where else, The Guardian. In Australia, Eva Cox and Antony Loewenstein have both publicly renounced their right. So the obvious thing for eligible Australian MPs to do would be to make a similar renunciation, right?

Well, that’s where it gets complicated, because unlike practically any other second citizenship right, renouncing the “right of return” is a political act that runs directly counter to the interests of the politicians concerned. The renunciation carries no absolute force; you could always have a change of heart and turn up in Tel Aviv, no matter what you’d said. But for the three most prominent eligible MPs — Josh Frydenberg, Mark Dreyfus and Michael Danby — such a public renunciation would be a political disaster.

All three hold south-eastern Melbourne seats, with a larger than average Jewish population, and Danby’s seat of Melbourne Ports covers St Kilda and Caulfield, pretty much the centre of Australian Jewish life (and it must be said, of Jewish anti-Zionism).

Frydenberg’s office told Crikey that the right of return did not count as the rights of citizenship under section 44, and Danby’s office said the same, adding: “Michael is not and has never been an Israeli citizen … Michael has never applied for the visa.” Dreyfus’ office did not respond before deadline. 

Other MPs may be eligible, but I don’t propose to run down a list of MPs, picking out people one-quarter Jewish or thus by marriage.

What’s really sticky about all this is that relations between Australia and Israel are one of the places where the question of dual loyalties anticipated by section 44 exactly comes into play. Though governments of both parties have affirmed pretty unstinting support of Israel as part of the Western alliance, Israel’s sometimes adventurist strategies are not always to our advantage.

[Section 44: what you need to know (and the Nats should have)]

Thus, in 2010, Mossad, Israel’s spy/assassination agency, killed Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. The agents involved used faked non-Israeli passports, including four fake Australian passports. Essentially, the agency stole the identities of four Australians — all of whom had emigrated to Israel under the aliyah provisions, which is chutzpah on Mossad’s part, I guess — and coined fake documents in their name. Mossad had previously attempted to do this in New Zealand in 2004.

The creation of fake Australian passports, and their use in an assassination in a third country, is an obvious attack on our sovereignty — and one that puts ordinary Australians in greater danger while travelling. Yet there was one MP who thought that though Israel’s act was wrong, expulsion of a diplomat was “unnecessary and an overreaction” and said so in Parliament: Michael Danby, MP for Melbourne Ports.

Now, here’s the wrinkle: had Danby publicly renounced his “right of return”, such a statement would be merely one opinion among many. In the absence of such, does it amount to an expression of “adherence” to another power, whose “rights or privileges” of citizenship Danby enjoys?Danby’s office did not respond to questions as to whether or not he has publicly renounced his “right to return”. We can find no evidence that he has done so.

The question of the “right of return” was explicitly considered as a potential section 44 issue by the Parliamentary Research Service in 1992, after Sykes v Cleary changed the terrain:

“In some situations it may be difficult to determine whether a person is entitled to merely some rights or entitled to the whole package of citizenship rights: for example the right of Jews to settle in Israel under Israel’s Law of Return.” (p.42)

But Professor Kim Rubinstein, of the ANU, doyenne of Australian citizenship tangles, considers that the “right of return” does not create the sort of condition that would involve 44, telling Crikey: “A right to the right is different to the right itself … the Law of Return is distinct and separate to Israel’s citizenship laws and the right to apply for the status is actually not a citizenship right here but a different type of right — it’s a pre-citizenship- style right … Right to apply rather than a right of citizenship.” 

Yes, the question has an ugly side, given ancient prejudiced notions about Jews and national loyalties. But it’s precisely because of such persecution that Israel — and the right of return — was founded. That, in turn, offers some real contradictions that make section 44.i pertinent. Michael Danby will defend Israel practically uncritically under any circumstances; he’s got a right to do so.

But a more pertinent question would be whether the conjunction of “right of return” and Israel’s fairly strong provisions against extradition on criminal matters means that the “right of return” meets the “privileges of citizenship” test. In 2008, for example, Melbourne teacher Malka Leifer fled to Israel after she was accused of sexual abuse by former students. She’s been fighting extradition since she was arrested in 2014.

Would a conjunction of rights offer some MPs a way of avoiding prosecution in criminal matters, related to their MP status? If we can conclude that, then surely that was exactly the situation section 44 was designed to prevent? The onus is obviously on MPs who might enjoy that right to renounce it.

And clearly, we need a full parliamentary audit of all MPs and their eligibility to sit under 44.

Tips and rumours

Jul 31, 2017


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

One Nation wants you (as long as you’re paying). The issue of money has long haunted One Nation — the ditching of candidates for “not paying fees”, the $250,000 penalty (eventually scrapped) that the party intended to impose on candidates who quit the party after they were elected, and most damning of all, the audio of adviser James Ashby saying charging candidates an inflated price for the production of their electoral material could make the party a great deal of money “if we play it smart”. But it’s not just candidates PHON requires pay their way. A tipster sent through the invite to the party’s 2017 AGM and Queensland state conference on August 24. The event features, we are told “exclusive speeches from all One Nation Federal Senators as well as appearances from Elected State Members”.  The event is very clear that only current financial members can attend, but membership fees don’t exempt you from having to pony up an additional $30 to attend (or $25 if you are a student or pensioner). 

