The AIJAC propaganda machine

May 20, 2024
Waving flag and silhouette design.

The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) is a constant presence in Australia’s mainstream media. Its predominant role is to defend the state of Israel come hell or high water.

Whenever someone appears in the media criticising Israel and/or supporting the Palestinian cause, AIJAC personnel pop up to set the reader straight. AIJAC complains about media bias regarding Israel/Palestine but it is perennially in the reader’s face. The AIJAC’s concept of balance involves no criticism of Israel nor pro-Palestinian coverage whatsoever.

AIJAC was formed in 1997 from a merger of the Australian Institute of Jewish Affairs and Australia-Israel Publications (edited by a certain Michael Danby). The emphasis of the two bodies appears to have been, respectively, on the Australian Jewish community and on Israel. The merged body’s emphasis appears to reside overwhelmingly in the unqualified defence of Israel – save for its active interest in opposing the attempted dilution of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act (c/f Mathew Dunckley, Australian Financial Review, 9 November 2013).

The only area where AIJAC personnel have not rallied stridently to any Israeli action, no matter how heinous, is the Netanyahu Coalition government’s 2023 attempt to rein in the autonomy of Israel’s Supreme Court. Here, the public reaction turns to muffled incoherence.

AIJAC has been pathologically preoccupied with Iran and its nuclear program (e.g. Rubenstein, Australian Financial Review, 20 May 2005; AFR, 26 August 2008). Granted, Iran is an odious regime, but if Israel didn’t have a nuclear arsenal (which it acquired surreptitiously) would Iran be bothered to acquire its own? AIJAC supported US President Trump’s May 2018 abandonment of the 2015 JCPOA deal, claiming that Iran was secretly not adhering to the terms. All the major players claim the contrary.

AIJAC must be well resourced, because it rails against omnipresent ‘misinformation’ on and ‘malevolence’ towards Israel and, by its reckoning, such is to be found under every rock.

Some instances?

  • AIJAC (and its predecessor) hates the ABC. The lobby was especially furious when the unbowed Macquarie University’s Middle East expert Robert Springborg gave his expert opinions there. Australia-Israel Publications gave then Prime Minister Bob Hawke (ardent Israel-lover) a dossier on Springborg who used it to attack ABC management for its coverage of the Gulf War (Tom Burton, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 February 1991).
  • Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear technician, disclosed details (out of conviction) of Israel’s nuclear program to the media in 1986. Soon kidnapped by Mossad, he has been deprived of his liberty ever since, inside and outside prison. aijac considers Vanunu to be a traitor, deserving of his life-long punishment (Letter, David Faktor, The Australian, 28 April 1998).
  • The International Court of Justice and the UN General Assembly decreed that the Israeli wall, built on Occupied Palestinian land, was illegal. AIJAC claim that the fence (sic) is a great idea because it has reduced the incidences of terrorism (Colin Rubenstein, Age, 15 July 2004). Rubenstein cares not to inquire into the violent Israeli origins of the violent Second Intifada.
  • Sometime Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer reminded AFR readers (Letter, AFR, 14 July 2006) of the knowing bombing and strafing by Israeli aircraft of the US intelligence ship USS Liberty, June 1967. Ted Lapkin (Letter, 17 July 2006) claimed that a Navy inquiry (‘conclusive and easily accessed’) concluded that the attack ‘was an unfortunate case of wartime friendly fire’, and that Fischer had resurrected ‘this long discredited calumny’. Survivors of the attack know that the truth is otherwise. Two letters from Greg O’Connor (AFR, 19 & 24 July 2006) provide authoritative sources providing evidence for a wilful massacre.
  • A ‘coalition of prominent Australian Jews … will challenge what it sees as extreme pro-Israeli bias among Jews in Australia’ in creating a new group, Independent Australian Jewish Voices (Ben Cubby, SMH, 6 March 2007). AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein said the group was ‘dangerous and unrepresentative’. ‘They’re simply using their Jewish ethnic background’, he said. AIJAC’s Australian Jewish News reported the then visiting British Zionist author Melanie Phillips as labelling them ‘Jews for Genocide’.
  • ‘Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence described Israel as both Jewish and democratic while insisting all minorities have full and equal rights. … Contrary to false claims that Israel is considering instituting some sort of overt legal discrimination against Arab Israelis, this would be absolutely forbidden by Israeli constitutional law (as embodied by Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Basic Laws, and court precedents).’ (Ted Lapkin, SMH, 28 October 2010) Lapkin’s claims regarding the institutionalisation of non-discrimination in ‘Israeli constitutional law’ (Israel has no written Constitution) is ludicrous. Israel was created explicitly as an apartheid state (c/f Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel, 2003) and it remains so.
  • The distinguished retired South African (Jewish) judge Richard Goldstone was appointed to head the UN Fact Finding Mission on the [2008-09] Gaza Conflict. The Report was damning of the IDF and Hamas both, but especially of the Israeli force’s wanton killing of civilians. Goldstone faced extraordinary criticism and threats from Israel and its friends, with Goldstone sadly issuing a mea culpa for his previous honesty.

