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The Australian Media’s Distortion of Truth

Over the past week, the Australian media’s reportage of Israel has been abysmal.

Previously discredited lies and conjecture have resurfaced, giving oxygen to untrue portrayals of Israel as the ‘pariah’ of the Middle East.

UN Report accuses Israel of abusing Palestinian children

First, last Friday (21/06) in typical Fairfax style, The Age published an article titled UN report accuses Israel of child torture. Featured both online and in hard copy, the article details the concerns of The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, regarding Israel’s “torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” The Committee (made up of a body of independent legal experts charged by the UN Human Rights Council with the task of monitoring the protection of children’s rights) also said that Israel uses Palestinian children as human shields.

The article continues: “Palestinian children are systematically subject to physical and verbal violence, humiliation, painful restraints, hooding of the head and face in a sack, threatened with death, physical violence, and sexual assault against themselves or members of their family, restricted access to toilet, food and water.”

It is part of journalism 101, that if you make an accusation or convey a particular contention, hard evidence is absolutely key. This article, however, makes sweeping claims of Israeli abuse, yet fails to attribute these apparent findings to any tangible source.

Unsurprisingly, the UN report received a scathing response from the Israeli government. In an article in the Jerusalem Post, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, says that the report is “not based on any direct investigation on the ground, only on documents gathered from secondary sources.” Palmor echoed the sentiment of Netanyahu and the Israeli government, saying that it is “not a report that aims to promote any real improvement, but only to grab headlines.”

In this context it is important to take note of the UN’s track record of disproportionately targeting Israel. Over the past few years the UN Human Rights Council has launched a smear campaign designed to damage Israel’s reputation on the world stage. The 47-nation body has condemned Israel in 80% of its country censures (in 20 of 25 resolutions) whilst ignoring the UN’s other 189 countries, including the world’s worst abusers.

This seemingly unsubstantiated report has featured heavily in the international press. In response, UN Watch’s Executive Director, Hillel Neuer, commented that “about half the members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child come from non-democracies, many of whom take unfriendly or hostile positions against Israel at the UN, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Russia.”

When considering the UN’s long-held victimization of Israel, and failure to hold many of the world’s worst perpetrators to account, it is hard to take this ‘report’ as much more than part of the UN’s witch-hunt against Israel.

The Age republishes ‘staged’ photograph

When it rains at Fairfax, it pours.

Accompanying this article online was an image of Palestinian children detained behind metal jail bars.
Some of you may remember that back in 2011, Emily Gian wrote an advocacy update about this exact image after Honest Reporting exposed it as being completely staged in a piece entitled ‘Shattered Lens: Putting Palestinians Behind Bars’ (December 2010). Honest Reporting revealed that from other photographs taken on the same day, it was clear that the children had come to an industrial area in Gaza only to be positioned behind a gate to give the impression that they were behind bars. You can read Emily’s Advocacy Alert on this issue here.

At the time both the ZCV and Honest Reporting took their findings to social media. Honest Reporting’s blog post entitled‘The Age recycled staged photo’ received global attention, and the photograph was widely discredited. Indeed, this was an embarrassing blow for the publication.

After this episode it is both perplexing and disturbing that The Age would again publish the same staged photograph. At best this is a result of lazy journalism, and at worst, a reflection of a deep rooted anti- Israel sentiment at the Fairfax organization.

The Australian newspaper joins the bandwagon

Moving across now to an article published by John Lyons in the Weekend Australian (22/6) titled ‘Mid East chaos as PA Prime Minister quits.’

Given the title, one would presume that the article details the resignation of newly appointed PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah. After just 14 days in office, Hamdallah resigned due to his deputies’ increasing encroachment on his leadership.

However, the article barely mentions the resignation or the internal rifts within the PA. Instead Lyons’ article is merely a guise for a chance to label Israel as the sole obstructer of the crumbling peace process.

Lyons says that Israel’s “rejection of one of the central initiatives of the Kerry plan, a proposal to allow Palestinians to build factories as a good-will gesture to kick-start talks” is a primary impediment to peace. He continues that “the current growth in the number of Jewish settlers” amounted “to one of the largest demographic surges in the world.” Adding that the Australian government “regards this as illegal.”

According to CIA World Fact book 2012 this is a grossly misguided exaggeration. Their statistics show that regions in China, Africa, India and Arabic nations have the fastest growing demographics, with Israel not even coming close to the top of the list.

Further, these claims are taken completely out of context and present a biased account which paints a picture of Israel as the aggressor and the Palestinians as mere victims. The inaccuracy of this setup has been highlighted this week, with at least six rockets fired from Gaza landing in Southern Israel.

Indeed, such poor and partial reporting breeds lies and rumour that can only exacerbate existing animosity.

The media’s manipulation of fact

The Australian press is quick to join the anti-Israel cause, and publish crude accusations with little factual basis.  Yet I can’t recall a time when any of the remarkable things Israel is doing, even in the face of war and violence, has received even a fleeting reference in the local press.

For example, last week, the Times of Israel reported that a handwritten doctor’s note was found attached to the clothing of a 28-year-old Syrian man brought to a hospital in Israel’s north, with a bullet in his gut. Written in Arabic, the note said “Hello distinguished surgeon. Please do what you think needs to be done and thanks in advance.” This patient is one in a steady trickle of Syrians who are now receiving medical treatment in Israel.

How many countries have provided medical treatment to civilians from a country threatening to wage war on its own people? The Israeli Defence Force has also set up a field hospital along the Syrian border to care for the injured on both sides. This growing trend has received no media attention whatsoever, whilst portrayals of Israel as a gross violator of human rights proliferate.

This kind of unequal and inaccurate targeting of Israel is an abuse of the journalist’s role to inform and educate society.

As a journalism student at the University of Melbourne I was taught “if you can’t substantiate your claim with viable, reliable evidence, then no one will believe you. Period.”

Best Wishes,
Gabrielle Debinski

Media and Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia