An unholy alliance is defending Israel’s slaughter of Palestinian civilians

Oct 27, 2023
Combination Israel flag and Palestine flag for both countries have politic conflict and military war concept.

The Hamas raid into Israel on October 7th, and pounding of the Gazan population that has followed, has seen an unholy alliance reunite: not, or not merely, between Washington and its client states resisting UN calls for a ceasefire, but also in the media, between the Murdoch and Jewish press. 

Those of us who follow the present grave developments in Palestine by consulting a broad range of sources can all too easily underestimate the distorting effect of media filter bubbles. The Hamas raid into Israel on October 7th, and pounding of the Gazan population that has followed, has seen an unholy alliance reunite: not, or not merely, between Washington and its client states, last seen resisting UN calls for a ceasefire, but also in the Australian media, between the Murdoch and Jewish press.

The Australian and the Australian Jewish News keep up a daily dripfeed of disingenuous drivel, simultaneously blurring boundaries of claims and facts, while aiming poison darts at others with the temerity to report events as they see them. Public broadcasting is, as ever, the prime target. News Ltd’s Sophie Elsworth displayed the spoils of combat when the ABC “rotated out” its reporter, Tom Joyner, from the war zone, after The Australian exposed his comment in a WhatsApp group – intended only for other journalists – that claims of Hamas “decapitating 40 babies” were, er, “bullshit”. Joyner had now been sent back to Istanbul for the duration, Elsworth recounted gleefully.

Which they were, by the way – the claims, bullshit, that is. Joyner was penalised for the crime of being right. As Media Watch host Paul Barry put it, “the story was confirmed by Israel” only for “that claim to be contradicted”. Which means the same thing, in the politer language reserved, even in these benighted days, for the actual airwaves.

(Not that we should be surprised. There’s often a dead baby story. Remember the incubators in Kuwait’s hospital being supposedly switched off by invading Iraqi soldiers, back in 1991? US Congress members were agog at the harrowing testimony. Only their witness, posing as a nurse, later turned out to be… the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington, sent in to lie by the PR company, Hill and Knowlton. Part of a minor tradition, stretching back to World War I, when lurid tales circulated in Britain and France of Belgian babies being butchered by German soldiers wielding bayonets).

The AJN gave over one of its opinion pages to a paid flack of the Israel Lobby, Allon Lee, a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Journalism had been hijacked by AIJAC. His unsuspecting victim? The entirely professional and responsible Arabic language television programming offered by SBS. On October 9th, its News in Arabic bulletin had reported, he complained, an “unprecedented military escalation… the first time in history that the front witnessed a Palestinian ground incursion into Israeli cities”.

This dispassionate factual account was, according to Lee, tantamount to “lionising” Hamas – merely, it seemed, for avoiding the trademark frothing and ranting of the Murdoch/AJN duumvirate. AIJAC had leant on SBS management, Lee reported, with the result that “later programs included more balance and context”. Shame the Board didn’t see through the smears and stand up for their journalists. They can always rely, for sage counsel, on non-executive Director Vic Alhadeff, whose rich experience includes terms of service both as the CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and as Editor of… the Australian Jewish News.

The bee in Lee’s bonnet buzzed louder still when Australia Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni, interviewed on ABC News, insisted on adding his own “context” for the raid, by “crafting a narrative of Palestinian victimhood stretching back 75 years”. Context is all very well if the Israel Lobby approves of it, apparently.

This is where news reporting of the crisis – even the majority, which is done with sincere intent to inform – must be lifted out of the default pattern of “on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand-in-the-end-only-time-will-tell”. Journalism must have some contextual markers of its own, to resist pressure being brought to bear, by sectional interests, through managements and directors. Al Nakba is, of course, a relevant frame of reference, since the ongoing agenda of ethnic cleansing is all too clearly inscribed in demands for Gazans to leave their homes. Many are from families who were forced out of their original communities in 1948.

Then there are the clear dividing lines provided by International Humanitarian Law. The use of force must be both discriminating and proportionate. It is impossible to see how that is being upheld in Israel’s onslaught against the trapped population of Gaza, especially when bombs are dropped on areas to which civilians have already been directed to evacuate.

Guardian Australia reporter Daniel Hurst challenged Israeli Ambassador Amir Maimon, in his appearance at the National Press Club, on statements by the IDF that “the emphasis is on damage, not accuracy” in attacks on the Strip, and his country’s defence minister vowing to cut off “electricity, food, fuel” because “we are fighting human animals” – both candid expressions of intended collective punishment. The reply? “I just reviewed the current situation and I think the current situation is in line and in full compliance with the international law”. Why not? He knows he can always rely on The Australian and the AJN either to distract from his protestations or to distort the situation sufficiently to bring it into line with even this manifestly untenable position.

Reporters Without Borders has warned of journalism being “suffocated” in Gaza. Journalists are, by definition, civilians – not directly involved in hostilities, so entitled to protection. But their lot is the same as other civilians in Gaza now, along with well-attested suspicions that some are being brought deliberately into the cross-hairs of Israeli weaponry. Mohammad Baalouche, the director of the Palestine Today TV channel, was killed by a targeted strike on his home on 17th October, according to the monitoring group.

This, too, would fit an established pattern – the CNN reporter, Shirin Abu Akleh, who was shot when reporting from the Jenin refugee camp in May last year, was assassinated by an Israeli sniper, a UN investigation found. Israel had denied it with the same barefaced lying approach taken by its Ambassador in Canberra this week.

When the facts revealed by journalism get in the way of the approved story, its purveyors risk being removed – by a bullet or by metaphorical fire from their own side. The twin-pronged assault by The Australian and Australian Jewish News resembles nothing so much as flak – one of the five filters on news content in the “Propaganda Model” proposed by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky to account for influences on news content.

More power, then, to independent media – present company most definitely included. And let’s all keep calling for contexts and backgrounds in reporting of, from and about the deadly assault on Gaza – whether the Israeli Ambassador, the AJN or The Australian like it or not.

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