And while the invite promises PHON will become the “the largest and growing force in Australian Politics” (yep … both of those things) in coming years, given the scandals that have dogged the party since last year’s election, and the current question mark hovering over Senator Malcolm Roberts’ citizenship and thus his eligibility to sit in the Senate, do we detect a hint of melancholy in the observation that “it is unlikely that so many inspiring Party members will be in the same place, in person, again”?


Watch this space. At 10am tomorrow, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and chair of Universities Australia Professor Margaret Gardner will hold a press conference to release the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on sexual assault and harassment on all university campuses across the country, after years of campaigning from students and advocates. The data comes from a survey of 39,000 students about their experiences on campuses. In April, the commission was accused of  “unconscionable” conduct, as it originally planned not to release the data.

Not long after, all unis committed to releasing their data at the same time, and the sector is now preparing for the results, and the ensuing backlash to both the number of incidents and how they have been handled by the universities. Advocates have warned that the release of the report will be highly damaging for the industry, and The Australian‘s higher education reporters have signalled that universities are expected to take divergent approaches to their public relations around the issue, with some expected to “own” their statistics and start conversations with their students, while others won’t be so keen to play ball.

The Canberra Times reports Australian National University is already on the front foot, managing the message around the report. The university has hired consultants to review its policies and procedures around sexual assault, and hired extra counsellors to support students and staff. The University of Canberra says it has trained extra staff at the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre. It’s time to watch the universities to see how they react to the news.

Murdoch columnist (finally) sacked. Given the UK conservative media’s loathing of the BBC, the recent revelations of a large gender pay gap among BBC presenters have been a gift that keeps on giving for right-wing commentators happy to both kick the BBC and argue that female presenters shouldn’t be paid as much anyway. But the usual froth-and-bubble took a decidedly unpleasant turn on the weekend when the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times’ Irish edition published, in its print edition and online at the site, an extraordinary piece from columnist Kevin Myers, who not merely argued that women should be paid less because “men usually work harder, get sick less frequently and seldom get pregnant” — that sort of garbage is par for the course among many right-wingers — but went on to aver that two BBC presenters, Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, earned more because they were Jews:

“Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity.”

Within hours, a previous column from Myers in 2009 had been found that denied the Holocaust. Soon after, both columns had been taken down and The Times was rushing to apologise. Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens personally apologised to Winkleman and Feltz, offering a “sincere apology, both for the remarks and the error of judgement that led to publication”. The edition’s Ireland editor took responsibility and also apologised. More to the point, Myers was sacked. 

As New Statesman pointed out, however, Myers’ views are well known in Ireland and, presumably, to the Irish editors who allowed him in print.

Constitutionally unwilling to be consistent. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced a couple of ambitious policies over the weekend, not least of all his promise to hold a vote around making Australia a republic within the first term of a Labor government. This was jumped on by, shall we say, a predictable cohort. Eric Abetz, the world’s oldest 59-year-old, put out a press release to eviscerate Shorten for his “ultra-left wing agenda” and, given his opposition to a plebiscite on marriage equality, “his breath-taking hypocrisy”.

Then, former Queensland premier Campbell Newman — whose own stance on marriage equality was the subject of a campaign ad that can only be described as the craziest thing to come from Bob Katter that particular day, and prompted Newman to reassure voters that he was more concerned about “fair dinkum, normal Queensland families” — took to Twitter to declare: “So @billshortenmp australians need a vote on a republic but not on marriage equality? #dividingaustralia #opportunist #auspol” 

Finally, the perpetually helpful former prime minister Tony Abbott took time out from advising his successor to tweet at Shorten: “Who do you think you’re kidding? Both 4yr terms and republic will reduce accountability” before also connecting the issue to marriage equality — “let the people have their say on SSM!”

There seems to be some confusion here and, as ever, Ms Tips is very happy to help out Messrs Abetz, Abbott and Newman on why the two issues aren’t the same. A republic would require a change to the constitution, which can only be done via a referendum. The definition of marriage according to the Marriage Act can be changed, like most legislation, without recourse to this process. A handy example would be the change in the Marriage Act in 2004 that brought this whole debate about. In contrast to the long-raging debate about marriage equality, then-prime minister John Howard gave the nation roughly an hour’s notice that marriage would now be a the “voluntarily entered-into union of a man and a woman to exclusion of all others”. Abbott, who told 2GB last Monday he believed the non-binding postal plebiscite was better than “just trying to ram this thing through the Parliament”, was minister for health at the time, and oddly kept his concerns quiet.

The royal opposition. Speaking of Bill Shorten’s republic campaign, do the weekend’s TV ratings hold an unexpected indication of another area of opposition? Seven screened the ITV documentary Diana, our mother last night from 7pm to 8.30pm — smack up against the high profile returns of The Block on Nine and Australian Survivor on Ten — and it left them both behind. The doco had 2 million national viewers (huge for 2017 free to air).  The drawcards were Princes William and especially Harry, talking openly about their mother for the first time since her death. If and when Bill calls his republic vote, those images will be very potent for Aussie monarchists. 

