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When Bibi Came to Town…

By Emily Gian

After months of planning and anticipation, and indeed years of wondering if it would ever eventuate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally came to Australia last week on a five-day whirlwind visit. In the process, he made history as the first sitting Israeli Prime Minister to visit our fair shores. 

As someone who has been following what the Australian media writes about Israel for most of my adult life, I was apprehensive about what PM Netanyahu’s visit would mean not just in the media, but on the streets as well. However, the general response from the community both Jewish and non-Jewish as well as from the media left me pleasantly surprised. 

It all began with a warmly phrased press release from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit, which spoke of the shared values of the two countries, a theme that was continued throughout the Israeli PM’s entire visit. 

On the morning of his arrival, we saw a fantastic Op-Ed by PM Turnbull which began as such: “Our friendship is as old as the State of Israel itself” – a message that set the tone for a wonderful day. 

The two leaders held a joint press conference where PM Turnbull opened up by calling PM Netanyahu by his nickname “Bibi”, and Netanyahu returned the warmness with a “G’day mate”. But the press conference had far more depth than the cordial greetings. The pair discussed issues of security, innovation and even the thorny issue of recognition of a Palestinian State. 

On this issue, PM Netanyahu was asked about two former Australian Prime Ministers – Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd – and their push for Australian recognition. His answer was: “I prefer not to deal with labels but with substance. I ask both former Prime Ministers to ask a simple question: What kind of state will it be that they are advocating? A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam?”

He continued: “Israel retreated already from Gaza, gave up, took out all of the settlements there, gave the territory to the Palestinian Authority. This became a terrorist state of Hamas, backed by Iran. They fired thousands and thousands of missiles against us. So clearly when people say they are ‘for’ a Palestinian state, they are not for that kind of state. What kind of state would they be talking about? Well, first of all, they will have to recognise the Jewish state. It is not conceivable that people should say the Palestinians should have a state and continue to call for the annihilation of the Jewish state, Israel. So obviously asking the Palestinians to recognise the Jewish state is mandatory and people must do that.

“Secondly, we know that in the realities of the Middle East, if Israel is not there to ensure security, then that state very quickly will become another bastion of radical Islam.

“So this is what I’ve been talking about and I’ve been talking about it for 8 years. I said we have to make sure that the Palestinians recognise the Jewish state and we have to ensure that Israel has the overriding security control of all of 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, but not the freedom to destroy the Jewish state.”

In terms of the media, The Australian continued to kick one goal after another as the days went on. The national newspaper had an excellent commentary on the  following day from former Labor leader Kim Beazley, who said that the focus on Israel’s responsibilities has effectively given the Palestinians a free pass on hard questions such as the issue of Palestinian returns and the status of East Jerusalem. He said, “I think they have become very comfortable with not arriving at a conclusion but with keeping the pressure on Israel”.

And that is very much the crux of the matter. And something that the likes of Hawke and Rudd consistently ignore.

Of course, apart from the views of these former Labor leaders and a handful in a dubious list of supposedly concerned prominent Australians (many of them linked to the BDS movement), there was some opposition to Israel’s leader with the settlement issue always likely to raise controversy. However, the opposition was fairly insignificant and barely deserves the time and space it is about to receive.

In Sydney, the biggest protest came outside the Sydney Town Hall. A few hundred of the usual ill-informed suspects showed up to protest. I would not have even heard about it, except that it came up in my Facebook newsfeed in the form of an SBS News live video. Less than two minutes in, I had heard all I needed to hear on the issue. This was SBS at its worst giving a platform to anyone who wanted to make a statement that had no basis in fact, and without much challenge from the interviewer.

The journalist, Daniela Rotorto, asked a man who identified himself as a Palestinian-Australian vehemently opposed to “the occupation” whether it was Netanyahu he opposed or would he oppose any Israeli leader? His answer was clear: he opposed the general policies of the country since it had been established.

So just as a little history lesson, particularly for Daniela Rotorto who failed to challenge this – that is 1948. Not 1967 when the supposed “occupation” began, but 1948. Translation – the very existence of Israel is his problem.

The next woman to be given a platform was just as “insightful”. In short, in her view the two-state solution is not viable because of Israeli settlements (even though the fact is that they only account for 2-3 percent of the land and Israel has more than once offered land swaps to achieve a peace deal). To drive home her point about a one-state solution, she casually mentioned that there should be no religion incorporated into the State because that is exactly what ISIS is trying to do. Yes, she was actually comparing the existence of a Jewish state with genocidal maniacs, and Daniela Rotorto did not even flinch.

Coverage on the ABC website was little better, but the comments section makes for some ghastly reading including hate speech suggesting that these are poorly moderated.

Aside from the disappointing treatment by the public broadcasters and a typically jaundiced offering from our old foe Paul McGeough of Fairfax (critiqued by HonestReporting), it has to be said that the visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a resounding success in terms of what was achieved and of the continuing strong ties between Australia and Israel.


PM Turnbull at a business lunch with PM Netanyahu

PM Netanyahu at the business lunch 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at the business lunch 

PM Turnbull at the community function in Sydney’s Central shule 

PM Netanyahu at the community function at Sydney’s Central shule 

Joint statement 

The Australian Op-Eds of note:

David Mandel’s ‘Eyeless in Gaza, no Bob clueless in Australia’,

Greg Sheridan’s ‘Labor’s Hawke, Rudd and Evans invite ridicule by maligning Israel

Gerard Henderson’s ‘Netanyahu shows failings of Hawke-Rudd call for Palestinian state

Surprise Editorial of the week: Australian Financial Review –  ‘The fight that Israel is winning