LOEWENSTEIN: “Israel lobby funds another media tour”, Crikey, 17Nov09 November 18, 2009

by Antony Loewenstein  -  crikey.com.au -  17 November 2009

“Peter Hartcher is the Sydney Morning Herald’s international editor.  He travelled to Israel as a guest of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.”

Hartcher’s latest piece for his paper tells a familiar tale. The UN Goldstone report on the Gaza war  — in which Israel and Hamas are accused of committing war crimes — is summarily dismissed as biased, anti-Israel and pro-Hamas.

Hartcher alleges Hamas of “deliberately positioning themselves in residential areas”, yet the UN report, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch found no evidence to back these claims.

Hartcher interviews two major people in the piece —  Gerald Steinberg and Isi Leibler —  both very close to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Leibler recently called for “a global Jewish solidarity conference” in order to “exorcise the renegades from our midst”. In other words, the purging of Jewish dissidents.

Furthermore, Leibler said J Street, the new “pro-Israel and pro-peace” lobby group, was “reminiscent … of the Jewish communists who defended Stalin’s state-sponsored Soviet anti-Semitism in the guise of promoting bogus ‘peace’ campaigns”.

Hartcher’s article fits into a long line of Australian journalists and politicians taking free, Zionist lobby trips to Israel and miraculously returning with glorious tales of Jewish heroism, Palestinian violence and Zionist democracy. Crikey’s Margaret Simons investigated this tradition in January and revealed a number of participants on the trips failed to disclose the all-expenses paid jaunts (to its credit, the Herald acknowledged Hartcher’s free holiday.)

Hartcher’s article does not include the opinions of anybody other than those who wholeheartedly support the Jewish state and its military actions. Did he consider visiting Gaza and actually speaking to those affected by Israel’s war? He would be shocked, as I was in July, with what he saw.

Crikey asked Hartcher to respond to a number of questions about his story and experiences in Israel.

I am not a partisan in any war,” he said. “Indeed, a Crikey survey of the Australian political ‘punditocracy’ found that there was no more balanced commentator in Australia.”

Hartcher told Crikey he rejects the allegation that his article is biased. In fact, after the article was published in the paper, he added the following addendum online:

“A number of comments attach great significance to the fact that, as I pointed out at the end of the column, I travelled to Israel as a guest of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Some impute a hidden agenda. Earlier this year I wrote about the United Arab Emirates after travelling there as a guest of the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

“This attracted no comment. It is routine for journalists to accept paid travel. The question is not whether journalists take trips; it is whether they disclose them. Disclosure means that readers can take this into account in forming their views. This is the exact opposite of a hidden agenda.”

Every paid trip always has an inbuilt viewpoint,” he explained to me. “The journalist’s job is to take information from a trip, assess it in the usual way, and to draw on it as one input among many, as we do with every subject, every day.”

Hartcher did not explain why there are no voices from Gaza or the occupied territories.

A token inclusion of a Palestinian voice at the end does not change the fact that the article could have been written in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, such is the acceptance of official claims.

The mutually beneficial relationship in these kinds of articles is revealing. Hartcher says that he simply visited Israel, heard a variety of voices and assessed the information fairly. But this is not “balance” or “objectivity”. Being presented with only one side of the story reveals nothing other than what your hosts want you to hear.

In the Middle East, after decades of conflict, the bastardisation of language has resulted in the wilful ignoring of Israeli occupation and devastation in a war against the Gazan people. Relying on two voices, Leibler and Steinberg, both of whom back the illegal settlement project in the West Bank, seems grotesque when they whine about the “unreasonableness” of the Goldstone report.

The issue here isn’t with the Zionist lobbies that send journalists and politicians on these visits — after all, they are lobbyists for the Israeli position and need to sell their product as best they can — but the individuals who continue to spin propaganda for a state increasingly isolated in the world due to the expanding occupation in Palestine.

During the research for my book, My Israel Question, I spoke to many journalists who had taken these free trips to Israel. Some were embarrassed and others didn’t want to talk on the record about what they saw and with whom they spoke. I sensed many good journalists, in economically tough times, simply couldn’t resist a free lunch. I found that dozens of producers, editors and journalists across all media in print, TV and radio had taken these trips and yet there was little transparency upon their return.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s executive director, Colin Rubenstein, a key organiser of some of these visits, said in April that the visiting journalists and politicians are “mature people. We let them make up their own minds. They’re exposed to a whole range of viewpoints.”

Hartcher writes of concerns in Israel that the country will be tarnished as an “apartheid” state. It already is. A column in the leading, Israel paper, Maariv, said this week that, “most of the judges chose to ignore the big picture and practically helped creating judicial apartheid between Jews and Arabs”.

SBS TV’s Dateline program featured a compelling story in early November that showed fundamentalist, Jewish settlers receiving Israeli legal and military support to forcefully remove Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

This week Britain’s Channel 4 ran a feature on the influence of the lobby in British politics. It found countless Tories funded by powerful Jewish interests who expect favours in return (namely being “pro-Israel”). It also investigated the number of free trips offered to politicians and journalists by Zionist groups.

Sir Richard Dalton, a former British diplomat who served as consul-general in Jerusalem and ambassador to Iran and Libya, said: “I don’t believe, and I don’t think anybody else believes these contributions come with no strings attached.”

There is nothing illegal about this, but doesn’t the public have the right to know whether Jews with investments in West Bank colonies are backing leading politicians?

When was the last time an Australian media group investigated the role of Australia’s Zionist lobby? The Australian Jewish News this year absurdly claimed that the lobby had no influence at all but the evidence proves otherwise.

Hartcher’s column in yesterday’s Herald reveals yet another episode in the ongoing saga of minimising Israeli crimes.

Antony Loewenstein is a journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution


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