Rubenstein remained unrepentant of Goldstone’s confession under mental torture and threats of excommunication. Claimed Rubenstein: ‘Probably no document in the recent history of the Arab-Israeli conflict has done more damage to the reputation of Israel, nor contributed more to the international campaign to boycott and delegitimise it, than the Goldstone report. … Unfortunately, Goldstone’s change of heart cannot undo the massive, irreparable damage he and his co-commissioners have inflicted through their report. This damage is not only to Israel’s reputation but also to Middle East peace prospects, and to the very notion of a responsible and universal system of international law.’ (Rubenstein, The Australian, 12 April 2011)

  • AIJAC opposes the UN recognition of Palestinian statehood (e.g. Rubenstein, Age, 22 August 2011, Leibler, Age, 17 November 2011, Gartrell, SMH, 22 February 2017, James Massola & Matthew Knott, Age, 9 August 2023). Such recognition (citing Rubenstein) can only ‘reward bad behaviour and reinforce Palestinian intransigence’ (2017) and ‘will make it extremely difficult for Australia to present itself as a credible and effective advocate for a two-state peace … [as such it] is detrimental to Australia’s national interests’ (2023). Of which, more below.
  • ‘Yet Lyons vilifies us as holding extremely hard-line positions on Israel.’ (Rubenstein, Australian, 12 March 2014) John Lyons is of course correct. Lyons, then Australian journalist, fronted a ABC Four Corners program, ‘Stone Cold Justice’, 10 February 2014, on Israel’s abusive treatment of Palestinian children. Fellow Murdoch columnist, the Israelophile Greg Sheridan (Australian, 1 March 2014), joined the attack against Lyons.
  • The Great March of Return began in March 2018, with Gazans rebelling against their long-term incarceration. AIJAC’s Tzvi Fleischer (Age, 18 May 2018) laments the ‘tragic and heartbreaking’ death of 60 Palestinians in one day but sheets the tragedy home to Hamas. Fleischer claims that the attack on the fence was armed and Israel merely returned fire with fire. Over 230 Gazans were murdered, and countless Gazans were kneecapped and disabled from snipers competing with each other for the highest count. The UN General Assembly and numerous Human Rights groups condemned the Israeli barbarity.
  • ‘The right of the Jews to their homeland was … formalised by the 1947 UN partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.’ (Rubenstein, SMH, 15 May 2018) Their homeland? On the contrary. The UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (II), 29 November 1947, a product of threats and blackmail on lesser nations and great powers’ realpolitik (Truman needed funds from Jewish quarters for his 1948 Presidential election bid), had no formal authority whatsoever. The proposed partition was an unworkable farce. It was rendered irrelevant by the unilateral declaration of independence on 14 May 1948 by a cabal of Jewish terrorists.
  • AIJAC welcomes Trump’s moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem (Rubenstein, SMH, 15 May 2018). Says Rubenstein: ‘[This] simply acknowledges the reality that Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1948.’ No it hasn’t. Rubenstein recommends that Australia should follow suit (Age, 19 October 2018).
  • The assassination by Mossad of Hamas operative Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in January 2010 used (amongst others) forged Australian passports. Cameron Stewart (The Australian, 27 February 2010) reports Jewish leaders claiming that alleged Israeli involvement in the murder is ‘inconclusive and unproven’. Stewart reports that the AIJAC ‘refused to comment’. The later publication of a memoir by Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister at the time, recounts that Mark Leibler, long time AIJAC Chairman, had aggressively berated him, Rudd, for the ‘hostile act’ of expelling an Israeli embassy staffer over the affair (Latika Bourke, SMH, 19 October 2018).
  • Melissa Parke was a federal Labor MP during 2007-16. Parke was primed to contest a Liberal-held seat in 2019 and she made a speech bitterly criticising Israel. Among other things Parke noted that (self-evident) Israel’s ‘influence in our political system and foreign policy is substantial’. AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein claimed that Parke’s comments ‘are among the most extreme examples of anti-Israel rhetoric ever voiced in Australia’, being ‘outrageous, inflammatory’, and that they were representative of ‘the worst Israel haters’. Rubenstein further claimed that Parke’s speech was ‘nothing more than a laundry list of slanders, including discredited conspiracy theories and downright falsification’, accusing the Labor Party in her endorsement of ‘turn[ing] a blind eye towards fanatics and conspiracy theorists in their ranks’ (Paige Taylor, The Australian, 13 April 2019; James Campbell, Melbourne Herald-Sun, 13 April 2019).