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to our guaranteed anonymous form or leak to us securely


Jul 31, 2017


Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr at the NSW State Labor Conference

Bit by bit, the denialists of the Victorian Labor Party are being isolated on Israel, after New South Wales Labor endorsed the recognition of Palestine on the weekend. The party’s Queensland and South Australian branches back recognition, as do the Tasmanian and ACT branches. Even Bob Hawke, Labor’s most devout and highest profile supporter of Israel, the man who said he contemplated suicide when the Soviet Union rejected his bid to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate, has urged the recognition of Palestine.

And the motive power for this shift is coming directly from the Netanyahu government and its continuing strategy to destroy any possibility of a two-state solution. We saw it in February when Netanyahu embarrassed his grovelling host Malcolm Turnbull by refusing to talk about a two-state solution when Turnbull had just enthusiastically endorsed it. And the “facts on the ground” continue to provide it: Israel plans new settlements in clear breach of international law about occupied territories, with recent confirmation of what many have always assumed — settlements are the pretext for the annexation of occupied Palestinian land.

Palestinians and many Israelis say that a two-state solution is already dead — that an independent Palestine simply can’t exist, except as a bizarre Swiss cheese-like collection of separated entities, severed from each other by existing illegal Israeli settlements that have not merely annexed land but water resources as well, taking the water used by Palestinian farmers to grow food and redirecting it to settlement swimming pools. The ever-growing number of settlements, of course, won’t be separated; they’ll be connected with segregated roads reserved exclusively for Israeli use.

[Truckling Turnbull gets a Bibi brushoff on two states]

The corrupt Palestinian authority, and some Western governments, continue to embrace the convenient fiction that two-state is still possible, in the latter case because it serves as a convenient excuse for not taking action against Israel. Eventually, however, the fiction will become untenable, so egregiously at odds with the facts that its supporters can’t credibly persist with it.

NSW Labor’s motion panders to the notion of two states, but the act of recognition is a departure from the status quo that the Netanyahu government is desperate to preserve — that it can slowly annex Palestine without according its citizens any rights, and do so without any meaningful international reaction. The current Israeli government wants a free hand to gradually make Palestinian life unbearable and an independent Palestinian state impossible, without having to deal with the unpleasantness of international criticism and action. The Australian government, and the Victorian ALP, are happy to give them that free hand.

There’s one other thing that is also likely to have played at least a small role in the shift in NSW Labor. The heavy-handed lobbying efforts of the Israeli government and the local pro-Israel lobby have alienated a number of Labor MPs. There are complaints that Israeli diplomats have inappropriately involved themselves in the internal affairs of the party. Now, Bob Carr is complaining of efforts by Mark Dreyfus and Michael Danby to silence him. Ask around the Labor Party and, regardless of the details of what Carr has claimed, there are plenty willing to believe, rightly or wrongly, that that’s exactly the kind of tactic Israel supporters would employ.

Silencing the messenger, however, can only work for so long. 

* Bernard Keane travelled to Israel and Palestine in 2016 as a guest of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network

Middle East

Jun 6, 2017


A street in Hebron in the West Bank. Photo by Bernard Keane

Less than one and a half hours from Jerusalem, Gaza is like a different planet, literally cut off from the outside world. Its 2 million residents, suffering huge electricity cuts, polluted water (a recent Oxfam report details Israel’s refusal to allow vital equipment into Gaza to fix infrastructure destroyed by the Israelis) and high unemployment (affecting both Gaza and the occupied West Bank) are often forgotten, seemingly doomed to be permanently separated from the West Bank and Israel.

The 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem will be celebrated in Israel this week as liberation — biblically inspired. Palestinians remain under an Israeli regime of house demolitions, ever-expanding illegal settlements (there are now an estimated 700,000 settlers living in occupied territory) and strict controls over daily life. The Palestinian, political leadership is old, corrupt, complicit with Israel and out of touch.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in his 12th year of a four-year term. During his recent visit to the White House, both he and President Donald Trump spoke in motherhood statements about peace but offered no concrete path to create it. A just, two-state solution is dead on arrival; decades of Israeli settlement building killed it. The status-quo is one state, with one rule and law for Jews and another, less equal reality for Palestinians. Trump’s recent Middle East tour offered little more than weapons for Arab dictatorships.

[Facts on the ground: the open-air misery of Israeli occupation]

Australia’s role in the conflict is small but significant. Successive governments in Canberra, both Labor and Liberal, though the latter has been more proudly belligerent in Israel’s corner, have offered carte blanche to Israeli actions.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop wrongly questions whether Israeli settlements are illegal under international law (they are, and a UN resolution in December proved that the entire world, except Australia and Israel, knew it). During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Australia, talk of “shared values” was in the air. This was fitting for two nations that ethnically cleansed their indigenous populations and have yet to fully acknowledge, let alone compensate, the victims.

Israel’s “separation barrier” divides Palestinian communities in Bethlehem. Photo by Antony Loewenstein

The effect of Australia’s obsequiousness towards Israel, yet another example of Canberra blindly following Washington’s lead around the world, is the danger of being both on the wrong side of history and out of step with public opinion. Israeli settlement expansion has pushed Palestinians in the West Bank to the brink. Australia and many Western nations have spent decades enabling this policy. Australia’s Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, spends his days channelling Israeli propaganda on social media and palling around with extremist, Israeli politicians. The result is a Jewish state that currently feels no pressure to change.

