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Tips and rumours

Jul 31, 2017

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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 times.co.uk 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 boss@crikey.com.auuse our guaranteed anonymous form or leak to us securely

Federal

Jul 31, 2017

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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

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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

5 comments

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.

Australia

Mar 14, 2017

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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.

Federal

Feb 23, 2017

5 comments

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

Federal

Feb 22, 2017

5 comments

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.

Middle East

Feb 21, 2017

5 comments

A small boy, no more than three or four, tugs uncertainly at his mother’s hand, eyeing off the group of strangers who have come to visit his parents. It’s a clear winter evening, right at sunset, when even a child’s shadow stretches out across the dirt where we stand — in, for all intents and purposes, the family’s living room. We’re surrounded by furniture, though there’s no room — and no house. It’s been demolished by the Israeli Defence Force, so the family are living among their belongings and rubble.

The village is called Fasayil, in the Jordan Valley, not far from Jericho. The landscape is exactly the moonscape of a hundred biblical movies. But it’s not exactly a desert — people have been farming in the Jordan Valley for millennia, using aquifers, which supported villages like Fasayil, founded in Roman times. That is, until recently — after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, military authorities began restricting agricultural wells for the use of Israeli settlers, whose water consumption — for houses, pools and lush gardens in hilltop suburban communities, as well as agriculture — is many times that of Palestinians. This vast-scale water appropriation, as well as being unsustainable, has wrecked Palestinian agriculture, while settlers and settler-owned farms thrive, perpetuating the story of the genius of Israeli agriculture. For villagers in Fasayil, working in settler-owned farms is often the only source of income.

The theft of water, and the demolition of villagers’ houses, derives from the same legal device. Nearly all of the Jordan Valley is “Area C”. That’s the Israeli-controlled portion of the occupied territories, which under the Oslo Accords make up around 60% of the West Bank; the Palestinian Authority controls Area A — mainly cities — and runs Area B — towns and villages — but Israel controls security in the latter. Area C is entirely under Israeli military control, and part of Fasayil is not in Area B but Area C. It’s entirely arbitrary: down the road in Al-Auja, a local businessman had an entire row of shops demolished because it was on the other side of a road from Area B. The Palestinian Authority had told him it was OK to build as it was in Area B; the Israelis decided it was Area C instead, and sent in bulldozers accompanied by soldiers to turn it into rubble, without compensation. If you’re not a settler, in order to build anything in Area C you need permission. And permission is denied to Palestinians more than 90% of the time. 

For Palestinians needing homes — whether a young couple in East Jerusalem who want their own house to start a family or rural villagers in the Jordan Valley — housing demolitions are a nightmare of uncertainty. Knowing building approval will almost certainly be denied, many build “illegally” and face the risk of having their home demolished; some elect to pay massive annual fines to keep the bulldozers at bay. The problem is exacerbated on the fringes of Palestinian cities like Ramallah and Nablus, which are Area A, because of a striking characteristic of the modern Palestinian economy — vast numbers of half-completed apartment and office buildings standing empty. Quite why Palestinian cities are littered with these shells — often seemingly needing only glass in the windows to be habitable — isn’t something Palestinians are eager to explain; theories range from vast numbers of money laundering schemes to wealthy members of the Palestinian diaspora overseas funding property development but falling foul of the corrupt Palestinian Authority.

[Palestinian lobby joins the junket game]

There are no empty buildings in Fasayil, however. In fact, what is clear is that even before the house was demolished the family we visit had very little; the house was not much more than a well-structured shanty. But it is the sheer, brutal logic of the occupation to take away even what little this family possesses for the crime of wanting somewhere to live in their village. Contemplating the furniture and appliances amid rubble, I find myself wondering what the civilised, educated men and women of the IDF who accompany the bulldozers tell themselves as they take away what little such people have.

Illegality is the all-pervading theme of the occupation. The Israelis have for 50 years acted illegally in moving their own population into an occupied territory and expropriating resources for the exclusive use of their own people — a clear breach of the Geneva Convention  As if in subtle acknowledgement of the nature of the Israeli occupation, the Israeli government uses the law, and the concept of illegality, as a weapon against the occupied, trapping them in a Byzantine military bureaucracy in which even the most basic functions of ordinary life — getting a home, raising kids, going to work — develop the Kafkaesque logic of a nightmare.

[In Palestine, a question for Australia: are we on ‘the right or wrong side of history’?]