Parke sued Rubenstein. In April 2021, the parties settled, Rubenstein formally apologising and withdrawing his remarks. Parke is a human rights lawyer with boots on the ground experience in numerous conflict zones, including Gaza; she speaks from close experience.

  • In January 2020, the US assassinated Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani. Colin Rubenstein responded with ‘The case for killing arch-terrorist Soleimani’ (SMH, 10 January 2020), accusing him of effectively being single-handedly responsible for Middle-Eastern turbulence. Israel assassinated Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March 2004. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had threatened Yasser Arafat with assassination in September 2003 and again (along with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah) in April 2004. On 1 April 2024, Israel, bombing the Iranian embassy in Damascus, assassinated Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, with six other murders being collateral damage. Israel has a track record of targeted assassinations, so much so that Wikipedia has an extensive entry devoted to the phenomenon.

As Michael Leunig captioned in one of his iconic cartoons (Age, 24 September 2003): ‘Should Madge have Edna poisoned to stop her winning the rose competition. Hell yes! And bulldoze her home too! Go after her entire family! Winners are grinners!’. Rubenstein would approve.

  • AIJAC personnel have been vituperative regarding public figures who don’t adhere to the 100% pro-Israel line. This includes the politicians Bob Hawke and Bob Carr, previously prominent fellow travellers but who had a latter day mea culpa. Mark Leibler criticised his once close friend Hawke for the latter’s belated support for a Palestinian state (AFR, 16 February 2017). Bob Carr, then NSW Premier, was bitterly criticised for supporting the awarding of the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize to Hanan Ashrawi (Elisabeth Wynhausen, Australian, 10 June 2006), and later (as disclosed in Carr’s 2014 memoir) when Carr as foreign minister successfully overrode Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s pro-Israel obeisance in Australia’s UN voting stance (Rubenstein, Australian, 15 April 2014).

Other Israeli critics suffer the AIJAC blowtorch. Tim Fischer, Richard Goldstone, John Lyons and Melissa Parke (all as above). Add journalist Antony Loewenstein (Rubenstein, Australian, 19 April 2006); ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser – ‘contradictions, factual errors, naivete’ (Mark Leibler, Age, 17 May 2008); Journalist Paul McGeogh – ‘sneering comment, inflammatory’ (Jared Owens, Australian, 5 June 2010); Zionist defector Peter Beinart – ‘grossly oversimplifying the American position’ (Tony Walker, AFR, 18 June 2010); NSW Labor MLC Shaoquett Moselmane (Sharri Markson, following an AIJAC-sponsored trip to Israel, Australian, 2 February 2016); Labor Senator Susan Lines (and, with her, Amnesty International) (Sharri Markson, Australian, 15 February 2022); Labor MP Tony Burke – ‘vile and ridiculous statements’ (Simon Benson, Australian, 28 October 2023; Ben Packham & Sarah Ison, Australian, 28 October 2023); Teal MP Zoe Daniel – ‘ill-informed, inflammatory’ (Rachel Baxendale & Tricia Rivera, Australian, 18 November 2023).

  • A bucketload of politicians and journalists/editors are jetted to Israel on a regular basis. Rubenstein claims that the AIJAC-funded trips are necessary ‘to help [Australians] understand the complexity of the Middle East’ (Phillip Hudson, SMH, 28 March 2009). Ah yes, and what a profitable investment. A conga line of journalists and others, post visit, write up their understanding of Israel in lily-white terms. The ‘complexity’ has disappeared, and with it the unwholesome character of Israel as an apartheid state. Witness: Michael Stutchbury (AFR, 20 November 2013); David King (Australian, 23 November 2013); Aaron Patrick (AFR, 27 November 2015); Sharri Markson (Australian, 2 February 2016); Geoff Chambers (Australian, 9 March 2024); Gideon Haigh – of all people! (AFR, 26 April 2024).
  • Finally, AIJAC spokespeople have persistently claimed that they want a two-state solution but that they have no partner for peace (e.g.: Rubenstein, SMH, 11 March 2002; Rubenstein, AFR, 18 April 2002; Letter, Lauren Jones, SMH, 26 June 2002; Rubenstein, AFR, 4 July 2002; Rubenstein, AFR, 30 April 2003; Rubenstein, AFR, 5 June 2003; Rubenstein, Age, 9 September 2003; Letter, Rubenstein & Others, Age, 12 November 2003; etc., ad infinitum).

AIJAC personnel lament the consistent failure of the Palestinians to make ‘concessions’. The Camp David meetings in July 2000 is the touchstone. AIJAC personnel reproduce the successfully implanted Western propaganda that Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the world but Palestine leader Yasser Arafat walked away. Instead, goes the story, the Palestinians unleashed unprovoked murderous violence.