There are, however, signs of change. The latest poll in the US finds that two-in-five Americans now back sanctions against Israel, and Australian citizens, according to a recent Roy Morgan poll, are both opposed to Israeli settlements and supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

During a recent visit to Gaza, my third since 2009, I witnessed a population more frustrated than ever before. With the threat of another war with Israel always on the horizon, many in the Israeli military and government are itching to bomb the Gaza Strip again. “Mowing the grass” is the euphemism used in Israel to describe this perennial obsession with attacking the area. The people in Gaza are unable to plan their lives because of it.

I met many locals who didn’t know if they’d be allowed out of Gaza. Israel routinely blocks departures for spurious reasons and the Egyptian border is mostly closed (reflective of leaders in the Arab world, who for decades have paid lip service to the Palestinian cause but done little to practically support it). It’s now not uncommon for couples to marry with one partner in Gaza and the other somewhere else, Skyping into proceedings. They hope to be reunited soon after the event.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Gaza today is the desire of so many people there to leave. After years of isolation, it’s an understandable feeling. Not convinced by the rhetoric or actions of the Hamas government, the party operates a police state in the territory, and distrusting Israeli intentions, finding a better home elsewhere is necessary, especially for young people. But the opportunity to depart is mostly blocked by forces beyond their control. Time passes, frustrations grow and lives are stunted. It’s a recipe for future conflict and radicalisation. 

Family in Gaza displaced during the 2014 war with Israel. Photo by Antony Loewenstein


Sitting at her desk in Beit Lahia, Gaza, Aesha Abu Shaqfa battles to be heard above the sound of Israeli fighter jets roaring overhead. She worked as the executive director of the Future Development Commission, a local NGO committed to empowering women. It’s a lonely path in a territory devastated by war, Israeli and Hamas intransigence, misogyny and deprivation.

Wearing a red hijab, Shaqfa recently told me that one of her main goals was to reduce the prevalence of childhood marriage. “In our culture, girls having sex at 14 is not rape so we try and educate the girls about the challenges they will face [when married]”, she said. “Girls at 14 do not know about sex and they think marriage is sweet words, a pretty dress and make-up. The divorce rates of 14-18 year olds, for boys and girls, are rising.”

Domestic violence and sexual abuse against minors and adults are worsening because of regular Israeli attacks, social instability, conservative Islam and high unemployment.

Shaqfa, who is divorced from her second husband, acknowledged the huge challenges in Gaza for achieving gender equality. “I have three brothers and a father and only one of them can make sandwiches and tea,” she explained. “Here, women serve men.”

But she told me that big changes had occurred in the last years, a sentiment I heard echoed across Gaza, despite three wars with Israel since 2007, a repressive Hamas government and suffocating, 10-year siege imposed by Israel and Egypt. “More women are now finishing education, getting work and we’re trying to educate young girls at secondary schools about women’s rights,” she said.


I’ve been living in Jerusalem since early 2016 and returning regularly to Israel and Palestine since 2005. My first book, My Israel Question in 2006, challenged the myopic racism of the establishment, Jewish community and in 2013 I co-edited a collection, After Zionism, that outlined alternatives to discriminatory Israel.

Palestinians are rarely heard in the Israeli media as anything other than a security threat. Arab voices are almost invisible and most Israelis never meet a Palestinian except when they’re serving in the army.

[No free lunch: what journos learned on their Israel junket]

Jerusalem is a divided city, with Palestinians in East Jerusalem subject to discrimination and constant house demolitions. Tel Aviv is a beachside city that’s known as a bubble away from the conflict. Decades of conflict, privatisation and disaster capitalist policies have resulted in poverty being one of the highest in the developed world.

Racism is state-backed and encouraged by the highest levels of the Israeli government, knowing it’ll receive domestic support. Bigotry and incitement against African refugees, Palestinians and minorities is common, reflective of a country that was light years ahead of Trump’s war on Muslims. Trying to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel, or Christian rule in the US, requires discrimination and exclusion. Such policies are the antithesis of liberal democracy. Far-right groups in the US and Europe, traditional enemies of Jews, are increasingly enamoured with Israel due to its hardline against Muslims. Israel often welcomes these new friends.

The Oslo peace accords, signed more than 20 years ago by then-US president Bill Clinton, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian head Yasser Arafat, sealed Palestine’s fate, entrenching Israeli occupation as state policy. Today, Israel works hand in hand with the private military industry to sell and promote “battle-tested” weaponry for the global market. Privatising the occupation of Palestine has allowed the Jewish state to perfect the art of military control, assets for nations fighting refugees or insurgents.

This is not without controversy, with Israeli human rights lawyers pushing for transparency over arms sales to repressive states such as South Sudan. When I lived there in 2015, in the capital Juba, I regularly heard about Israelis visiting the country to liaise with South Sudanese officials. Its government stands accused of genocide.

The Qalandiya Checkpoint, between Jerusaleum and Ramallah and the northern part of the West Bank. Photo by Bernard Keane

The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War will be marked in illegal, Israeli settlements, a perfect place to commemorate colonial acquisition. A recent poll found that Israeli settlers are the most satisfied of all Israelis with their lives. Many liberal Israeli Jews I know are disillusioned with the situation and looking to leave; they have no hope that Israel’s future will be anything other than a far-right theocracy.