And for every restriction placed on Palestinians, Israeli settlers in the occupied territories have a comparable freedom. Settlements have pools and gardens; settler farms have ample water, while Palestinians can’t even put in a water pipe larger than 5cm without Israeli approval. Palestinians are subject to arbitrarily placed road checkpoints that can mean a drive to drop the kids at school takes hours; settlers have their own segregated highways linking settlements to each other and to Israel itself, from which Palestinians are banned. Palestinians can’t build in Area C; settlers not merely can build but are subsidised to do so. A Jew can emigrate from anywhere in the world to Israel, be welcomed there under the Right of Return and encouraged to move into settlements; a Palestinian born in East Jerusalem will lose their Jerusalem residency status if they even briefly live elsewhere.

And always, the relentless building of settlements continues. Settlers now constitute nearly 600,000 people — 600,000 colonists in another people’s land, backed by tens of billions of shekels in infrastructure and protected by a vast conscript army. Remarkably, the Turnbull government refuses to accept that Israel’s settlement-building is illegal, even though, as an Israeli newspaper explained to Julie Bishop, there’s a “near-universal view” that it is. And today the government welcomes the latest in a long succession of Israeli prime ministers who have overseen the occupation and colonisation of Palestine, treating Benjamin Netanyahu as an honoured guest and lauding business opportunities between the two countries.

As darkness falls in Fasayil, the mother begins preparing dinner. We board our bus for the trip back to Jerusalem — our bus has Israeli plates, which affords us the status of travelling freely. We get to leave, to return to our hotel and, eventually, go home. For Palestinians, there’s no escape from the brutal reality of occupation.

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

Journalism

Dec 22, 2016

5 comments

An illegally built Palestinian house that was demolished. Photo: Bernard Keane

For years, the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council have sponsored Australian journalists on lavish trips to Israel to take in one of the Middle East’s most prosperous societies. But this year there was a study tour of rather a different sort — journalists, including our own Bernard Keane, were invited to see the same territory through Palestinian eyes.

Though many who attend the Israeli junket attest strongly to their value, critics (including yours truly) argue that by attending, journalists play into and benefit from the (more powerful) Israeli side’s battle to influence public opinion. By taking journalists on regular junkets, the Israeli lobby can ensure its side of the argument is, at least, sympathetically presented to journalistic opinion-makers in Australia.

But this year, Australia’s Palestinian community has funded their own study tour, which concluded Monday. Journalists from Fairfax (Mark Kenny), News Corp (Dennis Atkins), The West Australian (Andrew Tillett), AAP (Rashida Yosufzai), New Matilda (Chris Graham) and Crikey (Bernard Keane) spent time in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Haifa, Nazareth, Nablus and Tel Aviv. A planned visit to the Gaza strip had to be abandoned when the visas didn’t come through on time (a not unusual occurrence). Two of the journalists attending had previously attended trips organised by the Israeli lobby.

The Palestine trip was funded by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network and conceived of by Peter Manning, a UTS journalism professor and former ABC news director who also attended the trip.

“There have been hundreds of similar trips in Australia organised by various groups within the Israeli lobby structure,” Manning told Crikey. “There’s only really one organisation — the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network — that lobbies in Canberra for Palestine.”

“One of the things it does is have study tours of Israel/Palestine. It was my idea, since I’m a journalist, to get a group of journalists together and have a specialised tour for them.”

Manning says the idea came out of a discussion with journalists at Parliament House’s Aussie’s cafe. More than half a dozen journos immediately expressed interest in attending any such trip. It took about 18 months to plan the tour and organise the money to fund it.

“We went around the Arab community, and Palestinian community in particular, and basically put our hands out. We said it was a specialist media contingent. We got a good response. Of course we flew economy rather than business, and stayed in four- rather than five-star hotels. It was done on moderate expenses. Nonetheless, it was a good program.”

Participants spent 60% of their time in the Palestinian territories and 40% in Israel during the trip, which started in early December and has just concluded. Based most in Jerusalem while taking day trips around the country, they spoke to journalists from Palestinian and Israeli outlets, economists, business owners, activists, aid organisations and government officials. Manning says the trip was “very much more about seeing the occupation in operation, rather than just talking about it”. “I gather that the Israel lobby does a lot of seminars about foreign policy, Israel’s place in the world. We didn’t do that at all. If there was one overarching objective, it was to show journalists what the occupation means on the ground.”

Manning says he viewed the tour as a counter-weight to some of the Israeli efforts in the area. He cites polling that shows Australian public opinion is shifting — likely to take a more sympathetic view than in the past towards the plight of the Palestinians, and a more critical view of the continued existence of settlement activity in Israel. “There is a broad sweep towards Palestine in the community. And we were trying to represent that by pointing out a whole lot of things and letting journalists see for themselves, by talking to experts and having rich experiences, how Australians might feel that way, and how that narrative should be represented in the media.

