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Update – 1 April 2009

Dear All,

Yesterday a new government led by Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu was sworn in. The 69-seat coalition consists of Likud, Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and Jewish Home, and has a record 30 ministers and seven deputy ministers. Among the list is Labor’s Ehud Barak as Defence Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister (see full list).

In the last week or two, a lot has been said about this impending new government which is essentially “right wing” and balanced only by the centre-left Labor Party. Many commentators have questioned Netanyahu’s willingness to achieve peace with the Palestinians and this prompted EU President and Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic Karel Schwarzenberg to declare that if the government does not commit to establishing a Palestinian state “relations would become very difficult indeed” (see more). Despite the questions raised, Greg Sheridan offers an interesting perspective in his piece in today’s Australian entitled ‘Barak balances Israeli coalition’s tilt to the right’.

Herb Keinon of Jerusalem Post also looks at the challenges that Netanyahu faces, saying that justified or not, it is up to him – not the Palestinians – to prove a commitment to peace. He says, ‘to read some of what has been written about the new government in the Western press, and to hear some of the statements of the world’s leaders, were it not for Netanyahu’s government, peace would be flowing like a roaring river – as if Iran wasn’t destabilizing, Hizbullah wasn’t threatening, and Hamas wasn’t smuggling arms and planning to kidnap IDF soldiers and kill Israelis’ (see more).

Whatever challenges lie ahead, Israelis are beginning to refocus on what will be the important issues facing the new government. Tzipi Livni will be a vital player in the Opposition, challenging the government and holding it accountable if necessary.

In the meantime, Netanyahu, in a ceremony at the Knesset, has declared “Every one of our neighbours that is willing to make peace will find our hand outstretched” (see more).

On the flip side of this is the fact that much will also be written over the coming months about the legacy that outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has left behind. Many will be quite critical about the leader who was elected by default after Ariel Sharon fell ill, who led Israel into two wars and who failed to secure the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Eitan Haber of ynet presents a different perspective when he asks the question of whether any of Israel’s former Prime Minister’s have left office with a satisfied smile on their face. Please read ‘Olmert going home’.

Last week I wrote about allegations of Israeli war crimes during the recent operation in Gaza. The Age was quick to jump on the issue as the allegations emerged but was not nearly so forthcoming when questions were raised in a number of quarters about their authenticity. CAMERA published a report entitled ‘Charges of IDF “wanton killing’ crumble’; the Guardian published a piece entitled ‘Don’t judge Israel’s war crimes’ and the New York Times published a story entitled ‘Israel disputes soldiers’ accounts of Gaza abuses’. The Age remained curiously silent.

Today comes the news that the inquiry has now been closed. Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit said that the soldiers who had discussed their experiences had been careless about accuracy and certain soldiers were “only repeating a rumour” heard by them. He declared, “It will be difficult to evaluate the damage done to the image and morals [of the armed forces] in Israel and the world” (see more).

Our local media reported on this with ‘Israeli army closes book on Gaza shootings‘ from the Australian and ‘Israel clears army over Gaza deaths‘ from The Age. Predictably, the Age article, which originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times, launched straight into an attack on the speed of the investigation, citing various sources that accused Israel of whitewashing the issue. The article also once again raised the number of Palestinians killed during the war, citing both Palestinian and Israeli figures. Interestingly, the journalist sought to discredit the Israeli figures by stating that they did not provide names. However, just last week Haaretz pointed out many discrepancies on numbers and names released by the Palestinians, citing the example about Tawfiq Ja’abari, the commander of the Hamas Police, and Mohammed Shakshak, a personal assistance to the head of Hamas’ military wing, who are both described as dead children on the Palestinian list (see more).

The Age has developed a habit of jumping on a story but when it is later found to be inaccurate, there is rarely any follow up. We saw this most recently in January when the Age reported on an Israeli shelling near a United Nations school and its initial reports of 42 people killed inside the school was proved false. In the weeks following the incident, news came to light about the location of the incident and the downgrading of the figure from 42 to 12, nine of who were Hamas terrorists (see more). Not once did the Age issue a retraction nor did it bother to print any of these follow up stories.

It therefore comes as no surprise that when one of its most heart warming stories about a Palestinian youth orchestra performing for Holocaust survivors turned sour, the nasty follow up story was ignored by the Age. The original article appeared last Friday (27/03) under the heading ‘Musical interlude helps to soothe hearts in torn land’, but originally appeared in the New York Times, entitled ‘Palestinians serenade survivors in Israel’. A few days later, Haaretz revealed that the youth orchestra had been disbanded and its conductor barred from the camp and forbidden from doing any activities with the students. Palestinian officials claimed she was exploiting the children by dragging them into a political dispute (see more). Apparently, acknowledging Jewish suffering in the Holocaust somehow weakens the Palestinian cause. At the same time, the acknowledgement of such conduct by Palestinian officialdom seemingly weakens the Age’s agenda insofar as delivering news about the conflict between the Jewish State and her neighbours while any negative conduct (even if its source is suspect) needs to be aired time and again in its international news section.

Best wishes,

Emily Chrapot
Israel Advocacy Analyst
Zionist Council of Victoria
9272 5507