From the beginning of the 1967 occupation, voices of dissent were rare. Euphoria was in the air and dominating the Palestinians without full civil rights was defended as necessary. Little has changed since.

During extensive time with Jewish colonists in the West Bank last year, I found arrogance but surprising insecurity about their long-term situation. Yair Ben-David, living at Kashuela Farms near the Gush Etzion settlements, told me that, “the Western world is at war with radical Islam”. He said Palestinians under occupation “know that Israel is the best place to live,” compared to the rest of the Arab world, and they should be grateful for their situation. “Only Israel is helping the Palestinians,” he claimed. We spoke on a hot day while sheep, goats and rabbits roamed around the settlement. Ben-David always carried a loaded gun.

Despite his knowledge that the Israeli army protected his settlement, and without them he would be unable to survive, he said that he was “greening” the environment for the sake of the Israeli state. If he were forced to leave, because of a peace deal with the Palestinians, he would “resist, though not with a weapon. I would eventually go.”

[Does DFAT support Israeli settlements?]

The situation feels hopeless on the ground but there are rays of hope. Israeli attempts to destroy the global Palestinian solidarity movement has failed. Jewish dissent in the US and beyond is surging, no longer content being associated with a Jewish establishment that offers uncritical backing of the Israeli state. A major step towards change will involve educating Jews and others that occupying the Palestinian people for 50 years isn’t the actions of a normal, healthy state. Without outside pressure, as many Israelis and Palestinians tell me, the situation will never change. Israel’s biggest supporters are increasingly the Christian far-right and far-right fanatics.

Occupying nations never give up power voluntarily. Remember, South Africa was economically squeezed for years before it capitulated and ended political apartheid. Israel is facing a growing global movement aiming for a similar transformation.

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe

Middle East

May 4, 2017


Activist Bassem Tamimi

When the Department of Immigration cancelled the visa it had granted to Bassem Tamimi, it sent the Palestinian advocate three documents.

Two were official notifications that provided a brief, formal explanation for the department’s sudden reversal, deploying the kind of procedural, bureaucratic language you would expect in such correspondence. The third was a 2013 post from a blog entitled This Ongoing War, accusing Tamimi of living in a village of “monsters”.

Michael Jones, a Sydney-based solicitor and accredited migration law specialist, told Crikey he presumed the document was attached by the Department in order to meet a requirement to provide “particulars” in regards to the “information” used to justify the grounds of cancellation, most of which it is not compelled to disclose. Put another way, of all the evidence the department gathered when it was considering the case against Tamimi, this was the only part made accessible to his lawyers and advocates, and by extension the public.

According to Jones, it’s not very compelling evidence for the Department’s charge that Tamimi’s visit might provoke an “adverse reaction”.

The blog post itself focuses only passingly on Bassem Tamimi, spending most of its time criticising the New York Times Magazine for its depiction of the town of Nabi Saleh, and focusing on other figures in the village. It briefly attacks Tamimi for what the Times described as his “tactical” but not “moral” opposition to Palestinian armed resistance.

“For one thing, it is several years old, makes no mention of the proposed visit, and in particular says nothing about how any particular segment of the Australian community might react,” Jones said. “Besides that, it is far from being a balanced news report or commentary.”

Somewhat embarrassingly for the department, even the co-author of the blog post, Arnold Roth, told Crikey he would not have personally made the decision to ban Tamimi, albeit on tactical grounds.

“Personally, had I been asked, I would not have blocked Bassem Tamimi from visiting Australia,” Roth said. “From watching the outcomes of a coast-to-coast tour of the US that Amnesty International arranged for Bassem Tamimi in 2015, I think it was a disaster for him.”

Roth is an Australian-born Israeli who runs the blog with his wife Frimet. The project was started after their 15-year-old Melbourne-born daughter Malka Roth was killed by a suicide bomber at the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem, in 2001. The family is now campaigning to have an accomplice to the killing, Ahlam Tamimi, extradited from Jordan to face trial in the US.

While the Roths are highly suspicious of Bassem Tamimi, there is no suggestion he played any role in the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant. Tamimi’s advocates point to defences of his human rights credentials by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the European Union.

Despite his animosity towards the Tamimis, Roth told Crikey he had not realised his blog played any role in the visa drama, and that he had not lobbied anyone to prevent Tamimi from coming to Australia.

So how did the 2013 blog post come to the Department of Immigration’s attention?

One potential explanation is its strong following among the pro-Israel side of Australia’s Israel/Palestine debate, and among a smaller number on the Palestinian side.

Arnold Roth has a decades-long friendship with ardently pro-Israel MP Michael Danby, and the MP has blogged about the Roth family’s struggle to draw attention to their battle against Ahlam Tamimi. But Roth said he had not contacted Danby about the issue, and the MP couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Department of Immigration, for its part, did not respond to questions about how it had come into contact with the blog, whether it trusted the content of the blog, or why it had been included in the correspondence with Tamimi.

To lawyer Michael Jones, the incident highlights how the segment of Australian migration law invoked to overturn Tamimi’s visa on the basis of a possible risk to the “health, safety or good order of the Australian community” can potentially allow a “heckler’s veto” to prevent certain views being expressed.

“Unfortunately, it seems to have worked,” he said.