“There’s no way the Palestine lobby has the resources and money to take on the Israeli lobby — it’s much more powerful, and has been doing this stuff for decades. But this one tour was very successful. And I think people appreciated it, and saw a lot that opened their eyes.”

Of course, any tour (or junket, to use the more pejorative description) could be argued a public relations exercise, aimed at highlighting one side of the conflict over the other. Manning understands the criticism, but he says the journalists on the tour are intelligent enough to manage it. “These were top people who came. And nothing was demanded of them, by me or APAN. No one was asked to go and write anything. That’s not our style.”

Federal

Oct 31, 2016

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The taxpayer-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which operates with Defence Department money, is collaborating with a hard-right Israeli think tank that supports retaining Islamic State and a “mowing the grass” approach to Palestinians, and contains a number of extremists.

ASPI is conducting the second Australia Israel Beer Sheva Dialogue in Sydney today, with the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (the first was conducted a year ago in Tel Aviv). A paper for today’s event, trying to craft a case for greater military co-operation between Australia and Israel — and Australia acting as a lobbyist for Israel with regional states like Indonesia — was prepared and dropped to right-wing foreign policy pundit Greg Sheridan.

The BESA Centre, as its calls itself, is strongly aligned with the right in Israel, criticises a two-state solution and backs increased Israeli settlements as a fix for Israeli-Palestinian relations: “… there is no substitute for troops on the ground and for civilian settlements that anchor a dominant presence,” one recent “Perspectives Paper” reads; “an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would therefore be ill-advised, and a Palestinian state would in any case inherently undermine Israel’s security.”

Another paper attacked Middle Eastern Muslims in general:

“The majority of Muslims in the region do not condone abhorrent terrorist acts, but they are largely silent. Many who would not participate in such acts show understanding when they are committed by others. Most tragically, they are reluctant to take responsibility for bringing their societies into the twenty-first century.”

Both authors participated in last year’s Dialogue; the second was authored by Efraim Inbar, the head of BESA.

Inbar opposes the stated goal of both the US and Australia in Iraq and Syria, the destruction of Islamic State. Instead, he wants IS to be retained to attack other Muslim groups that Israel opposes:

“Hizballah — a radical Shiite anti-Western organization subservient to Iran — is being seriously taxed by the fight against IS, a state of affairs that suits Western interests … The Obama administration has inflated the threat from IS in order to legitimize Iran as a ‘responsible’ actor that will, supposedly, fight IS in the Middle East. This was part of the Obama administration’s rationale for its nuclear deal with Iran and central to its ‘legacy,’ which is likely to be ill-remembered. The American administration does not appear capable of recognizing the fact that IS can be a useful tool in undermining Tehran’s ambitious plan for domination of the Middle East.”

Inbar is well-known for naming and lauding Israel’s strategy of managing relations with Palestinians by “mowing the grass” regularly — i.e. launching punitive attacks on Gaza. “Israel simply needs to ‘mow the grass’ once in a while in order to degrade enemy capabilities,” he has written.

Other BESA members hold more extreme views. One speaker at last year’s (almost entirely male) dialogue, Yaakov Amidror, has urged the execution of Israeli soldiers who refuse to attack. Another has said he prefers an Iranian nuclear bomb to be dropped on Tel Aviv than a two-state solution or removal of settlements.

Another prominent member, Eran Lerman — like BESA itself, a strong opponent of the Obama administration’s less hostile relations with Iran — has lamented “the false Palestinian narrative of one-sided victimhood is a major hindrance to all efforts in the direction of Israeli-Palestinian peace” and wants the world to pressure the Palestinians to make “difficult compromises” with Israel.

Still another, publicist David M. Weinberg, has criticised the reaction to IDF soldier Elor Azaria’s cold-blooded execution of a wounded and neutralised Palestinian terrorist earlier this year, saying it was a “wrinkle in operational conduct … this was a minor incident in our long war against Palestinian terrorism.”

From the Australian side, luminaries such as neo-con Peter “the Chinese hacked the census” Jennings, failed Liberal candidate Jim “Fallujah” Molan, right-wing Israel lobbyist Colin Rubinstein, Labor’s Mark Dreyfus and ASPI chairman Stephen Loosley attended last year, and the event was supported by Australia’s ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma.

According to ASPI’s 2014-15 annual report — it has not yet released its 2015-16 annual report — it still relies on the Department of Defence for over half of its funding.