Contrary accounts are given by various authors – in particular, Thomas Malley (US President Bill Clinton’s then special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs, a dispassionate observer), Tanya Reinhart (Israeli linguistics academic and anti-Zionist journalist and author), Charles Enderlin (French Jerusalem-based correspondent) and Amnon Kapeliouk (Israeli Arabist journalist). Thus:

  • Thomas Malley, ‘Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors’, New York Review of Books, 9 August 2001 (with Hussein Agha)
  • (summary version) Malley, ‘Fictions About the Failure At Camp David’, New York Times, 8 July 2001
  • Reinhart, Israel/Palestine: How to end the war of 1948, 2002
  • (summary version) Reinhart interview, ZNet, 8 November 2002
  • Charles Enderlin, Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995-2002, 2003 (translated from the French, Le Rêve Brisé, 2002)
  • (summary version) Alain Gresh, ‘Camp David’s Thwarted Peace’, Le Monde Diplomatique (English edition), July 2002
  • Amnon Kapeliouk, ‘Camp David Dialogues’, Le Monde Diplomatique, September 2000; ‘Conducting Catastrophe’, Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2002

No concessions? At Oslo, September 2003, Arafat unilaterally (without consulting his negotiating team) agreed to recognising Israel at the June 1967 borders, conceding to Israel 78 percent of Palestine/Israel. It wasn’t enough.

Israel failed to adhere to its Oslo agreements. Thus Malley/Agha (NYRB, 2001):

‘Seen from Gaza and the West Bank, Oslo’s legacy read like a litany of promises deferred or unfulfilled. Six years after the [1993] agreement, there were more Israeli settlements, less freedom of movement, and worse economic conditions.’

Kapeliouk (2002) concurs:

‘In the diplomatic stagnation – with the third scheduled [troop] redeployment not implemented, with more Jewish settlements being built and bypass roads paved, land confiscated, closures and deepening economic crisis, with hundreds of prisoners waiting for years to be released under agreements already signed – the ploys concerning Jerusalem [in particular, the status of East Jerusalem and of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif] were like a fuse.’

Barak was arrogant (he refused to meet Arafat) and deceitful (he committed nothing to paper). Reinhart (Israel/Palestine) notes: ‘… official claims about Barak’s offers come with no documentation to substantiate them’.

Kapeliouk (2000) claims: ‘Barak played an open hand, and the name of the game was diktat.’ He wanted a public showdown (Malley/Agha: ‘high-wire summitry’), refusing Arafat’s pleas for preliminary negotiations. Arafat feared a trap; his fears were well-grounded. Barak wanted a ‘final agreement’ that would (intolerably) vitiate UN resolutions past and future.

Remarkably, conventional Western accounts of Israel-Palestine interaction decline to acknowledge its profound asymmetry – an Occupying Power engaged in ethnic cleansing vis-à-vis a subject population. Israel’s origins and character have conveniently disappeared from history. In sideline exchanges in Stockholm prior to Camp David, the hardline Shlomo Ben-Ami (then Minister for Internal Security) claimed to his Palestinian counterpart: ‘You don’t have the power to get what you’re asking for, so be realistic and take what you’re offered.’ (Kapeliouk, 2000)

Reinhart (Israel/Palestine) elaborates:

‘Apart from the facts, the biggest distortion in the dominant perspective of Camp David has been the symmetry it imposes on the two sides – that they were both facing equal sacrifices that the rejectionist Palestinians were not willing to undertake.’

Malley sums it up: ‘But the measure of Israel’s concessions ought not be how far it has moved from its own starting point; it must be how far it has moved toward a fair solution.’ (Malley, NYT, 2000) More: ‘The final and largely unnoticed consequence of Barak’s approach is that, strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer.’ (Malley/Agha, NYRB, 2001).

AIJAC’s decades-long pronouncements highlight that its personnel dwell in a parallel universe. It is a record of high-class charlatanry. How can AIJAC personnel, all well-educated, construct a fabulous version of a subject on which they devote their waking hours? The media has been generally happy to oblige AIJAC’s threadbare homilies.

Ironically, AIJAC complains about the Nine papers (Age, Sydney Morning Herald) not publishing one of its letters. It was sent in response to a column by Marc Purcell, CEO Australian Council for International Development (Age/SMH, 18 April 2024). Purcell claims that: ‘The evidence that the Israeli government is deliberately starving civilians in Gaza is unequivocal’. Evidence of media bias against Israel defenders? Rather, the denying of Israel’s Gazan starvation strategy (a longstanding affair) may have been too much for the normally acquiescent letters editors to bear.

No doubt, undaunted, AIJAC will continue to flood Australia’s ‘quality’ press with its defence of the indefensible.

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