Mar 14, 2017


As Crikey first reported Friday, brewer Coopers has appeared to place its product into parliamentary hands. The South Australian beer manufacturer now denies that it sought video endorsement by Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson; apparently, the pair toasted democracy, in close-up and within Parliament House, quite by accident. As Josh Taylor suggests, the company may have issued its refusal in order to make clear there had been no breach of Canberra’s rules on sponsorship. Almost certainly, Coopers, whose support of a Bible Society “debate” on same-sex marriage has not been well-received, also wishes to avoid consumer boycott.

It’s probably a bit late for that. Perhaps no brand can retain a wide clientele after putting itself inside Hastie’s mouth. Vegans, inner-city dwellers and, really, anyone without a very strong stomach, will move on to another Hastie-free ale. Perhaps something boutique with a name like Gender Fluid.

[WWJD? Coopers Bible beer video might have breached Parliament rules]

Personal distaste for this or that brand is a fact of the market. Despite fondness for flavoured milk, I, for example, am unable to drink the perfectly potable Big M version of it due to an advertisement aired when I was a child. The vision of Big M strawberry-flavoured milk emptying first out of one woman’s full mouth then all over another woman’s full bosom has been a primal matter for address by me and my psychologist for many years.

There is an argument to be made that most acts of consumer abstinence are like mine: you boycott for your personal benefit. Whether it is to avoid feeling physically or ethically unwell or to mark yourself as an ally or opponent of a particular idea, the act of boycotting is one that chiefly addresses the self.

The inward focus of consumer action is easily detected in moments like this from popular writer Dan Savage who urged US drinkers to shun all Russian vodka to show their intolerance for Putin’s reported homophobia or the insistence by US Representative Bob Ney during the Iraq War that all House cafeterias would no longer sell French fries but “Freedom Fries”. In both cases, these activists made the case only for the power of awareness-raising and pride.

It is more difficult to see the very limited potential for change built into something like the Coopers boycott. Advocates for this will say that punishing a company for its potentially conservative views will “send a message”. The people who will receive that message first and most brutally are likely to be low-income workers. Laverne, Shirley and the Squiggy who drives the Coopers truck will feel the pinch long before whatshisname who runs the company. That guy has bibles and assets to keep him warm.

Now more than 10 years old, Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) strategy is held as a model of consumer political action. The logic goes that if a consumer becomes aware of the consequences of purchase of an Israeli product, this will raise international awareness of the unconscionable treatment of Palestinians. BDS has been successful, as was intended, in engaging the interest of many younger US citizens who now recognise Israel as an apartheid regime. It has also been successful in nibbling at some Israeli company profits, which have the keenest consequences for Israeli Lavernes and Palestinian Shirleys. While BDS is widely held as an act of Palestinian self-determination, and is something I am compelled by my gut to observe, it is, like those sanctions applied to South Africa, never itself going to result in the end of racial segregation. This is not to say that one should not observe it. It is to suggest that we overestimate our faith in the reforming power of the commodity.

People mean well when they boycott commodities with a visible trace of exploitation. Yet, they allow other commodities to remain perfectly mystified. A two-dollar shirt from a discount store is unacceptable, but a pair of trousers from a gentleman’s outfitter do not bear the same scrutiny. The fact that both these commodities were made in a factory like those at Rana Plaza is not the point. The point is to “raise awareness” about the origin of one commodity, in order that we no longer bother to calculate the hard human costs of all the other commodities.

[What do the IPA, Yanis Varoufakis and Katniss Everdeen have in common?]

Not only does the eco-choice coffee serve to make the human suffering built into so many of the items that we purchase less visible, it can have the effect of what is sometimes called moral self-licensing. A noble decision is often found to be followed by a really shitty one. This explains both why I was very curt with the lady who sold me my organic muesli last week, and how Bill Gates can arse around owning a nation’s worth of money and still believe he’s a good guy for giving some of it to diseased orphans.

I sometimes wonder if op-ed writers at the Guardian kick puppies after hitting submit on their compassionate pieces, most particularly Laurie Penny who last week urged us all to boycott Uber. Not because it is an exploitative behemoth with open plans to divest itself of its low-paid contractors, mind, but because the CEO was caught on camera acting like a dick.

She says with Uber head Travis Kalanick, we are dealing with a new class of monster. Perhaps she has never taken time to read the correspondence of Henry Ford, anti-Semite and sworn loather of dark skin. Perhaps she, like all the good people boycotting bad companies, has never stopped to consider that business stills behaves like business, even if its representatives manage to hold their tongues in public.

Back at school, I had this particularly annoying 2pm anthropology class. The guy, clearly an old commie, would ask us every Tuesday where our lunch was sourced from. He would not accept “the cafeteria” or “my backpack” and pressed us to trace the origins of each ingredient. The point being, of course, that it was impossible for even the most vegan and leftist among us to account for the ethics of every commodity inside it.

This is not your moral licence to buy a Pale Ale SodaStream, by the way. It’s just a reminder that there’s no boycotting one’s way out of our intricate systems of exploitation.

Tips and rumours

Mar 3, 2017


Some possible context for that Rudd-Netanyahu stoush last week, when the former prime minister made some very telling points at the expense of the Israeli leader — especially about Israel’s 2010 abuse of Australian passports, which left even the most zealous pro-Israeli lobbyists here aghast. Labor sources claim one of Rudd’s devoted party enemies, right-wing South Australian senator Don Farrell, invited then-Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem to a meeting of Labor powerbrokers during Rudd’s 2012 leadership bid against Julia Gillard. Sources say the ambassador — who now heads the Israeli foreign ministry — was present while phone calls were being made to MPs about opposing Rudd, whose expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over Israel’s abuse of Australian passports had made Jerusalem very unhappy.

Farrell absolutely denies this ever happened. The Israelis, however, are not quite as adamant. A Foreign Ministry spokesman told Crikey “as an inherent part of his diplomatic mission, former Ambassador Yuval Rotem met many Australian politicians from all aspects of the political spectrum. It is not the role of any ambassador to have an input with respect to the internal political debate within any political party.” Indeed.


Feb 23, 2017


It must have cut Malcolm Turnbull to the quick: he goes to all the effort of welcoming the Prime Minister of a country engaged in a brutal occupation and guilty of massive human rights violations, goes to the trouble of isolating Australia from the international mainstream and even close allies like New Zealand and the United Kingdom to endorse the policies of his visitor — and his guest humiliates him.

Turnbull yesterday made clear Australia’s support for a two-state solution to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. “We support an outcome which has two states where Israelis, the Israeli people, the Palestinian people live side by side as a result of direct negotiations between them — that is the fundamental point — and live together in peace and the security that they are entitled to expect,” he said.

[Facts on the ground: the open-air misery of Israeli occupation]

But Benjamin Netanyahu — or “Bibi” as Turnbull insists on calling him — was having none of it. He rejected a two-state solution. He preferred “not to deal with labels but with substance … if Israel is not there to ensure security, then that state very quickly will become another bastion of radical Islam … we have to ensure that Israel has the overriding security control of all the territories, all the territories. Other than that, I want the Palestinians to be able to govern themselves and to have all the freedoms to do so.”

This is not a two-state solution, but a formalised status quo, in which Israel controls most of the West Bank (currently called Area C), Palestinian control is limited to a minority of the West Bank composed of non-contiguous, Bantustan-like cites and townships, and Israel doesn’t have to deal with the problem that would arise if it annexed the West Bank, of having to allow Palestinians to vote or, to prevent that frightening outcome, confirm de jure what is the de facto situation now, that this is an apartheid state. That is, Israel gets all the privileges of annexation — in particular, control of Palestinian land and resources — without any of the “negatives” such as having to allow Palestinians political rights. 

[Netanyahu’s visit intensifies pressure on Shorten to back Palestine]

Meantime, the steady drip of settlements continues, occupying Palestinian land, appropriating Palestinian resources, strategically placed to surround Palestinian towns and isolate them.

To Netanyahu’s credit, unlike Turnbull, he was indeed dealing not in labels but in substance. “Two-state solution” is a mantra for Western countries that enables them to avoid addressing what Israel is doing on the ground via its settlement policy and military control of most of the West Bank. Netanyahu at least was prepared to be up front — no two-state solution, just the formalisation of Israel’s current occupation and settlement policies. Both Israelis and Palestinians understand this — that’s why, increasingly, so many say that the possibility of a genuine two-state solution is now zero. It remains the formal policy of the (corrupt, authoritarian) Palestinian Authority and Israeli peace activists insist it must be a call for Palestinians themselves to make, but the two-state solution is dead. Netanyahu is prepared to acknowledge it, while Turnbull prefers to cling to the mantra.

Notice also that when asked about the issue, Netanyahu immediately played the radical Islam card and did so again shortly afterward. This is a longstanding Israeli tactic — to try to distract from what is at its core a dispute about military occupation, colonisation and theft of another people’s resources by insisting it’s really about a clash of religions — indeed, of civilisations: Westernised, civilised Jews versus the radical Islamic militants. It’s a convenient fiction that ignores how tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians suffer every bit as much under Israeli occupation as Palestinian Muslims, in cities like Bethlehem.

The plight of Palestinian Christians of course don’t fit the clash-of-religions narrative — and makes a mockery of evangelical Christians’ reflexive support for Israel. It’s of a piece with a broader lack of curiosity in the West about ordinary Palestinians and what they endure at the hands of “the only democracy in the Middle East” (a democracy, that is, if you don’t count its attempts to force properly elected Arab MPs out of parliament or prevent their election or shoot them).

Yesterday was a low point in recent Australian public life. Not merely was a leader overseeing a brutal occupation and de facto apartheid welcomed as a dear friend, not merely did the Turnbull government confirm its isolation from the diplomatic mainstream, but our guest didn’t even have the decency to adhere to the comforting fiction of a “two-state solution” that is now dead.

* Bernard Keane travelled to Israel and Palestine in 2016 as a guest of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network


Feb 22, 2017


As I foreshadowed more than three weeks ago, the Middle East crisis, the aggressive expansionist Netanyahu government and the Trump administration are combining to stir emotions within the Australian Labor Party federal caucus.

By way of background, last year, in one of Barack Obama’s last significant acts as president, he directed the United States to abstain rather than veto Security Council Resolution 2334.

It condemned Israel’s continued building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land that it views as illegal under international law and destructive to the Middle East peace process and the two-state solution. The resolution passed unanimously — but for the United States abstention — and it shook the Israeli government to its core, provoking an aggressive diplomatic response.

In his finals days in office, former secretary of state John Kerry made an impassioned speech, in which he said: “But here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic. It cannot be both — and it won’t ever really be at peace.”

However, that was then and this is now.

Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network (APAN) president Bishop George Browning told Crikey: “The election of Trump has emboldened the right wing government in Israel to continue their quest to colonise the West Bank and deny the Palestinians their right of a sovereign and independent state. With these moves, the consensus for a two-state solution is eroding and may result in a change of demand by the Palestinians for equal rights under one state.

“In the short term our approach of using the international framework to resolve the conflict has not changed, and that in essence informs our support for the two-state-solution on the pre-1967 borders.”

[Facts on the ground: the open-air misery of Israeli occupation]

It appears that the United States under Trump will now act at all costs as a permanent veto against any United Nations resolutions it views as being “anti-Israel”.

Trump started an all-too-familiar Twitter storm the same day as the Kerry speech, raging:

The pro-Israel lobby is very influential within Trump’s governing Republican Party, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Casino magnate and Zionist Sheldon Adelson, 83, gave over $82 million to Trump’s Republican Party in the 2016 cycle. He was the second highest overall donor last year and the highest donor to Trump’s campaign. He’s worth $30 billion. Adelson subsidises the free — and therefore popular and influential — pro-government HaYom daily newspaper in Israel.

There is nothing the Netanyahu government can do now that will earn them more than a slap on the wrist from the current United States government.

This at a time when the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) retroactively confiscated occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, with 4000 illegal housing units on it.

Like all political leaders around the world in this environment, Bill Shorten is facing internal party pressure to strengthen Labor’s position in response to Israel’s ongoing intransigence.

Longtime activist in this area Wendy Turner of the Queensland Left, who sits on the APAN executive, had a powerful ally in Tony Burke of the New South Wales Right.

Together their motion on the situation in the Middle East passed Labor’s 2015 national conference. It reads in part:

“The Australian Labor Party Conference:
AFFIRMS Labor’s support for an enduring and just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the right of Israel to live in peace within secure borders internationally recognised and agreed by the parties, and reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to also live in peace and security within their own state.
DEPLORES the tragic conflict in Gaza and supports an end to rocket attacks by Hamas and the exercise of the maximum possible restraint by Israel in response to these attacks.
SUPPORTS a negotiated settlement between the parties to the conflict, based on international frameworks, laws and norms”

The one significant hold-out was Bill Shorten’s Victorian Right. They fought the motion tooth and nail. It’s a big deal the Opposition Leader’s faction was rolled on national conference floor.

The Labor MP most staunch and strident in their defence of Israel is Melbourne Ports’ Michael Danby. He’s backed by the “Shoppies” union and is of Jewish descent.

Mark Dreyfus, who is also Jewish, is another heavy hitter within the Victorian Right.

This duo appears to carry significant sway within the federal Victorian Right caucus of 13 people and are able to hold back any weakening of their faction’s position on Israel.

I’m told a few Victorian MPs might be concerned about the reaction of a large number of Jewish voters in their electorates and the reaction of the pro-Israel lobby to any toughening of the current party position.

Asked about the influence of the pro-Israel lobby within Victorian Labor, APAN told Crikey: “There are several groups sympathetic to right-wing Israeli interests that are both skilled at lobbying and have disproportionate access to those in power. We think it is vital for any parliamentarians to be transparent about the access lobby groups have to them.”

By the numbers, there are 57 members of the National Right within the 95 member federal caucus.

New South Wales Right make up 32% of the National Right, with Victorian Right close behind at 28%.

Shorten has been tested time and again when it comes to stamping his authority on his factionally fractious home branch, but thus far he has been found wanting.

He’s consistently linked back to a murky web of connections in the byzantine world of Victorian Labor politics, and that’s when he’s at his weakest.

It is believed that the next Labor government could have majority support within caucus and potentially the national executive to strengthen the current party position in favour of Palestine, with the Victorian Right the only holdouts.

[Victoria’s new senator could be a ticking time bomb for Labor]

It can’t be discounted that the Victorian Left, who are joined at the hip with the Victorian Right by virtue of the oft talked about “Stability Pact”, would also fight the move, being forced to hunt as a pack with their right-wing alliance partner in defence of the party leader.

The Burke/Turner motion of 2015 said if there was “no progress in the next round of the peace process, a future Labor government will discuss joining like-minded nations who have already recognised Palestine”.

There are 137 of those.

There will be no progress and clearly, the preconditions for this “discussion” on Palestinian recognition being party policy are met.

Labor Party luminaries Gareth Evans, Bob Carr and Bob Hawke, as well as former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, have issued public pleas for Bill Shorten to heed the call for immediate action in this area.

When right-wing Labor Party figures of their stature use language like “apartheid state” you know it’s dire.

This topic won’t be going away anytime soon, and the situation is worsening weekly.

Shorten has in the past front run on big issues taking strong public positions — most recently on asylum seekers and marriage equality — and dared the party to defy him.

He knows how to play the power game.

The question is: will Shorten lead from the front on a recalibrated Middle East policy or follow his factional mates?

Netanyahu will be meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today, but all eyes will be on Bill Shorten for signs of shifting sands within Labor in this policy area.